SAD TO SAY, there are sincere believers who come to confession because they feel it is easier to repent before God than it is to apologize to people they have hurt! After all, God always forgives and the priest doesn’t try to make you feel embarrassed.
On the contrary, a sincerely repentant encounter with Christ, whether in confession or in the Eucharist, assumes that penitents have already repented to those whom they have offended. There is no greater sign of the authenticity of a person’s repentance than the willingness to do something concrete about it. Similarly there is no greater sign that a “penitent” is deceiving himself when he tries to apologize to God while avoiding the person he offended.
My priest asked me recently a challenging question. In talking about the work that I do for the church, he wanted to know one simple thing about the people that I speak to about my faith, “where are they?”. As a priest, who is in a service to the priestly people of God, it is only natural that he expects results from my service to the church. Each week he provides me the power to become what God is through Grace by his ordained ministry. However, this communication of Grace is not to be isolated within my personal experience. Just as my priest communicates it to me in the church I must also communicate it to others outside of the church. In essence, at some point the Grace that I receive must contribute to the growth of my church. If my church is by chance not growing it might be due to my lack of effort. Consequently, in some ways this makes the ministry of my priest to some degree in vain. The bottom line is, if we are not contributing to the growth of our churches we are in some ways diminishing the very purpose of having a church.
Since the time of the Apostles, the Church has always grown primarily through sharing the message of Christ with other people. More specifically, a church will have its main growth from the proclamation of the Gospel, which is called evangelization. Despite what people sometimes think, evangelization is not being good at religion. Most often, there is a mistaken notion that we can just be good Christians and people will eventually want to join our churches. I often wonder, when people think this way, how many have actually joined their church by doing that. What is sad, is that I have met people who believe this, and some of them even think they are following a certain saying attributed to St. Francis that went, “preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words”. What these people don’t realize, in using the saints words, is that people came from all over the world to HEAR his teachings on Christ. The truth is, there would be no Franciscans today if St. Francis went around and kept his faith to himself.
I don’t know about you but my personal testimony is not always the best. For me, I don’t put much stock in a saying like the one I mentioned above that seems actually to be missing from the teachings recorded about St. Francis. Nor do I believe that I have achieved a “spiritual peace” that allows everyone around me to be saved, that St. Seraphim spoke of, which sometimes people in my own church use as an excuse for not proclaiming their faith. On the other hand, I do know that God loves me and He has provided a way for me to continue to grow in my experience of Him. In knowing this ,I do believe that I have something to offer a person in terms of helping them to know God. There is only one obstacle in my life that prevents me sometimes from sharing this faith and it is fear. You would think that after about 20years of going around and telling others about Christ I would be over my fear. The fact is, fear will never go away and each opportunity that I have to share my faith I must chose to overcome it. This is where that Grace communicated to me through the ministry of my priest plays a great role because through it I have the power to overcome anything.
We have all been given something so precious through ministry of our priests. In sharing all this, I wish to challenge my readers to ask yourselves what my priest asked me about church growth. Each of us has the obligation to proclaim our faith in some form to others. You never know, that mailman that you see each day might be the next member of your church. The only thing stopping him from knowing this might be your own fear in sharing your faith. It might be natural to be afraid, but keep in mind, you have been given something not of this world, which is the very Grace to become what God is. To add to this teaching of our fathers about our deification, you become what God is through Grace, but also at the same time you become what God is in order to help others to do the same.