Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Gift and the Giver

I am historically distracted by holidays - Advent, Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, 4th of July and Columbus Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day (which I inevitably get mixed up), Lent and Easter. I know what each celebration is supposed to be about but it is so easy to get caught up in. . . well . . . everything else! This Thanksgiving proved no different. We ate turkey and drank wine (both delicious). We watched football and played football (still sore).  We shopped and we cursed shopping (with the exception of Bass Pro Shop which was a hit all around). Yet I enter back into another week wondering if all the festivities left me, in a word, thankful? Do I find myself closer to my family, to my friends, to God?

This point was beautifully made by a 10th century mystic who was asked by one of his disciples, “If you could choose one thing from God, either great joy or great suffering, which would you choose?”  After deliberating for some time, the wise sage responded, “I would choose great suffering.”  Utterly perplexed the disciple inquired, “Why?” The humble master offered up a tender smile and said, “Because then I could be sure that my choosing was not for the gift but for the Giver.” 

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that everything boils down to one essential gift.  “The gift of God is God himself.  The ‘good things’ he gives us are himself.”[1]  With all of the accoutrements and good tidings of the holiday season, it is so easy to lose sight of the one essential thing (Lk 10:42).  I pray (and ask for your prayers) that we might remember that Jesus Christ is the great treasure and the pearl of great price. Our greatest gift informs our greatest privilege. Our greatest gift is the same as the one expressed by the Bishop of Rome, “to help foster the growth of a living relationship with him.”[2]

By the way, it is National Bavarian Cream Pie Day.

[1]             Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. I, NY: Doublday, 2007, 136-137.
[2]             Ibid, xxiv.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bridging the Gap: Church Teaching and Church Living

In the Evangelical world, the “bridge diagram” became a standard way to express the human condition, our separation from God due to sin and the reconciling (a.k.a. “bridge building”) work of Christ on the Cross.  Our sin has created a chasm between us and God tantamount to the Grand Canyon that we, no matter how we try or how “good” we are, can’t overcome.  Only Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross can bridge the gap and bring us into right relationship with God again.  This simple diagram could be explained in an elevator, written on a napkin and easily understood by young and old alike.  It typically looked something like this:

Recently another chasm has been reported and it is causing some serious headaches in the Catholic Church.  In her latest work, Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell writes, “There is a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon between the [Catholic] Church’s sophisticated theology . . . and the lived spiritual experience of the majority of our people.”[2]  In other words, the truths and teachings of the Catholic Church are fine.  Matter of fact, they are beautiful, magnificent, timeless treasures.  The problem is, somehow all that sophistication is not “trickling down” to the masses.  Most Catholics are not living into the reality of the Church’s high calling.

The result?  Weddell continues, “As long as this holds true, the theology of the laity and the Church’s teaching on evangelization will remain beautiful ideals that are, practically speaking, dead letters for the vast majority of Catholics.”[3]  Wisdom is only valuable when it is used, when it is lived.  The sophisticated truths of the Catholic tradition are not simply intellectual statues to be lauded and adored.  It is not enough that “our team” has accumulated a trove of spiritual trophies.  Christ calls every baptized Christian to a conscious human response that is deeply personal, lived daily and communally embodied.

What is the cross that the Church must carry in order to bridge this tragic gap that has developed between its teachings and its flock?  In a word – discipleship.  It is not enough to ask people to lay their lives at the foot of the Cross.  We must tell them what to pick up.  We must show them through our lives and witness what it means to follow Jesus.  God’s Incarnate Son showed us in the flesh how to live a life in tune with the Father, in step with the Spirit (Gal 5:25).  The role of Young Life leaders is not to lead kids away from the Church but to help them live into the highest ideals of Catholicism marked on them at Baptism.

“And as the Father has sent me,” Jesus said, “so I am sending you”(Jn 20:21).  Let us, as Catholics, take up the cross of discipleship and follow in the footsteps of the Savior.  The world is waiting for true bridge-builders.

[1]             If you still can’t figure it out, just ask your local Evangelical whose entire world would light up to hear you ask, “Hey, could you explain to me the bridge diagram please?” 
[2]             Sherry A. Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Press, 2012, 11.
[3]             Ibid.

Friday, November 9, 2012

What Does the Catholic Church Have To Offer Young Life?

Last week I spoke about the “ecumenical gift exchange,” the idea that God calls every member of the body of Christ to share their gifts at the common table of the world’s needs.  We need each other if we are going to provide a compelling witness to the world today.  Another way to put it is that we are “mutually impoverished” when we fail to recognize and actively partner with other members of the body.  I made the suggestion that there is a “YL-sized hole in the Catholic Church,” that the Church would be strengthened by the gifts that Young Life has to offer.  The dynamism of Young Life’s initial proclamation of the gospel to kids (the kerygma), the call to true conversion and the commitment to ongoing discipleship is precisely what the Catholic Church struggles with, according to recent research.[1] 

So it may be clear what Young Life might offer the Catholic Church in this exchange, but what do you think the Catholic Church has to offer Young Life?  This was the question posed by one of my readers who directs the office of youth ministry at a prominent metropolitan diocese in the U.S.  What do Catholics, and the long-standing religious tradition that has formed them, have to give Young Life leaders?  I could not be more excited to answer this question.  Clearly, both Young Life and the Catholic Church have something to give and receive.  By no means does Young Life see itself as the solitary antidote for the Church’s ills.  Matter of fact, I would argue that Young Life has much more to gain in the ecumenical gift exchange.

The Catholic tradition represents a veritable treasure trove of theological reflection and spiritual wisdom. Its sacramental worldview, its reconciliation of faith and reason and its commitment to justice are but a few of the gifts which our Protestant brothers and sisters would be blessed to receive and explore. Many of my Protestant friends are elated to discover the lives and teachings of Catholics who they’ve never heard of but nonetheless inspire their faith – Francis de Sales, Therese of Lisieux, Charles de Foucauld, Yves Congar, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and countless others.

Beyond its rich intellectual tradition, the Catholic Church also has an immense deposit of pastoral gifts to offer Young Life’s leaders as they pursue “every kid, everywhere.”  With over one billion Catholics worldwide, there is no bigger body of believers to welcome and support Young Life staff wherever they may find themselves. The depth of its liturgy and the intimacy of the Eucharist offers real nourishment for those who draw near. Lectio divina, the liturgy of the hours and Eucharistic adoration are incredible ways to strengthen our relationship with God and others. The Catholic Church has much to give to the mission of Young Life.

“The moment has come,” Pope John Paul II said, "for the entire body of Christ to commit to evangelization.”[2] A dynamic partnership between Young Life and the Catholic Church not only represents a significant step toward fulfilling the Great Commission, but it also has the potential to showcase the depth, beauty and sophistication of the Catholic tradition to those outside her communion. While Young Life has the potential to help reanimate the core of the Christian faith for millions of Catholics around the world, non-Catholics within Young Life might also uncover the incredible depth of spiritual wisdom and blessing as they build relationships with their Catholic friends.

Are we, as Catholics, ready to offer our gifts at the table of kids' needs?  Are we ready to enter the great ecumenical gift exchange?

[1]             See Pew Research Center, “’Nones’ on the Rise: One in Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation,” The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Oct 9, 2012; Pew Research Center, “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Feb 2008; and Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), “Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice among U.S. Catholics,” CARA, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., cara.georgetown.edu/sacraments.html (accessed October 25, 2012).
[2]             Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio (Mission of the Redeemer), 3.