Pre-Evangelization Inklings: Tough Mudder

Why would anyone pay to go through messy, physically demanding obstacle courses and “comically extreme” challenges (Fast Company, Jun 2017)?

Indeed. Why?

From Tough Mudder CEO, Will Dean, it’s got something to do with ritual and community.  As he explains, Tough Mudder events,

“are the pilgrimage, the big, annual festivals, like Christmas and Easter, if you use Christianity as an example. But then we also have the gym, which becomes the local church, the community gathering hub. You have the media, which is a little like praying. Then there’s the apparel, which is a little like wearing your cross or your head scarf or any other form of religious apparel.”

Together, this creates a social experience with a profound “shared sense of purpose,” that many in our North American culture lack in our day-to-day lives. Coming together to achieve a common goal is essential. Many Tough Mudder obstacles simply cannot be completed without receiving help and/or helping others through.

This experience of common effort and shared victory is indeed counter-cultural. Will Dean recounts a triathlon where, “he needed help pulling down the back zipper of his wet suit as he transitioned from swimming to cycling” and “asked fellow racers for help and was stunned when no one offered any: They didn’t want to add precious seconds to their time.” This is what life, and even church life can seem like for many today. An inherent world of competition or self-interest, rather than a world that is gift, a world with others give selflessly, expecting nothing in return.

The success of the Tough Mudder company reveals that it’s quite possible to gather and attract people by offering shared experience of gift and giving, ritual rhythms of life, and community doing the difficult–together. These are longings our culture produces. The question for us is, how can our ministries and parishes connect these desires to the reality of Christian discipleship? Share your thoughts and experiences!

Tough Mudder
Image by zapmole756 via Flickr, CC-BY-NC-2.0

 

Five-Year Tested* Plan for Promoting Liturgy of the Hours Among the Laity

How to promote the Liturgy of the Hours (LOTH) among Catholic laity? Here’s a collection of ideas I heard following a talk by Daria Spezzano at the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy‘s summer symposia:

  • use of bodily motions (i.e. bowing)
  • cathedral style celebrations with designated music ministers, responsorial style psalms, candlelight, incense, etc.
  • worship aids for introducing Liturgy of the Hours, but eventually prayer books
  • growing it in parish life by forming youth in the practice
  • digital apps [this seemed to have some critics]
  • singing(!)
  • combining it with Eucharistic Adoration
  • presence of a “seed” group of those who are familiar (versus an entire chapel of inexperienced LOTH-prayers)
  • slipping it into parish life, i.e. before Sunday Mass or during a particular liturgical season
  • praying along with recordings of sung/spoken LOTH
  • and from Spezzano, the idea of someone experienced (i.e. from a diocese staff) presenting in three sessions: history, spirituality, and then the “how to”

And my thoughts? Yes.

There’s simply not one way. No silver bullet. Ten people are going to have ten different stories. Listening to the discussion brought back memories of my own “discovery” of praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Not sure if my experience was slower or had more touch points than typical, but I’m struck by how many of the ideas mentioned in the Liturgy Symposia were indeed present in my own life.

Here it is: a tested*, five-year plan for how a Millennial can discover Liturgy of the Hours

 Year 1: On a whim, go to parish’s Advent Sunday Vespers. Vespers are “cathedral style” with support from parish music groups. Get Psalm 110 antiphon tune stuck in head (I can still remember it today, twelve years later). Go back for the rest of Advent.

Year 2: While having one foot in a Baptist congregation and one foot in a Catholic parish, see a newly released edition of a 1559 Book of Common Prayer on the shelf at the local Barnes & Noble and think “ah ha! the perfect mix of King James Version texts and that Catholic prayer I liked.” Buy it. Start to pray it while falling asleep at night.

Year 3: Podcasts are growing. Notice a new Catholic resource, “ND Prayercast,” (from a Catholic university I’d never much thought of, but would eventually attend, years later). Start to listen to a Morning Prayer styled podcast with music. Singing (or at least humming) along with Invititory and Morning psalms and canticles has become a reality.

Year 4: Need some reading that will last through a 15-month deployment to Iraq. Buy the one-volume Christian Prayer (via this trendy “Amazon” thing–since it’s not like there are lots of Catholic bookstores in Fayetteville, NC). Start praying morning and evening prayer as an individual.

Year 5: In a new Army assignment with lots of travel. Wander into the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. (because I found some free, non-Catholic University of America-permit-required parking there!!) and see Vespers going on. Start to make finding communal celebrations of Liturgy of the Hours part of my work trips and experience the prayer with Holy Spirit Sisters in St. Louis, Jesuits in Missouri, Anglicans in London, and Visitation Sisters in D.C.

So that’s how it happened. How I went from having no clue about the Liturgy of the Hours, to being familiar with, drawn to, and even leading and pre-evangelizing through this liturgical action of the Church. There was no silver bullet. Many small and mundane things played a part along the way. Most importantly, God was at work. No five-year pastoral plan to promote LOTH can make more people pray the Liturgy of the Hours individually and communally. There’s no “recipe” that works for every parish, never mind every person. To sum up my experience in conversation with the Symposia-generated list of ideas, it comes down to this: do it & make it available. If LOTH is prayed communally, people will see it and hear it. Doing it (and seeing others pray this way) was a critical jump-start in my own story. And at the same time, communal celebrations of LOTH aren’t widely available in most locations. So, we can make it available and accessible for individual pray-ers through resources. Of course the books will always be sold, but audio recordings, video recordings, live-streams, apps, social media communities, etc. Almost anything could be the resource that encourages someone or sustains them when they’re ready and seeking to enter more deeply in to the Church’s daily prayer.

 

Do you pray the Liturgy of the Hours? How did it happen for you? What common threads do you see in your story and others’?

*and guaranteed to work on me, and probably only me 😉

Some other thoughts on preaching in the LOTH and parish celebrations of LOTH

 

Christian Unity: The Old, New Evangelization

Our opportunities to learn from the experiences of fellow Christians is certainly not limited to our present day and age. For me, some of the most inspiring testimony to the possibilities of evangelization that is new comes from the work of John and Charles Wesley in 18th c. England.

1024px-john_wesley_preaching_outside_a_church-_engraving-_wellcome_v0006868
John Wesley Preaching Outdoors

Charles and John Wesley were ordained in eighteenth century England, a time when the sacrament of Holy Communion was often regarded with indifference or neglect. Church historian John Bowmer remarks that the sacraments and Christian life were widely disparaged in this “new age of reason,” and most people in the Church of England aimed for the minimums of religious practice”receiving the Eucharist three times a year and treating it as an historic custom, rather than encounter with the living God.

Unsurprisingly, most in the Church of England were not looking outward to form disciples or share the Gospel. In fact, many clergy and laity in the Church of England believed that England’s growing urban masses were beyond influence and simply had “no taste” for Christian liturgy and sacraments. Christianity was on its way to becoming a fruitless cultural niche.

So what did the Wesley brothers do in their setting of indifference and perceived divisions? Read more here…

Catechesis and Prayer

Do your faith formation classes teach people about prayer or form people as pray-ers?

Yesterday marked the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)’s annual “Catechetical Sunday”–an unofficial kick-off to the new academic year of catechesis in parishes across the United States. This year’s theme is Prayer: The Faith Prayed, a great opportunity to consider the essential relationship between prayer and catechesis in your parish or Catholic school. 

Here’s the reality, all too often we think of catechesis or religious education as a collection of doctrines, of specific claims, statements, and positions to be learned. Something that can be fully captured in a good textbook. Yet this ignores the example of our very own Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). Part 4 of the Catechism itself is “Christian Prayer.” Catechesis essentially includes the action of praying. As this year’s theme reveals, “pray” as a verb is an action of, and in, true catechesis.

Now you might be thinking, “yes, this is obvious–of course we pray during religion class, and of course our second grade students are required to memorize such-and-such prayers.”

But, what I offer to you is this: how we pray in catechesis often teaches more about prayer than our planned “lessons” ever do.

Do you offer prayer in a perfunctory, obligatory, rushed way? I certainly have. Especially when I feel a “crunch” for valuable time in a classroom.

Yet as I reflect on this, yikes, what am I really teaching my students by doing that? For one, I’m making prayer all about me. “There, I’ve said a prayer [and hopefully everyone has prayed or at least listened], and now we can move on.” Secondly, have I set the conditions for God to actually speak? i.e. Have I left any space (i.e. time, silence) for my students to hear God’s voice speaking to them personally? Am I treating this moment with the full dignity of expectation that this could be the most important part of class? That my students might tangibly encounter the Divine?

As a catechist, woe to me if I’m ever proud or satisfied that my students have memorized their prayers through hard work of drilling with their parents. While rote memorization in itself is an important, basic step in cultivating one’s prayer life (General Directory for Catechesis, no. 154)–the how of memorization matters. Memorization that occurs organically through the repeat action of praying, rather than attempting to memorize the Apostles Creed as if the Constitution, conveys the reality, significance, and words of a prayer (while memorization as for a quiz merely teaches words). Forming and empowering Christians of all ages to actually pray–to converse with God–this gift in the Holy Spirit should be my only “satisfaction” as a catechist. If my students can only follow me in prayer, and not pray on their own–then I have not fulfilled my full calling as a catechist.

Today’s Gospel (Lk 8:16-18) offers a parable where Jesus declares to his audience, “No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a  lamp stand, so that those who enter may see the light.”

In catechesis, prayer is our light–“the faith prayed.” Prayer illuminates, brings power, spreads the warmth of God’s love, and is a moment of personal intimacy with God available to each and every person–every child, every adult, in every faith formation setting. Let us not be content to show a photograph of this “lamp” to our students for study. No, in catechesis we must pray and form pray-ers. Light the lamp with our students and experiencing the Light together.

 

a version of this post also appears at newevangelizers.com

St. Mark’s Challenge to Us

stmark
Image: Wikipedia (Saint Mark, Donatello)

Happy feast of St. Mark, the Evangelist!

Mark the Evangelist gave us a distinctively short Gospel, with the word “immediately” seemingly used in just about every narrative…something like 40x in 16 chapters–whoa…no thesaurus.com in antiquity! 😉  But, God inspired him as a true human author, using his unique skills and personality to give us an action-packed, fast-moving evangelization project that still manged to provide us extra vivid details into Jesus’ wondrous deeds and a dramatic half-way-thru-the-Gospel shocking turn to blunt emphasis on Jesus’ servant-kingship.

St. Mark the Evangelist also uniquely “punts” the ball to us in his first “curtain call” ending (16:8) where he makes it look as if Jesus’ Resurrection is the end of the story here. The end of any message of salvation going forth, as the women flee from the tomb, trembling, astonished, and saying nothing of this to anyone. Ouch.

While we as modern-day Christians are blessed with the benefit of additional longer, canonical manuscript endings (16:9-20 proclaimed in today’s Mass), there were likely many early believers who only heard the first “curtain call” ending. Yikes. It’s hard for us to imagine!

Yet, think about the implied responsibility Mark is creatively pointing us toward. St. Mark is reminding us that now it is up to us to choose to take an active role in spreading the word about this great miracle, this victory over death that changes lives for the better! St. Mark recorded his Evangel (Gospel) in writing, but now it’s time for anyone who hears and believes to continue to share the message, to evangelize in their own unique time in history, guided and empowered by the same Holy Spirit that inspired Mark is such an amazing way 🙂

St. Mark the Evangelist, pray for us that we would respond to your challenge with the urgency, joy, and excitement you modeled, and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed through our lives as disciples.

How long should Mass be?

 In Divine Renovation: From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish, Fr. James Mallon offers these insights and reflections for figuring out what’s right for your parish community when it comes to Sunday Mass:

Worrying about Mass as a production is the wrong concern. He writes, “to the accusation that everything is a production, I am tempted to say, ‘Thank you, I’m so glad you noticed.'” While Mass isn’t a “production” in the literal sense of the term, it should be treated with the utmost planning and concern for quality and transformation of those present.

Remember the 80/20 rule. In most parishes, “the only time we see 80% of our people is on the weekend,” yet what proportion of time goes into preparing for this crucial weekly moment?

“The Church is, of course, not a mere business, it is mystery, but grace still builds on nature and there is an essential truth here. The priority of any parish, and any priest, ought to be about preparing for and celebrating the Sunday Eucharist to make it the best possible experience for the maximum number of people.”

Mass might need to be longer than you think. Or like. Or are comfortable with. Fr. Mallon observes, “The days of the 50-minute get-it-over-and-done-with Mass must end…if the weekend celebrations are to be a priority, then we must have sufficient time on Sunday mornings to gather, celebrate and connect afterwards…We need to honestly look at our Mass schedules, and ask what we truly value. Do we value meaningful and transformative celebrations of the Eucharist, or is our primary value convenient and static Mass times?”

In the end, it is not really a question of how long the Mass ought to be or could be, but whether this value leads us to health. I believe it does not. It contributes to a “get it over and done with” mentality that turns our Eucharistic celebrations into something to be endured rather than something that endures.

What values does your Mass schedule, length, and culture project? Fr. Mallon asserts:

Minimalism and convenience cannot be the primary values of a healthy church. Minimalism and convenience have no place in the life of the disciple who is called to save his or her life by losing it. Someone once said that Jesus doesn’t ask for much – he asks for everything. If our liturgies are to be meaningful and transformative “productions,” they need to be able to breathe and not be constrained by a rigid one-hour rule. Likewise, there needs to be enough time between Masses so that those who are hungry for God are able to linger with one another after Mass to encourage and support one another.

In summary, I think a key is moving from the question how long should Mass be? or how long should a homily be? to addressing the intended outcomes. What is Mass to do? What is the outcome of the homily? Then, work backwards to determine how much time this takes in your setting and context. At the same time, begin to consider how to assess if these desired outcomes, effects, and fruits are happening among those present to worship. Challenging, but worth it to unleash the full power and fruits of the Eucharist amid our worshiping assemblies! 😀

Want to read more? Check out these longer excerpts from Fr. Andrew Carrozza, read Divine Renovation yourself, or listen to Fr. James Mallon’s podcasts on topics related to this great ministry book!