Helen and I have just returned from a walk in the desert this morning and used the time to discuss an appropriate topic for this blog. Our discussion centered on the issue of “rules” within the context of our faith tradition which is a particularly timely subject given the advent of Lent and the rules around fasting and abstinence. Many of the rules, such as these, come under the heading of Church discipline. Unfortunately, unless your faith has reached a high level of maturity, you may well ignore the rules. This is often the case with young people today distracted as they often are by more secular concerns. It was certainly the case for me in my youth.
What I have observed over the years is that the rules work for those who don’t need them to nourish their relationship with Jesus and don’t work for those who desperately need to develop and nourish a relationship with Jesus. The problem I think lies in the issue of “emphasis”. Take the issue of attendance at Sunday Mass for instance. For those of us who have fallen in love with Jesus and understand the spiritual need to gather at least weekly on Sunday to pay homage to our Savior and be in “communion” with Him and with other members of the Body of Christ, missing Mass in the absence of an emergency or sickness is not on the radar. For those however who have yet to develop that all important relationship with Jesus, the rule requiring attendance at Mass on Sunday may well be ineffective no matter the spiritual consequences of the failure articulated by the rule.
We really do need to spend more time and energy re-emphasizing the need to “discover” Jesus or perhaps to “rediscover Jesus”. Mathew Kelly of Dynamic Catholic fame has recently released a book entitled “Rediscover Jesus” [visit his website [http://dynamiccatholic.com/]. This book definitely emphasizes the need for all of us who profess to be Christians to get to know Jesus.
I think in many ways Pope Francis has recognized and is leading us to a deeper understanding of the “new evangelization”. Many in the media have misinterpreted his approach in such a way as to question his adherence to Church doctrine. As time unfolds, we will come to understand I believe that the Holy Father is leading us towards a fresh emphasis that recognizes the need to bring people into relationship with Jesus by articulating the immensity of God’s love and His mercy. The Holy Father recognizes that this can be done without compromising our doctrine. It really involves understanding the parable of the Lost Sheep [Luke: 15: 4-7].
Each of us, of course, is charged with the “great commission” [Mark 16: 16]. To evangelize effectively, we need to remind ourselves that the foundation upon which our own faith is based is our personal relationship with Jesus. Armed with that relationship we can follow the example of the Shepherd pursuing the Lost Sheep. The Holy Spirit will direct us in the details. We need only to engage the Spirit and be prepared to witness God’s love and mercy to those who have yet to discover Jesus and the relationship we are each called to have with Him.