Messy & Foolish: Matthew Warner’s Evangelization Manifesto

Messy-Foolish-evangelization“I want a mess. I want trouble in the dioceses! I want people to go out! I want the Church to go out into the streets! I want us to defend ourselves against everything that is worldliness, installation, comfortableness, clericalism, being shut in on ourselves. The parishes, the schools, the institutions exist to go out!” Pope Francis, 2013 World Youth Day

“Pope Francis was right. It’s time to make a mess. It’s time to change the world. And we are just the fools to do it.” Matthew Warner

Matthew Warner’s new book Messy & Foolish: How to Make a Mess, Be a Fool, and Evangelize the World is a manifesto.

It’s a passionate call to arms exhorting Catholics to begin a new era of evangelization and set the world aflame with the Gospel.

How do we do that? First it involves making a mess.

Good Messes

I usually think of a mess as a bad thing.

Usually messes are bad things. But some messes are only temporarily bad because they lead to something good…something new and exciting and fresh that makes your life better.

That’s the kind of mess Matthew Warner is talking about.

The whole “messy & foolish” metaphor made sense to me when he told a story about his wife cleaning out their mudroom. She had taken everything out of the drawers and bins and strewn it everywhere. It was a mess.

But after all the culling, organizing, rearranging, and then replacing, the room never looked better. Sometimes you have to make a mess of the existing structure before great change can take place. That’s Warner’s goal.

At first it seems foolish, a lot of extra work. But in the end, it’s better and faster to first make a mess.

Sometimes we don’t mind messes

Warner makes the point that there are lots of messes we’re happy about…now that we’re on the other side.

No one is upset that Henry Ford ruined the horse and buggy industry with cars. Or, that the Information Age caused an upheaval in how we share information and communicate. That’s because these disruptive messes improved our lives.

Perhaps Jesus caused the greatest disruption in history when he came on the scene 2,000 years ago. God revealed himself and turned the world order upside down. It seems that mess has yet to be completely resolved, which is the focus of this book.

The same is true for all of us. We’re holiness projects in progress…on our way but not quite there. And, in the process, our lives are a mess.

I guess uprooting old sinful habits is an upheaval of a different kind. I know I often feel like a mess in my incompleteness.

Stress in the middle of the mess

My first reaction to this idea was…I would rather not.

I think most of us seek to stay in a comfortable balance, equilibrium that holds the majority of chaos at bay. The mess is stressful. It’s unsafe and unpredictable.

There are plenty of things I’d like to change, but it seems better to have clean transitions. Being in the mess is not pleasant, which is why people avoid it…and why the status quo stays in place even though it’s not working.

As I think about it more, I believe Warner is right. Incremental change is possible, and less stressful, but sooner or later, the structures that hold back progress have to fall…or be dismantled.  There are just some old things that can’t coexist if there’s going to be a new order.

I write a lot about the failings of the current religious education system and how it doesn’t meet the needs of the Church. Another one of my big topics is how parents can enhance that system by taking their place as a vital part of the faith formation process.

While I still believe this is key, I’m also thinking that sooner or later there has to be substantial shift in the system before lasting change can happen.

Quotable Quotes from Messy & Foolish

I’ve been a fan of Matthew Warner’s writing for many years. He honestly knows how to turn a phrase. Here are a couple of gems:

“My parent’s generation left the Church without leaving the pews. And now they wonder why their kids find it silly to stand in the pews of a church they never really understood professing creeds they never really believed.” p. 43

“Instead of lecturing people about going to church on Sunday, let’s inspire them to want to go. Instead of telling them to dress more appropriately for Mass, let’s give them something worth dressing up for. Instead of telling them not the sleep around, let’s fascinate them with the pursuit of purity…”

“Sometimes we act like being orthodox…making sure–with radical zealotry–that everyone else is following the rules. Meanwhile, we embrace the same for ourselves with an enthusiasm more akin to a child eating broccoli.” p. 44

“Saints spread the faith like wildfire because they are willing to catch themselves on fire first.” p. 50

And, here he’s speaking my language regarding raising strong Catholic kids:

“We’re not just equipping them to become faithful cogs in the industrial machine, safely navigating life’s pitfalls. We’re not just helping them to survive this life or even ultimately to ‘succeed.’ We are here to teach our children to see the world differently–to discover a loving God who made us all to live big, beautiful, meaningful lives.” p. 15-16.

A perfect evangelization primer

I highly recommend Messy & Foolish. Matthew Warner has written a concise, readable, and rousing guide filled with practical wisdom.

It’s a perfect primer for understanding what the Catholic Church, and Catholics, must do to move forward.

Messy & Foolish will inspire you to clean out the spiritual clutter and rearrange your life to serve God. Then you too can make a mess, be a fool, and evangelize the world.

Also, check out Matthew’s book site where you can get additional resources, expert interviews, and other useful content.

Learn to Love Like Jesus: Mending Broken Relationships, Building Strong Ones

Learn to love like Jesus - Review of Mending Broken Relationships, Building Strong OnesChristians love like Jesus…

Isn’t that right?

Community is the hallmark of Christian discipleship, however…

The elements of community–friendship, accompaniment, fraternal love, service, and self-gift–don’t come easily.

Jesus loved everyone perfectly. But the simple fact of being a Christian doesn’t guarantee you can love like him.

Baptism doesn’t instantaneously infuse you with all the virtues, and perfection doesn’t come all at once. Grace builds on nature, and sometimes that takes a while because, when you’re starting from a pretty low place like me, grace has a long way to go.

We’re sinners. We’re selfish, we make mistakes, and make decisions in our own best interests. Often that ends up hurting loved ones, destroying relationships, and alienating friends. We all need help.

Mending Broken Relationships, Building Strong Ones: Eight Ways to Love as Jesus Loves Us by John and Therese Boucher is that practical help for the Catholic Christian who feels the demand to love like Jesus, but doesn’t always quite know how to make it happen.

Filled with practical advice, illustrative how-to’s, and step-by-step guides, this is a Catholic primer for developing relationships. It’s a field manual for implementing spiritual practices that will lead to deep friendships and lasting connections with others.

The human side of spirituality

What I like about this book is it gets at the human development that’s needed to support and undergird that working of grace I just mentioned. Usually people only present the supernatural side of spirituality–pray the rosary, go to Mass, and the Holy Spirit will take care of the rest. But that’s not what the saints do.

Sure, grace is primary, but holiness requires a level of human effort as well. This is the work of building virtue. Saints work on ridding themselves of character faults, bad habits, and sinful tendencies. They actively prune their personalities for holiness.

The Christian advantage is that grace elevates and matures that human effort. We don’t have to do it alone…and that’s a good thing. Even though some people think they can, no one will ever achieve saint-like virtue without grace. However, grace needs something to work with.

The healing that leads us to love like Jesus

This is a concept I implemented this year in my own ministry. At the Bishop Helmsing Institute where I work, we came up with a course for the Year of Mercy on forgiveness. We called it “4Given” because it highlights a 4-step process (get it?) for forgiving others.

Jesus says we have to forgive others and there’s all kinds of spiritual benefits that come from it. But sometimes people have a hard time forgiving. They feel hurt and powerless and unforgiveness seems like their only weapon. Hearing Jesus say they have to forgive only brings more resentment.

A lot of times, before someone can accept the gospel and allow the Holy Spirit to work in them, they need healing or a practical process of steps to get them to a place where healing can happen.

We need evangelization resources that help people overcome human limitations…sort of like pre-evangelization. Work that takes people to a place where they can begin to love unselfishly, begin to open, begin to be vulnerable and allow the Holy Spirit to change their hearts. This book is that kind of resource.

Eight spiritual practices

Mending Broken Relationships highlights eight spiritual practices that help you love like Jesus:

  • Intercessory Prayer
  • Respect
  • Forgiveness
  • Gratitude
  • Affirming Others
  • Patience and Forbearance
  • Truth and Honesty
  • Healing Presence

Each chapter connects a practice to Scripture to learn how Jesus fit these into human life. The Bouchers also share about the difficulties and struggles involved in living with these practices. Finally, there are action plans…step-by-step guides to implementing them.

The authors, John and Therese Boucher, share deeply from their own personal experience. Through stories and insights drawn from their own lives, they illuminate the struggles, difficulties, and triumphs they’ve had with these practices.

The keys to happiness

Take a look at Mending Broken Relationships, Building Strong Ones. More and more I think good relationships are a key to real happiness. And, as I always tell my kids, making yourself good “friend material” is the best way to have good friends.

It was said of St. Thomas More that he was a man made for friendships because he possessed all the virtues to a high degree. Of course, that’s the mark of sainthood isn’t it? Try practicing these eight areas of strong relationships to improve your life.

NB: I received a copy of this book from the authors in exchange for an honest review.

Family Advent Devotion: Jotham’s Journey

Jotham's Journey image

“Over and over Jotham screamed for his family, but there was no one to hear him. They had vanished. He was alone. Where had they gone? How long ago did they leave? Through quick stabbing sobs, Jotham told himself, ‘I must look for my family. I must search until I find them.” And so his journey began.”

Several years ago, my wife got a book to read aloud to the kids for Advent. We’d done several different Advent devotions over the years that involved reading a little something every day: Advent calendars, sticker storybooks, Jesse trees, so I thought, “Cool!” and didn’t think much more about it. Then we started reading this book, Jotham’s Journey by Arnold Ytreeide, and entered a whole new level of Family Advent devotion.

The book follows Jotham, a 10 year-old Jewish shepherd boy living with his family in Israel around the time of Jesus’ birth. Jotham desperately wants to accompany his older brothers on a trip to Hebron because he’s captivated by the sights and sounds of big cities. When his father flatly denies this request because he’s too young, Jotham runs away to prove he’s old enough to take care of himself. However, when his anger cools and his fear rises during the night, he returns home the next day to find his family has packed up the tents and taken off…without him!

Jotham discovers his family thinks he’s dead, killed by a wild animal. But why did they go? Mystery. And that launches the story and his journey to find them. This is a really great tale. Jotham gets into all kinds of adventures, falls in and out of all kinds of trouble, and experiences all the variances of first century Jewish culture in the people he meets. Along the way, his story cleverly intertwines with the characters and story of Jesus’ birth.

This is historical fiction so, while you’re enjoying an engaging yarn, you’re also learning about the people, places, and lifestyle of first century Israel. As well, the story of Christ’s birth slowly unfolds as you approach Christmas. You read a chapter a day all the way through Advent, and each chapter ends with a reflection that ties the story to a teaching about Advent and the coming of Jesus. Additionally, the book guides you in using an Advent wreath. It instructs you to light the appropriate Advent candle before reading the chapter. Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter’s reflection:

“Today we begin the Advent season by lighting the first violet candle. This candle reminds us of God’s promise that, though like Israel we have been disobedient children who are lost and alone in the desert, he has sent a Messiah, a shining light, a Savior, to lead us back to God. Like Jotham, we each have a long journey ahead of us—a journey that unfolds day by day. But, also like Jotham, we can be confident that no matter what we encounter along the way, we can have hope and faith in a God who loves us, and who desires only the best for us. If only we seek him.”

The reflections include psalms and passages from the Old Testament that prophesy and prefigure the coming of the Messiah, and they teach how Jesus is their fulfillment. It’s an excellent learning tool! While enjoying a wonderful story, you understand the meaning of Advent and how it affects your life. Your children will be eager to read every day and find out what happens next. And, you’ll be pretty interested yourself.

I highly recommend Jotham’s Journey for your family’s Advent devotions. It’s great for kids up to 10 years old, but this year, my wife pulled it out again and my 13 year-old is still enjoying it. It had been a while since they read it and everything is new and exciting again. I saw people comment on the Amazon website saying they used it successfully with middle-schoolers, so obviously it has a wide appeal.

This was Ytreeide’s first book, but he wrote several others after this one involving other characters from Jotham’s story in parallel adventures.There are two other Advent stories and one set around the time of the Crucifixion that tells the Easter story. That’s several years worth of good family Advent devotions.

Note: This post originally appeared on Unfortunately, this review comes a little late for this year’s Advent devotions. If I had my stuff together, I would have told you about this about a month ago–before Advent started. Alas, no such productivity. You’ll have to settle for doing this next year. But think about it, you’re already ahead of the game for next Advent. 

Book Review: Under the Influence of Jesus


I don’t think the average Catholic has a clue what difference Jesus makes.

Oh sure, they’ve heard homilies, listened to gospel stories, and read about the doctrines about Jesus in their CCD classes as children.

But do they understand what Jesus can do for them? Why it’s better to believe in him? How he can change them?

I’d say no. That’s because Catholics talk a lot about the “what” and “when” and “where,” but precious little about the “why” and “how” and “how come.”

But Joe Paprocki’s out to change that.
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Book Review: Saint by Lino Rulli

T36668-cvr-5Have you ever thought about what you could be canonized for?

I think most of us are more preoccupied with what we could be condemned for.

Sainthood seems like something pretty distant.

Part of the problem is saints are often portrayed as somehow being perfect almost from birth. The other part is that almost all the saints are priests, nuns, and (lately) popes.

For those of us who worry more about paying the bills than getting closer to God and think silent contemplation is a 10 minute nap in the afternoon while the kids are sleeping, it can be hard to identify with the saints.

Lino Rulli has that same problem.

“When average Catholics look in the mirror, they don’t see a priest, nun, or pope. They don’t see a hallowed vision of a future saint. Instead they see a fluorescent-lit reflection of a layperson, a current sinner with all sorts of ugly struggles and failures.”

Is the Church perhaps inadvertently sending the message that regular lay Catholics can’t be saints? “If that’s the case, the consequences are huge,” says Rulli, “Regular laypeople—that is, the majority of people actually in the Catholic Church—don’t really believe we’re called to be saints.”
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Interview with Jared Dees – On Becoming a Better Religious Educator

31-days-religious-educator-titleJared Dees is passionate about the practical.

For years he’s provided easy to implement resources, activities, lesson plans and guides for religious educators on his blog, The Religion Teacher.

Now he’s distilled those years of practical training into a new book, 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator

The book contains thirty-one exercises that will help you create a more engaging, spiritual, and educational environment for your students.

Each exercise contains a quote from Scripture, a story from a saint or research in educational psychology, step-by-step instructions for completing an exercise, and a “Going Deeper” section that invites you into a meditation or prayer practice.

Below is my interview with Jared about his new book and about what it takes to become a better religious educator.
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“The ‘One Thing’ Is Three” — Book Review

one-thing-is-threeI was excited about this book when I first heard the title.

This premise has been the cornerstone of my teaching strategy for the last 10 years.

Namely, that the Trinity is the foundational truth of Catholic Faith, and understanding the Trinity allows you to understand all Christian doctrine.

In the book’s title, “The One Thing” refers to the only thing necessary, the essential thing. The “Three” refers to the Trinity.

The Catechism #234 says the Trinity is the “source,” the “most fundamental and essential teaching.” If that’s true, then it should inform everything and everything should have it’s explanation in it.

So, needless to say, I was thrilled to see a book illuminating this idea.
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