Thursday, July 19, 2018

Spiritual Rejuvenation

You may have noticed a significant lack of youth in Catholic churches lately.  As a millennial and a cradle Catholic, I may be able to offer some insight into why so many young people leave the Church at this point in their lives.  Most of the people I went to high school with are no longer practicing Catholics, and their process of falling away started in high school or earlier.  There could be many reasons for this, from lack of strong examples in their home lives, to wanting to assert their individuality, to simply becoming disillusioned with the faith for whatever reason.
I never experienced this falling away, and I attribute that to several factors.  Firstly, I had great adult role models in my immediate family.  Secondly, I had wonderful formation in my early teens.  The Madeleine Choir School recently had the opportunity for parents to experience a “Mr. Glenn religion class.”  While I joked at the time that the participants wouldn’t get the full effect unless they sat on metal folding chairs and took copious notes from the old overhead projector, I think it was a great idea.  Being in one of Mr. Glenn religion classes was like being in a college-level theology course.  Of course, religion classes at Judge seemed very rudimentary after that, which could have contributed to some of my former MCS classmates leaving the church.
However, I feel like the music background I got at the Choir School set me on a path to stay in the Church.  I continued to participate in choirs in high school, joining the Saint Ambrose Parish choir my junior year.  I’ve been involved in our parish music ministry ever since to varying degrees.
Music is what has kept me in the Church.  I was reminded exactly why this was at the Mass for Our Lady of Mount Carmel on Monday at the Carmelite convent.  A group of us sang who have all been touched by Choir School training in some way.  I have written before about going back to the roots of our faith when I sing the traditional Latin texts and chants.  Monday night gave me another opportunity to do this.  The most touching parts of the Mass for me though were times when I wasn’t singing.  Hearing the nuns chant the Sequence from the cloister, and hearing Fr. Christopher Gray and a seminarian from Texas chant the solemn form of the Salve Regina at the end of Mass really gave me a taste of what it might be like to live in a religious community.
The important thing here is that young people need to find an aspect of Church life that they can be involved in that they are passionate about.  They need something to rejuvenate their spirituality as they grow into adulthood.  I was lucky that I found mine at a relatively young age.  I realize that I had it pretty easy when it came to finding my niche in Church life.  Many young people do not have the same opportunity.  That is why it is important for the adults in their lives to encourage young people to continue to explore the faith and discern their calling.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Developing Self-Image as a Christian

A week or so ago, my dad was watching a group of small children playing, and he posed the following question:  Do you think little kids have the awareness that they are cute?  This question has a lot wrapped up in it.  When do we as humans develop self-awareness?  When do we develop self-esteem?  What influences our self-esteem and when do those influences start to affect us?

As a former teacher, my first instinct was to consult educational psychology.  Jean Piaget and other human development scientists have identified various stages of development.  Carl Rogers specifically delved more into the area of development of sense of self and self-esteem.  He posited that there are three components to self-concept:  self-worth (how we feel about ourselves in terms of personality), self-image (how we feel about ourselves in terms of physical appearance), and ideal-self (what we would like ourselves to be in terms of both of the previous aspects).

Many factors can influence our sense of self-image, from our environment, to the people with whom we interact, to the type of media we consume, and so on.  In the ideal circumstances, young children should be raised in an environment that promotes a good self-image, and therefore may have the awareness that they are “cute” from as early as two years old.  Unfortunately, the ideal is often not the reality.

As Catholics, hopefully we are taught from a young age that we are children of God and that God loves us.  Last week I wrote about Fred Rogers and his message that children are special just the way they are.  I wrote about how Mr. Rogers was an important adult figure in many children’s lives in that he instilled this sense of living as a child of God without actually saying the words.  It would seem to follow that, if we live life as people of God, we understand that God loves us no matter what, and that fact should have a positive effect on our self-image.  We just have to believe that it is true, even when it might be difficult to do so.

Life has many ups and downs.  The trick is to enjoy the up times and weather the down times, remembering that the down times won’t last forever.

How would you respond to my dad’s question?  Share in the comments section below.  Remember to keep all comments civil and respectful.


Learn more about Carl Rogers and his theory of self-concept development here.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Evangelism of Mr. Rogers

This past weekend, my mom and I went to see the documentary about Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor.  The documentary was also featured on the PBS News Hour on July 4th.  If you have not seen the film yet, I highly recommend that you do, especially if you and/or your children grew up with “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” on PBS.  It provides a big dose of nostalgia.

Before seeing the documentary, I did not know that Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, but it makes sense that such a kind and gentle man would be a man of God.  It might make some people uncomfortable to think of “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” or its successor, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” as television evangelization, but that is what it is.  The shows never directly address religion, but they teach morality and ethical behavior. 

Mr. Rogers strove to instill the children who watched his program with good self-esteem.  He told kids that they were special just the way they are.  His intent surely was not to create a generation of “special snowflakes”—those with the attitude that they deserve special treatment because of their uniqueness, whether real or perceived—but to give children confidence to be themselves.

Mr. Rogers taught coping mechanisms for difficult times in life.  Without using the words, he encouraged children to listen to their consciences.  In essence, he taught how to be the best person you could be.  Therefore, while he did not say anything explicitly religious or spiritual, he taught you how to be a child of God.  His “teaching method” was to explore concepts without making them conscious, that is, without naming them.  This method is effective for children because it encourages future connections.  When children encounter these concepts in later life, they recognize them from earlier exposure and can give a name to the concept.  Mr. Rogers was an excellent builder of background knowledge for children, which is essential for future learning to take place.

Those of us who grew up watching “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” were primed not only to go to school and learn, but also to explore faith concepts.  In this sense, Fred Rogers was effectively an additional adult figure in our lives who modeled how to live as a person of faith.  What was wonderful about the show was that it brought these concepts into our everyday lives and into context throughout the week, not on Sundays only.

If you watched “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” growing up or with your own children, or if your children watch “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” now, what is a message that has stuck with you?  What are your favorite memories of these shows?  Share in the comments section below.  Please remember to keep any comments civil and respectful.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Loving the Other as "Other"

“All of Paul’s ‘fruits of the Holy Spirit’ are marks of an outward-looking, expansive magna anima (great soul), which stands in contradistinction to the pusilla anima (the cramped soul) of the sinner.  Thus love is willing the good of the other as other; joy is self-diffusive; patience bears with the troublesome; kindness makes the other gentle; self-control restricts the havoc that the ego can cause; etc.” – Bishop Robert Barron, daily Gospel reflection for June 27, 2018

When I read this quote from Bishop Barron, I thought how applicable it is to the experience of families with varied religious backgrounds, a fitting subject as this week brings to a close Religious Freedom Week.  For instance, my father was raised Mormon, though he has not been a practicing member for decades.  My brother was raised Catholic and is now a member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).  My mother and I are practicing Catholics.  This makes for some interesting conversation around the dinner table, especially at the holidays when we see other relatives from my dad’s side who are still practicing Mormons.

If we strive to love in the manner that Bishop Barron talks about in this quote, we need to love “the other as other.”  That is, we need to accept others with differing beliefs.  We need to recognize that belief, regardless of what it is, may be rooted in years of tradition.  Because of this, human beings can be very passionate about this aspect of our lives.  This is why the old rule of etiquette was “Never discuss religion or politics.”

Jesus showed us the value of showing love and respect toward those of differing faiths and/or cultural backgrounds.  He gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan, which models good and ethical behavior toward those of other cultural backgrounds.  He modeled polite discussion with people with varying religious beliefs (e.g., the Pharisees and Sadducees).  He ate with tax collectors and associated with prostitutes, and he treated them with respect.

Mary too, in her apparitions has shown us the values of diversity.  She has appeared to people all over the world in the form of a woman of the particular ethnic group of the region (e.g., as Our Lady of Guadalupe).  In Jesus and Mary, we have good examples to follow.

Next week, we will recognize Independence Day here in the United States.  The early European settlers of this country were Puritans seeking a place where they could practice their religion freely.  The founding fathers wrote freedom of religion into the Declaration of Independence.  Let us pray that our current government leaders will continue to champion the freedoms so many seek when they come to the United States.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Like an Old Friend

Mass is essentially the same wherever you go.  It might be in a different language or have different music than you are accustomed to, but you can still follow along with relative ease.  I have been privileged to travel to Europe several times, and I have heard Mass in Latin, German, French, and Hungarian.  On my most recent trip two years ago this month, my mother was amazed that I was able to follow along so well with the music at a Mass in a small village in Hungary.  I told her that because I know the basic rules of pronunciation for the language, it wasn’t that difficult.  Mass is Mass.

This week at St. Ambrose, we had a funeral Mass with many elements in Latin.  It is important to note that, while the Second Vatican Council allowed the use of the vernacular in Masses and sacraments, it did not say that Latin could not be used (Sacrosanctum Concilium).  And yes, there were parts of the Mass I did not understand.  However, it felt more like a greeting from an old friend than an imposition of times past.

I realize that I may come at this from a unique perspective.  I learned many Latin Mass settings during my years at the Madeleine Choir School.  It’s always fun to get to sing them again.  It had been over ten years since I had sung the setting of the “Pie Jesu” we used at this funeral.  Pulling it out again brought back memories of the last time I sang it.

I think it is good for us to revisit the “old ways” from time to time.  It reminds us where we came from and where we have been.  We need the lessons of history to help us move forward.  For me, using the Latin texts makes me feel as if I am strengthening my prayers.  It makes me feel as if I am closer to God.  Anything that draws us closer to God is worth pursuing.  I am grateful for the opportunities I have now, and those I have had in the past, to participate in varied liturgies.

What do you use to enhance your own prayer life?  How might you incorporate different elements to deepen your relationship with God?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Having Trust in the Lord

On Tuesday, I received what should be good news from a medical procedure.  However, in the moment, it didn’t feel like good news.  It just meant I had eliminated one thing from a list of possible problems.  I have a good relationship with the doctor whom I saw.  In fact, when I began my medical “adventures” as I like to call them, he was one of the only people who acknowledged that there was a problem to begin with.  I found out yesterday that he is retiring next month.  It felt as if he was abandoning me, even though another of his colleagues will continue to follow me.  There have been many changes in my “care team” in the last few years, as those I have known and trusted have left their practices to other professionals.  I find consolation in the fact that my new doctors are and will be trusted colleagues of those who came before. 

This situation reminded me of the story of the person walking along the seashore with Jesus at his side.  Looking back, the person saw two sets of footprints in the sand.  As this person walked through life, he faced many challenges.  When he looked back at these times, he saw only one set of footprints.  The person asked Jesus, “Why did you abandon me at my weakest moments?”  Jesus replied to him, “It was at those moments that I carried you.”

There are times when life seems very difficult and perhaps hard to understand.  At these moments, it is tempting to believe that God is not with us, that He may have abandoned us, in fact.  It is precisely at these times, however, that we need to remember that God is always with us.  As Jesus said in Matthew 6:34, “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.  Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” God takes care of the lowliest creatures, so why should He not take care of us?  God will always be there for us.  We just have to remember to turn to Him in our times of need.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Importance of Being a Good Example

On Sunday afternoon, my mom and I went for a walk around Silver Lake, in Big Cottonwood Canyon near Brighton.  This is one of our favorite places to go when we want to escape the heat of the valley in the summer.  As we were walking around the lake, we passed a man and what appeared to be his adult children.  Another passerby might not have noticed, but my mom saw the Hungarian emblem on this man’s shirt and asked him if he was Hungarian.  It turns out this man was born in New Jersey to Hungarian parents who came to the United States after the 1956 revolution in Hungary.  My mother was born in Hungary at the end of the Second World War and came to the US in 1960.  They started conversing in Hungarian, and I was amazed at how little of an accent this man had.  He didn’t sound Hungarian when speaking English, but he didn’t sound American when speaking Hungarian either.  He learned Hungarian as his first language, and English as his second.  As they spoke, I caught a word here and there that I understood, but it seemed his young adult children did not understand anything that was said.

This got me thinking.  In both my mother’s and this man’s case, the parents who lived through a culture shift and revolution kept the language of their homeland alive for their children who grew up in the US.  The next generation, however, did not learn the language.  Why?  Was it a simple matter of assimilation?  A lack of motivation on the parts of our first generation American parents?  Our own lack of interest as the children of native speakers?

I think this situation could apply to what is happening in the Church today, with more and more youth leaving as they get older.  Youth with parents who make church a priority and set a good example for their children may be more likely to continue attending church as they grow into adulthood.  Youth who grow up surrounded by traditions are more likely to keep those traditions and pass them on to future generations.

To bring it back to my own experience, I picked up most of the Hungarian I now recognize from repeated exposure as a child.  Similarly, I recall that I didn’t so much memorize the prayers we say at Mass through isolated practice but through repeated exposure at Mass.  My cousins, the children of my mother’s brother, on the other hand, who were raised in an environment where the use of Hungarian was less accepted, didn’t pick up as much of the language as I did.  These same cousins are not regular church goers as adults either.  The two are not related in any way, other than perhaps the example of my uncle was less effective than it could have been compared with my mother’s.

In order to keep a culture alive, people need an example to follow.  By the same token, in order to keep our churches and faith vibrant in the future, we need to first examine our own behaviors and attitudes.  What sort of example are we setting for the next generation?

In the comments, feel free to share your own ideas or experiences on this topic.