2nd Sun [B] 2015

2nd Sun (B) 2015                                                                                                                                                     1 Samuel 3:3-10, 19; 1 Corinthians 6:13-15, 17-20; John 1:35-42 

Today's first reading gives us a beautiful and simple story from the Old Testament's First Book of Samuel. A young boy apprenticing with an old priest, Eli, is awakened by a voice, perhaps a voice he heard in a dream. He thinks Eli is calling him. Eli is wise. Thinking it to be an illusion he tells the boy to go back to sleep. After the third time Eli begins to realize that perhaps God is really calling the boy and so tells him “If you are called again reply “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Once again we see that God takes the initiative. This is the first and most fundamental realization we all must have. God offers, we respond. We may not understand the why's, but we must always be open to God's initiatives. God's initiatives come in unexpected ways to unexpected people. For even though young Samuel was just a kid, a kid who was “not familiar with the Lord”, who was not particularly “religious”, he became God's first Old Testament prophet, the first in a long line of prophets.
So, too, with Peter. He wasn't particularly religious. He was brash, presumptuous, and unreliable, and yet became the chief among the Twelve Apostles, not by his choice and certainly not by theirs. He became the “Rock” who turned out to be so because of God's choice.
For Eli, Samuel, and Peter the critical thing was in the fact of their response and in the quality of their response. They were open to the belief that God acts in human history and that God acts in human lives.
One of the great inspirations resulting from the Second Vatican Council was set forth for us in a wonderful document the bishops entitled Gaudium et Spes, (Joy and Hope) an awareness that God works, profoundly works, in our own humanity, no matter how faulted our humanity it may be. Said the bishops of Vatican II:
“With the eyes of faith we can see history, especially after the coming of Jesus Christ, as totally enveloped and penetrated by the presence of God’s Spirit. It is easy to understand why, today more than ever, the Church feels called to discern the signs of this presence in human history, with which she–in imitation of her Lord–“cherishes a feeling of deep solidarity”
“… the Church recognizes that only the Holy Spirit, by impressing on the hearts of believers the living image of the Son of God made man, can enable them to search history and to discern in it the signs of God’s presence and action.”
How then, we ask, does God speak to us? The Church knows of many ways. Certainly God speaks to all of us, both collectively and individually. For as St. John tells us in the Prologue to his gospel:
     “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…
     He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him… He came to what was his own, but his own people * did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name…
     And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. (John 1,1ff)
The big issue for us is not whether God has a word for us, whether God speaks to us. It is rather seeing the hand of God and the presence of God in people and in events. He uses them as His means of reaching us. The most critical issue for us is whether and how we respond. It's the question of our willingness to respond.
How often to you hear yourself saying to your spouse or your children or your friends: “DON'T BOTHER ME NOW… “I'LL GET TO IT LATER!” “CAN'T YOU SEE I'M BUSY?” “WELL, SO WHAT? WHAT'S THAT GOT TO DO WITH ME?”
No attitude of openness there! Do we have that attitude when we consider developing our spirituality, when we consider developing our awareness of God?
God has a Word for you… He has something to say to you. God has something in mind for you – personally and individually. Are you willing to listen up and pay attention to Him? Willing to take a good look at what He's trying to say to you… or trying to ask you to do?
There are hurdles we face, hindrances and attitudes that we simply must overcome. Have we heard ourselves say: “Why would God have anything to say to little me? In the great scheme of things, I'm nobody.” “I just don't have the time right now. Maybe later.” “When I'm living in retirement I'll have time to really pray.”
Allow me to offer you now with some practical suggestions.
2.   BEWARE OF FALSE HUMILTY — thinking that you're such a bad person that God wouldn't want to have anything to do with you. Remember that Jesus Christ has died for you. He makes you worthy of God's love. You don't make yourself worthy. If you think you're so unworthy of God's loving presence to you then spend some time gazing upon Christ hanging on His cross. That will tell you your value and how much God thinks you are worth in His eyes. That will tell you how far He has gone to let you know how much He loves you.
     3. RECOGNIZE that false humility is really just another form of denial, or of pride. It makes you think you're really someone special, one of the world's greatest sinners, or something like that. This just isn't true; it's just another excuse for not letting yourself get near God's love.
     4. TAKE TIME TO REFLECT AND PRAY, paying attention to events as well as things people say to you.
     5. BE OPEN TO SEE AND HEAR THINGS. God, after all, is trying to get in touch with you… maybe in them.
God has a Word for you. He has something He wants to say to you. Begin your next time of prayer with these words: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”


Part 4: Cardinal George’s Second Job

By Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

In the last 14 months, he has made three trips on behalf of the USCCB: to Israel and the Palestinian Authority territories last January; to Rome for the spring meeting of the USCCB president and vice president (Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson) with the pope and with heads of several of the Holy See's offices; and then back to Rome for the Synod of Bishops on “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church” (October 4-25).

Cardinal George, one of four bishops representing the USCCB, served as the moderator of an English-language discussion group and was later elected to the 15-member Council of the Synod of Bishops. This group will meet twice a year to follow up on the synod's work and prepare for the next one (perhaps in 2011).

During the synod, Cardinal George and Bishop Kicanas also made their fall visit to the pope and several offices of the Holy See.

Early during the synod, Cardinal George said that the context in which we hear the text of Scripture draws our attention to the need for conversion. We can stop our souls from responding to God's Word.

Two days after the synod ended, he was back to a full schedule of meetings and events in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

During his presidential address on November 10, 2008, for the USCCB's fall general assembly, Cardinal George said: “As bishops we can only insist that those who would impose their own agenda on the Church, those who believe and act self-righteously, answerable only to themselves, whether ideologically on the left or the right, betray the Lord Jesus Christ.”

‘Provincialism Doesn't Serve the Church'

Asked last summer what he wishes U.S. Catholics would remember more often, Cardinal George immediately answers, “That the Catholic Church is a universal communion, working to transform the world. Provincialism doesn't serve the Church.” He wishes that non-Catholics in this country would recall more frequently the saints whom the Church has nurtured.

In his presidential address cited above, Cardinal George said: “What the Church [in the United States] looks like today in her ethnic composition, her economic situation, her generational cohorts, the entire country will look like in 25 to 30 years. This gives Catholics a perhaps prophetic perspective on our society's life and concerns.

“In Holy Scripture, a true prophet's life is always marked by suffering. What is of major importance to us, as bishops of the Church, is that the Church remain true to herself and her Lord in the years to come, for only in being authentically herself will the Church serve society and its members, in time and in eternity.”

With strong faith, Cardinal George faces the immense challenges of his “second job.”

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Fourth of four parts. The full article can be found at St. Anthony Messenger.
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Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M., is editor of this publication. He interviewed Bishops Joseph Fiorenza, Wilton Gregory and William Skylstad during their terms as president of the bishops' conference.


Part 1: How to Be a Dynamic and Evangelizing Parish

By Father Norman Langenbrunner and Jeanne Hunt

ACF510BCAN YOU HEAR the death knell ringing in your parish? In these times of declining membership, can the Catholic Church in the United States breathe new life into the Body of Christ? Is a resurrection possible? If we focus on the basic mission of the Church, namely, to take the Gospel into the world (to evangelize), we have reason for hope—contrary to prevailing perceptions.

In the broadest sense of the word, evangelization is spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. In the narrowest sense, it is presenting the Gospel in such a way that those who hear it are led to respond in an “aha” or “now I get it” moment. In between the broadest and narrowest sense lie catechesis, faith formation, liturgical celebration and theology.

On the practical level, the parish is both the object and the subject of evangelization. In this setting, two dynamics work simultaneously: A parish must be evangelized and a parish must be evangelizing.

St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Findlay, Ohio, is a “megachurch” with a census of 10,000 members (www.findlaystmichael.org). Holy Infant Parish in Durham, North Carolina, is a moderate-sized parish with 771 families (www.holyinfantchurch.org).

Both parishes give witness to the power of taking evangelization seriously. They provide encouraging examples of American parishes which are both evangelized and evangelizing. They give witness to a healthy vision of Church in our day.

A Catholic Megachurch

St. Michael, founded in 1839, is the sole Catholic parish in Hancock County, Ohio, in the Diocese of Toledo. It fits into the category of “megachurch,” that is, a worshiping community of 2,000 or more members in attendance every week.

The new church, built to accommodate the large congregation, seats 1,500. It is a beautiful, modern, inviting structure in the Romanesque style. Although the structure is as large as a cathedral, it maintains the feel of a parish church.

The parish plant is a complex of church, school (three rooms of each grade), gymnasium, auditorium and offices. As impressive as the buildings are, more remarkable are the active involvement of the parishioners in church ministries and the enthusiasm of their participation in liturgies.

The pastor, Father Mike Hohenbrink, believes the enthusiasm and participation of parishioners flow from their openness to the Holy Spirit. The people have been invited to take their faith seriously.

Geri Leibfarth, the parish's director of religious education, suggests that there are three essential steps in the process: “Keep the people informed, provide opportunities for faith formation and then send them out in a variety of ministries.”

She credits the pastor with the ability to “connect with the parishioners and learn their needs. Father Mike is good at that,” she says about the priest who has been pastor of the parish since July 2000. “We have to listen first. Programs that don't meet the needs don't work.”

One of the needs obvious to St. Michael's membership was ongoing adult education. A monthly systematic study of the faith titled “What Do Catholics Really Believe?” has an attendance of some 300 members. Parishioners asked for a parish mission and over 400 attended the four nightly sessions offered during Lent in 2007.

Father Norman Langenbrunner, a parish priest in Cincinnati, Ohio, has written for Catholic publications as well as for The Gettysburg Experience. Jeanne Hunt, advisor for catechesis and evangelization at St. Anthony Messenger Press, preaches parish missions and gives workshops on adult and family faith formation.

Part 1 of 4 parts. The full article can be found at St. Anthony Messenger.

Part 2: How to Be a Dynamic and Evangelizing Parish

By Father Norman Langenbrunner and Jeanne Hunt

ACF510BStrong Lay Participation

“There are over a hundred ministries in our parish,” a parishioner explains, “and several of them are to people outside the parish. We take care of our own, but we don't stop there.”

Asked what sustains him at St. Michael's, parishioner Chris Brooks says, “In brief, God's grace through the Eucharist. I also experience his love through the church members.”

Beth Seman has been a parishioner her entire life “and it feels more like my family every day. We have a vibrant parish with over 100 ministries available for all ages. A person can choose to be part of a ministry by simply praying. Or a person can become involved, using God-given gifts and talents to minister to others. There is something for everyone.

“Our current staff and ministry teams are just as dedicated as our priests. Their hard work really shows,” Beth adds. “We have also been blessed by many parishioners willing to volunteer their time and talent.”

According to Father Mike, “St. Michael's has benefited from strong lay participation over the past 40 years. Their good understanding that they are Church has helped them to be faith-filled and to search for ways to grow in faith. Our history of parish retreats, enrichment programs, participation in RENEW [a spiritual-development program] has raised the bar for them to be active in ministry.”

About 40 percent of the congregation attends Mass regularly, which is about 10 percent above the national average. Father Mike maintains that his people take prayer very seriously, a reflection that “prayer calls us to ministry and ministry calls us to prayer.”

In a parish-sponsored synod (a gathering of parishioners for assessment and planning), members agreed to renew their efforts in Catholic education for adults and youth, to be more welcoming and inviting, to improve their marketing and advertising, and to engage in additional outreach.

City flooding in 2007 prompted community-minded parish members to launch “Calming the Waters,” a flood-relief outreach to citizens hardest hit by the deluge. Other parishioners offer year-round support to an adopted parish and school in Belize, a small country with the highest unemployment rate in Central America.

“The parishioners have taken ownership,” Leibfarth says about these and other forms of parish outreach. “I believe that this is the work of the Holy Spirit.”

Father Mike is understandably proud of the physical plant, but he knows that there is more to a parish than a “build it and they will come” dream. “We have the facilities,” he says. “Now we can focus even more on the mission and ministries they imply.”

The megachurch is not the only successful model for the evangelized church. Every type of parish church has the potential for realizing the mission of evangelizing and being evangelized. Within each parish there are all the charisms necessary to make Church.

When the U.S. bishops issued Go and Make Disciples, their 1992 national plan and strategy for evangelization, they outlined three basic goals:

1. To encourage Catholics to get excited about living their faith and sharing it with others.

2. To invite our fellow citizens to listen to the Gospel and to become members of the Church.

3. To promote Gospel values in society so that the power of Christ may transform our nation.

The bishops then listed dozens of strategies for achieving those goals, such as programs for renewal, Spirit-filled celebrations of the liturgy, better catechetical materials, formation of diocesan-evangelization committees, review of hospitality, ecumenical outreach and parish-education programs geared toward social justice.

Clearly, it is not the size of a parish that determines its spirit, its outreach, its power to evangelize. Every ecclesial assembly has the potential. The deciding factor appears to be whether the assembly is “called forth.”

Father Norman Langenbrunner, a parish priest in Cincinnati, Ohio, has written for Catholic publications as well as for The Gettysburg Experience. Jeanne Hunt, advisor for catechesis and evangelization at St. Anthony Messenger Press, preaches parish missions and gives workshops on adult and family faith formation.

Part 2 of 4 parts. The full article can be found at St. Anthony Messenger.


Part 3: How to Be a Dynamic and Evangelizing Parish

By Father Norman Langenbrunner and Jeanne Hunt

Holy Infant Parish is a case in point. Tucked in a pine grove deep in Durham, North Carolina, this vibrant parish brings a unique blend of intergenerational catechesis to 771 families.

Holy Infant sustains an active faith community based on gatherings for members from preschool to the elderly. At these gatherings catechesis and evangelization are featured.

In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke describes the ideal Church as a Christian community which is “united, heart and soul; no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, as everything they owned was held in common” (4:32). The clue to achieving such a Church may be found in Acts 2:42, in Luke's list of these four characteristics:

쳌¡ The members are guided by the teaching of the apostles.
쳌¡ They attend to the needs of the community.
쳌¡ They devote themselves to prayer.
쳌¡ They celebrate the breaking of the bread (Eucharist).

Lynn Sale, the parish's director of faith development, believes that the parish's success is based on a desire for interpersonal support that the traditional Catholic parish may not offer. The intergenerational model “widens the circle of formation to include parents, children and adults without children,” says Lynn.

Holy Infant, located in an area known as Research Triangle Park, is a transient parish that attracts Catholics beyond territorial boundaries. Lynn says that last year, 89 families joined the parish and 81 families left the parish. Yet, the Triangle area is expanding and so is Holy Infant Parish.

More than half of Holy Infant's membership is young families, with 60 percent consisting of adults between the ages of 15 and 60. Parishioners are well-educated: Durham has the highest per capita number of Ph.Ds. The transitory nature creates a special challenge for this community.

At the time of this interview, Father Mike McCue, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, was the pastor of Holy Infant. (He was reassigned last summer.) “Holy Infant has a solid tradition of member involvement,” he says. “People make liturgy, faith development, service and community happen. In addition, our people have a good understanding of these elements of parish life.”

While the parish has a fine reputation as a spiritual center that emphasizes Salesian spirituality, the shift to intergenerational faith-development programs seems to have boosted the spiritual energy of Holy Infant.

Intergenerational means that younger and older members are brought together for instruction, faith formation and prayer. Older members model faith life for the younger ones, and the younger ones inspire the older members.

According to longtime parishioner Tom Goehl, “The appeal of Holy Infant Parish stems from our priests' understanding that it is imperative to address not only the parishioners' spirituality but also their humanness. This understanding has led to a vibrant parish whose people truly care about each other and the wider community.”

So what accounts for such dynamic and sustaining energy in this mid-sized Southern parish? In 2000, the vision of the parish changed when parishioners undertook a long-range plan for evangelization. It was John Roberto's Generations of Faith Resource Manual: Lifelong Faith Formation for the Whole Parish Community that re-created the parish with “new wineskins,” says Lynn Sale.

A previous pastor, Father John McGee, invited Lynn to join the staff and immerse their ministry in this intergenerational model. Eight years later, the staff works in a collaborative style that encourages everyone to cross over their job descriptions as they work together developing the lifelong learning model.

The old CCD model was discarded. HI-life, as it is now called, offers faith formation for everyone at Holy Infant. Throughout the year, a theme-based curriculum is offered to the entire parish. The annual theme (justice, creed, prayer, sacramental life) is integrated into everything the parish does, from homilies to outreach ministries.

Last year's theme was “Acting for Justice.” This led the parish to start “Just Faith”: small-group discussions. In addition, parishioners built a Habitat for Humanity house and moved forward with a parish-stewardship campaign.

Paulo Chiquito, the father of three and an active HI-life participant, reports, “Coming from a very traditional Catholic upbringing, HI-life breathed a new life into my concept of catechism teaching. The sessions are very dynamic and challenging.

“I love going together as a family, but with the opportunity for separate age-specific activities,” Paulo explains. “The kids love these and the grown-ups have a chance for a more mature presentation and discussion. Some sessions offer beautiful music, superb acting and some very spiritual experiences.”

Mike Somich, a member of the HI-life core team, notes, “I think most men are uncomfortable expressing their faith. I have found that, in the development and presentation of our intergenerational gatherings, parishioners are very supportive, so much so that, at a recent gathering, I was willing to witness to the role that the Holy Spirit has played and is playing in my life.”

HI-life gatherings turn the entire parish space into an interactive learning center. The vision of Holy Infant is to create a lifelong learning model in which more and more pieces of parish ministry and formation opportunities can be added as the community evolves into a deeper understanding of the Gospel.

Father Norman Langenbrunner, a parish priest in Cincinnati, Ohio, has written for Catholic publications as well as for The Gettysburg Experience. Jeanne Hunt, advisor for catechesis and evangelization at St. Anthony Messenger Press, preaches parish missions and gives workshops on adult and family faith formation.

Part 3 of 4 parts. The full article can be found at St. Anthony Messenger.


Part 4: How to Be a Dynamic and Evangelizing Parish

By Father Norman Langenbrunner and Jeanne Hunt

Father Mike had an optimistic outlook about the parish: “For our future, I hope we grow in understanding and in action in these areas of parish life. I can see us continually rising to the challenge to keep fresh and alive—not giving in to the tendency to rest on our laurels. Church is a living body.

“One future task that we share with the whole American Church is that of welcoming new Americans, people from cultures that are so different from standard, middle-class American culture,” he added. “We have to make sure that their Church is a home for them.

“At Holy Infant, we have people from Asia, Africa and Europe,” Father Mike explained. “We need to make sure they feel a part of the parish so that we no longer think entirely in terms of ‘they' and ‘we.'”

When Father Mike called the people forward, Holy Infant parishioners echoed that call to one another. Marshall Robers, member of the parish's pastoral council, points out that the parish adopted the pineapple, a longtime symbol of hospitality, as the parish's symbol. “Parishioners feel connected to the parish as a whole,” he says, “rather than merely having a close friendship with a few people.

“Stewardship goes hand in hand with this overall hospitality and sense of belonging, since parishioners willingly give of themselves when they are within a nurturing environment,” Marshall explains. “Once stewardship and hospitality have been embraced, the overall opportunities for faith development increase dramatically, since parishioners are connected with each other and growing in faith together, not only at events targeted for faith development but also within the ministries in which they participate.”

There is a movement in the Church in America that is unprecedented. The evangelization that is taking place plays out in a variety of forms. The model of Church is changing as numbers of active Catholics decline and the priesthood is undermined by crises.

Yet never before has there been such a unique energy to make Church. What is significant is that there are as many ways to create an evangelized parish as there are faith communities to fill them. St. Michael in Findlay, Ohio, and Holy Infant in Durham, North Carolina, are different in many ways: large vs. mid-sized, Midwest vs. South, megamodel vs. a smaller intergenerational faith community. Yet each parish has discovered a working solution to creating a vital, living community of faith.

There is no template in evangelizing the Catholic parish. Every one is a unique faith family. The demographics, the leadership style of the pastor and staff, the cultural and ethnic character of the members—all this and much more determine the means through which a faith community will invite and sustain conversion for its membership.

The days in which a formula could be imposed on a Catholic congregation are over. While Catholic dogma and doctrine remain steadfast, the manner in which a Catholic parish catechizes and evangelizes is developed through a vision that is its own.

These two Catholic models of evangelization offer great hope for the future of the Catholic Church in the United States. Invigorating the People of God, the Holy Spirit has been quite busy building up the Church, not in cookie-cutter fashion, but in ways peculiar to the talents and needs of the people.

Within both communities, it is apparent that this Spirit provided all the gifts necessary to create and fulfill a healthy vision of Church. There are gifts sufficient to do this work and, just as Jesus promised, we have not been left orphans.

On several occasions Pope John Paul II challenged the Church to undertake a program or process he called “a new evangelization.” It was not new in its content but new in its energy, its style, its language. He said, “No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church, can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples” (Redemptoris Missio [Mission of the Redeemer], #3).

The task he set before us is the same daunting mission given by Jesus himself: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations; baptizing them…and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded” (Matthew 28:19-20). Translating that responsibility into strategies, tactics and actions is as mammoth a task today as it was in the first century.

By breaking the mission down into its various parts, we can muster the courage and decipher the ways to accomplish it. We recognize that:

1. Evangelization is the responsibility of all Christians.
2. The message of evangelization is Christ and the Gospel.
3. The target audience of evangelization is believer and nonbeliever alike.
4. Evangelization occurs when we give witness by words and deeds.
5. Evangelization is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit accomplished with human cooperation.

An evangelized parish is in the never-ending process of hearing the Gospel and being formed by it. An evangelizing parish is “bringing the Good News of Jesus into every human situation and seeking to convert individuals and society by the divine power of the Gospel itself” (Go and Make Disciples, U.S. bishops).

Every parish has the duty and ultimately the resources to be an evangelized, evangelizing parish, whether large or small, rich or poor, ethnic or multicultural, rural or urban. The primary dynamic for evangelization is the Holy Spirit. The primary message is the Good News of God's love for the world.

Evangelizers are the people who believe that they are loved by God and who want to share that Good News with others. Although we tend to make the matter complicated, in essence, evangelization occurs when we live the Gospel.

Father Norman Langenbrunner, a parish priest in Cincinnati, Ohio, has written for Catholic publications as well as for The Gettysburg Experience. Jeanne Hunt, advisor for catechesis and evangelization at St. Anthony Messenger Press, preaches parish missions and gives workshops on adult and family faith formation.Part 4 of 4 parts. The full article can be found at St. Anthony Messenger.