Catechesis When We Cannot Gather

What a difference two weeks make.

Two Sundays ago we were celebrating the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion with the Elect and candidates of the diocese. Today public Masses and catechetical programs are canceled, many of us are working from home, and we are all adjusting to a “new normal.”

With so much on people’s plates it may be tempting to wait to engage in catechesis. Where do we even begin?! But there are some simple things you can do to keep the catechetical process going.

  1. Focus on the faith, not programs. The plans and goals that we set for ourselves this year no longer apply. We are literally in extraordinary circumstances. So don’t worry about making sure kids “get through the textbook” this year. Instead, focus on helping them pray, grow in their relationship with Jesus, and find ways to practice the faith off parish grounds. See this time as an opportunity to help the faithful discover new ways of praying and being Church, even as we mourn not being able to gather for liturgy and fellowship.
  2. Keep in contact. Right now people want to know that the Church remembers and cares for them. Next week, call — don’t email — every family enrolled in your program. If you have a large program, enlist some lead catechists to assist you. Let families know you are concerned for them and praying for them. Find out if they have any particular needs or prayer requests, and try to connect them with services that can help. As we continue to practice social distancing, check-in regularly with families.
  3. Share home-based catechetical materials parents can use with their children. This is an excellent time to help families develop their Domestic Church and assist parents as the primary formators of their children. Our diocese’s Office of Catechesis is maintaining a list of materials, videos, and other resources families can use together. Email 2-3 suggestions to your families each week to keep them engaged and to offer new ways to keep their children practicing the faith.
  4. See what resources your textbook publisher is offering. Many of the major catechetical publishers are offering free resources and materials to help parents during this time. Check your textbook’s website or email your sales representative to see what you have access to.

Above all else, pray for our civic and Church leaders, that they may have the grace, perseverance, and wisdom they need in these times. And be assured that you and all catechetical leaders are in my prayers.

Christ the Child, the Teacher

In his apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, Pope St. John Paul II reminds us that

“in catechesis it is Christ, the Incarnate Word and Son of God, who is taught – everything else is taught with reference to Him – and it is Christ alone who teaches – anyone else teaches to the extent that he is Christ’s spokesman, enabling Christ to teach with his lips.” (no. 6)

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25, this quote may prompt us to consider what lessons the Christ child teaches us.

That God condescended to become man — indeed, a child — demonstrates that he desires a relationship of affection and love with us. The Second Person of the Trinity cleaves to humanity in the closest way possible by taking on our flesh and blood. He is “God with us” and continues to reach out to each one of us by extending the love and mercy of the Father.

Jesus also came in poverty, foreshadowing his deep concern for the poor and marginalized. St. John Chrysostom says “His desire was not to destroy, but to save; and to trample upon human pride from its very birth, therefore He is not only man, but a poor man.” Today it is in the face of the poor and downtrodden that we see the face of Christ himself, and by serving them we truly serve Christ. (cf. Matthew 25:31-46)

Finally, in the infant Jesus we see the innocent victim who will one day be led to sacrifice at Calvary. Born in Bethlehem, the “House of Bread,” his sacrifice continues to refresh our body and soul whenever we receive the bread of life in the Eucharist, for he offers to us his very body and blood, soul and divinity which hung on the Cross for our salvation.

As we await the coming of the Christ child at Christmas, let us continue to reflect on the great gift of the Incarnation and the lessons taught by a little child.

The Fruits and Challenges of Restoring the Order

Last fall I had the pleasure of submitting an article to Catechist magazine exploring the pros and cons of the movement to restore the order of the Sacraments of Initiation for Catholic youth. The article is now online:

At the same time, moving the sacrament of Confirmation to an earlier age is not a panacea for the Church’s evangelization of young people. Simply moving up the age of Confirmation doesn’t address the need to evangelize young people — to proclaim the kerygma, mentor them in a life of faith, and accompany them in their growing relationship with Jesus.

Read more at Catechist magazine…

Images for the “O Antiphons”

Tomorrow begins the great “O Antiphons” during Vespers (Evening Prayer) as the Church prepares to celebrate the Nativity our Lord.

To help mark this final preparation I have created some images for each of the O Antiphons; feel free to download them and post them to your personal or parish social media accounts. (They are formatted for Instagram, but can be used anywhere.) There is no need to attribute them to me; I release them to the public domain.

December 17:
12-17Wisdom3-11

December 18:
12-18Philippians2

December 19:
12-19Isaiah11-10

December 20:
12-20Revelation3-8

December 21:
12-21John 12-46

December 22:
12-22Jeremiah10-7

December 23:
12-23Isaiah 7-14

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!

After Obergefell v. Hodges: Now What?

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, kerygmatic 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

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!

Why I Remain Catholic

Elizabeth Scalia, aka The Anchoress, has invited Catholic bloggers to answer the question “Why do YOU Remain a Catholic?”

This is a most excellent question and one that, in the present age, all Catholics should stop and ask themselves. In the wake of abuse scandals, against a world that sees us as backwards and bigoted, and facing daunting challenges in evangelization, all the faithful should have a ready answer for why they remain when remaining seems, in the eyes of the world, so foolish.

I have many and varied answers for why I remain Catholic: because of the beauty of the liturgy; because the Church, despite all the flaws of her members, remains a force for good in the world; because I was raised Catholic and finding a new spiritual home sounds like way too much work. But the most foundational reason is that because the teachings and worldview presented by the Church constitute the most consistent and coherent set of propositions I’ve encountered — coherent in that it matches my own experience and observations about the nature of reality, and consistent in that it is systematic and non-contradictory. (Indeed, the systematic nature of the faith was one of the things that contributed to my spiritual awakening in college and beyond.)

What’s more, this worldview helps me to see beyond my own myopic vision and to overcome my own self-interested biases. This is part of what is meant when we describe the Church as a hospital for sinners — it strips away our excuses and denials and distorted passions, allowing the root of the problem to be diagnosed, treated, and cured by the Master Physician.

Of course, all of this would be as nothing if it weren’t for faith, since it is faith that allows us to see the coherence and consistency of Catholicism. Our faith is not scientific; it does not rest on demonstrable proofs or repeatable experiments. I agree with Chesterton that “original sin… is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”

And that is the paradox: faith doesn’t make sense from this side. It’s only by crossing over — by taking the proverbial “leap of faith” — that we get the proper perspective and can begin to retrain ourselves to see the world, ourselves, and God as they really are.

And that’s why I remain Catholic: I have crossed the chasm and become, to paraphrase the Apostle, a fool for Christ, even as I follow him imperfectly in starts, reversals, and blind reaching. Yet it is in the striving to achieve holiness that the world takes on meaning and hope is made manifest — not due to our own efforts, but because in the reaching we find God, in his infinite mercy, reaching out to us.

Where else could I remain?

What our Students Should Know: Religion Curriculum Standards in our Diocese

This week my office is rolling out our diocese’s first set of PreK-8th grade religion curriculum standards:

These standards were developed over nearly five years with a committee composed of both parish and Catholic school representatives. We used as our basis standards from the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Orlando, as well as materials from the USCCB.

Of course, a set of standards is only effective if they are implemented — and I am keenly aware that this is no small task! I’m anticipating a five-year implementation period for these standards, beginning with a study and review period for teachers, catechists, and catechetical leaders; an alignment review to document how the standards line up with the catechetical textbooks in use in our diocese; and lots of encouraging, reassuring, and question-answering on the part of our office!

We will also need to review the standards with an eye for how parish formation programs will implement them, given the disparity in contact hours between Catholic schools and parish programs. We will try to make good recommendations for what standards parishes should focus on each year.

Please pray for this process — for our office as we seek to set these standards into motion, and for our catechists as they adopt these standards in their parishes and schools.