Third Sunday of Lent (C)

Today´s Gospel brings to mind a conversation between two young men. One was a cradle Catholic, who later left the Church. The other had been brought up in no religion, a humble guy who joined the Catholic Church when he was in college.

The first young man said, "Don't tell me about the Church. I went through twelve years of Catholic schools and had it drummed into me. When I got on my own, I started thinking for myself. It just did make any sense to me. It had nothing to offer me." The second young man said, "Fair enough, but can I ask you a question?" "Sure," the first said. "In your years of Catholic education, did anyone ever tell you the purpose of the Church?" Silence. In his twelve years of Catholic school, either no one told him or he didn't remember the purpose of the Church. Why does the Church exists at all? The young man, who converted to the Catholic faith, did know. Before telling you, let me explain why it is important to know.

By way of comparison, suppose I am considering membership in a local gym. I go for a visit and get a full tour. I see all the exercise equipment and they tell about "trainers" who can help develop a good exercise program. After listening to presentation, I say, "Yah, but you don't have a place where I can get my favorite latte and a cinnamon roll!"

The gym manager would probably say to me, "That would be nice, but we're here to help people get physically fit. You can get your latte and roll across the street. Our purpose is physical fitness."

Now, it's only fair to judge a gym according to its basic purpose. Just so, we need to know the Church's purpose before we can say whether the Church - or any individual parish - is doing a good job.

So, what is the purpose of the Church? We see it dramatically in today's Gospel. Jesus receives news of a massacre in Jerusalem. Pilate had murdered a group of Galileans and then compounded his crime with a sacrilege -he mixed their blood with Temple sacrifices. Jesus might have responded in various ways: He could have gone to console the widows and orphans, maybe even taking up a collection for them. He could have spoken out against the outrage, denounced Pilate for his despotism. He could have even announced his supports for the Zealots, who wanted independence from Rome. The Gospel, however, does not record Jesus taking any of those actions. Rather, he turns to his listeners and says: If you do not repent, you will all perish as they did.

At first these words seem insensitive, but if you think about it, they show Jesus' basic concern. First, foremost and always, Jesus' concern himself with the salvation of souls. He knew that in the long run, only one thing matters: where we spend eternity. For that reason, he speaks about repentance - before anything else. In fact the very first word Jesus speaks, in his public ministry, is: repent! Turn away from sin and turn to God. If you listen carefully to Jesus' teaching, you will see that all his parables have that basic concern: the salvation of souls.

Jesus founded the Church to continue his mission: to bring people to salvation.

Salvation of souls: calling people to turn from the Way of Death and to embrace the Way of Life. That was how the Church understood her purpose in the first century. That continues to be our purpose in the twenty-first century: saving souls, human beings.

Perhaps someone has come this Sunday because they saw the Catholics, Come Home commercials[1]. We welcome you! We want you. We need you. But above all, we love you. Love means to desire the very best for the other person. And the very best we can desire is that you spend eternity, forever, with God in the Communion of Saints. As a parish, as part of the universal Church, that is our purpose: the salvation of souls.

During Lent we focus more directly on that purpose. We do that by accompanying our catechumens and candidates as they prepare for the Easter Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. This Sunday our catechumens will receive the First Scrutiny[2]. In the Scrutiny we will invoke the power of Christ to defend and protect them, and by extension, all of us. This rite underscores the purpose of the Church! By now, you probably know it by heart, and can say it with me: The salvation of souls.

So, my brother, my sister, the Church exists for the salvation of souls; like Jesus, to call people to repentance. Let us be aware of this and let us be SO grateful!

[2] The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is the process through which interested adults and older children are gradually introduced to the Roman Catholic faith and way of life. Children who were not baptized as infants are also initiated through an adapted process of this rite, sometimes incorrectly referred to as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Children (RCIC).

Y entonces uno se queda con la Iglesia, que me ofrece lo único que debe ofrecerme la Iglesia: el conocimiento de que ya estamos salvados –porque esa es la primera misión de la Iglesia, el anunciar la salvación gracias a Jesucristo- y el camino para alcanzar la alegría, pero sin exclusividades de buen pastor, a través de esa maravilla que es la confesión y los sacramentos. La Iglesia, sin partecitas.

laus deo virginique matris