The recent passing of Jean Vanier reminds me of a reflection from Carey Nieuwhof, where Nieuwhof ponders our present reality as young leaders and the spirituality each of us must cultivate if we are to bear fruit, as yesterday’s Gospel reading (John 15:1-8) declares to us.
Of course, no one can truly replace the unique voices lost. But isn’t it our hope that every generation will have its voices?
Deeper, though, is this question: are the conditions even favorable today for producing men and women who can step into the void?
I fear the answer is no, or at least I’m not really sure.
Why? Well, for a voice to endure—to have real significance—it needs depth, not just breadth.
We live in mostly in the age of breadth. And that makes me worry just a little bit for our collective future.
In what way is my breadth a strength? Are elements of it vital and fruitful?
Where do I lack depth? What’s causing that lack of depth?
What might God be calling me to prune, to pull back “breadth” in order to build depth?
I think for many, the most significant barrier and temptation to depth is time. The feeling of busyness (I love Eugene Peterson’s 1981 essay on this). The feeling of a scarcity of time brings anxiety, worry, and even feels like it can “control” us externally.
The temptation to rush, to not be present, to not put in the deep preparation…these enter our lives each and every day.
Abide. Remain. These are the verbs of John 15. There’s no way to accomplish “abiding” or “remaining” quickly. I cannot accelerate progress in “abiding” in Jesus.
I can simply wait, growing deeper as a branch–not because I am the nourishment, but because the Vine’s roots are the ultimate depth.
I started talking about the Sacrament of Confirmation to my 6 year old this week.
Why? Well, it wasn’t something he was asking about. But, he is starting to enter a more social age, of noticing what other kids and adults say, and there’s an awful lot of misleading [or just plain odd] theology, culture, and explanations surrounding the Sacrament of Confirmation.
So, I asked him, “have you ever heard of the Sacrament of Confirmation?”
Great! I’ve got no competition [for now.]
Here’s what I shared with him:
You know how when a baby is baptized, the baby is too little to be able to talk? So the baby can’t say “yes” to believing in Jesus as God’s Son, or Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit to us. The Sacrament of Confirmation is for when someone can talk and wants to say “yes” on their own to their baptism. When someone is ready to do this, they get anointed again with chrism, just like in baptism and are strengthened for all of the things God wants to do in their life.
His response? Oh.
I’ll make sure I keep repeating this whenever the situation arises, when we look at the chrism by the baptismal font in our parish, when we’re at baptisms, etc. He and his younger brother are big fans of baptism so I think that will be the logical (from both practical and theological perspectives) place to start slipping in our family Confirmation catechesis.
“to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God” –Micah 6:8
The more we read Scripture, pray, and get to know God, the more it’s natural to wonder, what is it God wants me to do? Who does he want me to be? The prophet Micah sums it up in three parts:
We are to do justice.
This means taking action. Not simply knowing some moral or ethical principles and commenting on what others do—but getting our skin in the game by acting justly and taking a stand on behalf of what is truly good.
But, acting on behalf of God is only possible when we first check out attitude.
We are to love goodness.
The “good” in God’s eyes is what is pure and timelessly beautiful, untouched by human sin. We are to love goodness, to long and crave for creation to be as God intended it. When we love goodness, acting justly follows.
Finally, our response to God requires a relationship. It’s not enough to have the right attitude and actions.
God desires that we “walk humbly” with him.
Walking with God means that we get to know him and keep close to him as we grow in our love of goodness and ability to act justly. While we may be able to act justly and love goodness out of our own motivations for a short time period or in some situations, it’s our commitment to relationship—to walkingwith God that will sustain us.
“See, I place my words in your mouth!” –Jeremiah 1:9
Choosing to follow the Lord Jesus is the most significant decision you’ll ever make.
But, your calling as a disciple of Jesus Christ doesn’t end with simply saying, “yes” to God. Before you came to know Jesus as your personal Lord and savior, even before you were born, God dedicated and appointed you to fill a unique need in the world. God has a purpose for you as a disciple.
In prayerful conversation with God, the prophet Jeremiah senses that the Lord is sending him as a prophet to the nations, with a message to be spoken. Jeremiah’s response? A double-dose of excuses—“I do not know how to speak. I am too young!” Yet God does not give up, and assures Jeremiah that he will be with him to deliver him. God will give Jeremiah the words he needs to answer God’s call.
If you’ve made the choice to follow Jesus as his disciple, God has a mission for you—right now, right where you are. Ask God in prayer, what it is he’s called you for. Whatever it is, remember that God has promised us the Holy Spirit, a Comforter and Defender, who will give you the spiritual gifts to overcome whatever excuses and obstacles stand in the way of serving God. Be bold and courageous, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’” Where is God calling you? And what is he asking you to say?
Alpha isn’t a program. At its best, it’s a culture. An attitude or outlook made concrete through the alignment of our words, deeds, setting. Every concrete aspect of human experience is viewed anew when Alpha becomes a culture. There’s a unity and alignment that spreads to every action of a local body of Christian believers. That’s what it means to #LiveAlpha.
To get a feel for what this culture might be like, I picked out some videos that I think point us toward key elements of Alpha culture and offered questions for reflection.
Video #1 Reflection: What fruits in your church community would be a sign of Alpha culture taking root and growing?
Video #2 Reflection: What would people in your area say about your church community? Is the perception “rules and regulations”–or something else?
Video #3 Reflection: Joy, unity, raising up new lay leaders, and/or missionary spirit–which of these are most apart of the culture of your church/parish? Which are you most longing for?
Video #4 Reflection: Pippa mentions as a highlight a woman who came as an atheist, and left as an atheist–and the highlight was that this woman didn’t feel pushed into a corner, that she could be who she was. How do you feel about this “highlight”? What does viewing this as a “highlight” reveal about who God is and how God works?
Video #5 Reflection: Is this the normal style of discussion among those within your local church/parish or at church events? Why or why not? What does this style of discussion reveal about who God is and how God works?
Four Foundational Values — Video #6 Reflection: How are the four values (real, relational, reliant, and reproducible) present in other areas of your parish right now?
With this blog post, Fr. Michael White, pastor of Nativity Church in Timonium, Maryland, initiated a robust social media discussion on young children at Mass. And big picture, we’re all right, all Catholic.
The most important principle is this:
Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. (CCC para. 2223)
As long as that is respected, we can all be correct. We can all be joyfully Catholic when it comes to choices and preferences regarding young children at Mass.
Parents educate and form their children liturgically, evangelistically, catechetically, in virtues, shoe-tying, and more. Parents (or other guardians) have the first [=primary, fundamental] responsibility in discerning how they do this.
I’m a parent to two boys who are (almost) 6 and 4. Over their lifetimes, we’ve averaged attendance at 1.318321 Masses per week. [Note: total guess there, but we don’t miss Sunday Mass and usually attend at least one daily Mass a week.] They are avidly interested in Mass and somehow manage to do things like say enthusiastically, “Lord, have mercy” when a deacon takes a more generous pause than usual during the Kyrie. After Mass they want to bum rush the altar to do lots of genuflecting and bowing (I educate them about reverent gestures. A lot. :-)). By age 2, they would (on their own initiatives) walk around the house singing a through-composed Gloria from memory. And for me? I love to share how the liturgy evangelizes and how we can make this a lived, practical reality.
While I live in the Midwest, we’ve attended Fr. White’s parish, Nativity Church, two times for Sunday Mass and once for Christmas Mass at the Maryland State Fairgrounds. We’ve had one or two of our children with us during each of those trips. Our experience has been completely positive. On each occasion, we’ve showed our children the children’s ministries of Nativity and enticed them to try it out. In one case, the children’s ministries were full and the parishioners serving politely explained that they didn’t have the space/supervision for more children (a legit practical reality). That’s fine 🙂 I appreciate their attempt to serve us! In the other two visits, our kids were not interested in going. Which is totally normal (they were both 4 or under at the time)–most children of that age are naturally developmentally cautious when in new environments with new adults. Plus, they are interested in Mass–especially when it involves different sanctuaries, vestments, etc. as the visual and gesture elements of Mass are what captivate them.
This means that 3 times, we’ve had young children at Mass at Nativity, and sat as close to the front as possible (but also with unobstructed access to an exit door 🙂 ). Other worshipers, staff, ministers, everyone was welcoming. At Christmas Eve Mass, enthusiastic children’s ministry ushers did come and remind us of the opportunity with a joyful invitation. That’s hospitality. It wasn’t pushy. They smiled just as much with our toddler choosing to stay with us.
One of our visits was during the summer months, when Nativity sometimes uses lay preachers to provide adult faith formation immediately following Mass. During that visit, after Mass was over and we’d remained seated [in the sanctuary] for the upcoming talk, a children’s minister approached us to let us know that this talk was for adults/teens and they’d be happy to help check our kids into children’s ministry, show us the generously spaced atrium/glass windows [not a “cry room”] where the talk would be heard, seen on video, and watched through the glass windows, or show us to the cafe, where we could watch the talk via video and our kids could have some play space and snacks. She wore a uniform shirt, had a name tag, and was 100% pastoral, professional, and loving.
Adult faith formation isn’t Mass. As a parent I have the right and opportunity to bring my children to Mass. Adult faith formation is different–if a parish discerns pastorally that adults will be better able to enter into, hear, and respond to the Gospel message without young children, that’s a decision they can reasonably make. When a parish makes that decision without providing hospitable options and accommodations for parents, I think that’s an evangelistic loss. Parents are important. At least 1/3 of children in the U.S. are raised in single-parent homes, and those families sometimes need the options that Nativity generously provides.
This is why we invest in our children’s programs.We love the children of this parish so much we want them to have a great time and learn to love the Lord too, through age appropriate messages and worship.
This is hospitality. This is pre-evangelization and evangelization, an accompaniment and preferential service to parents who may only be at the beginning of their own experience of the evangelizing power of the liturgy (and thus struggle to model or catechize during Mass, or become distracted by their children’s questions). Giving parents true choice in their role as the primary educators of their children doesn’t diminish the liturgy, but respects the reality that, as the Church explains, “before men [and women] can come to the liturgy they must be called to faith and to conversion”–and that that conversion can be ongoing (SacrosanctumConcilium, para 9). Parents get to decide if they send children to ministry programs during Mass or accompany them in liturgy. Parents can make that decision freely based on if their child slept well last night, if their own back is a bit too sore to hold someone during an entire Mass, or any number of factors. Most of our parishes do not give parents a variety of appealing choices as Nativity does.
Granted, I disagree with the tone used at the start of Fr. White’s post. While it seems strongly in the Biblical tradition of deliberate rhetorical hyperbole so as to inspire a conversation (as Paul, Jesus, and rabbis would do in general), I’m cautious about how well that works for digital writing. (In my humble editorial opinion, sharing testimonies and stories of families who’ve experienced conversion and growth in relationship with Jesus Christ because of how Nativity gives parents choices and partners to form young disciples would be more influential/effective.) However, to not “throw out the baby with the bath water” on Fr. White’s rhetorical choices and writing, pastoral leaders should ponder the main point [showing love for parents with children] and discern how we are making this a reality in our own, unique pastoral settings.
The Catechism reminds us:
From the beginning, this one Church has been marked by a great diversity which comes from both the variety of God’s gifts and the diversity of those who receive them. Within the unity of the People of God, a multiplicity of peoples and cultures is gathered together. Among the Church’s members, there are different gifts, offices, conditions, and ways of life. (para. 814)
In speaking of the homily in general, the Church teaches, “It should be an explanation of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the [prayers] of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.”
This is where the Children’s Liturgy of the Word Leader’s personal preparation time and prayer with the Scriptures overflows into an interactive and concrete experience of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the lives of the children.
You may ask questions/discuss, use call/response with a memory verse or line, retell with felt figures or visuals, do action rhymes/gestures, sing songs with a tie to your theme, pass around/touch any objects from home with a connection (i.e. a non-fragile icon, etc.), use whiteboard (for elementary school aged children) for drawing key concepts, dramatizing/acting out re-telling of any of the readings, reinforcing the readings/themes from a storybook, etc.