Sunday, November 29, 2015

Choose Your Advent Attitude: RESOLVE to Run to Meet Christ

In the Collect for today's Mass we heard - for the 5th year in a row - words which are by now becoming familiar:
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."
The key to all this is that we are asking God for something called "resolve." Just what IS that?

According to the Miriam Webster Thesaurus, resolve is
firm or unwavering adherence to one's purpose
Synonyms decidedness, decision, decisiveness, determinedness, firmness, granite, purposefulness, resoluteness, resolution, resolve, stick-to-itiveness
Related Words doggedness, obduracy, obdurateness, obstinacy, obstinateness, perseverance, persistence, persistency, stubbornness, tenaciousness, tenacity; certainty, certitude, confidence, sureness; alacrity, eagerness, gameness, readiness; backbone, fortitude, grit, iron, pluck, sand
Near Antonyms doubt, incertitude, indetermination, uncertainty; aversion, disinclination, indisposition, reluctance, unwillingness
Antonyms hesitation, indecision, indecisiveness, irresoluteness, irresolution, vacillation
This is a great summary of what we are asking of God. We want to avoid all doubt and uncertainty, but instead to have the firmness of purpose to be ready to be ready for Christ, no matter what happens. In a world torn by conflict, hatred, bigotry and war, this is a pretty tall order. We are really asking for the same kind of certainty that recent Christian martyrs slain by ISIS have had. They died rather than deny Christ. Could we?

Not without the grace of faith. In the end, it is this for which we ask. Faith is not something we decide we will have. So, we ask God to send us the sort of confidence, that dispels the darkness of a world in a nighttime of fear and uncertainty, We ask this at Mass, because it is through the Eucharist that we can be transformed from people of fear to people of faith, from people of hesitation to people of eagerness.

We need Advent light now more than ever: to stand on tiptoe in anticipation of the dawn of what Jesus and the Prophets called "The Day of the Lord." This Advent, don't slump with fear and uncertainty. Instead, as we heard in today's Gospel reading, "stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand." (Luke 21:28) This should be your Advent attitude.  Raise your heads and look for the dawn.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The LORD is King: In Him Alone is Hope

This weekend, amid the uncertainty and political turmoil in the wake of recent violent terrorist activity, we find ourselves at the end of the liturgical year. As we turn the page to The-Solemnity-Formerly-Known-as-Christ-the-King, the first thing that strikes me is that the new name, "The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe" expands our very image of Christ. No longer is he just King over all the earth. Now, he is King of the Universe. (How very interesting that despite formal rejection of the theology of the Cosmic Christ, the name of this feast almost begs for it.)

If Jesus is all-powerful King, then every knee should bow indeed. No power on earth or anywhere else in the universe can match him. No political leader, no king, no dictator means anything in the end. What would such a universe look like if we took that seriously? Interesting to consider.

More than that, this is a celebration that helps us see who is really in charge. It's not us. It's This Guy:

R.  The LORD is king; he is robed in majesty.  
The LORD is king, in splendor robed;
robed is the LORD and girt about with strength.
R. The LORD is king; he is robed in majesty.
And he has made the world firm,
not to be moved.
Your throne stands firm from of old;
from everlasting you are, O LORD.
R. The LORD is king; he is robed in majesty.
Your decrees are worthy of trust indeed;
holiness befits your house,
O LORD, for length of days.
R. The LORD is king; he is robed in majesty.

If Christ the King of the Universe "the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth" is in control, if "his decrees are worthy of trust indeed," as long as we believe and trust, there is nothing to fear. Not terrorism. Not uncertainty about what people might or might not do if allowed into our country. We need only to follow his commands - to "Do this in memory of me." (Celebrate the Mass and receive Eucharist) and "Go forth and preach, teach and make disciples" - (Evangelize)  Most of all, we need to "Do as I have done" - wash feet, be servants, not masters, and trust in the will of the Father, even when it leads into Paschal Mystery - suffering, death - because that ultimately, leads to resurrection. 

If in Christ alone is certainty, then in the end, all we have is hope - and the promise that all will be well. At the end of time, good will prevail.  "The Lord is my light and my salvation. Of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Why Parishes Should Provide Ongoing Liturgical Catechesis on the Mass: "Intelligent Worship"

The best bit of wisdom in this week's second installment of Fr. Douglas Martis' Elements of the Catholic Mass is the reminder that the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy made it incumbent on pastors to see that the faithful are properly prepared for their role at Mass.

He quotes:
"But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain. Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects." Sacrosanctum Consilium, 11
So, when was the last time YOUR parish provided support for full participation in the Mass by helping the laity to understand their role, both interior and exterior?  What ongoing support is there for them? You may want to start by sharing these weekly videos on the Mass, by giving the link and the study guide for each episode to small groups  or using them as opening prayer for parish meetings....

Or by downloading and distributing this handout on participation.

By the way, watch for more information on an upcoming new series of instructional books, From Mass to Mission: Understanding the Mass and its Significance for Our Christian Life on participation in the Mass for adults, teens and children from Liturgy Training Publications.  Yours truly was privileged to be asked to author the children's book and the accompanying teacher's guide! Publication will be early next year... (and the children's book will include a nicer version of my handout above.)

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Deeper Invitation: Elements of the Catholic Mass Video Series

This week, the Liturgical Institute at Mundelein launched a powerful new initiative - a series of short weekly videos on the Mass by director Fr. Douglas Martis that invites lay people into the beauty of the liturgy. Martis, whose liturgical expertise has roots in his studies in France, offers a look into the deeper meaning of the Mass that is not generally presented to the ordinary Catholic - and, if the first videos are any indication, he will do this by breaking open liturgical theology for the rest of us. His teaser video offers his reasons for offering this liturgical catechesis

In short, his experience of the joy that people have shown when they are helped to understand why we worship the way we do has motivated him to create a way to share his expertise and love for the Mass more widely - one short bite at a time.

Episode 1 goes deep - very deep - into the nature of the liturgy, the God we worship and why we do what we do, by exploring the meanings of  liturgy as "the work of the people," the work of Christ who saves us, and even bigger, the work of God:

Download this episode's study guide here.

Each week the Liturgical Institute promises a new video in this series. You can subscribe to receive the link in your email here. I, for one, will be looking forward to my Sunday morning inbox.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Stability of Ritual: When Your World is Chaos,Turn to the Mass

In Thursday night's Late Show interview with Stephen Colbert, Vice President Joe Biden, speaking about the role of his Catholic faith in dealing with the loss of his son, said this about the Mass, the Rosary and the comfort he derives from the regular practice of his faith:

“Some of it relates to ritual, some if relates to just comfort and what you’ve done your whole life.”

Bingo. When your whole world is sliding into emotional chaos, the familiar ritual of the Mass can be an island of calm - an anchor in a stormy sea. While Biden might not be able to name why this is so, he knows it in his heart.

I first discovered this truth while attending Mass each week during my RCIA experience, I quickly grew to love the ritual words and actions. I felt I had come "home." For an hour, I could leave my cares behind and enter into a time outside of time. It simply felt "right." Later, I stumbled into the Sunday morning choir Mass one day after my husband had asked for a divorce and received solace not only from fellow choir members, but from participating in the familiar postures, gestures, words and song of the Mass. There was definitely something healing in that experience  for me that day.

In other times of loss or transition through the years, I have similarly found relief in the Mass, most notably six years ago, when the man I loved died suddenly. For the first few months, I remember fighting tears often as song lyrics and Mass prayers caused me emotional turmoil, but I also remember a strong sense of the Mass as a trustworthy anchor in which I felt the presence of God.

The human need for ritual has been well-documented by anthropologists - and more recently, scientists. It's so strong, that even those who don't attend church tend to gravitate toward activities that involve ritual elements (such as sports) or to create "new traditions."

Yet the Mass, as divine ritual, is so much more than mere human rituals. Imbued with the very person of Jesus Christ, present in the gathered people, the person of the priest, the Word and the Eucharist, the Mass joins us to all times, places and believers, including those in Heaven. In remembering Jesus's Paschal Mystery, we discover its power among us today, and taste its future glory. We hear the words of the one who was, is and always will be the Word. We dine at the Eucharistic banquet along with angels, saints and holy ones gathered at the heavenly banquet.

The Mass is quite simply the Ritual of Rituals. It is the summit, the highest form of solemn ceremony, because its roots are in the words and actions of Jesus and his Apostles. So, when Joe Biden says he found "comfort" in the ritual elements of his faith, it's nothing to sneeze at. The spiritual consolations we receive from the Mass are real and important. They are certainly not the only reason we go to Mass, but they may be, in part, what gets people to repeat their participation.

Joe Biden, like many Catholics, rediscovers his center at the Mass, even while suffering the deep grief of a parent who has lost a child. “I go to Mass, and I’m able to be just alone, even in a crowd,”he said. While this is possibly not fully articulated, he appears to be trying to express the holiness and peace he finds, even while part of the gathered assembly. We are one with God, at the same time we are one with each other. In that, we find our deepest selves.

The Mass affords us all an opportunity to experience the dependable love of God, which like the ritual through which it is expressed, is unchanging. May all Catholics who struggle, like Joe Biden, find their peace and hope in the power of the Mass.

Colbert Opens the Door - Joe Biden Walks Right In: A Catholic Evangelization Moment on National TV

Last night, Stephen Colbert (who is not at all shy about his Catholic faith) conducted an extraordinary interview of Vice President Joe Biden - and Biden, in simple, heartfelt sincerity, shared how his Catholic faith, going to Mass and saying the Rosary, have been instrumental in his emotional survival of the death of his son Beau. It was one of the best Catholic moments on TV.
After some initial small talk, Colbert skillfully navigates the conversation to faith, knowing full well he is speaking to a faithful Catholic man. At this point, the tone of the interview takes on a quality of deep sincerity, as Biden begins by expressing humility and a sense that he is not the only worthy example. After describing briefly the role of his faith, Biden concludes: "So many of the good things of my life have happened around the culture of my religion and the theology of my religion."   Watch it here:

The second half of the interview turns to the role of the Vice President, but again back to navigating the landscape of loss...  the underlying message, however, is a strong testimony to Biden's character, to family, and indirectly, to faith.

All I can say is that this is very powerful stuff, even when sprinkled with the obligatory late-night jokes. These two talked about things that matter last night.

I find myself deeply affected. I hope that The Late Show with Stephen Colbert will provide us with many more such moments where the beauty and value of Catholic faith are lifted up in a positive light. Colbert sits in a position to deliver the message in a unique and powerful way, laced with his trademark humor and fully engaging the world.  This could be one of the most significant Catholic evangelization platforms ever.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

On the Air

It's been a while since I posted in this space. But don't think I have spent the summer relaxing. That would so not be "me." Actually, I've been busy. Really, really busy.

Yesterday, I was privileged to participate in a stimulating, high-energy interview with my friend and colleague Jonathan Sullivan on liturgical catechesis, in which we spoke of many things, including the importance of how catechists go about encouraging families to participate in the liturgy. You can view it here (Warning: I do tend to "get going.")

This comes at the end of a summer that also included preparing for a national webinar for Liturgy Training Publications on getting families to Mass, and completing a book and teacher's guide for children, grades 3-6 on the Mass. (publication date TBA)

Combine that with a busy summer at work and the usual gearing up at the beginning of the catechetical year, which starts in mid July and will continue until October, I hope you can see why blogging has taken a back seat to other projects. More in this space as I find time and inspiration...

Friday, July 31, 2015

Cherchez le Jesuit! Minions of St.Ignatius and Me

I like to say that many of my major spiritual and vocational shifts have had some kind of connection to something Jesuit.

A four-year cohort experience with Loyola Institute of Ministry Extension -  an unplanned invitation to a retreat with a brilliant Jesuit priest, an imaginative Ignatian meditation on scripture that knocked me out of my mental boat, a period of discernment (using Ignatian tools) that led eventually to seeking a ministry position out of town - yes, there was all that.

More recently, there has been the challenging influence of that continually fascinating Jesuit Pope...

In the past several years, there has been the invitation from Loyola Press to write first for their (now-defunct) DRE Connect blog, and more recently for Joe Paprocki's popular Catechist's Journey, all of which I truly believe has been part of the Holy Spirit's plan for me to use my charism of writing.

For a long time, it has been my conviction that St. Ignatius has somehow chosen me - indeed pursued me, on God's behalf. He has been, as near as I can tell, my appointed hound of heaven.

My personal vision of church is also very Ignatian - I am not hard-wired to be one to sit on the sidelines, but want to be practical, working and acting on behalf of Christ. In this Jesuit joke I would be with the Jesuits:
The Benedictans, Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits were having a big meeting that went well into the middle of the night. Suddenly all the lights went out in the meeting room. The Benedictans immediately started chanting Psalms glorifying God, the Franciscans took out their guitars and sang songs praising all creation, and the Dominicans began preaching about the metaphysics of light and darkness; meanwhile the Jesuits went to the basement, found the fuse box, and reset the breaker.                                                                                                      (Fr. Felix Just, SJ)
So today, on St. Ignatius's feast day, I want to join my fellow Ignatian Minions and say, "Hail Iggy! Bring it on!   A.M.D.G.

Monday, July 20, 2015

OK, Young Lay Ecclesial Ministers: Please Help Us Understand You

I've pretty much been watching the recent blog thread on how the Church should embrace the gifts of younger leaders from millennials Jonathan Sullivan, Timothy O'Malley and Colleen Reiss Vermuelen from the sidelines. This has been a bit challenging to us older folks - especially those of us who were unaware we were being perceived as suspicious or non-accepting.

Certainly I agree we need to value each other's gifts - that's a given. Each person who dedicates their life and gifts to service in ministry feels a distinct call to do so, which should of course be honored. As to us letting you show you what you can do - I'm somewhat less enamored. To me, that sounds like a need to prove something, rather than simply to engage in the hard work of doing the will of God in each situation in a collaborative manner and growing organically to become a respected leader in ministry.

Believe me, acceptance was just as difficult for many of us when we started out, even for those of us who began ministry in mid-life. In the late 1980's when I started, even though I had an ecclesial degree, I had to "prove" to people of my parish that I could be the liturgy coordinator. They had never seen a lay woman who was not a religious sister in ministry. (My pastor finally had to tell people from the pulpit: "In matters of the Liturgy, Joyce speaks for me.") Later, it took me almost four years to prove to some people in the parish where I became the DRE and director of liturgy that I was not one of those "uppity" women who wanted to be ordained! More recently, though I have always been a writer, I was not "recognized" on a non-local level until about a year ago. So, don't feel picked on. This is not all about generational differences. It's actually more about being "new" to the ministerial community and possibly about the impatience of youth. (ducking!)

Here is my challenge to younger leaders. Indeed, let us learn from you - but not just about the operational points of ministry. I know for a fact you have great ideas. Instead, sit with us in the circle of community. Let us learn from you how God is calling people into lay ministry today. You have a different story to tell - and it is a necessary one to an understanding of the story of the Church in the USA. We older folks DO have a need for you to tell us about yourselves. We honestly don't know - and that's why some may have a hard time accepting you. Sherry Weddell has said the first threshold is trust. It's hard to trust someone whose experience appears to be very different.

Let me explain. Maybe I'm not the norm, but my (very) slight degree of disconnect with younger people in ministry is my lack of a frame of reference for their vocation. Pretty much every middle-aged and older catechetical leader I know tells a similar story: none of us actually planned to do this with our lives. Rather, God called many of us, from something else, through a series of situations. Those with ecclesial degrees, mostly went "back to school."  In other words, it's often been a case of giving up another agenda in favor of service to the Church.

A popular meme of many in the older generation of ministers is "This was not my plan, but apparently it was God's idea all along."  Often, there is a great deal of Paschal Mystery involved - dying to old priorities and rising to new - widowhood, divorce, unexpected request from a pastor at the departure of a previous leader.That's why local, diocesan-sponsored lay ministry formation programs, local university cohorts and online learning are needed for those who did not or could not become qualified by traditional academic experience as young people.

What I most want to hear from this new generation of leaders who chose to go to college and major in theology, catechetics, liturgy or something else ecclesial  early in life, is how does it feel to choose this intentionally as a young person?  How is this, for your generation, a divine calling, and not simply a "career choice?" I am certainly not at all suggesting it is not a divine call. I just want to know how this works when God calls a young person. I want to hear the Christ-centered theological reflections that help me understand how this is as real for you as a divine call as it is for me -and how a young person's ecclesial vocation is part of an ongoing path of conversion. (And no, you don't need to prove your authenticity - just tell me how it works!)

In my experience, some people in the "older generation," especially those with a background as school teachers who took this path as career choice early in life, have (how do I put this nicely?) an institutional bias, and may, in their later years, have developed a "staleness" and a tendency to cling to old models.  In contrast, many who have felt a strong mid-life conversion-based call to catechetical ministry are more open to new models and methods, if the impetus for these seems to be coming from the Holy Spirit. This is because, through their response to their call to the vocation of catechesis, they have been opened up to God.  Yes, these are all generalizations, but this, in some way, reflects my experience. I so want it not to be true for this new generation.

So, please tell me. How does an early vocation work? Did you grow up admiring other catechetical leaders or theologians and want to emulate them? Or, did you, too, start out doing something else and then God "yanked" you into this? When did you know this was what you wanted to do? Was all of this pretty organic? Where does the vocation of a young person come from, if not through the changes and demands of Paschal Mystery?  Help us "old folks"out.  Many of us have been sharing stories of our convoluted paths to ministry for years. This has been an important part of what the first generations of post-Vatican II lay leaders have brought to the conversation.

Millennial leaders: it's time for you to update the community story. Help us to know how you fit in. We bring the history and context, you bring the energy and the current landscape of ministry - and what is possibly a different way of living ministerial vocation. Help us discover together the continuity in the ongoing story that is the Church. Please don't just demand to be accepted and allowed to show us what you can do. In most cases we have already seen that - and it's more than impressive.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Hindsight is Always 20/20: The Tyranny of Low Expectations

Over the past week since the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, there have been many opinions posted by Catholic bloggers, some of the more-challenging ones are about why our own people are not convinced of the Church's teaching on marriage.  (Just look at the number of Catholics who have changed their Facebook profile pictures this week to include a rainbow in support of the Supreme Court ruling.)

I have been particularly in agreement with two writers who focus directly on the general failure of catechesis and evangelization in the U.S. - and on what must, from now forward, change. These echo my own column in Ministry and Liturgy magazine's January, 2015 issue, where I opined on the state of catechesis in the US today (available by subscription.) It also echoes much of what Sherry Weddell has said in her best-selling book, Forming Intentional Disciples. Far from being mere hand-wringing, this is necessary self-reflection on what needs to change and why.

Jonathan Sullivan, director of the catechetical office of the Diocese of Springfield, IL, wrote this scathing nugget of truth:
If I'm going to be angry with anyone it is with a Church that for too long allowed the ambient culture to shoulder the burden of forming its members. We were all too happy to outsource the work of building up culture and people when the culture agreed with us. Now that the culture has turned against us we are reaping the rewards of that transaction. 
What we have discovered it that, for too long, the Church allowed its evangelization muscles to go unexercised, seemingly content that, even if the culture wasn’t forming disciples of Jesus Christ, it at least passed on a cultural Christianity that kept butts in our pews.  [bold is original]
Anger is an entirely appropriate response. The Church has only itself to blame. We are experiencing the fruits (or lack thereof) of what I like to call "the tyranny of low expectations" in catechesis.

In a similar vein, Patheos blogger Jennifer Fitz writes of  the necessity of discipling people one at a time to form mature Catholics - and how parishes have, instead, become virtual assembly lines:
What we have instead is cafeteria-model Catholicism.  The soul-food service line consists of weekly Mass and a series of classes for designated life moments, intended to prepare us for the sacraments.  If you’ll just start where it says “enter” and followed the roped-off course, you’ll end up with something like the Catholic faith on your tray by the time you get to check-out.
...The assembly-line mentality is so deeply engrained [sic] in Catholic thinking that whenever an evangelization or discipleship problem is discussed among parish professionals, it’s guaranteed that at least one person will propose a better assembly line.  Parents presenting their children for baptism don’t know the faith?  Make them go to more classes! Longer classes! Start them sooner!  Have them fill out attendance forms!
I'm not going to pull punches here. The "blame," if any, belongs to the bishops - and the clergy in general. When a new liturgical rite is promulgated, dioceses form their clergy with workshops. They did it for the revised Rite of Christian Funerals, and for the revised Roman Missal.

In contrast, when a catechetical document is released, there is no universal expectation that the clergy even read it, much less study it or take it to heart. The General Directory for Catechesis, the National Directory for Catechesis, both of which devote much space to new understandings of evangelization and the centrality of Jesus Christ in catechesis, had virtually no study days, and few clergy resources. The USCCB document on the primacy of adult faith formation, "Our Hearts Were Burning," was ignored by most clergy and parishes, who continue to pour resources into children's programming instead of refocusing on adults who would then be better equipped to form young people.

Compounding the situation, as enrollment numbers and Mass attendance (and consequently parish collections) have declined, many parishes are responding by hiring part-time, non-degreed parish leaders to run catechetical programs  - not just in my own diocese, but, from what I hear from other diocesan leaders, across the country. The practice is more and more to hire internally, to elevate an experienced catechist or even worse, to assign a parish secretary, to the task of organizing and running children's catechesis. When they meet with our office at the beginning of their first year and we talk about the needs to refocus catechesis and sacrament preparation, evangelize parents and form catechists to be disciples and witnesses, we often hear "But, Father never said anything about all of that!"

At a time when we most need qualified, well-supported leaders to redesign parish catechesis to include the entire community, to evangelize whole families and to build teams to spread a culture of discipleship to permeate all of parish life, many parishes are instead settling for the minimum. If the status quo continues and the pastor receives few complaints, the situation is deemed acceptable. Meanwhile, well-meaning and sincere, but under-qualified leaders are over-worked, underpaid and often have little support. In short, parishes often give the least amount of attention to the area that is sorely in need of the most.

Back in January, I wrote (in Ministry and Liturgy) of this situation:
This is deep Paschal Mystery for the Church. Change will only come through God’s power to bring new life from the worst of situations. But first, we need trust, courage and to let go.  
What needs to go? Clinging to old catechetical methods. Using books and blackboards to teach children who learn everything else using technology. Catechesis on doctrine with little relation to liturgy, community, or to real life. Sending kids home to families who neither pray nor attend Mass. Failure to foster conversion and to help people rely on the sacramental life of the Church for their well-being. Failure to invite people of all ages to personal encounter with Christ.
Our own people discount our teaching because they do not know and love the Lord. They have no relationship with the Father that would motivate them to obey God's laws out of love. We only have ourselves to blame for spending decades teaching about the institution's teachings, at the cost of bringing people to discipleship in Jesus Christ. Nowhere to go from here, really, except up. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Laudato Si and the Eucharist

As I am speed-reading through Pope Francis' new encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si this morning, I discovered this beautiful section near the end on the sacraments - in particular, the Eucharist - and the importance of Sunday. This connection to Creation and to respect for the world and its peoples opens up great richness in sacramental theology.

235. The Sacraments are a privileged way in which nature is taken up by God to become a means of mediating supernatural life. Through our worship of God, we are invited to embrace the world on a different plane. Water, oil, fire and colours are taken up in all their symbolic power and incorporated in our act of praise. The hand that blesses is an instrument of God’s love and a reflection of the closeness of Jesus Christ, who came to accompany us on the journey of life. Water poured over the body of a child in Baptism is a sign of new life. Encountering God does not mean fleeing from this world or turning our back on nature. This is especially clear in the spirituality of the Christian East. “Beauty, which in the East is one of the best loved names expressing the divine harmony and the model of humanity transfigured, appears everywhere: in the shape of a church, in the sounds, in the colours, in the lights, in the scents”. For Christians, all the creatures of the material universe find their true meaning in the incarnate Word, for the Son of God has incorporated in his person part of the material world, planting in it a seed of definitive transformation. “Christianity does not reject matter. Rather, bodiliness is considered in all its value in the liturgical act, whereby the human body is disclosed in its inner nature as a temple of the Holy Spirit and is united with the Lord Jesus, who himself took a body for the world’s salvation”.
236. It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love: “Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world”. The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration: in the bread of the Eucharist, “creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards unification with the Creator himself”.Thus, the Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.
237. On Sunday, our participation in the Eucharist has special importance. Sunday, like the Jewish Sabbath, is meant to be a day which heals our relationships with God, with ourselves, with others and with the world. Sunday is the day of the Resurrection, the “first day” of the new creation, whose first fruits are the Lord’s risen humanity, the pledge of the final transfiguration of all created reality. It also proclaims “man’s eternal rest in God”. In this way, Christian spirituality incorporates the value of relaxation and festivity. We tend to demean contemplative rest as something unproductive and unnecessary, but this is to do away with the very thing which is most important about work: its meaning. We are called to include in our work a dimension of receptivity and gratuity, which is quite different from mere inactivity. Rather, it is another way of working, which forms part of our very essence. It protects human action from becoming empty activism; it also prevents that unfettered greed and sense of isolation which make us seek personal gain to the detriment of all else. The law of weekly rest forbade work on the seventh day, “so that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your maidservant, and the stranger, may be refreshed” (Ex 23:12). Rest opens our eyes to the larger picture and gives us renewed sensitivity to the rights of others. And so the day of rest, centred on the Eucharist, sheds it light on the whole week, and motivates us to greater concern for nature and the poor.
This will bear some study - but there is much to consider here - in a world that has largely lost its sense of the importance of Sabbath rest. Lots to think about in Pope Francis' document... but this is the liturgical connection.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Never. Stop. Evangelizing.

There is a little controversy going around on Facebook - and in the com-boxes over a post by Kathy Schiffer over on Patheos  in which she wonders aloud why kids who sat through catechesis and received their sacraments can later not remember things they were "taught" in that catechesis, like the obligation to attend Mass and the teachings on sexuality. The comments I have seen are about the difference between evangelization and catechesis.... but I think it goes even deeper to the unity of the two.

In Schiffer's final sentence is the key: "Maybe next year, when a teacher tells them again, the Good News will fall on good soil and will stir their hearts to Faith."

The Good News, the kerygma, is the key to all of this. Young people need to hear over and over why the teachings of God/the Church matter. It's the same issue I once encountered when a 7th grade girl asked me, point blank: "Why should I do anything God wants?"

Someone who has no relationship with the God of love and mercy will not understand God's desires for our behavior. Of course they tune us out. The other messages from the culture about "me first" are much louder and more attractive than we are... but that's because we deliver our message without conviction, minus the fire of the Holy Spirit. We often teach doctrine (especially those "rules" about sexuality) as if it exists apart from the love of God. We need, as Pope John Paul II did in his Theology of the Body, to connect these things continually to the love of God and God's plan for good for each person and for the world.

We need to punctuate all catechesis frequently with the Good News that Jesus' death took away the sins of the world and offers us eternal life. This was God's greatest gift - and it deserves a response of loving obedience. Jesus' sacrifice demands our response. That response would be to believe, to participate enthusiastically and gratefully in the sacrifice of the Mass, and to live according to God's desires for us, expressed in the teachings about chastity and other issues.

Pope Francis pretty much nails it in section 165 of Evangelii Gaudium:
We must not think that in catechesis the kerygma gives way to a supposedly more “solid” formation. Nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation. All Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the kerygma, which is reflected in and constantly illumines, the work of catechesis, thereby enabling us to understand more fully the significance of every subject which the latter treats. It is the message capable of responding to the desire for the infinite which abides in every human heart. The centrality of the kerygma calls for stressing those elements which are most needed today: it has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part; it should not impose the truth but appeal to freedom; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious balance which will not reduce preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical. All this demands on the part of the evangelizer certain attitudes which foster openness to the message: approachability, readiness for dialogue, patience, a warmth and welcome which is non-judgmental.
That's the key. We don't evangelize young people a little every once in a while, at a retreat, by giving a witness talk, or providing the occasional meditative prayer or meaningful service experience. We must continually connect EVERYTHING we teach to the Good News. The Church teaches X because God loves you and wants you to have a fruitful life that builds up his Kingdom, not simply the Church teaches X: do it.

Never. Stop. Evangelizing.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

10 Reasons I Am Still Catholic

Around the internet Catholic writers are responding to Elizabeth Scalia's call to let the world know why we are Catholic, in the wake of the bad news from recent demographic surveys. So, here goes.

It's complicated. Its also beautiful.

I entered the Church as a 35-year-old convert from a mixed protestant background (Methodist, Lutheran, Unitarian, and a lot of self-study of non-Christian faiths in high school) and from the moment of my Confirmation and first Eucharist, I never, ever looked back or considered leaving.

I learned early on in my experience with the RCIA process that I had been a seeker my whole life. Something had been missing, and I found that something in the Catholic Church. What I found in the Church confounded my Unitarian/agnostic stepfather, who kept asking me how I could be part of a church that wanted to tell me how to think.  I finally helped him understand, at least partly, when I explained the faithful's call to cooperation with God to build the Kingdom on earth.

But that wasn't all. From the moment I joined the Church in 1987 to this day, I have found:

  1. Jesus Christ - the focus of everything. And not a Jesus for the sentimental, but a suffering servant king who offers himself to us and for us out of pure love in the sacrifice of every Mass, through the Eucharist we receive. A Jesus who calls us constantly into deeper relationship with him and his Father, with the help of the Spirit. A Jesus who offers to partner with us to carry our burdens, and who asks us to tell all we meet about his love and his invitation. This is the Jesus who calls us to be disciples and to make disciples - through his Church. I have known in this Church people who were true disciples - they made me who I am today. 
  2. Ritual and Liturgy - as I have said before, when I encountered the Mass, I felt I had come home. The consistent ritual, the Liturgical Year - these had been missing from my previous experiences of church. In the rhythm of Sunday after Sunday around the cycle of the year, I found myself constantly renewed and refreshed. I will never forget my first experience of the beauty of Liturgy of the Hours at my own celebration of the Call to Continuing Conversion. In it, I have found refreshment and peace.
  3. Community and Solidarity - blessed from the beginning to have found a welcoming community of faith in St. James, Rockford, I have always found acceptance and fellowship among Catholics wherever I go. At national conferences, in small towns and large cities, on the internet - always, even when we have occasional disagreements over some of the details - I have found that once good Catholics know that you, too, realize what is really important, there is a great deal of acceptance. This acceptance crosses lines of gender, geography, race and economic status. Deep down, we all know we are members of one flock and have One Shepherd - and that we are all called to One Table. I have broken bread with people whose orientation toward the Church is far more traditional than mine - and enjoyed it. As one body, the Church is not "me and Jesus" - it is alway "us" - together. To me, that is the greatest treasure. As a protestant child, I learned a hymn "Tell me the Stories of Jesus." As an adult Catholic, I stand in the assembly at Mass and sing "Alleluia!" as I wait for the Gospel reader to tell US the stories of Jesus, which WE love to hear - and which Catholics all over the world are hearing that day as well.
  4. Call to Mission, Evangelization and Service - This is part of what really excites me. I am part of a 2,000-year-old mission to bring the Gospel and its values to the world. As the owner of some of Christ's hands and feet on earth, I have always felt I had a place in the mission, in large ways and small. Sometimes my call is to write, teach or sing about this. Sometimes I get to serve. (Just last week, I found myself in the middle of a hot parking lot helping to feed the poor from a mobile food pantry.)
  5. Dignity of Each Person - contrary to what the world thinks it knows about Catholics, we honor the life and of each human person (we just don't always accept every person's lifestyle). We are called to be voices for the voiceless - the poor, the powerless, the unborn, the disabled and the elderly  - seeking justice and compassion for them in the name of Jesus Christ. Watching how our country has increasingly polarized into rich and poor, I speak out, and make a special personal effort to help the poor whenever I can.
  6. Work to do for Peace and Justice- though I will never have the courage of people like Martin Sheen, who has been arrested so many times for standing up against senseless violence and injustice, there is a part of me, baptized in the crucible of the Vietnam era, that jumps to attention when I see failures of justice. I want to put myself out there, to stand for the kind of world desired for us by a God who has as his goal, a time when our swords will become plowshares. However, all are not called to the same actions on behalf of this. I have found my call in how I vote and in how I teach and share with others ways we can walk in the paths God has asked.
  7. Consistent Ethic of Life -  I have grown to understand that God is truly the giver of life and it is he who numbers our days. Any attempt by human beings to "play God" by choosing the day of our own or another's death is a violation of the desires of the God of Life. Being pro-life means we all have some role in the defense of life, each according to our circumstance and talents. I never waver on the message in my teaching or in my comments on current events about life issues. 
  8. Eclectic Music and Inculturation - it's a big church. There is room for Gregorian chant, for traditional hymns in both Latin and the vernacular, for contemporary songs, and sometimes, even for rock and roll.  There is room for ethnic and "world" music. Music with well-chosen texts, often based on scripture - the style doesn't matter - I can love it all - though like everyone, I have my preferences.  There is room for the devotional practices of different immigrant groups and for the recovery of the lost practices of groups who were homogenized by the American "melting pot" of the past. There is room for the popular culture and for creativity and art - it all can find a place in our efforts to praise and glorify the God who created everything. And me, I love my bi-cultural parish - and cannot keep from singing to my God in one language or two, in traditional, modern Anglo, or Hispanic style. 
  9. The Mystical Body AND the Institutional Church - one and the same, yet different. Often inconsistent. I firmly believe that Jesus Christ meant for the Church to exist. When the People of God gather at liturgy to praise and worship the Father in the Son, through the Spirit, we become the "real Church" - the Mystical Body of Christ. It is when we join in prayer, hear the Word and receive the Eucharist together that we are most ourselves. When we go forth, we are of one mind. However, once in the world, that can break down as we are pulled apart by forces from within and without. The Church as an institution has garnered many a black eye over its history, but we can love her anyway. Like Jesus the Catholic Church is fully divine and fully human - but unlike Jesus, it is not without sin and frailty. It has helped me over the years to remember that there is an ideal, mystical Church and a human, fallible church. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry, sometimes, it seems like we should celebrate "Facepalm Sunday" - but we can love this Church anyway. 
  10. The Holy Spirit and the Call to Share Spiritual Gifts - my most recent discovery about the Church is how through it, we are called to share the charisms the Holy Spirit has given each of us, for the good of the entire Body of Christ. Sure, I knew that, generically, but only recently have I discovered how that works in my life. Each of us has indeed been given certain gifts, but the community helps us discern how those gifts may be used for the good of others. One of the criteria in the Called and Gifted process for discerning a charism is that others have told you that when you do something, it bears fruit for them.  Our gifts are not our own. They came from God and belong to God's community. This, above all, is for me one of the great rewards of being Catholic: I have a purpose. I belong. I know that who I am is part of something greater, it is not for me alone.
And THAT is why I am and will always be Catholic... in spite of all those moments that could bring on this:

Monday, May 25, 2015

What if Ordinary Time Were Mission-Driven?

The liturgical year has these great green stretches of Ordinary Time - and we have just entered the longest one. Our next two Sundays will be engaged in celebrating two important "white" feasts of Christ in Ordinary Time: Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi, but we really have entered the time of the green.

The general description of Ordinary Time is a time "wherein the faithful consider the fullness of Jesus' teachings and works among his people."(USCCB Website) or when "the mystery of Christ itself is honored in its fullness, especially on Sundays." (Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year.)  While the green of winter Ordinary Time suggests growth and learning, the stretch we have just entered is different. Rather, because of what has just preceded it, it offers an opportunity to move toward mission. We have just celebrated the Resurrection, the Ascension and Pentecost - all of which call us to do something besides sit at Christ's feet. We have witnessed the power of Paschal Mystery and heard Jesus ask us to preach the Gospel to all the world. This year, it sounded like this:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Go into the whole world
and proclaim the gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them,
was taken up into heaven
and took his seat at the right hand of God.
But they went forth and preached everywhere,
while the Lord worked with them
and confirmed the word through accompanying signs. (Mark 16:15-20)
This is a pretty daring job description! I don't know that snake handling is the way I want to go, personally speaking! However, as he promised, Jesus then sent the Spirit to strengthen, equip and inspire us to do great things in his name. The alternate Gospel for Pentecost explains this best:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father,
he will testify to me.
And you also testify,
because you have been with me from the beginning.
“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth,
he will guide you to all truth.
He will not speak on his own,
but he will speak what he hears,
and will declare to you the things that are coming.
He will glorify me,
because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
Everything that the Father has is mine;
for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine
and declare it to you.”  (John 15:26-27; 16: 12-15)
 I suggested in another recent post that perhaps summer Ordinary Time is really the moment to build the community and to evangelize, but that goes against prevailing American practice, which sees summer as "down time."

What would it mean if a parish were to take Ascension and Pentecost seriously and put mission on the summer agenda?  I see some interesting possibilities:
  • Summer outreach - to families of those who have just celebrated sacraments, but are not coming to Mass - to the disabled, the elderly, young adults, to inactive parishioners and to others in the neighborhood 
  • Summer faith formation - Vacation Bible School for ALL ages that lasts more than a week - Bible study, book-clubs, marriage enrichment and other gatherings to encourage adults  and teens to deepen their faith
  • Intergenerational gatherings for all ages - not just parents and children - for prayer and learning
  • RCIA Inquiry sessions begin - mid-summer - and run until the Rite of Acceptance/Rite of Welcoming just before Advent.
  • Parish service projects to help the poor - not just youth mission trips - but practical local opportunities for adults and families
  • Liturgies celebrated with joy and vigor. Choirs would not go on "summer break" - but continue (after all, most of them will still be at Mass every weekend) - perhaps with fewer rehearsals
  • Parish festivals, picnics, etc. with a faith theme - not just fun and socialization, but with meaningful prayer/paraliturgies and a call for all to sign up for service and learning opportunities

Some parishes already do some of this, but even they would benefit from being more intentional. What do you think? Do you have more ideas for how a parish can be mission-driven through the summer? How can we keep the upcoming months from simply looking like a vacation from parish activities?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

About That Third Person of the Trinity....

Over the years, I haven't had much inclination to pray to the Holy Spirit or particular awareness of the Spirit's presence. I have generally favored prayer to the Father, or to the Son because he seems more accessible. The Spirit was just kind of out there for me. Real, yet abstract, distant. Lately, however, it's been different.

Last fall, I experienced the Called & Gifted process from Siena Institute, and my relationship with the Spirit changed dramatically. I became acutely aware of where the Spirit has been active in my life. In the discernment of my charisms and what they mean, I have learned that the Spirit has been actively calling me to the various ways in which I serve through those gifts. There are, as I had always suspected, no coincidences.

Unsurprisingly, when I took the Spiritual Gifts Inventory, I learned my dominant charisms are Music, Teaching and Writing. However, in the weeks after my interview, some things opened up for me. It became clear that the moments when I heard an unmistakable voice leading me toward change and growth were of the Spirit.

Yes, I have heard the Spirit speak. Twice. Let me tell you about these moments, as evidence that the Spirit can communicate to position us where we are called to use our charisms.

The first incident was when I found myself, a Catholic for less than three years, at a national meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions. Looking around the room at the professional liturgists and bishops present, I asked myself,  "What am I doing here?"  Immediately, the response came: "Because you can do this."  I responded by entering a degree program to learn more about what "this" was and to equip myself to do it. The "this" was ministry...

The second time occurred after I had been searching unsuccessfully for several years for a full-time position in ministry. At that point, I had been serving as part-time liturgy coordinator at my parish, while my day job was mostly clerical. I also had a writing job on the side for the local paper. I was restless with the patchwork of putting together three jobs to make a living - and not fully using my talents.

Over the summer, I began hearing a distinct voice in my head: "Bloom where you're planted." I was puzzled as to why this thought kept coming to me. In the fall, I made my Cursillo and during the communal penance service, on the way back to my seat after my confession I once again heard that annoying mantra: "Bloom where you're planted." This time I pushed back: "I can't bloom where I'm planted.Lord. I HATE where I'm planted!"The response was immediate and surprising: "Then, plant yourself where you can bloom!" I had never thought about leaving town. The job search led to a dual position as director of religious education and liturgy in a parish where I was a total stranger.

Over the years since those events, my progress in ministry has been more event-driven, but I learned to see the workings of God in occurrences that forced me to change or grow. I have been recently much more aware that recent requests for me to write and teach are part of the Spirit's plan for use of those charisms. (I have always shared my singing in parish and diocesan settings, because I have known for a long time that since I was born on St. Cecilia's day, the gift of my voice was God's plan and needed to be shared for God's glory and the good of his people, not to elevate me.)

Looking back, I now know that the voice I heard was that of the Spirit, because these events were clearly connected with my vocation to use my charisms to serve others. Called & Gifted made that very clear to me. As to writing and teaching, the C & G experience changed things for me in ways I never expected. I now have a greater clarity about why I have been given these gifts - and as to why, of late, writing and teaching opportunities have come to me without me looking for them. I also find a great renewal of energy to write and teach.  The Spirit gave these charisms and the Spirit continues to lead me in using them to build up the Church.

I pray that others whose charisms have not been activated may come to understand where the Spirit is directing them. The Holy Spirit is indeed "the giver of life" - a life filled with abundance of joy in using one's charisms to serve.

Come, Holy Spirit! Fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Pentecost: Celebrating Not with a Bang, but a Whimper

One of my great disappointments is that we give the feasts of Ascension and Pentecost so little enthusiasm these days. I honestly believe it's because we have allowed the school year and secular calendar to take over the liturgical year.

First Communions, Confirmations, graduations, and this year, Memorial Day all draw attention from these important moments in the church year, which means in most parishes, the Easter Season ends not with the forward momentum of being sent out, commissioned as a body of disciples sent for mission and evangelization, but with a sigh of relief and the turning of attention to the summer vacation season. Even our sacramental celebrations have the flavor of graduations.

For many of our people, this weekend, whether they come to Mass or not, signals the time to take a vacation from Mass until school starts in the fall, or, if their children's sacraments are completed, perhaps even a permanent vacation, with the perceived blessing of an added day to sleep in and enjoy family time.

How do we let this keep happening year after year?  I believe it happens because people in ministry are simply too tired and busy to maintain the joyous movement the Easter Season requires. The joy of the Gloria and the Alleluia at the Easter Vigil no longer energizes us. We implore the Spirit on Pentecost to send us fire, but too often, we are already burnt-out wicks.

The school-year model of church, which requires obedience to the rhythm of American culture, has us seeing not new life in spring, but a prelude to the "end."  In the fall, when the calendar year and liturgical year are "dying", we gear up, start new programs, coast on that momentum into the frenetic Christmas holidays, take a deep breath in January and dive in again for another few months, by which time, most of us are simply looking forward to the end of our programs and the blessed relief of the summer slow-down.

What would the American church look like if we were not dominated by the tyranny of the school year model?  If we obeyed the natural movement of the liturgical year?

Our new initiatives would begin in Advent, and carry forth the joy of the Incarnation into the months preceding Lent. The 5 weeks of Lent would be our "lull" and the Resurrection in Easter Season, our focal point. When summer Ordinary Time arrived, it would be our signal to concentrate on gathering and building up the Church as a community, hearing the Word and going forth to do it, instead of going our separate ways. We would evangelize and invite, begin meeting with inquirers to see if they truly want to join us.  In the fall, we would rest a bit, count the "harvest" of our summer labors, accept people into the catechumenate and begin again in earnest, fueled for mission by reconnecting with the Incarnate Christ at Advent/Christmas.

This model would support the intent of the RCIA process and keep the community together all through the year.  Yeah, I have a dream.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Vine, the Branches and the Eucharist

The kids in my Confirmation class were confirmed earlier today in two celebrations at my parish. (We had 115 of them, so it was necessary to split the group.) In class on Wednesday, my 22 kids and I talked at length about the image of Jesus as the vine and us as the branches, which, it happens, is the Gospel reading for this weekend. The discussion went in a direction I had not anticipated, but actually, it was the right direction. Here are a few highlights...
  • If Jesus is the vine and we are the branches on that vine, he is the only reason we thrive and bear fruit. 
  • If we are cut off (or cut ourselves off) from the vine, we will become dead branches - and there will be no fruit.
  • Jesus, the true vine, nourishes his people through his sacrifice. He offers this connection if we become his friends, which we become by doing what he asks of us.
  • We never do this alone - we are all connected - all Catholics in the parish, the diocese and around the world.
  • Initiation into full membership in the community through Baptism and Confirmation grafts us onto the vine and makes us a part of it.
  • The faith community (all the branches together) gathers each weekend to be nourished by the Eucharist, which is the chief way that the vine nourishes us
  • Therefore, going to weekend Mass, being nourished by the Word and receiving Eucharist on a regular basis, is the most important thing we can do to maintain our identity as branches on the vine. 
What I hope they took away from Wednesday's session and today's experience is a sense that they belong to Jesus Christ and to his community, the Body of Christ.  The beautiful image of the vine and branches is an organic one - the relationship is the most natural thing in the world. The branches take their very identity from the vine to which they are attached and rooted to the earth. We, too, take our identity from Jesus -and all that we do should reflect our connection to him. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Good Shepherd and the "Different Drummer"

When I was in high school, I liked to think of myself as intellectually superior. It's one of the hazards of being young. It was the 60's - and on TV, I saw that young people were pushing the envelopes of lifestyles and thought. Even though I lived in a small town far from Hippie havens, I wanted to be that too. Also, I was the nerd kid who wore glasses, never dated until Junior year prom. I was the kid reading The Lord of the Rings during freshman study hall and getting weird looks. I was the kid taking 5 subjects instead of 4. I was going to college.  I didn't (and still don't) do chick flicks.

During that time, I thought Jesus was for sentimental people who weren't smart enough to know better.  (I was raised mixed Protestant with a large dose of Unitarian, seasoned with after-dinner discussions of existentialism with my stepfather, a former minister.)

My personal motto was from Henry David Thoreau: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."  I believed I was meant to do that. I was special. I was different. I abhorred mediocrity and my greatest fear was that I would be "ordinary." I did NOT want to be a sheep.

In college, I continued that. I quickly found a relationship with a like-minded young man (who later became my husband) took as many courses as possible each semester, participated in anti-war protests, went to rock concerts and blues bars, spent lots of time in libraries, read voraciously, spent hours in record stores looking for non-mainstream music. We almost never partied. We were serious students. We went to graduate school and the intellectual distance between me and those from my small town widened. I continued to follow the beat of the "different drummer." We were part of the intellectual elite. We were also unchurched.

Fast-forward to 1986. I had, in the meantime had married my young man, who, not incidentally, was an inactive Catholic. Following the usual formula, I promised to raise any children as Catholics. By 1986, my oldest was in preschool and my latent memories of Protestant Sunday School kicked in - I figured it was time to get my boy in.. and I wanted to learn what he would be learning. Next thing you know, I was in the RCIA and joining the Church. The Shepherd had found a lost sheep. (I had a clear vision of a sheep-hook reaching out and grabbing me at one point early on!)

What I found was a Church (and a Jesus) far different from my expectations. I learned to love the parish community - people of all backgrounds and abilities. I learned that it was OK to be a sheep, if I was in the right flock. I learned that my role on earth was to cooperate with God's grace in "building the kingdom."  I learned about the Social Teaching of the Church:  the dignity of EVERY human person, passion for the poor and downtrodden, advocacy for those who have no voice, opposition to injustice... and I learned that the Christian life was not for milquetoasts or intellectual lightweights. (In the personal hardship of the years that have followed, this has only been reinforced.)

I have learned over the years that Jesus Christ is the different drummer in today's culture. That to be Christian is to be truly counter-cultural. In a world where beliefs about life, marriage, and sin are now regularly challenged by the media, the mainstream culture, politicians and those who make laws, we who follow the teaching of Christ and his Church have become the ones who are seen as outside the pale. Others see us as having antiquated beliefs that must be changed. Pretty much they misunderstand those beliefs - and have beliefs from mainstream Christian churches mixed in with those of conservative, intolerant right-wing Evangelicals who have re-written Christian belief as a political agenda. Readers are, no doubt, familiar with all the issues, as hardly a day goes by when some of them are not in the news.

Today, many years out of high school, I can honestly say that I still follow a different drummer. However, he's not some abstract intellectual ideal. He is a living being, who came as a carpenter from Nazareth, who died and rose for our sins, who loves us unconditionally. He is the Good Shepherd who seeks his lost sheep (as he did me) who must weep at much that he sees in today's world. Our vocation, as his disciples, is to weep, too. But also to follow and be faithful, to likewise seek the lost sheep, even in the face of opposition and adversity. We are sheep, but we also are followers who must take up our cross and follow Jesus Christ to Calvary and beyond, who are called to preach, teach and baptize in the name of the Shepherd. Jesus Christ IS my different drummer - and I follow him gladly...

Monday, April 20, 2015

Seven Conclusions from the Liturgical Catechesis and the New Evangelization Conference

In my previous 6 posts on this blog, I have shared my notes from the presentations I heard on Thursday and Friday from the speakers at the Liturgical Catechesis and the New Evangelization Conference at University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein. Here is the link to Part 1. (You can follow the links at the bottom of each post to the next one.)

So, what did I learn from the conference?  I continue to ponder many of the ramifications, but here are a few thoughts.

1. Liturgical catechesis is crucially important to helping people connect fully with Christ to develop a personal relationship. His presence and action in the sacraments is the major way we can encounter and experience him. We need to help people bridge the public worship experience with their prayer life and private experience of Christ.

2. Liturgical catechesis is not about us. It is about Christ. Not what we do, but what Christ does in the liturgy and the sacraments. Learning about our role in the liturgy is only a tool to open ourselves to the grace and actions of God.

3. We must combat liturgical boredom by putting our best into the liturgy, and by helping people understand it. Many young people leave and don't come back today in part because of boredom with the liturgy.

4. Liturgical catechesis is crucial for formation of children and teens, but even more so for their parents, who are the ones who bring them to Mass and encourage practice of the faith. (So many people in the audience pointed out that issue, and presenters agreed.)

5. Catechesis on the symbols, words and actions of the rites should not be put off until the rehearsals for sacrament participants, but interwoven through their preparatory catechesis - and indeed through all catechesis. (In this, current textbooks are pretty much inadequate, so this requires a catechist well-versed in the liturgy.)

6.  The ability to interweave catechetical presentation of doctrinal points with examples from Catholic liturgical practice is an important skill we need to encourage in catechetical leaders and catechists. (Lex orandi, Lex credendi, Lex vivendi)

7.  So much needs to be done. Who is going to do this training and how? Where are the materials and workshops?  (A mission for the Liturgical Institute, perhaps?)  There is much work to do here - and I intend to be an ongoing part of it through the venues I have available to me: my diocesan ministry, this blog, my Liturgical Catechist website, social media and more....

Part 1 - James Pauley keynote
Part 2 - Fr. Douglas Martis
Part 3 - Petroc Willey
Part 4 - James Pauley
Part 5 - Jim Beckman
Part 6: William Keimig - RCIA

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Notes from the Liturgical Catechesis and the New Evangelization Conference Part 6 - William Keimig

Here is the 6th and final installment of my notes from the Liturgical Catechesis conference at the Liturgical Institute at University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein. This is from the talk by William Keimig, St. Mary's of Piscataway, Clinton, MD

"The RCIA Process: The Church's Measure for Liturgical Catechesis"

Common Errors
  • Diabolica division between liturgists and catechists 
  • Liturgy is "used" becoming the servant of catechesis
  • Liturgy does not determine your catechetical emphasis
  • No Rite book nearby means no exploration of the liturgy
  • Thinking that people have sufficiently-sticking conversations through teaching only: no vision that prayer and liturgy are the glue of conversion; they stick you to God.
People outside the church think our liturgical practice is just weird. They can't imagine that is the way we show love to God.

Liturgy models utterance- Love longs to share itself
Liturgy models sacrifice - Love longs not to count the cost
Liturgy models surrender - Love longs to trust absolutely
Liturgy models dialogue - Love longs to speak to the beloved

All of these elements need to be present in our catechesis:
Lex orandi - Liturgical
Lex credendi - Catechetical
Lex vivendi - Pastoral

Catechecal component
Introduces worship - Gives a first exposure to sacred space
Incarnates worship - Explains signs, gestures and beauty
Informs worship - offers a compelling vision into the myster
Inculturates worship - Bestows orthodoxy, authenticated by Mother Church
Invites worship - Points all doctrine to the Story and tot the love that never ends (see Catechesii Tradendae 23)

We need to understand liturgy well enough that we become able to mentor others into loving the liturgy. We need to know why liturgy is an authentic need and why the liturgy is the center and soul of the striving for perfection. Cf. Fr. Cyprian Vagaggini, OSB. Liturgy is relational- not mechanical. To strive for perfection means you want to experience the love beyond all telling and total intimacy. That is what is being offered in the liturgy, along with the means to attain it.

Pastoral formation (fellowship of the group and their hospitality, witnessing and sharing of opinion) and catechetical formation are ABOUT Christ but only the liturgy OFFERS Christ.

READ Aidan Kavanaugh OSB: "A Rite of Passage" the experience of how a catchumen was prepared in the early church.

Lectionary-based Catechesis
During the period of Purification and Enlightenment there should be no more doctrine but a spiritual preparation for the sacraments. Mystagogy teaches from the rites.

*Lectionary-based catechesis is just wrong except in early Lent and Mystagogy. It assumes a mystagogical framework. For a full explanation, see his article in Appendix IV of The RCIA Catechist's Manual (Liturgical Training Publications)

Teaching a doctrinal point through the liturgy. 
Example: Purgatory. We offer every Mass for the departed souls and they are present at every Mass. That takes teaching about it from sterile doctrine to a lived reality.

Benefits of catechumenal catechesis that is authentically liturgical:
  • Fosters more genuine and deep conversions to God and His calling on individual lives
  • Allows for more frequent and more full appropriation of grace
  • More fully expressive of the Church nature 
  • Fosters docility to the ancient ways of the Church
  • Mitigates polemic tendencies regarding the teachings of the Church
  • Helps the parish community grow in its communal and liturgical life
  • Helps people to grasp the liturgical life of the Church in a daily pragmatic way
  • Creates a greater diversity of ministries for differing gifts and abilities of parishioners
  • Assists in vocational awareness due to the regular focus on saints who have lived fully their vocations
  • The ordered nature and paschal focus of the liturgical year implies and demands systemic catechesis
  • Provides more diverse means of approach for children; in better accord with the learning types of children
  • Gives people a chance to experience the priest's liturgical ministry more frequently and in a less-distant setting
  • Because the liturgical year forms the context of parish life, people become that much more integrated into parish life
  • Helps catechesis accord with the adult learning model better than more didactic and academic forms of teaching
  • Demands more people (sponsors, godparents, team) to be more liturgically aware and in tune with the cycles of the Church's life
Dangers of a parish that lacks a liturgically centered vision of the RCIA process
  • The catechumenate is viewed as unnecessarily effort-intensive, or it becomes "canned"
  • Doctrine is explained without reference to Jesus. His simple call is lost in the details
  • Not expecting serious progress; or not having patience with how Jesus woos a soul
  • Liturgical rites become celebrations of community entirely, not encounters with Christ
  • The trust given to catechists and leaders never translates into trusting Jesus
  • Forgiveness explained poorly can result in seeing Jesus' mercy as weakness or lenience
Questions to discuss in a parish setting to improve
  • How do we prepare RCIA participants and the parish for the major liturgical rites?
  • How do we reflect on these rites after they take place?
  • How often and how well do we make available the various minor rites
  • If we dismiss the catechumens from Sunday Mass, how often do we do so? If not, how can we change things to offer this opportunity?
  • What takes place at Breaking Open the Word (Reflection on the Word?) is it just another teaching session, or perhaps just a sharing of opinions?
  • What happens during Lent? Is Lent a time for interior reflection or primarily catechetical instruction?
  • Do we celebrate all of the Scrutinies, the Presentations, and the preparation Rites on Holy Saturday?
  • What is our Easter Vigil like? How many parishioners attend? Do the elect and the candidates feel welcomed and at home by their experience of the parish at the Vigil?
  • Are sponsors and godparents deeply involved before and after the Easter Vigil? What sort of formation do they receive?
What should a parish see in its neophytes over time that gives evidence as to whether the RCIA process has been successful?
  • Do your neophytes really feel they have a need for the Mass?
  • Do your neophytes really have a desire for Jesus that is restless for more?
  • Do your neophytes really desire to help others get to Heaven?
  • Do your neophytes really have thankful hearts?
  • Do your neophytes really need God in daily life?
  • Do your neophytes really desire to sin less each day? 
Other suggestions
  • Use guided meditations on prayers, ritual texts, Scripture, Eucharistic prayers, the Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, the Communion Rite, litanies, Lord/s prayer, other well-known prayers
  • Tour the church, sacristy, diocesan cathedral, local monasteries or retreat houses, local shrines, other Catholic churches, an Eastern Rite Catholic church, a Catholic cemetery
  • Use different prayer forms - Adoration, Liturgy of the Word, Silent prayer alone - indoors, outdoors, in small groups, in a chapel - Explain and offer Masses for different intentions, explain and pray Lectio Divina, Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, Stations of the Cross, Stations of Light, the Angelus, the Regina Caeli, a litany, pray by laying on hands, pray a novena for a specific intention, pray in Latin, Sing psalms, Sing hymns, sing common Mass setttings, personal silent meditation on Scripture, an event in Church history, a saint's life or writings, a prayer text, a hymn text, a poem with suitable themes.
  • Other creative elements: walk through the Mass,through the Bible or a specific Gospel, through a missalette, through one of the Liturgy of the Hours (Morning or Evening Prayer, for instance), walk though Examination of Conscience, demonstrate how to go to Confession, how to receive Communion, how to offer a thanksgiving prayer after Communion, explain and hold a Passover Seder, explain Catholic objects, vessels, sacramentals, statues, medals, devotional items; do a virtual or video tour of Catholic places, watch a video of a major Catholic event watch a movie on a biblical story, the life of a saint, a Catholic theme.
An exercise in liturgical catechesis:
Take 5 common doctrines, and come up with (in a single sentence for each) an ear-catching proclamation of how each doctrine connects to the sacred liturgy. Do not limit this to articulating connections to the Mass only, but also the broader liturgical reality that the Church understands.

Previous Posts in this series
Part 1 - James Pauley keynote
Part 2 - Fr. Douglas Martis
Part 3 - Petroc Willey
Part 4 - James Pauley
Part 5 - Jim Beckman