The Courage to Act

This New Year, I have been contemplating the role of the Magi in salvation history. The Magi were pagan wise men and royals searching for a Jewish king. They were the first Gentiles to seek and worship Christ, who came to establish a new and everlasting covenant with all men. They set out on what must have been a long and arduous journey to seek and find a king that represented something more than themselves. They felt a longing to seek and worship even though they did not know the final destination. The Magi had the courage to act.

Do we have the courage to act? We are made to seek God even when we do not. To seek God requires us to act, and often this action takes courage.

Arriving in Jerusalem, the Magi asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him” (Mt. 2:2). Thinking that they would find a king in a palace, they met with Herod, who was not a nice guy by any stretch of the imagination. He wanted nothing more than to stay in power at any cost. Not finding what they were searching for in Jerusalem, the Magi continued their search until the star “came to rest over the place where the child was” (Mt. 2:9). These Gentile kings followed a star in the heavens, not knowing that it would bring them to the Star of Heaven, Jesus Christ.

Are we following the Star of Heaven, or do our eyes rest on the false stars of this world?

Finally arriving at their long-awaited destination, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Mt. 2:10). They brought their best gifts, treasures of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and willingly laid them at the feet of a baby lying in a manger, who must not have seen like the king they thought they would find. Nevertheless, the Magi did not hesitate to worship with all that they had.

Do we give our best gifts to God? Do we rejoice in knowing Jesus?

The Magi were changed by their encounter with Christ. Rather than report back to Herod with the location of the child Jesus and after being warned in a dream of his evil intentions, the Magi “departed to their own country by another way” (Mt. 2:12).

When we encounter Christ, are we changed? Do we move forward from these encounters with a new and different outlook?

Our world is full of Herods that tempt us to focus on what is not good for our souls. How can we live as Christians in the face of a million false stars? How can we cultivate courage to act on behalf of the Kingdom of God?

May God work in your hearts so that you act with courage for His Kingdom.

Engaged Evangelization

How do you answer Christ’s call to evangelize? Yes, we all have that call. But what does evangelization really mean? As followers of Christ, we are meant to participate in the Church’s mission: to proclaim the good news of salvation through Jesus.

In his Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, Pope Saint John Paul II uses the image of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt 20) to describe how we are all called to participate in proclaiming the message of salvation. Lay faithful should answer the call of Christ to work in his vineyard by taking an active part in the mission of the Church (CL, 3). Indeed, we have an “essential and irreplaceable role”.

As Catholics, we take for granted that there is at least the option for us to be involved with various ministries within our parish or to join organizations that care for and advocate on behalf of the least of society. And these ministries and organizations are important! What may be missing for many is the fact that lay people are called to take an active role in the Church’s evangelization mission. Christ gave to the Church the right and the responsibility to proclaim the message of salvation to the whole world, and through baptism, the members of the Church, laity included, carry on this missionary role.

But the greatest way to evangelize is by living a truly Christian life. One never knows who Christ may reach via a Christian within one’s family, at work or school, in the marketplace or through involvement in politics and society. At the most basic yet most effective level, we lay people bear witness to Christ and evangelize the world merely (but importantly) by reflecting Christ to others in our secular lives.

Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium, challenges all Christians to active participation in evangelization:

All the baptized … are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged … to be actively engaged in evangelization (EG, 120).

Having been on the receiving end of others evangelizing through how they live their lives as Christians, I hope to be that person to someone else.

Called to Holiness (all of us!)

Blue candle v2As a part of our Christian faith, we are called to holiness. However, to strive for holiness does not necessarily mean doing heroic things, but rather uniting ourselves with Christ through our daily works, joys and sufferings. Catholic lay people may mistakenly believe that only a few priests or nuns are called to be holy. But as members of the Church through our baptism, we are indeed all called to holiness.

In Chapter V of Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council begins by reminding all that through Christ’s total giving of himself and his sending of the Holy Spirit, the Church and all of its members are called to holiness. Sainthood – living holy lives – is not meant to be sought by only a few. Through baptism, all are meant to strive to live as saints. Indeed, because we are members of the Church through baptism, all “receive and thereby share in the common vocation to holiness” (John Paul II, Christifideles Laici, 16).

We Christians should not relegate our faith to Sunday worship but rather live our lives united to Christ’s mission. Certainly, all are called to work in the Lord’s vineyards. Pope Saint John Paul II cautions Christians that two temptations exist. First, the temptation to be so involved with Church tasks causes some to “fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world”(John Paul II, Christifideles Laici, 2). Secondly, others are tempted to separate faith from life. Instead, Christians must live their faith every day in all places while fulfilling their secular duties.

Everyday I strive to be holy, and everyday I fail at holiness. But I also succeed. Truly, how can we not attempt each day to live holy lives? To be holy means to be saintly. To be saintly means to be one day in heaven.

Photo: Blue Candles

The whole world is my neighbor!

Cana local kidsThe Catholic Church is sometimes (or maybe often) seen as a backwards institution. The pace of change in the modern world seems to outdistance the teachings of the Church.

Fifty years ago at the Second Vatican Council, Church fathers wrote a document called Gaudium et Spes, or the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”, which addressed the Church’s relation to the world and all men and provides a foundation for the Church in the modern world. Gaudium et Spes does not necessarily answer all the questions of modern society beyond the greatest (Christ is the answer!), but instead gives us a roadmap to base how we address modern society by keeping the dignity of all humans in mind. Today, we see that issues addressed by the Council are still being explored and explained in light of changes that have developed.

In the Gospel reading on the Good Samaritan, we hear Jesus describe who is to be our neighbor. Nowadays, we are called to be the neighbor for all men. Even in our secular lives, we can bring Christ’s message to others. By living our faith and not relegating it to Sunday worship, we show to the world how to live as God wants us to live. We reveal how to live out Christ’s command to love God and love one another.

Technology allows us to live in an ever shrinking world, and at times this reality can be overwhelming (the whole world is now my neighbor!). Nevertheless, we need to participate in society at the level that God calls us to participate. Starting with our families, we can move outward through parishes into the greater community, up through governments, and out into the whole world. The parishes in which I’ve lived have, for the most part, promoted the laity’s involvement in evangelization through parish groups, and in turn, the laity has reached out to the community to provide guidance and assistance to those less fortunate.

May we all live in the world while journeying to the next!

Photo: Neighborhood Children (Cana, Israel)

An example of being an example

orange roseHappy birthday to a dear friend of mine who, many years ago through her words and example, rekindled my desire to find a new and deeper understanding of my faith.

We met almost 20 years ago when we worked at a large corporation. I moved out of the division for awhile, but when I returned to the group, she was still there. We became close friends as marketers supporting the corporation’s smallest industry group. It was during this time that I first realized that our Catholic faith wasn’t primarily about following certain rules but rather about following God’s will. She grew up going to Mass each Sunday because it meant an hour to praise and thank God, not because it was the rule (and avoiding the consequences for breaking that rule). She never tired of explaining her faith or answering questions, and did so without being defensive or argumentative.

Despite struggles in life, she remains confident in God’s love and plan for her. Happiest of birthdays dear friend!

Photo: Orange Rose