There is a church in Boston that I used to go to for many years, after my own experience of God’s mercy had begun. In the beginning times, there was an invitation to look for Eucharistic Ministers, both to serve in the church and especially to go and visit the hospitals that are nearby. So, I signed up, along with about 20 other young adults. Most of us set out then for the hospital role, and stopped by the hospital. By the time the program for visiting the hospitals was complete, we were down to 2. What happened to the rest of the 20? They stayed on to do the Eucharistic ministry in the liturgy, inside the church. Once they found that there were several meetings to get into the hospital ministry, that it cost a couple of bucks to have some medical tests done, and that it might take up a bit of weekend time, they all gave up. It’s easier to be inside the comfortable churchy things, and there were too many obstacles to extending out. It’s easy to talk, it’s something different to integrate action.
As time went on I kept up the hospital ministry, as well as a number of other ministries extending out into the area. As I formed or participated in groups in the church, I had always attempted to extend the red carpet out from the comfort zone. But nothing ever stuck. People preferred attending long talks or classes by authoritative people, prayers, and cliques. And that’s what they got.
The other day, I went into the church. There, on the bulletin board, were a whole bunch of postings. They were for talks and classes and praying together and cliquey stuff. Nothing had changed. And that’s not uncommon all around the Catholic Church. Nice and comfortable. True doctrines, peaceful prayer time, marvelous words. All talk, little action.
One day a few years ago, I sat down and read out loud Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is by far the largest quote from Jesus in the Gospel. By far. It takes up 3 whole chapters in the Gospel of Matthew. So, I wanted to time how long it took for Jesus to preach it, because it was clearly the longest talk that Jesus ever gave. How long was Jesus’ talks? Well, this would give the maximum limit.
So, I took out my bible and read the whole Sermon out loud at a pace I thought might be reasonable. When I was done, I looked at my timer. 13 minutes! That means the longest Jesus ever spoke his teachings was 13 minutes! And of course, we all know about his other talks. One word, and the storm at sea calmed. That’s about a half a second. One word, and Lazarus comes out from his tomb, alive after being dead several days. One word, and the deaf girl can hear. A 3 minute conversation and the woman at the well becomes a bridge for Jewish enemies to come to the Son of God. And do you remember his homily in the synagogue when it was his turn, after which the people wanted to toss him over a cliff? Less than a minute, only a few sentences.
So, what’s the point? It’s this: Jesus didn’t give long talks in the Temple or the synagogue. He covered ground all across present-day Israel, ministering to people, and not in religious buildings or at organized religious events, but in the most ordinary, public places.
He was a man of action.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has tough words for the leading church-goers of the day: “They preach, but do not practice.” “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.” And it goes on and on. What’s it all mean? All talks, no action. That’s why all the sheep are scattered.
Do you want to know when a church is healthy, when it is really following Jesus? When it’s not a place of talks. When it’s a place of action.
If you want to know what it’s really like to know and live with God, get away from the talks and the classes and the cliques. Step outside your church, your home, your work, and your social circle.
Step out of your comfort zone.
Take a step into action.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (Jn 10:1-5)