Last week I ran into a local reader and subscriber at this blog, who naturally wondered where the heck I’ve been. Sick leave is the answer, I’m still on it, hitting about a 25% attendance rate at everything that counts as normal-life.
(No, it’s not COVID. Thanks for asking.)
What I didn’t know he didn’t know (and therefore other subscribers here may have the same question) is that I’ve also blogged at Patheos, and I resumed writing there this summer. My presence there is erratic, heavy on controversial topics, and exists because never-blogging does not work for me. (I have a second disorder called Can’t Shut Up.)
So if you have a disorder called Can’t Get Enough of Ornery Bloggers, you can subscribe at patheos.com/blogs/jenniferfitz and I can take the edge off.
Otherwise I’m largely offline. My Facebook presence is zero; I do tweet headlines and hit the the “like” button on things, but even when it seems like I’m itching for a fight, I’m really not. You’re certainly welcome to follow me there, @JenFitz_Reads is the active account.
How to Find a Great Speaker for Your Evangelization Event
I am doing zero speaking gigs at this time — no phone interviews, no zoom meetings, no radio shows, I’m pretty happy if I hold a conversation at all, with anyone, definitely not booking your parish or diocesan event. But of course you’ve read my book, or at least looked at the cover, and now you just have to have me, right? Nah. Here’s what you need to do:
Work through the book with a small group of picked volunteers from your parish or ministry. There are discussion questions at the end of each chapter, so you don’t need to prep anything.
Highlight the parts you really, really, really want your larger audience to know.
Pick the top three most important parts, and make slides about them.
Now, presto, you have a speaker able to address what is most needed in your situation.
You can always do a second talk on three more points another time. Visiting guest speakers make people feel good? But they don’t cause change. Change happens when individuals who are connected with each other in an enduring manner decide to take action on a single, mutually important goal.
You and your small group of locals who read the book together will know, in a way that neither I nor any other stranger can know, what the top three most pressing concerns for you are today. Bring those three concerns to your audience. Use the book to help you find the words and the explanations to communicate the things you already know but maybe struggled to articulate.
Then: Equip your audience. Maybe that’s just giving the encouragement people need to do what they already wanted to do, but were unsure about. Maybe it means removing obstacles. Maybe it means offering resources at your disposal. I can’t do that for you either. But you can do this.
The How-to Book of Evangelizationis not a memoir of my amazing ministry, and it’s not a fool-proof recipe that you can replicate mindlessly. It’s the testimony of thousands of ordinary Catholics just like you who have each identified one area where God was specifically calling, and they made the decision to answer that call.
Like them, the only way for you to learn how to evangelize is to try it. You don’t need a speaker for that. You need an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ in the Catholic faith; you need prayer, fasting, and integrity; and you need to say yes.
The book has lots of information on ways that other Catholics just like you have managed to change lives and bring people closer to God. Evangelization is a skill, just like making friends is a skill: Some people are naturally good at it, most of us benefit from receiving a little mentoring. I profile or quote a number of major players in evangelization today, so if you want some tips on where to find a speaker or resources, dig in.
But even though I love to travel and I love to teach, I’m kinda glad that God’s seen fit to toss me in the closet for a while at just the wrong time. It’s not the wrong time. Me writing the book was about the fact that I care about this topic, I had spent years studying this topic, and I have the ability to write things down. Now that it is written down, you have what you need from me.
It’s resolution season, but I want to talk about something deeper and more difficult. Resolutions are good. Less sugar, more sunlight, regular bedtime . . . some of these small changes can bring out a happier, more energetic, more you person, one you hadn’t fully understood was hiding inside. If you’ve resolved to start flossing, your dentist thanks you. Run with it.
But what if the thing you are struggling to let go of is tied to your very identity?
New Year’s resolutions don’t involve identity changes, I hope. If you have said to yourself, “I am a person who binges on junk food, and my very self would be annihilated if I were to limit that behavior to Sundays and solemnities, for that bag of Reese’s cups (the large ones loaded with peanut butter, like the Good Lord intended, not those pathetic minis) are who I am, and I should cease to be the person God created me to be if I didn’t help myself to the snack bowl every hour on the hour . . .” If you have said that to yourself, then I guess you have a situation on your hands, don’t you?
But usually resolutions are more about polishing and refining, bringing into the limelight the person you have already determined is the better you.
What if the change you are struggling with involves an aspect of yourself that feels essential to who you are? What if you examine your life, and discover your besetting sin, the thing that makes you most miserable, the thing you sometimes confess but usually rationalize, what if you discover that you love that sin because you view it as part of your very self?
To let go of that sin would be to lose your life, you fear.
It takes precision surgery to be able to say, “I could still be meticulous and conscientious without being a slave to obsessive anxiety.” Or “I could still be passionate and spontaneous without following my every whim with no regard for what gets lost in the frenzy.” Or “I could still be a firm, authoritative, responsible parent without losing my temper when my children misbehave.”
My only message here is: It’s okay to free yourself from the part of “you” that is destroying your relationships and making you miserable. It’s okay to say goodbye, as many times as it takes, to that aspect of yourself that isn’t about your God-given calling, but in fact is overshadowing and dragging that calling down.
It’s a process. You didn’t get into this jumbled-up identity overnight. Even when you firmly resolve, “I am going to hold onto my talents and passions and spiritual gifts, but I am no longer going to let the vice I’ve been sheltering keep hogging up this space in my soul,” even then, the vice is so strongly planted that it will take years of persistent weeding (or a miraculous healing) to root it out.
So my new year’s wish for you is that, if you have been mistakenly embracing one of your faults as if it were integral to your self, that you’d muster the courage to bid it good riddance. Show it to the door. And when it comes back again and again, insisting it belongs in your heart and you can’t survive without it, kindly tell it you’ve had enough and it needs to move on.
In light of that pep-talk:
(a) If you are a Catholic writer, media personality, or social media conversationalist of any type, amateur or pro, and
(b) if the fault you’ve been confusing for your very identity as a communicator and evangelist is the “charism of being a jerk”, but,
(c) you don’t want to be bitter and angry and obnoxious anymore, then,
It won’t fix you overnight. You’ll probably discover that some of the people in attendance, people like you who don’t want to be nasty online Catholics anymore, but also have no intention of abandoning their passion for communicating the truth and engaging in rousing, high-spirited discussions on controversial topics . . . you’ll probably discover some of your fellow retreatants are people you passionately despise.
And that’s rough, because we’ll be providing opportunities to overcome your bitterness and reconcile with those wrong-headed dunderpuffs who had the nerve to show face at your life-changing retreat.
Since my evangelization book covers similar ground, what I’d like to do with this review is explain how the two books fit together and who would benefit from each. (If you’re curious, SWD’s review of my book is here.)
Overview of 101 Ways to Evangelize
Susan Windley-Daoust’s book is a compact, quick read, forty pages cover-to-cover. In it she provides a brief five-page introduction to the importance of evangelization and what evangelization is, and then launches into a well-organized series of sections that, combined, list 101 specific evangelizing activity ideas.
If you are familiar with the stages evangelization and discipleship laid out in Sherry Weddell’s seminal work Forming Intentional Disciples, the 101 suggestions are outreach ideas geared primarily towards people in the Curiosity, Openness, and Seeking stages of coming to Christ.
The first three suggestions of the 101 ideas are preparatory work for any evangelizing activity; the remainder are outreach or ministry ideas that can be done by parish groups, by street evangelization apostolates, or by individuals.
Each suggestion is very specific, such as “praying with college students before exams” or “free clinics, or referrals for free healthcare.” The suggestions cover a wide range of types of missionary activity covering all the physical and spiritual works of mercy. Most of the 101 suggestions get a paragraph of explanation, but where needed, there’s longer discussion including caveats and alternative formats.
Who’s the perfect audience for 101 Ways to Evangelize?
This mini-book is ideal for parish groups or individuals who are sold on the idea of evangelization, raring to go, and are looking for inspiration during the brainstorming process. For a ministry leader, this is a book that you can hand to the members of your group, perhaps ask them to focus on a few particularly relevant sections, and quickly build enthusiasm and a consensus on where to get started.
To assist with this, the companion site Creative Evangelization offers a variety of support resources. At Gracewatch, you can purchase the book in bulk in various formats, including a PDF with license to print.
101 Ways to Evangelize vs. The How-to Book of Evangelization
Inexplicable though it seems to me, I am wiling to entertain possibility that some readers of this blog don’t actually want to collect every single book on evangelization that they can. So here’s the run down of how the two books compare.
TheHow-to is a massive, bird’s-eye view of the entire process of evangelization and discipleship, from trust-building through sending out new disciples as evangelizers themselves. In contrast, 101 Ways provides a snapshot of the why and how of evangelization, and then focuses on generating ideas for specific evangelizing activities.
101 Ways has loads of ideas for street evangelization and parish outreach events. The How-to does include some sample activities, but is more focused on explaining the principles and strategy behind how parish evangelizing works in different contexts. I would definitely pick up 101 Ways if you are specifically looking for outreach ideas, because that’s 99% of what the book is, and Susan Windley-Daoust has not played in coming up with suggestions.
The How-to is big. 300 pages big. It’s a better choice for people who either want to learn about the topics outside the scope of 101 Ways, or who want to dig deeper into why different types of evangelizing activities work the way that they do. For many people in your parish, 101 Ways will be a better fit: It’s short, quick, and action-oriented.
If you’re in parish leadership charged with some aspect of making big-picture decisions about parish strategy, you want The How-to, because it will help you understand how different aspects of evangelization and discipleship fit together. It will help you make strategic decisions, and it will help you communicate with parishioners by giving you the words you need to explain how xyz ministry fits into the big picture.
But when it is time to mobilize the troops, 101 Ways will be a much better book for parishioners who aren’t big readers and who just want to get moving on outreach-oriented activities and events.
101 Ways is smaller and cheaper than The How-to. Oh, come on, we all know that matters!
For your personal needs, it’s just a question of what type of book you want and what kind of content you’d like to read. For a parish purchase, I’d say that The How-to is the one you give to your ministry heads, that you stock a copy or two in the parish library for people to borrow as-desired, and that you might purchase a dozen copies to be re-used with study groups over the years. In contrast, 101 Ways is the one you purchase in bulk for everyone in the parish, stick in the literature rack, or leave in the hymnal holders in the pews for people to peruse and perhaps prayerfully consider for inspiration.
Is one book better than the other?
Nope. Two different books for two different needs. You can read the samples at Amazon, but I’d say both of us have a similar style in terms of readability. We’re both coming from the same school of thought in terms of what evangelization is and how it’s done.
If you read 101 Ways to Evangelize and your appetite is whetted and you want to learn more about the huge topic that is evangelization and discipleship, check out my book. In contrast, if you loved my book, you’re all inspired by the conclusion and now you are raring to go, you’ll like 101 Ways to Evangelize for the many, many, many different specific outreach ideas to get you started.
It’s a win-win.
*You might wonder why my reviews on this blog are overwhelmingly positive. Very simple: If it’s not a good book, I don’t waste my time on it. In order to get reviewed here, a book has to (a) be interesting and well-written enough to entice me to read the whole thing, and (b) be of sufficient value to my readers that it’s worth my taking an hour to put together a review. I read, or begin to read, plenty of books that never manage to clear both those hurdles.
Thank you to everyone who came to the webcast today! A link to the recording is forthcoming (whenever it’s ready to go — I don’t know how much work is involved in that, so I’m going to assume OSV’s tech people are superheros and it might not be this. exact. instant, but the event went well so it’s not headed to the circular file, we know that). I did confirm that OSV’s software does not have an option for creating captions, so here’s the first pass at a transcript:
Jennifer Fitz Webcast Notes – Temp Draft – June 30, 2020
There are some typos in there — surprisingly few — and I am proud of myself for using the spirit of self-control to not fix them live on the air while viewers waited, so you’re welcome, but as a result I was only able to go back and fix the one that was especially terribly bad, but not the others that are harder to remember and will take more time to find again. So a better draft will be issued at a later date. This is still word-for-word ten gazillion times better than you get off YouTube’s auto-transcript function, though if you want I could replace every theology term with a brand of beer in order to give you that experience? If you like? Nah. You do it yourself.
We did have time for some open Q&A at the end, and that is not in my notes above, but I will write up better, more succinct and accurate answers to all the questions we covered in the Q&A so we have that.
Meanwhile, a follow-up question: Would you be interested in more webcasts in the future, and if so, what would like me to talk about? Ideally topics that don’t involve more embarrassing stories about myself. Thanks! (You can weigh in at the discussion group.)
Got the word today that my book is shipping, and by that they mean my Christmas Present author copies are on their way. Woohoo!
Prologue: Do you who makes this world a better place? Editors do. I finally opened the edits on the manuscript for the new book, and with great pleasure observed that (a) my editor knows exactly what she’s doing and by the end of the month, therefore, a far better book will be headed towards production, and (b) it turns out only one of my chapters needed to be scrapped because it was . . . not what would be helpful to the reader.
This was a good experience, because it means I got to write my mad rant, sit on it for a year, and then come back and write a fresh take that will be pretty awesome, if my notes pulled together during time-outs at a basketball game last night are to be believed. So that’s fun.
What might I have foamed at the mouth about? Oh, you know, catechesis. Shock shock.
#1 It was good that I was writing up notes on catechesis yesterday, because today I was subbing K5 at the kids’ school. Subbing all-day kindergarten is God’s way of periodically reminding me that fulltime early-elementary teachers possess heroic superpowers. But a day in kindergarten is the path to making you look forward to working with the 8th and 10th graders again, but also be reminded that five-year-olds are so much fun. They really are. Exhausting, yes, but also magically fun.
#2 So we make it through the morning and right after lunch it’s time for a Bible story. The kids were learning the story of Esther this week; the other K5 teachers assured me that my chief goal was to reinforce. I glanced at the teacher’s manual and noted that bravery was the big theme for the day, and that we had Romans 8:28 for a our Bible verse to fit with the theme.
#3 When you have to call a sub at eight at night, you aren’t necessarily able to get everything laid out the way you’d hoped. My colleagues clued me in to hunt the room for the Bible story card that goes with Esther, and I found it hanging on the wall. When I pulled it down, there were four other stories behind — two from David, plus the Nativity. These were super props: Large format, laminated, full-color illustrations of the key moment in a Bible story; on the back side the story is printed ready-to-go. Good thing, if you’re the sub who needs to be prompted on what story you’re teaching, heh.
And here’s thing about teaching religious ed: You are almost always going to have to assess the mood of the room, see what resources you have, and make quick decisions.
We had these big pictures. We’ll be using the big pictures.
#4 So we started with the first picture, and I asked who remembered what story this one was. I called on a raised hand to narrate (I’m sorry I can’t call on you unless you are sitting quietly), got a decent retelling of key points, and called on a second student to add any missing details. I gave it a one-sentence summary (we’re just reviewing here), and per the lesson plan emphasized the theme of bravery.
Quick move to the second card, repeat with two different volunteers. Third card showed Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in the manger. First volunteer talked about them traveling to Bethlehem and asking for a room at the inn. Second volunteer talked about the flight to Egypt, because king Saul wanted to kill baby Jesus.
Oops. No dear, Saul was the one hunting David, previous story. This time it’s Herod. No big, and then emphasize again, in teacher-recap, the bravery of Mary and Joseph.
All that was review, and it let the talkers get some talking done and got everyone thinking about those pictures and therefore churning through whatever they could remember of Bible stuff they’d learned in the past.
Then onto the fun bit.
#5 You can’t keep talking and talking. These are five-year-olds. Time for some action.
Our key idea is bravery. The kids were able to remember something about the bad guy in the picture wanting to kill Esther, and that she was the queen. I reviewed (two or three sentences, max) the key facts of the story, and then had a volunteer come up to the front and sit on a chair and be a king on his throne.
Something that makes Esther brave is that she approached the king without permission, which was a capital offense. I explained that if the king calls on you, you can come to talk to him. I let the king call on three volunteers and give them permission to speak to the king. Each in turn approached the throne, said, “Hi King,” and then went back to their seats. Perfectly safe.
Good. Now someone needs to die. That requires expertise. I explained to the class that now I was going to approach the king without asking, which means he can have me put to death. I walked up to the king, and prompted him to tell me, “Off with your head!”
He did. I promptly dropped dead dramatically, with much more noise and rolling on the floor than decapitation might usually involve.
Kindergartners love it when you do that.
So you calm the class back down, tell them no one else gets to die right now, except maybe . . . Esther.
Pick another volunteer to be the queen. Explain that your husband the king doesn’t know you need to talk to him, and you have to, because the bad guys want to kill your people. But of course he could order your head chopped off — we all saw it happen just a minute ago.
So Esther approaches the king, I give the prompt for her line, “Can you please save my people from the bad guys?”
And then as the director here I ask the kid playing the king, “Did the king say, ‘Off with your head’ or did he say ‘Yes, I will save them.’?”
He got the line right and gave a nice clear answer to his stage-wife, “Yes, I will save them.”
#6 I wrap up with a tie back to the Nativity, and how the people saved by Esther’s bravery were the nation God chose to be the family of Jesus, our Savior. David, Esther, and many other people were called by God to be brave, and all of them saying yes to God led up to the day when Jesus was born.
Now time to wrap up with a closing prayer. My intuition was that it was time to go Ignatian. This is K5, so you don’t have a lot of time. I had the kids close eyes to pray, and then in my prayer thanked God for the bravery of His saints, the gift of salvation (“coming to be our Savior and opening up Heaven so we can be with you forever”), and His promise to be with us and give us strength and courage when things are scary.
Then, still praying, and making sure all the eyes were closed, I told them to imagine something scary that happens in their life, and then imagine Jesus being there with them, providing help and encouragement and the ability to be brave. Now quietly imagine telling Jesus, who is there with you, thank you for being with you. Amen.
#7 That dropping dead thing? Big kids like it too.
On another forum the question was raised, and if it’s being asked there then it is probably of interest elsewhere: What does it take for a rosary to “count”? If you want to be able to honestly claim you prayed the rosary, what is the minimum that must be done?
My answer . . .
There are some very limited situations where it matters whether your rosary “counts”:
If it is the penance assigned to you in Confession. If so, follow the instructions in a booklet or similar resource on how to pray the rosary; presumably the priest who assigned the penance has such a thing on hand or else confirmed in advance you knew how to pray the penance.
You are committed to praying the rosary daily because of your affiliation with a religious order or apostolate, such as being an auxiliary member of the Legion of Mary. If so, follow the instructions set forth by the organization to which you belong.
You’ve pledged to say a rosary on someone’s behalf, and you were quite specific it would be a rosary, not just prayers in general. If so, go with booklet instructions as above.
Otherwise: Doesn’t matter. It’s you and God spending time together loving one another. Think of it as going on a date . . . you wouldn’t spend your time wondering whether the date “counted”. I hope?
It is worth watching if you have the time. I started jotting down a few of Bishop Barron’s points on post-it notes for reference as the new book goes into final edits in December, and ended up annotating the whole transcript instead. [FYI for those tempted to create snarky hierarchy-themed bingo boards, ahem, YouTube’s auto-generated captions and transcript do some fascinating things with the words ad limina.]
There were many valuable points raised, but the one I want to talk about now occurs around the 46-minutes mark. Bishop Daniel Conlon raises the question of evangelization versus catechesis. In his comments and Bishop Barron’s reply, a thorny problem for catechists is discussed: How do we both provide the rigorous catechesis that young people need (discussed extensively earlier in the presentation), and evangelize the barely-Catholic youth in our parishes?
As the bishops’ review of the state of evangelization rightly points out, it is no good throwing a pile of commands and directions at someone who is still asking basic questions about life, the universe, and everything. But at the same time, for the young person (or older person) who has largely accepted the Catholic faith, and in a different but crucial way for the young person whose mode of grappling with the faith is headily intellectual, the hunger for theology is a survival drive. Serious examination of the faith for some young people is life-saving nourishment.
And yet that same theologically-intensive approach to the faith would absolutely drown a different kid also sitting in the circle at the youth group ice-breaker.
So what do you do?
The present solution — parish food fight, and last man standing gets to organize the youth program along his or her favorite lines — is not a good solution. It’s not just a bad idea because yelling at your pastor is poor form (so I’ve been told, more than once), but also because “young people” are not a homogenous lump of catechetical tumor.
The young people who attend your parish are not identical to one another. They have differing academic abilities, differing faith backgrounds, and differing spiritual needs.
Imagine if pediatricians organized conferences where they attempted to hash out a single mode of treatment for every child. Imagine showing up at your child’s doctor’s office, and the appointment went like this:
Parent: My kid has a badly swollen knee. It started about three weeks ago.
Doctor, nodding gravely: Ah yes. I see. You will definitely want to start our regimen of asthma treatments. It’s a shame you didn’t come in sooner, but it’s not too late.
Parent: I don’t think you understand. It’s the knee.
Kid: My knee really hurts. I can’t play soccer anymore.
Doctor: Yes! It’s impossible to play soccer if you can’t breathe well! What we need you to do is come in once a week for breathing treatments.
Kid: I can breath just fine. I don’t need breathing treatments. It’s my knee that hurts.
Doctor: Well, it never hurts to improve your breathing. Many children have undiagnosed asthma, and so it’s important that we focus on making sure you can breathe well first. When you’re older there will be plenty of time to look into your knee, if that’s important to you.
Parent: But if we don’t treat the knee, isn’t my child likely to get out of shape and have a worse time keeping up?
Doctor: Yes. Exercise is so important! That’s why we require all patients to receive weekly breathing treatments, to make sure they can exercise well.
Parent: I don’t think that we want to do the weekly breathing treatments. We’re looking to understand why the knee is swollen.
Doctor: I’m sorry. With an attitude like that, obviously your child is not going to get any better. In all my years of medical practice, I’ve found that if we don’t require breathing treatments, children with undiagnosed asthma can get seriously ill, and even die. I’m concerned you don’t take your child’s health seriously.
Parent: Could you refer us to a knee specialist, perhaps?
Doctor: Of course! After you child finishes college, it might be possible to find a doctor’s office with a knee program. Though honestly, most Singles Doctors and Young Adult Doctors don’t do knees. We did have an OB-GYN who treated a sprained ankle once, though. Knees are more likely to come up in the Seniors treatment center.
Kid: I hate doctor’s offices. Last year I had to spend six weeks in a cast because four of the kids in our treatment group had broken wrists.
Doctor: Oh yes. I’m so glad your group was treated for that! Many children hurt their wrists skating or climbing trees. In any case, I doubt it’s your knee. We have extensive research showing that breathing treatments are far more effective at keeping young people in your grade alive and healthy. Let’s just go ahead and sign you up, and you can give it a try, and I think if you have a good attitude it will work wonders for you. Remember, you only get out of treatment as much as you put in, right? Big smile for me, okay?
Disaster. But before you lay into the “doctor” in this situation, keep in mind the doctor is only doing what we’ve asked. We’ve spent generations now commanding youth ministers and faith formation directors to develop a single program that somehow effectively treats every patient in the pediatric hospital for sinners — and then we heap on the blame when an overworked, underpaid staff member isn’t able to magically cure all the youth of the parish in that sacred hour a week of instructional time.
There’s an alternative to this approach, and your pediatrician is already doing it, and interestingly it’s the same thing the Church prescribes: Parents as primary educators, passing on the faith in the domestic church.
What would happen if we abandoned the orphanage-model of faith formation and operated the hospital for sinners more like a good doctor’s office?
We’d quit scolding and start educating parents.When public health professionals notice parents aren’t getting their kids treated, they don’t rely on general admonitions to “Take your child’s health more seriously!” At my doctor’s office there are posters on the wall and racks of pamphlets explaining common medical problems, and signs to look for, and treatments to pursue. Does your parish educate parents on the common spiritual illnesses of youth, and how to prevent and treat them?
We’d give parents realistic ideas for how to educate their children in the faith, and expect them to follow-through. At the annual well-visit, the nurse runs through a list of age-appropriate potential concerns. The advice that goes with is concrete. Not a vague: Are you protecting your child from head injuries? but Does your child wear a helmet when bike riding? The best doctors take into account the family’s resources and limitations, and the child’s true needs, and work with parents to find solutions when, say, the kid won’t eat fruits and vegetables, or constantly unbuckles in the car. [Duct tape? Not kidding.] Parents usually will rise to expectations if the medical team can find a solution that the parent can reasonably hope to carry out.
We’d focus heavily on helping parents instill everyday spiritual health habits, but train parish staff in the diagnosis and treatment of serious problems. Our pediatrician is an excellent cook as it happens . . . but it’s not her job to feed our family. That’s my job. Do I sometimes slack on that job? You bet. But even on days when my kids have popcorn and ice cream for dinner, it’s better that our doctor focus her time on becoming as knowledgeable as she can on detecting and treating (either herself or via referral) the serious problems. Most appointments will end up with our doctor prescribing a simple course of treatment at home; every now and then, one of the kids will need more advanced care.
What would happen if we didn’t divide-and-conquer this way? I’d probably have a dead kid, thanks for asking. My pediatrician would be so bogged down with the weight of attempting to somehow feed our family a balanced diet (and do it in one weekly dinner twenty-five nights a year) that she’d never have the time and energy to stay current in her specialty and schedule one-on-one appointments. She’d never have discovered, in a routine five-minute check-up before a vaccine, the thing that could have killed my child. But because she specializes in treating the hard stuff, and leaves the day-to-day to me, when we need her expertise, she’s able to give it.
But the parents are neglectful! We lament. Well, yes. The parents are dropping like flies themselves, and Bishop Barron’s presentation addresses that. You can’t care for someone else when you yourself are dead.
Build Better Orphanages! is not the solution to the spiritual death of the adults in the congregation. You cannot bypass the parents. There are not enough youth ministers in the world, and never will be, because that is not God’s plan for the human family. Evangelize the parents, catechize the parents, and deploy the parents to do likewise for their children.
This is a constant, all-at-once process. Our pediatrician is effective because she assumes the goodwill of parents. We parents might know nothing at all about medicine, but we do love our kids. That’s all she needs for a start. If a parent is coming to your parish, that parent is ripe for the Good News. Who doesn’t want eternal life for themselves and their children, if only they know it’s attainable?
Here, enjoy this book cover. I am. Last round of edits starts in December, speak up at the blog discussion group if you have any final requests.
Feedback on this topic has been about 90% AMEN from people who have lived the experience of getting priced out of parish life, 5% Doesn’t Happen Here from people who live in awesome parishes and dioceses where making the sacraments accessible to all is the central goal (looking at you, Wichita), and 5% But How Would We Pay Our Staff???
If you’re in that last group, consider aiming for some doable, baby-step Non-Scale Victories in the serving-the-poor department. Change is hard. Keep pointing yourself in the right direction whenever you can, even if you can’t transform your parish overnight.
And on that note, here’s a thought that came up in a private discussion of the pay-to-pray problem: What the heck is Confirmation???
For most of us Latin-rite folk, our experience of Confirmation happens sometime between 3rd and 12th grade, and involves taking classes and doing service projects and attending retreats in order to “prepare” ourselves for the sacrament. A friend and I both observed that the whole scheme was much more pared down back in the day (1990’s). My best guess is that with each new crop of fallen-away college students, bishop-panic escalates and graduation-requirements become more stringent.
(Recap: Confirmation is not “graduation.” It is a free gift of God that can only be obtained by paying tuition, attending classes, completing assignments, and undergoing an evaluation once you have accomplished all your check-off requirements. If you don’t do the things, you can’t be confirmed, and there’s a form for you to sign stating you understand you have to do the things. But it is definitely a free gift. That you earn the right to receive by doing the things.)
For non-Latin-rite folk, though, the experience of Confirmation is typically quite different: You’re born, your parents haul you to church, and you bob around wiggling and fussing while your infant self receives all three sacraments of initiation in one fell swoop.
Interestingly the Latin-non-Latin divide extends into the wider Christian community. If you are Orthodox, you probably received confirmation (chrismation) as an infant. If you are part of the Protestant communiy, and hence your congregation traces its lineage back to Latin-rite western Europe, you probably experienced confirmation, or a non-sacramental equivalent, as an age-of-reason, formally and publicly pronounced, personal decision to follow Jesus Christ.
Catholics across the Rites maintain the course on infant baptism, pointing out that there’s nothing like it for underscoring the “free gift” aspect of salvation. Catholics and Orthodox agree with Protestants that once someone reaches the age reason, he or she must make the on-going decision to follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
What is troubling in the Confirmation Prep arms race is that by out-Baptisting-the-Baptists Catholics are increasingly turning, lex vivendi, a sacrament of initiation into a sacrament of service.
Marriage and Ordination are sacraments of service. They are sacraments that commission a vocation. While we would hope that growing up in a Christian home, being properly educated by one’s parents, and carrying out the appropriate course of discernment would go far in preparing someone for either vocation, it is reasonable that we take certain steps to ensure those embarking on their lifelong vocation are as equipped as possible to begin the task.
What seems to be happening with Confirmation in the Latin rite is that because we have (for now) the practice of delaying the sacrament until after the age of reason, we are losing hold on the free gift of the Holy Spirit reality of what this sacrament of initiation is. We are instead treating it like a sacrament of service. We are demanding proof of our young people not that they wish to receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, but that they are already able to use them.
This is not what the sacrament is. Confirmation confers the gifts that we need to live our Christian vocation. Furthermore, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are limitless and divine. We don’t have to fear, like handing a child an enormous check on his eighteenth birthday, that he’ll run out and spend the money foolishly for lack of adequate budgeting skills. You aren’t going to blow all your gift of piety in one wild afternoon of Adoration and be left broke and wondering what you’ll pray tomorrow.
Confirmation Prep as typically prescribed, though, isn’t usually about cultivating a spiritual state of desire for intimate union with Holy Spirit. Rather, our bishops look at the results of Confirmation — the fruits — of the Spirit, and prescribe a set of lessons and practice exercises to prove the child already possesses what the sacrament is supposed to confer and unleash.
Frankly, this verges on spiritual fornication. You say you want to be a fully-initiated disciple? Well act like one by doing these requirements that put you through the paces of disciple-activities! Show yourself able and worthy! To freely receive something you can never deserve, and which is about God’s action in you, not you working of your own power, we’d like to see ten hours of it accomplished and documented!
This is not the way God’s glory is made manifest. Repentance, the calling of sinners, the invitation to sit at the table of the Lord . . . these are preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The sacraments of service are vocations to love our neighbor as Christ loves us. They come after the sacraments of initiation because the ability to love our neighbor flows from Christ. First we receive from God, then we give to others what we have received. Confirmation is a sacrament of receiving.
Rather than a checklist of activities proving we are worthy and able to give what we do not yet possess, the question for those us of tasked with preparing young people for Confirmation is: How can I help you open your heart to receive this gift for which you were created, and which, so hard to believe in our meritocratic society, you can never earn?
I wrote to the DRE at the start of the school year, explaining that my teen wanted to be confirmed but that I was in the middle of a new job that was requiring 70-80 hour work weeks, so I really *could not* be the hand-holding parent going to a bazillion meetings and all that. I requested that the parish come up with a formation program my teen could complete without parent attendance, and what with it being she, not I, getting confirmed, it seemed reasonable.
Despite the steady nagging of teens to become “adults in the faith,” the parish struggled intensely with the idea of working directly with a teenager. I can get this, because I work directly with young persons, so I know that they are not universally organized and conscientious. Teaching children to become adults requires risk-taking and persistence. DRE’s thus tend to have an Augustinian wish: Give these teens responsibility, oh Lord, but not yet.
Over at the Register, Jason Craig writes “Why Confirmation is Not a Mere Rite of Passage.” I give it a hearty amen in part because I have shown up to a couple parent Confirmation-prep things lately, and apparently the indoctrination at religious ed on the “becoming an adult in the faith” is so strong that when I whispered to my teen a corrective to the presenter’s assertion that the sacrament of Confirmation was about you as a teen confirming you wanted to be Catholic, she whispered back, surprised, “It’s not??” I let the deacon feel my ire. The mother is not amused by pseudo-theology.
The mother is, however, grateful. If you’re going to lay into the parish staff for their irresponsibility, you have to be willing to do the work to offer something better. We came home from that dreadful formation meeting with a challenge: What is the point of Confirmation? It’s all well and good to say it gives you the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, but what does that mean? How is it different from Baptism and the Eucharist?
A few days contemplation bore much fruit. My husband and I, and hopefully the kids as well, found ourselves moved very deeply as we considered with awe the reality of this sacrament which, described imprecisely, is for your relationship with the Holy Spirit what the Eucharist is for your relationship with Jesus Christ. That intimate union, that indwelling, that receiving of life . . . to speak of the action of the Trinity is risk material heresy, but whoa! You want to shake a few shoulders and shout at the bishop with his well-meaning video for teens DO YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IT IS YOU ARE FAILING TO TELL THESE KIDS?!! Tithing and church service are great, and yeah I’d like more priests too (though I want to find out if there’s a trustworthy seminary first), but seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, guys! Confirmation is one of the seven great mystical things, and you are missing out terribly if you think it is just a glorified membership drive.
Fortunately, the sacrament doesn’t wear off. Even if your parish has hidden the glory of the Holy Spirit under the table cloth of mandatory service hours, and your teen’s formation program consists of Catholic-brand career-counseling, God in His humility is waiting, like the preschooler behind the door calling out “I’m hiding come find me!” Ignore the distractions. Go into the quiet room where God dwells and find Him there. He wants to live in you. He wants to make you His home. He wants to make His life your life. You were made for this.
The children are taught to list the Gifts of the Holy Spirit when asked what it is they receive at Confirmation. You’re supposed to say that, instead of “Green light for my quince,” or “To get my parents off my back,” when they ask why you want to be confirmed. There’s an awful lot of talking about the gifts, and using the gifts, and of course you had to work hard attending classes and doing service projects and writing papers in order to be allowed to have the gifts.
It is so much noise. Blather. Idiocy. Too smart for your own good. Ditch the growing-up talk, because it is a childlike faith that our Lord requests. Children, unsophisticated, believing, accepting, are unafraid to ask for what Confirmation is: I want the Power of God to live inside me.
I used to be one of those catechists with no patience for kids’ sports. I believed in the value of athletics, I really did, but disapproved of the modern sports industry’s drain on society. People who organized their lives around their kids’ games and practices were wrong-headed, period.
Then I had a kid who begged for three years straight to please be allowed to try a team sport — any sport at all, she just really, really wanted to be on a team. That gateway drug of athletics, free summer practice, fell in our laps. We committed to two months and no more. And now I can explain to you why you are wrong-headed when you pit Church vs. Athletics.
Kids Want to Do Hard Things
Do you know another thing my junior athlete did? She co-founded a parish ministry. At the end of fifth grade she sat on the church playground talking a mom of younger children in the parish, coming up with an idea for having parish families meet once a week for faith formation, academics, Adoration, Mass, and social time, faithfully Catholic but open to all-comers.
If the parents had to work the bureaucracy, it was the elementary schoolers who gave shape to the nuts and bolts of the ministry.
And for this they had to fight. Over and over and over again my daughter saw how adults at every level of the church administration wanted to shut down a ministry that was operating under the complete supervision of the pastor, was explicitly open to every member of the parish (and got some great inter-generational participation as a result), and was in no way undermining any other parish or diocesan ministry.
Year after year my daughter tried different avenues for getting involved in parish life doing hard things. Year after year, roadblocks came up. Eventually she got the message: Kids who are serious about the faith aren’t welcome in the Catholic Church.
In contrast, over in the sports world, hard work and dedication was consistently welcomed and rewarded. So that’s where she wants to be.
Kids Want to Be Themselves
When pastors and parish staff grumble about “sports,” something they overlook is that “sports” isn’t one single thing. There are sports for every interest, body type, and personality, and leagues at every level of competitiveness. You can be an elite ballerina or a rec bowler, and it’s all generic “sports” to the naysayers if it gets in the way of their plans for you.
Year after year my kids have listened to adults in authority tell them how beneficial it will be for them to commit two hours a week to sitting in classes they could literally teach themselves — as one honest catechist used to say with admiration to a child of mine. These adults do not sit in the classes they so merrily foist on children whose names they can’t keep straight. Staff time is valuable. Children’s time is not.
The kids aren’t lazy. They are choosing to spend their time on activities that are intellectually and physically demanding, often having to skip a friend’s birthday party or go without luxuries other kids enjoy because the family budget will only allow so much. Trust me: If the only sport on offer was 2nd grade kickball, very few kids would be sacrificing for it. Kids sacrifice for sports because athletics are one of the few venues where kids can take control of their formation and push themselves to make the most of their own personal talents and abilities and gifts.
Kids Want Competence
Coaches aren’t getting rich in children’s athletics. Most are volunteers, and even those at higher levels who are getting a stipend have to support themselves with a full-time day job. The question athletes ask isn’t, “What kind of degrees do you have in this field?” They just want proof you are a good coach.
When a team has a lousy coach, players vote with their feet. A lousy club or league doesn’t hold onto athletes.
This is exactly like catechesis. The difference is that because Church culture opposes personal growth and initiative (witness the resistance my daughter faced when she tried to meet with her friends to study the faith outside of the mandated religious-ed program), there aren’t “other teams” to turn to if a given program or instructor doesn’t work out for you.
Sadly, the monopoly of the local parish program’s age-mandated classing system creates incompetence. It does this because no one teacher can be the best at meeting every child’s needs. Just like some coaches are better at preparing future Olympic gymnasts and others are better at getting a pile of nervous t-baller’s to look at the ball, every catechist has strengths and weaknesses. If you were told you had to meet the spiritual needs of every child in your neighborhood who was born in a certain 12-month span, you’d fail too. It’s an impossible job.
Children Have Bodies
Do you know who is jealous of the human body? Satan.
Humans use our bodies to express our souls. We are unlike any other creature, having both a rational immortal soul and a physical body that will be resurrected and endure for all eternity in its glorified form. What we do with our bodies matters, so learning to use our bodies well is important. To hate the body is to hate the person.
This doesn’t mean the body is more important than the soul. It isn’t. Parishes need to up their game significantly when it comes to caring for children’s souls. But sports isn’t competition. We live in a society which offers few options for helping children develop physically. The era when children grew in strength and endurance and agility by helping out with farm chores or physically-demanding skilled manual labor has largely passed.
As a teacher, I beg my restless students to go out for a sport every season, just so they can get the hours of running-around time they need so they are calm enough to sit still in class. Kids (and adults) need physical activity in order to function well because we are made for it.
Kids Have Souls
What is the proper response of the Church to “competition” from sports? The Church needs to do her own job. Kids and parents don’t take faith formation seriously because parishes don’t take it seriously.
Unfortunately, at every level the credibility of church leaders has been lost. After enough years of being told they should want to live on a diet of spiritual pablum, children quit believing their pastors.
Teenagers accuse “You don’t trust me!” and parents rightly observe that trust is earned. Pastors must hold themselves to the same standard. If your parish has only offered twaddle, kids and parents aren’t going to jump every time you announce a hot new thing is going to be great. The American youth sports edifice wasn’t born in six months, and the rebuilding of evangelization won’t happen instantly either.
As good as sports are, we should be gravely concerned when parents and children neglect their souls in favor of their bodies. It is a profound and shameful problem.
But the solution isn’t for parish staff to take children’s bodies less seriously. The solution is to take children’s souls more seriously.