Friday, March 28, 2014

Going on Mission

To forgive another person from the heart is an act of liberation!

Continuing on the last post of Evangelization a good friend of mine sent me this excerpt by Fr. Henri Nouwen writing on mission and what mission meant to him. His paradigm or starting point for mission was the Eucharist! This is a profound passage taken from his book titled "With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life".

"Often mission is thought of exclusively in terms of giving, but true mission is also receiving." + Fr. Henri Nouwen. 

"The love of God the Father; the grace of the only-begotten Son, Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ; and the communion and gift of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Go in pace. The peace of the Lord be with you all. Amen"

+Dismissal, The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, Coptic Orthodox Basil

"Let us go forth in peace." 

+ Dismissal, The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Byzantine Liturgy

The Eucharist concludes with a mission. "Go now and tell!" The Latin words "Ite Missa est," with which the priest used to conclude the Mass, literally mean: "Go, this is your mission." 

Communion is not the end. Mission is. Communion, that sacred intimacy with God, is not the final moment of the Eucharistic life. We recognized him, but that recognition is not just for us to savor or to keep as a secret. As Mary of Magdala, so too the two friends had heard deep in themselves the words "Go and tell." That's the conclusion of the Eucharistic celebration; that too is the final call of the Eucharistic life. "Go and tell. What you have heard and seen is not just for yourself. It is for the brothers and sisters and for all who are ready to receive it. Go, don't linger, don't wait, don't hesitate, but move now and return to the places from which you came, and let those whom you left behind in their hiding places know that there is nothing to be afraid of, that he is risen, risen indeed."

It is important to realize that the mission is, first of all, a mission to those who are no strangers to us. They know us and, like us, have heard about Jesus but have become discouraged. The mission is always first of all to our own, our family, our friends, those who are an intimate part of our lives. That is not a very comfortable realization. I always find it harder to speak about Jesus to those who know me intimately than to those who have never had to deal with my "peculiar ways of being." Still there lies a great challenge here. Somehow the authenticity of our experience is tested by our parents, our spouses, our children, our brothers and sisters, all those who us all too well.

Many times we will hear: "well, that's him again. Well, that's her again. We know what this is all about. We have seen all this excitement before. It will before." Often there is a lot of truth to this. Why should they trust us when we come running home all excited? Why should they take us seriously? We are not that trustworthy; we are not that different fro the rest of our family and friends. Moreover, the world is full of stories, full of rumors, full of preachers and evangelists. There is good reason for some skepticism. Those who didn't go with us to the Eucharist are no better or worse than we are. They have heard the story of Jesus. Some were baptized; some even went to church for a while or for a long time. But then, gradually, the story of Jesus became just a story. Church became obligation, the Eucharist a ritual. Somewhere it all became a sweet or bitter memory. Somewhere something died in them. And why should anyone who knows us well suddenly believe us when we return from the Eucharist?  

That is the reason why it not just the Eucharist, but the Eucharistic life that makes the difference. Each day, yes, each moment of the day, there is the pain of our losses and the opportunity to listen to a word that asks us to choose to live these losses as a way to glory. Each day, too, there is the possibility to invite the stranger into our home and to let him break the bread for us. The Eucharistic celebration has summarized for us what our life of faith is all about, and we have to go home to live it as long and as fully as we can. And this is very difficult, because everyone at home knows us so well: our impatience, our jealousies, our resentments, and our many little games. And then there are our broken relationships, our unfulfilled promises, and our unkept commitments. Can we really say that we have met him on the road, have received his body and blood and become living Christs? Everyone at home is ready to test us. 

But there is something else. There is a great surprise awaiting the two excited companions who came running to the room where their friends were gathered...eager to tell the news. These friends knew it already! The good news they had to bring was not new after all. Before they even had a chance to tell their story the eleven and their companions said, "The Lord has indeed risen and has appeared to Simon." It is quite humorous. Here they come running in, out of breath, all excited, only to discover that those who stayed in the city already had heard the news, even though they had not met him on the road or sat at the table with him. Jesus had appeared to Simon, and Simon was a lot more credible than those two disciples who hadn't stayed with them but had gone home thinking that it was all over. Sure, they were glad and eager to hear their story, but they brought just another affirmation that, indeed, he was alive.

There are many ways in which Jesus appears and many ways in which he lets us know that he is alive. what we celebrate in the Eucharist happens in many ways other than we might think. Jesus, who gave us bread already, touched the hearts of others long before he met us on the road. He called someone by her name, and she knew that it was him; he showed his wounds to some, and they knew that it was him. We have out stories to tell, and it is important that we tell them, but they are not the only stories. We have a mission to fulfill and it is good that we are excited about it, but first we have to listen to what others have to say. Then our stories can be told and bring joy.

All of this points to community. The two friends, who were able to speak to each other about their burning hearts, were beginning to enter into a new relationship with one another, a relationship built on the communion they had both experienced. Their communion with Jesus was, indeed, the beginning of community. But only the beginning. They needed to listen to their stories, each one different from the others, and to discover the many ways in which Jesus and his Spirit work among his people.

It is so easy to narrow Jesus down to our Jesus, to our experience of his love, to our way of knowing him. But Jesus left us so as to send his Spirit, and his Spirit blows where it wants. The community of faith is the place where many stories about the way of Jesus are being told. These stories can be very different from each other. They might even seem to conflict. But as we keep listening attentively to the Spirit manifesting itself through many people, in words as well as in silence, through confrontation as well as invitation, in gentleness as well as firmness, with tears as well as smiles-then we can gradually discern that we belong together, as one body knitted together by the Spirit of Jesus. 

In the Eucharist we are asked to leave the table and go to our friends to discover with them that Jesus is truly alive an calls us together to become a new people-a people of the resurrection.

Here the story of Cleopas and his friend ends. It ends with the two friends telling their story to the eleven and their companions. But the mission does not end here; it has scarcely begun. The telling of the story of what happened on the road and around the table is the beginning of a life of mission, lived all the days of our lives until we see him again face to face.

Forming a community with family and friends, building a body of love, shaping a new people of the resurrection: all of this is not just so that we can live a life protected from the dark forces that dominate our world; it is, rather, to enable us to proclaim together to all people, young and old, white and black, poor and rich, that death does not have the last word, that hope is real and God is alive.

The Eucharist is always mission. The Eucharist that has freed us from our paralyzing sense of loss and revealed to us that the Spirit of Jesus lives within us empowers us to go out into the world and to bring good new to the poor, sight to the blind, liberty to the captives, and to proclaim that God has shown again his favor to all people. But we are not sent out alone; we are sent with our brothers and sisters who also know that Jesus lives within them.

The movement flowing from the Eucharist is the movement from communion to community to ministry. Our experience of communion first sends us to our brothers and sisters to share with them our stories and build with them a body of love. Then, as community, we can move in all directions and reach out to all people.

I am deeply aware of my own tendency to want to go from communion to ministry without forming community. My individualism and desire for personal success ever and again tempt me to do it alone and to claim the task of ministry for myself. But Jesus himself didn't preach and heal alone. Luke, the Evangelist, tells us how he spent the night in communion with God, the morning to form community with the twelve apostles, and the afternoon to community to ministry. He does not want us to go out alone. He sends us out together, two by two, never by ourselves. And so we can witness as people who belong to a body of faith. We are sent out to teach, to heal, to inspire, and to offer to the world-not as the exercise of our unique skill, but as the expression of our faith that all we have to give comes from him who brought us together.

Life lived Eucharistically is always a life of mission. We live in a world groaning under its losses: the merciless wars destroying people and their countries, the hunger and starvation decimating whole populations, crime and violence holding millions of men, women, and children in fear. Cancer and AIDS, cholera, malaria, and many other diseases devastating the bodies of countless people; earthquakes, floods, and traffic's story of everyday life filling the newspapers and television screens. It is a world of endless losses, and many, if not most, our fellow human beings walk with faces downcast on the surface of this planet. They say in some way or another: "Our hope had been...but we lost hope."

This is the world we are sent to live in Eucharistically, that is, to live with burning hearts and with open ears and open eyes. It seems an impossible task. What can this small group of people who met him on the road, in the garden, or at the lakeside do in such a dark and violent world? The mystery of God's love is that our burning hearts and our receptive ears and eyes will be able to discover that the One we met in the intimacy of our homes continues to reveal himself to us among the poor, the sick, the hungry, the prisoners, the refugees, and all people who live in fear.

Here we come to realize that mission is not only to go and tell others about the risen Lord, but also to receive that witness from those to whom we are sent. Often mission is thought of exclusively in terms of giving, but true mission is also receiving. If it is true that the Spirit of Jesus blows where it wants, there is no person who cannot give that Spirit. In the long run, mission is possible only when it is as much receiving as giving, as much being cared for as caring. We are sent to the sick, the dying, the handicapped, the prisoners, and the refugees to bring them the good news of the Lord's resurrection. But we will soon be burned out if we cannot receive the Spirit of the Lord from those to whom we are sent.

The Spirit, the Spirit of love, is hidden in their poverty, brokenness, and grief. That is why Jesus said: "Blessed are the poor, the persecuted, and those who mourn." Each time we reach out to them they in turn-whether they are aware of it or not-will bless us with the Spirit of Jesus and so become our ministers. Without this mutuality of giving and receiving, mission and ministry easily become manipulative or violent. When only one gives and the other receives, the giver will soon become an oppressor and the receivers, victims. But when the giver receives and the receiver gives, the circle of love, begun in the community of the disciples, can grow as wide as the world.

It belongs to the essence of the Eucharistic life to make this circle of love grow. Having entered into communion with Jesus and created community with those who know that he is alive, we now can go and join the many lonely travelers and help them discover that they too have the gift of love to share. We are no longer afraid of their sadness and pain, but can ask them simply: "What are you talking about as you walk along the road?" And we will hear stories of immense loneliness, fear, rejection, abandonment, and sadness. We must listen, often for a long time, but there are also opportunities to say with words or simple gestures: "Didn't you know that what you are complaining about can also be lived as a way to something new? May it is impossible to change what has happened to you, but you are still free to choose how to live it."

Not everyone will listen to us and only a few will invite us into their lives to join them at their table. Only seldom will it be possible to offer life-giving bread and truly heal a heart that has been broke. Jesus himself didn't heal everyone, nor change everyone's life. Most people simply don't believe that radical changes are possible and can't give their trust when they meet the strangers. But every time there is a real encounter leading from despair to hope and from bitterness to gratitude, we will see some of the darkness being dispelled and life, once again, breaking through the boundaries of death.

This has been, and continues to be, the experience of those who live a Eucharistic life. They see it as their mission to persistently challenge their fellow travelers to choose gratitude instead of resentment and hope instead of despair. And  the few times that this challenge is accepted are enough to make their lives worth living. To see a smile breaking through tears is to witness a miracle-the miracle of joy.

Statistically, none of this is very interesting. Those who ask: "How many people did you reach? How many changes did you bring about? How many illnesses did you cure? How much joy did you create?" will always receive disappointing answers. Jesus and his followers did not have great success. The world is still a dark world, full of violence, corruption, oppression, and exploitation. It will likely always be! The question is not: "How soon and how many?" but "Where and when?" Where is the Eucharist being celebrated, where are the people who come together around the table and break bread together, and when does it happen? The world lies in the power of the evil one. The world does not recognize the light that shines in the darkness. It never did; it never will. But there are people who, in the midst of this world, live with the knowledge that he is alive and dwells within us, that he has overcome the power of death and opens the way to glory. Are there people who come together, who come around the table and do what he did, in memory of him? Are there people who keep telling each other the stories of hope and , together, go out to care for their fellow human beings, not pretending to solve all problems, but  to bring a smile to a dying man and a little hope to a lonely child?

It is so little, so unspectacular, yes, so hidden, this Eucharistic life, but it is like yeast, like a mustard seed, like a smile on a baby's face. It is what keeps faith, hope and love alive in a world that is constantly on the brink of self-destruction.

The Eucharist, sometimes, is celebrated with great ceremony, in splendid cathedrals and basilicas. But more often it is a "small" event that few people know about. It happens in a living room, a prison cell, an attic- out of sight of the big movements of the world.

It happens in secret, without vestments, candles, or incense. It happens with gestures so simple  that outsiders don't even know that it takes place. But big or small, festive or hidden, it is the same event, revealing that life is stronger than death and love stronger than fear.

Source: Fr. Henri Nouwen, "With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life" (Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 1994) 79-92.             

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Father Robert Barron's 7 Keys to the New Evangelization

Fr. Robert Barron spoke recently on Evangelization and how to be an effective missionary! This is by far the most refreshing talk I have heard on this topic given by Fr. Barron! His non-reductionist approach to beauty, goodness and Christ being our starting point to Evangelize the world is presented clearly and to all who are interested in missionary work within the church. I personally loved all 7 points as they touched upon aspects that the world needs however the first two really got to me! Two points I think we as Christians take for granted. 

Firstly, we forget that our faith is beautiful and it is to be held by all. We learn to love and out of this unconditional love we see the beauty that is present in all. By appreciating the beautifulness of creation and how God created everything good we learn to see Christ in all and by seeing Christ we use everything in the world as a tool to evangelize and bring beauty and genuine love to every human being.

Secondly, we must be honest with those who approach us or whom we approach when speaking about the faith. We cannot dumb anything down in order to "get more people to come to the church". This is a reductionist approach. We must be honest in presenting the faith and through our honesty people will see the good and appreciate it more. If we cannot be honest with the people around us how can we be honest when we partake of the Eucharist! Being honest means being ourselves. We are broken individuals working together in the body of Christ. When people see this and realize how beautiful it is when we are honest with them it is only then that Christ will take a hold of their hearts and transform it for the glory of His kingdom. 

I have attached on the bottom the talk that was given by Fr. Barron in Los Angeles California!        

1. Lead with the Beautiful

It's less threatening. We are a beautiful religion. Truth/Goodness make people defensive. You can come to learn to love from beauty. Start from the goodness of the faith, then move to the truth. Look at what Pope Francis is doing by leading with the beauty of a holy life, then leading people to the good and to the truth.

2. Don't dumb down the message

It doesn't help when we allow faith to become the most dumbed down subject in society. Evangelize by being clear, articulate, and smart-with the full arsenal of our tradition. A dumbed-down Catholicism will not serve.

3. Preach with Ardor

We need some fire! As Aristotle notes, in the end people only listen to a really excited speaker. Muster up some excitement for the Gospel! "I don't think the purpose of Vatican II was to modernize the Church. The purpose of Vatican II was to Christify the world. It's goal was to send us out light-bearers to the end of the world. Ardor comes from clarity about the Resurrection: the risen Jesus is the Good News! People don't die for myths, legends, and literary devices-they do it for a resurrected Jesus! We need to be clear about that.

4. Tell the Great Story

There is a temptation to present a "pure Christianity" without the Old Testament story. This means the story is an abstract version and Jesus is more of a "Gnostic guru". But there is something haywire in presenting Jesus without the Old Testament. He is an Israelite. If we forget Israel, we forget who we are. The fulfillment of the story of salvation needs to have the story told from the beginning. Jesus can't be understood without placing him within the history of Israel and the Messiah that all of Israel has always waited for. He is the new Adam, Moses, Abraham, David, etc. The new Eden is now established in the person of Jesus. If you de-Judaize Jesus, He becomes just another spiritual teacher. Evangelization is a subversive message that there is a new king in town!   

5. God does not need us...and He loves us anyways

Embrace Irenaeus' understanding that God is perfect and doesn't need us. What a great truth that is! "There is no greater humanism possible than Orthodox Christianity." God's love is perfectly selfless. He is not a rival to us nor wants to get something out of us. He wants us to be "fully alive". He's like the bush in Exodus 3 that is on fire, but not consumed-that's an image of God taking on human flesh. He never destroys us when He comes into us; he enhances us. Jesus is the burning bush.  

6. We are made for God

Everyone is wired to want a relationship with God. Everybody has a hungry heart, to quote Bruce Springsteen. We are all looking for God. We don't just want truths or goods-we want truth and goodness itself. To evangelize is to tap into that desire. We all sometimes run after false gods, but the church needs to be the new Elijah who publicly and vigorously challenges the priests of the false gods (wealth, pleasure, honor, power). Only in giving yourself away in love is meaning found. The church is meant to be a light to the world; we can't keep it to ourselves.

7. Use the New Media

Before using new media, Catholic evangelists must become very adept at old media, namely books. Immerse ourselves and others in the tradition of the Church. But then, yes, yes, yes to the new media. We would be horribly derelict if we didn't use the tools we have before us. We can't allow others to control the world of new media. Statistics show that the majority of those who become atheists do so through new media. We need to be present online. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Bishop Suriel's Dissertation Defense

I had the great pleasure and honor attending Bishop Suriel's dissertation defense at Fordham University in New York City this past Thursday (March 20, 2014). His grace was successful in his defense as a panel of three questioners grilled him on the topic of Habib Girgis (newly canonized saint in the Coptic Church). His grace has been laboring for a while working on the dissertation as he faced many obstacles along the way. One such obstacle his Grace spoke about was his efforts to gain access to the patriarchal archives in Cairo Egypt. Even though he was a bishop his Grace told us that he still had difficulty gaining access. However, after he was able to get in what he found changed the scope of his thesis. He was able to catalog over 1000s of documents that Habib Girgis wrote (which is attached to his thesis as his first appendix) and were stored in the archives. We are all pleased at the hard work his Grace has put into this study and we pray that God grants him many years for us and continue to bless the seminary (St. Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Theological Seminary) in Melbourne Australia. The following is an abstract of the thesis that was handed out to everyone who attended. I have attached a small clip of the conclusion of the defense.


Habib Girgis: Coptic Orthodox Educator and a Light in the Darkness
Bishop Anba Suriel 
Fordham University, New York, 2014
Mentor: Gloria A. Durka, Ph.D 

In the midst of the ever-changing sociopolitical environment of the early twentieth century, the Coptic Orthodox Church and community sought to implement a religious educational system for the preparation of young men for the priesthood, as well as other ecclesiastical offices and services. In part, this was due to the challenges posed by the advent of modernity in Egypt but, for the Copts, these challenges were further accentuated by lack of education, particularly on the part of clergy, in addition to the institutional presence and proselytizing efforts of highly organized and educated western missionaries who encountered a Coptic Church that was ill-equipped to respond to their challenges.

Patriarch Cyril 4th had established several Coptic Schools to redress this challenge, giving rise to an educated lay-elite, but the most significant reforms were implemented in the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century by Archdeacon Habib Girgis. This is a study of Girgis' six-decade-long career as an educator, reformer, and pioneer of the Sunday School Movement in Egypt through his publications and a cache of newly discovered documentary texts from the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchal Archives (Cairo), which are cataloged in this study (Appendix I).

This analysis explores the practical challenges Girgis encountered, particularly in recruiting qualified students, maintaining the college's facilities and keeping it staffed on a meager budget, as well as dealing with a Lay Community Council (Majlis Milli) that frequently undermined his efforts. As dean of the Theological College, Girgis also faced conceptual and intellectual challenges in formulating curricula, hiring qualified instructors, and defending a broad vision for ecclesiastical education that was not shared by several of his peers. Girgis attended to all of these tasks while maintaining an active preaching and publishing schedule.

Habib Girgis enjoyed some success in the preservation of Coptic identity and the improvement of standards of religious education within the Church. Still, other aspects of his lofty vision remain are hitherto unfulfilled. In all, Girgis remains a pioneer in Coptic religious education, a Copt whose vision and legacy continues to shape the Church on several fronts until this very day.


Friday, March 7, 2014

Beauty Will Save the World

This beautiful entry was taken from this blog and its based on the words written by the famous Russian author Dostoevsky! The entry was taken from the magazine "Jacob's Well", which is published by the diocese of New York and New Jersey who's spiritual father is Bishop Michael! I hope you all enjoy!

Beauty Will Save the World
By Nancy Forest-Flier From Jacob’s Well, Fall 1997/Winter 1998

Dostoevsky wrote, “Beauty will save the world.” I used to think of this as a romantic idea that we will be saved by the beautiful things around us that the world will be saved if it can be made more attractive. The idea seemed romantic, something expressed, by such sentiments as “there’s beauty in everything, if only we would stop and smell the flowers.” This suggests there is a gulf between the world and ourselves. We have to put on the right eyeglasses to see it properly. Today I realized that Dostoevsky meant is that beauty must be our principle of life-that beauty is not a perception, an influence, to be found outside us; it is the principle which must characterize the way we do everything. Everything we do must be done in beauty, with grace. The phrase “the beautiful gesture” kept coming back to me. Everything we do, even digging a ditch or scrubbing the floor, must be done in beauty. This does not mean that we are trying to make a beautiful ditch or a beautiful floor. It doesn’t mean that we are trying to become beautiful ditch diggers or floor scrubbing. It has to do with the way in which we execute the task, the way we live every minute as we do what we do; it has to do with being attentive to the activity at hand, acting without being concerned with how we look as we act. It is an innocent acting, not concerned with appearances or results or rewards; it is not concerned with being treated fairly with getting even, with showing off, with making an impression, with getting the damn work out of the way, with wallowing in self-pity over one’s misfortune. I would think it is not even concerned with acting out of certainty that this is God’s will. I think it is simply making the beautiful gesture.       
But why? Because this is the radical application of being at the center, where God is.

As I was cleaning the bathroom today, I was suddenly overcome with this sense that I must do this work as a beautiful gesture. This is the only free action available to me. If I act out of sense of resentment (because other people in the family are not doing that I’m doing), or anger (because the bathroom has a way of getting very messy very often), or self-pity (poor me!), then I’m a salve to myself and my work will be exhausting.
Even if I work out of sense of pride (I’ve got to make this place shine) or some simple ethic of good behavior (God expects me to be a responsible wife and mother; this is how I become a good person), I’m still a slave to myself. The only way to go about it with joy, as a free person, is to work in the presence of God, in prayer. And this, I think, is how beauty will save the world.

I felt this all day long. I started the day making blueberry muffins; I finished the day making soup and pita bread, thinking all the while about the beautiful gesture.   

The paradigm for living this way is the liturgy. Every action we perform in the liturgy should be a beautiful gesture, from lighting candles and reverencing icons to receiving Holy Communion. It’s the school where we learn how to live from moment to moment.