It’s Advent, and as we are preparing for Christmas, we’re probably also thinking about our ministry in the coming year. What new things do we want to try? Where do we want to go deeper? What will really work in reaching youth today?
There's much excitement and anticipation for the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy. The Holy Father will begin the Jubilee Year by opening the Holy Doors on December 8, 2015. With lots happening around us, be sure to set some time aside to discern how we will personally live out this Year of Mercy.
Well, that’s exactly what just happened! Last month a very significant event quietly occurred in the United States. I say “quiet” because as amazing as this event was, there was hardly any media recognition about it. In October of 2015, Nobel Peace Laureates, religious leaders, global thinkers, and interfaith activists gathered in Salt Lake City for the Parliament of the World’s Religions (Congress of the Religions). The Parliament is the oldest (1893), the largest, and the most inclusive gathering of people of all faith and traditions. Traditionally, the Parliament occurs every five years. This year 10,000 people, 80 nations, and 50 different faiths came together to learn, dialogue, and pray with each other.
Photo by Leticia Bertin on Flickr
If ever there was an opportunity for us to celebrate and be grateful for God’s mercy and compassion and forgiveness, it’s now. Carpe diem! Seize the day! Since Pope Francis announced a Jubilee Year of Mercy beginning December 8th on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and ending on November 20th of 2016, we’ve probably all been thinking about how we can weave the theme of mercy into our evangelization and catechesis. But before we get there, maybe there’s a preliminary step!
I think the first thing I need to keep in mind is to not create ways I can use the Jubilee Year of Mercy in my ministry. (That will come later.) I believe Pope Francis is calling me to show mercy myself. I have the audacity to pray the Lord’s Prayer every day. Sometimes I don’t pay attention to the fact that I am asking God to forgive me only to the degree I forgive others. No more, no less. It’s a scary thought. I am certain I’d rather be judged by God than by me. So perhaps the best way I can enter into the Year of Mercy is to become a person of mercy, to forgive, to offer mercy when I really want justice, and to have a more compassionate heart. What do you think?
With less than a year away to World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, the excitement and anticipation for this world gathering is mounting. The recent Holy Father's apostolic visit to the U.S. has also revved up the excitement among the young Church.
It was just last week I found photos of my first World Youth Day in August 2011 in Madrid. I reminisced of the pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Madrid with the great group of people from the Diocese of Brownsville (TX). It was my first international travel overseas and I was really excited. The week prior to the World Youth Day was spent visiting the beautiful sites of Lisbon, Fatima, Porto, Santiago de Compostela, Avila and Toledo. During the week of World Youth Day, the city buzzed with excitement for all the celebrations and most especially the Holy Father’s visit.
Though long lines and cold cuts sometimes conjure up my memories of World Youth Day, it’s normally images of large crowds of excited people clamoring to see the Pope. It was undoubtedly a powerful experience of pilgrimage, prayer, and community. It also provided a glimpse of how large and diverse the Church is. It's with the same excitement that I look forward to heading out to Krakow next year and celebrating the national celebration of World Youth Day next month on October 25, 2015.
As an artist, I am often inspired to try and imitate or reproduce the beauty I see in nature. With my paint brush, I can sweep colors of paint across a canvas to try and portray the splendor of a brilliant pink, yellow, orange, and purple sunset. Yet, try as I might, my paintings never fully capture the magnificence of the actual sunset. My artistic attempts cannot duplicate the real thing. It’s like traveling to a stunning location and wanting to freeze the moment in a photograph. A picture, even taken with the most expensive camera, still is not as satisfying as being at the location yourself. Of course this begs the question, does art imitate life or does life imitate art? For those who believe in a God of “All Creation,” the answer is always art imitates life. God is the original master or "artist" and humankind might try to replicate the original, but we cannot fully duplicate the master's handiwork. All the natural beauty and mystery that surround us is something we as humans cannot recreate. I can paint a sunset but I cannot originate one. But I can however, look upon a sunset with reverence and honor for the incredible gift of the fleeting beauty it offers. I can stand before a sunset and feel amazed in knowing that I am part of all that is God’s glorious creation. It is humbling to consider that the care of all this mystery and magnificence has been entrusted to us. Our vocation from God is to care for the very creation that inspires us.
Yes, it is noisy. Yes, it is chaotic. And yes, it is a lot of hard work for parish leaders. But there is something almost magical about generations learning faith together. I’ve seen a father with his arm around his 12-year-old daughter exploring a Scripture passage. That gives me hope.
“If only parents would do their job at home and support our ministry better!” Ever since youth ministry and faith formation leaders learned that parents are the primary catechists of their children, we have been trying to get those parents to do a better job. We often responded with more mandatory meetings, more homework, worksheets, family resources sent home online or in handouts, and more expectations for families of children and youth seeking sacraments. This approach has not yielded the results we expected or hoped for.