Tag Archives: adult faith formation

Catholic grandparents: Pass on the baton of faith

August 12, 2014

1 Comment

“Preserving Your Family: Parents and grandparents working together,” by Dick Bergeson. Self-published. 89 pp. $9.95.

bookimageFormer Minnesotan Dick Bergeson has published a little paperback of advice that he hopes will motivate parents and grandparents to get to work passing on the faith.

Bergeson, long-active in the Catholic charismatic movement and now a grandfather and great-grandfather, shares Scripture-based ideas intended to help reverse what he terms “the exodus from our faith” by younger generations.

He echoes the urging of St. Pope John Paul II for Christian communities to become “schools of prayer,” noting that extended families need to provide both teaching about the faith and the supportive culture that has virtually disappeared from today’s world.

While much of the advice is aimed both at parents and grandparents, Bergeson writes, “It is important for grandparents to be conscious of the extraordinry position they hold in their families.”

The older generations hold a critical role in the faith formation of the whole family not the least of which is because “they have gone through may crises in life and know how invaluable a deep faith in Jesus is,” he notes. “They have seen God act in their lives and in the problems they have faced.”

Praying for family members is primary, along with practicing and teaching a variety of prayer forms, continuing to learn about the faith one’s self, providing a sense of propriety amid shifting cultural trends and living a life of integrity.

Bergeson sees grandparental involvement as handing off the baton of faith to the next generation.

“Grandparents have always provided the spiritual backbone of the family,” he notes. “Grandparents have live through life and have experienced losses, failures, struggles, deaths and have been able to see how God has acted and been there through each one of these crises of life.

He adds, “If they don’t step in, another generation will be lost.”

Bergeson urges mothers, father and grandparents to be a blessing to children and grandchildren.

“This means we need to give them words of encouragement and loving direction,” he says. “We need to remind them of who they are as persons. . . . The most important thing we can do for our children is to make sure they know they are loved and appreciated in our families.”

The overriding goal for all should be to “lay the groundwork for our offspring to get to heaven,” he says. “This is the only thing that matters in life and should affect all of our actions.”

The book is available at http://www.preservingyourfamily.com.

Continue reading...

Catholics, time to brush up on things about your faith that you used to know — or thought you did?

March 21, 2012

0 Comments

We walk into church and the first thing we do is reach our fingers into the Holy Water fount.

Why?

Even better questions are, what benefit are we supposed to be getting, and, what are we supposed to be thinking about when we do it?

Johan van Parys, a Minneapolis liturgist, has the answers to those questions and more.

The director of liturgy and the sacred arts at the Basilica of St. Mary, he’s packaged them nicely in 150 reader-friendly pages in “Symbols That Surround Us: Faithful Reflections.” (Liguori Publications, $16.99)

Folks who haven’t had any exposure to things Catholic will find explanations for everything from church architecture to garb, from gestures to sacraments. But if it’s been some good while since Sister Mary Whats-her-name taught us that blessing ourselves with Holy Water upon entering church is a reminder of our baptismal vows, that we are members of Christ’s church, that we’re entering a holy place, a different atmosphere than the rest of the world, then you’ll get something out of reading this, too.

Van Parys reminds us that those ordinary elements of water, fire, bread and wine are symbols that “enable us to communicate on a deeper level . . . to express our faith in ways that would not be possible if we were to rely exclusively on words.”

He’s right on the money when he adds, “Although we may not always be aware of them, symbols surround us, connect us to sacred images found in our churches, remind us of our faith, and support us in our private and public prayer.”

Much to learn — or re-learn

Like a good teacher, van Parys sets the stage for comprehension by helping readers grasp the concept that nonverbal communication and symbols touch us everyday. Body language, for example, flowers on Mother’s Day, a hug to a grieving friend.

He quickly moves from the secular to the sacred, explaining, “When it comes to our faith, we use symbls even more readily to approach that which by definition cannot be explained or captured by words: the mysteries of creation and salvation. . . . The liturgy and the sacraments of the Catholic Church use symbols to share meaning and reveal deeper meaning.”

After that, the author is off and running, effectively quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the General Instructions of the Roman Missal, the documents of Vatican II and other authoritative works.

There’s much to grab onto here, the what and why of vestments worn at Mass, the meaning behind the use of the various oils during sacramental rites, how sacred art can connect us to God and the saints, and of course, the superb symbolism of bread and wine.

Bread, he simply writes, that becomes the Body of Christ, is for Catholics “weekly nourishment on our journey of faith.” And he’s honest enough to note this about the use of wine at Mass:

“Wine has been ascribed medicinal qualities: It was used to settle an upset stomach and to clean out wounds. Still, the principal quality of wine is to add festivity to a gathering and emphasize unity among those who share the cup.”

Perfect for discussion by groups

He’s unafraid to explain how some Catholic ritual evolved from pre-Christian peoples.

And there’s a marvelous chapter on sacred architecture as symbol that tackles why our churches look the way they do and how they’ve changed through 2,000 years. The book is richer for the personal anecdotes van Parys relates: I loved the one about the choir members who tossed their coats casually on the altar only to have the pastor come by and sweep the coats off in one fell swoop!

Each of the 10 chapters ends with a brief reflection and three questions to ponder and/or discuss.

After reading “Symbols That Surround Us” I could easily see it serving as the text for a small group for a number of sessions and as the focus of an adult faith formation series. Those who facilitate gatherings for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) might find it a nice supplementary resource.

But let me go back to my very first thought: I wasn’t halfway through “Symbols That Surround Us” when the lightbulb was turned on: I’d forgotten so many of these symbolic connections that enrich Catholic life. Reading van Parys’ little book will remind those of us in the over-50 crowd of some what we used to know — or at least had studied for the religion class test!

Continue reading...

Catholic and want to know more about Jesus?

June 28, 2010

0 Comments

Jesus cover

“Jesus,”

by Paul Johnson

Ever felt uncomfortable discussing religion in a mixed-faith setting because you don’t feel you’ve really “kept up” with matters of faith?

Paul Johnson’s brief (226 pages) easy-reading story of Jesus — subtitled “A Biography from a Believer” — will get you up to speed with some facts Catholics should know. It will also remind you what Christianity values and why you value your faith life. Johnson is an unabashed cheerleader for the faith, and he writes early on that he wants to share “the joy and nourishment” of following Jesus’ footsteps and pondering his words.

Although I’ve read a lot of religious material, reading “Jesus” gave me a much better mental picture of the era in which he walked this earth, helping me place his life in the time of not just Julius Caesar but Ovid, Livy and Seneca, the Romans whose writing has put life in the Roman Empire into our hands.

But I’d hesitate before giving Johnson my complete trust as a biographer or historian, and I think he’d find that perfectly acceptable.

Meet a new Jesus

In my notes I kept jotting down “first I’ve heard of that,” which did make me suspicious that some of Johnson’s “biography” might be suspect. For example, he writes that Mary was a source for Luke’s gospel, that Jesus’ baptism was witnessed by a large crowd, that one task of the apostles was to “protect” Jesus, and that Jesus’ “few days of rest were spent fishing.”

What these might very well be called would be “guesses.” Johnson says they are “mere deductive supposition.” When he describes Jesus’ appearance and the way he held himself, I’d call that analysis without basis of fact. Yes, Jesus did teach at meal time, but did he “love” to?

But whether or not Jesus could recite Homer and Virgil is less important than the aura of Jesus that I think readers will get about the subject of this “biography.” You’ll meet a new Jesus here, one you’ve likely never thought about in the same way.

Johnson offers us a pleasant, colloquial way of absorbing Jesus’ teachings in somewhat of a condensed version of the gospels, and he follows up by explaining why Jesus taught those lessons.

Don’t miss the homilies

The most useful section of the book may be Johnson’s explanation of why Jesus came and what Johnson charges might be a “New Ten Commandments” Jesus taught. You can see the list below, but it’s Johnson’s writes a page or more about each, and every one could serve as a homily worth hearing.

Johnson calls Jesus’ teachings a moral and social framework that have been invaluable to our world, and, if this book were this section alone it would be enough to inspire every Christian to re-commit themselves to following Jesus’ more closely. Here’s the best part:

“Human progress has proved an illusion as often as not. In many ways our society is no better organized and led than in those weary days two m ago when men like Herod and Pilate ruled. Insofar as we have improved — in the way we look after the poor, the sick, the infirm, the powerless; in our treatment of children; in moral education and training; in penology and the redressing of grievances; in the effort to spread material welfare and to encourage people to show kindness to one another and help their neighbors in difficult times — these improvements have come about because we have had the sense, the sensibility, the intelligence, and the pertinacity to follow where Jesus led. If goodness has a place in our twenty-first century world, it is because Jesus, by his worlds and actions, showed us how to put it there. No other man in history has had this effect over so long a time, over the whole of the earth’s surface, and over such a range of issues.”

If that’s not enough evidence to believe in God, I don’t know what would be. — bz

“Jesus’ New Ten Commandments”

1. Each of us must develop a true personality. We have a duty to be aware of our existence as an act of God’s creation

2. Accept and abide by, universality. Each soul is unique, but each is part of humanity.

3. Respect the fact that we are all equal in God’s eyes.

4. Love is a must in human relationships, at all times and in every situation.

5. We are to show mercy just as God shows mercy to us.

6. Keep balanced; don’t be an extremist.

7. Cultivate an open mind.

8. The pursuit of truth, unabridged, simple and pure, unstained by passion, is the most valuable of human activities.

9. Use power carefully, and pay due respect to the powerless.

10. Show courage.

Continue reading...

Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” pulpy and preachy

September 30, 2009

1 Comment

“The Lost Symbol,”
by Dan Brown

Can the writing style of a novelist get boring by just the third book?

I’m sure Doubleday is going to sell enough copies of Dan Brown’s latest puzzler to wallpaper every monument and public building in Washington, DC inside and out. However.

Although I really liked “The Da Vinci Code,” “Angels & Demons” wasn’t that good and didn’t hit the charts until Da Vinci made the author famous, and frankly “The Lost Symbol” got to be 500-plus pages to fight through.

By chapter 126 I was struggling to stay awake, and there were seven more chapters and an epilogue to go.

First-time readers of Brown may find the sleuthing of main character Robert Langdon fun to follow, but readers of Brown’s first two Langdon novels are likely to see the tramping about Washington in search of clues as formulaic — way too similar to the tramping about Paris and Rome in those earlier works.

Throw in the usual gruesome deaths and violent tortures, Brown’s usual mysterious society — this time the Masons — and you’ve got your typical pulp novel. Of course that doesn’t make for a 500-page book, so Brown does readers the real disservice of going way too deeply into explanations about ancient philosophies, symbols, religions, languages, sciences, archeology, plus off-the-chart mind-over-matter silliness, all of which seems like filler in what should be an action-packed story.

Anti-religion once again
Catholics and others who practice a traditional life of faith will notice that Langdon, Brown’s protagonist, continues in this latest novel the insidious assault on organized religion and its traditions that he put forward in “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons.”

Brown does his best to work in subtle jabs at the Catholic Church in particular and other faiths as well, questioning the veracity of truths they teach in some cases, in other times bluntly alluding to what he paints as errors.

An example is a passage half-way through the novel. You need not even know the context to see what I mean:

“Then he discovered the writings of Aleister Crowley — a visionary mystic from the early 1900s — whom the church had deemed ‘the most evil man who every lived.'”

Really Mr. Brown? Two sources I read credit the British press — not “the church” — with calling Crowley “The Wickedest Man in the World.” And your brief reference to him as “a visionary mystic” hardly do justice to the depraved person Crowley was.

Interested readers should Google Aleister Crowley to see what kind of person Brown is holding up to his readers as he puts down “the church.”

Minus the overbearing scientific explanations and the graduate-school lessons in antiquities, “The Lost Symbol” might almost be a decent page-turner of a story. But then Brown succumbs to the temptation to get preachy.

Much of the reading satisfaction that was to be savored gets sucked right out. — bz

Continue reading...

Bishops are people, too! Who knew?

September 28, 2009

3 Comments

“Effective Faith,”
by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

I’ve just read Bishop Thomas Tobin’s book for the second time, and I liked it just as much as I did the first time.

I’d only spent a handful of hours in the bishop’s company a few years ago, but I was invited to read a proof of a collection of newspaper columns that he’d written for diocesan newspapers in Ohio and Rhode Island.

What I said about the writing of the Bishop of Providence then ended up as an endorsement on the back cover:

“Bishops are people, too! Who knew? Expecting a book by a bishop to be dry and theological? ‘Effective Faith’ . . . is the antithesis. Meet a down-to-earth, self-effacing human being who happens to be a Catholic priest and bishop.”

Teaching without preaching

I added at the time that this collection of columns deserves a wider audience, and I’m glad that Seraphina Press from Minneapolis has made that possible with this easy-reading, 175-page paperback.

What the bishop does best is take the news of the day — the topics real people are talking about — and make them the perfect subject matter to grab readers’ attention and engage them in the lessons that life keeps teaching him.

That means writing about sports, about casinos, about how life changes, about all the “stuff” in his life and ours and the need to get rid of some of the baggage.

One of my favorite chapters is “The Gospel at 30,000 Feet,” where he describes getting the third-degree about the church from a non-Catholic seat-mate on an airplane. The questioning is priceless!

There’s a beautiful chapter about his interior thoughts as he held the baby he’d just baptized and pondered the world she would find on her journey.
“Ashley’s World” lets us all into Bishop Tobin’s world, if you will, and the questions we all have about what the future holds.

The chapters are short, worth savoring one a day for 40 days, worth reading and spending time reflecting on our own view of life, faith, the issues of our day and our own little world.

Nice job, bishop. — bz

Continue reading...

Talk around the dinner table? It’s in the cards!

June 22, 2009

0 Comments

“The Meal Box,”
by Bret Nicholaus and Tom McGrath

So you want to have more meaningful conversations around the dinner table, something to counter the gobble-up-and-scatter tendency in too many of our homes?

You need “The Meal Box.”

You love your faith and you want your children to love it and to grow up with the values you cherish, but you could use some tips on ways to do that without seeming like you’re always preaching?

“The Meal Box” is there for you.

A product of Loyola Press, “The Meal Box” is being plugged as “fun questions and family faith tips to get mealtime conversations cookin’.” It’s all that and more.

Young and old can join in

Packaged like a deck of playing cards, it’s a plastic box with 54 cards, each containing a question that will get just about any age-group talking at suppertime.

Here are a few examples:
  • When it comes to things that make you really happy, what five things would you rank at the very top?
  • Suppose you were told that you could have one wish come true — but the wish you make would have to be for someone else, not for yourself. What would you wish for, and for whom would you wish it?
  • If you could have 100 of anything right now, what would you choose?

“Food for Family Thought” — the parenting/faith formation aids — comes on the flip side of each card. For the three examples above, the alternate side of the cards suggest:

  • When asked what it would take to get to heaven, Jesus said, “Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked.” That’s what parents do each day. It’s a paradox that our greatest happiness comes when we freely give of ourselves. Think about that the next time you’re fixing supper or folding laundry.
  • Empathy is a fundamental building block for all moral growth. Make it a family value to frequently consider how your behavior and choices affect others. When your child talks about other children’s experiences, gently ask, “And how do you think he/she felt about that?” This will nurture your child’s capacity for compassion.
  • One task of parents is to help their children develop the skills of discernment — that is, to make wise choices. This is better taught through example and be establishing limits than by coercion and criticism.

The opposite of ‘bowling alone’

“The Meal Box” questions are such a painless way for parents to connect with their children, to enrich family-time, and to counteract the tendency for family members to do their own thing and go off into their own little worlds.

The younger ones may even forget about whose turn it is to play Wii. Teens may pull the iPod earphones out for a few minutes to chime in with their thoughts.

And, if you’re empty nesters like my wife and I, you may find “The Meal Box” questions adding an engaging new feature into your day. Think about talking over dinner about “What is one seemingly impossible goal that you would like to see the world achieve during your lifetime?”

You may even skip watching “Wheel of Fortune” some nights to ponder questions like that! – bz

For purchase information, go to http://www.loyolapress.com.

Continue reading...

Pinch-hitting for your dad, Catholic writer shares what your father wanted you to know about living

May 8, 2009

1 Comment

“A Guy’s Guide to the Good Life: Virtues for Men,”
by Robert P. Lockwood

You could read “A Guy’s Guide to the Good Life” just for the volume and variety of quotations worth remembering, but Bob Lockwood’s sometimes hilarious, always thought-provoking guys tour through prudence, fortitude, temperance, justice, faith, hope and charity digs so much deeper than that.

Lockwood’s brief, 140-page Servant Books paperback might accurately be described as something your father would have written if your father had written down all the things he wanted to you to know and remember.

It’s a genuine service Lockwood performs, given that many fathers aren’t/weren’t the gifted writer this long-time columnist for Catholic publications is, and given that so many men tell anecdotally about how little their father ever verbally communicated — with them or anyone else.

Lockwood pinch hits for dad, passing on soothing-yet-challenging drops of wisdom through stories, most with a Catholic angle, many with a sports angle, often accompanied by a cold beer.

And Lockwood is anything if not a truly gifted storyteller.

A Catholic writer who quotes Meatloaf?

Along the way he quotes men whose words are worth recalling, mixing Charles Dickens, St. Paul, John Lennon, Benedict XVI, Dante (perhaps more than one might care) and John Paul II, among the names you’d recognize. Pop music plays in the background, with lyrics by the Beatles, Skeeter Davis, and Meatloaf helping make his point. Lockwood even manages to channel Cat Stevens.

It all works, though, to base his — well, it’s teaching, when you come right down to it — in a real world, a world in which Lockwood has lived some 60 years and thinks what he’s learned in that time is worth sharing for our benefit.

If there’s a goal, it is to make guys ask that crucial question: “What the hell am I doing with my life?”

Lockwood is a creative phrase maker who has penned quotes of his own worth pondering, including a definition of his topic that seems to stick: “The virtues are how we are meant to live. They are what we admire in others and hope to find in ourselves.”

Throughout he pesters guys with the thought we can be more — that a virtuous life isn’t too difficult to achieve.

Have an appetizer

Here are just a few tasters of Lockwood on the seven virtues:

“Prudence means living in the truth, not as a self-righteous jerk but as a guy who wants to look at himself in the mirror every morning without fearing that he’s sold out.”

“Fortitude borders on obstinacy, a willingness to hold steadfast to our principles when life is telling us not to bother.”

“Sometimes our priorities can get a little out of whack. There’s where temperance comes in.”

“Justice doesn’t always come searching for us in the way we like.”

“Faith is a pilgrimage, never an endpoint.”

“Hope is not mere wishing but the serene and full confidence that God will never abandon us.”

“We think of charity as giving out a little spare change.”

Now for full disclosure: I’ve known Bob Lockwood for better than 30 years now, watched him fight the personal and professional battles guys fight, and consider the wisdom he shares as valuable — and as fun to read and as thought provoking — as listening to his gravelly voice tell a story, with a cold beer, of course, and with a ball game on the tube. — bz
Continue reading...