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.