The Spirituality of the Catechist

Catechists must have a deep spirituality, i.e. they must live in the Spirit, who will help them to renew themselves continually in their specific identity.

The need for a spirituality proper to catechists springs from their vocation and mission. It includes, therefore, a new and special motivation, a call to sanctity. Pope John Paul II’s saying: “The true missionary is the saint”, can be applied without hesitation to the catechist. Like every member of the faithful, catechists are “called to holiness and to mission”, i.e. to live out their own vocation “with the fervour of the saints”.

Their spirituality is closely bound up with their status as lay Christians, made participants, in their own degree, in Christ’s prophetic, priestly and kingly offices. As members of the laity, they are involved in the secular world and have, “according to the condition of each, the special obligation to permeate and perfect the temporal order of things with the spirit of the gospel. In this way, particularly in conducting secular business and exercising secular functions, they are to give witness to Christ”.

Guide for Catechists, no. 6

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.

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: The Catholics Next Door: Adventures in Imperfect Living

There’s a certain genre of Catholic writing that’s never particularly appealed to me. I’m not sure what to call it, but it encompasses parenting books and marriage advice, Catholic living and holiness “how-to”s.

The defining characteristic of these books tends to be a hoity-toity know-it-all attitude that exalts one way of parenting or spirituality as “the way” above all others, without regard to the rich diversity of the Church’s history and practice.

The Catholics Next Door is not that type of book.

In fact Greg and Jennifer Willits go out of their way to assure readers that they don’t have all the answers, that they are just like the rest of us poor schlubs trying to honor God while making a living, raising a family, and attending to the rest of life’s demands. But, as they point out, there is holiness in that imperfection. Call it a “spirituality of the screwups”:

In a way it helps to know we’re not the only screwups in this world. I suspect that many of the seemingly perfect parents sitting in the pew ahead of us at church, the ones with the angelic children, are screwups as well. I don’t know why that helps me, but it does.

It’s good to remind ourselves, especially when we’re ready to throttle a kid who just spray-painted a brand new set of golf clubs, that you were a screwup before your kid was. And you still are. But you’re getting better, with the help of God.

The Willits cover a wide range of topics in the book, from living with our neighbors to natural family planning, using technology for evangelization to the Eucharist. The connecting thread is a relentless focus on Christian living in the messiness and uncertainties of modern life. Jennifer and Greg take turns offering their own perspectives in short 2-3 page sections. This “he said, she said” style could have felt forced or trite, but the sections transition smoothly into each other and never feel jarring or forced. This is a testament both to their writing and to each author’s unique and engaging voice.

I especially appreciated their encouragement and advice on family prayer. They recount their own travails in praying with their five children (leading to the chapter’s title: “Family-Rosary Wrestling”) and, as with the rest of the book, assure parents that being a “work in progress” is nothing to be ashamed of: “There will be victories and head-smacking embarrassments. But as long as we maintain our focus on Christ, stay close to him in the  sacraments, and remain loyal to the teachings of our faith to the best of our abilities, we will be equipped to handle any  challenge  Gods wants to put before us.”

The Catholics Next Door  is a funny, inspiring, and down-to-earth book on Christian living. I recommend it to imperfect Christians everywhere.

Episode 012 – The Catholic Briefcase

briefcaseMany Catholics experience a disconnect between their worship and prayer on Sunday and their “normal” lives the rest of the week. They may fail to see how their faith impacts how they live, or they may just not know how to integrate their spirituality into the rest of their lives. How can we help people live out their faith the other six days of the week — especially in the places where they spend the most time away from home, their jobs?

This month I had a conversation with Randy Hain, senior editor of the Integrated Catholic Life eMagazine, co-founder of the Atlanta Catholic Business Conference, and author of The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work. He talked about his book and about how the “average Catholic” can live the faith in the secular business world.

Click to Play – 012 – The-Catholic-Briefcase

Book Review: The Catholic Briefcase

How Catholics live their lives in the public square is one of the hot button issues in the Church. For evidence one need only look at the recent USCCB General Assembly, where issues of religious freedom and political pressure where at the forefront of the conversation. And while these macro-level conversations are vital for a Church that does so much public good, I sometimes wonder if we aren’t missing the boat by failing to talk about how the average Catholic lives their faith when they aren’t at Sunday Mass.

Fortunately, Randy Hain’s The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work seeks to start that conversation, at least as it pertains to Catholics and their work lives. In doing so he draws both from his own experience as an executive seeking to integrate his faith with his work, and on the experience of other Catholics (through interviews included in the book) living their faith in the workplace.

Of course there are many obstacles to being a person of faith in the modern business world, from concerns about policies (official or unofficial) against talking about faith in the workplace, to uncertainty about the best way to broach faith topics, to incongruities between faith and business culture. Hain acknowledges each of these and offers gentle suggestions and tips for overcoming them. He also offers practical advice for nurturing a spiritual life as a busy professional, reflections on the relationship between love and work behavior, examples of good stewardship in the business place, and advice for managers and executives on the Christian understanding of leadership.

Each chapter includes several reflection questions, which makes this an ideal book for a small faith community or gathering of Catholic professionals. Hain also includes an excellent series of appendices with additional resources including recommended books and web sites, a œDaily Examen for Busy Business People,  and even a blueprint for starting a local Catholic business group. These resources will help people put the material from the book into practice. (Personally, I’m already seeing if there would be interest in a Catholic business group in our area.)

I would recommend The Catholic Briefcase for any Catholic professional interested in deepening their spiritual life and looking to integrate a Christian outlook in the business world.

Disclaimer: I received a free manuscript of this book from Ligouri Publications.

Book Review: Between Heaven and Mirth

The nicest compliment I ever  received  came from a Catholic deacon at a parish in Iowa. My family and I were getting ready to move out of the area (my one-year fellowship at the local Catholic hospital was ending) and he was explaining why our family would be missed: “It’s been so nice having you here. You and your family live the faith joyfully.”

This compliment came back to me while reading Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s new book, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life,  which hits shelves today.  Fr. Martin has crafted a wonderful book highlighting the rich tradition of faithful humor and joyful spirituality. He takes dead aim on the gloomy, pessimistic side of Christianity, arguing that it is not only antithetical to the teachings of Christ, but hurtful to the Church’s mission of evangelization.

If you’re looking for a quick summary of Fr. Martin’s insights, skip to chapter four (helpfully entitled “Happiness Attracts: 11 1/2 Serious Reasons for Good Humor”). This is a similar list to the keynote talk I heard Fr. Martin give at the 2011 NCCL conference. At the top of the list is the fact that happiness and humor are ways to witness to our faith:

Joy, humor, and laughter show one’s faith in God. For Christians, an essentially hopeful outlook shows people that you believe in the Resurrection, in the power of life over death, and in the power of love over hatred. Don’t you think that after the Resurrection Jesus’s disciples were joyful? “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well,” as the fourteenth-century mystic Blessed Julian of Norwich said. For believers in general, humor shows your trust in God, who will ultimately make all things well. Joy reveals faith.

This may seem self-evident, but the number of dour and humorless Christians would seem to indicate that it bears repeating. Fr. Martin goes to on  extol  humor’s virtues in the area of health, spirituality, hospitality, play, and interpersonal relations.

What’s more, the book is funny. Fr. Martin sprinkles jokes and humor from the saints liberally throughout the text, including stories about Pope John XXIII; Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ; Dorothy Day; various Jesuit saints; and, of course, Jesus!

In fact, I think his look at humor in Sacred Scripture (both Old and New Testament) will be especially eye-opening for many people. As Fr. Martin points outs, it is easy to overlook the humor in the Bible:

We’ve simply heard the stories too many times, and they become stale, like overly repeated jokes. “The words seem to us like old coins,” [Elton Trueblood] writes, “in which the edges have been worn smooth and the engravings have become almost indistinguishable.” Trueblood recounts the tale of his four-year-old son, who, upon hearing the Gospel story about seeing the speck of dust in your neighbor’s eye and ignoring the log in your own,laughed uproariously. The young boy readily saw the humor missed by those who have heard the story dozens of times.

Besides the Bible Fr. Martin recommends numerous books on humor and spirituality (he admits up front that his book is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment of the subject) and even gives a list of his favorite funny movies. I may be showing my hand, but I have to agree on his choice for the #1 spot:

A quick note about the book’s intended audience: some Catholics may wonder why a book about spirituality by a Catholic priest includes insights from other Christian traditions as well as Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism. Fr. Martin writes for a broad audience, and I hope that his Protestant and non-Christian fans from the Huffington Post and the Colbert Report will pick up the book; I think many would be surprised at the  relevance  of its subject.

I heartily recommend Between Heaven and Mirth  for anyone interested in furthering their own spiritual journey — or just looking for a few new jokes from their repertoire. The Church’s rich tradition of faithful joy is a treasure that deserves to be shared, for humor is a gift from God.

Or, as Hilaire Belloc so succinctly put it:

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!

Disclosure: I  received  a review copy of this book for free from TLC Book Tours.

Adult Faith Formation: Moving Them Along or Meeting Them Where They Are?

One of the great things about having to drive around a diocese covering 28 counties is the amount of time for reflection and conversation it affords. As my associate director and I have been meeting with every pastor in the diocese, it’s given us a lot of time to talk and discuss the various challenges we face.

A recurring theme in our conversations is adult faith formation — specifically, the lack of participation by adults in any ongoing faith formation. We have implemented programs, of course, but they rarely hold up over time. For instance, for the past three years our diocese has been participating in Renew International’s  Why Catholic? program. After a strong start the number of individuals engaged in a small faith group has dropped off, so that our rough numbers indicate that we’ve lost half of the initial participants.

While discussing this point again last week on the way back from a parish, I wondered aloud whether the programs we promote are actually appropriate to the audience. Let me explain:

Catechetical leaders bemoan — and experts agree — that many adults are stuck in an adolescent mode of faith. This means not only that their religious education ended at around the 8th grade (although that is certainly true for many) but that, from a developmental standpoint, they have never progressed beyond James Fowler‘s “Synthetic-Conventional” stage of faith. Some may have made it to the “Individual-Reflective” stage, but a distinct minority ever progress to the “Conjunctive” or “Universalizing” stages.

My uneducated guess would be that most DREs, diocesan catechetical leaders, and catechetical writers have made it to at least the “Individual-Reflective” stage, if not the “Conjunctive” stage; these positions usually require an advanced degree, the pursuit of which leads people to think about their faith in new and deeper ways.

Yet, as I’ve read through and participated in various adult faith formation programs, many seem to assume that this is where the participants are as well, or least that the program will move them there. But should moving people along the developmental continuum be the goal of individual catechetical and formation programs? Or, acknowledging the reality that most are still at the “Synthetic-Conventional” level, should most programs seek to meet people there?

This was certainly a complaint we heard about Why Catholic? — people assumed that it would be more educational and less formational, more content and less faith sharing. Which is not to say that Why Catholic? is a bad program.  But if most adults aren’t prepared for more advanced levels of formation — if most are still stuck in that “school” mindset — should we meet them there and trust that, over time, they will come to the higher levels of faith?

I don’t have an answer to that question, but it is something I’ll be keeping an eye on as we complete Why Catholic? next year and further explore adult faith formation in our diocese.

Don’t Knock the Minimum

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend our Diocesan Youth Conference — the first such gathering of the young Church in our diocese in some years. As part of the weekend I gave a small breakout talk discussing reputation management online. One of these sessions was attended by a young man who, it was obvious, didn’t want to be there. He made off-hand remarks and asked  incessant  questions throughout my presentation, seeking to gain some attention and (it seemed to me) to derail my train of thought.

I wondered to myself, if this was going to be his attitude, why he came in the first place and whether it wouldn’t have been better for him to stay at home. He seemed to be doing just enough to get by — going through the motions of the weekend without really engaging in it.

The answer to my question came an hour later. Our keynote speaker was  Justin  Fatica of Hard as Nails Ministry. He gave a powerful message about respecting oneself and others — about not putting other people down because they aren’t like us. He encouraged the participants to be honest about what was holding them back and what they were struggling with in life: abandonment by a parent, drugs, sexual abuse, cutting, depression, etc. It as obvious that many of the teens in the room connected with what he was saying — they dealt with many of these issues every day.

As Justin asked the youth to come forward to be prayed over by some of the adult leaders, I was amazed to see the young man from my session rise to his feet as one of the first to step up. He spent a long time with one of the sisters who had come with his group — and when he turned around I was startled to see that he had been crying.

I don’t know what that young man struggles with in his life, but I was ashamed of the earlier thoughts I had harbored. Why should I have  condemned  him for doing the minimum? For all I knew it was all he was capable of doing at the time. Certainly there have been times in my life when I didn’t think I could do much more than get by. Why should I assume him to be any different?

Doing the minimum is nothing to be ashamed of, and I shouldn’t expect everyone to follow my  standards. “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:2)

Upcoming Events — Councils, Discipleship, and Beer

UPDATED (January 25): The Spirituality and Discipleship for Catholic Teachers course has been canceled; instead I will be offering the Second Vatican Council at the same place and times.

I have a number of catechetical engagements coming up that you might be interested in:

  • The Second Vatican Council: Its History and Its Documents
    9a-2:30p, February 12 & 19, 2011 – Blessed Sacrament Parish (Quincy, Illinois)

    Bring your lunch as we explore the Second Vatican Council! This adult enrichment course, held on two consecutive Saturdays, looks at the events leading up to the council, the documents produced by the bishops, and the legacy of the council 40+ years after its conclusion. Materials for the course cost $15; contact Ann Gage at 217-222-2759 to register.
  • The Second Vatican Council: Its History and Its Documents
    3:30p-5:30p, March 2, 9, 16; April 6, 13, 2011 – St. Aloysius School (Springfield, Illinois)
    This catechist formation course for Catholic school teachers in the Springfield, IL, area looks at the events leading up to the council, the documents produced by the bishops, and the legacy of the council 40+ years after its conclusion. Materials for the course cost $15; contact Cindy Callan at 217-698-8500 to register.
  • Spirituality and Discipleship for Catholic Teachers
    3:30p-5:30p, March 2, 9, 16; April 6, 13, 2011 – St. Aloysius School (Springfield, Illinois)

    This 5-week catechist formation course for teachers in the Springfield area will help participants understand conversion and recognize challenges to conversion; reflect on the gifts and qualities of discipleship; and learn how involvement in education may be a means of conversion and transformation. Materials for the course cost $15; contact Cindy Callan at 217-698-8500 to register.
  • St. Boniface Young Adult Ministry’s Theology on Tap
    7p, March 31, 2011 – St. Boniface Church (Edwardsville, Illinois)

    I will be speaking on “How Young Catholics will Save the Church”: As the Baby Boomers prepare for retirement, Generation X and the Millennials are poised to take on new roles as leaders in the Church. What gifts do they bring? How will they continue the work of the Church to make disciples and serve the poor? And what pitfalls await them? Bring your head, your heart, and your own experience as a young “ or not so young “ Catholic!

I’ve also added a new page to this site; click on “Calendar” above for more information on public events or formation opportunities I will be participating in.