The Gospel for today issues a challenge to us - as always. It's Luke's version of the rejection of Jesus as a prophet by the people of his own hometown, Nazareth. The crowd turns on him pretty dramatically after Luke mentions that "all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth" (Lk 4:22).
Several commentators I read this morning indicate that the turn of events hinges on the stories that Jesus tells in this pericope. In both cases, prophets of God are sent to minister to Gentiles, even though the need for the same ministry among the chosen people was great. Jesus identifies himself as a prophet who will reach beyond the religious boundaries of Judaism. This incensed a people who felt that they were the chosen of God, and who though of Gentiles, as one commentator quoted, as being "created as fuel for the fires of hell."
I mention this because I have read and heard of Catholics who long for a smaller, holier Church. They look at the exodus of Europeans from their parishes in the wake of growing secularism, and basically say, "good riddance." And while Jesus advises his disciples to shake the dust of towns that reject the the apostles and Gospel from their sandals (Lk 9:5), he also tells parables of God seeking out the lost (Lk 15).
The Church exists to evangelize, according to Pope Paul VI
Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection. (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14)
If people leave the Church in the wake of advancing secularism - or for whatever reason - we dare not simply accept that situation. I can not reconcile the command to love my neighbor and the willingness to let them leave the embrace of the Church. The temptation is to convince myself that they have knowingly rejected the Gospel, when, in fact, they may never have been fully evangelized in the first place.
For the Church, evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new: "Now I am making the whole of creation new." But there is no new humanity if there are not first of all new persons renewed by Baptism and by lives lived according to the Gospel. The purpose of evangelization is therefore precisely this interior change... (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 18)
The questions that each of us must ask ourselves is, "have I undergone such a conversion?" As parishes, we must ask ourselves, "do we reflect the kind of transformed life that is itself a sign of transformation and new life?" (E.V., 23) The proof of my having been evangelized is that I now desire to share the good news I have received with others. This makes perfect sense. I remember the summer day in 1977 when I learned I had been accepted as a member of the McDonald's All-American marching band. It meant I had free trips to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, along with opportunities to make great music, meet kids from all over the country, and get to do some great sightseeing in those three cities. I had opened the letter from the McDonald's corporation fully expecting a rejection. In fact, I had even forgotten auditioning by tape some eight months previously. I couldn't wait to tell someone - anyone - and I was home alone, and it seemed that all my friends were away from their homes. It was a good hour or more before I could share my "good news," and I thought I was going to explode!
Pope Paul VI put it this way,
Finally, the person who has been evangelized goes on to evangelize others. Here lies the test of truth, the touchstone of evangelization: it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn.
I believe we have to take evangelization and conversion much more seriously - beginning with our own deepening conversion to the Lord. As a friend of mine is fond of saying these days, "What - or who - is your God?" The more I focus my life on Jesus, God incarnate, and seek to worship Him alone, the more His grace will transform me and prepare me to evangelize with my life and my words. God's desire for His Church, I believe, is that it be both huge (even universal) and holy - a spotless bride.