Getting Schooled

It’s taken me forever to find time to finally write a blog.  But, here I am!!  And, I wanted to write on a topic that’s been on my heart and mind a whole lot over the past few years, probably since my first child was born almost 4 years ago.  And, in recent days, it seems to be a topic that keeps popping up over and over again in conversations and Catholic circles in which I run.

imgChoosing schooling for our children.

It’s been out there, hanging in the marital and family atmosphere since my son was born.  When knew the days would come when he would be old enough to have to begin formal education and we would have to decide which route we wanted to at least begin with.  And, when it’s your first child and you have no experience with any type of school one way or the other, it’s overwhelming to think about.

I went to all Catholic school, from kindergarten through college.  Every minute spent in a school uniform (well, up until college), nuns as some of my teachers, retreats & Mass as a regular part of our curriculum.  I was not homeschooled ever, though one of my sisters and one of my brothers both were for a short amount of time.  Those same two were the only ones in our family who ever attended public school.  I had some public school friends from work and activities that I did outside of the school, but not many.

I knew plenty of homeschoolers especially through our family prayer group.  I went to college with A LOT of homeschooled people.  In fact, I am married to someone who was homeschooled for a large part of his education (and, incidentally, who received his college education through the seminary).
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Eyes Wide Open

It’s been a rough 2 weeks.  I’m not looking for pity, and I know that others’ have crosses that are a lot bigger than mine, but the past few weeks have been one thing after another going wrong.  I feel like God’s putting me through a second Lent – a season of penance – but I don’t know why.  Didn’t I do Lent well enough the first time?  When do I get my Easter, damn it?

Again?  No!

Again? Please no!

That’s just part of an email I sent to a friend yesterday morning.  I was cranky and mildly depressed wondering why all of these little things kept going wrong.  Then, yesterday, I was reading through the letters to the Bishop written by the high school Juniors who will be receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation on May 19.  They write these letters to the bishop requesting the sacrament and telling him why they want it.  Even through they’re addressed to the bishop, I read each one.

This screening helps me discover who has slipped through the cracks in our Confirmation process and maybe isn’t ready for this Sacrament quite  yet:  “I’m really a practicing Buddhist, but my parents are making me do this.  I don’t believe in Jesus at all – but whatever.  Better safe than sorry, I guess.”  (Direct quote from a letter 3 years ago).

It also saves me the embarrassment of revealing the catechetical confusion that occasionally results from our faith formation classes: “I picked the name Jacob for my Confirmation name because he was Joseph’s dad. If Jacob done even one thing differently when he raised Joseph, Joseph might not have married Mary and become a father figure to Jesus.” (sigh)

See, Jacob's son Joseph was the one with the technicolor dreamcoat

See, Jacob’s son Joseph was the one with the technicolor dreamcoat…

Mary's husband Joseph lived thousands of years later and his father was...Oh nevermind.

…but Mary’s husband Joseph lived thousands of years later and his father was…

Awww hell, just forget it.

It’s not all weeping and banging my head on my desk though.  Often, I am privy to some deeply faithful insights.  Usually those make me beam with no small amount of pride, but I’m working on eradicating pride right now, so this year I read them asking God to reveal to me, through these teenagers, what I needed most to hear.  And then I read this:

“God plays a big role in everyone’s life.  You just have to open your eyes to see how. Sometimes He speaks in ways that seem little, but are really the most important.”

Bam. Read More

Saying Goodbye to My Papa

It’s odd saying goodbye to a pope who hasn’t died.  But, saying goodbye to this pope in particular is very personal to me.  It seems that Pope Benedict and I have run a course of ironic similarity over the past nearly 8 years.

Don’t worry.  I don’t consider myself papal or even close to the holiness and greatness that is our former Holy Father.  However, as my husband and I were discussing all of this and making our predictions about who might be elected next (and, calculating that there will probably be at least 2 more popes in our lifetime), I realized that good ol’ Benny and I have some major things in common.
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Relevance or Truth? (circle one)

I usually love Bad Catholic Marc Barnes’ blog. I love how he is able to be smart and witty at the same time and that he writes at above a 7th grade level (while most blogs seem to fall below that mark).  On many days, I agree with him 100% and can point people to his writing and say, “Read this!  He speaks for me – and does it much more eloquently than I!”

Today is not one of those days.

In his typically eloquent response to a horrid opinion piece in the Washington Post called The church young Catholics want, I think Marc misses the mark.  In the WaPo piece, the author demands that the Catholic church become relevant to the youth today, and in her opinion, relevance means toeing the cultural line on issues like homosexuality, abortion, contraception, and women’s ordination.

Marc argues

Relevance is the worst factor for determining the goodness of a thing since we dunked witches in the river to see whether they’d float.

After railing against youth ministry that uses skits, contemporary Christian music, and social media, Marc concludes:

Kill relevance, seek transcendence.

While I think Marc is absolutely right to rail against “relevance” to the exclusion of everything else – including the Truth – I think his piece is missing something.

This is not an either/or situation, but a both/and.

We do not have to reject true relevance that goes where youth are.  And yes, social media IS where they are.

We do not have to reject relevance that speaks to their life experiences.  From the very real experiences of suffering, sin, and grace they encounter as youth to the real experience of listening to One Direction and texting during class.

We do not have to reject relevance that speaks their language.   The only way they can learn the rich vocabulary of theology and ecclesiology in the Church is if we help them translate it.

The combox kills again

I think what Marc is trying to say is that people who do crappy youth ministry, who water down the Truth in favor of a pandering, cheesy theology, and who do it all in the name of “relevance” are missing the boat because their watered down, effeminate, pansy gospel is actually irrelevant.

Unfortunately, if that is what he is trying to say, the message is lost.  If he’s arguing for both relevance and the Transcendental, if he’s arguing for us to consecrate (as we are called to do by virtue of our common priesthood) the world in which these youth live instead of condemn it, if he’s arguing for us to just be more cautious in our use of the secular and to temper our desire to be relevant with good, solid catechesis and sharing of the Truth, then I’m not the only one who missed it – so did most of the commenters in his combox.

I’m fifteen, and “happy happy joy joy” Christianity just ticks me off. In an attempt to be hip and cool, all formality, reverence, and beauty is muffled.

I don’t want relevance, I want reverence!

From her article: “We do not need answers; we need to engage the world.” False. They need solid catechesis and sufficient explanation.

If I wanted a church that was “with the times” and “relevant” I would become one of those non-denominational hipster Christians.

Relevance AND Truth

The Gospel can be shared in a way that is relevant without being watered-down.

Good youth ministry can catechize and still include skits, and even KLove on occasion.

Good youth ministry can be on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and can evangelize in those places and teach the teens to be evangelize there as well.

Good youth ministry is first and foremost about sharing the Truth with them, but it also must be relevant.

After all, Jesus showed us over and over again how to be relevant without losing the beauty of the Truth.  He started where the people were (oftentimes in the midst of sin and in sinful places), they used the life experiences of the people to teach (parables of shepherds and farming) and to share the truth.

On the road to Emmaus Jesus walked with those two disciples (they were going the wrong way), asked questions, and really listened to them before he spoke a single word of Truth to them. And when he did speak Truth, he answered the questions they had, and spoke a language they understood – he was relevant.

What do you think?  How can we better balance the need to be relevant while at the same time sharing Truth and allowing them to opportunity to experience and reflect on the Transcendental?

Being Present

I wrote this blog about how volunteering at our local warming shelter opened up my eyes to much more than just the plight of the homeless.

The unexpected happened. Something none of my mission trips, immersion retreats, or service outings had prepared me for. This was the first time I had served the homeless community in my own town, and I was not prepared to know some of the guests. I was not prepared to see former teens and the parents of teens come in from the cold with everything the owned in a backpack on their back.

At first, I felt helpless. I felt so inadequate, certain that futzing with the finicky washing machine for my shift couldn’t do anything for these individuals. I felt like all I could do was to be there, and that being there wasn’t enough.

Read the whole thing

While I focused on how this experience challenged me to be a better youth minister, the reality is that it challenged me to be a better – well, everything.  A better wife, a better mother, a better friend, a better Christian.

The thing is, it’s REALLY hard to be present – there are so many little things that require immediate attention – all at once.

On Saturday, I found myself trying to convince the not-yet-potty-trained-because-apparently-we-don’t-have-this-parenting-thing-figured-out-yet 3 year old not to pull down his dirty diaper in the living room and playing a game of Uno while at the same time showing my husband how to open the vacuum cleaner (which promptly dumped out all over the couch, the kids, me, and the Uno game).  In trying to be present to the dirty diaper, the Uno game, and my husband’s battle with the vacuum, I ended up being present to none of them.

So, I’ve made a commitment to re-read this blog every morning during Lent and to try to focus on just one person or situation I can be fully and totally present to that day – no distractions.  We’ll see how it goes.

How can you be fully present today?

The Changing of the Seasons

It’s often considered “the most wonderful time of the year.”  To many people, even more wonderful than the ACTUAL “most wonderful time of the year” (the birth of Our Lord and Savior).

It’s the changing of the seasons.  And, no.  I’m not talking about the weather-related changes from the warmth and sun of the summer to the coolness and colors of the fall.

Supporting a team while keeping things in perspective

No, I’m talking about the changing of the sports seasons from baseball to football.  Or, as most people understand it in my state, from “not football season” to “football, y’all.”

It’s hard not to love football when you’ve spent your entire life living in the greatest conference of the NCAA and having your entire society revolve around one of the greatest team rivalries in college football.  Some might even argue that this is, in f act, the greatest state FOR college football (at least, in the past decade or so).



(NOTE:  I’m not saying that it IS the greatest state for it, I’m saying that many in this state might argue such.  So, anyone from Texas, Buckeyes, Californians, Sooners, and whoever else disagrees need not send me hate mail or comments touting your state’s glories.  I know there’s lots of great college states out there.)



Anyways, I have to admit that, yes, i DO in fact love football season.  Maybe it is because of the changing temperatures and getting to break out my jeans again.  Maybe it’s the beat of a drum line on a Friday night, echoing across high school campuses.  Maybe it’s the tailgating, wearing your team’s colors, and uniting with fans of the same team, even if you don’t know each other. Read More

Jesus is Sneaky.

I didn’t expect the hand rung bell. I was at a Saturday Evening Mass at a parish in Miacatlan, Mexico.  The Priest had just finished the consecration. We prayed through the Our Father and shared a sign of peace. The Church was mostly a large roof over an open air seating area. Out of the back and around the corner of the far wall came the clanking sound of two hand rung bells. I didn’t know what it was at first. Then I realized; the head communion minister, the two servers, and about 10 other people with banners were processing the Eucharist from the tabernacle to the altar for Communion.

The ministers and honor guard walked slowly and with purpose.  They were careful in their task. Every step and every movement showed the great care and deep respect they held for what they were doing and who they were carrying.  Every couple steps the servers rang these impossibly heavy looking bells. The group was so careful with the Eucharist.  It was as if they were carrying the very body of Jesus Christ (which of course they were).  I was left asking if we are that careful. More importantly I asked, am I that careful with what I carry when I walk out of Church having received Jesus and I am a tabernacle of the Eucharist?

Curiously, this wasn’t the only time I encountered Christ in the Eucharist that trip.  When we stopped by a small chapel in Cuernavaca where the founder of NPH was first pastor, the chapel was open for walk-ins for noontime adoration.  When we visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, a huge monstrance was exposed in a side chapel and many of us stopped to worship. It seemed everywhere I went Jesus was present in the Eucharist.

Reflecting on a summer of Youth Ministry with the CREW at HNOJ, it became abundantly clear God was near us in the Eucharist. At Christpower, our Mission trip to North Minneapolis in partnership with Church of the Ascension, we had a powerful night of Eucharistic adoration.  At the Steubenville Youth Conference in Rochester, Jesus once again came to our young people in the Eucharist during the large session, and our small groups always seemed to end up by the small Adoration Chapel.

Everywhere we turned Jesus was offering us his very body in the Mass and Eucharistic Adoration.  I shouldn’t be shocked that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, but I was legitimately amazed all the times that Jesus snuck himself into a day of Youth Ministry when we had no purposeful intention to meeting him the Eucharist.

I guess Jesus is sneaky. 

Besides being sneaky, Jesus is persistent.  I really felt like Jesus was pursuing us all summer. Every event, every day it seemed like Jesus was physically really there. Every corner we turned at each event, Jesus was there. Jesus just wouldn’t leave us alone.  This is closer to reality then I normally think about.  Jesus really is chasing after us.  He really is coming for us.  Jesus won’t let us just wander without coming to find us.

We are the dropped coin, the lost sheep, the prodigal son, and our God is coming for us.

I think we often talk about people “finding God.”  People may say, “Oh he found Jesus.”  But in reality, Jesus is finding us.  And here is the thing, Jesus doesn’t just come in some metaphorical way or some random turn of events or some supernatural sign – no. Jesus is coming for us physically, really, truly, completely in the Eucharist. Jesus is literally physically running down the road to meet us.  Jesus in the Eucharist isn’t a symbol, idea, poem, or myth.  The physical, fleshy God of the universe, incarnate (which means ‘taking on flesh’) in Jesus Christ, has come to find us.  God doesn’t send an angel or a cloud shaped like heart to tell us he loves us and wants to be with us, God comes himself.

No messenger, no poetry, no text message or tweet – the God that breathed the stars has come physically to find you and me.

What are you going to do when he finds you?  How are you going to respond when God Almighty offers his body to you at the next Mass you attend?  What are you going to do the next time you step into that Eucharistic Adoration Chapel at HNOJ?  How will you react the next time you come into the physical present of God?

Confession: I Miss THEM.

Who thought I would ever miss them?

You know who I am talking about – those people who annoy the crap out of you because  they are messing around in Target while you are trying to grocery shop with your toddler…the ones who cut you off in traffic or speed past you when you’re trying to change lanes because they really don’t know how to drive yet…the folks who clog up your newsfeed with 8 million pictures of themselves and their friends making a variety of faces in pictures together… Read More

Missing: Part of My Identity

This morning was one of the strangest Monday mornings I’ve had in a long time.

I woke up this morning, got my son all settled into breakfast and his morning routine, and then I walked to my computer to check my e-mail and make my weekly “to do list” for work.

And then, realized that there is no longer a need for a “work to-do list” because I am officially retired from youth ministry and am entering into my “stay at home mom” years.

I’ve been praying about, waiting for, and counting down to this day for a couple of years.  I knew it was coming, but it always seemed like it was out there on the horizon – something to talk about and wait for, but nothing that would actually happen.

And, now that it’s upon me, I’m not sure how I feel.  Happy, a little sad, nostalgic, free, excited, overwhelmed with the rest of my life.  But, the biggest emotion that is surprising me is something I can’t put a word on…confused?  lost?  useless? Read More

My Final Youth Ministry Trip

I just returned from my final youth group trip.  And, boy did I pick a doozy to be the last chapter in my tenure as youth minister.  It was a mission trip…that was the longest trip we’ve done…and, it had some interesting challenges to it.

Here’s the thing – it’s a mission trip.  If you don’t know what being on “mission” means, you need to do some research before you commit to going.  I am not saying I don’t know – I’ve been on mission before.  But, in case you haven’t, here are some things you should expect.
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