Dave Nodar, Founder of ChristLife, Talks about Missionary Discipleship and the Importance of Conversion
ChristLife has been around since it was officially recognized as an apostolate by the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 1995.
According to its website (www.christlife.org): The apostolate “equips Catholics for the essential work of evangelization so that all people might personally encounter Jesus Christ and be transformed into His missionary disciples.”
The website also fleshes out ChristLife’s mission this way:
It partners with parishes, priests, religious and lay leaders who are seeking to answer the Church’s call to a new evangelization through a proven method of parish evangelization and outreach. It developed the ChristLife evangelization process, which is a relational way to make missionary disciples by helping people discover, follow, and share Jesus Christ.
ChristLife fulfills its mission in four ways:
1. Personally evangelizing in their communities.
The Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations” begins in its own backyard through its own local parishes and among young adults in the Archdiocese of Baltimore with ChristLife Young Adults. ChristLife’s local evangelization work is foundational to all of the work it does nationally.
Learn more about ChristLife Young Adults.
2. Producing resources for the ChristLife evangelization process.
ChristLife’s hospitality-centered evangelization process is changing lives and transforming parishes through three essential steps: discovering, following, and sharing. We produce videos, books, and training materials for the ChristLife evangelization process.
Learn more the ChristLife evangelization process.
3. Presenting training events.
ChristLife presents training events to help people evangelize using the ChristLife process. ChristLife has equipped thousands of Catholic leaders across the country and overseas through training conferences, parish training days, and parish or diocesan staff retreats.
Learn more about ChristLife training opportunities.
4. Partnering with Catholics to build a network of evangelizers.
ChristLife is building a network of prayer, support, and communion in the Church’s mission of evangelization. It is more than a ministry, but a growing community of missionary disciples united in people’s love for Jesus and commitment to evangelize.
Learn more about connecting with the ChristLife community.
In the short audio segment above, I interviewed Dave Nodar, ChristLife’s founder. Please listen when you can as one of the things he talks about is what he sees as several obstacles to becoming a missionary disciple. One he shared is that many Catholics don’t continue to grow and mature in their relationships with Christ and with the Church after Confirmation. In other words, he advocates a deep need for all of us to undergo conversions. Here are several quotes to help you understand the process of conversion and why it’s a necessary part of our spiritual growth:
The proclamation of the Word of God has Christian conversion as its aim: a complete and sincere adherence to Christ and his Gospel through faith. Conversion is a gift of God, a work of the Blessed Trinity. It is the Spirit who opens people's hearts so that they can believe in Christ and "confess him'' (cf. 1 Cor 12:3); of those who draw near to him through faith Jesus says: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (Jn 6:44).
From the outset, conversion is expressed in faith which is total and radical, and which neither limits nor hinders God's gift. At the same time, it gives rise to a dynamic and lifelong process which demands a continual turning away from "life according to the flesh" to "life according to the Spirit" (cf. Rom 8:3-13). Conversion means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple.
The Church calls all people to this conversion, following the example of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Christ by "preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mk 1:4), as well as the example of Christ himself, who "after John was arrested,...came into Galilee preaching the Gospel of God and saying: 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel'" (Mk 1:14-15).
Nowadays the call to conversion which missionaries address to non-Christians is put into question or passed over in silence. It is seen as an act of "proselytizing"; it is claimed that it is enough to help people to become more human or more faithful to their own religion, that it is enough to build communities capable of working for justice, freedom, peace and solidarity. What is overlooked is that every person has the right to hear the "Good News" of the God who reveals and gives himself in Christ, so that each one can live out in its fullness his or her proper calling. This lofty reality is expressed in the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman: "If you knew the gift of God," and in the unconscious but ardent desire of the woman: "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst" (Jn 4:10, 15).
— From St. John Paul II’s Redemptoris Mission: On the Permanent Validity of the Church's Missionary Mandate
The Catechism of the Catholic Church shows that only a life of continuous conversion gives us the needed spiritual focus and energy to strive for the holiness that befits us as children of the Kingdom: “The first work of the Holy Spirit is conversion. Moved by grace, man turns towards God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high.”(CCC # 1989) The Spirit initiates this ongoing conversion in our lives, moving us from sin and self-centered living and drawing us to journey to God and His will for us and our lives. A life of constant conversion is what opens us to the Holy Spirit’s light and strength that we need to strive for the holiness of the Kingdom of Heaven. We succumb to selfishness when we forfeit this spiritual energy and focus of the Spirit that we receive from ongoing conversion.
From a Catholic Exchange article by Fr. Nnamdi Moneme, OMV
Jesus' call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, "sackcloth and ashes," fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance.
Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one's life, with hope in God's mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).
The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him: "Restore us to thyself, O LORD, that we may be restored!"God gives us the strength to begin anew. It is in discovering the greatness of God's love that our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from him. The human heart is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced:
Let us fix our eyes on Christ's blood and understand how precious it is to his Father, for, poured out for our salvation, it has brought to the whole world the grace of repentance.
Since Easter, the Holy Spirit has proved "the world wrong about sin, i.e., proved that the world has not believed in him whom the Father has sent. But this same Spirit who brings sin to light is also the Consoler who gives the human heart grace for repentance and conversion.
— From the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Christian joy flows from listening to, and accepting, the Good News of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This kerygma sums up the mystery of a love “so real, so true, so concrete, that it invites us to a relationship of openness and fruitful dialogue” (Christus Vivit, 117). Whoever believes this message rejects the lie that our life is ours to do with as we will. Rather, life is born of the love of God our Father, from his desire to grant us life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). If we listen instead to the tempting voice of the “father of lies” (Jn 8:44), we risk sinking into the abyss of absurdity, and experiencing hell here on earth, as all too many tragic events in the personal and collective human experience sadly bear witness.
In this Lent of 2020, I would like to share with every Christian what I wrote to young people in the Apostolic Exhortation Christus Vivit: “Keep your eyes fixed on the outstretched arms of Christ crucified, let yourself be saved over and over again. And when you go to confess your sins, believe firmly in his mercy which frees you of your guilt. Contemplate his blood poured out with such great love, and let yourself be cleansed by it. In this way, you can be reborn ever anew” (No. 123). Jesus’ Pasch is not a past event; rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit it is ever present, enabling us to see and touch with faith the flesh of Christ in those who suffer.
2. The urgency of conversion
It is good to contemplate more deeply the paschal mystery through which God’s mercy has been bestowed upon us. Indeed, the experience of mercy is only possible in a “face to face” relationship with the crucified and risen Lord “who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20), in a heartfelt dialogue between friends. That is why prayer is so important in Lent. Even more than a duty, prayer is an expression of our need to respond to God’s love which always precedes and sustains us. Christians pray in the knowledge that, although unworthy, we are still loved. Prayer can take any number of different forms, but what truly matters in God’s eyes is that it penetrates deep within us and chips away at our hardness of heart, in order to convert us ever more fully to God and to his will.
In this favorable season, then, may we allow ourselves to be led like Israel into the desert (cf. Hos 2:14), so that we can at last hear our Spouse’s voice and allow it to resound ever more deeply within us. The more fully we are engaged with his word, the more we will experience the mercy he freely gives us. May we not let this time of grace pass in vain, in the foolish illusion that we can control the times and means of our conversion to him.
—From Pope Francis’ 2020 Lenten Message
Josef Pieper, in his great book, On Hope, not only defines this essential theological virtue, but also gives us quite a bit about its characteristics and contours. Pieper writes that “hope is a steadfast turning toward the true fulfillment of man’s nature.” The true fulfillment of our nature is found by becoming truly alive in God’s grace. Remember St. Ignatius of Antioch’s famous adage: “The glory of God is man fully alive….” We become fully alive by connecting more fully to Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, through the scriptures and especially through the sacraments of the Church. In those realities, we have hope that we will become truly alive.
Yet that true fulfillment doesn’t just happen; it doesn’t arrive in our lives completely mature at one moment. We must act in some way. Pieper tells us that we must turn toward that true fulfillment of hope. In the biblical and moral understanding, turning is conversion. This is precisely why the Church defines conversion as she does: “A radical reorientation of the whole life away from sin and evil, and toward God” (Catechism Glossary). So, to find our true fulfillment and fulfill our hope, we must be converted, we must turn more fully toward Jesus Christ.
Still, there is one other important word to consider in Pieper’s statement. He writes that hope is a “steadfast” turning. Steadfast implies that it is ongoing, unwavering. This should remind us that our relationship with the Lord, our moral life, involves ongoing conversion. Each and every day, we must be converted more fully to God’s grace than the day before. That is how we live out the hope that is in us.
So we see clearly that hope requires conversion, but we must also recognize that conversion requires hope. Hope is the virtue by which we “desire and expect from God both eternal life and the grace we need to attain it” (Glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church). We will not allow God’s grace to reorient our lives if we do not believe that something greater is possible. We will only allow ourselves to be turned by God’s grace to the fullness of our nature if we believe that it is possible, and if we believe that it is greater than the life we live here and now. Again, Pieper instructs us: “only the hope for God-given salvation, for eternal life, sets man right from within.” To be set right means that we need to be converted, and that we need to remain connected to the hope and grace that only God provides. The Christian life of discipleship must be marked frequently, even daily, by both of these realities. Otherwise we’re not really living as Christians are called to live.
—From a Catholic Exchange column by Derek Rotty, the author of A Life of Conversion: Meeting Christ in the Gospels.