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!

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.

Tomorrow Is A New Day…

As many of you know I have been blogging since July of 1997, which was five months before the term ‘weblog’ or ‘blog’ was even coined. I have used my personal website, and now, as a platform to write about issues that are important to me, as well as to display my photographic work. If you have read my blog, or you have followed me on Facebook and Twitter for any length of time, you know I am an Independent. I am not a Republican nor am I a Democrat.

fullsizerender-2We have just wrapped up the 2016 Presidential Election. Hillary Clinton lost the election and President Obama will be working with Donald Trump for a smooth transition of power. Although our system of government is setup to provide for that smooth transition, there is a lot of anger, pain, and disbelief circulating among everyday people on the Internet this afternoon.

Let’s talk about the consequences of elections…

In the run up to the election of 2008, I refused to jump on the Obama bandwagon and I was chastised by many people for that choice. Every time Barack Obama spoke he seemed to contradict himself and I expressed my worry. I pointed out those contradictions and I was called a racist. I researched each candidate extensively, like I always do, and the more I researched Mr. Obama, the more I saw danger in his proposals and ideas. I did not want to ‘dislike’ Mr. Obama, but with the exception of one sentence, he never spoke a word as a candidate or as President of the United States that I felt I could believe. If you do not believe me, look back on my posts from 2007 through 2009.

I warned my readers that Barack Obama was dangerous for America, and I was called paranoid. When Mr. Obama was elected in 2008, I spoke out about his policies and initiatives, because each one seemed to contradict one of his campaign promises, require a large increase in tax revenue to fund, or infringe on our rights to implement. Throughout this process I was a called a racist, a bigot, and a hater. Then came the “Affordable Care Act”, which I actually read. Did you? I wrote several blog posts about it. I analyzed each section, pointing out the huge increase in government oversight, costs, and policies that would infringe on our rights as a free people. I did my homework. I saw it as the train-wreck that we know it is today. I studied, and although I had valid reasons (all of which have been proven true since then) for refusing to support Barack Obama, I lost friends, I made enemies, I was labeled by my opponents, and I even lost my job.

Eight years ago, I was laid off from a job that I had for more than a decade because Barack Obama won the election. My employer at the time had warned all of their employees that if Obama was elected they were going to “scale back”. The details of the way I was asked to train two H-1B Visa recipients to perform my job duties before I was suddenly laid off comprise a story for another day. The bottom line is that I sacrificed a lot eight years ago because I refused to ignore the truth, and I will not ignore the truth today.

So here we are.

Many of the same people who called me a racist for not supporting Barack Obama are now calling Trump supporters racists because they voted for him. The same people who said I was bigot because I did not vote for, or support, Barack Obama are calling Trump supporters sexists because they did not vote for Hillary Clinton. The same people who called me a hater because I pointed out the truth and stood by it, are now hating on Donald Trump yet refusing to see the truth, let alone acknowledge it, in their own flawed (and failed) candidate. It is funny, however, that I do not notice Independents, Libertarians, or conservative “neverTrump” supporters attacking anyone this afternoon. Call it what you will, but attaching labels to people is never a good idea.

Do you dislike an individual if they prefer different food than you do? Do you hate someone who drives a different car than you? Would you attack someone simply because they supported the theatre rather than a sports team? I highly doubt it. Yet, people today are unfriending each other on social media, attacking each other, and pulling the racist/sexist/bigot/hater card simply because they supported one candidate over another. This is ridiculous… Again!

Let me make one thing very clear. I had no dog in this fight. I voted for Gary Johnson because I was hoping to further the effort to bring another voice to the national political stage in the next election cycle. I voted for Gary Johnson because I do not believe our government should be involved in ANY aspect of our personal lives. I voted for Gary Johnson because my conscience would not permit me to vote for the lesser of two evils, which is still a vote for evil no matter how you look at it.

With this said, I will now receive hate mail from some people telling me that it is my fault that Hillary lost because I “wasted” my vote on Johnson, even though my vote would not have made a difference here in Georgia. I will receive insults because I will remember the words and actions of Donald Trump from days gone by and use those words to point out his own hypocrisy and disdain for the truth if he crosses that line. I will be labeled with one of those cards listed above simply because I will write about the issues and our President-Elect while making reference to that one word that is vile and repulsive to many who debate politics and religion. That word is ‘truth’.

election-2016The truth is, I remained fairly quiet during this election cycle because I did not trust Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump and espousing the values of my own independent positions would have fallen on deaf ears. Now that he has been elected, President-Elect Trump will have to earn my trust, just like any other candidate. He will have to prove that his words during the election cycle were true. He will have to prove that he is the man he says he is today, and not the man he clearly was before the election cycle began. Most importantly, he will have to prove that he is different than Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton because I know the reasons why I could not, and do not, support them.

A little over eight years ago, on October 30, 2008, candidate Barack Obama promised to “fundamentally transform the United States of America”. That sentence, that sentiment, is the only sentence he has spoken since 2007 that I feel I could believe. He has fundamentally changed our country, there is no doubt about that. Attacks on personal freedoms (ie: religious liberty), our still broken healthcare system, and legislating through the use of Executive Orders are just a few examples. The past eight years have brought strife, turmoil, and angst to many Americans, but today there is hope for the future, but only if we work together to be a force for change.

Last night was a wake up call to America. The people made it clear that they want change. Real change. Will Donald Trump work to bring that change? I hope so, I really do. I think he did a great job last night with his victory speech, and truth be told, I feel a bit more optimistic today than I did in 2008. The one thing I know for sure is that America today has fundamentally transformed since 2008, personally I have fundamentally transformed since 2008, and I will once again optimistically look forward to tomorrow but I will not refrain from referencing the truth as we begin this journey into tomorrow!