“How’s Momma?”

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle

”For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Church leadership hears the same often bleak news about the state of religion in our country. According to the most recent PEW Research study, 28 percent of adults in the United States are religiously unaffiliated. The religiously unaffiliated are also known as nones.

The decline in membership is being felt across the spectrum of Christian denominations. The questions this reality begs are many but chief among them is simply – why? Why are folks leaving organized religion? According to the PEW study:

The reason “nones” give most often for not having a religion is that they question religious teachings: 60% say doubt about these teachings is an extremely or very important reason why they are nonreligious. In addition, 32% cite a lack of belief in God or any other higher power. Altogether, 67% cite skepticism or nonbelief (or some combination of both) as a key factor in why they are nonreligious.

Meanwhile, 47% of “nones” say their dislike of religious organizations is an extremely or very important reason they are nonreligious. And 30% cite bad experiences with religious people. Altogether, 55% of “nones” mention religious organizations or religious people (or both) as key reasons for being nonreligious.

About four-in-ten “nones” attribute their lack of religiousness to not having a need for religion in their lives. And 12% say they don’t have time for religion. Altogether, 44% cite a lack of need or a lack of time (or both) as reasons for why they are not religious.

I have been working on the Pastoral Reimagining process for the diocese for the last year. Enveloped in this process is a desire to dream. It is important to dream but it is equally important to anchor our dreams in reality. This process for me has done both. The question posed by many of our parishes and missions is how do we reach out to the “nones” that once identified as Catholic? What are the areas of church life that need to be examined and reimagined?

Fran Lavelle

The diocesan process for the Synod on Synodality identified unity and healing as the greatest need in our parishes. I refer to it as finding our way back to one another. Like any relationship some people have moved on feeling like they no longer need the church. Other folks have told me that they “took a break” for going to Mass and didn’t really miss anything. The challenge in all of this is not be defensive and assign blame on those who no longer worship with us. The difficult thing to do is look at who we are as a community and ask how we can be more welcoming and inviting. This is not to say that there needs to be a cheesy welcome to visitors like it’s their first time on a cruise ship, but a reinforcement of everything we do from the time people arrive in the parking lot until the time they get in their cars to leave they have been surrounded by the love of Christ manifested in how they were treated when they were with us.

We have a tendency to dismiss the missing. Statements like, “if they only believed this” or “if they were more that” diminish our responsibility to understanding why people leave in the first place. Many of those who have left said that once they were gone no one called or wrote to see how they were doing. One of my former college students told me after she left college and moved to a large city, “no one noticed when I was there, and no one noticed when I was gone.”

Catholics are creatures of habit. Most families sit within a two-pew area every week. The other members of this noted pew seating chart know when someone is not there. How can we respectfully reach out without seeming nosey? One of my friends at St. Joseph in Starkville lets me know when she is out of town, so my Mom doesn’t worry about her. Likewise, when Mom is not at Mass several church members “drop by the pew” on the way out and ask, “How’s Momma?”

It not only makes me realize how much they care about her, but it also makes me realize how easy it is to make the effort to let people know that their presence matters.

As Lent continues and Holy week approaches, who do we need to ask, ‘How’s Momma?”

(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Open wide the doors to Christ

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle

Twenty-four years ago, the theme for Mississippi State’s Catholic Student Association Fall retreat, now known as Cowbell Catholic, was “Open Wide the Doors to Christ.” It was my first retreat with the Catholic college students at State. I was thinking about that retreat recently when I discovered the tee shirt in the bottom of a dresser drawer. It brought great comfort in remembering a cherished part of my past ministry, and it also provoked a realization that we, perhaps, more now than ever, need to open wide the doors to Christ.

Fran Lavelle

The statement comes from St. Pope John Paul II’s inauguration of his pontificate in October 1978. He stated, “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid.” The then Pope John Paul II was asking us to put aside our differences, to let go of conventions of power, and be open to the transformational power of Christ without fear.

In a similar way Pope Francis at the opening Mass for the Synod on Synodality in October implored the faithful to help build the church by first being welcoming to everyone (tutti). He used the word tutti three times in his exhortation to be an open and welcoming church. In his own way, Pope Francis is asking that we move beyond the conventions of the world and open our doors and hearts to everyone. What would it look like if we all carried a sense of welcoming in our hearts at church and in our ordinary lives?

I have been saying for over a year that we as Catholics have a real opportunity to lead this country away from dualistic, vitriolic and divisive rhetoric. This kind of change must first, however, start with our own conversion. All around the globe people are allowing fear to dominate the political and religious narrative. Fear based narrative divides people “us against them.” A house divided will not stand. St. Pope John Paul II was right in saying, “Do not be afraid.” Pope Francis is right in saying that everyone is welcome. Everyone. What do we have to fear in the Body of Christ? That one may think or pray differently?

One of my favorite quotes in a homily by my former pastor and dear friend, Father Mike O’Brien was, “this is not your holy country club.”

We do not have an elevated social status because we go to Mass weekly. We are not more holy, pious or all around better. We are not called to congregate within our social circle. We are called to the margins. We are called to the periphery. If faith is a gift, we are called to selflessly share it with others. It takes hard work to seek out those who are different than us to ensure that everyone is welcome. There are people who rub us the wrong way. It is easy to dismiss them as weirdos. But those so-called weirdos were made in the image and likeness of God too.

Our Synod on Synodality synthesis revealed a great desire for unity and healing. Building unity and advancing healing takes a lot of work. We should be willing to listen to and consider the viewpoints of those who don’t think like us even if we may disagree with them. If not, the discussion around unity is window dressing that might make us feel good but achieves little in the end. So how do we move from “I” to “we”, the bigger “we” and not the “holy country club” kind?

The Pastoral Reimagining Process that all parishes and missions are undertaking right now will aid us in defining how we are engaging and transforming our communities. In this current phase parishes/missions are asked to look at what are areas of growth that may require resources or a new focus. Likewise, they are being asked to look at areas of ministry that are diminishing and discern the viability of the ministry in question.

Every aspect of parish life is to be examined. It is precisely this kind of reflection and examination that fuels change. It wakes us up from the routine and presents us with an opportunity to dream, problem solve and collaborate. The work of the church is to be shared by all of its members. We all have a gift or talent that we are called to share. We take away from Mass the Word and the Eucharist to be leaven for the world in the ordinary places we work and live. Our faith is not lived out at Mass. It is fortified there.
When the congregation is fed spiritually, when we open wide the doors to Christ, when everyone, everyone, everyone is welcome nothing can divide us.

(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Nurture the seeds of vision

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle
I have spent the past three years studying transformational leadership for a doctorate in ministry (D. Min.) Thanks be to God, I graduated on June 1st. One of my favorite courses was titled Transformational Servant Leadership. The course description states, “…the servant-leader is servant first. His or her desire to lead comes from a desire to serve and is manifested in the care s/he takes in ensuring that others grow into greater freedom, wisdom, health, and empowered leadership. Transformational leadership invites the leader to engage in a process of service that lifts the leader and those they serve to a higher level of being and acting that are the bases for personal conversion and social transformation. Both nurture the seeds of a vision that leaders and our society not only long for but can realize.”

When I first read the course description I was struck by the phrase, “nurture the seeds of vision.” Upon further reflection I came to recognize that hospitality is the cornerstone of any vision for ministry. Hospitality exists in places where authentic encounters lead to eternal love. The imperative to truly see, hear, and value one another is difficult. It is a challenge in our work as ministers but also it is a greater challenge in our daily living. In preparing our hearts to receive all others with attentiveness, active listening, empathy and love we rest in hospitality.

In John McKnight’s article, “Why Servant Leadership is Bad” he invites churches to be places of hospitality not social service agencies. Everything he advocates for begins with the ability to go beyond treating the symptoms of our social ills and work to see the other as equal not something to be pitied. Hospitality requires that we be focused on the other – their value, dignity and gifts. A space of radical hospitality is the fertile ground for dreaming, visioning and praxis.

We can dream and talk about vision but in order for visions to be animated, systems to support those visions must be in place. What are the seeds of your transformational leadership praxis? Are you building the structures to support the ministries in your parish or school that support your vision? Are you becoming united with other servant leaders through better communication, opportunities for education and training, regular meetings and celebrating milestones in both your professional and personal lives? Are you underscoring the importance of dreaming and envisioning, the importance of foresight and the value of authentic listening? Do you recognize team members who readily engage in dreaming big dreams, envisioning new ways of being and living a ministry of presence?

What are the desired outcomes of our vision? A question Robert Greenleaf asks in The Servant Leader, “Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

In returning to the connectedness of all life we are called to nurture the seeds of vision. A vision that includes the oneness of our humanity and indeed all of creation. The paradigm shifts a little every time someone on the periphery feels connected to God’s love. Our role as persons of faith and as formational leaders is to cultivate oneness by being present, vulnerable and loving. If we are caught in a “it’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality, we are limiting our ability to learn and grow. Holding on to old ways just because they are comfortable limits the work of the Holy Spirit.

My colleague and dear friend, Abbey Schuhmann and I often talk about the young church. Our youth and young adults are seeking an authentic encounter with Christ. They want leaders who can accompany them on their faith journey, truly listen and hear them, and live out the Gospel in their everyday lives. They are listening to our words but also watching the way we live. Many who have left the church cite an authenticity gap. That is to say we do not live up to our preaching or teaching.

Successful servant leaders articulate a vision or message that resonates with people long after they are gone. I watched Ted Koppel’s segment on leadership a few years ago on CBS Sunday Morning. He interviewed Stanley McChrystal, a retired four star general. McChrystal mentioned a bright woman who came to one of his classes that he was teaching at Yale. She said something that obviously resonated with him, “People will forgive you for not being the leader you should be, but they won’t forgive you for not being the leader you claim to be.”

I pray a litany for all the transformational servant leaders in my life. Chief among them is my father. Forever imprinted in my spirit, he demonstrated transformational servant leadership. Dad was a great practitioner of hospitality. He used his life to serve others and encouraged them to become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous people. I am a beneficiary of his life of service. Nurturing the seeds of vision.

(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Ministry of presence

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle

Prior to moving to Mississippi in 1999 to serve as the campus minister at Mississippi State, I was a lay missioner with the Glenmary Sisters, headquartered in Owensboro, Kentucky. I was missioned in Providence, Kentucky from 1996-1999.

I recently found out that one of the Glenmary Sisters, Sister Kathleen Mulchrone passed away. She was born in Ireland but came to the States in the 1950s. She served in active ministry as a Glenmary Sister for 61 years and retired in 2019. She was in her 90s.

Fran Lavelle

I was reflecting on my time in Kentucky and in particular the influence Sister Kathleen had on my ministry and my life. During my orientation one of the things the sisters underscored repeatedly was the importance of the ministry of presence. That is that no matter where you are or what you are doing you are called to be present to the people surrounding you and environment you are in. A good Glenmarian always came back from the post office with more than mail. Not only would they be present to the people who were in the post office, but they would pick up the news of the day from postal workers as well. This is especially effective in rural communities. More often than not they would hear of someone in the community who was sick, or someone who lost their job, and good news like the birth of a baby or engagement. The post office is not the only place where a ministry of presence can happen. It happens anywhere and everywhere. It is an intentional disposition. It is the art of listening and hearing what is happening to the people around you. Sister Kathleen was masterful at the ministry of presence.

I remember my days in youth ministry, the most challenging but privileged time during our time together was at the end of the night when the kids voiced their prayer petitions. One can learn a lot about what’s going on in the lives of the people around them when they are present and listen. In his 2016 book, The Name of God Is Mercy, Pope Francis opines, “People are looking for someone to listen to them. Someone willing to grant them time, to listen to their dramas and difficulties. This is what I call the ‘apostolate of the ear,’ and it is important.” What we vocalize in prayer speaks of our hopes and dreams and also our grief and worries.

Listening and presence are greatly missing in the public forum today. More often than not people listen to respond or do not listen at all. We all can recall a time when someone was speaking to us and the whole time, we were having our own conversation in our head about what we needed from the grocery store. In the church, especially today, a lack of intentional listening and presence is deadly. People, especially young people want to be seen, valued and heard. For Jesus, intentional listening and a ministry of presence sum up the whole praxis of accompaniment. We have all heard the saying, “Meet people where they are.” It can be a bit slogan-ish, but in practice is the very place where meaningful ministry begins. How can we help people grow in their faith if we do not understand where they are with their faith?

Amelia Rizor is the coordinator for the Office of Young Adults and Campus Ministry for the diocese. She has put together two men’s basketball teams for a Jackson area young adult basketball league. On the occasion of the two Catholic teams competing against one another Amelia invited Bishop Kopacz and I to attend the game with her. We did. It was loads of fun. But, perhaps the most impactful part of the evening was at the end of the game a player on another team recognized Bishop Kopacz and spoke to him. In that brief encounter he told us that he was not Catholic but had been to Mass on several occasions. He also said that he has been thinking about becoming Catholic. That brief exchange was an example of the ministry of presence and why it’s so important. We cannot be present to others if we remain behind our desks or on our phones. We cannot share the apostolate of the ear if we are not in places where people need to be heard.

This Easter season I encourage you to slow your pace and look around you for opportunities to exercise the ministry of presence and the apostolate of the ear. Take in a local sporting event or go out for coffee after Mass. In listening to the needs of others, you just might discover something about yourself.

(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

The time to act is now

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle
I was just at a regional conference where I spoke on the process moving forward from the Synod on Synodality. One of my friends asked me how it went. After a moment of reflection, I replied “not good.” She asked why I felt that it was not good. My response surprised even me. I truly feel like people are not ready to do the work that is required to achieve the things we say we want.

In our Synod listening we heard over and over the need for unity and healing. So much so that unity and healing is first among the issues we listed in our synthesis. However, when one addresses what unity and healing might look like in our post-pandemic church the enthusiasm for said unity wanes. The same holds true for taking politics out of the church. We heard repeatedly that politics should be removed from the pulpit. However, what many people really want to remove is the partisan politics of the party they oppose. Apparently, we are more than OK with hearing political rhetoric, as long as it aligns with our own perspective. Here’s the kicker, the teachings of the Catholic Church do not fully align with either conservative or liberal politics. That’s where Catholic Social Teaching comes into play.

“Catholic social teaching proposes a set of principles [Human Dignity, Solidarity, Subsidiarity] on which to form our conscience and then act in society. Because every life has value and is sacred, it should be protected by society. The principles of solidarity and subsidiarity mean people must participate in society.

To what end?

Fran Lavelle

To provide criteria for forming our cultural, economic and political positions – based on the principles of Catholic social teaching and for the Common Good. The lessons of Catholic social teaching are always relevant. They provide guidance on how individuals can be better citizens. These lessons also guide social institutions in creating environments in which all can prosper (i.e., promote the common good).” – Catholic Social Teaching in Action

Speaking of partisan politics – both sides often fail to implement Catholic social teaching through their lives. And both run the risk of forgetting a key message of Catholic social teaching: “It is clear that no economic, social or political project can replace the gift of self to another … He who does not give God gives too little.” – Pope Benedict XVI
Clearly, we cannot cherry pick when to act and advocate for human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity. Seeing the bigger picture calls us to greater accountability. For example, if one professes to be pro-life, that extends to ending the death penalty as much as ending abortion. Sometimes we do not see the inconsistencies in our thinking until we look at the big picture. Catholic Social Teaching allows us to see the bigger picture.

On the question of healing there were several areas identified that require reconciliation and healing. Chief among them were racism, annulments/marriage issues, LGBTQ and the sexual abuse crisis that still plagues the faithful. Out of the issues identified there is little if any leadership within the larger church to support meaningful healing.

If the Body of Christ that is the church is waiting for someone or something to come along that will advance healing in these important areas, we will be waiting for some time. If you see something, say something. If you say something, be willing to do something. How can you facilitate conversations and each out to those who feel rejected or invisible in the church? Supporting one another, no matter how difficult our journey, is the first step in promoting healing, reconciliation and unity.

The other major issues coming from our Synod listening involve catechesis and formation of children, youth and adults. All are worthy endeavors. All are important. All are attainable and achievable. Here’s the kicker, if we want better faith formation it will require that we as individual members of our faith community step up and do something. Perhaps everyone is not called to teach, but there are many ways we can support better catechesis and formation. As Catholics we often fail to invest in the young church. Every parish needs to have a budget for religious education and formation that extends from baptism through adult ed. Every parish should have a budget for youth ministry. An investment in the youth today will pay dividends today and far into the future.

Last but not least, was a call for formation opportunities for the laity. Jesus did not come to form the disciples to keep the work of the Gospel to themselves. Their commission was to go out and make disciples. Everyone has the responsibility to be a disciple. There are many formation opportunities available in the diocese to help you grow as a disciple. No matter what stage or what age, the offices of the Department of Faith Formation are here to help you produce great fruit from our synodal listening. We are only a phone call or email away.

(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson. She can be reached at fran.lavelle@jacksondiocese.org.)

World Marriage Day celebrates gift of marriage as vocation, sacrament

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle

My first parish after graduating from college was Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Columbus, Ohio. Holy Spirit also had an elementary school and was truly a neighborhood parish. The parish was mostly made up of families with young children and older married couples who raised their children in the parish and school.

Fran Lavelle

That first year at Holy Spirit was the first time I was really aware of World Marriage Day. It may have been that during my high school and college years I had not paid attention, or it might be that our university parish did not celebrate World Marriage Day in a significant way. In any event, I recall the priest at Holy Spirit inviting all of the married couples to stand and re-new their wedding vows. As the married couples stood, I remember looking around and seeing a sea of children still seated along with myself. It was and still remains a powerful image in my mind. I remember witnessing those couples, young and old, recommitting their lives to one another. The vow to love one another in good times and in bad is much more profound knowing that a couple have had their share of both in the years they have been husband and wife.

I have a friend who has been married for over 50 years. In reflecting on her marriage, she speaks to how organically their marriage has evolved over the years. She told me once that she and her husband have had four “mini-marriages” within their one marriage. It is natural that as we age, we grow and mature.

In their marriage they were able to meet the challenges of their changing relationship as they moved through the various stages of life. Now retired, they have had the opportunity to look back and see that the work they put into remaining together built a bond that they could not have imagined on their wedding day. She tells me often that it is all a gift. The good and the not so good helped them grow in their love and strengthened their commitment to one another. If you are a couple or know a couple who have been married for a number of years you know exactly what I am talking about.

The church in her wisdom rightly celebrates the gift of marriage as both vocation and sacrament. It is important for single people, young couples, and newlyweds to see what enduring love and sacrifice look like.

Each February the diocese celebrates the gift and witness of marriage. Under the leadership and planning of the Office of Family Ministry all couples celebrating their 25th, 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries are invited to the Diocesan World Marriage Day celebration. It will be held Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023, at 3 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Jackson, Mississippi. There will be a Mass followed by a reception. To register contact your parish office or go to www.jacksondiocese.org/family-ministry to register yourself. For additional information or questions, please contact Debbie Tubertini at the Office of Family Ministry at (601) 960-8487 or email debbie.tubertini@jacksondiocese.org.

May your commitment to your marriage be a great witness to the young people in your life just as those couples were for me all those years ago. This year I will be celebrating my first World Marriage Day as a newlywed. God willing, we will have many years to celebrate the gift of our late life vocation. Keep loving one another well. I know it is my long-term plan!

(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Special season of autumn

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle

Autumn comes, even to Mississippi. Perhaps not in the same way as I remember the autumns of my childhood, but it comes, nonetheless. In my mind’s eye I can still see the hills and valleys covered in color swept deciduous trees. The colors, like a patchwork quilt, of vibrant yellows, reds and oranges. Cooling temperatures and open windows at night were the first signs that change was literally in the air. Like diligent ants we stored up the remaining fragments of summer. Apple butter was made in a large copper kettle slowly simmered over a wood fire outdoors. The last of the season’s hay was stacked and stored for winter’s consumption. Field corn was cut and stored in the corn crib. Sweaters and sweatshirts were emancipated from their storage bags and our summer attire was stored away for next year.

Autumn is a special season for many reasons. School is fully underway. Football dominates the airwaves. The temperatures are slightly cooler, and the vestiges of tailgates, hayrides and bonfires are palatable. In the life of the church, autumn represents the beginning of our preparation for the end. Soon will end another liturgical year and reflected in its last days our annual reminder of our own last days. We celebrate All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day to remember and honor those who have gone before us. We are called to a stillness in the wake of these autumn days to contemplate our own journey of life and faith.

Fran Lavelle

We have a choice to make as we settle into our autumn. We can hit the pause button and make some time for reflection, or we can burn through the next few months like a well-trained thoroughbred destined to win the Holiday Triple Crown. You know an award worthy yard bedecked with all things Halloween, a Pinterest perfect Thanksgiving and a Griswold meets Martha Stewart Christmas light display. Please don’t get me wrong, I love good décor and I absolutely love a good party. Did anyone say chardonnay? Keep doing the festive things that bring people together in a joyful way. I am in. In the midst of the Holiday Triple Crown, it is also a season that calls us to contemplation and prayer.

I have seen a multiplication of grey hairs in the past few years. Determined to – as the Beatles would say, let it be – I am choosing not to dye it. Rather, I am using it as a reminder as I pass through each season of the year that I am also privileged to pass through these seasons of life. I’m on the countdown for a big birthday next year that starts with 6 and ends with Ohhh! Taking advantage of the opportunities to be more reflective and live more intentionally become more urgent with each passing year.

Yes, the rituals surrounding the seasons can create powerful touch tones that remind us of the sweetness of this life. They can become place markers that keep us connected to our past and serve as reminders to keep making memories as we continue on the journey. But they can also be important touch tones that remind us of things eternal. I remember after my Dad died; I was thinking about his legacy. It made me think about my own. Not legacy like that of a major sports figure or noted philanthropist, but legacy in the ordinary ways that we are called to love and to serve. What was I doing to leave this world better for having me in it? That reflective moment nearly 30 years ago in October was the seed that germinated to become the vocation I live out today.

There are no do-overs in life when it comes to days. They are here and then they are a memory. I am reminded of a line from the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” – “It comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”

No one is promised tomorrow so for today let’s vow to get busy living. And by living we are not merely existing or stringing together weeks into months into years and calling it good. Living as intentional, reflective, prayerful companions on the journey. Choosing to will the good of the other above ourselves. Choosing to love unconditionally. Choosing to let God guide our steps and the Holy Spirit illuminate the path so that others may follow our example.

Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I challenge you to find time in these early days of autumn to take the time to reflect on the gift of the life you have been given. Look back on your memories of the autumns of your life. We can learn so much about God and ourselves in this season of change.

(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Beyond a synod process to a synodal church …

Kneading Faith
By Fran Lavelle

I have been calling for a lay revolution for years. Before anyone calls the Vatican to have me arrested for inciting an insurrection against the church let me be very clear about what I mean.

I am not asking for a lay revolution against the church; rather one within the church in collaboration with the ordained and consecrated. For generations upon generations religious sisters and brothers catechized our children, Father made sick calls to the hospital and nursing homes. Father gave instructions for those seeking to come into the church. He also prepared couples for marriage. Lay people had roles as cooks, housekeepers and janitors, but the heavy lifting of ministry was undertaken by clergy and religious.

In the past nearly 60 years since Vatican II we have seen a sharp decrease in the number of clergy and religious serving the church. Perhaps the laity has not been empowered or encouraged to do so, but it the Synod made it clear that everyone must take part in undertaking the work of the church. The ordained and religious can no longer shoulder that responsibility alone. The lay revolution I am speaking of is for us, the laity, to step up to the plate and take responsibility for our faith and the ministries of the church in a transformational way. We have looked to the leadership of the church to tell us what to do.

The listening sessions for our Synod demonstrated that we, the laity, know what is needed to move beyond a transactional faith. People around this diocese asked for better faith formation of both youth and adults, you asked for an end to partisan politics, you asked for greater unity, you asked for healing. You asked that we do a better job keeping the young church engaged and active.

All that we heard, all that the faithful are seeking is within our grasp. There are more programs, podcasts, video series, websites and resources than one could ever have imagined. We do not need better resources. We do not need a better textbook for education our children in the faith.

We need to call on the Holy Spirit to fill us with a passion to use the resources and tools that we have been given and become leaders within our parishes and communities. What we are in need of are doers of the Word. We need people to say in earnest, “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.”

How do you become a transformational leader in the church? If you see a need, talk to others in your community about what they see. Get input from people who do not look like your or think like you. If the need is validated, develop a plan. Take your plan to the parish council or your pastor/LEM.

Often parishioners come to the church office to bring up a need to the pastor but do not have constructive ideas on how to address the issue. I am not advocating that we all act like urban cowboys and bust up the pastor’s office hell bent on doing what we want. I am suggesting that when we see a need, develop solutions, seek input, listen to others and present a well-formed plan for addressing the issue. We have clutched our pearls for far too long. We have looked to the clergy or someone else to address the issues facing the church.

I have a plaque in my office that says. “Teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success.” If we want vibrant, dynamic, communities of faith we have to be dynamic and vibrant people of faith. Multiply the success of your parish community. Be a part of the solution. Step up. Show up. Share the journey.

(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)

Church future determined by how we communicate our faith

By Fran Lavelle

Fran Lavelle

In the last decade we have solicited the input of the young church from the Pope’s synod for youth and young adults which was detailed in Christus Vivit (Christ Alive), a USCCB national process of youth and young adult listening, and most recently the Synod on Synodality. In our diocesan efforts to produce a listening process we were keen on hearing from the young church. We heard a lot in our local and regional listening sessions for the Synod that folks are worried about losing our youth. It seems that it has been a problem that in the past few years has grown exponentially. Every year or so a new research poll comes out underscoring what we already know. Many of our youth and young people today are spiritual but not religious. They do not reject the idea of God, but do not support organized religion. This is not an exclusive problem for Catholics as other traditions are facing the same issue.

Looking at the input young people have shared with church leaders over the past decade we have more than enough input to begin to look at ways to improve how we communicate our faith to the young church. As Pope Francis is oft to say they are not the church of the future, they are the church of the now. And, as such, we must find ways to engage our youth and young adults in ways that connect faith and action. In our recent experience with the Synod on Synodality, the young church spoke and was not shy in sharing their perspective.

They asked for more opportunities for service, they feel a call to take care of the poor. They asked that church leaders (ordained and lay) be more authentic in words and actions. Specifically, they asked for leaders to stop being hypocritical. They asked for better preaching that is more relevant and address issues that matter. They asked that we stop using religion to support political views. They want the church to be better examples of faith in action and be more welcoming of others.

In 2017, the National Dialogue on Catholic Pastoral Ministry with Youth and Young Adults began a listening and reflection process focused on understanding and enhancing the church’s ministries with young people. Many national organizations were collaborators in this effort, including the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM), the Catholic Campus Ministry Association (CCMA) and the National Catholic Network de Pastoral Juvenil Hispana (LaRED).

The results of that process clearly identified what the young church needs. Included in their findings was a call for more intentional connecting the life of faith with the lived experiences of young people. Address the “authenticity gap.” Many voices expressed that the church needs to show more empathy and authentic engagement with the young. Increase the investment in accompaniment. The church must train more people in “the art of accompaniment” with youth and young adults. Expand ministry with young adults. Reimagine faith formation. There was regular encouragement to move away from a classroom model and toward more relevant learning models featuring mentorship, small groups, accompaniment, faith sharing and authentic witness. Reconsider preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation. There was a clear call to reexamine and reconsider how the church prepares young people for Confirmation. Partner with parents and enhance family ministry. There must be increased dialogue and collaboration with families and the domestic church, including the growth of intergenerational/family ministries. And, last but not least, transform ministry leadership. It was evident from the feedback that the church needs to seriously address the formation, support, and resourcing of ministry leaders and create a culture of collaboration and unity across ministerial and ecclesial lines.

If you are an older adult, you might be thinking that no one ever asked you what you needed from the church and you turned out just fine. If that is where you are, I understand and appreciate you. I imagine if you think back to your own Confirmation and ask yourself how many of your high school or college friends are still Catholic, you can easily see the need to adjust how we convey faith to the young church. Be assured, we are not reinventing doctrine or dogma to suit present day culture. The rich beauty of the church and that of the Catholic faith are to be preserved and treasured. What we are looking for are ways to animate our faith in order to keep the young church on fire with the love of God.

The reality is that we cannot unknow or unhear the voices of the young church. We cannot afford to be idle with our “we have always done it like…” mindset. The future of the church will be determined by our ability to dare to reimagine how we communicate our faith. I believe we can find a way.

Loving. Respecting. Forgiving.

By Fran Lavelle
The Synod on Synodality is forming and informing the work of the diocese as we continue to recover from the pandemic. Being a self-confessed overthinker, the implications about what we are hearing has my mind and heart working overtime. Yes, I am at the point of sleeping with a notepad next to the bed to write things down in the middle of the night lest I forget them by morning. There is much work to be done for sure. While our process has highlighted the challenges facing the church, it has also revealed a great hope that is palatable but energizing and exciting.

Our Synod Advisory Council spent a Saturday last month combing through the individual responses from the parishes. A common thread throughout the responses be it Anglo, Hispanic, African American, or youth is a call for unity and healing. Literally the Body of Christ is suffering from divisiveness and indifference toward the other. The question remains, how do we come back together under the four marks of the church – One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic? It is a behemoth task, but it can and must be undertaken for the good of all God’s people.

In our regional listening sessions with Bishop Kopacz, we have been asking people to give us concrete ideas on how we can truly heal and restore unity.

Sometimes in the United States we can be a little egocentric and not see life beyond our borders. One of the things that Covid revealed was the culture of dualistic thinking and divisive political rhetoric is not unique to the U.S. This culture of dis-unity has permeated the globe. We can all point fingers or become armchair sociologist in offering explanations on how we got here. To a degree I think reflecting on the question of how we got here is helpful in discerning how we move on from here, but we cannot allow the question of how we got here further divide us with blame.

The call for unity and healing can be achieved if we truly recognize and understand the dignity of all people. If we believe that we were created in the image and likeness of God, then we all share the dignity given to God’s children. At one of the regional listening sessions a young boy aged 8-9 came up to me after the session was over to turn in his paperwork. After thanking him he turned and walked away. I glanced down at the paper he handed me. In response to how we can foster healing and unity he wrote, “To love and to respect and to forgive. We should be loving people.” This young boy understands with great clarity our mission to heal and unite takes love, respect, and forgiveness.

One of the Gospel readings from the local listening sessions was the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). We all know the story. But do we really know the story? (Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, paragraph 81)

Pope Francis underscores the point of the parable, “By approaching and making himself present, he crossed all cultural and historical barriers. Jesus concludes the parable by saying: “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). In other words, he challenges us to put aside all differences and, in the face of suffering, to draw near to others with no questions asked. I should no longer say that I have neighbors to help, but that I must myself be a neighbor to others.”

In responding to the question of what the Holy Spirit is calling us to in this reading, one high school student responded beautifully, “The good Samaritan ignored the social differences between himself and the victim in the name of mercy. This is the mindset we should have today.”

It can feel somewhat overwhelming when we consider the multitude of challenges that face our world today. It is easy to feel small and insignificant. Many people pass by the victim on the road. It only takes one person to stop and show compassion. I am reminded of an oft noted quote by Edward Everett Hale, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. How are we being called to pour oil and wine into the wounds of our neighbors? That is the question before us today. I think my young friend from the listening session framed our response beautifully … Loving. Respecting. Forgiving.

(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)