Of Halloween Candy and Evangelization

When I was a kid, my favorite stop on Halloween was a house one block over from ours. Besides being friends and super-nice people, they gave out large boxes of Cracker Jack to the neighborhood kids. (And keep in mind this was in the era of good Cracker Jack prizes.) We also had a number of houses that gave out full-size candy bars and other treats that made our little hearts warm when offered in lieu of “tricks.”

In contrast, my heart always sank when I would hold out my bag and watch as some off-brand chocolate (sure to be chalky), Halloween-themed gummy things (sure to be flavorless), or hard pink gum pellets (sure to glue your mouth shut) fell in.

It’s a safe bet which houses were remembered and put on the mental “must visit” list for next year, and which treats languished in the bottom of the bag until all the good stuff had been consumed.

For better or worse, our parishes are in a similar position to those Halloween stops of my youth. Some have much to offer those who cross their thresholds: a welcoming community, well-celebrated liturgies, opportunities for outreach and education, and beautiful church buildings. Others — too many, if surveys and statistics are accurate — offer the ecclesial version of waxy chocolate bars and stale bubble gum.

Is it any wonder that so many people leave our parishes on Sunday morning without spiritual fervor when we offer them cheap treats? The crisis of evangelization in the Church will not be fixed by bland, flavor-less programs or communities that seek to preserve “our way of doing things” at all costs. The New Evangelization begins with quality outreach designed to serve the local community.

A big box of Cracker Jack or a limp purple lollipop. Which type of parish do you think seekers will come back to again and again in their search for meaning and a spiritual home?

Photo Credit: .robbie via Compfight cc

Canned Programs and the Person of the Catechist

Recently the members of our department have been looking at and reviewing some of the new Confirmation programs that have been making the rounds. (We’ll be publishing some general thoughts and recommendations in the coming months; I’ll be sure to share them here on my blog.)

One trend I’ve noticed is that all the programs we’ve looked at try to be “turn key” programs – that is, they are designed to be easy to use with little need to prep or input on the part of the facilitator. Through video presentations and guided discussion booklets, there seems to be little for the catechist to do.

On the one hand this may seem a feature. In today’s busy, fast-paced world, having a program that doesn’t require a lot of time and investment can be helpful, especially for a parish that doesn’t have a lot of trained catechists.

On the other hand, the Church’s teaching is clear that no program, video, or book is able to catechize on its own. The General Directory for Catechesis reminds us that

No methodology, no matter how well tested, can dispense with the person of the catechist in every phase of the catechetical process. The charism given to him by the Spirit, a solid spirituality and transparent witness of life, constitutes the soul of every method. Only his own human and Christian qualities guarantee a good use of texts and other work instruments.

In other words, evangelization and catechesis are primarily human endeavors. They require the cultivation of relationships, not the bright glare of an LCD machine; patience and discernment, not a “one-size-fits-all” approach; and above all the demonstration of a lived relationship with Jesus Christ, not fancy graphics and music.

That’s not to discount the usefulness of programs, videos and books. But it is to remind us that the most important factor in a young person’s faith formation is the people around them who will demonstrate the importance of faith and invite the young person to enter more deeply into that faith. The former are important, yes; but the latter are indispensable.

7 Sources for Parish Social Media Content

Whenever I talk about parishes’ use of social media I always try to point out that a Facebook page, Twitter account, or Instagram profile won’t do much good if isn’t being updated regularly with new content. Fresh content shows that your serious about reaching our with new media and worth following.

But creating content isn’t always as easy as it sounds. And while posting announcements from the bulletin is certainly appropriate, finding other easy, free sources of useful content can help supplement in-house content and keep a parish’s social media accounts fresh.

With that in mind, here are some easy-to-use sources of content for your parish’s social media:

  1. Sunday Homilies: If the pastor’s homilies are written out: Great! Set up a blog and post them there every week. If the homilies aren’t written out: Great! Post two or three “big ideas” from each homily on the parish Twitter feed and Facebook pages.
  2. The Pope: Whether it’s retweeting his daily messages, posting videos of his daily audiences, or sendig out short quotes from his major teachings, the pope always has something new and interesting to say.
  3. Kids: Ask them to record short inspirational video messages on their phones to post to the parish social media sites. You’ll get content and involve youth in the life of the parish.
  4. Google Alerts: Getting customized search results emailed to you means you don’t have to go looking for what people are saying about your parish; you can have their thoughts delivered directly to your inbox and then share them online!
  5. USCCB Resources: The USCCB has gotten pretty savvy about producing social media-friendly resources for parishes. This year’s Nine Days for Life campaign included daily messages and images (in English and Spanish) designed specifically for Facebook. These resources are not always easy to find, but perusing the USCCB web site will usually turn up something interesting.
  6. Blogs: Do you follow Catholic bloggers? Don’t be afraid to share a post that speaks to you with the rest of your parish!
  7. Free Stock Image Sites: Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Search for “church” or “Jesus Christ” on sites like Morguefile and post the beautiful results. (Just be sure the pictures aren’t subject to copyright restrictions!)

I hope these ideas are helpful and help you think about other sources you can use for your parish’s social media outreach. Do you have a source I didn’t list? Share it in the comments!

Notes – Catholic Schools: Centers of the New Evangelization

Today I’m at the National Catholic Educational Association’s Convention and Expo in Pittsburgh giving a presentation entitled “Catholic Schools: Centers of the New Evangelization.” Below are my notes and materials from the presentation as well as links to additional resources. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter where I’ll be posting notes, thoughts, and pictures from the conference!

Presentation

Notes

Resources

Who Will Reap the Seeds You Sow?

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” – Matthew 9:35-38

In catechesis we often say that we sow seeds that may not bear fruit for many years — long after the young people in our programs have passed from the parish or school. And this is true. We don’t know what value a kind word or lesson may have or what fruit it may bear in the future.

But too often I think we fail to recognize that, even if we don’t reap those seeds, someone will. At some point someone will have to help guide those young people into a deep, mature, intentional faith in Jesus Christ. But are we training people to reap that harvest?

I don’t see a lot of evidence that we are. I see a lot of catechetical training emphasizing the sowing of seeds, but not so many giving practical skills and resources for walking with people — once they’ve heard the kerygma proclaimed — into a fully lived Christian faith.

The business world has long known this. Handing off work is one of the major points of inefficiency in production and services. When I worked in Catholic healthcare there was a major effort to make sure that patients were only transported for a procedure in another department when that department was ready. If you transport the patient and no one is there to receive them, it results in frustration for everyone.

If the workers are few — so few that there are not enough to gather what has been sown — is it any surprise that the fruit turns bad, rotting in the fields? Perhaps we need to think of two types of catechists necessary for the flourishing of the Christian community: the sowers and the harvesters. Perhaps we need to be intentional about how we put each type to work in our programs. And maybe we need to give each some specialized training so that, once called, they can perform their ministry appropriately.

How can we ensure that the workers will be there when it is time for the harvest? How are you planning for and supporting the workers?

Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Roots of the New Evangelization

Second Vatican Council

Our diocesan Office for Worship and the Catechumenate has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium with a brown bag lunch series on different aspects of the document. (We’re using this video resource from Liturgy Training Publications as the basis of our reflection, aided by some wonderful handouts produced by Eliot Kapitan, the director of the sponsoring office.)

The first session began with this brief video clip:

In the course of our discussions I realized something that hadn’t occurred to me before: the roots of the New Evangelization can be found in the four aims of the council as laid out in the opening of Sacrosanctum Concilium:

This sacred Council has several aims in view: it desires to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church. The Council therefore sees particularly cogent reasons for undertaking the reform and promotion of the liturgy. (no. 1)

If we break this paragraph down, we see that the council is concerned for

  1. reinvigorating the life of the faithful;
  2. renewing of the structures of the Church;
  3. drawing all Christians to greater unity;
  4. and calling all people into Christ’s Church.

This maps very nicely to the Church’s understanding of the New Evangelization — that it is firstly a self-renewal of all Christians, called to ongoing conversion, who strengthened by their faith in Jesus Christ then turn and invite others to rediscover and share that faith. That the council should echo what we now call the New Evangelization should not be so surprising, since the New Evangelization is itself a restating of the Chruch’s primary mission: to make disciples of all nations.

These themes are echoed throughout the council documents in various ways. As we continue to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the council we would do well to reflect again on the great challenge presented to us by the council fathers to renew our Christian walk and make Christ known to the world.

Postlude: After I mentioned this insight on Twitter, Timothy O’Malley of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy wrote me to mention that he has a book coming out on just this topic. I’ve put it on my wish list and will be sure to review it once I’ve read it!

Join Me: NCEA Book Study of Forming Intentional Disciples

forming-intentional-disciples-coverI am happy to announce that I will be leading a book study of Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, sponsored by the National Catholic Educational Association:

If you are interested in knowing more about how to transfer our faith to future generations, please consider joining the group reading: Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus by Sherry Weddell. Through the reading of the book and the exchange of ideas, we believe that participants will grow stronger in their faith and their knowledge of how to share the faith, and meet other committed Catholic educators from all over the country! To register for this book study, please follow this link: https://edmo.do/j/u3vnpq. The code for this book is: 2fdna7.

Our study will begin on February 1; we will be using Edmodo to facilitate the conversation. If you are a Catholic educator who wants to learn more about how to pass on the faith, please join us!

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!

Video: Understanding the Necessity of the Three “News” of New Evangelization

On October 19 I had the privilege of moderating the weekly #CatholicEdChat on Twitter. Our conversation centered on the New Evangelization.

The very first question I asked was how people understand the phrase “New Evangelization.” The responses prompted me to make this three-minute video about Bl. Pope John Paul II’s three “news” of the New Evangelization:

#CatholicEdChat: Or How I Spent my Saturday Morning

appleThis past Saturday I had the pleasure of moderating the weekly #CatholicEdChat on Twitter. I was joined by Catholic educators from around the country for a one-hour real-time discussion on Catholic schools and the New Evangelization.

We had a great conversation; Nancy Caramanico was good enough to compile an archive of the event and list some of the resources recommended during the chat.

Thanks to Nancy for the invitation and to everyone who joined us! #CatholicEdChat is held every Saturday morning at 8a (CT) on Twitter. Just look for the hashtag!