Highlights from the Notre Dame “Liturgy and Vocations” Symposium

This week I’ve had the pleasure of attending the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy‘s annual summer symposium, focusing this year on “Liturgy and Vocation.” This was my first time attending the symposium — indeed, my first time on the campus of Notre Dame — and I was delighted by the rich conversations that matched pressing pastoral questions with deep theological insights.

(Next year’s topic will be Liturgy and the New Evangelization — I would highly recommend attending!)

The symposium began on Tuesday evening with Msgr. Michael Heintz. His address on “Liturgy and Vocation” set the stage for the remaining general sessions and afternoon seminars:

The second general session by Dr. Brant Pitre was a whirlwind tour of nuptial imagery in the Bible, based in large part on his book Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told.

On Wednesday Dr. Chad Pecknold of CUA spoke about the social and political dimensions of marriage and the priesthood, rooting his talk in St. Augustine’s image of the two cites.

Finally, on Thursday, Dr. Holly Taylor Coolman helped us to reflect on the nature of icons in order to practice seeing marriage and ordination as icons of Christ’s love.

These highlights don’t even touch the panel discussion on marriage and priestly formation or the two-day afternoon seminar on marriage prep that I attended — I’ll share more on them next week. In the meantime you can browse all the live-tweeting from the event by following the #NDSymposium2015 hashtag.

Thanks to Timothy O’Malley for inviting me to the symposium and for the gracious hospitality extended by the staff of the NDCL. I look forward to attending more Center for Liturgy events in the future!

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
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
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
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
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
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!

Notes – Growing in Holiness Through Middle Management

Today at the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership convention in St. Louis I am offering a breakout session on holiness and management. Below are my slides, notes, and additional resources for those who may be interested in living out their vocation as a catechetical leader.



The notes from this presentation are available in PDF format.

Additional Resources

The Call to Be Catechists and Evangelizers (Guest post by Jared Dees)

If I had to pick one word to describe Jared Dees it would be indefatigable. Besides working for Ave Maria Press, writing for multiple blogs, completing a master’s degree this past year, traveling to various conferences around the country, and taking care of his growing domestic church, he’s also written a new book called 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator. The profusion of his writing is matched only by its quality and I’m happy to host his guest post today.

One of my favorite things about Jonathan’s blog is his discussions about the relationship with catechesis and evangelization. I think he would agree that during this Year of Faith we have seen so much progress in the realization that you can’t have one without the other. We can’t do catechesis without evangelization. We can’t be catechists without being evangelizers.

phonecallThe question is, how does this affect the way we think about the call of religious educators to teach the faith? For many of us, the new reframing of our role as not only catechists but evangelizers, requires some thought about the way we think of ourselves as teachers and the way we form catechists and catechetical leaders.

The Call to Be Catechists

We have many, many good willing volunteers in our parish religious education programs in the United States and around the world. They are dedicated individuals sacrificing their evenings for class sessions as well as the time it takes to prepare each lesson. These men and women, whether they realize it or not, have been called to the classroom. God is the one reaching out to them inspiring them to be teachers and leaders.

The details of that call seem pretty simple, right? You get your textbook and a classroom assignment. You show up each week and teach a lesson. The kids learn about their faith and move on to the next grade after you’ve finished. Hopefully you’re able to make a lasting impact on them before they go.

The Call to Be Evangelists & Witnesses

Yet in today’s Church, we need something a little more from catechists. We need witnesses.

We’re in the midst of what popes are calling the “new evangelization,” which means we must not only go out to the world where Christ is unknown but evangelize people in areas of the world where Christ is already known. In particular, we must evangelize those who’ve already been catechized!

Let’s turn to the words of Blessed John Paul II:

“But in catechetical practice . . . the initial evangelization has often not taken place. A certain mnumber of children baptized in infancy come for catechesis in the parish without receiving any other initiation into the faith and still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ; they only have the capacity to believe placed within them by Baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit . . .

This means that “catechesis” must often concern itself not only with nourishing and teaching the faith, but also with arousing it unceasingly with the help of grace, with opening the heart, with converting, and with preparing total adherence to Jesus Christ on the part of those who are still on the threshold of faith.” (Catechesi Tradendae, 19)

What does this mean for the call of catechists and religion teachers? Pope Paul VI said it best:

“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41)

In this age of the new evangelization, we must become witnesses more than teachers. We must train and inspire our catechists to be witnesses to the faith not just teachers of a textbook.

How does this shift in vocation play out among catechists? Consider the following:

  • Religious educators must live the faith daily by personally connecting with Christ through prayer, spiritual reading, and the virtuous life.
  • Religious educators must think of themselves as disciples first before thinking of themselves as teachers.
  • Religious educators must be willing to share their personal faith story.
  • Religious educators must be willing to share the Gospel story in compelling ways.
  • Religious educators must be open to constant conversion, following the prompting of Holy Spirit in each moment of their lives.

Most of all, as religious educators (catechists, religion teachers, catechetical leaders), we must remember that our vocation is always to love Christ and with the help of his grace, share that love with his children.

We’re never alone. We never succeed through our own efforts. We always have the help of Holy Spirit who leads us and speaks on our behalf.

Let’s go make disciples of Christ rather than students of us!

Jared Dees is the creator of The Religion Teacher, a popular website dedicated to sharing practical resources and teaching strategies for religious educators. He is the author of the new book, 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator, which guides religion teachers and catechists through thirty-one exercises and meditations to help them live out their calling to catechize and evangelize God’s children.

The Priesthood Question

As a young lay man working for the Church — and I have no reason to believe that I am unique in this — I am often asked, in job interviews and when I tell people what I do, if I had ever considered the priesthood.

It’s an honest question, and one I don’t mind answering, but it definitely belies a certain attitude that if you’re male and interested in “churchy” stuff, then you must be called to the priesthood.

The truth is that I’ve never felt called to the ministerial priesthood. I thought about it when I was very little, in the same way I thought it would be cool to be an astronaut or doctor, but at no point did I ever feel the tug on my heart. Similarly, I was never told by anyone that I would make a good priest “ except for one priest, right after I had asked him to celebrate my wedding Mass. (I don’t feel slighted in this; I don’t think I would make a good priest!)

At the same time there have been times during my theological studies when I asked myself if I shouldn’t have been more interested in the priesthood. Knowing that the Church is in need of priests, should I have at least “tried it on” by going to a seminary? With the need so great, wouldn’t the Church have been better off with me as a “bad priest” than as a “good lay man?”

The answer, of course, is no. I am quite certain that God has put me where he needs me to be right now.

And it’s not as if my life won’t contribute to the priesthood. My wife and I get comments on a regular basis that our two oldest boys would make good priests. And a month or so ago my wife and I found out that our fifth child, due in September, will be our fourth boy. We were disappointed at first — we had been hoping for another little girl — but I’m beginning to wonder if this, too, isn’t part of God’s plan for me and priesthood.

Maybe I’m not being called to the priesthood, but it sure seems as if I’m being called to raise sons for the priesthood.

Episode 006 – Parents and the Priesthood

006This episode is a little different. Instead of an interview it features a talk given by Fr. Andrew Carl Wisdom, O.P., to a group of DREs last year. In it he talks about some of the fears shared by the parents he talks to as their sons discern a vocation to the priesthood.

Fr. Wisdom is the promoter of vocations for the Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great. He is also author of the pamphlet Why Should I Encourage My Son To Be A Priest? and the book Advent and Christmas Wisdom from St. Thomas Aquinas.

Click to Play – 006 – Parents and the Priesthood