Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Apostles for today
Prayer and Reflection
February 2015
Thoughts on preparing to proclaim the gospel in a liturgical homily – Spiritual preparation for the General Congress of the Union in July 2015
       For a number of years now I have preached in dialect – that is, the Swiss dialect. When proclaiming the gospel I like to speak the language of the hearers, the language of the faithful in my parishes. Thus I am almost guaranteed to be understood. Only in my own mother tongue, that is, in dialect, can I be fully authentic and credible. The participants in the service experience that I am one of them. I allude to themes which are not necessarily themes of my personal daily life as a priest: problems in families, crises of married couples, difficulties with their sons and daughters going through puberty, fears about their livelihood etc. I also speak about personal experiences and concerns which weigh me down. I can speak about my emotions, things that make me feel sad, questions for which I, too, as a priest, have no answers, or things that I can't understand. Yes, I like to speak from the heart to the heart of others in a way that allows my enthusiasm for an event to be felt by them.
       I often begin my homily with a pointed question or statement designed to somewhat disturb the hearers while stimulating them to listen carefully. This opening thought frequently develops into the central thought which I repeat in the middle of the sermon and certainly at the end– as if it were a word to take home. The last sentence must be full of hope and encouragement.
       When I was ordained deacon almost 40 years ago, I received the following commission from the bishop: “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.”
       It is the good, the joyful news that I am commissioned to proclaim, and the thoughts and words spoken to people. at a wedding, for instance, should fill them with joy.
       At the preparation of a funeral ceremony I try to put myself in the situation of the mourning relatives. I like to speak in images. Pictures are easy to imagine and keep in mind. Instead of the traditional biography of the deceased, I look at a photo album and contemplate important situations in the life of the deceased, such as the bridal couple in love, the christening of the first child or, describe the loving smile a grandchild for the grandfather. By looking at an album I can soothe mourning a little and give prominence to good memories.
       I like to pray the following prayer of the Catholic Hymnal of Switzerland:
       Lord, we ask you for our pastors: Let them be people full of compassion and understanding, full of hope and confidence in the future. Help them to understand the signs of the times and to share the joy and grief of others.
Jesus Christ, you have said: Whoever wants to be first among you, shall be last of all.   After all, you did not come to be served but to serve and to give your life for others. Fill them with your sentiments of humility and love.
       Jesus Christ, we ask you for priests: Teach them to proclaim your good news in a way that our hunger for life and truth may be satisfied. Fill them with courage so that they may proclaim fearlessly what your Spirit teaches them. Be their support and refuge so that they may be able to sustain the faith of their brothers and sisters. Let their lives make visible that your message is love that sets us free. Strengthen them in gratitude that you have reconciled them to yourself and entrusted them with the ministry of reconciliation.        Make us thankful that we can celebrate with them the mystery of your death and resurrection in the Eucharist. Let there be in your Church no lack of people who care for the building-up and unity of communities, until you will come in glory. Amen.
(Katholisches Gesangbuch der Schweiz 658.1-3)
Thoughts regarding the preparation of the proclamation in the daily testimony of faith
       Besides the official preaching in the homily on Sundays and public holidays, there is the more personal proclamation in the witness of faith of everyday life. There, too, I am asked to tell others what I have been given in my Christian faith and hope, as is said in the First Letter of Peter: “Should anyone ask you the reason for this hope of yours, be ever ready to reply, with gentleness and respect” (1 Pt 3:15).
       The differences between proclaiming the Gospel in liturgy and in everyday conversation are obvious: The preacher speaks to a believing community. Normally people are listening to his words with religious interest, desiring to experience a deeper relationship with God. This cannot be presumed in a spontaneous exchange in the street or at table, where a solemn atmosphere of faith is not a given. Rather, the climate is often determined by the hardships of life, by questions and doubts, perhaps even by fear and rejection.
       The homily is prepared in silence; the preacher delves deeply into the theme and knows exactly what he wants to say. Such direct preparation for proclamation in daily life is not possible. Naturally I don't know in advance the concerns of those who approach me.
       Nevertheless some preparation is possible. Even if not direct, there is still indirect preparation. Everything that helps me to believe in way that is lively and true to life is, in the broadest sense, a preparation to strengthen others in their faith.
       First and foremost are the experiences of life mentioned, experiences of fulfilment and joy, of disappointment and sorrow. These experiences unite all people. We must help others to be true to their emotions.
       I have already mentioned how much people appreciate when one talks about personal joys and sorrows during liturgy. This encourages the listeners to find a means of expressing their own emotions. And just as in the liturgy, so it is in the interpersonal sharing of faith; when talking with others I can only be truly helpful and strengthen their faith if I myself am close to what touches people deeply, to their experiences of life.
       It is equally important that those to whom I am talking to do not lose themselves in their emotions, that they do not get bogged down in grief and mourning, and so we to give particular care to their experiences of faith. These are not far from experiences of life, but are, rather, are experienced in the midst of them. Experience of faith includes all that truly comforts us, that gives us strength and encouragement – the quality and beauty of creation, human dignity, the Saviour's grace and, in all of this, God himself as the mystery of love.
       Whenever I bear witness to my experiences of faith in talking to others, I make it possible for those who are entrusted to me not to forget their own experiences of faith, but to reconnect with them – and sometimes even to have further experiences of God and of faith.
       In this way I allow my heart (with all its experiences) to speak to the hearts of others. This was already important in the first part on the homily; it becomes even more important in this interpersonal proclaiming. Whenever others sense that I am not in touch with my own heart, I won’t be able to touch their hearts either.
       When our witness to faith is very close to life, life also draws closer and closer to faith. Detached evangelisation which is far from life does not reach the people of today. This does not mean that a more difficult train of thought should not sometimes be expressed. But it must always be rooted in a feeling for life with its ups and downs.
       However, what is the deepest reason that talk about faith has to be very close to life as experienced and endured? The reason is to be found in the incarnation of God in his son Jesus Christ. Since God not only speaks to humans, but himself becomes human, then it is clear that I cannot find God beyond human life. God is to be met, to be found and to be loved in and through human life. Consequently, when I want to help those entrusted to me to find God, then I should not lead them away from life, but rather must help them to come very close to their own life in order to come close to God.
       In Christ, God himself, God's Word became man. This is clearly shown in the way the Gospel speaks of Christ. It does not conceal the fact that Jesus' “sweat became like great drops of blood falling on the ground” (Lk 22:44). It emphasizes that even the Redeemer shed tears – for example, at the grave of his friend Lazarus (Jn 11:35) Moreover, it also shows us that in the midst of all his human fear and mourning, there remained a connection with God which nothing could destroy.
       To sum up: There are many similarities between the liturgical homily and a simple daily witnessing. I have mentioned that the last sentence of a homily must be full of hope and encouragement. That is no less important at the end of a conversation about faith. The crucial point is that we release the other person into the presence of God. In God, I and the other remain united, even if we are separated in time or in space, even if we never again meet and talk together in this life.

                                                         Fr. Erich Schädler SAC,
                                                         National Formation Promoter,
Segretariato Generale, Unione dell’Apostolato Cattolico
Piazza San Vincenzo Pallotti 204, Roma, Italia

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A message from Fr. Rory

Greetings to you all. The UAC General Assembly, the highest decision-making body of the Union, will be in session from the morning of Saturday January 9th to the evening of Tuesday January 13th, 2015. The Assembly will consider issues relevant to the life and apostolate of the Union throughout the world, choose the 10 elected members of the new General Coordination Council and decide on policies to be implemented in the next 3 years. Please keep this most important event in the life of the Union in your prayers very specially in these days, that it may be a true Cenacle experience of the fullness of life and light and love of the Holy Spirit which will bear good fruit for the life and apostolate of the entire Union in its service of God's kingdom in the Church and the world.
Wishing you every blessing in this holy time of the Octave of the Epiphany and for 2015. 
Fr. Rory Hanly SAC
General Secretary

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Apostles for Today
January 2015

During Christmas we contemplated the mystery of the Incarnation, we focused our gaze on Emmanuel, God with us, his presence has filled us with profound joy and hope and renewed our strength for the New Year. Let us contemplate him constantly so that he be “Jesus, a joy ever new, a joy which is shared” in our personal and communal experience.

Seeing ourselves as part of the whole Church which evangelises - Spiritual Preparation for the General
Congress of the Union in July 2015

 Being Church means being God’s people, in accordance with the great plan of his fatherly love. This means that we are to be God’s leaven in the midst of humanity. It means proclaiming and bringing God’s salvation into our world, which often goes astray and needs to be encouraged, given hope and strengthened on the way. The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium, 114).

       On this path of our spiritual preparation for the General Congress, let us think about ourselves as Church in today's time. In the midst of a contemporary world characterized by a permanent socio-cultural-religious transition, a marked pluralism and a predominance of individualism, how is the Church to be understood today? How does she see herself? As an organic and hierarchical institution, a multinational with a famous religious leader; a structure or a building in our neighbourhood, a place where people gather to pray and profess a faith; a privileged group that practises a religion? These questions will evoke many responses, both in those who are part of her and those who are distanced from her. Ultimately, the question arises: is the Church a response to the lack of meaning and the suffering of those who have been losing hope and the joy of living?
The Church is, first and foremost, a people on pilgrimage towards God, a mystery which has its roots in the Trinity, because “the mystery of the Trinity is the source, model and goal of the mystery of the Church: ‘a people united by the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit’, called in Christ ‘like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (Aparecida Document, 155). This mystery of the Church which also exists concretely in history in a pilgrim and evangelising people (EG 111), a people that is chosen and called by God. “Jesus did not tell the apostles to form an exclusive group, an elite group. Jesus says, “Go and make all peoples my disciples” (Mt 28:19)” (EG 113), so the Church is sent by Jesus Christ as a sacrament of salvation offered by God, and through her evangelising activity, cooperates as an instrument of divine grace to proclaim salvation to all (EG 112) and continues the saving mission of Jesus Christ in history.
The Church exists to evangelise” (Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14) and what is her programme of evangelisation? “The programme already exists. It is the plan found in the Gospel and the living Tradition. It focuses, ultimately, in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, to live in the Trinitarian life and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem. It is a program that does not change with shifts of times and cultures, but takes account of time and culture for a true dialogue and effective communication” (John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 29).
All the baptised participate in this programme, since “in all the baptized, from first to last, the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work, impelling us to evangelization ” (EG119) given that:
in virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization” 
(EG 120).
Let us remember the words of St. Vincent Pallotti on the universal apostolate, which encourage us to an active participatory co-responsibility in the task of evangelisation: “Therefore let every Catholic who lives in the Church of Jesus Christ be consoled because, whether priest or lay person, if with their talents, learning, wisdom, capacities, relationships, profession, words, material and worldly goods, and if with nothing else at least with their prayers they do whatever they can so that faith in Jesus Christ be spread throughout the world, and charity be rekindled among believers and spread throughout the world, they will acquire the merit of the apostolate, and all the more they employ for this purpose money, belongings, talents, works, prayers ...” (OOCC III 145-146).
Francis reminds us that every baptized person is an evangeliser!: “it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized” (EG 120) This personal involvement involves “a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbours or complete strangers. This is the informal preaching which takes place in the middle of a conversation, something along the lines of what a missionary does when visiting a home. Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey” (EG 127)
It is important that the Church grow as an evangelising agent, that she be constantly evangelised so that the entire Church may evangelise: therefore “we ought to let others be constantly evangelizing us. But this does not mean that we should postpone the evangelizing mission; rather, each of us should find ways to communicate Jesus wherever we are”(EG 121). Also, we should keep in mind that the Holy Spirit equips us for this, enriching us with different charisms, gifts to renew and build up the Church, which “are not an inheritance, safely secured and entrusted to a small group for safekeeping; rather they are gifts of the Spirit integrated into the body of the Church, drawn to the centre which is Christ and then channelled into an evangelizing impulse. A sure sign of the authenticity of a charism is its ecclesial character, its ability to be integrated harmoniously into the life of God’s holy and faithful people for the good of all”(EG 130).

The Church understood as the entire People of God which evangelises must be constantly evangelised, called to live in the image of the Trinitarian community, enriched by the gifts of the Spirit and with the active personal involvement of each one of the baptized.

Questions for personal and/or community reflection:
         Do I feel myself to be part of the People of God, chosen and called by him to continue the saving mission of Jesus Christ in history?
         As a baptized person I am called to grow as an evangelizer and to be constantly evangelised. Do I know, love and imitate Jesus Christ? Am I willing to establish relations of communion with others? By my actions do I contribute to the transformation of my surroundings (family, community, work)? Do I allow others to evangelise me?
         As a baptized person, am I an evangelising person who explicitly proclaims Jesus Christ? How am I doing in this?
         Am I using the gifts I have received from God to serve the community, to build up the Church?

Concrete action:
In this coming year, let us recognize the ecclesial spaces where we can evangelise and be evangelised in order to put the gifts we have received from the Lord at the service of the Church.

                                                                  Diana María Guzmán, UAC,
                                                                  National Formation Promoter,
Segretariato Generale, Unione dell’Apostolato Cattolico

Piazza San Vincenzo Pallotti 204, Roma, Italia