Sunday, June 23, 2013

Friendship with Christ and the New Evangelization

I recently finished reading George Weigel's Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church. Weigel's thesis is that the Church throughout the world needs to adapt to the challenges facing the Church in the twenty-first century. Taking his cue from popes like Leo XIII, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, Weigel argues that the "Counter Reformation Catechetical-Devotional paradigm" will no longer work for the Church in the postmodern era. He advocates for a more evangelical method where Catholics have to be engaged, not only in their faith, but also with the society in which the Church is present, whatever the country may be. How does this come about? Weigel makes several suggestions, but the first and most prominent in the book is a personal friendship and relationship with Jesus Christ in the Church and enriching this friendship in the midst of the Sacraments (Eucharist and Penance especially).

All of this is true, especially about enriching a friendship with Christ through the Sacraments. With the help of solid preaching by priests (and deacons), speaking about the role of the Catholic in the Church and the world, catechesis that does not involve memorizing The Baltimore Catechism, and frequent reception of the Sacraments, the Catholic will come to understand how he or she is able to bring Christ into the world. 

The Catholic is one who lives in the world, but is not of the world; Catholics are pilgrims on earth, journeying their way through life back to their homeland of heaven. In his or her wake, the Catholic leaves a trail of love and charity, helping those along the way and, perhaps, carrying them along the way back to our heavenly homeland. This way through the world can be frightfully trying at times. But just as we carry others who need help along the way, so do we have help along the way; Jesus Christ. He gives us His Body and Blood for nourishment and strength. He gives us His very Self through His friendship. 

Friendship with Christ is often not grasped in the twenty-first century because there is no more sacramental view of Creation. At His Incarnation, Christ Jesus entered time and space and took on humanity in its fulness, subsequently redeeming, not only humanity, but all of Creation. This redemption shows forth more powerfully the sacramentality of God. God reveals Himself to us, not in ways that may be overtly obvious, but in the chirping of a bird, the sky on a starry night, or in the human being being fully alive. All of these beautiful images reveal God in the beauty of His Creation. It was for this Creation that the Father sent His Son into the world and revealed Himself through the beauty of humanity. 

Christ is able to relate to humanity in a truly unique way: Christ is both human and divine, making it possible for man to relate to his Savior as man and walking with Him, giving himself in friendship to Christ to share in Christ's divinity. As the water is added to the wine in the Offertory of the Mass, the priest prays: "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity." This is one of the most concise prayers in all of the Mass summing up the reason for the Father's love for us: Sending His only Son into Creation to redeem it so that we can participate in the love and divinity of the Holy Trinity. To put it another way, St. Athanasius said: "God became man so that man could become like God." 

For this transformation, or divinization, to take place, a personal relationship and friendship with Christ must take place, not only between Christ and each of His disciples, but with the Church as well. The Church is Christ, His Bride, His own flesh and blood here on earth. The relationship between Christ and His Church is mirrored in the Sacrament of Marriage. Marriage is part of nature because God willed it from the beginning of time as a sacramental participation in the relationship between Christ and the Church. This is why "gay marriage" is not a matter of changing political laws, it is a matter of redefining an institution that is built into nature. The state has no business redefining marriage. The friendship between Christ and His disciple is one that is marked by walking with the Lord in the path He laid out in His Church. The Sacraments are an indispensable part of this friendship and, since they are, this friendship is very difficult to carry on outside the sacramental system of the Church; not impossible, but difficult. 

Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Our Savior does not merely leave us this way, but He walks along this way with us, giving of Himself freely some that we may do the same for Him and for the members of His Church. Friendship with Christ is thus the key to the New Evangelization.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sorry for the Wait

I know it has been quite a while since I posted something, but the past few months have been particularly busy.

I completed my first year in the major seminary (Pre-Theology II). Currently, I am studying at the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio, Texas. I am here for the entire month of June studying Spanish. The rest of my summer involves spending time in my great diocese of Springfield and then back to the seminary to begin my theological studies (as a seminarian, that is).

I wish I could say the past few months have been easy, but they have not been; far from it, as a matter of fact. I learned so much about myself this past year in Pre-Theology, but especially from my experience in Arizona on the Tohono O'odham Nation in February and my time in formation in the spring quarter (March to May) at the seminary.

I was blessed to be under the care of a great spiritual director this year who, not only came with my class to Arizona, but also accompanied me throughout my first year in the major seminary. Unfortunately, he was asked by his archbishop to go elsewhere, so I will be under the care of a new spiritual director next year. With that said, though, my former spiritual director and my new spiritual director are some of the best at the seminary, at least in my humble but always expressed opinion.

These have also been trying times on the home-front. Not to get into the gory details, but my family has not been the same since my father died in February of 2012. Many fractures and splits have occurred that, at least for right now, seem irreparable. But as a wise priest-friend of mine remarked, priests need to be ready to hear anything and not be shocked; I know the Lord has given me this burden for a reason.

My relationship with our Lord has also improved, though it could always be better. (Then again, I'm sure Mother Theresa or Padre Pio would say the same about their spiritual lives.) Still, I have begun to see the vital importance of personal prayer being informed through liturgical prayer, and vice versa. Cultivating a spiritual life for a diocesan seminarian may seem a little strange at first, but the diocesan priest is still a priest. He brings Christ to others, not just through the celebration of the Sacraments, but also through his presence to his sheep. Many friends ask me, "What do you want to do as a priest?" Maybe a year ago I would have said something like: "I want to get an STL and teach theology at a university." Now, after much discussion with God, many priests, and my brother seminarians, I say something like: "I only aspire to be a holy priest who loves his sheep."

I cannot say it was an easy path to arrive at that answer. Being a Christian is about emulating that kenosis (emptying) of Christ and taking on whatever vocation God is calling you to. During my time in the high school seminary, I often said that I wanted to be a priest. Now I say God wants me to be a priest. With that realization comes the revelation that my life is not my own (it never really was mine in the first place). I want the Lord to use me however He sees fit, not because I do not like my freedom, but because I am truly free in Christ. I cannot count how many priests (and others) have told me to turn to Christ in my hour of need. This is not just hogwash like anti-theists would have you believe, this is a real, tangible idea. In Christ I am truly free because He knows my pains and my sorrows, He knows how I feel at every moment of the day. As Paul says in his Letter to the Hebrews, "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). I wish I could say I turn all the time to the Lord in my hour of need; I wish I could, but I don't. With that said, though, I know my God loves me, just as He loved the Israelites even after they turned their backs on Him so often.

So, that is "what's up."

As I begin my time in Theology, please pray for myself and my classmates and for all seminarians throughout the world. Pray that we may be good and holy men, constantly seeking after the heart of Christ, and loving everyone as God loves everyone. Please be assured of our prayers for you.