The Paulists were founded in 1858 as “Missionaries to North America” and the first Paulists began their ministry traveling up and down the East Coast of the United States preaching not only in churches but in town halls and on local commons–wherever the public assembled. For such was the culture of the mid 19th century that people eagerly went to hear lectures, debates and inspirational speakers in public arenas just as they went to music, art, theatre and sports events (the kind of events that always command a people’s attention).
Nowadays spiritual and religious topics are most often reserved for church and Sunday school programs. Most Paulist witness to the Paulist charism of Evangelization, Ecumenical and Interfaith understanding and cooperation, and Reconciliation as parish priests and campus ministers, but there is a remnant of five Paulists who continue to travel from city to city to speak, to lecture, to proclaim the Gospel in regions or diocese without a Paulist parish or foundation.
A few years ago, I felt the promptings of the Holy Spirit to see if I could bring some of our Paulist spirituality back to the more public arenas that were our founders’ venues. I thought the best way I could do this was to join the remnant of the “Mission Band Paulists” who today create their own preaching programs and travel to share our Paulist charism with the wider Church. For my part, I knew getting spiritual-based speaking engagements in secular auditoriums and theaters would become my long-term goal, for the public venues that were our founders’ are certainly not accessible today without a lot of money and already established celebrity. It seems American society today rarely welcomes the interface of faith and culture in secular arenas. Instead, I would begin my missions in the more traditional way by going from parish to parish, but I would bring aspects of the culture’s art, theatre and music into my church work. In this way, I might begin to bridge the gap between faith and culture from within the Church. Then, God willing, and in “God’s time” I may find the impetus to bring the Gospel into the “public sector” based on my parish mission experiences.
And so, the ministry I have I evolved is called Luke Live–a dramatic proclamation of the Gospel of Saint Luke from memory interspersed with hymns and secular songs, meditations and dialogue with the assembly. With “Luke”, I find myself happily integrating my pre-ordination work as an actor, singer, English and Drama teacher with my priesthood and Paulist ministry, engaging the faithful in encounter with the Gospel in ways that are culturally relevant and illuminating. After all, the dialogue of Faith with the “Spirit of the Age” was something our primary founder, Isaac Hecker, deemed essential to the Church’s progress in evangelization. While the secular songs and commentaries help bridge the gap between faith and contemporary culture, the experience of hearing the Gospel proclaimed from memory invites participants into an experience of the early Church when written copies of the Gospels were scarce and memorization was the way the stories of Jesus were preserved. Memorization forced the early disciples to internalize the biblical dynamics and thus when the Gospel were proclaimed they became more personal, more engaging, more interactive in the telling and in the hearing. No wonder the early Church spread as readily as it did.
I am happy to report that my work with Luke Live (begun at St. Thomas Aquinas Campus Ministry in Logan Utah in October 2002) has expanded into full-time ministry for me. As a Paulist Missionary traveling to parishes throughout the USA, I feel blessed with awareness that together Catholic parishioners and I are experiencing Luke’s Gospel in exciting ways. Lifting our voices in song, laughing and crying, getting more comfortable with the drama of the scriptures, we encounter our deeper humanity as we delve into Jesus’ story and that of the disciples and the would-be followers as well. Together we are coming to know Jesus on a more personal level, learning more about ourselves, asking our questions, feeling free to be open to more intimacy with Christ. That is how we grow in faith and find the impetus to share our faith with others–to evangelize, reconcile, and foster ecumenical and interfaith understanding (the Paulist charism reiterated once again).
A popular Isaac Hecker quote among Paulists is “If Christ is to be to us a savior, we must find him here, now, and where we are, in this age of ours also: otherwise he is not Christ, no Savior, no Immanuel, no ‘God with us.”
Paulists and those who embrace Paulist spirituality find Christ and perpetuate Christian values in the world today by relating our humanity and contemporary experiences to the same human and spiritual dynamics evidenced in the Scriptures and in our participation in the Sacraments. Luke Live is helping me and those who share in it do just that. And who knows? Some of those secular venues may be on the horizon!
— Fr. James DiLuzio, CSP