October 12, 2018

Communion with God, others at the heart of discipleship, speaker says

Keynote speaker Damon Owens of Joy ToB on Sept. 8 discusses how communion with God and with others must be at the heart of discipleship during the third annual archdiocesean Gathering of Disciples at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis. (Photo by Mike Krokos)

Keynote speaker Damon Owens of Joy ToB on Sept. 8 discusses how communion with God and with others must be at the heart of discipleship during the third annual archdiocesean Gathering of Disciples at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis. (Photo by Mike Krokos)

By Mike Krokos

As Catholics, we must be in right relationship with God and with each other as we live out our call to discipleship, said the keynote speaker at the third annual archdiocesan Gathering of Disciples.

“I’m convinced that God has placed paradox, God has placed communion, God has placed relation into all of creation because that’s how he speaks to us. It’s how he reveals himself to us and invites us to see him,” speaker Damon Owens said on Sept. 8 at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis. The theme of this year’s gathering was: “God is Calling—How Do We Listen?” The program had both English and Spanish tracks.

When we see God, it’s a personal encounter, Owens said.

“Our entire existence and story begins with God revealing that we’re made in his image and likeness,” noted Owens, founder of Joy ToB, a teaching ministry based in Elizabethtown, Pa., dedicated to proclaiming the joy of being made in the image and likeness of God, male and female.

Owens uses St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” and documents on marriage and the family at the heart of Joy ToB.

When we take a contradictory posture before God, the cost is that we lose our ability to hear his voice, noted Owens, who served as the first executive director of the Theology of the Body Institute in Philadelphia.

“He’s still speaking to us in everything, he is still longing for us—this is hard for us to fathom—God doesn’t just love us … meaning willing our good, he asks us to entrust ourselves to him.”

That is the formula for love, said Owens, adding it is also the communion of entrusting yourself to another who wills your good.

“But that’s the two-dimensional look,” he continued. “If we try to look at it in a different dimension, you entrust yourself to another in order to will their good, which allows them to will your good by entrusting themselves to you.

“So we receive in a giving way another, and we give in a receiving way to another.

“Either way, these are two parts that serve a greater reality of communion. It’s all about communion.”

In another talk, Owens discussed “Theology of the Body” and how it is very relevant in today’s world.

The 130 short talks on human love in God’s divine plan were drawn from a manuscript St. John Paul II had completed just before his election to the papacy. He shared them as part of his general audiences between 1979 and 1984 and focused on answering the questions: Who are you? Whose are you? What is your mission, your vocation, your call in life?

“The Theology of the Body was meant to be the theology of everyday life,” Owens said. “It’s meant to be for us, that we look at our life, our day, the way we spend our time, the way we spend our money, the way we look at the relationships we have. What do we worry about? What do we offer to God? How does it draw us closer to one another and closer to God?”

In his “Theology of the Body” talks, Pope John Paul used the words of Christ to answer questions of identity, relationship and mission, Owens noted.

This teaching, he added, is needed more than ever.

“It is about the vocabulary of how we express our relationship with Jesus Christ. Our willingness to speak about who Christ is in our lives, about Christ being in others’ lives. It’s about how we speak to issues like homosexuality and gender dysphoria. It’s how we speak about contraception and permanency of marriage,” Owens said.

“And it’s not just the lyrics of what we say or the vocabulary, all of this also affects the melody, it affects the tune. … It either attracts people or it repels them. And being able to speak the Gospel of truth of Jesus Christ both in lyric and in melody makes our faith a song that, God willing, resonates in the head and in the heart” of those who hear it.

More than 200 people registered for the daylong gathering, noted Ken Ogorek, archdiocesan director of catechesis.

Ogorek said the annual event is an opportunity for disciples of Jesus—catechists, evangelization team members, liturgical ministers or parishioners—“to be fed by experiences of [God] and equipped for ministry.”

“This event is a prime opportunity each year to learn and be energized for service to God’s people in parishes throughout the archdiocese,” Ogorek added.

In his keynote address, Owens said listening is an integral part to living out the call to discipleship as well.

“So how does God speak to us?” he asked. “He speaks to us in every element of creation, he speaks to us in every person that’s brought before us, because every encounter, every person, every event—good, bad and ugly—is a call to become who we are. And here’s the challenge: that becoming who we are is suffering, it hurts. It’s a dying, it’s a dying to what we desire, it’s a dying to what we want, and it’s a receiving of what God wants for us. …”

Lisa Roll, a catechist from St. Michael Parish in Bradford, has taught “Theology of the Body” to high school students at the parish for several years, and jumped at the chance to hear Owens share his knowledge.

“After doing something for so long, I was excited to have an opportunity to come and hear Damon, who’s on the cutting edge, learn about his ministry, [and] where to pick up some new information,” she said. “I was very inspired and recharged by his energy and where he’s going with it.”

Ogorek said, “Zeal for souls and the joy of being a disciple of Jesus are noticeable in the lives of catechists and others, and appealing to people in the neighborhoods that surround each of our parishes—people who want to know: ‘You have such joy and peace; what’s your secret?’

“The Gathering of Disciples reminds participants not to keep Jesus a secret, but rather to share the joy of living a disciple relationship with him in full communion with his body, the Church,” he added.

(For more information on Joy ToB, visit joytob.org.)

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