Freedom of Conscience


Freedom of Conscience is an important part of religion and is regularly overlooked. The job of the Church’s teaching office is to outline truth. When it comes to ethics and morals this means defining what is right and wrong. The church does this well, however, Karl Rahner says,

“The Church’s teaching office can provide this pure presence of the truth of revelation in the Church, but it is not in a position to supervise the conformity of the individual’s specific faith with the Church’s doctrine.” [1]

While the Church sets guidelines for morality, it is the responsibility of the individual to use their freedom of conscience to discern where and when to apply those rules. Rahner goes on to say,

“In respect to the individuals faith, when this faith takes on tangible form in society, the teaching office can only ascertain that this particular expression of faith does not contradict the universal faith of the Church”.[2]

“Ascertain” means to find something out for certain. Rahner is saying that the job of the church is to say with certainty whether or not a particular act goes against Goodness itself.


The Catholic Church has not always been supportive of the freedom of conscience in its members. The Fourth Lateran Council made it obligatory to confess sins once a year in 1215 and then issued the states secular authorities to enforce excommunication.[3] People obeyed the Church’s moral obligations, however, “Fear of Divine Judgement loomed large among the motivational forces”.[4] Moral obligation expressed only as “Fear of Divine Judgement” is often minimalistic; i.e. People perform the minimum amount they feel obligated to do and no more. This use of fear and secular authorities contradicts the primacy of freedom of a person’s conscience according to the Catechism.[5] 


Now, this is not to say that we do not need the Church’s teaching office. As I stated earlier, it is necessary to have the boundaries of right and wrong set for us. However, laying out what the boundaries are is very different from supervising the conformity of an individual’s faith. As soon as you enforce the rules, you set yourself as opposed to anyone who does not follow every rule. The coercion into conformity is the basis of almost every argument against the Church. From Nietzsche and Karl Marx to the modern high school student; each one has a problem with the act of forcing conformity to a certain way of living. Moral theology is about determining what a person ought to do and communicating it with people. What good does it do people to use guilt, fear, coercion or state imprisonment as a way of forming someone’s conscience?

This has doomed the Catholic Church especially. We have people who are members of the Church, yet they feel as if they are also enemies of the Church. The role of the Christian church should be to help people understand why the rules exist so they can see that God desires their ultimate happiness. The church needs people who follow God’s will because they love God and because they trust that God knows and wants what is best for them. If they feel as if they are in opposition, they become consumers. They are Consumers of Sacraments, consumers of prayer and worship. Consumers do not volunteer, they do not fully engage in prayer and worship and they are quick to complain. This leads to a culture of whining. Consumers complain about inefficiency, volunteers complain about the non-volunteers, the fully engaged complain about the unengaged, the choir blames the people, the people blame the music, and the Church leader complains about everything.


We need to build a culture of trust. Just as the teaching office needs to trust Christ, the people of God need to trust the teaching office of the Church. People need to be able to trust Church leaders and Church leaders need to trust people to judge themselves. This means we need to teach, as Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 11:31, that if we are “more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment”. If people do not trust the Church it is the Church who has failed the people and it is the Church who must work to earn trust back.


[1] Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations: Final Writings New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992 pg. 85

[2] Rahner, Theological Investigations: Final Writings

[3] Norman P. Tanner. “Papal Encyclicals Online” Kindle, Nook, EPUB: Last updated February 20, 2017, 21

[4] F. Stanley Lusby, Encyclopedia of Religion (Linda M. Tober; Detroit USA: Thomson Gale. 2005) 1941

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church 1790

13 Reasons Why


This is 13 reasons why adults should watch the new Netflix show “13 Reasons Why”. I wish you were hearing my slow deliberate voice through an old cassette player but it’s a blog…

(P.S. There are some spoilers ahead, although I think I warn just before I say them each time. But you’ve been warned!)

1. Your kid is watching it

First off, I’m not here to say if this show is appropriate for teenagers or not. I’m a Youth Minister and I decided to watch this show for the same reason I went to go see The Fault in Our Stars, because teenagers are going to watch it. You may not let them, but they may still watch it and you are going to want to have seen it if your kids start asking questions! I think as parents, teachers, youth ministers etc. we need to watch what they are watching, especially when it involves emotionally heavy content like this.

2. It’s actually good!

I am wrapped up in the characters of this show, I think it is well written and gripping television. Now it can be a little “teenagery” but I mean that is what the shows about! Like any good show though when that Netflix countdown starts it takes every ounce of me to turn it off at 2 am when I’ve already spent too much time watching it! I can’t stop watching it and I am emotionally involved with the characters, the sign of a good show!

3. It’s real

We can live in a fantasy world or we can admit this is basically what high school is like. I asked a high school student if the show was an accurate depiction of high school and she said it was dead on… be horrified! Now some things happen that are a little over the top but I think that is on purpose. When you are a teenager everything feels much more dramatic than it actually is, everything feels like it is life and death, and it is to a teenager. The difference is in this show it just is that dramatic. Ask your kids if they think this is an accurate depiction of high school, prepare for a yes!

4. It reminds you what it feels like to be 17

Oh the drama that was involved in being young, if you want to feel those dreaded feelings again watch the show. If not, well suck it up and watch it anyway! Watching this show is hard for me because I relate so much with Clay, the main character. High school was hard and awkward and I always felt so different from everyone and I’m sure that is true for many adults looking back. This show feels like your in high school all over again, I think that feeling helps us understand what its like to be 17 again. Your kids are probably dying to hear about what your high school experience was like, tell them about it even if you have to leave out some details…

5. Self-Reflection

In the show Clay judges everyone for the things they’ve done wrong and he tries to right everyone else’s wrongs. Until he gets to his tape and says “I’m just like everyone else.” I was writing this right before that episode and I was disappointed Clay came out as clean as he did. No one is innocent. What he does realize is that inaction can be just as bad as actions. This show made me think about who I was in high school, I was a good kid who didn’t party, but I judged everyone else. I only realized much later how arrogant and conceited I was being. I was hoping Clay would realize this too. The point though is to help us take a good long critical look at ourselves, a good message to reiterate to your kids.

6. Feeling Alone

There is a lot of loneliness going on in this show, Clay, Hannah, Jessica, Clay’s Mom, Hannah’s Mom, even Justin. A key reason people commit suicide and/or suffer from depression is loneliness. We should become more aware of our own loneliness and other people’s loneliness so we can talk about it. When people are lacking solid social supports it leads to addiction, depression and just bad decisions in general. It becomes harder in high school when you don’t know who you can trust and when you and everyone around you are trying to figure out who they are. We care about the kids we parent or work with but I know they don’t always feel like it, we need to continuously remind them that we are there for them.

9. Communication

I think this show is bringing to light how important good communication is between parents, kids, teachers, guidance counselors…etc. When I was a high schooler I had no secrets with my parents… mostly because I was a loser who didn’t drink or swear… This show reveals the importance of honest and open communication by showing the suffering that comes with keeping secrets. In the show the teenagers keep secrets from adults WAY too much! Use this as a teaching tool, as an opening into better communication between you and your kids. I think this is the most important thing to come out of this show.

7. Suicide

Suicide is real. Depression is real. It is happening more and more in teenagers and we need to be more aware of it and talk about it openly. However this show isn’t really about suicide or mental illness, it’s more about how our actions can hurt others, how doing the right thing at the right time can help in ways we may never see. A good person is someone who does the right thing even when no one is watching. This show reveals the worst consequences possible for making a bad choice. Talk to your kids about how every choice matters no matter how small we may think it is.

8. Ethics

The heart of this show is about doing the right thing no matter the consequences. It is also about the consequences of not doing the right thing. Some things are less serious than others but everything in the show has the cumulative consequence of Hannah killing herself (oh and spoiler alert: Jeff). Some things that happen make you wonder if any real wrong was actually done. Like when Zack doesn’t do anything after getting a note with a pretty deep confession from Hannah. Our actions matter and even our inaction can have huge consequences. 13 Reasons Why teaches us to say the things we need to say. Talk about consequences and about what “doing the right thing” means with your kids. I think they will surprise you with the depth of their thoughts on these big questions.


10. Sexual Assault

Spoiler Alert! A sexual assault takes place in the show. We hear increasing accounts of this exact thing happening in colleges and in adult life. We would be naive to think that this is not happening in high schools too. This is yet another issue that this show brings to the forefront and forces us to deal with whether we want to or not. Guys learn to be misogynists and, as a guy who was once in high school I can say, it starts in high school. Talk to teenage men about what kind of a man they want to be and what kind of man you expect them to be. Talk to teenage women about being safe and avoiding dangerous situations.

11. “Bullying”

I hate the term “bullying” because it has become meaningless. When I was a kid a bully was the kid who wore dirty clothes and stole your lunch money. Now we use it to describe everything from teasing to joking to a look. The one truth about human beings is that people are often terrible to each other, it’s a fact of life. It doesn’t matter how old you get or where you are in life some people are going to be awful to you. Clay’s Mom asks him “Are you being bullied at school?” I just want to ask her if she has ever left the house? Ever met another human? Everyone has been both bully and bullied. We are all guilty at some point in our life. The key is, cut the people who consistently treat you bad out of your life and hold on to the ones who treat you well. It took me a long time to figure this one out and I still feel the effects from the “friends” who treated me terribly. Talk to your kids about how to deal with people who are mean to them and how to treat others with respect. If we leave out the latter then we act as if everyone is a victim but everyone acts as the victim sometimes and the bully at other times.

12. It’s important

The issues addressed in this show are so important and relevant to our society and we are talking about them in simplified and cliche ways. Having real, deep and honest discussion about these issues with your kids is as difficult as it is necessary. If we don’t talk about these things, they will get worse and then they will happen to more and more young people. This show is all about paradigm shift, changing the culture by going against the grain. Even if you never watch this show, talk about this stuff at home, in classrooms, in churches etc. The heart wrench you feel when watching this show is what your kids are dealing with every single day.

13. Your kid is watching it and it’s real!

In the last episode you watch Hannah Baker kill herself in the bathtub. It is devastating. I do not think it is a good idea to let a teenager deal with the gravity of this show on their own. That’s what this show is trying to say. You will probably say something stupid or wrong or insensitive… Talk anyway. Your kid probably won’t want to talk about rape, depression, suicide, loneliness… Talk about it anyway. Don’t look at this show as another thing you have to deal with. Look at this show as a fantastic opportunity to open some discussion about things that are real in your kids life.  This is scary stuff but its a reality for them.

You’re not ready, I get it. You feel inadequate, I hear ya! You don’t know what to say, mhmm. 13 Reasons Why is a show about saying what needs to be said. It’s about doing what is right. It’s about not being a spectator. So parents, teachers, youth ministers, quit reading and go for it, and maybe say a prayer first!





Why Do We Call God “Father”?

It was hard to find any appropriate memes for this topic…
I get this question a lot when I go into the elementary school classrooms, however I can never give an adequate answer. The reason I can’t ever give them a real answer is because they are usually in about grade 5 and I think the only adequate answer is about sex. So yes, to your shock and horror I am going to sexualize God and the Bible and probably get everyone mad at me.

So usually I start out by telling the kids how God’s maleness isn’t just a sexist way to describe God but that God is called male for a reason. The Church is the Bride of Christ and Christ is the Bridegroom. This automatically makes God male and the rest of us female and not just in a metaphorical way. In a relation of human to human we have a type of female or maleness, but in a relationship on a supernatural level we are all female and God is male. I think this gets confused a lot because of modern society’s confusion with the distinction between sex and gender. Sex is a biological fact while (to the chagrin of the sexually liberated) gender is not an identity you choose, it is a type of person based on sex. The word Gender comes from the word “Genus” which means a general distinction (as opposed to a species or specific type). So gender is just a general category that we fit into based on sex. This distinction between gender and sex is not what this blog is about however…

So I want to argue that Sex and faith have the male female distinction and that God has used sex to tell us truths about Himself. I mean why wouldn’t He first of all? Sex is as close to Heaven, as close to bliss and ecstasy that we can get in our physical human form. It is a beautiful and wonderful gift that expresses the divine. The Bible expresses Jesus as the Bridegroom a lot!

In Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19 and Luke 5:34, the Apostles are referred to as the friends, guests, or children depending on the translation, of the Bridegroom commonly accepted to be Jesus Christ.

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.”- Matthew 25:1-13

“Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church” – Ephesians 5:22-25

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” -Revelation 19:9

The Bible is clearly using the relationship between husband and wife to represent the relationship between God/Jesus and His people (sometimes considered the “church” and sometimes considered the “city of Jerusalem”). There is an obvious ongoing metaphor so I’d like to take this metaphor one step further. I heard one time that a very devout Catholic couple referred to their marital sex as “Celebrating the Sacrament”. So why not bring in the sexual aspect of marriage into the metaphor from the Bible? I mean sex is a key part of marriage so maybe God is trying to tell us something by using this Bride/Bridegroom language all the time.

When it comes to male and female, we have to talk about sexuality, so we are going to get a little explicit here. What makes a man, a man is that he has a penis and what makes a woman, a woman is that she has a vagina (duh). So what makes someone male is the ability to literally and physically enter into the female. (See why I can’t explain this to elementary school children?) This makes the man the natural “aggressor” while the woman is the natural “receiver”. You could say that the man is offense and the woman is defense and we see this in stereotypical, traditional gender roles. Outside of just the sexual act we commonly see the man as the pursuer and the woman as the pursued. The man typically makes the first move while the woman decides whether or not to receive the offer. (btw I’m trying to make this sound less like a horror film but I can’t, so don’t think of “aggressor” and “offense” and “pursuer” in a violent or patriarchal way.)

In human to human relationship this is obvious, especially in the 50s. Now let’s take this analogy to God/Jesus’ relationship to His church. C.S. Lewis calls God “The hound of Heaven” and talks about how God pursues us. Just to make this blog post as sexual as possible let’s look at the naked picture on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel….


Look how God stretches, pursues Adam who represents humanity. God is on offense while Adam (all of us) get to choose whether or not we want to receive God. We can take the sexual analogy and say that God is the one who “enters into” our lives, our hearts. God is incarnated as a human being; God penetrates our physical world with the incarnation of Jesus. I’d even go so far to say that Jesus enters into us in a physical way in the Eucharist. The body of Christ literally and physically comes into our body. You could even say that we become impregnated with the graces of God and give birth to the Good works we perform. Now you can say that is over-sexualizing God but so what? If we see sex as something dirty or perverted then this seems disgusting or sick. However if we saw sex the way God sees it, the way He created it to be and the way it exists in an ideal Christian marriage then this is a profound explanation of our relationship with God.

So to answer the question, this is exactly why we call God “Father”. Because we are the Bride of Christ and Christ is our Bridegroom. God has to be considered male because of what being male is (which I think we’ve lost sight of lately). I think this is more than metaphor or analogy, I think this is the fullest expression of love. In a human sexual relationship the goal is to become one.

“and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” Mark 10:8

The goal of our relationship with God is also that we should become one with the divine and that happens when God enters into our bodies, hearts and minds.









Youth Group`s NOT Dead

Below is from a blog I read, the italics are my thoughts and the application in youth ministry, the rest is not mine. I only took the part about Adolescence because I think it is particularly important. They go through each age group. The bolded bullet points and underlining are done by me to draw special attention to them. To read the full blog, please click the link here, it is a great read!

Phew! It’s Normal. An Age by Age Guide for What to Expect From Kids & Teens


  • Friends will be more important than family. You’re still important, but there’s something they have to do – find who they will be when they step into the world as a healthy, independent adult.  Just like you had to do at their age.

One of the best things a parent  can do for their teen during this stage is give them opportunities to make and build good healthy friendships. The church is a great opportunity for parents to allow their teen freedom and independence while not having to worry about the risky behaviours that get mentioned below.

  • What their peers think of them will be a source of stress to them for a while, peaking for girls at age 13 and for boys at age 15. They might go to extra lengths to try to fit in with their peers. This might involve making silly decisions or putting themselves in risky situations. Breathe. It will end.
  • They will become more argumentative and will push against you more. This is perfectly in keeping with their adolescent adventure and their experimentation with independence.

Youth Ministers (both volunteer and a CYM) can be an excellent catalyst by simply listening to teens complain about their parents while reminding the teen not to be too hard on their parents. Well formed volunteers can be the stepping stone between parents and teens so that teens feel an adult is hearing them and taking them seriously but not joining them in blaming everything on parents. It is dangerous for people in youth ministry to take sides but important that teens feel they have an ally.

  • May become more emotionally distant from you (don’t worry – they’ll come back but maybe not until they leave their teens).
  • Might not want to be seen in public with you – however cool you are.

This is the most important point for churches to hear. According to the NSYR (National Study of Youth and Religion) teenagers said they want to spend more time with their parents. However it is important to note they do not want to be seen in public with their parents. This is key because we can promote family ministry without focusing solely on family events. Our desire to promote family ministry can cause us to do only “Family Events” which alienates teenagers.  This is the exact reason why High School youth groups are still relevant, given the NSYR. If we are connected to a teen’s parents, if we encourage communication between teens and parents, then we are achieving our goal of family ministry without alienating teens by doing only “Family Events”.

  • Will experiment with their image, their identity, and the way they are in the world.
  • They may become sexually active.
  • They might be impulsive and they might start taking risks. (For a full explanation of why they do this, see here.)
  • They will be more creative and will start to think about the world in really interesting, different ways.
  • They will act like your opinion of them doesn’t matter but it does – as much as ever.
  • They will often misread your emotional expressions – reading anger, hostility or disappointment when you feel nothing like any of that (See here to understand teenage emotional flare-ups).
  • Their sleep cycle will change. Their circadian rhythm will move them about three hours past where they were as kids. This means that they will fall asleep three hours past the time they used to and unless they are completely exhausted, it will be biologically very difficult for them to fall asleep earlier. They will need about 9-10 hours sleep so will need to sleep in for later.
  • Will want to make their own decisions about the things that affect them.

What to do

  • Don’t be judgemental or critical – they need your love and connection more than ever.
  • Understand that they need to find their independence from you. Give them the space to do this. Over time, their values will be likely to align with yours.

Youth group is a safe space for teens to grow in their independence while under the supervision of responsible adults and in an environment that promotes positive values.

  • Know that your teen isn’t rejecting you, but is finding their own way in the world – it’s an important, healthy part of being an independent adult – even if it feels bad.
  • Let go of control and go for influence. The harder you fight to control them, the harder they will push against you. The truth is that when it comes to adolescence, we have no control – they will decide how much they involve you in their lives, how much they tell you, and how much influence you have. Make it easy for them to come to you when something happens or when they need guidance.
  • Give them information, but don’t lecture.
  • You may or may not know when they start to become sexually active, so it’s important that they have the information and guidance they need to stay physically and emotionally safe. See here for an age by age guide for what they need to know.
  • Don’t buy into arguments – ask them to state their case and talk to you about the pros and cons of what they want. By nature, teens will overstate the positives and underestimate the negatives. Encourage them to tell you some of the cons – nothing is ever black or white.
  • Be the calming force – breathe and wait for the wave to pass over you. It takes 90 seconds for an emotion to be triggered, to peak and to start to fade, provided you don’t do anything to give it oxygen.
  • Help them to plan ahead and see around corners, but without judgement.
  • Encourage their social connections and give them space to strengthen their relationships. An important part of their development is to decrease their independence on the family tribe and to do this. To do this, they will feel an increased need to strengthen their affiliation with a friendship tribe. Encourage and support this wherever you can.

Youth groups are a safe space for kids to strengthen their friendships and make new friendships. We would assume the friends they are bonding with, and new friendships, are with teens who have similar values and morals and are (hopefully) not going to lead other teens into risky behaviour. However there is never a guarantee that any friends they make will not lead them into risky behaviours. Don’t assume because a teen goes to youth group they are not into risky behaviour. With church events, teens can be one person at a youth group and another person outside of it. 

  • Help them find safe ways to take risks such as sports – competitive and non-competitive.

    Meeting new people is a risk, a positive and relatively safe risk . Parents should encourage their child to make new friends, especially in a positive environment like a church youth group.

  • Let them know you will always do whatever you can to collect them from any situation when they want to come home – regardless of the circumstances and how late or far away it might be.
  • Let nothing be off limits when it comes to what they can talk to you about.

Many times parents don’t give teens the freedom to talk about anything or the teens don’t FEEL that freedom is there even if it is. Youth groups help to give them a safe place to talk about anything. If we are connected with parents and encouraging that type of “no limits“ communication with parents, the youth group can be a real asset in this area.  

  • Wherever possible, let them sleep in to catch up on sleep deficits.
  • Listen more than you talk.