Friday, December 21, 2007

Mother Angelica - Nun, Saint, CEO

I just finished Raymond Arroyo's MOTHER ANGELIA: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles.

I'm late reading this remarkable book about a even more remarkable woman. I guess I didn't expect much more than platitudes of an employee about his employer. Big mistake.

The book reads more dramatically than the best crime mystery. And there are crimes in this book, if not by the liberal bishops of the Catholic Church (why can't the Vatican dismiss them as rebellious children they are) or the mafia syndicate bosses Mother gets to fund and build her projects.

But led of God like none other, she is as John Paul II called her has he gripped her face and wimple "The Grand Chief! The Grand Chief!" He couldn't straighten out the liberal church in America, but the nun with only a high school education could.

During the last 1/2 of the book, I felt that if the Catholic Church hierarchy and it's membership in America was 1/2 as true to Christ's calling as this woman was, the anti-Catholic bigotry by some few radical Protestants, and ignorant pagans, would be silenced. The American Catholic Church, in many ways, deserves the bad press it gets. I saw it growing up in Dearborn, MI, I've experienced it in the halls of conferences with arrogant priests who refuse to wear collars, and I've read the columns, and heard the homilies that sound more like moral relativists and Protestants than men of God who have promised obedience to the Pope, and we've all seen it in the recent priest scandals. Now, come the stories surrounding Mother Angelica that reinforce my own experiences.

It is sad, but joyous at the same time. The parallel between some of the American bishops the Pharisees in Jesus' time are perfect. If you don't think the Pharisees exist today, read it here. Aroyyo mentions names, and properly so. But, the joyous part of this book, is to see God mightly at work with someone the world would normally think totally incapable of doing it. God likes using people with little education and making them smarter than the rest of the world. I can say that, I have a earned Ph.D., and I don't think I'm 1/12 as smart or led of God as people like Mother Angelica or my good friend Steve Ray (who, although he has only a formal high school education has written a book being used by seminaries.)

There's a big lesson in all this. Obey God. Give yourself totally to him. Be smart. Study where you can, and learn lessons. And, as in Mother's case, see the great value of physical suffering. If Christ had to suffer the way he did to change the world, doesn't it make sense that we have to be open to it as well.

Read this book. It should change your life, or give you hope. If it does neither, you're dead.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

MySpace Promotion of the Satanic

We had a situation come up today, where I decided it would be a good idea to sign up for a MySpace page and do a little investigation. My recent concern has been with the demonic influence on some teens I know. That's NOT what I went to MySpace to look for, but it found me nonetheless.

On MySpace I filled out my profile as much as I cared to, and I did not want to misrepresent my age or sex (I'm a 60 year old man). So, I filled in my birthday. When I submitted my information, I noticed that next to a few other descriptions that I entered (such as "Catholic apologist") the system described me as of the Zodiac Sign of Aries. This I knew. But I also noticed that the word "Aries" was hyperlinked.

Before I clicked on the "Aries" link, I noticed the top banner ad that was now flashing at the top of the page. It read, in large type: "Goth Test: Are You Goth Quiz?" Oh, boy! I thought. We had just had a somewhat traumatic Thanksgiving in part triggered because a pre-teen we know wanted to have her nose pierced. (Goth's like piercings, if you didn't know...and be glad you don't.)

I clicked on the banner ad. I hope you're sitting down. I will actually edit it somewhat, but here are portions of the quiz that is accessible to kids that click on this banner ad. (Actually the banner ad is bad enough and is visible to everyone when it cycles up.)
Take this goth quiz if you dare! Find out if you truly embrace the darkness, if you are one with the night creatures, or...if you're a poseur and really belong at the mall with the other brainwashed minions of consumerism. How goth are you?
[Here is question 4]
Do you wear a Catholic cross? (pick one of the following)
--Hell no. I'm a Goth, not a Catholic. I worship Satan
--An ornate one, for the aesthetic
--As an ironic statement, and/or among other jewelry
--No, I don't own one.
--Yes, and it's covered in bling (jewelry)
For me, a Christian, just the suggestion behind the "goth quiz" is repulsive. The Bible is clear that those that play around with such things will bring upon themselves curses, not blessings.

But then I clicked on the "Aries" designation in my profile. Guess where I was taken? Are you sitting down...NOW? I was taken to "Tarot.com" where I was inundated with blogs, links, and articles about "my horoscope" "cosmic guidance" "Numerology" my "Tarot Card for Today", and other forbidden-by-God (may he be praised forever) things like "Sun and Chinese signs," "Moon and rising signs," "Palm reading"...and much more. Then, at the bottom I was told "Share Tarot.com with a friend and earn 10 Free Karma Coins." I suggest you don't die with such currency win your pocket.

GOD HELP US FROM AN IDIOT CULTURE!!!

If you're not aware, all of this is the antithesis of what is good, true, and beautiful. It is evil, bad, and ugly...and it will lead people literally into the darkness of sadness, depression, and rebellion. We've seen it.

So, will I stay on MySpace? Yes I will! I intend, with some other Catholic friends who are already there, to light a candle in the darkness, and start a communication campaign with the management of MySpace for something that is spiritually more safe. I encourage you to do the same.

I think I'm going to post this on my MySpace blog. It'll be a good beginning. Let's CHANGE culture into something that is good, true, and beautiful, and not submit to its ugly underside.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"Getting" vs. "Receiving"

We produced a short video on Confession based on a script and VO by Dr. Ray Guarendi, and are thinking of doing a series of them as PSAs. You can watch the first one by clicking on the link at the top of the left column at NinevehsCrossing.com. In an email to our list I asked for feedback. Here's one comment and my response. If I don't make it clear below, I think A.S. is more right than I am. (SW)
----
A.S. wrote:

Hello, Stan--

I wanted to respond to your invitation to let you know my thoughts regarding the video on Confession.

I think it’s excellent and inviting to all, especially those who have fear around this Sacrament or who, for other reasons, might have stayed away from it. It helps the viewer want to connect or reconnect with the Lord before he or she even gets to the confessional. The only thing that struck me in a negative way was the very last part when Ray said “...Confession is an opportunity to get God’s love, mercy, ...” Would it not be every bit as honoring of the Truth to say either “to know God’s love in an ever deepening way” or “to receive God’s love, His mercy, His forgiveness...” I don’t want to be theologically incorrect in any way. As a Catholic convert and therapist, I hear many former Catholics who didn’t receive the truth of the Gospel in love by way of their catechesis and therefore seemed to come away with the idea that it’s all about ‘what I do to get God to love me.’..I could be way off here—There’s just something about the word “get” used in conjunction with “God’s love” in the last sentence that, to me, feels like it almost wrecks all of the tremendous statements that went before.

Thank you for the wonderful job you do of making the Truth known through your apostolate.

God bless you,
A.S.

----

Dear Ann,

Thanks very much for your excellent feedback on our Confession video.

Re: "get" vs. "know" or "receive".

I think you have a valid point. In our Common Ground DVD, Fr. John Riccardo clarifies to Pastor Steve Andrews that when we come forward for The Eucharist it's not so much about taking the body of Christ as it is Christ offering himself to us. (I may have the exact word wrong, but that was the sentiment.) In the same vein we need to be reminded that the sacraments are God's works, not ours. He is constantly giving, more so that we are "taking". God's common grace is ubiquitous to all. We are "recipients" a million over more than we could ever "take" or "get."

The other side of the issue is one of making clear the an important issue (of "getting" to Confession) and motivating people with clear language to do what they ought to be doing for their "own" good. Ray has a way with words, as you may know. He's able to connect with people's motivations. He's going to parse words on the human side of the issue. Using the word "get" in this instance, appeals to the human side of the relationship. Looking at it from God's perspective: God is giving and we're receiving. Looking at it from the sinner's perspective" we're taking and getting.

This reminds me of a conversation I often have with my wife about the use of certain words about human motivation in the process of justification-salvation, or works of charity... and the way a friend of ours positions the whole concept. D.G. is sort of a back-porch philosopher friend who is fond of pointing out that THE basic human need is personal survival. We think and do good and right things for others, he says, because ultimately they make us feel good, or they ensure us salvation. He's not arguing a works based salvation, but rather a basic human need that God has put into us. He'll say that altruism is not entirely selfless, acting altruistic protects us from eternal wrath. He says "You cannot give, help, or serve those in need unless you're alive and healthy enough to walk over and do the work in the first place." He argues that there's a point at which in general terms, taking care of oneself is more important than caring for others. His argument is not to engender selfishness, but to embrace the ability to serve and love one's neighbor. It's the reason the aid workers in destitute parts of the world are careful to get their vaccinations, food, and rest.

My wife doesn't like this argument, and I suspect theologians might not either. I can "get" their point. Most people would not appreciate the finer points of language, here. All they'd be interested in doing -- is "getting." Not good. Perhaps I'm just too selfish, but if the choice between hell and heaven wasn't constantly being dangled in front of me, along with the realization that I have to make hundreds of moral decisions everyday to ensure I "get" to heaven and not go to hell...well, who knows what I might do. My gut feeling as someone who isn't altruistic, nor am I someone who is always thinking of others -- is that I need to "get" to confession. I need to "take" a bath.

In the end I think "getting" and "receiving" are two sides of the same coin.

I'll pass this on to Ray...and the rest of the world, if they care.

Some very early morning thoughts.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Basics of Teen & Adult Faith Formation

In a recent comment, to my blog for August 23, 2007, titled "Basic of Adult Teen Faith Formation" a catechist asked:
Thank you for your emphasis about Sunday School Classes in every Parish Stan. I am a Catechists for 17 nineth graders. We are using Mark Link's 'Path through Catholicism'. What would you suggest for me, the Catechist, that will grab their attention, get them involved with feedback, instead of their look, of the lights are on but nobody is home. Something that will give them a piece of our Faith they can take with them from class that will allow them to build a good Catholic Foundation for their Confirmation next year.
Dear Catechist: Here are some ideas that will work with any religious education curriculum and any age. They are based on the very successful practices of our Evangelical brothers and sisters.

But before I launch into the basics, thee is a foundation that you need to pray for and otherwise work toward with your priest and parish. GET THE PARENTS INVOLVED SPIRITUALLY. Without the enthusiastic participation of parents in the home with all things spiritual, all you can do is pray for a miracle — for the Holy Spirit to capture a kid's attention -- perhaps through you. In that, the following will help.

Run your Catechism class like Evangelicals run Sunday School class. I'm not suggesting you change curriculum; but rather run your class as a RELATIONSHIP building experience between you, your students, their parents, and God. Christian discipleship is mostly about profound personal relationships, which is developed by a combination of both faith (trust in another) and reason (knowing the other). The object is Christ, with you as the role model.

Proper catechesis (or discipleship) develops the student (child, teen, or adult) in both faith and reason, trust and knowledge. That is, proper instruction affects the mind and the heart. The mind is reached through the development of reason, the heart is reached through the development of trust.

In our experience there are five practical components to a sound spiritual formation program for youth. For instructors, we can break them down into these five actionable categories: in class, out of class, with parents or spouses, with students individually, and before God.

1. IN CLASS

A. Make the lesson material personal by engaging students in discussion and asking the following kind of questions: (1) What does the text (textbook, Bible, Catechism) literally say? (2) What does it mean practically in terms of your student's lives and what they do? (3) What examples from their real life can they tell the class about? (4) What questions does the text create in your student's mind?

B. Be prepared to lead the discussion by telling personal stories about yourself and your extended family or children. Then ask them to share from their personal lives. Encourage them to ask you hard questions, and be prepared to give them PRACTICAL (how-to-live) answers. Do not judge them, but do guide them. Help them.

C. Always, in a group, lead them in a time of prayer. Ask for prayer requests, and get the kids to pray for each other extemporaneously. "Dear God, please help Jack to study well, and pass the test next week that he's worried about." "Dear Jesus, give Mary the strength to help her mother through this terrible illness." As much as I love the potency of the written prayers of the Church, get people to pray conversationally from their heart.

D. Make your class times intimate, compassionate times of applying the lesson to their specific lives...not just the lives of the stories described in the text.

E. Try a schedule like this. It will draw your class in, get them involved, and listening better to the lesson. 1. Lead them in singing a hymn. 2. Take prayer requests 3. Lead them in group prayer. 4. Present the lesson with examples from scripture, the catechism, and your life. 5. Lead a discussion about applying the lesson to their lives. What worked and didn't work from last week? You don't have to have all the answers; as the students will be able to answer each other. 6. Close in prayer and a song.

F. Incorporate Bible drills every class time. Each student should have their own LEATHER Bible. At the beginning of class divide them up into teams. Before you give them a Bible reference verse, have them hold their Bibles in their hand(s) above their heads. Give them the verse (Psalms 101:4). The first person to find it jumps to their feet and reads it aloud. Give points to the teams, and over a period of time, treat the winners to some prize. Or do the same thing with the catechism. The passages you have them look up should have to do with the lesson...or with something they're learning in their real life. Check out Bible Quizzing. We need a Catholic Bible Quiz Organization. Who will start it?

2. OUT OF CLASS

A. Schedule events, parties, outings as a class at least once a month where you just have fun together and learn about each other and learn to trust each other. In other words build a small trusting community.

B. Start a prayer chain by email, text messaging, or telephone. When someone has a prayer request for something important, YOU start the chain, and get everyone praying for the need.

C. Start an e-mail list, where during the week you send them encouragement, a poem, some good news item. Something that will create buzz among the group so when they get together they'll be ready to talk and share. (Let parents know what you're up to.)

D. Attend their special events, sports events, plays, concerts, or things your students are into. Of course you have to ask them what they are doing so you know. Be personally involved in their lives.

E. Get the students involved in a service project, in helping the unfortunate. Afterwards, get together and share the insights, and then pray for the people you helped. What did the experience teach about life?

3. WITH PARENTS (OR SPOUSES)

A. In the case of children and teens, communicate regularly with parents. Talk to each student's mom, dad or guardian once a month in person or by phone. Keep a list. Ask how they are doing, and what you can pray for. Offer suggestions and observations about their child from your perspective. The important thing here is to keep the parents informed about what you're doing, and let them know you're concerned.

In the case of spouses, usually both will be in your class together. If not, find a reason to call or meet the spouse and ask about them, and invite them to class functions or meetings. Let the invitations come from YOU, not just the attending spouse.

B. Encourage and remind parents to pray regularly with their child . Not just at dinner, not just before bed...although those are musts. The bishops remind us (and it's a given in Evangelicalism) that parents are the first line of religious and faith instruction. If it doesn't happen at home, the catechists and pastors will have a tough time. Is there a set time at home for daily Bible reading (the readings for the day), spiritual discussion, and prayer? While praying the rosary as a family is a great exercise, if that's all you do, then it doesn't offer opportunities for praying personally for and with your kids. Saying the Rosary can be rote and not engage the spirit. Pray the Rosary out of love and adoration of Christ, not just to do something.

4. WITH STUDENTS INDIVIDUALLY

On a regular occasion make time to spend time with students individually (face-to-face, not via email or text messaging). Show your interest for them. With children or teens, never do this alone or in private. Your relationship with your students will help them form an idea of what their relationship should be like with God. Can they trust you? They need to trust God. YOU are becoming their SPIRITUAL ADVISER. You are not their confessor, but you should keep track for each kid and see that they are being responsible for daily prayer, helping others, getting to Mass, studying the Bible (Catechism lessons), and getting to confession. You can't make them, but if you ask them individually in a semi-private and confidential way, and then follow up with their parents. You will have helped them wonderfully form their faith.

5. BEFORE GOD

A. Pray the names of each student before the Blessed Sacrament, or at least in private prayer at home, each night before you go to bed. Where you know about needs, pray for them specifically, asking God, his angels, and saints to intervene.

B. Fast regularly for your students, that the evil influences of this world—addictions, exposure to demonic forces, wrong headed friends, recreational drugs, sexual lasciviousness, and anything that takes them away from God -- be taken away from influencing their lives.

C. Take ideas you come across (such as this list, or the ideas in my other blogs such as How to Start a Sunday School (check out this link), and pray about them before the Blessed Sacrament. Ask God for wisdom about how to teach your class.

CHANGE THE WORLD

This list is a good starting place. But continue to pray over, evaluate and improve what it is you do. Culture changes, as do students, regardless of their age. Kids change because they are learning so much and because their hormones are usually in some weird state of imbalance. Adults change because their kids do, their jobs come and go, and family are on the move. All of that change, however, will help you establish relationships with those you love and serve. In that way you model what it means to love God and your neighbor, and you'll help to form Christians who can change the world.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Teaching In India

One of the signs of the Christian spirit is our willingness and preparation to tell others about our faith. That willingness should not be found only among priests and other religious, but among everyday laity. Such an evangelical spirit is promoted heavily by our Catholic bishops, but it doesn't always catch on. Catholic laity, for the most part I think, still leave evangelization to priests, nuns, brothers and sisters.

As a child brought up in Evangelicalism, I was aware of a prohibition in our Evangelical ranks against ordaining women. (Wonder where that came from?) But it became obvious that if the Gospel was going to get out, women had a major role to play. In a previous post I discussed a little of the legacy that my grandmother, Edith Willobee, established by helping to plant churches and preaching in India; and I mentioned my Evangelical (not Catholic) daughter, Trudy Nelson, going to India for a very brief visit to teach the untouchables how to live Christian lives that trust God in the midst of dire circumstances. Below is her prayer letter upon her return. I offer Trudy's experience and preparation up as an example of Christian virtue that we should all follow. (That's Trudy above with her family in 2006 aboard Family Ties off Flower Pot Island, Canada.) (Stan Williams)

-----

Dear Praying Friends, November 3, 2007

We serve an amazing God who is worthy of all our praise! I believed this with all my heart before going to India. While I was there, however, I sensed the power and presence of God in ways I never have before. Thank you for making this trip possible. It changed me; it changed each person on our team; and it changed the 265 Indian women who attended the conference.

In my earlier letter, I asked for prayer in five areas. Thank you for your faithfulness as you prayed for each of these things. I saw God use your prayers in tremendous ways!

It was incredible to watch each member of our team teach the Word of God. Some of us had experience in teaching, but others honestly weren’t comfortable with being asked to teach. Yet, God took our willingness and obedience to His call, and gave us clarity as we prepared our lessons.

I asked: Pray that we will communicate God’s Word effectively and appropriately.He also gave us passion and a personal connection to the topics we had been assigned.
The women listened with wide eyes and, those who could, took vigorous notes.

I personally saw God take my topics and give me confidence in the words I should speak. He also provided clear visuals for my talks that were all of Him. (I’m not that creative!) One woman said, “This talk healed me,” regarding my first talk. In that talk, the women erupted into spontaneous applause at the climax of the visual (as a woman was transformed from an enslaved sinner to a daughter of the King of Kings). In the picture to the right, Rita is , wearing a “condemned” sign, with me before my talk.

Another woman found me and said, “I will never forget the sitar,” referring to the main illustration of my last talk. That talk was an allegory of how a common gourd is transformed into a sitar (a classical Indian instrument). I knew nothing about how sitars were made when God put this illustration on my heart. As I researched it, I was blown away by the unique ways a sitar is made and played and how well it illustrates what God does to transform us into instruments of good works for Him.

I asked: Pray for clarity, as we will be using translators during most of the teaching and many of the women are illiterate in their own language. This went hand in hand with the above request. It was exciting to have women translating for us who were also eager to communicate God’s truths. There were times when the translators would entreat the women lovingly, “Do you understand?! Listen! She has just told you something you need to hear!”

I asked: Pray for safety in travel and for good health. All of our traveling went smoothly and we were kept safe (even amid the crazy Indian traffic). We were also kept amazingly healthy throughout the week. There was a team member who had one rough day feeling sick, but it cleared up just in time for her day of teaching.

I asked: Pray that I will listen to God’s people in India and learn what God has prepared for me to learn from them as well. My answer to this could fill a few pages! Even before I arrived in India, God was revealing the depth of His love as I prayed through Ephesians 3:14-19. I had been praying for the Indian women to understand His love in a deeper way. I truly believe He answered this prayer. Yet, He did more: He filled my heart with His love for them—which translated into a deeper understanding of His love for me. Then, as I understood His love for me in a deeper way, I was freed to love them more. This was (and still is) a unique and powerful learning process for me.

Page 2

While in India, I was struck by the depth of hunger these women had for God’s blessing. They were needy in so many ways, but the need they acted on most visibly was their desire for Spiritual blessing. So often, I would be approached by someone who knew only how to say, “Please, pray.” They would stand before me, full of expectation for the prayer I could offer while my hands held theirs. God’s power filled me with passion for them and I was given His perspective of hope as I prayed for them.

Now that I’m home, I wonder how often we sense our own deep need for God’s blessing. Do I hunger for this like I saw these women hunger for it? Do I have faith to pray with power for my brothers and sisters here, just as I did there? Do I believe God is just as passionate about His children here as He is about His children there? Yes, I do—and because of this, I am still filled with hope and expectation.

The women also gave strong testimonies of the blessing it was be among such a large number of “Sisters.” Some came from across the city, but many took long bus and train rides to get to the conference. (Half of their travel expenses were provided to allow them to come.) They are such a small minority as Dalit Christians and are regularly persecuted for their “status” and their faith. One woman shared, “The number of women at this conference is greater than the size of my village.” The fellowship of being among Sisters was so overwhelming, that they even described it as, “a taste of heaven.”

These women cherished the fellowship given to them because they would not have it once they got home. Do I cherish the fellowship I have in my church? Do I thank God for my Christian sisters and brothers? Do I treat them like the gift they truly are to me? I want to grow even more in this area.

I asked: Pray also for Steve and the kids as they allow me to go, for safety and for an understanding of their partnership in this work. God took such good care of Steve and the kids while I was gone. Steve was able to take off work to stay home with them. Steve’s Mom was also a big help. I could not have done any of this if I didn’t have the full support of my family. Thank you so much for praying for them. I returned home to happy and healthy kids and to a loving and grateful husband. I am incredibly blessed to have each of them.

If you’ve made it this far in my letter—thank you! Thank you for your encouragement as I went. Thank you for your prayers as I was there. Thank you for your continued prayers for the church in India. If you see any reminders of my trip in the world
around you, please remember to pray for these
women:
-Pray they will remember all they learned.
-Pray they will not lose heart in the midst of persecution.
-Pray they will have courage and eyes of faith.

Thank you again.

In Him,

Trudy Nelson
mtrudyn@twmi.rr.com

More pictures of Trudy's trip can be found at http://wwpicasaweb.google.com/mtrudyn

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Indian Legacy Passed Down

My grandmother, Edith (Flesher) Willobee, at an early age at the turn of the 20th century, was drawn to India to be a missionary. She went alone in 1907 and joined a small group of other American missionaries from the Pentecostal Bands. Two years later a young man, Ross Willobee, whom she had met in Bible school, followed her. The following year, after they had learned Hindi, they married. Two years later, in 1912, their first daughter was born, Ruth, who became my mother. In 1915 a second daughter came, Hope; and in 1919, in the middle of a great Indian famine, my uncle David was born. In 1921 my grandfather, Ross, died of black water fever. Edith took down the new doors in their bungalow to make a coffin for him. It took days for her to obtain the local chief's permission to bury Ross, a strange and uncomfortable custom to the Hindustani; they were used to either burning the dead (if they were rich); or after a brief ceremony in the middle of a field the poor carried the body to a river bed where it was buried on the shore in a shallow grave for animals to dig up and eat that night. A custom still followed. Three days later my little uncle David died. He collapsed suddenly during play of an unknown illness. Distraught, Edith, all alone, except for her daughters, removed the new window shutters from the bungalow and made a second coffin. Without waiting for the local chief's permission she buried David next to his father. The story continues for decades as my grandmother, after a nervous breakdown, gets out of bed years later and packs up three ox carts and for 5 years establishes Christian churches in Central India.


This past week, our eldest daughter, Trudy Nelson, traveled to India on her second short term missionary adventure there to do some teaching with a group of other ladies from her Baptist Church. Their goals was to teach a group of former untouchable ladies about growing in the Christian life. A recent India national law has allowed the untouchables to leave their low caste, join a religion, and change their life. Here is the link to pictures of her trip to Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. In this picture she wears a sari I purchased during my trip to India in 1982.
picasaweb.google.com/mtrudyn/IndiaOct07

Addendum:

After I posted the above, my sister wrote me (after seeing the blog link) and reminded me that today is the anniversary of our father’s death. Benjamin R. Williams (d. October 24, 1989). Such a date to Catholics is a celebratory date, because it is the date that a person goes to his reward, which in the life of a saint like my Dad, is the moment when he “won the race set before him.” Dad couldn’t wait to go to heaven and praise Jesus. It was a driving motivation in his life...e.g. his eventual death. My mother, Ruth (the tallest of the girls in the picture above) was much the same. When we buried Dad, I can remember my mom standing next to his fresh grave and joyfully pointing to her future grave next to Dad and saying to me, “Someday my body will be right there. But I’ll be in heaven.”

This morning at Mass the priest (Fr. John Riccardo...yeah, I'm lucky) was telling us a little about St. Anthony Mary Claret (d. 1870), whose life (and death) we celebrate today, giving us yet another example upon which to model our life. I had forgotten that today was the anniversary of dad's death. As I was hearing about a little about the life of St. Claret and the example he was to us, I thought of my Dad...and how he was saints too, and a great example for us to follow. Then I thought about Ross and Ross, and my daughter's recent trip to India...literally (for a few days at least) Trudy was following Edith's example to preach to the poor of India....Edith’s great motivation.

We have all these role models for us...and it was cool that I thought through all of this during Mass this morning...as if my guardian angel was reminding me that today was a very special day for me...because of my Dad.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Sonny Sez! Just Released

More Shameless Self Promotion.

My next book, as editor (and manager and gofer), has just been released by Wayne State University Press.

"SONNY SEZ! Legends, Yarns, and Downright Truths" is a collection of 100 fascinating stories, 77 drawings, and 31 track Audio CD. You can reach each of the stories about the strange, the unusual, the fascinating and silly - in less than 1 minute.

The stories were written by local television and radio personality Sonny Eliot, with drawings by Draper Hill, retired political caricaturist from the Detroit News. You can read more about our book, Sonny's interesting stories, see a couple of samples of Draper's wonderful drawings, and even hear a sample of the Audio CD I produced that is included in the book at www.SonnySez.com. You can also buy it there too....even an autographed copy.

If you're in S.E. Michigan, you are also invited to two book signings for Sonny and Draper. The first will feature not only Sonny and Sonny Sez! but five other great books coming out this fall from WSU Press:
--- "Amos Walker's DETROIT" by Loren D. Estleman, photos by Monte Nagler
-- "Connecting the Dots: Tyree Guyton's Heidelberg Project"
-- "Life with Mae: A Detroit Family Memoir" by Neal Shine
-- "American City: Detroit Architecture, 1845-2005" by Robert Sharoff, photos by William Zbaren, and
-- "Talking Shops: Detroiot Commercial Folk Art" photos by David Clements.
Read more here: wsupress.wayne.edu

This first event is WSU Press' annual fall benefit, Thursday October 25, 2007 at 6:00 PM at The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). Tickets are $20 or $15 for WSU students and staff (with OneCard) and MOCAD members. To RSVP call 313-577-0300 or send an e-mail to ses@lists.wayne.edu. MC, VISA or Cash at the door.

Sonny and the other authors will be there to speak about their books and later sign copies for you.

The second event is just for "Sonny Sez!" at the Grosse Point War Memorial, November 29 at 7:30 PM. The event is free but the Grosse Point Libraries ask that you RSVP at their website: http://www.gp.lib.mi.us/ --- once they get it on their Events Calendar (lower, right column).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Media Bias Blatant in Iraq Reporting

I have tried to stay away from the political and war debate, but daily I am upset by the linguistic and logical fallacies that are blatantly reported in the news. You can identify such stories by the emotional slant and choice of words in the headlines and key sentences. Most of the reporting is far form objective fact finding, but rather selective agenda driven political. I have come to totally mistrust a story unless I read the same thing on several different news services, and see it on Fox News equally with CNN. Watching White House press conferences really ticks me off, when the old lady in the front ask a multipart question that is soaked in question begging assumptions that you know the administration doesn't accept. It doesn't matter if you agree with the administration, but at least report what they are saying objectively. Or the reporters that get angry with the press secretary because they don't like the answer they were given, and attack the secretary verbally as if he or she was evil. So, I encourage everyone to read the following report. I just wish more people would think critically about the lack of critical reporting currently poisoning the American culture.

Media Bias Blatant in Iraq Reporting

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Saint Jody McLeod

I'm not sure if Jody McLeod is real, or if this actually happened, but it really doesn't matter. The sentiment is true. I'm glad to add this to my blog, even though it is also posted on hundreds of other sites on the web. Oh, that this was plastered as wallpaper in the halls of congress.

---------

This is a statement that was read over the PA s system at the football game at Roane County High School , Kingston , Tennessee , by school Principal, Jody McLeod

"It has always been the custom at Roane County High School football games, to say a prayer and play the National Anthem, to honor God and Country."

Due to a recent ruling by the Supreme Court, I am told that saying a Prayer is a violation of Federal Case Law. As I understand the law at this time, I can use this public facility to approve of sexual perversion and call it "an alternate lifestyle," and if someone is offended, that's OK.

I can use it to condone sexual promiscuity, by dispensing condoms and calling it, "safe sex." If someone is offended, that's OK..

I can even use this public facility to present the merits of killing an unborn baby as a "viable! Means of birth control." If someone is offended, no problem...

I can designate a school day as "Earth Day" and involve students in activities to worship religiously and praise the goddess "Mother Earth" and call it "ecology."

I can use literature, videos and presentations in the classroom that depicts people with strong, traditional Christian convictions as "simple minded" and "ignorant" and call it "enlightenment."

However, if anyone uses this facility to honor GOD and to ask HIM to Bless this event with safety and good sportsmanship, then Federal Case Law is violated.

This appears to be inconsistent at best, and at worst, diabolical Apparently, we are to be tolerant of everything and anyone, except GOD and HIS Commandments.

Nevertheless, as a school principal, I frequently ask staff and students to abide by rules with which they do not necessarily agree. For me to do otherwise would be inconsistent at best, and at worst, hypocritical... I suffer from that affliction enough unintentionally. I certainly do not need to add an intentional transgression.

For this reason, I shall "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's," and refrain from praying at this time.

"However, if you feel inspired to honor, praise and thank GOD and ask HIM, in the name of JESUS, to Bless this event, please feel free to do so As far as I know, that's not against the law----yet."

One by one, the people in the stands bowed their heads, held hands with one another and began to pray.

They prayed in the stands. They prayed in the team huddles. They prayed at the concession stand and they prayed in the Announcer's Box!

The only place they didn't pray was in the Supreme Court of the United States of America- the Seat of "Justice" in the "one nation, under GOD."

Somehow, Kingston , Tennessee Remembered what so many have forgotten. We are given the Freedom OF Religion, not the Freedom FROM Religion. Praise! GOD that HIS remnant remains!

JESUS said, "If you are ashamed of ME before men, then I will be ashamed of you before MY FATHER."

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Evangelical Truth Bites from India

A couple of months ago, while driving back from meetings in New York, I stopped at an Ohio Turnpike Rest Stop. I was driving the Nineveh's Crossing van, which, under the logo, is written: Exploring Faith, Values, and History Through Digital Media. As I returned with my bottled water (I had given up finding anything to eat) I noticed a distinguished Indian man in his 60s or 70s standing near by van on the nearby grass. He approached me and asked what "Nineveh's Crossing" meant. He may have also noticed the license plate that reads simply: "NINEVEH". I explained, trying to provide my audience a brief history of the Old Testament story of Jonah, Nineveh, and the reluctant prophet's adventures. At first the man tried to bate me by implying he was Hindu and I needed to explain things to him.

But there was glint in his eye, he wanted me to rush past the story of Jonah as if he was very familiar with it, and then, when I asked, he told me his name -- "Matthew." I almost laughed out loud, and I surely grinned ear-to-ear. Yeah, right! Some Hindu, named after the author of the first book in the New Testament. Give me a break.

Matthew was smart, engaging, and I figured he was one of the long line of Indian Evangelists (some of which I've known both from here and India) who have mastered that delicacy between passion for the Bible and their Christian faith, and a wonderful respect and dignity for the person they're evangelizing. I did not mind being at the other end of what I figured was a seasoned preacher practicing his trade, here on the lawn next to one of America's great turnpikes. There was a Pauline essence to the scene -- and I let it soak in. Matthew really didn't preach at me, but he asked me a lot of questions about my "evangelization" and I ended up giving him a copy of Common Ground.

As it turns out he lives only a few miles from me here in the suburbs of Detroit, and occasionally I receive from him a letter. If you've ever been in a job with some public exposure, you've probably received letters or large envelopes with multiple news clippings or manic letters ranting about something germane or obscure. A while back we received a large envelope from someone (the sender's names are never included) with photostat copies of headlines and articles going back to the 1950s about everything anyone ever associated with the Catholic Church had ever, supposedly done wrong. Scrawled on the margins were rants against Catholicism. But strangely enough the sender had also included some articles about Judaism and Hare Krishna. We had an interesting chuckle and then threw collection away. Two weeks ago, when TBN aired Common Ground in the middle of the night, the 800 lines started to right at 3:30 AM. (Yes the business and production offices, and warehouse for SWC Films and Nineveh's Crossing are in our home). I finally answered the phone and the caller said quickly: "Why don't you people just praise Jesus instead of trying to get Protestants and Catholics to talk to each other? (CLICK)" Go figure. I have no idea what that meant in a rational world. (The phone rang for the next two days. A lot of orders. for the DVD.)

But, when we get letters from people with names and addresses attached I always read it all, and often, if necessary, answer...until we get essentially the SAME letter...proving that my earlier reply was not read, ignored, or not understood.

But when I get a letter from Matthew, it's different. The envelop (usually a stray Hallmark card envelope...today's was pink) are addressed to "Bro. Stanley D. Williams". The sticker on the back reads "ABORTION: The foundation on which to build a violent society." (I love this guy's sentiments.) The writing is a flamboyant print-cursive not unlike India and Urdu script. He writes in blue ink on think white, thinly lined paper, both sides, no margins, and his lines overlap slightly. His proofing marks, additions, and embellishments are in red, written between the lines. The pages have all the characteristics of a manic "crazy" conspiracy theory radical. Except they read like classic sermons. And here is a selection:
Beloved Bro. Stan,

Loving power (lightening symbol) greetings to you in the Wonderful Holy Jealous name of our Lord, Master, Savior Jesus Christ.
As a sequel to sending the second letter I read the Book of Jonah. It was edifying....It takes a little violence to inherit the kingdom of heaven here on earth. It is a mystery -- the mystery of truth. As the Psalmist prays intently, pleads passionately: Send out your truth (Ps. 43) and your light and usher me into the 3rd day - the day of wonder. Nineveh was a 3-day journey (across). But one day's journey (by Jonah) created such revolutionary change, just imagine had he gone the full course.

But for us God has opened the way to enter the Holy of Hollies and worship him there in Spirit & Truth in the beauty of holiness. You are meant for that! (Jonah 1:6 The captain of the ship said to Jonah: "Rise up and call upon our God! Perhaps God will be mindful of us so that we may not perish." Ephesians 5:14 "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.")

[SW: It's interesting that the ship's captain prophesied and foreshadowed what would happen in Nineveh and in the Passion of Christ.]

Matthew continues: Save and Compare is a popular marketing strategy here in the U.S. Just apply, extrapolate it to the spiritual market of truth and fables. Compare and Save yourself from this untoward generation. That is Peter's prescription. (Acts 2:40). Note verse 41. As I choose, so I eat, and I am what I eat. We have Angel food and Devil's food in the market - literally!

COMPARE:
Mask or Manifest (Eph 5:13)
Perish or Flourish (Gal 1:16)
Perversion or Perfection
Slavery or Mastery
Blackness or whiteness as wool & snow (Isa 1)
Flee from or flee to (Heb 6:18)
Pit (of corruption) or Palace (like Joseph's protocol order)
Lying vanities or True value
Corruption or Correction
Select or All (Acts 3:22)
Shadow or Light
Preach for hire or Preach what I bid thee
1 day's journey or a full 3-day Journey

The choice is ours, purely personal. Let us personalize. God spare you. So arise, let Christ shine upon you and pity you. Amen.
I've often heard Christ's reference to his own death and resurrection, as signified by Jonah's three days in the whale. As Jonah goes into the whale, so Christ descends to hell. Coming out of the whale, and out of the grave brings salvation. But Jonah only preaches for 1 day, and the city repents. Imagine if Jonah had gone the extra days? What would have happened if Jesus had only spent 1 day in the grave, instead of 3. The lesson here is perseverance in the face of adversity, and choosing repeatedly, while in the belly's stomach, what is good.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Nineveh's Crossing Presents

FaithTV to air New Series
Nineveh's Crossing Presents
Mondays 9:30 PM ET - SkyAngel 9708 - Begins October 2007

Over the past weeks, as we pursued Protestant television networks to air Common Ground, we found ourselves in conversation with the VP of Programming for one of the more popular Protestant Christian Television Networks called FaithTV. You can find them on the SkyAngel Satellite at channel 9708.

After FaithTV agreed to air Common Ground (October 4, 2007 - 8 PM ET, and October 5, 2007 Midnight ET (which is 9 PM for the West Coast), we were asked if we had other programming that we'd like to air on a regular basis. Naturally, we would like to air all of our programming, but we doubted that an Evangelical Protestant network would air programs about explicit Catholic teachings through vehicles like Dr. Ray Guarendi's Why Be Catholic? and What Catholics Really Believe. Like most networks, FaithTV must approve every program that is aired and ensure that there is no "objectionable" content. In this case, the objectionable content could be explicit teachings about Catholicism. After a preliminary e-mail describing our Catholic programming, at their request, we sent DVDs to FaithTV and asked them to screen Dr. Ray's programs just mentioned, especially one of the episodes on Mary.

A few days later I received this email -- to my total amazement:
Dear Stan:
We received your DVD's. We are very compelled by them. Your production is very well done and the information is important. We feel that our viewers need to hear what you have to say. We may get complaints, but, I feel that most of our viewers will feel as we do that they do not really know what the Catholic Church believes and it is that ignorance that causes the biggest divide... If you are willing to jump in this very Protestant arena...then we are willing to take the risk with you.
M.M., VP Programming
FaithTV
I had my questions, you can be sure. We e-mailed back and forth and then talked by phone. One thing I was told was that there was a popular Evangelical preacher on Tuesday nights that occasionally ranted on Catholicism as the Anti-Christ. M.M. seemed anxious to give us (Catholics) "equal time." It should be interesting.

So, this past week, I signed a contract. The FaithTV program guide says:
Mondays 9:30 PM ET (beginning October 2007)
Nineveh's Crossing Presents explores and celebrates the Christian faith from a Roman Catholic perspective with educational talks, documentaries, interviews, and entertainment.

We begin the first week in October. We will start with Dr. Ray's You're a Better Parent Than You Think, which was, in fact, the first program I produced for Dr. Ray years ago, and what could be said was the instigation for what has become Nineveh's Crossing. Our programming will continue, of course, with our Catholic programs, other documentaries, interviews, and concerts. One series I'm looking forward to producing will center on the Best Practices of Adult Faith Formation...for which we need a sponsor to help fund it.

An added bonus, is that longer form documentaries are open for me to submit for airing on Thursday evenings in a 2-hour slot. That is where Common Ground, and some other programming that we sell may soon air. We'll keep you posted.

All of this, of course, is as the Lord wills and as we follow Him and not get ahead. So, please pray for us. The days coming up with be very busy.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Youth Praise Night

Here's an idea that when part of an over all strategy can help youth focus on making Jesus the central part of their life.

Last night, (August 23, 2007) Pam and I had the chance to attend a Youth Praise Night in North Branch, Michigan at SS. Peter & Paul Parish. It began in a huge tent set up for the weekend parish festival and later moved indoors because of threatening thunder storms that rolled through the thumb region of Michigan. But the bad weather did not dampen the group's enthusiasm. The Michigan Catholic (Robert DeLaney) did pre-event coverage which you can read about HERE.

Fr. Rich Treml, pastor of the parish, told me he hoped the event will get the youth in the area, both Protestant and Catholic, excited about trusting Christ with their lives.

Fr. Treml's team invited Evangelical Nate Kreger's worship and praise band from a local Protestant church to lead off the night's activities. Leading those gathered in the tent in a long set of upbeat Gospel-Praise-Worship songs with an emphasis on a loud heavy beat, Nate and his team got the youth, and many of the adults dancing in the isles -- or at least bounding in front of their white plastic lawn chairs.

But what can't be missed are the words of the songs that remind us all that "God is an Awesome God" and to trust God with our entire life in everything we do.

Significantly, while the music took place outside and then in the church's sanctuary, a group of adults prayed before an Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. As they prayed, they could look out from the chapel on the sanctuary's activities. Over the worship leaders, above the altar, is a beautifully wood-carved crucifix.



Leading the second set, inside the church, was the Saginaw Diocese Praise Team led by Catholic Evangelist Bill Richart. Bill has a website if you want to contact him, HERE.




I took heart at seeing parents bring their younger children to expose them to the enthusiasm that worshiping God should prompt in all of us.





Mass is mostly a time of quiet reverence, but David made loud, banging noise in the presence of God as his sacrifice of praise.

We can do the same.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Basics of Adult and Teen Faith Formation

Yesterday my wife, Pam, watched the Catholic daughters of our neighbor for a few hours. The night before, Pam and I had watched ONE NIGHT WITH THE KING, a very good and recent movie on the Biblical story of Esther. I suggested to the girls that they might like to watch the movie while they were over. After chasing our cat around the house for a while, the girls settled down, and Pam turned on the DVD and projector system.

During the movie the oldest (Age 13) asked a lot of questions. Pam, being well versed in Bible stories by her parents, and by the parenting of our own children in Evangelicalism, provided answers throughout the movie. She was surprised, however, at how little this catechised and first communion young lady knew about the Bible. (Pam later told me that two years ago the Director of Religious Education at our Catholic church gave a test to the 7th and 8th grade catechism students, that they all failed.)

Later, after the girls had returned home, their mother came over and asked Pam for a Bible so her 13-year old could read the story of Esther as Pam had suggested she do. Evidently, the only Bible in this Catholic home was a hard-to-read Orthodox edition. Pam came into my office and rummaged through my shelf of Bible translations and editions, and found one. But today, I think, we're going out to buy the girl and her sister a good teen Bible -- maybe even one in LEATHER.

During my devotions and prayers this morning, I was asking God for a way to communicate with the Church the results of the research I've begun on the BEST PRACTICES OF ADULT (and TEEN) FAITH FORMATION. It occured to me that there are some absolute (that's A.B.S.O.L.U.T.E.) basics of faith formation, that begin with having a Bible, and being very familiar with the stories in it.

I started listing in my prayer journal the basics (below). Please feel free to enhance and send suggestions for improvement on this list. These have numbers, but I'm not suggesting an order. While these are suggestions to individuals, they are also suggestions to church leadership (bishops, priests, DREs, and parents) to do things that, hopefully, cause these to occur.

1. Get a Bible and read it -- to yourself, to your kids, everyday, all the time, for the rest of your life. Get a LEATHER one with your name imprinted on the cover in gold leaf. Make sure the text is easy to read (type size) with lots of study helps inside. A concordance or small encyclopedia is REALLY necessary.

2. Get (give out as gifts) a Catechism of the Catholic Church, and use it in your Bible readings and studies.

3. Attend inspirational events, or create them and ensure that there is discussion and/or a talk by a captivating speaker in conjunction with these: Gospel music concerts, Biblical movies, field trips to spiritual destinations, praise and prayer meetings with both small and LARGE groups, Eucharistic adoration in an environment that is memorable (e.g. tents, candles and great music).

4. Attend (organize) Bible Studies for small and large groups. These need to be led by either someone close to the attendees (a parent), or an excited, captivating leader who is above reproach. PLEASE DO NOT APPOINT BIBLE STUDY LEADERS WHO MIGHT HAVE A DEGREE IN THEOLOGY, BUT ARE BORING. Desire to lead these groups, or a passion for the activity IS NOT ENOUGH. The facilitator MUST HAVE A GIFT OF LEADING AND FACILITATING. People will attend PRIMARILY because of their attraction to the leader. That is why we call them "leaders" -- because people naturally follow them. (A friend just told me that she may drop out of RCIA because the leader is BORING.)

5. For teens, participate in a Bible Quiz team, and beat the socks off the Evangelical Churches in your area. For adults, start and coach a Bible Quiz team from your church. If you have never heard of Bible Quizzing, learn. A god place to start is http://www.wbqa.org/. This was an important part of my upbringing, and one of the reasons that many Evangelicals know their faith better than Catholics.

6. Participate (create) small growth groups around interests and or callings (e.g. music, service, parenting, singles, business, work, sports). These are groups where small groups of people get together regularly to study, fellowship, pray, and, most importantly, are there to help each other during the week when trials or celebrations occur. EVERYONE in a parish should be assigned to a small group, whether or not they attend. In some churches small groups are assigned to a layperson who becomes the informal leader and instigator of prayers or events for the group. In some Evangelical Churches these people are called deacons and deaconesses (which are much different from the trained deacons in Catholicism.) Don't get hung up on the name. Call them something different. Just do it.

7. Start and maintain a prayer telephone chain (or email, or text messaging) for everyone in your small group, and by extension the entire parish. When someone needs prayer, the group leader is called, who becomes a gatekeeper, and the group is called to pray. These are VERY helpful to inculcating the Christ centered existence during the week.

8. Attend (organize) regular all-church one hour prayer meetings that include:
--- 1. Worship and adoration for 20 min.
--- 2. Prayer for personal and group needs for 20 min.
--- 3. Singing and praise for 20 min.

9. Hold family prayers EVERY NIGHT before bedtime. This is NOT a prayer just before a meal while the food gets cold. These should be led by the eldest, like a parent (if so inclined), and should include daily scripture reading, structured prayers, and spontaneous prayers about personal needs. Keep the length reasonable. My sister and I used to fall asleep as my parents prayed "around the world" -- and then we'd be reprimanded for falling asleep. God help us! (When you're an adult, one-hour in a solid block should be your goal, but we're discussing "basics" here, not advanced spirituality.)

10. Attend (organize) Sunday School classes EVERY SUNDAY, for the REST OF YOUR LIFE. Platoon with Mass. Sunday School classes may become the main meeting time for the small group, which can also meet occasionally for recreational events. (See my other post on Sunday Schools.)

My research is producing wonderful results. People are sending in great ideas, and I will continue to share these ideas in the coming months. Please keep the ideas coming, and even post them in the comments below. And please forward these posts to others. Talk this up. There's a lot of work to do -- by all of us -- the body of Christ.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Christ Came to Set Us Ablaze

Today's Scripture Readings point again to this theme of "turning-on" nominal Christians to the faith, as opposed to just going through the weekly ritual of going to church.

In Jeremiah 38 (and before) we read Jeremiah's prediction of the Babylonian captivity because King Zedekiah and the citizens of Jerusalem were just going through the motions.

In Hebrews 12 we read about the many saints that went before us to heaven who are watching our progress, hoping that we obey God and his priests, so we don't turn up in captivity.

And in Luke 12 Christ says:
I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! (Luke 12:49
Compare that verse (Luke 12:49) to Revelations 3:14-16:
To the angel of the church in Laodicea...because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth...(Rev. 3:14-22).
Do you see the parallel between the OT and NT passages? God warns Jerusalem (a metaphor for today's church) to obey God's spiritual leader set over them, Jeremiah, or suffer the consequences, which is exile. In the NT Jesus wishes the people were on-fire (hot) but to those that just go through the motions, He will spit them out of his mouth.

Catholics, especially, get lazy I think, because we falsely think that because we participate physically in the sacraments (e.g. Holy Communion once a week), we're on the right path.

But the Church's teachings through councils, popes and evangelists, continually remind us that the disposition of our heart (i.e. the degree of our faith) determines the degree to which the physical sacrament is able to impart grace. In The Catechism the section on The Sacraments of Salvation BEGINS with a condition:
Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace... (1127).
A few paragraphs later, the IN BRIEF section leaves us with these reminders:
They [the sacraments] bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions (1131).
The Holy Spirit prepares the faithful for the sacraments by the Word of God...in well-disposed hearts" (1133). (emphasis added)
In other words, we have to participate by the discipline and focus of our hearts and lives. We have to make Christ the center of our lives if we expect to get to heaven.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

On-Fire Protestant or Lukewarm Catholic?

The Need for an Adult Sunday School in Every Parish.

A Proposal and a Request for Best Practices.


In very recent months I have come face-to-face in conversation with regular attenders at Mass who have proclaimed to me:

  • Jesus isn't God, Buddha is just as good.
  • I don't pray with my kids because they aren't into that.
  • It doesn't matter that I'm living with a man who isn't a Catholic (and who isn't my husband), I'm a good Catholic and I go to Mass every week.
  • Suicide is not the result of a lack of faith, but insanity.
  • I'm all alone, and I have no one to help me.
  • I don't know anyone at Church.
  • Wearing occult jewelry and partaking of Holy Communion is not a contradiction.
  • I can't expect our priest to visit my son in the hospital.
I'm 60-years old now. When I was a kid, in the 50s, I hung around with Catholic friends in my neighborhood, and got to know their parents who went to Mass every week. These were not people that I would have thought were Christians. (Sorry if I come off as judgemental here; I don't mean to suggest I know if these people were going to heaven or hell. But by their language, topics of coversation, and lack of personal witness of any Christian faith -- there was certainly plenty of information to evalutate that Christ and Christianity was not central to their lives.)

Today, I know people that go to Mass that are likewise faith-challenged or are holding out for a god of their own choosing—the new atheism, e.g. "I believe in God, and he's just like me" (Dr. Ray Guarendi). I know many that are great and holy Christians. But too many, I conclude, have no clue what their faith means or how to appropriate it for their everyday needs. They worry, but prayer to God is not the first thing that comes to mind. To many Catholics, God is as distant as FEMA appeared to be to the victims of Katrina....a long way off, disinterested, incapable, and under funded.


Our bishops know the problem, however -- at least those that had something to do with drafting USCCB's statement Our Hearts Are Burning Within Us. The first section of this statement is titled, "A Renewed Commitment to Adult Faith Formation." The third & fourth paragraph, in part, read:
To grow in discipleship throughout life, all believers need and are called to build vibrant parish and diocesan communities of faith and service. Such communities CANNOT exist without a strong, complete, and systematic catechesis for all its members. By "complete and systematic" we mean a catechesis that nurtures a profound, lifelong conversion of the whole person and sets forth a comprehensive, contemporary synthesis of the faith...[that] will help ADULTS to experience the transforming power of grace and grasp the integrity and beauty of the truths of faith... Adult faith formation, by which people consciously grow in the life of Christ through experience, reflection, prayer, and study, MUST be "THE CENTRAL TASK in [this] catechetical enterprise, becoming THE AXIS around which revolves the catechesis of childhood and adolescence as well as that of old age. (some emphasis added, some are the bishops)
The bishops go on to pledge their commitment to make this vision a reality. Coming from Evangelicalism, the descriptions in this statement sure sound like adult Sunday School.

In the DVD program Common Ground: What Protestants and Catholics Can Learn From Each Other, in response to Evangelical pastor Steve Andrews' questions about what Catholics can learn from Evangelicals, Father John Riccardo says this:
To many Catholics, their faith is like a book on a bookself that they pick up only on Sundays. But to an Evangelical their faith is the WHOLE bookcase.
As an Evangelical for the first 50 years of my life, I learned that it was important to make Christ and my faith the bookshelf of my life -- or at least try hard to reach that goal. When I had a problem of any kind, I was imbued, automatically, to turn to God for help...and then turn to other Christians in my life—my pastor, my Sunday School teacher, my friends, my prayer partners, my deacon. When I was a youth pastor, it was a normal part of my life to get calls from those under my care asking for help with everything from a flat tire to sexual temptation.

One of our adult daughters goes to an active and generally well-run Evangelical Church where they just assigned new deacons and deaconesses. Their job is to be ready to help those in the church assigned to them in any and every way possible. Phone numbers are exchanged, prayer chains established, small prayer meetings gather weekly. Bible studies are held weekly as well. And it should be noted that the entire congregation is continually encouraged to join and attend these weekday small groups, AND regularly attend a Sunday School class for adults.
In such an environment you grow up knowing that your first line of defense in any and every kind of problem is your Christian leaders and friends, e.g. God.

The central technique that Evangelicalism uses to create this culture is Sunday School, which is not just for kids, but for adults of all ages and interests. Evangelical Sunday School is an EVERY week event for the REST OF YOUR LIFE. It becomes the single most important event of your week, next to worship, that strengthens your spiritual commitment. The classes are organized around interests such as business, evangelization, parenting, singles, music and so on. This week in The Michigan Catholic, Sr. Janet Schaeffler, OP, the archdiocean associate director for adult faith formation lists over 100 topics that could serve around which to structure Sunday School and other faith formation classes. Regardless of the topics, however, the center is always the faith and how we can make Christ the center of our life and at the heart of ever decision. The idea behind Sunday Scool or any faith formation activity is not just head knowledge, but heart and soul application.

Evangelical Sunday School provides a comprehensive focus to the concept of faith community. In preparing for this article, I came across a website that answers the question: How to Start a Sunday School. I recommend it to our Catholic bishops, priests, and DREs. This page from the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptism Convention provides a good addendum to the bishops' published vision. This short but comprehensive page explains the purpose and elements of a successful Sunday School program around nine building blocks: Explore, Examine, Engage, Educate, Enlarge, Enlist, Encourage, Embark, and Evaluate.

In my experience, my Sunday School classes (from childhood through my adult years) became the center of my Christian community in which I operated. Many Catholic parishes are too large to establish support communities without activities outside of Mass. Most parishes have many such groups. But there is only one kind of group that directly affects the spiritual growth (in knowledge and faith and service) all at the same time... and that is a group that operates like a Sunday School class.


WE DON'T WANT TO COMPETE WITH MASS


When I first started to suggest a Sunday School program that ran in the educational center of the church at the same time as Mass, I was told that it would be inappropriate because people might go to Sunday School instead of Mass, and that would be a sin.

Hello, folks, let's not be ignorant about this. First, Catholicism isn't an either/or religion, it's an "and/both." Platooning Mass and Sunday School is a natural . EVERYONE goes to BOTH, EVERY WEEK. Second, if someone goes to Mass, but would rather be somewhere else, well, they need to go to confession just as if they weren't in Mass at all. ALL of Catholic doctrine, especially dealing with the sacraments, requires the right disposition of heart or the sacraments have no effect. Better that a person skip Mass and go to Sunday School, if while they're IN Sunday School they learn the reason for attending Mass. Every bishop and priest knows that there are far too many people attending Mass that believe that attending it physically, but wishing mentally they didn't have to, is of absolutely no spiritual good. Maybe some spiritual good may come out of belligerent attendance, but such individuals might as well go practice their faith on the golf course.

A Catholic customer told me last week that when their children became teenagers, they stopped going to the Catholic Church because it was robbing their children of the enthusiasm for the faith. You can blame these parents all you want for not knowing how to inculcate a passion for Catholicism at home, but when the priest only allows one verse of the recessional hymn because he's trying to keep Mass short so people will not leave too soon for the beach...something else is wrong. Their parish was one that gets significant operating revenue from Bingo. If this was my parish, and another Catholic Church wasn't close at hand, I'd take my teens to the local Evangelical church if it had an alive youth group that would get my kids excited about Christianity. It may be far better that our kids be on fire for Christ and their faith vigorus while attending a Protestant faith community, than lukewarm about Christ while half-heartedly attending Mass at a Catholic Church. Christ has warned those that are lukewarm that he will spit them out of his mouth.

As Thomas Howard wrote, "Catholic is not Enough" and I will declare that "Mass is Not Enough." The Eucharist may be the center and summit of our faith, but that statement assumes that there is enough faith to understand the importance of The Eucharist. When the faith is lukewarm, or cold, The Eucharist, miraculous as it is, is of little consequence. In fact, if you don't believe the dogmas of the faith and practice them, the Church advises you to not take The Eucharist, as does the Bible for fear of illness. That is why Protestants that attend Mass are asked not to take communion with the rest of the community.


Our bishops know that the faith of too many Catholics is lukewarm. In paragraph 35 of "Our Hearts Are Burning..." they state:
Many Catholics seem "lukewarm" in faith (cf Rev 3:14ff). And as surprising as that statement may be to some, it is nearly an equivocation. Notice the couching and politically correctness of how it is worded. Al Kresta told me he read a book when he came back into the Church about how bishops are chosen -- they can't be confrontational. This statement from paragraph 35 underscores Al's discovery. The truth that our bishops understand, but that they were afraid to confront in plain language could probably be stated this way: "Too many Catholics are lukewarm in their faith and Christ has promised to spit them out of his mouth. We gotta do something about that." (cf. Rev. 3:14ff)" Let's get with the program, or Christ is going to spit all of us out of his mouth.

I propose that every parish start an adult Sunday School program... with all volunteers from the parish... and around that Sunday School program build up the passion for the Church so that not only will Christ embrace us, but we will attract those in our world, neighborhoods and communities that need what only Christ can offer — salvation... for now and for eternity.

At my company, Nineveh's Crossing, we may soon start a multi-year project that will collect and publish annually, the best practices in any Christian community for imbuing a vibrant, passionate, and practical faith. We will be particularly attentive to successful techniques found in Evangelicalism. But we will also include Catholic devotions, with suggestions of how to make the practices produce spiritual fruit and a passion for the faith.


Please send this article to others and ask them to send their observations of best practices and case study descriptions to me. I will give each credit for their contributions. With your observations please send contact information of the church or locale that is implementing the best practices that you share.

If you know of a Catholic Church that actually has a Sunday School program up and running, please tell me who it is. Send information to me at Stan@NinevehsCrossing.com. The project needs a name, as well.


To God Be The Glory. We have a duty to present the Church to Christ as His Bride, spotless. We have a way to go.

Stan Williams