Get Holy Ghost Power

Several years ago, the Synod of Bishops discussing the New Evangelization noted that the first step, before any “strategic planning” (whatever that means), the Church must undergo a revitalization in which, “She makes the Person of Jesus Christ and a personal encounter with him central to her thinking, knowing that he will give his Spirit and provide the force to announce and proclaim the Gospel in new ways which can speak to today’s cultures.”

Notice that it doesn’t say that encountering Christ and receiving His Spirit provides a program or strategy by which the Church can put a tourniquet on the bleeding indicated by statistical data. No. The Word and Spirit provide a “force” capable of expressing the Gospel in ways that speak to today’s culture.

Forty days after the resurrection, Jesus took his disciples – those who were closest to Him, those who echoed Thomas’ “My Lord and my God, those who aligned with Peter in saying “You are the Christ” to Jesus’ infamous question “Who do you say that I am?” – outside of Jerusalem. Here they pressed him, “Are you now going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” His response is so typical…”It’s not for you to know the times or the seasons…” The classic God-answer of “I’m not telling.”

But, Jesus follows this line with something remarkable. He tells them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses…” (see Acts 1:6-8).

The Greek word for “witnesses” here is martys, from which we get our word “martyr.” The word used for “power” is dynamis, from which we get “dynamite.”Pentecost_icon

“Lord, will you restore the kingdom?”

“No. But you will. And I will give you the dynamite power of the Holy Spirit, and you will be martyr-witnesses here and to the ends of the earth.”

The Word and the Spirit provide the force, the dynamite power that the Church needs in order to proclaim the saving Gospel, in order to continue the joint-mission of Son and Spirit. When the apostles receive that power at Pentecost, they practically force their way out of the upper room to proclaim the Gospel, and they never stop. This is why the Church desperately needs to pray for the New Pentecost right now.

One of the beloved Dominican friars who was stationed at St. Gertrude’s Priory for a number of years, Fr. Clement Joseph Burns, OP, recently passed away. At his funeral (which may go down as one of the most cheerful funerals I’ve ever attended), Fr. Nicholas Lombardo, OP, gave a homily on the impact Fr. Clem had throughout his life as a preacher. During the homily he recounted once asking Fr. Clem if what Archbishop Fulton Sheen said about priests only preaching one homily during their lives was actually true. Fr. Clem paused, and then answered “yes.” Fr. Nicholas asked him what his homily was. Without hesitation, Fr. Clem responded, “Get Holy Ghost Power.”

You want the force? Beg for it.

He wants to supply it.

 

 

Your Testimony

In her widely-read work Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell notes that Catholics, for the most part, have embraced a culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell” when it comes to any talk of the personal, interior journey. She does note, however, that the Church places much emphasis on sacramental formation and calling for active participation (in liturgies, the community, etc.).

Yet there is a problem here. In order for the New Evangelization – the proclamation of the Gospel message with new ardor, new expressions, and new methods to non-practicing baptized Catholics – to take root, in order for the Gospel to be proclaimed, disciples are necessary. Disciples are those who have given their lives (and who continue to give more and more) to Jesus Christ through the Church, so that He might be Lord of their lives. One has to have something in order to hand anything on. Discipleship is the means, ever ancient, ever new, for that education/handing on of faith. It is intensely personal and transformative.

As such, an essential part of the New Evangelization, is the personal testimony. Pope Paul VI reminded the Church many years ago that nowadays people are more inclined to listen to witnesses, than to teachers. Plenty of people talk about ideas, but few share personally about riveting experiences that awaken faith, hope, and love. Few people testify to the encounter with Christ and what that encounter means for the whole of one’s life.

In order to break this “cone of silence,” and to build up the faith of our community, why not step out and take the Testimony Challenge? Write a testimony describing an encounter with Christ, a decision for Christ, etc. that brought about a change in your life. Remember, that a testimony testifies to what God has done in your life. The challenge is this…in the com-box, using 200 words or less, write your testimony. Include first names only. Go!

We Don’t Know What Normal Is

The parish staff continues to plow through Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples. The following is my synopsis of her second chapter, entitled “We Don’t Know What Normal Is.” 

 

After traversing the statistical landscape in ch. 1 of Forming Intentional Disciples, Weddell opens ch. 2 with another discouraging stat: only 6% of Catholic parishes agreed that spreading the faith was a high priority compared to 57% of African American and 75% of conservative Protestant congregations. The Catholic statistic would be laughable if it were not such a brazen failure on the part of the Church to live out her identity – which Vatican II describes as “missionary by her very nature” (Ad Gentes 2).

What is the problem? Perhaps then Cardinal Ratzinger comes close to an accurate description, when, in a 2000 address to catechists, he said, “A large part of today’s humanity does not find the Gospel in the permanent evangelization of the Church: That is to say, the convincing response to the question: How to live?” Humanity does not find the Gospel in the Church’s efforts. Something is lacking, for one can give only that which he has received. Nothing to give indicates nothing received. Hence the Church finds herself in the midst of a new missionary age – the time of the New Evangelization has arrived.

But what is this New Evangelization? Pope Paul VI, in 1974, identified the need not only for the Church to engage in missionary activity ad gentes (“to the nations”), but to a rapidly growing audience in the midst of a secularized West: the baptized, but no longer practicing Catholic. Pope John Paul II carried this new missionary call forward for the Church, describing the New Evangelization not as a process of re-evangelizing (“going through the motions”), but an evangelization “new in its ardor, methods and expression.” This evangelization would engage present-day culture and transmit the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ to the modern man. In preparation for the recent Synod of Bishops, the Lineamenta describes the New Evangelization as follows:

The expression can now be applied to the Church’s renewed efforts to meet the challenges which today’s society and cultures, in view of the significant changes taking place, are posing to the Christian faith, its proclamation and its witness. In facing these challenges, the Church does not give up or retreat into herself; instead, she undertakes a project to revitalize herself. She makes the Person of Jesus Christ and a personal encounter with him central to her thinking, knowing that he will give his Spirit and provide the force to announce and proclaim the Gospel in new ways which can speak to today’s cultures. (5)

Transmitting the faith means to create in every place and time the conditions for this personal encounter of individuals with Jesus Christ. The faith-encounter with the person of Jesus Christ is a relationship with him, “remembering him” (in the Eucharist) and, through the grace of the Spirit, having in us the mind of Jesus Christ.

This personal encounter allows individuals to share in the Son’s relationship with his Father and to experience the power of the Spirit. The aim of transmitting the faith and the goal of evangelization is to bring us “through him [Christ] in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:18). (11)

From this understanding, one senses the note of truth ringing out in Weddell’s words, “transmission of the Catholic faith is not just passing on an inherited religious identity. Genuine Catholic identity flows from the experience of discipleship” (53). As noted in the Lineamenta, “What is not believed or lived cannot be transmitted….The Gospel can only be transmitted on the basis of ‘being’ with Jesus and living with Jesus the experience of the Father, in the Spirit, and, in a corresponding way, of ‘feeling’ compelled to proclaim and share what is lived” (11).

Here, the premise of the whole book is revealed: The New Evangelization is necessary for the genesis of a culture of intentional discipleship, and only from this culture of discipleship will a new springtime of evangelization blossom. The call to evangelize cannot be separated from the necessity of intentional discipleship.

Later in the chapter, Weddell defines intentional discipleship first by examining the call of Simon (Luke 5:10-11), before saying “No one voluntarily sheds his or her job, home, and whole way of life accidentally or unconsciously” (65). To do so would be an impossible contradiction. When one encounters Christ and freely chooses to follow Him as His disciple, one does so with the intention of following a path, a road, a journey – even though he/she does not know exactly what the journey will require.¹

Weddell argues that intentional discipleship must become normative within the Church. But let’s examine “normative Catholicism” more closely. Weddell describes it by identifying three “concurrent spiritual journeys”:²

  1. The personal interior journey of a lived relationship with Christ resulting in intentional discipleship.
  2. The ecclesial journey into the Church through reception of the sacraments of initiation. (We could toss catechesis or religious education into this category – i.e. “sacramental prep”).
  3. The journey of active practice (as evidenced by receiving the sacraments, attending Mass, and participating in the life and mission of the Christian community).

Ideally, every Catholic should be making all three journeys simultaneously – “a conscious disciple of Jesus Christ, a fully initiated Catholic, and an active parishioner” (54). Yet this is rarely the case. Nowadays “Catholic identity” refers simply to regarding oneself as Catholic and attending Mass with “reasonable regularity.” No further questions asked! Thus Weddell concludes, “Many Catholics think one needn’t ask about the first journey if the second and third journeys are in place” (54). Unfortunately, the common assumption is that “personal discipleship is a kind of optional spiritual enrichment for the exceptionally pious or spiritually gifted” (55).  It is a mere accessory encouraged by a culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” If nobody talks about a personal encounter with Christ, the life-changing decision to follow Christ intentionally, “we are no more likely to think of it spontaneously than we are to suddenly invent a new primary color” (56). As a result of what could be identified as a “spiral of silence” surrounding the interior journey of discipleship, an unintentional chasm has been created “between what the Church teaches in normal and what many Catholics in the pews have learned to regard as normal. Many lifelong Catholics have never seen personal discipleship lived overtly or talked about in an explicitly manner in their family or parish” (57).

Given the call to normative Catholicism and the unfortunate chasm created by a culture of silence, we can make at least three observations:

  1. “We can no longer presume that those coming for the sacraments still understand what it means to be a Catholic or are even committed to such. Nor can we presume that they know who Christ is and have made a commitment to him as savior and Lord” (R. Martin)
  2. A paradigm shift from “infant” to “adult” is needed. In other words, the current assumption is that the baptized infant Catholic will “pick up the Catholic faith from the family and the parish as naturally and inevitably as he or she learns language and culture” (68). The current position assumes that this Catholic identity will move seamlessly into adulthood in a process of slow and steady spiritual growth with little expectation of distinct turning points or overt “conversion” (68). Instead, Weddell proposes an “adult” paradigm that challenges teens and adults to become intentional disciples – this is a paradigm of (new) evangelization.
  3. The Church must evangelize her baptized members in order to foster a Church that desires to share the faith with non-believers. “You can’t give what you don’t have.”

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¹ Weddell quotes Fr. Cantalamessa saying that “discipleship begins when ‘adult persons at last have the occasion to hear the kerygma, renew their baptism, consciously choose Christ…and commit themselves actively in the life of the Church’” (66). Kerygma is a Greek term that refers to the initial proclamation of the Gospel message – God, the loving Father created man good. Man sinned and found himself in need of redemption. In the fullness of time God sends his only begotten Son that “whoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). The kerygma proclaimed by the Church serves to awaken faith and to move the will of the individual to accepting Christ.
² One could perhaps debate Weddell’s use of the word “journey” here, for a journey implies a distinctive end-point. Yet the disciple does not embark on three journeys, but rather one journey, which, like any journey, in comprised of various essential elements (e.g. persons, a mode of transportation, a direction, etc.). To be sure, the Christian journey is a singular journey to share in Christ’s sonship through the power of the Holy Spirit in the presence of the Father.

When you ask a Youth Minister some questions…

Recently, someone I respect a great deal approached me with a few questions about Youth Ministry and teens in today’s culture. He expressed a feeling of urgency to address the growing problem (just look at the stats) of people, especially young people, leaving the Church, etc. He was looking for answers and solutions. Below are my responses to some of his questions. 

In response to his opening statement about the current trends/statistics and the felt need for an urgent action: 

Yes, that statistics are rather harrowing. When we talk about young people and the faith we have to remember that the gift of faith is really something the Church has been asked to pass on. Jesus Christ came in the flesh, died in the flesh, and rose from the dead in the flesh, and then entrusts his Body with the task of proclaiming this saving message – the Good News of the Gospel. But tradition always dies when it is forgotten, undervalued, or un-lived. The youth we see today are largely a product of the faith passed on to them by their parents – whether that is faith in Christ, faith in the “American dream,” the sexual revolution, or what have you. The family may be ravaged, but it cannot be replaced. The situation is dire and the secular culture is relentless in its liberal agenda. Perhaps the saddest part of it all is the secularization within the Church herself. This is the real travesty.

The ache that you feel in your heart has only one answer – Jesus Christ. There is no ploy, no program, no strategy, no human word, structure, or novel idea powerful enough to break through the sin of selfishness and self-messianism that we experience today. The ache is a sign, and the sign’s trajectory must lead us always to Christ, and Him crucified…a experience we have been privileged to participate in.

In response to a question on how to address a young person who has no current relationship with God, or no interest in having one (i.e. the “hard-hearted”): 

Typically teens don’t come to Youth Group if they are not interested. Nowadays more and more parents, and rightly so, give their teens the option to go to Youth Ministry or not. Very few are forced. In those occasions, however, unconditional, disinterested (in pushing my beliefs), love is the only thing powerful enough to break through. This only makes sense. That’s exactly what Christ did – He is not a good idea, a political power, phantasm, or abstract philosophy. He came to us as a person seeking relationship, seeking only to encounter man where sinful man was. In other words, he went into the muck of life in order to penetrate our hard hearts. These young people who have hard hearts need a real love, a human love that is willing and capable of entering into their pain with them. This real relationship, this sense of belonging, this witness to the love of Christ is truly powerful enough to overcome hard hearts only because He uses us in this way. More often than not, this experience is (at least initially) relegated to the place of prayer, and that vicarious suffering for the other that happens in the silence of our hearts. On the practical level, we hope that all teens, whether they know and love God or not, find in Youth Ministry a place where they belong and are loved. Pope Francis just spoke about this, in fact.

Responding to why so many young people have no relationship with God: 

I think I addressed this above for the most part. The breakdown of the family and the pervasive secular culture are tremendous forces. Couple these with the dictatorship of relativism and a purely rationalistic, materialistic worldview and you have now created the perfect environment for atheism. But, I’m never content to pass the buck here, and I truly am tired of hearing people blame the culture. Chaput once said that the world is the way it is because Catholics are not living their faith. In other words, Christ entrusted us with an incredible mission – to proclaim the Gospel! I believe that the Gospel message, that the Person of Christ, is still relevant (even in a post-modern society). And, more than merely being relevant, I believe the Gospel has the power to totally transform lives (i.e. conversion), because He has transformed mine and countless others – Now! He is happening to me right now! But most young people have never heard the Gospel proclaimed in a captivating way, they have never been swept up into the story, their story, by witnesses bold enough to proclaim the whole of the Gospel and that CHALLENGE that it is.

And, with all of that said, I would argue that there is a remnant of young, faithful Catholics who are living the Gospel call and who are zealous to help souls. The Lord has always worked His salvation through the remnant. It is here and there is reason to hope. This is the fruit of the New Evangelization.

Now for a closing remark: 

In the end, I would say that there is no mechanism that guarantees faith. The Catholic faith is not a religion of the book, it is not a moral code, or a superb strategy. The Catholic faith is a religion of the Word, the Word made flesh, who proposes himself to human freedom fullyaware of the possibilities – to be accepted or rejected. This is the Christ we must profess, the same Christ who has provoked the hearts of man for ages, and who ultimately demands an answer because He came in the flesh and declared Himself to be God. He is the answer. He has to be.

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