Jean Valjean – Intentional Disciple

Jean-Valjean

Put your eyebrow down. I know, he’s fictional. But honestly, which one of you doesn’t admire and harbor within your being a firm desire to be something like Jean Valjean? He is an image of the great, true human story. Imprisoned in darkness, redeemed by Love and sent, as a new creation, to pour out his life in witness to that Love. In asking his eternal question, the character of Jean Valjean makes us look in the mirror and ask the same question: Who am I? Valjean’s answer is: I am a son of God. And, that – being a son or daughter of God – is exactly the identity of an intentional disciple.

First of all, think of the deliberateness of Valjean’s decision.

And, not only that first momentous “bargain, long ago” of making his “soul belong to God”, but the many subsequent decisions he faces along the way consistently drive him to deeper and deeper trust in God and an increasingly more complete sacrifice of himself.

This is what the disciple does. Why? Because we are disciples of our Father, and we long to be made into an image of He who loves and saves us. A student wants to learn knowledge from his teacher. However, a disciple wants to absorb the very way of life of his master and a child wants to become the very image of his Father. And, without doubt, the way of our Master – the way of our Father – is total, selfless, self-sacrifice: there can be no greater love than that.

If it is the case that this great self-sacrifice of God was and is for our sake, if we have been filled with such a Love – how can we do anything but let God pour out His Love, through us, into others? And isn’t this deep down (even though we don’t talk about it at parties) what we really long to do? Don’t we want to be here someday:

And, in the end, this is the only thing that can change the world and, more importantly, change lives. It is not so much political revolutions, barricades and self-made men. These attempts, however well intentioned, either fail outright or eventually erode, leaving only “empty chairs at empty tables”. In the end, only the love of Jean Valjean, born from his devotion to His Savior, leaves any lasting, good imprint on other characters. Christocentric self-sacrifice is paramount and does radically change lives.

We have been given a new life in Christ and now, “at the end of the day,” have no reason to “look down”. What will we do with such a gift? Will we live for ourselves (Thénardier)? Will we try to rise to great heights on the cold scaffolding of our own construction (like Javert)? Will we seek to bury ourselves in some revolutionary “cause” (like the students)? Or will we do (like Valjean) what Christ told us: “Deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me.”

Who am I?  Let us proclaim with Jean Valjean: I am a child of God.

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No Roots, No Fruits

By Their Fruit You Shall Judge Them, by Mark Ambrose

Hard words, Lord Christ! For what good fruits bear I?

For all your care and tending, what my yield?


You gave me to a garden well concealed


and watered me from fountains set on high;

you fertilized me with a wondrous food

and sent a Wind to strengthen and make straight.

How patiently you prune and pollinate

with an expert arborist’s solicitude.

And still my good works fall to earth unfinished,

my produce often stunted, bruised, or dented,

the rot upon my nature’s root augmented

by blights I brought and beauties I diminished.

God grant when I know others by their fruits,

I also recollect how weak their roots.

Fruits stem from roots.  Mission stems from conversion. Conversion begins with an encounter with Jesus, who is alive, through the Holy Spirit, who is power! But, it does not end there – it is a never-ending, lifelong process. The roots must entrench deeper and deeper. May we let God bury our roots beyond our sight into the only good soil: Himself. Then – and only then – will we, without doubt, bear fruit for the Kingdom.

A Seminarian’s Take on Pope Francis

Pope Francis Crowd by Dan Westermann

One of the great blessings of preparing for the Priesthood in the Eternal City, is the opportunity to remain so close to the Holy Father. This last year provided a unique blessing to be present at the election of Pope Francis on Wednesday, March 13. The structure of the Conclave guarantees that two times every day, smoke will be released from the small chimney above the Sistine Chapel.  Before Wednesday, I had been present for the previous two times when the black smoke was released. That evening, we had our communal praying of vespers moved forward so that the seminarians could be in St. Peter’s Square in case anything happened. I was waiting about halfway back, next to the large obelisk in the middle of the piazza, with one of my classmates and two of the fifth-year priests from the American College. Because of the rain, everyone had umbrellas up and out, which made it difficult to see the screens showing the close-up on the chimney. Right around seven o’clock, gray smoke started to pour forth from the opening. A similar shade was seen at the start of the previous night’s burning of ballots. I remarked to one of the priests, “Oh, it’s going to turn black again…” But then I heard a gasp in the crowd and he shouted back, “It’s white!” The four of us all shouted back and forth in disbelief, “It’s white, it’s white!” As the excitement grew we made our way, with the other few thousand people in the square, as close as possible to the balcony. The next hour was filled with shouts of, “Viva il Papa! Long live the Pope!” although no one yet knew who had been elected. As Pope Francis made his way onto the Loggia, everyone cheered with excitement. The love of the crowd for this one man was palpable, we were just waiting for some sign of affection back. As they finally brought forward the microphone, the simple inflection of his voice in his greeting, “Buonasera!” (Good evening) was enough to win the hearts of everyone in the piazza.

Two things really stuck out from that night: first was the incredible diversity of the Church.  I can’t imagine any other event in the world where you could find people of every age, coming from every continent, excited about one man. It was a clear sign of why the Church Fathers always pointed to the Pope as the “source of Unity” of the Church. The other thing was Francis’ incredible humility in taking on this role. When he asked the crowd to pray that the Lord would bless him, one could hear a pin-drop in the square. The presence of the Spirit was palpable as everyone interceded for our new Father.

Now after a few months of his service, many people are still interested in what this unique Papa Americano is up to. Regarding the New Evangelization, I think Francis can help us to see one crucial aspect to witnessing to the Truth: that is simplicity. The many stories about his simple ways in Argentina spread like wildfire, and now he has even forgone moving into the Papal apartments. His life of incredible simplicity, while definitely drawing attention of many outside the Church, has really been shaking things up within Her walls. He is calling the whole Church to a life of poverty, where our one treasure is Jesus Christ. As we surrender more and more to a radical simplicity, imitating our Holy Father Francis, I think that we will begin to see a great flourishing of evangelization. People will see the great witness of Catholics who do not store up treasure here on earth, but treasure in heaven, and they will not help but question, “What is different here?” The answer is simple: our treasure is Christ. The deeper that we are drawn in our relationship with Christ, the more that we are able to rely on him for everything and the more that we recognize the fleetingness of so much of what the world offers us.

May the example of Pope Francis challenge us to grow in simplicity and a love for the poor. To our great Holy Father, ad multos annos!

Chiara Lubich: Intentional Disciple

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“A pen does not know what it is going to write.
An artist’s brush does not know what it is going to paint.
In the same way, when God takes someone into His hands

in order to begin some work of God in the Church,

that person does not know what he or she will have to do. 

He or she is an instrument.
And generally all God’s instruments are characterized

by this quality: littleness, weakness…

‘…so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.’ 
And while the instrument moves in the hands of God,

He forms it with thousands and thousands of painful

and joyful devices. 

In this way He makes it more and more suited

to the task it must carry out,

and it can say with competence: I am nothing, God is everything.”
– Chiara Lubich

One of the four pillars of discipleship is communion. Those who have had an encounter with Christ (side note: an emphasis on the importance of this as a necessity in the life of every Christian has been a main tenet of Pope Francis’s teaching) and want to drop their nets, pick up their cross and follow Him – those individuals naturally want to be around other individuals whose lives have been similarly touched by the Holy Spirit. We aren’t meant to walk alone. This is a vital piece of the Christian life that helped St. Paul bring Christ to the Romans: “see how they love one another!” It is an invaluable mainstay of the Christian life.

A terrific flesh-and-bones example of this is Chiara Lubich, a 20th century Italian woman who founded the Focolare movement. Born out of a desire for unity – “that [we] may be one” as Jesus and His Father are one – this movement seeks to live a life in which community is not just a hokey word, but a transformative reality. A parish is not just a building, but also a family of those who live life side-by-side. It is a realization that we need, not just to hang out with like-minded people, but to be involved in each other’s lives through support, accountability, shared battles and joy.

Chiara founded this movement in the 1940s and today it has approximately 2 million adherents in 182 countries. At a time in history when people live, perhaps more than ever before, in isolated loneliness without any genuine relationships, Chiara has cast a vision for a “more excellent way” that embodies a foundational necessity for every disciple.

It is important to keep in mind that, though the movement she birthed is now quite large and expansive, it did not start that way. She was an “ordinary” Italian girl from Trent, but one who gave her life to Jesus as a total gift – willing to be whatever “instrument” He needed to bring souls to Himself. Is her life not a testament to the fact that equally great things can be made of our lives if we let Him have control, if we let Him transform us into what He longs for us to be?

The words of her life say to us, “We must give ourselves as this gift, and when we do, we will need each other.” But of course, she borrowed these words from Someone greater: Jesus. Let us intentionally and radically offer our whole lives to Him and, as we are led on the greatest adventure life has to offer, let us not listen to the lie of self-reliant, hyper-individualism.  Instead, let’s band together in communion in this battle for souls.

More Quotes from Lumen Fidei

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More quotes from Pope Francis’ Lumen Fidei, I still highly recommend reading the entire thing.

“Faith is linked to hearing. Abraham does not see God, but hears his voice. Faith thus takes on a personal aspect. God is not the god of a particular place, or a deity linked to specific sacred time, but the God of a person, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, capable of interacting with man and establishing a covenant with him. Faith is our response to a word which engages us personally, to a “Thou” who calls us by name.” #8
“As Saint Augustine explains: “Man is faithful when he believes in God and his promises; God is faithful when he grants to man what he has promised” #10
“Faith by its very nature demands renouncing the immediate possession which sight would appear to offer; it is an invitation to turn to the source of the light, while respecting the mystery of a countenance which will unveil itself personally in its own good time. Martin Buber once cited a definition of idolatry proposed by the rabbi of Kock: idolatry is “when a face addresses a face which is not a face” #13
“Faith is God’s free gift, which calls for humility and the courage to trust and to entrust; it enables us to see the luminous path leading to the encounter of God and humanity: the history of salvation.”#14

Quotes from Lumen Fidei

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As I continue to read through Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis’ first encyclical, I thought that I could, over the next few days,  post some quotes that particularly struck me.  Hopefully these quotes will inspire a more detailed reading of the entire text since it is a true gift to the Church.  Click here for the entire text.

“Faith was thus understood either as a leap in the dark, to be taken in the absence of light, driven by blind emotion, or as a subjective light, capable perhaps of warming the heart and bringing personal consolation, but not something which could be proposed to others as an objective and shared light which points the way… As a result, humanity renounced the search for a great light, Truth itself, in order to be content with smaller lights which illumine the fleeting moment yet prove incapable of showing the way. Yet in the absence of light everything becomes confused; it is impossible to tell good from evil, or the road to our destination from other roads which take us in endless circles, going nowhere.” #3

“The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence. A light this powerful cannot come from ourselves but from a more primordial source: in a word, it must come from God. Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfillment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us.” #4