Should they Stay or Should they Go? RCIA Retention

I was recently asked to present at an RCIA Conference about retaining folks who come into our Christian Initiation Program. It has been my observation that people leave for a variety of reasons, likewise, those who stay do so for many different reasons.

Reasons for leaving:
*The teachings of the Catholic Church are hard. As in John 6:60-68, people often tell me that the teachings are difficult to accept and so, they walk away. They do not want to conform their lives to the Church’s teachings on things like sexuality and the need for the sacrament of confession.

*It is a large time commitment. (In many non-denominational churches, all that is required is an altar call and possibly a baptism-or mistakenly, a second baptism).

*They don’t get enough out of the RCIA program.

*They don’t feel connected to our community.

So how do we meet the needs of the population seeking to be Catholic while still protecting the integrity of our RCIA programs?

Increasing Retention:
*Meet them where they are, but DO NOT LEAVE THEM THERE. We must teach the truth about the Faith. We can’t water it down to make it easier to accept, but we can teach with reason and kindness. Recognizing that each individual is formed by their own, “education and experiences,”(Matthew Kelly) we have to bring them along carefully. We should take our example from Christ, and if they walk away we must trust the Holy Spirit with their faith journey and not ourselves.

*Be creative with time issues. We changed our program to include Mass prior to class, longer class time for prayer/discussion and we decreased the number of classes. This seemed to better suit the needs of our population.

*Involve participants in parish activities and service projects early on. The fastest way to feel like part of the community is to be part of that community. Look for ways to bring them into the fold in a positive way.

*Don’t stop with the end of the RCIA year. Help connect your students to parish groups, activities and opportunities for further study. Several of my recent converts are now attending our parish series on Apologetics. Consider inviting them to witness the following year in the RCIA program and plan reunions for your groups.

Above all, remember that it is only our job to properly invite and instruct. It is the Holy Spirit who converts hearts!! God bless.

The Perilous Realm of Catechesis

Sermon on the Mount -Carl Bloch 1890

Sermon on the Mount -Carl Bloch 1890

It is an amazing thing to contemplate that we who might call ourselves “catechists” are successors in a long line of teachers going back to the Apostles. One of the greatest Catholic teachers of all time, St. Paul, was catechized by Christ Himself over three years. St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:3, “for I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received.”  What St. Paul received from Christ he passed onto us, and as such, every Catholic teacher is called to do the same. All great teachers over the centuries, particularly the Church Doctors, would implore us to do this: to pass onto others what has been faithfully passed onto us. This is a very challenging call for all of us today. We are faced with unique catechetical difficulties in these tumultuous times.

Teaching is a noble calling

First of all we ought to recover the fact that the vocation to teach is a high and demanding calling. St. James warns us in 3:1, “let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.” It is a little disconcerting to know that we who dare to teach will be held to higher account for our work. This is a reminder of our call to faithful vigilance but it also arms us with a truth that can help lead us to Christian perfection, for to be diligent in our own formation not only prepares us for heaven but to faithfully carry out the great commission as we catechize our communities.

As we set out to impart the universal truths of the Faith, especially to children, the gravity of our calling is given full expression in Mathew 18:6 when Christ Himself warns us that “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” In these times when we catechists can be given questionable techniques and materials, it is vital that we cultivate a proper discernment to find and use sources unwaveringly faithful to the Magisterium of Holy Mother Church. We are encouraged to be extra diligent to ensure that no souls are led astray.

The Dangers presented by the pull of the world

The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain- Duccio Di Buoninsegna 1308

The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain- Duccio Di Buoninsegna 1308

These are perilous times for the “teacher” partly because in this spiritually and intellectually perplexing age the world puts a very high emphasis on radical individuality, self-reference and originality. There is nothing inherently wrong with individuality and originality when the intellect and will are ordered to Christ, but when ordered to the values of the world they can be problematic. Although we strive to maintain fidelity to sound Catholic teaching, the ways of the  world have had a way of slithering into our programs. While we ask our students to “put on the mind of Christ,” the world is asking those same students to “put on the mind of the world!” It is a struggle to go against the prevailing pedagogies of the day as we ask our students not to think in concert with the world, but to think correctly and to see things as they are. It is an ironic truth that those who think with the mind of the world end in becoming, not individual, but an indistinguishable member of modern society, while those who “put on the mind of Christ” become truly who they are meant to become and are as diverse, original and individual as is possible, just like the saints.

The world would lead our children to the wide and easy path that leads to perdition and our struggle is to put the world in a proper perspective as we try to lead our children to the narrow path of salvation. It is difficult to deny that the last 50 years of catechesis in the United States has been problematic, other than small pockets of solid fidelity to the Magisterium and Tradition. For some time it seems the whole world has been drawn into the modern errors of thinking and teaching. Christ said we will “know them by their fruits” and the fruits of catechesis in the last several decades has been scant. Yet as can be witnessed on these pages, there is growing movement of faithful and diligent catechists who are taking the arduous labor in the vineyard of the Lord seriously. As we continue to recognize the pull of the world and to opt instead for the pull of the Lord, we can expect an increasingly abundant harvest in proportion to our faithful efforts augmented by God’s plentiful graces.

Where do we go from here?

Hristos-seyatelThe confusion today being sown by those “prowling around the world seeking the ruination of souls” has been prolific. Sometimes it is helpful to step outside of an age to see more clearly what is problematic about it. Every age has its problems and difficulties, but different ages have different problems and to see one age through the eyes of another age can be very helpful. In my next post I will introduce you to a Church Doctor who has the potential to put things in a proper perspective. If we accept his teachings, he may be able to elucidate our current disorders of pedagogical misperception. There is much valuable insight to be gained by the Church Doctors of old when it comes to the labor in the vineyard of our Lord. Next we will learn that there is but one true teacher, the real sower in the vineyard and He is the Christ.

Introduction to Natural Theology: FREE and still OPEN for enrollment!

Learn how to defend your faith, FREE online, in a popular live course still accepting enrollment and taught by the wonderful Joseph Wetterling! See Joe’s invitation, below:

By natural reason man can know God with certainty, on the basis of his works. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 50)

More and more, young Catholics are being challenged to defend their faith. They hear from TV and movies, music, and peers that truth is subjective and no one can prove that God exists.  Are you ready to equip your students (and yourself) to defend their faith from a secular culture?

  • What is a “proof”?
  • What is “objective truth”?
  • What is “relativism”?
  • Why should we believe in a God at all?
  • Can you defend belief to people who don’t accept the Bible?

We’ll answer these questions and more in a FREE four-week class, hosted by Holy Apostles College & Seminary.  Introduction to Natural Theology started on June 21 but is STILL OPEN for enrollment! Attendees can learn at their own pace, at the time that’s convenient for them.  No experience necessary!

View the syllabus at:

Register online at:



JoeWJoe Wetterling is a professional educator, writer, and speaker. He’s appeared at national and international conferences, both secular and religious, holds a Catechetical Diploma (an ecclesiastical teaching certificate) and is a member of the Militia Immaculata. Joe is a contributor at New Evangelizers and the Catholic Writers Guild. Learn more about him at

Motivational Catechetics: Equipping and Inspiring Your Volunteers

Volunteer catechists are amazing people.

I love them. In fact, I often refer to them affectionately as “my people” because they understand the importance of the challenging work they do, even when it’s hard to see the fruits of their efforts. They’re gutsy, generous people.

When speaking to this particular population, it’s critical for catechetical trainers to communicate–not just thou-shalts and shalt-nots–but a life-changing message they can grasp and envision for themselves in a personal way, a message that impacts not just their teaching but their whole lives.

If it is your happy task to train your parish or dioceses’ catechists, there are five components I consider essential to ensuring that your sessions will be both engaging and motivational.

1. Personal Witness

People like to know a little about you as a person when you stand up in front of them. They tend to open their hearts Rosary_petalsto you if you are willing to risk it yourself and honor them with some personal testimony. Ask yourself a few questions as you prepare: Why is the Catholic faith the center of my life? Am I a convert? A revert? A contented “cradle Catholic” whose life is proof of the richness of our faith? Has my faith helped me withstand great suffering, given meaning to my life, healed the wounds of my past? Share very briefly about the importance of your faith in making your life holy, happy, and purposeful.

2. Lay a Spiritual and Intellectual Foundation

Emphasize the supernatural partnership that is essential to fruitful catechesis. We need a well-informed, prayerful approach if we want our ministry to bear fruit for eternity. Inspire your listeners to seek a greater knowledge of God and a more intimate relationship with the Blessed Trinity by sharing excerpts from Scripture, the Catechism, and the lives of the saints, challenging your team to work with God the way he works with them: via baby steps. Since God draws us closer to him over time, incrementally calling us to deeper conversion in various areas of our lives, we can manage our commitment to growing in faith and love of God by taking a gentle, gradual approach. Any effort we make to move in God’s direction will produce substantial rewards. A bit of prayer time each morning (especially if it involves the Rosary or Sacred Scripture), prayerful CDs in the car, a short reading each evening from a good Catholic book, and a faithful commitment to Mass on Sunday and monthly confessions will add up over time and bring an abundance of graces.

3. Catechizing Attendees

In small, memorable doses, it’s possible to slip in quite a bit of catechesis while you’re sharing the how-to’s of teaching. For example, if I’m sharing tips or lesson plan ideas around the topic of Reconciliation, what better time to address the power of this intimate encounter with the Divine Physician to refresh and strengthen our souls, as it compliments and completes the healing power of the Holy Eucharist. As examples of great classroom content, stirring stories of the martyrs and video clips about Eucharistic miracles or Marian apparitions can inspire a thirst for more knowledge and elicit stimulating questions and comments. While you are encouraging volunteers to share exciting examples of the transformational power of our Catholic faith, you are immersing them in beautiful and intriguing material that thrills their souls and imaginations, inspiring them to take a bolder approach with their students.

4. Provide Practical Tips and Resources

Catechists get precious little training because of time and financial limitations within the parish and in their own lives, so make sure you pack your workshops with tips on areas of particular interest to your volunteer staff: suggestions for improving classroom discipline, understanding developmental issues and learning styles, ways to use music and movement to vary the lessons and bring joy to the learning process, free resources for downloading beautiful works of religious art or inspiring video lessons (see callout). Ideas for explaining tough concepts like the Trinity or Redemption, activities designed to embody abstract ideas like contrition or absolution, memory games, assessment techniques, and encouraging stories of lives changed through the work of dedicated catechists can all motivate your team to bring more passion to their teaching efforts.

Our_Father 2_red5. Finally…

Make sure you close your time together with a few words of encouragement from scripture. For example, the Second Letter to Timothy is packed with rousing calls to faithful witness.

And when your workshop is finished, place it all in God’s hands. Take joy in your mistakes and omissions; they are reminders that, through our humility, God’s power conquers all.




My catechetical booklets and other great reads for catechists and DREs

Free audio resources including Bible studies

Free “open access” images of fine art

(This article was originally published in the November 2014 issue of RTJs Creative Catechist magazine)

Our Cornerstones

640px-Masaccio,_trinità,_dettaglioIf we remember anything from Mass today, it is probably the Gospel, as today is commonly known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” We probably heard homilies on this passage from John where Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd who “lays down his life for his sheep.”

As I sat at Mass this morning, it would have been easy for me to pass over the other readings and focus on the Gospel, but the homily I heard tied in the concept of rejection from the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which references the Psalm for the day. Jesus is the “stone rejected by the builders” that has become the “cornerstone.” The Passion of our Lord which we recently celebrated was His greatest rejection, and His becoming the “cornerstone” is what we celebrate this whole season of Easter.

How often are we rejected? In each chapter of our lives we face some sort of rejection. We experience rejections among our friends and family, school, work, and in so many places. Many of our fears come from these experiences, whether we are mindful of them or not.

The very fact that Jesus was rejected – and that His exultation came, not just despite but, because of His acceptance and endurance of His rejection – gives us great hope. We come to believe that it is through our experiences of rejection that we learn to belong to God rather than anything else where we might experience rejection.

But often it is not other people that reject us, it is ourselves that do the rejecting. We can find it hard to accept ourselves the way we are, with our wounds, our imperfections, our current circumstances. We fail to let this Good Shepherd lay down His life for us because we are so afraid of rejection. We deny ourselves the possibility of being raised up with Jesus as the cornerstone with those shameful parts of us we are rejecting in ourselves.

The Lord put on my heart today that it is these very places that we reject that He comes to redeem, glorify, and make the cornerstones in our lives. If we have the courage not to reject ourselves, we can then embrace the Love of the Good Shepherd without reservation. He does not say that He has come to lay down His life for His sheep, except those with this problem or that problem. No! He travels every corner of the world to bring each soul to His Heart that loves us too much to reject us as we often reject ourselves.

What are those “stones” that we reject in ourselves? How does God want to redeem them and exalt them as cornerstones?

I pray that all of us reflect on this profound truth, that Christ who has come to save us and bring us into His Flock has a Heart so tender and loving that will never reject those who come to Him.

Brighter Than Expected

Fun fun fun at the Communion retreat on Sunday with 7 and 8-year-olds. Four groups of 10 or so, 25+ minutes each time. The standard program covered the miracle of the Loaves and Fishes using step-by-step teacher’s notecards, and miraculously-expanding big paper-doll type loaves and fish. Pretty neat. Of course the kids already knew the story, so I couldn’t see spending the whole time on that one miracle. Plus they already knew other stories that tie into the Eucharistic theme. Why not connect the dots they know, and add a couple while we’re at it?

So instead of the prepared program, I presented a stripped-down version of the 6-step Bible Miracle Food Pyramid:

0. What’s a food pyramid? What’s a miracle food pyramid? (2 minutes)

1. Moses, bread and flesh in the desert. (3 minutes)

2. Elijah, bread and flesh in the desert. (3 minutes)

3. Elisha multiplies bread. (3 minutes)

4. Jesus transforms water into wine. (3 minutes)

5. Jesus multiplies bread and flesh; helpers passed out hunks of French bread for some hands-on drama. (6 minutes)

6. Jesus transforms bread into flesh; and wine into blood. This miracle continues even until today in Masses all around the world. (5 minutes)

At each step we reviewed how each succeeding miracle compared to the prior ones. As appropriate, I’d dramatize the stories and draw pictures. None of the four sessions went quite the same.

First time I’ve worked with kids this young. Their attention spans are shorter than 6th graders’, but they think as fast, and threw themselves into it as soon as I got them laughing. Nice gig.

This example is how I typically lesson-plan any new assignment. I consider allotted time, the audience, and what they probably already know. Then I figure how to cover the topic in a way that’s fun and stimulating, connects to other stuff, and leads to a bigger Catholic picture. Always: how does this bit we are discussing tie into the rest of the Bible and the Faith?

To Fast or Not To Fast

Last Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, I sat in the back of the Chapel after work. I was asking Jesus if it was all right that I ate that extra protein bar at lunch. I thought I should have gone without it.

You see, I am not allowed to fast. Why? Because for over half my life I have struggled with an eating disorder, and since I have been in recovery I have been told not to fast. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not that disappointed that I don’t have to be perpetually hungry, but there is a part of me that feels guilty alongside those who fast. So I sat in the pew trying to sort out which thoughts were of God and which were of the evil one.

The next morning, as I went for a swim before work, I was praying my Rosary to help me meditate on the Life of Jesus. It was Thursday, so I prayed with the Luminous Mysteries, the first being the Baptism in the Jordan. I thought about Jesus, how he willingly took on our humanity and our sins. I am not alone in my Lenten journey, in my eating disorder, in my recovery, in anything at all! This frames Lent as well as anything I do – I am not alone and neither are any of you!

The second mystery, the Wedding Feast of Cana. The Lord doesn’t ask us to make up for our failings on our own. Following the example of Mary, we come to Jesus as beggars, and ask for His help and His mercy, in whatever way He sees fit. I am not doing this Lent thing by myself or for myself, nor am I trying to overcome an addiction by myself or for myself. It is all through Him, in Him, with Him, and for Him. He makes all things new. By my own strength I could never change water into wine or perform any miracle, let alone heal my own addiction, but I can do all things with Christ.

The third mystery, the Proclamation of the Kingdom. The words that came to me as I was swimming back and forth were, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” I worry constantly that I don’t do “enough.” What is this “enough” stuff? I am comparing myself to others, to where I thought I should be, to where I was before, etc. etc. But what does Jesus ask of me? Is it the same as what I am asking of myself? few years ago I spent two years as a sister in Religious Life. In my second year, it became clear that I was struggling with eating, and so my Superior forbid me to fast during Lent. My Lenten “fast” was to eat snacks between meals, which were prepared by another sister so that I wouldn’t cheat. This was the greatest poverty I had ever experienced. I saw sisters fasting intensely as I was angrily smothering butter on my toast. And I felt nothing but shame when it was time for my mid-morning snack, which was hidden in the pantry. Hot tears rolled down my face when another confused sister found my hidden snack one day.

My point is not to make you feel bad for me, but to proclaim the truth that this “fast” is what Jesus asked of me. I wanted to choose my own Cross and fast like everyone else was doing, but that wouldn’t have helped me grow closer to Him–which is the point of Lent, right? If I had fasted as most did, I would have gained pride and a feeling of power. I would not have felt that poverty, that truth that I was totally dependent on the Lord and His Love and Mercy. I knew then the humiliation He felt during His Passion, and by knowing Him, He knew me.

As I was finishing my last few laps I prayed with the Transfiguration. I often ask Jesus if He’s sure He still loves me this way, wounded and far from perfect. Sometimes I delay in coming to Him because I want to be perfect first. But wait…perfectionism…that’s what got me into this mess! Jesus takes fallen humanity and glorifies it. He even gives us glimpses of this light and glory in our own lives, in order to give us strength for the times when we can see only darkness. Foreshadowing the Resurrection, Jesus shows us that in our humanity, in our woundedness, even in our sin He comes to us and gives us Himself so that we can be transformed by His mercy and forgiveness. This is the goal of the Lenten pilgrimage – to be transformed. To experience greater intimacy with Him, as did Peter, James, and John on the mountain, and to let His light penetrate our fearful hearts.

As I got out of the pool and got ready for work I thought of the last mystery, the Institution of the Eucharist. Hmmm…probably the Lord wants me to think about this whole fasting thing. I thought back to my time in the Chapel last evening. The soft flickering of the sanctuary candle made the shadow of File:Fra Angelico - Institution of the Eucharist (Cell 35) - WGA00549.jpgthe Cross bob up and down. Even though the light was coming from the right side of the Chapel where the Tabernacle kept vigil in silence, it seemed to cast its rays onto the center of the sanctuary where the Jesus hung on the Cross on the back wall. This was the answer to my question last night. Jesus already suffered for my sins. Was I trying to do it on my own? Was I denying that Jesus’ Passion and Death was enough for me? Was I telling Jesus that I had to suffer in a prescribed manner in order to be worthy?

This morning I welcomed again the graces I received yesterday, when He spoke truth to my heart. I was angry at myself for not suffering enough, especially compared to others. Underneath that was another question: am I enough Lord?…am I doing enough and suffering enough for you? If I had given up that power bar, it would have made me feel a little better about myself, as if I had “done” something for Him, and maybe even prevented the body image thoughts that were penetrating my time of prayer. But this was not of God! Jesus was asking me to sacrifice in another way; I was poor in spirit by obediently following my doctor’s orders and by nourishing my body that I have in the past denied–not out of a call to fast but out of fear of not being enough. This gave me the peace my heart desired; I knew this thought was from the Lord.

I begin this Lent with another kind of fasting. Yes, I am fasting, but not in the way most people are fasting. I am fasting from my will, from my passions, from my securities. I am becoming poor in spirit and accepting the Will of God. Yes, I will probably face feelings of guilt and shame about my body, especially around others who are fasting “more.” But what a perfect time to bring these lies to the Lord. I journey with Him in the desert this Lent and I choose Him over the lies and temptations of the evil one. I am not alone. He is with me, He is in my poverty, He comes to me in my brokenness, and He suffered and died for me.

My prayer is that all of you who read this are able to pray about your Lenten journey, that despite what others are doing for Lent, you recognize the places where the Lord is and is not calling you to focus. May our Lenten pilgrimage lead us to the Pierced Heart of Christ, the source of our salvation.

Fighting Words



Isn’t it remarkable: the occasions when Jesus’ own people want to kill him follow instances when He quotes Scripture couplets to them? Of course  it’s remarkable; let’s look at 3 cases.

In Luke 4 (edited), Jesus begins his public ministry after 40 days in the desert: “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and a report concerning him went out through all the surrounding country. 16 And he came to Nazareth…on the sabbath day. And he read from…Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him: “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here also in your own country.'” 24 And he said, “Truly…no prophet is acceptable in his own country. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when …there came a great famine over all the land; 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him off a precipice. 30 But passing through the midst of them he went away.”

Mark 11: And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; 16 and he would not allow any one to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he taught, and said to them, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations. But you have made it a den of thieves.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and sought a way to kill him.”

Mark 14: The high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I AM; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 And the high priest tore his garments, and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death.”

Jesus expected at least some of his hearers to be very familiar with the Scriptures; familiar enough to figure out Jesus’ meaning behind the verses.

In Luke 4, these are the fightin’ words: “…there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when …there came a great famine over all the land; 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” What Jesus means is,”Y’all know these stories, right? Then ya betta not bank on the Messiah doin’ ya any favors. On two prior famous occasions, God passed over all the Chosen People and helped pagans instead. So get wit’ John da Baptis’ program, an’ produce good fruit before the axe cuts ya down, an’ in the fire ya go.”

Oh dear, they did not take that very well.

In Mark 11, Jesus quotes Isaiah and Jeremiah: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations. But you have made it a den of thieves.” That is, “Let me remind you Temple bigshots that Isaiah prophesied that someday everyone would be welcome in God’s house, not just Sons of Abraham. And Jeremiah says your disrespect for the Temple is so bad that God will abandon Jerusalem just as he abandoned Shiloh. Someday everyone will pray in God’s house, but his house won’t be here.” Ouch.

In Mark 14, Jesus probably answers the high chief in Hebrew, saying I AM as a reference to this bit of Exodus 3: “Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I AM I AM/ הָיָה הָיָה.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM/ הָיָה has sent me to you.'” Thus Jesus identifies himself with God/ YHWH/ יְהֹוָה (You can see how close God’s name is to I AM in Hebrew: the same but for the jots and tittles.) That’s bad enough, but then Jesus quotes from this passage in Daniel 7: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”  Now Jesus is really askin’ for it. “You? You’re I AM? You preposterous bumpkin. You’re going get power and dominion and lord it over us in your kingdom?” Utterly aggravated, Caiaphas tears his robe in frustration.
Jesus speaks in the Bible; he also speaks through the Bible.
Art by James Tissot

13 Resources on Sacramental Marriage for Everyone from Newbies to Catechists

Girl with glasses reading book

Catholic schoolchildren learn that marriage is one of the seven sacraments, but no one seems to understand what that really means. Yes, marriage — as a sacrament — is an outer sign of an inner grace, but that doesn’t explain much to most people. The catchphrase “free, faithful, fruitful, and forever” says more about what spouses do for a marriage than what marriage does for the spouses.

I like how my spiritual director says it best — it’s all about the graces! With a sacramental marriage come beautiful graces of state that empower us to live the life to which God called us and live it to the fullest. That’s what the Sacrament of Matrimony offers husbands and wives married in the Church, “sealed by a blessing, announced by angels, and ratified by the Father” (CCC 1642).

For anyone interested in exploring what the sacrament of marriage means and the difference it can make to husbands and wives, there are plenty of video and print resources for everyone from theology newbies to experienced catechists.

For Theology Newbies

1. Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, 2009 pastoral letter from the U.S.Council of Catholic Bishops, downloadable pdf available free at the bishops’ web site (also in Spanish)

2.  Saying I Do: What Happens at a Catholic Wedding, streaming video resource from the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, available free at the bishops’ web site

3. When Two Become One, a DVD starring yours truly and 3 other couples, plus explanation by a priest. Available for purchase here. Watch a clip on my blog’s About Me page here.

4. Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak, Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage (Ave Maria Press, 2013). By a popular Catholic psychologist and his wife.

5. Couples in Love: Straight Talk on Dating, Respect, Commitment, Marriage, and Sexuality, by Fr. John R. Waiss (Crossroad Pub. 2003). By my former spiritual director. Structured as a conversation between a dating couple and a priest.

For Theology Buffs

6. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Three to Get Married (Scepter Pubs., 1996). Originally published in 1951. A spiritual classic.

7. Scott Hahn, First Comes Love: The Family in the Church and the Trinity (Random House, 2002). Who doesn’t like Scott Hahn?

8. Christopher West, Good News about Sex & Marriage: Revised Edition (Servant Books, 2004; updated 2007). Detailed, specific, and clear.

9. William May, Marriage: The Rock on Which the Family is Built, 2d ed. (Ignatius Press, 2009). Includes Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Families.

10. Cormac Burke, Covenanted Happiness: Love and Commitment in Marriage (Scepter Pubs., 1999). With forward by Dr. Janet E. Smith.

For Catechists

11. Ramón García De Haro, Marriage and the Family in the Documents of the Magisterium: A Course in the Theology of Marriage, (Ignatius Press, 1993).  Translated by William May. Academic and pretty heavy going. Helps if you already have familiarity with the main documents.

12. Tim Muldoon & Cynthia S. Dobrzynski, eds., Love One Another: Catholic Reflections on Sustaining Marriages Today (The Church in the 21st Century), (Crossroad Pub., 2010).  A collection of essays including advice on how to rescue marriage prep from its current disastrous state.

13. Mary Amore, Helping Your Marriage Survive the Call to Ministry, Ministry & Liturgy Magazine,  vol 32, no.1, (Feb. 2005). Great for any married person involved in ministry or catechesis. Call 408-286-8505 for back issues or reprints.

Hide in Plain Sight

I know, I talk about this Annunciation all the time. But I wouldn’t if it weren’t full of Biblical-Catholic content. I blame the artist, Matthias Grünewald. For now let’s just focus on a single theme: overshadowing. A theme I talk about all the time, but only because it too is full of Biblical-Catholic content. I blame the Holy Scriptures.

So let’s look at this blow-up:

1. Bottom right: the Ark of the Mosaic Covenant, about to become the Ark of the Old Covenant.
2. Left: Mary, about to become the Ark of the New Covenant.
3. Upper left: the Shekhinah, the Glory Cloud of the Mosaic Covenant.
4. Upper left, inside the Shekhinah, the Holy Spirit.

This is the moment when Mary accepts God’s uhh, proposal, delivered by Gabriel the messenger; and Mary learns how this baby-making will, you know, actually happen: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” The Shekhinah makes God the Father’s power manifest in his physical creation, the fallen world we inhabit. And we know the Holy Spirit later showed himself as a dove at Jesus’ baptism, so why not here as well?

Now this is interesting: we expect the Holy Spirit to come over Mary (in this painting, over her womb). But the Shekhinah does too, both in Scripture and in the painting. That is, the power of God the Father, as expressed in the Glory Cloud, has shifted from overshadowing the Old Ark to overshadowing the New Ark. That makes sense- the Old Ark contained God’s Stuff: the Ten Commandments, the pot of Manna, and Aaron’s Staff. The New Ark contains God Himself, little zygote Jesus. I mean, if I were God the Father, this would be a no-brainer: my child trumps my stuff.

Strictly speaking though, Mary is not just an Ark, because she doesn’t hold stuff. She’s also a Tabernacle, where a living being dwells. Now you may reasonably think that both Noah’s family and baby Moses were living things inside Arks. That is true, but neither Ark was a dwelling per se, in which one settles down. They were temporary protections which had no intrinsic longterm value; and both Noah’s family and Moses abandoned their respective Arks for appropriate dwellings.

This difference between Arks and Tabernacles hints at a bigger difference between God’s presence in the two Covenants. In the Old Covenant (O.C.), God himself was spirit, and his Stuff in the Ark made physical testimony to Him. In Catholic terms, the Stuff was an O.C. analog to sacramentals such as Holy Water. But in the N.C., mere Stuff is amped-up by Jesus being God in the flesh. To some extent, yeah, Jesus’ body is stuff, but it’s as integral to his divine being as our bodies are to our human existence. Living stuff, fused with unique spirit. The stuff of Jesus’ body, or even my body, has moral aspects that don’t apply to say, rocks. Or a pot of Manna. So think of Jesus not as a sacramental such as Holy Water; but as a sacrament such as Baptism. All the difference in the world. And the idea of Mary being not just Ark, but Tabernacle, a little house for God to live in, expresses a whole new reality about how God will from then on dwell among his people. In other words, the N.C. counterpart to the O.C. Ark of Stuff is not another Ark of Stuff, but God Himself physically among us, dwelling in a house.

All that said, this is really a post about Catholicism and how its architecture may communicate Bible Truth. Here’s a photo from my church, St. Mary’s in Greenville, SC:


A lovely visual shorthand for the Holy Spirit spreading its protecting wings over Mary and Jesus, recalling the Annunciation and numerous additional Biblical references to overshadowing. But wait, there’s more! Not only does this liturgical detail allude to Jesus dwelling in Mary for 9 months, but connects that idea to the present day, and extends it indefinitely into the future. Have a look:
There ya go, the big picture. As Jesus once dwelled under the shadow of the Holy Spirit in Mary, he remains overshadowed, now dwelling in the little houses, the Tabernacles, in Catholics churches the world over. And Jesus will continue to dwell in them until the New Covenant passes away, and we live together with Him forever, bodies and souls united in the New Jerusalem.
In Catholic churches, big ideas hide in plain sight.
Church photos by Arlen Clarke, Choirmaster at St. Mary’s