Monday, September 24, 2012

Witnessing to Deeper Truths--In an Election Year

Our Lady of the Angels Mission, on the West Side of Chicago
Have you had any awkward conversations with people who are clearly very partisan in their political views?  Or have you been frustrated by people who are so painfully a-political that they seem to be avoiding the many serious questions our country faces this election year?

A Catholic perspective on voting seems to walk a fine line between different extremes:  On the one hand, a Catholic world view does not fit neatly with either party, so the Church doesn't play to "partisan politics."  On the other hand, the Church doesn't just say vote for whomever you feel like voting for, since Catholic principles provide the faithful with clear guidelines for informing their consciences to be able to decide between specific candidates. 

In a new Introductory Note to Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. Bishops have outlined six fundamental problems which should shape our political choices, "some involving opposition to intrinsic evils and others raising serious moral questions":

Monday, September 17, 2012

Got Evangelization?

Pope John Paul II and the future Pope Benedict XVI
If you pray before meals at home, do you also say grace when eating at a restaurant?  I've not always been consistent on this, but have been making a concerted effort of late, and my family and I had a funny thing happen recently.

My wife and I went out to eat with my mother, my siblings and their spouses--celebrating a couple birthdays.  Apparently, the waitress was not in as festive a mood as we were, and somehow we were managing to annoy her (perhaps by not ordering quite as quickly as she wanted).  I had noticed her overall demeanor and thought it was going to be a long night.

After the appetizers arrived, we paused, blessed ourselves and prayed our grace before the meal.  The waitress noticed this as she re-entered the room and proceeded to walk up to the table and announce, "Well, you don't see too much of that any more."  From then on, we were her favorite table, and she made delightful conversation with us as she talked about the menu and kept the food and drink flowing!

Pope Paul VI
 This little incident reminded me that evangelization doesn't have to be awkward or uncomfortable; it should be something natural.  As our recent (and current) Holy Fathers have reminded us, evangelization is simply a matter of sharing the Good News of the Gospel--a matter of sharing the joy of knowing Christ.  Indeed, in his groundbreaking encyclical letter on Evangelization in the Modern World, Pope Paul VI famously proclaimed:  “The task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church.  It is a task and mission which the vast and profound changes of present-day society make all the more urgent. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity.  She exists in order to evangelize” (EN, n. 14). 

Evangelization is simply what we are all about as disciples of Christ.  If the Church exists in order to evangelize, it's because every human person exists to be evangelized.  Everyone is looking for a Way or a Truth or a Life that can give the deeper meaning, the authentic belonging, the gift of reconciliation and total acceptance which every human person desires.  Sometimes evangelization is a matter of saying just the right words at just the right moment (thanks to the Holy Spirit); oftentimes it is a matter of small actions.  Making the "sign of the Cross" in a restaurant won't always lead to better service (in fact, it could get worse!), but it might remind other Catholics that they are not alone.  And it might nudge others to silently express gratitude for the many gifts they have received.

Christianity isn't just a religion.  It's a Way of Life, the journey of a lifetime  And evangelization is about giving witness to this life--in small, often simple moments--everyday.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Agents of the New Evangelization

One of my best friends, Dave Hostert, died three years ago today.  In his mid-forties, it was not only too early but also too sudden.  No time for good-byes, or for thank-yous.

His wonderful family has moved forward in heroic fashion.  They've honored his memory and kept on "keeping the faith," as Dave would have wanted.  And they've been witnesses to Christian love for many people along the way.

When he went to God, many people noted the fact that Dave the great history teacher died on such a historic day for our country.  This year I'm struck by the fact that Dave the great teacher of the faith sees the anniversary of his death fall in the week when the Church prepares for Catechetical Sunday.  Indeed, every year on the third Sunday of September, we are invited to recognize and celebrate all those who help hand on the faith as teachers and catechists.  And today I'm particularly grateful for the profound impact that Dave had on my own faith journey.

Great teachers are always even greater students, and this was certainly true of Dave.  A fearless intellectual along the lines of G.K. Chesterton, he was unafraid of questioning conventional wisdom and of exploring the reasons for counter-cultural Church teachings.  A throwback kind of guy, he was able to share the ancient wisdom of the Church in a way that spoke to the questions and challenges of our time.  He taught me the importance of daily devotions and spiritual exercises on the journey of Christian discipleship.  He helped me appreciate the Sacrament of Reconciliation as the great gift of God's mercy which it is.  He embodied the classic definition of theology as "faith seeking understanding."

This year, the U.S. Bishops have selected the following theme for Catechetical Sunday:  "Catechists and Teachers as Agents of the New Evangelization."  And now that I have a little better perspective on Dave's life, I can see the many ways that he was an agent of the new evangelization.

Can you name agents of the new evangelization in your life?  Can you remember who helped teach you how to pray?  Can you name those who helped you learn "by heart" the deep truths of the Creed or the Commandments?  Can you still see and hear those who helped open you to the Word of God or the mystery of our sacramental encounters with the Lord? 

Each of us is indebted to a web of people and events that have led to our encounter with Christ and have fostered our ongoing process of personal conversion.  If we could trace our way back through the friends and acquaintances, the family ancestors, the teachers and pastors of the Church, we'd ultimately wind our way back to the Apostles themselves.  These original "agents of evangelization" simply followed the promised Spirit and brought the news of the Risen Lord to the pagan world.

In the end, the Holy Spirit is "The Special Agent" of the new evangelization.  He just needs people, like Dave Hostert, to be willing instruments in his hands. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Reclaim Sunday: Top 7 Tips

Seven strategies for securing a special Sabbath--Ancient wisdom with (post)modern "apps":

7.  S.O.S. vs. S.O.S.
Save Ordinary Shopping--and give the errand grind a rest--in order to avoid screaming  "S.O.S."!...

6.  Get back to Nature
Go to a park or visit a forest preserve; take a long walk; admire the beauty of the Creator in his creation...

5.  Get Unplugged and Plugged-in 
Resist technological temptations; ignore email; make some memories to share on Monday's Facebook posting...
4. Find Fine Family Foods
Make Sunday dinner a weekly celebration, and savor your favorite foods of the week...

3. RG3
Read + Garden....Rest + play board Games....(w)Rite a letter + Give service to your community...

2.  Surrender to Silence
Create space to sit and listen to the "still small voice" of the Lord...(10 minutes per week?!)

1.  WWJD
Worship With Joyful Disciples!

Why a "Year of Faith"?

Raise your hand if you have family or friends who are Catholic, but who do not attend Sunday Mass on a weekly basis.  Keep it up if you know people who would describe themselves as not having a personal relationship with God.  Now raise your other hand if you'd like to deepen your own relationship with God.

Why has the Holy Father called for a Year of Faith?  Perhaps so we can all put our arms down and get busy with the work of the new evangelization!  Or, more seriously and more simply:  In order that we might rediscover and encounter--and thus help others to do so as well.

Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei, which announced the Year of Faith, revolves around these two concepts.  It challenges us to ask ourselves how we can "rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ" (PF, n. 2).

To rediscover, of course, implies that we had once discovered the "door of faith."  Like an old friend with whom we might reconnect, to rediscover faith is to renew and reclaim what had once brought us so much life--"to pick up right where we had left off," and "to catch up about where we are now," and "to talk about where we're heading."  As these everyday phrases suggest, faith opens us into a deep, personal relationship:  ultimately, we open the "door of faith" not to teachings or doctrines or concepts, but to encounter the very Person of Christ.

The Year of Faith is also linked to the call for a stronger commitment to the new evangelization, and to the fundamental missionary commitment of the Church.  Just as runners strengthen themselves by running and swimmers strengthen themselves by swimming, so believers "strengthen themselves by believing" (St. Augustine).  In other words, "faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy" (PF, n. 7).  Isn't our weary world longing for more grace and joy?!

Pope Benedict understands that humanity is living in a time of profound change--one which requires all believers to become more conscious and vigorous in their adherence to the Gospel (PF, n. 8).  Unintentional or accidental discipleship clearly won't cut it now (as if it ever did).  We need to reclaim, consciously and intentionally, what it means to follow our Risen Lord this day, and this Year.  And then we need to go "make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19), starting with our own.