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What I Learned From My Lent Without Twitter

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you know that I took social media off for Lent. This is the first time I’ve ever done this and it was an interesting experiment that netted some important lessons:

  1. I didn’t miss it. Sure, there were one or two times when I thought “Hey, I should share this on Twitter!” But the feeling quickly passed and I doubt anyone really missed a random link about evangelization or catechesis from me..
  2. I missed hearing from some online friends. There are a number of people I only know online who I enjoy interacting with and I did miss them. Which makes me think I should find some ways to meet these folks face-to-face.
  3. I wasn’t more productive. I had hoped that I might get some writing done, or a bunch of reading. That didn’t happen; in fact, my pace seemed to slow down a bit more this Lent than in years passed. And I was OK with that.
  4. I missed a bunch of hot takes on current events… and that was great. One of the interesting side effects of being off social media was not hearing about breaking news until after the initial reactions had passed and there had been time to get context. This was a much more enjoyable way to consume news and makes me want to return to more long-form reading in magazines and journals that have taking time to reflect before publication.

I’m not sure I’ll give up social media next year, but I’m glad I did it this year. I hope I’ll be able to take these lessons to heart in my use of Twitter in the coming months.

Book Review: Christ in the Classroom

Jared Dees’ new book, Christ in the Classroom: Lesson Planning for the Heart and Mind, beings with a simple premise: long lectures, busywork, and the “read and review” model of religious education are failing to pass on the faith in a meaningful way.

Dees advocates a different approach, beginning with the actual goal of catechesis. While much of modern religious education seeks to transmit theological information, Dees (citing Matthew 28) puts the focus squarely on “making disciples,” a very different task.

To facilitate this goal, Dees utilizes the steps of lectio divina — lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio — and adepts them to catechetical lesson planning. In preparing each lesson catechists are encouraged to lead students towards an encounter with Jesus through a multifaceted learning approach:

  1. Learn: What does this teaching mean?
  2. Meditate: What is Christ saying to me?
  3. Pray: What can I say to Christ in response?
  4. Contemplate: What conversion of mind, heart, and life is Christ asking of me?
  5. Act: How will I make my life a gift for others?

The main body of the book is guidance for each of these steps, with specific strategies and lesson ideas outlined. For instance, the contemplatio step suggests using the Jesus Prayer, icons, and Eucharistic Adoration, and music to help students experience a conversion of heart connected to the subject of the lesson.

Jared Dees continues to be one of the most innovative and practical catechetical leaders working today and, like his previous books, Christ in the Classroom is a treasury of advice for new and veteran religion teachers. I highly recommend it for catechists, religion teachers, and catechetical leaders.

NB: I received a free review copy of this book from Ave Maria Press.

On the Pleasures of Riding the Bus

My mechanic recently informed me that my old car is effectively dead, by which I mean he told me it’s structurally unsound and would require $1000+ to make it safe for driving. As a result, I’ve been taking the bus to and from work a few days a week when my wife has need of our other vehicle.

I’ve been an on-and-off public transit rider since shortly after we got married, when I was working and studying for my masters degree in St. Louis. We lived in north St. Louis county where I was able to pick up the bus a block from our apartment, transfer at the airport for a ride on St. Louis’ light rail line, and then catch another bus that would drop me off close to my office.

The whole trip would take over a hour, during which I came to love public transportation. I rode regularly when I lived in Springfield, Illinois, and am similarly fortunate here that bus stops are located near both our home and my office. Sure, driving my car would be faster and more convenient. But riding the bus and train is a pleasure in a way battling through highway traffic never is:

  1. Using public transportation gives me the opportunity to decompress at the end of the work day. I’m an introvert, and after a day of meetings, workshops, and interaction with other people — all of which I love! — I need some time to re-energize, especially if I’m going to give my children the attention they need from their father. A 45-60 minute bus ride, during which I don’t have to concentrate on driving, is a welcome respite that even my wife has noticed helps me be in a better mood at the end of the day.
  2. I use the time to pray and read (mostly). The commute to and from work gives me plenty of time for… well, most anything I want, really, which means it’s ideal time for praying the Liturgy of the Hours. The truth is I’m pretty bad at carving out time in the morning to pray (having a 5-year old who tends to get up early doesn’t help). Riding the bus ensures that I’ve got plenty of time to start the day of right. Even after praying through Lauds or Vespers there’s plenty of time to read through my backlog of books, write out notes for an upcoming writing assignment or talk (I wrote part of this post on the bus), or listen to a podcast. I try to minimize the time I spend on my phone (not always successfully), but since removing all the games off my phone I’m at least usually reading through blogs if I’m browsing.
  3. I get to interact with other people in my community. Riding the bus, you get to see a cross-section of the people in the community. In St. Louis I saw a lot of professionals and blue-collar workers sharing the ride downtown. In Springfield my morning commute coincided with high school students riding to school. My current routes see a lot of Purdue students commuting to campus and back. Riding the bus helps me see my community as more than an abstraction, and more as the diverse cast of individuals it is.
  4. Riding the bus is good for the soul. By that I mean that riding the bus helps me avoid some near occasions of sin, such as yelling at other drivers or allowing my impatience to get the better of me. Ceding the responsibility of driving to a bus driver also cultivates an acceptance that I’m not in control — which is good practice in the virtue of obedience to God’s will. And that’s all on top of knowing I’m exercising good environmental stewardship, too.

I don’t always ride the bus, and I know I’m fortunate that riding the bus is, for now, convenient and easy. I can easily imagine situations where it won’t be an option the way it is now. But for the foreseeable future I’m glad that it’s a pleasure I will continue to enjoy.

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.