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Encounter Christ by Helping and Serving Others – A Spiritual Reflection

Last week I introduced some “tools” to help people with the “Encounter With Christ – Through Scripture.” I wanted to offer materials for people who are looking for some more advanced material. Unfortunately, the software program we use for the bulletin randomly removed a paragraph in the middle of the document. Thus what I wrote made little sense. Let me re-present it again this week.

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So… for those of you who are up for a scriptural challenge, how about trying to read the entire Bible in one year? Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He is the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.  He is Brandon Vogtalso the founder of ClaritasU, which is an online community for Catholics who want to get more clarity about their faith. He recently pointed out that “the Bible contains around 775,000 words. The average adult reads 250 words per minute. That means if you read the Bible for 10 minutes per day, you’ll get through the whole thing in a year!” Brandon has put together an online resource called “How to Easily Read the Whole Bible in 2018.”  The resource provides background material and a plan to accomplish this scriptural goal.

Brandon Vogt’s approach is “wide.” In other words, you cover and read a lot of material within a particular time frame. A different approach is looking at less material but going “deeper” into the content. The “30-30 Challenge” is one such approach. This was developed by Joyce Meyer from Joyce Meyer Miniseries. Joyce asks: “Are you studying the Bible or just reading it? Maybe God doesn’t want you to merely ‘skim’ His Word…perhaps He wants you to meditate on it…to allow it to change you from the inside out.” Hence she issued the challenge of studying God’s Word for 30 minutes a day for 30 days…and see what happens (End of last week’s quote).

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Last week we also asked people’s input on how “organized” they felt the homily was. Besides myself, a good number of people at the 9:30 and 11:30 Mass said that they enjoyed Fr. James Garvey’s homily. Thus I combined feedback on him together with feedback on my homiletic organization. Since we want to get feedback on homilies presented by all priests, I felt that this moves the analysis closer to what we will eventually measure on a regular basis. Last week, 91% of people thought that “our” homilies were “organized” or “well organized.” 5% thought the homilies were not organized. 4% thought the homilies were poorly organized. This helps and shows that we have room to grow. To any of you who fell in that 9% category, feel free to let us know where we fell short so that we can improve.

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In past weeks, I covered the topics of “Encountering Christ through Scripture” and “Encountering Christ through Liturgy.” Over the next few weeks, I’d like to address “Encountering Christ through Reaching Out and Serving Others.” To introduce this huge topic, I would like to use a document from Pope Francis as my point of departure. In 2016, the Pope met with the Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. The Pope later penned a letter to Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, President Of The Pontifical Commission For Latin America.  In this letter, Pope Francis offered his thoughts about the meeting. Pope Francis begins by writing the following:

Your Eminence, at the end of the meeting of the Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, I had the opportunity to meet with all those attending the assembly, during which there was an exchange of ideas and impressions concerning the public participation of the laity in the life of our peoples. Now I would like to recount what was shared in that encounter and to follow it up with a reflection on those days, so that the spirit of discernment and reflection “doesn’t fall into the void” so that it may help us and continue to encourage us to better serve the faithful Holy People of God.

So here are my thoughts…at St. Monica, we have been trying to model what the Holy Father is doing in this case. It was my wish not to continue “business as usual” at St. Monica. I was sure that the Lord had something unique and special that he wanted the Parish of St. Monica to do in the year ahead. I have watched other parishes, and even the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, make plans that “fell into the void,” as the Holy Father mentioned. Pope Francis continues:

It is precisely this image from which I would like to begin our reflection on the public activity of the laity in our Latin American context. To evoke the faithful Holy People of God is to evoke the horizon to which we are called to look and reflect. It is the faithful Holy People of God to whom as pastors we are continually called to look, protect, accompany, support and serve. A father cannot conceive of himself without his children. He may be an excellent worker, a professional, a husband or friend, but what makes him a father figure are his children. The same goes for us, we are pastors. A shepherd cannot conceive of himself without his flock, whom he is called to serve. The pastor is pastor of a people, and he serves this people from within. Many times he goes ahead to lead the way, at other times he retraces his steps lest anyone be left behind, and, not infrequently, he stands in the middle to know the pulse of the people.

Looking to the faithful Holy People of God, and feeling ourselves an integral part of the same, places us in life and thus in the themes that we treat, in a different way. This helps us not to fall into reflections that, in themselves, may be very good but which end up homologizing the life of our people or theorizing to the point that considerations end by prohibiting action. Looking continually at the People of God saves us from certain “declarationist nominalisms” (slogans) that are fine phrases but that are unable to sustain the life of our communities. For example, I now recall the famous phrase: “the hour of the laity has come”, but it seems the clock has stopped.

At the same time, I must add another element that I consider the fruit of a mistaken way of living out the ecclesiology proposed by Vatican II. We cannot reflect on the theme of the laity while ignoring one of the greatest distortions that Latin America has to confront — and to which I ask you to devote special attention — clericalism. This approach not only nullifies the character of Christians but also tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit has placed in the heart of our people. Clericalism leads to homologization of the laity; treating the laity as “representative” limits the diverse initiatives and efforts and, dare I say, the necessary boldness to enable the Good News of the Gospel to be brought to all areas of the social and above all political sphere. Clericalism, far from giving impetus to various contributions and proposals, gradually extinguishes the prophetic flame to which the entire Church is called to bear witness in the heart of her peoples. Clericalism forgets that the visibility and sacramentality of the Church belong to all the People of God (cf. Lumen Gentium, nn. 9-14), not only to the few chosen and enlightened.

In December, I announced three areas the Discernment Team thought the parish should focus on for the next few years. They included “Encountering Christ Through Scripture, Liturgy and Helping Others.” This is “evoking the “horizon to which (the people of St. Monica) are called to look and reflect,” as the Holy Father writes about above. Since announcing these three areas of focus last year, a number of people have suddenly stepped forward to engage these initiatives. I have been encouraged by the quality of their professional backgrounds, their experience and the passion that they bring to the endeavor. The “void” that Pope Francis mentions, is being filled by people who are tapping into their baptismal grace, who sense – or concretely know – their “charisms” and who are bearing witness to the heart of the People of God.

I feel that this is not coincidental. Coincidences are merely “God’s way of remaining anonymous.” I’ll continue my thoughts on this topic next week.

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