Monday, September 26, 2011

The Pope: Catholics - Don't Be Lukewarm - A Catechetical Challenge

On the last day of his visit to Germany, Pope Benedict put it very bluntly:  If you are lukewarm about your Catholic faith and do not practice it in everyday life, even the agnostic, who is at least struggling with the question of whether there is a God, is closer to God than you are.

As another blogger put it so well: "Sitting in church does not make you Catholic... any more than standing in your garage makes you a car."

As I have repeatedly said in this space, we have a massive failure to show most people why Catholic faith matters.  The situation in most parishes in my area continues to deteriorate.  While about 10 years ago, if you asked kids in a religious education class how many went to Mass the previous weekend, you would get somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 who said yes, that number is dwindling to just a couple kids in each class in many parishes.

Parents continue to drop kids off so they can feel like they "raised their kids Catholic".  Too often, they not only do not attend Mass, but do not send their children to religious education during non-sacrament-preparation years.  The excuses, of course, are many - conflicts with sports, too expensive, too busy...  Worst of all, most of these families disappear from the parish after their kids have celebrated the sacraments -- as if to say. "Done that - check it off my 'good parent list'."

What the Pope says matters.  John, in the Book of Revelation, was told to tell the Angel to write:
“I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. (Rev. 3:15-17) 
How are we, in parishes, challenging and helping Catholics to move from lukewarm to burning with the fire of the Spirit?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Some Clues from the Business World About Designing and Marketing Adult Faith Formation

This week in my diocese, we will have our fall gathering of adult faith formation leadership for discussion and sharing. One issue that is sure to come up is the perennial one: how do we get people to participate in what we offer?  Although in our June event with John Roberto of Lifelong Faith Associates, he suggested that parish leaders need to move toward ways to individualize people's experiences through technology and a well-curated website that speaks to their needs, I suspect most of our people aren't ready to begin that.

Most parish leaders will remain in our current mode: typically in the Church we come up with a presentation we think will be what people need to hear, we make bulletin and pulpit announcements, maybe posters, and we wait for people to come to us.  Afterwards, we bemoan the lack of attendance, but then start over and do the next event in pretty much the same way.  As a friend of mine used to say: "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you always got."

The problem is, however, that we make a lot of assumptions when we offer programs.  The simple fact that a minority of Catholic adults participate in adult faith formation offerings seems to be due to our inability to convince them of the value of those programs. Lacking the technology expertise, time and motivation to move into an individualized offering, web-curation stage, the very least we can do is look at how we choose or design programs, and, after that, how we market them effectively.  One place to look for assistance with this is to experts in product design creativity, promotion and motivation.

In the book Subject to Change: Creating Great Products and Services for an Uncertain World,  David Verba, of Adaptive Path, suggests that
"When a person engages with your products, services and environments, a set of distinctly human qualities comes into play. A person's experience emerges from these qualities:

I don't have the answers, but I suggest it might be use for parish leaders look at their programming in light of how well they are fulfilling the motivations, expectations, perceptions people have - and in looking at how the programming meshes with these six things.  Knowing more about that can help us design offerings and publicize them in ways that honor who the target audience is.  It isn't good enough to say, in effect - "Hello, we are the Church, we know what's good for you,  please come to our event."

Joy Evangelizes

Catholic TV has just posted a series of short videos from Jesuit Fr. James Martin on the importance of joy, humor and laughter in the spiritual life. He says, in this first one:

"An essentially positive outlook shows people that you believe in God, that you believe in the power of life over death, that you believe in the Resurrection.  Joy draws other people to God."

"Why would anyone want to join a group of miserable people?" he asks.  To which I say: AMEN!  If you're Catholic and you believe God is in every moment of your everyday life, please tell your face!

Go HERE to view the video on the Catholic TV page, along with Father Martin's other related short segments on joy, humor and laughter in the spiritual life.

Monday, September 19, 2011

"Deliver Us, Lord, From Every Evil and Grant Us Peace in Our Day.."

Sometimes, I am really glad I am Catholic.

About 10 days ago on one of my social networks,  someone related an episode at his home, when visiting friends were horrified that he kept a loaded gun in the house and wanted to carry it whenever walking outdoors.  This had sparked a long discussion among his contacts about gun rights. I openly expressed my own discomfort with guns - and that I found it hard to understand why anyone felt they needed to carry one.  Based on that discussion, my friend opened a new one a few days later asking women to share how they keep themselves safe.  Many of the women - and the men who eventually joined in the commentary - saw a great need to be armed at all times. One man mentioned his wife walked more confidently now that she has a gun and knows how to use it. Another man shared that with the bad economy, he fears that crime will be increasing, so he is getting a gun because he wants to be ready.

I countered that I felt reasonably safe at home and going out, even at night without a gun. Even though I frequently go into a  neighborhood plagued by crime when I participate in activities at my inner-city parish, I feel reasonably safe.  My faith community has always responded to any threat with common sense and preventive strategies. We look out for one another. No one has need of a gun.  I am simply unworried. I mentioned to the others that at  every Mass we Catholics pray to be delivered from anxiety - and that I believe that God will protect me. I think they were polite, but probably could not understand my attitude any more than I could understand theirs.

One of the great gifts of being a believing Catholic is a sense of trust in God's providence. It is truly a case of lex orandi, lex credendi - what we pray is what we believe.  Near the end of the Lord's Prayer at every Mass, we pause as the priest prays the Embolism prayer.The name, which evokes images of a "bubble", comes from a Greek word meaning interpolation - currently this is:
Deliver us Lord, from every evil and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
in the new translation, which we will begin using on November 27, 2011, it is rendered:
Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant us peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Then, a short time later, we are invited to "offer one another a sign of Christ's peace."

This peace, this delivery from "anxiety" or "distress" is an important part of being Christ's people. As Jesus told his disciples he would soon be leaving them, he said "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid." (John 14:27)

This is one of the gifts that Catholic faith can offer to people living in a troubled world. Inner peace, delivery from anxiety.  True followers of Jesus live in the moment, trusting that God is here now, and will be here in the next moment. Common sense, yes. Living as if you are in a war-zone, beset with constant fear for personal safety, not so much.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

How Can We Share the Beauty and Joy of Catholic Faith?

Today, Pope Benedict renewed his call for all Catholics to participate in the new evangelization of the world.  In the face of an increasingly secularized world, he defined "new evangelization" as the great need for "regions of ancient Christian tradition" to "rediscover the beauty of faith." That's important. "Beauty" implies an appreciation, not simply a knowledge of doctrinal correctness of faith. What Benedict is asking is that we share what it is to live as a Catholic in the fullest sense.

Miriam Webster online dictionary defines beauty as "the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit: loveliness."

Certainly, an understanding of how Catholic teaching supports this beauty is important... but it is not the first thing we should present. Rather, we need to win people's hearts by sharing the joy of being Catholic. Only then can we help them understand how Catholic teaching supports and strengthens the lifestyle of faith.

In the section of the General Directory for Catechesis that defines catechesis as an "essential moment in evangelization" (61-63) it also states that "The fact that catechesis, at least initially, assumes a missionary objective, does not dispense a particular Church from promoting an institutionalized programme of primary proclamation to execute more directly Jesus's missionary command. Catechetical renewal should be based thus on prior missionary evangelization." (62)

So, how do we go about "primary proclamation" in a way that expresses the beauty of the faith? About a week ago, I heard Fr. Robert Barron do a live 30-minute webcast, during which he defined his goal in producing the Catholicism video series and the accompanying book as to present the beauty of the faith. He also  said that we Catholics need always to "evangelize with joy".  At the time he said it, I was struck by his conviction that joy is key to our mission to share the faith.  

We must be about expressing the beauty of faith with joy - not with somber finger-pointing at the evils of the secular world.  Not by judging people who do not live the way of our faith, but by inviting them to "come and see" that Catholic faith, lived fully, in conformity with Church teaching, is a key to a joy-filled life - even during times of suffering and disappointment.  We need to invite people to a lifestyle which leads to eternal life - rather than simply presenting it as a moralistic lifestyle that seems all too often to be one of abstinence from what people naturally want. 

I'm going to come right out and say it: I am convinced that too often outsiders (including inactive Catholics) see us Catholics as people who say NO, not as people who say YES.  They see us as moralistic finger-waggers - and they probably think all we do is talk about sex, while being unable to clean up our own act.  As a result, the American public is not exposed to the fullness and beauty of what the Church does teach about sex - and everything else, because the NO about the Church is often drowning out the YES.  (That, by the way, is pretty much one of the reasons Father Barron gave for why he chose to spend several years of his life and risk thousands of dollars to create the Catholicism videos... because he wanted to present the fullness of the beauty of the Catholic Church - to counteract the bad press the Church has gotten recently because of the sex-abuse crisis.)

Where do we find the beauty of our faith? We must invite others to consider and desire the good, the true and the beautiful by exposing them to the Catholic Church as a community of living examples of full and joyous faith - and showing them that the true underpinning for this kind of life is a balanced formation based on the Six Tasks of Catechesis: 
  • Promoting knowledge of the faith
  • Liturgical education
  • Moral formation
  • Teaching to pray
  • Education for community life
  • Missionary initiation
Primary proclamation of the Gospel and concentration on all six of these tasks are needed for the fullness of "new evangelization."  If we present the whole faith as what the General Directory  calls the "symphony of faith" (136) without any one component loudly drowning out the others, we show to the world the full beauty of that "symphony."

Lastly, where do we find the joy that makes expression of this beauty fully possible?  It should shine forth hrough our liturgies, certainly, drawing people into a coherent sense that what we pray is what we believe with deep conviction.  This joy should be an evident part of our lives in the public sphere - people should look at Catholics in good times and bad and see an inward serenity in the midst of a troubled world that does not come from mere temporal happiness, and want to know why we have it, and how they can get what we have.   So, if you are Catholic and enjoying it, please tell your face!  Then, go find something you find beautiful about the faith - and share it.