Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Youth Ministry Shouldn't Be What It Used To Be

I answered the call to youth ministry from the pastor of my parish back in 1990.  I tried to meet kids where they were at by organizing youth group meetings, planning fun events, holding retreats, and by just listening.  At the time, Holy Hour, Eucharistic Adoration, the Sacrament of Confession, and the Rosary were far from my planning worksheets. I was worried I would turn kids off and lose them if I threw that "holy" stuff at them. I didn't want them to get bored or tune out (in fact, these things were far from my own common practices - the real reason).  In essence, I was trying to carve out some social time with youth away from their stressful lives with some caring adults in a church hall.  Not a bad idea I suppose. 

Later on, years later, in fact twenty years later, when researching for an evangelization effort for my last parish, I came across some very interesting information.   The Dynamic Catholic Institute and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate released findings from their recent studies:[1] 
  • 6.4 percent of registered parishioners contribute 80 percent of the volunteer hours in a parish.
  • 6.8 percent of registered parishioners donate 80 percent of financial contributions.
  • There is an 84 percent overlap between the previous two points. 
  • A little more than three in ten adult Catholics (31.4 percent) are estimated to be attending Mass in any given week.
  • While a majority of adult Catholics, 57 percent, say their belief about the Eucharist is reflected best by the statement “Jesus Christ is really present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist,” There are still 43 percent who said their belief is best reflected in the statement, “Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present.”
  • Sixty-two percent of Catholics agree “somewhat” or “strongly” with the statement, “I can be a good Catholic without celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a year” (33 percent agree “strongly”). Even 54 percent of weekly Mass attendees agree at least “somewhat” with this statement.
  • About a third of respondents (34 percent) agree “strongly” with the statement, “I can be a good Catholic without going to Mass every Sunday.” More than two-thirds (68 percent) agree with this statement at least “somewhat.
  • 80% of youth who are confirmed leave the church by the time they are 30. Yikes!
The adults among this data are the typical youth of my youth ministry days. At least for me, I concluded that what I was doing didn't work at some level. Isn't this what this means? I'm not saying that anything I did didn't work. I mean, I was following my youth ministry training as well as the advice of some of my favorite Catholic-industry youth ministry resources.  What could go wrong with that? Saving one sheep for the sake of the ninety-nine - that's how the parable goes, right? 

There are lots of contributing factors that have led to these statistics. But, how can we be happy with this current state and continue the path of icebreakers, barbecues, ice cream socials, and youth masses on mountain tops?  

I've concluded that youth ministry has to be more evangelization than social time. Evangelization is what leads to life-long Catholics, not game nights. Youth ministry evangelization efforts need to be split (that's 50-50 of our time, planning, and resources) between youth and their parents.  

But here's the thing: the primordial act of evangelization is answering a deep, deep call to holiness. Answering this call emerges from personal participation in prayer, the Eucharist, and Penance which are the “infallible and indispensable means for living the truth of love that God has inscribed in the theology of our bodies.”[2]  The call to holiness extends to all – parishioners, staff, and volunteers. We must commit ourselves to immerse ourselves into a deeper relationship with God, Jesus Christ, Mary the Mother of God, and the communion of saints through the Sacraments and prayer; it is only then that we can begin in total and complete earnest to gain Catholic families to join us.

Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and Catholic apologist (did you know this about him?) concluded  “there exist three basic types of people: Those who seek God and find him, those who are seeking God but have not yet found him, and those who neither seek nor find.”   Our social-infested means of catechizing to youth is producing adults that stop seeking and finding. Then later as adults, we can't come to terms about our sin.  We may be filled with guilt; we may be bitter of those who have done us wrong; we may be enjoying our current sins too much to give them up. The data proves it and we need to take responsibility. 

Let's remind ourselves that the Sacrament of Confirmation gives us "the 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" (CCC 1303),   The long-last effects of youth ministry that we are seeking is rooted in the call to holiness.  This call to holiness includes the ability to come to terms with our sins and formulate the uniqueness of Catholicism within Christianity and the ability to defend the Catholic Church from the great heresies of our time. How do we best prepare youth for this sacrament?  Every event or retreat or meeting should do the following:
  • Teach them to pray: the Rosary, the Divine Office, the Animus Christi, the Divine Mercy Chaplet just to name some of my favorites and the most important few.
  • Study the lives of the saints:  subscribe to The Catholic Company's Your Morning Offering to get a brief biography of the saint of the day - amazing, amazing people!
  • Teach them to be silent and reflective: our Catholic faith is unique in its appeal to our intellect, instead of our emotions (the center of a Catholic Church is the altar; the center of a Protestant church is a stage). Eucharist Adoration is a wonderful means for teaching this.
  • Reinforce the use of the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Reconciliation: remember the “infallible and indispensable means for living the truth"
How do we best evangelize to parents (and ourselves)? Either as a goal of a youth ministry program itself or a parish-wide effort:
  • Remind them how to pray
  • Help them pursue the adult study of Catholicism (Lighthouse Catholic Media's Formed.org, DynamicCatholic.com, ChurchMilitant.com serve as a few examples)
  • Remind them how to be silent and reflective
  • Reinforce the use of the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Reconciliation
It can't be business as usual.  The data proves that we are not producing life-long Catholics.
So let us press on toward the future God has envisioned for us and for the Church. It is time for us to become a people of possibility again. Too much of what we do is governed by a very limited way of thinking. We gravitate toward what is manageable, rather than imagining what is possible. We have lost touch with best practices and settle for the way things have always been done. Now is the time for us to reimagine what incredible things are possible if we walk with God. Now is the time for Catholics to become a people of possibility. Imagine what sixty-seven million American Catholics are capable of. Imagine what more than a billion Catholics worldwide are capable of.
One thing is certain: Whatever we do or do not do will determine the future of humanity and the world. - Matthew Kelly, Rediscover Catholicism.

[1] Compiled from research conducted by Dynamic Catholic appearing in The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, 2012, by Matthew Kelly and the 2008 USCCB-sponsored study conducted by Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate “Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice among U.S. Catholics” (http://cara.georgetown.edu/sacramentsreport.pdf).

[2] Blessed Pope John Paul II, TOB 126:5.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

After Friday, It's No Longer Business As Usual

Not a word was said at Mass today about the SCOTUS decision to legalize same-sex marriage across the country on Friday, June 26, 2015.  It was business as usual.  Reacting to news on Friday has its challenges. But plenty of Catholic bishops reacted.  Did yours?  What does your diocesan's web site home page look like this morning?  Let's take a look at a few:

My own diocese - nothing.
Diocese of Manchester: catholicchurch.org
Archdiocese of Boston, in the ground-zero state; see red circle - sort of lame:

Archdiocese of Boston: BostonCatholic.org
USCCB's - same lame-ness, although two references:


Now, www.marriageuniqueforareason.org is an initiative of the USCCB: Nothing on the home page, but I did find this:

Now, here are some mainstream media (MSM) newspaper front pages on Saturday, June 27, 2015:

The differences are shocking are they not?  The Catholic Church is not keeping up.  Michael Voris from ChurchMilitant.com sumamrizes it well.

The Vortex - American Rome

We should test the fairness of the MSM coverage of this issue by publishing full-page ads of this image from /www.marriageuniqueforareason.org in the New York Times and Washington Post, to name a few.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

On the Tongue and From A Priest

In fact, the faithful regarded themselves as guilty, and rightly so as Origen recalls, if, after they had received the body of the Lord and kept it with all reverence and caution, some part of it were to fall to the ground through negligence. (para. 58, Mysterium Fidei, http://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_03091965_mysterium.html)

I stopped receiving Holy Communion in the hand about 5 years ago.  Around the same time, I stopped being an Euchartistic Minister.  I typically will not receive the Precious Blood.  And almost always, I will receive Holy Communion only from a priest (I do make exceptions for a deacon).

Mother Theresa
I can recall at least two of a few things that have brought me to this point.  The first is the outstanding series from ChurchMilitant.com series "Sleight of Hand: The Reception Deception (http://www.churchmilitant.com/video/series/shrd/section?video_section=reception-deception).  The second is my experience as an adult altar server.

I learned from the ChurchMilitant.com series that from Pope Paul VI, to Saint Pope John Paul II, to Pope Benedict XVI, and to Pope Francis, receiving Holy Communion in the hand was and is not a favorable practice to them.  In fact, none of them recommended it.  If you attend a Papal Mass in Rome, you can only receive Holy Communion on the tongue from the Pope or (only) a priest (there's plenty of footage of Papal Masses on YouTube that you can see for yourself). The practice of receiving only on the tongue at Papal Masses is not meant to showcase the steep tradition of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue only in Rome.  It is meant to show the entire Holy Church how it should be done.

The abuse of receiving Holy Communion in the hand started after Vatican II, during the time of Pope Paul VI.  It started in Germany and in the Netherlands.  This abuse was not new - it was used by Protestants centuries earlier to protest their beliefs that our Blessed Lord did not mean literally what he said in John 6 and at the Lord's Supper.  

Of the 16 official documents that were released as part of Vatican II, only one, Sacrosanctum Concilium, pertained to the liturgy.  There was no mention of changing the manner in which one was to receive Holy Communion in this document. In fact, the document called for "Latin to be retained and Gregorian chant to be given a place of preference in the liturgy."

Pope Paul VI asked his fellow bishops what they thought of the reception of Holy Communion in the hand - the majority of the bishops were not in favor of the practice.  From this survey of bishops arose three ways to handle the current abuse: no concessions, the practice must stop; allow both forms of receiving Holy Communion; allow a concession only where the abuse had started and was difficult to stop.  The bishops were in favor of the first option; Pope Paul VI chose the last. Through a series of other attempts to find a balance between cease-and-desist and conciliatory approaches, reception of Holy Communion in the hand was approved by the then NCCB (USCCB) in 1977, through the use of a very narrow exception to Rome's petition process.

I recall my time as an adult altar server where I assisted the deacon with preparing the altar.  The altar was prepared with reverence and care.  At one particular Mass, I observed the priest putting down the chalice using his middle, ring, and pinky fingers, while keeping his index finger and thumb together.  This is to prevent particles of the Precious Host from falling!  

If so much care is given to handling of a consecrated host by the priest, what business do I or anyone have as a lay person touching the host for its reception or distribution?

Thursday, January 01, 2015

St. Joseph Was Quite A Guy

Let's set aside any doubt about Mary's vow of perpetual virginity for the moment.

To be "bethrothed" meant a state of marriage without cohabitation¹.  Only a formal divorce could dissolve a bethrothal. So, Joseph would have known about Mary's vow of perpetual virginity.  There's no way that Mary would have kept that from him. Yet, he "married" her anyway!  This obviously implies Joseph's own vow of perpetual virginity!

When Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant (St. Matthew 1:19-20), part of his dismay was based on her vow of perpetual virginity - "Mary! What do you mean you're pregnant?  I thought you took a vow to be a virgin for life? I was planning to do this along with you!"

Getting back to Mary, when she "said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?" (St. Luke 1:34, DRB), Mary was stating not only her present condition of virginity, but her intention of her future state (the Greek present tense of "know" implies current and future).²

Truly indeed this couple was planning a remarkable marriage!


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

November Cemetery Visits for the Souls In Purgatory

Appleton Cemetery, Deering, NH
I'm not sure exactly when it was that I started to find cemeteries to be peaceful places.  They are filled with so much hope!  My feelings were only reinforced after reading Hungry Souls: Supernatural Visits, Messages, and Warnings from Purgatory by Gerard J.M. Van Den Aardweg. I finished reading it at the end of October this year, just before the All Soul's Day.

This book is a fascinating read of the supernatural with one remarkable difference - the stories in this book are verified by the Catholic Church.  It talks about the differences between demons and "poor souls" - souls in Purgatory permitted by God to visit people on earth.  The book reveals that many, many well-known saints were often visited by poor souls. The modern-day Saint Padre Pio (who died in 1968) once said that "there were more souls of the dead who came up that road [the road leading to the monastery] then souls of the living (Hungry Souls, pg. 109)." The book details the items on exhibit in the Little Museum of  Purgatory in the Sacred Heart of Suffrage Church in Rome, a collection of "objects bearing visible, physical traces left by the souls in Purgatory (Hungry Souls, pg. 45)".

This year was the second year I was able to complete the Octave of All Saints - eight days of visiting area cemeteries and praying for the souls in Purgatory.  Beginning on November 1st, I visited eight area cemeteries and prayed:

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Mount Calvary Cemetery, Manchester, NH
There are prayers for the faithful departed for each day of the week.  I prayed the appropriate prayer for the day, an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and the following concluding prayer:

O Lord, who art ever merciful and bounteous with Thy gifts, look down upon the suffering souls in purgatory. Remember not their offenses and negligence, but be mindful of Thy loving mercy, which is from all eternity. Cleanse them of their sins and fulfill their ardent desires that they may be made worthy to behold Thee face to face in Thy glory. May they soon be united with Thee and hear those blessed words which will call them to their heavenly home: "Come, blessed of My Father, take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
St. Joseph Cemetery, Chelmsford, MA
 On the eighth and last day, I visited my Dad's grave. I spent some time at the cemetery searching for my paternal grandparent's grave which I found, and my maternal grandparent's grave, which I did not find.  Interestingly enough, my father's parents grave was marked with a monument making it easier to find. My mother's parent's grave was not marked by a monument but by only a veteran's marker. Even with information about the grave site, searching for it was really difficult in November with the ground covered in leaves.

My mother does not know where her parents are buried in this cemetery. This saddens me.  Perhaps several years ago it would not have saddened me.  By by the grace of God, who has blessed me with knowledge of Heaven, Hell, Death, and Judgment, I vow to find their grave as well as forever remember where it is.