Building future of hope at faith formation conference

“I don’t know if you know what a gift you are to the world, but you really are,” Dr. Tim Hogan, a psychologist, author and certified Imago relationship therapist told catechists and religious leaders as the keynote speaker Jan. 12 at the annual Go! Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference, held Jan. 11-13 at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner. He followed Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who celebrated the opening Mass.

Hogan believed that if Jesus had thought to leave behind a group of people who would be grounded in love that could move the world and bring love, faith, joy, smiling and gratitude, it would be those gathered.

“This is what I believe is the hope of the world,” he said. “This is God at work.”

Hogan challenged the faith-filled audience to look at how they are doing Catholic ministry today in the changing landscape of family life in his talk, “The Gift of Cultural Hurricanes: Embracing the Transforming Forces of Post-Modern Culture.”

Are they reaching people in their busy lives in a way where they know God is always by their side in solitude, in their marriage, in their church parish and community? Are they filling them with God’s ever-present message of love?

Catechists can’t do ministry the same way as they did 30 years ago or even five years ago, he said.

“The problem we have right now is we are going through a cultural hurricane – a once-in-every-500-years storm,” he said. “We know things are different. … The things that used to connect people don’t connect them anymore. … That’s what we want to look at … the landscape of relationships.”

 

Hogan mentioned his Irish-Catholic home with six sisters, and living in an Irish-Catholic neighborhood in Detroit where all adults looked after each other’s children, and children saw faith role models in their Catholic teachers, priests, coaches and even bishops who reaffirmed that “the center of the universe and the center of life is Jesus.”

 

He said one’s identity is formed in culture, and people become who they are through loving relationships. In the past, people were unidimensional in the way they grew up, and many were  sheltered from learning about things that were different: other faiths, divorce, pornography and dissimilar lifestyles.

Children and young adults today don’t have that same affirmation of the Catholic faith in their lives today. Their families are fractured, scattered, more stressed, more “me-centered” and diverse.

It’s different today

Leaders need to recognize this different, fast-paced, overwhelming world that has spawned an economic revolution where youth are required to achieve more; a nervous system revolution with the bombardment of constant messages from social media; a relationship revolution where one-on-one human relationships have been replaced with less personal and more virtual relationships, thus spawning a decline in emotional intelligence and less empathy in people; and a religious revolution.

The old era has ended, but Hogan pointed out this isn’t the first time this has happened, so we will get through it.

“The church went through this, the whole world went through this 500 years ago, from the Middle Ages to modernity,” he said. “Science was born, the printing press. … I think for us to make a difference in today’s culture, we really need to understand the strong forces that are hitting families. If we can understand those forces, then we’re going to have a much better chance at being people who have compassion and love, and in ways that … can infiltrate and bring change to the cultures we’re in.”

Hogan asked his audience to think about how to create a space where people can slow down. He pointed to a few good things that happened on this earth “and continue to happen because of Jesus’ followers,” although they may no longer be only associated with Christianity, such as feeding the poor, caring for the sick by establishing hospitals, supporting laborers and the oppressed.

“It’s the fruit of the Gospel throughout the world, and I think we get it now in a prideful way but in a satisfied way saying the kingdom of God continues to move into the world and changes the world even if people don’t want to give Christians credit for it,” he said.

Hogan emphasized that we are in a new era where the church’s message doesn’t have the immediate impact it once had. We have to adjust to this revolution and get creative in ministry to reach people today. He urged catechists to think about what was and was not working in their parishes.

Combating the ‘hurricane’

Hogan gave a few suggestions on how to take on this “cultural hurricane”:

  • To address the way the mind is programmed to protect itself. It is five times more likely to scan for negative things than positive things.
  • To have gratitude. Smile more, was one of his simple  suggestions. Attitudes and behavior stick –  whether positive or negative. He illustrated this through an exercise where one person had to keep a straight face while the other explained a joyful experience in their life.

Hogan told them to establish a “culture of smile” in their parishes and explore a practice of gratitude and an opportunity to discover a thirst for God.

Hogan left attendees with a “three-basket” exercise. After writing down all the parish’s  ministries, put the most successful ministries in one basket, the “good” ministries in another and, in a third, the ministries that continue just because of their long-time existence and a parish’s reluctance to end them.

“Stop doing things that aren’t bearing fruit,” he said. “There’s no way we can move into this new world unless we stop some of that nonsense. It is keeping us from what is essential.”

Hogan said if participants learned nothing else from the conference, they should think about how they were being joyful in ministry and bringing joy to the world.

Joyful relationships should be the center of everything. Bring the connections back people have with one another.

“I think the local church is the hope for your community,” he said. “In the big picture, it is going to be OK. The center of the universe is love.”

A contingent of catechists from St. Paul the Apostle Church in New Orleans attended the conference and gained a renewed spirit for ministry.

“The part that caught me the most was the smiling part,” said Charlotte Scott, parish catechist and lector. “To bring that smile and joy to people, to love them and make them remember the things in their life to be grateful for … and to use new tools to rethink and change what we are doing. We can’t keep dragging old ways into the present because it is not working.”

“We all need to be involved in this change,” said Iris Wilson of St. Paul the Apostle. “If you grow in knowledge, that’s how you evolve and make our church  better, and that’s how to get our community to grow more in faith. The more knowledge you have about Christ, the more you grow and the more you want to grow.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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