Book Review: Connected toward Communion

Connected Communion Apprvd.inddConnected Toward Communion: The Church and Social Communication in the Digital Age (Liturgical Press, 2014) is a positive contribution to the ongoing dialogue between Catholic thought and the rapidly changing technological frontier. The book offers an overview of the major ecclesial documents pertaining to social communication and the Internet from Vatican II forward. Zsupan-Jerome’s focus, however, is on how the Church can form lay and ordained pastoral ministers to use these technologies and serve the faithful in the digital age.

She refrains from offering concrete suggestions for the formation of pastoral minsters, which is both a strength and a weakness. While a more detailed plan for formation would have quickly become outdated as technologies come and go, readers may finish the book wondering “what next?”

Zsupan-Jerome augments her analysis with plenty of references to more recent works (both religious and secular) on technology’s effects on the human person and the book includes an ample bibliography.

Recommended for theological and academic libraries.

N.B.: I received a free review copy of this book from the Catholic Library Association. This review was originally published in the September 2015 issue of Catholic Library World.

Book Review: Tweeting with God

TWG-PTweeting with God (Ignatius Press, 2015) arose out of sessions held by Fr. Michel Remery, a Dutch priest, and the youth of his parish. Two hundred of the questions these young people asked – and Fr. Remery’s responses – have been compiled into an attractive and wide-ranging overview of the Catholic faith.

The topics are arranged into four sections dealing with God, the Church, prayer and the sacraments, and Christian living. Each question is answered over two pages with supplemental material, sidebars, full-color pictures, maps, and other graphics. Each question also gets a 140-character “summary” answer (hence the title of the book).

The book is clearly aimed at a young audience. Fr. Remery writes with a breezy, relaxed style that never condescends or skirts difficult issues. Questions such as “Why are some Christians hypocritical,” “Why were there violent crusades,” and “Is it bad that I struggle with chastity?” are tackled in a straightforward, honest fashion. The answers are thorough without being overly academic or theological.

Fr. Remery does not claim the book is a complete overview of the Catholic faith; rather, it is designed to deal with the most pressing questions young people have about the faith. The book directs readers to the Bible, Catechism, and YouCat for a more thorough presentation of Catholic doctrine.

Recommended for high school, campus ministry, and parish libraries.

N.B.: I received a free review copy of this book from the Catholic Library Association. This review was originally published in the June 2015 issue of Catholic Library World.

Fr. Barron Book Giveaway

seeds-single-1pngToday Fr. Robert Barron releases his new book Seeds of the Word: Finding God in the Culture:

Since the first century, Christians have detected “seeds of the Word” in the surrounding culture. No matter how charred or distorted the fragments, we can always uncover inklings of the Gospel, which can then lead people to God. Through this evocative collection of essays, Father Robert Barron finds those “seeds” in today’s most popular films, books, and current events.

How do Superman, Gran Torino, and The Hobbit illuminate the figure of Jesus? How does Bob Dylan convey the prophetic overtones of Jeremiah and Isaiah? Where can we detect the ripple of original sin in politics, sports, and the Internet culture?

Finding the “seeds of the Word” requires a new vision. This book will train you to see.

In celebration of the book’s release Word on Fire Ministries has given me five copies to give away to lucky readers! You have four opportunities to enter by

  1. commenting on this post,
  2. following me on Twitter,
  3. tweeting about the contest,
  4. or joining my email list.

Use this form to enter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Entries must be received by this Saturday at 11:59p (Central Time)!

seeds-cover-frontjpg

Book Review: When Other Christians Become Catholic

Tomorrow I will head to Chicago for the annual meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions. It’s not my usual annual conference — and I’m not even a liturgist! — but the attendees will be participating in a consultation process with the USCCB’s Committee for Divine Worship on the National Statues for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), so our director for the Office for Worship and the Catechumenate asked if I would like to tag along given the catechetical import of the topic.

One of the pieces of “required reading” we were given to prepare for the consultation process is Fr. Paul Turner’s When Other Christians Become Catholic (Pueblo, 2007). This short tome covers a number of issues related to the reception into the Church of Christians from other ecclesial communities. This includes an overview of the history of how other Christians have been received, starting with the early years of the Church when adherents to heretical sects (such as the Arians) joined the true faith; a look at how other Christians receive members into their communities; and a look at issues that still remain with the process as it was renewed after Vatican Council II.

WOCBC-turnerFr. Turner’s overarching message, however, is to remind us that when other Christians choose to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, they are not doing so in a vacuum or as if their previous faith commitments were invalid. This is both a theological and a pastoral point: theological in that we must take seriously the validity and reality of the person’s baptism, even if that baptism occurred in a community not connected with the Catholic Church. The question of whether to recognize other baptisms was decided in the affirmative by the ancient Church; this presupposes that God is really and truly acting in their lives even before their movement towards the Catholic Church.

The point is pastoral because, in practice, many Christians come away from the process of reception into the Church with the impression that their baptisms were somehow “lesser” because they did not occur in a Catholic context. Fr. Turner puts the blame for this squarely on the practice of including baptized candidates for full communion in the same preparation program as unbaptized catechumens who are preparing for full initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist), culminating in a combined rite at the Easter Vigil. As Fr. Turner states,

By adopting Easter as the paradigmatic occasion for celebrating the rite of reception, the Catholic Church in the United States has reframed the meaning of the rite and its attendant preparation into something more resembling a conversion, a dying and a rising – rather than an evolution, a coming to full communion… Such a conversion is a symptom that something has gone wrong with the rite of reception. The council envisioned an ecumenically sensitive rite that would promote the concept of one baptism among Christians. But the rite of reception is being celebrated as a near equivalent with the initiation of the unbaptized.

This will, no doubt, be a major topic of conversation at this week’s FDLC meeting as we discuss the National Statutes.

The only downside to Fr. Turner’s book is a linguistic one; because the book was published in 2007, it does not take into account the 2010 translation of the Roman Missal. As a result, his discussion of such texts (including an otherwise excellent examination of the text of the Mass for Christian Unity) do not reflect the current liturgical language, although his overarching points are still relevant.

Nevertheless, the book is highly recommended for it’s overall theme and discussion of the historical and ecumenical nature of welcoming other Christians into full communion. When Other Christians Become Catholic is a valuable resource for pastors, evangelists, and RCIA leaders and team members.

Who’s In Your Braintrust?

CatmullQuoteI recently read Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, one of the founders and president of Pixar Animation. The book is a wonderful lesson in the business of creativity, told through the history of Pixar’s rise as the most respected animation company in the world.

In the fifth chapter Catmull talks about the Pixar “Braintrust,” a group of “funny, focused, smart, and relentlessly candid” leaders within Pixar who come together on a regular basis to offer honest, constructive feedback on various projects related to the work of the company. These meetings involve a lot of frank talk about what is working — and what isn’t working — in any given Pixar movie during the course of its production. Anyone in the Braintrust, regardless of their official position within the company, is expected to contribute with their honest opinions.

Catmull discusses the need for this kind of candid conversation, unencumbered by ego or territoriality, in any creative endeavor. I would argue that it is also necessary for the work of ministry.

Everyone who works for the Church — and especially those of us in leadership positions — should be about one thing: building up the Kingdom of God. What that means will depend on what ministry we are engaged in, but the bottom line is that if we aren’t going about our Father’s work, then we aren’t being effective in our ministry.

Unfortunately, as fallen human beings, we sometimes (often?) fail to maintain a relentless focus on the things of God and instead put our energy and attention on our own projects and desires. Being able to have candid conversation about what is and is not working is essential to the tasks of ministry. We should have the fortitude and integrity to ask probing questions, give honest opinions, and challenge one another about what is effective.

(And I hope it goes without saying that we should do collaboratively with one other, rather than behind each other’s backs.)

In my diocese I am blessed with colleagues who are unrelenting in their focus on improving our ministries and who are unafraid to question, challenge, critique — and praise! — each other in appropriate, loving ways. It’s not always easy (as one of them likes to say, “Collaboration is hard work!”) but it is rewarding in ways I could never have dreamed when I entered into ministry.

Who is in your Braintrust? Who can you turn to for honest, candid discussion about your ministry? If you can’t think of anyone, how could you foster relationships with others to develop your own “braintrust?”

Preview: Sunday Prayer for Catechists 2014-2015

As I’ve previously mentioned, I was privileged to write this year’s Sunday Prayer for Catechists book from Liturgy Training Publications. The book is out now and I’ve received very positive feedback (including notes from two of my childhood catechists!).

A preview of the book is available on Google Books:

Sunday Prayer for Catechists 2014-2015 is available from the LTP web site (in both digital and dead tree formats) for $2.00. I pray that it will be a blessing to catechists this coming year!

Defeating the World by Embracing the Cross: Under the Influence Of Jesus Blog Tour

One of the great gifts of the New Evangelization is the reminder that, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to evangelize the culture because, like us, it is in need of conversion. Christians, we know, are called to live, work, and play within the world without taking on the attitudes and habits of that world which — while made by God and declared good — has nevertheless been broken through sin. Thus our weapons are not those of the world. Rather, our weapons are spiritual in nature.

Joe Paprocki makes this point in his new book Under the Influence of Jesus: The Transforming Experience of Encountering Christ. Joe devotes an entire chapter to the power of the cross and it’s power to transform our ways of living and thinking.

By way of example Joe relates the story of Barabbas and the decision by the Jews to ask for him instead of Jesus when offered a prisoner by Pontius Pilate. Barabbas was a revolutionary who sought to overthrow the occupying Romans by force. Jesus, in contrast, was a king with no visible army who did not defend himself.

These two figures continue to challenge us today as we seek to live in a world increasingly hostile to the kerygma. One tempts us to be “realists” and utilize the ways of the world in order to defeat it. The other asks us to renounce those ways in favor of prayer, fasting, and alms giving. In short, we are asked to embrace the cross. Joe reminds us that

As Christians, we formally worship Jesus on Sunday; but all too many of us continue to clamor for Barabbas the other six days of the week. We do so because we trust that his weapons are more suited to the “real world” than are those of Jesus Christ. As a result, we remain enslaved by what I call the “Barabbas cycle.” Whenever we perceive that we are “attacked” by an evil, we are inclined to respond with a bigger, stronger (but in our eyes more righteous) version of the same evil. Ironically, our actions are self-defeating. By perpetuating evil, we are only strengthening the enemy we aim to crush.

The Gospels, of course, tell us that choosing Barabbas is a mistake — that Jesus is the savior we need, and that his weapon, the cross, is more powerful than any gun.

The cross? Cue those crickets again.

Unfortunately too often we fall short of Christ’s call and fall prey to the temptation to fight fire with fire. Whether calling for preemptive war, making disparaging and uncharitable comments online, gossiping in the office, or playing politics while ignoring the common good, the ways of the world lead away from the cross and the Kingdom of God.

Fortunately we can renounce the bad habits of the world and seek to embrace the way of the cross in our lives. Joe offers three suggestions for cultivating “kingdom habits” that will help us embrace our crosses and use them for the spiritual benefit of the world:

  1. Cultivate silence as a means of silencing the ego.
  2. Shift the focus away from our own needs by reducing our consumption.
  3. Focus on others by practicing generosity.

These three habits can not only radically transform our personal lives; they are also key habits for the New Evangelization, which calls us out of ourselves in order to preach the Gospel through the proclamation of the kerygma and the practice of the Works of Mercy.

I highly recommend Under the Influence of Jesus — in fact, I’m giving away a copy to a lucky reader! Check out this blog post for details.

Win a Copy of Joe Paprocki’s New Book!

UnderInfluenceBlogTour-SocialToday I’m very pleased to be part of a blog tour for Joe Paprocki’s new book Under the Influence of Jesus: The Transforming Experience of Encountering Christ. Joe’s book is a great primer on the Christian life and what it means to “take up our cross” and follow Jesus.

(It also includes a reference to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and gets bonus points just for that.)

As part of the tour I have a copy of the book to give away to one of my readers! Just leave a comment on this post by 11:59p (CT) on Wednesday, June 11, and I’ll randomly select someone to receive a copy of the book.

Good luck!

Book Review: Autopsy of a Deceased Church

Thom Rainer’s Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive (based on this post from his blog) is a short but penetrating look at the symptoms indicating a sick church community.

The book is based on interviews Rainer conducted with representatives from 12 closed churches. Through these interviews he identified various patterns and symptoms of dying churches: lack of evangelization, a failure to budget for mission, no communal prayer, etc.

autopsyRainer’s purpose is not just to depress us, though. As he states in the outset, his hope is that this “autopsy” will help others to identify symptoms of an unhealthy church before it becomes a crisis. To that end he includes reflection questions at the end of each chapter to help church leaders discern the “vital signs” of their communities.

The book ends with suggestions for churches in various stages of decline. Rainer does not mince words. He advocates for drastic changes in drastic circumstances, something many communities will resist. But Rainer is not concerned with comfort; he is concerned with churches communicating the Gospel effectively.

A quick note to Catholic readers: while Rainer is Baptist and some of the examples in the book have a decidedly Protestant bent, the symptoms and suggestions identified by him are just as applicable to Catholic parishes. Any diocesan or parish leader interested in healthy parish communities would do well to read and reflect on Rainer’s work.

Book Announcement: Sunday Prayers for Catechists

spc15I am very happy to announce that Liturgy Training Publications has asked me to write their 2014-2015 version of the annual Sunday Prayer for Catechists book!

From LTP:

Sunday Prayer for Catechists invites catechists to develop a habit of personal prayer and reflection on the Word of God. This annual resource provides Gospel texts from the Sunday Lectionary and reflections that connect the message of Scripture to work with young people in order to help catechists to grow spiritually through their ministry. It covers every Sunday and Holyday of Obligation from September 7, 2014, through August 30, 2015.

This resource is a wonderful gift to present to catechists at the beginning of the year, at retreats, or on Catechetical Sunday. There is a dedication page in the front of the book that can be signed by the director of religious education or pastor to add a personal touch. Catechists can use this prayer resource throughout the year individually or in small groups to grow in faith as a result of their experiences leading young people. The low cost and bulk pricing make this gift a practical choice for parishes looking to do something to thank their catechists for their ministry.

Sunday Prayers for Catechists is available now from LTP. I hope that it will be a blessing to teachers and catechists as they pray through the liturgical year.