Evangelii Gaudium – “The Joy of the Gospel”

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Pope Francis has just released an apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, which means “The Joy of the Gospel.”  Over the next few weeks, we will examine the document to pull out the key points and see how they relate particularly to young adults.   In the meantime, we highly encourage everyone to read it since the Holy Father has continued the focus of his predecessors on the New Evangelization.  Here click here to read Evangelii Gaudium in its entirety.

Here are some links for initial commentary.

A Summary of Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel): Pope Francis’ First Apostolic Exhortation by Kevin Cotter

Pope Francis’ new document, Evangelii Gaudium: 9 things to know and share by Jimmy Akin

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?

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?”

Disciples in the Marketplace

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This past Saturday, i.d.916, together with the Ann Arbor chapter of Legatus, held our first annual conference, Disciples in the Marketplace, at the Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth, MI. It was a rousing success. We praise the Lord for his guidance and His Spirit that gave such tremendous life to the event.  The event was attended by approximately 90 young adults from Iowa, Canada and all over Southeastern Michigan–ranging from lawyers, medical professionals, IT specialists, teachers, and those in career transitions. In large part, the success of the event was due to the professionals who came to mentor the young adults. We were blessed to have around 20 successful, seasoned professionals from a wide array of fields impart to us their wisdom about how to be faithful followers of Jesus in whatever marketplace we find ourselves.

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We heard talks and presentations from Bishop Michael Byrnes from the Archdiocese of Detroit, Deacon Larry Oney from New Orleans and a variety of others. In addition, we also had fourteen discussion groups in which we explored the realities of living as a disciple. We closed the day with a casual hour of mingling, networking and face-to-face time. Though the day was jam-packed, it was a very productive, fruitful and encouraging time to band together as Catholics, meet new people and discuss a very important aspect of our lives.

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As the day concluded, we had the attendees fill out evaluations.  Here is what few of them had to say:

“My experience at this event will dramatically change my work life and my discipleship.”

“Inspiring and challenging – like God is asking more of me.”

“Left wanting more of this!”

“Well worth a beautiful Saturday.”

Thank you to all who helped make this event possible.  May the Lord continue to guide and bless us all as we walk in His Spirit.

4 Minute Apologetics: Redefining Marriage

This is a first in a series of short apologetic clips on the redefinition of marriage.  In this video, Joey McCoy examines the union that marriage is founded upon.

Link to “What Is Marriage” by Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson and Robert George

http://www.amazon.com/What-Is-Marriage-Woman-Defense/dp/1594036225

Bonhoeffer: Intentional Disciple

imagesThis post is the first in a regular series of posts on inspiring intentional disciples. 

“Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God — the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God. Where are these responsible people?” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written from prison in 1944

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in 1906, coming of age between the two world wars, in a Germany riddled with bullet holes of evil and sick with turmoil. He was born to a very famous, talented, well-respected and powerful family – his father was chief of psychiatry in Germany and his brother helped Albert Einstein split the atom.  Bonhoeffer, himself, bucking the trend of his family, chose to become a theologian and quickly achieved the status of a “boy wonder”, the “next big thing” to rock the theological scene of Germany (which, back then, was quite a prestigious field.)

Despite his intellectual prowess, though, the deepest foundations of his heart lay with God’s people and the thought of being holed up in academia without any direct connection with the “common man” led him to give up his formal theological work.  Instead, he became a pastor.

It was around this time that the Nazis arrived on the scene – slowly and methodically seizing control and removing those who were obstacles to their thirst for power. As they did, the vast majority of Germans strode along with them, little by little sacrificing the truth and “what is right” for a restoration of Germany to former glory. One of the few who stood against this tide was Bonhoeffer. From the very beginning he sensed the Nazis’ depravity, remained rooted in the truth of God revealed through Jesus Christ in the Scripture and prepared for the coming storm.

This last bit is an important point. As Eric Metaxas (Bonhoeffer’s biographer) has opined, the rest of Germany went along with the Nazis, eventually sacrificing the most basic principles because “they weren’t Christian enough” (i.e. they were culturally and nominally Christian, but, when push came to shove, their faith in Christ was not their guiding light.) They didn’t really know (on a personal level) who the Truth is and, without such an anchor, were left vulnerable to the hideous currents of evil that swelled around them. In contrast, why do we honor and admire Bonhoeffer nowadays? Because he knew Jesus; and, anchoring his life in Him, he was free to step out in radical faith and do heroic deeds.

And heroic he was. When WWII started, because his safety was compromised, he was moved to New York to wait out the war. After only a month, walking into almost certain death, he came back to Germany. From within German intelligence, he led two assassination attempts of Hitler, but was eventually discovered, imprisoned for two years and – two weeks before VE day – was hanged at the personal request of Hitler himself. Though from the very beginning of his life he had enjoyed all the good things that life could offer (he was even engaged to be married before he was imprisoned), he sacrificed it all to follow Jesus. The medical doctor that oversaw his execution said, “In the almost fifty years I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” Bonhoeffer himself said, “This is the end… For me, the beginning of life.”

This world will offer you comfort, but you were made for greatness

– Pope Benedict XVI

Bonhoeffer sought not success; he sought not comfort; he, in the end, sought not that his own will be done. Instead, he offered his life as a sacrifice to God. Because he knew the Lord, and let his life be totally revolutionized and transformed by He who is the Giver of Life, he was able to do great things. Because he was anchored in Jesus, he was able to stand fast though the currents of evil around him swept up many ‘nice’ people. He was a true disciple. He followed Jesus – no matter where it led him.  Bonhoeffer’s most famous book is entitled The Cost of Discipleship. Surely he didn’t just write about it, but he lived it.

Will it be any different for us? Can we be great any other way? Will we, as the currents of our culture continue to grow in hostility, stand fast any other way then anchoring ourselves in Jesus? Let us surrender all and abandon ourselves to Him, who will never fail us and who will give us all that is good. May we let Him grab hold of our lives and transform us totally, so that we can resist evil and rise to greatness.

Learning from Pope Francis

The following appeared in Renewal Ministries’ June newsletter.

By: Sister Ann Shields, SGL

I can only speak from externals; I have not met Pope Francis but several characteristics stand out in the very few weeks since his election. I want to share them with you because I think God speaks to each of us through some of the “surprising choices” of the Holy Spirit—if we have ears to hear and eyes to see!

The first reflection was precipitated by his choice of name. It signaled a regard for personal simplicity and humility; a desire to bring God’s peace to a war torn and chaotic world. The choice of Francis indicated a man who was patterning his life and service on the saint whose love for God was all consuming! It reminded me of St. Francis’ call from God to “Rebuild my Church!” in the 13th century.  After the chaos of the sex abuse crisis in the 21st century, we continue to need great leadership so that the foundation can be secured again in Christ. St. Francis embodied a love for the Lord and for God’s people. Through simplicity he led many back to wholehearted dedication to Christ.

Compassion marks the first few months of the Pope’s pontificate. He seems focused on the poor, the disabled, the weak. Even in a crowd of hundreds of thousands he sees them and moves toward them quickly, regardless of his planned event or scheduled destination. He brings to the poor the assurance that they are not forgotten. In fact, they seem to be the first that Pope Francis tries to engage.

Even his choice of residence, the simplicity of his clothing, and his daily decisions to do things for himself, say much about his priorities—about the concrete simplicity of daily living which should challenge all of us.

Regarding the concerns about the present Curia, which have certainly filled our newspapers, Pope Francis has already begun to move—not with noise, but quietly, beginning the needed changes with the formation of the committee. By the time this newsletter is in your hands, much more about the Pope’s actions and intentions will probably be evident. But these observations about his life can help us contemplate some important questions about our own lives, if we are to be part of the solution, and part of Christ’s flock under the shepherding care of Pope Francis.

1. Do I regard myself as steward and not owner of all the earthly things I “possess”? They may have involved hard work on my part, nevertheless they remain gifts from God to be used for His honor and contribute to goodness of life for all those my life touches.

2. Am I aware of the poor and needy around me—not just at holiday times—but day in and day out especially from those who serve me—grocery store, gas station, dry cleaner, pharmacy, restaurant. Do I look at the people who serve me? Am I courteous, kind, and interested in them—where appropriate? Do I regard another’s dignity whether I am serving or being served? We can all serve others—the parish bazaar, the food kitchen, prolife activities—but do we bring Christ? Do we give of ourselves in such a way that Christ can be seen and known and loved through us? It seems to me that this is what Pope Francis is trying to model for us.

3. Am I a true disciple of Christ in my thoughts, words, and actions? Am I hypocritical; do I live a double life—one person in the streets or the workplace, another at home? I am not saying we have to be perfect—we cannot make ourselves perfect. But I am saying that we need to think of others before ourselves. Sister Ruth Burrows in her book The Essence of Prayer tells us that there is in us a sly, unrecognized cunning—that is, a pride which always thinks of self first, takes care of self before anyone else. She says this is the biggest enemy to growing in genuine faith in God. We need to put Him in the center of our lives more and more, in our thoughts and words and actions. He will do the rest if we cooperate.

4. Finally, do I strive to be a genuine instrument of peace in all the situations I daily find myself? Peace is based on knowing the presence of God; it is based on prayer that I might be God’s instrument in every difficult situation I need to participate. It means I give others, even those with whom I strongly disagree, the respect they deserve (even as I disagree with their ideas or proposals).

It’s really not complicated; it’s just very difficult. But if we ask God for the grace daily, even hourly, He will transform us—yes transform us. When we put Him first in our thoughts, relationships, and plans, we will not only grow in faith but we will be an instrument of peace, able to bring the truth, with a genuine heartfelt love, that sets people free.

I have known many very good Popes in my lifetime. Each was given to us for a particular time; from Pius XII to John XXIII to Paul VI, to Blessed John Paul, to Benedict XVI, who while an outstanding teacher, taught us perhaps his greatest lesson, by acknowledging his inability because of age to shepherd the Church in these perilous times. That kind of humility should speak to us and give us the wisdom we need in our lives to make the right decisions for the good of others—small or great.

These are my reflections; I would like to hear what you think and how some of Pope Francis’ priorities are affecting you. These are many lessons to ponder. This quote reflects the disposition the Lord is calling us to have:

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I      cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should      do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do.” (Edward Everett Hale)

Let us not miss the grace being given us individually and collectively. St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!

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.