Last month, Pope Francis had an inspirational message for the laity, “Dare to dream!”. I am energised by his words because they reminded me why I left everything to follow Christ.
Five years ago, I asked myself, “How can I help ensure that the next generation of Catholics finds the Church in a stronger, more dynamic and vibrant state than it is in now?” I was shocked by what my generation had inherited. I was in my late 20s, and throughout those first three decades of my life, it seemed like I had grown up in a Church blighted by one crisis and scandal after another.
Also, with each passing year, I had seen the number of Mass attendees dwindle, while the majority of my friends no longer practice the faith. I was usually the youngest adult attending Mass on Sunday, and, looking at the average age around me, I wondered what I could do.
After much prayer and reflection, I quit my comfortable job in technology consulting, along with all its benefits, to work for the Catholic Church in London as a fundraiser. Fundraising seemed like a good fit for me, as I was already comfortable with topics such as money, finance and budgets. I also had a deep affinity for how young Jesus was when he started his mission. He left his work as a carpenter to carry out the mission of spreading the Good News.
Since then, there have been days when I have struggled with my new career as a fundraiser. It is hard to operate within a branch of the Church (money-gathering) which has frequently been riddled with greediness, mismanagement and bad press. I, however, do not regret my decision for one moment. During my time as a Catholic fundraiser, I have learned what it takes to follow a vocation as a layman within the Church, and I am ecstatic to have left my career to take the narrow path. On this road, I have been successful at raising funds for dioceses, parishes, charities, individuals and religious orders, helping them grow in zeal and prominence.
Taking stock of my experience, I want to share four ideas with you that have helped me move forward with my dream of making a difference in the Church. Hopefully, these insights will inspire you to do the same
1. Embrace the current times.
I am not sure when things will improve, both inside and outside the Church, but I do know that, when I die, I wish to repeat the words of St Paul, “I fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7).
Four months ago, I launched a website, catholicfundraiser.net, which provides online training for Catholics to professionalise their fundraising. There are so many incredible organisations that are doing amazing work, and, with a little help in their fundraising, they could do even more. Since the website’s inception, I have connected with over one hundred and fifty Catholic organisations worldwide to help them fundraise. The creativity and passion of their leaders and teams have inspired me. They, like me, are embracing these chaotic times and taking up their crosses to follow Christ.
2. Make a plan before you start moving forward
Achieving your goals and realising your dreams do not happen by chance. First, I recommend you have a persistent and contemplative prayer life to continually guide you because you will confront many obstacles.
I also recommend you define your goals. Ask yourself, “What is it that I want to achieve?” Be as clear as possible with your answer. Next, devise the plan to reach this goal and refine it weekly, if not daily. By doing so, you will grow in self-awareness and learn from both your mistakes and achievements. Then, you can continue forward with what works and change what doesn’t.
3. Surround yourself with people who help you realise your goals
If your goal is to transform your community, you must find people who share that vision. If it is to introduce young people to the wonders of the Divine Office, I recommend that you connect with monks and nuns whose vocation is the contemplative life.
Jesus, for example, surrounded himself with a group of people that would help him realise his mission. I, too, have connected with individuals who share my dream of professionalising how Catholics fundraise. It is a ‘big hairy dream’ that not many people share. Nonetheless, I have searched the ends of the earth and found a few people who do!
4. Stay focused on your dream
We can easily be disheartened, distracted and disillusioned when we start. More than likely, you will not achieve much success in the beginning, and your closest friends and family may suggest you ditch the whole idea. I have wanted to call it quits countless times.
However, in the most challenging moments, I somehow emerge with more energy, momentum and encouragement if I just keep going. It has been quite challenging to learn how to help Catholic organisations hone their fundraising most effectively. However, after some major hurdles and successes, I am encouraged and humbled that my methods and ideas are helping people set the world afire.
In his speech last month, Pope Francis said, “We need lay people who take risks, who get their hands dirty, who are not afraid of making mistakes, who go forward. We need lay people with a vision of the future, not confined to the little things of life.”
At Vatican II, over 50 years ago, the council fathers asked the laity to do exactly this. In the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity Apostolicam Actuositatem, they reminded us that ‘our own times require of the laity no less zeal: in fact, modern conditions demand that their apostolate be broadened and intensified.’
Since I first dared to dream, I have discovered the joy of letting go, thinking big and seeing what I can achieve with, through and for Christ. I have been encouraged by the diverse ways in which other lay Catholics are responding to Pope Francis’ message and taking up the challenge of Vatican II.
If you have been praying about doing something bold, new and exciting for the Church, what is stopping you? As the Great Pope John Paul II said to us, repeating the words of Jesus Christ, “Be not afraid.”