While it might easily go unnoticed, the Third Sunday of Lent is quite significant in the life of any Catholic community. Here at Lourdes, unless we are particularly attentive to the movements and rituals that pertain to the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults,) we may miss the significance. On this day, every year, we being the process of “intensely scrutinizing” those in our community who wish to become full members of our community. This is the first of three Sundays in which we will focus intently on the desire of people who wish to become Catholic, who wish to become part of our community of faith. These “Scrutiny Sundays” have rituals that explore the readiness of people for sacrament with us. They are powerful moments in the conversion process, and leave a lasting impression on those who experience them.
There is another aspect of this scrutiny, however, which also bears some reflection. Just as our community might scrutinize those who seek to become part of the community, so too, there is a sense in which we as a community are to be scrutinized by those seeking to be part of it with us.
As people seek to join our Church, I am brought to reflect on what it means to be part of the Church. This reflection is also shaped by my reading about failures and scandals within the church at large. I read of people who share publicly their reasons for remaining a part of this Catholic Church. They do so despite the sins, the abject human failures, and even the gross moral bankruptcy at an institutional level. Anyone with an appreciation for history, and especially church history, will have already navigated some of the questions and concerns that are pertinent in light of our current troubles. Nonetheless, our struggles to move through our own reasons for being part of a flawed and sinful church must be part of our own maturation in faith.
Why do people want to be part of this community of faith we call church? Church is something which supports and sustains us in our relationship with Jesus, and here is where our faith lies. I don’t believe in the Church as much as I believe in Jesus. My faith in Jesus as the Christ of God is what endures, despite the sinfulness and failure of the Church. So I have to consider for myself, what it is about the Catholic Church that draws people to Christ, that sustains and nurtures a relationship with Jesus?
Personally, I was born and raised Catholic. I went on to seminary and was ordained. I have spent the past quarter of a century in service of God’s people. Being honest, I often take all of that for granted. I don’t spend much time reflecting on what my life might look like were it radically different than it has been. But I do wonder, at times, if the choices I have made and the decisions I have taken, have brought me to live my life as faithfully and well as I might have. One of the things I've learned over the years is that the Church is not something apart from me, some disembodied reality with no relevance for my life or my living as a person of faith. So when I am tempted to question the faithfulness of the Church, I can only do so with the same questions applied to my own life. How faithful have I been in my relationship with God? In my discipleship of Jesus? In my living of gospel values as articulated by Jesus in the gospels?
As a pastor, those same kind of questions take on a slightly different nuance, though are nonetheless important for consideration. I wonder what it is about our particular community here at Lourdes that invites others to consider becoming baptized? I wonder whether the witness we offer as a community of believers is something we take for granted, from time to time? Or if we are intentional in our discipleship? How might we actively reach out to others to invite them to consider living their lives in relationship with Jesus? What would our Church community look like if it was to scrutinize itself in order that it might be infinitely better in scrutinizing, that is to say in supporting and nurturing, those who might wish to be a part of our community?
When I wonder about what it is that draws people to join our parish, I wonder if we might even be aware of what it is that we do well as a community of faith in living our Christian discipleship? And if we are attentive to that, might we also ask how we can be better or more faithful in living our discipleship? In other words, what are the areas for growth for us as a community of believers? What can we do better, as a community of faith? Are we being the burning bush for others? Are we a fountain of refreshment for folks in our community? Are we going to produce the fruit that is hoped for in today’s gospel?