Monday, September 26, 2016

The Teaching Power of the Parish Bulletin

You read that title right.  I know, I know  - you must think I am out of my mind - I mean, does anyone even read the parish bulletin anymore? 
I believe that the parish bulletin provides a unique tool which can aid in illustrating how the teachings of the Church are lived out in a practical, local way.  Inexpensive, readily available, and easy to use, the average parish bulletin provides a wealth of examples which can assist students of all ages to recognize how the church’s teachings “work” in the parish community they call home.  
Here are seven tenets of the faith that can be illustrated using the parish bulletin: 

The Sacraments
Dates, times and locations for the celebration of the Sacraments can be found in nearly every parish bulletin.  After completing a lesson on the seven sacraments, have your students scour the bulletin to find information for each of the sacraments.  Ask them to try and identify which sacraments are celebrated most frequently – this can lead to a fruitful discussion about how some sacraments can be received only once, some more than once but also infrequently, and some on a regular, even daily basis. 

The Scriptures
St. Jerome’s famous axiom “Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ” can be the basis of your using the local bulletin to underscore the importance of scripture in the life of every Catholic. Most bulletins list the citations for the daily Mass readings.  Some bulletins even contain reflections on the Sunday readings. Have your students search for all references to the Scriptures in their local bulletin – if they are old enough, ask them to look up several of the citations in their Bibles and use those readings during prayer time.

The Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy
Perhaps no teaching of the Church is more easily illustrated in a parish bulletin than the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy.  Activities such as faith formation (instruct the ignorant), pastoral counseling (counsel the doubtful) and the bereavement ministry (comfort the sorrowful) provide vivid examples of a few of the Spiritual Works of Mercy.  The parish food pantry (feed the hungry) and even the advertisement for the local funeral home (bury the dead) can illustrate some of the Corporal Works of Mercy.  Encourage your students to find examples of all the Works of Mercy and challenge them to see how they might participate in one of these ministries of the parish.

Intercessory Prayer
Praying for others is a holy act of charity that even the youngest child can readily understand. Your parish bulletin can highlight the fact that as a parish community we are all called to pray for each other.  Many parishes list the members of the community who are sick. Often, parishes will list the Mass intentions, which are most frequently offered for deceased members of the community. This provides a great opportunity to discuss the doctrine of purgatory and the merit of praying for our loved ones who have died.  Invite your students to find these names in the bulletin and then incorporate these intercessions into your family prayer time.  

The Communion of Saints
Devotion to the saints and reliance on their prayers is an integral part of Catholic life. The bulletin is replete with opportunities to discuss the saints. If you are a member of a parish that is named after a saint, make learning about the life of that saint part of your religious studies.  Have your students search the bulletin for groups named after a particular saint, or devotions being offered to a saint.  These too can be used as springboards for the study of the virtues and the unique contribution each saint made to the treasury of the Church. 

The Church’s Hierarchy
Most parish bulletins have a listing on their covers of the Pastor’s name, as well as any other priests and deacons assigned to the parish.  The bulletin may also list the name of the Bishop of the Diocese and even the name of the Holy Father.  Having students look through the bulletin of their own parish as well as other local parishes for the names of these members of the Church’s hierarchy is a great way to personalize the titles of “Bishop”, “Pastor” and “Deacon”.  The activity can be extended by looking at the Diocesan or parish website to place a picture with the names. 

The Four Marks of the Church
The four marks of the Church (one, holy, Catholic Apostolic) can appear very esoteric.  After explaining the characteristics of the four marks, ask your students to find evidence for the four marks of the church in the bulletin.  Examples include: the sacraments for one; prayers and devotions for holy, references to the Bishop or Pope for Apostolic, and missionary activity or RCIA for Catholic.

Using your parish bulletin as a teaching resource has benefits beyond a mere pedagogical tool.  By exposing students to the bulletin they will begin to understand the breadth and the depth of the life of the Church and see how their participation in the activities of the local parish is an integral part of their lives as Catholics.  

This post originally appeared on Seton Magazine.
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Tuesday, September 20, 2016



When I hear this word images of a raging, hot, unstoppable fire are immediately brought to mind.  When something is ablaze it is visible and radiant and very much contagious - eager to consume all that it within its reach. The connotation is not always positive.  A raging fire can be a very scary, dangerous thing indeed. 

Why then do the Scriptures, and the saints, and even contemporary Christian music challenge the believer to be ablaze?  Christian music artist Ben Walther's anthem "Ablaze" provides us some insight to the nature of being Ablaze in the Christian life. Take a listen to his powerful song here:

Fire Purifies

In Zechariah 13:9 we read:
"I will bring the one third through fire, and I will refine them as silver is refined, and I will test them as gold is tested. They shall call upon my name and I will hear them. I will say "They are my people," and they shall say, "The Lord is my God."
Our hearts and minds need to be set ablaze by God's purifying fire in order to be refined of our sins, and our bad habits and our twisted thinking - of selfishness and greed and unforgiveness.

The process, quite frankly, stinks.

Purification is painful.  It is challenging and humbling to face our sins; it is HARD to revisit the hurts of our lives in order to forgive those who hurt us, and it if often a long and tedious process to break the bad habits that keep us from full surrender to Jesus. The results of this process however, like the precious gold and silver which emerge from the fire, are radiant and precious.  Allowing the Lord to set us ablaze in order to purify us creates a new "us" that is a credible and compelling witness to God's love and mercy.

Fire Illumines the Darkness

In the Israelite's journey out of Egypt the Lord made his presence known to them in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night: Exodus 13: 21-22 tells us:
"The Lord preceded them, in the daytime by means of a column of cloud to show them the way, and at night by means of a column of fire to give them light."
The Lord's presence in the column of fire lit up the darkness so that the Israelites could safely travel through it.

Ben Walther's song begins with these words: ""By his grace we are conceived to be mercy, to be peace, to be light amidst the darkness."

Our mission as Catholics is to carry within us the presence of God, a presence which will be a column of fire for those who walk in darkness.  At our Baptism we received an anointing to share in Christ's anointing of priest, prophet and King.  Through that anointing we can bring the light of Christ, his mercy and his peace to others.

Lighting up the darkness for someone else doesn't have to be complicated.  It may be as simple as a kind word, an invitation to a retreat, dropping off some spiritual reading to the person, or simply being a shoulder to cry on. When people ask us about our faith, we can shine that light through humbly sharing what the Lord has done for us.  Above all, it involves praying for those around us who dwell in darkness.

Set the World on Fire

St. Ignatius of Loyola often challenged his missionaries with the Latin phrase: ite, inflammate omnia—“go, set the world on fire.” One of St. Catherine of Siena's most quoted sayings is "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire." 

What are these great saints asking us to do?

They are asking us to surrender and submit to the will of God in our lives - to give our lives totally over to him, so that, like John the Baptist, we may decrease and Christ may increase.  It is only through this self-surrender that we can be filled with the Holy Spirit and go out as ambassador's of God's love into a hurting world.

The words "set the world on fire" speak to us - they inspired Ben Walther to write his song Ablaze.  I believe there is something deep within all of our hearts that longs to see the world set ablaze in the fire of God's love. We can imagine the brilliance of a world blazing with the roaring fires of faith, hope and charity.  How awesome would it be if those fires consumed everything around them - leaving nothing but the pure gold of God's will alive in every heart.

Journal Starters

I'd like to leave you with a few journal starters to bring to the Lord in prayer.

  • Lord Jesus, what areas in my life need to be purified by your "refiner's fire"? I ask you to reveal those areas to me, and I ask for the grace to allow me to cooperate with the purification you desire.
  • Dear God, please show me how I can be a light in the darkness to those around me. Give me the strength and the holy boldness to help lead others out of slavery into the light and the freedome of Christ.
  • Lord Jesus, stir up in my heart a desire to "go and set the world on fire." Reveal to me the unique plan you have for my life and the way that you most desire for me to be an ambassador of the fire of your love to a hurting world.

Visit Allison at Reconciled to You for more reflections on Ben Walther's powerful music. To learn more about Ben visit his website!

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Saturday, September 3, 2016

5 Ways to Spiritually Prepare for the New School Year

This article was originally posted on Seton Magazine. While this post is written from my own perspective as a homeschooling family, most of the suggestions can be used regardless of where your children go to school.

September is nearly upon us and for most families that means a return to the regular school-year routines.  As parents, we expend considerable energy, effort, time and money in preparing for the upcoming school year – ensuring that our children receive the best education, the most well-rounded set of extra-curricular activities and do it all in style (who can resist that dizzying array of colorful backpacks). It is not as often that we prepare ourselves spiritually for the upcoming school year, and yet, as the old axiom wisely states: Failing to plan is planning to fail. Here are five ways you can prepare yourselves and your family spiritually to enter the new academic season with the Lord at the center of your academic life.
1.       Bless your books and your home.
Invite your parish priest or deacon over to bless your books and your home, particularly the area you will be using for homeschooling.  This provides not only the grace of the blessing itself, but it gives your children an opportunity to interact with their priest or deacon outside the parish setting and allows your priest or deacon to get a glimpse into the “hows” and “whys” of homeschooling. 

Parish priests are busy people, so if your local priest is unavailable, consider inviting a retired priest over. They often have more time available to spend sharing their years of accumulated wisdom with families. 
2.       Wipe the slate clean with a good Confession.

Like the brand new books and haircuts that accompany the start of a new year, it is equally important to have our souls scrubbed and shining as we begin any new endeavor. Summer vacation and its unpredictable schedule can often lead to regular confession times being missed or delayed.  Beginning the school year provides a great opportunity to get back to a regular confession schedule.  Pope Francis describes the spiritual and temporal benefits experienced by the person who has just made a good confession saying: “he leaves (feeling) free, grand, beautiful, forgiven, candid, happy. This is the beauty of confession.”[i]

3.       Go to opening day Mass as a family.
The first day of school is always one met with great anticipation and excitement. Make it a truly special day by attending morning Mass together as a family or along with other homeschooling families.  By attending Holy Mass, we consecrate our entire day and all the activities within it to the Lord and we receive innumerable graces from the Eucharist, graces we can draw upon when the days get long and tough. 

St. JoseMarie Escriva says: “Keep struggling, so that the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar really becomes the center and root of your interior life, and so your whole day will turn into an act of worship — an extension of the Mass you have attended and a preparation for the next. Your whole day will then be an act of worship that overflows in aspirations, visits to the Blessed Sacrament and the offering up of your professional work and your family life…”[ii]

4.       Pick a patron saint for the year.
Every homeschool needs a patron saint whose example and intercession can be both a model and a source of strength for the entire family.  Pick a new patron saint to dedicate the upcoming school year too.  As part of your curricula, the entire family can learn about that saint through books and movies.  Encourage your children to identify and imitate the saint’s virtues.  Most of all, place your homeschool into your patron saint’s special care and pray for his or her intercession daily.

5.       Enlist the help of the “simple saints.”
In a General Audience address on holiness, Pope Benedict referred to the example of what he called “the simple saints, that is, the good people I see in my life who will never be canonized. They are ordinary people, so to speak, without visible heroism but in their everyday goodness I see the truth of faith.”[iii] We all have “simple saints” in our lives, and they are often longing for opportunities to be of spiritual assistance to others. The start of the school year is a great time to enlist their help – ask the “simple saints” you know to pray for your family and in particular for your homeschool. 

Throughout the course of the year, reach out to them when situations arise which require extra prayer.  Keep them updated on how your family is doing, and thank them for their efforts by praying for them and inviting them into your home to share a meal. As the Body of Christ we rely on each other’s prayers and this is a great opportunity to share our lives with those in our wider Catholic community.

Armed with prayer, the sacraments and help from the Communion of Saints your family will ready to begin a new year open to all the possibilities for growth and glory that the Lord has planned.

[i] Pope Francis, General Audience Address, February 19, 2014
[ii] St. Josemarie Escriva, The Forge, #69
[iii] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience Address, April 13, 2011

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Recipe for Holiness: Ingredient 7: Small Acts

An avalanche of kindness.  That is how I would describe this week.

It began with my sister in law offering to hang out with my kids for breakfast so I could take a final exam, online, in peace and quiet. The following morning my son greeted my husband and I with a fully wrapped (bow included) pre-anniversary present - a Magic Mesh Magnetic Screen Door.  Ours ripped a few weeks ago and he knew we would need to replace it before hosting a houseful of people this weekend.  Secretly, he arranged for my Dad to take him shopping so he could purchase it with his own money. A few hours later, a friend surprised me with a gift of a cute summer skirt in the colors of a new business that I have just jumped into. The evening ended with me dozing off on the couch while watching the Mets game only to feel my little one cover me with a blanket and kiss me on the cheek.

An avalanche indeed, consisting of the smallest acts of love and kindness.

We continue the Recipe for Holiness series this week with Pope Francis' next ingredient: small acts.  There is a temptation in all things to believe that it is only the spectacular, the heroic, or the super-abundant acts that make the difference.  We watch in awe as Olympic athletes break records to win gold medals.  The news reports recount tales of extreme heroism on the part of law enforcement. Even the church extols the sacrifices of the martyrs and the intense holiness of the saints.

Don't misunderstand me.  It is right to acknowledge and admire these acts of heroism.  I would like to propose that behind every act of heroism is a multitude of small acts done faithfully each day. The Olympic athlete does not win the gold without steadily persevering through conditioning exercises, mundane practices and bits of routines done over and over again. The vast majority of law enforcement's acts of protection and service go unnoticed by the general public. Finally, the saints themselves achieved their exalted place in the church through a lifetime of virtuous living and unwavering prayer. 

What's the lesson for us? 

The avalanche of kindness that I experienced this week was comprised of a few small acts of love. Like a true avalanche, these acts built upon each other to create a snowball effect of something much greater than they each were individually. Father Lawrence Lovasik, in his wonderful book The Hidden Power of Kindness, tells us:
"No kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees."
Our little actions, when powered by love, make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of those around us.  Today, let us strive for the heights of holiness in the trenches of everyday life one small act of love at time.

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Visit Allison at Reconciled to You for more #Recipe4Holiness!

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Recipe for Holiness: Ingredient 6: Mercy

Mercy - this ingredient in our Recipe for Holiness is the one most likely to bring up images of Pope Francis.  He is the "face of mercy" for some many people.  Mercy is an essential element of Christian life.  We are all in need of it and we are all called by the Lord himself to be doers and givers of it.

In establishing the Jubliee Year of Mercy, the Holy Father has highlighted Mercy as a key ingredient in a life of holiness.  Here are five of my favorite Pope Francis quotes on mercy:

1. "Mercy is a journey that departs from the heart to arrive at the hands." Address, August 10, 2016

2. "Let us ask the Lord, each of us, for eyes that know how to see beyond appearances, ears that know how to listen to cries, whispers, and also silence; hands able to support, embrace, and minister. Most of all, let us ask for a great and merciful heart that desires the good and salvation of all." Address, May 3, 2014

3. "Christians are called to give witness to God's love and mercy. We must never cease to do good, even when it is difficult and demanding." Address, January 13, 2014

4. "The call of Jesus pushes each of us never to stop at the surface of things, especially when we are dealing with a person. We are called to look beyond, to focus on the heart to see how much generosity everyone is capable. No one can be excluded from the mercy of God; everyone knows the way to access it and the Church is the house that welcomes all and refuses no one. Its doors remain wide open, so that those who are touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness. The greater the sin, so much the greater must be the love that the Church expresses toward those who convert." Homily, March 13, 2015

5."Dear brothers and sisters, let us be enveloped by the mercy of God; let us trust in his patience, which always gives us more time. Let us find the courage to return to his house, to dwell in his loving wounds, allowing ourselves be loved by him and to encounter his mercy in the sacraments. We will feel his wonderful tenderness, we will feel his embrace, and we too will become more capable of mercy, patience, forgiveness and love." Homily, Divine Mercy Sunday, 2013

And finally, one of my favorite videos of Pope Francis encouraging all of us to get to the Sacrament of Mercy - Confession!

Visit Allison at Reconciled to You for more #Recipe4Holiness!

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