A few weeks ago, I traveled to Baltimore to attend meetings for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. These meetings, which take place every year in June and November, are an opportunity to gather with my brother bishops to discuss issues within the church in the United States.
While several topics were addressed in our time together, I found one particular conversation to be especially interesting and relevant to our efforts here in this diocese: building a culture of missionary discipleship. Bishop Robert Barron, who heads the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, shared some of the research the committee has done on the religiously unaffiliated, those often referred to as the “nones.” Today, as many as 25% of Americans report that they are not affiliated with any particular religion; many are former Catholics. While these numbers are startling, Bishop Barron’s message focused on how we can reach out and engage the unaffiliated, which should be one of our priorities as missionary disciples.
Specifically, he encouraged us to walk the paths of goodness, beauty and truth. Each of these paths presents opportunities to speak to the heart of people and draw them deeper into the richness of the faith. Finding goodness, beauty and truth in the world naturally leads a person closer to God, who is goodness, beauty and truth.
Yet as I reflect on these three suggestions for reaching the nones, I recognize that we can’t give what we don’t have. So perhaps before we focus our efforts on others, we should take some time to rediscover goodness, beauty and truth in the world and in the church. The Advent and Christmas seasons provide ample opportunities to do so, and I’d like to offer some suggestions for you to consider.
This time of year is often known as the season of giving, and there are countless ways we can embrace this spirit of goodness. We can reach out to serve those in need in our communities by donating winter clothes, adopting a family and buying gifts, or volunteering at a shelter or a food pantry. Another way we can give is by spending time with people. Make it a point in our holiday gatherings to really be present to those around us, or take time to visit a friend, relative or even a stranger who is homebound or in a nursing home. Devoting ourselves to the humble service of others is a way to make the love of Christ known in the world.
The beauty of God is abundantly evident this time of year. One way we see this beauty is in the darkness and stillness of nature. Take a quiet walk and let yourself be captivated by the beauty of creation. Decorate your home and appreciate the way our churches are transformed to prepare for the coming of Jesus. Slow down and take note of the beautiful liturgies this time of year with their music, candles and colors. If you really want to see something visually stunning, attend a Mass on Dec. 12 for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and witness the beautiful devotion of the Hispanic people to our Mother. Use these next few weeks to let God touch your soul through beauty.
Finally, the Advent and Christmas seasons are all about the truth that 2,000 years ago, God entered into our humanity through the “yes” of a young woman. That God came as a child, born into the humblest of circumstances, to let us know how much he loves us and values us. Spend some time in quiet prayer, reflecting on this truth and let yourself be overwhelmed by the love God has for you.
Whatever you do, take time this season to slow down and renew your relationship with Jesus. As you do, don’t be afraid to invite a family member or friend, especially one who might identify as a none, to experience the goodness, beauty and truth that this time of year offers! Happy Advent!
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter at @BpDavidRicken.