How to build a more welcoming Catholic Church?

When attempting to speak about developing a more welcoming Catholic church, the phrase, “opinions are like buttholes, everyone has one,” comes to mind. There are plenty of books and articles written about how the Catholic church needs to change. Some Catholics argue that a return to pre-vatican II is in order and that if we could reestablish our traditional Catholic culture, we could win back those lost by the changes in the liturgy. Others suggest that we should adopt protestant evangelical style methods of winning the lost. Some take a middle ground and suggest that a greater focus needs to be on establishing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Others don’t see the need to change.
A brief look at Pew statistics shows the unhealthy state of the Catholic Church. The 2014 Religious Landscape Study asked 35,000 Americans about their religious affiliation. 21% identified their current religion as Catholic. Of those 21%, 39% go to Mass weekly while 16% never attend Mass. Out of those 21%, 9% belong to a faith other than Catholicism, but are Catholic by virtue of culture, ancestry, ethnicity, or family tradition. Another 9% consider themselves ex-Catholics. More startling is that among all United States adults, who were raised Catholic, nearly 52% have left the church and only 11% returned to the Catholic church. 89% of ex-catholics stated that they cannot imagine ever returning to the Catholic church.
Clearly there is a mass exodus of people leaving the Catholic church. I believe that the number 1 problem has to do with a disconnect between a personal relationship with Jesus and the teachings of the Catholic church. 68% of Catholics say that having a personal relationship with Jesus is important to their Catholic identity; but 76% of Catholics say that the church should allow birth control. This example shows me that Catholics do not see the relationship between the church’s teachings and their relationship with Jesus.
Having diagnosed the problem, I believe that a strategy to win back the cultural Catholic, ex-Catholics, and to stop the mass exodus has to do with marketing the Catholic church in a way that demonstrates that the teaching of the Catholic church do indeed foster a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This entails several interrelating topics: use of technology, the emphasis on tithing, the fostering of community, enhancing the Mass experience. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be touching on each one of these topics and showing how small changes can improve the attractiveness of the  Catholic church and in turn make intentional disciples.

Feeling paralyzed

Dear readers,
I am paralyzed. I have a ton of ideas swimming around in my head and I don’t know where to turn or what to do. It’s like I’ve been given the destination without the map. May be though I have the map, but I don’t like where it is taking me. I want t go on the highway, instead of the back country roads. On the highway, you feel safe, secure, surround by others, and you can fly. Highways don’t offer much in terms of scenery. It doesn’t offer a sense of culture; instead it caters to the masses. God is challenging me, especially this week to take the back country roads. To dare to take a different path. To dare to follow Him into the unknown. In fact, I believe this challenge isn’t just for me, but for everybody.
Matthew 7:13, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.”
So God is challenging me to examine myself to determine, whether my desires are leading my down the highway or the narrow path. So many times, I’ll think of ways the Catholic church can improve by doing things the way the world does them. While there may be legitimate concerns that I have with the Church’s tradition with  a little t; I have to stop myself and ask, does the practice of The Catholic church put us on the narrow road? I am wrestling with this because I want the Catholic church to be on the highway. I try to rationalize it by saying we can attract more people on the highway. If the church embraces the latest trends then surely it will look more attractive and inviting.
The reality is though that I think deep down inside, I want the Catholic church to be more attractive and inviting, because then it’ll be more comfortable to me the consumer. I truly never learned to die to self. Last Wednesday’s gospel reminds us that we must die to self. “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” We can die to self, only because Christ died for us. Only by considering what it cost him, can we begin to make sense of what it will cost us. I can guarantee that Christ did not die for you to have convenient parking on Sunday, to listen to great music, to hear a great message, or to have fellowship. Instead, he died so that we might have a chance at holiness. Now should we expect a good, welcoming experience, yes, but if we begin to think that is what it is  about, we have missed the point entirely.
In this self-discovery that I need to practice self-denial, God is showing me that I need to be more generous; not just with my time, but my treasure. You see, I’ve embraced the lie that as long as I am volunteering my time and talents, then I can keep my treasure. The reality is that all three aspects are necessary sacrifices in order to be a healthy disciple of Christ. I know I’m not alone in believing this lie. I’m sure that there are plenty of people, who serve their parish through volunteering with out serving financially.
Lastly I want to emphasize that dying to oneself is a gradual undertaking. I do not expect to give a full 10% of my income each month, but I can start with 1%. This is what Matthew Kelly defines as continuous improvements, in which a person takes small and consistent steps to meet a large goal. We, as Catholics, tend to be very rigid with rules and regulations. We focus on applying the rules; however, rules do no change hearts. If we want people to  give, we need to help foster gratitude for their parish community.We need to lead by example, and show why giving is important.
God gave us everything and it cost him his life, what would it cost you to follow him?

Mountain top experience, now what?

So for the gospel reading of August 6th, we have the story of the transfiguration. In this story, Jesus has chosen his closest followers to come with him and pray on a mountain. The gospel describes how Jesus’ appearance changes and he is dressed in dazzling white. Here for the first time the disciples’ are experiencing, not just Jesus the human being, but Jesus in his full glory. Every Christian and every Catholic also will eventually have a similar experience in which they experience the presence of Christ in a real and tangible way. For more info about this, see my blog post, Have you had a transformation experience? What happens afterwords? How should we respond? Why do we have such experiences in the first place?
All these questions can be answered by looking at Luke 9:33-35. Having experienced Jesus in his fully glory, Peter exclaims, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  It is so easy to make the same mistake as Peter. We  can have  an amazing Godly experience and want to stay there forever. We want to pitch our tent. Every time we pray, go to mass or adoration or listen to music, we expect God to speak to us in the same way, to have the same emotional high.
I am guilty of this way of thinking. I remember when I first started taking my Christian walk seriously. The churches I attended were mainly non-denominational churches and sometimes my mother’s Baptist church, I remember watching other people have emotional responses to either the pastor’s sermon, the music, or a particular prayer and I wouldn’t feel anything and wouldn’t know how to respond. I took Spiritual formations at Regent University and there was a moment where the whole room erupted in spontaneous praise, and I did not know what to do. I felt like my faith was somehow inferior because I lacked these emotional responses. Luckily I have the type of personality that doesn’t renege on her commitments and I had made a commitment to follow Jesus.
Finally a member of my spiritual formation small group invited me to her very large non-denominational church. I don’t know what made that night different or why God decided to speak to me, but I finally had that mountain top experience. For awhile I would chase after these emotional highs, and only attend non-denominational or pentecostal services. I evaluated my relationship with Christ with how on fire I was about my faith. Just ask my parents lol, I couldn’t do anything that wasn’t Christian minded. Eventually though I couldn’t keep up especially after becoming Catholic. My Mom remarked that she was glad that the Catholic church has mellowed me out, but it wasn’t just a mellowing, I was becoming cold and dead. So where did I go wrong?
After Peter makes his statement about pitching a tent, God speaks up in verse 35, “This is my chosen son; listen to Him.” God gives us these amazing experiences, but he doesn’t want us to seek after these experiences, He wants us to seek after Him and obey Him. So If you are lucky enough to have one of these transformation or mountain top experiences, learn from Peter, don’t try to pitch a tent there. First of all, it is exhausting to be spiritually high all the time, and secondly we have all of  heaven to have these amazing experiences with God. Instead strive to obey God; don’t go back to the way you were before. If you have not had such an experience, try to persevere in obedience for surely by your obedience you will encounter God. Take advantage of all the different ways one can encounter God in the Catholic Church.
As for me, I am trying to develop Godly habits such as daily prayer, daily scripture reading, and going to Mass and adoration when I can.
A quote from my  Holy Spirit devotion book is really insightful, ” The Spirit reveals the glory of God to us in those moments when we transcend our daily life and catch a glimpse of the grander and Holiness of God. These moments gives us the strength to walk the difficult path of daily life.”
My prayer for you all is the same as in the book, “unfold the veil for a moment, Lord and let us see Your glory.”

Patience like a banana?

I’ll never forget, during the life in the Spirit seminar, when Father Dave Pivonka compared patience to a banana, because both go bad so quickly. In a way, it is true. I never feel like I have enough patience. One minute I am responding brilliantly to a crisis, and the next minute I am frustrated and venting with everyone I see. What throws me off my game? The answer is simple; other people and my inability to control them. It seems I have adapted the uncanny ability to accept unforeseen circumstances provided that it is no ones fault, but the minute something goes wrong and it was someone’s responsibility, then I become frustrated. I know that I am not alone in this. Most of my friends are having their patience tested in one way or another. God’s ways are not our ways. Instant gratification typically doesn’t happen with God; he’d rather test our faith and trust. Never has this point been made clearer, then in August 3rd’s daily mass reading. I must admit that my eyes had not been open until attending mass and listening to Father Charles’ homily.
The Old testament reading for that day was Jeremiah 31:1-7. According to Father Charles, Jeremiah is prophesying that the lost remnant of Israel will be found. Father Charles explains that in a literal sense this prophecy never came to pass and that the remnant of Israel lost in exile would remain lost. However, in that day’s gospel, we can see that the prophecy figuratively came true trough the person of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 15: 21, we are told that Jesus is traveling through the areas of Tyre and Sidon. Father Charles points out that this is the area where the lost tribes of Israel would have relocated. This helps explain Jesus’ statement in verse 24. He says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” We can also see that this is no ordinary pagan woman. In verse 22, she refers to Jesus as the son of David. This shows that she has some familiarity with the Jewish religion. This is not enough for Jesus, who rebukes her by saying, “it is not right to take food away from the children and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:26). This line always confused me because I failed to understand the symbolism behind it. However, coupled with Jeremiah it makes sense. The tribes of Israel, who had managed to survive the exile would have considered themselves God’s chosen people. Over time when Jeremiah’s prophecy had failed to come to pass, they would have considered the lost tribes as inferior. Hence the reason why Jesus refers to the woman as a dog. He  is essentially testing her ability to be persistent. She remains humble and acknowledges  that she is not equal with the children of Israel, but that even she deserves the leftovers (verse 27). It is with this proclamation of faith that Jesus agrees to heal her child and in turn begins the reconciliation process that was foretold in Jeremiah. It is important to note that between Jeremiah’s prophecy and Jesus’ ministry was 600 years.
The point is that God gave the Israelites a vision in which the lost would be restored. It was their job to trust that God would be faithful. However, I don’t blame the Israelites for losing patience, because I know that I could not have maintained my patience for over 600 years. Yet it is not just patience that we need. From the woman we learn that in order to withstand God’s rebukes, we need to be humble, trusting and persistent. So if God has given you a vision, stay humble, be persistent in prayer, trust that God will bring it through, and have patience in God’s timing.  Also remember that God can use other people to rebuke us and that he is waiting to see how we respond. Lastly I am thankful for Daily Mass in which my eyes can be opened to the meaning behind God’s word for us.