Book Studies for Catechists

I’m a big believer in reading as a vital component of personal and professional development. This is especially true for catechists and catechetical leaders — reading, sharing, and discussing good books is a great way to form ourselves as disciples and disciple-makers.

Recently my office compiled a list of books that would be appropriate for group study by catechists and Catholic school teachers:

(We also correlated the books to our diocesan Catechist Formation Process.)

My hope is that our parishes and schools will organize book studies for their catechists as a path for continued formation.

Have you ever participated in a catechetical book study? Are there any books you would add to our list?

Book Review: You Have Put on Christ

017173_rdax_266x400At the root of all Christian discipleship is the Sacrament of Baptism, for it is in Baptism that we become a new creation and are clothed in Christ (cf. RCIA no. 229). Jerry Galipeau’s new book You Have Put on Christ: Cultivating a Baptismal Spirituality is an extended reflection on this reality, told mainly through stories of Dr. Galipeau’s discovery of the power of his own baptism.

The very first chapter recounts a pilgrimage Dr. Galipeau took to the church where he was baptized in an effort to connect his ministry to the roots of his participation in the life of Christ:

“I reached out and gave the top lid of the font a little push and, sure enough, it began to move. The lid opened and inside I saw three small chambers, probably enameled over some kind of steel (rust had formed around the edges) that once held the baptismal water. I just stood there and stared inside this font, thinking to myself, ‘My little head was once right here.’ I was overwhelmed with emotion. ‘Right here,’ I thought, ‘right here is where my life changed forever.'”

Subsequent chapters unpack the baptismal character of Lent and the ways in which a Catholic parish might help parishioners to rediscover the power and meaning of their baptism.

The book comes with an enhanced CD-ROM containing four instrumental tracks, sheet music for the hymn “God, Who at the Font once Named Us,” and the script for a parish-based baptismal reflection session (as described in the third chapter). The files are all reproducible for parish use.

You Have Put on Christ is a short but moving reflection on the grace of Baptism and a great resource for parish liturgists and catechists.

Book Review: Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples

BPIDSherry Weddell’s 2012 Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus sent shock waves across the Catholic catechetical and evangelizing communities. At the time I wrote that the book

has appeared at precisely the moment it is needed in the life of the Church… and I believe every bishop, pastor, evangelist, and catechetical leader should have a copy and study it carefully. I know I will be.

Since then I have read the book several times, led a discussion of the book in our curia offices, given away hundreds of copies, and incorporated Sherry’s reflections into my work as a diocesan catechetical leader.

So it is without hyperbole that I say that I have greatly anticipated the release of Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples.

In this new book Weddell takes on editorial duties, collecting reflections from representatives of parishes who have set out to become centers of discipleship. It is a slimmer book than its predecessor — almost half as long — but relentlessly focused in its translation of Weddell’s first book for parish life.

There aren’t a lot of new theological insights in Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples. Instead each chapter offers stories and reflections on the real lived experience of “in the trenches” disciples who are committed to sharing the Gospel and helping others encounter Jesus in their lives and churches.

Weddell herself contributes a chapter based on her popular keynote talk recounting the lives of an extraordinary group of saints in the late 16th and early 17th centuries who transformed the lukewarm, corrupt Christian community in France into a vibrant, faith-filled Church. Keith Strohm writes about the importance of prayer in energizing the work of intentional discipleship, while Fr. Michael Fones, OP, offers an excellent reflection on the role and dignity of the laity in the mission of the Church.

Bobby Vidal connects intentional discipleship to the work of the New Evangelization by demonstrating the importance of embracing new methods, ardor, and expression — especially as they are expressed through the charisms present in a parish. Katherine Coolidge and Fr. Chas Canoy both offer reflections on how their parishes built up a community of disciples, and Jim Beckman dispels myths about youth ministry that stand in the way of forming teens as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples is an excellent companion piece to Forming Intentional Disciples and is a must-read for anyone looking for inspiration and real-life examples of disciple-making. As before, I recommend it to all bishops, pastors, evangelists, catechetical leaders, and anyone interested in the formation of disciples in the Church.

5 Books for 2015

I am a firm believer that one of the most important activities a leader can engage in is good reading. Reading exposes us to new and challenging ideas, expands our understanding of the world, and offers respite from our normal business.

Since 2010 I’ve started out the year by recommending books I’ve read the past year to other catechetical leaders. Here’s this year’s list:

  1. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull (2014); Whether you’re a Pixar fan or looking for leadership insight from someone with an impeccable track record, this book is an easy, delightful read. I’ve already taken some of his lessons to heart as a diocesan director.
  2. Confirmation: How a Sacrament of God’s Grace Became All About Us by Timothy R. Gabrielli (2013); Thinking about the Sacrament of Confirmation has absorbed much of my mental energy in recent years, and this small but dense book helped a lot in clarifying some of my thoughts. Gabrielli gives a thorough historical treatment of the Sacrament of Confirmation leading up to Vatican Council II and after, with a particular eye to its interactions with changing secular ideas about adolescence.
  3. Evangelii Gaudium by Pope Francis (2014); This is a bit of a cheat since it’s technically an apostolic exhortation, not a book, but “The Joy of the Gospel” continues to unfold its rich treasury of gifts as I unpack it in light of my own ministry. Don’t rush through this one: it rewards slow, deep reading.
  4. Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive by Thom Rainer (2014); This slim tome, by a Southern Baptist pastor, examines the factors that lead to a local church community’s decline and eventual failure. I posted a full review last May; suffice to say that there is much here that applies to Catholic parishes.
  5. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (1997); Recommended to me by the founder of LibraryThing, this science fiction novel tells the tale of the first Jesuit mission to another species on a distant planet. Russell does an outstanding job of portraying the rich faith lives of her diverse cast of characters — what could have come across as predictable and preachy is instead grounded, surprising, and tender.

How to Break In Your Liturgical Books

Recently my office purchased a complete set of the Lectionary for Mass. Wanting to make sure the books lasted a long time, I asked our director for worship and the catechumenate how he prepares liturgical books for regular use. Here’s a video demonstrating the technique he shared with me:

Image by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP, under a CC-BY-NC-ND license.

Leadership Bibliography

I was recently asked by a colleague to help put together a list of some resources for lay leaders in the Church. What I put together is by no means complete, but it does include a number of resources that I have found extremely helpful in the six years I have served as a catechetical leader in our diocese.

In the interest of sharing, here’s the list I supplied:

Books

Websites

Films

  • 12 Angry Men (dir. by Sidney Lumet, 1957)
  • Amazing Grace (dir. by Michael Apted, 2006)
  • Apollo 13 (dir. by Ron Howard, 1995)
  • Chariots of Fire (dir. by Hugh Hudson, 1981)
  • Chicken Run (dir. by Peter Lord and Nick Park, 2000)
  • Jiro Dreams of Sushi (dir. by David Gelb, 2011)
  • Mr. Holland’s Opus (dir. by Stephen Herek, 1995)
  • Office Space (dir. by Mike Judge, 1999)

What leadership resources have you found helpful in your ministry?

Five Books for 2014

librarybooks

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?

Making a Suitable Offering: The 10% Solution

stewardship-word-cloudOver the course of this year our diocesan Department for Catechtical Services has been journeying with a parish and offering monthly workshops on different aspects of discipleship and holiness. It’s a pilot project that, I’m hoping, will eventually yield fruit across our diocese.

Last month Deacon Patrick O’Toole, our associate director for marriage and family life, offered a presentation on living a simple and sacrificial lifestyle. His talk centered on three of God’s commandments: to be fruitful and multiply, to keep holy the Sabbath, and to make a suitable offering of the first fruits of our labors.

On the last of these commandments Deacon O’Toole spoke of tithing and the difference it had made in his and his family’s life by freeing them to give more generously and to shake off the shackles of materialism and consumerism. He and his family have even attempted to pare down their individual belongings to about 100 items per family member.

Inspired by this radical witness I’ve decided to begin paring down my own material possessions, beginning with what will be the most painful: my books. In the spirit of the biblical tithe I’ve committed to reducing my book collection by 10% (about 70 books), selling them at a used book store, and donating the proceeds to Catholic Relief Services. I’ve also invited my colleagues in the department to join me. To date we’ve amassed a not inconsiderable pile of books on my office table which, next week, I’ll pile into my truck to take to the bookstore.

This is, I think, a useful twist on the biblical tithe through which the view the things in our lives: where can we eliminate 10% of the “stuff” that is cluttering our homes, offices, mental space, and lives?

My “Five Books” List for 2013

Every year in January I post a list of some of my favorite reads from the past twelve months. So without further ado:

  • Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus by Sherry Weddell (2012) – I don’t need to belabor this one. Suffice to say that it was the most important book I read last year and anyone involved in catechesis and evangelization needs to read it. If you want more info you can read my full review of the book.
  • Holiness for Everyone: The Practical Spirituality of Josemaria Escriva by Eric Sammons (2012) – This books was a great introduction to the “everyday” spirituality of this modern saint. Focusing on the universal call to holiness, Sammons walks through St. Josemaria’s spirituality in a  simple  and enlightening way.
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (2011) – I learned  so much about myself through this book. By focusing on the physiological  underpinnings  of introversion, Cain has helped me to understand my physical reactions to certain situations — which in turn has helped me to become more comfortable with myself and others. A great book for introverts or anyone with an introvert in their life.
  • I Wasn’t Dead When I Wrote This: Advice Given in the Nick of Time by Lisa-Marie Calderone-Stewart (2012) – I’m not much for self-help or advice books, but this volume touched me in a way I wasn’t quite expecting. Written literally in the last few months of her life, this book is a gift of stories and insight to young people from a dedicated and loving youth minister.
  • Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (1972) – I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t read nearly enough fiction in 2012. Fortunately my sister got me this great story from a sci-fi master for Christmas and I devoured it. Ostensibly about an alien spacecraft making it’s way through our solar system, Clarke focuses on humanity’s capacity for wonder at the suprises that await us throughout creation.

Did you have any books that touched you in the past year? Recommend them in the comments!