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.

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

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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:

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)