Evangelization Barriers: a call for messy authentic Christianity

New Evangelization

The Pope has called for a New Evangelization or a re-evangelization, where we win back those fallen away Catholics. Cradle Catholics are not equipped for this type of evangelization and most parishes are not equipped either. The reason has to do with the walls we built around us, and our reluctance to leave our fortified parishes to embrace the other. Bishop Barron, in Getting out of the Sacristy  writes about how parish life needs to be revitalized to focus on missional oriented activities rather than existing parish structures. Gone are the days where we can expect people to show up. Rather than do the messy work of reaching the lost, we would rather protect our own through fostering divisive labels.

The Parable of The Lost sheep: How to Evangelize

Luke 15:1-7 gives us the parable of the lost sheep, and this parable gives us an important lesson on evangelization. In this parable, the shepherd is concerned about his lost sheep so he leaves the 99 sheep, which symbolizes the righteous Pharisees and goes to the lost sheep, the sinner. There is a lot to unpack here, but I think that when we use labels to describe one another, we put us in the righteous Pharisee camp.

Three labels commonly used

When I think about the Catholic church I think three labels come to mind, Traditional Catholic, Charismatic Catholic, liberal Catholic. Let us break each one down.

Traditional Catholic

The traditional Catholic prefers pre-Vatican II style worship and attends Latin Mass exclusively. At best these persons care deeply for the liturgy and reverence that it deserves. I think a desire to preserve the traditions of the Catholic church is a well-intentioned noble goal and a worthwhile pursuit. The more I learn about Catholicism, the more I went the incense, the chanting, and the beauty of more traditional churches. I think my desire comes from wanting liturgical excellence. The danger comes when we fence ourselves in and we say that the Mass is not valid and licit unless it conforms to pre-Vatican II standards. This is dangerous because the beautiful traditions of the church become a fence that prevents a person from going out into the world. Rather than engaging with other equally beautiful and valid traditions, traditional Catholics would rather label it as wrong. Also, Tradition Catholics dangerously over emphasize right practice over right belief.

Charismatic Catholics

Charismatic Catholics are completely the opposite. They emphasize obedience to the Holy Spirit and right relationship. They desire to foster an encounter with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I would say that charismatic masses have an exuberant quality to them. They emphasize scripture reading and praying for one another. Praise and worship and community are the focus. At best Charismatics help revitalize the parish by placing the focus back where it belongs, which is Jesus. They can help unlock scripture and foster community. The danger becomes when private revelation contradicts church authority. Private revelation should never take the place of church obligations. Likewise, there is the danger of emotionalism in which a person is constantly seeking the mountaintop experiences. Thus Mass becomes mundane. Because of these dangers, it is very easy for one to make the charismatic community the sole bases of their spirituality.

Liberal Catholics

The last category is liberals. These Catholics care about social justice, so much so that the oftentimes pick and choose to ignore certain teachings in favor of inclusivity. The benefit is that it reminds the church to be compassionate and merciful. The danger is that ignoring church teachings gives way to complacency, where people are not compelled to live according to the truth.

Conclusion

The reality is that the parish needs people who go beyond the labels.  The church needs to be traditionally minded to help safeguard the parish from liturgical abuses and to help safeguard the traditions of the church. The parish needs to be Charismatic because the parish needs to be reminded that God is still working, is still performing miracles, and is still speaking outside the sacraments. The parish needs to be liberal because the church needs to balance mercy with justice and to always show compassion. Furthermore, we need to have all three types as our spirituality. Rather we should break down the labels and be authentically Catholic. To do that though requires us to be uncomfortable and messy. When we accept and love each other, we can embrace and love those who have walked away.

Church Infallibility: Does Corruption Limit Authority?

Dear readers, I apologize for not posting last week; life became crazy.

Church Infallibility: Does Corruption Limit Authority?

So I was talking to my mom the other day regarding my recent blog post about the dancing snakes. She says that even if she buys that Jesus gave the disciples authority to define the church doctrine; this authority became corrupt after popes began to behave immorally. My mom like so many other fallen away Catholics, question the doctrine of church infallibility. It is here that I would like to make an analogy.

School analogy: Why behavior does not affect the truth

Let’s say that you have a math teacher. He teaches you the basic principles of math correctly, but you find out later that he behaved immorally such as molesting children. You wouldn’t deny that he taught you true math principles because you can verify independently the truth of these principles and you can see that society has historically held the truth of these principles. Similarly, the church can teach historically held truths about faith and morals regardless of the outward behavior.

Some would argue that this analogy breaks down because unlike math principles, faith and morals directly relate to how one should behave. Let’s tweak the analogy a bit. Let’s say that your math teacher is not a horribly immoral person, but instead can’t add numbers without a calculator.  Once again, you wouldn’t question the principles your math teacher taught; although, you may question the efficiency of the math teacher. In other words, the ability to teach does not affect the subject taught by the teacher; the subject remains true. Papel infallibility works the same way. It states that when it comes to faith and morals the Pope can teach no wrong. I would like to explore the biblical bases for this and explore how infallibility works practically.

Biblical Bases For Infallibility

Let’s start with the obvious, Mark 16:17-19.

Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.

Scripture Interpretation of Mark 16:17-19

We’ve talked about this scripture before, but I want to emphasize the verse, “The gates of hell will not prevail against it.” The ‘it’ in this quote refers to the church. Now I don’t know about you, but I believe when God promises something, He keeps his word. So why would God through Jesus promise to protect his church only to allow it to be corrupted? It’s also important to note that Jesus establishes his church on a rock aka something visible. He changes Simon’s name to Peter, which in Greek means rock. In the old testament, name changes are important. For example, Abram is changed to Abraham to signify a change in God’s covenant relationship with him. Jesus is doing the same thing with Peter.

Mathew 18:18, How the Church Handles Conflict

When Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep, it is not only a moment of repentance for Peter after his denial but also strengthening the covenantal bond established in Matthew 16:17-19. This promise of authority is repeated in Matthew 18:18 and Luke 10:16. Mathew 18:18 Jesus states,

 Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.

It’s important to note the context of this passage. Here Jesus is instructing the apostles on how to handle conflict. He says that people should tell the church and listen to the church. If they don’t listen to the authority of the church they will be cut off like Gentiles and tax collectors. In verse 18 he gives context for this authority by reestablishing his promise to bind eternally what the Apostles bind on earth. In Luke 10:16, Jesus says that whoever rejects the authority of the Apostles rejects Jesus himself.

Acts 15:  A Model for the Church

The bible even provides an example of how this works. In Acts 15 we have the first recorded dispute in the church. Paul and Barnabas were arguing with certain teachers about whether the Gentiles should follow Jewish dietary restrictions. Because there was a dispute, they went up to Jerusalem to seek the opinion of the apostles. Note that they didn’t hold an individual Bible study or search the scriptures for their own interpretation nor did they establish their own church, rather they came together and formed a council and allowed Peter and James to have the final say.

It’s also important to note that Peter was not always faithful to his own teaching. In Gal 2:11-16 Paul describes how he need to correct Peter, who was not eating with the Gentiles. This goes to show that even the first pope was not immune to hypocrisy and yet Paul stills states in 1st Tim 3:15 that the church of the living God is the pillar and foundation of truth. A hypocritical action does not negate a person’s authority to teach the truth. So if Acts 15 is the model, the question remains does the church retain this model or is the pope’s infallibility unrestricted?

The Magisterium: modern day Acts 15

Sacred scripture and sacred tradition

There are three tiers of church infallibility that makes up the Magisterium. The first is Sacred scripture and sacred tradition. These are not two separate teaching but rather a single teaching under two modes. It encompasses everything the apostle’s taught either by word of mouth or by writing. This makes sense when one considers sacred scripture to be a product of tradition. An example would be establishing the canon of scripture. Even the most staunch supporters of sola scripture have to admit that the bible does not establish its own canon, rather one must rely on outside theological experts. In fact, the Catholic church established the New Testament canon in 325AD during the council of Nicaea. No proclamation can contradict sacred scripture or tradition.

Extraordinary Magisterium

The second tier of infallibility is the extraordinary Magisterium. This consists of solemn definitions by the pope or ecumenical council ratified by the pope. The most recent example would be the council of Trent, which sought to clarify Catholic teachings in light of the Protestant Reformation. This tier seeks to clarify consistently held doctrine and elevated it to dogma. For a review of the difference between Dogma and doctrine see this.

Universal Magisterium

The last tier of infallibility is the ordinary and universal Magisterium. This includes the ordinary teaching of the Church, accomplished via papal pronouncements, statements of bishops, catechisms, homilies, etc. By ordinary and universal, it means that the decision must be in agreement in time and space. In other words, you must have the agreement of all bishops and this agreement must be consistent with all the bishops throughout history. This makes it extremely hard to create brand new doctrine from a papal pronouncement or Bishop’s statement.

When assessing the Magisterium, it is important to remember that this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it with regards to faith and morals.

 

The Church as the Pillar of Truth

So to answer the question, Can the church teach faith and morals wrongly? The answer would be no because to say yes would make Jesus a liar. To say yes would mean that Jesus’ promise to protect the church from the gates of hell remains unfulfilled. To say yes, would mean that that the Magisterium has taught something that was not handed down to it. Just like math principles are handed down and taught historically, the church has been entrusted with teaching faith and morals. This began with Peter and the Council of Jerusalem and continues with the Council of Trent. Just like Peter’s hypocrisy did not stop Paul from declaring the church as a pillar of truth, we shouldn’t let people’s hypocrisy keep us from believing the truth of the Church.

Why does God care

Birth Control: a Defense of the Church’s teachings

Most opposition to church infallibility comes from an unwillingness to accept the papal pronouncements. Many Catholics struggled to accept The Encyclical Humanae Vitae mainly the teachings against birth control. We must remember that church authority extends to moral proclamations consistent with scripture and tradition. Scripture teaches and tradition concurs that marriage is a union of ‘one flesh.’ Humanae vitae merely issued moral guidance on what it means to be ‘one flesh’ and concluded that artificial contraceptives hinder a couple’s ability to become ‘one flesh.’ To conclude that the pope reached this judgment in error is to show a lack of faith in the promise Jesus gave to the church, which was to protect it from error.

Objection: no Authority Over Private Life

One objection might be that the church has no authority over private life. After all, God only cares about whether I am a good person. This couldn’t be further from the truth. God loves us and cares about every aspect of our lives. Yes, God wants us to love others, but He also wants to obey his will. God for better or worse entrusted his apostles to carry out his will and build his church. This means that the church can extend on the word of God. Scripture was not created in a vacuum but was fostered and preserved by the traditions of the church. If we trust the church to define the canon of scripture, then we also have to trust that God is continuously guiding the church when it defines other moral truths.

Imagine for a moment that we are walking a dog. The dog sees a car and wants to chase it. However, the dog is constrained by a leash. We as rational being know that the leash is for the dog’s own good and wellbeing. However, to the dog, it keeps it from being free. In a similar way, the church’s moral judgments act as a leash. We, like the dog, may not understand why we are being constrained, but out of obedience and love for our master, we learn to obey.

Abortion: in the court of public opinion

This week my twitter feed was full of optimism surrounding the prospect that the court would finally repeal Roe v. Wade. The news of Supreme Court  Justice Anthony Kennedy retiring brought on this optimism. Even though I welcome the illegality of abortion, my legal knowledge, and general cynicism keep me from sharing in the optimism of my fellow Catholic followers. Rather I believe my fellow Christians and I must do a better job of changing the court of public opinion rather than being content with changing the legal landscape. To understand why one must look at 1. the historical landscape before Roe v. Wade, 2. Legal precedent up to the present, and 3. the consequences of overturning Roe v. Wade.

Abortion before Roe v. Wade

The legality of Abortion ebbed and flowed. In the early period of American history, when legal jurisprudence was governed by common law, abortion procedures were legal up to the point of “quicking.1 In the mid-1800 Massachusetts became the first state to introduce legislation making it illegal to get an abortion. 1 By 1960s 44 states had followed suit although some would make an exception if the mother’s life was endangered. 1 In 1967 Colorado became the first state to amend their abortion laws to allow an exception in case of rape, incest, life endangerment, woman’s health or the baby had a severe defect. 1 In 1972, one year before Roe case, 17 states had introduced legislation making abortion legal in some capacity. 1

There are two different narratives that emerge out of this historical perusal into American abortion legislation. The first is from a pro-life perspective in which abortion had always been criminal prior to Roe v. Wade either outright illegal or after a certain point such as ‘quicking.’ The legality of abortion is a modern trend. The second narrative is from a pro-choice perspective in which the legality of abortion from 1967 onward reflects a change in public opinion. This point will play an important role when discussing Roe v. Wade.

Roe v. Wade

Abortion as a Fundamental Right

The issue addressed by the court is whether the right for women to terminate her pregnancy is protected as the right to privacy located in the fourteenth amendment’s due process clause. In order to address this issue, the court must first determine if the right is implicit to the concept of ordered liberty. This is usually determined by asking the question is the right deeply rooted in American history or traditions. As we discussed above, the answer is not so straightforward. At certain periods in American history, abortion had been legal and at other times illegal. How you view the history largely depends on whether you are pro-life or pro-choice. A majority of the court concluded that “restrictive criminal abortion laws in effect in a majority of States today are of relatively recent vintage.”2 Thus a fundamental right exists.

Possible state interest

Having established a fundamental right, the court goes on to determine possible state interests. A state may still restrict a fundamental right if it has a compelling interest to do so. The court address two possible interest: 1. protecting the women from a dangerous medical procedure, and 2. Protecting prenatal life.2 In regards to the former, the court said the current medical knowledge makes abortions performed in the early trimester safe for women.2 Addressing protecting prenatal life, the court stated that “protection of the interests involved, again, has generally been contingent upon live birth. In short, the unborn have never been recognized in the law as persons in the whole sense.”[2] Hence a state’s interest only becomes compelling at the point of viability.2 Abortion as a fundamental right will be defended in the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey

Justice Kennedy was one of the three justices to write the deciding opinion of Planned Parenthood v. Casey and it is his vote that led to the reaffirming of Roe v. Wade. The principle of stare decisis, or the idea that a court must follow the decisions that came before the case in question led the court to uphold the ruling. The court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey states, “Application of the doctrine of stare decisis confirms that Roe’s essential holding should be reaffirmed”.3

In reexamining that holding, the Court’s judgment is informed by a series of prudential and pragmatic considerations designed to test the consistency of overruling the holding with the idea of the rule of law, and to gauge the respective costs of reaffirming and overruling.”3 The important thing to note is that the court deliberately chose not to in this case.

Undue Burden Standard

The court goes on to say that changes in the understanding of when a fetus is viable do not change the fact that states interest only becomes compelling at viability.3 The court also states that weakened precedent has not been shown. However, in order to accommodate the state’s interest in potential life, the court will introduce the undue burden standard.3 “An undue burden exists, and therefore a provision of law is invalid if its purpose or effect is to place substantial obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”3

Ways the Court Could Overturn Abortion Jurisprudence

There are two questions that govern the legal landscape of abortion: is the right to terminate your pregnancy a fundamental right, and is the legal restriction an undue burden on the women’s access to abortion? A conservative court could address both, most likely it will seek to limit abortion by upholding laws restricting abortion access.

Reasons The Court Will Not Address The Fundamental Rights Question

I do not see the court re-addressing the fundamental right question for two reasons. The first reason has to do with the fact that the question regarding a fundamental right depends on whether it is rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people. The reality is that the general consciousness of the people is more accepting, not less. According to Pew Research Center, “Though abortion is a divisive issue, more than half of U.S. adults take a non-absolutist position, saying that in most — but not all — cases, abortion should be legal.”

Furthermore, the issue has already been decided. Stare decisis requires the court to uphold it’s prior ruling unless the ruling is unworkable or there exists significant societal changes.4 Kurt Lash’s insightful journal article chronologies the history of stare decisis as applied by the court from Casey and onward.  He describes how stare decisis is often applied due to pragmatic concerns. When ruling on constitution decisions there is no remedy for judicial error other than a constitutional amendment and therefore courts applying stare decisis will also discuss the cost of judicial error.5 This can be seen in Casey, where the courts interpreted Roe’s judicial error as minimal and the cost to equal rights for women as very high.5 My argument is that nothing in society has changed to make the cost of repealing Roe less high.

Attacking the Undue Burden Standard

Thus the courts will have more success in upholding legal restrictions on abortion. An example can already be seen when the court upheld the validity of the ban on partial-birth abortion despite the legislation providing no exemption for the health of the mother. The court rationalized that a ban on intact D&E’s (procedure where baby’s head is partially birthed and then crushed) did not threaten the health of the mother because standard D&E procedures are available.

Consequences of Roe v. Wade repeal

If the court does manage to repeal Roe v Wade, I don’t think it will drastically change the abortion industry sadly. A repeal of Roe would mean that the states would now be free to define the legality of abortion. The decision would make a difference in pro-life states like Texas; however, I imagine that most states would allow abortion to remain legal due to the perceived hopelessness regarding the women’s situation.

Failure to Support Women

The pro-life movement has done a good job of defending life at conception; it has not defended the women, who are stuck with the pregnancies. Most women instinctively know that a fetus is living. When I worked at a pro-life pregnancy center, I was taught that if a woman ever said that she could never give her baby up for adoption, we were to question her about why if she chooses to carries it to term that it becomes a baby. Similarly, I learned that most women turn to abortion due to hopelessness. They believe that they have nowhere else to turn. As Christians, we have an answer to hopelessness. Jesus through the power of the gospel gives us hope and we are supposed to share this hope and love with others, who are hopeless and marginalized. We need to implement policies helping pregnant women.

Practical Solutions to Help End Abortion

If we truly want to end abortion, we need to stop picketing planned parenthood and start volunteering at pregnancy centers. We need to write our state legislators to support easier adoption policies, better foster care, and free childcare for low-income families and students. Support unemployment benefits for pregnant women, who are let go, and incentives for employers to hire pregnant women and paid maternity leave. Churches and Christian families need to stop shunning women, who are pregnant out of wedlock (yes, it’s a sin, but abortion is so much worse). However, if we continue to do nothing and society still believes that pregnancy holds women back then it won’t matter what the judicial courts do because we have failed to support pregnant women and we have failed to change the court of public opinion.

Work cited


  1. Gold,, Rachel. “Lessons From Before Roe: Will Past Be Prologue?”. Guttmacher Institute, 2018, https://www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2003/03/lessons-roe-will-past-be-prologue. Accessed 2 July 2018. 
  2. ROE v. WADE 410 US 113. Supreme Court of the United States. 1971. ” Findlaw, 2018, https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/410/113.html. 
  3. Planned Parenthood v. Casey 505 US 833. Supreme Court of the United States.1992  Findlaw, 2018, https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/505/833.html 
  4. Oyen, Timothy. “Stare Decisis”. LII / Legal Information Institute, 2018, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/stare_decisis. Accessed 2 July 2018. 
  5. Lash, Kurt. “The Cost Of Judicial Error: Stare Decisis And The Role Of Normative Theory”. Notre Dame Law Review, vol 89, no. 5, 2014, pp. 2189-2218., https://scholarship.law.nd.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=4561&context=ndlr. Accessed 2 July 2018. 

Problems with Youth ministry part two

In my last post, I highlighted 4 aspects of healthy youth ministry. These were relational, proclaiming the gospel, discipleship building, and missional. I mentioned how programs such as lifeteen can incorporate all 4 aspects, most fail to do so. I think the ultimate reason is that most youth ministers become so because they want to interact with youth. While youth ministers do work with youth, the job is multi-faceted in that you are also an administrator, event planner, graphic designer, web designer, social media manager, volunteer coordinator, and whatever else your ministry needs. Because there are so many jobs to do, a youth ministry’s success is determined by the number of volunteers. Having worked with youth ministers in the past, I feel more effort needs to be spent on volunteer recruitment.
Christopher Wesley,  the founder of Marathon Youth Ministry Inc, echos this sentiment in his blog post, Let’s Play The Numbers Game: What You Should Be Measuring And What It All MeansHe says, “there is nothing wrong with wanting to reach a large number of teens, but to sustain those large numbers, you need volunteers. Once again, Lifeteen’s advice is very insightful regardless of what program you are running. They recommend having at least 2-3 volunteers per event. A semester of youth ministry typically has 8 events. Hence if volunteers serve on rotating bases then you are looking at 24 person team. Not to mention that there are other teams that need volunteers such as

  1. environmental team- a group of people responsible for decorating the room to fit the theme of the night and setting up equipment.
  2. hospitality team- a group of people, who check kids into youth night, greet them and provide snacks

Most of the teams I’ve served on consisted of only 4 people and our role was to facilitate small group discussion. The environmental aspects were neglected and the youth minister planned the activity and messages. I do believe that even a small team of 4 people could work; however, I think coordination and communication are needed. I think having weekly team meeting is important in that it gives volunteers an insight into the planning process and helps them contribute. I find it hard to lead a small group discussion when the questions are given to me the night off and sometimes right before the discussion is to take place. More importantly, I think regular volunteer meetings help with volunteer retention in that it helps volunteers to feel a part of something. I did have a youth minister, who did have regular meetings, these were not disclosed upfront and I had made other commitments. An active young adult ministry helps procure volunteers. Christ the King parish in Atlanta, Georgia is an example of a well-run youth ministry, where most of the volunteers come from the active young adult ministry. Sadly though, most youth ministers neglect young adults because they are busy with serving high school and sometimes middle school youth.
However, even if a youth minister is the best volunteer recruiter ever, there may be financial setbacks due to lack of support. Youth ministers are underpaid. I once assisted a youth minister, who was only paid part-time. The lack of a living wage means that there is a heavy turnaround. Even If the job does pay full time, there may be a distinct lack of resources. These can be seen in the Teen hangout space. Ideally, the youth room offers a place, where youth can hang out and want to hang out. The room should include minimalistic furniture and tables, speakers, microphones, and projector. However, these things are expensive. At my current parish, there have been budget cuts and the youth meet anywhere and everywhere that’s open. In addition, programs for youth catechist are not cheap. To run lifeteen for High schoolers and middle schoolers, it cost $1,395. While not enormous for what you get, it still may be too pricey for smaller parishes

There are excellent programs to help develop teenagers into disciples especially Journey to Emmaus and lifeteen. However, programs will only be as deep as the effort that you put into them. If you are forced to cut corners financially or you are short staffed due to lack of volunteers; the effort will be missing and you will not have the manpower or stamina to tackle all 4 aspects of youth ministry. Parishes can help by providing financial incentives or moderate budgets. Parishioners can help by volunteering their time and talent. Youth ministry is not an easy job and it encompasses much more than hanging out with youth.

The problem with Youth ministry

Having served under two youth ministers and as a middle school catechist, I have observed that youth ministry in the Catholic Chuch varies widely. Youth ministry suffers for three reasons: 1. over-reliance on outdated methods and 2. failure to focus on all aspects of ministry.

 Over-reliance on outdated methods

I find that in certain parishes; there still is a tendency to rely on old-school CCD methods of catechism. This is especially true of middle school age youth. Textbook catchism is problematic. First, it doesn’t help people fall in love with Jesus. Second, it creates students of religion rather than disciples. Disciples are people, who follow the example of a teacher. When Jesus formed the 12 disciples, he did not demand they learn about his life, but rather he invited them into a relationship. Third, it encourages memorization rather than practically doing. For my 7th-grade catechism class, the textbook had self-assessments and vocab words. For me personally, I’d rather my students know and be encouraged to pray than know the proper definition of the magisterium. Fourth, youth spend so much time in the classroom already that they don’t want to spend time in another. Fifth, youth especially males have so much energy; and I found it is easier to have them focus on an activity. Lastly, there is a disconnect between what is being learned and what is relevant to them and what is relevant in the Mass. In my 7th grade class, one kid had a peer, who had committed suicide; another kid whose parents were not religious, and a group of kids, who were debating whether to protest school shootings. My textbook was woefully tone-deaf. Also, it is disconnected from what they experience at Mass.

Failure to focus on all aspects of ministry

Edmund Mitchell, in his blog post, AN EVANGELISTIC MODEL FOR YOUTH MINISTRY, describes 4 aspects of youth ministry.  These 4 aspects include relational, KERYGMA, discipleship, and mission. Let’s unpack each one. Relational has to do with meeting kids where they are at and inviting them to form a trusting relationship with you. These may entail going to sporting events, high schools, and anything else the teen was involved in. The second is KERYGMA or proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ; this might be achieved at a life night. The third is discipleship, which describes the desired response such as growing deeper in prayer or attending a bible study. Lastly, mission entails equipping the individual to go out and spread the good news.
Most parishes in Hampton roads run a ministry known as Lifeteen. Lifeteen is a company that creates catechetical lesson plans to be used by a youth minister and a team of volunteers to help create a series of talks called life nights. These life nights form the basic catechetical component. Sadly for reasons I will get into in my next post, most parishes do not run it properly. Life nights by themselves are not meant to incorporate all 4 aspects of youth ministry; however, if you use all the resources Lifeteen can incorporate most. Here’s what a subscription includes:

  1. Life nights Designed to evangelize and catechize the youth; these nights have a theme that centers around what teens need to know
  2. Summit discipleship resource-Weekly bible study resource around the Sunday readings
  3. Unleashed Missionary Disciple resource- Takes teenagers deeper into aspects of faith and prepares them for leadership

Now I am not here to sell lifeteen nor do I think it is completely necessary, but I do think that a well-run youth ministry needs to encompass all 4 aspects. In my next blog post, I will talk about how a lack of volunteers, a lack of financial support, and a lack of engagement with the wider parish hinders the lifeteen model.

What is branding? Why is it important

This weekend I attended a worship, tech, and creative conference put on by The Church Collective. I attended workshops on video production, branding, and creative arts. These workshops were extremely helpful especially the branding one. I attended because I currently assist a Catholic Charismatic ministry in communications and outreach marketing. It seems like so many Catholic parishes and organizations don’t understand branding.
The real reason has to do with the difference between a parish and a church. According to the Catholic encyclopedia, a parish is created when a priest is given authority over a certain body of faithful, which is determined by geographical location. Hence, if a parish assumes to have authority over you by virtue of where you live then there is no incentive to market itself to the community. In light of travel and the consumer mindset of modern society, I don’t think the local parish can continue to assume that local Catholics will flock to local parishes. Now a common objection is that if people are traveling to other parishes because the ‘experience” is better, then they just don’t understand the point of Mass, which is not to be entertained but to receive Jesus in the sacraments. While I want to address this concern later, I will say that it is not an either, or choice. We can desire to want to have a definite identity that makes us feel like we belong and still acknowledges that the church is bigger than our one parish In other words, I think most Catholics leave, not because protestant services are more entertaining or because they don’t understand the Eucharist, but because it’s easier to feel like you belong.
On the other hand, Protestant churches do not receive authority based on geographic location. Anyone can start a protestant church simply because they feel called by God. We’ve seen streets with churches lined up back to back. This lack of authority over a group of people means that they must work to win your loyalty. Because they are working to win your loyalty, they pride themselves on offering an excellent experience. Not only that, but they must define who they are and what separates them from other organizations. The speaker on branding, Ethel Delacruz said something insightful; if we are not a good fit, we want to plug you into a church that is. This way of thinking is completely different than Catholic parish level, which typically tries to reach everyone.
As a Catholic convert, I hate how some Catholics will dismiss effective protestant practices under the guise that it is all done for the sake of entertainment. We don’t need to market ourselves or make people feel like they belong because the truth of the Catholic Church should be enough. I maintain that these people have never spent a large amount of time in a well-run protestant church. The difference between the Catholic parish experience is night and day. It is nice to be part of a well-oiled machine that knows what its job is then to be part of a church with 1,000 different non-connected ministries. When I was Protestant, I never had to lead anything; I was encouraged to and it was easy to do so. Attend a class and you can lead a small group. Need something designed; no problem submit it to the creative arts team that way you can focus on the relational aspect of your small group ministry. I feel bad for Catholic parish secretaries, who must design the bulletin announcements, maintain the website, maintain calendar, social media (if such exists), and answer the phone. Some parishes try to get around this by funneling everything into the parish council. However, if you’re trying to start something new, then you must not only get permission from the ministry head but then they’re responsible for everything. For example, my parish had 75 different ministries, and each ministry had a ministry head. The ministry head was responsible for all digital communications in addition to the duties of that ministries. This means that if I wanted something done for the Young adults, instead of doing it myself after it got approved, I would have to wait and hope that the youth minister would remember to do it.
A brand and mission statement can help because it helps to trim the fat so to speak. If our mission is to equip people to evangelize than we might put more emphasis on formation opportunities and less on knitting blankets (yes, my parish has a knitting ministry). Fr. James Mallon has a great example of how he tried to eliminate bridge playing ministry in order to make room for Alpha/discovering Christ courses. It helps all the ministries work together. If the parish’s mission is to equip others to evangelize, then all ministries work towards that mission. A brand embodies the story the particular church wants to tell.
Coincidentally, a person I follow twitted this:
https://twitter.com/schrenk/status/1005830212196687872?s=20
It is a fair point. If Catholic Church is universal then parishes should not have distinctive identities, but rather be uniformly Catholic. So what is the overarching mission of the Catholic Church and why in my opinion is it no longer adequate for parish activity.
Can. 528 §1. A pastor is obliged to make provision so that the word of God is proclaimed in its entirety to those living in the parish; for this reason, he is to take care that the lay members of the Christian faithful are instructed in the truths of the faith, especially by giving a homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation and by offering catechetical instruction. He is to foster works through which the spirit of the gospel is promoted, even in what pertains to social justice. He is to have particular care for the Catholic education of children and youth. He is to make every effort, even with the collaboration of the Christianfaithful, so that the message of the gospel comes also to those who have ceased the practice of their religion or do not profess the true faith.
In order to understand why this is not sufficient, we must understand what a mission statement is. A mission statement describes the relevant and time bound goals of a parish. A parish, whose mission statement is something like: “A place where the Word of God is proclaimed, social justice is promoted, the youth are formed, and the gospel is sent out might be true; but it doesn’t tell me the practical goals that particular parish has. All parishes have to proclaim truth, but how does your parish do it. Maybe it’s through bible study, maybe it’s through studying the themes of the homily, maybe it’s through offering a particular program. Similarly social justice is a huge issue (one, where a lot of parishes break down in doing so much), and needs to be focused into issues for your location. Maybe there’s a high crime rate and prison ministry is better; however, maybe your parish is by an abortion clinic so pro-life is more important. The point is pretty clear, location effects the methods used to fulfill the mission of the church and we must tailor to the needs of the community while not forsaking the overall mission of all Catholic parishes.

What about the snakes? Worldliness part 2

Dear reader, This is part 2 of a series regarding what it means to be worldly. You can read part 1 here.
A discussion with my mother inspired me to write this post. The discussion began when I had made a comment regarding my 7th-grade religious education class. I had admitted my shock upon discovering that the whole class disagreed with the Church’s stance that marriage is between a man and women. My mom claimed that the kids were acting compassionately so of course, they would disagree. I expressed that I believe that if they continue to follow Christ and continue to be members of the Church, they need to understand and accept the Church’s teachings. My mom argued that one can follow Jesus and not accept everything the Church teaches. However, I pointed out that even Jesus defends the traditional notion of marriage in Mark 10:6-9,

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.

I argued that even if you explain away what the Old Testament says about marriage or the writings of Paul, you cannot be a follower of Jesus and ignore what he says about marriage. My mom replies, “didn’t Jesus say that we should handle snakes and not die, we don’t follow that.” I must admit I was stumped.
Continue reading

What does it mean to be worldly

Before being confirmed Catholic, I went to a lot of different Protestant churches. Every church emphasized the theme of not being of this world. As Christians we were told to be a part of the world, but not in it. This took many different forms; some churches prohibit drinking, others feel called to redeem the world. According to the latter, one could use worldly tactics as long as it glorifies Christ. I remember how the Young adult pastor at Vineyard church held a meeting on Halloween and gave a whole sermon incorporating Twilight. Catholics, for the most part, take the opposite approach. Most Catholics desire a liturgy free from worldly influences, which explains why music is so controversial. In most parishes, it feels like going back in time. I think the uninitiated or uninterested tend to have difficulty swallowing church teaching because there exists a disconnect between parish life and their own. This leads me to wonder, “what makes a person worldly?” Continue reading

More than a birthday

When you are little birthdays are a big deal. You celebrate with balloons, gifts, toys, and friends and family. As you get older birthdays become less of an extravaganza. Yes, your family and friends still acknowledge it; you may still get a few gifts, and you may still have a party, but it exists on a much smaller scale. Sometimes, I think the Church has become like that. Last Sunday marked an end to the celebration of Easter. Instead, the Church acknowledges the feast of Pentecost. The Bible describes the events of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. Most people refer to Pentecost as the birthday of the Church since three thousand people joined on this day.
According to Acts 2:41, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.” Imagine what people would say if your parish received an influx of three thousand people weekly. People would assume that such a parish fostered a vibrant community. Other parishes would want to replicate the results. However, the model already exists in the book of Acts.
The following events happened to cause growth: The apostles were in the upper room praying as one; A loud noise such as a rushing wind; apostles receiving the gift of tongues; the apostles using the gifts of tongues; Peter proclaiming the Good news of Jesus Christ.  Basically, the surrender to the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the power and confidence to proclaim the gospel. That’s great, but this happened over 2,000 years ago, how can this help us grow today.
One should not merely remember Pentecost, but live it. In Peter’s proclamation of the gospel, he recites from the prophet Joel. Acts 2:17 states

‘It will come to pass in the last days,’ God says,
‘that I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh.
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your young men shall see visions,
your old men shall dream dreams.

Notice that it says, ” I will pour out a portion of my Spirit upon all flesh.” This means that the experience at Pentecost is ongoing. Every baptized and confirmed Catholic has the Spirit in them.
If you read the book of Acts, you realize that the early Christians were able to withstand trials and persecutions and still spread the Gospel with joy. The tenacious spirit of the early Christian’s carries over into today’s Christian rock and rap music.  The chorus from On the Frontlines by Light up the Darkness come to mind,

I’m standing on the front lines
With Jesus on my right side
I’m not defeated
I will stand tall
My armor is fitted
I will not fear
You held my hand
You led me here
You can defeat the enemy

The Holy Spirit gives the gift of fortitude. Fortitude describes the ability to conquer fear and face trials and persecution. I have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit first hand.
In 2010-2011, I suffered severe neck pain. I also started experiencing numbness in my fingertips.  By February of 2011, I had lost the ability to sit upright. At the time I also attended the University of Virginia fully time. However, two months before graduation, VCU medical hospital had admitted me to the neurological wing. I had a spinal cord injury. In the midst of losing everything, I desperately needed the ability to fight, to have hope. I turned to poppy Christian music, even though I wasn’t following Christ. I turned to this style of music because in it I found joy. Whether you love or hate CCM, You will not be angry while listening. This must have caught the attention of the nurse because he started sharing his interest in Christian music itself. At some point, it came out that I didn’t believe Jesus was the son of God. The nurse, like Peter in Acts, proclaimed the gospel to me. He told me to pray for wisdom. I prayed that night. While I didn’t hear a rushing wind, nor did I experience tongues of fire, I slowly became aware of an unshakable faith.
My mom asked me once if there would be anything that would make me renounce a belief in God. I can honestly say with complete certainty that nothing could get me to do so. I can say this not because I am a holy person or because my life is great, but because Pentecost is lived out in me daily.
In the United States, we have it pretty easy, we have the freedom to worship how we want and when we want. The persecution we face is an inward one. A general apathy. One that says that my life is pretty good, I don’t need God, church or religion. The other inward problem is to cave in the face of hardships. We deny God because we don’t see him in the fire with us. The church doesn’t need another birthday celebration, which is quietly celebrated with little fanfare and forgotten until next year. The Church needs Pentecost to be lived in the followers of Christ in order to renew the face of the earth.
 

What is worship?

I attended David’s tent, which is a 24-hour worship event. They have many different acts from many different Christian faith traditions performing worship songs. It provides people with an opportunity to worship and pray. There are different stations such as the dancing station, the Bible reading station, or the art station. One can choose to visit one of these stations or sit quietly soaking in God’s presence through the music. I decided to do the latter for the 8 hours I was there. For the record, I didn’t do 8 hours straight, I did 4 hours Saturday night and 4 hours Sunday afternoon. Saturday night was an interesting experience. They had scheduled a Christian music DJ to come in. A lot of people were turned off by the loudness of the music. Others questioned the talent behind it by remarking, “is he singing or just playing music?” Meanwhile, I stayed just to try it out. To me, DJing is an art, just like any other art. You have to feel the music and make sure it is in the right order. Yes, a good chunk of the songs were played straight, but some of them were mashups. The most notable was Hillsong’s Ocean and a rap song I’ve never heard before. Midway through people had started playing the bongo drums. It was a cool effect in that it sounded like thunder. It made me think about heaven and how our praise will be a mishmash of sound from all different sources.
Sometimes I wonder how will I experience heaven? Will I experience it as somber, peaceful, or serene like the Liturgy? Will I experience it as a loud joyous dance party?  Regardless of what the experience is like, I know I will experience the fullness of Jesus’ love unhindered by sin or my own unwillingness. I think experiencing different worship styles can help us focus on what truly matters, Jesus. I think exubrierent loud joyous noise can co-exist with the liturgy.  Catholic churches should offer both if for no other reason then the universal nature of music. Catholic’s fear that such praise overlies on emotions and entertainment; however, God created both as a vehicle to experience his glory. David’s tent made me realize the importance of praise and I hope that one day more Catholics learn to appreciate the benefits of such pursuits.