Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Set All Afire

"If you are who you were meant to be, you would set the world on fire." - St. Catherine of Siena. Although this is something that we as FOCUS missionaries hear often, I don't think we can hear it enough. Our President and Founder, Curtis Martin, has shared this with us several times this summer and I love it every time I hear it. If you really think about what it means, its incredible. If you can truly and deeply align your will with God's will, you would set the world on fire! Let's go!! If only it were that easy. Each day we struggle to align our will with God's in the fallen world we live in, but as we move closer to uniting our will with His sparks are flying and you need sparks before a fire right?

But the idea of "set all afire" is the mindset that I am living FOCUS New Staff Training 2011 with. I cannot believe how fast 5 weeks has come and gone in Champaign. I am so excited for my missionary brothers and sisters; some to begin their ministry and for others to continue theirs. In this post I want to do my best to sum up the last 2 weeks or so of training.

2 weeks ago, we had the privilege of listening to Jeff Cavins present his "Bible Study Timeline". Last year for training myself and the other missionaries (who at the time were in our first year) watched a video presentation of Jeff Cavins "Bible Study Timeline." We great to appreciate him, his sense of humor, and his Biblical knowledge. We also began to place bets on what color shirt and tie he would wear, by the end we realized he really like blue. So to welcome Jeff Cavins we really went all out. Please see here for yourself how much Jeff appreciated our effort to welcome him.!/media/set/?set=a.10150206351930927.302059.282672400926

We all wore shades of blue, made signs, and even presented Jeff with some of his famous "Mannana Bread". In this picture Jeff asked all the staff present with Varsity Catholic to take a picture, we were honored. (I am the 2nd from the right)
Although Jeff was only with us for a day, his presence was appreciated. What a intelligent and faithful man.

The rest of the week myself and the other 2nd year FOCUS missionaries had the honor and privilege of listening to Dr. Ted Sri. He has written several books and is a professor at the Augustine Institute. He is very passionate about what he does and for 4 days, he shared his passion with us. Mostly he spoke to us the effect of media on our culture, it was really eye opening and led to some really good discussions amongst the missionaries. Overall we talked about the false reality/worldview that the media presents and that we too often easily subscribe to and the promotion of moral relativism in movies and tv shows. He pointed out to us how often media presents a view opposite of what Jesus instructs and instead of Jesus, Hollywood becomes our basis for how we relate to people. Dr. Sri's talks really got me to thinking about how I use social media and the idea of "egocasting". Dr. Sri also spent some time on apologetics with us, mostly about the Bible and why "Catholic " Bibles have 7 more books than those of our Protestant brothers and sisters. And finally Dr. Sri spoke to us about the new Mass translation and why the changes are happening, changes will go into action during Advent later this year.

Our last week of training was FOCUS's President Curtis Martin talking about worldview and motivating us one last time as we end training and start transitioning to life as a missionary in the world. In this talk Curtis just really talked what we're up against with the culture and on a college campus, that we are in a spiritual battle. He gave us some statistics, which are really sad. It was a poll taken by the Knights of Columbus in 2010. The topic of the poll was "Believe that the following are morally wrong", the responses were in 2 categories, American and American Catholics. Surprisingly the percentages were very close and a few where "Americans" voted more morally than the Catholics. For example on the subject of having sex if you're unmarried, 39% of Americans said this was not ok while only 29% of American Catholics said that it was not moral. I was very surprised to learn this about Catholics, but this is why FOCUS missionaries have a job. We're crazy enough or we trust in God enough that we can and that we are changing the world. To see the growth that FOCUS has made in just 13 years, I would say that it is. To demonstrate just how it is I want to tell this story which I've hear a few times this summer. One of the top women's prep volleyball players in the country was on a recruiting visit to the University of Texas (Longhorns). Her parents told the coach that their daughter likely would not go to a school that does not have FOCUS. So the coach made some phone calls, talked to some people, made some connections, and FOCUS will be at the University of Texas this fall.....I don't think the top recruit has made a decision yet, she's going to be a senior in high school this fall.

The bottom line is there is a need for FOCUS missionaries (or any Christian missionary) on every college campus. I'm thankful that as a FOCUS missionary we receive the best training in the country for college evangelization, apologetics, fundraising, and spiritual formation. Be assured that with trust in God and an openness to His Divine will, we are changing the world. Pictured here are almost all of the missionaries.

I heard this quote from Curtis, I'm not sure if it's original or if he heard it somewhere else but.........."God does not satisfy our desires, He overwhelms them." Each of us FOCUS missionaries has a desire to change the campus we're working on (58 in the US) and to change the world we live in. Slowly, by the grace of God, it's happening. Jesus, I trust in you!

Please pray for all missionaries as they work hard this summer to raise 100% of their salary so that they may set the world afire this fall and reach the millions of college students that are in such desperate need of the Love of our Father.

God Bless you.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Father's Day and Porn Shop

That title should grab some attention......My Father's Day Sunday started off with mass with my girlfriend who drove down (5ish) hours to surprise me this weekend to spend a few days with me. The rest of my father's day was spent with my family, my mom, dad, and 2 younger brothers. In typical man style at about noon on Sunday my brothers and I set out to the store to get something for my dad for Father's day. Before we left I suggested we grill out and just play some yard games. My brothers agreed but we disagreed on who could grill the best steak. So went to the store, got a card for dad, 12 pack of Corona, limes, and each of us bought a steak to see who could grill the best one, dad would be the judge on this one.

We got home and turned on the grill. Each of us prepared them a bit differently, I went with the simple approach of just adding some steak seasoning and was medium rare. Andrew went for the spice effect, I'm not sure what he put on there, but it was tasty and spicy, Aaron was somewhere in between I guess and both were about medium. After my dad tried all 3 he reminded us that he has a cold and really couldn't taste much besides the meat, which got a good laugh out of us all.

After the meal we went outside to play some "Fris-beer" or as I have otherwise heard it referred to as "Polish Horseshoes" (which is not easy to say). Anyway about a 4.5-5ft pvc pipe stuck into the ground, an empty beer bottle on top and then you and your teammate throw a Frisbee trying to knock the bottle off. The object is to keep the other team from scoring. Points are scored when either the Frisbee or bottle hit the ground. So the "defending" team attempts to catch the Frisbee and bottle with one hand each. The other hand is holding a beverage of choice. Very entertaining, it was my first time playing and we laughed almost the whole time at each other's expressions when trying to catch the bottle or Frisbee or at the few times a Frisbee actually hit one of us in the face. Great father's day. Then I hit the road for a 4 hour trek back to Champaign, IL.

About 45 mins in I pulled over and took about a 20 minute power nap, it was great. I was excited to get back because yesterday, Sunday all the men of FOCUS at New Staff Training were going to be listening to a talk about purity and then praying in front of a porn shop. That's right, a porn shop. I pulled in to town to see a line of about 100 men lined up along a fence outside of the porn shop, WOW! I quickly joined them shortly into the first decade of the rosary. Appropriately we were praying the Sorrowful mysteries. I was standing at one of the ends of the line of men, I was a little nervous, but I also had a great vantage point of our surroundings. I was surprised to see several cars slow down to see what were doing, they're were a few inappropriate comments towards us from passers by, but also some cars that honked...hopefully in encouragement. I noticed that when we started the rosary, there was fairly loud music playing at the restaurant next door, that music was off when we left and there were a few people sitting in the patio. It was a great witness until we prayed the last decade of the rosary.......then it became incredible. The man that led the last decade for us has a booming voice (and I understand he has some military training)and I wouldn't be surprised if people in the store could hear him. I wonder what people thought as they walked out of the shop and all they heard was this booming voice "HAIL MARY, FULL OF GRACE, THE LORD IS WITH THEE, BLESSED ARE THOU AMONG WOMEN & BLESSED IS THE FRUIT OF THEY WOMB JESUS....." I was smiling almost the entire last decade as I listened to him and his echo as all of the response grew louder as well. After the rosary we prayed the St. Michael the Archangel prayer and finally we sang the Salve Regina. I had chills throughout the Salve. Here is a version of the Salve Regina.

Hearing and singing the Salve in Latin with 100 other men felt so powerful and I'm sure our prayers to the Blessed Mother were answered by her Son, as He cannot deny when she asks for something.

After we prayed we went back to the St. John's chapel and Fr. Jeremy led us in prayer. Here are the prayers, they are beautiful:

Prayer of Cleansing
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for awakening my sleeping spirit & bringing me into your light. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for transforming me by the renewing of my mind. Thank you, Lord, for pouring out your Spirit on me, & revealing your Word to me. Thank you, Lord, for giving your angels charge over me in all ways. Thank you for my faith in you & that from my innermost being shall flow rivers of living water. Thank you for directing my mind & heart into the love of the Father & the steadfastness of all your ways. Fill me to overflowing with your life & love, my Lord & King, Jesus Christ.

After the time in the chapel was talking with a few other men about the experience and they told me what I missed. All 100 + men walked over a mile in silence to the porn shop, they said it felt like they were going into battle. It was funny because I felt that way when I joined them at the fence, it was like we were attacking. On campus as Christians and especially as missionaries we are constantly in a spiritual battle and one way that the devil most successfully lies to men is via pornography. It's something as Christian men we must take a stand against and pray for protection from it's evils and stand strong for the Man we love most, the truest and greatest Love, the greatest Father (3 in 1) in the history of the World. Happy belated Fathers day. I am so thankful I got to spend it with my father on earth.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Lunch Time Miracles

Just another ho-hum day at FOCUS New Staff Training! Actually I've yet to have a "ho-hum" day here at training. The morning was full of "mission practicals" which is giving us missionaries instruction on how to evangelize college students (how to do our job). Have I mentioned before that I love my job? Well, I do! After listening to those talks I cannot wait for the next opportunity that the Lord gives me to tell someone about His Son.

After our morning classes we went to lunch. I joined a table of 5 men, all were 2nd year missionaries except for 1 of them. When I joined the table the conversations were about the goals of FOCUS, goals at each campus, and the topic of getting people to events vs. people that attend that are sold out for Christ. I heard some great insight from each person that shared and it was great to hear that everyone's heart could care less about how many people are showing up, but really desire for people to not only be involved but to be radically living for Christ. A priest had joined us at this point and told us about a time that he was doing a retreat at a church and 4 people showed up, the main pastor told him, "Remember Father, you're supposed to feed the sheep, not count them." Amen!

The conversation quickly turned to our Blessed Mother the Virgin Mary and Eucharistic miracles. I swear this only happens when 200+ faithful Catholics are gathered. I really enjoyed what one of the guys said about the Wedding Feast at Cana, John 2:1-12, it was a really good reminder of Mary's role in the life of Jesus (and for us all). Mary tells Jesus that they have no wine to which Jesus replies, "Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come." Then Mary immediately says to the servers, "Do whatever he tells you." (as if she knew He would obey her) Jesus then acts on his mother's request and turns over 100 gallons of water into wine. Which is amazing, but something underlying which was pointed out during our discussion by one of the guys today was this. Jesus chose to act after He told His mother "his hour had not yet come" meaning that by choosing to act His hour was now coming meaning his active ministry was about to increase as His greatest miracle, the greatest act in the history of the world was soon coming. And this was equally difficult for Mary because of the amount of suffering that she too would soon experience. We talked about the book The World's First Love by Fulton Sheen, Guadalupe, Mexico, and the latest Marian Apparition site in Green Bay, WI.

Again, quickly and unexpectedly, the conversation changed. This time to Eucharistic miracles. One of the guys asked the priest sitting with us if he had witnessed a Eucharistic miracle. Father responded, "A Eucharistic miracle? I experience one everyday during the mass". With a big smile. He then added, "Lately, as I've held the Eucharist at elevation, I can feel my pulse. And the host is very thin, but as I hold it, I also feel the pulse of Jesus, beating for us all." Beautifully put Father! We then went on exchanging Eucharistic miracle stories. Ones that we'd read about throughout history and others that we've been told first hand by priests or friends. After each story someone at the table would state, "Catholics are so weird!" And weird in a good way, a beautiful way, a way of truth. Eucharistic miracles may sound crazy, but I invite anyone skeptical of them to pray about it and do some research, just type in "Eucharistic miracle" into your google search bar. And if you're really up for some research, search for "Eucharistic Miracle at Lanciano".

Thank you Lord for giving us Your Son, not once, but everyday. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

FOCUS New Staff Training 2011

Well one week of FOCUS 'NST' is in the books and what a week it was. FOCUS requires all 1st and 2nd year missionaries to attend 'New Staff Training' during the summer. During this time we receive formation, education, and best of all sacraments daily! I just want to share about this last week.

It's important to point out that there are over 200 FOCUS staff at training (probably closer to 300). Isn't that great/nuts!!! But such a blessing. St. John's Newman Center at the University of Illinois in Champaign is nice enough to host us for our 5 week training. Each morning we begin in front of the Blessed Sacrament and there are also usually 4 priests hearing confession during this time.

After prayer 1st and 2nd year missionaries often go their separate ways, but sometimes we'll be together. When we're separated each group will have about 4 fifty minute classes throughout the day. Calling them classes really doesn't do the justice. During these classes we receive instruction on prayer, the life of Jesus, Scriptural Catholic apologetics, virtues, and the apostolate of FOCUS to name a few. Not to mention that the instruction we receive is given by some of the best Catholic priests, authors, speakers, and scholars in the country....if not the world.

One of the highlights of the past week is the bonding that has taken place. Here we are thrown into a dorm with young adults from across the country and within days we become best of friends. This is something that I think may sound odd to our culture, this sort of bonding, but it's beautiful. Just to be a part of this organization is a blessing. To be with so many people that have the same passion and zeal for souls, and the amount of love for Mary and above all Jesus is incredible and so encouraging.

A great thing that FOCUS does during our time at training is the time built into our schedule for the men to be with the men and women to be with the women. Which I also think our culture would find odd. We are housed in 'colleges' groups of men and women (men with men and women with women). The colleges are named after saints and the men and women that make up a college strive to live out the virtue that their saint displayed while they were on earth. Last year I was in the college of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (picture) and I developed a deep devotion to him this last year. The time we've spent together as men has been especially encouraging and fun. Every Tuesday night we play soccer games against other colleges which leads up to a tournament during the 5th week of training.

Thursday night the 1st year staff found out what campus they will be serving for the next year. I don't think there were people more excited, happy, thankful, and anxious/scared anywhere else in the world that night. Several people ended that night in the Chapel.

It is such an honor to serve the Lord through FOCUS. The men and women of FOCUS are doing incredible things on college campuses across the country and I am thankful to be a part of it.

Everything above is great, but none of it matters without a strong, committed, and meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ. And if a missionary comes to training without that relationship, they've got 4 more weeks to work on it. Because Jesus will be. Tonight I was reminded of this in prayer when I came across 1 Corinthians 3:5-23, especially 5-9 and 21-23.

Verso L'alto

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.