In his book, “The Purpose Driven Church”, Rick Warren writes the following about waves: “If you take surfing lessons, you will be taught everything you need to know about the subject: how to spot a surfable wave, how to catch a wave, and such can ride as long as possible; and most importantly, how to get off a wave without hurting yourself. But you will never be able to take a course on how to build a wave. Surfing is the art of riding waves that God builds. God builds waves, surfers ride them. No surfer tries to create waves. If there are no waves, then you don’t surf that day. But when surfers see good waves, they make the most of it, even if that means surfing in the middle of a storm. Many books and conferences on church growth fall under the How to Build a Wave category. They try to create waves of God’s Spirit using marketing gimmicks, programs or techniques to produce growth. But man cannot create growth for the kingdom of God. Only God can bring that growth.” And indeed: Only God can breathe new life into a valley of dry bones (Ez 37). Only God can create waves, waves of renewal, waves of growth, waves of receptiveness to the Spirit… our job as leaders of our communities is to recognize and ride the waves of God’s Spirit like seasoned surfers. It is not our job to create waves, but to discern how God is at work in the world and to be a part of His endeavour.”

That’s a lesson we don’t want to lose sight of. But I hadn’t always understood it that way, at least not to the full extent. Maybe I wasn’t aware that I was doing this. In fact, however, we – the Legionaries of Christ under my responsibility – acted differently in the 10 years preceding the Foundation of the John Paul II Center in its present form. That is, prior to the autumn of 2015. For ten years we had been trying to start pastoral initiatives with teenagers. They all failed. Ok. That’s an exaggeration. Nice things happened too. But truth told, we were unable to build up anything sustainable or that promised stability. At the same time, it was obvious that there was a buzz with students. On a small scale, but still. It took forever before I finally made the decision: Let’s focus on the students! God was building a wave in front of our very eyes. Now please: I’m not saying throw things overboard because it´s difficult. And yes, that distinction – what to hold on to and what to let go – isn’t always easy. But then, neither is spiritual surfing easy. But it’s worthwhile looking at this dynamic. Especially at the moment of discernment, what to do and what not to. Am I trying to create waves? Let´s let God do that. Let´s rather learn to surf.

A more recent example is what we call the “Resource Church issue”. When we started the center in 2015, we wanted to be a church that empowers Unchurched young people to become missionary disciples or apostles. But after a few years something unexpected happened. Various church organizations started knocking on our door. Above all parishes. They were looking for inspiration and help. „Unexpected“ since we are not a large parish. And a few years ago, we were even smaller. It is also surprising because we all know that we are not perfect. We make mistakes and have a lot to learn. And yet, parishes came and they come. From Austria, but above all from Germany. Isn´t that another country? This tendency continues to grow. In the past 12 months, more than 20 parishes have received help from us in visits, seminars, workshops and some form of coaching.

I’m even beginning to think that it could be a charisma of the Center to be able to support other communities in their revitalization efforts. Why? Because we’re not oblivious to the fact that there is an obvious discrepancy between input and output. And that is what a charism is by definition: God gives extraordinary fruits that goes far beyond that, which would be possible through mere human efforts. It seems that the Lord is doing something here, using even our imperfection and our start up character. And I am grateful to the Lord for helping us to become – to use an idea from Pope Benedikt XVI., “a creative minority”.

That’s also why we expanded the JP2 Center’s vision from „Capacitating the unchurched for missionary discipleship“ to “ Capacitating the unchurched for missionary discipleship and helping other Church organizations, above all parishes, to do the same.“ This is what we mean with “Resource Church” – a local Church community or parish that models what capacitating Unchurched for missionary disciples looks like practically, while helping other parishes to do the same thing. Our dream is for a network of Resource Churches across the German speaking world.

There are thousands of reasons, why we shouldn’t invest in this area right now. All too often we can tell God what he should be blessing, instead of seeing what he is actually blessing. And then trying to figure out how to participate in that blessing. It is all too easy to look at everything in purely human terms. Don’t we have a many other things to do as a local Church Community? Can we afford to free up resources to support other communities? What is a still relatively small organizations supposed to tell others? Shouldn’t we have other priorities? And that’s where I think it’s so important for us as the Church to try to really look, listen, and wrestle in prayer to be able to see clearly: where is he building a wave in our ministry? And then bravely attempting to actually surf that wave.

The principle of „surfing the waves that God builds instead of trying to build your own“ has consequences. Not only on an institutional level, but also on a personal level. It is about a “contemplative gaze”. Contemplation is simply looking at reality under the influence of love (according to Thomas Aquinas). Really seeing is difficult, often remains superficial and can even lead to misjudging things, circumstances, people. And that always happens when the look does not come from love. Without love, we tend to want things or people for ourselves, to use them selfishly, or to use them for our own ends. Contemplation helps us to be able to leave things standing as they are. A bit like when you contemplate a mountain landscape or a work of art – doing so without immediately thinking about what use I have from it. A loving gaze especially helps us to look at other people in their dignity, to see them for what they are in themselves, before they bring anything “useful” for me or others. And that helps us to see better, to see the other person for who he or she is, in their entirety, and not just the part I want for myself. A contemplative attitude allows us to seriously ask what this or that situation or circumstance has to say to me. You allow the other person or the situation to talk before forcing the response you want them to give you. Finally, contemplation helps us to see everything as a gift from a loving Father, even the Cross as something not easy but, united with Jesus, redemptive.

God bless!

Fr. George