A few years back, at another parish, I asked our 8th grade students right before Confirmation why they were Catholic and I just got a blank stare in response. I pressed them a little further by reminding them that they were about to be confirmed and thus they need to know why they are Catholic. I reminded them that it is no longer good enough to say I’m Catholic because my mom drags me to church or that it is no longer good enough to say they are Catholic because they were baptized. I challenged them by reminding them that they were at a point in their life where they were going to stand up and take ownership of their faith and so they better have a reason for their belief. I told them that they should have two answers, the long answer, and a short elevator pitch, that if someone asked them as they walked down the street, they could tell them in a matter of moments why they are Catholic. I then gave them a homework assignment and told them to go home and in a thousand words answer the question, why am I Catholic. They came back and said it was the hardest assignment they had all year.
It is easy for us to say it’s not that hard, but what about you? Why are you Catholic? If I stopped you at the end of Church and asked you why you are here and why you are Catholic would you have a good answer? You see, in today’s readings we are told that we are called to be the light. The scriptures are very clear, the light is God Himself. You and I are called to bring that light out into the world. But if I don’t understand why I follow Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life, if I don’t understand how Jesus is the light in my life, it is impossible for me to share that with others.
When we look at the first reading, we see that the prophet Isaiah shows us how we are to be that light. We are to cloth the naked and find shelter for the homeless. We are called through our actions to live out our faith, day in and day out and that’s good. But did you notice it goes a step further? We have to be able to express our faith.
I am Catholic, because I know I cannot do it alone. I’m Catholic because I realize I’m a sinner and without God’s help I’ll never obtain eternal life. I’m Catholic because I believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead and sent the Holy Spirit into the world to help guide me home to Him. But if that is important for me, then it is important for everyone else in the world. There no one in the world who can do it alone. And so, when I look out and see members of my friends and perhaps members of my family who are not living their faith, I feel compelled to be that light. Why? Because I know what they are missing out on. The stakes are too great.
I think one of the most damaging quotes ever used, and it’s attributed to St. Francis, but no one has ever been able to show me where he said it, is the line “preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” You are right, we are called to put our faith into action and people should know we are Christians by the way we live our lives, but as Catholics for some reason we are afraid to use our words, we are afraid to admit that we are Catholic. We are afraid to invite someone to consider being Catholic or even to ask someone if they believe in Jesus Christ. I have a Protestant friend, who happens to be a fallen away Catholic. Every time he sees me, he asks me about my faith. I’ve never had a Catholic ask me about my faith and it’s not because I’m a priest. I’ve come across Catholics who would have never known I’m a priest and no one once ever asked me how things are going in my spiritual life.
My friends, the stakes are too high. It is not good enough for us to say that I’m here getting what I need. Jesus is clear in today’s Gospel that we have to be that shining light that draws people in. That light on a hill that says there is safety and there is security. I don’t know if you’ve been on these types of road trips, but you get out on these country highways and I don’t know about you, but I get scared thinking about breaking down in the dark and having no recourse to help. There is something comforting about seeing the city or even just a house approaching. As you see the light the city or house emanates you feel safe and secure.
My friends, the world is not going to show other people that light. The world is going to show them all kinds of paths that at the end of the day will not leave anyone fulfilled. It is the famous quote of St. Augustine, a man who lived nearly every sin you can imagine and it wasn’t until he walked past a church and heard St. Ambrose preach, that he realized there might be more and said “our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Jesus is constantly inviting, He is constantly reaching out and inviting each and every one of us into his fold; into that life he has prepared for us. The problem is there is allot of darkness in the world and unless there is a light to help us see this invitation, we can easily miss it. How are you the light? When is the last time you invited someone to come to Church? What’s the worst they can say? No? Well we get told no all the time.
I think today’s Gospel is an invitation for us to start with ourselves and ask why we are here and why it’s important. I think we need to stop and ask ourselves why am I Catholic. For you see when we begin to discover this answer there comes a natural desire to go out and share that with others. Once we can answer the why am I Catholic, then we have to ask how we can share that news with others. How am I that light that beckons others to what I see that I need?
There is no magical pill to encouraging others to follow Christ, but the simple fact that we don’t talk about it, is problem number one. I think the challenge is for us to discover why we are Catholic and why one should be a follower of Jesus Christ and then to ask who are the people in darkness and how our light (our actions, yes, but also our words) draw people into that safety and security of a relationship with Jesus Christ.
 St. Augustine, The Confessions. Book 1, Chapter 1.