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”

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.

Q&A with Bishop Paprocki and Catholic High Schools

Yesterday I had the pleasure of moderating a Catholic Schools Week Q&A webcast with Bishop Thomas John Paprocki and the students of the seven Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois:

I was very impressed with the questions the students came up with (a nice mixture of light and serious) and very pleased that, for our first attempt at this type of webcast, the technology didn’t fall apart on us! Our hope is to make this an annual event and to develop a similar experience for the other Catholic schools in our diocese.

The “Circles” of the New Evangelization

The phrase “New Evangelization” is frequently thrown around today to describe a variety of programs, teachings, initiatives, and projects – so much so that sometimes we forget that the New Evangelization is at its core, in the words of Donald Cardinal Wuerl, “a mode of thinking, seeing and acting… a lens through which we see the opportunities to proclaim the Gospel anew.”

To help combat the “programmatization” of the New Evangelization it may be helpful to think in terms of a series of concentric circles, each with its own needs and requiring its own approach:

circles

At the center of the circle is Jesus Christ, the ultimate end of the New Evangelization. As Pope Benedict XVI reminds us in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”), “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” That person is Jesus. The goal of evangelization and catechesis is to help individuals to know him – not just in an intellectual way, but through our lived experience in relationship to him.

The next circle from the middle consists of intentional disciples – those who have oriented their lives towards Jesus Christ and follow him in a way radically at odds with the ways of the world. It is important to note that intentional discipleship is more than just showing up for Sunday Mass. True discipleship flows into all aspects of our lives. Those who have reached this circle seek to emulate Jesus in all things.

The next circle out is seekers. These individuals are looking for more – and may be involved and present in our parishes – but they have yet to fully turn over their lives to Jesus. They are pursuing, to various degrees, a spiritual life and may well be on their way to true discipleship.

The “marginals” are those family members and friends that we may see at Christmas, Easter, or funerals, but who do not participate in the faith regularly. Many of them still have a personal prayer life and would bristle at being called “inactive” or “non-practicing.” However their religious activities do not include the wider Christian community, even if they continue to identify as Catholic.

Moving outwards we next encounter the “nones,” a rapidly growing group that identifies with no religious tradition. (They get their name because they mark “none” when asked about their preferred faith tradition on surveys.) Members of this group may or may not be hostile to religious faith, but they have no interest in organized religion, finding it to be irrelevant to their needs.

Finally, in the circle furthest from the center, is the culture. The Church’s teaching on the New Evangelization is clear that, in addition to reaching out to individuals in their communities, Christians are also called to evangelize the cultures in which they find themselves. This is accomplished through various outreach and service programs including Catholic schools and hospitals, and initiatives of the bishops such as Catholic Relief Services and advocacy for more just laws in the secular sphere.

The goal of the New Evangelization is to help people to come to know Jesus Christ – in effect, to help people to move from the outer circles to the center where we find, ultimately, union with Christ. What this looks like will depend on which “circle” we are dealing with. In other words, a one-size-fits-all approach will not meet the varied attitudes, experiences, and needs we will encounter in the people we meet. It is the work of our dioceses, parishes, and families to ensure that all people hear the Gospel and are invited to take that first step – no matter how small – towards Christ.

This post was originally written for the USCCB’s Diocesan Educational and Catechetical Leadership Institute.

Gigs, Geeks and God

GodTexting2

Today I am giving the keynote address at the Archdicoese of Milwaukee’s Gigs, Geeks and God conference. The topic of my keynote — “The New Evangelization in a Digital Culture” — explores how the Church can adapt to the emerging internet culture and rethink parish life in light of it.

A video of the presentation will be added here early next week.

Slides

Notes

The notes for this talk are available in PDF format.

Recommended Resources

The Cluetrain Manifesto by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger

“New Clues” for 2015 by Doc Searls and David Weinberger

The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet edited by Brandon Vogt

Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet by Sherry Turkel

Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith by Shane Hipps

Gutenberg the Geek by Jeff Jarvis

Casting My Lots – Episode 2: Reading Time

In this week’s episode of Casting My Lots I go into a little more depth about yesterday’s “Five Books” post:

(What is Casting My Lots? Check out last week’s inaugural episode for details.)

5 Books for 2015

words

I am a firm believer that one of the most important activities a leader can engage in is good reading. Reading exposes us to new and challenging ideas, expands our understanding of the world, and offers respite from our normal business.

Since 2010 I’ve started out the year by recommending books I’ve read the past year to other catechetical leaders. Here’s this year’s list:

  1. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull (2014); Whether you’re a Pixar fan or looking for leadership insight from someone with an impeccable track record, this book is an easy, delightful read. I’ve already taken some of his lessons to heart as a diocesan director.
  2. Confirmation: How a Sacrament of God’s Grace Became All About Us by Timothy R. Gabrielli (2013); Thinking about the Sacrament of Confirmation has absorbed much of my mental energy in recent years, and this small but dense book helped a lot in clarifying some of my thoughts. Gabrielli gives a thorough historical treatment of the Sacrament of Confirmation leading up to Vatican Council II and after, with a particular eye to its interactions with changing secular ideas about adolescence.
  3. Evangelii Gaudium by Pope Francis (2014); This is a bit of a cheat since it’s technically an apostolic exhortation, not a book, but “The Joy of the Gospel” continues to unfold its rich treasury of gifts as I unpack it in light of my own ministry. Don’t rush through this one: it rewards slow, deep reading.
  4. Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive by Thom Rainer (2014); This slim tome, by a Southern Baptist pastor, examines the factors that lead to a local church community’s decline and eventual failure. I posted a full review last May; suffice to say that there is much here that applies to Catholic parishes.
  5. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (1997); Recommended to me by the founder of LibraryThing, this science fiction novel tells the tale of the first Jesuit mission to another species on a distant planet. Russell does an outstanding job of portraying the rich faith lives of her diverse cast of characters — what could have come across as predictable and preachy is instead grounded, surprising, and tender.

Casting My Lots – Episode 1: Introductions

This week I’m debuting Casting My Lots, a weekly video in which I talk about something related to the catechetical ministry that has piqued my interest or caught my fancy. I explain the where and the why in episode 1:

I’m very excited to be doing a regular media-rich feature on my blog and I hope that you will enjoy it and find it beneficial for your ministry.

To get the fastest notification when a new episode is released, subscribe to my YouTube channel! (Of course, you’ll also get updates if you’re subcribed to my blog or email list.)

My Top Five Posts of 2014

Heavens-FenceDespite blogging for well over 10 years, I’ve never been very good about analyzing my blog’s stats to look for trends and patterns. This year I though it would be interesting to see which of my posts were the most-read in this past year. Here’s the list:

  1. Book Review: Forming Intentional Disciples (July 23, 2012): I continue to gain insights from Sherry Weddell’s book (and I’m looking forward to the follow-up being released soon). The book has taken Catholic evangelization circles by storm, so it’s no surprise that my review was my most-viewed post last year.
  2. 7 Sources for Parish Social Media Content (June 12, 2014): the intersection of catechesis and technology continues to be a mainstay of my writing and speaking. When discussing new media I love showing others easy, free ways to generate content. This post shows a few of those tricks.
  3. On the Catholic Interpretation of the Bible: Divino Afflante Spiritu (September 20, 2008): Despite being written over 6 years ago this post continues to get hits (over 2,700 since I started tracking hits) from people searching for information on Pius XII’s encyclical on biblical studies. I take some satisfaction at the thought that many term papers have been saved with this summary.
  4. The Spiritual Role of the Principal (September 27, 2010): This post summarizes the introductory session I run with our diocese’s new principals every year. (True story: every fall I just print out this post to use at the meeting!)
  5. Notes – Catholic Schools: Centers of the New Evangelization (April 22, 2014): I had the pleasure of presenting at last year’s NCEA conference in Pittsburgh, PA. This post collects my slides and notes from that breakout session.

Do you have any suggestions for what I should write about in 2015? Leave a comment!