The man came home after a hard day’s work. It was late fall, and winter-like weather was in the air. He lit a fire in the fireplace and then sat down to enjoy its warmth. In a few minutes the fire was bright and crackling. Just then the doorbell rang. Upon opening the door, he found himself face to face with the pastor of his church. He knew the pastor well. This pastor had the reputation of being a man of few words; but he was a good pastor who frequently visited families in his congregation.
But still he was surprised. He had stopped going to church a while back. In fact, he remembered the last time he was there, he told the pastor that he thought religion was really a private matter, and he didn’t need to go to church to be a man of strong faith. The pastor had looked at him, smiled knowingly but said nothing; and that was that – until tonight! Of course he was courteous and invited the pastor to sit down, half expecting a lecture about the importance of going to church. But the pastor simply stared gratefully at the fire, enjoying its warmth, and said nothing.
They sat silently in their chairs for quite some time. As the fire continued to burn, its flaming embers fell beneath the metal grate, creating a glowing bed of intense heat. Then, unexpectedly, the pastor arose from his chair, walked over to the fireplace, and with fire tongs in hand picked a single red-hot ember from the midst of the fire and placed it by itself on the side. Within moments, the glow had disappeared and the ember had cooled. Then the pastor picked the ember up and threw it back into the glowing bed inside the fireplace, where it quickly began to glow again with an intense heat. Before the man realized it, the pastor walked out the front door. Not a single word was exchanged. But the man returned the very next Sunday to worship with the congregation.
Religion is not a private matter. Religion is a community experience. The first thing Jesus did when he himself went public was to gather a community of people around him. He invites them by name: Matthew, John, Martha, Peter, Andrew, Mary Magdala, Thomas... Jesus knew well that it takes a community to support an individual’s faith life. Today he invites others to his community and he calls us each by name: Linda, Anne, John, Michael, Karen, Robert… We are called to this community of Jesus Our Shepherd by our baptism. We continue to find spiritual nourishment and strength in the table fellowship of our Sunday Eucharist. The Spirit is here and abides in this community of believers. The Spirit of God is no more alive in the pope or in Archbishop Timothy Dolan than in you! That Spirit abides in the hearts of each and everyone in this church. We need each other! It’s all in God’s Plan! We are the amazing graces in each other’s lives!