“May the Lord teach us always, every You were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness., to make an examination of conscience. We should ask how we wish to present ourselves when we meet Him.”
– Pope Benefict
I recently attended a conference of Catholic leaders from around the country. The speakers were great, as was the caliber of the attendees, the combination of which led to some interesting and impromptu conversations over meals and during breaks. As I was sharing with a small group about the Catholic Leadership Institute’s work to understand the perceptions of weekly mass goers, one fellow attendee piped up with feedback that we get regularly: “You’re just hearing from the choir though, right? I want to know why people left. Why are they leaving?” It was a good dialogue, and I shared what we have learned and how we try to solicit that perspective as well. Honestly though, the conversation nagged at me the rest of the day.
Later that day at Mass, the celebrant preached on John 6:68 when people are turning away from Jesus based on his teaching, and the Lord asks the apostles if they, too, will leave. Peter’s famous response “to whom shall we go?” was the theme of the conference. For those of us who aren’t scripture scholars, if we hear that question out of context, we might think Peter sounded like he didn’t have a better option. But the next verse is what quickly dispels that thought: “You have the words of eternal life.” The presiding bishop’s challenge to us came in the form of a simple, and yet for me, profound question, “Do you know why you stay?”
As I looked around the room of very active Catholics, I hoped most of us would have an answer. But then, I thought about our research and the quarter of Mass-going Catholics who share that they don’t know why they stay. I couldn’t help but wonder whether it be in friendships or activities, in a job or vocation, and certainly in something as essential as faith, how many of us don’t know and/or can’t share why we stay? Is it comfort or habit? Perhaps it’s fear of the unknown, or of loss? Or do we stay because we know how a friend makes us better, how a job serves others, or that, like Peter, when it comes to everlasting life, there is no other way?
As I chatted after Mass with that same individual from the earlier conversation, we both really appreciated the homily, and I circled back to her feedback. “If we don’t know or can’t share why we stay, it might be part of the reason why they leave.” As we encounter those closest to us this week, let’s make sure that those we love not only know that we stay, but why we stay.
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