Yesterday we had our first all school Mass at the high school where I serve as chaplain. It was held under a big tent (large enough to hold nearly 1,100 students plus faculty, staff, and visitors) in front of the school because our gymnasium is being worked on. The setup worked really well actually. It felt like an old-fashioned revival!
I started out my homily by sharing an exchange I had with one of my classmates who's a priest in another diocese. After getting back from a Mass with his local Catholic high school, he asked me, "How do you do it? It's like preaching to freakin' zombies!"
The more I thought about it, the more I could see where he was coming from. I told the students that the world might have good reason to see them as zombies. For instance:
- High schoolers tend to run in packs
- They also have a herd mentality: If everyone else is going to do it, I guess I will too!
- They are obsessed with the flesh (big time)
- Without a doubt, they will take over the world (it's inevitable)
I reminded the students what Paul says in Romans 8:5-6:
For those who live according to the flesh are concerned with the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit with the things of the spirit. The concern of the flesh is death, but the concern of the spirit is life and peace.If we live according to the flesh without acknowledging the Spirit, we are quite literally "dead meat." I challenged the students to risk believing that there is more to life than just what we see. We are more than just bags of meat. The Spirit truly does give us life!
Here's the problem though: many of us remain zombies for a long time. For most of us, it is only after the Holy Spirit has taken hold of our hearts and gives us "life and peace" that we can recognize how truly empty we used to be. Zombies don't want to accept that they are zombies. However, settling for life without God is accepting existence as just that: a member of the walking dead.
Some of the most heartbreaking stories I hear are from parents who's children have settled for just such an existence. Priests hear many stories about children from devout families who have left the Church or denounced the existence of God or become totally apathetic or just think religion is one big joke. The feelings of frustration, guilt, anger, and betrayal that the parents experience gnaws on them at the core. Basically, many parents are on the brink of losing hope or have already given up the good fight. It's a lot like the reason zombies are such a scary monster: we think they can't be stopped. No matter how long survivors of a zombie outbreak holdout, eventually the zombies will find a way to get to them. It's the way the story goes. It's why a slow, clumsy, clueless, rotting corpse is so terrifying: zombies always win. Freakin' zombies!
Fortunately for us, there is reason for hope. Jesus already won the battle over sin and death. He also sent us the Holy Spirit so that we can share in the victory of the Cross and Resurrection.
A couple from my parish reminded me of this hope we should have. They started the Marian Mantle Group as an effort to rely on the Holy Spirit in this battle for wayward souls. They are a great group with a focus on prayer. They also impressed me with the term they use to describe those they pray for: prodigals. While I typically say "fallen away Catholics" or "non-practicing" or "lost sheep," they keep the focus on the hope that we should have since we play for the winning team. Their motto is: It's not hopeless and we're not helpless.
Hope is the name of the game, especially when hunting zombies.
The photo is from the September 25, 2009 issue of the Kansas City Star.