Today I had lunch with a young man who, although baptized as a child, never grew up practicing the Catholic Faith, was never confirmed, and never received the Eucharist. But somehow, by the grace of God, he now comes to Mass every Sunday and desires to be fully initiated into the Faith. It's fascinating that in the very same place that many others are abandoning their Faith, this young man is drawing closer.
Among the things that struck me about our conversation was that what, in part, attracts this young man to the Catholic Faith is the Church's clarity in doctrine. In the midst of the passing and ever-changing world, there is something attractive about the stability that the Church offers. It is not one thing today and another thing tomorrow. As we spoke, I was reminded of the common theme present in many of the liturgical prayers during the Advent Season. Quite often, during the Season of Advent, the Prayer after Communion speaks in a variety of ways about "learning to judge wisely the the passing things of earth, so as to love the things that eternally endure." People are hungering for stability.
Stability is not staleness. Stability is not stunted growth. Stability is not a lack of freshness. Stability is a condition for growth. When things are stable, they can sustain life. When a patient is in the hospital, we are happy to hear that he is stable. It means that the conditions are present which will enable him to return to full health. We prefer when the earth is stable rather than when the earth is quaking. A stable earth allows us to build cities and homes, to live our lives in tranquility, and to attend to deeper realities. When the earth quakes, cities are destroyed, lives are in turmoil, and we are only able to attend to the most basic realities (food, water, shelter).
Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas lived during turbulent times. A terrible heresy had arisen in the life of the Church and was causing incredible disruption. Nicholas was willing to suffer for the Truth. Nicholas knew that the greatest gift he could deliver to the people entrusted to his pastoral care was the firmness of the Truth. Despite being in the minority and being held in contempt by many of his peers, Nicholas held firm. A good shepherd stands firm and defends the sheep from the wolves.
The Gospel for today's Mass speaks about the Good Shepherd leaving the ninety-nine for the sake of the one lost sheep. Today, there is a temptation in the life of the Church to abandon the one for the sake of the ninety-nine. We can be lured away from the pastoral method of Christ who attended to the one, and instead become salesmen to the ninety-nine. But Christianity is always personal. It is always "heart speaking to heart." When people see the stability that Catholic life offers, they are drawn towards it. They recognize that the profound restlessness that they experience has an answer. People experience so much turbulence in their life, and in the Church they discover a place of peace. In the Sunday Mass, in Eucharistic adoration, in friendship, they experience those things that are not passing but rather endure.
As the Church considers how to evangelize and reach the people of today, we would do well to remember that people are starving for stability. For many people, their marriages, families, jobs, finances, and homes lack stability. All around them, everything is in flux. There is something of enormous comfort for them to come to the same liturgy, gather with the same people, and hear the same doctrine week after week, year after year. This stability enables them to build something, to grow, and to bear fruit.
On this Feast of St. Nicholas, we should pray that the Church might increasingly provide true pastoral care to its people by providing them with the stability that sound doctrine, right worship, and true communion provide.