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12/8/19 Second Sunday of Advent - Fr. Reggie

There are two ways that we can live out our Catholic faith.

We can live it passively, or we can live it personally.

When we live our faith passively, we are like the Pharisees and Sadducees that came to be baptized by John in the Jordan River. They were the religious and social leaders in Israel. They were the most visible and active members of their parish. They knew what to do when they went to Church, they knew all the prayers - on the surface, they appeared to be models of religion. They placed their confidence in being "children of Abraham." In other words, culturally speaking, they were good Jews. They came from Jewish families and followed Jewish customs.

But John the Baptist warns them that being cultural Jews wasn't enough. "God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones," he says.

Their religion was on the surface: it didn't touch their hearts.

We are constantly tempted to make the same mistake. Little by little, we can become too self-satisfied just because we come to Mass, receive the sacraments, go to Catholic schools... We can become complacent because we look like model Catholics on the outsidecultural Catholics.

But our faith is about much more than that.

To be Catholic is to be Christian, to be an activededicatedenergetic follower of Jesus Christ, to have a personal friendship with him, to know him deeply and to love him passionately by striving to build up his Kingdom.

When we live our faith passively, we are like artificial plants: we look nice, but we bear no fruit.

Today, Christ is reminding us to live our faith more personally, so that our lives can be branches of the true vine, "producing good fruit."

You may have heard about the "megachurch" phenomenon.

A megachurch is a non-denominational, Bible-centered Christian congregation that draws thousands of people to its weekly services.

The phenomenon started about thirty years ago, as a way to bring people back to the basics of Christianity - a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. You may have heard of Rick Warren, pastor of a megachurch in southern California, whose book, The Purpose Driven Life, has over 20 million copies in print. You may also have heard of Joel Osteen, author of two national bestsellers, who runs a megachurch in Houston, Texas, that attracts 38,000 people to its Sunday services and 200 million households to its television broadcasts. You may even have heard of Bill Hybels [HIGH-bills], the founder of what many consider the first megachurch ever - Willow Creek Community Church, near Chicago, Illinois, that currently has more than 100 ministries operating out of its home base. These are just some of the better known megachurch leaders, but megachurches are springing up throughout North America, and they are even sending missionaries abroad.

One little known fact about these megachurches is useful for us to reflect on.

Usually, more than 25% of their members are former Catholics.

A successful fitness expert in California recently explained why he left the Catholic Church: No one ever told me that Jesus Christ was offering me his friendship. When I found that friendship elsewhere, how could I refuse it?

The megachurches will come and go, as many other religious movements have done, while the Catholic Church, founded by Christ himself, nourished with the sacraments, guided through the divinely-guaranteed leadership of the papacy, will endure.

But that doesn't mean that we are spiritually healthy just because we still come to Mass.

We can easily forget that Catholics are called to be Christians, that we are supposed to be living a vibrant, personal friendship with Christ, not just going through the motions of religion.

It is not hard to deepen our personal friendship with Christ.

He really wants it to happen, and so for every small step we take closer to him, he takes a thousand steps closer to us.

Like every friendship, the one thing that best feeds our personal relationship with Christ is spending time together.

Spending time with Christ is called prayer.

A Christian who does not pray can hardly call himself a Christian. All of us here today are Christians who pray - and our Lord is full of joy at the mere sight of us gathered together to listen to his words and offer him our worship. And yet, we live in a society that is no longer Christian. It is secular. There are many Christians in this society, but the culture itself has put God in the closet. When was the last time you saw a TV show or movie that showed people praying? It's a rare occurrence. That's the culture we live in, and it affects us, whether we realize it or not.

Our prayer lives are not as healthy as they could be, and as a result, we don't know Christ as well as we could, and so we don't experience as much as he wants us to the meaning and deep joy that comes from living close to him. This Advent, let's change that. Maybe we can't change all the TV shows and the movies, but we can change ourselves and our schedules. At least for the couple of weeks still remaining in Advent, let's spend some quality time with Christ every day, even if it's only ten minutes.

Jesus has so much he wants to teach us and do for us - let's give him the chance, let's upgrade our prayer life.



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