We don’t have to be very sharp to notice that our congregation is rather rich: together we have quite a lot of silver. Sometimes it’s covered, sometimes dyed, and sometimes invisible like mine, because I’m clean-shaven and my hairdo is very short. In other words, our congregation is not particularly diverse age-wise. We are not unique here; it’s the same story in other, non-Catholic churches too. The generation gap widens year after year, and seemingly this process is gaining pace. So, we are doomed here. Or are we?
Today’s gospel tells us the story of Jesus’ intervention in the case of a dying twelve year-old daughter of a synagogue official (I gave a miss to the other story today in order to avoid distraction). The girl’s father, Jairus by name, is desperate to save her, and he pleads with Jesus to help him. On the way to his house Jairus learns that his daughter has died, and he’s given a common-sense piece of advice: ‘As now she’s dead, don’t bother Jesus with going there.’ It’s dead simple, if you excuse the pun: funeral arrangements must be made now, not arrangements for a healing session. Jesus’ reaction to the news seems to be illogical and darn silly as he tells Jairus: ‘Do not be afraid, only have faith.’ Instead of abandoning him with a pat on shoulder and some cheap meaningless consolation, Jesus presses on and arrives at Jairus’ house. And what a house it is: full of commotion, with people weeping, wailing and crying loudly. Well, they behave like that because the girl is certainly dead, isn’t she? It’s common sense, isn’t it? So they obviously mock Jesus’ apparently insane claim that ‘the girl is not dead, but asleep.’ He doesn’t delve into discussion with nay-sayers, but goes with the girl’s parents and his three companions to her room.
From my perception this whole story mirrors the current situation in our Church, with many believers somehow surrendering to the apparent inevitability of the faith dying out, losing hope and – at best – committed to salvaging whatever possible from the sinking wreck. It’s easy to complain about those who have abandoned the Church, the faith and the Christian moral compass, or to judge them with harsh words and to condemn them. But this approach doesn’t change the situation for the better; it might only assuage our own guilt or lessen the sense of helplessness.
I was reading today’s passage of the gospel a day after the retreat for young people we’d made in Tomintoul last weekend. Yes, I admit, we are in crisis; yes, there aren’t many youngsters or young families regularly sitting in the pews. But the retreat was yet another proof for me that the younger generations are not dead to the faith but, rather, only asleep. More importantly, once again I realised that the Christian faith has its best offer to the world: the living Jesus – the person that can have a real and massively positive impact on our lives. It seems to me that sometimes we forget this simple but powerful truth: that our faith is first and foremost about Jesus alive and active, not about rules, regulations or customs. Pope Francis seems to understand that very well, and that’s why he’s been listened to by the modern world.
So, what can we do to wake up those dormant to the faith? First of all, I don’t have a simple answer to this billion-dollar question. But, based on such experience as I’ve had, the first step is to make a very honest assessment of our own faith: is it all about Jesus at the centre of my life, or is it rather about rules, traditions and habits? If the latter, then the next step is conversion; or, in other words, putting Jesus at the centre of your life in all its aspects. If Jesus is indeed the Lord of your life, the next step is this: proclaim Him to those around you. Not necessarily by nagging them with your sermons, but rather by giving the personal testimony of your life filled with love, joy, peace, forgiveness, understanding, perseverance in adversities and endurance in hardships. In today’s gospel Jesus instructed the parents to feed their awakened daughter; follow that tip, and give those around you something to eat: Jesus himself.