While Catholicism is by far the largest religion in the United States, the second largest religion in our country is sadly fallen away Catholics. The fastest growing religion in our country is a category on the census called the “nones;” people who profess no faith at all. We all know the story. It has happened to people in our family and to our friends. Raised in the faith only to walk out the doors of the church, perhaps to another church or perhaps to the none category. As I have watched many friends and loved ones leave the church that I love, I found myself asking what is it about these good people, that they could be raised in the faith and quickly turn their back on it. I’ve begun to realize that while I’ll never have the complete answer. I’ve recognized that these good people are searching for an encounter with God which, for one reason or another, they are not finding in the Catholic Church.
I think there is a temptation for us at times as Catholics, forget that “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Our Catholic faith is not just about a set of rules and obligations, its about an encounter with the risen Jesus. I think sometimes we just water it down to obligations. How many of us heard when we asked our parents why we had to go to Mass the answer “because that’s what the Church says?” Unfortunately, becomes like paying your insurance bill. You don’t want to pay the bill every month but you don’t want to be caught without it if you’d ever need it.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the Catholic Church shouldn’t have her rules and obligations, after all it is these obligations that often serve as a life jacket which keep us afloat when our zeal and enthusiasm for the faith is failing. But were intended to have much more we are called to go deeper than just doing things because the rules say we should. The rules are there because God loves us and wants what is best for us and thus they lead to fulfillment.
Take for example Sunday Mass, where find ourselves today. The Mass is the opportunity for closest encounter we can have with the one who alone can bring us lasting happiness and peace. Just as St. Thomas’s anxieties were relieved in today’s Gospel when he encounters Jesus Christ You and I are invited to participate something far greater than just putting our hands his hands into the side of Christ. We who believe that the Eucharist is truly Jesus are given a chance to actually allow God to become one with us. You see, at Mass, Jesus comes to us in the host, just as He came to His frightened friends in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, and gives us His peace. If we want that encounter with Jesus Christ, that encounter which changes our life, we have to remember that “the Church is sent by Jesus Christ as the sacrament of salvation offered by God.”
I get it, religion is frustrating. It seems that regardless of how hard we try to live our Catholic faith we all fail and it can be easy for us to get ourselves down but it is precisely in those moments that I’ve realized we’ve taken our eyes off of what is most important; Jesus Christ, the one who has victory over death. Did you hear today’s Gospel? It’s Easter Sunday night. Jesus has just risen from the dead and one of the first things H does is comes back to his frightened apostles and introduces Himself by saying “peace” and then giving them a command. He says “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” and then He sends them out to forgive others sins.
Jesus came for us. He came because He wants us to have fulfillment; He wants us to have peace; a peace that can only come from Jesus Christ. Pope Francis so often reminds us “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.” Friends the season of Easter we celebrate is an opportunity to experience what the first disciples of Jesus experienced. This Mass we celebrate is not “just a commemoration of past events, or even a particular mystery, interior experience, but essentially an encounter with the risen Lord.” This Mass is an encounter with the risen Christ, the one who is raised from the dead. When we believe that, when we live that out the rules and obligations becomes something far more; they become a means to that encounter with Christ. Every Catholic is a convert. Even if you were baptized as an infant there was a moment in your life where you had to make the choice to believe and then to say because I believe I will live my faith out whole heartedly. The only way we invite those who haven’t made that choice is to live our faith out. To invite them to see the joy and the peace that comes from this relationship with Jesus Christ.
That’s how the faith spread in the early Church. The faith spread amongst people who couldn’t read or write, not because of great teachings that were offered but because people encountered Christ and lived it out. Those of us who find ourselves in this church are given that sacred task. We found Him, its our task now to receive Him and take Him out into the world so that others can experience the peace and joy that comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ.
 The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Religious Landscape Survey. Religious Affiliation: Diverse and Dynamic February 2008. Available at http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf
 Karen Mahoney. Why won’t my kids go to church. Archdiocese of Milwaukee Catholic Herald. Available at http://catholicherald.org/special-sections/parenting/10172-why-wont-my-kids-go-to-church.html
Lipka Michael, A closer look at America’s rapidly growing religious ‘nones.’ May 13, 2015 available at https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/13/a-closer-look-at-americas-rapidly-growing-religious-nones/
 Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est. §1, http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus-caritas-est.html
 Pope Francis. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. §112. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html
 Pope Francis. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. §3.
 Pope Benedict XVI, Regina Caeli Address for Divine Mercy Sunday. 15 April 2012. http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_reg_20120415.html