The Mercedarians attend REACH Philly and learn about the New Evangelization

The Friars recently attended REACH Philly, a prayer breakfast conference sponsored by FOCUS. Here are some of the highlights of the morning:

reach-philly-logoOne of the fastest growing youth movements in the Church is FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). This group was founded in 1998 in response to Blessed John Paul II’s call to a New Evangelization. This evangelization is now carried out in over 74 campuses throughout the United States by over 361 missionaries.

In an effort to “reach” out to the broader Church, FOCUS is sponsoring New Evangelization Prayer Breakfasts throughout the United States. The purpose of these events is to unite and equip Christ’s whole Body for the new evangelization. Here in Philadelphia the REACH Prayer Breakfast was held on Friday, May 10th. Clergy, religious, and parishioners from all over the Northeast met to listen to talks given by Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F. M. Cap., George Weigel, Sr Joseph Andrews Bogdonawicz, and Brian Gail.

Over_six_thousand_young_people_pack_the_main_ballroom_for_the_SEEK_2013_conference_in_Orlando_FL_Credit_Jason_Siegel_for_FOCUS_CNA_US_Catholic_News_1_8_13The morning began with the Rosary followed by the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. During his homily, Archbishop Chaput exhorted all to follow the example of St. Damien of Molokai who memorial we were celebrating. The Archbishop explained that Damien did not intend to go to the leper colony in Molokai, Hawaii. His brother, who was also a priest, had volunteered to go, but fell ill before departing. Damien volunteered to go in his place. This is often how God works in our lives; he opens doors for us, but we must have the courage to take chances so that Lord can do great things through us. Archbishop Chaput, also, went on to explain that we must be willing to preach the full Gospel and be at times ridiculed for it.

After Holy Mass, Brian Gail, author of the popular book Fatherless, as MC introduced everyone to the topic of the New Evangelization which is carried out by FOCUS on college campuses. These courageous young adults invite college students to a relationship with Jesus Christ, which can fill the void left by an increasingly secular culture. They do this mainly through bible studies which are meant to lead into deeper questions of life and it’s meaning.

Mr. Gail introduced Sr Joseph Andrews of the Dominicans Sisters of May Mother of the Eucharist who spoke to us of our responsibility to be generous with the Gospel message we have received. We must bring this to the world with “TLC or Truth, Love, and Courage”. Our culture which is sickened with the disease of relativism must be confronted with the truth about freedom. Sister explained that “Freedom is for the sake of truth”. And, “There is no freedom without truth”. Our new Holy Father, Francis, is showing us the way to confront the culture with love. To allow people to live without purpose in the name of tolerance is to lack love for them. For “truth sets us free to love…”. But loving others means that we may have to charitably challenge them, as Pope Francis says, “with courage and frankness.”

110430American Ca.aurora_standalone.prod_affiliate.79Sr Joseph Andrews was followed by the keynote speaker George Weigel a famous Catholic theologian, author, and spokesmen for the Church. Dr. Weigel presented the historical perspective behind the New Evangelization. The Church is now at the beginning of a new stage in Her history. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, She was, what Dr. Weigel calls, living “Counter-Reformation Catholicism”. This time spanned over 400 years. It was characterized by defense of the Church’s doctrine in response to criticism from Protestantism and Rationalism. This philosophy was effective in preserving the faith and evangelizing thousands in South America, Asia, and parts of Africa. However, it was not equipped for our contemporary culture which began to take shape in the 1960’s.

Vatican II accelerated the shift from the Church of the Counter Reformation to the Church of the New Evangelization. This new method of Church life is vastly different from the old model since it seeks to “engage” the culture rather than “solidify and protect one’s own beliefs”. Dr Weigel explained that the 2nd Vatican Council differed from previous Councils because it did not provide the Church with a “key” to interpret it’s documents. This is why there has been so much confusion over the past 40 years about what the council fathers really intended. However, Weigel says the Lord has provided His Church with the proper interpretation through the pontificates of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

The last two pontificates have given the Church a solid interpretation of the 2nd Vatican council, which can be understood as “Communio of Discipleship in Mission” . Weigel, one of the foremost experts in the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II, explained that the Jubilee Year of 2000 was all about the New Evangelization. The central event of this year was the Pope’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Here Blessed John Paul II symbolically carried the Church to the place where God had entered into human history.

Young Catholics Attend Youth Rally With Pope Benedict XVIThe Pope announced at the end of the second millennium of Christian History that the Church was to once again “put out into the deep” for a catch: “Duc in altum” (Lk 5:4). This, Dr Weigel, says completes the term of institutional protection and points to the need to go forth engaging a more hostile culture with the truth of the Gospel. Pope Benedict XVI, who was also at the 2nd Vatican council, further solidifies the council fathers intentions. During Benedict’s pontificate we are given a clearer understanding of the liturgical and catechetical aspects of our faith. We are taught by Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI that our faith is very rational and extremely relevant to our culture. In fact, the culture desperately needs the truth of the Gospel to prevent it from crumbling. The “air has become hostile to the Gospel” and even to objective truth.

Pope Francis’ pontificate is shaping out to be one of conversion and action. The Church is now in the period of the New Evangelization which requires the Catholic to be alert and on the offensive. Dr Weigel explained that “a kept Church has no future in the world in which we are living”. Christians must resist the temptation to hold onto our faith as private rather than living and missionary.

Mercedarian master with Pope FrancisIt is here, in these storms of the New Springtime, that the Lord has risen up groups such as FOCUS. How ironic that it begins with the youth? It began in 1950’s Poland with young Karol Wojtyla going as a University Chaplain “hanging” out with College Students. It continued as he, Pope John Paul II, went against all odds in 1993 to begin the World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. Now, it continues with FOCUS which takes the saving message of Jesus Christ to Universities throughout the United States. They have a simple method: prayer and share. The missionaries give up 2 years of their lives to go to a designated University. Here they begin to pray for their peers growing up in the Culture of Death. Then, they share the message of life with all who will listen.

As a religious, we the Mercedarian Friars, are blessed to know that so many young adults are generously sharing the message of the Gospel. We are inspired to REACH out to those around us with greater zeal. The New Evangelization is not just for religious and priests, nor is not just for young adults, this is the new model for our Church today and in the future. Let us not be left behind or caught up in obsolete models, but embrace the New Evangelization with our whole being!!

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6 Thousand College Student Meet in Orlando to “FOCUS” on True Conversion

The Mercedarian Friars and Sisters joined thousands of University Students at the FOCUS conference in Orlando, Florida January 2nd-6th. Here is an explanation of this event and the important work of FOCUS:

Sr Ana prays before the Blessed Sacrament.

Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) is a flourishing new organization dedicated to re-evangelize America’s college campuses. Fourteen years ago, the movement began with the simple purpose of inviting college students into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. Inspiring and equipping them for a lifetime of Christ-centered evangelization, discipleship, and friendship in which they lead others to do the same.

Like the Early Church, the FOCUS movement seeks plant “the mustard seed” of faith throughout the United States. Beginning with our nation’s future leaders, FOCUS sends teams of young, trained missionaries to the college campus in order to reach students with the gospel. In partnership with the university parish and/or Newman Center, FOCUS missionaries host large group outreach events, weekly Bible studies and offer one-on-one mentoring with student leaders. These FOCUS missionaries are now found in 74 campuses throughout the United States

Every two years, FOCUS has a natural conference, which inspires thousands of youth through dynamic orthodox talks, fellowship, and a strong emphasis on the Sacraments. This year’s conference is called “SEEK”. Over 6 thousand Catholic College students travel thousands of miles to Orlando, Florida in search of that which is “true, beautiful, and good”. They were not disappointed as they came face to face with Christ through Catholic orthodox teaching, Eucharistic Adoration, and the Sacraments.

Sr Rosaria, SOLM with our display.
Sr Rosaria, SOLM with our display.

The Mercedarian Friars and Sisters attended the conference for the first time this January. They were edified by the enormous number of students and their openness to the Gospel message. This message included several talks on such counter-cultural topics as: chastity before marriage, Pro-life activism, combating relativism, respecting the dignity of women, and the deadly effects of sin on the soul.

The highlight of the weekend was on Friday night. On this evening, Fr. Michael Keating, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, confronted the students with the deadly effects of sin on the soul and the need for conversion. The students were encouraged to adore the Most Blessed Sacrament and make a complete examination of conscience. They then were given the opportunity to receive God’s Mercy through the Sacrament of Confession. There 125 priests available to hear the confessions of thousands of students. The power of God’s grace was present as over 5 thousand students went to confession and received the Lord’s unfathomable mercy. With joy, the priests heard confessions for over 4 hours into the early morning on Saturday!

Fr Joseph hangs out with some hobbits at the Conference.
Fr Joseph hangs out with some hobbits at the Conference.

In these times when we can get discouraged with the increasing secularization of America, it is great to know that God is working powerfully through such groups as FOCUS. May the Lord continue to bless this organization, which seeks to evangelize the youth and bring them into an authentic relationship with their Savior Jesus Christ and His Body the Church!

Is your faith a bastion for martyrdom?

The Mercedarians gave a talk to a FOCUS group  just outside Philadelphia, PA. Answering the Church’s call for a new evangelization, FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, is a national outreach that meets college students where they are and invites them into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith.

Fr Joseph gives a talk to FOCUS missionaries

Is your faith a bastion for martyrdom? The leaders of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students faced this question during their missionary retreat in Pennsylvania. To help the FOCUS leaders commit more radically to the Lord so as to better witness to the students at universities to whom they minister, Fr. Joseph Eddy, provided the missionaries with inspiring talks on martyrdom, and the example of the martyrs of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy.
Martyrdom, the true and highest gift of witness to Christ and the Faith, is a grace given by God. But all the faithful are called to perfection, to the same heroic witness of charity. This entails imitating Christ so as to fulfill His Father’s will and to nourish our faith with an incessant commitment to the Gospel. This is why the FOCUS Missionaries attend Mass and make holy hours with the Eucharist several times a week, so that they can be with Christ and take Him out to the students and even the world, to “consecrate the world itself” to God (Lumen Gentium).
The Mercedarian Order was founded by St. Peter Nolasco through the Blessed Virgin Mary, to participate in the Lamb of God’s sacrificial, ransoming mission for the redemption of the world, specifically by freeing Christian captives in danger of losing the Faith. The Mercedarians today continue to seek the same freedom of captives in danger of giving up the one, true Faith. The friars, in professing the Fourth Vow (the Blood Vow), willingly choose, in charity, to give up their lives for the redemption of captives, should it be necessary.
But, there is another martyrdom that exists and that is practiced by the faithful of the Church. It is the white martyrdom of community life. This daily dying of those undergoing the ordinary sufferings of family and community life enables true sanctification. Then, these souls, by their witness, can encourage others who are struggling to persevere in the faith. Praying constantly for faith, living theological hope, and begging for the strengthening of captive Christians, martyrdom was a grace given to some Mercedarians for the glory of God, the ultimate witness of Christ’s love and Truth. Today, when the world attacks faith through skepticism, hedonism and all forms of self-idolatry, Jesus’ call to perfection remains. We may or may not one day be a martyr like St. Serapion and other Mercedarians. But it is certain that we must be holy, endure the white martyrdom, and follow the will of God for the sake of the conversion of the world and the salvation of the Church in trial. That total love which Christ gave us on the Cross—and the love that He asks us to give to others—is nothing but the same heroism of a martyr’s love.

A Mercedarian Postulant

A friend’s invitation leads one young man to change his life and discern his vocation

Mercedarian postulant, Scott McLeod tells his journey from living in the world for himself to striving for holiness as a seminarian:

Scott strums the guitar

I was raised in a suburb north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My family was only modestly Catholic, so when I got to college the practice of the Faith was not something immediately pressing on my conscience. This changed sophomore year, when a friend challenged me on my living the faith and started what would turn into a conversion.

While this wasn’t something that took place all at once or without a significant fight, it was a deep change in both lifestyle and outlook.  Now, I struggled not to live my own life, but to live the life of Christ in me. This is a challenge, of course, but with the eyes of Faith, it is the only rewarding way for a Christian to live. I started serving Masses and volunteering with the Pittsburgh Oratory and the Pitt Campus Ministry around this time.

By serving Masses, I grew closer to the liturgy and the worship of the Church and fed an already growing desire to for more complete consecration to God and a life focused and centered around the Sacraments and the example of the Saints.  By the end of college, I had also begun to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, which became an important part of my dailyprayer life and also my discernment.

I visited several mendicant orders, even volunteering with onefor a summer, but eventually found that the combination of community life, Marian devotion, liturgical life, and (most importantly) redeeming charism of the Mercedarians attracted me in a unique way. If Christ came among usin order to redeem us, what greater imitation of Christ can a religious offer than the imitation of His redeeming mission?