Thursday, February 25, 2016

Lent and the Foundations of Evangelization and True Growth

Every morning before the Catholic Center at Boston University opens, one of the staff here and I pray a Holy Hour together.  At the end of that hour, our four FOCUS Missionaries arrive in order to pray their Holy Hour. It's a great way to begin the day.

A few weeks ago while I was praying, I found myself thinking that even though the BU Catholic Center already has six graduates currently studying in the seminary and one more entering in September, I'd still like for there to be more. I was thinking of the various guys who are part of our community and the likelihood of them entering seminary.  As I thought about them, I came up with reasons why each of them probably won't go to the seminary. This one has his heart set on this, this one will probably get a job doing this, this one . . . .  I recall looking at the Host in the monstrance and saying, "Lord, I'd really like for more men from here to become priests." 

It is rare in my own prayer experience to feel like the Lord clearly responds in an almost audible way. This was one of those rare times. When I told the Lord that I'd like for there to be more vocations from BU, the response was clear and immediate: "Ask Me."  

This reply should not be surprising. The Lord himself told us how it is that laborers are to be found for the harvest. "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest" (Matthew 9:38). In an age when so much of ecclesial life is focused on planning and rebuilding, we have to be on guard that we do not forget the primary posture of pastoral life is one of begging, receiving, and following. Without this posture, we set out on a fool's errand. Without this posture, attempts to evangelize fall flat or become like the seed that falls on shallow ground, springs up quickly, but then withers because of a lack of roots. 

What ails so many Catholic communities is not that they are lacking in activities, but that they are lacking in depth. They lack disciples who know how to pray, know how to beg, and know how to be moved. In our efforts to promote a new evangelization of the culture, we sometimes presume something that is not necessarily true. We presume that those whom we are trying to stir into action are themselves already living a life of intimacy with the Lord. We cannot share what we do not already possess ourselves. 

In the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus provides to us the beautiful image of the vine and the branches. He reminds us that "without me, you can do nothing." But, he also tells us, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you." Remaining in him. His word remaining in us. Asking.  This is the beginning of the New Evangelization. It begins firstly with our remaining in Christ and allowing his word to live in us. Then, we ask. This is the type of thing that we read and say, "Yeah, yeah, I know all of that. Now let's get on with doing something practical." But this is precisely the problem in so many of our Catholic communities. We skip over intimacy with Jesus. We skip over holiness and try to get to evangelization. But, without him, without remaining in him, without asking him, we can do nothing.  

I know that part of it has to do with their age, but one of the great things about being around the BU Catholic Center is that the young men and women here are starving for more intimacy with Christ. They don't evangelize because they want more numbers. They evangelize because they love Jesus Christ and want others to share in that joy. They are witnesses, not used car salesmen. They hunger to know Jesus more, to love him more, to serve him more, and to proclaim him more. 

Last week, we were all on retreat together and as an activity, we asked the students to write down what they were doing for Lent.  Afterwards, their anonymous Lenten disciplines were placed on a wall. It was truly impressive to read them. People giving up hot showers for Lent, fasting from all food on Wednesdays and Fridays, giving up pornography, giving up all liquids except water for Lent, praying a Daily Rosary, giving up coffee and using the money to help those in need etc. One person wrote, "Giving up my long distance relationship with God and spending time in prayer each morning."  The list goes on and on, but it was very moving because you see on that wall the evidence of people who want to live more closely with Jesus. This is where evangelization begins. When we grow in intimacy with Jesus, then we know that we can ask him for anything and he will give it.

During Lent, we are given the perfect season for the work of evangelization. We are given a season to grow in intimacy with the Lord through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. This intimacy is the sine qua non of all true growth in the Church. Lent is the time to remember that without Christ, we can do nothing, and with Christ, we can do all things. 

I want more priestly vocations from the BU Catholic Center. We all want more converts to the Faith. We want people who have left the faith to come back. We want sinners to be converted. We want our churches to be filled with faithful witnesses and evangelizers. The first step in seeing that happen is to deepen our union with Christ through prayer (especially the sacraments), fasting, and almsgiving. These traditional practices deepen our union with Christ and make us more humble. These practices deepen within us the realization that without Christ, we can do nothing. And through this humility and union, we are then able to do that thing which will bear the most fruit in the life of the Church: Ask Christ.

1 comment:

  1. This post inspired me to give something up for lent. Thank you.