Keeping the Faith Incarnational (even under quarantine)

I have a blog post on Catechist magazine today on how we can continue to root our faith in Christ’s incarnation during the COVID-19 crisis:

Even as we use new technologies for catechesis, communication, and to live-stream liturgies for the benefit of those who cannot be present with the assembly (or, when public liturgies are canceled, with the priests who continue to celebrate the Mass on our behalf), these technologies should always lead us to a greater fellowship and faith in the real world.

With that in mind, here are some ways in which we can root our Domestic Church (our family home) in an incarnational practice of the faith while practicing social distancing and living under stay-at-home orders.

Read the whole post on Catechist magazine!

Creating Simple Mounted Icons for the Classroom

It would be great if every catechetical classroom could have multiple icons for use in prayer built to withstand regular use by small hands. Unfortunately, mounted icons can be quite pricey and outside the budget of many parishes. However there is an easy DIY solution that produces surprisingly beautiful results.

For this project you’ll need

  • a computer and printer
  • Mod Podge craft glue (I find the glossy variety works best)
  • a sponge brush
  • scissors
  • a backing board (I cut down some scrap plywood, but you could use pre-sized canvas panels or even some study cardboard)

First, find the image you want to mount and print it out. I find a lot of public domain religious images on Wikipedia Commons; just search for a saint or Bible story. Cut the printed image out, leaving a slight border.

Next, cut your backing to size — you’ll want it a little smaller than the printed image.

Next, apply the Mod Podge to your backing. Don’t worry about using too much — it’s fine if it soaks through the paper.

Glue the image to the backing, then cut out some notches at the corners (see above). This will create four “flaps.”

Apply glue to the “flaps” and fold them over onto the backing.

Let the glue dry for 15-20 minutes, then apply some Mod Podge to the front of the image. This will give it a glossy protective coating.

Let the finished project dry for 1-2 hours and you’re done! I was able to produce three of these in about 30 minutes; cutting the plywood was the hardest part!

This is a simple project that can help catechists evangelize with beauty. It could also be adapted as an activity for families as part of an inter-generational catechetical event!

Resources for the Day of Prayer for Peace

On Friday, September 9, 2016, the Church in the United States will observe a special day of prayer dedicated to peace and justice in our communities and in our nation.

In announcing the Day of Prayer, USCCB president Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said that the event was intended to help the faithful “look toward additional ways of nurturing an open, honest and civil dialogue on issues of race relations, restorative justice, mental health, economic opportunity, and addressing the question of pervasive gun violence.”

I compiled the following list to help the faithful participate in this Day of Prayer by coming together as families, parishes, and disciples to unite our hearts and minds with those of Jesus Christ.

Suggested Activities

Liturgy and Prayer

  • Celebrate the Memorial of St. Peter Claver
    • Recommended use of Common of Holy Men and Women: For Those Who Practiced Works of Mercy
  • Celebrate the Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice
    • Readings in the Lectionary for Mass nos. 887-891
  • Use USCCB’s “Prayer of the Faithful for the Day of Prayer For Peace in Our Communities”:
  • Use a “Prayer Service to be Disciples on Mission”:
    • Especially appropriate for parish councils, school boards, and other parish meetings on or near the Day of Prayer
  • Host a Holy Hour or Rosary for the intentions of the Day of Prayer
  • Pray St. John Paul II’s Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe:

Adult Faith Formation

  • Insert the two page “Disciples on Mission in the World” in the parish bulletin:
  • Host an adult faith formation series utilizing Bishop Edward  K. Braxton’s pastoral letter “The Racial Divide in the United States”
  • Host an adult faith formation series utilizing “Sacraments and Social Mission: Living the Gospel, Being Disciples”
  • Distribute prayer cards promoting peace and reconciliation
  • Start a book discussion connected to themes of justice and mercy (see bibliography below)

Catholic Schools and Youth Catechesis

  • Design a prayer collage containing images related to peace and social justice
    • Hang the collage in the classroom and remember these issues in prayer
  • Create a prayer chain or prayer tree with a different petition written on each link or leaf; pray for these intentions
  • Promote the Works of Mercy by distributing the Missionary Childhood Association’s handout “The Works of Mercy for Kids”:
  • Discuss the life and ministry of notable saints who worked for peace and justice, such as St. Peter Claver, St. Katherine Drexel, Bl. Teresa of Calcutta (to be canonized on September 4), or St. Damien of Molokai
  • Learn about St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Thomas Aquinas, or another saint who loved to pray
  • Learn and pray Pope Francis’ “Five Finger Prayer”:
  • Invite a deacon to come and talk about the charitable ministries of the Church
  • Incorporate special activities into youth and teen formation events
  • Collect food, clothes, toiletries, and other items to benefit a local charitable organization
    • Discuss with students how our acts of charity are a response to our faith in Jesus
    • Pray over the items before they are sent to the organization

Ecumenical Activities

  • Hold an ecumenical prayer service for justice and peace
    • Suggested scripture: readings from Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice (Lectionary for Mass nos. 887-891)
  • Organize and publicize ringing of church bells on September 9 at 3:00pm EST as a sign of solidarity
  • Organize a panel discussion on ways to promote economic welfare, racial justice, and peace
    • Consider inviting local civic officials, leaders from other Christian traditions, and administrators in Catholic education and healthcare


Church Documents and Statements


Web Resources

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.

3 Starting Points for Encouraging Non-Practicing Catholic Families

5139215570_fa0b898570_bMy friend Marc has a challenging post up about what we are teaching Catholic families about who and what they are. After reading through the questions posed for the Extraordinary Synod on the The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization — and its assumptions about the faithful’s familiarity with documents such as Gaudium et Spes and Familiaris Consortio — Marc muses

Is the Vatican so out of touch with the faithful? These are very intellectual questions that assume a lot of knowledge. Do they really think most Catholics read and understand these documents and terms?

But the other thing I thought was–should I have been teaching them this stuff? I’ve never even considered having a class for families on who and what they’re supposed to be. Parents would never come.

But if we don’t somehow teach them, how will they know? How will families understand themselves and what they’re called to be?

I’ve been wondering something similar for some time, although I also wonder if we’re teaching families what they should be doing to practice the faith at home. So many Catholic parents don’t even seem to be doing the basics anymore. And if they aren’t going to Mass on Sunday or praying before meals, do we really expect them to be sharing their faith in any meaningful way with their children?

(I could probably insert a whole sidebar here on the implications of Forming Intentional Disciples; suffice to say that it’s clear most Catholic parents wouldn’t meet Sherry’s criteria for intentional discipleship.)

I don’t think the answer is to hand out copies of Familiaris Consortio to every Catholic family and expect them to read it. So where do we start?

  1. Talk about the domestic Church. We need to remind parents that their families are a microcosm of the universal Church. Just as we gather together in parish communities to celebrate our faith, serve one another, and give thanks to God, so too are families called to do the same. This isn’t an “add-on” or something we do when we have extra time, but an integral part of what it means to be family in a Catholic context. Reminding families who they are — and using the language of the domestic Church — is one way to get them thinking about and moving towards this reality.
  2. Encourage greater Mass attendance. By that I don’t mean haranguing parents to be at Mass every Sunday. Rather, we should encourage them to take small steps towards greater participation. For a family that only attends at Easter and Christmas, maybe that means going once per month. For a family that participants more frequently, moving towards regular weekly attendance. And for families that are already attending every week, encouraging adding a daily Mass every week. The point is small improvements that can build on each other, not going immediately from 0 to 60.
  3. Reinforce family meal time and prayer. We’ve all seen the statistics that show how regular family meal times leads to better grades, a reduced likelihood of drug and gang involvement, and better mental and physical health. So why do so few families practice a daily shared meal? This simple step can help re-prioritize a family’s activities, help make connections to the Eucharist, and expand their faith lives through shared prayer and conversation. Activities such as The Meal Box (which my kids love) are a great tool to facilitate this interaction.

How do you think we can reach Catholics families and help them pass on the faith to their children?

Photo Credit: More Good Foundation via Compfight cc

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?

New Resource: Sacred Scripture and the Christian Life (A Short Study)

A few weeks ago, while our local Lumen Veritas youth group was gathering, I offered a faith study opportunity for any parents willing to hang around and listen to me drone on for a hour or so.

With the end of the Year of Faith close at hand we thought it would be good to take a look at the role of Sacred Scripture in the life of the Church through the lens of Vatican Council II. To that end I created a “short study” guide with excerpts from Sacrosanctum concilium and Dei Verbum, as well as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and Verbum Domini, and some reflection questions to facilitate the conversation:

I’ve released the study guide under a Creative Commons license, so feel free to print it out, make copies, and adapt it for your own use. Just make sure to credit the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois for its original creation.

Our plan is for me to do similar events for the parents once a month or so; if I create more resources like the one above I’ll be sure to share them here.

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?

Starting a Family Game Night: GenCon Trade Day Report – Part 2

A few weeks ago I attended the GenCon Trade Day, a workshop for teachers focusing on the educational use of tabletop games. One of the  sessions  I attended was hosted by staff members from the Indianapolis Public Library on how to start a family game night. This can be a great event to build community at a parish or Catholic school — here are some of the tips I got from the presentation:

  • There are four basic types of games you can offer: card games, board games, role-playing games, and  video games.
  • Don’t offer regular playing cards — the risk of poker and other gambling games is too great. Get cheap “Crazy 8” or “Old Maid” decks instead. Uno is also very popular.
  • Cheap board games can be found at second hand stores.
  • If you offer role-playing games, advertise for game masters in advance.
  • If parents have religious questions about role-playing games, recommend the FAQ from the Christian Gamers’ Guild.
  • If you offer video games, be sure to review them for content ahead of time. Don’t offer games rated M!
  • If you have electronic games, keep extra batteries on hand.
  • Makes sure someone at the event has at least a working knowledge of the rules of each of the games you offer so that you can answer questions that will arise.
  • Post rules. The most important: whoever is in charge has the final say on rules disputes!
  • Get help from local gaming stories. See if they would be willing to demo a game or offer prizes.
  • Contact game companies and see if they will send playtest versions or door-prizes.
  • Ask families to bring or donate games.
  • Package and label your games carefully, including a list of all the pieces.
  • Have options for all ages.
  • Offer snacks!
  • Market your event through flyers, newsletters, and social media.
  • Remember: it’s about having fun and building community!

Gaming and Catechesis: GenCon Trade Day Report – Part 1

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the GenCon Trade Day in Indianapolis. For my non-geek readers, GenCon is a huge convention dedicated primarily to tabletop games — board games, role-playing games, card games, etc. Before the convention, however, there is a day-long program for teachers and librarians on how to introduce and use games in an educational context.

I went to a few sessions during the day, but by far the best workshop was the first one, “Critical Hits: From RPGs to Humanities,” which was run by faculty members from the Todd Academy.

The teachers gave three suggestions for how to incorporate games into the humanities. In the first, students are encouraged to create a narrative game based on a fairy tale, story, or myth. In the second, “Choose Your Own Apocalypse,” students design a city, a monster to attack the city, and defenses for the city. This was a really fun “hands on” part of the presentation.

The terrible EscarGore threatens the peaceful inhabitants of our botanical city!

Finally, we were shown how to incorporate simple improv games (think Whose Line Is It Anyway?) in the classroom. Students from the Todd Academy were present and they  demonstrated  some of the games for us.

The first and last suggestions seemed readily  accessible  to religious  education. In the first, students could create a game based on a story from Sacred Scripture or the lives of the saints. For instance, imagine a game in which students follow Jesuit missionaries traveling from Europe to Asia to establish new churches.  Students should be encouraged to focus on the central conflict, journey, or objective and avoid simple “roll and move” mechanics. Have students identify the most important parts of the story and how the game rules will reflect those parts.

For older students, improv could be an interesting method for exploring catechetical ideas. Students could play the Superheroes game but use virtues, sacramentals, or other religious themes as the basis for their superheroes. (If connected with a particular unit students may even pull them from a hat instead of suggesting the themes themselves.) Similarly, the Three-Headed Expert game could be used as a silly and fun way to review at the end of a lesson or unit.

The presenters were kind enough to hand out their lesson plans for non-commercial and educational use.

Have you ever used games in your classroom? How did it go?