Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sneaky Liturgical Catechesis - A Litany of the Saints Story

I am smiling this morning... on Halloween, thinking of All Saints Day and Novembers past.  Wanted to share my all-time favorite Litany of the Saints moment with you.

A number of years ago, I was serving as Director of Religious Education and Liturgy in a modest-sized parish in a rural town about an hour away from Chicago. From the time I arrived, I had been under intense scrutiny and occasional criticism from one particular family of extremely conservative Catholics. You may know the type - the mother, father and grown children went to every anti-abortion rally in the diocese, wanted me to show the graphic (and not very age-appropriate) videos  "Window to the Womb" and "The Silent Scream" to junior high students, disrupted the communion line as they went fully down to the floor genuflecting, etc. Good, holy people, but more than a little extreme... and very judgmental of others not like them. One of my little weekly jobs, given by my pastor, was to check the vestibule before each weekend to see what literature they had left in the back of church to see if it needed to be removed because it was not charitable in tone, or not current Church teaching.

Now, mind you, I always consciously project the "center of the Church" when I teach or interact with people in my ministry - but for Pete, the father of this family especially, almost everyone else in the Church was a left-wing liberal.  I, as a woman in ministry, was on his list.

From the day I came to the parish, I went out of my way to be kind, to listen with respect and to honor as much of what Pete wanted as I possibly could. Over the first three years, the ice gradually thawed as he learned I was not going to teach heresy. With a twinkle in his eye, he occasionally used to share his favorite inside joke with me that "more people will go to heaven because of Invincible Ignorance than for any other reason."

One evening in November, as we finished up an adult faith formation session on saints as mystics, I had planned a closing prayer, using the Litany of the Saints. Not just any Litany of the Saints, but my favorite contemporary version - by Rory Cooney.   I put on the CD and asked them to just listen.

This version starts out tamely enough, with a typical solemn traditional flavor, but gradually, it becomes apparent that something else is going on, as the tune becomes somehow familiar.  People in the room, including my friend Pete, began to listen more closely, leaning forward a bit.  Suddenly, it became clear, as the cantor, choir and ensemble launch into the jazzy refrain: "When the Saints Go Marching In".  Pete broke into a wide grin, his foot began to tap.  As the ensemble kicked it up a notch, by the second refrain, people began singing along, and Pete began to laugh, as he, too sang with growing gusto. By the time they got to the third round, prettry much everyone in the room, including Pete, was stomping and clapping as well as singing. 

As he departed that night, Pete came up to me and said, slyly. "You know, Joyce, you're all right!"  I went home smiling that night... and I still smile whenever I remember the night I ambushed Pete and the others with this song. Here is the iTunes link, where you can hear a preview or purchase it. You can also sample one of the last verses and chorus at this link on the GIA site - scroll down to "Litany of the Saints, A" click the little speaker icon and give the excerpt, from near the end, a listen... and smile as you envision the saints boogeying their way around heaven.  After all - in any culture, to laugh, stomp, and sing is an expression of joy - and joy is surely the essence of the experience of heaven.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Conversation About the Last Supper and Eucharist with Hispanic Teens

Wednesday's Confirmation class (Eucharist and Mass Part II) went even better than I hoped the kids seemed honestly interested and engaged - they even asked a lot of questions. My plan was liturgical catechesis on the Mass as meal and sacrifice from Scripture.    We sat in a circle and started with the scripture story of the Last Supper from Luke.  Side by side with the Bible, I had them looking at the full text of the Mass, English on one side, Spanish on the other (since they all go to Spanish Mass).

We read the story - and we talked about the events of the Passover as background. We pulled out phrases that were similar in the Last Supper story and matched them to phrases in the Mass.  As we talked through the details of the Passion and connected it to Jesus' sacrifice, they seemed genuinely intrigued by the story.  I found that they did indeed have many of the pieces, but that most of them have never connected them.... and certainly never fully connected them to the Mass. (I think we are going to have a lot of fun when it gets to be Lent and Passiontide - I can really see this group wanting to act out the Stations.)

They learned that those plaques on the wall in church with the crosses (the Stations) are connected to the story of Jesus' last moments, that everything we do in the liturgy of the Eucharist is connected to that story - and I think they finally put some pieces together...  best discussion yet!

I am a bit sad I won't see them next week (have a work commitment and I have gotten my aide to sub for the Sacrament of Penance lesson.)  But we will be back together soon.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bringing Media and Evangelization to Disconnected Teens

Just got home from another session with the Confirmandi. Brought along the computer and projector - and after we reviewed last week's lesson about being called by name at baptism and gifted by the Holy Spirit - and loved as unique individual, I showed them one of my favorite short movies:  "Validation"- to help them see that each one of them can make a difference.... and that how we treat one another is important. It's part of their mission to spread the love of God, etc.

By the end, they were all smiling... I think they got it. The discussion was brief, but there was general agreement.

I then moved to the final piece in my plan to help them understand exactly why they are preparing for Confirmation: learning that the purpose of the Sacraments of Initiation is to bring them to the table of the Eucharist for the rest of their lives.  I next showed them a very brief PowerPoint outlining some of the reasons we go to Mass:
  • To celebrate the love of God as the Body of Christ – the community singing and praying as one voice
  • To hear the Word of God and allow the Holy Spirit to change our hearts
  • To celebrate the sacrifice of Jesus – his pouring out of his life on the Cross
  • To offer our lives as part of the sacrifice
  • To share the meal at the table of the Lord
  • To become more like Jesus by receiving Eucharist
I then asked how many go to Mass regularly, and how many have not been in a while. Fewer than hald indicated they regularly attend Mass.  I assured them that I expected this would be true - and that for some of them, it is certainly due to their parents not driving them to church.  However, I told them, each of them is an important member of the Body of Christ and that when they are not at Mass, a piece is missing from the Body.

Remembering what I had been told about Hispanics connecting more deeply with the crucified Christ, I invited them to begin to have a devotion to the Eucharist, using the words of Mother Teresa:  "When you look at a crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the host, you understand how much Jesus loves you now."  Smiles of understanding. (Thanks for the tip, Javier!)

We talked a bit about Eucharist being really Jesus... but that was a teaser for next week. Lastly, I showed them a picture of the Communion of Saints and  of the Pope at World Youth Day - one with the banners of many nations flying - and explained that Eucharist unites us across time and space to all people, living and dead. They seemed to think that is cool.

For all these reasons I them to asked them to think about going to Mass - to consider it... and promised we would talk more next week about the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I certainly hope they will.

This year is going to be a journey - for all of us!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Why is "Evanglization" a Dirty Word for Catholics?

Interesting discussion about a name change on the Facebook page for Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association (PNCEA).  Fr. Frank DeSiano and Fr. Tony Krisak et al are raising the question as to whether the term "evangelization" should even be included, because it might be a "turn-off" for Catholics. While this might have some validity, as one person who commented points out, we need to educate people that "evangelization" IS the primary mission of the Church.

So, just why would it be a "turn-off"?  A discussion I have been having with another person on the Facebook site is revealing. It revolves around an understanding that Evangelization is something we do after we have been led to a personal experience of a relationship with Jesus Christ. This person seems to think we need to teach people the Tradition and doctrine of the Church and that is the more important priority... and should be enough.  Personally, I believe it is "both-and" -- we do not need to wait until we learn everything there is to know about Tradition and doctrine before going out and inviting others to know Jesus.  Teaching people the Tradition and doctrine is very necessary, but not the first priority. When we focus in that direction, we, in effect, put the cart before the horse.

Catechesis is a moment within Evangelization (General Directory for Catechesis). It does not substitute for Evangelization. It should, for those "raised in the faith" as children, be simultaneous. For adults, ideally, Evangelization is the front door to the catechetical process - the "Inquiry" phase of the RCIA.  It is a concept at the heart of who we are - the Church that came into being when the Apostles ran into the street to tell others about Jesus Christ. The Church as institution exists to support Evangelization (Evangelii nuntiandi 14), and in turn, Evangelization exists to support a lived experience of Jesus Christ, which also takes place and is supported within the context of the Church.  It really is "both-and"... not "either-or"... and we don't need to apologize for that.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Catechesis with Hispanic Youth - Some Things ARE Different

Third class tonight, with my room full of Confirmation students. Did some ice-breaker activities to get them talking to each other and to me- talked about being called by name, and gifted by the Spirit (to tie up the discussion on Baptism and connect it to Confirmation.) Found out three of them will be confirmed in Mexico One of these looks Anglo and has an Anglo first and last name - I had thought he was the one non-Hispanic... Oh well... so now I know they all have that background. I am, in effect, the lone Anglo in the room.

I learned two items within the last 24 hours that have helped me see that my instinct that they are NOT the same as teens from a non-Hispanic background. Last night, at parish council, our new parochial vicar, who was in Hispanic ministry in another diocese, said this:  "People who perceive themselves as being powerless come as a group, not at individuals."  Hmm. So the community and family thing IS different. We Anglos are accustomed to treating each person's faith journey as separate... it is a basic of the RCIA process and the backdrop for much our our normal post-Vatican-II discussion about faith that God reaches out to each person as a unique, individual person.  Having this in mind, while I led them to reflect on their uniqueness, I also helped them to bond as a group through the ice-breakers.  I think this will take a while, but it will be a case of  "both - and" - I will have to be conscious that their faith experience is through family and community - at the same time I attempt to connect them with their individual relationship with God.

Point 2 - I had lunch with our diocesan Hispanic youth ministry person - and he described many things that I did suspect -- an increased lack of self-esteem and identity issues that come from being in a culture not their own, etc.  But one thing he told me explained my experience that they were reluctant to acknowledge any experience of the love of God. He said that the Hispanic cultural experience of God is largely focused on the crucified Christ.  That explains their love of acting out the Passion, etc.  For Anglos, the Crucifixion is a moment on the way to the death that leads to the Risen Christ. For Hispanics, it is a stopping point where a suffering, downtrodden, powerless people connects with the God who is most like them at that moment. Aha... I get it, but that complicates things.

Both these issues have to do with a sense of powerlessness, lack of self-esteem, and connects with some other things I had heard and experienced... the focus of the Soy Catequista process on building up the dignity of the catechist, the reluctance of Hispanics to step forward to serve based on an acknowledgement of baptismal call and stewardship of gifts.  It means my head is indeed in a different space than theirs.

Now, I realize that kids living in our American culture are likely to be in a middle-ground in this regard - or maybe confused by it. I hope to be able to enter their world a little this year - to help them see their unique giftedness, to see where their spirituality can enrich mine, as well as where mine can enrich theirs. I look forward to the next 7 months of conversation and sharing.  I am humbled by this opportunity, unlooked for, which seems so perfectly right.  Certainly I could say I am busy enough, but this one came looking for me, not me for it. To those things, I feel moved to say yes, to take a chance, and the reasons for the opportunity to walk with these kids this year are becoming clearer.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

So Much Catechesis Needed: 41 Percent of US Catholics Still Don't Get Real Presence

The latest Pew Research Center poll on Religious Knowledge in American results are in: 41% of American Catholics polled answered that Catholicism teaches that the bread and wine used for Communion are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus. Although 55% get it right, and there is evidence that variables such as whether or not they regularly attend church, have more education, etc seem to affect the outcome, it is still rather sad.

Just as sad is the fact that Catholics are 1.1 percent below the national overall average in overall correct answers to this survey, which consisted of questions about the most prevalent religions in America. Atheists often, frankly, scored higher. Of great concern, too, is the outcome that Hispanics score lowest overall on this test of religious literacy, showing how much work is to be done among them, as they leave predominantly Catholic homelands and come to the US, a land of religious pluralism, where many of them are proselytized by other faiths.

All of this points to a huge need for better catehesis.  When such a large percentage of people who identify themselves as Catholic cannot tell you that the consecrated bread and wine are really the Body and Blood of Jesus, we have failed to communicate one of the central truths of our faith. It is no wonder Mass attendance continues to dwindle - we have somehow failed to show people why it even matters.

I will be interested in seeing the three-night televised special on the results of this survey: "God in America", set to air on PBS on October 11-13.