Our parish year of prayer with its theme--Pray Together, Stay Together—officially launched last weekend. Over the next nine months, we will endeavor to grow closer to the Lord through prayer. Last week, a parent told me that our church and school have become more integrated and the parish more welcoming. Having worked together over the last year on becoming more deeply connected as One Body in Christ, we will spend this year becoming more deeply connected with God, so that we can stay together as his people.
Bulletin articles each week will focus on practical approaches to prayer in the Catholic tradition. Through our innovative Small Bytes program, guest speakers in a series of talks on Sunday mornings will deliver small “servings” of theology and catechesis to teach us different ways to pray, with an opportunity to learn more later in the same week. We will also put into practice what we have learned about prayer in our many small groups, which are forming quickly. We also will be preaching about prayer throughout the year. In fact, this week we begin a new eight-week message series at Sunday Mass called, More Than Lip Service: Living Out An Uncomfortable Religion.
Many people think of prayer as just something we speak using our tongues and mouths. But true prayer is more than lip service. It is a call to live in the way we pray and to pray based on the way we live. In other words, prayer leads to action, and good works lead us back into prayer. As the Catechism tells us, “prayer and Christian life are inseparable” (CCC 2745). And that can be just a little uncomfortable, if we’re not living as we should.
For instance, Jesus makes a rather uncomfortable statement in the gospel reading today. He says that the kingdom of God will be taken away from those who are unfruitful and “given to a people that will produce its fruit.” Many Christians comfort themselves with the oft-quoted maxim that God does not call us to be fruitful but only faithful. Yet, the opposite of fruitfulness is not faithfulness but failure. That God would destroy his own vineyard because it did not bear fruit, as the allegory set forth in the first reading today suggests, is indeed uncomfortable to think about.
Perhaps even more uncomfortable is the question whether we are producing sufficient fruit for the Lord. Discipleship is more than lip service, and the purpose of the Church is more than to secure the comfort of its members. In reality, a comfortable religion is a dead, sterile, self-serving religion. Christians instead are called to produce good fruit by growing the kingdom of God through mission and ministry. If Christ is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:5), then we will produce good fruit by grafting the wild shoots of the unchurched, the lost, and the questioning onto the true vine that is Jesus.
We can do that by being welcoming at church, inviting at work and school, serving the poor with the love of Christ, and witnessing to him by conforming our lives to gospel values.
Father Roger Gustafson