Back-to-School Means Back-to-Apologetics

Last night’s report from the corner public high school: “My history teacher explained to the class that the difference between Catholics and Protestants was that Catholics idolize Mary.”

Ah.  Well, there’s academic precision for you.

After learning that this particular teacher was a Lutheran, I produced my go-to book for children who have to deal with Lutherans who can’t be nice to the BVM:

Beginning Apologetics 6

Begining Apologetics 6: How to Explain and Defend Mary from San Juan Catholic Seminars has a page devoted to key quotes from Martin Luther concerning the Blessed Mother.

If you let your kids out in public, they need to know Catholic apologetics.   Parents, don’t count on your local parish to provide this education to your children.  Maybe your parish offers excellent religious education or maybe they don’t, but it’s your job to oversee your children’s formation.

A good Catholic upbringing doesn’t erase free will.  All the best formation in the world is no guarantee your children will remain Catholic into adulthood.  But if you don’t even give them the tools they need to attempt a defense of their faith, you’re kinda asking for it.

Evangelization and the Case for Catholic Fiction

Convergence of two happy things: The Catholic Writers Conference is coming around again, and I’m putting together an index of my writing on discipleship and evangelization.  In trolling my posts at New Evangelizers, I came across this one that is apropos of the conference season.  And yes, if you’re a Catholic who likes to write (fiction or otherwise), you should give the Catholic Writers Guild a good looking over.  More on that soon.

Evangelization and the Case for Catholic Fiction

Why bother with Catholic fiction?  As I write this, I’ve just returned from the Catholic Writers Guild’s annual live conference (our online conference is held in early spring), and once again I’ve met dozens of great Catholic authors eager to reach a Catholic audience.

I’ve also had a few discouraging conversations with publishers.  “We’re really only able to sell retellings of saints stories. We’d like to do other fiction, but we can’t.”  “We love that children’s fiction series, but we can’t break even on it, so we had to cancel further installments.”   “We want to do fiction, but . . .”

It’s a hard market. Over the past 50 years, Catholics in the pew have taken the notion that anything true, good, and beautiful is indeed “Catholic”, and run with it . . . right out of the Catholic market, and into the secular bookshelves.

And there’s something to that.  After all, we Catholics don’t need to decorate every story we read with a crucifix and a Hail Mary in order to be edified.  Reviewers like Julie Davis at Happy Catholic mine the treasures to be found in all kinds of strange corners.  The Catholic faith truly is universal, and so it’s no surprise that all good literature evangelizes, regardless of the label that goes with it.

Still, there’s a place for explicitly Catholic stories of every genre.  Why?

Catholic identity

Our faith is not just a cultural identity, but yes, we’re human, so it does matter to us that we aren’t the only Catholics out there.  My daughter is a big fan of the Anna Mei series from Pauline Books & Media.  These stories are your basic middle school coming-of-age stuff, and the Catholic faith is part of the fabric, but not the crux of the plot.  Still, I love that my daughter can see a Catholic character turn out for Mass on Sundays, or say grace with her family.  We all need to know we aren’t the only ones doing this religion thing.

Solid answers to hard questions

John McNichol is a house favorite at our place, since we have that middle school boy sci-fi / alien-attack demographic sewn up tight.  McNichol gets criticized for putting  religious conversations in his dialog.

Well, guess what?  That’s what teens really talk about.  McNichol is a veteran middle school teacher and father of 10 bazillion teens, so he knows that, and he puts real questions teens ponder into the mouths of his teen characters.

But here’s the rub: unless it’s Catholic fiction, those questions aren’t going to get a Catholic answer.

Catholicism is not generic

You know what irritates me on Facebook?  Vague “spiritual” feel-good platitudes being spouted by people who should know better.

Oh, I know, I need to lighten up a little.  And I’m the first in line to be ecumenical when ecumenical is possible.  But sooner or later we need for Catholics to claim their faith as the one and only.

Catholic fiction lays down the gauntlet: our faith is not one choice among many.  It’s not just a “flavor” or a “style” of religion.  A sincere faith means we’re going to have an awful lot of explicitly Catholic stories to tell, because our faith offers something you can’t find anywhere else.

Are you with me on this?  If so, here’s what I propose we do next:

1. Talk about it.  

There are lots of folks in the pews for whom this idea is absolutely radical.  It’s just not on their brain.  At all.  So mention it.  Drop a line in conversation like, “I love being able to find good Catholic novels for my kids.”  Or, “It’s so refreshing to read something that isn’t trashy for a change.”

2. Start buying Catholic fiction.

If you have a local Catholic bookstore, ask them to stock it. Print out the book info for the title that interests you, and ask them to order it.  If you have a parish library, donate good Catholic fiction to their collection.

3. When you read a good Catholic book, leave a review . . .

. . . at Goodreads, Amazon, and the publisher’s website. Then mention it to your friends – online and in real life.

People want to be able to practice their faith.  Reading good Catholic fiction is a way that many people can be encouraged,  inspired, and yes, even catechized at times, in a way that comes so naturally to story-loving humans.

***

Read any good books lately?

What titles would you recommend for the Catholic reader looking for a good story to curl up with on a lazy Sunday afternoon?

(Psst!  FYI for new readers – the blog discussion forum is here.)

 

Catholic Writers Conference Live! Logo.

 

Book Review: Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life by Julie Davis

Julie Davis sent me a preview copy of her new book, Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life, and I am very thankful to have read it. I’m mildly abashed to find myself in it, but I’ll take it.

What is this book?

When people talk about “having a relationship with Jesus” other people are left a tad lost.  A friend had a relative who’d just turned to God for the first time in the midst of a serious end-of-life crisis, but now what?  How do you help someone who’s ignored God for a lifetime to even know how to pray?  I recommended this book.

Starting with “Beginning to Pray” as the zero point, Julie walks the reader from I’ve-got-nothing all the way into the depths of the Christian life.  Each page has a quote from Julie’s epic quote journal, and then her reflection on what we weak-kneed penitents might do with that idea.  You can see sample pages on Amazon to get the idea.

Who would like this book?

Because it is such a true and grounded and approachable way to learn, or re-learn, to relate to God, I’d consider it a go-to for most new Christians.

As someone who knows and practices a whole pile of Catholicism, but often poorly, I found it helpful to start from the beginning and pray through the book a bit at a time.

I suppose the answer is: Are you ready to hit the reset button on your practice of the faith? Here it is.

Is it true Julie lets just about anybody into her quote journal?

Yeah, I think so.  She seems to follow the Adam’s Ale “Finding the Truth Wherever it May be Found” rule.

In contrast to her first book of quotes from films and other pop-culture sources, which I recommend for different reasons, this one is a collection of quotes from spiritual writers.  The contributors include some ordinary people like me, some super-big names from all the centuries, and a fair bit of God Himself.   It’s just whatever she’s read and found helpful, so there will be runs of this or that author.

The book doesn’t attempt to be a representative tour of the Greatest Hits of All Time; rather, it’s a tour of the human soul, and the quotes are ones that shine a light on this or that experience common to most ordinary Jesus-seeking Christians.

I’m quite certain, giving my presence there, that to be quoted is not an endorsement of every single thing a given author ever wrote (God excepted), it just means she found that particular quote helpful in some way.

Two Final Fun Things:

#1: Fellow Conspirator Will Duquette’s review of Seeking Jesus in Everday Life is here.

#2: My favorite quote from the book, from Fr. James Libone and stuck in my head since the moment I read it:

“Everyone wants the key to finding God.  But there is no lock!”

Cover art courtesy of Niggle Publishing.

Lent Day 8: Can’t Go Wrong Saint Books

PSA because the question came up today: If you want a good readable saint book, you won’t go wrong with Pauline Media’s “Encounter the Saints” series.  They are written for about 5th – 6th grade, but I thoroughly enjoy them and find them edifying for myself.  It takes about an hour for an adult left alone to read one book in silence. There’s usually a glossary at the back for any Catholic vocabulary words that you might not know.

I am unclear on why I only own about a dozen of these.  Need to rectify that.

 

Saint Teresa of KolkataSaint Catherine Labouré and Our LadySaint Gianna Beretta Molla: The Gift of Life

Saint Damien of Molokai -- Hero of HawaiiSaint Maximilian Kolbe -- Marys KnightSaint Isaac Jogues -- With Burning Heart

Artwork courtesy of Pauline Media.

 

Useful Things: EF Missal Sale

From my friend Jim A., via e-mail:

Hello to all,

It looks as if FSSP is offering a pretty good price on this Missal. This Missal is indispensable in helping us follow the priest and truly assist at the Traditional Latin Mass. It has the English on one side of the page, and the Latin on the other so you can follow along in English if you don’t know Latin yet.

It’s very practical as an aide during the TLM itself. On every page there are simple side illustrations with explanations and margin notes on what the priest is doing. I never assist at a TLM without this Missal; I follow along with the prayers of the priest as he offers them to God, and this is how I join myself to the Sacrifice with the priest.

Even more, this is the true meaning of full & active participation; it is an interior disposition which is facilitated by the prayers of the Mass, which of course are meant to draw you more fully into the Great Mystery which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called: “the source and summit of the entire Christian life” –Redemptionis Sacramentum

The Missal is usually between $6 to 8$ plus shipping. On Amazon it’s almost $10; so these prices @ FSSP are pretty good:

​—​Sale price: $4.95, 5/$19.75, 10/$37.50

http://www.fraternitypublications.com/labomi.html

I hope everyone had a blessed Sexigesima Sunday, as we prepare ourselves for Lent.

I took a look at the site, and shipping is about $5 for the first book, with a steep curve in your favor if you order in quantity.  So if you’re planning an order, get together with your friends and order as a group.
If you have a difficult time keeping your traditionalist associations straight, here’s EWTN’s article on the difference between SSPX and FSSP.  At this writing, FSSP is the one you want, though hopefully SSPX will be back in the fold soon.

Related:

FYI, I’m not much of a traditionalist. The liturgy passes my test if (a) it’s both valid and licit, (b) it isn’t hideous, and (c) it’s unequivocally oriented towards the worship of God.  This is me:

I like traditional Catholic stuff so much that when I hear “Tridentine Rite,” my first thought is, “But it’s so new! Barely tested!” Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the effort to learn Latin, because it’s such an innovation in the life of the Church. As much as 13th century Paris is, aesthetically, about my speed, I can’t help but think St. Thomas Aquinas is a bit of an upstart compared to the Church Fathers. And Gothic manuscript . . . shudder . . . Carolingian for me, thank you.

To be deep in history is to be very, very strange. I’m good with that.

Latin happens to be one of the languages I enjoy.  If we had Greek or Aramaic Masses around town, I’d probably take an interest, but I’m not sniffing them out.  I get to an EF Mass about once a decade or so, and otherwise I live in a pretty happy corner of NovusOrdoville.

Book Of Durrow Begin Mark Gospel.jpg Insular Majuscule
I’m broadminded, so I share with you this lovely sample of Insular Majuscule. A person could do worse.

 

Image originally uploaded by Dsmdgold at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Solution to the Big Parish Problem

Yesterday I wrote about why ever-expanding parishes are a sign of trouble. This does not mean that a big parish is a bad parish; it means that if a diocese is growing in pewsitters but not in religious vocations, it’s growing spiritual fat, not muscle.  The good news is that stored energy, in the form of pewsitters, can be converted into a healthy Body of Christ just as soon as the head makes up its mind to start doing the things it takes to regain spiritual vigor.

A large parish that is pulling this off right now is St. William’s in Round Rock, Texas.  Over at the blog discussion group, Martina Kreitzer writes:

You should come visit St. William in Round Rock, Texas. We are the largest parish in the diocese with no sign of growing slower. Our post confirmation program retention rate is 4x the national average . . . and our parish faith formation programs (pre-k through high school) are thriving in ways that make our “mega church” work. We are also blessed to be a 100 year old parish in which the founding family still attends (and can often be seen in the trenches of service oriented work). We come from humble beginnings, have a multicultural background, and are rich in heritage – Mexican/Anglo/rich/poor, etc.

You should come talk to our priest, Father Dean Wilhelm, our adult faith formation director Noe Rocha and our high school and middle school youth ministers, Chris Bartlett and Gwen Bartlett (they are brother and sister). They are also co-founders of a mentoring ministry called Next Level Ministry, designed to help youth ministers get the most out of their programs.

Martina is behind the Jesus is Lord program, one of the key elements of St. William’s success, and which you can read about in detail:

Jesus is Lord Series Introduction

Week 1: God’s Love

Week 2: Sin and It’s Consequences

Week 3: Salvation – God’s Solution for Sin

Week 4: Repentance – Recognize and Receive

Confession

Week 5: Holy Spirit – Going from the Seat to the Feet

Prayer Session

Week 6: Jesus is Lord of My Talent

Week 7: Jesus is Lord of My Time

Week 8: Jesus is Lord of My Treasure

Week 9: Jesus is Lord of My Sexuality

Week 10: Intentional Discipleship and Commissioning

Is this program suitable for parishes not quite like St. William’s? Definitely.  It’s being used at Texas A&M’s legendary St. Mary’s Catholic Center, where vocations are flourishing.  You can watch the campus video series here.

What is this “Intentional Discipleship” business?

Back up a second though and notice the title for Week 10 of the Jesus is Lord series.  If you are not familiar with the concept of “Intentional Discipleship” you need to read Sherry Weddell’s excellent books on the topic, Forming Intentional Disciples and Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples.  The first book explains the problem, and the second tells you step-by-step how to solve it.  Book three, Fruitful Discipleship comes out in April 2017.

FID and BPID are both best suited to intermediate-level lay readers. You don’t have to be a genius or on staff at the parish, and both books are eminently readable, but when my own discipleship group read FID, some of the members found the density of the book a little overwhelming.  After you’ve read the book yourself, if you want to communicate and discuss the ideas in Forming Intentional Disciples with a broader audience of parish lay-leaders and future lay-leaders, the free CatholicMom.com study guide for Forming Intentional Disciples provides a snapshot summary of the key ideas and a few discussion questions for each chapter.

For the whole dang parish, Brandon Vogt’s book Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church is an excellent 101 on evangelization and discipleship for the ordinary Catholic.  He offers a video course as well, which I haven’t reviewed but which you may find helpful.

So there you go.  And if all fails, The Catechism of the Catholic has a few pointers as well.

 

Book Notes: Pope in a Box & Marrying Well

I asked for a coloring book and what I got was . . . encyclicals.

The Complete Encyclicals, Bulls, and Apostolic Exhortations

The good news is that if you pick up your kid after school still wearing your pajamas, but you’ve got a volume of apostolic exhortations on the passenger seat of your minivan, that counts for something, right?

What’s in the book: Pope Francis: The Complete Encylclicals, Bulls, and Apostolic Exhortations, Volume 1 contains Lumen Fidei, Evangellii Gaudium, Misericordiae Vultus, Laudato Si’, and Amoris Laetitia.  Other than a brief introduction at the beginning of the collection, what you get is the English-language text and footnotes, right like it came off the Vatican’s website, forever and ever amen.

Why it’s better ran than reading on your digital device:  Because reading on paper is better than reading digital.

Pros & Cons, in no particular order:

  • If you like books, this a book.
  • The text is a nice size, but there isn’t a ton of white space for notes.
  • If you leave this paper-book, rather than your iPhone, sitting by your easy chair, you are far more likely to skip Facebook and mindlessly scroll through an encyclical instead.

Is it better than printing off a copy and putting it in a binder?  Well, there isn’t as much white space for notes.  Also, you might be shy about writing all over such a nicely-published product.  On the other hand, think of how much amusement your heirs will receive as they gather around at your wake and try to decipher your more acerbic comments.  Unlike binders full of printed-out encyclicals, you’ll probably never wonder if you should just recycle the bound version.

Is it healthy to keep this kind of product lying around the home?  It’s much better for you than reading press coverage, that’s for sure.  On the other hand, if gathering all the Holy Father’s magisterial comments into one volume is going to cause you to mutter, “Dammit, Jim, the answer to the Amoris dubia is right there in paragraph 64 of Evangelii Gaudium! don’t say you weren’t warned.

Verdict:  I reluctantly concede that I gained more spiritual benefit from this review item than I would have from acquiring a second coloring book.  Looks like it starts shipping December 26th, so ask the wise men to bring you one for Epiphany.

***

Earlier this fall I received, also from Ave Maria, a review copy of 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person by Jennifer Roback Morse and Besty Kerekes.

101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person

This is a super book.  I kept it lying around at hand, read a page or two at a time, and breezed right through it.

What it is:  A collection of practical advice on dating, discerning marriage, and preparing yourselves for lifelong, life-giving marriage.  Each “tip” is a few paragraphs long, so it’s not overwhelming.  After a couple decades of marriage I can affirm all the advice is spot-on.  The book is charitable but unflinching on the tough topics — this isn’t your girlfriend telling you, “Whatever you choose is fine,” this is your mother letting you know that in fact cohabitation is a bad idea and you’ll have a more successful marriage if you resume living separately until the big day.

Unlike a certain strain of neo-Victorian sentimental claptrap, the book takes no opinion on who should do the cooking or whether feminine genius involves crochet.  The tips do advise you to consider whether you and your intended spouse hold compatible views on money management (but observes that different couples happily manage their money differently — the goal of the book is to guide you into marital happiness, not fiscal prowess).

Who would like this book: People who are looking for sound guidance on how to find the right spouse.  I would give this book to a young person who generally takes your advice and has expressed a desire to think and act carefully where marriage is concerned.  I would not give this book to an adult child with whom I’d just finished arguing bitterly over the current love interest or relationship habits — awkward.  I think the book does have great potential for book clubs both for young persons (high school and up) and for parents who want to be more intentional about guiding their children towards good relationships.

Verdict: I’m glad to have this one on my shelf.  It’ll get lots of use.

***

Related #1: YOU from Ascension Press

you_starter_pack_image

You’ll recall that I’ve been working through this set since mid-August.  I’ve been going slowly because I’m reading every word and paying close attention — there is a ton of material and the stakes are high.  So far, I hold with my initial extremely positive impression.  The parent book (finished) is top notch.  You want to do this study with parents at your parish.  It hits the perfect three-part requirement:

  • It’s short.  Parents don’t have a lot of time to read.
  • It doesn’t assume parents are already on board with the Theology of the Body.
  • It provides a ton of depth and insight for any parent, regardless of where you fall on the spectrum.

I’m halfway through the teacher’s manual (which also contains 100% of the student text) and am very impressed.  FYI: This text is targeted towards the average teenager living in today’s typical teenager’s environment.  If your child is a very sheltered homeschooler who doesn’t do digital devices and thus is enjoying an innocence other kids just don’t get anymore, this series is not for you, until your student is ready to step off into the deep end of Other Kids’ Lives.

But most students at your parish probably go to public school or to a private or parochial school that’s sordid enough to keep up. [Remove head from sand, please.]  YOU is for that kid.  The depth and scope of the material is sufficient that I’d advise starting no sooner than ninth grade. (Ascension’s Theology of the Body for Middle School would be the right product for younger students who are already dating and/or using the internet freely.)

My first choice on format would be for parents to complete the parent book first, and then go through the student series in class with their children afterwards.  There is nothing dumbed-down, at all, about the student material.  It will not be boring or childish for grown-ups.  You can safely assume that many of the parents of your parish youth have questions or doubts about chastity; if you let parents use this program as a Please Don’t Get Pregnant Push Off Sex Until College safety net, you’re cheating your kids and your parents both.  Don’t go there.  Get the parents involved as much as you possibly can.

Final verdict coming after I’ve completely finished the whole works.

Related #2: All the coloring books.  My friend Sarah Reinhard reviews the ever-expanding array of Catholic adult coloring books over at the Register.

Related #3: Jimmy Akin All Year Long.  Julie Davis at Happy Catholic reviews Jimmy Akin’s A Daily Defense: 365 Days (plus one) to Becoming a Better Apologist.   What I want for Christmas is the complete collection of Ronald Knox’s detective stories, but this would be a pretty happy second choice.

Related #4, gifts for you, since it’s the week of Mandatory Joy: Back when Msgr. Knox was just Mr. Knox, he wrote this satirical application of the Historical-Critical Method to the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.  After enough years of priestly ministry, he went on to write “Hard Knocks,” a moral analysis of church bazaars; go here and scroll down to the bottom.  Happy Advent!

Book covers courtesy of Ave Maria Publishing and Ascension Press.

On Prayer and Coloring: At Play in God’s Creation

Cover Art courtesy of Franciscan Media. Click through to go to the ordering page.

I accepted a review copy of At Play in God’s Creation because I wanted a coloring book.  That’s my real reason.  I’m going to talk about some controversial topics, but here’s a two-sentence review for those who are short on time:

  1. I love this book.
  2. Sr. Patricia would also love this book.

When Sr. Patricia and I are having a meeting of the minds? That tells you we’re in some heady waters indeed.

What’s in this book?

At Play in God’s Creation is an adult coloring book with a prayerful twist to it.  Amid the pictures, there are quotes from mystics and prayer-questions.  I’ve scanned a few portions of pages of my work-to-date so you can get a feel for what kinds of quotes and pictures we’ve got, see below.  There are a couple pages of suggestions for how to pray-while-you-color at the opening of the book.

Is it namby-pamby wishy-washy 1970’s nonsense?

Ha.  That’s the question of the day.  Here’s a nice short article from Catholic Stand, “Christian Mysticism and Its Counterfeit,” that lays out the problem.

My reading of the text of the coloring book is that it stays within the bounds of Catholic thought.  There are references to “finding your center,” which can be dicey, and there are plenty of Gather-hymnal word choices and grammatical devices.  So the book is operating at the hairy edge of the narrow road, yes — but I don’t think the author goes over the cliff.  If you are reading the text with a well-catechized Catholic lens, and you’ve waded through authors like Bl. Julian of Norwich and come to shore edified, it works.

Likewise, if you were drawn to the book because you do color but you don’t pray and don’t know a thing about prayer and this is your first baby step into some kind of spiritual life, I think it could be a comfortable starting point rather than a hindrance to more formal and informed Catholic prayer as you moved forward.

Also, the author of the text reminds you not to pass judgement on the thoughts that enter your mind as you’re prayerfully coloring, so when you get to this page and think to yourself, “One of these flowers is a ninja throwing star!” that’s okay.  No judging, guys.

ninja-star-flower

Is Coloring Praying?

Coloring could be helpful just because it is good for a busy person to quiet down and do something calm and relaxing for a change.

I think this is a bit like the old joke about smoking-while-you-pray vs. praying-while-you-smoke.  I advise you not to smoke, but I can attest from my proto-hipster days that actually, yes, a moonlit night, silence, and a decent cigar make for good spontaneous prayer, if you’re so inclined.  But that sort of prayer is not the same thing as praying the Rosary or the Divine Office or the Mass for serious.  It’s not the same thing as actually carrying out Ignatian Exercises with your whole heart and mind focused on prayer.  It’s a good thing, and you should try it frequently — not smoking, but spontaneous prayer as you are engaged in quiet activity — but you’re cheating yourself if you never go deeper.

Still, we aren’t tube worms.  We don’t live in the depths all the time.  When we’re trolling the shallow waters of ordinary activity, we don’t therefore stuff our souls in the closet. It is in fact good, wholesome prayerful activity to take a little R&R by coloring a Celtic knot while letting your mind range over a St. John of the Cross quote, and your life, and how the two intersect.

"Where there is no love, put love -- and then you will find love."

Why Does Jen Like the Book?

Here’s a page I work on when I’m sitting in the car waiting for a teenager to come out after volleyball practice:

labrynth

Come on guys, color my hopes?  My hope is that said child will notice I’ve shown up before I have to reach for the bridge-of-the-support and phone her to let her know someone’s waiting, thanks.   Not every single phrase and picture in this book is a perfect match for me personally; I trust that there is someone out there who needs and will benefit from a cute version of the Four Creatures of the Apocalypse, and that we two must share an artist.

But hey, here’s an impending bloody-shipwreck . . .

ship

. . . and on the facing page when you make it to fair land, there’s a not-friendly dragon reared up ready to scorch you.

dragon

I like this book because I get the ordinary benefits of coloring (relaxation, art-for-non-artists, etc.) combined with a keen sensitivity to the reality of spiritual struggle.  Not every single prayer-prompt in the text is my cup of tea, but most of them have their moments when they are spot-on.

Verdict: If this is the kind of book you would like, you will like it.

***

Related:  I got this lovely Christmas card from someone at Ave Maria press, featuring artwork from Daniel Mitsui’s adult coloring book The Mysteries of the Rosary.  That might better suit the taste of some of my readers.  (Hey, Ave! – I will totally review that coloring book if you mail it to me.)

Related to Related: But why am I on someone at Ave Maria’s mailing list?! Oh, that’s right, there’s this book! Today’s the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and if you want to know my fit-for-print thoughts on that topic, and a few others, get the book.

Funny Story: There was some brouhaha a little bit ago that I decline to link to, in which a group of ostensibly-Catholic women were recording themselves preaching on the Gospels, with the goal of proving that hey! Girls can read the Bible and talk about it too!  Put a cassock on it!

And I was like, No duh. CatholicMom.com does have some male voices on the Gospel Reflection Team roster, but the group is definitely mom-heavy, as we’d expect.

But you know what’s really super cool, and has nothing to do with boys and girls and everything to do with the grace of God?  Showing up at Mass and your pastor preaches a sermon, and you’re like, “Yeah.  That’s way better than anything I would have said.”  Coloring book or no coloring book, pray for your priests.

Top Ten Ways Jack Chick Will Spend His Purgatory

There are lots of people who know exactly what Purgatory is like, but few of them are available for comment.  A review of the literature, however, points to some likely ways that Jack T. Chick could be spending his hours of purification.

Top Ten Ways Jack Chick Will Spend His Purgatory

  1. Helping St. Anthony look for things.
  2. Putting finishing touches on portraits of the Blessed Mother.
  3. Listening to Saints Peter and Paul reminisce about everything that’s ever happened at the Vatican, for real.
  4. Meeting all the Jesuits.
  5. Praying along with the prayer requests mentioned on Catholic Answers Live.
  6. Assisting St. Rita in all the desperate pleas for help with last-minute Halloween costumes.
  7. Working with the purgatory-residing authors of anemic bread-wine-sharing-dinner-table songs to rewrite their lyrics into hymns suited to Eucharistic Adoration.
  8. Writing If I can’t keep my pagan gods’ names straight, I will visit the local library to fact-check 1,000 times on the blackboard.  In hieroglyphics.
  9. Preparing a big Thank You Jimmy Akin! sign to hang at the gates of Heaven.
  10. Passing out the plenary indulgences to the suffering souls who’ve just been released.

Remember, kids, for the love of all that is Jesuit: You can spring Jack Chick at any time. May he rest in peace.

***

As I shared in part 2 of my conversion story at New Evangelizers, I owe Jack Chick eternal gratitude:

Having to answer these egregious attacks on the Church was the best thing that ever happened to me.  I didn’t have the luxury of saying, “Well, I just like the liturgy,” or “This seems to be where God wants me for now.”  I had to turn on my brain and find out: Is this faith true?  Can I know beyond a reasonable doubt that this is for real?  Because it’s lovely to have bright glowing memories of a spiritual experience, but what about when the shine wears off?  What about when all the scandals that have rocked the Church take their turn at my place for a change?  Will I still believe when things aren’t so easy anymore?

I still have my annotated copy of Are Roman Catholics Christian? full of penciled-in Bible verses refuting the assorted misinformation.  (Quick answer: Why yes, we are.  Thanks for asking.)

I can’t seem to find a proper review, but here’s my Goodreads blurb on Jimmy Akin’s excellent book The Nightmare World of Jack Chick:

Great book. As always with Jimmy Akin, it’s thoroughly researched, and calmly and charitably expressed. In addition, the book is a fun topic, not technical and it’s a quick read. Great choice for teens just getting going with apologetics. My son loved it!

You want this book.  Looks like it’s out of print right now, but you can read a version at Catholic Answers.

The Nightmare World of Jack Chick

Cover art courtesy of Catholic Answers and Goodreads.

Chastity in a Box? (with a Glimpse at YOU from Ascension Press)

Continuing with Book Week.  Box #2 raises a question that doesn’t get asked often enough: What part do chastity-education programs play in teaching teens (and grown-ups) about the right use of their bodies?

My thoughts follow, but first you should show know what was in the box:

YOU from Ascension Press.  I reviewed AP’s Theology of the Body for Teens: Middle School Edition some years ago, and liked it immensely.  A first glance at YOU is similarly positive.  It’s a much bigger and deeper program, and from everything I’m seeing among teens in the circles I run in (church-school-sports), YOU looks like a solid answer to a very serious need.

As I flipped through the books the other night, several things caught my eye:

  • The advice for how to teach teens is dead-on.
  • The parent booklet gets right to first things first.  It’s like they know they only have a paragraph to win us parents over.
  • The curriculum, as will the best Theology of the Body presentations, starts with the bigger picture, lays the essential groundwork on the dignity of the human person, and leads from there into a positive message about the goodness and appeal of chastity.
  • YOU is working off ideas that have been tested with teens over and again and found to work.  (Not surprising, given who the authors are.)

It’ll be a while before I get a chance to read the leader’s guide and parent guide (leader’s guide contains the full text of the student book) cover to cover, as well as watch the whole DVD series.  Thus I wanted to flag this series now, because I’ve got a very positive impression at first glance, and if you’re planning programs for your parish you might want to request your own review set rather than waiting on someone else’s opinion.

Where do ready-made chastity programs fit into the big picture?

If you phoned me this afternoon (please don’t) and asked me what I recommended for taking your generic typical-American-parish from zero to full-steam-ahead on teaching teens chastity, here’s what I’d recommend:

1. Start with a good parent-centered introduction to chastity, such as Family Honor’s Leading and Loving program.  There are lots of options for meeting formats, but (using L&L as an example) I strongly recommend investing the time and energy into spreading the program out over six weekly sessions rather than doing a single big-weekend event.  This gives you time for parents to get to know each other, to have time to talk with the leaders in detail, and to begin to form a small group atmosphere.  It lets parish leadership begin to identify the parents who are in the best position to help other parents.  It also gives lots of time for listening, and thus for learning where parents in your parish are coming from and what questions or difficulties they are having.

–> Make sure you’ve got the depth of back-up resources to assist parents with their concerns.  At a minimum: NFP instruction, good pastoral help with thorny marital irregularities, some resources for dealing with pornography, and access to support for parishioners grappling with same-sex attraction (personally or via a friend or family member’s situation) such as Courage. It’s no fair telling people they need to radically change their lives, then wishing them good luck and washing your hands.

2. When parents are ready to start sharing the message of chastity with their teens, do a parent-teen joint program.  There are any number of options, and many of them (Family Honor is an exception) assume parents won’t be present. Don’t go there.  You need the parents totally involved and on board.  Your six hours in front of an eighth grader are nothing compared to the influence of the parents.  Even if the program you select doesn’t call for parental presence, adapt it to make it a parent-teen program.

3. Keep working discipleship on all the parts of the Catholic faith.  Salvation isn’t about sex-ed alone.

Hint: Check out the Jesus is Lord program, which works for college students too.  Just sayin’.

4. Programs like YOU will have the most impact if you roll them out after you have a critical mass of parents who are actively seeking to foster chastity in the home, and a critical mass of parishioners and parish leaders who are disciples.

I’m not saying there is no fruit that comes from grabbing a random teenager who’s fully immersed in the wider culture and subjecting the child to a few weeks of Catholic teaching.  Good things can happen.  But the reality is that an hour of your life in alien country rarely makes you want to join the aliens, if you were heretofore perfectly happy back home in Depravityville.  More likely, you’ll go home thinking you met a bunch of crazy people and thank goodness you’ve escaped.

Making disciples is work.  YOU looks like it’s got loads of potential as a help in that work, which is why I mention it now.  But making disciples is long, slow, constant work.  There are no short cuts.

Related:  Registration for the Theology of the Body Congress (9/23-25/2016) is still open.

YOU by Ascension Press - Catholic Teen Chastity
Image courtesy of Ascension Press.