Hip Hop and The New Evangelization: What We Can Learn from Lecrae

I recently wrote a blog post for FOCUS Blog, check it out!

Hip Hop and The New Evangelization: What We Can Learn from Lecrae

It’s fun to see that since I wrote the post, Lecrae’s latest album Anamoly was released to stunning success, topping the Billboard chart and in the process becoming the first Christian Hip Hop artist to do so.

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A Gospel Presentation

My friend Andrew and I decided to film a simple Gospel presentation to share with the world over Youtube this year, and thanks to the great editing by our talented friend Becca (check out her Youtube channel with a short film, music videos, and more!), we have the finished video to share with you all! Enjoy!

This is a simple follow up to my longer post last year about how to share the Gospel, specifically as a Catholic. There’s plenty more that we could have said, but we kept it short and sweet at under 90 seconds.

Want to live in relationship with Christ? Say a simple prayer right now asking Christ to come into your life and reveal Himself to you. Make sure to talk with a Catholic friend or your local priest about how you can take the next steps toward joining an RCIA group. A great resource is Catholics Come Home. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions and give advice, as well!

God bless you!

FOCUS New Staff Training, Take 2

Well I’ve definitely fallen behind on blogging ever since I’ve been back at FOCUS New Staff Training again this summer, so here are some quick updates and thoughts:

  • This is such an exciting place to be. Besides the seminaries, this is largely where the future of the Catholic Church in America is. 400+ missionaries zealous for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ on college campuses around the country. Every year there are more missionaries and campuses, it’s so cool to see God blessing this apostolate.
  • I already knew that I was returning to Montclair State University in New Jersey next year, but now I have some teammates! Here’s a pic of us (Mike, yours truly, Kristin, Anne, and Kerry), they’re awesome!
  • Team MSU 2014-2015
  • A few of the major topics that I’ve been learning over the past 3 weeks have been discernment of spirits, the Gospel of John (in depth), and Catholic Social Teaching. Each class has been really interesting, I’m a bit of nerd for stuff like that. But you’d probably assume that when you take into account that I blog in my free time about my faith 😀
  • This time in the summer is a great time to process all that happened over the school year so that I can learn from my experiences. I’ve been trying to talk with other veteran missionaries to learn best practices and those have been some fascinating conversations.
  • I’m off to a silent Ignatian retreat this weekend. I went on one last year as well, it was so cool to experience that silence. On the other hand, Ignatian prayer was tricky for me, so I’m hoping and praying that I’m more faithful to that this time around.
  • Easily one of my favorite things about training is sitting down at a table for a meal with all new people and getting to know them all and hearing how God’s worked in each of their lives to call them to the missionary life. Everyone is so unique and has such cool stories!
  • Reforming the Church and the world happens one person at a time. We have to be faithful to God first in our own life before we can focus our evangelization efforts on others.
  • The second half of the summer will be time for me to meet up with my mission partners who support me financially and spiritually. They truly are mission partners because I couldn’t get on campus and invest in the students without their help. Some give by going (missionaries), and others go by giving (mission partners). Both work together to bring forth the Kingdom of God, so thank you to all my mission partners out there!
  • God bless, hope you’re having a great summer!

Jon’s Testimony: A Jew on the Path to Catholic Conversion

The following is a testimony by my friend Jon, who I got to know over the past year at Montclair State University.

Jon and I

Coming into my Junior year I began with my Jewish religious beliefs, but would later come into an encounter with Jesus Christ at Montclair State. My first thoughts of Newman Catholic my first two years was that they were a Catholic cult on campus like I had felt before attending a couple of Catholic services. I WAS SO WRONG with everything, but my roommate Jeff, who will take no credit even though he deserves it a lot, has shown me a way to live my life through Catholicism and to a closer understanding of who Jesus is. We had made an agreement with each other that if he came to a Hillel (Jewish) service that I would come to a Newman Catholic event, and obviously I am still here today. My first event was mass and adoration at the Newman Center and it was an awesome experience between Father Jim’s homily to the atmosphere of the Newman Center. My main reason for coming back was the awesome people that were completely accepting and really welcoming, something that I hadn’t experienced too much in my own faith. Over the entire spring semester my connection with Jesus became stronger, thanks to getting involved heavily with Newman events ranging from weekly Sunday mass, Thursday mass and adoration, CIA, and more.

Throughout the semester I had attended mass as it was a fun environment and a way to pray with friends. My faith towards Judaism had not been present in my life. It wasn’t until my 21st birthday when I realized that I needed a change in my life. Leading into my birthday I had a toga party with my fraternity and got drunk and passed out. The next day and over the night there was a huge snowstorm and my car had been towed from my fraternity house and they kept trying to wake me up but couldn’t. I woke up and felt awful and I decided that the darkness and evilness had done me in for the last time.
When elections for E-board came for the 2014-15 year I ran for treasurer and won. I decided to run due to the fact that I wanted to give back to MSU Newman Catholic for all they have done for me, being in a dark place and showing me a light at the end of the tunnel. The other reason was to spread the Gospel of Jesus and evangelize on the MSU campus.

An instance that occurred on Palm Sunday would confirm everything for me. It was a typical mass on Palm Sunday during personal prayers after Eucharist when it hit me LITERALLY. I felt a jolt back with my body and it was a feeling like no other. I had no idea what it was at first but it was the cross hitting me on the head throwing me back in my chair. After mass I talked to Father Jim about it and he told me to contemplate it, which I did the next few weeks leading into the Easter season. More events like this encouraged me, for example at next meal I ate, my fortune cookie said “Among the lucky, you are the chosen one.” Through bible studies, masses, and talks with Father Jim as well as the missionaries, I have taken it upon myself to engage in conversion and RCIA for my senior year.

Later in the semester, speaker Leah Darrow came to MSU and gave a testimony. Three words during it stood out to me and returned to my head multiple times: “Jesus is home.” This is something that I have thought about whenever praying. Her father told her when she was in her darkest moments of her life. Using that quote I came up with one of my own, “Newman Catholic and the Catholic faith are home.” This year has 100% been up and down, but it is clear now to me which way to go from here on out.
I can see my life being turned around in everyday life. God and Catholicism have shown me the way I want to live the rest of my life. I am proud of being a Jew and my faith tradition, but as a Jew it is my job to follow the Messiah. I believe that Jesus is the Messiah and I am excited to enter into His Christian Catholic Church.

Missionary Life: Year 1 Reflections

Wow. So crazy as it seems, I’ve already completed an entire school year as a FOCUS Missionary. Life just flies sometimes, doesn’t it? Here are some observations and thoughts about the year!

  • In college I learned that life moves even faster than normal. Those 4 years were a blur… At graduation it still seemed like I moved in as a freshman the day before. Well, as a missionary, time goes EVEN FASTER. Jeepers, I was booked and busy. Sometimes a bit too much haha.. but constantly meeting with different people and going to different events and having intentional conversations will do that sort of thing!
  • I can’t share Jesus when I don’t know Jesus or live like Him. I definitely do know Him and try to live for Him, but I still could still grow closer to Him. Becoming more Christlike gives me more credibility in sharing the Gospel, and also gives me an even greater zeal to share it! Prayer is the foundation of evangelization.
  • I am a doer, a fixer, a go-getter. And yet despite everything that I did, I still got rejected, and relatively often. It’s a struggle for all who try and evangelize… but I have to remember that ultimately only God can touch someone’s heart, no matter what I do. I began to rely more and more on prayer by the end of the year, praying for the people in my life, because I knew that personal conversion is a matter between that person and God, and my job is simply to introduce the two parties and foster that relationship 😉
  • There were so many fun crazy things that I got to do as a missionary: relive the college experience WITHOUT GOING TO CLASS, so many retreats and conferences, seeing nearly every single state in the Northeast, hiking trips, the March for Life was only 4 hrs away, trips to NYC, Catholic Underground, meeting so many religious orders, being in spiritual direction, building such great friendships with the students, speaking in front of groups about JESUS, and literally see lives change before my very eyes.
  • I really couldn’t have done any of that without the support of my mission partners, who donate to and pray for my mission. Their generosity has shown me a glimpse of the charity of God Himself.
  • I got a kick out of seeing probably more Chicago Bulls hats than any other hat on campus… and it’s in New Jersey! Go Bulls!
  • Numbers are great, individual souls are priceless, and faithfulness to God is most important. I’m reminded of the Mother Teresa quote, “God doesn’t ask us to be successful, He asks us to be faithful.” Praise God that we did have some success in terms of conversions of students either back to their Catholic faith, from a different denomination home to Catholicism, or from another/no faith to the Church.
  • I could have been an engineer this year. Looking back, if I did that, so many things would have been different, in my life as well as in others. It’s amazing how much God works when we go out of our way to follow Him, even in a single thing.
  • Young people’s apathy for religion is unbelievable. This isn’t necessarily their fault as much as it is the fault of previous generations who should have taught them its importance. But either way, if there are belief systems out there that say that their way is the only way to live life, wouldn’t you at least want to check them out to see if they are true? Relativism has largely crippled any desire of the youth to search for eternal truth.
  • The lack of religious convictions by the youth has also given way to incredible boldness and zeal by my peers. My fellow missionaries and student leaders are courageous souls determined to shine the light of Jesus everywhere they go, because they know just how desperately our peers need that light. The greater the darkness, the more bright the lights of heroes shine.
  • Looking forward to next year! Who knows what God will do next 🙂

End of year BBQ

You Can Tell the State of a Church By…

Whether the members are inviting new people to join them in encountering Jesus.

That’s huge. This is a very simple and easy point… and yet…

IT’S SO HARD!!!

The point of the Church is not to just keep to itself. The point of the Church is not to just take the babies baptized into it and hold their hand until they are buried. The Church’s goal is to set the WORLD on fire with the love of God. If there are people who haven’t heard of Jesus yet in your city or town, then you have a job to do. The point of the Church is to send the members of the Body of Christ (you and I!) on mission.

The point of us “pewfolk” isn’t to just to sit and stand when we’re supposed to. WE ARE THE CHURCH. If your next door neighbor hasn’t heard the Gospel, who do you think is more to blame: your priest or you? Just because we aren’t from a 3rd world country doesn’t mean that our churches can’t be missionary churches. We have to stop accepting complacency in church. In the business world, boards of directors don’t give high fives to CEOs for breaking even, and let’s be frank: our churches aren’t even breaking even. Just because church is “religion” doesn’t mean that everyone should receive a gold star for showing up. Our faith isn’t something that is “nice,” it is something that SAVES LIVES FOR ETERNITY. So let’s see churches strive for a growth mindset. You know, every once in a while we see mega-churches have success, and I think that that’s because they have pastors whose very careers (and paychecks) depend on being able to gather believers in. They do have a growth mindset and a sense of urgency. Do we see that in Catholic churches? Do bishops and priests have that same urgency? Jesus is the director of the board in a sense, and He expects us to “go and make disciples.” Jesus wants the best for the world, He wants as many souls as possible to encounter Him at Mass.

“When the Church does not come out of itself to evangelize, it becomes self-referential and then gets sick.” – Pope Francis

Bishops, Priests, and Deacons have a high calling. Their job is to take care of the flock, their local church. Their job is to make sure that we’re receiving the sacraments (ok not the deacons) and getting instruction in the faith. In many churches, this is lacking. In these cases I have much more compassion for the “pewfolk,” who probably are not only clueless on what to do, but have difficulty even understanding what they believe. In these cases, we need better leadership and catechesis from Church leadership. Praise God, I think that this is improving slowly but surely.

But once a lay Catholic has a firm understanding of the faith and is practicing it, that’s not grounds for sitting around and calling it a life! If we truly have encountered JESUS CHRIST at mass, in confession, in prayer, in scripture, etc., then there shouldn’t be a BRICK WALL thick enough from stopping us from sharing that encounter with everyone that we know!

Now if only he yelled out, “HAVE YOU HEARD OF JESUS?!”

As a leader in the Church, you can see whether you’re doing your job well if you see the laity in your parish taking initiative themselves in sharing the Gospel with others and bringing them along to mass, parish events, and getting them involved. If you see that, then you know that you are successfully sharing Jesus with your parish.

As a layperson, if you have encountered Jesus and have decided to live for Him, then it’s time to take the next steps to fulfill the great commission:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20

Who are the people closest to you in your life? Family, friends, coworkers, fellow students, etc.? Have you shared your faith with them? Have you asked them about their own faith journey? Being vulnerable and kind with them will encourage them to open up with you themselves. The goal isn’t instant conversion, but some sort of growth in understanding Jesus and the message of Christianity. When you think the time is right, then make an invitation. Invite them to mass or some other parish event, depending on where you think they would be comfortable first. Keep making friendly invitations even if they decline, sometimes it takes years for people to try out faith. Don’t pester them, of course. You have to use your own judgement. If you aren’t completely sure how to share the Gospel I’ve got a handy overview for you.

So do you see new people showing up at your church? Go for it and invite new people yourselves! Jesus loves you, but He also loves everyone else who isn’t attending and encountering God!

Pope Francis Favela WYD

“I want the Church to go out into the streets, I want us to defend ourselves against all worldliness, opposition to progress, from that which is comfortable, from that which is clericalism, from all that which means being closed up in ourselves. Parishes, schools, institutions are made in order to come out … if they do not do this, they become a non-governmental organisation, and the Church must not be an NGO” – Pope Francis, WYD 2013

14 Reasons Why You Should Become a FOCUS Missionary in 2014

focus

As some of the last interview weekends of the year are coming up, here are 14 reasons why you should join me in becoming a FOCUS missionary this year!

1. There is a desperate need. It’s a safe bet that most of your fellow students have not heard the Gospel. They do not understand who Jesus is and what Christianity is all about. Their best hope is other young people like you, their peers, to witness to the faith and share Jesus with them.

2. It is our calling as Christians to share the Gospel. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” – Matthew 28:19. “Through Baptism, each of us becomes missionary disciples, called to bring the Gospel to the world. Each of the baptized, whatever their role in the Church or the educational level of their faith, is an active agent of evangelization.” – Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

3. You will grow in virtue and holiness. You will be surrounded by support with your teammates, student leaders, the regional support teams, the chaplain, etc. Your daily holy hour and mass will challenge you to continue to strive closer to Jesus. It’s a great way to train yourself to become a saint!

4. You receive unparalleled formation for life. Leadership skills, people skills, managing small groups, support from teammates, and more. New Staff Training in the summer helps to train us with the very best resources that the Church has to offer for new evangelists. Oh and by the way, going to the March for Life doesn’t require you to “ask off,” you can do it as a part of your job!

5. You meet and work with awesome people. Your “co-workers” aren’t just there because they need to pay the bills. Your teammates are young zealous world changers willing to take risks to help make differences in others lives. In addition, you get to meet so many interesting students from all walks of life, and get introduced to other exciting people in the Church making a difference through overlapping ministries (like all the awesome priests, religious, and campus ministers!).

6. You make a lasting eternal impact on the lives of students. Even one soul that comes to know Jesus is priceless. These students will have changed lives in college, but it doesn’t stop there! They’ll also be influencing others for the rest of their lives! You just get to knock over the first few dominoes (by God’s grace!) and sit back as God does His thing. 🙂

7. It’s a blast! Come on, does it really sound like a boring job? Hanging out at college for a few extra years… No classes… No homework… No exams… All mission. Oh, and have you heard of these things called FOCUS Conferences?

SLS 14

Leaf Fight

Halloween

Fall Retreat

8. Be at the forefront of the New Evangelization, help to reclaim the culture for Jesus! John Paul II approved.

John Paul II hiking

9. Help to save people’s souls. I guess this should be #1, but this list isn’t in order anyways haha.

10. Acquire skills for lifelong mission. We will continue to live as missionary disciples even after being FOCUS missionaries in our homes, parishes, workplaces, etc. By being a missionary for a few years, we will acquire the skills that we need to make the biggest difference afterwards.

11. 2 years fly by and doesn’t set you back in your career. Really. Fundraising will actually help you out with networking a little, too. At my summer internship before senior year, the CEO (of a very large company) was a high school gym teacher for the first 8 years. Nuff said.

12. You will learn to appreciate your gifts and resources more. Fundraising is awesome! It’s taught me to appreciate other people’s generosity so much more. It’s also been a great way to teach me to tithe myself. This experience has taught me to be more generous to others and fiscally responsible in general.

13. You could meet your future spouse. There have been a pretty good amount of couples that met through FOCUS. One couple went to the Vatican and had their marriage blessed by Pope Francis this fall, actually.

14. It will help you to discern your vocation. The first year dating fast (if it applies) isn’t a big deal at all.. and I’m a first year. Clear your mind from this over-sexualized culture and let God speak to you in prayer. You will be most happy in the vocation that God has planned for you.

This was the post that I wrote a year ago when I made the decision, and the following is a video I just made today where I explained the basics:

Apply here: focus.org/apply

Upcoming Interview Weekends:
Chicago, Feb 7-9
Philadelphia, Feb 14-16
OKC, Feb 28-March 2
Denver March 7-9