The Paradox of Life in Christ

Posted on June 28, 2017 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

Midweek Reflection: The Paradox of Life in ChristFor Sunday, July 02, 2017
13th Sunday Ordinary Time

2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16A
Romans 6:3-4, 8-11
Matthew 10:37-42

A few weeks ago, my family and I were involved in a rollover accident coming home from the grocery store. Thankfully we all walked away, but internally it was the kind of life event that shakes you to the core. Something that hit me the hardest afterward was the terrifying feeling I had while rolling over. Not just the dreamy feeling where everything seems to go in slow motion, but the feeling that I was not ready for this to happen. I wasn’t ready to die. That shook me. Where is my faith? Who have I been living for up until now? What does God want me to change so when that time comes I am ready to embrace his will?

In this Sunday’s readings, we encounter a reality meant to be a similar wake-up call. In the paradox of the cross, we experience the tension of losing everything in order to gain all. In order to live we must die. It’s a reality we seldom think about at length because it’s uncomfortable. Self-denial is a prerequisite for holiness. This is something I thought I was living, but as the van rolled I quickly realized how little I really was. (more…)

In Awe of Creation

Posted on June 27, 2017 by - Everyday Stewardship

An Everyday Stewardship Reflection for 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

god's giftWhen I was a teenager, one year after a Homecoming dance I took my date for a walk on the Potomac in downtown Alexandria. The moon was out and I was struck by how the light shimmered on the water. I remember focusing to try to see all the details of the dancing rays on the ripples.

My date didn’t see it and didn’t really get it. She thought it was no big deal. It was a great date and a fun night, but for that one moment we saw the world from two completely different vantage points.

Two of the greatest gifts from God to each of us are life and time. Without taking care, we can easily miss the grandeur and beauty of both. Being mindful as an everyday steward means pausing to see the detail in all that exists around us.

God’s creation is not something created with a broad brush, but instead with the intricacies of a master painter.

God created all things with purpose and a complexity only the Divine could fully comprehend. Every single hair on our head has been counted! But when we take a moment to reflect on the beauty that is created by that complexity, we allow ourselves to revel in God’s generosity.

There is so much to give thanks for in this life. But you and I can’t give thanks to God unless we really stop to take notice. When was the last time you stared in awe at the moon?

Moving Beyond Fear

Posted on June 21, 2017 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

Midweek Reflection: Moving Beyond FearFor Sunday, June 25, 2017
12th Sunday Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 20:10-13
Romans 5:12-15
Matthew 10:26-33

We live in unsettled times. Issues are brewing across the globe, whether in North Korea, Russia, with ISIS, or in our very own country. Conflicts and divisions seem to be deepening every day and the news headlines constantly reveal more. We hesitate to have our children play outside alone, we fear being vulnerable in public places, and things we normally could trust are being called into question. Fear is an emotion not only becoming more common, but becoming justifiable in light of our current situation.

But we are people of faith and Jesus clearly makes the point that fear has no place in the life of the disciple. Matthew’s Gospel specifically tells us: “Fear no one.” Even the Stoic philosopher, Seneca, had no tolerance for fear: “If we let things terrify us, life will not be worth living.” That being said, there is a difference between actual fear and imagined, crippling fear. Fear in the presence of a specific threat can propel us to action. For the Christian, however, that action must be a faith response. Imagined, crippling fear can prevent us from discovering and enjoying life’s beauty and developing our true potential. (more…)

Stewardship & the Eucharist

Posted on June 19, 2017 by - Everyday Stewardship

An Everyday Stewardship Reflection for Feast of Corpus Christi

EucharistWhen I was a child, I can remember stopping by my parish or another local Catholic Church to just spend some time in prayer before the Holy Eucharist. We didn’t have exposition and adoration much in those days, but we were keenly aware of the presence of Jesus in the tabernacle.

I would sometimes stare at the lighted candle near it and know that Jesus was alive.

I had never heard someone speak about a “stewardship way of life” back then. If I am honest, the primary message I heard back in those days was along the lines of the need to be as good as we are able. Sacrifice was only at Lent, disciples were people in the Bible, and generosity mostly had to do with the collection basket and the poor box at the church entrance. I even went to Catholic schools!

Maybe the message of stewardship was there somewhere, packaged differently, and I just missed it.

It wasn’t until I was an adult, and after acquiring two theology degrees, that I understood both with my head and my heart what a stewardship way of life really meant. But I look back at those days and I realize that the groundwork was laid for me to understand these things.

It was those times before the Holy Eucharist that I began to understand true sacrifice. It was at those times that I began to understand how actions and realities that seem so simple to the human eye can be so profound. And it was at those times that I began to see that true love knows no bounds.

What does the Holy Eucharist say to you about stewardship? Maybe today is a great time to reflect on your answer.

Sowing Mustard Seeds – Your Weekly Offertory and Leading People to Christ

Posted on June 14, 2017 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

Mustard Seeds 1We assume that in order for our parish to build a new church building or even for our community to make the budget, it will require much more than we have to give. What is the true value of our treasure?

Jesus tells us in the parable of the mustard seed, that if we have “faith as small as a mustard seed”[Matthew 17:20], we could move mountains. In stewardship, we oftentimes neglect to see that amazing things can take place due to the generosity of even the smallest gifts.

Let’s Face Facts

True Stewardship extends to all forms of gifts and talents, but how we view and use our money can be a key indicator of how we practice stewardship in all aspects of our life. The typical Catholic household donates 1.1 to 1.2% of their income. 1 In 2013, 24% of all parishes in the US were operating at a loss. This begs the question, how can we effectively engage our faithful in this important discussion?

Most of the parishes LPi works with use Mass attendance and offertory as indicators of their overall health. Unfortunately, both of those occur too late in the process of the parishioner deciding how to practice their faith. If attendance and offertory are declining, the real damage has begun and your parish is behind the trend.

We Are Called to Mission

Mustard Seeds 2

When a parish can demonstrate to its members that it has a defined a clear mission that reflects the Kingdom of God, people don’t need to be repeatedly pressured to give. LPi began offering our Sustainable Offertory Program, a unique approach to increased offertory programs, to affect a sustainable change to parishioner giving habits and create within them new patterns of generosity. The feedback from our partner parishes demonstrates three aspects of successful programs.

Think Positive

When we begin discussing a future campaign, the conversation is always about the positive aspects of the parish and how parishioners can change the lives of the people the parish serves through investment in ministry. A diocesan leader that has worked with us likes to say, “No one wants to give to the Titanic!” With a focus on the positive and the understanding that God is still in control, the message in an LPi Sustainable Offertory Program creates a desire on the part of the parishioner to invest in something that makes a difference.

Articulate Your Long-term Vision

This desire to make a difference leads naturally to a focus on the vision and mission of the parish. Parishioners want to know that their parish community stands for something important, and that parish leadership is leading them on a mission to make a difference. At LPi, we are seeing the parishes growing and engaging their people most effectively are those that have a clear mission articulated and invite people to become a part of something greater than themselves.

The Mission is the Main Thing

Often, as soon as money is mentioned, people turn off their ability to listen. LPi offers several forms of stewardship coaching that influence our approach to working with a parish on a Sustainable Offertory Program. In fact, we have actually advised some parishes that a financial campaign was not in their best interest at the time. In those cases, we begin their journey with visioning exercises, basic stewardship catechesis, or honing another aspect of their mission before embarking on the actual Sustainable Offertory campaign.

From Seeds to Pearls
Mustard Seeds 3

In a Sustainable Offertory Program, you gain the advantage of asking your parishioners to sow mustard seeds. If a parish is at the average weekly giving level of 1.1% of parishioners’ incomes, then with simple mustard seeds we can make a tremendous difference. We begin with small seeds in the hopes that one day each of us can possess nothing and be possessed by nothing other than the love of Jesus Christ.

1 – Catholic Parishes of the 21st Century. Charles E. Zech, et al. Oxford University Press. 2017.

“You Feed Them!”

Posted on June 14, 2017 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

Midweek Reflection: “You Feed Them!”For Sunday, June 18, 2017
The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
John 6:51-58

Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.
John 6:57

In 1928, Myles Connolly published a small novel entitled Mr. Blue, which tells the story of a young man who decides to live out the Christian faith in a serious, transforming way. The book was intended to serve as a Christian response to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic work, The Great Gatsby. Blue lives a life of extremes, we might even say of excess, but it is a far cry from the extravagance of the Roaring Twenties.

Mr. Blue has much to say to us about how faith in Christ can shape a life, transforming a person’s very existence into an act of eucharistia—an act of thanksgiving—that by its very nature draws others into communion. (more…)

Extending the Communion of Persons

Posted on June 7, 2017 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

Midweek Reflection: Extending the Communion of PersonsFor Sunday, June 11, 2017
The Most Holy Trinity

Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
John 3:16-18

This Sunday we celebrate the feast of our origin and destiny as human beings, our beginning and end, the One who made us and the One to whom we return. It’s Trinity Sunday.

Thinking too hard about the Trinity can cause some intellectual hurdles. At the idea of three Persons in one God, our mind stops up short. The medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri said, in his words on the Trinity in Paradisio, “My wings were not meant for such a flight… Here powers failed my high imagination.” It’s an awe easily evoked on the edge of the sea or below the night sky. When we earnestly aspire to grasp the infinite, we find we can’t hold it in our hands. (more…)

Pentecost and Chuck E. Cheese

Posted on June 6, 2017 by - Everyday Stewardship

Chuck. E Cheese BirthdayThere are some things I miss now that my children are older. Less snuggles, fewer moments of awe and wonder, and fewer crazy questions that make me laugh. However, if I’m honest, there some things I do not miss, especially the birthday parties.

I loved the aspect of celebrating my child’s birth, but most years the party cost too much, involved too much stress, and resulted in a lot of presents that ended up in my garage. Today, nice dinners with family and friends sharing time together have taken the place of the “birthday party” and that is fine with me.

Centuries ago, God moved in such a profound way and sent His Holy Spirit upon us, imparting to the Church gifts that remain with us today. That first Pentecost was a first birthday party of sorts with people gathered to celebrate their common faith in Jesus Christ.

Of course, that party had none of the trappings of a child’s event at Chuck E. Cheese, but instead, presented us all with generous gifts that could be used for the glory of God instead of the stuff children discard after a few weeks.

Every year I think it is important to really celebrate what God has given to us, the Church, on the Feast of Pentecost. The generosity of God knows no limits and the Holy Spirit is alive. It’s just that the gifts from this celebration need to be used or the celebration will be hollow.

The gifts are free to us even though they are priceless. It would be poor stewardship to toss them in the garage with all those toys that time forgot.

Risky Faith

Posted on June 2, 2017 by - Everyday Stewardship

A Post By Chuck Frost

Take RisksI love to go see live music, there is nothing like the energy of hearing music being played in real time.  It isn’t studio polished or in perfect time.  Mistakes are made, but they add authenticity and color to the performance even if you don’t notice them – especially if you don’t notice them.

My preference is improvisational live music. I love not knowing what is coming next and whether or not exciting new sounds will be created on the spot.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. What I love most is the energy behind the risk-taking that is inherent to improvisational music.  Playing before a paying audience, those musicians take a huge risk and there is no guarantee the audience will appreciate or get what they are doing.  But the reward is high if they nail it.

Life is pretty colorless when you don’t take risks.

In one of Pope Francis’ recent morning homilies, he urged us to be risk-takers. Commenting on the stories of those who took a risk to get to Jesus, he noted that the men who made a hole in the roof to lower their paralytic friend to Jesus took a risk, the Canaanite woman whose daughter was possessed took a risk, the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment took a risk…the disciples who dropped everything for Jesus took a risk.

Improvisational musicians don’t just get on stage and play random notes without some foundation and preparation, however, and these Biblical examples didn’t put faith in Jesus and what he could do for them without some idea of who Jesus was and what he was about.

Pope Francis has consistently called us to the risk of going out into the peripheries, but it would be foolish to do that without preparing our souls.  But soul-nourishing only to stay in the well-rehearsed, choreographed safe zone will produce a colorless and lifeless Christianity. The Holy Father called it a view from the balcony.  And if that’s the only view we have, then we are missing out on the abundant life Jesus promised us.

Can They Find Your Church Website Online?

Posted on May 31, 2017 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

Some tips to make it easier to search for your church online

Find Your Church OnlinePeople rely on the Internet to search for and find information about their community. For your church, this can be the perfect opportunity to connect with and make a good impression on new members.

Typically, an Internet user searches for something online and looks at the first ten websites suggested. This is only one page of website suggestions offered. If your church website is not showing up in the first page or not at all, your potential parishioners or visitors may never even know you exist online. So how do you make sure they find you?

There are two practices you can try, SEO and SERP, to get started. Let’s break down each of these terms and review some tips and tricks you can try on your website to make it easier to find your church website online.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. A search engine is the place where you type in what you want to find online. The most common search engines include Google, Yahoo, Bing, and AOL. Optimization is the act of making something as effective as possible.

Simply put, SEO is the process of making your website as effective as possible so search engines find your website and list it in the results, making it more likely new members in your community will find your church website.

What is SERP?

SERP stands for Search Engine Result Page. It is a list of suggested websites. The websites are collected based on your keyword. Your keyword is the word or words you typed in to your search engine.

How do search engines get their results?

Google Yahoo Bing logosSearch engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, and AOL have all written a mathematical equation that looks at the following things in your website:

  • What words are in your website?
  • How often is your website updated?
  • What kind of images are on your website?
  • How fast does your website load?
  • How easy to read is your website?
  • How often is your website visited?
  • Are there other websites that link to your website?

Then it looks at the history of the person searching: where that person has been online, and where he or she is located in the world.

From there, the search engine compares your website to every other website that might relate the keyword that someone searched for. Then, it ranks those sites in order of relevance. Remember, it is very unlikely that someone will click past the first page, so it is important that your church is ranked within the top ten.

How do you make your website easier to find?

Make sure your church name, address, city, and state are all on the home page. Put your church name at the top of the website. This will make it the most important bit of text, and also be part of the title in the list of results. Then put your address with city and state in text on your website. Search engines look for this specifically, so where you put it is up to you. A good practice is to place it at the bottom of the page, in the footer. That way it shows up on every page of your website. Keep in mind, having your church name and address as an image does not help—search engines do not analyze PDFs or images for content.

Use keywords that people search for online in your text.

Don’t forget, a keyword is the word or words someone typed into a search engine to find something on the Internet. In order to pick out keywords that you think will help your site be found by search engines, first look at your church. What is your church about? What message do you want someone visiting your church website to take away? What words might you use to look for a church website if you were new to a community?

Now make a list of those words and type them into your search engine. See what the results are. Does your church fit into that list? Narrow your list down to two or three keywords. When you have decided what keywords you think are good for your church, use them in page titles or throughout the text on your website.

Find Your Church Online 2You can also check to make sure your chosen keywords are ones people actually use when they search online. There are websites that will let you test a keyword. For example, SERPs Keyword rank checker. On this website, you can type in any keyword and it will show the top ranked websites and an average number of times that keyword is used by searchers in search engines every month.

Use images to engage readers.

Search engines look for images. Images are more appealing and engaging to the reader on your website. This means people will spend a longer time on that page, which translates into the search engine ranking your website better than other websites that don’t have images. Note that if your website visitors land on your website and then click off right away, the search engine views the website as less trustworthy, which will cause your website to slowly move down the list.

Plus, visitors want images. When someone visits a webpage, they are more likely to continue reading and scroll to the bottom of the page if there is an image visible at all times. A good idea is to place your images every two to three paragraphs to keep a reader’s interest. The image needs to relate to the content on your page. When you load it into to your website, make sure to add a title and description. The title needs to have a keyword, and it needs to be honest. If your image title does not match the image and content, you will hurt your SEO.

Claim your online listings.

Search engines also look to see if your website links to other websites and if other websites link to your website. One easy and trusted source of links to your website are through things like Google My Places, Yahoo Local Listings, Bing Places, and YELP. You’ve seen these listings if you have searched for a business. They usually appear with an image, map, and often a description of that business with links to its website.

Your church may never have claimed these, but they probably already exist. Test it out in different search engines and see what shows up. If there isn’t a listing you can create one, and if there is, you need to make sure your church controls what is on there. If you don’t claim it, someone else can.