Confession: Common things I say

Recently, Sr Teresa Aletheia asked for a quote for me on the topic of Confession. I had returned from World Youth Day, and was a month behind preparing for the new school year, I could only come up with a sentence.

It is important to bear these things in mind:

  1. The Sacrament of Penance may be therapeutic, but it is not a counseling session.

Although I am open to give practical advice, or helpful perspective, I believe the grace of God that they receive in that Sacrament is more important than anything that I can say. I also believe that people would be happy for there to be advice or perspective that is not merely practical, but explicitly  spiritual. Finally, bearing in mind, that many people don’t want or need any advice whatsoever (often this is how I feel going to the Sacrament), I merely need the grace that the Sacrament offers.

  1. People may need moral clarity, but it is not primarily a catechetical session.

I have had a difficult time with older priests assuming that I am paralyzed with guilt over sins. Catholic guilt is not something I suffer from. In fact, I wish my contrition was deeper and more heartfelt. I don’t think a person needs to be explained that they did not in fact sin according to the theological moral criterion and definition of sin. The peace that forgiveness grant’s is more important. That doesn’t mean that the questions of a penitent ought to be disregarded.

  1. People are not forced into the Confessional these days.

Involved Catholics gripe that there is not enough talk of sin in the pulpit. I am sure there are some who would want to know that I am scolding & castigating every last sinner who comes in. The fact is, nowadays, there are no social pressures to go to Confession. Whether or not there should be is another question. What that means, is that whoever shows up, has done so freely, set aside time from their busy life, because they know what they did is wrong, and they know that they need the help of God and the Church. They don’t need moral lessons, they need God’s grace.

  1. Catholics are not encouraged to grow spiritually

I find that most of their regular sins are their own personal spiritual plateau. Faith Formation ends at 14 for most Catholics. Catholics have mistaken holy darkness for atheism or agnosticism. Sometimes a one-on-one session with a Priest is an opportunity to teach them that God’s plan for them is satisfying beyond their wildest dreams.

Now when they show up, I keep these things in mind, and it informs the advice that I give them. As I have advised often, I find that there are a things that I turn to often. People think that they are so alone and unique in their sins and struggles.

  1. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an Encounter with Christ and his mercy.

I know I can get legal minded, and I do encounter this with others as well. This is how relationships are made whole, by communication, by apologizing, by receiving forgiveness. It is personal, not just legal. Sometimes the remorse of the sin, or the preoccupation with the ritual can make people forget that Christ stands at the center of this.

  1. Strategies are not as effective as God’s grace.

I get a Confession of a sin, followed by a lengthy explanation of what they are doing to work on that sin. Maybe they are used to priests scolding them, or challenging them to think about ways to overcome that. Any strategy we make to overcome sin is entirely ineffective if we are not praying, not going to confession, not receiving the sacraments. I often find that the practical advice is inadequate. The most that I often do is ask them to find a mentor or few friends who can help with advice and accountability.

  1. Read the Scriptures

I know Catholics suck at reading or studying the Scriptures. I am not comfortable giving this out as a penance to many people, because many people look at the bible like operating a complicated and elite piece of machinery. I remind them that the Psalms are a good source of prayer, and the Gospels are how we can know about Jesus. This is also very dangerous. It can provoke them to love God and others more.

  1. The Holy Spirit seems to be working in their life

I can’t count how many times, someone enters Confession, after having to traverse many internal challenges. I really admire so many people boldly crying out to Christ in their brokenness. I am moved. As they are their wallowing, imagining that God wants to lunge and hurl condemnations, that the opposite is very true. The courage that to show up is probably an indication of the Spirit’s guidance in their life.

When Penance time comes around I usually assign a few non-traditional penances

  1. Read the Sunday Bible Readings

Every once and a while, I find that someone wants more. They have no legitimate mentors in their life to steer them in the direction of mature faith. One simple thing anyone can do is spend some time in prayer with the Readings for Mass. I started doing this my Senior Year of High School, now it’s my job to do it.

  1. Gratitude List

If someone doubts, they need to see evidence of God’s loving activity in their life. If someone sins, they need to see evidence that God will care for their needs. A gratitude list is a practical way for anyone to look with their eyes, and read aloud, the good things God does for them. Then they can thank them in a Litany. I tell them, as a penance, that they are required to do this once within 3 days, and that I encourage them to do it regularly 1-2x/week. This is very much rooted in Augustine’s Confessions: Writing down exactly how God has been good and generous in your life.

  1. Jesus Prayer

This is one of the ancient practices of our faith. Catholics are trained to see encountering God as a tedious, and often emotionally exhausting exercise, instead of seeing Christ as the source of all our new life. I find, over and over, Catholics are astounded that we have had this simple quiet meditation prayer for centuries, and that they are only hearing about it now.

  1. Offer a Mass Intention / Offer a Holy Hour

I save this one for Catholics that I have indication to believe that they are involved in their faith. I charge them to offer a Mass intention or a Holy Hour (it depends on the circumstances), in reparation for their sins, and in reparation for others who have struggled with the same sin. Sometimes I hear confessions before Mass, or during a Holy Hour. I also trust that they might be happy to bring their bibles, rosaries, and prayer books to adoration, and be set.

 

5 Reasons I hate the term “Practicing Catholic”

The term Practicing Catholic merits little explanation. It is common. What deserves more critical attention is perhaps it’s origin.

There are Catholics that do not practice their faith, and still staunchly identify as Catholics. There are those who identify, and do not practice, nor believe any of the tenets of the faith, and are still unflinchingly, and irrationally, attached to an identifying label. I’m Catholic but [insert phrase here] I don’t go to Church, I don’t care about what the Church teaches, I don’t care much for the Pope, or my bishop, or the parish priest… the list goes on.

So, in an effort to make it clear that a self-identified Catholic actually attends Church, receives the Sacraments regularly, believes in Church teaching, tries to live it out in their daily life, and hopefully tries to maintain a close relationship with Jesus Christ, they identify themselves as a Practicing Catholic. Perhaps the amount of Catholics who do not actually live their faith or attend Mass has become so normative and rampant, that one feels it so significant to actually use the term. Also in the case of why I brought this up, sometimes people would prefer that Catholic Institutions be staffed exclusively by “Practicing Catholics.” (Although, I suspect that there are some that would wish to purge the world of anyone who isn’t a “practicing Catholic” but that’s another story).

I must admit, I don’t care much for the term.

Obviously, as a priest, it would be incredibly redundant for me to even describe myself as a “practicing Catholic,” that would begin to imply that you could be a priest who is not a “practicing Catholic.” I won’t even begin to imagine what that would entail.

I was impressed, on the flip-side, but by an alternative catchphrase. The high school that I work at never uses the term practicing Catholic in it’s faculty handbook, but it does say that faculty members must be involved in their parish communities. The omission of the term Catholic is not to suggest a watering down of Catholic identity, but merely to acknowledge that a minority of faculty members are not Catholic, and are still to be involved. Involved Catholics.

The majority, however, are very involved Catholics. Knowing the religion faculty, I am not worried about Catholic identity. In fact, I have found myself in numerous situations where faculty members nonchallantly mention something about their Catholic parish. They mention it, not to show off, not to prove they are “practicing Catholics,” They just talk about life, and life happens at their parish. A number of our faculty members lector or cantor at Mass, teach confirmation, give bible classes, and have a variety of connections in their parish.

I think that the term is incredibly outdated. A practicing Catholic made sense before the Second Vatican Council, and perhaps only made sense almost immediately preceding it. You attend Mass when required, you drop money in the collection plate, you say your prayers, you eat fish on fridays, and fast when required, etc. I really believe that this falls short of what the Scriptures, the Church Fathers, the Saints, the Second Vatican Council, and our current and recent Popes have called us to. It falls so incredibly short.

In brief, I can sum it up as follows.

  1. Labeling oneself a practicing Catholic does not seem to put the Person, Life & Mission of Jesus Christ at the forefront. It is not obvious that one has a living faith in, and relationship with Jesus Christ, recognizing him as the Son of God, and the Savior of humankind. It might be obvious from this term that one attends to the typical Catholic things: Mass, Rosaries, Baptisms, Weddings, Candles, etc.
  2. A “Practicing Catholic” can only be measured or verified by externals: Do they attend Mass? It cannot be verified by internal disposition or attitude, but only upon externals. Someone can easily succeed at making Mass weekly, but not open their heart to the grace of the Scriptures and Sacraments. There is really no way of confirming one’s purity of heart without immediately sounding pompous and conceited.
  3. Labeling oneself a practicing Catholic may not necessarily mean that one lives their faith in a healthy way. It is possible to create a solipsistic Catholic world, in which one does indeed attend Mass regularly, practice the faith, says prayers, believes Church teaching wholeheartedly. They can, at the same time, not have another family member who is Catholic, not have a faith-centered friendship with other Catholics, attend a Church without interacting with anyone, go Church-shopping for an extended period of time, have no familiarity with a particular priest as their Pastor, live their faith on Catholic blog message boards. A lot of people have been quite adept at living out the Teachings of the Church, while completely missing Jesus own ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom, and mercifully attending to the needy. It is really easy to imagine one to be in communion of Church, but not actually being in Communion with any particular Catholic Parish Community. That is problematic.
  4. Labeling oneself a practicing Catholic may or may not indicate that one is actively engaged in any actual outreach, Evangelization, or corporeal Works of Mercy. It is used only to emphasize one’s proximity to the Sacraments or Catholicism, with NO implication that they live out their faith after Sunday. This term falls dramatically short. In fact, Practicing Catholic might as well be the same as Mediocre Catholic: one who accomplishes the bare minimum. Although the bare minimum might be reception of the sacraments and acceptance of Church Teaching, and may be better off that many others. It is still a bare minimum, qualifying one as mediocre.
  5. Labeling oneself a practicing Catholic is 100% conditioned by our time and place. It depends entirely on there being individuals who identify themselves as Catholic who don’t even attend Mass or believe in what the Church teaches. At the rate that “nones” are the fastest growing religious group (those who have no religious affiliation), it is already clear that more people are hesitant to identify as Catholics when they do not practice. In a generation, this term will already be useless. It is entirely conditioned on there being an alleged group of non-practicing Catholics.

Really, if someone says that they are Catholic, shouldn’t it imply that they are practicing?

Single is the Default Christian Vocation & Not Marriage (or Consecrated Life)

prayer-1Finding THE ONE is the topic of much discussion, the center of rotation of many personal reflections, conversations, art, music & film. The default story anywhere we look is a love story between a man and woman.

At the core of who we are, we have an existential need to receive and give affection. We also need to give of ourselves, and receive it from significant people. The Less people, the more intense the feelings might be. At the basic level of human appetite we crave affection & sex. Being single or being in Consecrated Life does not mean that one is asexual.

This past weekend, I attended the National Catholic Singles Conference in San Diego, only to hear Confessions, and it got me thinking about developing this idea. I am writing specifically for the purpose so that people can think critically about what they take for granted: Married Life is the Default or Normal Way for Christians to live their life, while Consecrate Life is exceptional, and Single People are only given a negative or neutral value in God’s plan. This is not advice for singles, neither is it a detail about the actual single vocation (or the variety of single vocations of Consecrated Life in the Church). I want to write that Married Life is not the Default Christian Life, neither is Consecrated Life exceptional, that everyone is called either permanently or temporarily to a Single Vocation.

Married Life or Consecrated Life

Many people figure that the major vocational decision is between getting married to another human or to God. Many of them see Married Life as the Default. There is the command in the Bible since Genesis. Among devout Catholics there is talk of protecting the family. There is a lot of Talk of Theology of the Body, Relationships, Dating, Chastity, in regard to complimentarily, coupling, and the ultimate goal of marriage.

Marriage is characterized as being in crisis. Divorce is rampant. Young men refuse to take on the responsibilities of fatherhood. There might be a whole lot wanting in the Western World’s pop culture perceptions of marriage, love & commitment.

Often the term Vocation Crisis refers exclusively to the rapidly diminishing numbers in Consecrated life. Others will apply the term Vocation Crisis to the state of marriage. Even lay Catholics who are deeply convicted of their personal vocation to have been married and have children, are deeply troubled to talk about this. It is such that people accuse me of being “TOO YOUNG TO BE A PRIEST.”

However, Religious are not seen as single. Consecrated Life is described as a marriage to God. Religious and Consecrated MUST be in an exclusive & all-consuming relationship. Even more explicitly people insist on this EVERYONE MUST BE MARRIED theory when they understand that priests are married to the Church.

Consecrated Life is really a kind of Marriage. There is NOTHING in God’s plan that ISN’T MARRIAGE Therefore, Single people have just not found the person that they are looking for.

Single People don’t get a break

Catholic gatherings, particularly young adult gatherings focus on socializing and connecting people. There are plenty of people who go expecting to find THE ONE. There are events that are planned, hoping that people will find THE ONE.

Conversely, they overlook countless members of society who have never been married. In many parts of the world, some people never marry to care for their parents. Throughout history, there have always been people who have lived lives of service because of their social status, and never married. People not marrying did not magically start happening the instant that the West abandoned God or whatever. It is presupposed by devout Catholics that every single adult that forgoes marriage for a career is a self-satisfied sociopath. It is never even hinted at that even young egotistical career-aholics might actually have a lifelong call to being single. Even in the secular career world, nowhere is someone considered admirable for being single. Our American Culture, influenced by Protestantism that abandoned Religious Life, MANDATED MARRIAGE FOR EVERYONE, and so we are copying Protestantism in the Church.

Single people are said to be a negation. Negatively they are too egotistical to enter into a self-sacrificing married relationship, or positively just haven’t found the right person. Most good Catholics who even accept the theory of a Single Vocation look at Single People as on the way to marriage, and want to fix them with someone. We wouldn’t dare think of insulting someone by suggesting that they will find their vocation in loneliness and negation.

The primary relationship in one’s life.

Because people look at Vocation only in the big picture, and only in terms of a long term relationship, (because Consecrated Life is only a kind of marriage) people overlook their vocation in the moment. God calls. Vocation means calling, God calls in a variety of ways. God calls us to discipleship FIRST.

The primary relationship for the disciple is a mentor relationship. In order for there to be a successful mentor relationship there MUST NOT BE ANY ROMANTIC INCLINATION. Perhaps the most important relationship one can have in their life is a mentor relationship. For the Christian Jesus Christ is the primary Master / Mentor. Perhaps one can find a secondary Master / Mentor in a Saint like Augustine, Ignatius, Theresa of Avila, Francis of Assisi, or Mother Theresa. On a human level we actually need a mentor or two. The Church mandates that we have godparents and Confirmation Sponsors (but we are often pressured to select people who have no actual experience of Christian Discipleship, the Spiritual Life, or even practicing their Catholicism).

A lot of people imagine that the “secret” to chaste celibacy lies in supernatural power directly transmitted by God. There is certainly a need for grace. Others think that the secret is in natural balance, healthy relationships with self & others, regular exercise & days off. I have been surprised at how difficult chaste celibacy is without mentors & particularly a Spiritual Director.

The mentor, who is not parent, would have to be in a completely celibate non-romantic relationship. They would also have the advantage of grace and wisdom, in that the young person is not, and never in a position to pay them back. The mentoring relationship is clearly more valuable to the youth, and not to the mentor. However, sometimes the mentor does not need all the answers, for their presence is often enough to bring a sort of peace to the panicked frantic youth who is unsure that their life will work out for them.

Pop Culture

If one were to look at the trend in popular movies before 1980 and after 2000 you could characterize it as such. Movies before 1980 were primarily interested in romantic relationships, whereas many movies after 2000 were significantly more interested in the mentor relationship. (exceptions might be Back to the Future and Star Wars)

Take Batman as an example. If one were to look at Batman before Christopher Nolan’s adaptation you could characterize it as such. Batman is a fully self-sufficient man. Although he has the help of Robin, or Commissioner Gordon, Batman could do quite well without them. Were you to look at Batman Begins, the primary relationship seems to be Bruce Wayne’s and Ra’s al Gul, or conversely Batman and Alfred. Ra’s al Gul even has a positive effect on Bruce Wayne, but it is Alfred who is indispensible. In fact Alfred is more indispensible then that one girl, what’s her name?

Be it Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings, Hunger Games, films that have become extensive cultural phenomenon’s, I believe, because they have brought out the significance of the mentor relationship. Instead of focusing on self-actualization through romance, they have focused on self-actualization through wisdom.

The opportunity of the Postmodern West

While serious and intelligent Catholics are stuck lamenting the cultural insignificance of the Father, Film has given positive images of how alternatives can work. The parents are always absent or irrelevant, and somehow the character manages to grow into an integrated capable person with the help of the mentor.

It truly is a tragedy that Fathers are failures or irrelevant in the West, it would be a misunderstanding to presume that every person who has had a destructive relationship with their father ends up destroyed hopelessly.

Even if we lived in a world were prolonged adolescence wasn’t as normative as mature responsible manhood or fatherhood… Even if, our world really consisted of a majority of men who were admirable and not cowardly, and many young people cite their father’s as their primary mentors, and even pop culture acknowledged this phenomenon, none of that could diminish the need for an additional significant mentor, or several.

Grandparents, godparents, aunts & uncles, older siblings, and other mentors would still be just as relevant. They would still serve in bringing an individual to their fullest self. Besides all this CRISIS talk is overestimated today, because here was have a clear opportunity.

Even married people who are mentored are mentored as individuals

Because the mentor relationship necessitates complete celibacy, as well as non-reciprocity in that the young person is not in a state to repay their mentor, it happens to the person as a single person.

People who are married or in religious life might cite the need for mentors in those states of life. I believe that there are many problems in married life because of a lack of mentors in earlier life. Many people enter marriage not as self-actualized individuals, and feel the need to separate in order to become actualized. Some people never learn to develop trust, something that can only be developed among people in completely celibate disinterested relationships like a mentor relationship. And perhaps couples have emotionally intense relationships where there is a desperate mutual need, these feelings do not get to the depths of the person, a type of relating that is often carried out by people who have had relationships with elders. Finally, many people falsely imagine that married life will grant a surrogate father or mother, or, in other words, another appropriate mentor.

It is not to suggest that somehow when one has found their vocation, or have gotten married, that they are eliminated from being mentors. The Mentor Relationship happens to and among individual persons. If a married person mentors it is as an individual and not as a couple. The young son needs his father to impart wisdom, and would personally benefit in the same way were his widowed grandfather or single uncle were to impart wisdom. In order to become a mature individual, there is virtually nothing that makes the person in married life or consecrated life elite. In order to impart wisdom one must have had, as a single person, had wisdom imparted to them, and had experience.

On the other hand, even when a couple turns to another couple for marriage, it may be the rare exception. However, the mentoring that happens here is often from the man to the man, and from the woman to the woman. It is often still between individuals navigating the same issue. Were this mentoring always to happen with all individuals present, From couple to couple, it would probably not be nearly as effective. Yet all this marks out the one exception where mentoring happens as a single person. However, if one has had some decent mentoring prior to marriage, will have so much more to give as a mature individual.

Someone who has, as fully as possible, worked at integrated and growing into a responsible individual can then almost go anywhere. They are likewise as effective as a biological father or spiritual father. A single person is a ripe for being mentored, and it is as a single person that one mentors.

It is always and only as a single person that one makes a choice on what vocation they will enter. It is as a single person, as a Christian Disciple, that one can commit their life to Christ, properly discern, pray, and be mentored before committing to a vocation. Even if most people are not called to some kind of Single Vocation, or Consecrated Singlehood, there is nobody who is not called to a Single Vocation of Christian Discipleship & Discernment. Married life is not for everyone. There is no Christian who cannot be single.

What if the Bishop didn’t have to make the rounds in Confirmation Season?

confirmationPray for Bishop Cirrilo Flores, of San Diego. He had a stroke immediately before Easter, and has been unable to preside at Liturgical Functions. He has, probably to the sorrow and shock of many Catholics, been unable to preside at the Confirmation Masses of many teenagers, probably making many adult Catholics wondering or feeling that the validity of the ceremony is in question. I decided to revive this post from a few years ago that I never published.

I have written previously on my opinion that the Roman Catholic Church ought to restore the Order of the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist. In this case, I wanted to invite people to imagine what the Church would be like if the Bishops weren’t still required to do Confirmations at all the Parishes.

In our current setup, a Bishop makes the rounds in Confirmation Season: Between the Second Week of Easter, and Pentecost (Sometimes it’s pushed all the way at the beginning of Lent). It is the ideal for many to have the Bishop Confirm the students at Pentecost. Since it is impossible for the Bishop to be present in every parish on this high Solemnity, we make this concession to have him, or an Auxiliary Bishop near the Solemnity of Pentecost. Our current situation, which we hold up as an ideal is merely a concession.

Currently, many people feel as if Confirmation is essentially and exclusively conferred by one’s Bishop. Pastorally, the Bishop is responsible for all the Sacraments in the Diocese, by having the annual Chrism Mass, we recognize our Communion with the Bishop. During the Eucharistic Prayers, we recall our Communion with the Universal Church signified by our Bishop. On the contrary, there are so many ways that we recognize our unity in the Church, through our Bishop, in our Liturgy. Most of our deep convictions about this Sacrament are misguided sentiments.

The Bishop delegates his priests for the Sacraments on Easter, and it would not be a stretch for him to do so for the rest of the year. Further, we can also see that we have more ancient customs in our Liturgical Tradition that typically have the priest conferring Confirmation. And considering we also have the ancient Liturgical custom of Priests (especially in the East) conferring the Sacrament of Confirmation, I think it is worth discussing.

Should we have an approach where young people receive the Sacrament of Confirmation prior to First Communion, a properly ordered Initiation, many people, I am sure will feel that we lost a significant Tradition of having the Bishop present at a Parish celebration. Many people, mistakenly believe that Confirmation is tied to adolescence/adulthood, when it is indeed a more modern concession, a modern and unnecessary concession.[1]

Should a Bishop be in a situation where he is no longer tied down intensely during one part of the year making the Confirmation rounds, he will be freer to make more significant Pastoral visits at Parish celebrations. I would like to Imagine this: When a parish celebrates their anniversary, their annual Festival (should it not coincide with their anniversary), or the Feast of their Patron, the Bishop’s presence at any of these celebrations would be more significant for the entire Parish Community, rather then a significant event exclusively for the teens being Confirmed each year (and many of their family members who may not even be regular mass-attendees). Indeed, Many of them will disappear immediately after their Confirmation to either never return, or perhaps return with wedding or baptism demands.

That is to say, in a Church, where the Bishop is no longer pressured or required to attend every parish Confirmation celebration, will find himself immensely freed up pastorally to attend a variety of Parish Celebrations across the diocese in which he serves. I don’t know that people perceive the Bishop merely in terms of a status symbol[2] or a sacramentary dispenser, or rather as a Shepherd. Not having the Bishop at most Confirmations, I believe, focuses people’s attention on the Bishop as the Shepherd. As much as the memory of the Auxiliary Bishop’s presence at my own Confirmation is meaningful, the persistent Pastoral Presence of Bishops over the years, somehow seems as if it could be even more meaningful.

  1. People literally say that Confirmation is when “You, as an adult, CONFIRM the faith of your Baptism.” This is, however a reverse of the actual theology of this Sacrament. Confirmation is conferred, and we receive it. It is not us that Confirm, it is Christ through the Minister in the Spirit. Our reception of the Sacrament is important, however Confirmation doesn’t refer to our decision as such. Sacraments are all primarily gifts from Christ through the Church
  2. Sometimes we fall into the temptation to presume that one Catholic’s confirmation is more powerful if conferred by a higher bishop. We forget it is the same Christ in the Pope, in the Archbishop, & in the Priest that confirms. It is the Action of Christ.

“Christian Rap is cowardly disobedience.” How Reformed Theology will inherently see Christian Rap more problematic than Catholic Theology.

Several Reformed Christian Preachers/Pastors/Leaders engaged the validity of Christian Rap as a vehicle to evangelize. Every single one of these leaders found Christian Rap very problematic, and they quoted Scripture to justify their opinion. Reformed Theology, compared to Catholic Theology, often believes that they have a duty to be intrinsically antagonistic toward “the world.” On the flipside Catholics might look at their relationship with “the world” with more complexity & subtlety:

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.

(Guadiem et Spes 1)

So, while a Reformed minded theologian/Christian might see the travails of a contemporary culture as intrinsically evil, or a cause for grief, a Catholic minded theologian would see the same travails as an opportunity:

To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics. Some of the main features of the modern world can be sketched as follows…

Influenced by such a variety of complexities, many of our contemporaries are kept from accurately identifying permanent values and adjusting them properly to fresh discoveries. As a result, buffeted between hope and anxiety and pressing one another with questions about the present course of events, they are burdened down with uneasiness. This same course of events leads men to look for answers; indeed, it forces them to do so.

(Guadiem et spes 4)

Hence, the opportunity.

I do not mean to reduce Reformed Theology (as if they have no sense of Pastoral Care & Response, which they do), and I recognize the controversy that this video has caused (despite the apparent panel agreement that Christian Rap is inherently problematic), that among Reform Christian is some kind of disagreement. Further, the panelists have also publicly apologized, and do feel somewhat embarrassed at their broad-brushed statements. In the same way, I could imagine that intelligent Catholics might find Christian/Catholic Rap inherently problematic.

However, were a panel discussion like this to happen in a Catholic scenario, among Catholic leaders, I couldn’t imagine it happening the same way.

Now, in regard to the actual panel, and the issue that they engaged: WORSHIP.

I have said before that Hip Hop is not appropriate Liturgical Music, not merely because it is not “reverent,” but precisely because Hip Hop has a lot more to do with proclamation than with worship. For a lot of the popular so-called Christian Rappers, they often make some sort of Hip Hop Worship song of Praise to God. Many of the Hip Hop artists that I like that are Christian, never create songs that are meant to be used as Prayers, Praise or Worship.

Hip Hop has always been about “dropping science” (which is another term for imparting knowledge and wisdom) or exposing social issues of injustice that receive no credence in most media outlets. What most people think (particularly the first man on the panel), is that Rap is about Rappers. Hip Hop is a culture about elements & expression, but is much broader than rappers rapping about themselves. A lot of emcees rap about much more than themselves.

Measuring this against the Christian tradition, Hip Hop would seem to have a lot more to do with the Prophetic Office (proclamation) than with the Priestly Office (worship). Christ holds both of these offices, and through him so does every Baptized follower of him. But because everyone holds all of these offices does not necessitate that the functions of these offices are interchangeable. Perhaps, in certain circumstances they are not interchangeable.

Therefore, in my own expression, even though I am an ordained Priest, I am also an ordained Prophet. Since I am ordained to proclaim I rap. I do not need to incorporate hip hop into worship or liturgy, except, in certain circumstances, in the Proclamation.

There might be some Catholics that do not see it this way. Some that would feel that Hip Hop could be appropriate for the Liturgy. I might wonder if they have an insufficient comprehension of Hip Hop culture as much about Catholic Liturgy. In fact, I could imagine that Catholics who would be most supportive of hip hop could easily be white people over the age of sixty, who are happy to give themselves a round of applause about how diverse & modern they are, while their grandkids would probably be rolling their eyes at how gimmicky the whole enterprise is.

Are you an inflated self-important speaker or presenter? with a bonus list of 12 helpful hints

I have had a lot of bad experience of Presenters, Speakers and Teachers over the years that I thought to write about this. You know, the Student Presenters who are given a ten minute time slot to present, and then complete 25% of their presentation in that ten, and insist that they have many additional important things to conclude? You know, the professor who goes over the ending time of class, or even worse the break time, and will not extend the break? You know, the audience isn’t desperate to hear, but the speaker is certainly desperate to speak, and even more desperate for everyone to understand it?

I am not talking about the Professor who is overly (or obsessively) passionate about their topic and wants others to share in that passion. It is very different. It is a Teacher (or any of the above) that is obsessively convinced that their topic is of urgency and significance, and were it not for that Teacher, they would be lost. Simply, the Speaker is convinced that the audience is bereft of knowledge or abilities without the speakers comprehensive life-saving presentation. Maybe it’s a Messiah complex that has little regard to the audience or assembly’s capacity to receive the message, but it is certainly about the Teachers desperate neediness to be the herald of some perceived significance.

Most Public Presentations Are Awful

For instance, a student, or a group of students, present on historical developments of liturgical music in Christianity. There is a 10 min requirement, with a few extra for questions. One student is well versed on the topic with a great degree of depth. For the sake of saving his classmates, or for the sake of illumining the ignorant, the student feels compelled to elaborate with wordy powerpoint slides, and address some more obscure, complex details of liturgical music. He goes well over with wordy powerpoints, and obscure complexities, disconnected from any concern of anyone in the classroom.

The fact is, we live in an information overload age, where people are adept at tuning out uninteresting data. Likewise they are exhausted from massive amounts of data impounding and invading their lives. Not only are people more technologically literate and well connected, it is more important that people are connected to the resources that matter. Rather then your audience becoming immediately proficient in your passions, it is more important that they know where to turn to access more meaningful data. Most of all, people will be looking for an idea or two to take with them. This boils down to each person probably not absorbing 80%-90% of whatever you say. If they are not being tested on it, perhaps they will not retain 95% of what you say. If you have nothing relevant they will not remember anything.

Desperately Needy Messiah Complex Preachers.

If you are, however, about the work of the Gospel, keeping in mind all of the practical things I have said, I have to add to it. I have been on many retreats, where we were behind schedule, and we cut out significant personal reflection and small group process times. Speakers were convinced that they were the sole possessors of some profound life changing truth that MUST be spoken to them, even if we have to go overtime, and force them to hold out on the bathroom (so they won’t even pay attention).

If there is a message or truth that God wants to share, that you believe you are the most important person for God to transmit through, then you have a problem. If God has an important message, remind yourself, wouldn’t God’s great message or Truth, beyond your own capacity, make it’s way to their lives REGARDLESS of what you say or do? I am humbled that God trusts his Sacraments, and his Mission to such lowly incapable beings. However, I am even more humbled that God is not ANTICIPATING THAT I AM THE LAST RESORT. You, are not the last resort. If you think you are, you have a problem.

Basically it goes like this: If you insist on burdening the time, energy and anything else of your audience with your ultimately urgent message, you are saying that God is so powerless that he needs you. You are saying that God is so small, so powerless, so insignificant, that God will never be capable of unveiling whatever urgent insight or message. Giving yourself, or your message, that much credence, is idolatry.

Bonus List!

I thought I might come up with a quick list of points to keep in mind. Everything I am saying here is in reference to public speaking and presenting, and therefore whatever advice I give cannot be equally applied to faith sharing conversations between individuals or small groups. So here are some ideas and perimeters to keep you from conflated self importance.

1. God will certainly speak through you. God will say something through you, even if it is not the profound thing that you intended God to say. Keep that in mind, especially when you accidently neglect a major point, or run out of time.

2. You are NOT God’s Last Resort. You do not know the state of the souls of large groups that you are speaking to, and cannot presume to divine some sort of profound truth that will cause them to convert or whatever. God will always have a way of reaching out to people beyond you personally. Besides, thinking yourself God’s Last Resort can cause you to come off as intimidating and people will tune you out.

3. Avoid Powerpoint presentations and handouts with Too Much Information. Instead of people engaging with the dynamism in your talk, they will probably read the information you put before their eyes. I am personally against using powerpoint except for pictures or quotes.

4. Avoid filling up your entire lecture, lesson, or presentation with your words. Listening to one voice talk for too long will cause people to tune out.

5. Avoid, at all costs, going over your allotted portion of time. If people are required to sit in on, or participate in your presentation then sometimes you can consider finishing a minute early.

6. Avoid the standard manner of presentation. If you are one of many presenters in a class or seminar, they will all blend in the minds of the audience and will remember less.

7. Avoid the basic stuff. If you are presenting something around a topic that your entire class or group has studied or been a part of, cut through all the rudimentary stuff they know and get to your point.

8. Avoid Rambling. Get to your point! And on that, yeah, say your main point, or main points a few times, make a few lists (like this one here).

9. Make Dialogue, Questions & Comments important for your presentation. Each person will most remember the idea that answers or connects to their questions and concerns.

10. Learn about techniques in Public Speaking, Orality, & incorporate a presentation that engages a variety of learning styles. (For instance, some people are more analogical learners, some require more logical deduction, some require more poetry and music, etc.)

11. Surprise your audience. Give them something they have never seen or experienced, which is relevant to your topic. Something that will connect them to your idea.

12. Resources Resources Resources!!!! I can say the most important thing is, (in our technologically literate and information overload age), connect people to resources that matter.

No Chastity Retreat For You!

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“No Chastity Retreat For You!” Exclaims the cynical liberal who presumes that ‘they are just going to do it anyways, so let’s give them all artificial contraception.’

This is the line of reasoning of many progressives, imagining themselves to be grounded in reality. I believe that they are trapped in a past world, where they believe that any challenge to sexual promiscuity can only result in shaming and hurt feelings. I believe that they imagine themselves to be a in world where sex is something hidden and shamed, and not part of every billboard top single, every MTV music awards performance, every major motion picture comedy. Finally, I also believe that many of them had not had an actual conversation with an adolescent that has had to go through the emotional trauma that results in teenage sexual activity. My experience, is that most old liberals who refuse to discuss chastity and abstinence think ‘they are just going to do it anyways,’ are no longer in touch with the modern adolescent and the world that they inhabit.

In the past few years or so, a friend of mine who was involved in a parish youth ministry, was not supported in putting on another chastity retreat. I don’t know the full details of this, and this post is not meant to address this particular situation, as much as it is to address CLOSED-MINDED CYNICAL LIBERALS WHO PRESUME THAT CONTRACEPTION WILL SAVE THE WORLD.

Miley Cyrus, an American Golden Girl

The mythical non-existent world that many old people live in, is one where Miley Cyrus did not Twerk Robin Thicke on national television. The mytical world that they inhabit is one, where an All-American good girl like Miley Cyrus (or Britney, or anyone else), never becomes an icon of sexual promiscuity, unapologetically is backed by the entire entertainment media industry (from record labels, radio, MTV, & iTunes). The non-existent world that closed-minded liberals who think contraception will save the world is one in which Billboard chart-toppers have lyrics synchronized to the speech of rapists.

Rape Culture’s proponents & Contraception’s Proponents

This scares me. People who are making an effort to expose Rape Culture, have found this popular maxim: Men are so sexual, and they are just going to do it anyways. When High School & College Athletes and systematically protected by their coaches from the legal consequences of the crime of rape, they always say “Boys will be boys!” Cosmopolitan magazine tells girls that men think of sex several thousand times a day, implying your better off throwing away your sexual hang-ups, and giving in.

Most reasonable people will probably pinpoint the issue of consent, and that contraception can allow for mutual consent. Yet, nobody who wants to put an end to rape, and the culture that supports it, will deny the fact that young men need to accept that they are morally responsible free human persons capable of making the right decision. People who deny Chastity & Abstinence promotion to youth fall into the same disgusting mindset as those who perpetrate Rape Culture: That young people are not free responsible human persons capable of doing good.

Shameful Shaming

Rape Culture, and even Consensual Sex Hook-up does a lot more shaming of people who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid. There was a time in this country where Consensual Sex between Adults could get one kicked out of the family. Family is too fluid a concept in the modern western mind, and unmarried couples living together is more acceptable than not having a sex life. People who are not engaged in regular sexual activity, whether hooking up with multiple partners, or tentatively committed to a non-binding relationship (outside of marriage), do not typically find themselves ostracized from their families. Whether we still hold an ideal of children within marriage, the mores of socially acceptable sexual activity has broadened widely.

While Liberals will applaud this, they still pretend like nothing has happened, and that any challenge to our unregulated sexual appetite could endanger our immaculately sensitive little souls from experiencing even the most minute bit of shame. They live under the impression that people who engage in sexual activity are always in danger of being shamed, and desperately require the moral protection of having contraception always available, while stubbornly refusing to observe that people who do not conform to enslaving themselves to the worship of the sex-god in our culture are actually more in danger of public shaming.

What About the Church?

I did not need to launch into a polemic on faithfulness to Church teaching on this matter. I did not arrive at my convictions simply by accepting Church Teaching on the matter. I grew up instinctively sympathetic to the progressive perspective on things, and have repeatedly found the conclusion of previous generations woefully inadequate in giving me the kinds of answers that will inspire me to be the best person that I need to be.

Sure, I could even put Church Teaching aside, and discuss the sort of peace of mind and focus that young people have who practice some sort of Chaste or Sexually Abstinent behavior. I could get into other scientific studies as well. Much has been written on either side of the issue, and people know where to find what the Church teaches on the matter.

Finally, I could not go on about the countless young people who I have talked to, who have experienced some sort of emotional or psychological pain as a result of the sexual activity that they have always been encouraged (if not pressured) to do.

I can just make it simple for the sake of this post.

I have been told most of my life by adults, who think that condoms and contraception will make my life easier and better, that I am not capable of controlling my genitals. I have been told most of my life, by magazines, by television, by pop stars, by movies, by the media, by teachers, politicians, and parents, that I am not capable of making good moral decisions, and better come up with a back up plan, for what will happen anyways. Concurrently, I have also been told that I am not any good, and not worthy of any admiration, unless I conform to the oversexualized culture, and subdue women to gratify my sexual desires, or at least coerce them. I have been told that I can merit respect, and avoid shame, by engaging in unhinged sexual activity.

Sometimes I wish that I was not always protected from self-disatisfaction. Sometimes I wish I could be allowed to experience some self-disatisfaction, some shame of some sort, so I could strive to always be better, and never sell myself short.

Church Teaching is true, independent of what I think or feel about the matter. The Church is not needy for me to defend it’s True Teaching, it can speak for itself. All I can do, with my experience, give weight to that which is always True. The Poison of Deception has been hazardous to me, and to many more people my age and younger.

You Are Valuable, and Capable of Much Good.

You are infinitely and irrevocably valuable, regardless of your sins, your sexual past or orientation, because God’s love for you does not change, nor can you change that you find your origin in him. God, who is all good, created you to be good, and gives you direction, so that you do not become enslaved to your pettiest passions, but also because you are capable of much good. When you can have the courage to accept that profound truth, then we can start talking about being Chaste.