Happy Feast Day to a Champion of Religious Education

November 4th, 2014

Today, Nov. 4, is the Feast of St. Charles Borromeo. Those who learn or who hand on the faith in parish religious education programs owe him quite a debt of gratitude. He was one of the earliest supporters of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, which was created after the Reformation for the purpose of providing religious education to Catholics, especially the young. Educated lay people offered themselves as catechists. Charles Borromeo established the confraternity in every parish of the Diocese of Milan, of which he was the cardinal-archbishop. It was the ancestor, if you will, of today’s systematic, parish-based religious education.

For many people, the initials CCD stand merely for the release-time classes offered until about 50 years ago to Catholic children in public schools, who were brought to Catholic school buildings for a weekly lesson in the faith. It wasn’t always a happy experience. The public school children frequently were warned not touch anything on or in the desks of the parochial school children, who had been dismissed early to make room. The teachers themselves frequently came from a day of class in the parochial schools and were exhausted by the time these children arrived. Many of those  in the so-called CCD believed they were second-class citizens of the parish.

We don’t use the term CCD these days. Since the early 1970s, the appropriate terminology is parish religious education or parish catechesis. (The word catechesis comes from a Greek word meaning to echo. Everyone who hands on the faith echoes the teaching of Jesus Christ and his church.)

The parish religious education programs of today, with their inclusion of family catechesis experiences, are quite close to the vision of people like Charles Borromeo, Philip Neri, Francis DeSales and other thoughtful leaders and supporters of the original Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Dedicated, energetic lay catechists and catechetical leaders once again have the opportunity to answer their baptismal call to hand on the faith to the next generation. These teachers follow guidelines established by the Archdiocese of New York in conformity with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. They have professional training as catechists or program directors and coordinators available to them all year ’round from the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office.

So if you have a child or youth in a vibrant parish religious education program, do thank Charles Borromeo and his associates for making this possible.

The Unofficial Saints

October 27th, 2014

Saturday, Nov.1, will be the Feast of All Saints. I like to think of this  as the day we honor those who are in heaven because they lived courageous, virtuous lives that didn’t get the attention of the official saint-designators of the Church.

Those would include generous, loving parents, grandparents. siblings and little children; kindly friends and mentors; people who lived and died on the missions but whose names are known only to God; chaplains and medical personnel who lived or even lost their lives tending to those injured and ill; and poor persons who died and were buried in the Potter’s Field with only a number to identify them. God knows their names.

And then there are saints whose place with God might come as a surprise. I am sure heaven is full of those I like to call the friends of the good thief, the ones who repented at the last moment of their lives or those who were mentally ill and not morally responsible for their actions.

I have a favorite, whose resting place I pass all the time. As far as I know, his cause for sainthood hasn’t been opened. However, judging from all the times he has responded to my pleas and those of my colleagues to place a favor, a need or a concern before God, I have no doubt that he is in heaven.

Who are your special, unofficial saints? Don’t forget to celebrate them on Saturday.

The Pope and the Devil

October 10th, 2014

It’s fascinating that Pope Francis can speak about Satan a great deal but even sophisticates and self-proclaimed pundits, who used to tut-tut such talk, aren’t making fun of him.  Perhaps  the sorry state of our world is pretty strong evidence for the demon’s existence and energy.

Today, in his Mass homily, the Holy Father called on his congregation (and since his homilies are always available within hours, we can assume that includes us) to ward off the crafty and patient Satan by an examination of conscience.

I suspect he didn’t mean that frantic exercise some of us do as we sit in the pew waiting for the confession box to become vacant. I think he meant a daily review.

Here’s is a wonderful way to do that, a way that would be very familiar to the Holy Father: the Daily Ignatian Examen. It takes no more than 10-15 minutes. If you find a quiet place to do this every day, you will have a deeper experience of God’s presence in your life.

It’s a gift.

The Angel Schultz

October 2nd, 2014

It was wonderful yesterday, on their feast day, to hear the Holy Father remind us of our guardian angels, those heavenly companions who watch over and protect us all our lives. The guardian angels probably aren’t at the forefront of our thoughts. I think of them as the “aha” helpers. We remember they are on the job only after they assist us.

If you are of a certain age, you probably had a picture of a guardian angel over your bed to protect you. Angels are very skilled at warding off “ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and other things that go bump in the night” to terrify little children. They are comforting in a storm, whether it is weather related or family discord, and they stand guard against evil. As the pope noted in his homily, they are the little voices in our heads urging us to watch out.

When I was a child, my sisters and I believed we all shared one special guardian angel and we knew that angel’s name. Schultz. The angel’s picture was right there on the wall with her name on it. Angels in our day always seemed to be feminine. My mother knew better than to tell us that we each have our own angel. She knew we’d all argue over whose angel Schultz  was.

Actually, this picture was a beautiful black and white lithograph, which was made in Berlin probably in the early part of the 20th century. Under the angel’s image was a caption: “Schutzengel.” That’s German for guardian angel. Someone misread the caption and ever since, this angel’s name has been Schultz.

Angel Schultz has been on a shelf in one of my closets for many years but just two weeks ago, my sister Nancy, who loved Schultz best, asked for her. So she’s back on duty again in Nancy’s home, still in her original frame.

Remember the prayer to your guardian angel? If not, here it is. Whatever your guardian angel’s name is — you can make up a name; I am sure the angel and the Pope won’t mind – call on that angel.

But remember, Angel Schultz belongs to my family. And she has her hands full with us.

How to help the suffering people in the Middle East

September 30th, 2014

As the news from the Middle East gets worse and worse, many of us are thinking about the loss of life, health and home being experienced there, especially by the Christian minority populations. Who speaks for them, you wonder, and how can you help? Relieving their suffering is an integral part of the social justice teaching of the Catholic Church.

There are many Catholic and other Christian agencies attempting to provide relief but one in particularly has an outstanding record for effectiveness: the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).

For 88 years, CNEWA has been a lifeline for poor people throughout the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe. Founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926, CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern Catholic churches to identify needs and help solve them. For example, CNEWA helps trains priests, religious and lay people for service. It helps restore churches and related buildings. It works through the Holy See’s Congregation for the Eastern Churches to promote Christian unity and interreligious dialogue.

Very importantly in these days, CNEWA rushes emergency help to shelter and feed displaced families, provides healthcare for new moms and babies, and delivers assistance to the elderly and those with disabilities. In additional to this emergency help, CNEWA works with the local church to strategize long-term aid initiatives. Nowhere is this more needed right now than in the Middle East. CNEWA delivers.

You can be assured that when you support CNEWA financially, your donation is going to go where it is needed and not get sidetracked into the wrong pockets. That’s because CNEWA is on the ground where it serves. In the Middle East, for example, the Amman office services the churches and peoples of Jordan and Iraq. The office in Beirut administers activities in Lebanon and Syria, and the Jerusalem office is responsible for programs in Palestine and Israel.

If you want to find out how you can help the innocent people caught in the endless wars of the Middle East, just  click on “Ways to Give” and see how a few mouse clicks will enable you to provide aid.

Discover Scripture. Encounter your faith

September 23rd, 2014

Have you ever found yourself trying to answer a Bible question posed by one of your children? Have you heard something in the Sunday readings and wanted to know more about it? Maybe you are a lector and think your ministry might be enriched by a deeper understanding of the passages you are reading.

Here’s your answer: The New York Catholic Bible School program, sponsored by the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office. Depending on your availability, the school offers a two-year course leading to a Certificate in Basic Scripture Study OR a four-year course, at the end of which you will receive a Certificate of Advanced Scripture Study. Actually, if you study for the full four years, you will meet every book in the Bible.

The New York Catholic Bible School was started to provide catechists and catechetical leaders with the knowledge and confidence to offer Scripture study courses in their parishes. But we have always made it available to lectors, other ministers and anyone interested in Bible study.

Make no mistake. This is not a social gathering. There’s plenty of reading, discussion and homework. But there also is prayer. This leads to fellowship. Many of our 592 (so far) graduates have found lasting friendships with their fellow students.

The Bible School schedule calls for three trimesters a year, each 10 weeks long. The tuition is $150 per trimester along with an annual registration fee of $35. The tuition pays for the instructor, who must have an advanced degree in Scripture. We keep the number of students to about 15-18 per program in order to facilitate communication in the class.

We currently have nine schools throughout the Archdiocese. Our newest location is at St. John’s on Kingsbridge Avenue in the Bronx. The instructor, Father Michael Kerrigan, has a full class, but if you sign up in the next week, he’ll find room for you. Another New York Catholic Bible School will open in January 2015 at St. Augustine’s in Larchmont. We’re also scouting a new mid-Manhattan site for January.

If you want to know more, just visit our NYCBS website.

Help for new catechists…and veterans, too.

September 15th, 2014

The other evening, I decided to write a prayer service based on St. Augustine’s letter On Catechezing the Neophyte. It’s often been called the first catechist’s manual because its content includes not only what to teach, but how to keep the student engaged. Writing to a catechist named Deogratias, Augustine noted that frequently a student who first listened with all readiness gets tired and no longer listens, but instead gapes and yawns and looks as if he’d like to be somewhere else.  Augustine suggested a few re-engagement tactics.

Not much has changed in the approximately 1,600 years since Augustine wrote his advice to Deogratias. A look at the wonderful line-up of workshops on offer at our annual Catechetical Forums – Saturday, Oct. 4, at Sacred Heart Parish, Monroe, NY, and Saturday, Oct. 18, at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx – makes that clear.

“Here they come – Are you ready?” That sounds like a workshop a new catechist should check out. “Doing God’s Work at Ungodly Hours.” Oh yes, catechists can certainly identify with that. “Parents – Help or Hindrance?” Enough said. But in addition to these are such topics as “How to become a Creative Catechist, “Technology in the Classroom,” “Keeping Adolescents Connected to the Church.” And many more “how to” workshops. If you are a catechist or thinking of becoming one, don’t miss out on the Forums.

There are three other great reasons to come, our keynoters: Father James Martin, SJ, Editor-at-Large at America magazine and author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage; Carole Eipers, Vice President, Executive Director of Catechetics for William H. Sadlier Publishing, Inc.; and Adrian Alberto Herrara, Associate Director, Office of Evangelization and Catechesis at the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

If you are interested in joining us at one of these two great days, just visit the Catechetical Forums website and register. We’d love to have you join us. Augustine would, I believe, heartily approve of these great opportunities for catechists.

Augustine on waging war and making peace

August 25th, 2014

I am on vacation but want to share some important information. With all the unrest and terror in the world these days, the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo on war and peace are being talked about with increasing urgency. The leaders of our church are making frequent reference to Augustine’s so-called just war theory. All of us, especially those who hand on the faith through the catechetical ministry, should be familiar with this.

The Rev. Donald X. Burt, OSA, PhD, emeritus professor of philosophy at Villanova University, spent most of his life examining, teaching and writing about Augustine. He died just a few months ago after a long and fruitful priesthood. Father Burt had the great gift of making Augustine accessible to people who were not students of this late fourth and early fifth century doctor of the church. During my 12 years at Villanova, I turned to him many times for aid in conveying Augustine’s philosophy to the university’s graduates, most of whom were not professional philosophers.

In his book, Friendship & Society, An Introduction to Augustine’s Practical Philosophy (Wm. P. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), Father Burt devoted a chapter to Augustine’s very strong views on peace. Here it is, for your information, courtesy of Villanova University’s website. I am also linking you to Book 19 of Augustine’s City of God. Read chapter 7.

By the way, St. Augustine’s feast day is this Thursday, Aug, 28. Pray to him and to his mother Monica, whose feast is Aug. 27, to intercede on behalf of us all, especially political, military and religious leaders, to bring a just peace.

Peace, please, for the children’s sake

July 28th, 2014

Something rather horrible dawned on me at Mass yesterday as I was listening to the peace petition in the Prayer of the Faithful. The more than 95,000 children in our parish religious education programs have never known a day without war being presented to them on television, on their hand-held devices and computers, or even on the car radio. No children have. And some children are being maimed and dying in wars waged by their elders.

Our youngsters never saw the Twin Towers standing in our financial district. Most of them have never seen our major churches, temples and mosques without a police presence. They have never walked onto an airplane, into a ball park or even into our own St. Patrick’s Cathedral without having their back packs inspected for explosives. They have never known a time without some war. They don’t know what peace is supposed to be. My worry is that they will grow up thinking this is the way the world is and that it can never be any different.

Perhaps some people remember or have read about Pope Paul VI’s unprecedented speech to the United Nations in October of 1965, not that the world heeded his peace call.  He, in his turn, was echoing the call for a lasting peace by one of his predecessors, Pope Benedict XV, who reigned during and after the First World War, which was supposed to be the war to end all wares. Obviously, no one heeded him either.

And now the pope of our times is warning the world to change what looks more and more like a course to another world war – one too terrible even to contemplate.  This is what Pope Francis said yesterday, July 27.

Please God, let us not be like those who ignored this pope’s predecessors. Let us give our children a chance to know peace.