Missionary Discipleship and the Emanation of Joy

We often feel the joy that comes from serving our church in the mission of evangelization in our given vocation and as leaders. However, are we aware of the joy that we have shared when we do this beautiful work? Read more

Holy Week: Hispanic Traditions as Ways of Evangelization

In Latin America and Spain Holy week is lived intensely. Hispanics celebrate the passion of the Lord with colorful images and with signs that represent their culture, this ‘religiosidad popular’ is what helps the community accompany the Lord on his way to the cross. Read more

Essential Pieces of the Pastorate Puzzle

It seems these days that every time we open a magazine or read an online article there is more bad news about Catholics leaving the Church. Last week, the Catholic News Agency reported the results of a CARA study about why young people leave the Church. Of the 214 former Catholics interviewed for the study, the median age at which they said they had decided to leave was 13; overall, seventy-four percent had decided to leave between the ages of 10 and 20.

The natural follow-up question to: “Why do people leave the Church?” is: “What can we do about it?”

Thankfully, we do have resources that show how parishes today have overcome what seems like an overwhelming challenge.

Two key resources come to mind: The Amazing Parish and Parish Catalyst. Both of them have studied parishes across the country and identified the hallmarks of vibrant, thriving, evangelizing parishes. It’s no surprise that they both found some of the same hallmarks.

In addition to a “Sunday experience” focused on “hymns, homilies, and hospitality” (or “music, message, and ministries”), The Amazing Parish identifies three essential building blocks for a parish to become “amazing”:

  1. A Reliance on Prayer and the Sacraments
  2. A Commitment to a Healthy Organization
  3. A Passion for Evangelization and Discipleship

Likewise, Parish Catalyst has amassed a treasure trove of information on best practices of “great Catholic parishes,” descriptions of which can be found in the book Great Catholic Parishes: How Four Essential Practices Make Them Thrive, by Parish Catalyst founder, Bill Simon, Jr. From these interviews they identified four essential practices of “great Catholic parishes.” These are:

  1. Great Parishes Share Leadership
  2. Great Parishes Foster Spiritual Maturity and a Plan for Discipleship
  3. Great Parishes Excel on Sundays
  4. Great Parishes Evangelize

Notice any similarities?

Of course, these things don’t just happen without deep prayer and thought, hard work, and tough decisions. They also don’t happen overnight.

Pope Francis wrote in The Joy of the Gospel that “if a parish proves capable of self-renewal and adaptivity, it continues to be the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters.” Here we find at least one answer to the question of what to do about the latest religious trends: if we want the Church to continue to be relevant in our communities, it must be open to change and be able to respond to the demands of the times.

There are excellent programs that focus on personal conversion to Christ as the first step to a parish full of missionary disciples. (For example, ACTS, Alpha, Christ Renews His Parish, ChristLife, and Dynamic Catholic.) But only if we keep focused on all the elements that contribute to long-term, sustained parish vibrancy will these programs be truly transformative. Looking at the daunting statistics on religion today, and reading the stories of parishes where missionary discipleship is thriving, we realize that it’s essential to be intentional and strategic about engaging in this call if we are to be successful. This is a foundational premise of Archbishop Lori’s Be Missionary Disciples planning initiative.

If you need a little inspiration or information to dig deeper into best practices for missionary discipleship, I encourage you to register for the upcoming Mid-Atlantic Congress, being held in Baltimore February 15-17. There will be many outstanding speakers and lots of fabulous resources available to help you. Additionally, the Rebuilt Conference is happening April 16-17 in Timonium. Those who can travel further afield can take advantage of the Amazing Parish conference in Dallas, TX April 25-27 or the Divine Renovation conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia June 11-12.

Christ is Born! A Happy, Holy, Grace-Filled Christmas to All!

Dear friends,

From all of us in the Department of Evangelization, we wish you and your families a very happy, holy, and grace-filled Christmas!

As we gather with families and friends to celebrate this great feast of our Lord’s birth, let’s be mindful of those who do not enjoy those same blessings and let’s share the joy of the Gospel with all we encounter.

With gratitude and prayers,

John, Monica, Pat, Craig, Edward, Julie Grace, Johanna, Stacy, Deacon Presberry, Mike, Chris, Karen, Sarah, Chris Duck, Natasha, John Fredy, Angelus, Ruth, Rosanne, Deacon Bill, Lia, Ligia

The Missionary Magic of the Season

It seems that every year, before the Thanksgiving turkey is fully digested, we are suddenly surrounded by the music, decorations, and sentiments of Christmas. Along the way, almost every advertiser taps into the “magical” quality of the holiday season and encourages us to do one thing: buy stuff.

And my inner curmudgeon always responds with a big “Bah humbug!”

What gives all these corporations the right to reduce this holy season to nothing more than an annual sales strategy? To eclipse Advent with endless Christmas ads? And then to cut off our 12-day celebration of the real Christmas season right when it’s getting started?

But then I have to admit: complaining about the commercialization of Christmas never helped much with our mission to make disciples. As with all things, our call is always to let our “missionary impulse” transform how we live out the Christmas holiday season.

On the one hand, we know that Christmas does not begin right after Thanksgiving. We know that Advent has only just begun. We take this time to prepare for the coming of Christ to the stable in Bethlehem and for his return in glory at the end of time. We know that Christmas without Advent is like Easter without Lent: it loses its true meaning and spiritual fruitfulness. We know this, and we can live this out in many ways in our families and parishes and schools, as many of us do.

But on the other hand, many of our brothers and sisters only know a commercialized version of Christmas … and yet they still love it. There exists a profound, purely human attraction to this Christian holiday – this “holy day” – an attraction to a uniquely “magical” time of the year, set apart from the every day struggles and routines. This attraction is one more proof that we all yearn for something that gives our lives meaning and transcendent value, something that can only be expressed in special music, decorations, feasting, traditions, rituals, and gatherings. And this is where we see an opportunity for evangelization.

Whenever we have the chance, we should simply offer them what every human heart desires: to be known, loved, and forgiven. In a word, we should offer them an encounter with Jesus Christ. We can invite them into God’s family, where we know that the “magic” of Christmas is not an empty sentiment used to sell things: it’s the atmosphere of a mysterious love story between God and his people, a story that happens to be true and have a very happy ending.

There are so many ways we can do this at Christmas. Just one example: all of the more active parishioners in one parish decided that they would stop complaining about the crowds at Christmas who sat in their front pews. Instead, they chose to do two things: first, to sit in a hall nearby and participate via live video so those who only came for Christmas could have the best seats; and second, to volunteer for all kinds of hospitality ministries to make everyone feel welcome and at home. In this way they were able to share their joy with those seeking the true meaning of Christmas and thus made their own joy “complete.”

What might you be able to do in your parish to share the joy of knowing Jesus Christ with others this Christmas?

Building a Culture of Life: It’s Essential to Who We Are

Five things you can (and should) do during Respect Life Month: Read more

Do What You Can With What You Have

Recently, I had the opportunity to join missionary leaders from across the country at the Missio Convocation hosted by the Pontifical Missions Society of America. These leaders came from a wide variety of backgrounds including Focus Missionaries, men and women religious, parish and diocesan leaders, many from Hispanic communities, as well as those who have served in long-term volunteer experiences around the world. We discussed the realities of today that seem to revolve around social media and technology raising awareness of issues across the globe, the art of busyness and being over committed, as well as the difficulties of simply making authentic friends. We listened to each other’s thoughts on how we can work within these parameters of life and bring the Joy of the Gospel to those around us. The struggles of parish life, church systems and structures, and personalities in leadership are very real and often get in the way of active participation from parishioners. Naming these realities brought focus to our conversation.

While a number of the participants had participated in oversees mission opportunities both long and short term, I have not had this experience and wondered where I stand in this mix of missionary action. Though I have worked with high school students rebuilding homes, fixing stairs, and cleaning yards, I never quite considered that ‘missionary’ work. I might have been on mission to get a job done but I would not consider myself a missionary.  However as I wrestled with this, the thought kept coming to me that being a missionary does not necessarily mean going to a poor far away country or a rough and tumble ghetto in another state. If that is true, then, what does it really mean to be a “missionary” and to live with a “missionary heart?”

As I reflect on situations and circumstances that God had placed before me I notice that quite often I may dip a toe into being missionary but my courage lacks conviction and I fail to go all the way. While I might offer a beggar on the street corner a bottle of water, I will not engage them in conversation or ask them their name even though I see them every day.

It was not until conversations at the Missio Convocation that I realized I was missing the mark in these everyday encounters with others. It brought to mind remarks that Bishop Brennan had once shared at a meeting about connecting with people in a practical missionary way. He reminded us to pray for them, fast once a week for them, offer up something that is a sacrifice or our personal suffering for them, and ask the Lord for a “desire and the courage to speak to them simply” about our personal journey of faith. “Speak to them simply” – this continues to sit on my heart as together we work as an Archdiocese to build Missionary Disciples. We do not have to have grand experiences in other countries or faith stories worthy of keynoting a large gathering. We are called to speak simply. We are called to use the experiences that God has offered to us as a way to connect others to Him.

As my time at the Mission Convocation came to an end, my small group of Lay Ecclesial Ministers from around the country concluded that we must equip ourselves in prayer to do what we can with what we have and share that with others joyfully. This simple but effective approach was embodied just days later by Sr. Margaret Ann from Miami-Dade county who got out her chain saw and started cutting up the debris blocking the street after Hurricane Irma came barreling through. She did not wait for emergency crews. She just grabbed that chain saw from the school where she is the principal and did with she could with what she had.

With a missionary heart, go and do what you can with what you have. That’s all the Holy Spirit needs to transform the world.

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. Read more

Locusts & Wild Honey and the Life of the Parish

Last week, Deacon Presberry wrote about how “Church isn’t out for summer”. It does have seasons – liturgical seasons. And just like we gear up for sprinklers and strawberries in the summer and snow shovels and hot cocoa in the winter, we can prepare for the Church seasons of fasting and feasting through intentional liturgical living.

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Getting From the Car to the Door

40 million adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder. Thirty percent do not even know they have a disorder or do not seek help for anxiety. Read more

Once Upon a Time

Everyone loves a good story and we share them all the time. We talk about our kids, grand kids, family, and friends, but how often do we share stories about our relationship with Christ? Read more

When the Bell Tolls

On hearing the signal… the monk will immediately set aside what he has in hand and go with utmost speed… Indeed, nothing is to be preferred to the work of God. (Chapter 43, The Rule of St. Benedict)
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