OK, for most of a year now we have all been praying for someone we know and love to come back to the Church. Perhaps it is someone who will pick up this magazine off of the coffee table at home where we have conveniently laid it. Now it is time to act! Remember this text:
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. Mt 18:12-13
Many of us have acquaintances, friends and even family members who have drifted away from or actively left the Catholic Church. The numbers sadden us – in our diocese, only about 34 percent of registered parishioners attend Mass weekly. And there are countless other baptized Catholics who are not affiliated with a church in any way. We long to bring them home. We who minister in the Church are not immune – several members of my own family are no longer practicing the faith. It certainly pains each of us when we reflect on their separation, for we wish for them the same joy that we have found in loving our Lord Jesus and his Church.
It was in response to this crisis within the Church that I wrote a pastoral letter, Go and Announce the Gospel of the Lord, in 2012. Using that as a blueprint, we in the Diocese of Lansing have been working tirelessly to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. We have had two diocesan assemblies to focus on evangelization, to reach out to our brothers and sisters who have wandered from the fold. Last year we signed a brochure in church to pray for someone we wanted to call home; we will renew this action at the end of this month in our parishes. Perhaps our only action can be to pray; perhaps someone else will do the calling as a result of our prayer; perhaps we are meant to call someone else’s loved one home.
We are now going to have some help issuing that call. The Diocese of Lansing is going to collaborate with the Catholics Come Home organization to launch a media campaign from mid-December to mid-January. You will see television commercials that are specially developed to encourage people to come back to the Church or to learn about the Church for the first time. During their run, these commercials will air on broadcast and cable stations across our diocese; in fact, most people will see them multiple times.
This is an extraordinary undertaking, and I am very excited about it touching people’s lives and bringing them closer to Christ. To date, Catholics Come Home has partnered with more than 33 dioceses, and many are reporting a strengthening in Catholic identity, a return to the sacraments, and much positive press for the Catholic Church.
Our parishes are already very gracious in welcoming back those who return to the Faith. It is of particular importance that we continue that tradition, but also prepare intentionally to receive more Catholics who are coming home. This may mean that each of us has to take a long-term approach to this matter as we want them home not just for Christmas but for the long run. We must learn to accompany our sisters and brothers.
There are two reasons for this activity. The first is because we all owe God our worship and praise. God gives us love and life and meaning and purpose, so we should give him thanks and that really can only be done with other believers in the Body of Christ, the Church, which Jesus set up for that very purpose. The second is because they are brothers and sisters and we need them and want them with us; their faith supports us sinners in our weakness and we want to support them when they need it. After all, we are all sinners and Jesus likes to collect sinners together! I am excited that the Diocese of Lansing is engaging in this initiative that promises to help many people back to the sacraments and into a deeper relationship with our Lord.