Archive | May, 2011

Catechesis for Dummies?

31 May

Ever since its publication in 2006, I’ve thought the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a godsend to all who are involved in teaching (and learning) the Catholic faith.

Of course, being a document of the Holy See and published in the United States by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) isn’t necessarily the recipe for becoming a bestseller! Surely, the book’s title is accurate, as a “compendium” is a brief summary of a larger work, but the title is not as accessible or endearing as The Catechism for Dummies or Cliff Notes for the Catechism. I have found it shocking that many Catholics are still unfamiliar with the Catechism itself, let alone its “compendium.”

Such marketing concerns aside, I want to provide five reasons why everyone who is interested in teaching (and learning) the Catholic faith should own a copy of the Compendium

(1) It is a compendium.

My hardbound copy of the Catechism has over 900 pages. The Compendium, counting the appendix and index, is barely 200 pages. Yet the Compendium closely follows the Catechism’s presentation of the four pillars of catechesis (creed, sacraments, morality, and prayer), and has an easy-to-use cross-referencing system that makes it very easy to find a fuller presentation of the teaching in the Catechism.

(2) Dialogical format.

The Compendium follows a question-and-answer format. This format sadly fell out of favor among the generation of catechists who rejected the Baltimore Catechism. Yet, this type of presentation, as Pope Benedict notes in the introduction, is an ancient catechetical genre that allows the reader to enter into an imaginary discussion between teacher and disciple. This encourages the reader to actively engage the text.

(3) Brevity of the teaching.

This format also allows for brief answers to specific catechetical questions. The way of the Vatican II documents and the Catechism itself–not to mention the way of recent popes–has been to provide more detailed discussion and explanation of Church teaching, which has truly been a gift to the Church. While “faith seeks understanding” (St. Augustine), we first need to have a handle on what the faith is. For that reason, the Compendium’s concise expression of Catholic doctrine, which even lends itself to memorization, provides a wonderful framework on which catechumens can build a solid understanding of the faith. 

(4) Traditional art.

The Compendium makes use of classical religious art to enhance its presentation of the Catholic faith. As Pope Benedict has stressed, the art produced over the centuries by the Church is one of the most effective catechetical tools in the Church’s catechetical arsenal, given the power of beauty to draw people to God.

(5) Check out the back of the book.

In the back of the book, there is an appendix with an ample selection of Catholic prayers in both English and Latin, as well as formulas of Catholic doctrine that should be known by all believers, young and old alike. This section goes a long way toward bridging the “generation gap” by reminding us of our shared patrimony and giving us a common language of prayer.

The Compendium is available through the USCCB, or may be purchased at any Catholic bookstore.

A Message to Our Graduates

27 May

You are survivors. Millions–and I mean millions–of your peers have been legally slaughtered, the victims of the deadly culture war in which we find ourselves.

At the time of Moses and Israel’s slavery in Egypt, and at the time of Jesus and the Holy Innocents, evil forces resorted to the killing of the young in a futile attempt to thwart God’s saving plan for all of humanity.

But that was then and this is now. This is our time. Even more, it is your time. Our God must have big plans for you. The Church has described these plans as a “new springtime of faith,” the fruit of a massive “new evangelization” aimed at bringing all men and women to Jesus Christ. This effort, already taking shape throughout the world, has raised Satan’s ire to such a degree that he’s resorting to the same tactics he used in Egypt and in Bethlehem, and once again, they’re not going to work. God’s saving plan will not be frustrated, though it will be opposed, and there will likely be casualties.

I wish that your generation could sit back and comfortably live the good life in Tolkein’s Shire. But I have news for you. We’re at war. Your freedom–not simply political and material but even more your spiritual freedom–is something you’re going to have to claim and fight for, or you may as well start waving your white flag. Don’t let the fact that you can’t see the Enemy fool you. Don’t let the fact that many of your friends are oblivious to this epic conflict discourage you. You have some idea as to what we’re up against. Take up the weapons of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and gird yourself for battle. Continue reading

Weathering the Storms

25 May

As I sat down to write today’s post, the tornado sirens went off and everyone here at the Pastoral Center made a beeline to the basement.

As a youth in Southern California in the 1960s and 70s, I became accustomed to the occasional earthquake. We always managed to escape serious harm, though it was always unnerving, to say the least, to see the chandeliers begin to sway.

While I’m relatively new to Eastern Kansas, it seems that we’ve had more than our fair share of tornadic activity this year. The devastating tornadoes in Joplin, Reading, and other Midwestern communities have made national news.

I’ve also been impressed with the way Kansas City-area residents have risen to the occasion as they’ve generously reached out to the many tornado victims in the region, even as new storms make their way to the area.

In reflecting on these natural disasters in our midst, it seems to me that the Lord is calling us to three things. Continue reading

Downsizing Is Part of Life

21 May

My household has undergone quite a transformation over the past couple years. First, my mother Eileen, who had lived with our family since 1993, passed away in 2009. Later that year, my oldest daughter Brenda, with her darling young daughter in tow, married a remarkable young Catholic man, and they eventually settled in Wamego.

Then last year, upon graduation from St. James Academy, my daughter Sr. Mary Kate entered the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

I miss the four generations of Suprenant women who have, in their own way, gone on to bigger and better things.

There are still six of us at home, but we can see that some changes are inevitable. Since our household has “downsized” by 40%, our house has suddenly become too big. We no longer have any preschool children, and another daughter will graduate from high school next year. At some point, my wife and I will have to move into a smaller home. Even before that, we see subtle changes taking place, as holiday gatherings or family reunions increasingly take place at Brenda’s home or at Sr. Mary Kate’s community.

The bittersweet changes that take place in the context of family living are, in my estimation, the best way to make sense out of parish mergers and closures, which are very much a part of the Catholic landscape today. Continue reading

Addressing the Meltdown

19 May

Blessed John Paul II biographer George Weigel authored a thought-provoking editorial entitled “Priests, Abuse, and the Meltdown of a Culture” published today at National Review Online.

The editorial provides insightful commentary on the 300-page report entitled “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950- 2010,” prepared by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which was released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops this week.

The editorial has a most provocative opening:

“The American narrative of the Catholic Church’s struggles with the clerical sexual abuse of the young has been dominated by several tropes firmly set in journalistic concrete: that this was and is a ‘pedophilia’ crisis; that the sexual abuse of the young is an ongoing danger in the Church; that the Catholic Church was and remains a uniquely dangerous environment for young people; that a high percentage of priests were abusers; that abusive behavior is more likely from celibates, such that a change in the Church’s discipline of priestly celibacy would be important in protecting the young; that the Church’s bishops were, as a rule, willfully negligent in handling reports of abuse; that the Church really hasn’t learned any lessons from the revelations that began in the Long Lent of 2002.

“But according to an independent, $1.8 million study conducted by New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and released on May 18, every one of these tropes is false.”

Weigel not only proceeds to unmask these popular misconceptions, but also offers commentary on the cultural factors in the Church and world in the 1960s-80s that contributed to the horrific sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church in America.

One point not given adequate treatment by the report, according to Weigel, is the role of homosexuality. Even though 81 percent of the clerical sex abuse victims were male (and given studies that show that girls are usually three times more likely to be abuse victims), the study did not find that priests with same-sex attractions were significantly more likely to be abusers than priests with heterosexual attractions.

I thought Weigel’s concluding comment on the broader societal context of the crisis was right on the mark:

“If the John Jay study on the ’causes and context’ of clerical-sexual-abuse problems in the Catholic Church prompts a broader public reflection on the fact that the sexual revolution has not been, and is not, cost-free, and that its victims are often the vulnerable young, then the Church will have done all of American society a signal service in commissioning this study that looks into its own heart of darkness.”

Blessed Among Women

18 May

In the Gospels, we may occasionally encounter a passage that seems to diminish Mary’s role. For example, we find this passage in the Gospel according to Luke:

“A woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to [Jesus], ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!’ But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it’” (Luke 11:27-28).

At first glance, this passage can be a little troubling for us as Catholics. Is Our Lord denigrating Our Lady’s pivotal role in salvation history? After all, His emphasis seems to be on listening to the Word of God, not dwelling on Mary’s maternity. What is this enigmatic passage actually teaching us? Continue reading

Another Deacon

17 May

This Saturday, Oswaldo Sandoval will be ordained to the diaconate by Archbishop Naumann. The ordination will take place at the Cathedral of St. Peter in KCK.

The deacon, configured to Christ the servant of all, is ordained for service to the Church. He carries out this service under the authority of his bishop by the ministry of the Word, of divine worship, of pastoral care and of charity. We’ve heard about the first deacons, especially St. Stephen, in the Mass readings this Easter season (see Acts 6:1-7).

Seminarians preparing for the priesthood are ordained to the diaconate prior to receiving priestly ordination. This is called the transitional diaconate. Mr. Sandoval, who has been studying at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, will become a transitional deacon. God willing, he will be ordained to the priesthood next year.

Since Vatican II (1962-65), the permanent diaconate has been restored. As the name suggests, this is a permanent office and not a stepping stone to the priesthood. Permanent deacons may be married or celibate. Just last month, the Archdiocese ordained 17 men from its first diaconate class.

Let’s thank God for this continued outpouring of vocations in our local Church!

For more on the diaconate, see Catechism, nos. 1569-71, or Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 330.

Love for the Church

16 May

Fifty years ago this week, Blessed John XIII issued an encyclical letter entitled Mater et Magistra, or “Mother and Teacher,” on Christianity and social progress. The words “Mother” and “Teacher” were aptly used by the Holy Father to describe the Catholic Church founded by Jesus Christ.

Certainly the Church is our Teacher, or “Magistra.” The word “Magisterium,” which refers to teaching office of the Church, shares the same Latin root. When we hear the Church, we hear Christ (see Luke 10:16).

Today, however, we especially need to recognize and love the Church as our Mother, as our true home in the family of God. Too often the Church is seen as merely a sinful, impersonal, human institution or as some outside force that imposes arbitrary rules on its members. Yes, “its” members. The Church is considered an “it,” an unlovable bureaucracy ruled by corrupt men.

The deeper truth is that she’s our Mother. She’s a “she,” not an “it.” She is the Bride of Christ, and surely Christ would never forsake, let alone “spiritually divorce,” His beloved. Continue reading

Praying for Vocations

14 May

This Sunday, the Church throughout the world will celebrate the 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

This year’s theme is “proposing vocations in the local Church,” which brings home the importance of promoting vocations in our own families, parishes, and archdiocese. The Church desires that young people feel “welcome” in the Church and learn to take responsibility for responding to God’s call in their lives.

While praying in gratitude this weekend for the many vocations we already have—including our new deacons—we may wish to remember in a particular way the three men who will be ordained as priests for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas later this month: Nicholas Blaha, Barry Clayton, and Michael Peterson

While any and all prayer will do, I’ve reproduced below a traditional Catholic prayer for vocations. Why not say this prayer now. for an outpouring of vocations in Eastern Kansas and throughout the Church?

Lord Jesus Christ, Shepherd of souls, who called the apostles to be fishers of men, raise up new apostles in Your holy Church. Teach them that to serve You is to reign: to possess You is to possess all things. Kindle in the hearts of our people the fire of zeal for souls. Make them eager to spread Your Kingdom upon earth. Grant them courage to follow You, as You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Amen.

This Date in Church History

13 May

On May 13, 1917, Our Lady appeared to three children: Lucia Santos (10) and her cousins Francisco (8) and Jacinta (7) Marto. The children lived in Fatima, a rural community in the mountains of western Portugal.

After Sunday Mass that day, the children set out with their flocks to the Cova da Iria (“valley of peace”), which is now the site of the magnificent basilica in Fatima. After lunch, they saw what seemed to be a flash of lightning. Shortly after that, they saw, on a small holm-oak tree, a lady dressed in white, more brilliant than the sun. She identified herself as coming from heaven. She wanted the children to return to this site for six consecutive months, on the same day and time. She said she would tell them later who she was and what she wanted.

The Lady did ask the children if they were willing to offer themselves to God, and Lucia, answering for the three of them, said “yes.” The children were told that they would suffer much, but God Himself would be their comfort.

At the conclusion of the apparition, the Lady asked the children to pray every day for peace. Then she serenely rose and drifted away to the East, until she disappeared. Thus began a series of appearances in Fatima by the Blessed Virgin Mary, culminating in the “miracle of the sun” on October 13, 1917.

Thirty years ago, on May 13, 1981, an assassin attempted to kill Blessed John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. He credited Our Lady of Fatima for the sparing of his life. It was later revealed that this event was the fulfillment of Our Lady’s prophecy to the Fatima children given in July 1917.

Today, 94 years after the Blessed Virgin Mary’s first appearance in Fatima, the universal Church celebrates the memorial of Our Lady of Fatima. May Our Lady’s message of prayer (especially the Rosary), penance, and peace resonate throughout the Church and take deeper root in our own hearts.

God our Father,
you give joy to the world
by the resurrection of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Through the prayers of his mother, the Virgin Mary,
bring us to the happiness of eternal life.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.