Thursday, December 8, 2016

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Customer Feedback and Unsatisfied Churchgoers

Not every blog at Sky View is going to be addressing parish life; but across America, parishes are getting hit hard with declining numbers. Part of my job as one who works on behalf of a dicoese, is to know what leads to this decline and how to reverse it and make it grow. With God's help, there are many ways to turn parish life around and get it going in the right direction. 

It can be argued that one of the ways to help parishes is to take a few principles and practices from the corporate world and apply it to the life of the church. Not all corportate principles are transferable to mission, but the spirit of good customer service is not at all unlike parish hospitality. With that said, allow me to propose this question to the reader: 

Does your parish have a low-risk and simple way to provide feedback to pastoral and parish leaders? Most do not. As such, there are a lot of families that leave quietly in the night.  

There are not a lot of people who can stomach a candid conversation with the pastor about their honest feelings about why they are “falling out of love” with that parish. Telling him, “Your sermons have little to do with my life and your music is less than inspiring, is a tall order for anyone who is not setting out to hurt someone’s feelings or make someone mad. The fact is, there should be an easier way to say, “My needs are not being met here.” . If restaurants and stores could do it, certainly Catholic parishes can do it.  

People today want to be heard; especially the Millennials. It used to be that conversion  was inspired by people listening their way to the faith. After all, just as recent as the 1980’s, sources of media like the newspaper and television were one-way-streets for the consumers. They either passively read the newspaper or passively viewed their television programs without having the opportunity to give their input. But today, with Netflix, talk radio and social media, all that has changed.  

Perhaps, this is why there has been a paradigm shift in the way people come to the faith. They are not as interested or tolerant in passively listening to our message. In fact, they are more unwilling than ever to just go through the sacramental or liturgical motions without understanding what the heck they are doing. No, the trend is that people are coming to faith- not so much by listening –but by talking; most notably about themselves. After all, our media culture and market place is tailored to the needs of the individual down to the last detail. If something is not immediately understood and perceived as relevant to our lives, chances are we will not bother with it.  Parish ministry and programs ought to be taking this into consideration. 

There is a saying that if the map and the ground disagree, the ground always wins. This is to say that if a map is not keeping pace with new roads or developments on the ground, the map will be dispensed with…not the new roads and developments. The question is: Does your parish have safe spaces and venues in which unhappy parishioners can be heard before they leave? Do they have a voice in the parish? Because one thing for sure: they have a voice out in the real world! 

Please keep in mind that when I say that people should be heard, I am not referring to renegotiating doctrine or adapting the teachings of the Church to whims of our times. These things cannot change. But what can change are the sermons, the music and the hospitality of the parish. This is where the corporate world can teach us a thing or two; especially as it pertains to customer service. 

When I enter some stores, I get the distinct feeling that customers are valued. As such, they lead me to believe that my input matters. But if were to attend a Mass in any given part of the countryand if I were to go take the trouble to  register my discontent with the liturgical celebration or how I was received by the community as a newcomer, I wonder if I would get that feeling I have come to be familiar with at some stores I frequent. 

  

Spiritual Resolutions

Have you ever been in a friendship where you got the sense that it was a one way street; something that totally dependent on your initiative?  The friendship may be rewarding in some respects but you know it can be better. Well, I can imagine God sees it that way with many of us. God created us so that we can freely choose to have a relationship with him. But that relationship, if it is to endure, consists of talking and listening to our heavenly Father every day.

As stated in the previous Sky View blogs, the best way to listen to God is through the spiritual reading of Scripture! Even more than listening itself, every good relationship involves action. And this is where resolutions come in.


Writing to one of his spiritual daughters, St. Francis de Sales said this about spiritual resolutions: “My daughter, you must not stop short in general affections, without turning them into special resolutions for your own correction and amendment. For instance, meditating on Our Dear Lord's First Word from the Cross, you will no doubt be roused to the desire of imitating Him in forgiving and loving your enemies. But that is not enough, unless you bring it to some practical resolution, such as, I will not be angered any more by the annoying things said of me by such or such a neighbor, nor by the slights offered me by such an one; but rather I will do such and such things in order to soften and conciliate them. In this way, my daughter, you will soon correct your faults, whereas mere general resolutions would take but a slow and uncertain effect.”

Just as business meetings have action items so as to avoid the discussion of ideas for its own sake, so too meditation on God's Word must, at some point, be translated into specific action items to be carried out that day or soon thereafter. This is how character building and building up virtue is better secured. From this, an interior joy and peace- one that can hardly be explained -is sustained through the ups and downs of life.

Keep in mind that spiritual reading, above all, is to inspire a greater love for Jesus Christ. It's primary end is not to learn so as to impress others, but to be impressed so that we are in a better position to love others and above all, God.

sProperty of the Department of New Evangelization/ Green Bay Diocese

Sunday, November 13, 2016

How to Make Sense of Same-Sex Attraction


Future Obstacles 

It is safe to say that the Catholic Church has lost a whole generation of young people on the issue of  marriage. Just recently, one of my kids had entered into this discussion with his peers; all of whom attend the local Catholic high school. He upheld the teaching of the Church in that marriage is a permanent union between a man and a woman. But his friends were not on that page. In fact, he stood alone in that discussion as one clearly out of step with the times.  

His conversation with his friends brought back to mind a question that was posed to my daughter by a friend of hers in that same high school just a few years ago. That question is: “Why does the Catholic Church hate gays?”  It dawned on me that the premise of that question was a matter of fact for that particular adolescentIn fact, the statistics regarding the beliefs  of youth and young adults on same-sex unions bear this out: to love people who experience same-sex attractions  (SSA) necessarily involves accepting homosexual activity. And I am afraid to say that same premise, however unjust it sounds to well-formed Catholics, is unquestioned one in our public institutions. 

However, it is interesting to note that, throughout history, the belief that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman received universal support in every civilization until about the year 2000 A.D. And yet, it would seem, at least in our country, that same-sex marriage was a well- established institution that had existed for centuries. 

It doesn’t take a prophet to know that same-sex marriage is here to stay for the foreseeable future. The fact is, younger generations are more supportive of same-sex marriage than any previous generation in American history. With that, the pressure on the Church to conform to this new definition of marriage, either through litigation or political coercion, will undoubtedly increase with each passing year! 

Needs Unmet 

More important than the obstacles the Catholic Church will invariably experience in the near future, are those people who experience same-sex attraction but who do not experience the love of Jesus Christ through the community of his disciples. Like the Jews who, in the first century, did not know how to strike that balance between God’s love and his law at it pertained to lepers and tax collectors, so today, in the twenty-first century, many Catholics struggle to strike that balance between loving the sinner but hating the sin. For instance, if a same-sex couple came to one our local parishes seeking some guidance on matters of faith, I am pretty sure there would be some awkwardness on the part of pastoral and parish leaders.

If truth to be told, there are Catholics who do a wonderful job of loving homosexual persons right where they find them, but who, nevertheless, are ashamed to breathe a word of the Church’s teaching on same-sex unions. This, unfortunately, renders their conversion highly improbable, if, in fact, repentance from homosexual activity is needed. Yet, on the other side of the spectrum, there are Catholics who are skilled at articulating Church doctrine on marriage but who, nevertheless, experience difficulty in expressing the unconditional love that God has for persons with same-sex attraction.  

To add to the imbalance, there is a deafening silence on this issue in most parishes. Indeed, the fear of offending anyone having anything to do with this topic has led to a paralysis of mission. The sad result is that people who experience same-sex attraction commonly feel loved by the world but judged by the Church.  As long as this paralysis of mission and public misperception endures, the narrative that the Catholic Church hates gays will continue gain ground. Not only that, gay people who are exhausted in their search for love in all the wrong places, but who, nevertheless, sincerely want to know God’s will and experience his love are left out in the cold. Too often, they are become like birds in flight without a nest.  


Causes of SSA 

The Catholic Medical Association (CMA) recently released their findings on the causes of same-sex attraction and how to minister to people who have this orientation. The title of the article is, Hope and HomosexualityThe CMA issued the following warning to Catholics: The failure of the Catholic community to provide for the needs of this population is a serious omission which must not be allowed to continue.  I would add that when the spiritual and human needs of people within Catholic communities are not ministered to because certain hot-button topics are a social taboo, then both the Church and society suffer.

At any rate, along with other studies, the Catholic Medical Association takes the position that same-sex attraction is not genetic. Instead, this sexual orientation is one that is brought about by environmental factors. One thing for sure, there is ample evidence that SSA is not something people are born with. Here is what CMA has to say about their findings:

  • “If same-sex attraction were genetically determined, then one would expect identical twins to be identical in their sexual attractions. There are, however, numerous reports of identical twins who are not identical in their sexual attractions.” 
  • Case histories frequently reveal environmental factors which account for the development of different sexual attraction patterns in genetically identical children, supporting the theory that same sex attraction is a product of the interplay of a variety of environmental factors. 

What are these environmental factors, you might be wondering? The CMA, along with many other credible sources, found the following patterns in people with same-sex attraction: 

  • While there are similarities in the patterns of development, each individual has a unique, personal history. In the histories of persons who experience SSA, one frequently finds one or more of the following: 
-Alienation from father from early childhood 
-Sexual abuse or rape 
-Mother was overprotective 
-Mother was needy and demanding 
-Parents failed to encourage same-sex identification [i.e. peers] 
-Boys: Lack of rough and tumble play / dislike team sports 
-Lack of eye-hand coordination/ teasing by peers 
-Poor body image 
-Separation from parent during critical developmental stages 

To add to CMA findings, Dale O’Leary, in his book entitled, One Man: One Woman, came to a similar conclusion about men who experience same-sex attraction“Homosexual men rarely, if ever, recall father-son interaction that includes activities that they both enjoyed.”  And if, in fact, same-sex attraction is not genetically determined and but instead is traceable to the above mentioned environmental factors, then it can be argued that human behavior plays a big role in the development of this sexual orientation.  

With this, reparative therapy and sound Catholic spirituality can, in some cases, have a positive impact on reorienting sexual attraction to the opposite sex. The caveat here is that same-sex attraction can be reoriented in "some" but not all casesBut what can be achieved in all cases, without question, is that interior joy and peace Christ offers to his followers who are willing to answer the call to live a chaste life. As Cardinal Francis George said in 1999, “To deny that the power of God’s grace enables those with homosexual attractions to live chastely is to deny, effectively, that Jesus has risen from the dead.” 

Made Whole Again 

Whether or not SSA is successfully reoriented through reparative therapy, the Catholic Medical Association argues the following: “With the power of grace, the sacraments, support from community, and an experienced therapist, a determined individual should be able to achieve the inner freedom promised by Christ.” 

This is good news for people who experience SSA and their relatives who have struggled to make sense of it! The question is, how might this come about given what was said by CMA? In brief,  here are a few methods that have proven to be promising for those wanting this inner freedom and, if possible, a reorientation: 

  • Forgive offender- essential for healing 
  • Frequent Confession and Anointing of the Sick 
  • Encourage those with father wounds to develop relationship with God as a loving Father 
  • Picked on by peers? Meditate on Christ as a brother, friend and protector 
  • Support groups, therapists, and spiritual counselors who unequivocally support the teachings of the Catholic Church are essential components of the help that is needed [which includes a healthy bonding with those of the same-sex]. 

The bad news is that a good number of therapists believe it is unethical to offer this treatment to those people who experience same-sex attraction. But as CMA argues, It should be noted that almost without exception, those who regard therapy as unethical also reject abstinence from non-marital sexual activity as a minimal goal and among the therapists who accept homosexual acts as normal many find nothing wrong with infidelity in committed relationships, anonymous sexual encounters, general promiscuity etc… 

Hence, the Christian values of the therapist must be factored in when seeking help. Without such values, that inner freedom that Jesus Christ offers cannot be received by those who want it. 

The Third Way 

The Third Way is a film that demonstrates the power of Christ’s love in the lives of people who have not only experienced same-sex attraction, but who have chosen, for a period of time, to live the homosexual lifestyle before their conversion. What is particularly striking is that those featured in this film talked about how alluring the homosexual lifestyle was for them; this, given the acceptance the world offered. After a lot of pain and searching, they came to realize that this lifestyle was a dead end road. 

Unfortunately, there were many Christian churches that were not in much of position to help them on their journey towards conversion. In fact, it was only through difficulty that many of them discovered that wonderful and grace-filled balance of truth and love from Catholics who were willing to love them as they were but also loved them enough to share with them the Good News that God has a plan for them; and that plan includes living a chaste life in Christ with an inner freedom and joy never experienced before. 

This is what Brandon Vogt said about the film: 

Magnificent and moving, the film features first-hand testimony from several faithful Catholics who struggle with homosexual attraction. Most of them were heavily involved in the gay scene before committing to chastity. Their experiences shed new light and reveal how Catholics can help those experiencing same-sex attraction. Their stories ultimately affirm the great joy and freedom found in the Church’s teaching, a ‘third way’ centered on authentic love. 

This is it! Christian love prepares the way for the reception and assimilation of Gospel truth. And people who struggle with homosexual attraction need to be loved with that sacrificial love only Christ can give. 

Why aren’t we Catholics reaching out to them in every parish? The failure to do this leaves a huge void. And that void has been filled with a false compassion by misguided people who accept or promote homosexual activity as natural and morally acceptable. 

It is important to note that it is not just society's fault for pushing a radical same-sex marriage agenda; we can't just point the finger at them. The Church also, by not talking about this topic at the local level, is allowing for its own inability to proclaim the Good News about marriage! The secular powers that be are getting less and less sympathetic with the Catholic position on marriage. To be sure, here mission to proclaim that "God created them male and female" and that this biblical truth is the surest foundation of civilization is getting more and more difficult with each passing year.

Sponsored by the Department of New Evangelization of the Green Bay Diocese