Training Disciple-Makers

An apprentice is a novice student who learns under the tutelage of a master of an art or craft such as painting, carpentry, or baking. The novice works closely with the master over long periods of time to learn the techniques, skills, and knowledge needed to become a craftsman. In medieval times the novice might even live with the master in order to soak in his lifestyle and daily routine.

Like medieval craftsmen, catechists are called to be formed in their craft. But instead of buildings, bread, or paintings, catechists are crafting disciples of Jesus Christ! Even so, the Church recognizes the links between faith formation and an apprenticeship model.

Read the rest of my article from Catechist magazine…

Five Things Every Catechist Should Know

The Catholic Church in America recently celebrated Catechetical Sunday, an annual celebration of the faithful catechists in our parishes who witness to the faith and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With that in mind, here are five things that all catechists might reflect on about their role:

You are an indispensable tool in passing on the faith. While we are grateful for the variety of excellent textbooks, videos, activities, and other resources at our disposal, ultimately it is disciples that form new disciples. Catechesis occurs person-to-person as catechists model and witness faith in Jesus Christ. As such, the role of the catechist can never be reduced to “reading the book” or “pressing play on the video.”

You help parents in their role as primary evangelizers. While the catechist is indispensable, our mission is first and foremost to assist parents in passing on the faith they promised to share at their children’s baptism. Parents should never feel that they are outsourcing their child’s religious education to the parish or Catholic school. Conversely, we must see the formation of domestic Churches as an integral part of catechesis by giving families concrete resources and practical ways for living the faith in the home.

If your students see Christ’s love in you, you’re doing your job. The personal witness of a catechist is a powerful formation in the faith. Even more than a systematic knowledge of Church teaching (although that is important too!) catechists must pass on a faith that is lived and practiced in the day-to-day routine of our lives. Let Christ’s love shine through you and your students will learn to love and follow Christ.

You and your students are part of the story of salvation. This is one reason catechists must learn to love Sacred Scripture: not only does it reveal the history of salvation, culminating in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, but it reminds us that we, too, continue that same history in our own lives. Knowing the stories of biblical figures, the saints, and our families helps us find our place in God’s Kingdom.

The life of a catechist must be rooted in prayer. It is a truism that you cannot give what you do not have. As such, catechists must have a deep, abiding, and joy-filled relationship with Jesus if we hope to pass the same to the young people in our charge. This relationship begins with prayer – especially through the Church’s liturgy – but also in the Rosary, lectio divina, novenas, and other means of fostering an ongoing conversation and living relationship with God.

This column originally appeared in the October 8, 2017, edition of The Catholic Moment.

When You’re Banging Your Head Against the Ministry Wall

Last week at a diocesan meeting for DREs I gave a short presentation on adaptive leadership and it’s implications for ministry:

The presentation was based on my reading of the book Leadership on the Line (one of my 17 Books Every Catholic Leader Should Read).

The scenarios I gave to the groups to discuss were:

  1. Your parish’s Altar and Rosary Society approaches you about helping them recruit young women. (The average age of the Society is 68.) They meet every Wednesday morning after the 8a Mass and are responsible for keeping the church clean and organizing the biannual parish rummage sale, which supports the parish school.
  2. Your parish is building a new church hall; the pastor asks you to find out what kind of space various groups need and make recommendations to him for how the building should be set up.
  3. Attendance at the annual parish picnic in your rural committee has been declining over the last 10 years. Your pastor asks you to come up with a marketing plan to get more people to attend this year.
  4. The evangelization committee at your suburban parish is concerned about the number of non-practicing Catholics in the area. They ask for your help in organizing a “welcome back” event with the goal of getting these Catholics to return and volunteer in a ministry.
  5. Your rural community has seen an increase in the number of people coming to the parish office looking for assistance with rent, utilities, etc. Your pastor asks you to put together a committee to find ways to get these people the help they need.
  6. Your pastor asks you to review and recommend some DVD programs for adult faith formation in your parish.

How Do You Get to Heaven?

In an old joke, a visitor to New York City asks someone on the street if they know how to get to Carnegie Hall. After a moment’s thought comes the reply: “Practice, practice, practice.”

We might well give the same response when asked how we get to heaven. While we do not believe that we are saved by our works but by Jesus’ work on the Cross, we are also not Gnostics who believe that knowledge saves. Rather, the life of the disciple is one in which faith is not only known, but lived. Jesus does not call us to a life of isolated study, but to live in community with other disciples, as demonstrated by the early Christians: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

And yet many of our catechetical efforts stress knowledge of the faith over practice of the faith. I suspect that this is one reason during our recent parish visits so many DREs and principals told us, anecdotally, that only around 50% of participants in faith formation and students in Catholic schools are attending Sunday Mass on a regular basis.

In his book Beyond the Catechist’s Toolbox, author Joe Paprocki gives the great advice that catechesis and faith formation “should be more like Mass than class.” By that he means the process of forming young people (and adults!) involves more than just reading a book or listening to a lecture. Instead, catechesis involves the whole person and should draw upon familiar rituals, prayers, gestures, the Works of Mercy, hymns, and stories so that connections are made between the content of the faith and the way in which we live the faith, especially in the Sunday Eucharist.

As you catechize this year, consider how your efforts are fostering specific and concrete practices in the life of the faithful. Some questions you might ask:

  • Are we simply teaching about faith practices, or are we giving children and adults the tools they need and encouraging them to enact those practices once they are off the parish grounds?
  • How are we helping families practice the faith in the home, especially through prayer?
  • How can we help members of our community encounter the person of Jesus Christ — to know him and not just know about him?

Finding Copyright-Free Images for Catechetical Use – Redux

In January of 2013 I created a video showing a couple of my favorite sites for finding free images to use in presentations, worships aids, and printed materials — without violating copyright laws. The video quickly became one of my most popular on YouTube. Four and a half years later, I’ve created an updated version of the video with more resources to share!

Creating Simple Mounted Icons for the Classroom

It would be great if every catechetical classroom could have multiple icons for use in prayer built to withstand regular use by small hands. Unfortunately, mounted icons can be quite pricey and outside the budget of many parishes. However there is an easy DIY solution that produces surprisingly beautiful results.

For this project you’ll need

  • a computer and printer
  • Mod Podge craft glue (I find the glossy variety works best)
  • a sponge brush
  • scissors
  • a backing board (I cut down some scrap plywood, but you could use pre-sized canvas panels or even some study cardboard)

First, find the image you want to mount and print it out. I find a lot of public domain religious images on Wikipedia Commons; just search for a saint or Bible story. Cut the printed image out, leaving a slight border.

Next, cut your backing to size — you’ll want it a little smaller than the printed image.

Next, apply the Mod Podge to your backing. Don’t worry about using too much — it’s fine if it soaks through the paper.

Glue the image to the backing, then cut out some notches at the corners (see above). This will create four “flaps.”

Apply glue to the “flaps” and fold them over onto the backing.

Let the glue dry for 15-20 minutes, then apply some Mod Podge to the front of the image. This will give it a glossy protective coating.

Let the finished project dry for 1-2 hours and you’re done! I was able to produce three of these in about 30 minutes; cutting the plywood was the hardest part!

This is a simple project that can help catechists evangelize with beauty. It could also be adapted as an activity for families as part of an inter-generational catechetical event!

Notes: Forming Disciples in the Digital Age

Last Thursday I had the joy of gathering with over 100 faith formation leaders and diocesan staff in the Diocese of Joliet. My presentation focused on the characteristics of the emerging digital culture and the promise and challenges it holds for the work of the Church in the 21st century.

The participants asked great questions and shared their own stories and ideas for how the Church can be both hyperlinked and human!

Slides

Notes

Free Webcast: 5 Things Parents Should Know About Keeping Their Kids Catholic

I’m really excited about a free webcast I’m hosting next week!

5 Things Parents Should Know About Keeping Their Kids Catholic is a free, 30 minute webcast for Catholic parents about the things they need to know if they want their kids to practice the faith for a lifetime!

Parents will learn

  • The most important factor in a child’s faith development
  • How faith in the home affects faith lived in the world
  • What they can do with their kids to pass on the faith

Watch the webcast live at 9p ET on Thursday, October 27, at bit.ly/5ThingsCatholicParentsShouldKnow or on this page:

Help Spread the Word!

If you’d like to share this webcast with a friend via Facebook, email, carrier pigeon, or Twitter, just use this link: http://eepurl.com/cc8ukz. Also, free free to put an announcement in your parish bulletin or other communication to parents!

On “Average” Catechesis

The latest episode of 99% Invisible (an incredible podcast about design and architecture) focuses on the notion of designing for the “average” person, focusing on how the U.S. military’s philosophy of crafting uniforms and equipment has evolved over the decades:

In his research measuring thousands of airmen on a set of ten critical physical dimensions, [Gilbert S.] Daniels realized that none of the pilots he measured was average on all ten dimensions. Not a single one. When he looked at just three dimensions, less than five percent were average. Daniels realized that by designing something for an average pilot, it was literally designed to fit nobody.

The result was an increased risk of injuries and fatal accidents, especially for Air Force pilots who literally didn’t fit in cockpits designed for the “average” pilot.

Today, we take for granted that equipment should fit a wide range of body sizes rather than being standardized around the “average person.” From this understanding has come the science of ergonomics: the study of how to match people’s physical capacity to the needs of the job.

Unfortunately our evangelization and catechesis is, in a lot of ways, still stuck in “average” thinking. Many parish programs are designed to attract as wide an audience as possible — that is, to be “one size fits all.” A good example is taking the RCIA and inviting any interested Catholic adult to participate. What should be a highly specialized process for those still seeking faith in Christ must now be adapted to fit the needs of a wide range of the baptized, resulting in a program designed for no one in particular.

What would a parish catechetical program designed outside the average look like? I believe it would

  • Center on more focused topical and needs-based formation, rather than “big box” overviews of the faith
  • Include input from persons with disabilities, ethnic and racial groups, and the poor
  • Seek to match people’s spiritual capacity with a range of formational option

There is no “average” spirituality or faith. The saints testify to the glorious diversity of individual responses to Christ invitation to “take up your Cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) The faithful in our parishes should be formed for that same diversity of holiness, even as we are united in the one Body of Christ.

Resources for the Day of Prayer for Peace

On Friday, September 9, 2016, the Church in the United States will observe a special day of prayer dedicated to peace and justice in our communities and in our nation.

In announcing the Day of Prayer, USCCB president Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said that the event was intended to help the faithful “look toward additional ways of nurturing an open, honest and civil dialogue on issues of race relations, restorative justice, mental health, economic opportunity, and addressing the question of pervasive gun violence.”

I compiled the following list to help the faithful participate in this Day of Prayer by coming together as families, parishes, and disciples to unite our hearts and minds with those of Jesus Christ.

Suggested Activities

Liturgy and Prayer

  • Celebrate the Memorial of St. Peter Claver
    • Recommended use of Common of Holy Men and Women: For Those Who Practiced Works of Mercy
  • Celebrate the Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice
    • Readings in the Lectionary for Mass nos. 887-891
  • Use USCCB’s “Prayer of the Faithful for the Day of Prayer For Peace in Our Communities”: bit.ly/PrayerOfTheFaithful-PeaceInOurCommunities
  • Use a “Prayer Service to be Disciples on Mission”: bit.ly/DisciplesOnMissionPrayer
    • Especially appropriate for parish councils, school boards, and other parish meetings on or near the Day of Prayer
  • Host a Holy Hour or Rosary for the intentions of the Day of Prayer
  • Pray St. John Paul II’s Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe: bit.ly/JP2GuadalupePrayer

Adult Faith Formation

  • Insert the two page “Disciples on Mission in the World” in the parish bulletin: bit.ly/DisciplesOnMissionInTheWorld
  • Host an adult faith formation series utilizing Bishop Edward  K. Braxton’s pastoral letter “The Racial Divide in the United States”
  • Host an adult faith formation series utilizing “Sacraments and Social Mission: Living the Gospel, Being Disciples”
  • Distribute prayer cards promoting peace and reconciliation
  • Start a book discussion connected to themes of justice and mercy (see bibliography below)

Catholic Schools and Youth Catechesis

  • Design a prayer collage containing images related to peace and social justice
    • Hang the collage in the classroom and remember these issues in prayer
  • Create a prayer chain or prayer tree with a different petition written on each link or leaf; pray for these intentions
  • Promote the Works of Mercy by distributing the Missionary Childhood Association’s handout “The Works of Mercy for Kids”: bit.ly/WorksOfMercy4Kids
  • Discuss the life and ministry of notable saints who worked for peace and justice, such as St. Peter Claver, St. Katherine Drexel, Bl. Teresa of Calcutta (to be canonized on September 4), or St. Damien of Molokai
  • Learn about St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Thomas Aquinas, or another saint who loved to pray
  • Learn and pray Pope Francis’ “Five Finger Prayer”: youtu.be/DKppAKOZPgg
  • Invite a deacon to come and talk about the charitable ministries of the Church
  • Incorporate special activities into youth and teen formation events
  • Collect food, clothes, toiletries, and other items to benefit a local charitable organization
    • Discuss with students how our acts of charity are a response to our faith in Jesus
    • Pray over the items before they are sent to the organization

Ecumenical Activities

  • Hold an ecumenical prayer service for justice and peace
    • Suggested scripture: readings from Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice (Lectionary for Mass nos. 887-891)
  • Organize and publicize ringing of church bells on September 9 at 3:00pm EST as a sign of solidarity
  • Organize a panel discussion on ways to promote economic welfare, racial justice, and peace
    • Consider inviting local civic officials, leaders from other Christian traditions, and administrators in Catholic education and healthcare

Bibliography

Church Documents and Statements

Books

Web Resources