Forming Intentional Disciples, Session 9, Chapter 8: Seeking and Discipleship


The questions this week get right to the ugly bit about reforming the Church: There would be no need for reform if people weren’t doing things wrong.

To be a disciple of Christ is to concede that you do a ton of things wrong.  That it’s your mission in life to find out what you’re doing wrong, and to change — through your own willingness, and through your cooperation with the grace of God.

All this would be unbearable if we were condemned for our sins.  The reason to stick around for Christianity is because God does not demand our blood, He offers his own.  We don’t have a religion that let’s us brush off our sins as “no big deal” or “not really hurting anybody” or “just a mistake”.  It is a big deal.  We do get hurt.

And we freely choose to do wrong even when we know better.   Venial sin is worse than the measles, to quote the much-maligned children’s Baltimore Catechism.  Mortal sin is worse than cancer, to quote I’m-not-sure-whom.  You only die of cancer once; you die of mortal sin for all eternity.

I’m persuaded that Christians today, in addition to having a loose grasp on the reality of God and everything else, haven’t got much of a notion of forgiveness.  We observe (correctly) that our friends are eminently likeable people, so we decide that must mean they are innocent.  We observe (correctly) that God loves our friends, and therefore they can’t possibly be headed to Hell.

The results is that when someone really betrays us, or really commits some serious, shocking harm, we have to switch over to demonizing.  I’m reminded of a murder I read about in the newspaper once. The neighbor observed that the murderer (a mother) loved her children dearly, evidenced by the fact that she made her children brush her teeth every night.  Surely a mother who makes her children brush her teeth before bed wouldn’t murder them in the morning?  Except that she did.  The clean-teeth rule doesn’t hold.

I happen to like just about everyone, so the Do I Like You? method of moral theology doesn’t satisfy.

In our parishes, the reality that our leaders sin (and err) does not negate everything they do.  A devoted musician, a kind catechist, or a generous priest, doesn’t cease to be devoted or kind or generous on account of this or that unrelated shortcoming.  “How can you say Mrs. Beazly wasn’t prepared for her lesson!  She loves the children so dearly!”  Well yes, she does love the children, and that’s to her credit.  She still needs to brush up on her theology.  And since she loves the children, surely she’s willing to sit down for a quick review of the creed, to make sure she’s got her facts right, no?

And it works the other way.  “How can you say that man is a good priest, when he presides over Disco Mass every Sunday?”  Well, yes, the disco Mass really must go.  But that doesn’t mean Father needs to go.  May the disco Mass perish in the netherworld, and Father chuckle with relief in a safe, happy place where we’ll spend 10,000 years with never a glimpse of shag carpet*.

So on the one hand, sin and stupidity ought to be shocking.  How *could* you spend all these years in church leadership, and not even have a personal relationship with the Lord? Seriously?  And on the other hand, sin and stupidity are such part and parcel of our everyday lives, it gets a little boring.

Which is not to say we shrug and put up with up with it.  Measles, remember?  Vaccinate, prescribe, rest and fluids, visit the sick person, recover slowly, be careful about hand-washing and sharing cups.  But you would no more hate your friend for catching the measles than you ought to hate your friend for catching original sin.  It happens.

Forgiveness is that moment when we let go of the natural horror of realizing things are really, really wrong, and step in and help out the sinner in whatever way we are able.  Sometimes all we can do is pray. Sometimes, for the eternal safety of ourselves and others, spiritual quarantine really is the only prudent option.

(Said with full force of the virtue on that ‘prudence’, not a wiggly fearful over-caution hiding behind the real thing.)

Other times, we can do something more.  When we can, we do.

*This vision of Heaven has not been approved by the Church.  But if there is shag carpet in Heaven, it will be some kind of Divine shag carpet that persons actually want in their homes. Purgatory, on the other hand? All bets are off.

Intentional Disciples Week 8, Ch. 7: Openness


My experience with ‘openness’ dates back to my in-between period, when I’d left the Church during college, and then, surprise, found myself wanting a religion.  Not in the sense of, “I observe that I should want a religion.  I shall look about and find the proper one.”  I just kept doing things that, looking back, were all about spiritual restlessness.

So, for example, I took a course called “Islam and Revolution”, and between that and taking a year of Arabic*, I spent a short time “open” to Islam.  Which had been getting favorable press in the Utne reader, for those who remember that spell.  One evening at Barnes & Noble I stood over the bargain bin and read a short, photo-filled book of Muslim apologetics.  It all made perfect sense.  I was open to it.

(It didn’t take.)

Paganism did take for a while — nothing in my Catholic upbringing prevented it.  If it’s easy for pagans to become Catholics, turns out that road runs both ways.  I was open enough to anything spiritual, and paganism was the most convenient religion around, so easy to fall into.  [See: Utne Reader. There are a few liberal-sized holes in the Bible Belt, mostly around academia.]  Bhuddism, too.  Open open open.

Which makes this stage of faith so treacherous for the Catholic in the pew.  Because honestly, you can join the Church and sing in the choir for 40 years, and still really just be “open”.  It’s not that you’ve made this firm decision that being Catholic is the only way; it just happens to be where you are and what you’re doing, and if it’s enjoyable, you can fall into it out of pleasant habit.  Which is not all bad.

But that leaves you just as open to falling right back out the way you came in.


See, the Church is full of wretched sinners.  So much so that we have not just one but *four* sacraments that involve forgiveness of sins.  And three more that assist.

Which means there’s a decent chance someone is going to do something really horrible to you during your time in the Church.  And if you’re only ‘open’, you’ll be just as open to moving on when the friendships or the music or the you-name-it suddenly evaporates, and all you’re left with is your non-faith.  Why be Catholic when it sucks?  No real reason, unless maybe it’s true.

If I were to bet in some spiritual gambling hall where the dealer could report the state of all souls after the bets were placed, I’d hazard that the bulk of American Catholics are “open”.  I say that because everyone I know is real happy with the good stuff they experience at Church — not at all suspicious, no reservations about turning out.  But also, an awful lot of Catholics I know consider the faith up for comparison-shopping.

I’ve watched a nearby parish lose half it’s membership over the last several years, and that tells me two things: (1) Someone in administration there has done something really really bad (if I gather correctly, just all-star jerkiness, no particular crime), and (2) most parishioners were only temporarily Catholic.  (No fault of their own, I assume). But it turns out that a large percentage who left have taken up with Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians — and a few just decided sleep late on Sundays now.  They want something, and they’d rather it be Catholic, but frankly they’ll take the best gig they can get, and not worry so much about details.

That’s normal in the ‘open’ state.

What that tells me is that if my parish is privileged to have a regular attender in our pews, we need to be doing everything we can to help that person solidify their faith.

Discussion Question from the Study Guide: Over the next six months, what changes can you personally make to help your parish disciple those who are at the threshold of openness?

We have a couple things going on.  Over the summer, the SuperHusband and I have hosted a little real-life book club of _Forming Intentional Disciples_.  To my surprise, people keep coming back.  And have expressed a desire to work on their own personal relationship with Jesus.  So, yeah, I’ll totally vacuum for anyone who wants to come to my house and talk about God for a while. Or at least I can sweep select public areas.

Another thing that stunned me:  I asked a homeschooling friend to do a little teeny-tiny cooperative revolving around one small thing I wanted to add to our curriculum, and knew I’d never have the self-discipline to stick with if I did it on my own . . . and she said “maybe”.  Next thing I knew, we’d formed a parish ministry, and the local Catholic homeschool moms  got sucked in like ants to a shop-vac, and now I’ve just gone and submitted a whole roster of course plans to my pastor to get his green light on a regular Friday 10-3:30 event.  I had a mom ask for an apologetics class, and a pile more say they wanted in on that.  Mom who swore she could only do every other week, suddenly wants weekly classes. We built the schedule around Mass, adoration, and a chaplet of divine Mercy, and the thank-you e-mails flowed in.  I haven’t told my pastor yet, but there’s a little movement to see about a confession time once a month, if enough moms are interested.

Is it going to be huge? Nope.  (Don’t even know if it’s going to be at all – see “submitted to pastor” above.  We could end up meeting at the library, if we’ve made the poor man faint from this sudden burst of activity — as Simcha says, we aren’t the only people in the congregation.  One of a father’s jobs is saying No when it’s warranted.)  But I’m increasingly aware that if it is a go, it must become one of those ‘overlapping opportunities’ Sherry Weddell talks about — those places for parishioners to find their safe spot to discover the faith.

Not an enclave.  Not a ‘you have to be good enough for us’. A spot where anyone who feels comfortable among the Nerd Moms can hang out, maybe join in the preschool program, or provide us with a lone competent voice for our CD-directed “chorus”. (Bwahahaha . . . but we are DETERMINED to teach our children traditional English and Latin hymns, and no amount of musical incompetence is going to stop us.  Why no, I can’t sing.  When did that ever stop me before?)

And I think that’s the key.  A pile of Catholics in the parish, each being themselves and doing their thing, but always open to the open.  Come on in, and if you like us, stick around.  If not, the St. Vincent de Paul ladies are a lovely bunch, go say hello to Mrs. B, she’ll steer you right every time.  Real choir meets on Thursday.  Youth group on Sunday, they need adults to help with ice cream, why don’t you sit in on the Bible study since you’re here?

The thing about ‘openness’ is that you can end up in a parish just because you found a little group of friends who like you and share a common interest.  And the clincher is that the parish needs to respond with not just We’re a Club for People Who Scoop Ice Cream for Teens on Game Night, but with an invitation to the next step.

*Funny story about the Arabic: 99.9% of that knowledge is now lost in a fog deep in my brain.  Sometimes I get a surreal experience, when I happen on my old class notes, of seeing Arabic words I used to read and write comfortably, and now mean nothing to me.  I was not a particularly good student.  Also: It makes me smile as I remember back to those semesters, to opening a note book and looking at my mysterious scrawl, and wondering which alphabet the notes might be written in.  I suspect one reason I never became Muslim (the Grace of God being the other) is that I heard how much the Arab world values beautiful handwriting, and knew I’d never make the cut.

Death and Curiosity

I’m running late on my Forming Intentional Disciples post this week because I was sidetracked by a funeral.  I have some longer, essay-type comments up at the Catholic Writers Guild, for those who want a different set of thoughts.

(So does Charlotte Ostermann – editor’s fault, we ended up with not one but two people talking about discipleship this week.)


So.  Death.

Curious thing #1: I like funerals.  Don’t like death, do like eternal life, and I come from a family of undertakers. (The link is to my mom’s cousin — our little shoot of family isn’t in the business, we just lend our moral support from afar.)  I don’t get this whole fear-of-funerals things, not in my blood.

Curious thing #2: I jump on the chance to take my kids along to a good funeral.  Not because I’m morbid, but because familiarity with the rituals surrounding death sure makes it easier to function when the time comes to bury someone you really loved.  And we all end up either buried or burying, so I consider a working knowledge of that corporal work of mercy an essential life skill.

Curious thing #3: When my mom died, a bunch of my dad’s co-workers filled the pews at her funeral Mass.  People I’d never met before, and I’m not sure she’d ever met before.  Most of them weren’t Catholic.  The bulk of the group just filed in, found a spot in the pews, and filed out afterwards.  A few shook hands and introduced themselves to us.  One couple, who had known my parents for years, brought dinner to the house one of the evenings.

All of these were surprisingly comforting.  People always worry, “Should I go to the funeral? I wasn’t really a close friend.”  Yes, you should go.  The surviving family is mourning the loss of one of the most important people in the world to them.  To see that so many people care enough to turn out for an hour or two sends a message I never expected until I was the recipient: Yes, this life mattered to us, too.

[Of course you won’t be obnoxious and insinuate yourself into the family circle, or wail and gnash teeth and beg the survivors to comfort *you*.  But just showing up and praying alongside the bereaved?  Healthy and good.]

Curious thing #4: My mom’s funeral mass *rocked*.  Which is to say, it was just this normal suburban catholic middle-American mass in a large, spacious, dentist-office-inspired building, and we sang Eagle’s Wings and all that stuff.  But Father Nigerian Loaner Priest Who Doesn’t Mince Words laid out a beautiful homily on purgatory and praying for souls and the utter nonsense of instant universal canonizations at funeral masses.

Also, they did the announcement about not receiving communion unless you were a practicing Catholic in a state of grace, and did offer the blessing-alternative, which I know people smarter than myself do question, with good reason, but I’ll just observe that it serves a good purpose, and served that purpose that day.

Curious thing #5: The funeral yesterday was just as good, in a different, non-denominational evangelical way.

Because, Curious thing #6: If a funeral doesn’t draw you closer to God, I don’t know what will.

Which is to say, Curious thing #7: A funeral that does not draw people closer to God is not a good funeral.



Head over to to read posts from normal people who answered the actual discussion questions and stuff.

Sex Ed – Who Should Teach Your Kids?

Sex Ed: Parents, It’s Your Job and You Can Do It

Up at, my exhortation to parents on taking a little responsibility as primary educators.  Because yes, these topics are just rolling off my brain these days.  As you can imagine, the word counts on the papers are killing me.  500 words?  Since when do I say *anything* in 500 words or less?  Inconceivable.

Forming Intentional Disciples, Week 6, Chapter 5: Building Trust


This week the discussion guide introduces the five stages of evangelization, then lingers on #1, trust. Hence the discussion question I’m going to answer this week:

How was the bridge of trust built for you?

My answer surprised me: Even as a very-lapsed Catholic, I had an inherent trust in the Catholic Church because I was raised in a Catholic family.

I know it can go the other way: Being raised Catholic can show too much underbelly, too many shortcomings, and you end up the surly teenage daughter of the Church, resentful of Mother because her failings are so intimately known.

But I guess for me, being only mildly-Catholic prevented me from having to think about any hard questions.  The Catholic Church of my childhood, after all, made no particular demands on me.  We were Catholic the way we were German-Irish — didn’t mean we spoke any German or Irish, or possessed any cultural patrimony other than some choice last names.  And yet I felt a certain glow of pride the first time I tasted German potato salad: I knew I’d found my culinary homeland.  The Catholic Church was my religious potato salad.

I was double-helped into the Church by my various 80-something (then) Catholic relatives.  My experience has been that 80 is kind of a magical year, and people really seem to get their head on straight about that time.  (My now-senile Catholic maternal grandmother was an early bloomer — she hit the height of her curmudgeonly powers by her early 70’s.)  So as it turned out, the most interesting and intelligent people I knew were all Catholics.


The funny thing about “trust” is what my evangelical acquaintances always assumed, post-reversion, when they found out I was Catholic.  They assumed it was a potato-salad thing.  That I’d grown up with a heavily liturgical Church, and I just liked the script and music and colorful accents, and I was sticking around the Church because it was all homey for me.  For which reason, when confronted with my disparity-of-cult-plagued marriage, their proposed solution was that we visit the lovely evangelical Anglican place downtown.

I think very highly of that particular congregation, and would say so when the suggestion was made, but also I’d shake my head: You don’t get it.  Sure, I’ll admit it, being at home with the Catholic faith, potato-salad-wise, made it easier for me to not to resist that final call to reversion.  And review with me: My reversion was a spiritual event first, and an intellectual one only after.  But trust me, I didn’t end up back at the Catholic Church out of love for the Gather hymnal.

If it were sincerity, devotion, kindness, and good music that I wanted, I’d be as committed an evangelical protestant as you could find.  I left the Catholic Church because I didn’t have any particular reason to stay.  No hard feelings, but what was the point?  I returned to the Church when I discovered the point.  Trust is a necessary part of conversion, but it is not the ultimate cause of conversion.

FID Week 5: Grace and Works

See everyone else’s answers here.

In your own faith:

  • It can be hard to settle our minds on the idea of “cooperating with grace”.  How would you explain the Catholic doctrine on salvation to others?

In your parish:

  • How does your parish currently respond when there are serious doubts about the readiness of a candidate for the sacraments?
  • How would a discipleship model of preparation fit into your current approach?

I’ve been living in Theology of the Body world these last few weeks (and months), so my thoughts on grace and works lean that direction: My body is the means through which my soul acts.  I can’t be nice to my kids in my soul, and spewing profanity at them with my body.  I can’t be reverent towards the eucharist with my soul, but toss a consecrated host into the garbage with my body.  I can’t be faithful to my spouse in my soul, and date another guy with my body.

My apathy works the same way.  I care less about a clean desk than blogging, and we can tell because although my blog looks a little lonely at times, my to-be-filed bins look even worse. I care less about the poor in India than about my own children, and we can tell because I shop for the ones reliably every week, and the others much more rarely.  I might or might not have my priorities in order, but we can see by my actions what my priorities are.

Our Lord of course warns us against judging one another, since what you and I see on the outside is only part of the picture.  He sees on the inside.  He knows the whole story. There might be some invisible but valid reason for the condition of my desk.  Or my waistline.  Or my bank account.

But those invisible stories aren’t excuses.  If I’m disorganized for _xyz_ good reason, that doesn’t negate the virtues of orderliness.  Perhaps I do have a failure of fortitude, or prudence, or justice, or temperance; perhaps I don’t.  Still, it’s not fair to my heirs to risk dropping dead with boxes of unsorted papers, if I can manage to do otherwise.  If I can’t, I can’t.  But God bless the priest who reminds his congregation that if we don’t want to be a burden to our family members, we can skip euthanasia and go straight to good housekeeping and cultivating a pleasant personality.


I don’t know how my parish handles dubious sacramental situations.  My family has always shown up adequately prepared for our various sacraments, and I’m not a sacramental gatekeeper, so I’m not privvy to what happens in those circles.  (As is meet – none of my business.)  But the topic comes up on the internet in catechist circles, so I do get to hear how other parishes manage it.  In my life as a catechist, and as an ordinary parishioner, people do share with me their stories.  Between those two influences, I start to develop some opinions.  You knew that about me.

And here’s my thought: People deserve to be known.  If my parish is running a sacrament mill, with dozens of anonymous second-graders being processed via an attendance policy and a set of registration forms, we’ve got a problem.  The problem isn’t just that some unworthy seven-year-old might presenting himself for the Holy Eucharist — that’s the symptom of the deeper problem.

Is my parish really so large, and so utterly devoid of kind, sensible, informed laity, that the only way to dispense the sacraments is like one massive emergency baptism, run by an overworked DRE and a couple brave catechists?  It shouldn’t be.  No matter how large or small our parishes, there should be a a proportionate number of mature Christians who can each mentor a few up-and-comers.  Mothers of 2nd-graders shouldn’t be anonymous faces in the mini-van, mailing in forms and cruising the carpool line once a week, and finally making their debut in Christian society by presenting a child with brushed hair and clean clothes on the appointed day.

If the little saints are missing Mass every weekend, shouldn’t there be someone who has an idea of why? Because there’s an illness in the family? Because work schedules are erratic?  Because the non-Catholic spouse is creating mayhem?  Or the Catholic spouse is in a fit of despair and just doesn’t have the will to do one. more. thing.?  There’s always a story behind the bad-attenders, and the woefully-ignorant, and the badly-dressed.

If the only measure of sacramental preparation that we have is a set of checklist-items, we don’t have a parish.  We have Wal-Mart.

FID Week 4: The Fruits of Discipleship

Find links to the rest of the discussion here.

This week is crazy week for me.   I received the proof of the catechist-book manuscript late last week, and my comments are due tomorrow.  (I found a few typos, sat on my hands in spots where I think maybe the wording could be a tiny bit better, Jennifer, and am about to get into a conversation about why I think my way is the best way when it comes to commas.) Meanwhile, I’d offered to do a talk at the local bookshop, and that’s tonight.  Saturday is the Eucharistic procession to the SC state house, which is to the best of my knowledge the first time that’s ever happened in history.

And then there’s my regular life.  Taking the Family Honor course (I’m behind schedule), teaching math and handwriting through the summer, because . . . you know why.  Thinking about killing fire ants (what is the best way?), thinking about making a new spot for the load of firewood that showed up yesterday, wondering where my desk went, again, and who stole my calendar?

The reason I list all that, is because that’s what discipleship looks like for me.

My life did not always look like this.

That is, my life has always looked crazy.  Crazy Week is most weeks I can remember, ever, since it’s been in my power to fill my time up this way.

What I figured out about myself a few years ago, is that I’m not made for moderation.   I’m going to add stuff until I’m not bored, and until I do have enough to keep me silly busy, because I’m happiest when I’m doing stuff.  I get cranky and unpleasant if I’m not occupied with something.

The difference discipleship makes, is that I care what that stuff is.  I want my life to be full of things that matter.  And if I don’t fill my time with God, I’m going to fill it with something else.  I pray better that way, anyhow.  Desperation is my straightest route to piety.


With those thoughts, I’m going to slip off to bookmark a pile of Bibles at Matthew 5:1, so look that this:  A good post on evangelizing teens, Don’t Dumb it Down version.

–> I found the post very helpful for myself, as I’m about sick of hearing what I have to say about the beatitudes in my 17-minute 10-minute talk, and I needed the reminder that these topics are a lot less boring if you haven’t heard the same talk five times in twenty-four hours.  I keep reminding myself that if people wanted to hear jokes, they’d watch a sitcom, and there’s a decent chance folks turning out a Catholic bookstore want to hear the Gospel instead.

I guess if they don’t, they’ll learn their lesson.

FID Week 3: We Don’t Know What Normal Is

For those just joining us, find the start of the conversation over at’s Lawn Chair Catechism series.

This week I’m answering these questions:

  • Are you comfortable talking with others about your relationship with God?
  • Would you say that you’re a “normal” Catholic using the criteria outlined above? (See post here.)
  • Or are you a “typical” Catholic, fighting that feeling that interest in the faith is only for a few pious eccentrics?
  • Do you personally have, within your parish, a group of Catholics you meet with regularly, to discuss the faith, study the faith, and encourage each other to greater virtue?

#1. Here’s the funny thing about this: No, not really comfortable.  I’m very comfortable talking theology or sacraments or apologetics, or you-name-it academic topic that has to do with God.  And I’m pretty good at general principles of the Christian life  — anything I’ve thoroughly digested and can step back from.  But if it gets personal . . . it’s personal.  My relationship with God is the #1 most important thing in my life, ever, and it’s also the most intimate and honest relationship I’ve got (at least from His end — I’m working on it from my end).  So: Not something I want to just throw out there for the whole world.  Hence my pure unadulterated hatred of “sharing questions”.  Don’t wanna answer them.  Just.  No.

But of course I’m in this line of business where we talk about God-n-stuff, and so sure, I’m getting better and better at sharing the not-so-private bits.  And of taking the private parts and sharing only the public dimension.  And then I’ve basically mastered the part about if you share any detail about your life in practical terms, people are going to either think you’re pathetic, or think you’re Amazing!, or think you’re _insert demeaning label here  , and still you just have to toss out the necessary info, and let folks think what they’re going to think.

And then there’s the part about my Educated American up-bringing.  In which God is a topic reserved for the quaint and the elderly, and folks of sound mind and breeding know not to bring up the R-word.  If you’ve read the writings St. Thomas More closely, you have a picture of what it’s like to be an earnest Christian caught up in the prejudices of his own era, and largely unaware of it.  American prejudices run the exact opposite way.  We aren’t inclined towards persecuting heretics much, except if it’s the one American heresy of suggesting that someone, somewhere, might be wrong about a matter of faith and morals.

So no, I’m not so inclined to just ask people about their religion or their faith in God.  I’m strongly trained against it.  But I’m always happy to chat if someone brings up the topic and appears interested in a straight answer.

# 2 & 3.  Normal in the abnormal fashion.  You knew that about me.

And yes I do fight the ‘you must be a freak’ feeling.  Fortunately I cut my teeth in evangelical world, so I’ve been inoculated against the worst of it.

#4.  I’ve really lucked into a good group — not at my parish in particular, but in my city.  We have a ladies’ Bible study once a month, and a monthly family-to-family get together, where the men and boys play outside, and the girls do a story and craft (Little Flowers Lite) then play outside safely away from the testerone-wing, and the moms chat and watch the babies.

I’m a graduate of the evangelical small-group world, and I still have a few families (we’re the only Catholics) that get together for a pot-luck meal once a month or so, though we ditched the formal approach a year or two ago, and just chat about life and catch up with each other.  Lots of thoughts on what makes a group click, and why some groups are better as a short-lived thing, and others seem to last decades.

–> I’m totally committed to the concept of many overlapping opportunities for parishioners to find their happy place to grow in the faith.  I’m not persuaded a formal “small groups” program is so much the solution, as letting naturally-occurring subgroups do their thing, watered and mulched with a good balanced dose of pastoral leadership.


Forming Intentional Disciples Week 2 – God has no Grandchildren

It’s that time.  Week 2 of the Forming Intentional Disciples discussion at  And I’m answering these two:

  • Have you always been Catholic?
  • How did the instruction and mentoring you received help you – or prevent you – from having a personal relationship with God?

I have not always been Catholic.  I was baptized Catholic as a baby, and made my first communion in 2nd grade, then dropped into annual church attendance.  The summer before 10th grade, we moved to SC, and my mom got us all going to Mass every Sunday.  I spent 11th grade as an exchange student in France, went to Mass a couple times there, but I wasn’t staying with practicing-Catholic families, and it wasn’t in me to show up every Sunday on my own.  (I certainly could have — I had the run of the city.)

My senior year of high school, back home again, I got on the Catholic bandwagon with enthusiasm.  I made my first confession (Yes! 10 years after 1st communion!), and after a crash course in the basics of the faith, was confirmed in the spring of my senior year.  I was one of those shiny high school students youth group directors love to show off.  I was always there, always volunteering, a real Faithful Catholic in the making!  I won the parish Knights of Columbus “Catholic Student of the Year” award.

Also, and I’m going to be real candid here, but also respect the privacy of the guilty: Our Youth Group program was straight from the pit of hell.

If you haven’t got much imagination, when I say that, you are maybe picturing snarling chaperones, or vicious cliques, or one of those lewd characters committing unspeakable atrocities.   Nah.  That’s not much of an enemy of the faith, because anyone can see that those things are wrong, that the kids are being led astray.  How do you really get kids to leave the faith and commit mortal sins?  Our parish used the “everything’s fine” method:

  • Run an active youth group with lots of activities and good attendance.
  • Make sure your leaders are real friendly and well-meaning.
  • Teach enough of the faith that everyone is sure the kids are getting good Christian formation.

Then you have to do a few things:

1. Slip in a few zingers, in the name of compassion: Maybe there are certain cases where sex outside of marriage is not a problem.  Maybe insist that all faiths are just as good, ours is just our personal “Catholic faith tradition”.  Perhaps, in this day, do what a friend’s DRE told her son — gay marriage is AOK, because it’s about two people loving each other.

We didn’t have many of those, but we had enough to make sure that somewhere in our college years, we’d find ourselves happily dissenting from the faith, and not even realize we were slowly walking away from the Church.

2. Convince everyone that teens can’t handle the Catholic faith.  Better not be too firm about modesty, the girls will run away pouting.  Better not tell parents to insist on chastity — soft pedal it with, “I’d rather you didn’t, but if you must, at least use protection.”  When you do teach the firm truths of the faith, make sure the instructor is really just reading from the text, and is unable to answer any hard questions, and unwilling to look up the answers and follow-up later.

3. Quietly fail to teach the kids how to explain and defend the faith.  Just happen to leave it out of the curriculum. This is pretty easy to do if you’ve already established that there’s no real right or wrong — the faith is really just a collection of good ideas we mostly like, right?

Now I was that award-winning Catholic.  So when I went up to college for freshman orientation, I hunted down the local Catholic student group to find out all about it, ready to be involved come the fall.  Met some friendly grad students still in town through the summer, had a nice weekend.  And that was it.  I turned out for Mass once or twice after I got to school, but there really wasn’t any Catholic presence on campus.  My new Baptist friends were all gung ho to recruit me, but it didn’t take.  I couldn’t defend the Catholic faith, but I was still a patriot, and knew I didn’t like all this Jesus talk.  We never used all this Jesus talk back home at the parish, so surely it wasn’t Catholic, right?

Instead I slipped into Intelligent University Thinker mode.  You know — too smart for all this organized-religion business, too hip for those simplistic moral codes written for dumb people in centuries past who needed to be told what to do, and plus, I had other things to do.  My weekends were busy, you know?  Oh, I was still Catholic, for a long time.  It took me four years to fully shake off my Catholic identity, and I never did quit receiving communion if I happened to be at Mass for some social reason.  (Yes.  I know.  I know.)

And that’s how I left the faith.

If you wonder why I’m crazy-obsessive about good catechesis, this is why.  I know where pathetic milquetoast  Church of the Good Intentions teaching leads.

I have every patience for the ordinary guy in the pew who just doesn’t know his faith.  I was that person.  I know how easy it is to be that person through no fault of your own.  You show up every week at Mass, and no one ever bothers to explain the faith to you, beyond a few general exhortations to love God and neighbor.  You attend Bible study, or the men’s or women’s group, or religious ed, and still learn nothing. So where are you going to learn the faith?  On Fox News?  From the New York Times?  Well, when your parish refuses you to teach you, that is where you learn it.  That is all you’ve got left.  It’s no surprise you’re barely Catholic — it’s a wonder you turn out at all.

But if you’re a priest or a DRE or a youth minister, and you’re refusing to teach the Catholic faith to your flock?  If you haven’t bothered to teach to your audience how to explain and defend the Catholic position on life issues, or chastity, or _insert hard teaching here__?  Can’t seem to get around to making sure your lay leaders know and understand and practice the faith? I’m mad at you.  Table-turning, kick-you-out-of-the-temple-courtyard mad.

Because you are ruining people’s lives in your dereliction of duty.

I pray God will have mercy on those souls you’ve failed to teach.  I pray He will have mercy on your soul — for I suspect that we spend some portion of our purgatory enduring the suffering earned by those in our care whom we lead astray.

Hard words.  I know.  Catholic leadership is a sobering and serious responsibility.  We kid ourselves if we think we can hide behind our little excuses.

But there is mercy.  Even for the pathetic puny soul of the lukewarm Catholic leader who helps walk hundreds upon hundreds of parishioners into a life of mortal sin, one gentle “pastoral” lie at a time . . . there is mercy.  Redemption is for all men, not only for the humble guy in the pew.

To whom much is given, much is expected.  But he who is forgiven much loves his Lord all the more.


Mid-Month Updates

No Children Left In Ditch.

We made it to Naples and back with exactly the same number and kind of children with which we set out.  Thank you St. John Bosco, whom I did ask for assistance from time to time.  St. Augustine, by the way, is completely awesome.

UPDATED to clarify: Both the saint and the city in Florida are awesome.  Where they each rank within the category of People, Places, and Things Called “St. Augustine” I leave to the reader’s discretion.

Bookstore Management Tip:  Consider not charging admission to your retail venue.

At Castillo de San Marcos, you have to buy admission before you get into the fort, where the bookstore is located.  (This did not stop me from buying books, but not everyone feels the same way about books as I do.  Also, we were going to see the fort anyway.)

In contrast, the Pirate Museum has its gift shop built into its entryway.  Which is handy for parents who do not want to pay admission to the museum, but feel pretty lucky to get off with just looking at the Pirate Merchandise and buying one small pirate book for the trip home.

On the other hand, if early-modern marauders attempt a raid on the seashell-identification books at San Marcos, there are three lines of defense to keep them at bay.

Digital Devices = Road Trip Fever

What with recorded books, DVD’s, and iPods, twenty hours in the car was really quite peaceful.  Causing me to come up with the ridiculous, husband-exasperating plan of going to the national March for Life next week.  Friends with ulterior motives are aiding and abetting.  So I think we’ll go.

And look at this:  Pro-Life Feminist Hot Chocolate. It’s a super-bonus . . . and I get a glimpse of the reportedly lovely and delightful Helen Alvaré, and the kids get hot chocolate?  See, if that doesn’t convince you of the worthiness of the pro-life cause, I don’t know what does.

A Missal.

I’m beside myself with excitement, because MTF slipped a shiny new super-gorgeous Daily Roman Missal in with the other review book I was expecting (Introduction to Catholicism).  You’ll recall I had to glue the old one’s cover back together.  But I’ve been virtuously resisting shelling out for a new edition, even though every time I hear the elegant, poetic lines of the new Mass translation, I’m dying to get my own copy.

The new book is about twenty-time awesomer than I had guessed, because the new edition is beefed up with a pile of handy tables and indexes and bits of mini-catechism. So soon very soon I’ll have a post up at AC reviewing the new Missal, and explaining why exactly my old one needed to be glued back together, because I always, always, shove it into my bag on the way to religious ed, because if you have that one book, you can teach the Catholic faith to anybody at all, ever, no matter what weird scheduling surprises come your way when you arrive at class.


I did not make a single pun on the word Missal in those previous paragraphs.  We’ll just mark that down on in the big white space where my virtues are tallied.  I am the picture of self-restraint.  The St. Therese of resisting bad puns.  Or something.


The irony is not lost on me. I wrote this great column on winter snow-n-ice appropriate science activities for, then promptly spent a week lounging on the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.  And swimming.  Outdoors.

This photo taken a different, icier year. And yes, the power was out. For a week. I did not like it. I prefer the beach.

So here’s my experiment: I’m going to write a column for NE (due this week, runs next week), and I think the topic is “Things You Can Do To Evangelize When You Think You Can’t Evangelize”.  Will this cause me to suddenly have many opportunities to evangelize?

You Might Be An Accountant If . . .

You’re goofing off browsing the Mid-Atlantic Congress catechetical conference page (which you are not planning to attend), and you notice all these financial management sessions:

Are you not dying to attend?  I am.  Seriously.  Has anyone sat in on any presentations from these speakers (John Eriksen, Peter Denio, or Dennis Corcoran), and have an opinion on how good the workshops will be?  For all Darwin doubts the use of an MBA, I begin to think that pastoral associates are the one class of people who might could benefit from such a course of study.  Some reputable seminary ought to make a joint MA/MBA program.

Oh That Homeschooling Book

I printed out the whole giant nasty sprawling draft, stuck it in a binder, and it’s waiting for me attack it with my tin of magic markers. So I’m making progress. Slowly.


Castello San Marcos:By National Park Service ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons