Have you considered Catholic novels as part of your personal or ministerial faith formation agenda? See my review of James Carroll's 2017 work, The Cloister, posted today on Amazon as well.
During the trip to my seminary class reunion about two weeks ago, I reflected upon the changes in my province of the Franciscan Order over the past five decades. The very seminary in Callicoon, N.Y. that we all attended fifty years ago and toured again on Saturday, September 22, was sold in the 1970’s to the federal government and now serves as a secular vocational/job training center. About four years ago the Franciscans relinquished pastoral responsibility for the parish in Callicoon back to the Archdiocese of New York after at least a century of Franciscan pastoral presence there. Change is never easy and the reasons for the Franciscan disengagement from the area are many: decline in enrollment and available priests, finances, the new demographics of the Northeast, and the need for friars in new, more pressing ministries of need which have cropped up over the years.
One of the more serious and discouraging challenges to any group—religious or otherwise—is facing the twin questions of self-evaluation and the possibility that a group or ministry has served its purposes or at least given it the old college try. Religious orders understand the need for self-evaluation, and such a process is usually written into an order’s constitution. My Franciscan order held a triennial evaluative meeting or “chapter” to take stock of our ministries and our common life.
It has always struck me that Catholic parishes generally do not have a “corrective” built into their operations, i.e., a process of periodic reflections on the progress and outcomes of its ministries. Put another way, parish groups and ministries have the right and the duty to correct themselves and even to disband if a goal is met or the prospect does not appear on the horizon. [In my work with parishes and parish personnel over the years, it has been startling to see an even greater omission: the absence of realistic job descriptions and at least annual job review of hired professional parish staff or senior volunteers. Everyone gets cheated when this learning venture does not take place.]
Let’s bring this closer to home. About four years ago my wife Margaret and I attended an orientation at our parish of registration for “small faith groups.” To be honest, I never quite understood the purpose of small church groups, and certainly not as it was laid out for us at the orientation in 2014, aside from the generic explanation of St. Peter that “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” As the evening progressed, I had more doubts than answers. When I started graduate school toward a mental health psychology degree in 1984, I learned that The State of Florida requires all mental health practitioners to have earned at least three graduate credits in group leadership and to have mastered Dr. Irwin Yalom’s flagship text on group dynamics. Yalom’s text is described by one reviewer as “the quintessential book in the field of group work. It covers all the main ideas and pragmatic methods that anyone leading a group of any kind must master before beginning such a task.” Consequently, I had some idea of the things that might go wrong in church groups. My wife convinced me, though, that it would be good to get to know some of the parishioners better, as we are members of a mega-church.
Given that I write a daily blog, I receive a lot of news and insight from a multitude of sources, and I have been paying more attention recently to the experience of Evangelical Churches and small faith groups. Evangelicals see the small group experience as intrinsic to congregational health. In an article here from Christianity Today [The Billy Graham Center] the authors argue that at least 70% of a congregation ought to be in intimate small groups, with 100% the target membership. However, I wonder if all members of Evangelical groups would subscribe to the third priority of small faith groups as described in CT, accountability: “the third factor is that small groups deliver deeper friendships that double as accountability. When people know you, really know you, your life becomes far more transparent, including your sin. Others learn to read you and will call you out for those sins, creating opportunities to deal with real life difficulties as they surface. This is part of what we should expect from good friends.”
This is a much more intense definition of group experience than we ever received from our parish, and thanks be to God for that, because it does not take much imagination to see how delicate and even damaging such interactions could become in an amateur format. [When I ran therapeutic groups, I had to get each member’s signature indicating that I as leader would not be held accountable or sued if someone in the group violated confidentiality.] Wise old Dr. Yalom would probably hold that such a group might have considerable chances of success—saving each other’s souls—if all 660 pages of his admonitions were followed to the letter.
As Professor Jim McCarthy would tell us students at Rollins College, the word “group” is so broad that without precise qualifiers it can be stretched like taffy. Evangelicals such as those cited above can call their intense encounters “groups.” In my parish, however, we have taken a safer approach to “groups” in several ways—we meet once a month and we follow a text from our parish. It is rare for us to have full attendance of a dozen. We are in the second year of the RENEW format, which is better than the home-made outlines we were first presented four years ago. RENEW attempts to merge learning and interaction in a very tight framework of time. There is a lot to read at the 2-hour meeting, and very little time, really, for targeted or extended personal reflection and interchange. Were Yalom to observe us via camera, he might ask, rightfully, what is it exactly that you are trying to achieve here? To be honest, the best sharing and mutual support seems to happen at the coffee hour, which often provides a better smorgasbord than a high-end cruise ship. [I am the group brew master, no surprise there.]
I suppose that we could continue in this fashion except for one thing: four years ago, the group made a commitment to trek to a Catholic Charities shelter before dawn and prepare a hot breakfast periodically for a residential shelter for the sick and indigent. As last Saturday’s date drew closer, we were able to muster only three of the group to help, and that included Margaret and me. Fortunately, three good folks from outside the group joined us and bailed us out of what might have been an awkward dilemma. After we were finished cleaning up, my wife offered to write a letter to the entire group with the question of whether our group was able to meet this periodic responsibility of cooking breakfast. It was not a question of individuals slacking off, but a recognition that perhaps we are no longer able to assist this facility because of the circumstances of everyone’s life.
I fully agreed with the idea. But I also saw the Saturday difficulty as symptomatic of a bigger issue we have not been able to address—whether at this point in our collective lives we can sustain a small faith group. This, of course, returns us to Yalom’s question about all groups: what are we really doing here? The specific mission of our group—in bold, concrete letters—was never truly defined by our parish or our group once we began to meet. I am no closer to understanding it than I was four years ago. I need to make clear that everyone in our group is extraordinarily active in other ministries in our parish and beyond, devoted to family care, professional involvements, raising children, etc. When I was teaching catechetical programs for the diocesan religious education training program, I would advise catechists to be cautious about overextending themselves in other ministries [except liturgical ministries such as lectoring.]
Most ministries—to the sick, the young, the elderly, catechetics—require full attention and ongoing study. A catechist, for example, needs hours to devote to Bible study and theology in general, well beyond the time devoted to immediate class preparation. Throwing one’s self into a multitude of involvements results in “Rio Grande Syndrome,” a minister who is “a mile wide and a foot deep.” Moreover, a prerequisite of ministry is “a life.” We are better people, better ministers, when our most essential involvements are well tended to. Personal worship and prayer, sacred reading and study, time with spouse and family, cultivation and nurturing of old friendships, communion with the arts, physical fitness, community awareness.
In my own case, my two major ministries are mental health counseling through my diocese’s Catholic Charities in multiple locations, and the [almost] daily production of my adult education blog site, “The Catechist Café,” which is coming up on its fourth anniversary and 1000th post. Both ministries are extraordinarily rewarding, and I am happy that at age 70 I still have the stamina for both. The challenge, to put it bluntly, is quality of work, which involves time and a full psychological investment. Having returned to more intensive clinical time, I am frequently reminded of how my profession has changed even in the few years since I closed my practice. While the state requires continuing education to maintain a license, I know that this is a minimal requirement that must be reinforced by my own initiative. With the Café, I feel an obligation to bring the best and the most current publications to adult Catholics, particularly ministers, who are under the gun for time and wish to use their reading time productively.
Consequently, I am beginning to contemplate saying good-bye to my small faith group in favor of more dedication to my major involvements and, equally important, “my life.” One never knows what kind of a reaction this will get, but I must wonder if there are others in my group who might be thinking the same things about their own situations. There should be no shame here. The Church has initiated and terminated ministries since its inception under the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit do not include stress and anxiety from attempting too much.
Events in the Church over this past summer and their continuing unfolding as I type today raise many questions, including the importance of a strong, national, independent Catholic press. We do not refer to the Catholic Church as “parochial” for nothing. I would venture to guess that the “typical Catholic” [whatever that means nowadays] gets his or her news about the Church from a parish bulletin—now generally on-line—or from the diocesan Catholic newspaper, though for most of my life I have doubted how many people read the diocesan paper. Back in the 1950’s my mother would complain that Buffalo’s Catholic paper, The Union and Echo, was nothing more than a collection of recipes and brides’ pictures. Then the diocese announced a contest for a new name, and mom submitted The Challenge, an enlightened submission in the early days of Vatican II.
The Diocese, however, chose The Magnificat, a predictably safe banner head since the last thing a diocese wants is a challenge. A diocesan newspaper is a “house organ,” and I don’t mean that in the pejorative sense, but in the sense the term is defined in the dictionary as “a periodical published by a company to be read by its employees and other interested parties and dealing mainly with its own activities.” It is newsy in an optimistic way, posting stories about parish events, the Chrism Mass, and the Catholic Charities Campaign. Its “educational component” is limited to brief summaries of the Sunday Gospels. There is no hard reporting, and it is difficult to imagine any Catholic diocesan paper breaking a story in the way that the Boston Globe broke the child abuse scandal story in 2002.
Nearly every solution to the child abuse scandal as revealed by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury/Cardinal McCarrick scandals of this summer has called for independent lay investigation. The term “lay involvement” is not limited to state and local prosecutors and grand juries, but rather in the Jeffersonian sense that every citizen [in this case a citizen of the City of God] is a fully informed member of society who utilizes a multitude of tools to affirm what is right and good about society and effectively calls out disorder and mismanagement. Make no mistake about it: the near-century old cover-up and mismanagement of the abuse of minors has cost the Church in the United States an unimaginable amount of money—probably enough that your parish or diocese has lost many of its schools. This is the kind of news your diocesan paper will not print, and this underscores the need for a vigorous national Catholic press to help parishioners connect the dots.
What do I recommend, and what sources would I use in Catechist Café postings? At the top of my list is America Magazine [1909-present day], the Jesuit weekly magazine based in New York City. America brings together news, opinion, editorial insight, reports on Catholic life around the world, book reviews, Scripture commentary, and a wealth of other features. It is not cheap, but you get what you pay for. I get frequent emails from America about breaking stories, new books, etc. and the magazine is available in several electronic and mobile formats. If you are employed by the Church in any fashion, you can claim your subscription as a work-related expense.
The unabashed publication of Catholic progressives is National Catholic Reporter. Based in Kansas City, Missouri, its first editor, Robert Hoyt, wrote at NCR’s founding in 1964 that he “wanted to bring the professional standards of secular news reporting to the press that covers Catholic news, saying ‘if the mayor of a city owned the only newspaper, its citizens would not learn what they need and deserve to know about its affairs.’” NCR has always been controlled by a lay board of directors. This publication is frequently accused of heresy by its enemies, mostly because no topic is off-bounds. It is often light years ahead of other Catholic services: as early as the 1980’s NCR was covering the abuse of minors, the cover-ups of bishops, and the enormous costs of settlements. NCR has multiple formats and emails frequent news updates.
If National Catholic Reporter is the progressive ying of Catholic news reporting, then National Catholic Register [1927-present] is the conservative yang, so to speak. The Register is now owned and operated by the EWTN empire. The paper moved to the conservative right in the 1980’s and particularly after the EWTN acquisition in 2011. It is available in several paper and electronic formats. Its penchant toward anger, both in its writing and its open blogs, is sometimes discouraging. [The other NCR above closed off its comments section for this reason.] To its credit the Register features lucid reporting and editorial writing that probably represents the sentiments of many Catholics who are frustrated by the excesses of change and by the style of Pope Francis, and these voices deserve a hearing.
There is no “official” Catholic journal or paper in the United States. The closest may be the Catholic News Service [1920-present]. It is editorially independent and “a financially self-sustaining division” of the USCCB. CNS has a documentary service called Origins which publishes papal speeches and writings or texts from churches around the world and governmental papers related to Catholic life. CNS states that it is “the primary source of national and global news that the U.S. Catholic press reports.
Finally, one of my favorites is Crux. It began as a publication of the Boston Globe, the secular city paper. In 2016 the Globe ceded the paper to a private Catholic Corporation which now includes several dioceses and the Knights of Columbus. Crux is known for its excellence in reporting on the Vatican, and its editor, John Allen, is known as one of the world’s eminent “Vaticanologists.” The Italian news magazine L’Expresso described Crux as “the leading Catholic information portal in the United States and perhaps in the world.”
I would recommend that over the week you sample the products on-line. [My link service to this entry is down today, but all these publications can be easily searched on line.] In many cases you can get free access to articles and news alerts to your computer, etc., by simply giving your email address.
I will be away this week for a reunion of my seminary classmates in the Catskills, but if I can, I will post this week on what I see and hear on the road.
For al least the next two weeks I am directing all posting to the Sunday Stream to discuss the recent Pennsylvania report on clerical child abuse, including its implications for catechetics and Church/parish life. You can jump over to Sunday's stream by clicking here.
At one parish I know well, the church staff is looking for a new youth minister. You have no idea how hard it is for me to keep my mouth shut when I encounter such projects. Youth ministry is the graveyard of enthusiasm of so many promising ministers at both the local parish and the diocesan levels. I would wager that no two Catholic pastors or two Catholic bishops would define “youth ministry” in the same way except to say that “we should be doing more for youth” and “the youth of the Church are the future.”
If indeed the youth of the Church are our future, the demographics and trends should give us pause. The thorough and profoundly disturbing CARA study commissioned by St. Mary’s Press, Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics (2018), defines the drop-off of youthful connectedness to the Church in this way: “The study reveals that disaffiliation from the Church is largely a thoughtful, conscious, intentional choice made by young people in a secularized society where faith and religious practice are seen as one option among many. It’s a process that unfolds over time. Many disaffiliated youth and young adults report feeling “free” and “relieved” when they decide to no longer identify as Catholic.”
I read this work earlier in the year, and I was surprised to learn that researchers have pegged age 9 as the beginning of the process, and age 13 as the breaking point, so to speak. There is an interesting correlation here between detachment from the Church and developmental psychology, an aspect of catechetics so often overlooked. The noted developmental psychologist Erik Erikson (1902-1994) is famous for his stages of development, though one need not subscribe to his particulars to appreciate that the human species progressing through youth is achieving the power of survival, to grow in confidence in himself and to acquire the ego strength to make choices which correspond to his self-reasoned sense of society and the cosmos.
If I read the literature of youth ministry correctly over the past several decades, it would seem that some of our cherished strategies of youth ministry and catechesis (which overlap with such imprecision that CARA researchers had to create new categories to accommodate the full picture) run counter to what even our common sense tells us about youthful interactions, let alone the giants like Erik Erikson. At a time when teenagers and young adults are relishing a newfound power to influence their world, we as church ministers are saying, in effect, we’ve done all that work for you already in the 2800 paragraphs of the Catechism. My guess is that the replies to this (at times commandeering) imposition might include (1) simple reaction to what is heard as authoritative arrogance; (2) usurping the freedom of discovery which animates human life, and (3) the assumption that the person being “serviced” in ministry is devoid of a moral consciousness.
The biggest mistake—and it is a widely held belief—is the idea that young people are drifting about looking for purpose and meaning. From where I sit, millennials and the X’s are crafting a new public morality, one so remarkable that Pope Francis has convoked a Synod of Bishops in October for the expressed purpose of entering the youthful wisdom of the times. The pre-Synod plan states that the outcome of the Synod will be a statement by the bishops, a formal statement on youth ministry, but a type of document out of the ordinary: “It [the bishops’ statement] is neither to compose a theological treatise, nor is it to establish new Church teaching. Rather, it is a statement reflecting the specific realities, personalities, beliefs and experiences of the young people of the world.”
I recently returned from a week-long family retreat with my in-laws; we lived together in one large vacation house and shared a common kitchen. There were several small children present, aged three and under, and their parents were sensitive not to use plastic straws, exercising all manner of environmental precautions. Our rental contained a Keurig in the kitchen, and unless this is your first visit to the Catechist Café blog site, you can easily imagine how I was running through the single serving brew cups like Sherman through Georgia. I was getting embarrassed about my insensitivity to the good intentions of the younger generation and I considered sneaking my plastic detritus to a public dump site several miles down the road.
“Single use items” like plastic straws—and how fast did that happen this summer! --and their impact upon the environment are but one of many concerns of millennials and Generation Z (born after 1995). In May 2018, the giant accounting firm Deloitte released its seventh annual survey of millennials and Generation Z, and it is summarized well: “These cohorts feel business leaders have placed too high a premium on their companies’ agendas without considering their contributions to society at large. Businesses need to identify ways in which they can positively impact the communities they work in and focus on issues like diversity, inclusion and flexibility if they want to earn the trust and loyalty of millennial and Gen Z workers.” More ominously. the study goes on to highlight the distrust of younger generations of politicians and other public leaders including churchmen; only 19% believe this cohort contributes anything meaningful to public life.
So, I return to my original thoughts about hiring a youth minister. CARA could not identify a single definition of the specific parameters of parish youth ministries and for statistical purposes uses four distinct categories:
(18) Youth Ministry Director: Directs comprehensive Youth Ministry Program, including catechetics, spiritual formation, active worship, leadership training & service opportunities. May minister to young adults.
(19) Youth Ministry Coordinator: Coordinates and conducts youth ministry program including spirituality, liturgy, guidance, and social action (often without responsibility for youth catechesis). May minister to young adults.
(20) Youth Minister: Coordinates specific segment of a total youth ministry program and provides direct ministry to youth. May supervise volunteers. May be filled by those training for Youth Ministry field.
(21) Young Adult Ministry Coordinator: Coordinates the evangelical outreach, pastoral ministry, and catechesis to young adults in college and/or those in their twenties and thirties.
Just to spice up the soup, I am attaching a typical youth ministry job description floating about the ecclesiastical internet, most often understood as part time.
My sense is that parishes hire youth ministers out of good intentions rather than a clear vision of the qualifications and the targeted population, and perhaps with too much hubris about what the position has to offer youth and too little humility about what the parish community must learn from its youth and young adults. As I say, youth ministry has been the graveyard of many an aspiring servant of the Church. If we understand this, we can explain to our parishioners that the search for candidates carries a moral obligation to ask for only what is possible.
I was not happy with the limited posting I was able to do in June, and I feel like I left a lot of you hanging. One reason for the limited posts is several changes in my circumstances. Back in May I opened a free mental health service in the local Catholic Church here in my town. It is open Fridays all day, and in less than a month the available time slots were full. I am enjoying it very much, but I cannot do anything else on Friday, which eliminates another day I can devote to the Café. I continue to work Mondays at the Catholic Charities Clinic in Eustis, Florida; in fact, I will be driving over in an hour or two.
A second issue is the increasing demand for more reading prior to posting. There are several streams going at the same time which call for more research. Certainly, the Thursday stream on Luther and the Reformation is one; the nature of evil in the Monday Morality stream is another. This year I began commenting on the First Readings on the Sunday Mass, which meant a return to Old Testament studies, a discipline which is not one of my greatest strengths. When I started the Café four years ago, one of my goals was to introduce busy professionals to the best of new religious, catechetical, and theological works. This assumes reading the books first!
A third issue is retirement itself. Having turned 70 this year, I am finding that increasingly friends and family need contact and attention. Again, I am very pleased to become more involved in their lives, but this too devours the hours of the day. On the other hand, all the medical advice for seniors speaks of exercise and interpersonal interactions as means of maintaining a sound mind and a good spirit. This is a time of life to cultivate and enrich the relationships I already have, and perhaps engage in new ones. I know a fair amount of people who have outlived their friends and face their final years in an undesired solitude.
And, I am beginning to feel older. While I continue to be blessed with good health, I am no longer the young buck who could read till 2 AM. If I stay up that late, I will feel it the next day, like a hangover. When I was on retreat with the Trappists two weeks ago, I talked about all of this with a wise monk who reminded me that the senior population brings an example of transition and serenity, and he gently challenged me to stop running around like a chicken with its head cut off.
I have no intention of discontinuing the Café, because aside from the pressures of brewing up new flavors frequently, it is one of the more pleasurable enterprises in my life. Realistically it is probably best to say that the weekly grind of each stream will be tapered back to two weeks instead of weekly. On days when I am on the road, like family reunions, I may post with more spontaneity and less pedantic. Old bloggers don’t die, they just reign it in a bit.
Looking for a summer theology update? Having received a National Catholic Reporter book review email this morning, I am very intrigued by The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve, a 2017 study of the Adam and Eve narrative, a history of Christianity's use and abuse of this famous creation account. Samples of this work and reviews are available at the website highlighted above. Several reviewers have commented that they have learned much about Catholic theology and biblical scholarship from this work.
The book is available in all formats, but for books with footnotes and bibliographies I recommend a hard copy format. Some Kindle reviewers experienced difficulties in that format.
I have a bad habit of letting important notices pile up in my email box, and thus I have neglected to post this October 12, 2017 news story from National Catholic Reporter, “Participation in lay ministry training programs down 16 percent.” To put it another way, researchers have observed a decline in the training of parish ministers, those who lead faith formation programs, catechumenates, Bible studies, sacramental preparation, youth ministry, marriage preparation, fundraising and development, administration, and every other facet of Church life. The NCR story cites the figures provided by CARA, The Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate, at Georgetown University. In the 2016-2017 academic year, there were 19,969 individuals enrolled in ministerial training programs across the country: 15,010 in diocesan certification programs, the remaining number seeking graduate degrees. In the 2015-2016 academic year, 23,681 individuals were enrolled.
There are two additional considerations worthy of concern. The most recent figures available put the total number of Catholic parishes in the United States at 17,483, per PEW Research Center. On average, one can surmise that by the raw numbers Catholicism in the United States is preparing at best one individual per parish for meaningful professional leadership in any aspect of ministry. It is fair for any Catholic to inquire as to the qualifications of the individual overseeing his or her child’s preparation for first sacraments, just as it is to scrutinize the theological backgrounds of those leading the numerous Bible studies in so many parishes. On the matter of Bible studies, Scripture is a particularly difficult discipline to master to the degree that one is not actually disseminating errant information and/or personal impressions instead of the content mined by the best minds of the Church over two millennia.
The second issue is confusion throughout the Church about the exact meaning of ministerial training and a universal set of standards. Look at your own parish and ask yourself how much training a fifth-grade catechist brings to the learning experience. I have—with some trepidation—raised this point to parish coordinators, who often will point out that nearly all catechists are unpaid volunteers, and that a parish is lucky to have them for one session per week. Some, though certainly not all, parish directors cannot bring themselves to enforce standards of training requirements and standards of measurable competence for catechists and other ministers, on the argument that we are asking too much already from catechists and other volunteers.
Moreover, there is the challenge about how one acquires ministerial competence, and whether a standard of academic and theological norms exists throughout the country and is recognized across diocesan lines. The United States is a mobile country, and Florida particularly so. During my years as diocesan instructor students asked me if they could take my advanced courses; they would produce certificates of accomplishment from far away dioceses such as Rockville Center, N.Y., or Yakima, Washington. Neither their local parish superiors nor our diocesan officers can ascertain precisely what constitutes competency training in all 197 dioceses in the United States, as there is no national set of standards.
The United States Conference of Bishops, as recently as this year, has addressed the need for universal certification standards of excellence by placing the matter in the hands of state conferences of bishops and professional associations of long standing, such as the National Conference of Catechetical Leadership, working in regional tandem. National inter-diocesan certification or reciprocity is a stated priority. All the pertinent USCCB documents call for high standards of formation for all church ministers, particularly those engaged in faith formation.
Many dioceses have taken independent initiatives to provide theological formation within the constraints noted above. The question is whether the horses will drink once led to the water. My home diocese of Orlando offered regional weekend theological formation workshops locally as well as participation in the on-line Virtual Learning Community of Catholic Dayton University. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, the on-line Dayton program was “found hard and not tried.” The live weekend programs were admittedly difficult, the sacrifice of a full Saturday, but attracted at least some of our targeted population. However, there was nowhere near full certification.
About one year ago our bishop mandated full compliance in an on-line certification program created, as I understand it, by the Archdiocese of Chicago. The bishop used a big stick—contract renewal—to assure compliance, which brought more Catholic school teachers into the formative mold. Compliance by volunteer ministers such as catechists—those without contracts—still depends upon implementation at the parish level.
The chief hurdle in Catholic Faith Formation is overcoming a minimalist approach to both content and competence. For some individuals and communities, the paradigm for catechetics is the formulary imparting of highlights of the Catechism before the “graduation rite” of Confirmation. This concept is still very much alive and unwell, as much as we regret it. In recent years there is new emphasis upon small faith groups and communal Bible sharing. The model has Biblical and historical roots. Whether it succeeds or fails will depend upon how well the leaders—and by extension the members themselves—are willing to immerse themselves into the preparatory work of studying the corpus of the Scriptures and the full Catholic tradition. But, who will teach them?
The decline in those seeking professional training in ministry will guarantee one thing: an exponential decline in a grasp of the Catholic Tradition with each succeeding generation. I would bet the farm that today’s Catholic knows about 25% of what a 1970 Catholic would know of his or her Church. There is one obvious answer to this decline: religious sister in schools and CCD programs, professional teachers, imparted faith formation. Priests, religious, professors from local Catholic Colleges and seminaries engaged in wholesale adult education efforts. Today, who are the professionals? If the research is correct, there is barely one per parish in the pipeline today.
I try not to duplicate material that is readily available all over the Catholic internet world and even in your local parish/diocese. I had no intention of doing an Ash Wednesday/Lenten entry today until early this morning, truth be told, when I realized that for some of you the Café is your link to “Catholic World,” and so I provided some links here for Lenten spirituality in the fashion of the daily posts.
America Magazine introduced today a daily Lenten podcast called “The Examen,” a daily reflection/examination of conscience taken from the Jesuit regimen of prayer. Available on Apple Podcasts and Google Play for free, this daily 12-minute selection is an excellent introduction to Ignatian spirituality, i.e., from St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.
Paulist Press has a “Liturgical Seasons and Reflections” collection at its publishing site which includes Lenten and Easter books for prayerful reflection. Liturgical Press’s Lent and Easter collection is quite varied and includes a wide range of products including eBooks and “sermon-helpers” for priests.
Loyola Press will email you at no expense a daily copy of “Living Lent Daily,” unique reflections on the mysteries of Lent. The general catalogue of Loyola Press Lenten/Easter reflections and publications is quite rich, and it, too, draws heavily from the Jesuit tradition of spirituality. I am also including a link to Loyola’s 2018 trade catalogue, which includes material oriented to youth. This may be useful to parents attempting religious dialogue in their own homes with their minor children. [I am delighted to see my old friend Amy Welborn has now published her twentieth work on spirituality and the young, and these are carried in the Loyola catalogue. Amy was a pioneer in Catholic blogging and her “Charlotte Was Both” blog may be the richest daily posting in Catholic blog-world.]
St. Mary’s Press has another rich selection of aids for catechists in the field, but again this material may be very useful for parents as organized Lenten observance in the home.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has several free resources for adult observance of Lent. The USCCB provides a three-minute daily reflection via YouTube. Today’s offering is available here. And, in another example of your Catholic tax dollars at work, you can have the Lectionary Scripture readings of the day emailed directly to you. I use this service seven days a week.
While on the subject, I wondered if a small version of the Lectionary was available for anyone to own, particularly in the leather binding that has sacramental quality when held in the hands. I could not find a stand-alone Lectionary for sale on-line except the very large red books you see in your church, which run from $75 to $1500. I had the sense that e-versions of daily and Sunday readings have perhaps cut significantly into the demand.
I was proven wrong, though, when I discovered that Catholic Book Publishing is doing a lively business in marketing daily and Sunday missals which include the day’s Scripture readings. I have links here to the Sunday volume and the two weekday volumes; the full investment comes to about $100. I am seeing people in my own congregation bringing them to Mass, as all the Mass prayers are included.
In my own prayer-book-nook I have two Lenten reads: Courage and Convictions (2018) by Anthony J. Gittins from Liturgical Press; and A Lenten Journey with Jesus Christ and St. Thomas Aquinas (2012) by Paul Jerome Keller, O.P. from Christus Publishing, a rather low-profile publisher; the book is selling at good volume and favorable reviews on Amazon. I look forward to both.
There is an excellent multi-media presentation provided by the Research Department of St. Mary's Press. "Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics." Regrettably I have already written a full post on another subject today and cannot add my commentary to this piece right now. But feel free to post your own reactions and I can pick this up again on Sunday or next Wednesday.