All posts filed under: Practice

Agrarian Insights on Ecological Conversion: Living Laudato Si’

Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ posed a tremendous challenge for the Church and the entire world. Although the encyclical letter was seen widely as an intervention on climate change negotiations, it in fact offered much more – including a radical critique of our entire societal status quo. In particular, Francis challenges the “dominant technocratic paradigm,” outlining its various damaging cultural and spiritual effects while also offering suggestions toward cultivating an alternative lifestyle: “A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal ” (Laudato Si’, §202).  The encyclical’s reception has been varied. Recent research indicates that the Pope’s teachings about global warming contributed to greater public engagement with the issue.[1] Still some, including American Catholics, continue to deny the full extent of our ecological problem. Others find themselves frustrated with institutional inaction or paralyzed by the immensity of the issue. The climate-change crisis, and our apparent inability to face it, is deeply distressing to the Church, since the roots of the problem …

St. Maximillian Kolbe and the War Against Indifference

More than one concentration camp survivor has remarked that one would need the pen of Dante to describe the horrors that afflicted the “great army of unknown and unrecorded victims.”[1] Hell is that abyss that skews vision and slurs speech. It shreds human community by erasing all marks of personal identity by eviscerating of all bonds of human communion—trust, mercy, and love. During Mass celebrated at Auschwitz on June 7, 1979, John Paul II described the concentration camp as a “place, which was built for the negation of faith—faith in God and faith in man—and to trample radically not only on love but on all signs of human dignity, a place built on hatred and on contempt for man in the name of a crazed ideology. A place built on cruelty.”[2] A place “characterized by man’s fury and scorn for man, in which man was cut down to the level of a robot, a state worse than slavery.”[3] This was an era in which “the human person was degraded, humiliated, and despised. In this poisoned …

Speaking to the Heart

“I want a mess. I want to see the Church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools, or structures. We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel. It is not enough simply to open the door in welcome, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people! Let us courageously look to pastoral needs, beginning on the outskirts, with those who are farthest away. Go and look for them in the nooks and crannies of the streets.” —Pope Francis, World Youth Day Address (2013) Pope Francis wants a mess. He urges us to get out of our parishes and take the Gospel to the streets. While this call to evangelization has rung out from the Church throughout the centuries, it cuts especially to the heart now. This is because “more Americans today than in the past are not remaining in the …

Forming Adults in Faith Through Fiction

The National Directory for Catechesis and Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us: A Pastoral Plan for Adult Faith Formation in the United States both name the following three goals of adult faith formation: to “invite and enable ongoing conversion to Jesus in holiness of life,” to “promote and support active membership in the Christian community,” and to “call and prepare adults to act as disciples in mission to the world.”[1] Offering a model of lifelong growth in faith, adult faith formation is the principal form of catechesis in the Church and the model upon which all other catechetical efforts are to be based.[2] Thus, adult faith formation can be summarized as a ministry of connection, fostering an adult’s relationship to Christ, to the Church, and to a missionary vocation in the world. This vision of three-fold connectedness stands in stark contrast to the reality of many adult Catholics today. Pew’s 2008 “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey” revealed that one-third of self-identified adult Catholics believe in an impersonal God; this statistic reflects a startling disconnect between these …

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 …