Over the past three years, the number of students actively engaged in our ministry has increased dramatically. This is the fourth in a four part series to help resident parishioners understand the student parishioners and how we go about our mission of evangelizing and building up disciples among them.
In this part, I am sharing some statistics of how the vision of reach, transform, send has been effective the last three years among our student parishioners. Records in Campus Ministry are spotty before 2016, but, in the past three years alone, we have seen incredible growth.
I welcome your questions, comments, and prayers. ~Fr. Patrick
Over the past three years, the number of students actively engaged in our ministry has increased dramatically. This is the third in a four part series to help resident parishioners understand the student parishioners and how we go about our mission of evangelizing and building up disciples among them.
In this part, I am sharing the actions we take to implement our vision of reaching, transforming, and sending students. The chart below is not one-size-fits-all, rather it provides a framework for how our ministry works and how students normally progress. It also provides guidance to our engaged/committed students as they discern how and where to invite the students they reach.
Most of our efforts are exerted in the pre-evangelization and evangelization boxes. In other words, we invest most of our resources into reaching out to the students, meeting them where they are, inviting them into relationship, and proclaiming to them the Good News of Jesus Christ. The biggest components are our Sunday Suppers, our FOCUS ministry, which comprises the small group ministry and formal 1-on-1 discipleships, and our retreats (Awakening and Connection).
In the next and final part , I will share the numbers on how effective our efforts have been the past three years. As always, I welcome your questions, comments, and prayers.
Over the past three years, the number of students actively engaged in our ministry has increased dramatically. This is the second in a four part series to help resident parishioners understand the student parishioners and how we go about our mission of evangelizing and building up disciples among them.
In this part, I am sharing our vision for evangelization and discipleship. This vision is the product of the Parish Pastoral Council’s Campus Ministry Subcommittee from 2017-2018. The subcommittee consisted of myself, Dick McGarvey and two student parishioners, Sergio Ramos and Jenna Fisher. In the next part, I will share how we go about implementing this vision concretely.
Our vision is straightforward: to reach the students of IU, especially the lost, to transform them from believers to disciples, and to send missionary disciples into the world.
REACH. TRANSFORM. SEND.
Around 90% of our student parishioners are either unengaged or curious. In other words, most students aren’t looking to find us. Consequently, our first step must be to reach as many of our student parishioners as we can — on campus, in dorms, wherever they are. We reach them in two ways: personal encounter and social events.. Personal encounter is when an engaged/committed student meets another student, invests time and energy into building a relationship and accompanying them, and invites them to take the next step. Social events are planned throughout the year at St. Paul’s, on campus, and off campus. They serve as an opportunity for a community of engaged/committed students to meet their unengaged/curious peers. In both ways, we make every effort to ensure the people we reach encounter a welcoming community. Because this is the first and most important step, the vast majority of our energy and resources go to this step.
After we reach and welcome students into our community, we invite them to walk with us on the path of conversion and new life in Jesus Christ. In this stage, we proclaim the message of Jesus to make disciples of Jesus; we share the kerygma — the Good News of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and His mission to save us; we invite them into leadership; we teach them how to pray; we ask them to transform their lives.
The work of the disciple is to make more disciples. Therefore, after a student has been welcomed and transformed in the grace of Christ and His Church, we prepare students to go back out and to do the work. To know and love Christ, to live in His love is to share that love with the world. On campus, this takes the form of personal encounter and investment in other students. In the community, this takes the form of service and mission trips. Students transformed by grace are sent to share, to welcome, to invite, to transform others.
Over the past three years, the number of students actively engaged in our ministry has increased dramatically. This is the first in a four part series to help people understand who we know our student parishioners to be, how we go about our mission of evangelizing and building up disciples among them, and our success stories.
In this part , I am sharing our general understanding of who our student parishioners are and where they are in their faith journeys. It is deliberately simple so as to provide a clear starting point for the creation and execution of our vision and a basis for how we allocate resources.
Who are Hoosier Catholics?
The unengaged are the largest group of Hoosier Catholics, comprising around 80% of the Catholics on campus. Simply put, they are not very interested in being an active member of the Catholic Church. They come to Mass sporadically, if at all. Faith and good works remain, for many, an important part of their lives, but its not really connected to their being Catholic. Their primary point of contact to St. Paul’s are friends who are engaged or committed.
The curious are interested in taking the next step in their Catholic faith (or joining the Church), but they are unsure how to take such a step or if they are ready to take it. They have big and difficult questions to ask and are starting to find answers in the Catholic Church. They may join a service group on their own but they need to be asked to attend Mass, a retreat or a small group. They have started to build Catholic relationships with the engaged and committed. They comprise about 10% of Hoosier Catholics.
The engaged intentionally practice their Catholic faith. They take the initiative to attend Mass, a weekly small group, or a retreat. They still have unanswered questions but they have found a home in the Church and are starting to put their faith into action in every aspect of their lives. Daily prayer, regular Confession, regular service and a few intentional Catholic friendships are hallmarks of this group. They comprise about 7% of Hoosier Catholics.
The committed define their lives through their identity in Christ and their Catholic faith. They pray daily, lead small groups, staff retreats, come to daily Mass, go to Eucharistic Adoration. They have a heart for service and evangelization and a desire to accompany others in their faith journeys. They comprise about 3% of Hoosier Catholics.
A horse is never mentioned in any of the accounts of St. Paul's conversion. A light? Yes. Falling to the ground? You bet. Hearing a voice? "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." (Acts 9:5)
Yet, in so many artistic portrayals of St. Paul's conversion, there is a horse with Paul either dramatically falling from it or already pressed against the ground.
Though technically a diversion from the Scriptural accounts, these images in paint illustrate vividly what Our Blessed Lord does when He comes to each of us: He knocks us down from our preconceptions, our prejudices, our sins, our anger/frustration/sadness/name the emotion so He can pull us up made new in His image and likeness, living in the Truth, and ready to share Him with all we encounter.
Easier said then done, right? This is why we must return to the Scriptural narrative. In his letter to the Galatians (cf. Galatians 1), St. Paul recounts how after his conversion he spent three years in Damascus preaching and praying, and building up the community before he set out on his journeys throughout the Roman Empire preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The journey from Saul to Paul the Apostle did not happen immediately. It, like every true conversion, started with a profound, personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Then, again like every other conversion, it required time, prayer, authentic friendships, and a loving, supportive community before it blossomed into its fullness.
Each of us is called to go from Saul to Paul. Jesus is seeking you zealously. Even if you are from Him, He lovingly awaits the moment He will pour His boundless grace and mercy into your heart. When He does shine His light upon us -- whether it be in the waters of Baptism, in the Sacrament of Confession, in a humble, loving reception of Him in the Eucharist , in the chapel, or, like St. Paul, on our own road to Damascus, whatever that might be -- He won't abandon us. In fact, as He summoned Ananias to Saul, He will put holy, virtuous friends in our lives, He will welcome us into His community, the Church, He will challenge us to work on our hearts, to build meaningful, Christ-centered friendships, to change vices into virtue, to fall madly in love with Him. Then, He will set us loose.
If Jesus hasn't knocked you to the ground with His love yet, He will. Maybe it's time to attend Hoosier Awakening. Maybe it's time to get back to Confession. Maybe it's time to join or go back to a small group Bible study.
Seek God who is seeking you. Persevere. Keep the faith. Christ comes with power then, little by little, He sets about the hard yet wonderful task of making us saints. Then, Someday, each of us, by God's grace, can and will say with St. Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)
"It's going to more than a quarter mile from the entrance to the altar."
That was my introduction to what Mass with 17,000 Catholic university students from all over the country (and even the world) would be like at SEEK2019, presented by FOCUS.
The scale of a conference like SEEK -- 17,000+ people, 90+ students from my own campus, 500 priests, thousands of Confessions -- is both remarkable and nearly incomprehensible. At a time when we are constantly being told young people have no time for or interest in God and witnessing so many departures from the faith (especially the Catholic Church), FOCUS continues to grow and our ministry to IU students has increased almost exponentially the last few years. Moreover, the sheer scale of SEEK witnesses to the thirst every soul, even those confused, ashamed, and scared, have for God and His Church.
At this year's conference, the tagline was "Encounter Something More." For every attendee, this line had limitless meaning. Encounter something more in the Eucharist... in your campus community ... in God... in Confession... in a conversion of heart and mind... the list goes on.
Therein lies the beauty of the conference and our Catholic faith: God, in His infinitude, has something for each of us uniquely. There is a love, a unique act of love, and it is me. For each of us, no matter where we have been or what we have done, God loves you, embraces you as His beloved, and calls you to more.
On a practical level, this means our response to God's love is as simple and individual as His love is for us. My encounter with something more leads me to more -- one more, in fact. As impressive as the 17,000 is, the Church started with 12. The 12 encountered something more in Christ Jesus then went about sharing it with others, often one at a time.
In Acts 8, Philip encounters an Ethiopian eunuch along the side of the road reading from the prophet Isaiah. He sits with him, explains to him how all that was prophesied was realized in Jesus Christ, baptizes him, then sends him on his way. That one man went home and converted a nation.
During SEEK, I was truly impressed how, especially at all of the keynote talks, the importance of one-on-one, personal ministry and authentic friendship is the foundation of all we do in mission. We are sent by a person, Jesus Christ, to a person, whoever that may be. It reminds me (as so many things in ministry do) of the priest who told me years ago, "I became a priest to help one person." To college me, it seemed pathetic. To Dominican priest and campus minister me, it seems incredibly ambitious and perfect.
Christ invites us everyday in the Eucharist, in Confession, in prayer, in our every day lives to encounter something more and to share it in an intimate, personal way; just as He has shared Himself with me.
I don't know how SEEK2019 will impact our ministry and our campus. I do know, though, so many of our students have, in fact, encountered more, have done so in a community ready to walk with them, and now have the opportunity to take the next step.
For the one, it was all worth it.
Thanksgiving dinner is the best of times. Thanksgiving dinner is the worst times.
For many, the traditional Thanksgiving meal is the meal they look forward to for months. The turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, it goes on and it's all good. For others, Thanksgiving dinner is the one time of the year they have to sit with all of their family members, listen to their unpopular or uncouth political positions.
The purpose of Thanksgiving, as you know, is not the meal or the conversation -- good or difficult as those may be -- it is to give thanks for the myriad ways God has blessed our lives. As Catholics, we believe Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Incarnate Word, came into this world, suffered, died, and rose from the dead for us and our salvation. Therefore, our lives should be one of thanks, one of gratitude. Jesus opened the doors of Heaven for me. I need to thank Him for that.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read: "Thanksgiving characterizes the prayer of the Church which, in celebrating the Eucharist, reveals and becomes more fully what she is. Indeed, in the work of salvation, Christ sets creation free from sin and death to consecrate it anew and make it return to the Father, for his glory. The thanksgiving of the members of the Body participates in that of their Head.
As in the prayer of petition, every event and need can become an offering of thanksgiving. The letters of St. Paul often begin and end with thanksgiving, and the Lord Jesus is always present in it: "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you"; "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving." (2637-2638)
In other words, giving thanks is our default disposition. It is what we do every time we go to Mass. It is what we do every time we pray. It is who we are and what we are called to do.
Thanksgiving in practice (just like Thanksgiving with your crazy relatives) is and can be quite difficult. How can we give thanks for suffering/pain/loss/sin/you name it. There is so much going on in the world for which we should not give thanks, right? In one way, no, of course not. We should never be grateful for someone else's or our own's suffering or evil. We should never wish or inflict suffering.
At the same time, in faith, with Christ, even the greatest sin or worst suffering can be an opportunity for grace, conversion, and new life in Christ. For this, we should be immensely grateful.
When I was a senior in college, I was at my darkest and deepest point of sin. In a six month period, Christ went from the center of my life to a blurred image on the fringes. During Lent, I went to Confession at the campus penance service solely because I had helped organize it and felt obliged. In that Confession, the Lord shown His merciful and loving face upon me. Though I regret all of the sin that led me to that point, I am grateful for the power of God's mercy and the opportunity to have experienced it so powerfully.
Aside from the moments of transcendent grace, a disposition of thanksgiving is vital in our following after Christ. In times of real doubt, sin, or frustration, a simple reflection upon how God is blessing you and your life can be the difference between frustration and despair. In the Examen of St. Ignatius of Loyola, before delving into the struggles or sins of the day, he encourages us at the end of each day first to recognize God's presence and give thanks for God's blessings throughout. This helps us put our struggles in context. Yes, it can be hard, but God never abandons us.
In times of success, give thanks. In times of struggle, give thanks. In every time and place, give thanks. Thanksgiving is who you are and what you do.
"Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
The first step is usually the hardest, especially when it doesn't make the most sense.
When asked what is the first step in changing a bad habit/developing a good habit, growing closer to God, serving the poor, doing anything as a Christian, my response is always the same: "Prayer."
A human body cannot survive without oxygen. A human soul cannot survive let alone prosper without prayer.
God made us for relationship. He made us for Himself. At its very core, prayer is relationship, communication, time with God. Because of this, no moment of prayer is ever wasted because in prayer we are inviting the maker of the universe, the master builder, into our hearts, our lives, our innermost being. God never enters a heart without changing it, even in ways imperceptible, for the better.
St. Teresa of Avila once wrote, “We must have a determined determination to never give up prayer.” As a Carmelite nun, we shouldn't be surprised to hear this from her. However, it might surprise you St. Teresa said this because, when she entered the convent, she was shocked to find nuns going through the motions and placing little interest in prayer.
Even when someone has committed his or her life to prayer (like a monk or nun), prayer is hard because prayer is always a choice. It's so easy to find anything and everything to do except pray. We make excuses: "I'm too busy," "My prayer is my homework/service/friendships/etc," "I don't know how to pray."
Therefore, we must have a determined determination to never give up prayer. Here are some helpful tips:
"Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you."
We heard these words in Sunday's Gospel. Hearing them, the blind Bartimaeus rises to his feet, cries out to the Lord all the more, receives his sight, and follows after Him. If only it were so easy, to cry out once for Jesus and to have everything make sense forever.
Yet, courage (or as it is also know, fortitude) is one of the most misunderstood virtues. Far from being a willingness to do something brave or simply overcoming fear, courage is "the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life.The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause." (CCC 1808)
In other words, courage consists of being afraid/scared/sad, knowing full well the next step will hurt, conquering the fear, and choosing to do it anyway because it is good. For something to be courageous, one must choose the good with full awareness of the costs.
One of my favorite examples of courage in literature is The Lord of the Rings. At a certain point, Samwise Gamgee, the faithful companion and aid to Frodo Baggins, finds himself alone in a most desperate way. To go forward is to embrace almost certain death. To go home is to enjoy the finer things at least once more of which he had grown accustomed. In his moment of struggle, in the moment of truth, he sings:
In western lands beneath the Sun
the flowers may rise in Spring,
he trees may bud, the waters run,
he merry finches sing.
Or there maybe 'tis cloudless night
and swaying beeches bear
the Elven-stars as jewels white
amid their branching hair.
though here at journey's end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars forever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.
Faced with certain struggle, suffering, and pain, Samwise Gamgee chooses to keep going because it is the right thing to do, because there is good on the other side, even if only a glimmer. This is what courage looks like: knowing the costs, but prioritizing the good at the end over the struggle and difficult along the way.
As a college student, it takes a great deal of courage to fulfill even the basic expectations of Christianity -- Sunday Mass and service to God and neighbor. On the IU campus, you are much more likely to find someone who opposes the Church or traditional Christian beliefs and practices than you are likely to find someone who holds them, let alone espouses them.
Courage, real fortitude, however, is never satisfied with the least, the basics. Courage always pushes us to more because it is the better thing to do.
For instance, it takes courage to come to Mass. It takes more to say "Hello" to a stranger, more to learn her name, even more to sit with her at the Sunday supper and learn her story, more to invite her to a small group, more to follow up with her later in the week, more to prioritize your relationship with her over time with your friends, more to teach her how to pray, more to challenger her to greater service of those in need, more, more, more.
This is overwhelming. We'd all be tempted like Sam to sit down, to cry, to bemoan the struggle, and to remember and prioritize the good. Because our God is the God of more, of "Yes", of the Cross. The more we know the costs, the more we know our God, the greater the sacrifice, the greater the struggle, the greater the friendships, the greater the reward.
In the Gospel, blind Bartimaeus risked ridicule, shame, derision to cry out to Jesus. When challenged, he cried out all the more. Jesus heard. Jesus answered his prayer. Given the chance to do anything with his fully restored sight, Bartimaeus again took courage and followed faithfully after Christ.
What is your heart's greatest desire? How can you build deeper friendships or heal broken ones? How can you better build up God's kingdom here and now?
Sit with someone new at Mass or the Sunday Supper. Invite a friend to join your small group. Ask your small group leader to go with you to Confession. Join a service group.
"Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you."
It's not easy to be a Catholic. It's hard enough when there isn't a new scandal in the news. It's frankly nigh near impossible even with your best efforts and attitude. Yet, the reality is we are made for greatness, made for friendship and union with God, made for Love.
Over the course of my ministry, I have identified four types of Catholic college students. This list is by no means exhaustive. Rather, I hope this list will challenge each of you to assess honestly where you are in your walk with the Lord and to make the necessary steps to move forward.
The four types of Catholic you meet in college are: 1) the None, 2) the earnest skeptic, 3) the hesitant believer, and 4) the missionary disciple.
When asked, the None will tell you, often politely, they believe in nothing, follow no particular religion, or, if they are particularly kind, they are a former Catholic. It's not unusual for the None to have attended a Catholic grade school and/or high school. The None might or might not recognize a higher power; they are much more likely to see their lives as fine just the way they are. They don't have animus toward the Church, God, or even the believer. They just don't see a compelling reason to care. The idea of conversion, universal truth, the natural law are nice ideas, but it's more important you do you. Lastly, the None knows enough about the Church to disagree, but doesn't really care enough to explore any ideas that might conflict with his or her worldview. For the None, a common phrase is "You do you," or "Because I can" or "As long as nobody gets hurt."
The Earnest Skeptic
At 3 am after a few beers, the earnest skeptic is ready to talk about God. When invited to join a small group Bible study, go to Mass, or attend a retreat, the Earnest Skeptic will express an initial desire and might even sign up... then never show or always have a convenient, plausible excuse or do a complete reversal and ridicule you for having a faith. Though this person desires to change and recognizes a hunger and thirst deep in his soul, the Earnest Skeptic usually prioritizes the now over the good or the eternal. In other words, whatever is possible now is more important than anything better that could come along. If ever you get the chance to talk with an earnest skeptic about faith, they will engage thoughtfully while expressing real doubt about anything universal, anything that would challenge someone else's deeply held convictions. Consequently, though they were raised Catholic, the earnest skeptic hold most major claims of the Church suspect.
The Hesitant Believer
Every Sunday, the Hesitant Believer is in the pews. The Hesitant Believer, when asked, will identify as Catholic with a qualifier like "but I'm not that serious." In a difficult time, the Hesitant Believer might pray, but otherwise prayer is, at best, irregular or nonexistent. The Hesitant Believer shows up to a small group Bible study, but doesn't say much. The Hesitant Believer might even lead a small group or be in discipleship, but feels completely unworthy. Moreover, the Hesitant Believer can point to moments of profound grace and blessing, but the Hesitant Believer regularly struggles to understand or believe why God would continue to love them because of regular and/or recent struggles with serious sin and brokenness. The Hesitant Believer is struggling, but deeply desires more. When called into mission, into discipleship, into greatness, the Hesitant Believer moves, but each at their own pace.
The Missionary Disciple
The two telltale signs of a missionary disciple on a college campus are (1) honesty about imperfection and the need for God's grace and (2) a life of prayer -- the absolute priority of Divine Intimacy. Just as importantly, they are normal. They are in the dorms, members of a fraternity or sorority, at the games, up late at night with friends. The Missionary Disciple strives to make everything in their lives meaningful, intentional, other-oriented from prayer to conversations to study groups. The Missionary Disciple walks with others because of love. The Missionary Disciple desires to be in your life at a cost and with no gain for themselves because you are worth it. The Missionary Disciple sees everything -- from sin, to moments of extraordinary grace -- as an opportunity for conversion, for grace, for redemption, for becoming the saint you were created to be.
This list was not meant to be exhaustive. There are many types of college students, after all. My purpose in composing and sharing this reflection is to both challenge and affirm. Challenge you to more, to greatness, to becoming a missionary disciple. Affirm you in God's love; no matter where you are, you are loved beyond measure by Your Heavenly Father, you are His beloved son or daughter.
To be clear, my goal is to form each of you into a missionary disciple for the building up of the Kingdom of God here on campus. Your work and my work are not, however, complete here on campus. You are called to go out from this pace as a missionary disciple to another parish, city, state after graduation to continue in your vocation to change the world.
Let's get to work.
Fr. Patrick is a Dominican priest and the Campus Minister.