25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I love watching clever commercials on TV. That’s easily the best reason I can come up with to watch the Superbowl. Even better still is watching the Clio awards, which is the international awards program that recognizes innovation and creative excellence in advertising, design, and communication. It’s like the Oscars for TV commercials. The program takes place this year on Wednesday, September 25, in NYC. But you don’t even have to watch it live. It’s on the internet whenever you want it.

A smart commercial might be funny at first glance. But it is also insightful. It points to truths that provoke admiration for the geniuses who put it together. The music, the visuals, the tone of voice, the sales pitch, it invites you in. Sometimes you will want to watch it again. And most importantly it is entertaining. When you see a good one, you will want to tell your friends. But I think commercials are meant to accomplish something else altogether. Ultimately, commercials are trying to sell you something. They want to sell you something to make your life better. They’re telling you to get off your couch, go to the store, and get your hands on what they’re selling right this very minute. And some of them are not subtle at all. Those are the ones I despise—car salesmen who love to yell, fast food ads that insist you’re hungry even when you’re not, and ads for prescription drugs that people should really be speaking to their doctors about in private. And there are so many more annoying commercials than there are smart, insightful, and entertaining ones.

Now I would think the advertising industry has a way of measuring whether or not these commercials actually affect human behavior, whether or not people actually get off their couches, run to the store, and buy what they’re selling. But then again, they might just be making these commercials for the awards, and maybe name recognition. Anything that makes their brand stick in people’s minds, it doesn’t matter whether the reason is good or bad, has potential for affecting behavior. I’m just inclined to think that advertisers might intentionally want to leave a more positive impression.

So a few days ago I was having a casual conversation about the new church construction. It’s always a casual conversation about the new church construction. And it goes here and there, from when exactly we’re moving (we should have a better idea by Christmas) to how far will the restrooms be (about 20 feet from the doors, not that far) to how many will it seat (600 when we finish Phase 1) to why doesn’t the bishop make foreign priests speak better English because it’s driving people away from church (I’m scratching my head) to you should tell some people to dress more appropriately for mass (not my job, why don’t you tell them yourself) to maybe the bishop will let you stay until you retire (can’t promise you that) to where in the bible does it say we should mix water in with the wine during mass (it’s not in the bible, it’s from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments). Okay, it wasn’t one casual conversation. It just all blends together. And it makes me wonder where people get some of these ideas, and what we could do to improve their impression of the church.

We should probably be aware that among people who claim to be Christian and Christians who claim to be Catholic there is a wide spectrum of opinion regarding what all that’s supposed to mean. On one end of the spectrum is simple compliance with the minimum requirement—baptism, the profession of faith, accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, being raised by overbearing neurotic Catholic parents—and on the other end ultimately being proclaimed a Saint, performing the occasional miracle, and being guaranteed a seat at the eternal wedding banquet. And the gap between one end and the other spans the distance in lightyears between the sun and the farthest reaches of the known universe. So despite our widely varying opinions regarding who is and who is not a Christian and a Catholic, it’s really not our opinion that counts, but God’s.

We believe sacred scripture, and specifically the teachings and example of Jesus, and the reflections and insights of holy women and men through the ages provides us a helpful guide for living our Christian faith authentically. The reading from the prophet Amos directs us to observe the difference between those who put greater importance on external religious observance than on one’s purity of intention. No one but us and God can read our hearts. So there is no need to point out someone else’s faults. Rather, we should all be examining our own intentions and behaviors. How genuine is the practice of our Christian faith when our thinking and behavior are motivated more by selfish pride and greed and ambition? We can fool other people. There is no fooling God.

The parable about the steward who was getting fired is not an endorsement of dishonesty against an employer. Jesus says that his “master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.” In an older translation, it reads he was commended for being enterprising, basically for being creative and resourceful, for thinking outside the box. Then Jesus makes that observation that invites his listeners and us to examine how we might intentionally employ our creativity and resourcefulness and outside-the-box thinking to leave a more positive impression of the faith and of the church on others. Maybe by our kindness and hospitality we can help repair a poor first impression, or soften an indifferent or hostile attitude, or ignite renewal in one who has lost faith or enthusiasm. It is not our job to save sinners or whisk away their souls from the grip of the Prince of Darkness. We can draw them to Jesus. And it is Jesus alone who saves.

Instead our job is to warmly welcome others to consider what we believe is truly important, to extend them kindness and compassion, and to genuinely offer them the same hope and assurance of healing, reconciliation, and fulfillment that has drawn us to Jesus in the first place, and keeps us faithful to the struggle. If we love our Christian and Catholic faith deeply, how can we not convincingly show others the joy and wonder we have found? How do we best employ our creativity and resourcefulness and outside-the-box thinking in new and exciting ways so that many more people can love the same awesome God we love? Our critical attitudes and snide comments don’t help. We need to rethink how our words and actions provide others a positive image of our faith.

Sometime next summer we will find ourselves in our new and beautiful church building. Everybody here will likely be there too. And there will be new people with us, curious to experience the excitement for themselves. How we welcome them will affect to some extent whether they stay or not. We will have an opportunity to repair, soften, or strengthen whatever impression they have. We should start crafting a strategy now.

Rolo B Castillo © 2019