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.
January 1 falls on a Monday this year, and therefore it is not a day of obligation to attend Mass. I have a link here to a full page explanation of holy day regulations provided by the Archdiocese of Boston. I have to confess that the subject of "days of obligation" is a catechetical nightmare, and Catholics can be forgiven some skepticism about the current discipline.
Clearly, some feasts demand universal attention, times when the full Christian assembly gathers for Eucharist. Most notable are the feasts of the Lord, which is why Christmas and the Ascension command our collective devotion and attention regardless of what day of the week they occur. As any pastor can tell you, though, the feast of the Ascension has never commanded wholesale attendance when celebrated on Thursday. Given the feast's importance in the divine plan of things, the bishops of the United States have permitted dioceses to transfer the Ascension observance to Sunday, the Seventh Sunday of Easter. Some dioceses hold out for the Thursday observance (such as Boston) for a variety of reasons, including a reluctance to "throw in the towel" on weekday Mass obligation.
As the Boston site explains, "The feast of the Conception of Mary appeared in the Roman calendar in 1476. After the dogmatic definition by Pope Pius IX in 1854, it became the Feast of the Immaculate Conception." The date was set nine months before the feast of the Nativity of Mary on September 8. Given its doctrinal importance, and the fact that Mary is named Patroness of the United States of America, this feast is considered the primary observance of the Virgin Mary in this country and the attendant Mass obligation is not transferred. If the Immaculate Conception falls on Sunday, as it will in 2019, it is transferred to Monday, as the Advent sequence takes precedence.
This brings us to next Monday, the Feast of Mary the Mother of God. The feast and its title were universally established in 1931. At that time January 1 observed the Circumcision of the Lord as a binding holy day, in part because it was the octave day of Christmas and in part because it was the first day of the civil new year. With the new missal of 1970, January 1 was designated as the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God. However, Pope Paul VI also designated January 1 as World Day of Peace, and if memory serves me correctly, the early missals after the Council contained a Mass for Peace on January 1, to be used at local discretion. So, in my lifetime January 1 has been observed under three titles.
Now we enter the tricky business of designating which holy days carry the greater obligation. January 1, along with the Feast of the Assumption and the Feast of All Saints, are not considered days of obligation when they fall on a Saturday or a Monday as happens next Monday. Conservative publications point out the oddity of this arrangement, and I have to agree with them. I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who penned that bad law discredits all law, and I fear we have that situation here, To alleviate this peculiarity, the USCCB recommended that even when one of these three holy days falls on a Saturday or a Monday, pastors should schedule extra Masses to encourage the faithful to attend even when no canonical obligation exists. The last state of affairs may be worse than the first.
I can only say that if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well. And if we can't do it well, we might better be honest about it and bring liturgical law in line with actual piety, which as I read it states that the only time people go to Mass as a rule is the typical weekend and Christmas Eve. I'm not thrilled that the bar is set so low, but I think Jefferson (or whoever) has a point.
Did St. Thomas Aquinas suffer burnout, which caused him to discontinue possibly his greatest work? There is an intriguing essay on this possibility in Commonweal with implications for all of us who "work." Enjoy during the Christmas break.
I spent some time in the yard yesterday (Tuesday) removing detritus from Hurricane Irma. In my area we dump the limbs, branches, and bags of leave out on the street for the city to collect. At about mid-day the piles from my side of the street were meeting the piles from across the street, which seemed like a good place to stop. Early this morning I was able to get to our grocery store and round up about 80 industrial trash bags, which gives you an idea of the mess a storm leaves behind (no pun intended.) Our yard may end up looking better than it has in some time by Sunday night, though I hope no one in the neighborhood drops a lit cigarette anywhere near the curb.
A man has a lot of time to think while sawing, lugging, and raking, and my own thoughts turned to (1) a distressing number of roof shingles I was finding in my yard, and (2) the future direction of our daily blog. We are coming up on our third anniversary of the Catechist Café, and I hope you are enjoying it as much as I have satisfaction in researching and writing it. Looking ahead, there are some past successes to continue and some new woods to explore.
The anchor days of the Catechist Café are Monday [morality], Thursday [Catechism] and Saturday [sacraments]. These days draw the highest number of “regulars” and guests. Tuesdays [the Sunday Gospel] draws well. However, given that the Café is three years old at the end of this year, we will have provided commentary on all three years of the Sunday cycles. Commentaries on the Sunday readings are readily available from many sources—many of them very good, others less so. Consequently, what I will do on the home page is provide links to the best weekly offerings for your use, along with published commentaries like the ones we have used each week. That info will go up in October and November, as Cycle B (Mark) begins on Thanksgiving weekend.
So, what will Tuesdays look like at the Café? I am proposing that the Tuesday posts focus exclusively on the first reading, which except for the Easter Season is drawn exclusively from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. The Hebrew Scriptures are intimidating to the solitary Catholic reader, particularly without benefit of a good commentary. Given that Jesus lived, worshipped, and died as a Jew, and that the Christian church was exclusively Jewish in its first two decades, it is nearly impossible to know Jesus without knowing his religious outlook. Starting in late November I am going to treat of Sunday’s first readings on the Tuesday post. For those of you wanted to jump the starting line, Father Lawrence Boadt’s Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction; Second Edition (2012) is your ticket. (This is a revised edition of the 1984 original.) I will add other commentaries as we go along.
October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. This is one of the most critical events in the history of Christianity; we forget that at least 50,000,000 persons were killed in the “Religious Wars” that finally ended in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. To understand “Reformation” it is critical to understand what Catholicism looked like in the century or so prior to Martin Luther, and to the evolving philosophies and technologies of the time, such as the printing press. The Reformation was not one event, but occurred in waves even before Luther.
The Lutheran Reformation came first, but it was followed by more radical waves of change, under John Calvin and the Reformed tradition, and later the Anabaptist movement. There are learning opportunities for us as we look at what led to successive spasms of unrest. The Catholic response, often called the Counter-Reformation, was slow in generating but when it did, the Council of Trent (1545-1563) established norms that remain influential to Catholics today. Our 1993 Catechism is heavily influenced by the Roman Catechism, a product of the Council of Trent.
I am not sure which day to designate for Reformation posts, but I feel strongly that this should be done. I am not seeing much publicity anywhere in catechetical publications or church bulletins about the observance of the Reformation. To ignore the history and development of other Christian faiths is contrary to the writings of the Vatican II Fathers and the tangible gestures made at that Council to promote Christian Unity. We forget that Orthodox and Protestant churchmen and theologians were invited to the Council as official observers.
Moreover, Protestant and Catholic traditions alike are facing very similar problems: alienation from mother churches toward non-denominational assemblies or dismissal of religious observance outright. I find it intriguing that Catholic and Protestant traditions both find themselves wrestling with Luther’s preaching of semper reformanda, “always in need of reform.” I think there is plenty to treat of in the next year or more. While it is nearly impossible to tackle the subject in one book, the Cuban theologian Carlos M.N. Eire comes very close in his 2016 work Reformations: 1450-1650, reviewed splendidly in National Review last year.
I keep a notepad of issues for future treatment. Forgive me as it is very subjective, but right now I have listed (1) Catechetics, Parishes, and substance abuse; (2) Catholic and Protestant definitions on preaching; (3) the “nourishment of religious enthusiasm;” (4) the nature of priestly celibacy in the Roman West; (5) women and Holy Orders. These are matters for greater reflection and research.
In the present scheme of things, the Wednesday post is labeled “professional development.” As you have probably noticed, there are many weeks when it is not filled. I’m not quite sure if this is the result of my own schedule or some doubts on my part about what exactly should be treated under that heading. The Wednesday stream was conceived as a place to integrate mental health issues with ministry, since healthy interactions are the mother’s milk of healthy parish life and ministry. I don’t want to jettison that idea just yet, but the posts might be spread out less frequently than weekly.
Finally, I am always open to suggestions—for one-time questions or prolonged discussions. Let me know your areas of interest or ways I can help your ministry or personal pursuits.