Every family has rules. We use rules to keep our kids safe and healthy, and to help them be successful. Rules provide a structural framework that enables the family to function and to have good relationships. Everyone would agree that families are not about rules, they are about relationships and love. We would even say this knowing that families have many rules that are incredibly restrictive of a child’s daily life and choices. Think about some of the rules we have…
when to get up,
how long it should take to get dressed,
what to wear and what not to wear,
what you can or can’t have for breakfast,
what to take to school,
you have to go to school,
what chores and homework needs to be done before you can play,
how long you can be on your computer,
what you can watch,
how you sit at the table,
how you ask for food,
how you eat your food,
on and on and on…….
From a certain perspective, not seeing the loving relationships that rules help the family create and maintain, a person could say that families are all about rules, and they could rebel against that and state, “I am going to have a family where we just love each other, and not have rules.” I think we all know that this just plain wouldn’t work.
What is true about the family is also true about the Church. The family of God has specific rules to follow. The rules are not there as an end unto themselves, they are there to keep us safe, healthy, and successful. They are there to facilitate relationships, (especially our relationship with God). But we have a problem. And that is that for at least a couple of generations we were raised with lots of rules but no relationship. And this caused people to come away from their experience of Catholicism believing it was all about rules, and only about rules. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Christianity is all about relationship: about a Father’s overwhelming love for his children, his desire to create a family, and to have his children enter into his own eternal, blessed life. So he has rules that can lead us to be healthy children, free children, who know how to live well and to truly love.
I think this false associate between rules and boring, useless church, is the root of a pervasive attitude that many people in our modern culture have: people want to be spiritual (rules are unnecessary baggage) but not religious (which means, of course, following lots of rules). In other words, they want the benefits of a loving family but don’t want to follow the rules that sustain the family and make it functional. When we realize that the rules are there to help us enter into the life of peace, joy, and hope that Jesus has for us, we can embrace them. Indeed, we can even grow to love them. Read Psalm 119. It is one of the longest psalms, filled with joy, and it is written by a person who has grown to love God’s laws.
Think about the responses a child can have to his/her parents rules. When children are little, 2, 3 or 4 years old, they are constantly testing the rules, pushing the envelope, sometimes defiantly breaking the rules. Good parents learn how to lovingly discipline, to react to a child’s testing in a way that motivates them to learn to obey, to show them that obedience really is the best path. We know, as parents, a child must learn to obey, it is literally a matter of life and death. Once a child learns obedience, family life can settle into a routine of trusting, loving communication, and support, which then becomes the foundation for that child to grow in independence and confidence, and to experience the wide array of blessings that are the fruit of a loving family.
What would happen to a child who saw the rules only as the efforts of power hungry parents trying to control him, and decided to steadfastly refuse to obey the rules? Would he not have separated himself from the very thing that he most needs?
God’s family is the very same as our own, our families are modeled after God’s family structure. God gives us the important rules for living, rules regarding respect, kindness, gentleness, mercy, sexuality, marriage, and a host of other things that are a part of our everyday life. I can choose to see these rules as something man-made, made by the church to control people, seeing them therefore as arbitrary. Then I can believe that I can choose my own way to go. Or I can see them as the steps of a stairway that the Lord wants me to climb in order to become the person he has created me to be, that I might have the abundant life of peace, joy, and hope that he died to give me. I can learn obedience, which takes a certain brand of humility. I can choose to believe that God actually knows, better than I do, how I should live. Or I can walk away, and spend the rest of my life searching for the experience of knowing God as my dad, my best friend, my lover, my supporter, my provider and never find him; because all those things happen in a family, a family with rules.
"In the Gospel there's the beautiful passage about the shepherd who realizes that one of his sheep is missing, and he leaves the 99 to go out and find the one, but, brothers and sisters, we have only one. We're missing 99! We must go out and find them.” Pope Francis address to parish leaders from the Diocese of Rome June 18, 2013
Pope Francis has had a reoccurring theme in his messages from the time that he first became pope, and actually even before that. The theme is, “Avanti,” that is, “Go forth.” He has called on bishops, priests and lay people to get outside the walls of the Church to spread the message of the gospel. He even reverses the popular image of Jesus knocking on a door, which we see as Jesus wanting to come in, interpreting it as Jesus wanting to get out! Jesus wants to get out of our churches and into the lives of the people around us.
So here is a radical proposal. We all know that there are wonderful, amazing Catholic video series out now; Bishop elect Robert Baron’s Catholicism, Symbolon, Great Adventures Bible Studies, and many more. What we typically do with these series is show them in the church hall, and with all our advertising, promoting, and announcing, we get the same crowd that came to the last series we presented. What would happen if Catholic disciples showed these videos in their homes and invited their friends, relatives and coworkers?
For many who are away from the church, the idea of going to an event in a church building can be intimidating and risky. Many who have drifted from the faith have no interest in returning and therefore no interest in attending a class. Some have lost their trust in the Church as an institution and as a source of truth and so have no interest in what the Church has to say. Besides, everyone knows that every Christian church has an agenda - “They want me to join!”
We all know that the New Evangelization is about building relationships of trust where the message of God’s love and grace can be spoken and heard; where the gospel can be effectively communicated. Our culture has lost that trusting relationship with the Church. Therefore, we must go out of Her as individual missionary disciples and BE the bridges of trust. My neighbors and friends, even my children and my siblings, would probably never go to the Church for a video series if I invited them. But if I invited them to my home, my domestic church, to watch a video and have an informal discussion, they probably just might.
Small group settings have always been a wonderful resource for evangelization and discipleship, and arguably the most effective one. When I invite people to my home, it is much less threatening, there is not the outward appearance of an agenda, it is in the context of relationship, and it is casual and relaxing.
Over the years, I have been part of many small groups that met in homes. This setting fosters a certain vulnerability that cannot be replicated in a “class” (classroom setting?). In a home setting, relationships can develop that encourage vulnerability and honest communication. Genuine caring can be expressed in practical ways and (practical) prayer. Here, the gospel can be communicated in a much more organic (natural?) way.
I want to be clear that what I am encouraging is the empowerment and support by parishes of the disciples in their midst to turn their homes into little centers of evangelization. These are not to be “parish” programs hosted in homes. Parish programs invariably come with lots of baggage: coordination, communication, safe environment issues, and the like. This is simple, grassroots evangelization that any Catholic disciple could do.
It is simple, and with programs like “Formed” from the Augustine institute, where there is a wide array of quality Catholic videos available to stream, it is getting even simpler. Just choose a video series that has spoken to you, taught you, changed you. Buy the series or get it from your parish library. Set aside one evening a week for this coming fall. Start inviting. Invite twice or three times as many people as you can host because most will not be able to attend, even though they appreciate the invitation. Make your home as inviting and comfortable as you can but keep it simple. A simple snack, a bowl of popcorn, carrot or celery sticks - nothing burdensome. And then see what the Holy Spirit is able to do in people’s hearts, even outside the walls of the Church!
I had the opportunity to participate in a webinar this week with Dr. Tim Gray, the president of the Augustine Institute out of Denver, Colorado, as he explained the plans they have for their new online ministry, "Formed."
About a year ago the Augustine Institute developed a wonderful adult faith formation video series called "Symbolon." They released the series for purchase as is usually done with video programs. Parishes or individuals buy the program and watch it in homes and parish halls across the country. But then, they did something new. They made the entire content of Symbolon available online so that parishes could purchase a subscription, that would enable parishioners to access the content using a password. Now, every parishioner could have access to the material at any time on any device. We saw the value of this immediately in our work of trying to reach young families who are notoriously busy and will not ever come to the wonderful opportunities for spiritual growth we make available in our parish hall. We took a risk and bought the subscription. We did a big "in house" promotion of Symbolon at the beginning of Advent with the pastor talking about it at every Mass. Then just before Ash Wednesday we did a big mailing to every person in the parish inviting them to watch one episode a week throughout Lent. We had over 150 individuals register. This was pretty amazing for us because we are a small parish and adult faith formation classes generally only draw 25 or 30 people. We had positive feedback from young and old alike.
So now, the Augustine Institute is poised to release "Formed." Like Symbolon, it is an online video delivery system that makes quality Catholic teaching available to every parishioner on every device at any time. But....it is so much more! "Formed" will have an impressive array of excellent teaching material and resources from some of the best Catholic teachers in America today. All of the Augustine Institute’s programs will be available including:
Symbolon - a 20 part series for adults on the content and life of our faith
Beloved - a 12 part marriage preparation/enrichment series
Ydisciple - a powerful discipleship program for teens already being used in youth ministries across the country
Lectio - studies of scripture and tradition, like the popular series "Peter" and "The Eucharist"
And they plan to add more, including a baptismal preparation series entitled "Reborn" (awesome teaser on their website: http://www.augustineinstitute.org
Now this is truly amazing to have all of these resources available online on demand. But the Institute didn't stop there. They formed partnerships with other leaders in adult Catholic faith formation so that "Formed" will also feature:
And they intend to add more. Their desire is to produce a "one stop" site full of quality Catholic content for parishes and individuals.
I was obviously very impressed with their plans. The technology they are using is state of the art. According to Dr. Gray, their performance tests have delivered the video content faster and smoother than Netflix and Amazon Prime. Using tools that can reach young families right in the midst of their busy lives removes a significant barrier that prevents them from learning more deeply the great truths of our faith. Because of its quality and accessibility, I believe Formed can be a truly powerful force in the furtherance of the New Evangelization in Maine.
Watch the trailer here:http://www.augustineinstitute.org/formed-coming-soon
Why “Evangelize Me”? Part Two
But I had another reason to call this ministry of mine Evangelize Me, one that is the very foundation of the New Evangelization. Evangelize me can also be understood as a request. Bring me the Good News. Please. If it is true that we are created for relationship with God, that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Him, that every single human being has a God shaped hole in their heart, than it stands to reason that this is the cry of every human heart: evangelize me! Bring me That for which I long! But it is not a “that” but a “Whom.” Only we do not realize it is Jesus we desire, we are convinced it is security, stability, health, money, a new relationship almost anything except God.
At the same time that every human being has this deep longing for God, God has a deep longing for every human being! “…not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). “I will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). God is actively working, drawing, wooing every single person we know. And they are secretly, mysteriously longing for him. I believe if we understood this beautiful love story we could see our role in it so much clearer.
Ah, but that brings us to the crux, so to speak. I am one of those human beings that needs more of God’s life to be the holy, hopeful, joyful, loving person he has created me to be. “Evangelize me” is the prayer of the New Evangelization! Bring the Good News to my heart Lord, so that I can bring it to others! It is when I realize that I need to be evangelized every day in every way, and that it is out of the fresh revelation of his grace and love for me that I am able to speak and show his love and grace to others.
Is that what Pope Francis had in mind when he penned this prayer:
“Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you.
I need you.
Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.”
Evangelii Gaudium, 3
Let us pray to the Lord today, “Evangelize me!”
Why is this little ministry of mine called "Evangelize Me."? (Part 1)
I grew up in beautiful northern Maine. The northernmost county in Maine is called Aroostook County. It covers nearly 7,000 square miles, the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, but with a population of about 70,000. That says a lot all by itself. There are are literally millions of acres of woods in northern Maine. I grew up on a potato farm in Caribou. Aroostook County for many years, supplied potatoes for the east coast. And Caribou often had the distinction of being the coldest spot in the country. Though the trout filled brooks and ponds, crystal clear lakes, and spectacular wilderness make it a nature lovers dream, it is the people, the simple, kind, neighborly people that really make it special.
Other than college years and missions work, I have spent almost my entire life in Maine. I lived on the midcoast, the western mountains and in the central parts. I have hiked, canoed, kayaked, camped or skied in every county and loved every trip. Wherever I go in Maine, I find beautiful scenery, lots of woods to explore, and wonderful, loving people. I love this state and its people.
After discovering the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith and becoming involved in parish life, I quickly realized there was a dire need in many parishes for renewal. So many Catholics don't understand their faith and so many are not practicing it. As I learned about the New Evangelization called for by St. John Paul II, and his successors, I felt called to devote my energies to help the parishes of Maine embrace the call to discover the richness of Christ's grace and learn how to bring the message of hope to their families, neighbors and communities.
So, I decided to name my little apostolate, "Evangelize Me." For those of you who don't know, "Me." is the abbreviation for Maine.
But that is just part of the story.....