All posts filed under: Practice

The Dangerous Art of Becoming

I stopped writing cursive in the sixth grade. If I were to handwrite this sentence for you, you would likely find my penmanship immature, unrefined, and inefficient. Its unwieldy form and bubbly profile—adorned with loopty-loops and fancy curls—would sit fat, proud, and unapologetic upon the page, the way a toddler wears her protruding belly. Such is my cursive, hopelessly stuck in the grasp of my pre-adolescent hand. My painting, ceramic, and clarinet playing skills are also frozen in an earlier time. I have just recently acquired a loom and an easel, though not with any intention of “showing” my work. Suffice it to say, no one would call me an “artist.” And yet, my experience of fashioning retreats for Echo apprentice catechetical leaders over the last eight years has made it impossible for me to consider faith formation without also considering art. “Art is not a thing; it is a way.” —Elbert Hubbard   The art experiences that have become inherent to Echo formation retreats are not a professional cover to explore a personal hobby. …

The Pedagogy of Faith

Blessed be God! During my Dad’s final years of life, he was unable to communicate through the gift of voice.[1] A victim of Alzheimer’s disease, Dad’s voice suddenly departed a few years before he died. Other family members, already Dad’s advocates, became Dad’s voice in new and distinctive ways. His own vocal expressions were gone but Dad, child of God, was not. I am convinced that Dad communicated during his last years through the gift of sight. On the day he died, his eyes scanned the room where he lay, focusing intently on each of the family members gathered around his bed. Dad, even in the moments leading up to physical death, continued to “speak” to us. He continued to proclaim the goodness of God. In today’s language, we might identify him as an emissary of the New Evangelization. Faith in God, the one true God of all who reveals himself to us, is faith that enables us to proclaim in word and action, in thought and look, in Gospel and glance, the goodness and …

Thoughts on a Theology of Teaching: “You give them something to eat”

When I found out that I got a job teaching high school theology, I began to ask all of the teachers I knew what advice they had for me. I heard all kinds of things about classroom management and lesson plan preparation. However, the one piece of advice that has stayed with me came from a professor at Notre Dame. “I’m going to be a high school theology teacher, Professor. Do you have any advice for me?” “Jesus told his disciples, ‘You give them something to eat.’” “Pardon?” “Jesus told his disciples, ‘You give them something to eat.’” “…?” I’ve thought more about this puzzling piece of “advice” than any other. In the ninth chapter of Luke (and the sixth of Mark), Jesus goes out to a deserted place. When the people follow Him, but turn out to be hungry, the Apostles ask for Jesus to send the crowds away. Jesus says instead, “You give them something to eat” (cf. Lk 9:13 and Mk 6:37). Of course, they have no money to be able to …

The Sacrament of Marriage and the Healing of Desire

Within Catholicism, there is a significant vocation crisis, and it relates to the sacrament of marriage. In 1970, there were 426,309 sacramental celebrations of marriage in the United States with a Catholic population of 51 million.[1] In 2015, there were 148,134 marriages with a Catholic population of 81 million. While quantitative data does not tell a narrative, it remains the case that sacramental marriage among those baptized into the Church risks becoming a marginally practiced rite in the next two generations, as Americans’ views of marriage—especially among emerging adults—continue to change.[2] Of course, while an Irish American Catholic would love to simply leave the reader with this bad news as an act of dramatic performance, my obligation is to address one reason for this decline: the incapacity to make a permanent commitment to another person. This problem with commitment is especially evident among emerging adults (18–29-year-olds), who struggle with the demands placed upon them by career, financial expectations, and a malformed understanding of what constitutes the “perfect” relationship.[3] If the Church seeks to renew marriage, …

The Deacon and the Family: Mercy’s Presence

Through Baptism, the Family of the Church is missionary by nature and increases her faith in the act of sharing that faith with others, above all, with her children. The very act of living a life of communion as a family is the primary form of proclamation. In fact, evangelization begins in the family, which transmits corporeal as well as spiritual life. . . . The family is thus an agent of pastoral activity specifically through proclaiming the Gospel and through its legacy of varied forms of witness, namely: solidarity with the poor; openness to a diversity of people; the protection of creation; moral and material solidarity with other families, especially the most needy; . . . and putting into practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.[1] If this is what the family is, then the deacon, as he emerges from and remains within this communion of love, is to be recognized as organic to its nature. In its inherent evangelical core, it is not surprising that the family would give birth to diaconal …

Practices of Priesthood

I have been quite fortunate in my twenty-three years of priesthood to have known some superb role models of priestly life and sacerdotal zeal; unsurprisingly, most of them are older than I am, but in fact a few of them are younger. And the lessons I have learned from them in terms of pastoral fruitfulness can, I think, be boiled down to four simple—stunningly simple—principles. Now I say “fruitfulness” rather than “success” not merely out of deference to Blessed Mother Teresa, whose advice was, quite similarly, “worry about being faithful, not successful,” but also because the language of success carries the baggage of a secular business model and I am not entirely persuaded that the Church at all benefits, least of all unwittingly, from shaping its life around the corporate paradigm; a crucifix is not, after all, an image of efficiency, productivity, or success. What are these four stunningly simple principles of pastoral fruitfulness? In short: Show Up, Smile, Work Hard, and Be Nice to People. Of course these lessons could be offered by almost any …

The Deacon as an Agent of Social Change

My assignment, “The Deacon as an Agent of Change in the Community,” is a daunting one, to say the least.* I tried to refuse the great honor of tackling this topic, suggesting some better qualified people to speak to the dynamics of social change, informed by Catholic Social Teaching. One of several liabilities I bring to this task is that not only am I not a deacon myself, but the theology and practice of the diaconate are simply not something I’ve studied or thought about much. I do bring an interest in questions of faith and culture and the way they interact in the Church’s pastoral ministry, especially preaching. But I don’t have a deep, on-the-ground knowledge of the ecology of the city, urban sociology, or the practicalities of social change. Moreover, I’m very aware that I speak as an outsider to this community, a community which appears to be passing through a kind of anguish at this historical moment over events in Ferguson. But perhaps this limitation in speaking here today can also be …

Preaching at the Liturgy of the Hours

How might we preach at the Liturgy of the Hours? On the one hand, what is unique about preaching in this context? Is there something about this setting which suggests a particular homiletic approach different from preaching at Sunday Eucharist? On the other, what does preaching at the Hours have in common with other forms of liturgical preaching? For the sake of this essay, I will focus on the two “hinges” of the Liturgy of the Hours (LOH)[1]—Morning and Evening Prayer[2]—and will exclude special considerations such as preaching at the LOH in the context of funeral rites or Eucharistic Adoration.[3] Finally, I use the word “homily” to refer to the form of preaching which “flows from and immediately follows the scriptural readings of the liturgy and which leads to the celebration of the sacraments”[4] or to the non-sacramental rite being celebrated, whether the preacher is ordained or not.[5] As in other forms of preaching, I would argue that the preacher at the LOH is challenged to attend to multiple factors in crafting his or her …

Male Religious: Models of Masculinity?

It may seem absurd to entertain even for a moment the idea that monks, friars, and brothers might be models of healthy masculinity. First of all because our vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience might rule us out us as plausible male figures. Poverty and obedience suggest that we are irresponsible people, fleeing the ordinary burdens of manhood, such as having a job, acquiring a home, taking decisions about our lives. And the vow of chastity, the renunciation of sex, robs us, it would seem, of the virility that one would expect of a male figure. And the gross and shameful history of sexual abuse by so many religious might make such an idea seem distasteful, even repellent. Yet there is a desperate need in the Church for people who offer models of Christian manhood. Our society is suffering from a crisis of masculinity. Because of the breakdown of family life, many children are growing up without fathers. The economic crisis means that many fathers, if they are around, are unemployed, discouraged, and feel robbed …