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.

The Problem With Conscience

The Problem With Conscience

I have this little voice in my head.

It’s not really a voice, actually. It’s more like an intuition.

Sometimes it tells me I should do something a certain way, or that I should have done something a different way.

A lot to times it comes a little too late, like as I’m doing something I’ve already decided to do.

Sometimes it’s a terrible feeling in my chest, like a brick, after I’ve done something that I thought would be good realized wasn’t, or that I’m on the fence about doing and do anyway.

Do you ever get that feeling? It’s your conscience talking.

What is conscience?

According to the Catechism, conscience is a “judgment of reason” that helps you recognize whether an action is good or bad. It could be something you’re going to do, something you’re in the process of doing, or something you’ve already done.

Conscience is present in your heart…the spiritual not physical heart. Your heart is the core of your being, where you make decisions, where you determine yourself.

The Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes, calls conscience a “law inscribed by God,” a “secret core and…sanctuary” where a person is “alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”

Conscience is God’s voice speaking to you in the inner recesses of your heart, helping you judge the quality of your acts. It’s independent of Baptism. It’s just there. The vestige of a time, in the beginning, when we walked with God and knew his mind as our own. John Henry Cardinal Newman called it the “aboriginal Vicar of Christ.”

Can you trust your conscience?

So that’s cool, right? God is sort of hanging out inside, keeping tabs on what I’m doing, and through little intuitions and feelings, he’s helping me walk the straight and narrow in order to stay close to him.

Except for one thing.

The Catechism also says, “When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.” The prudent man. How many of us are prudent? (I’m only half raising my hand.)

Now we’re getting to the problem. Some might hear they’re obliged to follow their conscience (and they are) but they are not the “prudent man” the Catechism is talking about. That’s because prudence would dictate forming conscience in the Faith…and they’re not!

Conscience can lead you astray. Because it’s a judgment of reason, it goes off what you know and understand. To really be sure conscience is guiding you in the right direction, you have to know Church teaching. You have to follow conscience, but can you completely trust it if you don’t know what the Church teaches?

In some cases, a bad decision that’s the result of following your conscience can reduce your responsibility. If there’s no way you could know better, there’s no guilt. There is such a thing as “invincible ignorance.” That’s when there is absolutely NO WAY you could have known any better. It remains a sin, though, and it can damage your soul.

EVEN THEN, you may still not be off the hook. If you haven’t taken the appropriate steps to form your conscience, that bad decision is all on you. If you happen to live in the one place on earth a Catholic missionary can’t reach, the remote mountains of China perhaps, you might be alright. But really, most Catholics have complete access to Church teaching these days (think Internet). It’s just a matter of making learning it a priority.

The point: Conscience needs enlightening

My point is, all this should make studying the Faith, and teaching it, even more urgent for you.

People need to know what Christ reveals…especially baptized Catholics. Their holiness hangs in the balance.

It’s not enough to just know a little. Most people are content with a limited understanding of the Catholic Faith. Perhaps they think it doesn’t matter because they’re following their conscience. But that may not be the case. Their conscience might be leading them to error.

The great thing about conscience is, if you enlighten it with education, it will lead you to God. There aren’t always concrete answers. You may find yourself having to make decisions in a morally gray area. In those situations, a right conscience can lead you toward God. Conscience makes you most happy when it knows the right direction to go.

Image credit: Unsplash/Chris Sardegna

Who Needs You to Share Your Faith?


Here’s the question: Who do you talk to about your Catholic Faith?

Should you share your faith with everyone? No one?

Seth Godin is more than a marketing guru. He’s a visionary thought leader who defined, and continues to refine, business and online communication. For those of you who think all marketing is sleazy, Godin’s ethical, personalist marketing will turn your head. I think Catholics can learn a lot from him. Actually, I wish all Catholic parishes did business as personally as Godin proposes.

Recently he said this:

“Marketers make change happen. Good marketing can change governments, heal the sick and bring a new technology to the masses. Marketers spend money (sometimes lots of it), take our time and transform our culture. It’s quite a powerful position to be in.

. . . .

At a recent conference for non-profits, a college student asked me, ‘what right does a public health person have to try to change the behavior of an at-risk group?’ That one was easy for me. How can they not work to tell stories and share information that will help those at risk change that behavior?

. . . .

For me, the line is clear. If the person you’re trying to change knew what you knew, would they want to change?”

In our society, religion is a private thing. You’re not supposed to share, or rather “impose,” your beliefs. Just keep it to yourself, man! I don’t NEED your morality!

But what if you do?

How can we not share information and stories that can help change the behaviors of those “at risk” of unhappiness, unfulfilled lives, and loss of purpose? Perhaps it’s merely my opinion and perspective. Perhaps they’re perfectly happy on their own and it’s none of my business. But if that person knew what you knew about God, would they want to change? There’s the real answer.

The gospel has the power to make change happen as well. It has changed cultures for centuries.

Who should hear it? Whoever would want to change if they knew about it. That’s actually not everyone, but it’s also not no one.

How do you know? If you get to know them, you’ll know.

Never Teach Without This

My keynote at the conference on Saturday. That little blue dot on the stage is me!

Last weekend I had the great privilege to speak at a catechetical conference in the Diocese of Nashville.

I did two keynotes. One for the general conference attendees on Saturday and another at a pre-conference dinner for diocesan staff and DRE’s on the Friday before.

I experienced something at the dinner that every catechist should know about and somehow incorporate in their teaching. When you’re speaking about the faith in front of any kind of audience, but especially one that makes you nervous, it pays not to be alone.
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