Monday, December 10, 2012

Are You Running Toward Christ Yet?

For the past two Sundays, in the Collect prayers of the new Roman Missal, we have heard that we are to be  in a great hurry to meet Christ at his coming. There is no mistaking the message when it appears two weeks in a row:

Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.
 (First Sunday of Advent)

Almighty and merciful God,
may no earthly undertaking hinder those
who set out in haste to meet your Son
but may our learning of heavenly wisdom
gain us admittance to his company.
 (Second Sunday of Advent)

So, the obvious question this Advent how eager are you?  Are you running forth to meet Jesus?  Are you setting out in haste to meet him?  If not, what is holding you back?

Advent is a call to re-prioritize our lives - to allow ourselves to be transformed by the Eucharist to become people worthy to meet Christ.  The Prayer After Communion for both weeks has suggested what that means:

...for even now as we walk amid passing things,
you teach us by them to love the things of heaven 
and to hold fast to what endures. (First Sunday of Advent)

...that through our partaking in this mystery
you may teach us to judge wisely the things of earth
and hold firm to the things of heaven. (Second Sunday of Advent)

In this invitation to God to transform us, we ask to learn how to let go of earthly things and give greater value to eternal things. Interestingly, we are taught in two ways to appreciate the things of heaven - by the earthly, passing things themselves, and through the Eucharist.  We learn what is most valuable by realizing what is not - and the Eucharist helps us do that.

Next Sunday, (often called Gaudete because of the emphasis on joy) we celebrate "with solemn worship and glad rejoicing" "the joys of so great a salvation" that Christ brought us through his Incarnation. It will be easier to do that if we allow ourselves to value the things of heaven more than the "priorities" of the busy December that the world looks at as the "Holiday Season."  

We know what they world expects of us this time of year - to spend money and time to buy the "perfect" gifts, prepare the "perfect" holiday party or dinner... What does Jesus expect? That we prepare ourselves to celebrate his Incarnation and make ourselves more "perfect" to meet him at his coming - as a baby in Bethlehem, as a King at the end of time. We do this best by preparing room for him in our hearts today. For most of us, that means something else has to move over. Teach us, Lord, to prioritize our lives to do just that.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Finding an Authentic Catholic Voice on Social Media

(Apologies for the long hiatus on this blog - life is busy and complicated, and other projects have drained my energy.)  This post is a bit off-topic, but relevant, because it is about blogging and other forms of social media.

The new report Catholics' Use of New Media from CARA has some revealing news about the perception of Catholics about social networking.  It is not good news. Most Catholics use social media, but few use it to read about or share Catholic faith.  Over on his Patheos blog, Deacon Greg Kandra nicely summarizes three areas of concern expressed by respondents that seem to keep them from embracing this new way of learning and communicating about faith:

"The top three concerns cited by respondents for the Church’s presence online were the lack of a system for the Church to validate sites and content as authentically Catholic (45 percent), the lack of civil tone in conversations happening on the internet (43 percent), and the reluctance by Catholic Church leaders to use the Internet (42 percent)."

I would agree that while new media presents a wonderful opportunity to share Catholic faith, these are major concerns.  My personal observation is that the majority of Catholic engaging actively in using social media are out of touch with the needs, interests and outlooks of the average American Catholic in the average parish. What is out there is uninteresting, or even hostile to someone who is not particularly interested in the Latin Mass, who thinks his or her parish priest celebrates the liturgy just fine, who actually likes (and sings) popular modern American church music, who does not home-school his/her children and who does not regard the dominant American culture as particularly evil. Overwhelmingly, those who have much to criticize about the Church have embraced social media as a way to have a "bully pulpit" for their particular agenda. Sadly, some of the most popular bloggers are also some of the most uncharitable toward Catholics who are not like them.

I know I am stepping out on a limb and taking a risk here, but perhaps more Catholics would be comfortable using social media to explore and share faith if the tone of what is out there were more inviting, charitable and felt like the familiar voice of the Church of their own personal experience. The issue is finding an authentic Catholic voice that re-evangelizes Catholics instead of criticizes them for not being good enough Catholics. 

Yes, there certainly needs to be validation of whether a site providing information about the Church is authentically and reliably Catholic.  Yes, the tone of all communication about the faith needs to be civil in tone. Yes, the leadership of the Church needs to step up to use this new forum for communicating - and not in a top-down manner, but in one that engages and accepts the concerns of the average Catholic adult. We need a kinder, gentler Catholic internet that invites and engages people with charity.

The Church, it seems, has a long way to go. Yet this week, when the Bishops gather, the only related issue on their agenda - after the presentation of the above-mentioned report - is to talk about how fast they can shut down theologians on the internet who challenge Church teaching. That is a top-down response to the first concern from the survey, which ignores the fact that the internet is a forum for free speech, communication and interaction and not subject to that kind of policing.  The concern from the CARA study is about "validation" of sites, not condemnation. We have already seen that the latter approach does not work, since Michael Voris of The Vortex continues to post extremist apologetics videos that are widely shared by more "conservative" Catholics - even after being publicly censured by the Archdiocese of Detroit.

A more appropriate response would be for the official Church to find and affirm the voices of qualified, approved bloggers, video producers and other social networkers who fairly present the Catholic faith from its center. What about permitting, training and supporting people in  diocesan offices to use social media well?  A survey of diocesan personnel a while back (can't lay my hands on it, but I recall that this desire was communicated to the USCCB)  indicated they actually want the bishops to provide this kind of help. The official voice of the Church is largely missing from the world of social media, with the exception of a few blogging bishops and priests and a few forward-thinking dioceses. Most diocesan personnel, frankly, try to stay a bit "under the radar" because there is no official guidance or affirmation for their use of social media - and some degree of risk.

Lastly and this is just my personal opinion, sometimes Catholic content provided through social media may not be particularly attractive to the average Catholic, but is preachy and critical in tone.  It's no wonder the average Catholic is reluctant to engage.  Where is the content that relates the faith of average people to everyday life and engages real life issues in a healthy way? It's out there, but in my experience these are mostly not bloggers who get national recognition, who publish books about social media, who flock to social media conferences or get invited to meet with the bishops.  What the USCCB needs is a blogroll that includes all the voices of the Church, not just the loudest.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Archbishop of Canterbury Tells Synod Ecumenical Unity Enhances Evangelization

Wearing the ring that Pope Paul VI gave to one of his predecessors, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury today addressed the Synod on the New Evangelization in Rome. His message used a lot of "we" language and emphasized that Catholics and Anglicans share a common agenda for evangelization - which will be more effective if done together: "Evangelization, old or new, must be rooted in a profound confidence that we have a distinctive human destiny to show and share with the world," he noted.
Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Rowan Williams during Williams'  visit in March, 2012
Williams lauded Vatican II, saying that it was "a sign that the Church was strong enough to ask itself some demanding questions about whether its culture and structures were adequate to the task of sharing the Gospel with the complex, often rebellious, always restless mind of the modern world."

His basic message was that our human destiny is found in relationship with God, best discovered through contemplation. Evangelization, he said, should be grounded in contemplation, but more than that, contemplation is a gift we bring to a struggling world. "To put it boldly", he noted, "contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.”

Speaking to the need for Christians to present a unified face to the world in order to evangelize effectively, Williams defined spiritual  ecumenism as "the shared search to nourish and sustain disciplines of contemplation in the hope of unveiling the face of the new humanity. And the more we keep apart from each other as Christians of different confessions, the less convincing that face will seem."

Read the full text of his address on his website.

What did he say today that is important? First, that all Christians share a common gift - contemplation - which is one of the most effective tools we have to grow closer to Christ,  and which  we can model for a frantic world which longs for peace.  That is wisdom for sure.

Second, that to reach the world with our message, our public disagreements and differences are a hindrance.   It is rather like a couple trying to convince young people to embrace marriage and family life, while bickering over its own divorce. Christians, to reach the modern world effectively, must stand together on what we have in common - the Trinity, one Baptism, a truly catholic (universal) Church and a common belief that Christ came to show us the love of the Father and died and rose again to bring us everlasting life.

If we preach what we have in common together, in a spirit of contemplation and love, Williams is saying, our message has a better chance of transforming the modern world.

Way Too Much Joy in the Gospel?

Normally I don't bother with liturgical abuse, but this was so completely over-the-top, I have to share.  Hat tip to Brandon Vogt for sharing this on Facebook.

Apparently this is the Gospel Procession at a special Mass in Brazil.  The commentator keeps going on about "allegria" (joy) - but somehow that understates the sheer craziness of this spectacle.  Way, way beyond the bounds of enculturation... even for a country where Carnival is a way of life.
(Warning, stay away from trying to drink any fluids while watching this!)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Christian Unity: The Work of ALL Catholics

I was minding my own business last January when I received a phone call from a gentleman who identified himself as Brother Jeffrey Gros, FSC, scholar-in-residence at Lewis University (next door to our pastoral center), requesting a meeting. He told me he had come to the university to teach, but because of low demand for a new degree program, he had time available and wanted to offer his services to the diocese. Interested, but not realizing what I was getting into, I agreed to meet.

That's how my journey into the subject of what Catholics don't know, but should know about ecumenism began. Brother Jeff has a message for all Catholics and he has worked tirelessly for years to get the word out:  All Christians are ONE.  Despite our differences, essentially, we are still, and always have been, one church through baptism in Jesus Christ.  The work we have to do is about finding our essential unity amid the diversity - and sorting out what we do and do not share.  The work that parish and diocesan religious educators need to do is to raise awareness, to educate Catholics for unity, as well as for what makes us specifically Catholic.  We need both. In reality we are mostly only doing one of these, and for many Catholics, that has resulted in some degree of triumphalism about the Catholic Church and an obscuring of the true nature of our relationship to other Christians.

Pope John Paul II's Ut unum sint ("That All May Be One", 1995)  puts it simply and unequivocally:

The unity of all divided humanity is the will of God. For this reason he sent his Son, so that by dying and rising for us he might bestow on us the Spirit of love. On the eve of his sacrifice on the Cross, Jesus himself prayed to the Father for his disciples and for all those who believe in him, that they might be one, a living communion. This is the basis not only of the duty, but also of the responsibility before God and his plan, which falls to those who through Baptism become members of the Body of Christ, a Body in which the fullness of reconciliation and communion must be made present. How is it possible to remain divided, if we have been "buried" through Baptism in the Lord's death, in the very act by which God, through the death of his Son, has broken down the walls of division? Division "openly contradicts the will of Christ, provides a stumbling block to the world, and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the Good News to every creature". The way of ecumenism: the way of the Church   (UUS, 6)
He goes even further:  "To believe in Christ means to desire unity; to desire unity means to desire the Church; to desire the Church means to desire the communion of grace which corresponds to the Father's plan from all eternity." (UUS, 9)  He further explains that even though we have real differences with other Christians, there already exists a basis for our unity:  "Indeed, the elements of sanctification and truth present in the other Christian Communities, in a degree which varies from one to the other, constitute the objective basis of the communion, albeit imperfect, which exists between them and the Catholic Church." (UUS, 11)

The pope then quotes the Decree on Ecumenism (3):  "All those justified by faith through Baptism are incorporated into Christ. They therefore have a right to be honoured by the title of Christian, and are properly regarded as brothers and sisters in the Lord by the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church".  

Notice the verb "ARE properly regarded".  Other Christians are already part of the family of the Church.  And yet, most Catholics chortle with glee when someone "swims the Tiber" or "comes home" to the Catholic Church.  A careful reading of Ut unum sint and other documents on ecumenism reveals how wrong this point of view is.  According to John Paul II, we need to recover our recognition of the essential unity and, through continual study and dialog, discern how we can become closer.  The Church, thankfully, has been working hard to do that.  A quick perusal of the ecumenical page on the USCCB website shows just how hard. We have agreements and standing dialogues with a number of  other Christian denominations. In fact, we have drawn closer, especially to our Lutheran and Anglican brother and sisters.

The biggest issue is that most ordinary Catholics know little or nothing about these ongoing activities. That is the heart of Brother Jeff's mission.  He has authored books for directors of religious education and school principals, and he continues to give workshops and presentations - some in our diocese.

He and I recently collaborated on a re-working of the 5-week University of Dayton online course for the Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation,  re-titling it "Ecumenism in Parish Life".  Its first offering will begin on October 14.  If you think you want to know more about why ecumenical awareness is necessary in Catholic parish ministry, sign up today.  Here is the course description.  Join us for a mind-expanding journey into the significance of unity and the practical implications for religious education of children, youth and adults, RCIA and celebration of the sacraments.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Preparing for the Year of Faith - Music

(Apologies for the long hiatus on this blog - busiest few months ever - and the hottest summer in years...and... and... OK, I will spare you the "Litany of Excuses.")

Have to share the song our parish is preparing for the Year of Faith, because it is simply so perfect. We are practicing Ricky Manalo's "We Are Sent Into the World" (published by OCP)  Here is the refrain:
...and a recording of parish rendition in which you can pretty much understand all of the words. Once you hear it you will know why it is a near-perfect expression of the hope, postivity and sense of mission that underlies the Year of Faith:

As parishes around the country gear up for the Year of Faith, may we all resolve to become better followers, disciples and ambassadors of Christ, knowing we are chosen by God for this mission to share the story of our faith.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Eucharist - For the Win!

On Friday the 13th Spirit Juice Studios, St. Charles, IL, a small, independent production company specializing in high-quality short films aimed at Catholic youth (including the popular Fr. Pontifex videos) released a new video on YouTube, Zombies vs Jesus.

A young man awakens one morning to discover his entire family - indeed almost his entire community - has been changed into flesh-eating zombies overnight. What ensues is basically the "Zombie Apocalypse" - until.... OK, no spoilers. Let it suffice to say that Jesus - in the Eucharist - triumphs in the end.

Great way to attract and entertain young people while providing an important message - that we are better, more human, when we receive the Eucharist regularly than without it.

If you like this film, check out Spirit Juice's other videos here.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"The Evangelizing Liturgy" - a Review

I just received a copy of The Evangelizing Liturgy - a video presentation on DVD by Fr. Frank DeSiano of Paulist Evangelization ministries. It's not bad. It has a rather different focus from most resources about the Mass, in that it tries to get at the underlying purpose and dynamic of the Mass and the relationship to evangelization.

Evangelization, Father Frank says, is "a response to the Good News." The liturgy is evangelizing, because we can see the liturgy "as a very profound experience of responding to the Good News of Jesus."  He notes the importance of Paschal Mystery and how it manifests itself  both in life and in the Sacraments, which are a participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. The fullest expression of this, he says, is in the Eucharist. 

However, in the last 40 years, Fr. Frank notes, we have seen a pulling away from eucharistic expression, toward a sensation-based worship service, rather than "the liturgy".  Are we an audience or are we a congregation? he asks.

In his sincere, reassuring style,  moving around a chapel with props, Fr. Frank goes on to explain in detail how the Mass is an interactive experience that celebrates conversion, calls us to re-commitment and sends us forth to be disciples.  He then names  and explains 5 ways we respond to the Word of God at Mass:

  1. The Creed ("I believe" is a response)
  2. The Offertory  (We give ourselves in love and response)
  3. The Eucharistic Prayer (We respond in acclamations and give ourselves with Jesus)
  4. Holy Communion (We give ourselves to Christ and identify with him)
  5. The Dismissal (We accept the mission,  sent forth, commissioned and affirmed as disciples, to live like Christ in the world.)
He calls for us to pay attention to intensity, focus and concentration in the way we celebrate, rather than merely doing it "like we've done it a million times before."  He raises evaluative questions about how well we welcome and celebrate, calling attention to the worship and not to ourselves. Mass, he insists, should be focused on "making Christ clearer" - especially to those who are seekers, who might be considering returning, who have yet to experience conversion. If we see Mass as the proclamation of the Word of God and our response, he concludes, we challenge and nourish our people to experience renewal and conversion.

This 40-minute talk would be a great discussion-starter for parish liturgy or evangelization committees, or perhaps the RCIA, apart from their study of the basic structure of the Mass. That is not what this is about. Fr. Frank is concerned with the way we express the purpose and the underlying dynamics of the Mass. If everyone in liturgical ministry in a parish were to hear this message, it could make a difference in how well Mass is celebrated - and ultimately in the quality of parish life.  

While he does not name many specific techniques, Fr. Frank does ask all the right questions.  What he is doing here is issuing an appropriate "wake-up call" to parish ministers to get back to focusing on what is really important. Worth hearing.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Opening the "Door of Faith": US Bishops Announce Plans for Year of Faith

Although in my area any professional parish catechetical leaders worth their salt have already planned and announced their line-up of adult faith formation activities for the upcoming catechetical year, and DRE's have already published calendars for child/family activities, the USCCB yesterday finally unveiled its campaign.  Our diocese, like most, has a committee, but as yet no guidelines or suggestions for parishes (probably because they were waiting for the USCCB), so up until now, savvy leaders have had to rely on the original Vatican guidelines.

Yesterday's resources announced by the USCCB are

  • An online searchable edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (find it HERE)
  • An announcement of plans and a theme, based on the "door of faith" (find it HERE)
  • A new resource page on the USCCB site (find it HERE)

Here is what they had to say about "the door of faith" (which comes from the title of Pope Benedict's October 2011 motu proprio entitled Porta fidei  in which he declared the Year of Faith :
“The central image of the Year of Faith is the ‘door of faith’ based on Acts of the Apostles,” said Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, in his presentation to the bishops. “The ‘door of faith’ is opened at one’s baptism, but during this year we are called to open it again, walk though it and rediscover and renew our relationship with Christ and his Church.”
OK, we have their wisdom. Now, parish leaders need to re-focus their plans for next year or find ways to tie already-scheduled events in to this theme.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Full Participation in the Body of Christ at Worship Matters

At one of our parish Masses every week for a few years, there was a mother and teenage daughter who always arrived as the opening song was ending, then stood, sat and knelt without ever moving their lips during the entire Mass.  As a regular cantor at that Mass, I had the opportunity to watch them, noticing because they so obviously looked bored and disengaged.

Right after the final blessing, they would slip out the side aisle before the procession of the ministers had even started down the aisle. Every week, the same thing. I often wondered why the mother continued to give such a poor message to her daughter about what it meant to part of the celebration of the Mass. I suspected it was most likely that is the model she had been given by her parents, or perhaps that there was resentment over the absence of the child's father.  The only positive thing I could say about the years I observed this was that the mother did bring her child to Mass - in body, if not in spirit.

Finally, one summer, they simply stopped coming. Most likely no one other than me noticed, because they had never talked to people around them before or after Mass, or connected in any way. (Unfortunately, our parish does not have a formal hospitality ministry.) Most likely, the girl got confirmed, or perhaps graduated from high school - Mom's responsibility to get her to Mass was over. So was Mom's attendance at Mass. Apparently, this was all about obligation.

Today, on the feast of Corpus Christi we  celebrate what it means to be a committed member of the "One Body" that is the community of faith - the Church. We also hear clues about what it means to participate fully.  The readings of the day provide some clues as to what this looks like.

We hear the unified voice of the people in the first reading:
When Moses came to the people
and related all the words and ordinances of the LORD,
they all answered with one voice,
"We will do everything that the LORD has told us."  (Exodus 24:3)
In the Gospel reading (Mark 14:12-16, 22-26) we hear more corporate actions from the disciples gathered for the Last Supper:

he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, gave it to them

Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them,
and they all drank from it.

Then, after singing a hymn,
they went out to the Mount of Olives.
All of this implies full participation, full engagement by all who are present. There are no watchers hanging around the margins, no mention of anyone not being part of this. (No "except so-and-so). No one with folded arms standing silently watching. Yet at Mass, sometimes that is what priests and cantors see during the people's responses and the songs.  When we meet this same community on the 2nd Sunday of Easter in our first reading from the Book of Acts, we hear "The community of believers was of one heart and mind..."  (Acts 4:32)

The biggest question in catechetical and liturgical ministry today is the growing lack of participation in the life of the Church.  Why do so many not feel like they are part of the community? The proof is all around us: families who never attend Mass, but drop off their children for a couple of years for sacrament preparation, then disappear. People who can't wait for Mass to be over, but leave after Communion - not realizing that an important part of the experience of Mass is to rejoice (in song) as they are SENT, not simply to leave.

We need to continue to explore all options to improve our outreach and evangelization from both the catechetical and liturgical sides of the Church. These ministries share the same fundamental issues. It's way past time for them to come together.  In 1997, the General Directory for Catechesis noted missing areas ("lacunae") in catechesis -particularly this in section 30:
— Catechesis is intrinsically bound to every liturgical and sacramental action.' Frequently, however, the practice of catechetics testifies to a weak and fragmentary link with the liturgy: limited attention to liturgical symbols and rites, scant use of the liturgical fonts, catechetical courses with little or no connection with the liturgical year; the marginalization of liturgical celebrations in catechetical programs.
This, along with good liturgical celebrations and parish hospitality that welcomes every person needs our attention NOW.  Statistics on attendance at Mass by Catholics continue to show a downward trend.  Despite shrinking resources and de-professionalization of lay ministry, (as I previously noted HERE) we cannot afford to allow the situation to get any worse. The growing dis-engagement of our people is a call for increased, not decreased resources to be devoted to catechesis and liturgy.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

New Liturgical Catechesis Video on Baptismal Mystagoy

Sometimes the right technology just makes it all too easy.  I just completed a video for catechists, giving instructions for a mystagogical reflection on baptism for Confirmation candidates or RCIA Candidates for Full Communion. I used a simple iPad app called ScreenChomp, from TechSmith Corporation. 

Even though I had never used ScreenChomp it was simple: I chose a background, recorded my voice instructions (and if I wanted to, I could have drawn diagrams on the video as well). I then opened the video in the Safari browser, emailed it to myself, downloaded it from to my laptop, then uploaded it to YouTube. (There may be a way with fewer steps, but I am still a little new at my  iPad.)  I also linked it to the Strategies page on my website, The Liturgical Catechist.  Here is the fruit of about 45 minutes of work - and only two attempts:

(Pats self on back!)

Fred Rogers Redevivus: Positivity and Goodness Go Viral

In the past few days, this beautiful Fred Rogers digital remix video of a segment from his popular children's show called "Garden of Your Mind"  has gone viral - approaching 2 million views in the first 5 days after it was posted.  It has been discussed on national television, shared countless times in the social networks, with some people even reporting it moved them to tears.  Just what is it about this video?
Certainly Mister Rogers had a beautiful way of expressing things - and that counts for a lot of the reaction - but I really think it is the message - and its underlying assumptions - that are so gripping.

This, essentially, is a video about the goodness of being human. It implies a world where people are surrounded by goodness and possibility. For the slightly over three minutes of this video, one can forget that sometimes human endeavor is not enough to overcome circumstances,  almost forget that to be human is to be fallible and flawed - and mortal. The fact that Fred Rogers, an icon of children's television, is reaching out from beyond the grave through the efforts of PBS Digital Studios should not be lost here. It makes this all the more poignant. The freshness of this message, accompanied by Rogers' ever-engaging smile and digitally enhanced voice is reaching adults and taking them back to childhood, when possibility seemed endless.

Where did Fred Rogers get that worldview? Look no further than his biography - he was both a musician and a Christian theologian (and ordained Presbyterian minister) who believed the power of television could be harnessed to reach people with a positive message. That message is very much of a piece with a key outlook of/Christian identity - God is good, the world is good, and human beings are essentially good.  Even though God is never explicitly mentioned, this video, in essence, portrays a sacramental worldview - that everything we do is done through, with and  in  the presence and goodness of God. It is playing out the moment in Genesis, when God created everything, including human beings and declared it was "good."  It is steeped in the theology of St. Paul, who said in Phillipians 4:13"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." 

In a world so darkened by bad news, political conflict, war and general hopelessness, Fred Rogers' timeless message calls us to become like little children again - to imagine hope, possibility and positivity. That, in the end, is what makes this video both timely and memorable.  Thanks, Mister Rogers - I know you are smiling in Heaven.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Austerity or Abundance? When Church Budgets Drive Ministry Decisions

Today, I feel moved to engage in a little hand-wringing... and to pose lots of questions. With the stressed economy and falling contributions, some parish pastors have been cutting back on ministry salaries and hiring recently. I personally know of both catechetical and liturgical positions that have been converted to part-time, people who have been told the parish "can no longer afford to pay" them. It is heartbreaking to watch.

It began a couple years ago, when local pastors started letting full-time degreed lay ministers leave or retire, replacing them with part-timers with minimal formation for ministry. In my own diocese, this unfortunately coincided with the demise of our lay ministry formation program. This spring, I have watched with increasing dismay as excellent veteran ministers are pushed out at the behest of finance councils, or leave the ministry to retire while the pastor intends to get semi-volunteers to replace them.

Are we becoming an austerity Church rather than one of abundance?  We seem to be abandoning a theology of Christian hope and retrenching as if we are businesses instead of mission-driven agencies of the Kingdom of God on earth.  Have we forgotten the blessing to the Church that lay ministry provides?  Have we forgotten that the Holy Spirit is in charge?

At the same time parishes cut back, the cultural challenges to church participation and attendance are greater than ever and call for additional skills and strategies from our catechetical and liturgical leaders. Replacing them with well-intentioned but unformed people who are simply able to organize and operate a  program can only have negative effects.

We have not lost the need for catechetical leaders who can see the big picture - people with the ability to evangelize families and draw people into deeper participation in the life of the church, not just people who can "make the trains run on time."  We need people able to evaluate catechetical materials intelligently, who can deal with the very real issues of non-practicing parents of children in formation, and who have the ability to choose, lead and form catechists to provide more than what is in the textbooks.  We need leaders who can discern and support volunteers, with a vision for the future, who are available to attend local and diocesan formation to develop new strategies and skills, not part-time people who have another day job and/or the responsibility for a young family.

Parishes also need to provide more, not less adult faith formation. The promise of "Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us" that adult formation should become the priority in parishes has not been realized in most places - and without someone giving that area attention, parishes provide either nothing or very little to engage and catechize adults. Small wonder that stewardship of time, talent and treasure for many people is tepid or irrelevant to their Mass attendance (if they attend at all.)

This church needs liturgical ministers who understand the beauty of the liturgy and have the ability to lead volunteers to enculturate the celebration appropriately to make it lively and appropriate for the community, not just people to play keyboards. The most frequent complaint parishioners have is about the quality of liturgy.  When pastors cut back on liturgical staff, they make good liturgical leadership even less possible - and more of the burden goes onto the pastors themselves.

Back in 2005, Paulist Father Robert Rivers proposed that we need to go From Maintenance to Mission - to move forward as a church to accept the challenges of evangelizing in today's culture. Today, it is even bleaker than that, as we seem to backslide into retrenching, rather than maintaining.

So where are we going? Where is the vision? Where is our trust that "God will provide?" Why do we have such a failure of Christian hope? More than that, how does the trend toward retrenching affect our ability to carry out the Church's mandate to provide the "New Evangelization"?  Since pastors seem to be more and more adopting a business model of operation, why are they having so much trouble seeing that the more they invest in good people the more they will get back?

The ROI (return on investment) in good lay ministers who are able to work with a pastor and independently to provide and inspire great parish leadership will naturally be larger in terms of participation, engagement and stewardship of its people.  The experiments by the Gallup organization with "church engagement" strategies have shown how true that is.

The larger question here is why are pastors listening more to the voices of their business managers than to the voice of the Holy Spirit?   There is a term that seems to apply here: "Functional Atheism" - meaning we say there is a God, but we act as if God has no power to affect our situation.  We are going into a Year of Faith. Perhaps it should instead have been a "Year of Hope" instead.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Trinity Sunday: the Great Commission - "Go" (And ROI)

Today's Gospel for the Most Holy Trinity includes the famous words with which Jesus leaves his disciples:
All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.  (Matthew 28:18-20)
Besides the importance of Jesus himself naming the three persons of the Trinity, this passage, because of the command "go, therefore..." has become known as "The Great Commission."  Jesus is mandating this simple job description for his followers - to make disciples, baptize, and teach them - for all time, until the end. Pretty simple - and ostensibly this has been the mission of the Church since its beginning.

Notice the order here: first, we are called to "make disciples", then baptize, then teach. In the early Church, of course, converts called to the faith were primarily adults, so first they felt the urge to discipleship - they heard the Gospel proclaimed by believers and were attracted to the faith. Then they spent time in apprenticeship to the  local bishop to learn how to be disciples, also learning how to live as believers. Then they were baptized.  The order is often a bit different today.

Making Disciples. Disciples are called by hearing the Gospel. Certainly hearing the proclamation of the Gospel happens whenever it is read in church, and if the preacher is doing his job in the homily - of inspired instruction on what that proclamation means. But back up a minute. Because first we need to get people to church to hear that preaching, the calling of disciples is not primarily the job of preachers, but of the laity - the "faithful witnesses  who evangelize others  by testifying to their faith in Jesus Christ through their words and their lives, in the world. (In a previous post, I noted that this is a key theme of the Year of Faith.)

Calling and making disciples is the job of ALL Christians. The entire community of faith is called to proclaim the Gospel in its very life - and to call forth the gifts of its members so that they can become truly engaged deeply in the life of the community - so that the parish itself calls and makes disciples. Some churches do this very well. Others fail, for whatever reason. The Catholic Strengths and Engagement Community is a great resource on church engagement - providing resources and strategies for how to get people to be active, involved and contributing members of the parish. (Sign up for their June 15th webinar with Albert Winseman of the Gallup organization and Fr. Bill Hanson, pastor of the first church to use the Gallup ME 25 instrument to become an "engaged church."). 

An engaged church, by its very presence in the community, evangelizes, encouraging not only its members, but others, to become disciples.

Baptizing.  Of course today, since most Christians are baptized as infants at the desire of their parents, they have to spend a lifetime learning what it meant. That is why calling and evangelizing children and adults who are already members of the Church through inspired proclamation of the Gospel is so important.  If people really hear and see what is proclaimed, they remain in the Church.  But for that to happen well, we need to be part of a community of mystagogy - engaged in constant reflection on the essential and personal meaning of baptism. This begins, not with the entrance of a child into formal catechesis, but with engaging the parents of baptized infants and children in the life of the parish. Then, we need to provide lifelong learning and opportunities for participation in the life of the Church for all its members. (See the Engaged Church resources above.) In this reversed reality, baptizing does not stop after the water dries - each of us remains an apprentice in faith, learning daily how to be a better disciple and to "observe all" that Jesus has commanded. Parishes need to provide frequent opportunities for ongoing mystagogy on baptism for all ages, because it should be part of the lifelong learning of every Christian.

Teaching.  We know about that, and we attend to it - at least for children and youth. For the adults, not so much. In the 11 years since the USCCB document on adult faith formation, "Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us"  was published, only minimal progress has been made in most parishes toward making adult formation the centerpiece instead of the periphery of parish life. We can and must do better - even in this stressed economy, when so many parishes are finding ways to make do with volunteer leaders instead of paid staff for adult faith formation.

But what about that first word of the mandate: "Go"?

Recently, I heard Neil Parent, former executive director of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership and former representative for adult education for the USCCB, say:
"Jesus said 'go and teach.' We say 'come and learn.' We need to go where people are." 
That is increasingly the challenge for the Church today - especially since so many of our people do not physically show up at the parish on a regular basis. It is why so many, including the Pope, are advocating for an increased use of social networking to spread the gospel, which is literally going out where people today are. Although many parish leaders have heard this, they still falter when it comes to doing this well. As many other good people have put tremendous effort into raising awareness and assisting Catholics to use technology to spread the Gospel, I will not do that here. However, here are just a few of my favorite resources from people at the forefront of Catholic exploration of technology:

So, how are you and your parish living up the "The Great Commission" these days? Do you give adequate resources (time, energy, money and personnel) to "going","making", "baptizing", and "teaching?" Or, do you need to step back and rethink your parish plan for outreach, evangelization, engagement and catechesis?  Remember, the more you put in, the bigger the ROI (Return on Investment.)  After all, we don't do it alone.  Jesus promised to be with us in this endeavor until the end of the age.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Marriage Catechesis: Winning Hearts & Minds of Catholics

Yesterday, I attended a diocesan day-long gathering on Marriage catechesis, featuring Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, of Louisville, vice-president of the USCCB and vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, and Dr. Helen Alvaré, a noted lawyer and theologian who has long been active in support of family and life issues for the Catholic Church. This kick-off event for a diocesan-wide initiative to bring Catholic teaching on marriage was packed with pastors and parish leaders. It was illuminating - and daunting - and inspiring.

Archbishop Kurtz, who has been characterized as a "smiling conservative," was gracious and pastoral, but firm in his contention that the Church's teachings about marriage need to be heard. The problem with marriage in our culture, he stated, is that "while people admire Jesus for sacrificing, they do not want to make sacrifices themselves." Although our own Bishop Daniel  Conlon admitted we may not win the public battle in our courts and legislature, Kurtz insisted that we need to have the "conviction that our leadership can make a difference" and that "cultural movements can change." The difference, he said, is us

Kurtz challenged us, pointing out that it is clear that "God's revealing and our nature go together 'like a horse and carriage' - man and woman fit together as two in one flesh. This is the first time in history we have tampered with that definition of marriage." What is needed in response, he insisted, is "three C's: courage, compassion and commitment" along with a need for communicating that to live within Church teaching requires both "inner discipline and community support." He urged all to read the USCCB document "Love and Life in the Divine Plan."

The archbishop had several practical ways to promote and strengthen marriage in parish life:
1. Find ways to proclaim good examples of married life (find and lift up the stories and examples in the community)
2. Pastors should be involved in marriage preparation so they develop relationships with couples.
3. Be involved and provide marriage enrichment. Couples are not "done" after the wedding.
4. Support those who are on the brink of separation or divorce - reach out and help them.

In the Q & A session after his talk, Kurtz noted that we need to be a part of local decisions on what it taught in public schools about marriage, and that we need to be more "out there" with the truth about marriage - because our own people often form their opinions without the Church.  He encouraged the use of the new "Blessing for a Child in the Womb". And to our youth, we need to communicate that "the friendship between married people is not just about mutual satisfaction, but about chaste and holy living and sacrificial love."

After his talk, we viewed a video which has been provided to all parishes: Made for Life (you can view it online HERE.

After lunch, Dr. Alvaré provided a tour of the developments in court decisions and legislation regarding marriage in the United States.  Some key points from her presentation:
  • The 1970's saw the rise of decisions and factors that changed our traditional American view of marriage: no-fault divorce, right of unmarried people to birth control, legal abortions, rise of cohabitation, new reproductive technologies, an increase in non-marital births (she noted that today among Hispanic women, 54% of all births are outside of marriage.)
  • In the history of American legislation and court decisions, originally marriage between a man and a woman was seen as supportive to a good society.  The "goods" of marriage meant more than the rights of the individual.
  • Up until 1980, courts saw traditional marriage as the vehicle for preparing children for the obligations of society. Indeed, all current federal programs are based on a preference for children to be born within marriage.
  • Abortion says fathers have "zero rights to the child." (Arguments in favor were based on assumption of male violence.)
  • Reproductive technology breaks family ties and give preference to single parenting.
  • Cohabiting and single parenthood as promoted in the culture today are all about the rights of women. (Even though there is 11 times more violence in co-habiting and single parent homes than in traditional families.)
  • Procreation is now seen as a matter of choice for the individual, even within marriage.
  • The rights of the adults are seen as more important than the rights of children
  • Current arguments for same-sex or non-traditional models are based on "sexual expressionism"- sex is a matter of self-expression, not related to children or maintaining a stable home.
  • Same-sex marriage advocates call state interest in linking marriage to children "irrational"
  • The research is behind us. It shows that the family structure with the best outcome for children is two biological parents who remain married. The economic divide between those who are doing well and those who are poor, is not actually race, but marital status.  Strong marriages = strong economy. (Book recommendation: Charles Murray, Coming Apart.
  • Difficulties with the current cultural view in the US:  Totalizing the state: it now gets to define marriage. Dualism: taking the baby out of sex takes the body out of the person and objectifies women. Rule by men, not by law: the courts get to make the decisions. Threats to religious freedom when religion conflicts with sexual expressionism: denial of the role of natural law.
  • Religion, she said, has "value added" - it is expert in humanity, based on truths of natural law and covenant values. Our track record is stability in marriage - the Catholic way of marriage is recognized as good for society. Transcending politics with principles is a novel idea today.
As someone who supports the Church's teaching on marriage and is disturbed by many of the cultural trends, I have to say that this day was encouraging. Like Bishop Conlon, I have a gut feeling we will continue to lose the legislative and court battles, for the reasons Dr. Alvaré gave - that the culture regards sexual self-expression as the highest good and the only factor involved in the concept of marriage, and that we have turned over the decision-making to the state. This is certainly not ideal, but we still have a chance to reach our own people with the message that marriage is not only a human institution, but a divine one, created by God himself, within the natural order of things - and that the union of one man and one woman for a lifetime, providing a strong foundation for the children who will form our future is still the highest good. If we can do that, we can send them out to plant seeds of truth in American culture.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Who Creates & Gifts You? A Pentecost Reflection

The graphic below, presenting a quotation from George Bernard Shaw, is currently making the rounds on the internet - among those who are either atheists or "spiritual but not religious".  A quick search shows that it is quoted frequently in blog posts by atheists and in self-actualization posts.  It certainly portrays the heart of the post-modern sensibility:

From what I could find, no one can pinpoint the exact source of this quotation in terms of when Shaw said it - but since it involves a sense of  human potential and progress a look at the history of his spiritual life would most likely put it after he rejected atheism at age 30, when he became a "mystic" who believed we evolve as humans because of a mysterious "life force."

Why is this quotation so compelling? Because it pretty much sums up secular humanism, the prevailing outlook of our culture, based on the absence of God in our lives and the full responsibility of humans for ourselves.  It is attractive, because it puts the power of who we become in our hands.  It is also frightening, because if we fail, then it is simply our own fault, despite the circumstances of our life which might make "creating yourself" difficult.

However, for Christians, this outlook denies the action of the Holy Spirit, who bestows on each of us specific gifts and talents. If we take credit ourselves for all that we become, we miss that this really involves blessing - the God who knew us before we were in our mother's womb (Jer 1:5) and created us each as a uniquely gifted person.  Paul recognized this when he acknowledge in Galatians 1:15 "But when God, who from my mother's womb had set me apart and called me through his grace..."

Certainly, it is up to each of us to reach the potential for which God created us - but WE certainly do not create ourselves. We cooperate with God's grace to become all we can be, using our gifts to build up the Kingdom of God in the world we live in, sometimes referred to as "co-creation"- but this is not our human work alone, nor is it equal partnership with God - rather it is submission of all that we are to the purpose of God.  It is not about who we become as independently empowered individuals, but about who we already are, through our unique giftedness in the Spirit, ratified in baptism and faith in Jesus Christ. We accept the action of sanctifying grace in our lives and allow IT to "create" us. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1999-2000).  The CCC further explains how this works:
Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church. There are sacramental graces, gifts proper to the different sacraments. There are furthermore special graces, also called charisms after the Greek term used by St. Paul and meaning "favor," "gratuitous gift," "benefit. Whatever their character - sometimes it is extraordinary, such as the gift of miracles or of tongues - charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church. (CCC 2005)
Certainly our purpose in the world is to become more and more holy - more like Christ, through exercise of the virtues. We can work on developing the "human virtues" of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, but these are the result of the "theological virtues" of faith, hope and charity, which are actually not our human work, but the work of God, in whom they originate. "They have the One and Triune God for their origin, motive and object." (CCC 1812) You cannot by your own effort, make yourself have faith, hope or charity. Your job is to be open to them as gifts offered by God for you and for others.

This Pentecost, give thanks to God for the unique gifts with which the Spirit has filled you, pray for discernment on how to use those gifts to become more who God intends you to be. You cannot "create" yourself. You can only live in cooperation with your giftedness, call and destiny. God already knows who you can become. Let go of your egocentric clinging to self-empowerment and allow God to "create" who you will become.  In seeking his will, you will discover who you really are.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Year of Faith: Deepening Encounter, Understanding, Celebration and Witness

As most of you know, Pope Benedict has called for the universal church to celebrate a "Year of Faith" to begin October 11, 2012 (50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II) and end November 24, 2013 (Solemnity of Christ the King).  My friend Joe Paprocki recently wrote this great explanation and summary in his blog

The bottom line is that the goals of the Year of Faith are basically two: evangelization and catechesis.

The Pope is calling upon all levels of the Church to foster an encounter with Christ through faithful witnesses and to promote a deeper understanding of the faith. So how should diocesan and parish leaders prepare for this celebration? Read the pastoral recommendations from the Vatican, to start.

However, busy parish and diocesan ministers might benefit from the "Cliff's Notes version."   Here is a quick summary of the major themes on all levels of the Church:

  • encounter with faithful witnesses (Saints as witnesses)
  • understanding and renewing use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church 
  • understanding and celebrating Vatican II
  • renewal of the Sacrament of Penance
  • intensification of celebration of the Eucharist 
  • general renewal of and commitment to Catholic faith
  • ecumenical dialog
  • renewal of personal efforts to communicate faith (evangelization)

FAITHFUL WITNESSES: I have mentioned the concept of "faithful witnesses" before in this space (most recently in my post on how to choose new catechists).  I cannot emphasize this enough. My own journey to faith in Jesus Christ and full engagement in the Catholic Church has been nurtured in the RCIA process and ever since by a number of faithful witnesses - and the memory of those people, living and deceased, is always with me every time I reflect on my faith journey. Their effect on me then and now has been to ground me in the beauty of a living relationship with Christ. Parishes might do well, in preparing for the YOF, to start discerning who the faithful witnesses are in their community - and scheduling opportunities for them to speak to the parish about how faith has impacted their lives.  Catechesis about the Saints is also a great way to help people connect with examples of those whose very lives are remembered because they were all about witness to their faith in Christ.

CATCHISM: Making the CCC,  the Adult Catechism, YouCat or the Compendium more available to parishioners by selling them at parish events or in the back of church to kick off the YOF might be a strategy. Other ways to do this would be to have speakers or sessions on the CCC, or engaging in group studies, such as Why Catholic?.  Parish websites, blogs and social media pages should reflect on and post quotations and links to where to purchase these resources. Remind catechists that it is there for them to use in faith formation sessions... and show them how to use it. The point is to bring the CCC out of the shadows and remind - and teach - people to use it.

VATICAN II: Focusing on the history and some of the outcomes of the Council through presentations, study groups, preaching, websites, blogs and social media, and general discussion is also a good strategy.  Twenty-Third Publications has a great group of inexpensive resources to do this in parishes.

PENANCE:  The revised Rite of Penance suggests a renewal of catechesis on the sacrament - always the elephant in the room for Catholics.  Parishes would do well to plan to provide catechesis through presentations, preaching, and ample resources on blogs, websites and social media... and ample opportunities for celebration. Busted Halo has a great video that would be good to embed on a parish website and/or direct people to from a social media page, for example.

INTENSIFICATION OF CELEBRATION OF EUCHARIST: OK, it's the dead horse we all love to beat:  parish liturgy is the best thing we can offer people - and if it stinks, many people go away. Any energy a parish puts into improving celebration of the Mass is never wasted. Better training for ministers, better preaching, better music, more intentional liturgical planning... you all know the drill. We can never slack off on this.  Liturgical catechesis through homilies. presentations and the bulletin on the Mass - many of us did this for the new Missal implementation. We really should never stop - this is a full-time initiative.

RENEWAL OF FAITH:  Plan those parish missions now!  Get the best, most inspirational speakers - and make this not just an opportunity for people to show up and listen.. but to engage actively in further discussion, small faith-sharing groups, and more.  Be more intentional about adult faith formation - and more active in promoting it.

ECUMENICAL DIALOG: While this is the ongoing responsibility of the Vatican on a universal level, raising awareness of the ongoing dialogs and initiatives - and helping people claim a spirit of ecumenism is an agenda item for all in the Church.  The very least thing parishes should do is to pray for unity among Christians on a regular basis. Catechists and leaders need to be formed about the ecumenical teachings of the Church. (More on that in subsequent posts in this space.)

COMMUNICATING FAITH:  Encourage this by example through parish blogs and social media and public events and service in the community that invite others to experience the love of Christ.  Teach those who take communion to the sick to spend time talking about Christ.  Teach your parish food pantry minsters to give people a blessing and express to them that Jesus loves them, even though (especially because) they are poor. Talk about faith and the workplace in homilies, bulletin articles and presentations...  the possibilities are endless.

Every diocese and local parish can all come up with ways to make the Year of Faith a good and effective experience of renewal of the Church.  Don't waste the opportunity. Start planning now.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Liturgical Spirituality On the Beach

Yesterday, I had the enviable opportunity to spend 2 hours on the beach at Laguna Beach, on my way to a conference in San Diego. It was a glorious moment - the blue of the sky and the crash of the surf, combined with the cries of gulls - a chance to dip my toes in the Pacific for the first time and to wander the kelp-strewn beach looking at the rocks, the surf, and a few tiny mollusks and hermit crabs in stolen shells in the tidal pools. There were seagulls and a few people to watch as well - families with children, couples, older folks, a couple of enterprising surfers... but it was rather uncrowded, so there was plenty of room for introspection.

As I wandered, I found myself humming - snatches of psalms, bits of praise songs, they rose up from the musical archives in my brain unbidden... It was a time to appreciate the glorious beauty of God's Creation - in all its beauty and power. Call me a church geek, but as a cantor and psalmist, the psalms are my native  prayerbook... and the naturalness of this is a side-effect of 25 years of being steeped in the Catholic liturgy, and being part of a Franciscan parish for the past 10 years.  There is no finer soundtrack to the beauty of nature. Praise the Lord. His works are marvelous!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Mother Dolores Hart's Love Story Teaches the Power of Vocation

When I heard that a short film about a cloistered nun had been nominated for an Academy Award earlier this year, I was fascinated, as were many people, that such a thing could be true.  Now that I have finally had the opportunity to see it, I can tell you it was well-deserved.

God is the Bigger Elvis is a poignant look at what it means to be totally swept up in relationship with God. Not only is it a great human-interest story, it is a powerful explication of the concept of vocation - and can certainly serve as a way to catechize about what it means to hear  - and have the courage to obey, in spite of the temptation of other attractive options - God's voice in the circumstances of life.

Watch it. You will be moved. Share it and use it. The film is a gift to all.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Choosing Catechists for Next Year: More Than Just Filling Empty Slots on the Roster

As the catechetical year winds down, catechetical leaders may find they have a few openings for catechists for next year when some who have been helping step away from the ministry. What is good to keep in mind at this time is that this is much more than just finding "warm bodies" - or even the most willing volunteers -to fill the empty places on the roster. Rather, quality is definitely more important than quantity when it comes to choosing and recruiting catechists. Being choosy will definitely pay off when you find the person who is willing to make the commitment and who has real ability to spread the Gospel well.

Unlike the message suggested in the poster to the left, maybe the "selling point" is that when a person becomes a catechist he or she has an opportunity to use his/her talents to be part of something really big and important - the effort to further the apostolic mission of the Church. It is NOT, however, primarily a matter of the personal satisfaction of the catechist. It is, in fact, the result of a specific charism. It is a ministry of service that should only be performed by those who are qualified by a genuine call and the gifts to carry it out.. Satisfaction may be, in fact, a nice side-effect of service, but it is not the reason to serve. In fact, the vocation of catechist is a holy and important one, which arises from one's baptismal call to evangelize.

The Guide for Catechists (Vatican, Office of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, 1993) has this to say about choosing catechists:

Absolute precedence must be given to quality. A common problem is certainly the scarcity of properly trained candidates. The character of the catechist is of prime importance, and this must influence the criteria for selection and the program for training and guidance. The words of the Holy Father [John Paul II] are illuminating: "For such a fundamental evangelical service a great number of workers are necessary. But, while striving for numbers, we must aim above all today at securing the quality of the catechist". (5)

This short document contains much useful wisdom for the parish leader regarding the choice and training of catechists. It names as key qualities of the spirituality of a catechist: openness to God, openness to the Church and missionary openness to the world", "coherence and authenticity of life", as well as devotion to Mary, who is "living catechism" "mother and model of catechists". Also named are attitudes, such as service, attentiveness to the poor and the aged, ability to play an active role in inculturating the faith for those they teach and "a spirit of ecumenism."

In Part II, Choice and Formation of Catechists, the document goes further:

Importance of a proper choice. It is difficult to lay down rules as to the level of faith and the strength of motivation that a candidate should have in order to be accepted for training as a catechist. Among the reasons for this are: the varying levels of religious maturity in the different ecclesial communities, the scarcity of suitable and available personnel, socio-political conditions, poor educational standards and financial difficulties. But one should not give in to the difficulties and lower one's standards. (17)

The Guide also says this:

Some criteria concern the catechist's person. A basic rule is that no one should be accepted as a candidate unless he or she is positively motivated and is not seeking the post simply because another suitable job is not available. Positive qualities in candidates should be: faith that manifests itself in their piety and daily life; love for the Church and communion with its Pastors; apostolic spirit and missionary zeal; love for their brothers and sisters and a willingness to give generous service; sufficient education; the respect of the community; the human, moral and technical qualities necessary for the work of a catechist, such as dynamism, good relations with others, etc. (18)

So, who do you look for? Don't just take the person who volunteers for everything. Don't "guilt" someone into doing it. Don't strong-arm parents into teaching so they can "follow their kids" through the program. Parents, in fact, may or may not be the most suitable catechists. Instead, look for the "living witnesses" in your community - people with a faith story to share - who are adept at telling that story. Look for those who have authentic lives, who live the teachings of the Church, who have that sense of "apostolic zeal" the Guide refers to. These are your true catechists.

The Guide for Catechists is a hidden gem, well worth the time spent studying it - it explains selection, formation, and standards for catechists, including a key point: "authenticity of life" - the requirement that the catechist does not live one kind of life for church and ministry and another, for their personal fulfillment. It has much wisdom and perspective to offer. If you are in catechetical ministry, put it on your summer reading list.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day and Catholic Teaching on the Environment

Recently, a Catholic candidate for the presidency told supporters that environmentalism is not a Christian concept - but that man was created to "dominate" the earth. In the national debate over global warming and environmentalism, there are those who do not remember that God created the earth and gave it into our stewardship - for our use, certainly, but also to preserve its resources for future generations. 

Interestingly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church places teaching on the environment under the Seventh Commandment: You shall not steal. One would deduce that abuse of the environment is stealing from future generations - and from the other creatures of the world.

Respect for the integrity of creation
2415 The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity.  Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man's dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.

This passage gets a footnote to Centissimus annus (John Paul II - 1991)

37. Equally worrying is the ecological question which accompanies the problem of consumerism and which is closely connected to it. In his desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to grow, man consumes the resources of the earth and his own life in an excessive and disordered way. At the root of the senseless destruction of the natural environment lies an anthropological error, which unfortunately is widespread in our day. Man, who discovers his capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on God's prior and original gift of the things that are. Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray. Instead of carrying out his role as a co-operator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized than governed by him.76

In all this, one notes first the poverty or narrowness of man's outlook, motivated as he is by a desire to possess things rather than to relate them to the truth, and lacking that disinterested, unselfish and aesthetic attitude that is born of wonder in the presence of being and of the beauty which enables one to see in visible things the message of the invisible God who created them. In this regard, humanity today must be conscious of its duties and obligations towards future generations.

38. In addition to the irrational destruction of the natural environment, we must also mention the more serious destruction of the human environment, something which is by no means receiving the attention it deserves. Although people are rightly worried — though much less than they should be — about preserving the natural habitats of the various animal species threatened with extinction, because they realize that each of these species makes its particular contribution to the balance of nature in general, too little effort is made to safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic "human ecology". Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given to him, but man too is God's gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed. In this context, mention should be made of the serious problems of modern urbanization, of the need for urban planning which is concerned with how people are to live, and of the attention which should be given to a "social ecology" of work.

Man receives from God his essential dignity and with it the capacity to transcend every social order so as to move towards truth and goodness. But he is also conditioned by the social structure in which he lives, by the education he has received and by his environment. These elements can either help or hinder his living in accordance with the truth. The decisions which create a human environment can give rise to specific structures of sin which impede the full realization of those who are in any way oppressed by them. To destroy such structures and replace them with more authentic forms of living in community is a task which demands courage and patience."

Certainly worth considering on this Earth Day 2012, as we hear varying opinions on environmentalism in the political debates.