Kid President, St. Ignatius, Pope Francis and Corn Dogs

kidpresI couldn’t help but share this video with everyone. We showed it last night at our Sunday youth night and it literally got a roaring applause afterwards.

Again, I think it speaks to the spirituality in the air in our young people and even in our young adults–particularly the millennial generation. It is yet another video that is not necessarily Catholic in language but surely–Catholic in spirit.

You were made from love, to be love, to spread love.  – Kid President

Here is the first stanza of St. Ignatius’ famous First Principle and Foundation paraphrased by Jacqueline Bergan and Sr. Marie Schwan

Lord, my God
When your love spilled over into creation
You thought of me.
I am from Love, of Love, for Love.

So the answer is yes, Kid President–you’re pep talk resonates with my Catholic heart. And you are, indeed, speaking my language.

PS. I was thinking maybe you can give Pope Francis a call and we can set up a date for corn dogs and ice cream?

Anxiously awaiting your reply,

Jurell

The Challenge of the New Evangelization: Random Thoughts

parentsOne thing I can tell you is that my faith life did not develop itself. I had a good group of friends that accepted me and helped me grow but looking back at my journey, the people that inspired me the most were my adult youth-group leaders. To this day, they are my Christian role models and I will never forget the love they showed me. It was palpable, real, and a relationship I actually felt excited about. They showed me–through their everyday life–how to be a Christian.

Interestingly enough, a recent youth ministry survey indicated that teens were most influenced by their relationships with adult Christians and parents. The survey emphasizes that teens matured the most when they created relationships with adults who lived out their relationship with God in a very real way.  Rick Lawrence, author of What Really Impacts Kids’ Spiritual Growth, writes,

these people were impacted most by the tiny, nondescript things adult and teenage Christians did for them. They were most powerfully influenced when other Christians revealed a kind of spontaneous Christ-likeness in the context of relationship. It wasn’t the well-planned, well-presented teaching on Colossians that changed their life. It was the tears welling up in their leader’s eyes when he listened to their struggles. And 20 years later, they still remember those eyes and those tears.

While some of these surveys and authors were not Catholic in language. They were certainly Catholic in spirit. This is the heart of the New Evangelization. We must be witnesses who live out their faith in a bold way. We need to reveal a “spontaneous Christ-likeness” to every person we encounter.

One of the most powerful quotes often associated with the New Evangelization is:

Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses. — Pope Paul VI, Address to the Members of the Consilium de Laicis (October 1974)

The medium is the message. If we want to share the Gospel… we must be the Gospel.

And this is the beautiful challenge of the New Evangelization.

just my random thoughts…

Eucharistic People: Corey McComas

Eucharistic People: Corey McComas

coreyThis was originally an article for our bulletin but I was asked to change it a little bit. However, I couldn’t help but post it. It was a story meant to be shared with the world. Thank you Corey for the love you’ve shown me.

I had the pleasure of meeting Corey McComas during my first week at Ambrose. It was in the midst of all the messiness that comes with transition. The pain of “being new” is always real. I’ll never forget my pastor’s 25th anniversary of his ordination. I hardly knew anyone at the parish. And when I went to sit down, Corey stayed with me. We chatted and got to know each other on the surface level but I know in my heart that it must have been difficult for her to let go of Alexa (former youth minister) and try to welcome me. Regardless, it was a moment I’ll never forget because she took a leap of faith to welcome the stranger—to show goodness to the outsider. So, Corey, I’ll be forever grateful that you stuck by my side. In that moment, you were an example and a witness of the ever-important ministry of presence. This is what it means to be Eucharistic. So may we all strive to be like more like Corey, a young person profoundly in love with Jesus and doing her best to be “really, truly, and physically” present to those in need.

What Does Fonzie Have to do With Holiness?

fonzieDo you remember Fonzie? From Happy Days? He was my hero as a child. He had awesome hair and a strong personality that showed he was calm yet always in charge. I’ll always remember the way he carried himself, from his shiny leather jacket, to the way he turned on the juke box by pounding it just right with his fist. Fonzie was the poster child for what seemed to be a perfect life. Any fears or insecurities he had were safely masked beneath the hard surface of his gelled hair and his Harley.

It’s quite easy for us youth ministers to get caught up in the lie that we need to be perfect–a “spiritual Fonzie,” perhaps. This is something I struggle with everyday. It’s the idea that holiness is defined by a spiritual togetherness that can separate you from others (in a negative way). Through this lens, being holy meant “having it all together”—or at least always projecting it. Frank Mercadante, author of Engaging a New Generation, writes of his personal experience:

“When gathering as a community, we connected on what we should be, not on what we were. One had to possess evangelistic credibility in order to bring people into this life-changing  experience. That meant protecting an image of ‘having it all together’ in order to attract those who didn’t. Evangelization was about pretending you were complete in order to attract others to a ‘community’ that pretended the same” (Italics mine).

What’s interesting is that we are seeing an undeniable culture shift in our day. The Millenial generation (more or less born between  1982-2002) is leaning away from overconfidence and certainty and turning more towards humility and mystery, writes Mercadante. Moreover, religious superiority creates more negative reactions than ever and church practices that  conceal the slightest trace of religious arrogance—even when done with kindness and good intentions—are “dismissed as toxic.”

So how must we carry ourselves when ministering to our millennial teens? We need to be honest.

I can’t help but think of Pope Francis’ famous interview with America Magazine. It was a lengthy one. However, the beginning might have been the the most powerful statement to come out of a pope’s mouth. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, the Italian Jesuit journal, began by asking “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” Pope Francis stared and reflected in silence and responded gently with

“I do not know what might be the most fitting description…. I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

He continued.

“Yes, perhaps I can say that I am a bit astute, that I can adapt to circumstances, but it is also true that I am a bit naïve. Yes, but the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”

That’s powerful. No matter what generation you fall into. The Pope responded with a divine honesty that was rooted in honesty, humility and mystery and with that simple answer he brought us back to the foundation of holiness. It’s not about having it all together; rather, its about being honest with ourselves, that we are all broken and in need of God’s saving love and grace.

 So—we endeavor to make a cultural shift of holiness: from striving to be the spiritual Fonzie whose “got it all together,” masking our fears and insecurities, to being honest with ourselves, honest to God, honest with each other, and walking side-by-side together in our brokenness.

Fight for the Space to Give Thanks

City Life(Hi friends, this is another old blog that I thought I could share with you! Even though it was written in November it still applies to today!! enjoy!)

As I make my way into the working world as a minister for one of the largest and busiest parishes in the Cleveland diocese, I often find myself frantic with the next thing on my to-do list: Confirmation Prep, youth night, retreats, the weekly bulletin, websites, videos, service events. There is an unending amount of work to be done and relationships to be made and one of the evils of such an intense, fast-paced schedule is that it’s easy to never stop. But Ignatius challenges us to pause in our frenzied lives to give thanks to God. Not just by saying thank you in passing but by actually stopping our lives to recall the gifts God has provided us. Ignatius uses beautiful language in the Spiritual Exercises when he talks about this. He writes that we need to take the time to relish and savor the many gifts we are given.

How often is it that we forget to savor the tiny aspects of our day that lead us to God? I know that I personally spend hours crossing off things on my to-do list but somehow, “Give thanks to God,” and “Pray the Examen” always finds a way to be bumped off. Somehow or another I convince myself that I don’t have time. However, James Martin, SJ, profoundly writes, that “savoring is the antidote to our increasingly rushed schedules.” And without this savoring we become “human doings” instead of “human beings.” Martin’s quote was a serious wake-up call for me because I often fall into the trap of becoming a human to-do list, missing the opportunities to savor in the infinite gifts that God offers me.

This week I had the opportunity to catch up with an old friend and she saw how overwhelmed I was with work. We spent over an hour talking about life, work, and relationships and I walked away with a simple theme from our conversation: “Fight for the space to give thanks.”

We must fight for the space to give thanks—to savor God’s gifts. And we fight because it’s so easy to not give thanks.

So, this November, during the month of Thanksgiving, I invite you to join me, as I fight to savor all of God’s gifts in my busy and frantic days. Why? Because true gratitude to God brings a deep healing into our lives. It becomes medicine for our frantic souls.
“All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.” – A Contemporary Reading of the First Principle and Foundation by David Flemming, SJ

God as Mystery, God as Neighbor

cosmos Yesterday I woke up and something very strange happened. It was a normal day, just like any other but for some reason I was jolted with some unexpected thoughts about life and death. I hopped in the shower and a series of unanswerable questions swept my head space. What actually happens to us when we die? What exactly does God do all day? What/who the heck is “God”? The questions simply led to more and more (random) questions. And after living so many years, I’ve to come to the unfortunate realization that sometimes there is no concrete answer. I’ve been told by my professors that it takes a lot of intellectual maturity to accept that some things will always be a mystery—sometimes there is no answer.

Sometimes all we can do is enter into the mystery.

Having just finished my journey through Ignatius’ spiritual exercises, I was struck most by the final contemplation on the love of God. Opening my mind to the actions of God in the world, I found myself so overwhelmed. The only word I could use to describe it was mystery. In my prayer, I surrendered to the contemplation allowing my mind to run through all created things: from the most sublime galaxies of the cosmos to the tiniest of potato bugs. It was then that I got a taste of God’s mysterious love. Ignatius makes it very clear that love is not about the words spoken but deeds done. Love is about action and God is constantly “in action”—constantly falling deeper and deeper in love with creation.

I was in awe of God’s love, seeing God in action, everywhere and in all things. I experienced God laboring within me and for me. However, this “God” was so big, so sublime, and so mysterious that I did not know what to do or where to start. It was as if I realized what/who God actually is and I was left paralyzed.

I started my prayer by acknowledging this sublime and mysterious presence flowing through me. And I remember praying one of the most beautiful prayers I’ve ever prayed. I said humbly,

“I want to know you so badly”

I kept repeating it, humbly and then God said:

“You are knowing me
…as you get to know yourself
…as you get to know your neighbor.”

Indeed, God is mysterious—even paralyzing but we are constantly invited to know God as we know ourselves and our neighbor.

A Moment of Shared Silence: A Glimpse into the Jesuit Volunteer Corps

jvc-photoIt’s safe to say that doing a year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) changed my life. I served as a teacher/lunch coordinator at Detroit Cristo Rey High School, which in the heart of a small neighborhood called “Mexicantown.” I learned a lot of things about myself that could hardly be conveyed in a book, let alone one of these 400 word blogs. So, what I’d like to do is share a story about one of my students. (for the sake of privacy I will be using a different name)

When I first saw Miguel, I thought he was a punk. He was a good looking kid. Clean cut. But he looked like he always wanted to fight. I always wondered if Miguel was in a gang.

But as the year went on, he was assigned to be my personal helpers in the lunch room. Since he was a bigger guy, he helped lug milk crates up to the third-floor cafeteria almost every day. During our down time I learned a lot about him. He told me about his cars and how he was saving up for a new motor to go into an old Mercedes that he was fixing up with his uncle.

One day Miguel couldn’t stop talking about the town’s Cinco de Mayo parade and the craziness that ensues. As we continued talking, he let me know that the parade was a breeding ground for gang violence. The parade traveled through a long street which went into different gang territories and crossing territories was a big no-no. Miguel went on and on chattering about rims and low-rider cars passing through and all of a sudden he said “… and oh, Mr. Sison…” It was as if something invaded his mind. He stopped cold like he was watching an invisible television screen in front of his face. “Miguel… are you okay?” I said quietly.

“Um… Mister… one of my friends… um… he… um…“

“Miguel…”

“he died.”

My heart sunk instantly.

“What do you mean your friend died, Miguel?”

“He died in the parade.”

Miguel continued to tell me that one of the gangs chased his friend down and shot him behind a Burger King, which was a block away from our school.

“Miguel, did you see him? Did you see him get shot?” Miguel, with a blank stare, nodded his head slowly and continued to stare. “I’m so sorry, Miguel… I’m… so sorry you had to see that.”
Miguel continued to stare, nodding slowly. Almost as if the nodding would hold back tears.

There were no words shared after that. Miguel and I just sat there until the bell rang. Both of us with a blank stare.

Looking back at that moment, I had no idea what to say. In fact, even if it happened now, I would still have no idea what to say. Gun violence always takes away the words.

After that moment, we never spoke of the event again. He returned to class the same old trouble making, class-disrupting teenager, as if nothing happened. But in that moment of shared silence there was an intimate exchange. One of love, trust, and mutual-respect.

Sometimes there are no words to be shared, only a presence. And that can sometimes mean the world.
Miguel, if you are reading this, thank you for making me a better person.