Who Knew Dirt Could Smell So Good?

Today is the day. The beginning of a new season. The first day of Spring. New life is springing up around us, nature is “refreshing” after the cold and darkness of Winter. Teresa of Avila reminds us that “Just as there are seasons in the world around us, so there are in our interior life”. Our lives often mimic seasons with physical warmth and cold, psychological highs and lows, and spiritual light and darkness. This week I found myself emerging from my own physical Winter as a Spring began to blossom from the depths of my spiritual soul.

Upon entering the Catholic Church, I often pondered the path God wanted me to follow. I have prayed for direction, I have pled for clarity. I have heard Him calling, and I have tried to answer that call each time. I answered His call when I decided to serve on the RCIA team, I answered His call when I led a Lenten small group for a few years, and I answered His call when I agreed to take on Jr. High Youth Ministry. When I answered His call to serve as the Director of Religious Education at St. Peter’s I knew I was still heading the right direction, and that has not changed. Each time I have answered His call, He has led me down paths I never knew existed, and even though there have been obstacles that seemed overwhelming blocking my path, He always “has my back” as long as I keep my faith in Him. Always. I have known for quite some time that I am right where God wants me to be.

As I sat listening to Curtis Martin this week at the Amazing Parish Conference, he spoke about evangelization and discipleship, and I was reminded of the simplest of requests that Jesus asks of us. “Come, and Follow Me”. As Martin continued to speak, I reflected on those words and the most amazing vision began to unfold within me. I finally understood why I stepped up to help in RCIA, why I decided to lead the Lenten Small Group, and why I served nearly six years at OLPH in Jr. High Youth Ministry. I have never doubted why I am at St. Peter’s but His plan is so clear now. His will for me took a considerable amount of time. It took time for me to understand my own human imperfections. It took time for me to overcome my own human weaknesses that kept distracting me from His vision. It took time for me to open my heart so fully that He could “spring” his plan from deep within my soul.

One of my favorite paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church has always been #520, which tells us that Jesus is our model, the perfect man, “who invites us to become his disciples and follow him”. This paragraph may sound obvious to many people, because each of the four Gospels have an account of Jesus actually speaking these words, but I never fully understood the depth of His call for me to serve. I never realized how much He had formed me in my philosophy for religious education. I never knew His plan for me was not necessarily the message, but the journey in front of me.

We are all called to be disciples, we are all called to follow Him, but we are not all called to serve the same way. St Therese of Lisieux said, “If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness”. The same can be said of our own discipleship, our own service, and our own journey with Him. My journey is far from over, but I have discovered a new joy; a new way to serve Him in ways that will bring His Good News to more people. The flame within my soul is on fire once again, as I incorporate this new calling into my personal life, my work life, and most importantly, my faith life. This week, I was in the right place at the right time as God allowed my faith to blossom and now it’s time for me to get to get my hands dirty and get to work. St. Paul told the Colossians in Chapter 3, Verses 23-24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ”.

Spring has sprung, and to commemorate this first day of Spring, I am happy to reveal that I will be praying for you. Yes, you. He has called me to share my journey in a way that will help spark a flame in others and help them learn more about Him as they continue on their journey. Jesus sent the disciples out two by two, specifically so they could pray for each other, hold each other accountable, counsel each other, and most importantly, share their testimony. It may take some work, there is nothing wrong with hard work. Proverbs 14:23 says, “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty”. I can see the path that God has laid out in front me and I am ready to roll up my sleeves. Margaret Atwood wrote, “In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt”. Who knew dirt could smell so good?

Good night, and God Bless You!

Fifteen Years Ago Today…

My Aunt Sandy died fifteen years ago today…

Sandra Ann Gove
November 20, 1940 – March 9, 2002

I miss you Auntie. We all miss you.

Eternal rest, grant unto her O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Faith Cannot Be Taught, It Must Be Lived…. A Personal Update

When I came into the Catholic Church in 2011, I was asked to help with a special sacraments class for youth who were catching up on their sacraments for First Communion and/or Confirmation. It was my first taste of leading religious education or youth ministry of any kind and I loved every minute of it. It was during the course of that class that I felt called by God to share my faith with others through catechesis, evangelization, and youth ministry.

As the class concluded, several of the students asked if I could come with them to Jr. High Youth Group, because that is where they would be the following year. The next day, the Director of Religious Education at Our Lady Of Perpetual Help Catholic Church approached me and asked if I was could help with Jr. High Youth Group. The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways! The DRE invited me to lead the group, explaining that they did not really have a curriculum, but I could use whichever curriculum I found that would work best for developing a new program. At first I thought I had bitten off a bit more than I could chew, but I quickly grew more comfortable and realized that this was indeed my calling.

For the past five years I developed customized content combining material from several different publishers including Pflaum Publishing Group, RCL Benzinger, William H. Sadlier, Inc, Ignatius Press, Loyola Press, and most recently Our Sunday Visitor, all of which are included on the Conformity List from the United States Council of Catholic Bishops for use in religious education and youth ministry. I modeled our classes after the EDGE model, which is the middle school program from LifeTeen, where each session is divided into Gather, Proclaim, Break, and Send. We started with an activity to gather the students in to here the message, then we proclaimed the message to be instructed. Students were then able to break down the message through small-group discussions or large-group dialogs, and then they were given a way to take that message with them to use in their personal lives.

I spent countless hours planning sessions, developing activities, and most of all, learning about the individuals I would be responsible for leading during our sessions. I learned all of their names and I took time to learn something about them so when they walked into the room I could greet them by their given name as a sign of respect and converse with them about something going on in their lives. If we are to model ourselves after Christ, who calls his sheep by name, it is important to know the names of each individual that we interact with, so we can show them the respect that they are due.

While working toward my Bachelors Degree in Psychology I wrote a continuing series of articles on the importance of upholding the dignity of every individual as well as the necessity to be respectful to those you are leading in ministry. As I progressed toward my Masters in Education with a specialization in Family and Community Service, I focused on developing customized curriculum that provided several teaching strategies for students with differentiated learning styles from various family backgrounds, while maintaining regard for every individual by respecting their individual God-given human dignity. This proved effective in youth ministry where I could differentiate each lesson for the students as they participated in one combined session and they learned how they could take the fruits of each lesson home to their family.

Over the years, as I completed my education, I realized I was teaching in what was once an unconventional and unusual way, by flipping the classroom and making the classroom experience relational, experiential, and conversational in nature while differentiating learning styles for students with particular needs. Although it was unconventional at one time, this is now a common practice in many classrooms, in fact it is one of the best practices in many of today’s schools and religious institutions. I was not perfect, but I continued to grow in faith, knowledge, and experience, making sure to pass the best parts of this growth on to the students I was teaching. Then the bottom fell out.

On February 8th, just hours before a Jr. High Youth Ministry session, I was informed that significant changes were being implemented. The Jr. High Youth Group was going to be split up, randomly, into two groups, and the individual leading the second group would be teaching from a different lesson plan that I had developed for the entire group. I was not contacted about these changes. I was not asked to offer input about these changes. I was told that I could have no input on choosing which students would be in which group. I was also told, in a rather firm tone, that “this is the way it is going to be” and my opinion, knowledge, and experience, did not matter, to which I told them good luck and resigned myself to the fact that the Jr. High Youth Group was no longer my ministry. I could not participate in any action that would be detrimental to the children I was ministering too, and I would not be complicit in altering their progress in faith formation.

To state that I am devastated is an understatement. When someone builds a ministry over the course of nearly 6 years, develops customized content for that ministry, and devotes countless hours and monetary resources toward the success of that ministry, they should be consulted when decisions are made that will significantly change that ministry. At the very least, I deserved the respect of knowing that changes were being discussed in the first place. With that said, I soon found out it was implied to others that I was on-board with these decisions, when that is the furthest thing from the truth. This was my ministry. This was my calling. Here we are just over three weeks later, and it hurts just as much as the moment it all happened.

Today, I am hurt because I was not included in the discussions about changing the ministry I developed for the past several years. I am disappointed because I was not informed of the changes being made prior to the notification of others that I was already onboard with those changes, and I disagree wholeheartedly with the changes that were implemented because they are a grave disservice to the children of our parish. Most of all, however, I am saddened for the children of our parish who have been relegated back to a “textbook instruction” classroom and will not experience the fruits of a genuine youth ministry program that they so richly deserve. You cannot learn faith from a book, you have to learn it from experience. Faith cannot be taught, it must be felt, desired, and lived. Youth learn through observation, experience, and actions.

We are all called to model ourselves after Christ and we cannot do that if we do not acknowledge the human dignity of each individual or we do not offer respect to those we serve with (and for) in ministry. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps” (1 Peter 2:21). As I look back on everything that happened on February 8th, I can only pray that I planted a seed within all of my Jr. high students that will continue to help them grow closer to Christ and love for our Lord.

I may not have been able to change what happened, and I may no longer play a role in the Jr. High Youth Ministry at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, but I do know that I deserved more respect than I was given, and more importantly, the students I was leading, as well as their parents, deserved more respect than they were given. Who knows what the future holds, but I do know one thing… The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways!

The obligatory Ash Wednesday selfie. Don’t forget to get your ash in church today! #ashes #ashwednesday #BHLent2017 #photochallenge @bustedhalo #itw

An Amoris Laetita Round Up.

The following links represent the articles I have spent the better part of this past week digesting. The issues raised by Amoris Laetita are important to me, as a Catholic, so I thought it would be prudent to share them here. I tried to group some of them by website, as well as topical content. If you do not have time to read them all, skip down to the last link, it will be worth your time!

A realistic look at Amoris Laetita:

Critics of ‘Amoris’ need to look at concrete cases

A ‘hypothetical’ case for applying the guidelines of Amoris Laetita:

A case study in communion for the divorced/remarried

American canonist Edward Peters responds to the above mentioned ‘hypothetical’ case:

Conscience can’t be the final arbiter on who gets Communion

Cardinal Burke’s contrasts concerns about political repercussions and final judgment:

Cardinal Burke: On dubia, I’m more concerned about Last Judgment than losing my title

A disastrous decision from the Bishops of Malta that seems to be pushing the application of Amoris Laetita to an extreme:

The Maltese Disaster

An interview with Cardinal Caffarra, on the care with which the four cardinals approached the matter of writing the dubia:

Cardinal Carlo Caffarra Reverently Breaks His Silence on the Dubia

A compassionate, heartfelt, and succinct interview with Bishop Schneider, who not only offers hope, but consolation in the fact that God in His omnipotence permits this crisis in order to bring out a greater good.

Bishop Schneider Offers Hope Amidst Crisis Permitted by “Divine Providence”

While offering a compassionate, and encouraging set of responses, Bishop Schneider also makes one thing clear.

To admit the so called divorced and remarried persons, who have no serious intention in stopping their adulterous acts, to Holy Communion, is against Divine law.

Three Things…

Every now and then I will be referring to different websites, more as a personal reference, to keep the information within them on my radar. If they benefit you too, then so be it. 🙂

#1. An Interesting Read… Why I Became Catholic In Spite Of Everything I Heard

#2. Important points to remember when making a good confession. Twelve Things To Remember About Confession

#3. A Look At The Sunday Obligation. Does TV Mass Count?