Author: Pete Burak

Run the Race: Grow and Go

Image Credit

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Faith Magazine.

Anyone who’s played sports, pursued music or developed a new personal skill or trait has probably heard it said, “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse!” While overly simplistic, this motivational quote speaks to a human truth; stagnation or lethargy does not produce things that are new, better, and transformed. Not surprisingly, this also applies to our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 9:24, St. Paul compares our journey to heaven to a foot race, “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win.” The takeaway here is not that only one of us is getting into heaven, but the same mentality and disciplines of training hard, moving quickly and crossing the finish line apply to our Christian journey. We then are faced with the question, “How do we run?” The Church provides 2,000 years of insights, inspiration and teachings on what it looks like for us to “run,” but I want to boil it down to the two fundamental invitations given to all baptized Catholics: the universal call to holiness and the universal call to mission. Just as a healthy runner utilizes both legs, holiness and mission must be utilized in tandem to achieve maximum speed and ensure finishing the course.

Continue reading here.

Responding to Ezekiel’s Call

Pete Burak speaks at a Millennial Church Conference.

This letter originally appeared in the November 2018 Renewal Ministries’ newsletter.

Dear Friends,

Earlier this year, Peter Herbeck and I had the wonderful opportunity to speak at the Steubenville Power and Purpose Conference. This was extra special for me, since I graduated from Franciscan University in 2010, and the campus holds many life-changing memories for me, including meeting, courting, and falling in love with my wife, Cait. The whole weekend, I found myself continually praising God and thanking Him for the late Fr. Mike Scanlan and all the other faithful men and women who have worked to make Franciscan what it is today (including Sr. Ann, Ralph, and Peter and Debbie Herbeck).

While I thoroughly enjoyed giving my Saturday morning keynote, called A New Vision: Seeing What God is Doing, and interacting with the team and the conference participants, I’d like to highlight a prophetic word the Lord gave me during the Friday evening prayer time. The Lord placed on my heart Ezekiel 37:1-14. In this passage, Ezekiel is brought to a valley filled with dry bones and commanded to prophesy over the bones that they may have new life: “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord” (Ez 37:5-6; emphasis mine).

In a particular way, I believe this passage speaks to the sobering reality presented by my generation and the one following. As a whole, we have radically disengaged from the Church and therefore are coming to resemble more and more the valley of dry bones seen in Ezekiel. God, who is the source of light, truth, goodness, and life, is being rejected, and we need people of faith to stand up and proclaim with clarity and conviction, the “Word of the Lord.” We need disciples who can hear the voice of God and speak out over this generation and prophesy that the Lord desires new sinews, new skin, new breath, and therefore new life! What would our Church, country, and families look like if we who believe proclaimed with prophetic boldness the Good News of Jesus Christ? Ezekiel tells us, “So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great host.” May this verse penetrate our minds, break our hearts, and provide a spiritual springboard to wade into this generation with new energy, knowing the Lord desires deep communion with them, and we can and must participate in His saving work!

i.d.9:16 is one of the ways Renewal Ministries is responding to the prophetic call from Ezekiel. We exist to form young adults into intentional disciples of Jesus Christ. This mission has primarily been accomplished through parish partnerships we call chapters, where we provide a vision, training, content, and ongoing resources. Over the past several months, our team has trained three more chapters and have two more scheduled! We value this expansion because of the increased ability to proclaim the lordship of Christ over this generation and help raise missionary disciples who can engage their peers.

Another method of responding to the challenge from Ezekiel is a new initiative from both Renewal Ministries and i.d.9:16, called the Millennial Church Conference (MCC). The MCC seeks to train parishes on how to empower young adults by examining the characteristics and trends of Millennials, analyzing what they are saying to the Church and how the Church is responding, and diving deeper into the importance of evangelization and discipleship for this generation.

We’ve piloted the conference in four dioceses (Milwaukee, Joliet, Rockford, and Green Bay) and we’ve received invitations from several more. We see the MCC as a “professional development” day for a diocese, because priests and their teams receive fresh insights and inspiration for reaching this elusive and often-confusing generation. Here are some responses we’ve received so far:

“This was an extremely engaging, enriching, and inspiring conference! The presenters were enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and made their presentation interesting by using videos, Power Point, and music! I would highly recommend going!” —Lynn, pastoral council member

“The Millennial Church Conference gives insight into the characteristics of the upcoming generation that is the future of the Church. However, this generation is the CURRENT church, and this conference shares the importance of their presence in today’s church.” —Lisa, youth minister

“This conference is absolutely worth your time!!! It is thought-provoking and helps you enter into the life of those in the Millennial generation who actually ‘think’ differently than you might.” —Deacon Hank

Overall, I hope this letter provides a glimpse of hope for the future of our Church and younger generations. While we may be walking through a valley of dry bones, we are convinced the Lord is inviting ALL of us to prophetically speak new life over our friends, children, and grandchildren. May we respond like Ezekiel, with humble obedience, and may we see the dead come alive in Christ, through His Spirit, in the heart of the Church!

Go make disciples!

Pete

The Millennial Church Conference

 

Dear Friends,

Renewal Ministries and i.d.9:16 remain committed and passionate about helping the current young adult generation, or Millennials, become intentional disciples of Jesus Christ. In an effort to expand our efforts, we’ve partnered with Sarah Kaczmarek (Catholic Alpha) and Pete and Emily Burds (Archdiocese of Milwaukee) to create the Millennial Church Conference (MCC). This new initiative seeks to help parishes empower young adults by examining the characteristics and trends of Millennials, analyzing what they are saying to the Church and how the Church is responding, and diving deeper into the importance of evangelization and discipleship for this generation. Additionally, the MCC provides practical strategies for how parishes can take both little and big steps toward making their communities reach both the young adults in the pews as well as those who aren’t attending Mass.

We’ve piloted the conference in four dioceses (Milwaukee, Joliet, Rockford, and Green Bay) and we’ve received invitations from several more. We see the MCC as a “professional development” day for a diocese, because priests and their teams receive fresh insights and inspiration for reaching this elusive and often-confusing generation. Here are some responses we’ve received so far:

 

“This was an extremely engaging, enriching, and inspiring conference! The presenters were enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and made their presentation interesting by using videos, Power Point, and music! I would highly recommend going! —Lynn, Pastoral Council member

•••

“The Millennial Church Conference gives insight into the characteristics of the upcoming generation that is the future of the Church. However, this generation is the CURRENT church, and this conference shares the importance of their presence in today’s church.” —Lisa, Youth Minister

•••

“This conference is absolutely worth your time!!! It is thought-provoking and helps you enter into the life of those in the Millennial generation who actually ‘think’ differently than you might.” —Deacon Hank

 

To signup for the next MCC, to bring the MCC to your diocese, or for more information about the Millennial Church Conference, go to www.millennialchurchconference.com. We look forward to hearing from you!

Go make disciples!

Pete Burak

Director

i.d.9:16

Evangelization’s Essential Ingredient

The following is an excerpt from Game Changer by Pete Burak, director of i.d.9:16, Renewal Ministries’ young adult outreach.


Ignoring or minimizing the Holy Spirit’s role in the New Evangelization is like setting out to make fresh bread by gathering all the ingredients and preheating the oven—but ignoring the yeast and wondering why the bread won’t rise. Or like planning a trip by packing the trunk, putting the keys in the ignition, and buckling up—but deciding gas is optional and being surprised when the car won’t start. In Evangelii Nuntiandi, Blessed Pope Paul VI bluntly states the role of the Holy Spirit in the work of mission. He writes,

“Evangelization will never be possible without the action of the Holy Spirit.”3

Talk about a provocative and challenging statement from the vicar of Christ! Blessed Paul VI clearly insists that the faithful rely on the action of the Holy Spirit because evangelization is pointless and fruitless without the Spirit. Pentecost launched the first evangelization, and Pentecost must continue to fuel our efforts.

The vital role of the Spirit can be difficult to believe, since most of His work happens in disguise. The power of the Holy Spirit, while certainly containing the power to affect outward appearance (like the tongues of fire), primarily transforms the hidden recesses of our hearts. The external preaching, teaching, loving, sharing, and caring that we see in successful evangelizers all come from an unseen but indispensible working of the Holy Spirit.

When we see other people evangelizing and doing great things, we often say to ourselves, “I could never do that,” and we’re right! We can’t do these extraordinary external works without first internally accepting and growing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

What we don’t always realize is that every time we witness someone successfully evangelizing, the Holy Spirit is guiding them. Many evangelization programs, trainings, and books remind us of our duty to evangelize and the incredible need of our personal witness to the Gospel. They share best practices and tips for knowing what to say and how and when to say it. However, none of this ultimately matters if we don’t open ourselves up to the grace and power of the Holy Spirit and allow Him to guide and empower our evangelization efforts.
With the divine Game Changer in mind, it’s worth taking another look at Evangelii Nuntiandi:

“It is the Holy Spirit who, today as at the beginning of the Church acts in every evangelizer who allows himself to be possessed and led by Him.”4

Blessed Paul VI uses the word “possessed,” and that can create confusion or apprehension. Most of us see possession as something out of The Exorcist, yet completely giving of ourselves to Christ, and allowing the Spirit to consume us, are marks of true Christian discipleship. Unlike demonic possession, in which you lose control of your faculties, being owned by the Spirit enhances our nature and allows us true freedom.

And one more quote from Evangelii Nuntiandi:

“The Holy Spirit places on [the evangelizer’s] lips, the words which he could not find by himself, and at the same time the Holy Spirit predisposes the soul of the hearer to be open and receptive to the Good News and to the kingdom being proclaimed.”5

In other words, the Holy Spirit stacks the deck. The Holy Spirit gifts followers of Christ with the supernatural wisdom, power, and grace they need to communicate the Good News. Additionally, the listener receives supernatural power to understand and accept what is being presented. Obviously, either party can resist or flat-out deny this grace, but the Spirit is still there, gently inviting both people to go deeper.

Let’s look again at the scenario we imagined at the beginning of the booklet, regarding a discussion of sensitive topics during Thanksgiving dinner. In moments such as these, our first action should always be to ask the Holy Spirit for insight, wisdom, and the power to respond to His prompting. This humbles us so that we can hear what the Lord wants us to do. Then, no matter what happens, we can peacefully know we tried to be faithful to God’s will.

He may prompt us to speak out boldly; He may whisper to us to wait, perhaps until after dinner; or He may prompt us to invite our relative out for that coffee so that we can speak with them individually and better understand their opinion. We can’t do it on our own, so we might as well give all of these options to Him and then submit to His authority.

This reality should fill us with relief. While catechesis, apologetics, and evangelization training are important, when faced with the weighty task of representing Christ and the Church, we primarily need to rely on the Spirit. The Holy Spirit often is described as the Spirit of Truth, and in those moments, the truth, spoken in love, is precisely what is needed, even if it is eventually rejected.


NOTES

3. Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 75.
4. Ibid., 75.
5. Ibid., 75.


[Featured Photo Credit]

What’s Up with Them? Engaging Millennials

Millennials

This article is taken from a presentation Pete Burak recently gave to the Cincinnati chapter of Legatus. Please contact him at pete@id916.com if you are interested in having him share this message with your group or organization.

Much ink has been spilled analyzing, bemoaning, threatening, and critiquing the Millennial generation. With an age range of roughly eighteen to thirty-five, these young adults have emerged into the world of adulthood with unforeseen and unique challenges and opportunities. We’ve exploded on the work and cultural scene, and everyone—including the Catholic Church—is grappling with this new reality.

We are selfish, materialistic, addicted to technology, lazy, questioning everything, allergic to commitment, entitled, subjective, over-stimulated, under-motivated, inclusive, cynical, and overly accepting. We are also more religiously detached than any generation in history. Less than ten percent of self-professed Millennial Catholics attend Mass on a weekly basis. Only forty percent think a relationship with God is possible, and only thirty-one percent of those people go to Mass regularly. We are the product of what Pope Benedict XVI called a “crisis of discipleship” in the Church today. We are Generation Maybe, Generation Me, Generation None.

But the above description only tells half the story. While we certainly embody many of those characteristics, there are many layers to understanding the hearts of Millennials. We are passionate, caring, resourceful, energetic, and creative. We long for meaning, purpose, community, authentic leadership, friendship, truth, and ultimately, love. Many of the burdens and wounds visible in my generation stem from an inaccurate and insufficient understanding of love. If only we knew the answer to our desperate pursuit for happiness was Love with a capital L. If only we knew the hunger inside us could only be satisfied by a Person. If only we knew Jesus. Not only Jesus, but also His plans for our lives, His freedom, His peace, His Spirit, and the power of living in a community devoted to growing as His disciples.

All of this was driven home for me the other day on my flight to Cincinnati. As I settled into my seat, I struck up a conversation with a young adult woman across the aisle. The initial pleasantries shifted to more serious topics later in the flight. I was on my way to Cincinnati for a talk on Millennials, so I felt like the Lord had orchestrated the perfect situation for some “market research.” The gentle question, “What do you think about Pope Francis?” led to “What is your source of truth?” Her initial surprise and confusion at the question changed to a very Millennial response; her source of truth is her parents, her friends, and her experience.

I asked her if she grew up with any religious background and—I’m sure you’ve guessed it—she was baptized Catholic. As we continued to talk and I continued to ask questions, it became abundantly clear that her story mirrors many of her contemporaries. She was raised in a home in which her family only occasionally went to church; once her parents divorced, the only faith life she experienced was attending Mass during visits with her grandparents. She had never heard of a personal, loving, life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ. She had never experienced a community dedicated to helping her grow in virtue and holiness. And finally, she had never been intentionally discipled by an older Christian man or woman. She epitomized the effects of a society reeling from a “crisis of discipleship.”

While the solutions to these problems deserve more space than I have here, I’d like to offer four tips for engaging, loving, and supporting these crazy Millennials.

1. Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray, pray . . .

Profound right? While basic in concept, intentional prayer cannot be underestimated or undervalued. Jesus repeatedly took time for prayer throughout the New Testament, and often His prayer centered on His disciples. (See Jn 17:6-26) Time with the Lord transforms our own hearts and allows us to love in a new and more powerful way. It’s an avenue to growth in holiness, which must happen so that we can shine more brightly in the darkening world. Additionally, God is a God of details, so we should boldly come before His throne with very specific requests for our Millennial children and grandchildren. Praying, “Please Lord bless my son,” is great, but “Lord, bring some solid Christian friends into Jimmy’s life and help him win favor with them,” could be even more effective.

2. Ask Questions.

Nearly everyone likes to talk about themselves, and the person who does the majority of the talking in a conversation is usually the one who feels the most positive about the exchange. Jesus was the master of the pointed-but-genuine question. He asks 307 questions in the Gospels! In our conversations with Millennials, asking thoughtful and authentic questions lays the groundwork for respect and mutual appreciation. By asking questions, we show our care for the other person and a humble spirit seeking to understand. No matter how bizarre the answer, often our response should include another question: “Wow, I’ve never heard that before, could you explain what you mean?” This conversational strategy, potentially employed over multiple conversations, can lead to the tables being turned and to the young adult asking questions of you. “OK, I’ve talked too much—what do you think?  That’s when you ask one final question: “Do you really want to know?” When they say yes, they’ve given you permission to speak your mind and lovingly present the truth.

3. Dive in.

My favorite definition of courage is the willingness to sustain a wound. Most of us have been wounded by a Millennial. Whether through cutting words, thoughtless actions, or poor decisions, these young adults who we love so much can cause us enormous pain. Are you ready to persevere in these relationships even when it hurts? Young adults need people who won’t give up on them, who are all in, through thick and thin. Consider this quote from Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium, “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.” (24; my emphasis)

What a beautiful image for evangelizing young adults—reaching out to lovingly and openly expose yourself to their suffering. Instead of leprosy, we touch loneliness, sexual abuse, substance abuse, broken homes, depression, and much more. That’s what I mean by “dive in”—the action of leaning into the criticism and the scorn, because their souls are worth it.

4. Follow the Spirit.

Just as the anointing of Pentecost launched the first evangelization, each disciple of Christ needs a new Pentecost to empower their own participation in the new evangelization. A group of relatively uneducated, scared, confused, and normal men and women exploded out of the upper room and forever changed the world through their preaching, example, questions, and investment in peoples’ lives. None of this would have happened without the coming of the Holy Spirit. From Pope Paul VI,

Evangelization will never be possible without the action of the Holy Spirit . . . It is the Holy Spirit who, today just as the beginning of the Church, acts in every evangelizer who allows himself to be possessed and led by Him. The Holy Spirit places on his lips the words which he could not find by himself, and at the same time the Holy Spirit predisposes the soul of the hearer to be open and receptive to the Good News and to the kingdom being proclaimed. (Evangelii Nuntiandi 75)

The Holy Spirit stacks the deck. He tells us when, what, and how to say something and readies the heart of the listener. Our job involves being open to the movement of the Spirit and embracing the grace-filled courage He provides to actually open our mouths and witness to the Truth. As St. Paul said, let’s pray constantly in the Spirit so we can be empowered, emboldened, and filled with the wisdom to reach Millennials and help bring them back into the life-giving relationship with Christ in His Church.

It dawned on me the other day that Jesus was a young adult. Therefore, it’s likely that at the time of the apostles’ calling, they were in the age-range of today’s Millennials. We should learn from how Christ engaged his disciples and brought them back after they scattered. He prayed for them, asked them questions, invested deeply in them, and ultimately filled them with His Spirit. The challenge is great, but let’s go after these crazy Millennials and watch the Lord do something mighty.

Want to hear more on evangelization from Pete Burak? Click here to purchase his new booklet, Game Changer: The Role of the Holy Spirit in the New Evangelization.

This article originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ August 2016 newsletter. Click here to view the entire August newsletter!