Friday, July 31, 2015

Cherchez le Jesuit! Minions of St.Ignatius and Me

I like to say that many of my major spiritual and vocational shifts have had some kind of connection to something Jesuit.

A four-year cohort experience with Loyola Institute of Ministry Extension -  an unplanned invitation to a retreat with a brilliant Jesuit priest, an imaginative Ignatian meditation on scripture that knocked me out of my mental boat, a period of discernment (using Ignatian tools) that led eventually to seeking a ministry position out of town - yes, there was all that.

More recently, there has been the challenging influence of that continually fascinating Jesuit Pope...

In the past several years, there has been the invitation from Loyola Press to write first for their (now-defunct) DRE Connect blog, and more recently for Joe Paprocki's popular Catechist's Journey, all of which I truly believe has been part of the Holy Spirit's plan for me to use my charism of writing.

For a long time, it has been my conviction that St. Ignatius has somehow chosen me - indeed pursued me, on God's behalf. He has been, as near as I can tell, my appointed hound of heaven.

My personal vision of church is also very Ignatian - I am not hard-wired to be one to sit on the sidelines, but want to be practical, working and acting on behalf of Christ. In this Jesuit joke I would be with the Jesuits:
The Benedictans, Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits were having a big meeting that went well into the middle of the night. Suddenly all the lights went out in the meeting room. The Benedictans immediately started chanting Psalms glorifying God, the Franciscans took out their guitars and sang songs praising all creation, and the Dominicans began preaching about the metaphysics of light and darkness; meanwhile the Jesuits went to the basement, found the fuse box, and reset the breaker.                                                                                                      (Fr. Felix Just, SJ)
So today, on St. Ignatius's feast day, I want to join my fellow Ignatian Minions and say, "Hail Iggy! Bring it on!   A.M.D.G.

Monday, July 20, 2015

OK, Young Lay Ecclesial Ministers: Please Help Us Understand You

I've pretty much been watching the recent blog thread on how the Church should embrace the gifts of younger leaders from millennials Jonathan Sullivan, Timothy O'Malley and Colleen Reiss Vermuelen from the sidelines. This has been a bit challenging to us older folks - especially those of us who were unaware we were being perceived as suspicious or non-accepting.

Certainly I agree we need to value each other's gifts - that's a given. Each person who dedicates their life and gifts to service in ministry feels a distinct call to do so, which should of course be honored. As to us letting you show you what you can do - I'm somewhat less enamored. To me, that sounds like a need to prove something, rather than simply to engage in the hard work of doing the will of God in each situation in a collaborative manner and growing organically to become a respected leader in ministry.

Believe me, acceptance was just as difficult for many of us when we started out, even for those of us who began ministry in mid-life. In the late 1980's when I started, even though I had an ecclesial degree, I had to "prove" to people of my parish that I could be the liturgy coordinator. They had never seen a lay woman who was not a religious sister in ministry. (My pastor finally had to tell people from the pulpit: "In matters of the Liturgy, Joyce speaks for me.") Later, it took me almost four years to prove to some people in the parish where I became the DRE and director of liturgy that I was not one of those "uppity" women who wanted to be ordained! More recently, though I have always been a writer, I was not "recognized" on a non-local level until about a year ago. So, don't feel picked on. This is not all about generational differences. It's actually more about being "new" to the ministerial community and possibly about the impatience of youth. (ducking!)

Here is my challenge to younger leaders. Indeed, let us learn from you - but not just about the operational points of ministry. I know for a fact you have great ideas. Instead, sit with us in the circle of community. Let us learn from you how God is calling people into lay ministry today. You have a different story to tell - and it is a necessary one to an understanding of the story of the Church in the USA. We older folks DO have a need for you to tell us about yourselves. We honestly don't know - and that's why some may have a hard time accepting you. Sherry Weddell has said the first threshold is trust. It's hard to trust someone whose experience appears to be very different.

Let me explain. Maybe I'm not the norm, but my (very) slight degree of disconnect with younger people in ministry is my lack of a frame of reference for their vocation. Pretty much every middle-aged and older catechetical leader I know tells a similar story: none of us actually planned to do this with our lives. Rather, God called many of us, from something else, through a series of situations. Those with ecclesial degrees, mostly went "back to school."  In other words, it's often been a case of giving up another agenda in favor of service to the Church.

A popular meme of many in the older generation of ministers is "This was not my plan, but apparently it was God's idea all along."  Often, there is a great deal of Paschal Mystery involved - dying to old priorities and rising to new - widowhood, divorce, unexpected request from a pastor at the departure of a previous leader.That's why local, diocesan-sponsored lay ministry formation programs, local university cohorts and online learning are needed for those who did not or could not become qualified by traditional academic experience as young people.

What I most want to hear from this new generation of leaders who chose to go to college and major in theology, catechetics, liturgy or something else ecclesial  early in life, is how does it feel to choose this intentionally as a young person?  How is this, for your generation, a divine calling, and not simply a "career choice?" I am certainly not at all suggesting it is not a divine call. I just want to know how this works when God calls a young person. I want to hear the Christ-centered theological reflections that help me understand how this is as real for you as a divine call as it is for me -and how a young person's ecclesial vocation is part of an ongoing path of conversion. (And no, you don't need to prove your authenticity - just tell me how it works!)

In my experience, some people in the "older generation," especially those with a background as school teachers who took this path as career choice early in life, have (how do I put this nicely?) an institutional bias, and may, in their later years, have developed a "staleness" and a tendency to cling to old models.  In contrast, many who have felt a strong mid-life conversion-based call to catechetical ministry are more open to new models and methods, if the impetus for these seems to be coming from the Holy Spirit. This is because, through their response to their call to the vocation of catechesis, they have been opened up to God.  Yes, these are all generalizations, but this, in some way, reflects my experience. I so want it not to be true for this new generation.

So, please tell me. How does an early vocation work? Did you grow up admiring other catechetical leaders or theologians and want to emulate them? Or, did you, too, start out doing something else and then God "yanked" you into this? When did you know this was what you wanted to do? Was all of this pretty organic? Where does the vocation of a young person come from, if not through the changes and demands of Paschal Mystery?  Help us "old folks"out.  Many of us have been sharing stories of our convoluted paths to ministry for years. This has been an important part of what the first generations of post-Vatican II lay leaders have brought to the conversation.

Millennial leaders: it's time for you to update the community story. Help us to know how you fit in. We bring the history and context, you bring the energy and the current landscape of ministry - and what is possibly a different way of living ministerial vocation. Help us discover together the continuity in the ongoing story that is the Church. Please don't just demand to be accepted and allowed to show us what you can do. In most cases we have already seen that - and it's more than impressive.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Hindsight is Always 20/20: The Tyranny of Low Expectations

Over the past week since the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, there have been many opinions posted by Catholic bloggers, some of the more-challenging ones are about why our own people are not convinced of the Church's teaching on marriage.  (Just look at the number of Catholics who have changed their Facebook profile pictures this week to include a rainbow in support of the Supreme Court ruling.)

I have been particularly in agreement with two writers who focus directly on the general failure of catechesis and evangelization in the U.S. - and on what must, from now forward, change. These echo my own column in Ministry and Liturgy magazine's January, 2015 issue, where I opined on the state of catechesis in the US today (available by subscription.) It also echoes much of what Sherry Weddell has said in her best-selling book, Forming Intentional Disciples. Far from being mere hand-wringing, this is necessary self-reflection on what needs to change and why.

Jonathan Sullivan, director of the catechetical office of the Diocese of Springfield, IL, wrote this scathing nugget of truth:
If I'm going to be angry with anyone it is with a Church that for too long allowed the ambient culture to shoulder the burden of forming its members. We were all too happy to outsource the work of building up culture and people when the culture agreed with us. Now that the culture has turned against us we are reaping the rewards of that transaction. 
What we have discovered it that, for too long, the Church allowed its evangelization muscles to go unexercised, seemingly content that, even if the culture wasn’t forming disciples of Jesus Christ, it at least passed on a cultural Christianity that kept butts in our pews.  [bold is original]
Anger is an entirely appropriate response. The Church has only itself to blame. We are experiencing the fruits (or lack thereof) of what I like to call "the tyranny of low expectations" in catechesis.

In a similar vein, Patheos blogger Jennifer Fitz writes of  the necessity of discipling people one at a time to form mature Catholics - and how parishes have, instead, become virtual assembly lines:
What we have instead is cafeteria-model Catholicism.  The soul-food service line consists of weekly Mass and a series of classes for designated life moments, intended to prepare us for the sacraments.  If you’ll just start where it says “enter” and followed the roped-off course, you’ll end up with something like the Catholic faith on your tray by the time you get to check-out.
...The assembly-line mentality is so deeply engrained [sic] in Catholic thinking that whenever an evangelization or discipleship problem is discussed among parish professionals, it’s guaranteed that at least one person will propose a better assembly line.  Parents presenting their children for baptism don’t know the faith?  Make them go to more classes! Longer classes! Start them sooner!  Have them fill out attendance forms!
I'm not going to pull punches here. The "blame," if any, belongs to the bishops - and the clergy in general. When a new liturgical rite is promulgated, dioceses form their clergy with workshops. They did it for the revised Rite of Christian Funerals, and for the revised Roman Missal.

In contrast, when a catechetical document is released, there is no universal expectation that the clergy even read it, much less study it or take it to heart. The General Directory for Catechesis, the National Directory for Catechesis, both of which devote much space to new understandings of evangelization and the centrality of Jesus Christ in catechesis, had virtually no study days, and few clergy resources. The USCCB document on the primacy of adult faith formation, "Our Hearts Were Burning," was ignored by most clergy and parishes, who continue to pour resources into children's programming instead of refocusing on adults who would then be better equipped to form young people.

Compounding the situation, as enrollment numbers and Mass attendance (and consequently parish collections) have declined, many parishes are responding by hiring part-time, non-degreed parish leaders to run catechetical programs  - not just in my own diocese, but, from what I hear from other diocesan leaders, across the country. The practice is more and more to hire internally, to elevate an experienced catechist or even worse, to assign a parish secretary, to the task of organizing and running children's catechesis. When they meet with our office at the beginning of their first year and we talk about the needs to refocus catechesis and sacrament preparation, evangelize parents and form catechists to be disciples and witnesses, we often hear "But, Father never said anything about all of that!"

At a time when we most need qualified, well-supported leaders to redesign parish catechesis to include the entire community, to evangelize whole families and to build teams to spread a culture of discipleship to permeate all of parish life, many parishes are instead settling for the minimum. If the status quo continues and the pastor receives few complaints, the situation is deemed acceptable. Meanwhile, well-meaning and sincere, but under-qualified leaders are over-worked, underpaid and often have little support. In short, parishes often give the least amount of attention to the area that is sorely in need of the most.

Back in January, I wrote (in Ministry and Liturgy) of this situation:
This is deep Paschal Mystery for the Church. Change will only come through God’s power to bring new life from the worst of situations. But first, we need trust, courage and to let go.  
What needs to go? Clinging to old catechetical methods. Using books and blackboards to teach children who learn everything else using technology. Catechesis on doctrine with little relation to liturgy, community, or to real life. Sending kids home to families who neither pray nor attend Mass. Failure to foster conversion and to help people rely on the sacramental life of the Church for their well-being. Failure to invite people of all ages to personal encounter with Christ.
Our own people discount our teaching because they do not know and love the Lord. They have no relationship with the Father that would motivate them to obey God's laws out of love. We only have ourselves to blame for spending decades teaching about the institution's teachings, at the cost of bringing people to discipleship in Jesus Christ. Nowhere to go from here, really, except up. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Laudato Si and the Eucharist

As I am speed-reading through Pope Francis' new encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si this morning, I discovered this beautiful section near the end on the sacraments - in particular, the Eucharist - and the importance of Sunday. This connection to Creation and to respect for the world and its peoples opens up great richness in sacramental theology.

235. The Sacraments are a privileged way in which nature is taken up by God to become a means of mediating supernatural life. Through our worship of God, we are invited to embrace the world on a different plane. Water, oil, fire and colours are taken up in all their symbolic power and incorporated in our act of praise. The hand that blesses is an instrument of God’s love and a reflection of the closeness of Jesus Christ, who came to accompany us on the journey of life. Water poured over the body of a child in Baptism is a sign of new life. Encountering God does not mean fleeing from this world or turning our back on nature. This is especially clear in the spirituality of the Christian East. “Beauty, which in the East is one of the best loved names expressing the divine harmony and the model of humanity transfigured, appears everywhere: in the shape of a church, in the sounds, in the colours, in the lights, in the scents”. For Christians, all the creatures of the material universe find their true meaning in the incarnate Word, for the Son of God has incorporated in his person part of the material world, planting in it a seed of definitive transformation. “Christianity does not reject matter. Rather, bodiliness is considered in all its value in the liturgical act, whereby the human body is disclosed in its inner nature as a temple of the Holy Spirit and is united with the Lord Jesus, who himself took a body for the world’s salvation”.
236. It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love: “Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world”. The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration: in the bread of the Eucharist, “creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards unification with the Creator himself”.Thus, the Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.
237. On Sunday, our participation in the Eucharist has special importance. Sunday, like the Jewish Sabbath, is meant to be a day which heals our relationships with God, with ourselves, with others and with the world. Sunday is the day of the Resurrection, the “first day” of the new creation, whose first fruits are the Lord’s risen humanity, the pledge of the final transfiguration of all created reality. It also proclaims “man’s eternal rest in God”. In this way, Christian spirituality incorporates the value of relaxation and festivity. We tend to demean contemplative rest as something unproductive and unnecessary, but this is to do away with the very thing which is most important about work: its meaning. We are called to include in our work a dimension of receptivity and gratuity, which is quite different from mere inactivity. Rather, it is another way of working, which forms part of our very essence. It protects human action from becoming empty activism; it also prevents that unfettered greed and sense of isolation which make us seek personal gain to the detriment of all else. The law of weekly rest forbade work on the seventh day, “so that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your maidservant, and the stranger, may be refreshed” (Ex 23:12). Rest opens our eyes to the larger picture and gives us renewed sensitivity to the rights of others. And so the day of rest, centred on the Eucharist, sheds it light on the whole week, and motivates us to greater concern for nature and the poor.
This will bear some study - but there is much to consider here - in a world that has largely lost its sense of the importance of Sabbath rest. Lots to think about in Pope Francis' document... but this is the liturgical connection.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Never. Stop. Evangelizing.

There is a little controversy going around on Facebook - and in the com-boxes over a post by Kathy Schiffer over on Patheos  in which she wonders aloud why kids who sat through catechesis and received their sacraments can later not remember things they were "taught" in that catechesis, like the obligation to attend Mass and the teachings on sexuality. The comments I have seen are about the difference between evangelization and catechesis.... but I think it goes even deeper to the unity of the two.

In Schiffer's final sentence is the key: "Maybe next year, when a teacher tells them again, the Good News will fall on good soil and will stir their hearts to Faith."

The Good News, the kerygma, is the key to all of this. Young people need to hear over and over why the teachings of God/the Church matter. It's the same issue I once encountered when a 7th grade girl asked me, point blank: "Why should I do anything God wants?"

Someone who has no relationship with the God of love and mercy will not understand God's desires for our behavior. Of course they tune us out. The other messages from the culture about "me first" are much louder and more attractive than we are... but that's because we deliver our message without conviction, minus the fire of the Holy Spirit. We often teach doctrine (especially those "rules" about sexuality) as if it exists apart from the love of God. We need, as Pope John Paul II did in his Theology of the Body, to connect these things continually to the love of God and God's plan for good for each person and for the world.

We need to punctuate all catechesis frequently with the Good News that Jesus' death took away the sins of the world and offers us eternal life. This was God's greatest gift - and it deserves a response of loving obedience. Jesus' sacrifice demands our response. That response would be to believe, to participate enthusiastically and gratefully in the sacrifice of the Mass, and to live according to God's desires for us, expressed in the teachings about chastity and other issues.

Pope Francis pretty much nails it in section 165 of Evangelii Gaudium:
We must not think that in catechesis the kerygma gives way to a supposedly more “solid” formation. Nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation. All Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the kerygma, which is reflected in and constantly illumines, the work of catechesis, thereby enabling us to understand more fully the significance of every subject which the latter treats. It is the message capable of responding to the desire for the infinite which abides in every human heart. The centrality of the kerygma calls for stressing those elements which are most needed today: it has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part; it should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical. All this demands on the part of the evangelizer certain attitudes which foster openness to the message: approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental.
That's the key. We don't evangelize young people a little every once in a while, at a retreat, by giving a witness talk, or providing the occasional meditative prayer or meaningful service experience. We must continually connect EVERYTHING we teach to the Good News. The Church teaches X because God loves you and wants you to have a fruitful life that builds up his Kingdom, not simply the Church teaches X: do it.

Never. Stop. Evangelizing.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

10 Reasons I Am Still Catholic

Around the internet Catholic writers are responding to Elizabeth Scalia's call to let the world know why we are Catholic, in the wake of the bad news from recent demographic surveys. So, here goes.

It's complicated. Its also beautiful.

I entered the Church as a 35-year-old convert from a mixed protestant background (Methodist, Lutheran, Unitarian, and a lot of self-study of non-Christian faiths in high school) and from the moment of my Confirmation and first Eucharist, I never, ever looked back or considered leaving.

I learned early on in my experience with the RCIA process that I had been a seeker my whole life. Something had been missing, and I found that something in the Catholic Church. What I found in the Church confounded my Unitarian/agnostic stepfather, who kept asking me how I could be part of a church that wanted to tell me how to think.  I finally helped him understand, at least partly, when I explained the faithful's call to cooperation with God to build the Kingdom on earth.

But that wasn't all. From the moment I joined the Church in 1987 to this day, I have found:

  1. Jesus Christ - the focus of everything. And not a Jesus for the sentimental, but a suffering servant king who offers himself to us and for us out of pure love in the sacrifice of every Mass, through the Eucharist we receive. A Jesus who calls us constantly into deeper relationship with him and his Father, with the help of the Spirit. A Jesus who offers to partner with us to carry our burdens, and who asks us to tell all we meet about his love and his invitation. This is the Jesus who calls us to be disciples and to make disciples - through his Church. I have known in this Church people who were true disciples - they made me who I am today. 
  2. Ritual and Liturgy - as I have said before, when I encountered the Mass, I felt I had come home. The consistent ritual, the Liturgical Year - these had been missing from my previous experiences of church. In the rhythm of Sunday after Sunday around the cycle of the year, I found myself constantly renewed and refreshed. I will never forget my first experience of the beauty of Liturgy of the Hours at my own celebration of the Call to Continuing Conversion. In it, I have found refreshment and peace.
  3. Community and Solidarity - blessed from the beginning to have found a welcoming community of faith in St. James, Rockford, I have always found acceptance and fellowship among Catholics wherever I go. At national conferences, in small towns and large cities, on the internet - always, even when we have occasional disagreements over some of the details - I have found that once good Catholics know that you, too, realize what is really important, there is a great deal of acceptance. This acceptance crosses lines of gender, geography, race and economic status. Deep down, we all know we are members of one flock and have One Shepherd - and that we are all called to One Table. I have broken bread with people whose orientation toward the Church is far more traditional than mine - and enjoyed it. As one body, the Church is not "me and Jesus" - it is alway "us" - together. To me, that is the greatest treasure. As a protestant child, I learned a hymn "Tell me the Stories of Jesus." As an adult Catholic, I stand in the assembly at Mass and sing "Alleluia!" as I wait for the Gospel reader to tell US the stories of Jesus, which WE love to hear - and which Catholics all over the world are hearing that day as well.
  4. Call to Mission, Evangelization and Service - This is part of what really excites me. I am part of a 2,000-year-old mission to bring the Gospel and its values to the world. As the owner of some of Christ's hands and feet on earth, I have always felt I had a place in the mission, in large ways and small. Sometimes my call is to write, teach or sing about this. Sometimes I get to serve. (Just last week, I found myself in the middle of a hot parking lot helping to feed the poor from a mobile food pantry.)
  5. Dignity of Each Person - contrary to what the world thinks it knows about Catholics, we honor the life and of each human person (we just don't always accept every person's lifestyle). We are called to be voices for the voiceless - the poor, the powerless, the unborn, the disabled and the elderly  - seeking justice and compassion for them in the name of Jesus Christ. Watching how our country has increasingly polarized into rich and poor, I speak out, and make a special personal effort to help the poor whenever I can.
  6. Work to do for Peace and Justice- though I will never have the courage of people like Martin Sheen, who has been arrested so many times for standing up against senseless violence and injustice, there is a part of me, baptized in the crucible of the Vietnam era, that jumps to attention when I see failures of justice. I want to put myself out there, to stand for the kind of world desired for us by a God who has as his goal, a time when our swords will become plowshares. However, all are not called to the same actions on behalf of this. I have found my call in how I vote and in how I teach and share with others ways we can walk in the paths God has asked.
  7. Consistent Ethic of Life -  I have grown to understand that God is truly the giver of life and it is he who numbers our days. Any attempt by human beings to "play God" by choosing the day of our own or another's death is a violation of the desires of the God of Life. Being pro-life means we all have some role in the defense of life, each according to our circumstance and talents. I never waver on the message in my teaching or in my comments on current events about life issues. 
  8. Eclectic Music and Inculturation - it's a big church. There is room for Gregorian chant, for traditional hymns in both Latin and the vernacular, for contemporary songs, and sometimes, even for rock and roll.  There is room for ethnic and "world" music. Music with well-chosen texts, often based on scripture - the style doesn't matter - I can love it all - though like everyone, I have my preferences.  There is room for the devotional practices of different immigrant groups and for the recovery of the lost practices of groups who were homogenized by the American "melting pot" of the past. There is room for the popular culture and for creativity and art - it all can find a place in our efforts to praise and glorify the God who created everything. And me, I love my bi-cultural parish - and cannot keep from singing to my God in one language or two, in traditional, modern Anglo, or Hispanic style. 
  9. The Mystical Body AND the Institutional Church - one and the same, yet different. Often inconsistent. I firmly believe that Jesus Christ meant for the Church to exist. When the People of God gather at liturgy to praise and worship the Father in the Son, through the Spirit, we become the "real Church" - the Mystical Body of Christ. It is when we join in prayer, hear the Word and receive the Eucharist together that we are most ourselves. When we go forth, we are of one mind. However, once in the world, that can break down as we are pulled apart by forces from within and without. The Church as an institution has garnered many a black eye over its history, but we can love her anyway. Like Jesus the Catholic Church is fully divine and fully human - but unlike Jesus, it is not without sin and frailty. It has helped me over the years to remember that there is an ideal, mystical Church and a human, fallible church. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry, sometimes, it seems like we should celebrate "Facepalm Sunday" - but we can love this Church anyway. 
  10. The Holy Spirit and the Call to Share Spiritual Gifts - my most recent discovery about the Church is how through it, we are called to share the charisms the Holy Spirit has given each of us, for the good of the entire Body of Christ. Sure, I knew that, generically, but only recently have I discovered how that works in my life. Each of us has indeed been given certain gifts, but the community helps us discern how those gifts may be used for the good of others. One of the criteria in the Called and Gifted process for discerning a charism is that others have told you that when you do something, it bears fruit for them.  Our gifts are not our own. They came from God and belong to God's community. This, above all, is for me one of the great rewards of being Catholic: I have a purpose. I belong. I know that who I am is part of something greater, it is not for me alone.
And THAT is why I am and will always be Catholic... in spite of all those moments that could bring on this:

Monday, May 25, 2015

What if Ordinary Time Were Mission-Driven?

The liturgical year has these great green stretches of Ordinary Time - and we have just entered the longest one. Our next two Sundays will be engaged in celebrating two important "white" feasts of Christ in Ordinary Time: Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi, but we really have entered the time of the green.

The general description of Ordinary Time is a time "wherein the faithful consider the fullness of Jesus' teachings and works among his people."(USCCB Website) or when "the mystery of Christ itself is honored in its fullness, especially on Sundays." (Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year.)  While the green of winter Ordinary Time suggests growth and learning, the stretch we have just entered is different. Rather, because of what has just preceded it, it offers an opportunity to move toward mission. We have just celebrated the Resurrection, the Ascension and Pentecost - all of which call us to do something besides sit at Christ's feet. We have witnessed the power of Paschal Mystery and heard Jesus ask us to preach the Gospel to all the world. This year, it sounded like this:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Go into the whole world
and proclaim the gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them,
was taken up into heaven
and took his seat at the right hand of God.
But they went forth and preached everywhere,
while the Lord worked with them
and confirmed the word through accompanying signs. (Mark 16:15-20)
This is a pretty daring job description! I don't know that snake handling is the way I want to go, personally speaking! However, as he promised, Jesus then sent the Spirit to strengthen, equip and inspire us to do great things in his name. The alternate Gospel for Pentecost explains this best:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father,
he will testify to me.
And you also testify,
because you have been with me from the beginning.
“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth,
he will guide you to all truth.
He will not speak on his own,
but he will speak what he hears,
and will declare to you the things that are coming.
He will glorify me,
because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
Everything that the Father has is mine;
for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine
and declare it to you.”  (John 15:26-27; 16: 12-15)
 I suggested in another recent post that perhaps summer Ordinary Time is really the moment to build the community and to evangelize, but that goes against prevailing American practice, which sees summer as "down time."

What would it mean if a parish were to take Ascension and Pentecost seriously and put mission on the summer agenda?  I see some interesting possibilities:
  • Summer outreach - to families of those who have just celebrated sacraments, but are not coming to Mass - to the disabled, the elderly, young adults, to inactive parishioners and to others in the neighborhood 
  • Summer faith formation - Vacation Bible School for ALL ages that lasts more than a week - Bible study, book-clubs, marriage enrichment and other gatherings to encourage adults  and teens to deepen their faith
  • Intergenerational gatherings for all ages - not just parents and children - for prayer and learning
  • RCIA Inquiry sessions begin - mid-summer - and run until the Rite of Acceptance/Rite of Welcoming just before Advent.
  • Parish service projects to help the poor - not just youth mission trips - but practical local opportunities for adults and families
  • Liturgies celebrated with joy and vigor. Choirs would not go on "summer break" - but continue (after all, most of them will still be at Mass every weekend) - perhaps with fewer rehearsals
  • Parish festivals, picnics, etc. with a faith theme - not just fun and socialization, but with meaningful prayer/paraliturgies and a call for all to sign up for service and learning opportunities

Some parishes already do some of this, but even they would benefit from being more intentional. What do you think? Do you have more ideas for how a parish can be mission-driven through the summer? How can we keep the upcoming months from simply looking like a vacation from parish activities?