Mid-week reflection: Why I'm not offended by the Met-gala

Dear Readers, I’ve decided that in addition to my weekly planned blogs that should come out Monday, I would write a short reflection on what is happening in the world as it pertains to the Catholic church. These will be much shorter and infrequent.
So the Met-Gala took place this week on May 7th. If you do not follow celebrities or the fashion world, then like me you may have been baffled by the pictures all over social media. These pictures showed celebrities dressing in ball gowns adorned with religious imagery. The dresses ranged from beautiful and tasteful, to outright mockery.  In this blog, I will break down:  Met Gala, what the Church says about art and beauty, and how involved the Church was in this event.

What is the Met Gala

According to Wikipedia, the Met Gala acts as a fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It consists of both a fashion exhibit and art exhibit. Every year there is a different theme. The Gala encouraged attendees to dress in accordance with these themes. This year the exhibit thought to explore the relationship between religion and fashion. More specifically, the exhibit wanted to show how religious art and liturgical vestments influenced fashions from the earliest 20th century to the present. [1]
The Catholic Church has always had a relationship with art and beauty. The Catechism states

Created in the image of God, Man also expresses the truth of his relationship with God the creator by the beauty of his artistic works.[2]

Art mimics God’s creative act and thus the Church feels led to participate in artistic endeavors from time to time. However, Sacred art separates itself from worldly art in that

its form corresponds to its particular vocation evokIing and glorifying the transcendent mysteries of God.[3]

The distinction between art and sacred art becomes important when discussing The Met Gala. The dresses inspired by the Catholic Church fall under the definition of art; while the liturgical vestments and other accessories fall under the definition of sacred art.  The question is, can sacred art every be used to inspire non-sacred art or must the two always be divided.

How involved was the Church in the Met Gala

Social media and certain news outlets made it appear that the Vatican supported the whole event. In reality, the Vatican authorized Mr. Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute, to borrow vestments to display for the exhibit called Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination  [4]. Mr. Bolton met with Archbishop Gänswein to discuss his desire to show how the Church has served as inspiration for designers[4]. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the de facto minister of culture for the Vatican, agreed, saying that fashion has a biblical origin since God created the first clothes in Genesis [4]. Cardinal Ravasi also said that he saw similarities between gala attire and vestments in that both signify, “a distinction from the mundane and quotidian”[4].

Summarization and opinion

To summarize, if the exhibit itself makes any mistakes it conflates art and sacred art together. The liturgical vestments and other religious symbols are not mere expressions of truth but are objects designed to evoke adoration. They were never intended to act as mere fashion adornments. However, I have no problem with the acknowledgment that the Church has influenced art and fashion. The theme of the Gala; however, is another story. Encouraging others to dress in sacred imagery invites mockery.

Examples

02A7A803-D8DF-4262-AE61-8D29DEE67CF7.pngFA963489-807B-4463-BDE4-1E4B6432E567.png

However, the mockery of the sacred should not surprise us. Jesus, in John 15:18, warns his followers that the world will hate them.

“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.

Rather than becoming offended or angry, we should instead follow the advice of John 15; abide in Jesus, obey his commandments, and love one another.

Work Cited

[1] https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2018/heavenly-bodies
[2]  Catholic Church. “2501” Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012.
[3] Catholic Church. “2502” Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012.
[4] Horowitz, Jason. “How the Met Got the Vatican’s Vestments” New York Times, 3 May 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/03/fashion/heavenly-bodies-met-gala-vatican.html

Is liturgy worship?

When I first became Catholic, one of the hardest things to understand was the uproar over liturgy. I had seen an ad in the bulletin for Catholic match. I had decided to try my luck. I never did have any luck romantically (online dating is hard), I did make a couple of friends. I still remember staying up to 3 am arguing with my friend about liturgy. See, my friend had a very narrow view of the liturgy. For example, he was adamant that hand-holding during  Our Father is wrong; you should wear suits to church, you should kneel during the consecration. He was always complaining that Catholics were driving miles away to other liturgically incorrect churches. Looking back I can see that he was correct about everything, but at the time all I could picture was a somber unloving church. My basic response at the time was that aren’t those a matter of worship preferences. His response was the fact that you call it worship means you understand nothing. As a baby Catholic enjoying the milk of her vibrant but liturgical irreverent parish, I was thoroughly confused. However, I have graduated to solid food and am ready to settle the debate once and for all, what is liturgy and is it worship?
Continue reading

A defense of Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Six days ago Lizziesanswers posted a video on youtube titled 20 Strangest Parts of Catholic culture. Lizzie recently became famous among Catholic circles for her openness about her conversion to the Catholic Church.  I believe her story resonated with many Catholic converts including myself. In this particular video, she addresses things that appear weird to outsiders, but cradle Catholics accept as normal. Topics covered include lax attitude about alcohol, relicts, praying for the dead, prayer cards, and modern miracles from Marian or Jesus apparitions. She found modern miracles weird because her previous faith tradition taught that the Charismata had ended in the early church. The question remains, how does one define the Charismata and what role do they play in everyday Catholic’s lives. Most Catholics lack a familiarity with the Charismata. The Charismata gifts commonly include gifts such as healing, speaking in tongues, and prophecy. However, some Catholics have experienced the charismata due to the Catholic Charismatic renewal and the practice of Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  The Catholic Charismatic Renewal teaches that every Catholic should experience the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Other Catholics disagree and take a much more guarded approach in an earnest desire to protect the effectiveness of the sacraments. Reading and responding to the misunderstanding expressed in the youtube comments of Lizzie’s video prompted me to address the following questions: how does one describe Baptism of the Holy Spirit and does this description fit compatibly with Catholic sacramental theology. Based on scripture, the Catechism, and the writings of Thomas Aquinas, Baptism of the Holy Spirit fits compatibly with Catholic sacramental theology.

What is Baptism of the Holy Spirit

One must note that Baptism of the Holy Spirit is poorly named. The name describes, not an event like the sacrament of Baptism, but rather a continuous experience of the Holy Spirit. The phrase ‘Baptism of the Holy Spirit does not describe a new outpouring, but an experience that must accompany the sacraments of Christian Initiation namely Confirmation. Ralph Martin describes it as,

an experience of the Spirit that is often accompanied by a deeper personal encounter with Christ, characterized by a glimpse of his Lordship, an experience of the Father’s love that is personal and deeply liberating, and a new awareness that we are truly not orphans but that the Holy Spirit is truly present and ready to encourage, convict, guide, and help us understand the things of God” (Martin, “New Pentecost” 17-18)

One may fear that if we say that a Baptism of the Holy Spirit experience must accompany our Catholic spiritual life, and so many people fail to have this personal encounter, then it seems the sacraments are ineffective. People, who express this fear, are well-intentioned, but fail to realize that the work of the Holy Spirit extends beyond the sacraments.

What the Catechism says

The Catechism is very specific about the work of the Holy Spirit.

“The Holy Spirit is “the principle of every vital and truly saving action in each part of the Body.”247 He works in many ways to build up the whole Body in charity:248 by God’s Word “which is able to build you up”;249 by Baptism, through which he forms Christ’s Body;250 by the sacraments, which give growth and healing to Christ’s members; by “the grace of the apostles, which holds first place among his gifts”;251 by the virtues, which make us act according to what is good; finally, by the many special graces (called “charisms”), by which he makes the faithful “fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church.” (Catholic Church, “catechism” 798)

According to this passage the Holy Spirit works in five ways: Word of God, Baptism, sacraments, virtues, and Charisms. The Catechism lists these gifts hierarchically, meaning that the gifts given through the Word of God, Baptism, sacraments, and virtues take precedence over those given by charisms. The Holy Spirit works through Baptism by uniting us with the body of Christ. This means that Baptism unites us to the mission of Christ and calls us to take on the role of priest, prophet, and king.

Through faith and Baptism we participate in Jesus’ office of Priest, Prophet, King (Catholic Church, “catechism” 783-786)

The Holy Spirit also works in the other sacraments especially Confirmation. Confirmation has the following effects: “brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:  it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”; it unites us more firmly to Christ;  it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;  it renders our bond with the Church more perfect; it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross” (“Catechism” 1303).  So after Confirmation, we as believers should 1. use the gifts of the Holy Spirit better, and 2. defend the faith better. The gifts conferred to us at Confirmation are mentioned in Isaiah 11:2.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord

Let us break each one of these down. Wisdom pertains to the ability to ascertain the divine truth and judge accordingly. Understanding describes the ability to see God and have divine insight. Counsel entails the ability to allow God to direct us in matters of salvation. Might or fortitude has to do with the attitude of perseverance even in the mist of dangerous obstacles and the assurance of everlasting life. In other words, you know that God has got your back. Knowledge refers to the ability to determine the right action in accordance with matters of faith. Fear of the Lord depicts the attitude of reverence towards God that causes a person to never want to be separate from Him. A validly confirmed Catholic, who regularly partakes in the sacraments, should display these gifts daily. The Church refers to these gifts as sanctifying gifts, because a person utilizes them for their own sanctification. Lastly, the Holy Spirit may choose to dispense charisms upon a person.

What are Charisms

The Catechism of the Catholic church makes special mention of the charisms and treats them as a distinct working of the Holy Spirit. The Catechism states,

Whether extraordinary or simple and humble, charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of men, and to the needs of the world. Charisms are to be accepted with gratitude by the person who receives them and by all members of the Church as well. They are a wonderfully rich grace for the apostolic vitality and for the holiness of the entire Body of Christ, provided they really are genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit and are used in full conformity with authentic promptings of this same Spirit, that is, in keeping with charity, the true measure of all charisms. (“Catechism” 799-800).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not provide a definitive list of the charisms. Likewise, it does not provide a way for a person to receive these special graces. One can infer that it involves surrendering to the Holy Spirit and asking the Holy Spirit for these special graces. In order to have an idea of the type of gifts involved, one must look to the scripture cited in footnote 255.

What scripture says about Charisms

Footnote 255 in the Catechism points to 1 Cor. 12:7 and draws a direct parallel between this passage and the charisms. 1 Cor. 12:7 states,

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit,and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Most view speaking in tongues as the most controversial of these gifts so I would like to take a few moments to address those controversies. Those, who disagree with speaking in tongues cite the fact that the words spoken in private prayer do not resemble any known language and thus does not correspond to the events in Acts. Acts 2:5 states,

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?

This passage would seem to imply that God gives tongues as a  gift for evangelization in that it allows a person to preach the gospel regardless of a language barrier. While true that if a person speaks tongues publicly to a body, there must be an interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:27), there exists a secondary dimension of the gift. St. Paul states that,

  For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. (1 Corinthains 14:2)

Hence, it seems that there exists a secondary private tongue that one speaks directly to God. Thus, it makes sense that certain people may receive unintelligible utterances. However, some may protest that this contradicts the Catechism in that The Catechism sees charisms as designed to build up the Church. My reply emphasizes the word, “indirectly.” Private tongues can build a person’s faith and trust in God and therefore equip them to serve the church better. I know that in my own life when I have faced doubts about God’s love and goodness, using tongues in private prayer solidifies His goodness.

Synthesis of the gifts of the Holy Spirit

To summarize what I have covered so far. The Catechism divides the gifts of the Holy Spirit into two categories: Sanctifying gifts and Supernatural Gifts. The Sanctifying gifts include sharing in the office of priest, prophet, and king as well as those in Isaiah 11:2: wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, and Fear of the Lord. Every Catholic has access to these sanctifying gifts through Baptism and Confirmation. The supernatural gifts include healing, miraculous power, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpretation of tongues. The Holy Spirit at its discretion gives these gifts for the building up of the Catholic church either indirectly or directly. Not every Catholic receives supernatural gifts equally, but every Catholic should desire to receive the supernatural gifts. The Renewal considers tongues as the gateway gifts because it helps strengthen the faith of the believer, but a person may not receive tongues as the initial charismata.

What does this have to do with Baptism of the Holy Spirit

In my opinion, when a person experiences Baptism of the Holy Spirit, they have a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit. This brings with it a new desire to live a life transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit as witnessed by displaying wisdom, understanding, counsel, might and fear of the Lord. I also believe that by going deeper and surrendering to the Holy Spirit that they receive special supernatural gifts. Increasing awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit received at Baptism and Confirmation describes the goal of Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Is Baptism of The Holy Spirit necessary?

The hierarchical nature of the gifts of the Holy Spirit clearly allows the Holy Spirit to work outside of the sacraments and encourages a person to encounter the Holy Spirit personally. However, if this happens organically, does one need Baptism of the Holy Spirit. No, if you already work on living a life practicing wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, and fear of the Lord and you remain open to receiving God’s supernatural gifts. However, as the Catechism states this experience must occur. Martin agrees, he states,

 Whether the release of the Spirit is due to an awakening of sacramental grace, or merely the fruit of prayer, the important thing is that it happen.” (Martin, “sacramental fruitfulness”).

However, most Catholics need to reawaken the sacramental graces, not because of the ineffectiveness of the sacrament itself, but rather our own disposition never intended to receive the effects of Confirmation. Aquinas hints at this when he writes about the effectiveness of Baptism,

As Damascene says (De Fide Orth. ii), “God does not compel man to be righteous.” Consequently in order that a man be justified by Baptism, his will must needs embrace both Baptism and the baptismal effect. Now, a man is said to be insincere by reason of his will being in contradiction with either Baptism or its effect. For, according to Augustine (De Bapt. cont. Donat. vii), a man is said to be insincere, in four ways: first, because he does not believe, whereas Baptism is the sacrament of Faith; secondly, through scorning the sacrament itself; thirdly, through observing a rite which differs from that prescribed by the Church in conferring the sacrament; fourthly, through approaching the sacrament without devotion. (Aquinas ST 3, q. 69, a. 9)

If Aquinas says this of Baptism, surely the same applies to Confirmation. Most people undergo Confirmation as teenagers and do not fully embrace the Confirmation effect, which is to make us more open to the working of the Holy Spirit. The work of the third person of the Trinity continues to be neglected and abused due to a misunderstanding about the role of the Holy Spirit. The practice of undergoing a Baptism of the Holy Spirit attempts to rectify this neglect by focusing on the gifts and encouraging Catholics to use the gifts in their daily lives.
 
 

Work Cited

  1. Catholic Church.  Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreia Editrice Vaticana, 1993.
  2. Martin, Ralph. “Sacramental Fruitfulness and the Power of Pentecost.” Homiletic & Pastoral review, 1 Aug. 2016
  3. Martin, Ralph. “A New Pentecost? Catholic Theology and Baptism in the Spirit.” LOGOS: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, 4, 13, Summer 2011.
  4. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (ST) I, q. 43, a. 6
  5. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (ST) 3, q. 69, a. 9

Mark 1:12-15 a reflection

I was tasked by a priest to explain this gospel to a non-christian and my daily devotion challenged me to reflect on what this passage meant to me personally. I will attempt to do both in this post.
The first thing I would want to explain is the word gospel. This word means good news. So Jesus comes out of the desert and proclaims the good news of God. Ok, well what is the good news of God? Well according to this passage, the good news is that in the present moment the kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God is the idea that God is going to restore his kingdom by ending oppression. In historical context, the Jews were God’s people and they had a kingdom that the had lost and were under Roman rule. Jesus is essential proclaiming that the kingdom of the Jews had will be restored. All the Jews had to do was repent and believe in this good news. What does it mean to repent? To repent means to turn around, or to stop disobeying. Outside of historical context, there is a spiritual significance. In verse 10 of Mark chapter 1, we read that through baptism Jesus received a spiritual anointing to do his ministry. In verse 12, we read that the same spirit sent Jesus to be tempted in the desert by the devil. This tempting process leads to verse 14-15 in which Jesus proclaims the good news of God’s kingdom. Hence, the kingdom of God only comes after the devil and temptation are overcome.
Personally, I find meaning in the knowledge that our savior also experienced being tempted in a desert wasteland.  I know that in my own life there have been periods of spiritual dryness, where nothing seemed to work out, where God felt distant and unloving. I also know that the same spirit that rested on the Lord during baptism is in me by virtue of my baptism. Hence if the same spirit can drag me to the desert then the same spirit can help me overcome temptation. If we allow the spirit in our lives, then we can help usher in the kingdom of God.
Right now I am in a desert and I am faced with the temptation of becoming angry, bitter, and unforgiving. I overcome these negative feelings by surrendering to the idea that the kingdom of God is at hand! God is in control and the victory over the devil is mine to claim.
Desert song lyrics by Hillsong
This is my prayer in the desert
When all that’s within me feels dry
This is my prayer and my hunger in me
My God is the God who provides

And this is my prayer in the fire
In weakness or trial or pain
There is a faith proved
Of more worth than gold
So refine me Lord through the flames
I will bring praise
I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice
I will declare
God is my victory and He is here
And this is my prayer in my battle
When triumph is still on its way
I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ
So firm on His promise I’ll stand

Dear Catholic church, a letter from a lonely young adult

Dear Catholic church,
I am a single 27-year-old female, who doesn’t know her place in the church. I am not sure where to go to for guidance, love or support. I am too old for the college crowd but too young for the 30-40 age group. Is there a place for me? Yes, you say enthusiastically, “come to theology on tap.” Yes because nothing fosters authentic relationships like beer and a motivational speech. Don’t get me wrong, I like theology on tap, but it doesn’t speak to me on a deeper level. It doesn’t help me connect with people, who will be lifelong friends. At most I get a drinking buddy for the night. It also doesn’t help me get plugged in elsewhere. If I’m lucky, I go back to a parish with a somewhat functioning young adult group; if unlucky, I go back to waving at people my age from across the pew.
Maybe one day I’ll work up the courage to talk to him or her, but why me. Yes, I know that we are called to be the change we want to see in the world, but I feel like it is unfair to expect me to foster my own community. I’m an introvert and can be socially awkward at times I know I’m not alone in this. I also know that I’m not alone at Mass; I see you and desire to talk to you, but I’m scared. Scared to break the unspoken rule that we all decided to uphold; the rule that says that we should never talk to anyone at Mass. That the ultimate goal is to get in and out as fast as we can. So out of respect for sacred silence, out of respect for the idea that mass is not a community club, I will stay silent. However; If I can’t meet people my age at mass, when can we meet?
Maybe I’ll meet people when I volunteer; that sounds like a good idea. The only problem is that most of the volunteers are older people, who have been in ministry for 10 to 15 years. They like doing it this way; they are comfortable. They don’t want a young thing like me coming in and messing it up or introducing technology they don’t understand. There’s no room for creativity or risk. Let’s just keep doing it the way we’ve always done it. We will complain that young people are unreliable because heaven forbids we were late to the meeting by five minutes. Maybe we had to take care of our kids or you know work. It would be nice if church meeting met after 7pm, but I guess that is too late for the older folk.
One thing young people have that older people don’t is awesome retreats and conferences. We get together once a year and have these crazy Catholic concerts with awesome praise and worship music, good speakers and good fellowship. The only problem is I want to be encouraged more than once a year. I want to have these amazing experiences in my local parish or diocese. I want to have it on a monthly bases. The crazy thing is that I know that such experiences exist.
I know that down in Atlanta GA they have monthly XLT for youth as well as young adults. I know in Dallas they have a ministry called 635 strictly for Young adults. I know that there are other wonderful opportunities in college towns. For instance, when I was at Yale, there was a ton of Catholic stuff to do and plenty of ways to meet people. However, I think it is unfair that my ability as a Catholic to meet other Catholics depends on my geographical location. If we truly are the universal church, then we should have a universal focus and a universal vision to help support young adults. Not just college students, but also those, who have graduated.
Sincerely
A lonely lost Catholic young adult

Help, I've fallen and I can't get up!

You have seen those commercials before. They usually come during daytime television, where an old lady has fallen, usually in the bathroom. After that montage, an old man comes un the screen and says, “you need life alert.” Life alert is a necklace that one can wear with a button that can be pushed in case of emergency. At the end of the commercial, the old lady is smiling, and says, “thank you, Life Alert.” This product may save you from a physical fall, but what happens when you fall spiritually? I think initially it is easy to say well, go to confession. While I most definitely agree that confession is Life Alert for the soul, I think that to say confession is the answer too quickly dismisses the fear and shame that surrounds failure.
I know that in my own life I have battled with sins of omission or not doing the things I should. It reminds me of Romans 7:19, “19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” I have felt like Paul in that I want to pray and spend time with Jesus. More importantly, I want to make my mark in the world. Now I want to do these things to bring glory to God. Here’s the secret though, God doesn’t care about what we do so much as why we are doing it. It’s not that God wants us to sit on our butts and watch Netflicks. However, what God wants is our love. The question I’ve been asking myself is why does God deserve our love. Yes, he died for us on the cross, but how does this love manifest itself. Yes, God chose to die for me, but why?
I had radically encountered God’s love in the past, But the past month is the first time I question this love. I was miserable because of it. I didn’t understand why God loves us and why we praise him. I had told myself that God deserves praise because he gives us a purpose. However, after praising God I still have no clue what my mission in life is, furthermore, it seems that God works miracles in other’s lives, but not mine. It seemed pointless and I resigned to a “why bother” stance regarding my faith. I was going through the motions. I felt a sense of shame and guilt that kept me from doing more than the bare minimum. This was the “I’ve fallen” moment.
On 9/14, I attended a Steubenville Encounter Atlanta conference for Young adults (it was great and full review coming soon). What stood out to me was the concept of falling in love with Jesus. Joel Stepanek set the tone during his talk on The Breath of God. He read from Ezekiel chapter 37. He remarked that at some point we had experienced the breath of God or we wouldn’t be at the conference, but now we are dried bones. We have deprived ourselves of the breath of God because the world has made us feel apathetic. He talked about how when things are beyond our control, we either turn a blind eye or we attempt to make a difference. We cannot escape from the vicious cycle unless we have the Holy Spirit or breath of God in us. Through the various talks, I realized that I was, in essence, doubting God’s love and goodness.
That night, I went to reconciliation. After confessing, the priest tried to tell me that God loved me. He used beautiful metaphors, but on the inside, I wanted to scream, WHY, HOW DO YOU KNOW? Instead, I let the truth wash over me, knowing full well that it didn’t resonate or connect. After that, we had adoration, before adoration, the MC, Chris Stefanick, had us get into groups of 4. We were to announce in our group the lies that the devil says and to pronounce the truth about who God says I am. It is at this moment that everything clicked. What I do or say does not dictate who I am, God does. God loves me as his creation and he declares that “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” God would not have created me if I was not worthy of being created and for this alone I owe him praise.
Sometimes we can get blinded by the mission and forget the why behind it. I truly believe that I am in a session of rejoicing in the present, and not worrying about the future or filling my vocation. Rather let me be content to rest at the feet of Jesus and let him lead me in the dance of life.
 

What is wrong with religious​ education?

One of my passions is learning about what makes successful youth ministry.  Thus I really enjoyed my time attending the pathways retreat put on by the diocese of Richmond. This retreat was designed to help train Catechist to better serve young people. The ultimate goal, of course, is, “to empower young people to live as disciples of Jesus Christ in our world.” During my time at the retreat, the one thing that was clearly emphasized is that 1. Religious education is a lifelong process and 2. that young people learn better through direct action rather than verbal memorization.  Thus, it seems that if we are to reach the young person, we must engage them not as an instructor or teacher, but rather as a facilitator on a journey.  Given this goal, I have come to realize that there are certain pitfalls that Catholic Religious education has fallen into:

1. teaching the textbook

I currently am a 7th-grade catechist. My teacher manual is cumbersome and big. To its credit, it does suggest certain activities to do, but most of the lessons revolve around reading out of a textbook. Likewise, my teachers manual is so vast that it is practically impossible to do every activity suggested in the hour I have with them; not to mention the fact that I am also required to go over the Sunday reading with them. It can be quite overwhelming. During the pathways retreat, we were introduced to the concept of The hierarchy of truthsThis is the idea that not all truths taught by the Catholic church are equal and that some are more essential than others. The top three essential truths are 1. the four gospels, 2. The Mass, and the Creed. Hence if the kids leave with nothing else, but an appreciation for those three things, it will take them very far. I am not saying don’t teach what is covered in the textbook, but don’t be a slave to it.

2. sticking to lecture-style catechist

Most religious education still takes place in classrooms rather than open areas. This can make it hard to prepare the meeting space that lends itself to discussion and facilitation. It can be easy to slip into lecture mode. It especially doesn’t help if your textbook requires vocab words to be taught and a self-assessment to be taken. It is very hard to make words like deposit of faith or magisterium engaging. However, if you lecture the whole time you make CCD very boring and the information doesn’t stick. In fact, if you asked my students what the definition of Magisterium is, none of them will remember, but I guarantee that they will remember the skit we did.

3. not involving the parents or forming relationships

This is a big one. During the pathways retreat, I learned that, despite teenage rebellion, parents are the number one influence in the child’s life. Furthermore, teens are most likely to stay Catholic if they have formed relationships with people in the church. Therefore, it is crucial that the parents are on the same page and that the kids have a good relationship with you or a fellow catechist. This is definitely an area where I, as a catechist, could improve. Just recently I had the following exchange:

Mother of X: Hey, I just wanted to let you know that x has band practice and won’t make it to class on certain Tuesdays.

Me: ok, you know there’s always edge nights on Sunday, X could go to that on the weeks he won’t be here, that way he won’t miss a thing.

Mother: Well, we are out of town on some weekends, but we will look into it. Although it shouldn’t be a problem since he isn’t preparing for anything in the church.

Now I don’t blame this mother in that the benefits of band practice seem more tangible than the benefits of CCD or youth ministry especially since there is no sacrament to check off.  However, I am not sure why she tells me about his absence. Maybe to avoid judgment or make her feel better, not sure.  What I do know is that in those few moments I should have offered to look at the schedule and to give PREP at home to him. This allows the mother to see what is being taught in class and hopefully the benefit of it, but more importantly, it gives the student the opportunity to still learn.

4. not emphasizing the Kerygma

well before we can emphasize the Kerygma, we must first know what it is. Kerygma is the proclaiming of the good news of Jesus Christ, which is that even though we are sinners, God sent his only son, Jesus Christ to save us from our sins, he was crucified and died but rose again conquered death. He ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of the father. He desires to deliver you from your sins. It is the basic gospel message. The problem is that it is all head knowledge and not heart knowledge. We need to accept and believe for ourselves and not just recite. Too much of catechesis takes it for granted that the students wholeheartedly believe this statement, which is simply not true.

5. Not letting go of the old way of doing things

The problem is not really points 1-4 in that most church youth ministers are aware and have easy fixes. Lifeteen and Edge programs being the front-runner. The problem is the unwillingness of the Church to admit that classroom-based CCD no longer works. Also, they fail to admit that teens leave the Church with a lot of head knowledge, but no heart knowledge of who Jesus Christ is. Ultimately they become students instead of relational disciples of Christ.
In conclusion, religious education has problems because it is not something that can be taught but must be something lived in order to be life-lasting. In order to be lived, it must be experienced relationally.

The mask we all wear

Does your inner monologue reflect your outward persona? In other words, do your thoughts reflect what you tell others, or do you project a certain image to others in your appearance and speech that does not reflect how you are actually thinking and feeling? Lately, I felt a bit of a disconnect between these two things. I feel that I need to disguise my thoughts from the real world; to wear a mask so to speak, The reason for this disconnect is simple, I am ashamed of my thoughts.
Lately, I have felt hopeless. I am not sure where this sense of hopelessness is coming from, but I can’t help but feel that nothing matters. In response, I have felt paralyzed. However, I feel like I can’t express these emotions or thoughts because people wouldn’t understand. They’ll tell me to get over it or be strong. Sometimes I fear that they’ll suggest that I feel this way because I lack ambition or drive. The solution is simple, just get out and stay busy. If I stay busy, I won’t have time for introspection. Yet thinking about my open schedule, in the end, makes me feel more hopeless and alas the vicious cycle continues. Thus, instead of opening up about my feelings, I just bottle them and either avoid talking or pretend to be busy. It’s a shame because I think I would be much happier if I could be myself instead of trying to be what I think the other person wants to hear.
I used to admire people, who were always happy. However, I’ve come to realize that happiness is a mask as well. Appearing happy can give the illusion of control. It keeps a person from being authentic. When asked how they are doing, the biggest lie people tell is that they are, “doing good.” The reality is that we are all struggling with something and we yearn to know that we are not alone. We yearn to be heard.
One of my favorite songs is Believe in Dreams by Flyleaf. One line, “For now Is it worth it to be sad If it’s harder to be glad To be alive,” stands out in particular. Sometimes it is hard to be glad, but it is also taxing to be sad and it is easy to be stuck in a vicious cycle. As the song reaches the chorus, it suggests that even though, “I wonder where do I belong
Is it here,” that I must continue to believe in my dreams and be able to express them to others how I feel.
In short, I think that we need to be more honest with. ourselves and with others as well as not be afraid to live our dreams. By believing in our dreams we can push through the sad hopelessness the pervades our modern society. By daring to be authentic we can strip off the mask that we wear and can encourage others to do the same.
 

Believe in Dreams by Flyleaf

My visit to the Church of Nativity

On the weekend of September 9-10th, I made a trip to Timonium, Maryland. I was there to experience The Church of Nativity. This church is somewhat famous or infamous depending on who you talk for being the subject matter of the book, Rebuilt written by Father White (more on him later). The book outlines questionable methods used by the church to rebuild into the thriving parish it is today. I’ll admit that at one point in time I was a huge fan of this church. Thus when I found out that they’d be opening a new building on September 11th, I decided to make a special trip.
I was very excited to visit the church especially since I felt like I was an honorary member. I knew people, who attended due to joining an online small group ( a decision I had made because I wanted something to help me spiritually grow without any leadership role). Thus I was also excited to connect with them in person as well.
Having attended in person, I finally feel qualified to judge the experience. I do have mixed feelings on Nativity has a whole.
So the first thing I would like to say is that this church is beautiful and the online pictures do not do it justice. However, if you are a fan of traditional cathedral style architecture then you will hate it. When you come up to the church, you are greeted with a white stone sign with the churches name engraved in it. There is a curvy road, which leads up to the parking lot. In between the road are trees and flowers. The first part of the building you see is the glass coffee shop. Then you see the main doors and as you head out of the parking lot you see the old church, which has been converted into a children’s wing. Once inside, you see a white brick wall with a cross carved into it. To the right of the front doors is a bench. Next to the bench is a stand and video screen, which says next steps. After passing that you enter into the coffee shop.  I would later learn thåt to the left of the main entrance is guest services.
I arrived at 9:50am for 10:30am Mass. We were greeted by parking lot ministers. These volunteers were very good at their job. They told the person driving me that I could get dropped off and that they would have a spot open in 15 minutes. So I texted my small group leader, Sue, and had her meet me outside.
She met me outside and we proceeded into the building. Now here’s where things got interesting. Nativity’s claim to fame is their radically welcoming environment. However, walking into the building I didn’t notice any greeters. I am not sure why but I suspect several possibilities.  First, I was with someone I knew and seemed to know what I was doing and second, Mass was not over yet and thus the greeters were not out yet. Third, there may have been some confusion regarding where they were supposed to stand and greet since it was a new building with multiple entrances. Even though these are all possible excuses, it still feels odd. First of all, if the volunteers wait until Mass is over to do their job, then why are the parking ministers already directing traffic? Second of all, even if I am in a group and seem like I know the place, I still deserve to be treated the same as someone new. In fact Father White in the book, Rebuilt, mentions that the inspiration for the hospitality team stems from his visit to Saddleback Church, where he was greeted so warmly, he entered the building not once, but twice.  I also find it hard to believe that the greeters would not have been trained regarding the entrances and exits of the new building. It may seem that I am being overly harsh since most Catholic churches don’t make greeting a priority at all. However, when you write a book about it and do several T.V. interviews on how to have a welcoming environment, I expect a level of excellence that goes above and beyond the normal. I guess I have abnormally high standards due to my experience at nondenominational churches.
So after chilling with my small group while waiting for my other friend, Andrea to park the car, Sue convinced me to go ahead into the sanctuary and wait for Andrea so that I could have a good seat. By the way, Andrea says that she wasn’t greeted either. We headed into the sanctuary, which is located right behind the white brick wall. There were doors on either side of the wall. In front of the door, I see my first greeter/usher. They were passing out a pamphlet. I didn’t take one, but I could see that it had a map.  Once inside the doors to the left, I notice a silver dish with holy water. I bless myself, as is custom. Sue meets me and she says, “you found it, I was looking for it.” We head down the center aisle. The sanctuary sort of slopes down and is curved, but not completely circular. Above the main pews is a white balcony. There is a cut out in the front pew for someone in a wheelchair. I take that spot with my chair. To my left is the baptismal font. In front of me is the altar. It is wooden dark brown. On the base of the altar are carvings of religious figures. Behind the altar is a white jeweled box, which I am guessing is the tabernacle. Surrounding the tabernacle is candles and a wooden carving of Mary and Joseph. The altar is light with stage lights. To the far left and right of the altar platform or stage are two screens. Underneath the screen is a camera crane, which I guess it is used to record the Mass. I thought that it would be more distracting than it was. The lectern is to the right of the altar. The drum set was off to the side. The service started with a video. At first I thought it was an announcement video, but instead, it was a voice reciting scripture about the importance of church. Then the band came out. To my dismay, the band was on the first-row step, not necessarily in front of the altar, but to the left and right of it. I don’t quite understand the placement of the band. It is my major critique, especially since a brand new sanctuary can easily be designed to have a side space. If intentionally left out then it shows that the church prioritizes a view of the band rather than the altar. If unintentional, then it shows a lack of Catholic architectural understanding by the designer.  If the church wants to prioritize the band, then why spend money on a new altar design.
As much as the placement of the band frustrated me, I must say that the music quality is excellent. I still maintain that the Catholic Church would do well to invest in quality music. Andrea compared my old parish to this one’s music style by saying, “if a parish is going to use contemporary music and instruments then the need to invest and go all the way or the need to stick with traditional hymns; your parish tried to straddle the middle line and it didn’t work.” I think that modern instruments can work, but you have to always be mindful of tone. Nativity’s worship team does tone well in that a Eucharistic song is not upbeat, but slower and meditative. I also enjoy the modern twist on Latin chant; it actually sounds really good with an acoustic guitar. As far as style goes, I am not sure all modern contemporary praise and worship is the way to go. I wouldn’t mind hearing some older hymns occasionally.
The Mass itself was pretty standard. There were a few things that bothered me. First of all, I am not completely sold on the idea that the reader should be the same person or that they should be paid. On one hand, it gives it a sense of quality, but on the other hand, I feel like it loses the human element to it. For example, when she got up to read and the light shined on her face, I could shake the sense that I was watching the performance of the mass and not the mass. The lack of children or any noise for that matter made it super easy to concentrate, but also made it feel artificial. Second of all, the Eucharistic ministers felt irreverent at times. I am also a little unsure about when they received the consecrated Eucharist since they never received it from Father White.
I would be remiss if I omitted my thoughts on Father White. I feel like he is a great speaker and gives a great homily. However, I do get a general sense of aloofness from him. This began during the administration of the Eucharist. He administered the first few to parishioners but then decided to sit down and chat with the altar server. Second of all, he did not do the final blessing or process outward but rather retired to the sacristy. Lastly, when Sue asked if I could meet with him, Jackie, one of Father White’s helpers, said that he would try, but most likely not since he was tired and didn’t want to be mobbed by the crowd. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I was able to get a blessing from him, but the gesture felt empty and cold considering he did not approach me in a friendly demeanor. I hope that maybe he was just having a bad day and tired. Andrea said it best, “this church is his baby, he conceived it, he birthed it, and now he needs to rock it.”
There are a few last details that I’d like to comment on. One positive thing is that I really did enjoy how the narthex and concourse were uncluttered and spacious. There weren’t a million different ministries trying to grab my attention as I walk out of the sanctuary. There weren’t multiple fundraisers going on. It was nice. On the negative, I am not sure I liked how the cafe was set up. If the cafe was a place for people to fellowship, I believe it defeated that purpose by having mass live-streamed. If the purpose is overflow space then food or drink should not be sold in that space. I personally liked the idea of it being a fellowship hall.
Overal I want to like Nativity, but in their pursuit of excellence, they may have unintentionally created a Mass that comes across as a production rather than something personal and human. If I lived closer, I would definitely go back if for nothing else than to experience good music and receive a good homily; however, I would hesitate to endorse it wholeheartedly due to a little bit of irreverence and impersonalness.
Should Mass be a production? If not, what should Mass be like? Can we pursue quality and still keep the humanness of Mass?
 
 

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.