Last night, we held another Thursday Night Life of adoration and socializing for young adults at Holy Trinity church in Cheyenne. We are averaging around 15 or so each month, which speaks to the real challenge of ‘reaching’ this age group. I often told my staff as a pastor, and finding myself as a bishop repeating the same advice to my pastors: “We cannot get hung up on numbers. We must focus on ministry and those who are responding, and allow the Lord to grant the increase.”
However, having said that, I am also greatly concerned for the vibrancy of the faith practice in our Catholic climate. It is no secret that the numbers of those who claim to be Catholic who faithfully attend Sunday Mass and participate in the life of the Church is somewhere around 20 – 30 percent. These numbers may vary across the country.
I am mindful of a couple of Jesus’ teachings in this regard: “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed for you, and you did not weep.” (Luke 7: 32) There is also the story of the king who invited guests to a great banquet. Those who were invited to the banquet, found reasons to be more occupied with their daily affairs and commitments. “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.” (Luke 14:18) “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.” (Luke 14:19) “Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come,” (Luke 14:20)
Jesus response to such excuses: “I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” (Luke 14:24) Now, Jesus is not saying that the daily affairs of life such as marriage and work or even the enjoyment of private property are bad things. What he is saying is that they are all subject to Him. He is the First Priority. Everything and everyone else needs to find their appropriate place in life.
I know parish staffs and even our diocesan staff scratch our heads trying to accommodate every possible schedule when we try to schedule events, and that kind of sensitivity is appropriate. But it is also time to challenge the people of faith to review the priorities of life. Jesus is first. Faith is first. For us as Catholics, Jesus founded a Church as His primary Spouse and primary means by which He comes to feed and nourish us in and with His Life. Through the Church, we are made members of His body.
In today’s Gospel (Luke 5:33-39) Jesus gives us a new understanding of what He is up to. When Jesus is questioned why His disciples do not fast and pray in the fashion of the scribes and Pharisees, as well as John’s disciples, He gives an interesting response:
Can you make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? … No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one. Otherwise, he will tear the new and the piece from it will not match the old cloak. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined. Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins. And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’
Jesus Himself is the “New Cloak.” Through His death and resurrection, and has refashioned humanity, clothing us afresh and anew in His Body with His Life. The Blood of Jesus is the New Wine and the Church is the new wineskin. This Blood of Jesus is the New and Eternal Covenant, which we call Eucharist.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus recognizes that the scribes and Pharisees are slow to leave behind the old covenant for the new one which Jesus brings, and embodies in His person. They prefer the ‘good wine’ of old, rather than the Best Wine of the New and Eternal Covenant being born in their midst in the person of Jesus.
Are people today perhaps just as confused in being satisfied with the ‘good wine’ of the things of this world, and failing to see what is being offered in the New Wine and New Covenant of Jesus Christ and His Church?
Jesus the Bridegroom has prepared the Banquet. We are invited. The New Evangelization invites all of us to ‘re-discover’ the Wine that is Jesus, the Bread of Life that is Christ our Savior. We are invited. We are called to follow Jesus.