By Fran Lavelle
Albert Einstein is quoted to having said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” It is easy to fall victim to this kind of behavior especially when we do not constantly evaluate goals, processes and outcomes. Without proper reflection, it easy to blame everyone else for failure. This kind of blame game perpetuates the cycle. We are, however, creatures of habit, even when those habits do not deliver the best results. I get it. We like knowing what we know, what is familiar, comfortable and what feels safe. It’s hard to do things differently when what we are doing seems to be OK, right? It is easy to get caught up in an “our way of doing things” mentality. We protest, “it’s the way we’ve always done it” when questioned about a process or method. Afterall, we have a game plan. It’s decades old, but we have a plan. We are right in saying we need a plan; after all, we need a road map to get us where we want to be. But, just like the GPS on our cell phones, often there is more than one route. The fastest route may not be the shortest route. The software of our GPS might be outdated. We might lose cell service. Despite our best efforts we can end up somewhere we had no intention of going. Or, worse yet, never leave for the journey in the first place.
It is understandable when big institutions like the Church fall into this conundrum. Especially when it comes to being creatures of habit. I mean who doesn’t want to work smarter and not harder? But is expedience and limited effort what we are really talking about? Look, I love being Catholic. I love the cadence of liturgy, the predictability of the liturgical seasons, the changes of art, environment and music. I love the universality of the Church! However, the consistency and predictability I so love can easily become a crutch. It is easy to pull out a template for catechesis, liturgy, preaching, RCIA, campus ministry or any of the activities of the Church. When we pull out the same template year after year, it can feel a little like the movie Groundhog’s Day with Bill Murray. What becomes of the “now” when we are re-living the same experience over and over again? What becomes of those moments ripe for discipleship if we are leaning on the crutch of “this is how we do it?”
For example, if someone asked you, “What do I need to do to become Catholic?” how would you respond? How many of us would refer that person to the pastor or the director of the RCIA program? Would we take the time to ask questions about the person’s interest in the faith? Would we offer to go to an RCIA session with them and introduce them to folks we know in the parish? Would we include them in our prayers for their discernment? Or would we tell them to call the Church office? They can look the number up.
In my last column I wrote about the response to WWJD? HWLF, He Would Love First. What does “loving first” look like in this example? I looked to the wisdom of Pope Francis, “In catechesis too, we have rediscovered the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the center of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal … On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 164)
Pope Francis often reminds us that we are loved by Jesus Christ. Not simply in a 1970’s smiley face bumper sticker way, but in an intimate, unceasing, unconditional love that is beyond our imagining. What would the world look like if we understood the love of Jesus and behaved like we are worthy of such love? How would our response to the inquiry in the above example change if all we cared about was inviting people into a relationship with Christ? Would our words convey his love for them?
`If you feel like you are stuck on the hamster wheel of “this is what we do,” you are not alone. If what I’ve described looks like faith formation in your parish, you are not alone. This is not a Jackson Diocese problem. This is an issue that catechists, pastors and bishops face all over the country. If we are to change the narrative of Einstein’s quote, the mind set for what we are doing must change. Our faith journey is not about finding the right program, DVD series, youth ministry hacks or religious education book series. Yes, we need tools to support our catechesis. But it is crazy making behavior to present the same material year after year if we are not engaging in our own relationship with Jesus and walking with those we serve as they discover Christ and his love for them. I encourage everyone to look at the ministries of your parish and ask how can we invite people to greater intimacy with Jesus?