In 128 days, I will be ordained to the priesthood. That means a world of new responsibilities. Celebrating mass. Hearing confessions. Anointing the sick. Being the person people turn to in times of crisis and need. That is going to be a big step in my life as a pastoral minister.

And it has raised an interesting question: what will that do to my “other” ministries of evangelizing and catechizing through social media, preaching and teaching in various parishes around the country? It is a question that I have thought about for more than two years, a question that, frankly, has caused me to be a bit hesitant with what I started as I didn’t know if it would be able to continue.

We’ve reached the point where that question is beginning to be answered.

Last week, I have a conversation with my provincial and vicar provincial about my future. I shared what I was thinking, they shared what there were thinking, and we came to a pretty good conclusion: they want me to find a way to continue doing this ministry into the future.

What that will look like, I’m not 100% sure. But my guess is that I’ll have a much clearer answer in a few weeks time…

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My favorite show of all time is The West Wing. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this multiple times before. Between the amazing writing, dynamic acting, high drama, and subtle humor, I can’t think of a show I’d rather watch 1000 times than this. Because it’s more than just entertainment, more than just something to fill the time. When I watch that show, I am challenged to new ways of thinking, inspired and filled with hope, and find myself wondering what could be.

Of course, there has been one criticism of the show that I have accepted over the years: it is a bit unrealistic in its optimism. Painting a world in which Republicans and Democrats occasionally work together (while still hating each other, of course), politicians admit their faults and change their minds, and idealistic people with big ideas and open hearts are running the government (and do a decent job of it!), the viewer can’t help but sit back and say, “Wait, that’s not how the government works.”

It’s true. In its own time (1999-2006) and again today, many have offered the idea that it serves primarily as an escape from the reality of our politics, an opportunity for people to hide from the present situation in live in a fantasy world we wish were real. I’ll admit that I fall into this category at times.

But I think there’s something more to it than that. The West Wing may paint the world a bit too optimistically, but I find it to be less of a work of escapism and more of a work of aspirationThe West Wing presents the world, not as it is, but as it could be. Nothing in the show is so otherworldly that it is completely unbelievable. There is no magic, no superpowers. The characters live and work in the real world and have proper human emotions and capabilities. Everything about them is believable and possible. The world that it presents does not exist, sure, but it is one that is just beyond our grasp. When we watch the characters struggle with the events before them and show enormous character in doing the right thing, we get an opportunity to see what would be possible if we all made a change.

This, to me, is a genius work of fiction, and the jumping off point for me and Br. Tito this week. How can art challenge us to be better by presenting stories that are admittedly unrealistic and overly optimistic?

A little while ago, I was talking with someone about how the Church cares for the poor, works for justice in our world, and does all that we can to promote peace. I said that we do these things not because we’re “do gooders” or hippies, but because it is our responsibility as Christians.

I forget the context of the conversation, but it was a pretty standard response to whatever was asked, straight from Catholic Social Teaching 101. I will never forget the response:

But why should we care about this world? If we believe in heaven, who cares if people are poor or die? Shouldn’t our only focus be on getting souls into heaven?

Rarely am I caught off guard by a question, but this one certainly got me. I could see what the person was getting at, I could see why they would ask this, but there were just so many problems with that way of thinking that I didn’t know where to start. Luckily I have a good internal filter and regrouped, because my first thought was, “So, are you suggesting that we just mercy kill everyone who has a tough life so that we can ‘send them to heaven?'” That would not have been a pastorally appropriate response.

I can’t remember exactly what I said at the time, but it got me thinking, theologically, how to best answer this question. In this week’s Catholicism In Focus, I offer three reasons why we care about protecting life, and really, the entire physical world:

1. Creation was created by God, it is good in itself, and is a vessel for experiencing God.

2. The human person is more than just a “soul” or spiritual body, but is fundamentally a physical being.

3. Salvation is not simply an other-worldly experience, one completely removed from our reality.

Is this a complete list? By no means. But I think it offers a foundation for a Catholic view of the world that must be behind everything we do. Unless we accept these three points as a basis for our faith, we might struggle to understand much of what we do and why we do it, leading us to ask tragic questions like, “Why should we care about life at all?”

When does the Mass begin? It might seem like a silly question, but liturgically, there really isn’t a clear answer. If we say that the sign of the cross by the priest is the beginning, then does that mean that the opening hymn and procession really weren’t the Mass? Well that’s not good (and probably why presiders shouldn’t start “we begin in the name…”) So, what if we say that the opening hymn is the beginning? Well, a few problems. For one, a hymn technically isn’t required, so, at some masses that would mean that mass never officially begins… Besides this, it still ignores the important things that happen before this point—blessing ourselves with holy water, praying silently in our pew, greeting those around us.

To answer this question, it can be helpful to ask a more general one: what is the purpose of the Introductory Rites in the first place? The answer to this question is obviously to gather us in and prepare us for what is about to happen: we join our voices together, greet one another, call to mind our sins, give God praise, and declare our intentions through a singular prayer. Beautiful and important in themselves, for sure, we can see that none of these acts are necessarily the reason we come to mass, but rather prepare us for that purpose.

So, if the point of the Introductory Rites is to gather us in and prepare us for what is about to happen, when does the Mass begin? Some will suggest, and I tend to agree, that the Mass begins when we leave our homes and start our journey to the church. From the moment that we make it our intent to go to church, leaving our lives and secular responsibilities behind for a short while, we being the process of gathering together and preparation needed for the Mass. Those individual journeys we all make are our own processions to the altar.

The reason I find this a significant question to ask is because it changes our whole approach. If we believe that the Mass begins with the sign of the cross, then we might be tempted to skip the song, to not care about reverence in the Church, or to simply act inappropriately walking in the church. But if our mindset is different and we view the entire journey to the church as part of the Mass, think about how different our experience will be in the car, in the parking lot, walking through the doors, greeting those around us. These actions are not just normal, ordinary, boring events, but the very act of communion.

What causes someone to convert? Who has the ability to inspire another to leave their old life behind and take up the cross as a disciple of Christ?

Okay, yes, the Holy Spirit is ultimately the only one who can do either of these things. But I mean besides God: who are the most effective evangelists?

At one point in my life, I would have looked to our public figures, people like Bishop Robert Barron, Pope Francis, James Martin, Mike Schmitz, and the #MediaNuns. Being sort of “experts” in their fields, devoting their lives to evangelization, and reaching thousands (or millions) of people, they seemed like the obvious choice.

But I’ve begun to wonder: are they really? Do these, say, 10-20 elite evangelists, the most recognizable public figures, actually account for the thousands of people who enter the Church each year? Is this handful of people the reason that so many begin to question their lives and look for something more?

Honestly, I don’t think so. As good as their work is (and as much as I would like to see more people like them) I don’t think that they have anywhere close to the same impact as the collective work of regular believers. In simply living their Christian lives with hope and love, there are millions upon millions of people giving witness to the faith everyday. In the way they act, what they say, and how they treat others around them, they represent the faith of Christ to far more people than any social media evangelist could.

But this isn’t necessarily always in a positive way. When I say that the regular believer represents the faith of Christ, sometimes it is through a bad example that drive people away from the Church. I hear it all the time: “Christians talk about love but they don’t live it.” More than anything an official teacher of the Church could say, a bad experience at a parish or with an individual Christian can be all that’s needed to imprint a negative view of our religion on someone, keeping them away from faith for their entire lives.

It’s because of this that I offer my reflection this week in the form of an exhortation: please take seriously how you represent Christ and the Church in your life. You, more than anyone else, have the ability to evangelize the people around you. You, more than anyone else, have the ability to alienate the people around you from the faith. The world is watching. What do you want them to see?