Addendum to ‘The Importance of Community’: The Future of the Church

5296516-w-600These vivd and prophetic thoughts garnish the last post with a little extra weight and drama. (Taken from radio addresses presented by Fr. Joseph Ratzinger from 1969-70):

From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge – a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision.

As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members.

[…]

It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek.

[…]

But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.

Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already with Gobel, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

Grow Up: Become a Child

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“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel.” (Micah 5:2)

How often does the wisdom of God prove to be radically different from the wisdom of mankind?

A good illustration of this is in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel. At first, Jesus’ disciples approach him because they are hungry. And, seeing their hunger, Jesus deliberately intensifies it by speaking of the “the true bread from heaven… which comes down and gives life to world.” This bread is better than the manna that fed their ancestors for years in the desert. This is the only bread one ever needs to eat. Naturally, His disciples are sold and salivating – resolutely declaring, “Lord, give us this bread always!”

And, after rising to a crescendo, with the next few lines Jesus loses more disciples than any other time of his earthly life. He says, “I am the bread of life… unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life within you.”

What the disciples expected to get was not what Jesus was prepared to give. He was prepared to give something much greater. Likewise, throughout the whole Bible, what God tells His people to do often baffles them just as much as it baffles us nowadays. What our natural gut-instinct tells us will be effective is often the opposite of the solution the Lord gives. And doesn’t this shock us every time?

Just look at the very life of Jesus. Mother Teresa has great words that are pertinent here:

“You know, [we] don’t understand. Jesus came into the world with the most important message [and task] of all time and he had only thirty-three short years to communicate [and accomplish] it. And he spent thirty years doing nothing!” (I Loved Jesus in The Night, pg. 72)

Combine that thought with the fact that the climax of this “redemption” – this “Good News” – was to come through the brutal death of the protagonist and we throw up our hands in puzzlement. This plan for saving the world from all of its problems and redeeming creation itself is just simply not how we, as human beings, would go about things. We would come in with power, wealth, talent and a huge conglomerate wad of “the best the world has to offer.” God (in this world at least) reveals His glory in more magnificent ways.

Lloyd Greenhaw, a confident, jovial, shoot-from-the-hip, Texas rancher-type who leads international missions for Renewal Ministries all over the world, puts it like this: “We live in an upside-down world.” If you want to save your life, lose it. If you want life, you must die. If you want to be rich, become poor. If you want to be filled, be emptied. The list goes on. Just one look at the Beatitudes (Matt. 5) reveals how God’s idea of blessedness is a 180-degree spin from ours.

So, now the question: what does this mean for us as disciples?

Surely, we want to be great disciples. We want to produce fruit. We have (or we should have) a fountain of magnanimous aspirations boiling over within our hearts. Pope John Paul II recognized this when, in addressing young adults throughout the world, he said,

“It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives… the refusal to allow yourself to be grounded down by mediocrity.” (Prayer Vigil at World Youth Day 2000)

We want to be great and we should want to be great. But, how do we achieve greatness?

Jesus answered this for us. “Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4). And our hearts are pierced with bewilderment and wonder once again. How can this be possible? Because the ways of God are not the ways of man.

The disciple is not one who has just given some measly intellectual assent to a set of ideas, but one who has received the “spirit of sonship” so that now…

“When we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Rom. 8:15-17)

Brothers and sisters, we are sons and daughters of God. Through God we are no longer slaves, but sons and daughters and, therefore, heirs to everything He has to give us (Gal. 4:6). This means two things.

First, once again, that we are born to be great. We should hunger for greatness, for glory and for producing magnificent fruit. Notice that when the disciples asked Jesus about how to achieve greatness (Matt. 18:1), He didn’t rebuke them – He answered their question. To not long for glory and for greatness is to not recognize the reality of who we are: namely, children of God.

Secondly, if we want to be great (and if we want to be great disciples), we must come, as children with empty hands, to our loving Father, being nourished by Him and Him alone. We must be made humble. We must become small. We must realize that the only way to have a “big impact” is to be totally present to the little and insignificant things we have to do at each moment. That in the very smallest things (like this moment right now), we meet the very greatest (the infinity of God’s presence).

In this way, we live as children – constantly and forever living in the presence of our Father, allowing His will to guide every inch of our lives. It is an eternal paradox of that “upside-down world” that if we want to be great, we must be small. It is in our smallness that we can rest more firmly in the embrace and power of our Father who loves us. How else could a woman that looks like this change so many hearts?

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This is our privilege and our call – that you and I are each a child of God.

Brothers and sisters, let us live in that truth. Let us abandon ourselves totally to Him, allowing Him to purify us, in His Love, into the pure gold we are created to be. Let us trust our Father. Let us hope in Him. Let us love Him by a complete gift of ourselves. There is no other path for the disciple to take.

Scriptural postscript: pray with Sirach 3:17-24; Psalm 50:15-17; Micah 2-4; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Developing a Heart for God’s People

Over the past few weeks, Joey McCoy and Pete Burak had the opportunity to participate on the EWTN television show, Crossing the Goal.  The normal hosts temporarily stepped aside to let four members of FOCUS and the i.d.916 guys run the show.  The links to the first two shows are below:

Why the New Evangelization?

 Win – Developing a Heart for God

The video below is the third episode on Developing a Heart for God’s People.  Visit http://www.crossingthegoal.com or http://www.ewtn.com to learn more about the show and the schedule for future episodes.

Communion in Holy Things

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During his weekly audience on November 6th, Pope Francis elaborated on the purpose and importance of communion.  i.d.916 hopes to foster communion and this teaching succinctly describes an aspect of this pillar.  Below is the first paragraph of the exhortation, click here for the full version.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Last Wednesday I spoke about the communion of saints, understood as a communion among holy people, that is among us believers. Today I would like to go in depth into the other aspect of this reality: you will remember that there were two aspects: one is communion, unity, among us, and the other aspect is communion in holy things, in spiritual goods. These two aspects are closely connected; in fact, communion among Christians grows through the sharing of spiritual goods. In particular we will consider: the Sacraments, charisms and charity (cf. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 949-953). We grow in unity, in communion, through: the Sacraments, the charisms given to each of us by the Holy Spirit, and charity.

Click here for the rest of the text.

What is it?

Every culture, with no exception, teaches and bestows something. By distilling the wisdom of ages past, it instills a way of life into subsequent generations saying, “This is what is valuable; this is what lasts: make your life about this.” So it is with our current culture. It holds up many lifestyles and pursuits as worthwhile, noble and purpose-filled and, thereby, makes them attractive. One of these would definitely be that of Tom Brady. In many ways, his life is an icon of success.

But are these goals always really satisfying and ultimately worthwhile? I think this video hints at the fact that a lot of what our culture points to leaves us, in the end, saying (like Brady does), “God, there’s gotta be more than this!” We seem to thirst for something for which our culture cannot give us drink.

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In light of the fact that our culture can point to drink that doesn’t satisfy, it is always good to examine our life – really bring our life before the jury – and examine what we are living for. We can easily slip into living for what our culture (the stew we are stewed in) teaches us to live for. Shouldn’t we take time to pull back and make sure we are living for what is meaningful, worthwhile and lasting?

This trajectory cuts right through to the ultimate question: what is the meaning of life? Well, what is it? Whatever it is – wouldn’t we want to live for that and nothing less?

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.

Pope Quote: The Charismatic Movement

“We talked about the statistics regarding Pentecostals with the bishops on Brazil in a meeting yesterday. I’ll tell you something about the Charismatic Movement … at the end of the ’70s and in the ’80s, I wasn’t a big fan. I used to say they confused the holy liturgy with a school of samba. I was converted when I got to know them better and saw the good they do. In this moment of the life of the church, the movements are necessary. They’re a grace of the Spirit, and in general, they do much good for the church. The charismatic renewal movement isn’t just about winning back a few Pentecostals, but it serves the church and its renewal.” – Pope Francis

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?”

Short Meditation on Holiness – Blessed John Paul II

JPII

The following is an excerpt from Blessed Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Veritas Splendor.

The new evangelization will show its authenticity and unleash all its missionary force when it is carried out through the gift not only of the word proclaimed but also of the word lived.  In particular, the life of holiness which is resplendent in so many members of the people of God, humble and often unseen, constitutes the simplest and most attractive way to perceive at once the beauty of truth, the liberating force of God’s love, and the value of unconditional fidelity to all the demands of the Lord’s law, even in the most difficult situations.
For this reason, the church, as a wise teacher of morality, has always invited believers to seek and to find in the saints, and above all in the virgin mother of God “full of grace” and “all-holy,” the model, the strength and the joy needed to live a life in accordance with God’s commandments and the beatitudes of the gospel.