We have been “appointed” (from today’s readings) to work in a rather large mission field: to re-propose the Gospel to those who once upon a time decided that they no longer want to be Catholic but are perhaps now at this time, experiencing a re-think. This is the particular mission field that we are sent into; sent to reach ‘away’ Catholics contemplating a return to Church. We are sent ahead to prepare their hearts for an encounter with the Lord.
The call for an ‘away’ Catholic to return often begins with a stirring deep in the heart. Life’s circumstances is often the catalyst. The challenges in life can leave us beaten, weary and wondering. Our path in life brings us into a cul-de-sac. Lost in the vastness of life, the Lord’s call to ‘return’ echoes in the emptiness of life. Is there more meaning to this?
In the Landings* mission, we are sent ahead to meet returning Catholics in cafes and bars, in homes and malls; to introduce our returning process to them, and to prepare them for a personal encounter with the Lord. We arrive two by two with a message of “peace”, a hand extended in welcome and a mind without judgment. We aim to set them at peace; this first meeting has to be an experience of love, of God and his Church joyfully embracing the lost who is found. It has to be a heartfelt experience responding lovingly to the call who is stirring in their hearts. They must be left warmed, feeling that “the kingdom of God is near”.
The first encounter with a returning Catholic is not the time for catechesis, not a time for teaching and preaching. Returning Catholics search for the relevance of a faith life amidst the emptiness of their secular life. They are searching to fill a void. They appear with troubled emotions looking for consolation, or an unsettled spirit wandering for meaning. We are sent as labourers to meet this search, in the spirit of the father as he ran towards his returning, prodigal son hugging him with an embrace that consoled and restored hope to life.
Hence it is important that we go without our “haversack”, stuffed with manuals of Church laws and teachings, ourselves filled with prejudice and judgment. We go without “purse or money”, without an attitude of value that we have returned and you have not, for we are equal, all ‘always returning’. We go without “sandals” because we must put on humility. We are appointed as labourers to touch hearts, and to prepare their hearts for the visit of the Lord.
We go powered by gratitude for once upon a time we too were there, lost and empty, on our journey in faith. But along the way, we too were met by messengers who led us into a heart-warming encounter with the Lord. Our life transformed, and grew with milestone after milestone of personal encounters. We go with nothing, only with our personal testimonies, real proof of a real existence. From today’s psalm, “Come and listen, all who fear God, while I tell what he has done for me. Blessed be God who has not turned away my prayer, nor his own faithful love from me”.
This is our challenge today as messengers of Peace. The New Evangelization identifies secularism as the biggest challenge to our faith. It is a provocative call to use new methods and new expressions to express the same constant: that God is Love; a God still caring and present in our daily life. Many Catholics have left the Church distracted by the lifestyles and promises of happiness in the secular world. Catholics leave because faith in God has not kept up with the times. Into this field we are sent like “lambs among wolves”. In this field we have to adopt new methods with new ardour.
But it is in this same secular world where they will hear the call to return. When their city of happiness crumble in unfulfilled expectations and stress due to challenges, we must be present and ready to help pick up the pieces and point them to Christ: standing and waiting faithfully for their return. He will be there in the debris of our disappointments. Often no one else will be.
It is a mission field full of Catholics who have left the Church. We stand ready to console; and when they are stirred to reach out to return, we are here, present to make “the kingdom of God very near” to them. Today’s call is a call to all of us. Indeed “the harvest is rich but the labourers are few”. Our Lord is waiting for us to go ahead as his messengers; he has a large backlog of ‘away’ Catholics to welcome home.
*Landings is a 10-week process for a person contemplating a return to the Catholic Church. In a welcoming and non-judgmental environment, the participants explore the presence of God in their personal lives.
(14th Sunday of Ordinary Time. Isaiah 66:10-14, Psalm 65, Galatians 6:14-18, Luke 10:1-12, 17-20)