A pastor of a West Coast parish became frustrated by the number of people in his community who were not coming to church on Sunday, so he formed a committee to investigate it. They eventually sent out this letter.

Dear Parishioner,

You are registered here in the parish, but we have noticed that you do not come to mass on Sunday. So, we have designated next Sunday as There Is No Excuse Not To Come To Church Sunday. We have worked diligently to eliminate any excuse for not joining us for worship.

Next Sunday cots will be provided for all who feel that Sunday is their only day to sleep in. Coffee and eye drops will be available for those who insist on staying out late on Saturday night. Steel helmets will be provided for those who claim that if they ever walk into a church the roof will fall. Sweaters will be provided for those who feel the church is too cold; and fans for those who feel the church is too hot. There will be scorecards available for all who wish to keep track of the hypocrites who come to church on Sunday. We will have gift certificates for area restaurants for those who feel that they must stay home and cook. Finally, we are decorating the sanctuary with Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who have never seen the church without them.

The letter caused a good deal of discussion. But ultimately very few people decided to come back to church on a regular basis. This should not be surprising because you cannot argue, shame, or force people into accepting the value of the church community.

Seeing the importance of a faith community is a gift, a gift that is connected to faith in Jesus Christ. This is clear in today’s gospel. Peter makes a strong profession of faith in Christ. He says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” The very first thing that Jesus reminds Peter is that his faith does not come from flesh and blood but from the revelation of our Heavenly Father. Peter did not believe in Christ because he was smarter or more observant than other people. He believed because he had been gifted with faith that comes from a God who loved him. The same is true for us. We have faith in Jesus Christ not because we are particularly intelligent or good. We believe because God has loved us and gifted us with faith. There is a mystery here. Why do we believe in Christ there still are so many good and intelligent people in the world who do not share in that faith. Why is it that people we love, and we would deeply desire to believe, in sometimes cannot do so? The only explanation is that we have been given faith and others have not. We should respond to such a gift in humility and in thankfulness. Faith is a gift. It is a gift connected to the community. This is also clear in today’s gospel. After Peter professed his faith, Jesus established the church. He proclaims that it is upon the rock of Peter’s faith and faith like Peter’s, that his church will stand. Faith and church community go together. People who say they believe in Christ and yet do not associate themselves with a believing community have an incomplete faith because the entire witness of Israel and of the scriptures testify that believing and church go together. In choosing Christ we do more than make an individual decision to believe, we also commit ourselves to brothers and sisters who believe the same thing with us. Faith in Christ requires a place where we worship God with others and serve one another in Jesus’ name.

Fr. Monteleone

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