Are you a fence sitter or a true follower?

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. He has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

What would I do?

Take a moment to ask this question as you place yourself in this story:

One Sunday morning during Mass, a congregation was surprised to see two men enter, both covered from head to toe in black and carrying submachine guns.

One of the men shouted, “Anyone willing to take a bullet for Christ remain where you are!”

Immediately, there were shouts and screams, leading to a chaotic scramble. The choir fled, the altar servers fled, as did most of the congregation. Within a few minutes, out of the 200 parishioners in attendance, only 10 remained where they were.

The man who had shouted took off his hood, looked at the priest and said, “OK, Father, I got rid of all of the fence-sitters. How about we start the Mass now?” (Story adapted from “Preaching to the Converted on Sundays and Feast Days Throughout the Year,” by Richard Leonard, SJ.)

So, what would you do if this were to happen at Mass this weekend? Would you stay or run?

Sadly, this is not just a hypothetical scenario in places throughout our world. This past weekend, Pope Francis canonized a number of new saints, among them Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass in El Salvador.

He dared to speak out for the rights of the poor, those who counted for nothing in his society. He spoke “truth to power” — as did Jesus — and, like Jesus, paid with his life.

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to meet Father Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian priest who was abducted by terrorists in Yemen in March 2016 and held captive for 18 months. His story is on page 5 of this issue of The Leaven.

One line particularly stood out. He’d just witnessed terrorists killing staff members of the Missionaries of Charity care home for the aged where he was chaplain. Despite this, when asked if he was a Christian, he said yes, knowing full well that the same fate might await him.

Again, what would I do in dire situations like that of Archbishop Romero or Father Tom?

I’d love to think that I’d be as courageous and faithful. But would I? Would you? Would fear override faith?

The reason I waver on how I might react in such a life-or-death situation is that I pass up plenty of opportunities on a daily basis to live out my Christianity.

For example, in last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus advised the rich man to “sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mk 10:21). Like the rich man, I have “many possessions” and certainly could be much more generous to those in need. So, why do I still hesitate?

In reading about Archbishop Romero, I have to ask if I boldly take a stand with and for the outcast, the forgotten and the unloved. Do I stand up when people are being bullied, in person or online? Do I let demeaning comments about others go unchallenged? Am I disinterested when I hear about people starving in the world or suffering from natural disasters?

In short, there are plenty of instances in which I’m not really being faithful to what the Lord calls me to be and do. And if I can be so cavalier in smaller things, well, that doesn’t bode so well for courage in life-and-death situations.

Father Tom said it was the “strength of prayer” that got him through his captivity. That’s where I’m starting — by using this prayer, found on the Catholic Digest website:

“Lord, may our faith in you grow ever stronger by the day, expanding and touching every aspect of our lives. May we, your humble faithful, plant in others the seeds of trust in you. Let those only beginning to recognize your glory grow continually in awe of your might and righteousness. Amen.”

I’d say it’s about time for us all to stop comfortably sitting on that fence.

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