Embracing our Deeper Mission

Embracing our Deeper Mission

During the last several weeks, articles have been appearing here in the One Voice about the upcoming Diocesan Eucharistic Congress to be held at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center (BJCC) on June 28–29, 2019.

I am excited about this upcoming event—particularly because it can serve as both a “wake-up call” as well as an opportunity for all in the Diocese of Birmingham. But why do we need a “wake up call”? Because the routine of daily life can become all-consuming, and even overwhelming as we tend to our work and personal responsibilities. Because the 24/7 siren call of the world’s allurements—good and bad—are continuous distractions to God’s ever-present invitation to embrace our deeper mission.

But what exactly is that “deeper mission”? It is that God is inviting every one of us—all of His beloved sons and daughters—to share in the abundance of His divine life by following Jesus in the way of holiness. Simply, it is that God is inviting us to become saints–or in the words of Pope Francis, to become “Missionary Disciples”.

When I share this idea with people, many people respond that they aren’t good enough, or have what it takes to become a saint. That it’s not possible for them. Since I tend to be a mischievous person, I often agree and say they are absolutely right. But then I add, “It isn’t possible for US. It IS possible for God.” Once we laugh a bit about not letting God be God, and that He truly is calling us to holiness, other questions will then emerge, like “How do I go about discovering my deeper mission?” or “How do I live out my mission in my daily life?

“A Theology of the Head, Heart, Hands and Feet” is a phrase I came across many years ago during my theology studies. Over the years, I have taken the original intent (in which the author used it to describe the process of how people come to faith and belief) and modified it to explain how our spiritual life needs to encompass all of who we are—the head (our continual growth in knowledge of God and His Church), the heart (our life of prayer and meditation), the hands (our service of others through the works of mercy) and the feet (where we “go out into the desert” to spend time with God on retreat). Our spiritual life should be attentive to ensuring that all of these aspects are present as we are living out our life of faith.

Once I share this idea, I then ask them to reflect upon which way (Head, Heart, Hands or Feet) that they have most easily encountered God in their life, and also where it has seemed easiest to hear Him speaking. Once we identify this, we then have a foundation upon which to build into our life the other practices that are necessary for us to share in the divine life and follow Jesus on the path of holiness, and also the opportunity for us to find true happiness by accepting God’s invitation to embrace our deeper mission in life.

One article is not sufficient for laying out how to embrace our deeper mission in life, so in the months ahead, you are going to see numerous articles, videos, and other resources shared here in the One Voice and also at www.BHMCatholic.com to help you with that endeavor. The focus of all this will be on becoming “Missionary Disciples” and how to share in the abundance of the divine life, while discussing the reality that it is “through the Eucharist” that this will all come together in our lives. I invite you to embark upon this journey and the challenge of preparing for the Eucharistic Congress, because the more we prepare, the more we are able to receive the blessings and graces that God has in store for us.

In the Gospel of Matthew 25:1–13, Jesus tells the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins who are awaiting the arrival of the Bridegroom, and how the five virgins who are prepared for the bridegroom’s arrival are rewarded, and how the five who failed to prepare well are disowned. Since we never know when the Bridegroom will be arriving, Jesus tells us we should follow the model of the wise virgins and set aside “oil for our lamps.” Similarly, I hope that by actively preparing for the Eucharistic Congress, we may each discover that we are not only ready to welcome the Bridegroom when He comes, but that we also find that our lamps are burning so brightly with God’s grace, that we are able to embody what St Catherine of Siena once said, “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” I will be praying that you decide to accept God’s invitation to become whom He created you to be by embracing your deeper mission, and preparing to set the world on fire by becoming saints!

 

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Roadmap to Discipleship (Eucharistic Congress and Beyond!)

“You can’t get there from here.” This comical line has been used in more TV shows and comedy sketches than you can count. But the phrase derives some of its humor from the reality that we all feel sometimes, that of being helplessly incapable of getting where we want to be or unable to achieve our goals. Many people give up on their quest for holiness and sainthood because it becomes obvious that we are unable to accomplish it on our own. Yet, some people (like the saints) have made it. The question is, if the saints were successful at this seemingly unattainable goal, what did they have or know?

Back in the day, before cell phones and GPS’s, there was this thing called a map. Nowadays, most people’s experience with maps is when you do a search online for your house, and check the satellite image to see if your car was parked in the driveway when the image was taken. But back then, you used a paper map to plan your own route to your destination. There were many possible ways to go, and you had to use your best judgement to pick the route you thought to be best. The saints all had maps, too; but they had maps for life.

The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) has a very nice framework for this, which is being used on a number of college campuses right here in Alabama. It isn’t a test and no one is keeping score. It’s just a helpful guide for self-reflection. Here’s a summary:

  1. “Am I a disciple yet? Have I heard about the story of my salvation won by Jesus, and have I made a personal decision in some fashion or another to follow Him?” For most baptized and confirmed Catholics the answer is yes. However, it might not be; and that would be understandable. Some Catholics have simply been pushed through a system and have never really taken on a personal decision, often because the question was never asked.
  2. “I am a Beginning Disciple. I have made a deliberate attempt to change my attitudes towards God and the Church. I have received the sacraments, and I genuinely desire to make God a bigger part of my life.” Many people are at this stage. If you are here, you’re in good company!
  3. “I am a Growing Disciple. I have acted on my desires to get to know God better. I pray daily, participate in the sacraments regularly, I work hard to grow in virtue.” This is about the time where we need a reminder that the point here is not to feel judged or judge-y, nor to feel badly about ourselves. It’s just a simple, personal assessment of where each of us is; for our own private use. If you are in this phase, this author would like to meet you so he can get some tips… It is quite possible that many regularly practicing Catholics have already been doing this without realizing it.
  4. “I would call myself a Commissioned Disciple. I have taken an active role in my Church. I have realized the wonderful gift that my faith is to me, and therefore I have decided to take responsibility to bring others into a deeper faith. I invite others into the life of my parish and a relationship with God.” It is interesting to note that no degree from a seminary or sacramental ordination is needed to be here. Nor does it mean that one has it all together. Simply, it just means that one has decided to accept the mission of telling others about Jesus and the life of the Church.
  5. “I am a Disciple maker. I have made decisions about my career, lifestyle, vocation or location based on my desire to help others in their work of discipleship. I deeply study scripture and the teachings of the Church.” The number of people here would definitely be smaller. But you can find them in every parish and school in our diocese! Most people wouldn’t even think that this could be somewhere they could go. But since Jesus call to discipleship is for everyone, it means each of us could aspire to this!
  6. Spiritual Multiplier – Very few of us will likely be on this stage of the map. Having sought out special formation and training in ministry or evangelization, this person has been pursuing discipleship and helping others on the road to their own discipleship for a while, and has a large sphere of influence.

Please do not think of these stages as a report card or grading system. They are not. But every good map for a journey has two very important parts: a starting point and a destination. These stages help us to determine where we are at right now, and where we would like to get to in the future. Then, we use the disciplines of discipleship to map out a way to get from “A” to “B.” These disciplines, mentioned a few weeks ago when we examined discipleship, are Prayer, Sacraments, Study, Fellowship, Stewardship, Service, and Evangelization. These disciplines are like the street names we can use to draw a map. 

 Here are some guiding questions for reflection:

  • Which stage of the roadmap do I think I fit in best? Am I between phases? Have I gone forwards or backwards at any point in my life?
  • Which stage do I want to be in next? What are some elements that I can grow in to put me in the next level of my discipleship.
  • No one can do it alone. Who do I know who could help me, teach me, hold me accountable, or be a good example to me on my way to help me reach this goal?
  • What are some concrete steps I can take to ensure my success? What are some reasonable check-up dates that I can use to help keep me on track?

Consider making your own roadmap to discipleship. As the last words of Jesus on Earth, the call to make disciples is important for everyone. And knowing where you are, as well as where you are going, is always a good thing! In our next and final piece, we’ll look at practical ways this plays out in parish life.

FOCUS article

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Our Mission (Should we choose to accept it)

The word “Mission” or “Missionary” is one of those church-y words that calls up immediate mental images. A common word with what seems like an easy definition. Our Office of Discipleship and Mission website is “disciplesonmission.com” and there was a very intentional debate about choosing that specific name. What is a missionary, and what is the connection with being a disciple? We can begin at the Gospels for guidance.

At the start, Jesus calls his disciples. He then spends three years teaching them. The Twelve spent more time with him than anyone else did. He explained parables to them privately, and had deeper conversations about who He was with them. In other words, Jesus discipled them through a relationship that brought about a transformation the character of each of them. Then, he sends them on their mission. And what was the mission? In Luke 10, they get a trial run, and we learn that they casted out demons and probably healed the sick. But in the Great Commission in Matthew 28, Jesus tells them to make disciples, teach them all that Jesus taught, and baptize. It seems that the care of the poor and the sick is a given, an understood thing that isn’t even mentioned here. This distinction is important.

The Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries who brought the Catholic faith to the Americas certainly did help the poor, sick and needy. But we know from their writings that the reason they came was to preach salvation through the Church that Jesus founded. The social concerns were simply a natural extension of their missionary spirit, and became a vehicle for building trust and showing love.

Recently, I was part of a conversation with Bishop Baker, where a nun asked him, “Bishop, you keep talking about mission; but what do you mean by that word?” Seems like it should be a common-sense answer, but the word gets used in so many ways! Bishop’s answer was interesting. He explained a situation where a high school student gets challenged or questioned about their religion, and is in a position to share the truth of the Catholic Faith. He explained that his idea of being mission-ready was that each student would be able to clearly and joyfully answer those questions in a way that leads others to Christ. Admittedly, this answer was unexpected. Bishop went on to explain that his hope for missionary spirit in this diocese would be that each Catholic would be able to give both verbal and active evidence of Christ living within them. Whether that is through service, answering questions, Christian lifestyle, or friendship.

This conversation brings to mind the patroness of the missions, St Therese of Lisieux. She entered the convent at fourteen, and never left. Yet she is the patroness of missionaries! We see that through prayer, discipleship, and effective life witness, one can be a missionary at home. With this new perspective, we did a quick interview with Martha Maria Morales of the Office of Hispanic Ministries, who recently returned form a mission trip (in the typical sense of the term) in Africa, through Catholic Relief Services.

“It is funny that you mentioned St Therese, because she accompanied me in Africa.” Martha Maria was reading a book about four St. Teresa’s. She explains St. Teresa of Avila helps you with the interior life of prayer.  St. Therese of Lisieux is about the little acts of love that make you a missionary in your own home; like saying a Hail Mary for someone when they bother you.

St Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein), was a missionary of the mind, answering doubts and questions and bringing peace through truth. St Teresa of Kolkata, was a missionary with dramatic deeds. Martha Maria explained that she learned in Africa that being a missionary is about a full circle of discipleship, cycling through all four Teresa’s.

Martha Maria explained that poverty didn’t shock her in Tanzania. She had seen it before. But it was affirming to see the money we raise through things like the Rice Bowl in action. She did, however, notice a transformation within herself. She looks at everything differently, even water, no longer taking things for granted. A new perspective has shown her that mission isn’t about going places to fix things that WE think need to be fixed. It’s about prayerfully putting to use the things that we can do, give, and be to the service of what others need. “We might not be builders and painters, but we can give and collaborate in the ways that we can. There is a universality of the call… to be a missionary in my family, by my example. Not bible thumping, but example,” Matha Maria adds. “God calls us to restore others dignity, not buildings.”

Returning back to the Great Commission at the end of the Gospel, we see that “mission” is broader than traveling to a remote place to build shelters. It’s about using everything at our discposal to communicate the Love of Christ to everyone, everywhere, always.

 

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Why have a Eucharistic Congress?

This article first appeared in the One Voice.“…through the Eucharist!” These words are spoken often by Bishop Baker about the upcoming Eucharistic Congress. Any idea, any plan, any theme that has been mentioned is followed up with these words. While the Church is engaging in conversations about becoming better disciples, or how to better be missionaries to people who are marginalized or “on the fringes,” Bishop Baker has constantly reminded us that all the good that we wish to do in the world must begin and end with the Eucharist. This is why His Excellency has chosen the theme “The Eucharist and Missionary Discipleship” for the 2019 Diocesan Eucharistic Congress. The Eucharist is what transforms us into the likeness of Jesus, making us true disciples. The Eucharist strengthens and emboldens us to follow Jesus’ Great Commission to be missionaries who bring disciples to Him.

In this preparatory year, it is no accident that Bishop has dedicated this year to Mary, the “proto-disciple.” At the Annunciation, as Gabriel proclaimed to her God’s plan for salvation, by the power of the Holy Spirit the Divine and human natures of Jesus became physically manifest in her body. In a similar way, at each Holy Mass the priest prays the prayers of consecration, and by the power of the same Spirit, Jesus true natures become physically present for us to receive into our bodies. We follow the model of the Blessed Mother. Then Mary brings that physical presence of Jesus to the house of Elizabeth and Zechariah where she announces the joyful news to them, and even the unborn John the Baptist reacts. In the same way, each of us is called to leave the Eucharistic feast bringing the presence of Jesus within us to others. And our joyful proclamation of salvation is intended to cause a similar reaction in the hearts of those we meet. But is this usually the case? Or is it more likely that we will simply head off to our favorite brunch spot or get home in time for kickoff, habitually un-mindful that we are echoes of that great disciple who laid out for us her great example of a missionary disciple?

This awareness I refer to requires ongoing effort. It requires a daily discipline of prayer and a lifestyle that allows us to continue to do the same things life demands in a new way; always conscious of the One who lives in us and who calls us to carry him home to others. It requires the disciplines St Paul speaks of when he compares a disciple to a runner out to win the race or a boxer with eyes fixed on the championship. Likewise, our Bishop proposes we take the next year and a half, and consider these images St Paul gives us. That we prepare ourselves as though we were in spiritual training. He is asking us to be vulnerable in assessing our own abilities as a disciple and missionary. This may include getting ourselves a trainer, a spiritual director or a mentor who can help us on the way. It may include surrounding ourselves with a group of supporters who will hold us accountable, like a faith sharing group or a Bible study. If we are to grow to be disciples like Mary as we approach the Eucharistic Congress, we must be open to the possibility of change. This time of preparation and growth will allow us to be predisposed, in imitation of Mary, to the great graces that will come from our public display of devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament. We will be more likely to respond in an active and intentional way if we are in better “spiritual shape.”

This outlines for us the spiritual and pastoral motivations for why our Bishop would convene this Congress. But the timing of the event is also meaningful. June 29, 2019 will mark the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of our Diocese of Birmingham as an independent diocese. Anniversaries are happy occasions, but they also cause us to stop, reminisce, and take stock of our lives. This process of recommitting ourselves to a life of missionary discipleship is one of recollection and self-awareness. What a wonderful way to acknowledge the many sacrifices and hard work of the missionaries who brought the faith to Alabama, and our predecessors who fought so hard for its survival here! And then, when the big day arrives, in the presence of Jesus, we can express to Him our gratitude for making himself known to us through our Holy Mother Church. Anniversaries also cause us to think about where we are going next. This Eucharistic Congress will offer us a chance to intentionally plan a bright future for our local church; one marked with joy, hospitality, and missionary spirit.

Bishop Baker also continues to remind us that this Eucharistic Congress will occur very close to his 75th birthday. It is customary at that time for a bishop to submit a letter to the Vatican indicating that he has reached the age of retirement. Of course, it is up to the Papal Nuncio and His Holiness the Pope whether or not they choose to accept this letter. But the occasion does call for a reminder of a new beginning. And this is the wish of Bishop Baker: a new beginning at the half century mark, a new beginning in the zeal for spreading the gospel as disciples, and a new beginning in our imitation of Blessed Mary as bearers of Christ.

Mark your Calendar: June 28–29, 2019 at the BJCC. See BHMCatholic.com in the coming weeks for more information!

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What is a Eucharistic Congress?

The first time I heard the term Eucharistic Congress was in the mid-1990’s. Someone was trying to refer to a commonly sung hymn, and he referenced it saying, “You know, the one from the Eucharistic Congress.” Well, I knew the hymn, but I certainly did NOT know the Eucharistic Congress. The phrase called to my mind an image of some strange mix of a PBS special about the signing of the Declaration of Independence with a meeting of the Papal Conclave. I was confused, and I wanted to know more about this mysterious event.

The story really begins in the 16th Century in Spain. St. Paschal Baylon, a Franciscan Friar, grew up a shepherd boy with an intense devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament. After joining the Friars, he was sent to France and spent much of his religious life debating French Calvinists regarding Jesus’ true presence in the Eucharist. Fray Paschal drew his strength to face dangerous, angry mobs and threats from his unwavering love of the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament. This devotion was deepened by countless hours spent in Adoration. In the late 17th Century Fray Paschal Baylon was canonized a saint, and Pope Leo the XIII later declared him the “Seraph of the Eucharist” and the patron of all Eucharistic Congresses and Associations. Between his canonization in 1690 and Pope Leo’s declaration, we find the first International Eucharistic Congress.

During this time, the Church was deeply entrenched in battles on two ideological fronts: preserving the dignity of the human person in the recently industrialized world, and Modernism. The secular world seemed to be attempting to “move beyond” faith in God and the moral values it brought, and the effects on the poor and underprivileged were devastating. Bishop Gaston de Ségur saw in the devotion to Jesus’ sublime yet humble presence in the Eucharist a source of focus, clarity, and strength during troubled times. For ten years, a lay woman named Marie-Marthe-Baptistine Tamisier had been lobbying the Bishop and his clergy to establish the event. Bishop Ségur convened the first ever International Eucharistic Congress on June 21, 1881, in Lille, France. Tamisier went on to organize many of the following Congresses over the next twenty years. If their Marie-Mathe was anything like our own Martha Maria Morales in the Office of Hispanic Ministries, I am sure she was known as a woman you could go to when you wanted things to really get done.

The International Eucharistic Congresses continued annually until the outbreak of World War II, across France, Germany, Belgium, and even in Jerusalem. In 1910 the Congress came to Montreal, and then to the United States in 1926, when George Cardinal Mundelein brought it to his Archdiocese of Chicago. For this event, a new train station had to be built, as well as what is now the campus of Mundelein Seminary and the Marytown Shrine. In 1932, the Congress was convened in Dublin, Ireland, and solidified the Catholic and social identity of the newly independent Irish nation. Everywhere International Eucharistic Congresses were held, great graces abounded, and Catholics grew in their presence in the public sphere and participation in their communities at-large. Following World War II, they have continued every 5 years or so, with the next one being held in 2020 in Budapest.

Now we know some of the history of the Eucharistic Congress. But what exactly is a Eucharistic Congress, and what happens there? All of the Eucharistic Congresses have been marked by very large, public gatherings of Catholics. The events are typically too large to be held in a single church, so they are most often held outdoors or in a public arena. Common elements include a procession with the Eucharist in a public setting, a significant amount of time for Eucharistic Adoration, significant availability of the sacrament of reconciliation, talks and catechesis on important matters of faith, and a Holy Mass with the bishop or bishops with all in attendance. It is an opportunity for Catholics to bring those things which usually happen behind closed doors, in our small communities, out into the wide open with the larger community.

In addition to these International Congresses, it has become customary for national, regional, or diocesan Eucharistic Congresses to be called by local bishops and their conferences. Our nearby neighbors in New Orleans hosted the first National Congress, and the dioceses of St Augustine, Atlanta, and Knoxville all have Diocesan Eucharistic Congresses with some regularity.

Bishop Baker has asked that we begin to prepare for our own Eucharistic Congress to be held on June 28–29, 2019 at the BJCC. He has chosen the theme: The Eucharist and Missionary Discipleship. Over the course of the next year and a half, we should be considering our own personal discipleship, and how we can bring others to become disciples of Jesus, too. In the coming weeks, we will have several articles describing our upcoming Eucharistic Congress and how we can all prepare for this exciting event marking our 50th Anniversary as the Diocese of Birmingham.

This article first appeared in the One Voice

More info on history:

From the Vatican

From the IEC 2020 Hungary Site

Historical Images from IEC’s:

Click to view slideshow.

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