Notes: Where Two or Three are Texting

Thanks to everyone who joined me for today’s Ave Maria Press webinar “Where Two or Three are Texting: Incarnation and Sacrament in a Virtual World.” Below are my slides, notes, and links to related articles. I will post the video of the webinar here as soon as it is available.

If you have any questions that I wasn’t able to address during the session, please feel free to add them to the comments and I’ll do my best to respond with an answer!

Video

Slides

Outline

The notes for this presentation are available to view in Google Docs.

Resources

Upcoming Webinar: “Where Two or Three are Texting: Incarnation and Sacrament in a Virtual World”

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I’m happy to announce that I will be giving a free Ave Maria Press webinar on Tuesday, February 18, at 2p (CT):

Where Two or Three are Texting: Incarnation and Sacrament in a Virtual World
The young people in our schools and parishes are increasingly citizens of a virtual world where they carry out many traditionally “physical” activities, including living out their faith! Other Christian communities are experimenting with “online church.” What is an “online church” and is it an option for Catholics? How does the “digital continent” influence the way we prepare young people and catechumens to receive the sacraments? This webinar will explore these questions and offer some avenues for appropriate use of digital technologies in living our faith.

The webinar is co-sponsored by the National Conference for Catechetical Leaders, the National Catholic Educational Association, and the National Association for Lay Ministry. You can sign up for this free webinar at https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/307966088.

The Best Advice I Got When I Switched My Major to Theology

In May of 1998, shortly after returning home from my sophomore year of college, I walked into the dining room and calmly told my parents that after two years I was switching my major from elementary education to theology.

My parents, thanks be to God, didn’t cringe or gasp. In fact, their only real question to me was what I planned to do with this major. (At the time I assumed that I would teach religion in a Catholic high school. What’s that line about telling God your plans?) They also asked me to do one thing: before I turned in the paperwork, they wanted me to talk to our parish’s DRE, Debbie.*

I don’t remember much of the conversation I had with Debbie, but I do remember one piece of advice she gave me: if at all possible, do a double major. The point wasn’t so much the academic titles as the fact that having a skill unrelated to theology or pastoral ministry adds a whole new dimension to what you are able to bring to your ministry as well as increase your marketability. Drawing on a perspective outside of traditional ministerial practices is a useful corrective to the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality that can creep into parish life.

I wasn’t able to do a double major since I switched so late in my academic career, but I held on to Debbie’s advice nonetheless. And, indeed, my knowledge of technology and social media has proved to be a great boon to my ministry and opened doors to speaking and engaging with other catechetical leaders that might not otherwise have been available to me. It has also helped me think about catechesis, evangelization, and parish ministry in different ways as the shifting cultural landscape reacts to these new technologies.

Even these many years later I remain grateful for that piece of advice and the fruit it has born in my ministry!

What “extra” skills or knowledge do you possess that could be used to enhance your ministry?

* I later found out that my parents had talked to Debbie in advance and told her to dissuade me from changing my major. She says that she’s very happy to have failed!

Five Books for 2014

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For whatever reason we seem to be a golden age of books on Catholic evangelization and catechesis. Every month sees more books being published on these subjects, many of them highly recommendable. It can be hard to keep up with them all!

With that in mind I am continuing a tradition I began some years back and recommending some of the best books I read in the past year.

  • Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter by Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran (2013) – I’ve been recommending this book as a great follow-up to Forming Intentional Disciples — not so much for the decisions this parish made in changing the way they organize and live their communal life (some of which I don’t agree with) but because of the questions they asked that brought them to those decisions. Anyone trying to revitalize parish life would do well to reflect on the experience of this parish.
  • Beyond the Catechist’s Toolbox: Catechiesis That Not Only Informs but Also Transforms by Joe Paprocki (2013) – I have yet to read a book by Joe and consider it time wasted, and this slim volume — a follow up to his rightly loved The Catechist’s Toolbox — offers a clear vision for making catechesis “more like Mass than class.”
  • Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church by George Weigel (2013) – I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I picked up Weigel’s latest book, but I certainly wasn’t expecting both a cogent and thoughtful history of the New Evangelization and recommendations for reforming Church structures for an increase in the missionary activity of the Church. This one-two punch is a must-read for Church leaders planning for the next 40 years.
  • Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat (2012) – Douthat is one of the best Catholic commentators in America today, and this study of the ways in which religious practice has been subverted and made to serve philosophies alien to traditional Christianity puts in stark terms the culture we are living in today.
  • 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator by Jared Dees (2013) – Another deceptively small book with big ideas. Digestible in a month’s time, any catechist who takes Jared’s words to heart can’t help but become a more engaging and evangelizing religious educator.

What books did you read last year that have made an impact on your life or ministry?

5 New Year Resolutions for Catechetical Leaders

With the inauguration of 2014 it’s time once again to engage in the annual practice of setting New Year resolutions! And while I think too many people make resolutions without thinking about how they will support them, there are plenty of ways that we, as catechetical leaders, can work to deepen our ministry in the coming year.

Here are five suggestions for improving your leadership in 2014:

  1. Hone Your Leadership Skills While many of us have degrees in theology, religious studies, and education, these degrees don’t always prepare us for the day-to-day work of leadership and management. You  might pick up a good book (I’ve set up a list of some of my favorite leadership books), listen to a podcast like Manager Tools, or even try to take a course at a local college; regardless, make a commitment to learn more about how to be an effective leader in your parish or diocese!
  2. Make Something… Too often in catechesis we look for a canned program instead of creating something that will meet the specific needs of our parishes and schools. This year, try creating something yourself! It doesn’t have to be grand. A short study guide, a reflection booklet, a prayer card; just flex your creativity for the glory of God!
  3. …And Share It With the World If you have something you’ve made that you’re particularly happy with, share it! Send copies to your diocesan office to distribute, put it online, or just email it to someone. Share your blessings with others so that the great work you do isn’t just confined to your local area. You might even consider releasing your creation under a Creative Commons license.
  4. Go to a Conference There are plenty of great catechetical conferences around the country that offer ongoing education and networking with other catechists. I’ll be speaking at the National Catholic Educational Association, the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, and the Indiana Conference for Catechetical Leadership this year. If none of those work for your schedule, you might try the LA Religious Education Congress, the St. John Bosco Conference in Steubenville, or the Mid-Atlantic Congress.
  5. Pray For Success Above all else, commit yourself to praying more for the success of your ministry. As I’ve mentioned before, our diocesan offices have been praying the Rosary weekly with a special intention for an increase in faith and discipleship in our parishes. Choose a special intention centered on your efforts and pray constantly for it!

What resolutions are you making regarding your ministry this year?

New Resource: Sacred Scripture and the Christian Life (A Short Study)

A few weeks ago, while our local Lumen Veritas youth group was gathering, I offered a faith study opportunity for any parents willing to hang around and listen to me drone on for a hour or so.

With the end of the Year of Faith close at hand we thought it would be good to take a look at the role of Sacred Scripture in the life of the Church through the lens of Vatican Council II. To that end I created a “short study” guide with excerpts from Sacrosanctum concilium and Dei Verbum, as well as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and Verbum Domini, and some reflection questions to facilitate the conversation:

I’ve released the study guide under a Creative Commons license, so feel free to print it out, make copies, and adapt it for your own use. Just make sure to credit the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois for its original creation.

Our plan is for me to do similar events for the parents once a month or so; if I create more resources like the one above I’ll be sure to share them here.

Evangelii Gaudium: The Characteristics of an Evangelizing Community

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Last week before heading out the door for an extended Thanksgiving holiday with my family in Kansas City I downloaded, printed, and stuck in a binder Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation in response to the recently concluded Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization. My hope was that I’d find some time to read and reflect on the exhortation during the trip.

I only finished the first chapter, but already feel like I could spend 5 years just reflecting on and implementing those 42 pages. (And I still have 175 to go!)

Folks are breathlessly tweeting and blogging about the exhortation (and rightfully so!) and its impact on our understanding of evangelization and pastoral outreach. So far I’ve been particularly taken with no. 24, in which Pope Francis outlines characteristics intrinsic to an evangelizing community. As I read them, evangelizing communities

  1. know that evangelization begins with God’s initiative
  2. have an endless desire to show mercy
  3. get involved in word and deed with other people
  4. take on “the smell of the sheep”
  5. patiently support and stand by people in their faith journey
  6. are concerned with the fruits of their efforts
  7. express their faith joyfully

In the following sections Pope Francis goes on to describe how these characteristics might be lived out in parishes, dioceses, other Catholic institutions, and even in the office of the papacy. These paragraphs should be required reading for anyone interested in how the mission of the Church is lived out in real situations and places. (I certainly wish we’d had this document when we started our department’s Journey of Discipleship project!)

As I indicated, there is a lot to unpack in the pope’s first major solo document to the Church and I’ll be posting more thoughts and reflections in the coming weeks. In the meantime: get reading!

4 Reasons Catechetical Offices Should Stop Mailing Newsletters

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A few times a year I get manila envelopes in the mail from other diocesan catechetical offices. Every time I wonder “What is this?” And then it dawns on me: it’s another paper office newsletter.

I’m a bit bewildered why, in 2013, catechetical offices are still mailing physical newsletters. Part of that is my own history in diocesan work. In fact, in many ways I was fortunate: when I joined our diocese the catechetical office didn’t have a newsletter so when I instituted one it was simple to just go digital from the start. Still, there are some good reasons to make the move from a “dead tree edition” to an electronic newsletter.

  1. Stewardship Diocesan offices are the beneficiaries of the generosity of our parishioners and donors. It behooves us to do as much as possible with these gifts by exercising good stewardship. Moving to an electronic newsletter cuts down on production costs by eliminating printing needs (including paper and ink) and postage charges. It also reduces our impact on the environment by keeping newsletters out of landfills.
  2. Increased Production Values The paper newsletter I get are simple black-and-white affairs. By contrast moving to an online newsletter frees office from the constraints of ink costs and allows for the full use of color, photography, layout, typography, and design.
  3. Utilizing Connectivity It can be hard to direct readers to the many wonderful online resources. By switching to an online newsletter it’s a simple matter of embedding a link into the document. This reduces the “friction” (resistance to movement) of getting people to a given resource by eliminating the process of manually retyping the URL in a browser. (And be honest — how often do you do that?)
  4. Better Tracking Metrics How many people read your dead tree newsletter? That’s hard to tell since we don’t know how many wind up in the waste bin. Electronic newsletters, on the other hand, allow administrators to track the number of times the link opening the newsletter has been clicked. While this still isn’t a perfect metric it’s a lot better than the “shot in the dark” of a piece of mail sent into the world.

There are plenty of ways to go about producing an online newsletter. Our office uploads a PDF document to a free Issuu accountand emails the link to our email list; we include a link to the raw PDF so that recipients can print out a copy if they desire. Services like MailChimp and FlockNote create attractive email newsletters that are easy to set up and maintain.

For those of you worried that your parish catechetical leaders “of a certain age” still want to read your newsletter on dead trees, you can always maintain a separate list of people who opt-in to receive a physical copy of the newsletter. This will still cut down on the amount of paper and postage while getting them your information.

Use of electronic newsletters will surely grow in coming years. Starting sooner rather than later will help diocesan offices grow more comfortable with the technology and use it in the most effective ways.

A Journey Concluded

pathThis past Saturday our diocesan Department for Catechetical Services completed a one-year pilot project. Entitled “Journey of Discipleship,” we partnered with Ss. James and Patrick parish in Decatur, Illinois, and offered monthly adult formation sessions on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

The project began in the summer of 2012 when, in the course of a discussion at one of our department meetings, one of my colleagues wondered aloud what it would be like if the members of our various offices took over a parish for one year, bringing to bear our knowledge, skills, and expertise in a concerted way across our various responsibilities.

That eventually lead us to the determination to partner with a parish for one year and help them to better understand how to grow in holiness and as disciples. Following a “Come and See” event last December, each month we offered a five-hour session on a different aspect of holiness:

  • The Four Pillars of the Christian Life
  • Regular Appointments with God
  • Full, Conscious and Active Participation in the Liturgy
  • Active Participation in Ongoing Faith Formation
  • A Missionary Mindset
  • A Simple and Sacrificial Lifestyle
  • Building Common Ground
  • Chaste Living
  • Commitment to Life, Charity and Justice
  • Following the Precepts of the Church
  • Discerning the Movement of the Holy Spirit

It has been a wonderful, Spirit-inspired journey with the people of Ss. James and Patrick. It is rare for diocesan staff to have the opportunity to forge such relationships with a parish and we are already looking for ways in which to replicate the success of this program with other parishes in our diocese.

The handouts, slides, and select videos of the sessions are available online at journeyofdiscipleship.tumblr.com.

Book Review: The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning

nfp-coverSimcha Fisher’s new The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning is the most refreshing and honest work on NFP I’ve ever read. In easy prose that’s at times laugh-out-loud funny, Fisher has the courage to face the true ups and down of using NFP as a Catholic couple — both the joys that come from marital chastity and the fact that sometimes, when you want to have sex and need to abstain, it kinda sucks.

The book is divided into three sections. In the first, “NFP and the Spiritual Life,” Fisher outlines important spiritual considerations of the Church’s teachings on marital love. In the second, “NFP and the Rest of the World,” she deals with the counter-cultural implications of NFP. But the final and longest section, “NFP in the Trenches,” is the real meat of the book, where Fisher takes a brutally honest look at what it means to put the Church’s teachings into practice. Fisher is not afraid to tackle difficult and rarely-discussed aspects of martial sexuality and should be commended for finding safe ground between frankness and explicitness.

As a husband I can also say that the book is “guy-friendly”; while much of the advice is clearly directed towards wives, it never turns flowery or overly emotional in a way that might turn of committed Catholic men, and I recommend that husbands and wives read the book together.

The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning is an outstanding contribution to the Catholic conversation on marital sexuality and I heartily recommend it.