The Three Things I Was Reminded Of
Praying in a chapel surrounded by college students who have given part (or all) of their summer to serve the Lord at a camp for teens is an entirely different experience from praying in my living room, on the couch, by myself.
There's a different spirit in the room. It's refreshing.
For the past two weeks, I was blessed with the opportunity to serve at Life Teen Camp Hidden Lake.
I spent time speaking to and investing in the college summer missionaries for the first week and acted as the worship leader for week two which brought over 200 high schoolers to a camp whose mission is to create space where Christ can be encountered through parish-based discipleship.
I was reminded of three essential aspects of the Christian life.
1. Community is vital
2. The Gospel is central
3. Life in the Spirit is exciting
Community is Vital
The strength of a Christian's community life is a "vital sign" of their spiritual life.
Without one, the spirit slowly loses life.
This is best understood simply through experience.
Anyone who has spent time on a mission trip with even a small bit of an open heart has surely realized a renewal of their spirit. Part of this has to do with the giving of self that takes place on the trip. Certainly time in prayer has to do with this. But even more so, it's the people with whom the service and prayer takes place with. It is a shared life.
The early Christians understood the necessity of a shared life in strengthening them to live like Christ and spread the Gospel.
Commentary from the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible (RSV) on the the community life of the first Christians in Acts 2:42 says this:
"Thus, in every aspect of life, the earliest believers were united as a family: they learned together, lived together, ate together, worshiped together, and prayed together."
As the greatest missionary of all-time, St. Paul knew the importance of "sharing life" with the communities he witnessed to; not just preaching to them. He writes back to the Thessalonians saying:
So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
His heart was invested.
When our hearts are invested in the Christian communities we belong to, our faith increases.
We are sanctified by the challenges of community.
We are inspired by the sharing of faith and the mutual discernment of the Lord's will.
Community, shared life, is vital to the Christian journey.
Finding this community can be challenging in modern American culture.
You can skip to the end for my comments on this.
The Gospel is Central
As a Theology teacher, it's easy for me to get lost in the intellectual side of our faith.
It's true that God has given us an intellect that we might know Him intellectually.
We can use logic to discover many beautiful things about the nature of God and the world He created.
Even so, if the intellectual parts of our faith are disconnected from the centrality of the Gospel, they are insufficient.
In Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis comments on these "extracurricular" things saying:
"Some Christians spend their time and energy on these things, rather than letting themselves be led by the Spirit in the way of love, rather than being passionate about communicating the beauty and the joy of the Gospel and seeking out the lost among the immense crowds that thirst for Christ."
Gaudete et Exsultate, No. 57
The intellectual parts of our faith...
They are insufficient for our own spiritual growth.
They are insufficient in winning souls for the Kingdom of God.
The intellectual parts of our faith, as interesting and profound as they can be, are insufficient without the core of Christianity: The Gospel.
The Gospel is this:
1. Man was created for a relationship with God.
2. That relationship was ruined by sin.
3. Jesus Christ, God's only son, gave His life to redeem us from our sin and reunite us with God, the Father.
4. We are invited to respond to Christ's invitation and live in relationship with God, the Father.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, more eloquently, says it this way:
"God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Saviour. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life."
Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1
The central aspect of this message is the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ where our salvation was won.
The Cross of Christ reveals God's outrageous love for us that He would be willing to become like the ones he created and take on the greatest suffering imaginable in order to free us to be with Him in happiness forever.
The Resurrection of Christ reveals His power over death and gives us hope to one day be resurrected with Him to eternal life.
In a world starving for meaning, this message, when presented by a joyful disciple of Christ living in the Spirit, has the most power to transform lives. All doctrine, all study, all good works, all preaching, all aspects of the Christian life must begin with this message and return to it.
Life in the Spirit is Exciting
Can you imagine someone presenting the Gospel to each person they meet in the same exact way?
Without a life in the Spirit, even the power of the Gospel is diminished. The message comes across dry and educational.
But presented by a person living in the Holy Spirit, the Gospel is fresh and relevant to each group or each person it is witnessed to.
It is spoken, yes, but by a person who is also living it. The joy of redemption radiates from them. The peacefulness of their heart, not caught up in the GO GO GO pace of the world brings a calmness to the recipient. The Gospel is attractive.
Life in the Spirit is simply this:
Remaining free from serious sin which separates us from God and His Spirit.
Regularly begging for grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Seeking to do the will of God in all things.
It's to pray and live this verse from the song "Open Space" by Housefires, a contemporary worship band:
Do whatever you wanna do
Say whatever you wanna say
Move however you wanna move
Change whatever you wanna change
An Invitation For You
As I'm writing all of this, I realize I'm not really proving my convictions here.
Maybe I will in the future.
But, to be honest, these are the kinds of things in the Christian life that are best understood by experience and through self-examination. Not by intellectual proofs.
I invite you to consider the three things I mentioned above, as they pertain to your own life.
1. What is my Christian Community life? Does it exist? How does it refresh me in the Spirit? How does it aid me in becoming more holy (usually in challenging by necessary ways)?
2. How have I experienced the power of the Gospel in my life? Who, in my life, most radically lives the Gospel in a way that impacts the people around them? How can I better live and speak the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
3. What would a Christian community alive in the Spirit look like compared to a Christian community not open to life in the Spirit? Am I open to the Holy Spirit working in me? Do I daily invite the Holy Spirit to change me and use me?
I am most fully alive when I am sharing my Christian life with others (community), I'm boldly living the Gospel of Christ, and I'm allowing the Holy Spirit to be with me and work through me in all things.
The world needs more people who are fully alive.
Lastly, I mentioned I would comment on the difficulties of finding community life.
This is especially difficult after college when the Catholic Student Union is no longer an option.
I would invite us all to reflect on how we can make a difference in our parishes.
How can we be the difference makers?
What can we do to bring our parish communities to life?
This is a question we must ask before we flee a struggling parish to find a parish which is already strong.
We need to find a small group of people to begin with.
As we are strengthened by this group, we must help to strengthen the whole community with our own individual gifts and inspirations.
What do I have to offer? How can I serve?
As we strengthen our communities, openness to the Spirit increases. As the Spirit increases within us, the Gospel pervades all that we do.
These are my reflections from camp. They may lack intellectual support but they are not lacking in power and relevance. I hope you will spend some time reflecting on my thoughts and maybe even comment your own thoughts below.