Tag: Pete Burak

Accompaniment: Important but Insufficient

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This article originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ October 2019 newsletter.

Friendship is a universal desire and one of God’s great gifts to humanity. Preaching the Gospel and making disciples can seem intimidating, only for the very wise and holy, or even outdated for the modern world. However, friendship or “accompaniment,” a term made popular by numerous documents and statements from Pope Francis, seems doable, attainable, and just radical enough.

The Cursillo movement simplifies this high call by promoting a simple yet sticky catchphrase: “Make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to Christ.” While overly simplistic, there’s something to boiling down evangelization to authentic friendship. While the Holy Spirit can convict hearts at any time or place, most people come to faith through the personal interaction with Christian believers who sacrifice time, talent, and treasure to help them come to know Christ.

Pope Francis’ latest apostolic exhortation, Christus Vivit, with its 299 sections and roughly 35,000 words, represents a massive, both in its length and room for interpretation, contribution to the Church’s exciting focus on young people. In an effort to respond to the younger generations’ crisis of faith and the epidemic of non-belief, and the perceived reasons for this decline, leaders are rightfully attempting to adjust the Church’s pastoral approach. I would describe this as a shift to an emphasis on listening, dialogue, and accompaniment, with a delayed proclamation of some of the more difficult teachings found in Sacred Scripture and the Catechism.

Most would agree that friendship, mutual understanding, and journeying with people are essential elements for evangelization, or the making of disciples, through faith and conversion. Christus Vivit 292 rightfully promotes these actions and elaborates on the power of the individual disciple who knows how to and values listening and walking with non-believers. However, I have noticed a growing trend for leaders to allow a nebulous definition of accompaniment that permits the celebration of the process without requiring the needed conversion.

The words listening, dialogue, and accompaniment all have real value, but their strength is neutered when we expand their definitions to include all of the Church’s missionary activity and strategy. Since Christus Vivit presents a vast range of examples and angles of ministry to the next generation, readers can gravitate toward a curated understanding of mission, evangelization, and accompaniment. Too often these personal definitions downplay or de-emphasize the stirring, unchanging, Jesus-given mission of the Church: to seek and save the lost by preaching a message of love, mercy, joy, and peace but also repentance, forgiveness, and a new way of living.

Accompaniment is evangelization, but evangelization is not complete or encompassed by accompaniment.  Accompaniment or loving friendship is an aspect of evangelization—that being the necessary time and relationship-building that should and can lead to a clear proclamation of the Gospel and an invitation to respond. A holistic and Jesus-centered evangelization emphasizes accompaniment, but in my experience, it is easy to promote accompaniment alone to avoid the difficult, awkward, and potentially relationship-altering moments of genuine conversion.

An unbalanced emphasis on accompaniment will not produce what we all hope for: a radical increase in genuine conversions described by St. John Paul II as “expressed in a faith that is total and radical.”[1] Additionally, watering down our message, or completely avoiding the hard topics of sin, salvation, hell, and judgment, does not enhance someone’s strategy of accompaniment but rather postpones or eliminates its ultimate end, namely more people believing the full truth of the Gospel. While a gentle approach, which intentionally delays some of the more difficult teachings of Christ, may be what the Spirit intends for a particular season of someone’s journey toward faith, too often we use friendship and the fear of losing a friend as an excuse for never calling our friends to fully commit their lives to Jesus, with all the ramifications of that decision.

The differentiating nature of the Church exists not in her symbiosis to broader society but her unique assessment of life, death, and salvation. Being in the world but not of it, accepting and even desiring suffering, loving and caring for the margins, eagerly anticipating heaven though it means physical death, and loving your enemies are all examples of a radical divergence from aspects of the modern secular mindset. Ironically, these beliefs are also the most attractive for those who have ears to hear and for people who have successfully been accompanied. The Church will not and should not be the cool kid on the block, the fun dad, or the center of all that is hip and novel, and that is OK because our mission is not simply walking with people no matter where they decide to roam but rather entering into genuine loving relationships while remaining the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

[1] Redemptoris Missio 46

Run the Race: Grow and Go

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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.


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