Monday, April 30, 2018

How to "Rejoice and Be Glad" in Daily Life

Gaudete et Exsultate
Who am I? 
Why am I here? 
What is God's plan for my life?

Into a world which may well be returning to age-old questions, Holy Father Francis has delivered an apostolic exhortation that is sure to inspire:  "The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created.  He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence" (n. 1).

Gaudete et Exsultate is as readable as it is challenging.  It focuses on a theme which has marked Francis' entire papacy, namely, the universal call to holiness and to mission:  "My modest goal is to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities" (n. 3).

Pope Francis has structured this text around these five major themes, which pose a number of personal challenges:

  1. The Call to Holiness:  "A Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness....Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel" (n. 19). 

    Jesus' dying and rising provides the fundamental dynamic of the Christian life.  In addition to embracing this fundamental reality of life, the Holy Father also calls me to reproduce in my daily life various aspects of Jesus' earthly life--"his hidden life, his life in community, his closeness to the outcast, his poverty and other ways he showed his self-sacrificing love" (GE, n. 20).  Indeed, Pope Francis wants me to identify which aspect of Jesus' earthly life most clearly marks my life today, so that I might see the entirety of my life as a mission (n. 23).

  2. Two Subtle Enemies of Holiness: Christians need to resist both contemporary Gnosticism and contemporary Pelagianism, "two forms of doctrinal or disciplinary security that give rise 'to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying" (n. 35).  It can never be all about my ideas, nor can it be all about my efforts.

    Pope Francis challenges me to reflect on how these temptations might be present in my life
    so that I might be authentically concerned with: "the face of God reflected in so many other faces. For in every one of our brothers and sisters, especially the least, the most vulnerable, the defenseless and those in need, God's very image is found" (n. 61).
  3. In the Light of the Master:  Pope Francis offers this simple summary of what it means to be holy: "The Beatitudes are like a Christian's identity card....In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect in our daily lives" (n. 63). 

    After sharing a powerful meditation on each of the Beatitudes (nn. 67-94), the Holy Father comments on "the one clear criterion on which we will be judged"--feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting prisoners from Matthew 25 (n. 95).  Holy Father Francis challenges me to examine my daily decisions in light of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy--and to make changes accordingly.

  4. Signs of Holiness in Today's World: To counter-act the anxiety, negativity, self-contentment, individualism, and "fake" spirituality which has nothing to do with God, Pope Francis highlights five great expressions of love for God and neighbor (ch. 4).  I will find myself rejoicing and being glad to the extent that I am growing in these areas:

    * Perseverance, patience and meekness
    * Joy and a sense of humor
    * Boldness and passion
    * Living in community
    * Living in constant prayer

    Pope Francis invites me to think and act in terms of these concrete categories for Christian discipleship, rather than living by a vague sense of "trying to be a good person."
  5. Spiritual Combat, Vigilance and Discernment: The final section provides a spiritual wake-up call, for one and all--"We are not dealing merely with a battle against the world and a worldly mentality that would deceive us and leave us dull and mediocre, lacking in enthusiasm and joy. Nor can this battle be reduced to the struggle against our human weaknesses and proclivities (be they laziness, lust, envy, jealousy or any others). It is also a constant struggle against the devil, the prince of evil (n. 159)."

    Pope Francis is emphatically advising that I commit to a sincere daily "examination of conscience" in light of this spiritual warfare (n. 169), to embrace the grace of discerning "the meaning of my life before the Father who knows and loves me, with the real purpose of my life, which nobody knows better than he" (n. 170).

In sum, Jesus Christ continues to speak through his Church, and his answers to life's timeless questions are the same yesterday, today and forever:  "Who am I," but a saint in the making?!   "Why am I here," if not to say yes to the call to holiness?!  "What's God's plan for my life," but to let the grace of my baptism "bear fruit in a path of holiness" (n. 15)?!

Come, Holy Spirit, bear in us fruit that will remain--

 P.S.  If you are looking for a simple way to enter more deeply into conversation with Pope Francis regarding what holiness looks like in your daily life, consider subscribing to receive the document in a one-paragraph-per-day format.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Visiting the Good Shepherd--"Just for a Minute"

Just for a Minute
by Patrick O'Connor

I remember when I was only four,
Mother would bring me ‘round to the store
And just outside of the church she’d stand,
And “Come in,” she’d say, reaching down for my hand.

“Just for a minute”

And then when I started going to school,
She’d bring me down every day as a rule,
But first the steps to the church we’d climb,
And she’d say: “We’ll go in ~ you’ve always got time.”

“Just for a minute”

Then I got real big, I mean seven years old,
And I went by myself, but was always told,
When you’re passing the church, don’t forget to call,
And tell Our Lord about lessons and all.

“Just for a minute”

Sometimes I run most of the way,
Or meet some guys and we stop to play,
But I manage to squeeze out time enough
To make the church where I pant and puff.

“Just for a minute”

And now it’s sort of a habit I’ve got,
In the evening coming from Casey’s lot,
Though it takes me out of my way a bit,
To slip into church with my bat and mitt.

“Just for a minute”

But sometimes I see the other fellows
Standing around and I just go yellow,

I pass by the door, but a Voice within
Seems to say, real sad: “So you wouldn’t come in.”

“Just for a minute”

There are things inside of me bad and good
That nobody knows and nobody could,
Excepting Our Lord, and I like Him to know
And he helps me when in for a visit I go.

“Just for a minute”

He finds it lonesome when nobody comes
(There are hours upon hours when nobody comes)
And He’s pleased when anybody passing by
Stops in (though it’s only a little guy)
“Just for a minute”

I know what happens when people die,
But I won’t be scared, and I’ll tell you why
When Our Lord is judging my soul, I feel
He’ll remember the times I went to kneel.
“Just for a minute”

   Dear Jesus,
it will not be long until I come to visit you again.
Till then, I leave my poor heart before the Tabernacle. 
Let its every beat tell You that I love You,
and that I am longing to be free to be with You.
Bless me before I go, my Jesus. 
Bless my home and undertakings. 
Bless my friends, and my enemies, too. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Looking for Signs of a New Springtime?

Check out The Dating Project and Gaudete et Exsultate....

St. John Paul II repeatedly called for a "New Springtime" in the Church.  He had the vision to see that the wheat and the weeds were growing together at the beginning of the third millennium of Christianity.  Yet he also had the wisdom to focus his attention on the wheat, which is destined to become the bread of life for the world.

In the face of ongoing geopolitical crises, ecclesial turmoil, and cultural collapse, dare we "rejoice and be glad" about the new beginnings which continue to spring to life all around us?  Here are two opportunities to consider:

  • 4.17.18--The Dating Project in movie theaters--The way people find love has radically changed in an age of swiping left or right. The Dating Project follows five single people, as they search for meaningful relationships. Presented by Pure Flix and Paulist Productions, this is the perfect event for every single person!

Jesus Christ is the ever-present Sower who continues to plant seeds which are destined to bear fruit unto eternal life:  May we continue to say "Yes" to his daily invitations to bloom where we are planted!

P.S. For a sampling of Gaudete et exsultate, check out the Holy Father's commentary on this timely Beatitude:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”

"Peacemakers truly 'make' peace; they build peace and friendship in society.  To those who sow peace Jesus makes this magnificent promise:  'They will be called children of God' (Mt 5:9).... It is not easy to 'make' this evangelical peace, which excludes no one but embraces even those who are a bit odd, troublesome or difficult, demanding, different, beaten down by life or simply uninterested.  It is hard work; it calls for great openness of mind and heart, since it is not about creating 'a consensus on paper or a transient peace for a contented minority,' or a project 'by a few for the few.'  Nor can it attempt to ignore or disregard conflict; instead, it must 'face conflict head on, resolve it and make it a link in the chain of a new process.'  We need to be artisans of peace, for building peace is a craft that demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity and skill. Sowing peace all around us: that is holiness." (GE, nn. 88-89)

Monday, April 9, 2018

How to Respond to 5 Probing Resurrection Questions

Questions abound following Jesus' Resurrection.

Naturally, I want to make sure that I can get all of my questions about the Resurrection answered (and, thankfully, there are resources such as this: "Proof of Jesus' Resurrection and Divinity").  But in the Biblical accounts of this defining event in human history, the questions come not from the dumbfounded disciples but from the Risen Lord Jesus:
  1. "Whom are you looking for?" (Jn 20:15):  Am I alert to various ways that the Risen Lord reaches out to encounter me each day, or do I spend my days looking for someone or something else?  If I am not seeking the Living One here and now, then I am probably clinging to some past memory of the "good old days" or escaping into dreams about some fantastic future.

  2. "What are you discussing as you walk along?" (Lk 24: 17):  Am I engaged in conversations that move beyond the superficial, in an effort to explore the deeper meaning of daily events?  If I never take time to reflect on why it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and so enter into his glory, then I am probably going to miss the pattern of Cross and Resurrection in my own life's journey.

  3. "Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?" (Lk 24:38):  Have I opened my mind to the fact that the Resurrection makes all things new?  If I cannot "rejoice and be glad" at the way Jesus' glorified body transforms the wounds of his passion into signs of victory, then I will fail to see how God's grace can sanctify my own life's scars.

  4. "Children, have you caught anything to eat?" (Jn 21:5):  Have I noticed that trying to live absent Jesus leads to aimless activity, marked by fruitless ventures and empty nets?  If I insist on returning to my plans and my comfort zones over and over again, then I will miss out on the super-abundance which comes from staying close to Christ.

  5. "Do you love me?" (Jn 21:15-17):  How many times have I heard Jesus repeat this question in my own life?  If I wallow in my past denials and frequent failures, then I will never utter a deeper "Yes" to this question, the question which determines both my temporal happiness during this earthly journey and my ultimate destiny.  I am made to be in relationship with Love--to love Love, and to be loved by Love--and the question is whether I will accept this invitation.

I am made to be in relationship with Love--to love Love, and to be loved by Love.  The Easter season is the time to discern which of these questions Jesus is asking at this stage of my journey, and whether I have the courage to respond affirmatively. 

Thankfully, in his Divine Mercy revelation, the Lord himself provides advice about how to begin my response to his probing questions:  "Jesus, I trust in you"!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Missionary Discipleship for Disciple-Makers

"Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past;
it contains a vital power which has permeated this world....
It is an irresistible force."
(EG, n. 276)

Jesus Christ is risen as he said, Alleluia!

This world-changing proclamation continues to shape the minds and hearts of all Jesus' followers.  This irresistible force compels Jesus' followers to journey the path of both discipleship--following the crucified and risen Lord ever more closely--and mission--bringing the Lord's saving message and presence to the whole world.

Pope Francis' evocative phrase, "Missionary Disciples," prompts and prods Catholics around the world to a deeper "Yes" to the call to holiness and to mission: 

"In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God
have become missionary disciples (cf. 
Every Christian is challenged,
here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization;
indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time

or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.
Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered
the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are 'disciples' and 'missionaries',
but rather that we are always 'missionary disciples'."
(EG, n. 120)

As an Easter people, perhaps it is time for serious self-evaluation on how we might continue to strengthen our response to this call.  The USCCB's mission-manual entitled Living as Missionary Disciples (LMD) outlines a four-fold method of formation for missionary disciples:
  1. Encounter.  Can I name and describe the ways that I have encountered Jesus Christ?  Can I identify both my initial conversion to Christ and my ongoing, lifelong process of conversion--metanoia--putting on the mind and heart of Christ (LMD, p. 11)?  How do I allow Jesus to speak to me through my personal prayer, the Scriptures, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and the Sacraments--above all in the Eucharist?  This experience of encountering Christ is the foundation and fountain from which missionary discipleship flows.
  2. Accompany.  Who has served as a model of the Christian life and who has helped mentor me in the life of faith?  How is the Lord Jesus calling me to walk with someone as they make the journey of discipleship?  Who might need me to practice the "art of listening" (EG, n. 171)?  As I know from looking back on how others have accompanied me, this step requires that I "be truly present to others" (LMD, p. 15)--striving for the "tenderness" which Pope Francis so often mentions.
  3.  Community.  How have I allowed the Holy Spirit to draw me more deeply into the mystery of the Church's liturgy?  Have I opened my eyes to the fact that "the Church's liturgy, by its very nature as a proclamation and enactment of the Good News of Salvation, is an evangelical act" (LMD, p. 16)?  My experiences of fellowship and solidarity with my brothers and sisters in Christ also reflects the Trinitarian Love which he has revealed.
  4. Send.  What if the message of salvation is not meant for me to hoard?  Of course, I first need to give witness to my new life in Christ by practicing what the Church preaches and growing in a life of Christian virtue, but do I also look for opportunities to proclaim Jesus with my words?  I need to overcome the fear of bringing Christ "into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent" (LMD, p. 17).

By virtue of the gift of Baptism, the Risen Lord gives every Christian the same task: Become disciple-makers in whatever mission territory Christ has chosen for us.  The only question is whether we will say "Yes" to being part of this ongoing event which has permeated the world.