Speaker encourages relationships with poor, needy

By Enedelia J. Obregón
Senior Correspondent

“Pope Francis, Missionary Disciples & the Future of the American Church” was the topic of a lecture by Jack Jezreel, president and founder of JustFaith Ministries.
About 100 people from throughout the diocese –– and one from Victoria –– as well as from two Protestant churches attended the presentation at St. John Neumann Parish in Austin.
Jezreel, who has a master’s degree in divinity from Notre Dame University, has traveled the country for the last 15 years promoting the JustFaith Ministries, which provides a process for participants to grow in their faith and their commitment to care for vulnerable people and become advocates for justice.
He challenged the crowd by pointing out that Pope Francis in his papal exhortation Evangelii Gaudim (Joy of the Gospel) has called the church to missionary discipleship and to fulfill what was called for in the Second Vatican Council. 
“I dream of a missionary option, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures may be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation,” Pope Francis writes.
Jezreel said Jesus set the example of what we have to do today: We have to move to where the poor, the wounded and the marginalized are.
We begin with gratitude from the moment we wake up.
“What’s in that day is nothing but gift,” Jezreel said. “Recognition of that gift leads us to gratitude, which is linked to joy.” When we recognize the gift, we are obliged to share that gift with others on the margins of society with joy.
“That helps us transcend the narrow definition of people worthy of love,” which overlooks race and class, he said. “The definition of who I will love gets larger.”
Parishes need to provide opportunities to be missionary disciples by offering formation, he said.
“How many of you have gone on a mission trip?” Jezreel asked, as dozens of hands were raised. “How many of you returned unchanged?” No one raised a hand.
But most Catholics have chosen to be “sanctuary” Catholics, doing for themselves and staying mostly within parish boundaries for almost everything. That was the pre-Vatican II mindset. Vatican II brought the responsibility for evangelization not just to the priests but to all baptized and to go beyond their parish.
“Jesus didn’t stand still,” Jezreel said. “He was out there, proclaiming the good news to the abandoned and those left behind. When Jesus formed his disciples, he was always on the road.”
We also need to be personally engaged with those in need, he said. It’s not enough to give charity to the needy; we must be in a relationship with them. Pope Francis has said the priests and theologians need “to be shepherds with the smell of sheep.” The rest of us need to smell of sheep as well. 
While only the Holy Spirit can transform people, parishes need to provide the tools for formation and help parishioners take the message, the mercy and the love of God, beyond the parish boundaries, he said.
That is why at the end of Mass we are told to “go forth.” But it doesn’t mean just to leave the sanctuary, he said. It means to go out into the world.
For information on JustFaith Ministries, go to www.justfaith.org or call (502) 429-0865.