Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Setting up for the Party

What's the party? It's one you don't want to miss! It lasts 50 days! Which makes sense...because it's celebrating the most important thing that ever happened! It's the celebration of Easter, when Jesus rose from the dead and conquered the powers of sin and death. But we're not there yet. Before the party there must be preparation. Lent

Lent begins today on Ash Wednesday when we are reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Seems maybe a questionable way to begin. What does our dustiness have to do with Jesus' resurrection?

It's puts us in the right place. It reminds us that we're not as awesome as we thought. It humbles us. And we need to be humble so that we can properly receive Jesus when Easter comes.

The disciplines of Lent - fasting, prayer and alms-giving - bring us back to the basics of what's really important in life and give us the opportunity to see with clearer vision what we really need and what we really don't.

And it's then, when we have removed the unnecessary things from life (or added necessary things) that we are much more ready to welcome Christ. A house full of boxes and bags with haphazardly arranged furniture isn't good for welcoming guests into so neither is a soul that's distracted, dirty and disordered good for welcoming Christ into.

So, this Lent I encourage you to take time and spend the effort to make yourself ready for Christ. It's definitely worth the effort.

And after all, the setup is only 40 days.

On the effort, i.e. the fasting, praying and alms-giving, don't be intimidated. Grand efforts aren't as necessary as it may seem. Little sacrifices, if done with the right spirit, can be much more fruitful that huge efforts done, say, out of fear of fire and brimstone. Start small. Do simple things and then take the fruit of those to build up your discipline. In the end, I promise you that the rewards are sweeter than the trials.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Deficit of Young Adults in Church Employment

So, there I was, sitting in the seminary coffee shop starting to review from the day’s classes. Across the room in two leather chairs was a guy in 3rd theology and another young man that I didn’t recognize. I wasn’t intentionally listening to their conversation but it was obvious after a few minutes that they were planning the 3rd year guy’s upcoming deaconate ordination. The very next thought following that understanding was “Why is that Protestant helping Chris plan the mass for his ordination?

This thought surprised me in itself because I didn’t know where it came from. Why did I think that this well dressed, backpack carrying guy was a protestant? (This ends up complimentary of Protestants; don’t worry.) Here he was at a Catholic school talking to a Catholic about a Catholic event and yet something had told me that he wasn’t Catholic. It took me a few moments to figure out what I was seeing that I didn’t realize I was seeing. It’s this:

In my mind, in the Catholic Church, lay (non-ordained) people in leadership positions are older. Or, said the opposite way, it’s only the protestants that have young people (mid-20s, early 30s) that are actively taking leadership roles in the Church. This is, of course, just my private observation but I think it’s a fair one. At least on average, young protestants seem more likely to be working for the Church than young Catholics.

Now, it could just be that I see it this way because my experience in this matter mostly comes from college where there were tons of protestant campus ministries staffed obviously by college-aged Protestants versus only one Catholic group staffed by a proportionate number of college-aged Catholics.

If I had never been around other Church stuff in the last 2 years I would just explain it is an experiential bias and not worry about it but that isn’t the case. While I haven’t been keeping records, I have been around many different Catholic churches in different parts of the country over the past years and I don’t recall there being many young people around in leadership.

As their conversation continued I kept thinking about the above and when the pseudo-Protestant left I asked Chris who he was. This young, energetic, well dressed guy was, I think, the Liturgical Coordinator for Chris’ diocese. I don’t know exactly what that means but I’m pretty sure it’s at least moderately important.

The point, I suppose, is that while we certainly need young men and women as priests and nuns, the Church also needs accountants and planners and whoever else big, state-wide organizations need.

Maybe it’s an old-guard kind of thing where Bishops and Pastors just don’t hire young people (less likely). Or maybe it’s a financial thing where the Church can only afford to be staffed with people that are retired and will work for free or for low pay (more likely). If it’s the former, well, that I think will change on its own. If it’s the latter, we in the pews need to help out. (Catholics are notoriously poor givers to the Church)

There are probably 20 different variables that I’m not taking into account here but I still think that it’s fair to encourage more young people to be excited about the Church and to be concerned with its welfare such that they want to work for it.
I have asked some friends of mine that do work for the Church if the above ideas have any merit and from what I've heard, this is the case. Especially, again, from what I've heard, it is because parishes can't afford to hire young people whereas our Protestant friends can.

This post isn't about making any judgments or declarations of what ought to be done but rather just about pointing out a situation.

God bless little old Dorothy or Mildred or Agnes but they won't be around forever. I think the Church needs and deserves young, energetic people working in ministry but in administration as well. The Church needs the help of it's members not just during mass.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Reality Check Concerning the March for Life

I have been to the March for Life three times now and while I understand that this doesn't certify me as an expert, as a generally pretty good observer I feel like I ought to offer the following reality-check type thoughts. (This is meant to end up as motivation not discouragement, I promise.)

1. Very few people on the national scene care about or are even aware of it. Was there any media coverage of it in your area; on TV, in the paper, on the radio? Excluding niche services like EWTN and your local diocesan newspaper it pretty much gets zero coverage. If it got popular media outlet coverage in your area I would be interested to know.

2. Very few politicians in Washington care. I admit that this is greater speculation on my part but it seems pretty likely to be true. Some representatives may have had their offices invaded by brightly dressed high-schoolers but in many other offices business probably proceeded quite as usual. Concerning President Obama; while there may have been a few extra secret service men around him on the day of the march I think I can be pretty sure that he wasn't peeking between the blinds of his office fretting about all the Pro-Life people outside. Again, I would like to be be wrong here so if you know different, please share.

3. The local impact, if any, beyond financial, is short lived. I was on the National Mall both the morning and afternoon of the march as well as on the morning and afternoon after the march. On Monday, the day of the march, there were hundreds of thousands of people, banners and signs everywhere, music, chants, prayers etc... The next day, with the exception of one or two tattered signs laying in the gutter and a crew disassembling a non-descript stage there was absolutely no sign that anything noteworthy had happened recently. I went to lunch at Qdoba a few blocks from the Nat. Mall and it was full of blue and white collar people on lunch break. In that whole time I was there at lunch as well as while passing people on the streets and paused at crosswalks, at no time did I hear even a mention of or an allusion to anything related to the March for Life. As I met my fellow seminarians back at Union Station on Tuesday afternoon, the day after the march, I couldn't help but feel that the entire D.C. area endured the minor inconvenience of half-a-million extra people for one day and then promptly ceased caring.

4. The March for Life itself is rather un-unified and anticlimactic. Yes there are a huge number of people supporting the specific cause of Pro-Life but their methods and philosophies differ greatly. It's good to see so many people and groups but I think the message looses force because of the disparity. In that sense it's un-unified. It's anticlimactic, I think, in that once we march to the supreme court building most people's thought process shifts to "Okay, now where do I throw this sign away?" and "Where was it my group agreed to meet?"

5. This is the one time per year that people are Pro-Life. It is hard to beat the energy and motivation that comes from standing in the midst of and marching with 500,000 people that support the same cause but it seems that not enough of that energy carries over into the other 364 days of the year. It seems that many people treat the March for Life as there once per year check-box for being Pro-Life. They'll maybe post a few facebook comments before and after the march but then mostly forget about the idea again until they get on the bus for D.C. again next year. (This part is definitely spoken from personal doing this though I don't think it's a stretch to say I was/am alone in this.) 500,000 people in D.C. but just 2 people praying out in front of Planned Parenthood...something is amiss.

After having said all that though, please hear me out further. I do think the March for Life is important but I shared the above negative opinions hopefully as motivation for people to take the Pro-Life movement more seriously and maybe be more productive with time and resources.

The March for Life in D.C. is something that I think is very good for people new to being proactively Pro-Life to experience because it shows them that it is more than just something their youth director or their pastor likes to harp on. There are people from all over the country and all over the world that care about this. No one is alone in their defense of life. That being said though, I think (no "I declare") it would be most productive for someone to go to D.C. one or two times and then thereafter use that time and those resources to do positive things closer to home.

One of the things that is most promising to me is the emergence of more local marches in other big cities like San Francisco but also in smaller but notable towns like Tulsa, OK. It unites people across the country in a different kind of way. Rather than the experience of "I'm here in D.C. with people from everywhere." it can be "I'm here supporting life in my home town at the same time as people all across the country." And a bonus is that it doesn't require a long bus trip!

The day before the march and on the day of there are various large masses around D.C.. There is one for 6,000 plus people at the National Basilica and I would guess over 15,000 at the Verizon Center (seats 18,000 for basketball games) with no doubt many others at local parishes. This is awesome. Bringing heaven down to earth in the Mass is always a good thing. The more of that the better.

Now, during the march itself there are various little groups praying the Rosary or perhaps a Chaplet of Divine Mercy and this is all well and good but as I said earlier, it seems rather un-unified. I know it would be logistically impossible for a mile long procession to pray a rosary together in unison  but what if the march were led by a Eucharistic procession? That would be really powerful I think!

Other thoughts: I've never been really good at history but it seems like other groups that wanted to come to D.C. and make a difference came but didn't leave in 24 hours. I am not advocating public disorder or even 'Occupy' type tactics but what if there were events going on for days (or weeks!) both before and after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, not causing trouble exactly but making the message much harder to ignore? (There are probably a whole myriad of legal, financial and other difficulties with this that I have no idea about, but regardless, the question seems at least worth asking.)

The purpose of sharing all these thoughts is not to discount the March for Life but rather to encourage reform and motivation in the way the Pro-Life movement is carried out both on the national and local stage, to give motivation to those who feel that the March isn't as effective as it could be and to help people see that being Pro-Life isn't just a one day per year duty.

St. Gianna Molla, Pray for us!