15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

     When I first started seriously thinking about being a priest, I became paralyzed by a fear that I would be lonely. Little did I know that the priesthood is perhaps the least lonely profession in the world. As a parish priest, my calendar is filled with invitations to parishioner’s homes for dinner, parties, etc. Yet for as blessed as I am, I have to honestly admit there are still times where amidst connection with my friends and a busy calendar of social events I still feel lonely. Yet, it’s precisely in these moments, that I realize the busyness has caused me to take my eyes off God. At its core, the source of my loneliness is not that I don’t have anything to do, but rather that I have tried to replace God’s love with some other event.

     Friends, I dare say I’m not alone. I think if you are being honest you would also admit that even amidst the blessings in your life, there are times where you to experience loneliness. Perhaps that loneliness settles in when you too put other people or things in place of God. For you see, “there is a loneliness in every life as each one of us has to let go of and grieve over the realization that I will never find a particular someone out there who will be everything for me.”[1]

     So many people today, are searching desperately for that one person or thing that will satisfy their every desire, failing to recognize that Jesus has made us for Himself and so “our hearts are restless until they rest in you O Lord.”[2] Even as technology develops and we seem to be more connected than ever before, the problem of loneliness continues to grow. Right now, someone close to you, perhaps they share your last name or live next door to you, feels alone. There could be many reasons for their loneliness. Maybe they don’t feel that communion with you, God or others. Perhaps a tragedy has them feeling cut off from God or their neighbor, or maybe they are actually alone, living in a world where day in and day out no one recognizes them. Whatever the reason for the loneliness, Jesus provides the solution, which is why with His last breath, just before He left earth at the Ascension He said: “I am with you always.”[3]

     While it may sound cliché, it’s true; with Jesus, we are never alone. For “with him everything. Without him nothing. He is the Lord.”[4]  This is why after all Jesus sent His disciples out 2 by 2. You see Jesus didn’t just send them off to do great things like teaching and healing the sick, no He called them to enter into people’s homes, He called them to establish communities and today He invites us to build upon our community. Just as Jesus sent His disciples out to bring people into communion with Him, He sends each of us to seek after those who have gone astray and remind them that they are not alone.

     One is never a Catholic alone. Our faith is lived out in the community. In my short time here I have quickly realized that this parish understands the importance of community. I have seen firsthand over the past two weeks what a loving and supportive community Sacred Heart is, but that can lead to a deadly trap, where we become complacent. We can’t just accept where we are. No today, Jesus sends us out to reach the lost, those around us who are alone. Today Jesus challenges each of us to ask, how we can expand our community to include the lonely who are among us.

     It starts by opening our eyes to recognize the lonely or forgotten in our midst. Who amongst our family or neighbors is not yet a part of our community? Who perhaps once was a familiar face around here but hasn’t been seen since their last child graduated from 8th grade? Who has never stepped foot on our property? Jesus is sending you out to the lost and the lonely. Who is that in your life?

     Once we recognize who among us is not yet a part of our community we can take the first simple step in inviting them to join us. Invite them! Perhaps they aren’t Catholic or for some reason are not in a place to be attending Church, well invite them anyway. Invite them to join us for Oktoberfest or invite them to join you on the athletic board, St. Vincent de Paul or 50 plus club. There will come a moment in their life where they will recognize the need to turn to Jesus, and seeing the support of our Catholic parish, they will more fully engage our Catholic faith. After all the work of converting hearts is the Holy Spirit’s, it’s our task to bring people into the community where they can engage the Holy Spirit who can move their heart more fully into relationship with Christ.

     As we welcome others into our community we are welcoming them into a relationship with Christ. While there is often a temptation to preach and push people back into Church, so often a simple invitation into our parish community is all that Jesus needs to begin moving a heart back to Him.  For you see the simple act of welcoming the lonely into our community allows the Holy Spirit to begin to work and before you know it, that lonely person experiences a fulfillment that can only be found in Christ. So then Jesus is sending you out. Who will you invite into our awesome community? Whose house will you enter to establish community and bring them to the fullness of life in Jesus Christ?

[1] Thomas Acklin, O.S.B. The Unchanging Heart of the Priesthood. Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2005. Pg 94.

[2] St. Augustine, Confessions Book 1, Chapter 1

[3] Mt 28:20

[4] St. Faustina Kowalska,  Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. Stockbridge:Marian Press. (2011). Pg. 161.

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