Saturday, September 27, 2014

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream: Unleashing Charisms for Catechesis

This morning I woke up laughing. Yes, really. I had just had the wildest most off-the-wall dream about catechesis.

I dreamed I was teaching my Confirmation class at my parish, and my classroom aide was none other than Andy Warhol. (He WAS Catholic, by the way - and a regular daily Mass attendee.)  He was very quiet and did not do more than observe through most of the session. At one point in the lesson, I turned to him and asked if he had anything to add to what I had just said to the teens, and he simply pulled out heavy paper and art supplies and began to create a small painting, explaining how it related to the faith concept at hand as he went. He quickly finished the work, which fascinated the kids (and me!).  Then, as class was getting over, I asked if I could have what he had just made.  He seemed surprised, and possibly mildly annoyed, but he quickly signed the little artistic gem, and somehow it miraculously ended up in a frame. Then everyone else disappeared. I wanted to go show my DRE what I had, but somehow that was when it got weird, as most dreams do... I had to get to where she was by climbing out a window and navigating several slanted roofs, but other catechists were there to help... and then I woke up!

What if some of the quiet people in our lives have amazing gifts?  What if those gifts were unleashed and used for catechesis in our parishes?  Amazing things might happen!

I can't help but think that somehow thoughts about our diocesan day on Thursday with Keith Strohm of the Catherine of Siena Institute discussing how parishes can use Forming Intentional Disciples and the Called and Gifted   process of discernment of charisms, is somehow tangled up in what happened in my head early this morning.

Andy Warhol obviously had a charism for teaching - through art - but to look at him, you would not have suspected such depth. What Warhol "taught" was the significance of ordinary things. He turned soup cans, cars, bananas and more into art. Although he never really said it, he showed the inherent value and sacramentality of everyday life, which is a very Catholic outlook. Although he never used his gift for the good of the Church, he could have.

How many people in our pews are "hiding" their gifts - or not sharing them with their faith community?  What if the charisms in our parishes were unleashed for catechesis?  That's a possibility I can't help but think would produced amazing results in forming young intentional disciples. Who in your community is a potential creative catechist?  What would it take to help them discover that Christ is calling them to use their gifts in his Church? Do we have the courage to find out? Now THAT's a dream!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

America and the End-Times Industry: False Theology and Major Profits

When I answered a phone call from one of our parish leaders Friday morning, I really did not expect a mental trip back in time.  However, what we talked about catapulted me right back to 2003-4 when I was involved in the Catholic End Times catechesis revival. Tomorrow night, I will revisit that in a talk at a local parish (replacing a speaker who canceled.)

The Left Behind series of adult and children's books and the low-budget movie with Keith Cameron were a problem for Catholics 10 years ago. I had gotten into writing and presenting on this topic because before that, when I had been a parish DRE, I had encountered a catechist  trying to teach 7th graders that there will be a "Rapture" and then discovered the Left Behind children's books were not only in the parish school library, but were being read in the 5th grade classroom.

Anti-Catholic, based on a false interpretation of Scripture... yes this stuff is a catechetical problem for Catholics.

As a result, I ended up assisting the Catholic Conference of Illinois with writing a statement on the Left Behind books and videos. That led to an article in the final issue of the USCCB Department of Education journal The Living Light, several local and regional presentations and two national interviews. After that, things quieted down for me, and for catechesis,

In preparing for tomorrow night, I found that Left Behind has been an integral part of an entire industry in America. Dating back to the 1970 publication of Hal Lindsey's The Late, Great Planet Earth, which sold 10 million copies, Americans have been eating up all things apocalyptic. boasts that they have now sold 63 million copies of their books.  When you think about it, not only has Hollywood cashed in on apocalyptic movies about the end times and the anti-Christ, but the History Channel has made a career out of presenting various scenarios for the apocalypse, most based on misreadings of the Book of Revelation.

Now, Hollywood is giving us a major actor to play the main character in a new "major motion picture."  And here we go again. 

It's been interesting to see where this has gone in the past 10 years.  I will probably post more on this topic over the next few weeks until we see the reception of the movie...

Here is my PowerPoint, posted on SlideShare.  Feel free to share this with parish leaders and catechists.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Eucharist is NOT "Comfort Food"

(photo source: Getty)
Here in the Chicago area, we have been experiencing an early cold-snap, with temperatures we normally don't see for about another 6 weeks. Cooler weather typically brings out the cozy blankets, space heaters and puts me in the mood for cooking and baking.. and yes, it brings a craving for comfort food. The thought of a hearty soup when it gets down in the 30's at night and barely into the 60's by day is certainly more attractive than it was about a week ago when it was in the upper 80's and humid!  When we are cold, it's natural to seek comfort.

It strikes me that likewise, when one's discipleship is cool, there can be a tendency to look to God primarily for comfort, while avoiding the challenge of the Gospel, and to see the Eucharist as mere "comfort food." 

Jesus referred to himself as the "Bread of Life" and said that "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him." (John 6:54) He promised eternal life to those who eat.  But what does it mean to allow Christ to remain in us? Is that just about being comforted?  Televangelist Joel Osteen famously preaches the Prosperity Gospel - that "God just wants you to be happy."  But is that what it is all about?

If Jesus is in us, that means all of him - and all of his life. Take a look at what Jesus asked of us. Jesus calls us to do as he has done - to wash feet and to sacrifice ourselves for others in his name. To preach, teach and baptize (evangelize).  He never said, "Come, sit in the pews and feed on me, and then go home and be comfortable."  He never said, "I just want you to be happy and to have everything you want." That is the trap we can fall into when our faith is just about seeking comfort - about us instead of about truly following Jesus Christ in all our thoughts and actions. He is not only the comforting Good Shepherd, but also the "narrow gate."

Instead of simply resting in him, Jesus asked us to live for the sake of the Kingdom - God's will for the world. He said “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."  (Matthew 16:24-25)

And where do we go, what do we do when we follow Jesus? We heard the apostle Paul tell us in this weekend's second reading that Jesus "emptied himself,taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross." (Phillipians 2:7-8)  He did that for us, not for himself.

Discipleship is about learning that obedience, even to death, even death on a cross. The true disciple does not receive the Eucharist as if it is comfort food. It should be received to embody a total union with the One who calls us to submit to the will of God, whatever that may be, and wherever it leads us. It's not about us. It's all about you, Jesus. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"Late Have I Loved You" - Loving the God Who Loves Us

Music has a way of getting into my soul...  That's not particularly surprising, since according to the Called and Gifted process, one of my charisms is music. Anyhow, the song that keeps making me hit the repeat button on my iPod lately is this one from musician and blogger Sam Rocha, based on this famous passage from St. Augustine: "Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!"

It's been about a week since I purchased this song, from the album of the same name, which has been haunting my every waking moment. The question that came to me strongly a day or two ago was "Do I really love God?" Sure, I thought - intellectually speaking. That's not hard. But that answer did not seem good enough. I was gripped by Augustinian restlessness.

I was awakened very early this morning with a strong sense of that restlessness. Rolling around in my brain were lots of fragments, along with the refrain from "Late to Love." I struggled to recall what it was that had hit me as I led another song at Mass recently. Ah, "Servant Song" by McCargill - that old "chestnut!" The phrase "I am your song" had jumped out at me, along with the plaintive "Jesus, Jesus..."  Sure, I love Jesus, I thought. I have come to know and love him more deeply over the years - no problem. And for the past few years, I had come to a deeper love of the Holy Spirit, who fills me with song and inspires my writing.

But the Father. That's another thing entirely. But, I wondered, how could I say I love God, if I only have a formal, reverent respect and awe for one person of the Trinity - an intellectual assent to his authority and power? How does one move from the formal respectfulness of the public prayer of the Church to the Father to a lived sense of "Abba" - the Father who loves and is loved?

I won't go into the complicated history of my own stormy relationship with my father and father-figures in my life. It's messy. Affection, divorce, death, betrayal... yeah. Each person has a paternal relationship story of either presence or absence. Each of us has to navigate that and discover what it means to be loved by and to love the Father.

Botticelli: "St. Augustine in his Study"
The only answer to falling in love with an ineffable being is to see the face he showed us: Jesus. It's still a journey, but I feel like I'm getting closer to discovering the kind of love that Augustine found within the struggle to know God...
Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so. I entered, then, and with the vision of my spirit, such as it was, I saw the incommutable light far above my spiritual ken and transcending my mind: not this common light which every carnal eye can see, nor any light of the same order; but greater, as though this common light were shining much more powerfully, far more brightly, and so extensively as to fill the universe. The light I saw was not the common light at all, but something different, utterly different, from all those things. Nor was it higher than my mind in the sense that oil floats on water or the sky is above the earth; it was exalted because this very light made me, and I was below it because by it I was made. Anyone who knows truth knows this light. 
O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: “I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me”.
Accordingly I looked for a way to gain the strength I needed to enjoy you, but I did not find it until I embraced the mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who is also God, supreme over all things and blessed for ever. He called out, proclaiming I am the Way and Truth and the Life, nor had I known him as the food which, though I was not yet strong enough to eat it, he had mingled with our flesh, for the Word became flesh so that your Wisdom, through whom you created all things, might become for us the milk adapted to our infancy.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
Confessions of St. Augustine, Office of Readings for August 28, Feast of St. Augustine
There's a reason this song is haunting me. God is calling. Thank you, St. Augustine... and Sam Rocha for being "the bell that chimes."

Friday, September 5, 2014

Evangelizing, Joyful Ministry: Embodying Jesus for Others

A friend of mine just posted this on social media after his daily Mass attendance:

"My Eucharistic Minister had such joy in her eyes it was like she was handing me the freshly swaddled baby Jesus. She snapped me out of my shameful inward focus with which I was approaching the altar." 

Wow. Just wow.

Do your parish liturgical ministers bring joy to their ministry? Do they see the encounter each member of the Assembly as important?
How can parishes form ministers for joy?
What can we do for our priests to help them find and radiate joy?

"The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross, constantly invites us to rejoice."
                 (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 5)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Beginning the Catechetical Year with Meaningful Prayer

Last week I saw a request on an email group for DREs asking for ideas for an opening prayer for the first catechist meeting of the year.  I put on my "If I were doing this" hat and came up with this little plan, which has connections to liturgy, scripture and Christ the Teacher. Here is a fuller version of that prayer suggestion.

When catechists arrive, distribute their materials, including the class rosters. 

Begin with the Sign of the Cross.

Let us pray.
you bless your people with many gifts for the good of your community.
Be with us today as we  prepare to share the Good News 
of your Son Jesus Christ with the children of our parish.
Fill us with your spirit of love and awaken in our hearts a sure knowledge of you.
Grant that all we do here will be for their good.
We ask this through Jesus Christ your Son,
Who lives and reigns with you in the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. AMEN.

(GOSPEL: Matthew 19:13-15. Use a Bible or Lectionary and hold the book up as you carry it from the table to where you will stand)

A reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew.

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked them,
but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
After he placed his hands on them, he went away.

The Gospel of the Lord.

Ask the catechists to reflect on how Jesus would have looked at the children and how he would have spoken to them. How would he have taught them if he spent time with them? Give them a short silence to do that. Then ask them to take out their class rosters and when all are ready, ask them to read aloud slowly the first names of the children who will be in their class - all at the same time. If you  have the ability to do so, project group photos of children and activities from the program from previous years on a screen while they are proclaiming the names. (h/t Sister Caroline Cerveny.)

Let us pray. 
Lord, you have called each of us by name. 
Grant, we pray, the things we ask for this night (morning/afternoon)

INTERCESSIONS - (Have a few ready - pray for the parish, the families, all catechists, etc... and invite them to pray for needs they know of.)

Our Father....

Let us offer one another a sign of Christ's peace.

Then, the meeting can begin. What has happened is that the catechists have been invited to love their young students and to call each by name. You might also invite them to keep a copy of their roster at home in their prayer space, and to pray for each child by name regularly.