The past and present thoughts of a Catholic husband, father, and fledgling faith formation director at St. Michael Catholic Church in St. Michael, Minnesota

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Are We Scapegoating the Most Vulnerable Among Us?

This past month, the adults in our parish faith formation program discussed Lesson 4 from Fr. Barron's Catholicism DVD series, "Our Tainted Nature's Solitary Boast: Mary, the Mother of God." One of the consistent bits of feedback we heard when we started this video series last year is that sometimes Fr. Barron gets a little academic for the average lay audience -- and as a result, the material and discussion questions sometimes miss the mark when it comes to generating discussion. In the case of the lesson on Mary, even the title warranted translation.

I watched most of the Mary video at least six times over the course of the past few weeks, and one part, in particular, stuck out to me as academic and not very applicable to the lives of most Catholics -- until I thought about it in a new light.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Break, Feast of the Archangels Edition: Tobit's Dog

For those of you who recall our wedding (or those who have heard Jodi and me speak at the engaged couples retreats around these parts), you may remember that the only detail I was specific about in the ceremony was the Old Testament reading, from the Book of Tobit, Chapter 8, verses 4-8. The back story, about the faithful but afflicted Tobit, his son Tobiah, a long-lost kinsman, and a cursed young bride, is retold in the novel Tobit's Dog by Michael N. Richard.

Richard re-sets this ancient story as a mystery of sorts, set in the rural South during the Depression, and opens with a vignette of the titular canine visiting a local dump with his master, who is looking for discarded furniture to repair and sell. The dog is torn between the lure of his senses and the love of his master, but ultimately, chooses to follow and obey and is rewarded for it. It's a compelling analogy to our relationship with God -- but I was nervous: if the entire book were written in this way, it could be heavy-handed.

Thankfully, it isn't. Instead, the opening scene sets the theme for the rest of the book, in which all of the major characters are conflicted in some way and are either moving toward their Master or further away.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

By Parish or By Person? A Practical Approach to Evangelizing the Lost and Forming Disciples

All of the faithful find themselves at times challenged by Christ’s Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. We struggle to know how to approach those near and dear to us who may be distant from God, when to insert ourselves into the lives of others in our neighborhood and faith community who may regard our attention as an intrusion, and to what extent we should devote ourselves to those “beyond our borders” when there is so much to do in our own home and community.

In my short time as director of faith formation at our parish, two different books have been strongly recommended to me, presenting two different approaches to making disciples.  The first, Rebuilt by White and Corcoran, tells the story of a parish in Maryland that, under the leadership of a new pastor and his lay associate, has turned from a stagnant and dying community into a rapidly growing parish due to its willingness to challenge and change longstanding approaches in order to be more accessible to the lost and “dechurched.” The second, Forming Intentional Disciples by Weddell, shares 18 years of experience visiting, interviewing, and helping parishes and parish leaders become and then develop disciples who know and understand their personal gifts and give them willingly to God in order both to evangelize others and to deepen their own “lived relationship with God.”

Both books do a great job of articulating the problems we face as Catholic parishes in our modern individualistic, relativistic, and consumer society. Both reference scripture, the Magesterium, and the saints to articulate what should be done to address these problems. Both have very different approaches to execution, and we can learn a great deal by looking at them both in brief.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Why Are We Here?

Blogger's Note: For those few of you who still follow this blog and don't attend St. Michael Catholic Church, the article below was published in the Sunday, Sept. 14, church bulletin as part of a regular monthly faith formation column.

This weekend’s Fall Festival is a great opportunity to support our parish and grow in community. Surely it is a sign of life in our local Body of Christ that so many people spend this weekend here, year after year, in fellowship and service. The chairpeople and volunteers, the sponsors and donors, and everyone who works to make this weekend a success deserve our gratitude – so please remember them in your prayers!

It also important, however, that we remember why we do these things. This summer, a friend shared an article with me entitled “Vibrant Isn’t About Busy: Organizing Parish Life for Discipleship.” The article made the case that while an abundance of activities and programs might seem important for attracting people to the faith, quite often these programs are actually distracting from activities like prayer and the sacraments that promote spiritual growth. Parishioners can find themselves so caught up in the busy-ness of it all that they forget that these offerings are not an end in themselves. They only matter if they lead us closer to God and heaven.

With that in mind, you should notice a distinct shift in the emphasis and tone of our faith formation activities this year, beginning with LIFT-Off, our program kickoff event on Wednesday, Sept. 24, at 6:30 p.m. In years past, LIFT-Off has been a combination of entertainment and logistics—something fun for the kids, along with information and scheduling details for the parents. This year, instead, we are opening LIFT-Off with Mass, followed by a brief personal witness or two about the power of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ to transform families. This is a great opportunity to spend a little extra time with Our Lord at the beginning of the academic year, and we’d like to invite everyone in the parish to join us and pray for the success of our faith formation and sacramental programs.

Monday, August 25, 2014

‘Make Straight the Way of the Lord’

Blogger's Note: For those few of you who still follow this blog and don't attend St. Michael Catholic Church, the article below was published in the Sunday, Aug. 24, church bulletin at our pastor's request as a the first of a regular monthly faith formation column.

It’s been an eventful last few weeks. Early in the month, I survived my first-ever Vacation Bible School, a sort of faith formation director boot camp, helping to wrangle 175 children, age four through sixth grade. I want to thank Kathy Pope for all her work to plan and staff the week’s activities, and the countless adult and teen teachers who worked so hard to make VBS a success. God bless you!

Almost immediately, my family and I headed north to Camp Lebanon, where I was greeted by a throng of green-shirted, high-fiving VBSers who knew me by name (Mr. Thorp, in most cases) and expected me to know them, as well. The weekend was a whirlwind of typical camp activities – water sports and zip line; family meals and fellowship; evening rosaries, confession, and mass—mixed with conversations with a number of parishioners about what to expect from LIFT and other faith formation offerings in the coming years. I am grateful for the opportunity to hear how the parish can better help you and your families grow in faith, and these conversations reinforced a growing feeling I’ve had since beginning in this position: people in this community are hungry for a deeper relationship with Christ.

I left Camp Lebanon for two nights of solitude at the Franciscan retreat center Pacem In Terris, in the hermitage of St. Dominic—a simple, comfortable cabin looking out on a green patch of woods vibrant with the beauty of God’s creation. After more than a week of steady noise and activity, this silent retreat was a welcome opportunity to spend time alone with God and ask Him, With all of the good ideas and works we could undertake here at St. Michael, what would you have me do?

The answer came in the words of Isaiah and John the Baptist: “Make straight the way of the Lord.” Over and over again, the message rang in my heart: Let them come. Help them come.