Wednesday, February 18, 2015

And So it Begins Again....

40 days to change our ways.
40 days to find Him more deeply.
40 days to rediscover who and whose we are.
40 days to share the boundless love that we have been given.
And so, begins the annual journey to the Cross and beyond...

Saturday, January 24, 2015

After the Whale

In the first reading for this weekend, we encounter a totally cooperative Jonah, freshly released from the belly of the whale and finally off to do God's work without further protest.
Pieter Lastman - Jonah and the Whale

Jonah, who first ran, then tried to sail away from God's will, is now the willing mouthpiece to announce the destruction of Ninevah if its inhabitants do not turn away from their sins. Rather willingly, they immediately give up their ways and God does not destroy them. Somehow, Jonah, who was so reluctant a prophet, was totally convincing.

This weekend, no doubt, many of us will hear homilies about the need to repent and believe in the Good News, the message of Jesus, who has just appeared in Galilee following the death of John the Baptist.

But what of willingness to evangelize others?  Jesus, ultimately, will hand that to the disciples as their mission when he leaves earth at his Ascension. How many Catholics today are more like Jonah, ducking and mumbling, "Anyone else but me, Lord!"?

Truth be told, the best evangelizers are the people who have known the belly of the whale - the hopeless, terrorizing suffering of  "three days and three nights" in the dark (Jon. 2:1) before seeing the light of day again. People who have gone through the dark times in life and again have seen the light are often most willing to tell their story and of the God who saved them. Of course, the three days/nights parallel the three days of Jesus' own Paschal Mystery.

Those who have suffered in life make good evangelizers, but so do people who allow themselves to suffer with Christ by immersing themselves in the Easter Triduum. If you look out at the assembly of those who are willing to be there for all of the Three Days, you will usually see those active in service of others in the parish, through teaching, charity and other action. They are also the people who are most likely to regularly attend Sunday Mass, because they know what it means when the Church says that each Sunday is a little Easter. Their frequent participation in the sacrifice of the Mass strengthens their connection to Christ and to his message - and to their mission to proclaim Christ - and the joy of salvation.

These are the truly engaged parishioners - and they are most willing to take on the role of prophets and evangelizers.  So, where do we find the faithful witnesses who can become our best evangelizers? Look first for those who have their own stories of suffering... and look among those who fill the pews during those celebrations that others feel are "optional." Those who know that really know God.  Listen to them - and provide them with opportunities to testify to their faith in the parish and the community. They are a gift.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Ready, Set, Go! Short Winter Ordinary Time Journey Begins

Today, with celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, we end the Christmas Season and begin a rather short and breath-taking narrative of Christ's ministry and teaching, leading up to Lent.

For the next five Sundays of our short winter journey that begins with the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, we will hear the Year B readings - mostly Mark, which is kind of the speed-reading version, since Mark never embroiders his narrative, but portrays a Jesus who gets right to the point. We will spend the first two Sundays collecting disciples, using one reading from John to fill in what is not present in Mark's short account.

On the 4th Sunday, we encounter Jesus teaching "with authority" in the temple, on the 5th, we witness him healing Simon's mother-in-law, and then on the 6th, we see him healing a leper. Then suddenly, it will be Lent. when the readings of those five Sundays bring us almost abruptly to the Passion.

It will not be until Summer Ordinary Time, after Pentecost, that we will have time to explore the life and ministry of Jesus at a more leisurely pace, although in the year of Mark, it will still consist of rather brief accounts.

So, what are we to gain from the next five Sundays? As usual, the priest's prayers in the Roman Missal provide a key.  Here are some key phrases we will hear over the next five Sundays:

2nd Sunday:  "...make those you have nourished by this one heavenly Bread one in mind and heart."

3rd Sunday:  " our actions according to your good pleasure, that in the name of your beloved Son we may abound in good works."

4th Sunday: "...that we may honor you with all our mind, and love everyone in truth of heart."

5th Sunday: "...grant us, we pray, so to live that, made one in Christ, we may joyfully bear fruit for the salvation of the world."

6th Sunday: "grant that we may be so fashioned by your grace as to become a dwelling pleasing to you."

What's the takeaway from these five weeks?  This is about developing unity, good works, agape love, participation in God's mission to save the world and personal relationship with God. In short, we are working on our discipleship - getting a short refresher course about what it means to be a community of disciples together on the journey before we enter the time of introspection and preparation for renewal that is Lent.

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.