Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Out of Solitude

It happened to me while watching TV. All it took was a commercial about going back to school and the corresponding shopping that needed to be done – pens, pencils, notebooks, folders (ok Michael, this is not 1987 here). Then it hit. “Oh my gosh, I’ve gotta start preparing for next year!”

A certain anxiety set in. My eyes widened. My heart seized in my chest. After all, there were strategic plans to be made, visions to be cast, chapters to be written, urgencies to be addressed. The last year brought a new job, a move, a new baby (still in utero), thousands of miles of travel, the beginning of a doctoral dissertation, and a whole new world of possibilities between Young Life and the Catholic Church. What would year number two bring? “Whatever it is, I better start preparing!”

Then I was reminded that “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mk 1:35). Then I remembered the silent axis around which Jesus' active ministry whirled. Then I was reminded that ministry was not something that I could manufacture through hard work but rather something discerned and received in the quiet depths of my soul. Though my anxious heart was telling me otherwise, somewhere I knew that feverish industry was not the answer. Not now at least.

The late Henri Nouwen once reflected:

Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.  Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our actions quickly become empty gestures.  The careful balance between silence and words, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community forms the basis of the Christian life and should therefore be the subject of our most personal attention.[1]

In these final weeks of summer, what is it that you really need? Do you need to spring into action and try to “get ahead” before the onslaught of school and schedules, ministry and meetings, kids and calendars start taking over? Or perhaps, just perhaps, God is calling you to slow down, find a solitary place, and ask that simple yet powerful question, "Lord, what do YOU want of me this year?" 

So stop. Listen. And embrace the still, small voice of God. Pray with me. . .

Holy One,
there is something I wanted to tell you
but there have been errands to run,
bills to pay,
arrangements to make,
meetings to attend,
friends to entertain,
washing to do . . .
and I forget what it is I wanted to say to you,
and mostly I forget what I’m about,
or why.

O God,
don’t forget me, please,
for the sake of Jesus Christ . . .

O Father in Heaven,
perhaps you’ve already heard what I wanted to tell you.
What I wanted to ask is
forgive me,
heal me,
increase my courage, please.

Renew in me a little love and faith,
and a sense of confidence,
and a vision of what it might mean
to live as though you were real,
and I mattered,
and everyone was sister and brother.

What I wanted to ask in my blundering way is
don’t give up on me,
don’t become too sad about me,
but laugh with me,
and try again with me,
and I will with you, too.

~Ted Loder Guerrillas of Grace[2]

[1] Henri J. M. Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life, Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1974, 14-15.
[2] Taken from Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008, 33-34.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pope Francis Speaks About Young Life at World Youth Day 2013

When Pope Francis, the first South American pope ever to be elected, comes to Brazil and addresses more than 3 million people at World Youth Day 2013, they listen. You may not have made the trip to Rio this year, but are you listening when the leader of the Catholic Church says this?:

We need saints without cassocks, without veils –
We need saints with jeans and tennis shoes.
We need saints that go to the movies,
that listen to music,
that hang out with their friends.

We need saints that place God in first place
ahead of succeeding in any career.
We need saints that look for time to pray every day
and who know how to be in love with purity, chastity and all good things.

We need saints – saints for the 21st century
with a spirituality appropriate to our new time.
We need saints that have a commitment to helping the poor
and to make the needed social change.

We need saints to live in the world, to sanctify the world
and to not be afraid of living in the world by their presence in it.
We need saints that drink Coca-Cola, that eat hot dogs,
that surf the Internet and listen to their iPods.

We need saints that love the Eucharist,
that are not afraid or embarrassed to eat a pizza or drink a beer with their friends.
We need saints who love the movies, dance, sports, theater.
We need saints that are open sociable normal happy companions.

We need saints who are in this world
and who know how to enjoy the best of this world
without being callous or mundane.
We need saints.

When I read this for the first time, my immediate response was. . .

Catholic Church: Let me introduce you to Young Life.
Young Life: Meet the Catholic Church.

There couldn’t be a more apt description of Young Life and its mission to kids today – normal, sociable, happy companions on the journey who are moved to leave the lucrative trappings of money and power so as to walk side by side with teenagers.  Around the globe, Young Life leaders can be found everywhere kids are, wearing jeans and tennis shoes, surfing the net, listening to their iPods and sanctifying the world of kids by saying, “You matter. You’re worth it. You’re loved.”

Following in the footsteps of Jesus, Young Life leaders enter into the world of kids, showing up at their games, their school events, their homes and their hang-outs.  And the of genius Young Life is not that they are cool. Young Life leaders are those who have placed God at the center of their lives, who couldn’t imagine life without prayer, who model the art of “living in the world without being of the world.” It is their abiding rootedness in Christ that compels them to pursue young people. It is a beautiful picture of the Incarnation, alive and well today.

Ok, I admit, Pope Francis did not explicitly mention Young Life, but his address at World Youth Day sends a clarion message. The time is ripe for a fresh impulse of collaboration between Young Life and the Catholic Church. A world of kids is waiting. The question is, “Are you ready?”

Monday, July 15, 2013

People of God

This world is God’s world.
And our great God loves the world that He made
                  and the beings He created to populate it.

The black people, the brown people,
                  the yellow and the white,
                  those with slant eyes or straight noses,
                  the rich and the poor, lowly or noble –
     They are all God’s people,
                  and His love embraces each and every one.

Not all the creatures of this world
                  are citizens of the kingdom of God.
The people who shun His redeeming love
                  cannot inhabit the city of eternal light.
They become the children of darkness.
They shall wander forever
                  through the limitless spaces of nothingness.

The sons and daughters of God are those
                  who relate to their Father and Creator,
                  who walk in obedience to His will and Word.
They shall dwell together in joy
                  and shall sing and dance
                  in perpetual celebration
                  in that beautiful city
                  beyond the boundaries and borders
                  of this present world.[1]

[1]  A reflection on Psalm 87 composed by Leslie F. Frandt, Psalms/Now, St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1973, 138.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"And the rocket's red (zzzzzz)"

Last weekend, like many around the country, we gathered with family to celebrate the 4th of July.  After a beautiful day on the water – boating, swimming, and playing around the lake – we gathered at waters edge to enjoy the fireworks display.  The scene was gorgeous - a sea of boats anchored out in the water before us, brilliant blasts of fiery color expanding across the night’s sky, and the ooooo’s and aaaaah’s of the community rejoicing in each new spectacle of light. 

Jackson, my four year old son, was on my lap at the time, curled up in a blanket on the dock.  At one moment, just before the glorious finale, he exclaimed (quite out of the blue), “This is the best.”  We all chuckled and smiled, knowing that he was right but marveling in the fact that such a young kid could recognize it.  And then, as the sky erupted with the anticipated finale of rockets and booms, I look down to find Jackson. . .

. . . fast asleep.

Just when things were heating up, right before the moment we were all waiting for, Jackson nods off (don’t they call that narcolepsy?).  As the intensity mounted, as the thrill of light and sound was just beginning to overtake him, he drifted into slumberland.  Unthinkable!

Yet, in a spiritual sense, we do it all the time.  The thrill of religious experience is universal.  Anyone who has had an encounter with the living God knows what I’m talking about.  It changes you.  It awakens you to a new reality.  It gives you new eyes to see and a new heart to love.  It moves you to forgive when you feel like retaliating.  It inspires you to give when selfishly you’d rather take.  At times, it can even urge you to sacrifice something very dear to you for the sake of another or for the greater good. 

What I’m talking about here is what the Christian tradition calls conversion, and our lives represent a continuous invitation to be drawn deeper into relationship with the God who created you in his image and longs to bring you to fulfillment according to that sacred design. 

Yet many of us, just when we think we’re on track, just when a religious experience has inspired us to a heightened level of consciousness, we fall asleep.  I’m not talking about backsliding here into sinful patterns of behavior, though this is something we’ve all experienced.  Many of us can fall asleep spiritually when we’re being the most religious.  Instead of opening ourselves to the ongoing invitation of God to challenge and renew us, we opt for all the externals of religiosity and can’t imagine what more God could ask of us.

As Richard Rohr notes:

We become religious and take on a certain kind of jargon, a certain kind of external behavior.  But conversion, which demands a great transcendence of the ego, never really happens.  I think in many cases that’s why so many people are, unfortunately but sadly true, turned off by religion and by religious people, because they don’t feel they are encountering the real!  They don’t feel, when all is said and done, that they’re encountering Christ.  They’re encountering a religious persona, a mask, a sort of stage presence we take on.[1]

We may be feverishly engaged in all kinds of religious activity, but are we open to the change God wants to enact in us?  We might be militant about our prayers and rituals, but are we really listening?  Our Christian faith maintains that the only true religious path is the one that leads us to participate in the will of God.  Jesus reminds us, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”[2]  Ablaze with all the lights and sounds of our own religious actions, we often find ourselves asleep to the transforming power of God. Perhaps its time for all of us to awake from our busy slumber, arise, and ask, with open minds and humble hearts, what God really asks of us today. 

[1]  Richard Rohr, “Will the True Self Please Stand Up?” talk given November 2, 1986.
[2]  Mt 7:21.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Personal Relationship with Jesus: An Insider's View

This guest post was written by Chris Patterson, a good friend, longstanding Young Life leader, and practicing attorney in Kansas City, MO:

Several years ago, I had a wonderful conversation with the Catholic mother of one of my Young Life kids. “I appreciate what Young Life is doing for my daughter,” she said. “The Catholic Church does a good job of helping us have a relationship with the Church. But Young Life does a good job of helping kids have a relationship with Jesus.”

As a Protestant at the time, I appreciated her words. In fact, I had a bit of an honest arrogance about how well our ministry does at helping kids personally know Jesus!  I even found her statement to be true of various Protestant denominations.  My two thoughts were: “What good is it to have a relationship with the church if you don’t have a relationship with Jesus?” and “There are a lot of Catholics and Protestants who don’t have a clue as to what it means to have a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’.”

Then I became Catholic. Things always look different from the inside. In the Catholic Church I found wonderful Christians with strong, personal relationships with Jesus. I also found some who looked confused when I mentioned the concept.

During my journey to Catholicism, I read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (BTW, if you ever want to REALLY KNOW what Catholics believe, in depth and beauty, the CCC is well worth reading). Divided into four parts, Part Four, on Prayer, begins:

"Great is the mystery of the faith!" The Church professes this mystery in the Apostles' Creed (Part One) and celebrates it in the sacramental liturgy (Part Two), so that the life of the faithful may be conformed to Christ in the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father (Part Three). This mystery, then, requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. That relationship is prayer.[1]

I was delighted! And excited!  The Catechism of the Catholic Church was telling me that Catholic stuff – what we believe, the way we worship and the life we live in Christ – MUST flow out of a living relationship with Him! Sounded pretty Young Life-ish to me!

At the same time, I saw how the Catholic Church helped me understand faith, gave me access to sacramental power to worship well, and helped me to live and love like Jesus. All of that flowed out of relationship with Jesus, but it also made a relationship with Jesus possible!  I started to understand that I needed a personal relationship with the Body as well as the Head!

Even though the Catechism clearly teaches us about relationship with God, why does the concept sometimes seem to be a well-kept secret in the Catholic Church?
The answer is complex. But, I know this: We Catholics need to learn…

1)     to talk to Catholics (kids and adults) about relationship with Christ,
2)    in language and ways that they can understand,
3)    through relationships with each other,
4)    recognizing that we need to earn the right to be heard.

Young Life does this well, and can help us learn. In doing so, we all will grow in our relationship with the Body, as well as the Head.

            [1]  CCC, 2558.