Merry Christmas

nativity-scene-1What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light, 
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light. -John 1:4-8

Merry Christmas!

In this special season of family, food, and gift giving, it can be very easy to lose sight of what exactly we are celebrating. Our culture attempts to engage in the true meaning of the season by promoting ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town’ but this approach is both fleeting and superficial. Unfortunately, we find many people whose hope and joy are not enhanced by the season but rather diminished by loneliness and increasing darkness. Eggnog, ham, and a new pair of socks are great, but without a focus on the true meaning of Christmas, something is necessarily missing.

The Church in her great wisdom attempts to turn our gaze to the fundamental reason for our celebration through the gospel reading from John. Through the birth of Jesus, life has entered the world and this life is the light all humanity desperately seeks. The darkness of depression, loneliness, and despair can be illuminated and conquered by Jesus. The Christmas season, which the culture fills with artificial light and life, is supposed to draw attention to the source of authentic hope, peace, and joy. The twinkling lights on the tree in Rockefeller Center which bring a certain superficial happiness can also remind us of the beauty and everlasting love we find in the manger. This awareness of Christ’s light cannot remain in the theoretical or the hypothetical since then it can be easily dismissed or ignored by an already skeptical society.

Just as John was sent by God to testify to the light, we are also called to become ‘decorations’ of Christmas to reveal the life we have found in Christ. God desires that we act as the twinkling lights on the tree or beautifully wrapped gifts, not to bring attention to ourselves, but to point to Him whose life we reflect.

i.d.916 exists to help young adults become intentional disciples of Jesus Christ. We are a community of missionary disciples; always ready and willing to promote the source of our joy and our relationship with Christ. Let’s be intentional this Christmas season. Let’s enjoy all that Christmas has to offer while remembering why we celebrate the birth of a baby in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.

And finally, let’s testify to the light, a light which darkness cannot overcome.

God bless,

Pete Burak

 

Generation ‘Maybe’

ZitsNonCommittal

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” – Matthew 16:24

These are challenging words from Jesus. They cut to the heart and demand a response. Jesus invites us to count the cost, and decide whether He is worth following. Are we willing to endure hardship, suffering, and pain for the hope of eternal glory? Are we willing to deny our own desires in order to be purified by the will of God? Are we willing to follow wherever Jesus leads; in short, are we willing to be a disciple?   

Unfortunately, I believe the response of most of my generation to those questions would be: “maybe”. Very often I fall into the same non-commital attitude that infects my peers. “Yeah ok, I might come,” or “Maybe I can make it,” are two common phrases that accompany virtually every invitation. We love to keep our options open since something better or more exciting could appear at any moment. We struggle to commit to seeing a movie on a Friday night, let alone big things like marriage, children, or faith. I’ve come to realize that this irrational fear of commitment is both destructive and a huge obstacle to knowing, loving, and serving God. God doesn’t want wishy-washy followers; He desires decisiveness and intentionality.

A key to understanding true discipleship and therefore recognizing the twisted nature of being non-committal is illustrated by the words of Christ, “If any man could come after me, let him deny himself…” It seems to me that commitment to Christ requires a willingness to ignore or even reject our own desires. To be His follower involves an acceptance that we follow Him. He comes first. I have often heard my generation described as selfish or self-centered and it’s clear that the spirit of this age wants every individual person to think for themselves, seek personal pleasure, and fulfill one’s own dreams. This is the essence of narcissism, which explains why my generation continues to fall away from Christ at a staggering rate. Heaven forbid we follow anything since that could mean a submission of our will to another. We don’t like many rules, but “think for yourself or do what feels right,” is one rule we eagerly embrace. Because of this, I think we can aptly be called “Generation Maybe.”  We might do this or we could do that, as long as it fits into the plan we have for ourselves. This is not what God intended and this cannot characterize a disciple of Jesus Christ.

We all have dreams and we all have some idea of what we think will make us happy and fulfilled. We long to be included, loved, and celebrated, and that’s ok. Additionally,  the options for pleasure and fun have never been more numerous, and the freedom to choose is intoxicating. However, only through commitment to Christ can we experience those things that we most deeply long for in our hearts. We can continue to operate as a generation full of “me” people, shrinking from the slightest sign of commitment. The Lord offers us a life-giving alternative: “Deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me.

What’s your answer?

Please don’t say, “Maybe.”

Periodic Scripture Reflection: John 14:30

saint-john-the-apostle“I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming.  He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”

This passage from the Gospel of John comes from a long exhortation from Jesus. It fits nicely around famous verses like “I am the vine and you are the branches…” and “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” and therefore could be easily overlooked. These are two simple sentences that reveal much about Jesus’ posture and relationship with the Father. The first line serves as a warning to Christ’s disciples that the Passion is quickly approaching. Even though they have spent countless hours with Jesus, they still don’t fully realize what is to come. The coming days will be filled with confusion, fear, and sadness as Jesus is taken from them and He wants to give them reassurance. He warns that the “ruler of this world” (Satan) is coming but the power of darkness does not control Him. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Guys, our time together is coming to a close, and it’s going to look bad, but don’t worry, I’m doing what the Father wants me to do.” The final phrase reveals so much about the heart of Jesus towards His Father: “…but I do as the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” Jesus goes to the cross to save us, rescue us, bridge the gap between God and man, to become the sacrificial lamb, to redeem mankind, to open the gates of Heaven, and to show the world how much He loves His Father. Jesus endured the worst suffering, embraced humiliation, and accepted total rejection to demonstrate His love for us and for His Abba.

This is the ultimate example of how Christ wants us to act towards the Father. We need to embrace the Father’s plan, not out of fear or obligation, but to show the world that we love the Father. When someone asks you why you go to Mass on Sunday or why you don’t use contraception, I bet they won’t expect you to say, “I do as my Father has commanded me, because I love Him.”

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

Lumen-Fidei-575x182

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

Good idea or God idea?

idea_bulb

When we first started discussing the idea of doing a young adult ministry, we found ourselves looking at a variety of different approaches and avenues we could take. All sorts of interesting and appealing ideas came to mind and we struggled to make sense of all that we could do. We knew the Lord wanted something to be done for young adults, but we also knew that our ministry would only succeed if He anointed it. We had lots of good ideas, but what we needed was a God idea.

Let me make something clear; God ideas are always good ideas, but good ideas are not always God ideas. For instance, it’s a good idea to tell people about Jesus but if you haven’t been given a gift for preaching it might not be a God idea for you to stand on a street corner and just start talking. Conversely, it might not seem like the right time to tell your friend that Jesus loves them and is inviting them into a deep and lasting relationship with Him, but if the Holy Spirit truly inspires you to pick up the phone and make the call, then you can be peaceful in knowing that you lived out a God idea.

Very often we discover the difference between our good ideas and God’s ideas when we try something and see the fruits of our labor. Jesus tells us to judge the tree by its fruits and St. Paul recommends testing everything and holding fast to what is good. Sometimes the fruit is clearly rotten or obviously delicious, but other times we have to prayerfully consider it over an extended period of time. For example, we hear the Lord and call our friend, but he quickly changes the subject and rejects our attempt to evangelize. Initially, by all accounts the fruit of our phone call is non-existent or maybe even harmful. However, we may find that our attempt planted a seed that needed time to grow and eventually produced fruit like a converted heart or even a follow-up conversation.

It can be extremely difficult at times to discern what the Lord wants from us, but as we grow in our relationship with Him and operate in the power of the Holy Spirit, the still small voice of God becomes clearer. The Lord wants us to be bold but prudent; excited but controlled; Jesus also tells us to “be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) Jesus wants us to tell Him our aspirations and goals, but the life of a disciple requires that we ultimately submit our will to the One we follow. Unlike following any normal human being who will ultimately fail and let us down; when we submit to the will of Jesus we can be confident that His plan will lead to the peaceful, joyful, and hope-filled life we all desire.

Clearly there will be sufferings and pain even while following Christ’s plan, but this post isn’t long enough to deal with that and the subsequent grace that accompanies those moments. We will definitely spend more time on this blog discussing suffering and discernment since they are vitally important pieces of our walk with Christ. As intentional disciples, we must listen attentively to the will of our Lord because only the things that He ordains will bear significant fruit in our lives and in the lives of others. So, as you go through your day today and you are faced with a decision, stop and think, “Is this a good idea or a God idea?”

Swim Against the Tide!

pope-installation-newA few weeks ago at our May i.d.916 meeting, I read a short quote from the homily below.  As I said before, Pope Francis is awesome and an incredible gift to the Church.  So, I thought I’d post the entire homily since it definitely applies to our lives and can serve as further inspiration for being an intentional disciple. 

Saint Peter’s Square
Fifth Sunday of Easter, 28 April 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Dear Confirmands,

I would like to offer three short and simple thoughts for your reflection.

1. In the second reading, we listened to the beautiful vision of Saint John: new heavens and a new earth, and then the Holy City coming down from God. All is new, changed into good, beauty and truth; there are no more tears or mourning… This is the work of the Holy Spirit: he brings us the new things of God. He comes to us and makes all things new; he changes us. The Spirit changes us! And Saint John’s vision reminds us that all of us are journeying towards the heavenly Jerusalem, the ultimate newness which awaits us and all reality, the happy day when we will see the Lord’s face – that marvelous face, the most beautiful face of the Lord Jesus – and be with him for ever, in his love.

You see, the new things of God are not like the novelties of this world, all of which are temporary; they come and go, and we keep looking for more. The new things which God gives to our lives are lasting, not only in the future, when we will be with him, but today as well. God is even now making all things new; the Holy Spirit is truly transforming us, and through us he also wants to transform the world in which we live. Let us open the doors to the Spirit, let ourselves be guided by him, and allow God’s constant help to make us new men and women, inspired by the love of God which the Holy Spirit bestows on us! How beautiful it would be if each of you, every evening, could say: Today at school, at home, at work, guided by God, I showed a sign of love towards one of my friends, my parents, an older person! How beautiful!

2. A second thought. In the first reading Paul and Barnabas say that “we must undergo many trials if we are to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The journey of the Church, and our own personal journeys as Christians, are not always easy; they meet with difficulties and trials. To follow the Lord, to let his Spirit transform the shadowy parts of our lives, our ungodly ways of acting, and cleanse us of our sins, is to set out on a path with many obstacles, both in the world around us but also within us, in the heart. But difficulties and trials are part of the path that leads to God’s glory, just as they were for Jesus, who was glorified on the cross; we will always encounter them in life! Do not be discouraged! We have the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome these trials!

3. And here I come to my last point. It is an invitation which I make to you, young confirmandi, and to all present. Remain steadfast in the journey of faith, with firm hope in the Lord. This is the secret of our journey! He gives us the courage to swim against the tide. Pay attention, my young friends: to go against the current; this is good for the heart, but we need courage to swim against the tide. Jesus gives us this courage! There are no difficulties, trials or misunderstandings to fear, provided we remain united to God as branches to the vine, provided we do not lose our friendship with him, provided we make ever more room for him in our lives. This is especially so whenever we feel poor, weak and sinful, because God grants strength to our weakness, riches to our poverty, conversion and forgiveness to our sinfulness. The Lord is so rich in mercy: every time, if we go to him, he forgives us. Let us trust in God’s work! With him we can do great things; he will give us the joy of being his disciples, his witnesses. Commit yourselves to great ideals, to the most important things. We Christians were not chosen by the Lord for little things; push onwards toward the highest principles. Stake your lives on noble ideals, my dear young people!

The new things of God, the trials of life, remaining steadfast in the Lord. Dear friends, let us open wide the door of our lives to the new things of God which the Holy Spirit gives us. May he transform us, confirm us in our trials, strengthen our union with the Lord, our steadfastness in him: this is a true joy! So may it be.

We have seen the Lord

Mexico Mission Team

Normally the title of this post would be Mission Report: Mexico. However, it seemed fitting that the theme for the week act as the title. On the Tuesday after Easter, Jim ‘Butch’ Murphy and I took a group of 14 high school students from Father Gabriel Richard High School to Mexico City. The mission team was rounded out by 5 additional parents and teachers. The overall purpose of the trip involved serving the poor people living in the garbage dumps outside the city, ministering to a parish outside the city, visiting an orphanage, and providing a first time mission experience for the students. Additionally, the action of spending their spring break on mission allowed God to work in their lives without the distractions of our normal daily lives. Even while writing this I recognize that it will fall woefully short of communicating the amazing good work the Lord accomplished through the team and our friends in Mexico. Additionally, this post inadequately describes the intense sense of God’s presence and the dramatic revelation of Jesus in all that we did. With that in mind, I would like to share two short stories that encapsulate my experience of the serving Christ in Mexico.

1) We Have Seen the Lord!

At the beginning of the week, in our first morning prayer, I challenged the students to eagerly look for Jesus and be open to the different ways that He would reveal Himself to us. We discussed that we could see Jesus in the faces of the people, in the smiles of the children, or the eyes of the sick. We left the prayer time with a challenge to anticipate an encounter with Christ and a genuine desire to see Jesus. After spending the day with the people of the Neza garbage dump, distributing food, providing medical care, and playing with the kids, we returned to the hotel and spent some time debriefing about the day. As I listened to the students excitedly report on their real and unique experiences with Jesus, I was reminded of the Apostles when they encountered the risen Christ. The Apostles were surprised, confused, excited, and overwhelmed when Jesus revealed Himself and these very same emotions were verbalized by the students. They couldn’t believe how profoundly real the face of Christ appeared behind the dirty faces of the children. They couldn’t fully understand their deep love for these people whom they had just met and by our worldly standards offered nothing of value to us. Overall, each student confidently proclaimed that Jesus was with them and He had shown Himself to them throughout the day. There was no doubt that we had seen the Lord!

2) The Multiplication of Vitamins!

After a few days of operating the medical clinic, it became clear to our medical team that we were running out of some of our essential medicines. After a thorough inventory, we realized we were out of adult vitamins and almost out of children’s vitamins. Vitamins are severely lacking in many of the people’s diet and both our nurse Kimm Sarosi, and Dr. Kirsten Kreiger were upset that our supply was depleted. The next day we traveled to a parish 3 hours outside the city to spend the day with the people there. When we arrived we were pleasantly surprised to the see the number of people who had come both to participate in a parish-wide retreat day and to receive the food, medicine, and clothing that we had brought. The medical clinic opened and Kimm began distributing the medicine and the remainder of the vitamins. Very quickly, she determined that the vitamins were gone but she decided to reach into one more drawer to check. As she felt inside the drawer she encountered a plastic bag with more vitamins! However, this bag quickly disappeared and she repeated her faithful search in the drawer. Once again, to her utter surprise, another bag of vitamins materialized. This process repeated itself for the rest of the day until the medical clinic was closed. Everyone who needed vitamins received them! In the Gospels, Jesus multiplied bread and fish and now we believe that He has multiplied vitamins!

Overall, the week was grace-filled, crazy, fun, stressful, peaceful, tiring, enlivening, and really awesome. It’s a trip we will take again and if it’s something you would like to participate in, please contact us at intentionaldisciples916@gmail.com. Let’s continue to pray for our families in Mexico. I look forward to the day when I can see them again.

¡Dios te bendiga!

Periodic Scripture Reflection: Philippians 4:4-7

St. Paul“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand.  Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

When I stumbled across this section in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, I stopped reading, looked out the window, and said, “That’s ridiculous.” My intention was not to offend St. Paul, but rather, I was struck with the incredibly high degree of difficulty this passage proclaims. Rejoice always? In the eyes of the world and often in my own life, I find this to be an unattainable reality. Paul, however, believed it so completely that he felt compelled to repeat himself: Rejoice! I immediately look at my life and the state of our country and world and think of all the reasons not to have joy. Abortion, crime, pornography, natural disasters, family illness, and many other things all represent reasons we can justify living without joy. It would be easy to question whether Paul was living in the same world as us. This would be a reasonable concern until you read his second letter to the Corinthians. In chapter 11:23-28, Paul lists his difficulties and sufferings while being a disciple of Christ. It’s impressive, in a terrifying sort of way. Here are some highlights:eight separate beating sessions, three shipwrecks, in danger everywhere he went, imprisonments, and the constant pressure of feeling spiritually responsible for all of the new churches.  Arguably the greatest evangelist suffered an incredible amount and yet he teaches us to always rejoice, which makes him either a hypocrite or truly the saint that he is.

The rest of the passage deals with Paul’s reasoning for always being able to rejoice. He teaches that we must have forbearance or in a modern way, we must persevere. Being an expert at pushing through pain and suffering, Paul says that it is possible to overcome these obstacles because, quite simply, “the Lord is at hand.” Paul was acutely aware of Christ’s presence with him and the power of the Holy Spirit operating in his life. As a result of this reality, Paul’s external circumstances could never affect the internal joy he experienced by living each day with the Lord. Paul gives us another clue to rejecting the temptation to worry or despair when he tells us “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.” It seems relatively obvious that we should pray and supplicate to the Lord. What is more striking is Paul’s encouragement to pray with thanksgiving. I think there’s a saying that goes: “a thankful heart is a joyful heart”, or at least my mom used to say that to me. It’s actually true; when we pray with gratitude, we are able to see the tremendous gifts in our lives and focus on the ways that God has blessed us.

While He already knows the desires of our hearts, God wants us to tell him what we need and want. He wants us to approach Him with humility and gratitude. When we recognize and embrace God’s constant presence in our life and choose to focus on His providence, our inner joy can not be robbed by the circumstances of the world. I realize that it is a lofty goal to always rejoice, and it will be a lifetime of praying and perseverance.  Paul never gave up and he remains a witness to what a joyful life in Christ can accomplish. This section from Philippians leaves us with an equally ridiculous promise and yet one that we all want to attain, “and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Converting Society

Presidential DebateAfter watching the presidential elections and the preceding campaigns a few months ago, I was struck with the vehemence in which people fought for their particular issues and agendas.  Nearly every group and individual seemed willing to throw aside basic manners, let alone Godly virtue, in order to promote their beliefs about society and our government.  As Catholics we are often reminded to vote according to our conscience which often leads to a striking limitation when investigating politicians and policies.  This approach is often criticized and ridiculed as narrow-minded and naive.  I’ve heard things like, “Sure abortion is wrong, but it’s just one issue.” Or, “what harm is it to me if gay marriage is legalized, it’s the economy that affects my life.”

Those statements or similar ideas reveal two problematic trends.  1) People refuse or don’t understand voting according to their conscience because their conscience is not formed according to the truth of Christ and that transformation is only possible through conversion.  2) Even converts fail to recognize conversion necessarily involves working towards the conversion of society.

Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) has to say about these two issues: “Conscience must be informed and moral judgement enlightened… it formulates its judgements according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator.” (1783) “In formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path…we are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.” (1785)

The CCC affirms the necessity of a well-formed conscience that is taught by the structures Christ established and is enlivened through a life with Christ.  Once we accept this premise of needing a conscience grounded in Christ we must then participate in the promotion of the values and virtues we know to be true.  This proclamation has the conversion of society as its end not only for the individuals who need to hear the Gospel but for the protection and strengthening of our own spiritual lives.  This next quote gets at the heart (no pun intended) of what I’m trying to say.

“It is necessary, then to appeal to the spiritual and moral capacities of the human person and to the permanent need for his inner conversion, so as to obtain social changes that will really serve him.  The acknowledged priority of the conversion of heart in no way eliminates but on the contrary imposes the obligation of bringing the appropriate remedies to institutions and living conditions when they are inducement to sin, so that they conform to the norms of justice and advance good rather than hinder it.” (CCC, 1888)

Our own conversion is strengthened and supported when the society we live in promotes true Godly virtues and values.  Part of the reason for making disciples involves the promotion of a societal environment that appreciates the norms of Christian living.  This in part is why we must vote according to our consciences; consciences formed by the truth of Christ.  Hopefully as we move forward and more elections and policies arise we continue to recognize the need for life and participation in a society (CCC 1891) while remembering our responsibility to promote the Gospel of Christ.  I’ll leave you with one more quote from the CCC,  #1896: “Where sin has perverted the social climate, it is necessary to call for the conversion of hearts and appeal to the grace of God. Charity urges just reforms. There is no solution to the social question apart from the Gospel.” (Emphasis added)