I’ve been thinking a lot about crowds. Last year, 103,219 people attended the super bowl. The record was Superbowl XIV, with 103,985. We will see what this year’s holds in store for us. Today also marks the 51st anniversary of the Beatles invasion. On this date 51 years ago, the Beatles came to the United States for the first time. Neither John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison nor Ringo Starr expected what they found when they arrived. It looked like locusts from the plane, but then they realized: it was their fans. Thousands and thousands of them.
All of our readings today are about crowds. Our first reading tells us about the crowds of angels and saints in heaven, singing the Sanctus. We join them at every Mass. In our second reading, we hear about how Jesus appeared first to the twelve, but then to a crowd of more than five hundred brothers at once. And then in our Gospel, we see the crowds pressing in on Jesus, like a stampede, as he was preaching the word of God by the Lake of Gennesaret.
Now, there seems to be some conflict among people as to whether crowds and stampedes are bad things or good things. We all have heard that saying, “Now if everybody else jumped off a bridge, would you?” I’ve always thought that, if everybody else is jumping off a bridge, there is a probably a good reason to do so. Like, for example, maybe there is a monster that has cornered the group, and jumping to safety is the only solution. That saying, of course, is meant to remind us that we have to be true to ourselves and that we do best not to do whatever others are doing without thinking about it. And, to give these folks credit, it is true: sometimes a big group of people are doing the wrong thing and it is best not to do it.
On Thursday and Friday here at our parish, the middle school students put on a production. They did an exquisite job with the Lion King. The scene that sticks out in my mind is the one where there is a huge stampede. Now, in the show, it is not what we might call a good stampede; it ends up taking the life of Mufassa when Scar throws him into it to be trampled upon.
But, I think there is a way in which stampedes can be a good thing. Often, there is power and wisdom in a crowd or stampede. For the countless folks in the gospel, for example, they were running towards the Lord, stampeding towards him. There was wisdom in that crowd.
Another example of a good stampede. Every year I run the Race for Vocations. (We need more people to sign up by the way; Fr. Rick has us beat by about 20 right now…) Running in the midst of a crowd of 35,000 people has a positive effect. You realize that you aren’t in the thing alone. And, having people around you—in front, on the side, and behind, and folks cheering on the sidelines—it keep you going when you’d rather quit, or when you would quit if nobody else was around.
I think the Church is a big stampede. We are a huge stampede. 1.2+ billion. We are running together in this huge crowd, and we are running towards a better world, towards the Kingdom, towards holiness, towards heaven, towards the Lord! Many of the biggest crowds in human history are collections of Catholics who come together to seek the Lord.
But it happens on a smaller scale, too. Last week was Catholic Schools Week. We asked our students to write a little something about their favorite thing about OLG. Many of them wrote a whole page. That is a great thing. I want to focus on what two of them wrote. Joseph Corbett said, “Here at OLG I am close to people who are close to God, so I get closer to God.” Lizzie Soller talked about the “first time I noticed I was growing closer to God.” Many others talked about how OLG is a family, a home. What these fine young folks are saying that they thank God for being part of the stampede that is OLG, and OLG is one small part of the much larger stampede that is the Catholic Church! Because they are a part of this stampede, they have grown closer to God—even without realizing it!!
Josh Wheat wrote, “Who knows where I would be or who I would be without OLG?” Amen. We’d be lost without the stampede. Pray God we may always remain a part of the stampede that is the Church. That stampede is running, dashing and galloping towards the Lord. If we remain in it, it has the power to spur us on to greatness, to holiness, to God. Thank God, for without it we’d be lost!
Now Lent, by the way, which starts on Wednesday, is an opportunity for we members of the stampede to pick up the pace and live a more deliberate, intentional life of faith, to look for ways that we can better immerse ourselves in the stampede that is the church. Let’s pray God’s blessing on that. We also remember Jesus’ words to us in the Gospel, that we are to be fishers of men. It matters if others are in the stampede or not. Let’s get the whole world in there.