The final day of the LA RE Congress was excellent with two final sessions and concluding with Sunday Mass. My first session was with Fr Timothy Gallagher, an Oblate of the Virgin Mary, who are dedicated to the giving of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola. The second session was led by Paul Jarzembowski, a Catholic youth ministry leader who spoke of how to best engage the ‘nones’, ‘somes’ and ‘dones’.

Fr. Timothy Gallagher – Discerning the Will of God: An Ignatian Guide to Christian Decision-making

GallagherT1_Headshot_NOBG_250.jpgFr Timothy Gallagher OMV

I was really looking forward to Fr Tim Gallagher’s session as I had read his book Discernment of Spirits, on Ignatian Spiritual Discernment and I really found it valuable. This session focused more on discerning God’s will and applying this to our decision making in our everyday lives and in our Catholic institutions. I think that a clear and prayerful discernment process is really something that is missing in some of our Catholic institutions when it comes to making decisions around our work. Fr Timothy also has a book on this topic, called Discerning the Will of God, which I really need to read now. Below is a summary of my thoughts but this will by no means adequately represent what Fr Timothy presented.

Fr Timothy began by explaining the difference between the discernment of spirits and discernment of the God’s will.

Discernment of Spirits refers to the distinguishing of our ongoing spiritual experiences. Are we in consolation or desolation?

Discerning the Will of God refers to determining the will of God in all of the important decisions we make in our lives, particularly in relation to our vocation, career, family, etc.

The discernment of God’s will is underpinned by the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, which, at their heart, are focused on removing that which impedes the path to God’s will through methods such as the examination of conscience, meditation and exercises.

When faced with smaller choices, Fr Timothy provided the following simple scaffold:

  1. Pray – ask for God’s help in making the decision
  2. Review the factors – where will the choice lead? What impact will it have?
  3. Make our best decision – following the review, use your judgment to make a choice
  4. Do it with peace – trust in the workings of the Spirit
  5. Review and learn – what were the fruits of the decision? Was it the will of God? What would I do differently if faced with the same choice again?

For larger choices such as determining career and vocations, there is a more in-depth process comprising of a number of steps. These steps are enacted for significant choices, for which both options are good, and the person is free to choose either. I think this process would be invaluable for leadership teams in schools when discerning whole-school change initiatives.


  • Question: what choice does God want?
  • Foundation: why do I want to do God’s will?
  • Disposition: openness to whatever God wills through a variety of means
  • Discernment (through 3 different modes)
  • Fruit


Question: what choice does God want?

Once we have determined that both choices are objectively ‘good’ and that we are free to choose either option we can ask further questions. We need to then determine other factors. Does my state of life allow for this choice? Can I keep up with the good work I am already doing if I make this choice? How will this impact on my family, my first vocation?

Foundation: why do I want to do God’s will?

Fr Timothy recalled the passage from 1 John 4:19 “we love because he loved us first”. God created all of the other things on the earth for us so that we may attain the purpose for which he created us. Therefore, we should use the gifts He has given us to further His will.

When we are free to choose from among ‘good’  choices, we need to hold ourselves as in a balance with regard to these gifts. We should not be desirous of  health over sickness or wealth over poverty, etc. Our desires and choices should be ordered towards what leads us to the purpose for which God created us. Our choices need to praise God and serve his will on earth.

As Blessed John Henry Newman said:

“We are all created to his glory—we are created to do his will. I am created to do something or to be something for which no one else is created; I have a place in God’s counsels, in God’s world, which no one else has… God knows me and calls me by my name. God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission.”

Disposition: openness to whatever God wills

We can place ourselves in a position to be more open to the will of God by aligning ourselves through prayer and the sacraments:

  • Participating in the Holy Eucharist
    • Through the Mass and Eucharistic Adoration. The Eucharist gives us the Grace to follow God’s will.
  • Prayer with Sacred Scripture, particularly the Gospels
    • Particularly the Gospels and preferably daily. Having an intimate knowledge of our Lord helps us to follow Him all the more closely.
  • Silence
    • The stilling of the voices. We often need to ‘create silence’ as Søren Kierkegaard would argue. We need to find opportunities for silence in daily life and in retreat.
  • Spiritual Accompaniment
    • Engaginging in conversation. We need a guide and dialogue to advance ever closer to God’s will. We cannot rely solely on our own reflections. Accompaniment also relates to the ecclesial nature of our Catholic Faith.

Discernment: three modes

Three distinct modes exist for the actual discerning phase of decision making:

  • The First Mode: Clarity beyond Doubting
  • The Second Mode: An Attraction of the Heart
  • The Third Mode: A Preponderance of Reasons


The First Mode: Clarity beyond Doubting

This can be categorised as a movement of the heart by the will of God. After undertaking the above steps, the decision is so clear and obvious that no other decision seems possible. Three aspects are involved here:

  • Something may be ‘shown’ to the person.
  • The person’s will is drawn to what they are shown.
  • The person has no doubt about their decision, either in the moment or thereafter. They never waver in their choice and never change their mind.

An example of this would be Blessed Solanus Casey in his discernment to approach the Detroit Carmelite community to be admitted to their seminary. After question, foundation and disposition, Casey, after praying, ‘saw’ Detroit and felt God drawing him there. He had no doubt about this decision and his mind never wavered.

The Second Mode: An Attraction of the Heart

This mode involves Discernment of Spirits over time to determine how the person feels about their choices but only when in moments of Spiritual consolation. It is important to discern the Spirits to determine whether it is the Good Spirit or the Bad Spirit that is moving the decision making.
Fr Timothy provided the example of Ignatius himself when trying to discern whether his order should commit to an extreme poverty or a more moderate poverty. He committed to saying Mass for forty days and the discernment of spirits throughout the forty days and kept a journal of his experiences.
Consistently, over the forty


Paul Jarzembowski – Engaging the “Nones”: Evangelization of the Inactive and Disaffected

PJ-headshot-1zPaul Jarzembowski

This session was unfortunately interrupted by a fire alarm which forced us to evacuate the building for ten minutes so we didn’t get to spend as much time with Jarzembowski as we would have liked.

Jarzembowski began by presenting some interesting statistics regarding USA church attendance and participation. For example:

Mass weekly Mass attendance:

  • Pre Vatican II – 55%
  • Vatican II era – 23%
  • Post Vatican II – 22%
  • Millennials      – 14%

Clearly, we have some challenges…

The majority of Jarzembowski’s .  sources were from the book Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics, by Robert J. McCarty. I haven’t yet read this, but it is on the (ever growing) list of books I need to read soon.

What is clear from this text is that this is a dynamic challenge with no single profile of the disaffected and disaffiliated.

Jarzembowski also introduced us to some of the labels being used around disaffiliation:

  • ‘nones’ – the label we are used to – have absolutely no more affiliation with the Catholic faith
  • ‘dones’ – those almost done with the Catholic faith
  • ‘somes’  – those somewhat done with the Catholic faith

This is important as if we only look at the ‘nones’, we are ignoring the many, many people who are very close to separating themselves from their faith.

Jarzembowski also pointed out the long-held view that many young people would distance themselves from their faith, only to return for marriage and to bring their children up in the Catholic faith. The data for millenials, however, would demonstrate that this trend no longer holds true. Baptism rates are down, but not they have not fallen as far as those who have opted to be married outside the church. Even the rate of Catholic funerals is dropping…  The trend of cycling back to the faith is probably done… if we don’t keep our kids in the faith, we risk losing them forever….

Jarzembowski also presented some interesting views of millennials, which offered some reasons for hope. Millennial trust for institutions (especially big institutions) was down. This isn’t great news for the Church… However, trust for small local businesses was incredibly high and this is how we need to view our local parish.

Jarzembowski then presented for us a Gospel Framework for engaging the ‘nones’. This began with the fifteenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, or as he called it, the ‘lost’ chapter. In this chapter we see three parables all about those who are lost: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7) reminds us that we need to broaden our focus. We are no longer looking for the lost one sheep out of one hundred, we are now looking for the lost 86%!

The Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10) reminds us that we need to be audacious. Be audacious in our attempts to bring back the lost and to celebrate joyously when we do.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son . (luke 15:11-32) Luke reminds us to learn his methods of bringing the lost back into the fold.

  1. There must be first a reasoning and a human need, based on the state of life one is in, not necessarily a need for God. We see this in Luke 15:17 “But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!” The son ‘came to his senses’ in a very human way and recognised the need to be with his father.
  2. We must run towards those who are lost as the father ran to the son with compassion, seeing him a long way off in the distance. In Luke 15:19 we hear: “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” The father had clearly been waiting for him to come home and had been watching for him. We was filled with compassion and initiated first contact.
  3. We must celebrate the return of those who have been lost. In Luke 15:23 we hear “get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate”. How often do we celebrate so vigorously the return of someone to Mass at our parish?
  4. We must reach out to the other lost son, the brother who is angry and refuses to come into the house. We hear in Luke 15:28 that “his father came out and began to plead with him.”

Jarzembowski then linked the story of the prodigal son with the 2017 document Living as Missionary Disciples: A Resource for Evangelization. This document posits four aspects of reaching out to the ‘nones’.

  • Encounter
  • Accompany
  • Community
  • Sending Forth

Each of these he relates to the parable:

  • Encounter – Looking – the father sees the son from afar and runs to him
    • We must assess the territory without judgement.
    • We need to seek the other with compassion,.
  • Accompany – Listening – the father hears his son’s admission of guilt ‘I have sinned against you’.
    • We need to accompany and walk with those on their journey home.
    • We need to be full present, with an open mindset and be prepared to learn from their story of isolation and disaffiliation.
  • Community – Loving –  the father runs to the son and kisses him with raw emotion.
    • We need to connect parents and family or BE family to those who were lost.
    • Patience, forgiveness and tolerance are all essential.
    • We need to build strong communities so people are not lost again.
  • Sending Forth – Leading – the father celebrates and rejoices in the coming home of his son.
    • We help the lost to develop a deeper understanding of our community and aim for a joyful life in their discerned vocation. We send them forth on mission.

Lastly, we must remember to trust in the work of the Holy Spirit. I really liked this framework and the analogy to the parables of Luke 15.

Reasons for Hope

Moving on, Jarzembowski began examining some reasons for hope for the future. He began by looking at the reasons millennials are staying in the church.

First, they stay if they have a real relationship with adults outside of their families.

Secondly, they stayed if they had learned discernment skills, especially in relation to engaging with the culture, rather than dismissing it. Interestingly, those who are dismissive of the culture are the first to jump ship.

Thirdly, to stay, young people need to be taken seriously. They need to have their gifts used in leadership within the church.

Fourthly, the church needs to support young people in the discernment of their vocation and how God intersects with their work, careers and passion. This is particularly important from grade 10-12.

Lastly, they need to see God integrated into all aspects of their life. God in all things, as Ignatius would say. This was very affirming for the work we are doing in our diocese to permeate the mainstream curriculum with a Catholic worldview. This can really support students to see how God intersects in all of our lives.

Youth Ministry

Jarzembowski pointed to Youth Ministry as another important aspect of maintaining affiliation. Young adult ministry, post high school, he regarded as particularly important. Every diocese needs to invest in this because it is effective.

Moments of Return

We also need to be looking for the moments of return. Jarzembowski showed a graph of Mass attendance in the USA week by week throughout the year. The high points obviously being Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. Interestingly, Ash Wednesday was also incredibly high. This is a cultural phenomenon in the USA, with many people, though no longer identifying as Catholic, still attend Ash Wednesday services and still even give something up for Lent. We need to take advantage of these opportunities when we have people joining us in our churches. In Australia, the perfect time to be welcoming is the Vigil Mass at Christmas. What a great opportunity to engage the ‘nones’.

Church Initiatives

Other signs for hope exist in the upcoming synod for young people as well as the upcoming Apostolic Exhortation on youth and young adults. The Church is clearly prepared to listen to the young people

Concrete Strategies

Jarzembowski provided some brief but concrete strategies to support this important work:

  1. We need to assess with compassion, the reality of our community.
  2. We need to listen to the stories of the disaffected.
  3. We need to support young people at particular times of uncertainty (particularly important for Australia are those transition periods – Primary – High School, High School – beyond – we don’t do enough here).
  4. Invest in young adults at university.
  5. Support those people who are maintaining their engagement.
  6. Equip and support the parents and carers of the youth and young adults – maintain the domestic church.
  7. Maintain our groundedness in our own vocations.

This was an interesting session, unfortunately cut short by the fire alarm. Although our context in Australia is similar, there are some differences we are experiencing, particularly when we are looking through the lens of Catholic education. Many of our students  are currently two generations removed from any firm Catholic faith. This trend will only worsen, and so our strategies will need to take this into consideration.

Final Liturgy – Sunday Mass

We finished the week with Sunday Mass once again in the main arena. The Mass was presided over by Archbishop Gomez and was an extraordinarily beautiful Mass.

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The Gospel reading was the story of the raising of Lazarus, from which the Congress drew its theme ‘Rise Up!’ The call was clear; we need to ‘rise up’ out of our tombs, whatever our tombs may be and engage in the Mission of the Church.

You can watch the closing liturgy below:

Final Thoughts…

The RE Congress was an amazing experience and one I am still processing. More learning will come the more time I have had to reflect on the workshops and our own context in Australia.

If you have been thinking of sending people to the RE Congress, I can highly recommend it!