Monday, February 21, 2011

eating is not a bad thing

Eating is good for you.

No, really.

Sometimes I forget that there seems to be an unending war on food in society.  However, the past few weeks it has come up repeatedly in conversation.  What really jolted me was that it’s come up in multiple conversations about the Eucharist.

In the midst of talking about the source and summit of our faith, of Christ’s body and blood given to us for our consumption, the comment I’ve heard frequently in the last few weeks is, “why would Jesus do that when bread is so bad?”

Whoa, boy.

My first reaction is, “wasn’t the Atkins diet like, so early 90’s?”  But the kids stating this aren’t old enough to remember the days when everyone ordered meat with a side of meat smothered in cheese.  Then my inner catechist wants to explain that it’s only the appearance of bread, and explain transubstantiation.  But then I  realize the problem isn’t belief..  The problem is that it’s food.  (Well, and of course we're in a crisis of faith here, people don't believe, we all know that.  But could part of the reason that people don't believe be because of their fear of carbs?  is that crazy?)

Lately I’ve been observing an unprecedented loathing of food, especially among teens.  That attitude of, “this [insert item of choice:  pizza, sandwich, popcorn, chocolate, etc] is bad for me, I shouldn’t be eating it” is the consistent approach to food of any kind.  We all eat things we shouldn’t but lately the kiddos are forgetting that the body does require a certain amount of calories to function each day.  Unless you’ve got a gluten or wheat allergy, bread is not a bad thing.

If we’re teaching kids that Jesus is the “Bread of Life”, it’s not going to have the desired effect if they hear bread and think, “food is evil” instead of “that which has nourished humanity since before manna appeared in the desert”. 

Culturally, there’s obvious contributing factors like skinny supermodels and diet trends.  However, I think there’s more to it.  Dinner time as a family rarely happens—taking away the community aspect that food once had.  The way food is portioned now—100 calorie packs, light yogurt that tastes like black forest cake, smoothie supplements— means that even when we eat, the goal is to be as close to not eating as possible.  When I hear youth talk about food, it’s always in apologetic tones, as if eating were equivalent to smoking or skipping school.  No joke, I hear conversations like, “today, I forgot to do my homework” and then, “yeah, well I ate lunch…  Ugh…  Fail”.

Today's Second Reading reminds us that our bodies are the temple of God.  Eating is building up the temple of the Lord (not a basilica rotunda—but we’ve definitely taken the other extreme).  I’m not lamenting that everyone’s got an eating disorder or about the shallow images of beauty that we fixate on as a culture.  I’m stepping back and realizing that our warped understanding of food has finally trickled down to how we perceive the source and summit of our Christian life. 

I’m not quite sure where to begin to address this. Anyone find anything that works?

Friday, February 18, 2011

the behavior desired...

My friend Bridget is a special ed. teacher.  When we were all in college and RA's together she used to remind us, sagely, to "model the behavior you desire".  I think it's how the heathens interpret Bosco's, "get your students to love you and they'll fallow you anywhere".  (For the record, Bridget is not a heathen.  But I think she had to read a few for her major).

This came to mind this week.  Between my homeschooled background and FUS, there's rarely a moment when I don't know what to do in Church.  Genuflecting, sign of the cross, the reverent bob of the head for the mention of the Lord's name-- I got it covered.  However, I take for granted and sometimes forget to impart this on the kiddos.  Walking by the adoration chapel Wednesday, I suggested we duck in to say a quick prayer.   When they walked into the chapel and were totally at a loss I realized that I hadn't given them any instruction on how to act, assuming they knew. Whoops.

I could have whispered hushed, forceful instructions in the tone I typically reserve for repossessing cell phones on high school retreats.  "Genuflect!  Pray!  Focus!".  Instead, in a moment of laziness which could maybe now be seen as the Holy Spirit, I realized that as little 7th grade bunchkins, they do everything I do.  So I just knelt and prayed.  And wouldn't you know it...  They did too.

I had a similar revelation this summer when I realized if I spent less time eyeballing the teens for bad behavior during mass and spent more time just praying I would stop making myself mental, stop driving them crazy, and actually pray during Mass like I was supposed to.  Win all around. It sounds so simple, but it changed my whole summer, when I realized the best thing I could do for the kids was just pray during Mass.

We still have to intervene when kids are setting fires or busting out their horoscope in Church, but I think Bridget was really onto something.  I've seen youth ministry turn into an observation role-- of giving instructions from a distance.  But when we model the behavior we desire we not only instruct those around us, but we stand to get holier too.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


The Bluffton Packet published this today:

App helps you clean out your soul's nooks and crannies

Published in the Bluffton Packet, Tuesday, February 15, 2011
My mother is an extraordinary woman who tried to teach her children that cleanliness is next to godliness.
She vacuumed with diligence and explained that a bathroom is crawling with unseen micro-organisms that can only be tamed with lethal doses of bleach and elbow grease.
As a child, I was a less-than-willing pupil at Mom's School of Cleaning and often attempted to cut corners. I would vacuum without moving furniture and only offer a pathetic swat with a towel to the germs lurking in our bathroom, thinking no one would notice.
Before I could go outside, Mom would investigate and always seemed to know exactly where I had cut corners. Now that I'm an adult, I see how obvious it is when a home has been poorly cleaned. Dust will shift in unswept corners, and a bathroom's odor will quickly betray its neglect.
Recently, there's been a lot of attention given to the iPhone application "Confession: A Roman Catholic App" that aids Catholics in preparing for the Sacrament of Confession, which was established by Christ when he told his disciples, "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." (John 20:23)
Knowing that as human beings, we desperately need to hear that we're forgiven, Christ uses the priest hearing our confession to tell us the same words offered in the New Testament (Luke 7:48-50) and we hear, "Your sins are forgiven, go in peace."
It feels great!
The iPhone app does not actually forgive our sins but gives us a means to better prepare for Confession. All Catholics are encouraged to make an "examination of conscience" before they go to Confession. This involves going through each of the Ten Commandments and asking yourself how you've failed to follow them.
For example, when thinking of "Thou shalt not kill," it's not enough to ask, "Have I killed anyone?" No, an examination of conscience will further probe, "Have I killed anyone's reputation through gossip? Have I physically harmed anyone? Put anyone in danger through my actions?" and so forth.
It's taking an inventory of our lives so that we can ask for forgiveness and then work to avoid sin in the future.
My mother taught me that no matter how much I said my room was clean, it wasn't unless all the nooks and crannies were examined and scrubbed and vacuumed.
Our souls are the same way.
We can tell ourselves that we're doing all right, but we really need to examine all the nooks and crannies of our lives in the light of the Ten Commandments and example of Christ.
The iPhone Confession app is not there to offer forgiveness, but like any examination of conscience -- whether or not you are Catholic -- it will help us see where we have failed and need the forgiveness of Christ.
Alison Griswold is the director of youth ministry at St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cyril and Methodius

today Msgr. Laughlin gave such an amazing homily I took notes.  

however, the notes are in my car, so I'm gonna paraphrase.  

While Hallmark celebrates [st] Valentines' Day today, it's technically the feast of the very impressive Saints Cyril and Methodius, missionaries to the Slavic people.  What Msgr. Laughlin pointed out today, and forgive me if I botch the details, was that the Liturgy of the Catholic Church was originally in Greek.  It was translated into Latin, which was the language of the common people, around 400 B.C.  (he asked, "remember when we went Latin to English?... that wasn't the first time the language changed")  Msgr. pointed out that as missionaries, Cyril and Methodius encountered resistance to the idea but were eventually given permission to translate the Mass into the Slavic languages around the 800's, giving us the Eastern Rites.  

The beauty of this is that the Church, while consistent and unchanging in Her doctrine, meets people in their native language.  We often forget about the Eastern Rites, but Msgr. pointed out that the Pope is not just the Pope but the Patriarch of all the rites in union with Rome.  There's a lot of discussion about the Liturgy, language, Latin, etc, but in the midst of all this we see hope for unity. 

I like this.  

Sunday, February 13, 2011

it's all about Communio

It’s 2:01 and I’m highly caffeinated from driving back from a gathering of Youth Ministers in Columbia, SC this evening.  The Diocese of Charleston hosted a Youth Ministry appreciation dinner which included food that was not pizza, Bryan Murdaugh doing a cover of Popple's destined-to-be-classic, "Youth Ministry in the 80's" and an appearance by Mike Patin which I'm thinking was either a surprise...  or I just don't read memos from the Diocese.  Also, Bishop Guglielmone gave a really touching "thanks".  I sincerely hope that all my friends in youth ministry have diocesan directors/ bishops/ priests like we do in SC.  We're blessed.

I get link-happy when I'm caffeinated.  But name dropping was not my point tonight.  

Like I said, it was a really cool evening for lots of reasons (who knew we all owned real clothes and not just retreat t-shirts?) but this is what was rolling around my head, barreling down I-95 at about 5.7 miles over the speed limit...  When I was a Religious Education major at Franciscan our professors, especially Sister M. Johanna, told us it was all about "Communio" (or Community if you're not saying it Italian style with hand-gestures.  But try it both ways and you'll never go back...)  So, Sister would tell us that it was all about Communio and it is the deepest vocation of the Church in that it is the life of the Trinity--  one God, three Persons in a communion of love--  and in this profoundly mysterious way that I cannot even begin to wrap my mind around at 2:22 a.m., we are called to be in union with God, His Church, and then invite others into that union through our words, deeds and prayer.

You may just want to skip that shoddy explanation and read #257-#260 in the Catechism to get a better grasp of that, but anyways, my point is that we are cooperating with the Trinity.

We cooperate with the Trinity!  That's insane.  And it's why friendships in ministry are just neat.  Over the past couple years I've met snarky girls in their twenties with great hair and taste in music and obviously hit it off with them because, well, they're just like me.  However, I've also met men and women who are older, younger, married, religious and card-carrying members of the Donny Osmond Fan Club and even though it appears we have little in common, we have everything in common because at center of it all is that response to the love of the Father, Son and Spirit and our desire to bring this to those we serve. I mean, some co-workers bond over dollar vodkas at happy hours.  We bond over sharing the invitation to the eternal love of God with those He created.  

I thought I understood Communio in college because I could write an essay on Lumen Gentium.  However, sitting with some of my fellow "laborers in the Vineyard" tonight, reflecting on the ways that the life of the Trinity has been shared with the teens in our Diocese over these last few years and what it's like to get to be a part of that...  I realized that I didn't really know what I was signing up for when I was 18 and cracking open the Catechetical Documents for the first time...  but it is all about Communio.

Friday, February 11, 2011


My friend Lisette has a blog you should read.  Ok.  Lourdes.

I've been to Lourdes twice (I like to think it's St. Bernadette rewarding me for taking her name at Confirmation) and while I think in some ways it bears a strong resemblance to a Catholic Disney Land (walking up to the main Basillica looks a lot like the Magic Kingdom, you wait on line to use the baths and there's incredibly tacky merchandise in every shop in town) the experience I took away from Lourdes is that suffering is a gift.

The story of Lourdes is that St. Bernadette, a young girl, saw Mary, the Mother of God in what was basically the town dump.  Mary told her to drink and wash in the "spring" that was nothing more than dirt.  While onlookers laughed at her simplicity, Bernadette dug with her hands through the mud and was eventually led away by her concerned family.  However,  a spring bubbled up that has been attributed to dozens of officially documented miracles and countless more "unofficial" ones.

A Church was built and what was once a dump is, now a destination for many Catholics but especially those seeking healing.  Hundreds shuffle through the baths every day and there are several hospitals in town to accommodate the sick who are brought in on stretchers and wheelchairs and are given prominent places in processions and liturgies.  

St. Bernadette died a painful death from asthma.  As we know from The Song of Bernadette (capturing the heart of little Catholic girls long before "The Princess Diaries") Mary had assured her that she could not promise her happiness in this life, only in the next.  So many of us pray for healing for ourselves, for our friends, from so many things.  While God heals and miracles happen every day, there are also many moments where it appears that our prayers go unheard.  What I realized, watching the hundreds of infirm gather at Lourdes, was the beauty of suffering and faith that there is more than this time on earth.  Walking the stations of the Cross in Lourdes seemed so real, to see that those who suffer are the ones who are so closely united to Christ because they know, first hand, the depth of what His love was for us.  He perservered in the midst of physical suffering that he could chosen to end at any time.

We spend so much time avoiding suffering, seeing it as a "curse" or a sign that God has forgotten us.  The prominence of suffering in Lourdes made me realize the gift that it is.  Not that we shouldn't work to alleviate it -- but that God is very close to those in the midst of pain because it is what he himself experienced on earth.

Monday, February 7, 2011

and then I hit "reply all"...

Sometimes I’m so savvy with technology I amaze myself.  Whether it’s CC’ing priests on three different continents to network them over an e-mail, getting 32 kids to turn in a waiver over Facebook or viewing  a prospective date’s house on google earth, technology affords a lot of amazing and downright creepy conveniences.  However, sometimes I’m a klutz.  I’m pretty sure I not only accidentally denied Bob McCarty's friend request on Facebook, but I also reported him as Spam.  Every attempt I make to incorporate YouTube videos into a lesson ends up with the video either not loading or showing some raunchy ad that was not there when I previewed it.  And, a few weeks ago, I committed the biggest faux pas ever.  The dreaded “reply all”. 
I blame the iPhone.   It was an exciting day when Verizon lived up to everything we ever hoped and knew they could be and announced that starting in February they’d be carrying the iPhone.  There was much rejoicing and dancing in the streets from loyal Verizon-ites like myself.  Will we get one?  Who knows.  But now we have a choice.  But I digress.  My fellow Verizon customers noticed a tinge of bitterness from media outlets and friends who appear to be ruing/ defending their connection with AT&T and frankly, it was making me cranky.  So, in a fit of cranky-texting, I shot out a final text which I intended my friend to receive, saying, “still cranky.  Dam- iPhone users really are a cult.  At least with religion, people are happy when you join…”  a few minutes later I got, literally, a dozen text messages from teens in my contact list saying, “who is this?...  Miss Alison?”
I had texted my high school contact list instead.
I am rarely embarrassed—taking yourself too seriously is fatal in youth ministry—but I was mortified—and still cringe reading it.  Accidentally texting the wrong message happens…  but a bitter wrong message with a bad word in the mix?  Epic. Fail.
I quickly texted the kids my mistake…  And sent an e-mail to their parents to apologize but as we know, words…  words cannot be erased…   An excellent confessor often gave me James 3 as penance, which begins ,  “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly, for we all fall short in many respects. If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also…” (James 3:1-2).
The moral of the story?  You’re always just one button away from causing scandal…  from a millstone (Matthew 18:6).  The parents in our parish have been incredibly understanding, saying, “but you didn’t mean to send it to them”   but the point is that classic lesson that if you don’t have something nice to say, you just shouldn’t say it because once it’s been said (or texted) you don’t know who will repeat it or read it. 
Words are powerful.  Use with caution.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

the hottest places in hell...

"The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality."  I saw this quote from Dante on a poster at the United States Holocaust Museum last weekend while in DC for the March for Life.  It was quite an experience. As soon as we stepped of the elevator, there was a sea of youth groups in absolute silence.  Hundreds of teenagers not saying a word to one another.  Not texting, not talking, not even trying to console each other with inappropriate public displays of affection.  The experience really stands out in my mind as the only time there was absolute silence all weekend.  Confronting absolute evil tends to have that effect on people, even teenagers.

I had a similar experience a few years ago when I had the chance to tour Auschwitz with some friends from college (including my good friend and blogger Cathleen).  I had always been a sort of Holocaust junkie, choosing to do my third grade book report on The Diary of Anne Frank and then moving on to The Hiding Place and any other stories I could find.  I thought I knew what to expect when we tumbled out of our cab and entered under the classic "Arbeit macht frei" sign.

Nothing, I learned, can really prepare you for what you experience actually walking through a Concentration Camp.  Standing in the gas chambers, facing the wall that was used for executions, visiting the cell where St. Maximilian Kolbe was starved to death...  It makes it real.  Your brain wants to deny that something that horrible is possible, but the evidence is there.  Then you want to do something but you realize you're several decades late to the scene.

When I was touring the museum last weekend I kept asking...  "what would I have done?"  It's easy to judge those who ignored or denied as lazy or even evil , but to really ask yourself, "what would I have done" is terrifying, because you just don't know.  Then you start thinking... decades from now, what will people be saying about me?  About my generation?  When Auschwitz was liberated, they discovered shoes, suitcases, and even human hair belonging to the victims.  It's a display that makes you physically ill, evidence of evil that cannot be denied.

Watching this video this morning I realized that this is the evidence gathering against my generation.  This is our moral crisis.  

Decades from now, what will be said about us?