When I was a kid, one of the most popular TV game shows was called Truth or Consequences. It was so popular that a small town in the States, previously called “Hot Springs,” changed its name. And so to this day, you can visit Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
And if that isn’t the weirdest fact you’ve ever heard in a homily, I’d like to know what was.
The reason I had the show on my mind wasn’t weird, though. It was just that today’s Scripture readings got me thinking about truth and consequences.
Truth always has consequences. The greater the truth, the greater the consequences. And surely, there can be no greater truth than the fact that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
St. John tells us in our second reading that truth leads to action: belief leads to obedience and discipleship. And obedience and discipleship lead to life in the Spirit.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that his disciples will bear fruit, for the glory of God the Father.
Every ounce of that is distilled from the truth of the Resurrection.
Few people in church this morning don’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead. But this belief can be inherited and taken for granted. Or it can be strong and life-changing.
So where are we in our discipleship journey? Are we likely to bear the fruit that will give glory to God?
Let’s try a reality check this morning. I have a three-word, twelve letter test we can take together. The three words represent three stages of Christian discipleship. We are meant to move from the first to the third, but we need to know where we are now.
The first word is MUST. For many Christians, and especially Catholics, the demands of faith are external obligations. The classic, of course, is that we must go to Mass. We hear it from parents, teachers, and priests. There are other ‘musts’, often in the form of ‘must nots’. Sometimes, the ‘musts’ and ‘must nots’ are reinforced with sanctions ranging from the fear of parents, to the fear of Hell. The parents can be even scarier!
The second word is NEED. As we get older, or wiser, or more worried, we begin to internalize the call to faithfulness. At first I didn’t my doctor take very seriously when he said ‘you must exercise’. But as I got tired and stressed, I began to see that I needed exercise. More and more Christians are recognizing that a society without morality has dire consequences both for individuals and the common good.
There’s nothing wrong with doing the right thing because you must, or because you feel the need. But Jesus calls us to more. He invites us to discipleship that’s rooted in love for him. He calls us to WANT to be his disciples, because we want to be his friends.
It’s really only this third word that can attract others. Within the family and within the Church, we can talk about what Catholics must do, and what Catholics need to do. But it doesn’t sound very appealing.
On the other hand, what our hearts desire can be shared. Someone who is a branch of the vine who is Jesus Christ has the appeal and magnetism of Christ himself. Those who live their faith as branches of the vine – pruned and cleansed by obedience –are Christians who will truly glorify God by bearing fruit.
I don’t want to startle you by shifting gears, but I have found these three words perfectly fit three categories of donors to Project Advance, our annual Archdiocesan campaign.
We have the reluctant contributors. They feel they MUST give something or the pavement in front of the church will continue to buckle and someone will trip. They know that our regular Sunday revenue is not enough to keep up with roofs and pipes that are almost devilishly prone to leak. Or maybe they must give something so that the hardworking volunteers in the foyer don’t give them a funny look as they walk by the table for the next five Sundays.
There are also those who NEED to give. They have a sense of ownership in the parish, and they’ve experienced the fruits of our successful campaigns. Perhaps they have children or grandchildren at St. Thomas Aquinas and they feel it’s important to support the exciting building project now underway. Maybe they are music lovers who think we need to make sure our aging sound system is kept up to date, as we are planning this year.
But, there’s a third group – not just a group in theory, but individuals I’ve talked with many times. They are those who WANT to give. People in the first two categories might think I am making this up, because it’s natural to think giving money away is painful. And so it is, except for those who understand Christian stewardship. For them, sacrificial giving is not based on what they ought to do, or even what the parish needs. It is directly connected to their understanding of discipleship.
The members of this group believe that Project Advance helps them bear the fruit God wants. They connect their giving to their call to be disciples. It’s a fact of life that most of us just do not have the confidence and zeal of Ed Zadeiks, who will lean over to someone at the next table at Tim Horton’s and invite them to ALPHA.
So when Project Advance funds the parish’s evangelization efforts, including ALPHA, our donors are responding to their call to fruitfulness. There are those who WANT to be a part of the campaign because they know they can’t evangelize alone.
The theme of our 2018 campaign is “Making Sundays Matter”. We chose it in part because it’s one of Archbishop Miller’s four key priorities for the archdiocese. But we also chose “Making Sundays Matter” because our Sunday Mass is “Easter returning week by week”, as St. John Paul wrote.
Among the many activities of a parish, nothing is as vital or as community-forming as the Sunday celebration of the Lord's Day and his Eucharist. So it wasn’t hard to decide to focus our campaign on aspects of Sunday Mass.
The largest parish project this year may not seem terribly spiritual – replacing the stairs and pavement outside the front doors of the church. But we felt that making sure no one trips on their way to Mass was a very good place to start. We want every worshipper to arrive and leave safely.
Last year’s Project Advance raised funds for a video system. It will be up and running in just a few weeks. Doing it right proved more expensive than we planned, so we’ve earmarked additional money from this year’s campaign. The first thing you’ll see on the screen will be the Project Advance video, which will describe the great things we support with the share of the campaign that goes to the Archdiocese, $69,000 this year. But the projection system exists first and foremost to enhance our prayer on Sunday. We will occasionally use film clips in preaching, but we hope regularly to project the words of some prayers and hymns.
We recognize that Mass has limited value in evangelizing visitors, because they feel lost as the liturgy unfolds. This is true especially at Christmas and Easter. We’re going to use Project Advance contributions to purchase or produce guides to the liturgy for our visitors.
Improvements to the sound system in the choir loft will also enhance Sunday Mass.
But Sunday Mass does not exist in isolation. The Gospel calls us not only to worship, but to work. The tremendously successful parish ministries to prisoners and the poor will also be helped by this year’s campaign.
I hope you will support generously this year’s Project Advance. For our Archdiocese and for our parish in particular, it’s what pays for progress.
But giving sacrificially also helps us meet the deep desire for fruitfulness that is in the heart of each disciple. So I hope and pray that you WANT to be part of the campaign this year.