Sunday, December 23, 2018

5 Homiletic Tips for Public Speakers

Here, on the campus of the Diocese of Green Bay, we have been blessed with several effective homilists over the last six years. It cannot be overstated that lay people today really look forward to good homilies. After all, many of the rites and gestures in the Mass are no longer understood within the biblical and liturgical tradition from which they originated. As such, aspects that precede the Mass or are a part of the Mass itself i.e. hospitality, hymns and homilies, have taken on a great deal of importance. In fact, these three things often influences whether or not a person continues their spiritual journey with a parish.

All of that aside, it is true, nevertheless, that lay people can learn from good homilists; especially if their employment or ministry requires them to do a lot of public speaking. As for my job responsibilities, I provide workshops and give talks for both parish leaders and parishioners. Yet, my speaking skills are always a work in progress. Indeed, sometimes I come close to hitting the mark; but more often than not I walk away from my presentation wishing I had done things a little differently. If truth be told, I've been doing public speaking for a while and I have not settled in to a grove that I am happy with. This is why I welcome feedback from others- positive or negative.

Two Good Homilists

Wanting to improve in this area, I sought out the advice of two good homilists that I work with; the names of which I will omit in this article. But I wanted to know what their secret sauce was. That is, I was curious to learn how they routinely delivered good sermons (or homilies) time and time again. With these two priest, in fact, I do not recall a time when daydreaming got the best of me during their sermons. When they preach, I'm tuned in!

Eventually, their counsel resulted in five total bullet points that I have used for my own public speaking purposes. From time to time I forget to follow through on their advice; but I make it my aim to revisit these tips from time to time.  Here are the five tips that have been helpful to me:

1. One Singular Point

I was told by one of the priest's where I work that before any sermon he gives, he sits down to write out one main point he wishes to communicate. He went on to say to me in so many words, "If I can't write down one main point I want communicate, how can I expect others to remember my sermon?"

Now, if you are a big picture person like myself, or theologically minded, or detail-challenged, then this discipline can be arduous. It can be like trying to stand at the bottom of the deep end of the pool with the upward pull to float to the surface. Author of the book, Divine Renovation, Fr. James Mallon made a similar point. He argues that theologically minded leaders tend to be "generalists". Their message tends to be general or abstract; lacking that one singular point people can grab hold off. Theological and spiritual truths, especially, need to be anchored in a tangible lesson or a singular point.

One way to help ensure this focus and intelligibility of your presentation is to write down the purpose statement before you begin mapping it out. 

2. Begin with a Story

Never assume that people are interested in the topic you are speaking about. They have the freedom to tune out. Yet, if we are aware that our natural default as human beings is to communicate or provide to others what we, ourselves, love, we can then resist three unfounded assumptions about our audience: 1. That they are interested in what we are interested in. 2. That they are asking the same questions we are asking. 3. And that they understand insider jargon we use with our colleagues.

What helps to overcome these assumptions, is knowing that the main point of our talk- especially if it is spiritual or theological -needs an onramp. Onramps or introductions that appeal to our audience's interests or affections draws them into the main point we wish to address. This is why stories are universally loved and listened to. This is why three out of the first five books of the Old Testament and the four Gospels are composed of stories. 

The fact is that people instinctively tune into stories. Even analogies and references to everyday life serves as effective attention-getters. Regardless, listeners in our post-Christian world cannot immediately enter into the higher realm of spiritual truths. For them to be open to these truths, we need to help them by making reference to their world; especially in the introduction. 

3. The Challenge

Every story has a plot. And every plot involves some challenge or crisis in it. Popular books, movies and plays depend on some crisis to overcome. The bible and in particular, the, Gospel, is no different. Challenges are not only woven into the Gospel stories, but they are integral to the teachings of Christ. Take for instance the parable of the sower. Three out of the four possible outcomes of the farmer's scattered seeds  (i.e. seeds landing on a path, on rocky soil, among thorns) involve challenges and dangers. Just the same, the main point of a talk- whether it be an insight or action item -invariably has challenges associated with it. Therefore, for a successful implementation of your main point, help your audience by addressing the challenge to that point.

4. The Solution

The natural question to ask at this point is: What is the solution to the challenge you just detailed? It is easy to complain or limit your presentation to the problems at hand. But one of the things that I have learned by working at the Diocese of Green Bay is to be prepared to provide the solution to any problem I wish to address. As for giving a presentation, by providing a user-friendly solution after having addressed the challenge, we are giving the solution the last word.  Having communicated the solution, we are not leaving the audience with an abstract or speculative idea. Instead, the main point of our talk should involve an actionable item; something that your listening audience can put into practice that day.

St. Francis de Sales, a 17th century Catholic bishop, like any other cleric in his day, enjoyed positive feedback from his congregation regarding his sermons. But he admitted that he was not flattered when they said, "O That was a beautiful sermon." Rather, the compliments that delighted him the most were: "I will do something!"

5. The Story Again

Finally, just as a story can serve as onramp or introduction to the main point of the presentation, some reference to that same story can be equally valuable as an off-ramp. In fact, when it is done well, it brings a nice closure to the talk.

These five simple points are, in part, why I look forward to hearing sermons at daily Mass from the priests who work on the diocesan campus.  Not only am I inspired by their well-delivered talks (i.e. homilies, sermons) for my own spiritual growth, but I use these five tips to constantly refine my public speaking.  

Social Media Boundaries for Children: 4 Tips

Jesus came to turn the hearts of parents toward their children and the hearts of children toward their parents (cf. Luke 1:17; Malachi 3:23-24). But social media, although good in itself, can sometimes get in the way of this saving grace. Not too long ago I was talking to my neighbor while doing some yard work. We did something that few neighbors do these days: we actually talked to each other. Imagine that!

My neighbor happens to be the father of two teenage daughters.  And off the cuff, he confided to me that his daughters rarely give him more than a one or two-word answer to his questions when he comes home from work; this, because they are spending an unlimited time on their i-phones.

During the conversation, I had wondered why he didn't leverage his parental authority to improve that situation. In fact, he seemed resigned to his inability to do anything about it. In any case, I realized that neighbors are not the only ones that rarely talk to each nowadays. Face-to-face conversations are also a rarity in many households between parents and children.

Having witnessed the disengagement of many young people from adult conversation- not just at people's houses but in public restaurants -I resolved to spare my family of this dysfunctional pattern. Indeed, this is a ditch I am willing to die in. 


Ultimately, the functionality and contentment of a family rests, in large part, on how well they communicate with one another and with God. And as for children and adolescents, effective communication skills rehearsed and developed at home shapes how they will interact with people in their adulthood years. But learning the value of face-to-face interaction cannot be done without firm, clear and consistent boundaries.

I can only share with the reader what seems to be working in my family. There are four boundaries principles and practices that my wife and I try to enforce at home with our children. To be sure, providing boundaries for social media is always a work in progress. Such progress is marked by  setbacks and going back to the drawing board. Yet, we don't give-in or give-up. To do so would be too costly for our children. 


Below are suggestions for creating social media boundaries for your children. We have found them to be useful in our household. Hopefully, they will be useful in yours.

1. Privilege, Not a Right

First, it was important for my wife and I to first communicate to our kids that i-pads, i-phones, and even computers are a privilege; not a right. In fact, from time to time, reminders are issued to them that "their" gadgets are really our gadgets. After all, we not only paid for the devices, but we continue to pay the bills to use those devices (i.e. internet, phone plans). Within this clearly communicated context, boundaries and other disciplinary measures are  more easily applied.

2. The Main Level

Second, all gadgets, computers, etc. stay on the main level. The truth is that the internet, especially without parental oversight, is a wide open door to the world. As most parents are willing to concede, there are some things in the world that children and teens are not mature enough to properly assimilate. Over exposure to adult content compromises both innocence and impedes maturity. In other words, growing up too fast is often the antithesis of growing up the right way.

Furthermore, it wasn't too long ago that the social life of teens was confined to the school, sporting venues, their friends houses etc. To an extent, teenagers were able to leave the drama of their social life at these different places when it was time to go home. Today, however, a young boy or girl is inclined to constantly carry this drama around in their hand; even at home.  Just a decade ago, when things got tough at school, a child's home used to be a refuge; a place where one's social life could be put in perspective. The question is: Is your home still a place where the social drama of your children's lives can be left at the door?

3. Time-Limits

With moderation comes time-limits. If truth be told, being overstimulated by social media can cause depression, anxiety, attention deficits and communication breakdown in both children and adults.  There can be unintended consequences with overexposure to social media; the effects of which are difficult to trace back to their cause. 

Playing video games on X-box, using the computer and even texting friends are all good things. Yet, it ceases to be good when our children can no longer walk away from these things without constantly thinking about them. Time-limits can be helpful in this respect. 

4. Adulting with Adults

Lastly, dinner time with family and adult time with company are good "adulting" opportunities for children.  "Adulting" is a relatively new term to describe the successful transition from adolescence to emerging-adulthood. Yet, this transition is impeded when children and teens are allowed to retreat in the corner and play with their gadgets; this, when their parents host social gatherings with other adults. 

Often, the result from this type of social disengagement is that a discomfort level is developed when such children and teenagers are required to interact with adults outside of their households. Sustained conversations, eye-contact, and reading non-verbal cues has become a real issue among youth. Corporations, universities and even the U.S. military are having to retrain young adults on these basic skills. 

This is why social media boundaries are so important within family structures. Such boundaries affirm the inherent good in social media to their children while also affirming the higher good in face-to-face conversations. 


Like my neighbor who struggles to communicate with his daughters, parents want what is best for their children. They want their children to thrive as they emerge into adulthood. 

As for Christian parents, they want their children to eventually make a decision to follow Jesus. Yet, if children are not talking to their parents, chances are they are not talking to God. Indeed, effective communication skills rehearsed and developed at home shapes not only how they will interact with people in their adulthood years, but how they are currently interacting with God. 

If truth be told, the more parents and children engage in face-to-face conversations, the more their hearts are turned to one another. This "turning of hearts" between parents and their children provides that necessary foundation of faith for the next generation!

"Lo, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, Before the day of the LORD comes, the great and terrible day, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers." 

Malachi 3:23-24

Thursday, November 17, 2016

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