A Church on the Margins

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Evangelization

is at the heart of the church- for to share the Gospel is to consistently invite all to continual renewal of heart and to lives committed to the living out of discipleship. This living out of the Gospel in our lives can be the greatest witness to the truth of salvation, and invitation to the world who has yet to know the living Christ. More than a feeling or a philosophical premise for our own individual lives, each of us is called to physical and tangible action. As a church then, together, we bridge the Good News and the social action in the midst of the world that has yet to know the saving power of transformation.

“To evangelize is to make the kingdom of God present in our world…The kerygma has a clear social content: at the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others. The content of the first proclamation has an immediate moral implication centered on charity.” Pope Francis, Evanglii Gaudium

The kerygma then has concrete social demands in a world that is hungry, suffers violence, sickness, and indignity- it is the language of encounter. As scripture relates, it is the fullness of love expressed in mercy and justice, not just towards a few but towards all for the good of all. Thus while the Gospel is personal for each one of us it is inherently social.

“Beware then of stopping at a sterile contemplation of God present in yourself . Add action to contemplation; to the sight of the Divine presence add the faithful accomplishment of the Divine will.” St. Ignatius, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius

Agreeably these demands of the Gospel can be quite challenging at the parish level as we seek more than a few isolated acts of charity and work towards becoming a committed church on the margins. Challenging yes and yet impossible-no.

This week, our suburban Catholic parish collaborative hosted a community panel of on the ground workers speaking to violence and healing within the inner city of Boston. From the vibrant small Presbyterian church in Roxbury, Rev. Liz Walker has found that the daily struggles of poverty and violence are inseparable from the task of evangelization. Along with fellow vineyard worker Nancy Kilburn, a monthly fellowship was begun to meet the trauma of the families and community affected by violence. In these “Can we Talk” sessions, the church seeks to meet the grief experienced through sharing a meal together, providing mental health support, music and even exercise.  While listening to the story of a mother who suddenly had lost her son to gun violence, our hearts ask how we can ever hope to heal the loss she feels. And yet this church community has helped to ease the loss, by providing the space to give voice to the pain these mothers, fathers and community have experienced.

What is a church on the margins- a church focused on the active work of evangelization?

In short, a home not only where we each experience Christ, but one where we meet Christ in one another daily. The kerygma moves not only within a congregation but through doors that are open, in disciples equipped to share what that love of Christ has done in their lives by committed action to those most in need of love and healing. Perhaps you ask what is the work that I am called to do? Take time today to consider the needs of your greater community that may not be met sufficiently already. For example, in a community where poverty abounds, meal centers are seeds of transformation and healing. Notice how often Jesus came to table?  And still even with a ministry that is presently active, know that there is a way for you too to become involved.

Reflect:

What are ways that I see my own faith challenged in giving voice to the Gospel? Have I given a ready witness to the love of God in my life by my action to love of neighbor? How can my parish community better serve the needs of the larger community, and what role can I serve in working to make this a reality?

Fully Alive: A Parish on the Move

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As far as parish life goes, it has been a very busy weekend for my parish collaborative family. Yet, when I think of it this is not that unusual for these two parishes as there always seems to be something going on. Whether it be school events, bible study, bereavement groups, healing Masses, Adoration, speakers, musical artists, youth events (you get the image) our parishes are always hopping with energy and abounding in community. So, for those weeks where I long for more energy and wish I had the saint’s gift of bi-location..it is only so that I could be present at everything!

 : Friday night, we had a youth fundraiser featuring the musical stylings of our parochial vicar and his former fellow seminarians (The Celtic Clerics) who donated their talents for the evening. With dinner, live auction, and dancing- a fun time at Resurrection Pariah was had by all! The Life Teen youth now have a needed boost to fund their upcoming mission trip to Haiti.  :

 : Saturday and Sunday began the kickoff for our annual community food pantry drive. Paper bags were personally handed out with a list of essential items attached.Next week all items donated will be collected and loaded onto a delivery truck to the waiting arms of more volunteers who will unload and stock the shelves. It is an amazing undertaking and the work done in these 2 weeks helps feed so many who otherwise might be unable to adequately provide food for themselves or their family.

Also this Sunday, we held a Remembrance Mass and reception for all of our parish families who have lost a loved one this past year. From the music and roll call of names, to the roses given out then arranged by the families gathering in fellowship, it was truly a coming together of our faith community.

Finally, my pastor and I sat down for the second meeting of  : Eucharistic minister training for those who have said yes to the invitation to bring Christ to others. The following week they will join the larger community of Eucharistic ministers as part of a spiritual retreat. Always growing,and always deepening our faith lives.

Every parish is different and each has it’s strengths. Yet, if your believe your parish is stagnant..

Odds are others feel the same way. Yet, what can you do? You are just a parishioner sitting in the pew. Or maybe you have mentioned your concern and things have yet to change.

1. First let me say that our parish priests are overworked, often understaffed, and are lucky to sit down and enjoy 15 minutes to eat in peace. They need not only helpful ideas but people willing to implement those ideas and motivate others to volunteer their time as well. If your pastor has given an event the go-ahead, and you are such a motivator take time to make a plan and consider parishioners that might be interested in being a part of it.

2. Invite: So, if there are others like you sitting in the pew or just a few people doing everything in the parish, maybe then the problem is a lack of invitation. Many people assume, albeit incorrectly, that they are not needed. Time and talents is a REAL thing folks. God has given each of us many ways to serve and at different times calls forth each of those gifts.

3. Do not underestimate the personal invitation. If you have invited and still there is a lack luster response..reconsider how you are inviting. Group emails via your parish’s  Constant Contact work for some, but nothing beats a well timed conversation. Even if you receive a no this time, thank them for their consideration. People want to know that you value their commitments too. Not to mention, next time it will be even easier to ask.

4. If the cost of an event is a consideration, perhaps there are those who cannot volunteer time but can volunteer food, expenses or supplies. What would we do without those parishioners that give so generously to sponsor or provide the means for hospitality to occur? It isn’t that there is a shortage of ways to spend money these days, or organizations vying for these funds. What is it that your event, devotion, or activity adds to parish life or community? The answer to this question and an awareness of  the mission of your parish will help guide you to who to ask.

5. Remember, you are offering a gift too. It is not uncommon to feel so grateful for the service that your volunteers would provide to forget that in serving they too are given a gift. As anyone that has served in ministry can attest to- the gift of serving is that God will never be outdone in terms of gift giving. Though not always quantifiable, the grace experienced far outweighs the time and energy spent. It may also leave you with a longing to serve even more!

So don’t be content with the excuse that your parish is dead..but be a catalyst towards a parish community that is on the move and fully alive!

Peace,

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Called to be Courageous

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“…we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

With the Easter season upon us, once again my thoughts turn to the witness of the disciples and experience of new believers in an unbelieving world. Where, such witness of faith in a risen Christ required courage in the face of certain punishment or death. Here in the Western world, we may feel a measure of comfort, secluded from persecution or reproof. Though one glace at the evening news reminds us that death is but a daily reality for countless Christians in other parts of the world.  And yet we too are called to witness, resisting the temptation to become complacent or falsely secure in the practice of our faith. In this current culture of relative truth, quite often we might even fail to speak to the soundness of our belief for fear of offending another.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31

It was picture day and my then 8th grade son proudly walked into the kitchen displaying his Benedictine crucifix that I had brought back from Rome around his neck. Beaming, he asked me my opinion of his choice of attire and thanked me for his gift once again. Adding that his faith was a part of who he was, and that he wanted this to be evidenced also in the pictorial record. Fast forward a few hours, and that smile so visible that morning had disappeared, along with the crucifix. So transparent that something had occurred, I had to ask, “What happened today?” “Mom, I didn’t want to say anything to you, but…my day went horribly. You know my crucifix?  I was told not to wear it. Well, his exact words were to put my faith away, that it offended him”.

Inquiring a bit further, I asked if it was a teacher or student that had made the comment. “Another student”, he replied, “but it really hurt…so insulting that I was being told to be someone else. How can wearing a cross really be offensive?” “Well, oftentimes that response comes from a previous hurt…maybe one that he or his parents may have experienced. The crucifix is a visible sign of the faith that we profess and therefore reminds others as well. What did you do?” “I chose to tuck it inside my shirt, but I really didn’t want to”. “I understand..you have always been so considerate of others, and their feelings. You do know that you and your beliefs are important too, right? It’s hard, I know, to want to express your love of Christ and then be rejected for it. But, just remember, so was Christ and each of the apostles that followed after him. Not everyone will embrace our witness of the great love and mercy of Christ, or accept us for it but that doesn’t mean we are to remain silent and hidden.”

That following Spring, Peter asked his father and I to please consider a small Catholic High School rather than the public high school that he would have attended.  We agreed, recognizing that what he was asking for was to be in an environment of teachers and peers that better supported him in his faith. In fact, his confirmation sponsor is his religion teacher from last year who had first mentored him as a new student. His chosen confirmation name? Paul. Who, as he described, was witness to the risen Christ and a bold proclaimer of the Good News.

As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:20

 

Peace,

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Will They Know Us By Our Love?

Over the last few weeks since Pope Francis’ departure, there has been a noticeable divisiveness within the world of Catholic social media. From Ross Douthat’s letter of critique of Pope Francis in the New York Times, to the response of theologians, priests, and Douthat again- we see firsthand a visible polarization. Yet, disagreement and dialogue in and of itself should not be disturbing. For, as Cardinal Dolan has so aptly noted of the most recent synod, “[for] Francis, and those who know better tell me so, that this is part of Ignatian spirituality: a mess, confusion, questions are a good thing.” [1] What is personally disconcerting, however, is the manner in which our discourse is taking place.  Repeatedly, I am seeing a promulgation of an article, or op-ed piece posted on social media in which the dialogue takes on a very ugly, often misinformed and even discriminatory tone having left the realm of discussion altogether.  Quick to respond, we find ourselves at the ready to wage war or nod our heads in agreement when we do not even have a full grasp of the situation.  This is neither productive nor enlightening, which is as I understand it is the goal of honest dialogue. Accordingly, if I might suggest, that we remember in both our virtual and face-to-face conversations the importance of:

Prayer

Before we tweet, post, share or comment let us take a moment to pray. For, if we consider the medium of new media as a tool for evangelization, then I believe, we must address the witness that we are so ready to make accessible to others.  Our online presence then should make our witness to Christ clearer, and the message conveyed expressive of the mercy, love and compassion of our Lord.  Yet, for those times we fail, we are reminded that we are also a “church in constant need of forgiveness” who, through the “sacrifice and self giving” of one another in community, finds strength and freedom from sin.[2]

For those times when I seek to be less than compassionate in responding…Lord help me to see you in others.

Openness

Christianity began in encountering Jesus in community and is a product of dialogue and translation embracing cultural, linguistic and religious differences.[3] For, through St. Paul’s experience we are clearly made aware of the pastoral needs of the community, and the necessary translation in witnessing to the Gentile community. While there needs to be a clear idea of what it is we believe in our expression of Christianity, without error,[4]  this need not encumber dialogue. This past week Fr. Rob Ketchum observed that “we [Christians] are sometimes more aware of what we are against and of what we fear than of what we are for and what we love”. [5]   Fear does not engender strength, or a convincing witness and does not exemplify love. As Pope Francis so eloquently remarked, “unless we train ministers capable of warming people’s hearts, of walking with them in the night, of dialoguing with their hopes and disappointments, of mending their brokenness, what hope can we have for our present and future journey”?[5]

Listening

True listening requires a humility and sincerity to respect one another-to accept change even our own. Few among us embrace change easily and for this reason we tend to romanticize the past.  Yet, if we look back historically, we can readily identify that change and disagreement are nothing new for us as a people of faith. There has been a natural, although sometimes painful, working out of our faith through the many complicated issues that have arisen over time.  Our tradition serves as guide and witness to a wealth of experience expectantly working towards conversion and transformation of the heart and situation to the mission of Christ. If the dialogical engagement is real and substantial then there is always the beautiful possibility that all involved will grow.

When we encounter a position that is different from our own, are we truly seeking to meet it with love or with pride?

While some may view this as naiveté,  I truly believe, that there can be a fruitful sharing and transformation in evangelization when there is openness, humility, and prayerful consideration of one another. This isn’t something to be feared, but as Christians our conversion of heart and mind is to be constant turning and transformation to the Holy Spirit at work in our lives and in the world. Therefore, we ask ourselves, have we as a community grown from our interactions and dialogue with humanity at large? Are we engaging, and responsive to the Holy Spirit at work in the world? This I believe is truly “an ideal which [we] can identify and to which [we] can commit [our]selves with enthusiasm and lasting zeal”.[6]

Peace,

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[1] http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2015/10/15/new-york-cardinal-dolan-sees-light-amid-the-synods-confusion/
[2]Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. An Introduction to Ecclesiology: Ecumenical, Historical and Global Perspectives. Downers  Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press: 2002, p. 105
[3] Gaillardetz, Ecclesiology for a Global Church: A People called and Sent.
[4] Pope Paul VI, Dei Verbum,  1965. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html
[5] Reese, Thomas, “Pope Francis ecclesiology rooted in the Emmaeus story”. National Catholic Reporter. August 2013. http://ncronline.org/news/spirituality/pope-francis-ecclesiology-rooted-emmaus-story
[6] Gleeson, Brian, “Images, Understandings, and Models of the Church in History: An
Update”. Australian E-Journal of Theology, 12. ISSN 1448-6326. 2008

An Engaging Faith- June 15-19th

You are invited to join me this week for An Engaging Faith on Real Life Radio daily at 4pm EST.

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This week’s lineup is part of our Mission and Evangelization Week. A week where we discuss what it is to be a Church of mission, and evangelization engaged in the work of spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth. 

Monday: Maureen Crowley Heil, Director of  Programs and Development for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, in the Archdiocese of Boston speaks on World Mission. 

 

 

 

Tuesday: Maureen Crowley Heil, Director of  Programs and Development for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, in the Archdiocese of Boston speaks on the work here in the US with the Missionary Childhood Association. 

 

Wednesday: Mary Margaret Kerry,FSP Daughter of St. Paul and current author of “Live Christ, Give Christ”, a collection of prayers for the New Evangelization

 
Thursday: Mission and Evangelization, Connections: ‎Looking at this idea of Mission and Evangelization within our local communities. Laura Chun, Loyola Chicago alum shares with us the beauty of living and serving within the Franciscan Mission of San Luis Rey Parish in Oceanside, California .

 

Friday: Weekly Recap Join me as discuss the past week’s news, events, tweets and posts! What does our Catholic Faith have to do the compassionate care and service to others, including those who are living around the world? 

“I Found It!”

During my undergraduate years at Mt. Holyoke College, I was to take the first course of what was to become my life’s work. Yet, at this very secular college, Philosophy of Religion had not been framed as articulate reasoning to believe. Rather, it was most often presented as confounding belief despite the fallacies, heresies, and multitude of reasons stacked up against it.  Yet the more I listened to the Harvard trained divinity professor reinforce his opinion in lengthy lectures, I wondered if he was actually a believer at all.

Extremely interested in grade point averages, students at this ivy leagued college scribbled feverishly with aching hands every word spoken…myself included.  Despite this, something beautiful happened- though I saw the difficulties to belief I became more and more enthralled with the moments of conversion. In seeing that in all the muck and mire, with the many mountains humanity creates, God is there working through every single one of us.

Midterms for this class were a nightmare, with 5 pages of insane but cleverly crafted questions to confuse the student to the point that one wasn’t sure of any answer. To his delight he announced that no one had passed, but since he graded on a curve that many of us were safe. As one of the best of the worst, I now took a deep breath and could only imagine what finals would be like.

That morning in a heavily proctored lecture room I took my envelope and found a seat near a window. As I stared at the words and images on the single page exam, my heart stopped as I realized God had given me the perfect essay prompt to vocalize all that was within my heart. Out of all the choices, one just leapt out at me. A Peanuts cartoon with Charlie Brown desperately searching for a ball hit into a field of tall grass..with a 3 word exclamation at the end. “I found it!”

This was for me what we describe in teaching as an “Aha” moment- that instant when a student suddenly grasps or acquires deeper meaning in the material presented. I wrote for what seemed to be only minutes, but filled an hour and a total of 8 pages.  Weaving in centuries of historical arguments with the personal conversion stories of those like Augustine and Dostoevsky, my soul soared.  As I put down my pencil and placed the exam in the folder, I knew that whatever grade transpired I had put my whole heart on paper that day.

Interestingly too, I began to look closer at the work of artists, cartoonists, architects, popular authors and musicians as expressions of belief in a very secular world. Very relatable yet quite frequently going theologically unnoticed, these works speak profoundly to the Divine. In seeking to evangelize, we must not look only to the theologians and doctors of the Church, but to these everyday believers and would be saints who put their faith and soul out for the world to see and believe.

Do you have an “ah-ha!” moment? How have you found God evidenced in the world around you today? Have you also shown God to others in what you say and do?

Peace,

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