Tag Archives: gospel

2017’s Best Catholic Reads

Here are the 11 best Catholic titles as honored by the Association of Catholic Publishers. Some are wonderful summer reads (The Lion of Munster, One Ordinary Sunday or Remembering God’s Mercy). Others are terrific gifts especially for First Communion or Confirmation (hint, hint — Dear Pope Francis, the Book of the Year, too!) And the remaining ones belong in your hands, on your desk, or on your shelf (once read, of course!)

Here are the best of the best Catholic books with comments from the judges.

Biography: The Lion of Munster: The Bishop Who Roared Against the Nazis by Fr. Daniel Utrecht (Saint Benedict Press) “Well-researched biography of contemporary figure.”

Children: Dear Pope Francis: The Pope Answers Letters from Children Around the World by Pope Francis (Loyola Press) “The questions are both thought-provoking and interesting, and Pope Francis illustrates his respect and care for children in his answers.” “Very fabulous in overall packaging, writing. Clearly an extraordinary book.”

General Interest: One Ordinary Sunday by Paula Huston (Ave Maria Press) “A well-researched and winsomely presented explanation of what happens during Mass. Huston interweaves her personal struggles with the various parts of the Mass one summer Sunday in ordinary time. Written with the zeal of a convert (which Huston is), it’s an important book given the lack of theological education among so many lay Catholics, and it’s a pleasure to read.”

Inspirational: Remembering God’s Mercy by Dawn Eden (Ave Maria Press) “This book is rich in food for thought. The author draws on the teachings and lives of St. Ignatius and his son Pope Francis and adds her personal stories and references to an array of noted people. Not only will people suffering from PTSD find this book helpful, but anyone seeking to grow spiritually.”

Prayer and Spirituality: Faith: Practices, Models and Sources of the Spirit by Walter Kasper (Paulist Press) “The text is highly readable with excellent homiletic type points with the capacity to touch the heart as well as expand thought.  Its view of essential aspects of faith and stages of life, as well as insight into prayer and models of faith, are well gathered.  There is much on which to chew and to bring to prayer and to discussion with others.  Incisive, inviting, rooted in real life, focused on Christ – this, with Kasper’s previous work on mercy, deserves a place on the shelf for consult and ongoing reflection.”

Resources for Liturgy: Three Great Days by Jeremy Helmes (Liturgical Press) “Jeremy’s book helps parish liturgists make practical plans for celebrating the Paschal Triduum well. . .  The book contains 5 Appendices that will be very helpful for all who prepare the liturgies of the three days!”

Resources for Ministry: When We Visit Jesus in Prison by Chaplain Dale S. Recinella (ACTA Publications) “I found this book captivating all the way through.  He offers much statistical information and clearly provides helpful guidelines for working in prisons. His experience comes through, and he makes a strong case for the Christian teaching that we meet Christ in the people who populate our prisons. This is a helpful and thoughtful book about a form of ministry that can get overlooked. Pope Francis didn’t overlook this population by visiting with prisoners when he came to Philadelphia last year. This book does justice to what the pope wants all Christians to be concerned about.”

Resources for Ministry-Programs: Doors of Mercy: Exploring God’s Covenant with You by Fr. Jeffrey Kirby, STD (Saint Benedict Press) “Excellent content in both book and video.”

Scripture: Bringing the Gospel of John to Life by George Martin (Our Sunday Visitor) “I gave this book the most excellent rating because of its thorough scholarship of the biblical text (including the Greek), but also how highly readable it is. The pauses for reflection are at most appropriate times. I love reading and meditating with this book.”

Spanish: Querido Papa Francisco: El Papa responde a las cartas de niños de todo el mundo by Pope Francis (Loyola Press) “Querido Papa Francisco is a wonderful window into Pope Francis’ thought and teaching, through simple but deep insights in response to children’s inquiries from around the world. A great idea beautifully executed by the publisher!”

Theology: The Strength of Her Witness by Elizabeth A. Johnson (Orbis Books) “Johnson’s book is a really good collection of essays that is both diverse globally and features some of the major scholarly figures. Most are brief, but thoughtful, and generally presume some moderately advanced knowledge of theological discourse (e.g., biblical Greek, feminist categories and terminology).”

 

The Twin Problems of Noise and Bias

pebblesEveryone wants to make good decisions. But the “good” part is often the challenge.

We make decisions all the time. Some are terribly inconsequential like which flavor candy so I want, cherry or sour apple. Some are not so inconsequential and can have long-term and long-lasting impact.

October’s Harvard Business Review includes an article on the cost inherent in bad decision-making because of the impact of noise and bias in the process. So, where do we see noise and bias in ministry decisions and what impact can they have?

Let’s start with some basic definitions. “Noise” prevents us from looking at the problem or situation accurately; it creates diversions and scatters our vision and thinking. “Bias” shifts our focus, and it is usually a shift in everyone’s focus.

Some examples? Bias is the committee thinking that we can hire a part-time youth minister because we only see 20 or 30 teens involved when the facts are there are more than 150 teens engaged in various ministries and activities (real life example.) Noise is asking 5 different people what youth ministry at the parish like and getting 5 totally different answers.

How do we correct for these?

Bias tends to reflects what we “know” (or think we know) about people and situations. Letting go of the “thinking that we know” moves us toward a solution. Before making a decision, list what are the things that we think we know about the person and/or situation (think about those assumptions.)  Identify what is irrelevant or prejudicial to making a sound and open-minded decision based on fact. Deeply consider the question, “What don’t we know about this person or situation?” before going any further. What remains is likely closest to the unbiased truth.

Noise is like throwing pebbles in the air and watching them drop to the ground–they fall all over the place. But we can control the noise just like we can control the trajectory of the pebbles by putting them inside one container before we toss them. Noise requires that we ask what the traits, characteristics, or qualifications are that we are looking for. What should be on our checklist of things that would make the decision the right one for this parish or school or organization?

The road to good decisions leads through reducing bias and noise so that we end up with the reasons and needs that are truly at the core of who we are and what we believe–usually our mission or in the service of the Gospel.

The Call to Action

politicsAn active election season provides numerous opportunities to observe and listen to the policies and politics of our candidates. After a while, it can become repetitive and tiresome, especially if, like me, you are somewhat of a wonk.

One of the things that continues to grab my attention is when a candidate asks (or doesn’t ask) the listener to do something–vote, volunteer, raise money.

A call to action.

The marketer in me is very familiar with this technique since it is the bedrock of most successful marketing campaigns. The theory is that if you never ask, you may never get what you want.

The “ask” is powerful. It’s short. It’s declarative. Actually, it’s imperative–usually using a verb in the second person–“Do,” “Join,” “Vote.”

Over the last few weeks, Jesus has been preaching to us in parables. Unlike our candidates, he doesn’t shout or call others names or take any roads “to the bottom” as so often happens in our politics. His ask is subtle, even disguised. But if we listen carefully, we know what God wants of us.

As leaders, we must always be attentive to the “ask” that we make of those who follow. You may vocalize it while I may just demonstrate it. But we all do it. Remember the axiom, “Actions speak louder than words,” or the wise saying attributed to St. Francis, “Preach the Gospel, if necessary, use words.”

In your ministry, what is your “ask”? If you put yourself in the shoes of those you lead, would you understand you? Or do you need to clarify your message?

Being Witnesses to Civility

Two somewhat bizarre observations spoke to me about the type of leaders and witnesses we are called to be.

Observation #1: CivilityThe numerous green, magnetic bumper stickers saying, “Choose Civility” on the cars scattered throughout my home county.

Observation #2: The traveler alert from the Bahamas, warning its citizens about the dangers of traveling to the United States.

So, here’s the line that connects the two for me. We in the U.S. are seen by many in other parts of the world as a nation of compassion, peace, and civility. A place where people can openly voice their disagreements and not be thrown into jail or killed. A place where we can practice freely four different faiths on the four different street corners of a city intersection anywhere in the country. A place of welcome and respect for our diversity.

But more than anything, we are–or have been–a model for civil behavior. And I fear that that is changing.

Rather than “using our words” (as some teach their children), we use our fists (or guns, in some cases.) Rather than channeling our anger into non-violent protests as Dr. King called us to over 50 years ago, we choose violence.

Maybe that is why when the families of the Amish children who were gunned down in their one-room Pennsylvania school in 2006 forgave the shooter, it seemed to be extraordinary. When it shouldn’t have.

In a civil society, we as leaders must practice one of the most difficult behaviors we know–that of forgiveness. It’s hard to miss how many times Jesus forgives people throughout his ministry. It’s central to who He is and who He calls us to be.

In fact, it is the only Way.

 

The Spiritual Economics of Loss Aversion

In economics and decision theory, loss aversion refers to people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Most studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains.

In his homily this past Sunday, our former pastor used the economic theory of loss aversion to more deeply examine Jesus’ insights into what it will mean for him to be the “Christ” and what each of his followers must do–leave everything behind and take up their own cross.

Christianity flies in the face of this innate human tendency to take few risks and avoid loss at all costs. Well, at least most costs.

But that is what Jesus asks of us. And we see the response to his invitation modeled in both ways, as a “yes” in his disciples at the start of his ministry and as a “no” in the young man who is unable to part with his riches.

One of my members, GIA Publications, has a song from Marty Haugen, called “Look and See the Face of Christ.” If you haven’t heard it before, give it a listen.

What hits me like a brick wall in this song is that as much I may try to avoid any part of the invitation to follow Jesus, I can’t. It’s always staring me in the face in the face of someone else.

Why avoid it? The promise of Jesus is everlasting life spent in the presence of the God who is love. I think I get glimpses of that occasionally when I reluctantly let go of something in my life that may cause me initial pain.

Where are the glimpses of that glory in your life–when the pain of loss is overcome by the joy of God’s love?

What Makes People Say and Do the Things They Say and Do

downloadThe recent violence in Orlando has sparked many reactions, comments, and reflections on the incident–and many have wondered what makes those most vocal say and do what they have said and done.

As so often happens, the speakers and doers at the center of this past Sunday’s readings jolt us out of the commonness of everyday life to say and do the unexpected. Nathan, a prophet, cuts down the mighty King David with his words of the sin that David has committed. Paul professes his nothingness without his faith in the Son of God and grace from God. And a “sinful woman” (yes, that is the NAB’s translation) takes all that is precious to her to the house of a Pharisee, a man who would berate her and leave her in the dirt for nothing, in order to wash and kiss the feet of Jesus. Then, of course, Jesus does the most unthinkable–he forgives her.

The theme for the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Congress is “Blessed as Living Witnesses.” I thought it all somewhat ironic–waking to the news of this act of terror, listening to these readings at Mass, then reading and hearing the reactions from the media, politicians, commentators, and religious leaders.

What kind of “living witness” are we called to be? What kind of “living witness” do we want to be–and do we expect of others? Do we aspire to be like Nathan, Paul, and the sinful woman? What unexpected words and actions would it take to follow that path?