Tag Archives: new evangelization

‘Apologetics and the Christian Imagination’ — A Richer, Deeper approach in connecting Souls With The Faith.

Are stories important for humanity? Is telling a story through books, movies, or the extemporaneous tales of mom and dad delivered to the children at bedtime simply an insignificant means of mere entertainment? In her book Apologetics and the Christian Imagination, Dr. Holly Ordway shows us that in truth stories are powerful tools of conveying meaning, tools that are important for the work of spreading the Faith and forming souls in it.

While showing great understanding of both apologetics and human nature, Dr. Ordway explores the relationship between reason and imagination and how the human person utilizes each to come to know reality. Furthermore, she instructs the reader on the art of Imaginative Apologetics, which is a richer, deeper approach in connecting souls with the Faith. In this entertaining and easy-to-read book, Ordway makes a convincing argument for this method of winning souls.

                  

C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, and George MacDonald are but a few of the masters of this technique which Ordway presents. Each figure is a fantastic storyteller with stories that, as she puts it, baptize the imagination that allow the person to find meaning in the Theological world and grow closer to the God hidden beneath the narrative.
Ordway teaches, “Imaginative apologetics seeks to harness the God-given faculty of imagination to work in cooperation with reason, to open a way for the work of the Holy Spirit and guide the will toward a commitment to Christ.” Through the stories told by one practicing this method, the hearers are able to receive more than just a definition to memorize. Instead, the hearers are given a deep descriptive tale that conveys the meaning of the Theological truths that sometime evade the persons being instructed.

The book thoroughly explains how Theological meaning can be lost on some souls who simply misunderstand the words. Dr. Ordway posits that many think poorly of the Christian Faith not because they disagree with what is taught, but because they are without the proper meaning conveyed by what is taught. The author explains, “To those who know Christ, and unfortunately also to many who do, much ‘Christian language’ rings empty. Although words like ‘grace’, ‘sin’, ‘heaven’, and ‘hell’ point to a reality, for many listeners they might as well be empty slogan or the equivalent of the user’s agreement on an upgrade to your phone’s operating system: words that are received without attention, and without grasp of their meaning.”

Being far from one to find the faults and leave us without a solution, Dr. Ordway emphasizes how we apologists can help our listeners create meaning and avoid the sophist misconceptions of our times by way of a good story. She creatively and intelligently instructs the reader by explaining the workings of linguistics and how we understand the various senses of speech that we hear. Furthermore, her understanding and delivery of the meaning of being literal is delightful to read.

With the Church’s call for a New Evangelization, and many faithful Christians responding to bring the Gospel back to the hearts of humanity, this book is an important piece for our times. It instructs the bearer of Good News on how to carry out the work of apologetics as well as doing so in a way that allows the hearer of the Word to better grasp the meaning of the message. Moreover, it leads us to carry out this work in an aesthetic, sometimes even inconspicuous, manner, which would allow for Theological meaning to enter into the hearts and minds of those that might otherwise be opposed to the words delivered in a more outward manner.

Especially in our day, we are witness to many artists, writers, and musicians working to evangelize through beauty. Dr. Ordway’s book is a wonderful companion for those who have heard and answered the call to do this. In fact, it would not be surprising if this book is a catalyst for more talented souls to take on such important work.

Classroom teachers and catechists too can find inspiration to utilize more of Imaginative Apologetics with their students. The way Dr. Ordway presents it, we can see the powerful impact that this method is able to have on the hearts and minds of those being formed, especially the young.

Finally, this book could be greatly beneficial for all people, both within the work of apologetics and without, as we can learn to find Faith and Truth in the stories we hear in our world today, whether these messages are intended or not.

For these reasons I highly recommend Dr. Ordway’s Apologetics and the Christian Imagination to all those working in apologetics and evangelization alike. It is a remarkable manual for leading souls to know and understand the deeply profound truths of our Faith. Hopefully, it will even lead certain souls to become the next C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, or George MacDonald, and enlarge the library of good Christian stories available to mankind today.

The Potentials and Limitations of Internet Evangelization

The existence of this website attests to the Ignitum Today team’s belief in evangelizing power of the Internet. Like all other means of communication, the Internet is useful for transmitting the word of God. The call for Catholics to place Christ at the summit of all human activities covers both offline and online activities.

As an evangelizing medium, the Internet has the following specific strengths:

1. It has a wide reach. It breaks barriers of time and distance, and can transmit a message to a broader audience. Thus, it can help plant the seed of the Gospel in the souls of those who would otherwise not be reached by the traditional means of evangelization, and can serve as a channel of God’s grace to many end-users.

2. It facilitates the mobilization of off-line activities. Rallies and meetings can be organized efficiently through the social networks, and the social networks are also great places to advertise retreats, seminars, and other activities that are beneficial spiritually.

3. Its capacity to connect like-minded people with each other makes the communion of saints more real. This strengthens the faith of believers and assures those who are still considering the Catholic faith that they will never be alone in their journey to God. On a practical level, the Internet is useful for locating churches and Sunday Mass schedules while planning a trip abroad.

4. It can communicate the truths of the Faith in the language of the times. Catholic memes are a clear example. Hipster-Jesus-Twitter

5. It enables quick, up-to-date commentary on current events, thus allowing Catholics to timely communicate the perspective of reason enlightened by Faith on these events.

At the same time, there are things that the Internet cannot do and ways in which the Internet can even hinder evangelization efforts.

1. The Internet cannot, by itself, effect conversions. Conversions are the response of human freedom to God’s grace. All that online evangelization can do is provide a channel for God’s grace, or at least not hinder the working of grace.

2. The Internet is not always conducive to an exposition of the truths of the Faith with the thoroughness they deserve. Not all questions about the Faith can be answered in a short Facebook comment and not all online content allows itself to be read with the degree of reflection needed to grasp the truths of the Faith.

3. Neither is the Internet the best venue for giving and receiving personalized spiritual advice. Evangelizing always involves “shepherding”, that is, personally guiding people according to their specific spiritual needs. This is because God deals with souls individually and not en masse. Facebook threads are not the best places to address the specific concerns of souls – especially their spiritual concerns. Online evangelization can never replace what St. Josemaria Escriva calls “the apostolate of friendship”.

4. In relation to the last item, the Internet is no substitute for the sacraments. One cannot post one’s sins online to obtain absolution – and the Internet is not protected by the sacramental seal, either.

5. Just as the Internet can make the communion of saints more real, it also, unfortunately, showcases the worst behaviour of people, including believers. In one of his hardest-hitting quotes, St. Josemaria Escriva, in #263 of The Furrow, lists some signs of lack of humility. I am sure I have, at one time or another, displayed some of them in my own online behaviour – “always wanting to get your own way”; “arguing when you are not right or – when you are – insisting stubbornly or with bad manners”; “giving your opinion without being asked for it, when charity does not demand you to do so;” “despising the point of view of others”. Indeed, the line between assertiveness and arrogance, between candor and tactlessness, can be blurred online. Because of the anonymity that the Internet provides, as well as the way it facilitates publishing one’s views without thinking first, online discussions on even Catholic topics can degenerate into “ad hominem-fests” that do more harm than good to people following them.

6. Finally, active online evangelization can give one a false sense of effectiveness and can take up time that can be used for more meaningful offline works of charity. One can easily get sucked into never-ending online discussions with like-minded people and feel flattered by the “likes” that one’s comments get, without realizing that the time could have been used by giving a listening ear to someone offline who needs it or saying a decade of the rosary for another person’s conversion.

The key to maximizing the potentials of the Internet as a means of evangelization, and to minimizing the harms inherent in the medium, is to practice prudence. Prudence in Internet evangelization means deciding on and using the best online tools for one’s apostolate (this article may help). It also means balancing one’s time online with offline apostolates that include bringing people to the sacraments. With regard to blog and Facebook comments, it means prayerfully deciding when and how to continue a discussion with a sincere questioner, or to drop a discussion with a troll. It means asking oneself before typing and clicking the “Post” button, “Is my motive to defend Christ and His Church, or to vindicate my bruised ego?”

Finally, online evangelization is no different from offline evangelization in that both are useless without prayer. It is a good habit to pray for those whom we encounter and those who will encounter us online. This will be more effective in bringing them to Christ than the wittiest ripostes we can think of during the heat of online debates.

Patron Comics

patron comics graphic 1

Much has been commented on the evangelizing power of painting, sculpture, music, literature, theater, and film. What about comics?

Anthony James Perez from the Philippines believes comics can be a potent medium to transmit the word of God. Together with a team composed of Gilbert Monsanto (penciller), Raymond Ferrer (inker), Bryan Arfel Magnaye (colorist), Jayboy Acosta (editor and assistant project head) and Michael Anthony Mapa (managing editor), he is currently creating Patron Comics, which he describes as “taking the Gospel and inserting it into the action/fantasy/adventure genre of comics and manga that our youth are reading nowadays.”

“It’s 100% entertainment and 100% catechism,” Perez says. “It’s catechism in 6X9 format, inside a compelling fictional story.”

How does Perez plan to transform a popular entertainment genre into an effective channel of God’s grace?

I interviewed Perez about his project and here is what he has to say:

Where did you get the idea for Patron Comics?

I have always loved telling stories and hearing or reading about them. I have always been receptive to good stories all 33 years of my life. There are a lot of elements in Patron Comics that I got from movies, books, and even video games. But as far as the bulk of the story of this series goes, I used the most touching stories I have encountered from people, stories of friends, stories of people who attended the spiritual retreats I have helped facilitate, stories of ordinary people who have touched my life. So in many ways, Patron Comics story is the story of those whom I have met, weaved together with the Gospel.

What motivated you to start Patron Comics?

We in my pro-life advocacy group called “Filipinos for Life” have always thought of spreading the Gospel through ways that will appeal to the youth. I was thinking along the lines of “How did my teachers teach me?” when I realized one thing: I have had the privilege of receiving excellent Catholic education through the Salesians, and I have watched many exceptional movies and read very engaging and educational books that reinforced the things my teachers taught me. So I thought: what if I can do that through comics? We have good priests and good catechists; all we need now is a good medium to reinforce Catholic teaching among the youth. So I thought of doing comics and met a group of very talented and very Catholic guys who can flesh out a story, and that is how it started.

Without revealing any spoilers, can you give us a teaser of the stories?

In a nutshell, our main characters are involved in battling devils, while waging war against their own personal demons. The battle is very spiritual as much as it is a personal and emotional one. One character has to struggle against same-sex attraction. He works part time as a ferryman at the town’s river. His constant paddling against the current had made him physically strong, but deep inside he’s still a softie. Then there’s this basketball varsity hotshot who was excelling both in sports and academics because he was trying to win his father’s love and attention, but when he didn’t get it, he slid into indifference, and his performance both on and off the court slipped.

Our characters are a team of young Catholics guided towards the path of holiness by their mentor, but they soon realize that becoming saints and carrying their crosses is just as difficult as battling devils and demons.

Who are the target readers?

My target readers are pre-teens, teens, and young adults. I have formatted the book series in such a way that our youngest readers will still learn something from the stories, while our older, more receptive readers will certainly get the deeper, more profound lessons.

When and where will it be available for distribution?

As of this writing, we’re still negotiating with local bookstores as far as retail is concerned, but mainly I am offering the series to our Catholic schools. Those who want to pre-order may contact me at my email: ajuperez@gmail.com.

What works and genres, both religious and secular, influenced the comics?

My education from the Salesians is certainly an influence; the mentor of our team constantly reminds them that the path to holiness is in doing their everyday duties with holy joy and excellence, something taught by St. John Bosco to his students. Holiness through ordinary life was also preached by St. Josemaria Escriva.

I have always been thankful that I am old enough to know the teachings of the Catholic Church and young enough to understand what the youth are into, partly because I am also into the things they are into: comics, cartoons, manga, video games, novels.

How do you intend to strike a balance between making the comics cool and catchy, and maintaining orthodoxy in the content?

The formula is actually simple. Make it cool first and foremost. The coolness factor should always be there. Once you have captive readers, sharing the Gospel is very easy. I got this from St. John Bosco himself. As a young boy he was a very good acrobat, musician, and story teller, and he used his talent to draw listeners towards him that he may share Christ to them.

I had endless back and forth discussions with my editor, Jay, because we had to make sure that the story and the dialogue preached our Catholic values without being preachy.

Do you have any other message for readers?

I would urge all campus ministers, school administrators, our clergy and parents to buy the comic book series for their students and kids. Nowadays we have to be pro-active in educating and forming our Catholic youth. This is a project of the New Evangelization. The team behind this has done their utmost in making sure that the kids get the best Catholic comic book series. The first book to be released this November is the first among several books in a series that will run for several years; how nice it would be if our youth are entertained and the Gospel seeds sown in their hearts during their formative years.

Five Things Pope Francis Wouldn’t Do Online

PopeFrancisOnline We all probably wish we could take back some things we have said and done online, not only for our own sake but for the sake of other people we were called to bring closer to God and instead pushed further away.

I often read some of the comments on Catholic blogs, (and sometimes the blog posts themselves) and I wonder to myself, “Does this person care that other people (especially non-Catholics) will read this and feel repelled by the way we talk about the faith and to each other?”

Do we as Catholics approach our activity online with too much concern for private opinion and not enough concern for evangelization? After all, our primary goal as Christians should be to grow closer to God and to spread the Gospel. Are these things at the forefront of our minds when we engage with others online?

Pope Francis recently tweeted:


With this in mind, I compiled a list of things I don’t think Pope Francis would do online. I use Pope Francis as our model because I think he is a good example of Jesus living today, and because he is truly an evangelizer par excellence.

Without further ado, five things Pope Francis wouldn’t do online:

1. Bait or Hate Atheists: As a former atheist, I am really sensitive to this particular online faux pas. The numbers of atheists are on the rise as well as the number of people who do not affiliate themselves with any specific religion.

We have a choice. We can make atheists and the non-religious our enemies, or we can follow Pope Francis’ lead and engage with our brothers and sisters with respect and interest. Thankfully, some people chose to do the latter with me.

2. Participate in Infighting: If we cannot see others’ failings, differences and uniqueness in the light of Christ, but instead skewer our fellow Christians with the ferociousness of lions in the coliseums, are we at all surprised when others find our Church unattractive? If our faith leads us to cannibalize one another over liturgy, doctrine, politics, social justice, etc, is it real faith? Or is it our own sense of self-importance masquerading as faith?

Pope Francis tells us quite clearly that unity is more important than conflict, a unity that can only be found in Christ.

3. Put Politics before Jesus: In a world in which politics sometimes seems like the ultimate reality, it is no surprise that we as Catholics sometimes fall into thinking that politics supersede faith. A good example of this is the recent statement Sarah Palin made about baptizing terrorists by waterboarding.

It is easy to point fingers but how often do we let our passions get the best of us when discussing politics?  When accused of being a communist, Pope Francis rightly insisted that his politics is the Gospel. Do we put the Gospel before anything else?

4. Engage in Gay bashing, Anti-Semitism, Sexism: If our goal is evangelization, (not offense or defense), then our approach, our reactions, and our mode of being online is entirely different. Spreading the good news about the Church’s teaching on homosexuality does not encompass behavior that name-calls, vilifies, or belittles.

Pope Francis asks us: “When God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?” In the same way, Pope Francis urges us to banish anti-Semitism from our hearts and clearly rejects machismo.

5. Get Lost in the Looking Glass: Are we more concerned with publicizing ourselves or Jesus? Do we flaunt our degrees, our Catholic credentials, or our connections? Do we thirst for “likes” and retweets? Chances are, it is a mixed bag.

We all want to climb higher in others’ esteem but Pope Francis tells us: “If you like climbing go to the mountains and climb them: it is healthier!” Vanity creates discord within the Church and frankly repulses others rather than attracts. We are called to bring people to Jesus, not to ourselves.

So, in the end if we chose to follow the path of Pope Francis, would the Gospel reach more people?

Judging from Pope Francis’ effect on the world, I’d say yes.

I’ll let Pope Francis finish writing this article with his beautiful, germane words from a recent homily:

“You cannot understand a Christian without witness. We are not a ‘religion’ of ideas, of pure theology, beautiful things, of commandments. No, we are a people who follow Jesus Christ and bear witness – who want to bear witness to Jesus Christ – and sometimes this witness leads to laying down our lives.”

Amen?

If Saints Were Superheroes

I am a product of our culture. Like it or not, I find myself not only impressed but also convicted by “new expressions” of faith called for in the New Evangelization. Recently, I heard a talk by Fr. Mike Schmitz that I found to be not just a clever example of one such new expression but (probably because I’m a product of modern culture) a penetrating insight into the nature of the universal call to be a saint. Below, I summarize his explanation of life in Christ given to a group of young adults. Pay attention to the theological depth present through such a relatable cultural medium. In my opinion, Fr. Mike is a shining example of who the “new evangelist” is called to be.The question: If a saint were a modern day superhero, to which one might he or she best be compared? In his talk on Baptism titled “Changed Forever,” Fr. Mike explores four options.  
1. Is it Superman? Are we all closet Clark Kent’s walking around in disguise? There are many who claim that the saint is someone who learns, not only to realize, but to actualize his full potential as a human being. Certain philosophers have argued that human nature is comparable to Superman (Fr. Mike points out Rousseau, but Nietzsche actually calls the fully evolved person The Superman). The overarching idea is that we’re all perfectly good just as we are. All we must do is free ourselves from the chains of social conditioning and expectation, and simply recognize the truth about who we are. This, of course, is absurd. We all know we have weaknesses, flaws, imperfections, limitations, and – yes! – sinful desires. 

Superman is an illusion.

2. What about Batman? Is Bruce Wayne the modern model of sanctity? Here, I think is humanity’s greatest temptation. The idea is that, if we work hard enough, if our desire is strong enough, we can overcome all of our weaknesses and imperfections. This, of course, is a 1600 year old heresy called “Pelagianism.” A bishop named Pelagius, in the fourth century, argued that man could work his way to heaven. It would require years of hard work and utter dedication, but it could be done, the potential is there. 

Thank God the Lord gave the Church St. Augustine and put a stop to this nonsense (at least on paper). Batman is bogus as well. The truth is, without the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ, man is a slave to his fallen nature and could never do anything to fully satisfy his natural desire for happiness or to make himself worthy of heaven.

“The law…contributes nothing to God’s saving act: through it he does but show man his weakness, that by faith he may take refuge in the divine mercy and be healed.” (St. Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter)
3. “Might the saint be Iron Man?” asks Fr. Mike. It sounds a little bizarre, given his private life, but could Tony Stark represent the secret to holiness (metaphorically, of course)? The saint, after all, as St. Paul says, has “put on Christ.” Sure, Tony Stark, the billionaire genius, is endowed with incredible natural gifts, but without his suit he’s left with the same brokenness and sinful desires, not to mention a heart condition that will surely take his life in short order. With the suit, however, he’s unstoppable and possesses superhuman capabilities. He can soar to the heavens with a savior-like quality. 

Does Tony Stark represent the nature of a saint: a man clothed with Christ, but deep down the same broken sinner? This is a devastating temptation for many faithful men and women. (Martin Luther called us “dung covered with snow.”) Oh, how deeply we misunderstand the incredible goodness and dignity of God’s design for us if this is how we define salvation! It’s true that we put on Christ and that it is indeed his righteousness that saves us, but the Father in heaven sees far more than a worthy shell when he looks upon his sons and daughters. To be clothed in Christ, as the title of Fr. Mike’s talk suggests, means that, at the deepest core of who we are, we are truly changed forever. The power of putting on Christ and his righteousness effects a transformation in us that is supernatural; we become children of God, healed of our brokenness, transfigured by his glory, and transubstantiated into his likeness. 

In other words, by grace, we become what Jesus is by nature. In Christ, we do what we otherwise could not do. We become what is otherwise impossible.

“For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” (St. Athanasius,CCC 460)
4. No, Fr. Mike explains, if the saint were a superhero he couldn’t be a Superman, a Batman, nor an Iron Man; he’d have to go by the name of Steve Rogers. Here’s a man who longed, more than anything else, to be a great soldier; and, no matter how hard he tried, he always came up short. “You’re too weak. You’re too slow. You don’t have what it takes to be among the greatest.” His life was a constant disappointment… until he discovered the “super-secret soldier serum.” Suddenly, overnight, he possessed a kind of strength above and beyond even the greatest of soldiers. He became Captain America, a man fully perfected in his humanity but also elevated to supernatural capacities.

Here’s the point. In The Avengers, Tony Stark (Iron Man) smugly dismisses Steve Rogers and says, “There’s nothing special about you that doesn’t come from a bottle.” Applying this to personal holiness, what if someone were to say to the Blessed Mother (or any of the Saints), “There’s nothing special about you that doesn’t come from the Holy Spirit”? How do you think she would respond? 

“And? Your point is…?”

When we say yes to Christ, when we put on his righteousness, and allow his Holy Spirit to work a miracle of grace in us, everything changes. It’s true there’s nothing special about us that doesn’t come from the Holy Spirit. So what! We’re children of God now, and by his grace, everything about us is special. This is Baptism!

Of course, we’re not called to be superheroes. Saints are far more than that, and the process of sanctification doesn’t happen overnight as it did for Steve Rogers. However, this reflection on Baptism is an example of what Pope John Paul II meant by “new expressions.” It exhibits cultural relevance without compromise of the Gospel, it’s challenging, and it’s fun. This is one of many new and engaging ways that Fr. Mike is helping so many (especially youth and young adults) not just to understand, but to enter more deeply into the beauty and mystery of life in Christ. Fr. Mike Schmitz is a priest of the New Evangelization. His gift for bringing the Gospel to life through relevant cultural expressions is a model for us all. 

Lighthouse Catholic Media carries a number of Fr. Mike’s talks (available on MP3 or CD format at wholesale prices). If you’re interested in ordering, CLICK HERE 

What the Evangelical Catholic Can Learn from Protestants

The word “evangelical” is familiar to most Protestants, but it is an idea that more Catholics ought to be acquainted with as well. The title of George Weigel’s book Evangelical Catholicism communicates the intersection of these two seemingly disparate concepts immediately. The reality with too many with Catholics is a more privatized faith – Catholics, even if they attend regular Mass, leave their faith at the door. What we need is a missionary faith – exactly what the New Evangelization is calling for among Catholics.

The fact is, Catholics would be wise to accept and put to use some of the evangelical tactics of the Protestants. Although Protestants lack the fullness of the faith we have as Catholics, they are miles ahead of us in the evangelical zeal with which they share their Christian faith. To this tune, I offer two ways Catholics can become more missionary oriented and evangelical both with their faith and their lives.

Reading the Bible Regularly

We should not look at the Bible only through the lens that is offered at Mass as dissected parts in the Missal. We have a real need to take the entirely of scripture from the Missal into our households. One only needs to read Psalm 119 once to figure out that our lives are dark and empty without the light of scripture. Do I need to make a case for the usefulness of scripture? I don’t think so. But here are three ideas to put into practice right away:

1.  Read just one chapter a day from your Bible. Do not start with Genesis as that could be a recipe for disaster or disinterest. Along with this, follow your Catechism by chapter and verse. You will then be immersing yourself in Holy Writ as well as the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That ought to deflect the tendency to come to personal interpretations which our first Pope speaks about at 2 Peter 1:20, “Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation.”
NOTE: This is not the solution for everyone. Like I mentioned up front, “just reading” any part of the Bible has a frequent effect of making people confused, leading to disinterest. I suggest the The Great Adventure Bible Timeline series by Jeff Cavins. Many people have come to love and understand the storyline of scripture through the great work of this Catholic revert.

2.  Begin memorizing special verses or even whole passages. Nothing will prepare you to fight against darkness like memorizing Ephesians 6 and meditating on spiritual armor, or coping with temptation like 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” When you memorize a verse, which is God’s Word, your embed God in your heart and in your mind .

3.  Discuss scripture regularly with your friends. So long as you are on your guard with #1, you will not be in danger of personal interpretation, but it is useful to apply and discover scripture in a meaningful way in your life. You will pray better, you will live better, and your faith will be increased the more familiar you become with scripture.

I was slammed hard for this in online forums, but I will hold firm: Catholics need to become more accustomed to reading scripture in private. No, I do not mean to say that Catholics should generate private interpretations. One can read the Bible and gain spiritual nourishment without discerning a heretical interpretation.

Develop Your Testimony

The most important part of being an evangelical Catholic is being able to tell others what God has done in your life. More important than apologetics, more important than memorizing the entire Catechism, is your ability to impart personal testimony on another person. Why? Nobody cares what you know until they know that you care.

Being able to talk to others about Christ is vital because it utilizes the factor that exists inside all of us: empathy. Inside all of us is the power to learn from others who have similar struggles, victories, and pain. When you share your story about your miscarriage or your addiction to pornography, you connect with others in a way that nothing else on earth can. Your testimony helps others to identify with you and in turn causes them to listen to what you have to say. It’s no form of trickery nor clever whim; rather it is a universal means of capturing another’s interest and attention. The goal is for you to then tell them how God intervened in your life, whatever that might be.

This is a quick look at a book I am in the process of writing. Would you like to read and learn more?

An Epiphany about the Epiphany

Having just celebrated the beautiful feast of the Epiphany, aka, the Adoration of the Magi, I have been ruminating on some of the things that feast should mean for us as Catholics in the current world, and as harbingers of the New Evangelization.

The_Magi_Henry_Siddons_Mowbray_1915

Epiphany comes from a Greek word meaning ‘reveal’ or ‘a startling or striking realization or revelation’.  In common use, it just means a moment of fresh clarity or a revelation of something.  In religious terms, it refers to a ‘sudden insight into the divine’ (here I have committed the cardinal sin of consulting Wikipedia).

The feast of the Epiphany is called so because it was Christ’s revelation to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi, kings or nobles from the East who followed astrological ‘signs’ which culminated in the Star of Bethlehem that led them to the newborn Savior.  It is a commemoration of a literal revelation, and of theological revelation.  As the Liturgy of the Hours prayers for the octave of the Epiphany remind us:

“All the kings of the earth will bow down in worship.
– All the kings of the earth will bow down in worship.

Men and women of every nation will serve him.
– They will bow down in worship.”
(Responsory for Morning prayer, Wednesday between Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord)

This sentiment–that Christ as King of the World is now revealed to the nations–is echoed throughout the psalms and antiphons chosen for the LOTH propers, as well as in some of the regular psalms for Week II:

“…The mountains melt like wax
before the Lord of all the earth.
The skies proclaim his justice;
all peoples see his glory…”
(also from Wednesday Morning prayer, taken from Wednesday in Week II)

So, the Epiphany is not a historical feast. It is not simply a remembrance of the literal meeting Christ had with Gentile men who, through that interaction, came to believe in Him.  Rather,  it is a timeless message that Christ is  revealed to and will be worshiped by all nations. 

This is such an incredibly heartening thing.  No wonder most of the rest of the LOTH prayers for this week have been all about the great majesty of God in tandem with the rejoicing we should do when we realize it.

I sometimes get discouraged by the immense amount of anti-Christian, immoral, relativistic, apathetic garbage in which our culture has immersed itself. Sometimes Often, I feel like no matter what I say or how hard I try to reach people, I will never be able to make a dent in the leviathan of the World and all the evil of our time.

“Will the Lord reject us for ever?
Will he show us his favor no more?
Has his love vanished for ever?
Has his promise come to an end?
Does God forget his mercy
or in anger withhold his compassion?”
(from today’s Morning prayer)

This year, however, celebrating the Epiphany reminded me of how much hope we really have. Not that I’ve ever despaired, but I think sometimes I forget what God expects from and will work through me. There are more solutions to the immense problems of the world as it stands today than fire and brimstone and God’s direct and tangible intervention (despite what I ruefully remark to myself all the time).

Christ has come. He has revealed Himself to the Gentiles–to the world–and “Men and women of every nation…all peoples” will come to recognize and worship Him. Hopefully, this happens for the vast majority before they reach judgment, so that they can also come to love Him and be united to Him in Heaven.  In the meantime, what this means for me–and for you, if you are also striking out in pursuit of the proclamation of Christ’s Gospel–is that my voice is strong because it is backed by the Word of God, speaking from before time, to say again and again, throughout Scripture and through the words of the Church, that Christ is here and He will be acknowledged.

“The Lord is King; let the earth rejoice!”

Every new idea or realization that God has placed in my heart for the past year or so, I find even more clarified in something from our beloved Pope. In Evangelii gaudium, he says

“This principle [God as the final Cause, outside of time] enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans. It invites us to accept the tension between fullness and limitation, and to give a priority to time…What we need, then, is to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events. Without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity.” (EG 223, emphasis mine)

 In other words–take heart! We must persevere, and we should be joyful in doing so, because “the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and He has set the world upon them” (Samuel 2).

Julian of Norwich, who is recognized as a saint by the Anglican church, and whose writings have been deemed worthy by the Catholic Church, had a vision of Christ in which He held the entirety of the world in His hand, in a hazelnut shell. He told her that this tiny ball was “all that was made”.  She wondered how it could be sustained when it was clearly so small and God was clearly so much bigger, and Christ’s answer was that it was through the love of God that all things retained their being. I take a fresh breath of energy and hope from this, and from the meaning of the Epiphany as I experience my own epiphany: “My heart leaps up with joy to the Lord, for he humbles only to exalt us.”

This year will be a year of fruitful evangelization and witness if we only keep our eyes on Christ, our King, and by word and example remind others of the revelation He has planted in their hearts.

“See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples;
But upon you the Lord shines,
and over you appears his glory.
Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance.”
(from an excerpt of Isaiah for the  Solemnity of the Epiphany, Morning prayer)

Looking to the Star of the New Evangelization

Our Lady of the Sign - The Star of Evangelization
Image Credit: http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2011/04/our-lady-star-of-evangelisation-by.html#.UsiVqfRDuql

Stars are significant in the Christian tradition.  For example, God promised Abraham descendants more numerous than the stars of the sky (Genesis 22:17).  And today a star plays a prominent role in our celebration of the Epiphany when a star guided the Magi to the stable (Matthew 2:9-11).  Additionally, the Church has had a longstanding tradition of hailing Mary as a “Star,” for she is the bright and shining star of the human race.

The Church has two beautiful Marian antiphons (hymns) that call Mary Stella Maris (Star of the Sea).  The first is the Alma Redemptoris Mater: “Loving Mother of the Redeemer, Gate of Heaven, Star of the Sea, assist your people who have fallen…”  The other Marian hymn is the Ave Maris Stella (Hail O Star of Ocean), a devotional hymn popularized by the Pieta prayer book and the preparation for Marian consecration according to St. Louis Grignion de Montfort.  Given the devotion to Mary as the Star of the Sea, mariners fittingly called on Mary to guide them; there are stories of Christopher Columbus chanting the Salve Regina nightly aboard the Santa Maria.

Just as Mary was a guide for sea voyagers, St. Bernard of Clairvaux saw Mary as a guide for the spiritual life in his homily “In Praise of the Virgin Mother.”  He encouraged the listener, “If you do not want to founder in the tempest, do not avert your eyes form the brightness of this star.  When the wind of temptation blows up within you, when you strike upon the rock of tribulation, gaze up at this star, call out to Mary” (II:XVII).  For Bernard, Mary is the star guiding the Christian through the choppy and turbulent waters of temptation and trial to a calming respite in the Lord.

The New Evangelization and Our Lady of Guadalupe

The popes of the modern age, in a new way, also have called upon Mary as a “Star” in the Church’s work of evangelization.  Paul VI expressed his desire in 1975 for Mary to be the “Star of the Evangelization ever renewed which the Church, docile to her Lord’s command, must promote and accomplish, especially in these times which are difficult but full of hope!” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 82).   Taking his lead from Paul VI, Blessed John Paul II entrusted the work of the New Evangelization to Mary, calling her the “Star of the New Evangelization.”  This is evident in a number of his papal writings, including Tertio Millennio Adveniente (59) and Novo Millennio Ineunte (58).

John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in America, quoted a prayer from the synod that hailed Our Lady of Guadalupe as the “Patroness of all America and Star of the first and new evangelization” (11).  It is quite fitting for Our Lady of Guadalupe to be a patroness of the New Evangelization, for her apparition to Juan Diego was a guiding star for the millions of natives who converted to the Catholic faith.  In addition to Our Lady of Guadalupe, on October 18, 2012, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI invoked Our Lady of Aparecida (A Brazilian devotion) as a Star of the New Evangelization.  Keeping with the custom of his predecessors, Pope Francis also has invoked Our Lady under this same title.

Looking to the Star

Stars have guided people all throughout history.  A star guided the Magi to pay homage to the newborn king.  And after they encountered the Christ child the Magi returned a different way because no person can encounter Christ and not leave along a different way.  Today we look up to Mary as the star of the new evangelization.  We look up to her and ask her to guide us to her son Jesus.  True and authentic Marian devotion leads us to Jesus.

There is a beautiful Polish hymn to Mary entitled Star Resplendent which speaks of Mary’s guiding role of faith.  The following was translated by the late Fr. Richard Wojcik of the Archdiocese of Chicago:

(1) Star resplendent, Star serene, Virgin Mother, Heaven’s Queen, lead us pilgrims to our Father, Virgin Mother, Heaven’s queen.  (2) Thru the storms that try us all, may we heed your urgent call, come to me, all you my children, you were made mine by my son.  (3) Here we gather at your feet, pledging you our love complete, sinful hearts to a sinless mother, make us holy, make us one.  (4) When in death we fear God’s hand, loving Lady, near us stand, help us know life’s holy ending, lead us firmly, lead us home.

In this new year, let us look up to the Star of the New Evangelization and ask her to guide us.  Mary provides the example through the proclamation of her fiat and magnificat.  Her instruction to do whatever he tells us still speaks to us today.    And may our prayer  “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death” increase our faith and trust in Mary’s intercession both now and at the moment of our death.  Let us pledge our love and devotion so that she can make us holy and lead us home at our life’s end.

What I Gleaned From Word on Fire’s New Evangelization Series

As always Father Robert Barron displays a masterful command of his subject matter in the latest documentary and study from Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. If I’m correct in what I’ve gleaned, he and his crew are fully in tune with the Church’s call to modern Christians. My one concern, however, is that some may lose the force of the study as it moves from New Ardor into New Expressions. I’d like to offer here a summary vision for anyone interested in this course specifically, but also as an overview of the New Evangelization in general, which I’m so grateful to Word on Fire for providing.

The Background
The study begins with a brief history. Many will be shocked to see Vatican II portrayed as a Council calling for a New Evangelization but, after reflecting upon Father Barron’s insights, I’m willing to boldly assert that that’s precisely what it was. Pope John XXIII, and later Paul VI, recognized a dire need for the entire Church (clergy and laity) to respond as a crisis of faith was so clearly sweeping over the modern world. The Gospel wasn’t being heard; or if it was, the message was being misinterpreted and stripped of its power. The risen Christ was not being encountered, and the Church had to act.

In 1974, Paul VI realized the Council had been hijacked by distraction and misinterpreted by political agendas. He called an Extraordinary Synod of bishops to summon the Church back to the true vision of the Council: the goal was not at all to modernize the Church, but to Christify the world. (Yes, this might require a certain amount of “modern” moves, but the goal is to raze the bastions, to let down the external walls of the Church and to flood the world with the light of Christ.)

A year later, in his 1975 encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi, Paul VI coined the term “new evangelization,” and four years after that, Pope John Paul II explicitly summoned the Church to it’s modern mission under that title.

So what is the New Evangelization? In the words of Pope John Paul II, the Church must reintroduce the world to Christ, and it must do so with “new ardor, new expressions, and new methods.” These three characteristics provide the basic structure of the study. But first, it tackles the question of how we got into this mess in the first place.

The Perfect Storm
The study focuses on the United States in particular. In an interview with Ross Douthat, four major causes for the crisis are briefly identified, though it was indeed a “perfect storm” and these are by no means the only factors.

Douthat points first to politics. Beginning in the 1940s and ’50s, political polarization began to undermine the Gospel, tempting the faithful to pick sides as different necessary aspects of the Gospel were painted in opposition. Furthermore, as decades passed, “to be Christian” became a political category rather than the radical reorientation of one’s life to something (i.e. someone) who transcends and confounds politics, and who calls all platforms to conversion and transformation.

Additionally, radical individualism began to surface in a more practical and infectious way, affecting both public and private life. Douthat highlights three aspects. The sexual revolution kicks God out of the bedroom. An unrestrained capitalism nurtures unprecedented prosperity, but does so as it simultaneously kicks God (and objective morality) out of the budget. Increasing globalization exposes the once-Christian culture to a host of new spiritualities and worldviews, leading to a syncretization of religion. Everything was now open to personal preference and individual opinion.

Catholics Leave the Ghettos
American Catholics had begun to lose their European, incarnational heritage, and to what? It was a culture of political polarization, with an individualistic worldview: sexual, financial, and religious relativism. Everything was undermining the faith, and they hadn’t the tools to combat it. The generation before them may not have been catechized sufficiently, but they relied upon their cultural heritage to fill the gaps. The “newly Americanized” generation that followed often retained their faith because they remembered what it was like. But what about their children? They would have neither the catechesis nor the culture.

Catholicism in America started out as European ghettos, and so thrived. The way of life continued to teach the faith even when sound catechetical formation began to fade. When the Catholic bubbles began to pop, however, and European Catholics became widely accepted in American culture, what was left to teach their children? So many came to see themselves as Americans above all else – and Catholics “in name only.” 

“Beige Catholicism”
Father Barron explains, a colorless, powerless faith emerged. Most (not all) of those who did continue to practice the faith, which was increasingly fewer each year, did so not from the heart of the Church and with the power of the Sacramental life, but instead through “a vague, abstract spirituality” tainted by individualistic principles, new age understandings, and a compartmentalized American (i.e. secular) lifestyle. Faith had been reduced to feelings and personal experience, the Gospel was whitewashed into a humanitarian ideal, Jesus was domesticated, the Bible was undermined by skepticism and academic theories, and the divine power of the Church and her Sacraments was all but forgotten.

4 SECRETS TO A NEW ARDOR
Now we can begin to understand Pope John Paul II’s characterization of a New Evangelization, beginning with New Ardor. For if the world is going to be brought back into conversation with Jesus Christ, Catholics must rekindle an apostolic ardor for the Gospel. “Beige Catholicism” is the enemy of this New Ardor. Father Barron, therefore, presents four secrets to overcoming the colorless faith of his generation and enkindling a new passion for the work of evangelization.

First, we must refuse to domesticate Jesus by calling him a good teacher, a great prophet, or a positive role model. He is none of these. He claimed to be God and that makes him a dangerous, subversive figure. If he is God, then he cannot be conformed to our modern projections. We must conform to him. As C.S. Lewis described Aslan, his Christ-figure in the Chronicles of Narnia, he’s “not a tame lion.”

Jesus surprises us at every turn. The depth of encounter with his love is always unexpected. He’s alive, and in full control. This is the second secret to new ardor. We must open ourselves to the reality and understand the importance of the resurrection. This is the basis of our hope, and it embodies Christ’s victory over sin and death. His bodily resurrection is the fulfillment of the Gospel, and our belief in the Risen Christ gives to us the capacity to actually encounter him.

Then, everything changes. When we encounter the Risen Christ, we’re transformed from the inside out. We experience his love and begin to live in the freedom of his truth. Only then does a deep desire to spread the Gospel begin to well up in our hearts.

But one last “ingredient” remains. We must be filled with the Holy Spirit. The secret to new ardor is the fire of God’s love burning within us, and overflowing out of us. It’s one hundred percent Him. 

3 CULTURAL OBSTACLES
The New Evangelization begins with new ardor, for we cannot give what we do not have. But before we answer this great call to share the love of God, Father Barron points out key cultural dispositions we need to understand. Certain ways of thinking keep the culture from encountering Christ. These obstacles cause people to misinterpret the Christian message, and we quickly begin talking past one another. Father Barron explains that we must come up with new and deliberate ways to communicate the Gospel, expressions that speak directly to these cultural obstacles, or we’ll be hard-pressed to bear lasting fruit.

The first obstacle is widespread misconceptions about God. The cultural definition of God is not the Christian definition. We need to be clear on what God is: existence itself. We’re not talking about one being among many, like the “flying spaghetti monster” idea that Richard Dawkins uses to poke fun at the Gospel. God is the ground of all being, and in Him everything is held together.

We need to be clear about where God is: continually creating us, here and now. This is not a God who put the world together like a clock and then stepped away from it. He’s intimately involved in every aspect of existence, and this remains compatible with the discoveries of science.

Finally, we need to be clear on who God is: a communion of love. This is not a God we need to be suspicious of. He’s a loving Father. This is a God who has called us to share in the great gift of life, and who intimately and lovingly holds us in existence.

A second cultural obstacle is widespread disenchantment. The world isn’t seen as a mysterious gift speaking to us the wonder of its Creator. Rather, it’s seen as mechanistic, purely material, and reducible to its observable parts. There’s no mystery left, only questions science has yet to answer. Truth and beauty, meaning and purpose, moral goodness, the modern experience has been stripped of any objective criteria on which to gauge these. Now we’re left with a hodgepodge of opinions and preferences, and we’ve reduced all meaning to projections of the mind rather than to hidden spiritual mysteries behind the physical.

The third obstacle is relativism. Nietzsche argued that with the triumph of science, there’s no longer any grounds for claiming an objective moral order to things. We now live in a world of contradiction. Case in point: so often, the same people arguing all morality is constructed are zealous advocates for human rights. These two claims cannot co-exist! Relativism allows us to hold them both without having to think it through.

UNLIMITED NEW EXPRESSIONS
So when we take up the call to evangelize with new ardor, we must speak to these cultural obstacles, and this requires new expression. What I find most fascinating about the idea of new expressions is that they’re virtually unlimited. Everyone is unique. With the triumph of relativism, each person is – in a sense – their own culture. When we evangelize, therefore, we must be creatively looking for ways to express the faith in a way this person can understand.

Moreover, we all experience the love of Christ differently, and we all share that experience differently, according to our gifts and talents, our backgrounds, and any number of other combining factors. The call for new expression is indeed (potentially) limitless. Our responsibility, therefore, is to be vigilant in sharing the Gospel with new expressions that are faithful to the message (i.e. in keeping with the Tradition and not watered-down).

That being said, the Magisterium has expressed a need for us to focus on 3 Overarching Expressions that find universal appeal: beauty, joy, and community.

Beauty impresses itself upon us. Whether we “prefer” it or not, authentic beauty, objective beauty, appeals to the heart like no argument ever could. As we give witness to Christ, may we point to the beauty of the message expressed in the Church’s great works of art, architecture, music and literature; and may we appeal to this same beauty – ever ancient, ever new – lived out in the lives of the saints.

Joy is contagious. This culture is desperate for it. The “post-modern” mind has abandoned the great hope of the enlightenment. We recognize the emptiness of the American dream. Money can’t make you happy, etc. But what can? When someone sees true joy, it sparks curiosity. We must learn to overcome discouragement and share the Gospel with the joy only Christ can give.

The culture is desperate for community. The Church must become the family that it is. Our lived witness of love must be tangible. If it is, the Gospel is pure dynamite in a world of busy isolation and unexpressed loneliness.

NEW METHODS
The study comes to a close by recognizing the way in which modern culture communicates. St. Paul used the Roman roads to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The modern “road,” quite frankly, is a digital highway in cyberspace. If the Church didn’t take advantage of modern means of communication, it would be a great disservice to the work of evangelization. Nearly one billion people communicate on Facebook, for example. If Catholics don’t saturate Facebook with the truth of Christ, we’ve missed an unprecedented opportunity.

Art, literature, movies, Youtube, blogs, websites, Twitter accounts, and countless other methods of spreading the Gospel exist today. Twenty-five percent of Catholics attend Mass. How will we reach the other seventy-five percent? We’re going to do it through a new ardor for the truth of Christ, with new and powerful expressions this culture can understand, and by the new methods available to us in the vast world of social media.

The Problem with the New Evangelization

God bless the effort of the New Evangelization. It encapsulates, I think, what many of us faithful Catholics have desired to see (more) publicly for years. Even in my youth I always wondered how so many faithful Catholics relied on their opinion as opposed to integrating the words of the Church, words I found as very beautiful. This is, of course, a reflection in my adult years on my youth. Here’s what it may look like:

“Mom, we learned at school today …”
She replies, “That’s great, honey!”
“What do you think?”
“That’s good, I just think a little bit differently.”
“Why?”
She then proceeds to explain that her experience or ideas tell her that things are different.

It teaches kids that personal experience trumps teaching–an ironic parenting technique. Kids grow up and learn many good things but then there’s the real world. Sex is a reality, contraception is a safe reality, etc., etc. They grow up, they use what they’ve been taught that’s useful and the rest is their best judgment.

There’s always room for experience in life. Experience teaches us and forms us. Experience, however, and our experiences, are not principles of action. Experience tests the limits of principle. They help us gather data in order to form principles or see patterns at work.

If one says, “In my experience no one ever listens to you if you use the Bible” is an experience stated as if it were a principle. One who says, however, “With Protestants I’ve found Scripture is effective but with atheists and agnostics reasoning and philosophy are more profitable.” This is experience that indicates a certain prudence. Prudence is a virtue and a sort of principle (Always act prudently) and experience helps us see what that looks like.

I. Witness

This digression aside, I am happy Catholics are coming out in droves to defend the Church, to be public with their faith, to yearn for clarity and understanding, to confront evil in society, to desire God through prayer, to (gasp!) read Scripture, and to dedicate their intellects for the search of a truth greater than all of us as opposed to opinions which are less than themselves. This is a good thing. Lord, give success to the work of our hands!

My concern, however, is that we progress like soldiers to a battlefield as opposed to progressing like lemmings toward a cliff.

What do I mean? The word for witness is “martyr.” Being a witness to the faith is being a visible sign of Christ’s saving love to the world. Witness is public, it’s living in such a manner that what you believe is evident from your life. In many cases this is a powerful tool for conversion: one learns in the most concrete way, that is by example, that the faith is livable and it can make you happy (regardless of your state in life). This is evangelization in its simplest form, right? I’m not inclined to think so.

In my view witness attracts and evangelization holds onto. No amount of well-crafted, balanced words will make someone Christian. Only God can produce that sort of effect in our lives and only He can penetrate our stony and prideful hearts. Witnessing to the faith reveals God to the world. It shows those who look on, those who are doubtful, that God is active in the world and personally in our lives. Recall from the Gospel of Mark that Jesus is declared the Son of God by a man only when He dies on the cross.

Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mk 15:37-39)

Truly Jesus Christ was the perfect witness, the perfect martyr. The cross symbolizes many things: sacrifice, love, and rejection. It symbolizes much more. The cross stands as a strange image. It draws people to it, whether by disgust or hatred for it, for sorrow of it, or admiration of it. That’s the life we’re called to lead: a life that is a witness to the cross. “But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14).

 

II. Evangelization 

Evangelization, however is different. Perhaps an image will illustrate what words cannot. Christian life is a fire. Witness is the light of that fire but evangelization is the warmth. We are drawn to a fire by its light yet we are compelled to stay by its warmth.

Evangelization contains with in it catechesis, apologetics, preaching, among other things. Various people have certain gifts given to them by the Spirit: some are able to teach and defend the faith while others are able to effectively convey the Gospel message. The USCCB has defined for us the goal of the New Evangelization:

In a special way, the New Evangelization is focused on ‘re-proposingthe Gospel to those who have experienced a crisis of faith. … Pope Benedict XVI called for the re-proposing of the Gospel “to those regions awaiting the first evangelization and to those regions where the roots of Christianity are deep but who have experienced a serious crisis of faith due to secularization.”

So many of us label our work, our millions of blog posts, and our efforts as “evangelization.” This is simply not the case. There is always room for us to relay an experience of strength-in-crisis given to us graciously by Christ. There is room for us to lament insufficient theology, culture, or some offense, but it is not evangelization.

If we are to truly evangelize this culture we cannot simply propose a perspective or practice apologetics (i.e., defend the faith from attacks). We must proclaim the Gospel, that is proclaim the positive claims and truths of revelation, Scripture, and Tradition. If you want to evangelize you must study these things (studying history, science, philosophy, popular culture, etc. doesn’t hurt either).

We would all do well to remember that “the wisdom of what a person says is in direct proportion to his progress in learning the holy scriptures–and I am not speaking of intensive reading or memorization, but real understanding and investigation of their meaning” (Augustine, On Christian Teaching, IV.para 7).

Likewise, “Eloquent speakers give pleasure, wise ones salvation” (Idem.)

Evangelization requires prayer, study, and reflection. It also demands a certain training in rhetorical arts, such as clarity of conveyance, force of images, and knowledge of what will speak to the listener.

So many of us, myself included, feel that we further the cause of evangelization by saying nice words about our experiences of grace and prayer. But this only serves as a light in the darkness. Without a serious commitment to Scripture we give a light without warmth.

The New Evangelization is, as many have pointed out, not new in its message. Rather, the “newness” of it all is perhaps best described as a new ‘zeal’ for the labor so badly needed.

So those who are attempting to try something new my recommendation would be: look to Scripture, look to prayer, and that beauty which is ever ancient, ever new. Thereafter look to Tradition, the Fathers, and the Church. In all this, being an active member of the Church is all the more important: support your local church, your priest, and make yourself a public witness there for our charge is to not only draw new souls to Christ but strengthen those whose spirit fails within them.

Continue to shine the light of Christ to the world by your witness and do not cover it with anything. But in order that they might say, Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us? (cf. Lk 24:32) it is necessary that we begin with Moses and all the prophets, interpreting them what refers to Him in all the Scriptures (24:27).

We can do this in many ways. How you decide to do so is your task. Do not draw anyone to the light but leave them cold.

Our love will keep others close but those who struggle are not looking for us and we are not anyone’s fulfillment. Rather we are like John the Baptist, a voice crying out in a world that denies truth and embraces the self.

Rather, the Law of the Lord is their joy (Ps 1:2a) and O God, you are my God–for you I long! For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, like a parched land, lifeless, and without water (Ps 63:2). Give them this. Do not show them that it exists, but say to them as John did, “Behold the Lamb of God” and do it in such a way that those who listen hear what you say and follow Jesus (Jn 1:36-37). Only then will our joy be complete (3:29-30).

God Loves You: Nobody Cares

trygodDisclaimer: This article is going to sound cynical. It might even sound anti-Christian. Please stick with it. There is a point. I am sarcastic and sometimes offensive. Again, there is an overall point.

This New Evangelization thing in the Church is pretty cool, you gotta admit. I mean, JPII said it’s time for the Church to re-evangelize itself, and for crying out loud, we can all sit there and nod our heads. There are so many of those Catholics out there: the liberals, the ultra-traditionalists, the nuns with no habits and bad haircuts, all of those people who just don’t get it. To help with this New Evangelization, there have been plenty of folks hopping on the bandwagon with a VERY important message. Some are good, some are just professional Catholics trying to make a buck, and some are trying to push changes in the ideological battles in the Church such as abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, yadda yadda yadda. All of a sudden, EVERYONE has something to say to THOSE people in the pews that so desperately need our wise evangelization.

Some people in Catholic media drive me nuts. They talk about all sorts of great things that are all theologically correct and great for those folks who are definitely in tune with the Church, but don’t do much to reach out to those who are not already in the choir being preached at. Hosts in both radio and TV take on that voice, you know the one, when they raise the pitch of their voice and speak in quasi-hushed tones in order to sound holy or something. If you paid some random gang members enough money to actually listen to a bit of it, most would probably run for the hills. What I’m trying to say is that a lot of Catholic media is great and has some awesome content, but it doesn’t reach into the paradigm of those who are either completely outside of natural law and those who are “but-Catholics.” A but-Catholic is someone who says something like, “I’m Catholic, but I just disagree with the Church’s teachings on female ordination, abortion, sexuality, the Eucharist, etc.” 

How can we reach the drug dealers in the inner cities, the hardened stripper who dances because she needs the money and has become calloused and hates men? You can tell these people that Jesus loves them all you want, but in the end, why should they care? Does seeing that nice little John 3:16 bumper sticker make a difference worth a hill of beans? The secular paradigm is so far removed from any religious thought or truth that the mere mention of Jesus or the Gospel is enough to generate a certain hostility or mere dismissal. In other words, Jesus has become a cliche. What has Jesus done lately for the single mom who was walked out on by her live-in boyfriend and the father of one of her three kids and is struggling to make ends meet or who is just gaming the system to get as many benefits as possible? Why should the Wall Street hedge fund manager who is making six figures care about the Good News of the Gospel when he has all that the secular world can give him?

Christopher West has a great quote in his book “At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization.” Ready? Even if you have issues with Christopher West, just suspend disbelief for a moment and contemplate this.

“If Christ is to become present within the secular world’s understanding, that will mean walking a fine line, a place of tension, between the sacred and the secular. That will mean, in some instances, using a language with which a more pious and refined audience might take issue so that a much less pious and refined audience might be reached. As Pope Benedict put it, ‘one has to meet one’s listeners halfway, one has to speak to them in terms of their own horizon.’ We do this not to ‘stay’ there, but to ‘open the horizon, to broaden it, and turn our gaze toward the ultimate.’ Finding that language is a duty of charity. Finding that language is also a process of trial and error. So let us try, and when we err, let us correct those errors and try again. That’s how we grow. There’s no ‘one right way’ to proclaim the ‘great mystery’ to the modern world, but this much is certain; out of love for others, we must stretch ourselves; we must break out of our comfort zones; we must be courageous, bold and daring. We must strive to be all thing to all men, so that some might be saved.” (1 Cor 9:22)

I don’t know about you, but that’s some powerful stuff. He is calling us to meet people where they are, in whatever their life circumstances and present the Gospel to them in a way that they can actually relate to and understand. Sometimes we might have to put it a little callously or with some colorful language. It means we will have to leave our nice little Catholic bubble and go where we are not comfortable.

It’s a messed up world out there. People are struggling with addictions, terrible sins, broken families and broken lives. When Jesus was on earth He sought those people out. He associated Himself with the dregs of society. He didn’t seek out the rich, the famous, and the most holy. He went into the homes of those who were hated and despised. Who would He visit in today’s day and age? Drug addicts? Child molesters? Prostitutes? He visited with the worst kinds of people offering forgiveness, and ACCOUNTABILITY. Jesus never forgave someone and failed to tell them to sin no more.

Where does that leave us? It’s natural to want to avoid certain situations where we may be in danger, both physically and spiritually, but who do we help when we stay in our nice little Catholic bubble? It’s nice to read articles on how to more deeply pray the Rosary, and we sure can’t do much without Mama Mary’s intercession. But how do we bridge the gap between the sacred and the secular?

Jesus called us to be in the world and not of it, but that still means that we are IN the world. We are here. We are the Church Militant, fighting for God’s Truth.  All of God’s Commandments are reflected in the the natural way of things, and when we break His laws, there are physical and emotional consequences. When presenting God’s Truth, we can present it without even mentioning God to the secular world, and instead focus on Natural Law.

It may look like an uphill battle, but we know Who wins in the end. Christ called us to make disciples of all nations and we are far from that. You may have heard another pseudo-cliche bantered about: “Preach the Gospel every day. If necessary, use words.” When speaking to the secular realm, I’d offer a twist: Preach the Gospel every day. Try not to mention God, Jesus, the Church, or any of Her teachings. Love always.

True Mission or a “Poverty Vacation:” Are Mission Trips a Waste of Money?

By James Franke

Mission Trips a Waste? Poverty VacationsI’ve heard the argument a hundred times, phrased a hundred different ways. It all boils down to the same basic mentality: short term mission trips, those eight to ten day “poverty vacations” are nothing more than a waste of time and money used to make students, young adults, and families sacrifice one of their yearly get aways to make them “feel good” about themselves, a little self-help trip. 

But is this true?  If so, what is the alternative? If not, why do so many believe it to be?

Having dedicated the last three years of my life to organizing and leading short term mission trips, this thought, needless to say, rubs me the wrong way. Do I think that every mission trip is perfect? Absolutely not. Do I think that there are some mission trips that do nothing more than use the people and culture of a place as a form of shock therapy, so that the missionaries go home “changed” and “more appreciative” of all that they have? Absolutely… and I think that, if that is all it does, is horrible.  However the fact that some mission trips are abused and poorly done does not mean that ALL of them are.  This is the first part of a series of blogs devoted to answering the questions frequently asked about  short term mission trips. 

Are Mission Trips a Waste of Money?

The first argument against short term mission trips is the economic one. “The cost of a mission trip ($900 a person x 20 people = $18,000) is too much, it would be better to send the money somewhere and stay home.” It sounds like a good thought, however the reality is much more than “stay home and send money”.

The first solution to this is to go on a mission trip with a group that is not a business! Some mission organizations exist to evangelize and serve the poor (www.fmcmissions.com, www.lifeteen.com/missions, www.focusmissions.org, among others) and some exist to do ‘good work’ and make a profit, to be a successful business, what Pope Francis might call a “pitiful NGO” (http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1301190.htm). 

There are a few mission groups out there that truly stretch every dollar and dime, and who do not charge an arm and a leg, to serve the people they are sent to minister to. Do not throw the baby out with the bath water by grouping these ministries in with those that are NOT good stewards of the work they have been entrusted with.

Second, consider the alternative. The truth is that a large percentage of mission trips are made up of college students spending their Spring Break in missions instead of in Cancun. The cost of these typical spring break blowouts, partying all night on the beach, visiting as many bars as possible, and not quite living up to the standards of holiness that Christ left for us, will almost always be higher than that of a short term mission. If the choice is between $500 spent ‘living it up’ in Miami or $500 to spent living in a third world country, feeding the poor, building homes, and preaching the Gospel.. which would you choose? And not just for yourself, but which would you choose for your children, grandchildren, and the young generation of Americans currently being formed by their friends, professors, and colleagues?

Mexico-Intake-2013-4-2-1024x682Thirdly, what is the purpose of a short term mission trip? If the purpose of a mission trip is to build a house or dig a well… then yes, stay home and send the money.  Economically it is much wiser to send all the money that would be used on transportation and cost of living, than by using it up, leaving only small amount and brining that with you. However, if the purpose of a mission trip is to evangelize, to bring Jesus Christ, His love, and the Good News of the Gospel to the ends of the earth, then we must GO! Why? Well, because Jesus said “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… teaching them…”. (Mt 28:20-21).

By James Franke

Read Part Two of This Blog Series