Fear and boldness. These were two words I heard consistently from Bishop Noll Institute sophomores at a recent daylong symposium on evangelization. In my interactions I found these young people to be thoughtful, honest, and hopeful. In our latest issue of the Northwest Indiana Catholic you will find coverage of this event.
School leaders organized the day around my pastoral letter “We Proclaim Jesus as Lord”. After an initial overview of evangelization, the students met in small groups to discuss key questions about the ten principles of missionary discipleship outlined in my pastoral letter. During these breakout sessions, I was able to visit all the groups. Student leaders summarized small group discussions and then shared the responses with the whole sophomore class. I listened, responded, and asked further questions to understand more fully how the principles of missionary discipleship can be applied to young people today.
Three sentences summarize much of what I heard. These statements can be true of all of us at any age: “I want to share my faith with others.” “I am afraid of being judged, but I can overcome that.” “I am praying for boldness and need discipline to grow in my faith.”
Fear can hold us back from sharing the Good News. We fear that when we share our faith, we might be rejected, we might be judged. In scripture, we read: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out all fear.” (1 John 4:18) Perfect love comes from Jesus and we can tap into that by asking Him for more love in our hearts as we share who we are as followers of Jesus.
I’m glad our young people identified their fears and were honest about what can hold us back from our call to be missionary disciples. Our young people identified the opportunity to overcome fear with boldness and discipline. To be bold is not to be foolish, hot-tempered, or blustering. To be bold is to have the confidence of the Holy Spirit.
One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is courage or fortitude. Courage is defined as: “The virtue of bravery in facing difficulties, especially in overcoming the fear of consequences in doing good.” We should pray for our young people and ourselves that we would experience more of this gift.
The student discussion leaders highlighted the ways the groups suggested The Ten Principles of Missionary can be applied to young people. The reformulated summary of those principles through the lens of these young people would be as follows:
1. We might be busy, but Jesus needs to be first. Going to church and talking to friends about the faith is vital.
2. All are called but we’re afraid. But we don't need to be ashamed, and we can, on social media, discover others who share the faith. And that's a good thing.
3. A personal encounter with Jesus is a great adventure. And if we reach out to connect with others, with enthusiasm and love, if we can act the way Jesus acts, we'll introduce them to Jesus.
4. If this is God's work, then we can trust in the Holy Spirit and evangelize casually.
5. Prayer and hard work are required of us and that means that we might not get instant gratification. It might take a little time but if we stay at it and live a life of prayer, God is with us, and we can overcome challenges like loneliness.
6. We need our own conversion to stay on the path. Growing in our personal faith and relationship with Jesus and reading the Bible is a good thing.
7. Joy is something that can be expressed on social media. Mary said yes joyfully, and others can be full of joy as they encounter us.
8. Healing and Reconciliation are about forgiveness, that we need to let people know that we can forgive each other and, most importantly, God can forgive them.
9. An inviting and welcoming stance means that we have to reach out to others and that we have to remember the story of the father and the Prodigal Son.
10. We need to be urgent about this, which means being confident and bold, having discipline, and knowing that salvation is at stake.
Congratulations to our BNI sophomores for these beautiful insights. My prayer is that all of us will reflect on how we can grow in our own faith as disciples and share Jesus with others. Inspired by these young people, may we all overcome fear with boldness and joyfully proclaim Jesus as Lord.
Most Reverend Robert J. McClory
Diocese of Gary