Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

Order 'Evolution for the Catholic Student' - Click on the image above

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

RNC Wednesday Highlights

RNC Wednesday Highlights

          In addition to Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño’s, Mike Huckabee's, Condoleezza Rice's and Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s speeches, I have included Utah mayor Mia Love’s much talked about speech from Tuesday.  Ryan's speech is about half an hour long, but is definitely worth a watch if you missed it.  Absolutely epic.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Monday, August 27, 2012

Keeping Our Youth Catholic

Keeping Our Youth Catholic

          I recently heard Catholic speaker and author Matthew Kelly tell of going to an Evangelical conference to get ideas for a catechetical program he was developing.  He noticed that one of the breakout sessions was titled: Catholic Youth – The Future of your Church.
          This needn’t have been done with ill will.  The fact is that many Catholic young people leave the Church but remain open to Christ, and approximately half of Evangelical congregations are former Catholics.  It would be silly to think they wouldn’t prepare.
          This isn’t a problem unique to the Catholic Church, but since many of our youth are poorly catechized, they are easy targets for proselytization.  Our challenge as the Faithful is to do what we can to keep our youth in the Bosom of the Church.
          But how do we do that?  I have a few suggestions.  I am not a sociologist, nor am I an expert qualified to give a complete or authoritative answer.  What follows are ideas based on my own experiences and what I have heard from others who are presumably knowledgeable on the subject.  I believe that three areas we have to focus on are truth, holiness and community.
          Truth:  One of the great evils of our time is relativism, which I have spoken of before on this blog.  Truth, according to this view, either doesn’t exist, or it is subjective, so each person can define it for himself.  In reality, of course, Truth can be sought after, discovered and known by man, but it can not be defined by him.  It is a question of what really is, not what the majority decides should be.
          But our children are taught in an environment that takes relativism for granted from elementary school.  It is particularly applied to religion.  Many young people, by high school, take religious indifferentism as a given.  All religions are equal, they believe, and each person must decide which one, if any, best suits him.  It is not difficult to see, then, that the Catholic Church, with its moral demands, would be at a disadvantage among people who, as a group, have not yet developed a mature moral compass.
          There is another aspect to this notion of Truth, however.  Relativism is not satisfying.  Young people, for whom criticism can serve as a virtue as well as a vice, by nature know that it is not true.  One has to become a real academic to start truly believing such nonsense. 
And the fact is, many of our catechetical programs for forty years now, have been fluff.  They make few demands on the intellect or the will.  They teach the youth that Jesus loves them and that they should be nice, but they often do not give reasoned presentations of Catholic doctrines (if they mention them at all).  They make few moral demands and rarely even mention sin.  And “mortal sin” is definitely anathema.
Young people are looking for something to believe in, something to stand for.  Their idealism wants to become heroism.  And they want to be remarkable people who live lives of purpose.  Then they come to a religious education program to learn about the most remarkable purpose and Person of all, and they find little inspiration, and maybe even more relativism.  Should we be surprised if they are not inspired?
They may receive the lesson about Jesus, but know there must be something more to who he is and what He wants of them.  Then they come across an Evangelical youth group where the kids know very clearly what they believe and what they stand for.  It should be no surprise if they find that attractive.
The good news is that I believe all this is changing.  It never applied to all parishes, but the dumbing-down of religious education programs and lack of concern for doctrine had gotten very widespread.  The problem in most quarters, though, has been identified.  New programs with a focus on teaching the Truth and helping our youth experience it, are spreading.  And many parishes are working hard to catechize the catechists, who may have grown up in the “Fluff Era.”
If we want our young people to remain Catholic, we must teach them the Truth.  Nothing is as beautiful as Truth.  And there is no need to dumb it down.  Give it to them in a manner they can relate to, of course, but they are intelligent people who will respect being given the fullness of the Faith.
Holiness:  I said that nothing is as beautiful as Truth; and nothing is as attractive as holiness.  Why did Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa inspire so many people, Catholic and non-Catholic alike?  It was their holiness.  Love emanated from their being.  It was not hard to look at them and see Christ.
I attended World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002.  I didn’t go with a group, just by myself.  So on the day Pope John Paul II arrived, having nothing else to do, I got there early and decided to lie in the shade of a tree and read, which I did for about two hours.  This gave me a perfect plot of land right up front, about six feet from where the pope would be passing.  When he started coming, we all stood up, and I was excited but not particularly star-struck.
However, when that holy man drove by, blessing the crowd, and I saw the love in those aged eyes, I felt an incredible desire to be near him.  I grabbed my bag and started running at the fringe of the crowd, after the popemobile, in the hopes of staying in as close a vicinity to him as possible, for as long as possible.  It was quite an unexpected feeling, that some might call adrenaline.  Perhaps it was, but there is no doubt that it was inspired by being in the presence of a saint.
Our youth will have far more contact with us than they will with the popes or famous saints of our age.  But we can inspire them, too.  They, in many ways, are products of a cynical age, and they are yearning for authentic people to inspire them.
They want to believe that a remarkable life, lived joyfully in the Grace of God and service of neighbor, is possible.  Everyone needs someone who inspires them.  We Catholics have always known this, which is why the lives of the Saints have been told since the earliest days of the Church.
But all people, and especially the youth, are on guard for phonies, people who don’t really believe what they preach, or who don’t really live what they believe.  That is the quickest way to become irrelevant to them.
This was made clear to me a number of years ago when a mother of one of my students asked to see me.  I teach at a Catholic school and my class is always praying together and learning about God.  But it seems one day her son came into the room to get a playground ball at lunch time.  I was sitting down to eat at my desk and didn’t notice him, but he saw me saying grace before I started my meal.  She said that event, seeing me pray privately when none of the students were there, was more powerful to him than the religion lessons I had taught.  And that was something as small as saying grace.  But it told him I really did take seriously the things I was teaching him.
Of course, we will not be perfect, and our youth are wise enough not to expect perfection.  But they can recognize someone who truly loves Jesus, who tries to live in a manner pleasing to Him, and who humbly admits when he falls short.  People like that are magnets, drawing others to Christ.
So it is up to us, priests, parents, catechists and all the people of our parishes, to strive for holiness.  That authentic witness has incredible power.
Community:  We humans are all social beings.  And there are few things our youth need more than to feel like they belong.  It is imperative that we develop dynamic youth groups at our parishes.  This is everyone’s duty, not just parents’ or youth ministers’.  We all have to support that however we can.
Our children need to know that Church is a place where they belong, where they are safe, where they can meet friends, where they can grow, and where they can have fun.
          It is easy to get wrapped up in the doctrine and Sacraments (two things I will never underestimate the importance of), but forget the community.  Our kids need a place where they can be kids, with other kids their age, who share their interests, their values, their Faith.  If they believe that Church is a community in which they belong, they won’t be tempted to try out the Evangelical youth group down the street.
          As I said at the beginning, this article is based solely on my experiences and the wisdom others have shared with me.   There is much more that can be said, I’m sure.  I do want to finish with one last point.  I have been focusing on the parish level, but what about keeping our own children Catholic? 
          One thing we must keep in mind is a point Ken Hensley makes in his presentation, How to Keep Your Kids Catholic.  He cites a study which showed the number one reason young people left the Church is that they had an unhappy childhood.  Catholicism was passed on to them from their families, and they did not have happy memories of their families, so they dropped the Faith as one way of cutting those ties.
          It is imperative, in dealing with any children, and especially our own, that our relationships be characterized by love.  St. John Bosco once said, “Give them love and they will follow you anywhere.”
          It is true that many young people are being pulled out of the Faith despite the loving influence of their parents.  But I believe that influence leaves a life-long mark that produces an openness through which Grace will eventually triumph.
          On this feast of St. Monica, who won her son’s conversion through years of sorrowful prayers, may we resolve never to give up on any of our children.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Conventions Begin

The Conventions Begin

          We are finally on the eve of the Republican National Convention.  Looking at the schedules of the two conventions, the contrasts could not be more clear.  Outside of speeches by the presidential and vice-presidential nominees, the RNC will feature New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Ann Romney, and others.  The focus will be mostly on stimulating our struggling economy and reinvigorating the nation.
          The Democrats, unfortunately, have decided to take a different approach.  I say unfortunately because they seem to have decided to focus significant attention on their fictitious “war on women.”  Featured speakers will include Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards, NARAL President Nancy Keenan, and Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student who publicly embarrassed herself by demanding free birth control from her Catholic college, and has sadly become one of the faces of the administration’s wicked HHS mandate. 
Highlighting the party’s anti-life platform and hostility toward religious freedom?  This is a sad state of affairs for a once proud party that does still have legitimate things to say, albeit on a shrinking number of topics.  Will the Democrats’ strategy work?  One political commentator responded, saying, “The Democrats’ strategy will work if women are idiots.”
I know it’s anecdotal evidence, but I know a great many women, none of whom I would classify as an idiot.  This may prove bad news for the President’s reelection efforts.

Note: In order that the tone of this post not be misconstrued, please understand that the point the commentator was making was that the DNC is greatly insulting women by the focus they are choosing for their convention, and that is true.  Neither she (I assume) nor I intend to actually call people who support Obama idiots.  Also, the women mentioned who will be speaking at the DNC are in need of our prayers, not our scorn, especially Ms. Fluke, who I believe is being exploited due to what might be termed youthful ignorance.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Fathers Speak: St. Cyprian of Carthage

The Fathers Speak:
St. Cyprian of Carthage

From his Treatise on the Lord’s Prayer, A.D. 251

After this we say: “Hallowed by thy name,” not that we want God to be made holy by our prayers, but because we seek from the Lord that His name be made holy in us.  Indeed, by whom could God be made holy, when it is He that sanctifies?  But because He Himself said, “Be holy as I too am holy,” we ask and seek that very thing, so that we who have been made holy in Baptism may persevere in what we have begun to be.  For this we do pray daily.  We have a daily need of being made holy, so that we who sin daily may be cleansed again of our sins by continual sanctification…
We continue and say: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” not as if praying that God may do as He wills, but that we may be able to do what God wills!...And in order that it might be done in us we have need of God’s will, that is, of His help and protection, since no one is strong by his own powers, but is safe only by the kindliness and mercy of God.
As the prayer continues, we ask and say, “Give us this day our daily bread.”…And we ask that this bread be given us daily, so that we who are in Christ and daily receive the Eucharist as the food of salvation, may not, by falling into some more grievous sin and then in abstaining from communicating, be withheld from the Heavenly Bread, and be separated from Christ’s Body…He Himself warns us, saying, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.”  Therefore do we ask that our Bread, which is Christ, be given to us daily, so that we who abide and live in Christ may not withdraw from his sanctification and from His Body.