Christians and Racial Justice

Talking about race is hard. Talking about racism after Charlottesville is required. Charlottesville woke a lot of people up about the tensions existing in America. Seeing 500 or so Tiki torches rallying around a statue of Robert E. Lee, screaming and yelling, really sent a chill down my spine, only to become depressed when that Dodge Charger slammed into counter-protesters. 

Is this really happening?

It's been happening. Though the Dodge Charger is new, the racism is not. I wrote a homily for priests and deacons the following Sunday morning at 3:00 AM so Catholics could at least hear something about this. Most churches said nothing or gave the standard denunciations, putting distance between the violence, the rage, and themselves. 

My cohost and I had an interesting conversation on Charlottesville and race in America with Catholic musician Ike Ndolo (AFTER CHARLOTTESVILLE IS A LOT LIKE BEFORE). Ike is a longtime friend and colleague and is outspoken about racism on his various platforms. Since he started speaking out, he's noticed a drop in booking requests for gigs with Catholics. He also shared how tired he gets explaining the same things over and over again.

After dropping the show on the Catching Foxes Podcast we got a ton of responses. In fact, it is our fastest-downloaded-episode of all time. Most are thankful we had this conversation, some totally disagreed with us, and some weirdly nick picked at us with ridiculous side comments (I think that just comes from the discomfort with the whole conversation).

I do want to link to this video series done by an evangelical group, The Verge Network. I think the videos are good explanations of racial injustice and tension and grace. You should spend a few minutes and watch the videos. They are all about 5 to 10 minutes long.


Here's the first video in the series...

Church Life

Informal Discipleship is Still Intentional!

In a wonderful article by Jen Fitz (Parish Programs vs Discipleship Relationships) she explores the importance of getting a culture of discipleship going at your parish, instead of merely having staff members attempt to "disciple" the parish. When this becomes the function of staff members only, the process of discipleship becomes the program of classes and studies. That is to say, it ceases to be discipleship. 

Someone asked me recently to lead a group of RCIA leaders through a discipleship process so that they can turn their own programs into a discipleship process. Now, surely this task is too difficult for a one day retreat, but you can do a few helpful things.

First, you evangelize them with the gospel while illustrating biblical discipleship. I do this with the story of the call of Simon in Luke's Gospel (Luke 5:1-11). This gives me time to talk about the kerygma, repentance, and mercy and their roles in evangelization. Second, you talk systematically about the Church's notion of the various moments of evangelization (pre-evangelization, initial proclamation, catechesis, etc.) and outline good examples of each in an RCIA format. Thirdly, you line up practical illustrations from your own discipling process and hope that it begins their thinking outside the box.

My dream of the RCIA is monthly classes with weekly one-on-one. I would love to build a team of evangelists who work with each person over coffee and are there during the whole catechumenate. But I have two things working against me: I'm terrible at building teams and most of my intentional disciples are just too busy.

Our parish is large and busy. I fear the busyness is draining the best of my parish's people with the work of running and maintaining programs instead of doing what I think they would be best at, which is making disciples one-on-one. Many people are terrible at giving large group presentations that are good and engaging. That's my wheelhouse. However, most people are capable of having good and engaging conversations. How many times have you seen hilarious and dynamic people give stale talks or freeze in front of a camera? This is why shifting away from the program and focusing more on the process of discipleship works better for a majority of your people.

Here's a quote from Jen's article that I loved:

You can easily see that it is also therefore necessary that welcoming and incorporating newcomers into that web of parish friendships is essential. We don’t stop at greeting the stranger. We don’t stop at inviting the stranger to the potluck. We learn the stranger’s name, we make sure the stranger has someone to sit with, we create opportunities to get to know the stranger one-on-one, and now the stranger is no longer a stranger and the process of getting involved in discipling one another is underway.
— Jennifer Fitz, Parish Programs vs Discipleship Relationships

This is important because the one-on-one in a formal setting is fine for the RCIA, but not necessarily for the rest of the parish. Formal relationships can quickly devolve into yet another program. I was just speaking with another parish evangelist yesterday on the phone as we both were lamenting our best laid plans at parish-wide strategizing for making disciples. At one point in the conversation my friend asks about my Community Groups and its relationship to discipleship, which was funny because two days earlier the guy that brought me in for the RCIA training asked the exact same question. "Do we first do Community Groups and then Discipleship Groups? What does a Discipleship Group look like? Should a Missionary Disciple belong to two groups at once- one for their own peer support and one to disciple others?"

I believe that community is so empty and void at most suburban parishes that Community Groups are worth the time and effort to just build Christian community. So what is the solution with discipling others? It is informal discipleship. A protestant megachurch pastor once told the story that his professor in seminary said, "When I come and visit you in the next few decades as you go off and become pastors, I will ask you one thing: show me your men." By this he meant, show me the 4 or 5 men that you are personally discipling in the midst of the busyness of pastoral work.

If we are doing our job in faith formation, then we are forming missionary disciples and not just students. They need to belong to a Community Group to get that support, edification, and accountability. At the same time they do not need to belong to a formal discipleship group or process. Jen's quote from above illustrates the beautiful of informal discipling. You can call them "friendships" (crazy, right?). You can call it "being a neighbor" (do we still have those?). However you see it or whatever you call it, it comes down to relationships.

Political, Scripture

After Charlottesville. A Homily on Race

“You know they were chaplains on slave ships, right?”

In the song Precious Puritans, Christian hip hop artist Propaganda confronts evangelical pastors who thoughtlessly quote and praise Puritan preachers without regard for the people of color who are sitting in the pews as the descendants of the “cargo” of those very slave ships. He points out how the Puritans twisted St. Paul’s words about “being content in one’s state in life” as a declaration that Africans, though made in the image of God, should be content in “their shackled, diseased, imprisoned” state. Content?

Yet that same theology of contentment buried itself into the American psyche of white Christians as seen when Dr. Martin Luther King’s freedom movement in the 1960s clashed against white pastors in the South. Thrown in jail for non-violent peaceful protests, Dr. King penned his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” not to the nation, but specifically to white, southern clergy who, instead of standing with him, urged him to be cautious, restrained, and not make waves. Be content.

The brilliance of Dr King was not to appeal to sociologists and research, but to say to Christians you aren’t being Christian enough! You aren’t following Christ enough! You’re hung up on all the wrong perspectives that you cannot see the gospel! He challenged their faith and said it wasn’t authentic enough, it wasn’t true enough to Scripture. And he was right.

Dr King quoted two Roman Catholic theologians and saints, Thomas Aquinas and Augustine, to back up his freedom movement with the bullet-proof theology of the best of the Christian tradition. If these two can side with King, why can’t we?

Being confronted is always difficult. We get defensive. We explain our motives. We defend our intentions. All of this we do instead of just listening

When black men and women talk about the systemic injustice they experience as a minority, too often we roll our eyes and say, “Those days are over.” Instead of listening to our Christian brothers and sisters, we try to engage in colorless rhetoric, thinking that by not talking about race it proves we aren’t racists. But the problem with colorless rhetoric is that it isn’t real. It’s not incarnational. It’s a cop-out. 

In the reconciling words of Propaganda, “You see my skin, and I see yours, and they are beautiful, fearfully and wonderfully, divinely designed uniqueness. Shouldn’t we celebrate that instead of acting like it isn’t there?”

There is no such thing as a colorless person, a race-neutral person doesn’t exist. So why does our rhetoric? Because it is difficult

This weekend our nation blew up. One of the largest white nationalists and supremacists gatherings in decades protested the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee. Their anti-Jewish signs and chants literally contradict the words of Saint Paul in today’s Second Reading. “The Goyim Know” and “Jews will not replace us” could not stand in a starker, demonic relief against the words of St Paul who, with an anguished and broken heart for his own Jewish people, cries out that, if it were possible, he would be cut off from Christ “for the sake of my own people.” “Theirs is the adoption, the glory, the covenants…” 

The urge is to make the same recurring denunciations and put distance between ourselves and the extremists. “I would never do that.” “I don’t think that way.” “This was a national disgrace and an outrage!” But that approach does not work anymore. Let’s look at history for a second.

When African Americans from the South moved out of rural environments and into America’s cities in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, that gave birth to “White Flight” and the modern suburb. For 30 years the American suburb was functional segregation. The practice of Red Lining, literal red lines drawn on maps where banks wouldn’t loan money to poor minorities for housing, kept people of color on the outside, “in their place.” Then as economic barriers came down and the suburbs got a little bit more brown we witness “Gentrification”, a process where wealthier people, mostly whites, are moving back into the city, creating sky-high home prices and expensive retailers price the people out of their own neighborhoods. “Yeah, but we hipsters now have a new coffeeshop and a Trader Joes!”

Psalm 85 should make us all uncomfortable but hopeful. “Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss.”

In Charlottesville, kindness and truth are not meeting and justice and peace are not kissing because the hurt, the past, collided. The crooked and sinful nature of our fallen humanity constantly raises barriers to the commandment of Jesus Christ to “love your neighbor as yourself.” AS MYSELF?! 

Look at this and let us all weep for our country. See the shoes under the car? God's justice will not sleep long. Photo Source: http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/13/us/charlottesville-white-nationalist-rally-car-crash/index.html

Look at this and let us all weep for our country. See the shoes under the car? God's justice will not sleep long. Photo Source: http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/13/us/charlottesville-white-nationalist-rally-car-crash/index.html

As the Dodge Charger plowed into the crowd, killing one and injuring dozens of people, we see that in order to love our black and brown neighbors, we are going to have to die to ourselves, take up our crosses, and repent. We have to make room in our personal lives and at our dinner tables, as well as in the pews and at the altar. The table-fellowship of the Pharisees was one of exclusion. Pope Benedict in Jesus of Nazareth, talks about how Jesus’ table-fellowship could not be more contrasted, as all, even the pharisee, was invited into his community.

Jesus Christ changes everything. I do not accept the current cultural climate where whites and blacks must be at war with each other; that the poor and the rich must despise each other; that men and women must oppress one another. The cross breaks down the “dividing wall of hostility” between God and man, but in Christ, it also breaks down the dividing wall of hostility that we are constantly erecting between us. We separate ourselves based on pride, arrogance, worldly ideologies, our bank account statements, our skin color, our accents, our place of birth. The real reason why we do this is because we are all engaged in the delusional project of self-justification. We all need redemption, but instead of coming to Jesus Christ and surrendering ourselves to his grace, we create systems of self-justification. “At least I’m not like so-and-so.” 

Crucial to the Catholic concept of justice is the notion of solidarity. Saint John Paul II used this to tear down Communism in Poland. Solidarity, at its core, is a realization on the gut-check level that you and I are the same and I’m not going to let our differences put distances between us. The thing about privilege is that it can prevent us from encountering those without privilege. We can gate ourselves into a community, becoming so isolated that we no longer live in the same world, even though we’re technically in the same city. When solidarity collapses, when I refuse to stand with you, when I refuse to listen to you, then I make room for Satan to divide and conquer. 

Our nation is divided into two. Do you think that’s God’s work? Then come and let us oppose the devil, taking his strongholds in the name of Jesus Christ. Let us beg Christ for repentance where it is needed, and it is needed. Let us beg him for boldness like the Church in Acts of the Apostles chapter 4 did, and change the nation.

Christians, we should be leading racial reconciliation. The blood of Jesus Christ speaks more eloquently then a thousand protest slogans because the Cross alone can actually bring us together. The cross reveals how we are all sinners, we are all guilty before God, we all stand in the filthy rags of our own self-justification, and it was only through the self-emptying love of Jesus Christ on the Cross that we are restored to a right relationship with God.

Like the Gospel for today, our country is being tossed about on the stormy waves of racial violence and distrust. The winds of violence and arrogance are strong. In the fourth watch of the night, when it is darkest, when the people are terrified, when fear grips us all, Jesus Christ comes walking on the waters. He is God and can make miracles in the midst of storms. In his arms he holds the universe, the same arms pinned to the beam of the cross. 

I know we don’t want to hear this, I don’t want to say this, but if we don’t then we make a mockery of the Cross of Christ and empty it of its power. We hide behind our ideologies from the power of the Holy Spirit to really transform our hearts, minds, lives. We hide behind our self-justification when we, not Christ, define “who is my neighbor.”

Ephesians chapter 2 says beautifully: “For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.”

If we are willing to be his disciples, and not merely his fans, then its time to take courage and get out of the boat. You might be surprised to find that, with Him, you’re walking on water.

The Crisis of the Church Today

This is the first of 8 talks given during the Easter Season to the adult leadership of my parish. The goal of these talks is to bring about repentance and rededication to the interior life for all those who engage in the various ministries of the Church.

Everything is based on The Soul of the Apostolate by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, OCSO, a 19-20 Century Trappist monk and abbot in France. He wrote this book, which Pope Pius XII kept on his night stand and read frequently, in order to ground all of us in the true priority of being Christ's first before we do Christ's work. It is the call to love the God who works, rather than the works of God.

The grave error we all fall into is what he calls in the book "The Heresy of Good Works." This heresy is rooted in the notion that I can replace the Interior life with exterior work for the spread of the gospel. "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel" says Saint Paul. But this can never replace Christ's words, "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul."

Today there are too many books on parish renewal that do not start with and end with prayer and sanctification. They jump into action, demanding updating and reforming of parish structures and the adoption of means and methods from the marketplace or from non-Catholic communities without realizing their true effects. 

When you see the words "evangelization" and "discipleship," but fail to see the words "holiness" and "prayer," run. Any true reform must be from and towards sanctity, which only comes from God. We cannot make disciples of anyone, we should not be evangelizing a single person, if Christ does not reign in me and I in him. 

Theology, Apologetics

God on the Mountain Top

I heard recently a Christian pastor’s conversation at an inter-religious event. The Buddhist and Muslim representatives approached him and talked about how we all believe in the same God and in the end all of our religions are different names for the same thing. The pastor responded, “So you’re saying it is like God is at the top of a mountain and we are all on different paths, but eventually we will all get to the top of the mountain and all be with God.” “Exactly!” they exclaimed, happy he was accepting their point.


Atheist Argument about the Scientific Method

An argument from atheists that has been annoying me lately goes essentially like this. If you were to destroy all the books of religions and all the books of science, in a thousand years, the religious books would not come back (because they are fictional myths), but the science would (because it is rooted in fact). I have heard this argument from both Stephen Fry and Ricky Gervais. I will explore three reasons why this is a non-starter for the atheist critique of Christianity in particular.

The Historical Problem: the scientific method ain't inevitable

The problem with this argument is manifold. First, they pretend like most moderns who are ignorant of history, that the scientific method and technological progress just happened because men stopped bothering with religious dogmas and started looking at this world for a change. The reality is that the scientific method was itself the product of historical circumstances that were never created earlier in human history. The philosophies and theologies of the rest of the world tended to view the material world with suspicion. Only the three great monotheistic religions viewed the material world as creation, something inherently good, true, and beautiful. It's good, so we should want to know it. It's true, so thinking minds such as ours can know it. And it's beautiful, so it attracts us to it through wonder. It is not a mistake of history that Christendom invented modern science. I would simply reply, "So in the past 10,000 years of human civilization the scientific method itself was invented how many times? Oh. Only once and only in a Christian ethos. So why do you think that if you obliterate that ethos you can still arrive at the same conclusions?"

The Epistemological Problem: there are things outside of science that are still true

The second problem with this argument lies in the presupposition held by all small-thinking new atheists, which is the only type of knowledge that is worth having is the knowledge produced by the Natural Sciences. If all literature were wiped out, and our knowledge of it, then entire categories of knowledge would be lost and unrecoverable that the atheist and the theist would both agree are true. For instance, historical records, biographies, and accounts would be lost, and those are rooted in true things that really occurred. History is not the end result of the Natural Sciences, and though archeology would help us glimpse into many past cultures, it would never be as complete as the historical accounts recorded by these people or about them. So when we say, "I don't believe in anything science cannot prove!" Every right-thinking person should immediately response, "Can science prove the validity of that statement? No? Then you cannot hold to that belief because it is self-refuting."

The Biblical Problem: it's not what you think it is

The third problem with this statement is that it thinks the Bible is in the same category as most other religious texts of the world. Most religious texts are what we can call "Wisdom Literature". That is, they are collections of wise sayings and religious sayings that amount to a practical and theoretical framework. The Bible contains Wisdom Literature, but is not reduced to that. See, most people think the Bible is a book. It is not. It is a collection of books that range across thousands of years from dozens of authors and dozens more of editors. Different books have different origins, as some were the product of oral communication and some were drafted for the Temple liturgies directly in written form. Each book was written in a different time period for different reasons and a different audience. Books like Proverbs, Wisdom, Sirach, and Ecclesiastes are indeed Wisdom Literature. That is the genre they belong to and operate accordingly. But other books are vast historical chronicles, like 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and, surprisingly, 1 and 2 Chronicles. These attempt to cover decades in a few sentences, and then will spend chapters on a few years, because they have a specific audience and intention in mind with their books.

Now then, we must move on to a more proper understanding of the Bible in order to show how this argument holds no water. As I said above, the Bible has a few Wisdom books within it, but also fiction, poetry, parable, fable, history, theology, and more. But the thing you really have to grasp is that the Bible, this particular collection of sacred books, is entirely historical. It is the written account of a particular people's dealings, often mysterious, with the God of the Universe. This is book, not of a guru's sayings, or the principles of an enlightened mystic on a mountaintop, but it is principally the encounters with the living God. To miss this is to continually get the Bible wrong, as all new atheists, and most Christians, do constantly. The very reason why it is a difficult book is because it is not a book, but a collection of books where real men and women wrestled with the Deity. In some of these accounts, the people got it way wrong, but it was still recorded in this collection of sacred books precisely because it is the historical dealings of people with God. Today, we lump it all in together and land ourselves in trouble when we hit the "dark passages" of Scripture, thinking that the actions of this or that man is always approved of by God simply because it is written down in the book. That is just not true.

Concluding Thoughts

Science is an invented thing that came out of a shared understanding about the world. The more rooted in the theistic worldview a culture is, the more science can be itself and operate under its own sphere of first principles and logic. If we could obliterate all knowledge and all texts, science could indeed be restored, provided that the historical and epistemological realities underneath were restored as well. If in the aftermath of the deletion of knowledge there arose a world of gnostics who had two gods and saw the material creation around us as evil and despotic, science could not exist. If such a world sprouted pagan naturalists who worship nature, then science cannot exist as we know it today, because nature and the gods are the same, and it would violate the divine. Only in a worldview that sees the material world as good, true and beautiful can science take root, for science makes truth claims about the world it studies.




Pope Francis on Accompaniment

From this point of view, we need a Church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a Church which accompanies them on their journey; a Church able to make sense of the “night” contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters from Jerusalem; a Church which realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return. But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture. Jesus warmed the hearts of the disciples of Emmaus.

I would like all of us to ask ourselves today: are we still a Church capable of warming hearts? A Church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home? Jerusalem is where our roots are: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles... Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty?
— Pope Francis' meeting with the Bishops of Brazil, World Youth Day, July 2013

Quotes, Spirituality

Quote: Heresy in Good Works in "The Soul of the Apostolate"

Now for a man, in his practical conduct, to go about his active works as if Jesus were not his one and only life-principle, is what Cardinal Mermillod has called the “HERESY OF GOOD WORKS.” He uses this expression to stigmatize the apostle who so far forgets himself as to overlook his secondary and subordinate role, and look only to his own personal activity and talents as a basis for apostolic success. Is this not, in practice, a denial of a great part of the Tract on Grace? This conclusion is one that appalls us, at first sight. And yet a little thought will show us that it is only too true.

HERESY IN GOOD WORKS! Feverish activity taking the place of God; grace ignored; human pride trying to thrust Jesus from His throne; supernatural life, the power of prayer, the economy of our redemption relegated, at least in practice, to the realm of pure theory: all this portrays no merely imaginary situation, but one which the diagnosis of souls shows to be very common though in various degrees, in this age of naturalism, when men judge, above all, by appearances, and act as though success were primarily a matter of skillful organization.

Even setting aside revelation altogether, the plain light of sane philosophy makes it impossible for us not to pity a man who, for all his remarkable gifts, refuses to recognize God as the principle of the marvelous talents that all observe in him.

What would be the feelings of a Catholic, thoroughly instructed in his religion, at the
sight of an apostle who would boast, at least implicitly, that he could do without God in
communicating to souls even the smallest degree of divine life?

“He is crazy!” we would say, if we heard an apostolic worker using such words as these: “My God, just do not raise any obstacle to my work, just keep out of my way, and I guarantee to produce the best results!”

Our feelings would be a mere reflection of the aversion excited in God by the spectacle of such disorder: by the spectacle of presumption carrying its pride to such limits as to wish to impart supernatural life, to produce faith, to put an end to sin, incite men to virtue, and without attributing these effects to the direct, unfailing, universal, and overwhelming action of the Blood of God, the price, the cause, and the means of all grace and of all spiritual life.

Therefore, God owes it to the Humanity of His Son to make fools of these false Christs by paralyzing the works of their pride, or by allowing them to pass away as a momentary mirage
— The Soul of the Apostolate

I cannot tell you how important this is for ministry. And how guilty I have been of this very attitude. Without prayer, a deeper, interior life, there is no discipleship, no evangelization, nothing. And yet, as my buddy Luke is quick to remind us, "Where there is a lack of intimacy, there is only technique."

Church Life

Decision Making for Disciple Makers in a Parish Setting

Many parishes run into one major problem: space. How do you figure out who goes where, who gets dropped, and how to choose one event or ministry over the other? At our parish, we developed a discipleship approach to dealing with our space issues.

Our leadership team acts as a great filter, reviewing any new program, event or ministry as a team in order to decide if it is a good fit for our parish. They can plow through these proposals if they are do not fit our parish mission or is just not feasible. Mission gives you permission to say no! Then everything is broken down into Liturgy/Sacraments, Faith Formation, Parish Life, Outreach, and Community categories and is prioritized in that order.

When Christ taught his disciples the Our Father, it contained not just good focus for prayer, but also our priorities- God first, then our needs. We follow a similar pattern.

Our first focus is on making God’s Name holy in worship through liturgy and sacraments, and then in faith formation. When assigning rooms, our facilities team makes sure anything having to do with worship and formation are given the highest priority. The second focus is on the people. “Parish Life” is the umbrella term for our Ad Intra ministries like Marriage and Family enrichment. Outreach and Community are Ad Extra ministries that serve those outside the parish, like our food pantry, Habitat for Humanity, and Saint Vincent de Paul Society, as well as hosting things like Boy Scouts, Interfaith, AA meetings and other support groups.

The discipleship matrix helps us assess the healthy balance of each category by applying discipleship principles to all our considerations. I find the Win-Build-Send model of Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) to be extremely helpful. Are we winning people for Christ, building parishioners into maturing Christians, and sending them out to win others for Christ?

Looking at worship, are there opportunities for Win? Are we creating space for people on the margins or outside the faith to come in and worship God? We created a monthly event called Glorify to do just that. It combines Praise and Worship music with Eucharistic Adoration, and a short message oriented towards receiving Christ’s gift of salvation.

Turning to formation, I bet your parish is a lot like mine. We are composed entirely of Build classes and offer few things for Win and nothing for Send. Bible and doctrine studies for insiders who “get it” are necessary, but the tendency is for Build to dominate. So we launched a Win class for marginal believers on Sunday nights, and for Send we started an annual mission to Honduras that does medical, sacramental and catechetical work.

Parishioner Dr Romero peers into a child's ear who probably hasn't seen a doctor her whole life as a villager in the mountains of Honduras.

Parishioner Dr Romero peers into a child's ear who probably hasn't seen a doctor her whole life as a villager in the mountains of Honduras.

Even when a program or group is not explicitly Christian, like the Boy Scouts, we want our parish to be present and active in the community as a blessing. So we create space for them while making sure they do not push away opportunities for worship, formation or serving the poor.

The Win-Build-Send matrix helps us balance each category. We cannot ignore Outreach or Community ministries and only focus on Liturgy, but we also need to a way to make each ministry point to Christ.

I canceled our longest running Bible study to make room for our first Spanish adult faith formation group that actually evangelizes. We had no “Win” and too much “Build,” so the decision was easy to make, though not without pushback. People were upset at me for canceling their study, but when space is limited, this discipleship matrix provides not just consistent policies but is a powerful Christ-centered, mission-driven approach to resolving these issues.

Church Life

Drifting Back: Practical Ways You Can Address Outsiders

The greatest tendency of any organization is that once it reaches a certain size and/or has been around for a certain length of time, it begins to drift away from its mission and the focus will be self-referential. This happens in the business world, the non-profit world and church world. In our sphere, we call it the drift from mission to maintenance, where we cease focusing on reaching the lost and the lapsed, and instead we focus on the people who already get it, the insiders.

We become self-referential when we stop thinking about winning people for Christ. Many Catholic parishes have never had a culture that thinks about outsiders, so this short article will give you a few tips to do just that.

Go to Mass like an Outsider

Get about 10 people and place them around your church. Sit them down in a pew and, for 5 or 10 minutes, have them try to think like a visitor at their first Mass. What are they worrying about? What are they looking at? What are they avoiding? Having different people do this exercise can generate a lot of good feedback.

For instance, if this is someone’s first Mass, not knowing the right posture or words to say throughout the Mass can be embarrassing, so maybe add some pew cards. Maybe it is about signage, or more clarity around the hymn number, or ushers that are actually hospitable. When too much is assumed, that’s when you know your speaking to the insiders only. Also, you should go to Mass as if you were an outsider and think about your experiences.

Walk Your Campus like an Outsider

You know where the offices are, the classrooms, that large gathering room, but does anyone else? Sure you have a sign, but how prominent is it? A complaint often heard by visitors is simply, “I had no idea where to go.” Furthermore, is your campus dirty, broken, or unkempt? Walk the grounds like the Pope was visiting. Burned out bulbs, a mess in the nursery, rusty kitchen appliances, bugs, trash on the grounds, all speak to a lack of care and a lack of hospitality. Your momma didn't raise you like that!

Attend a Class like an Outsider

Sit in one of your classes for both adults and for kids and evaluate the quality and level of engagement going on. Are the teachers and classmates welcoming or are new people ignored? Every parish leader should do what the US Military calls “Management by just walking around”. Attend random classes. Ask questions of participants, and find those who are not your die-hard parishioners to get honest feedback.

What Do You Offer the Adult Seeker?

Stop focusing all of your time and budgets on the kids. That is a failed strategy. Focus on the adults. Most Catholic adults do not have an adult-level education in their faith. Offer it, especially for those who are at a beginner stage. Short sessions, short commitments, and not yearlong classes, are the way to reach adults who are dipping their toes in the waters of the Church. Make sure you double-down on the hospitality (that is, food and drink is a must) and offer plenty of room for questions and comments.

The reality is that outsiders are not the complainers. We drift away from our mission because only insiders voice their opinions. If we are to stop our neglect of outsiders, we must intentionally focus our time and attention on what their needs and expectations are. Slowly we will build a culture that chooses mission over maintenance.

Church Life, Small Groups

Five Strategies to Reach Adults

The parish that ignores the adults for the sake of the kids is building on sand. The foundation of Christian education is the family. After all, the parents are the primary educators of their own kids, and yet how many times have we acted in exactly the opposite manner? Here are five strategies to stop neglecting the adults of your parish and start winning them for Christ.

Presume No Knowledge

No one wants to be embarrassed by their own lack of knowledge. Break everything down to its simplest components. Many of my adults stayed away from our 10 different weekly Bible studies because they know nothing about the Bible. So I started offering an hour-long class where I literally never move past the table of contents. About a third of the adults only owned Children’s Bibles. That is your audience. Do not talk past them!

Teach to Win

Catholics who had instruction in their youth have a mishmash of information, but nothing to really harmonize it all. They have catechesis, but little evangelization. We need to stop this and start evangelizing adults. Why? Because preaching the basic gospel message is how we get the response of faith: repentance, conversion, faith in Christ, union with the Church. How do you teach so as to win adults for Christ? Tie everything to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is the harmony between the Old and New Testaments, between Word and Sacrament, between faith and works. Preach and teach him.

Win to Teach

Our words are only as good as our witness, and our witness must be authentic. You absolutely have to earn the right to be heard. We do this by really living what we’re preaching, and by being open about our own faults and failures. Parents assume my kids are flawless at Mass. When I share that my kids are more often terrorists, you can visibly see the tension leave their shoulders. Sympathy, empathy, and vulnerability will win your ability to speak into their lives, and not just their ears.

We Need Community

My banner ads on my parish website for getting people into community groups.

My banner ads on my parish website for getting people into community groups.

I’m the biggest believer in the power of community. Faith is meant to be lived in a community. Pastor Rick Warren says, “If you want to be forgiveness, confess. If you want to change, get accountability.” I push home-based small groups because I believe American suburbs do not have a real community, and neither do our parishes. So my goal is to build that up in any way that I can. Utilize small groups as much as you can, whether or not they are in homes, or a break out in RCIA or at a Bible study. Get people together and get them sharing their faith out loud.

Evangelical Event-based Initiatives

Quarterly we offer an event that is free, evangelical, and sacramental. We call it Glorify and it is a night of prayer, praise, a short message, and Eucharistic Adoration. We do not do announcements, take sign-ups, or push flyers. It is purely about worshipping Jesus Christ. The talk is based on a Gospel passage and is meant to lead people to make an act of faith in our Risen Lord. Events like this need only a one-time commitment, is open to everyone, and is entirely evangelical in nature.

So there are five strategies that you can use to at least evaluate how you approach the adults of your parish. If you need help creating a vision for adult faith formation in your parish, I do consult!

Church Life

Three Points to Really Preach a Homily

Homilies are tough. You have 7-12 minutes to make a lasting impression, change someone’s life, teach doctrine, or address a social issue to a widely diverse group of 6 to 106-year-olds. And you have to tell a joke.

Burdened by this, many clergymen will end up preaching a lot of nothing: warm words and half-hearted paraphrases of the Gospel Reading that does not bring clarity or inspiration. Or the pendulum swings the other way and you get a list of doctrinal propositions, bending the homily into a college lecture. But the Church is not a classroom. The homily is not a lecture. And your 12 minutes are up!

Here are three points that I have used to help coach priests and deacons to give an evangelical homily that leads to life-change, and not just a quick nap in the pews!

Point One: Jesus Christ is the Center of the Word

It does not matter if you are focusing on the Old or New Testament Readings, make it all about Jesus Christ- who he is and what he accomplished for us. Too many sermons and homilies are about everything and anything else but Jesus. Put him back in the center of your homily. Maybe then your congregation will put him back in the center of their lives.

Point Two: The Paschal Mystery is the Center of Christ’s Mission

Jesus was the only man built to die. Death ended the teachings of Buddha and Mohammed, the prophecies of Delphi as well as Isaiah. Jesus basically told us we would not understand his teachings until his death and resurrection. St Paul constantly focused “on Christ and him crucified.” Look at the liturgical texts and ask yourself, “How does this demonstrate the cross and resurrection to my people?”

Point Three: Preach for Conversion, not Smiles and Handshakes

A priest once told me he was not seeing any conversions once he started preaching God’s love. I asked him, “Do you preach repentance?” I never did this until around 4 years ago. I would talk about sin, but neglected leading people into repentance. You cannot have conversion with “God is love.” Your hearers will reinterpret that in a non-challenging way, instead of the way that calls us, through mercy, into a new life. Confession is good for the soul, so lead people to confess Jesus as their Savior by confessing their guilt and giving it to him forever.

I was once asked to give a talk to teens on the minor prophet Nahum and show how he preaches Christ. Have you ever read Nahum? It is three chapters of a too-giddy prophet rejoicing over the destruction of Nineveh.

Using Nineveh as representative of satanic oppression, I showed how Yahweh’s liberation of Israel by destroying Nineveh prefigured our liberation through Christ the Victor conquering sin and the devil (first point). And yet Christ freed us, not by the shedding of the enemy’s blood, but by shedding his own blood for us (second point). Jesus is “the shatterer” of the oppression of sin, so all of us can have confidence in his victory not just over Sin, but over my sin, especially the big sins keeping me from freedom in Christ (third point). I ended by inviting the teens into a prayer of repentance, picking “that one sin” that they are really struggling with, and to give it to Christ the Victor, asking him to save them from it right here and now.

These three points can be applied to any sermon or homily for any occasion. If I can use Nahum to preach Christ, surely you can use the lectionary to do the same!


Satan was the First Philanthropist

Today’s Big Philanthropy tends to substitute humanity in general for real, individual human beings as the primary object of benevolence. This idea lies at the core of the development of the first modern philanthropic foundations. As William Schambra, among others, has shown, from their beginnings in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the major charitable foundations (Russell Sage, Rockefeller, and Carnegie) and their progenitors consciously sought to abandon old-fashioned attempts to alleviate immediate distress for a more focused scientific, expert-driven approach that would provide permanent solutions to vexing social problems (via williams). At its creation, the Rockefeller Foundation devoted itself to serving the “wellbeing of mankind throughout the world.” Rockefeller himself insisted that “the best philanthropy involves a search for cause, an attempt to cure evils at their source.”[8]

For the wealthy simply to provide aid to those particular men, women, and children who needed it was no longer good enough. It was time to change the world—just as Rockefeller and the other captains of commerce who started many of these foundations had seemingly done with their railroad, oil, munitions, and other business ventures. It was time to attack problems like crime and disease at their roots. Schambra has shown that eugenics and sterilization programs were vigorously funded for decades by many large foundations precisely because such programs were prototypically “philanthropic” in their focus on the elimination of poverty rather than on helping real, existing poor people.[9]

In this intellectual milieu the term “charity” gradually became discredited. It came to refer, for the most part, to small, reactive, and/or nonstrategic efforts to assist the suffering. Charity was the province of simpletons. Sophisticated entrepreneurs, professionals, and scientific experts engaged in philanthropy.
— https://www.philanthropydaily.com/20992/

Since launching Community Groups at my parish, which is a weekly small group ministry where people host their friends and neighbors in their homes instead of yet another on-campus event, I have been diving through a lot of Catholic reflection on community and its lack in modern life. Thanks to a friend who is working towards his Doctorate in Thomistic Studies, he has sent me a plethora of articles and essays on this topic.

Three weeks ago my wife and I hosted 50+ people in our home for an Inclusion class. Inclusion is my branded title for a modified RCIA class only for those who are already baptized and well-formed. There are currently 30 people in the class, and we invited their families to come to my house for a potluck social and a short teaching on the Sacraments.

Their kids played with my kids. We all shared a meal together in the chaos and loudness of my not-too-big house filled with over 50 people. Wine was had, as was dessert. In the end we prayed for one the participants and her chronic pain. In short, we got to know one another, celebrate with one another, explore our faith with one another, and pray for one another.

It was about a week afterwards that this article was sent to me. Sure, it is long, but it is definitely worth it. The breakdown of our community, which is always local, is reflected in the modern, wealthy disposition towards Philanthropy, the paying of huge sums for global causes, while literally neglecting those who are right next door. What if we redirected the $300-billion Big Philanthropy industry towards the neighborhood? What would it look like if we cared for the single mom down the street?

Instead of the grandiose projects and utopian visions too often pursued by today’s Professional or Big Philanthropy—usually in league with highly centralized, bureaucratic, impersonal government—we need a smaller, humbler philanthropy. A philanthropy of accountability and human relationships. A philanthropy of place. Let us call this alternative vision “philanthrolocalism.”

Philanthrolocalism is a philosophy of giving that prioritizes the use of resources to help one’s own place, including one’s neighbors, community members, churches, businesses, cultural institutions, civic associations, and ecology. Philanthrolocalists seek to deploy resources to promote human flourishing and civic life in their own local communities. That—not changing the world via systemic management—is their primary concern. If philanthrolocalism sounds as if it is rooted in the idea of old-fashioned charity, that is no accident.

The first and most basic principle of philanthrolocalism is the common insight that we are not our own. Affirmed in the twentieth century by the Canadian philosopher George Parkin Grant, this insight finds perennial expression in our philosophical heritage and in every one of the world’s great religious and wisdom traditions. It means that every one of us owes, in part, our achievements, successes, prosperity, even our very being to others. Most of us intuit this, which is why our natural response to success includes an expression of gratitude to those who helped make it possible.
— https://www.philanthropydaily.com/20992/


What Happened to Community?

Do you remember about 20 years ago what it was like having people “pop in” for a visit? Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco talks about growing up his mom had purchased a Sara Lee or Entenmann’s coffee cake just in case guests stopped by. The doorbell would ring and the whole family would run to the door to see who it was. “Hey! How are ya? We were just in the neighborhood and thought we’d drop in and see you and the kids!” Urban, suburban and rural- it didn’t matter. People dropped in all the time. Now when the doorbell rings, we panic. Who could that be?! Did someone order a pizza? Turn off the lights!

How did our culture swing so sharply? What is happening to us as a culture where we would rather binge watch Netflix alone than share an evening glass of wine with someone we care about? 

Referring to Alexis de Touqueville’s quote that Americans suffered from a “strange melancholy,” Mark Mitchell in The Homeless Modern, states: “This sense of longing is not explicit and generally has no definite object. It is, rather, an underlying dissatisfaction that today manifests itself in a variety of ways: restless mobility, consumerism, frenzied sexuality, substance abuse, therapy, and boredom… a condition the Desert Fathers called acedia: they are both bored and uneasy.”

Most Americans are effectively rootless. Our excessive individualism has led to a rejection of family and neighborhood as too limiting. Economic gain tends to trump meaningful relationships and responsibility to the community. The average American will move 13 times in his/her lifetime. With our amazing technology we ignore the people we are actually with to text or email people we aren’t with (who will forget what we are saying in a few seconds anyway). T.S. Eliot said we are “Distracted from distraction by distraction.”

And we are not happy. All the money, comfort, access and privilege and yet we’re still despairing. The human heart has two huge holes in the middle of it: one is for God and the other for community. When we fill it with anything else we might get by, but we don’t get happiness. French writer Simone Weil said, “to be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul… A human being has roots by virtue of his real, active, and natural participation in the life of a community which preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future.”

Our cultural influences are also pulling us away from a rooted life in real community. Mark Mitchell in another article, Home-Making for Home-Coming, nails entertainment’s contribution to rootlessness: “Take, for instance, the news, which often is merely entertainment for those with a taste for the grim. With the advent of cable television, news became a 24/7 barrage. Through this medium, we become intimately familiar with strangers in far flung places. We know the details of the latest earthquake in Indonesia (Richter Scale and all), while the single mom down the street remains unknown to us… In aspiring to love the world, we end up neglecting our neighbor. In neglecting our neighbor, we neglect our neighborhoods as concrete commitment is replaced by abstract awareness.”

Asked why the $36-billion Gates Foundation was ignoring the local homeless living around their $500-million building. “We’re trying to move upstream to a systems level to prevent family homelessness…” Jeremy Beer, author of Satan was the First Philanthropist, comments that “Only the naïve would walk outside and help the homeless men and women shivering right there!”

In closing, let me challenge this parish. Will you take a dare from me, one that I am currently struggling with in my own household? Will you invite people over once a week to share a meal, a game of cards, or a bottle of wine with, and just be together? I don’t know about you, but I’ve displaced loving good people with consuming entertainment for too long. It’s undoing us as a culture, as a nation, and as a parish. Let’s take the risk. Inconvenience yourself for the sake of community. Invite a young adult or a single parent family over for a meal. Do a Bible study in your own home. I’ve got free materials for you! The point is, we need community. God created us for community. But we must swim upstream today if we are to have it .

“Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” 1 Pt. 4:8-10

Church Life

So I wrote a poem...

It's about the priesthood, written from the perspective of a young man discerning the priesthood. It draws a lot on the Song of Songs, the city-centered ministry writings of Rev. Timothy Keller, and some beautiful things Bishop Robert Barron says about his own priesthood. I hope you enjoy.

I’m dying for you to meet her.
I need you to love her
you would realize that everything changes when you discover
how great are her eyes,
centuries seen, it’s a beautiful thing,
when through her scarlet lips you hear salvation sing.
I thought I was just in love with the King,
till he showed me his Kingdom.
I hear tales of countless lives,
but all I saw was a Bride,
radiant, spotless and strong,
Just like the song Her scarlet lips intoned:
of the naked King on a wooden throne,
dying, forsaken and alone,
of empty tombs and Spirit’s groan
with sighs too deep for words and
He spoke of a Virgin
who was also a Mother,
of men from a thousand races calling out to one another,
and saying “brother.”
A thousand races, but only one, our Father.
The King showed me his Kingdom and what I saw was a Bride,
and those in her where alive,
like a pre-born child rushing to the light.
And he told me to love her.
To make his Bride my life, my wife,
to become a father.
I thought I was in love with the King, till he showed me His Kingdom.
Then I saw with his mind the only necessary thing,
I need her song so I’ll help her sing,
a collar as my Roman wedding ring,
Now I love with the King, love the very same thing.

She drove me mad, I left family, jobs- all that I had,
when I saw her curls flow down like Gilead.
One glance, I was sold.
And If I may be so bold, I’ll describe her:
Her curves are the cityscapes,
alleyways where sinners hide and undo the living of their lives.
I had been bitten by the harshness of their hurts,
She would be their lily among the Bramble of the City.
A garden grown with gospel sown,
a mountain of myrrh in streets grimy and gritty.
Her curves are the tears falling down moms’ cheeks,
who cried for weeks and weeks, and dads’ vision blurry,
burdened with so much worry,
when Empires come crashing down,
and I am still smitten with the Kingdom.
Where the broken and the lame, known by name,
their hurt, lies and shame,
assumed in the day of pain that He made it Good.
Made us good.
That Friday is the shape of my neighborhood.
For so many years I lived Thursday, borrowed time,
thinking life is but a joke.
It was her voice I heard as the thief kindly spoke.
Telling me the hour’s getting late.
In sin our blocks separating, widening the gap between us,
but the King without hesitating, throws himself into the breach.
one man landing on Normandy beach.
Self-emptying silence, a perfect contrast,
where love constantly challenges fate.
And that’s why I love her. He made her so pretty,
Sunday life of daydreams made real,
that even thieves could hope to steal,
and find repose in His repeal.

I’m dying for you to meet her.
I live so you will love her.
And discover what I have uncovered:
there is no throne who would have Christ selfish and alone,
without the Church for a Mother.
I thought I was just in love with the King,
till he showed me His Kingdom and in my freedom,
I learned to love with the King, to love the very same thing.
— Roman Wedding Ring


So I am writing a book...

It's a chicken and my oldest daughter.

It's a chicken and my oldest daughter.

I'm the type of person who gets an idea and then tells everyone about it before I have even started. If I would have had better follow through, there would be about 5 or 6 books out there with my name on the title page. I was planning on writing a short, two volume series called, The Ethic of Life and The Ethic of Love, which would put into lay terms the Catholic Church's teaching on sexual and medical morality. I think I maybe wrote a few paragraphs.

Then there was that time back when I was a youth minister that I almost wrote that sweet book on the new approaches to youth ministry that was cooking in my head for a few years. I never even came up with a title or outline. Just, "I should do this, but be I actually do, I should tell everyone about this first."

There was that book idea on preaching sermons from a kerygmatic perspective. And that one which I actually spoke with a rep from a publisher on a kerygma-centered proclamation within the context of sacrament preparation in the parish. And that time I wanted to write about productivity...

I have a lot of friends in the speaker circuit who tell me all of the time, "You need to write a book. You need something to sell." One person told me the merch she sells in one weekend will sometimes generate enough for a mortgage payment. Another said once they published a book they doubled their speaking fees.

And here I am, like an idiot, giving all of my stuff away on SoundCloud!

Either way, I'm writing a book. I have 14,000 words on paper, with about 800 new words every evening when I can find the time to write. It's a book on the topic of culture, intersecting lines of thought between the world of evangelization, business, art, urban planning, saints, violence, apologetics and sex. I'm taking a brief break from writing in order to write this blog post. 

I'm writing this blog post, instead of the book, because I need you to pray for me. This is difficult and maddening. It ain't easy! But it's good. Some I will keep on truckin'. Or something. Maybe I will tell you the title soon.

Small Groups, Theology

Day One: Faith and Reason

Is faith irrational? Is Christianity anti-reason? Is it even possible to maintain a faith in God or in Christianity in the midst of this modern world? Opponents today say that believing in something that you cannot see or verify for yourself is the very definition of irrational behavior, especially if you are supposed to stake your entire life on the very thing you cannot see. But I think that the opponents of belief greatly misunderstand the right and proper relationship between faith and reason, and furthermore, they aren't even close to being correct when they say it is irrational to believe in something one does not see for oneself.

I would answer that quite the opposite is true: almost all human activity, learning, and life depends on belief.

You and I go about our daily lives in a largely faith-based world. What does that mean? I have a rough idea how an elevator works, but I have never personally met and certified every engineer, installer, inspector, and maintenance crew that worked on every elevator I’ve entered. Yet, I get into small metal boxes and that take me dangerously high. I trust the process and people, even though I have no clue what the process is, or how competent the people are that maintain these elevators. Does this make me irrational?

Or would it be irrational for me to stand in the lobby of some hotel demanding to meet the engineer and maintenance crews before I stepped foot in the elevator? Imagine seeing me, stomping my foot and yelling at the front desk, "I will never step one foot in this deathtrap until I see for myself the engineer is qualified and that every maintenance worker did her job!" I'm sure if you saw me carry on in such a manner, you would think I would have lost my mind. But why?

Daily human experience of elevators, planes, trains and automobiles have taught us over the decades that almost all of these things are reliable almost all the time. I know rationally that elevators do break, planes have fallen from the sky, trains have flown off their tracks, and cars have crashed. But I also know of the great majority of cases where nothing bad has happened. Maybe experience has taught us not to trust the shady looking amusement park's rusty rollercoaster, but surely not every rollercoaster is a flip of the coin whether one lives or dies.

This is the realm of belief. You have reasons to believe a thing is trustworthy regardless of whether or not you have seen it for yourself. You have seen enough to know that the Hilton will not tolerate elevators that kill their patrons. So even though you have never met the engineers or maintenance crews of that elevator, and even if you have no clue how an elevator works, you and I can hop on without a thought of it being unsafe because we believe it to be so.

Now we have arrived at something like a definition of belief. It is neither ignorance nor opinion, but rather belief is my ability to share in, to participate in, anther's knowledge. Put simply, reason sees truth for itself; whereas belief shares in what another has seen to be true. Reason is "seeing for oneself." Belief is "hearing what an eyewitness has seen." 

But belief has one more quality that is necessary for it to be real: trust. You have to trust that the one who has seen for herself is not lying or cheating or distorting the truth. Through a relationship of trust, your own knowledge can grow beyond what you yourself can see.

Josef Pieper uses the example of the 17th Century naturalist studying plant leaves with a magnifying glass hearing about another’s observations with a microscope. If he has good reasons to trust the sources, then even without seeing through the microscope himself his knowledge can vastly expand. He shares in the knowledge of the one who sees. If the sources are credible (Latin, “worthy of belief”), then it is perfectly rational to believe them. In fact, this is the whole basis of our peer review system in academia.

Thus we can emphatically state that without trust, belief is impossible. If you do not trust your teacher, you will not learn a thing. “Unless you believe, you will not understand” (Is. 7:9).

Now you can object here: "But is it not better to see for oneself then to go on belief?" The Church would answer back, "Absolutely yes!" This is why the medieval project’s motto was Faith Seeking Understanding, and why St. Anselm remarked, “Insofar as possible, join faith to reason.” Surely it would be better to know everything, to see it all for ourselves, but it is simply humanly impossible. We are too limited. Human intellect is too imperfect, even in its greatness! Therefore, it is completely rational to rely on the knowledge of others. Reason demands we believe what we have heard, provided they are credible. 

Now we move from the natural to the supernatural, from this natural level of belief to a supernatural level of faith. 

Christianity never understood itself to be anti-rational. The early Christian Apologists (Greek for defense) wrote to Emperors and debated philosophers, making a rational defense of the Church. Historically, when Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire they dialogued with all sorts of philosophies, but never with other religions. They saw Christianity as reasonable precisely because of Jesus, revealed in the prologue to John's Gospel with the Greek word Logos. Logos in Greek is a heavy word, it means: reason, order, structure of intelligibility, as well as idea, and word. This is where we get our suffix –logy for most of our sciences (Biology, Geology, Psychology, Theology, etc.). John uses this word logos as the name of the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus, the reason and the word of God:  “In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came to be through him" (Jn 1:1-3).

John's Gospel says that God created through his Logos, his word (thought, idea, rationality), imbuing "all things" with intelligibility. Let's take a quick pause and apply that to science. The natural sciences are possible because Nature is knowable. Intelligent creatures can know it precisely because of its logos, its rational ordering. Einstein marveled at how the universe was knowable by our human minds instead of being unintelligible. John tells us that the logos behind the created order is the Person, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. The Byzantine Emperor Manuel II, quoted in Pope Benedict’s famous Regensburg Address, said: “Not to act reasonably (with logos) is contrary to the nature of God.”

Natural belief concerns things of this world on level with humanity, but the object of faith is above Nature, it is supernatural, and thus its object- God and his revelation- is well above unaided human reason. How can we plumb the depths of God? Reason can point to the existence of the divine, but to know the inner life of God, to comprehend Him, is simply impossible for us. God had to reveal Himself to us. This divine self-disclosure, what we call revelation, is what the sacred science of Theology studies, applying human reason to divine revelation in a systematic way to arrive at truth. Faith and reason are thus two paths to knowing the one reality we all share.

In John 20:24-29, the story of Doubting Thomas illustrates this brilliantly. Thomas saw Jesus die. When the Apostles report Jesus rose, he refused to believe it: “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails… I will not believe.” When Jesus stands before Thomas he says, “See my hands… do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas then exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” Seeing the Risen Lord for himself was the rational proof of not just his resurrection, but of his claim to divinity. Thomas now sees for himself the risen Jesus and has faith that Jesus is the Son of God. Then Jesus speaks about us: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Faith in Jesus Christ means trust what he says about himself as well as to entrust one’s life to Him. He is the Logos of God, the “mediator between God and man,” the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). Because Jesus is the Word made flesh (Cf. Jn 1:14), he could say to his Apostles, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (Jn 14:9) and John could say about him: “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (Jn 1:18). 

John concludes his gospel by saying, “This is the [beloved] disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true” (21:24).

Faith is not opposed to reason, but it is also not the same thing as reason. It is the ability to believe in God and what God has revealed to us. Faith expands our ability to know by sharing in the science of the saints, in their experiences, and in what they have seen. This is why St Paul says that "Faith comes by hearing" and why the old prophet tells us that "the Righteous will live by faith."


The Council of Trent on Justification Through Christ

"Through the merit of his passion..." I just love that.

Who are justified through Christ.

But, though He died for all, yet do not all receive the benefit of His death, but those only unto whom the merit of His passion is communicated. For as in truth men, if they were not born propagated of the seed of Adam, would not be born unjust,-seeing that, by that propagation, they contract through him, when they are conceived, injustice as their own,-so, if they were not born again in Christ, they never would be justified; seeing that, in that new birth, there is bestowed upon them, through the merit of His passion, the grace whereby they are made just. For this benefit the apostle exhorts us, evermore to give thanks to the Father, who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light, and hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love, in whom we have redemption, and remission of sins.
— Council of Trent, On Justification, Chapter 3

Theology, Church Life, Small Groups

Six Weeks, 42 Days, of Community Groups

This year I'm trying to get ahead of the curve and have been writing my parish's Community Group curriculum for the past week or so, and should start filming next week. The goal is to create six weeks worth of small group materials and have them for free for the parish in both English and Spanish.

We ran our first Community Group sessions during Lent and kicked off with 42 groups, which was 22 more groups than I thought we would have launched with. They are greatly successful.

Now we are planning for the Fall launch of an entirely new curriculum, Connection. The purpose of this six week program is to connect parishioners to the living God. Here's the content breakdown.

  • Week One: The God Who Is: To connect the life of the Trinity to heart of Christian Community
  • Week Two: The Image of God: To connect the Trinity to Humanity through the Imago Dei
  • Week Three: No Other gods: To connect our need to worship God to how we settle for counterfeits that cannot satisfy
  • Week Four: Son of God: To connect the God of the Universe to Jesus of Nazareth
  • Week Five: Christ’s Faithful Ones: To connect my personal commitment to Christ with the worship of the Body of Christ
  • Week Six: Radiation of Glory: To connect personal faith to becoming God’s worldwide blessing

We are going to build something new this year. Each day will have reading material that coincides with the weekly theme. This is going to take a lot of work, and I will probably reproduce a bunch of that on this blog (two birds, one post). Plus, I have to get it done quickly in order to get it translated into Spanish. Here's what my initial sketches look like for the daily reading.

Week One: The God Who Is
    Day One: A Reasonable Faith
    Day Two: Infinite and Eternal
    Day Three: God on the Mountain Top
    Day Four: God the Creator
    Day Five: Personal God
    Day Six: God Who Reveals
    Day Seven: Nicean Faith

Week Two: The Image of God
    Day Eight: Personhood
    Day Nine: Purpose
    Day Ten: Passion
    Day Eleven: Happiness
    Day Twelve: Holiness
    Day Thirteen: Heaven
    Day Fourteen: God Alone Satisfies 

Week Three: No Other Gods
    Day Fifteen: We All Worship Something
    Day Sixteen: Definitions and Dignity
    Day Seventeen: Idols of the Human Heart
    Day Eighteen: The Four Idolatries
    Day Nineteen: The Sacrifices We Make
    Day Twenty: How to Repent
    Day Twenty-one: Cast Down Your Idols

Week Four: The Son of God
    Day Twenty-two: Who do you say that I am?
    Day Twenty-three: Fully Human, Fully Divine
    Day Twenty-four: The Incarnation as Invasion
    Day Twenty-five: Of Whom Prophets Speak
    Day Twenty-six: The Seven “I Am” Sayings
    Day Twenty-seven: God is Dead
    Day Twenty-eight: The Risen Lord

Week Five: Christ’s Faithful Ones
    Day Twenty-nine: Faith as Following
    Day Thirty: The Cost of Discipleship
    Day Thirty-one: Come and die with me
    Day Thirty-two: Faith, Hope, and Charity
    Day Thirty-three: Communion of Faith
    Day Thirty-four: Poverty Church
    Day Thirty-five: Sacraments of Faith

Week Six: Radiation of Glory
    Day Thirty-six: A Blessing, Not a Curse
    Day Thirty-seven: Starts at Home
    Day Thirty-eight: Journey with, not dictate at
    Day Thirty-nine: God in the City
    Day Forty: My Comfort or His Kingdom?
    Day Forty-one: Simple and Connected
    Day Forty-two: To the ends of the earth

Catechesis, Scripture

Does Religion Prevent a Relationship with Jesus in the Bible?

The more I listen to evangelical preachers the more I realize they are hammering home a false dichotomy between religion on the one side and relationship on the other. The thing that is so annoying about this is they are setting themselves and Jesus Christ as being anti-religion, which is just stupid and historically inaccurate. Oh yeah, and grossly unbiblical.

This rests in their desire to connect with post-moderns who would say, "I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual." They think that by ditching religion and championing relationship that they are now saying the same thing as those wayward post-moderns. "We agree with you! Christianity isn't about religion. Yuck! It's about a relationship. A spiritual relationship between you and Jesus." It also lets them off the hook for the historical crappiness that the Church has done.

But this is just one of the many ridiculous divorces that are happening right now in Christianity. And as God said in Malachi 2:16, "I hate divorce."

Let's look at it biblically first. Religion is understood in the New Testament not as a system of beliefs, hierarchy, and ritual behaviors, such as prayer rites, temples and animal sacrifice, but as first and foremost worship and reverence to God. θρῆσκος (threskos) is the Greek word that means at its root, "fear, trembling, especially before God; reverence." This is probably best translated as "fear of God" or "fear of the Lord," which is found throughout the Old Testament. Here is a common bridge between the Old Testament and New Testament on the concept of the creature and his/her relation to the Creator.

Thus, from a biblical perspective, the Greek word for religion means worshipping God, or even more, to fear and tremble in His presence. Along these exact lines Saint Paul would exclaim to the Philippians, "work out your own salvation in fear and trembling" (Ph 2:12). This wasn't a foreign concept to St Paul as a Jew, nor to his audience of Gentile Christians. What else would a creature do in the presence of God except but tremble? But, let us be honest, this fear and trembling language is absolutely foreign to we fancy post-moderns, so we must discard it if we are to win over this generation, or so the logic goes.

Now we look at it (all too briefly) from a historical perspective. From the Roman Catholic tradition that cautiously incorporated philosophical thought into her theological science, the word religio in Latin signifies first a virtue, not an institution. For centuries the word religio or religion meant to everyone the sub-virtue of justice whereby we render unto God homage and worship, which is His due. That is why when the priest says during Mass, "Lift up your hearts to the Lord," we respond, "It is right and just." Religion is an act of justice. 

Thus, from this perspective on religio we can join with Saint James who says:

If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27)

For an evangelical preacher to stand up Sunday after Sunday and say, "Jesus didn't come to start a religion, but to give us a relationship" opens up this false dichotomy. In fashioning a Religion Vs. Relationship juxtaposition, they are able to present whenever they want as real Christianity and distance themselves from whatever/whoever they want in Christian history.

Obviously we can see the appeal in doing this. Who doesn't want to separate themselves from the messes of a collective past? What white person in America doesn't want to separate himself from African chattel slavery? And so by lumping anything post-moderns would consider distasteful or immoral into the Religion category, the evangelical preacher presents Relationship as the only thing real Christians care about.

Biblically, religion means the reverence and worship due to God, especially the fear and trembling that comes from those in His presence. Historically, religion is a virtue, a way of acting in the world that transforms our very personality. Joined together, as the Catholic Church does, religion is foremost the way of living in God's presence, a virtue or habitual power to constantly and humbly be in the presence of Almighty God and worship Him alone.

Only in recent centuries and in the English language did the word religion devolve entirely to mean the hierarchy, beliefs, and rituals of a certain type of organization. The word and concept now focuses its whole meaning on the externals, whereas in the past it was focused on the internal disposition of the believer. Driving this internal disposition perspective home a bit further, the word godliness and religion are often interchangeable in the English language. The RSV uses the word "religion" in 1 Timothy 3:16:

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

The Authorized Version of the King James Bible uses the English word "godliness" instead:

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

The Greek words are not the exact same, but the original meaning of the Greek words are very similar to one another, thus allowing for translators to interchange the English words. But we can see how godliness is about a way of being or acting and is much more of an internal, and personal word, whereas our modern understanding of religion is nothing like that, speaking only to the external, man-made, and institutional side.

By creating this false dichotomy, the evangelical preacher is ignoring the biblical and historical understanding of the word religion and is relying only on a recent, linguistic alteration of the word's meaning.