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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.

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!