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.

A holy man follows the movement of the spirit

Today is a bittersweet day for the Catholic Church in San Diego. Bishop Salvatore Cordelione has been appointed as the bishop of the Diocese of Oakland, California.

He will be a gigantic blessing for the faithful there. His humility, faithfulness and boldness will most certainly have an impact.

I had the chance to get to know him during my time in the priestly formation program for the Diocese of San Diego. Smart. Well-spoken. Charismatic.

There is a lot of sadness here as Bishop Sal departs. But his impact on this local church - his home town church - will be long lasting.

The choice in conversion

So I woke up with many thoughts aflowing on this Monday morning. The first was, "wow no rain here?"

The second was the idea of conversion.

I wondered what choices St. Paul had to face (and struggle with) after his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. Do I listen to the Voice and go with my friends to Damascus? Do I want this priest to restore my sight? Do I really want to be different? Do I have a say in all of this?

I can't imagine that Paul's conversion was as straight-forward as it would appear from reading the book of Acts. So there must have been choices. Hard choices. The freedom to choose.

Would Paul's conversion been a real, honest conversion, if he didn't have a choice in responding to the Voice of Christ? What if he had been forced to make a change in his life?

So, then I go to thinking about ministry. How I go about it. How the Church goes about it. I've been particularly moved and challenged by this idea of Youth Ministry 3.0. Communional and missional. That's the direction we're heading. And, at least in my experience, that's the right direction to go.

But, for communional and missional to really have life, the life of the Holy Spirit, isn't conversion the hinge on which this movement rests? And shouldn't it be a conversion similar to St. Paul's, a conversion that is entered in to in and with freedom?

The Church - especially those of us in youth ministry that have access to the latest relational and evangelizing technologies - is good at creating an encounter with Christ.

Retreat. Conference. Camp. Worship service. Mission trip. Sacraments. Eucharist.

But, after the encounter, are we good enough at boldly and lovingly offering the choice of conversion? Not a coercive conversion (i.e., you will go to hell if you sin). But an authentic, from-the-inside-out new-born desire to recognize hope in love, hope in faith, hope in redemption, hope in fulfilling the deepest desires of our heart.

Because, to me, communional and missional is not possible without conversion. Without offering the choice of conversion, do our ministries fall short of what Christ and the Church is calling us to?

Without conversion, don't we leave God waiting on us on the doorsteps of our hearts for Him to share his unwavering love and mercy?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Happy birthday?

Our culture certainly places a lot of importance on money. This explains why the news is so full of stories of how our current financial downturn has affected EVERYONE, rich and poor alike.

But in our desire to use money in our best interests for us and our family, we find an interesting dilemma in defining what is essential and what is not.

Perhaps for some, a birthday party would be considered not essential when money is tight (or, in many cases these days, when there is no money at all). But, a non-profit organization in Massachusetts would disagree. And is doing something about it.

Proof perhaps that self-donating love shines the brightest when darkness seems to surround us?

Friday, March 20, 2009

The First Amendment...really?

Our country has always prided itself in freedom of speech for all people. But it is possible for even the President to abuse this:

Maybe we really can't say whatever we want, whenever we want. Could it be that the real spirit of the First Amendment demands and expects temperance?

You better believe that words can break hearts as much as it can fill them with love.

Attention all technology people...

I will be the first person to admit that I am a technology G-E-E-K!

I enjoy being around technology. I've worked at technology stores. I "snuck" into this year's Consumer Electronics Show (amazing experience!).

I am very excited about the soon-to-be-released Palm Pre smartphone.

I have a blog, Facebook, Twitter, and ways to update all three on my phone.

My MacBook goes with me wherever I go.

And, if I was being honest, I could find more technology to be consumed with.

So, this morning, as I was exchanging Tweets with fellow youth minister Chris Faddis, this simple phrase re-surfaced in my mind:

Hi-tech/low touch

Bob Schrimpf is a friend, a holy man of God, a devoted husband and father, and a youth worker who has influenced many ministries and lives across the country. He coined this phrase and has shared it at conferences and meetings that he is asked to speak at.

And he shares this phrase to point out that, while our technology makes us more "efficient", it does not make us more loving or compassionate. Our humanity is not "cyber" by nature, it is physical by nature.

Touch, not texts, are natural. The warmth of a hug, not a Facebook bumper sticker, expresses authentic, loving relationship. Sharing laughter with one friend, not hundreds of anonymous Twitter followers, will bring us joy and peace.

This is not a bashing of technology or the people that use it!!!!

Technology works. And it does have a place in our culture, in our family lives, in our ministries.

But, for as advanced as technology will continue to become, it will not replace the need for the physical-ness of our human relationships.

Why is this? There are lots of very smart people, inventing very smart things.

Those smart people thinking up those smart gadgets can't design or create one very important thing...


Incarnated, self-donated love is the ONLY thing that can fulfill our deepest desires and longings.

And that can only come from Our Creator, the One who made us in His image and likeness, who reaches down from Heaven to touch us - I mean, physically and really touch us - in the Sacraments, in the Church, in our relationships.

We may have a hard time perceiving God as God. It is an act of faith to recognize that he is touching us, speaking to us, watching us, listening to us at every moment of our day in a very real and physical way.

So, send out your text or post or tweet. But be sure to follow that up with love.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

March Tension

I will filling out my one and only bracket for the NCAA Men's basketball tourney last night. I'm not a stat geek, so I really make my picks based on, how do you say, intuition (a fancy word for guessing).

But an interesting dilemma came up. The UCLA Bruins are playing the Virginia Commonwealth Rams in the first round of the East Regional. I have been a UCLA fan all of my life. And, of course, the fan in me wants them to win the National Championship (or at least get to the Final Four).

However, they are a young team that has been very inconsistent the entire season.

So, I was dwelling on that place in my bracket: do I go with the fan pick or the realistic pick?


UCLA over VCU in round 1. Villanova over UCLA in round 2.

P.S. In case you're wondering, I have Pitt winning the whole thing.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Old School is the new New School

I've been blessed to play music for a Holy Hour at a young adult retreat this coming weekend. I love Adoration and I love worship and I love music.

But, as we were planning out with the time of prayer, I had to learn a song that was new to me: O Salutaris Hostia.

I've probably heard that song many times in my lifetime as a Catholic, but I probably dismissed it because it wasn't "cool" enough as a song.

After I heard it and learned how to play it, all I can say is...WOW!

What a beautiful proclamation of the awesomeness of God, present in the Eucharist.

Now, this blog is not about the song per se. But more about the notion that old church hymns can be and should be as relied upon as an encounter with Christ as much as contemporary music.

These old hymns teach us about who we are. And who we are has a past, a history, that can be traced to some of the greatest saints in the history of humanity, like St. Thomas Aquinas who wrote this song. And this encounter with our past tells us who we are striving to be: citizens of our home in heaven.

So, Church, let's sing out O Salutaris Hostia as loud and as proud as Your Grace is Enough. The saints and the angels will be singing along with us.

P.S. A huge special thanks to Tom Booth for re-recording O Salutaris on his new album, Captured.

Should I stay or should I go now?

Ahhhh, yes the words of this R.E.M. song are running through my head this morning. It would be so nice to spend the day here in L.A., help out my brother and sister-in-law, hang out with my nephew.

But, there is much work to be done in San Diego. Retreats to plan. Music to learn. Programs to administrate. Laundry to be laundered (lots of laundry, I might add).

Yes, the proverbial tug-of-war of life and of ministry.

Mike Patin talked once about learning how to better manage tension in our lives. While many of us are on the quest for "balance", many of us are unable to achieve it because we can't clearly discern where God is guiding us.

But when we are aware of tension (i.e. should I have my Confirmation meeting or go witness the birth of my nephew?), the Holy Spirit now has a greater opening help us make decisions, big and small.

There are contexts in our lives when we should prioritize ministry over life. But, there are clearly times that ministry should take a back seat to life. Like, canceling that Confirmation meeting to witness the birth of my nephew.

I think my family and the Holy Spirit would agree I got this one right.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It's about time for a new post

I haven't blogged in over three months. Busyness is one reason. Twitter is another. Lack of organization is up there too. But, today of all days, I have many reasons to post.

Today is the Feast of St. Patrick. For probably obvious reasons, this day has significance for me since I am named after this holy man of God.

I went to Mass this morning, and, in honor of St. Patrick, Fr. Ernesto used this as a closing prayer:

Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.

This prayer was so true for me today, as I celebrated the birth of my new baby nephew, Andrew Jr.

I was most certainly consumed by God in every sense, from receiving Him in the Eucharist as I started this day to the loving support of my parish community to the courage to re-prioritize my day to seeing the joy of my family to holding a gift from heaven in my arms.

The change that a newborn brings about in his/her parents is, of course, monumental. But, is there a different, yet no less monumental change brought about in the lives of the grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, family friends, communities?

I would say that the answer is an absolute yes.

I don't know how my life will be different. But it will definitely not be the same.

I have a new teacher in my life. A young man who will teach me about love. How to receive love, but definitely how to give love. This young man will be a reminder by every laugh and cry and dirty diaper that, even though I thought I had love figured out, I don't.

And while this young man cannot use words to speak yet, he'll communicate a language that is at the core of every human heart he will come in contact with. A language of life. A language of hope. A language of family.

There is cuteness in thinking about sharing in the journey of this young man. But this new life has caused me to think about my own conversion. If I am to live my vocation as uncle, I must be a better Christian, a better son and brother, a better friend, a man of integrity, an example of God's mercy and peace.

At every Mass, the priest prays these words that has really stood out to me lately:

Make us grow in love.

We better get started, nephew. I have a lot to learn from you.

P.S. Nephew, on the day you were born, the Lakers had a bad loss to the 76ers, I have not yet completed my NCAA Tournament bracket, and I'm sleepy but want to catch up on 24.