Faith In The Midst of Scandal

Faith In The Midst of Scandal

Introduction

If you followed me on social media, you would see that I have not posted anything regarding the sexual abuse scandal. I have not posted not because I am not confused, angry, frustrated, sad, and disappointed. Rather, I could find the words to express my thoughts. Others have posted on the issue and I felt that my voice would be a repetitive clanging cymbal echoing their sentiments. However St. Gregory the Great once said,

“It is better that scandals arise than the truth be suppressed.”

Hence I will no longer keep silent on this issue; I will express my confusion, anger, sadness, and disappointment

Confusion leading up to the scandal

The application of Amoris Laetitia confused me. I struggled to understand the intercommunion statement given by the German bishops. When Pope Francis made the death penalty inadmissible, I began to question. Yet I continued to trust that the Holy Spirit would guide Church’s magisterium. I continued to believe that these events were an evolution of understanding.

Confusion turned to anger

My confusion turned to anger when I heard about Cardinal McCarrick’s sexual abuse. After I read the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, I became disappointed and sad. Then it went from bad to worse. The media released Viganò”s testimony.

Amidst the onslaught of emotions, I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “Why has the Vatican been so silent”. My second instinct was to run, to leave and never look back.

But The Lord Spoke

As I went to my Friday’s adoration hour, partly out of habit, As I prayed for the Church, the Lord spoke:

People are running away because they can’t love my bride. She may be a prostitute, but I am redeeming her, just like I’m redeeming you.

For like-minded confused and angry Catholic like me, I offer the following advice

Pray and Know the Word of God

We are fighting against darkness and evil in the church and in our lives. Thus, we need to allow prayer and the Word of God to equip us to put on the armor of God.

If you are a victim or know a victim, then it will be hard to view God as a just and loving father. Here the beauty of the Church shines. You need not say something original, you can recite rote prayers such as the rosary. The key is constancy.

We also need to know the word of God. St. Paul in Ephesians describes it as a sword. It is our only weapon. We need to know what it says, not only to hold ourselves accountable but others as well.

Go to Adoration

Jesus is there waiting in the monstrance for you. When describing the Blessed Sacrament, St John Mary Vianney once said,

I just look at him and he looks at me

I always feel more at peace after my holy hour.

Channel Your Righteous Anger

You are angry. You have every right to be angry. Yet, what you do with that anger will define you as a person. Anger is an emotion. After all, Jesus had righteous anger at the money changers, who defiled his church, but it cannot rule over us or consume us.

”Correction given in anger, however, tempered by reason, never has so much effect as that which is given altogether without anger; for the reasonable soul being naturally subject to reason, it is a mere tyranny which subjects it to passion, and whereinsoever reason is led by passion it becomes odious, and its just rule obnoxious.” St. Francis de Sales

The laity needs to correct The Church. This correction is much more effective without anger.

Instead of demanding Pope Francis to resign, we should put our energy and effort into demanding a release of the documents and independent investigations. We need to demand a statement of contrition from all leader. Furthermore, continuously strive for the virtue of persistence.

Practically speaking, one can write to church leadership especially your bishop. They need to know how we feel and how the scandal effects us. The Sienna project offers letter templets as well as bishop addresses to make it easier to write your own letter.

Join a Lay Ecclesial Community

A lay ecclesial community consists of Catholic lay people, who come together to

“strive in a common endeavor to foster a more perfect life, to promote public worship or Christian doctrine, or to exercise other works of the apostolate such as initiatives of evangelization, works of piety or charity, and those which animate the temporal order with a Christian spirit.”1

These communities exist outside of the church’s hierarchy. Lay-led communities, are not a substitute for Mass but can help combat loneliness and despair.

Conclusion

It is hard to have faith as a Catholic, but it is even harder to have faith in the midst of a scandal. We must remember that the devil comes to seek, kill, and destroy, but Jesus comes to give life. We must place our faith, hope, and trust in Jesus. We must demand that The Church act justly so that Christ may transform his bride. We, the laity, must persevere in holiness, putting on the armor of God wielding faith and truth. Faith and truth come from prayer and knowing the word of God. We should strive to build lay driven faith communities. Theses communities function as places of renewal.


  1. Card. Stanisław Ryłko, “Preface,” in Directory of Associations, Published by the Pontifical Council for the Laity 

Liturgy: How to restore Balance:

Last week I attended a potluck with New Creation Charismatic Fraternity.  While at the potluck I struck up an interesting conversation with a fellow convert to the Catholic faith. He, being much older than I, shared with me some insightful commentary on the liturgy. He made the statement that as a high Episcopalian he feels he has downgraded in terms of liturgical quality. This statement comes as no surprise to me; however, it makes me sad. How is it that the Catholic Church known for its beautiful art and music produce such mediocre liturgies; the likes of which causes my friend to feel as if he has downgraded? 

Liturgy as a play

We can imagine the liturgy as like a play. If we went to a play with ugly props, and a bad score,  you would either leave or demand a refund. Yet so many people attend parishes that either have tacky decorations from the 70’s (felt banners anyone?) or no decorations at all. We attend parishes, where the music is bad and uninspired.  If the liturgy were a play, we should demand our money back. Luckily for parishes, the liturgy is not on equal footing with a play. One does not attend for entertainment value, but to receive the nourishment that comes from partaking in the Eucharist. However, even though entertainment is not our ultimate goal, reverence does demand a certain quality to the liturgy that I feel is lacking from today’s parishes. For that reason, I seek to address two questions: why should we care about the liturgy and what would my ideal liturgy look like?

What is the liturgy and why is it important?

Introduction

One of my blog readers wrote in the comments, “as long as Christ and unamended Scripture are at the center, I’m less concerned if the music comes from a little blue-haired lady at an organ or a bearded dude playing an electric guitar wearing skinny jeans.” This begs the question, aren’t certain aspects of the liturgy culturally subjective? Why should we care what the music sounds like or what the sanctuary looks like as long as the Mass is valid?

Licit verse valid: what is the difference.

I’ve gone over valid and licit in the past, but I will provide a brief recap. A valid Mass is one in which the priest says the words necessary for the bread and the wine to be consecrated. These words are: this is my body…this is my blood. A licit mass is one in which none of the rules outlined in the General Instructions of the Roman Missal are violated. These rules allow the liturgy to be uniformly celebrated. A uniformed liturgy separates Catholicism from Evangelical Protestantism. Hence as Catholics, we have a right to demand a universal experience not depended on the whims of the congregation or the preferences of the priests. 

Liturgy and our Christian call

Not only is the liturgy defined by the church, but it also encompasses our call as Christians.

Those who with God’s help have welcomed Christ’s call and freely responded to it are urged on by love of Christ to proclaim the Good News everywhere in the world. This treasure, received from the apostles, has been faithfully guarded by their successors. All Christ’s faithful are called to hand it on from generation to generation, by professing the faith, by living it in fraternal sharing, and by celebrating it in liturgy and prayer. (The Catechism of the Catholic church, “prologue” section I paragraph 4 pg. 8)  

The Catechism cites Acts 2:42 as a reference. This scripture states that “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to prayer.” The Catholic Church seeks to retain the practice of the early church through its liturgy. Every liturgy contains the reading of scripture, including a reading from the apostles typically Paul. Every liturgy includes prayer; those said by the priest and those recited by the faithful. Every liturgy contains the breaking of the bread through the shared eucharistic meal.

Christian Liturgy has dual dimensions 

The Catechism describes the tension present in the liturgy.

On the one hand, the Church, united with her Lord and “in the Holy Spirit,”5 blesses the Father “for his inexpressible gift in her adoration, praise, and thanksgiving. On the other hand, until the consummation of God’s plan, the Church never ceases to present to the Father the offering of his own gifts and to beg him to send the Holy Spirit upon that offering, upon herself, upon the faithful, and upon the whole world, so that through communion in the death and resurrection of Christ the Priest, and by the power of the Spirit, these divine blessings will bring forth the fruits of life “to the praise of his glorious grace.. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The sacramental economy,” part two section one paragraph 1083, pg 281.) 

One one hand the liturgy is meant to be a joyous occasion where we give adoration, thanksgiving, and praise to God. On the other hand, it is meant to be a sacrifice in which we offer ourselves to God. Thus the liturgy should be a balance of both exuberance and solemness. It is this balance that seems missing in today’s liturgies.

Restoring balance: my ideal Liturgy

Sacred Art

 First thing I would do is restore the use of sacred art. The Catechism defines sacred art as being true and beautiful when,

its form corresponds to its particular vocation: evoking and glorifying, in faith and adoration, the transcendent mystery of God.

The current trend to remove art means that our churches no longer testify to the mysteries of God. I would like to note two things: depictions are not idolatry and art can’t replace evangelization.

Depictions of Jesus are not Idolatry

It is a common misconception that depictions of the divine constitute idolatry. We as Catholics understand that Christ’s incarnation means that we are free to detect God through the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus alluded to this himself when he declared, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the son of man must be lifted up.”John 3:14 For those not familiar with the Old Testament story Jesus references, the Israelites were suffering from snake bites due to their disobedience. God took pity on them and instructed Moses to build a bronze serpent. The Israelites were instructed to look at the serpent to be healed. This story shows that statues and icons are not idolatry in themselves, but only when they take the place of worship owed to God. 

Sacred Art Doesn’t Equal Evangelization

I disagree with those who claim that fallen away Catholics will return by the revitalization of beautiful churches or that the dwindling church attendance correlates to a lack of art. If this were the case, the cathedrals in Europe would be full and the warehouse churches would be empty. I do not think art should be used as an evangelization tool, rather I believe good art sets the tone and brings people to the truth.

Embrace digital art

I also think that the church needs to expand its definition of art to encompass web design and communications and multimedia. This would include print media. Church lobbies should not look like a bad kid’s craft project nor should bulletins contain clip art instead of pictures. Free software such as Canva can help design beautiful bulletins.   

Sacred music

Next, I would work with the music director to focus on quality music. The next time you go to Mass, I want you to focus on the date of every song used. Depending on your parish, you may get songs from the 1800’s or earlier or every song will be from the 1970’s and 80’s. I’ve always wondered why.  It seems that there has been no innovation in Catholic music since the 70’s. If you do get more current songs, it is usually from Protestant composers or Matt Maher. We need more innovation. 

Not only do we need more innovation, but we need to stop focussing on the type and style of music and focus on intent. The Catechism states that,

Song and music fulfill their function as signs in a manner all the more significant when they are “more closely connected . . . with the liturgical action,”22 according to three principal criteria: beauty expressive of prayer, the unanimous participation of the assembly at the designated moments, and the solemn character of the celebration. In this way, they participate in the purpose of the liturgical words and actions: the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful.

Contrary to popular opinion, the church does not require a specific form of music. The church does hold chant and polyphony in high esteem; however, it’s much more important that,

      1. the song fosters participation
      2. It expresses prayer
      3.  fits what is occurring in the liturgy
        1. As much as you may like an upbeat song, it is not appropriate for the moment of consecration 

For example, you may have a beautiful latin polyphony song, but if no one is singing then it fails on equal merits as a loud contemporary worship song that everyone knows.

Bring latin back

Lastly, I would bring back latin chanting for the following songs,\

      1. Kyrie
      2. Gloria 
      3. Santus
      4. Angus dei

We need to blend traditional music from our Catholic heritage with newer styles when appropriate, to invest in musical innovation and to compose hymns for this generation. 

Fellowship

I’ve been to parishes that make fellowship a priority. They are exuberant, loud, and noisy. Everyone greets each other, and they know when you are missing. Conversely, I’ve been to a church that prioritized silence. Nobody greats you, or knows your name; however, there are plenty of opportunities for contemplation and prayer. I personally think both are out of balance. Catholics seem to think that sacred silence means no fellowship. It’s a me and Jesus mentally. For these Catholics, the needs of the community are not important. I think if not kept in check this attitude can overvalue ritualistic formality over the messiness of community. For example, An elderly women consumed by praying her rosary fails to acknowledge the new person besides her. Now praying the rosary before mass is a good thing; however, loving your neighbor is the higher good. I purpose the following to achieve balance:

I would like to see the sanctuary become a silent zone. Having ushers stand outside the sanctuary door could achieve the establishment of a silent zone. They could politely tell people to please enter respectfully. On the flip side, I want to transform Catholic Narthex to look more like Protestant church’s lobbies. There should be a maned welcome desk, where newcomers can get information. There should be lounge spaces for Catholics to fellowship and a coffee bar available after mass. Parish staff should have name tags. Greeters should be at the front door of the church, welcoming everyone. Catholic parishioners should not be afraid to greet new people. 

Conclusion

I was inspired to write this post due to a series of tweets posted by Katie Prejean McGrady: https://twitter.com/KatiePrejean/status/10239663298025144320 

In this conversation, she describes how “we could argue that we don’t go to Mass to just build community but to receive the Eucharist. But the community is important too.” I think American parishes are in desperate need of balance.

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.

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:


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.