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.
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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.
 

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

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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?
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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.