Apprenticeship Activities Outside the Parish

Last week I wrote about viewing Christian apprenticeship as something that happens outside the immediate orbit of the parish. So what would non-parish based Christian apprenticeship look like? Broadly speaking there are few set characteristics. It could center on a stable, long-term group or activity. It could involve strangers coming together for a short time. It may be sponsored by a religious community, or it may be a work of the lay apostolate.

What distinguishes apprenticeship from other pious activity is a desire to come together as followers of Jesus Christ with the aim to grow in holiness through specific, intentional acts of faith. By way of example, taking teens to serve at a soup kitchen could be an act of Christian apprenticeship if it is more than just a “service trip” — that is, if it integrates various facets of Christian living, including prayer, fellowship, and theological reflection.

The following list is by no means exhaustive, but does reflect some of the activities I have seen build Christian fellowship and discipleship. in such a way as to be true apprenticeship:

  1. Rosary Potlucks: I first encountered these gatherings in a homeschooling community our family participated in some years back. The idea was simple: once a month families would gather at a home on a Sunday evening for a shared meal, fellowship, and the praying of the Rosary. The participants varied from month to month, with people coming and going as their schedules permitted, but the practice of hospitality and common prayer was impressive.
  2. Pilgrimages: It’s a shame that so many Catholics assume a pilgrimage has to involve a trip to Europe or the Holy Land (making them prohibitively expensive or difficult for many). There are a variety of opportunities for local pilgrimages to shrines, historical religious landmarks, and beautiful basilicas that are just a day trip away. Especially during the Year of Mercy, a special trip to the diocesan Holy Door with a group of friends or fellow parishioners would be a great way to grow together in faith.
  3. Small Faith Communities: Admittedly, as an introvert, I tend to have a hard time in small faith sharing groups (as I’m sure the Why Catholic? group I led a while back can attest!). But having a committed group of people coming together as part of a book club, parish-based program, or sharing based on the Sunday readings is an excellent example of Christian apprenticeship in action. By sharing their own joys and struggles as a disciples, the members support each other and build up the Body of Christ.
  4. Service Groups and Activities: The Works of Mercy and other apostolic activities are a vital part of Christian apprenticeship (cf Rite of Christian Initiation no. 75). Catholic Worker houses, crisis pregnancy centers, volunteer organizations such as the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and local food pantries can serve as places both where the faithful come together to practice solidarity with and service to the poor and neglected, but also where they can be inspired by the faith and example of those they serve. My own encounters with Shalom House in Kansas City when I was young impressed on me just how vibrant these types of communities can be.

What types of apprenticeship activities outside the parish have you experienced?

Book Review: Mending Broken Relationships, Building Strong Ones

boucherJohn and Therese Boucher’s Mending Broken Relationships, Building Strong Ones: Eight Ways to Love as Jesus Loved Us is a slim volume that packs a powerful spiritual punch. The aim of the book is to help readers in “realizing God’s love and connecting others to Jesus” through eight interconnected practices.

The eight spiritual practices advocated by the Bouchers are intercession, respect, forgiveness, gratitude, affirmation, patience and forbearance, honesty, and a healing presence. Each practice is first explained in light of Sacred Scripture; then consideration is given for how readers can accept the gift of this spiritual practice. Finally, the Bouchers walk through concrete steps for putting the practice into action.

The book is written in an easy conversational style — it is not overly theological, but uses the Church’s tradition to illuminate real human experience. The Bouchers sprinkle stories from the saints and their own lives throughout the book to help illustrate the principles they have layed out. Each chapter also includes reflection questions, suggested skills to practice, and prayer resources.

Mending Broken Relationships, Building Strong Ones is a great read for any faithful Christian individually or as part of a small book group.

N.B.: I received a free review copy of this book from the authors.

Videos: Building a Better Disciple Series

This past Monday evening I completed my five-part webinar series “Building a Better Disciple.”

All five videos are available to view. In addition, slides and catechist formation participation forms for catechists and teachers in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois are available at BuildingABetterDisciple.tumblr.com.

Thanks again to everyone who participated in the live webinars. This was a fun and enlightening experiment in webinar-based catechist formation and I already have some ideas for a video-based formation series in the spring. Stay tuned!

Free Webinar Series: Building a Better Disciple

Christ_Taking_Leave_of_the_ApostlesI’m pleased to announce that this fall I will be offering a free webinar series entitled “Building a Better Disciple.” Over the course of five webinars we will explore what it means to be a Christian through the lens of Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”

Full information on the series is being posted at BuildingABetterDisciple.tumblr.com; here’s a quick overview of the sessions (clicking on the links will take you to the registration pages for each webinar):

October 13: Jesus: The Face of Discipleship
https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/961033874
Before understanding how to become a disciple we must first know what a disciple is. Through the person of Jesus Christ we will come to know what it means to claim the name “Christian.”

October 20: Scripture and Tradition: The Boundaries of Discipleship
https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/932598546
Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition – passed on through the biblical authors, the apostles, and their successors – form the deposit of our faith. As the basis for all of the Church’s teaching they also provide the boundary lines for discipleship by illuminating the path that followers of Christ must follow.

October 27: Christian Community: The Foundation of Discipleship
https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/222598314
Faith is nurtured and sustained in the context of a community of believers. This session will explore how the Church in various contexts (family, parish, school, etc.) sets the stage for a life of discipleship.

November 3: Liturgy and Prayer: The Engine of Discipleship
https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/359999938
In this webinar we will examine how the graces received in the sacraments, liturgical celebrations, and personal prayer fuel our capacity for embracing the call to discipleship.

November 10: Vocation and Mission: The Aim of Discipleship
https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/432332978
Faith that is not put into practice is sterile. Connecting the themes of the previous webinars we will explore how the faithful participate in the Church’s mission in the world through their particular gifts and calling.

All webinars begin at 7:30p (Central Time) and will last 90 minutes. I hope you’ll be able to join me for this exciting series!

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.

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?

Praying the Rosary for Discipleship

rosary-glass

About four years ago one of the high schools in our diocese, finding themselves with sliding enrollment, started a prayer campaign with the specific intention of increasing the number of students at the school. The centerpiece of this campaign was a weekly rosary before the school day. Since beginning that weekly rosary their numbers have steadily increased and they are nearly at capacity.

Inspired by this a member of my department recently approached me about starting a similar endeavor in our curia offices with the goal of increasing levels of discipleship in our diocese.

To that end, for the past two months, we have held a morning rosary in our curia chapel every Thursday before office hours. We chose Thursday both for scheduling reasons and because the Luminous Mysteries seem especially relevant to the cause of discipleship. In place of the traditional prayer after the rosary we have substituted the collect prayer from the Mass for the New Evangelization.

We also developed a small pamphlet for people to take home in case they couldn’t join us Thursday mornings.

It is, of course, too early to know of any direct effects of this effort. Regardless, reminding ourselves of the end goal of our work — to help individuals grow in holiness and become more dedicated, authentic disciples — is essential for those of us in more “bureaucratic” ministries. I trust that God will bless these prayers with an abundant harvest.

Meeting Youth “Where They’re At” (Guest post by Margaret Felice)

Margaret Felice is the feistiest Bostonian religion teacher/opera singer I know. Granted, I haven’t met any others, but I can’t imagine any would top her. Her reflections on faith combine theological reflection with poetic vision and always challenge me to think deeply about my relationship with God. I’m grateful for this guest post she has offered.

BostonMuseumNot long ago I had the pleasure of accompanying fifteen eighth-grade boys to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. As a religion teacher in the middle school division of a Jesuit high school, I spend a lot of my days talking about sports and Pop-Tart flavors, but I also spend my days exploring faith and the world alongside my students.

On this particular field trip day my advisory group really shone. I swelled up with pride when they explained to the docent some of the episcopal imagery in a portrait of an early American bishop. I knew that would be hard to top, but they made me prouder when we got to modern art. With each painting – some of shapes, some bright swaths of color – they explained not only what they saw, but what they thought it might mean.

There was one dark, apocalyptic scene, deep reds and oranges with black. There was a mound-like shape in the middle of the scene: was it a cave or a mountain? Was it a black hole? The kids sensed the terror of the landscape. One described a big oven, and the words “frightening” and “end of the world” were thrown around.

Then one student announced “I see a loaf of bread.” For a split second, I did too. You see, we were way overdue on lunch. And who’s to say that that painter hadn’t been hungry too?

There is a lot of pressure in religious education to “meet students ‘where they are at'”, whatever that means. I have seen enough well-intentioned catechists rhapsodize ineffectively about the joys of Marian devotion to know that there is some truth to that idea. We have to know our audiences, but I worry that we often slip into “lowest common denominator” catechesis and formation, assuming that students know nothing and have no interpretive skills.

On the anniversary of Thomas Merton’s birthday I wrote his famous “Lord God, I have no idea where I am going” prayer on the whiteboard in the classroom. I asked my group of 12-year-olds to read it over and write on a sheet of looseleaf what they thought the author was trying to get across. A few minutes later when we shared what we had written, I heard a series of heartfelt prayers that clearly represented what was going on in the student’s lives as much as what they read into Merton’s reflection. Who would have guessed that a 20th-century Trappist monk would be ‘where they were at’?

There is no way of knowing where students are at. I try to keep up on March Madness and Gatorade flavors in order to join their daily conversations, but most of the time where they are at encompasses much more than the trends that creep into their every day chatter. Where they are at may be their mother’s illness, or parents’ divorce, or tests for a learning disability. Young people have interior lives. Any effort to “meet them where they are at” needs to take that into account.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t “make the Gospel relevant” – another big temptation with youth work. I can’t improve on the Gospel, which has been making itself relevant throughout history, in times much more challenging than ours. What I learned with the Merton prayer, and with the MFA painting, was that if I can expose my students to something inspired, they will see what they need to see.

So I’m done with the isolationist mentality that insists making the Gospel “cool” is the only way to work with youth. To do that is to sell it – and ourselves – short. The good news of Jesus Christ is transformative and sublime, not cool. When we assume the worst of those to whom we minister, of any age, we deny the Gospel’s transformative power. We do this by assuming only our manipulation or dilution of the message will hold anyone’s interest, and we do this by believing that to hold someone’s interest is the same as encouraging their spiritual development.

I don’t advocate dropping the Bible on a teenager’s desk and walking away. Those of us charged with forming young people – parents and teachers alike – can guide them toward a certain passage, ask the right questions, tell a related story or give historical background. We can create a time and space for silence and prayer, we can introduce them to counter-cultural role models who will inspire them (and who will hold their attention).

In the end, it is the young people themselves who will bring it all up-to-date. They are the only ones who know where they are at. They will see what they need to see if we put holiness and beauty in front of them, then get out of the way and allow them to explore it. Sometimes they will see consolation, sometimes they will see their vocation, sometimes they will see a loaf of bread. That’s fine, as long as they learn to keep looking, to see beyond “where they’re at” and be drawn into where they could be.


Margaret Felice is a religion teacher, opera singer, choral conductor and loud-laugher who blogs from Boston at felicemifa.wordpress.com.

How To Survive a Social Media Attack With Your Soul Intact

The past weekend our diocesan Facebook page came under attack after our bishop wrote about the spiritual implications of voting for intrinsic evil. Some of the posters engaged the substance of the arguments; some, while disrespectful, were at least not vulgar or obscene; and the rest made for the most soul-damaging work of my life. I won’t describe the types of things I had to delete from our page. Suffice to say that the language, while course, was nothing compared to the brutality of the photoshopped pictures that people posted. I was sick to my stomach and sick in my heart.

So how does one maintain faith, hope, and charity amid such a morass of filth and hate? How can you weather such a storm with your heart still ready to reach out to others? Here’s how I handled it:

  1. Find some beauty. I was fortunate that, in the middle of this mess, I chanced across a picture my friend Dorian had tweeted of a beautiful cathedral dome. Taking in that beauty for just a few seconds lifted me up a bit and reminded me that, while my computer screen was filled with ugliness, there is beauty in the world.
  2. Take a break. Sometimes you just have to walk away for a little while. While I didn’t like the idea of something obscene being posted in my absence, the truth is that policing our Facebook page is not my most important job — either in my work for the Church or in my life. Taking time with my family, reading a book, making a meal — anything to get my mind off the Facebook page for a little while helped me to get back to a sense of “normalcy.”
  3. Remember it is temporary. Just remembering that this, too, will pass came with a great sense of relief. Our Facebook page has been attacked before; this one, too, will subside with time as people get bored and move on to the next confrontation. And in fact the main brunt of the attack was over in under 24 hours.
  4. Pray, pray, pray. We’ve been praying the St. Michael Prayer after Mass in our  diocese  for a couple years now, but never has the phrase “defend us in battle” taken on such immediacy for me. Asking the archangel for his intercession — especially on Saturday, when it was the Feast of the Archangels! — helped me to soldier on through the attacks. St. Michael is a powerful patron when undergoing spiritual trials — rely on him!

How do you maintain your spiritual wellness when confronted with sin and ugliness online?

Video: Fortnight for Freedom Prayer Rally – Springfield, IL

Yesterday our diocesan bishop, the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, hosted a prayer rally outside the Illinois State Capitol as part of our observance of the Fortnight for Freedom. I was particularly impressed with this rally’s focus on prayer as the primary strength of the Church. Bishop Paprocki was one of the architects of the Fortnight for Freedom and his consistant message has been that the Fortnight should be an event centered on prayer and education — not partisan posturing.

The rally was recorded; I offer it here, the day before we celebrate our Independence Day,  as one example of how the Church participates in the public life of our nation in a spirit of affirmative orthodoxy.

(Any complaints about the shaky camera work can be directed to your humble servant, who forgot the tripod.)