Lenten Requirements

Lent, and especially Ash Wednesday, is such an interesting thing in this era of social media and technology.

Back when I was young, Ash Wednesday was a big deal to us because, well, we are Catholic AND we went to Catholic school.  Other than McDonald’s offering fish sandwiches on the menu, the rest of the world didn’t seem too clued in to what we over in our Alabama 1% Catholic community were doing.

When we would show up places after school, we were looked at funny or asked what was on our head.  I don’t even really remember there being a lot of Ash Wednesday services at all the Protestant churches like there seem to be today.

Lent-pixBut, now, social media is exploding with reminders of the beginning of Lent and Ash Wednesday.  The hashtag #AshTag is trending on Twitter.  There’s blogs upon blogs upon blogs suggesting ways to make the most of your Lenten season.  There’s Instagrams left and right of people’s ashy foreheads (guilty!).  There are even a few new and very cool apps out there that are specifically for meditation and reminders to pray daily and not to eat meat on Fridays during Lent.

It’s an incredibly interesting time to live.
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The Mass is Long

Not too long ago, I came upon this meme on Facebook….and, boy has it stuck with me.

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I’ve read many things written by many saints.  But, this particular sentence hit me right where it hurts.  Not because I don’t love the Mass and not because I would ever leave early because I “had to be somewhere else.”  There is no where I could or would ever need to be that is more important than at Mass.

Sometimes, though, I am internally annoyed because the priest chose the longest Eucharistic prayer.  Or, I roll my eyes at my husband when I see which priest is saying Mass because his homilies are always far longer than I think they should be.  Or, my favorite priest, much as I love him, decides to sing ALL.THE.MASS.PARTS.  Or the choir decides to do an especially long performance type piece a the offeratory.  How quick I am to groan, internally or audibly.

I saw this picture and read these words and I was put in my place.  It’s a short enough sentence that I can’t forget it.  It has stuck with me even though I wasn’t TRYING to get it to stick with me.  It jumps directly into my brain as soon as I start to get impatient with something at Mass or if I’m having a rough time with the kids or I am annoyed with someone sitting nearby with their loud breathing or constant chattering.

It’s no one else’s fault, especially not the priests’, that I lose my patience and focus at Mass.  MY shortness of love is the problem.  And that’s the last kind of love I want to show to my Lord or anyone else.  This week more than ever, I pray that I might enjoy all the “long” Masses and events of Holy Week with an abundance of love.

Retired Presbyterian pastor: How I became a Catholic

Below is a link to an interview with a former Presbyterian pastor who decided to convert to Catholicism.  This is from the great state of Alabama, where the population is 2% Catholic.  So, this is kind of a big deal.  And, for it to be covered by our major news outlets is an even bigger deal.

Mr. McCrummen gives some fantastic and thought-provoking answers to very tough questions, presumably asked by a non-Catholic interviewer (though, i honestly don’t know).  Definitely a great read and one that would be worth sharing with Protestant friends who have questions about the Catholic church or those who are actively pursuing it.

Retired Presbyterian pastor Norman McCrummen: How I became a Catholic

Cutting through the B.S.: A Catholic Voting Guide

I am so fed up with this election (is it November 7th yet?). I have been stubbornly attempting to ignore anything even remotely connected to it.  I have refused to watch any debate, I have “hidden” my political advocate Facebook friends, and I have been flat out avoiding Twitter.

Then, almost by accident, I stumbled upon a blog post that outlined the moral implications of this election.  In it, the author asserted that the way in which I vote has eternal implications – not just for our country, but for my soul.

He quoted Bishop Lori:

“The question to ask is this: Are any of the candidates of either party, or independents, standing for something that is intrinsically evil, evil no matter what the circumstances? If that’s the case, a Catholic, regardless of his party affiliation, shouldn’t be voting for such a person.”

Lori certainly is not the only one to point out the dangers to salvation that can be found at the voting booth on November 6th.  Bishop Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois recently commented:

“A vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.”

I’ve spent many hours in prayer and consideration since reading these words.   I realized that while I knew where I stood on most of the hot-button issues of this election and had (along with most of the country) already made up my mind about who I was going to vote for, I hadn’t truly considered the weight of these issues – nor had I really considered the many important issues that no one was talking about.  If my soul is on the line, perhaps a little more due diligence was in order.

So, I took to the magical interwebs to find out what the Church really teaches in regard to voting and my soul.

Here is a short compilation of what various Catholic/Christian bloggers and theologians are saying:

…discover they all were over the age of 18 during the 2012 Presidential Election.

Well, that’s it – I suppose we can all just jump in the hand basket and get ready for Hell…

I decided not to give up hope just yet.  I imagined that perhaps this collection of would-be political theologians was missing some essential Truth – some nugget of salvation that would save my immortal soul from the imminent damnation of the 2012 Presidential Election.

The core of the “you’re going to hell if you vote for (insert candidate name here)” argument is based around the Church teaching that we cannot condone intrinsic evils with our votes.  As the Bishop’s document Faithful Citizenship states:

There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called “intrinsically evil” actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. (22)

I figured this idea of intrinsic evil seemed to be a good place to start informing my conscience on who should get my vote (if anyone).

Catholic Voter’s Guide: First Draft

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Youth Ministers – More Than Meets the Eye

Most youth ministers who are worth their salt will happily and proudly tell you that they went into this field of work because they felt called to it.  And, I definitely agree.  Being a youth minister is 100% a vocation.  You have to have a deep understanding of the overall mission of the Church, believe in the young Church even when they seem like a lost cause, and want nothing more than to equip, empower, teach, and lead those “lost causes” into the arms of Christ.

I’ve made it 7 years w/o owning a clown, chicken, gorilla, or any other type of costume.

But, there is a huge, huge, HAAA-UUUGE misunderstanding about what youth ministers do, particularly for people who aren’t actively involved in youth ministry or who don’t have youth of their own.  And, not surprisingly, the teens don’t “see the forest for the trees” so to speak.  They (and many others) think that youth ministers spend a lot of time “hanging out with teens” or “going on fun trips” or “getting pies in their faces” or “eating pizza.”

While all those things are undoubtedly things that most of us have done (what youth group would be complete without pizza or messy games?), that’s not WHAT WE DO.  Those are things that happen that we participate in.  We don’t pursue this calling, this VOCATION, just to go to summer camp or water parks.

So, here is a very, very short list of some of the roles/jobs that are required of youth ministers…some of the things that people may not realize that we do on a regular basis.

1.) Teacher & Google

Our number one job is to catechize the youth of the Church.  We have a responsibility to teach them the truths & teachings of the Catholic faith in a orthodox way that they can understand, discuss, and process.  And, not only do we have to know and understand WHAT we’re teaching (and do so in a systematic way), but we have to be ready to be a human Google about any and all faith-related questions.  No matter how prepared you think you are, teens have an amazing talent of asking the most random, outside the box, unexpected questions that you DIDN’T plan for.  But, you’ve got to be ready to answer.



2.) Event Planner

Every single week, at least once a week and sometimes more than once, we have to event plan.  From food to engaging activities to handouts to prayers to atmosphere, every detail has to be lined up and ready to go.  We worry about enough to eat, the right lighting, the sound system working, the teens having a good time.  Every.Single.Week.  And, on top of that, there are ACTUAL parties we plan – Fall Kick Off, Advent Party, Retreats (at least 2-3 a year), Senior Dinners, etc.  We get really good at knowing how much food to bring and what kind of music sets the right mood.

 
3.) Spiritual Guide/Moral Compass
We are in constant conversation with the teens who are in the youth group (some more regularly than others).  And, that means constant questions about their spiritual lives, making moral choices, living rightly, etc. come up. Some teens are very open and keep you up to date on everything happening and want your advice practically daily.  Others will hit you up via text, phone call, Facebook message, etc. only when there’s a big problem or they feel confused, anxious, need prayers, lonely, sad, whatever emotion.  We have a huge responsibility to be in direct conversation with the Holy Spirit on a regular basis so that we can do our best to respond and guide these young people into the love of Christ.



4.) Supporter/Cheerleader
Games.  Concerts.  Performances.  Buying what they are selling for teams, choirs, groups, etc.  We are there as much as we can.  We are supporting them constantly via social media.  We have to be aware of big tests, auditions, games, college submissions, try-outs, whatever so that we can ask about it, cheer them on, and support them through the process.  We have to encourage them when those things take precedence over Church things (as they do, more often than not).  We feel their joy when they succeed and their hurt when they fail.

5.) Reference

If there’s a college scholarship, organization, group, or job that needs a reference letter for a teenager, we have probably written a recommendation, filled out a form, or answered questions over the phone.  If a kid is regularly involved in the youth group (and, heck, sometimes if they are not!), the youth minister is generally #1 on the list to ask for a recommendation.  And, boy, those things can be difficult to write sometimes!

6.) Confidant

On many occasions, we are brought into serious situations happening in teens‘ lives, families, and relationships.  And, I do mean serious.  From deaths of family members and friends to abuse in homes to suicide attempts to drug problems and teen pregnancies (just to name a few), we’ve all been there.  We’re often contacted first by the family or been told in confidence about something before a counselor or police officer.  We’ve lost sleep, cried, sought counsel, prayed and prayed and prayed some more.  We’ve watched pain unfold, seen teens leave the faith, and, thankfully, seen healing and growth, too.

Ultimately, the vocation of youth ministry is a call to LOVE a very specific group of people in ways that are very specific to their needs.  And, it’s anything but easy.  It’s an uphill battle 90% of the time.  It’s a thankless job where maybe 10 out of every 100 teens or families ever offers gratitude for what you’ve done.

But, we don’t say “yes” because it’s easy and we don’t do it to be told “thanks”.  We do it because it’s part of the mission of the Church – it’s OUR part of the mission.  Though my time as a youth minister will soon be coming to an end, my love for the young Church has not and will not ever change.  Being a youth minister has formed me into the adult, wife, mother, and friend that I am.  I am thankful I was called to it.

Social Media Can Foster Real, Meaningful Relationships

“Teenagers today don’t even know how to form a complete sentence because of technology.”

“People who use social media all the time don’t know how to engage in ‘real’ relationships.”

“He took his own life because of Facebook.”

“140 characters of evangelization? More like 140 characters of narcissism.”

I recently attended an in-service about using technology to pass on our faith and I was more shocked than I should have been at the vitriol (sorry, sometimes the English major in me really cannot pass up a great vocab word) that poured forth from my peers.

I shouldn’t have been shocked because I’m aware it’s out there – I hear it occasionally from parents, parish staff members and other adults I know. I was shocked partly because I’m so immersed into the culture of the inter-webs (as my grandmother still calls it) and social media that I can often be blind to its downfalls, but also partly because I just flat out disagree with so much of the criticism.

Authenticity

One critique I hear is that the anonymity of the Internet allows us to try on different personas and different attitudes in different places. This may have been true even 2 or 3 years ago, but today? Today, my Facebook and Twitter accounts are linked to my blog. My LinkedIn account talks to Google+ and any photo I take with Instagram gets posted on all my social networking sites. In other words, today it’s all connected.

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Good coffee won’t save your soul – Part 2

Why are we so infatuated with coffee or preaching or music, if it isn’t the most important thing?  Are we that shallow? Why do we lose the point in the midst of all the things trying to make the point?CoffeWorship

We know when we have a good cup of coffee.

Things like coffee can be judged and measured. We know when we have heard a good homily because we have an emotional or intellectual reaction. We know when the music works for us because our toe taps, and we are tempted, dare I say it, to sing and pray along.  We know when we walk into a church, look up into the mosaic covered dome and utter “Oh my God” (not at all in vain) in reaction the undeniable beauty before our eyes.

We want to know something has happened when we go to Church. We want to be able to observe or even measure the value we received.  If Church is going to be worth our time, we want to know that it worked.  Not only do we want Church to be actually good for us, we want to be aware, to know, that it was good.

Thus, we put more importance on good music, entertaining preaching (did I laugh?), and coffee because when those things are good, we know we got something out of Mass.  When those things aren’t good we often walk out of Mass and don’t know that we were affected.  We may even think nothing has happened. Read More

Good coffee won’t save your soul – Part 1

There is a plague that has run rampant in Catholic Churches for years. Few have sought to end this scourge. Most have just accepted this fact as an unchangeable reality. The elderly sigh and talk about the good ol’ days when things were different. The young don’t bother to come to the Church for this anymore because they can get fancier, flashier versions somewhere else. The world has become so relativistic that some even challenge the notion that there is good and bad of this fundamental substance.

Of course, I’m talking about coffee.Coffee Cup

Church coffee is notoriously bad. When our bulletin folders are in the office, the coffee is so thin you could read the bulletin through it. For some reason, when particular people make coffee, there is this oily film covering the top. Some days the coffee is so wretched to call it burnt sludge would be an insult to burnt sludge.

Frustrated and deeply desiring a “real” cup of coffee, I made a desperate move. I went to Target and purchased an $18 coffee maker, $3 worth of filters, and an $8 bag of good beans. I brought them back to my office and brewed myself some good coffee. It was magnificent. Read More

The Lenten Police

I just wanna tell you how I'm feeling...

We all made it through the exciting first day of Lent (and there’s no possible way you could’ve missed it what with all the Facebook reminders to “Attend Ash Wednesday!” and blogs with suggestions on what to do for Lent or explanations of what I am or am not giving up, etc.).

On Thursday, we faced the reality of what we gave up for the next 40 days when we realized how challenging this or that things might be to do or not to do.

And, now we’re sitting here on our first Meatless Friday – perhaps having forgotten and had a bite of meat to eat and then face-palming upon remembering the Lenten season.

Hopefully, we are finally firmly planted in Lent. With our sacrifices imbedded in our brain, we’re suddenly noticing what others are doing or seeing it unfold as we spend time with our friends and family and someone orders water instead of coke or is reading a book when they would normally be watching TV.

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