I write to you this morning with great thanksgiving to the Lord for all of the grace He bestows on us, moment by moment. This fall has certainly been a busy and memorable. Our daughter, husband and three children moved back to Maine from Indiana and our son and his wife announced that they are expecting their firstborn and are enrolled in RCIA and will be received into the Church at Easter!
In addition to that, I have had the chance to speak at events, meet some wonderful people and to be encouraged by the work the Lord is doing in his Church. There is a hunger amongst his followers to learn the faith more deeply and to learn the skills of sharing their faith with others. I believe that gathering, training, supporting and encouraging these disciples will lead to a renewal of faith for our parishes.
In addition to special events, I taught a Small Group Leadership class for the parishes in Jay and Farmington this fall. This seven week training teaches lay people the the basics of evangelization and small group formation and leadership. The goal is to empower lay people to begin small groups in their homes or workplaces for pastoral care or evangelization. Small groups provide the personal, intimate, community setting where people can build relationships that lead to conversion and growth.
I also taught a class based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the sacraments. What amazing grace God bestows through these wondrous mysteries! Most of these classes have already been added to our youtube channel, you can check them out here.
Finally, I want to express a special thanks for all of you who have helped support Evangelize Me! As we slowly grow our base of support, we will be able to offer more and more services and programs to parishes and begin a movement of well trained, knowledgable believers equipped to share the light of faith in this dark age.
December 1-2 Advent Retreat at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Jackman
December 6 Fireside Advent Meditations at Sky-Hy in Topsham
First in a Series! More info here!
December 8 Taizé Prayer Service with Fr. Bob Vaillancourt at 7:15PM at Holy Cross Church in Lewiston
December 11 Parish Advent Evening of Reflection at St. Joseph Church in Farmington
December 13 & 20 Fireside Advent Meditations at Sky-Hy in Topsham
More info here!
I am teaching a class on the sacraments this fall based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This Sunday I am going to do a presentation on the Eucharist. What I usually do for a preparation is read all the pertinent scriptures, and the section of the catechism that pertains to the subject, and then try to weave together a thoroughly Catholic and biblical understanding of these tremendous mysteries. I do this in an effort to help people understand what tremendous gifts of grace they really are.
I am convinced that if we could just catch the tiniest glimpse of God’s goodness, and grace, and love, which he is constantly pouring out on us, then we would cease to hesitate to give ourselves fully to Him. We would commit our lives into His care, surrendering the deepest part of our hearts completely to His will; then we would find ourselves turning around and pouring ourselves out for others, in the manifestation and completion of his love for us.
Every time I speak, I am hoping to help people get that glimpse, hoping to convey to them the cosmic and eternal ramifications of their individual existence, their choices, and their faith. It is more glorious than we can imagine (and so few us even try to imagine it) or comprehend, that God would create us - physical/spiritual beings with a free will to be able to choose to trust in God’s love for us. And then when we fall short, would generously pour himself out completely in a sacrifice for our redemption so that we could become united with Him and get to share in the very family life of the Trinity for all of eternity! This is why I work so hard on every presentation, while at the same time knowing fully that what I want to see accomplished can only be done by the Holy Spirit Himself.
So here it is, Friday afternoon. On Sunday, I will be teaching on the mystery of the Eucharist. I have probably studied and read more this week for this than I have for any other presentation I have done, and yet I only have the barest of an outline and just the beginning of a presentation.
Why? This mystery is just too deep, and powerful, to be expressed at all, never mind in the space of an hour. If I had eight hours instead of one, I just might be able to scratch the surface. With 25 or 30 hours, perhaps I could do an introduction.
The Catechism says that the Eucharist is “the source and summit” of our faith, its font and culmination, the thought in the Trinitarian mind before anything was created, and the great gathering together of all of creation for the wedding feast when the Son takes his Bride as his own in fullness. It is the union of man with God truly accomplished in the paschal sacrifice, and the union of all of humanity in Christ; and in these unions, the anticipated end of every scripture, fulfilled mysteriously and completely in the cross and resurrection, and communicated substantially and in reality through the sacraments, most pointedly, through the Eucharist.
Lord have mercy on me. Human words are incapable of expressing what needs to be communicated clearly for these precious ones of yours in order for them to begin to see this glory. I don’t know where to start…
We are almost half way to our fundraising goal of $1,500. a month support. Thank you for all of you who are able to help! We have a full schedule of events planned for the fall, the ones listed below are the public ones coming up in October. We are also doing some small group leadership training and evangelization training for parishes in central Maine.
An Introduction to the Sacraments
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church
For Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Auburn, Maine
This Series will be videoed
and posted on our Youtube Channel
Come discover the beautiful and wondrous gift of grace the sacraments are! In these sessions we will explore the biblical foundations and tradition of each sacrament and the grace available in each of them when they are worthily received. Gain a whole new appreciation of God's generosity as you learn what he accomplishes in the sacraments!
2:00 at St. Philip
6:00 at Village Inn
October 6 Introduction to the Sacraments and Sacramental Economy (CCC1066-1209)
October 13 Baptism (1210-1284)
October 20 Confirmation (1285-1321)
October 27 Eucharist (1322-1419)
November 3 Penance and Reconciliation (1420-1498)
November 10 Anointing of the Sick (1499-1532)
November 17 Holy Orders (1533-1600)
November 24 Matrimony (1601-1666)
Please contact Don Smith or the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish Office to register 207-872-8096
“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the people of God have become missionary disciples. All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization…”
Evangelii Gaudium, 120
Evangelize Me! is a new apostolate that was formed to help Catholics learn how to become effective missionary disciples for Christ. Every Catholic is called to an intimate love relationship with Jesus that leads to a more abundant and vibrant life. As we each grow in our knowledge of the great truths and mysteries of the faith, and experience their practical applications in our every day lives, we need also to learn how to communicate those truths, both through our words, and the example of our lives.
How can Evangelize Me! Help this to happen?
We seek to partner with parishes to provide dynamic, relevant classes, presentations, and events where folks can further encounter Christ, learn, and grow, and change.
We can provide:
For local parishes in southern Maine: On-going classes that meet weekly.
Entering the Abundant Life
Introduction to the Scriptures
The Life and Writings of St. Paul
The Christian Life
For parishes further away:
Advent and Lenten Retreats
Days of Reflection
Evangelization Training Workshops
All of these will be provided at no cost to the parish except the traveling expenses…
We ask only that we be allowed to take up a freewill offering from those who desire to give.
Why are we offering it for free?
We need to remove any barrier we can that might prevent a parish from being able to receive these opportunities. We know that most parishes have small budgets and that some smaller parishes are struggling to simply pay their bills. For these parishes to survive and someday thrive, they need to be able to access these services at no cost.
How you can help the Church become a Church that evangelizes?
Pope Benedict XVI said that every endeavor of the New Evangelization must be “drenched” in prayer. Pope John Paul II told us in Salvific Doloris 27 that the most powerful prayer we have is the uniting of our suffering with Christ’s and the offering of it up to the Father for the redemption of others. He says,
“It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls. Suffering, more than anything else, makes present in the history of humanity the powers of the Redemption.”
Offer your suffering and ask that our work would be effective for turning hearts towards the Lord, for changing lives, and that we would have strength and the Lord’s guidance as we begin this new work.
In order to be able to offer these quality, life-changing events at no charge to parishes in Maine, we need monthly supporters. Our immediate goal is to find 30 individuals or families willing to give $50 per month. This would enable us to have a minimum financial foundation to begin the work immediately. If you would please prayerfully consider a monthly gift of any amount, we would be eternally grateful!
It seems that everywhere I turn lately there is another story of a well known christian leader who has fallen from the faith, is divorcing their long time spouse, or fallen into some gross moral failure. Signs of the times we live in. It could be easily discouraging for their brothers and sisters in faith if they do not understand these times. These times…this is the time of great battle. The days for the battle for the soul of the Church as it stands against the onslaught of the enemy to destroy it; pulling the western culture down to where the destruction of the church will be seen as a righteous act of ridding the world of those judgmental bigots. These are the times we live in, but we need not be afraid, because we were born for such a time as this. We were chosen for this battle. predestined, before time began, with the infinite wisdom and overflowing love of the Father, for this time.
With every battle, there are casualties; people deeply wounded from constant assault and temptation, may God give them healing and courage.
With every battle there are those who turn coat to fulfill their flesh, for profit or for fear; may God have mercy on their souls.
In every battle there are heroes. Saints, who rise in the power and joy and wisdom of the Spirit. Saints, who battle the hopelessness, and hatred and lies of the world to be free. Free to live and speak the truth in pure love regardless of the consequences. Free from fear and shame and ego and politics, fully surrendered to the Christ the Savior and Lord of time and eternity. They serve the God of Hope, the God of all comfort.In faith, rooted and grounded in the Father’s love for them as his children, that nothing can separate them from, they love radically and unconditionally and proclaim the Truth, who is the Son. They live in faith, knowing this life is just the prelude, the childhood, the preparation for sharing the eternal life of the familial love of the Trinity.
And so my dear friends, some of whom are suffering greatly, do not despair. Some of you are enduring great suffering to prepare you for the task God has created you for; a basic training of sorts so that you can be the warrior you need to be. Some of you feel like you are dying in this time but remember our Savior’s words….unless a grain of wheat dies…it is the divine economy of all of creation, physical and spiritual, that only in dying can life be brought forth. May God grant you faith in the resurrection, as impossible as it seems, so you can sustain hope in the hopeless situation you stand in.
The Church of Jesus Christ has suffered before, been attacked from within and without before, it has been despised and persecuted, indeed, some of the most powerful people and cultures of all of history has tried to destroy this Church. None has ever succeeded, none ever will. From our particular spot on the battlefield it may appear so at times, but the gates and powers of hell itself will not win. We serve the Lord who has destroyed principalities and powers, and sits over them in authority. He promises to use all things for the good if his beloved children.
Rest in that love. Trust in that love. Love rules all, and it never fails.
I am writing with wonderful news! We are launching a nonprofit organization focused on evangelization and discipleship! The time is right; the need could not be greater. As we look around in our parishes, we see fewer and fewer young families. As we look at our families, we see fewer and fewer bothers and sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts who are practicing their faith. And as we look at our post-Christian, secularized culture, we see more and more people choosing to believe in nothing at all. Through all this, we recognize the tremendous need for the Gospel to be brought to people in a powerful, relevant, and practical way and for the faithful in our churches to be helped to both grow in their faith and to become ‘missionary disciples’.
This is why we are launching a new work. You might ask, how can a new organization help with such long term decline and huge social problems? This can be done by presenting the truth, beauty and goodness of our faith with clarity, love and authority, and by helping believers become missionary disciples who can turn around and do the same.
We will use, and teach, the model that Jesus used. He chose a relatively small number of people and spent a significant amount of time investing in their lives. He challenged their perspectives, taught them about the Kingdom of God, role-modeled life as a human being in relationship with the Father, and provided opportunities for them to practice evangelization. He walked them through it all. He taught them to proclaim the Gospel, in relevant ways, to every person and group of people that he could. And that is our plan.
Our focus will be on training and supporting ‘small group leaders’ to facilitate evangelization and discipleship of small groups of people. (Our next newsletter will expound on the vital role small groups can play in changing lives and hearts!) And we will look for and create as many opportunities to proclaim the amazing truth of God’s reality and love as we possibly can.
I am writing today because I want to have as many people helping (and being helped) as possible. There is much work to be done and each and every one of us has a role, a piece of the work especially designed for us to do, that only we can do.
Here is how you can help:
1. Please pray for us! Recognizing that we are engaged on the front front lines of spiritual warfare, we ask for your prayer support. We believe in the power of prayer, and Pope Benedict XVI has said that every New Evangelization effort should be “drenched” in prayer.
2. Spread the Word! Here are our links.
Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTKTU9Jv31d9gNvkuHGEuDg
3. Financial support! We need monthly supporters to establish a foundational budget to begin building the work. Even the smallest commitments are most appreciated. It all adds up.
I will keep you posted with our progress!
Although I did not know it at the time, my conversion to the Catholic Church began in a congregational meeting in the winter of 1999. I had been pastoring a nondenominational charismatic fellowship for almost nine years. I had poured my heart and soul into it. We had gone through a building program and had a very successful Christian Twelve-Step outreach, which was apparently too successful in some people’s eyes. Our church was developing a reputation for being a place where addicts, alcoholics and the troubled went. I thought that was great, but some members of the congregation didn’t. Though I had been warned by a handful of faithful friends that something was coming, I guess I just couldn’t believe it was true, especially since none of the people who were upset had said a word to me about it. It was an ugly church split in-the-making and there was nothing I could do. But it was worse than a split in some ways; the new believers involved left as well as those who were disgruntled. If this was “church” they wanted no part in it.
I remember the strong feeling I had that it was very wrong that there was not a higher authority involved. These divisive people would go off to be welcomed into other churches and never be held accountable for the damage and pain they had caused, or be encouraged to look at the issues in their own lives that caused them to behave that way. It was a feeling I had experienced often during my years of ministry as people came into our church and left again, as people started “new” churches in the area, and as I interacted with other pastors who clearly had no right to be involved in ministry. In fact, of the many pastors I had met I could only think of a few that were true shepherds to their people. Many were spiritual egomaniacs, determined to prove their worth by how big their churches were. Some were merely businessmen in clerical garb; success to them was bigger buildings, more programs and more exposure. There was something so wrong with the church. I became very disillusioned with it. Where was the church that the “gates of hell” could not prevail against? Where was the “body of Christ” described in the New Testament? It seemed obvious to me that we were missing something in our modern age that the early church had in the authority of its apostles and bishops.
About a year later my wife and I moved on from that church and I took a chaplaincy position in a residential care facility for at-risk teens. It was a great position for me because it was all about pastoral care and teaching. There was no “church growth” pressure, no “church hoppers” to deal with, just pure ministry.
I decided I should try to find a church to be a part of in the new city we moved to. I began researching the histories of various denominations in order to know their roots and doctrinal distinctions. I found the same story repeated over and over again. A person would discover a “new” biblical truth that his or her church did not believe or at least didn’t preach. The person would then go off and start a new church. Inevitably, theirs was the “true” church, the “biblical” church, or the “New Testament” church and they were the “remnant” of God’s true followers; all others were “lukewarm” and compromised at best, down right evil and being used by Satan was more likely. In my new ministry position I had the opportunity to preach in many different churches, but none of them had the authority to declare that their interpretation of Christianity was the true one. What kind of witness to the world could we ever be with so many denominations and anti-denominations?
In all this time I never considered the Catholic Church. Though I had been raised Catholic, I had quit attending as soon after I was confirmed. When my wife and I committed our lives to the Lord, it had been with a very anti-Catholic group. Though I was not as radically anti-Catholic as they were ( I believed there were true Christians in the Catholic Church, they were just far and few between), I had been trained that the Church was full of error and manmade traditions and therefore it was not even on my radar screen when it came to finding a new church. But then again, I never did find a new church; none of them had any authority and I knew it.
As part of my chaplaincy, I worked on nondenominational youth retreats to which I would bring some of my students. I developed a friendship there with another youth leader who was passionate, intelligent and real. She came to me at a planning event in the fall of 2003 and shared that she had become a Catholic. Nothing could have been more shocking. Why would a smart, passionate protestant ever become a Catholic? We had several long talks over the course of that fall retreat and I left with a pile of Catholic books to read. Thus began a long quest for the truth. One of the books was “A Biblical Defense of Catholicism" by David Armstrong. I started reading it very skeptically but realized quickly that what was being discussed was not simply a different interpretation of the scriptures. I was led to ask some important questions. Who was to say which was right and which was wrong? Who was to say that I had the right interpretation?
The chapter on the Eucharist was very convincing. As a protestant, I had never understood John Chapter 6. It just didn’t make sense, even when I tried to spiritualize what he was saying. He pointed out how the Greek words John used strongly emphasized the physical eating that Jesus was talking about. When people became offended at this teaching of Jesus, he didn’t explain a spiritual principal he was trying to convey; instead he said, “Unless you “gnaw” or “chew” on my flesh you have no part of me.” I had never heard this before and found it disturbing. As I studied it on my own though, I became convinced. Then I began reading the Church Fathers. It was obvious they believed in a real Presence in the Eucharist. I became even more convinced, and I wondered, if the Catholic Church was right about this, what else might they be right about?
For the next three years I read and studied. I devoured the Catechism from cover to cover. I discovered that much of what I had thought the Church taught isn’t what it teaches at all. I thought they worshiped Mary, but they don’t; they honor and venerate her for the incredibly unique role she played in the life of our savior. I thought they believed they were saved by works, but learned that they believe men are saved by grace through faith working itself out in love. I read the Church Fathers and discovered that they were obviously Catholic in faith and practice. I began to research the particular Catholic doctrines that I had issues with; purgatory, the infallibility of the pope, and the stand against contraception. As I completed each study, I became more convinced. And somewhat overwhelmed. Sometimes as I completed a time of intense study I would end up withdrawing from the Lord and from the studies. I would avoid the whole thing for weeks at a time. I did not want to become a Catholic, even though I was becoming convinced that the Catholic Church was the true Church. I had spent years judging Catholics. I knew how I would be judged if I converted; I knew how some protestants would see me and talk about me. Pride was definitely in the way. But eventually, the truth conquered even that. I didn’t care anymore, I had to convert.
God was incredibly patient, merciful and gentle with me through this process. As I had studied, I had shared things with my wife, Hollis, and so when the time came for the decision she was ready to come with me into the Church. But then came the most difficult part of it all. It was time for me to surrender my protestant ordination. I had approached my employers and explained my situation and they said they would keep me on as a lay chaplain, so that was not a problem. The real problem was that my sense of identity, my purpose in life and my entire relationship with God was wrapped up in my service to him as a member of the clergy. I did not even begin to realize the depth of this until now. In surrendering my ordination a part of me was dying, an important part of me; it actually felt like I was dying. It was much harder than I had anticipated. The turning point came when I was meeting with Fr. Paul, the priest who was guiding me through my conversion process. After sharing the painful experience I was going through, he said simply that I must “embrace the pain.” I must admit that at first I was angry with such seemingly ridiculous advice. But I realized somewhere deep inside that he was right. I had read enough of the saints’ writings and of the Catholic theology of suffering to know he was right. I embraced it and welcomed it, which transformed it from something that was separating me from the Lord to something that brought me into his comforting arms. I was finally ready.
In the fall of 2006, my wife and I enrolled in RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). On Easter, 2007, we were welcomed into the Church. It had been an exciting, confusing and painful journey but we were finally in The Church. The Church that could authoritatively teach and deal with issues, the Church that had stood against the gates of hell for 2000 years, the Church that is unified under one apostolic authority - we were home. Our quest for the Truth had found its fulfillment.
Don Smith is a "revert" to the Catholic Church. After being a Protestant minister for over 20 years he is happy to be "home."