As you well know, many of people of faith lament what they see as the diminishing influence of religion.

The world we live in is a much different world than it was just a century ago. And these cultural changes have altered the way many people view organized religion. And in a particular way, as Christians, we see continual church school closings and fewer people “in the seats” and smaller collections. And maybe saddest of all — many of us see our own children resisting embracing things we hold so dear.

But can we blame them?

I say that with all seriousness and without intending to be the least bit provocative. Can we blame people for leaving? Can we blame non-believers or people on the fringes or young people searching for their path in life for looking at Christian communities of every kind and thinking to themselves “yeah, I don’t think I really want to be a part of that.”

In most cases, they say and think this with complete sincerity and intellectually honesty.

And these attitudes are not the fault of those feeling that way. Sadly, the fault is almost certainly ours — mine, yours, and countless others who claim to be followers of Jesus.

The most likely reason for the skepticism of others is one that probably isn’t that complicated. If we think about it , I think we’d have to admit that we are not all on the same page — not united in heart, not united with the same love, not acting in a way that proves to the world that we have the same attitude that is in Christ Jesus.

I think that what that looks like to non-believers and others who are struggling to believe, is a group of people who don’t live their lives differently from anyone else. They don’t really live their lives in imitation of the person they say they do, don’t seem to let what they say they believe actually shape what they think or say or do.

When we say believe, when we say we want to be followers of Jesus, when we claim him as Lord and God — those aren’t empty words.

They’re not just things we say from time to time to somehow please God or delude ourselves into thinking we are being faithful. In other words, the goal of this whole thing we call Christianity is not to say that we believe, but to live as if we truly believe. To live as if imitating Jesus is the ONLY way to live, the ONLY way to be faithful, the ONLY way to truly spread the Gospel — because it is!

And so, if we as a community fail to live any differently from anyone else, if we just sort of do what works for us over and over again (while at the same time professing faith in Jesus as our Lord), then we shouldn’t really ever expect to be the light of the world.

Rather, we can almost certainly expect to see others — family, friends, co-workers, strangers — looking at us and thinking to themselves, “boy, they sure talk a lot. And they sure moralize a lot. And they sure criticize the rest of us a lot. But I don’t see them love a lot. And so, I really don’t see what difference it makes.”

But it’s never too late.

It’s never too late start living as God calls us to live. It’s never too late to start showing compassion like Jesus.

It’s never to late to start forgiving like Jesus. It’s never to late to start being non-violent like Jesus.

It’s never to late to start being merciful like Jesus. That is — it’s never too late to love like Jesus.

The world is watching. Let’s make sure what they see matches what we say we believe.

Deacon Stuart Neslin is a Parish Deacon and Parish Administrator at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rome.

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