According to famous accounts of the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, Jesus instructed him to rebuild His church. While taking hammer and nails to wood, the young future saint heard the command again and realized that Christ meant something altogether different. The church, over time, had dilapidated spiritually, and Francis was Our Lord’s chosen instrument to resurrect, revitalize, and reconstruct it.
Seven years ago, Father Michael White, and his associate, Tom Corcoran, used that legendary story as the basis for writing Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter. Their work has inspired millions of Catholics to re-evaluate their personal faith and reinvigorate their parishes’ ministerial plans. It has inspired me in the same way. Their basic premise lies in the notion that many Americans have adopted a consumer mentality in relationship to religion. While consumerism is a healthy thing for our economy, it is not a good thing for our faith. They contend that if church leaders and dedicated members can convert others among them from being consumers to being disciples, we would rebuild our faith-communities according to the example of Saint Francis and Pope Francis, who urges us to carry out the mission to which Christ has beckoned all of us.
The differences are clear. While consumers look for bargains, disciples sacrifice for the cause of Christ. While consumers shop around, disciples make things better where they are. While consumers are fickle, disciples are dedicated. While consumers want things to benefit them, disciples jump into action to benefit the Gospel’s challenge. While consumers are self-centered and want to satisfy their own needs, disciples are Christ-centered and want to better themselves while advancing the church’s mission. While consumers want to be served, disciples, like Jesus, want to serve. Consumers, essentially, have a scarcity mentality that is frugal and stingy—they only want to receive. Disciples, on the other hand, operate from an abundance frame of mind that both gives and receives.
The Holy Land offers us a vivid analogy between scarcity and abundance in the differences that exist between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. Both are sourced by the Jordan River where Jesus taught about life and death. The Dead Sea is below sea level and has a salt content that is ten times that of normal ocean water. Because of this, it contains no fish, no vegetation, no mammals, no life—hence its name: dead. It receives water from the Jordan but it doesn’t give; it has no outlet. It is estimated that seven million tons of water evaporate from it every day. Full of minerals, it is unfit for life; it doesn’t know abundance. The Sea of Galilee does. Filled with maritime life, it is colorful, vibrant, rich, and resplendent. It provides a source of drinking water for citizens and irrigation for surrounding land; it is lively and provides life to its environs. Its relationship with the River Jordan is one of give and take; it flows in and out; it is constantly donating and contributing as well as receiving. While it is full of flow, the other is full of woe.
Our woeful parish communities might die also if our members want to only get without giving, if we operate as consumers rather than disciples, if we function from scarcity instead of abundance. Jesus spent a lot of time at the Sea of Galilee and not much time at the Dead Sea. I think the Lord also spends a lot of time in parishes that rebuild in the spirit of Saint Francis and Pope Francis, communities with an abundance mentality that are lively, sources that generously give as well as receive, places where consumers are converted to be disciples that revitalize and reinvigorate their surroundings and give life. In tribute to Saint Francis and in communion with Pope Francis, let us rebuild Christ’s church as disciples of abundance.