Monday, October 31, 2011

Creative Matters

Hey all,
I recently finished reading a very interesting book. It is on creativity and its relation to our faith and ministry. I highly recommend this book no matter where you are or what you are doing. It is geared towards Christian artists but the ideas and principles discussed can be helpful and inspirational to anyone.

Ultimately we are all artists. We were created by the ultimate Creator and being made in His image and likeness we are called to be creative! Whether you are making a piece of art, planning a talk or scheduling a retreat you are creating.

The e-book is really short, only 100 pages or so and it is broken up into various articles written by different people from all over the country. It is also Free (the PDF version). Check it out!

Creative Matters E-Book

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Climbing the Mountain of Youth Ministry, Part 1

Longs Peak off in the distance
This Florida boy has fallen in love with the mountains since moving to Denver over a year ago. This summer I climbed 8 mountains that were each over 14,000 feet tall. There are over 50 such mountains in Colorado. I am very satisfied with the number of mountains climbed this summer but there is one that seems to taunt me daily. I can see Longs Peak (14,259ft) from my apartment and most places in Denver. Every day it sits there as if its rocky face were mocking me like an elementary school boy sticking out his tongue. This antagonistic relationship has developed because I have yet to climb Longs Peak, having summited all of its neighboring peaks.

            Despite this seemingly hostile relationship with Longs, I have been blessed to have some deeply spiritual experiences this summer while climbing some of the 14ers of Colorado. Climbing mountains afford a lot of time for meditation, self reflection and an encounter with the Lord removed from the many distractions of our daily lives. In the trailer for 180° SouthYvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia Clothing, offers a compelling reflection on the purpose of climbing mountains.

In this trailer, he says that mountaineers are “conquerors of the useless”. "You learn that what's important in life is how you got there, not what you have accomplished." In the movie he goes on to talk about how there is no point to summiting mountains unless you are changed in the process. If the whole point of climbing is to get to the top then it is pointless. But if the goal is to effect a change in yourself, to become a better person through the climb (I would add also, the purpose of encountering the God of creation) then it is worth while. This can be a good reminder for us as youth ministers. There is a danger in our work to see our job as simply putting on retreats, events and programs. I can look at my calendars as simply a list of goals to cross off, a veritable mountain range of peaks to summit. I look forward to finishing an event or just making it through that retreat. If that is my mindset then I have become a ‘conqueror of the useless’. Instead I should see my programs and events as opportunities for conversion, the change of heart being the goal rather than the accomplishment of yet another event or program. I should focus on the bigger journey and how I am allow God to guide me and the youth rather than all the individual goals that I feel need to be accomplished.

            The other thing I have realized in climbing is that I am never on the journey alone. Whether I am hiking with a group of good friends or on a solo journey I am in the company of Christ; He is my traveling companion. I will never reach my goal without leaning upon Him. St. Bernard reflects:

“Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord?” (Ps. 23:3) If anyone aspires to climb to the summit of that mountain (Ex. 24:17), that is to the perfection of virtue, he will know how hard the climb is, and how the attempt is doomed to failure without the help of the Word. Happy the soul which causes the angels to look at her with joy and wonder and hears them saying, “Who is this coming up from the wilderness, rich in grace and beauty, leaning upon her beloved?” (Song 8:5). Otherwise, unless it leans on him, its struggle is in vain.  … Surely all things are possible to someone who leans upon him who can do all things? What confidence there is in the cry, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me!” (Phil. 4:13)

This is the difference between ‘conquering’ a mountain and experiencing conversion on the journey; between crossing off another retreat on my calendar and seeing my job as leading youth (and myself) on a continual way of conversion.

Let us ascend the mountain of the Lord and continue on the journey with his strength to uphold us, and his light to guide us. Let us not fall into the trap of seeing the journey as something to get over with but instead as a pilgrimage to be transformed by more and more into the Person of Jesus Christ! Amen

Monday, September 26, 2011

It's Been A While

Hey guys!
I know it has been a while since I have written anything for this blog and I apologize. I am currently sitting down to write some stuff so bear with me a few more days. In the mean time here is a taste of what I am working on. It is a reflection by St. Bernard and it is something I am fond of reading and reflecting on when I am out climbing and camping. I hope it enriches your soul as much as it has mine.

“Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord?” (Ps. 23:3) If anyone aspires to climb to the summit of that mountain (Ex. 24:17), that is to the perfection of virtue, he will know how hard the climb is, and how the attempt is doomed to failure without the help of the Word. Happy the soul which causes the angels to look at her with joy and wonder and hears them saying, “Who is this coming up from the wilderness, rich in grace and beauty, leaning upon her beloved?” (Song 8:5). Otherwise, unless it leans on him, its struggle is in vain. But it will gain force by struggling with itself and, becoming stronger, will impel all things towards reason . . . bringing every carnal affect into captivity (2Cor. 10:5), and every sense under the control of reason in accordance with virtue. Surely all things are possible to someone who leans upon him who can do all things? What confidence there is in the cry, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me!” (Phil. 4:13) . . . “Thus if the mind does not rely upon itself, but is strengthened by the Word, it can gain such command over itself that no unrighteousness will have power over it” (Ps. 118:133).
- St. Bernard 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I love because I love, I love that I may love

From a sermon by St. Bernard, abbot

     Love is sufficient of itself, it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. It is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in its practice. I love because I love, I love that I may love. Love is a great thing so long as it continually returns to its fountainhead, flows back to its source, always drawing from there the water which constantly replenishes it. Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of his love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love him are made happy by their love of him.
  The Bridegroom’s love, or rather the love which is the Bridegroom, asks in return nothing but faithful love. Let the beloved, then, love in return. Should not a bride love, and above all, Love’s bride? Could it be that Love not be loved?
  Rightly then does she give up all other feelings and give herself wholly to love alone; in giving love back, all she can do is to respond to love. And when she has poured out her whole being in love, what is that in comparison with the unceasing torrent of that original source? Clearly, lover and Love, soul and Word, bride and Bridegroom, creature and Creator do not flow with the same volume; one might as well equate a thirsty man with the fountain.
  What then of the bride’s hope, her aching desire, her passionate love, her confident assurance? Is all this to wilt just because she cannot match stride for stride with her giant, any more than she can vie with honey for sweetness, rival the lamb for gentleness, show herself as white as the lily, burn as bright as the sun, be equal in love with him who is Love? No. It is true that the creature loves less because she is less. But if she loves with her whole being, nothing is lacking where everything is given. To love so ardently then is to share the marriage bond; she cannot love so much and not be totally loved, and it is in the perfect union of two hearts that complete and total marriage consists. Or are we to doubt that the soul is loved by the Word first and with a greater love?

Let us pray,
Lord God, you made Saint Bernard burn with zeal for your house, and gave him grace to enkindle and enlighten others in your Church. Grant that by his prayer we may be filled with the same spirit and always live as children of the light. We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

On Finding Our Identity in Christ

My favorite Disney Movie is The Lion King. My favorite Bible verse is Romans 8:14, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” One of my favorite books is The Road, a story about a Father’s love for his son. I almost wrote my Theology Senior Thesis on divine sonship.

A reporter once asked Nicholas Ray, director of the 1955 movie, Rebel Without a Cause, “What is the goal of the main Character played by James Dean?” Ray answered, “To look for the father.”  I guess you can say that has been my goal, too.

My father working on his sailboat

The reason why I have always been obsessed with the father/son relationship is because I never knew this relationship for myself. My father passed away when I was 9 months old; before I had a chance to know him and be fathered by him.  I have an insatiable desire to know him. I am excited every time one of my relatives tells me stories of my dad or we find some item of his that I can have. As a kid, the first thing of his that I had was his dog tag from being in the Navy. I wore it every day until I lost it while camping one summer. Thanks to God through the intercession of St. Anthony my brother found it the next year when he went back to the same cabin. That summer, I was also away from home. I didn’t find out about my brother finding my dad's dog tag until I returned home. When my mom told me in the airport I was overwhelmed by emotion. I cannot remember a time previous to that when I was more joyful. I wore it on and off for a few years until some time in high school when I started wearing it every day and I haven’t taken it off since.
In high school, my mom found his high school ring. I started wearing it as my own. Unfortunately it was slightly to big so I stopped wearing it for fear it would fall off. The stone in the ring was also very scratched and faded from my dad working on his sailboat. We asked some jewelers if they could polish it but they said they could not and recommended replacing the stone. I refused because if we replace the stone it is no longer my dad’s ring. Recently my mom found a jeweler who would be willing to try to polish it. They were able to polish it so the stone once again shone. She sent it to me in the mail and I tore open the package like an 8 year old boy on Christmas morning. (I have yet to clean the remnants of the packaging that were tossed everywhere in my car.)
My father's High School Ring
That night I went to an Adoration and Praise and Worship service. My gaze and attention kept going back to the ring. Throughout my childhood and high school years, every story and every item of my father’s had meaning and allowed me to know more and more about who my father was. It was almost as if my dad was reaching back through time to reveal himself to me piece by piece. This time is different though. I feel like wearing his ring now for some reason has more significance than when I wore it in high school. I prayed about it and came across numerous references to the authority and meaning of one being given a ring.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son: when the son returns to his father he tells him that he has sinned and no longer deserves to be called his son. “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.” (Luke 15:22)

In Genesis, after Joseph had found favor with the Pharaoh he said, “’Behold, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.’ Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand...” (Genesis 41:41-42)

A ring carries authority and identity, either that of the wearer, their ‘King,’ or their family.  Along with the ring, the dog tags were worn as a form of identification. In my wearing of both the dog tag and the ring I want to be known as my father’s son. I love meeting distant relatives and being introduced as “Coit’s son.” But I also want to be known as a son of The Father, a child of God. I realized this is the reason why my father’s ring feels different on my finger now than five years ago.  Just like the stone, the heart of the ring, was faded, my identity as a son was just as faded. I did not have a clear understanding of who I was in relationship to my Father. But, now, I have learned more about my father here on earth, which has also let me to a deeper understanding of who I am in light of my Father in Heaven.

The journey to a deeper realization of sonship has taken place over the past four years. It started after I was in my first serious relationship. I realized that I needed to be a man if I wanted to be in a relationship with a woman. Without having a father to turn to I turned to The Father. I read scripture that spoke of our adoption as sons and read books like Wild at Heart, To Own a Dragon, etc. Through their testimonies and personal prayer I started to let God father me and make me into the man He is calling me to be.  
            For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” – Romans 8:15-17

            There is a crisis in our culture. It is a crisis of a lack of true men. We have plenty of males in our society but few of them are willing to be Men. The ramifications of this crisis are extensive and its source is in the lack of fathers. In the last few decades, many boys have grown up and are growing up without a father; without a role model to show them how to be men, without a reference as to who they are.  Our culture tells them to remedy this by finding their identity in how many women they can sleep with, how good they can be at sports, how successful they can be in the business world, etc. Women suffer from many issues of identity as well due to the lack of fathers and from the lack of true men who did not grow up with fathers.

            The image of a true man is something that is widely discussed. Everyone seems to have an opinion as to what it means to be a true man. I read one article that painted a true man as the man who is always there for his family, always praying in Church. He is dependable, honest, loving and generous. There was an article written in response that painted the image of a true man as something slightly different. Everyone seems to have their own opinion of a true man. No matter what form that image takes there is a distinct foundation common to them all: A true man of God is disciplined and courageous, standing up for what he believes in and not willing to compromise his morals. He inspires greatness in all those who come in contact with him. Above all, a true man of God lives a life of humble sacrifice; submitting his will to the will of God and always ready to lay down his life for his family and friends in whatever form that may take. He knows who he is and is firm in his identity as a son of God. He is an image of the Heavenly Father to his children, a brother to his friends, and a pillar of strength to his wife. The only way for a man to attain this stature is to lose himself in Christ, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control.” (2Tim 1:7)

This is the man that I am striving to become. One that, thou he may sin, is always seeking the face of God. I invite you to join me in this journey. Whether you are a man or woman, we need to find our identity in God. We need to take ownership of our identities as sons and daughters of God. We are adopted into this family through the Holy Spirit. We receive this Spirit of adoption, not through a physical ring, but through a spiritual seal in Christ.  However, the Lord has given me a gift in this ring as a physical reminder of my adoption. Through this ring I realize that I am my father’s son and a son of the Father! As I wear it I have a tangible reminder that I am the legacy of my father here on earth and I receive an inheritance from my heavenly Father. I thank God for adopting me through His Son despite my sins and failings and I pray I may continue to be led into a deeper realization of who I am in light of this Truth.
I pray for you as you read this. That you may be guided into a further realization of your identity as a son/daughter of God through Christ. That you allow Him to love you and nurture you as a Father. And that this realization in your own life may overflow to those you minister to and come in contact with. Amen!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Being a Creator Through Our Work

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him” – Genesis 1:27

Being made in the image and likeness of God we participate in one of His greatest qualities: the act of creating. This is most beautifully seen through marriage and creating a family. We are also creators in our work and in youth ministry. We need to have creativity in how we present the Gospel to the youth we minister to.

I recently read an article on In it, Donald Miller gives advice on being the best creators we can. I thought I would pass it along to you and share some of my thoughts on how some of these tips apply to a youth ministry setting.

I suggest you read the article before reading my points:

Our Work is a Reflection of Us
We need to take ownership of our work. As youth ministers we create programs, events, talks, skits, etc. Our work is a reflection of ourselves. If we see our work as an extension of ourselves we will have more pride in our ministry and will not be happy with the mediocre but seek to always make it better.

St. Jose Maria often talks about our need to glorify God in our work. As Christians we should strive to be the best in our fields to the glory of God.

As Reflections of ourselves, our ministries, to a degree, should take on some of our qualities. If we are passionate about the faith our ministry should reflect that passion.

What do you want your ministry to say about you?

A Creator Doesn't Just Talk About Their Work
I love "talking shop." I get pumped up and excited when I talk with others about my vision for, and trends in youth ministry (that is part of the reason for me starting this blog.) However, if I just talk without DOING, I am just a bunch of hot air without any power behind my words.

A good example of people who spoke eloquently about ministry and the faith but didn’t follow it up with practice would be the Pharisees. Don't be a Pharisee - they weren't cool.

“Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on you.” – St. Augustine

Youth ministers do not have good reputations for their work ethic. However, we need to strive to create a work ethic where we build up the disciplines necessary to create a good ministry. Once we establish good habits within our work we give God the opportunity to move through us, and our work.

I know many youth ministry oriented people who do not like to plan talks to far ahead because they would rather plan minimally in order to allow the Holy Spirit to give them the words to speak at the moment. Planning a talk or youth night in advance (more than the night before or day of) does not stifle the Spirit. I would argue it actually allows more room for the Spirit. In my experience, the more familiar I am with my talk the more comfortable I am with going ‘off script’ because I know what the message is that I want to convey to my audience and how certain tangents can compliment that message. Those are the moments when I feel the Holy Spirit is at work through my talk.

“…And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” – Genesis 1:5
Even at the beginning of Creation there was a rhythm. The days, the seasons, even our very lives have rhythm. I am pretty sure, even though He was anticipating man, God did not look forward to the completion of each of his creations – at least not in the sense of relief upon completion: “Finally, I am so glad I am done with Earth. Now I can rest.” God was in love with the act of creating – its who He is.

It would serve us well to find a rhythm within our work. Sometimes we can lose sight of the beauty of the work because we are anticipating being done with a certain talk, program, retreat, etc. I am not saying this is an easy thing but it is something I will definitely be striving for. I will let Donald Miller put it better than I can: “If you have a rhythm, if you get up every morning and work for a few hours, and you like the getting up and the work, and you don’t think about how great it will be when it’s done, but rather how great it is every day that you get to get up and do the work, your creation will be tremendous.”

Find a rhythm to your work – love your work.

Take Courage

It is easy to give in to the fear of failure. Fearing the hypothetical situations in which your program bombs. Surround yourself with a community where you can vent your ideas and concerns and hear the honest feedback from others. Find people who can affirm your ideas or help you amend them. Also ask friends to give you honest feedback after a talk or event. Many times you will find that you did not fail as badly as you perceive. Many times we are our own harshest critic – we only see what we did wrong and lose sight of where we succeeded. We need an outside perspective to gain an honest view of how we did. I work with another youth minister and it is great because we are able to bounce ideas off each other and give each feedback after events. If you are the only youth minister at your parish find someone within the ministry that will commit to giving you honest feedback. Build up an atmosphere where your volunteers feel comfortable giving you feedback.

Many times we need to just step out with courage. If we fail then we learn from it and the damage done probably is not that bad. The phrase “Be not afraid” appears 365 times in the Bible. Our God is a God of encouragement, He waits with the eager, encouraging anticipation that only a Father can have, awaiting our decision to step out into the unknown – especially when it is in His name.

The Glory of God is Man Fully Alive
If our work is a reflection of ourselves then our daily experiences will affect our ministry. We need to be aware of this fact and seek out those experiences that will enrich our faith and ministry. We cannot disengage from the world. We can’t simply sit in our rooms thinking about life and God. We need to go out and live life and encounter God in the world around us. We need to live! Only by the witness of a life lived will we draw others to Christ. Insert personal stories into your talks as much as possible. I have only recently been convicted of not telling enough stories in my talks. Now that I am sharing more of my life the youth are more interested and the more they want to hear. We need to present the Gospel lived out, otherwise it is all book knowledge with little power to move the heart. Finally, surround yourself with people and activities that enrich your life; in turn your ministry will be enriched.

Know that I am praying for you. Come Holy Spirit!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sacrificium - A Youth Night on the Sacrifice of Lent

We changed up our schedule a lot this week. It did not follow the chronology of the ecclesial method exactly. However, I think it is good to change it up every once in a while so the youth don’t get too used to the night and get bored.

Scripture and Catechism:
John 20:28-30
Psalm 103:13-17; 119:103
Wisdom 3:6
Genesis 3:19; 18:27

Preparation: We had the youth meet in the gym instead of the Catacombs. This allowed us more time for our closing prayer activity. In the gym the youth played a classic game of dodgeball. As more kids arrived we made sure to assign them to a team. Halfway through we stopped the game and reassigned teams because many of the youth who came after we started the game tended to stay on the sidelines rather than jump into the game.

I had a mentor read the Gospel for this coming Sunday as our opening prayer prior to my talk.

Proclamation: We are not called to sacrifice during Lent for the sake of sacrifice; we sacrifice out of our love for God.

Explanation: I told the story of how my mom quit her job when my brother and I were little. Her job wanted to transfer further south which would mean a longer commute and less time with us. She sacrificed so much in order to love my brother and I more. That is the same kind of sacrifice we are called to do during Lent. We sacrifice in order to love God more.

Application: We had small groups at the beginning of the night where our mentors discussed prayer, fasting and almsgiving and how the youth can practice these during Lent.  

Celebration: We had prayer stations after the talk. Some of the stations came from Lifeteen’s Life Night for Lent and included reading of scripture and prayer. The first station was the reading of Isaiah 40:3-5. The second station was an opportunity for the youth to taste vinegar, reflection on the bitterness of sin and honey, reflection on the sweetness of God’s promises. For the third station I burned paper in a metal bowl and reflected on how God refines us as gold in fire. The fourth station was a bowl of ashes and the youth were invited to come and feel the ashes in their fingers reflecting on our mortality and sinfulness. For the final station we had black wrist bands with the word “sacrificium.” They have commitment cards with them: one for the youth to keep to remind them of the ways they can sacrifice during Lent and the other one to sign as a promise to God and place at the food of the altar in a basket we provided. Once they did this they then lit a tea candle as a reminder that after the desert of Lent comes the new dawn of Easter.

Moment of Growth (I am a firm believer in the moments that we mess up are for learning not beating ourselves up so instead of naming this title ‘Ways I fail in life and youth ministry’ I instead named it ‘Moments of Growth’): For some reason it was very difficult for me to prepare this night in advance. I found myself throwing a lot of it together the day of. Because of this, the prayer stations were not completely thought out logistically. During our mentor meeting prior to youth group the high school mentors brought up a lot of questions concerning how it was going to work. Thanks to their input we were able to adjust it resulting in a great prayer experience.

Also, because I was rushed in planning I forgot to make sure we had prayerful music during the stations so as the youth were participating we had silence, which was nice on one hand but also a little awkward.
Thank you Lord for opportunities to grow in humility.

Favorite Moment: During small groups we asked each group to come up with a 30 second commercial for Lent. I am constantly amazed at the creativity and depth some of our youth go to.  They were really funny and everyone had a blast.
           I was also really thankful for how well the prayer stations went. I believe that most of the youth are not going to be called to conversion through my talks but through an encounter with God through prayer. I make it one of my goals to create opportunities for those encounters throughout our youth nights and retreats.

If you would like me to send you a detailed copy of this night email me at

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lighting Your Friends On Fire: A Night on the Gospels

Scripture and Catechism: 
Isaiah 11:1-9
Matthew 16:13-20
Romans 8:22-25
CCC 124-127
CCC 2466
Preparation: For many of our nights we make sure to play a large group, high energy game at the beginning of the night. Tonight we played a game called Mission Possible. The youth were separated into two teams and placed on opposite sides of the gym. Random items from the game closet were scattered on the floor between the two teams. The object of the game is to get your whole team to the other end of the gym without touching the floor using only the items placed on the floor. This is usually a big hit for our kids and was tonight as well. The EDGE (7th and 8th Grade) had a hard time finishing on time so I paused the game then told the teams they could touch the floor, which resulted in a mad dash to either end of the gym.
            After the game a mentor read the Gospel this coming Sunday. We make sure we have the text of the Gospel on the projection screen so the youth can follow along as it is read. We also remind the youth to stand for the Gospel.
            After prayer our high school mentors performed a short skit I wrote called “The Waiting Room.” It highlighted the wait for Christ. Some people get impatient and leave, some are deceived and follow someone other than Christ, and some are disappointed because they expected something else. But if we persevere to the end we will be rewarded. This skit is based off of the experience of the Israelite people waiting for the coming Messiah.

Christ is just as present in the Scriptures as in the Eucharist. When we encounter Him we are set on fire, never to be the same.

Explanation: I started the message by asking why we stand for the Gospel? I quoted Dei Verbum, 21 where the Church says she “has always venerated the Divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table of God’s word and of Christ’s body.” When we read Scripture, especially the Gospels, we encounter the person of Jesus Christ, just as if we were to sit in adoration.  We see in scripture countless examples of people encountering Christ and having their lives changed. When we encounter Christ, whether it be in the Sacraments or in the Scriptures we are changed. I used the analogy of fire to illustrate how we are changed. When a paper is lit on fire it burns and casts a light on the whole room, it catches other paper on fire if close enough, and it becomes ash, which can never be paper again. In the same way we must be caught on fire by Christ in order to shed light on our world, catch others on fire, and never go back to the way we were.
            I ended with the challenge of St. Jose Maria Escriva, “Don’t let your life be barren. Be useful. Make yourself felt. Shine forth with the torch of your faith and your love.  And set aflame all the ways of the earth with the fire of Christ that you bear in your heart.” – The Way, #1

Application: We split the youth into small groups and had our high school mentors lead them in discussion.

Celebration: We ended the night by bringing all the youth back to our main meeting room and I closed us in prayer thanking God for his presence to us in the Gospels and asking Him to help us catch our friends on fire (spiritually, not physically).

Moment of Growth (I am a firm believer in the moments that we mess up are for learning not beating ourselves up so instead of naming this title ‘Ways I fail in life and youth ministry’ I instead named it ‘Moments of Growth’): This week our Lifeteen curriculum gave us a night on the Gospels. They focused on how throughout the Old Testament the Israelites were waiting for their savior and he finally came in the Gospels as the person of Jesus Christ. In my talk I focused on how this appearance and encounter is life changing. However, I did not modify the rest of the night accordingly. The small group questions focused on waiting and how Christ is the culmination of our hopes. I should have done a better job making sure every aspect of the night was uniform; focusing on the same subject, instead the message came across as dislocated between skit, talk, and small groups.

Favorite Moment: We played a random video I found on Youtube to fill the time while the youth were getting water after the game and finding their seats. Playing the video, even if it has nothing to do with the theme of the night, adds an element of fun and encourages the youth to find their seats so they can watch the video. Once it is done we move into prayer and the talk.
            I also really enjoyed how smoothly the fire illustration went. I had a piece of newspaper in a metal bowl so that when I lit it I could drop it in the bowl where it was safe to burn without catching anything else on fire. (For Crossfire I used a piece of printer paper balled up. It did not burn well so for EDGE I used newspaper which burnt much better.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Working with a Model - The Ecclesial Method

One of the reasons I started this blog was to help my friends who are still in the Catechetics major at Franciscan University. One of the models we are taught to use when planning a youth group event is called the ecclesial method. It consists of 5 steps. I plan on reviewing the youth nights I run in light of the Ecclesial method. I pray this will give students and other youth ministers an idea of what the ecclesial method looks like in action (I do not use the ecclesial method perfectly by any means but hope you may gain something by my attempts.)

(This overview of the Ecclesial Method is adapted from a handout made by Prof. James Pauley of Franciscan University of Steubenville)
  The Ecclesial Method

The first step of the ecclesial method is Preparation. Francis Kelly, in his book The Mystery We Proclaim, said “The catechist must help create the conditions for the possibility of a deepening of God’s Word in the hearts of those being served.” (TMWP, p.138)  This step includes the physical environment, disposition of the catechist, and having a relationship of trust with the youth. The most important part of the preparation step is PRAYER. This means that we teach the youth to pray using the diversity of Christian prayer.

            The second step of the ecclesial method is Proclamation. This is the central step. It is the heart of the message being given to the youth expressed in one to three sentences. A good proclamation is:            - Short, concise, easy to remember
                                     - Not read but proclaimed from the heart with confidence and joy 
                                     - Age appropriate and group appropriate
                                     - Visually present before the students
                                     - Constantly reinforced throughout the Catechesis
                                     - Expressed as positive and worthy of being proclaimed

            The third step is Explanation. This is where the proclamation is fleshed out and explained to the youth in a way that they can assimilate it and apply it to their lives. This is normally the longest step. It should be presented in a way that it requires the active participation of the youth.

            Application is the fourth step. This is the step where the youth are called to apply this step to their lives in a way that facilitates conversion.
Characteristics:            - Involves call to deepened commitment to following Christ and his will in our lives and seeing how the Gospel message relates to the culture.
                                    - Catechist acts as mediator of this call to conversion.
                                    - There are may forms this step can take (i.e. small groups, meditation, journaling, praying with others, opportunities for specific resolutions for growth in holiness.)

            The final step of the Ecclesial Method is Celebration. If the catechetical process begins in prayerful attentiveness and openness to the Word of God, I believe that it must also end in prayerful gratitude and praise to God.” (TMWP, p.146-147)
Characteristics:            - Cultivates a spirit of praise and gratitude in the presence of God’s Word.
                                    - Ends in a place of thanksgiving and not criticism, skepticism, confusion. The goal is for the learner to leave the catechetical setting in a place of peace and joy and preparedness for life’s challenges.
Examples:                   - Liturgy of the Word, liturgy of hours, a focus on liturgical year
                                    - Music
                                    - Creative us of symbols (cross, candle, image of Mary)
                                    - Movement/gesture (perhaps moving into the Church to pray or inviting learners to come up individually to receive prayers of the group

This is the model that is taught in Catechetics classes at Franciscan University and one can find this same model in many different forms within the youth ministry community. It is a good framework to keep in mind when planning youth group events. I will be using this model to review our youth nights here at St. Thomas More. 

For more information on the Ecclesial Method see The Mystery We Proclaim by: Msgr. Francis Kelly and The General Directory of Catechesis by: The United States Council of Catholic Bishops

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Lessons in Not Being Needed Prt. 3 (Final)

“I hope to have communion with the people, that is the most important thing.” 
- John Paul II
I am writing this while sitting at the desk in my apartment. Snow is falling outside, a fire is burning in my fireplace and I just received a text from my boss saying that the offices are closed tomorrow because of the winter weather. The sunburns and scratches have faded. My stomach is no longer revolting against the insane amount of rice and unrecognizable food I insist on filling it with. There are no more children and poor on the streets pulling at my heart whenever we drive by. The Philippines seem far away today. My only reminders of that beautiful and challenging country (besides the few souvenirs and pictures that are steadily growing on Facebook) are the lessons I learned.
I wrote in previous posts about how the Lord taught me that empowerment is better than handouts and the work we do is not as important as the time and presence we give. The third lesson the Lord taught me in the Philippines is one that I have been learning my whole life: Always be open to God changing your plans.
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) I am sure many of you have heard this verse before. It struck me back in high school, around the same time as when I started to apply to colleges. This verse has stayed with me ever since and has proven to be a constant reminder of how much the Lord has his hands on every step of my life.
Prior to my junior year of high school I was dead set on going to the Air Force Academy. If I couldn’t get in to the academy I was going to join the military anyway. However, I felt God call me to ministry when I went on a mission trip and so I set my eyes on a Catholic college where I could study theology and youth ministry. From there I was able to spend an amazing and life changing four months studying abroad in Austria and ended up graduating with my current job as a middle school youth minister in Denver, Colorado. None of that was part of my ‘plan.’
With all of this in mind I should have seen it coming. I should not have expected our mission trip to the Philippines to go 100% according to my plan. But I did. I expected us to get to the Philippines and have our days filled with work. Not necessarily to come in and build a whole school on our own but to work with the people. To bond with them over a shared burden and task. But this was not to be the case. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Filipino people were not concerned about what we could do for them. They wanted to share their lives with us.
This was a hard lesson for me to learn. As the leader of the trip I had certain expectations. I felt like everyone else had the same expectations and if they were not met they would not get as much out of the trip or would be disappointed. So even when we were working at the school, surrounded by hundreds of curious grade school children yearning for our attention and to get to know us I kept working. I kept shoveling because that was the ‘reason’ we were there. I kept thinking to myself, “What is it going to look like if we show up to a work cite and barely do any work?” I soon came to realize the answer: It would look like we actually care. It would look like we knew how to love. That we care more about the people around us than how good we can make ourselves feel by accomplishing some task. 
I guess it was such a hard lesson for me to learn because it is human nature; it’s guy-nature. We want to feel accomplished. We want something physical that we can point to and know that we had an effect. This is harder to see in our relationships with people. It often takes longer to make an impact. But when we are living for Christ, the Lord of all hearts, walls tend to come down and love comes through even in the most brief and seemingly insignificant encounters. 
There is a constant struggle in youth ministry not to get too attached to our plans. There are so many things we have no control over that we grip those things we do have control over all the more tightly. The fact of the matter is God is ultimately in control (I should probably put that on a banner to hang in my office.) We cannot make conversion happen; shoot, we cant even make kids show up every week! All we can do is set a good foundation in our planning: have a good schedule where different activities flow well throughout the night, write the talk in advance so there is enough time to pray with it and polish it up, etc. 
Once the event begins (wether it be a youth night, social event, or retreat) we need to get out of the way and let God take over. Sometimes that means everything goes 100% according to plan. Sometimes it means only 5 students show up. Sometimes it means your talk goes in a completely different direction. As long as we are remaining faithful to the Holy Spirit and His direction it is always for the best. If the event goes just as you planned - Praise God! Take note and cherish it because those nights are few and far between. If only five students show up - Praise God! This gives you an opportunity to minister to those five in a much deeper way than you would if there were 20 other students running around demanding your attention. If the talk goes in a completely different direction - Praise God! You or whoever the speaker is was open enough to hear where God wanted the talk to go and it was probably the message the youth needed to hear. Sometimes our events just bomb. And that is okay too. Praise God! The good thing is you can learn from that experience and move on; correct mistakes and do better in the future. 
The key is: HUMILITY. Youth ministers are usually always in the spotlight of events. They are the ones leading the different activities, getting the youth excited, and playing the games with them. It is easy to think that a ministry rests on our shoulders. But our shoulders are weak. We cannot even support ourselves without the help of God. We are simply instruments God uses to do his work. If God decides to do something other than what we have in mind it is a good idea for us to follow his lead. 
The only way we can stay in tune with where the Lord is leading us is to PRAY. We need to spend just as much time (if not more) in prayer as we do planning. Go to daily Mass as often as possible. Speak to others in the ministry to gain different perspectives on what is going on. BE QUIET. Listen for the subtle urgings of the Spirit.
St. Joseph had plans too. None of which had to do with Mary becoming pregnant prior to their marriage. However, he was open enough to hear the Lord’s call and humble enough to accept this new plan. May we pray for his intercession that we may see where the Lord is leading us in our ministries, families, and lives; and have the courage to follow.