You're Invited! Renewal // December 19

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As most of us know, there exists a certain tension between parish life and high schools across the Archdiocese. This is not the place to get into all of the reasons for this, but simply to state it as a well-known fact and one that is frequently discussed.

That said, I’ve recently been very encouraged by conversations and collaborative efforts that are taking place between high school campus ministers and parish youth ministers. I believe the Lord is moving to build bridges and to bolster ministry opportunities. Last year, I had a conversation with Steve J. at Moeller High School about all of this and we began brainstorming some ideas on how to foster more collaboration between youth and campus ministers. As fruitful as it was, after that meeting, I found myself reflecting upon the experience of the disciples in the Upper Room at the time of Pentecost and I recalled this quote I once read:

“After the end of the apostolic age the early Church had as yet developed only relatively little in the way of a direct missionary activity as a Church, that it did not have any particular strategy for proclaiming the faith to the heathen, and that nevertheless this became the age of the greatest missionary success. The conversion of the ancient world to Christianity was not the result of any planned activity on the part of the Church but the fruit of the proof of the faith as it became visible in the life of Christians and of the community of the Church...The new evangelization we need so urgently today is not to be attained with cleverly thought out ideas, however cunningly these are elaborated…It is only the interaction of a truth conclusive in itself with its proof in the life of this truth that can enable that particular evidence of the faith to be illuminated that the human heart awaits: it is only through this door that the Holy Spirit enters the world.” – Ratzinger

Rather than trying to problem-solve with our own ideas, I would first like to simply gather all of the Youth and Campus Ministers from across the Archdiocese for a retreat…our own upper room experience. The Holy Spirit can lead this and build the bridges, if only we open ourselves, collectively, to Him and His inspiration. So, rather than trying to solve problems, let’s just pray and see what happens. I’m convinced that this has to be the starting point at this crucial time for the Church and for our collective evangelization efforts for the youth of this Archdiocese.

I’m grateful to Steve for helping me navigate the calendar to try to make this work for everyone. I’ve decided upon December 19, 2018 for this semester’s Renewal retreat. Most youth ministry at parishes has wrapped up by then, and high schools have fewer ministry opportunities as students are generally in the midst of final exams. I’ve been able to book Fr. Dave Pivonka, TOR, an international speaker and the host of the Wild Goose series, to offer us an Advent-themed retreat focusing on John the Baptist, the call to repentance, and baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire (cf. Mt. 3:11). Archbishop Schnurr has also graciously agreed to be present for this day, and will say Mass for all of us.

The details can be found here. It is my sincere hope that everyone can attend. I believe it will be a powerful experience and a witness to the whole Archdiocese of what the Lord is doing here.

Be assured of my prayers for all of you.

The Exsultet: Kids, Fire, and Mission

Brad Bursa

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It always happens while I’m trying to prevent my kids from catching themselves (or each other...or the person next to them) on fire. Yes, I am speaking about The Exsultet. The Exsultet, or Easter Proclamation, is sung at the Easter Vigil after the slow procession of the paschal candle into the pitch-black church.

Because I’m usually preoccupied during this time, I like to return to the text of The Exultet after the Vigil. This year I was struck by the refrain that appears five times right in the middle of the exaltation: “This is the night.” As I read it, I couldn’t help but think of all of us who minister to the youth throughout the Archdiocese:

 

This is the night,

when once you led our forebears, Israel's children,

from slavery in Egypt

and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.

 

This is the night

that with a pillar of fire

banished the darkness of sin.

 

This is the night

that even now, throughout the world,

sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices

and from the gloom of sin,

leading them to grace

and joining them to his holy ones.

 

This is the night,

when Christ broke the prison-bars of death

and rose victorious from the underworld.

 

 

This is the night

of which it is written:

The night shall be as bright as day,

dazzling is the night for me,

and full of gladness.

 

Throughout this past year, I have been able to meet with many of you and minister alongside many others. For all of us, there have been times of joy and consolation, but there have also been many times of frustration, desolation, and even discouragement. I know from my own experience in the parish, and in my ongoing volunteer youth ministry work, there is difficulty connecting with teens, gaining parent support, finding volunteers, balancing the responsibilities, fending off doubts, and being faithful to one’s vocation in the midst of ministry. Many of my conversations and times in prayer with you this year lead me to believe I’m not alone. And we know what are youth and their families are up against. In many ways, we could say: This is the night. We’re in it, and sometimes it seems like Jesus continues to sleep through the storm.

Then we have The Exsultet.

The Exsultet reminds us that God is, that God has spoken, and that God continues to speak, and continues to lead captives to freedom, to break the bonds of sin and addiction, to break into places of isolation and woundedness. God’s light still breaks through the darkest nights so they are night no more. Jesus lives and Jesus reigns.

Jesus invites us to join with him in this mission of breaking into the night that lies in the hearts of so many youth: to be light and to be a presence. We need him to continue to break into the darkness that resides in our own hearts that we might be transfigured by him and and through him, and join with him more and more generously in this mission. The Exsultet reminds us that we do not need to be afraid; He is already here. We just need to be taken up into the flame of his charity.

“Do not be afraid to go out into the streets and into public places, like the first Apostles who preached Christ and the good news of salvation in the city squares, towns, and villages. This is not time to be ashamed of the gospel. It is the time to preach it from the rooftops. Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living, in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in modern “metropolis.” It is you who must go out into the by-rounds and invite everyone you meet to the banquet which God has prepared for his people. The Gospel must not be kept hidden because of fear or indifference. It is has to be put on a stand so that people may see its light and give praise to the Heavenly Father.”  -St. John Paul II

 

The (Hidden) Missionary Power of Good Friday

Brad Bursa

Good Friday has always been an odd day for me, and the hungriest to be sure (not only for food, but for life and light as well).  I’m fairly certain it is odd because the majority of the world doesn’t even know it is happening – it is just another day.

But for the Christian, the self-aware Christian, the Christian possessed by Christ, Good Friday becomes the day when the call to participate in Christ’s mysterious mission of salvation cannot be ignored.  And, this participation is perhaps the greatest service that the Christian can offer the world – which I realize is contrary to those who often measure holiness by visible charitable works, service outings, and some sort of Pelagian “pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and save the world” mentality.

What the Church, because of Christ, in Christ, and through Christ, ultimately offers the world is salvation, and Good Friday highlights this missionary call and all of its power unlike any other day of the year.

And the world doesn’t even know it’s happening.

To quote extensively from Cardinal Ratzinger’s The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood:

The last and highest mission of the Christian in relation to nonbelievers is to suffer for them in their place as the Master did.  At the end of his life, only a few days before his Passion, Christ described his life’s mission in these words: ‘The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his love as a ransom for many’ (Mk. 10:45). These words express not only the basic law of Christ’s own life, but the basic law of all Christian discipleship.  The disciples of Christ will always be ‘few’ as the Lord said, and as such stand before the mass, the ‘many,’ as Jesus, the one, stands before the many (that is, the whole of mankind).”  (83)

This is the basic law of discipleship – to suffer as the Master suffered and to give love and life for others.  To participate in His suffering by uniting ours with His.  And no day of the liturgical year brings this law to the fore as Good Friday does.

But notice Ratzinger’s words that echo the sentiments of Jesus (and all of salvation history, really) – the disciples will always be few, a remnant.  Many people in the world want to go and make a difference, and however noble this may be and is, few are willing to suffer.  This is the call of the Christian – to love as he loved.  Yet most of us are content with calling ourselves Christian without the cross.

“The disciples of Jesus are few, but as Jesus himself was one ‘for the many,’ so it will always be their mission to be not against but ‘for the many.’  When all other ways fail, there will always remain the royal way of vicarious suffering by the side of the Lord. It is in her defeat that the Church constantly achieves her highest victory and stands nearest to Christ.  It is when she is called to suffer for others that she achieves her highest mission: the exchange of fate with the wayward brother and thus his secret restoration to full sonship and full brotherhood.  Seen in this way, the relationship between the ‘few’ and the ‘many’ reveals the true measure of the Church’s catholicity.” (84)

The Kingdom of Christ, then, is built in plain sight, yet remains “unseen” by the many, and quite honestly, the way of vicarious suffering doesn’t match the rather worldly way of building up the kingdom that has pervaded much Catholic thought over the last several decades.

“In external numbers, it will never be fully ‘catholic’ (that is, all-embracing), but will always remain a small flock – smaller even than statistics suggest, statistics with lie when they call many ‘brothers’ who are in fact merely pseudadelphoi, Christians by name only.  In her suffering and love, however, she will always stand for the ‘many,’ for all. In her love and her suffering she surmounts all frontiers and is truly ‘catholic.’  (84)

“For Jews demands signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:22-23).

Only united with Christ on the cross does the Christian call take on light and achieve its mission.  Good Friday reminds us of this fact.

March is Madness

Rod Dunlap

Last Thursday was the day on the calendar where the most people call in sick to work or leave early. It was also the beginning of the NCAA basketball tournament. Many years ago, I was one of those people that did not work or go to school on this day. This day for me was the beginning of a crazy three week period of hanging out with friends, watching games, and staying up until 1am some nights to see who won the games that didn’t start until 10:30pm. I’d have my bracket in front of me, usually crossing out teams as they lost because I don’t think I’ve ever won a bracket competition that I’ve entered. And I know that there are many others out there that love to dive into what is known as March Madness. People love their schools and want them to win it all. And others just like to fill out their brackets in hopes of winning the office pool. Needless to say, most of America is tuned in during these three weeks to see what team can win six straight games to be crowned the basketball champion.

But the past few years have been a bit different for me when watching these games. I’ve began to reflect on how this “madness” ties into our spiritual journey as Christians. One of the things that make this basketball tournament so exciting is the idea that when a team begins the tournament, they don’t know where these three weeks will take them. They know who they play first, and that is it. So this is very unlike their regular season where they know all of their opponents for the entire year ahead of time. But in the tournament, most things become an unknown. And what this does to the players is force them to trust and rely on their strengths and abilities, regardless of who they play next. And for the coaches, they are forced to adjust on the fly because they do know or have much time to prepare for their next opponent. Or the team might lose and be sent home to deal with that until next basketball season. And each of these options are ones that we as Christians face all the time in our lives. We look at our lives and what lies ahead, and it usually an unknown. We are not sure many times where we are heading or what the Lord is asking from us. But like the players in this tournament, we must learn to trust in the graces that we have been given as well as the specific gifts and talents that God has blessed us with. And the lesson we can learn from the coaches is having to adjust as we go forward. We aren’t sure of what is coming next, but that the Lord is asking us to just take that next step and make changes when necessary. I can recall a few years back being stuck between decisions and not knowing which path to take. And I just froze. Eventually, through prayer, I felt the Lord tell me that I just have to keep moving. That he can’t help me if I just sit there but if I am moving in some direction, even if it’s the wrong direction, he can move me in the right direction. And I think that these coaches and players just have to keep moving and trust. Because if they don’t, their other option is to lose, go home, and think back on all the things they could have done differently to come out as the winner. And as a Christian, that is a position that I never want to put myself in. So I choose to keep moving and trust.


 

Marian Consecration (Part 2)

Brad Bursa

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It is quite accurate to say that the goal of Lent for a Catholic is the renewal of one’s Baptismal promises. The 40 days of penance carried out in the forms of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, are a road of preparation and purification that we might more fully and more faithfully renew and live the most important promises we have ever made and will ever make -- the promises we often forget or break due to original sin and that “residue” called concupiscence. These most important promises are as follows:

Celebrant: Do you reject Satan?

Response: I do.

Celebrant: And all his works?

Response: I do.

Celebrant: And all his empty promises?

Response: I do.

Celebrant: Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?

Response: I do.

Celebrant: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?

Response: I do.

Celebrant: Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

Response: I do.

It might come as a surprise for some that St. Louis de Montfort’s teaching on Marian Consecration has two key emphases: 1) “a renewal of our baptismal vows” and 2) “a particularly intimate gift of ourselves to Mary.” In Marian Consecration, one places in Mary’s hands the vows of his Baptism -- one recommits himself to Jesus through Mary by restating his/her Baptismal vows. Hence, St. Louis’ consecration prayer states:

I, (name), a faithless sinner, renew and ratify today in thy hands the vows of my Baptism; I renounce forever Satan, his pomps and works; and I give myself entirely to Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom, to carry my cross after Him all the days of my life, and to be more faithful to Him than I have ever been before.

With the renewal of Baptismal vows as the goal of Lent and the goal of Marian Consecration, one can rest assured that taking on the 33 days of preparation for Marian Consecration will be a fitting way to enter into the remaining weeks of Lent.


The Office for Youth Evangelization and Discipleship would like to invite everyone to join with them in making the preparation for, and consecration/renewal of consecration to Jesus through Mary on the celebration of the Annunciation this year. For more details, check out our webpage.

Marian Consecration (Part 1)

Brad Bursa 

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Superstition motivated my first Marian consecration. It all happened during my senior year of high school - a preparation process that led me to my friend's house each night as we marathoned our way through St. Louis de Montfort's prayers from late November to January 1st. The logic behind my motivation was fairly sound: how could I not get into Our Lady's university if I consecrated myself to her?

Gaining admission to the University of Notre Dame was, at that time, the driving force of my life. It was virtually all I thought about and it stood behind every decision I made. Naturally, I took up the invitation for consecration with almost entirely self-centered motives. It was about me getting, not me giving.

For a little over a month I faithfully muttered my way through the litanies, and prayers, and rosaries, until our consecration day rolled around - the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. It was Jan. 1, 2004. I wrote the entire act of consecration out by hand and dutifully recited it following Mass at St. Mary Catholic Church in my hometown. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the way you look at it, I was mistakenly standing before a statue of St. Thérèse of Lisieux as I made the act. I even left my signed consecration prayer at Thérèse's feet. My Catholic IQ at the time was rather low. 

In the end, my superstitious and Herculean attempts at gaining entry to Notre Dame failed. I was crushed, but my pride recoiled. I decided I would attend the next most prestigious school to which I had been accepted, and I would pursue journalism because I wanted to write the articles that would be on the front page of all the big newspapers. I didn't care so much about the news -- only about salvaging my name. My pride had reached its heights.

By early October of 2004, my life had reached a crux point. The sinful life I had been leading, one that ultimately led to isolation, was being confronted by the Gospel incarnate in the Eucharist. That month, I gave in to the Lord and entered into the lifelong process of learning how to trust Him with everything. 

Many years later, when invited to participate in Marian consecration again, I remembered that first, 'superstitious' consecration that took place as we celebrated Mary's motherhood. Not surprisingly, my conversion happened full-term - about 9 months later - and around St. Thérèse's feast day. I believe they both took my poorly motivated and sloppy attempt at a consecration and made something beautiful out of it. In fact, this has taught me that Mary always takes what I have to offer, however small or whatever the motivation, and she makes it into something beautiful for her Son. It also taught me that Marian consecration is, in fact, more about God's initiative in giving me a Mother who can foresee what I really need (cf. Jn. 19: 26-27), rather than my own feeble attempts to, on my own, make my life a fitting offering for the Lord. 

The Office for Youth Evangelization and Discipleship would like to invite everyone to join with them in making the preparation for, and consecration/renewal of consecration to Jesus through Mary on the celebration of the Annunciation this year. For more details, check out our webpage.

Pope Francis & The Superbowl

Rod Dunlap

Last year during before the Super Bowl, Pope Francis made a video in which he addressed the game and everyone watching at home.  In this video he summarizes the importance of sporting events like this in our culture and the impact that it has on our society. When the seat of Peter is addressing a sporting event, we see the importance of sports in our world and why the Church is involved in sports. He is one of a long line of previous popes that have addressed sports. As you are watching the “Big Game” this weekend, please observe how the athletes and coaches are living out the virtues they have learned in their sporting life. And take time to reflect on how you may be able to draw closer to Christ through your own experience with sports as a participant and as a spectator.

Part of a Bigger Team

Rod Dunlap

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As a kid growing up in the 80’s, my memory of the Olympics is centered around the American athletes who were involved and winning medals. Mary Lou Retton was a gymnast who found herself on a Wheaties box and into the hearts of all Americans. Carl Lewis seemed like he was winning a medal every time he ran race. Greg Louganis was a big-time diver back then and he won his share of medals. All of these athletic achievements caused so much national pride in our country, these athletes became heroes of sorts.

As we get ready to be spectators for the Winter Olympics here in 2018, many athletes are gearing up for an event that they have trained for years to be at and win. And while many of these athletes throughout the world may be competing in solo events, they are all part of a bigger team, their country. While we as fans may pinpoint certain athletes for their achievements, these athletes understand that they are representing something far greater than themselves, and that is their country. This is something as Christians that we seem to forget sometimes. We are a part of something bigger than us and our journey is not the only one that matters. In fact, Christ tells us in Scripture that it’s not our journey which we should be focused on, but more importantly others. We are a part of a bigger team, and that is the universal Church. When we confess to be a follower of Christ, every day we become a witness to the Church that he founded. A witness to the love that he has for us and all humanity. And this asks the question, “How are we witnessing to the bigger team that we are a part of as Christians?” Are we making decisions and choices that all the angels and saints would be proud of? Or are we making decisions for what is best for ourselves? Just like athletes preparing for the Olympics who want to be a good representation to their countries, we have to ask ourselves what kind of representative do we want to be to those around us. It’s one thing to say we are part of a bigger team but it is another to actually understand it and live that out. So, as we sit on our couches during this month of February and watch these amazing athletes from all of our world perform and represent their countries, let us take time to reflect on how we are representing our “bigger team” to those around us.   

Magi, Mary, and Consecration

Brad Bursa

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I’ve always been captivated by the story of the Magi. I think it is because they are such mysterious figures who set out on a path of longing - they have a desire for the infinite and the courage to follow it. Needless to say, I spend a fair amount of time each year meditating on this story.

In prayer on Sunday, it occurred to me, that apart from the Father’s entrusting of the Son to Mary, the account of the Magi contains very early intimations of Marian consecration. Here’s the line that sparked this:

“On entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Mt. 2:11)

Regardless of Jesus’ exact age at the time of the Magi’s arrival, he was likely still quite young. Traditionally and in iconography, we imagine that Joseph is on the scene, or at least nearby. What we know from Matthew’s account is that Mary was definitely there with her baby. Suddenly, mysterious men from the East arrive, speaking in a different tongue, prostrating themselves, and offering gifts. What would most any mother do in a situation like this? What would most babies do who have enough awareness around strangers? Well, seeking security, the baby/child/toddler searches out and clings to the source of security: mom. And mom, happy to receive the strangers and the gifts, holds them and allows the baby to open it, or at least to behold it. If these normal dynamics hold true in Jesus’ infancy, then it seems quite possible to believe that the Magi offered their gifts to Our Lord through Mary, His mother. The Magi travel all this way to adore Jesus as He is presented to them by Mary, and to offer Him gifts through Mary.

This account hints at what Marian Consecration is all about - offering the gift of our very selves to Jesus through Mary.

Each year, the Office for Youth Evangelization and Discipleship embarks on a 33-day preparation process according to the method of St. Louis de Montfort, and each member consecrates him/herself (or renews his/her consecration) to Jesus through Mary on the Solemnity of the Annunciation. This year, due to the Annunciation falling on Palm Sunday, that solemnity has been moved to April 9 - meaning preparation for the consecration begins on Mar. 7, 2018.

We would like to invite anyone and everyone, especially youth/campus ministers, spiritual liaisons, and coaches, to join us in the preparation and consecration this year. So, mark your calendars for Mar. 7 and stay tuned for more details about this powerful devotion.

Epiphany and Evangelization

Brad Bursa

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The story of the Magi, which we celebrate liturgically today in the Epiphany, contains striking insights pertaining to culture and evangelization.

The first point to be made here is to note the number of cultures present within this story – the story contains no less than four cultures:

  1. Jesus/Mary (presumably Joseph, but he is not named here) – The primordial Christian community, and the first Christian culture.

  2. Magi from the East – Precisely who these mysterious figures from the East were has been the source of much scholarly debate. There are four possibilities: members of the Persian priestly caste, possessors of supernatural knowledge and ability, magicians, and deceivers or seducers.[1] They may have been practitioners of astrology. More theologically-speaking, Benedict XVI notes that they “represent the inner dynamic of religion toward self-transcendence, which involves a search for truth, a search for the true God and hence ‘philosophy’ in the original sense of the word…They represent the journeying of humanity toward Christ…They represent the inner aspiration of the human spirit, the dynamism of religions and human reason toward him.”[2]

  3. Herod – Benedict XVI notes, regarding Herod, that he “was king by favor of Rome. He was an Idumaean, not a son of David.” He was an appallingly cruel “caricature of the kingship that had been promised to David.”[3]

  4. Chief priests/Scribes – Traditional Jews of the Old Covenant.

That the story contains a peculiar number of cultures is one thing, how each reacts to the Lord Jesus (i.e. to that proposal of the Gospel incarnate) is another. Herod offers a resounding “no” out of fear that this “newborn king” will, in some way, outmatch him or overtake his power. His insecurity of his own provenance is unmasked by the true heir to the throne of David, and Herod’s heart is not open to the possibility of a God-made-man who will shepherd Israel. The chief priests and scribes of the people know something of this “newborn king,” that something would happen in Bethlehem. Yet, even with this knowledge, and even in the midst of the Magi who had traveled from afar to see this thing that happened in Bethlehem, the chief priests and scribes are not moved – they are content to remain untouched and unaffected by the potential Mystery. Finally, in the Magi the religious sense of man responds to the presence of a star, a sign of God’s presence on earth, and is moved with longing for adoration. The Magi are encountered by Jesus Christ, an encounter shrouded in humility on all sides, and are changed.

Apart from the obvious invitation for an examination of conscience, a final point comes clear. The Magi are warned in a dream to avoid Herod, and so they return to their country by another way. This, perhaps, is one of the most remarkable actions in the whole narrative: the Magi return home. They do not remain in Bethlehem; they do not pitch tents. They go back into their culture, but they go back changed, and because they have been renewed in Christ, they become capable of being sources of renewal through their witness within their own culture – inasmuch as the culture stands in need of renewal in Jesus Christ. The renewal of a culture only happens in and through the person who has actually been renewed by Christ - the one who has “had an epiphany” through God’s revelation in Christ Jesus.

 

[1] Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (New York: Image, 2012), 92-93.

[2] Ibid., 95-97.

[3] Ibid., 31-32.

 

A Missionary Church

Matt Reinkemeyer

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We've probably all heard it. Mass attendance is dropping. The Church is getting smaller. The second largest denomination in the United States is ex-Catholics. Insert your favorite Catholic woe-ism or paltry stat here.

Now don't get me wrong. These things should be concerning to us especially when Jesus made his mission to us very clear: "Go, therefore, to all the nations." But the way we respond to this news is often telling. One response I’ve heard is that we're going back to being an "early Church.” Now, I think this analogy has some interesting conclusions - some helpful and some not. One that I find helpful is the missionary character of the early Church.

The premise is that everyone who was a believer was also a missionary. They were all spreading the Good News actively. There was an urgency that compelled these early believers to share what they had been given. So, for bearing fruit today, the missionary aspect of the early Church seems like a good place to start.

But let's dig a bit deeper. So often today as soon as I hear the word “missionary,” I think of a foreign country. That gets my planner and provider personality fired into critique mode and I quickly identify 20 reasons why this is probably a bad idea or at least a difficult one. But then here come those words of Jesus again: "Go". So, what do I do? Planning mode. Let's figure out the best strategy to accomplish this task with the least obstacles, pain, and suffering as possible. Now that I have my sweet strategic plan, I can go be a missionary.

See, this same process is often used by missionaries to foreign countries AND those local missionaries engaging in the New Evangelization alike. But, does this really get us back to the missionary impulse of the early Church? I'm going to say, "Probably not." And here's why:

You see, the early Church was missionary by nature, not by strategy. They themselves had seen the miracles and heard the teachings of Jesus or were brought to believe by those who had. They were convicted of what they saw and heard and couldn't help but share it and verify it by their life of faith. They didn't say, "If we go do this" or "If we all just say this" then people will be converted. They lived a life in the Church and in the Holy Spirit and that compelled them to give witness by word and deed wherever they went.

Today, I help run VIA Missionaries - a missionary initiative of the Youth Office. Yes, there's strategic planning involved, calendars to consider, and meetings to attend. But my biggest hope is that maybe, just maybe, we can be the leaven of a missionary Church, not just in our "VIA Missionaries,” but in the parishes and individuals of our Archdiocese - communities that are missionary by nature.

Manifest Hiddenness

Brad Bursa

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The sign of the new covenant is hiddenness. 

We are reminded of this in a striking way as we behold the manger scene. The God who created the cosmos, and recreated through the powerful flood, the God who created a nation and then saved Isreal with pillar of cloud and fire, the God who made the earth shake at Sinai and who established a dynasty in David, this God took flesh completely unawares in an untown town, in the womb of an unknown girl, in a humble house, with nobody else around. Then, upon the time for His birth, this God, in the hidden sign, would be born in a cave outside of Bethlehem (which means 'house of bread') because there was no room in the village. He would be laid in a manger (from which we get the word 'to eat'), a feeding trough for animals. His first visitors where the humble shepherds from the nearby fields - the shepherds who were humble enough to receive the sign. 

The sign of the new covenant is hiddenness. 

The sign remains the same today. On this great Solemnity, the Eucharist stands in striking relief, this great and hidden sign, this bread of life on which we feed, we who are invited to humble ourselves to receive this great gift from the humble God. Today, may the Eucharist draw us deeper and deeper into this humble and hidden mystery of the God born man, that men might participate in the Divine. 

The sign of the new covenant is manifest in hiddenness. May we be granted the grace to believe in the sign and to receive Him in humility.

It's Always Advent

Brad Bursa

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I once read a rather harrowing statement:

“What really torments us today, what bothers us...is the inefficacy of Christianity: after two thousand years of Christian history, we can see nothing that might be a new reality in the world; rather, we find it sunk in the same old horrors, the same despair, and the same hopes as ever. And in our own lives, too, we inevitably experience time and again how Christian reality is powerless against all the other forces that influence us and make demands on us.” - J. Ratzinger

I’d say that for the most part, we don’t pay much heed to thoughts or questions like this one, but in the season of Advent, something of it might wiggle its way into our consciousness.

What are we anticipating at Christmas? What are we celebrating, actually?

At the forefront of most of our minds is the historical coming of Christ around about 4AD, born of a virgin in a cave near Bethlehem, and all of the other nostalgic memories that come with this. Ratzinger’s observation hangs as a dark cloud over this historical fact of His coming. The “Savior of the World” has come, but what, concretely and in terms of salvation, has come in His wake?

Advent also causes us to consider Christ’s second coming - a time to prepare for judgment. This fact might come equipped with its own sense of foreboding. In fact, our lack of hope in God tends to cause us to take matters in our own hands, to pursue creating our own heaven on earth that we have made with our own hands and fashioned according to our own ideals. These attempts to control the future are accompanied by equal amounts of fear (of the whole thing falling apart) and disappointment (because the ideal is never actually attainable). Much of the wreckage we find in history, those “same old horrors,” is the result of many such attempts.

Perhaps here, considering the past and the future comings of Christ, we are forced to confront our disappointment, on the one hand, and our fear, on the other. So, what are we left with?

The fact that, because God completely respects our freedom, it is always Advent.

“We shall begin to realize that the borderline between ‘before Christ’ and ‘after Christ’ does not run through historical time, in an outward sense, and cannot be drawn on any map [i.e. these people are “saved” and those in that country are not]; it runs through our own hearts. Insofar as we are living on a basis of selfishness, of egoism, then even today we are ‘before Christ.’ But in this time of Advent, let us ask the Lord to grant that we may live less and less ‘before Christ,’ and certainly not ‘after Christ,’ but truly with Christ and in Christ.” -J. Ratzinger

In short, we are left with a profound realization that we, right now and very personally, need Christ to come and to be present to us with the same impact that his presence had on the simple shepherds and the Magi, and with the look of the merciful Father who wants us with Him more than we often want it ourselves. We are left with an opportunity to utter a prayer that God would come to me now and that he would dwell in me and break through my own boundary lines.

What's the Story Behind the Advent Hymn of the Day?

Brad Bursa

Like many people, my favorite Christmas cartoon is probably A Charlie Brown Christmas. Not only do I appreciate the dry humor and Charlie's generally pessimistic attitude, I think we all have to appreciate Schultz's attempt to get underneath the consumerism and materialism that has come to mark the season in many ways. Charlie's famous question, 'Is there anyone who know what Christmas is all about?' followed by Linus' monologue is basically an iconic American moment each Christmas season. 

Just as Charlie's question and Linus' response cut through the commercialism, I think similar consideration could be given to the music we ingest this time of year. The Christmas jingles pick up even before Thanksgiving in some cases and flood our ears for over a month. All of this speeds the season into a frenzy driven by marketers and sentiment. But for what, ultimately? Why is it that nearly every year I am attentive during the first Sunday of Advent and then wake up and Christmas is over? It's like a blur, and our project of posting an ADVENT hymn each day is just one attempt to slow us down and really consider just how badly we need the Lord to break into our lives afresh. 

As we wait to celebrate His manifestation on the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord, may these words become our anthem: 'Come, Lord Jesus...show us your face once again, and make us new.'

To You, I Lift Up My Soul, O My God

Brad Bursa

 Waterloo Bridge, Dawn, 1901 by Claude Monet

Waterloo Bridge, Dawn, 1901 by Claude Monet

“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,” the prophet Isaiah exclaims in the first reading on this First Sunday of Advent. Lord, that you would rip yourself away from your heaven, that you would tear yourself from the lumenocity of the eternal, and descend into the muck of our mortality…

Today's Psalm is just as bold in its entreaty: “Rouse your power, and come to save us” (Ps. 80:3). Here, one senses the same urgency the apostles must have had on the stormy sea, as Jesus lay there, asleep in their midst, and their barque battered by wind and waves seemed doomed in the dark night. How often do we share in this sentiment: Wake up, Lord!

Yet the prophet Isaiah reminds us of something that is very close to our experience. He says, “We have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you.” As much as we want the Lord to rouse His power and come, we, in our pride-laden sin that withers us and carries us along, that weighs down our faces, are often at least halfway grateful that He doesn't rend the heavens and come down. In his 1923 study on the philosophy of religion, Rudolf Otto points out that the mysterium tremendum (tremendous mystery) of the divine presence has always both attracted man and woman, and made them tremble in fear. But sometimes I wonder if the hesitation or even repulsion toward God we experience today is not something entirely other than the understandable humility Otto was getting at. In today's workaday world of the self-made man, in this culture that seems to even reject the idea of God (at least in its day-in and day-out operations), we often don't really want God to come, to influence our plans and projects, to cause us to relinquish control. Isaiah highlights this tension: we want God and His power, and at the same time, we don't. We like our own power and its mirage. Taking one more step, we can simply say that we are afraid to be loved by God. Like Adam and Eve, we are afraid of what He might see when He encounters us in our present state.

This season of Advent, with its customary sense of urgency, challenges us to let go - now! - of that prideful repulsion that amounts, in the end, to a sort of apathy. May we rouse  ourselves to call upon him once again, our voices united with the Church, who with her first words in the new liturgical year, as she cries out: “To you, I lift up my soul, O my God” (Ps. 25:1). And may we not waste any time in doing so.

“The days of Advent are like a quiet knocking at the door of our smothered souls, inviting us to undertake the risk of stepping forward toward God’s mysterious presence, which alone can make us free.” -Ratzinger