When I first arrived in Rome to do my doctoral studies, I would test how my Italian was coming along by seeing how long it would take me to recognize the Gospel that was being proclaimed at Mass. Because the Scripture is so familiar, even my rudimentary Italian was god enough to help me place the passage. I clearly remember the day the Gospel was the Beatitudes, three or four sentences into that and I was on board!
The practice of Lectio Divina is another way to come to Scripture with fresh eyes and ears. Last week the Gospel was John’s discourse on the vine and the branches and it is one of those passages that makes it so easy to stop listening because we know how it goes. I used this passage in my Lectioand I heard verse 5 in a way I had never heard before. It reads”by this my father is glorified that you bear much fruit AND(emphasis mine) become my disciples.” It implies that discipleship is dependent on bearing fruit or in more contemporary language:discipleship is dependent on doing something by way of building the kingdom of God!
Baptized into the priestly, prophetic and kingly mission
We speak of entering into Jesus’ life though baptism. It is here that we are claimed for Christ and become disciples. Jesus suggestshowever that though the seed of discipleship may have been planted, it needs to bear fruit in order to really claim discipleship. My prayer led me to ask the question where am I bearing the fruit of my discipleship? A second question– given my job as Executive Director of Evangelization and Family Life– is how are the disciples of the Archdiocese of Washington bearing fruit. I saw some evidence this in action in a really powerful way in Prince Georges County.
On a Mission in Prince George’s County
Throughout the archdiocese we have Justice and Advocacy Councils that are made up of lay Catholics who bring the Gospel to bear on issues affecting the counties in which they live. I was invited to speak at the monthly meeting of the advocacy council that serves Prince Georges County. Fifteen of its members gathered for Mass, working groups and reflection. The working groups are determined by issues the group feels are critical to the county and represent an opportunity to give witness and testimony to the Gospel and the church’s concern for the world.
Pornography, Housing and Domestic Violence
At present the three working groups are addressing issues related to pornography, affordable housing in the Langley Park area and awareness on resources and funding to help victims of domestic violence. I can’t tell you how impressed I was with the commitment, seriousness and breadth of knowledge with which they are working. The group working on pornography is focused on an adult book store that is open 24/7 and certainly not making a positive contribution to community life. The group has coordinated a prayer vigil in front of the store and it is researching commercial codes to see if it may be in violation of local law. At the same time it is building support for federal funding for an Internet safety program for local schools(both public and private). Each of the other groups are also working a number of different angles related to their issues. I think this is what Jesus has in mind when he speaks about glorifying his Father by bearing fruit and becoming disciples.
Gaudium et Spes
The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World begins “the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the believers of Christ as well.” The Justice and Advocacy Councils make this real. Members of our councils testify locally and in front of the state legislature. Another action item at the meeting was the preparation of a list of questions for an upcoming candidates forum. The coucnils and with them, the archdiocese carry alot of weight with local and state officials and leaders, certainly not because they always find themselves on the same side of an issue but rather that the officials recognize in many cases these lay people are advocating on issues that don’t directly affect them. In many, many cases they are advocating on behalf of people who have no voice. This is a powerful witness and testimony. Though I was asked to educate, inspire and inform, I think I was the one who left the meeting most inspired.
Spotlight on the Parish
I have been wanting to start a regular series on parish life and what great work is being done in our parishes and this is the perfect place to start. Please let me know what kinds of things you might like to learn about our parishes and don’t hesitate to send me good ideas and leads.