Memorial of Saint Monica
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
A popular book in church circles today is entitled, "REBUILT: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, Making Church Matter." It’s the authors’ contention that many Catholic parishes that used to be vibrant faith communities are now merging or shuttered, or, at best, merely surviving on life support due to an acute problem they label "consumer culture." Consumer culture erodes the sustainability of church communities because it allows the parishioner to assume the posture of shallow commitment and the attitude of ceaseless demands. Here, the consumer is schooled in insatiability. By its very identity this culture is never satisfied, at least not for long. And by their very natures, the consumers are taught that persons consist basically of unmet needs that can be requited by commoditized goods or experiences.
Paul’s words to the church at Thessalonica ("we speak not trying to please people, but God, who judges our hearts.") or Jesus’ words to the Pharisees ("…you strain out the gnat and swallow the camel") both confront the dysfunctional culture of their day… challenging the status quo with the urgency to re-shuffle priorities.
I suppose it’s easy for the preacher or pastoral minister to blame the congregant ("culture bashing"); nevertheless, maybe we all need to submit to a kind of performance appraisal now and again. Someone once said that you can always tell a person’s priorities by gazing at their calendar and checkbook …today it might be their iPad and credit card statement!
Remember when the people suggest that John the Baptist is the promised Messiah? His words of renunciation are strong: "He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." The law of gravity (wheat, because of its heavier weight, falls to the ground, while the lighter chaff blows away) reminds us that some things are heavier – weightier – than others. Jesus’ whole ministry will be centered on what theologian Diarmuid O’Murchu calls his "relationship matrix"… and far more important than paying tax on mint and cumin, or even abiding by Sabbath prescriptions is the centrality of peoplehood, relationship. What is of greatest importance in my Catholic identity? What is my priority?
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P. is the director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness. He is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.