Saturday, November 26, 2016

Advent Reflection: Finding A Light of Hope in a World of Darkness

And so it begins: our annual journey toward the Incarnation at Bethlehem, toward the Christ Child who is also the King of Glory. Each Advent is about new beginnings, yet this year, after a brutally antagonistic election and its aftermath, that seems just a little beyond reach.

Personally, I am tired and rather discouraged that the battle for decency, justice, human solidarity and peace seems so much more difficult these days. For now, at least, it looks like many of humankind's baser instincts have been unleashed upon our nation - from all sides of the political divide.

That's why I read that marvelous Collect in the Roman Missal for the First Sunday in Advent differently this year:
Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Resolve. For me, that is a strong "ask" this year. Negativity cannot be allowed to triumph. Injustice, hatred, prejudice and anger cannot be allowed to triumph. Most of all, fear cannot be allowed to triumph.

I want to run forth to meet Jesus, but my heart is too heavy for that sort of eagerness right now. Lord, grant my heart wings and give the strength to stand upright in your light.

What are the righteous deeds God asks? The core message of the Gospel certainly calls us to love our neighbor. But today, who is our neighbor? For me, my literal neighbors are the Mexican-American family across the hall, the white-like-me single mom and her teenage son next door, the Muslim family down the hall, the East Indian and Eastern European families upstairs, the maintenance guys who only speak Spanish... Yes, these are all my neighbors. Broader than that, however, my neighbors are my "friends" online - people of all races and orientations - on all sides of that very contentious political spectrum.

What righteous deeds will make me worthy to possess the Kingdom? Jesus has defined them in Matthew 25 and the Tradition of the Church has interpreted these as the Works of Corporal Mercy:
To feed the hungry.
To give drink to the thirsty.
To clothe the naked.
To welcome the stranger.
To visit the sick.
To visit the imprisoned.
To bury the dead.
This year, this list seems to present an even bigger challenge. It seems to me that if we profess to follow Christ, we should not only perform these acts on a personal level, but also stand firmly against those who, out of self-interest, desire for financial gain, and prejudice wish to abandon the very people who most need our help.  Should we not speak up when the disabled are mocked, when the elderly are threatened with loss of the "entitlements" for which they have worked their entire lives, when refugees are refused asylum, when women are insulted and assaulted because of their gender, and when all immigrants come under suspicion? Should we not speak up when the rich are rewarded for being rich and the poor are penalized for being poor? And should we not speak up against these forms of injustice just as loudly as we have spoken the name of God for the rights of the unborn?  As the song says, if I don't do that, what good am I?

This is not mere politics. This is a fight for Christian principles against a climate of self-interest and self-righteousness. This is resistance against a culture in which many no longer see justice for all as necessary, because some are more valuable than others. It is a fight to preserve the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, not just for some.

I want to be able to present Christ with righteous deeds, but today, the responsibility seems particularly heavy. Lord, lift me up and strengthen me to serve and advocate for the "other" - those who are unfortunate, different and rejected.

As I light the first candle on my home Advent wreath tonight, I will most ask for hope. Hope that I might be a light in the darkness. Hope that I will not lose heart. Hope that other people of good will will likewise work while the night is upon us so that when the dawn of the Son of Justice arrives, we will be able to say we fought the good fight in his name.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

"Feast Day" - The Liturgical Year Board Game: Good, Low-Tech Fun & Learning

Feast Day!, the newly-released board game for ages 6-adult, is a personal project from Steve Botsford, a former youth minister, designed to help kids learn about the seasons and feasts of the Liturgical Year and the significance of parts of the Mass. Like a traditional board game, it comes with a colorful board, four markers - one for each person or team playing, a die and a set of cards corresponding to the seasons of the liturgical calendar. This visually attractive game is intended for families, schools, parish religious education, and home-schoolers and can be played either by individuals or teams. That makes it suitable for use in a classroom situation.

Game play is simple. Players place their markers on the Christ the King space, then roll the die and move through 52 spaces, one for each Sunday of the year, Whenever a player lands on a space, the player to the right draws a card from the pile that corresponds to that season and reads the question to him or her.  If the player answers correctly, he or she keeps the card.

The questions on the cards are mostly pretty basic - asking the color or meaning of the season, the significance of a symbol used during the season or the ways we celebrate the Liturgical Year. The Ordinary Time deck includes questions about the Mass and the Bible. Occasionally, some questions even invite brief reflection, such as this one: "During Advent we watch for signs of God's love in the world. Name one place you can see signs of God's love."

If a player lands on a space with the Feast Day! logo, everyone shouts "Feast Day!" and the player draws a card from the Feast Day stack. These cards contain interesting facts about the liturgical year, but no question. In effect, it's a free card - with bonus learning about how special days are celebrated during the Liturgical Year.

The first player to travel all the way around the board and land on the Christ the King space chooses a season and attempts to answer a question from that card pile.  If the question is answered correctly, the game is over and players count their cards. The player or team with the most cards wins the game.

My take:
This would be a great addition to any home or classroom to test knowledge of Catholic liturgical basics and encourage learning about the liturgical year by children, parents and even teachers and catechists. The graphics on the board are colorful and engaging, the game play simple enough for younger children. There is a nice variety of questions that can appeal to all ages.  I like that it gives a team-play option. When playing this in teams in a classroom, the teacher or catechist could, if time runs out, count cards as the end of class approaches, if the game is not completed.

While Feast Day! may not be as glitzy or "modern" as app-based learning games like Catholic Words and Games, it is attractive, simple and easily used in classrooms where a projector and screen are not available or the catechist reluctant to use technology. Board games may be low-tech, but they are versatile, easy to use and here to stay. At a reasonable price-point of $34.95, with potential appeal to all ages and a durable, heavy-duty box and board, this is a game worth getting and enjoying for years.

Feast Day! is a great learning tool and can be fun, too. Go here to order it now, while there is a free shipping offer. (Grab the free quick review guide for the liturgical seasons while you're on the site, too.)

NOTE: I was provided with a free review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 29, 2016

In Which I Discover Why Biblical Literacy Is Important to Understanding the Mass

Last Monday night, I spent two hours with the catechists in my parish, teaching Part 2 of From Mass to Mission in a bilingual format. (See my post about the experience of Part 1 here.) The room was nearly twice as full as it was for the previous session. More catechists came, and some even brought their teenage children. I sort of expected that. since typically Hispanic folks invite their friends and family to things they get enthusiastic about. Have to admit, it made me smile to see so many there. I was determined to make the night worth their while.

The subject for the evening was Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Concluding Rites of the Mass. I went through the Offertory and taught them about how to offer themselves with the bread and wine - how to offer their hearts and lives to the Father to be changed with the Gifts at the Epiclesis. We worked our way through the Eucharistic Prayer and they learned about joining in the Liturgy of Heaven,  remembering the Last Supper, transubstantiation, Real Presence and such.

Then, we got to the Lamb of God. I asked if anyone knew why Jesus was Cordero de Dios, the Lamb of God.  Not really. So, I mentioned the Passover, the blood of the lamb on the doors of the Israelites and the concept of being saved by the Blood of the Lamb. About that time, a few looked confused, and one woman asked for clarification. It seems they didn't know the story of Moses, the Pharaoh, the plagues, the Angel of Death and the death of the Egyptian firstborn children that ultimately resulted in the freedom of the the Israelite people.  Luckily, my DRE, who speaks Spanish fluently, got up and in 5 minutes, told the entire story.  Then, they understood. The lights went on.

The rest of the evening went pretty much as expected as we learned about receiving and being changed by the Eucharist and being sent forth on the mission to evangelize. Those present expressed gratitude at the end for what they had learned.

In reflecting later on what had happened that night, I realized that when teaching about the Mass, one cannot assume people have the Biblical literacy to understand the connection between the Last Supper, the Passover and the Lamb. It also occurs to me that the image of the angels and saints worshiping in heaven along with us might be less-rich for those who don't know the images from Revelation, although they do hear about that at Sunday Mass upon occasion. There are probably more issues about understanding the Mass that lack of familiarity with basic Bible stories would affect.

In short, I learned something else I cannot assume when teaching about the Mass.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

When Adults Learn that the Mass is Much More Than They Thought...

Last night, I was privileged to spend a couple hours with 28 of my own parish's fellow catechists, all Hispanic, almost all of whom attend Spanish Mass.  I have known some of these folks for years, but last night, I watched them grow, right before my eyes as I presented an adapted-for-catechists version of my book, From Mass to Mission for Children.  What I experienced confirmed my suspicion that many Catholic adults know very little about the Mass except the basics of external participation.

The format was a bilingual presentation... with bilingual slides and the help of one of the catechists who translated what was said.  The informal camaraderie of a community of learners was quite evident. These catechists definitely appreciate one another and our director.

As I unfolded the structure and meaning of the Introductory Rites and the Liturgy of the Word, I noticed that lots of notes were being taken. Their responses to questions about how they personally prepare for Mass revealed a wide range of practices, but many of those in the room had a real "aha moment" when they learned that looking at the readings ahead of time and considering what they need to pray for at that Mass are good practices.

They did not already know (except those who are readers at Mass) that there are 3 cycles of Sunday readings - and years dedicated to Matthew, Mark and Luke, nor did they know about the relationship between the Old Testament readings and the Gospel, or the role of the Holy Spirit in bringing the Word from the ear to the heart of the listener.

When we talked about what they had heard, there was such wonder and joy in their ideas on how they will now attend Mass differently.

It was a very good session - and I definitely felt the love and appreciation. I bet they all come back on Monday for Part 2 - and maybe they will even bring a few friends.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

(Overdue) Book Review: Jared Dees - "To Heal, Proclaim and Teach"

What if parish ministers treated everyone they encountered as if they truly wanted them to become disciples of Jesus Christ?  What if they used the same methods Jesus did to attract his followers? These are the important questions that Jared Dees attempts to answer in To Heal, Proclaim and Teach: The Essential Guide to Ministry in Today's Catholic Church.

Dees starts by noting the crisis in catechesis, which has resulted in many young people leaving the Church after Confirmation. He begins probing the problem by noting the 5 stages of evangelization described in the National Directory for Cathechesis, all of which are inspired by the Catechumenate (RCIA):  Pre-Evangelization, Missionary Preaching, Initiatory Catechesis, Mystagogical or Post-Baptismal Catechesis and finally, Permanent or Continuing Catechesis

In effect, Dees implies, we tend to move right into the third stage without giving attention to the first two. Then, we skip the 4th stage and wonder why people are not around or not interested in the fifth. An experienced teacher himself, Dees admits that he, too, has spent a great deal of time doing things in less-than-effective ways.

Jesus, Dees points out, had a specific method. He reached out to people in ways that they most needed. Quite often, Jesus first healed people, either physically or by attending to what it is they needed most spiritually.  Then, he proclaimed his message about the love of God the Father. Only when he had done these, did he teach them. The disciples and those most closely connected to Jesus received a deeper form of teaching. The crowds, however, he taught in parables, because they were not ready for the fullness of knowledge of the faith. "In other words, writes Dees, "we do not teach the unevangelized. We cannot expect them to understand the mysteries of God's Kingdom because they are not yet ready."

The first step is healing. We need to listen, get to know people and understand their deepest longings. Catechists cannot move forward effectively if they do not know those whom they teach. We need to help people discover the sin and brokenness in their own lives. We do that best when we get in touch with our own brokenness - so that we can recognize it and approach it authentically in others. This, of course, echoes the "threshold conversations" of Sherry Weddell's Forming Intentional Disciples, aimed at building up trust.

The second step is to proclaim. He suggests we share four things with those we evangelize: the Paschal Mystery, personal testimony, saint stories and the way we live. (See Chapter 6 for how to have something to share on these.)

The third step is to teach. Not in the ways that currently bore young people, but by challenging them to look at the world differently:
In order for us to to be truly remarkable teachers and catechists, whether it is in religious education of children, youth ministry, marriage preparation, RCIA, or adult faith formation, we have to think of ways to present our beliefs in ways that challenge conventional thinking about the world. We have to offer new and creative insights into the stories and teachings Catholics have heard for years or even decades. Or, at the very least, we need to make sure that we do not strip all sense of wonder and awe out of the process.  (p.105)
It all hinges on Chapter 6, "Be Evangelized."  Dees issues a series of nine challenges to the reader to deepen his or her own faith... and skills for sharing it. We cannot accompany learners unless we ourselves live our faith.

The rest of the book is dedicated to exploring methods for one-on-one evangelization, for fostering small groups, and to suggesting specific age-appropriate approaches for children, teens, college students, young adults and adults.

Dees has offered us a blueprint for deepening our formational approach in parishes from teaching ministries to what Pope Francis calls "accompaniment." Parish ministers who, like Jesus did with the disciples at Emmaus, listen first, then reveal what people most need to hear in ways that reach them deeply will revolutionize parishes by truly forming disciples.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a fair review. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Liturgical Catechesis Should Make Jesus in the Eucharist as attractive as... BACON!

I had a chuckle or two over this funny post this morning about a mythical parish (St. Simon the Sulfite) attracting people to Mass by serving bacon at after-Mass hospitality.  

But then I thought about it. Our goal should be to make people want Jesus in the Eucharist as much as they want bacon. Really.

Many people will go out of their way for bacon. People also testify to their love for bacon all over the internet by sharing pictures, recipes and other signs of bacon-joy.  We don't see much of that kind of passion for Jesus, whom we consume in the Eucharist at every Mass.

The goal of liturgical catechesis should be to change that from a blasé attitude to one of intense longing that echoes the longing of the psalmist:

We've got work to do.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Notes from the 2016 Notre Dame Symposium 8: Liturgical Catechesis - An Apprenticeship

JAMES PAULEY: "Liturgical Catechesis: an Apprenticeship in Mystery and Mission"

Cultural shifts in US affect how we do catechesis.  
Jim Beckman in Becoming a Psrish of Intentional Disciples  proposes small group ministry

"Apprenticeship" in the Decree on Missionary Activity
"The catechumenate is not a mere expounding of doctrines and precepts, but a  training period in the whole Christian life, and an apprenticeship duty drawn out, during which disciples are joined to Christ their teacher." [14] 

Characteristics of an Apprenticing Relationship:
  • We put ourselves under the direction of someone who has mastered/is mastering the craft
  • Objective: learning a new way of seeing and learning new abilities
  • Learning happens through the experience of sustained presence with the other.

Three Related Concepts: 
  1. Pope Francis has freqently mentioned "Spiritual Accompaniment"  (EG 169-170)
  2. GDC 47 "Slow Stages" of Evangelization  - Before relationship with God is proposed there needs to be a sustained conversation
  3. Sherry Weddell's Forming Intentional Disciples: Thresholds of Conversion. - We need to study the person... And tailor our approach based on who they are. 

How  Would "Apprenticeship" Inspire our Catechetical Approaches?
  • The Content of Faith would e communicated in a genuinely personal way
  • All that is taught would e oriented to how it may be lived
  • Time would be set apart to allow for responsiveness, dialog and mentoring
  • Participants would learn a new way of seeing and a new way of living

Sophia Cavelleti allows time for silence... 
Apprenticeship model is most germane to liturgical catechesis because the liturgy is a place of encounter with God. 

See CCC 1624 on marriage role of Holy Spirit...  

If catechist is teaching in impersonal way, the richness  will be missing

Four Necessary Skills Needed to Live a Rich Sacramental Life
  1. The ability to disengage from distractions and attune ourselves to God in the sacramental action  - How do we help people disengage and attune to God? How the catechist starts the session is crucially important.
  2. The ability to "see" and "receive" and "give" in a sacramental way  - Seeing in a sacramental way gives us the ability to unite ourselves to see the invisible in the visible (Sohia Cavaletti) we need to help people to see the invisible. Then, we need authentic witnesses
  3. The ability to unit the mind and heart to the language of the liturgy  (is this even possible today - is it too much to expect? Children can. See Sophia Cavalletti Religious Potential of the Child, p. 43 
  4. The ability to be responsive to the gift God gives so that a change is effected in how we live

3 challenges to doing this.  From 2013 institute of church life survey

  1. Lack of trained personnelL
  2. Insufficient intentional disciples
  3. Catechesis takes place in larger groups

Maybe we start out small...

Organic Opportunities Today for Apprenticeship:
  1. It remains a deep conviction within our tradition that parents are the primary educators of their children... - Challenge to help parents apprentice the sacramental life.. Need homes where faith is lived organically
  2. A vitally important element of our ecclesial vision is that adult evangelization and catechesis  is "the axis around which revolves the catechesis of childhood and adolescence as well as thoat of old age." (GDC 275)...   We must pour our efforts into evangelizing adults 
  3. We can invest deeply in the mentoring roles that are already clearly defined... - Invest in mentoring roles sponsor, godparent...
  4. We recognize that the year after receiving a sacrament is a sensitive period... - The neophyte years is important. In marriage, the 1st year establishes behaviors
  5. The practice of spiritual direction is an already familiar model...   Spiritual direction is an apprenticeship model
  6. Opportunities may be found in catechetical sessions as they are currently structured...  Build time for mentoring into catechetical sessions 
  7. Many of the Saints [our mentors] apprenticed others in the Christian life...  If the task is beyond our strength,   like St. Therese, turn to God

Our catechesis should be rooted in respect for the mystery of God and the person.