Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Being Present to Real Presence

It has been said that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life.”[1] While the doctrine of the Real Presence is a touchstone of Catholic orthodoxy, I think that if we’re not careful we can miss something critically important about our experience of Eucharist in daily life.

Franciscan priest Richard Rohr notes:

After defending and believing the Real Presence all my life, I recognize that the concept of presence is inherently and necessarily relational. Catholics can defend the Doctrine of the Real Presence all we want, and I do, but if we don’t teach the children of God how to be present to presence, there is no Real Presence.[2]

Rohr is not suggesting that Christ’s real body and blood are absent from the Eucharist. Rather he is suggesting that we are the ones who are absent from the Real Presence of Christ, that our experience of Eucharist is intimately related to our personal disposition, or, in other words, our willingness to be “present to presence.”

This idea makes it particularly exciting to share this next story. It is a story about a beautiful confluence of presence – the ministry of presence in Young Life and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This story comes from Nathan Gunn, a faithful Catholic, dear friend and Young Life colleague of mine from Syracuse, New York[3]. Nathan shares his experience of being present to the Real Presence of the Eucharist this summer at Young Life camp:

We experienced an extraordinary gift this month at Saranac Village, a Young Life camp in upstate New York.  Through the generosity of Msgr. Yeazel at Holy Cross Church, we were able to have the Eucharist available each Sunday morning for our Assignment Team, Camp Staff, Work Crew and Summer Staff.  As we put the communion service on the schedule Week 1, it seemed unlikely that many people would get up early to participate with the opportunity.  Were we ever surprised!  Folks began arriving early, just to enjoy the quiet of the club room as we waited to enjoy His presence.   The service was short and intimate - but those of us who were able to commune together were able to build quick bonds.

The mere presence of the Eucharist in camp spurred scores and scores of wonderful conversations around camp.  Walking through the bakery, down at the Outpost, in the living room of the Guide House, people were having deep conversations about the presence of Jesus in their own lives.  Several young Catholics stopped to tell me how healing the Eucharist was for them.  Enjoying the fellowship around the Presence of the Lord was incredible healing.

Each week grew a bit until our final Sunday morning during Wyldlife camp.  Since our middle school friends and their leaders were away from their parishes for camp, we offered the communion service on the schedule for campers as well.  Again, this service was optional and something that people would have needed to sacrifice in order to be present.  Our hearts were warmed when over fifty people gathered for the communion.  Our prayers together for the campers and the week ahead were inspirational.  Our reverent pause before Jesus and His Love was a personal highlight for me.  Sharing the peace with kids from multiple areas is an experience none of us are soon to forget.  We can only imagine the positive ripple effect as kids return home and tell their parents that YL had made the Eucharist available to them.

Jesus never stops surprising me.  The promise of His presence in our lives is our daily hope.  To bring the Eucharist into this setting was an experience that was not only transformative but revelatory - we promise kids Jesus, what could be better!

Nathan, wife Tammy, and two boys.

[1] Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), 11.
[2] Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still (NY: Paulist Press, 2014), 15.
[3] Nathan Gunn is a Catholic who has served the mission of Young Life for over 18 years. He currently serves as a Metro Area Director for Syracuse, NY and Regional Field Developer for the Central New York Region. He lives with his wife, Tammy, and two strapping boys in Syracuse.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What Are Catholics All About?

Sometimes when I read the vitriol of anti-Catholic (or anti-Christian) sentiment on the blogosphere, I find myself wondering, “Have they ever met an authentic, prayerful, Jesus-loving Catholic? Do they know what we’re all about?”  I wonder if they knew what we were striving for, what we have set our hearts on, they might realize that we’re a lot like them. With C.S. Lewis, they might discover that, “When all is said about the divisions of Christendom, there remains, by God’s mercy, an enormous common ground.”

This year our parish community sought to answer that very question, “What are we all about as Catholics?” What are the “majors” that we’re majoring in? What are the guiding values of our Catholic faith and family? I thought you might be interested what this Catholic parish has identified as its most defining principles:

1.     Seeking Jesus
We, the members of Saint Paul the Apostle Parish, baptized and confirmed in faith, pursue an ongoing, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  This relationship is strengthened by the Word of God, the Sacraments of the Church, and a consistent lifestyle of prayer, study and action. We love Jesus, seek the will of God in all things and rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We celebrate the Sunday Eucharist as the summit and source of our Christian journey.  We seek Jesus and embrace all of these guiding values out of our commitment to the Catholic Church and her teachings.

2.    Building Relationships
We are all about relationship. Our relationship with God guides, informs and overflows into our relationships with others. As God pursues a deep, personal relationship with us, we intentionally pursue loving relationships with those around us so that the presence of God can be known and a civilization of love can be built.

We work to build up the Body of Christ, the Church, through humble and positive interactions with others.  We know our weaknesses and thus can identify with those who are struggling.  We seek reconciliation and understanding.  We welcome constructive criticism and use it to improve ourselves and the parish community.  We seek open, honest and transparent communication, going to the proper sources when there is a question or a concern.  We are open to dialogue and seek to correct misinformation in a spirit of truth and love.

3.     Sharing the Gospel
We know the overarching story of God and can articulate that basic message of the Gospel to others.  We have reflected on our own stories of faith and actively participate in evangelization by relating our story to others in a natural and pastorally sensitive way.  Finally, we can identify how our story and God’s story intersect to advance the mission of God in the world today.

4.    Embracing Mission 
We personally embrace our call to love God, love others and make disciples.  The Church doesn’t have a mission, the Church is mission (Mt 28:18-20). This mission is evangelization. Embracing evangelization as the deepest identity of the Church, we understand that all of us are evangelists and are called to seek the lost as Jesus did. As intentional disciples of Christ, we actively participate in evangelization by helping others to know, love and serve the Lord.

5.    Praying Always
We are people of prayer. We embrace deep, personal, transformative prayer as the foundation of our life in the Spirit and our service to others in the name of Christ. We are comfortable praying for and with others. Attuned to those who are hurting or struggling, we pray for one another, for our parish community and for the world at large.
6.    Studying Faithfully 
We are committed to study and lifelong formation through exploration of the Scriptures, Sacred Tradition, and the Church’s theology, history and spirituality, to help us on our journey of discipleship.

7.    Acting for the Kingdom
We are not only people of prayer, but people of action. Our community is committed to using our gifts to share the Gospel, to make disciples, to serve the needy, to work for justice and to build up the kingdom of God.

8.    Fostering Unity
We are one body in Christ. Our community understands the importance of fostering healthy relationships within the parish community and beyond.  We realize that we are all connected and that the Gospel is intimately personal but not private. Knowing that our unity in Christ is a powerful witness to the Good News, we love one another and commit ourselves to united service to the world.

9.    Connecting to the Community
We are faithful to the Sunday (or Saturday night) gathering of the Eucharist at St. Paul the Apostle Parish realizing that God has called us to this community. We recognize the importance of our presence together and joyfully offer our gifts to advance our mission as a parish.

10. Giving Generously 
We support the parish by giving generously of our time, talent and treasure to build up the parish, the local Body of Christ.  We seek to utilize our gifts to support the life of the parish and to serve the wider needs of our community.

I'm curious about the reactions of both my Protestant and Catholic brothers and sisters. How do these foundational values stack up with yours? What happened to your heart as you read through these values? Did you find yourself feeling closer or farther away? Do you see a great unity in the essential tenants and directions? Do you sense the uniting threads of the body of Christ? I think St. Augustine said it well:

“In the essentials – unity.
In the non-essentials – liberty.
In all things – charity.”

*Many thanks to Fr. Tony Herold, our friend, priest and pastoral leader, and to my friends and colleagues at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church. I am honored to stand with you in the kingdom-building work!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How Young Life Helped Me Be a Better Catholic

I’ve known about God my whole life. I was born into a Catholic family and baptized as a baby. We went to church every weekend without question, I went to Sunday school, we prayed before meals, and we did everything Catholics are supposed to do. I was introduced to God at an early age and all throughout my childhood I definitely thought I knew who God was. When I was in second grade my mom enrolled me in Holy Family Catholic School, and I remained there until I graduated from eighth grade in 2010. It was at Holy Family that I really got the foundation for my faith.

My childhood was different than normal. I was forced to grow up quicker than most kids because when I was 5, my dad decided to leave our family. My mom protected me and my two younger siblings from most of the ugly details and raised us on her own as a single mother. Because I was so young, I didn’t know what divorce was or really understand it. I don’t remember much about my dad at all. I could probably count on one hand how many times I’ve seen him since he left, and he was a subject my family and I never really talked about.

As I got older I started to understand that my family was different, and I spent a good portion of my life trying to figure out why he left. I convinced myself it was because I wasn’t good enough, and I believed that for a long time. I put a lot of energy into trying to be good enough and trying to fit in. I tried really hard to impress people because I wanted to feel like I belonged. However, I never really opened up to anyone about why it was so important for me to fit in because I didn’t want people to see me as some broken girl or different than them. Mostly I was just trying to be normal.

During all this I was still at Holy Family, and even though I was surrounded by the faith every day, it was not a big part of my life at all. I would go to religion class and Mass all the time during the school week, and I memorized all the prayers and learned all the bible stories. Yet even with all that, it never occurred to me that God could be something more than just going to church on Sundays and memorizing prayers. I had never connected Jesus’ death to my own sins, and I didn’t have even the slightest clue to the capacity of Christ’s love for us. I realize now that while at Holy Family, I was just going through the motions of having faith without ever understanding what I was doing.

In 2012, I went to Young Life camp at Sharptop Cove. YL camp opened my eyes and made me realize that there was still so much about God I didn’t know. At YL I learned that Christ wanted to have a relationship with me, and that was something I’d never heard before. I had a hard time believing it because just as camp made me realize how great a life with God could look, it also brought up a lot of old feelings that I had tried to bottle up inside of me. Growing up I never talked about my dad and tried to brush off the subject when people brought it up. But after camp I thought about it a lot and tried to make sense of him leaving. I was wearing myself out trying to understand something that really couldn’t be understood, and I started to grow increasingly angry at my dad for leaving. I could come up with no other reason for him to leave other than he didn’t want me, and so I had to work through that before I could really get serious about my faith. The amazing relief and joy that a relationship with Christ could bring me was clouded by the feelings of anger and resentment I felt towards my own dad. I couldn’t understand how anyone, let alone God, could want me when my own dad didn’t even want me.

I didn’t become serious about my faith until March of my junior year when I went on a retreat called Chrysalis. On the second night of that retreat, I finally let go of my struggles and I gave them up to God. For the first time, I was able to feel God’s unending grace, and that feeling is indescribable. Something clicked in my brain that night and I realized that even though I don’t have an earthly father, I have a heavenly father who will always be there and who loves me more than anything, and for Him I will always be good enough. This realization was life changing, and I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I decided to fully give control of my life to Christ that night and begin a relationship with Him.

Coming home from Chrysalis I had a new outlook on life and a renewed appreciation for my Catholic faith. Chrysalis not only allowed me to experience Christ in a way that I never had before, but it also helped me better understand why I was Catholic. Growing with Christ on a personal level helped me to realize the importance of going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist. Although I came to these important realizations about my faith outside of a Catholic setting, it was through Chrysalis and Young Life that I was able to better understand why I was Catholic.

In the months following, I continued to face new struggles and still dealt with old feelings of insecurity from time to time, but it was different now because I had the love of Christ in me. I stayed involved in Young Life and continued to push myself further in my faith by becoming a Wyldlife leader during my senior year.

While I learned the “fundamentals” of my faith through going to Mass and religion class, Young Life provided me with important fellowship. I got to know Jesus on a deep, personal level and I was shown firsthand what a life with Christ looks like through my Young Life leaders.  However, I realized it was important for me to not lose sight of my Catholic roots. For this reason I also became more involved in my church by becoming a Eucharistic minister and teaching Sunday school. Looking at my faith now and reflecting on the journey I took to get where I am today, I realize that I could not have gotten this far without both Catholicism and Young Life. My faith and my beliefs continue to grow stronger each day, and because of the experiences I’ve had through Young Life, I am now surer than ever before of my Catholic identity in Christ.

*Rachel is an amazing young woman from Jasper, IN. I met her during the Young Life Catholic Adult Guest Camp at Rockbridge where she served on Work Crew. Rachel shared her testimony with our Catholic adult guests and just blew us out of the water. Her poise, joy for the Lord, and commitment to her Catholic faith is a testament to the beautiful relationship that can exist between Young Life and the Catholic Church.