Saturday, January 13, 2018

Musings: When the "Spiritual But Not Religious" Crowd Asks Oprah the Big Questions

So, I'm home on a cold Saturday night, recovering from a foot injury, with a little extra time on my hands when I happen to check something on Amazon. I discover I can read some magazines for free as a Prime member, so I decide to see what's up in O Magazine from Oprah - just because it's free and because I haven't looked in a while.

Every month this year, Oprah will be soliciting answers to a question from readers. I was stunned by this:

With the exception of the question about James Cameron and Avatar sequels, these are, at heart, all spiritual questions. These are the cries of the heart that at least some people are hungry to learn answers for. Yet all of these can be answered in the teachings of Jesus Christ in Scripture - and through what the Church teaches about them and through our practices of the faith (i.e.,"religion"). 

Will anyone ever look at me the way my dog does?   God does. 

How can I best honor my friend's memory?  Pray for his/her eternal salvation and remember him/her at Mass... and never not know that he/she is still present. (Communion of Saints)

Why can't Democrats and Republicans think of us instead of just themselves when it comes to healthcare?  Multiple answers:  Catholic social teaching, Jesus' teachings about being merciful and his example as a healer without judgment against the poor and sinners, and for Catholics, going to Mass regularly to receive the Eucharist worthily in the quest of becoming a person of self-giving love like Jesus...

How can we make war obsolete? See some of the answers to the previous, but learning to love is a basic. So are Jesus's teachings about non-violence. Trusting that there will come a day when swords will be beaten into plowshares at the end of time may be our best hope here, but it's at least a hope. 

How does one learn to give unconditional love in a world that judges everything about you?  Look at how God loves us -everything in scripture points to his faithfulness to his half of the Covenant, no matter who we are.

Who hurt you so bad that you need to do the same to others?  A truly sad question, but one rooted in a lack of understanding of mercy and the difficulty of humans living according to "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." 

Hello, God. Are you there?  A question even the faithful will occasionally ask, but one that begs for evangelization, catechesis, spiritual accompaniment and the support of a faith community. 

If these are the questions the "spiritual but not religious" people are asking, the mission fields are out there, people. We just have to learn how to approach them as Jesus did, where they are, instead of coming on as Church Triumphant or as Church Judgmental.  These folks have, for the most part, rejected "religion" - so we need to understand that the encounter with Jesus Christ has to come first. "Religion" is, after all, how we live faith. It is not, itself, faith. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Review: Liturgical Catechesis in the 21st Century

Just finished my full reading of an amazing book.  Liturgical Catechesis in the 21st Century: A School of Discipleship by James C. Pauley of Franciscan University in Steubenville is an effort to steer religious education toward a mystagogical apprenticeship formula, including proclamation of the kerygma, liturgical catechesis and individual mentorship.

In this book, Dr. James Pauley presents liturgical catechesis as an important tool to form disciples who grow through sacramental living.  He also sees the importance of recognizing and supporting the faith journey of each person, not merely assuming that a convenient "slot" in a school-model catechetical program fits all people. Pauley cites Sherry Weddell's individualized recognition of people's differing rates of spiritual growth, and steers that toward what the writers of the General Directory for Catechesis asked when they wrote that the Catechumenate (RCIA) should be the inspiration and model for all catechesis.  (GDC 90)

Pauley outlines an approach that combines proclamation of the kerygma (the Good News of Jesus Christ) with fostering skills that allow people to encounter God through the signs, symbols, words and actions of the liturgy. When supported by appropriate catechesis and personal relationship, such an approach can form people who find in the liturgy a touchstone to deepen their relationships with God, the Church and other members of the Body of Christ.

Pauley lays out the history and vision of the Second Vatican Council's desire for "full, conscious and active participation" in the liturgy and the ways in which we can be changed by liturgical experience and by mystagogical reflection on that experience. Never denying the scope of the challenges to changing the paradigm in today's Church, he gives real-life examples and concrete suggestions for developing a more liturgical catechesis in the parish. His suggestion is that parish leaders take "baby steps" when working toward a new way of presenting the faith. This kind of change is not easy, but it is very necessary if we are to form people who practice the Catholic faith in a lifelong way by attending weekend liturgy.

Key to Pauley's vision is a model of apprenticeship that involves discerning the needs of the individual person and mentoring him/her in developing skills that allow full engagement with the liturgy and the ability to receive its fruits. These benefits can take the form of a deeper relationship with God and a life-giving understanding of the ways in which fully participating in the liturgy opens us to God's grace and helps us to change and grow in holiness. Chapter 8, in which he describes three skills: "Attuning Ourselves to God," "Uniting Ourselves to God," and Cooperating with the Grace of God", is pure gold. Not only does he specify and define these three important skills, but he gives particular actions steps for the catechist to help mentor learners to develop these skills.

In the last part of the book, Pauley gives over his authorial voice to four experts on emerging practices: Sr. Hyacinthe Defos du Rau, OP, of the "Come Follow Me" program for catechesis and initiation of young children is the first. She is followed by Mary Mirrione, of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a Montessori-based approach for children. Jim Beckman, whose expertise in youth ministry and in empowering parents to mentor their teens in faith, is next. Finally William Keimig discusses a truly liturgical format for RCIA formation.

All of these programs have in common a liturgical catechesis/apprenticeship model and have shown great success in real practice, which is why Pauley gives space to them in the book. The inclusion of these helps the reader see how a eral-world apprenticeship in Christian liturgical life can be successful in forming missionary disciples who grow through a fruitful encounter with Christ through the liturgy and the liturgical year.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Let's Stop Making Mass Attendance an Add-on to Catechesis!

More than once in my work as a diocesan administrator, I have encountered parish staffs who attempt to force families of children and youth in catechetical programs to go to Mass. Their methods range from a requirement to pick up a bulletin or sign in with the ushers to punch-cards to prove Mass attendance, sometimes accompanied by threats of withholding the sacrament the child is preparing for if attendance at Mass is not at a certain threshold.

Some parishes ask parents (and older students) to sign an agreement about Mass attendance. I was even told recently that at one parish a child with near-perfect class attendance was not advanced to the next grade level because her parents almost never took her to Mass (!)

I have to come right out and say it: all of this is shameful and manipulative - and ultimately ineffective - as shown by the continuing decline in the numbers of our Catholic people attending Mass regularly. We can see it by the number of families who simply disappear from the parish after their children have received the Sacraments of Initiation. They have been initiated, in their minds, into nothing in particular. Like secular life-events that are commemorated, their sacramental initiation is safely tucked away in the scrapbook of life instead of being a living reality that continues to enrich them and invite them to lives of holiness.

While a few families may intuitively benefit from the experience of being forced to go to Mass, most resent it (and I get the phone calls that tell me so!) Many will only comply until they get what they came for - that sacrament certificate- and some will even tell their children outright that after Confirmation they don't have to go to Mass.

There IS a better way.

While parish catechetical leaders and clergy should certainly encourage Mass attendance, why aren't they encouraging and forming people for Mass participation?  Mass is about much more than just showing up!

People will receive the full benefit of the power of the Mass only if they understand why they are invited to the table of the Word and table of the Sacrament. Mass is more than just something Catholics do.  It is the heart of Catholic faith and practice for a reason.

What is that reason?  Well, not because God needs our praise - he certainly has enough glory without anything we do. Jesus had something else in mind when he said "Do this in memory of me" and instituted the Mass.  He was inviting us to become a changed people and he continues to do that today. When asked where he lived, he said "Come and see."  Where does he live today? At Mass. (See Sacrosanctum Consilium 7 for the four ways Christ is present in the Mass.)

Basically, God wants us to offer ourselves at Mass to be changed by the Word and by the Eucharist. He wants us to grow in holiness, to become more like Jesus Christ - people of self-giving love. (For more on that, see Tim O'Malley's excellent book: Liturgy and the New Evangelization: Practicing the Art of Self-Giving Love )  We do that by listening actively and openly to the Word and by offering ourselves along with the bread and wine to be changed. This is the heart of the sacramental encounter.

What the Mass does is change who we are. It is NOT something we merely attend. It is also a "rehearsal" for the heavenly banquet.  So, why do we continue to "take attendance" as if it is a required class?

James Pauley, in Liturgical Catechesis in the 21st Century: A School of Discipleship,  argues that the transforming grace of God, enacted through the liturgy, is central to how people become disciples. He also points out that catechesis, unconnected to the liturgy, fails to connect people to this important wellspring of evangelization. He proposes an apprenticeship model, individualized and powered by mentoring, rooted in the liturgy. In short, he proposes a revolution in how we think about the relationship between parish religious education and the liturgy.

What do we need to get there?  It begins with parish leadership and clergy realizing that catechesis is more than just forming people in doctrine and practice, but should be about forming disciples - people who are willing to re-form the agenda of their lives around the self-giving model of Jesus Christ rather than the agendas of self and world. It begins with realizing that the true engine that powers the formation of disciples is not dispensing knowledge about the faith, but the Mass itself, which is the setting for personal transformation.

Parish catechesis will continue to falter and be marginally effective in making the next generation of Catholics until we learn that faithful, full and active participation in the liturgy is the primary power that will make our teaching about Catholic faith effective. Going to Mass not a mere add-on practice. It is not a hoop we ask people to jump through to get something else they want. It is the heart of who we are and can become.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Nevertheless She Persisted: St. Martha's Profession of Faith

Today is the feast of St. Martha, that woman so often maligned as NOT having "chosen the better part" because she insisted on the tasks of hospitality while Jesus was in her home. She is portrayed in Luke 10:38-42 as a querulous, busy woman, who complained that her sister Mary was not helping with the tasks of serving the 13 guests who had suddenly appeared in their home.

But that is not all we know of Martha in scripture. In John 11:19-27, the first choice for today's Gospel at Mass, she runs to meet Jesus, who has finally come to see Lazarus, having learned he has died.

First, she scolds the Lord with "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."  However, she continues with "But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." She is setting the stage for the possibility that Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead. Why? Because she believes.

After an exchange during which she assures him she believes that Lazarus will rise on the last day, Jesus says to her:
"I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?"
Never one to hold back, Martha replies with a strong and unequivocal profession of faith: "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,  the one who is coming into the world."  Recognize the words of this exchange? They are paraphrased in the final two verses of the popular hymn by Suzanne Toolan, "I am the Bread of Life."

It's no wonder the Church chooses this reading for the Third Scrutiny for those entering the Church as catechumens. This is not just about the raising of Lazarus, but about the power of faith in Jesus Christ.

It's time we rehabilitated our vision of Martha and realized that to see her as the too-busy complaining sister is reductive of her significance. She was a woman unafraid to step out of her culture's preferred subservient role for women to confront a man when she felt it was warranted. Indeed, she is the poster-child for today's "Nevertheless she persisted" meme.

In the medieval world, she was portrayed as the saint of Christian service, but also as a strong force in defense of truth, sometimes shown with holy water and an aspergillium. The French legend still celebrated in Provencal today that she tamed the man-eating dragon Tarasque, which she then led around on a thin chain like a pet, is a vision of a woman of power. Legend even has it that Jesus Christ himself came down to celebrate her funeral Mass.  

Today, on her memorial, remember the woman who stood up to Jesus and boldly told him it was his fault her brother had died, but that she believed Jesus could do anything. What a model of faith - and persistence - for today's doubtful world!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

NOTES FROM NOTRE DAME SYMPOSIUM ON LITURGY & LIFE 2: "Jesus Christ in the Liturgical Year"

"Jesus Christ in the Liturgical Year" - Simone Brosig, PhD
Second set of notes from the June 19-23 symposium at University of Notre Dame. Videos of the talks will  be posted on the McGrath Institute for Church Life YouTube Channel.

Simone Brosig is Director of Liturgy, Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Photo by Tim O'Malley
Name your favorite moment in liturgical year.

School liturgy example from real life - it's all about them. Diocesan school leadership Masses on August 31 and Nov. 1st built around "theme of the year" - same music, same readings, all picked to support the theme,  unaware that the liturgical year is primary. They started with their agenda - it was not about encountering Christ. Liturgical year should be their starting point.

See Sacramentum Consilium 10, General Norms on the Liturgical Year p. 2

Liturgical year first started with Easter, then gradually, over time, it became a season... By 4th century Christmas was added. These 2 cycles make up the lit year - everything else is geared around them.

Proper of Time takes precedence. (SC 108) Easter Cycle, Christmas Cycle, Ordinary time.  Sanctoral time (saints' days) is secondary.

Starting with Advent at the beginning was not a practice until the 10th or 11th century.

Liturgical year not conceived as a whole. It grew out of the Paschal Mystery. Every encounter of the liturgical year provides opportunity to encounter a particular aspect of Christ's grace.

We should ask where did we meet Jesus this year in the celebration of ______?
This helps us develop our spirituality and attitudes.

See SC 12 - we are touched by the mysteries of redemption.

Liturgical year shapes us and our discipleship. An instrument of evangelization and invitation to encounter with Jesus Christ.

People who aren't connected to the liturgical year aren't connected to themselves.  (Her story - stressful family issues around Christmas had distanced her from Advent/Christmas) Spiritual director told her to participate in the whole Christmas cycle. That practice gradually changed how she sees Advent and Christmas.

To connect to the liturgical year, we have to connect to ourselves.  It can shed new light on our inner life.

Advent to Dec. 16 - Eschatological emphasis.  Dec 17-24 - oriented toward the Lord's birth.

Cycle A
Psalm 85 - first Sunday - comfort
Psalm  second Sunday - promise
Communion antiphon 3rd Sunday - courage

Overall Advent is an invitation to get in touch with our fears and vulnerabilities. Not penitential in the same way as Lent. Devout and expectant delight. Yet, we may discover our own exile.

When the Baby comes, we put aside our agendas. That's what the liturgical year calls us to. Paradox of triumph through weakness.

Liturgical year is not a passion play. We are not expected to change our moods to correspond with it.   Even in the 50 days, we may experience grief.  The good news of the Resurrection comes with an edge -  we remember his suffering,  Palm Sunday reminds of us the willingness of Jesus to go to Jerusalem even though it meant death.  The Empty Tomb is not a source of joy, but of grief until the Resurrection is discovered.

Evangelization through the liturgical year needs to be invitational, not directive.  Ritual greetings of the Eastern church are faith statements:
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.
Jesus is born. Let us glorify him. (invitation)

Liturgy and Life
We need to discover moments in the Liturgical Year that we look forward to. We need to allow the liturgy to work on people. It's not directive, it's invitational.

- The Word is a starting point.  Proclaimed well, liturgical preaching...
- Music should shape the celebration
- Bring the liturgy to the life of the parish - sing seasonal music at meetings and gatherings
- Good liturgical art. We can create it to sanctify other spaces - and bring it home  Candlemas candles and Advent wreaths bring the liturgical year into the home.

Liturgical practices can become part of identity. Ash Wednesday, for example. Young adults mark time, take it into their bodies and identify.

Monday, June 26, 2017


First set of notes from the June 19-23 symposium at University of Notre Dame. Videos of the talks will  be posted on the McGrath Institute for Church Life YouTube Channel.

"On Jesus Christ and the Liturgy" Fr. Khaled Anatolios, PhD
Fr. Kahled is a priest in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, and Professor of Biblical Studies/Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity at University of Notre Dame

"There is one thing I ask of the Lord: to dwell in the house of the Lord forever." Psalm 27
Christ is the point of human encounter with God. Two natures together in one person.

Church Fathers referred to Psalm 85:10  "Truth has sprung up from the earth..." - with the incarnation God is no longer just in heaven (Augustine)

Liturgy is the event in which the encounter of God and humanity become available and we can participate in it. It is a Christological encounter. A multitude keeping festival = the Church. In the liturgy we become one body, one spirit in Christ. We encounter each other in Christ.

Liturgy as Exodus.  Every liturgy is Passover. We pass over to freedom in the spirit from death in sin. It begins as soon as we begin our preparations for going to Mass.  But it doesn't happen through our efforts.  Christ doesn't wait for us. He goes out to accompany us.  It begins with the family preparation. But also within spiritual preparation. What do we need to be liberated from?

Liturgy as Kingdom.  In Eastern Church, we begin "Blessed is the kingdom in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Jesus came to say that "the kingdom is among you" (literal translation of the Greek)

If the liturgy is a Passover, we begin by leaving something behind. In the Penitential Rite we declare our liberation from sin in Christ and announce the kingdom. (Repent!) And leave behind what is not the kingdom.

Christ never receives our confession, because he has already given his grace to us and has repented on our behalf. He leaves behind all that

Epistle to the Hebrews opening.  Continuity - God the Father gathers up all the ways he has been speaking and places it in Christ. Scripture is communication of the incarnation. The opening of the Epistle clears the way for the proclamation of Christ. When we hear Jesus proclaimed in the Gospel, we encounter him.

Liturgy as sacrifice - we need to recover the meaning.  Last Supper:  "This is my Body" = This is my Life. "This is my Blood" = This is my death. Christ can do this because he is in command of his life and death.  (John 10:18)  This communicates the sacrifice.

See Hebrews 10:1-14
Jesus's self offering is his whole will to the Father.  He offers all of us in himself. Perfects for all time those who are sanctified.  It is a love covenant with God - "here I am to do your will."

What happens to sin in the middle of that offering?  How does Christ take away the sin of the world? (As Lamb of God.)  In real sacrifice, you have to enter into - to empathize with the other.  Christ enters into our humanity with all its messiness and becomes part of it... His pain was greater than any human pain because he suffered all the woundedness of the world because he empathized and took on all our suffering. He did this while in the Trinity, so it becomes part of the holiness of the Trinity.

Eucharist needs to be spiritually digested because it's spiritual food - it is digested spiritually by contemplation and through reflection on Scripture.

The Holy Spirit is the "extrovert" member of the Trinity.  It comes down and transforms the bread and wine and then it transforms us.  Every Eucharist is a Pentecost.

Jesus never says "Peace be with you" except after the Resurrection.  The peace of Jesus is a definitive peace.  The peace of a fullness of communion, of encounter between God and humanity. Humanity is fully integrated into the life of God - and we are sent to bring this peace to the world.

Pope Benedict in Sacramentum Caritatis... we bring the pain and suffering of the world and offering them with the gifts.

We lift up our hearts with Gods help.  We get new hearts from God at the liturgy.

Monday, May 8, 2017

BOOK REVIEW - Jesus: The Story You Thought You Knew

How's your walk with Jesus these days? That's really the question that Deacon Keith Strohm wants to know.

In his new book, Jesus:The Story You Thought You Knew  (Our Sunday Visitor) Strohm retells the story of salvation from Creation to you - explaining it in an easy, accessible way. It's a bit like being on the road to Emmaus and having Jesus break open the scriptures that explain who he is, why he came and why he died and rose again.This isn't a long book, but it's one to spend time with.

Strohm preaches it. This is not so much a narrative, but a series of engaging, evangelizing tracts. The book reads like a collection of extended homilies with a purpose. Each chapter is a powerful encounter with the truth of the kerygma, from the story of Creation to the Cross and beyond. All this is presented with the fervency of witness, by a man who has walked the journey himself.

Strohm, former director of the Office for the New Evangelization of the Archdiocese of Chicago and a protegee of Sherry Weddell (Forming Intentional Disciples) and the Siena Institute, has, with this endeavor, put his own voice out there as he strikes out on a new part of his own journey, an independent ministry, M3 Ministries, which is in development.

In this short but powerful book, each "Act" of the story, as he refers to them in "How to Use This Book," is an invitation to a journey -  one that begins with Strohm laying out the scriptural background and its meaning. He then adds theological implications and includes stories and examples from his own real, imperfect human life, ending with an invitation to reflection on pertinent scripture passages. The chapters conclude with life implication questions to consider individually or to use in group discussion, which means it could be used for evangelizing older teens, adults, or as part of RCIA pre-catechumenate sessions.

Once the reader has encountered the meaning of the Great Story, he/she is invited into relationship with Jesus - to repentance and participation in the sacraments, to openness to the Holy Spirit and finally to discipleship and action.

This is a book to savor and study. If the reader takes the time to go to the scripture passages, to read and pray over them, there is ample opportunity for conversion. There is real potential for becoming a disciple who understands who Jesus is, why he came, and what he means for us today.