Let's try to think creatively

The title of this blog post is a reference to the viral youtube sensation, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared. If you haven’t seen it, the basic set up is that three child like puppets are stars in a children’s program, where they interact with animated objects, who teach the children a lesson. However, the lesson usually takes a turn towards the dark as the puppets are taught not to question anything. In the first episode, a notepad attempts to teach the puppets how to be creative. The notepad says things like green is not a creative color. When the puppets attempt to create on their own, bad things start happening. It ends with the notepad instructing the puppets to never be creative again. While the meaning of this series is up for the viewer to decide, most people agree that at its most basic, Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared is a satire about children’s television programs and the mob mentality it creates. The video criticizes the idea that 1. There is a correct way of thinking when it comes to creativity and 2. The idea that children should not think creatively for if they did, dangerous consequences would result. Creative thinking cannot be taught and it does not fit one style. Yet I feel that the Catholic Church is failing to cultivate an atmosphere necessary for creativity to survive. With the exception of a few parishes, the Catholic Church needs to hire a market manager.
 
This problem became very clear to me when I began working as an outreach intern for New Creation Catholic community. Even though they are not a parish, I believe they have the same problems as most Catholic parishes. First of all, they did not have a functioning website. The information was outdated and never updated. To quote Father White, “an outdated website signals ‘out of business'” Why then do so many Catholic parishes not care about the way their website is designed, or the information put on it? Case in point, http://staugustineparish.net is the website of the parish I grew up in. First of all, it is not visually pleasing. Second of all, it is not very organized or interactive. For example, while it does do a decent job at displaying information, most of the information ends with ‘contact so and so.’ Well, what happens if I’m new and don’t know who that is or what if I want to know more about what your community looks like? There are no pictures and nothing to attract me.
 
Compare that web page to this one: http://st-ann.org/home. At the top, I am greeted with mass times, reconciliation, and giving, which is all the information I need as a newcomer. Below that is a slide show with pictures and a read more buttons. This technique is visually engaging. Below the slide show are boxes with pictures and categories. The new here category makes me feel welcome. Below that is a weekly calendar and under that are pictures of parish life and social buttons. The calendar helps me see what is going on and the pictures help me get a feel for the community. While the design is not perfect, it is much better.
 
One way The Catholic Church of St. Ann is able to communicate efficiently is that they’ve hired a Communications/Multimedia Director. This person handles all communication for the parish, which includes the website, the bulletin, social networks, and media. In most parishes, this job is delegated to the Parish Secretary. This person is usually an older woman, who is more familiar with bookkeeping than web design. Yet I am sure there are creative people sitting in the pews, who would love to help design a website or an engaging bulletin.
 
In fact, there is a group called Catholic Creatives, which consists of a collaboration of “Catholic designers, filmmakers, photographers, creative thinkers, artists, entrepreneurs, and others working to bring the gospel to the world in fresh, beautiful ways.” One objection is that parishes have limited resources to work with and that it is expensive to create a beautiful project. I use to think similarly until I started designing for New Creation. I discovered plenty of drag and drop interfaces for websites and if you know a little bit of code, WordPress.org is a free option. Likewise, canva.com is a great place to design anything, but they do have templates for beautiful church bulletins.
 
The church needs more organizations like Catholic Creatives and parishes need to put more time and effort into creative marketing. It might be dangerous, even disastrous at times, but it is much better than to not think creatively.

Finding God in the darkness

An explanation for why there was no post on Monday.

Psalm 139 verse 11-12 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,  and the light around me become night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

Have you ever experienced complete spiritual darkness? A time, where your world is falling apart and you have no hope? You may even ask, “where is God?” I, unfortunately, know this feeling too well and experienced it again recently. Last week I spent four days in the hospital because I had three blood clots in my leg. One might say that those four days were the darkness, and if it were my first time lying in a hospital bed I might agree; however, the hospital was a sweet relief to the agony of the days prior. The lonely nights spent shivering with a low-grade fever and in excruciating pain staring at the wall wondering if I was going to die. When you are confronted with the reality of death, two very different emotions come to the surface: fear and relief. Fear because I was afraid for who I’d leave behind, my family, my friends, and even people I hadn’t talked to in years. Fear because of the nagging question, “Am I ready?’ Jesus tells us so many times in the gospels to be ready, but how can you be sure? I remember thinking about the small sins that I had committed and had not gone to confession for such as cursing out the HP customer service people. I think the Friday night before. going to the hospital, I prayed that Jesus would have mercy on me, not because I feared punishment, but because I desperately wanted to be with him in heaven. Hence,  the feeling of relief that comes from knowing that death brings an end to pain, suffering, and tears. The idea that I’d finally see Jesus face to face. Yet despite this desire, I furiously did not believe that my life was meant to end; I believed that God still wanted me to do more for his kingdom. It is in this moment that I encountered God and that the darkness became light. My prayer became less about my needs, wants, and fears. Instead, it became about God, “I trust that You, God, have a plan for me and though I may not understand it, it will work out for good because You are good.”
CS Lewis said, “pain is God’s microphone.” I believe this to be true. Through pain, God can speak. In my pain, God wanted my unwavering radical trust, not just in him, but in the teachings of His Church. Let me be very clear, God is not the author of our pain; He does not create it. Rather pain is the result of our fallen world. For the Earth, itself groans in anticipation of redemption (Romans 8:22-24). However, what the devil intends for evil, God can use for good and pain is one of those things. The ordeal has me utterly convinced of the Catholic truth regarding contraception.
You see, from the time I had started my Period until now, I had been on all sorts of types of Birth Control. I had justified it based on the idea that I was not sexually active. Taking of Birth Control for any other reason other than contraceptive purposes is not a sin. I was using it to regulate my period. However, the blood clots in my leg were a direct consequence of taking Birth Control coupled with a sedentary lifestyle. This led me to ask  a question, “is the risk of blood clots and death comparable to the benefits received from controlling a natural process using artificial means?” The answer I believe is no. My mom said it best with regards to her menopause medicine, “there is a 5% chance of breast cancer, why would I take that chance just to regulate a natural process.” However, as finite beings, we understand physical tangible consequences, but fail to understand spiritual consequences. Yet if we rephrase the question, “is the risk of separation from God comparable to the benefits received from controlling a natural process using artificial means?” The logical answer should still be no; however, for me to fully understand and embrace that truth, I needed God to allow darkness to cover me and then make it light.

Let's​ talk about #charlottesvile

Saturday, August 12 began like a normal morning for me. I woke up, ate breakfast, listened to some praise and worship music, and checked twitter. I was bombarded with tweets about race and interracial marriage and #charlottesvile. I was surprised that Charlottesville was trending on twitter. I found out quickly that there had been a riot that Friday evening on the grounds of UVA by the neo-nazi party and the Alt-right. They were protesting the destruction of a Robert E. Lee statue. More fundamentally, they were protesting what they thought was an encroachment on the “white people’s way of life.”  At the time of writing, one person has died and multiple people have been injured. By the time this blog post hits on August 21st, I suspect that #charlottesville will have been replaced by the next greatest tragedy and the incidences in Charlottesville will have been studied (to use the president’s words) ad nauseum. So rather than trying to analyze the how and why this tragedy happened, I’d rather talk about a trend I noticed by people using the #charlottesville.
If you look at the tweets with the hashtag, most of them appeal to this sense of other. For example, this tweet by Bernie Sanders:


In this tweet, Bernie Sanders labeled the white nationalist group as displaying racism and hatred. While this is undeniably true, fixating racism and hatred on one group of people ignore the fact that these attitudes are inherent in all of us. Other tweets blamed the president himself.
https://twitter.com/lucasbros/status/896563770176135168
 
I am not a Trump supporter and I didn’t vote for him. I am not a fan of the speech he gave addressing the Charlottesville riot. For the record, I thought his appeal to the economy was a scapegoat, an excuse not to talk about the real issues. Trump may have given them a voice, but racism existed long before Trump ever became president. However, once again, Twitter posters were quick to point fingers at people other than their own inherent racial assumptions.
Before I reach my conclusion, I want to clarify that I condemn all acts of violence regardless of the reason or motivation. The person, who drove their car into a group of protestors, deserves to be held accountable to the full extent of the law. I also want to express that racism and discrimination are wrong. 
Rather than search for who motivated the acts of violence, what I want to address is what was not being said under #charlottesvile. I did not see a call to repentance even among Christian groups. Racism and hatred are rooted in fear. Perfect love cast out all fear. Thus the only appropriate response is, not to search for someone to blame, but to recognize the monster living in all of us; to recognize that we are one step away from becoming the racist violent protestors.
Condemnation behind a computer screen of particular people can only increase the divide that already exists. If we are Christian, we are called to a much higher and harder standard that of love. We must love those, who persecute us,  turn the other cheek, forgive because they know not what they do. If this is the standard that Jesus calls us to adopt, then we should not point fingers, but strive to see the person. Neo-nazis are people, hopelessly misguided and utterly wrong, but people none the less. Condemn racism, discrimination, and white supremacy, but don’t just condemn the Nazis, and forget about the societal structure that makes racism possible.
My heart goes out to the people of Charlottesville. This is a tragedy that should not have happened. We must condemn racism and discrimination. We must stand for the truth that everyone is a person that deserves equal treatment. However, in the same breath, we cannot condemn a group of people any more than we can condemn ourselves because all of us have seeds of evil in us. We have all contributed to racism and systematic oppression.
For discussion:
1. why was the police presence so light in this case, but not in the BLM protest? Doesn’t this indicate societal assumptions about race?
2. In times like these, how do we remember God’s goodness and love for all of us?
3. How can we turn the tide on systematic racism without resorting to violence?
 
 

Let's talk emotional manipulation

One day last week I wasn’t feeling good. I had a lot of things I wanted to get done, but instead of doing any of them I sat at the kitchen table playing mobile games on my phone. What makes mobile games so addicting? The short, non-complicated answer is that these games were made to trigger the dopamine receptors in the brain so that you would get a reward response. Game makers know how to market their games in order to be addicting. They do this because their ultimate motive is to make money. So they use techniques to emotionally manipulate you into buying the game. These techniques include among other things lights, sounds, and instantaneous rewards.
Also on Sunday, July 30th, I took a non-denominational friend to the Wave. (don’t freak, I went to Mass on Saturday night). First a little background. The Wave is a local megachurch mainly in the Hampton roads area; however, it is branching out into other parts of Virginia. The main campus is located on Great Neck Road,  Virginia Beach.  It was one of the first churches I ever attended and it is where I made my first public declaration of faith. Admittedly I am a bit nostalgic for this church even though I now know better.
When we drove up to the Wave, we were greeted by parking attendants. We asked politely where the handicapped spots are located (the visible ones in the front are taken). The parking attendant told us that there is more handicapped parking on the side. We went there and sure enough, there was one spot left. We headed inside, but not before my friend started taking pictures. I asked, “Are you taking pictures of the building.” “Yes,” my friend replies, “I’ve never seen a church look like this.” Previously my friend had remarked that the church looked like a car sales company. The building is two stories high and the front is cover in glass and the sides are white. No religious imagery at all. The only sign that is indeed a church is the words, “Wave church” above the building. We went inside. There is a lobby area. In front is a giant information desk and to the left and right are couches for people to sit including a newcomers lounge. We passed the information desk and entered into the sanctuary, which in actuality is a large auditorium. In front of the auditorium is a large stage and above the stage are three large screens. One look on my friends face and I could tell that she was overwhelmed, but excited. She took another picture, this time of the stage. The service began. An upbeat song began to play. People were jumping up and down and waving their hands. The songs were accompanied by smoke and stage lights After about 30 minutes, there was the offering message and an announcement video. Then we were told to greet one another and say that “they sang  like an angel.” After that, the message or sermon started.
Regard the message, I really enjoyed it. It was titled, “crashing through walls” and centered around James 1:2, and James 1:12. The pastor talked about the importance of endurance and how you can’t get anywhere without it. I want to take a moment to ask a question that I would have asked the pastor myself if given the chance. Where does endurance come from?  If it is necessary for the Christian life and it is the result of our own effort then how are we saved by faith alone like they profess to believe? If it comes directly from God then why do we need to work through trials at all?
Despite those questions, which didn’t come to me until later, there was a moment where I almost got sucked in. It was towards the end of the sermon, where the pastor said, “I want everyone to raise their hand and repeat after me, ‘I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back.'” It is in that moment that I was once again swept away. I experienced an emotional high. I had been manipulated to feel certain things in that moment and everything had led me up to that point. The music, the lights, and the message were all designed, just like mobile games, to make me make that declaration to follow Jesus.  It is designed to get me to come back every Sunday so that I can get my fix for the week. The strategy is highly effective as thousands of people pour in every Sunday.  The question remains if church is reduced to an emotional experience, what happens when I, the consumer, am no longer moved? Can the gospel or good news be reduced to marketing tactics? Even if it can, should it be?
Catching Foxes podcast recently said that the greatest sin in youth ministry is emotional manipulation. They talked about how the goal of the minister should be about forming relationships and not be solely motivated to help kids encounter Christ. As I think back on my past experience at the Wave, I think that the greatest problem is that the Wave’s motivation is to seek the lost and to help foster an emotional encounter with Christ. These motivations are not intrinsically bad, but it creates a watered down product that ultimately shallow and worldly.
Christianity is much more than a worship band, stage lights, and lounge chairs. It is about sacrifice and reverence; two characteristics that the marketing business world can’t understand.

Let's talk about dignity!

Dignity is a word that you hear a lot. You hear it on the news and you hear it in the pews, but what is it? It seems like dignity is such a slippery concept. We hear about Death With Dignity, which argues that people in intense suffering deserve to die either at the hands of their physician or be provided the means to die usually by overdosing on drugs. Yet the Catholic Church also uses dignity to argue against euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.  How can the same concept be used by two different parties to mean two different things? More importantly, how can we talk intelligently about the dignity of LGBTQ people and still maintain that the homosexual act is inherently disordered or undignified? These questions are important, but in order to answer them, we must first ask, where does dignity come from?
During the summer, I spent a lot of time contemplating the concept of dignity. It first came up in my religious reasoning class but followed me around like a ghost. It came up in Sunday’s homily and again in the case of Charlie Gard. This led me to investigate the concept of dignity.
In short, dignity is the idea that human beings possess value. The problem is that society has forgotten the root of the value. This value comes from God-likeness. This means two things: 1 we are not God, and 2. we have characteristics of God. We are embodied creatures, which means that unlike God, we are tied to our biological makeup. However, that is okay, because our dignity is being like God, not being God. Dignity; therefore, entails both the soul and the body in unity. If dignity is found in the body then we have dignity by virtue of being members of homo sapiens. Thus we all have inherent dignity in our bodies that is worthy of respect and protection; however, there is more. We are not merely bodily creatures, for there are certain characteristics that separate man from animal.  It is in the exercising these higher characteristics that help men achieve fuller dignity.   It is here that we can measure whether an action is dignified in so far as it is an action consistent with the character of God.  There is more that could be said about the characteristics of God, but for this post, I will use the fruits of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness gentleness, and self-control.
Most disputes revolving around dignity tend to emphasize one side of the coin or the other. It is not inherent dignity or fuller dignity, but rather inherent dignity  and fuller dignity working together,
This can be seen in the death with dignity controversy. Those in favor of mercy killing emphasize the fact that it is undignified to live a life, where one is unable to experience love or joy due to extreme suffering. Those against mercy killing argue that the killing a person, no matter the reason, destroys the inherent dignity that person possesses. However, neither camp appeals to both strains of dignity in a cohesive way. Such an outlook would have to admit that it is undignified to lose one’s rational capacities, but it is also fundamentally unfair to deny the person’s intrinsic dignity that they possess regardless of their mental capacity. Under this outlook
However, neither camp appeals to both strains of dignity in a cohesive way. Such an outlook would have to admit that it is undignified to lose one’s rational capacities, but it is also fundamentally unfair to deny the person’s intrinsic dignity that they possess regardless of their mental capacity. Under this outlook, it would be wrong to kill a person simply because they have lost their rational mind, but there would be nothing wrong with letting the person die and making them comfortable.
Currently, there is a tension between the LGBTQ and the church. This tension exists primarily because the church wants to rightly uphold the inherent dignity of LGBTQ people especially those who are baptized. Yet, the church teaches that the inclination to be sexually attracted to the same sex is inherently disordered. How can a person have inherent dignity and yet the core of who they believe to be is inherently disordered?
To answer this question, we must remember that dignity is more than just the value placed on our biological makeup; it also entails exercising the characteristics that make us God-like provided that we have the capacity to do so. Two characteristics stand out to me: patience and self-control. Thus, in the eyes of the church, their job is to not just respect the inherent dignity of every person but to challenge people to achieve a fuller dignity. To water down this message, in turn, reflects negatively on the church’s perspective on the LGBT community. It says that the church must treat the LGBT community differently or have different expectations for them. If the church does this, ultimately, we are admitting that we do not believe that LGBT community can achieve a fuller dignity. Lastly, it is important to remember that one’s sexual attraction is not where dignity comes from, rather it comes from the belief that we are more than our biological urges
Whether you are facing a terminal illness, a painful debilitating disease, or same sex sexual attraction, it can be hard to find a balance between the idea that you are loved and have dignity and the idea that you are called to act in a different way in order to achieve something greater. However, these two ideas are not mutually exclusive. You have inherent dignity precisely because you are made in God’s likeness, which in turn places certain expectations.
Hence it is not that dignity is an ambiguous concept rather the two strands of dignity are hard to balance.
 

What I did with my summer!​

So this summer I traveled to New Haven, Connecticut. I spent my time at Yale University, where I studied through the Institute of  Bioethics. Here I was thrust into the world of bioethics, which incorporates religion,  philosophy, and biology. It is one of my favorite subjects to study.
This journey began on a whim. I received an email from my undergrad philosophy department describing the summer opportunity.  I decided to apply just to see what would happen. Now if you know me, you know that this is entirely out of character for me. I am a routine person and I like to stick to that routine. I don’t normally take risks and I think about the what ifs. However, this moment was different. This moment I acted on faith and applied.
I didn’t expect to get in. Further more I didn’t expect to be able to travel to New Haven, Connecticut, but I did. Things lined into place, and in a blink of an eye I was on my way. During this trip, I learned a lot about bioethics, but more importantly, I learned a lot about myself. I learn how to interact with people who have a different opinion than you. I learned how to write about complex topics. I learned that I could leave my home parish and still be strong in the faith. Because of everything I learned, I feel like I am a different person. I still have a black and white mentality, but I’ve learned to appreciate the gray.
 
The main point is that this spiritual and intellectual growth would not have happened if I hadn’t taken a change and faced the risks. I wonder how much more God could use us and transform us if we said yes to things that are scary and hard and seem impossible. Sometimes it is good to say yes.
What is God asking you to risk today and why haven’t you said yes?

Why do we worship?

So here I am again on my podium sending my thoughts through the internet hoping that it will connect with someone. The reality is that I don’t know any more than you; in fact I probably know quite less. Yet despite my somewhat lack of inexperience, I still feel the need for my voice to be heard. You might be asking yourself, “after months of silence, why speak now?” If I’m honest, I’m asking myself the same thing. I sometimes think that my voice cannot make a difference, it doesn’t matter what I think or feel. However, I was reminded quite recently that, “Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21). Thus the words I speak and write are important. I want to take the time to address a question that has been muling in my mind; what is worship and why do we worship?
This question first came to me in the middle of Lent through Redeemed online. On March     20th, the devotion challenged the reader to consider why do you go to church? The answer is obvious; as Catholics we go to church to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist; right? Apparently not, for as Father Dave explains, “we go to church to encounter Jesus.” Now I am not saying that one can’t encounter Jesus in the Eucharist or that one shouldn’t strive to encounter Jesus there, but what is more important is that there is an encounter.
If I am being honest, I have not encountered Christ in the Eucharist. I partake because I believe what Jesus said is true, which is that, “my body is real food and my blood is real drink and whoever eats from me shall have eternal life.” (John 6:55). However, I tend to personally encounter Jesus through music, message, and community. I know that I am not alone in this.
I think that as Catholics we forget this. I think that we expect people to walk in and get it and if they don’t “get it” then they shouldn’t be Catholic. However, even the I believe in every teaching of the church and I will defend her at every turn, I don’t want Mass to be a Eucharistic obligation, where I attend just to adhere to Jesus’s words,. Instead, I want to attend a Mass service, where I encounter Christ. I know that one day maybe the Eucharist will be enough for me, but until that day the church needs to make sure I have other avenue’s to encounter Christ. It reminds me of 1st Corinthians 3:2, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready” Some of us need the milk of the gospel and yet the church tries to give us solid food straight away.
I would like to know:

  1. why do you attend Mass?
  2. How do you encounter Christ and does Mass help you to encounter him?

My growing frustration

Imagine if you will that you’ve heard about a restaurant with amazing food. When you arrive you are greeted coldly. You are told to find a seat anywhere. You look around and all the tables are full except a few in the back. You sit down. There is no waiter, instead, you place your order in a box, by repeating words off a menu that have no significance to you. In between there is awful elevator music playing. You begin to wonder when you are going to eat this food your friend was so enthusiastic about. Finally you are told to come up to a counter, where you are served your food. Your eyes open wide; it tastes heavenly, otherworldly. You see that half the restaurant has left already. Not sure what to do, you go back to you seat, where the manger comes out and thanks the remaining few for coming. You leave. You think about eating at other places, but the food doesn’t taste the same and some places are more like clubs and don’t even offer food. Everyday you keep coming back to the restaurant and everyday you fall more and more in love with the food. At least that is how it should work, but after eating there for 4 years, you start to resent the food. If it weren’t for the food, you wouldn’t be here. You’ve heard of other restaurants that are part of the chain. These other restaurants are doing cool things and still able to serve the amazing food, but alas they are too far from you.
Sadly this is how I feel about a good majority of Catholic Churches. Some churches are like the restaurant to a tee. Others may share a few characteristics. Then there are parishes that are breaking the mold. There are numerous reasons for why things are the way they are, but I’d rather share my feelings for the rare few who might feel the same.
So usually when I express my dissatisfaction for the way things are, I usually get two responses:

  1. You just don’t understand or appreciate the traditions of the Catholic Church
  2. be the change that you want to see

Number 1 is frustrating because unless you go to a parish, where the Mass is celebrated in the extraordinary form (note, which can be celebrated in the vernacular tongue), your parish most likely does not respect the traditions of the church. Here’s a quick check, does your parish uses piano at all or not kneel or does your priest not face west? Regardless most of the changes I purpose have nothing to do with the liturgy. Here are two that might: 1. using a screen to follow along at Mass instead of a missal; 2. Allowing people to greet each other before the start of Mass. Number 1 is also frustrating because it makes me feel like I am just going to wake up one day and finally get it. If I don’t get it I am a bad Catholic or a protestant masquerading as a Catholic.
Number 2 is frustrating because honestly where do you begin? I really do want to help the church and not just complain all the time, but if nobody is open to correction then how can things change. Second I want to believe that the real key to change is in making disciples. Changed people change the church. This is why I want to work as either a DRE or a youth or young adult minister and yet those doors keep closing. Whenever I see a well functioning parish, I want to bring it to my parish, not for my own glory, but because I love the church and want her to make disciples among all the nations. I want to see more parishes work together to reach the lost and yet there is so much red tape.
I don’t know if anyone else feels the way I do, but I feel highly frustrated, where I was once highly motivated. I also want to say that I am not in danger of leaving the church because I know that there are highly functioning Catholic Churches and that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. The latter of which cannot be shaken because it was revealed to me by the power of God’s word and the Holy Spirit. What I am afraid of is becoming indifferent  or resentful.

1 john 1:5-2:2, a reflection on sin, darkness, and walking in the light.

Reflection
“God is light, in him there is no darkness, If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth.” Why then do we as Christians want to encourage people to embrace darkness? We feel pressure to encourage what we know as sinful in order to emphasize what we believe to be the mercy of God. We do not have a cotton candy savior. We have a savior, who wants to make us uncomfortable, who wants to challenge us,  so that we rely on him for the grace to endure. Jesus speaks truth with grace; he doesn’t sugar code the truth. When the woman was caught in adultery, we often ignore that he told her to sin no more. Instead we like to focus on the part where he saves her from stoning. Yes, Jesus saves us, but he would much rather transform us.
So what is a sin? According to the Catechism, sin is, “an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.” (CCC 1849). It is also “sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it.” There are sins listed in the bible. For brevity purposes I will stick to the New Testament. My favorite is Galatians 5:19-21, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
So how do we confront people, who struggle with sin? How do we help those in darkness transition into the light and walk in the light? The first mistake we make is that we condemn them, ostracize them, make them feel worthless and unloved. If we don’t make the first mistake, we typically make the second, we hide the truth. These actions are sinful and do separate us from God and each other. The balance is found in grace based transformation. We don’t have to identify with the sin. You are not a liar, you are not a homosexual, you are not greedy or drunk, instead you are an adopted son/daughter of a God, who loves you very much. If you know this, believe this, and live this then you cannot return to that way of life. 1st john verse 9 understands that we will slip up, we will give in, but the reality is that, “If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” We must acknowledge and allow God to work through us. God cannot cleanse us until we acknowledge that we are dirty.
 

How many renewals does it take to save the church?

One of today’s Mass reading urges me to come out of my shell and speak about something that has been on our mind since attending Christmas Eve service at my home town parish, St Augustine in Chesterfield, Virginia.
In today’s Catholic culture, there is a lot of talk about renewal in the Church. This is because the Church is losing members. There are three main ones off the top of my head.

  1. Charismatic renewal
  2. traditional renewal
  3. Parish renewal

The Charismatic renewal focuses on a renewal by the holy spirit through a reawakening of the gifts of the Holy Spirit given at Baptism and Confirmation in parishioners lives. This is typically accomplished by attending a seminar or retreat, where the gospel is proclaimed and at the end attendees are encouraged to be prayed over to receive a rejuvenation of the Holy Spirit. Popular seminars/retreats include: Life in the Spirit, The Wild Goose is Loose, and Discovering Christ. While I do believe there is enormous benefit to a reawakening of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life, I do not think it fixes the overall problem with the Church.
The traditional renewal focuses on returning to pre-vatican II practices. This includes a variety of things including  ad orientem posture, gregorian chant, uses of latin, use of iconic imagery, kneeling, incense, silence in the sanctuary , and hair veils on women. The rational is that the “liberal” changes and allowances made by United States bishops have negated the spirit of reverence  and universality that used to exist. Since this spirit no longer exists, church just becomes another social club and a poor one at that. People have left the church, because it no longer caters to what people once knew. In order to win the people back, we need to go back to what attracted  them in the first place. While there is some truth to this, I believe it suffers from the glorification of the past and fear of change. Some traditions with a capital T are non-negotable, but others are a matter of preference and culture. Finding a balance between embracing culture and remaining true to an authentic Catholic identity will go a long way to fixing the church. Furthermore if beautiful churches attracted modern man, then the cathedrals in Europe would be full.
Parish renewal takes the complete opposite direction. It seeks to modernize the church in some fashion. It demands a wholesale renewal of the Old School way of doing things. It emphasizes community over reverence. Some changes include incorporating modern praise and worship songs, making the homily center around a central theme, video announcements, causal wardrobe and atmosphere, and video screens to follow along instead of hymnals and missals. While there is much to be applauded for the willingness of these churches to make changes, in the end it assumes that parish life was broken. I believe that this renewal has been somewhat successful, but not for the reasons they think.
This brings me to today’s mass reading, 1st John 1:1-4. I want to focus on verse 3, “we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” It seems to me that John is making a connection between preaching the gospel and fellowshipping. The two go hand in hand. What parishes who buy into modernized renewal get right is the need to foster authentic community. The need to be hospitable, the need to greet others as they walk in, the need to have a message that is relevant and that Parishioners can remember because of the catch phrase.  The need to foster small faith communities, not so more parishioners can have more information hit at them, but so they can learn to support one another. The other key is that this takes effort and commitment. It takes more than just offering the Eucharist on Sunday (not to say that this is not important, just that it is not enough).
This is why I was so discouraged by mass on Christmas eve. There was no effort to be warm and inviting. In fact the doors were locked 30 minutes prior to service. There was no attempt to show how we could connect to community life. This parish is losing it’s english speaking parishioners at an alarming rate. The only reason my family and I attended was for the Eucharist. I will  always attend for the Eucharist. If the church continues to hold the Eucharist hostage as an excuse to not to put in effort, it will continue to lose members.