Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Simon Peter: Fisherman or Bait?

This Sunday's Gospel contains the call of the first disciples, so I thought I might offer a reflection on it in light of the theme of this blog.

Luke 5:1-11

While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening
to the word of God,
he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.
He saw two boats there alongside the lake;
the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.
Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon,
he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.
Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply,
“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat
to come to help them.
They came and filled both boats
so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him
and all those with him,
and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
who were partners of Simon.
Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men.”
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.

Why would Jesus choose Simon as his first disciple? Why choose a man who, a few years down the road, will deny him? In the Gospels – at least prior to the resurrection, Simon lives up to the name, "Rock" once – when he sinks like one while trying to join Jesus in a stroll on the sea.

Perhaps Simon is called by Jesus because Simon is just like us. Or we are just like him. He's a working-class stiff, not so sophisticated or insightful or successful or holy that we can't identify with him – not if we get to know him in the scriptures instead of through our heroic stained glass depictions of him.

Moreover, he's inept enough that it's clear that the foundation of the Church is held in place by the power and grace of Jesus. When we get to know this fisherman with empty nets, we find a critique of our success-oriented culture. Simon needs Jesus to do what Simon himself couldn't. Simon couldn't hold the group of disciples together on his own! His own lack of credentials shows us what great things Jesus can do with a not-too-promising individual.

I've always heard Jesus' prediction, "From now on you will be catching men" to indicate that Simon was still going to be doing the fishing. But perhaps Simon's just the lure Jesus the real fisherman is using to catch us! What if Simon's just a bit of bait Jesus dangles before us, inviting us to let go of the empty nets we carefully clean each day, so that we can become his disciples, too? We see Simon's fumbling attempts to follow Jesus and can feel less self-conscious about our own failings. If we take the call of Simon seriously, we might begin to realize that discipleship isn't about being perfect, having all the answers, or even knowing all the doctrines. It's about grasping the knees of the one we're not worthy of, and rejoicing that he's chosen us anyway, and thus living in daily gratitude. It's about knowing that we can't do anything without Him, but with Him, we can do anything! We look at the Church, with its 1 billion plus members, and draw comfort that if God could make Simon a foundation for that, He might do something worthwhile with us if we surrender to Him.

Discernment Discussions

Discussions on discernment have been happening throughout the blogosphere--particular over at Catholic Sensibility. If you are interested in furthering that discussion, or checking it out, look for the following posts:

Discerning Gifts

Discernment in Parish Music Ministry

What is Discernment?

Discernment: Balancing the Virtues

Discernment & Trust

Discerning the Discerners

Just a friendly public service announcement from the folks at Intentional Disciples!

A Palanca

I was asked to write a palanca, or love letter, to a young girl, a junior in high school, who will be on a retreat in a few weekends. Her last note to me included her reflections on her experience of spending a couple of weeks working in a rural hospital filled with children who had AIDS and other diseases. Her father, a physician, and older brother, a senior in college, had also gone, while their mother stayed home and prayed for their safety. Her father told me that one of the most difficult things he had ever done was to let his two children go off alone to this hospital, while he stayed and worked in a different one. He knew they would be around many victims of AIDS and in an environment that was not all together in terms of clinical practices to prevent the spread of the virus. Still, he let them go, entrusting them to God's care, and with the sense that they needed to be off on their own, to help in their own way, and to grow in their own way. They both came back safe, and forever changed by the experience.

A palanca, (the Spanish word for "plank", apparently) is meant to be like a wooden plank that becomes a fulcrum to hurl one towards the love of God. I reproduce it here, because I think it is something that many of us, including me, need to hear more often.

January 31, 2007
Dear Caroline;

I am delighted to write this palanca to you, because you are such a wonderful young woman. I really was moved by your Christmas letter describing your experience in Nigeria. You seemed to have begun some kind of transformation from that rich, yet troubling encounter with children – many who are orphans – who live with poverty, AIDS, and little hope. I believe your heart is responding to the gentle call of Jesus to "come out into the deep."

It seems hard to believe that you are a junior in high school! I'm sure you're receiving lots of letters that say the same. Soon, you'll be off to college, then a career. I pray you seek your vocation, not just a career. By that I don't just mean your "state of life calling," like marriage, religious life or single life. Jesus has some unique work of love for you to do, and the keys to what that is are – or will be – found in your heart! You don't have to look far, do you!? You just have to be honest with yourself, attentive to your talents, spiritual gifts, and your personality. You'll know your spiritual gifts by those activities that help others that also make your heart sing, "This is where I belong! This is what I was created to do! These are the people I was made to serve." Perhaps you've had that experience already. You'll know your spiritual gifts when you have the experience of doing something that people respond much more positively to your efforts than you would expect. Pay attention to the feedback you get from people. They're offering you clues as to your calling, even though they often won't know it!

And then, don't forget to look around you. What are the problems you see in the world that make you say, "something should be done about that"? Perhaps Jesus has given you eyes to see what many others are missing. Frederick Buechner defined vocation as "the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need." Caroline, if you discover that place, you will have discovered your mission, and have heard the call Jesus has prepared for you from before the creation of the universe! And it will be good! Just as you, created by the unique love God has for you, are good! Oh, Pookie, so many people are afraid to trust their call because they're afraid to trust God. They have a hard time trusting His love. But just consider all these cards and letters you're receiving! You are loved, and our love for you, expressed so poorly in these frail sheets of paper, is just a shadow of the love Jesus has for you. He said, "there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends." Then he did that for you, so that you, and all those you love and who love you, might be with him in heaven.

But not only will you be with Jesus in heaven if you do His will, you can be with Him here, too. Jesus is with you in the sacraments! He feeds you and unites himself to you - and you to everyone else who receives Him, including some of the children you met in Nigeria - in the Eucharist. He tenderly embraces you when you fall in sin and turn to him in sorrow in the sacrament of reconciliation. In that beautiful moment you can recommit yourself to your baptism into Him! He has shared with you the mutual selfless love of Father for Son and Son for Father we call the Holy Spirit in your Confirmation. He gently will offer you healing in mind, body and spirit through the anointing of the sick. Perhaps one day He will join with you and your spouse in the lifelong self-emptying that is Marriage. What wondrous love He has for you, as the old song says! Trust that love, Caroline, and follow Him fearlessly.

Caroline, your mom said that your experiences with the poor and sick in Nigeria, and probably lots of other experiences, have turned your mind towards medicine. It would be wonderful if you pursue that vocation. I know you have a heart for those who suffer, and in medicine you would cooperate with Jesus' ongoing desire to heal our wounds. If you do become a physician, don't forget to pray for your patients. You will never be a source of healing, only an instrument in the hand of our Divine Healer. If you don't become a physician, you can still be an instrument of healing through your willingness to forgive, your desire to love and serve others, and your thoughtful, generous presence with those who are lonely, anxious or sad.

Whatever you do, whatever life choices you make in the pursuit of your call, remember that Jesus has given you the authority and power to stand in his place! You should never ask, "What would Jesus do?" – as if he weren't truly present. Instead, remember what He told his disciples, "the one who has faith in me will do the works I do, and greater far than these." (John 14:12) So every day when you awake, I hope you ask the question, "What will Jesus do today through me?" Because of his love for you, He says, "I am with you always, until the end of the world." (Matthew 28:20). Expect to see the signs of His power at work in you – even in your young age. Cling to Him now! Speak to Him with confidence and honesty as you would to your closest friend. Make His will your own, and you will discover a peace this world can neither give (John 14:27) nor take away.

I write these things to you, Caroline, for two reasons. First of all, because I love you and desire what's best for you, and there's no greater gift than knowing Jesus' saving love for each of us. Secondly, because I need to be reminded of them myself. You see, there's so much in our society that tells us we're not good enough, not worthy of love until we've changed. Constantly we hear of people who commit sins and whom we are told we should not forgive. All of that is a clever, consistent lie that makes us disbelieve the truth: so long as you or I exist, so long as one breath follows another – and even beyond life – you and I are treasured by our heavenly Father who knows all that we need (Matthew 6:32).

Finally, I conclude this too-long letter with a prayer from John Henry Cardinal Newman (after whom Catholic campus ministries are named). He wrote it during one of his darkest hours. I hope it gives you light and comfort throughout your life, because it, too, expresses the truth of who you are.

“God has determined . . .that I should reach that which is my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, He calls me by my name, He knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and He means to give it to me.”

God bless you, dear one!
Fr. Mike, OP


Baptismal Schizophrenia?

I used to think that I had dual identities.

I heard a great deal about the importance of being a disciple from a lot of different sources. Through the grace of baptism, I was united with Christ and the Church--supernaturally empowered to learn from God, to grow in sanctifying grace and become more like Him.

And so, I heard about being a disciple, about living as a disciple, about having a "disciple's response." I grew up being comfortable with that reality. I am a follower of Christ. I "follow;" that's what I am and that's what I do.

But there was another side to my identity that I never really understood before--a side that was actually edgy and a little dangerous. Through baptism, I am not only called and empowered to follow and learn from Christ, but I have also been sent by God to do a particular work of love in the world.

I am, in other words, an apostle. One with a different office and focus than the Apostles, to be sure--but I am no less "official," no less called & gifted for my mission. I am called, not just to follow Christ, but to do what He did in the world.

I don't know about you, but when I first understood that my apostolic identity was a reality taught by the Church, I was a little uncomfortable--excited, but uncomfortable. I couldn't understand how one was supposed to act as a disciple and an apostle. I had never even heard (before encountering the Called & Gifted Workshop) the fact that I was an apostle in any parish, school, or group that I had been a part of, so how was I supposed to figure this out?

I had dual (and seemingly dueling) identities.

Until I had a conversation with a friend. I was sharing some of what I had learned through the Catherine of Siena Institute, and my friend said to me, "But isn't the most important thing in the New Testament the Great Commandment?"

And then it hit me--the lynchpin to my understanding and integrating my apostolic identity was love. I was right in the middle of reading John Paul II's Theology of the Body, and it struck me clear as day: Love always seeks the beloved. If I am called to love my God with all my heart and my neighbor as myself, then I was, by the very nature of love, called to reach out and share the gift of God with them.

The Great Commandment leads, by its essence, to the Great Commission. They were inseparable and compenetrating--like the relationship between the Old and New Testament. Disciples are, in the language of post-modern literary theory, "always already" apostles. Our identity stems not from what we do, but in who we are.

Take, for example, a newly baptized baby. Through the waters of Baptism they are grafted to the Body of Christ and empowered to become disciples. And yet, their very presence in the midst of the community serves as a call to that community, a reminder not only of their own baptismal vows, but also a sign of their own dependance upon the mercy and grace of God. These little, tiny disciples are apostles from Christ to the community--evangelizing with each breath.

Baptismal schizophrenia does not exist. We have one identity in Christ--an identity so rich that it contains multiple facets integrated within the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Whoa! God really is amazing!

Adult Sunday School Ethos among Catholics?

Amy Welborn asks in a discussion on Catholics schools and how they now bear the weight of catechesis:

Can you even imagine the ethos of Protestant Sunday School for adults had even the slightest foothold in Catholic churches?

Yes, I can because it has here, at Blessed Sacrament Church in Seattle where we started the Institute and where I will be teaching the Called & Gifted this weekend.

They routinely have large adult Sunday School classes (60 or more depending upon the subject and speaker) in addition to evening classes on St. Thomas, the Bible, Exploring Catholic beliefs, etc.

The only parish I've ever been to where you can overhear two adults in the back of the Sunday School class debating variant readings of Ireneaus.

It can happen. In Blessed Sacrament's case, it's a combination of a historic (and beautiful) Dominican church, a nearby major university, and a very large population of intentional disciples in the parish who come from around the area to attend. Some are professors at local universities, some are underemployed average joe and janes who just are intellectually curious.

It's not just Blessed Sacrament. We've seen it happen over and over: adults become passionate about learning about the faith when they become intentional disciples. How many conversations have I had in interviews trying to help people discern between the natural desire to learn about their faith that follows conversion and the charism of knowledge? Dozens? Hundreds?

In Boise, people who have been through evangelization retreats fill every class in the diocese. The Director of the School of Pastoral Leadership in San Francisco flew up to see us in Seattle because he went to the pastor of St. Dominic's in the city and asked "why are my classes filled with your people?" Fr. Xavier simply said: "Have you heard of the Catherine of Siena Institute?"

We keep putting all our eggs in the institutional/program basket, but institutions and programs are designed to meet needs. When we call people to intentional discipleship, a whole new raft of needs emerge from within people: needs for prayer, for formation, for study, for fellowship, for discernment. Wouldn't it be great to have to deal with people clamoring for faith formation?

If you want peace, work for justice. If you want students of the faith, make disciples.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

How Many People Have Your Name?

According to this, I am a unique and unreatable manifestation of the human mystery - at least in the US. I am the only woman in America who has my name.

America is blessed.

How many people have your name?

Meet Me in Latte Land, Louie . . .

I'm taking off tomorrow for Seattle where I will be teaching a Called & Gifted workshop at Blessed Sacrament Church in the University District this coming weekend, February 2/3.

Blessed Sacrament is a beautiful and remarkable community and the place where we began the Institute nearly 10 years ago. It is also a parish committed to evangelization and becoming a house of formation for lay apostles and is filled with a large number of smart, sassy, and creative intentional disciples. It's too bad that it is only early February, because spring in Seattle can be intoxicating.

But the weather is supposed to be in the mid 40's and *CLEAR* which for a Seattle February is stunning! I'll be able to see the mountains!

This will be our 300th live Called & Gifted workshop. It is a lovely thing to do so where we started. If any ID readers are in the area, feel free to check it out and come up and say hello!

We Are All Saved and We Have All Earned It But None of Us Are Saints Because That Wouldn’t Be Humble.

10 years of nearly continuous travel from parish to parish and thousands of personal interviews have given us a fairly good sense of typical ordinary-Catholic-in-the-pew’s worldview regarding intentional discipleship and our ultimate salvation -- at least among Anglo laity in the US.

(The worldview of the clergy is naturally very different but many clergy share in the assumptions described here in surprising ways. Priests are remarkably like human beings in this regard.)

The American church is huge and very complicated, so the culture I am about to describe would not include those groups of Catholics heavily influenced by evangelicalism (such as in the deep south), the charismatic renewal, traditionalism, lay movements or third orders, parishes that regularly do evangelism, groups with a strong social justice orientation or Catholics in “hotbed institutions” like Catholic universities or seminaries. Neither would this describe Hispanic Catholics, Vietnamese Catholics, etc.

The worldview I’m describing is common among ordinary-Anglo-cradle-Catholic-laypeople in ordinary parishes in the west coast, midwest, high plains, intermountain west and east coast.

Caveat: I am writing in a hurry and my tongue is rather firmly in my check. But I am also really describing attitudes what we have encountered over and over again in the field. There are remarkable exceptions everywhere but there is also, in our experience, a startling consistency across dioceses and regions.

The major premises could be summarized as follows:

  1. We are all saved and we’ve all earned it but none of us are saints because that wouldn’t be humble.

    A fascinating, if unlikely, mixture of practical universalism, Pelagianism, and work-a-day Catholic humility seems to have been absorbed by Catholics across the country.

    This homespun version of universalism runs something like this: *Decent* people are automatically saved because of their decency, and almost everyone is essentially decent or at least means well, which is basically the same thing as being decent. God would never condemn a decent person. Salvation is pretty much yours to lose and you can only do so by intentionally doing something really, really, not decent like mass murder and then not saying you are sorry.

    Pelagianism was an early 5th century heresy that held that original sin did not taint our human nature and that human beings are still capable of choosing good or evil without God's grace. Pelagius taught that human beings could achieve the highest levels of virtue by the exercise of their own will.

    The contemporary American version holds that human beings can attain acceptable levels of *decency* by their own efforts. We earn our salvation by not doing the really, really bad things we could do if we chose. In real life, it is pretty close to impossible for most people not to attain the minimum decency requirement. (See caveat above).

    Since basic decency suffices for salvation, holiness is completely optional, and is the spiritual equivalent of extreme sports. Authentic, salt-of-the-earth ordinary Catholics are appropriately humble and know their spiritual place. They do not pretend to be something they are not (see point #2 below).

    Note: the role of Christ and his Paschal mystery in this view of salvation is extremely obscure.

  2. There are two basic Catholic “tracks”:

    a) The “ordinary Catholic track” which includes 99% of us. Your parents put you on this track by having you baptized as a baby. This track can be divided further into 1) “good” or practicing ordinary Catholics; 2) “bad” or non-practicing ordinary Catholics; and 3) pious ordinary Catholics.

    All ordinary Catholics, good, bad, or pious, are saved through their essential *decency* or meaning well and nor screwing up horribly. (see #1 above). God does give extra credit for visible devotion or piety.

    b) The “extraordinary Catholic track”: priests, religious, and saints (.1%).

    God plucks a few people out of Track “a” and places them on track “b”. That is what the Church means by having a vocation.

    Priests and religious are also saved by being decent but the standard of decency is a bit more rigorous for them because they can’t have sex.

    Sanctity is reserved for the uber-elite: When someone becomes a saint, it is the mysterious result of spiritual genius or an act of God and is not expected of or related to salvation for “ordinary” Catholics (see #1), because God decreed they should be on a different track. Authentic, salt-of-the-earth ordinary Catholics are appropriately humble and know their spiritual place.

    c) There is no “disciple on the way” track. When many Catholics hear the phrase “intentional disciple”, they immediately think of the only known alternative to the “ordinary Catholic” track in their lexicon, which is that of the saint and is supposed to be reserved for the uber-elite. They naturally presume that the aspirant to discipleship is pretending to have been plucked out of the ordinary track by God and is, therefore, an arrogant elitist (see #1 above).

3. Corollary A: Widespread discomfort with “conspicuous conversion” because it violates #1 and #2. Sometimes referred to as “enthusiasm” or “pietism” or “Protestant”.

4. Corollary B: don’t ask, don’t tell because that’s what you do when we are all saved and we’ve all earned it--but none of us are saints because that wouldn’t be humble.

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Over at Amy Welborn's blog, an interesting conversation ensued after Amy posted a bleg of a reader for advice on how to help her young adult cousin who is politically conservative and has decided to leave the Catholic Church, noting certain stances of the bishops on immigration and war as his reasons. The blegger was seeking genuine help in what to do to try and help this young man choose to stay in the Catholic Church.

It's a problem that many of us face. Family members who no longer go to Church. Some don't seem to believe in Christ, if we are honest. Others believe in Christ but don't see the fundamental connection with the Catholic Church. (I still struggle with the fact that my parents don't darken the stoop of my home parish unless I am visiting. When I realized -- after they stopped going to Mass when my younger brother moved out -- that my parents had insisted on the family going to Mass every week all those years because they thought "it was the right thing to do when raising kids", not from a living love of Christ, I was devastated. Still am, even if more used to the reality now.)

And the usually recommendations ensued. Books to read. "Conservative" parishes to attend. Talks about the nature of prudential judgment and how the bishops in fact do err at times. It wasn't until Sherry added a comment that what only a few of us had hinted at was expressly said:
"At the risk of sounding radical, I would like to suggest that the bishop's stands on immigration may turn out to be the "presenting problem" as counselors call it but not the real issue. The chances are high that the real issue is existential, not theological. I say this based upon having done at a thousand one-on-one interviews with lay Catholics of all ages about their lived experiences of God. (which I wrote a piece about on Intentional Disciples ( yesterday, scroll down to "Do Ask, Do Tell"). My suggestion: If you have a fairly good relationship with your cousin, get together one-on-one for a meal or coffee in some quiet place and ask him this question: "Can you describe your relationship with God to this point in your life?" And really listen. Ask a few clarifying questions but resist the temptation to leap in and correct his faulty theology or opinions. Listen for the experiences and feelings behind the opinions and that may reveal what the real issue is."

I think there is a lot to learn from this. First, what a dramatic example of the fact that all of us -- even us laity -- are called to evangelize. Here's a great example of how the only person that might be able to reach this young man is not some bishop or priest, but a relative. Second, I must ask (even myself) why our first instinct is often to recommend a book rather than a relationship. As the years go by, I more and more think that many of these situations exist because the individual doesn't have any lived experience of the Church being for them. No one has embodied for them everything that God promises us through the Church. Knowing more facts about what the Church claims or having a better systematic intellectual understanding of the Church isn't what is needed. What is needed is the verification through one's own experience of these facts. Many of the recommendations on that thread emphasized "conservative" authors or "conservative" parishes that might appeal to the young man. I don't wish to disparage any of the authors or parishes recommended. But if it only stops there, versus becoming a concrete way in which this young man experiences the truth of the Church (i.e., that she is the place of Christ's presence and the extension of His mission through time), I fear that it will have little effect or (even if he stays in the Church), will result in just as pressing of problems.


Is This For Real?

One of the (many) challenges I faced in accepting the person whom God made me to be was coming face to face with my charisms.

Well, what do I mean by charisms?

Simply put, charisms are gratuitous gifts given to us by God at Baptism that supernaturally equip us to accomplish the specific work of love that God has given us. Through our charisms we are able to be effective channels of God's love in ways that are far more effective than if we were working out of our own natural talents.

If you want a more fleshed out explanation of the charisms, come to a Called & Gifted workshop. I highly recommend it!

In any event, for most of my life, I simply did not believe that charisms existed let alone that I might actually have any. I grew up on the East Coast with a very intellectual (and somewhat cultural) formation in my Catholic faith. I knew that the charisms were mentioned by Paul in the scripturs (in places like Corinthians and Ephesians), but I believed these were either metaphors or an attempt by the writers of the New Testament to add legitimacy to their new religion by sprinkling in some purely fictitious miracles.

By the time I attended University my heart (and mind) was hardened to the possibility of charisms. It wasn't until Graduate School, when some powerful encounters with the Holy Spirit led to a conversion of heart, mind, and worldview, that I admitted that the Bible not have been wrong about the reality of charisms. :) God certainly does like smashing through hardened hearts!

I still, however, didn't fully believe that I possessed charisms; nor did I understand that these charisms were an indication of what God was calling me to do with my life. That didn't come until much later. I wrote a little bit about that in my first post here at ID entitled, Like Getting Hit on the Head With a 2 x 4.

Now, I have been privileged to join many hundreds (soon thousands) of peeople as they begin their own journey of discovery and discernment with their charisms. It's wonderful to see different people encountering the reality of charisms (many for the first time). It's also wonderful to see how, as these men and women reflect upon their life, they begin to recognize the Presence of God and the charisms in their own life journey.

What about you? What are your experiences with charisms? Do you believe that they are real? What was it like discovering their presence in your life? I'm really curious, and I would love to hear about our collective experiences of charisms--our struggles and our joys!

Because of my experience with charisms, I have encountered the overwhelming Generosity and Love of God--and I find myself overcome with gratitude at God's Abundance, asking myself, "Is this for real? Does my God love me this much?"

Thankfully, it is.

And he does!

The Voice of Truth

Fully living out our call to radical apostleship means, as Paul writes, "speaking the truth in Christ" to our culture, our workplace, our friends, our family, and our very selves. This "speech" unfolds through both our words and actions--and it requires an attitude of humility. For truth is not some thing that we possess. It is, in Jesus Christ, some one by whom we are possessed.

We must learn, as the Body of Christ and as individual members of that Body, to listen to the Voice of God, which leads us into a deeper experience of Truth so that we may share what we have been given with others. Whether we encounter that voice in the tiny stillness of a gentle wind like Elijah, or in the raging tempest of a storm like the Disciples, God speaks to each of us in the depths of our hearts, calling us to discover our true identity in Him so that we might do the same for others.

How do you listen for God's Voice?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Called & Gifted Weekends

I just returned from St. Paul, MN, where I was part of a teaching team offering a Called Gifted workshop at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church. In her post title, "Do Ask, Do Tell," Sherry spoke of an interview process that can follow a workshop, and mentioned that there is some trust already developed between the interviewer and the workshop participant. She proposed that in large measure that trust is established through the workshop itself.

And why not? We are teaching with the Church, and sharing yet another "best kept secret" that takes the typical Catholic lay person by delighted surprise. In presenting some of the spiritual riches of the Church, the Called & Gifted workshop focuses on three big ideas:

- Church’s primary mission is outward, not inward.

- Every member is an apostle, anointed and sent by Jesus Christ.

- Every member has been given gifts of the Holy Spirit for the sake of their personal vocation which must and can be discerned.

In the workshop we try to foster confidence in following Jesus as a disciple, and in the gifts of the Holy Spirit given at baptism that empower the Christian to continue the work of Jesus. Revelation becomes alive and relevant to their everyday life, and people begin to recognize a deeper meaning to their own life because they appreciate the significance of their intentional and personal participation in Christ's ongoing work of redemption.

At this last workshop, men and women came up to me at each break, at lunch, and at its conclusion to tell me how much they appreciated the workshop, and to ask questions regarding the discernment of particular issues. They snapped up resources we had available to assist in their ongoing discernment. Several people thanked me for our stories of how God has – and is – using saints as well as ordinary men and women to promote His kingdom through the use of their charisms.

I think many Catholics act (and pray) as though they do not really expect much from God, and we certainly don't expect God to work through imperfect instruments like us! I know I still fall into that delusion. One of the beautiful changes that people so often go through on a Called & Gifted workshop is that they begin to realize God is more intimate and more a part of their daily grind than they had dared to dream. I mean, it's hard to reconcile the idea of a far-off, relatively disinterested deist God, with a God Who gets his hands dirty creating us from the dust of the earth, and Who continues to enter and change our world through these same, imperfect vessels. Yet the evidence we produce supports that conclusion, as does, of course, the Scriptures.

To learn more about the Called & Gifted workshop, you can go to our website, You can also sign up for to receive the e-Scribe by mail, or order books and other helpful materials.. You can also contact Mike Dillon, our office manager, at

A quick hello...

Amidst all the discussions surrounding Intentional Disciples over the past few days, you may have noticed that another name was quietly added to the list of contributors: Br. Matthew Augustine, OP. That’s me. A little about myself: I’m a Dominican friar of the Western Province and am studying toward priesthood. Currently I’m living at St. Albert Priory in Oakland while attending school at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley. Before entering the Dominicans four years ago I had only the faintest idea what the Catherine of Siena Institute was and what it did. A friend had taken the Called and Gifted Workshop and, over coffee and desert at a Denny’s somewhere in the greater Seattle area, I and some other friends quickly glanced over the materials she had brought back with her. Given that I was going through the confusing process of discerning a religious vocation at the time, the last thing I wanted was more discernment. The material nevertheless looked interesting and my friend was clearly enthusiastic about her experience. I made a mental note to look into it later. ‘Later’ turned out to be shortly after I had entered the Dominican Order. Having learned that the CSI was a ministry of my Province (it was co-founded by Sherry and one of our friars, Fr Michael Sweeney), I picked up the Called and Gifted tape set and listened to it every day as I went jogging around Oakland. I was totally riveted by what I heard and was probably lucky I didn’t get struck by a car. I had never heard the Church’s teaching regarding the laity articulated before. Drawing primarily from the Documents of Vatican II and from the pontificate of John Paul II, Sherry and Fr. Michael gave a powerful account of the dignity and importance of the lay vocation and apostolate. Given that I may someday be teaching and helping form lay people, I sensed that I should know this material better. I consulted the documents referenced in the workshop and began my own study of the theology of the laity by way of one of the great Dominican theologians of the last century, Yves Congar. Next, having met Fr. Michael and Sherry, I volunteered to help teach the workshop and have been doing so, off and on, over the past couple years. I am excited to be a contributor to Intentional Disciples and hope that my voice adds to the ongoing dialogue here. There is much to explore and discuss.

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Do Ask, Do Tell

We’ve learned a lot from the recent spate of blogging by other bloggers about this blog and the very idea of “intentional discipleship”. A number of objections were raised to the very idea of asking someone to share about their lived relationship with God, no matter how gently or appropriately it is done.

To even think of asking is to be judgmental, elitist, divisive, insulting, invasive, and well, not Catholic. To not ask is to be truly Catholic and respectful of others and the mysterious and unfathomable ways of God in the human heart. Naturally enough, the personal factor enters in. Several posters objected because they couldn’t imagine asking the question themselves and declared that they would deeply resent being asked.

The irony is that for 13 years, Catholics have lined up by the thousands all over the world, so that we can spend an hour asking them detailed personal questions about their experiences of God - and most have even paid for the privilege (but not much!).

At most Called & Gifted workshops, we offer what we call gifts “interviews” with participants who want to take the next step after the workshop. During the voluntary one-hour interviews, participants in the Called & Gifted workshop have a chance to talk one-on-one with a trained person who will try to answer their personal questions, help them identify ways that God has used them in the lives of others, and chose one charism to explore two hours a week for 6 months. (Note: we never, never, never tell anyone they do or do not have a particular gift. We listen in order to identify patterns in their lives that may indicate the presence of the Holy Spirit working through a charism. Often, the possible significance of these patterns has escaped the one discerning.)

We know from experience that 50 – 80% of those attending a workshop will want an interview. We’ve done thousands of interviews in English, Spanish, and Indonesian and we have trained over 1000 pastoral leaders in four countries to conduct the interviews.

We have always emphasized in training that interviewers are not therapists, spiritual directors, career counselors or vocation directors. Conducting a gifts interview is a very specific and narrowly focused ministry. Even if a trainee is a priest, trained counselor or spiritual director, we ask that they not confuse the two roles even if the interviewee requests it. Finish the gifts interview and then make a second appointment for anything else. We never thought to warn about mixing the roles of interviewer and evangelist.

I have done a least a thousand interviews myself over the past 13 years and it is an extraordinary privilege. (As I always tell those I am training, “this is the most fun you can have legally.”) For many Catholics, it is the first time in their lives that they have ever talked to another person about how God has used them in the lives of other people. The stories we hear are a tiny snapshot of the ocean of the amazing things that God is doing in and through the lives of ordinary Catholics who dare to say “yes”.

However, we have gradually come to the conclusion that we had overlooked a most significant factor in discernment process: participants’ lived relationship with God. This is a critical issue for the discernment of charisms because while charisms are given with the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation, these gifts do not usually manifest until our faith become personal. If an interviewee went through some kind of conversion or awakening 10 years ago, we know to focus our attention on those last ten years. And we know that the impact of the charisms grow as our relationship with God grows. It has slowly become obvious that a significant number of the Catholics we have interviewed struggle with their discernment because their lived relationship with God is either seriously underdeveloped or in some cases, non-existent. And many of them are in leadership.

This first dawned upon me about 1 ½ years ago while listening to the experiences of a woman who headed up the local Catholic Women’s Organization. Her inventory scores were unusually low and her references to God’s role in her parish service were extremely vague and abstract. For the first time, I dared to ask Since charisms flow directly out of your relationship with God, it would help me help you if could you briefly describe your relationship with God to this point in your life”.

Her answer was stunning. The woman thought for a moment and then calmly stated that she didn’t have a personal relationship with God. I probed gently, realizing that she just might not think of her faith in those terms. Surely she wouldn’t be so active as a parish and diocesan leader and really have no lived relationship with God. For the entire hour, she continued to talk about her involvement with the Church in terms that could have been used by the atheist president of a Rotary Club. Although I listened intently, I didn’t hear the tiniest shred of spiritual experience or motivation. This is particularly ironic since her parish was run by a charismatic religious order. But even there, the question of her relationship with God had apparently never been asked.

I had another learning experience some months later while interviewing the president of a parish council in another state. By this point, I had started to ask the question whenever someone didn’t spontaneously start talking about their relationship with God. “Could you briefly describe your relationship with God to this point in your life.”?

Her answer was direct and delivered with fire in her eyes.

“I’ll tell you what I think. I think that God created the world, gave us intelligence and free will and the moral law, sent the prophets and Jesus to teach us what to do, and then left us alone to keep the moral law and take care of the world. We can choose to do so or not. Those of us who do so pretty well go to heaven. God is pretty distant on a day to-day basis. He doesn’t interfere.

I sat stupefied for the moment. The president of the pastoral council was a Deist, a believer in the perverbial “clockmaker” God, and completely Pelagian in her understanding of salvation! I wondered frantically how I could gracefully remind her that charisms are God “interfering” through us in a big way, that they emerge out of lived relationship with God and the necessity of prayer in the discernment process.

The really moving moment was when we got to her experience with the charism of mercy and her feisty deist persona disappeared. She had spent two years as the sole care-giver for a woman friend who was dying of cancer and abandoned by her friends and family. It was a life-changing experience for her and gave me the chance to point out that God has been part of the whole thing – that he had “interfered” through her - and given enormous comfort and strength to her sick friend. By the end of the hour, I had been able to talk to her about the necessity of prayer in discernment and actually pray with her as she asked God for the grace of greater openness to his presence in her life.

Then, a couple weeks ago, the whole issue came to a head in an extraordinary interview. A middle-aged father on the east coast talked to me with great warmth of his young adult children, of his desire to do anything that it took to see them happy and successful. He told me about serving as head of the parish visioning committee, talked of his joy in singing in the choir, and of the hours he spent on the internet, explaining and defending the truths of the faith. At that point, I asked him “the question” and his face become rigid.

“I think of God as a distant, stern, harsh, unforgiving figure. I never bother God about anything “small” since who am I to ask God anything? I just hope that if I don’t ask God for anything now, he’ll do the big thing and let me “in” in the end.”

I hesitated. An insistent thought would not let me go: “Tell him that he is a much better, more loving, and forgiving father than he thinks God is”. So I said it. He was an introverted man but his eyes became red and he visibly gulped. We talked for a few minutes more about the role of personal relationship with God in the discernment process but as I prepared to move on, he stopped me.

“Shouldn’t I deal with my relationship with God before I do further discernment?”

“Great idea.” I responded with outward enthusiasm and more than a little inward trembling. “What if you told God that you would like to believe that he is a loving, generous, forgiving father but that you can’t make yourself believe it on your own? You are asking for his help in believing in his love and put no limits on how he might make it happen but that the ball is in his court. You could pray that prayer every day through the discernment process and then see what God does.”

He nodded his assent vigorously. I hesitated again. “Would you like to pray about this now?” He thought for a moment and said “yes” but added, "I can’t pray aloud in my own words." I suggested that he pray inwardly to God and I would just pray with him in silence. I fixed my eyes on the floor for a few minute to give him some privacy for what was clearly a vulnerable moment. When I looked up, his reddened eyes were closed and he was clearly praying intently. When he was done, he gave me a big hug.

It wasn’t that the three people I’ve described had absolutely no relationship with Christ. They had all been baptized into Christ and his Church and were good people who did good things. But their activity had far outstripped their lived relationship with God. And in a “don’t’ ask, don’t tell” culture, it is unlikely that their fellow parishioners or even their pastor would ever know because one just doesn’t ask. We tend to regard people’s physical presence and activity as irrefutable “proof” of their personal faith. Why else would they be among us?

What if asking is not about judging – the first step down the slippery slope to the Inquisition? What if asking is the necessary pre-requisite to better serving the spiritual needs of people? What if asking so that people have a safe opportunity to tell their spiritual story and be ministered to by the Church is healing and life-changing? What if a "Do Ask, Do Tell" culture is truly Catholic?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Eucharist and the Laity

Amy Welborn has some fascinating quotes from the Bishops' Synod on the Eucharist that took place in Rome last year. I found one from the head of the Pontifical Council of the Laity particularly inspiring--as it speaks directly to the connection between the Eucharist and our fundamental identity as lay members of Christ's People:

The Eucharistic celebration constitutes a privileged place where one achievesthe full, mature and coherent Christian identity of the lay faithful. Because itis in the Eucharist that a lay Christian fully realizes his participation in the triple mission entrusted to him by Christ: priestly, prophetic and royal. The priestly mission: in the Eucharist the Christian discovers his doxological vocation, he discovers that his whole life in all its dimensions must become a spiritual worship and a spiritual sacrifice united to the one of Christ. The prophetic mission: the Eucharist opens up to the mission, that is the Christian testimony in the world and the proclamation of the Word of God right up to the ends of the world.

How powerful--and how profound. Our identity is found in the great Gift of Christ's Substance--His life broken open and offered for the Salvation of the world. There is also a royal dimension to our lives as laypeople, for Christ has given us Creation to govern, so that we might judge and see and act as Christ judges and sees and acts--in accordance with the Will of the Father. As Children of a King, we are called to live our lives in such a way, to govern, so that we might redeem the social and institutional structures of our world and, as John Paul II wrote in Christifideles Laici, "to restore to creation all of its original dignity."

Praise God for His desire to include us in his work of Love--the Salvation and Redemption of each human person.

On Vocation

The world is a mess. It is charged with amazing beauty, but also broken in countless big and little ways. Some are huge, like war and famine, poverty and disease, crime and injustice and environmental degradation. Some are smaller, but may loom even larger because they are closer to home: a friend or neighbor or family member, or even ourselves, battling cancer or mental illness or joblessness or frustration – or despair. And we know such suffering is multiplied many times over in the lives of people all around us, sitting next to us in the pews or walking the street outside.

Where is God in all this? And, perhaps more important, what is God doing about all this?

God has already done something amazing: he has come among us, taken on the human condition in all its limitedness and suffering by actually becoming one of us, a human being like us in every way but one: sin. He taught, and healed, and announced the Kingdom of God. And he drank the cup of suffering, all the brokenness of the world, to the dregs, all the way to the bottom on the Cross. There is no one who can say, anymore, “God doesn’t know what this feels like.” Because He does. He has literally walked in our shoes.

But God has done more than that; he has risen again, triumphed over death itself, and shared his very Life with us in the sacraments of encounter with the risen Jesus that he has given us, so that we need never be alone or unable to face whatever it is we have to face. And he has given us the destiny of sharing forever in that triumphant life with him in Heaven, where every sorrow earth has to offer is answered and healed by unending, limitless joy, haunted by no fears or shadows or shame.

But it doesn’t stop there. God has done even more. He hasn’t just offered us his life, his healing. He hasn’t just promised us Heaven when it is all over. He has commissioned us and sent us into the world in his name, here and now, to continue the work of restoration that he has begun, in all the places where we are. All of creation is to be restored to its original dignity, and he has made us his partners in this great work of redeeming and restoration.

Our vocation is our own personal path to the limitless joy that God offers – a path that will both heal and fulfill us, and make us channels through which God’s healing and restoration will reach the world around us, in ways we may not even be able to imagine. A vocation is a unique work of love to which God calls us, which only we can do. If we say no, if we don’t do it, it won’t get done. Some part of the creation, some people beloved by God will not encounter what God intends to give them without our cooperation. God will not save us without us; he will not save the world without us. Our part matters.

Now, looking within ourselves, we may object that we can’t possibly be the sort of people that God wants to do things. We’re too sinful, too broken, too ignorant, too proud, too fearful, too weak, too unreliable. Like St. Peter, we want to tell him: “Go away, Lord, I am a sinful man.” Like Jeremiah, even when God Himself tells us that we have a special destiny, a particular mission that he has selected for us, we want to plead incompetence and be excused.

But Jesus doesn’t leave Peter there; he tells him not to be afraid. And he tells us, too: don’t be afraid. I am with you. I have equipped you, and you will never face what I send you to without my help.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Conversation about ID Continues

Fr. Mike and I are off teaching today and Keith will be out of town for the weekend, but the buzz about our blog, the Institute, and the whole concept of "Intentional Discipleship" continues to fly about St. Blogs.

Amy Welborn (Jan 25) Disputations (scroll down to Jan 24) Commonweal (where it all started with Peter Nixon's post about us, scroll down to January 23) and now Catholic Sensibility, There are other small conversations at other blogs as well. As I wrote on
Catholic Sensibility just now:

We have been quite startled by all the attention because the two things that make us stand out:

1) confounding conservative-liberal categories;

2) insisting on talking about about things that Catholics on both the right and left don’t talk about - like discipleship and formation and gifts and vocational discernment for all the baptized

have been the hallmarks of the Institute for the past 10 years.

St. Blog’s has just noticed.

So join in the conversation. I'll check back in tonight.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Discernment is a Team Sport

One of the readers of my blog, Take Your Place, rightly commented on the difficulty involved in discernment: "But how do you know if the Holy Spirit is calling you? It is precisely because I can't discern what He wants that I find myself pulled in too many directions."

Spirit-led, authentic discernment is perhaps the single greatest enterprise needed in the Body of Christ today. We are, as lay members of Christ's faithful people, somewhat adrift--scattered. Our gifts lay dormant, our giftedness largely unrecognized and unformed--by a Church that too often focuses its gaze inward, and by our own individual capacity for false humility, fear, and capitulation to the inertia that so often prevents spiritual and personal development.

Within the Church, we have ministry fairs, where anyone with a passing interest in a particular area of service can sign up and find himself engaged almost immediately in a given ministry. And so we have thousands of catechists who find themselves forming our youth because they were warm bodies needed to fill a space, neither called nor gifted for that particular work. And then we wonder about the state of catechesis and the difficulty that our next generation has in participating in the life of the Church.

Ouside the Church, we have career counseling programs, job training and degree programs, and a host of other secular tools that focus too often on success and building wealth, without ever really trying to connect the identity, talents, and giftedness of the individual with a particular area of 'vocation.' And then we wonder why it seems that our culture 'churns and burns' millions of individuals beneath its fast-paced grind without ever seeming to grow any healthier.

Don't get me wrong, ministry fairs and career preparation or counseling programs aren't necessarily bad things. Too often as Christians, however, we start to see only our methods and forget the spiritual reality that these methodologies were created to help us experience. We come armed with our strategies and vision statements, our councils and our commissions, and we forget that we are more than simply a civic organization applying purely human resources for a humanitarian end.

Discernment is, ultimately, a spiritual experience.

A profound one.

It is, in a very real sense, a dying to self--for the word comes from the latin, discernere, which means 'to cut away.' When we enter into a process of discernment, we are dying to the false elements of our self, to the way our culture, our family, and our own fallen personality tell us we should be. We cut away the clutter and cast off the baggage so that we may follow more perfectly the One who called us out of darkness and in to the Light of Truth. We can't take our place, until we know where and what that place is.

Authentic discernment is difficult and, often, painful. No wonder we avoid it wherever and whenever we can. But Paul, like Christ, asks us to consider our calling, to make discernment a regular part of our lives. The question we should ask is: Why is discernment so difficult for us?

The problem, I think, lies in our fundamental approach to the 'problem.' As modern-day Christians--especially in the U.S.--we tackle the discernment question with rugged individualism and a naked desire to succeed. We gauge where God is calling us utilizing only the lens of our own thoughts, feelings, and experience. Most often, when someone says they are discerning around an issue, it generally means that they are weighing the options and plumbing their own internal depths to see how it resonates there. This is a necessary step--for grace builds on nature, and God often calls us through our joys and passions. However, it is not the only step!

Since we have been called together as a People, and been united in the Body of Christ, there is a communal dimension to our lives from which we can never be separated. For baptized Christians, our lives simply do not make sense in isolation. This is exactly what Paul referred to when he said "And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?" (1Cor 12:16) In the depths of our being, we are relational. Our meaning is fulfilled in the context of the life of the whole Body.

Therefore, we are each responsible for one another and are called to be Stewards of the vocation of each member of our community. True discernment, then, can never happen outside of the context of the Body of Christ. Bringing that down to a more practical level, we as parishes (the Church inserted into the local neighborhood) need to become schools of vocational discernment, communities where the giftedness of each member is discovered and fostered, and where opportunities for utilizing those gifts in the world are presented. We must become comfortable with naming the giftedness of others, as well as providing gentle and loving feedback when others are engaged in areas of service for which they have not been gifted or called.

Discernment is challenging. Yet, the grace of God provides us with a multiplicity of opportunities to reflect and receive help from our brothers and sisters in this holy endeavor. Make no mistake about it, unless we enter into this discipline fully, another generation of catholic apostles will grow up ignorant of the true power, authority, and jurisdiction of their role in the mission of Christ to the world.

Discernment is a team sport--and God is our captain! Who wants to play?

'I' am a 'We'

Fred over at Deep Furrows has a wonderful quote regarding our sacramental participation in the very life of the Church. I present it below because that's the kind of guy I am. Here it is:

The "I" is no longer an "I" torn out of a given context. It becomes a "we": every action becomes charged with a responsibility we all share, and even the most secret act has the task of edifying totality.
Why the Church?, p 189
I was stunned just a few years ago when I did research on the Sacrament of Reconciliation and came face to face with the reality that there was no such thing as purely personal sin--that sin always effects not just the individual, but the Body of Christ itself. Sin weakens the Church inasmuch as it fractures communion, separating the members of the Body from its Head, Jesus Christ.

As with sin, so to with salvation and virtue. I am responsible not just to work on my own sinfulness, but to help my brothers and sisters as they struggle with their own concupiscence. Rendered even more positively, I am responsible to help my brothers and sisters deepen their relationship with God, offering my very Self in sacrifice to accomplish that.

We are, as Paul says, "the Body of Christ, and individually members of it." Our identity is first and foremost as a People and then as individuals who make up that People. For Christians, our lives simply do not make sense in isolation. This means that each of us bears a responsibility for the vocation and salvation of our brothers and sisters. It is not enough to assume that another person is growing in their relationship with Christ (or even has a relationship with Christ).

How we undertake this shared responsibility is where the sandals hit the road. Many Catholics object to the idea that we should ask other peole how they are doing on their spiritual journey. The assumption is that we are asking them in order to judge them rather than, as Sherry Weddell says, "as a pre-requisite to serving them better." Yet that is precisely how the early Church lived. There are ways to do so that are authentically Catholic and respect both our own personal spiritual poverty and the dignity and privacy of others.

If I am, after all, a 'we,' the necessity is clear.

Catholicism is Busting Out All Over - in China & South Korea

Fascinating article by Sandro Magister here.

Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul, told Magister in an interview that:

“Over the past ten years the Catholic Church in Korea has gone from less than three million faithful to over five million,” recounts cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, who has been archbishop of Seoul since 1998. “And vocations also continue to flourish. By now we are 10 percent of the population, the highest percentage in Asia after the Philippines and Vietnam. In Seoul, we make up 14 percent of the population, and we have launched an initiative called the Evangelization Twenty Twenty Movement, with the aim of reaching 20 percent by 2020. Particularly promising is missionary activity among the young soldiers, whose ranks have swelled to 18 percent Catholic as of last year.”

He sounds pretty intentional about that.

The Importance of Soil Type

I am on the road this weekend, and am typing this in the Phoenix airport prior to boarding for sunny St. Paul, MN. I may not be able to keep up with the posts and comments, but thought I'd leave a brief reflection on Wednesday's gospel, Mark 4:1-20 because I believe it connects with the important issue of disposition and grace.

Jesus is talking about various dispositions of people who encounter the Word that he sows. I propose that he may also be speaking of the various reactions that people have to him, as well, since he is the incarnate Word. Notice that there are a variety of responses. Some have the word snatched by Satan as soon as they hear it. It's taken before it can begin to take root at all. Some respond with joy, and the word begins to root in them, begins to change their life and their behavior, but then the trials that inevitably come with living as a disciple of Christ leads to their abandonment of following him. Still others hear the word, but the distractions and cares of life "and the craving for other things" squeezes out the transforming power of the Word.

Note the craving for other things probably means other goods, since we are created by God to pursue the good. It's just that they are lesser goods – including our families, our careers, our pursuit of justice and human rights and every other good thing that is not God. Now, please do not think that I'm suggesting we abandon our spouses and children, or quit our jobs and join religious life. Rather, I'm proposing that the following of Christ must come first, and in following Christ, all of our other relationships and pursuits will be transformed. We will love our families better, serve them more wholeheartedly, and promote their personal and spiritual growth more if we are in communion with Christ. We will approach the sacraments with greater "active, conscious participation" when our relationship with Christ is our first priority. As Pope Benedict XVI said at his inauguration Mass, "If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide."

These various responses to Christ and his word point to the importance of our disposition when we approach the sacraments, our prayer, our relationships with other people – every aspect of our life of faith. This is why we at Intentional Disciples are so focused on the need for intentionality in our life of faith. We can't just "go through the motions" and presume that grace will be imparted. Nor are we suggesting that our disposition is simply our own work. St. Thomas Aquinas observed that

"even the good movement of the free-will, whereby anyone is prepared for receiving the gift of grace is an act of the free-will moved by God. And thus man is said to prepare himself, according to Prov. 16:1: "It is the part of man to prepare the soul"; yet it is principally from God, Who moves the free-will. Hence it is said that man's will is prepared by God, and that man's steps are guided by God." (ST II, I, 112, art. 2)

Our disposition is critical in the fruitful reception of God's grace in the sacraments, but even that good disposition is a result of our cooperation with the grace of God, whether that be habitual or actual grace. Yet we have to cooperate! As St. Augustine said, "God will not save us without us."

They're calling my flight. Gotta run. I hope this helps you understand our focus on intentionality a bit better - think of it as a bit of fertilizer for your soil!

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You're a "Lay--" What?

Sometimes when people ask me what I do, I tell them that I'm a Lay Evangelist. It's easy for me to say now because I am between jobs at the moment--and Lay Evangelist sounds much better than unemployed marketing executive. :)

Now, I sometimes say that with a smile on my face, but I am very serious. I enjoy sharing my faith with people I encounter. Sometimes this is done formally, as a speaker, retreat director, or formation coordinator, within the Church. But many times, this happens in my daily life outside the walls of a parish. I might be eating at a restauraunt and find myself engaged in a conversation with my server, or sitting on an airplane with someone who begins to talk about the questions they have about meaning, or existence, or God. Sometimes such conversations can occur at clubs or parties--really just about everywhere.

I love having those discussions with people--even those who are vehemently against religion, God, or "the Church." The opportunity to help others grapple, wrestle, or just talk about their relationship with God is a blessing--something I'm humbled to be a part of. Even more humbling is the experience of watching the Holy Spirit quicken or stir in someone's heart as they take another step toward God. I've had the good fortune of sponsoring a number of people into full communion with the Church, and it has helped me recognize my own spiritual poverty and the degree to which I depend upon the Grace of God for my salvation and deepening friendship with Him.

Not everyone is gung-ho to go out and start talking about their faith with friends or strangers. And that's okay. God has made each of us as unique unrepeatable manifestations of His Love. We have different gifts, personalities, talents, and life experiences. You don't have to stand on street corners or at parties "testifying."

At our most fundamental, however, we are all lay evangelizers. It comes with the territory--with the great gift of Baptism. As John Paul II has said, "evangelization is the Church's deepest and most profound identity." We are heirs of the Great Commission, men and women sent out to live our lives in the word in such a way that we spread the Love of God and foster all that is authentically human. Evangelization, you see, comes in many forms.

Which is good--because so do we!

Welcome to Open Book readers

We appreciate you dropping by.

Who Are We?

Intentional Disciples is a group blog devoted to the baptismal call, spirituality, gifts, vocations, ministry, work, history, theology, evangelization, formation, bad jokes, and pastoral support of lay Christians seeking to live their faith in the 21st century.

What is the Catherine of Siena Institute?

All the posters on our blog are involved with the Institute’s work in some way. The Institute emerged nearly 10 years ago out of a collaboration between Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP and a laywoman, Sherry Weddell. The Institute’s purpose is to “equip parishes to form lay apostles”. So far, we have worked with nearly 25,000 lay and ordained Catholics in hundreds of parishes in 74 dioceses on 4 continents.

We are not a lay movement nor do we have a pre-packaged “program” to offer. As we say on our website: We seek to foster the proclamation of the gospel to all the world by ensuring that lay Catholics (who are 99% of the Church) are equipped to effectively carry out their unique and essential part in this mission.

Every baptized Christian is called by Christ; therefore, every Christian needs the preparation that the Church offers to those called to fulfill a specific mission. The Church calls such preparation "formation." "Formation is not the privilege of a few, but a right and duty of all." (Christifideles Laici, 63.) We are working to ensure that every Catholic has access to a formation that:

  • Is distinctly lay in approach, spirituality, and focus;
  • Is deeply rooted in the Tradition and Magisterial teaching of the Church;
  • Fosters integration of faith, work, and relationships;
  • Takes seriously the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to every Christian;
  • Enables each one to further discern God's unique call in his or her own life;
  • Prepares him or her to be an effective, creative apostle in the midst of the world;
  • Encourages collaboration between the clergy and laity in mission to the world; and
  • Is geared to the real lives of working adults.

    Our Mission

    We work to make apostolic formation and support readily available to all lay Catholics by:

    • Making self-formation resources available to lay Catholics throughout the world
    • Equipping parishes to become houses of formation, discernment, and apostolic support for the laity.
    • Forming clergy, religious, and lay leaders to be effective formators of lay people.
    • Fostering awareness, discussion, theological inquiry, and pastoral consultation throughout the Church regarding the apostolic mission and formation of the laity.
    • Collaborating with interested individuals, groups, and organizations in the service of this mission.

    We are an apostolate of the

    Western Dominican Province and are affiliated with the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology. We are best known for the Called & Gifted discernment process.

    Why did we choose the title “Intentional Disciples” for our blog?

    Because Jesus is the heart of everything in the Christian life: our worship and sacramental life, our communion with his Church, our prayer life, work, loves, and play; our hope of ultimate salvation. We mean “disciple” as if you and I were Peter on the shore of the sea of Galilee and had the same opportunity to make a personal response to the same invitation. Peter didn’t drop those nets and spend the next three years with Jesus accidentally or unconsciously.He had to make a deliberate choice to say "yes" and then a series of choices to actually follow Jesus through the months and years ahead. In the same way, you and I are called, at some point, to respond with personal faith and assent to the faith into which we were baptized.

    What do we mean by “Intentional?"

    The integration of mind, heart, will, body soul and spirit in a deliberate "yes" to Christ's invitation to ‘follow me.’

    ". . .the "good news" is directed to stirring a person to a conversion of heart and life and a clinging to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; to disposing a person to receive Baptism and the Eucharist and to strengthen a person in the prospect and realization of new life according to the Spirit.
    --Catechesis in Our Time

    The joining of personal interior faith with assent to Church teaching and communion; the union of personal disposition and the sacraments as the Church has explicitly taught in great detail since the Council of Trent. This is Catholic to the bone, as old as the Gospels and as current as Benedict XVI's speeches. There isn't a shred of originality in it anywhere. As Amy noted in her post, there is nothing new about this.

    Is the term “Intentional Disciple” evangelical Protestant?

    No. I (Sherry) never heard the term “intentional disciple” used when I was an evangelical. Nor have I heard it used elsewhere. We came up with the phrase "intentional disciple" last summer after years of finding that the term "disciple" alone simply didn't convey the union of "fides formata" (personal faith and repentance infused with hope and love that the Council of Trent insisted was necessary for justification) and sacramental grace to pastoral leaders.

    After working with thousands of pastors, DREs, pastoral and diocesan staff and pastoral leaders all over the world, we knew we needed a term that was perfectly Catholic but just a tad unfamiliar. Unfamiliar enough to make Catholics think again.

    Our experience has been that we can meticulously walk through a detailed and documented presentation on Church teaching on evangelization and people just look at us with glazed eyes. But if we use the term "intentional disciple", they wake up. Some rejoice, others get angry - but no one falls asleep.

    And not being asleep would seem to be the first pre-requisite for fulfilling the Church's primary mission of evangelization.

    “Intentional Disciple” is not a trademark. It's a useful phrase. The speculation that our tiny, hand-to-mouth outfit has visions of becoming the next "Purpose-Driven" empire is beyond irony. And in case you were wondering, we are a certified albino-monk-assassin-free zone.

    What topics do we discuss on Intentional Disciples?

    Anything and everything related to the discipleship and apostleship of the laity and the mission of the Church to the world.

    1) Proclaiming Christ and the practical evangelization of individuals: How to communicate the kerygma to those who are not yet disciples of Jesus Christ and help them become disciples.

    2) Formation: How to nurture the spiritual maturity and foster the apostolic call of every baptized person, especially at the local parish level.

    3) Discernment and Vocation: Anything related to charisms (duh!) and the discernment and living of personal vocations - especially non-ecclesial vocations.

    4) Evangelization of culture and societal structures - especially in relationship to the faith, work, vocations, and initiatives of lay Christians.


    • Stories we hear/witness from close friends or families or stories we hear/witness on the road that are relevant to 1 -4
    • Essential Church teaching and theology and formation resources related to # 1-4.
    • Effective initiatives related to #1-4
    • Struggles/obstacles/questions/perspectives related to #1-4

    That's why we want and need a variety of voices and life experiences on the blog. We don't expect you to agree with each other on everything. Can you spell b-o-r-i-n-g? Our parameters are the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. Within those parameters, there is a ton of room for different opinions and personalities.

    The blog is actively moderated. We want to create a positive space for discussion that will encourage thoughtful "lurkers" who normally don't comment on other blogs because a few belligerent nasties dominate. The chronically uncivil will be asked to take their opinions elsewhere.

    We want to remain focused on providing a forum for important aspects of Catholic teaching, life and practice that aren’t getting much attention elsewhere. Therefore, there are certain topics we won't be discussing on Intentional Disciples. These would include:

    1) Ecclesial gossip: For rumors about curia officials and who is going to be the next Bishop of St. Bullfrog's, go elsewhere. Whispers in the Loggia does a great job of this. If people want to check out the latest buzz - we'll suggest they go there.

    2) Liturgy and liturgical controversies: Most Catholic blogs are routinely filled with discussions about liturgical disciplines, practices, the "old" Mass vs. the "new" Mass and horror stories about liturgical abuses. We won't be covering the liturgy wars on Intentional Disciples. None of us here has the kind of special knowledge of the liturgy necessary to repond thoughtfully to many of the issues raised. It has been done to death and there are dozens of other places to go to fill anyone's liturgical maven needs. We trust the Church and Pope Benedict XVI on this one.

    What we do know a lot about, what has been poorly covered elsewhere, and that we want to focus on here is the 99% of lay Catholic life and mission that goes on outside the sanctuary.

    Thursday, January 25, 2007

    Peering Into Pope Benedict's Mind

    Like Keith commented below, I also take quite seriously the reaction that Intentional Disciples has received throughout St. Blog's. As much as I have expressed my surprise at some folks' reactions to what we have spoken of here -- and, apparently, the particular phrase "intentional disciples" -- I must accept that this has been in fact the reaction. As some friends of mine would say, "it is given". And it is better to acknowledge and address what is in front of me than an image of what I might hope would be in front of me. Of course, to acknowledge the reaction is different than to reach a judgement (ooh, there I go with another one of those provocative words!) of what it means (e.g., use different language; although provocative, the reaction is positive; etc.). Frankly, I have only begun to discern that.

    But since our words here have been seen by some as "syncretist", "impoverished", etc., I thought I would take a break from all of that and offer up for consideration the words of another: our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.

    If you haven't spent some time digesting the homilies, audiences and writings that Pope Benedict has issued so far during his pontiff, then do yourself a favor and make the leap. (The Vatican has made all of his writings easily accessible here.) One of the things that I have been most struck by is how this man, whose popular reputation as Cardinal Ratzinger was as this "enforcer of dogma", spends so much of his time talking about the experience of the faith.

    What do I mean? Well consider just the following few examples:
    • Deus Caritas Est. Consider that striking definition of Christianity that he offers in the second paragraph: "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction."
    • Mass for the Inauguration of the Pontificate. Consider his comments on the beauty of encountering Christ and how He takes nothing away of what makes life great: "There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him .... Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life."
    • Easter Vigil Homily. Look at his striking discussion of the "I" and about being "seized" by Christ in baptism.
    • Address to the Ecclesial Convention of the Diocese of Rome. Consider: "In fact, discovering the beauty and joy of faith is a path that every new generation must take on its own, for all that we have that is most our own and most intimate is staked on faith: our heart, our mind, our freedom, in a deeply personal relationship with the Lord at work within us. ... Dear brothers and sisters, this certitude and this joy of being loved by God must be conveyed in some palpable and practical way to each one of us, and especially to the young generations who are entering the world of faith. In other words: Jesus said he was the "Way" that leads to the Father, as well as the "Truth" and the "Life" (cf. Jn 14: 5-7). Thus, the question is: how can our children and young people, practically and existentially, find in him this path of salvation and joy? This is precisely the great mission for which the Church exists - as the family of God and the company of friends into which we are already integrated with Baptism as tiny children -, in which our faith and joy and the certainty of being loved by the Lord must grow. It is therefore indispensable - and this is the task entrusted to Christian families, priests, catechists and educators, to young people themselves among their peers and to our parishes, associations and movements, and lastly to the entire diocesan community - that the new generations experience the Church as a company of friends who are truly dependable and close in all life's moments and circumstances, whether joyful and gratifying or arduous and obscure; as a company that will never fail us, not even in death, for it carries within it the promise of eternity."

    But don't take my word for it. Dive in and get dirty. Read him with an eye not just to the dogmas he might speak of, but for what he says about the human condition, how man encounters the faith, the sacraments, the Church, and the life that is generated. I do not know why Pope Benedict's words speak to me in this way so powerfully, but it makes me so grateful to have him as our pontiff.

    John Allen and Archbishop Collins of Toronto on the Respected Other" and the Movements

    Allen makes some intriguing points of his own and then so does the Archbishop.


    "One crucial element in shaping personality is what we might call the “respected other.” By that, I mean the kind of person with whom someone is in deep, sustained conversation, with whom they share a base of values, but with whom they also have important differences. Negotiating this relationship with the “respected other,” balancing one’s identification with it against the continual need to distinguish oneself from it, usually occupies a significant share of someone’s intellectual and emotional energy.

    For the quintessential post-Vatican II bishop, this “respected other” was usually secular liberalism. . . .

    For the typical John Paul II bishop, on the other hand, and now the typical Benedict XVI bishop, the “respected other” is instead more often Evangelical Christianity as well as secular cultural conservatism. Such bishops would feel more affinity with an Evangelical Bible study group than, say, the typical religious studies faculty at a state university. Policy wonks among them are more likely to have read the latest titles from Francis Fukuyama or Dinesh D’Souza than this week’s New Republic. They move in the same thought world, and share many of the same instincts – primarily the sense of a basic cultural clash with secularity, and the consequent imperative to defend a strong sense of identity. Yet many are also conscious of potential exaggerations in their “respected other,” such as ghettoization, judgmentalism, and over-concentration on a narrow canon of cultural issues."

    Archbishop Collins:

    On the Movements in the Church

    “I’ve sought to try to understand their particular charism, to have all of them speaking to the bishop and, if possible, to have them speaking to one another. They’re a great richness in the church, but we can’t become globulized into this kind of Catholic or that kind of Catholic. The key is that they center in on the parish and the diocese, and that they provide their special gift or their charism for the service of the whole church, and that they not become disconnected from the whole church.

    Catholic Quote of the Day

    To be a missionary is a command, there is no other choice.
    Today's world needs heralds and people who dare to find new ways of evangelization.

    “Go Out and Proclaim” - Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, C.M.F., Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints

    Creating Beauty in the World

    An interesting article from Zenit regarding Pope Benedict XVI calling lay men and women working within media to create beauty.

    Here's the text:

    Pope Benedict XVI: Educate Children in Beauty

    VATICAN CITY, JAN. 24, 2007 ( Benedict XVI is appealing to the media to educate children "in the ways of beauty, truth and goodness," not of violence and vulgarity.The Holy Father's appeal is in his message for World Communications Day 2007, which will be observed May 20 with the theme "Children and the Media: a Challenge for Education." The papal message for the media day is traditionally published today, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of journalists.

    The message calls for reflection on two aspects: the first is "the formation of children," and the second, "perhaps less obvious but no less important, is the formation of the media."

    The Pope explains: "The relationship of children, media, and education can be considered from two perspectives: the formation of children by the media; and the formation of children to respond appropriately to the media."A kind of reciprocity emerges which points to the responsibilities of the media as an industry and to the need for active and critical participation of readers, viewers and listeners."

    The Pontiff adds: "Within this framework, training in the proper use of the media is essential for the cultural, moral and spiritual development of children."Educating children to be discriminating in their use of the media is a responsibility of parents, Church, and school." Media education should be positive. Children exposed to what is aesthetically and morally excellent are helped to develop appreciation, prudence and the skills of discernment."

    Mirroring the divine

    Benedict XVI's statement recognizes the importance of the example of parents and encourages them to introduce youth to "children's classic literature, to the fine arts and to uplifting music.""Beauty, a kind of mirror of the divine, inspires and vivifies young hearts and minds, while ugliness and coarseness has a depressing impact on attitudes and behavior," the papal message continues.The media industry can support the education of children in the ways of beauty, truth and goodness "only to the extent that it promotes fundamental human dignity, the true value of marriage and family life, and the positive achievements and goals of humanity," the Pope says.

    Benedict XVI acknowledges that communicators often face "'special psychological pressures and ethical dilemmas' ... which at times see commercial competitiveness compelling communicators to lower standards.""Any tendency to produce programs and products -- including animated films and video games -- which in the name of entertainment exalt violence and portray anti-social behavior or the trivialization of human sexuality is a perversion, all the more repulsive when these programs are directed at children and adolescents," he says.

    The Holy Father appeals in his message "to the leaders of the media industry to educate and encourage producers to safeguard the common good, to uphold the truth, to protect individual human dignity and promote respect for the needs of the family."


    Communicating the Vision

    It's clear from the past experience of the Catherine of Siena Institute (the CSI, by the way) and the current reactions to the work and thought behind the Intentional Disciples blog, that intentional discipleship evokes strong reactions in just about everyone. Perhaps the most common, and the most troubling to me spiritually and emotionally, is a sense on the part of others that they are being condescended to--that thinking of others as intentional disciples (or pre-disciples) is arrogant and elitist.

    Keeping in mind that the internet is perhaps the least useful tool in communication that requires trust, nuance, and plenty of non-written clues and communication, what do you think are some of the best ways to have these conversations continued on a parish or small group level?

    How can we best communicate what we are about?

    Wednesday, January 24, 2007

    Catholics in the Public Square

    Much is made, particularly during election years, of the role of Faith in public discourse. Many secularists say that Faith has no place in the public square, that it should not influence public policy, governance, and other social and cultural issues. As if a man can simply separate his deepest held beliefs from his actions, decisions, and policies. I have always found such an expectation (the divorce of faith from the public square) to be fairly hypocritical--as it doesn't place a similar burden on the beliefs of secularists.

    The argument, then, isn't simply that beliefs should be separated from public discourse, just certain kinds of beliefs--specifically religious ones. Yet, the responsibility of a Christian in the public sphere is quite burdensome. We are called, by Scripture and the living Tradition of the Church to labor to transform human structures and cultures and restore to creation all of its original dignity. How we, as laypeople, execute on that responsibility while living within a pluralistic society is definitely a challenge. The present circumstances of our divided culture, and the hooplah surroundinging our last Presidential Election has "forced" the Church to examine the role of lay men and women in society and reflect more deeply on how faith and politics should rightly intermix.

    One of those reflections comes from Bishop Olmstead of Phoenix. Entitled, "Catholics in the Public Square," it provides some solid foundations for men and women who strive to live out their faith in the context of citizenship within the United States of America. Some of the sections might come as a surprise to folks who are critical of fundamentalist Christians interfering in politics. I've highlighted a snippet below, but I do encourage you to read the whole reflection:

    Is it mandatory for Catholics to follow what the Pope or bishops say on political issues?
    Because they are the leaders of the Church, it is always important to respect statements from the Church's hierarchy. It is the role of the Pope and the bishops to teach clearly on matters of faith and morals, including those touching on political issues.

    There are some matters, however, on which Catholics may disagree with the Church's hierarchy. In some cases, for example, a Catholic may agree with the teaching of the Church, but come to a different prudential judgment about its application.

    Examples of these issues might include an instance where someone agrees with the Church's teaching on “just war” or “capital punishment,” but reaches a different conclusion as to whether the facts of the situation constitute a “just war” or the “rare” circumstances where capital punishment may be used under Church teaching.

    It should be emphasized, however, that despite these examples, there are other issues, such as abortion or euthanasia, that are always wrong and do not allow for the correct use of prudential judgment to justify them. It would never be proper for Catholics to be on the opposite side of these issues.

    Are all political and social issues equal when it comes to choosing a political candidate?
    Absolutely not! The Catholic Church is actively engaged in a wide variety of important public policy issues including immigration, education, affordable housing, health and welfare, to name just a few. On each of these issues we should do our best to be informed and to support those proposed solutions that seem most likely to be effective. However, when it comes to direct attacks on innocent human life, being right on all the other issues can never justify a wrong choice on this most serious matter.

    As Pope John Paul II has written, " Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights - for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture - is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with the maximum determination ." (Christifideles Laici , 38)

    The Christian stands as a Citizen of two Kingdoms and is called to exercise that citizenship in its fullest sense. While some in the secular arena see it as a threat, the Christian labors to make the earthly kingdom reflect the Heavenly one. Not out of a Machiavellian desire to create a Theocracy, but rather out of a dogmatic belief (in the best sense of the words) that what God desires for humanity is their deepest and most truest Good. As good citizens, then, we should work alongside men and women of goodwill, regardless of denomination, religion, or philosophical system, to labor for the good of the human race as a whole.

    The Story of My Life (or, Why Sherry is a Goddess)

    I took a LONG time to add a response to the debates about "Intentional Disciples" at the Commonweal and Disputations blog, and I'm not going to let that time go to waste, so I'm going to post my response here, too. Sherry, JACK, and Keith responded to most or all of the questions, so I thought I'd share a bit about how working within the Institute has changed my life, my understanding of priesthood, and the role of the laity.

    An intentional disciple is what I believe an "active Catholic" should be. Someone who has a relationship with Christ that shapes the way they treat other people, forms the decisions they make in the workplace, market, home, and parish community. That relationship draws them to the Eucharist where they offer all that they have and are with Christ to the Father in the Spirit, and gratefully receive the grace that enables them to deepen that relationship. An intentional disciple recognizes the sins that separate him or her from the community and from Christ and renew their baptismal grace at reconciliation. An intentional disciple's faith seeks understanding through reading and praying over scripture, other spiritual reading, and the teachings of the Church. The intentional disciple gives of themselves and their resources in joyful service to others.

    About two years ago a thirty-four year old man at a parish where I help when I'm in Colorado Springs told me about a powerful conversion he had undergone. He blew me away one evening when, during a conversation, he paused, got a big smile on his face, and said, "Fr. Mike, let's be saints!" I realized I had forgotten the point of this whole drama we're living. The intentional disciple, I believe, is conscious of the daily invitation of Jesus to, "come, follow me," and they intentionally seek to respond. Perhaps my description of the intentional disciple in the previous paragraph sounds like someone on the way to becoming a saint. I hope so, because that is our goal, isn't it? I'm not talking about being recognized as a saint by the Church (we'll be dead by definition, so what will we care?). I mean we should have the hope to be united with Christ and all those who are in him in eternity, and live as though that truly is our goal! Of course, it's not something we earn, but a gift offered to us. But we have to cooperate with the grace that's offered us throughout our days, and that takes intentionality!

    And that's why I think "intentional discipleship" is important. When we live with our end in mind, we live differently. I'm not promoting a "pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die" quietism that doesn't care about the plight of the poor or the ravages of injustice. Quite the contrary. Intentional disciples are aware of God's love for them as well as for everyone else who is alive, and they reach out in true charity – love- to those around them. We all know exceptional Catholics in our parishes and dioceses whom we admire. Do we desire that others should be like them? Do we want to be like them – not in the details of their life, but in the willingness to entrust our lives to God and see where we're led? We enshrine saints in our stained glass windows and think of them as the exceptions, when surely Christ wants them to be the norm!

    My understanding of priesthood and ministry has deepened. I am called to serve the Church (meaning all the baptized) by being an instrument of Christ to help sanctify, teach and govern the parish in such a way that more and more Catholics respond to the invitation of Christ to enter into a love relationship with him: to respond to the love he's already shown them. That relationship cannot thrive unless it is nurtured in community by others who share that love, deepened by prayer, nourished by the grace offered through the sacraments, and expressed in love for others, especially the least and the lost who are Christ "in distressing disguise." Everything I do as a priest must have that end, and every activity I engage in must be examined to see if it is effective in achieving that end. It means I have to stop thinking in terms of developing programs and focus on developing people. From what I've seen of intentional disciples, they will not only maintain the structures and programs we have, they'll develop new, creative ventures not only for our parishes, but for the secular world in which we are inserted.

    Unfortunately, I think as Catholics we do one another and the power of God a disservice by having expectations that are ridiculously low. For example, in 2001 the Campus Ministry sub-committee of the USCCB commissioned the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) to study the impact of campus ministry involvement on the religious beliefs and behaviors of Catholic graduates. What distressed me about the survey (and I realize good surveys are very difficult to produce) were both the questions asked and the results! The survey was based on the six aspects of Catholic campus ministry enumerated in a 1985 USCCB document called, "Empowered by the Spirit: Campus Ministry Faces the Future." I won't go into the details of the survey, although you can read it above.

    The questions on the survey, I believe, were attempting to identify "active Catholics." The results illustrate the relationship between participating in campus ministry during college and more frequent Mass attendance, higher parish registration, and greater involvement in parish and other religious activities. 40% of those who were involved in campus ministry attend Mass at least once a week, compared with 30% who were not involved. 17% of those involved in campus ministry reported they were "very involved" in their parish, compared with 8% who had not been involved in campus ministry. Yet among those who had the benefit of participating in campus ministry, only 34% said they considered helping the needy to be an "essential part of their faith", and only 65% said that their faith was "among the most important parts of their lives." The results were lower (27% and 52%, respectively) among those who had not participated in campus ministry.

    I find the results distressing, especially since I devoted twelve years of my life to campus ministry. But I also find the questions distressing. When trying to determine the effectiveness of campus ministry in providing leaders for the future, the focus was on lay ecclesial ministry, religious life and priesthood – ignoring leadership in the secular realm. Also, the questions regarding leadership asked if the respondent had ever considered, these ministries, not whether, in fact, they had actually become leaders in those areas. Finally, and I'll get off my soapbox here, the question regarding the importance of faith simply asked if faith was "among" the most important parts of their life. How does one interpret that? Is it among the top two? Five? Ten? Even when a respondent could expand "most important parts" to whatever size necessary to include faith, less than two-thirds of those who had participated in campus ministry managed to squeeze faith in. Is this what we mean by "active Catholic?" I hope not, and we dishonor Christ, the Gospel and the saints and martyrs if we do.

    I am learning that as a priest I have to be aware of my own charisms (or spiritual gifts) to better know where Christ is calling me, and to know where I need to collaborate with those with different gifts. As a priest I am called, according to a number of different magisterial documents to "recognize, uncover with faith, acknowledge with joy, foster with diligence, appreciate, judge and discern, coordinate and put to good use, and have 'heartfelt esteem'" for the charisms of all the baptized. (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 30; Decree on Ministry and Life of Priests, 9; I Will Give You Shepherds, 40, 74; Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People, 32) This is a radically different approach to ministry than I have witnessed, experienced or attempted. But this is rather ironic, since I didn't feel called to priesthood because I wanted to administer a large, complex business called a parish or maintain programs irregardless of their effectiveness. I felt called to first of all be changed by Christ and his people, then to help others respond to his call and be empowered by him to change the world.

    In my close association with the work of Sherry Weddell, Fr. Michael Sweeney, and their collaborators, I have followed the connections they have discovered in a host of documents that outline a challenging and Spirit-filled description of the mission of the Church, the integral and primary role of the laity in that mission, and the role of service to the laity that is mine as a cleric. It's breathtaking and heartbreaking at the same time; breathtaking, because of its beauty, and heartbreaking because it is so seldom realized.

    I am blessed to have been led by God to the Institute. I hope you consider taking a look at what I believe the Holy Spirit is doing through us. You might check out a pamphlet that Fr. Michael and Sherry produced called The Parish: Mission or Maintenance, on the untapped potential of the parish in the formation of lay apostles. Sherry wrote another pamphlet on the parish as a house of formation for adult Catholics called, "Making Disciples, Equipping Apostles" . They will help you have a better feel for what the Institute's about.

    Oh, and I threw that stuff about Sherry being a goddess in just so you'd read this terribly long post.


    January Edition of Siena E-Scribe Here

    Intentional Disciples Throughout St. Blogs

    Discussions about this humble blog have appeared in several places throughout St. Blog's parish--most recently at Disputations and at Commonweal's blog. If you have the chance, do go and have a look to see how the conversation about intentional discipleship progresses throughout the blogosphere!

    That They May Have Life

    As I was reading through my monthly pile of periodicals, I came across a wonderful article in First Things--a journal of Catholic thought--regarding the latest statement made by Evangelicals and Catholics Together entitled, That They May Have Life. EaCT is, as the name might imply, an ecumenical group that has met for the past decade (and more) highlighting areas where Catholicism and Evangelical belief share unity. While not glossing over very important differences in theology and ecclesiology, Evangelicals and Catholics Together is a great example of authentic ecumenism in action.

    That They May Have Life is a statement, according to its introduction, that aims to

    . . .make the case for what is commonly called “a culture of life—" and to do so in a way that invites public deliberation and engages questions of public policy. Our primary purpose, however, is to explain to our communities why we believe that support for a culture of life is an integral part of Christian faith and therefore a morally unavoidable imperative of Christian discipleship.

    In the contentious political and moral marketplace of ideas, what some denote as the Public Square when referring to the polity, the debate about life issues is often polarizing, with opposing "sides" not able to actually dialogue through the rhetoric. Even within Christianity there is division regarding the morality of abortion and contraception. While the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox Churches) among others, hold to the unchanging and unchanged belief in the evil of abortion, for example, some mainline Protestant churches and other denominations have waivered in their belief. That They May Have Life presents a winsome and powerful case for supporting a culture of life within society.

    Although not its primary purpose, I find the statement fascinating in regards to non-Christians. While it clearly uncovers the theological and scriptural foundations for a culture of life, it holds that:

    . . .the public policies pertinent to the defense of the humanum are supported by reasons that are accessible to all and should be convincing to all. The term “humanism” is frequently employed in opposition to Christian faith, as in the phrase “secular humanism.” We propose a deeper and richer humanism that is firmly grounded in the bedrock of scriptural truth, that is elaborated in the history of Christian thought, that is in accord with clear reason, that honors the best in our civilization’s tradition, and that holds the promise of a future more worthy of the dignity of the human person who is the object of God’s infinite love and care. This more authentic humanism is in no way alien to Christianity. There is in world history no teaching more radically humanistic than the claim that God became a human being in order that human beings might participate in the life of God, now and forever.

    In its fullest expression, Christianity calls and moves people to a deeper understanding and expression of authentic humanity. Through Christ, we can become who we truly are. The Christian labors, then, to create and heal social and cultural structures so that they promote all that is truly and authentically human. And rather than seeing themselves opposed to non-Christians, Christians should eagerly strive to work alongside people of goodwill in a work that can be understood through human reason without recourse to theological or scriptural understandings. In other words, Christians work for the good of humanity and particularly when goals become proposed or "realized," they can be understood by humanity through the use of human reason alone.

    I know that there is much suspicion of religion (particularly Christianity) within American discourse, but the statement made by Evangelicals and Catholics Together rightly and clearly hits the nail on the head. Deeply held beliefs of any nature (including religion) should not be excluded from the Public Square. In particular, Christians need to make a case for the rightness of their positions on Life Issues that are accessible to those who share a different view, attempting to educate and convince, and such deliberations should take place within the pluralistic and democratic structures of our country. Despite what other pundits and possessors of opposing viewpoints might think, Christians in no way wish to create a Theocracy.

    This is reiterated in the final words of the statement:

    We cannot and would not impose this vision of a culture of life upon others. We do propose to our fellow Christians and to all Americans that they join with us in a process of deliberation and decision that holds the promise of a more just and humane society committed, in life and law, to honoring the inestimable dignity of every human being created in the image and likeness of God. For our part, as Evangelicals and Catholics together, we refuse to despair of the power of public witness and persuasion in the service of every member of the human community, for whom Christ came “that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

    Although the statement can not be said to reflect the whole of evangelical thinking (one of the unintended fruits of the Reformation), it does, in fact, encapsulate Catholic thought and belief quite well. I encourage everyone to read this powerful and moving document--especially those who hold an opposing viewpoint.

    Heaven: Divine Dullness?

    A Catholic News Service piece from Jan 19 raises an interesting question: how does our image of heaven affect our eagerness to preach the Gospel and persevere as disciples?

    Divine dullness: Usual images of heaven don't impress Christians

    " . . .an Italian biblicist, Father Carlo Buzzetti, has approached the question from a different angle: The modern church, he said, does a lousy job imagining what heaven is like and communicating it to the faithful. Most Catholics, Father Buzzetti said, understand heaven as a vague place of eternal survival, where happiness can become monotonous and where the absence of human passions creates an "anemic" atmosphere. In other words, boring. And if heaven is seen as a dull routine of perpetual bliss, how can it possibly stimulate people to live a good and moral life in this world? Father Buzzetti posed the questions in a long article in a recent issue of Italian Clergy Review. He based his analysis on extensive discussions with pastors, who told him the traditional images of heaven -- a vision of God, a banquet or eternal repose -- were making little or no impression on modern Christians.

    Is this just an Italian phenomena? What gives? Is it because our lives in the west are affluent and protected in a way that previous generations did not know? Or is something else at work?

    What is the most compelling image of heaven you have encountered and how does it affect (or not) your desire to live as an intentional disciple now?

    One of my favorites is from St. Thomas More:

    "There is no sorrow on earth that heaven cannot heal."

    Stem Cells and the Lay Apostolate

    You might remember news reports last Summer indicating that scientists at a biotech firm had developed a new method of creating stem cells without destroying human embryos. I'm by no means an expert in bio-science, but as a concerned Catholic, I have tried to "think with the Church," educating myself on the realities (economic, political, scientific, and theological) and examining them through the lens of Tradition and Scripture. While this new technique seems interesting, critics on both sides of the stem cell debate have raised some concerns. You can check out the report here.

    Reading the MSNBC report closely, I was a little peeved by this quote from one of the scientists at the biotech firm who created the new technique: "This will make it far more difficult to oppose this research." I object because it characterizes those who are opposed to stem cell research as reactionary luddites who are opposed to the research on superstitous grounds. In fact, I don't think you'll find any Catholic who wouldn't want science to advance cures to illnesses that threaten the lives of our brothers and sisters--we just want these advances to respect and protect the dignity of those who are ill and the human life of the embryo. That's why you'll see many Catholics wholeheartedly supporting Adult Stem Cell Research, which has already yielded far more clinical results than embryonic stem cell research--and hasn't destroyed human life in the process.

    Recently, scientists have discovered a method of extracting and utilizing stem cells from amniotic fluid--certainly a far less morally objectional approach. In fact, it could very well be that amniotic stem cells provide the "solution" to the stem cell debate.

    However, I'm not really sure what these new techniques will yield in the future of the Stem Cell Battles, but as science and technology continues to advance faster than the moral, ethical, and theological frameworks we construct, you can bet that the ground will continue to shift on a yearly basis. Amidst the roiling and churning of the 21st century, it is comforting to have the Foundation and Cornerstone of Jesus Christ and the loving bulwark of His Church to hold on to--not in a way that runs from science and "reason" in fear, but in a way that embraces scientific and technological research, placing them within the proper relationship to Natural Law and Revealed Truth.

    This is part of the work of the lay apostolate, not to just evaluate the morality and ethics of scientific research, but to enter the field of science itself and work from within. Utilizing reason and research to provide ethical and moral solutions to the problems and issues we face in our mortal existence--making life better for men and women across the globe.

    Such thoughts remind me of John Paull the Great's wonderful 1998 Encyclical entitled, Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason). His opening paragraph states:

    Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2).

    For the Christian, faith and reason are not opposed, but are two gifts that we are called to utilize in the course of fulfilling our apostolic mission.

    St. Sulpice: Center of Spiritual Renewal and Apostolic Innovation

    The 66 years from 1594, when Frances de Sales set out on foot to re-evangelize alpine France, to the death of St. Vincent de Paul in 1660, was a time of extraordinary spiritual renewal in France. It is sometimes called the "generation of saints" although it spanned three generations.

    At the center of this revival was the parish of St. Sulpice and its pastor, Jean-Jacques Olier, founder of the Sulpicians. He lived in a very different time where so many of the things we take for granted were missing: universal public education, innumerable public and private programs and services for the poor and sick; an educated laity, etc. So we can't just imitate what he did but we certainly can imitate his spirit!

    What I find fascinating is his intensely apostolic and creative view of the parish, the diocesan priesthood, and the whole Church. For him, the parish was all about mission, not maintenance. The Sulpicians at St. Patrick's told me that Olier was noted for his collaboration with the laity.

    Read this (long) description of Olier's amazing evangelical creativity at the parish level from the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia. And then give yourself permission to dream about what God could do in and through your parish:

    "In August, 1641, M. Olier took charge of St-Sulpice. His aims were to reform the parish, establish a seminary, and Christianize the Sorbonne, then very worldly, through the piety and holiness of the seminarians who should attend its courses. The parish embraced the whole Faubourg-St-Germain, with a population as numerous and varied as a large city. It was commonly reputed the largest and most vicious parish, not only in the French capital, but in all Christendom. The enormity of the evils had killed all hope of reformation.

    Father Olier organized his priests in community life. The parish was divided into eight districts, each under the charge of a head priest and associates, whose duty it was to know individually all the souls under their care, with their spiritual and corporal needs, especially the poor, the uninstructed, the vicious, and those bound in irregular unions. Thirteen catechetical centres were established, for the instruction not only of children but of many adults who were almost equally ignorant of religion. Special instructions were provided for every class of persons, for the beggars, the poor, domestic servants, lackeys, midwives, workingmen, the aged etc. Instructions and debates on Catholic doctrine were organized for the benefit of Calvinists, hundreds of whom were converted.

    A vigorous campaign was waged against immoral and heretical literature and obscene pictures; leaflets, holy pictures, and prayer books were distributed to those who could not or would not come to church, and a bookstore was opened at the church to supply good literature. The poor were cared for according to methods of relief inspired by the practical genius of St. Vincent de Paul. During the five or six years of the Fronde, the terrible civil war that reduced Paris to widespread misery, and often to the verge of famine, M. Olier supported hundreds of families and provided many with clothing and shelter. None were refused. His rules of relief, adapted in other parishes, became the accepted methods and are still followed at St-Sulpice.

    Orphans, very numerous during the war, were placed in good parishes, and a house of refuge established for orphan girls. A home was open to shelter and reform the many women rescued from evil lives, and another for young girls exposed to danger. Many free schools for poor girls were founded by Father Olier, and he laboured also at the reform of the teachers in boys' schools, not however, with great success. He perceived that the reform of boys' schools could be accomplished only through a new congregation; which in fact came about after his death through St. Jean Baptist de la Sale, a pupil of St-Sulpice, who founded his first school in Father Olier's parish.

    Free legal aid was provided for the poor. He gathered under one roof the sisters of many communities, who had been driven out of their convents in the country and fled to Paris for refuge, and cared for them till the close of the war. In fine, there was no misery among the people, spiritual or corporal, for which the pastor did not seek a remedy.

    His work for the rich and high-placed was no less thorough and remarkable. He led the movement against duelling, formed a society for its suppression, and enlisted the active aid of military men of renown, including the marshals of France and some famous duellists. He converted many of noble and royal blood, both men and women. He combated the idea that Christian perfection was only for priests and religious, and inspired many to the practices of a devout life, including daily meditation, spiritual reading and other exercises of piety, and to a more exact fulfillment of their duties at court and at home. . .

    He persuaded the rich–royalty, nobles, and others–to a great generosity, without which his unbounded charities would have been impossible. The foundation of the present church of St-Sulpice was laid by him. At times as many as sixty or even eighty priests were ministering together in the parish, of whom the most illustrious, a little after Olier's time, was Fénelon, later Archbishop of Cambrai. This was one of the best effects of Olier's work, for it sent trained, enlightened zealous priests into all parts of France. From being the most vicious in France, the parish became one of the most devout, and it has remained such to this day.

    Olier was always the missionary. His outlook was world- wide; his zeal led to the foundation of the Sulpician missions at Montreal (Sherry's note: Montreal was founded by a remarkable band of French lay Catholics who dreamed of recreating the Christian community of the book of Acts and evangelizing Native Americans) and enabled him to effect the conversion of the English King, Charles II, to the Catholic faith.

    The second great work of Olier was the establishment of the seminary of St-Sulpice. By his parish, which he intended to serve as a model to the parochial clergy, as well as by his seminary, he hoped to help give France a worthy secular priesthood, through which alone, he felt, the revival of religion could come. . . The beginnings were in great poverty, which lasted many years, for Olier would never allow any revenues from the parish to be expended except on parish needs.

    From the start he designed to make it a national seminary and regarded as providential the fact that the parish of St-Sulpice and the seminary depended directly on the Holy See. In the course of two years students came to it from about twenty dioceses of
    France. Some attended the courses at the Sorbonne, others followed those given in the seminary. His seminarians were initiated into parochial work, being employed very fruitfully in teaching catechism. At the Sorbonne their piety, it appears, had a very marked influence. The seminary, fulfiling the hopes of Father Olier, not only sent apostolic priests into all parts of France, but became the model according to which seminaries were founded throughout the kingdom.

    Tuesday, January 23, 2007

    What's a Lay Person to Do?

    If you've been wondering what are the presuppositions of many of the contributors to Intentional Disciples, I suggest you read Russell Shaw's book, "Catholic Laity in the Mission of the Church." I read it last autumn with great excitement as I discovered, at last, someone who seemed to be speaking the same language, and who had made similar connections between a variety of papal encyclicals and apostolic exhortations as had Fr. Michael Sweeney, O.P. and Sherry Weddell. Before you buy the book, however, you can get a taste of it here and by the quotes I offer below.

    Mr. Shaw is a layman who has served the Church for many years as a journalist. His book covers the role of the laity in the Church from Apostolic times to after the Second Vatican Council. He also offers some insightful comments regarding the pernicious disease of clericalism, both in clerics and in members of the laity. Most exciting to me, however, is the fact that nearly half of the book is devoted to discussing personal vocation, the laity in the mission of the Church, and the apostolate and spirituality of the laity. In the book, as well as in the article linked above, he describes what the laity "should be doing."

    1) Giving priority to lay apostolate in and to the secular world as the preferred, though not exclusive, form of lay participation in the mission of the Church;

    2) Cultivating an authentically lay spirituality incorporating central elements of lay life and experience like marriage and work;

    3) Discerning, accepting, and living out of the unique personal vocations of lay persons as the essential framework for their apostolate and their personal holiness.

    He also advocates the need for promoting a new Catholic "subculture" as a necessary means for supporting the evangelization of the culture. But he's no romantic naively longing for the "good old" pre-Vatican II days. He writes, "Simply returning to the Catholic subculture of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s is not possible, nor would it be desirable if it could be done. Along with its undoubted strengths and virtues, the subculture of that era was triumphalistic, intellectually shallow, and overly defensive. Hardly what is needed now, if the evangelization of culture is the goal.
    The new Catholic subculture must instead be built upon an infrastructure of dynamically orthodox institutions, programs, and movements committed to forming and motivating Catholics for the evangelization of the secular world. Here and there, it may be starting to happen. If it is to succeed, lay women and men must play a key role."

    Sounds like he's thinking about the Catherine of Siena Institute, doesn't it? I'll have to e-mail him a link to this blog and our website!


    ID Featured in This Week's Catholic Carnival

    Bernadette's post: Parable of the Sower was featured in this week's Catholic Carnival. Congratulations, Bernadette!

    Although our blog is three weeks old, we are delighted by the level of traffic and conversation. This may well increase because our January edition of the Siena E-Scribe was e-mailed to over 3,000 people today and Intentional Disciples is the topic of the lead article.

    Welcome to our new visitors. Please feel free to look around, make yourself at home, help yourself to something to nibble, and join in the conversation!

    Blessed Nicholas Gross. Lay Saint

    Today is the feast day of martyr Nicholas Gross, a German lay man and father of seven who was hung for his opposition to the Nazis on January 23, 1945.

    Oh Cactus Tree, oh Cactus Tree, How Lovely Are Your Stickers . . .

    Tucson received 1/2 inch of snow Sunday night. The community declared a "snow day".
    Fr. Mike sends this evidence of the miracle.

    Join the Club! Or Not.

    This morning I was making my rounds in the blogosphere and came upon an interesting thread on Catholic Answer Forums. In it, a man who is Southern Baptist but has wanted to move into full communion with the Catholic Church details the frustrations he's had getting anyone to contact him and the roadblocks he's encountered to actually becoming Catholic.

    Even more illuminating are the responses of Catholics (converts or cradle) to his situation.

    Do read the whole thread if you can. It's entitled:

    Is Catholicism a private, scripted Club?

    Mission Possible?

    As we hear in the gospel, Christ proclaims that "all things have been handed over to me by my Father." Jesus was given, and accepted, a mission of love and salvation for the world. As members of Christ's Body through Baptism, we too participate in that mission, whether we are in church or at the store. For us, every moment of life is an apostolic moment; we are sent in to the world for the sake of the world.

    Answering that call is intentional discipleship in action--living our lives so that others might encounter Christ and find rest beneath his yoke. Not an easy task as we try and balance the oftentimes competing demands of our own pursuits--yet our mission field is precisely those areas of life which we inhabit, bringing the love and the healing of Christ to all those we meet.

    How prepared do you feel for this mission?

    The Charism of Bi-Location

    When Fr. Mike started with us, I let him know that bi-location was one of the requirements for the job. This coming weekend is going to be the ultimate test as we have five different Called & Gifted workshops in five different cities.

    The secret to bi-location success? Our hardy band of traveling teachers and our emerging local teaching teams. Altogether, about 100 men and women (lay and clergy) like Keith and "the other Sherry", help us teach the Called & Gifted workshop around the country.

    If you are near one of the following cities, check it out! Go here for contact information and to pre-register. You do not have to be a parishioner to attend. The C & G runs 7 - 9:30 pm on Friday night and 9:30 - 4pm on Saturday.

    Speaking of parishes of interest, all of these parishes are exceptionally committed to evangelization and lay formation.

    1) San Francisco, St. Dominic's parish.
    (Scott Moyer, Director of Adult Faith Formation, heads up our Bay area Called & Gifted team. Scott was a high tech entrepreneur when he first took the C & G, and was able to "name" the curious restlessness that had haunted him for years. It was the charism of pastoring. Result: Scott changed careers and just finished his Master's in theology. Scott has also just become the proud father of Matthew. He's working on the bi-location thing.)

    2) Spokane, WA: St. Patrick's Catholic Church.
    (Fr. Daniel Barnett, the hyperkenetic (he moves so fast he might as well be bi-locating) pastor of two parishes and diocesan vocations director, heads our Spokane area team.)

    3) Boise, ID: Sacred Heart Church
    (Carol McGee, Pastoral Associate for Adult Faith Formation, had led our Idaho state teaching team for the past 6 years. She also heads up the parish Evangelization Retreats which have resulted in hundreds of Boise Catholics and Protestants becoming intentional disciples over the past 10 years)

    4) Colorado Springs, CO: Holy Apostles Church
    (I'll be heading up this local parish teaching team in training. I like watching other people bi-locate.)

    5) St. Paul, MN: Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church
    (Fr. Mike will test the limits of bi-location by attempting to be in St. Paul and Tucson at the same time!)

    Monday, January 22, 2007

    Calling All Vermonters . . .

    A bleg from Mark Shea's blog:

    A reader asks:

    I was wondering if, at some point in the future, you might use your blog to do me a favor. I am a single thirty-something year old in the New York City area, and I'm a New York native. I've got a really lovely circle of Christian friends here, not to mention my family all round me. My parish has one of those awesome, "Random Lay Groups" that were discussed on your blog not too long ago, and joining that group made a HUGE difference to me when I first started to take my Faith seriously a few years ago in this great unchurched city.

    Anyhow, the point of all this is that I am moving to Burlington, Vermont in the next few months, and I've been doing some advance parish scouting, and I don't see anything at any of the Burlington/Williston/Essex Junction parishes like a young(ish) adults group, or random-lay group. It's a little daunting, the thought of moving there and being alone in my Faith for a while.

    So that brings me to my favor/question. You've got a wide audience, and I was wondering if any of your readers were from the Burlington area and knew of an orthodox parish where I could join a young(ish) adult group or something like it. I'm not averse to starting one in the Burlington area if I must, but maybe there's one already thriving that just isn't being publicized in all the bulletins and event calendars I've been looking over. All the parish ministries seem very focused on senior citizens and families.

    I'm sure I don't need to clarify, but I don't mean a "singles-only" or dating-type group!

    Two suggestions:

    First, watch my comboxes on this thread in case somebody from the Burlington/Williston/Essex, Vermont area is reading and can point you to a good group.

    Second, go to Intentional Disciples, the blog of the St. Catherine of Siena Institute and ask somebody there if they have any contacts in the Burlington/Williston/Essex, Vermont area who might be of help.

    P.S. Hi reader

    Our lay group was "Nameless" but I love the idea of being "Random" too!

    Sherry Weddell

    Winter Reflection

    Okay, so after I posted my Creativity in Proclamation post, I realized that there were a number of people who create rather moving videos for public consumption and inspiration--as well as advertising. Rather than just lamenting on why Catholics (in general) seem to be behind the curve, I opted to invest some of my own time getting "up to speed" on some aspects of web 'evangelization."

    What follows is my own humble reflection on Winter. All photos are courtesy of the amazing Debbie DeLorenzo (who just happens to be my girlfriend . . .but don't spread it around!).

    Enjoy! From time to time, I may post new ones if they are a good enough example of utilizing new technology in living out our baptismal call.

    Priestly Pastoral Formation: Theology Lite?

    Fr. Michael Sweeney, O.P., the co-founder of the Catherine of Siena Institute and current President of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, once told me that pastoral formation in Catholic seminaries is often looked upon as "theology lite." I think I know what he means, and I think he's correct. Prior to my working for the Institute, my understanding of pastoral theology was shaped by my experience of my formation in it. When I went through seminary, pastoral theology consisted of courses like, Confessional Ministry, Liturgical Celebration, and Pastoral Counseling. These were the 'how-to' classes; how to preside at Mass, how to baptize an infant, how to hear confessions, how to listen well and apply moral theological principles to particular situations.

    These are all necessary, good skills that a priest should have. But a lot was missing, particularly surrounding the issue of pastoral governance, which, as Pope John Paul II said in his 2004 ad limina address to the bishops of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, "is directed both to gathering the flock in the visible unity of a single profession of faith lived in the sacramental communion of the Church and to guiding that flock, in the diversity of its gifts and callings, towards a common goal: the proclamation of the Gospel to the ends of the earth."

    In preparation for the one-day workshop Sherry and I gave at St. Patrick's Seminary, Menlo Park, CA, I reviewed the 2005 Program for Priestly Formation which I've linked in the title. The document calls for the personal, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation of the men in our seminaries in this country. Here are the attitudes and competencies that are the goals outlined for pastoral formation:

    a. A missionary spirit, zeal for evangelization, and ecumenical commitment

    b. A spirit of pastoral charity, a quest for justice, and an openness to serve all people

    c. A special love for and commitment to the sick and suffering, the poor and outcasts, prisoners, immigrants, and refugees

    d. Demonstration of appropriate pastoral and administrative skills and competencies for ministry

    e. Ability to exercise pastoral leadership

    f. Ability to carry out pastoral work collaboratively with others and an appreciation for the different charisms and vocations within the Church

    g. The ability to work in a multicultural setting with people of different ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds

    h. A commitment to the proclamation, celebration, and service of the Gospel of life

    i. Energy and zeal for pastoral ministry

    Of course, I have to ask myself how well those goals have been met in me, not only as a result of my initial formation, but also as a consequence of my ongoing prayer and post-ordination formation!

    Beyond that, however, I think it is interesting to note that governance is not specifically mentioned in this context, although it is alluded to in points d.,e., f., and g. But f. is the only point in the entire document in which charisms are mentioned, and even then, it could refer to the gratuitous gifts given to the baptized or the charisms associated with religious orders. This lack of a focus on governance, and the role of charisms within it, is unfortunate for several reasons:

    1) Pastoral governance, unless it is taught well (including information on discernment of charisms), will degenerate to administration, and few men feel called to priesthood so that they can be involved in parish budgets, capital campaigns, work contracts and personnel issues. Perhaps even fewer are competent administrators.

    2) The discernment of their own charisms is important for seminarians who are considering the priesthood. In addition, if they are able to discern their own charisms, they will be better able to help the laity discern theirs. Without understanding their charisms, priests may not recognize the need for gifts among other staff to complement their own. Or, they may be threatened by the different gifts others have.

    3) Each act of governance is concerned with community and mission. We build community for mutual support of personal mission as well as for the support of the parish's mission, and the active pursuit of the parish's mission will undoubtedly help build community. Unless pastors understand the fullness of the meaning of governance, their focus may become community without reference to mission, and few will have an idea of how to discern the call given by God to the community as a whole.

    4) The only reference to governance apart from the governance of the seminary itself links governance, priestly spirituality, conversion and mission!
    "For priests, the specific arena in which their spiritual life unfolds is their exercise of ministry in fulfillment of their mission. The life of priests in the Spirit means their continuous transformation and conversion of heart centered on the integration or linking of their identity as configured to Christ, Head and Shepherd (Pastores dabo vobis, nos. 21-23), with their ministry of word, sacrament, and pastoral governance or leadership (Pastores dabo vobis, nos. 24-26)." Program for Priestly Formation, 23.

    If a priest does not properly understand governance, his spirituality will be stunted, his conversion incomplete, his identity threatened by competent lay people (especially those involved in lay ecclesial ministry). Moreover, his mission to sanctify, teach and govern the laity so that they can take Christ to the world will be unfulfilled or misunderstood.

    These are just some initial thoughts, and not complete by any means. Paragraph 23 from the PPF might be worth a blog post in and of itself!

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    If You Want Priests, Make Disciples

    Fred raises a critical point below:

    "I would suggest that vocations to the priesthood are directly related to the awareness of the vocation of baptism. That is, if folks don't hear the baptismal call to holiness, then they're not likely to hear the particular call to the priesthood."

    And who is going to hear and seek to answer the baptismal call to holiness? Intentional Disciples. Intentional Discipleship is the non-negotiable foundation of vocation and of cultivating a culture of discernment where it is normal for teen and adult Catholics to be asking "What is God calling me to?"

    A couple years ago, I was teaching in another country and had the opportunity to chat over a nice dinner with a local auxiliary bishop. He told me that he had just returned from a 22 dioceses tour of the US in 22 days. His mission: ask 22 bishops what they thought was the secret of generating priestly vocations. I started to tingle. Maybe this was it - maybe he had discovered and would reveal to me the secret sought by so many. I asked the obvious question: "What did they say?" and waited with baited breath for his answer.

    The bishop responded: they were all over the map. I would visit one bishop and he would tell me that "we are successful because we *only* concentrate on priestly vocations" and the next bishops would say "we are successful because we focus on calling forth all vocations." There was no consensus.

    I hesitated to ask but I knew I would never get another opportunity:

    "Did any of the bishops mention evangelization in reference to vocations?"

    The bishop look bemused and responded "You are telling me that I asked the wrong questions."

    "Oh, no, no" I hastily assured him. "I was just wondering if any bishops raised the subject in your conversations."

    The answer? Not one of the 22 bishops visited had mentioned the issue of evangelization in connection with calling forth priestly vocations.

    As Hans Urs von Balthazar observed in his book, Prayer:

    Simon, the fisherman, before his meeting with Christ, however thoroughly he might have searched within himself, could not possibly have found a trace of Peter." (p. 49)

    Basically, Simon could have rooted around in his unconscious for the rest of his life and never come up with "Peter". It was beyond anything he could see in himself or anyone about him could see in him. His vocation to be "Peter" was a mystery that emerged from a sustained encounter with Christ - out of his life as an intentional disciple of Jesus.

    “He Brought Him to Jesus. In a way, this is the heart of all the Church's pastoral work on behalf of vocations"

    - I Will Give You Shepherds, 38

    If you want peace, work for justice. If you want priests, make disciples.

    . .”

    Burma 'orders Christians to be wiped out'

    From the British paper, the Telegraph

    The military regime in Burma is intent on wiping out Christianity in the country, according to claims in a secret document believed to have been leaked from a government ministry. Entitled "Programme to destroy the Christian religion in Burma", the incendiary memo contains point by point instructions on how to drive Christians out of the state.

    The text, which opens with the line "There shall be no home where the Christian religion is practised", calls for anyone caught evangelising to be imprisoned. It advises: "The Christian religion is very gentle – identify and utilise its weakness."

    The rest of the piece is here.

    A majority of the Karen tribe have become Christians (evangelicals) over the past few decades. Let us pray for them in their suffering.

    Another fascinating look at the Burmese Catholics growing under persecution from Catholic World Report and in light of our discussions here:

    "Bishop Phamo now wonders whether the government edicts against Church-run institutions really were as devastating as they seemed. "Maybe the ban has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for us," he reflects. With even organized social work now being reserved by the military junta as a state monopoly, the Christian churches had no choice but to concentrate their energies on pastoral work.

    Freed from the responsibilities that come with the administration of various institutions, pastors spent more time caring directly for their flocks. In a country that still remains largely under the cover of forests, and where the Catholic congregations are scattered across the map, ordinary pastoral care for parishioners is a time-consuming business. The bishop remarks: "We are now struggling to find time to visit our people more often. So what would our situation have been like if we had institutions to look after?"

    Perhaps that personal attention to parishioners--which is practiced not only by Catholics but by the country's other Christian groups as well, for the same reasons--explains why the proportion of Christians within the population of Myanmar has grown in the years since the military takeover. Two decades ago, Christians accounted from 4.6 percent of the national population; today the figure has crept up to over 6 percent."

    Hat tip: Dom Bettinelli

    Parishes that Are Doing It

    I got to check in on the blog from the St. Patrick's library and was happy to see a lot of good discussion going on. But I did notice a theme: discouragement about the state of things in local parishes and the gratitude for the support provided by lay movements. I've been there. I know how frustrating it can be when you can't find a parish in your vicinity that provides or a pastor that understands the kind of support that serious lay Catholics long for. While I certainly want to support and encourage the good work of the movement, I also need to affirm that the situation really isn't that lop-sided.

    It is happening in parishes around the country. Parishes that are committed to evangelization are to be found in Idaho, Texas, and Iowa. Parishes that are committed to becoming houses of formation for the laity are in Washington, California, and South Carolina. Parishes are forming their own gifts discernment teams in Seattle, San Francisco, Boise, Spokane, Dubuque, Nashville, Houston, Greenville, Atlanta, Colorado Springs. There are whole dioceses in which everyone from the Bishop down to the local volunteer catechists have been through the Called & Gifted process.

    On our Institute website, we have a group of links called Parishes of Interest. At the moment, we have 79 parishes listed by state (or country) that we have either worked directly with or that have been recommended to us as exceptional.

    We would love to expand our list but we need your help. Are you aware of a parish in the US or elsewhere, that is evangelizing and/or forming and supporting lay apostles effectively and has a website? If so, please post the parish name, location, and website here. Tell the rest of us about this pearl of great price and we'll add it to the list.

    The Future of the Priesthood . . .

    One of the surprises about our time at St. Patrick’s in Menlo Park last week was the fact that 2/3 of the 86 men being formed there for the diocesan priesthood are non native English speakers: Hispanic, Vietnamese, Korean, Filipino, even Belgian, and three deaf students! They ranged in age from 22 to mid-50’s. They represent dioceses up and down the west coast: all the Californian dioceses, of course, but also Seattle, Alaska, Portland, etc.

    The rector, a very welcoming Sulpician priest, told us that it costs five times as much to educate a single deaf seminarian as it does a hearing one but that the deaf community is seriously underserved. The mix of language, culture, age, and life experiences affects every part of formation.

    It was illuminating to talk to the transitional deacons who are going to be ordained this summer. They all seemed palpably excited. They seemed especially interested in our presentation on Church teaching on the priestly task of governance, which includes calling forth the charisms and vocations of all the baptized for the sake of our common mission.

    One Anglo student told me that he had left the Catholic Church for the Assemblies of God before reverting and entering seminary. We have noticed that 10 – 20 % of the most serious lay Catholics that we encounter on the road are either “double-dipping” (attending both Catholic and Protestant services at the same time) or have been heavily influenced by evangelicalism through attending Bible studies, listening to Christian TV/radio, reading evangelical authors, etc. I suppose there is no reason to expect candidates for the priesthood to be any different.

    The deacon who drove me to the airport was intriguing: he was born into a Catholic family in Vietnam but did not attend church. He fled Vietnam in the late 80’s and spent time in a refugee camp in Hong Kong. There he was moved by the devotion and self-sacrifice of the priests, sisters, and lay volunteers who left comfortable lives to serve people like himself. This experience of God’s love triggered a conversion and within a year of entering the US, he began studying for the priesthood. He emphasized that he would not first serve in a Vietnamese community but in an “American” parish (his term).

    At St. Blog’s, most of us don’t work in seminaries or with seminarians. I have noticed that so many of our discussions seem to presume that the priesthood will remain what most of us have known: majority native English speaking, European, cradle Catholic. The Fr. O’Malley model. However, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), 25% of all current US seminaries are foreign-born. They come from 84 different countries.

    Some seem to believe that we can and should keep out non-Catholic, non-European influences which might “dilute” European Catholic culture and practice as we have known it.

    The situation at St. Patrick’s would seem to say it is already too late. Non-European, “non-cradle” Catholicism is not just mushrooming in the global south, it is here in the US. Today. Ordained in three months and coming to a parish near you.

    At least on the west coast.

    Sunday, January 21, 2007

    Spring-loaded Catholics

    It seems that both Jack and I were felled by a similar malady yesterday--although I've been dealing with mine for about 4 days now. In a strange way, being sick reminds me of my days in Graduate School. Not because I was always sick, but because the community at our Newman Center would have been tripping over themselves to pray for me.

    These folks loved to pray for people--specifically praying over them. If someone had a sniffle, or a difficult exam, or a real tragedy in their lives, you could be sure there was a group of folks who would gather round, place a gentle hand upon a shoulder or a head and begin to pray.

    We were like spring-loaded prayer warriors, launching ourselves at the darkness in people's lives. It brings a smile to my face--especially as I remember the more light-hearted moments. However, there was something powerful and holy about what they did as well.

    When they prayed for something, they expected that God would answer--and in 'miraculous' ways. The amazing thing was, He often did move in a surprisingly tangible way.

    Even without the "signs and wonders" that God performed during those days, I took away something very precious. The idea that catholics can, indeed, be open about their prayer lives--sharing the way that God has touched and gifted them, and offering those gifts on behalf of another.

    It was different once I graduated and connected with a local parish. There was a "conspicuous silence" within that community that I have found in almost every single parish I've been a member of--with the exception of one. Within those communities there might be individuals who were open and excited about sharing their experience of God. I think there were even small faith groups geard toward that in some places. It always seemed, however, that these were hidden conclaves separated from the rest of the parish--places where folks of 'questionable manners' broke the unspoken code.

    As I writer, I am often guilty of taking a bit of poetic license to drive home a point, and perhaps I am doing that here.

    But not by much.

    Somehow, somewhere we have bought in to the idea that our faith is personal and private--something that we should be careful not to bring out in to polite company or the public square. Something that we should reserve for Sundays within the confines of the parish walls.

    We have, as a People, lost our spring.

    Or as Jesus might have put it, "We are salt that has lost its flavor."

    Friday, January 19, 2007

    Creativity in Proclamation

    Below you will find an example of creativity in proclaiming the Gospel to the world. It's an excellent marketing piece that draws youth to a special event, The 1 Event. You can bet that this event will highlight the proclamation of the kerygma as well as an invitation for a personal encounter with Christ.

    The video was created by my neighbor, a protestant youth minister, and is a prime example of utilizing the new media to introduce young people to Christ. Leave aside theological issues with the protestant notion of "being saved" and take a look at what they have created. Not because these theological differences aren't important, but because these ecclesial communities seem to do a much better job of introducing men and women to Christ. This is a prime example of examining 'how' they are accomplishing that so we can become more effective in our efforts to connect and root men and women with the fullness of the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

    I'm not suggesting that we start creating events where people "get saved," but I am asking that we look at these methodologies and see how we can authentically evangelize and support the discipleship of others.

    The website is here.

    Intentionality & Institutionality Part Deux

    Mike Liccione over at Sacramentum Vitae has picked up on our discussion of intentionality and institutionality (which is only fair, as he started it). You can read the whole follow up post here, but I wanted to focus on something particular that he wrote:

    I wholeheartedly agree that what's often missing is the "intentionality," and that the basis of the needed intentionality is "an emphasis on encounter and relationship with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit." That's exactly why, for instance, I've joined Communion and Liberation. There, I find both intentionality and its basis, as one can indeed find them in certain other "ecclesial movements."

    That is unlike most parishes, which are predicated on providing (a) the sacraments and (b) for want of a better term, pastoral services. Now both (a) and(b), especially (a), are absolutely necessary. But when there is no community based on experiential encounter with Christ in prayer and in each other, the sacraments and services are experienced primarily as institutional dispensations, and the enterprise starts running more on human than divine energy. The ordinary lay Catholic notices that other institutions provide similar services, most of them more reliably than her local church; she treats the sacraments as goodies you "receive" from the institution, which is located in a building complex at which you pull up and get what you're there for before you pull out, never really forming a community of intentional disciples with your fellow parishioners. The Church thus becomes, experientially speaking, a consumer organization, less exciting if occasionally more necessary than the shopping malls. That is often why people are "bored" by church. Given their experience, who wouldn't be?

    As we have discussed here in the comboxes and in posts, intentionality (as defined by Mike) and the sacraments are integrally linked. The sacraments in a very real sense form (as in constitute) the community of faith, and lives of intentional discipleship allow the sacramental graces to unfold in our lives--deepening our communion and our growth in holiness, as well as disposing us to live out our secular apostolic office more freely and intentionally.

    It's a classic Catholic "both/and" situation. We have, however, not effectively lived out the intentional part. Helping others meet Christ and forming communities of intentional disciples so that they may effectively fulfill their particular secular vocation is not a priority for most parishes--despite that clearly being what the Church has asked them to be.

    And so, the parish is experienced as "sacramental way station." People come, get what they need/fulfill an obligation, and then move out. As someone who takes the challenge of the Second Vatican Council and the writings of John Paul II seriously, it is frustrating to see that men and women have to find intentionality and the full riches of the Church's Tradition in a movement rather than in their parish (and I say this as someone who has a tremendous respect for the New Movements). I'm even more frustrated and saddened when men and women feel like they have to leave the Catholic Church to encounter Christ and a life of intentional discipleship.

    That is one of the reasons why I look to our protestant brothers and sisters to examine how they have built communities of intentional disciples. Not to import incomplete or incompatible theology, but to help us re-root the authentically Catholic things that they have preserved or rediscovered and, on a practical level, examine how they have prioritized and built cultures and structures of intentional discipleship so that we can more effectively do the same in a way that allows us to bring the fullness of the Church's Tradition to the endeavor.

    Anyway, I can't encourage you enough to read the whole post over at Sacramentum Vitae--and stop in to Mike's comboxes to participate (you can always invite folks here as well).

    Eucharistic Adoration

    Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
    Truly Present in the Holy Eucharist
    I place all my trust in you!

    One of the devotions that I have found central to my own life is Eucharistic Adoration. The time I spend before the Blessed Sacrament is truly holy and grace-filled. While I am there, I am surrounded by the Presence of God, wrapped in His arms, surrounded by wave after wave of His Divine Love. In those moments, I offer up my own praise and adoration--thanking Him for His Love and Presence in my life, for the depths of His great Sacrifice.

    Working in lay formation for the past six years (and specifically youth formation for the past nineteen), I can truly say that Eucharistic Adoration has been the 'foundation' of all of the effective formation programs that I have been a part of. I have been utterly humbled and blessed to see the transformation that occurs in people as they encounter Christ in the Eucharist--particularly in a retreat setting, where people have cleared space and time in their busy schedule and have been hearing, discussing, and reflecting on the reality of Christ's Love for them. As Bernadette mentioned in her earlier post, their hearts (the center of who they are) have been tilled and prepared and they have an encounter (for many of them their first) of the Presence of Christ.

    Bernadette's post got me to thinking about what has been fruitful and effective in my life and in the lives of others when it comes to fostering a relationship with God and supporting that relationship intentionally.
    What about you?

    Thursday, January 18, 2007

    Parable of the Sower

    Tonight I finished week 2 of 7 of the Life in the Spirit Seminar at my parish. It's my fourth time attending (and I have worked a few more as a parish staff member). I often have conversations with Catholic friends on whether this Life in the Spirit stuff is "hocus pocus, razzle dazzle" and necessary to have a good faith life. The Life in the Spirit Seminar as a means of sharing the Gospel is not necessary for salvation but sharing the Gospel is. I wonder why people keep coming back time and time again. There is a woman in my group who is on her 9th seminar! During the seminar tonight, the speaker told us to turn to Jesus in distress, when in need. I have only heard that message twice in the Catholic Church, both times during healing services, only within the last 10 years and only once by a priest. It's sort the same reason why we read the Gospels over and over. Jesus is compelling.

    The late Pope John Paul II made these statements in his 1979 Apostolic Exhortation, Catechesis Tradendae, which sums up why many of us are participating in this blog: initial proclamation of the Gospel has not taken place and as a result the attachment to Christ is not present.

    Christocentricity in catechesis also means the intention to transmit not one's own teaching or that of some other master, but the teaching of Jesus Christ, the Truth that He communicates or, to put it more precisely, the Truth that He
    is. Catechesis Tradendae 6
    All in all, it can be taken here that catechesis is an education of children, young people and adults in the faith, which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted, generally speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life. Accordingly, while not being formally identified with them, catechesis is built on a certain number of elements of the Church's pastoral mission that have a catechetical aspect, that prepare for catechesis, or that spring from it. These elements are: the initial proclamation of the Gospel or missionary preaching through the kerygma to arouse faith, apologetics or examination of the reasons for belief, experience of Christian living, celebration of the sacraments,
    integration into the ecclesial community, and apostolic and missionary witness.
    Catechesis Tradendae 18
    The specific character of catechesis, as distinct from the initial conversion - bringing proclamation of the Gospel, has the twofold objective of maturing the initial faith and of educating the true disciple of Christ by means of a deeper and more systematic knowledge of the person and the message of our Lord Jesus Christ.(49) But in catechetical practice, this model order must allow for the fact that the initial evangelization has often not taken place. A certain number of children baptized in infancy come for catechesis in the parish without
    receiving any other initiation into the faith and still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ; they only have the capacity to believe
    placed within them by Baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit; Catechesis
    Tradendae 19

    As I read the posts on this blog questioning whether it is authentically Catholic or not, I am reminded of the parable of the sower from Matthew 13. What so many of us so desparately desire is that no one ever leave the Catholic Church because they lack knowledge and understanding of the Person of Jesus Christ (Matt 13:19). It is my prayer that not another friend leave the Catholic Church because in times of trouble aren't rooted in Christ and as a result they don't know it's Jesus Christ who heals or forgives or sustains them in whatever way they need via the sacraments (Matt 13:21). Finally, it's my desire that cafeteria Catholicism go away because the Catholic is so completely in love with Jesus Christ that they can't imagine anything coming between them and their Lord (Matt 13:22, Romans 8:37-39).

    I'm not a gardener, but I do know that I need to prepare the soil before planting. The Holy Father taught almost 30 years ago that there is a danger of operating "without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ." As an "intentional gardener," working the fields of faith formation, I desire to sow in soil made rich by a personal relationship with Christ, so that "the one who hears the word and understands it," will be an intentional disciple of Jesus.

    What Is Catholicity?

    I have been participating as a guest blogger here at Intentional Disciples for coming on three weeks now and the experience has been wonderful. And has brought some surprises.

    One of the things that I didn't expect was the reaction some would have whenever mention is made on this blog about Evangelicals or other Protestants or some of the things learned from observing their life. Don't get me wrong. I fully appreciate caution. If people were posting things like, "Look at this wonderful Four Spiritual Laws booklet that some Protestants use as an evangelization tool! Catholics should use that," I would be among the first to say, "no" (while making the hand motions of Mortimer, Randolph and Coleman from the movie Trading Places when Billy Ray asks if he should break anything else).

    But nobody at Intentional Disciples is doing that. Instead, what we are trying to do is learn from experience. The phenomenon of Catholics becoming Evangelicals is real. We would be remiss if we didn't acknowledge it and ask why. And when you look at the reasons these individuals give, it isn't that they were looking for a church that demands less of them, that imposes fewer rules. Time and again, they focus on the fact that they encountered Christ in this new environment. That's what they identify as missing. And what breaks my heart is that it usually accompanied by a doubt about whether He is present in the Catholic Church. As I commented over at Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed, when Scot looked at the same Fr. Mendoza article that was mentioned earlier on Intentional Disciples: "I share the need and desire that many are expressing wasn’t being met in the Catholic Church, but I lament the judgment that resulted from it, because it resulted in their leaving the Church, where I know they truly could find that desire fulfilled and so much more."

    Given that purpose, the real suspicion that some have of these references to Evangelical or other Protestant practices caught me off guard. And as Michael Liccione wondered over at his blog, I similarly wonder if it is a misunderstanding of what catholicity is, seeing what we are suggesting as "incompatible with affirming the truth of distinctively Catholic doctrine, especially concerning ecclesiology and the sacraments."

    In my School of Community last night, we took a look at what catholicity is. The lesson left me with a lot to think about. Quoting, Henri de Lubac: "... a universal is a singular and is not to be confused with an aggregate. The Church is not Catholic because she is spread abroad over the whole of the earth and can reckon on a large number of members. She was already Catholic on the morning of Pentecost ... Catholicity has nothing to do with geography or statistics. (Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man)" And Luigi Giussani: "Catholicity [is] the profound expression of [the Church's] pertinence to human matters and all the variegated forms they take. ... Catholicism declares its simple correspondence with all that comprises man's destiny (Why the Church?)." And Karl Adam: "The Church is not one society or one church alongside many others, nor is she just a church among men; she is the Church of men, the Church of mankind (The Spirit of Catholicism)."

    It is this sense of catholicity that allows us the freedom to look into a culture and acknowledge the truth that may be present there without fear that somehow we are compromising our Catholic identity. For what we highlight that might be true and good in these Evangelical circles, in truth, properly belongs to the Church herself. Giussani gives the examples of the early Christians' engagement with Hellenistic thought and the history of monasticism as great examples of what we are talking about. I know some may find the ground less comfortable here in that the culture that we sometimes are pointing out is one of a religious community, but our purpose and method of engagement is no different.

    Christ in the Marketplace

    When I was the Chief Operating Officer of a small start-up publishing company, I spent a good part of my day dealing with employee issues, whether it was job dissatisfaction, job performance, or personal difficulties. Most of the time, it seemed like there was an endless stream of folks who needed to talk with me each day.

    I really resented that, thinking that it was keeping me from my real work--until an employee walked in who had obviously been crying. It turns out that this woman's friend had been missing for a few days. The night before she had received a phone call from the police asking her to come down and identify a body. Her friend had committed suicide and she was the only one who could give a positive ID. Naturally, this woman was devastated--I was amazed that she even made it in to work at all.

    We talked for quite a while--which mostly meant that I listened as she poured out all of the things that were on her heart. Now, I am not blessed with the charism of encouragement, but I did my best to really be present to her. She was an athiest--and a pretty wild one at that, but while she spoke I had a sense that she was searching for meaning in her friend's death. The only thing I could offer her was my presence--and somehow, for that moment, it was enough. There in my office, I had a sense that, through my willingness to listen, through the offering of my broken and limited gifts, that Christ Himself was present, listening and weeping and holding this woman in His arms.

    At the end of our talk, I asked her if she would mind if I prayed for her and her friend. To my surprise, she said "yes." When this woman finally left my office, she still struggled with grief and devastation over her friend's death--but I know that she received some healing and peace in that encounter with Christ.

    The whole experience brought me to my knees.

    I began to understand that rather than being an interruption in my workday, dealing with the problems of my employees was perhaps my most authentic vocation. God had put me, in that company in that time and that place for a purpose. I began to see my employees as persons whom God had asked me to love and look out for, called to work for what was authentically human and good in their lives. That included making sure the business was healthy and strong.

    Each day I sat in the parking lot in my car praying for the company and for each individual employee (we only had about 20). I've never looked at management the same since.

    Christ in the marketplace.

    How do you reflect the love and presence of Christ at work?

    What are the difficulties in doing so?

    Wednesday, January 17, 2007

    Institution And Sacrament

    On an earlier post, discussion turned to the institutional and charismatic dimensions of the Church and how there isn't a dichotomy between the two. I made mention of an insightful comment by then-Cardinal Ratzinger that I had found on the subject and thought I would follow up on it with a post.

    As a member of a lay ecclesial movement, I am often asked how it affects my involvement with my local parish and whether I see these two aspects of the Church's life as opposed to each other. (I do not, for the record.) In response to a comment on Integrity, I started a series (still incomplete) called "Parishes vs. Movements?". In looking at the question of why movements at all, I stumbled across the following quote of Cardinal Ratzinger:
    The duality of institution and event, or institution and charism, immediately suggests itself as a fundamental model for resolving the question. But if we try to analyze the two terms more closely in order to arrive at valid rules for defining their relationship, something unexpected happens. The concept of "institution" comes to pieces in our hands when we try to give it a precise theological definition. After all, what are the fundamental institutional factors in the Church, the permanent organization that gives the Church its distinctive shape? The answer is, of course, sacramental office in its different degrees: bishop, priest, deacon. The sacrament that, significantly, bears the name ordo is, in the end, the sole permanent and binding structure that forms so to say the fixed organizational pattern of the Church and makes the Church an "institution." But it was not until this century that it became customary, for reasons of ecumenical expediency, to designate the sacrament of ordo simply as "office" [Amt]. This usage places ordo entirely in the light of institution and the institutional. But this "office" is a "sacrament," and this fact signals a break with the ordinary sociological understanding of institutions. That this structural element of the Church, which is the only permanent one, is a sacrament, means that it must be perpetually recreated by God. It is not at the Church's disposal, it is not simply there, and the Church cannot set it up on its own initiative. It comes into being only secondarily through a call on the part of the Church. It is created primarily by God's call to this man, which is to say, only charismatically-pneumatologically. By the same token, the only attitude in which it can be accepted and lived is one unceasingly shaped by the newness of the vocation, by the unmanipulable freedom of the pneuma. The reason -- ultimately, the only reason -- why there can be a priest shortage is this. The Church cannot simply appoint "officials" by itself, but must await the call from God. This is why it has been held from the beginning that this office cannot be made by the institution, but has to be impetrated from God.
    I found this a striking explanation of how the charismatic and institutional dimensions of the Church are intertwined.

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    Challenging Teaching of the Day

    “A member who does not work at the growth of the body to the extent of his or her possibilities must be considered useless to both the Church and to himself.” (Apostolicam Actuositatem)

    Take that!

    Institutional vs Intentional

    Michael Liccione, of Sacramentum Vitae, has a very interesting meditation on institutionality versus intentionality. Here is an excerpt from his thoughtful post:
    . . .the Catholic Church, at least in this and other developed countries, is just too bloody institutional. That accounts for a great deal, if not most, of what bothers me. What got me thinking about this are two facts of which I have lately been reminded: the indulgence of Archbishop Wuerl of DC in Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's "celebration" Mass at Trinity College, where of course the pro-abortion pol received the Eucharist, despite USCCB and Vatican guidelines; and the explosive growth of Pentecostal churches throughout the Christian world. The former, discussed in an informative and lively threadat Amy Welborn's Open Book, exemplifies not rocking the boat against powerful cafeteria Catholics; the latter now presents us with what is arguably the numerically largest form of Christianity next to Catholicism itself. The former signifies institutional thinking; the latter signifies that such thinking is missing something.

    Read the rest of it here.

    Although he doesn't come right out and say it, perhaps the 'something missing' is intentionality--in formation and discipleship. We've talked a little bit about the reasons why Pentecostal Christianity seems to be the fastest growing section of the Church today, but one of things it does seem to have is an emphasis on encounter and relationship with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

    Like Michael, I too don't believe that the Church can survive without its institutional side. Christ embraces the whole of our humanity--"stuff" matters. The reality is that where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name both Christ and politics are in their midst. The question is which will we follow?

    So often, we, the members and leaders of the Spouse of Christ, the Church, act as if we were the Widows of Christ--stumbling along purely on our own human effort--forming and calling committees and commissions, acting as if we can deploy merely institutional resources toward particular issues.

    So, I do have some questions:

    Why are the pentecostal and other evangelical denominations growing at an explosive rate relative to our own?

    Does intentionality matter?

    How do we bring that intentionality into our own communities? What are the concrete things that can be done to accomplish this?

    Discussions regarding who is or who is not eating in the "cafeteria" are not helpful to the dialogue, but I would imagine just about anything else is.

    Lessons on the Road

    Many times while teaching Called & Gifted Workshops for the Catherine of Siena Institute, I am brought face to face with the reality that God does actually call and gift us for our work in the world. :) It's a humbling and uplifting experience.

    Last Spring, while teaching a workshop at a parish in California, I was doing Gifts Discernment Interviews with several of the workshop participants. One woman, a fairly soft-spoken and shy person, scored high on the Craftsmanship charism while taking the Gifts Inventory. As we began to unpack her experiences relating to this charism--particularly with art--I discovered that she was, indeed, an artist. She even had a website where she stored her work.

    The interesting thing was that only a few people who knew her knew she was an artist. At the end of the interview, she indicated that she wanted to explore the Craftsmanship charism more but didn't know where she should start. I suggested that perhaps she should let others begin to see her artwork. The parish had a wonderful hall, and I said it would be great to put on an art show at the parish. After all, it was the first step to letting others see her work, and the parish would be a safe environment to start doing so.

    I was lucky enough to go back to the parish about 6 months later and was delighted to find out that this woman did, indeed, hold an art show at her parish. Her work elicited such a positive response that she has started to do and show her artwork out in the local community--allowing others to have an encounter with God in the beautiful work she produces.

    Sometimes, we only need a little nudge from our fellow brothers and sisters; God takes care of the rest. That's why it is so important to talk about our experiences of being used by God with each other.

    Another lesson I've learned first-hand on the road.

    Wounded Apostles

    In carrying out Christ's mission of love and salvation to the world, it is inevitable that we ourselves will encounter personal darkness and suffering along the Way. That suffering could stem from an intolerable work situation, a family tragedy, an argument with a friend, or the accumulated detritus of living as a fallen person in a fallen world. The point is, that we who are called to be light for the world will also, at times, walk in our own darkness. We will be called to minister to someone at precisely the moment when we experience the greatest need for ministry in our own hearts. Serving others will be for us, in that moment, the one thing that we would like to do the least.

    And it is precisely at that moment, perhaps, when we should most offer ourselves to the other. Something happens when we acknowledge our own suffering and our limitations, when we, stretched beyond endurance on the cross that we have been given, nevertheless offer the anger, frustration, and pain that we experience to God and surrender the 'nothingness' we have to give so that Christ may use it for the good of the other whom He has called us, in that moment, to serve.

    No, I'm not saying that if you're life is falling apart you should run out and sign up for a whole bunch of ministries. Such frenetic action will lead inevitably to burnout and more suffering, and it is a signal that, perhaps, we are running away from our pain, trying to cover it in a pace of activity that will push it from our mind, at least for a little while. Christ, however, calls us to embrace the cross. So, in the circumstances of our own particular lives, there will be situations that present themselves to us, people whose own orbit of suffering places them within our own. It is in that confluence of need that Christ is truly present, and where He calls us to that complete immolation of self, so like His own, for the sake of the other. It is there, against every instinct of self preservation, that we must reach out in our weakness to serve the other, and it is there that Christ will perfect our weakness and work through what we have given Him to heal and make His presence known to another person.

    This is precisely the lay apostolate in action. It is one way in which our growth in holiness happens, not in spite of the world, but in and through our life in the world. In that dying, we find a kind of holy peace--one that doesn't erase our own pain and suffering, but rather gives us the strength to endure it.

    Walking the Roman Road

    In one of the comment boxes below, Sherry mentioned three scriptural passages in Romans that evangelicals memorize as a summary of the kerygma. Fr. Al Kimel, an episcopalian priest recently received into full communion with the Catholic Church and ordained a priest of the Latin Rite, is going through a reflection of Romans on his blog, Pontifications.

    Those of you who want to walk the Roman Road and participate in discussions with one of the best theologically minded bloggers this side of Tom over at Disputations should head over to Pontifications and join in.

    The fun has just started.

    Tuesday, January 16, 2007

    Spiritual Disciplines - part 4


    One of the fundamental human freedoms we have is the ability to put our minds where we want.
    Every student who has daydreamed through a tedious class knows this.
    Into the space made by fasting, silence and solitude we can introduce a fourth spiritual discipline, the memorization of Scripture.
    St. Dominic, the founder of the Order to which I belong, was known to have carried the Gospel of Matthew and the Epistles of St. Paul with him where ever he went, and so well had he studied them, he had memorized nearly every passage.

    We don't have to memorize huge swaths of chapters (though it wouldn't hurt), but what's to prevent us from memorizing simple phrases and sentences that we can keep before our mind each day?
    Joshua 1:8 says that we should "meditate on the law of the Lord day and night, so that we may act in accordance with all that is written in it."
    If fasting opens a space in our life for another's will to be done, then memorizing Scripture will make that Other's will more concrete.

    It would seem that memorizing some passages of scripture is important, because whatever we study forms our mind, and our mind, in turn forms our life.
    I'm a big college sports fan, and I have to be careful not to go overboard.
    I know that's happening when I begin memorizing statistics of my favorite team (Go Ducks!).
    What information do you seek out regularly? Statistics from the stock market? The latest celebrity gossip in People? How do the facts and soundbites you immerse yourself in shape you?

    Our soul is re-formed as we meditate and chew over even a sentence of God's word during our day.
    That meditation can become a dialogue between us and God throughout the day, and just as we grow in love as we grow in knowledge of someone, we grow in love of God as we submerge ourself in His word.
    Just as we long to hear the voice of someone we love, we can begin to long to hear the voice of God in scripture.

    As our projects mount, as our labors and tasks surround us, as our entertainment and doodling while away the time, we may forget the upshot of our lives.
    It is to love and evoke love, no matter where we may be, from classroom to the workplace, the kitchen table, the nursing home.
    It is to receive with an open heart the gift of Christ's once-and-for-all redemptive act.
    Moreover, it is to refocus our lives so that Christ is at the center – for we cannot love as we are commanded by Christ without Christ's help.

    If heaven is seeing God face-to-face and abiding in his presence eternally, shouldn't we seek him in this life?
    If we have little or no interest in God on a daily basis, what makes us think that we're fit for heaven?
    Do we think heaven is simply a reward for being good?
    Could any of us ever be good enough to earn eternal happiness?
    We do not earn salvation.
    It's not a reward for being good, nor is it a reward for not being too bad.
    The saints are those who long to see God in this life, who are channels of God's love for others, who lay down their life in acts of service to others, who make God an integral part of their daily experience.
    They are consecrated; set apart by God's grace and their own free will to do what he asks of them.
    When the saint dies, heaven is the fulfillment of what they lived on earth.

    So what are your future plans?
    What do they include?
    Is heaven in your future?
    It's not automatic, you know.
    If we don't want to spend time with God in our lifetime, in prayer, reflection, reading of scripture, reaching out to him in the distressing disguise of the people around us, what makes us think we want to spend eternity with him?

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    The Journey West

    Fr. Mike and I will be blasting off early Wednesday morning for a short tour of the west coast. First to Menlo Park, CA to do a C & G for the seminarians at St. Patrick's seminary and then north to Portland, OR where we'll be offering a modified C & G for the leaders of Northwest Marriage Encounter. Home to our various homes (Colorado Springs and Tucson) Sunday afternoon.

    So blogging from us will be light in the days ahead. Keith and Jack and Bernadette and Sherry the greater will keep you entertained, thinking, and perhaps even praying!

    Your prayers for us and the fruitfullness of these two events would be most gratefully accepted.

    Personal, Passionate Relationships

    Bless me sisters and brothers for I have procrastinated. When Sherry asked me to participate in this blog I was excited. Then I realized that I don't have a writing charism so the task of putting words to the page would not be easy. Yet, here I am, giving it a shot. I am doing so now because of an article I read while waiting to get my hair done yesterday.

    The article was in a Christian magazine. The editor was eulogizing a friend of his. The friend was obviously a man of God who had had a troubled past, battling alcoholism. The editor wrote, "my friend was raised Catholic, but he came to Christ, went to AA and became a minister and started a church. He ministered to people in need. He and his wife went to nursing homes each Sunday. He preached, she sang and their children played with the residents. They brought much joy into their lives."

    I have to admit that I threw the magazine away angrily after reading that "he came to Christ." Catholics are Christians too I thought.

    I am a cradle Catholic, the child of parents who converted to Catholicism in their 20's. I say that I have a mutt faith background. My mother's father was a Baptist minister, my father comes from a long line of Pentecostal ministers as well. I have every denomination in my family that there is. Although I was baptized at 1 month old, attended Catholic schools and went to Mass every Sunday, I found my faith in Christ in the Pentecostal Church.

    It's kind of difficult to remain angry at a statement when it's been your experience too.

    After reading the magazine article, the NYT articles on the Ark of Salvation church and Pentecostalism and the various posts here, it seems to me that the critical issues in determining whether one responds to Jesus and the Holy Spirit in a Catholic context or in a Evangelical or Pentecostal setting are (1) does the person have an encounter with the person of Jesus, as both human (someone who cares about what's happening to them) and divine (someone who can do something about what is happening to them), and (2) do they encounter and develop a relationship with someone who they know is 100% human but operating with divine power, in the Spirit, with a charism operative.

    I have had the pleasure of serving on my parish's RCIA team for the last 8 years. The key to people becoming intentional disciples in my experience has been the development of a personal relationship with Christ and with others who can bring Christ to them as well. Those who "stick with the Church" do so because there is at least one person who makes Christ present to them. I've seen so many people come to the Church looking for a personal encounter with Christ, only receive a referral to social services. Their need for food or shelter brings them, but what they seek is greater than what they are asking for on the surface.

    Attending a Called and Gifted Workshop, a coworker of mine asked me how was it. My response was, "it changed my life." Becoming aware of the charisms and the role I can in bringing the kingdom into reality was life changing. I realized that I am equipped to make Christ's love present to another.

    As I read more and more stories of people who have left the Church but not abandoned lives of faith, I see also the people around them who have a passion for souls, who are willing to develop the messy, personal relationships just like Jesus does. I know it happens in the Catholic Church. I've seen it done and have done so myself. The key for me was identifying my charisms and operating within them so that I can form relationships with the people I am called to make Christ present to.

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    Monday, January 15, 2007

    Love in a Time of Prophecy

    As we celebrate the memory Martin Luther King today, I think it is appropriate to reflect on his life and work. I spent the morning reading his Letter From Birmingham Jail. It is a powerful letter, a response to critics who thought that King's direct civil disobedience was the wrong way to go about gaining recognition of the Civil Rights of African Americans.

    Among many prophetic statements, this one jumped out at me, and I ended up re-reading it like five times:

    But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century

    There is an intentionality that we must bring to our lives as followers of Jesus Christ--a willingness to give of ourselves from the very core of our being, an openness to sacrifice. Without this sacrificial spirit, the Church will, indeed, become irrelevant. I will argue that, for many tens of millions of people in the United States, it is already irrelevant. And that number grows each day.

    By abrogating our responsibility to form intentional disciples over the course of at least three generations and turning our back on the full spiritual patrimony of the Church (the sacraments and the gifts of the Spirit), we have become, by and large, ineffective. We are salt that has, indeed, lost its flavor.

    Yes, the Church (and para-Church organizations) are active in aid to the poor, acts of charity. But that is only one half of the equation. How effective have we been in transforming the cultures and structures of our societies so that they foster all that is truly human? How effective have we been as radical witnesses of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

    I would submit that many, if not most, members of the Church are followers of an obligation rather than a person, The Person, Jesus Christ. That isn't a slam on those individuals. The blame--the judgment (to use Martin Luther King's words)--falls upon us. As the apostle Paul wrote in his Letter to the Romans:

    For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him ofwhom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? (10:13-15)

    A time is coming when we, as followers of Christ, will not have the luxury to sit idly by with our denuded, culturally compromised Christianity. We must prepare ourselves so that, strengthened by the sacraments, nourished by the Word of God, and united in a common witness, we can embrace our cross as we live out our apostolic mission fully--no matter what the cost.

    It. Must. Start. Now.

    God has given the Church everything it needs to build generations of intentional disciples who can embrace their apostolic identity--and we are, indeed, our brothers' keepers.

    In the words of another prophet, telling forth the Heart of Christ:

    The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God's creation, says this: "I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:14-16)

    Which will it be?

    Spiritual Disciplines - part 3


    I have to admit I hate to fast.

    I blame my childhood hypoactive thyroid, which caused my weight to balloon and led my pediatrician to put me on a diet.
    As a third-grader I thought it was a rather generous allotment of calories – 500 for just one day – until I realized four glasses of milk would take care of my daily caloric needs!

    But I see a real value and need for it in my life today.
    Contemporary society is filled with advertising: on buses, in newspapers, magazines, movies, TV, radio.
    And it's all about generating desire in us.
    The power of advertising is seen all around us.
    New homes are more than twice as large as our parents' or grandparents' homes were – and they likely had more children!
    There's a growing epidemic of obesity not only in our country, but now in China, too, which has begun to take on more of the trappings of capitalism (including advertising).
    Some people literally killed to get the new Playstation that was released this fall.

    The spiritual discipline of fasting retrains us away from dependence upon the satisfaction of our desires and makes the Kingdom of God a vital factor in our daily life.
    Fasting is an application of the cross, which, in simplest terms, means not doing or getting what I want. If undertaken in the proper spirit, which is the desire to be more open to what God wants, it can create a space within me that actually hungers to do that will, instead of my own.

    Our need for fasting can be seen in the amount of anger in our life.
    Anger is often a response to the frustration of our will, sometimes simply in the frustration of our expectations.
    It doesn't make much difference to a broken soul if what is willed is trivial, as the phenomenon of road rage demonstrates.

    Fasting frees us from having to have what we want.
    We can learn to be calm and serene even when we are deprived.
    The Christian experience of fasting has shown that this calm in the face of deprivation will extend to beyond food to other areas of our life.
    Like TV, sex, the need to control, to shop, to buy, to surf the net, (shudder) to blog…

    Fasting can loosen the ties I have to doing my will and open me to the possibility of doing God's will.
    Perhaps the ability of Jesus to fast allowed him to say, "Doing the will of him who sent me and bringing his work to completion is my food." (John 4:34)

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    Sunday, January 14, 2007

    Spiritual Disciplines - Part 2


    We are affected by the people around us.
    St. Peter swore he would die for Jesus – it was a very honorable thing to say in the midst of the other disciples.
    But we know that when the time came, he denied Jesus because of the hostile people around him.
    In both cases, what he said and did was profoundly affected by the crowd around him.

    We're no different.

    We find ourselves gossiping with those who gossip, talking about our possessions with those who focus on material things, drinking or smoking around those who do the same. How many self-destructive or sinful things do we do because we tell ourselves, "everyone does this"? Prayer, Bible reading and church attendance alone may not be enough to focus our lives on Jesus and transform us into His image.

    If so, you'd think the world would look a bit different. At least I think I'd look a bit different.

    Perhaps the grace offered in those activities don't have the full effect in us that it might because we are so fragmented, exhausted and confused. In fact, our prayer, Bible reading and Mass can degenerate into lifeless rituals. Lengthy solitude, silence and rest, however, can allow them to have the power for good in our life that God intends. This is a real challenge for those who live in a society that values productivity. How many of us even truly observe the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath. That commandment is not just about attending Mass, it's about rest, reflection, silence and prayer!

    Every year I am required by my Order to make a retreat.
    Every year it is a challenge to make the time to do this – and I'm a priest!
    But even an annual retreat is not enough silence and solitude. We have to make time to incorporate these two traditional spiritual practices into our lives. I know it's a challenge for people with children; I know you're very busy – but our relationship with God here - and in eternity – is at stake, folks!

    Real silence and solitude with the Lord is essential to keep our other spiritual practices effective. You probably know what it's like to try to talk to someone who's watching TV or playing a video game. At some point you give up because the competition seems to be winning. God, too, doesn't seem to compete for our attention. If we won't withdraw from the things that obsess and exhaust us, and retreat into silence and solitude, God will leave us to our own devices.

    Spiritual disciplines take discipline!

    A discipline is an activity within our power – something we can do – that brings us to a point where we can do what we at present cannot do by direct effort. Whether we're learning a language or weightlifting, discipline is what allows us to respond more fully to God's grace and consciously participate in the shaping of the person we're becoming. Initially, our silence will be disrupted by thoughts of the laundry that needs to be done, or the work project that remains unfinished, or the TV show we never miss, or the plans we've made for the weekend, or the Patriots' chances against the Chargers. That just proves our compulsion, obsession and lack of real freedom.

    Yet God invites us to "be still and know that I am God." – and that, by extension, we are NOT God!
    And that's a remedy for a whole host of delusions we have!

    “Los Aleluyas”

    Alternately intriguing and distressing article in today's New York Times on the rise of Hispanic Pentecostalism. The article states: One in ten New Yorkers is now a Pentecostal, one in three New York Pentecostals are Hispanic. NYC Pentecostalism has grown 45% in the last decade.

    The accompanying picture is of a former Catholic who was impressed by "the unity and passion" that she witnessed at a relative's wake. " . . .she said, she practiced the sort of once-a-week Catholicism that was more habit than conviction. 'You can sit next to me, and when the service is over you don’t even know my name,” she said. “You don’t ask, ‘How are you?’ It’s foom, and you’re out.'"

    She joined a tiny Pentecostal storefront. The pastor and lay leaders would have understood because they are all lapsed Catholics too.

    "Here, in cramped storefronts like Ark of Salvation, people whose lives are as marginal as their neighborhoods discover a joyful intimacy often lacking in big churches. They find help — with the rent, child care or finding a job. As immigrants, they find their own language and music, as well as the acceptance and recognition that often elude them on the outside.

    They find the discipline and drive to make a hard life livable.

    To spend a year with this congregation is to see a teenage single mother and party girl discover the strength to go to college, marry in the church and land a job. It is to see a former political radical and brawler pray over alcoholics in the park."

    Be sure and take a look at the multi-media that accompanies the article on the left, including an interesting map showing the distribution of Pentecostals from state to state.

    Called & Gifted at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology

    I should mention in light of my post below that the Called & Gifted is offered regularly at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkley and is open to all Graduate Theological Union students.

    The next Called & Gifted at the DSPT is happening soon. It is scheduled for February 9/10. Contact ED HOPFNER,, if you are interested.

    The Priestly Office, the Laity, and Charisms

    Keith posted yesterday from a Called & Gifted workshop in Houston. He was referring to our standard parish workshop for lay-Catholics-in-the-pews that introduces them to the discernment of charisms in light of the Church's teaching about the mission of the laity.

    Fr. Mike and I will be giving a quite different C & G to the students and faculty of a major west coast seminary on Thursday. Naturally, we've had to modify the content significantly. Charisms color and shape how a priest goes about his ministry and where he is most fruitful so discernment is enormously helpful for the individual priest. But the issue of discernment is also central to the priestly task of governance or as it has been known traditionally in Latin, the "munus regendi".

    The three basic tasks of clergy in the service of the Christian community are to teach, to sanctify, and to govern. But governance, in Catholic understanding, is not primarily about administration. Governance is focused on two priorities: communion and mission as Pope John Paul II made clear in his 2004 ad limina address to the Bishops of Pennsylvania and New Jersey:

    "The exercise of the munus regendi is directed both to gathering the flock in the unity of a single profession of faith lived in the sacramental communion of the Church and to guiding that flock, in the diversity of its gifts and callings, towards a common goal: the proclamation of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Every act of ecclesiastical governance, consequently, must be aimed at fostering communion and mission."

    (Pastores Gregis 9; cf. Lumen Gentium, 20, 27).

    Governance includes some pretty startling responsibilities:

    Priests are called to
    Cooperate with laity in mission to world
    Listen to laity
    Recognize lay expertise
    Awaken & deepen lay co-responsibility
    Confidently entrust duties to laity
    Invite lay initiative
    Help all explore and discern vocation
    Form and support secular apostles

    Decree on Ministry and Life of Priests, 9; I Will Give You Shepherds, 59; 74


    Priests are called to

    Uncover with faith
    Acknowledge with joy
    Foster with diligence
    Judge and discern
    Coordinate and put to good use
    Have “heartfelt esteem” for

    the charisms of all the baptized.

    Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 30; Decree on Ministry and Life of Priests, 9; I Will Give You Shepherds, 40, 74; Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People, 32

    Why? Because the primary mission of the Church, evangelization, depends upon the calls and charisms of lay people who are intentional disciples. In our experience, intentional disciples clamor to discern! The spiritual forces unleashed by conversion naturally demand governance. The mission of the laity naturally calls out the office of the clergy which exists, after all, for their sake.

    The problem is, as Fr. Mike has noted, the Church teaches a very high view of governance but priests are not formed to govern. I once asked Fr. Michael Sweeney if he had heard about charisms during his years of formation. "Yes." he said, " We spent about 10 minutes on the fact that St. Thomas wrote about the charisms." And that from a Dominincan who got a highly Thomistic formation! I have yet to run into a diocesan priest who even heard the word "charism" during his formation. Much less taught to discern his own and foster the discernment of his parishioners for the sake of our common mission.

    I try to think of it as job security . . .

    Let it snow, let it snow . . .

    Those of you, like Fr. Mike, who have lived in really snowy climes (like Michigan's UP) will laugh, but its snowing again here for the fifth time in a month and Mississippi girls like me get unnerved by that much white stuff. This is my 6th winter in Colorado and I've never seen anything like this before, especially in "dry winter" (During the months of November, December, January we do not normally see alot of snow, that comes in February and March).

    But imagine how our city giraffes are feeling in their "African Rift Valley" display pictured here. They live in the highest zoo in North America at 7,000 feet, its January, it's snowing and the low predicted for tonight is -4 degrees F. They are reading the fine print in their contracts right about now!

    I remember how stunned I was when I first got here to observe Coloradans outdoors in t-shirts when the temp had dropped into the 20's. I think I understand. A sunny, windless, 25 degrees is beginning to look balmy.

    Saturday, January 13, 2007

    What Does It Take?

    I suppose a number of you are wondering why on Earth do I have a picture of a dining table to the left in this post. Well, I thought I would take a moment to get concrete about one of the ways I try to live out intentional discipleship. In an effort to demystify it for anyone who has read the posts on Intentional Disciples and thought, "I'm not capable of that," or "I don't know where to start."

    The picture is of the (surprisingly clean) dining room table in my house. For a year now, three friends of mine from Communion and Liberation (and sometimes some others) and I have gathered around this table for dinner on Tuesdays. Although I am not a member of the Fraternity of CL, it is fair to refer to our gathering as one of the local Fraternity groups. We come together to share our lives and challenges, reflect on our lived experience of what was taught in the most recent annual Spiritual Exercises of CL and to be of help to one another in recognizing Christ's presence in our lives and in following Him.

    It all began with desire. One of my good friends returned from his childhood home, frustrated with his experience of community here in Chicago. So on his drive back from Christmas vacation, he stopped by my house to watch the college football national championship game and, I think, out of a true position of prayer (as begging), proposed to me the idea of belonging to a fraternity group. Although, honestly, I was a bit daunted by the idea of committing to another weekly gathering, I knew I wanted more, too. So I said yes. And we both thought of one person to invite and they, too, said yes. Earlier this week, we were reflecting on how it has been a year already and how much (in small and big ways) this fraternity group has changed us. It is now something that I miss tremendously when I am out of town or otherwise forced to miss a week.

    There's nothing magic to our gatherings. They are driven, ultimately, by desire (a form of prayer) and a seriousness before each other, a recognition that we have been given each other as a help to one another. And we are given fruit by being rooted in our shared charism as part of CL, and thus, because of its rootedness in the whole of the Body, the Church.

    Now, this may not work for everyone. But my point is simply to emphasize that, at its core, it isn't fancy programs, lots of money, big name speakers, etc., that is needed for intentional discipleship. The start, the beginning of movement, is the question of desire. What do you desire, truly?

    Spiritual Disciplines

    How many of you are planning on watching the NFL playoff games?
    How many of you are married or planning to get married?
    How many of you are planning to have kids?
    How many of you are planning to own a house or condo?
    How many of you are planning your next vacation?
    How many of you are planning your retirement?
    How many of you are planning to die?


    I mean, actually making plans?

    How does one "plan" to die?
    Is there more to plan than making a will, checking out a gravesite or columbarium, figuring out who gets durable power of attorney, and picking out readings and music for your funeral?

    Do you wake up in the morning thinking, "Well, this could be the day I die"?
    Maybe if you have a big math test or a presentation to make to the boss you might reflect on that for consolation, but otherwise, unless you're old and/or in terrible health, I bet you don't.

    I don't, at least.

    But it wouldn't be a particularly bad idea, and, in fact, night prayer or compline ends with a sobering thought, "May the Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death."

    When we truly plan for something, we take action.
    So, if you're serious about watching the Chargers take on the Patriots, you clear your schedule, prepare your munchies, and put on your game-day shirt.
    How do we plan for death, judgment, and, one Hopes, heaven?
    Well, if heaven is eternal life in the presence of God, how can I expect to be prepared for that if I'm not living in God's presence in time?

    Look at it this way – you didn't meet and marry your spouse on the same day – at least not if you were sober.
    You got to know him or her over time. Your life slowly changed.
    It began to revolve more and more around this particular person until you knew you didn't want to live without him or her.
    It's really no different with our relationship with God, which is why some spiritual writers and saints refer to Jesus as their divine spouse.

    So how do we come close to God in this life?
    There are some traditional responses, like prayer, receiving the sacraments, participating in the life of the Christian community as it exists in the parish. All the things that people mentioned in response to Sherry's question, "What nourishes your relationship with Christ?"
    But there are a couple of other traditional practices that I'd like to add to that list.

    But to find out what I'm thinking, you'll have to come back tomorrow!

    (ooooh, a serial blog!!!)


    Do Not Presuppose the Faith But Propose It

    Related to Keith's post below:

    In Gospel, Catechism, Catechesis, Joseph Ratzinger cites the above sentence which he received on a postcard from Hans Urs von Balthasar (23).

    from the obviously deep blogger Deep Furrows

    (who naturally comments occasionally here at ID; deep calling to deep and all . . . )

    Friday, January 12, 2007

    Over at Disputations, a wonderfully Dominican-flavored blog, there is a great reflection on a leper's encounter with Jesus and how this encounter summarizes how Divine Providence and human will work together.

    The post ends with the following powerful reflection on how the author feels he lives out his discipleship:

    But a leper today looking for a human being, in a human body, to kneel before will have to settle for one of us, a member of Christ's mystical body. What
    would we say, if a leper today came to us and kneeling down begged us and said, "If Christ wish, He can make me clean"?I, for one, would feel dashed awkward about the whole thing, but then I don't think I run much of a risk of being put in that position. Not because there aren't plenty of lepers today, but because I don't give them much reason to think Christ can make them clean.

    Check it out here

    Notes From A Workshop

    One of the things I love to do when I teach Called & Gifted workshop is to watch the faces of workshop participants as they encounter the amazing reality of their own role in the Church's mission to the world. The expressions range from puzzlement to wonder, but it is an exceedingly amazing grace to be present with people as they go on a journey to discern their gifts and take a more intentional approach to their lives as disciples and, ultimately, apostles, of Christ.

    St. Thomas More parish in Houston is also blessed to have their pastor 100% behind this movement of discernment in their parish. He truly sees calling forth the gifts of the community to be one of the key points of his pastoral office.

    Quote of the workshop (or any workshop I've ever given):

    Fr. Bill: If you think that you are too old to start discerning your charisms and discovering the ways that God wants to use you, then why don't you just die! You're never too old to cooperate with the plans God has for you, and if you think you are, you've given up on Him.! Of course, Fr. Bill has a very Irish sense of humor, and he says it with a merry twinkle in his eye. Still . . .wow!

    Anyhow, if you've had a positive experience with the Called & Gifted workshop, drop a comment in this post. We'd love to know how the workshop has affected your life.

    Quid Est Veritas

    "Truth? What is truth? These words of Pontius Pilate, spoken to Christ in the gospels, echo down through the centuries to accuse us today. The question is asked, not by a a single governmental authority, but by our entire culture: What is truth? This interrogation occurs at the most basic levels of our interactions within the culture, so much so that we often don't see the fundamental challenge, or worse, we have allowed this cultural pressure to co-opt our way of thinking and acting--denuding our effective witness to Christ.

    What do I mean?

    We live in a postmodern and, some would say, post-Christian, era where the concept of absolute truth has been rejected. Postmodern cultural and literary criticism have deconstructed the notion of the Platonic Ideal, "liberating" the multiplicity of meanings in every human thought and act. We are no longer beings with a central and undivided Self, given to us by our Creator. Rather, our 'self' is really a constantly shifting, culturally constructed 'negotiation' between multiple and multi-level meanings. Thus, what's true for you can differ radically (even diametrically) from what I believe, and yet we can both be assured of the 'rightness' of our positions. Both hold equal weight in the Cultural Sanhedrin.

    In such a postmodern environment, claims to Truth are not only seen as boorish and arrogant, they take on a connotation of violence. They are acts of destruction and invasion against the 'self' of another. This is the challenge that we face as apostles of the Risen Christ, of the very Truth Himself, living in our culture today. In order for many of the men and women that we meet in our daily lives to accept the claims of Jesus Christ, they must undergo a paradigmatic shift, a conversion not just of the emotions and will, but of the worldview as well. The Person of Christ demands that the postmodern world "see with new eyes." So, how can we be effective witnesses of Christ to a world that has rejected this notion of absolute Realities?

    I think that if we are to take the Great Commission seriously, to honor Christ's call of evangelization, we must first begin in humility. The fundamental reality that we need to confront is that the Church, and we as members of it, does not possess the Truth. We are, in fact, possessed by He who is Truth.

    As Paul writes, "For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body" (1Cor 6:20). Throughout his letters, Paul uses this metaphor of slavery to underscore the relationship between Christ and His People. We have been called out of darkness, bought and paid for by the blood of Christ, and intimately brought into communion with each other and with God. A slave is no longer his own, but his master's. So, too, we are no longer our own, but Christ's. In Christ, however, the Master has raised us in status, has adopted us, making us a member of his own family. We are "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" because of the love of Christ (1Peter 2:9).

    Fundamentally, then, our attitude should be like those who have received an inestimable treasure, not through their own action or worth, but as a free gift. We should approach our apostolate with gratitude and graciousness, with a desire to share this great gift. I think that we as Christians often come across as if we are being magnanimous, sharing with the poor from the riches of our own bounty, when we witness to others about Christ. We must never forget that we, too, are poor in ourselves, but rich only in Christ.


    Secondly, we need to remember that we are not, ultimately, responsible for the results of our witnessing for Christ. That responsibility rests with God alone. As Fr. Michael Sweeney, former Co-Director of the Catherine of Siena Institute says, "we are called to propose the faith, not impose the faith." There is a fundamental difference between the two approaches. God is a respecter of human freedom; He desires that we come to Him freely of our own will. He calls us to desire the same for others. Our goal, then, shouldn't be to convert a non-Christian friend or acquaintance. Rather, our goal should be to listen to the way Christ is calling us to share His love with that other person. God will take care of the rest. It is not our ability that God wants, but our availability to be used by Him for the work of the Kingdom.

    In such a way, through humility and openness to how God calls us to share our faith, others will be brought into an experience of the Truth--one of the places where authentic conversion can begin.

    What Nourishes Your Relationship With Christ?

    What is your experience? What really nourishes your relationship with Christ?

    Experiencing God and Transformation

    I'm in the middle of a major re-evaluation of my life, including my spiritual life. Fr. Mike's post below got me thinking afresh. I asked myself this morning:

    Where have I most powerfully experienced God and transformation in the course of my life? Not where I should have experienced God and transformation but where I have, in fact.

    • Spiritual conversation with a close spiritual companion
    • The experience of real Christian community
    • Through spiritual wisdom which integrates heart, mind, spirit, experience, and will.
    • In the presence of the Blessed Sacrament
    • Intercession for other – especially in presence of Blessed Sacrament
    • The practice of the presence of God
    • Intentionally listening to and obeying the present guidance of the Holy Spirit
    • The experience of deep emotional healing
    • Natural beauty

    It is striking both for what is there and what is not. Certain themes have been very consistent over the course of my Christian life, both Catholic and Protestant:

    Presence, Relationship, Listening, Talking, Healing and Integration, Wisdom, Obedience, Beauty

    Because of my work and natural intellectual interests, I spend a lot of time doing original theological and pastoral research, creating new resources and training and teaching. It is exciting, energizing, and fruitful and I am very grateful to God for the opportunity to do so. But what actually nurtures my lived relationship with God and heals and transforms me is different.

    I have often felt like a "bad" Catholic (much less Dominican!)because Scriptural or theological study, the liturgy, or the sacraments (except the Eucharist) never come up on the list when I am honest. And no doubt I am a bad Catholic. But would I become a better Catholic if I could just drop the "shoulds" and accept peacefully what, in fact, seems to be my "way"? That it is okay to have a "Catholic" head and a "Quaker", relational, experiential, obediential heart?

    Houston Bound

    I'm heading out this morning to St. Thomas More parish in Houston to teach a lovely Called & Gifted workshop. If you are in the Housto area, I invite you to attend. It really is a wonderful way to begin the discernment process around the charisms that God has given you for the work that He has called you to!

    You can find out more about the workshop here and by scrolling down to Sherry's Houston, We Have A Workshop post.

    See you all soon!

    Prayer, Discipline and the Demands of LIfe

    I have been re-reading "The Way of the Disciple" by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, and a couple of passages have struck me, particularly given a phone conversation I had today with a physician named Dan, whom I think of as an intentional disciple. Merikakis writes that the prerequisite attitude for becoming in earnest a disciple of Christ is "the willingness to abandon the old, what is behind us, and begin to desire to be created again by the power of God's Holy Spirit." (pp. 16-17)
    He also writes of the importance – and danger - of discipline in our life of prayer.

    "The Glory of God is always found in movements of love, in communication of life, never in static routine, cramped piety, thoughtless repetition of official acts, conventional observance, external religious acts that could easily become the letter that kills, the continuing tyranny of the old, sinful self. The Spirit, by contrast, is wind, fire, light, water, Glory: the unexpected, the transforming, the self-communicating, the self-outpouring Power that shapes by embracing and not letting go. The way of the disciple is necessarily a way of discipline, because discipleship is the living school in which we learn how to be like Christ by intimate association with him. The discipline of Christian life, whether in its secular or monastic form, is supposed to provide a structure that systematically excludes all the pseudo-adventures and pseudo-fulfillments offered by a frivolous world. Christian discipline is there to open the way for the real adventure of the soul's quest for God and God's quest for the soul, and it would be tragic if instead this discipline became its own end." (p. 27)

    I asked my friend Dan, "What gets in the way of your relationship with God?" He answered "It's partly busy-ness and partly bad habit. I don't pray as much as I used to five or six years ago." He said he can be busy at work, but his pleasures also keep him busy. There are so many opportunities, and so many things he wants to do. It's as though he's being drowned in too many options.

    On a recent medical mission to Africa, he lost ten pounds. Not because the food was bad - it wasn't. It's just that is was the same every day, with no snacks. He observed that the choices we have and the things we can do get in the way of quiet and prayer. While he always feels the need to set aside time each day to intercede for people he loves, and to give God a chance to influence him, he doesn't spend time in silence the way he does on retreat with the Trappists once or twice a year. In spite of good intentions to devote one day off a month in silence, he doesn't do it. (At least not yet – I have hope for him!)

    I can echo much of what Dan said, and I spend the better part of my days alone and in silence, sitting in front of my Mac. I have a morning ritual of Mass and prayers, with liturgy of the hours again in the evening and before bed. But at times even these are challenging, as I struggle to keep my mind focused on God, rather than what I'm going to make for breakfast, or when I'm going to have a chance to go to the gym, or how much I've got to work on one project or another. I also struggle with the attempt to keep God in mind throughout my day, even as I read about Him! I seldom consciously offer my work as an act of praise, and I often forget to cultivate gratitude.

    I don't have much temptation from the pseudo-adventures and pseudo-fulfillments Merikakis writes about, if by these he means things like television, video games, movies and the like – being a poor friar helps there, as well as having a lot of work to do. But I DO have the temptation of becoming caught up in the work of the Institute. It's good work, and important, I believe. But the danger is that I can forget that if it's going to succeed, it's because of the grace, power and will of God, not because I spent twelve hours in front of the computer yesterday.

    I don't think I'm that different from most of you (who, by the way, are sitting before a computer as you read this…) But how do you attempt to abandon your old self and "put on Christ" while taking the kids to school, for example? What disciplines help you to remain open to the surprise of the Spirit (and you have to admit that seems a little counter-intuitive; discipline opening us up to the unexpected!) Whether you are lay or ordained, what disciplines help you to remain detached from your work or pleasures? Is our full life denying us the "fullness of life" Jesus invites us to enter?


    Thursday, January 11, 2007

    Introducing myself

    I'm "the other" Sherry, i.e. not Sherry W. At her urging, I herewith introduce myself.

    I am a history professor's wife and homeschooling mother of 3 girls. My husband and I entered the Church together a year after we were married; we were both from an evangelical background. We've been friends of Sherry W. for 16 years, and been co-conspirators of sorts in the development of the Catherine of Siena Institute and other efforts to nurture the apostolic awakening and formation of lay Catholics. I've taught the Called and Gifted worshop, and conducted gifts discernment interviews with around 200 people in person and on the phone over the past several years. I'm part of a group of folks in the two parishes here in my small Appalachian Ohio town that is working toward implementing the Church's guidelines on formation that are given in the new Directory for Catechesis.

    In the church I was raised in, you couldn't sit through a single church service without hearing a basic version of the kerygma, and being invited to visibly respond to it. I can't remember not knowing that God loved me; that sin separated me from God; that Jesus died and rose again so that my (and humanity's) sins could be forgiven and I (and humanity) could live a joyful-though-not-easy relationship of intimacy with God that would last forever; that saying Yes to God's invitation (and receiving Baptism) would make me a child of God, heir of heaven, and co-worker with God to spread that message to every single human being. I took my time with saying "yes"; I was baptized at sixteen. But I knew what was at stake in that "yes".

    What I found in the Catholic Church built upon and fulfilled that foundation in many unexpected ways. I deeply love the Church's teaching, history, and life.

    Now I am raising children in a parish culture where that proclamation is not ever-present in the way it was for me, though Jesus is Here, and my children know that. That proclamation is not easy to hear in my parish -- and it is not a bad parish by any means. The Mass, and the Church's devotional life, assume it -- but the generation I am raising (and every other generation) needs to hear it proclaimed.

    I want my children to be fully Christian, fully Catholic, to discover and live their vocations to the full -- and to help that happen it seems that I have to be part of changing the world, and to change the world, I have to be part of making all that beautiful teaching of the Church live. So be it. I am utterly inadequate to the task, but He delights in using the inadequate to do remarkable things.

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    The Late, Great Delle Chatman

    If you need a boost or even if you don't - watch a few of these wonderful reflections here by Delle Chatman who died last November of ovarian cancer. Talk about a lay apostle!

    As I wrote about her at the time:

    I first heard about her from Barb Nicolosi who wrote about her death from ovarian cancer earlier this month.

    But then I found this videos that she had made in the last couple of years for a Chicago station - what an incredible witness to the love of God and the hope of the faith! If only I had 1/10 of her faith and evident love! Occasionally, it can sound a bit like she thinks she's earning salvation - but I don't think that's it at all. I just think she is so consumed with the experience of the love of God that she sees all of life through that paradigm.

    Watch a couple. They are magnificent. Delle wanted to be a priest, apparently, and only resigned herself to not becoming one a couple years ago and refused to become bitter. Or about having ovarian cancer and leaving a young daughter (she was a single mother)

    The last e-mail she sent out as she entered hospice ended with this sentence:

    "PS. Brothers and sisters, either we believe in eternal life - or we don't."

    Watching her again just now say "I didn't keep the faith. Faith kept me." moved me to tears all over again. In the presence of such a glowing, radiant witness, how could you not be drawn to the love of Christ?

    Reflected Glory

    Before I lived here

    I spent 8 months living here - on the edge of the Gower peninsula along the coast of South Wales.
    This is sunset on Worm's Head and dramatic Rhossili beach, the far end of the peninsula.

    The Gower has long been recognized as one of the great beauty spots of Great Britain and has everything we Yanks associate with Britain:
    castles and manor houses, Roman ruins, medieval churches, wild horses on the moor, "Arthur's stone" (yes, the stone he drew the sword out of - they are scattered all over Britain), 900 year old yew trees, ancient villages, great cliffs and wonderful beaches. In addition, the Gower has signs in a language filled to overflowing with double consonants and sounds that drive native English speakers to distraction.

    Every week, I went for long (20 mile) hikes with a hiking buddy across the Gower so I got to know it pretty well and have dreamed of returning someday. It was only when I returned home that I discovered that I bear the same name as one of the early monk evangelists to south Wales. Who says that evangelism is Protestant?

    St. Brynach is also known as (Brynach Wyddel: Brunn ack Withel) "the Irishman," though he was a native of Pembrokeshire and spent many years in Britanny following a pilgrimage to Rome. Here is a picture of his church. On his feast day, 7 April, it is said that the first cuckoo arriving in Wales sings its very first song from the top of a 13-ft high elaborately patterned Great Celtic cross, dating from the 10th century, perhaps the finest in Wales.

    Me with a last name overflowing with double consonants and it had never dawned upon me that my family might have a Welsh connection. I was reminded because south Wales was hit by a huge wind and rain storm today and so made the news.

    A Whole Lot of Good Stuff Going On . . .

    This is really an addendum to Keith's post "Diocesan Kudos" but seemed a big long for a comment.

    Some parishes in this country are already quietly becoming virtual hotbeds of evangelism. In the course of our travels, we have come across a number of parish-based evangelization processes that have revolutionized the lives of literally millions of Catholics over the past 40 years.

    The power of having it happen in the parish is that participants don’t get the impression that their faith is just between “me and Jesus” but experience a powerful spiritual awakening in the midst and facilitated by the Christian community. From the very beginning, discipleship is both personal and communal. As the new adult catechism puts it: "I believe and we believe".

    I use the adjective “quiet” because in this country, effective Catholic evangelization that actually results in intentional discipleship is almost always a grassroots effort usually put on by (and often created by) lay people for lay people with the pastor’s approval. (The nationally known programs such as Renew or Disciples in Mission are not intended to provide initial proclamation of the Gospel. They supplement direct proclamation.)

    Most direct evangelization processes have no websites or staff, operate on a shoestring, and spread almost entirely by word of mouth. The “national headquarters”, if it exists and you can find it, (it took me a year and half to locate one such office!) is often run by a few elderly lay volunteers armed only with a kitchen table and an answering machine.

    In Boise, we have been working with a parish that has been transformed by a weekend Evangelization Retreat that focuses on the renewal of the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. Over the past 8 years, well over 500 adults have been through these retreats, which are facilitated by lay people for lay people and now draws significant numbers of non-Catholics to every retreat. Like Baptists who are coming to be evangelized by Catholics!

    I can’t begin to count the number of retreatants who have told us that their lives were dramatically changed by that experience. Many of these people had been away from the Church for decades and now are passionate in their desire to follow Christ. And their passion has changed the life of that community.

    Attendance at Mass and personal giving has risen significantly. Two hundred adults now meet weekly to share their faith in the small Christian communities that have arisen from the retreat. Parishioners are hungry to learn more about their faith and fill every adult formation class that is offered by the diocese.

    So many volunteers want to help put on the evangelization retreats that the team struggles to find places for everyone! And word of what is happening has spread around the state. Large groups of parishioners have charted buses at their own expense to take the retreat to tiny mountain and desert parishes around the state. They will do anything and go anywhere to share the joy and power of the Gospel that has changed their lives. But almost no one has ever heard of the Evangelization Retreats outside Idaho.

    The sheer numbers involved in these processes around the country and the world are staggering. For instance, over 1 million American Catholics have gone through Christ Renews His Parish weekends since the first one was given in a Toledo in 1969. Sixty million people world-wide have attended “Life in the Spirit” seminars.

    In the evangelical world, evangelizing processes that impacted those kinds of numbers would have drawn thousands of eager pastors and leaders who would come from around the country to learn about the process. (For example, 400,000 pastors from all over the world have studied under Rick Warren, author of the Purpose-Driven Life, at Saddle-back Church in southern California.)

    While it is comforting to know that few Catholic evangelists have to worry about the temptations of religious empire building, it says a great deal about our priorities as a community that they labor at something so crucial in such obscurity.

    Diocesan Kudos

    It's easy to look upon the statistics and our own experience of Catholicism and begin to feel a bit overwhelmed at the lack of structure and culture that would help build communities of intentional disciples. Every so often, I find myself wondering if, indeed, this is what God is calling His people to, why is taking so bloody long! Usually at that point, I pop up my favorite search engine and type in 'evangelization' and 'catholic.' In addition to getting numerous hits from protestant ministries seeking to reveal the 'truth' about Catholicism to catholics, I occasionally stumble upon something that lifts my heavy heart.

    On my last search, I discovered that the Diocese of Sioux Falls has a fantastic evangelization initiative--one in which they are using modern multi-media in a very professional way--to call people to Christ.

    And so, without further ado, I present to you The Story.


    Some thoughts on justifying faith

    I sometimes wonder if people who stumble across our blog might wonder just how Catholic it is with all the talk about intentional discipleship and the personal relationship with Jesus. That language often invites rejection from Catholics who fear a "me and Jesus" stance towards faith that disregards the importance of community. I would propose the contrary. Intentional discipleship impels us towards community.

    In the 16th century, when the Reformers cried, "justification by faith alone," the bishops at the Council of Trent decreed that only faith that is active in charity and good works (fides formata, i.e., "well-formed faith") possesses any power to justify us (Gal 5:6, 1Cor 13:2). This well-formed faith, which is our response to grace, is what Sherry and I are calling intentional discipleship. The teaching of Trent stated that a faith lacking in charity and good works is dead in the eyes of God and insufficient for justification (James 2:17).

    The Church's teaching tells us that the faith which justifies the believer begins with a firm belief in what God has revealed and is intimately linked with a conversion of heart and a desire to live a new life. That new life is characterized by love for others and contrition for one's sins and the adult to seek baptism – or, if already baptized – confession. Both of those aspects of a new life require me to have a regard for and participation in community. Real love is not just a sentiment, but a desire for the good of others that leads to action. Contrition for sin requires that I examine my relationship with others and begin to see how I have harmed them by both actions and the lack of action. Intentional discipleship is anything but, "me and Jesus."

    So what does it mean, then, that the lines for confession are so short these days? I suggest it's not just that we've lost a sense of sin, which is definitely a part of the problem. But we've also lost our sense of honest self-awareness as well as a sense of adventure! We may well have also lost the communal aspect of being a person of faith as well. We're complacent and self-satisfied with the way things are – particularly the way WE are - and aren't ready for the radical change to which God invites us.

    An article appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette January 2 that caught my attention. It was entitled, "You're Not That Hot," and reported that researchers have discovered again and again that many people systematically misjudge their competence, virtues, relevance and future actions. We consider ourselves to be smarter, luckier, better looking and more important than we really are. Might as well add "more moral" to that list.

    Until we begin to emphasize that faith is the beginning of God's work of transforming us, calling us to a new life, life in its fullness, we will not only see short lines for confession, we'll find a dearth of intentional disciples. The Gospels relate how Peter, Andrew, James and John abandoned their lives as fishermen to follow Jesus. They were literally willing to "live without nets." That's what we must be willing to do, too. By "living without nets" I mean not only the willingness to change careers, if necessary, as those fishermen did, but to live without relying upon the "common sense" attitudes our culture teaches us and our egos crave. We must be willing to abandon ourselves to the teaching of Jesus that remains so counter-cultural and counter-intuitive: loving our enemies; loving our neighbor NOT as we love ourselves, but as Christ has loved us (Jn 13:34); imitating Him who came "to serve, not to be served" (Mt 20:28); forgiving those who offend us. This is not "me and Jesus" faith.

    Of course, we cannot do this on our own, but only in cooperation with God's grace. We cannot do this without the support of a rich sacramental life in which we encounter Christ's presence among us. We cannot do this well without the support of other intentional disciples who are on the same difficult, yet joyful journey. Finally, we cannot do this if our lives are not saturated with prayer, including the quiet prayer of contemplation in which we present ourselves to God as we truly are: needy, poor children who depend upon our Father for everything. All of these are integral to the formation of a well-formed, justifying faith.

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    Wednesday, January 10, 2007

    Michael of the Incarnation

    A couple years ago, Fr. Michael Sweeney and I had a conversation about the Carmelite practice of taking a religious name that highlighted an aspect of the Gospel that was most precious to you or reflected a devotion or spiritual path that you felt called to.

    hence, Sr. Therese of the Holy Face of the Child Jesus

    If you took a name for yourself, what would it be?, I asked him. "Michael of the Incarnation" was his reply.

    I thought for a moment and then said "I'd be Sherry of the Redemption"

    So gentle commenters and lurkers, if you have to answer that question, what name would you choose?

    God Has No Grandchildren

    An article today in The Telegraph (a leading British newspaper) regarding the state of Catholicism in France is arresting in light of a saying I heard as an evangelical:

    "God has no grandchildren."

    Simply put, barely 51% of the French consider themselves Catholic and of that 51%, only half said they believed in God! Only 10% attend Mass.

    "Many said they were Catholic because it was a family tradition"

    The article is particularly interesting in light of a piece that appeared in Christianity Today in 2005 saying that a new "religious openness" simultaneously taking place in France - but the style is evangelical.

    According to a study in 2003, 32% of the French who call themselves Christians had recently returned to their faith. In 1994, the number was only 13%. "Is Europe's most secular nation rediscovering its Christian roots?" asks Agnieszka Tennant in Christianity Today.

    "Bible sales are currently at an all-time high in France," reports the French Bible Society's Christian Bonnet. Completely unexpectedly, 100,000 Bibles and 50,000 New Testaments were sold in 2003. La Bible Expliquée, a Bible with explanations for seekers, sold 80,000 copies in the first month, even in secular bookshops and supermarkets. "God, your shares are on the rise!" wrote a business magazine in a 72-page report on the sudden rise of religious interest in the post-materialistic age. "

    Since 1950, the number of Evangelicals in France has multiplied sevenfold, from 50,000 to 350,000," says Tennant, and many nominal Catholics have experienced a renewal of their faith through Alpha Courses. Daniel Liechti, who researches church planting for France Mission, estimates that one new church was planted in France every 11 days for the past 35 years.

    The Alpha course - a meal/video/small group -based evangelization course out of a charismatic Anglican church in London, is running in 400 churches around France. The April, 05 newsletter of the Alpha movement in Hong Kong reports something widely quoted around the evangelical world:

    "The Catholic Archbishop of Paris, Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, says that Catholics have received two good things from the Protestants: the Charismatic movement and the Alpha Course, which is booming in Catholic parishes: in 1998, five Alpha courses were held; in 2004, the number had grown to 303."

    As some of you know, I have my reservations about the Alpha course which you can find in this article at our Institute library (When Evangelical is Not Enough)

    But, the point is, in so many countries of Europe, historical, wide-spread cultural Catholicism or Protestantism is rapidly being replaced by a smaller *intentional Christianity*, much of it evangelical and charismatic in theology and style. A similar spiritual awakening has been noted in deeply secularlized Holland, again linked to evangelical movements like Alpha, linked to movements that focus on initial missionary proclamation of the kergyma to a generation that has never heard it.

    The relationship between culture and conversion is fascinating. An established Christian culture can foster conversion but it cannot replace conversion. Culture can powerfully transmit the kerygma but it can also obscure it. Christian culture is not self-sustaining. Christian culture is the fruit of personal faith. Without the preaching of the kerygma and personal conversion which is a source of renewal in every generation, Christian culture ultimately withers away and dies.

    Hence, Sherry's mantra:

    If we don't evangelize our own, someone else will do it for us.
    If we don't form our own, someone else will do it for us.

    The Role of Beauty

    A while back, at the Shrine of the Holy Whapping blog, Andrew began an intriguing post with the following sentence:

    I submit to you that beauty is really the source of authority
    Reading this started me down a path of reflection about the role of beauty in the New Evangelization.

    As we embrace our call to live as apostles of Jesus Christ in the 21st century, to what degree do we reflect the beauty of life in Jesus Christ. Not that we each have to look like we came off the cover of a magazine, or that our lives have to have a measure of studied perfection, like a Norman Rockwell picture--that would be beauty as the world sees it, transient and passing. Rather, in the storms and trials of life, as well as in its better moments, how clearly can our neighbors, our pharmacists, our childrens' school teachers, or even the strangers that we meet, see the loving heart of Jesus Christ in our life.?

    It is beauty, ultimately, that sways the human heart. Intellectual explanations and reasoned approaches to the Revelation of God merely utilize human gifts to apprehend the beauty and the glory of the God who has pursued us before we were born. Beauty, therefore, moves us to conversion with the sublimity and power of its very nature.

    But how can we, between our struggle to make mortgage payments, change the oil on the family car, wrestle children into clothes appropriate to school, get to work on time for that big presentation--how can we even think about being beautiful (as in the beauty of holiness) in the midst of the chaos of our lives?


    It is grace that gradually perfects us, building upon our human nature so that we might become more like the One Who Is Beauty. It is grace that transforms the human heart, polishing its rough contours until it reflects the Sacred Heart of Christ Himself everywhere we journey. It is grace, therefore, that allows us to become Beautiful, so that others might encounter the Living Christ in everything that we do.

    Our role is to dispose ourselves to that grace--to open ourselves to Beauty, even in the midst of ugliness and horror, or the numbing, relentless sense of blandness that can often afflict our lives. In doing so, we echo the insightful words of the Romantic poet John Keats in his poem, Ode On A Grecian Urn, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty."

    The difference here is that Beauty is not a concept, but a Person.

    Tuesday, January 9, 2007

    Formation Opportunity

    Since one of the topics we've discussed on this blog is the difficulty some Catholics have in talking to others about their relationship with God, I thought I'd introduce a new formation program that can help in this area. It's called "Formation for Spiritual Companionship," and I'll give a little more information about it in a moment. But first, a little about the organization that produced it.

    The Dominican parish of Blessed Sacrament in Seattle, WA, is not only the birthplace of the Catherine of Siena Institute, but also the Institute for Christian Ministry. The latter was founded by Fr. Leo Thomas, O.P., to help lay people be spiritual companions to one another and to provide and sustain training for spiritual healing. You can click on the title of this post to go to their website.

    When I was director of the St. Thomas More Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Oregon, several parishioners asked me if they could go through the Ministry of Healing Prayer formation program that ICM produces. At first I was a little nervous about something called "healing prayer," but I trusted the wisdom and faith of the folks who were proposing this, so I supported their initiative. I was very impressed with the thorough two-year program ICM provided that formed members of the Newman Center to pray with and for those who desired spiritual, physical and emotional healing. Their formation was solidly grounded in Catholic teaching, prayer and common sense. I often recommended the ministry to those whom I had anointed in the sacrament of the sick as an ongoing support, and when I had knee reconstruction after a basketball injury, I asked to take part in a prayer service for me. It was a wonderful experience of the love of the Christian community for me.

    Now ICM has just produced a new formation program entitled Formation for Spiritual Companions. According to a flyer describing the program, the formation "has elements of spiritual direction, but is a relationship of peers...Over a span of time, the relationship can bless companions in a number of ways as it gives them:
    1) Someone to talk to about spiritual things, which gives a sense of being heard.
    2) a person to be accountable to for some or several areas of their Christian life.
    3) a partner to pray with.
    4) a person who provides encouragement and support.

    In addition to showing participants how to be companions, this program offers spiritual formation through worship times and some of its presentations. The latter teach elelments of Christian spirituality and give a deeper understanding of the One we worship and trust."

    It looks like this formation process has a similar format as the Formation for Healing Prayer, in that video presentations provided by ICM are incorporated in the lessons. While I don't have access to the whole program, if it is produced as well as the Formation for Healing Prayer, it is well worthwhile.

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    Houston, we have a workshop . . .

    If you live near Houston or Nampa, ID, you are in luck because a Called & Gifted workshop is coming to your neighborhood this weekend.

    The Called & Gifted is a fun, high energy introduction to our mission as lay apostles and the opportunity to begin discerning the "charisms" - ways we have been supernaturally empowered by God for the sake of others - that we were given by the Holy Spirit at baptism. C & G's typically run from 7pm-9:30 Friday night and 9:30 - 4pm on Saturday.

    24,000 Catholics (and non-Catholics) have attended live C & G's to date and we are still regularly astonished and encouraged by what happens when lay Christians like you and I begin to discern God's call together. I always tell those we train to help others discern charism that "this is the most fun you can have legally". That is because witnessing what God is doing in the lives of "ordinary" intentional disciples will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up!

    In Houston, our teaching team will be holding forth at St Thomas More Catholic Church, Houston.

    CONTACT: Suzie Hamilton, Pastoral Associate, or the Parish office at (713) 729-0221 for information or to register.

    In Nampa,
    the workshop will be St Paul's Catholic Church, Nampa ID (Diocese of Boise)

    CONTACT: Joan Ann Piper or the Parish Office at (208) 466-7031 for information or to register.

    "Practical" Absolutes????

    As secular apostles, lay Catholics have primary responsibility for the application of the faith to human institutions and cultures. It is part and parcel of our call to find ourselves wrestling with extremely complicated questions about how to apply Church teaching in real-world situations.

    How do you discern the good – especially the common good - in this particular situation with these people? What freedom, what authority, what power do I have to shape the outcome? What actions should you take, can you take, to foster all that is truly human and brings glory to God in this situation? These perplexing questions become even more so when the Church’s teaching, such as those regarding sanctity of human life, seems to be developing before our eyes in response to changes in technology and political systems.

    John Allen’s January 5 column “Church Opposition to Execution “Practically Absolute” about the Church’s evolving stand regarding the death penalty was a reflection on this development. (You can read the whole piece at

    Allen argues that the Vatican’s opposition to the execution of Saddam Hussein is a “milestone in the evolution of yet another category in Catholic teaching: Positions which are not absolute in principle, but which are increasingly absolute in practice. Opposition to war, unless undertaken in clear self-defense or with the warrant of the international community, and the use of capital punishment are the leading cases in point.”

    Allen states that the Church now seems to have two different categories of moral teaching:

    1) “ontic” or “inherent” absolutes. This would include abortion, euthanasia, and stem cell destruction – acts which are always and everywhere evil regardless of the circumstance.

    2) “practical” absolutes: - acts which could be justified in theory under certain limited circumstances but which under present conditions cannot be justified.

    Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in a December 30 interview, said:

    "Man cannot simply dispose of life, and therefore it should be defended from the moment of conception to natural death," Martino said. "This position thus excludes abortion, experimentation on embryos, euthanasia and the death penalty, which are a negation of the transcendent dignity of the human person created in the image of God."

    Allen writes “Note that Martino listed capital punishment on a par with key life issues long understood to admit of no exceptions.”

    Obviously, this is controversial because in the past, the Catholic Church not only supported the validity of the death penalty but occasionally carried it out herself (as did all other Christian states, Protestant, Orthodox, or Catholic). A famous example is the execution in 1599 of the young Roman woman, Beatrice Cenci, for murdering her sexually abusive father. Cenci’s execution was overseen by Pope Clement VII.

    In paragraph 2267, the Catechism of the Catholic church offers the following on capital punishment, reflecting this position:

    "Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor."

    Allen notes: “the Catechism also immediately adds what the Italians call a sfumatura, meaning a nuance, which effectively renders the "self-defense" argument null under prevailing circumstances:

    “If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm -- without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself -- the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.'" (The quote at the end is from Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, The Gospel of Life).

    Allen continues: “The fact that neither the death penalty nor war are considered "ontic" evils probably means there will always be room for differing opinions in the church about the extent to which existing circumstances render them justifiable.” For instance, the highly respected American theologian, Cardinal Avery Dulles has publicly stated that he supports a more “traditional” interpretation of both Church teaching and the just war theory that did Pope John Paul II. Meanwhile, the Community of Sant'Egidio, one of the new Catholic lay movements, has called for a global moratorium on capital punishment.

    Allen concludes: “Nevertheless, indications from the Vatican and from a wide swath of Catholic officialdom suggest that in practice, it's unlikely there will ever again be a war (defined as the initiation of hostilities without international warrant) or an execution the church does not officially oppose.”

    So where does that leave us as lay Catholics, who actually bear the primary responsibility for conducting war, making peace, and for the entire justice system? How do we stay faithful to Christ and his Church in this situation? How do we discern and act for the good? How do we deal with faithful Catholics, who in good conscience, disagree with our judgment regarding the application of the Church’s social teaching in a particular situation? What do you think?

    Before we begin, a reminder:

    1) This is a very difficult issue and disagreement is natural, but comments impugning the motivations and good will of another poster are not welcome here and will be deleted. Charitable, thoughtful, discussion and/or disagreement that just might possibly shed new light on the issues involved for the rest of us is what we are shooting for.

    Hardship of the Gospel

    St. Paul exhorts us to "bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God." (2Tim 1:8) What we need to ask ourselves is exactly what hardships do we bear for the sake of the gospel. During Paul's time, being a Christian meant, in many instances, persecution--the threat of punishment, torture, and even death. Proclaiming the love and the truth of the resurrected Christ was a dangerous ministry.

    Though times have changed, in many parts of the world living out or faith is not a punishable offense, sharing the truth of Christ's presence in our lives, through word and deed, is still a risk. We risk our reputations, the good opinion of others, and even, in some cases, job opportunities. The Wisdom of God is foolishness to the world, and so we are called to be 'fools' for Christ, proclaiming his love to a world that hungers for it, yet does not know the depths of its need.

    What hardships do you endure for the sake of the gospel? If you're like me, and the answer is 'very little,' then perhaps we must confront a difficult truth: Perhaps we bear little hardship for the gospel because we bear only a little of the gospel to the world.

    Monday, January 8, 2007

    Generation Cross

    The picture to the left is of Lino Rulli. The reason that I have included it is that I think examples can be helpful in exploring our Intentional Disciples theme and I think Lino's television show Generation Cross offers such an opportunity.

    Generation Cross was a Catholic cable television show that Lino produced out of a parish in Minnesota that ran for about 6 years, won rave reviews, and netted him two regional Emmy awards. I first saw it during law school on Boston Catholic Television. The show was a series of comical, oddball vignettes that were designed to draw out some aspect of the Catholic faith in a fun way. Lino has since moved on to do two radio shows, Lino at Large and The Catholic Guy.

    Besides the fact that I love his off-tilt, screwball and self-deprecating humor, what I loved about Generation Cross has nothing to do with whether it was an effective tool in teaching this dogma or that or whether it took some side in the Catholic culture debates. It was something far more simple than that: watching Generation Cross gave you a sense of the joy of the Catholic life and the relationships between Lino and the priests who were regulars on the show rung through as real and full of friendship.

    I think a lot can be said for both of those aspects and what it means both for the living of intentional discipleship and evangelization.

    First, the joy of life. Let's face it. None of us are looking for more misery. No, what we long for is meaning in our lives that generates satisfaction. Now, before I get a dozen people emailing quotes of how we are called to "pick up our cross" each day, if what you think that that means is that we should crush our desire for satisfaction and meaning, well, all I can say is that I think you misunderstand the quote. Because the search and desire for meaning is part of what it is to be human. And our faith doesn't call us to forgo our humanity, but instead shows its true nature and calling, as revealed in Christ. Frankly, I think some circles promote a very inhuman understanding of the faith and it is understandably found to be unattractive by many and, thus, something not worth taking seriously or investigating. But if Christ in fact makes me more fully human, then, nothing is lost. All the more, the world is opened up to me and I see it more fully and with greater awe, for I see Him present in it.

    I think this spirit of joy, this recognition that Christ doesn't truncate, but broadens, my horizon is captured by Generation Cross, in all of the silly pranks and sketches, in how anything of life -- dancing, rock climbing, humor -- can reveal Him.

    Second, Lino and the priests on the show exhibited a great friendship and a jovial companionship. They joked around with one another, made fun of one another, but also seemed to recognize that the core of their relationship was not simple sentiment alone, but their being one in Christ. I was really struck by this when I first saw it because it made me think about how rare it is for there to be genuine friendships between clergy and laity. Seriously, how many of us know a clergy member well enough that we are truly ourselves around them? (And they around us!) Or are we on our best behavior when we are around them, always thinking of some "churchy" thing that we can talk to them about? Or do we only know them from handshakes on the way out of the parish after Mass? Now, I live under no delusion that all of us will form close relationships with every (or even any) member of the clergy (or vowed religious) that we know. But community is something that the Church recognizes as being the fruit of being a Christian. We are one Body. We are a people. We are the Church. And companionship is at the root of any lived sense of that.

    Some thoughts to consider. And if, like me, you are into quirky humor, you might want to check out one of Lino's shows.

    The Reason For Our Hope

    Here is a great example of a Catholic Approach to evangelization. I stumbled on The Reason For Our Hope Foundation when I was working on my former parish's Council for Apostolic Formation and Evangelization (the Cafeteria may, in fact, be closed . . .but the CAFE is open for business!).

    Here's what the foundation writes about itself:

    The Reason For Our Hope Foundation was founded by Fr. Larry Richards in answer to 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” The purpose of The Reason For Our Hope Foundation is to fulfill the command of Christ to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 16:28). The mission of the Foundation is to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ and His Church through various multimedia resources and to make available Catholic speakers who are effective instruments of this evangelization. The Foundation also helps various charities that make real the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You can help us fulfill God’s will by contacting us.

    Please take a look at their website. They are a fantastic example of the New Evangelization.

    Why Do Catholics Remain Catholic?

    The flipside to Fr. Mike's question below, "Why Do Catholics Become Evangelicals?" is "Why do Catholics Remain Catholic?" This is a particularly important question in light of the evangelistic identity of the Church. How, indeed, is Christ experienced in the Church? One of the beautiful things about Catholicism is the reality of unity in diversity--all of the myriad ways in which Christ offers Himself to His people.

    Here's a YouTube video made by a youth minister for her Confirmation class. It pretty much sums it up for me:

    What are the reasons that you remain Catholic?

    Topics We Will and Won't Discuss on This Blog

    What topics will we be discussing on Intentional Disciples?

    Anything and everything related to the discipleship and apostleship of the laity and the mission of the Church to the world. There have been a handful of blogs about living as Catholic laity but they are run by individuals and no one seems to read them. There is a real vacuum in this area that we are exceptionally equipped to fill. Via Intentional Disciples, we have the chance to help shape the global discussion in these areas:

    1) Proclaiming Christ and the practical evangelization of individuals: How to communicate the kerygma to those who are not yet intentional disciples of Jesus Christ and help them become disciples.

    2) Formation: How to intentionally nurture the spiritual maturity and foster the apostolic call of every baptized person, especially at the local parish level.

    3) Discernment and Vocation: Anything related to charisms (duh!) and the discernment and living of personal vocations - especially non-ecclesial vocations.

    4) Evangelization of culture and societal structures - especially in relationship to the faith, work, vocations, and initiatives of lay Christians.
    · Stories we hear/witness from close friends or families or stories we hear/witness on the road that are relevant to 1 -4
    · Essential Church teaching and theology and formation resources related to # 1-4.
    · Effective initiatives related to #1-4
    · Struggles/obstacles/questions/perspectives related to #1-4

    That's why we want and need a variety of voices and life experiences on the blog. We don't expect you to agree with each other on everything. Can you spell b-o-r-i-n-g? Our parameters are the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. Within those parameters, there is a ton of room for different opinions and personalities.

    Fear not: Intentional Disciples will not be a free-for-all flame fest. The blog will be moderated. We want to create a positive space for discussion that will encourage thoughtful "lurkers" who normally don't comment on other blogs because a few belligerent nasties dominate. The chronically uncivil will be asked to take their opinions elsewhere.

    We want to remain focused on providing a forum for important aspects of Catholic teaching, life and practice that aren’t getting much attention elsewhere. Therefore, there are certain topics we won't be discussing on Intentional Disciples. This would include strictly internal ecclesial stuff such as:

    1) Ecclesial gossip: For rumors about curia officials and who is going to be the next Bishop of St. Bullfrog's, go elsewhere. Whispers in the Loggia does a great job of this. If people want to check out the latest buzz - we'll suggest they go there.

    2) Liturgy and liturgical controversies: Most Catholic blogs are routinely filled with discussions about liturgical disciplines, practices, the "old" Mass vs. the "new" Mass and horror stories about liturgical abuses. We won't be covering the liturgy wars on Intentional Disciples. None of us here has the kind of special knowledge of the liturgy necessary to repond thoughtfully to many of the issues raised. It has been done to death and there are dozens of other places to go to fill anyone's liturgical maven needs. We trust the Church and Pope Benedict XVI on this one.

    What we do know a lot about, what has been poorly covered elsewhere, and that we want to focus on is the 99% of lay Catholic life and mission that goes on outside the sanctuary.

    The Great and Terrible Tsarina Lays Down the Law

    "If you want a service that is more deeply "protestant," perhaps you should join an evangelical denomination. This is precisely why I am always wary of those who are SO enthusiastic about evangelical churches. They always go overboard. The Catholic Church is what it is. If that isn't good enough for you, then perhaps you should seek elsewhere."


    Here's the deal:

    It is deeply and profoundly Protestant to ask a Catholic, orthodox or not (and Keith is very orthodox) to leave the Church and go elsewhere because they have a different take on the liturgy than you do. Evangelicals are convulsed with "worship wars" in which people leave certain churches and swarm to new congregations based upon their worship/liturgical preferences. It is completely contrary to both Catholic teaching and practice.

    So on this blog, no one asks or implies that any other blogger/commenter should leave the Church for any reasons whatever. I will delete all comments from anyone who does so.

    Why do Catholics become Evangelicals?

    When I first arrived in Colorado Springs, Sherry told me it is sometimes referred to as "the Evangelical Vatican." Driving around town, I couldn't help notice all the churches on streetcorners and malls. They range in size from megachurches like "New Life" with 15,000 members to tiny ma and pa housechurches that might become megachurches in 20 years.

    I even went on a fieldtrip to New Life one Sunday after Mass with Sherry to see what it was like (that might be another blog post someday!) Apparently, many of the members of these churches are former Catholics and Catholics who "double-dip," going to Mass sometimes and to the Evangelical church on other weekends.

    In the December 2006 issue of Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Fr. Gerald Mendoza, OP, of the Southern U.S. Dominican Province has an article entitled, "Why do Catholics become Evangelicals?" that I'd like to comment upon. But first, a brief synopsis of his points.

    Fr. Mendoza comments on the millions of Hispanic Catholics who are leaving Catholicism for Evangelical Protestantism in Latin America. According to Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo of Managua, Nicaragua, the number of Protestants in Latin America has grown from 4 million in 1967 to 30 million in 1985. Only 15% of Latin American Catholics actively practice their faith, and if the trend present between 1960 – 1985 hold, fully one third of Latin America will be Protestant (mostly Evangelical) by 2010. In our own country, anecdotal evidence indicates that 30% of the 35 million Evangelicals are former Catholics. Sherry has told me of "seeker-friendly" megachurches like Bill Hybel's Willow Creek in Chicago that have special classes aimed at fallen away Catholics, who make up the vast majority of former Catholics who become Evangelicals.

    The mission of the early Church, Mendoze writes was "unapologetically missionary and evangelical. It would seem that the almost exclusive purpose and mission of the twelve apostles, as well as the many other disciples that accompanied Jesus…was, ostensibly, an on-the-job-training program meant to disseminate the Good News or evangelion, so that God, in his indefatigable love and desire for a personal relationship with his creation, might reconcile it to himself." Mendoza moves through a quick overview of the medieval and post-reformation attitudes towards evangelization, Paul VI's Apostolic Exhortation on Evangelization in the Modern World, and concludes with a quote from a homily of Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Vatican household, on the tendency in our contemporary situation to preach a "new gospel" focusing on "self-knowledge, self-expression, self-acceptance, self-justification, self-realization, in other words, self-fulfillment instead of the self-denial and self-forgetfulness that lies at the heart of Christianity."

    But why do Catholics leave? Mendoza outlines four reasons

    1) lack of active participation in Mass.
    2) lack of scriptural and theological understanding (in part, because of 1).
    3) lack of appropriate and effective Catholic catechesis, due to the emphasis on sacramental preparation of children, leading to theological sophistication at the elementary or junior high school level.
    4) anemic parishes that are often large and impersonal, and poor preaching.

    These may, in fact, be reasons why Catholics leave the Church, but I find these to be no more than symptoms of an underlying problem, which Cantalamessa addresses in a December 2 Advent Homily to the Papal household ( that Sherry quoted in her January 4 post. I'll requote a portion of it, but the final sentence is the one that touches upon an answer to the question of this post.

    "The Churches with a strong dogmatic and theological tradition (as the Catholic Church is par excellence), run the risk of finding themselves at a disadvantage if underneath the immense patrimony of doctrine, laws and institutions, they do not find that primordial nucleus capable of awakening faith by itself…This is one of the reasons why in some parts of the world many Catholics leave the Catholic Church for other Christian realities; they are attracted by a simple and effective announcement that puts them in direct contact with Christ and makes them experience the power of his Spirit."

    In the preaching, catechesis, sacramental preparation, service projects, and community-building events that take place in our parishes, perhaps we've forgotten or obscured the "primordial nucleus" of the Gospel message that awakens faith. It is the transforming power of a personal relationship with Jesus, made possible by his grace and the hearing of the basic message of the Gospel, that sets hearts on fire with faith and love. It is intentional discipleship that compels people to desire to encounter Christ in the Mass and other sacraments and to rely on that encounter to continue as his disciples. It is intentional discipleship kept alive by a daily reliance on grace that fuels the Catholic Christian's desire to learn more about Christ in the Scriptures, and to seek the teaching of the Church as a guide for daily life. Dare I say it - it is intentional discipleship in our clergy that leads to inspiring, challenging, creative, passionate, orthodox homilies.

    Fr. Mendoza suggests that we can learn something from how evangelicals evangelize, but when it comes to his solutions for how we can stem the tide of Catholics becoming Evangelicals, he offers the "same old, same old."
    1) Prioritize the evangelical mission of the Church, including "a new, special consistory…to strategize and establish a new office in the curia to assist with Catholic evangelistic efforts or to reform the existing Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples." Offer moral and financial support for lay evangelistic movements and organizations (the Institute could use some of that support!). And where our expertise is deficient because we've ignored evangelization, he suggests drawing upon successful Evangelical programs.
    2) Establish an international movement to bring home lapsed Catholics with a national plan for each country established by each national conference of bishops with the support of the Vatican and mandated participation by each diocese.
    3) Establish diocesan and parish offices of adult education and catechesis to foster mid-week adult religious and scriptural educational programs.

    None of these solutions seem very promising to me. The typical Catholic response to problems is to create a program. That worked in this country when many Catholics were poor immigrants who lived in Catholic cultural ghettos. Unless we heed Fr. Cantalmessa's observation of the need for preaching the heart of the Gospel and inviting people into a lived relationship with Christ, these programs won't be as successful as they could be. Unless we identify our intentional disciples in our midst, support them, hold them up as the norm for Christian living, and give them tools with which to evangelize others, we will continue to see the seed of faith planted in the hearts of baptized Catholics bloom in Evangelical churches.

    Intentional disciples who live and speak about their faith have a much greater potential for successful evangelization than a program. For one thing, they encounter people who are fallen away. By definition, fallen away Catholics aren't present in our parish churches when we advertise our programs in the bulletin! Furthermore, successful evangelization begins with a trusting relationship – either with an individual Christian, or with the Scriptures, or with an institution like the Church. This is perhaps one reason why our frequent commenter, Gina, is soured on the idea of talking about her faith. She's been accosted with questions about her relationship with Jesus by strangers whom she does not trust.

    For the same reason, catechetical programs won't be successful until we begin to develop a culture of intentional discipleship. Every campus ministry I was involved with had over 1500 registered parishioners made up of students, university faculty, staff, administrators, plus local folks. Every year because of the tremendous turnover due to graduations, drop outs, transfers, incoming freshmen and graduate students and the general mobility of well-educated Americans, we re-registered every parishioner. Every year we invited people to express what offerings they'd be interested in. Usually a good percentage of people would say they were interested in Bible study, but when we offered bible studies, only a handful – often less than fifteen people - showed up. I don't think my experience is unusual. People who remain uncatechized in spite of the offerings that already exist may well do so because faith is not the highest or even a high priority for them. That's not the case for intentional disciples.

    Relying upon the bishops to come up with a plan of evangelization may not be a great idea unless they collaborate with those who are involved already in direct evangelization. The bishops have a lot to teach about the principles of evangelization, but few have experience in the field. With how many unbelievers and fallen away Catholics does the average bishop get to meet and establish a relationship? I certainly didn't meet many as a pastor.

    I am grateful Fr. Mendoza is asking the question, "Why do Catholics become Evangelicals?" Too often we ignore that it is happening at all. And while their faith and their relationship with Jesus might be awakened in the megachurches that are popping up everywhere, Catholics who leave the Church are missing the supernatural supports of that faith and relationship: the Sacraments, the wisdom of 2,000 years of Christian experience and teaching, and the communion of saints - that cloud of witnesses living and deceased who support us with their prayers, example, and love. Their ongoing journey of faith may be more rocky than it need be.

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    Catholic Moral Thinking in the Workplace

    Oh this looks very, very good.

    Dr. John Berkman, professor of moral theology at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, CA (with whom the Institute is affiliated and where Fr. Michael Sweeney currently serves as President) is offering a really interesting series of presentations at Blessed Sacrament Church in Seattle, Washington.

    It takes place January 19, 20, 2007.

    The topics are

    "Happiness, an Excellent life . . .and Work?
    Taking Care of Ethical Business
    Wearing One's Ethics on One's Sleeve

    Mike L, Blessed Sacrament is another one of our "agents" :-}. Fr. Michael Sweeney and I started the Institute there nearly 10 years ago. It is the gorgeous old gothic church with the green copper spire that you can see as you drive past the University district on I-5. Blessed Sacrament is run by the Dominicans of the Western Province and is committed to becoming a center of all that we have been discussing on this blog.

    I'll be there on February 2/3 to help teach a Called & Gifted workshop. If you are going to be in the Seattle area, check out one or both events. You won't be sorry. And I'd be delighted to meet any readers of ID.

    Need A Job? Go to the Parish!

    No, I'm not talking about a Public-Works-type charity job! Nor am I talking about spending more time within the walls of the parish in a paid position (do those exist?). If, as members of the Body of Christ, we really are stewards of each others' vocations, then our communities should focus a great deal of their efforts on not only forming laypeople for our mission in the world, but also helping us discover our specific vocation and providing opportunities for us to connect with jobs in the secular world that allow us to live out that vocation.

    Imagine, if you will, a multi-disciplinary formation program that includes gifts discernment, linked to a vocational discernment process, which in turn connects to a comprehensive Vocation Placement Center--all located within the parish community. What do I mean?

    As a lay member of the Body of Christ, I should receive formation regarding the dignity, juridiction, power, and authority of the Lay Office in the mission of the Church. My home community should be a place whereby I can, in conjunction with the community, discern and discover my own giftedness, as well as discover a better sense of the personal call God has given me to labor in the world on His behalf. Let's say I belong to a parish that provides me with such things--what happens next? How can I utilize what I have discerned and discovered in a practical way so that I can actually undertake my mission in the world?

    The parish consists of hundreds (if not thousands) of lay people with varying degrees and types of secular competence. With the exception of maybe a handful of priests, deacons, and pastoral staff, our primary call is to live and work in the world. It's what we do. Therefore, as good stewards of the mission of the Church and the vocation of its members, we should 'deploy' our secular competence to help connect lay people with work consistent with the call God has given us to be in the world.

    One such form that this 'deployment' could take is a Vocational Placement Center--which could include an up-to-date database listing open jobs in the local community, a resume and gifts database of parish members, interview skills and resume writing workshops, referral services, mentors for young adults beginning their preparations for secular service in the world, and a fairly comprehensive web of networking, just to name a few things off the top of my head. The goal of these Centers wouldn't simply be to find jobs for those who desparately need one. Rather, they would be holistic services designed to connect the gifts, talents, competence, and call of individuals to secular positions within the world in an effort to help those individuals respond to Christ's call of evangelization and transformation of the world!

    We are the business owners and business leaders, the non-profit employees and directors, the welders and plumbers, and workers within our secular communities. If we pooled our experience, talent, and contacts together at the parish level, there is no telling what could happen. Imagine a cadre of fully formed, Spirit-led and Sacrament-nourished lay apostles connected to the jobs that best utilize their gifts and best express the vocation that God has called them to. How much more would we as parishes, as the Church inserted into the neighborhood, be fruitfully living out our call to "transform society's structures . . .(and) restore to creation all of its original dignity? (Christifideles Laici)

    What would it take to make such a thing happen?

    Keith et all:

    One of our Called & Gifted teachers, Mary Sharon Moore, is actually starting an interesting parish-based initiative in this area called Awakening Vocations. Her website is Check it out!.

    Sherry W

    Saturday, January 6, 2007

    Intriguing Florida Parish: St. Justin Martyr

    St. Justin Martyr in Seminole, Florida describes itself as "committed and passionate disciples of Jesus Christ and his Church". According to their website, they offer a regular series of Discipleship courses. Take a look around their website and get inspired.

    Striving to be intentional disciples of Christ

    Bernie Vogel of the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, had an article published in the December 2, 2006 edition of the diocesan newspaper, entitled: Striving to be intentional disciples of Christ.

    Bernie is a long time champion of the Called & Gifted process and is a trained gifts discernment interviewer for his diocese.

    Kudos to Bernie for his article and zeal to spread the vision of intentional discipleship. (Our agents are everywhere!)

    The Leadville Effect

    Leadville, Colorado is a perfect setting for human drama. Leadville started life as a classic, wild-west town full of miners in search of fabulous wealth. It is the highest incorporated town (10,200 feet high) at the foot of the highest mountain range in North America. That means that it is short on oxygen and long on superlatives. The steeple of the exquisite Victorian Catholic church (where the famous “Unsinkable Molly Brown” was married) is, naturally, the highest church steeple in North America. In the grip of an 24-hour stomach flu, I recently earned the distinction of throwing up on the lawn of the highest town hall in North America!

    Every August, hundreds of outsiders descend on Leadville to kick the inherent drama of the place up a few notches. They have come to attempt the highest ultra-marathon in North America: The Leadville Trail 100, “the race across the sky”. Runners seek to cover 100 miles across mountainous terrain that rises as high as 12,600 feet and to finish within 30 hours. They begin the race in the pre-dawn darkness at 4 am on Saturday. To be counted as a “finisher” you have to stagger across the finish line before the gun goes off at 10 am on Sunday. To finish on time, runners cannot sleep, and must run or walk all night up and down steep mountain trails in temperatures that routinely drop into the 30’s. This past August, 199 runners – 51% of those who started - finished on time.

    I first heard of the Leadville 100 from the bemused owner of a bed and breakfast in a tiny mountain town which serves as one of the race’s primary aid stations. The poor man described dazed runners who were so exhausted that they had to be pushed in the right direction or they would simply miss the trail. The whole thing sounded so extreme - so utterly crazy - that I couldn’t believe that rational human beings would take part. I have since found out that nearly every person – including those who now run it - reacted that way when they first heard about the Leadville 100. Everyone thinks it is crazy - until you witness one - and what I have come to think of as the “Leadville Effect” hits you:

    When a community promotes, models, and intentionally supports outstanding achievement in its members, people change . This transformation, and the extraordinary achievement that results from this transformation, is what I mean by the “Leadville Effect”:

    • People begin to see themselves differently and the world differently.
    • What they assumed to be “normal” and “possible” begins to change.
    • The result: “ordinary” people begin to imagine, aspire to, and accomplish extraordinary things.

    Let me try and explain.

    First of all, no one attempts the Leadville Trail 100 alone. The secret of the race is the very high level of community support behind each runner. There are a minimum of two supporting workers for every participant. Hundreds man aid stations all day and night, handing out water, Gatorade, power gels, cookies, and hot potato soup to all. Volunteers time runners in and out of aid stations, weigh them and assess their condition, give them a chance to warm themselves, to change their clothing and gear, and if necessary, insist they stop before they hurt themselves. Teams on mountain bikes follow behind the runners “sweeping” the trail in the dark to make sure that all stragglers are found and no one gets lost.

    In addition, most runners have their own personal team of supporters. Many have “pacers” who can run beside individual participants for the last 50 miles. Pacers are not competitors but often run the equivalent of an ultra-marathon themselves simply to support someone else. Throughout the night, pacers can be heard softly talking, encouraging, challenging; making sure their runner keeps hydrated and doesn’t get lost, and if necessary, telling their runner when to quit. Family and friends, often wearing matching sweatshirts with mottos like “Ted’s team”, met the runners at aid stations with specially prepared food, changes of clothing, and sun block. They massage and bandage battered feet, provide dry shoes and socks, and a stream of encouragement.

    The whole drama culminates at the finish line between 9 and 10 am on Sunday morning. The uber-athletes have long since finished and gone but the crowd just keeps getting larger and more exuberant. They know that the last hour is the most moving because so many of the late finishers are ordinary men and women who are attempting something extraordinary, perhaps for the first time in their life. The “race across the sky” is not just for the young and extraordinarily fit. Runners in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s finish every year. Finishing Leadville is not primarily about speed; it is about courage and heart and the power of community.

    At the finish line this past August, I could not help but notice a large support team of perhaps 40 people all dressed in brilliant scarlet t-shirts. On the back of each shirt was the phrase “already finished”. I was intrigued and asked a couple of the team members who they were supporting. They pointed to the writing on the front of their shirts “In loving memory of Daryl Bogenrief”. Twenty five year old Daryl had been killed the summer before in a white water rafting accident. His young wife of 10 months, Angela, was running the Leadville 100 in his memory. A few minutes later, word spread among the team that she was two miles away with only an hour remaining. Instantly, Angela’s army set off to meet her.

    I waited by the finish line. The minutes passed. One by one, runners crossed, often running hand-in-hand for the last 100 yards with the spouses, children, and friends who had made their achievement possible. Grizzled, grey-haired men broke down and wept in joy and relief within seconds of finishing. Each one was cheered vigorously by the hundreds of on-lookers who had by this time formed a kind of human tunnel around the finish. But I kept my eye on the ridge of the last hill, looking for signs of Angela.

    Then I saw it: a scarlet phalanx formed at the crest of the hill a quarter mile away, and began to marching steadily towards us. As the group drew closer, I could see that they had formed a solid, cheering, human wall around a young woman with long brown hair. Angela’s pacer was beside her. Her friends were carrying all her gear but a single water bottle, freeing her up to focus on one thing alone: finishing. Angela was limping but her face was radiant, as she crossed the line 18 minutes before the final gun went off.

    The power of the Leadville experience has stayed with me because it has such obvious implications for the formation of lay apostles. I know many “Angelas”, men and women who are doing astonishing things for the Kingdom of God because and only because they have the active, sustained, enthusiastic support of the Christian community – a sort of ecclesial Leadville effect.

    Last summer, I received a letter from a recently retired pharmacist named Claudia who had attended a Called & Gifted workshop in a South Carolina parish. As a result of her discernment, she had volunteered to serve as a lay missionary in Tanzania. There she would teach pharmacology at the very first medical school in the country. Claudia’s mission: to enable Tanzanians to qualify for funding for AIDS medications by training them to administer the drugs in question. This woman’s skill and expertise could conceivably save the lives of an entire generation and change the course of a whole nation. When I told her story at a small group gathering in my parish in Colorado Springs, one woman blurted out “She’s like Esther! Who knows but what she has been prepared for such a time as this?”

    Claudia is an Esther and she has obviously been prepared for just such as time as this. And yet, the irony is that such a possibility was beyond anything Claudia had ever envisioned for herself. As Claudia put it, “I was deliberating what to do next and whether there might be some purpose for my life.” Discerning her charisms “set me on a path that I’d probably taken years to find on my own.” It was an experience of a discerning Christian community that enabled Claudia to first imagine, then aspire to, and then do the extraordinary thing that will change so many lives.

    Our Catholic parishes are filled with anointed but unconscious Esthers and Dominics, who have been prepared for purposes beyond anything they can now imagine. As Catholics, we have a beautifully rich theology of evangelization. But our evangelical imagination as individuals and as a community is stunted because we haven’t seen it lived at the local level. Can we imagine what Holy Spirit would do in our midst if our parishes were spiritual Leadville’s, challenged all the baptized to imagine, aspire to, and live their God-given vocations?

    Oy Vey, Maria! You Gotta Listen to This

    The amazing Bobby McFerrin and audience sing Gounod's Ave Maria.

    Hat tip: Mark Shea

    How Do You Communicate An Experience?

    In Fr. Mike's post on Recovering a Catholic Culture, I was struck by this passage:
    "As is almost always the case, our wonderful Church documents presume or propose a culture of intentional discipleship, but if one does not exist in a parish, we have a bit of a catch-22. How do we foster intentional discipleship if the lived reality of the local parish is not actively promoting it?"
    (I suppose my being struck by that shouldn't surprise me. It is the question that moves this entire blog, after all ;-))

    But what I kept thinking about when reading this question is that part of the challenge rests in how we can communicate an experience.

    What experience, you say? The encounter with Christ.

    I personally like that way of speaking of this experience. Admittedly, it may be due to the context in which the meaning of this phrase was driven home for me, but it has always felt less saddled with the baggage of what most Americans identify as "classically Protestant" expressions, like "a personal relationship with Jesus" or "accepting Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior". Even, today, when I hear those phrases, I must admit that I first and foremost think of the personal and (honestly) an almost ethereal Jesus. But "encounter?" For some reason, there's flesh there. And where I find Him in the flesh is in His people, in His Church. Cardinal Scola said much the same in his address* at the 2nd World Congress of Ecclesial Movements this past Pentecost, where he described the encounter with Jesus Christ as a "personal and communitarian event" (emphasis added). At least for me, the phrase "encounter" more easily brings this to mind.

    But, I think, it is that experience, the encounter with Christ, that is part of what makes intentional discipleship possible. After all, how do you, exercising your freedom, choose to follow Christ if you have not first met Him? And is not to follow Him but to encounter Him anew each day? And here, I am talking about the existential of being a Christian. An active following that is the following of a Person, not, as then-Cardinal Ratzinger commented, an adherence to a Christianity that's been reduced to some "intellectual system, a packet of dogmas, a moralism ...".

    Of course, once could say that this is precisely what the Church as been proposing through the ages: the apostles sharing their experience of His presence with others and inviting them to partake and then those others sharing their experience of Him with the next generation. But in some pockets (and, admittedly they are some really big pockets today) what is being offered to people is precisely what now Pope Benedict warned was not really Christianity. And when tested, it fails to satisfy, it falls short, and thus doesn't sustain and change a person.

    (Okay, I know what you are thinking. Did he use all of these words to basically just restate Fr. Mike's question? Well, what did you expect, programmatic answers from me? Heh. Not likely. The best I have ever managed is to return to Christ's own reply to the question of St. Andrew and St. John: "come and see." )

    * Sorry that the link is in Italian, but I couldn't find an English translation anywhere.

    ** The external link above is a hat tip to Fr. Julian Carron,and the title of his article on education, that inspired the lens of this post.

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    Oh the weather outside is frightful . . .

    I have to schuss my way across town before dawn this morning to Focus on the Family again to do another ITV presentation for the Diocese of Dodge City, Kansas. We have our third major snowfall in three weeks yesterday and I'm praying that the major roads are possible this early. This is the most snow I've seen in six winters here - or in my entire life. The Mississippi Gulf Coast where I grew up isn't exactly known for its snow storms.

    It is very beautiful. But this time, I have to drive myself. At least the traffic will be light! Ah, the glamour of the mendicant lifestyle . . .

    If you see this, your prayers for a safe arrival and return would be most appreciated.

    Friday, January 5, 2007

    From an Eastern Orthodox Perspective

    “There are at least three things I’ve learned from Evangelicals,” Orthodox theologian Bradley Nassif told Again magazine. “First, it is possible to be ‘sacramentalized’ but not ‘evangelized.’ By that I mean it’s possible to be religious but lost.” The second, continued Nassif, who teaches theology at North Park University in Chicago, is that the Orthodox “need to focus on the centrality of Christ, not the centrality of ‘Orthodoxy’,” and the third is that “the most urgent need in world Orthodoxy at this time is the need for an aggressive internal missions of rededicating or converting our priests and people to Jesus Christ.”

    Touchstone magazine, Jan/Feb 2007, p. 69

    Hat tip: Aimee Milburn

    Recovering a Catholic Culture

    Sherry mentioned in another post a story I tell in the Called & Gifted workshop about someone asking me if I "had accepted Jesus as my personal savior." Of course, as a cradle Catholic, it made me very uncomfortable. I instinctively knew that there were presuppositions behind that question that I did not share, so "yes" somehow wasn't appropriate. That is, I couldn't point to a specific date and time when I had been "saved." But "no" wasn't appropriate, either. After all, I prayed in my own words (silently, and particularly fervently before tests in school and in life). I can still recite my first extemporaneous prayer, which quickly became my bedtime prayer, "God bless mommy and daddy and David (my older brother) and Barbie (my older sister) and Penny (the dog) and myself." I learned rote prayers that I could pray aloud with other Catholics. My wonderful parents made sure they never missed Mass, so consequently I never missed Mass. I even played Mass as a kid with my older brother and sister (as the youngest I was relegated to communicant). There were reminders in my home about Jesus: a crucifix in my room, with last year's palms behind it; a book of prayers by my bed; a holy water font at the door. I went to Catholic gradeschool and CCD (how'd that happen?), gave up something during Lent, was an altar boy… the whole nine yards.

    In some ways I grew up in a Catholic culture not unlike the one described by Paul McLachlan at a Catholic Pages website article linked above. You might say, as one participant proposed on this blog, that I picked up Catholicism by osmosis. In fact, my identity was Catholic enough that I have never really seriously being anything else. Sherry jokes that in my case, everything about this kind of Catholic culture "worked" and I'm not only still a practicing Catholic, but a priest, for heaven's sake (well, actually for my sake and yours, and completely by the grace of God).

    But I know there are many children who grew up very much like me who are no longer Catholic. Some may even call themselves, "recovering Catholics," while others have joined Protestant denominations, or dabbled in New Age stuff, or started their own evangelical church in their basement twenty years ago which grew into the megachurch down the street. When I was involved in campus ministry, it sometimes felt like the Catholic students I was least likely to see were those who had gone to Catholic schools. They might have been at the local parish, but I met some who, when I asked why they weren't at Mass, responded, "Father, I spent X years in Catholic schools – I've done my time."

    As someone who has entered the Church from evangelicalism, Sherry is more acutely aware of this kind of Catholic culture than I am. She mentioned the "don't ask, don't tell" atmosphere with regard to sharing our faith with each other that I never really thought about. It was the way we did things.

    Over the last two years or so, I've begun to question if there aren't really two parallel Catholic cultures. One is the "cultural Catholicism" I experienced and benefited from, the other the Catholic culture envisioned by bishops and Popes and derived from the Scriptures. An example of what I mean follows. It's from the 1985 U.S. bishops document on Campus Ministry, "Empowered by the Spirit". In speaking about the importance of Christian community on college campuses, the bishops wrote

    "The Church gains credibility when the dream of community produces genuine commitment and intelligent effort.
    - In the ideal community of faith, the Mystery that rules over our lives is named and worshiped.

    - Dedication to Christ is fostered, and openness to all truth, goodness, and beauty is maintained.

    - The life of the Spirit is nourished and discussed.

    - Positive images of God, Christ, Mary, and the afterlife warm the heart and structure the imagination.

    - The common good is emphasized and personal development encouraged. Individuals experience true freedom and at the
    same time accept responsibility for the well-being of the group.

    - Traditional wisdom is available and the best contemporary insights are valued.

    - Prayerful liturgies enable us to praise God with full hearts and create a sense of belonging, as well as nourish people for a
    life of service.

    - Members are known by name and newcomers are welcomed.

    - Unity of faith is celebrated while legitimate pluralism is recognized.

    - Individuals find both support and challenge and can share their joys and sorrows.

    - The members hunger for justice and have the courage to fight the dehumanizing tendencies in the culture.

    - The community knows the sorrows of life but remains a people of hope.

    In this ideal community of faith, the members are of one heart and mind (Acts 4:32) and receive the spirit of wisdom which brings them to full knowledge of Jesus Christ who is the head of the Church (Eph 1:17-23)." Empowered by the Spirit, 37.

    When I was involved in campus ministry, reading passages like this both thrilled me and exhausted me. "Who's going to make this ideal a reality?" I'd ask myself and my staff. Now I know the answer - intentional disciples! As is almost always the case, our wonderful Church documents presume or propose a culture of intentional discipleship, but if one does not exist in a parish, we have a bit of a catch-22. How do we foster intentional discipleship if the lived reality of the local parish is not actively promoting it?

    The culture described above goes beyond surrounding our living environment with sacramentals. Not that sacramentals are bad. They are wonderful - able to sanctify almost every moment of our lives. However, their connection to the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, from which their power is drawn, "sanctifies the lives of those who are well-disposed," (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 61) i.e., for those whose faith is alive and well-formed. Once again, we come up against the importance of a conscious daily choice to follow Christ which is the presumed foundation for a full Catholic life. I have some thoughts on how we can promote intentional discipleship in our parishes which I'll post in a few days. I'm interested in reading your reflections and comments, however.


    Life is Hard . . .and the Love of God

    How many of us had a not so merry Christmas? I've talked to several people recently who have told me "This was the hardest Christmas of my life." Some of us come from tough backgrounds. Many of us have experienced inexplicable, and seemingly undeserved loss and sorrow in the course of our life. What is the Christian response to "life is hard and then you die?"

    Take a look at this quote from a parish bulletin reflection by Fr. Paul Francis, CP of Glasgow Scotland (hat tip: Amy Welborn) which seems so relevant to our discussions about effective witnessing:

    "It is sad but true that many people experience very little love in their lives. Summing up the meaning of the years that make up a human life, the Psalmist says: “And most of these are emptiness and pain; they pass swiftly and we are gone” (Psalm 89:10). The answer to the emptiness and pain of life is found only in the love of God. The love of God remains the remedy for all the evils of this world; as Catholics, that is what we believe.

    What can we do in the face of the emptiness and pain that is part of so many people’s lives? The great Carmelite mystic, Saint John of the Cross, said “Where you find no love, put love and then you’ll find it.”

    Often we are more concerned about the love we receive from others than the love we give to others. As long as we devote ourselves to looking for love, we are missing the point of Christmas. Love in all its fullness has come to us in Jesus; our task in life is to be bearers of that love, to bring love to the places where otherwise it would not be found. And experience teaches that those who bring God’s love to others always receive God’s love in their own lives."

    Witness time:

    Have you had the experience of trying to "put love where there is no love"? What happened? What has enabled you to experience the love of God? How did that affect you and your situation? How do you foster the virtue of hope in your life? How has God provided for you in the midst of tough times?

    A lot of struggling folk out there need the encouragement of hearing your story.

    Top 3

    I do a lot* of work with pastoral leadership, helping them transform parishes into communities where intentional formation for mission is a priority. Oftentimes, as we have noted here on Intentional Disciples, this requires:
    • Working on the fundamental evangelization of much of the community
    • Building a culture where the discipleship of individuals is nurtured through prayer, study of scripture and Church teaching, faith sharing, opportunities for spiritual growth
    • Beginning the process of spiritual gifts discernment and vocational discernment
    • Forming a generation of formators, those who will continue the work of formation at all levels of the parish
    • Aligning the strategy (multiple-year plan) and structures of the community to support these priorities

    among many other things.

    Given the work that needs to be done in these areas, what are the top 3 things that could (or should) occur in your parish to move it toward becoming a community where disciples are intentionally formed and the mission of the parish to the local community is prioritized? I'm looking for practical, hands-on suggestions on the things that would need to happen within the parish of your most recent experience.

    *By "a lot" I mean that the work is distributed among only a small number of parishes, but the depth and time-intensity is quite heavy.

    The Question That Should Be Asked

    Roz Dieterich made a wonderful observation in the discussion on Osmosis, Conversion and Catholic Culture? that I wanted everyone to see:

    Fr. Mike's observation on the often-missing elements of effective "silent witness" is important. In my view, too few Catholics are themselves fully converted (in the sense that our lives have been changed to be fully centered on Christ) nor are we often in the midst of true Christian community. In that situation, it's not likely that we would radiate the joy that would cause others to desire it, nor would it be comfortable for us to express our faith to others in a natural way.

    If our love for God becomes stronger than our fear, it will be much more natural for it to be expressed in our interactions. If not, being open about the things of God can seem artificial and make us self-conscious, as though we're walking around in our underwear.

    Some of the most powerful instances of witness I've seen have included things like asking the other if it's all right to pray for their difficulty, gently inquiring whether the other person has considered the possibility of a loving God, or even a remark such as "It seems you have a non-negotiable assumption that there is no God. Is that true?" Each of these, in the right situation, could leave the door open for a comfortable and effective conversation if the other person is interested.

    The question we should ask ourselves ought not be "Do I really have to talk about Jesus to others or is it enough for me to just try to be good?" Instead, it should be, "Since God has brought me into the kingdom of his Son, is there any action I can take that will cooperate with His desire to share himself with the people in my life?"

    Thursday, January 4, 2007

    Duc In Altum

    I stumbled upon an interesting discussion on Ecumenism the other day, which, unlike so many discussions of the topic, didn't devolve into a flame-fest of 'End Times' proportions. It happened on another Catholic website, a notably 'flamey' little place where I like to lurk and occasionally post.

    Anyway, the phrase that caught my eye in the discussion was 'duc in altum.' Now, normally I just love other languages for their own sake, but as another poster translated the phrase with some depth, it began to resonate within me. I discovered that 'duc in altum' is a phrase given in the 2nd person singular present, imperative, active voice. It is a command that means 'go into the deep.'

    And that's where my heart begins to pound.

    Go into the deep! This is truly the command of the Lord--to travel outside what we know and are comfortable with, into the darkness of sin and human suffering, so as to be a light for the nations. It's a companion to the command "Take Your Place," for our place is truly there in the midst of life, riding the tumultuous waves and swirling tides of its vast need, not in its shallows, floating idly (and safely) by the shore. Christ, the Eternal Fisherman calls us out of our safe harbors to labor for the sake of the world--to become 'fishers of men,' so that all may know the freedom to be found in the Net of Christ.

    So, where is the deep in our lives? What areas have we been called to, but resisted because of fear or uncertainty? Is it living out our faith at work or at school? Do we have trouble praying and sharing Christ in our families or with our friends? Perhaps it something else entirely. I invite anyone who wants to share their thoughts in the comment box below to do so.

    Duc in altum--go into the deep.

    The beautiful reality is that we do not travel alone. We have been called to this work together. Our ship is the very Body of Christ, and the breath of the Holy Spirit blows hard in our sails, guiding us along the vast sea road to the deep.

    Where we belong.

    Book Discovery: Katherine by Anya Seton

    If you are into historical fiction as I am, this is one of the enduring classics.

    Anya Seton's Katherine is the true story of Katherine Sywnford, the life-long love, long-time mistress, and finally wife of the fabulously wealthy Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt, younger brother of the King of England. Katherine was also the sister-in-law of Geoffrey Chaucer and a witness to many of the dramatic events of the last half of the 14th century.

    Seton's books are famous for the meticulous research behind them and very well-written. What has surprised me this time (for I haven't read the book in years) was the powerful description of Katherine's repentence, healing, and conversion under the influence of Julian of Norwich after living as John of Gaunt's mistress for 10 years.

    She never ceases to love Gaunt but breaks off the relationship, and returns to live in obscurity on her own small manor, accepting the isolation and humiliation that comes with her all too public past, and raises their four children while the Duke is left to make the most of his own less than satisfactory marriage. Katherine's prayer life and growth in inner serenity and faith despite her "long loneliness" is beautifully portrayed. I don't know if there is any historical evidence for this dramatic conversion but it is handled in a realistic and moving way.

    15 years later, the widowed Duke did do the unthinkable - he married his former mistress and made her the first lady in England. Their children are legitimized and become the ancestors of several kings of England.

    A great read for anyone who enjoys historical fiction set in the middle ages and a surprisingly moving portrayal of one kind of lay discipleship in the face of loss and suffering.

    By Way of Introduction

    When Sherry W invited me to join as a contributor to Intentional Disciples, I could not do anything but say, "Yes!" You see, back in April of 2002, I entered St. Blog's and started Integrity (originally over here) with one purpose in mind. During law school, I had read John Paul II's exhortation, Christifideles Laici ("CFL"), a description of the vocation and mission of the laity, and was blown away. I wanted to share with others this jewel that I had discovered, this bold statement of what I am, of my baptismal calling. Thus, began Integrity and its core mission of exploring CFL, section by section. But my real desire was that a lively dialogue would develop, others would respond like St. Peter to my St. Andrew-like racing to share the good news of what I had encountered. That conversation never really developed at Integrity, but it has here at Intentional Disciples. I am thrilled by that and am blessed to be able to join in.

    So just a quick word about myself. I am a lay, cradle Catholic. Lawyer. I'm also a member of a lay movement, Communion and Liberation, and have a real heart and desire for vibrant parish life. I mention all of that to give you some context on my experiences as I think the fruits of experience is the primary thing that I (or any of us, for that matter) have to offer.

    Of course, now that I am participating in this new endeavor of the Catherine of Siena Institute, I suppose I should listen to that copy of the audio version of the Called & Gifted Workshop I purchased a while back. ;-) (Now if I can only figure out which box I packed that in when I moved. A year ago. I know, I know. What can I say, I'm lazy and a pack-rat.)


    What Color is Your Underwear?

    Two interesting issues are coming up in our discussions - and with the ire that these issues often arouse in Catholics. But the issues involved are too important to be dismissed.

    1) Is it appropriate to ask someone where they are in their relationship with Christ?

    Gina's response :
    "My reaction is "hostile" because your question seems very intrusive to me as well as prideful. It's the same as those people who come up to me on the street and ask me if I'm "saved." My reaction is: "leave me alone. It's none of your business."

    Fr. Mike's joke about this very issue, told in many of our Called & Gifted workshops, goes like this: What do I feel like when someone comes up to me and asks "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? I feel like they just asked "what color is your underwear? My response is: "who wants to know? That's personal!"

    Yet the Church teaches that no member of the Body of Christ can avoid the responsibility to proclaim Christ to all people. Are we to proclaim Christ without any prior sense of the spiritual state of those to whom we proclaim because to inquire would be intrusive?

    Are there gentle and respectful ways, fully Catholic ways, to start conversations about spiritual things and create a opportunity for people to articulate, perhaps for the first time, their lived relationship with God? This is exactly what we are wrestling with in preparation for our 4 day training seminar this summer, Making Disciples. What do you think?

    2) Is the silent witness of our lives enough and/or the only appropriate form of proclamation for Catholics?

    Papal teaching would seem to strongly indicate otherwise. Such as in

    Silent witness alone "always remains insufficient, because even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified - what Peter called always having "your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have" (1Pt. 3:15) - and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus."

    Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 22.

    But if silent witness isn't enough, what else are we to do and how?

    Sign up for January Siena E-Scribe

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    Our January issue is coming out soon, so subscribe now! We don't share or sell our e-mail or mailing lists with anyone else so you won't be hearing from another dying-Nigerian-millionaire looking-for-someone-worthy-to-be-his-heir or Yasser Arafat's widow because of us! Its free, its cutting edge, and your friends and family will marvel at your good taste.

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    Life As A Priest

    I've been a priest for 35 years. "Wait a minute," you might be saying to yourself. "I thought this blog about supporting the formation and discipleship of lay Christians.

    You're right. It is.

    Thirty five years' ago, through my parents' assent and the sacramental power of the Church, by water and the Holy Spirit, I received my baptism. In that moment, I became a new creature--united forever with Christ and with the Church as a member of His Body. Incorporated. Adopted. Grafted to the very Being of the Word Made Flesh. God's scandalous Love for me reached into the darkness of my fallen humanity so that I might share in the very Life of Christ.
    And, if I share in the fullness that is Christ's Life, then I must also share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal dimensions of that life. Not metaphorically. Not analogously. But ontologically--at the deepest level of being. I have, because of Christ, been made priest, prophet, and royal child for the sake of the world. So says the Apostle Paul, the scriptures, and the unbroken teachings and traditions of the Church:

    Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church "a kingdom,priests for his God and Father." The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ's mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are "consecrated to be . . . a holy priesthood (CCC 1546)

    I am a member of the universal priesthood of Christ.

    And, if you are reading this blog, there's a good chance that you are, as well. We are priests--sacramentally configured by our baptism for service to the world. Again, the Church isn't speaking poetically here, creating some uplifting language to make us feel good about ourselves. Rather, she is pointing to a part of our ultimate identity in Christ, reminding us of exactly who we are. Not over and against the ministerial (ordained) priesthood--who are sacramentally configured for service to the People of God (the universal priesthood)--but in conjunction and collaboration with them in Christ's mission to the world.

    This is radical, life-altering reality. The fact that bringing it up tends to annoy both 'liberal' catholics (who see too much of an emphasis on 'old language' and the possibility that highlighting the nature of the common priesthood would interfere with their bid to take on the responsibilities of the ministerial priesthood ) and 'conservative' catholics (who sometimes overemphasize the dignity of the ministerial priesthood above that of laypeople and who sometimes see any discussion of the priesthood of believers as a threat to the ordained priesthood instituted by Christ) reinforces to me that this really is the way God intended it to be.

    And so, we are priests in every facet of our lives. Around the water cooler at work, in line at the grocery store, in school, driving on the road, in relationship with our families--there is always a priestly dimension to our lives.

    Well great . . .what the heck does that really mean?

    In the Judeo-Christian tradition, a priest is one who offers sacrifices, who intercedes for others. As sharers in Christ's own priesthood, which fulfills and completes the Old Covenant priesthood, laypeople are to offer our lives--our giftedness, our talents, and our resources--for the sake of the world. We are to work, and pray, and labor for the restoration of creation "to its original dignity." (Christifideles Laici)

    What would the Church look like if every lay person were to receive adequate catechesis and formation around the reality of their priesthood--a formation that would acknowledge the dignity, jurisdiction, power, and authority that we have been given by virtue of our life in Christ. What would our world look like?

    Our priesthood finds its fullest expression in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is the foundation of the great work to which we have been called. It is also the greatest gift of our priesthood--that we are given to participate, not watch, in the deepest expression of Love in the Universe.

    Too often, catholics, especially those active in an organized ministry, see the Mass as mainly a moment of refreshment and refueling so that we can be nourished for our real work in the world or at the parish. And while it's true that we receive strength and grace by receiving the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, viewing the Sacrifice of the Mass primarily through that lense denies the full reality of what is occurring. For the Mass is not simply a moment of sanctuary for the faithful; it is, fundamentally, an action of the whole priestly community and the deepest activity of the universal priesthood.

    As Christ is made present at each mass through the sacramental power of the ministerial priesthood, the world is made present at each mass through the action of the universal priesthood. We, as priests, are called to bring the world--its needs, its struggles, and its hopes--to the Eucharist. Not simply in a general way, but in a way specific to the interactions we have in our own lives. Each of us as individuals know people who are suffering and struggling, people who need prayer and real physical, emotional, and spiritual help. It is these individuals that we each bring to the Eucharist so that as a community of priests we may intercede for the world.

    And then, impelled by the Love of Christ, we bring the Eucharist back out into the world. This is what it means to be fully, actively, and consciously engaged in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Not simply to pay attention to the readings, or to bring just our own lives to the altar, but to fully live out our priesthood by bearing the world to the altar, and then bearing Christ to the world--working for all that it truly, authentically human in the cultures and societies in which we live.

    We don't hear about this reality much. And it's a shame. Why not?

    How can we best exercise our priesthood? How do we form laypeople for their priestly role? How can we collaborate with the ministerial priesthood for the fulfillment of Christ's mission in a way that honors and nurtures our particular areas of authority and jurisdiction. Hopefully, those of you who are reading this and reflecting these questions will share your thoughts.

    Cantalamessa on Kergyma

    Some great points from the Zenit translation of a December 2, 2005 Advent homily given to Pope Benedict XVI and the Curia in preparation for Christmas by Fr. Cantalamessa, Preacher for the Papal Household

    You can find the whole homily, which is quite long, at the Zenit website. But I just wanted to pull out a few particuarly interesting points for discussion.

    "Even more worrying is what is observed in society in general, including those who define themselves "Christian believers." In what, in fact, do those in Europe and other places believe who define themselves "believers?" In the majority of cases, they believe in a supreme being, a creator; they believe in "the beyond."

    But this is a deist faith, not yet a Christian faith. Taking into account Karl Barth's well-known distinction, the latter is religion, not yet faith. Different sociological researches note this fact also in countries and regions of ancient Christian tradition, as the region in which I myself was born, in the Marcas. In practice, Jesus Christ is absent in this type of religiosity. "

    All the authors of the New Testament show that they presupposed the existence and knowledge, on the part of readers, of a common tradition (paradosis) which goes back to the earthly Jesus. This tradition presents two aspects, or two components: a component called "preaching," or announcement (kerygma) which proclaims what God has wrought in Jesus of Nazareth, and a component called "teaching" (didache) which presents ethical norms for correct conduct on the part of believers.[2] Several Pauline letters reflect this distribution, because they contain a kerygmatic first part, from which a second part derives of a parenetic or practical character.

    The preaching, or kerygma, is called the "gospel"[3]; the teaching, or didache, instead is called the "law," or the commandment of Christ that is summarized in charity.[4] These two things, the first -- the kerygma, or gospel -- is what gives origin to the Church; the second -- the law, or the charity that springs from the first, is what draws for the Church an ideal of moral life, which "forms" the faith of the Church. In this connection, the Apostle distinguishes before the Corinthians his work of "father" in the faith from that of the "pedagogues" who came after him. He says: "For it is I, through the Gospel, who has begotten you in Christ Jesus" (1 Corinthians

    Therefore, faith as such flowers only in the presence of the kerygma, or the announcement. "How are they to believe -- writes the Apostle speaking of faith in Christ -- in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?" Literally, "without some one who proclaims the kerygma" (choris keryssontos). And he concludes: "So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ" (Romans 10:17), where by "preaching" the same thing is understood, that is, the "gospel" or kerygma.

    3. Rediscover the Kerygma

    This situation greatly affects evangelization today. The Churches with a strong dogmatic and theological tradition (as the Catholic Church is par excellence), run the risk of finding themselves at a disadvantage if underneath the immense patrimony of doctrine, laws and institutions, they do not find that primordial nucleus capable of awakening faith by itself.

    To present oneself to the man of today, often lacking any knowledge of Christ, with the whole range of this doctrine is like putting one of those heavy brocade capes all of a sudden on the back of a child. We are more prepared by our past to be "shepherds" than to be "fishers" of men; that is, better prepared to nourish people that come to the Church then to bring new people to the Church, or to catch again those who have fallen away and live outside of her.

    This is one of the reasons why in some parts of the world many Catholics leave the Catholic Church for other Christian realities; they are attracted by a simple and effective announcement that puts them in direct contact with Christ and makes them experience the power of his Spirit.

    As Mark Shea would put it:

    discuss, class.

    Knowledge of Jesus . . .a First-Hand Experience

    "Our knowledge of Jesus needs above all a first-hand experience: someone else's testimony is of course important, for normally the whole of our Christian life begins with the proclamation handed down to us by one or more witnesses. However, we ourselves must then be personally involved in a close and deep relationship with Jesus."

    Benedict XVI, General Audience October 4, 2006

    Wednesday, January 3, 2007

    Osmosis, Conversion, and Catholic Culture

    We are already getting some great comments of considerable diversity on “The Question That Must Not Be Asked” post below. The two I quote below articulate the poles of American Catholic experience regarding the issue of discipleship with particular clarity:

    First comment:

    “Sherry, I think it's great that you converted, but I don't really want that sort of Protestant kind of discipleship in our parishes. Catholics lives in a different sort of culture. If we wanted a different kind, we'd convert to a Protestant denomination. You expect vivid, dramatic change, which is a Protestant (rather evangelical Protestant) characteristic. Catholic culture is different. Change happens more by osmosis. What gives you the right to come in and demand that Catholics change their culture to suit you?”

    “You expect vivid, dramatic change, which is a Protestant characteristic” Hmmm – you mean like Protestants like St. Paul, St. Francis of Assisi, St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross(Edith Stein), etc.

    Second comment:

    “Bingo! You just described why I left the Catholic Church. There was no instruction or encouragement in living a Christian life. Hope this doesn't offend, but it honestly was my experience.”

    No offense taken. I think we are listening to the same cultural reality being described from two very different perspectives.

    I know from my travels that many cultural Catholics in the US do tend to regard any clearly differentiated experience of conversion or spiritual awakening as “dramatic” and therefore “Protestant”. Part of this is a consequence of living in the only western country with a huge and exceptionally vibrant evangelical Protestant movement which tends to hold up the St-Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus experience” as the paradigm for conversion. (You don’t often hear these kinds of comments from Catholics in Australia, for instance)

    But I would like to point out a few things:

    1) The experience of a clearly transforming conversion, whether dramatic, quiet, or in-between, is not Protestant. Like the Bible, evangelicals got it from us. If clear, transforming conversion were a Protestant invention, we would not expect to see it occur among Catholics prior to 1517. As anyone familiar with pre-Reformation history or the lives of the saints, life-changing conversions – and some exceedingly dramatic - are a routine part of wholly Catholic practice and spirituality.

    2) We need to distinguish between a “clearly differentiated conversion” and “dramatic” conversion; between the beginning of “initial faith” and the on-going life of faith that result in salvation and the beatific vision.

    Salvation is neither the fruit of a single event or decision but neither is it the result of a long, unconscious, impossible-to-differentiate-one-moment-from-the-other, glacial ooze that mysteriously but triumphantly results in complete sanctity at the end of one’s life.

    As St. Augustine pointed out: God does not save us without us. We simply cannot be saved “unconsciously” or without any volition on our part. Cradle Catholics cannot simply be carried passively along by the culture into which we were born. At some point, we have to choose to accept the grace offered to us and to follow Christ as a disciple. And it is that choice, however it is made, however long it takes, however quiet or dramatic the circumstances, that is the issue at stake in intentional discipleship

    Transformation into the image of Christ is a life-long weaving together of a series of larger and smaller “conversions” manifested in long intentional obediences in the same direction. But because human beings live in time and space, the process begins somewhere. Like falling in love, the awakening of initial faith is often experienced as a “big bang” rather than a tiny whisper, although a whisper would do. The initial discovery of another’s beauty and loveability isn’t the same as a life-time of faithful marriage but without the discovery, the marriage would never have taken place. Like falling in love, initial faith changes you and changes the direction of your life.

    If we lived in a world without any love songs or love stories, one might come to the conclusion that the phenomena of “falling in love” was rare instead of universal. Similarly, there is more than one way to interpret a culture in which people regard “conspicuous conversion” as foreign and excessive and in bad taste and “non-Catholic”. It could be simply that that profound conversion is going on all over the Catholic world and it is simply bad taste to acknowledge it publicly – a sort of “don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses” approach. Pretty dramatically at odds with Christ’s commandment in Matthew 28 but possible.

    Or – there is the possibility that many Catholics have never experienced initial conversion and hence, have nothing to talk about. Intentional discipleship can’t help but seem “foreign” to those who have never experienced it. If the pastoral leaders we have worked with are even remotely close to the mark, 90 - 95% of Catholics in the pews are not yet intentional disciples.

    3) I do think that you are right. It is a matter of culture. Not of Scripture or magisterial teaching or the writings of the saints, which as Keith points out, all urge us to conversion and transformation and never mind about whether it is dramatic or not. In fact, I have a new name for the culture you describe: The culture of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

    "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" culture operates at several levels:


    1) Never ask where George or Sue or Tasha is in their relationship with Christ.

    Never, never ask them directly: Where are you in your relationship with God at this point in your life? Never ask "would you consider yourself an intentional disciple?" Asking directly seems to violate some kind of unspoken bargain - if you show up (i.e., attend Mass, are "active" in the parish, we won't ask you what your lived relationship with God is really like.

    We can tell this is an unspoken bargain because of the universal knee-jerk response that we get from cradle Catholic (not converts!) pastors, pastoral associates, theologians etc. across the board when we suggest that we ask - even in the most gentle, natural, unobtrustive way. They almost all immediately say the same thing:

    "We don’t do "me and Jesus"! That's Protestant, foreign, evangelical, invasive, judgmental, etc. Who am I to judge someone else's spiritual state?"

    Of course, we haven't said anything about "me and Jesus" nor are we advocating it - but just where did the idea that to ask someone *directly* about their lived relationship with God is anti-Church, non-ecclesial, non-Catholic, and judgmental become so universal? What has given us the unspoken conviction that *not to ask* is truly Catholic?

    What makes us assume that to ask is to judge instead of an essential pre-requisite to serving them effectively? In so many other areas we stress that to ask and to listen carefully and respectfully (about their family's needs, their sacramental needs, the needs of the homeless, etc.) is charitable. What had convinced us that to acquiesce in a situation where only 5% of our people, on average, are disciples is somehow the definition of charity?


    2) Never ask if we (pastoral leaders) are doing what we are supposed to do. Just stay busy. Focus on programs and institutions. Never, never ask what impact our activities are having on the vast majority of parishioners. Never, never ask if we are being effective at the fundamental thing Christ asked us to do - make disciples.

    I took part in a theological symposium in Chicago last summer on the parish and was stunned to hear a brilliant Roman professor of ecclesiology (who is familiar with our work) articulating the classic understanding of the pastoral office: to teach, to sanctify, to govern. I had always assumed that the point of teaching, indeed, the test of teaching was "are others learning?", that the point of sanctifying was to help others become holy, etc.

    As I listened, I realized that the focus of classic Catholic theological reflection on the topic was all clerical - i.e., on the correct steps that the priest was to take. No where in the presentation was there any awareness or curiosity about the spiritual and personal impact of the actions on the recipient of those actions. No one was asking “Are those being ministered to actually learning, becoming holy, etc?

    While I had run into this constantly on the ground in conversations with innumerable priests and parish associates, now I realized that it was also rooted in the ecclesiology that came out of the Reformation experience. (Formal ecclesiology was a by-product of the 16th century when Protestantism challenged the Church’s sense of herself in a whole new way. Robert Bellermine’s work is usually regarded as the first comprehensive Catholic attempt at ecclesiology), Protestants were attacking the objective value and efficacy of the priesthood and the sacraments so Catholics naturally focused upon defending the faith at the controversial points.

    Five centuries later, we live in a profound different situation and need to look again at the other side of the equation. It was this realization that led me to write “’The Question that Must Not Be Asked”

    3) Don't tell: Don't clearly articulate the kergyma in order to awaken personal faith. It is too invasive, too simplistic, too embarrassing, too Protestant, too much like a TV preacher, etc.

    To be honest, I've seldom met a cradle Catholic priest or pastoral leader who 1) has actually thought about the content of the kerygma and attempted to articulate it; and 2) is wrestling with the idea that we could be undermining people's salvation by not preaching it. In 19 years as a Catholic, I've seldom heard it clearly preached or intentionally articulated by Catholics to other Catholics.

    The vast majority of priests, pastors, and pastoral leaders I've dealt with function as practical universalists: that short of mass murder, everyone is going to heaven and so why bother with basic proclamation - especially about the Paschal Mystery - and therefore, the issue of intentional discipleship?

    God saves us without us. Just get ‘em in the door but even if they don’t seem to darken the door, they will come back someday. On their own terms and their own time. When they get married, when they have children. (Despite that fact that surveys tell us over and over that huge numbers of today’s young adult Catholics are not coming back for marriage and not baptizing their children because the last vestiges of Catholic practice have ceased to have meaning), Nothing eternal is really at stake.

    Almost always, if someone doesn't function as a universalist, I find they have been 1) influenced by evangelicalism and/or the charismatic renewal or 2) have a charism of evangelism (which trumps culture any day and ensures that you cannot not ask the question), or, 3) increasingly, that they have been influenced by us. When and how the initial proclamation of the gospel dropped from the picture, I don't know.

    Peter Kreeft, a well known Catholic professor at Boston College, asked every student he had for many years, "if you died today, would you go to heaven and why?". Nearly all were the product of 12 years of Catholic schools; nearly everyone expected to go to heaven because they were a basically good person; very few students *even mentioned Jesus* as part of the reason.

    That’s the product of a Don't Ask, Don't Tell culture that doesn't not preach the kergyma to its own and does not consider intentional discipleship to be normative.

    Tuesday, January 2, 2007

    What Does it Mean to Focus on Discipleship?

    I was perusing the latest issue of Christianity Today--one of the things that I love to do when I have a few moments of leisure--and stumbled upon a rather short review of a book entitled, Simple Church: Returning to God's Process for Making Disciples. Reading the entry, I really began to think about the practical implications of focusing energy, bandwidth, and resources on making disciples at the parish level.

    A few paragraphs jumped out at me as I reflected on the review:
    Churches with a clear disciple-making process are vibrant and growing.
    "Vibrant" churches do four things: design a simple disciple-making process,
    organize key programs to accomplish this, unite all ministries around the
    process, and eliminate everything else. (emphasis mine)

    Forgetting for a moment the question as to whether or not this four-fold process is, actually, the "right" way to go about making disciples (and I think that merits a post or posts all on its own), the last part of the process "eliminate everything else" really caught my eye. With the proliferation of various ministries ocurring at the parish level (one need only look at the front of any bulletin in Catholic parishes), what are the implications for focusing on creating intentional disciples?

    The lack of regular, sacrificial giving among catholic parishioners (itself a probable symptom of lack of intentional discipleship among communities at large) often means that our parishes are resource-starved. But resouce limitations are certainly not constrained just to the financial. With an often small amount of time, talent, and treasure, how do we deploy the temporal and spiritual resources of the parish to best form disciples and equip apostles?

    According to the reviewer of Small Churches, the authors have an idea:
    Some of the book's best advice concerns dropping programs that seem to be
    successful but contribute nothing to mission.

    That is certainly a focused approach--though one in which I believe most pastors and pastoral leaders won't have the fortitude to tackle. Given the shifting and complex web of "politics" that exists within any human community, how can parish leaders discern along these lines and help communicate the fruits of that discernment to the community?

    Anyone with a sufficiently "cunning" mind can show how a particular ministry contributes to mission. For example, would the popular Moms (Ministry of Mothers Sharing) ministry "make the cut" once parish leadership decided that the community would need to focus on mission-centered ministries? Certainly one could say that supporting mothers contributes directly to the mission of the Church as mothers are raising the next generation of disciples and apostles.

    These are difficult waters to navigate--made all the more difficult in that our contemporary catholic communities haven't really begun to explore them.


    Like Being Hit in the Head With a 2 x 4

    That's how I like to describe my first experience of a Called & Gifted workshop given by the Catherine of Siena Institute.

    It's not that the experience was bad--quite the opposite in fact. However, there was a moment on Friday night, as Fr. Michael Sweeney spoke about the Theology of the Laity, when "things" just clicked so profoundly that it was as if God thwapped me in the head.

    Let me explain.

    I had been a youth minister, retreat director, Confirmation coordinator, and catechist for about 13 years. In that time, I had never received any formation for those roles. I was lucky enough to have attended Chaminade High School--a great Catholic Prep school on Long Island--and free enough to study theology and Church history on my own time. I had struggled along for 13 years, picking up bits and pieces of things (small group discussion questions, teaching methodologies, knowledge of ecclesiology, icebreakers) from my various experiences. If you had asked me then, I might have said that I even felt well prepared. After all, I was--seemingly--effective at what I did, and I felt like I generally knew what I needed to do to help the young people in my charge.

    But make no mistake about it--there was nothing intentional in my formation.

    And then I stumbled into a C&G Workshop being offered in Puyallup, Washington around the year 2000. That fateful Friday Night, it was as if all of the bits and pieces that I had struggled to collect suddenly were connected by the strongest of ties. I often say that the C&G Workshop was like a lens through which all of my stumbling around, seeing "through a glass darkly," ended in a moment of startling resolution.

    I knew who I was--who God had called me to be. And I understood the nature of the Church and its relationship to the world in a way that I had never been able to before. Suddenly, there was an urgency to my work with youth and young adults. I just needed to share this with them!

    God has led me through a wonderful path since then. Not only has my work with youth and young adults expanded, but I have had the opportunity to give retreats and talks, and plan events and programs of formation for laypeople of every age. I've also had the great grace to work alongside and support the endeavors of parish leadership as they try and transform their communities into Houses of Lay Formation.

    Formation (and discernment) for mission is one of the single greatest challenges that faces the Church today. For Catholics in particular, we face a cultural inertia that I believe prevents us from unleashing the full grace that God offers us to accomplish His work on earth. The whole Body needs to wake up. It is not enough if the eye and the ear are awakened to this challenge--the mouth, heart, hands, and feet must awaken as well.

    As for me, one of my favorite ways to participate in this mission is to teach Called & Gifted Workshops.

    I guess I like to watch other people being hit by 2 x 4's.

    Who knew. :)

    Fr. Mike Reveals All

    I'll be in and out today as Fr. Mike Fones, my Dominican Co-Director, got in town at midnight last night and is scheduled for his third round of shoulder surgery this afternoon, so I will be ferrying him to and fro in drug-seeking behavior mode.

    That rarest of rare birds, an obsessively fit Dominican, he is a weight-lifter and has been lamenting his shriveling frame during his recuperation so we are praying that surgery number three will do the trick. Your prayers for him would be greatly appreciated.

    Fr. Mike, who usually strikes innocent bystanders as the world's nicest guy, is, in fact, a dangerous man. (I think the shaved head and goatee gives him the classic look of a James Bond super villain myself.)

    The look you see here is the look that send shivers down my spine. It means that he has either 1) thought of some new way to torture me or 2) has thought of something new for us to do. Either way, its trouble. The fact that he was holding St. Cyril of Jerusalem's Catechetical Lectures at the moment this picture was taken is just another part of that deceptive "angel of light" persona. The orange glow from the wall behind really brings out the Jesuitical gleam in his eye. Tres OP.

    Monday, January 1, 2007

    Muslims Becoming Disciples?

    I've heard stories about this for at least 10 years now. A new dvd is being produced telling the stories of 5 Muslims from 5 different countries who became disciples of Jesus because they encountered him in a vivid dream or vision. Shades of St. Paul on-the-road-to-Damascus! Read about it at

    Begin the New Year by Discerning God's Call

    At a crossroads in your life?

    January, 2007 is a great time to be discerning God's next step for you. Consider attending a Called & Gifted workshop and learn how to recognize the signs the charisms (spiritual gifts) that you received at Baptism which enable you to be an instrument of God's love, mercy, truth, and provision for others. Join the 24,000 Catholics in 73 dioceses on 4 continents who have attended live Called & Gifted workshops and discovered the difference that discerning charisms can make in your life and the lives of others.

    Called & Gifted workshops run from 7:00 - 9:30 pm on Friday night and 9:30 - 4:00 pm on Saturday. There will be eight opportunities for you to attend a Called & Gifted around the country in January:

    January 12/13
    Houston, TX
    Nampa, ID

    January 26/27
    Bothell, WA
    Spokane, WA
    Boise, ID
    San Francisco, CA
    Colorado Springs, CO
    St. Paul, MN

    For location and to register, visit our website calendar

    The Question That Must Not Be Asked

    In my early days as a Catholic, I was always asking the wrong question, and reducing cradle Catholics to incredulous silence. Many of my problem questions were related to a single over-riding concern: wasn’t the Catholic faith supposed to change people’s lives? Over time, I began to recognize the startled look that would cross a priest’s face when I would say things like, “I must be receiving the Eucharist improperly” or, “I must not be confessing properly. It’s supposed to change me, isn’t it? I don’t seem to be changing. I must be doing it wrong.”

    When I started graduate school, the issues became more global. When I did a paper on RCIA , I made an appointment with the local diocesan director of RCIA. I wondered aloud: Did parishes keep in touch with those received at Easter and monitor their Christian growth? Did they follow-up when a new Catholic stopped coming? The director gave me “the look” and responded that it would be invasive of the spiritual privacy of the newly baptized to keep in touch.

    When I asked the director of Catholic education in the same diocese if they attempted to evaluate what children actually “caught” of the faith when attending Catholic schools, she shook her head. They had exposed the children to a certain number of liturgies, classes, and a Catholic “atmosphere.” She make it clear that to ask what the children understood of the Catholic faith, much less believed when they graduated, was to make a heavy handed numbers game of a delicate spiritual “mystery.”

    I finally pulled a real whopper. I naively blurted out “Was “Fr. X effective?” at a parish committee meeting. When the woman across the table from me erupted in rage at my presumption, I finally understood. I was violating another one of those deeply held Catholic norms that wasn’t in the catechism but all “real” Catholics instinctively know. Never ask if you are being effective, never ask if you are having the desired spiritual impact. I sat through the rest of that meeting in stunned silence, thinking “I will never, never, never ever be Catholic enough. I will never understand Catholics if I live to be 100.” The irony is that the priest in question was none other than Fr. Michael Sweeney with whom I eventually founded the Institute. It turned out that he was asking similar questions!

    These days, I’m more sensitive to the feelings of cradle Catholics but I’m still asking the same question. At every Making Disciples seminar, we ask, “What percentage of your parishioners would you consider intentional disciples?” Since participants are pastors, parish staff and leaders from dioceses all over North America and elsewhere, this always produces vigorous discussion and fascinating responses. Usually we discover that no one present has ever thought about this particular question before and it takes some wrestling to become clear about what is being asked. What do we mean by the term “intentional disciple”? Is an intentional disciple the same as a “practicing Catholic”? How would you recognize someone as an intentional disciple?

    And then the educated guesses begin: Five percent? Ten percent? The highest estimate so far came from members of a tiny parish with 350 members who estimated 30% of their members would qualify. The grimmest assessment came from a west coast-based group of leaders who together came up with a startling ballpark figure: that probably less than 1-2% of their parishioners were intentional disciples of Jesus Christ! They all worked at big, extremely active parishes. And yet, the fact that most members of their parishes were not yet disciples had escaped them until that moment.

    Over the past 10 years, I have worked with hundreds of parishes in 70 dioceses and I can only think of a couple that I wouldn’t call busy. Most appear to be busy seven days a week. Every inch of available time and space is filled with people and programs and yet parish leaders seldom ask, "What is the real, personal and spiritual impact of our busyness? Are we changing the lives of people?” We energetically move people through institutions and programs but suddenly freeze when it is time to evaluate what is the actual spiritual impact of our efforts.

    The Vatican announced a few days ago that twelve million new Catholics were added to the Church in 2004. That’s wonderful, but as Catechesis in Our Time puts it so powerfully, many baptized Catholics are “still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ; they only have the capacity to believe placed within them by Baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit.”

    You have read it in the Scribe before: Disciples and Apostles don't “just happen.” Vocations don’t “just happen.” Weeds happen.

    Disciples, apostles, and vocations are the result of an intentional plan and effort of a Christian community. A community that knows that if you build people first, they will create and sustain our institutions. A community that dares to ask, “Are we doing what Christ commanded us to do? How can we help every baptized Catholic experience a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ? Are we challenging our parishioners to become intentional disciples of Jesus Christ? Are we helping them to become well-formed apostles who are effectively discerning and answering God’s call?"