Saturday, April 29, 2023



Want your teen to feel happier and less anxious? Get them off their phone and social media.

Phil McGraw and Dr. John Whyte

Mon, April 24, 2023 

The mental health crisis among our children has reached epidemic proportions, especially among teenagers. They're dying more frequently and feeling more depressed, anxious, lonely and hopeless than ever before.

Although prolonged isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic definitely made the problem worse, it predates the past three years.

A new review in the Journal of the American Medical Association found marked increases in pediatric mortality in 2020 and 2021, rising 11% and 8% in those years, mostly among teenagers and largely among males.

It wasn't COVID-19 infections driving the increase in mortality. Instead, it was suicide, homicide and drug-related deaths. These were "deaths of despair," where children feel so hopeless that they turn to drugs or suicide.

Notice we don't say "drug overdoses." That term doesn't begin to describe our problem accurately. Too many children are using social media platforms to buy counterfeit pills, a high percentage of which are laced with lethal doses of fentanyl. That's not an accidental overdose. That's poisoning.

CDC finds teen girls are more likely to feel sad and hopeless

Despair can turn debilitating well before it becomes deadly. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey revealed a marked increase in the share of teenage girls who felt sad or hopeless, surging from 36% in 2011 to 57% in 2021. For boys, the share was 21% in 2011 and 29% in 2021.

Nearly a third of teenage girls have "seriously considered attempting suicide," an increase of nearly 60% since 2011.

Adults can and must help. Parents, guardians, teachers, coaches and anyone else with access must recognize the symptoms and guide those suffering to the right kind of evidenced-based help. These children need acknowledgement, support and the tools to cope with a tough, sometimes isolating and intimidating world.

An important note: We shouldn't try to shield them from the problems of the world, because those problems aren't going away. Nor will false reassurance do them any good. We need to strengthen their character so they have realistic confidence in their ability to cope with personal and societal challenges.

The bottom line is those of us in charge of preparing them for "the next level" of life have failed to do our jobs. Maybe it was too easy for us to allow them to be "electronically babysat" by the devices we bought them to notice they were not becoming socialized, developing self-esteem and finding their passion. That's on us.

Several leading researchers have posited reasons why teens are so sad now. New York University professor Jonathan Haidt blames the rise of social media and the amount of time teens spend on their phones instead of with friends. Haidt has said that "childhood has been rewired" by phone-based social media.

When teenagers, especially teen girls, compare themselves with their peers and famous influencers for hours on end – instead of hanging out with friends and family face-to-face – it's no wonder they become anxious or depressed.

Experts say there's link between smartphone use and rise in depression

Some experts have suggested a direct line between the advent of smartphones and social media and increases in teenage depression and anxiety. The JAMA review points out that suicide rates among those ages 10 to 19 began to increase in 2007, the same year Apple introduced the iPhone.

And Haidt shows that anxiety began to skyrocket among teens the same year Facebook bought Instagram and increased its user base.

Derek Thompson, a writer for The Atlantic, has helpfully collated other expert hypotheses for the teen mental health crisis. He also notes that sociality among teens is down.

Psychologists Jean Twenge and Laurence Steinberg of Temple University told Thompson that social media has replaced other important activities. Teens today get less sleep, play fewer sports and spend less time with friends than teens in the 2000s.

They're also getting fewer summer jobs. The Census Bureau reported last year that third-quarter (summer) employment levels for 14- to 18-year-olds were at their lowest levels in 28 years. As a result, teens are missing out on valuable character-building experiences.

Teenagers are also bombarded with more bad news through many more channels of access than teenagers in previous generations. They now exhibit high rates of anxiety related to policy issues like immigration, climate change and gun violence.

It's clear from the literature that activities devoid of phones and the internet improve happiness. Twenge cites a study of eighth and 10th graders from 2013 to 2016. While texting, social media and surfing the web correlate with lower self-reported happiness, sports or exercise, volunteer work, movies, religious services and concerts correlate with higher self-reported happiness.

Clearly, we are in a teen mental health crisis, with social media and modern technology largely to blame. Unfortunately, going cold turkey on social media and cellphones society wide isn't a practical way to address this collective-action problem.

Teachers and schools have a role to play. In class, they can promote group activities that require discussion without any technology. Outside of class, they might encourage their charges to join a sports team, school play or a hobby club.

As adults, we should notice when our teens spend too much time on their phones and encourage them to go out and see a friend. But it must be on a collective level. Parents and teachers should get together and say enough is enough.

Communities from schools to neighborhood blocks to churches must unite and together model the value of social connection. It's not too late, but we have no time to lose.

Friday, April 28, 2023








Let me "raise a toast of gratitude!" I have lived longer than both of my parents and and my youngest sister. In just two years, if things keep going well, I will have lived longer than three of my four grandparents! In five years I will have outlived the last of them! 







Tuesday, April 25, 2023




Rev. Ronald Knott

What matters is that one is being created anew.
Galatians 6:15

If you think “spiritual leadership” is about parish management techniques, you are wrong. Spiritual leadership is not the same as parish management, the focus of most Catholic books on the practice of ministry in recent years.

An e-mail I received from a woman friend in Massachusetts a few years ago says it all. “Our parish is going to have an opportunity for spiritual growth with (our new pastor) and I could not be happier. (The former pastor) was more of a businessman than a spiritual leader, which was good for building the big complex and paying off the mortgage, but it left so many (spiritually) dry. This change will be good.”  

Spiritual leadership operates on the emotional and spiritual resources of the organization, on its values, commitments, and aspirations. Management, by contrast, operates on the on the physical resources of the organization, on its capital, human skills, raw materials, and technology. As the management guru, Peter Drucker has said, “Management is doing things right; leadership is about doing the right thing.” If that is true, then it is much easier, for example, to balance a budget or build a gym than it is to lead people into a deeper level of discipleship. Leading people into a deeper level of discipleship is what spiritual leadership is all about.

It is not enough for a spiritual leader to be personally holy, even though a person responsible for leading others spiritually ought to possess it in the highest degree. Anyone who accepts responsibility for leading others to holiness should have already learned the self-discipline necessary for personal holiness. St. Bonaventure reminds us in his THE SIX WINGS OF THE SERAPH, that having already learned to live a holy life as an individual Christian, spiritual leaders must learn how to exercise authority over other Christians in a way that will be useful to them.  Certainly they need to have certain virtues in order to conduct their own lives without reproach, but they also need to have additional virtues as well: the ability to humbly obey those who exercise leadership over them as well as the ability to give worthwhile spiritual direction to the people under their care.

Neither is it enough for spiritual leaders to seek holiness, their own or others, as if it were simply quantitative, a set of calculated ascetical and devotional practices that will result in the desired outcome. Real spirituality is first and foremost about embracing the mystery of God in oneself and others. As Jesus taught the Scribes and Pharisees, real spirituality is about metanoia, a change of heart or a new way of thinking, not merely checking off a list of pious practices or simply following the established rules of the church. It has always been easier to count prayers and display religious conformity than it is to become a “new creation.” 

What, then, is “spiritual leadership?” Spiritual leadership is ultimately influence, the ability of one person to influence another through invitation, persuasion, example and the skillful use of the Church’s rite and rituals to move from where they are to where God wants them to be.

God is working throughout the world to achieve his purposes and to advance his kingdom. God’s concern is not to advance leaders’ dreams and goals nor to join in their agendas nor to bless their efforts. Neither do not try to satisfy the goals and ambitions of the people they lead, but rather those of the God they serve. Spiritual leaders seek God’s will and then marshal the people they lead to do his will. 

Leaders may entertain, impress or even motivate people, but if there is no spiritual growth in the people they lead, their leadership comes from the leader’s talent, but not necessarily from God. When spiritual leaders have done their jobs, people around them have encountered God and do his will.  The spiritual leader’s primary task is to work with God to encourage the faith of others. Spiritual leaders allow God to use them in his work to transform people into better disciples. When someone leads in the Spirit’s power, lives are changed. Spiritual leadership is about influence in helping make Christ real to others.

Unlike secular leadership, which is something to which people can aspire, spiritual leadership is assigned by God. Spiritual leaders are not elected, appointed, or created by personnel boards. God alone makes them. One does not become a spiritual leader by merely filling an office, taking course work on the subject or resolving in one’s own will to do this task. People do not become spiritual leaders unless God calls them to this role and equips them for it.

Spiritual leadership is far from magic because “grace builds on nature.” This means, in part, that a certain level of human effort is necessary in order for grace to do its work of transforming a person chosen by God into a skilled spiritual leader. The Parable of the Talents reminds us that even the gifts God bestows on us must be “invested.” God’s call to spiritual leadership may be instant, but developing spiritual leadership skills require years of focused attention and prayer. One does not become a spiritual leader by simply dabbling in it, but through a deliberate intention to master the skills needed. “Intention” comes from the Latin word “intendere,” means to “reach for” or “stretch toward.”

One of my favorite quotes on this kind of commitment is from W. H. Murray. “Until one of committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans” that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meeting and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would come his way.” (The Scottish Himalayan Expedition, J. M. Dent, London, 1951) Jesus calls and equips, but a spiritual leader must answer that call and be skillful in using the equipping that God offers. 

Natural leadership qualities are an important component of spiritual leadership. These natural talents may be God given, but they must be called forth, trained and used for spiritual leadership. In the area that seminaries call “human formation,” spiritual leaders must develop certain qualities that God can build on and work with. He must, among others things, be able to:

·         master his appetites

·         remain calm in crises and resilient in disappointment

·         think independently

·         handle criticism

·         triumph over set-backs

·         demonstrate strength, not power

·         reconcile differences

·         induce people to do something they would not otherwise do

·         take opposition without taking offense

·         trust people

·         say ‘thank you”

·         make and keep friends

·         have an ease in the presence of strangers and superiors

·         show and interest in, and a concern for, all types and races of people

·         be tactful and steady

·         demonstrate an ability to forgive

·         be optimistic

·         welcome responsibility

·         keep a secret

·         get over demanding perfection of self and others

·         adapt to various audiences

·         be above reproach

·         enjoy a good reputation

·         possess an unquestioned personal morality

·         teach

·         be actively considerate

·         manage his own affairs

·         be spiritually mature

·         possess a magnanimous spirit and broad vision

·         finish a job, especially a difficult job


Even though spiritual leadership is a gift, accepting such a gift it is hardly ever easy. “My son, if you wish to serve the Lord, be ready for a battle.” (Sirach 2:1-6) When God finds a person who is ready to lead, to commit to full discipleship and to take responsibility for others, that person is used to the limit. Because of that, spiritual leadership has always required strength and faith beyond the merely human. Gideon asked God, “How can I do what you have called me to do?” “I will be with you,” God answered. Psalm 80:18 says, “May your hand be on the one you have chosen, the one you have given your strength.”

Spiritual leadership may be difficult, but it is worth the sacrifice. One can find great comfort in the encouraging, yet challenging, words of George Bernard Shaw. “The true joy of life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are being thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” 

Spiritual leadership, since it is a gift, must neither be strident nor flamboyant. A real spiritual leader conducts a ministry that is self-effacing, encouraging, quiet, unobtrusive, sympathetic and merciful. A true spiritual leader lives the words written about Jesus, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”

A true spiritual leader never gives into pessimism because he knows that God has already seen that the end will be victorious. The kingdom will come, not because of us, but in spite of us.

True spiritual leaders never abandon those they lead because they refuse to follow or blame them when they do not behave as they should behave. Rather, they step back and work on their skills to influence, induce and mobilize.  Rejection can be a sign that the leader is on the right path, but it can also be a sign of serious personality defects on the part of the leader.

Spiritual leaders in name only, people who make no difference in people’s lives, are not actually spiritual leaders. Spiritual leadership is ultimately not measured by position or title or even ordination, but results. The test of a spiritual leader is whether those under his care have grown in their discipleship.

As a reaction to the authoritarianism of the pre- Vatican II church, a style of spiritual leadership, leadership from the rear, became popular in the post-Vatican II church. Those who chaffed under too much control in the pre-Vatican II church wanted freedom.  As a result, a sort of abdication of leadership became popular. In reaction, those who crave order and fall apart in the presence of pluralism want to go back to the imagined security of the past.

Why should we have to choose between dictators and wimps? Why not leaders who exude strength and character? Consultation, consensus building and power sharing are good and even necessary, but a spiritual leader cannot lead from the rear. “If the trumpet is uncertain, who will prepare for war?” Spiritual leaders are called to be real leaders, not merely chairpersons.

Vision, and its communication through word and deed, is what pastoral leadership is all about. Pastoral leadership communicates the vision of the kingdom to come constantly: in preaching, in face-to-face conversation and personal example. The spiritual leader must convince people that he believes the Good News, is excited about it and personally puts it into practice.

The kingdom, here and to come, is the vision. A spiritual leader’s task is to inspire people to reach for it, through word and deed. His job is to hold the congregation, without wavering, to the vision of the God’s kingdom, here and to come. People naturally want to belong to, and support, a church that knows who it is and what God wants it to do.

People want to be challenged and encouraged, not condemned or belittled. As I heard a Baptist minister say, “Before you can correct, you have to connect.” People want their vision lifted to higher sights, their performance to a higher level, their personalities stretched beyond normal limitations. The reasons people leave the church are: not understanding, and being personally connected to, the central message of the gospel; not being treated with respect and dignity by church leaders; being prevented from offering their gifts and talents; not being listened to; and not being rewarded with more responsibility.

In reaction to an indiscriminate and uncritical acceptance of secular leadership theory by some church leaders, other church leaders, especially the younger ones, reject any and all secular leadership principles. This is a sad fact because many of the “modern’ leadership principles currently being espoused are, in fact, biblical principles. They must be read critically, but much can be learned from them.

Likewise, many young church leaders will not read “Protestant” leadership material. This too is a sad fact, because “some, even very many, of the most significant elements or endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church herself can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church. Whatever is wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can contribute to our own edification” (The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J., general editor and Msgr. Joseph Gallagher, translation editor, Guild Press, New York, 1966,  “Document on Ecumenism,” chapter 1) A true spiritual leader will be open to learning from many sources. The truth is the truth no matter who speaks it. 

Where do priests begin when they want to improve their spiritual leadership skills? They begin with their own relationship with God. Spiritual leadership ability grows in direct proportion to one’s own spiritual growth. As spiritual leaders grow, they increase their capacity to lead. As they increase their capacity to lead, those they lead are empowered to grow proportionately. The best thing spiritual leaders can do for their people is to grow personally. As leaders commit to their own personal growth and learning, they become ever better vehicles for carrying out God’s work. Pope John Paul II said it well, “All formation, including priestly formation, is ultimately self-formation.”




Sunday, April 23, 2023



With eyes downcast and hopes dashed, two disciples headed out of town for the
town of Emmaus, discussing among themselves all the things that had just happened.
Luke 24

This gospel story, by the way, is the gospel story that was read at my "First Mass." Fifty-three years later, it still speaks to me in a very powerful way. It still reminds me that things are not always as bad as they may appear on the surface. In fact, today's gospel is yet another version of the "empty tomb" story we read on Easter Sunday - another example of a great big breakdown preceding a big breakthrough. 

In this story, it is Sunday evening and two disciples are walking away from Jerusalem. With eyes cast down, they are dragging their feet in a depression toward a small town called Emmaus. Some commentators believe they may have been a married couple - the disciples Cleophas and his unnamed wife.  Jesus had died a humiliating death just three days before. Earlier that very morning, some women had returned from the tomb, claiming that the tomb was empty and that they had seen some angels who had told them that Jesus was alive! Obviously, these two either had not heard the "good news" about Jesus' resurrection or had dismissed such reports as just the wishful thinking of distraught women friends.

“We had hoped,” they told the mysterious stranger. “We had hoped that Jesus was going to be the Messiah, but obviously we were duped. It did not pan out as we were expecting. We were hoping and now we have no hope. We just had to get away from the whole scene. We are disappointed. We were badly misled. We are angry. We don’t have any idea what to do next, but we are certainly not going to be taken in again by this latest bit of crazy news. “Hurt me once, shame on you! Hurt me twice, shame on me!”

This story symbolizes all people who have had their hopes dashed. Just as our church has been doing for the last several years, these two demoralized disciples pour out their despair, their anger, their sadness and their resentment. This mysterious stranger listens and then begins to review the scriptures, reminding them that God has always intervened to save his people when they hit bottom.

As they walk along, Jesus goes over story after story from the scriptures and shows them how God had always come to their rescue and could even overcome the death of their master. As these two demoralized disciples listened, Jesus made his case. The fire in their hearts that had all but died out, was fanned into flame again. Little by little, their eyes were opened by the explanation of Scripture and in the breaking of the bread. They came to understand that this stranger was indeed Jesus himself! Having left the gathered disciples back in Jerusalem a few hours earlier, they rushed back to rejoin the faith community who had their own stories of restored hope to share.

We, as a church, are still in a depression. We are still sharing our anger, resentment and sadness at all that has happened to us in the last few years. This Easter, in the midst of all these dashed hopes, we 21st century disciples gather again to share the scriptures and break the bread, hoping that we will recognize the presence of Jesus and have our faith renewed and our hope restored. Renewed by this Easter faith, maybe some of those who have left our faith community will, like these two disciples, someday soon get up and come back to rejoin our faith community again. If they do, they may be surprised to find out that more than 150,000 new members a year have joined us each Easter across the country through baptism and profession of faith.

One of my favorite ways to explain the message of Easter is an image I discovered many years ago.  In that image, the church is pictured as a gigantic egg. We woke up a few years ago to realize that this egg was covered with fine cracks. Each year the cracks have seemed to get bigger and bigger. Some people have simply walked away from it as they would a hopeless case. Others have been hysterically running around with ropes and tape and ladders trying to glue it all back together.

Having raised chickens as a child, I know that there is a better response that we need to make! We can stand back and let it hatch! The cracking egg shell is not a sign of death, but a sign of new a chick being born!  I know from experience that the dumbest thing you can do in a hatching process is to tape the shell shut!  Easter reminds us that the church is not falling apart, but giving birth. The church is not dying, it is being reborn and renewed. Breakdown is a sign of an imminent breakthrough. There is no birth and renewal without pain. Ask any woman who has given birth!  

The Easter message is both simple and profound: in the long run, no matter what you are facing (cancer, addiction, divorce or even the loss of a loved one), there is absolutely no reason to lose hope when one puts one's trust in the one who conquered death and rose again! He promised us, in the process, that good will ultimately triumph over evil when all is said and done!  

I will end by quoting the words of one of those old gospel songs I heard a few weeks ago, entitled “Joy Comes in the Morning”

If you’ve knelt beside the rubble of an aching broken heart,
When the things you gave your life to fell apart,
You’re not the first to be acquainted with sorrow, grief or pain,
But the Master promised sunshine after rain.
Hold on my child! Hold on my child!
Weeping only lasts for the night.
Hold on my child! Hold on my child!
The darkest hour means dawn is just in sight!

"When the things you gave your life to fell apart?" "The Master promised sunshine after rain?" Yes, it is true, it is darkest right before the dawn.  There is always a great breakdown before a great breakthrough. There is no resurrection without a death!  That's why real Christians never give up! No matter what happens! They never give up!