My vision: Form disciples in 2016

Archbishop Aquila

As the calendar year begins we celebrate two important feasts, the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God and the Epiphany. With the first celebration, we see in the person of Mary what God can do if we follow him, while the second shows us that wise men from the East paid homage to Jesus. These two feasts have a theme in common that also resounds throughout the history of our salvation: God brings forth greatness from those who follow him with their whole being.

When I think and pray about what it is that God is calling me to do as the shepherd of the Archdiocese of Denver, I keep returning to the importance of helping every Catholic become a lifelong, authentic disciple of Jesus Christ.

Looking to 2016 and beyond, my vision for the Archdiocese of Denver is that it become a Church that is filled with men, women and children who have discovered the Father’s love for them in Jesus and the sacraments, who have become filled with the Holy Spirit, and who have allowed God the Father to claim them as his sons and daughters. It doesn’t stop there, though, because when a person falls in love, they cannot help tell others about their beloved. Authentic disciples seek to follow Christ in all things and share him with those who do not know him or have rejected him.

When I look at the Church in northern Colorado, I see many people who have been profoundly changed by Christ and become disciples. They do this not out of some kind of conviction to follow rules, but because they have experienced Jesus Christ’s limitless love for them, his healing, and the freedom that comes from sin no longer dominating their lives.

Even so, there are tens of thousands of Catholics in northern Colorado who are not disciples of Jesus. The reasons for this are numerous and can range from family experiences to the behavior of Church institutions or clergy, and everything in between.

In his Apostolic Letter “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis wrote about the importance of missionary discipleship and the Church developing and supporting this among the faithful.

“I dream,” he said, “of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation” (EG, 27).

Pope Francis is right. All too often, the Church focuses on maintaining the status quo because doing any more than that seems impossible. But we must remember, we believe in a God who does the impossible. As the Archangel Gabriel told Mary when he announced that she would conceive Jesus, “for nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

Initiatives aimed at promoting discipleship in all dimensions of the archdiocese have already begun. However, in 2016 – the Year of Mercy, I ask that every parish, priest and deacon, family and individual examine how they are pursuing and supporting authentic discipleship.

In the Jewish tradition, boys became students of a rabbi after their Bar Mitzvah. For years, they would follow their rabbi to learn how to study the Scriptures and practice the faith. The degree of imitation was far greater than what you might think. If the rabbi wore his clothes a certain way or walked with a stoop, his disciples would follow suit. The goal was for the disciple to absorb the spiritual and moral gifts of their teacher that couldn’t be learned by merely studying books.

Christ asks us to follow him in a similar way by imitating him, trusting him, and leaning on him for the grace to accomplish what is otherwise impossible. When the rich young man met Jesus, he was told to sell his possessions and follow him. The disciples were shocked at Christ’s response. They said, “‘Then who can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible’” (Mt. 19:25-26).

Becoming a disciple begins by responding to Jesus’ call to “Come follow me.” You will find him in the Scriptures, in the sacraments, in personal prayer, and in your every day interactions with others. Seek him with all your heart, grow in your love for the Gospels, and you will find him. Turn to him for healing and learn to trust him. Then, when Jesus calls you to follow him by taking a leap of some kind, you will answer as a disciple.

May God help us open our hearts to him this year and fill us with the courage to follow him wherever he leads!

For a deeper understanding of what it means to be a disciple, I recommend reading Sherry Weddell’s book, “Forming Intentional Disciples.”

COMING UP: Local artists choose life in pro-life art show

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For someone who’s always been in love with art, it’s not surprising that Brett Lempe first encountered God through beauty. Lempe, a 25-year-old Colorado native, used his talent for art and new-found love of God to create a specifically pro-life art show after a planned show was cancelled because of Lempe’s pro-life views.

Lempe was “dried out with earthly things,” he said. “I was desperately craving God.”

Three years ago, while living in St. Louis, Mo., Lempe google searched for a church to visit and ended up at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.

“I was captivated by the beauty of the 40 million mosaic tiles,” he said.

Lempe is not exaggerating. This Cathedral is home to 41.5 million tiles that make up different mosaics around the sanctuary. Witnessing the beauty of this church is what sparked his conversion, he said, and was his first major attraction towards Catholicism.

Lempe continued on to become Catholic, then quit his job several months after joining the Church to dedicate himself completely to art. Most of his work post-conversion is religious art.

Lempe planned to display a non-religious body of artwork at a venue for a month when his contact at the venue saw some of Lempe’s pro-life posts on Facebook. Although none of the artwork Lempe planned to display was explicitly pro-life or religious, the venue cancelled the show.

“I was a little bit shocked at first,” he said. “Something like me being against abortion or being pro-life would get a whole art show cancelled.”

Lempe decided to counter with his own art show, one that would be explicitly pro-life.

On Sept. 7, seven Catholic artists displayed work that gave life at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Denver.

“Catholicism lends itself to being life-giving,” Lempe said.

The show included a variety of work from traditional sacred art, icons, landscapes, to even dresses.

Students for Life co-hosted the event, and 10 percent of proceeds benefited the cause. Lauren Castillo, Development director and faith-based program director at Students for Life America gave the keynote presentation.

Castillo spoke about the need to be the one pro-life person in each circle of influence, with coworkers, neighbors, family, or friends. The reality of how many post-abortive women are already in our circles is big, she said.

“Your friend circle will get smaller,” Castillo said. “If one life is saved, it’s worth it.”

Pro-Life Across Mediums

Brett Lempe’s Luke 1:35

“This painting is the first half at an attempt of displaying the intensity and mystical elements of Luke 1:35,” Lempe said. “This work is influenced somewhat by Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ painting as I try to capture the moment when the “New Adam” is conceived by Our Blessed Mother.”

Claire Woodbury’s icon of Christ Pantokrator

“I was having a difficult time making that icon,” she said. “I was thinking it would become a disaster.”

She felt Jesus saying to her, “This is your way of comforting me. Is that not important?”

“Icons are very important to me,” she said. “I guess they’re important to Him too.”

Katherine Muser’s “Goodnight Kisses”

“Kids naturally recognize the beauty of a baby and they just cherish it,” Muser said of her drawing of her and her sister as children.

Brie Shulze’s Annunciation

“There is so much to unpack in the Annunciation,” Schulze said. “I wanted to unpack that life-giving yes that our Blessed Mother made on behalf of all humanity.”

“Her yes to uncertainty, to sacrifice, to isolation, to public shame and to every other suffering that she would endure is what allowed us to inherit eternal life.”

“Her fiat was not made in full knowledge of all that would happen, but in love and total surrender to the will of God.”

All photos by Makena Clawson