Rise and Go

Pope Francis recently had some harsh words for parishes that don’t proactively reach out to evangelize those in their community and others whom they encounter.  Here are some excerpts from the Vatican synopsis of the Pope’s homily:

Pope Francis called for a Church that “does not remain seated”

[…]

“Rise and go”. The Spirit “does not say: ‘remain seated, at ease, in your home’. No! In order to be ever faithful to the Lord, the Church must be on her feet and on the move: ‘Rise and go’”. In fact, Pope Francis continued, “a church that does not rise, that does not journey, becomes sick and ends up closed with much psychological and spiritual trauma, closed within a world of gossip, of things … closed, without horizons”. The invitation, however, is clear: Rise and go; get on your feet and get moving.

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Our duty to proclaim Jesus

Today’s Gospel Reading at Mass (Mt 10:26-33) is a segment of the instructions which Jesus gave to His Apostles (ref Mt 10:1,5) just prior to sending them out on their first missionary expedition.  It concludes with Mt 10:32-33

So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

What does Jesus mean by “acknowledge me”?  CCC n. 1816 teaches us (quoting these exact verses) (emboldened text is my emphasis added):

The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it: “All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks.” Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation: “So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

In Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) n. 120, Pope Francis describes our duty to acknowledge Jesus before others (emboldened text is my emphasis added):

In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples”….So what are we waiting for?

Any parish that is not engaging in a substantial amount of evangelization, and whose parishoners themselves are not “actively engaged in evangelization” is failing to heed the demand of Jesus and His Church echoed by Pope Francis.  On the vigil of Pentecost (June 3rd), Abp Vigneron inaugurated his extraordinarily innovative plan — entitled Unleash the Gospel — to have each parish in the Archdiocese of Detroit become a parish of missionary disciples.

For the latest teaching of the US Bishops on being missionary disciples, you can read this booklet that they published last month.

Effective communication

MagiIn his homily for Epiphany, Fr JN recalled the diligence with which the Magi followed the star.  He pointed out that the star in our lives is Jesus, and that we should each have a personal relationship with Jesus evidenced by our lives of prayer and service to others.  I was elated to hear such a clear Christocentric challenge (Thank you, Father!).  However, I also recalled a time when such words would have been meaningless to me.  As a lukewarm (or less) Catholic in my early 20’s, those words would have gone in one ear and out the other.  I was not seeking the Lord at that time.  I was filling my life with my own selfish pursuits.  I’m sure there were some Catholics at this Mass who are just like I was back then.  In communicating to the Magi, God used a language that they (wise men; astrologers) could readily understand — the star.  When I had the renewal experience which led to my personal encounter with Jesus, it changed my hearing.  Words which were previously meaningless to me were now filled with meaning and challenge.  Fr JN’s words were clear and simple.  They were quite possibly the ideal words to use.  The question is:  How can we best help people to open their hearts more to God, so that such clear and simple words prove to be inspiring and motivating to them, instead of being largely ignored by them?

The irreplaceable importance of kerygma

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis emphasizes the importance of the kerygma, and clearly declares that the top priority of catechists needs to be the focused and repeated communication of the kerygma:

164. In catechesis too, we have rediscovered the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the centre of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal. The kerygma is trinitarian. The fire of the Spirit is given in the form of tongues and leads us to believe in Jesus Christ who, by his death and resurrection, reveals and communicates to us the Father’s infinite mercy. On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” This first proclamation is called “first” not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment.  For this reason too, “the priest – like every other member of the Church – ought to grow in awareness that he himself is continually in need of being evangelized”.

165. We must not think that in catechesis the kerygma gives way to a supposedly more “solid” formation. Nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation. All Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the kerygma, which is reflected in and constantly illumines, the work of catechesis, thereby enabling us to understand more fully the significance of every subject which the latter treats. It is the message capable of responding to the desire for the infinite which abides in every human heart. The centrality of the kerygma calls for stressing those elements which are most needed today: it has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part; it should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical. All this demands on the part of the evangelizer certain attitudes which foster openness to the message: approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental.

As a supplement to Pope Francis’ description of the kerygma, Msgr Charles Pope explains it well in this article and this article.

Guidance for the new year from Pope Francis

pope-francis-0101Pope Francis celebrated yesterday’s Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God with two homilies.  In the first, given at Vespers on the vigil of the feast (31-December-2013), he encouraged us to examine ourselves by reviewing how we lived during the calendar year which is about to end:

While the year 2013 comes to an end, we gather, as in a basket, the days, the weeks, the months that we have lived, to offer everything to the Lord. And we ask ourselves: how have we lived the time He has given us? Did we use it above all for ourselves, for our interests, or did we know how to spend it also for others? And God? How much time did we reserve to “be with Him,” in prayer, in silence?

We should develop the habit of examining ourselves in this manner frequently – even daily!  Notice that Pope Francis understands the primacy of the interior life (of which our Blessed Mother is the best example), which is the foundation upon which our life of service is built.  Our Lord prefers that we offer our actions to Him only if we are first striving to deepen our relationship with Him:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’  (Matthew 7:21-23)

The following day (01-January-2014) in his homily at Mass, Pope Francis highlighted two aspects of the holiness of our Blessed Mother which we should strive to emulate:

The Mother of the Redeemer goes before us and continually strengthens us in faith, in our vocation and in our mission. By her example of humility and openness to God’s will she helps us to transmit our faith in a joyful proclamation of the Gospel to all, without reservation.

If we include devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in our own spiritual lives, grow in humility, and seek and embrace God’s will (versus our own will, preferences, etc.), we will be inspired to joyfully proclaim Jesus to others.