Monday, September 30, 2013

Encounter, Encounter, Encounter

During the past months, any number of comparisons have been made between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.  I suppose this is natural.  But, it seems very little has been made about what I think would be the most obvious similarity between the teaching of both pontiffs.  Repeatedly, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have emphasized that Christianity must be the result of and the proclamation of a true encounter with Jesus Christ.
In the media, significant emphasis has been placed upon stylistic differences between the two men and in speculation concerning external matters of governance, but this stuff is truly uninteresting.  But, it is safe.  Pope Francis says in an interview that we shouldn't focus exclusively on a few moral issues.  As a result, everybody talks about . . . a few moral issues! Pundits and those who oppose Catholic moral teachings immediately tried to turn what the Pope said into a sensationalized fairy tale that the Pope was changing the moral teachings of the Church.  In response to this, faithful Catholics allowed themselves to get dragged into these conversations.  In part, I think we do this because it is safer and more comfortable to debate moral issues, internal Church politics, and stylistic differences than it is to say, "Jesus is Lord."

But, Pope Francis and his predecessor have been speaking the language of "encounter."  They want to lead Catholics to live from a profound encounter with the person of Jesus Christ and to draw others
into this profound encounter.  They are calling us to be instruments of the encounter with Christ.  This is at the heart of making disciples.  But, it is safer to speak about whether the Pope is going to make monsignors than it is to live the encounter with Christ and share the joy of the encounter.

Among the things that have really struck me about the young people whom I've encountered at the Newman House Catholic Center at Boston University is their attachment to the encounter with Christ.  When I was their age, although a faithful Catholic, I was more interested in winning debates than winning souls!  Debating moral issues was on the same level as debating whether we should have designated hitters or not.  The goal really was not to win somebody to Christ, but rather to decimate their argument.  This is not the case with those whom I meet here.  They see Christianity not firstly as a "moral code," but rather as an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ.  When they engage others in conversations, they want to share the joy of this encounter.  This does not make them weak on defending the teachings of the Church.  Instead, it makes them more convincing.  They are not reduced to being merely guards of a moral code.  Instead, they are witnesses to a living friendship with Jesus Christ.  Certainly, the moral teachings of the Church need to be defended and promoted, but sometimes (like I did when I was young), these moral teachings detached from a friendship with Christ appear to many as pure ideology.  But, when we see someone living the joy of the encounter with Christ, this is truly attractive!  

Pope Francis, like his predecessor, is not calling for our surrender on moral issues.  Instead, he is calling us to do the one thing that will be most effective in evangelizing the culture: Living and proclaiming the encounter with Christ.  It is the encounter with Christ that changes everything.  It is the encounter with Christ that transforms sinners into saints.  It is the encounter with Christ that changes hearts.  It is the encounter with Christ that brings new life.  It is the encounter with Christ that mends the broken, heals the sick, and casts out the demons.  It is the encounter with Christ that enables those who were dead to become alive again.  Really, the only thing that the Church has to offer the world is Christ.  Pope Francis reminded us recently that the encounter with Christ happens in and through the Church.  Instead of a calling us to surrender, Pope Francis (like Pope Benedict) is calling us to take up again our most effective tool . . . the joy of the encounter with Christ.

I am grateful to find myself surrounded by young people who have encountered Christ and are living the joy of that encounter.

"Many people perceive Christianity as something institutional -- rather than as an encounter with Christ -- which explains why they don't see it as a source of joy." Pope Benedict XVI

"The Church is not an association that wishes to promote a certain cause. It is not about a cause. It is about the person of Jesus Christ." Pope Benedict XVI

"The evangelization of the person and of human communities depends totally on this encounter with Jesus Christ." Pope Benedict XVI

"Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Pope Benedict XVI

"For each one of you, as for the apostles, the encounter with the divine Teacher who calls you friends may be the beginning of an extraordinary venture: that of becoming apostles among your contemporaries to lead them to live their own experience of friendship with God, made Man, with God who has made himself my friend." Pope Benedict XVI

“The challenge is to rediscover, through the means of social communication as well as by personal contact, the beauty that is at the heart of our existence and our journey, the beauty of faith and of the encounter with Christ." Pope Francis

"We must always have the courage and the joy of proposing, with respect, an encounter with Christ, and being heralds of his Gospel. Jesus came amongst us to show us the way of salvation and he entrusted to us the mission to make it known to all to the ends of the earth." Pope Francis

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

At the Heart of the New Evangelization

Our Ultimate Frisbee Event (My team WON)
In the chapel of the Catholic Center at Boston University there hangs a portrait of Blessed John Paul II.  The students here have a devotion to him and have asked him to be our patron this year.  It was really Blessed John Paul II who led the Church into the New Evangelization.  In my post today, I would like to convince you to become a supporter of the Newman House Catholic Center at Boston University.  To be a supporter of this amazing place is to be a supporter of the New Evangelization.

Let me tell you what I have witnessed since arriving here a short time ago:

Typically, I hear several confessions a day.  The young people here are sincere in their desire to seek out the Lord Jesus in His Mercy.

In our small chapel each day, there are somewhere between 20 and 30 young people who come for daily Mass.  They pray the Rosary before time.  Others come for Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer.  We pray the Angelus together before Mass begins.

On Monday nights, the chapel is filled with young people adoring the Eucharist and worshipping in heartfelt song.  There's always somebody stopping in to the chapel to pray.  And, these young people know how to pray.  They have a beautiful relationship with Christ.

On Tuesday nights, there is praise and worship, a formational talk on some particular topic, and a witness by one of the students.  Then, there is time for the students to discuss the issues raised.  Before the evening begins, there is a spaghetti dinner for any students who want to come.

On Wednesday nights, the Grad group meets for a formational evening.

There is an RCIA that meets on Sundays for those wanting to become Catholic.

Also on Sundays, a Men's Group meets and a Women's Group meet.

The FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) Missionaries run Bible Studies for groups of students at various times all over the campus.

There are numerous committees (made up of students) who keep the whole place running.  They work effectively and efficiently to keep us on mission and to keep us "out in mission."  These kids are really amazing.  They have an incredible sense of responsibility for the mission of the Catholic Center and they are totally dedicated to being witnesses of Christ's love to others.  They know how to serve.

We have two interns.  These two graduates of Boston University work tirelessly for the Catholic Center and keep all of the programs operating.  They fundraise their own salaries.  They do this because they are grateful for what they received from the Newman House Catholic Center at Boston University when they were students.  They oversee all of our programming and keep all of the committees on task.

We have four FOCUS Missionaries.  They are all college graduates who have chosen to give a few years of their life in order to be missionaries at various universities.  They help students to grow in discipleship of Jesus Christ.  They too fundraise their own salaries.  They work hard and are constantly meeting with students, attending events, and bringing Christ's love to others.

We have an Office Manager who is completely dedicated to the young people here.  She never stops.  She keeps the whole place running and does way more than we could ever reasonably expect of someone.  

We have a music minister who, like the Office Manager, does way more than we could ever expect him to do.  The music here is rooted in a deep love of Christ.

There are retreats, days of prayer, and service projects.  Again and again, I have heard from graduates and students that the Catholic Center has been there home away from home.  From morning until night, there are young people here, eating our food, studying in our rooms, sleeping on our couches, and hanging out together.  There are guys watching the football game together, playing intramural sports together, and arguing baseball trivia. The formation that these students have received is clearly evident.  Their charity is obvious.  They have a profound love for one another and welcome the newcomer with joy.  

There's no agenda, ideology, bitterness, or anger among these kids.  They simply want to share Christ's love with everyone.

There is a great sense of true communion among them.  They love one another.  It is really quite beautiful.  They're not looking to impose their beliefs on anyone.  They are joyful in proposing Christ and His way of life.  They want people to discover the joy of the Christian life and want to share with them the joy of living in Christ's love.

The Catholic Center is a place where vocations to the priesthood and the religious life are considered as real possibilities and many vocations have come from here in the past few years.

On Sundays, it is beautiful to see hundreds of young people joyfully participating in the Mass.  Before Mass, I am often asked if I have time to hear a confession.  

Seriously, this place is a true outpost of the New Evangelization.  These kids are on fire for Christ and seeing them is so encouraging.  To support this place is to support the future of the Church in the United States.  I can guarantee you that if you support this place, your money is going to amazing things and to an awesome mission.  I can say that without an ounce of hesitation.  A donation here is a donation directly to the New Evangelization.

In the past week, we have made it possible for people to donate to the Newman House Catholic Center at Boston University through a system known as "ParishPay."  This method of electronic giving makes it possible for people to donate a set amount once a month or to make a one time donation.  I'm hoping to build up our finances so that we can continue and grow our mission.

The first three people who signed up were a former parishioner of mine, a graduate student, and an undergraduate student.  I would like to add many more contributors.  I would like alumni, parents, students, friends, and family to consider being a supporter of this center of the New Evangelization.  Worried that your money goes to things you don't want to support?  A donation here is a donation to help people encounter the love of Jesus Christ.

It would be a huge help to this community if students, parents, friends, family, and people who want to support the New Evangelization could designate us as one of the places you choose to support.  Unlike most parishes, our congregation consists of all young people!  While this is awesome, not too many of our students are making big money!  So, our collection is small.  But, my hope is that even our students will sign up for ParishPay so that we can prove to others how much we all value this place and our mission.

If you think you might be willing to support us and our mission, I ask you to go to the following link, click where it says, "ParishPay," and follow the easy instructions. Please visit the donation page on our website.  It is so easy that even I can do it.

This place is really awesome and is the New Evangelization at its best. Think about being part of this community.

Your Brother in Christ,

Fr. David Barnes

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The New Evangelization: What a Mess

Every Tuesday night at the Newman House Catholic Center at Boston University, there is an event that includes worship and praise music and discussion of some particular topic.  The evening is planned and presented by the students.  Last night's topic was, "Keeping Catholic in College."  For me, the most moving part of the evening was hearing the testimony of one young man whom I have known for only a couple of weeks.  In the course of his testimony, he shared just how grateful he was for the Catholic Community here.  He said, "I never thought when I left home and came to college, that I would go back home my first summer and tell everyone that the best part of college has been my life at the Catholic Center."  His talk was humorous, sincere, and profoundly human.  Most of all, it was real.  I was touched by his sincerity and his courage.

Since I am new in this community, I can claim no credit for all of the positive things that I see happening around me.  They are clearly the fruit of many years of dedicated work by other chaplains, staff, and students.   Witnessing these beautiful things causes me, not only to be grateful, but also to point them out so that all of us can learn from them.  Let me tell you what I see here.

The young people here are human.  They are interested in sports, science, video games, music, arts, politics, and dating.  They are funny and enjoy a good laugh.  They crack me up.  They are real.  They are also on fire in their love for Christ.  They talk about their faith, witness to their faith, and live their faith.  They come to daily Mass.  They come to confessions.  They pray together.  They are filled with enthusiasm for spreading the Gospel.  Although they're busy with school work and other activities, they dedicate themselves to the life of the Catholic Community and take responsibility for the community.  

During World Youth Day, Pope Francis told young people to go back to their dioceses and "make a mess."  This is precisely what we need.  We need young people like this who are not tied down by the bureaucratic structures, ideological agendas, and lukewarm faith that has become the hallmark of so much of the ecclesial life of so many dioceses.  The status quo has not been effective and a more organized version of the status quo won't work either.  Shaking things up or, in the pope's words, "making a mess" doesn't mean establishing a new bureaucratic stranglehold on the Faith to replace the old bureaucratic stranglehold.  It doesn't mean ushering in a new ideology to replace the failed ideologies advanced by so many who previously and currently influence decisions in the Church.  

A new ideology is not the answer.  A new cadre in power is not the answer.  A new bureaucratic structure is not the answer.  These things are not the answer because ideologies, power, and bureaucracy are not the tools of evangelization.  It doesn't matter who is influencing the shots, whose agenda is being advanced, or whether we call it the "Committee for the New Evangelization" or the "The New Evangelization Committee."  These types of changes are merely a new version of the old product.  No, this is not the type of mess for which the pope is calling.

The young people to whom I have been assigned are passionate about their Faith and are passionate about sharing the Gospel with others.  They have very little worldly power.  They don't seem to want any either.  They aren't looking for ecclesiastical power, nor are they looking to advance their particular ideology on the Church as a whole.  No, they are just busily and joyfully witnessing to Christ.  They are receiving the Sacraments and are sharing with others the joy they have found in Christ.  They are filled with apostolic zeal.

The mess we need is the mess that happens when the sower went out to sow some seed.  Much of the seed that he scattered came to nought.  It was an agricultural mess.  But, where there was good soil, it grew a hundredfold.  We need a Church that is willing to make an evangelical mess.  Sometimes, because growth occurs in a way that seems contrary to a particular ideology or bureaucratic system, it meets opposition from those in power.  Wherever there is tremendous growth in the life of the Church today, it seems to be happening not as a result of restructuring and reorganizing.  It is not happening as a result of a new ideology.  It is not happening where one ideological power base ousts another ideological power base from power.  Instead, it is happening entirely outside of that way of thinking.  It is happening in the new religious orders and in the new movements.  It is happening one on one.  It is happening where Catholics are on fire with their faith and are joyfully sharing it with others.

At the Newman House Catholic Center at Boston University, there are kids going to Eucharistic Adoration, Confession, Mass, retreats, and service projects.  They are joyfully sharing their faith with others.  They love Jesus Christ and want to deepen their relationship with Him.  They are following Christ as his disciples and this discipleship makes their humanity attractive to others.

It is admittedly a bit discouraging at times to watch as ecclesial institutions seem to organize their own funeral.  The temptation is sometimes strong to think that if only we could replace one bureaucracy, ideology, or power structure with MY bureaucracy, ideology, or power structure, then everything would be better.  This, however, is why things are so broken in the life of the Church.

Instead, we need a mess.  We need the kind of mess that is caused by apostolic zeal and joy.  Such zeal and joy might sometimes cause a bit of havoc, but it is better than being dead.  I hope that the young people with whom I work heed the call of Pope Francis to make a mess in their dioceses.  I hope that they make a mess by remaining faithful to what Christ is doing among them.  If the young people here remain faithful to living the sacraments, to a life of prayer, to fidelity to the Magisterium, to their apostolic zeal in spreading the Gospel, and to their Christian joy, there is no doubt that they will make quite a mess in their dioceses.  We need this more than ever.

I am grateful to be a witness here to the New Evangelization.  It's a mess.  Thanks Be to God!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Dear (New) Friends in Christ

During my years as a pastor, I wrote a letter almost every week to my parishioners.  As I begin at Boston University, I want to write also to my new community.  I recall that oftentimes a syllabus will distinguish between "Required Reading" and "Supplemental Reading."  I suspect that maybe some "Required Reading" gets done.  I will go out on a limb and guess that the "Supplemental Reading" doesn't get too many takers.  I presume my weekly letter to students will fall somewhere right below "Supplemental Reading."  This is okay, however.  It is important for me to write the words.  Whether anyone actually reads them will just be a bonus.  The following is a short letter that I included in this week's bulletin.

Dear Friends in Christ,

Occasionally, somebody will ask me what my favorite part of being a priest is.  It is always difficult to answer that question because there are so many awesome things in the life of the priest.  But, I am particularly grateful that as a priest, I am entrusted with the care of Jesus’ sheep.  It is a privilege to shepherd the flock that Jesus loves so very much.  For thirteen years, I was the shepherd of the same parish and I truly loved it.
Since June, I've been waiting for my new flock to arrive!  Welcome!  In being your shepherd, I feel that Jesus has entrusted me with something very important.  He looks upon you and your youth with great affection and with great concern.  You are at a moment in life that is so crucial.  If you eat in good pastures and drink from pure streams at this moment in your life, the future holds out so much hope for you!  But, there is no doubt that the wolf stands off in the distance, lurking.  Because Jesus looks upon you with such an intense love, the wolf hates you all the more.  You are at a particularly vulnerable moment in your life and the wolf wants to exploit this vulnerability.  So, I feel a great sense of responsibility to be a good shepherd to you.

I want to do my part to encourage you to live this moment in your life with zeal and with fortitude.  The world needs young people like you to bear witness to the power of Christ.  The world needs to see young men and women who are fully committed to Christ and to his Gospel.  The world needs to meet young people who have encountered and been transformed by the mercy of Christ.  Christ is looking upon you and depending upon you to bring the Gospel to others.  So often, people say that you are the future of the Church, but this is not entirely accurate.  Today is the day for you!  Today, the world needs you!  Today, Christ is calling you!  Today, people are hungering and thirsting for truth, for beauty, and for goodness.  Those people need to meet Christ.

We are an important part of Christ’s flock.  Let’s do everything possible—through the sacraments, through prayer, through the Word, through our charity towards one another—to keep this flock strong and to light the world aflame with Christ’s love.

Your Brother in Christ,

Fr. David Barnes