It is hard to believe that the Eucharistic Congress is less than one month away!
Excitement is brewing, and Bishop Baker has been inviting everyone as he travels around the Diocese for Confirmations and other events. Fr. Douglas Vu has been Facebooking and Tweeting, and contacting the media. Donny Grundhoefer from the Chancery Staff has been in constant contact with the Mayor’s Office and ALDOT regarding safety, permits and construction. The Diaconate community have been particularly active in making arrangements for speakers and other details. So many volunteers have been preparing rosaries to be distributed, and many Bishops from surrounding Dioceses have been making plans to attend. So many preparations have been made and continue to be made for this momentous celebration of 50 years God’s goodness to the Diocese of Birmingham. Many parishes have conducted seminars and retreats to study Bishop’s “Called, Formed, Sent.” Pastoral Letter. The intensity is growing. Please, continue to talk about the congress, put it on your calendar, and invite anyone and everyone. Don’t miss a single chance to bring someone. As Jesus put it in the parable of the Great Feast in Luke Chapter 14, “Go out to the highways and hedgerows and make people come in that my home may be filled.”
In these columns over the last few months, we have been discussing the speakers who will present, and the themes that they will speak on.
This week, we “focus” on Curtis Martin, the founder and CEO of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). Curtis and his wife Michaelann live in Westminster, Colorado, with their eight children. After drifting away from the Catholic Church for a long while, Martin returned to the church invigorated by a new-found love for the Faith, and also armed with many tools and skills ha had honed for evangelization and outreach while involved in Christian ministries outside the Church. In 1998, He founded FOCUS as a national outreach to college students on campus. Starting with just two missionaries on one campus, FOCUS now has hundreds of full-time missionaries serving tens of thousands of college students on campuses throughout the United States.
In 2004, Curtis and Michaelann were awarded the Benemerenti Medal by Pope John Paul II for their outstanding service to the Church. In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Curtis as a Consultor to the Pontifical Council of the New Evangelization. Curtis holds a master’s degree in theology and is the author of the best-selling book, Made for More. He is likewise the co-author of The Real Story: Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible with Dr. Edward Sri, and Boys to Men: The Transforming Power of Virtue with Dr. Tim Gray. He is co-host of the ground-breaking show on EWTN, “Crossing the Goal.” Recently, FOCUS published Curtis’ most recent book, Making Missionary Disciples.
You may be familiar with FOCUS because of the presence of their missionaries at University of Alabama and St Francis University Parish in Tuscaloosa. There are also missionaries at St Stephen the Martyr in Birmingham primarily serving UAB. And for those who are in college in the Archdiocese of Mobile, Troy and Auburn both have very successful implementations of FOCUS’s model of evangelization. In many of these instances, the FOCUS missionaries act as a net to draw young people in to an active and effective campus ministry program. Without this “extern” support, it can be difficult for campus ministry staff to engage large numbers of students who aren’t already coming to events.
Many of our young people from UAH, Wallace, UNA, and other colleges have attended FOCUS’s biannual SEEK or SLS Conferences. This past January in Indianapolis, there was a special breakfast held for all students at the SEEK2019 Conference who came from Alabama colleges and Universities. The large banquet hall was bursting with hundreds of devout Catholic students who live their Catholic Faith daily. It was an inspiring sight. FOCUS has recently added what they call the “Lifelong Mission Track” at their conferences, and many alumni and parish personnel have had the privilege of attending those in order to learn how to apply the success of the FOCUS model in parish life.
In recent years, the presence of these FOCUS missionaries has led to Alabama natives entering FOCUS as missionaries as well. This is one of Curtis Martin’s favorite topics, and a theme that will play in to any talk he gives: Spiritual Multiplication. The premise here, is that when Jesus came to Earth, He did not personally try to evangelize the whole world. As Curtis often says, Jesus came and spent three years camping and fishing in the wilderness with his twelve best friends. And it was from these twelve that there came to be the seventy-two He sent out; and from them the whole World eventually came to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Another way Curtis’ often describes this is that Jesus preached to crowds of 5,000, He sent out seventy-two, He lived with twelve, but He only took three with Him to Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration. This method of investing deeply in a few people, and then sending them out to invest in a few, and so on… allowed the Church to multiply rapidly. Every Christian in the early Church followed a sense of duty to share the Gospel. Martin refers to this method of spiritual multiplication as “the method modeled by the Master.”
It strikes a different tone than one we often experience or naturally default to. We often see Evangelization as the business of priests and professed religious, and to an extent that is true. But it is the duty of every baptized and confirmed Christian to also be disciples of Jesus and invite others to be disciples as well. In our modern world of instant mass-communication, it becomes easy to rely on one or two individuals to bear the responsibility of spreading the Good News of our Faith in Jesus to everyone else. We can attend church, assist at some church events, donate time and money, but many of us do not see ourselves as part of the way that Jesus called the Apostles to multiply the Church. In most of our cases, this is a new way of thinking. And it can be difficult to imagine and discern how each of us is called by God to do that. Not all of us will be priests, not all of us are preachers or deacons, not all of us are scholars. It requires some discernment and some training to know how best to participate in this method Jesus modeled.
And this leads us to another recurring theme that permeates FOCUS and all of Curtis’s work: Win, Build, Send. This is the three-phase method that all FOCUS missionaries are trained in for the process of making disciples. Win refers to the process of building trust, friendship, and credibility. This phase builds a relationship, by which you can win people over to the idea that our loving God is real, that Jesus came to save us, and that the Church is our home on Earth until we reach our Heavenly home. Unless you win the right to be heard, it is difficult to invite someone to believe the Gospel and change their life.
The next phase is Build. Build is about forming people in the faith. In this phase we teach them all Jesus commanded (see Matthew 28), answer questions, show people how to seek and find answers themselves, form a prayer life, strengthen and deepen understanding of the truths of the Church’s teaching… In other words, to build strong disciples who can stand the test of time and the challenges of life; to build them up and make them confident to share the truth.
The final phase is Send. If one is built up in the faith, and keeps it to themselves, then they have become like hidden lamps or tasteless salt, as Jesus says in Matthew 5:15. He goes on to say that our light should shine before others, and they should see and recognize the faith we profess in our lives. This means part of the process of discipleship is mentoring others in how they can be that salt and light for people in their lives. It can’t simply be a passive sending, “OK, you’ve been confirmed, no go off and get yourself sent.” Or is shouldn’t be, “Here is a task that needs doing, you’re on your own…” As a Church we can help to create opportunities for sharing the Gospel, and we can walk with others to help them find specific expressions and situations to witness to their Faith. We can make sure that they know being sent doesn’t mean going out alone.
It is remarkable that FOCUS’s “Win. Build. Send.” Is so similar to Bishop Baker’s own “Called. Formed. Sent.” The resemblance is significant. Curtis’s approach is very near to the heart of what Bishop Baker is asking of us. Curtis Martin’s specific theme at the Congress will be “The Eucharist and Evangelization.” Like Bishop Baker, Martin knows that the source of our winning, building, and sending (or calling, forming, and sending), is the relationship we have with Almighty God through worthy reception of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist into our very selves. The transformation that can happen through the grace of the Eucharist will enable us to be better evangelizers than we ever could be on our own. We eagerly look forward to Curtis Martin’s words at the BJCC when he speaks on Saturday, June 29.