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

How I Work: Office Edition

Thomas L. McDonald of God and the Machine recently invited fellow bloggers to post their own “How I Work” entry (modeled after the Lifehacker series of the same name) so I thought I would have a go. This week I’m featuring my work office; next week I’ll do the same for my home setup.

Location: Springfield, IL
Current Gig: director of catechetical services for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois
One word that best describes how you work: interrupted
Current mobile device: LG G3 running Android 4.4.2 (KitKat)
Current computer: Acer Veriton running Windows 7

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Why?
Google Calendar: I keep separate color-coded calenders for my diocesan responsibilities, family (shared with my wife so she can add events), the liturgical year, and project work. I have a horrible memory, so this system helps me keep track of all of my responsibilities at a glance. The one hitch occured when Google discontinued direct syncing support for Outlook (which our office use), but I’ve implemented some workarounds so my colleagues still see my full work calendar.
Dropbox: Come, children, and hear tales of the days when we had to use floppy disks to shuttle files back and forth!
Evernote: I use Evernote for a variety of tasks, including organizing travel documents, maintaining a digital filing cabinet, and storing recipes. Most recently I’ve started dumping meeting agendas into it so I can access them from my phone instead of printing a paper copy. (The Outlook plugin makes this a snap.)
GoToMeeting: Our diocese covers 28 counties, which makes gathering people for meetings/training/etc. difficult. One of the first things I did when I joined the office was push to implement online meetings. Most standing groups still meet in person at least once a year, but using GoToMeeting allows more people to participate without burdening them with a 2 hour drive.
LibraryThing: I’ve tried a few other book cataloging sites before, but I love LibraryThing because it was built by bibliophiles for bibliophiles. With it I can quickly browse books by subject, keep track of all my book reviews, and remind myself who I’ve lent books out to.

What’s your workspace setup like?
0325151517

This is my desk on a good day. Not pictured are my four bookcases and meeting table (see below).

desktop

(I hide all icons on my computer desktop, so there’s nothing to see expect the pretty pictures I use as wallpapers.)

LGScreen

My phone screen is dominated by Google Now, with a few apps I use the most.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?

Delegation. This is my first job where I’ve had a secretary and learning how to work with one well has been a huge boon to my productivity.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
I’ve tried a variety and left most for pen and paper. Right now I’m using Trello.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
On the hardware side I love my Wacom Intuos Pen Tablet. It’s completely replaced my mouse at work. I also use it during presentations to transform PowerPoint into a digital white board.

In terms of my office setup, I couldn’t get by without my big wooden meeting table:

0325151518

I inherited it from my predecessor and, given the number of staff members in my department that I’m blessed to work with, it’s invaluable for one-on-one chats, small task force meetings, and sitting down with folks from outside the curia.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
I’m really good at identifying the heart of an problem — peeling away the secondary issues and getting at root causes. I’m not sure what the secret is to that, besides being able to mentally categorize the issues on the table and sort through them in a systematic way.

What do you listen to while you work?
Most days it’s either classical or jazz, although Johnny Cash sees pretty regular rotation.

What are you currently reading?
Right now I’m reading Redeeming Administration: 12 Spiritual Habits for Catholic Leaders in Parishes, Schools, Religious Communities, and Other Institutions by Ann M. Garrido and Aquinas (A Beginner’s Guide) by Edward Fesser.

What has changed over the years since you started and what do you do differently?
I often say that one of the joys of my job has been seeing good collaboration between the offices in my department and the fruits of those relationships. I used to take that for granted but, as a colleague likes to remind me, “Collaboration is hard work.” So I’m trying to be more intentional about how I communicate with the people I work with and ensuring that tasks and responsibilities are clearly understood by everyone in the room.

Three Ways to Keep Me From Following You on Twitter

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I haven’t made any bones about the fact that Twitter is my go-to social media platform. I find that I get more value out of Twitter with the same investment of time and energy than any other service out there.

That having been said I’m still pretty picky about who I choose to follow on Twitter. (Yes, even someone who follows 2,200 accounts has standards!)

With that in mind here are three things that will keep me from following you on Twitter:

  1. Only post once per week. Twitter is a veritable fire hose of updates and information; it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. If you’re not posting on a regular basis — even once a day or so — I know I’m going to miss whatever you have to say, so I probably won’t even bother following you in the first place. The USCCB posts about 7-9 times per day (including retweets); that’s a pretty healthy stream of information and ensures that, regardless of when I check Twitter, I’ll probably notice you. I do make some exceptions for this rule, but only for people that post really high-quality updates that I don’t want to miss.
  2. Never reply to what others post. I use Twitter to interact with other people — the real takeaway for me is the conversations and sharing that occurs in 140 characters. If I don’t see any @ replies in your Twitter stream I’m probably not going to bother following you because it’s obvious you’re not interested in talking, just broadcasting.
  3. Only post promotions — or worse, spam. A couple months ago I had a Catholic company tweet at me about some service or product they were offering. Starting a relationship with a sales pitch isn’t the best first move. To make it even worse, when I checked their account it was obvious that they were sending the exact same message to dozens of others Catholics on Twitter. This is pretty much the definition of spam and I reported the account to Twitter as such. I don’t care if we share the faith or not — good manners count online. Introduce yourself to others by replying to their tweets before you start telling them about your services.

Do you have any standards for connecting with others online? Share them in the comments!

#NCCL2011 TweetUp Round-Up

Tonight I had the immense pleasure of gathering with about 12 other Catholic bloggers and Twitter users at the NCCL convention in Atlanta, Georgia. We sat around, enjoyed some great local beer, and discussed everything from the Blessed Virgin’s role as the model catechist to WordPress configurations; Twitter clients to the Civil War War of Northern Aggression; protecting yourself online to the number of hits our sites get.

It was a very diverse group, but I was amazed at how quickly we fell into easy conversation. That is, I think, one of the gifts of Catholicism: a shared culture and experience that allows us to relate to one another despite any superficial differences. It is also a gift of social media: I knew several of the people even though we had never met face-to-face. Combined, Catholicism and social media make a potent combination. I’m convinced that we’ve only seen the beginning of what we can accomplish with these new tools.

Thank you again to everyone who came out for the TweetUp. Hopefully this will become an annual event; for my part, I will certainly work to see that it is.

33 for 33

Today I turn 33-years old and, in the spirit of giving, I thought I would share 33 things I’ve learned in 33 years.

  1. When you find something you’re passionate about, jump into it.
  2. Be inquisitive. Ask questions, read books, visit museums.
  3. More children means more messes, more noise, and more love.
  4. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish when you don’t know you have to ask permission to try something new.
  5. When crossing train tracks, keep your hands out of your pockets.
  6. Honesty in all things. Even the hard things. Especially the hard things.
  7. Admitting ignorance and asking questions is a great way to get answers.
  8. People who believe in something greater tend to be happier than those who focus on themselves.
  9. Confidence and a clipboard make you look successful.
  10. Play to your strengths. Don’t sweat your weaknesses.
  11. Failure is just another data point.
  12. Success means meeting your own expectations, not what others impose on you.
  13. Don’t take criticism personally, unless it comes from your wife or your mother. They’re usually correct.
  14. Always tell your mother and your wife that they are correct, even when they are not.
  15. Consequences  come from making choices, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make them.
  16. Love is an action, not an emotion.
  17. Admit mistakes, apologize when necessary, confesses regularly, and move on.
  18. Change is inevitable. If you’re the same person you were five years ago, something’s wrong.
  19. Some people resent the success of others. Minimize contact with these people.
  20. Pass on what you have to others.
  21. Don’t take your work too seriously, unless you’re the safety inspector at a nuclear power plant.
  22. Don’t take yourself too seriously, period.
  23. Prayer works, but not always in the way we expect.
  24. The  bad times never look so bad in hindsight. Even high school.
  25. Trying even when the odds of success are slim breeds experience and success.
  26. Knowing how to cook is a surprisingly effective way to impress people.
  27. Everyone needs a mentor, a colleague, and an apprentice.
  28. The only people who can tell you “You should be doing this” are your parents, your spouse, your priest, and your immediate supervisor. Even then, you always have a choice.
  29. People are basically good.
  30. Never be afraid to try something else if what you’re doing isn’t working.
  31. Be flexible when dealing with others, but never at the expense of your convictions.
  32. Joy is an extremely rare character trait. Cultivate it.
  33. When all else fails, bake a cheesecake.

That’s what I’ve learned; what have you learned in X number of years on this planet?

Announcing the Unofficial 2011 NCCL Tweet-Up!

For anyone who will be attending the 2011 NCCL conference — or if you’re just in the Atlanta area — we’re going to have an old-fashioned Tweet-Up on Monday, May 23rd, around 9p ET (after the Sadlier event) at Twenty-Two Storys, the lobby bar and  restaurant  at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta.

This will be an opportunity to meet with other Catholic bloggers and Twitter users to network, discuss catechesis and social networking, or just enjoy a cold drink at the end of the day!

This is completely unofficial; it’s not in the conference program, so please help me spread the word through Twitter, Facebook, or your blog!

If you plan on joining us at the Tweet-Up, please send me a quick RSVP via my contact form so that I can let the bar know how many to expect.  Be sure to wear your conference name badge (if you’re not attending the conference, I’ll have some name tags for you). Contact me for more information, and be sure to follow the conference on Twitter via the #NCCL2011 hashtag!

Monty Python: Christological Scholars?

I recently completed watching Monty Python: Almost the Truth, a fascinating six-hour documentary on the British comedy troupe. The fifth episode of the series focuses on The Life of Brian, a film about a reluctant false messiah at the time of Christ.

When they first set out to write the film the Pythons started with, in their own words, a lot of blasphemous jokes about Christ. But the funny thing is that, as they reviewed what they had written, they realized it wasn’t really that funny. The funny stuff tended to happen around Christ rather than to or  because  of Christ — the humor is in how people misinterpret Christ’s words. And, in the final product, Christ only appears twice (at his birth and at the Sermon on the Mount) and is portrayed just as he appears in Sacred Scripture.

The Pythons spend several minutes in the documentary reflecting on why humor about Jesus doesn’t work, but I think John Cleese makes the most astute — and Christologically  relevant  — point. Working from the Henri Bergon theory of comedy, Cleese explains that character humor arises from the conflict between an inflexible character and the situation around him. Think of the upper-crust aristocrat who refuses to acknowledge the chaos in which he finds himself.  Christ, on the other hand, would not have been inflexible. In Cleese’s words he would have been “infinitely flexible” because he had no ego.

I think this is a profound insight into the nature of Christ and our own attempts to imitate him. Christ didn’t fall into the legalism of the Pharisees; neither did he attempt to water down God’s expectations of Man. He showed us the path of justice and mercy; judgement and love. If we are called to imitate Christ, then we must be equally flexible — not in our beliefs and doctrines, but in how we apply them in the real world. We must be ready with a word of condemnation for sin, but love for our brothers and sisters. We must seek to decrease so that Christ may increase in us. We must rid ourselves of selfishness and self-centeredness so that the Holy Spirit can work in our lives. As Heather King recently wrote:

Here’s how, in my experience, you know you’re becoming a follower of Christ. You begin to want to be seen less, not more. You begin to want to be quieter, not louder.  Knowing you’re on the right track doesn’t come from scoring points among your “friends.” Knowing you’re on the right track doesn’t come from winning  useless arguments. You find yourself making tiny sacrifices. You find yourself experiencing tiny moments of joy. You find yourself mysteriously drawn to the Gospels, to Confession, to Mass.

Unfortunately  Cleese’s remarks are only in the extended version of the documentary available on Netflix; this YouTube video features some reflections from the other members of Monty Python about why Christ is “not pervious to comedy.”  (Warning: video is NSFW due to language and non-sexual nudity.)

September 2014 Addition: The video has since been taken down from YouTube and the documentary is not currently available on Netflix. If you happen to come across it, it really is worth your time!

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things…

Today is Catholic Media Promotion Day, a day when when Catholics list “their favorite 3 blogs, 3 podcasts, 3 other media, 3 random Catholic things online, and their own projects.” Here, in no particular order, are my favorite Catholic:

Blogs (Catechetical)

This is a hard category because there are so many great ones! Among the ones I rarely miss:

Blogs (Non-Catechetical)

Podcasts

This is another hard one for me, because I don’t listen to a lot of Catholic podcasts. This no doubt reflects a defect in my moral character. Lately I’ve been sampling

Books

An exceedingly difficult category. I’ll limit myself here to popular books, rather than theological books or spiritual classics. (It should also go without saying that I’m not including the Bible here.)

Random Catholic Things Online

5 Books for the New Year

Last year I offered five books I had read in the previous year that I recommended for the new year. If doing this two years in a row makes it a blog tradition — well , so be it!

Here are five books that come with my highest recommendation:

  • Doers of the Word: Putting Your Faith Into Practice, by Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan (2009) — In this wonderful little book Archbishop Dolan offers short reflections on Christ, the Church year, the saints, the Church, the Blessed Virgin, and other topics. His short, pithy stories are a great example of his ability to explain the faith clearly and concisely — an ability also reflected in his excellent blog.
  • The Art of Making Money: The Story of a Master Counterfeiter, by Jason Kersten (2010) — OK, this isn’t a Catholic book per se, but it is a fascinating (and true!) tale of a young man from a broken home who finds joy in becoming a craftsman of a dying art: counterfeiting money. In perfectly replicating the new $100 bill he reunites with his estranged father, with terrible consequences for both.
  • Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work, by Matthew B. Crawford (2009) — Crawford offers a profound treatise on how the “useful arts” — work that requires real skill and practice to master — combines the best of both manual and intellectual engagement. This book has made   me want to learn some real manual skills, starting with some basic woodworking.
  • Deep Conversion/Deep Prayer, by Thomas Dubay, SM (2006) — This “required reading” for our Totus Tuus team last summer has helped me deepen my prayer life and better appreciate the deep wisdom of the Church’s spiritual traditions.
  • Mariette in Ecstasy, by Ron Hansen (1992) — This book was recommended to me by a friend and colleague after he saw A Canticle for Leibowitz on last year’s list. Hansen’s portrayal of the disruption of a religious community’s orderly life by a young novice prone to trances and visions is haunting, gripping, and strangely moving.