Sunday, May 24, 2009

Augustine Institute 2009 Valedictorian Address

Your Eminence, your Excellency, Dr. Gray and Augustine Institute faculty, and fellow graduates, I am humbled and honored to be in front of you today. It is with great joy that I address you on this momentous occasion.

George Weigel, in his book, Letters to a Young Catholic writes, “While Catholicism is a body of beliefs and a way of life, Catholicism is also an optic, a way of seeing things, a distinctive perception of reality.” This is what I believe the Augustine Institute has given us; a vision for life. We’ve written countless papers, sat through many lectures, stressed over memorizing more than what we would have thought possible for Dr. Sri’s exams, read an average of 1000 pages a week for Dr. Reyes’ class, and tried to decipher what Professor Innerst was really saying. And while education is a good in itself, all these things were merely means to an end. They served to give us an authentically Catholic worldview and shape us into leaders for the New Evangelization. We come to this day with a clearer understanding of what we must do to contribute to rebuilding a Christian culture.

The Servant of God, John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Catehesi Tradendae, wrote, “The definitive aim of Catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.” As we go out into this world we must first realize that we are not offering people merely a moral code or a competing set of ideas but a call to relationship. To be Catholic is to be in an intimate relationship with Christ. Our lives must first and foremost bear witness to this.

In today’s world people are lost. They are starving for authentic relationship. They are desperately looking for “meaning”. Instead we are building what, then, Cardinal Ratzinger called a, “dictatorship of relativism.” People have lost their moral compass accepting the most atrocious crimes against humanity as “personal choices.” Where is “meaning?” Is it in Going Green? Is it in being a Champion of Choice? Is it in the Constitution? Or is it, in these days, to be found in financial security (being “debt free”)? The answer of Christ and his Church is, of course, that man is invested with a great dignity and a higher calling. St. Augustine writes, “You have made us for yourself, Oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Again, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, “Human life cannot be realized by itself. Our life is an open question, an incomplete project, still to be brought to fruition and realized. Each man's fundamental question is: How will this be realized—becoming man? How does one learn the art of living? Which is the path toward happiness? To evangelize means: to show this path—to teach the art of living.” We have lost this art of living. It is unlikely that rational arguments are going to sway people from today’s relativistic thought. The only way we are going to make a difference is by living a life that is radically other and at the same time attractive because it witnesses to love.

Lastly we must be people of prayer. John 15:5 reads, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Without being rooted in Christ our efforts will be in vain. The only way to stay rooted in Christ is through prayer. The Augustine Institute has reawakened in me the realization of the desperate need I have for prayer. If we are to accomplish anything we must take time in this busy world to silence ourselves and allow God to speak to us and transform us.

Mary’s Fiat, St. Joseph humbly accepting the will of God to become the Foster Father of Jesus, St. Paul preaching the gospel to the ends of the earth despite persecution and suffering, St. Augustine leaving behind a life of pleasure for the sake of the Gospel, St. Therese doing small things with great love, St. Polycarp and many other martyrs like him in the history of the Church accepting death rather than denying Christ, St. Francis embracing a life of poverty, St. Benedict renewing the Church by becoming the founder of western monasticism, St. Maximillian Kolbe willingly laying down his life for the sake of another in a Nazi Concentration camp, Bl. Mother Theresa picking up the poor and diseased from the gutters of Calcutta; all of these things are examples of radical love. It is this radical love that allowed these Saints to transform the world around them. As we learned in Dr. Reyes’ class, “History is not made by large groups of people but by individuals.” With the formation we have received here we are to go forth and be those individuals committed to transforming the culture by radical love as these and so many other Saints have done.

In conclusion, I would like to thank my parents for all their sacrifices on my behalf, without them I would not be here today. I would also like to thank all the professors for not only their work in our intellectual formation but also for their witness of life in showing us the “art of living.” I would like to thank Archbishop Chaput for his support of the Augustine Institute, without it none of us would be here today. And of course thank you to Cardinal Arinze for taking the time to celebrate with us today. My fellow graduates, I leave you with these words of Christ to the Apostles, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Congratulations Class of 2009! Praised be Jesus Christ now and forever!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Go Therefore and Make Disciples of All Nations

I'M DONE!!! I'm officially finished with Graduate School! I took my last final last night. All I have left to do is walk across a stage and get my diploma. I can't believe its over and I have my Masters Degree.

Two years ago when I arrived in Denver I had no idea what God had in store for me. I knew I would grow spiritually from the experience and learn a little something along the way but never in a million years did I imagine it would be like this. I thought I would move out here take some cool classes, write some papers and walk home with a degree. I came in slightly prideful feeling because after all “her I have an undergrad in Theology”. I knew I didn't know it all but I also didn't really think going to the Augustine Institute would have as profound an impact on me as it did. I grew intellectually way more than I thought I would but above all the spiritual growth and formation I received there have deeply changed me.

Pope Paul VI in EVANGELII NUNTIANDI writes, "Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection." I had read this once before in undergrad but I don't think I realized the importance and seriousness of these words until recently. There is an urgency in today's world to go out and evangelize. If we are Catholic, then we have an obligation to share in this mission. It is NOT an option. The world is crying out for truth and is one of the biggest states of confusion it has ever been in. As Catholics we are called to bring Christ to all people. We are called to transform this culture and that can only be done through Evangelization.

My time at the AI has given me a newfound sense of what Evangelization is and means. It has changed my perception of how I view the world. In a sense I've had a second conversion experience. In so many ways I have rediscovered my Catholic faith. The lens through which I view the world all of a sudden seems so much clearer. I feel renewed and ready to go back into teaching. I feel ready to take on new challenges and adventures as I continue to serve Christ through the Church.

Here are some bits of some of the ways the Augustine Institute has shaped me and prepared me to better serve the New Evangelization.

1. I have to ramp up the witness of my life. I have to strive to live in a way that is so much more radically other than I have in the past while at the same time do it in a way that is attractive and loving to others. Rational arguments are not going to convert people from their relativistic worldview. Benedict XVI says so many people reject Christianity because we have lost the "Art of Living". If our lives don't bear witness to the beauty and excitement of a relationship with Jesus Christ we will not change anyone.

2. I've come to a much more profound realization that I am a son of God. My first semester in Dr. Sri's class we talked about Divine Sonship; that lecture changed something in me; it’s like all of a sudden something clicked in my head. "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. And so WE ARE!" (1 John 3:1) We are truly and fully God's children. He loves us profoundly and will take care of us no matter what.

3. I have come to hunger for the Eucharist and prayer in a way I never have before. The readings from the Saints we had to do and the time I spent in prayer over them have brought me to a point in my prayer life where daily mass and at least 30 minutes of silent meditation are essential to my day. The few times I have missed those in the past few months have resulted in bad days where things feel off. I still have a long way to go in my prayer life but before I knew in my head prayer was important but now its importance has penetrated the depths of my heart. It is slowly becoming the air I breathe. I hope I never lose sight of this one.

4. I have come to understand the history of why things in the world are the way they are today. All of a sudden all the things that have always frustrated me about the culture and politics make sense. Not that they don't frustrate me any more but I have begun to realize that a lot of the reason people are the way they are is not their fault. Our culture has been severely attacked and affected by centuries of incredibly bad Philosophy and thought that have left people with a very poor understanding of human anthropology and left them confused and in a state of hopelessness. This is why Evangelization is so key to the transformation of our society.

5. Lastly, probably the biggest thing the Augustine Institute has given me is brought me to a point were I have realized more than ever that I am nothing and God is everything. In the words of John the Baptist, "I must decrease, He must increase." I am slowly learning that I have to completely abandon my self into the arms of my Father. The only reason I have ever been effective in ministry and will continue to be effective in ministry is because of Him! Without him I am NOTHING! I will not go on from here and do great things; He will go onto do great things through me! "Apart from me you can do nothing!" Left to do things on my own I completely and totally suck. It is God who allows me to help in the building up of His Kingdom. It is God who blesses me with all the gifts in my life. It is God who gives me life and holds me in existence.

It is with a grateful heart that I journey into the next phase of my life. I'm ready to serve, ready to love, and ready to trust. No doubt God will continue to challenge me and form me. I still have much to learn and experience but the knowledge I have gained at the Augustine Institute will be indispensable in my task to go out and make disciples and on the road of my own personal journey.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"I Have Come that You Might Have Life and Have it Abundantly!"

On Monday I was at noon mass at the seminary and the Father's homily focused on the verse in John's Gospel, "I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly." He asked us how often we really reflect on this? How often do we realize the gift of abundant Life that we have been given? How often are we a witness to others of that abundant life? Christ promises a life this is more amazing and more profound than anything we could ever imagine. We are pilgrims on a journey. This world is passing. One day we will hopefully all be welcomed into eternity and be able to fully experience this abundant life that Jesus speaks of.

As I reflected on this during mass and in my prayer time later that I day I realized how much Jesus is calling me to be detached from the things of this world. How often do I seek "life" from earthly pleasures. Not to say that all those earthly things are necissarily bad but they are just that, earthly and material. These are things that will fade.

Monday when I walked into mass I was so frustrated. I was stressing out about debt I need to get rid of, things I need to save money for, my computer was having issues and chances are I'll have to get a new one, a Parish canceled for Totus Tuus this summer, finals on the brain, all the stuff I still have left to do to get ready for Totus Tuus Training. To quote the movie Office Space, I was definetally having "A Case of the Mondays". While I sat there listening to the Gospel and then Father's Homily I started to realize, "seriously Jose, you are upset and stressing about all this? Have you not learned anything this past year? Look at all the amazing things in your life that are on such another level than these ridiculous material and earthly problems!" I started to snap myself back to reality. There is a God who loves me more than anything! Jesus Christ is Risen and redeemed me! I have access to the most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist every day! I am blessed with an amazing girlfriend! I have been given an incredible job for next year! Things all of a sudden started to come back into perspective. All of these things are a glimpse of the abundant life God has to offer me! Sure there are all these stresses but God will give me the grace to get them figured out. He always does. I realized despite the difficulties I have to keep the bigger picture in perspective. That bigger picture is the amazing graces God pours into my life every single day. That bigger picture is abundant life!

I am truly blessed beyond words. Yeah all those stresses I mentioned are still present. I have no clue how all those things will shape up. But I do know that God will get them done through me like he always does.

There are so many problems in today's world. There are a lot of unhappy people. There are so many people who have lost hope. We as Christians have an obligation to be witnesses to the abundant life Jesus has promised us! If we lose sight of the big picture and focus too much on earthly realities then others will not grasp the concept of the greatness what God has in store for us. We must be lights in this dark world and be greatful for the abundant life God has bestowed on us in order to restore joy and hope to those who have lost it in this world.