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.


A short Bible reflection on suffering September 11, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 10:03 am

Monday’s reading this week was interesting. In it, we see the value of redemptive suffering.

Col 1:24–2:3

Brothers and sisters:
I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I am filling up
what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ
on behalf of his Body, which is the Church,
of which I am a minister
in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me
to bring to completion for you the word of God,
the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.
But now it has been manifested to his holy ones,
to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory
of this mystery among the Gentiles;
it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.
It is he whom we proclaim,
admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.
For this I labor and struggle,
in accord with the exercise of his power working within me.

For I want you to know how great a struggle I am having for you
and for those in Laodicea
and all who have not seen me face to face,
that their hearts may be encouraged
as they are brought together in love,
to have all the richness of assured understanding,
for the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ,
in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

We often hear from people of some branches of Christianity that we should not suffer. Some take it to the extreme, saying that if we have faith God will give us whatever we ask, so if you suffer it means you are faithless. This philosophy, frequently referred to as the “prosperity gospel” is a popular one on TV. It attracts viewers, in part, because they are hungry for hope and the hope for material success and physical comfort is the easiest hope to appeal to.

However, it doesn’t work. When a person finds that God does not bless him the way that he has demanded, he may feel frustrated, even altogether hopeless, thinking that it means his faith is not real. Or he may feel that God has let him down. But as we see in Colossians, this “promise” is not a genuine Biblical understanding of Christ’s promises. The promise of the Beatitudes, in fact, is rather the opposite. Those who suffer in this life receive their reward in Heaven.

A less extreme view of suffering is that it is unnecessary and not redemptive. Many is the time I’ve heard people say that suffering cannot be redemptive because Christ’s sacrifice was complete. As we see in this writing of St. Paul, though, redemptive suffering is helpful to others. By offering suffering and sacrifice on behalf of others, we are “filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church…” In other words, we are not completing Christ’s sacrifice, but completing the suffering of others in the Church, and of the Church herself.

We do not attempt to “complete” the sacrifice of Jesus, which was, and is, perfect. Rather, we join in it in order to be a part of it. We begin this journey by baptism, through which we die and rise again with Him. Our joining in His death and resurrection are not for His sake, but to unite us with Him for our own sake.

Finally, we see in this reading that suffering for others is not an act of misery or to “buy” salvation, but rather an act of love.

Today is a good day to offer a sacrifice for someone you love.


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.


The Least of These July 17, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 9:35 pm

Today My Charming and Patient Husband and I were discussing the Church, and where people with learning disabilities feel comfortable and welcomed, and a thought occurred to me: that in many venues, they might be thought of as “the least.” But if you think about it at all, if you have any value for humanity, every human being is — must be — of equal worth. How can we judge one person as less than another because he or she is less intelligent? Is there a smaller place in heaven for those who can’t analyze equations or understand theology?

Unfortunately, we live in a world that seems to worship not God or goodness, but intelligence. It is a sad offshoot of self-worship. If “I think therefore I am” is true, then “I think better therefore I am better” is a natural extension. But is it true? Is it fair? Is it kind?

Intelligence is a gift, and I believe that we should use every gift God has given us, and treasure it. But the ability to think deeply is not superior to the capacity to love, or a generosity of spirit, or an attitude of humility. And if I had to choose between my intelligence and my salvation, I would choose salvation. I pray that I never have to make such a choice, but goodness trumps brains in the virtue department every time.

I like that the Catholic Church is welcoming to people of all levels of intelligence and development. You don’t have to be an adult or a thinker to come to the fountain of living water. You don’t even have to understand the sacraments. Babies, adults, people with disabilities… all are welcome, and one doesn’t need to know or understand to receive God’s blessing.


The Reason for the Season January 18, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 6:52 pm

It’s a phrase you didn’t expect to hear again for a while, isn’t it? We heard it again and again during Advent, and possibly even during Christmas season (for those non-Catholics here, I’m referring to the time between Christmas day — the Feast of the Nativity — and the Epiphany). And then, somewhere along the line, the phrase started fading.

But He is still the reason for the season. Not just the season of Advent or Christmas… He is the reason for every season. He is the reason for everything. Now that the local discount store is putting up Easter and Fourth of July decorations, let’s keep on remembering Jesus. Out of commercial sight shouldn’t mean out of mind.


10 Things that Keep Me Going June 10, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 11:28 am

10. Guilt. I’m the master of it, and there’s nobody I give it to more than myself. I must go on, because I feel guilty about all the things undone.

9. Sheer stubbornness. I do not give up easily.

8. Coffee. There’s something reassuring about old routines, and I’ve always kind of associated coffee with security, since childhood when my parents would have their morning coffee in peace, with good conversation.

7. Daydreams. Someday, I would like to be, to do, to have, to make…

6. A good night’s sleep. Once in a blue moon, at least.

5. Hope. No matter how bad things get sometimes, I always have hope — sometimes a desperate hope — that things can improve.

4. My children. I guess everyone needs to be needed, and these little needers are also some exceptional people.

3. My love for my husband. I want to be there for him for the next 40-80 years.

2. My husband’s love. Knowing that there’s someone who cares that I’m here makes a huge difference.

1. God’s love. It really is the one thing that would keep me going if everything else disappeared overnight. When I feel all alone, I know I am not. When I have nobody to talk to, He listens. Just knowing that I am not alone makes all the difference. The one biggest sorrow for me is knowing that there are people out there who fight Him with such a vengeance that they seek to convince others that He is not there, does not love them, or is some impersonal force. So many people seek to educate people out of their faith, or away from any possibility of finding faith. But faith is more than only my salvation in a theological sense; it is my salvation in every other sense, too. It saves me emotionally, psychologically, even physically. It gives me a reason to grow, a reason to be kind, a reason to learn and to seek joy and to love. To those who do not have or feel they need a personal relationship with God, all I can say is this: please, in the name of mercy, do not think you do a favor by “educating” people away from having one of their own. The need to see others share your doubts is not a generous, tolerant, or enlightened thing; it is harmful, and ultimately selfish.

Consider this a new meme: you’re tagged.


The Religion of Peace Idolatry December 4, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 5:03 pm

They say they don’t worship any man. There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his name? Um, I mean prophet. Er, Prophet. Uh, I mean Prophet, peacebeuntohim. Or is that peace be unto Him?

They call upon the government to execute a person who allows her kid to name his teddy bear after a classmate because the classmate happens to be named Mohammed. If using lightly even the name of the prophet is a blasphemy, it sounds to me like a form of worship.

Perhaps these self-named monotheists ought to rethink their worship of their idol prophet.


20 Reasons to Pray for Chaz February 5, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina M @ 3:34 pm

In his pamphlet 20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity, Chaz Bufe devotes one chapter to each of the rants he has against Christianity. Most of his reasons for opposing Christianity are based on a faulty understanding of the faith; but a few show clear understanding of what Christianity teaches… in which case, his comments only hold water if Christian teaching is indeed false. The entire premise of most of his criticisms comes from an initial assumption that Christianity is false, and that there is no God.

It would be easy to gloss over the fact that most of his arguments rely on other religions being false as well. However, one can’t help noticing that it’s a lot easier in liberal circles to slam Christians than it is to slam Jews or Muslims. The fact is that all three believe in God, and all three share similar value systems. Chaz just chooses the easiest target in a politically correct world; because if he had attacked Jewish and Muslim people, he would (rightly) have to acknowledge being anti-semitic. Yet his arguments are anti-semitic, even if he never mentions Semitic races by name, because they still promote a false and hateful view of people who hold the truths that Jewish and Muslim, as well as Christian, people hold in common.

Now, at the risk of being long-winded, I will point out some of the more obvious flaws in Bufe’s criticisms.

  • Christianity is based on fear
  • The fears he cites are death, devil, and hell. Christianity does not build up fear of death, but relieves it; because in faith, one has hope of afterlife with God. Death itself is a reality, so the fear of it is not false at all. If the author denies this, then he’s farther from reality than he realizes. As for devil and hell, if Christianity is correct, then the devil and hell should be feared. So the only workable argument here is to prove that the Christian faith is wrong, not to criticize it whether it be wrong or right.

  • Christianity preys on the innocent
  • Clearly he does not understand Christianity. Christianity teaches us not to prey on the innocent. If all people practiced Christianity and followed the teachings of Jesus, there would be no predatory behavior on earth.

  • Christianity is based on dishonesty
  • This argument is meaningless without evidence. Essentially he is saying “Christianity is wrong because Christianity is wrong.” Brilliant, Chaz.

  • Christianity is extremely egocentric
  • Apparently wanting to go to heaven is egocentric. So, too, according to this man, is the belief that God loves us. Here, he displays not just a total ignorance of Christianity but an ignorance of human nature itself. Love is a total giving of self; to love Someone enough to want to spend eternity with Him is completely loving. Of course, he uses contradictory logic here. The person who gives love is being preyed on; the person who receives love is self-centered. It sounds like what he’s advocating is a complete disdain for anyone but self. And if you ask me, that is the height of egocentrism.

  • Christianity breeds arrogance, a chosen-people mentality
  • And Chaz Bufe does not?

  • Christianity breeds authoritarianism
  • Every “system” of governance breeds or is the result of some form of authoritarianism. The person who is not governed by ethics or morals is governed by law. One must hope that the law that governs him is at least ethical.

  • Christianity is cruel
  • People are cruel. More specifically, some people are. And some will be cruel in any group. Some Christians are cruel (and they sometimes get into positions of power). Some atheists are cruel; some politicians, and some doctors, and some pamphlet writers are cruel. All forms of governance have sometimes slipped into cruel policies, Christianity included; but the inherent teachings of Christianity do not promote cruelty.

  • Christianity is anti-intellectual, anti-scientific
  • It’s hard to argue with that one, because different denominations approach science differently. However, as the Catholic Church teaches, truth cannot contradict truth; so the findings of science can be hotly debated on both sides without needing to check one’s faith at the door.

  • Christianity has a morbid, unhealthy preoccupation with sex
  • I had to do a double take when I read this one. Who has a morbid, unhealthy preoccupation with sex? A faith that, across most denominations, teaches that sex is sacred and beautiful, and should be an expression of love and tenderness, or a largely atheistic society that insists that sex must rule everything, from cologne ads to children’s cartoons?

  • Christianity produces sexual misery
  • See above.

  • Christianity has an exceedingly narrow, legalistic view of morality
  • What qualifies him to define what is narrow? Even if he is correct, “narrow” and “legalistic” are only bad if the morality they describe is wrong.

  • Christianity encourages acceptance of real evils while focusing on imaginary evils
  • Again, what qualifies him to define what is evil and what is not? He shows extreme intolerance.

  • Christianity depreciates the natural world
  • I’d wager he’s never heard a Christian sermon. Every church I’ve ever attended has taught the importance of stewardship, and caring for the natural world.

  • Christianity models hierarchical, authoritarian organization
  • And why is hierarchical organization bad? Is it bad merely because he intolerantly says so? As for authoritarian, see above.

  • Christianity sanctions slavery
  • Again, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. No Christian church I’ve ever heard of sanctions slavery.

  • Christianity is misogynistic
  • Actually, atheism is misogynistic. Atheism encourages people to use one another for selfish motives, because it has no moral incentive to require considering other people’s needs. Specifically, the value system this author seems to be promoting is one that considers a woman’s feelings irrelevant when using her body. The free sex mentality teaches that a man is justified in making a woman feel good “right now” in order to get sex, disregarding any emotional pain or physical disease she may suffer later, as a result.

  • Christianity is homophobic
  • Sorry, but Chaz needs to get a dictionary. Disapproving of a behavior does not mean being afraid of people who practice it. As a matter of fact, Christians who seek to help people live chastely are showing a love for the souls of other people. It would be egotistical and unloving to seek one’s own eternal life while not caring whether or not the next guy attains it.

  • The Bible is not a reliable guide to Christ’s teachings
  • How is a non-believer qualified to state what Christ’s teachings are, better than either a believer or the Bible?

  • The Bible is riddled with contradictions
  • This is too long a topic to cover adequately, but suffice it to say that what appear to be contradictions generally are not. In some cases they are different Biblical writers emphasizing different aspects of the truth. In other cases, seeming contradictions are reminders not to forget one thing in our zeal to pursue something else. Are justice and mercy contradictory?

  • Christianity borrowed its central myths and ceremonies from other ancient religions
  • Perhaps, just perhaps, those other ancient religions began to grasp some truth that they had insufficient revelation to understand fully. Christianity is not a new truth; it is a fulfillment of truth previously not understood.

Let’s pray for the conversion of Chaz Bufe.