SEPTEMBER 24: TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Readings: Is 55:6-9/Phil 1:20c-24, 27a/Mt 20:1-16a
The Lord asks of us: "Are you envious because I am generous?" We live in an entitlement culture. We often grumble when others receive accolades and honors. We envy the success of others. How much energy do we waste keeping up with the Joneses, or hanging on and worrying about our possessions, when everything we have is gift. Rather than imitating the Joneses, can we follow Christ in giving of ourselves. Can we be grateful for all he has given us and give in return by showing mercy and kindness to our neighbor. For it is in giving that we receive. Let us not be afraid to serve others, for in serving we will find true peace and joy.
SEPTEMBER 17: TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Do we realize how merciful our God is? He has forgiven us what we could never have paid back ourselves. Jesus paid for our offenses with his life. And yet, are we holding on to grudges when our whole life is basically a gift from God. Is there someone you need to forgive? A grudge you need to let go of? Love one another as I have loved you, says the Lord. He has loved us by giving us his very life. Should we not do the same for our brothers and sisters?
SEPTEMBER 10: TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Readings: Ez 33:7-9/Rom 13:8-10/Mt 18:15-20
Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. We are not made to follow Christ on our own. We are part of the body, part of community. As such we are responsible not just for ourselves, but also responsible to watch over our brothers and sisters. We are our brother's keeper, and he is ours. We are all called to holiness, and that means that we must encourage one another, and at times lovingly correct one another. It also means that we must look for those who are missing from our parish pews. We all know people who no longer join us at Mass, who may have left the Church for whatever reason. Many of them are just looking for an invitation to return. Can you invite them and make them feel welcome?
I dislike the title, but love the book. In Everyone Leads, Chris Lowney first diagnoses the challenges facing the church from the low participation and church attendance, to uninterested young adults, the closing of parishes and schools, and creates a sense of urgency in the reader. We must use new approaches. The old ways are no longer effective and fruitful.
Chris Lowney proposes a solution that involves creating a new culture of leadership, where everyone – all of us – are co-responsible for the mission of the Church. He suggests a process where we allow for entrepreneurs to provide creative and innovative ideas. Where we are all accountable as good stewards of our talents and resources, where we monitor successes and failures (and learn from both). A Church where we focus on service of the poor and marginalized in order that we may transform hearts and souls. Transformed hearts and souls will reach out and engage and welcome those on the peripheries. The process Mr. Lowney proposes goes by the acronym EASTeR (Entrepreneurial, Accountable. Service oriented, Transformative and Reaching out & building Relationships.)
The positive news in the process is that we have all the resources we need. We know our mission: To lead others to faith, freedom and love of Jesus Christ and to make Jesus known and loved. To create a culture of encounter. We have the means: a billion faithful who are gifted by God for the mission of today. But we need to implement new strategies, new methods, and not be afraid to try new ways of doing things. We need to encourage and empower the faithful to try new ideas and not be afraid to run with them. Often great ideas come from outsiders who have a fresh perspective and imagination and who are not stuck in the same old thinking. In a way, our leadership are always the usual suspects. We tap insiders for leadership positions. We need to nurture holy entrepreneurs who are agile in creative approaches.
In the later chapters of the book, Chris Lowney details and tells stories of examples of each of the elements of the EASTeR acronym, and ends on the positive note that the challenges we face are also opportunities for creative solutions. The Holy Spirit has placed us at this time in history. We have the gifts needed for our time. Let us work together and pray: Come Holy Spirit raise up saints for our time.
Note: Chris Lowney will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Celebrate Christ on October 21 in Lake Placid. Online registration is available by clicking on the link above.
SEPTEMBER 3: TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus reminds us that to follow him leads to the cross. We are called to imitate him. We are called to give of ourselves. Jesus did not sugarcoat the call. He did not say it would be easy. As disciples, we are called to share in his passion. But he did remind us that he would be with us always. So we too, are to be truthful with – and accompany- those to whom we witness our faith. No one is called to walk this pilgrimage alone.
AUGUST 27: TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
“Who do you say that I am?” This is the question that Jesus poses to the apostles and he asks it of us as well. Jesus asks us for a response and the answer is important. Many in today’s culture would answer that Jesus was a great teacher or perhaps even a prophet. Many think of him just as a kind and gentle man (and so they can ignore him). With the help of the Holy Spirit, Peter answers that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” If we believe like Peter that Jesus is the Son of God, then we have to live our lives accordingly and follow him and tell others about him, in order that they, too, may come to know and follow him, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
“We must all be helped to embrace the spiritual gifts entrusted to us”…“Because so many of our people are not living as disciples their gifts lie dormant and unused and are therefore not bearing fruit” …
This book is a wonderful follow-up on Forming Intentional Disciples and focusses on connecting evangelization (and especially pre-evangelization), discipleship and the discernment of charisms to spiritual fruitfulness and fulfillment. We have been given all the gifts we need to bear abundant fruit, but we are rarely challenged to discern our gifts and see what will happen if we actually use our gifts for the building up of the kingdom. We all have a mission. We all are co-responsible for contributing our gifts to the building up of the Kingdom.
This book helps pastoral leaders and disciples to begin to understand what missionary discipleship looks like and how the various charisms manifest themselves and how they are expressed in the church. After reviewing the practical theology, Sherry Weddell describes each of twenty-three most common charisms. For each charism, she gives a description, tells a story of someone exhibiting that charism, how each charism can be used or applied, how each charism aids in evangelization and some common expressions of each charism.
This book should be read by anyone interested in building up the church and forming intentional disciples who will transform their parish, the Church and the culture around us. I would highly recommend this book as the catalyst for discussions about Church mission, formation of disciples and lay leaders, and the raising of the awareness of what the vocation to holiness can actually look like.
If anyone would be interested in starting a book discussion in their parish, let me know. I would be happy to help you start a small group discussion or help facilitate such a discussion. I have an outline available of the book. Also, if there is interest, I would be willing to facilitate an online small group discussion of this book using a video platform like google hangouts, zoom, or something similar.
For more information contact Marika Donders at firstname.lastname@example.org
AUGUST 20: TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Are you amazed by the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel? Her faith, her willingness to follow behind Jesus, calling out to him, making a spectacle and nuisance of herself that the apostles want to send her away. She continues to plead, even when Jesus tries to dissuade her (“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”). Even when Jesus seemingly insults her (it is not right to take food of the children and throw it to the dogs), she persists. Did she see Jesus statement as a challenge? Was there something in his eyes that made her persist? She does not get angry, but continues to plead her daughter’s case. What great faith and what great humility! What is it you pray for? Can we pray with the same intensity as the Canaanite women for those who have drifted away from the Church and are in need of healing and mercy?
The last day of the Convocation started with Morning Prayer:
PLENARY SESSION: SPIRIT FILLED EVANGELIZERS, EQUIPED FOR EXCELLENCE
Bishop Malone urged us not to rush without taking the Long View. He reminded us that a church that goes forth is a church whose doors are open. He asked us to slow down. And remain with someone.
We are called to Surrender our wills to him and follow him. We are imbued with Holy Spirit and need to rely on the Holy Spirit. We are given and need to practive the theological virtues Faith, Hope, and Charity.
Inhabitatio and Innovatio. Live in us and Innovate. We are given gifts in order to bear fruit. God uses all of us. If we seek out the needs of the world, he will connect art gifts with needs.
We need to be renewed in the Lord striving for excellence. To be committed to one another. We are a community of disciples, not Lone Rangers. We need to hold each other accountable and remember that we are One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. So think about striving for Excellence. We are not just checking off tasks. Rather, we are sons and daughters, extraordinary in Holiness through Grace. Ask the Lord to renew our hearts and minds.
Keynote: Patrick Licioni from Amazing Parish spoke to us about creating excellent teams and also that people need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed. We need to do our best to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, and need to be careful not to turn the Church into a business.
So Where do we start? Is this practical and real? Patrick reminded us about the Circle of influence and circle of concern. The circle of influence is what we can actually do and where we can have an effect. We need to focus on this this area. When we do small things locally, our circle of influence grows. The circle of concern, on the other hand is what we wish we could change, but we can’t have any real impact here.
So what is my circle of influence. There are three three things that all of us control which will allow us interior peace and personal holiness; Daily prayer. Sacrament. Relationship. Without these three things, nothing can happen.
Focus on team. Team members are to be a co-responsible small group of people who are committed to teamwork. We need to live the gospel here, in this team, first. We can tell if not working in a team. We need to be willing to suffer with those closest to us.
A good team will have five behaviors that will that separate it from just being a committee:
First, a team trusts one another. There is a radical trust based on vulnerability. Team members are willing to admit to things they are not good at and willing to be vulnerable with your mistakes. We need to be able to ask each other for help.
Second: A team needs to be able to engage in conflict. There should be healthy conflict around best plan of action. Without trust, this becomes mere politics. With trust, this becomes an honest search for the best options and you can find truth. We have to be able to disagree on ideas or we will the degrade into dissing people. Without conflict we don't grow anything and we don't commit.
Third: A team needs to be committed. We must hold one another accountable. We are peers holding each other accountable.
Fourth: Eventually the leader has to be ultimate arbiter. A leader who is unable to tell people where they need to grow are selfish. Those who don't hold team members accountable are called wusses withholding excellence.
Fifth: We need to focus on results. Again this includes holding people accountable. Results. Focus on collective outcomes. Team results supersede personal objectives.
Eventually it is about the health of organizations at large. We are responsible – each of us. Each one in the Church needs to let people see the love of Jesus, no matter what the reason they come to us. We must show the Love of Jesus to everybody who comes in to us.
Lucia Baez Luzondo from San Antonio gave her testimony of how God changed her life from a power seeking divorce lawyer missing the love of God in her life. Eventually, she found the Lord and used her gifts to Radio Paz.
Closing Keynote by Bishop Robert Barron. Bishop Barron’s flight to Orlando was canceled and was able to speak to the Convocation via EWTN’s live stream.
Evangelization: there is nothing more challenging but great saints love a good fight. Bishop Barron presented three challenges and three opportunities.
First challenge in our culture is the challenge of scientism (naturalism, materialism). Today’s culture reduces all knowledge to the scientific form of knowledge. It ignores that man's heart is ordered to God and if we close ourselves in we do damage to the human heart, soul. Scientism is self-refuting. You can’t prove scientifically that science is the only value. Read Intro to Christianity Benedict XVI. Central point is the universal intelligibility of nature – everything is marked by intelligibility. The world is intelligible because it is created in the creative intelligence. To evangelize is to speak of God and break through the buffered self and allow the human heart to fulfill its aspirations.
The second challenge is the culture of m'eh, the idea that there is no objective truth …that sense of “whatever”. Bishop Barron used the image of John Henry Newman. Cardinal Newman said what gives a river force and energy is firm banks. If you break the banks, the river turns into a big lazy lake. Culturally, we are floating on a big lazy lake. Whereas, Evangelization is meant to send me on Mission, which requires energy and verve. Think of scripture: Mary went in haste. Once you have encountered Jesus you have energy to go in haste. We have a mission.
The third challenge is the culture of self-invention. Nietze and and Sartre argued existence before essence. Today people argue that my freedom comes first. We get to invent who we want to b, to invent ourselves. My freedom determines the meaning of my life. Volunteerism leads to triumph of will over intellect. In other words, the world is what I want it to be. (Look at Regensburg address.) This is an obstacle to evangelization because your life is not about you. In Gallatians we hear it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. This is counters to today's culture: Truth shall set you free and there is a correlation between truth and freedom.
We have three opportunities or strategies to deal with these challenges:
First is the True. We need to get away from dumbed-down Catholicism. Catholicism of banners and balloons. We are a smart religion. Superficial Catholicism cannot sustain a people when struggles come.
Our great figures embrace the intellectual heritage. We need a good grasp of the proof of God. The proof of God that Bishop Barron likes is the argument from contingency. Everything is contingent on other things is science. Science assumes this and looks for causes. At some point we need to come to reality that is the ultimate TO BE. God is the I am Who Am: Essence and contingency. God sustains creation as a singer sustains a song. There is a need for a new apologetics using language suited to today’s audience.
The Second Opportunity is the Good. The most powerful force for evangelization is the goodness of people: “How these Christians love one another.” They care not just for their own but for all. This is radical.
We need to go back to basics. Think Mother Teresa. Living the life of faith grabs attention of the herd. We need to recover the splendidly radical form of the Christian Life. Cardinal George asked where are the orders and movements? At times of crisis, orders movements arise. (God will raise up the saints we need when we need them…)
The third opportunity is the Beautiful. The true and good are met with resistance so maybe start with the beautiful. Show people the beauty of Catholicism. Show them the way of beauty. Paul Claudel was converted by the rose window at Notre Dame.
Dietrich Von Hildebrandt distinguished between the merely subjectively satisfying and objectively valuable. Subjectively satisfying is things we like, for example Pizza. It is a matter of take. Objectively valuable and intrinsically beautiful seizes us and stops us in our track and rearranges our subjectivity and it changes you and sends you on mission. It is like the first song that rocked your world. Not just the song you liked, but that made you different. The beautiful sends us on Mission. It reaches into your very soul and grabs you by the shoulders. There is nothing more beautiful than the dying and rising of Jesus.
The day concluded with Diocesan teams getting together to discuss and reflect on all we had heard and then concluded with a Mass sending us forth to go and make Disciples. Stay tuned.