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.

Apologetics

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.

 

 

Quotes

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!

Personal

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/

Personal

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

Personal

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."

Quotes

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. 

 

Morality, Political

"Public Faith" Sermon Series from April 24 to Pentecost

I recently wrote out my first Sermon Series called Public Faith for my parish. This is what the homilies were supposed to be about as they tracked nicely with the Easter Season readings of The Acts of the Apostles at that time. And yes, I stole many ideas from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. 

 

Sermon Series //Public Faith
April 24: Crucial Faith


For these 3 weeks till Pentecost we will be asking one question at all of the Masses every Sunday: Are you willing to pass beyond mere attendance and have a Public Faith?

This is the first part of our four part series to open up what Public Faith is and why it can change your life, your relationships and our city. The first stage is Crucial Faith, where putting faith in Christ Jesus changes your life, and goes beyond mere attendance.

1-    God has no grandchildren: He will be your Father or He is nothing to you. A crucial faith means that you know that God is real and that He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for you. His death was to liberate you from your sin, not to make it OK for you to sin. It means career, success, beauty, power, pleasure, wealth, even marriage and children are all after your relationship with God through Christ Jesus.

2-    This means that the Christian life is not earned but is received. You cannot purchase Heaven with good works. It’s too high a gift! It was purchased at the price of God’s death and resurrection. How could we earn that? So that means we need to put aside the slave’s mentality of avoiding punishments and the mercenary’s mentality of trying to earn our way into Heaven. We need to embrace our sonship or daughterhood in Christ. Jesus Christ took your sin, your mess, and made it his own so that his life, his Spirit, could become yours. It is the marvelous exchange that is given only through living Faith.

3-    Faith is real and can be living or dead. A dead faith is one that keeps God on Sundays, confined to the Church grounds. A dead faith is one that puts personal comfort over the needs of one’s neighbors. A Living Faith is one that is personally connected to God. It loves Jesus Christ with one’s whole heart and follows him. A living faith is nourished on Sundays, but is lived every other day of the week. A Living Faith is the only faith that saves. Christ wants more than believers, he wants followers, people who are intentionally his disciples and are not afraid to show their faith publicly. 

Conclusion
We encourage every parishioner to log on to our parish’s website and view our PUBLICFAITH page for additional resources, videos, talks, and Discussion questions for your friends, spouse, children or Community Group.



Sermon Series //Public Faith
May 01: Vital Faith

For these 2 weeks till Pentecost we will be asking one question at all of the Masses every Sunday: Are you willing to pass beyond mere attendance and have a Public Faith?

This is the second part of our four part series to open up what Public Faith is and why it can change your life, your relationships and our city. The first stage is Crucial Faith, where putting faith in Christ Jesus changes your life, going beyond attendance. The second stage is Vital Faith, where the grace of Christ reaches out to your most important relationships, giving you passion, purpose and a Public Home, called the Church.


1.    That vital relationship with Christ changes and improves all other relationships. Why? Because you are no longer self-centered, but Christ-centered, and Christ wants each one of them to know His saving mercy. If you had the cure to cancer, would you hide it and tell no one or would you share it? Yet you have the cure to despair, to darkness, to sin, and we keep that private! Atheists have frequently commented that their Catholic friends must hate them if they never try to convince them that God is real. Atheists see our lack of Public Faith as a lack of love for them and of passion for the Gospel. To them, it means we really don’t believe.

2.    View your life in categories of relationships: Hobbies and associations, family, friends, neighbors, and work/school. These relationships helped to define us and give us purpose and meaning in life, but they are not enough to give Ultimate Purpose. A vital faith wants those relations to encounter Christ, but not in a fake or aggressive way. Remember, the Gospel kills arrogance and pride, but should also kill fear and intimidation. Start praying for these most important relationships. Engage with them in Christ-like humility. Put others first by serving them. This Vital Faith will give those same relationships purpose by connecting them to eternal life in God.

3.    The Church is the home of your Public Faith. Jesus Christ did not start something vague called Christianity, but something Public and Visible called the Church. He founded it on St. Peter and the Apostles as the 12 foundation stones of the Church. It is a Public Institution, though sometimes we may wish it weren’t, not a me-and-Jesus private affair. A private faith is a Spiritless faith. It is a Churchless faith, even though you might be in the building. The very picture of Christianity without the Spirit, a private Christianity kept behind locked doors, would be the Apostles in the Upper Room before Pentecost. They didn’t have a living faith, but a dead one. They were consumed by fear of the Public’s rejection of their association to the Crucified Christ. But after Pentecost, they went from fearful to fierce, from private to Public.


Conclusion
This series is meant to prepare you for Pentecost, when the Church herself went Public. This Public Faith is crucial for your own life, vital to the relationships that matter most, and radiates outward through love and service to the neighborhoods, schools and workplaces of this City. Please head to our PUBLIC FAITH webpage to read the Scripture Reflection for next week, watch video and hear audio resources on what this looks like, and find additional information for discussion and study.


 

Sermon Series //Public Faith
May 08: Outward Faith

For this last week till Pentecost we will be asking one question at all of the Masses every Sunday: Are you willing to pass beyond mere attendance and have a Public Faith?

This is the third part of our four part series to open up what Public Faith is and why it can change your life, your relationships and our city. We talked about how Crucial this living faith is to our own life, how Vital his grace is to our most important relationships, and now we examine the Outward look of true faith in Christ.

1.    Disciples must be public witnesses to the Risen Christ by the Power of the Holy Spirit. All of the readings so far are preparing us for Pentecost, for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Right before his Ascension he declares our mission, regardless of whether or not we are clergy or laity: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the Earth.” The Pentecost moment changed everything for them, for it gave them the ability to overcome their fear of being Public Witnesses for Christ. So too, this same Spirit can overcome all of your fears, doubts, worries and anxieties to become his witnesses to the ends of the Earth.

2.    The Ascension of Christ is the feast day of his Lordship over all Creation. “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy; a blare of trumpets for the Lord.” This gives us the commission to spread our faith to all the nations. We need to plant a Church on every country’s soil and every person’s heart. We need to bring our personal sins to the Lord, but also work to uproot cultural and structural sins and instruments of oppression in the world. Christ is King and He wants a Kingdom filled with people who hunger and thirst for justice and who are peacemakers. Jesus mounts his divine throne, empowering us through his Holy Spirit to transform our streets, schools, neighborhoods, culture and city to bring justice to the powerless, and give a voice to the voiceless, making the world more fraternal.

3.    The work of the Gospel is the saving of souls AND the works of peace and justice. This American political division between the Left and the Right destroys the Gospel’s power to bring about a just society. We can often get squeamish about Social Justice because it interferes with our American political ideologies. Yet those labels of “Left” and “Right” are only 200 years old, which the Gospel is 2,000 years old. So why are we letting our modern politicking redefine our Catholic faith? God loves the poor and your salvation hinges on your love of the poor. “What you did not do for the least of my brothers, you did not do for me.” Our Public Faith is outward facing because Jesus is the Lord of all. Our mission is to break down the dividing walls of hostility and bring reconciliation. That’s what Jesus did! Doing works of Justice, serving the poor and oppressed, presents the Bride of Christ in an attractive way to those who have no faith. This outward faith extends the Church’s credibility and overcomes their hesitancy or hostility to the Gospel.

Conclusion
Next week will conclude our Sermon Series on Public Faith on the Feast of Pentecost. We will be doing something powerful that we want to invite you to attend, called The Vigil. On the eve of Pentecost, Saturday, May 14, we will gather after the 5PM Mass for one purpose only: to beg Christ for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon our parish and city. The Feast of the Ascension declares Christ’s glory, Pentecost spreads that glory to all the nations. If you are hesitant about having a Public Faith, come and pray with us. As always, check the website out for Prayers, Discussion Questions, Study Guides, Homilies, Talks and Videos about growing in your Public Faith.


 

Sermon Series //Public Faith
May 15: Manifest Faith

Here at Pentecost we will call upon the Holy Spirit to awaken stir up into flame all those who are willing to pass beyond mere attendance and have a Public Faith!

This final part of our series looks at the most important part of Public Faith: the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to those who believe. A Public Faith is one that is crucial to the individual, vital to his/her relationships, and outward facing bring his Lordship, justice and peace into the world.

1.    The Holy Spirit’s gifts are only manifested in a person with living faith. Not having a living faith in Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord, means that the gifts, charisms and virtues given to you by virtue of your baptism are doing nothing. Your faith has atrophied, which is why we need the Spirit to renew our hearts and lives! A living faith fully declares Jesus is Lord and that you give him absolute control of your life by your total adherence to Jesus. Your primary identity isn’t dad, employee, spouse, athlete, student, whatever. Your primary identity is as a disciple of Jesus Christ. The Spirit moves in the hearts of the faithful!

2.    The gifts of the Holy Spirit are poured out for the sake of advancing the Kingdom. These “Different kinds of spiritual gifts”- things like healing, patience, prophecy, speaking in tongues, service, administration, leadership, intercessory prayer, evangelization, discernment of spirits, are all given to build up the Body of Christ. “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” You have these gifts, but for many of you, they lie dormant and do no one any good. They’re dead because they’re private. A Public Faith is motivated to manifest these spiritual gifts in order to spread the Kingdom.

3.    The Church suffers when her members don’t use their gifts. These charism and graces are special gifts for the upbuilding of the Church, but when we let fear and pride prevent our faith from going Public, we render our actions unable to be blessed. Only when we step out in bold faith, do we start seeing the movement of God in big ways. Following Christ through a personal, total, and lifelong commitment unleashes God’s blessings in our lives and in the community. This is where we get to ask the Spirit: “What do you want for me? What do you want for my marriage, my parish, my friendships, my finances, my work? How can I join my life to Your mission?!” This is where the Christian faith gets extremely exciting and life-giving. This is how the Sacraments come alive. But your faith must be living, must be real, and must be Public for the Spirit to work in and through you. 

Conclusion
This is the day the Catholic Church went public. This is the Feast of the birthday of the Church, when the Apostles were no longer consumed by fear and instead preached the Gospel in the demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit. Their Public Faith made it possible for you to have faith today. These Apostles gave their very lives in the most public and complete witness of all. The very word martyr means witness. The invitation remains for you now. Will you, at this Mass, surrender your life to Christ and let his Holy Spirit into your hearts? Will you ask the Holy Spirit to stir up the gift of faith within you, given to you by Baptism, and lead to give glory to the Risen Lord? 

If you have never done this, we would like for you to stand up and pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to fall upon you right now. We’re going to spend about two minutes in prayer for you. For those who have done this before, we are going to ask you to start interceding for them now. Just pray, “Come, Holy Spirit” to yourself while we pray a prayer of blessing upon you now.

Church Life

The Cart Before the Horse

I have so much hope for the new evangelization and then reality hits me and I get all depressed and weepy. I travel to a lot of parishes (a lot for me, anyway. I'm no Jackie Angel.) and I talk about evangelization, mission and discipleship. I preach the basic Gospel message and break down how parish staffers, clergy and catechists can do this in their ministries and in one-on-one relationships. It feels like there is a shift towards being a mission-driven, discipleship-focused Church, like we should be.

Then I read a bunch of results from an Archdiocesan survey... Totally bummed again.

This survey was largely about Baptism and was meant to gauge parish practices and people's thoughts on the matter. When asked about Infant Baptism class and what their concerns were for the parents who attended, only one parish mentioned Jesus Christ. The rest mentioned that frustrating concept called Catholic Identity

When I say "the rest" I mean all other 49 parishes surveyed, as far as I could tell, said that they want parents to get a stronger Catholic identity from the Infant Baptism programs. I get bummed because this screams "STATUS QUO!" to me and I just cannot take it anymore.

Infant Baptism programs should be about the constant evangelization of the parents in the room, with some side theology of the Sacrament. Or, if you know your stuff, the reshaping of that great theology of the Sacrament of Baptism thoroughly with the kerygma. But in parish after parish you find people going to videos and PowerPoint presentations that are at best a catechesis on Baptism, but typically are just facts about Baptism. "Just the facts" may work for Dragnet, but it doesn't work at all for inspiring and converting the lukewarm, the lost, or the disenfranchised back home to the Catholic Church.

Putting the cart before the horse is expecting of our young adult attendees should have a strong Catholic Identity before they have a care in the world about Jesus Christ. Solve the apathy towards Jesus problem first and the rest will follow. 

Catechesis

Confirmation Preparation with Gospel Proclamation

I love doing Confirmation retreats. I have led about 45 Confirmation weekend retreats in the past 10 years, both at my home parish and around the country. Most youth ministers loathe them because this is Peak Apathy among kids. They do not want to be Confirmed, they hate that they have to go to classes all year (or two!), and now you’ve just stolen a whole weekend from them. They are annoyed, angry and disengaged. 

How to win these people over? The Assistant Director of the New Evangelization for Cincinnati once said, “Why are you so worried about catechesis when these teens don’t even know if they believe in God or not?” So when it comes to the talks, about 90% of my time on our parish’s confirmation retreat is spent on three things: my personal testimony regarding atheism, the quest for happiness in every human heart, and the Gospel of Jesus. 
 
I talk about how I was heavily tempted towards atheism and it took years of study before I could say that God exists and that He intervenes in human history. Then the next question, “Which religion, if any, is the right one?” was answered in my life when I answered another question, “Did Jesus Christ really rise from the dead?” If Jesus rose from the dead, then He’s God and I can trust Him. If not, “then we are the most pitiable people of all” (1 Cor. 15:19). I use reason to show the reliability of the resurrection.

Next I talk about how everyone wants to be happy. All Ancient Greek moralities had this at their core, though they all differed as in what happiness consisted. The Sermon on the Mount started with happiness, or beatitude. Our word “Blessed” in the Greek could also be translated “Happy”. I show how the four popular versions of happiness - wealth, pleasure, power, and honor - are all false. I ask them leading questions, “Have you ever met a rich person who wasn’t happy? Yes? Then riches can’t be happiness.”

The following is also key. I demonstrate how happiness is the greatest good of human life. It is the Ultimate End. Most kids are not taught to think about means-and-ends and the relationship they play in human behavior, but they also seem to have heard the maxim, "The ends do not justify the means." This takes a bit of time setting up, but is worth it. We all have means that we chose in order to arrive at specific ends, or goals, that we want. Happiness is the greatest and ultimate and final End of all our striving, willing, and desiring.

No one thinks “I want to get happy enough so that I'll finally be rich.” As if happiness could be the means to the end of riches (or pleasure, etc.). We chose the means (pleasure, wealth, power, honor) because we think it will make us happy. From a strictly rational argument I talk about how these four things cannot constitute authentic happiness, the final good of every person. The heart needs more, and they start to see the horizon of my argument.

Then I show them a man who had no honor (“despised and rejected by men”), had no wealth (“the Son of Man has no place to lay his head”), who had no pleasure (“he was pierced for our faults and crushed for our infirmities”), and who had no power (“The chief priests answered: ‘We have no king but Caesar.’”), and tell them that He alone is our happiness.

In the midst of so many adults who are using them to advance careers and agendas, there is a God who is fundamentally for them (2 Cor 1:19). I tell them that God is infinitely perfect in himself (Cf. Catechism #1) so that God does not need them, but rather that he wants them. Humans need each other because we are limited, yet too often this need for one another devolves into using one another. But since God is entirely and infinitely self-sufficient for His own happiness, then this means that God will never use you or I and discard us when finished. We can trust in Him precisely because His motives are entirely for us. This is the very heart of love!

If our desire for happiness and our awareness that nothing this world offers can truly satisfy our hearts, then that means only something greater than this world can make us happy. So if we can believe that God exists and wills our good, and if Jesus truly did historically rise from the dead, then that means union with Jesus is my happiness.

The only thing separating me from union with God is my sin, which is precisely what Jesus Christ died and rose to destroy. Jesus reconciled the world to God on the cross. Once a Confirmandi sees this with the eyes of faith, the rest of the Confirmation year is changed. He has moved from hostility to openness to God. Their classes build upon this new perspective.

God love you!