The Call: Helping young people to discern their vocation

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The Call of St. Matthew, by Caravaggio

Vocation: too often this is a word that is misunderstood, particularly in the Catholic context, and particularly among young people — in other words, those who are at the most critical stage of vocational discernment.

This past Sunday was the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. From many a pulpit throughout the world, congregations heard their pastors preach on the importance of vocational discernment, and of answering God’s call to whatever vocation he is calling you to.

As educators — be we parents, teachers, parish catechists, pastors, or anything else — it is important that we help young people to discern the path to which God is calling them. First and foremost, in many cases, we must instruct them on the concept of discernment itself.

In our age, the idea of discernment is somewhat foreign. Society encourages us to do what we want, what feels right in the moment, with little or no consideration of long term effects or consequences. In the context of vocations, this attitude is reflected in the way that marriage is so often treated. No longer considered a lifelong commitment, marriage is a temporary state for as long as the couple pleases: no longer is there any weight given to the vows, no true commitment.

This is symptomatic of the larger issue at hand, and a sign of what is sorely needed: proper catechesis on discernment and vocation!

For one thing, it is important to emphasize that discernment is not a passive process, but an active one.

Let’s take a brief look at a classic biblical example of active discernment, from the First Book of Kings. In this passage, Elijah comes to a cave on Mount Horeb, as he flees for his life. God tells him to “‘Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:11-12) Elijah sought the Lord to see what he should do. And God was not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire, not in the powerful, booming signs. Rather, he was in the still small voice at the back of the cave. If Elijah was not listening, he would not have heard.

We should also make note here of an interesting study that was recently released, detailing the influence of homeschooling on vocational discernment in the United States. According to the study done by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, young men who were homeschooled are four times more likely to enter the seminary than those who attend Catholic schools. Nearly one-in-ten US seminarians were homeschooled, which is drastic considering how many fewer homeschoolers there are than Catholic school students. At this time there are around 100,000 homeschooled Catholics in the United States, compared to two million students in Catholic schools.

This speaks to the importance of the home being the first place where vocational discernment happens, and the profound effect that families can have.

As readers of this blog know (but it never hurts to remember), when we speak of vocations, we do not mean only the priesthood and religious life. ALL of us have a vocation, to one state of life or another. The priesthood and religious life are only two possibilities, but many are called instead to marriage, and some to devoted single life.

For those readers who teach Confirmation classes, it might be worth considering incorporating a vocational discernment element into the Confirmation course. This is a perfect point in a young person’s life to seriously begin a discernment process, and there is no better time than when they are sealed with the Holy Spirit and infused with grace!

Catechesis is about instruction in the faith, for the salvation of souls. It is important, as part of our catechesis, to help young people be open to hearing God speaking to them. When God calls, we should always be listening, and answer without hesitation.

Gaudete et Exsultate — Pope Francis’ new call to holiness

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As many of you may know, yesterday saw the release of a new apostolic exhortation from the Holy Father, Pope Francis, called Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad!).

The document is subtitled “On the call to holiness in today’s world,” and that is certainly the crux of the matter. The Church teaches a universal call to holiness, and this is expounded upon in the Holy Father’s exhortation.

Many of the commentaries which have been published in the last couple of days give focus to a couple of points that are more “newsworthy” or controversial. For example, in light of the pope’s recent interview with Eugenio Scalfari wherein he purportedly denied the existence of hell (he did not, in fact, do any such thing), the document explicitly affirms the existence of hell and of the devil as not merely symbolic images, but realities we must face. It certainly makes sense that a document on the pursuit of holiness would address the diabolic forces that strive to keep us from being holy!

Jesus “wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence,” the pope writes. He continues that the document is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and the like, but rather his goal is to “repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges, and opportunities.”

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Here is the text of the document: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20180319_gaudete-et-exsultate.html

And here are several commentaries on the document:

A collection of “key quotes” compiled by the UK’s Catholic Herald:   http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2018/04/09/gaudete-et-exsultate-key-quotes/

Christopher Altieri on what Gaudete et Exsultate means for the Church:   http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2018/04/09/what-does-gaudete-et-exsultate-mean-for-the-church/

JD Flynn, Editor-in-Chief of Catholic News Agency, on “Reading Pope Francis in love”: https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/commentary-reading-pope-francis-in-love-67644

Catholic World Report‘s Carl Olson’s take on the document:  http://www.catholicworldreport.com/2018/04/09/pope-francis-takes-aim-in-gaudete-et-exsultate-and-misses/

A Zenit report on Cardinal Daniel DiNardo’s assessment of the document:   https://zenit.org/articles/us-bishops-president-lauds-gaudete-et-exsultate/ (Cardinal DiNardo is Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, and the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)

Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Registerhttp://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/pope-francis-issues-lengthy-apostolic-letter-on-universal-call-to-holiness

And lastly, from the great Italian vaticanista, Sandro Magister:   http://magister.blogautore.espresso.repubblica.it/2018/04/09/little-joy-and-great-invective-francis-explained-by-fr-spadaro/?refresh_ce

These commentaries bring out a lot of the more salient points of the apostolic exhortation, but as in all things, the best way to familiarize yourself with a document is to sit down and read it. It will be well worth your time!

Gaudete et Exsultate is a reminder, in the truest sense of an exhortation, that we are all called to holiness.

Keeping catechesis invigorated

As we approach the end of Lent, and the beginning of the Easter season, the thoughts of pastors, teachers, and catechists naturally begin to turn to those lovely days of sunshine in the spring and summer. In many places, catechetical classes, bible studies, faith formation groups, and other such activities begin to wind down, fade away, for a summer hiatus.

This need not be the case!

We are all called to continue nurturing our faith at all times, not only during the school year. There are many ways to go about this, and this blog will be an encouragement to do just that! It will also provide several ideas on ways to continue to invigorate parish faith life, even during the spring and summer slowdown.

Faith formation groups and classes are meant to be so much more than “something to do,” or a way to foster community. While they certainly are positive ways to build a sense of community and faith-sharing, it is really about nurturing each individual’s faith.

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After 2,000 years, the Christian tradition (and particularly the Catholic Church) has accumulated an unimaginably vast and rich intellectual patrimony. Some of the foremost men and women thinkers of all time served the Church founded by Jesus Christ, and we would do well to continue reading their words and prayerfully reflecting on them.

You might consider organizing reading groups or book clubs to prayerfully read and reflect on these great works from throughout the history of the Church. There are many dozens of beautiful encyclicals and other writings from the popes; writings of the saints, like the Confessions of St. Augustine, the works of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, the Story of a Soul of St. Therese of Lisieux, or even Eusebeius’ Ecclesiastical History; more recent theologians such as Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) and Adrienne von Speyr, who wrote monumentally profound and moving works, that are available in beautiful and easily readable English translations; British Catholic writers such as Ronald Knox (The Hidden Stream, to take one example), Robert Hugh Benson (novels including Lord of the World and Come Rack! Come Rope!), and G.K. Chesterton (OrthodoxyThe Everlasting Man, and everything else to flow from his pen); American fiction writers, like Flannery O’Connor (Wise Blood and a mountain of short stories) and Walker Percy (Love in the RuinsThe Thanatos Syndrome, and others); and current figures such as Robert Cardinal Sarah (The Power of Silence and God or Nothing) or Carl Olson (Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?).

Read the Bible. Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Read the documents of the Second Vatican Council. There is no shortage of beautiful and profound texts to read, and this is a terrific way to continue nurturing the faith.

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Movie nights

While it may not seem like it when looking at the usual Hollywood fare, there truly are many wonderful, well-made, and thoroughly-enjoyable movies suitable for an explicitly Catholic viewing. Some of these come from the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood; others are foreign films that come out of a more strongly Catholic milieu. Hosting family movie nights to view some of these films continues that faith nurturing to which we keep referring, and is also a pleasant social gathering for the parish.

Consider classic films such as The Song of Bernadette, Going My Way (with Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald in Academy Award-winning performances), Jesus of Nazareth, The Ten Commandments, Becket, A Man for All Seasons (a marvelous film about St. Thomas More, which won Best Picture at the Academy Awards), or The Scarlet and the Black (with Gregory Peck and Christopher Plummer). Alternatively, if it is more recent productions you are looking for, try The 13th Day, Ignatius of Loyola, Restless Heart, or Pope John Paul II (starring Jon Voigt and Cary Elwes as the old and young Karol Wojtyla, respectively). All of these make for great viewing, and all are beautifully edifying.

There is also the series called Footprints of God, by Stephen K. Ray. This is a documentary series in which the host/author takes viewers to the Holy Land, to the real places where Jesus walked and taught, where the saints prayed and preached and gave their lives. The series consists of several episodes, each of which would make for a fine night of community viewing.

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Bible studies

Above all, parishes should encourage and foster prayerful reading of the Bible, and this can be emphasized during the spring and summer slowdown. Bible studies do not have to close down during the summer; if there is a volunteer to lead the Bible study, people will come.

There are many Bible study resources that can be utilized to help in this effort. Ignatius Press’ Study Bible series consists of commentaries that can easily be used to lead such classes; the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology also has many resources available. Jeff Cavins, Father Mitch Pacwa, and many others have made resources available to help communities break open Sacred Scripture, to fall in love with the Word of God. There is no better time than the present to do so.

Conclusion

While many parishes may struggle to find the resources necessary for much activity during the spring and summer, it is important to keep up the availability of catechesis, as the formation of hearts and souls is the primary task. God willing, holy habits have been cultivated during these last weeks of Lent, so let’s keep the momentum going through Easter and into summer!

25 Years of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Earlier this month, the Church marked a pair of historic and important landmarks: the 55th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and the 25th anniversary of the release of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Both of these landmarks are truly impressive, but in this post I want to briefly explore the incredible effect that the Catechism has had on the life of the Church.

The Catechism is largely a passion project of Pope St. John Paul II and then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who spent 24 years as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. In 1985, John Paul convoked an Extraordinary Synod to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council. During the Synod, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston called for a new universal catechism. The following year, a commission was founded to begin work on this monumental task.

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There were some who did not think this would come to fruition. There had not been a universal catechism produced since the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century. While there were many local and regional catechisms produced during the intervening centuries (including, memorably, the famous Baltimore Catechism here in the United States), this would be the first attempt at a catechism for the whole Church since that council.

The general editor of the Catechism was Bishop Christoph Schönborn, OP, who would later be named cardinal and Archbishop of Vienna. One of the most prominent and articulate theological minds of the last 30 years, Cardinal Schönborn proved an able editor who helped guide the Catechism through a relatively swift 6-year process to its publication.

I don’t think it can be easily overstated what an impact the Catechism has had on the Church all over the world. Frankly, it may be many years, or many decades, before we can adequately assess the effect it has had. The tenets of the faith have been articulated carefully, and beautifully, with incessant reference to Sacred Scripture, the Church fathers, official Church documents, and great theological minds. A summary in almost 3,000 paragraphs, it is truly a masterful work of art.

 

Here are a number of recent pieces celebrating this jubilee of the Catechism:

Matthew Bunson writing for the National Catholic Register: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/mbunson/the-catechism-turns-25

Luke Coppen writing for the UK’s Catholic Herald: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2017/10/11/without-the-catechism-i-might-never-have-become-catholic/

Fr. William P. Saunders writing for the Arlington Catholic Herald: http://www.catholicherald.com/Faith/The_catechism_is_a_gift_to_the_church/

Junno Arocho Esteves writing for Crux: https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2017/10/18/silver-anniversary-making-catechism-shine-21st-century/

Carl E. Olson writing for Catholic World Report: http://www.catholicworldreport.com/2017/10/11/in-gratitude-for-the-gift-of-the-catechism-of-the-catholic-church/

George Weigel writing for First Things: https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2017/10/the-catechism-of-the-catholic-church-at-25

A new year for Catholic education

We’ve reached the beginning of yet another school year. The beginning of school, the beginning of religious education classes, the beginning of sacramental prep. Most of the readers of this blog are teachers and catechists and parents; so many of you are likely considering just how you are going to cover all the material you would like to this year.

One problem that many parish catechists, religion teachers, and parents have is finishing the book. So much effort is put into choosing the texts that will be used, and planning out the year. The instructor wants to make sure certain topics are covered in a limited amount of time, and sometimes even at certain times of year.

Time is at a premium — but it is, of course, recognized that this is important material! So it is a balancing act. How can we cover all the material, without having to speed through it and sacrifice the opportunity to really delve deep?

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This is the perennial question!

Many textbooks, including Ignatius Press’s Faith & Life series, have teacher’s manuals with detailed lesson plans. Each chapter provides a full week of detailed color-coded lesson plans, with four days for presenting new material and one day for review and assessment. These lesson plans are designed to be guides in teaching even the most complex truths of the Catholic Faith with age-appropriate examples. The plans can be adjusted as needed to fit the context of the classroom and how often the class meets.

For parish catechists and CCD programs, Ignatius Press has developed once-a-week lesson plans which can be found at http://www.faithandlifeseries.com. These lesson plans cover the essential material and doctrines of each chapter in a one-hour format.

Using methods such as this, it becomes easier for teachers, catechists, and others to work through an entire text in a given year. These texts are developed with a careful eye towards age-appropriate materials, and gradually learning the truths of the Catholic Faith in greater detail. You can trust that pedagogy was a top priority!

As we begin the school year, let us pray that our hearts and intellects be blessed and enlightened.

St. Albert the Great, and St. Thomas Aquinas, patrons of students, pray for us!

The blog is risen!

As regular readers of the Ignatius Press Religious Education Blog will have noticed, these pages have been dormant for some time now — almost two years. However, in the last few months there have been some changes, and we’ve decided it is time to bring the blog back from the dead!

I want to use this first post for two purposes. The first of these is to introduce myself. My name is Paul Senz, and I am a new Ignatius Press employee as of June 2017. My role is twofold: I am the Sales Manager and jack-of-all-trades for the Ignatius Pew Missal (www.pewmissal.com), and the Diocesan Consultant for Ignatius Press Religious Education. It has been a whirlwind couple of months so far, and there is no shortage of things to do. One of the most important things to me, however, was to get this blog up and running again, with regular posts meant to edify and educate Ignatius Press customers, and all those who may find themselves on these pages.

I will be writing most of the posts myself. In addition to my work with Ignatius Press, I frequently write for many Catholic sites and publications, and am a regular contributor to Catholic World Report (which is an Ignatius Press publication), Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly, the UK’s Catholic HeraldCatholic News Service, the National Catholic RegisterThe Priest Magazine, and others. I am excited about the opportunity to bring my gifts as a writer to this blog, and I will be inviting a number of talented guest writers to provide their own insights on this page.

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St. Gregory the Great, writing with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (by Jusepe de Ribera)

We have some great content lined up for the coming weeks, months, and years. We will be looking into the world of religious education and catechesis; mining the Church’s rich patrimony of writings and teachings; exploring tips for effective catechesis; and much more.

Today is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It seemed like a fitting date for the Ignatius Press Religious Education blog to begin its new life, and we will take Our Blessed Mother as our patroness.

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!

What can St. John Bosco teach us about Mercy?

by Marlon De La Torre, Department Director for Catechesis, Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth

Imagine for a moment that you’re a catechist in a parish religious education program or Catholic school and you suddenly realize that all of your students have a very high value of themselves.

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And, upon realizing this fascinating phenomenon you also realize that the majority of your students do not associate their high value as children created in the image and likeness of God.

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Gasp! Your first reaction may be to put your students in their place and set aside any semblance of a merciful act. If this is the case, St. John Bosco developed a profound educational system called the Preventive System. In short, this system provides us with a clear path toward incorporating a genuine atmosphere of mercy that at times is sorely needed within the life of a child.

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St. John Bosco was one of the greatest teachers of the Catholic faith, especially in reaching the young men of his day. His proving ground was the very difficult streets of Turin, Italy where the theological virtue of charity was more hoped for than seen; any genuine display mercy, spiritual or corporal was non-existent on a daily basis. Knowing the environment he had to work with Don Bosco made it his aim for “his boys” to see themselves as children of God. He desired to “save their souls.”

There was no miscommunication on St. John Bosco’s part on his intent to reach the souls of these boys. Because of his direct, stern, yet merciful loving approach many children were taken aback on how direct he was towards them: a “fight fire with fire” approach but, with Christ at the center. This aspect of his approach was essential in reaching these children because he showed them a profound love of forgiveness and at the same time held them accountable for their actions.

The Preventive System is an approach based on three core principles: Reason, Religion, and Kindness. Each principle has a specific point to bring the child closer to Christ.

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The Principle of Reason provides a reasonable atmosphere where the child would be given the opportunity to consent to instruction and guidance. The goal of this first principle is to develop good Christians and useful citizens. The teacher must be the bridge to a child’s discovery of the world through patience, diligence, and prayer.

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The Principle of Religion stressed the ugliness of sin and the value of living a virtuous life. The aim is to develop the intellectual and physical gifts the child possesses and how he can be directed toward a greater good. There are five steps within this principle to help youth attain personal holiness:

  1. Holiness of ordinary life
  2. The joy and optimism of holiness
  3. Centrality of Confession
  4. The Holy Eucharist
  5. Love of Mary

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The Principle of Kindness emphasizes the virtue of love. St. John Bosco would stress: “Let us make ourselves loved, and we shall possess their hearts.” In other words, our Christian witness must be genuine, merciful and constant for spiritual development of the child. The learning environment should be warm and inviting, not cold. The family spirit reigned; he did this through rapport, friendliness, presence, mercy, respect, attention, dedication to service, and personal responsibility.

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The core of all three principles of the Preventive System is to draw the child away from an individualistic view. As the last principle stressed: “the family spirit reigned.” St. John Bosco’s premise is that the child should know that he is part of God’s plan by the very fact he was created in His image and likeness. This in turn will help the child view that everyone is made in the image of God.

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What made St. John Bosco’s methods so effective was his willingness to go into the heart of the child regardless of his state in life and see Christ in him. Wisdom tells us these methods not only served St. John Bosco well; they can also reawaken a child’s relationship with Christ. The essential goal of the Preventive System is to foster productive Catholic citizens who seek to assist others before themselves. When teaching his students about his Preventive System St. John Bosco would always remind them: “Get them to love you and they’ll follow you anywhere.”

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St. John Bosco, pray for us!

Let us hear from you!

-In one way or another we have all implemented all or parts of the Preventive System.  Please share with us how you have implemented any or all of this system in your parish or school.

-What is your school or parish doing for the Year of Mercy?

Want more information about the Preventive System? Go to:

http://www.donboscowest.org/resources/preventive-system

Movie about St. John Bosco:

http://www.ignatius.com/Products/SJBML-M/st-john-bosco.aspx

 

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