An Easter Reflection for Catechists

As we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ in this Easter season, it is a good time to reflect on the meaning of the Paschal Mystery in our lives and for our ministry. The Church proclaims that

In the sacraments of Christian initiation we are freed from the power of darkness and joined to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. We receive the Spirit of filial adoption and are part of the entire people of God in the celebration of the memorial of the Lord’s death and resurrection. (Christian Initiation, General Introduction, no. 1)

As catechists this is not only true of us personally, but it is also the basis of how we form those in our charge. All catechesis finds its root, its hope, its end in the Paschal Mystery, because it is through that mystery that God’s promises to his people are completed:

If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as [being] dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:8-11)

In the RCIA, Catholic schools, religious education programs, and adult faith formation sessions, the Paschal Mystery should have pride of place and be a constant touchstone for our teaching and formation. As catechists it is our privilege to lead people to a relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship finds its culmination in Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist, because these sacraments unite us in an unchangeable way with the life of Christ.

My prayer for you in this blessed season is that your life and ministry will be increasingly touched by a radical encounter with Christ and his Pascal Mystery. Have a happy and blessed Easter season!

What our Students Should Know: Religion Curriculum Standards in our Diocese

This week my office is rolling out our diocese’s first set of PreK-8th grade religion curriculum standards:

These standards were developed over nearly five years with a committee composed of both parish and Catholic school representatives. We used as our basis standards from the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Orlando, as well as materials from the USCCB.

Of course, a set of standards is only effective if they are implemented — and I am keenly aware that this is no small task! I’m anticipating a five-year implementation period for these standards, beginning with a study and review period for teachers, catechists, and catechetical leaders; an alignment review to document how the standards line up with the catechetical textbooks in use in our diocese; and lots of encouraging, reassuring, and question-answering on the part of our office!

We will also need to review the standards with an eye fr how parish formation programs will implement them, given the disparity in contact hours between Catholic schools and parish programs. We will try to make good recommendations for what standards parishes should focus on each year.

Please pray for this process — for our office as we seek to set these standards into motion, and for our catechists as they adopt these standards in their parishes and schools.

How I Work: Office Edition

Thomas L. McDonald of God and the Machine recently invited fellow bloggers to post their own “How I Work” entry (modeled after the Lifehacker series of the same name) so I thought I would have a go. This week I’m featuring my work office; next week I’ll do the same for my home setup.

Location: Springfield, IL
Current Gig: director of catechetical services for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois
One word that best describes how you work: interrupted
Current mobile device: LG G3 running Android 4.4.2 (KitKat)
Current computer: Acer Veriton running Windows 7

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Why?
Google Calendar: I keep separate color-coded calenders for my diocesan responsibilities, family (shared with my wife so she can add events), the liturgical year, and project work. I have a horrible memory, so this system helps me keep track of all of my responsibilities at a glance. The one hitch occured when Google discontinued direct syncing support for Outlook (which our office use), but I’ve implemented some workarounds so my colleagues still see my full work calendar.
Dropbox: Come, children, and hear tales of the days when we had to use floppy disks to shuttle files back and forth!
Evernote: I use Evernote for a variety of tasks, including organizing travel documents, maintaining a digital filing cabinet, and storing recipes. Most recently I’ve started dumping meeting agendas into it so I can access them from my phone instead of printing a paper copy. (The Outlook plugin makes this a snap.)
GoToMeeting: Our diocese covers 28 counties, which makes gathering people for meetings/training/etc. difficult. One of the first things I did when I joined the office was push to implement online meetings. Most standing groups still meet in person at least once a year, but using GoToMeeting allows more people to participate without burdening them with a 2 hour drive.
LibraryThing: I’ve tried a few other book cataloging sites before, but I love LibraryThing because it was built by bibliophiles for bibliophiles. With it I can quickly browse books by subject, keep track of all my book reviews, and remind myself who I’ve lent books out to.

What’s your workspace setup like?
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This is my desk on a good day. Not pictured are my four bookcases and meeting table (see below).

desktop

(I hide all icons on my computer desktop, so there’s nothing to see expect the pretty pictures I use as wallpapers.)

LGScreen

My phone screen is dominated by Google Now, with a few apps I use the most.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?

Delegation. This is my first job where I’ve had a secretary and learning how to work with one well has been a huge boon to my productivity.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
I’ve tried a variety and left most for pen and paper. Right now I’m using Trello.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
On the hardware side I love my Wacom Intuos Pen Tablet. It’s completely replaced my mouse at work. I also use it during presentations to transform PowerPoint into a digital white board.

In terms of my office setup, I couldn’t get by without my big wooden meeting table:

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I inherited it from my predecessor and, given the number of staff members in my department that I’m blessed to work with, it’s invaluable for one-on-one chats, small task force meetings, and sitting down with folks from outside the curia.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
I’m really good at identifying the heart of an problem — peeling away the secondary issues and getting at root causes. I’m not sure what the secret is to that, besides being able to mentally categorize the issues on the table and sort through them in a systematic way.

What do you listen to while you work?
Most days it’s either classical or jazz, although Johnny Cash sees pretty regular rotation.

What are you currently reading?
Right now I’m reading Redeeming Administration: 12 Spiritual Habits for Catholic Leaders in Parishes, Schools, Religious Communities, and Other Institutions by Ann M. Garrido and Aquinas (A Beginner’s Guide) by Edward Fesser.

What has changed over the years since you started and what do you do differently?
I often say that one of the joys of my job has been seeing good collaboration between the offices in my department and the fruits of those relationships. I used to take that for granted but, as a colleague likes to remind me, “Collaboration is hard work.” So I’m trying to be more intentional about how I communicate with the people I work with and ensuring that tasks and responsibilities are clearly understood by everyone in the room.

What Young Catechetical Leaders Need

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A couple weeks ago I responded to a request from a catechetical colleague and friend to consider working on a national project. After thinking and discerning about it I decided to politely refuse but found that, in doing so, I had some things to say. Indeed, what should have been a simple “no, thank you” email quickly blossomed into a 1,300-word essay about the needs of young catechetical leaders.

Below is a highly edited version of that email. I don’t mean to speak for all young Catholic leaders, but I would love to hear reactions from other young adults working in Catholic ministry — feel free to leave a comment or send me a private message via my contact page.

Dear T—-,

Thank you again for your invitation. I am gratified by the words you shared expressing your confidence in me and my gifts.

Unfortunately I find that I can’t muster much enthusiasm right now for committee work. As I mentioned, my experience with national committees is a mixed bag – good, committed, energized people who are often ignored and who do not possess a means of energizing the organization with their ideas. With a new baby, plenty of diocesan work to keep me busy, and other projects I’m excited to pursue, I don’t think I would be effective in breaking through this organizational culture.

In particular I find myself pessimistic about the ability of national ecclesial bodies to attract and tap into the energy, charisms, and commitment of young Catholics, in no small part due to the experiences I have had. In some corners of the Church there is a consistent undertone directed towards young adults that we are there to learn or be learned about, rather than having anything meaningful to say on our own behalf. This was made very clear to me when, at a gathering of national catechetical leaders, a well-known and respected leader in catechetical circles cut me off three times as I tried to respond to a point he was making to me during a hallway conversation before he walked off. At that moment he was the face of an organization that didn’t care to hear my story.

The failure of many national organizations to make good use of new media is also disheartening to me as someone who has tried to educate catechetical leaders on “best practices” for engaging the faithful through new media and who sees it used so well in other corners of the Church (including, surprisingly, the USCCB).

You may recall that, at the end of our conversation last December, you made the statement that “I have a deep loyalty to [X organization]”. I reflected on that afterwards and realized that I have no loyalty to the organization – not because I see it as unimportant or because of my shorter history with it, but because my loyalty is to the ministry of catechesis (as is, I know, yours). Any interest I have in or energy I give to the organiztion is directly proportional to how helpful I see it to catechesis and my role as a catechetical leader.

In this I don’t think I am alone among younger Catholics. Last October Rod Dreher recounted this anecdote following a meeting of friends of First Things magazine:

After lunch, an older Catholic theologian said the morning discussion highlighted for him a “generational divide” among our group. He said that his faction sees the basic problem as one of reforming institutions, which is the approach they inherited from the legacy of Pope Leo XIII, whose reign stretched from 1878-1903. This theologian said that Leo believed that society should try to re-harmonize the three things needed for happiness and a flourishing life: family, community, and church. In Leo’s day, these three had been thrown out of balance by revolutionary economic and political upheaval; he dedicated his pontificate to finding a workable balance.

In the classical First Things approach, said this theologian, the problem is one of bringing the three elements into proper balance in the public square. You can’t return to 1940, but you can bring them into greater alignment. But by the mid-1990s, it was beginning to become clear that the problems were not just a matter of reforming institutions, because institutions were fast becoming optional to American life.

The second, younger faction, this man said, seems to believe that the institutions can’t really be reformed, and that the problem, therefore is more radical. There seemed to be agreement around the table to this notion. One professor spoke quite eloquently throughout the day on the personal crises she sees in her students. There is, she said, an overwhelming sadness to them, an existential angst and fear…

“You can’t imagine how my 18 year old students think about these things,” she said. “No institutions, with the possible exception of their families, mean anything to them.”

This resonated strongly with me – I’m not interested in reforming organizations that have outlasted their usefulness. This is a reality that ecclesial organizations will have to face if they want to attract young adults – insofar as they seem to ignore the concerns of young catechetical leaders (and to be clear, those concerns tend to be very different from the concerns of older catechetical leaders who are driving the agenda), these organizations will appear useless to those young leaders.

I think such organizations have a place in the Church – they have not outlived their usefulness. Indeed, my words here are born out of a place of love and respect for the good work such organization have done over the decades. If I sound harsh it is only because I want such organizations to succeed in the future. But I do not see many of these organizations’ names surfacing in the catechetical circles in which I travel – young catechetical leaders see them as largely irrelevant to their ministry, if they think about them at all.

We don’t need organizations for their newsletter – there are plenty of blogs with more (and often better) content. We don’t need them for their conferences – we can see the same speakers in webinars and have the same lobby conversations on Twitter and Facebook (and year-round, too). We don’t need them to stay connected to the national catechetical scene – we have myriad ways of accessing resources from publishers and the USCCB.

What we need are professional organizations that will acknowledge, listen to, and engage young catechetical leaders as leaders with our own expertise and experiences to bring to the table, even when we do things differently and challenge the “old guard”. This generation is not willing to “wait our turn” – we have plenty of opportunities, thanks to new technologies, to strike out on our own and form our own intentional communities of support and mutual learning. Current national leaders could be a willing partner in those conversations. Thus far they have chosen to stay within their own walls.

Three Things I Learned from Russell Peterson

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My friend and catechetical colleague, Russell Peterson, passed away last Friday night after a sudden and brief illness.

Russell was a man of great faith, warm hospitality, and incisive humor. He was also one of the first diocesan catechetical leaders I met after joining the curia staff at the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. Russell worked to the south in the Diocese of Belleville and was a regular fixture at meetings of the diocesan catechetical directors of the Province of Chicago. His insight and friendship were always appreciated by those of us who worked in other Illinois dioceses.

Over the years that I knew him, Russell mentored me in catechetical leadership and helped introduce me to other leaders in catechesis across the country. He also imparted a number of lessons — both explicitly and implicitly — that have helped to shape my own approach to catechesis:

  1. Focus on Jesus and the rest will follow. If there is one quote that I will always remember from Russell, it is this: “I don’t generally trust anyone who talks about the Church more than they talk about Jesus.” Russell’s point was not to downplay the importance of the Body of Christ — rather, it was that our focus should be on Jesus and helping others to deepen their relationship with him. Russell had little patience for ecclesiastical gossip (in that he was a big fan of Pope Francis’!), a habit I admit to indulging in from time to time. Russell always challenged me to keep my focus on Jesus Christ in my life and in my ministry.
  2. Catechists make room for all of God’s people. Russell had very definite opinions about faith, spirituality, and the state of the Church. Yet I was always amazed at his ability to reach out to all the members of the Church and make sure they were included in his ministry, whether he agreed with them or not. Because he loved people Russell found it easy to move among various “types” of Catholics, which made him a very effective catechetical leader.
  3. Sometimes ministry requires savvy politics. At the 2008 NCCL conference Russell was part of a slate elected as board officers. After the election I made the observation that, at all the evening functions I attended during the conference, at least one member of that slate was also there greeting and talking with people. Russell, with a twinkle in his eye, replied “Funny how that worked out, isn’t it?” Russell was not above cajoling and compromising, recognizing that “the art of the possible” is also a necessary part of collaborative ministry in a fallen world.

I am deeply saddened that I will no longer be able to look for my friend at regional and national catechetical gatherings, and I pray that one day I will get to sit across the table from him and enjoy his presence at the heavenly banquet.

Eternal rest grant unto Russell, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Casting My Lots – Episode 4: Overabundance

Yesterday I released an new Casting My Lots video reflecting on Ezekiel’s vision of water flowing from the Temple (Ezekiel 47:1-12) and what it reminds us about the New Evangelization:

More videos in this series:

  1. Casting My Lots - Episode 4: Overabundance (March 18, 2015)
  2. Casting My Lots - Episode 3: Good Cheese (February 5, 2015)
  3. Casting My Lots - Episode 2: Reading Time (January 14, 2015)
  4. Casting My Lots - Episode 1: Introductions (January 8, 2015)

Fr. Barron Book Giveaway

seeds-single-1pngToday Fr. Robert Barron releases his new book Seeds of the Word: Finding God in the Culture:

Since the first century, Christians have detected “seeds of the Word” in the surrounding culture. No matter how charred or distorted the fragments, we can always uncover inklings of the Gospel, which can then lead people to God. Through this evocative collection of essays, Father Robert Barron finds those “seeds” in today’s most popular films, books, and current events.

How do Superman, Gran Torino, and The Hobbit illuminate the figure of Jesus? How does Bob Dylan convey the prophetic overtones of Jeremiah and Isaiah? Where can we detect the ripple of original sin in politics, sports, and the Internet culture?

Finding the “seeds of the Word” requires a new vision. This book will train you to see.

In celebration of the book’s release Word on Fire Ministries has given me five copies to give away to lucky readers! You have four opportunities to enter by

  1. commenting on this post,
  2. following me on Twitter,
  3. tweeting about the contest,
  4. or joining my email list.

Use this form to enter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Entries must be received by this Saturday at 11:59p (Central Time)!

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Book Review: You Have Put on Christ

017173_rdax_266x400At the root of all Christian discipleship is the Sacrament of Baptism, for it is in Baptism that we become a new creation and are clothed in Christ (cf. RCIA no. 229). Jerry Galipeau’s new book You Have Put on Christ: Cultivating a Baptismal Spirituality is an extended reflection on this reality, told mainly through stories of Dr. Galipeau’s discovery of the power of his own baptism.

The very first chapter recounts a pilgrimage Dr. Galipeau took to the church where he was baptized in an effort to connect his ministry to the roots of his participation in the life of Christ:

“I reached out and gave the top lid of the font a little push and, sure enough, it began to move. The lid opened and inside I saw three small chambers, probably enameled over some kind of steel (rust had formed around the edges) that once held the baptismal water. I just stood there and stared inside this font, thinking to myself, ‘My little head was once right here.’ I was overwhelmed with emotion. ‘Right here,’ I thought, ‘right here is where my life changed forever.'”

Subsequent chapters unpack the baptismal character of Lent and the ways in which a Catholic parish might help parishioners to rediscover the power and meaning of their baptism.

The book comes with an enhanced CD-ROM containing four instrumental tracks, sheet music for the hymn “God, Who at the Font once Named Us,” and the script for a parish-based baptismal reflection session (as described in the third chapter). The files are all reproducible for parish use.

You Have Put on Christ is a short but moving reflection on the grace of Baptism and a great resource for parish liturgists and catechists.

Casting My Lots – Episode 3: Good Cheese

This week I talk about the local nature of evangelization and catechesis:

Edmund Mitchell, “The New Evangelization Must Be Good Cheese”

More videos in this series:

  1. Casting My Lots - Episode 4: Overabundance (March 18, 2015)
  2. Casting My Lots - Episode 3: Good Cheese (February 5, 2015)
  3. Casting My Lots - Episode 2: Reading Time (January 14, 2015)
  4. Casting My Lots - Episode 1: Introductions (January 8, 2015)

Book Review: Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples

BPIDSherry Weddell’s 2012 Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus sent shock waves across the Catholic catechetical and evangelizing communities. At the time I wrote that the book

has appeared at precisely the moment it is needed in the life of the Church… and I believe every bishop, pastor, evangelist, and catechetical leader should have a copy and study it carefully. I know I will be.

Since then I have read the book several times, led a discussion of the book in our curia offices, given away hundreds of copies, and incorporated Sherry’s reflections into my work as a diocesan catechetical leader.

So it is without hyperbole that I say that I have greatly anticipated the release of Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples.

In this new book Weddell takes on editorial duties, collecting reflections from representatives of parishes who have set out to become centers of discipleship. It is a slimmer book than its predecessor — almost half as long — but relentlessly focused in its translation of Weddell’s first book for parish life.

There aren’t a lot of new theological insights in Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples. Instead each chapter offers stories and reflections on the real lived experience of “in the trenches” disciples who are committed to sharing the Gospel and helping others encounter Jesus in their lives and churches.

Weddell herself contributes a chapter based on her popular keynote talk recounting the lives of an extraordinary group of saints in the late 16th and early 17th centuries who transformed the lukewarm, corrupt Christian community in France into a vibrant, faith-filled Church. Keith Strohm writes about the importance of prayer in energizing the work of intentional discipleship, while Fr. Michael Fones, OP, offers an excellent reflection on the role and dignity of the laity in the mission of the Church.

Bobby Vidal connects intentional discipleship to the work of the New Evangelization by demonstrating the importance of embracing new methods, ardor, and expression — especially as they are expressed through the charisms present in a parish. Katherine Coolidge and Fr. Chas Canoy both offer reflections on how their parishes built up a community of disciples, and Jim Beckman dispels myths about youth ministry that stand in the way of forming teens as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples is an excellent companion piece to Forming Intentional Disciples and is a must-read for anyone looking for inspiration and real-life examples of disciple-making. As before, I recommend it to all bishops, pastors, evangelists, catechetical leaders, and anyone interested in the formation of disciples in the Church.