Forming disciples in the parish and home

Twenty-five years ago, Pope St. John Paul II called Catholics to enter a new evangelization during World Youth Day in Denver. This evangelization (the sharing of the good news) re-engages Christians who are baptized and not practicing their faith as well as encouraging Catholics to share their faith more fervently. The anniversary of John Paul’s visit provides us an opportunity to think about how we are responding to his invitation to share our faith with others. Cardinal Francis Arinze’s new book, The Evangelizing Parish (Ignatius, 2018) can help us in this reflection.

Evangelization requires discipleship. Jesus calls everyone to follow him—to become his disciple by imitating him and sharing in his mission. We may not have had the opportunity to say “yes” to Jesus’ invitation of becoming his disciple and growing in a personal relationship with him. Prayer stands at the heart of discipleship as it provides us with the opportunity to meet Jesus and grow closer to him. Therefore, Cardinal Arinze teaches us that “prayer is a vital necessity both in the spiritual life of each Christian and in the apostolic engagement of the individual and of the Church community” (66). He recommends taking at least 10 or 15 minutes each day for personal prayer and learning how to speak to God in our heart.

The highest expression of prayer comes through the parish: “The Eucharistic celebration on the Lord’s Day is the major weekly event at which the parish community gathers before the Lord to adore him, to give thanks, to ask for pardon for sins, and to make other requests” (69). This weekly encounter with the Lord animates the life of the parish: its religious education, sacramental preparation, devotional practices, administration, and community life. A strong focus on faith and God’s grace helps the parish to avoid certain pitfalls the Cardinal points out, especially a reduction of parish life to bureaucracy which impedes evangelization (118).

Rather, Cardinal Arinze challenges us to recognize the parish as the central and most important “evangelizing community” (33). Refocusing the parish on evangelization entails a shift of mentality in reaching out to all of those within the parish boundaries, Catholic or not, seeking to serve them and share the Good News with them. It requires forming stronger relationships in the parish, getting more lay people involved in outreach, and allowing the Word of God to guide our vision, prayer, and message (52). Evangelization also will push us beyond our fears and inhibitions and beyond the status quo, which fears “fresh ideas and approaches” in favor of “over-conformity” (138). Instead, “a parish is expected to look out in a dynamic way for what it can do for Christ,” in its own parishioners but also in serving all of those in need (83).

The parish comprises a center of evangelization, but it also should serve as a launching pad for inspiring greater witness in society. Cardinal Arinze exhorts us that “every Christian should give witness to Christ as an individual parent, doctor, lawyer, teacher, business owner or partner, nurse, taxi driver, pilot, or politician” (136). This is because “every baptized person is called to engage in witnessing to Christ according to the person’s vocation and mission and opportunities in life” (7). Baptism makes us a child of God, with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, giving us our own share in Christ’s mission of salvation for others. The parish can help us to realize our own potential as an evangelizer.

Finally, as we reflect on our role in the New Evangelization, we should remember St. John Paul’s maxim that “the future goes by way of the family.” Cardinal Arinze agrees, stating that “the health and condition of the family are of great importance to the health and condition of both Church and State” (122). Therefore, the parish must prioritize support for families, helping them to live the Christian life, and should “give much attention to the preparation of young people for marriage” (ibid.). With the support of the parish, families are the ideal place to form disciples, who will be ready to respond to the Lord’s command to share their faith with others. Ultimately, helping our children to embrace the call of discipleship is the best way to continue the legacy of World Youth Day within the Archdiocese of Denver.

COMING UP: Past 25 years remembered, next 25 anticipated at More Than You Realize conference

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“Be not afraid!”

This was the rallying cry at the Aug. 11 More Than You Realize conference, echoing the very same call St. John Paul II gave exactly 25 years ago when he visited Denver for World Youth Day in 1993.

Over 5,000 faithful from across the Archdiocese of Denver filled the seats of the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland at what was the largest Catholic gathering in Colorado since WYD ’93. The all-day conference was presented in both English and Spanish tracks, featured a dynamic lineup of renowned Catholic speakers, and culminated in a powerful commissioning Mass.

The name More Than You Realize and consequently, the logo resembling an eyechart, stems from the idea that almost everything may appear a certain way at surface level, but upon closer inspection, it can be more than one realizes and seen in a different light. This is especially true when it comes to the Catholic Church.

Over 5,000 gathered at the Budweiser Events Center Aug. 11 for the More Than You Realize conference, which celebrated the last 25 years since World Youth Day in Denver and looked to the next 25. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

In planning for nearly two years, pastors from each parish of the archdiocese hand-picked those parishioners and members of their community who they wished to attend the conference, which revolved around the idea of discipleship. Through engaging videos and talks given by speakers such as Chris Stefanick, Luis Soto and Dr. Edward Sri, attendees were invited to join a new movement of discipleship within the archdiocese, echoing the one sparked 25 years ago at World Youth Day.

“[I] had a great rejuvenating time at the More Than You Realize Conference,” said Alex Martinez, a parishioner at St. Pius X Parish. “I am excited to see the MTYR movement take shape.”

Brenda Garrett, a parishioner of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception said, “It was an amazing event, so blessed my pastor Father Ron from the Cathedral Basilica sent me. I am so proud to be part of this movement.”

The key to evangelization

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford spoke before Mass began about the impact of World Youth Day 1993 and the challenges the Church faces today.

“What does the summer of ’93 teach us about our present circumstances in 2018?” the cardinal asked. “The Holy Spirit was sent out in a special mission to our Church in 1993. The power of that sending was unexpected and disorienting to me as archbishop and to most others.”

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford speaks during the More Than You Realize conference. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

But despite urban violence, threats of boycotts, organized protests and other issues prior to World Youth Day 1993, “a fundamental change took place in the Church of Denver,” said Cardinal Stafford, “but not only here — among the young people who came throughout the world, [and] even the Holy Father.

“Above all, our Church was transformed,” he said.

Cardinal Stafford said that to evangelize those who don’t know the Gospel, we first need “…a deep awareness of the delight of the Father taking in each of us as baptized men and women,” he said.

“I would urge you to think deeply and to pray deeply about realizing how delighted God is in you — each of you — because you are received by the Father as being [part of] the body of his Son, who is beloved.”

‘Jesus is much more than you realize’

In his homily given in both English and Spanish, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila also touched on what World Youth Day 1993 means for us today.

“The world likes to tell us many things about ourselves,” he said, “and not many of them today are good or uplifting. Just look at the distorted image of beauty that is prevalent today, let alone the distortions of what it means to be a human person…

“The devil is certainly having a field day in a world that has abandoned God, and even in some members of the Church who have a weak faith in Jesus,” he said.

But despite similar issues taking place in 1993, the pope brought to Denver a message of hope.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila celebrates the commissioning Mass that closed out the conference. (photo by Andrew Wright)

“When St. John Paul II spoke to the youth gathered for the prayer vigil on Saturday night at Cherry Creek State Park, he reminded them that God and a much bigger role for them to play in history,” said Archbishop Aquila.

That message is just as important today, within an archdiocese and Church that stand at a crossroads, the archbishop said.

“We have an opportunity to make a major impact for Jesus Christ, even as the surrounding culture is becoming less Christian.”

The pope opened the doors for those who attended to become greater disciples of Christ — not just directly after World Youth Day, but forever.

“St. John Paul II believed in retrospect that a revolution had taken place in Denver,” said the archbishop. “We, today, are the inheritors of this spiritual revolution, and we must not be afraid to put out into the deep to let our nets down for a catch.

“Jesus is much more than you realize. The Church is more than you realize. And your role in the plan of God is much more than you realize or [can] even imagine,” he said.

“And so, I beg you as your shepherd today to open your hearts to Jesus and speak heart-to-heart with him who loves you most.”

Aaron Lambert, Moira Cullings and Vladimir Mauricio-Perez contributed to this report.