August 2015 Link RoundUp

DSC_3192Here’s a list of some of my favorite reads from this past month:

The Eucharist: Food for Us Wild Things
“There is often a strong connection between an intense love for something and the desire to consume it—to break down any barriers of separation so that there is nothing between us and the object of our affections, and this desire is often understood from an alimentary point of view, a desire which has deep resonances with the Eucharist. Love—in its myriad forms—is, ultimately, a desire for knowledge of and union with the beloved…”

10 First-Week Mistakes You Must Avoid This Year
“If you really want to get the students engaged right at the beginning of the year, then you must focus on your WHY on day one. Remember that your students are excited to be there on that first day. They don’t know what to expect so they naturally have a curiosity about you and your course. Cultivate that curiosity. Give them something to be excited about.”

Finding Middle Ground Between “Churchy” and “Secular” Events
“We offer experiences that are either completely “churchy” in nature or completely secular in nature. We are not helping people find God in all things—something that St. Ignatius taught should be at the heart of our spirituality. If we are going to become a Church on the move, we need to invite people to participate in a variety of everyday experiences and help them to find God in these experiences. In other words, we need to bring the two poles together and invite people to experience the sacred in the secular.”

Marshall McLuhan and Liturgical Change
“Although not entirely conscious of it, perhaps the desire for “more traditional” liturgical rites is in fact a response to the rise of the internet, social media, and the IPhone alike. In a world that involves constant engagement with media, perpetual encounter with image, the use of Latin in the liturgy is a return to a kind of “coolness” where whispers rather than total clarity of speech are available.”

What You’ve Been Taught About Management is Wrong

Use This Hashtag to Talk To God
“Unlike traditional models of prayer, the hashtag variety comes too easily. But this is a criticism that extends to all social media, as Samuel Loncar, a Ph.D. student in Philosophy of Religion at Yale, points out. The nature of the virtual world, he says, is ‘rapid stimulus without any real commitment,’ which means in the case of praying for social media friends there’s no risk associated with it, ‘literally no skin on the game.'”

“I must establish this firm conviction…”

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“If God calls me to apply my activity not only to my own sanctification, but also to good works, I must establish this firm conviction, before everything else, in my mind: Jesus has got to be, and wishes to be, the life of these works.

My efforts, by themselves, are nothing, absolutely nothing. ‘Without Me you can do nothing.’ They will only be useful, and blessed by God, if by means of a genuine interior life I unite them constantly to the life-giving action of Jesus. But then they will become all-powerful: ‘I can do all things in Him who strengtheneth me.’”

Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, OCSO, The Soul of the Apostolate

Photo Credit: KOREphotos via Compfight cc

Hangout with the Liturgical Catechist

Next Tuesday, at 12 noon (Central Time) I will be streaming a live conversation with Joyce Donahue (Diocese of Joliet) about her recent 8-part blog series on forming children and youth for the liturgy:

You can watch live on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-iH_wR0-L4, or by visiting this page.

We will discuss her blog series, liturgical catechesis in general, and how to make your catechetical session more liturgical. We’ll also take your questions during the conversation — we hope you’ll join us live!

DVD Review: Demystifying the Book of Revelation

DemystifyingRevelationIn “Demystifying the Book of Revelation,” Fr. William Burton, OFM, accomplishes a difficult task: unpacking the complex symbolism of apocalyptic literature – and the Book of Revelation in particular – in a manner consistent with Catholic tradition while combating distorted interpretations that have come to dominate modern Christianity in recent decades.

Through six video segments Fr. Burton carefully lays out the historical and literary background of the Book of Revelation. Significant time is spent discussing the genre of apocalyptic literature in Jewish tradition and making connections between the symbols employed by John of Patmos and the situation of the early Church under Roman rule.

Fr. Burton also spends an entire segment debunking the popular “rapture” theory popularized by fundamentalist Christians and the Left Behind series.

The lecture by Fr. Burton is punctuated with artwork and video illustrations which, while not rising to the quality of other Catholic video series on the market, nevertheless serve the purpose of the material.

The DVD comes packaged with a short discussion guide containing questions for small groups, making the videos easy to use in a parish formation or educational setting.

Recommended for all libraries.

N.B.: I received a free review copy of this DVD from the Catholic Library Association. This review was originally published in the June 2015 issue of Catholic Library World.

Three Attitude Shifts for Embracing Young Catholic Leaders

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Colleen Reiss Vermuelen posted a great reflection on her blog last week (responding to a dynamite piece by Tim O’Malley) about the need for the Church to find new ways to recruit young Catholic leaders in her ministries:

Despite popular perceptions, the Catholic Church’s organizational structure is extremely decentralized. Canonically, every parish can stand alone in many aspects of administration/management. Every diocese can adopt different priorities. We have to take ownership of this challenge. Those who work in parishes, those who work in dioceses, young adults, those who know young adults, etc. It’s everyone’s problem when perception may be all that’s blocking us from moving toward more optimal ministerial hires.

In additional to (perceived) organizational obstacles, there are also some significant cultural obstacles to reaching potential young leaders, embodied in some persistent and deep-rooted attitudes among those currently in leadership. Overcoming these will require shifting the ways in which we think about young adults and their role in Catholic ministry:

“Come and tell us about yourself.” vs. “Let us come and learn from you.”

As I alluded a few months ago, many young adults in the Church are made to feel as outsiders — novices who must earn their way into the conversation. The assumption is that young Catholics are looking to find their place in existing structures and we must be invited in, at which point we become either items for study or pupils to be taught.

The reality: Young Catholic leaders are creating their own spaces, apart from existing organizations, in which to serve, share formation, and build one another up. These include ministry centers focused around small but vibrant educational institutions (such as the summer programs at the Franciscan University of Steubenville); more informal online venues such as Twitter, Facebook, and blogs; and by cultivating relationships on the peripheries of formal organizations (through hallway meetings and Tweet-Ups).

When current ministerial leaders adopt a “come to us” approach they send the impression that the structure or organization is more important than the ministry — that it is only though an “official” connection that ministers gain legitimacy. Ministerial leaders should be closing the gap by going outside their own comfort zones to the places where young ministers are gathering (physically or virtually) and interacting with them on their own turf.

“You’re not what we’re looking for.” vs. “What gifts do you bring to ministry?”

This is a common trap of leadership, but it is particularly detrimental at this moment in the Church. When looking for successors we often look for people with the same education, experience, and skills that we possess. The assumption behind this bias is that we should be looking for people who will be able to carry on the ministry as it is by doing what we do.

The reality: We are in a rapidly changing cultural, technological, and religious landscape. It is a common saying in education that we are teaching students for jobs that don’t exist yet. The same thing is true in ministry. The ministries the Church will need in 10 years do not currently exist in 99% of parishes (a result in part, I would argue, of our cookie-cutter model of church life).

Instead of looking for someone with what we think are the right skills and education, we should be asking what particular gifts young ministers bring to the Church and help them to cultivate those charisms for the good of the People of God. While a particular job applicant may not have the necessary “5 years parish experience” or exact theological education, many have skills gained in other jobs that are transferable to ministry. Likewise, many young Catholics have engaged in self-education in the faith that, while incomplete, can be easily supplemented.

“That won’t work.” vs. “Go and show us what you can do.”

One of my great frustrations as a young adult working in the Church is the pace at which ministry occurs. In this I know I am not alone — I have seen the enthusiasm of young ministers for a new project or approach returned with immediate dismissals such as “That would be too expensive” or “We tried that 20 years ago and it didn’t work.”

The reality: This isn’t 20 years ago, and the tools now available to us — many of them ridiculously inexpensive, if not free — are vast. Inspired by companies such as Google, many young ministers embrace a “fail cheap and fast” mentality that values quick iteration and experimentation over months of planning and consultation.

Rather than dismissing new ideas (or even ideas that have been tried and failed) leaders should be asking “How would you do that?” Even better, leaders should be inviting young Catholics to try their ideas. Most don’t need a great investment of money or other resources — they just want “permission” to try something on behalf of a parish or school so that they can get others excited, too.

What other shifts do we need to make ministerial leadership welcoming and attainable for young Catholics?

Ministry is a Marathon

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Last year, during a presentation on the New Evangelization to a group of catechetical leaders in our diocese I’ve spoken to before, a startling realization hit me: they were attentive, engaged, and interested in a way I had not seen before.

“Well,” I laughed to myself, “that only took six years. Now to get to work on the catechists they lead!”

I was making a (silent) joke, but upon reflection I realized there was a sizable grain of truth: ministerial leadership is always a marathon, never a sprint, and we shouldn’t be discouraged or disappointed when our efforts don’t produce immediate tangible results. Too often we measure the results of our ministry in the short-term. But our faith reminds us to take a more sustained perspective and aim not just for the immediate, but for the long-term.

Indeed, Sacred Scripture is full of examples of the “long view” of leadership and ministry:

  • Abraham was 100 years old when the Lord’s promise of a son was fulfilled.
  • Joseph endured two years in prison, despite his pleas to be remembered by the pharaoh, before he was released and successfully interpreted the pharaoh’s dreams.
  • Moses tried ten times (and went through ten plagues!) before God’s command to pharaoh to free the Jews was answered.
  • Similarly, Moses had to lead a (at times disgruntled and obstinate) people for 40 years through the desert to reach the Promised Land.
  • The parable of the sower contrasts the seeds that fell on rocky soil and sprang up immediately (but ultimately withered) with the seed that fell on good soil and developed deeper roots.
  • Jesus formed the Twelve Apostles for three years, and they still abandoned him when he was arrested!

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins writes

No matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop. There was no single defining action, no grand program, no on killer innovation, no solitary luck break, no wrenching revolution. Good to great comes about by a cumulative process — step by step, action by action, decision by decision, turn by turn of the flywheel — that adds up to sustained and spectacular results.

We in ministry would do well to remember this and work on cultivating seeds that will have deep, abiding roots in our ministry.

How have you taken the long view in your ministry? How can you build your ministry step-by-step instead of shooting for instant results?

Image by familymwr under a CC-By license.

Book Review: Tweeting with God

TWG-PTweeting with God (Ignatius Press, 2015) arose out of sessions held by Fr. Michel Remery, a Dutch priest, and the youth of his parish. Two hundred of the questions these young people asked – and Fr. Remery’s responses – have been compiled into an attractive and wide-ranging overview of the Catholic faith.

The topics are arranged into four sections dealing with God, the Church, prayer and the sacraments, and Christian living. Each question is answered over two pages with supplemental material, sidebars, full-color pictures, maps, and other graphics. Each question also gets a 140-character “summary” answer (hence the title of the book).

The book is clearly aimed at a young audience. Fr. Remery writes with a breezy, relaxed style that never condescends or skirts difficult issues. Questions such as “Why are some Christians hypocritical,” “Why were there violent crusades,” and “Is it bad that I struggle with chastity?” are tackled in a straightforward, honest fashion. The answers are thorough without being overly academic or theological.

Fr. Remery does not claim the book is a complete overview of the Catholic faith; rather, it is designed to deal with the most pressing questions young people have about the faith. The book directs readers to the Bible, Catechism, and YouCat for a more thorough presentation of Catholic doctrine.

Recommended for high school, campus ministry, and parish libraries.

N.B.: I received a free review copy of this book from the Catholic Library Association. This review was originally published in the June 2015 issue of Catholic Library World.

After Obergefell v. Hodges: Now What?

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This morning the Supreme Court ruled, in Obergefell v. Hodges, that the state must recognize marriages between persons of the same sex.

When someone told me the news they were surprised at my rather blasé response and questioned why I wasn’t angry or bitter.

The truth is that anyone surprised by this ruling is completely out of touch with the prevailing cultural and intellectual currents in American society. The triumph of the personal will over any other competing interests has been a fait accompli for some time. It is the basis for the rampant materialism and shallow spirituality manifested in everything from the collapse of the real estate market to the popularity of Oprah Winfrey.

Indeed, I find it impossible to be mad at the justices who ruled in favor of redefining marriage in the same way I can’t be mad at a fish for refusing to leap from the sea and take flight. They did not possess the means of arriving at a correct decision and it would be unjust to expect their ruling to conform to the natural law and God’s revelation when their underlying assumptions and premises are rooted in neither.

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.

Now, for those of us involved in catechesis and evangelization, our task is to shake off the dust and begin to exercise those muscles again — to take up the call to “make disciples of all nations” without relying on the culture surrounding us. This will be a long, arduous process — think of it as physical therapy for the Church. It may require something approaching Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option. But we will need to start with baby steps and small, seemingly insignificant victories that won’t make a dent in the culture but will help us make the slow, incremental progress needed to return to true health. Our losses against the culture will grow worse before they get better. I don’t expect to see the tide turn in my lifetime.

One sign of hope, however, are the wonderful men and women helping the Church to begin exercising these muscles — people like Fr. Robert BarronSherry Weddell, Tom Quinlan, Elizabeth Scalia, and Greg Willits (to say nothing of the statements of recent popes). The work has already begun — and thank God for the prophetic call of those who saw the need to begin working our evangelization muscles before now!

But the road ahead is long and narrow. Through prayer, keygmatic formation, and a careful reading of the signs around us we can rebuild what we have lost. The gift we make to future generations will be in our commitment to pass on to them the tools of evangelization that we ourselves did not inherit.

O God, who in the power of the Holy Spirit
have sent your Word to announce good news to the poor,
grant that, with eyes fixed upon him,
we may ever live in sincere charity,
made heralds and witnesses of his Gospel in all the world.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

(from the Mass for the New Evangelization)

Improving Parish Marriage Prep – More Highlights from Notre Dame

Last week I shared some highlights from the general sessions of the 2015 Notre Dame Center for Liturgy summer symposium on “Liturgy and Vocation.”

The afternoon sessions I attended were led by Josh and Stacey Noem and dealt with marriage prep in a parish setting. The Noems did an outstanding job laying out the theological and pastoral contours of an effective, evangelizing marriage prep process:

I’m looking forward to helping the parishes in our diocese deepen their commitment to a welcoming, evangelizing marriage formation process. Big thanks to Stacey and Josh Noem — and the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy — for the great conversation they facilitated at the symposium!

Highlights from the Notre Dame “Liturgy and Vocations” Symposium

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This week I’ve had the pleasure of attending the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy‘s annual summer symposium, focusing this year on “Liturgy and Vocation.” This was my first time attending the symposium — indeed, my first time on the campus of Notre Dame — and I was delighted by the rich conversations that matched pressing pastoral questions with deep theological insights.

(Next year’s topic will be Liturgy and the New Evangelization — I would highly recommend attending!)

The symposium began on Tuesday evening with Msgr. Michael Heintz. His address on “Liturgy and Vocation” set the stage for the remaining general sessions and afternoon seminars:

The second general session by Dr. Brant Pitre was a whirlwind tour of nuptial imagery in the Bible, based in large part on his book Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told.

On Wednesday Dr. Chad Pecknold of CUA spoke about the social and political dimensions of marriage and the priesthood, rooting his talk in St. Augustine’s image of the two cites.

Finally, on Thursday, Dr. Holly Taylor Coolman helped us to reflect on the nature of icons in order to practice seeing marriage and ordination as icons of Christ’s love.

These highlights don’t even touch the panel discussion on marriage and priestly formation or the two-day afternoon seminar on marriage prep that I attended — I’ll share more on them next week. In the meantime you can browse all the live-tweeting from the event by following the #NDSymposium2015 hashtag.

Thanks to Timothy O’Malley for inviting me to the symposium and for the gracious hospitality extended by the staff of the NDCL. I look forward to attending more Center for Liturgy events in the future!