Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ministry of education includes public schools

By Bishop Gerald Barnes
Diocese of San Bernardino

The scriptures tell us that wisdom and understanding bring “profit better than profit in silver, and better than gold is her revenue (Pv 3:13-14).”

Gaining wisdom and understanding is, of course, a lifetime process. But today we know that formal education is a big part of a person’s journey to find these two precious commodities.

The Catholic Church has long recognized this. We have a proud tradition of providing education directly in our Catholic schools, and our faith teaches that education is a fundamental right of every person.

Sometimes there is a misperception that our concern in the area of education is addressed entirely by our Catholic schools. While there is great work being done in our Catholic schools, they serve a tiny minority of Catholic youth in our diocese, most of whom attend public schools. In addition, we have many fine public school teachers, counselors and administrators in our diocese whose work is informed by their Catholic faith.

So our ministry of education has a broad context that includes supplementing and supporting the work of our public schools. To that end, the diocese is engaging in dialogue with two regional groups, the Alliance for Education and the Educational Leadership Federation, that are attempting improve public education in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. Both groups are attempting, among other things, to reduce the worsening dropout rate in the region and improve college going rates among our young people.

What is the role of the Church in this? Initially, it lies in the key primer for success in school – the home. Through our religious education and through pilot partnerships between parishes and public schools, we have renewed our commitment to teach the foundational importance of education; why it is so important to stay in school; and how higher education is critical to professional success and achieving dignity for one’s self and family.

I have created a special committee to guide this effort that includes several educators from our diocese and is headed by Sister Carmel Crimmins, who brings significant experience in Catholic education, and Deacon Peter Bond, a retired public school teacher.

In some cases, our role will be to work with parents to ensure that these messages are being communicated and that a home life conducive to learning is in place. In other cases, as we have already done at Holy Family parish in Hesperia, we will work with both public schools students and their parents or guardians to support the importance of education.

By working with parents, students and public school organizations to strengthen and promote the value of education in our region we are actually fulfilling a commitment we made as a diocese many years ago. In establishing the vision for the diocese we said that “we cannot isolate ourselves from the problems and issues affecting our neighbors.” The public schools that teach so many of our Catholic children are such a neighbor.

As we look at education with this renewed and broad focus, it offers us another way to impact family, neighborhood and society with the Gospel so that people’s lives are filled with hope. Sound familiar?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Faith is strengthened in experience of God

By Ted Furlow
Director, diocesan Office of Pastoral Planning

We have seen some interesting examples of runaway individualism recently. From the Oregon football player who struck an opponent and then went ballistic with the crowd, to the Representative from South Carolina calling out the President in the House as a liar, and to the mayhem that has passed for “Town Hall meetings” on health care, social conventions seem to have taken second place to my right to do my “own thing”.

I see it in our faith life as Catholics, with the recent statistics from the 2007-2008 Pew studies showing 32% of the baptized walking away from the faith, many simply to languish in a malaise listed as “unaffiliated"…. presumably doing their “own thing,” worshiping on Sundays at the NFL. The trends reported among the other 68% of Catholics who still claim the faith are of little help, since only 20% to 40% of them regularly participate in the Church. Strange behavior for persons raised Catholic, where doing your “thing” generally means doing it with someone else.

The numbers beg the question, “Why?” For the 32% who have left, is it sufficient to simply say that there was no longer a “there” there? And for the non-frequent faithful, is it a matter of a diminishing “there” that keeps them away? Someone once observed that our behavior in faith is predicated on our experience of religion... so is this a matter of having no experience?

Since I believe that anyone who places themselves in faith has some form of spiritual experience, perhaps the larger question is what is being done with that experience? Dr. Janet Ruffing of Fordham University, a Sister of Mercy who specializes in spiritual direction, touches on this in a 2007 article in Conversations, where she makes the point of tying spiritual experiences to the making of meaning. Anyone who has had a significant experience of the movement of God in their life will long for more, but working with a grammar school or Confirmation class level of formation, they may lack the skills that would help them to respond. How does someone see the change in them that is affected by a change in their relationship with God? How does someone understand that a growing relationship with God calls them to a change in all of their relationships? How does someone understand that while God is always at our core, how we relate to God and how we experience his indwelling presence changes over time?

We teach the children and then cast them off after Confirmation, confident that a 15 -20 minute homily once a week should bridge them to salvation. The Pew numbers say, “not.” Perhaps what the large body of 20somethings to 50somethings who are sitting in church, at home, or just watching the game wondering what it is all about, really need, is a companion to walk the journey with them. Like Jesus on the road to Emmaus, no one should walk alone. Spiritual directors do not make meaning of our experiences, but they help us make our own meaning, to find that Christic presence that is the indwelling of God that touched us in our person, and shaped our faith. We need to stop being individuals, and reach out to help and be helped.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Unsung Heroes

By Deacon John DeGano
St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside

Knowing who our heroes are says a lot about who we are as people. What our values are.

From childhood many of us grow up thinking that our parents are heroes. By our teen years, we have seen the cracks in their armor and have traded them in for comic book Super Heroes (as if regular heroes weren’t good enough) who may be daunted, but never fail in the end. Issue after issue they replay for us the same scenario: Super Hero minding own business. Bad guy tries to rule world. People in danger. Super Hero has to intercede and save the day. Receives (or doesn’t receive) accolades of a grateful people, nation or world.

It’s hard for a parent (or anyone else, for that matter) to measure up to fantasy.

Being human (and most parents are) there are bound to be flaws. Idiosyncrasies that drive others ‘a little nuts’ but lend flesh and character to a three-dimensional person (Mom, Dad, etc.) that the one-dimensional comic heroes do not possess (except in stark black and white hues).

We need to topple the pedestals we tend to put people on and spend a bit more time extolling the unsung heroes of our world who, day in and day out, provide for us the services that we take for granted.

The graphic designer/printer of the ‘green sheet’-type magazines when we’re looking to buy a used car or find a great deal at a yard sale. The guy at the car wash whose job it is to wipe down the water drops and spots after servicing so that we have a shiny car to drive to the store. Or the day laborer, whose plight (and harassment) we ignore, but who will be the first person we think to hire when we need a tree stump removed from our yard. The list is endless.

These are the ones whose praises we should sing, even if our voices are a bit off key.

The Gospel tells us that these are the ones who will inherit the earth… if we allow them jobs and housing and affordable health care to sustain them and their families. These are the ones who sit beside us in the pews and we don’t know (or get to know) their names.

Jesus must have known what he was doing when he gathered to himself the oddest bunch of misfits and losers in all of Galilee. Fishermen who were lousy at their jobs. Tax collectors who did their jobs too well. And everything in between. Pacifists, Middle-of-the-Roaders and Zealots.

And somehow they balanced each other out, challenged one another to become their best and managed, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to be pretty good ‘fishers of men and women.’

So the next time you wonder how you can make a difference in your ministry, let me suggest that you look around and see if everyone looks and acts the same. If so, you may need to invite a few more unsung heroes into the mix. They might be catalysts for change that will bring joy and excitement back into your ministry life and the church.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Facebook and Happy Face Pancakes

By Sister Mary Frances Coleman, R.S.M.
Director, diocesan Office for Consecrated Life

I must admit I am not a great proponent of Internet communication. Though not a pure Luddite, I do have a Blackberry and gradually have come to know and appreciate its many uses and conveniences. I have somehow steered clear of most of the distractions that delight the tech-savvy. Until now, I have never blogged. I have never been on the major social networking sites Facebook or MySpace. A recent conversation with a friend, Helen Smith, however, opened my eyes to the possibilities of Facebook as a “new way of being with people,” perhaps even a new means of evangelization.

While chatting over a cup of coffee, Helen shared with me how she keeps in touch with her family and some friends on Facebook. She was obviously pleasantly surprised and grateful to hear from, John, a grade school classmate of her son. She told me that John and his sister were from a very underprivileged family. They attended Catholic school on reduced tuition for just two years, when tragedy struck the family. Their house burned down and their father died in the fire. There was immediate outreach from the school families, however John’s family had to move away and live elsewhere. Years after the two classmates found each other again on Facebook and John asked if he could invite Helen, Mrs. Smith, to be his Facebook “friend.”

Many of us have probably, at one time or another, thought of someone from our distant past who showed us God’s grace in a difficult time and we wished that we could thank them, today. Here we see this kind of gratitude expressed, via Facebook…

Not sure you remember me, but it's John. I went to Catholic school with your son. Its funny because I have been wanting to write this for some time, and felt like now is a good time. I wanted to thank you and your family for being an inspiration in my life at a young age that shaped a big part of the person I have come to be today.

When I was young there was a weekend where you allowed me to stay the night at your
house. It was the first time in my life where I sat down at a table for any meal as a family
and it was a moment that I think about often. Mrs. Smith, you made pancakes that
morning and they had happy faces on them…I have never forgotten that experience. Your house was the
biggest house I had ever been in and it was the first time I had set a goal for myself. Your
house was filled with a lot of love and kindness and I felt safe. I thank you for that.

I graduated from college in 99 and moved out of state and started working with
children as a case manager. What was funny was I would take the children who had
rough times happening in their lives to nice neighborhoods and tell them that they could
have all the things they see, if they do it the right way and go to school. I would tell them
about the family and the pancakes they could have…I have worked in the prison for a while and through this life so far have seen a lot of bad things, but the funny part about it is that when things get too tough, I feel myself sitting back in your house with your family eating pancakes with happy faces on them and being thankful for that time.

I have been wanting to thank your family for that for a long time, and let you know how
much it truly meant to me.

Thank you,
John