Tuesday, May 17, 2016

What a Public School Board Meeting on Sex Education Taught Me About Happiness

May 17, 2016 by Vicki Burbach
Article posted on Sky View courtesy of spiritualdirection.com

My husband and I – along with many other concerned parents – just spent our entire evening at a board meeting for Omaha Public Schools (OPS). On the agenda was a vote on an updated Sex Education curriculum (benignly named, Human Growth and Development). During the public comment portion of the meeting (which was limited to one hour), over a dozen parents expressed frustration with the district’s lack of transparency and their insistence on pushing forward with a curriculum that is extremely controversial, to say the least, including lessons on topics like gender identity and gender roles discussed as early as sixth grade, sexual orientation, abortion and emergency contraception.

 Sadly, parental concern was not a determining factor, and the board voted resoundingly to pass the curriculum. You may be wondering why I share all this in association with the above quote about human satisfactions of the cravings of the body and soul.

 After my experience at OPS and my shock at the president’s directive released this past Friday to school districts across the country, it occurs to me that many among us are so mired in the material world that their focus with respect to human sexuality has become limited to flat, one-dimensional concerns. Concerns like sexual pleasure, gender preferences, mutual consent and birth control. Their desire is for people to feel good. And they define this physical satisfaction as happiness. Their intentions sound laudable, but this thinking is short-sighted and the means they choose can never reach their desired end. By beginning and ending with the physical and completely ignoring the spiritual, their objectives involve no consideration for the complete human person, and therefore can never satisfy.

 The world is teaching our children that they are a compilation of cells, defined by physical sensations, emotions and desires. They are being taught to react, rather than to think. To feel rather than to reason. They are being taught that their needs can be met in the material world, rather than given any indication of the purpose for which they were created. The plan that God had in mind when he created their beautiful, wonderful bodies is not deemed worthy of discussion. Consequently, in an ever frantic pursuit to help humanity obtain happiness, the powers that be have decided that perhaps we can reach it by smudging the lines a bit. That in the material world, we should determine right from wrong. We should decide what pleases us without boundaries. We should be the arbiters of truth.

We have extended the great abyss from moral relativity to physical relativity and the powers that be are indoctrinating our children with an arrogance that says, “I Decide What is True for Me."

Spiritually. Morally…” and now…“Physically.”

 Recently I heard about a disturbing experiment conducted by the Family Policy Institute wherein an interviewer asked college students to judge the accuracy of assertions he made about his gender, ethnicity, height and other physical features. For example, the interviewer may have been a 5’9” male; but in the interview, he would say, ‘What would you say, if I told you I am a Chinese woman?” Nearly all respondents answered things like, “Good for you.” Virtually no one challenged him, despite the fact that all physical evidence contradicted his claims. Rather, they bent over backward to make him feel comfortable about determining his own truth. In a must-see video on original sin, Bishop Robert Barron demonstrates that this is not a new problem, but rather brings us all the way back to the Garden of Eden. The sin of Adam and Eve was taking truth into their own hands. They were determined to be the arbiters of good and evil. Isn’t that what the world has done with regard to human sexuality?

 We have become so wrapped up in determining for ourselves what is right and what is wrong, that we have forgotten the Source of all good, the Source of all truth, the Source of life itself. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. Because we have forgotten the Source of all good, the Source of all truth, the Source of life itself, we have ventured into the realm of determining for ourselves right from wrong. However we choose to look at it, the bottom line is that we are seeking to satisfy our needs through the “delights” of the world, even if that means “re-shaping” reality to satisfy them in the current moment, rather than discerning the long-term needs of body and soul. The more we isolate ourselves from God, the more vehemently we will seek happiness in the material world. And the more we will fight to define happiness outside the boundaries of reality. But the fact is that true human growth and development are not even possible without God. In that respect, we are placing ourselves in a no-win situation.

We cannot sustain this path. In the end, there will be a war between our Faith and the modern world. There is no common ground between the two, because reality and make-believe cannot coexist for long.

 "The future conflict of the world will not be between Religion and Science, or between “rugged individualism” and Socialism, but between a society which is spiritual and a society which is mechanical; between a society which adores God, and a society which claims to be God; between a society which absorbs man for secular ends, and a society which respects personality and uses the secular as a means to eternal ends. The world must make the choice…Men will enlist on one side or the other; we must battle either for brotherhood in Christ, or comradeship in anti-Christ."

— Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Friday, February 12, 2016

Passing on the Faith: Gotta Go Beyond the Family!

If the last fifty to sixty years have demonstrated anything it is that privatizing and the compartmentalizing the faith only serves to flatten it; making it both unappealing and ineffective. I would even go so far as to say that children rebel against this kind of faith. After all, do they not hear the words from the Dismissal Rite of Mass: “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”? Yes they do. But a privatized and compartmentalizes faith that is set apart from daily life and the public sphere runs counter to this liturgical mandate!

In the book, Young Catholic America, Christian Smith argues that between the ages of 18 and 23 the faith of young adults is often lost. At the very least religious participation in this demographic has gone into a steep decline. However, this should not surprise us in the least if their faith is not expressed and nurtured during the week. 

If Catholicism does not inform the totality of life and is thus reduced to going to Mass on Sundays and frequenting an occasional parish picnic, then it is hardly worth doing the bare minimum. And, unfortunately, fulfilling the least of their religious obligations, i.e. attending weekly Mass, is the first to go when young adults enter college. The problem is easy enough to identify: The high school years are a time when the identity of adolescents is closely tied to their social life. 

Having a family that practices the faith during the week- between Sunday Masses –is a must, to be sure! But a Christian social life goes a long way in bolstering the faith and values of youth. Rodney Stark, who wrote at length about conversions in early Christianity, emphasized the importance the early Church placed on fellowship and social networking. In his book, The Triumph of Christianity, he reminds us: 

“Conversion is primarily an act of conformity. But then, so is non-conversion. In the end it is a matter of the relative strength of social ties pulling the individual toward or away from a group.”  

This indirectly speaks to what Pope St. John Paul II said: “A faith which does not become culture is a faith which has not been thoroughly received,  nor fully lived out.”. In fact, one of the litmus tests for becoming a viable candidate for the Rites of Initiation during those early centuries of the Church was that they were expected to associate with other Catholics. Faith possesses a personal dimension to be sure; but it is also social and communal in nature.

The social ties that Rodney Starks refers to are certainly not the most important reason to be a follower of Christ. To love God for his own sake is the noblest motive for being a Catholic. With that said, however, social instincts and social motives are powerful.  We all know what peer pressure means for a child. And we certainly have come to learn through experience and studies in recent decades how compelling social conformity is.  

It can be argued that when a child only hears about the Good News from his or her parents- even though the parents are the primary educators and evangelists for the child –the faith will likely be perceived as a private affair; relegated only to the home.

Conversely, to have friends who share a common faith and social values with you- to have the faith validated, so to speak, outside of the home and outside of religious venues -is to reinforce the truth that our Catholic faith is all-embracing; that God is an important part of everyday life and in all sectors of life. 

This belief is wonderfully confirmed in the Shema, the centerpiece for Jewish prayers. It reads: “Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-8)

Having friends who share our love for Christ is an essential step in taking to heart the Word of God at home and abroad.  Just as important, it is an important condition upon which the faith is passed on from one generation to the next!

_____________________

This article is the property of the Department of New Evangelization 
at the Diocese of Green Bay

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

PARENTS, IT IS UP TO YOU: YOU ARE THE FIRST EDUCATORS & EVANGELISTS


Parents as Primary:


The Catholic Church has always taught that the parents are the primary educator of their children. After all, they are the image of God for their children. It is through this image that the child learns about himself, about the world and about God. Yet, this marital oneness is not the only way the knowledge of God is transmitted. No. Parents are duty- bound to educate their children in the faith. In the Declaration of Christian Education, a document from the Second Vatican Council, it says, “Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators. This role in education is so important that only with difficulty can it be supplied where it is lacking.(1965).

Only with difficulty can it be supplied where it is lacking,” is a prophetic understatement! It just so happen that in the last forty to fifty years the parent’s role in education has been lacking and as such, the proper formation of children has not been sufficiently supplied; this, because the partnership upon which education and formation rests between parents and the parish has not been honored.

Surrogate or Partner:

When parents, as the primary and principal educators, send their children to Catholic schools full-time or even to a religion class once a week, there is a very important agreement, sometimes unspoken, that the parish enters into a partnership with the parents in educating and spiritually forming the child. Decades ago, the local pastor or the parish formed a partnership with the parents only on the condition that the parents were practicing Catholics. If this condition was not met, the Church refused to process the child through the education system and the sacramental initiation program.

Today, however, even when parents are remiss in their religious duties, many parishes have adopted the policy to go ahead and try to partner-up with them in educating and spiritually forming the child. But studies have shown that when the parents do not observe God’s law and hence fail become active followers of Christ themselves, the child will eventually follow the same path as their parents and hence fall-away from the faith.

This creates an impossible situation because the Church ends up becoming a surrogate educator instead of a partner with the parents. In too many cases, when the child comes of age and goes away to college, the religious formation that was provided by the Church- while having no support at home -goes to the wayside. Is it not true that the apple rarely falls far from the tree? 

Missing in Action:

Christian Smith's book, Young Catholic America: Emerging Adults, In, Out of and Gone From the Church, confirms what many parish-leaders in the Diocese of Green Bay have been concerned about in recent years: the difficulty adults are having in evangelizing youth and young adults. As one adult faith formation coordinator said, "About 15 years ago young adults used to drift away from the Church but then comeback when they had children. Today, however, they are not coming back."
  
Smith's research reveals that 62 percent of Catholic adolescents attend regular services during their Catholic high school years. But this percentage drops to 22 percent in the emerging adulthood years (ages18-23). That is to say, the Catholic Church loses a significant number of young adults in the post-high school years. And the casualties involve those adolescents who attended Catholic high schools.
 
In fact, Sherry Weddell, in her book, Forming Intentional Disciples, had this to say: "As the Pew report put it, Catholics have the biggest 'generation gap' of any religious community in the United States. Sixty-two percent of Catholics sixty-five and older in 2008 said that they attended Mass every week, while only 34 percent of Millennials did so." (pg. 44) The question then becomes, what can we do?
  
Two Indispensable Principles:

In preparing for an adult faith formation program called, On the Same Page, I contacted a number of Catholic apostolates who have enjoyed some success in evangelizing youth: FOCUS, NET Ministries, Cardinal Newman Society, and Nashville Dominicans  to name a few. I asked them what they believed high rates of faith retention rested on. The two things they identified. First, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ needed to be in place if religious education was to bear any fruit. Second, parental support of that relationship was said to be of the greatest importance.

As for the first principle, The General Directory for Catechesis reads: "Only by starting with conversion, and therefore by making allowance for the interior disposition of 'whoever believes' can catechesis, strictly speaking, fulfill its proper task of education in the faith." (GDC, art. 62) Indeed, the way to the mind is through the heart. “If the mind alone hears without the heart’s cooperation, God’s Word does not bring forth all of its fruit.” (Dom Columba Marmion, Christ: The Ideal of the Monk 1926) And conversion, according to the GDC, involves "essential moments" when the person experiences the person of Christ; moments when the heart is touched by grace.

Before religious education or catechesis can truly be effective, a relationship with Jesus Christ is essential. Only then will the Mass, the Sacraments and the Church take on greater relevance for our younger generation of Catholics. As such, an intensification of evangelization, witness talks, spiritual mentoring, retreats, and pilgrimages as a precursor and supplement to religious education and faith formation is worth revisiting.

As stated, the success of parishes and Catholic schools in evangelizing and educating youth also rests upon the active support of parents. The faith and religious participation of parents largely determine whether or not their children as emerging adults will retain the faith. To be sure, the Church was never meant to be a surrogate in forming the child; only a partner.

When I asked Christian Smith what his opinion was about the underlying cause of the decline in religious participation among Catholic young adults, he said:

 “Well, it's really not that complicated. Most youth, if they have good relationships with their parents, generally end up looking a lot like their parents religiously. What is going on with Catholics is that, on average, Catholic parents are just less committed, invested, and involved in the Church and their own personal faith and practice. And so that's what the kids learn and follow when they get older.” (August 7, 2014)


It is only when parents take a leading role in evangelizing and educating their children can we, who work on behalf of the Church, hope to raise up a generation of disciples who are on their way.

__________________________

This article is the property of the Department of 
New Evangelization/ Diocese of Green Bay

Friends and Foes of Youth In A Post-Christian Age


Josh Mitchell is a professor of political theory at Georgetown University and the author of the book, Tocqueville in Arabia: Dilemmas in a Democratic Age. He also helped with the founding of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar. In fact, as a professor in Qatar from 2005 to 2008 and as a chancellor of the American University of Iraq from 2008 to 2010, Mitchell enjoys a distinct vantage point. With his teaching experience, he had become acquainted with how young adults in both cultures see life and the world. As for his American students, he has duly noted their strengths, but he has also identified the challenges they face. 

Professor Mitchell’s observations speaks to the underlying difficulty that parents and parish leaders are facing today as they attempt to evangelize young people. We live in an age of computers and smartphones, gadgets that can prove to be a blessing and a curse to a nation’s faith. Indeed, every strength has a corresponding weakness. And the weakness of being more entertained, more connected and more informed on a 24/7 basis is that it can have the unintended consequence of burying the human need for communion with God and neighbor.

What is particularly new about it is that to which evangelization must pierce through. Unlike the Old Evangelization of the Apostles and the Church Fathers, the New Evangelization has to contend with a myriad of distractions that inhibit the ability to be present in the moment. With these distractions, face-to-face interaction naturally suffers. They can easily occasion people to drift into their own little worlds. 

Though they may be in the same room, they are, nevertheless, by themselves. And this solitary existence where the need of the family is less felt, gives fresh ventilation to narcissism and loneliness that is latent in all of us. In fact, Professor Mitchell makes this observation:

“My American students update their homepage; they jot down and comment here or there for a 'friend,' spontaneously, of course; they all know and chatter about the latest television programs or games- and they fall asleep at night rehearsing their soliloquies to themselves, in a recurring loop that can be halted by the one thing many of them are most frightened to do, namely, involve themselves in actual face-to-face relations- not for a moment, but for an extended period...My students are more 'connected' than any generation in history of the human race. They nevertheless sense themselves to be alone.”

Just in the last ten years, our world has changed because the way we communicate has changed. I remember seeing a picture of St. Peter’s Square when they announced a new pope, namely, Pope Benedict XVI, in 2005 contrasted with 2013, when the announced Pope Francis as the new pope. As for the latter, it looked as though every single person were using the video capacity of a smartphone. Hardly a person in St. Peter’s Square was without one.

There are, to be sure, many positives about being well connected. The blessing of a smartphone is that it not only facilitates communication, but it can do just about everything a computer can. A good thing indeed! Yet, again, with every positive there is a corresponding negative. For instance, with texting, emails and the internet so readily available now, people are bound to experience a kind of chronic and insatiable curiosity. A curiosity about what, you might ask? A curiosity about the most recent text or email received. Although it is not true to say this about every user, it would seem that this curiosity continually draws us to our smartphones. And in doing so, we can lose sight of the people in our immediate surroundings. I would even go so far as to say it is becoming an addiction among many young Americans. These considerations, no doubt, has an impact on our ability to evangelize; especially the younger generations.

According to a
Wall Street Journal’s article in July of 2013, A Rising Addiction Among Youths: Smartphones, South Koreans are suffering from this addiction in epidemic proportions. In part, it reads:

“Earlier this month, the South Korean government said it plans to provide nationwide counseling programs for youngsters by the end of the year and train teachers on how to deal with students with addiction. Taxpayer-funded counseling treatment here already exists for adult addicts.”

But the article goes on to give us something very insightful: With an over reliance on texting, especially among the youth, interpersonal and nonverbal communication becomes impoverished. "Students today are very bad at reading facial expressions," said Setsuko Tamura, a professor of applied psychology at Tokyo Seitoku University. "When you spend more time texting people instead of talking to them, you don't learn how to read nonverbal language." Furthermore, strong relationships require a sense of being present to family members and friends. Without this attentiveness, our interaction with others becomes fragmented, rushed and superficial.


Yet, nonverbal communication is not the only thing that is compromised. The ability to think in silence for long periods of time is less attainable as well. This is important because thinking in silence is when our communion with God is most intense. What is more, the compulsion to communicate through the smartphone has great potential to distract us from doing things such as preparing for the day ahead, being attentive to our duties, and examining each day in light of our faith in Christ. It also hinders children’s creativity and productivity because the entertainment on smartphones, computers and X-boxes are already prepared for them. As such, seldom do children invent their own play. Seldom are they the authors of their own fun. Creativity is born out of silence and even boredom, but so is spiritual growth. In fact, it is in the quiet of our minds that the whisper of God is more easily heard and eternity is more frequently pondered.


In sum, the smartphone will benefit youth- as it well the rest of us –only if they are masters of it. But if they are compelled to use it at every moment, then not only will the voice of God be suppressed, but the heralds of the New Evangelization will be greeted with increasing indifference. After all, if the voice of God is not heard from within, neither will the voice of the Church be heard from without. To be sure, the latter derives its strength from the former!

We can expect, therefore, that out of necessity, the Catholic Church will have more to say and teach about this new form of communication. And although church leaders and evangelists should continue to affirm all that is good in this new technology, they will, nevertheless, inherit the mission of having to restore the love of silence and face-to-face communication. Religion classes in Catholic schools, faith formation classes in parish programs and youth groups alike will provide a great service to youth by accentuating the need for simplicity. Not only will families and communities be indebted to this new focus in evangelization, but the Church will too.

____________

This article is the property of the Department of New Evangelization/ Diocese of Green Bay

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

MOVIE THEATERS AND PARISHES: And what the last 25 years can tell you!

The following blog is sponsored by the Department of New Evangelization and was written for parish leaders in the Green Bay Diocese. If you happen to be a Catholic who happens to volunteer or work at your local parish or one who happens to be interested in how people perceive the relevance of today's parish and what to do about it, this blog may for you!

________________________


Why compare movie theaters and parishes? And how does such a comparison give us any insight into parish ministry? The similarities and differences among movie consumers and Catholic churchgoers may surprise you! Even more, it just may give parish leaders a few ideas on how to attract more people to your local parish.

 For one, people go to the movie theaters- more or less on the weekends -for an event; namely, the showing of a movie. Similarly, Catholics go to a weekend event at their parish; namely, the celebration of the Mass.Interestingly, the participant’s behavior of both events does bear a striking similarity: People who attend a movie on Saturday night or a Mass on Sunday morning rarely talk to people other than those they attended the event with. In other words, John and Jane Doe may talk to each other at the movie theater or the parish, but rarely do they engage in meaningful conversation with other people. They simply attend the event and return home.
 
What should be obvious is that this event-driven behavior does not lend itself to community-building. Yet, the interesting thing to note is that this pattern of behavior has not hurt the movie industry in any way; but it has taken a toll on parish growth!For instance, in 1990 the number of Catholic parishes in the United States peaked at around 19,620.Interestingly enough, the number of indoor movie theaters during the same year was estimated to be slightly higher at 22,904.
 
If we can take the number of parishes and movie theaters as a kind of measure, it can be argued that in 1990 the demand for services that the average parish provided was about the same as the public demand for movies in indoor theaters.Yet, over the next twenty five years the number of indoor movie theaters doubled while the number of parishes decreased by at least two thousand.
 
There are many reasons for this growing disparity but one reason stands out above the rest: No one expects to meet new people, make new friends or to be a part of a meaningful community at a movie theater. People do not go to the movies for community-sake but rather for its entertainment value. And to be sure, this is part of the reason why there has been an increased demand for more movie theaters over the decades. The entertainment value of seeing a movie is self-evident to most viewers. They can articulate what movie they just saw, the story that was unfolded and why they liked it. However, the same cannot be said for most people who attend Mass.Most Catholic churchgoers do not know why they dip their fingers in holy water in order to make the Sign of the Cross, why there is a procession before Mass begins, why the priest kisses the altar, why the congregation is greeted with the words, “The Lord be with you” and why the people respond, “And with your spirit!” In other words, the spiritual value of participating in the Mass is not self-evident. Indeed, the Mass does not explain itself quite like the average movie does.
 
For this reason, the celebration of the Mass at the parish- unlike the showing of a movie at the local theater –cannot be the only religious event that churchgoers are exposed to or it will cease to be relevant to them.Yet, the vast majority of practicing Catholics that attend Mass on a weekly basis connect with few parishioners before or after Mass. To be sure, they head home right after the closing hymn.Like seeing a movie at the local theater, they go to the parish for the main event and only for the main event.And yet, this exclusive focus on just going to Mass week in and week out is slowly undermining Mass attendance itself.Why? Well, because the Mass was never meant to be celebrated apart from a meaningful community of fellowship and discipleship. But, sadly, the infrastructures of many parishes in North America are such that the Mass is the first and only exposure newcomers and seekers have of the Catholic faith.
 
Furthermore, parishes are not set up to identify the newcomer or seeker; to accommodate them by answering their questions; to immediatelysupport them through fellowship; or to give them an invitation or some incentive to return the following week.As for the latter, movie theaters do this well by showing previews of upcoming movies. By showing previews of movies yet to debut, they are offering a tangible incentive for movie consumers to come back. But what are parishes doing to incentivize newcomers and casual churchgoers to come back? I’m afraid that offering the Mass, by itself, is not a compelling enough incentive for most people to give the parish another try. There has to be more! It’s just too easy to be an anonymous visitor.
 
Bear in mind that the Mass was never meant to be an introduction to Catholic spiritual life or the only thing that is offered to newcomers and seekers. On the contrary, the Catholic Church has always taught that the Mass is the summit of Christian life; not the vestibule of Christian life. In other words, this spiritual summit, like a mountain, was meant to rest on a wide and deep foundation. Before the summit can be reached, one must first arrive at the base of the mountain first and then ascend its slopes.
 
These initial steps at a lower altitude necessarily include encountering Christ through prayer, fellowship, evangelization, and discipleship in a small group or community within the parish.To have such a service immediately available to newcomers and seekers- in addition to the Mass -is to value them as individuals where they will be remembered and accompanied in their spiritual journey.
 
This, no doubt, will take on different forms and will vary from parish to parish. But getting started will greatly increase the odds that more people will regard the parish community as being even more essential to their lives than the local movie theater.

Monday, August 3, 2015

A National Study of Former Young Catholics Reveals Key Insights for Parish Leaders and Parents

In the early 2000s Nicolette Manglos-Weber and Christian Smith, two sociologists at the Center for the Study of Religion and Society, surveyed 3,000 plus U.S. teenagers and their parents. In their recent study, Understanding Former Young Catholics: Findings from a National Study of American Emerging Adults, they focused on emerging adults who were self-identified as Catholic when they were teenagers but later dropped that Catholic identity. The findings from this decade-long study reveal key insights for parish leaders and families that seek to pass on the faith to youth. Interestingly, the researchers hasten to add that “we find both causes for concern and reasons to hope.”


Stronger Than Culture:

The good news is that although the influences of secular culture are powerful and widespread, the loss of faith is not inevitable. In fact, the strongest ally the Church has in raising up disciples for Jesus Christ is the family. Manglos-Weber and Smith go so far as to say that they can “anticipate quite accurately whether a given teenager will continue to identify as Catholic into emerging adulthood based primarily on what we know about the religious home environment in which they were raised.” 

If, for instance, parents were religiously consistent, committed, vocal, and reasonably well educated, the chances of their son or daughter retaining the faith into emerging adulthood significantly increases. To be sure, speaking regularly of the faith at home, regular Mass attendance, parish community involvement and having close friends who are religious, all contribute to a strong religious identity during the young adulthood years. What is equally important, however, is the quality of relationships adolescents have with their parents. 

"Emotional closeness between Catholic parents and their teenage children—especially with fathers—influences whether teens remain Catholic into their 20s. Greater relational distance between parents and teens increases the chance that the latter will leave the Church in emerging adulthood."

What this study confirms is that “whether or not emerging adults are aware of it, they continue to understand and evaluate religion in reference to the models they were given growing up.” After all, it is the mother and the father that serve as the image of God for their children. It is through this image that a child understands the world, God and himself. Indeed, the manner in which parents model religion for their children is decisive.

This is why in the Declaration of Christian Education, a document from the Second Vatican Council, it says, “Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators. This role in education is so important that only with difficulty can it be supplied where it is lacking.” (1965)

The one key insight that this report offers for parish leaders and families is that the faithful and consistent witness of parents can have a greater impact on their children than the secular culture itself. This is good news. As Manglos-Weber and Smith remind us, “These results also correct impressions that emerging adults’ loss of faith is inevitable or random.”


Areas of Interest for Parishes and Parents:

Many parishes throughout the Diocese of Green Bay are actively seeking out parents, presenting them with opportunities to be evangelized and catechized. If adult faith formation for parents was considered to be optional in the past, it is becoming clearer from what we know today that equipping parents to be the primary evangelists and educators of their own children is imperative. The future of the Church depends on it. Furthermore, from reading the study, Understanding Former Young Catholics, we can identify characteristics of home environments where there was enough religious momentum for teenagers to retain the faith into the emerging adulthood years (to read a summary of the findings in their own words, please scroll down). To this end, efforts of adult faith formation and sacramental preparation can assist parents in the following areas:

1. Modeling religion for teenagers. Modeling religion begins and ends with the person of Jesus Christ. It is important for youth to know that religious observance is an expression of this relationship, not its substitute.

2. Consistency of religious expression. Personal prayer, saying grace before meals and family prayer on a daily basis reinforces the relationship teenagers have with Jesus Christ.

3. Speaking about Jesus Christ and discussing spiritual and moral issues at home. Parents can use the media (i.e. news, television programs and the social media) as opportunities to talk about the faith so that faith is both relevant and personal in their lives.

4. The social dimension of faith. A growing number of emerging adults are critical of organized religion. Yet, gathering as a people of God on the Sabbath to hear the Word, to participate in the Eucharist and to fellowship with believers supports and nourishes the personal dimension of faith.

5. Emotional closeness to children. Parents can be actively religious, but if they are not investing time in forming a close and trusting relationship with their children, then imparting the faith to them is likely to be compromised.

In our parish ministries and homes, we can ask ourselves: Are we demonstrating in concrete ways how the social dimension of faith completes the personal dimension of faith for teenagers and emerging adults?


American Emerging Adults:

No doubt, there are concerns that are duly noted in the study, Understanding Former Young Catholics. The fact is that many parents who have their teenagers attend parish programs and Catholic schools are not religiously consistent, committed, vocal, and reasonably well educated. Ideals are worthy of pursuit but parish leaders, catechists and educators often inherit circumstances that are far from ideal.

It is unfortunate that there are not a few teenagers who either come from families that attend Mass every Sunday but nothing more; or they come from families who do not attend Mass at all. Regardless of background, the Church is presented with opportunities to better equip teenagers to transition into emerging adulthood as disciples of Christ. In order to carry out this mission, Manglos-Weber and Smith proposes to the Church to “understand them in their particular place in life and to seek them out.”

To actively seek them out is a must! Why? More than previous generations, today’s teenagers and emerging adults are skeptical of organized religion. Perhaps, one can argue that our religiously pluralistic society has had a relativistic effect on youth. According to the Center for the Study of Religion and Society, many of those surveyed see religious subjects as having two sides. Religious certainty is no longer considered to be a virtue. In fact, for them to express an aversion to spiritual or moral absolutes is not all that uncommon. “To believe in only one religion or profess only one version of God implies, in the minds of many emerging adults, that these other people are in error or will be judged by God. This makes it difficult for them to accept the idea that only one religious faith tradition represents the full truth.”

Relativism, especially among youth, is becoming a real challenge for the Church’s mission. If, for instance, Jesus Christ is not the way, the truth and the life but is, instead, one of many religious leaders, then the same can be said for the Church. In a word, if all religions are equally important, then they are equally unimportant. Pope Leo XIII cautioned about the effects of this kind of relativism in 1885, “To hold, therefore, that there is no difference in matters of religion between forms that are unlike each other, and even contrary to each other, most clearly leads in the end to the rejection of all religion in both theory and practice.” (Immortale Dei: On the Christian Constitutions of States). It should not surprise us, then, that American Emerging Adults are struggling to see the value of organized religion; including the need to attend Mass at the local parish.

Although religious certainty and confidence are not highly esteemed virtues in a pluralistic society, I do believe it is a needed virtue if Catholicism is to become attractive to youth again. After all, Jesus radiated these virtues in the Gospels. They served him well.

Below is an excerpt (verbatim) on the Manglos-Weber and Smith’s conclusions on the findings from their decade-long study of Catholic youth who retained their faith into emerging adulthood.

Conclusions: Implications for Forming Committed Catholic Youth

Catholic adults who are interested in keeping children raised in the Church still connected to Catholic faith and practice into their 20s ought to note these facts [to read more about the summary points, consult pages 24-25 of the report]:

1. Leaving the Catholic Church rarely means becoming an atheist.

2. The effective formation of Catholic youth today need not obfuscate or compromise Church teachings, but will likely best convey them in an open, confident, exploratory, and dialogical mode.

3. It makes a difference whether children have parents of the same religious faith or of mixed or changing religious faiths.

4. Most Catholic youth today are growing up in environments of major religious pluralism, which can make them hesitate to make strong religious commitments themselves.

5. Many Catholic youth, like their peers, have been convinced that religious faith and modern science are locked in an inevitable war in which science always wins.

6. Emotional closeness between Catholic parents and their teenage children—especially with fathers—influences whether teens remain Catholic into their 20s.

7. Young Catholics whose parents regularly attend Mass, are involved in their parishes, and who talk with their children about religious faith are more likely to remain Catholic themselves, compared to those whose parents are less involved in Church and who talk less about religious matters.

To learn more about the American Emerging Adult, I would encourage you to read Understanding Former Young Catholics: Findings from a National Study of American Emerging Adults. It is a short read. Again, I am confident you will find both causes for concern and reasons to hope.

 
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This article is sponsored by the Department of New Evangelization at the
Diocese of Green Bay.

Monday, June 29, 2015

To Sin By Silence: A homily by Fr. Peter Mitchell


Fr. Peter Mitchell is a pastor of St. Mary of the Immaculate Parish- Greenville, WI. The following is the homily he delivered on the Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (June 27-28, 2015)
 
 
 
"To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards out of men." - Abraham Lincoln

 
My dear parishioners, I had hoped I would not have to give this homily. But as your pastor and shepherd, I must speak today, lest I sin by silence and act in cowardice. This past Friday, June 26, by a 5-4 decision, the US Supreme Court has told us that our entire nation must accept the redefinition of marriage. The decision is being hailed by many as a victory for love. Our President's twitter account acclaimed the decision as victory for freedom with the signature #LoveWins. It is no secret that the Catholic Church opposes this decision, and so it would seem to many in this confused cultural moment that we are now part of a church that is opposed to love, and is in fact a church that proclaims hatred by its teaching. For a long time now our society has been being prepared to celebrate and affirm this decision as a victory for love - the press, the entertainment media, our schools, the medical profession, business associations, the military - every aspect of our society has very aggressively been told that to oppose this decision is to be against the free expression of love. Why would we withhold the right to happiness and love from fellow citizens? Why would we tell others they cannot fulfill themselves in the way they choose to? Everyone is now forced to accept this redefinition by means of judicial rewriting of the law. And - here is the crux of the issue for us as the church - if we will not accept this redefinition, we are expected to be silent. And it is in this light that I wish to take President Lincoln's challenging words - "To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards out of men" - and ask how we may respond courageously and joyfully to the present challenging cultural moment.

Let's be clear about what happened on Friday in terms of the big picture of the history of Western Civilization. I've brought a few books along for dramatic effect. Let's see... Socrates...out the window. Plato...out the window. Aristotle...out the window. Roman law...out the window. Notice we haven't gotten to Christian sources of law and culture yet. The Old Testament - Genesis 19, out the window. The New Testament - Romans 1 - read it, it is so clear! "While claiming to be wise they became fools...God handed them over to their undiscerning mind to do what is improper" - out the window. St. Augustine, out the window. Thomas Aquinas, out the window. The entire legal precedent of the United States up to 2003, out the window. The implication of course is that all of these sources of our law had a blind spot of prejudice when it came to the definition of marriage. All of these wise men were unenlightened, and it is only as of June 26, 2015, that we can say that we truly live in a free and loving society. Hence the hashtag, #LoveWins.

What was the reason for all of these foundational sources of our culture condemning the behavior associated with the redefinition of marriage, for calling such behavior a sin and a crime? Let's say this very simply - with great wisdom, they understood that such behavior is destructive. It is destructive of the human body because it goes against human nature - it causes disease and death, and no less importantly it is destructive of the human soul. It leads to depression, anxiety, loneliness, mental illness, and even suicide. It is destructive of families and of children's happiness. This was the established consensus of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), until 1973, when it removed such behavior from its lists of mental disorders in a change that had absolutely no scientific or medical basis but was pushed through by pressure from a small group of activists.

Now, however, we are told that the entire society must legally accept the redefinition of marriage and thus affirm the rationalization that what is bad and destructive is actually good and fulfilling. My dear people, let's say this simply and clearly - to call what is bad good is a lie. And the redefinition of marriage into something other than a permanent covenant between a man a woman for the purpose of raising a family is a lie. Why would we be opposed to Friday's decision? The simple answer is- because it is based on a lie.

If someone would ask us, "Why is it a lie?" we need to be able to connect the dots as to how we got here. There is a very simple thread of logic running through the Supreme Court's decisions since 1966 concerning, first contraception, then abortion, and finally the redefinition of marriage. All three issues are intertwined, and ultimately to embrace one as a right is to embrace the others. We need to be able to understand that logic so as to refute it. First, in 1961 Planned Parenthood sued the State of Connecticut for the right to distribute contraceptives, which was at that time against the law. In 1966 in Griswold v. Connecticut, the US Supreme Court defined the right to contracept as part of the "right to privacy" it claimed to find in the Constitution. This decision was then invoked in the decision with which we are all familiar, Roe v. Wade in 1973, which legalized the right to abortion as part of the "right to privacy.' It made logical sense. If children intrude upon our right to privacy, we need to have a way to eliminate them. To fully embrace the use of contraceptives, many of which act as abortifacients by killing the developing embryo in the mother's womb, is to affirm abortion, which is the ultimate act of contraception. The Church's beautiful teaching has always seen this connection and proclaimed it, even as our culture has scoffed. This brings us to 2015. Friday's decision was entirely consistent with the precedent of Griswold and Roe. If we as a culture have sterilized married love by legalizing contraception and abortion, it is logically consistent that we would redefine marriage so that it no longer has any necessary connection with procreation, based on the "right to privacy." A culture where everyone is contracepting and in which anyone can get an abortion, must, to be consistent, redefine marriage. Our Supreme Court acted consistently on Friday. It invoked its own language defending the right to abortion: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life" (Planned Parenthood v Casey, 1992). Justice Kennedy's opening sentence in Friday's decision reaffirms this definition of liberty: "Liberty includes the right to define and express one's own identity." This is the heart of the lie. But there can be no freedom divorced from the truth of God's law, which is also the law of human nature. In ignoring the natural law, our Supreme Court has proclaimed that we must all accept a lie.

What is to be our response as disciples of Jesus Christ to the lie? It is the same joyful witness that we always give: living lives of poverty, chastity, and obedience and mercifully inviting others, with us, to heed the first words of Jesus in the Gospel, "Reform your lives, and believe in the Gospel!" (Mark 1:15). Our witness needs to be joyful and compassionate, convicted and committed. No less than we are convicted that we would never let our little ones play with matches, because they are potentially destructive, so we must be convinced that the redefinition of marriage is destructive to individual people and to our entire society. If we are so convinced, we will joyfully invite others as fellow sinners to turn to the Merciful Jesus and know his healing grace as the woman with the hemorrhage did in today's Gospel.

We can turn more than ever to the intercession of some of the great martyrs of our faith who were called on to witness to the truth of God's law in the face of legal redefinition of the truth. I am thinking of the joyful witness of St. Thomas More and the Martyrs of England in the 1500's. When King Henry VIII wished to deny the truth of his marriage, he ordered Parliament to pass the Act of Supremacy, which proclaimed Henry head of the Church and thus able to redefine marriage. The vast majority of bishops in England acquiesced to Henry's demand. The law was changed and persecution followed for those who did not remain silent. The courageous martyrs of that storied moment in English history are interceding for us. They stood firm as they were accused of hating their King and hating their country. St. Edmund Campion's powerful words ring clear - at his sentencing to execution, he said simply, "In condemning us, you condemn all of your own ancestors, all that was once the glory of England." The present redefinition of marriage has indeed condemned all the great figures in American history as having been fundamentally opposed to freedom and rights in their understanding of marriage as a God-given gift between a man and a woman.

I am thinking of the joyful witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the martyrs of the Third Reich. All of the reforms of the 1930's were accomplished legally as the German nation was told to embrace a lie about the human person - that the Jews were not truly persons. As long as people were silent, the lie had room to grow.  Anyone who loved Germany was expected to support the Fuhrer. The law was changed and persecution followed for those who did not remain silent. Those who spoke out paid the ultimate price. Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor who dared to speak out in protest and to resist, wrote before his execution, "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

I am thinking, lastly, and perhaps most powerfully, of the courageous witness of John the Baptist, whose birth the Church just celebrated this past week. Face to face with King Herod, who had redefined marriage by taking his brother's wife to be his own wife, John spoke the truth about marriage: "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife" (Mark 6:18). John chose not to remain silent, and persecution followed. Because he spoke the truth about marriage, John was beheaded.

 "To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards out of men." My dear people, all we have to do today is to remain silent in the face of the lie and we will be able to remain comfortable. May this comfortable silence never be our response. In the words of the great Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn, "Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me." The Church in America in 2015 needs to call upon the intercession of all of these holy martyrs, asking them to obtain for our bishops and priests and for all of us the courage to bear witness to the truth about marriage.

So many are confused and hurting in their search for love today - they are searching for Christ without even knowing it. It falls to us at this moment to show forth Jesus by our witness of poverty, chastity, and obedience.This witness will mean having the courage to face whatever persecution, large and small, will come to us as a result of our refusal to remain silent. It will mean enduring accusations that we are opposed to love and hateful of those who celebrate and promote the redefinition of marriage. Let's be confident that the Holy Spirit is with us and is raising up a great generation of witnesses - joyful, loving, compassionate, merciful, courageous witnesses. I am confident that I am looking at those witnesses as I preach to you today.

 
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
St. Thomas More, Edmund Campion, and the martyrs of England, pray for us.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the martyrs of the Third Reich, pray for us. Amen.

 
Come, Holy Spirit!
Father Peter Mitchell

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Hospice Nurses, Heaven and Easter

Over the last two years, the Department of New Evangelization has been offering an adult faith formation program entitled, Hospice Nurses and Heaven. As an Adult Faith Formation Coordinator at the Diocese of Green Bay, I team up with a former hospice nurse to speak about how death is not the end of life but only the beginning. After all, life can be lived in one of two ways: 1. To live as if death were the end of life. 2. Or to live as though death were the beginning of life. The Catholic faith, in fact, bids us to believe the latter.

This belief is expressed in any number of ways, but chief among them is that the Church annually celebrates the memory of the Saints on the day they died; not on the day they were born. Even more important is the observance of our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday. From these religious practices, something very practical and relevant is put into effect: The trials of life are put into perspective; most notably, grieving the loss of a loved one.

Hospice Nurses and Heaven not only presents the teachings of the Catholic Church on what is called the “Last Things”- that is, death, purgatory, heaven and hell -but it recounts stories told by hospice nurses about their patients who routinely reach out to “the other side” as they are actively dying. Hospice nurses from around the world report the same recurring phenomenon about their dying patients: interaction with deceased loved ones, reaching out to the Light, smelling roses, seeing angels and the like.

Of course, not all encounters with the other side are positive. After all, we die as we live. Unfortunately, people choose to live their lives without acknowledging God or living a moral life. As such, a person’s passage into eternity is not always one of peace, joy and hope. With that said, however, the reason why the adult faith formation program is called, “Hospice Nurses and Heaven” and not, “Hospice Nurses and Hell,” is because every person is called by God to be with him in heaven. Furthermore, the main purpose of the program is to inspire hope for the grieving.

It is important to note that the certainty of hope cannot be proven but only inspired. In fact, the Catholic doctrine on eternity cannot be demonstrated by science but it can offer credible motives for belief based on common human experiences. Among them, are hospice nurses stories and near death experiences. Yet, there is also the experience of sensing the presence of a loved one who had just passed away. Indeed, I cannot count the number of times a grieving person has shared with me that their departed loved one communicated their presence to them in some small but powerful way.

Just recently, we offered the program, Hospice Nurses and Heaven, to a rural parish. The co-speaker of the program decided to invite her friend along for the two hour ride. The friend happened to be a mother who had lost her 17 year old daughter in a car accident some eleven years ago. During our presentation, it was brought to my attention that the grieving mother had a special but most unusual experience. Shortly after her daughter’s death, it just so happen that she was looking out the first floor window into the backyard just when her husband was looking out the second floor window. What they saw amazed them both:

There was a crab tree that their daughter used to climb on when she was a younger girl. Naturally, when the grieving mother looked at the tree, it reminded her of her deceased daughter. But this time, both of them noticed that this tree (and only this tree) bloomed, even though it was September. Crab trees in Wisconsin do not bloom in the fall, but rather in the spring. For them, this was the sign from heaven that they needed. At the same moment, they were both assured that their daughter was not only okay but that her spirit was fully alive. 

The funny thing about these experiences is that although they may not be scientific enough to convert an atheist into a believer, they offer just enough “proof” to those it was meant to touch. To be sure, the good Lord lifts the veil just enough to make belief possible but faith necessary.

You see, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not just a holy day nor is it just an historical event. It is a reality that has manifested itself through the extraordinary but common experiences of countless people.

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Click here for video: Glimpses of Heaven, by Trudy Harris

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Wound of Rejection on Holy Thursday- by Bl. Mother Theresa

The Wound of Rejection on Holy Thursday:
What a Holy Hour Means to Our Lord
by Bl. Mother Theresa

On Holy Thursday night Jesus showed us the "very depth of his love" (Canon of the Mass), by giving us the complete gift of Himself and His total love in the Holy Eucharist. Then, He appealed to His apostles for the first Holy Hour of prayer when He took them into the garden in the middle of the night and asked them to watch and pray with Him.

As He started to pray, He began to sweat blood. The agony He suffered was the realization that the Holy Eucharist would be rejected by so many and appreciated by so few. To reject the Holy Eucharist is to reject Jesus Himself.

He saw down through the ages how He would be left alone, "spurned and avoided by men" in so many tabernacles of the world, while He comes to bring so much love and so many blessings. He is the rejected Lover; the Prisoner of  Love in the tabernacle. "He came into His own, yet His own received Him not." (Jn 1:11) How few would believe in His Real Presence, and fewer still respond to His appeal to be loved in the Blessed Sacrament.

And His heart was "filled with sorrow to the point of death." (Mk 14:34) The blood He sweat was grief poured out from a broken Heart, caused by the sorrow of His Eucharistic Love being so rejected. Then an angel brought Jesus indescribable strength and consolation by showing Him every Holy Hour that you would ever make. At that moment in the garden, Jesus saw you praying before Him now and He knew that His love would be returned. This is why your visit today is so important to Him. Your Holy Hour consoles Him for those who do not love Him, and wins countless graces for many to be converted...

So many are unwilling to make even the slightest sacrifice to visit Him, while He was willing to sacrifice everything to be with us in this most Blessed Sacrament. He laid down His mortal life for us so that He may raise us up to Divine Life in this Holy Sacrament...

Jesus could fill every Catholic Church, day and night, by letting a single ray of His glory shine out from the Sacred Host. People would come from all over the world to see the miracle, but He prefers to remain hidden that we may come to Him in faith; because only in faith are we drawn by love and not by curiosity.

Rosary Meditations by Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Young Catholic America

The Challenge:

Christian Smith's book, Young Catholic America: Emerging Adults, In, Out of and Gone From the Church confirms what many parish-leaders in the Diocese of Green Bay have been concerned about in recent years: The difficulty adults are having in evangelizing youth and young adults. As one adult faith formation coordinator said, "About 15 years ago young adults used to drift away from the Church but then comeback when they had children. Today, however, they are not coming back."
 
Smith's research reveals that 62 percent of Catholic adolescents attend regular services during high school. But this percentage drops to 22 percent in the emerging adulthood years (ages18-23). That is to say, the Catholic Church loses a significant number of young adults in the post-high school years.

In fact, Sherry Weddell, in her book, Forming Intentional Disciples, had this to say: "As the Pew report put it, Catholics have the biggest 'generation gap' of any religious community in the United States. Sixty-two percent of Catholics sixty-five and older in 2008 said that they attended Mass every week, while only 34 percent of Millennials did so." (pg. 44) The question then becomes, what can we do?


The Church's Answer:

In preparing for an adult faith formation program called, On the Same Page, I contacted a number of Catholic apostolates who have enjoyed some success in evangelizing youth: FOCUS, NET Ministries, Cardinal Newman Society, and Nashville Dominicans to name a few. I asked them what they believed high rates of faith retention rested on. The two principles they identified were

1. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ needed to be in place if religious education was to bear any fruit.

2. Parental support of that relationship is also of the greatest importance.

As for the first principle, The General Directory for Catechesis reads: "Only by starting with conversion, and therefore by making allowance for the interior disposition of 'whoever believes' can catechesis, strictly speaking, fulfill its proper task of education in the faith." (GDC, art. 62) Indeed, the way to the mind is through the heart. And conversion, according to the GDC, involves "essential moments" when the person experiences the person of Christ; moments when the heart is touched by grace.

Therefore, before religious education or catechesis can truly be effective, a relationship with Jesus Christ is essential. Only then will the Mass, the Sacraments and the Church take on greater relevance for our younger generation of Catholics. As such, an intensification of evangelization, witness talks, spiritual mentoring, retreats, and pilgrimages as a precursor to and basis for religious education and faith formation may be something that is worth taking a look at.

Lastly, the success of parishes and Catholic schools in evangelizing and educating youth also rests upon the active support of parents. The faith and religious participation of parents largely determine whether or not their children as emerging adults will retain the faith. To be sure, the Church was never meant to be a surrogate in forming the child; only a partner. It is only when parents take a leading role in evangelizing and educating their children can we, who work on behalf of the Church, hope to raise up a generation of disciples who are on their way.

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The Department of New Evangelization at the Diocese of Green Bay is the sponsor of this article. The Diocese of Green Bay: New Evangelization