Consumer mentality affecting many in the Church

Tom Bartolomeo
4th Sunday Ordinary C 2013
Jeremiah 1: 4-5, 17-19; Psalm 71;
Corinthians 12: 31 - 13, 3; Luke 4: 21-30
Reproduced with Permission

A few months ago on the first day of class I asked my students what were their goals. About half said, "to make money." Some said, an education. Most were speechless, hadn't considered the question.

As a visiting teacher of moral theology nothing would please me more than raising my students' appreciation of Catholic faith and morals. It is the most important calling of a Catholic priest - to teach the Gospel. Jesus spent most of his life teaching the "good news" of salvation. At first Jesus began his priestly ministry, quietly, baptized by John the Baptist and enduring forty days of penance in a desert although he had no sins to repent. Jesus then called his disciples, one by one, first Andrew and John whom John the Baptist had introduced, and Philip and Bartholomew who were also guests with Jesus at a wedding feast in Cana where he anonymously changed some water into wine sparing the bride and groom of an embarrassment. Yet we were told that his "time had not yet come." (John 2,4).

Finally, Jesus returned home to Nazareth where he had led a modest life for 30 years known by the townspeople who lived there. Then something unusual happened. On the Sabbath he went to the town's synagogue and read aloud a passage from Isaiah describing the work of the Messiah. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me", Jesus said, "because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives . . . to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord" and concluded, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4: 18-22).

Jesus' townspeople were at first "amazed" by his learning and comportment but couldn't reconcile the boy they had known with the man who had come of age before them. They heard of his mighty deeds elsewhere and expected that he'd at least do the same for them, but Jesus came to teach not to show them signs and miracles. Jesus had hoped that the "good news" of salvation, the wisdom of his teaching, would be enough to move their hearts or at least move them to consider his gospel message. Offended, their disappointment grew into anger, and they tried "to hurl him [off] the brow of the hill on which their town had been built. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away." Capernaum, where Peter and Andrew lived, would become his adopted town. Among his own Jesus was thereafter "persona non-grata", un-welcomed. They wanted something else from Jesus, nothing requiring a change of heart but some miracles "as were done in Capernaum", they said. Then they would accept him. Perhaps, Jesus could improve their lot in life, perhaps make them more prosperous as some of my students thought. You think Christ had it easy? It seem much of humanity remains stubborn.

We all bring to church and to Mass our biases, often unconsciously our consumer mentalities, a consideration of what we gain in exchange for our patronage. Can we accept that Jesus came among us to serve our real needs not the ones we seek? And what advantage exactly does Jesus and his Church exact from us? He came and taught that he was "the way, truth and the life" and spoke in parables about his desire that we gain the "kingdom of God." "Those who have ears to hear let them hear," he repeated. Before his departure and his victory over sin and after his resurrection He gave his Apostles the authority to forgive sins. He actually trusted the absolution of sins to those who had grievously sinned against him when they had abandoned him at his arrest and crucifixion. Certainly, with such generosity and trust he proved his desire to forgive us our sins.

It was then as it is now simply a matter of confessing our personal sins and receiving forgiveness no matter how awkward we may feel. He would have forgiven Judas had he asked. In his day he gave signs and miracles to affirm his power to forgive sins. All Jesus asked in return was a sign back, not a miracle just the request, "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned" and absolution would be given, seven times seventy times if that is what was called for as he once told Peter. Only sincere sorrow is required. The humiliation, shame and uneasiness we have we bring on ourselves. Jesus is not humiliated, shamed or ill at ease with us. Our fear of some deeply buried sins, failures in marriage or raising children in the faith or contraception, perhaps, God knows all the details long before we would come to admit our sins in the confessional. Besides, God is not an accountant balancing some ledger. He has better things to do, and he always gives more than he receives. Really, not much of a bookkeeper. He is our mediator with the Father, brother to brother and brother to sister knowing the Father would not refuse forgiveness. It is he only sure way for a Catholic to have his sins forgiven. There is no courtroom or jury involved, only a private meeting with Jesus and a guaranteed acquittal.

There may be much to set right, though, in finally and resolutely lifting my burden and amending my life. Have I sent my children to a Catholic parochial school or religious ed classes simply as a convenient consumer service which I didn't invest in myself - entirely leaving to others the faith and morals I should have been teaching my children? And when my children confess they missed Sunday Mass because I did not take them to church--what possible consumer guarantee fixes that? And how am I living out my Baptism, Confirmation and marriage vows? They are not one time events in your life.

None too soon for Lent to begin, don't you think? That will be in a week's time from this Wednesday. On that 'Day of Ashes' we will be signed with ashes on our foreheads, "Remember man, you are dust and unto dust you shall return" and hear from the prophet Joel in the first reading of that day,

Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting,
and weeping, and mourning the Lord: Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to
anger, rich in kindness, and relentless in punishment. Perhaps he will again
relent and leave behind him a blessing, Offerings and libations for the Lord, Your God. (Joel 2: 12-14).