Thirty Days to Great Abs

I once had the opportunity of meeting a professional physical trainer at a coffee and donuts gathering after Mass. Now, the irony of meeting a professional trainer at coffee and donuts was not lost on me. I did take the opportunity to ask him about his work, and I learned from him.

He told me that people come to a trainer wanting to look better. They believe they can have great abs in thirty days or rock hard muscles just by lifting the right weights in the right order. However, he explained, if they really want to improve their quality of life, they should be working on their entire core. He went on to explain the importance of the core in stabilizing the spine, pelvis, and even the shoulders and providing a foundation that supports your body’s ability to function and move.

Lesson learned: if you want a great six pack, you need to work on your core.

As Divine Providence would have it, the “core” Mission Priorities are at the heart of the archdiocesan plan to “build an evangelizing pastorate” – in other words, a healthy, growing pastorate. And they come to us as a six pack:

  1. Liturgy
  2. Welcome
  3. Encounter
  4. Accompaniment
  5. Sending
  6. Mission Support
Strengthening the Core: How We Spent our Summer Vacation

This summer vacation took members of the Department of Evangelization to a number of places, from Nova Scotia to Aruba, from Texas to Ocean City. We did re-create. But we also spent a lot of time “working” the mission priorities. How grateful we were to work alongside so many of our co-workers in the Vineyard. Here, then, is part of the way we spent our summer vacation.

Core Mission Priority One: Liturgy

“Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of her renewed self-giving.” Pope Francis

The Goal: Vibrant Liturgy

  • no effort is spared, no detail to small, to offer radical hospitality to everyone
  • the Good News is proclaimed, accessible, and understood
  • homilies are a source of conversion, renewal and growth
  • music is inspiring and participatory
  • parishioners enter into “full, conscious participation” in the Mass

This summer began with ordinations, special celebrations, and the end of the summer Catholic School’s Convocation. We also prayed at High-LI with young people from different archdiocesan pastorates and schools, at Camp GLOW with people with developmental disabilities, in Orlando with Catholic leaders from across the country who met in convocation, and in a number of pastorates across the archdiocese for planning purposes. We also prayed at our own parishes.

We pray. We ask: why do only a quarter of our people attend Mass on Sunday? Are we meeting our goal of vibrant liturgy? Do we reflect the diversity in our assembly at the liturgy? Does the assembly reflect the diversity of the community? Are we all united, of one mind and one heart in our faith and mission? We offer prayers of gratitude for our priests who celebrate liturgies, for our deacons who serve the community, for our music ministers, our lectors, and all of our liturgical ministers.

Core Mission Priority Two: Welcome

“The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast.” Pope Francis

The Goal: Belonging

  • careful discernment to ensure it’s easy to find the parish, get essential information, park, and feel expected, welcomed, prioritized, and at home
  • outsiders and those on the peripheries of the parish become the whole parish’s first priority
  • disenfranchised and strangers are sought out and welcomed
  • all feel they belong and are at home in a meaningful community through social time, activities and events that meet them where they’re at.

This summer, our team spent a lot of time welcoming people, and being welcomed. But we also took the time to learn where we fall short. We set aside a day each year to volunteer at Camp GLOW, a camp for developmentally disabled adults. We spent a portion of our afternoon at Camp GLOW with a mother whose adult daughter is developmentally disabled. We listened to her story of how people in the faith community slammed doors on her and her daughter. Through tears she told us of the times when her child was denied access to sacraments or blocked from participating in a ministry that she was perfectly capable of handling. We heard how one parish told her that her child was not allowed to enroll in religious education, and was sent to look elsewhere. And we were told that parents stop bringing their developmentally disabled children to Mass because they are not welcomed or well received.

We listened. We prayed and asked for God to open our hearts to better reach out to the disenfranchised, to those who have been marginalized, to those who feel unloved or unwelcome. And we searched our hearts for what is blocking our love reaching out to others, especially those who are “invisible” or on the periphery in any way.

Core Mission Priority Three: Encounter

“For me this word is very important. Encounter with others. Why? Because faith is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do what Jesus does: encounter others.” Pope Francis

The Goal: Conversion

  • a life-changing experience of grace and encounter with Christ is common, expected, and intentionally facilitated
  • evangelization efforts – not just catechesis and faith formation – are prioritized, especially for adults, young and otherwise
  • sharing personal faith and conversion stories, the gospel, and inviting others to church is encouraged and common
  • new people are often visible in community – and come back after their first visit

This spring and summer throughout the Archdiocese, hundreds upon hundreds of our sisters and brothers took up the work of the V Encuentro. At the heart of the Encuentro process were sisters and brothers in Christ who were discerning God’s will. Our Latino/Hispanic sisters and brothers and those who collaborate with them gave voice to their hopes and concerns. What permeated these meetings in parishes across the archdiocese was a love for the Church, and a desire for greater participation, for Encuentro – encounter – to happen. The Department of Evangelization, under the lead agency of Lia Salinas, Director of Hispanic Ministry, hosted a gathering at Loyola University of Baltimore where over 1,300 people came together to deepen their understanding of Encuentro, and to celebrate their Catholic faith and their parishes.

Core Mission Priority Four: Accompaniment

“The Church will have to initiate everyone—priests, religious and laity—into this “art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life.” Pope Francis

The Goal: Spiritual Growth

  • a growing number of adults are active in faith formation and engaged in service
  • ongoing conversion is experienced and shared
  • the domestic church is sustained and enriched and becomes a source of new vocations
  • young people remain engaged in the parish and experience their own personal conversions

This summer, accompaniment took on many different forms. About a year ago we re-imagined how marriage preparation could work in the Archdiocese. We wanted marriage preparation to be a strong moment of evangelization.

Just imagine: a couple in their early thirties. They come to the parish where she grew up. He was never really “into” church. They want to get married, because even though she has been away from the church since college, this home church is the only one she ever knew. The person charged with welcoming this couple into a community says, “We are glad to walk with you, to accompany you as you grow in your love for God and for one another.” And then they are invited to choose a couple in the parish to be their sponsor couple. Together, these couples attend Mass, get together to talk about married life, and are part of a process that is called “Witness to Love.”

Part of this process is attending a daylong session of prayer, talks, and beautiful reflections on married life that blends couples that are dating, engaged or married. That daylong session is called “Given: Unveiling the Mystery of Marriage,” and is a great source for strengthening and deepening relationships. Couples have an opportunity to grow in their faith, their love for the church, and increase their willingness to stay in the parish because they know other people there. This is a marriage preparation process that is being piloted in our parishes. There was a great session of Given this summer and there are more to come.

We saw accompaniment in so many ways.  Vacation Bible Schools are getting more and more elaborate as our children are singing, praying, creating, and learning about their faith. What is really amazing is the number of youth who show up faithfully and animate these Vacation Bible Schools. Some minister in programs that helped to form them, others come along just because there is a need they can fill. They minister to our youngest members, working side by side – accompanied – by adults who guide and share faith with them.

Another form of accompaniment is our prison ministry. Summers are hot in prisons. They even have laws about just how hot they are allowed to be. Despite some very difficult situations, prison ministry is there, leading prayer services, bible studies, and faith sharing. Prison ministry is there accompanying people, listening to their stories, and encouraging them to take the next step in faith. Summertime is a challenging but beautiful time for prison ministries.

Our High-LI, our High School Leadership Institute has been around for over 1200 years. Okay, maybe not quite that long. But what is fascinating is that today’s participants include children of former participants. We have parents who served as staff, and now their adult children are of age to serve on staff.

This summer we became acutely aware of how lives are impacted by High-LI, and how accompanying someone in the faith produces great fruit. Brian Johnson was one of the first High-LI participants. He was accompanied and grew in grace and wisdom. He became a youth minister in Baltimore. He then went on to direct youth ministry in Galveston-Houston. He was respected nationally for his work in youth ministry. Brian went home to the Lord, and we were able to prepare a wonderful homecoming for him.

Another summer highlight:  1000 young adults attended the World Youth Day reunion in Washington, DC.  Our Baltimore office played a role in making that great event happen.  CatholicPhilly.com covered the event and reported that “Vicente Garcia, a recent college graduate from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, traveled to World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, last year and was excited to attend World Youth Day Unite as a reunion.

During World Youth Day, Garcia said he got to experience “the beauty of the church and the universality of it” through being united with people of different cultures, and “people I don’t even know, yet we’re united in Christ.” He hoped the daylong event would be a continuation of that experience.”

Great things happen when disciples walk with other disciples.  Ask the two guys on the road to Emmaus!

Core Mission Priority Five: Sending

“To be evangelizers of souls, we need to develop a spiritual taste for being close to people’s lives and to discover that this is itself a source of greater joy. Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people. When we stand before Jesus crucified, we see the depth of his love which exalts and sustains us, but at the same time, unless we are blind, we begin to realize that Jesus’ gaze, burning with love, expands to embrace all his people. We realize once more that he wants to make use of us to draw closer to his beloved people. He takes us from the midst of his people and he sends us to his people; without this sense of belonging we cannot understand our deepest identity.” Pope Francis

The Goal: Disciple Making

  • spiritual friendships are formed and parishioners evangelize and invite family, friends, colleagues
  • priestly vocations are promoted, supported, and increasing
  • families are equipped and empowered as missionary disciples and evangelize other families
  • the vulnerable, grieving and neglected are sought out and receive care
  • the poor are sought out, prioritized, welcomes, and served

There are so many ways we could talk about being “sent.” We will talk about one. The number of work camps and the plethora of justice and service activities throughout the archdiocese is amazing. People went as far away as different countries in Africa. They went to Jamaica and Haiti, Baltimore and Appalachia. They worked with Native American children in New Mexico and aging adults in Pennsylvania. And we could go on.

There is beauty in being sent. The beauty is in the encounter with God, the accompaniment of another, the setting in the community of faith. There is beauty in being spent in ways you never dreamed with your body aching after a day’s labor, and yet having never felt so good. There’s beauty in the youth minister who sees his young people “getting it” for the first time, making the connection between faith in Jesus Christ and the action that requires. And then, there is beauty in the trip home. Coming back to the parishes we know and love, come back to hot showers and comfortable beds. Coming back to the familiar, and yet being forever changed.

T. S. Eliot said it well:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Core Mission Priority Six: Mission Support

“An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be. It is familiar with patient expectation and apostolic endurance. Evangelization consists mostly of patience and disregard for constraints of time. Faithful to the Lord’s gift, it also bears fruit.” Pope Francis

When we have great mission support, a strong trust in the Providence of God, and great effort on our part, we produce great fruit. At First Fruits, across from the Monsignor O’Dwyer Retreat House, St. Stephen’s Bradshaw took a group to harvest tomatoes. Those tomatoes will go toward feeding the hungry. And it is all made possible by the mission support that is provided in large part by our parishes. Our work camps are made possible by people who sponsor food, tools, paint, wood, and other supplies.

Mission support was provided by CRS that enabled us to assemble partners who paid to help pack tens of thousands of meals for Burkina Faso. It was provided by the Knights of Columbus who are always so generous to Camp GLOW.

We are grateful to all who provide the financial, administrative, philanthropic, and logistical support that allows us to evangelize, catechize, and make missionary disciples.

Conclusion

It was a great summer for us in the Department of Evangelization. We are all grateful for those who walked with us or invited us to walk with you. Together, we worked the core: the abs will follow. We are grateful to all who provide the financial, administrative, philanthropic, and logistical support that allows us to evangelize, catechize, and make missionary disciples.

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