Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Motivation for Adult Faith Formation: Juan Diego's Catechist

Today is the feast of St. Juan Diego, famous for his interaction with Our Lady of Guadalupe. This humble, faithful man, who worked in the fields and as a mat-maker, used to walk barefoot 14 miles every Saturday and Sunday (for 3-and-half hours!) to receive instruction on the faith. Later, after the death of his wife, he moved in with his uncle to a place only 9 miles away from Tenochtitlan, where he went for Mass and catechesis.

Since parish leaders today can barely motivate the average Catholic adult to cross the street for adult faith formation, it strikes me that his catechist must have been amazing for him to want to walk that far to hear about Jesus Christ.

Certainly, today's American Catholic adults for the most part are not poor, and probably not very humble. They have much to occupy their time and on weekends are more likely to seek entertainment and relaxation rather than enlightenment. The key to the kind of evangelization that elicits a real hunger for Christ and his community continues for the most part to elude us, although at least we are talking about it.

Juan Diego's instructor must have been one heck of a catechist!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Hashtag Advent Calendar - Spiritual Discipline or One of Life's Little Indulgences?

This morning, I noticed that #adventcalendar is trending on Google+.

Since it takes thousands of posts from all over the world using a hashtag to cause something to "trend," I was curious, so I checked out the posts. As I scrolled through the first 50 or so entries, I saw not one mention of Jesus. Not one. What I saw were references to "countdown to Christmas." The advent calendars depicted, whether homemade or commercially produced, were almost all of the sort where one gets a small reward - a little toy or a piece of chocolate - every day.  Not one with a Bible verse, story or biblical figure.  In short, advent without Jesus.

Some of these "advent calendars" were from companies with daily prize giveaways - one even advertised their giveaway app to spread Christmas joy with prizes ranging from gift cards to a Kindle or a TV. Commercialization pure and simple...

There is even one from a real estate agency, showing a ready-to-move-in house for each day! Or, you could win a cruise from a cruise company. It makes sense that the hashtag is #adventcalendar with a small "a."  This is a totally self-indulgent and consumer-oriented secular activity related to waiting for the big gifting day. It's about getting stuff as you wait to get stuff - or it's another advertising ploy. (Oh, and over on Twitter, a hashtag #adventcalendarproblems has emerged for those disappointed with their daily result!)

On the bright side, briefly, earlier today, #Advent (with a capital "A") was trending as well, but has since dropped off the list. Entries under that have some of the secularized calendars, but many more references to Jesus and spirituality, so there is some hope that shreds of the original Advent traditions remain in some quarters. And, as Martha Stewart always says, that's a GOOD thing!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Preparing Catechists and Families to Form Catholic Kids for Advent

Yesterday I had the privilege of giving a workshop on Advent for catechists at one of our regional catechist in-services.  Almost 50 people attended my session, where I provided them with an overview of the meaning and symbols of Advent and ideas to teach them and share them with families of their students.

One of the truths I tried to communicate is that nothing we teach kids about Advent will make much difference unless their families are keeping Advent... so parent connection is key. Otherwise kids will see the season as only something we do in church - while the rest of the world celebrates a premature Christmas.

Here are the slides for my presentation - and below find links to the Pinterest board with classroom and home activities and the master for a parent take-home letter with tips for family Advent practices.

Pinterest: Advent Ideas & Crafts for Classrooms and Families

Parent Letter

Other Advent Resources - Videos and More on The Liturgical Catechist

Thursday, October 2, 2014

He Shall Send His Angels to Guard Over You

Today, on the Memorial of the Guardian Angels, I have to thank God for mine. I know, beyond a doubt, that I have one - and I am grateful.

It was on All-Saints Day, 1991 that I first met mine. I had gone to a noon holy day Mass at a local parish, picked up a fast-food lunch and was driving back to my office, on a 4-lane busy street in Rockford when I started across a major intersection, with the green light, in my small Hyundai Excel, traveling at around 30 mph. A semi-trailer truck had just cleared the intersection and the woman in the car behind him making a left turn had not been able to see around it. Not seeing me, she turned, right into my path.

In that moment, everything went into "slow motion" as I realized impact was unavoidable. As I braced myself, I sensed a distinct presence in the back seat of my car and a voice inside my head said clearly: "Relax. Go through this. You're going to be all right." Then, all heck broke loose as the slightly larger oncoming car hit my front quarter-panel, propelling me into a second impact with a concrete median strip on the other side of the intersection. I was physically jerked sideways, first one way, then the other.

Dazed, but unhurt, I managed to get out of the car with the help of some passerby who pulled the smashed drivers-side door open for me. The window next to me was completely shattered - the safety-glass now a spider-web.There were no air-bags in those days. Only later, when my left arm turned purple with bruising did I realize that I had instinctively thrown my arm up to protect my head, which meant the arm had broken the window, not my head. My injuries were minor, but could have been much worse.

In the aftermath, I recalled that presence and that voice. And I knew. I had not been alone in that car.

As a convert, I had never been taught about having a guardian angel as a child, nor had I specifically or consciously known it as an adult. However, I am convinced God has a plan for me - and that a head injury was not part of it at that point. My guardian angel did not stop me from being in that accident, but was there to reassure me that I was being protected.

Today, thank God for his protection and pray that your angel will be at your side when you need him/her.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream: Unleashing Charisms for Catechesis

This morning I woke up laughing. Yes, really. I had just had the wildest most off-the-wall dream about catechesis.

I dreamed I was teaching my Confirmation class at my parish, and my classroom aide was none other than Andy Warhol. (He WAS Catholic, by the way - and a regular daily Mass attendee.)  He was very quiet and did not do more than observe through most of the session. At one point in the lesson, I turned to him and asked if he had anything to add to what I had just said to the teens, and he simply pulled out heavy paper and art supplies and began to create a small painting, explaining how it related to the faith concept at hand as he went. He quickly finished the work, which fascinated the kids (and me!).  Then, as class was getting over, I asked if I could have what he had just made.  He seemed surprised, and possibly mildly annoyed, but he quickly signed the little artistic gem, and somehow it miraculously ended up in a frame. Then everyone else disappeared. I wanted to go show my DRE what I had, but somehow that was when it got weird, as most dreams do... I had to get to where she was by climbing out a window and navigating several slanted roofs, but other catechists were there to help... and then I woke up!

What if some of the quiet people in our lives have amazing gifts?  What if those gifts were unleashed and used for catechesis in our parishes?  Amazing things might happen!

I can't help but think that somehow thoughts about our diocesan day on Thursday with Keith Strohm of the Catherine of Siena Institute discussing how parishes can use Forming Intentional Disciples and the Called and Gifted   process of discernment of charisms, is somehow tangled up in what happened in my head early this morning.

Andy Warhol obviously had a charism for teaching - through art - but to look at him, you would not have suspected such depth. What Warhol "taught" was the significance of ordinary things. He turned soup cans, cars, bananas and more into art. Although he never really said it, he showed the inherent value and sacramentality of everyday life, which is a very Catholic outlook. Although he never used his gift for the good of the Church, he could have.

How many people in our pews are "hiding" their gifts - or not sharing them with their faith community?  What if the charisms in our parishes were unleashed for catechesis?  That's a possibility I can't help but think would produced amazing results in forming young intentional disciples. Who in your community is a potential creative catechist?  What would it take to help them discover that Christ is calling them to use their gifts in his Church? Do we have the courage to find out? Now THAT's a dream!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

America and the End-Times Industry: False Theology and Major Profits

When I answered a phone call from one of our parish leaders Friday morning, I really did not expect a mental trip back in time.  However, what we talked about catapulted me right back to 2003-4 when I was involved in the Catholic End Times catechesis revival. Tomorrow night, I will revisit that in a talk at a local parish (replacing a speaker who canceled.)

The Left Behind series of adult and children's books and the low-budget movie with Keith Cameron were a problem for Catholics 10 years ago. I had gotten into writing and presenting on this topic because before that, when I had been a parish DRE, I had encountered a catechist  trying to teach 7th graders that there will be a "Rapture" and then discovered the Left Behind children's books were not only in the parish school library, but were being read in the 5th grade classroom.

Anti-Catholic, based on a false interpretation of Scripture... yes this stuff is a catechetical problem for Catholics.

As a result, I ended up assisting the Catholic Conference of Illinois with writing a statement on the Left Behind books and videos. That led to an article in the final issue of the USCCB Department of Education journal The Living Light, several local and regional presentations and two national interviews. After that, things quieted down for me, and for catechesis,

In preparing for tomorrow night, I found that Left Behind has been an integral part of an entire industry in America. Dating back to the 1970 publication of Hal Lindsey's The Late, Great Planet Earth, which sold 10 million copies, Americans have been eating up all things apocalyptic. LeftBehind.com boasts that they have now sold 63 million copies of their books.  When you think about it, not only has Hollywood cashed in on apocalyptic movies about the end times and the anti-Christ, but the History Channel has made a career out of presenting various scenarios for the apocalypse, most based on misreadings of the Book of Revelation.

Now, Hollywood is giving us a major actor to play the main character in a new "major motion picture."  And here we go again. 

It's been interesting to see where this has gone in the past 10 years.  I will probably post more on this topic over the next few weeks until we see the reception of the movie...

Here is my PowerPoint, posted on SlideShare.  Feel free to share this with parish leaders and catechists.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Eucharist is NOT "Comfort Food"

(photo source: Getty)
Here in the Chicago area, we have been experiencing an early cold-snap, with temperatures we normally don't see for about another 6 weeks. Cooler weather typically brings out the cozy blankets, space heaters and puts me in the mood for cooking and baking.. and yes, it brings a craving for comfort food. The thought of a hearty soup when it gets down in the 30's at night and barely into the 60's by day is certainly more attractive than it was about a week ago when it was in the upper 80's and humid!  When we are cold, it's natural to seek comfort.

It strikes me that likewise, when one's discipleship is cool, there can be a tendency to look to God primarily for comfort, while avoiding the challenge of the Gospel, and to see the Eucharist as mere "comfort food." 

Jesus referred to himself as the "Bread of Life" and said that "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him." (John 6:54) He promised eternal life to those who eat.  But what does it mean to allow Christ to remain in us? Is that just about being comforted?  Televangelist Joel Osteen famously preaches the Prosperity Gospel - that "God just wants you to be happy."  But is that what it is all about?

If Jesus is in us, that means all of him - and all of his life. Take a look at what Jesus asked of us. Jesus calls us to do as he has done - to wash feet and to sacrifice ourselves for others in his name. To preach, teach and baptize (evangelize).  He never said, "Come, sit in the pews and feed on me, and then go home and be comfortable."  He never said, "I just want you to be happy and to have everything you want." That is the trap we can fall into when our faith is just about seeking comfort - about us instead of about truly following Jesus Christ in all our thoughts and actions. He is not only the comforting Good Shepherd, but also the "narrow gate."

Instead of simply resting in him, Jesus asked us to live for the sake of the Kingdom - God's will for the world. He said “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."  (Matthew 16:24-25)

And where do we go, what do we do when we follow Jesus? We heard the apostle Paul tell us in this weekend's second reading that Jesus "emptied himself,taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross." (Phillipians 2:7-8)  He did that for us, not for himself.

Discipleship is about learning that obedience, even to death, even death on a cross. The true disciple does not receive the Eucharist as if it is comfort food. It should be received to embody a total union with the One who calls us to submit to the will of God, whatever that may be, and wherever it leads us. It's not about us. It's all about you, Jesus.