Not a Magic Bullet, but…


Not too long ago, I began training in Level I of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. I’ve heard a lot about this model since my college days, but had little frame of reference since I’ve never seen it in a parish or school setting. I recently have been feeling called to focus more intentionally on catechetical models for younger children, so I finally took the plunge and attended a course. Prior to the training, I was a little worried that I’d become one of those “brain-washed” catechists who is convinced that CGS (and consequently everything Maria Montessori) is The Only Way To Do Things. I’ve heard stories and had some experiences of people who are so enchanted with this method that they can’t seem to visualize any other way to engage and teach your children– and sorry, folks, that just makes you annoying– so, one goal of mine was to try and keep a level-head during the experience. At the end of the week of training, here is the brief reflection I wrote:

CGS is not a magic bullet. It won’t solve the deep crisis of division and apathy in the Church today. It will not automatically get fallen-away families back in the pews. But CGS does seem to offer something that other models of catechesis does not: it regains the physicality, the essential embodiment of our faith. Our culture is so confused about the meaning of our bodies and of creation. We are no longer interested in liturgy because we no longer understand the language of embodied signs. Gestures, postures of prayers, and sacraments/sacramentals have lost their referents in a world that has forgotten about REDITUS. We have forgotten our origins and therefore our destination: our telos. When presented without drippy sentimentality (which is so obvious to even the smallest [children]), CGS brings children face to face with the wonder and joy of a creation which was made for them and which invites them personally to eternal, bodily Beatitude.

So, what do you think? Am I brainwashed yet?

Have you ever had experience (either as a catechist or recipient) of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd? What did you love? What did you not love? I want to hear!


Lenten Humble Pie


When we settled in to our new parish in the ‘burbs a couple of years ago, the first task we set for ourselves was to get to know the pastor. Our second task was to get “involved,” which for us meant volunteering to teach Religious Ed, and scoping out the choir.

The problem with getting to know the pastor was that he didn’t seem to stick around long after Mass. He would shake a few hands and then quickly dart back to the sacristy long before the pews were empty, which is no easy feat when people are halfway out the door by the Sign of Peace. He wouldn’t even stick around after the weekday Masses, which were considerably smaller and populated by a very non-threatening set of parishioners. So one Sunday, when I saw a small opening to catch him before he left the church, I ran across a couple of aisles and I sort of… well, cornered him.

I introduced myself and pointed to my adorable family across the way. “We’re new,” I explained, and I puffed myself up with Midwestern Hospitality Pride as I said, “We’d love to invite you over for dinner some time. Would you like to visit our home?” The man immediately stiffened up, averted his glance a few times and said, “Well, it’s Lent. I’m busy.”

I was taken a little by surprise, but quickly followed up: “Oh, well, then maybe during Easter?”

“That’s very busy, too.”

My Pride Feathers were ruffled. “So you’re busy for all of Lent and all of Easter? All 90+ days?”


“The whole time?”

“Yes. I have to go now.” And he shuffled off.

I. was. miffed. I was full of outrage. How could he be so RUDE?! To not even consider our invitation? To just rush off like that with not even a ‘thank you’?

I took a job at another parish and that was that. I wrote him off. In my mind, he was simply a rude (or at least very tactless) priest that I didn’t have to worry about any more.

Until the other day when I was talking with my mom and she mentioned a pastor who had served at our parish in Indiana about ten years ago. “Did you know,” she asked me, “that he never had a cook because he didn’t eat? The ladies at the church said he would just have a small tin of anchovies every morning for breakfast and then he would fast for the whole rest of the day.”

I had never heard this before. “Every day, really?”

“Yes. Apparently he wouldn’t even accept invitations to go to parishioners’ houses or out to dinner because he was fasting. He never told anyone, but the old ladies who helped out with various things around the rectory said it was because he fasted all the time.”

Here was something I had never considered: that maybe a priest would decline a dinner invitation without giving a legitimate reason because he wanted to keep that reason private. Maybe that parish priest who shot me down was fasting, too. Maybe he has serious dietary restrictions or allergies and doesn’t want to explain or make requests. Maybe he has some form of social anxiety that I don’t need to know about. Or maybe he’s just rude.

But the point is: I don’t know. I don’t know if he’s rude or anxious or the holiest-fastingest-priest in the MetroWest. Whatever his reason for declining our invitation, it remains his reason and most likely had absolutely nothing to do with me. I know for a fact that people have thought I was a cold, rude person, but I willingly chose to let them think I was rude in that moment rather than opening myself up and being vulnerable. Perhaps that is not the best choice to make, but the takeaway is: sometimes my Midwestern Hospitality Pride needs to do a little self-check in the mirror.  I’m very grateful that during this Lent, when I myself have been very busy and could hardly accept a dinner invitation if it were offered, was reminded of this priest and given the chance to see how I failed to be charitable in my assertive attempt to be “hospitable.” 

Thanks, Lord, for that big slice of humble pie.

Jesus’ Prayers

A few weeks ago, my middle school class talked about Prayer. One of my goals as a Youth Minister is to try to engage parents more, so I’ve been sending out session recap emails in the hopes that the conversations we start in class can continue at home. I use question/comment slips from the end of class to not only glean some insight into how the kids are responding to the material, but also to let the parents know what questions their kids come up with. I try to choose a good question that is fairly representative of the class as a whole. Here is the Q&A portion of the email I sent out to parents after that session on Prayer:


One very astute middle-schooler asked this week: “I learned that some people have trouble with praying. I want to know if Jesus had trouble with praying.” 

We talked in class about Luke 11:1-13, where Jesus’ disciples ask Him to teach them to pray and He gives the example of the Our Father. Let’s take a look at some other Bible passages in the Gospel of Luke which talk about Jesus’ prayer life:

Luke 5:16– “[Jesus] would withdraw to deserted places and pray”
Luke 6:12– “[Jesus] went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer with God.”
Luke 22:39– 46- “He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’”

From these passages we know that Jesus liked to pray. He was in the habit of going off to be by Himself in prayer, so the disciples were accustomed to having Jesus leave for a little while and then come back. Sometimes they were invited to go with Him, but this prayer on the Mount of Olives is really exceptional because it shows us how intense Jesus’ prayer life was: “His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.”

Have you ever had that happen? Have you ever been so wrapped up in prayer that you began to sweat blood? Not I. So it seems that Jesus didn’t have difficulty praying in the sense that we, who are less than perfect, do. Jesus had a strong connection with the Father (He is the Son, after all) that made prayer come naturally to Him and made Him aware of times when He needed to pray. He *wanted* to pray a lot! But that doesn’t mean that prayer was a happy-go-lucky romp through the meadow. This prayer at the Mount of Olives is not an easy one. Jesus is really struggling, because He knows what must be done. He knows what is going to happen with his betrayal and His arrest and being put to death. He even asks the Father to take this suffering (this “cup”) away if there could be any other way to accomplish the goal of Salvation. But Jesus, since He is perfect in all things, is our perfect model in prayer because even though He is frightened and REALLY struggling, He says, “Not my will, but yours be done.” 

Gethsemane_Carl_BlochJesus understood, and He teaches us to understand, that if we really truly believe that God is as good and great as we say He is, then doing His will is the best and greatest thing we can do. That doesn’t make it easy. That doesn’t make it easy for us to come to God in prayer and wrestle with these things, but it’s what we should aspire to.

So to answer this question: Yes and no. The struggles of an imperfect pray-er (like ME!) are very different from the struggles of a perfect pray-er (Jesus!). My struggles are more like: “How can I make time to pray? Why do I get frustrated feeling like God isn’t listening? How can I make prayer a habit? How can I be less selfish in my prayers?” Jesus had that stuff figured out because as a sinless human being who also happened to be the Second Person of the Trinity (the Son), He was a lot more advanced in prayer than I, but that doesn’t mean that His prayers were always easy. God doesn’t always ask us to do what is easy– so if we open ourselves to doing God’s will, we have to be prepared for the possibility that it will be difficult. But we learn from Jesus’ example: even when what we do and receive in prayer is difficult, we should still say “Yes, Lord, Thy will be done.”

Good Spiritual Hygiene

Hi, everyone!

Since I started work as a Youth Minister this past summer, I’ve been completely swamped with varied and sundry tasks, so my blog has been pretty neglected. I realized recently that it’s not that I haven’t been doing any writing: I just haven’t been posting it!

So I’m going to try posting some of the Q&A articles I send out to parents of my high school Confirmation Candidates. After each formation session, I ask the students to submit comments and questions to me, from which I select one or two to answer in my weekly parent emails. Here are the questions from this week, after our session on “What is the Mass?” Enjoy!


This week, I got a couple of interesting and related questions about Mass, primarily about why we go. One person asked: Why can’t we just pray at home? and another asked: Why are we supposed to go to Mass? We aren’t hurting anyone if we don’t. 

Good questions, both of them. I’ll start with the second one first. Let’s think about it this way:

There are a lot of things we are supposed to do just because they are good for us, regardless of how they may or may not impact other people. If you go to the dentist, they will tell you that you “need” to brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss regularly. They say that you “need” to do this not because it will hurt someone else if you don’t, but because it will harm YOU. Your health will be at risk. Maybe you’ll get gingivitis. Maybe your teeth will get cavities. Maybe they will rot and fall out. A good dentist will tell you that you “need” to do these things because he/she is concerned for YOU.


So, you should brush and floss because it’s good for you. But just because you aren’t actively hurting someone by neglecting your oral hygiene doesn’t mean that no one is affected by it, either. If you don’t brush and floss, you will have stanky breath. And I bet a lot of people would want to stop hanging out with you as much. It would be unpleasant for them, so they might choose to stay away from you. Maybe your best friends will be able to overcome their revulsion, but the choice you make to stop brushing your teeth will make it very difficult for them on a regular basis. It will strain your relationship.

I hope you get the analogy here. Attending Mass is something we need to do because it is “healthy” for our soul. Think of it as spiritual hygiene. No one will get hurt if we don’t go to Mass, but if we avoid taking care of our spiritual health, eventually we are going to spiritually stink. If we choose to not put God in a prominent place in our lives, if we choose to neglect the gift of the Eucharist (which helps cleanse us and protect us from the inclination to sin), then we will gradually build up some spiritual plaque. We’ll get some spiritual gingivitis, which might lead to some spiritual cavities and maybe some spiritual teeth will fall out. The temptation to sin is always there, but it’s really easy to overlook. It’s really easy to say, “I don’t feel like going to Mass this Sunday. I’ll do it next Sunday.” It’s really easy to say, “I don’t feel like flossing tonight. I’ll do it tomorrow.” But next day turns to next day turns to next day and all of a sudden, you realize you haven’t been taking care of those basic hygiene needs for quite a while now.

So, you are supposed to go to Mass because IT IS GOOD FOR YOU.

But you are also supposed to go to Mass because ALL OF US are contractually obligated to do so through our baptism. Nowhere and at no time will the Church ever say that non-baptized people need to go to Mass. It’s not an obligation for you if you’re not part of the Church. But if you are, going to Mass on Sunday is a Precept of the Church. Weekly Sunday Mass attendance is the absolute minimum we “need” in order to grow in faith, holiness and communion with one another as fellow Christians.

Which leads to the second question, “Why can’t we just pray at home?”

I hope the assumption here is that OF COURSE you can (and should!) pray at home, but that’s not enough. None of us are allowed to fall into the trap of thinking that we have a completely private relationship with God. Through your baptism, you become part of God’s FAMILY. God adopts you as a son or daughter through the Church, so that you are joined with LOTS of other people! Like it or not, we’re all in this together.

St. Paul talks in his letters about how we are all united in baptism into the “Body of Christ.” He says “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” (1 Cor 12:12-13a) When we come together at Mass to meet our own bare minimum of individual spiritual health, we come as a member of the Body of Christ—the Church. Some ancient Christian communities took this membership so seriously, that you had to get special permission from your pastor to be away from Mass on Sunday. If you were traveling, you needed to clear it with your congregation first, because it meant that when your community gathered on Sunday they would somehow be INCOMPLETE… because you weren’t there. ALL the members are needed in order for the community to worship God AS A COMMUNITY of faith—as a family.

God doesn’t want us to have an isolated relationship with Him. He wants us to have a personal relationship with Him, but that personal relationship is always mediated within and supported by the larger community of the Church. He calls us to come together to worship Him. Like any good Father, He wants to have a good relationship with all of His children, but He also wants his children to love one another and get along. He wants them to have a relationship with one another, because that’s how we grow in holiness.

Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, one person strengthens another.” We become better sons and daughters of God when we take the time to worship our Father together. When we receive the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, we are not only more closely united to God (which keeps us spiritually healthy!), but we also strengthen our bonds with one another—with the other members of the Body of Christ.

NFP Ambassadors Network!


Thanks to a great response from my last newsletter, I decided to make a Facebook group (oh no, not another one of those….?): The NFP Ambassadors Network

The purpose of this group is to share information and ideas, support one another, and get equipped to spread the word about NFP (any and all types!) in any way we can.  We’ll be highlighting resources, current NFP news, asking questions and building up a repertoire of bulletin ads, conversation starters or other tools we might need in the quest to make NFP an available, accessible and achievable option for all couples who want it.

If you’d like to join, shoot me an email! Let me know about your NFP journey. We’d love to have you join the cause!