Category: Faith formation

One of your most effective catechetical tools: the parish bulletin

The late Rev. James Field took advantage of every opportunity to catechize his parish. One of his most effective tools was the parish bulletin. Many bulletins are deadly dull, and few parishioners actually read them. But Fr. Jim transformed his parish bulletin into a highly effective communication piece that parishioners would stop by during the week to pick up if they missed Mass on Sunday.

He writes:

I had a pre-defined marker of success: I would begin to see our bulletin in places other than the parish grounds. Soon, I was noticing it on refrigerator doors around the parish; once I saw one on the Starbucks bulletin board downtown; a business man said he always posted it on the office bulletin board. Other markers of success emerged before I had a chance to define them. People started coming to the office door on Mondays asking for the bulletin since they had been out of town over the weekend. When I spied a lady sneaking three bulletins into her purse one Sunday she sheepishly gave me an excuse that has become a motto for us: “I’m sorry, Father, we need one in every bathroom.” Luckily, I understood her to mean for literary purposes only, unlike the Sears Catalog of old.

Read how he did it in his article, “The Parish Bulletin: A Faith-Formation Resource.”

Form new Catholics in Chrisian life

As we prepare to move into the Easter Season, we will have a bunch of brand new Catholics in our midst—all those who were initiated at the Easter Vigil or received into full communion. As you think about what it means to you to “be Catholic,” how would you describe living a life of faith to one of the neophytes? Mia Crosthwaite does a terrific job in “Seven ways for the parish to live more justly.”

She writes:

It’s time to take a step forward in our walk toward sanctity…. As a parish leader, you carry special responsibility to help lead your community toward a deeper understanding of gospel justice.

Check out her article for some idea-starters that will help you lead the new Catholics to an authentic Christian lifestyle.

Use Holy Week for faith formation

Passion Sunday and the liturgies of Holy Week are the richest and most powerful liturgies of the year. And they are also a tremendous resource for catechizing about our faith. Mary Birmingham says,

The aim of liturgical catechesis is to help people not only fully encounter the sacramental mysteries they celebrate, but also to reflect and appropriate meaning from those same mysteries once they are celebrated.

Be sure to take advantage of this amazing part of the liturgical year and provide some reflection for your parishioners on the meaning of the rites we will celebrate. For more ideas on how to do that, see Mary’s article, “Use liturgical catechesis to reinforce Catholic identity."

The iPad faithful

On March 11, 2011, Apple released the iPad 2. Official numbers are not out yet, but most news sites are reporting that Apple sold 500,000 units over the initial weekend. That’s amazing considering they only sold 300,000 of the original iPad on it’s launch weekend a year ago.

I like gadgets, and I’ll probably get an iPad when the hysteria (and the price) drops down a little. But for the life of me, I can’t understand why someone would wait hours in line to be among the first to have what is essentially an expensive toy for adults. For whatever reason, though, Apple has clearly figured out how to appeal to a massively broad spectrum of humanity.

Doesn’t that make you curious? What is it Apple knows that we don’t? Isn’t our “product” (eternal salvation, peace that passes understanding, lions laying down with lambs) inherently better? How can we get people as exited about faith as they do about iGizmos?

I don’t have all the answers, but Anthony Gittins might have some of them. In “Six Missionary Insights for Adult Formation,” he applies his experience of being a missionary in foreign lands to faith formation. If we take some of his lessons to heart, perhaps we can connect more deeply with what people truly want.

The secret to adult faith formation

I was leading a workshop on adult faith formation recently, and one of the participants asked how we can form the faith of Catholics who hardly ever come to church. That was an almost insurmountable problem when I started out in ministry. Today, however, we have so many ways to reach out to people and build community—even if we seldom physically see them. In “Seven secrets to adult faith formation,” Kathy Gallo provides some excellent suggestions for connecting with people of all commitment levels in the parish. My favorite is this:

Don’t be afraid of the media. Quality video, reading material, and especially the Internet can provide vehicles for people to learn, to critically reflect, and to interact with others. Use these resources well.

I thought of this tip when I was watching all the unrest and violence in the world in CNN the other night. What kind of impact could a three-minute video clip from the pastor or bishop have? What could he (or even you!) say in three minutes that would give comfort regarding a current world crisis? Post that clip on your parish website and Facebook page and e-mail a link to everyone on your parish list.

To read the rest of Kathy Gallo’s suggestions, click here.

How easily do your parishioners share their faith?

Some years ago, I was filling in as a coordinator of faith formation for a small parish that was going through some personnel changes. I figured the best way to get to know the parish catechists was to spend some time praying and sharing faith together. Well, they did fine with the praying. But when it came to sharing faith, it was like a trip to the dentist. They didn’t want to open their mouths. And when they did, it was just painful.

If the catechists among us are reluctant to share faith, how much more difficult is it to get regular Catholics to do so? This reticence on the part of the faithful to say why they are faithful is a huge stumbling block for the mission Jesus left us—to share the good news.

A while back, I asked Susan Wolf, SND, to write about why Catholics don’t more readily share their faith. She cited three central reasons:

  • We did not grow up talking about faith and, hence, are uncomfortable doing it, or we never even think of it.
  • We did not grow up talking about faith and, hence, are uncomfortable doing it, or we never even think of it.
  • We lack confidence. We don’t appreciate that faith is a gift to be shared.

Take a look at what else she has to say in her terrific article: “Why Catholics don’t share their faith…and what to do about it.”

A simple model for mystagogy

Many parish leaders seem mystified by mystagogy. Often, we limit the idea of mystagogy to the 50-day period after Easter and to the post-baptismal catechesis of the neophytes. Mystagogy actually has a much broader application. It is the ideal formation process for all Christians.

Here is a simple intergenerational process you can use after a sacramental celebration.

Gather the family and accompanying adults and ask:

  • When you remember the celebration of the sacrament, what spoke to your heart the most?
  • Did you feel the presence of Jesus? What helped you experience that presence?
  • What were the most important signs and symbols in the sacrament you celebrated? What did they mean to you?
  • What does your experience of the celebration of this sacrament teach you about who God is and how God acts or desires to act in your life?
  • What do you think Jesus wanted you to know when you received him in the sacrament?
  • In what way does this sacrament invite your family to grow closer to each other and to God?

You can read more about mystagogy as the model par excellence for ongoing formation in Mary Birmingham’s article, “Discover the Hope of Christian Formation,” on the Today’s Parish website.

What is your experience of mystagogy? Are you using a mystagogical formation process in other areas besides the catechumenate? Please share your thoughts.

Ancient things that Catholics know

There are some things that Catholics just know. I was talking with a friend yesterday who was having trouble with her computer. I’m no expert, but having had plenty of computer woes of my own, I’ve picked up a few tricks over the years. So I gave her the benefit of my limited knowledge and concluded the impromptu tech session by saying, “Try that, then reboot and say a prayer to St. Jude.”

St. Jude, of course, is the patron saint of hopeless causes. If my friend were not Catholic, it wouldn’t have made sense to her. But Catholics know what that means.

There is another ancient touchstone that Catholics should know, but mostly we don’t. What we should all know in our bones is the meaning of mystagogy and how to practice it. In an article on the Today’s Parish website, Mary Birmingham reminds us that mystagogical reflection was the normative model of instruction in the ancient church. And, because of our experience with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, church leaders have mandated that mystagogical reflection once again become the normative model for teaching.

Take a look at Mary’s article for a clear and simple overview of how to implement a mystagogical model. And don’t miss her helpful sidebar on creating a mystagogical reflection on the Eucharistic Prayer.

How today’s media shapes our faith

FlickeringPixelsShane Hipps’ Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith, tackles several complex subjects. His main point is to help the reader see the world—and faith—differently. He attempts this not for novelty sake, but because the massive shifts in media and technology are changing the lenses we use.

He does a good job of describing how an earlier world-changing technology—the printing press—changed the way the world understood faith at that time. He maintains that the linearity of printed text reshaped our understanding of the divine economy to be linear as well. When the printed word began to dominate over oral and visual communication, faith became much more focused on an assent to doctrine. He says the new, abstract, linear formulations of faith (versus the older, visual representations in elaborate stained-glass windows), began to take precedence in a world that was increasingly immersed in an abstract, linear communication style made possible by the printed word. He even goes so far as to say that the linear, dual-column alignment of pews in churches reflects the two-column layout of books that were being printed in the world.

You would think, then, that he might be a fan of the sift we are undergoing now. Our media are becoming much more visual and much less text-based. But the difference between this image age and the pre-print image age is the images of today are much more powerful and much more literal. Hipps writes, “In a very real way, image culture is eroding and undermining imaginative creativity…. This goes way beyond the creation of good art or entertainment—our imaginations are what help us change the word.”

In his chapter interestingly titled “Y’all,” he offers a series of biblical solutions to this problem. Essentially, the way to break free of the tyranny of both print and excessive imagery is by bonding with “y’all”—that is the body of Christ. Together, as a community, we become a living, breathing image of Christ for the world that transcends all other media.

Hipps is the pastor of Trinity Mennonite Church in Phoenix, Arizona, and his writing, examples, and stories all reflect an evangelical Christian background. But I found his insights to be surprisingly “Catholic.” This book might not change the way you do ministry, but it will certainly change the way you think about your ministry.

Disclosure: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned.

Are you ready for the revolution?

Communion by Julien Harneis [via Flickr]I do a lot of work in catechumenate ministry. RCIA team members will often ask what the catechumens have to know before they can become Catholic. I understand the motivation for the question, and yet I often feel uncomfortable answering it. It is akin to asking what a bride needs to know before she says “I do” on her wedding day. A lot, to be sure. But exactly what is difficult to say. And ask anyone who has been married for a year, five years, ten years—on your wedding day, did you know this is the person your spouse would become? Did you know this is what marriage is? Of course not. The “knowing” is always a work progress. A mystery unfolding. An ongoing revelation.

I thought of the catechumens today when I read John Allen’s article in the National Catholic Reporter (“Trent launches world revolution in theology”). He is reporting on a July 24-27 gathering of nearly 600 Catholic ethicists and moral theologians, representing four continents and 73 countries. Half the theologians were laity and at least 200 were women.

A radical new lens for theology

If Allen and the organizers of the event are right, the content of theology will not change all that much in the future, but the way it is expressed will be racially different. That means that the catechisms, textbooks, sacramental preparation programs, liturgical adaptations, ritual music, and prayer resources of the future will look and feel and sound a lot differently than they do now. All of these resources will still reveal the same person—Jesus Christ. But the lenses with which we view the person of Jesus Christ will be much different. Think of it as an 80-year-old woman looking at the man she married 60 years ago. He’s the same man. And yet there is so much more to see and he looks so different.

According to Allen, there three significant implications of the “revolution”:

  1. Future theological and pastoral resources will be much more attentive to diversity in the church.
  2. Future resources will have a broader sense of the key issues in society that impact our faith. Allen’s article noted five in particular:
    • Human dignity (and not just in the context of health care and “life” issues);
    • Justice (North/South, but also within cultures);
    • The environment;
    • New technologies;
    • The position of persons within institutions.
  3. Finally, no resource will rely on exclusively on one’s own national perspective.

An example of this last point might be the resource the U.S. Bishops publish each election cycle on how Catholics are to participate in the election process. Future editions might begin to be influenced by how democracy is understood by Catholic theologians in the Ukraine, Italy, Brazil, and so on.

The revolution will be social

The church moves slowly, especially in matters of theology. So I’m not sure how much of the revolution many of us will see in our lifetimes. However, as scholars and theologians begin to develop these new ways of seeing, writing, and teaching, their work will not only appear in dusty tomes shelved in European theological centers as may have happened in the past. They will also begin to appear on blogs, Facebook updates, and Twitter posts. Marshall McLuhan once said the medium is the message. That is perhaps especially true concerning the revolutionary way the gospel message will be proclaimed.

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