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Pope Benedict XVI's Message to Youth PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Sunday, 02 September 2007 20:23
This weekend Pope Benedict XVI is in Loreto, Italy, meeting with Italian bishops, priests and thousands of Italian youth during the unveiling of a three-year pastoral plan for the youth of that country. (N.B. "Youth" in Europe usually refers to 18-35 year olds - what we in America would call young adults.)

In his homily yesterday, on "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted," Luke 14:11, the Pope urged the youth, "Do not follow the current produced by this powerful attempt at persuasion. Do not be afraid, dear friends, to prefer the 'alternative' ways indicated by true love: a sober way of life attentive to others; affectionate relationships that are sincere and pure; an honest commitment in study and work; deep interest in the common good.”

The Pope encouraged them to not be afraid "to appear different and be criticized for that which might seem foolish or unfashionable."

"Your fellow young people, but also adults and especially those who seem the farthest from the mentality and values of the Gospel, have a profound need to see someone who dares to live according to the fullness of humanity manifested in Jesus Christ," he said.

"The way of humility, dear friends, is therefore not the way of renunciation but of courage,” Benedict XVI emphasized. "It is not the result of a defeat but the outcome of a victory of love over egoism and of grace over sin."

Notice this humility is about forgetting oneself in order to evangelize! The Pope is telling Italian young adults to live in such a way that is fully human, and thus in imitation of Jesus. Such a life will undoubtedly look different from what most of us are pursuing, and the sense of dignity, purpose, direction and meaning that it gives will be incredibly attractive to those who are seeking those things.

The mission of evangelization was on the mind of many at the meeting, apparently. In an interview given by Monsignor Paolo Giulietti, head of National Service for Youth Pastoral Ministry at the Italian bishops conference, to the news service Fides, Giuletti responded to a question regarding whether youth are willing to share their faith with others. His response is beautiful and challenging.

"Mission is not something to do, it is more a way of being: Communicating with word and deed the beauty, the greatness of the experience of an encounter with Christ who makes life new. It is possible to kindle missionary impulse if we help young people to view their ordinary life with new eyes and to live it in an “extraordinary” manner. Naturally it is necessary to rethink the words and ways to speak of this at work, at school, at leisure time … for witness to be effective. The problem of little missionary spirit is due too often to dis-incarnated formation and spirituality."

What does the monsignor mean by a "dis-incarnated formation and spirituality"? I would suggest he means formation and spirituality that is essentially a "head trip." Perhaps a formation that focuses solely on the intellectual assent to faith, and a spirituality that is not centered on the sacraments and the need to embody Christ's love for others. Perhaps it is a spirituality that focuses on receiving grace for oneself, or experiencing consolation, or focused on a relationship with Christ that somehow does not impel the Christian outward in service. A dis-incarnated spirituality would contradict St. Paul's experience, when he wrote, "the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised."

In other words, a genuine Christian formation and spirituality that is centered on the incarnation flows from the conviction that Christ has saved us through his loving obedience to the Father and through his love for us - both of which led him to accept the cross on our behalf. When we truly grasp the depth of that love (not just "for us," but "for me"), we can more easily choose to love and live selflessly for others. Or, in other words, to live, "not I, but Christ living in me."

I would propose that the deeper root of the problem of little missionary spirit is the lack of an appreciation of the love that is offered us by the Blessed Trinity. Those who do experience and appreciate that love are natural (or, better, supernaturally empowered) evangelizers.
Am I Evangelized? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Sunday, 02 September 2007 09:36
In response to a previous post on John Allen's observation that the last two popes have had an evangelical focus, one former Evangelical Protestant (now Catholic), asked me the elements of Catholic evangelization. I responded with some key points from Pope Paul VI's 1975 Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World) [linked in the title of this post]. What hit me as I re-read that great teaching on evangelization was the question, "Have I been fully evangelized?"

That may sound like a peculiar question for a priest to ask, but let me briefly summarize a few points that Paul VI made.

For starters, the Holy Father wrote, "It [evangelization] 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, that is to say, in order to
preach and teach,
to be the channel of the gift of grace,
to reconcile sinners with God, and
to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection." [14]

That much most Catholics would not take exception with, I'm guessing. It seems to be much of what happens within our parishes. But, Paul also pointed out,

"She [the Church after the Lord's ascension] remains as a sign—simultaneously obscure and luminous—of a new presence of Jesus, of His departure and of His permanent presence. She prolongs and continues Him. And it is above all His mission and His condition of being an evangelizer that she is called upon to continue. For the Christian community is never closed in upon itself." [15]

This is our challenge today, and always. Because our reaching out to the world is not simply to do good works, like establish hospitals and schools, run soup kitchens and homeless shelters, or work to promote good stewardship of the environment, or oppose abortion and promote child welfare. The Pope makes it clear that these good works must be intimately related to the proclamation of Jesus as Savior and Lord.

But I'm jumping ahead of myself. What are the aspects of evangelization that Pope Paul VI said must be included in its description?

These elements are:
1. "bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new: 'Now I am making the whole of creation new.'" [18]

But this transformation begins with the conversion and baptism of individuals, and eventually, through them, changing the judgments, points of interest, and even the thought of society.

2. Evangelization happens through the personal witness of individuals whose lives simply don't make sense if God doesn't exist. We are to be a leaven in society - a leaven that isn't invisible, however, but that raises questions; "Why is this person or these people this way? What or who inspires them to live so differently?" Catholics often like to repeat a line (incorrectly) attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach always. Use words if necessary." Francis could have said something like that because his life WAS so different from the rest of society. His life choices raised all kinds of questions that he was able to address through words.

3. That's the third element - that witness cannot remain silent. It must include words! "The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed." [22]

4. A fourth element seems to be the actual RECEPTION of the word (and Word) proclaimed. Our words can't truly be called evangelizing if our listeners and observers are not also moved by the Spirit to embrace a radically new life.

5. A life transformed includes, then, the desire to share the "Good News" with others; to speak of our love for the Beloved. "Finally, the person who has been evangelized goes on to evangelize others. Here lies the test of truth, the touchstone of evangelization: it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn." [24]

In summary, Pope Paul VI, said of evangelization:
"Evangelization... is a complex process made up of varied elements:
the renewal of humanity,
explicit proclamation,
inner adherence,
entry into the community,
acceptance of signs,
apostolic initiative.

These elements may appear to be contradictory, indeed mutually exclusive. In fact they are complementary and mutually enriching. Each one must always be seen in relationship with the others." [24] To leave any out or accentuate one element to the detriment of another is to "impoverish or even distort it."

Here's why I'm asking the question, "Have I been fully evangelized?" Have I embraced a radically new life?

Of course, my life looks superficially different from most people's. I belong to a religious community. I've embraced celibacy as a way of life and find it fulfilling. I am a priest. But if I look at the roots of who I am (radical comes from the Latin "radix", meaning root) am I radically different from my non-Christian neighbor? I live quite comfortably, enjoy the respect and friendship of others – so much so that I know my preaching of the Gospel has been compromised to protect that good will.

Have I accepted the word and given myself to the kingdom so that I bear witness to it and proclaim it in turn? I seldom seek to speak of my faith with others outside the parish environment, where such conversations would be accepted. In other words, I speak of Jesus pretty much only in my "official" capacity as priest, and not simply as another believer.

And that's a sign of a problem. I know that I talk to others about my closest friends and members of my family. I want to introduce people I love to others. Can I say that is true with respect to my relationship with Jesus? Do I want to introduce him to people who do not know him? Do I love others enough to want to introduce them to the One who loves them enough to offer his life for them? Have I experienced the Good News in such a way that it really is good news that MUST be shared with other people who have not heard it?

When I consider these questions, and compare my life to the saints who could answer these questions affirmatively, I have to conclude that my evangelization and conversion are not yet complete. Yes, conversion is a life-long process, but it must be an intentional process, as is evangelization, and as yet it is not receiving my fullest attention. With the grace of God and fervent petitioning of him on my part (and with your prayers) that will change.

But all this means we need to re-evaluate our parish life. Are they focused on the mission of evangelization, and the formation of lay Catholics who are intent on embodying Christ's love in the world and bringing the Gospel to others? Or are we content with "we've always done things this way"? The pamphlet "Mission or Maintenance," written by Sherry Weddell and Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, and sold on our website bookstore is a challenging look at how our parishes are meant to be.
The End of the Re-Union PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 01 September 2007 14:06
I have literally just returned from the airport where we dropped the Sheas off to catch their plane back to Seattle. The Curps left this morning for the long drive east across Kansas. Kathleen Lundquist and her husband Gary were here for the Day in Building Intentional Community and will be here till Sunday. Then I'm gonna take Labor Day off.

It's been a wonderfully rich and rewarding August - beginning with the amazing experience of Making Disciples, the joys of the reunion, and the events of the past few days. But also endlessly demanding.

So I'll give myself the rest of the weekend to decompress and then I'll return to blogging. I'll probably be posting more pictures from the reunion.

Sherry Curp (the other Sherry) called from the plains of eastern Kansas to say that she is planning to write a series of posts on the fine points of organizing a fellowship group like the Nameless Lay Group. That's important because a common question from cradle Catholics yesterday was: "how do you do this?"

So expect to hear from the other Sherry in coming days.

May you all have a wonderfully restful Labor Day weekend!
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