Reflections on an Intergenerational Church

young and old hands

By Sara Knutson

Catholics, like most people, have a tendency to sort themselves by socioeconomic status and racial/ethnic background, and I sometimes lament the homogeneity of race and income level in Catholic parishes.

In focusing on that homogeneity, however, I missed a key area in which parishes are nearly always diverse: age.

Parishes are visibly intergenerational. Everyone gathers together for worship, festivals, and fish fries. Everyone celebrates baptisms and first communions. Growing in Faith Together (GIFT) programs bring everyone together for faith formation.

That kind of intergenerational community is increasingly unusual amid increasing age segregation in America, where sports leagues are split into U-12s and U-14s and “Millennial” has become a defining identity.

While people of different ages do have some different desires and interests, our community suffers when different generations stop interacting with one another.

Indeed, an unexpected blessing of my parish JustFaith program last year was the fact that half of our group was in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. Maureen’s life stories were reassuring, Julianna’s sharp concern for the poor was inspiring, and Bruce’s keen desire to learn demonstrated that one’s beliefs need not harden with age.

Our parishes are not diverse in every way, but one thing we’re doing right is being intergenerational. It’s important that we remain that way, and I predict that this will become more difficult.

With society increasingly separating people by age, we need to monitor and, if needed, adjust the ratio of age-segregated to full community programs and events in our parishes.

Take young adult ministry. These programs do great outreach, but they need to ultimately draw young people into full parish life. We will serve young adults better by inviting them into parish-wide ministries than by running parallel service opportunities, socials, and liturgies just for them.

The trick, of course, is that running programs for the full parish community require more planning and care. But they also reap greater rewards.

As an example, our parish cluster celebrated the twin canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II with a “Pope Party.” A half hour of adoration was followed by a talk on the new saints and Pope Francis and then a party featuring appetizers and desserts from each pope’s home country.

And it was a party! All ages mixed together, including a sprinkling of kids who’d made it through the previous hour. The event brought together people from different regular Masses and ministries, and parishioners mingled in the festive setting for over an hour.

These are the sorts of opportunities that integrate and strengthen our church. If we keep our parishes intergenerational, we will keep them vibrant and alive.

WHAT *IS* THIS: Ruining The Parish Paradigm

Take a moment to read the following letter. I know that your astonishment and outrage will mirror my own. My response follows.

Dear Parishioners, Friends and Visitors:

I hope that Saint Philip Neri Church is for all of you what it is to so many, a haven of peace, a port of refuge from the care and anxieties of life, and a home where your inner strength is renewed by the grace of God. If you attend here on a regular basis, have you thought of enrolling in the parish? By registering, you establish a clear claim upon our staff. You forge and formalize a bond between us. Whenever you need a letter of any kind, perhaps a recommendation, a record of your contributions, or a letter for immigration purposes, or when it is time to arrange a sacrament or a special liturgy, all goes smoothly when you are already registered. Having your information on file helps us in turn to advertise programs and activities, to raise funds, (how is that for honesty?), and to plan for the future. Registering is easy. Just click on the right link . And while you are at it, if you are not already known to us personally, why not make a point of introducing yourself to one of the priests? Are you interested in knowing ways in which you might volunteer some time? Simply click on the right link for volunteers.

God bless you and keep you.

Monsignor Kevin O’Brian

The Catholic Church has thrived over the past two thousand years using the same formula. We have allowed our people to show up at Mass every week, and those people give their money for goods and services we provide. It is a nearly flawless formula! The brilliance is that those people are giving money for our services and they rarely use them! We pay people (sometimes) essentially to do nothing! SHEER BRILLIANCE! How dare someone upset the order we have established! Where does this “Monsignor” get the gall!

I, for one, love this give and take in parish life. It is the perfect “don’t ask, don’t tell.” I don’t ask what the parishes do with my money, and the parishes take the money without telling anyone where it goes. The lack of accountability has allowed people to be employed, unquestioningly, for decades now. Why do we, as parishioners, want a Church that advertises its programming anyway?  Why would we even WANT to be welcomed to those programs?!? As long as I don’t know that these events exist, I won’t feel bad about not going. And, if Church isn’t about letting me feel good, then I’m not sure why I would go!

This pastor is completely ruining that for which we have worked so hard! This parish is actually trying to bring in new people. Who cares about new people? The reason our parishes are so great are all the people who have been there for the past fifty years. We don’t need new parishioners. We need to stick with what works, and that’s with those who know the show. The status quo has kept us going just fine for the past two thousand years, and it will continue to work for the next two thousand!

Well, here’s to you “Monsignor O’Brian”! You’re well on your way to ruining up a good thing. Bringing in new people, advertising your programs, helping people… All you’re doing is opening yourself up to more work: ultimately more annoyances and distractions. I’m certain it’s not too late to pull back this letter. Really, do us all a favor and mitigate the damage you’ve already done. If we all stick with what everyone expects of us, we won’t have to worry about disappointing anyone!

Gifts, Crosses, and Hiding in Boxes: A Homily on the Cross


By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

Author’s Note: These are the notes I used to prepare for the homilies given at Sacred Heart, Yonkers this weekend.

We’ve all seen it happen – it’s one of the classic gags in comedy. The presents are opened on Christmas. Dad takes hours putting together complicated gadgets so that everyone is happy with what Santa has brought them. And then, all the kids play with the boxes. Forts and castles are made – a particularly large box becomes a car or a jeep. You know the drill. In my house, growing up, it was something similar: we’d get some new GI-JOE contraption and my father would spend time attempting to get the decals just right, working hard not to break the cheap brittle plastic clamps that needed to connect to each other. And then, my brothers and me would find the most insignificant GIJOE figure and fight over it until there were tears – or worse.

My parents would throw their hands up in the air: “don’t you realize what you have here?” they’d ask.

Do we really understand and realize what we have in the Cross? Do we, to make the point even finer, understand the gift that we have in the Cross? The quick answer, of course, is that we can’t totally understand it: we really don’t understand this gift. We never could: the life, death, and resurrection of Christ – his life lived in the shape of a cross – can never be boiled down to simple theology or a nice turn of the phrase.   And all too often, we find ourselves living a Christianity that simply turns its face from the cross: it thinks of Jesus as a good moral teacher, but nothing more. Or, we paint a picture that is uncomfortable with Good Friday, skipping right from the first course on Holy Thursday to the empty tomb!

Just as my brothers and me didn’t know a great gift when we experienced one, and instead settled for something watered down, so will our lives be if we don’t understand the truly staggering gift of the Cross in our lives.

When we listen to the reading this morning from Paul, the reality of the gift of the Cross is brought right to our faces. Indeed, the Word becomes a human being, emptied of all glory and all power, but not of his identity as the Beloved. Make no mistake: this is not a case of one minute being God and not the next. No: Jesus, as the Word made flesh, remains God, yet does the unthinkable. He empties out, gives up his power. At the conclusion of his life – at the very climax – instead of hopping down off of his Cross, Jesus does the opposite. He lets all of the sins of humanity wash over him.

The gift, then, is two-fold: upon the Cross, Jesus changes what it means to think of God and what it means to try to be human.

Jesus, the God-man, in ascending to the cross, refuses to grasp: refuses to take what isn’t his. Indeed, confronted with stupidity, greed, religious opportunism, jealously, hatred, and pride, Jesus doesn’t grasp what is rightfully his, but rather further empties himself. He is raised up on the cross: but unlike the fake serpent which reminded the Hebrews of their past, Jesus on the cross reminds us of past, present, and future. On the Cross, raised high up above us, Jesus reminds us that God loved us into existence, still loves, and will continue to do so. What is more, Jesus makes clear to us the staggering reality that we do not believe in a God like so many other gods, remaining an arm’s length away from us. Instead, we believe in, worship a God who right here with us, suffering our every indignity, one who knows exactly what it feels to be up on the cross and abandoned. Jesus doesn’t roll his eyes when we pretend a cardboard box is a jeep: he climbs in with us to help us drive.

And yet, Jesus does more than teach us about the closeness of God. Jesus also shows us – gives us the gift – of seeing what it means to be truly human. On the cross, Jesus doesn’t grasp for what isn’t his: he doesn’t fight for equality with God that he could claim. Instead, he, just as Paul says, empties himself, takes the form of a lesser in order to be with us: especially those who are the least. Jesus teaches us that to be really human – the best Christian versions of ourselves – we cannot live our lives with closed fists, holding tightly to what we think ought to be ours. No: only be opening our hands (and in some cases even stretching out our arms) can we truly come to that which God calls us.

Brothers and sisters, as we celebrate this feast of the Cross, let us spend this liturgy thanking God for the gift of his closeness; and then, upon leaving here, share the gift of our humanity: not grasping but gathering those we meet.

Holy Cross Homily: A Sunday of Paradox


By Thomas Palanza, Jr.

Here are Sunday’s readings.

Life is a journey. This journey happens in a difficult world, one that is sometimes hard to live in. This difficult world frustrates us, sometimes to the point where we can’t bear it anymore. We then complain about how difficult the world is, how difficult our lifestyle is and we reject it, we seek to live a new way, a way that we hope will be easier. But then suffering comes upon us; yes, it seems to come upon us suddenly, from outside, intentionally at this moment when we are trying a new way – like it was waiting for us. And this new suffering is so much worse than before! How did we not expect the suffering would be worse? Then we wonder why we are suffering. Why did we suffer before, why are we suffering now, is there no way to live that will protect us from suffering? What is it about how we are living that is making life so hard? Where can we go for the strength, counsel, and healing that we will need to live better? When will we finally be delivered from our suffering? Who will give us a better life?

These are the questions that our first reading asks. Are they not our questions, are they not our challenges, are they not our longings? It is easy to separate ourselves from the Israelites, it is easy to see their mistakes – it is always easier to critique than to actually do. But we go through the same struggles as they did: we struggle to live well in a difficult world and we struggle to live in a loving relationship with God and our neighbors. The Israelites tried to make sense of their suffering; they believed God punished their sins with tangible afflictions. But Jesus reveals another truth – rather he deepens the faith of the Israelites. God does not inflict suffering on people as punishment for sin. The passages of the Man Born Blind and of Jesus’ Call to Repentance illustrate this well. Jesus reminds us that God does not cause suffering. The “providence” of suffering is that God is powerful enough to change even it, even death, into something good.

The punishment in the first reading is not the work of God. Suffering is the perfectly logical part of this life. That’s not what we expect of God. From God we expect the perfectly wonderful. What is the wonder of the first reading? Is it not that God uses the very thing that was bringing death to the people as the means to save them? What will cure a snake bite? Looking at a snake! This is the power of God at work, not the logic of the world. The logic of the world says snakes are deadly, but the wisdom of God says that the snake will heal. Continue reading

If I Can’t Accept Some of the Church’s Teachings, Am I Really Catholic?

Dear OMG,

Last night I attended Crux’s “Pope for the 21st Century” panel and was edified to hear that the Boston Globe’s new news site will be approaching coverage of all things Catholic without an ideological bent. This was refreshing news from a millennial who is exhausted from the new escalation of partisan bickering that has gone on in both secular and ecclesial society in recent years. Later that night, I was scanning the site before bed when I came across the “OMG” Column. This entry I read by Lisa Miller hoped to answer the question, “If I can’t accept some of the Church’s teachings, am I really Catholic?”

It was clear from Ms. Miller’s response, and from the commentary below the article, that rising above ideological silos is going to be a very hard task. The article took a specifically liberal post Vatican II stance around the sensus fidelium (the sense of the faithful), arguing that it is the faith of the people that matter just as much as those in the hierarchy. If you hold onto your convictions that are in opposition to magisterial teaching, maybe the Church will come to you. The Vatican II conservative reactionaries then pounced on the article carrying the banner of fidelity to the teachings of the Catholic Church. They argued that real Catholics are those that accept the truth of Jesus Christ revealed to and passed on by the Church through its magisterium, and dissent is not acceptable. Continue reading

Things Medievals Say: Hope in the Cross


From the reading of Javier Soegaard:

Now is there hope of life for me, that I am permitted to seek the tree of triumph…For it my heart’s desire is great, and my hope of protection is directed to the Cross.  I do not possess many powerful friends on earth; they have gone hence from the delights of the world, sought for themselves the King of Glory.  

They live now in the heavens with the High Father, dwelling in glory. And every day I look forward to when the Lord’s Cross that I beheld here on earth will fetch me from this short life and bring me then where joy is great, where the Lord’s folk are seated at the feast, where bliss is eternal…

May the Lord be friend, who once here on earth suffered on the gallows-tree for our sins:  he freed us and granted us life, a heavenly home.

-From “The Dream of the Rood” ca. 8th-10th Century

On September 11: The Reason for Our Hope, Mychal, and the Priesthood


By Matthew Janeczko, OFM Cap.

One of the regular attendees at the 6:45 mass mentioned to me yesterday that she didn’t envy me.  “Why?” I asked.  “Because you need to preach tomorrow.  It’s 9/11.”  And yet, there is no place I think I could be otherwise then at the altar, at the ambo, immersed in God’s Word, sharing God’s Table with the always faithful People of God.

The only way the tragedies of our world can possibly be endured (for they will never make sense:  of this I am certain) is precisely because we gather around the Word and Sacrament each day in defiance of the powers and principalities that wish God didn’t care about the world, about the flesh.

All of the horrific instances in our world, from those of the largest scale, wretched men turning transportation into flying weapons of terror, to those experienced every day, the unwanted child, the abused mother, the jobless and despondent father (and every combination therein), do not receive their meaning from the Cross.  Rather, our response to them – all of these damnable marks of a broken world – finds its origin in the Christ and His Cross.  For within our worship of the Crucified God, we find our only source of strength, our sole means of our endurance, and the single most illogical reason for our continued hope:

It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? (Romans 8:34)

And so, idiosyncratically, narrowly, what in the word does this mean for me, a priest?

I read something that Jorge Mario Bergoglio wrote last night and it perhaps gave me the answer to this question:

I don’t think the hands of a priest should simply go through the routine gestures when baptizing; rather, they should tremble with emotion because at that moment he is performing decisive  gestures that become a foundation.*

The job of the priest, it seems to me, is to tremble with emotion when with the people: whether it be in the sacraments, in a simple conversation, in counseling the despondent – anything at all.  Priests must continue to tremble because they find themselves situated within the greatest web of grace: a conduit (unworthy as they are) between the Crucified God and the Crucified People.

On this day, this anniversary that I wish didn’t happen, this remembrance that is marks the beginning of a state of war that is, quite plainly, the only life my high school students have known, I remember that I’m a conduit of the grace of God.  I think of men I didn’t know, but wish I knew, like Father Mychal Judge, OFM, the priest they call the Saint of 9/11 (and a saint before that even) precisely because he himself knew the Crucified God so well and couldn’t stop himself from being Crucified with his firefighters, with his parishioners, with women and men who believed themselves forgotten by the Church, and who died, not raised up, but buried.

And yet then, as now, from being buried beneath the rubble, he is raised upon the Cross, still crucified, but raised no more to die: a servant who lived with his people and died with them.

Mychal Judge, pray for us.  Pray for me.

* Open Mind, Faithful Heart, “Joy and Perseverance, 20-1.

The Best Thing We’ve Read All Day: Seal of Confession Edition

From Father Sam Sawyer, SJ over at the Jesuit Post on Patheos:

I try not to make a habit of wading into swamps, but there’s something going on in Louisiana that should not be ignored.1 The state Supreme Court ruled that, once a penitent has waived confidentiality, what was discussed in the sacrament of confession can be fair game in court. The diocese of Baton Rouge has recently appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court.  The case is particularly challenging because the confession in question was made by a girl who was being abused by a parishioner, and it appears from her testimony that the priest did not do anything to help her.2

Much of the discussion thus far has been about what Louisiana law requires and whether or not the seal of confession supersedes it. But this misses two important questions — one about what should have happened, and one about why the seal cannot be waived, even by the person who made the confession.

Read it all here.

Let the Free Man Through or, Hope for a Consenting Heart


Check here for the first entry in this series.

This week, I’m taking the first chapter of Interior Freedom (“The Search for Freedom”). For those of you following along at home, that’s pages 9-31.

Over my years of teaching, I’ve become something of an uncompromising tyrant a conscientious objector to the notion of Sparknotes. So let’s keep the fact that I’m about to give you the Sparknotes version of one of the most perspective-altering texts I’ve read in a long time, maybe ever, just between us. It’s a necessary evil, unfortunately, since my first draft of this post was 2,000 words and Fr. Matt suggested I revise. To avoid such an epic, I’ve decided to focus on a few particular moments of insight from the chapter and devote my reflections to those.

The first and most fundamental moment of clarity that Fr. Philippe offers is the relationship between freedom and happiness. While the relationship seems to be clear (“I am the happiest when I have the most options before me, when I am the least limited, when I am the most free”), Philippe inserts a significant causal component here:

The kind of love that is the result of constraint, or self-interest, or the mere satisfaction of a need, does not deserve the name love…there is true love, and therefore happiness, only between people who freely yield possession of the self in order to give themselves to another…Freedom gives value to love, and love is the precondition of happiness.

This seems like a simple point, but the elegance of the nearly mathematical treatment of the road to happiness via love sustains the more abstract points yet to be made. Which brings me to my next moment of revelation:

You were within me, and I was outside myself, and sought you outside myself!

That moment of spiritual brilliance is courtesy of St. Augustine and relays Fr. Philippe’s argument that the greatest and truest freedom exists not in the number of paint colors you might select or the job opportunities you have before you, but in the quiet yet monumental choice that happens everyday within the human heart – the choice to  love or to fear.

With this in mind, Fr. Philippe ends his first chapter with an account of the three possible attitudes one may adopt in the face of perceived lack of freedom: rebellion, resignation, and consent. Of the first two, I will only say that they are gradations of the same sterile response to imposition (though Philippe does note the appropriate use of rebellion and resignation, respectively). It is in this last moment that I am most interested. The notion of consent implies the ideal response to limitations and restrictions upon ourselves. Compared to resignation (an essentially passive response) consent at once establishes the significance of the one who gives consent, while at the same time, the consenter embraces his own limitations with the joyfulness of Christian hope. The difference between resignation and consent is important here: it’s the difference between being carried away to your undesired path, fearful of the dark way ahead, and walking there of your own accord, embracing with hope the potential for a good end.

This. Changes. Everything.

The personality faults you’ve labored under and resented within your own heart? The resigned suffer under the weight of their inadequacy; the consenting moves forward in spite of their failings, knowing that God can move beyond deficiencies to make something beautiful. The financial burdens that daily overwhelm you? The resigned are lost within their fear; the consenting are able to trust in the providence of God with the confident abandonment of the saints. Our freedom is restored to us in the moment we make the free decision to choose that which we would not have chosen. And, in that way,

The act of consent, therefore, contains faith in God, confidence toward him, and hence also love, since trusting someone is already a way of loving him. For wherever faith, hope, or love are, openness to God’s grace, acceptance of grace, and, sooner or later, the positive effects of grace are necessarily present. Where grace is accepted, it is never in vain, but always extraordinarily fruitful.

As an aside, a friend offered this clip from Of Gods and Men which illustrates Fr. Philippe’s point nicely.

Next week, a real doozie: “Chapter 2: Accepting Ourselves.” Challenge accepted.





Catholics thinking "how"!


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