JustFaith founder: Encounter God outside normal circles

Photo Caption: Jack Jezreel encouraged a crowd of 200 at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights last Sunday to spend at least one hour a month with someone who can’t love them back.

By: By Jennifer Willems

PEORIA HEIGHTS — They didn’t come to St. Thomas the Apostle Church looking for a job, but more than 200 people who attended a talk by JustFaith founder Jack Jezreel last Sunday got one.

“I recommend that for the next year at least once a month you spend one hour with someone who can’t love you back,” Jezreel said, encouraging them to step out of their comfort zones and encounter Jesus in the poor, vulnerable and suffering people in their communities.

He promised them that whenever they leave their everyday circle of family, work, shopping and friends they will find the world gets larger and the needs of their brothers and sisters on a global scale becomes more evident.

Jezreel is executive director of JustFaith Ministries, which offers programs designed to transform people by expanding their commitment to social ministry. Based on the principles of Catholic social teaching, JustFaith gives participants opportunities to study, explore and experience Christ’s call to care for society’s “exceptions.”

In his presentation on Sept. 25, “Transforming Hearts for Justice,” he talked about agape, a Greek word that is often defined as unconditional love. That is not quite accurate, however.

“‘Unconditional’ is not a word you hear in the Gospel,” Jezreel said, noting that a much better definition of agape is to love without exceptions. This is how God loves, he explained, and how Jesus expects his followers to behave.

Jezreel also spoke of philia or the love of family and the people we are close to, but said there is nothing extraordinary about this.

“Every single one of us is born into philia,” he told them. “This is a tool for protecting children but it’s not a tool for adults to use in living life, especially according to the Gospel.”

Jezreel said that in the Gospels “love is understood this way — you either love everyone or you don’t love anyone.”

In modern terms that means loving not only the people in our own neighborhood, but the people in “those” neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods, the places you’re not even supposed to go into. It also means loving the people who don’t vote like us or the people who live on the other side of the border, “especially if they’re on this side of the border.”

For Jesus, “in order to love large you have to love the ‘exceptions,'” Jezreel said, noting that this is why Catholic social teaching has a bias toward the poor. “Everybody is precious. Period.”

For those committed to agape love “our hearts get larger, our arms get wider and the geography of our lives changes,” he said.

This was a return visit for Jezreel, who was in central Illinois when JustFaith started six years ago. In addition to St. Thomas, parishes that have experienced JustFaith include Blessed Sacrament in Morton; Holy Family, St. Ann’s, St. Jude’s and St. Mark’s in Peoria; Holy Trinity and St. Patrick’s Church of Merna in Bloomington; St. Maria Goretti in Coal Valley, and St. Patrick’s in Urbana.

More than 25,000 people in over 100 U.S. dioceses have participated in JustFaith since it was founded in 1989.

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