Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Preparing for Evangelization

In this Year of Faith it seems that we, as Catholics, will be put to the test. Whether it is in the formation of our conscience as we select our next President or as we work to transform the culture of death to one of life, we will face challenges. In addition to growing inwardly, however, the Year of Faith also challenges us to share the faith with others.

As we look to how to evangelize, I think first we have to reflect on a few questions ourselves. We cannot give what we do not have. Therefore, we must truly know the depth of our own conviction and what it will take, both personally and communally, to be witnesses of Christ in a hostile world. Here are a few questions to reflect upon:

  • Who is Jesus to me?
  • What does it mean to have faith in Jesus Christ?
  • How has God gifted me to live that faith boldly, sharing Christ with others?
  • What does it mean to live as Catholics in a culture that challenges our faith?
  • Am I willing to suffer the slings and arrows of others (including those I love and those inside the Church that I love) to stand for Christ and His Church?
  • How do I work to unite my will and intellect, the heart and the head, when deepening my relationship with Christ and others?
  • How am I called to lead others into a deeper faith?
  • How can I work to bring about unity within my Church and world?
  • How can I lead people into a deeper understanding of Truth, when our society is one of relativism?

These are reasonable questions we have to ponder as we, individually and as a Church, discern how to go about bringing the Good News of the Gospel to a world living in darkness, violence, chaos, and confusion.

Recent surveys noting people are more spiritual than religious are indicators there is a great desire for people to know God—even if they cannot name Him as of yet in their search. This longing comes deep from within—not a surface desire or even, I daresay, one that begins as an idea. It is a pining for love and acceptance rooted deep within our soul.

Helping people identify that desire to love and be loved as the voice of God is the first step in moving toward a deep and meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ. In turn, it is Jesus who will ultimately lead us to the relationship of unconditional love, mercy, and forgiveness with God and those around us, through the working of the Holy Spirit.

Love is a universal language. It does not rely on academic degrees, finances, outward physical beauty, or success to make an impact. Sometimes we try to over think things. This makes efforts to evangelize all the more difficult. Jesus Christ did not come to proclaim a program, but a path to salvation through a way of life. This is strengthened within the life of the community of faith, through relationships with God and each other.

We cannot strike out on our own. If we do we are no better than the people of Babel. We cannot decide individually what ‘Jesus’ we are going to follow. Scripture tells us, “If a house is divided against itself, it cannot stand” (Mark 3:25).

Anyone who has felt the compassionate touch of Christ in their life knows what I am talking about. When you have been held in the bosom of His embrace, felt His warm breath flow over you, and have gazed into the eyes of His Compassion and Truth, there is no other person for which you would lay down your life. It is that force which drives you onward to share His Good News, to take on the criticisms of those you love and those you do not know, to leave the comfort of home to enter into the hostile mission fields.

Evangelization is sharing the deep love of Christ—but before we can do that, we ourselves must have experienced Him in the most intimate way. How can we do this? We do it through prayer—deep prayer—of adoration, a begging of the Holy Spirit to set our hearts aflame. We also do this as part of a larger community of faith fed on the Sacraments and sent forth. When we know Jesus most intimately and are filled with His Passion, then and only then we will be able to do great things for the Lord. Anything else is in life, in comparison, is “just straw”, to quote St. Thomas Aquinas!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pew Studies, the Rich Young Man, and the Year of Faith

October 11 begins the Year of Faith, declared by Pope Benedict XVI as a way to call all to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. It is a call to discover the joys of a life in Jesus Christ and to discern how God is calling each of us to share that witness of faith with others, drawing all to the Lord.

On one hand, it is a reminder to all of us that we must be intentional about our faith—both in growing more deeply in our understanding of the Truths Christ handed on to us and in how to live the Love that He taught us by word and action. On the other hand, it is sad that the Pope has to declare such a reminder—a sad indicator that we, as disciples, have not been doing a great job walking in the footsteps of Jesus.

Why do I say this? A recently released Pew Study: indicated that a full 32% percent of young adults and upwards of 20% of the overall population are not affiliated with a religious community, but rather, say they are spiritual but not religious, not needing to participate in a community of faith to believe. From Boomers on down, the mantra that “I am spiritual but not religious” seems to be catching on (to review the study, go to: 

This brings me to this Sunday’s Gospel of the rich young man (Mark 10:17-30). In it, the young man asks Jesus what he must do to obtain eternal life. Jesus answers by reviewing the 10 Commandments. Pleased with His answer, the young man assures Jesus he is on top of that!

Not missing a beat, Jesus adds a caveat. Not settling for what the young man is willing to do, the Lord calls him to a higher task of selling everything he has and following Him. Crestfallen, the young man walks away.

I cannot help but think all those in the Pew Study who are like the rich young man. You see, when we lay out the parameters of our “spirituality” we in essence are saying, “I will determine what it is I believe in and how I am going about it.” Jesus asks more of us. He does not settle for what we are willing to do for Him, but rather, what He has prepared us to do for Him. He calls us into community and builds His Church on that community. Being a Christian or believer isn’t a solo act!

I love Jesus’s response to the rich young man. Despite his sadness, Jesus lets him walk. How unlike our society today! Jesus wasn’t concerned about being politically correct, sensitive to the young man’s feelings, or quite frankly, in making him feel good about himself. What Jesus WAS concerned about was the young man’s salvation.

Jesus is clear. There are consequences for setting the limits on what we are willing to do for Him. Unlike what many believe today, not everyone goes to Heaven. Jesus is clear—we are called to follow Him , not Jesus following us. We are called to give everything we have, including our life, so that others may live. Pretty extreme, isn’t it?

In this Year of Faith, we must ask ourselves, “How far am I willing to go for Jesus?” Am I truly willing to leave everything I have and follow Him? Am I willing to accept that Jesus represents Truth and Divine Love and that His Truth is not relative or only viable if I agree with it?

True love for Christ takes you on a journey that leads to the community of faith where we worship our God, are held accountable, called to holiness, and sent forth to serve others. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we took the role of disciple seriously? Can you even begin to imagine what society and our world would be like?

As we begin this Year of Faith, let us make a resolution to follow Jesus, giving all we have to Him so that we may openly and fully accept all that He has to give—eternal life and happiness—with great enthusiasm and zeal, so that we may lead all we encounter into the loving arms of the Body of Christ!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Walking in the Footsteps of Saints

As we approach the beginning of the Year of Faith declared by Pope Benedict XVI, and having just celebrated the Feasts of two great saints, Therese of Lisieux on October 1 and Francis of Assisi on October 4, I could not help but smile. Why? Because despite all of the naysayers of today regarding the loss of faith and lack of religious practice, these great saints give us hope.

In a time when we may think that people have grown beyond their need for religion; in a society where morals have gone awry, the saints remind us there is hope. You see, they lived in times very much like our own--yet--they were the Light of Christ in a time of darkness.

When you study the lives of Francis and Therese, they struggled in their faith. Neither walked the path to holiness perfectly. Both had to overcome great internal struggles, opening themselves up fully to the movement of the Holy Spirit and love of Christ. Both were chastised by those around them. Both were thought to be odd ducks. Both were bold and outspoken--each in their own ways. Both were profoundly moved by Christ's Love and Mercy. Both focused on the Cross as their salvation.

The 'recipe' to sainthood is oh so easy, but oh so difficult. Love Christ and be willing to lay your life down for Him. Love others just as you love Jesus. That's it in a nutshell. Having said that, we know only too well how hard it is to set aside our personal pride and desires to love unconditionally and without cost. That again is where the saints some in. Despite their struggles, they always chose Christ. Despite their doubts and fear, they always chose Christ. Despite their suffering, they always chose Christ.

Seems like it's pretty simple when you look at it that way. When faced with any decision, chose the path that Christ would take.

Pope Benedict XVI is declaring the Year of Faith to meditate--to contemplate what it truly means to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. During that time, the Synod for the New Evangelization will also meet. Once we have come to the realization of what true love is, how Christ has laid down His life for us so that we may know eternal salvation, once we have taken this to heart and profoundly wrapped our mind and heart around the magnitude of this reality, we will not be able to sit still. We will not be able to contain ourselves. We will be propelled forth to not only proclaim, but to love, just as Jesus did.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Who do you say that I am?

From the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Who do people say I am?” Jesus asked His disciples. Interesting question we could ask today. As we move toward the opening of the Year of Faith, declared by Pope Benedict XVI to begin on October 13, we can reflect on how we would answer that question.

In Mark’s Gospel (8:27-35), Jesus poses the question and Peter answers, “You are the Christ.” Peter knows, but turns around and tries to dissuade Jesus from His mission after Jesus begins to tell them how the Son of Man must be rejected by the leaders, suffer, and die—but He will be raised up in three days. Hardly a path that those gathered wanted to hear, I am sure. Rejection, pain, hardship, all for naught? Who would buy into that invitation?

Peter, unable to contain himself, speaks out, much to Jesus’ dismay. “Get behind Me, Satan,” Jesus tells Peter, in front of all those gathered. What must Peter have felt? Did he react out of love for Jesus or out of fear for his own future?

Jesus is clear: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it” (Mk 8:35).

This reading always reminds me of a passage in Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ. I am reminded of this passage at every Mass, as I stand as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, offering the Cup. I am in awe of the reverence many have, taking the chalice lovingly and bringing it to their lips, delicately taking in Our Lord and Savior. Others however, pass by, nary a nod in recognition of the Lord who’s Body and Blood was offered for them. Kempis’ passage reflects:

The Imitation of Christ, Book II, Ch. 11: FEW LOVE THE CROSS OF JESUS
JESUS has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting. All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him. Many follow Him to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the chalice of His passion. Many revere His miracles; few approach the shame of the Cross. Many love Him as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from Him. But if Jesus hides Himself and leaves them for a while, they fall either into complaints or into deep dejection. Those, on the contrary, who love Him for His own sake and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He should never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish always to give Him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus -- love that is flee from all self-interest and self-love!
Do not those who always seek consolation deserve to be called mercenaries? Do not those who always think of their own profit and gain prove that they love themselves rather than Christ? Where can a man be found who desires to serve God for nothing? Rarely indeed is a man so spiritual as to strip himself of all things. And who shall find a man so truly poor in spirit as to be free from every creature? His value is like that of things brought from the most distant lands.
Let us contemplate how we react when we have the opportunity to meet Jesus in our daily encounters, through prayer, works, others, the Word, and the Eucharist. Will we recognize Him and rejoice or will we pass by, afraid that the cup He offers is too hard from which to drink? Will we joyfully embrace the full meaning of discipleship or will we decide the path is too hard and settle for less than the gift of eternal life offered to those who believe, pick up their cross, and follow Him? In short, are we willing to lay down our life for the One who laid His down for us?

Author’s note: To read the complete text of Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, go to:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Be Doers of the Word

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Dt 4:1-2, 6-8/Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27/Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

My Father almost lost his life to pneumonia last April. Through grit, determination, and a lot of prayer, he pulled through. The illness has not left its scars, however. Still healing, his memory isn't what it used to be and his gait isn't as quick, but his resolve is pulling him through each day. If you ask him how he is, he will tell you, "Well, I got up it's good."

My sister and I have walked with him through this whole experience. We are grateful for the care received, but I cannot help but notice something very disturbing as time has passed. His recovery is typical for someone his age--which is the problem. Medical personnel, after seeing the diagnosis of memory loss, treat him as if he isn't in the room. They talk to my sister and I, but do not look at or address him. It is as if we have a child in the room that has little to no ability to comprehend. Nothing could be further from the truth. In exasperation he finally asked the nurse during a recent visit, "Why is everyone treating me as if I am not here?"

My heart breaks to see my Dad, who was the strength and foundation of my childhood, weakened. It hurts even more to see him being treated as if he has been discarded by society--unworthy of even the dignity of recognition.

In a way, though, isn't that what we do to Jesus, too?

Moses speaks in the first reading of the great nation of Israel, whose foundation is the laws and decrees of their Creator, and whose greatness is due to Him alone. James reminds us that we must "Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves." We can claim nothing of our power, success, or esteem--it is all due to God and the graces He has showered down upon us. We are not here to lord over, but rather, to humbly serve in love and charity, just as Jesus showed us.

We so often complain about society, the media, and all the other ills of our times that seem to be dragging our society down. Problem is, it isn't what's out in the culture that is destroying us, but rather, the lack of virtues flowing from within that allows us to live lives of sin that destroy the very fiber of our humanity.

I shudder to think of what is to come if our worth is calculated by what we can do and not who we are--children of God. If we cannot see each other with the beauty the God created us in; if we cannot show compassion to those who are struggling; if we cannot acknowledge a sorrowful soul, then we have become hardened hypocrites. We complain and point fingers without taking responsibility; we judge and toss aside without considering the gift of another.

We have a responsibility to all of humanity--not solely those who are productive and capable, but the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable. Jesus is in our midst--but do we recognize Him? Jesus is also in our hearts--do we take time to search Him out? Or do we treat him, like so many professionals seem to be treating my Dad, like an insignificant being who has outlived his usefulness?

St. James' words are clear--what is at stake is the salvation of our souls. "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

Let us contemplate how we humbly allow the Word of God to settle into our heart and transforming us so we may be living examples of Christ in our midst, lifting up and drawing all to the Savior who loves us so.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Urgency of Sharing the Good News

St. Therese at the Carmel in Lisieux
As I write this I am on the plane returning from a trip with my family to Germany and France. While there we had the opportunity to visit many beautiful cathedrals, basilicas, and churches. The trip also included a visit to Lisiuex, childhood home and site of the cloister of St. Therese of Lisieux. We attended Mass with people from all over the world and observed faithful coming to walk in the footsteps of saints.

I could not help, however, to notice the throngs of people who visited the grand cathedrals, walking by statues, mosaics, and murals, admiring the art and architecture of man's creative mind. It was as if they were in a museum.

We attended Mass on the Feast of the Assumption in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. As we worshipped, tourists strolled around the gathered faithful, snapping photos of the consecration and worshippers as if we were on display.

The priest, in his homily, spoke of Mary as disciple and evangelist and how we are called to evangelize, yet he did not invite those passing through to join us. Tour guides in Lisiuex told visitors of the life of Therese and how she entered the convent at 15, but spoke little of her relationship with the Lord and how, through His love she was transformed.

The sites were filled with beautiful art and yes, we very much enjoyed the craftsmanship of the artists, architects, and builders, but I could not help but be a bit sad as well. Not once were we invited into relationship with the same Lord who spoke to the great saints whose sites we visited. Not once was the name of Jesus proclaimed as the one who has the power to radically changes lives and worlds.

If the Gospel message is to have any effect, then we must be willing to share the Good News. These cathedrals and basilicas are erected giving glory to God. In their majesty they are witnesses to the power Christ can have in the lives of human beings just like us. Saints are not perfect, but they were open to God in profound ways and are examples to us of the extraordinary life we too can experience when we open ourselves up to the grace and the transforming power of Christ.

In Notre Dame a banner hung in honor of the Year of Faith. On it appeared an image of St. Therese of Lisiuex and her quote: "It is confidence, and confidence alone, that I give my Love." In many ways, the message of St. Faustina is the same, "Jesus, I trust in you." Both are modern day saints with a clear message: faith in Jesus Christ must be the cornerstone of our life. This kind of faith is deep and complete--it is unconditional. It is with full confidence that these believers gave their lives to the Lord and it was with their complete selves that they lived their lives for Him.

These great saints are not just historical figures. Their writings are not just good reads. Their monuments are not just showcases of art. These saints are people to whom we are called to imitate, as they imitated Christ. They are teachers, who through their lives offer us the path that leads to Jesus. But most of all, they are our friends, who in the intimacy of relationship, love us enough to open themselves up to us, so that we may walk with them as we learn how to find Jesus alive in our own lives. They are mentors who assure us that through great suffering comes great joy and that life in Christ is always the path to true happiness, joy, and contentment, not only in this life but for all eternity.

As Catholics we are blessed to have so many who have walked the path of sainthood, acting as beacons for us as we, led by the Spirit, grow in discipleship. These holy men and women plumbed the depths and found Christ, who transformed them. They invite us, too, to resist the temptation of just "skimming the surface" of our faith, calling us to discover the richness of life lived in and for Jesus. When we do, we will discover life to the full.