The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 14, verses 15-24, which was read at today's liturgy struck a personal cord in the ongoing discussion and struggle regarding those who do not attend Mass. Sunday we held a "town hall meeting" of parishioners in which a large part of the discussion was this issue.
I shared the stats of our October Count (the Church's effort to "count heads" during the month of October so that we can see the trends). We have those stats since 2001. This year our numbers were down slightly after a slight increase in 2011. Overall, in the past twelve years we saw a little over 300 less attending Mass. Our percentage is about "normal" at just under thirty percent of our registered parishioners. It is not like our Masses are empty, although they are far from packed. We express our concern, we look for ways to encourage attendance, and we do very little.
In today's Gospel Jesus tells a story. It is of a man who has planned a great dinner and invited his guests. When it is time and all is ready, his servant goes out to call the invited guests. They have excuses - valid ones - but excuses nonetheless. A new field was purchased and he needs to inspect it. New oxen needed to be evaluated. One guest just got married and begged off. They asked to be excused very politely, and with what they perceived as a just reason. But the man throwing the dinner was angry. This party was for them, because they were important to him. And they "blew him off". He instead invites the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame, any who are willing to come ... for he desired the house to be filled. And to those who refused the invitation, he says "...none of those men who were invited will taste my dinner."
How do we get that message out? How do we convince those who refuse the invitation that this is crucial, a life or death situation? How do we point out that this is not just "another thing" to fit into the schedule if possible, but that without gathering at THIS table we have no share in the heavenly banquet? This is an urgent matter! We have work to do, vital work that is caught up in the noise and business of everyday life. The challenge is to set our priorities and follow through with the conviction of our Faith.
Well, after Mass this morning (I wanted to pray first) I went and cast my ballot. Challenging as the problems are, unsatisfying as the party platforms and candidates' positions are, and uninspiring as many of the candidates themselves are, it is a sacred duty and a moral responsibility to take part in the political process afforded us in this democratic republic. The other sacred duty and moral responsibility incumbent upon us is to pray for this nation, her leaders, and the people that they serve. May God have mercy on us and may he bless us!