Monday, September 12, 2016

Evangelization On The Boston University Campus: To Be Loved and To Love

Trip To Into Quincy Market and the North End
First Week at the Boston University Catholic Center is packed with various events intended to welcome new students to our community. Even after completing my fourth "First Week," I am still greatly impressed by how the Catholic Center community has a knack for evangelizing and organizing. The students who come here are busy. They belong to clubs, frats, sports teams. They are taking demanding courses and working jobs.  In the midst of all of this, they still manage to have a solid life of prayer and devotion to the sacraments, intentionally reach out to others in evangelization efforts, and form friendships with depth. It's really impressive. They are the ones who organize all of the events.
Trivia Night

There is one event from this First Week that stands out for me. Firstly, let me provide some background. Sometimes, if I feel like the congregation at Mass is getting a bit sluggish in its responses, I may mention during the homily or at the end of Mass, something to this effect: "Sometimes, when I am offering Mass, I wonder if someone came up the steps of the church and looked in what would their reaction be?  If they see a bunch of people standing there with blank stares, not singing, looking bored and disengaged, they might conclude, 'All of these people are being held hostage. I better get out of here before I am captured too.' On the other hand, if they see people totally engaged, singing, prayerful, and joyful, perhaps they will think, 'I want to stay here.'"

Opening Barbecue
This past Sunday, the congregation was doing okay with its spoken responses and there was a good feel about things. The church (perhaps because it is still the beginning of the year) was filled more than usual. But, during the homily I gave my little speech about singing etc, trying to be humorous about it, but trying to make the point too. What I didn't know at the time was that what I had said was actually happening at that very moment.

After Mass was over, we had a pancake breakfast at the Catholic Center. At the breakfast, one of our FOCUS Missionaries introduced me to a young man from another country. He is new to
Sunday Pancake Breakfast
Grad School at BU. The Missionary happened to be sitting next to him at Mass. When it came time for the Sign of Peace, she turned to him and he said, "I don't know what I should do now. I'm new here." She welcomed him, helped him, and after Mass invited him to our breakfast.  When I met him he said, "I looked into the church, saw all of those people, and heard the beautiful music and I thought, 'I want to belong to this people.'"  This totally made my day. There are so many levels why this makes me happy.

The people who sing at Mass in the choir, who show up for a rehearsal when they're tired, who give of themselves etc, it's not about them. It's about this young man who heard something beautiful and was moved by it. When people show up for Sunday Mass, it isn't just about them. It's about someone looking in the back of a church and seeing a huge crowd of young people and thinking, "This looks interesting." Who knows? Maybe if a good portion of those young people had decided to skip Mass this Sunday or to look bored and disengaged, that young man may have looked in and said, "I don't want to belong to this group." When we go to Mass, we go not only for ourselves, but for others. When we sing at Mass, we sing not only for ourselves, but for God and for others. The people who made breakfast, set up tables, cleaned up afterwards . . . they were all helping someone to feel drawn into a communion of life.

That FOCUS Missionary was a friendly face. She welcomed a new person. She didn't know that a new person was going to sit next to her. But, when he did, she made him feel welcome. The other FOCUS Missionary who gave him a tour of our building, made this new person feel welcomed. When they gave this man a tour of our chapel, he asked them to teach him how to genuflect and how to make the Sign of the Cross. This is so awesome. He's not baptized and knows nothing about Catholicism, but was moved by what he witnessed in others. 

Before we can invite others to be part of something, we first actually have to possess something. We cannot focus on inviting others if we are not already part of something that moves us, inspires us, and gives us new life. Techniques can be helpful, but they cannot replace authenticity. At the very foundation of evangelization is a fidelity to an encounter that moves me. Without this, we can sound like we are selling a product that we really don't believe in. But, when we believe it and are moved by  our life together in Christ, we are moved to share that joy with others. It is then that techniques can be helpful. But no technique can replace true communion.

Another thing I've learned at the Catholic Center during the past three years is that nothing is better than a personal invitation. We can use social media, bulletins, and apps, and all of these can be beneficial, but the most effective method is that of personal invitation. We can use the media to assist us in our mission, but nothing can replace person to person invitations. We often will ask people, "How did you find the Catholic Center?" or "Why did you come on this retreat?"  More often than not, the answer is, "So and so invited me."

I hope some day someone will ask a man, "Why did you become Catholic?" and he will answer, "I heard this beautiful music from inside a church. I looked in, saw all of these young people praying and singing. Then someone invited me to a breakfast and everyone was so joyful to meet me. That's why I became a Catholic."

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