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?

Say What?!?

Abp. Ganswein says “No Proof” God Exists

[Interviewer:] If someone were to ask you: Your Excellency, prove to me that God exists. What would you answer him?

[Ganswein:] There is neither proof that God exists, nor is there proof that God does not exist. Faith does not operate based on [rational] proof. Faith lives by witnesses and witnessing. If I am convinced by a witness and by what he says, then this sets [faith] ablaze. Everything else does not lead to faith but remains outside of faith. This is true also, and especially, in our times.

When I read this article, I was dumbfounded. Granted, his answer may seem “acceptable” to some people, but the truth is, it is a slap in the face when it comes to Catholic Faith.

The First Vatican Council in the late 1800’s made it clear in the document Dei Filius that the existence of God is supported through reason. The council also admonishes those who disregard their roll in the church and her teachings.

Therefore We, fulfilling the duty of our supreme pastoral office, entreat, by the mercies of Jesus Christ, and, by the authority of the same our God and Savior, We command, all the faithful of Christ, and especially those who are set over others or are charged with the office of instruction, that they earnestly and diligently apply themselves to ward off and eliminate these errors from the Holy Church, and to spread the light of pure faith.

And since it is not sufficient to shun heretical depravity, unless those errors also be diligently avoided which more or less nearly approach it, We admonish all men of the further duty of observing those constitutions and decrees by which such erroneous opinions as are not here specifically enumerated, have been proscribed and condemned by this Holy See.

It seems Archbishop Ganswein may need a refresher course on the dogmatic constitution of the Catholic faith.

Changing, Not Changing, Lord Have Mercy

Here are some interesting articles for your reading enjoyment…

How I Changed My Mind About Pope Francis by Matthew Schmitz

Then Amoris Laetitia came out. In it, Francis sought to muddy the Church’s clear teaching that the divorced and remarried must live as brother and sister. “I have felt the Church’s teaching on marriage land like a blow, yet I take no encouragement from this shift,” I wrote. It was clear by then that my initial rosy assessments were wrong. Francis meant to lead the Church in a direction that I could not approve or abide. He believes that “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null.” This renders him unable to resist the lie that says a man may abandon one wife and take up another. Instead, he reassures us that we can blithely go from one partner to the other without also abandoning Christ. This is the throwaway culture baptized and blessed, given a Christian name and a whiff of incense.

Church Teaching on Communion cannot be changed, says Cardinal Burke

Cardinal Burke, a canon lawyer and former head of the Vatican’s supreme court, told Arroyo: “Exactly what Pope St John Paul II is what the Church has always taught and practised, and my concern is that Amoris Laetitia seems in some way to permit an interpretation which leads to a practice which contradicts the constant practice of the Church. And that simply is a source of the gravest concern for me.

Praying the Jesus Prayer: Mercy With Every Breath

Growing up Catholic, I had never heard of the Jesus Prayer, at least not in the form in which it has been cherished and prayed by Orthodox Christians for centuries. The simplest formula of this brief repetitive petition – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” – was of course vaguely familiar from the Gospel stories it echoes: the cure of the blind man (Mark 10:46-52), the publican’s humble confession in the parable (Luke 18:9-14)