27 April 2016

Hello From the Other Side

There are a few things I wish I would have known when I left FOCUS, so I'm writing this to anyone who may find themselves in that situation now or in the future.

Welcome to the "real world." And congratulations. After having served with FOCUS, you are fully equipped to live out the Great Commission in the context of our modern world. Coming from the college campus, you've seen some dark things. You've likely seen the effects of stress, addiction, apathy, promiscuity, recklessness, mental illness, and more on young people. But you've also seen something really beautiful. You've seen and been surrounded daily by thousands of people searching for themselves, for their path in life, for their future, for God... for Truth. I hope that you've been flourishing and thriving, learning to live order and to give abundantly. You have many fruits to show for your time spent over the last few years. I hope that your team has shown you what true Christian community looks like, and that you've learned to love with Jesus's love, which never counts the cost.

As you transition into the "real world," you'll find something that nothing except lived experience could prepare you for. Offices and neighborhoods and grocery stores and restaurants and downtown bars are full of people who are held captive by apathy and resigned to mediocrity. Parish life is full of people who often don't know what a lived relationship with Jesus looks like, and who have likely not experienced community in the way that you have. Coupled with the "this is how we've always done it" attitude, you've got a lot of work to do.

Getting a career off the ground is no small task. When I transitioned from FOCUS to my current field in finance, I was the low man on the totem pole, I wasn't paid well, and I worked 50+ hours per week. Think: FOCUS NST + having to make your own meals + not having a holy hour carved out for you + all new friendships with people radically different from yourself. Times 50 weeks per year. I'm not sure what field you're going into, but it will surely come with it's challenges. In FOCUS, you had a built in community, a clear mission field, plenty of time to read and grocery shop and cook and exercise (teaching the art of living!) and required prayer time. In the real world, no one is going to notice if you don't show up to daily Mass. No one in your office is going to ask you if you prayed today.

It seems doom and gloom, but it isn't. It's your new mission. And it's radically different (and I'd say radically more difficult) from your previous mission. But God has called you to it for a reason.

So let's get down to it. Here's my advice:

1. Schedule Prayer and Mass. Make this an absolute priority. You cannot thrive as a Sunday Mass Catholic. Trust me, I've tried. It will not work. You've had a taste of a strong relationship with Jesus and nothing less will satisfy you. If you can only make it to daily Mass one day a week, so be it. Just make a commitment and stick to it. I can almost promise you that you WILL go through a period of desolation in the first year out of FOCUS, and at that point mantra is this: we make plans in consolation and we stick to them in desolation. Make your plan now. Are you going to pray in the morning? At night? What type of prayer will you pray? How many minutes? Who will hold you accountable?

2. Find a community. This one will take time. Be patient with yourself and others. Reach out to the Alumni Team to see if there are other former missionaries or disciples in your area. Get plugged in at your parish. Find a young adult group. It's probable that whatever is going on at your parish will not be the community that you're used to. You may feel like you have to slowly introduce the young adults to Jesus and invite them to have a relationship with Him. If you can't find a community of people who are already intentional about discipleship, START one. God made us to live in parishes for a reason. Keep in touch with your staff mentor or your teammates and disciples who are going through these things with you, even if you're not in the same location. I still spend a lot of time on the phone with missionary alum all over the place. If that's the support you need to be an evangelist, then good!

3. Evangelize anyway. Don't forget what you know. You know how to do discipleship. You know how to evangelize. Even if you can't get it right in prayer, even if you can't find a community, even if there are a thousand reasons not to and you feel like you're alone, don't give up. Do not stop leading small groups, inviting people into a relationship with Jesus, and teaching others to do the same. 

Today's Gospel from John 15 says:

Jesus said to his disciples:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
will be thrown out like a branch and wither;
people will gather them and throw them into a fire
and they will be burned.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
By this is my Father glorified,
that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."

You have been bearing fruit, and you will again in the future. Along the way, Jesus WILL prune you. And it hurts to be pruned. You will come out smaller, stronger, and more humble. And you'll be holier and bear more fruit because of it.

Remember, you weren't made for comfort. And we're praying for you.

St. Therese of Lisieux, pray for us.
St. Catherine of Sienna, pray for us.
St. John Paul the Great, pray for us. 

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