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Christian Projects: a Drop in the Ocean of Negativity

May 12, AD2016

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Here in Portugal, as in most parts of the world, there are a lot of heart-wrenching political changes being made. Abortion was legalized in 2007, same-sex “marriage” in 2010 and adoption by same-sex couples just last year. Now euthanasia is being “discussed”, what is referred to as “sexual education” is being more and more pushed in schools and the government is trying to change the required age for gender reassignment surgery from 18 to 16.

This is one of the reasons I don’t watch the news. It is mainly bad news and not good news. However, as Christians, we are called to see as God sees and not as the world sees. Jesus cured many blind people while He walked the earth; He also wants to cure our eyesight.

One of my favorite quotes is apparently an African proverb, but both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI have used it before: “A tree that falls makes more noise than a forest that grows.”

Bad news and the strength of bad government is immense, but the yeast of small, committed Christian projects are sources of huge inspiration for me. For almost all of these terrible big events, I find out about a small convent of nuns with young vocations who spend their entire lives praying for the world. Or a couple who has seven kids and runs a charity in a poor neighborhood that is really pro-family and loves the “poorest of the poor” as Mother Teresa said. Or really educated and professional people who write articles and give conferences against euthanasia, for example. Their voices aren’t heard by the media but are heard by many, many others that need to hear them.

I have recently decided to volunteer my time for a project that provides sexual education for schools. It is a world-wide project and there is a small group of dedicated people here in Portugal who get trained to deliver Theology of the Body without speaking explicitly about religion or God to grades 5-12. Pope Francis speaks of “the need for sex education” in chapter seven of Amoris Laetitia.

I am really excited about participating in this project even though I don’t have loads of free time on my hands, because I think this is a project that has all the right factors to succeed.

I’ve embarked on several projects in the past, especially in youth ministry, all of which have had varying degrees of failure. And although nothing really “fails” in God’s eyes, it depends on what goes on inside of people, I’ve come to realize that there are certain characteristics that make a Christian project successful.

Teamwork

In most of the projects I’ve worked on in the past, either I have been the person running a one-man show or there has been one very charismatic leader that was. There wasn’t real teamwork.

One of the things that used to impress me most about the Mass, compared to Protestant services, is that although the priest is in persona Christi and needs to be there for consecration to happen, it doesn’t feel like a one-man show. There is a rhythm, there is a liturgy and there is a dialogue between celebrant and congregation. The priest doesn’t have to make up the entire thing every week. Even the preparation of a homily should be approached differently than that tiring and repetitive lesson planning that teachers have to do.

So also a truly Catholic project shouldn’t be a one-man show. Very few of us are called to be visionaries and found convents or religious orders. Even then, the saints who do that have partners-in-crime (Saints Francis and Clare, Saints John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, etc.) and support from spiritual directors.

In general, the Church functions as a team. Jesus called 12 apostles to do His work and when one left the group, they found another to maintain the team.

Like-mindedness

When speaking about the first Church after Jesus’ Ascension, Acts of the Apostles 1:14 says, “All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers”.

I’ve come to realize the importance of this “with one accord”. We are called to live in the world and not to form Christian ghettos, but to embark on a Christian project there has to be communion of ideology, spirituality, etc.

There has to be like-mindedness. This has been a hard lesson for me, seeing as my previous projects were in places where there was not a single person that I would say shared the same “mind” as I do in truly sensitive, but essential matters such as Church authority, sexuality and family.

It is a completely different feeling to be in a room with people who share these views with you, even though views on liturgical music or parenting might differ. For a Christian project, there must be like-mindedness on the central tenants of our Faith.

The spiritual life of its members

It is not training or suggestions for prayer that will make a non-praying person turn into a person of prayer. I once worked at a Catholic school in which most of the teachers were not practicing Catholics, and it wasn’t because of the yearly “formation” about prayer or Lenten suggestions that the school gave that the teachers suddenly started praying. Instead, the health of a Christian project is directly related to the individual spiritual life of each of its members. The apostles each had an individual relationship with God.

“How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). The gate is narrow so each one has to enter individually, one at a time. So it is amazing to be part of a project in which we don’t need to do “prayer training sessions”, but each person has an active spiritual life, or a spiritual director, or a movement they belong to, and actively receives the Sacraments.

Size and “insignificance”

I think a truly Christian project doesn’t need to sell itself and marketing is not a number one priority. God does not work like human bosses, and you do not get a raise for the amount of lives you reach. In fact, it’s God that does the reaching. “Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:7)

Sometimes other religions and Christian denominations open up in places which are very central, very visual and have huge advertisements out front. This seems to differ from Jesus, who is present behind the veil of the tabernacle in a Catholic Church.

Of course, there is a place for human knowledge, even marketing, in any project. God Incarnate supports almost all that is human. However, the mark of a truly Christian project is that it starts small and sometimes even stays small. It is usually a very small group of very committed people that endure. It is usually not a dramatic statistics and profitable results that define God’s work.

In conclusion, although the news is flooded with bad stories and depressing political changes, trees continue to grow in the forest and the world is sustained by the prayer of a minority. I am encouraged by this new project of mine because, although there is an immensity of bad news and laws regarding the formation of our youth and their sexuality, there is always a drop in that ocean of negativity that courageously and committedly fights the current.

As Mother Teresa said, “We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.”

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Julie Machado is a 30-year-old Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal to study theology. She now lives there, along with the rest of her family, her husband and her children. She believes the greatest things in life are small and hidden and that the extraordinary is in the ordinary. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.

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