I’m a parent in 2019. I’m a Catholic parent in 2019.
Naysayers can’t believe that anyone would raise any children in today’s culture and even more say they would never raise their kids Catholic.
We are surrounded by a culture of death, a culture saturated by sex, a culture of political correctness, a culture filled with screens, and a Catholic culture scourged with the sin of clergy sexual abuse.
I want to say that I recognize all of this. I choose to fight against this. With the weapons of the rosary and the sacraments, we can withstand. My kids can withstand. And together as a family, we can journey to holiness…even in 2019.
It’s not culturally cool to be Catholic anymore and it’s definitely not cool to hang out with priests. Sadly, a priest in a Roman collar has become a cause for concern and a red flag. I’ve had folks say to me, “Keep your kids away from priests” or “When he hands me communion, I think ‘Where have his hands been?'”
My response is that if I shared that mentality, then I would have to keep my kids locked away from the entire world. I couldn’t take them to school, sports, or any activity with adult supervision because predators are everywhere…sin is everywhere.
So instead, I embrace healthy and holy relationships. Under my watchful eye, I gladly introduce my children to priests and those studying for the priesthood. It might surprise you to meet some of the wonderful young men who are filled with the joy of the Gospel and a deep love for Jesus Christ.
Just yesterday, we attended the Lector and Acolyte ceremony at St. Mary’s Seminary. What an uplifting service filled with faith. And while I had to step out a few times because of my toddler, I thoroughly enjoyed the incense and beautiful singing by the choir. So grateful for this experience and the gift of friendships with seminarians.
Maybe you have noticed the Twitter storm regarding Father Michael White’s recent blog post. Father White is the pastor of Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland. Nativity is an incredible place and I haven’t seen anything like it across the country. There is a lot of negativity circling around online recently and I would like to offer my insider thoughts….
Have you read Rebuilt?
I have. I read it as quickly as I could get my hands on it mainly because I worked at Nativity for the summers of 2005 and 2006 as a youth ministry intern and I was hired as the Director of Children’s Ministry in 2007. I didn’t stay long because my heart was truly in serving teens and a position opened up for me at my high school Alma Mater as well as pursuing a Master’s degree. Needless to say, my exit from Nativity was abrupt and I was incredibly nervous my name or at least my story would have been a chapter in Rebuilt.
Nativity has successfully built a parish centered on making an irresistible environment on the weekend. As Father White would say to us, “It’s all about the weekend!” The weekend experience for someone coming to Mass needed to be engaging, attractive, comfortable, and even spiritually challenging. All of this I believe to be in line with the New Evangelization and what is necessary to bring Catholics into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and to engage fallen away Catholics.
However, the perception of this can be very odd. When I was working at Nativity, Tom Corcoran was recording informational CD’s for parishioners titled, “Why We’re Weird.” It was very helpful for longtime parishioners to understand why changes were being made to parish life such as a cafe serving coffee and donuts after Mass, no longer printing a bulletin but having all communications online, a nursery for children under age three etc. How many times is a change implemented in a parish with little to no explanation whatsoever?
You can read a little bit about Nativity’s children’s programming on their website but the main take away that I received when I read Rebuilt was:
“If you do something for my kids, you do something for me.”
As a former Director of Children’s Ministry, a former leader of Vacation Bible School, and a former Catholic school Assistant Principal, that statement is absolutely TRUE. I have seen so many adults return to a relationship with Christ and a church home because of their child’s positive experience with faith. I believe that advice is dead on and not embraced enough in Catholic parishes. How many times have you been scolded as a parent in a Catholic Church by those sitting around you? Have you ever been scolded by the ushers? How about by the parish staff? Because I have experienced all of that and it’s devastating.
Have you been to Mass there?
So my next question is….have you ever been to Nativity? I used to love attending Nativity as a single, young adult. The music is top notch, pretty much Hillsong quality. The preaching by Father White (most weeks) is convicting and easily applicable to daily life struggles. The atmosphere is energetic and uplifting. There are greeters at every door, there are parking ministers directing traffic, there is a gorgeous cafe that has free coffee and lemonade after every Mass. Oh and did I mention, there is a sign on campus as you pull up that welcomes you and if you are elderly, handicapped, pregnant, or have young children you can put on your flashers and the parking ministers will direct your car to the front row!
I mention this because the atmosphere is infectious at Nativity, you can’t deny it. Everyone WANTS to be there. You don’t experience the grump who is upset you sat in his pew. You don’t see eye rolls when Stewardship Sunday comes up. And the youth ministry programs are PACKED with teens. Enjoy one of their Worship nights:
I loved attending Mass at Nativity as a young adult except for a few items that made me uncomfortable:
The lack of kneelers in the pews in the old church (which has now been rectified since they built the new sanctuary in 2017)
The amount of people that used to “watch” Mass on the TV’s stationed around the cafe and narthex (also has been eliminated since new church was built)
And finally the co-homilies when Father White and a lay person would tag team. I found this to be very concerning and had brought it to Father White’s attention personally. There seemed to be a work around for many years after I left, when the priest would give a short homily based on the Scripture readings and then a lay person would stand up after communion to give a teaching. This format was somewhat more acceptable to me liturgically; however, it felt like a forced prayer meeting experience wherein a lot of people just left after communion and to be honest none of the lay person’s teachings exceeded Father’s White’s homilies in my opinion. That is my personal opinion because I am sure many Catholics around me had never seen a lay person speak with passion about their faith or reflect with a depth of knowledge on the Scriptures. But growing up in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, that was a weekly occurrence for me as a child.
What went wrong with the Blog Post?
A lot. My first reaction when I read it was…why didn’t he mention the cry room? When Nativity built their new sanctuary, they also invested in a beautiful cry room area behind glass that overlooks the sanctuary. There are restrooms with changing tables right beside the seating. There is an elevator that transports you from the first floor to the loft which also made this easily accessibly with strollers and wheelchairs. There is signage that points you to the cry room if you hadn’t already been greeted by a host minister to escort you there personally. And finally, what I loved the most was the Eucharistic Minister who comes to the cry room to distribute communion which I have not experienced in any other Catholic cry room. They always seem to come with the collection basket to the cry room, but not to bring communion…..Hmmmmm.
Secondly, his tone is condescending and I fully relate to the outcry online as a response. As a mother of young children who strives daily to raise my kids Catholic, the last thing we want to hear is parenting advice, let alone admonishment. I will never forget when I was 8 months pregnant hauling it up to the choir loft of another parish with my 2 year old in tow a little bit late to Mass, and the organist walked over to me and said, “You know the Mass started at 10:45?” and then looked down at his watch teasing me. And then continued to say, “And don’t forget the choir loft carries the sound of children far worse than if you stood in the back downstairs.” My heart starts beating wildly and I practically laugh/cry remembering that moment when I looked directly in his eyes and said, “You should be happy I’m even here.” I have also served on a Parish Council that was attempting to place a Mass Manners pamphlet in the pews that listed a slew of offensive comments regarding parenting, dress code, and body language in Mass. Thankfully, I worked diligently to have that shredded. But the intention was pure…people don’t truly know what’s going on at Mass. Adults and children included. They do not know the miracle taking place before them and people like me (theology degree and all) need to be reminded and encouraged in our worship at Mass! So when it comes to kids, do I think the answer to poor catechesis for decades is a Mass Manners pamphlet or Nativity’s kids programming?
The answer is Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
My daughter has been attending Atrium since she was 2.5 years old. Those first 2.5 years of parenting and trying to attend Mass as a family were incredibly difficult. My local parish does not have a cry room, they actually don’t even have a narthex. When your baby is fussy, where do you go? Outside the back doors to your car. There aren’t restrooms connected to the church. To be honest, it is a downright struggle and often ended in tears (Mom, Dad, and babies).
Then by the grace of God, a different parish in the area accepted my daughter into their Catechesis of the Good Shepherd religious education program. My daughter attends what she calls “Bible Class” once a week for an hour and a half. During Atrium, the children ages 3-5 are brought into an experience of learning about Jesus through a Montessori style of education. For example, they take off their shoes before entering the Atrium to show respect for the cleanliness and holiness of a Church interior. They take turns around the room at stations where they get to practice parts of the Mass or moments from the Scriptures. One of my daughter’s favorite activities at Atrium is to gently pour water into a cup from a cruet like the priest does at Mass when preparing the wine. Yes, my 2.5 year old was handed a glass cruet and didn’t break it. Atrium is a calming experience. The children chant songs of praise, they speak in soft tones of voice, and learn a deep reverence for the Lord and His Holy Church.
If you haven’t experienced CGS, there are Open House experiences at St. Ignatius in Hickory, Maryland which you can find on their website.
And to wrap up with my point. My daughter is now angelic during Mass and she is turning 4 this week. She sits quietly and follows along with her children’s missal. She even will whisper questions in my ear about the readings/homily. She loves to light a candle after Mass and to talk to the priest or any religious sisters in attendance. Mass is a joy for our family and I owe all of that to CGS. And I can’t wait until my 2 year old son starts attending Atrium because he still keeps us on our toes. 🙂
I write this to affirm that children do belong in Mass, while at the same time, I do recognize Father White’s point (although poorly written). We are suffering as a Church. Mass attendance is plummeting, finances are bleak, Catholic schools and parishes are closing at an alarming rate. And WHY is that? Poor Catechesis. Hands down. Nativity is absolutely trying to do something different and you know what….it is working for a lot of people. And I do truly cherish the times we go to Mass there occasionally. As a Franciscan University of Steubenville graduate, I call it my “FOP shot in the arm”. The music is true, holy worship and I am so moved every time. And just so you know, we have come down from the cry room and/or pulled our kids out of the nursery to go into the sanctuary at the end of Mass to dance in the aisle to the incredible worship song. I haven’t been kicked out ye
A response has been posted to the Pastor’s Blog which you can read here.
It’s important to note two things:
I’m disappointed a woman’s voice was not included in this conversation.
I have had multiple conversations over the past 10 days with Catholic priests and Catholic parents…almost everyone agrees that they would invite an unchurched family, a single parent, a fallen away Catholic, (and the list can go on) to Mass….but possibly not at their local parish. They would definitely invite them to Nativity.
In this year of turmoil, I have been feasting on Catholic podcasts. I remember listening to my very first podcast after I gave birth to my first child and needed some kind of entertainment while I was dancing around the kitchen trying to soothe a newborn. My expert mom friend suggested podcasts and of course, Serial. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and not having my eyes fixed on a screen and even being able to wash dishes while listening. Woohoo! But as soon as I went back to work, podcasts died with it. Then a few years later when I gave birth to my second and I was on maternity leave again…sure enough the second season of Serial was available! Anyone listen to S-Town? Wow, that was heavy. While having similar striking moments of imagining Adnan Syed still in prison, this story was finite. Life was ended and there was no turning back. I spent my entire relationship with that podcast removing wallpaper and painting a hallway, but I’ll never forget the depression and quirkiness of John B. McLemore when I walk down the hall….
So podcasts are great!!!!! 🙂 I had a rocky start to be sure, but once I started my new job this summer at the Archdiocese I decided I needed something to pass the time during my commute. I asked a friend for some podcast suggestions and was introduced to Catching Foxes. You must immediately put on your ear buds and listen to Catching Foxes.
The hosts are two hysterical guys that also went to Franciscan University and have been involved in ministry/church work since graduation. Having that in common certainly drew me to the podcast, but ultimately when McCarrick and all hell broke loose this podcast saved my faith and fidelity to the Church. The hosts, Luke and Gomer, termed what we have all experienced as “The Summer of Scandal“. Their raw, emotional, and often border-line inappropriate hashing out of the headlines and the repeated atrocities that we have experienced has been healing for me. After a few months, I decided to start supporting them on Patreon. I am so grateful for these men that study the faith, are faithful to the teachings of the Church, and want to build the kingdom even in this mess.
I also have tested a few other podcasts out that have been inspirational at times. However, nothing comes close to Catching Foxes…but I will list my favorites below:
Among the Lilies – hosted by Cameron Fradd (married to Matt who runs the anti-porn ministry) and contains real talk for women
Catholic Creatives – as long as you aren’t bothered by “Like…um….ya know….” millennial speech, you will enjoy this!
The Catholic Feminist – while I don’t agree with the host’s soap-boxing at times, I have loved many of her guests and they are worth a listen!
I have truly felt that Catholic podcasting has brought the faith alive for me recently. I can’t find great conversation like this at my local parish….or at least not on a daily basis. Smart, talented faithful Catholics are creating wonderful content and this is where I have found it!
Over the holiday weekend, I read Henri Nouwen’s short piece entitled, “The Spirituality of Fundraising”. A friend of mine suggested the book when she was in town a few months ago. She works for Mobile Loaves and Fishes which serves the homeless in Austin, Texas. She shared with me that their success did not result from events or major mailings, but rather through building relationships with members of the community and simply sharing the story of their vision and mission. It was lovely hearing her speak about her ministry and the passion behind the project. While I haven’t yet written a check, I am planning to visit the Village in Austin in the summer of 2020. And that’s exactly how she got me…when she said, “You should come visit sometime and meet the people we serve.”
I was invited to participate in the vision. I was invited to see it for myself. I was invited to belong to a community of generous people.
Powerful stuff. But even more powerful was the conviction I received from reading “The Spirituality of Fundraising”. The paradigm must shift in fundraising for the church. Written by a Catholic priest who died in 2006, his work poignantly states the obvious: no one is motivated to be generous without knowing your clear vision and mission.
As Fr. Nouwen said, “Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission.” He also made it clear that fundraising is a MINISTRY. It’s not another business tactic or sterile, automated transaction. Fundraising for the Lord is “as spiritual as giving a sermon, entering a time of prayer, visiting the sick, or feeding the hungry!’
That was certainly encouraging to me. As a theology major and evangelist at heart, I always desire my so-called ‘job’ to ultimately help bring people to heaven. The invitation to give of your first-fruits is a Gospel based message of allowing God to be the king of your heart. As St. Paul says, “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity” (2 Cor. 9: 11).
Fundraising is not a response to a crisis.
Nouwen can be pegged as a prophet for this statement. IF your organization has already been floundering prior to the 2018 crisis of clergy sexual abuse, I highly doubt you will be able to flourish in the near future. Nouwen related the story of a friend who once told him, “If you never want to be fooled, you will never give your money.” That certainly is true as you can gather from unhappy tax payers, those who pull their funds from organizations without transparency, or those who leave a school or parish all together because of disappointment. We all know someone who has made this decision or even might have done so ourselves. Nouwen continued to examine this, “The reason for the taboo is that money has something to do with that intimate place in our heart where we need security, and we do not want to reveal our need or give away our security to someone who, maybe only accidentally, might betray us.”
The book was challenging. It challenged me and my attachment to money and material things. My attachment to the securities of life such as a home, a car, a job, a 401K, etc. How pressured are we in American society to be SECURE in finances? To control our future, to control our daily choices in order to reach the potential of the American dream? Is the American dream to go to heaven? Nope. Wealth, prosperity, long-life, ultimately cheating death!
“Do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth, where moth and woodworm destroy them and thieves can break in and steal. But store up treasures for yourselves in heaven, where neither moth nor woodworm destroys them and thieves cannot break in and steal. For wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be too.” (Matt 6:19-20)
Read the book. It’s only about 60 pages long. I will share more of my reflections in another post. Still feeling challenged and soaking in the wisdom!
Remember when I said “Drain the Swamp”. The swamp got worse.
I have waves of sadness on a regular basis for my church. Sadness for the future of the church, sadness for my colleagues who work in the vineyard, sadness for those who live in sin and are blind. So much sadness. When everything broke in the Summer of Scandal, the following post from a freelance Catholic writer spoke to me:
I’ve been up most of the night with an unsettled newborn, so I’ve had lots of time for reading last night’s bombshell, as well as praying and thinking about it. But honestly, I’m not that shocked.
When I returned to the Catholic Church, 18 years ago, it was with full knowledge of her history of scandal: of 16-year-old popes, evil popes, and anti-popes; of episcopal sees bought and sold, papal armies raised, and murders plotted (and actual murders committed) within the Vatican; of orgies in the papal summer palace, papal mistresses, and Curia prostitutes. None of that stopped me from believing in the truth of the Church’s claims, and the current scandals aren’t stopping me either.
In a fallen world, where Satan is always at work, this is to be expected. Not tolerated. But expected. Much as we like to think we’re so much wiser and more enlightened than our brothers and sisters in the sixth century or tenth century or fourteenth century, we’re not. So, the same awful sins are going to be committed, again and again and again, inside and outside the Church, because human beings are inside and outside the Church.
Fortunately, our faith isn’t in human beings. It is in Jesus Christ, who has already overcome our sin with his mercy and love, and who keeps raising up saints to show us that, with grace, so much more than this is possible. I grieve for those whose faith will be damaged by these revelations. And yet I don’t grieve the release of this letter. In some ways, it’s almost refreshing to read it because it makes sense of so much of the last 60 years. It explains why the truth so often hasn’t been proclaimed, why the lay faithful have so often been marginalized, and why the Church has been such a horrible witness in a world that desperately needs more from it.
If you’ve ever been confused about why you felt more Catholic than your priest or bishop or the pope for that matter, this is why. And only by bringing this all into the light can any of that change. Sin is always bad news. But the unmasking of sin is not bad news. It’s the first step towards cleansing the temple and restoring it. It’s time for the cleansing to begin. ~ Emily Stimpson Chapman, August 26, 2018
We all crave a relationship with Christ. Enjoy this song from artist Lauren Daigle. I was thrilled to see her perform on Dancing with the Stars Finale last night. We all want Jesus, even the rich and famous who seem to “have it all”.
Do you feel just a little bit sick every day? Am I the only one who feels pangs of awkwardness, fear, and distress? So much has been thrown at us in such a short amount of time. As American Catholics, and for me as a woman, the past few months have been emotionally difficult.
I also wonder if everyone else was listening to the Kavanaugh hearing on Thursday with acute attention like I was. What a roller coaster of emotions: sympathy, anger, distrust, and utter confusion. When are we going to catch a break? Then the next day, Archbishop Vigano released another statement.
While I do not feel qualified to comment on the current state of affairs in the church or in American society, I can only share four real examples of things that took place recently that were hard decisions I made.
Reported an Incident
Recently I was visiting a Catholic parish/school campus for a meeting. As I was getting in my car in the parking lot, I saw a school student leave the building around approximately 2:30pm (prior to dismissal). He was walking towards the parking lot with a man that I assumed to be his father. I saw the man grab the boy’s backpack and violently throw it into the trunk of the car. He then aggressively pushed the boy so much so that the boy staggered back. I couldn’t hear the precise words, but the man was yelling at the boy. The boy began to run back towards the school entrance. The man yelled to the boy (again I could not hear what he said) and the boy turned back towards the car, got in, and the car sped off in a fury.
My heart was pounding so hard. It all happened so fast and I remember toying in my head with the decision to run towards them and intervene or to take a picture of the car license plate…..it was so sudden, so shocking, and I was just dumbstruck. While I didn’t move quickly enough to catch them, I composed myself to call the office after the car pulled off. I reported everything to the school administration including a description of the boy and the man. I knew they would have a sign out sheet to indicate who just exited the building.
Maybe I should have done more, maybe I misinterpreted the situation, but at the end of the day I know now, “If you see something, say something.” I can only trust that the school investigated the matter and followed proper procedures to ensure the boy’s safety.
Called a friend, Reached out to someone suffering
In light of all that took place recently, I felt great trepidation when I asked myself the question, “Am I a part of the problem? What have I covered up?” Having been a campus minister and religion teacher in my career, I recently spent many hours trying to remember various events and conversations. I scoured over memories and asked God to reveal anything I might be missing or overlooking. Is there anything I don’t want to face?
In fact, I did remember two conversations. While I will not share the details of them, I will share the hard decisions I made to revisit them. I called a friend and asked him to please report to the police and to the Archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection something that he had shared with me a few years ago. After speaking with him, I realized that I did not clearly remember the details of the story and it involved something of a different nature; however, he was grateful that I reached out and that I shared with him the appropriate reporting structure of inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature in a church setting.
Then, I also remembered a time when a woman shared a very difficult story with me. The incident caused her pain and distress. While I do not know the validity of the story and it did not include any criminal behavior, I was brought back to that moment of her tears and her suffering. I was only 22 at the time and did not know the breadth of counseling services available or support opportunities. I was only a shoulder to cry on that day, but now I am so grateful that the recent events have brought to light the options that can be found for those in need. I find it imperative to educate oneself on those services and to also be bold in sharing them with others. But what can I do ten years later? Well, I reached out to her. I casually tried to connect and let her know I was thinking of her recently, said a prayer for her, and asked how she was doing….what was she up to these days….etc.
Maybe I should have done more, maybe I misinterpreted the situation, but at the end of the day I know now “Boys will be boys” is no longer an accepted statement in our society. We are better than that, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We need to embrace chastity because it leads to joy instead of pain and suffering.
Went to Confession
I also have been struck with the ugliness of my own sin. I want to be holy. I want to honor my Lord and Savior. So, I went to confession this week. That might not seem like such a bold move, but I don’t go often enough. And when I do, it is ALWAYS a release of guilt, baggage, and bad habits. It was so helpful to me to talk to a priest behind a confessional screen so that I had the anonymity to share my fear and anger. I was so grateful to be able to cry and be vulnerable about my lack of trust in so many people. To be able to voice those feelings out loud, to be able to face my own failings, and to then hear the words, “I absolve you from your sins.” Wow, what a gift.
I pray that we all will continue with boldness and a newness of resolve to be the best generation of Catholics, to be saints!
Why did I start this Catholic Excellence online platform?
I’ve been asking myself these questions over the past month. As The Summer of Scandal (as dubbed by the Catching Foxes podcast) has erupted, I have hit a low point. It’s unbelievable the timing of my career change and this truth coming to light. Raising money for the Catholic Church is not going well these days….and probably won’t be for a long time.
Did I jump on a sinking ship? Or did God intentionally place me in a difficult situation for a purpose? Ultimately, what does He want from me?
Being saturated with media coverage and opinions from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, it is downright depressing, sobering, and panicking to come to terms with the truth.
But what is the truth? I believe in the following:
Archbishop McCarrick is just the first layer of the rotten onion.
There are a lot more criminals like him out there who were never discovered and may still be in ministry.
I am uncomfortable with Pope Francis’ response to the scandal.
I hope that every state conducts a grand jury investigation.
It’s going to be really ugly moving forward as a Church.
The more and more I have been trying to place blame or trying to find a solution…I can’t. I keep looking inward and getting disgusted with my own sin and the culture that surrounds us that is permissive of these crimes, silence, cover-ups etc. I do believe that culture is changing; however, if we don’t continue to feel bothered and betrayed, then things might fall back into normal patterns. And I don’t want that to happen! I don’t want an Archbishop McCarrick lurking in places of power. I want to trust my shepherds, but I also am not naive to the depths of sin.
Prayer has been my starting point. But it is not the end. I must take action, and so should you. I signed the Catholic Women’s Forum petition to Pope Francis found here. I am intentionally contacting other faithful Catholic men and women and seeking community in a time where we need it for the sake of our children and our own salvation. I am attending the Humanae Vitae conference hosted by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on October 13th. Registration and Schedule can be found here.
When you ask how did we get here? I think the answer to that was predicted by Blessed Pope Paul VI when he wrote Humane Vitae 50 years ago.
Why am I Catholic? Because I believe in Catholic Excellence and I am choosing to surround myself with it, and in turn to BURN THE ROT.
Since I started making this list, the Archdiocese now has a news link with a more extensive running list found here.
I am grateful to Archbishop Lori for initiating this day of reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. My family will be fasting from meat on that day and I plan to attend Mass in the morning followed by a Holy Hour in the evening. Please make a point to sacrifice and pray on Friday. Ask God for answers on how we can reform the church. We must NOT be silent.
All I can say is…..get together in prayer and fasting. Here are some local opportunities. I’ll update when I find more:
September 6th at 7pm through September 7th Adoration ending with 7pm Mass
Thanks to all these priests and parish staff members for planning these important gatherings. The people of God, the Church, need healing and answers. I strongly recommend watching the two videos below from Bishop Barron and Father Mike Schmitz.