Adventures in Assisi




This post is part of a linkup – regular readers will be familiar with this material, but to new readers…it’s new!

This week’s #DiverseKidLit linkup coordinates nicely with the October 4  feastday of St. Francis of Assisi – the subject of my own book that I’m bringing into the linkup.

Adventures in Assisi, published in 2014,  is the story of St. Francis told through the experiences of two contemporary children.

As the author of many books for children and young adults in the Catholic market, I have always been str"amy welborn"uck by the lack of diversity in the imagery in most books in this market, especially striking since most Catholic children are not of European descent are do, in fact live in or have ancestry from Latin American, Africa and Asia. My illustrator and I knew from the beginning that our book about St. Francis would feature children who reflected this diversity.

As it happens, Ann Engelhart, the water color artist with whom I work on my books, is part of a large family of German and Irish descent which, in her generation of siblings, reflects this even broader diversity as well – her sisters-in-law include women from Africa and India.  The models she used for the children in our book are one of her nephews and a friend of his from school whose parents are African and Italian.

A bit more about the book here. 

Below is some of the art from the book – without the text. Enjoy!






St. Therese

Today’s her feastday!

She’s in The Loyola KIds’ Book of Saints under “Saints are people who love their families.”  Here are the first two pages of the entry:


Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on today’s saint, Therese of Lisieux.  From the General Audience of 4/6/11:

"therese of lisieux"

Dear friends, we too, with St Thérèse of the Child Jesus must be able to repeat to the Lord every day that we want to live of love for him and for others, to learn at the school of the saints to love authentically and totally. Thérèse is one of the “little” ones of the Gospel who let themselves be led by God to the depths of his Mystery. A guide for all, especially those who, in the People of God, carry out their ministry as theologians. With humility and charity, faith and hope, Thérèse continually entered the heart of Sacred Scripture which contains the Mystery of Christ. And this interpretation of the Bible, nourished by the science of love, is not in opposition to academic knowledge. Thescience of the saints, in fact, of which she herself speaks on the last page of her The Story of a Soul, is the loftiest science.

“All the saints have understood and in a special way perhaps those who fill the universe with the radiance of the evangelical doctrine. Was it not from prayer that St Paul, St Augustine, St John of the Cross, St Thomas Aquinas, Francis, Dominic, and so many other friends of God drew thatwonderful science which has enthralled the loftiest minds?” (cf. Ms C 36r). Inseparable from the Gospel, for Thérèse the Eucharist was the sacrament of Divine Love that stoops to the extreme to raise us to him. In her last Letter, on an image that represents Jesus the Child in the consecrated Host, the Saint wrote these simple words: “I cannot fear a God who made himself so small for me! […] I love him! In fact, he is nothing but Love and Mercy!” (LT 266).

In the Gospel Thérèse discovered above all the Mercy of Jesus, to the point that she said: “To me, He has given his Infinite Mercy, and it is in this ineffable mirror that I contemplate his other divine attributes. Therein all appear to me radiant with Love. His Justice, even more perhaps than the rest, seems to me to be clothed with Love” (Ms A, 84r).

In these words she expresses herself in the last lines of The Story of a Soul: “I have only to open the Holy Gospels and at once I breathe the perfume of Jesus’ life, and then I know which way to run; and it is not to the first place, but to the last, that I hasten…. I feel that even had I on my conscience every crime one could commit… my heart broken with sorrow, I would throw myself into the arms of my Saviour Jesus, because I know that he loves the Prodigal Son” who returns to him. (Ms C, 36v-37r).

“Trust and Love” are therefore the final point of the account of her life, two words, like beacons, that illumined the whole of her journey to holiness, to be able to guide others on the same “little way of trust and love”, of spiritual childhood (cf. Ms C, 2v-3r; LT 226).

Trust, like that of the child who abandons himself in God’s hands, inseparable from the strong, radical commitment of true love, which is the total gift of self for ever, as the Saint says, contemplating Mary: “Loving is giving all, and giving oneself” (Why I love thee, Mary, P 54/22). Thus Thérèse points out to us all that Christian life consists in living to the full the grace of Baptism in the total gift of self to the Love of the Father, in order to live like Christ, in the fire of the Holy Spirit, his same love for all the others.

7 Quick Takes

Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Happy feast of St. Jerome!

I had a lengthy post about him last year. Go here for that. Don’t forget – he’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

And coming up next week…St. Francis. Do you have Adventures in Assisi? 


— 2 —

Well. That was a day. 

That would be today. It was pretty crazy, and I was tempted at points to be irritated that I was not “getting anything done.”

But of course I was getting it done. I was seeing new things, reflecting upon them, and encountering interesting people. All life, all fodder, all worth taking in.

It started with chickens.


I’m part of a small group that purchases free-range organic tuxedo-wearing, non-smoking, teetotling  chickens from a farm about an hour north of here. We take turns with the once-a-month pickup. I was scheduled to go in October, but the September driver fell ill, so we switched. It’s all for the best. I’ll be starting the last stages of the next Big Project at that point, and I won’t want to take a day to drive to Hartselle, Alabama to get chickens at that stage in the process, I’m sure.

Last year when it was my turn, my homeschooler and I went up, but we got a late start and so didn’t have time to see anything else that might be in the neighborhood.  This year, even though I’m sadly on my own, I decided to try to get away earlier and see the sights. What sights could there be, you ask?

Well, Hartselle has a cute little main street filled with antique shops and few cafes – I’m guessing it’s postioned itself as an afternoon antiquing destination for folks from Huntsville – or even those driving down to the Gulf Coast on 65.

The green storefront marks a pool hall. When I walked by the open door early afternoon on a Thursday, there were quite a few older fellows in there, shooting pool and sitting along the wall, watching.





— 3 —


What interested me most of all was Hartselle’s most well-known son, whom I’d just read about the night before – William Bradford Huie. Huie, born in Hartselle, returned to live there later in life and is buried there, and was a fairly well-known and sometimes controversial journalist and novelist of the mid-20th century. He graduated from the University of Alabama, and then went to write for magazines like Look and Colliers and served as editor of the American Mercury, H.L. Mencken’s magazine.

Huie had an infallible eye for an important story, and in 1955, this instinct led him to one of the most controversial pieces of his career. In August of that year, 14-year-old Emmett Till, a black youth from Chicago, was murdered in the Mississippi Delta in retaliation for his alleged sexual advances toward a white woman. His killers, two white half-brothers, were acquitted by an all-white jury. Shortly after their acquittal, Huie, with the financial backing of Look magazine, paid the two men for their story, in which they admitted to the murder, a controversial practice sometimes derided as “checkbook journalism.” The Till case set the tone for much of the remainder of Huie’s career, which gravitated to race-related crimes and some of the most notorious murders of the civil rights movement, including the murders of the three civil rights workers in Mississippi during Freedom Summer (Three Lives for Mississippi), as well as the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (He Slew the Dreamer). In both cases, Huie claimed to have paid sources, including Martin Luther King’s accused assassin, James Earl Ray, for their stories, a practice for which he was frequently criticized.
In 1957, Huie moved back to Alabama to live full-time and continued to work as a freelance writer for the rest of his life. Ruth Huie died in 1973, and in 1977 he married his second wife, Martha Hunt Robertson ofGuntersville. His work on race-related crimes and his frequent and outspoken criticism ofGovernor George Wallace made him a continuing source of controversy, and although he was a commercial success, he was not always popular among his fellow Alabamians. In 1967, Huie’s public outspokenness led to a much-publicized

His most well-known books are, I’d say, the novel The Americanization of Emily (made into a film starring Julie Andrews and James Garner) and the nonfiction The Execution of Private Slovik – which tells the story of the only American WWII deserter to be executed, and which was made into a made-for-TV movie starting Martin Sheen.

From Hartselle, Alabama!

Appropriately enough, the library is named after him.


And it houses an exhibit on his life and work – the “archives.” The library is in a former bank building so these archives are…in the old vault.  I want my life to be memorialized in a bank vault, for sure.

 — 4 —

And then I got the chickens.

And then I saw the IronMan.

He’s probably over a hundred years old and was forged as an advertisement for VegeCal – an Alabama-produced liver tonic with 12% alcohol content.

Raced back to town, delivered chickens, got one kid, dropped him at piano, raced to another school to get two more, took them home, then back to piano to get the first one, back home..cooked dinner. Yes, cooked– I had prepared some bacon this morning and made Spaghetti Carbonara – once you do the bacon, it takes 15 minutes – and then it was back out to the Homewood Library to see…


— 5 

Ben Hatke!

Ben is the author illustrator of so many charming picture books and graphic novels. Zita the Space Girl has just been optioned for film. Ben’s on tour mostly promoting his new graphic novel Mighty Jack, and he also read his very fun picture book Nobody Likes a Goblin.   He had spoken at a couple of schools today and was doing this library session before moving on to Wichita – go see him if you are there!  It was great to meet him and have my 12-year old who carries around many stories in his head hear a different take on the creative process.

And…in my haste, I didn’t get any photos. Unbelievable. Well, here are the books I bought and that Ben signed…



I have three adult children. They live in different parts of the country and have very different lives and schedules. One is married with a child and does data analysis (I think). One is in law school. The oldest  works in television. I don’t think they communicate on a daily basis.

But here’s what happens with intriguing frequency.

One of them calls me to talk. About 75% of the time, either another one will call right after I’m finished with the first one, or the call waiting from them will start beeping in the middle of the first call.  And once that’s over, there’s another very high probability that the third one – whichever one is left – will call me within two or three hours.

I cannot tell you how many times that’s happened. It’s so strange. 

— 7 —

Advent is coming…….tell your parish coordinator people. There will be a Spanish-language edition as well. 

Advent 2016 Daily Devotional

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

Defend us

Some months back, I read a blog post from someone I know a bit. Exploring the possibility of revisiting the Catholic faith of her childhood, she had gone to Mass. But she had left with her needs not met, she felt, because the priest’s homily had utilized battle themes. This disappointed her.

What struck me though, was that in reading this person’s writing for a few years, it was clear she had been fighting deep, painful battles, mostly related to her children. She was not fighting against them as much as fighting for them in their struggles with addiction and self-worth and calling. Yes, she had been fighting and she was exhausted by it, but she would not give up on her children.

It was too bad that she couldn’t see the connection. It was too bad that a combination of perhaps the priest’s failure to connect the battle imagery with personal battles or the walls she had put up to understanding had worked so that she could not see that yes, she and her children were fighting battles and that here in that place, God’s strength was available to her, light ready to be taken up against the darkness.

I have always thought of it this way. God created us in His image and our destiny is eternal life with Him. Darkness is fighting against that, is fighting to win us. It is Temptation 101, yes? But when we leave the battlefield image out of this dynamic because we are uncomfortable with it or think we have progressed beyond it, and we much prefer to talk of “journeys” and “seeking,”  we profoundly misunderstand the nature of the journey to Peace. Darkness doesn’t want you to live in the light of God’s accepting, constant, trustworthy love, and throw everything in its power to keep you out.

Yes, it is a battle.


In my son’s prayer corner. I wrote about this piece a few years ago. Daniel Mitsui,Daniel Mitsui, the artist, seems to no longer have the cited explanation up on his website, but here it is nonetheless:

This ink drawing (with gold leaf details) of St. Michael fighting the devil was commissioned by a priest of the Maryknoll Missionaries, an order with a long history of missionary activity in Japan. He asked whether I thought it possible to create an image of the archangel in the style of traditional Japanese art without the result being kitsch.

I was certainly willing to make an attempt. While inculturation is not something that I have consciously attempted in the past, I was eager to explore some of the illustrative ideas in Japanese woodblock printing. Utagawa Kuniyoshi, one of my favorite artists, provided most of the inspiration here.

I was also curious to see how successfully I could maintain the western iconographic traditions in the content and arrangement of religious pictures while using an eastern style of illustration.


From another part of the world, in 2010 on our parish mission trip, in Saltillo, Mexico:

"amy welborn"
Tomorrow is St. Jerome! Get ready!


Stop Staring at Me!

I had a friend – a saintly friend who died seven years ago next week – who, as I said, was saintly and much holier than I.

I have written about her before, mostly about the time I visited her a couple of months before she died of the cancer she had been fighting for years, and that was finally winning. She talked about how she felt about what was coming, and one of the things she talked about was Purgatory.

I can’t wait to go to Purgatory, she said. To have everything but love burned away. Nothing but love left.

Anyway, this is not about that.

One of the things Mollie used to mention was how watching people receive Communion was a spiritual act for her. To watch women, men and children each receive the Lord and walk away, Christ dwelling within, was something profound.

I get it. But at the same time, I want to say:

Stop staring at me.

For me, that moment of Communion is, indeed strong. Taking in the congregation as a whole, all of us, present in the moment of sacrificial Love, bound in and by Him, I know I’m living in what is most really Real and it’s a glimpse of Heaven. But still. Come on.

Stop staring!

The demise of the hand missal is what did it, and it was no accident. Many of you weren’t there, but in those post-Vatican II years of “renewal,” the anti-private prayer at Mass game was strong. THIS IS NOT PRIVATE PRAYER, they said. THIS IS LITURGY, WHICH MEANS WORK OF THE PEOPLE. YOUR PRIVATE PRAYER TIME COMES LATER.

Stop praying privately!

How that was supposed to work, I never really understood. I mean, even if I’m praying with others, I’m still here and I’m still praying out of my own self, which is not obliterated in the Community Borg..but anyway.

To this end, congregations were told to pay attention.  They were encouraged to be social before and after Mass in the sanctuaries. Missalettes were removed from pews so you could not follow along with the readings privately. The Proclamation of the Word was originally and primally an oral activity, and so two thousand years later, You Must Just Listen as a Community and May Not  Follow Along with Your Own Set of Private Eyes, despite the useful invention of moveable type and widespread literacy. Hand missals, full, not only of the prayers of the Mass, but prayers for Mass and other occasions, once ubiquitous, stuffed with holy cards that marked the owner’s journey from First Communion through marriage and parenthood, through prayers for lost keys and lost jobs and lost children, through sickness, through the inevitability of suffering, decline and death…pray for us! 


 Mass is not the time for private prayer.

Post-Communion time was the prime battlefront. Kneeling was discouraged in some locations, with Standing as a Community, at the Ready to Welcome the Lord became the normal posture. Standing, yes, and singing. This is what expresses our identity as the Body of Christ. This moment is for visibly witnessing to this community and is not….NOT for private prayer.


And so we did. Yup. But most of us don’t sing, we don’t have anything to help us pray, so we stare instead.

Good job!

I’m sure more than a few of us come to that moment with Mollie’s spiritual vision and indeed, witnessing our brothers and sisters encounter the Lord is part of our own post-Communion prayer.

But I think most of us would welcome a little help, too.

Magnificat certainly fills a gap here. But why not revive that hand missal? They do still exist, you know. Or include a variety of private (yes, I said it) pre- and post-Communion prayers in missalettes?

There are, of course, quite a few small, hand-held Catholic prayer books out there that include these types of prayers. There are some good ones (recommend your favorites), but they tend to have a dated, crowded aspect about them – I think the market is there for a prayer book of this type that does not feel like it was printed from plates last used in 1950 and found in the church basement. Not  – let me repeat NOT with “contemporary” prayers penned by a committee, either.

Further, even if the current selection out there were to remain static, it seems to me that parishes would be doing a real service -an act of mercy, shall we say – by encouraging their use and making them available at low cost.

It is not a matter of going all fascist in the opposite direction now. It is about recognizing that people, in those moments after Communion, are seeking to deepen that encounter with the Lord. Many would welcome the use of prayers to do so, and it is the parish’s job to provide them with the opportunity and the means. Buy a bunch and sell them! Why not?

Let me interject another point here. I said that it’s not about being authoritarian in the “private prayer” direction either. What I mean by this plays off of one of my observations about this post-V2 era: how the liturgical changes, intended to bring the congregation more into the action of the Mass, did so by taking away the congregation’s freedom.

In the pre-Vatican II liturgy, all the burden was on the priest and the other ministers. It was their visible actions that defined the Mass and they were to be performed in specific ways, under pain of sin.

If you think about it, what the congregation did was almost irrelevant, as long as they didn’t touch the  Host and were present from one specific point to another.

Which, of course, in the eyes of liturgical reformers was part of the problem: the promotion of a minimalist, spectator role for the congregation.

Swing, pendulum!

….to the point at which the priest can do whatever the heck he wants, but the congregation’s incorrect actions are given the side-eye and finger-shake.

Members of the congregation are told that they must stand, sit and kneel as a group at these points, and they must sing and pray aloud…with gusto! (has anyone ever been in a congregation in which the celebrant orders the congregation to do a Do Over of a response with more vigor? I have) and they will not receive Communion if they dare to kneel and the children must march out for their own Liturgy of the Word, you must stand and march to Communion when the usher directs you to and you should not privately pray because…this is the liturgy, not your private prayer time

Now, in my limited experience, this is a Middle-Class Caucasian American Catholic problem.

When I have gone to Mass in Europe, when I have gone to Hispanic Masses in the US, when I have attended Easter Catholic liturgies…I don’t feel this. People come and go. Their postures are all over the place most of the time. A good portion of the congregation might be doing the same thing at any given time, but those that are doing something different…are fine.

And then Communion?


Which I like. It takes the pressure off.

So where was I in this blog post I was going to dash off in twenty minutes?

The post-Vatican II emphasis on the Participation of the People in the Mass has come, in many places, to somehow mean The Controlled Movement of the People in the Mass.  As we sit in churches  barren of décor, with nothing to read to help us focus and pray, we watch others walk up in the line when the usher greeter welcoming committee member tells them to, we watch the priest clean the vessels, and we wait for it all to be over.

But at least we’re all doing the same thing in community by God.

Prayer happens. It does. But I do think it’s time to get over that reflexive fear of Private Prayer! During Mass! and consider the possibility that some people’s experience of the reality of our Communion with the Lord and with each other, so profound at the moment, might be helped along by the provision of books with appropriate pre- and post-Communion prayers, and the encouragement to use them.

My true, real and deep pet peeve related to this involves school Masses. Catholic schools are about formation. About helping children draw closer to the Lord by giving them every resource we possibly can to help them focus on Him in this stage of life in which they are open and seeking, and in a culture that encourages them to focus on themselves instead of anything solid and real outside of themselves.

Magnifikid is good, but is a disposable and for Sunday Mass.

I would love to see a publisher produce an inexpensive, attractive, but not twee or childish Mass book especially for groups of CatmAGholic children. It would include the main parts of the Mass in English and Latin, the rite for Benediction, and a few pre and post Communion prayers. That’s it. Nothing more fancy than that. Sell it in bulk, teach schools how to teach their kids to use them, and boom. More choices, more active participation than just sitting and watching the first grade trail up the aisle, hands folded over chests for their blessing while not singing “Our God is Here.” Yes, there are children’s missals, but I am thinking about something that falls between that kind of vinyl-bound actual book and a flimsy pamphlet and that is not as picture heavy as a typical “Mass for Children” book. Something that a school or parish can publish in bulk and pull out for Masses and encourage children to use. Perhaps it exists? If so..tell me!

Note that this is not a screed against “how people act in Mass,” even though it may sound like it. Some bloggers do that. I don’t. I stand (or kneel or sit..whatever) in awe of every congregation of which I am a part and indeed, contemplating the diversity of people there and praying for their needs, whatever they might bed, forms a bedrock of my own experience at Mass.

But still, it  bothers me to see all of us – us – just..staring at the Communion line as it creeps up that aisle.

Because it is a struggle to focus, isn’t it? You are curious to see who’s there. You’re starting to think about what you have to do and where you have to go later. Your kids are poking at each other. You know you should be praying, and indeed you want to, for Jesus is here, right now, but you are not a Spiritual Master, it’s hard to concentrate, it’s hard to know what you want to say, what you could say, what you should say, and it’s really hard to know, simply, how to listen, since you know that’s what you should be doing right now, above anything else.

Different people are helped in this moment by different things: contemplating the congregation, the priest’s actions, the crucifix, the art in the church, listening to the music, singing the music, smelling the remaining scent of incense, fingering beads, closing one’s eyes and listening, opening one’s eyes and seeing.

And one of those things that can help are words printed on a page in a small book you’ve slipped in your purse or pocket, words that reflect what others – hundreds, thousands and millions – have found in this moment, in this Presence. It is good to have that book, to open it up right now in this place, present with your own quiet, noisy, still, moving, wandering crowd – to open it up in this Presence, see those words, and join them.

Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from Christ’s side, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints

and with Thy angels
Forever and ever


Dorothy Day at Mass. Source.

He’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

"amy welborn"



In 2010, the Church experienced the same close juxtaposition of the the Lazarus Gospel and this saint as we did this year. B16 commented:

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 16: 19-31), Jesus tells the Parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus. The former lives in luxury and egoism and when he dies, he will go to hell. The poor man on the contrary eats the food left over from the table of the rich man, and at his death he will be brought by angels to his eternal dwelling place with God and the saints. “Blessed are you poor”, the Lord proclaimed to his disciples, “for yours is the Kingdom of God” (Lk 6: 20). But the message of the parable goes further. It reminds us that while we are in this world we should listen to the Lord who speaks through the Sacred Scriptures and to live according to his will, otherwise after death it will be too late to repent. This parable teaches us two lessons: the first is that God loves the poor and comforts their humiliation; the second is that our eternal destiny is conditioned by our attitude, it is up to us to follow the path that God has laid out for us in order to attain life and this path is love, not intended as a feeling but as service to others in the charity of Christ.

By a happy coincidence, tomorrow we shall be celebrating the Liturgical Memorial of St Vincent de Paul, Patron of Catholic charities, on the 350th anniversary of his death. In 16th-century France, he himself keenly perceived the strong contrast between the richest and the poorest of people. In fact, as a priest, he had the opportunity to experience the aristocratic life and life in the country, as well as the dregs of society in Paris. Encouraged by the love of Christ, Vincent de Paul knew how to organize permanent forms of service for marginalized people, giving life to the so-called “Charitées” and “Charities”, that is the groups of women who gave their time and belongings to the most marginalized people. Some of these volunteers chose to consecrate themselves completely to God and to the poor, with St Louise de Marillac, and St Vincent, Founder of the “Daughters of Charity” the first female congregation to live a consecrated life “in the world”, with the common people, including the sick and the needy.


More about St. Vincent de Paul:


Be Joyful Or Else

A Birmingham-based writer and acquaintance of mine had a piece about mental illness and faith published in the Washington Post today. It’s very good, and I’d recommend anyone in any kind of pastoral ministry read it:

The Scripture for this morning was John 16:16-24. The pastor read the verses aloud and said a short prayer. As soon as he began talking through his main points, I braced myself for the disappointment I knew was coming. I suspected he wouldn’t take this opportunity to discuss things such as depression and anxiety in the Christian life.

I was right.

Although much of what he said was good and biblical, he didn’t mention mental illness. Instead, he said if you aren’t experiencing joy, you should examine your life and repent of any sin that might be blocking it.

I don’t want to hijack Charlotte’s excellent piece for my own purposes – but, well, old habits are hard to break. My tangent is to observe how this attitude reflects the dangers of superficial religious practice in which definitions of things like “joy” and “peace” have been untethered from hundreds of years of tradition – which means, basically, “human experience” – and come to mean not much more than what the culture-of-the-moment says they mean.

For indeed, traditional, historic Christian spirituality may not have understood the nature of mental illness the way we do today, but it did embody an understanding of the complexities of the human person, accept a mystery of how our particular personalities interact with the transcendent, and provide understanding pathways of how to navigate that.

It also points out to me, once again, why emotion-based religious events are so terrible. Usually I say something like “inadequate” or “flawed” when I talk about this, but I think I’ll just move on and say that gatherings in which individuals are manipulated into a certain emotional state by music, environment, rhetorical tricks, guilt and even personal witness are terrible.  Defining “great worship today” by the tears shed or emotions felt by the hundreds swaying along to your music makes me think, Fascist! 

Back to Charlotte’s point. This is an important one, and I think her treatment is balanced and fair. It’s not, she says, that every word spoken should revolve around the reality of mental illness, but neither should it be ignored, especially when speaking of the practice of spirituality.

Therese Borchard has been writing about the issue of spirituality and depression for many years.

I know someone who read this book – A Catholic Guide to Depression –   and found it very helpful.


This brings another, somewhat related point to mind.

I was talking to someone who knew a younger teen who was experiencing some faith questions. In fact, this young person had reluctantly determined that he must be an agnostic. Why? Because he didn’t and couldn’t seem to feel anything. 

When I heard this, my heart cracked a little and then I experienced a moment of clarity, in which my sometimes inchoate skepticism about youth ministry all pulled together and made sense.

I thought about all of the youth ministry programs that I see and am somewhat familiar with, that my kids are invited to participate in. They’re all emotionally-based. One one level, they’re about the emotion of enjoyment and fun, based on the assumption that this is necessary in order to just get them in the door. Moving to another level, they tend to emphasize other emotions – joy, remorse, connectedness, excitement –  from retreats to Adoration events that feature praise music and personal witness.

What if you’re a kid who searches for evidence of truth mostly through your head and not through your emotions? 

Adults can look at all of this with some perspective. We can separate the emotion from the core of faith. We can understand that for a lot of us, that emotionally-based stage – the affective stage  – is important and maybe even necessary. It was for me, when I was a senior in high school, and was deeply moved and felt an individual, very emotional encounter with Christ at a class retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in Atlanta. But that was one moment, and perspective taught me that there was more to faith. The holistic nature of Catholic spirituality taught me that this type of intensity was rare, and didn’t define faith – my faith.

But teens?

Most of them probably don’t understand this. I’d say that the vast majority don’t. They just haven’t lived long enough. And so picture a kid whose personality and character is not oriented towards truth-seeking via emotion. Perhaps this stuff even makes them feel uncomfortable. They’re in all of these youth ministry events in which they’re constantly preached at about feelings of joy and happiness as the definition of faith, in which other kids are crying because Jesus is so real to them…

…and they’re not feeling it. They’re not crying. It’s not intense for them.

Does that mean I maybe don’t have faith? At all?


(What helps? Correctly defining faith, to begin with. Start here.)

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