Finding God in the darkness

An explanation for why there was no post on Monday.

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

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

Let's​ talk about #charlottesvile

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


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

Let's talk emotional manipulation

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

Let's talk about dignity!

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

What I did with my summer!​

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

My growing frustration

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

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

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

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

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

How many renewals does it take to save the church?

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

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

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

Kids program's scriptural foundation

In my last blog post, I talked about the need for optional kids programs during Mass. When I posted the blog post on my Facebook, I got some people telling me I was dead wrong, because Canon law demonstrates the bare minimum and not what we should strive for and  there is no scriptural foundation for age segregation. This post is an attempt to show that an argument can be made. In fairness, I’ll begin by responding to scripture that seems to go against kids programs.

Scripture that seems to go against kids programs

  1. Matthew 19:13-14 : Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray.  The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.
    1. an argument against kids programs goes something like this, Jesus is teaching us that he desires the children to come to him and be blessed by him. Jesus is fully and physically present during Mass; hence, we should not stop little children from attending Mass.
    2. A reply in favor of Kids programs: This passage doesn’t teach anything regarding how a parish should be structured. At minimum, Jesus is showing that children deserve the opportunity to receive the gospel. It says that the children were brought to him. In other words, Jesus is choosing a specific time and place to minister to children. By engaging children at their level, we are removing the hindrances. We are acting like Jesus and choosing a particular time and place, where children can be blessed.
  2. Deuteronomy. 29:10–14: You stand assembled today, all of you, before the Lord your God—the leaders of your tribes,[d] your elders, and your officials, all the men of Israel, 11 your children, your women, and the aliens who are in your camp, both those who cut your wood and those who draw your water— 12 to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God, sworn by an oath, which the Lord your God is making with you today; 13 in order that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you and as he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 14 I am making this covenant, sworn by an oath, not only with you who stand here with us today before the Lord our God, 15 but also with those who are not here with us today.
    1. An argument against kids programs: This passage shows that in the OT assembly, children were gathered together with men and women to hear Moses renew his covenant with God and we should continue to follow the Old Testament example.
    2. a reply in favor of kids programs: This scripture is narrative and not prescriptive. This means that this scripture is telling how it was, not how it ought to be. Yes children were present in the assembly, but that doesn’t mean they ought to be. We do not have to conduct Mass in a similar way to the Old testament assemblies.
  3. Joel 2:15-16:  Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    sanctify a fast;
    call a solemn assembly;
    16 gather the people.
    Sanctify the congregation;
    assemble the aged;
    gather the children,
    even infants at the breast.
    Let the bridegroom leave his room,
    and the bride her canopy.

    1. Argument against kids programs: Here the prophet Joel is instructing the Israelites to gather all people including children and infants into the assembly so that the congregation may be sanctified. Hence, we should follow Joel’s advice and allow infants and children into Mass.
    2. reply in favor of kids programs: The book of Joel is a prophecy and as such it uses metaphorical language to convey a point. The main point here is not that  children and infants should be in assemblies, but that all of Israel needs to repent in order to avoid God’s wrath.
  4. Ephesians 6:4: And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
    1. Argument against kids programs: This passages shows that parents specifically fathers have a duty to raise their children in the faith. Thus as such children should attend Mass with their family so that they can receive the instruction and disciple from the father.
    2. reply in  favor of kids programs: Yes parents, especially fathers, do have a duty to instruct their children in the ways of the Lord; however, kids programs should not and are not a substitute for  this duty, but merely help fulfill this duty. As we will see, scripture is very clear that churches also have the duty to instruct.

Scripture in favor of Kids programs:

  1. Leviticus 10:8-11: And the Lord spoke to Aaron: Drink no wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons, when you enter the tent of meeting, that you may not die; it is a statute forever throughout your generations. 10 You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean; 11 and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them through Moses.
    1. argument in favor: This passage shows that Aaron and his sons were also given the duty to teach the people of Israel, which presumably means children as well. Hence, at least in the Old Testament, the church shared the responsibility of teaching children
    2. reply against: yes the church has a duty to teach, but this duty is fulfilled when the whole assembly is gathered together.
  2. Ephesians 4:11–13: the gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
    1. Argument in favor: this passage shows that in the New Testament’s model of discipleship, each believer is given a different gift and each member of the body works to equip the saints. Hence, members of the church body help equip children to work in ministry, it is not just the sole responsibility of the parents.
    2. Reply against: yes, but there is no reason  why this can’t take place during Mass, we don’t need separate kids programs.
  3. Titus 1:5, 2:1-10: 1:5 I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done; 2:1 But as for you, teach what is consistent with sound doctrine. 2 Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance.3 Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, 4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us. 9 Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, 10 not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.
    1. Argument for: In verse 5, Paul explains to Titus that he is to put the churches in order. Presumably then the rest of the letter is Paul giving Titus advice on how the church should be ordered. In chapter 2, Paul gives Titus tailored messages to different groups. This shows that Paul recognized the importance of having a different message for different groups based on age and wanted to have his church ordered that way. More specifically Paul instructs Titus to allow the older woman to instruct the younger. Kids programs extends these instructions to allow the older generation to present a specialized message to the younger generation. One that they can understand.
    2. reply against: This passage says nothing about specialized instruction for children. If anything it is implying that older women should be mentors to younger women. Furthermore, these specialized instructions can be given to an entire congregation together by simply reading the letter. There was no need to separate back then and there is no need now.
  4. 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things”
    1. argument in favor: the bible attests to the fact that children are unique and cannot be expected to think and behave like adults. Hence the bible is the source of the recognition of the need to teach a different message to children
    2. reply against: yes children are unique, but they are capable of comprehending adult things and can only learn through exposure to Mass.

Verdict: There is no biblical passages that outright justifies separate kids programs during Mass. However, Titus 2 and Ephesians 4 helps make a convincing argument that there is room for separate age appropriate instruction. The big question is whether such separate instruction is beneficial during Mass or whether it is better to keep the children with the parents? I think ultimately it depends on the parents’ and kids’ relationship. For instance, some parents may not be knowledgable about the faith, or may not have the teaching gift and thus separate kids programs can help them. Another way of thinking about it is that kids programs allow parents time to worship without distraction, which in turn helps them to be better instructors to their children. When parents are spiritually thriving so are their kids.

Your kid's kicking me doesn't sanctify me

Lately I’ve been a little lazy on Sunday morning and have not managed to make it to the 8:45am Mass. Luckily my parish offers multiple times to attend Mass including a 10:35am Mass.  Now somehow the 10:35am has become unofficially know as the “family mass,” which means there are a lot of families with young kids attending. Because of  this, I have gotten exposure to the challenge of paying attention with loud annoying kids in the background. Normally it is the typical crying, screaming, and running around, but two Sundays ago, I sat next to a family with a kid, who was maybe about 2 years old.  My sympathies are with the mother, who tried everything to keep her unruly kid in check. This included the usual toys such as action figures. Somehow he had made it to the seat next to my wheelchair and was laying on the seat with his stomach down. His legs and arms were flailing. He had managed to kick me not once but twice. Having enough, I grabbed his foot and whispered “no” The mother, who was rightfully paying attention to Mass, finally realized what he was doing, scoped him up and scolded him telling him he would get time out. This is unfortunately one of the many instances that has gotten me thinking about the Catholic church’s need for kids programs during Mass.
When talking about kids programs, two very common objections come up.

  1. I don’t want to abandon my kid, after all did Jesus not tell us to let the little kids come to him? The Mass is a community celebration, and kids are a part of our community by virtue of their baptism, so they deserve to be there.
  2. If we let our kids go into separate programs, we are teaching them that they don’t belong in the sanctuary, that they don’t belong to Mass and we cannot teach them the proper way to behave during Mass.

I will address the first objection in a minute, but I have a few questions for people, who espouse the second objection. Where in my story above did the little boy learn anything about the Mass or learn proper behavior and respect? If anything he learned that Mass is a boring place, where he gets in trouble. Now  maybe there are 5 star parents out there, who have taken an active role in their child’s faith formation at an early age. I have seen those parents and those children and obviously kids programs are not for them. The sad reality is that more and more often parents simply don’t have time to make faith formation a priority. Instead just getting to Mass is a big accomplishment. I firmly believe that if you make church a place where children want to come, parents in turn will find it easier to come to Mass.
The first objection is a cultural lie that Catholics have been taught. Cannon law even contradicts it.

“Merely ecclesiastical laws bind those who have been baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it, possess the efficient use of reason, and, unless the law expressly provides otherwise, have completed seven years of age” (CIC 11).

So children under 7 years of age are not obligated to  go to Mass. Cannon law goes on to state:

But, by their baptism, children also have certain rights: “Since they are called by baptism to lead a life in keeping with the teaching of the gospel, the Christian faithful have the right to a Christian education by which they are to be instructed properly to strive for the maturity of the human person and at the same time to know and live the mystery of salvation” (CIC 217).
“According to their own vocation, those who live in the marital state are bound by a special duty to work through marriage and the family to build up the people of God. Since they have given life to their children, parents have a most grave obligation and possess the right to educate them. Therefore, it is for Christian parents particularly to take care of the Christian education of their children according to the doctrine handed on by the Church” (CIC 226).

Ok so there are two things we can learn from this. 1. Children under the age of 7 have a right to learn about their faith and the sacred mysteries; 2. the parental vocation requires parents to take a role in the faith education. However, nowhere in Cannon law does it say that the church cannot foster the parental vocation by providing optional kid’s programs during Mass. The church fosters other vocations such has priest and nuns, but when it comes to parents, the church’s response has been silent.
Even if I am able to convince churches of the need to develop quality kids programs, there are several other obstacles to the development of such programs

  1. a major culture change would have to take place within the congregation in that people would have to use and accept such services in order to justify the time and expense
  2. lack of volunteers
  3. lack of quality Catholic resources

It is my hope that more and more Catholic parishes will make children programs a priority so that parents can pay attention during Mass and so that children can learn to worship in an age appropriate way. Kids programs are one of the many ways that the Catholic church can create a more welcoming environment.