Discipleship in the 21st Century

When Jesus walked on Earth, He made quite the scene. If you read the Gospels, you see He wasn’t always this “hippie Jesus” that you see in media…

Jesus point

Or even “nice Jesus” that you see in Christian bookstores…

Jesus Sheep

Sometimes He was more like “God Jesus”.

Jesus Lazarus

Seriously, have you ever seen anyone rise from the grave?!?! It’s probably a heck of a lot more freaky than the bible made it out to be, but John only had a few lines to use on it I guess…

Other crazy things that Jesus did? He performed miracles, announced the Kingdom of God, scandalized people by crossing social norms, whipped people who were disrespecting the temple, and large crowds (Tens of thousands!) followed Him to the point where He quite literally had to sneak away so that He could be alone to pray. Jesus didn’t tone down His message when He was in sticky situations either- the healing on the Sabbath right in front of the Pharisees comes to mind. Needless to say, Jesus caused division in the hearts of everyone who encountered Him. It was more than just being #teamJesus or #teamPharisee, though. The stakes were a bit higher.. because He claimed to be God. This was a matter of life and death, as we can see in hindsight. The Jews and Gentiles had a tough decision to make in choosing to believe Jesus or not…

Who were the disciples?

During His years of ministry, Jesus attracted large crowds pretty much wherever He went. I don’t know how they all got the memo of His schedule without newspapers, twitter, and texting, that alone is a miracle! But out of the tens of thousands, Jesus called 12 men to Himself, the Apostles. These men were called Apostles because they were “sent” by Jesus and given His authority after He ascended into Heaven. The 12 Apostles are sometimes called the 12 disciples, but the term disciple is more broad than that. There were disciples of Jesus who weren’t Apostles, and sometimes in the Bible they are called the 70 or 72. These people weren’t specifically called by Jesus, but they still had a very important role to play in His ministry.

Have you ever thought about what differentiated the disciples from the crowds?

Take a moment to think for yourself… what made someone a disciple of Jesus?

There are plenty of great answers, but a few that I can think of are:

  • Belief that Jesus was God, the Messiah
  • Loyalty to follow Him even for days without food
  • Willing to leave home, family, jobs, and so on just to follow Him
  • Doing whatever He asked of you.. even travelling in twos to distant towns
  • Friendship with Jesus, like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus

We can also be disciples!

The funny thing is, all of these things can still be done TODAY. Discipleship isn’t just for the people who were alive when Jesus was, but it is a way of life devoted to Jesus that we can live right now in the 21st century! It takes “discipline”, of course, but ultimately this way of life is sparked by an encounter with Jesus and the friendship with Him that follows.

But… Jesus isn’t here…

So here’s the interesting point. Yes, we can be disciples of Jesus, but no, we can’t do it exactly the same way that they did it in the Holy Land. When Jesus ascended, He didn’t leave us orphans: He gave us the Holy Spirit (God!) to guide us to all truth and the Church (founded on Peter and the Apostles) as our Mother. Through the working of the Holy Spirit and the Church… duh-da-da-dah! comes forth Jesus! Quite literally. We receive Jesus in the Eucharist. We receive Jesus’ mercy in confession. We hear the Word of God in the Bible. We encounter the hands and feet of Jesus when we are around other Christians.

Discipleship in the 21st century, so how do we do it?

  • Believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior
  • Go out of your way to encounter Him, at mass, in prayer, in serving the poor, in reading the scriptures, in confession
  • Live your life to glorify Him first and foremost, and then everything else will fall into place
  • Courageously share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, both in words and how you live your life
  • Become intimate friends with Jesus, He loves us more purely and completely than anyone in the world. Prayer in adoration is one of the best ways to do this

Isn’t it crazy how for each of the major ways you could be a 1st century disciple, you can become a 21st century disciple?!

Choosing to believe in Jesus isn’t a matter of life and death (on this earth) anymore, but it still is a matter of eternal consequences. We can’t just sit on the sidelines our entire lives without making a choice. Jesus is either a lunatic, or He’s God.

“If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” – Jesus to the Woman at the well, John 4:10

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Too Wise to Get Married?

Many “wise” and “experienced” Americans love to advise young adults to never get married, since “it isn’t worth it.” I may not be as experienced, but I’d like to disagree.

Is this really the best message to be sending to the youth of the world? This message demoralizes young adults, making them think that they are not perfect enough to get married. It makes marriage seem hopeless and a waste of time. “Live for yourself first.” I don’t know about you, but when I live for myself, life is booooorrrriiiinnnggggg. It’s when I’m helping others out that I come alive.

I agree that you need to go into marriage with the right mindset, it is a big responsibility, but you can’t just throw out the baby with the bathwater. Complaining about how bad it is isn’t helping anyone have a better marriage.

A major issue with this line of thinking is that it signals that marriage is only about what is best for ourselves, and if not, we can take the easy way out. If my spouse doesn’t treat me right anymore I should just end it. If I’d rather be with some other woman, I should do that since it’s all about me, right? If my kids are too much work I don’t have to be responsible for them. That’s the line of thinking that has been encouraged, and it leads to bad consequences for spouses and children everywhere.

The ridiculous thing about that line of thinking is that that’s not even LOVE. Our culture likes to say that everything’s about love, right? Well if marriage is all about love, then it shouldn’t be about us. Love isn’t selfish, it’s selfless. Marriage should be about doing all that we can for our spouse and for our children. It’s about doing what is best for them even if it is an inconvenience for you.

Of course marriage is hard. We understand that, and I’m not arguing against that. Often it is not the big decisions but lots of little ones that breeds tension. But that doesn’t mean that marriage doesn’t work. We don’t drop out of school because we have to do homework until late at night every night. We don’t quit work just because it is hard. Living your faith is difficult, but we don’t give that up because of that. If you want to do ANYTHING good in life, it is going to be hard, but it’ll be worth it.

The mindset that marriage is all about us seems to be a reason for many of the problems in our society. Divorce, abortion, contraception, cheating, single parent homes, domestic abuse, and more are the result of me-first marriages.

Instead of complaining about how hard marriage is, we need to encourage each other that marriage and love is worth it. It is about selflessly helping your spouse and children, building a foundation for a great society. A society with strong families has a strong foundation.

Our society needs to learn how to love again. When we learn how to love, we will learn that marriage is worth it. Bashing marriage will not help to foster stronger families and a stronger society. I don’t know about  you, but I’m too wise to not love.

An Ordered Life

Greetings from Ave Maria, Florida!

FOCUS New Staff Training has been a blast! It’s been a two week grace bomb from God for us all, with so many new friends to meet, things to learn, and things to do! During the week, we literally have our schedules from 8 in the morning to 10 at night filled for most days. It’s insane. We basically have no time to relax, so I’ve had to be very careful to schedule sleep into my day… because I got sick when I didn’t!

I’m really excited our daily holy hour, which I’ll be doing for the next two years as a missionary. I’ve only been doing it for about a couple of weeks now, but it’s already been a fantastic part of my daily schedule! I’ve had an active prayer life especially since the end of high school, but I’ve never committed to a daily holy hour before. During it I do some mental and contemplative prayer as well as reading some scripture and a spiritual book in between segments of prayer. It’s usually in the morning, which is a great way to start off my day and helps me to keep Jesus in the forefront of my mind for the rest of the day. We also have daily mass, but I’ve pretty much been doing that for the past few years, so that’s not as much of a change. With both, it’s been important to get enough sleep, because when I’m tired or sick, it’s really hard to have fruitful times of prayer.

The liturgy of the hours is another way to live a more ordered life. They are prayers that are said at certain parts of the day, morning, noon, evening, and night. The Apostles themselves followed this Jewish custom as you can see in the book of Acts (10:3,9; 16:25, etc.). I can tell that there is a lot of wisdom in this because of my experience that the more that I pray during the day, the more open and aware that I am for the rest of the day of God’s presence.

In addition, I’m finding ways to remind myself of God’s presence through the rest of my day so that I can make room for silence in the midst of all the hustle and bustle- for me, just putting my hand over where my scapular is is a good reminder, maybe some of you have a similar experience with a cross or ring. When we feel inclined to pray, take that opportunity! Don’t let those opportunities pass!

How we live our days is how we live our lives, so make sure to find time to make Jesus not just a part of your life, but the center of it.

A Missionary Church

“What would you change about the Church?”

I got asked that question a few days ago. My immediate reaction was something like this:

Of course, what I mean by that is that I wouldn’t change any of the doctrine or big T traditions of the Church. The Church is Jesus’, it isn’t mine to change. Jesus gave us the Church so that we can be converted, not so that we can convert it.

But besides the essentials that aren’t changeable, there is at least one thing that I’d change about many Catholic churches in the west: I’d make the churches more mission oriented and evangelistic. At my home parish, I don’t know if I ever see anyone bringing anyone new to church. It’s more of a family thing, where you only go to mass if your family has always went. In many ways, it strikes me as more of an exclusive club than a family of God. The Church is not supposed to be exclusive at all, but rather reach out to even the poorest and and the most helpless. Of course the Catholic Church is going to lose some members to Protestant churches in the west if this continues to happen. The truth is just not enough for people, they are looking for a relationship with God as well! They need to experience God! And despite having all of this on Protestant churches (MASS, apostolic succession, adoration, confession, charismatic groups, charities, bible studies, praise and worship, prayer groups), cradle Catholics often don’t even know the significance or don’t take advantage of it.

I recently went through my parish directory, and since we’ve been in the same parish all my life, I knew a lot of the names. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the names from parish activities. I knew the names from school, sports, and other community activities. That’s a major problem: the Church should be bringing people together, not isolating them! Many of those people do not go to Sunday mass any more, and I bet that a significant amount of them would return if only there was someone who would personally invite them back.

I don’t want to dis my home parish, they’re fully in union with the Pope and at masses I get to receive our Lord in the Eucharist and hear His Word in the Scriptures. I received all of my sacraments there and I love it. There are a ton of really fantastic people there. But I want to challenge my parish and all other parishes in the west (Europe and the Americas) to do more to embrace the Gospel. We must fully embrace Jesus and the Gospel message in our lives, and then from there we need to share it with as many people as we can! I’d love to see many small groups in my parish where the Sunday only parishioners can be individually shown the Gospel by others who know it better (starting with the priests!) so that they can do the same for others. I’d love to see this not only for adults but for the youth, so that they don’t scamper as far away from the church as possible after they are confirmed. I’d love for the parishioners to get to know each other outside of just saying “peace be with you” at mass. Make sure that the children see the priests and any other religious more often than just Sunday mornings, so they can see that they are real people too.

We obviously need a renewal in the everyday churches across the west. I know that it can be done: the student parish at the University of Illinois that I attended was solid: there were so many different ministries and retreats where students would interact with other students, staff, religious sisters, and priests in order to embrace the faith not just for Sundays but for a lifetime. Sure, there are improvements necessary everywhere, but this is a wonderful example of how it can be done. I can’t wait to try and share my experience at my new campus as a FOCUS missionary next year, and reach out to those who otherwise would be isolated from Jesus and never understand the Gospel.

Pope Francis has talked about this many times already in his pontificate, and one of his most famous quotes so far was:

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

He said this to show that simply going with the flow isn’t enough for us as Christians. As Christians we must constantly strive to put Jesus in the center of our lives. He emphasized that point in a tweet:

“We cannot be part-time Christians! We should seek to live our faith at every moment of every day.” – Pope Francis

A great follow-up on this post for anyone interested is the following book: Pope John Paul II and the New Evangelization by Ralph Martin and Peter Williamson – Amazon

Prayer: A Waste of Time?

Pope Francis and Benedict XVI praying

There are many people who have given prayer an honest try and become frustrated with it because they don’t experience something. So what is the purpose of prayer? What should happen?

What do you expect to happen when you pray? Do you expect to feel physical sensations?  Do you expect to hear God? Do you expect to have clarity with all of your problems? Or with even just one? The more that I think about it, we have unrealistic expectations about prayer. This is a big reason why we get frustrated with it, and I can definitely relate. All of these things can happen, but they are the exceptions, not the norm.

So why should we pray?

“The spiritual life is not primarily about certain practices of piety and techniques of prayer, but about a relationship. It’s about responding to the One who has created and redeemed us, and who loves us with a love stronger than death, a love that desires to raise us from the dead. Much of that is true of human relationships is also true of our relationship with God. Human relationships of friendship or marriage need time, attention, and care for them to continue and to grow. The same is true of our relationship with God. We have been called to union but we need to respond.” – Ralph Martin, The  Fulfillment of all Desire

Prayer is the primary means of developing a relationship with God. Let me compare it to a regular friendship. You come to meet someone by being introduced by a friend. In a similar way, we come to know God by being introduced by a friend. We come to actually know someone by talking and spending time with them. Likewise, we come to know God by hearing His Word in scripture and by conversing with Him in prayer.

How do we listen to God in prayer? I have often struggled with this idea. I’ve always been waiting for Him to speak to me or to put images or words in my head. But God likes to enter into the world quietly. One example of this is how Jesus could have descended from the sky when He came, but instead He chose to be born by a woman: a baby who was completely dependent on His parents. In prayer, God enters in very discrete ways. He has absolutely put words or phrases in my head or even images, but in a much less profound way than you’re probably imagining. The goal is not to have this happen, but they can be pretty sweet gifts at the time, helping me to direct my attention one way or another.

But prayer is just boring! I guess I haven’t addressed this yet. I have experienced boring prayers. Boring prayers are usually when I’m not actually praying, I’m just pretending. But sometimes we will have a dry time and we will have a lot of difficulty entering into prayer. In these times we especially need to remember to ask Jesus to help us.

“Whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” – John 14:13

Why is it so hard to enter into prayer in the first place? Remember, in prayer we have free will, just like any other time. Often I find myself just sitting there waiting for God to come and take over my prayers so that I don’t have to do anything, I can just revel in His glory. But that never actually happens. I actually have to concentrate in order to do that. I need to place myself in His presence. There is a very significant difference between simply thinking about issues of your life and offering them up to God in prayer and asking for His help. I fall into this trap too much, be careful of it. Ask Him to help you to pray. It can be very helpful if you’re having difficulty concentrating to pick a passage from scripture or spiritual reading and reflect on it. A very simply way to start praying is to repeat Jesus’ name to yourself. Sometimes I can tell that the Holy Spirit is especially present and good emotions come up (gratitude for His mercy, awe at His majesty, sorrow for sin, desire to be more faithful, etc.), and from that point on my prayer becomes insanely easy where I completely lose track of the world. That’s the whole point of prayer I guess, to be with God in that intimate way.

“For mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.” – St. Teresa of Avila

There is a place for oral prayers in growing in our relationship with God, as well. If you let them be boring and repetitive, then you’re wasting your time. But if you “chew” on the words that you are saying, they can be as powerful of a prayer as you can say, especially prayers based in scripture like the Our Father, that Jesus taught us.

“A single Our Father said with feeling has greater value than many said quickly and hurriedly.” – St. Francis de Sales

I’d encourage you to pick at least one time every day to designate for prayer, and hold yourself to it. Just as you only learn to swim by swimming, you only learn to pray by praying! Then from there, find ways to pray at all times (1 Thess. 5:17). Just throwing up a random “thank you Jesus” every once in a while is a good start. The end goal is to constantly have Jesus on our hearts in all that we do.

To conclude, prayer is important because it allows us to get to know God and enter into a relationship with Him. Just as you can never be friends with someone you don’t talk to, you and God aren’t going to be very tight if you never pray.

What are you putting first in your life?
material things <<< human relationships <<< your relationship with God

Also see:
The Battle of Prayer
15 Steps to Pray Better

If I could be remembered for one thing..

I don’t care if I’m the smartest. I don’t care if I’m the most popular, the richest, the best looking, or the most talented.

I want to be remembered for being someone who loves passionately. God, friends, life. I want to be remembered as someone who lives a vibrant life of hope, always looking to encourage others.

Talking about it doesn’t do anything. Gotta go live it.

Love

Signs of the Transition to Manhood

Lately I’ve been thinking more about what it is to be a man. We talked about it in bible study this week for much longer than I was expecting, and it was one of the better discussions I’ve had in a few weeks.

This got me thinking of some of the talks that I heard at SEEK Conference last month about manhood. Dr. Johnathan Reyes did such a great job of comparing the signs that differentiates a boy from a man, and I’d like to share them with you:

  • A boy is occupied by looking for fun. A man is occupied by his duties.
  • A boy worries about whether others like him. A man cares more about whether he is respected.
  • A boy is self-focused in all that he does. A man keeps his thoughts and gaze outwards, thinking of others first.
  • A boy chooses the most comfortable option. A man makes sure to choose to do the right thing.
  • A boy avoids responsibility. A man is responsible. In the business world, a man accepts the responsibility of owning a project.
  • A boy becomes discouraged and gives up. A man perseveres through trial.
  • A boy doesn’t change the environment that he is in. A man improves every environment that he enters.
  • A boy views women as objects, as a “collection of body parts.” A man sees women as the whole person and respects and honors them in what he says and does.
  • A boy needs rules to act uprightly. A man is self-disciplined.
  • A boy brags about his accomplishments. A man does not exalt himself.
  • A boy avoids commitment. A man’s word is good and he honors vows to death.
  • A boy is governed by his passions. A man is governed by the truth.

This is a challenging list. But I think that it is important that we challenge ourselves and hold ourselves to a high standard (see the self-disciplined part). Are you where you want to be? I know that it’s a struggle. It is much easier to work on your journey to manhood when you do it together with a good friend or two. Share your desire to grow to become a better man with one another. And don’t forget to pray! Ask God to help give you the grace to overcome sinful tendencies.

Make war on sin, and start living like a man. Turn this Tedashii song up!