Request for Contributions: Effective Communication on Parish Access for You, a Person with a Disability

Hey everyone, I am looking for help, quickly.  My awesome editor of the new book surprised me by wanting more, not less, info on making parishes accessible to persons with disabilities.

The question we need to cover: What is the best way for a parish to communicate with you, and vice-versa, so that your disability (medical condition, etc – so celiac, diabetes, severe allergies, chronic illness . . . all that can have parish-life implications too) can be accommodated right from the start?

Leave your comments at the blog discussion group, or message me on Facebook or Twitter @JenFitz_Reads.

We’re envisioning here both scenarios where the accommodations might already be present but you still have to know about them, and situations where you show up and have to start the process (however simple or complicated) of getting full access to parish life.

I’m looking for firsthand experience from the user-end, not stories of what your parish has provided to accommodate someone else, but what you as the person being accommodated (or the parent, etc., if appropriate) find most helpful in terms of effective communication to make the accommodation happen. Anything at all relevant to that topic.

[Include here also anything related to overcoming human stupidity, when your disability is not something that should be an access issue at all, but weirdly it is because people are dumb sometimes.]

Although I do not know what our total word count for this section will be (and therefore how many detailed stories or quotes I can use), please indicate with your comment whether you are up for being directly quoted or whether you are providing background info only. If you are game for being quoted, let me know what to call you in the book. If you need to be quoted anonymously, PM me (so it doesn’t show up in a public FB feed).  You can refer to yourself by full name, job title, and credentials, or you can give me something descriptive but vague such as “Mary, a retired accountant on the Gulf coast,” or “John, a new convert working with an inner city ministry to street performers,” or whatever suits.

If I already have your story, we’re set, just remind me I’ve got it and give me permission and quoting info if you haven’t done so already. But you might have more to say, or particular details that are pertinent to this specific question. If so, repeat with fresh info or emphasis, please.

***

Related: If you have more stories of excellent examples of being a person with a disability who is involved in evangelizing* (discipling) ministry in some manner in your parish or the community you serve, I’d be interested in hearing two things:

  • The big-picture story of your work (who you serve, how you serve, stories of people growing closer to Jesus), which will just as likely end up *elsewhere* in the book, not related to disability at all.
  • Possibly to be put in the same quote or possibly to be used as info elsewhere, stories on the details of making access happen, whether that be something already built into your ministry or something that had to be organized.

*If you’re doing it right it’s all evangelizing. Don’t get hung up on vocabulary.

What doesn’t make the book will end up getting used somewhere, if you give me permission to do so.  Let me know that.

Thank you!

Cover Art/ Image Description: This is the cover of the book I’m asking you to contribute to, The How to Book of Evangelization, coming out in June 2020 from Our Sunday Visitor.  FYI for those who don’t know, publishers come up with book covers all on their own, without the author’s input on the design (they get info from the author all about the book, of course).  So it’s magical that they chose a shade of purple I love, and a big ol’ crucifix splashed across the cover that looks an awful lot the like one I have a view of from my office.  God provides.

7QT: Anatomy of a K5 Bible Lesson

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.

File:Book of Esther Chapter 7-4 (Bible Illustrations by Sweet Media).jpg

Artwork: Illustration from the book of Esther, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0.

Catechesis vs. Evangelization in the Pediatric Hospital for Sinners

So the US Bishops have assembled again, and following a hot tip I watched the session with Bishop Barron’s report on evangelization.  You can view the whole thing here.

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?

The How-To Book of Evangelization: Everything You Need to Know but No One Ever Taught You

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.

Confirmation as a Near-Baptist Experience

As promised, up at the Register: Is Your Parish Bogged Down in a Pay-to-Pray Evangelism?

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?

File:Brooklyn Museum - God the Father with Four Angels and the Dove of the Holy Spirit - Giovanni Francesco da Rimini.jpg

Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain.

Pricing People Out of Parish Life

Over at the blorg I put up a quick note about something that caught my eye: Best Practices in Evangelization = Unintended Lesson in Homelessness.  The trouble with things you dash off, as a friend so tactfully put it in a comment, “I need to be awake to really see what she is saying clearly.” Ha.  What I say is:

  1. Hey look! The Archdiocese of Baltimore is doing something awesome.
  2. Notice what their missionaries need to live on?  What does that tell us about living wages for families?
  3. And that reminds me of a fresh new rant I’ve cultivated lately . . .

Allow me to tell you about #3.  Recently someone posed the question: What do you think of holding abc parish ministry at xyz commercial venue?  The primary concern was that the venue might be suitably excellent for the ministry, or maybe the nature of the location was potentially problematic for some participants.  Charitable discussion ensued.  The one small thing I had to add:  Is it possible for people to attend without having to pay for the privilege?

I find with surprising consistency that among American Catholic parishes there’s an expectation that people who love Jesus will cough up money for dinner or drinks or babysitting so that they can participate in parish life.  There’s an assumption that if your child desires a sacrament, you will be able to get free from work and find transportation on a day and hour of the week chosen for you without consulting you — nearly always an hour when service workers are expected to be on the job, and when special-needs kids are melting down after a long day of pretending to be normal.  My rant reaches its peak when friends tell me about their parishes where mandatory sacramental prep costs the equivalent of a month’s rent on affordable housing.

The assumption is that most participants will have the money, and if you really cared you would reorganize to find the money and clear your calendar; in the unlikely event poor persons should want to do the parish thing, then the poor persons can beg the proper authorities so that a patron steps forward to pay their way.

Now let me be clear: I am not against Theology on Tap.  I am not against Ladies’ Night Out at the local restaurant.  I totally get that someone’s got to buy the books and craft paper and the new boxes of markers for religious ed.

But let me also be clear: When we make the decision to center parish life on pay-to-pray events, we are making the decision to exclude the people who don’t have money for that.

What with it being Mother Theresa’s feast day yesterday, and what with the Gospel reading this past Sunday, it is more and more on my mind how much our default mode of operating in the American Church is to center parish life on the needs and abilities of an affluent, able-bodied, main audience.  People who can’t keep up with that lifestyle are often an afterthought and an exception.

The article I cited caught my eye because in the midst of explaining a ministry that is exactly the opposite of all this — true evangelization of the poorest of the poor — there was a sobering reminder that yes, the cost of living is high.  Take a look at some income charts from the Census Bureau.  A very rough statistic is that about 1/3 of American households earn the same or less than what it costs to sponsor a healthy, single young adult with no children living as a missionary in church-provided housing.  Here’s a short discussion of the prevalance of credit card debt among Americans (Money tip: If you can’t pay off your credit card bills, you can’t afford to go out to dinner at the restaurant).

I think we should change this.  I think I am as bad as anyone about building my life around my comfortable little middle-class bubble.  But the Gospel says what it does, and to paraphrase my pastor yesterday, “Things go better when you do what God tells you to do.”  So I’m thinking the US Church in general needs to reorganize parish life so that people who are resource-thin are the center, not the periphery, of our faith community.

 

File:"Men working together" - NARA - 515004.tif

Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain.

Towards an Authentic Spirituality of Confirmation

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.

That’s more than enough.

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Photo by Richard Bartz courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 2.5.

The #2 Thing Anyone Can Do to Help the Church

There are two myth-making forces at work in the McCarrick scandals.  One is denial.  Clinging to the idea that there are a few bad apples, and they are just so very sneaky and that’s why they got away with their crimes.

The other myth is that the good guys can fix this.  We imagine we can run over to Costco and pick up the plenty-pack of Accountability Spray, and with enough elbow grease the house will be squeaky clean again.  Everyone pitch in!

If the Church is a house, myth #1 is that the fridge is a disaster and needs to hauled to be the dump, can’t decide whether to fumigate the couch in the den or just burn it, and let’s rip out that musty carpet in the back bedroom — then everything will be fine again.  A few cobwebs and a squeaky staircase?  Typical old house.  Relax.

Myth #2 is that sure, we belong on an episode of Hoarders, but if we call in the team we can all work together until the junk has been cleared out and the walls and floors are all scrubbed down.

That’s not what we have.  What we have is extensive rot in load-bearing walls.

What does the rot look like?  It looks like this comment from the fabled orthodoxy-wonderland Diocese of Lincoln:

I’m glad someone has finally spoken about this.  A fellow-seminarian (now-priest) and I were tormenetd by MK’s [Msgr Kalin] behaviors for a long while.  Our experience was part of what led +Fabian to order that at least 2 people accompany MK on the stadium walks.  I wish it weren’t true, but it is.

What was happening is that Msgr. Kalin, who was both diocesan director of vocations and director of the University of Nebraska Newman Center, was molesting his students.  The former student explains:

Since you seem to be afraid to read between the lines, I will state it plainly: repeatedly asking to touch and be touched in inappropriate places, asking for “French kisses”, and doing these actions without being given permission — to say nothing of the entire grooming process by which these actions/gestures were normalized.  I finally said something after my friend walked into the chapel literally *shaking* after one of these episodes, because until then, I thought it was just me.  It was at that point I woke up to how twisted the whole situation was and had been for some time.  Now, think about the fact that this is coming from the person who made himself your confessor and spiritual director.

UPDATE: Here is an account of Wan Wei Hsien’s experience that provides a clearer timeline of events.

This is the same Msgr. Kalin who was the picture of a balanced commitment to priestly chastity in an interview for American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America’s Most Powerful Church:

When I asked Kalin about homosexuality, he said, “I get to know a candidate pretty well before I recommend him to the seminary, and if I think someone is an active homosexual, I’ll take him aside and we’ll agree that the priesthood isn’t for him.  On the other hand, Bishop Flavin always said that he didn’t care what someone’s inclinations were, as long as he was sincerely committed to a chaste life.”

American Catholic by Charles Morris, p. 387

Predators cover their tracks.

A healthy, sane person would react to such betrayal with shock, despair, and disbelief.   If the lone-predator myth were true,  then when Msgr. Kalin’s deception was uncovered, a clear-thinking supervisor would do a thorough investigation and either exonerate the accused or determine the man was not competent for ministry.

What was bishop Fabian Bruskewitz’s solution to this problem?  Require seminarians to only visit their director in pairs.

That’s right: The bishop understands that the director of seminarians can’t be trusted alone in the room with a seminarian . . . but he still thinks the man is competent to direct the formation of the diocese’s future priests?

This is the behavior of people in abusive relationships.

***

Here’s an interesting article in that it shows you the shiny veneer of a dysfunctional family.  Compare the key players in that happy vocations story to the names in Rod Dreher’s efforts to dig out the facts on the Kalin case (quoted above).  Gives you pause for thought.

***

People in abusive or dysfunctional relationships behave in insane ways.  There is constant blame-shifting, avoidance of responsibility, and generating of excuses and distractions to cover over the real problems.  Anyone who tries to speak reason or point out real problems becomes the enemy.  The status quo must be preserved.  Everyone tied up in the abusive relationship has somehow come to believe that their safety is threatened if anything disrupts their twisted, tormented way of life.

So seminarians are sent to see their director in pairs.

A generation of priests in one of the most boomingly orthodox dioceses in the nation were formed by a notorious lecher who was left in office after his crimes were known to the bishop.

That’s not about McCarrick.  That’s about Bruskewitz.  Different theology, different politics, different dioceses . . . same problem.  All across the nation and around the world, whitewashed pillars of the church are decayed to the core with this rot of abusive and dysfunctional relationships.

***

I and others who have been writing about the McCarrick fallout get letters from church-workers, clergy and laity alike.  We get thanked for our open, outspoken coverage of the bishops’ failure of leadership.  And invariably there’s a coda: “I can’t say anything myself.  I have to be careful.”

Yes, I know about that.  I know about being pushed out of a parish ministry because I held someone accountable for a gross failure of common sense where child safety policies were concerned.  I know about silence and “discretion” that involves never, ever, speaking up with plain answers.  I know about people accused of sexual crimes against children threatening lawsuits if you share public information about the status of their legal case . . . even as they are in the process of inviting your own children to their home.

I know about that.

***

I also know that things are complicated.  I know that false accusations happen.  I’ve been the key witness in a case defending an innocent man against an egregious and absolutely fabricated, revenge-motivated accusation.  I know that decent people get overwhelmed in difficult situations, and we don’t always handle the moment in the best way.  I know that sometimes you are under the gun and you do something really dumb, and you regret it later, and you resolve to never do it again.  I know that sometimes you examine a situation carefully, and you still come to the wrong conclusion about the best way to handle it.  I know that sometimes you just don’t understand how serious a situation is, and you don’t treat it with the gravity it deserves.  Stupid happens.  It happens to all of us.

***

Here’s the difference between stupid and dysfunctional:  Healthy people don’t build their lives around defending and perpetuating stupid.

***

So what can anyone, in any state of life, do in response to the rot of abuse and dysfunction in our Church?

Of course #1 is to fast and pray.  You know that.  You don’t need a blog post about it.

The response that hurts is #2: You have to act like a healthy person.  You have to refuse to be part of the cycle of dysfunction and abuse.

The only way for the Body of Christ to be healthy is for members of that Body to be healthy.  The gangrene stops here.

***

That’s not fun.  It gets ugly fast, because the dysfunctional people will pull out every weapon they have to fight your insistence on sane behavior.  You can expect lying, evading, shunning . . . the works.

What does it mean in parish life?  It means you might not have much of a parish life.  It means that you might become the persona non grata, because you refuse to play along and pretend everything is fine.  It means you or a family member might be denied the sacraments.

***

Oh no!  In that case—

Think about it.  You’re afraid that if you refuse to sin, and if you refuse to be party to perpetuating sin . . . you’ll be cut off from the grace of God?

That’s not how God works.

How God works is that He rewards His prophets by having them thrown into a cistern.  He rewards His son’s obedience with the Cross.  But His grace is right there the whole time.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain.

What Doesn’t Protect the Church

I’ve been writing about the allegations of sexual molestation against Cardinal McCarrick over at Patheos:

Soldiers for Christ Hiding Under the Bed is about the connection between covering up for sexual predators and the inability of the Church to be an effective witness to wider society.  Not a surprising connection, but one that needs to be made.

Promiscuous vs. Predatory: How to Tell the Difference is a response to the suggestion that McCarrick was guilty of simple sexual immaturity, not predatory molestation and sexual harassment.  It contains links to my growing collection of essays related to the topic of abuse in the Church.

Rod Dreher has been covering this topic as well, from the point of view of a journalist who investigated McCarrick in the past, but was unable to pull together a story he could break.  In Uncle Ted & The Grand Inquisitor, he shares a disturbing comment he received from a reader:

We MUST protect our brand, our shield, our faith!

I fully support Pope Francis and his softened tone, and even swipes at capitalism because the media love him. And image is everything.   Similarly with Cardinal Dolan, I will fight to the death to defend him, and would go to extreme lengths to protect him because he is so well liked in the leftist NYC media.

In short, we must handle these issues swiftly, legally, but privately!  As a successful advertising executive in NYC I am looked up like an alien because I am a weekly mass attender, and a conservative. I am respected by my liberal media friends because I loathe the Trump-Palin-Brietbart wing of my party, and trumpet my cause in a more Bill Buckley.

Image is everything, and when it comes to the One True Church we MUST protect her!

Dreher’s reader is wrong.

Let’s see what the Bible has to say about fighting the Church’s enemies:

11 Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. 13 Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. 14 So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, 15 and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:11-16

What are our weapons?  Truth, righteousness, the Gospel, faith, salvation, and the word of God.

Covering up for sexual predators does not fit on that list.

If the allegations against Cardinal McCarrick are true, the man should have been removed from pastoral ministry decades ago.  By all means, when you see a priest, or anyone, doing what they ought not be doing, if no laws are being broken, begin by confronting the sinner privately.  We all sin.  Would that we were all given the chance to quietly confront our own failings and rectify them.

But when you have evidence of decades of predatory behavior, with untold hundreds of clerics at every level of the hierarchy complicit in silence and cover-up, and how many lives of young men ruined by the crimes inflicted upon them . . . there is no quietly cleaning this up.  “Discretion” does nothing to help the Church.  There is a time for genuine public penance, and now is that time.

Dreher’s reader is correct: the Church’s image matters. But when we hide behind some limp notion of “handling things privately,” the rot festers.  No one is fooled.  The public rightly views us as hypocrites of the worst sort.

So let us instead make the Bride of Christ holy, without blemish, and irreproachable before Christ.  That image, and that image alone, is the one for which we should strive.

File:Vincent van Gogh - The Church in Auvers-sur-Oise, View from the Chevet - Google Art Project.jpg

Artwork via Wikimedia, Public Domain

Raising Catholic Teens, Rough Cut Version

So I have this artist who lives at my house and makes Bible verse paintings.

 

The one she hung in the bathroom is . . . topical:

So that’s all good.  We’re keeping Hobby Lobby in business with our canvas-buying habits, even more so since I just gave her a new commission: I need John 20:22-23 on the wall, stat.

What happened is my 13-year-old came home yesterday and told me about an apologetics argument she’d gotten into with a grown-up who wasn’t too keen on the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  She gave it her best, but she’s not a hardened veteran like her older brother is, and plus she was one-on-one.  We talked about some different ways to charitably approach the topic, and then I went to the living room and moved the dog bed and the cedar chest and pushed back the couch until I could fish out our New Catholic Answer Biblewhich we don’t ordinarily store under the couch, but I had seen it there when I was laying on the living room rug and I’d forgotten to rescue it then, so it was ready and waiting.  I left the sock and the plastic Easter egg for another time.

I couldn’t give her the actual citation, I just knew the verse was at the end of one of the Gospels since the moment occurred post-resurrection, so I sent her to check all the ends of the Gospels, but then I needed to go do carpool so I quick looked up the verse on Bible Gateway via keyword so that I didn’t leave her hanging.  I also handed her over my Precise Parallel New Testament, and explained that it was important to look up the verse in several translations so you don’t get blindsided if the person you are arguing with has another translation that phrases things differently.

“When in doubt,” I told her, “most Protestants will accept the KJV, so always check that.”

She did check the KJV, and noticed the use of the word ye.  I explained that meant Jesus was speaking to the group of apostles, not just one person, because ye is plural.  “The KJV is great for apologetics, actually, because you can point out the thou whenever Jesus is only speaking to one apostle.”

“Like ‘upon this rock I will build my Church,'” she said.  Yep, that’s my kid.  And that verse will be commission #2.

So this morning in the car on the way to school I quizzed her on what Bible passage shows Jesus giving the apostles the power to forgive sins, and she nailed it.  Probably I’m the only one who needs the art on the walls.  Also, she observed it must have been pretty weird for Peter getting a new name like Rock.  “Think about going around and everyone’s calling you ‘Rock’,” she said.

Yep.

So I’m proud of that kid, but here’s the thing: Just because you are growing up in a house with Bible verses on the walls doesn’t mean everything is swell in your little Catholic bubble.  And that’s why, when my eldest daughter came home the other night and was talking about her frustration with the Church, I decided I needed to write about it.

The things she had to say are things I hear from a lot of adults, too.  What she has to say are things that some people like to dismiss, but I showed my daughter the number shares we’ve already gotten, and that tells me and her that she’s not alone.   There are a lot of people out there like my daughter, people who want to be Catholic, but it’s not going so well. You can read about it at the Register: “What Good Catholic Teens Want from the Church”

My Family’s Billy Graham Story

Shortly before she died, my mom gave me the cross you see on the left here:

It is her baptism cross.

Her mother, my grandmother, was raised Catholic up in New Jersey.  Her father, my grandfather, was raised Baptist and staunchly anti-Catholic down in the deep South.  They met during WWII when his ship was in port near where Grandma lived up in the metro area of NYC.   They fell in love, married, and went on to raise their family in the US Navy.   They couldn’t come to an agreement on religion, so they came to a truce: As a family they’d attend whatever church was closest to base that was neither Catholic nor Baptist.

My mom was not, therefore, baptized Catholic as an infant.

As a girl, sometime in the late 1950’s most likely, she attended a Billy Graham crusade.  She told me she found it very moving — she was in fact evangelized by that crusade.  She was baptized Presbyterian (due to the truce), and that cross is the one she received at her baptism.

Later in college she converted to Catholicism and married a cradle Catholic.  As happens to many families who get overwhelmed by young children and moving around with work, for about a decade when I was growing up our family lived firmly on the list of Bad Catholics Parish Staff Love to Hate.  We were the people taking your parking space and crowding your pews twice a year.

Mom didn’t like that though.  She knew we needed to be going to church every Sunday.  She kept trying and trying, and eventually she was victorious.  For many years before she died she was fervent in practicing and sharing the Catholic faith.

My dad, the same guy who was such a foot-dragging-Catholic during our Tick Off The DRE years, went on to meet my stepmother (that’s her heart up there to the right) at church after he was widowed. The two of them are now active in their parish, carrying out all kinds of works of mercy and going on parish pilgrimages to holy sites around the world.

Would we have the same story if my mom hadn’t attended a Billy Graham crusade?  There’s no way to know.  But she did, and it made it a difference in her life.