Six Ways to Build Community in Your Parish November 6, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 11:00 am

We’re outgrowing our church … and it’s all Fr. Felipe’s fault. Well, not fault. Credit. The fact is, we’ve had our pastor only a short time but he’s awakened so much of the parish. Since he got here, we’ve had a phenomenal adult retreat, several great retreats for teens, small faith communities forming, numerous Bible study groups, a fellowship ministry, some truly inspiring guest speakers and parish missions… and I’m sure I must be forgetting some things. Now, we have so many people meeting at the parish almost every night that it’s getting hard to find room for all the groups to meet. People are getting to know each other’s names.

I’ve reached the point where I wouldn’t want to move, because I’d miss my parish. That’s big.

Not every pastor has the time or ability to plan so many things to bring the parish together. I realize we are incredibly fortunate. But I think most parishes could do some of these things, and that most pastors would bless these activities if they didn’t have to arrange them personally. So I’m going to list a few of the things our parish is doing or has done that have helped us to become far more of a community.

1. Friends of Fatima. This is a local ministry that I’m pretty sure this one was organized by lay people, with the pastor’s approval. It’s a group of people who have set about doing whatever they can to encourage fellowship. They serve donuts after morning Mass to get people sticking around and talking instead of rushing to their cars. They put on an annual harvest dinner (a real winner in a farming community). They help with other events throughout the year, and they have really brought a feeling of camaraderie to our little parish. If your parish doesn’t have a fellowship group and needs one, consider being the one to spark that fire.

2. COR retreats for teens. These are made available for young people in the parish, and have done a really good job of lighting a fire. The adult planners (as well as teens who have been through the retreat already) partner with new retreatants for a memorable experience. Our confirmation students are required to attend one retreat during their two year preparation; it can be this or another retreat, but I’ve never heard a kid regret attending COR. This is a larger movement, not just our parish, but unfortunately I don’t know where to get information about a program. My best suggestion would be to talk to someone at a parish hosting one in your area to find out what would be necessary to bring them to your parish.

3. Sacred Heart Evangelization Retreat. I haven’t been to a COR, but I have been to a Sacred Heart Evangelization retreat, and it was life changing. It brought enthusiasm and friendship to a whole new level at our parish, and had a long-lasting effect of helping us to build small faith communities that are strengthening our faith and giving us a study and support network that makes so much of the retreat’s effects more permanent.

4. Parish missions. If your parish is not having some sort of mission, I’m surprised. However, if you want a recommendation for one that really moved us, I suggest Brendan Case. He is a layman who leads parish missions, and has a gift for reaching different groups of people. Our parish was really buzzing after he came here, and I know that my teen daughter really felt that it changed her life for the better.

5. Bible Study. While it’s true that any group of people can get together and study the Bible together, you will get much more out of it if it is parish sponsored and has solid guidance. I highly — oh, SO highly — recommend Jeff Cavins’ Great Bible Adventure. Jeff Cavins is extraordinarily gifted both with knowledge of Scripture and with the ability to explain it. The program comes with CDs or DVDs of his talks, which are followed up with group discussion in your small group. I recommend a group of 8-16 participants. The DVD program is a bit of an expenditure; most families won’t be able to buy it. On a parish level, though, it is very much worth the cost of (if I recall correctly) around $300. It can be re-used with one bible study group after another.

6. Finally, there’s you and me. We Catholics are often not as good as we ought to be at fellowship. When you go into the church, look for someone you know but not well. Go up to them and smile, and say hello. Tell them it’s good to see them. No program in the world can ever replace genuine human kindness and friendliness. Even we can learn it, if we try.


Ten Cents Worth September 9, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 1:15 pm

1. The most important words in the English language are please, thanks, and sorry. If you can learn to use them regularly, your life will go more smoothly, you’ll have less need to make excuses, and people will like you better. Use them, and mean them.

2. Christians: when sharing your faith, ask yourself what your goal is. Do you want to win an argument, or do you want to help someone to know God? Putting the other person in his place will rarely soften his heart.

3. People you like will sometimes be wrong, and people you dislike will sometimes be right. Listen, and think, before forming your opinion.

4. Don’t assume that people are stupid if they don’t believe what you believe or know what you know. It’s usually better to overestimate them than to underestimate them.

5. Keep a toolbox with basic tools. Every home should have at least two screwdrivers (flat head and phillips), a hammer, needle nose pliers, a box of nails, and a box of screws. If you are moving into your first apartment, buy these tools before you buy a television set.

6. Education is worthwhile for its own sake. Many people will tell you it isn’t worth it unless it will get you a career, but they’re wrong. Whether you go to college or not, spend your whole life learning.

7. Intelligence is not the same thing as superiority. You are not better than those who are less knowledgeable or less intelligent than yourself. You are not inferior to those who are more knowledgeable or more intelligent. You have value because you are a human being. So do all other humans, from the rocket scientist to the disabled baby.

8. Have patience. This life is short, and what is to come is eternal.

9. Avoid credit. It isn’t worth the stress or the self-deceit.

10. Give kindness. It doesn’t cost you anything to say a kind word or help someone out, but it can turn around the whole day for the other person.

Go ahead and post your own Ten Cents Worth, either here or on your own blog. If you post on your blog, please post the url to your post here in the comments.


What Do Teresa of Calcutta and Francis of Assisi Have in Common? May 24, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 9:55 am

I am reading a book called Mother Teresa: A Simple Path. I’m not very far into it yet; actually, only still in the introduction. Yet something struck me as I read one passage, which referred to St. Francis as a Church reformer. The passage called him “revolutionary” and “progressive.” And it pointed out the fruits of Francis’ efforts, even within his own lifetime:

By the time of his death, he had gathered more than five thousand professed monkis, priests, and nuns to carry on his work. Today, the Franciscan order thrives as one of the largest religious orders in the world.

The Bible says we know a tree by the fruit it bears, and after so many centuries, we still see a shining beacon of faithfulness and the giving of life to God wholeheartedly as a fruit of the work of Francis.

He never nailed complaints to a door or chewed out a Pope. He never threatened or left the Church, but instead stayed to rebuild it. And he didn’t do it through bitterness or judgment, but by devoting himself entirely to God, at great personal sacrifice. The point of the book, of course, is that this is the same sort of reform that time will show to be the long-lasting fruit of Mother Teresa’s work.

When we look at the efforts of Luther, can we say the same? Did he reform the Church by personal holiness, sacrifice, and increasing his own closeness to God? When we look at the long-lasting fruits of his efforts, we see schism, division, and dozens of thousands of different creeds, each claiming to be God’s one or greatest expression of truth. We see an example of a man who (I must trust) had good intentions in pointing out the flaws in the way the Church was operating, but who expressed his concerns, ultimately, not by prayer or holiness. Rather, he expressed his concerns by dissent and departure. He began a movement in which any man has the right and opportunity to make up his own rules and interpretations and call them the Unchanging God’s new truth.

We all have the opportunity to strive for holiness. We all have the opportunity to choose obedience and faith. We all have the opportunity to keep our promises, pray, and give ourselves entirely to God. And when we see change needed, we have the power to create reform from within, whether we are talking about reforming the Church or the behavior the family’s children. How? Not by dissent or by bellowing, but rather by example. Luther’s disobedience started a new movement of dissent, but did not reform the behavior of the people of God. How could he preach obedience to God while breaking his own promise of celibacy and that of a nun, and living in overt and blatant sin against a promise made to God?

A child who hears foul language will learn to use foul language. A Church that models itself after disobedience and disregard for God and prayer will learn disobedience and disregard for God and prayer. Nailing complaints to a door will not, cannot change that.

The only way to increase holiness in the world is to start with ourselves. I can’t expect a world to follow me in pure worship if I am not willing to make the sacrifices of pure worship myself.

This is the lesson we can learn from both Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Calcutta. The first reform we must make is upon ourselves. When grace shines through us, the message of the Gospel will not be empty words but a living lesson.


The Danger of Sola Doctrina August 7, 2005

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 3:53 pm

The Biblical and theological argument that many Catholics hear most is that of Sola Fide, Faith Alone. The argument goes that we are saved by faith alone, and anyone who doesn’t believe that is not saved.

I will leave aside for the moment, the fact that the word “alone” was added by Luther and was never found in any earlier copy of Scriptures, nor in any original language text of Scriptures. I will leave aside, also, the Book of James, and its admonitions that both faith and works are necessary, and its specific statement that we are not saved by faith alone.

What I want to address today is the fact that the buzzphrase “faith alone” has come, in modern times, to represent a belief that Christians are saved not by faith but by doctrine. I do not want to imply that this applies to all Christians who believe in Sola Fide, but a large enough majority of the Sola Fide apologists do hold to this view that I think it deserves — and needs — discussion.

The fact is that salvation by faith alone would not mean salvation by faith in salvation by faith alone. That sounded jumbled; let me restate it. The idea that Christians are saved by faith alone is, though mistaken, not a barrier to an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ (read: grace). The idea that we are saved by faith in the notion of faith alone implies that it is not faith in Jesus that saves, but knowledge in a doctrine. In essence, it becomes a modern-day fundamentalist version of gnosticism; it teaches that we are saved by knowledge and not by faith or works.

What makes it dangerous is that no doctrine can substitute for grace, which is the real point of Christ’s salvation. Whether grace occurs by faith, works, or a combination of the two I’ll leave for another discussion; but let there be no mistaking that the saved person is the person with grace. Grace is union with Jesus. But the moment we attempt to make a doctrine the point of salvation, we shove grace out of the picture. That is much more dangerous than the idea of salvation by faith alone itself, because it leaves room for the Christian to call himself saved even if he does not have the relationship of grace with Jesus. “I am saved,” he can assert, ” because I believe in Sola Fide.”

I knew someone who beat his wife, molested her child, sold drugs, and used the Bible as an excuse to give her every manner of abuse: verbal, physical, sexual, spiritual. “I have a right,” he would say, “because I’m the husband, and you are obliged to submit to me.” I won’t bother to ennumerate the ways and reasons that his logic was twisted and wrong; but I will say that this man considered himself a Christian, a saved Christian, because he believed in Sola Fide. He had faith that Faith Alone was all that was needed for salvation, so love and a relationship with Jesus were simply not necessary to him.

Behaving as Jesus would want him to behave wasn’t necessary; he held the doctrine of Faith Alone.
Treating his marital bed as sacred was not necessary; he had Faith Alone.
Prayer (which could have healed him of his anger, hatred, and cruelty) wasn’t necessary for this man of faith, because he held to Faith Alone.

And in his book, the only thing necessary to salvation was faith in the doctrine of Faith Alone. He was saved by doctrine.

To the many Christians who hold to the doctrine of Sola Fide, I may debate you on the subject at some other time; for now I will leave alone the question of whether Sola Fide is wrong or right. But I implore you to reconsider, if you are under the impression that believing in Faith Alone is the litmus test of Christianity. God wants a relationship with us, not merely a bumper sticker announcement of a single doctrine.


Unlocking Many Doors July 29, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 7:06 am

Yesterday I talked about what motivates Catholics to evangelize, and how the different backgrounds of converts and cradle Catholics sometimes lead to differing approaches to the whole subject of evangelization. In that post, I spoke primarily of apologetics. Today, I want to draw attention to other forms of evangelization that are too easy, sometimes, to forget. The Church has many doors… why should we keep all but one of them locked?

Don’t get me wrong; apologetics can be a valuable evangelization tool. Many people have entered the Church because the list of arguments swayed them. Although nobody ever practiced apologetics on me when I was struggling, my own internal struggle with apologetics was what ultimately led me to stay Catholic when my renewed walk with Jesus was still fresh. For me, it was the Gospel of Matthew. As I read it, originally with an eye toward proving Catholicism wrong, I found instead that everything Matthew said supported the very Catholic teachings I wanted to contradict.

Yet it would be wrong to say that apologetics and “right answers” were the entirety of what kept me Catholic. For me, there was a sense of “home” in the liturgy, and I simply could not see myself in a non-liturgical Church. The few times I attended any, I felt like I was at a prayer group meeting rather than a church service.

There was also an instinctive need for the sacraments. Even as I considered leaving, I was already beginning to feel homesick for sacraments. A part of me felt… I don’t know what other word to call it… lonely at the thought of not having confession available. Like it would mean having part of the experience of faith, but not the whole shabang.

Which brings me to the point I am trying to make: apologetics are good, useful, helpful, and necessary; but there are many doors into the Church, and we should not limit our efforts at intruducing the Catholic faith to efforts that only focus on arguments.

I know a woman who became Catholic solely because of the Eucharist. She believed that Jesus meant what He said, and couldn’t see herself in a Church that reinterpreted it. It had nothing to do with whether or not the Church was right about abortion, tradition, confession, or sexual morality. Once she was in, she somtimes had to struggle to conform herself to Church teachings, but because she was so certain of the Eucharist she felt it was a struggle worth making.

I know a man who became Catholic because he felt that most Christian denominations either disobeyed commands of Jesus, or did them with embarrassment. He also longed to give to God something less casual, more formal and ritual.

I have known people who needed the reassurance that authority and doctrines came from above rather than being voted in from below. I have known people who recognized the historical claims of the Church as the one founded by Christ, and people who found in Catholicim a genuine mysticism lacking in many other Christian walks. Some come because they’ve known people of faith who were Catholic, and wanted a share of what they saw.

And I’ve even known people who came to the Catholic Church simply because they were searching for a relationship with Christ and the Catholic Church was where they found it.

Each of these “doors” into the Church is a valid entryway. And there are many more, too. Jesus calls our hearts, and He calls us in different ways because each of us has different issues, different strengths and weaknesses, different longings. But we all have the same need for Jesus, and salvation. When we bear witness to the world, we must remember that we are witnessing to human beings, individuals, and we must listen to the Holy Spirit in determining how to minister to the needs of an individual.

Yes, we should be ready with answers to why we believe what we believe. Often those answers will be apologetic in nature. Often, though, they will not. Perhaps the first step to evangelizing is not talking, but listening. When we love another person enough to hear what they are saying, rather than just spending their “talk time” figuring out what we’re going to say next, the Holy Spirit has the opening to guide us. We cannot very well minister to a person if we have no love for them, and love sees the human being, and not just a gold star to be won.

Let us pray for an increase in love; for it is when we love that we truly bear witness to Christ, opening many hidden doors into His sancturary.