I had the great honor of facilitating an all-day Pastoral Staff Retreat the week before last. The retreat was for a parish staff of 15 people, and it included everyone from the parish secretaries, pastoral associates, the deacons, and the pastor. The focus for the retreat was evangelization and relational ministry. The day after the Staff Retreat, I helped facilitate a Confirmation Retreat for about 240 ninth graders on a Friday night for 3 hours. It was quite a challenge; however, our CFJ Retreat Team pulled through, and fortunately the parish already asked us if we would come back next year. And the day after the Confirmation Retreat, the Center for FaithJustice hosted a college group for the long weekend. The 20+ students and their adult leaders drove about 8 hours from Massachusetts to experience community service and justice education.
Why do I share these 3 events with you? Mainly because within 72 hours, I experienced 3 different age groups and 3 different experiences of faith and evangelization. It struck me multiple times how far we’ve come as a Church and a society advancing faith and justice; however, it also hit me how much work still has yet to be done. In terms of advancement, while doing some research about the parish before the staff retreat, something from their weekly bulletin caught my eye. The parish was hosting an evening seminar titled, “Learn to Use Social Media: Facebook, Twitter & You.” This seminar was in conjunction with the pastor’s evangelization challenge to the entire parish: “Each One Reach One.” I remain extremely impressed with this parish’s initiative to evangelize using social media, in addition to personal invitation and witness. During the retreat, we talked extensively about non-Catholic congregations evangelizing much more effectively than Catholic ones. The pastor reminded us that it’s also the people in the pews who are called to invite and engage one another, and it’s not solely Father’s responsibility. The people in the pews are indeed the critical population and means to ensure successful outreach.
The Confirmation Retreat for the 240 students was obviously not as intimate of an event as the retreat for 15 adults. It was obviously more challenging, especially because many of the ninth graders (who were all required to attend) were distracted by other things. Thankfully, the evangelization and witness of faith still occurred. Even in the presence of some distracted students, we were also energized by the excitingly open, faith-filled Confirmation candidates who fully immersed themselves into the retreat experience.
After their first full day of community service, I was grateful to meet with the 20+ college students back at the Center for FaithJustice. We engaged in conversation about their service sites, the individuals they met, the power of Christ’s love and transformation, economic and spiritual poverty, and Catholic social teaching. After speaking with them, I am extremely hopeful for our communities, Church, and world. Their outlook on many social issues was not only immensely positive and full of hope, but it was also motivated by a desire to change all that is unjust and inconsistent with Christ’s teachings.
Those 3 particular days of active ministry reminded me that we all have a responsibility to “reach one.” We have opportunities for evangelization and change each and every day. I firmly believe that the world would be a much better place if we all “reached one,” if even on a weekly basis. In addition, I believe the reign of God would be that much closer if we each individually chose one issue, cause, or injustice to focus on for an extended period of time. We’ve already been given the God-given gifts to change the world; it’s up to us to fully recognize and accept them, and then decide when and how to use them.
Finally, I’d like to publicly congratulate Seán Sanford (CFJ’s President & Founder) on receiving the 2011 Ignatius Award from St. Joseph’s University this past Friday night. Established in 1991, the Ignatius Award recognizes a graduate within the last 20 years who has devoted efforts in the service and promotion of St. Joseph’s University, or has lived a life of “service for others” consistent with the principles of St. Ignatius Loyola. Seán is a prime example of what it means to be an evangelizer of the Gospel. His constant, dedicated witness to faithjustice continues to reach thousands of people in countless, positive ways. On behalf of the entire Staff & Board, we thank you for sharing your gifts with the Church and CFJ, and we collectively congratulate you!
In honor of Seán’s faith in action, I pose 2 questions for all of us to reflect and act upon. How will you evangelize this week? Who will be the one you reach?