Of Halloween Candy and Evangelization

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When I was a kid, my favorite stop on Halloween was a house one block over from ours. Besides being friends and super-nice people, they gave out large boxes of Cracker Jack to the neighborhood kids. (And keep in mind this was in the era of good Cracker Jack prizes.) We also had a number of houses that gave out full-size candy bars and other treats that made our little hearts warm when offered in lieu of “tricks.”

In contrast, my heart always sank when I would hold out my bag and watch as some off-brand chocolate (sure to be chalky), Halloween-themed gummy things (sure to be flavorless), or hard pink gum pellets (sure to glue your mouth shut) fell in.

It’s a safe bet which houses were remembered and put on the mental “must visit” list for next year, and which treats languished in the bottom of the bag until all the good stuff had been consumed.

For better or worse, our parishes are in a similar position to those Halloween stops of my youth. Some have much to offer those who cross their thresholds: a welcoming community, well-celebrated liturgies, opportunities for outreach and education, and beautiful church buildings. Others — too many, if surveys and statistics are accurate — offer the ecclesial version of waxy chocolate bars and stale bubble gum.

Is it any wonder that so many people leave our parishes on Sunday morning without spiritual fervor when we offer them cheap treats? The crisis of evangelization in the Church will not be fixed by bland, flavor-less programs or communities that seek to preserve “our way of doing things” at all costs. The New Evangelization begins with quality outreach designed to serve the local community.

A big box of Cracker Jack or a limp purple lollipop. Which type of parish do you think seekers will come back to again and again in their search for meaning and a spiritual home?

Photo Credit: .robbie via Compfight cc

17 Insights from FDLC (in Tweet Form)

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Last week I attended the 2014 National Meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC). I’m not a liturgist (and don’t even play one on TV) but I was invited by our diocesan director for worship and the catechumenate to participate in a consultation process with the US Bishop’s Committee on Divine Worship regarding edits to the National Statues on the RCIA.

(With a new translation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults on the horizon, this is an opportune time to reevaluate the national statues in light of our pastoral experience since implementing the RCIA in America.)

In addition to the consultation process we heard from a variety of voices, most notably from the staff of the USCCB Secretariat of Divine Worship; a report on a recent survey by CARA about the RCIA in parishes; pastoral and theological reflections by Fr. Ron Lewinski and Fr. Paul Turner; and Parish Day presentations by Jim Schellman and D. Todd Williamson. Here are some of my takeaways that I tweeted from the meeting.

Don’t Forget: Building a Better Disciple Series

Christ_Taking_Leave_of_the_ApostlesNext Monday I’ll be launching the first in my five-part series of webinars entitled “Building a Better Disciple.” This series will focus on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ through the lens of Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”

Information on the series — including registration information — can be found at BuildingABetterDisciple.tumblr.com. If you are unable to participate in the live webinars you can check here or on the series web site for recordings a day or two after each live session.

I hope I’ll see you there!

Book Review: When Other Christians Become Catholic

handshakeTomorrow I will head to Chicago for the annual meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions. It’s not my usual annual conference — and I’m not even a liturgist! — but the attendees will be participating in a consultation process with the USCCB’s Committee for Divine Worship on the National Statues for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), so our director for the Office for Worship and the Catechumenate asked if I would like to tag along given the catechetical import of the topic.

One of the pieces of “required reading” we were given to prepare for the consultation process is Fr. Paul Turner’s When Other Christians Become Catholic (Pueblo, 2007). This short tome covers a number of issues related to the reception into the Church of Christians from other ecclesial communities. This includes an overview of the history of how other Christians have been received, starting with the early years of the Church when adherents to heretical sects (such as the Arians) joined the true faith; a look at how other Christians receive members into their communities; and a look at issues that still remain with the process as it was renewed after Vatican Council II.

WOCBC-turnerFr. Turner’s overarching message, however, is to remind us that when other Christians choose to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, they are not doing so in a vacuum or as if their previous faith commitments were invalid. This is both a theological and a pastoral point: theological in that we must take seriously the validity and reality of the person’s baptism, even if that baptism occurred in a community not connected with the Catholic Church. The question of whether to recognize other baptisms was decided in the affirmative by the ancient Church; this presupposes that God is really and truly acting in their lives even before their movement towards the Catholic Church.

The point is pastoral because, in practice, many Christians come away from the process of reception into the Church with the impression that their baptisms were somehow “lesser” because they did not occur in a Catholic context. Fr. Turner puts the blame for this squarely on the practice of including baptized candidates for full communion in the same preparation program as unbaptized catechumens who are preparing for full initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist), culminating in a combined rite at the Easter Vigil. As Fr. Turner states,

By adopting Easter as the paradigmatic occasion for celebrating the rite of reception, the Catholic Church in the United States has reframed the meaning of the rite and its attendant preparation into something more resembling a conversion, a dying and a rising – rather than an evolution, a coming to full communion… Such a conversion is a symptom that something has gone wrong with the rite of reception. The council envisioned an ecumenically sensitive rite that would promote the concept of one baptism among Christians. But the rite of reception is being celebrated as a near equivalent with the initiation of the unbaptized.

This will, no doubt, be a major topic of conversation at this week’s FDLC meeting as we discuss the National Statutes.

The only downside to Fr. Turner’s book is a linguistic one; because the book was published in 2007, it does not take into account the 2010 translation of the Roman Missal. As a result, his discussion of such texts (including an otherwise excellent examination of the text of the Mass for Christian Unity) do not reflect the current liturgical language, although his overarching points are still relevant.

Nevertheless, the book is highly recommended for it’s overall theme and discussion of the historical and ecumenical nature of welcoming other Christians into full communion. When Other Christians Become Catholic is a valuable resource for pastors, evangelists, and RCIA leaders and team members.

How to Break In Your Liturgical Books

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Recently my office purchased a complete set of the Lectionary for Mass. Wanting to make sure the books lasted a long time, I asked our director for worship and the catechumenate how he prepares liturgical books for regular use. Here’s a video demonstrating the technique he shared with me:

Image by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP, under a CC-BY-NC-ND license.

Who’s In Your Braintrust?

CatmullQuoteI recently read Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, one of the founders and president of Pixar Animation. The book is a wonderful lesson in the business of creativity, told through the history of Pixar’s rise as the most respected animation company in the world.

In the fifth chapter Catmull talks about the Pixar “Braintrust,” a group of “funny, focused, smart, and relentlessly candid” leaders within Pixar who come together on a regular basis to offer honest, constructive feedback on various projects related to the work of the company. These meetings involve a lot of frank talk about what is working — and what isn’t working — in any given Pixar movie during the course of its production. Anyone in the Braintrust, regardless of their official position within the company, is expected to contribute with their honest opinions.

Catmull discusses the need for this kind of candid conversation, unencumbered by ego or territoriality, in any creative endeavor. I would argue that it is also necessary for the work of ministry.

Everyone who works for the Church — and especially those of us in leadership positions — should be about one thing: building up the Kingdom of God. What that means will depend on what ministry we are engaged in, but the bottom line is that if we aren’t going about our Father’s work, then we aren’t being effective in our ministry.

Unfortunately, as fallen human beings, we sometimes (often?) fail to maintain a relentless focus on the things of God and instead put our energy and attention on our own projects and desires. Being able to have candid conversation about what is and is not working is essential to the tasks of ministry. We should have the fortitude and integrity to ask probing questions, give honest opinions, and challenge one another about what is effective.

(And I hope it goes without saying that we should do collaboratively with one other, rather than behind each other’s backs.)

In my diocese I am blessed with colleagues who are unrelenting in their focus on improving our ministries and who are unafraid to question, challenge, critique — and praise! — each other in appropriate, loving ways. It’s not always easy (as one of them likes to say, “Collaboration is hard work!”) but it is rewarding in ways I could never have dreamed when I entered into ministry.

Who is in your Braintrust? Who can you turn to for honest, candid discussion about your ministry? If you can’t think of anyone, how could you foster relationships with others to develop your own “braintrust?”

Parish Employment and Parish Membership

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I am sometimes asked by parish catechetical leaders (especially principals) whether they should become members of the parish that employees them when they are hired.

I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule (and in my rural diocese there are certainly circumstances where worshiping at a different parish would be impractical), but in general I am not in favor of working where you belong.

For one, there is a risk of work interfering in other parish activities. This may be my own personal bias, but when I go to Mass I’m not thinking about work. But some people seeing parish workers at Mass view them as “on the job,” even if it is outside of their “office hours.” It would be distracting for folks to come up to me (either before or after the liturgy ) to discuss a work-related issue. Put another way: it’s impossible to be an “anonymous worshiper” at the Church where you work.

Secondly, as Jesus reminds us in a recent Gospel reading, “No prophet is accepted in his own native place.” While I wouldn’t go far as to equate parish employees with the biblical prophets (although would that we all were like them!), that catechesis is part of Christ’s prophet ministry should cause us to reflect. I sometimes wonder if it is harder for people in my parish to take me seriously as a church employee when they see me, for instance, struggling to keep my toddler settled during Mass week after week.

What do you think: should parish employees belong to the community they work for?

Preview: Sunday Prayer for Catechists 2014-2015

As I’ve previously mentioned, I was privileged to write this year’s Sunday Prayer for Catechists book from Liturgy Training Publications. The book is out now and I’ve received very positive feedback (including notes from two of my childhood catechists!).

A preview of the book is available on Google Books:

Sunday Prayer for Catechists 2014-2015 is available from the LTP web site (in both digital and dead tree formats) for $2.00. I pray that it will be a blessing to catechists this coming year!

Free Webinar Series: Building a Better Disciple

Christ_Taking_Leave_of_the_ApostlesI’m pleased to announce that this fall I will be offering a free webinar series entitled “Building a Better Disciple.” Over the course of five webinars we will explore what it means to be a Christian through the lens of Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”

Full information on the series is being posted at BuildingABetterDisciple.tumblr.com; here’s a quick overview of the sessions (clicking on the links will take you to the registration pages for each webinar):

October 13: Jesus: The Face of Discipleship
https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/961033874
Before understanding how to become a disciple we must first know what a disciple is. Through the person of Jesus Christ we will come to know what it means to claim the name “Christian.”

October 20: Scripture and Tradition: The Boundaries of Discipleship
https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/932598546
Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition – passed on through the biblical authors, the apostles, and their successors – form the deposit of our faith. As the basis for all of the Church’s teaching they also provide the boundary lines for discipleship by illuminating the path that followers of Christ must follow.

October 27: Christian Community: The Foundation of Discipleship
https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/222598314
Faith is nurtured and sustained in the context of a community of believers. This session will explore how the Church in various contexts (family, parish, school, etc.) sets the stage for a life of discipleship.

November 3: Liturgy and Prayer: The Engine of Discipleship
https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/359999938
In this webinar we will examine how the graces received in the sacraments, liturgical celebrations, and personal prayer fuel our capacity for embracing the call to discipleship.

November 10: Vocation and Mission: The Aim of Discipleship
https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/432332978
Faith that is not put into practice is sterile. Connecting the themes of the previous webinars we will explore how the faithful participate in the Church’s mission in the world through their particular gifts and calling.

All webinars begin at 7:30p (Central Time) and will last 90 minutes. I hope you’ll be able to join me for this exciting series!

Designing a Great Catechetical Office

Our catechetical office recently learned that we will be moving into a new office suite in a few months. Our existing suite is being converted into new meeting spaces that will be larger and more convenient for people meeting at our pastoral center.

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With this move we have the opportunity to design our new offices (within some constraints, of course) and I’ve been giving some time to thinking about how to arrange and design this space to both maintain and build upon the great collaboration we currently enjoy.

Here are a few of the ideas I’ve come up with:

  • Increased artwork – Currently our walls are pretty bare. We have some small religious artwork and posters from past diocesan events, but nothing that really fills the space or inspires greatness. I was already considering purchasing some new art for the office; now I consider it a “must” for the new space.
  • Green plants – I’m a big believer that having living things around makes any space more welcoming and inviting. In fact, I just bought a fish for my office! With the move to a new space I’m looking at various office-friendly plants to add some green, help purify the air, and add a friendly atmosphere.
  • Comfy meeting space – One of the things I love about our office is the level of collaboration we’ve achieved, especially as an office that covers parish-based religious education, Catholic schools, and youth ministry. Having a large, open space with comfortable chairs encourages good collaboration and communication, both for internal meetings and when sitting down with DREs, pastors, principals, and others.

Those are some of the issues I’m wrestling with in our new space. Do you have any advice on creating a great office space?