Category Archives: Identity

Is Your Blueprint Babel or Pentecost?

Archbishop Lori greeting 2017 MAC participantsArchbishop Lori, during his homily on Friday at the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Congress, posed the question, “Is your blueprint Babel or Pentecost?”

Will pastoral leaders simply parrot Pope Francis as they explore new ways to build up the church, or truly “deny” themselves and follow the example of Christ, regardless of the consequences?

That was the challenge described by Archbishop William E. Lori Feb. 17, during a late-afternoon Mass at the Baltimore Hilton on day two of the sixth annual Mid-Atlantic Congress.

He began his homily with a comparison of his parents, typical do-it-yourself members of the Greatest Generation, and the builders of the Tower of Babel.

Whereas the former built and remodeled a house in southern Indiana that was founded “on faith, on discipleship and self-giving love,” the ancient builders “sought to build independently of God and even in defiance of God.”

How does that contrast relate to the reorganizations beingĀ  undertaken by archdioceses and dioceses around the nation, such as the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s pastorate planning process?

Read the complete article in Baltimore’s Catholic Review

6 Reasons It’s Important to Fail in Ministry

One of the most humbling things that happened during the week that my Mom and I spent walking sections of the Camino de Santiago de Campostela was realizing I couldn’t walk it all. When I thought I could go 16 miles, it turned out my feet were crying out at 10. After deciding to do the downhill that came after the hundreds of steps up to St. Tecla’s chapel, it became very clear that I was riding in the bus to the hotel, and not walking any further that afternoon.

Every day I failed to meet my own expectation of myself. Five days with lots of time to think about it, too.

During the last day’s walk into the city, we met a woman who had started with her husband. Her husband made it a mile or two before health reasons prevented him from going further. So, she walked alone. When we asked if she was going to go the full 20 kilometers that day, she laughed in our face! “It might take me 3 days to get that far,” she said, “but my husband is meeting me in the next town, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

In the business world, there is a lot of emphasis on failing. It’s the only way to innovate and move forward. Not so much emphasis on it in the ministry world. So, why is it important to be willing to fail in our ministry?

#1. To cultivate a sense of humility. Remember, St. Paul was struck blind before he was able to see the path for the rest of his life.

#2. To push and be pushed. We are supposed to be like the mustard seed, and grow. Remember that all of us have to push through the weeds to grab the sunlight.

#3. To test the limits of our creativity. When the door was blocked, the lame man and his companions went on the roof and lowered him down to Jesus. Pretty crafty! Like them, try things a different way, and if they fail the first time, identify the positives and build on those for the next attempt.

#4. To stumble a little, let go of your focus, and start seeing what other solutions present themselves. I often wonder what the adulterous woman saw in the dirt that Jesus had written in. Was it possibly just a message for her? Sometimes it’s better to land on the ground so that we can see things from a different perspective.

#5. To remind ourselves–and those we minister with–that we are only human. Not God. Nuff said.

#6. And that the best way to fail is not alone, but with others. The majority of the time I walked, it was from the back of the pack (which is very unusual for me!) with my Mom. We faced the aches and pains and discomforts together, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Next time you hear or read about pilgrims, remember that they usually travel in groups. They are there to pick themselves and each other up to continue the journey. That’s what we are called to do in our ministry, too.

 

Holy Patience

You know that swell of emotion that comes when you are anticipating something tremendous, something that is right . . . over . . . there? You can feel your body physically reaching out to grab that something that is almost, but not quite within your reach.

It washed over me while we watched the Chicago Cubs almost lose the World Series, then become the team they had been throughout the season and win.

More recently, I was following a series of Facebook posts, detailing how a friend was waiting for the birth of his daughter–they had the date, but it just couldn’t come fast enough, and then it was . . . HERE!

Do you remember a number of years ago when the vestments and colors for Advent were blue and rose? Our pastor noted that the blue was a midnight blue, the deepest blue of the darkest part of night, the blue that slowly gives way to the first rosy hues of sunrise, the color we use on Gaudate Sunday.

Symbolically, I think midnight blue ushers in the story of Incarnation better than our traditional penitential purple. (Yes, I am fully aware of the liturgical guidelines, so please, no critiques.)

We know that Advent is a time of waiting and preparing. This week’s readings couldn’t be more explicit about that. But this waiting has a rhythm and time to it like midnight to sunrise. We know that we must patiently live through each 60 second minute, each 60 minute hour, until the Son arrives to bring light to the world.

We can’t shorten it. We can try to ignore it, but it is still there, surrounding us. We can’t change it. We can only live patiently into it.

Speaking as a one who would willingly confess to having a lack of patience overall, the deep blue midnight of Advent brings consolation and gives me pause. It heightens my senses and makes me aware of everyone and everything around me. It begs me to find a place of silence and calm so that I am able to drink in all that happens when the night recedes and day arrives.

Patience comes when we find a settled place from which to anticipate, reach out, wait. In these last days of Advent, find a seat where you can sit with the darkest midnight and await the brightest dawn of Christmas.

It came upon a midnight clear,
That glorious song of old . . .

 

 

The Advent Version of Letting Go

The children in our choir are singing, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” at our concert. So, I have Disney’s Frozen on my mind.

It’s an intriguing starting point to reflect on leadership and Advent.

We have a young girl who has been trained to control her gifts, her feelings, her insights, her way of seeing things and being in the world.

Suddenly she is forced into the public eye as the unexpected queen.

And she reacts by running away and isolating herself from her people, her job, her calling.

In Elsa’s version of letting go, she takes a pretty selfish stance and says basically, “This is the way I am, so deal with it world.” It’s a good thing the movie doesn’t end there.

Most of us have probably traveled in Elsa’s shoes at some point for some period of time. Perhaps it was in a first job when the insights and energy you brought to the table weren’t valued and you walked away frustrated and unappreciated.
Perhaps it was during a transition to a position of more responsibility where you supervised or oversaw more people than you had in the past. It might have been tempting to stay in your office some days when you felt misunderstood or like you didn’t know how to motivate your staff well.

In those and the many other situations you can probably recall, we’re a lot like Elsa. It’s easy to put the focus on others, and even the blame.
But that’s where the Anna’s of the world come in. They remind us of our responsibility to be engaged in shaping the world, especially our Church community of faith.
Advent is a great time for examining the ways in which we freezes ourselves in place or freeze others out from our ministry. Advent is a good time to reflect on how we can command (not control) the gifts that we have to better serve the Kingdom of God that we acclaim and celebrate this season.
How are you letting go so you can let God be present this Advent?

Are You Ready for What Comes Next?

ornamentReadiness is the “value of the season” now that we have passed into Advent. In the lead-up to the season, it’s hard to miss what the “what” is — the Kingdom of God — but as often happens at this time of year, I find I’m, um, stuck.

In The Christmas Ornament, a Hallmark Channel movie (we are big fans even though they start Christmas movies right after Halloween), the main character struggles with her grief over the death of her husband during the last year. She meets someone who helps her to start seeing what might come next in her life. But she gets stuck. At the end of the movie, she realizes that the answer to what comes next is a great, big question mark, and she is ready to start the journey to discover what “next” is.

I find the dramatic arc of a 2 hour movie–beginning, middle, and end–very comforting. Even more hilarious because my husband accents each one with the exclamation, “I’m going to go out on a limb . . .” quickly followed by the obvious “that ___________ are going to fall in love” or whatever the obvious final scene might be.

Not so much Advent.

Just because Christmas comes doesn’t mean that the readying has been complete or that we have arrived at what comes next.

And, well, duh, that is the point, right?

While Advent and Christmas draw lines in the proverbial sand, the movement of each is endless and timeless. We are never fully ready nor is the Kingdom ever fully here. But we as humans would tire too easily and quickly if the journey extended to the end we know nothing about. Think of the Israelites who spent 40 years in the desert on a journey to a home that many never saw. They tired, grew weary, looked for short-cuts, and were steered back on the path by their prophets and leaders.

Our journey is unknowably long and tiring, too. But we need weigh stations along the way to celebrate the distance we have come before we face the distance that still lies ahead. Maybe we need to hear our contemporary prophets point out where the path is that cuts through the many “-isms” we face lies. Maybe we need to admit that all we’re ever going to experience is the journey, but others will arrive at the endpoint.

Maybe that is the point after all.

 

“Assuming makes a . . .” (Rule #4)

egg“Assuming makes an . . .” Yes, we have all heard the phrase. And I can attest to its veracity.

With the end of a contentious election season, this particular rule seems to apply more than any other.

Based on what we have seen and heard, there are many assumptions that we can conclude. But are they true?

To avoid the proverbial “egg on your face,” the best path is to test assumptions and inferences that we might make before jumping to conclusions. Ask questions–lots of them. Clarify what the intention is and what the intended outcomes are. Agree on the answers to the questions, the intentions of the actions, and the accountability for the outcomes.

Then start all over again. Our agreements and understandings can quickly turn into assumptions again. Or assumptions about the “next time” or next situation.

Because the truth is, the answers, intentions, and outcomes for each occasion or situation may differ for a variety of reasons, sometimes reasons out of our control. To avoid the potential conflict, keep asking, keep clarifying, and keep reaching agreements.

The energy, especially emotional energy, that you save in testing your assumptions can then be channeled into nurturing successful ministry.

Virtues and Leadership–Hope

electionIn the post-election analysis, one commentator reminded the panel and viewers that we don’t know what a President Trump will be like–and that could be good.

His contention is this.

When people rise to unfamiliar levels of authority and leadership, something often changes. We Catholics have seen this up-close-and-personal in some of our bishops, who in becoming a new bishop, moving from auxiliary to Ordinary or from one place to the next, have displayed characteristics and behaviors that no one had really anticipated. For the good, too.

It is that virtue of hope, actively seeking the perfection of the Divine, that we need to cultivate and nurture in ourselves and in our leaders. There is a smidgen of humility that reminds us that we are pilgrims on the journey, fed by a hope that–in our nation’s case–will bring us together to raise everyone up.

Optimism is a somewhat stereotypical American trait. We need to cling to that optimism as we reach out to all of those who feel left behind, are on the margins, are misunderstood, or have been left out. We as leaders in our own communities must embrace and embody the virtue of hope as we move forward. Let us be “road warriors” on the journey.

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

seniorIn the last year, there has been a veritable procession of departures at the top leadership levels among my member publishers. Based on the beautiful “good-bye” emails that I’ve received, I compiled a list of issues that were considered in answer to the question, “Should I stay or should I go now?”

  1. Age: For those who have retired, age is an obvious marker. When we reach our 60s and even 70s, retirement is definitely on the radar screen, and hopefully has been part of the plan for a while. But I’m seeing more and more people leave a job in their late 40s and 50s. There are personal and family reasons, and then there is the issue of . . .
  2. Tenure: And I’m not talking like in the academic world. Many companies and organizations have a “Rule of XX” for retirement which is usually a combination of age and years of service. I’ve met a number of people who started with the organization out of high school or in their early 20s, and are now in their mid- to late 50s and they meet that rule. For some, they may see a change in leadership or direction that is more than just a gentle bend in the road. For others, they may see that they have dedicated a significant portion of their professional career to one thing, and it’s time to find a new “thing.”
  3. Balance: We’ve been bombarded with work-life balance articles and how-to’s, but balance is a key criteria. Whether you want to spend more time with your grandchildren, children, spouse, or community, balance is a good lifetime practice. No minute of any day can ever be replayed, so making choices that make each moment rich and fulfilling is key.
  4. Goals: When you made your current choice, what did you set out to accomplish? Have you met those goals? Now, what else do you want to accomplish? And where? What other opportunities are there out there that interest me?
  5. Call: Have you been faithful to God’s call to you and generous in using the gifts He has bestowed on you? Is there something you have been unable to respond to for whatever reason? How and where can you respond, or is there a new call that is leading you in a different direction?

Pink Elephants, Anyone? (Rule #9)

elephantDo you remember sitting in a movie theater (or maybe in front of a TV), watching Disney’s “Fantasia?” To a rather klutzy little girl, those dancing elephants in their girly tu-tus gave me hope that the strangest things might actually be possible.

Years later, pink elephants–and the proverbial “elephants in the room” still give me hope that the impossible might be possible.

Do you have any pink elephants in the room–or office or rectory or chancery? You know what I mean. The issues that everyone talks about in the break room or parking lot, by email or text, but no one wants to bring up at the staff meeting, with the boss, or when anyone else is around.

We tiptoe around them like the Fantasia pink elephants en pointe. We try to dress them up in the hopes that anxiety, pain, and tension surrounding the issue might dazzle us enough that we can skate around them without ever having to deal with them.

How wrong can we possibly be?!

When I taught in a Catholic high school, one of the concerns that I had is that we approached participation in Mass the wrong way. Mass was required for all students. It took place in the gym where the girls sat on the bleachers, hovered over by teachers and administrators. The clearest value was obedience. Which squelched any desire to participate in the celebration of the Eucharist.

For three years, while we danced around the subject in department meetings, we indulged in long-winded, exasperating conversations over coffee in small groups of those who held the same opinion.

And as you might guess, nothing changed except that I got more frustrated, anxious, and even angry. I felt so powerless to make any change and every potential encounter seemed like a confrontation.

Hmmm . . . Yes, that’s exactly what happens when we choose to avoid discussing pink elephants.

We knew that discipline was a key issue, but the underlying point we focused on was the value behind it, behind the school’s mission, behind what it meant to be Christ’s people gathered around the Eucharistic table.

Because the school was Catholic, right? And with the word “Resurrection” in our name, didn’t we have an obligation to teach as Jesus did, inviting his followers to the table, to share in the Bread of Life, to be satisfied with His saving Word?

When we started talking about that, the values that we held in common, powerlessness and confrontation slipped away. And the issues of discipline and obedience became logistical details that we had to plan for–which we did. In the end, the administration agreed with us, and let us make the changes we suggested. All-school Masses became optional with certain rooms designated as quiet study AND we would offer weekly Mass in the chapel.

Did it all go smoothly? No. Change never does. But we engaged everyone in the process. We talked to teachers about the best ways to manage those who did not choose to attend. We asked the students to invite their favorite parish priests to work with us, and we formed an “anyone can sing” choir specifically for these Masses.

In the end, it was a major success. All because we took a chance and discussed the undiscussable.

What’s your pink elephant, and how are you going to address it?

Who Will Reap the Harvest?

harvestChange, change, change, change, change.

It’s a key driver in this year’s elections. And the one challenge put before most of us as leaders at some point in time.

As much as we want to be the one out front, leading the way from what was to what will be, the reality is, in most cases, we only sow seeds.

Great leaders know this. They know that most of what they try to accomplish will only be evident years after they leave their position. Politicians take advantage of this sometimes, highlighting the changes that happen during their years in office when, in fact, their predecessor’s decisions were often the ones that forged the current path.

The truth is, the harvest is for others to reap.

Ministry with teens is one of the best examples of this. As I look back at my years of teaching in an all-girls’ Catholic high school and subsequently as a volunteer in my parish’s youth ministry program, we adults knew that we had four years–and in some cases, fewer–to sow the seeds of faith, hope, and love (ah, yes, the theological virtues!) in the hopes that there would be a harvest.

As each graduating class of seniors departed, there was an internal tug-of-war–what more can we do to keep them connected versus just letting them go free in the hope that the seeds would take root and they would find a “home” in their faith and the Church.

Social media has been the greatest friend to this “sower.” With it, I have been able to follow the lives of our “kids” (many of whom now have their own kids). And I’ve been able to share in their joys and sorrows, and watch how the seeds we planted have fared.

Some fell on rocky ground. Some fell among weeds. But some fell on good soil, took root, and have grown and flourished.

So, in a society that seems to grow more impatient and a culture that demands immediate gratification, what are we to do? Remember and practice the theological virtues so that we may teach them in both our words and deeds.

As Jesus shows us, faith is not something that we go from not having to having. It develops over time through prayer and action. While we are conditioned in our culture to connect hope with wanting things, hope is an attitude that looks to the future, but walks with others in the present (think the familiar poem, “Footsteps.”) And love comes through the care we take in the sowing and feeding so that there may be a harvest.

Being a sower is what we are called to. When you have the opportunity to harvest, thank God for those who came before you and tended the fertile ground and planted that seed. And ask God for support to those who will come after you to tend what you have planted.