Tag Archives: new evangelization

A Starbucks Missionary

12 Jan

Image result for starbucks baristaWe all know people who have not darkened the doorstep of a church in a long time. It could be the barista who knows your latte order by heart, or the mom who sits next to you at all those basketball games.  We all have coworkers, friends, or family who do not know God.

In Sunday’s first reading, Isaiah says, “I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” Guess what? He’s talking to us! The “ends of the earth” are the carpool line, the water cooler, and PTA meeting.

Be not afraid! God has given us a foolproof tool to make sharing faith painless: a joyful marriage. Marriage is an image of the love of Christ’s love for the Church, and when we live it joyfully, we become the shining light to which Isaiah refers. For tips on joyfully witnessing your marriage, see www.joyfulmarriageproject.com.

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

Love Will Find a Way

29 Jan

nazareth-welcomeIs someone you love away from the faith? It may be your spouse, your son or daughter, or it may be an extended family member. Some couples are even rejected by their own families for being “too religious.”

If this is you, take heart in this Sunday’s readings. Jesus returns to his hometown, shares the good news of salvation, and is almost run off a cliff. This must have broken His heart! He certainly understands your pain, for nobody knows rejection like Jesus.

He also gives us an important insight: “No prophet is recognized in his native place.” If our faith is evident to our fallen-away family, it often does no good to continue to “preach” to them, which so often is perceived as “nagging.” Instead, we can take our cue from the second reading, where St. Paul prescribes the remedy to win souls for Christ through patience, kindness, and rejoicing in the truth.

This can be an examination of conscience for us in our relationships. When our loved ones come back to the faith, will they have seen our actions as resembling this kind of love? If not, what kind of practical changes can we make?

Finally, a word of encouragement in this year of mercy: “[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8). Have confidence that every act of patience, every act of kindness, every act of service, and every prayer for our family bears fruit in God’s Kingdom!

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

Today’s “Apostle”

17 Mar

shamrockToday is the feast of St. Patrick, one of the most beloved saints in all of Christendom. It’s a day when all of us are “Irish” and probably are wearing something green. It’s a day of parties, 5Ks, and refreshments, not to mention corned beef, cabbage, and perhaps even green beer.

All of the festivity is in good fun, but in the process we shouldn’t forget about the historical figure of St. Patrick. He was born in roughly 387 A.D. and died on March 17, 461 A.D. His feast day is today because the feast day of most saints is the day they died and entered eternal life with God.

As a young man he was captured and enslaved by the native peoples of Ireland. Many years later, he returned to Ireland as its bishop. He is known as the Apostle to Ireland, as through his zealous evangelization virtually the entire nation came to accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

He liked shamrocks not because they are green, but because he could use them to teach about the Trinity.

Of course there are many legends associated with St. Patrick, such as the deal about his driving out all the snakes. Who knows on this side of the divide where fact ends and embellishment begins. But we do know that what I wrote in the preceding paragraphs is true, and that alone is more than enough for us.

Most of us are not called to evangelize entire countries like St. Patrick. We may not be the Apostle to Ireland, or even to Kansas. But chances are we are called to be the apostle to our family, our circle of friends, our workplace, or some other local community that we are able to influence. That is not beyond us, as our baptism comes with a commission to bring Jesus to others.

O God, who chose the Bishop Saint Patrick to preach your glory to the peoples of Ireland, grant, through his merits and intercession, that those who glory in the name of Christian may never cease to proclaim your wondrous deeds to all. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

You Too Go into the Vineyard

20 Aug

vineyardIn today’s Gospel we hear the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16). We can approach this rich teaching of Jesus from various perspectives. St. John Paul II reflected on this passage at length in his apostolic exhortation on the apostolate of lay people (Christifideles Laici). He encouraged all men and women to hear and take to heart Our Lord’s words, “You too go into my vineyard” (Mt. 20:4).

Whenever I’ve heard this parable, I’ve placed myself in the role of one of the potential workers. I need to do my part in the Lord’s vineyard. Further, I shouldn’t be envious of those who come into the vineyard later in the day, who nonetheless are equal recipients of the eternal blessings the Lord has in store for those who turn to Him.

Today, however, I was struck by the words of some of the potential laborers when asked why they were just standing there idly. They said, “Because no one has hired us” (Mt. 20:7). In other words, no one has invited them into the vineyard. And whose fault is that?

Through our Baptism, we are called not only to live the faith ourselves but also to call upon others–in endearing, encouraging ways–to join us in the work of helping others to grow in faith and holiness of life. Our Holy Father Pope Francis has emphasized that the Church has to be looking outward. There is a lot to be done in this vineyard.

As one of the men from our Archdiocese who is in formation for the diaconate, I can see that one aspect of being a faithful deacon is simply rounding up workers for our divine Landowner. May we all join together in this great task, which is rightly called the “new evangelization.”

This post originally appeared in August 2013.

Star of the New Evangelization

31 Mar

Pope and BVMWe now come to the final installment of our series on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”).

As is typical of many papal documents in recent memory, the Holy Father concludes with some reflections on the Blessed Virgin Mary and a prayer seeking her maternal intercession for the “new evangelization” (EG 284-88).

The Pope describes Mary as being singularly present in the midst of God’s people. As at Pentecost, her prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit gives birth to “the Church which evangelizes” (EG 284). We look to her to understand the spirit of the new evangelization, for which we fervently desire a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Father continually stresses the close connection between Mary, the Church, and each individual believer. At the foot of the Cross, at the moment of the new creation, Jesus entrusted the Blessed Virgin Mary to John—and to us! The Church would never have to journey in this world without a mother (EG 285).

I found some of the titles for Mary at the conclusion of EG to be quite interesting and revealing. She is called the “Mother of the Living Gospel” and “Star of the New Evangelization.” She is the model of both contemplation (cf. Luke 2:19, 51) and pastoral concern for others (cf. John 2:5). She teaches us about a different sort of strength, one rooted in love, humility, and tenderness. The Pope calls upon the Church to embrace this Marian “style” of evangelization (EG 288), so that the joy of the Gospel may truly reach to the end of the earth, especially to God’s little ones.

Spirit-Filled Evangelizers

24 Mar

Pope Francis 4In the final chapter of his apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”), Pope Francis exhorts us to be bold, Spirit-filled evangelizers. He calls all of us to proclaim the Gospel “not only with words, but above all by a life transfigured by God’s presence” (EG 259). To that end, he shares with us his thoughts on the proper spirit of the new evangelization (EG 260), yet recognizing that his words of encouragement can only go so far. We must allow our hearts to be set on fire by the Holy Spirit! (EG 261).

The Holy Father offers some reasons for a renewed missionary impulse in our time. He is looking for a new generation of evangelizers who are truly willing to “pray and work” (EG 262). He especially encourages Eucharistic adoration, but then he expects the faithful to leave the adoration chapel ready to be a blessing to others in their need.

Every period of history poses its own unique challenges to those who would be missionaries. Yet there is much that we can and must learn from the saints of previous generations, “who were filled with joy, unflagging courage, and zeal in proclaiming the Gospel” (EG 263).

The Pope emphasizes that the primary reason for evangelization is the love of Jesus—a love that urges us to love Him more deeply in return and to share that love with others (EG 264). We need to implore His grace daily, begging that our love may not grow cold or lukewarm. We must spend time with Jesus. In that regard, the Holy Father especially encourages us to slowly contemplate the pages of the Gospel, reading it from the heart.

Our enthusiasm for evangelization is based on the conviction that the Gospel responds to a universal hunger for God (EG 265). We must sustain this conviction by constantly renewing and savoring our own friendship with Jesus. The Pope pointedly notes that a true missionary never ceases to be a disciple. Further, he warns that “a person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain, and in love will convince nobody” (EG 266). A missionary must be willing to set aside all other motivations and agendas and “evangelize for the greater glory of the Father who loves us” and who sent His only Son to redeem us (EG 267).

God saves us as a people, and His love extends to all. Evangelization must entail entering others’ lives. We simply can’t be evangelists if we don’t have a passion for God’s people (EG 268). Rather than keep ourselves at arm’s length, Our Lord wants us “to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others” (EG 270).

The Holy Father stresses that we must truly become men and women “of the people” (EG 271) and not their critic or enemy. He quotes several Scripture passages that exhort us to live humbly and peaceably with others, always seeking to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Living this way is not an “extra” or part of our “job,” but rather part of our deepest identity 24/7 (EG 273). Every person has inestimable dignity and value, and therefore every person is eminently worthy of our giving (EG 274).

We must avoid getting caught up in the pursuit of selfish comforts or pleasures, which the Pope says can easily occur when we do not have a deep spiritual life (EG 275). When that happens, we lose hope and are fooled into believing that things are not going to change—even though Jesus Christ has definitively triumphed over sin and death!

Instead, Christ must always be the wellspring of our hope. We do well to remember that the Resurrection is not merely an event in the distant past, but rather is an ongoing reality that has power in the present (EG 276). If we rely on our own steam rather than the power of the Resurrection, we will grow weary and eventually give up (EG 277). While we don’t always see tangible results from our evangelistic labors, the Pope says we have an interior certainty that God is always mysteriously at work, allowing our efforts to bear fruit in His good time (EG 279-80).

The Pope concludes this section with some reflections on the missionary power of intercessory prayer, through which we seek the good of others (EG 281). Authentic prayer opens us up to others, leading us to be grateful for the gift of others (cf. Romans 1:8), as we become more conscious of what God is doing in their lives. Our prayer frees us from self-absorption and opens us to others’ needs (EG 282). Our prayers of intercession allow God’s power, love, and faithfulness to shine ever more clearly in the midst of His people (EG 283).

Dialogue, Peace, and Evangelization

11 Mar

Pope Francis5Pope Francis devotes a section of his apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”) to the role of social dialogue in the promotion of peace (EG 238-58). He considers this a significant part of the Church’s overall mission to carry the Gospel out to all the world. He cites three specific areas of dialogue: with states, with society (including cultures and sciences), and with believers who are not members of the Catholic Church (EG 238).

The Church supports the efforts of the State to promote peace in ways that respond to the dignity of the human person and promote the common good (EG 241). While this may sound too grandiose for the average believer, the Holy Father also reminds us that every baptized person is called to be “a peacemaker and a credible witness to a reconciled life” (EG 239).

Dialogue between science and faith is also part of the work of evangelization at the service of peace. The Holy Father calls for a synthesis of empirical science and other areas of knowledge, especially philosophy and theology. The new evangelization must be attentive to scientific advances and “shed on them the light of faith and the natural law” (EG 242). The Church delights in the progress and potential of science. Problems occur only when science—or faith—exceeds the limit of its respective competence. At that point, the issue is not one of truth, but of ideologies that can only block “the path to authentic, serene, and productive dialogue” (EG 243).

When the Holy Father speaks of “other believers” (EG 238) he is referring to both ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. He sees ecumenism as “a contribution to the unity of the human family” (EG 245). He is painfully conscious of the counter-witness of division among Christians, especially in Asia and Africa. In light of the vast numbers of people who have not received the Gospel, “our commitment to a unity that helps them to accept Jesus Christ can no longer be a matter of mere diplomacy or forced compliance, but rather an indispensable path to evangelization” (EG 246).

Pope Francis accords Judaism a special place among non-Christian religions. After all, the Church looks upon the Jewish faith as one of the sacred roots of our own Christian identity (cf. Romans 11:16-18). The Holy Father cites our current friendship with the Jewish people as well as our bitter regret for past persecutions and injustices (EG 248). While we must always proclaim Jesus as Lord and Messiah, we continue to share the Hebrew Scriptures with them as well as many ethical convictions (EG 249).

The Pope says that “interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christians as well as for other religious communities” (EG 250). Here he stresses the close relationship between dialogue and proclamation. We need to be clear and joyful regarding our own convictions and identity, while also being open to understanding those of other faiths in a spirit of candor and goodwill (EG 251). Pope Francis singles out dialogue with Islam as especially important in our time. One comment he made that I found especially eye-opening was this: “[O]ur respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (EG 253).

The Holy Father concludes this section with some consideration of religious freedom, a fundamental human right that includes “the freedom to choose the religion that one judges to be true and to manifest one’s beliefs in public” (EG 255).  Redefining religious liberty as a right that only applies in private consciences and inside church buildings is “a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism” (EG 255). Respect can be given to non-believers without silencing the convictions of the believing majority. Such a heavy-handed approach can only feed resentment, not  tolerance and peace.

In all of this, the Holy Father is relentlessly stressing the social dimension of the Gospel, which beckons all of us to “get our shoes dirty”—to boldly bring the Gospel to the world in words, attitudes, and deeds (EG 258).

Leaping to Action

12 Feb

frogs on log“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” –Matthew 28:19-20

Like St. Matthew’s Gospel, the Mass ends with a commissioning, as we’re to go forth and glorify the Lord by our lives. We are sent to bring the light of Christ to all the world. Deep down we know we’re not supposed to keep our faith to ourselves or under a bushel basket, but instead it is given to us so that in turn we can give it away.

Faith, without words, without actions, is dead (cf. Jas. 2:17). A faith that does not change us and does not lead to godly action is ineffectual–for ourselves and others. As Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia once said, it’s not an accident that the book of the Bible is called “Acts of the Apostles” and not “Pious Sentiments of the Apostles” or “Good Intentions of the Apostles.” Our faith impels us to act for, as recent popes have stressed, the Church by her nature is missionary.

Pope Francis has beautifully written that once we accept the faith, which draws us into God’s love and leads us to love Him in return, “brings forth in our lives and actions a primary and fundamental response: to desire, seek and protect the good of others” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 178).

I’ve used the following riddle with my children: Three frogs are sitting on a log. Two of them decide to jump into the water. How many are left on the log? The answer, of course, is three, because there’s a huge difference between deciding to jump and actually jumping. Good actions come from good intentions, but are not their necessary consequence. Sometimes my kids will very sincerely tell me they’ll clean their room or be attentive at Mass, but something is lost in the execution. At that point, I tell them to be “wet frogs,” and they finally begin to put their good intentions into action.

Jesus warns all His disciples, both through parables and explicit exhortations, that one doesn’t dabble in Christianity. If we’re truly with Him and His Church, we must jump off the log and bear witness to Him in word and action.

The Cry of the Poor

23 Jan

pope francis 6As mentioned in our last installment of our series on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”), the Holy Father believes that the inclusion of the poor in society is an urgent issue for the Church today. He therefore devotes an entire section of this document (EG 186-216) to this most significant topic.

Pope Francis begins by pointing to our faith in Jesus Christ, who was always close to the poor and outcast, as the basis for our concern for the most forgotten members of society (EG 186). He also quotes several Scripture passages that impel the people of God to hear the cry of the poor in our midst (EG 187). He emphasizes that compassion for the poor is not the concern of only a few, but rather flows from the grace working through the entire body of believers, leading us to think in terms of the good of others and the good of the wider community (EG 188).

What the Pope is calling for is an authentic solidarity that is not only open to the renewal of social structures, but even more to the renewal of our convictions and attitudes (EG 189). He speaks with particular force and urgency regarding the cry of entire peoples: “the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity” (EG 190). And the goal is not merely “dignified sustenance” for all, but their welfare and prosperity, which includes education, access to healthcare and, above all, employment (EG 192).

We hear the cry of the poor when we are moved by the suffering of others. This must elicit mercy from us (EG 193). “Blessed are the merciful, because they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). One concrete, biblical expression of mercy toward the poor is almsgiving (cf. Tobit 12:9; Sirach 3:30).

Pope Francis stresses that the Gospel is simple and clear when it comes to our responsibility to be just and merciful to the poor (EG 194). Doctrinal orthodoxy is of no avail if we don’t take to heart this teaching.

For St. Paul, the key criterion of a Christian’s authenticity is whether he remembers the poor (EG 195; cf. Galatians 2:10). The Pope challenges us to “remember” and not allow ourselves to become distracted by the consumerism that surrounds us (EG 196).

God has demonstrated a special love for the poor throughout salvation history, culminating in the coming of the Savior’s embrace of poverty (EG 197). The Church’s tradition bears witness to the fact that the “option for the poor” holds a place of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity. For that reason, the Pope declares “I want a Church which is poor and for the poor” (EG 198). In saying that, the Holy Father is not calling for mere activism, but for loving attentiveness and identification with the poor. When we don’t welcome the poor, the proclamation of the Gospel loses its compelling resonance (EG 199). The Pope also emphasizes that the preferential option for the poor includes spiritual care, which sometimes is lacking (EG 200), and that no one is exempt from the concern for social justice (EG 201).

Pope Francis then discusses the economy and the just distribution of resources. He calls inequality the root of society’s problems. While welfare programs provide temporary solutions, we must address the sources of inequality (EG 202). Clearly economic policies must be based on the dignity of the human person and the pursuit of the common good. We cannot be indifferent toward these concerns, nor can we exploit them through recourse to empty rhetoric (EG 203).

Gone are the days in which we can trust in the “invisible hand of the market” (EG 204). Rather, we must be intentional when it comes to bringing about necessary reform. Therefore, the Pope prays that Lord will grant us politicans who realize that charity is not only inter-personal, but also the principle that must govern our life in society (EG 205). He stresses the value of governments working together, as economic decisions in one part of the world have repercussions elsewhere (EG 206).

Pope Francis here returns to the Church community, and says that the Church has to do its part in reaching out to the poor in action, and not through “unproductive meetings and empty talk” (EG 207). The Holy Father uses strong language through must of the exhortation, which he acknowledges in EG 208, but he affirms his affection for all and his desire for the good of all apart from any personal or political interest.

In the last part of this section, Pope Francis says that since Jesus the Evangelizer identified with the vulnerable, so too must we in our apostolic outreach (EG 209). He then refers to several classes of people who are particularly vulnerable in our present-day circumstance. He mentions the homeless, addicts, refugees, the elderly, and many others. He mentions the particular challenge posed by migrants, noting that he is “the pastor of a Church without frontiers” (EG 210).

The Holy Father expresses particular love and concern for unborn children (EG 211). He says that “it is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life” (EG 212). In a very pastoral manner, he also affirms that the Church must do more to accompany women in difficult situations, such that abortion does not appear to be the best or only solution in those circumstances.

He concludes by affirming our role as stewards over all of creation (EG 215), and in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi calls us to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live, as well as its inhabitants (EG 216).

A Message to College Students

21 Jan

March for LifeYou are survivors. Millions–and I mean millions–of your peers have been legally slaughtered, the victims of the deadly culture war in which we find ourselves.

At the time of Moses and Israel’s slavery in Egypt, and at the time of Jesus and the Holy Innocents, evil forces resorted to the killing of the young in a futile attempt to thwart God’s saving plan for all of humanity.

But that was then and this is now. This is our time. Even more, it is your time. Our God must have big plans for you. Modern-day popes have described these plans as entailing a “new springtime of faith,” the fruit of a massive “new evangelization” aimed at bringing all men and women to Jesus Christ. This effort, already taking shape throughout the world, has raised Satan’s ire to such a degree that he’s resorting to the same tactics he used in Egypt and in Bethlehem, and once again, they’re not going to work. God’s saving plan will not be frustrated, though it will be opposed, and there will likely be casualties.

I wish that your generation could sit back and comfortably live the good life in Tolkien’s Shire. But I have news for you. We’re at war. Your freedom–not simply political and material but even more your religious and spiritual freedom–is something you’re going to have to claim and fight for, or you may as well start waving your white flag. Don’t let the fact that you can’t see the Enemy fool you. Don’t let the fact that many of your friends are oblivious to this epic conflict discourage you. You have some idea as to what we’re up against. Take up the weapons of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and gird yourself for battle.

To my way of thinking, Satan is attacking your generation largely through his propagation of a secular worldview. What is this worldview saying to you?

Well, the world is telling you that you are disposable. Face it, you’re junk. Aside from your potential classmates and leaders who were legally killed in the womb, the rest of you are valued only for what you do or contribute, and not for who you are. We want only the “perfect kids” who look like Barbie dolls or who have LeBron James’ muscles or Albert Einstein’s intelligence. You’re animals who can’t be expected to exercise self-control, so we cross our fingers and hope you’re “safe.” You’re machines with interchangeable parts that you can cut off, mutilate, adorn, or surgically alter at your whim. When you’re an old dog or your machine-like body gives out, don’t expect us to give you anything but a lethal injection.

I could go on, but the point is that our society doesn’t think much of you. Whether you know it or not, you’re under siege.

But there’s another worldview. It’s the perennial Christian worldview, but it has been articulated with particular poignancy and urgency by the Church since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

The Church’s message is that you’re masterpieces. You have the spark of the divine in you. You have God-given dignity, which entails both rights and responsibilities. You have been entrusted with dominion over our world. You have been called to a sublime vocation in Christ as God’s own children by adoption. Making the Lord’s words his own, the Pope calls you to cast out into the deep, to step out bravely in faith. He exhorts you not to be afraid. He beckons you to befriend the poor and the marginalized. He tells you that giving your life to Christ is not only radical, but eminently practical if you want life in abundance.

This courageous message of hope, echoed by the last three popes, explains the Church’s appeal to today’s youth, as evidenced by the massive turn out each year at the March for Life in Washington and local events throughout the country. If you subscribe to the world’s view, you are headed toward ruin. But it is not too late for you. Turn back to the Lord now, with all your heart!

And if you already accept the pope’s worldview, that’s great, but not enough. Now is not the time for armchair Christians. Live your Christian convictions with integrity and zeal, knowing that the Lord calls all of us to lead lives worthy of our calling. Life is not only worth living, but it’s worth living well. May God bless you and strengthen for the great work He sets before you!

I originally published this article ten years ago. Three of my daughters–who were 11, 9, and 6 when I wrote the article–are in Washington right now for the March for Life. Please remember them and all our young pilgrims from across the country in your prayers!