Friday, August 2, 2013

The Importance of Teaching Discipleship in Christ

Two recent articles spotlighted the rise of atheism among young adults.The Fixed Point Foundation conducted a study of college students who identified as atheists, seeking to determine what had caused that decision. Interestingly the majority grew up with exposure the Christianity and church. Common to their explanations was that the message of their church and of Christianity was vague, not convicting, and certainly not life-changing:

“These students heard plenty of messages encouraging ‘social justice,’ community involvement, and ‘being good,’ but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. Listen to Stephanie, a student at Northwestern: ‘The connection between Jesus and a person’s life was not clear.’ This is an incisive critique. She seems to have intuitively understood that the church does not exist simply to address social ills, but to proclaim the teachings of its founder, Jesus Christ, and their relevance to the world. Since Stephanie did not see that connection, she saw little incentive to stay. We would hear this again.   -From:  Listening to Young Atheists by Leroy Huizenga  See the full article here:

In other words, their churches failed to equip and provide the opportunity to become engaged and alive disciples of Christ in His Church. Contrast the above sentiment with the following quote from “Holiness Revolution” by Dan Dematte. Dan had a similar experience growing up, but by God’s Grace,experienced a dramatic conversion to Christ and His Church as a young adult. That call included a profound call to discipleship.

“When you think of Jesus, are you floored?  Are you amazed like the early disciples?  Is he the kind of guy you would drop everything for and follow?  Probably not…..I learned that Jesus was a person who teaches us to be nice and to share our toys with our friends.  As I grew up, the misconceptions continued. It seemed like the only doctrines I ever learned were that God wants people to be good, tolerant, and fair to each other and that the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.  God was needed in one’s life only when there were problems to be fixed….Ultimately, my ideas of Christ was that of a happy, smiley man who went around telling us to be nice to people.  While of course Jesus calls us to love others, he does more than tell us to be nice.  Nice people often are too afraid to defend truth.  Nice people are too afraid to stick up when injustice is being done.  Jesus calls us to love, but love is not always nice. “ –pp. 53-54 Holiness Revolution by Dan Dematte

Cardinal Timothy Dolan once said, “young people will follow a person, they will not follow a question mark.”When the message is vague or weak, is it any wonder our young adults are not inspired to follow? Contrast that to the person of Christ and the radical discipleship He calls us too, which involves the total laying down of our lives in His service and friendship, and watch the young people respond. Let’s imagine via the Pastoral Letter and envision what this can look like in our parishes: “What if our youth and young adult ministries were true ‘schools of training in discipleship?’ What if youth and young adults are the leaven of the Lord challenging all of us to live lives of authentic faith and heroic virtue? What if youth and young adults are so filled with zeal for the Lord that they become primary evangelizers…? ”Parishes: Called to be Holy, Fully Engaged, Fully Alive.

This is the goal, this is the opportunity, this is what must happen. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

NFP Awareness

Image courtesy of stockimages /

In the homily at my own wedding, the priest shared an interesting statistic.  Of those couples who (1) pray together every day, (2) go to Church every Sunday, and (3) are open to life (i.e. don’t use contraceptives), 1 in 1200 will end up divorced.  That’s a 0.00083% divorce rate.  He referred to those 3 things as “marriage insurance.”  What’s significant about those 3 things: prayer, church attendance, and openness to life?  They are the vows the couple makes before God on their wedding day.  When I work with engaged couples I point out that we can count on God to keep His end of the bargain. If the couple is faithful to their end, nothing can break them apart.   NFP is 98-99% effective.  It is completely natural and simple to use. In fact, Bl. Mother Teresa and her sisters would teach it to the women of Calcutta, India. 
NFP is not just used to avoid pregnancy (when a serious reason exists), but can be very effectively used to achieve it as well. In fact, my wife and I knew of our pregnancy and the actual due date of our firstborn before the doctor did! We had charted and so knew we had conceived.  Using the information, we were able to compute our son’s due date.  When we later had our doctor visit and he confirmed the pregnancy, he also gave us the same date.  Another gentleman shares an account of knowing his wife was pregnant before even she did via NFP! 
Want more information?  The Couple to Couple League is among the best resources out there.  There website is:  That was the group that trained my wife and me.  Another resource is from the University of Creighton Or send me an email and I can connect you with our newly trained parishioners!

                God bless you!
                Phil Lawson, MTS

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day

Father’s Day Several years ago, my wife and I gave a presentation on marriage to a group of high school juniors. Just prior to discussing the best part of marriage, my then 2-year old, who was happily crawling around the classroom floor, happily shouted “Dadddeeee!” The whole class burst out laughing. I told the students, that’s the best part of marriage—children. I pray that I never lose the heart-moving sense of awe, amazement, and responsibility that that simple word “Daddy” inspires. One of the best books on fatherhood I’ve ever read is “Legacy: A Father’s Handbook for Raising Godly Children” by Stephen Wood. My wife had given it to me for Father’s Day prior to our first child’s birth. You can tell how much I enjoyed it by the many markings and curled pages throughout! As the book states, “The most important job a man has is fathering his children, but raising godly children in today’s world isn’t an easy task.” Wood offers tips, suggestions, statistics and anecdotes for raising godly children. He states, “The relationships built through shared work, adventure, and sports are like a bridge that the Faith can cross over to the hearts of your children. The stronger the bridge, the stronger the Faith conveyed.” In helping prepare couples for Baptism, it’s one of the books I always recommend or even give as a gift. Wood shares many stories to illustrate his points. One of my favorite humorous anecdotes from Legacy is the following: “Fathers are often blind to the universal inclination of children to imitate them. Our children are always watching our actions, even when we are not aware of it. When my youngest son was two years old, my wife Karen found pennies in his dirty diapers. My son had observed that I put money in my wallet and then stuck it in my back pocket. Since he had no wallet or pocket, he just stuck loose change he found around the house down the back of his diaper.” Steve Wood, Legacy A second book is by Dr. Meg Meeker, “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know”. Dr. Meeker is a pediatrician, with more than 20 years counseling girls. In both her practice and substantial research she makes the point that the determinative factor in how a young lady turns out is dependent on her relationship to her father. (This one I got when we had our daughter). I grew up with only brothers, so I figured I could use all the help I could get when It came to raising a daughter! While not a specifically Catholic book, it has gotten very positive reviews from the Catholic media and Catholic commentators. On this Father’s day, I would be remiss if I didn’t make note of the many spiritual fathers out there. As a priest friend, Fr. Joe Hirsch, likes to say, “every man is called to be a father and every woman to be a mother”. This fatherhood does not have to be physical. How many men there are who fill gaps in young people’s lives, even though they aren’t the physical father? There are many male coaches, men who volunteer with groups like “Big Brothers/Big Sisters”, men who teach or mentor and in various ways play a fatherly role. May God bless you for your generosity! For those of you “older” fathers thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made (and continue to make). Your example is one the next generation of Fathers looks at in order to follow. And please say a prayer for us younger dad’s! From the Book of Blessings: “God our Father…bless these men, that they may be strengthened as Christian fathers. Let the example of their faith and love shine forth. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.” Phil Lawson

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Divine Mercy Sunday

This past Sunday was Divine Mercy Sunday.  This Feast was first alluded too in the revelations Jesus gave to the wonderful Polish Saint, Faustina Kowalska in the early 1900’s.  Amazingly, she was barely literate, died at age 33 (same age as Jesus), and yet wrote a 700+ page testament about what Jesus revealed to her. 
Pope John Paul II would later establish the 1st Sunday after Easter as “Divine Mercy Sunday” calling on the faithful to pray and intercede for the world, that the mercy of God may be unleashed and experienced by all.  There will be the opportunity for prayer, adoration, confession and presentations beginning at 1PM today and leading to a formal program at 3:00PM.    
Let me offer a quote from St. Faustina herself as Jesus spoke to her:  “My daughter, tell the whole world about My Inconceivable mercy.  I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and a shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners.  On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open.  I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy.” 
It’s been said that the church is “not a sanctuary for saints, but a refuge for sinners.”   Our Churches are filled with individuals (sinners—which is all of us) who have recognized our own failings and then encountered the inexhaustible mercy of God.  These souls are well on their way to becoming saints, and often are the best at bringing others to that same “fount of mercy.” 
 St. Faustina’s Chaplet of Divine Mercy is prayed every Friday at 3:00PM in the Chapel for the mercy of God to reign upon us and the world we live in.   We pray that all may know the mercy, healing and love of God.
“For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.”

Thursday, April 4, 2013

“Feed my Sheep”

The April 14th, 2013 Gospel includes the account of Jesus asking Peter how much he loves him and then calling him to “feed my sheep.”   Our shepherds: priests, bishops, and pope, continue to be called to love Jesus above all else and then in turn to feed the sheep entrusted to their care.  Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York recently amazed some journalists just prior to the Papal Conclave.  They asked him what all the cardinals were talking about, expecting to hear stories of politics and intrigue.  Cardinal Dolan amazed the media when he said the most common topic was the Lord Jesus!   The cardinals were simply sharing what they are called to do, love the Lord above all else.
            I have enjoyed reading about the original shepherd of Northern Michigan, Bishop Baraga in “These Very Stones Cry Out:  Stories on the History of the Diocese of Gaylord.”  His life was not easy, but the Lord had called him to feed the sheep of Northern Michigan, and so he embraced it.  From a letter to his sister, Bishop Baraga wrote:
“Our church, schoolhouse and my house are of wood, roofed with tree bark….When it rains I must spread out my cloak over my table on which I have my books and papers, in order to protect them from inundation.  Over my bed I spread my umbrella, and I save myself, as well as I can, in a corner of my small room where it drips the least; nevertheless I am happier in my little room than all the European emperors and kings in their glittering gold palaces.”

He goes on to note:  “…I have already mentioned to you in my last letter how severe winter is in this desolate land, overgrown with immense forests…Some days in January and February were so cold that I almost could not finish holy Mass that was begun.  I brought the cruets, in which I have the wine and water for holy Mass, warm from the stove to the church, and before I came to the offertory everything was frozen so that I had to break up the ice in order to pour the wine and the water into the chalice.  Scarcely had I poured the wine in the chalice when it froze instantly, and when I came to the consecration I had to breathe into the chalice for a long time in order to melt the ice in it a little; even longer I breathed into the chalice before holy communion in order to be able to consume the sacred blood.”   Later on he writes, about snowshoeing from settlement to settlement and sleeping under the winter stars even into his 60’s! 

            What would motivate an individual to do this?  Jesus asked him “do you love me.”   And Bishop Baraga and countless other shepherds said “yes” and then went out and tended the sheep given them by Our Lord, wherever they were.  May God continue to bless and sustain our shepherds!

God bless you!
            Phil Lawson, MTS
            Pastoral Associate

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Call of the Lord

Several years ago on retreat the Lord gave me the passage of Acts 8:26-40, which is the story of St. Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.  In the passage, St. Philip is called to bring the Gospel of Jesus to the Ethiopian (evangelization), he responds to this call and leads him to Christ, and then St. Philip is called on to the next mission.  This passage had profound significance to me at the time and has continued to speak to me as I was called away from my parish in Central Wisconsin to minister at the Cathedral in Gaylord.  I have heard God’s call in this passage from Acts coupled with Galations 2:20, calling me to put away my own desires for the sake of bringing Christ’s Gospel to those whom He has called me even if it means sitting at the foot of the Cross. I have pledged to go wherever the Lord leads.  This has been my prayer and what I have striven to do to the best of my ability.
When my family and I moved out here last summer, it was with the expectation that we would be here long-term, which is why we moved everything and did our best to buy a home in the area.  Yet, God kept up from “putting down roots” since we were unable to sell our home.  We  have been in a number of temporary houses since we came to Gaylord.  God gave us a sense that we were called to a “missionary” experience of being detached from all of our belongings (most of which are currently still packed in boxes) and helping to bring the Gospel to those in the community of Gaylord.  Perhaps this is fitting as this area was first evangelized by such great missionaries as Ven. Bishop Baraga and Ven. Samuel Mezzuchelli.  The greater the sacrifice, the greater the harvest, right?   And I am grateful that God called us here for this time and for the experiences and harvest this time has engendered.  
Recently, my spiritual director asked me to consider a position in Green Bay.   Though I was not certain I would enjoy working on a diocesan level, Bishop Ricken and the Diocesan Director of the New Evangelization in Green Bay were convinced they wanted me to lead their New Evangelization efforts with young adults (18-39) and become the Diocesan Young Adult Formation & Discipleship Coordinator.  
After a great deal of prayer and discernment I have come to see that this is where God is calling my family and me and I have accepted their invitation.
Bishop Ricken is the head of Evangelization for the USCCB and my particular job will be to implement the New Evangelization in the 18-39 year old demographic.   This position will involve retreats, discipleship, teaching, vocational discernment and working with young families, and college students, all things I very much enjoy doing and by the Grace of God have been successful at.  
I am particularly grateful for the many opportunities and experiences I have been given here under Fr. James’ leadership.  I have been blessed to observe parish life at a Cathedral along with the various workings of the diocese.  These experiences and skills I will take with me into the future.  During my time here I have done my best to lead others closer to Christ and His Church, to facilitate that growth in holiness and the New Evangelization. For my part, I am certainly a stronger man of faith for having been here and been touched by the many souls who I've encountered.    
Practically speaking, my last day at the Cathedral will be April 22nd.  This will allow me to work with the St. Mary High School Senior Retreat (April 19/20) and the final RCIA (April 22nd).   We will then move back to Wisconsin and I will begin at the Green Bay Diocese in the beginning of May.  
The people of Gaylord, and in particular St. Mary's Cathedral have been among the most kind and generous folks my family and I have ever met.  I don’t know that I’ve ever received a more warm embrace from a community.  Thank you again for your kindness and the opportunity to serve the Lord among you.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Phil Lawson

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Sacrament of the New Evangelization

          Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has spoken of Reconciliation as “the sacrament of the new Evangelization.”  He noted the “irony that despite the call of the Second Vatican Council for a renewal of the Sacrament of Penance, what we got instead was its near disappearance.”  Dolan and the Conference of US Bishops spent time discussing this at their Fall 2012 meeting and in fact concluded their meeting with the bishops themselves going to confession.   
         The Catholic Church is just beginning to see a rediscovery of this great sacrament.  Perhaps surprisingly, part of the increase is being driven by the younger generation.  A staple of every World Youth Day is an area set aside for confessions, where hundreds of priests are available (and made great use of!) by the million-plus young people who attend.  Want more proof?  This year, we added the sacrament of confession to the high school retreats we’ve been holding for the St. Mary’s students.  One of their favorite parts, according to the anonymous evaluations they filled out?  Confession. 
         I taught a session for parents of 2nd graders.  The students are preparing to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time this spring.  This session was just for the parents, to ensure their own understanding of the sacrament as well as assisting them in their preparing of their own children.  I took the parents through the theology and history of the sacrament.  However, the part they enjoyed the most was when I discussed the practical aspects and questions about Confession.  With that in mind, I wanted to address some of the typical questions here:

How often should you go to confession?
The Church asks that we go at least once a year.  That’s a minimum and essentially “spiritual life-support or maintenance”.  Pope John Paul II used to go every week.  If you want to grow in the spiritual life, a regular practice of confession once a month is a good practice.   We see evidence of that in the lives of the saints, the closer they got to God, the more quickly they wanted to remove anything (even small sins) that would in any way harm that relationship and so they would go to confession with great regularity.  

Can you ask the priest questions in confession?
Yes!  Confession can be a great opportunity to also receive some spiritual direction.  I would caution that if you have many questions, it is better to make an appointment, as there are usually people behind you in line as well.  

Can the priest repeat anything he hears in the confessional?
No.  In fact he can be removed from the priesthood for doing that.  There have been stories throughout the history of Christianity of priests even being put in jail for refusing to reveal what they were told in confession, i.e. the authorities know that a criminal went to confession and want to know what was confessed.  No priest can disclose what was heard in the confessional. 

What will Father think of me, or what if he recognizes my voice?
A priest friend once shared, that far from thinking less of the person after hearing what was confessed, he actually thinks more highly of them.  The fact is we are all sinners.  The difference is the soul who is humble enough to admit it and then seek God’s mercy and healing for those sins.  As this priest described it, he holds those going to confession in very high regard, no matter what they confess.  

What if I haven’t been to confession for a while?
All the more reason to go!  When I came back into the Church as a young adult, I remember going to confession for the first time in a number of years. It wasn’t easy, but it was also beautiful, peaceful, and healing—and therefore completely worth it.

What if I don’t know what I’m supposed to say/do?  
You can find a “step-by-step” guide for how to go at Our Sunday Visitor or search the internet for other guides.  You should also not hesitate to ask the priest to walk you through the sacrament, and they will happily assist.                         
         Pope Benedict, in the opening Mass for the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization stated:  “We cannot speak about the new evangelization without a sincere desire for conversion.  The best path to the new evangelization is to let ourselves be reconciled with God and with each other” (2 Cor 5:20).  Amen!

God bless you!
            Phil Lawson, MTS
            Pastoral Associate