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.