Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Saturday morning with the Prodigal Son

I will be leading worship at a young adult retreat in a few weeks. The theme of the retreat is Welcome Home, and is based on the Prodigal Son story from the Gospel of Luke.

As I reflect on the story (with help from Henry Nouwen and his reflections in Return of the Prodigal Son), several opposing words/thoughts come to mind:

pride/humility, fear/trust, question/mystery, isolation/communion, desperation/hope, conversion/mission, busyness/peace, emptiness/love

This really is the question that really confronts me as I consider this story and Nouwen's reflections: "Do I, Pat, know that God forgives me and will do ANYTHING to provide me a better life than the one I am living now?"

The answer to this question is arguably the most important question we have to answer in our earthly lives.

I'm guessing that the prodigal son had to answer it. If he didn't (although, it probably took him a long time to answer it), the story would have turned out much differently.

I'm also guessing that the older son had to answer it. It seems like he may not have known the answer to the question, though, since he was so busy trying to manipulate God's love.

It's easy for me to consider my superficial answer to this question in my own life. I know that I'm supposed to say yes, but, I have to remind myself that yes opens the door to God doing/allowing whatever is necessary to get me to surrender to His love: loss of money, loss of family/friends, loss of title, loss of status. And, I don't know about you all, but the prospect of these things happening is not pleasant.

God, my Father, WORKS to earn my love.

However, my yes requires me to swallow my pride (in humble surrender) AND AT THE SAME TIME be loved (in humble surrender) by a Father that loves without reservation. This love must be celebrated first in communion with Him and then with all those brothers and sisters that He blesses me with in community.

And my yes also requires me to be re-fashioned by grace so that my thoughts, words and deeds are an unmistakeable proclamation of my sonship with my Father. It is this proclamation that not only changes lives, but makes my own life ridiculously full and complete and joyful.

So, for me, I think that I need to "re-know" God's forgiveness again...and again...and again...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Doing vs. Being (or Being...and then Doing?)

This tension between Doing and Being has been a long, hard-fought battle in the minds and hearts of all people. For me, it has come up recently, as I've had the chance to reflect on my life.

Doing is how most of us choose to live our lives. We are in a culture of doers. We are taught, both institutionally and through other forms of socialization, that we must "do" to succeed. Our performance is in direct correlation to what we achieve and what titles/status we hold. To not "do" is considered a negative thing.

What then is Being? Is it some holistic approach to living life that is in contrast - or even in opposition - to Doing? Is it some trendy idea being espoused on talk shows and self-help books?

Being, for me, is best understood by this simple verse in Scripture:

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

Being is acknowledging our brokenness. Being is our desire to be loved by the One who loves us first. Being is having the need to be healed of that brokenness by a Healer that is much greater than anything the world has to offer.

Being is communion.

For when we are in communion with our God, we find rest. This communion leads us to better understand our life and opens us to God's invitation to live it more completely and more fully. Communion is the motivation to "do", because with God, all things are possible.

Being - and the communion that comes with Being - gives purpose to our Doing.

Most Christians understand the word "communion" in the context of a liturgical celebration or worship service. And if we believe that this communion in these settings is a direct encounter with Our Lord's Presence, we are blessed by this moment.

Perhaps we can think of communion, however, much more broadly than just this singular moment that happens at Sunday Mass or church service or temple or holy gathering. Perhaps communion is an entire mountain upon which God's presence rests. And the desire in our human hearts for communion with our God could be an invitation from Him to climb the mountain, with our gaze fixed intently on the top where He gazes back at us with longing to offer us peace and mercy.

Some of us will go to the top, because our love for Christ is deep and moves us to make the necessary sacrifice to journey there. Some of us will be on different parts of the mountain, still being shined upon by a God who loves us unconditionally, and especially when we find it hard to love Him.

Now, he most certainly does not work only at the top.

Along the way, our Friend comes to us, walks with us, and sends us help to quench our thirst, gives us courage, makes us whole. However, He does this only if we invite Him into our journey and our hearts. If we don't, He still waits for us, patiently.

And regardless of what titles we have, all the good we've done, all the bad we've done, all our success and failures, all of our sin, His love for us at the top is the same as it is where ever we are on our way to the top.


Because maybe, just maybe, our desire for communion (Being) can lead us to say yes to Christ's invitation to come and have rest (Doing).

Hey, anyone know which way to the mountain of the Lord?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Being pastoral

Those of us in ministry have such a wonderful tool that helps us in our service of the Church. Being pastoral. In the easy decision and situations. And definitely in the hard ones too.

Being pastoral allows us to enter into the depth and context of every relationship and situation, and move toward uncovering a reality that can't be seen if we don't see the big picture.

It's kind of like someone stealing $5. Obviously, stealing $5 is morally unacceptable. If we don't go deeper, we'd resolve the situation by, justifiably, punishing the thief.

However, what if we were to discover that the person who stole was trying to buy milk for his needy, hungry child?

Being pastoral in action.

So, here's the question of the moment:

Is being pastoral compatible with the reality of the truths and doctrines that define Catholic life?

I mean it's a question of how do we manage the tension between the letter of the law (stealing is wrong) or the spirit of the law (but, physical hunger is wrong too). And which of the two is the right thing to choose, if we're desiring to be authentically Catholic?

There are so many situations - publicized and not - that we can see how this plays out: Teens and Confirmation, Notre Dame and President Obama, Pope Benedict and rogue priests, American Catholics and Church moral teaching.

Perhaps, in the interest of keeping peace in our faith communities (and not sparking a migration out of our communities), the current definition of being pastoral seems to rest in the spirit of the law. However, have we gone too far in forgetting, and even disregarding, the letter of the law?

In all situations, the choice between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law must be decided with and in love. But, is real love only offering a hug and forgiveness (and a gallon of milk)? Or does the Church and her Body need to do the things that are necessary to bring about conversion, even when it will most certainly cause anger and division?

Can being pastoral be more accurately defined as choosing to create good tension (caused by faithfulness to God's truth and trust that His way WILL prevail in spite of tremendous suffering) and bad tension (caused lack of love on the Church's part - and the ministers who serve the Church - in not going deep enough to uncover the reality of the conditions and circumstances of our brothers and sisters)?

Basketball, basketball, basketball

I have a basketball family. Thanks to my dad. And my grandfather. And my uncles.

So, this time of year is fun. Final Four. NBA playoffs.

Since I'm hanging with the family this weekend, some observations:
  • We bought my parents a new, HD, flat panel TV. Don't worry. My dad paid.
  • It was neat to see, after we set up the TV, how basketball and the new nephew brought us together.
  • The Lakers are only one game behind the Cavs for the best record in the league after last night.
  • But, why the heck is Pau Gasol still playing so many minutes this late in the season? He had as much post season activity as Kobe (since they played each other in the gold medal game of the Olympics). Laker Nations needs Pau as much Kobe.
  • Andrew Bynumn can have as much fun as he wants. Just stay away from the Playboy Mansion and Playboy bunnies and get your knee better.
  • Could it be that we have a Villanova/Michigan State championship game?
  • I just watched this Jay Bilas segment on Villanova's offense. I like this stuff, understanding the ins and outs of the game. Bilas should be a coach.
Back to lounging...

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Confirmation...and conversion?

Ah, yes, more on Confirmation and conversion.

I guess both have been top of mind for me since two of my most recent postings have dealt with both topics separately.

But, if we were to look deeper, don't these two topics actually have a very direct relatedness?

I think for many Confirmation programs, the primary focus has been catechesis. And I LOVE catechesis. I was raised with it in my house. I desire to not only understand the Catholic life better, but how to better share that life with others.

The fact of the matter is that my teenage years - which were spent diving into Catholic teaching, thanks to my parental catechists - is very unlike the experience of many young people today.

Now, my experience of serving the Church as a youth minister has led me to not only appreciate my parents' gift of our weekly Sunday morning breakfast catechism classes, but to know that there is a strong desire in families to have a similar faith formation. However, instead of doing within the "domestic Church", many families come to the our youth ministries to fill that void.

I interview all of our Confirmation candidates. And, to a person, all of them say that they want to be confirmed to be closer to God, to understand Him more, to be an "adult" member of the Church.

All great responses. But, to be honest, those are the answers you would expect from people who have a very outside-looking-in perspective of their faith.

So, there are questions that come to mind...
  • Does catechesis and encounter alone really bring teens into a deeper appreciation and understanding of the implications of the Sacrament of Confirmation not just for the present, but for the future as well?
  • Do we, the ministers charged with preparing teens for Confirmation, make assumptions about where our teens are at in their faith journeys instead of entering into the reality of their lives when they come to us?
  • Have we allowed teens to really express how they feel about God, Church, religion, morality, good, bad, even if what they express is not Catholic teaching?
In the interest of serving the Church better, what if we looked at our Confirmation prep activities as agents for...

CONVERSION: What if our primary mission in Confirmation prep was to offer our young people the choice for conversion? What if we invited teens to be blinded like St. Paul on the road to Damascus, that they might see like they haven't before. Because, for me, conversion is much more than catechesis. It is rooted in catechesis for sure. But, the truth is, a high school student who can explain transubstantiation or the trinity is no more likely to attend Mass every Sunday than a student who can't. If our focus was more on conversion, don't we have a better chance at helping teens understand and appreciate their faith better?

ASSESSMENT: Do we take the time to really know where a teen is at in his/her faith? Do we sit down with them to celebrate where their faith has been lived and practiced? Do we identify areas where they can draw closer to Christ, through conversion and with love? I think too often we cattle-herd teens into one option for preparing to receive Confirmation. Come to weekly meetings. Do service. Go on retreat. And while all those things are necessary, teens are at different places on their faith journey. Those different places have distinct qualities and cannot and should not be addressed by one methodology. Of course, we wouldn't know where teens are unless we ask. And listen.

DIALOGUE: High school students are much more aware of the world and the culture than I was when I was their age. As such, I think their questions are much deeper, much more probing. What if we provided a chance for teens to express how they view their lives and their worlds, especially if that view is not shared by the Church in which they want to confirm their faith? Perhaps part of the conversion process is allowing teens to be heard, and loving them especially in their lack of faith and lack of belief. Shouldn't we know what they're thinking so that we can give them the real truth from the source of truth, Jesus Christ?

And if he can change his view on the Sacrament, well then shouldn't I? And if I want my teens to change, then shouldn't I be first willing to change too? Not only in my own faith journey, but also in how I serve them and walk with them to Christ? And, maybe, just maybe, teens haven't embraced catechesis because we haven't made a compelling case for the joys of conversion.

After all, shouldn't our mission be that every teen be confirmed?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dreaming about the Sacrament of Confirmation

For those of you who are in Catholic youth ministry, one of the joys (and tremendously HEAVY crosses we bear) is preparing teens to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.

It's joyful because we get to encounter Christ with teens.

It's hard because, often times, this encounter is not as fruitful as WE would like.

You know what they say: If it's broke, then fix it.

There is much debate in our Church on whether or not the it (our human understanding of the purpose and value of the Sacrament itself AND the process by which the Sacrament is administered) is indeed broken.

For me, the very fact that there is disagreement on when young people should receive the Sacrament, how they should prepare to receive it, if they should receive it at all, and that they stop practicing their faith after receiving the Sacrament are all signs that it's not just broken, but REALLY broken.

If this is true, then shouldn't we consider changing? Not the bishops, not the priests, not the parents, not the teens. But those of us who Christ has called into this ministry of bringing the young church closer to Him.

How does that saying go, Be the change you want in the world?

So, Church, I need your help to dream a little bit with me.

What if the immediate preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation (particularly for those dioceses where the Sacrament is administered during high school) was a modified form of the RCIA process?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Notre Dame and President Obama

So, there is a huge controversy in the Catholic circles concerning the University of Notre Dame and President Obama.

As many of you know, President Obama has been very outspoken about his pro-abortion stance. The growing uproar comes from the feeling that, by being allowed to speak at a Catholic institution, the President will be making a mockery - by his very presence - of the Church's doctrine on the value and sacredness of human life.

I love the University of Notre Dame. I have been to the campus several times. And it is most certainly a place where Our Blessed Mother Mary is present.

I'm sure there are many complex issues here. But, to me, the one that is central to whole discussion is that the university clearly did not view this situation with the lens of our Catholic identity. This has been a challenge for the university in the past.

Having the President speak at Notre Dame is a problem for the entire Church. However, the bigger issue is that we need to take care of our own house, and work harder to unite our own Catholic family under the guidance and strength of Our Father...and the love and gentleness of Our Mother.