When I was in high school I played basketball for one of the most passionate men I have ever met. His name is Danny Broussard and he is an incredible basketball coach. While he certainly is a fantastic strategist of the game of basketball, what truly sets him apart is his passion for what he does. He loves to coach young men the game of basketball. He is deeply and oftentimes seemingly insanely passionate about what he does. He is a short man, but his presence is that of a giant. I have seen him command many of his undermanned teams to victory over teams containing twice his talent. Sometimes watching him coach a game can feel like you are riding a roller coaster, as he rarely sits, running all up and down the sidelines. This is passion. In the midst of fear, adversity, and apathy, passion enters the room and blows the doors down.
When was the last time you met someone with great passion? I was blessed to have a spiritual director named Fr. Philip Merdinger while I was in the seminary. He is the founder of a thriving religious community named The Brotherhood of Hope. When you encountered him in the hallways, you could almost grab a hold of his passion. He walks around with a mission: to mold young men into disciples of Jesus Christ. He was always on the lookout for his men, always looking to make eye contact with us and see how we were doing. I recall one afternoon in the seminary when the season of Lent was approaching. This is usually a season people would rather sort of ease into, as it generally will bring about some sacrifice and personal pruning. But here Fr. Philip was roaming the halls, clapping his hands like a basketball coach in the last minute of a tied championship game, calling out to each of us, “Lent is coming! Yes! Lent is almost here! Who is ready for Lent?” An enormous enthusiasm overflowed from within him in his pursuit to draw closer to Jesus. This is passion. His passion was unavoidable; it was contagious.
In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis calls us to a renewed passion in our evangelical witness. “How I long to find the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelization full of fervor, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction. Yet I realize that no words of encouragement will be enough unless the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in our hearts” (EG261). Where is our enthusiasm, fervor, joy, and attraction? When is the last time someone entered our presence and thought, “Wow, I want what he has!”? But now is the time and our individual hearts are the place for this new evangelization to take place. The world looks at our apathetic brand of Christianity and wants little to do with it, because it lacks a sincere authenticity, and it lacks passion.
An all-consuming passion for Christ
Once while in India I visited the shrine and tomb of St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552) who is credited with evangelizing the country of India extensively. He was a companion of St. Ignatius of Loyola and one of the founders of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). I was amazed and blown away by the passion he had for Jesus Christ and for spreading the gospel. He is known to have baptized roughly 700,000 people over the span of his life. He baptized so many people that it is said that sometimes he could hardly move his hand. In fact, his hand sits in Rome today as a relic and a reminder to all of us that God wants to exhaust our bodies while on earth for the sake of his name and kingdom across the world.
Perhaps God will not call you to go out and baptize close to one million people like Francis Xavier did, but indeed, without a single doubt, he does want to exhaust your body and time making His name great among the nations. He also wants to claim every square inch in our souls as his own. St. Francis Xavier had great passion for Jesus Christ and his Church; he died many personal deaths while on earth to sustain and grow this passion. Like St. Francis Xavier, if our all-consuming passion is to become Jesus Christ and his name being known in the world, we must have the humility and ability to see many other pursuits in our lives as “small ambitions.” What “small ambition” in your life is consuming your days and nights? Abandon it and move deeper into the heart of Jesus Christ and receive a deeper passion to make his name known in all the world.
For some reason, we believe that there is some imaginary line drawn in the sand and if we cross it then we are viewed as having too much passion for Christ. It is real. We are afraid to have too much of Jesus. If we are honest and we take the time to read the Gospels, we will see men and women who encountered him and left with great passion; they were forever changed. Few people in the Gospels encounter Jesus and walk away apathetic. Yet, we encounter Jesus every single week in the Eucharist and somehow walk away apathetic. I just can’t imagine that is OK in the eyes of God.
Reset my heart this year, Lord
What if this year we determined to set things right with God and give him our passion? I’m not just talking about committing to church attendance and prayers before bed. Consider the following challenges:
1. Read the entire Bible this year (it can be done in about 70 hours)- passionately. Let its wars, parables, proverbs, and promises calm the storms in your heart, and turn your fears into faith. Sit in his presence and allow the words of life to change your heart. Break it down onto small weekly goals.
2. Commit to a weekly holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Carry with you the weight of every struggle you have and lay it down in front of Jesus Christ, the only one who can take these burdens away from us. Ask the Holy Spirit to set your heart on fire for him and begin living in this spirit. Even if you struggle with or don’t believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, give Him a chance. If you think you don’t have time for this, then do it in the middle of the night or early in the morning.
3. Commit to serving the poor and those in most need around you. Literally seek them out and serve them, regardless of what those around you say of them. Do it relentlessly and with passion, as if they are the person of Christ. Do it as if no one else will serve these people. Bring your family with you. Your entire world will change. But you have to take the risk.
4. Commit to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others around you every week/every day. You don’t have to be a priest or minister to do this. The quickest and most practical way I know of is to ask people if you can pray with them when you sense a need. There is no greater way to share the Gospel with someone. Eventually the doors will open and that person will be focusing on the love of Christ instead of their problems.
5. Stir up and place your passion for God in some ministry at your Church. Don’t be a spectator. Take action, be passionate and lead.
6. Try to root out small ambitions from your life. What is robbing you of your passion? Identify it and root it out. More of Jesus and less of the world. Do I need that much Netflix, Instagram, and work? Every time you go to pick up your phone try to pick up your Bible instead. It’s hard at first, but eventually fruit will appear in our lives.
I’ve never met a priest like Fr. Philip. So humble, yet so passionate. One night, I couldn’t sleep so I ventured into the chapel at the seminary late night. It must have been 3 AM. And there he was before the Blessed Sacrament praying passionately. I could sense in his voice that he was struggling with something. Yet, there he was: instead of indulging in himself or what the world had to offer, he was dying to himself and gaining the passion of Christ right before the Blessed Sacrament. Passion is an amazing thing. When you see it, you know it and it tends to stick with you. Where is your passion?
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