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.

Free Webinar: The Pastoral Project of Evangelii Gaudium

Next Tuesday, November 11, two members of my department will host a webinar in which they discuss their trip to Rome to participate in an international conference on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium:

In September 2014 Carlos Tejeda (director for marriage and family life) and Kyle Holtgrave (associate director for youth and young adult ministry) traveled to Rome to participate in the International Meeting on the Pastoral Project of Evangelii Gaudium.

In this free webinar Kyle and Carlos will share what they heard and saw during the meeting and how the “Joy of the Gospel” can impact your parishes and ministries in our diocese.

Sponsored by the Department for Catechetical Services of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and funded by generous contributions to the Annual Catholic Services Appeal and the Harvest of Thanks, Springtime of Hope Campaign.

We invite anyone who is interested to join us for this webinar; registration is free at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/100000000064888004.

Win an Exclusive Copy of Pope Francis’ First Book

My friends at Loyola Press are preparing for the release of Pope Francis first book, The Church of Mercy, with an opportunity to win a free copy before the book is officially released on April 20th .

Simply answer the following questions that will be posted each day this week on Loyola Press’s Facebook page, Ignatian Spirituality’s Facebook page, and Twitter. Be sure to include the tag #ChurchofMercy in your response.

Loyola Press will select three winners at random from all qualified entries each day—extra points awarded to contestants who submit visual answers!

The questions to answer each day are:

  • Monday: What do you love about Pope Francis?
  • Tuesday: When have you experienced a moment of mercy in your life?
  • Wednesday: Why do you want to read this book?
  • Thursday: How have you been inspired by Pope Francis?
  • Friday: Inspired by Pope Francis’s example, how will you be merciful to those in your life?

The contest begins at 8 a.m. CST on Monday, April 7th, and ends at 5 p.m. CST on April 11th. Entries are limited to those in North America.

Good luck!

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!

Habemus Papam! A Personal Reflection

fry-whitesmokeIt’s hard to be sure since I’ve only experienced two in my living memory (the first two taking place when I was less than six months old), but sitting in bed last night it occurred to me how similar to pregnancy an interregnum is. The watchful anticipation; discerning signs of impending activity; the breathless anticipation as we wait for the appearance of this person. The buzz I felt yesterday. sitting with my colleagues and waiting for the new pontiff’s appearance, was not unlike the anxiousness I have felt while my wife has been in labor. Even now we must take the time to get to know our new Holy Father — not unlike receiving a new child into the family.

Of course some are already celebrating him; some are already decrying him. I suspect this is nothing new in the history of the Church as all manner of people seem to have an opinion on what a new pope should do — not; should say — or not. Personally I tend to take a more cautious approach. Attestations on Twitter that “We love him already!” make me uncomfortable, as it should anyone who knows the history of the papacy. (There’s a reason so few popes are listed among the saints, and why Dante listed so many as residences of Hell!) That’s not to impugn the character or sanctity of Pope Francis, but simply to point out that the papacy is more about the office than the person holding it. Popes come and go; Peter’s chair remains.

Of course I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pleased by his choice of name, which I share (yes, that F. stands for Francis). My connections with the poor man of Assisi run deep, having been baptized by Capuchins and educated by OFMs. My brief defection to the Dominicans in graduate school only deepened my love for Francis’ mendicant spirituality. I hope that Pope Francis will speak on his own relationship with St. Francis, which I suspect is strong.

So, for now, we watch and wait and pray for our shepherd. At Mass this morning our pastor was practically beaming as he announced that we would be celebrating a Mass of thanksgiving for Pope Francis. I hope that joy remains for a long time so that the world might see the faith the Church has — not in this pope, but in Jesus Christ who has provided again for this little flock. Deo gratias.