In most places, the church steeple is the highest structure in town. Steeples are built so that they can be seen for miles around to let people know where they can go to pray and worship. Standing above the rooftops, they allow visitors to know where the churches are even if they have never been there before. When they are designed correctly, steeples lead people to places of worship with no other directions being needed.
Steeples, in essence, are brick and mortar representations of Jesus’ words in today’s gospel: “You are the light of the world...Your light must shine before others.” Just as steeples lead people to church, we must lead people to Jesus by allowing His light to shine through us. Through our good example, others should understand what it means to be a Christian even if they have never heard the word of God before. Shining brighter than any good the world can offer, we should direct others to the love of God.
What are some ways that we as individuals and as a community of faith can be living steeples and beacons of Jesus’ love for our town and for our world?
First of all, we can be welcoming to everyone who comes through the doors of our church.
We can never insist enough that all people are welcome at Mass. No one needs a ticket or an invitation. When the doors of the church open, no one is excluded. We do not check to see who is Catholic or Protestant. We don’t quiz you on your political biases or religious beliefs. Neither do we check anyones marital status or sexual orientation. All people are welcome here to experience God’s mercy and love.
In a parish of this size, it is not really possible to know every person. Sometimes when we see someone we haven’t seen before, we assume that he or she probably goes to Mass at a different time than we do. However, let us each make an effort from today on to greet someone we do not know. Let us take the time to get to know one another by chatting in the parking lot before or after Mass or by making a point of saying “hello” and give each other a warm smile. These are small gestures but they go a long way toward helping people to feel appreciated and at home. For many people, it might be the only glimpse of God’s love they have that day.
Secondly, as a parish, we can be a beacon of light to our community by the way we worship.
Most of us assume that people leave the Church because they disagree with her teachings, especially about marriage and family life. However, most studies show that the single biggest reason people leave the Church is because they find Mass dull and uninspiring.
That means that we have a lot of work to do. However, the burden to improve our worship should not fall only on the priest, deacon and music ministers. You laypeople also have a part to play in making sure our liturgies are lively and uplifting. When you raise your voices in song, when you respond heartily and are attentive, it makes a real difference in the energy level of the Mass. We feed off one another’s enthusiasm and feel our spirits being lifted. As priests and deacons, when we see your attentiveness, it inspires us to pray with our heart and to preach with vigor.
It is very important to remember that Mass is not something that priests and deacons do. It is not a service we provide for laypeople. The congregation is meant to be active participants in the liturgy not passive bystanders or spectators. By praying with sincere devotion, it will go a long way toward making our worship a beautiful expression of faith in the living God and a beacon of light to all who join us.
Thirdly, the way we can be a light to the world is by our service to the community.
One question we should never fail to ask ourselves is, “If our parish were to disappear tomorrow, would the town notice that we were gone?” The answer is most certainly “yes”. Our parishioners provide heroic and often unnoticed service to the poor and needy in our community. Because of your donations of time and money, lonely people have visitors, the sick find comfort and the hungry find a meal. So many in our parish take to heart the words of Isaiah in today’s first reading: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless….Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.”
Nonetheless, despite all the good work we do through God’s grace, we could always do better. We always need more volunteers to give of their time and money to allow Jesus’ love for the poor and needy to shine through. If you are sensing the Holy Spirit tugging on your heart calling you to help out, please say “yes.” You will be rewarded in ways you could never have imagined. And you will be surprised at how the light of God’s love shining through you will reach countless others.
Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world. We are called to shine with the love of God. As a community of faith, we are called to do that through our warm welcome, through our devout worship and through our humble service. By allowing Jesus to shine through us we will naturally draw others to Him just as surely as a steeple draws people to church. Then we can worship together this God who has called us out of darkness to live in His marvelous light.