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’

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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

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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

Good idea or God idea?

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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.