Introduction: Europe has been way ahead of the United States in terms of abandoning religion and becoming merely a godless, secular state. In fact compared to Europe, the United States has traditionally been a very religious nation regardless of the religion that is practiced. But this is changing and quickly as the USA leap frogs toward equality with Europe in abandoning the practice of religion in favor of a godless, selfish secularism. A report released Tuesday by the Pew Forum finds that the total number of Catholics in the United States dropped by 3 million since 2007, now comprising about 20 percent – or one-fifth – of the total population.
And perhaps more troubling for the church, for every one Catholic convert, more than six Catholics leave the church. Taken a step further, Catholicism loses more members than it gains at a higher rate than any other denomination, with nearly 13 percent of all Americans describing themselves as “former Catholics.”
Now, most pundits think the bad news here is that the Catholic Church is shrinking or losing its influence in society and its prestige is being damaged. And while that may well be true, it misses the religious point that all believing and practicing Catholics should understand. When a Catholic, with full consent of the will, leaves the Church to become nothing, their eternal salvation is in jeopardy.
The reasons for the Church are multifaceted but the rock bottom reason is for the personal salvation of sinners. In other words Christ’s Church exists to save people from going to hell. We should grieve the loss of souls just as a family would grieve the loss of a child who abandons the family. We want our children back just as the Church does.
Topic Statement: In his ascension, the Church becomes the necessary means by which Jesus Christ and salvation in Him are made known.
1. By God’s grace we accomplish this by knowing our faith but more importantly by knowing, loving and serving our God.
A. After the Second Vatican Council, when we moved away from the Baltimore Catechism to new and improved ways of teaching our children, we unfortunately discovered some time later, more than two generations later, that new and improved was not improved but an impoverishment of our way of handing on the Faith. It lacked clarity, purpose and mission. It was all about feeling good about oneself and God, highly superficial and with no substance. Compared to Pre-Vatican II times, we now have a generation or two of Roman Catholics who are totally illiterate about their faith and what faith they have is built on marshmallows not the solid rock of Jesus Christ. This leads to a significant number of Catholics being very wishy washy about their faith, many no longer practice it . And if one is taught only the psycho-babble of feel good religion and all or no religions are equal and there is no chance of going to hell, why in the hell should anyone remain Catholic. I'd join the "nones" too if I believe this sort of religious drivel.
B. But faith formation can only go so far. There has to be a personal commitment to Jesus Christ and His Church no matter what. Catholics are in a personal relationship with God through the grace of Christ, not necessarily in a personal relationship with dogmas and doctrines as important as these are to inform our relationships with God and neighbor. Pope Francis speaks often about his grandmother and grandmothers of his grandmother’s generation. They were not highly educated in the faith but were good and committed Catholics and handed on the faith of the Church to their children and grandchildren by the infectious love they had for God and His Church. They simply did the right thing and had the right faith because they loved God and the Church. They loved God and neighbor. They knew and loved God, pure and simple.
2. We do what we are commissioned to do by giving witness as best we can to Jesus’ ministry to the sick, poor and sinners.
A. Why in the world do we have here at St. Joseph's a Saint Vincent de Paul Society, Family Advancement Ministries, Daybreak, the Kolbe Center, soup kitchens or prison ministry or hospital ministry? Because Jesus has a special place in his heart for those who were broken, and rejected, those who live on the periphery of society and those who have chosen a path to damnation. But more importantly, each and every lay Catholic has an obligation to witness to their Catholic faith at home, at work and in recreation. We do so by word and deed. We should never underestimate the power we have to propagate the faith to our spouses, our children; relatives, friends, and all we meet by the manner in which we conduct your lives.
B. All seven sacraments of the Church show forth the real presence of Jesus Christ in a sacramental way, a presence that exists throughout the world. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in particular makes known the Word of God, the one Sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and His desire to nourish, fortify and sustain His Church with His body, blood, soul and divinity so that we might be good Catholics in the world. We are most blessed as Roman Catholics to have the real presence of Christ available to us in the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle of every Catholic Church, shrine or chapel throughout the world. Jesus is still among us, we can see and speak to him and this presence is just as real as when he walked among us two thousand years ago. This is the glory of the ascension, that Jesus by the Holy Spirit is everywhere in the world, not just in one location.
Conclusion: Jesus has ascended to the right Hand of God the Father almighty, but He remains with us in and through the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. As we celebrate this Holy Eucharist, which he has left us as a sign of His abiding presence, may we be inspire persevere in the true Faith until our last breath and until our Last Holy Communion when we hope to hear the Risen Lord say to us, "welcome good and faithful servant. Inherit the kingdom establish for you from all eternity."