Monday, September 2, 2013

Go Make Disciples--Mission Possible


As the Church's fourth and final characteristic professed in the Creed, "apostolic" points to a profound inner-dynamism at the heart of the Catholic faith:  The Church is, first and foremost, a movement
Pope Paul VI famously proclaimed, "The Church exists in order to evangelize," and Pope Francis has challenged Catholics to move beyond a "self-referential" faith.  Both of these successors of St. Peter understand that having a faith rooted in the authoritative teaching of the Apostles is necessary, but not sufficient.  A truly "apostolic" faith is one which responds to Christ's "sending forth" of the community of believers.  The Church evangelizes because, deep down, every human person longs to be evangelized.
So have you noticed this apostolic, mission-driven, quality of the Church during this Year of Faith?  We have seen our new Holy Father Francis personally challenging us to create a "culture of encounter" in response to a "culture of indifference."  We have seen Bishops across the country boldly promoting the new evangelization, as well as three million young adults flocking to World Youth Day.  And we have seen parishes and small Christian communities asking themselves how they can help people experience a sense of belonging, of meaning, and of authentic friendship. 
Three recent books strike related themes about how this mission can be possible for each of us personally, as well as for our parishes and for the Church universal:

Dynamic Catholics:  Matthew Kelly has a gift for translating profound truths into simple, straightforward language.  Following research of Catholics across the country, he makes the case that the most actively engaged Catholics exhibit four main signs: Regular daily prayer, committed study of the faith, consistent generosity, and humble but persistent evangelization.  Unfortunately, his research suggest that only 7% of Catholics exhibit these four signs.
  • So, are you one of the 7%?  If so, are you willing to stretch yourself as an evangelizer in order to help engage fellow pilgrims?  If not, are you ready to re-commit to daily prayer, or to study the faith, or to more purposeful giving of yourself and sharing of your talents?  Kelly insists that the basic elements of Christianity are Win-Build-Send; it is an ongoing process of letting our hearts be won and our new life in Christ be built up, so we will be ready to be sent.  The book is full of practical tips for Catholics immersed in 21st century western culture.
Intentional Disciples: Sherry Weddell offers a very readable, research-based study of the stages or thresholds of faith.  She notes that "God has no grandchildren"--ala Chesterton's observation that Christianity is always only a generation away from extinction.  The way of the apostolic Church is, has been, and always will be the way of forming disciples who are neither accidental nor coincidental. 
  • But how, exactly, does this happen?  It all centers around personal relationships and, therefore, begins with Trust.  Once this is established, a period of Curiosity unfolds.  Gradually, the person moves into greater Openness, allowing for the possibility of personal and spiritual change.  If the seeker is willing to cross this most difficult threshold, then Conversion follows, along with more active Seeking to know the God who calls us each by name.  Finally, when one is ready to commit to walking with Christ in and through his Church, we arrive at Intentional Discipleship.  So can you identify where you fall on this continuum, or where your best friends and loved ones are?  Weddell shows how important the great "life questions" are, and how essential they are for moving to a full appropriation of the Christian faith.

Rebuilt Parishes: Thomas Corcoran and Fr. Michael White provide us with a most engaging, first-hand account of their efforts to transform their parish.  Have you ever longed that your parish would be more focused on challenging those who come every Sunday and serving those who do not?  With compelling and sometimes painfully honest real-world examples, the authors describe their efforts to gear their parish toward reaching "the lost."  They use the term not in some sort of judgmental way, but precisely as Jesus did:  "For the Son of Man has come to seek and save what was lost" (Lk 19:10). 
  • We all know someone--or many people--who are adrift.  We are all living during an "eclipse" of the very sense of God alive in the world, so everything is confusing and ambiguous and grey.  This book will help you and fellow parishioners begin shining the light on ways to transform your community from one set on status quo to one on the go--reaching to bring Christ to 21st century Americans. 
In sum, the Church's mission remains the same:  Each of us needs to become Intentional, Dynamic and Rebuilt Catholics, so we can make our contribution to the greatest movement in human history.  We just need to trust, like the first disciples, that "nothing will be impossible for God" (Lk 1:37)!

Pax et Bonum,

P.S.  Pope Francis, exercising apostolic leadership, has called for prayer and fasting on Saturday, September 6th for peace in Syria.  From 12:00-5:00 CST, the Holy Father has invited all people of good will to join him in a global prayer vigil; here is a copy of the full text of his urgent appeal.