Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Formation in Evangelization - Roman Style

The Emmanuel Community sponsors several outstanding formation opportunities for budding lay apostles. For young adults (20 - 35)

1) The one year English language formation program in Rome.
(My pastor ran into students in this program conducting a remarkable outreach in the Pantheon. They invited people in to rest, listen to music, get a drink and go to confession. He talked to the students and was very impressed!)

2) A nine month French language program in France

3) A German language formation program in Austria.


And for those of us who belong to the not-under-35-anymore gang

A Master's Program in the Theology of Evangelization. One year residency in Rome and one year distance learning. Co-Sponsored by the Lateran University and the Emmanual Community.

One very small, very Roman requirement besides your undergrad degree. You need to know four languages: your native tongue, Italian, and two others. For those with no theological background, there is a summer crash course available. No age limit.

Of course, there is the new Masters/STL program in the New Evangelization at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit.

Hmmmm. Rome or Detroit?


Hey, I'm thinking . . . How difficult could learning Italian be? I already know some: capuccino, lemoncello, ciao . . .

And then French. And how hard could it be to resurrect that high school German? Would a fading knowledge of Arabic grammer count . . .

National Catholic Prayer Breakfast

Coming up in April. More information here. It's quite an event with Mass and reception the night before, scheduled events all day on Saturday and a tour of Catholic DC on Sunday. I presume this is to lure out-of-towners to attend.

The keynote is to be given by the new Archbishop of Washington. Speakers include Scott Hahn, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and there are some interesting workshops such as
"Catholics in Entertainment and the New Evangelization" with Raymond Arroyo of EWTN.

Have any ID readers attended a previous breakfast? Or know someone who has? Who attends and why? Is this the Republican party at prayer? Is the faith the central draw or conservative politics? Do non-conservative Catholics attend? Will some Presidential hopefuls be making appearances there?

I would appreciate any enlightenment from those who know.

Servant of God: John Paul II

Here is the website for the cause of the beatification and canonization of John Paul II with prayers in 33 languages.

There's something awe-inspiring and moving about seriously considering the canonization of someone I actually saw with my own eyes (well, my sister Rachel and I and Fr. Michael, and a couple hundred million other people). Someone who was the first Pope I was aware of; the only Pope I knew until April of 2005.

As a convert friend of mind observed the other day: I miss him.

O Blessed Trinity
We thank You for having graced the Church
with Pope John Paul II
and for allowing the tenderness of your Fatherly care,
the glory of the cross of Christ,
and the splendor of the Holy Spirit,
to shine through him.
Trusting fully in Your infinite mercy
and in the maternal intercession of Mary,
he has given us a living image of Jesus the Good Shepherd,
and has shown us that holiness
is the necessary measure of ordinary Christian life
and is the way of achieving eternal communion with you.
Grant us, by his intercession, and according to Your will,
the graces we implore,
hoping that he will soon be numbered
among your saints.
Amen.

Dave Brubeck: Catholic and All That Jazz

Writing music for the Church eventually led Dave Brubeck to enter the Church. Here is a fascinating article by Michael Sherwin, OP (a member of the Western Province, Tom!) about Brubek and the relationship between his faith and his music.

Hat Tip: Tom at the ever scintillating Disputations

The New Abolitionists and an Unlikely Alliance

For many Christians, sex slaves are now at the top of the human rights agenda according to this 2004 piece from the Seattle Weekly.

It just jumped off the pages of the newspaper." Richard Cizik, the influential vice president for government affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, is talking about how human trafficking became a cause for crusade. He remembers reading a piece about the trafficking of women in Eastern Europe, where the harsh economic realities following the collapse of Communism made many vulnerable to false promises.

"If we truly stood for human rights for all, surely the trafficking of young girls and boys for the purposes of human slavery could not go unchallenged." Cizik helped put together a coalition of groups across the religious and political spectrum to work the issue. Gloria Steinem sent a representative to meetings. So did the B'nai B'rith. The coalition succeeded in passing federal anti-trafficking legislation in 2000 that created Miller's office.

The coalition did not come about by accident. It was part of a deliberate strategy to move away from the unyielding methods of formative leaders like Jerry Falwell. "Second-generation leaders—people my age—saw the initiatives of the 1980s crash and burn and decided we had to do things differently," the 52-year-old Cizik explains. If evangelicals wanted to accomplish anything, they would have to build coalitions with people they previously considered opponents, on issues they could agree on.

Not only did they form alliances with feminists on human trafficking, Cizik says, evangelicals worked with Jews, Catholics, and Buddhists on passing the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, monitoring religious persecution around the world; with the Congressional Black Caucus on bringing about the Sudan Peace Act of 2002; with the American Civil Liberties Union on pushing through last year's Prison Rape Elimination Act; and with gay people on securing more international AIDS funding.

Speaking by phone from Washington, D.C., Cizik sounds practically giddy as he considers the victories won. He notes that some evangelicals take issue with the notice they are getting for their global activism, insisting that it is nothing new. "The difference is this," he tells them. "We have been internationally involved for 100 years, but we have never been successful before on Capitol Hill." Cizik recognizes that having a born-again Christian in the presidential office hasn't hurt.

If leaders like Cizik set a new alliance-building course for the evangelical movement, the topics that rose to the top of the agenda came more from the grass roots, according to Allen Hertzke, director of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma and author of the forthcoming book Freeing God's Children: The Unlikely Alliance for Global Human Rights. Hertzke maintains that the dramatic growth of evangelical churches around the world has led "American evangelicals to an awareness of the plight of their brothers and sisters" in impoverished, often repressive societies."


You can't tackle a staggeringly complicated issue like global sex trafficking and only associate with those you consider ideologically pure - on either the left or the right. William Wilberforce couldn't do it in the 19th century and we certainly can't do it in the 21st.

Catholics have long known this and evangelical Christians are getting it. As one review of Freeing God's Children over at Amazon noted:

"TRUE OR FALSE?

October, 2000. In support of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, Bill Bennett gives a speech in a Senate caucus room and the next speaker reads a supportive statement from Gloria Steinem. One observer notes, "Bill Bennett and Gloria Steinem and Chuck Colson and Gloria Feldt are all saying the same thing."

Good Friday, 2001. Michael Horowitz, Republican think tank director, and Joe Madison, African American radio personality, chain themselves to a fence at the Sudanese embassy in Washington (to protest that regime's support of a growing slave trade) and are arrested, then call on Johnnie Cochran to defend Horowitz, and Ken Starr to defend Madison. Fearing publicity, prosecutors drop the charges.

Late in 2000. Pope John Paul II, U2's Bono, and Pat Robertson join the campaign to provide debt relief to impoverished third-world countries. "Tightfisted Republican Senator" Phil Gramm threatens to filibuster the legislation. Pat Robertson asks viewers of the 700 Club to contact Gramm and demand he remove his hold on the legislation. Gramm promptly does just that. "


Although the Church explicitly teaches that Catholics are to work with all people of good will in the pursuit of justice, some Catholics only want to do so with people they consider ideologically pure (and I'm sure this is true on both ends of the spectrum!).

Where is our confidence in Christ? You can't fight slavery from behind a barricade. And who knows how many, in the course of the battle, will be exposed to Christ for the first time in a meaningful way through us?




Social Justice & the Laity

Over at Evangelical Catholicism, once more, Katerina has a great post up about social justice, politics, the Church, and the role of the laity. It is, in some respects, a response to criticisms of the Catholic Worker Movement and the notion that the Church shouldn't be involved in politics.

Here's a snippet:
Some cringe at the word “social justice” perhaps because they are thinking of secular social justice, which is empty and without a true foundation that does not recognize Christ in the Eucharist. It is only by recognizing Christ in the Eucharist, and hence, in ourselves, that we can then recognize that same Christ in our neighbors and love them as we love Christ himself present in the Sacrament (Mt 25).

Without Christ, we will keep asking “who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10:29). And it was then that Christ told the parable of the Good Samaritan.Some Catholics try to make the term “social justice” so complicated and far-fetched that almost seems as something foreign or evil. To work towards a just social order or to ensure the common good is to simply care for each other, to love Christ in everyone: the sick, the prisoner, the stranger. When we take this love to a greater level in which we serve the criminal, the homeless, the immigrant, unconditionally united by a "sincere mutual love" (1 Peter 10:22) and we actively work in the political and social realm to take care of them and protect them as if they would be our own families or friends, that is when we are working towards a new social order, and this is what all Christians are called to do, to love one another intensely!
My only critique of her post is that, in attempting to make the distinction between the role of the ordained and the role of the laity, Katerina downplays the common priesthood of the baptized. This was, I'm sure, not her intent. The main thrust of her post seems to be that political action in the secular sphere is given to lay men and women to shoulder as their mission in the world.

Read the post, and do take a look at the comments. EC is a darn smart blog with lots of great things to say.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Largest Catholic Retreat Center in the World . . .is in India!

Go here to take a look at Divine Retreat Centre of Kerala, India. Wait for the changing picture on the right side to go through its whole cycle. Yep, we are not talking Traditionalism here.

The Divine Retreat Centre is run by the Vincentian order of India which makes perfect sense since it was St. Vincent de Paul who basically invented the mission.

Since 1990, over 10 million pilgrims from all over the world have attended retreats here. Weekly retreats in 7 languages are held back-to-back non-stop every week of the year. Their basic retreat seems to be based upon the renewal of the sacraments although clearly within a charismatic understanding.

I wonder what the true impact of such a ministry is. "Come Away by Yourself to a Lonely Place and Rest Yourself" is the motto on the home page. I don't know that "lonely" and "rest" are the words that come to mind when contemplating millions of retreatants.

Obviously, with those numbers, it won't exactly be a "silent" retreat. There are so many needs in India. I imagine that many non-Christians come seeking a touch of God. May they find it there and in thousands of places through his sons and daughters!

Also a great source for those Malayalam praise and worship songs you've been looking for.

Quote of the Day - from C. S. Lewis

. . . “God,” said Pascal, “instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.” But not only prayer; whenever we act at all He lends us that dignity. It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so.

. . . For He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye. He allows us to neglect what He would have us do, or to fail. Perhaps we do not fully realize the problem, so to call it, of enabling finite free wills to coexist with Omnipotence . . . This is how (no light matter) God makes something — indeed, makes gods — out of nothing."

The Paradox of World's Most Catholic continent

Catholic News Service has a thought-provoking piece on the fifth general conference of the Latin American bishops' council, due to take place in May in Brazil. Pope Benedict XVI, who will travel to Brazil for a five-day visit May 9-13, will officially open the conference.

"In a meeting with papal nuncios from Latin America in Rome Feb. 17, the pope outlined some of the issues church leaders face in Latin America, including the growth of evangelical churches -- still generally referred to as "sects" in this majority-Catholic region -- and "the growing influence of postmodern hedonistic secularism."

In examining the reasons for the lure of Pentecostalism, the bishops will have to take a critical look at the Catholic Church's own practices.

Part of the attraction of other churches lies in "a failure to awaken a missionary commitment in Catholics and a lack of priests and religious," said Cardinal Javier Errazuriz Ossa of Santiago, Chile, who is president of the Latin American bishops' council, or CELAM.

"It's not that people leave the Catholic Church because they oppose it, but in seeking a relationship with God and seeking the Gospel, and having lost a livelier contact with Catholic communities, they go to other pastors who are talking about Jesus Christ," Cardinal Errazuriz said.

The conference's dual emphasis on discipleship and missionary commitment is meant to spur an awakening so that "every Catholic feels called by Jesus Christ to be a disciple and to be sent out to change the world in accordance with the Gospel," he said."


"I don't think it's just a matter of trying to get people who have left to come back or simply putting the brakes on evangelical proselytism," Bishop Ramazzini said. "The most important thing is to ensure that church communities are communities of disciples, that we live consistently with the Gospel. Everything else will follow."

Amen to that!

Repairer of Fences

I am alone in the dark, and I am thinking

what darkness would be mine if I could see

the ruin I wrought in every place I wandered

and if I could not be

aware of One who follows after me.

Whom do I love, O God, when I love Thee?

The great Undoer who has torn apart

the walls I built against a human heart,

the Mender who has sewn together the hedges

through which I broke when I went seeking ill,

the Love who follows and forgives me still.

Fumbler and fool that I am, with things around me

and of fragile make like souls, how I am blessed

and to hear behind me footsteps of a Savior!

I sing to the east; I sing to the lighted west:

God is my repairer of fences, turning my paths into rest.


based upon Isaiah 58:12 (Douay)


A poem by Jessica Powers (Sr. Miriam of the Holy Spirit)
from the website of her former monastery, The Carmel of the Mother of God, Pewaukee, Wisconsin.

The Slaughter of Eve

Do read this very disturbing Washington Times article by Julia Duin, which is the first part of a 4 part series.

A perfect storm of a historic disregard for girl children in certain cultures - especially India, China, and large parts of the middle east - and new technology means that 100 million girls are "missing" from the world today They have been aborted before birth.

"In a report released Dec. 12, UNICEF said India is "missing" 7,000 girls a day or 2.5 million a year. It is female genocide.

By 2020, the Chinese government estimates that men will outnumber women in China by 300 million - the fruit of the "one child" policy. If Chinese families are only going to have one child, they will make sure it is a boy.

One reason in India : "the dowry system, a Hindu marriage practice by which the groom's family demands enormous sums of money and goods from the bride's family as a condition for letting their son marry her." The custom is technically illegal but has spread to Muslim and Christian families as well. Even Indian Catholics follow the dowry system.

The wife's family also have to pay when she goes to the hospital to have a baby and sometime even for her funeral. "Medical clinics -- which Sister Mary calls "womb raiders" -- have advertised "better 500 rupees now [for an abortion] rather than 50,000 rupees later" [for a dowry]. The first amount is about $11; the second is $1,100."

As a result, a new class of wifeless men are scouring eastern India, Bangladesh and Nepal for available women. India, already a world leader in sex trafficking, is absorbing a new trade in girls kidnapped or sold from their homes and shipped across the country."

American companies like General Electric have profited hugely from the sales of ultrasound machines to India. Indian doctors who stand against female infanticide are black-balled and threatened.

Here is a situation like slavery which is deeply rooted in the historical practice and culture of a whole people.

What will it take to change? What can we do to help?

37% of US Hispanics are Evangelicals


A revolution is underway among America’s Latino population that will have profound implications for the future of American politics. Of the 41.3 million Hispanics in the United States today, 37 percent identify themselves as "born-again" or "evangelical." Just 10 years ago, the proportion that did so was about 15 percent. All told, there are now about 11 million Evangelical Protestant and 3 million Evangelical or Charismatic Catholic Latinos in the United States. In 1996, there were only 4 million.

An estimated 1 million US Hispanics become Protestant every year.

I gotta say it again.

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 Generation of Saints

I've spent the last 24 hours in a full-court press to gather in a meaningful way my rough notes on the Catholic revival that happened in 17th century France. I had promised them to one of our C & G teachers who is going to write an article on the history of the lay apostlate and intentional discipleship.

In many ways, the French "generation of saints" as they are sometimes called (actually there were three generations involved) reminds me of the group that gathered around Wilberforce in the early 19th century around the struggle for social change.

The 66 years between 1594 (when a young Francis de Sales embarked upon his one man crusade to re-convert the Chablis, an area of Alpine France that had been Calvinist for 60 years) to 1660 (when Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marrillac died) was a time of extraordinary spiritual creativity and fruitfulness for French Catholics.

It seems to have been made possible by a confluence of things

  • Relative peace and tolerance after years of brutal religious wars between Protestants and Catholics,
  • The reforms mandated by the Council of Trent,
  • Active support from the Kings and Queens of France and other wealthy and influential patrons,
  • Being able to import and build upon innovations from other parts of the Catholic world such as the Carmel of Teresa of Avila in Spain, the Oratory of Phillip Neri in Rome, and the Confraternity of Catholic Doctrine in Milan
  • A series of remarkably creative Catholic apostles who knew, influenced, mentored, and collaborated with one another.

The revival in 17th century France saw Catholics rise to meet the challenge of the Reformation and the needs of their time through, among other things:


The implementation of the decrees of Trent re: the establishment of seminaries and the universal formation of the clergy. Several men's communities were founded to form and support diocesan clergy.

The emergence of a truly lay spirituality and a new respect for and openness to collaborating in mission with the laity. The development of missions and retreats for lay people and country parishes. A new emphasis on universal catechesis. The emergence of lay missionaries and missionary initiatives such as the founding of Montreal as a missionary base. The prominent role of married and widowed women in starting and collaborating in many of these new initiatives.

Mission- mindedness. The foundation of a number of new, apostolicly-minded religious orders that were not enclosed and dedicated to work with the poor, the sick, or in education.

A new, systematic, parish-based approach to ministry to the poor

A strong evangelical outreach to Protestants which was a big departure from the usual method of simply enforcing the religion of the ruler upon the people. (In the words of Francis de Sales, "let us see what love will do.")


I wish I had time to share in more detail about some of the incredible people involved and the things that happened in France during this era. But one thing I came away with was the conviction that their time is not unlike our own.

We too are one generation removed from a Council that marks a real change of direction in the Church. We too can build upon many initiatives that have gone before us.

Will someday, scholars write about the apostolic revival of Catholicism in the United States in the early 21st century?

Jesus Kerfuffle

Over at Evangelical Catholicism they have an interesting post on the "proof" offered by some documentarian (backed by producer James Cameron, of Titanic fame) regarding the burial Ossuary of Jesus and his son, Judah.

Most of you will probably remember that this "find" is not new news, but something that has been resurrected (sorry for the pun) from the recent past.

Take a look at the post and judge with your own eyes.

Is this really the tomb of Jesus?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Reflections on The Church Mediocre

Over at Fr. Dwight's Standing on My Head, he has a nice reflection on what it is often like for converts who enter the Church. Here's a snippet:

Among converts and those thinking of converting and those who are thinking of converting but denying it, there is a lot of talk about how awful the Catholic Church is when you actually stop reading books of apologetics and visit the local branch. Here you thought it was the Church Militant and it seems like the Church Mediocre.

It has what Fr. Newman calls, 'living room liturgy' a goofy left wing priest wanders around in sandals, and tone deaf children sing kumbayah and stand around the altar with father to say the Lord's Prayer...(Awww, aren't they cute?) Added to this are the pedophile scandals, priests dipping into the funds and what seems an epidemic of ignorance, complacency and idiocy in the pews.

Sometimes it can be hard, even for cradle Catholics who strive to live their faith intentionally and with fervor, to see the supernatural reality of the Church through the incarnated temporal reality of the Church. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't try, however. For every Parish Council fraught with agendas and in-fighting, for every committee plagued by endless sniping and the personal failings of its members, there is Christ, calling us all to repentence, conversion, and a deeper living out of what it means to actually be the Body of Christ in the world.

Fr. Dwight sees this as well. He continues his reflection:

Mark Shea has a good post about the church mediocre. He says it better than I can: it's down to this--don't join the Catholic Church because you are against gays or women priests. Don't join the Catholic Church because you don't like Baptists or Anglicans. Certainly don't join the Catholic Church because you think you'll find fine liturgy, excellent preaching and enthusiastic congregations (with certain notable exceptions of course) Join the Catholic Church because you are convinced that it is the Church Jesus Christ really did establish on his friend Peter.If you're there, come and join us. We can always make room for one more sinner in the boat. If you're not, maybe you'd better put up with what you've got.

It's an important reflection because all too often, the only gospel that other people read is the one written with our life.

Post-Retreat Haze

I'm coming off of leading two retreats this past weekend, and as always, my body and spirit are in a bit of a haze. I like to think of it as remnants of the grace of God still washing over me. During one talk I gave, about how our identity and dignity is rooted in Christ, I asked each small group to rewrite a section of two psalms (highlighting the dignity and beauty of our created humanity) in their own words.

They initially thought the exercise would be beyond them, but as they engaged in the activity, something wonderful happened. They began to break open the Word of God and, in turn, break open their own lives, the personal history of God's grace incarnated in their experience.

The most gratifying comment came from one small group who said that they had heard that Psalm before (139), but that they never really understood that the words of the psalm applied to them, that they were treasured by God, until now.

Our God is so amazing!

The Threshold Choir

From the San Diego Union Tribune comes the tale of a wonderful, wonderful ministry:

"An ardent band of women in the seaside city of Santa Cruz is on a heavenly mission – they sing for the dying.

They call themselves the Threshold Choir, and they perform at the bedsides of the terminally ill, singing in intimate tones, like a mother soothing a newborn."

At Called & Gifted workshops, we often tell stories about individuals who perform this ministry but this is the first choir I have heard of.

"Laura Devine joined the Santa Cruz choir in June, when her mother was in the hospital. Learning that doctors didn't expect her mother to live, Devine rushed to her mother's bedside, badly shaken. She sang a slow gospel-inspired song she had just learned in the choir:

“I'm gonna lift my mother up

She is not heavy

If I don't lift her up

I will fall down.”

Devine, 50, believes her singing played a role in her mother's unexpected recovery – she was home within a week – saying the incident taught her “the power of the voice.”

Only the power of the voice?

My only complaint about this article was that the impact of music was described in purely therapeutic terms when clearly the impact was profoundly spiritual. It is fascinating that we use songs riddled with the language of the Gospel at moments like that but then pretend that we really aren't singing about, well, God and heaven and redemption and forgiveness and stuff. And that we aren't asking God to act at that moment. No, its just the power of the human voice.

Imagine the power of a small band of singers (some with the charism of music?) proclaiming the hope of the gospel to the dying and chronically ill and their families and friends at such a moment.

Especially if the singers and others were praying that the listeners would encounter the healing presence and love of Christ through the music in a way that would invoke their personal assent to grace. In whatever way they could assent at that moment.

The ultimate healing from which all other healings flow.

The Language of Grace - Again

I'm beginning to ponder the question: how many of us can even think about things that we have never heard anyone else talk about (or write or blog or . . .)?

(At this point, certain persons will observe with a lift of the eyebrow that I apparently can't do so. This is such an extrovert's issue . . .)

Is it? How much of our time is spent truly thinking original thoughts in categories and language that we have not gleaned from others around us? Isn't that why we spend years sending our children to school or home-schooling them? We don't expect them to simply pick it up out of the ozone. How many geniuses do we have among us?

I ask because I am beginning to wonder if our "don't ask, don't tell" Catholic culture makes it difficult for many lay Catholics to think, even privately, about discipleship. Makes it difficult to even have an imaginative category for the subject.

Especially if they don't read Scripture (as most don't). Of course, they could pick the idea up at Mass - if we talked about it there. Perhaps the Scriptural readings and language of the liturgy would do it if they are present and listening intently. Or at home - if someone in their family was an intentional disciple and willing to talk about it.

Or from the media. And who would be talking incessantly about discipleship in the media? Evangelicals. No wonder I run into so many Catholics who think about discipleship in evangelical terms.

Of course, the Holy Spirit is working in our hearts and many of us are responding. But do any of us believe that silent, interior wordless assent is enough to root your entire life? (If it is, may I respectfully suggest that we all become Quakers now - and even they are a notably mouthy lot and write and preach as though words were important).

In any other area of life - relationships, work, education, health care, public life - do we act as though words, as though talking about things of significance, is not important?

Does our "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" culture make it difficult for us to even think about discipleship?


The Language of Grace

This is from a mainline Protestant pastor in the LA area, but so much of it rings true to Catholic experience:

"But as followers of Christ, we are called to share the good news of what God has done—and continues to do—through Jesus Christ. If that calling makes you nervous, you're not alone. We live in a culture that is saturated with negative images of evangelists. Though many people—Christians and non Christians alike— have deep respect for Billy Graham, the same cannot be said for his colleagues. Whether or not the perception is true, evangelists are often seen as judgmental and pushy.

Now, I'm going to share a statistic with you. I've been waffling all week about whether or not I should include this statistic in the message today, because it's a humdinger. A study published this month contended that one half of one percent of mainline congregations are practicing effective evangelism. Ouch. (Sherry's note: these are Protestant congregations. I wonder if such a study exists for Catholics?)

I don't share this statistic to make us feel badly. I think it helps to know that we aren't the only ones struggling to share our faith. But I also think it helps to get a wake-up call from time to time. I once heard someone say that mainline churches . . .are greatest commandment churches. We do a good job of loving God with all our hearts and loving our neighbors as ourselves. But the other part of the observation was the criticism that mainline congregations tend not to be great commission churches. We get to the end of the book of Matthew, where Jesus tells the eleven to make disciples of all nations, and we quickly turn the page and change the subject. Forty or fifty years ago, mainline churches could get away with that. Churches certainly engaged in intentional practices of evangelism, but simply opening the doors on a Sunday morning meant that people would come.

The pastor and writer Brian McClaren suggests this vision of responding to the Great Commission. “Good evangelists… are people who engage others in good conversation about important and profound topics such as faith, values, hope, meaning, purpose, goodness, beauty, truth, life after death, life before death, and God. They do this not because they like to be experts and impose their views on others, but because they feel they are in fact sent by God to do so… Evangelists are people with a mission from God and a passion to love and serve their neighbors.” The portrait of an evangelist, according to Pastor McClaren, is less like a used-car salesman and more like a humble and loving spiritual friend.

Recently I was listening to NPR in the late afternoon . . .For the next three minutes, I listened to a woman explain that she is the designated celebrator in her family, the one who makes sure everyone gets together for the holidays. She said, “I believe that in this world there is and always has been so much sadness and sorrow, so much uncertainty, that if we didn't set aside time for merriment, gifts, music and laughter with family and friends, we might just forget to celebrate all together. We'd just plod along in life.”

As the woman explain her beliefs, I realized something I believe: We’d just plod along in life if all we talk about is work and weather. We need the language of grace. We need the language of confession. We need the language of discipleship, where our lives are shaped not by small talk but by the Word of God.

Evangelism can be scary and unpopular and impolite. But it can also be joyful and exciting and authentic. When we reveal our experience of God, sharing generously with our words and actions the grace that has been poured into our lives through Jesus Christ, we are a blessing. When we have the courage to start conversations with humility and respect, we are a blessing. When we provide the challenge and the care to assist the Holy Spirit in making disciples of all nations, we are a blessing.

As the Catholic monk Thomas Merton says, “All the good you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love.” May it be so. Amen."

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Evangelical Abolitionists Influence Catholic Social Teaching?

Amy Welborn notes today that all but one of William Wilberforce’s sons converted to Catholicism as adults. They were influenced, as many thoughtful Christians were, by the rise of the Oxford Movement within Anglicanism in the 1830’s. The abolition of slavery had been the work of an earlier generation. But the influencing did not move only in one direction.

Cardinal Manning had once been a married Anglican pastor before converting to Catholicism in 1850. Two of his wife’s sisters had married sons of William Wilberforce. The strong social justice influence of Manning’s evangelical Anglican background seems to have marked his whole life.

Beside his zeal in the cause of elementary religious education, Cardinal Manning spent a good deal of his later years working on behalf of the poor and outcast. Florence Nightingale, the great Anglican health care reformer, was a life-long friend. He was invited to join the commission for the better housing of the working classes, he founded his League of the Cross for the promotion of temperance, and the "Cardinal's Peace" recalls the success of his efforts at mediation between the strikers and their employers at the time of the great London Dock Strike in 1889.

Cardinal Manning was very influential in setting the direction of the modern Roman Catholic Church. His warm relations with Pope Leo XIII and his ultramontane views gained him the trust of the Vatican. Manning used this goodwill to promote a modern Roman Catholic view of social justice. These views are reflected in the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum issued by Leo XIII. Pope Leo's encyclical "On the condition of labour", to use the words of Bishop Hedley, "owes something to the counsels of Cardinal Manning."

So the views and experiences of William Wilberforce and his friends in the abolition movements may well have directly affected the development of Catholic social teaching.

An Inspiring Tale of Pioneers in Lay Formation - from Malta

Fr. George Preca is due to be canonized in June. Dockworker Eugenio Borg's cause for beatification is underway. All because they dedicated their whole lives to the formation of lay Catholics and the equipping of those who would form others.

The situation for lay Catholics in Malta in the first decade of the 20th century is hard for us to conceive. 75% of the population of this ancient, once Muslim, but now Catholic nation was illiterate even after a century of British rule.


Fr. George Preca was ordained in 1906 but seemed to have been thinking of the problem of evangelisation for a long time. He had realised that although Malta was virtually completely Catholic and all the population was church-going, most Maltese Catholics knew very little about the truths of Christianity. In general religion was based on the practice of popular devotions and little else.

He befriended a young dock work, Eugenio Borg. Fr. George would invite Eugenio for a picnic and country walk on Sunday but told him to bring his Bible. (Eugenio promptly bought his first Bible - in English - because the Bible wasn't available in Maltese. Maltese Catholics simply didn't read the Bible). During those afternoons, Fr. George formed Eugenio into a fellow apostle.

Together they founded the Society of Christian Doctrine (known in Malta as M.U.S.E.U.M.) in 1907. The SDC centres are open every evening of the week for catechetical classes for children and adults taught by lay members who do so after their ordinary work day is over. Today it consists of about 110 Centres and 1100 members. They teach about 20,000 boys and girls in the Maltese islands, in Australia, Peru, the Sudan, United Kingdom, Kenya and Albania.

A century later, the situation in Malta is very different. Malta is now independent. 99.6% of all children 15 and under are literate. The Bible is available in Maltese (published by the SCD) And Malta is a small powerhouse of the lay apostlate.

The charismatic renewal reached Malta in 1975 and quickly spread to every parish on the island. Out of the renewal came ICPE, the Institute for World Evangelization which is formally recognized by the Vatican and now has centres in 10 countries. I have visited St. Gerard's Monastery, the ICPE house in New Zealand. ICPE is currently building a hospital in Ghana and sending missionaries to Albania.

As we have discovered, when you call ordinary people to become intentional disciples and give them solid, personalized formation, they start doing extraordinary things. The Holy Spirit calls them to be and to do that which they could never have imagined for themselves - or for the world.





Saturday, February 24, 2007

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction




I just returned from seeing the film Amazing Grace about the life of William Wilberforce. It is not exactly brilliant movie making but it is very solid with good performances, a very careful period look, and a compelling story. Well worth a trip to the movies. I could do without the bagpipe version of Amazing Grace at the end - but oh well.

But the story of the impact that a small group of highly committed lay Christians at the end of the 18th and first decades of the 19th century had upon their time is deeply inspiring. At the center of this movement was a gathering of like minded Anglicans, Quakers, and evangelicals whose primary goal was the abolition of slavery in the British empire.



















(The picture is that of the famous ceramic Wedgewood anti-slavery badge "Am I not a Man and a Brother?")

In their spare time, they tackled bull fighting and bear baiting, prison reform, the abolition of the death penalty, factory working condition, amd educational reform. They founded schools, mission societies, the Foreign Bible society and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Wilberforce supported the end of anti-Catholic penalties, the so-called "Catholic Emancipation" in 1829.

And eventually in 1833, they did suceed in ending slavery throughout the British empire. Slavery would be abolished, but the planters would be heavily compensated. "Thank God', said Wilberforce, 'that I have lived to witness a day in which England is willing to give twenty millions sterling for the Abolition of Slavery". Three days later, on 29 July 1833, he died. Wilberforce had been fighting slavery for 46 years. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.

The Christian History Institute has an interesting brochure on the "Clapham Sect" to which Wilberforce belonged. At the end, the author lists a dozen characteristics of the approach of the Clapham group to achieving significant societal change as disciples.
  1. Set clear and specific goals
  2. Researched carefully to produce reliable and irrefutable evidence
  3. Built a committed support community. The battle could not be carried on alone.
  4. Refused to accept setbacks as final defeats
  5. Committed to the struggle for the long haul, even if it took decades.
  6. Focused on issues, not allowing opponents' vicious attacks on their person to distract them, or provoke them into similar response.
  7. Empathized with opponents' position so that meaningful interaction could take place.
  8. Accepted incremental gains when everything could not be achieved at once.
  9. Cultivated grassroots support when rebuffed by those in power.
  10. Transcended a single issue mentality by addressing issues as part of overall moral climate.
  11. Worked through recognized channels without resort to dirty tactics or violence.
  12. Proceeded with a sense of mission and conviction that God would providentially guide if they were truly acting in his service.
I find several of these characteristics particularly compelling in light of our work at the Institute.

What do you think?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Catholic Quote of the Day . . .by an Anglican

“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest thing you will ever encounter with your senses. . . if he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also, Christ . . . Glory himself, is truly hidden.”

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

The Person Who Creates a Web Intro Like This For Me . . .Dies

And that means you, Fr. Mike! I'm just letting you know now.

Watch it. But don't do it while drinking something hot. You will not go away unmoved.

The Disciplines of Hope

From an article on The Disciplines of Hope that I wrote for our old dead tree Siena Scribe in June of 2003 just as the war in Iraq began. I'd like to share excerpts from the article as it seems to fit a Lenten theme.

"How then can we, as lay Christians, nourish and sustain our confidence in the ultimate triumph of Christ and his redemption in our lives and our world? We take the time to cultivate the disciplines of hope. We can lay the foundation for growth in supernatural hope by the disciplined development of two human virtues: magnanimity and humility. Josef Pieper writes that “magnanimity and humility are the most essential prerequisites for the preservation and unfolding of supernatural hope—insofar as it depends on man. Together they represent the most complete preparedness of the natural man.…The culpable loss of supernatural hope has its roots in two principal sources: lack of magnanimity and lack of humility” (Faith, Hope, and Love, p. 102–03).

I would like to share with you five spiritual disciplines that I have found most helpful in nurturing hope.

1. Root yourself in the Church’s teaching about the transforming power of the virtues through study and prayer.

In addition to Sacred Scripture, the Catechism, or the writings of Pope John Paul II, great contemporary Christian authors have written about the virtues. In this area, an indispensable guide is Josef Pieper, a wonderful lay Thomist philosopher. Several years ago, I hosted a dozen adults in studying Pieper’s remarkable book, Faith, Hope, and Love. I was astonished to see introverted computer geeks moved to tears by the Church’s teaching on the virtues. Also, Pieper’s classic work, The Four Cardinal Virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance), is the perfect companion book.

Those of you who have attended a Called & Gifted Workshop may have already heard me talk about C. S. Lewis’s magnificent text, The Weight of Glory. Preached as a sermon at Oxford in June 1941 in the midst of World War II’s tragedy, The Weight of Glory contains some of the most moving meditations on Christian hope ever penned. Over the years, I have read it so often that I have almost memorized it. Lewis’ words have been a continually bracing and encouraging reminder of the eternal issues at stake in my daily decisions.

2. At the end of each day, release the fruit of your work to God and turn your attention back to the present moment.

In my early days of teaching, I would find myself reliving a workshop for days trying to determine if I had been a “success” or a “failure”. Today, whether the event seemed to go well or poorly, my discipline at the end is the same: after the last person has left, I prayerfully release the whole event and all that transpired into the hands of God, asking that He make it fruitful for his purposes. I then resolutely turn my attention to the next thing in front of me. In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes that God’s “ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him.”

If a presentation was unusually energizing or especially difficult for me, I may have to release it several times. But, with time, this discipline has become easier and helps keep me grounded in the present moment where, as Lewis notes, “all duty, all grace, all knowledge, and all pleasure dwell.” Besides short-circuiting endless navel-gazing and my need to control, letting go is an act of intentional faith and humility: it reminds me that all eternal fruitfulness comes from God.

3. Immerse yourself in natural beauty regularly.

For many of us, natural beauty is a school of hope. Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins observes in “God’s Grandeur” that “…nature is never spent; there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” Long walks through gardens or fields at dawn are an essential source of personal and spiritual nourishment for me. The freshness of a wildflower field or the dazzling gold of autumn aspen can awaken not only gratitude for what surrounds us but hope for the eternal and even greater beauty for which God has created us. Lewis remarks:

“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in” (The Weight of Glory).

4. Create something.

Whether it’s baking a loaf of bread, tending a garden, or bringing a new life into the world, striving to make something new and beautiful places us squarely in the divine mysteries of creation and redemption. Much discouragement stems from the apparent insolubility of so many secular dilemmas with which we wrestle. Part of the artist’s vocation is to remind us that many of these unsolvable problems can still serve as a medium for some new creation—something to serve as an instrument through which the Holy Spirit transforms our earthly situation in totally unanticipated ways.

One of the most fascinating characteristics of the saints is their originality. They routinely see and respond to realities seemingly invisible to the conventional minds of their time and place. When we seek to create something new, we are developing habits of mind that nurture magnanimity and prepare us to cooperate with supernatural grace. As A. D. Lindsay wrote in his essay “The Two Moralities”:

“The difference between ordinary people and saints is not that saints fulfill the plain duties that ordinary men neglect. The things saints do have not usually occurred to ordinary people at all…Gracious conduct is somehow like the work of an artist. It needs imagination and spontaneity. It is not a choice between presented alternatives but the creation of something new.”

5. Seek out, rejoice in, and share with others the veiled or obscured signs of God’s grace at work.

God’s grace is at work in ways that often remain obscure or unrecognizable. Grace-filled events are not often covered by CNN. Only prayerful minds and hearts filled with hope can identify such signs and recognize their significance. In the course of doing gifts interviews, we routinely hear amazing stories of God’s grace at work in the lives of lay Catholics. These same people, however, have often never told their experience to anyone before. But humility notwithstanding, we have a prophetic responsibility for spreading the word about the wonderful work of God that is occurring in our generation.

What other disciplines have nurtured the virtue of hope in your life?



I Was in Prison and Condemned to Death . . .

Read the whole story of a remarkable husband and wife team, Dale and Susan Recinella of Macclenny, who are sensitive but passionate advocates against the death penalty.

Together, the husband and wife team have taken on the responsibilty of ministering to the spiritual and psychological needs of Death Row inmates and the family members of both the incarcerated and the victim.

The Recinellas are devout Christians and members of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Macclenny. St. Mary’s is responsible for Catholic ministry to Death Row inmates in Union Correctional Institution in Raiford and Florida State Prison in Starke. Mr. Recinella has served as lay minister to both institutions since 1998.

When inmates make the request, he will serve, one on one, as their spiritual advisor and counselor. He also administers Holy Communion. Mrs. Recinella, a psychologist at Northeast Florida State Hospital, is committed to assisting the family members.

Florida law does not allow an inmate’s family to be present at executions or even be on prison property during the six hours preceding the event. Mr. Recinella may spend the last six hours of the inmate’s life with him at the prison and attend as a witness to his execution while Mrs. Recinella stays with the family.

Read the whole thing. Sobering and inspiring all at once. A good read for a Friday in Lent.



Thoughts on humility

Something I enjoy doing when I have the chance is interviewing people who are beginning (or continuing) the process of discerning their charisms. I get to hear all sorts of wonderful stories about how God works through ordinary people.

I had an interview this afternoon with a lovely woman who has actively served God and His Church for many years in a variety of capacities. An issue came up in the course of our conversation that I have encountered many times in the 200-plus times I’ve done this.

Often folks are reluctant to acknowledge fully the worth of things they do. They minimize, or even barely recognize, the effects of their efforts – even though those effects may be very clear to me, an outside observer “listening in” on a slice of their life. They don’t want to brag or imply that there is anything extraordinary about themselves. But this reluctance can be an obstacle to discernment.

To discern our gifts, we have to be able to look reality in the eye – which involves seeing and acknowledging what happens (or doesn’t happen) when we act. Humility is not thinking of ourselves or our efforts as worthless; it is seeing ourselves truly. Warts, virtues, deficits and gifts together. Erring on either side – either under- or over-estimating ourselves – is a failure of humility. Failing to acknowledge what God does through us can be both a stumbling block in the discernment process and a sort of inside-out pride, cheating God of His due.

This Lent, I ask God for a big dose of true humility – and the repentance that should also come with that.

Of course, my first instinct after typing that is to brace myself, or DUCK – who knows what God will consider it necessary to hit me with to drive that lesson home! :) But bring it on, Lord; You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Lead me home to the Father.

Heroes

Before I gave up television for Lent, I was in the habit of watching, when I could, a new program on NBC called Heroes. Here is a brief synopsis: A group of young people discover that they have certain supernatural gifts. All are uncomfortable and confused by these gifts, but as the show progresses they find that these allow them to be of service to the world. Essentially, the show is about them discovering their mission. Moreover, the individual missions of these "gifted" individuals are brought together for the sake of a greater overall mission. Sound familiar? As I was helping give the Called and Gifted workshop last weekend it suddenly occurred to me that the themes of the workshop fit together perfectly with the themes of my favorite TV show: gift, mission, collaboration, etc....its all there. Thoughts? Am I just trying to justify sneaking in my favorite TV show during Lent?

Thoughts on the Anglican troubles and the meaning of Eucharist

I was involved earlier this week in a conversation about the troubles the worldwide Anglican communion is currently facing on Catholic And Enjoying It, Mark Shea’s popular blog. A few Anglicans and other Protestants joined in as we Catholics were attempting to make sense of the political strategies and their implications, the twists and turns of Anglican history, and the meetings upon meetings upon meetings. Many Catholics expressed a hope that some fed-up Anglicans would consider “swimming the Tiber” (i.e. converting to Roman Catholicism).

As a convert myself, I have been following the Anglican situation with – well, I guess you’d have to call it morbid fascination, like watching a car crash in slow motion. My husband and I made a brief rest stop in an Anglican mission parish in Portland shortly after we were married in 1997, but even then, internal tensions were tearing the parish apart, and we decided to pack up and move on down the trail to Rome. My heart went (and still goes) out to all the storm-tossed folks embroiled in intrachurch struggles.

One commenter in the discussion on Mark’s blog, a Methodist, politely but firmly declined the offer of sanctuary in the Catholic Church, and then made what he felt was a generous offer of his own:

I do hope that you will be able to share communion with your Anglican friends, and with all of us Protestants. As we believe, sharing communion is not some mythical final step in unity--it is the first. It is the most fundamental recognition that we are all Christians, even though we disagree on some doctrines. And I hope Rome will realize that some day.

Another commenter gently pointed out that the basis of our Christian identity is our common baptism into Christ, not our participation in the Eucharist. I saw an opportunity to explain the difference to this friendly Protestant fellow, so I began to share my own story. I wrote:

The way I came to understand the Eucharist (one of the first trap doors, I fell into, by the way) was this:

- First, through some tough emotional stuff, God began to stretch my imagination as to whether He could really be there in the bread and wine - not just as a symbol, or some quality or hazy feeling that would appear if I gritted my teeth and "believed" in it hard enough. What if He was really there in that gold box thingy over on that table? Why do I feel... kinda... warmed by the fire when I'm near it? Does Jesus love us that much, to come and stay with us? Could He really be there, objectively, whether or not I “believe” in it?

- How could this Mass ceremony be a real sacrifice, as Catholics keep insisting that it is? Jesus was sacrificed "once for all" on the Cross; there's no other sacrifice that atones for sins (that’s in Hebrews, I think). But I had learned from the postmodern evangelical radicals I was with (the church I attended at that time was called a “house church”) that during times of worship, we're supposed to be taken into the heavenlies, the presence of God where the angels and souls of the justified are - outside of our normal time and space, in kairos instead of kronos. What if Catholics are talking about Christ's sacrifice not in terms of a linear "again and again", but a participation in the Eternal Now, a folding of time and space that allows us to access the actual Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and for Him to make Himself known in our midst?

- OK, but what makes that possible? Only Christ can offer up Himself to the Father; anything less (us bringing food and drink, some guy saying magic words) isn't going to cut it. I then discovered the teaching of the ancient Church, which is that the priest stands "in persona Christi" and says His words, re-enacting His actions. Christ does offer up Himself; this is what makes the Sacrifice of the Mass a participation in Christ's one atoning Sacrifice.

- Here's where we reach our problem: How does Christ give a human being the authority to speak His words and re-enact His Sacrifice in such a fashion? The answer that presented itself to me in my studies was: apostolic succession and the rites instituted by the Apostles.

The conclusion I came to in my investigation of the issue was that as far as the Anglican church is concerned, the line was broken as a result of Henry VIII's defiance and subsequent theological developments. This is the place where I have to say sadly that this issue must be resolved before we can both come to the same table to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord.

I'm not trying to be triumphalist here; I've never felt very triumphalist about this issue. It makes me very sad. Jesus' heart is broken over the lack of visible unity in His Body on earth, and this is a place where I, for one, feel His pain.

I feel like we're all children of divorce here. Though the pain we feel makes us want to say, "Why can't we all just get along and live together again? Why can't we all just be a family again?", we have to face the issues that caused the breakup in order to restore the unity God wants for us. That's the reality.


This elicited a gracious but straightforward response (edited here):

I realize that the Roman Catholic church believes that a belief in transubstantiation is necessary to take the Lord's Supper. We don't, and in fact, we reject that interpretation of the Lord's Supper altogether. We also understand 1 Corinthians 11:29 differently than Rome teaches (I think the context of Ch. 11 and Paul's discussion of the body of Christ makes it clear what he's talking about)… What I'm saying is that I hope the Roman Catholic church will change its teachings on this matter and understand that Paul wasn't talking about transubstantiation.

With quiet excitement, I continued my story:

It's interesting that you mentioned I Corinthians 11, because that passage of Scripture was a large part of what convinced me of the truth of transubstantiation long before I ever got hold of any Catholic apologetics.

After attending a Mass in 1996 with friends in the Midwest (the imagination-stretching experience I described above), I was talking with them about my impressions, and I shared with them my perspective on I Cor. 11 that I had learned in my Protestant church.

(For those readers unfamiliar with the citation, I Cor. 11 is a passage which is used in many churches as a preface for communion – “But I received from the Lord Jesus that which I also delivered to you, that on the night He was betrayed, Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is My body’…” (vv. 23-32). However, the important thing to remember is the context of this passage. Starting at v. 11, Paul is actually berating the Corinthians for screwing up the Lord’s Supper – basically saying, “Whatever you guys do when you get together, it’s not church. There are divisions among you; one leaves hungry, another gets drunk – in fact, you make it worse” (vv. 11-22). Then, he offers the instructions in vv. 23-32 as a correction – “This is how you do it.” Then in v. 33, again he picks up the theme of the community – “So, when you get together, wait for one another…” (vv. 33-34). So, when you focus on the connection, the phrase discerning the body of Christ (v. 29) becomes significant.)

The point I made to my friends in our discussion after Mass was: Whatever you may believe about the bread and the wine, the phrase "the body of Christ" refers as at least as much to the people in the room as to the bread and wine. We are, in fact, “transubstantiated” into the actual body of Christ through the Lord’s Supper. (This is what I'd learned as a Protestant evangelical.)

At this point one of my Catholic friends piped up and said, “Well, that’s Catholic theology.” I stopped short. I was stunned. “What?” “Yes – both Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believe that the transformation occurs both in the elements and in the people gathered.” This was quite unexpected news.

I had thought that my commitment to the body of Christ as people first united me to "the remnant" of true believers in Jesus across all denominations and separated me from all traditional forms of Christianity (which I thought were all dead formalism). It was a shock to discover, especially when I later got hold of the early Church Fathers, the forcefulness with which belief in the Real Presence, in both the Sacrament of the Altar and His people, was held and taught.

It was my belief in the Body of Christ as the people of God, and my experience of that fact as a Christian, that led me to believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. If He can infuse people with His grace, He surely has power over matter. Body, Blood, bread/wine, us, Church, Christ - they all smash together in the Eucharist. As Augustine said, "We become that which we have received" - that is, the Real Presence of Christ Himself.


The Eucharist is foundational to my conception of my identity as a Catholic, to my understanding of my particular charisms and where they come from, and to the way I live out my vocation as a Catholic laywoman in American society. Because God has transformed bread and wine into Himself and given Himself to me, as I take Him into my body, He takes me into His. I am thus transformed - transubstantiated, along with everyone else present - into the Body and Blood of Christ which must feed the world (that is, the tiny subset of it that we come in contact with on a given day). This is what gives me confidence as I reach out to people in need, or to people seemingly without needs, in whatever God is calling me to do. He has made me “bread for the world… wine for all people”, as the song goes. I don’t have to join some social justice program or lay movement to engage in the ministry that God has called me to and gifted me for; He empowers me through the Scriptures and through the Sacraments, and He is faithful to lead me into situations where He can use me and my gifts to accomplish His purposes.

If you have some thoughts on how the Eucharist fits into your understanding of intentional discipleship, please do share.

HELLO - my name is...

Hi there, everyone. Allow me to introduce myself: My name is Kathleen Lundquist, and I'm a convert to Catholicism from an evangelical background (confirmed in 1999). My first contact with the St. Catherine of Siena Institute was through Sherry Curp ("the other Sherry" contributing to this blog), who is one of my best friends from college and was part of the founding of the Institute at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle.

I'm a musician by trade (singer/songwriter) and a budding writer as well, thanks to the discernment process that was jumpstarted at a Called & Gifted workshop I attended back in 2000. To learn more about me, stop by my website and check it out. There's streaming audio available of some of my recordings and links to published articles.

I'm honored that Sherry (and Sherry) have asked me to contribute to the conversation here at Intentional Disciples. I've really enjoyed our discussions so far, and learned a lot. God bless us all as the conversation continues!

LA Religious Ed Congress

The LA Religious Education Congress is expecting 40,000 participants this year to fill the LA convention center next weekend. 198 speakers at 246 workshops. Everyone from Ronald Rollheiser to Matthew Kelly. Carol McGee, our Called & Gifted team leader in Boise, told me recently of a local woman who, as a result of discerning a charism of writing, published her first book, and was invited to speak at this Congress. So the Institute made a little contribution.

The Congress is an event that conservative bloggers love to hate. I've never attended myself although I've had a half dozen people tell me that they were going to arrange for me to be invited to speak. So, far, it hasn't happened.

It would be great to hear from those of you who have actually attended a Congress. What did you think? Good, bad, mixed, overwhelming? Worth it? Why?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

But Before I Go: Can the Church Loom So Large that She Obscures Christ?

My question:

Is it possible to so focus upon the Church that we unintentionally obscure Christ, her Lord and Savior?

What we are discovering through talking to people is that one can be very active and intentionally so, in the Church, in the Church's worship, study, service, even mission, and have little or no lived relationship with Christ as the source of this activity Some of the comments during the discussions of intentional discipleship seemed to imply that ecclesial activity automatically places you in a relationship with Christ. Ecclesial activity = personal relationship with Christ.

Is the "unconscious norm" that some (conservative, high culture) Catholics think we are violating when we talk of intentional discipleship (and insist we are talking about "me and Jesus") the idea that an intentional relationship with the Church is an intentional relationship with Christ?

If that were so, practicing and activity would be an adequate measure of discipleship. And challenging people in RCIA to encounter the Church and consider becoming Catholic, rather than a disciple of Jesus Christ, would be enough in and of itself.

And "taking on your Catholic identity" would automatically be the same as conversion. And there wouldn't be any need to worry about pre-evangelism and initial proclamation or the "new evangelization" as long as people were "active" and living by the minimal "norms." And it would be rude and high-handed and intrusive to ask visibly practicing Catholics about their lived relationship with God because their practice, however motivated, would constitute a salvific relationship with God.

If that were so, insisting that intentional relationship with the Church is not sufficient for salvation by itself, that intentional relationship with Christ is, in the context of salvation, prior; would be "me and Jesus".

If that were so, explicitly preaching the kergyma to awaken initial faith in Christ in order to fruitfully receive the fruit of Christ's redemption through the sacraments and participate in the life of Christ's body on earth, would be "me and Jesus".

In our common pastoral practice, are we functioning as though baptism in and of itself establishes a salvific relationship with Christ (as it does for a child below the age of accountability because of the faith of the Church and their parents and godparents)? Are we functioning as though the norm for infants and small children is the norm for all Catholics throughout life?

Whether you are baptized as a child or as an adult, if you live long enough to reach true responsibility, you must ultimately say "yes" to Christ and his Church because no one else can do so for you. Some of us discover Christ through a prior encounter with the Church and some discover the Church because of their prior relationship with Christ.

But for how many does their prior encounter with the Church effectively obscure the need for personal faith in Christ, that personal "yes"?


Jury Duty Tomorrow

I'll be serving the cause of justice (they also serve who only sit and wait) by doing my day of jury duty down at the courthouse Friday. The last time I did this, I spent the day hanging out so who knows. But I will bring a good book. Or two.

Since Fr. Mike is doing a Called & Gifted workshop in Milwaukee and Keith is gearing up for a retreat in Chicago, I'll leave ID in the capable hands of our other bloggers like Jack and "the other Sherry". I'll check back Friday evening.

Catholic Quote of the Day


A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist, by Abbot Vonier.

. . Faith is truly a contact with Christ, a real, psychological contact with Christ, which if once established, may lead man into the innermost glories of Christ’s life. Without this contact of faith we are dead to Christ, the stream of His life passes us by without entering into us, as a rock in the midst of a river remains unaffected by the turbulent rush of waters. This contact of faith makes man susceptible to the influences of Christ; under normal conditions it will develop into the broader contacts of hope and charity; but it is the first grafting of man on Christ which underlies all other fruitfulness. Till faith be established the great redemption has not become our redemption; the riches of Christ are not ours in any true sense; we are members of the human race, but we are not members of Christ.

. . . [Quoting St. Thomas Aquinas] “As the ancient Fathers were saved through faith in the Christ to come, so are we saved through faith in the Christ who has already been born and has suffered.”

. . . Unless we grasp that function of faith as the psychic link between Christ and the soul Catholicism becomes unintelligible. . . . The Church is constituted primarily through faith, and her powers are meant for those who possess that supernatural responsiveness of soul."

Domenico Betteinelli Asks a Good Question

At Betnet,Dom makes an excellent point:

"It’s one of the quirks of Catholicism that it’s those observances that aren’t the most important to actual devotion, faith, and worship that are most important to many Catholics who would otherwise disdain the practice of their faith. I’ve had priests tell me that the biggest congregations of the year--apart from the obvious holy days of Easter and Christmas--are Palm Sunday and Ash Wednesday. The theory is that on those latter two days you actually leave the church with some evidence of your continuing association with the Catholic faith, namely ashes and palms. The thinking is that if you don’t get your ashes on Ash Wednesday, you lose your Catholic identity. What’s ironic is that ashes are neither a sacrament nor are they a requirement of Catholics. Of all the things that many Catholics latch onto it’s the things that are the least important, at least compared with the sacraments of the Eucharist and confession and the rest."

The point is that the mission field is not barren, but that there remain seeds and shoots that can be cultivated and blossom into full-blown faith. Right now there remains an opportunity for evangelization and catechesis to change this current generation. But if we wait too long, will the next generation have even that left? "

Actually, I can think of an practical, doable thing: Use Ash Wednesday as the opportunity to
inviting people to an evangelization retreat during Lent.

I've encountered 5 different parish-based retreats around the country that can jumpstart a lapsed Catholic's faith in a single weekend and bear fruit that goes on for many years. Hundreds of thousands of adult Catholics have had their faith restored or rejuvenated through such retreat and thousands of parishes put them on around the country. Lent is the perfect time of year for this because even marginal Catholics feel the tug and many come back because they are genuinely seeking.

What if an entire diocese did something like that during Lent as well as make confession available at all parishes like the Archdiocese of Washington is doing this year? Some people will respond better to a communal experience, others to a private one.

Way Of The Cross

It is hard to believe that Lent is already here. I know I have been scarce -- sorry Sherry! -- as I have been desperately cleaning my place in prep for a dinner party this Saturday. One gift I need no C&G workshop to know I possess is the classic bachelor trait of a wondrous ability to clutter every room, no matter how large or small the space. One might say that I have a certain radicality to my unkeptness that would rival any religious' radical living of the counsels.

And, ironically enough, I hate clutter.

Anyway, before I give up blogging for Lent.... (just kidding, Sherry!)

Lent is a time where people often look for corporate acts to engage in as a way of living this time of penance and preparation together and more concretely. Many parishes have bible studies that start up for Lent or rosary groups. Some might gather for the Stations of the Cross.

A tradition of the Communion & Liberation movement to which I belong has been to do a form of a Way of the Cross on Good Friday through the public streets of the cities in which we are present. Here in Chicago, this is our third year, and we hope to have many of the other lay movements and parishes in the Archdiocese joining us this year. Events like this happen all around the country. So, for those looking for ideas, here's the website we launched for Chicago. Info for other cities will be found here. You can find my reflections on, and pictures of, the previous two in Chicago here and here.

Of course many parishes, dioceses and archdiocese will have events to consider.

Living With the Pain of Schism

Mark Shea has a interesting conversation going on about converts and their expectations and what, if any advice, experienced converts would want to give to someone considering swimming the Tiber.

I've been thinking on that very subject today. One of the reasons is an e-mail I just received from a Protestant pastor who, as he put it has " read all or most of the relevant books and have been informed by many of the usual suspects, e.g., Scott Hahn, Ralph Martin, Dave Armstrong, Karl Keating, Mark Shea, Marcus Grodi (and EWTN), Peter Kreeft. I've also pursued the Church Fathers, and the Catechism is an unfolding wonder. "

He writes "I have gone through many reactions to catholic teaching and have struggled to seeming exhaustion with trying to discern what the God-honoring response should be.

I could tell my correspondent that the struggle doesn't end when you enter. It varies from person to person, of course, but I am still striving to integrate my evangelical missionary heart, Quaker intuition, and Dominican head in a single discipleship centered on Christ.

After 19 years as a Catholic, I am still bumping my head against unexpected Catholic cultural assumptions that I find so stunning as to be unimaginable. Stuff that you won't find in any magisterial documents or in the catechism. Stuff that seems light-years away from or even in direct contradiction to formal Church teaching. The debate last month around St. Blog's about the title of our blog and just what did we mean by "intentional disciple" is a case in point.

Nineteen years as a Catholic, years of theological study and research, a million air miles, 75 dioceses, direct work with 30,000 Catholics including clergy and seminarians and I still didn't expect it. Because I just can't imagine an orthodox Christianity that isn't, first and foremost, about consciously following Christ. How could "intentional discipleship" possibly be controversial among serious Christians, among devout Christians? Much less "divisive", "elitist", "judgemental", "non-Catholic", and of course, "Protestant" as various commenters called it. The truly "Catholic" alternative is what? Unconscious, unintended discipleship? Zombie discipleship?

Schism does not just divide ecclesial bodies. Those of us who are "bi-cultural" Christians long to bring heart and the mind, Word and the Body, masculine and the feminine, the apostolic and the contemplative together. We don't just think about the impact of the Reformation, we feel it most intensely. We long to be able to rejoice in and to draw from all the riches of the faith at the same time, even those that have become, over the centuries of separation, associated with "the other side" and therefore, have become suspect.

As a veteran cradle Catholic priest, who was ordained in Rome in the little chapel of the chair of Peter, told me this morning: "Evangelicals have something critically important to give us. Their culture of open, public discipleship and their apostolic mindset." It isn't an accident that Cardinal Stafford used to visit Baptist churches in Memphis in mufti to understand how they formed their members.

And I think that struggle will continue whether or not my correspondent enters the Church. It is an honorable wound. In or outside of the Church, we are experiencing the real tragedy of schism. We carry in our hearts and spirits some of the brokenness of the Body of Christ. To the extent that we successfully integrate these different facets of the faith within ourselves, we become small hubs of reconciliation and balance within the larger Body of Christ.

Cardinal Stafford: Lay People are Prophets of Our Time

A interesting piece in the Australian Catholic news features an interview with Cardinal Stafford former Archbishop of Denver (Denver's World Youth Day happened on his watch in Denver) and Prestident of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

"The Cardinal said when he was archbishop of Denver one year, more than 2,000 people preparing to enter the church at Easter attended an archdiocesan Mass for them on the first Sunday of Lent. But when they were invited back for Pentecost, only a few hundred came back.

"That tells me we can get them, but we can't keep them," he said.

The falloff in Mass attendance indicates a failure to integrate the laity fully into a rich parish life, he said. Other churches do a better job of integrating their members, he said.

He said that when he was bishop of Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1980s he would sometimes attend Southern Baptist services and gatherings in plain clothes to learn how they built their communities. He saw that one of the keys was a wider expression of reconciliation among the laity, he said.

The Cardinal said he witnessed one example of a husband and father, who confessed to his congregation he was tempted to commit adultery during his extended business trips.

It was painful for the man, but more painful to the wife, who was there also, he said, but that community was strong enough to support the husband as he battled his temptations. More importantly, he said, it was strong enough to support the wife, who was humiliated by her husband's public confession.

Priests should embrace and encourage the laity as they build up social networks capable of spreading reconciliation, he said.

"They are the new prophets of our time - I really mean that, and you can take it for what it is worth," he added."

Fr. Michael Sweeney and I spent an hour and a half with Cardinal Stafford in Rome when he was still President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. He asked me what percentage of newly received Catholics were no longer practicing a year later. "Fifty percent?" I hazarded, feeling pretty daring. "Oh no", he corrected me, "Seventy percent."

It sounds like he hasn't changed his mind on that one. His comment on laity building "social networks capable of spreading reconciliation" is really interesting. I wish he'd had more time to go into more detail.

It is in light of this reality, that Fr. Mike and I are working on a possible new approach to the RCIA inquiry process that focuses first on inquirer's lived relationship with God.

I'll blog more on that later. Right now, I have to get ready to take Fr. Mike to the airport and the beginning of his tundra tour.


WWW.The-Light-Is-On.Qrg

Archbishop Donald Wuerl has announced a new initiative. As part of a public push to encourage Catholics to go to confession, this Lent, all 140 Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Washington DC will be open for confession on Wednesday evenings from 7 - 8:30pm.

The Archbishop writes:

"It remains one of the great marvels of God's love that He would make forgiveness so readily available to us. The deepest spiritual joy we can sense is the freedom from whatever would separate us from God and the restoration of our friendship with a loving and merciful Father who receives each of us with all the forgiveness and love lavished on the prodigal son. Renewed, refreshed and reconciled through this sacrament, we who have sinned become a “new creation.” This Lent, I hope that all of us experience this newness of spirit and soul."

What has been your experience with confession/Reconciliation? How has this discipline affected your relationship with Christ?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Virtual Pilgrimage to Rome

The very cool interactive map of the station Churches of Rome from the North American College where US seminarians study. It's worth a daily visit during Lent.

For Lent: Simplicity, Solidarity, Community

Fr. Gill Stafford of Tempe, Arizona blogs at Peregrini and has a lovely essay on not just giving things up for Lent but undertaking three valuable disciplines for Lent that create space in our lives so that God can change us. (Reminescent of Fr. Mike's post below).

Simplicity, solidarity with others, community. Take a look.

Leave It to Rio to Find a Response to Carnival

From Catholic World News:

Rio de Janeiro, Feb. 21, 2007 (CWNews.com) - Counteracting the image of Rio de Janeiro as a city of sensualism during the annual pre-Lenten celebration of carnival, members of a lay Catholic group organized special prayer sessions drawing thousands of participants this week.

The charismatic group Renewal in the Spirit held retreats, days of recollection, and Eucharistic adoration in locations scattered around Brazil. In Rio, the group organized adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the Maracananzinho Stadium, which has a capacity of 30,000 people.

Very interesting.

St. Philip Neri came up with a creative way to attract 16th century Romans to make a series of pilgrimages to the principal churches of Rome just before Lent began. To make the pilgrimages more attractive, they included outdoor picnics and live music.

Heard of any other creative ways that intentional disciples have provided Mardi Gras alternatives?

Things I Hate About Lent, Part 1

Okay, there are many things that I'm just not happy about regarding Lent. The biggest one that is impacting me right at the moment is fasting.

I'll put it to you straight--I love food. I love all kinds of food (with the exception of anchovies, beets, mushrooms, and brussell sprouts) in just about any form. I also love to cook . . .the hauter the better (sorry, I haven't given puns up for Lent).

The thing is, fasting makes me feel nauseous and irritable. It is annoying, bothersome, and sometimes painful--

And oh so necessary.

As I move through the experience of fasting, I find a curious kind of emptying begins to occur. Not only is my stomach "hollowed out" by lack of food, but my spirit, too, experiences a sort of hollowing. When I can combine the discipline of fasting with the discipline of prayer, my discomfort and pain become, in some way, united to that of Christ. My spirit, which was over-full with the good things of this world, is set free--excavated in a way that prepares it to receive the grace and fullness of Christ Himself.

I hate fasting, but thankfully Christ loves me enough to ask me to do it. And I love him enough (in my own painfully selfish way), to at least give fasting a try.

There are other things to fast from besides food, but this year, I decided to embrace the discipline in an area I know I struggle with.

And that's one of the things I hate (and love) about Lent.

What about you?

Papal Ash Wednesday Service at Santa Sabina



Built in 410, Santa Sabina has been the home of the Dominican Order since the 13th century. The original carved wooden doors are graced with one of the first artistic portrayals of the crucifixion, which was still agonizingly alive to Roman Christians in the 5th century.

Every year, the Pope leads his Ash Wednesday service here.

Lent is Busting Out All Over

Slate has an article today on the recent wide-spread appearance of Lenten practice among Protestants. And the observance of Good Friday, Maundy Thursday, and even - the Ecumenical Miracle Rosary (created by a Lutheran spouse of a Catholic so that Protestants and Catholics could pray it together) stripped of the troublesome "Hail Mary" and focused on Jesus's earthly miracles.

Slate points out that the 16th century reformers were not fans of Lenten observance:

"The Swiss Protestant reformer Ulrich Zwingli mounted one of the first protests against Lenten traditions in 1522. Zwingli defended Zurich printers who insisted they needed their daily meat to have the strength to do their work properly. He complained that the rules of Lent had more to do with obeying Rome than with obeying the Gospel, which, after all, said nothing about whether or not to eat sausages in the weeks preceding Easter. Martin Luther cautioned against fasting "with a view to meriting something by it as by a good work," arguing that Catholic teachings gave believers the false idea that fasting could cancel out sin and win points toward salvation. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin criticized Lent as a "superstitious observance."

So how is the practice of Lent moving into the Protestant world?

"For one thing, the boundaries between traditions are not what they used to be. Crossing them is a steady traffic of believers and seekers. Want to meet someone who was raised Catholic? Try an evangelical megachurch, or the local United Church of Christ. About one-third of believers change churches at least once, according to commonly cited studies. Inevitably, all this changing of churches ends up changing the churches, as people bring bits of their worship traditions with them. . . So, maybe it's not that surprising that more Protestants are now dipping into the well of Catholic ritual and devotions. In that sense, Lent may be part of a trend . . .

Observing Lent is also part of a Protestant move in the last generation toward more classical forms of spiritual discipline. The hugely influential 1978 book Celebration of Discipline, by Quaker theologian Richard J. Foster, encouraged churchgoers to rediscover fasting and meditation in "answer to a hollow world" and as a way to turn toward God. Some questing Protestants started making like monks, practicing silence and solitude. All this was made more palatable by the improved relations between Catholics and Protestants that followed the Second Vatican Council reforms of the 1960s."


Foster's book was a huge influence on me (Sherry W) as an evangelical Quaker college student and has been a best-seller for over 25 years. Foster draws heavily upon the teachings of Catholic saints and spiritual writers was the first exposure to Catholic spiritual disciplines for millions of evangelicals. I still appreciate his balanced approach on 1) inward disciplines, 2) outward disciplines; 3) community disciplines. Foster was undoubtedly an important factor in my own journey into the Church.

We also know, from our travels and conversations with thousands of Catholics all over the US, that this grass roots ecumenism works both ways.

Ten to 20 % of practicing Catholic adults are either attending Catholic and Protestant services at the same time, involved with evangelical study or faith-sharing groups, or significantly influenced by evangelical Protestantism through the media: radio, television, internet, music or books like the Purpose Drive Life.

So what do you think of this religious movement across old barriers? How has it affected your spiritual life?



True Love Reaches Harvard

The brave souls at True Love Revolution, Harvard's new pro-abstinence student organization, have just finished their first Valentine's Day campaign.

TLR is led by two Catholic students who are dating one another. A puzzled but not totally hostile article about TLR ("God, Abstinence is Sexy") made it into the Harvard Crimson, the student paper, this week. (heads up: the article uses explicit language).

While a smaller than ever percentage of Catholic young adults are practicing the faith, the ones who do, do so with attitude.

I mean, what else can you call it when TLR's first publicized social activity is: an ice cream social. A pro-abstinence ice cream social. At Harvard.

Happy Lent!

A man has become successful in his business at the expense of the relationships with his wife and children. One day he realizes this and on the way home he buys his wife some flowers and prepares a little speech. As soon as he crosses the threshold of the house, he offers his wife the flowers and says, "Honey, I've neglected you far too long." Her heart soars because she's been praying for this day. He continues, "I'm going to give up coffee for the next six weeks or so, and then start drinking it again."

Huh?

At the beginning of every Lent, I hear people talk about what they've given up for Lent: coffee, chocolate, their favorite TV show, etc. When I ask if they've given them up for good, they look at my like I'm nuts. Lent has become a season in which lots of Catholics think we're supposed to suffer. The logic is, I guess, "since Christ suffered for me, I'm going to suffer a little for/with Him."

Unfortunately, I think that misses the point. It makes us the focus, rather than our Divine Lover. Lent is to be a season in which we "reform our lives" with the help of God's grace, and consciously do something to renew our relationship with the Most Holy Trinity. So if coffee is somehow interfering with my relationship with God, then by all means, I could give it up. Perhaps I spend $30 a week that I could give to the poor and spend the ten minutes each morning I'd be in the Starbucks line in prayer in my home instead. But why would I renew my Starbucks addiction on Easter Sunday?

This Lent, why don't we carefully rethink what we're going to do as a discipline. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are all meant to shift our focus from us to others, including Our Lord. Turning away from sin and selfishness may very well cause some initial suffering, but that actually changes as the new behavior becomes a habit. So consider carefully what you're going to do (or no longer do) this Lent. Is your new behaviour helping you draw closer to God and other people? Is it something that is addressing a vice you have, or an activity that is helping develop a virtue. Then it's a worthwhile discipline, and should be something that becomes a part of the rest of our life, not just the rest of Lent.

God bless you!

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Dust In The Wind

As we begin our lenten journey as a People called and set apart by God, the voice of Christ speaks powerfully in the season's scripture readings to remind us of our own mortality. This Word of God calls us to reflect on the reality that we who were formed from the earth will one day return to our place of origin.

And yet, because of the Mercy of Christ, who offers Himself for our sake, we are given an end beyond our end, returning to our ultimate source--the very Heart of God. Therefore, we must remember that our giftedness, our call to mission, indeed the very foundation of our stewardship comes from Jesus Christ. We labor and work for social justice not merely out of a worldly humanitarian impulse, not even just because it is the right thing to do. Rather, it is the Person of Christ who generates our ministry to the world. It is the right thing to do because of Christ's Presence in Creation and His personal call to each member of His Body. As the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People from Vatican Council II points out: "Christ, sent by the Father, is the source of the Church's whole apostolate. Clearly, then, the fruitfulness of the apostolate of lay people depends on their living union with Christ."

Our stewardship, then, becomes an expression of fidelity to, and ever-deepening union with, the God who formed us out of clay. Our lives might be fleeting, mere dust in the wind of time, yet like dust, we can reflect light--the Light of Christ--to the world.

How will you express your call this Lent?

Lenten Retreat Opportunity

Well, I can't let Fr. Mike have all the fun!

This Saturday, February 24th, I will be leading a lenten retreat for women at St. Julian Eymard's parish in Elk Grove Village, IL from 9:00 am to 4:30 PM. Here's the skinny on the event:

Take Your Place: Living the Life God Gave You

Each of us is a unique, unrepeatable manifestation of the love of God, treasured beyond all measure by our Father who made us. Join us for this exciting, interactive retreat as we explore what it means to be a child of God--for ourselves, our family, and the world.

Discover more deeply your identity in Christ and explore the ways in which He has gifted you to live YOUR life in the world. A perfect way to begin Lent!

Not only will you get to see my live and in person, but you'll also be able to spend time reflecting on your relationship with Christ and bringing the intentional into your discipleship! :)

Seriously, the retreat will include small group activities, talks, reflection time, Eucharistic Adoration, and lunch! If you are in the Chicagoland area and would like to attend, please shoot me an email at keith@keithstrohm.com

Do You, Or Don't You?

It's that time of the liturgical year again where Catholics (and other Christians) wrestle with that age-old question: Should I wipe away the ashes I receive because the real work of conversion is internal, or do I keep them on throughout the day, half-embarassedly acknowledging the numerous attempts by my coworkers to signal a lack in my own cleansing regimen, as an outward sign to the world, a call to conversion and repentance.

So . . .do you or don't you?

The Laity: Priests and Intercessors of Creation

Neil over at Catholic Sensibility, has an intriguing post on a speech by Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, on the mission of the Christian laity. Here are some intriguing excerpts that fit the Catholic Church's teaching on the subject.

The Church follows its calling when it stands with victims, because its solidarity with the marginalized and forgotten is a testimony that God has triumphed over the powers and principalities that seemingly justify their exclusion. When the Church stands with victims, it does so in gratitude that God has taken it beyond the powers and beyond death itself.

The layperson participates in God’s defeat of death in Jesus Christ. This might mean any number of practical actions undertaken for the sake of the kingdom. But Jesus’ proclamation of the coming kingdom was inseparable from his own self-offering. The layperson must likewise “offer up” in every situation that he or she will be in, always ready to discover and offer praise to the God who is present even in the midst of cruelty and hatred.

The layperson, says Williams, following Orthodox theologians, is thus a priest of creation uncovering “the truth of the created order in the light of heavenly vision.”

The layperson will surely materially help the marginalized of the world (how could it be otherwise?), but, in listening to their “word” and praising the God who – triumphant over death – is found even in the worst of times, he or she also represents these victims before God. The layperson has an intercessory role. "


As Christifideles Laici, 14 puts it stunningly:

“The lay faithful are called to restore to creation all its original value. In ordering creation to the authentic well-being of humanity . . . they share in the exercise of the power with which the Risen Christ draws all things to himself . . .”

Responses?




Speaking of Missions

Fr. Mike Fones will be hitting the Lenten mission trail this weekend (we call it the tundra tour since he never seems to get gigs further south than North Dakota).

The general topic: Intentional Discipleship, of course! For more details, go here.


February 25 – March 1:

parish mission at St James Catholic Church (Archdiocese of Milwaukee)
830 County Rd NN E
Mukwonago WI 53149


March 2 – 3:

I will be joining Fr. Mike for a Called & Gifted workshop at Christ the King Catholic Church, in Wauwatosa WI


March 11 – 15

parish mission at St Michael Catholic Church (Archdiocese of Seattle)
1021 Boundary St SE
Olympia WA 98501

March 18 - 22

parish mission at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church (Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis)
1900 Wellesley Ave
St Paul MN 55105


March 25 - 29

parish mission at Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church (Archdiocese of Seattle)
1121 228th Ave SE
Sammamish WA 98075

If you are a reader of ID and can attend one of the missions, please feel free to come up and say "hi" to Fr. Mike. Fr. Mike is a great preacher from the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). You'll be glad you came!

Catholic Quote of the Day

From Pope Benedict XVI's Q & A with seminarians in Rome last Saturday:

The Holy Father also dwelt upon the necessity of not "isolating ourselves, not believing we can progress alone. We need the help of priest friends and lay friends to accompany and help us. ... The gift of perseverance brings us joy, it gives us the certainty that we are loved by the Lord, and this love sustains us, it helps us and does not abandon us in our weaknesses."

And the Twelfth Runner Up Is . . .

I was out of town when the 2007 Catholic Blog Award winners were announced last week but I am pleased to announce that Intentional Disciples did surprisingly well for a blog that was less than six weeks old.

We were nominated under two categories: Best New Blog (where we came in 18th out of 81 nominees) and Best Group Blog (in which we were 12th out of 46).

My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you . . .

Just wait till 2008!

It's Mission Time!

If you are still trying to decide what to give up or add for Lent, consider the adventure of discerning the charisms you have been given for the sake of others. You can do it on your own or even better, with a small group of friends or fellow parishioners.

It fits neatly into the 40 days of Lent. For instance, St. Michael's parish in Snohomish, Washington is holding the five session small group Called & Gifted process on the Monday evenings of Lent. We've been hearing from groups all over the world that the small group process works very well.

There is something very life-changing about the experience of being supported in one's discernment as an apostle (as one who hase been gifted and sent by Christ for the sake of others) by other local Christians and it is an experience that is new for most Catholics.

As John Henry Newman put it (and we quote at every Called & Gifted):

God intends, unless I interfere with His plan, that I should reach that which will be 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."

As we have seen so many times, discernment changes the discerner in remarkable and sometimes - astonishing - ways. With a charism comes a call. Charisms are clues as to our vocation in life and supernatural tools which which we will be empowered to carry out our mission.

Is this your Lent to begin discerning?

Laissez le bon temps rouler ! – as a Disciple

As a blue eyed baby Baptist growing up in and around New Orleans, I saw a lot of adults do a lot of (to me) mystifying things during Mardi Gras. Thousands of drunken people puking in the streets (now that looked like fun), piles of beer cans and bottles that were knee high on every corner, adults in little or no clothing during cold weather, small jazz bands staggering from bar to bar.


We didn’t drink but my brother and I did become champion collectors of the doubloons, candy, and beads tossed out at every Mardi Gras parade. I learned to stomp aggressively on anything that fell to the ground to protect it from the hundreds of frantic hands scrambling for goodies around you. Occasionally, that meant I tread on a bit of finger, but it was all in the “spirit” of the season: let-the-good-times-roll conspicuous consumption. When my family moved back to Seattle, I could hardly take in the fact that there were parades in the world during which no one threw you anything. I mean, what was the point?

Of course, as fundamentalists, we weren’t exactly bowled over by the spiritual depth of New Orleans Catholics – especially at Mardi Gras. We already believed that the Church was the Whore of Babylon and there wasn’t much evidence to the contrary to be seen during a Fat Tuesday stroll down Bourbon Street. Or for that matter, a stroll down Bourbon Street on any day of the year.

Mardi Gras/Carnival is a centuries old tradition in nearly every Catholic culture in the world. So how do we handle the very natural impulse to have one last blow-out before Lent begins? If you live in an area of the country or world where Mardi Gras/Carnival is King today, how do you approach it as a disciple?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Catholic Quote of the Day

When you say Yes to God unconditionally, you have no idea how far this Yes is going to take you. Certainly farther than you can guess and calculate beforehand... but just how far and in what form? At the same time, this Yes is the sole, non-negotiable prerequisite of all Christian understanding, of all theology and ecclesial wisdom. -

Fr. Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Friendship and Evangelization

Fr. John McCloskey, in an article on friendship and the evangelization of men notes that the Church grew after Pentecost, through multiple persecutions, and when there were no social advantages, up until the latter part of the fourth century.

"All of this was the work of the Holy Spirit. Yet because God works normally through secondary causes, we can ask: How did it all come about, in human terms?

First let us acknowledge how it did not happen. It did not happen because of full diocesan seminaries, monasteries, religious orders and congregations. It did not happen because of a large system of parochial grammar schools, high schools, and universities. It did not happen as a result of diocesan plans for evangelization. It did not happen because of the widespread distribution of formal catechetical material through books, radio, television, and the internet. It did not happen under the influence of great Christian art, architecture, and literature that was accessible to all. It did not happen as the result of strong papal leadership and magisterial teaching.

I should hasten to add that I am in favor of all the above influences. But they simply did not exist in the first centuries of Christianity–nor indeed for many centuries afterwards.

The growth of primitive Christianity in those first centuries was, I suggest, the result of the same influence that will be the key to the "new evangelization" of the third Christian millennium. It was due to the prayer, sacramental life, moral behavior, and charitable works of Christian persons and families, who communicated their love of Christ and his Church to the people around them through friendship.

The wonderful example of charity of the first Christians, particularly in their willingness to risk their lives in taking care of the victims of the intermittent plagues that struck during the first centuries of the Christian era, no doubt had a powerful role in evangelization. So did the attractiveness of the moral life of Christian families. However, without the personal influence of friendship, all otherwise useful and admirable means of evangelization and apostolate would have been largely ineffective."

Sherry once asked me what characteristics my friends had in common with one another. I told her, "they all make me want to be a better man and better Christian throught their words and through their examples." That's true for both my male and female friends.

I believe this is the essence of evangelization - the love and trust that is established between friends can be deepened when Christ is introduced and eventually becomes the center of the relationship.

Have you been evangelized by a friend? Have you evangelized any of your friends?

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The Amazing Grace That Changed the World

Amazing Grace, a film that would be excellent Lenten fare is opening in theaters February 23. It is part of an elaborate multi-media celebration of the life of William Wilberforce, the devout Christian parliamentarian who gave his entire adult life to leading the campaign to end slavery. March, 2007 is the 200th anniversary of the passing of the legislation that outlawed the British slave trade.

Wilberforce and his friends from the Clapham Sect were a group of devout English evangelicals who combined love of Christ with a passion for social justice. Talk about lay apostles who believed in their mission to heal and transform society! Their passion changed our world.

John Newton, played by a fiery old Albert Finney in the movie, was the former slave ship captain who underwent a great conversion, become a pastor and hymn writer, and influenced Wilberforce in his decision to fight for justice. In 1785, Wilberforce visited Newton at St. Mary Woolnoth Church in London. Deeply discouraged by political life, Wilberforce asked Newton if he should leave politics to join the clergy. Newton advised Wilberforce that he had been placed in his role as a Member of Parliament to abolish the slave trade. It was in the House of Commons, Newton offered, that Wilberforce could best serve God.

Newton wrote the most recorded song in history (1,100 albums and counting) : Amazing Grace. Last Sunday, February 18, 5,000 churches in the UK celebrated celebrated the abolition of slavery by singing the classic hymn. Click on the link to view a moving history of the song.

The movie is getting pretty good reviews and is linked to the Amazing Change campaign to abolish slavery in the 21st century. The Amazing Change website combines a call for social activism with an invitation to explore the faith that motivated Wilberforce and the best of contemporary Christian music. Say what you will, evangelicals do know how to use the media!

It sounds like a movie and a website made for intentional disciples!

God Does Not Need the Permission of Our Fears

Oswald Sobrino of Catholic Analysis has a challenging post up entitled "God is sovereign".

Here are some excerpts.

"We persecute new saints, new movements, new evangelization efforts, new forms of praise for God, new manifestations of the Holy Spirit because they are new to us, because we didn't think of them first, because they make us fear that we have somehow been left behind, or because someone else is doing something better--even if the new things are loyal to the teaching authority of the Church and her doctrine. The fear, the pharisaical fear, that seeks to limit how and through whom God acts for good in history expresses itself in envy. That envy leads to attacking one's brother.

To the surprise of some, the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes quite clear that we cannot limit the workings of God's power even when it comes to the necessity of sacramental Baptism: "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments" (CCC, 1258, last sentence). Our God is indeed an awesome God. Maybe, we are compulsive, maybe we are overscrupulous, maybe we have made an idol of foolish consistency. But God is beyond all our fears and anxieties, all our weaknesses. So, when we get the tendency to police those who are orthodox--as was the case in the history of harassment suffered by Opus Dei, for example, or as is the case in some quarters today toward the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, resist the urge. Be instead thankful that God does not need the permission of our own fears before he acts in history. If others are joyfully praising and following the Lord Jesus and sincerely trying to keep his commandments, let them be. Even better, you might consider joining them in that joyful adventure."


Merton: Mystic & Mentor

I encountered the writings of Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk and spiritual author of the 'mid' twentieth century, backwards. After a time spent searching outside the Church for spiritual meaning, I began to practice buddhist meditation, spending an hour or more in silence each day in my dormroom.

I had no name for the experience, and little knowledge with which to explain what was happening to me during those times of stillness--which, if your familiar with various forms of buddhist meditation, was a good beginning. However, despite the obvious attraction I felt for buddhist practice, and despite the fruits that were yielding from my discipline, I still felt a hole somewhere deep in my spirit.

That's when I stumbled on a copy of the Asian Journals of Thomas Merton--one of the last 'new' collections of his writings to be published. He was to die in a freak accident at a conference on the religious life featuring practitioners of both Eastern and Western forms of monasticism.
Many catholics today look upon Merton as an unfortunate example of what happens when a thoroughly orthodox believer becomes too influenced by other belief systems. He is looked on in various circles as a betrayer of orthodox catholicism, a syncretist, and even (by some) a heretic. Many also see him as a man of deep spiritual insight who struggled with his vocation and his living out of the call God gave him--one who offered up the fruits of his own experience for the sake of his brothers and sisters.

He has been dissected, investigated, dismissed, and 'reclaimed' by thousands of thinkers and Church authorities far more intelligent and competent than I. However, it's clear to me that I would not be where I am today in my faith (for good or ill), without the influence of Thomas Merton. I suspect that the man himself would be horrified to hear me say so, but the truth should be spoken. Merton's writings, his experience as a mystic and a contemplative, helped form a bridge for me between the Eastern Philosophical practice of my collegiate years and the riches of Christian Revelation offered in the person of Jesus Christ.

I discovered, in the midst of my fascination with Eastern philosophies and religions--such as zen buddhism, taoism, and hinduism--the vast spiritual depths of the mystical tradition of the Catholic Faith. I soon turned away from buddhist practice to hesychastic prayer and the rosary. I spent time at Genessee Abbey in upstate NY (near Buffalo), praying and participating in liturgy with other cistercians, and I returned to a rich relationship with Jesus.

This Lent, as part of a spiritual discipline, I am once more re-reading Life and Holiness by Merton. I've just begun, and I'm already fascinated by his engagement with the lay mission to the world and his rootedness in the Catholic tradition. From time to time, I'll probably post some reflections on my reading. Meanwhile, if you've had any experience Merton's writing--good or bad--feel free to share it in the comment boxes.

Biblical and Patristic Readings for Lent & Easter

A wonderful resource for Lent is provided by RC net here.

It includes selections from writers like Clement, Ambrose, Cyprian, and John Henry Newman on penance, a wonderful photo-Scriptural meditation on Jesus in the desert, a photographic pilgrimage guide to Holy Week in Jerusalem, and a guide to reading scripture with the early church fathers.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Anglicans & Catholics to Unite Under Pope?

This was printed by the Times of London today (Ruth Gledhill is the reporter) and is simply breathtaking if true.

"Radical proposals to reunite Anglicans with the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of the Pope are to be published this year, The Times has learnt.

The proposals have been agreed by senior bishops of both churches.

In a 42-page statement prepared by an international commission of both churches, Anglicans and Roman Catholics are urged to explore how they might reunite under the Pope.

The statement, leaked to The Times, is being considered by the Vatican, where Catholic bishops are preparing a formal response."

"The document leaked to The Times is the commission’s first statement, Growing Together in Unity and Mission. The report acknowledges the “imperfect communion” between the two churches but says that there is enough common ground to make its “call for action” about the Pope and other issues.

In one significant passage the report notes: “The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the ministry of the Bishop of Rome [the Pope] as universal primate is in accordance with Christ’s will for the Church and an essential element of maintaining it in unity and truth.” Anglicans rejected the Bishop of Rome as universal primate in the 16th century. Today, however, some Anglicans are beginning to see the potential value of a ministry of universal primacy, which would be exercised by the Bishop of Rome, as a sign and focus of unity within a reunited Church.

In another paragraph the report goes even further: “We urge Anglicans and Roman Catholics to explore together how the ministry of the Bishop of Rome might be offered and received in order to assist our Communions to grow towards full, ecclesial communion.”

Thoughts, comments?


Destroy All Volunteers!

One of the biggest obstacles to parishes embracing the fullness of what God has called them to be is volunteerism. In my last 7 years of working with parishes to foster the formation of adult men and women, I can not tell you how many times I have run into the volunteer mentality.

The volunteer mentality believes that you should not (and, indeed, can not) hold lay men and women accountable to rigorous and high standards in any ministry (either within or without the parish) because they are, after all, just volunteers, giving of what little spare time they have. The volunteer mentality approaches tasks and ministries as if the skill, talents, and gifts required for the activities in question were completely interchangeable, to the point where "a body--any body--will do. The volunteer mentality sees the resources (the time, talent, and treasure of the parish) as if they were simply "human" goods (without Divine elements) that can be deployed like that of any business or social collective.

There is little room in the volunteer mentality for our identity as anointed men and women who are called and gifted by our God for particular works of love that only we can accomplish by virtue of what God Himself has given us. There is also little urgency to provide multi-dimensional formation--preparation for mission--since all we really need is a little "training" to get the job done.

The problem is, this volunteer mentality is the dominant mentality in dioceses and parishes worldwide. The solution--we need fewer volunteers and more ministers--called & gifted disciples and apostles who are nourished, nurtured, and formed for their mission.

If we have, indeed, been baptized into the priestly, prophetic, and royal Office of Jesus Christ, then we should embrace the dignity, rights, and responsibilities of that Office with our whole hearts--and our communities should foster this committment in everything that they do.

Until that happens, the Church will continue to "spin its wheels," and end up far less effective than God has asked, or empowered it, to be.

I have made a decision never to be a volunteer again. How about you?

How can you contribute to the destruction of the volunteer mentality in your parish?

Catholic quote of the Day

Whenever the Spirit intervenes, He leaves people astonished. He brings about events of amazing newness; He radically changes persons and history. This was the unforgettable experience of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council during which, under the guidance of the same Spirit, the Church rediscovered the charismatic dimension as one of her constitutive elements: “It is not only through the sacraments and the ministrations of the Church that the Holy Spirit makes holy the people, leads them and enriches them with His virtues. Allotting His gifts according as He wills (cf. 1 Cor 12:11), He also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank….” (Lumen Gentium, # 12) The institutional and charismatic aspects are co-essential, as it were, to the Church’s constitution.

Address to the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, Pope John Paul II

Touched by a Miracle?

Madeleine from Section Seven shares this story:

"We Interrupt this Message to Bring You .... A Miracle!

The set up is that about five years ago, my parents took my younger sister, Deb, and I to Spain and to Fatima, in Portugal. It was an amazing pilgrimage. Upon my return, I gave a small bottle of the water we obtained from a spring adjacent to the apparition site to our UPS driver, Rick (who is also Catholic). My father, who is an ordained deacon, had blessed the water.

Two days ago, Rick called me at 6:00pm to tell me that as his father lay dying in the hospital, Rick poured the water from this bottle all over him. Rick's father is completely healed, and the doctors are calling it a miracle. The story goes on... I was chatting with a client, George, on the telephone, today, and I told him the story. After a moment of silence on the other end of the phone, George began to tell me that he had left the Catholic Church, but that he really needed to hear about God's working in our present lives. Please say a prayer for George."

I (Sherry W) was reminded of this again a year ago when my brother told me this story:

The summer before he had accompanied a team of volunteers from his evangelical church to build a house in an extremely poor Indian village in southern Baja. My brother is an experienced chiropractor who has pioneered new techniques and traveled around the world teaching them. Gary was treating local people when a frail woman was brought in who had suffered from a serious and very painful dislocation of the elbow for 3 years. Gary hesitated. There was no way to obtain an x-ray. Treating such a neglected injury in a woman who was already fragile without proper diagnostic tools is very tricky and he was afraid that he would hurt her. As he struggled to decide what to do, a local Protestant pastor suggested that he pray. Gary did so, asking that the bones align themselves properly.

My brother said that the woman’s arm started to quiver and then, with a loud pop that was heard all over the room, the elbow slipped into place by itself. The woman had full strength almost immediately. The visiting team asked the woman to share her healing with the teen-agers on the trip so that they would know that they could expect great things from God. My brother joyfully summed it up this way: “The whole experience was what church should be like.”

As a Mardi Gras, pre-Lent spiritual warm-up:

Have you experienced remarkable or even miraculous interventions by God in our life or the life of someone close to us? What happened? Did it jump-start or in some way, affect or energize your relationship with God?

Share some of the really good stuff so that all of us can go into Lent with renewed faith.

We Need More Laypeople


A challenging Godspy article, Notes on the Lay Vocation by Janine Langan

Everyone agrees: We need more priests. I, however, think that, more importantly, we need more lay people. For what is a layman, what is a lay woman? Not a born Christian who does not have the guts—or the gender—to become a priest, nor someone too spiritually challenged to enter a religious order. Being a lay person is indeed a vocation; a drastic choice, more fundamental even than that of priesthood, because it has to be made first, before specialization into the second. It is the choice to accept baptism. It is the choice freely to join the church, for better or for worse, for life. Infant baptism may hide this truth from many. But baptism is a gift. Like all gifts, it must be freely accepted to have its impact. Unless the receiver freely decides to use it and grow with it, it will go to waste. In fact, it will be resented. . .

Too much has been said about the era of the laity, about the priesthood of the laity. Not enough has been done to make it happen. No one can fulfill the laity's vocation, except the laity itself. It alone reaches daily into the secular world, in order to shape it. It is the front line of the Church, its interface with those whom Christ thirsts to reach.

The priesthood is the Eucharistic heart of the Church, but the laity is its skin. The role of the laity is to impact the world at large with Christ's teaching and presence. This will not happen until the laity recognizes this fact, and is fully aware of this vital responsibility: What the Eucharist is to the Church, the Church is meant to be for all human beings, bar none: a sacrament of unity, a contagious image of the kingdom to come. We do not exist on earth to enjoy clubbish ecclesial comforts, but to become what we are supposed to be, real, tangible centers of spreading joy and peace. Each of us is called to become a supple instrument in the hand of God actualizing in history His wonderful plan for the created universe. That is what needs be communicated by the lay formation process. Every parish should lean on its lay professionals both to advise and to participate in this vital activity, on which the future of the Church depends.


hat tip: commenter Kathleen Lundquist

Comments, anyone?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Sin: A Refusal to Be

During this upcoming Lent, we have the opportunity to reflect on our sinfulness and the ways in which we fall short in our spiritual journey. So often, however, we focus on sin as an action or the absence of an action--something that we do (or don't do). It's an occupational hazard for catholics, for we tend to spend our time "working out our salvation in fear and trembling." (Philippians 2:12)

The emphasis for us is on work--action--on doing better, not in a 'catholics believe that we can earn our salvation' kind of way, but rather in the lifelong process of cooperating with the grace of God, which builds upon nature for our perfection. In this way, we can sometimes lose sight of the deeper implications of sin. In Life and Holiness, Thomas Merton places sinfulness in its complete context:

In a word, sin is the refusal of God's will and of His love. It is not only a refusal to "do" this or that thing willed by God, or a determination to do what He forbids. It is more radically a refusal to be what we are, a rejection of our mysterious, contingent, spiritual reality hidden in the very mystery of God. Sin is our refusal to be what we were created to be--sons and daughters of God, images of God. (12)
How often do we either forget or consciously reject our identity in Christ. We were baptized as priest, prophet, and king in the name of Jesus, but for the most part, those terms--rather than pointing us to the deeper significance of our new life, that we are called to become who we already are: royal, priestly, and prophetic children of the Most High God--remain merely poetic phrases, nice ideals that we should strive for, but lacking in ontological significance.

And yet, the spiritual life, which is to say all of life, is precisely that journey into holiness, into the sacred and infinite heart of Jesus Christ, in whom we find our deepest identity. It is less a matter of avoiding the breaking of this or that commandment and more of a letting go, a surrendering of who we think we are (or want to be), in order to embrace who God has already made us to be. To be sure we are called to do good and avoid evil, but the reality is that our actions flow from who we are, and not necessarily the reverse. To be fully and authentically human is to live in the center of God's grace, united with Christ, who gives our personhood ultimate meaning. In this way, we recognize that the Lord, the ground of all being, becomes the very soil in which the seed of our life has been planted.

Of this journey into holiness, Merton says:

If we are called by God to holiness of life, and if holiness is beyond our natural power to achieve (which it certainly is), then it follows that God Himself must give us the light, the strength, and the courage to fulfill the task he requires of us. He will certainly give us the grace we need. If we do not become saints it is because we do not avail ourselves of His gift. (17)
May the Lord God bless us during our coming lenten journey and grant us the grace to become who He has created us to be!

Amen!

Friday, February 16, 2007

A New Way to Form Evangelizers

Sacramental Fiction

Quite a bit different from Pulp Fiction, I'm told--or is it? I've been rereading and re-examining some of my favorite science fiction and fantasy authors, and I was shocked to see very clear sacramental understanding in the work of Gene Wolfe. I knew that Wolfe was a catholic, but I never quite spotted the very catholic theological and philosophical underpinnings in his writing.

Here, for example, is a quote from his novel, Shadow of the Torturer:

We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges. When soldiers take their oath they are given a coin, an asimi stamped with the profile of the Autarch. Their acceptance of that coin is their acceptance of the special duties and burdens of military life--they are soldiers from that moment, though they may know nothing of the management of arms. I did not know that then, but it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them, and in fact to believe so is to believe in the most debased and superstitious kind of magic. The would-be sorcerer alone has faith in the efficacy of pure knowledge; rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all.

I explore a little bit of the sacramental theology in this passage on my own blog (go here). I mention Wolfe and this excerpt because it shows the reach of the lay apostolate. Countless tens of thousands of folks have read, absorbed, or been exposed to the catholic sacramental worldview through the writing of Gene Wolfe.

It leads me to wonder if, indeed, speculative fiction is, in someway, the genre most suited for the exploration and communication of Christianity because folks who read that genre come to it with the willingness to suspend their belief in "how the world really works;" there is an openness to 'alien' points of view and, therefore, to Truth.

This is true to a certain extent with all works of fiction, but perhaps never so much true as it is with speculative fiction.

Thoughts?

The Catholicization of the West

Amy Welborn and others have referenced this article from the UK which reports that Catholicism has surpassed Anglicanism as the largest Church since the time of the Reformation. I was excited to think that there was a sudden surge of evangelization within the Catholic Church of England, a reversal from the slow steady decline that has characterized religion in general within Europe.

My hope was, however, misplaced. Apparently, the upsurge in Catholicism has little to do with the New Evangelization and everything to do with the New Immigration! Waves of immigrants from Eastern European countries have settled in England. This fiercely Catholic and faithful immigrants cling to their Catholic and national identities as they move to new countries. Fr. Dwight Longenecker has a great post on these travelling faithful. Here's a snippet:


Second, all the doomsayers moan about the 'Islamization' of Europe. They rightly point out the declining birth rate amongst Europeans and the increase of Muslims. What they haven't counted on is the influx of Eastern Europeans that is coming with the expansion of the European Community. This article highlights just one aspect of the new immigration. We may not see the re-evangelization of Europe from within, but we may see a new springtime of Catholicism in Western Europe as Catholics from the old Iron Curtain countries surge West.

These Catholics are used to living in a materialistic, atheistic, anti-Christian state. They should feel right at home in Western Europe, and with any luck they will keep the faith and exercise the same subversive influence there that they did in Eastern Europe twenty years ago.
It is an interesting phenomenon that while Western Christianity plateaus or declines, it is surging in other parts of the world (like the Global South and Eastern Europe). These areas are now, in effect, sustaining and supporting the West as it struggles with how to live in an increasingly a-religious and anti-religious culture. In many US dioceses, for example, seminarians from other countries outnumber native seminarians.

The interesting question is how will the existing Catholic communities make space for these immigrants. The Catholic Church in England might lose some opportunities for re-evangelization if these immigrants simply settle into nationalistic parishes, clustering by nationality.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Spirituality of Investing!


Hat tip: Mark Shea

Spotlight on Love

Yes, I know yesterday was Valentine's Day. I was a day late with my girlfriend's card and I'm a day late with this quote. :) The message, however, is timeless:

"Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.” - Pope John Paul II

The act of loving, of being loved, reveals the depths of man. This is one of the reasons why the Church teaches that Christ reveals man to himself, for in Christ we are Loved (by the one who is Love) perfectly.

But John Paul II's quote also demonstrates that once we have encountered love, we must participate intimately in it. True love is never static--it always seeks the Beloved, always desires to attain the Good for the Beloved. True love is, therefore, active. The act of loving, of offering our very selves as gift, isn't simply for others to do--but comes as we participate and encounter the love of God.

It is this love that propels us out into the world, offering the gifts we have been given by God as a sacrifice of love for others.

How have you loved today?

Are Our Dioceses Healthy?

By now, many of you might be aware of the study done by Crisis Magazine to measure the pastoral health of the dioceses of the United States. The study utilized three criteria for determining diocesan health: priestly morale, priestly vocations, and number of converts or newcomers to the Church.

It is disappointing, but not unexpected, that such a study would ignore the vast majority of lay men and women in its study of the health of the diocese. Far too many people believe that only the ordained priesthood matters when it comes to the Church, or that the ordained priesthood is more important when discussing the Church. Russel Shaw, in his own comments regarding the study, does take issue with the ommission of laity from the study, but he largely excuses that ommission as a function of difficulty. Quantifying the laity is difficult and, he says, "one can only analyze information that's available."

Even giving that statement a pass, the third criteria is a little problematic itself. If the number of RCIA members who drop away from their new communities is, indeed, at 70% after one year, then number of receptions into each diocese isn't nearly as useful as the study indicates.

With all that being said, the morale of the presbyterate and the number of ordinands each year are not unimportant criteria either. I encourage you to take a peek at the study and draw your own conclusions.

Crisis magazine has also featured the conclusions of other "prominent" catholics as well. You can see them here.

What are your thoughts on the study?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The "Mission" in Mission Statements

Nothing causes men and women active in the business world to groan so much as an exercise in crafting vision and mission statements. Nevermind that questions arise regarding the difference between "mission" and "vision," just the exercise itself seems, for many people, to be an activity of Dilbert-ian uselessness.

It doesn't quite seem to work that way inside the parish, where folks seem to undergo the creation of mission statements with a great deal of gusto--often ending up with something bland, banal, and completely interchangeable with that of any purely non-religious organizaion.

I was lucky to be a part of a group of parishioners at my last parish who were asked by the pastor to pray about a new vision of Stewardship for our parish. The staff liason for the group and I both had a great deal of experience with the Called & Gifted workshop and the theology of the laity. After guiding the formation of this group for over a year (where we talked about our experiences of Stewardship, prayed, shared our faith, listened to the C&G tapes, read several of the Institute's booklets, and studied papal encyclicals and some of the documents of Vatican II), the visioning group became, with the approval of the pastor, a Council for Apostolic Formation and Evangelization.

During the time when the CAFE (Council for Apostolic Formation and Evangelization) was active, we were asked to assist the Pastoral Council in crafting a mission statement and Guiding Principles that would shape the activity of the parish for the future. The final statements were shown to parish leadership who discussed them and gave feedback to the Pastoral Council. Finally, they were given the okay by the pastor.

Here's what they ended up being:

The collective mission of our parish community allows the diversity of gifts to be used to answer Christ’s call to proclaim and live the Gospel through:

Worship - Live out the dignity and giftedness of our baptismal call through prayer, devotion and through full, active and conscious participation in the mass.

Evangelization - Bring people closer to Christ, and to each other, through the testimony of our words and witness of our lives.

Apostolic Formation - Create and nurture faith formation and support the discernment and use of our God-given gifts.

Service - Share our spiritual gifts, resources and talents with our parish, our community, and our world through charitable action and social justice

What could have been simply another fruitless exercise became, however, a rallying point and the foundation for the parish's strategic plan, as the statement and guiding principles were applied to all of the proposed and current activities of the parish.

From that has come a rather integrated program of formation geared toward lay people living their lives in the world.

So, what are you thoughts on mission statements? Are they worthwhile? What are the mission statements of your own parish?

The Resurrection of Korean Catholicism

From Joong Ang Daily, an English language Korean paper:

"A revealing figure appeared in a recent census by the government. It showed that there are now 5.1 million Roman Catholics in Korea, an increase of 74.4 percent over the last 10 years. That’s in sharp contrast to the 3.9 per cent increase in Buddhists, to 11 million, and the 1.6 per cent decline in Protestants to 8.6 million.

In the past 20 years the number of Roman Catholics has increased by 175.9 percent, Buddhists by 33.1 percent and Protestants by 32.3 percent. The phenomenon has been called the resurrection of Korean Roman Catholicism.

Korean is one of the few Catholic churches in the world founded by lay converts who were baptized in China in the early 17th century and then returned home to spread the faith. 10,000 Korean Christians suffered martyrdom for the faith.



Kim Dae-gun, the first Korean priest, who was designated as a martyr by Pope John Paul II in 1984


Why the resurgence? A professor at a Catholic University in Korean explains:

"That’s not to say the Roman Catholics are more spiritual than other religions,” he says. “It’s just that Roman Catholics have a better chance of appearing more spiritual to the eyes of outsiders, because Korean Roman Catholic priests have shown integrity and their lives have been free from corruption. The church regards poverty as vital for priests and nuns. Their spiritual training is all about stressing that lifestyle.”





Roman Catholic priests in Korea are prohibited from possessing any property. The parish takes strict measures if problems occur. Priests are not allowed to be involved in any matter regarding the church member’s offerings.

Mr. Oh also points to the church’s active participation in the nation’s democratic movement, adding that, for the past few decades, Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul has stood as a symbol of social consciousness.
“Since the 1960s, when the Roman Catholic labor movement began among college students, the Church has always been at the forefront during times of political and social upheaval, especially when human rights issues were involved,” he said. “The justice and spirituality shown by the Church helped to build the Church’s image.’

A Pitiable People

This past Sunday's Second Reading, from Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, is one of my favorites precisely because it is so challenging to the Christian community:


"But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." (15:12, 16-20)
Paul has identified one of the foundations of Christianity--namely, the reality of the Resurrection. If Christ wasn't really raised from the dead, then He wasn't who He said He was at all--and therefore Christians are the biggest fools around. While Paul is really calling the Christian community to a deeper living out of the Resurrection of Christ, it took me some time to understand that this is exactly how our dominant culture views us as a People.

At best we are seen as unfortunately superstituous and deluded--a pitiable People indeed. If only we would have the good sense to embrace a life unfettered from fantasy and the cultural encrustations of a patriarchal age, and cast off the shackles of religiosity. At worst, our contemporaries see us as dangerous fundamentalists, of a breed with those who strap bombs to their chests and walk in crowded places.

It is important for those who are called to share the Love of Christ with others to know that this is how we are seen. In the eyes of contemporary culture, asking someone to consider a choice for Christ is akin to asking them to jettison their faculties of reason and right judgment, turn their back on science, and renounce the gift of fire to huddle freezing and cold in a dank cave.


That is why the reality of Christ's Love must be made manifest in deeds as well as words. Our lives must reflect the Light and Warmth of Christ. The self must die to culture as much as to its own ego, and asking someone to do that without offering them an experience of the deeper Reality of Christ is not, in any way, offering them a human choice.


If we are honest, however, we will admit that part of the reason the Culture sees us as pitiable fools who believe in a false resurrection is due to the fact that we, as Christians, often live our lives precisely in such a way as if the Resurrection were a nice little faery tale that teaches us a moral principle rather than THE fundamental Reality of our lives.


I'm not talking about the "normal" failure of virtue and embracing of sinfulness that characterizes our lives, but rather the continual and premeditated denial of the fullness of Truth--Christ as Teacher and not as Sacrificial Lamb, as Lover and not as Judge. In this way, the Church as Bride of Christ becomes, quite simply, the Widow of Christ. Living this way, the Church becomes every bit as Christ-haunted as Flannery O'Connor's South--a dark place of empty ritual where past prayers echo endlessly and the musk of incense lingers in empty cathedrals.


The world doesn't hunger for an idea or another opinion. It is starving for Truth and we, unworthy earthen vessels all, must Incarnate that Truth for our brothers and sisters. The time to Take Our Place is now.


If we ignore this call, then we are, indeed, a pitiable People.

Evangelization, Lunar New Year Style

"Meanwhile, as in past years, the Hong Kong Central Council of Catholic Laity and other Catholic groups have rented several stalls in flower markets in the run-up to the Lunar New Year.

Here they distribute Chinese materials such as New Year scrolls containing biblical verses and good wishes, and evangelization leaflets to the tens of thousands of people buying flowers as part of celebrating the New Year."

from Indian Catholic - your source for Asian Catholic news.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Great Vocation Rant

Must. rant.

I just copied this directly from the Vision '07 online vocation guide. Read it carefully. Think about what it is saying and what it implies both about a priestly vocation and about the vast majority of Catholics who are not called to a priestly vocation.

"Do you have what it takes to be a priest?

  • Do you spend time in prayer?
  • Are you willing and able to grow in your prayer life?
  • Can you dedicate yourself to learn what it takes to be a priest, both in seminary studies and lifelong learning?
  • Would presiding and preaching at the Eucharist motivate you to do it well?
  • Are you committed to grow and meet whatever God may bring your way?
  • Have you encountered God in the midst of disappointments and setbacks?
  • Do you enjoy doing things for others?
  • Would others say you have a generous heart?
  • Can you laugh at yourself? Do you?
  • Do you find humor in everyday life?
  • Do you have strong, healthy relationships in your life?
  • Can you face the cross and find it a way to resurrection?

If you can answer these questions in the positive, answer the call. God will do the rest."

Sure, you’d want an candidate for priesthood to have all these qualities. But their presence is not a sign of a specifically priestly call.

Rant the first:

Ten of the twelve qualities listed (those not italicized) would be part of any healthy disciple's life, male or female, and would fit one for any vocation – lay, religious or priestly. I mean, would you want to marry someone who didn't have a sense of humor? But the reader is assured that if he has answered the questions in the positive, he should “answer the call”. The priestly call.

Rant the second:

In fact, eight of the qualities listed are not unique to Christians at all. These qualities are characteristic of any healthy, well integrated, human being of any religious background. People of other faiths do pray, you know. So much for ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue.

Rant the third:

We could easily encounter five of the qualities in people of no faith at all. Atheists have been known to love their children and to laugh at themselves. Do the good people of Vision ’07 really mean to imply that all who are not called to priesthood are humorless? Or that atheists who can laugh at themselves should immediately hie themselves to a seminary?


Rant the fourth:
My personal favorite: "Do you enjoy doing things for others?" I've seen this one in vocation brochures before. Many times. I always have to fight off the impulse to respond: “ As a matter of fact, I don't enjoy doing things for others. I prefer to pull the wings off flies and drown puppies for amusement. Darn. Guess I’m called to a lay vocation."

One of the things that we have talked about ad nauseum on this blog is that when intentional discipleship is not the cultural norm in our communities, we literally lose track of what “ordinary” discipleship looks like. We can begin to confuse the mildest, vaguest, and most temporary impulses toward good or simple niceness with discipleship and the ordinary discipleship to which all of us are called with a vocation to a very special kind of Christian life.

We can even begin to conflate quite common human qualities that people of no faith often possess with signs of a unique call to leadership within the Catholic community. How can this confusion about essentials not seriously distort our discernment?

So my question:

Imagine two intentional disciples. They are already praying, trying to trust God in all things and gosh, darn it, they do enjoy doing things for others!

What sort of qualities or signs or indicators would really indicate that one has a vocation to the ordained priesthood while the other is called by God to something else?

Have You Been Sheaved?

A very funny eruption of wit is going on at Mark Shea's Catholic and Enjoying It
as people discuss the Mark Shea Event and readers continue to tease apart the Mark of history and the Shea of Faith, Feddie makes a vital point:
All this is fine and dandy, but the question I have for all of you is this: Do you have a personal relationship with Mark Shea? Do you walk with him daily?

My favorite response comes from Kathie Lundquist who writes:

It's about Mark Shea and the Four Sheavian Laws:

1. Mark Shea loves you and has a wonderful plan for your Web Browser.

2. We are all sinful and separated from Mark Shea, and therefore we cannot know or experience Mark Shea's plan for our Web Browser.

3. "Catholic and Enjoying It" is God's only provision (besides the apocryphal www.mark-shea.com) for our sinfulness and separation from Mark Shea. Through it (and the other site) you can know and experience Mark Shea's plan for your Web Browser.

4. We must individually receive Mark Shea into our Web Browsers as our personal Blogger; then we can know and experience Mark Shea's love and plan for our Web Browser.

Do you want to get Sheaved? Will you comment with me to receive Mark Shea into your Web Browser?

Ah, the Roman Road to salvation for the 21st century. . .

Colloquia for young Christian leaders




Here are some snippets from the web-page:


"Welcome to the International Young Leaders Network: A joint initiative of the Von Hugel Institute at St Edmund's College, University of Cambridge, and the Dominican run Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford [pictured above].We seek to identify, nurture, sustain and train young and emerging leaders aged 18 to 33 from any part of the world. This website tells you about the kinds of younger people we are looking to support and how they can apply to take part in our tailor-made programmes....


We believe the combination of the resources of key parts of two of the world's top ten universities, at the service of the Christian Churches in this manner, is unique. We are delighted that we have additional support from leading policy makers, writers, Church leaders, academics, entrepreneurs and social innovators. We welcome applications from candidates of all backgrounds as we recognise that intense learning can take place in a wide range of sectors and activities including - but not only - the academic sphere. Baptism is our call to leadership and our programme seeks to enable participants to take that call forward with focus, energy, rich theological insights and a grounded spirituality. If you care about "what matters", seek to analyse "what counts" and want to deliver "what works" for real change IYLN is a place for you."


Here is a letter written by a participant.


Consider Your Calling

"Consider your calling." These are some of the words that challenge us in Paul's Letter to the Corinthians. We who are foolish, we who are sinful and broken, we who have lived for ourselves alone, now live in and for Another. It is Christ who has called out of the darkness of our own lives into the very Life of God, so that we, wounded healers and broken vessels all, might bring His strength, and love, and wholeness to the world. In such a way, does the wisdom of God confound the wise of this world, for in Christ our weakness is perfected.

If we're honest, though, we'll admit that God's wisdom confounds us, too. We know the depths of our weakness, the contours of our own shortcoming, the bitter taste of our failures. Why would He want us, anyway? This is precisely what Paul implores us to wrestle with. Not simply to hang upon the cross of our own sinfulness, but to rejoice in the Love of Christ who calls us to unite ourselves with His cross and offer our lives for the sake of the world. So, let us consider our calling to be the Body of Christ in the everyday circumstances of our lives, and recognize the great Mercy and Love of God, who has gathered us in Christ as priests, prophets, and royal children of the Lord Most High.

Where is God calling you? Will you answer?

The Gifts of Cain and Abel

Monday morning at Mass I heard again the story of Cain's murder of Abel (Gen 4:1-16). I recalled in my homily how the one picture I remember from my childhood illustrated kid's bible was the picture of Cain offering what looked like partially rotten "first fruits" from his harvest, and thinking that it was because he did not offer his best to God that his sacrifice wasn't acceptable. But, of course, the Scripture does not give any reason why Cain's sacrifice was not looked upon with favor, at least not that I can see. Nevertheless, God is still in relationship with Cain, speaking to him, encouraging him much like a father would a disappointed son.

But immediately after my homily, I began the preparation of the gifts, and realized, there I was, offering to God "the fruits of the earth and work of human hands" which in a few moments would become the precious Lamb of God. I was stunned, and deeply moved, because I'd never made that connection before. The offering of Cain, our humble offering of ourselves, the work we've done, the good we've accomplished with the grace of God, the efforts to bring compassion and forgiveness and justice and love to the world are, for reasons only each one of us can guess, not acceptable in and of themselves as an offering to God.

But, rather than be crestfallen, we can give thanks (eucharistein) to God. For through the action of the Holy Spirit, our own sacrifices are united to the one perfect sacrifice of Jesus, which we see sacramentally re-presented to us and into which we are invited to enter. And so the fruits of the earth become the "best firstling of the flock." The unacceptable sacrifice of Cain becomes the favored sacrifice of Abel, the one slain by his brother. Rather than crying out from the soil for vengeance, the blood of Jesus cries out for forgiveness.

The common priesthood into which all Christians are baptized carries with it an awesome opportunity and responsibility. The laity, in particular, are called to consecrate the world to Christ. Every priest offers sacrifice, and the sacrifice of the laity is your struggle to be agents of the kingdom of God at your desks, your lab bench, your family dinner table, the basketball court - everywhere your path takes you. And this effort, the product of our cooperation with God's grace, is then brought to the altar and consciously offered to the Father in the Spirit through Jesus. The sharing in the one loaf (of which we heard in today's Gospel) strengthens us for the task of continuing that consecration of the world, and the fellowship of those who gather around that altar-table can enable us to work together in that task.

Thanks be to God!

Labels:

Integrating Mission

Many parishes are hotbeds of activity. There are countless commissions and committees creating agendas, meeting minutes, and action items. Looking at the front of parish bulletins, one finds a veritable smorgasbord of ministries--to the sick, the homebound, widows and widowers, blended families, Mothers Sharing, the poor, the disabled, young, and old.

"Okay," I can almost hear you thinking, "so what if these things happen--this is what the parish is suppose to do What outrageous thing are you going to say now?"

Well....this:

In many (if not most) parishes, all of these activities and ministries take place in relative isolation, steered by groups within the parish that very rarely communicate with each other. They are often missing one crucial component.

Integration.

How do the religious education initiatives, service ministries, liturgical minstries, and other parochial varia interact, harmonize, and colloborate with each other relative to the mission of the parish in the community to which it has been called?

The reality is that many parishes are stuck in cycles of activity, with each intitiative and ministry wrestling with other activities for resources. What happens in religious ed or sacramental preparation has little connectedness to the initiatives of the community, and the lives (the work and play of parishioners in the world) of the parish's secular apostles receive little support, recognition, or application in relation to the parish's mission to the particular community within which it lives.

The result is that we have a great many hands, feet, ears, and eyes in the world, with precious few whole, integrated Bodies at work in the world. When my boss asks me to complete a task, I don't use just a third of my brain, skills, or talent (though I suppose others have accused me of that ), I give it everything I have. How much more so should we, as the Church inserted into the neighborhood, offer all what God has given us at the parish level for His work in the world.

To those whom much has been given, much will be required.

When I recall Christ's words in the 12th chapter of Luke, I am chilled in my heart. How much is required of us, who have been given all things in Christ?

What, then, are the concrete ways that we can begin to integrate the activities of the parish with its Divine Mission?

Thoughts On The Body

I've mentioned before on Intentional Disciples that I have a copy of a devotional book called, Co-Workers Of The Truth, that uses the writings of Cardinal Ratzinger for daily meditations. I thought today's reflection was interesting and worth sharing.
"When we stop to think about what the body means for us, we observe that it bears in itself a certain contradiction. On the one hand, the body is the boundary that cuts us off from other bodies. Where this body is, there can be no other. When I am in this place, I am not at the same time somewhere else. Hence the body is the borderline that separates us from one another. This means that we are somehow alien to one another. We cannot look into the other person, his corporality conceals his interior, it remains hidden from us; yes, for the same reason we are even alien to ourselves. For we cannot see into ourselves, into the depths of our own being. That, then, is one side of the question: the body is a boundary that makes us opaque, impenetrable, to one another; that places us side by side, yet makes it impossible for us to see and to touch the other's interior. But there is another side to the question. The body is also a bridge. It is by means of the body that we meet one another; by means of the body that we are united in the common clay of our creation; by means of the body that we see one another, that we touch one another, that we are close to one another. In the attitude of the body it becomes apparent who and what the other is. In its manner of seeing, looking, acting, giving itself, we see ourselves; it leads us to one another. It is boundary and union in one. (Eucharistie -- Mitte der Kirche, pp. 53-54)"

Affection For A Presence

Have you ever considered how you view the saints? I was recently reading a very underrated book of Fr. Luigi Giussani, Morality: Memory and Desire, and came across this quote:
"In a certain sense the saints do not long for and aspire to 'perfection'; instead they long for and aspire to an encounter with, a dependency upon, an adhesion to, and an absorption into Jesus Christ. In short, they aspire to union with him. It is the encounter with Christ that gives to the saints their certainty of a Presence whose power delivers them from evil and liberates them so that they can do good."
I think what struck me about the quote is how easily it is, even for me today, to slip into a moralism that is a shadow of Christianity. So I find the quote challenging in how it re-centers the saint's desire on Christ Himself and His presence here and now, not on a "I must do these things in order to see Him in the beyond" attitude.

Kergyma Teams

Here's a group that most Catholics know nothing about: Kergyma Teams.

KT is the Catholic branch of the huge inter-confessional missionary organization: Youth With A Mission which is currently operating in more than 1000 locations in over 149 countries, with a staff of nearly 16,000. YWAM was founded by a Pentecostal minister in 1960 but has long been fully ecumenical. YWAM would qualify as a "fellow traveler" of the Independent Christian movement that I wrote about here.

As the Kerygma team website notes:

"Even with its Pentecostal roots, YWAM has always tried to cultivate a "heart" for all of God's people. Therefore, as doors of service opened up with Catholic groups in Spain, Austria, Poland, and elsewhere, it seemed logical to walk through these, even if many "YWAMers" had little, in any previous contact with Catholics, much less training on how to sensitively serve them.

Lessons were learned over the years (some of them the "hard way"), and by the early 90's YWAM not only had an ever-increasing amount of ministry in and with Catholic groups, but also a growing number of Catholics working on staff in some of the ministry centers. As one can imagine, this encouraging development brought with it its own unique set of challenges. Foremost among them was: How could YWAM create space in this predominately Protestant mission for Catholics to participate in YWAM's calling, and at the same time remain rooted in their church and fully able to express their Catholic faith."

Have you ever been part of such a ecumenical group? Was it difficult to "remain rooted in the Church and able to fully express your Catholic faith"? Benefits? Challenges? What has been your experience?



Street Saints

We have a number of fantastic Called & Gifted teachers who give up three day weekends to fly about the country for us and give workshops in places like Dodge City, Kansas (where Keith Strohm and Jen Piccotti were this weekend) and Grand Forks, North Dakota. They do it because the chance to articulate Church teaching about the mission and gifts of the laity is so exciting and because the response of participants is so glowing. It is really good news!

Barbara Elliott of Houston is one of our C & G teachers and her journey has been a remarkable one. She has worked in the White House, been a European television correspondent for PBS, and won the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights for her work with refugees and the poor. She is also a wife and mother of four young adults and a convert to Catholicism. In her spare time, she has written several major books.

Street Saints is her most recent. It is the story of the amazing iniatives undertaken by Christians in cities around the US that have transformed many lives in the inner city; an in-depth look at how individuals and faith-based groups are helping to solve urban problems: crime, addiction, racism, elder care, unemployment, and grinding poverty, among others. The key in all programs is not so much reformation as transformation. She writes: “The most successful faith-based groups have healed hurting people by addressing both body and soul together."

Barbara is a wonderful speaker and tells Street Saint stories when she teaches a Called & Gifted workshop. You are fortunate indeed if she's teaching at a parish near you.

Street Saints
would make a wonderful Lenten read.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Pentecostals’ rapid growth challenge to Asian Catholic Church

Catholic online reports:

In a statement from the Feb. 7-11 seminar “The Search for Christian Unity: Where We Stand Today,”133 representatives of the episcopal conferences of Kazakhstan, Japan, Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei, Philippines, Taiwan and Mongolia said that "Pentecostalism, which emphasizes the visible manifestations of the Holy Spirit including healing and speaking in tongues, has been responsible for 'profound changes' in Christian churches that Catholics have to understand and to which they must respond."

The working group’s document acknowledged Pentecostal churches’ “attractive elements,” such as joyful and spontaneous worship, strong community life, the stress on personal prayer and personal conversion, and the welcoming of the talents and charisms of all believers.

“These are factors in drawing Christians from other churches into the Pentecostal fold,” it said.

Yet, Pentecostalism also carries with it other “negative elements” for which the “richness of Catholic sacramental life can be abandoned,” the document said.

They called creating the “necessary” environment to retain Catholics, which includes “warm, familial atmosphere in churches, worship services characterized by participation and joyful prayer, an enhanced openness to the contributions of the laity, solidarity with the poor and others with physical and spiritual needs, and the restructuring of parish life into welcoming neighborly basic communities.”

Further, it urges parishes, basic Christian communities and ecclesial movements to “inaugurate weekly Bible study” and opportunities for the sharing of personal testimonies and to create courses, days of recollection and retreats for lay people.

I'm glad that the Asian bishops understand that the heavily Pentecostalized, post-Protestant, Independent Christian movement is the 800 lb gorilla in our ecumenical future. And Asia is one of its centers. China and India have two of the five largest Independent Christian communities in the world. (The others are the US, Brazil, and Nigeria.)

The common image of Asia as religiously static is wrong. Asian Christianity grew 400% in the 20th century and by 2025, Asian Christians will outnumber Asian Buddhists! But the growth hasn't been primarily among Catholics - with some exceptions. Overwhelmingly, Asians are becoming independents and they are doing so because they experience the power of God through healing and other miracles.

Consider the case of Nepal.

In 1960, there was only a handful of known Nepali Christians. The big breakthrough occurred in the early 60’s when two lay evangelists from India crossed the Himalayas to share the Gospel.

By 1970, there were about 7,450 Nepali Christians in an illegal underground movement led by teenagers who were tortured and imprisoned for their faith. In the early 80’s, I remember hearing an evangelical woman missionary just back from Nepal describing the marks of torture still visible on the hands of the young leaders. By the turn of the millennium, there were almost 600,000 Christians in Nepal, most associated with indigenous, New Apostolic movements. (81% of Nepal’s Christians are Independents; less than 1% are Catholic).

“At least 40 to 60 percent of the Nepali church became Christians as a direct result of a miracle," says Sandy Anderson of the Sowers Ministry. "Most times the people do not know what we are talking about when we preach the gospel. That's why it is very important to demonstrate the gospel. We preach. Then God heals the sick when we pray. The gospel is not only preached but demonstrated in Nepal." (The Church at the Top of the World, April 3, 2000, Christianity Today).

As of mid 2007, David Barrett estimates that there are 917,000 Christians in Nepal. Only 10,000 are Catholic. 743,000 are Independents.

Come to "Making Disciples" this year!

Serious, practicing Catholics don’t "just happen.”

Catholic disciples, stewards, and leaders don't “just happen."

Vocations don’t “just happen.”

Weeds happen.


Disciples, leaders, and vocations flow out of a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ in the midst of his Church.

When Jesus asked Simon to “come, follow me,” Simon did not drop his nets and set off after Jesus across Palestine for the next three years accidentally. He did not become St. Peter unconsciously. Neither will the next generation of practicing Catholics, priests, religious, and lay leaders emerge accidentally or unconsciously.

The non-negotiable foundation for Christian maturity and vocation today, as it was for St. Peter, is intentional discipleship.

And the key to intentional discipleship is a critical part of catechesis that seldom happens in the Catholic community: pre-evangelization and the initial proclamation of Christ that asks for a deliberate personal response.

In order to help parishes build this essential foundation,








the Catherine of Siena Institute is offering a new four-day seminar called Making Disciples twice in 2007.

One seminar will be held in Colorado Springs July 29 - August 2, and the other will be held in West Virginia November 4-8, 2007.








Designed for pastors, directors of evangelization, religious education directors, adult faith formation leaders, vocation directors, spiritual directors and catechists, Making Disciples is a four-day seminar that will help you:

  • Understand intentional discipleship and that it is the normative source of spiritual life, and thus the foundation of all pastoral ministry.
  • Understand why initial discipleship precedes catechesis and how life-changing catechesis builds on discipleship.
  • Learn how to listen for and recognize pre-discipleship stages of spiritual growth.
  • Learn how to facilitate the spiritual growth of those, baptized or not, who are not yet disciples.
  • Discover ways of articulating the basic kerygma that awakens initial faith in a gentle and non-threatening way.
  • Explore how to use these skills in a wide variety of pastoral settings: RCIA/inquiry, adult faith formation, sacramental prep, spiritual direction or pastoral counseling, gifts discernment.
  • Prayerfully reflect on your own journey of discipleship.

For more information, go here or e-mail Mike Dillon (miked@siena.org) for more information.

We hope to see you in cool, sunny Colorado in the summer, or in West Virginia!

Fr. Bouyer on the place of the cross in our mission to the world

Pictured on the left is the Oratorian priest and convert from Lutheranism, Fr. Louis Bouyer. His books on spirituality have been a source of great insight and wisdom for me. Recently, I was thumbing through one of his books, Christian Humanism, and came across this quote, which I wanted to share with you.

"In every stage of our life in the world and in the flesh, in each of which what comes from God and what is the result of sin are inseparably conjoined, we are called to renunciations that are, in fact, the only real fulfilments. In all that we come to acquire, we are, of necessity, faced with new temptations and summoned to fresh sacrifices, aided, though, by the light of the Gospel and the power of the grace which sets us free....
So it is that, in this life, all of us, Christian or not, work in the manner of ants who appear always to be starting again on something which is always coming to grief. Those, however, who reject faith in God, and are ignorant of his love, succeed only in slowly building up an ant heap whose organization, the more it grows, simply extends and perfects, with diabolical skill, the enslavement man has brought on himself. Others, by their faith, recognizing and whole-heartedly accepting the presence of God both in their failures and successes, work for the building of the heavenly and eternal city both in the destruction of their earthly plans, which fails to make them despair, and in their finest successes, which cause them no illusion. It is a city already present in our midst, though as yet unseen, one which will, doubtless, be tried by fire, but will emerge from the fiercest ordeals purified from dross, and, in the end, adorned with a youthful beauty which is eternal."

We've Been Nominated . . .

This is the week when people vote for the Catholic Blog Awards 2007.

Intentional Disciples has been nominated for Best New Blog and Best Group Blog even though we are less than 6 weeks old! We are grateful for our wonderful readers all over the world.

But this is the only time you can vote. So if you find what we do here valuable, go here to cast your ballot for Intentional Disciples and all the other wonderful Catholic blogs out there.

Our Hope: The Event of Christ

A thought-provoking note from Just Another Day of Catholic Ponderings:

Christian evangelization is destroyed when we embrace the illusion that a non-Christian culture (where Christianity's originating events are of no concern) should be confronted and overcome by a Christian culture. This is a deadly "fundamental error" that can tempt us, but which must be firmly rejected...

We must place our hope not on cultural proposals but on the event of Christ, on something that has already happened. Evangelization is to give witness to the fact - to the verifiable fact - that this event can and does still happen today because it has happened to us as something unforeseen, something amazing that surprises us, something that is not the result of our efforts of our particular ethical and spiritual pre-dispositions. It is this that gives rise to concern, because an event is something that touches the heart, that changes us, that gives us a new vision of life's possibilities.
Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete

Thoughts, comments?

Consultation and Governance

Whispers in the Loggia has a fascinating post this morning about consultation and governance (the Latin term is munus regendi) at the highest level of the Church: Pope Benedict XVI.

Why talk about governance on a blog dedicated to the laity? Because governance, one of three major tasks of the pastoral office, has big implications for intentional discipleship and the gifts and vocations of the laity.


The spiritual forces unleashed by conversion naturally demand governance. The Church is eloquent on the fact that calling forth the charisms and vocations of all the baptized for the sake of our common evangelical mission constitutes an indispensable part of governance.


The exercise of the munus regendi 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. Every act of ecclesiastical governance, consequently, must be aimed at fostering communion and mission. (emphasis mine) Address of John Paul II to the Bishops of the ecclesiastical regions of
Pennsylvania and New Jersey (USA) on their “Ad Limina” visit, Saturday, September 11, 2004


This is why the Church teaches that priests are to “cooperate” with the laity, listen to them, recognize their experience and competence, awaken and deepen their sense of co-responsibility, help them explore and discern their vocations, and form them for and support them in their secular apostolate (Pastores DaboVobis, 59, 74).

In their spare time, priests are also called to “recognize”, uncover with faith, acknowledge with joy, foster with diligence, know, appreciate, judge and discern, coordinate, put to good use, and have heartfelt esteem for the charisms of the laity (Lumen Gentium, 30; Presbyterorum Ordinis, 9; Pastores Dabo Vobis 40, 74, Christifideles Laici, 32)


And now back to the observations at Whispers:

"For those keen on a genuinely Catholic prism of thought, those looking for the bottom-up approach in action need search no further than the very top of the church.

As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Ratzinger employed the model of consultation from the Rule of St Benedict: in meetings of his staff, the juniormost aide spoke first, with interventions ascending in seniority until the last word belonged to the cardinal. Hosting thousands of bishops on
ad limina visits to the Roman dicasteries, while other top curialists would lecture the groups on their competencies, hand out massive amounts of documents or, sometimes, doze, the visiting bishops invariably gave their hour at the Sant'Uffizio top marks.

In contrast from many of his peers, Ratzinger took a listening posture, asking how the Congregation could best be of service to the local churches, eliciting questions and a free exchange as the visitors sought guidance on difficult situations at home. These meetings often took on the shape of fruitful conversations that came to have immense value on multiple fronts and were eagerly looked forward to, both by the prelates and the prefect.

Suffice it to say, the CDF chats only became more useful for the latter when he was elected to Peter's chair.

Since his transition from Ratzinger to Benedict, the sitting Pope has attempted to link his longstanding approach with the execution of his new office. Not only have all the dicasteries gotten the message to shape-up in terms of their
ad limina sessions, but the pontiff has convened three meetings to date of his "cabinet" of dicastery heads, and is said to favor being privy to vivid exchanges among aides, that he might be best informed of all contingencies in researching his options and judgment.

While significant resistance has formed around two of Benedict's initiatives which have been described as "stalled" or "held up" -- the reorganization of the Roman Curia and a speculated liberalization of permission to celebrate the Tridentine Mass, to name two of noted controversy -- such is his management style that, even despite his own leanings on the questions, no movement would take place until the bulk of his team was on-board, so that the implementation of other planks of his administrative agenda would not be complicated by significant discord. To date, the qualities of his appointees to significant posts has also reflected this skill-set.

Integrating the collaborative dynamic into an institution grounded in apostolic authority remains a skill many have either not mastered, or find incompatible with the
munus regendi and the grace of office. However, in a 2004 ad limina address to the bishops of Pennsylvania and New Jersey that's taken on the air of the epic, John Paul II told the assembled that just as "the existence of an unequivocal right and duty of governance entrusted to the successors of the Apostles is an essential part of the Church’s divinely-willed constitution," "a commitment to creating better structures of participation, consultation and shared responsibility should not be misunderstood as a concession to a secular 'democratic' model of governance, but as an intrinsic requirement of the exercise of episcopal authority and a necessary means of strengthening that authority." (All emphases original.)"

Sherry's note: The usual rules at this blog still apply - we don't do liturgy wars here. The topic is governance and consultation: the mention of the Tridentine Mass was merely an example of something that has been widely speculated about but hasn't happened because of the Pope's approach to governance. Let's keep the discussion on topic, please.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Most Amazing Parish Job Advertisement I Have Ever Seen


DIRECTOR OF ADULT FORMATION

BLESSED SACRAMENT PARISH,

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

This Dominican parish is creating a new pastoral position. The Adult Formation Director will enable parishioners to gain a greater knowledge and understanding of the Catholic faith and to deepen their spirituality. The Director will guide parishioners in discerning their personal gifts and will help them to apply their gifts at home, in their ministries, where they socialize and in their workplaces. Blessed Sacrament Parish, in short, wants to create saints and to evangelize the world.








The Director will design and implement this new program in collaboration with the pastor, the Dominican community, the pastoral staff and the parishioners themselves. The position requires energy, commitment, fearlessness and creativity. Organizing, teaching, writing and communication skills are mandatory. Corollary skills include the ability to formulate an effective advertising program, and to publish a parish newsletter, pamphlets, study guides, etc.

Preferred candidates will hold a master’s degree in religious education, theology or pastoral studies, and have five years of related experience. Candidates must be active, practicing Catholics. The position is available July 1, 2007; the application deadline is March 31, 2007 and finalists will be interviewed in Seattle. To obtain a job description and application send your resume to searchcommittee@bspwa.org . Blessed Sacrament Parish is located at 5050 8th Ave. NE, Seattle, WA 98105.

I should add that being familiar with the Called & Gifted process and able to faciliate the gifts discernment of parishioners is one of the primary skills they are looking for. If you aren't familiar with the C & G, we can train you as we have 1000 other pastoral leaders, but you do have to be open and positive about the whole idea of charisms and discerning gifts.

(
I suppose that I should add that we had nothing to do with the designing of the position or writing of the job description and didn't even know the job was being created until I was in Seattle last week. It's all home-grown. Obviously, we are delighted with the end result!)

Did you ever dream that you would read a parish job ad that stated boldly: "Blessed Sacrament Parish, in short, wants to create saints and to evangelize the world"?
For three years, I have watched members of St. Blog's moan and bitch about parish life and the level of catechesis and formation available for adults. The moment has come for some serious ponying up, folks.

Blessed Sacrament is where we started the Institute and an urban magnet parish near the University of Washington.


Have I mentioned that Seattle is beautiful? That the University of Washington campus is beautiful?














That Blessed Sacrament is beautiful and Dominican?


Imagine: A parish with a gifted, make-it-happen pastor who is seriously committed to the Church's vision and a lot of exceptional lay people. In a city with great espresso on every corner!


If you are a high powered communicator, passionate about adult evangelization and formation, like what you have read at Intentional Disciples, and live in or near Seattle or can relocate, this is your dream job. Check it out.




Missionaries as "Seekers of Lost Sheep"

Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI is one of my favorite authors because he regularly seems to be able to connect the Church's teaching and Christian spirituality to contemporary daily life. On his current website he offers a brief reflection on the missionary nature of the Church in which he makes the following observation:

"Jesus' mandate is still there: Leave the ninety-nine who haven't strayed and go after the one who has strayed. Today, however, the default seems to have shifted and it's perhaps more a case of leaving the one and going after the ninety-nine."

In other words, we may be spending too much attention on those who are in the pews, rather than those who might be there, but aren't. He goes on to observe,

"And this requires that our teaching and preaching, and our reaching out to the world in general, must contain more than only catechesis, explanations of our creeds, clarity around dogma and morals, and even the repetition (however valid, needed, and timeless) of the language of Scripture and the creeds. Those things need to be done, but that is only part of the task. The other part, equally needed and perhaps more difficult, is the task of relating these things (Scripture, the creeds, our dogmas, our moral teaching) to the energy, the color, the endeavors, the longings, the health, the sickness, the virtues, the sin, the beauty, and the pathos of our world.

More and more people feel themselves thoroughly disconnected from our church circles and our church language, and the fault isn't all on their side. We need missionaries to the world, people like Henri Nouwen, who can stand solidly within the church and invite the world, with all its desires and grandiosity, to join us, not as adversary but as family."

I believe this is a crucial point, and one that we need to hear today again and again. While it is true secular society in the west is more and more hostile towards Christianity, we Catholics do not have the luxury of returning spite for spite or condemnation for condemnation. Nor can we in good conscience simply circle the wagons and ignore the world. That would be to abandon the mission Christ has given us.

Cardinal George of Chicago once said, "what you do not love you cannot evangelize." So rather than look with suspicion upon the world around us, that world in which the laity live and work, clergy and laity have to collaborate to come up with effective ways of relating the rich heritage of Catholic thought and wisdom to the secular world.

We cannot afford to distance ourselves from our brothers and sisters like the elder brother in Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son, even if our brothers and sisters have not yet begun the journey back home. Unlike the elder brother who stayed home "slaving away" (as he put it) for his father, we are to go seeking for our wandering brothers and sisters, and invite them to the table set by Jesus for us all. That is the work the Father has given us.

The big question is, how can our parishes become places where these kinds of conversations take place? I would offer a few general suggestions.

1) Homilists will have to regularly turn to the theme of the Church's missionary imperative, "Go and make disciples," in order for this fundamental aspect of our life as Christians to be on our horizon;

2) Parish planning needs to include a conscious turn to the secular world, and include lay men and women who are active in the civic life of the town or city to help parish leadership understand the needs and dilemmas facing the local area;

3) We need to evaluate our existing programs and ask how they either reach out to secular society or form the laity for that mission. That will include, of course, catechesis, spirituality, sacramental life, prayer, etc. But the relationship Christ forms with us through these means cannot simply end with the individual's relationship with Christ. That would, indeed, be a "me and Jesus" spirituality. Christian spirituality has a "me and Jesus and you and Jesus and all of us together in Jesus" aspect, i.e., a consciously communal sharing in the relationship with Christ, or it is not entirely authentic or complete.

4) When we do address secular concerns we have to remember the old Thomistic dictum, "that which is received is received according to the mode of the receiver." In other words, we need to acknowledge and understand the secular worldview and present the Church's insights into human nature, the common good, justice and human rights in such a way as to be intelligible to those with whom we are speaking;

5) That means we need to be willing to listen to those whose ideas are opposed to our own, and to ask intelligent questions that uncover the presuppositions (sometimes unconsciously held) that are the foundation of those ideas.

Do you have any other observations or suggestions?

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Greetings from the Reverend Earl Michael the Reticent of Buzzing St Helens


Your Peculiar Aristocratic Title offers you the chance to be truly and strangely unforgettable.

The Reverend Earl Michael and I,

Most Noble and Honourable Sherry the Nefarious of Divine Intervention

would like encourage our readership to share your titles with us.

So the next time we throw that shindig in the Tuscan villa which is going to be the Institute's HQ when our ship comes in, we'll get your placecards just right.

I still prefer the title Tzarina myself. It has an air of crazed, mystical autocracy about it that pleases.

Does that mean that the Reverend Earl Michael is my Rasputin?

















I'm thinking I see a striking resemblance. You decide.


Street Saints

We have a number of fantastic Called & Gifted teachers who give up three day weekends to fly about the country for us and give workshops in places like Dodge City, Kansas (where Keith Strohm and Jen Piccotti were this weekend) and Grand Forks, North Dakota. They do it because the chance to articulate Church teaching about the mission and gifts of the laity is so exciting and because the response of participants is so glowing. It is really good news!

Barbara Elliott of Houston is one of our C & G teachers and her journey has been a remarkable one. She has worked in the White House, been a European television correspondent for PBS, and won the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights for her work with refugees and the poor. She is lso a wife and mother of four young adults and a convert to Catholicism. In her spare time, she has written several major books.

Street Saints is her most recent. It is the story of the amazing iniatives undertaken by Christians in cities around the US that have transformed many lives in the inner city. in-depth look at how individuals and faith-based groups are helping to solve urban problems: crime, addiction, racism, elder care, unemployment, and grinding poverty, among others. The key in all programs is not so much reformation as transformation. She writes: “The most successful faith-based groups have healed hurting people by addressing both body and soul together."

Barbara is a wonderful speaker and tells Street Saint stories when she teaches a Called & Gifted workshop. You are fortunate indeed if she's teaching at a parish near you.

Street Saints
would make a wonderful Lenten read.

A Post-Modern Take on Jesus

From the Wooster Massachusetts Telegram & Gazette:

Singer Rickie Lee Jones grew up a Catholic, and to this day considers herself an avid reader of the Bible.

Yet she made two important clarifications. First, she pointed out, “I am not a Christian.”

And as for her Catholic upbringing, Jones said, “I didn’t necessarily learn about Jesus. I learned how to be Catholic. A lot of churches are like that, not focusing on the message but on how to practice the religion. But all that is extraneous stuff. I want to know what the guy had to say.”

Which led Jones to “The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard,” an exquisite musical journey through Christ’s teachings.

“The discussion was an intriguing one. If we didn’t tell people what the impetus was behind the songs, they probably wouldn’t know it was all based on Jesus. If they just heard it, it would probably just be considered a wonderful record,” she said.

Jones wholeheartedly endorses Christ’s messages of love, justice and faith, which explains why she uses the brand name in talking about her new music. She also understands the dilemma of using the Christian tag.

“You have to defend yourself whenever raising the Christian thing. There is so much weight to it, and it frightens people, rightfully so. But it’s such a great message that it would be great if people didn’t have to defend themselves whenever saying ‘Christ,’ ” she said.

If you live on either the left or right coasts and in many other places, you have heard this all before. Churchless Jesus spirituality without the "baggage" and the "trappings".

If you could met Ricki for coffee or a beer in a nice relaxed place, what would you, as a Catholic, like to say to her?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Difference of a Life

I have been very blessed to learn how to do gifts interviews with individuals who have gone through a live or audio version of the Called & Gifted workshop. Over the course of an hour, these people tell stories that illustrate how God may have been at work through them on behalf of others, sometimes in extraordinary ways. What is remarkable is often the individual him- or herself doesn't even think their examples are unusual! This makes sense, because if charisms are involved, they enjoy the particular way in which the charism allows them to help individuals or groups, they get good feedback, and see results beyond what they might normally expect. God is working through them supernaturally, but it will feel natural to them.

A few weeks ago I was in St. Paul, MN, and I had a wonderful interview with a middle-aged divorcee I'll call Angela. She is a social worker, and we talked about two charisms in particular: Mercy and Hospitality. Mercy empowers a Christian to be a channel of God's love through providing practical deeds to help alleviate the suffering of another, while Hospitality enables a Christian to welcome the stranger and offer them food, shelter and friendship.

After attending Catholic schools through graduate school, Angela went through a conversion in 1993, after which she realized that God was present in those who were suffering. "How could I have missed that fact all those years before?" she asked. Conversion really is like regaining sight, and often we don't even realize we were blind!

Since 1993, Angela has opened her home to over 50 foster children, many of whom were infants. One child stood out in her mind. She had been asked to take a nearly one-year old baby home for a month while a foster home was found for her. When she picked up the child, Hannah, she was shocked to find that the baby weighed less than ten pounds! She had been horribly abused, and her twin sister had died from similar abuse. Already she had been in thirteen foster care placements. The child, Hannah, was a crack baby and had some problems with her legs. Angela was told that Hannah would probably be mentally retarded and have trouble walking all her life.

Hannah was not an easy child. She screamed nearly all night long, bit Angela, and wouldn't eat well. After saying "Momma" to Angela when they first met, Hannah refused to speak again. At night, from her bedroom off the kitchen, Angela could hear her other children speculating as to, "what's wrong with mom?"

A month went by, and it was time to take Hannah to her new foster home, but Angela was told there was no placement, so the child would have to be institutionalized. After sadly putting her in the car, Angela began to drive. By the time she reached the end of the block, Angela was sobbing. She couldn't abandon this little girl, because she knew if Hannah were institutionalized, she would soon join her twin in death. So she took Hannah home. After consulting with experts who offered no hope for comforting the screaming little girl, Angela decided to "start over" with Hannah. She began to treat her as though she were an infant; carrying her constantly and not letting her crawl, feeding her by hand, constantly telling the baby how much she loved her. It seemed to make a difference, but Angela knew something more was needed.

She went to the local cathedral and spoke to a priest she knew. Would he pray with her over the child? He agreed, and they prayed before a statue of the Blessed Mother and poured out their hearts on behalf of Hannah.

By the age of four, Hannah was talking, and today she is a healthy, active sixth grader in Catholic school. She is doing great academically, and no one would suspect her history. She still calls Angela "momma."

You see, Angela adopted Hannah.

This is an example of the difference that one life can make. This is the difference our charisms, or gratuitous spiritual gifts, make. Hannah's alive and thriving because of the love of God she received through Angela – through the charisms that God gave Angela for this healing purpose. Who knows what Hannah will do in her life, what contributions to society she'll make, or who she will love. She, and we, will owe it all to God, who continues to enter the world and change it for the better through ordinary people like Angela,

and you,

and me.

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Prayer of St. Thomas Before Studying

From the website of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology:

Ineffable Creator...
You are proclaimed

the true font of light and wisdom,
and the primal origin
raised high beyond all things.

Pour forth a ray of Your brightness
into the darkened places of my mind;
disperse from my soul the twofold darkness
into which I was born:
sin and ignorance.

You make eloquent the tongues of infants.
Refine my speech
and pour forth upon my lips
the goodness of Your blessing.

Grant to me keenness of mind,
capacity to remember,
skill in learning,
subtlety to interpret,
and eloquence in speech.

May You guide the beginning of my work,
direct its progress,
and bring it to completion.

You Who are true God and true Man,
Who live and reign,
world without end.

Amen

The Lay Center in Rome: Great English Language Formation at the Heart of the Church

All English speaking Catholics should be aware of the work of the wonderful Lay Centre in Rome. We had the chance to visit it and its remarkable American woman director, Dr. Donna Orsuto, when we were in Rome. (She gave me my first taste of Lemoncello!).

It is a combination hostel for students of theology, meeting place and retreat/formation center for English language speakers in Rome. The Centre both hosts wonderful study pilgrimage gathering such as Dining in the Kingdom: Unveiling the Transformative Power of the Eucharist (May, 2007) and Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: Laity in the Church Yesterday and Today (late June-early July, 2007)

or the Centre can help your group design and put on its own study/prayer/pilgrimage experience.


"The vocation and mission of the laity (and indeed of every Christian) flow from baptism in the name of the Trinity. Recognizing the call and responding to it come from learning to listen carefully to the Spirit in the midst of the world. The Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas is committed to helping laity do this through providing an environment which fosters the realization of this profound call. The Lay Centre is about discerning vocations, about helping lay women and men discover God’s unique call in their lives, a call to communion and a call to mission."

It is our kind of place. If you have dreams of throwing those coins in the fountain, check it out.

Evangelistic Ecumenism & Social Transformation

More on that meeting this week of the "most diverse ecumenical gathering in US history" (I'm not sure about that but possibly.)

"evangelism is being renewed among the churches. And it's being renewed with a holistic appeal, Thomas indicated of his church. Catholics and Orthodox Christians are also emphasizing holistic evangelization.

Some acknowledged the decline of evangelization in the United States, saying "liberal theology, fuzzy Christology and the fear of being perceived as proselytizing" has contributed to the little evangelism activity, according to United Church of Christ head John Thomas.

The Rev. Rothang Chhangte, a Christian convert from Burma, stated, "We must dedicate ourselves to proclaim the gospel in ways understandable to all persons by being a forming and reforming influence in all aspects of life."

Ultimately, leading people to Christ leads to "the greatest social action," said McClung, as the conversion creates a climate for other positive changes to take place."

As Church teaching puts it:

The Kingdom of God is already present in the person of Jesus and is slowly established in humanity and the world "through a mysterious connection with him" (Mission of the Redeemer, 16.)

In other words, the Reign of God begins with an encounter with the One who Reigns.

l

More on Adoration, Evangelization, and the Blogosphere

I posted this piece on Adoration and its impact on parish renewal and potential for the evangelization of non-Catholics on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Fr. Dwight Longenecker linked to this post on his Standing On My Head and added his experience of the impact of the Eucharist on a Baptist minister. (which one reader found somewhat hard to believe. )

Personal note: Apparently many Catholics do not realize that some non-Catholics and even some non-baptized people spontaneously feel the real presence of Christ when they are exposed to the Blessed Sacrament? They don't have to know anything about Church teaching on the subject to respond to the presence of Christ. It is why I am Catholic today and in the course of gifts interviews, I've heard the same story from a number of people.

When he was teaching Called & Gifted workshops with me, Fr. Michael Sweeney often told the story of a unbaptized college student who came to him and said she wanted to become Catholic. He asked her why she wanted to become Catholic. Did she have Catholic family, friends, had she been exposed to the Mass or reading Catholic books, etc. She answered "no". Then with trembling hands, she dragged him into the chapel and pointed to the Tabernacle. "I want that", she told him. She could feel the goodness eminating out of the tabernacle even though she had never been told Who was present.

"Well", said Fr. Michael, "you shall have that." and began her instruction.

Perhaps its time for a new motto:
The Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament: it's not just for Catholics anymore!

But back to the power of St. Blog's:

By Thursday evening, a reader from Scotland had linked to us and blogged about his experiences of Adoration here.

And Amy Welborn gave it a one line mention on Friday afternoon here and such is the power of her lightest word that hundreds of people dropped by to read on Friday evening.

On Saturday morning, David Hartline has picked it up the story here.

I find the whole process of watching an idea spread around the internet fascinating. Especially since I have tried to raise the subject of the Blessed Sacrament and Evangelization several times before, both in print via our old dead tree newsletter and in live events. I never got any response. But if you get it in the right hands via blogdom, you just might get some response.

All hail the pajamadeen! Potential (if we do not forget ourselves and succumb to the dark side!) apostles of the Holy Spirit!

A Bleg from an Academic Friend of Mine

Could you ask your list on the blog about what book by Edith Stein or any other 20th century theologian they would recommend to assign to an advanced undergraduate class? I would like to use either a book by Edith Stein or Theresa of Lisieux or something similar and I would be interested in knowing if any of your list members has any sense of what might be useful for undergrads?

Any ideas?

Friday, February 9, 2007

Maybe We're not Crazy!

In an article in the Boston Pilot, Cardinal Sean O'Malley is reported to have told a group of Boston College students,

"Catholics are called to live their lives with a sense of vocation."

One woman at the event asked, “For those of us who aren’t called into the religious life, what would you recommend for us to do? I look around the room, and I know a lot of us are interested in serving in different ways but are kind of unsure of how that fits into the Church and developing the Church as the body of Christ.”

Every Catholic is called to holiness and to the communal mission of the Church, Cardinal O’Malley responded.

“Even our career choices have to be informed by that desire to serve God and serve the community,” he said. “Every single one of us has a calling in life that we must prayerfully discern and generously and courageously embrace in our lives if we’re going to make a difference.”

The laity is called to engage in public life, transform society with the values of the Gospel and witness to God’s love, he said.

Sounds like we're on the same page as the Cardinal. We must be reading the same documents!

By the way, the Cardinal has a blog, too, at http://cardinalseansblog.org/

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Is Discipleship a Craft?

An intriguing article from Neil over at Catholic Sensibilities.

A few excerpts:

Put more generally, “our minds are not adequate to the task until we have conformed ourselves to the objects on which we are focused.” How do we conform ourselves to Christ? We are conformed to Christ through Christ, not some universal notion of reason or a general kind of knowledge: “to know Christ is to apprentice with and for him.”

Second, the craft tradition of knowledge does not recommend abstract knowledge about pipe, but privileges knowing how to do things with pipe. . . The craft tradition, then, reminds us of the importance of real narratives of concrete actions and tangible results.Obviously, these skills are not learnt spontaneously, individually, or, for that matter, easily and quickly. Skilled and semi-skilled trades generally require a process of apprenticeship. Before drafting the creosote plant, Tex Sample’s father had necessarily worked for some time around machinery, pumps, and gauges. We have already suggested that becoming a disciple means becoming an “apprentice with and for” Jesus Christ. This cannot be done at a distance, or, for that matter, easily and quickly. One accepts Christ as a mentor when he or she participates in the life of the church and learns various skills: prayer, confession, Bible reading, caring for others, Eucharistic practice …

I know that having a spiritual mentor as a young Christian (in my case, a remarkable Quaker woman pastor) made a huge difference to my life and spiritual growth.

How many Catholics have "mentors" in the faith? Can we intentionally become such mentors for one another?

Lay Evangelists/Catechists in Uraguay

from Zenit, February 5:

In Uruguay, Laity Are Becoming Fishers of Men

Bishop Tells of Country's Shortage of Priests

Lay catechists are taking the lead to spread the Gospel in Uruguay, where only 5% of the population regularly attend Mass, says a bishop.

Bishop Luis del Castillo Estrada of the Diocese of Melo, citing the shortage of priests, explained that lay catechists are at the forefront of a plan to revitalize the faith in the South American country. Three-quarters of its 3.4 million people are baptized.

In an interview with the Germany-based charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop del Castillo pointed out that the Church faces a difficult mission in Uruguay, which has a long history of anti-clericalism.

The 75-year-old bishop explained how the lay faithful are increasingly taking their place alongside the clergy in developing programs of outreach and evangelization.

The prelate added that the role of lay leaders is becoming crucial. He said that in his diocese, in the northeast part of the country, just 18 priests, most of them foreign missionaries, serve 135,000 people.

Lay Catholics in rural areas are leading Liturgy of the Word prayer services, training catechists, producing religious education material and even appearing on the radio.

Seeking Christ as Dominicans in Norfolk State Prison

the story of the only group of professed Dominican Laity in an American prison here.

"Ruth Raichle, the Catholic chaplain at Norfolk, said the men are, in many ways, quite similar to cloistered religious. Through their prayers, they are saving souls, and through their witness they are encouraging others in the prison to seek Christ, she said."

“I always call them the real missionaries because they bring other men to the Church,” she said."

Inspired by the work of the Sisters of Bethanie founded in 1866 to give women released from a prison a chance to follow a religious vocation. In Bethany, former inmates and non-inmates live together in community and no one knows who is who. Rumer Godden wrote a lovely novel about the Sisters of Bethanie, Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy, which has recently been reprinted.

Ecumenism & Evangelism

An ecumenical group representing the five church “families” — Roman Catholic, evangelical/Pentecostal, Protestant, Orthodox and historic racial ethnic — as well as a number of non-denomination religious groups, such as World Vision, Bread for the World, Sojourners/Call to Renewal, Evangelicals for Social Action and the Salvation Army, gathered in Pasadena, California on Feb 7 to discuss evangelization.

Very interesting. I can't help but wonder if I see the hand of my alma mater, Fuller, here. Fuller is the largest interdenominational seminary in the world, its main campus is in Pasadena, and the attendees all sound pretty "evangelical" in worldview to me.

Getting Into Dodge

Sorry I've been so quiet lately. Chicago's Pluto-like weather has given me the plague! Anyway, after some nuclear-powered antibiotics, I'm feeling better and heading off to Dodge City where I'll be giving a one-day Called & Gifted workshop for a group of Catechists and the next day offering a workshop for close to 100 Teens.

I'll pop in as time and an internet connection allows.

Vatican Statement on Death Penalty

From the Vatican news service:


VATICAN CITY, FEB 7, 2007 (VIS) - Made public today was a declaration of the Holy See delivered during the course of a world congress on the death penalty, held in Paris, France from February 1 to 3.

"The Paris congress," reads the French-language text, "is being celebrated at a time in which, because of recent executions, the campaign against the death penalty is facing new and disquieting challenges. Public opinion has become sensitized and has expressed its concern for a more effective recognition of the inalienable dignity of human beings, and of the universality and integrity of human rights, beginning with the right to life."

As in previous meetings on the same subject, "the Holy See takes this opportunity to welcome and affirm once more its support for all initiatives that aim to defend the inherent value and inviolability of all human life, from conception to natural end. In this perspective, it is worth noting that the use of the death penalty is not just a negation of the right to life, but also an affront to human dignity."

"The Catholic Church continues to maintain that the legitimate authorities of State have the duty to protect society from aggressors," but "some States traditionally include the death penalty among the means used to achieve this end," an option "that is difficult to justify today." States now have new ways "of preserving public order and people's safety," which include "offering the accused stimuli and encouragement" to mend their ways. Such non-lethal means of prevention and punishment "correspond better to the ... the common good and conform more to the dignity of the human person."

"Any decision to use the death penalty involves many dangers," such as "that of punishing the innocent, and the temptation to foment violent forms of revenge rather than true social justice." It is also "a clear offense against the inviolability of human life ... and, for Christians, an affront to the evangelical teaching of forgiveness."

"The Holy See," the text concludes, "reiterates its appreciation to the organizers of the congress, to governments, ... and to everyone who works ... to abolish the death penalty or to impose a universal moratorium on its use."

In one way, this is nothing new and yet, it seems pretty strong when the Vatican is calling for people to work for the abolition or a universal moratorium on the use of the death penalty. The Vatican's teaching on the subject would seem to be what John Allen has termed a "practical absolute", acts which might be justified in theory, but which under present conditions cannot be accepted.

What do you think? How can or should we respond as lay Catholics with direct personal responsibility (through voting or in more direct ways) for the justice system?

The Power of Personal Witness

from a piece by Jaymie Stuart Wolf in the Boston Archdiocese newspaper "The Pilot"

"The truth is that even the word “evangelize” sends a shiver up many a good Catholic spine. For a very long time, our faith has been something we have considered not just a personal matter, but a private one. When the topic of evangelism comes up, someone invariably quotes the instruction of St. Francis of Assisi, “Evangelize, evangelize, evangelize, and if you must, use words.” Unfortunately, we often misappropriate what St. Francis meant. We don’t talk much about God, but we also fail to put into practice the mission to win the world to Christ to which St. Francis devoted his entire life. We simply avoid evangelism altogether. Why?

It’s not exactly that we’re embarrassed of God, or ashamed of Him. If someone asked the average practicing Catholic about the faith, he or she would probably have something to say. But hardly any of us will share the Gospel of Jesus Christ if we aren’t specifically asked about it. Moreover, many of us who do talk about God, often opt for the more “objective” or “theoretical” approaches that are considered more “acceptable” and less “threatening” or “judgmental.” In other words, we’ve found ways to discuss theology without venturing into the realm of the personal. The unintended result is that when we’ve talked about God, how we’ve done it has contributed to the notion that He is less personal, less intimate, and less involved with us than we say He is.

The confirmation students I work with keep reminding me of the power of personal witness. I have tried to offer them a mix of instruction, prayer experiences and faith witness. They are more open to prayer than many would suspect. But in terms of presenting material I have found them far more responsive to a personal life story of faith than to any topic a speaker can address, no matter how relevant the topic, or how well a speaker presents it. What catches their attention are stories that show that God is alive, that He is active, and that there is more to life than they can see. There is simply no substitute for the kind of personal faith witness that brought countless people to the baptismal fonts of the early Church. It seems that faith sharing is necessary for faith formation among those who have already been baptized as well.

With that in mind, our parish has recently begun an opportunity for personal faith witness. At one Mass a month, we have invited a parishioner to reflect on his or her answer to one of 11 questions that range from “Why are you a Catholic?” to “What is your favorite Bible story and why?” to “How and where do you pray?” Sure, not everyone is completely comfortable with listening to a fellow parishioner talk about his faith. But the fruit of “FaithShare” has been the discussions it has engendered about who God is, and how He is so very much a part of our lives. It is good to know that the pews are full of individual stories of faith and the experience of divine love.
"

We have certainly found it true. We regularly hear amazing things in the gifts interviews that are part of the Called & Gifted process. It really changes your sense of how God is at work in the world and in the lives of "ordinary" people. That's why when I train interviewers, I always tell em: "this is the most fun you can have legally."

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Two Catholic Communities in the Holy Land: Jewish and Arab

From Leon Hadar's blog "Global Paradigms"

"Israel’s Demographic Dilemma:
Can Israel Remain a Jewish State?"
which includes a discussion of the new Israeli minority: Hebrew-speaking Christians.


TEL AVIV—They are Hebrew-speaking Israeli citizens who wave the national flag bearing the six-point Star of David. They sing the national anthem that celebrates the return of the Jewish people to their historic homeland. Their kids attend Hebrew public schools and after graduation serve in the Israeli Defense Force. They are proud Israelis who seem an integral part of Hebrew culture and, unlike many Arab citizens of Israel, they don’t have any ambivalent feelings about Israeli identity. They are Israeli patriots who love their country and are willing to die for it.

But these Israeli Hebrews are not Jewish. In fact, they are observant Catholics, members of what the Vatican calls the “Hebrew-Speaking Catholic community in Israel.” Indeed, recognizing the significance of this small but growing community of Catholics, the late John Paul II announced in 2003 that he was placing beside the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Michele Sabbah, an auxiliary bishop with a special task of “the pastoral care of the Catholic faithful of Jewish expression” living Israel. Jean-Baptiste Gourion, who was ordained as the new bishop at the Catholic Church in Kiryat Ye’arim near Jerusalem, is a converted Sepharadic Jew who was born in Algeria, received baptism at the age of 24, became a Benedictine monk, and moved to Israel in 1976. Since 1990, he has been responsible for the pastoral care of the Hebrew Catholics.

The appointment of Father Gourion (“lion cub” in Hebrew) as a Hebrew-speaking Catholic bishop in Israel is certainly a milestone considering that since the middle of the second century, no Hebrew Catholic was named a Bishop of Jerusalem. The move ignited opposition among some Catholics who suspected that it is part of a strategy, backed by Israel and its allies in the Vatican to divide the Church in the Holy Land into two parts, denying its predominantly Arab character and weakening Patriarch Sabbah, an Arab who has been an ardent champion of the Palestinian cause and who resisted the idea of creating within Israel a separate Church for Israel’s Hebrew-speaking Catholics.

When John Paul II decided to create a special ecclesiastical jurisdiction for the Hebrew Catholics, displeasing Sabbah and other opponents, he was taking the side of one of the leading figures in the debate, Franciscan Father David-Maria Jaeger. Jaeger is a canon lawyer who was born to Jewish parents in Tel Aviv and after converting to Christianity became a Catholic priest. In addition to being a spokesman for the Franciscans who govern the holy sites in Jerusalem, he was a lead Vatican negotiator for the historic 1994 agreement between the Holy See and Israel.
Jaeger has been one the first Catholic figures to recognize the dramatic demographic changes that have taken place in Israeli society in recent years, during which as many as 500,000 non-Jews, most of whom are Christians, have settled in Israel. Most are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, mainly from Russia and Ukraine, while others include guest workers from countries like Poland and the Philippines.

Hence, at a time when the number of Christians has fallen sharply in the Holy Land—from 10 percent of the population in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean a century ago to less than 2 percent today (130,000 in Israel and 50,000 in Palestine)—Jaeger and other Catholic leaders have concluded that the Jewish state could become a source of Christian salvation.

Christ Renews His Parish - 1000 parishes and counting

Bob Edwards, the national CHRP facilitator, has sent out his annual "what's up" letter and it makes interesting reading. He has been with CHRP since the beginning - for 38 years. CHRP began in a parish in Toledo in 1969. CHRP arose out of the Cursillo experience of the early-mid 60's and it took years before Bob could believe that a territorial parish could become a Christian community. It took nearly 10 years for CHRP to become, as Bob calls it " an on-going discipleship process".

His personal turning point was an absolutely terrible Cursillo experience in 1964 during which the man seated next to him swore like a trooper. But that most unlikely man underwent a powerful conversion that weekend and went on to become a Sunday school teacher, then a youth minister, and finally an ordained deacon. Once Bob saw the power of the Holy Spirit to transform a person's life, he never looked back.

Christ Renews His Parish has spread very slowly, very organically over the years and is still most heavily used in Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. Some dioceses like Chicago have officially sponsored CHRP, in other diocese, only a single parish is involved.

It's a low budget, low tech lay effort. It took me 1 1/2 years to finally track down the national office and have a 1 1/2 hour conversation with Bob. There's no website, naturally, so I had to find a parish that held CHRP and could connect me with a person in the parish who actually knew who could referr me to someone else who finally came up with Bob's phone number.

But after 38 years, 1000 parishes, 94 dioceses, and about 750,000 participants later, Bob's still zealous and committed. It is people like Bob who are doing most of the real evangelism in the American parish. I know of 5 other grass-roots, parish based evangelization processes that have transformed the lives of many tens of thousands of Catholics all over the country.

They are the unsung apostles in our midst, full of the joy of the Spirit and of gratitude for the astonishing things that God can do in the lives of very ordinary people who say "fiat".

Eupocrisy

A wonderful little essay by Mark Shea on people who are better than their word.

". . . those to whom we bear witness will often have hearts which have been secretly prepared by the Light who lightens every heart in His own secret way. Our task is to find the soil the Spirit has prepared for the seed of the word; to be faithful workers in the Vineyard till the day when those who thought they were saying "No" to the Father think better of it and take up their place in his Kingdom."

Michael Sweeney, OP on Lay Ecclesial Ministry

I'm working on a post on the common distrust of lay ecclesial ministry expressed by conservative Catholics at St. Blogs, but have a meeting and don't have time to finish it now.

So in the meantime, I direct you to Fr. Michael Sweeney's thought provoking presentation to the lay ecclesial ministers of the Diocese of Oakland. It will give you some idea of what he is like until he actually posts (sharp eyes may have noticed the "Sweeney, OP" that has shown up on our blogger list.)

In true Dominican style, he likes to maintain an aura of mystery. No one, including me, knows the hour or the day of his coming. We wait in hope.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Urbe.it

I have to mention this because it tickles me.

Our humble blog had a visitor today from a new country.

Domain name? Urbe.it - the city

Country name? Holy See, Vatican City

Population: 921

Area: .44 square kilometers. About 0.7 times the size of the Mall in Washington DC

Sufferage: limited to cardinals less than 80 years old.

The Word from Defensor Veritas

Brad Haas notes:

"The crew at Intentional Disciples writes a lot. Like, eleventy billion words a day. But that’s OK with me. I mention their blog because I got the Catherine of Siena Institute’s charism discernment workshops on CD, and they’re really really great. Now I’m trying to figure out what charisms I have. One possibility is writing (tell me, when I write about God… does it work?). Prior to the past year or two, I had no idea what a charism is, let alone that I’m sure to have one or more of them. Now I’m really excited to find out which ones I have and start developing them, then hopefully help others do the same. "

There you have it. An unsolicited recommendation from a discriminating Catholic blogger.

Broad-minded too, given that we write eleventy billion words a day. (Hmmm - what does that say about the really big bloggers like Amy and Mark?)

Sorry, Brad. There is no check in the mail but we send our abundant gratitude via this post.

Adoration and Parish Transformation

A intriguing story from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) on how 12 years of 24/7 Eucharistic adoration has changed a parish. I've heard similar stories of renewal in parishes and even whole dioceses in the US that are tied to Adoration.

But I also know apostolically minded Catholics who have a knee-jerk aversion to the very idea of Adoration because they associate it with a sort of church-mouse spirituality that is all pious devotion and nothing else.

Since I am almost certainly Catholic today because I sensed the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament when I entered a Catholic church as a college student (See my post on the Arc of Grace from earlier this month) so its hard for me to see Adoration as a problem. But I'm open to the concerns of others.

I do think Adoration is one of Catholicism's greatest and most unappreciated tool for evangelization. And I don't just mean Catholics praying for others in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Why can't we reverently expose the non-baptized and non-Catholics to the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament much as we would have brought them to Jesus himself in first century Palestine?

A newly confirmed Catholic woman told me this story on the steps of a church in Twin Falls, Idaho.

She was from a Protestant background. Her turning point was attending an evangelization retreat put on by a local Catholic parish. She told me that when the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, she felt a powerful spiritual energy issuing from the Host. "What is that?" she gasped to her friend. Before that moment, she had never imagined what the Church teaches about the Eucharist could be true, that Jesus is really and fully present. But by the time the retreat ended, she had come to believe her Catholic friends were right. A year later, she was received into full communion.

What has been your experience with Adoration? How has it affected you personally? Your friends and family? How has it affected your parish?

For more reflections on this subject, go here.

Which is Harder?

A telling vignette from a CNS story on ecumenism:

He said that when Pope Benedict visited Turkey last fall he had dinner with members of the country's small Catholic community at the Vatican nunciature. During the dinner someone suggested that the transition to pope must have been relatively easy for him after 24 years as head of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation, Bishop Farrell said, and the pope responded, "It was easy to know the doctrine. It's much harder to help a billion people live it."

Incarnational Evangelism

As a follow up to Jack's post, I was sailing around the sea of the internet, when I discovered a powerful post from Fr. Dwight Longenecker's blog, Standing On My Head. In it, he mentions that so much apologetics work attempts to provide reasoned approaches to the Catholic faith. Not that this is bad--in fact apologetics done well removes the obstacles, many of them interpretive or intellectual, to the Catholic faith.

However, he suggests that we have, maybe, lost a sense of the importance of the personal encounter with Christ:

Sometimes on Catholic radio the jabber is all about the precise, what if and why and who and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, and we hear precious little about the need for a personal, life changing, radical experience of the risen Lord. We hear so much from a certain contingent about this particular liturgy, that way of doing things, and how everybody else who doesn't do things our way is wrong. We hear so little about the need for each one of us to have the experience of meeting the Ancient of Days at the Burning Bush, hearing the still small voice of love or coming face to face with the Shekinah Glory in the Tent of Meeting.

In his encyclical Into the New Millennium, John Paul the Great emphasizes how important it is to the New Evangelization to 'cast out into the deep.' The very first step is not having all the arguments and winning all the debates. It's not getting every liturgical rubric performed just right. It's not even living the most morally impeccable life. The first thing is to meet Jesus Christ. The first thing is to plug into the power. The first thing is to meet the Son of God and Son of Mary. The first thing is to contemplate the face of Christ. Benedict XVI says the same thing, (I paraphrase) "Christianity is not primarily a list of dogmas or a list of rubrics or regulations, but an encounter with a living person--Jesus Christ."
It's something we've mentioned here quite a bit, perhaps ad nauseum to a few of our readers. However, there is no escaping the reality that one must meet the Risen Christ with our whole person, not just our mind, if we are to follow Him as Disciples. How that happens for each of us is part of the beautiful tapestry that is our life of faith.

When we carry that encounter with us, give it flesh for others, then we are moving into the realm of Incarnational Evangelism for others.

Avery Dulles and Sola Pysche

In March of 1996, Avery Dulles published a fascinating article on "Evangelizing theology". He contends that “ The reluctance of Catholics to evangelize has many roots, historical, sociological, cultural, and political.”

Do read the whole piece but for the purposes of discussion, I’d like to focus on five of his seven trends in contemporary Catholic theology that undermine evangelization. It helps illuminate some of the reactions to the idea of Intentional Discipleship that we have encountered in blogdom. Under each trend, I have included a brief explanation in Dulles’ own words. The words in italics are my emphasis.

Note the theme of the meaning and power of faith not being in the One believed in but in what goes on in our own heads as we approach the issue of faith. The Sola Fide of Martin Luther has morphed into what I've taken to calling "Sola Psyche".

1. Radical separation made between faith and belief.

“Faith, in this view, can exist without any definite set of beliefs, and hence without the gospel. The implication seems to be that there is no need to proclaim the gospel in order to bring people to faith. Anyone who accepts the inbuilt orientation of the human spirit to the nameless transcendent mystery is already an "anonymous Christian," on the path of salvation. Salvation is seen as the fruit of self-acceptance rather than of obedience to an externally spoken or written word.

2. Metaphysical agnosticism

“the human mind can have assured knowledge only about phenomena-things that appear to the senses. Accepting this philosophical stance, some theologians conclude that revelation gives no genuine knowledge about God and the supernatural. Anything we say about God is taken to be a metaphor that symbolically reaches out to the encompassing mystery, which is incomprehensible and ineffable. Since metaphors are arbitrary and expendable, say these theologians, no one can be required to profess the articles of the Christian creed.”

3. Religious pragmatism

Faith is esteemed not because it is true but because it leads to desirable effects, whether personal or social. We are told, for example, that faith leads to peace of mind, psychological balance, success in business, social progress, or liberation of the oppressed. On this view it makes little difference whether the God in whom one believes is a reality or a fiction. The saving effects are regarded as coming not from God but from belief itself.

(As one of my co-teachers this past weekend put it: We have to remember that in our culture, people don’t ask “Is it true?”. They ask “does it work?”)

4. Cultural relativism

“Since cultures are tied to their time and place, the Christian message-it is claimed-has to be radically reconstructed for every region and every generation. To proclaim the doctrines of the New Testament and the creeds is often denigrated as a form of cultural imperialism. In particular the dogmas of the ancient councils and of the Catholic Church are dismissed as sedimentations of a Greco-Roman culture that must be consigned to the ash heap of history.”

5. Religious pluralism

“In an extreme form this relativism leads to the conclusion that every people should have its own religion. Under the rubric of "soteriological pluralism" some modern theologians deny that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. Each religion is said to have its own way of salvation, its own myths, and very often its own savior figures. Christians may believe in Jesus as their savior provided that they are ready to allow other races to worship other savior figures, such as the Lord Krishna and the Lord Buddha. The saving power of any such figure is thought to consist in its mythic impact on the psyche of the believer rather than the actual mediation of the person believed in."

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The Importance Of Experience

It is too pre-mature and under-developed to post here, but I wanted to highlight some developing thoughts I posted here over at Integrity on the importance of experience. It has been a major theme of recent talks and readings within Communion and Liberation and a challenge to all of those who are part of CL to take up anew the charism and make it our own again.

The reason I want to highlight it in our discussions at Intentional Disciples is that I think it is a great provocation to us Catholics. All too often, I think, we see experience as something that translates to subjectivism or sentimentalism. And that leads us to present the teachings of the faith in an abstract way, as a system of theology, but in truth, not as something that has value to my life. Judging our experience is a way in which we can take the claims of the Church and "own" them. As Pope Paul VI said: "The mystery of the Church is not a truth to be confined to the realms of speculative theology. It must be lived, so that the faithful may have a kind of intuitive experience of it, even before they come to understand it clearly."

So, if you are interested, head on over to this post at Integrity and ponder for a time the summary there of what Fr. Giussani meant by experience. At least for me, I see in it a partial explanation for the importance of what the Catherine of Siena Institute's work is all about.

Peter Kreeft on Justification

Peter Kreeft, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, and author of innumerable popular books on the faith, has a great piece on the Church's teaching on justification:

"But many Catholics to this day have not learned the Catholic and biblical doctrine. They think we are saved by good intentions or being nice or sincere or trying a little harder or doing a sufficient number of good deeds. Over the past twenty-five years I have asked hundreds of Catholic college students the question: If you should die tonight and God asks you why he should let you into heaven, what would you answer? The vast majority of them simply do not know the right answer to this, the most important of all questions, the very essence of Christianity. They usually do not even mention Jesus!

Until we Catholics know the foundation, Protestants are not going to listen to us when we try to teach them about the upper stories of the building. Perhaps God allows the Protestant/Catholic division to persist not only because Protestants have abandoned many precious truths taught by the Church but also because many Catholics have never been taught the most precious truth of all, that salvation is a free gift of grace, accepted by faith.

Do Tell!

Sherry and I are having some fun grappling with various ideas for our new workshop, Making Disciples. One of the sections we will have in that workshop will be about RCIA. How can we make it a more effective evangelizing process that introduces people to the basic kerygma, or proclamation of the gospel? How can we provide an environment that fosters and supports conversion to Christ and His Church?

One critical question involves the problem of trying to understand where people are on their journey of faith, and recognizing the different needs people will have because of their diverse backgrounds. For example, should the Buddhist who's becoming Catholic be in the same enquiry group as the practicing, life-long evangelical? While most parishes generally have separate RCIA "tracks" for the unbaptized and baptized, few, if any, recognize distinctions within those groups. Yet young adults who've grown up in a post-modern, post-Christian world have different questions and attitudes from the baby-boomer, for example. The former atheist may have a radically different set of questions than the former Lutheran or baptized but uncatechized Catholic. You see the challenge!

One approach we've begun to experiment with is the possibility of asking different questions of different groups of people. For example, for an unbaptized person we might ask, "If you could describe your relationship with God based on a relationship you already know, which relationship would be the best analogy?"

For the baptized but non-catechized Catholic or the candidate, we might preface that question with,
"In your relationship with God, do you tend to relate more to one Person of the Trinity more than the others? If so, with which one, and with what human relationship you're familiar with would you compare it?"

So how about you? Would you care to answer whichever question is appropriate to your situation? Here are a few possible relationships to get you thinking…

Father, Mother, Spouse, Professor, Friend, Mentor, Lord, King, Shepherd, Colleague, Collaborator, Enemy, Judge, Critic, Brother, Sister, Servant, Rescuer, Doctor, Healer, Companion, Guide, Counselor, etc.

Please feel free to use a relationship that is not listed above, or a combination thereof.

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Emerging Church Redux

After re-reading my last post on CSI and the Emerging Church Movement, I think I need to be more clear about my point: I don't believe that the Institute's work parallels the EC Movement. I do believe that inasmuch as the EC Movement rediscovers elements of Catholic teaching--particularly in regard to a theology of mission and a theology of laity--it is possible to see similarities between the two (even if these similarities stop at the surface).

Originally, I couldn't see how anyone could compare CSI and the Emerging Church. My earlier post was intended to convey the fact that I could now see how somebody might make that comparison.

World Missions & the Emerging Church

Since there has been quite a bit of discussion about the whole Protestant Emerging Church movement here and elsewhere while I was gone, I thought that our readers might be interested in an overview of the movement from a missionary perspective. I receive the very interesting e-newsletter, Lausanne World Pulse every month which enables me to stay in touch with some of the cutting edges of the burgeoning global evangelical Protestant missionary movement.

But first, a little context. Last year, I wrote an unpublished article on the subject of the profoundly different ways that Catholics and evangelicals evaluate how the Christian missionary effort is faring at the beginning of the 21st century.

"My missionary past and Catholic present collided when I came across Peter C. Phan’s article Proclamation of the Reign of God as Mission of the Church: What for, to Whom, by Whom, with Whom, and How? (scroll to bottom) Phan’s title intrigued me and I started to read eagerly, only to be stunned by the first few paragraphs:

But now things have changed, and changed utterly. The change from the enthusiasm and optimism of the World Missionary Conference that met in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1910—whose catchy slogan was "The evangelization of the world in this generation"—to the discouragement and even pessimism in today’s missionary circles, Catholic and Protestant alike, is visible and palpable. . . To the consternation of Western missionaries, the shout "Missionary, go home" was raised in the 1960s, to be followed a decade later by the demand for a moratorium on Christian missions from the West.

In addition to the political factors, the collapse of mission as we knew it was also caused by the unexpected resurgence of the so-called non-Christian religions, in particular Hinduism and Islam. The missionaries’ rosy predictions of their early demise were vastly premature. Concomitant with this phenomenon is an intense awareness of religious pluralism which advocates several distinct, independent, and equally valid ways to reach the Divine and therefore makes conversion from one religion to another, which was considered as the goal of mission, unnecessary. [emphasis mine]

I was incredulous. I knew that the last word one could use of the Christian missionary enterprise at the beginning of the 21st century was “collapse”. Once more, I was standing on the edge of an unbridgeable chasm of experience that yawned between this prominent American Catholic theologian and the world I had known. I couldn’t help but wonder if Peter Phan inhabited the same planet as the evangelicals with whom I had lived and studied. Discouragement? Pessimism? Evangelical missionaries have faced the same historical and cultural realities as Catholics since 1960. But they believe that they have been privileged to be part of the greatest expansion of Christianity in history and are absolutely exuberant about the future of missions."


In light of the above, there are two especially interesting pieces in this month's issue of Pulse:

1) An article on Post Modernity and the Emerging Church which gives a vivid sense of the history and development of this new movement. The author does make a point relevant to the discussion of why CSI is not part of the emerging church movement and that Fr. Michael Sweeney and I didn't know about it.

The movement of "churches that didn't look like churches" didn't even have a name in 1998. Natually, it wasn't on our radar in when we began the Institute in the summer of 1997. We had our plates completely full contemplating the gap between the theology and the pastoral realities of the Catholic church.

2) The annual update of the status of global mission which tracks developments since 1800: A few interesting factoids:

Christians in the world in 1800: 204 million
Christians in the world in mid-2007: 2.2 billion

52% of Christians in the world are Catholic: 1.142 billion of us!

The next largest global block of Christians are "Independents (437 million or 20%) - the heavily Pentecostalized, non-traditional heirs of the reformation. The Emerging Church is considered to be part of the "Independent" movement.

Independents are larger than all classic Protestant groups put together, twice the size of Orthodoxy, and over five times larger than the entire Anglican communion.

Christians whose spirituality is Pentecostal/charismatic: 600 million or 27.4% of all Christians (which would include charismatic Protestants, Catholics, Anglicans, and Orthodox).

Christian missionaries working in countries not their own: 453,000. They are not exactly a dying breed. The number of Christian missionaries has nearly doubled since 1970.










Monday, February 5, 2007

Radical Catholicism

Over at Catholic Sensibility, in a discussion about discernment, a commentator likened the Catherine of Siena Institute to the emerging church movement in evangelicalism. My immediate reaction was to deny and dismiss such a comparison. The Emerging Church Movement embraces much (too much) of postmodernism in its understanding of the Christian Faith, and so I was resistant to see any corresponding characteristics.

I have recently posted some thoughts on the problems with the Emerging Movement over at my blog, Take Your Place. You can get to that particular post here.

Interestingly enough, the February issue of Christianity Today has an article by Scot McKnight entitled, "5 Streams of the Emerging Church." As I read that article and then did a lot more research into the Emerging Church Movement, I began to see that the commentator who called CSI "emerging catholics" may actually have been on to something.

There are some key similarities, but I think they are most visible in the Emerging Church's understanding of Mission. According to McKnight:


. . .the emerging church becomes missional by participating with God, in the redemptive work of God in this world. In essence, it joins with the postle Paul in saying that God has given us "the ministry of reconciliation." (2Cor 5:18)

Second, it seeks to become missional by participating in the community where God's redemptive work occurs. The church is the community through which God works and in which God manifests the credibility of the gospel.

Third, becoming missional means participating in the holistic redemptive work of God in this world . . .This holistic emphasis finds perfect expression in the ministry of Jesus, who went about doing good to bodies, spirits, families, and societies . . .He cared, in other words, not just about lost souls, but also about whole persons and societies.

Much of what the Institute does has to do with the above statements, which are a partial restatement of the Church's Theology of the Laity. Now, Sherry and Fr. Michael Sweeney didn't know about the emerging church movement when they started the Institute. It is clear that, as often happens with certain areas of Protestantism, the Emerging Movement rediscovered elements of authentic Catholic teaching and Tradition.

Given what I have read about the EM, I'm not so quick to dismiss comparisons, but rather than labeling what the Institute does as Emerging Catholicism, which has the connotative and denotative meanings of "growing out" of something, I think what the Institute is trying to do is help parishes return to the roots of who God, through the instrumentality of the Church, is calling them to be.

In that sense, I think that what we are about here is better called Radical Catholicism--a subsection of which includes Intentional Discipleship.

In any event, I am very glad for the conversations that have gone on around the Internet. They have definitely helped me clarify some thoughts about what we are about here.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

"Dirty Secret" details

Then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote the following observation in a forward to a book on the demonic titled "Renewal and the Powers of Darkness" published in 1983 by Cardinal Suenens. "What is the relation between personal experience and the common faith of the Church? Both factors are important: a dogmatic faith unsupported by personal experience remains empty; mere personal experience unrelated to the faith of the Church remains blind." I find that combination of dogmatic faith and personal experience to be crucial in my own developing faith. Let me explain a bit.

In a post titled, "A Dirty Little Secret", I asked people to describe what has helped deepen their faith. I thought it only fair to give my own testimony. Several events come to mind, beginning with a gradually deepening dogmatic faith that has recently been enlivened with personal experiences of God's power and love.

First of all, when I was an undergrad at Michigan Tech, a Baptist friend of mine asked if he and another friend of his could talk to me one evening. I said, "Sure!" and was surprised to find that the conversation was to be about the errors of Catholicism. I remember being told that I worshipped a round piece of bread that represented the Egyptian sun god, Ra. That was news to me! Of course, I knew they were wrong about that ridiculous claim and other statements they'd made, but I also knew I wanted to know more about my faith, so I went and talked to a local priest. I came away from that conversation with an awareness that there was a rich intellectual component to my faith that I did not know. At that time it was enough that I knew it was there. I didn't feel a desire to really study it myself.

Then, when I was in graduate school, I was confronted by the worst poverty and greatest wealth I'd ever encountered in the U.S. separated, basically, by a highway. I was perplexed that such disparity could exist in what I had always taken to be a Christian nation. It raised disturbing questions for me that got me thinking about what I was doing with my life. I began to ask if perhaps I shouldn't try to do something to change things. Surprisingly (at least to me), that eventually led me to consider priesthood.

I was blessed with a great seminary education at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology (www.dspt.edu). My faith was not deconstructed, and what I learned of the scriptures using the historical-critical methods approved by Pius XII's encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu only deepened my appreciation for Revelation. I came away with an even greater appreciation for the Magisterium, and a confidence in the Church's intellectual and spiritual riches. But my experience of a relationship with Jesus as expressed in a conscious daily choice to follow him lagged behind my intellectual development.

Most recently, my faith has been deepened through the work of the Institute. Learning about charisms, hearing stories about them, seeing them at work in the lives of others (and even occasionally in my own) has led me to believe that God is intimately involved in our daily lives, and that consciously cooperating with His power and will for the benefit of others is possible.

Finally, I have been inspired and evangelized by the transformative power of God at work in "Adam," (see my post, "Totalitarian Faith Enfleshed"), and that has awakened within me a desire for a more personal love relationship with Jesus. I would say my intellectual faith, which at times was fairly empty in terms of relationality, is being filled by a more personal experience of God's love for me which has generated moments of great consolation and joy, and increased my desire to know Him in the Scriptures, sacraments, and Christian community.

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I Have a Dirty Secret

Amy Wellborn's "Open Book" blog has an interesting post on "Reverts", that is, Catholics who left the Church, then returned (click on the title of this post to go there). The "dirty secret" is a journey of faith (and doubt or disinterest or disdain or disillusionment, etc.) that, believe it or not, everyone seems to have. We Catholics seldom ask for permission of one another to talk about that journey, which is why I'm jokingly calling it a dirty secret. There are quite a few stories of reversion there, but I'd like to make a few observations about what I've seen on that thread. However, I encourage you to go see for yourself!

OBSERVATION A: There are some patterns regarding why people left that emerge:
1) poor catechesis in Catholic schools, including catechesists with disdain for anything smacking of the pre-Vatican II Church (Catholic school education really takes a beating, I'm afraid)
2) little or no catechesis - Christmas/Easter nominal Catholic households;
3) "falling away" after marrying a non-Catholic
4) It seems that these folks had no relationship with Christ on anything but an intellectual level. This is not explicitly mentioned on any post, as far as I could tell, but every reason for falling away seems to focus on some intellectual defect of faith. Even those who mentioned prayer, spoke of it as a kind of ritual in their "pre-falling away days."

Virtually all of the comments indirectly point out the importance of parents sharing their faith with their children. I don't mean just sending them to Catholic school. In fact, many of the comments indicate that was the beginning of the end of their faith. Rather, parents need to talk about why they believe what they do. They need to talk about their relationship with Christ, the relationship between Christ and the Church (local and universal), and how that relationship effects their decisions. Many of those who "fell away" had parents who were nominal Catholics who probably couldn't do that, because that relationship wasn't there.

OBSERVATION B: There are some people who seem to speak of "unintentional disciples". For example,

"There should also be a "tweener" category: between convert/revert and life long Catholics. A category for those who never left the Church (hence, never converted or reverted in that sense), but weren't really conscious of being Catholic in a deliberate way (hence, not exactly the witness of saints). Sort of auto-pilot Catholics, who one day for whatever reason, shut off the auto-pilot and start flying manual."

and

"I'm not a convert, because I am a cradle Catholic, but I never totally made a concious decision to LEAVE...it never mattered at all. Period. Being Catholic was inconsequential to anything else in my life."

This is why our blog is called "Intentional Disciples." Faith that justifies is conscious, i.e., intellectual assent to truth and informed by love in such a way as to issue forth in "good works." A well-formed faith transforms our life with God's grace.

OBSERVATION C: There are some interesting examples of what could be cultural Catholicism. This post was from a female religious, and I choose to believe there's a lot more to her faith than this:

"I've had the grace to be Catholic my whole life. It had a lot to do with my Irish grandmother's fierce clinging on to the faith because of the effects of Britain's persecution of the Irish Catholics."

OBSERVATION D: Many people who wrote comments came back to the Church because of the Mass, but more seemed to come back because of intellectual reasons. In some ways this doesn't surprise me, since people who read blogs might tend to be more intellectually inclined, and many of them spoke of leaving for intellectual reasons. The following beautiful anecdote stood out to me because it was more of a personal experience of the presence of God. What was fascinating, however, was that the writer felt it necessary to somehow apologize for her subjective experience!

"I was reading C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity" alone in my room one night, and ... there's really no other way to put this ... I had an experience of God. I felt God's presence in the room with me. I felt that His eyes were on me. I didn't hear voices or anything like that. I just felt His presence in a way I never had before and never have since. A Psalm 139 kind of experience.

Reading back over that last paragraph, I know this is the kind of thing that makes non-believers, and maybe even believers, think "hallucination, send this woman to a shrink." I would have said so myself to anyone who described such a thing to me. I can only say it was the most real thing I've ever experienced.

I can't say how anyone else views my story, but here is what I see: God saved me with what He had to work with. I had a wonderful mother who never stopped praying for me, and who, together with my sister, ended up living with me and being a model of faith. I had a habit of reading romance novels and just happened to pick up one that would stir my desire for a relationship with God. I was a bit of an Anglophile, and here was the English master of Christian apologetics ready to hand. Rationalism was initially a stumbling block to my faith, and God pulled me over with a unique experience of grace."

I believe experiences like this are not as rare as one might think from reading this thread on "Open Book."

OBSERVATION E: While some Catholics who have commented on Intentional Disciples seem to take offense at the idea that Catholics might speak about their faith, apparently a good number are willing to write about their faith journey at great length. Certainly my experience as an interviewer of people who have gone through a Called and Gifted workshop has shown me that Catholics are often quite willing to share their stories - and all of those stories are beautiful in one way or another.

Which leads me to invite you to share a "dirty secret" here. If you will, would you describe what has made a big difference in your life of faith?

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Mother May I?

The February 2007 issue of First Things, a magazine that I firmly encourage everyone to read, has an interesting article by Timothy George entitled, Evangelicals and the Mother of God. I think the whole article is important for Catholics and our protestant brothers to read, but one part of the article stopped me in my tracks. It's actually a quote from Pope Benedict XVI (then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) discussing the development of Christological doctrine:


The Christological affirmation of God's Incarnation in Christ becomes necessarily a Marian affirmation, as de facto it was from the beginning. Conversely, only when it touches Mary and becomes Mariology is Christology itself as radical as the faith of the Church requires.
God's divinity took up our humanity precisely through the surrender of Mary to God's will. It is through Mary's "yes" that God became Man, that divinity and humanity were forever more inseparably linked. This is why Mary is the Mother of the Church. And thus her "yes" echoes down through the centuries. For she isn't just Mother of the Church in a distant "theological" way; rather, in a very real sense she is our Mother, in this place and time--the Mother of All Disciples.

In this, she is our model. As her "yes" united divinity and humanity, so our "yes" continues to make divinity present within the world. We are the hands and feet of Christ. Our lives of intentional discipleship bring forth the love and provision of God for each man and woman on the earth.

I have often forgotten my Mother, this woman of pure discipleship. And yet she holds me, prays for me, lifts me up to Her Son. And so I ask today, Mother may I? May I have the grace through your Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, to follow Him--to surrender my heart to Him as you surrendered everything that you were.

Mother, may I?

The Arc of Grace and the Mystery of Nazareth

Coming back to Blessed Sacrament is a chance to see the long pattern of God's grace at work in my life:

As I sat under the soaring brick arches at Mass last night, I couldn't help but think of all the turning points in my life that are associated with this old sanctuary:

1) Entering for the first time and with fear and trepidation as an undergrad at the nearby University of Washington because I was looking for a place to pray. Raised as a strict fundamentalist, I had only entered a Catholic church once before in my life - for 5 minutes out of curiosity as a child in Waveland, Mississippi. I had been terrified by the combination of darkness and burning candles and certain that all the stories I'd heard about the "Whore of Babylon" were true!

But as a college student trying to understand a conversion experience much like that of "Adam" that Fr. Mike describes, it was different. This time, I recognized a presence of God in that old church that I had not experienced elsewhere even though I had spent most of my life in Church. I was hooked by something I had no name or category for. After that, I prayed in Catholic churches where ever I was although I was a long, long way from becoming Catholic myself.

2) When my first job after college turned out to be a disaster and I was unemployed and 25 cents from homelessness (literally), I found John Henry Newman's famous quote from his Meditations in the vestibule of Blessed Sacrament. "God intends, unless I interfere with his plan, that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, he calls me by my name. He knows what I can do, what I can be, what is my greatest happiness and He means to give it to me. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away." Although I had no idea who Newman was and couldn't find the quote again for 6 years, the promise that "I could never be thrown away" felt like a lifeline from God.

3) I can show you the place in front of the statue of St. Catherine of Siena where it first occurred to me to pray that "if there is anything to this Catholicism, I am open, Lord". Blessed Sacrament is the place where I first encountered the beauty of the Easter Vigil and the Exultet, to which I would drag protesting Protestants to for years afterwards ("But I have a sunrise service to get up for . . .!)

4) Blessed Sacrament is also where I met Fr. Michael Sweeney and the small knot of friends who became the nucleus of the famously Nameless Lay Group. It was where I gave many of the earliest gifts discernment workshops and is the place where the Institute was birthed.

And I am not the first person to have their life changed by this glorious, graced old place. Fr. Joseph Fulton, first walked through doors as a Methodist undergraduate from Brooklyn in the 1930's. He went on to become a convert, a Dominican, provincial, Blessed Sacrament's long time pastor and in old age, one of her resident saints who enjoyed the nickname of "Fr. Love". My last memory of Fr. Fulton was watching the community gathered around him as he read Dicken's Christmas Carol aloud by candlelight.

Nor is CSI the first creative initiative birthed here. The Institute for Christian Ministries, founded by Leo Thomas, OP, another of the parish's resident saints, and his lay collaborators also began here. It is a very well developed and powerful training in healing prayer ministry that is used in dioceses around the country and elsewhere.

How is it that God has worked so powerfully in this still somewhat shabby, glowing building with its ecclectic mix of underpaid and overeducated parishioners, young adults, mystics, eccentrics, and street people? Where naked men have been known to walk casually up the aisle during the homily and where the friars and staff respond matter-of-factly when one of the mentally ill regulars tries to start a dialogue at the altar. Or the homeless show up at the Called & Gifted workshop as they did yesterday.

It is the mystery of Nazareth, I think. When next you look at the shabby, broken places in your life, think of Blessed Sacrament. What will God bring out of the shabby, broken Nazareths in our lives for others if we dare to offer them to Him?

Mission Chicago

When I moved to the Archdiocese of Chicago from the Archdiocese of Seattle, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Archdiocese of Chicago had placed a great deal of emphasis on evangelization. Not only is their a Plan of Evangelization for the Archdiocese, but it also created Mission Chicago:

. . .a series of events, missions and opportunities to expand and renew faith. It is an ongoing effort initiated by Cardinal George to encourage evangelization in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Cardinal George strongly supports the Church’s teaching that evangelization – proclaiming Jesus Christ and inviting people to share His life – is the essential mission of the Church. It is his hope that MISSON CHICAGO will call Catholics to a greater understanding of their faith and inspire them to share that faith with others, and provide an opportunity to re-engage Catholics who are looking for a way, a word, or a reflection to help them pursue their personal mission of faith.
Can you say, yes, Yes, YES!! I am loving my Archdiocese right now. In addition to the Mission Chicago focus, the Archdiocese also has an Office for Evangelization that has a neat web presence. Check out Spreading the Holy Fire!

My little heart is all a-twitter! Right now, I don' t think these efforts have really taken root in the whole diocese, but I believe that they are growing. Cardinal George called 2006 the start of a year of evangelization in the diocese, and things are just starting to heat up.

Courageous Leadership Award

World Vision and the Willow Creek Association--an organization sponsored by the megachurch in my backyard, Willow Creek--have partnered to offer The Courageous Leadership Award "to honor churches that are strategically engaging the AIDS pandemic."

According to the Courageous Leadership Award Site:

The award in 2007 will be given to three churches, domestic or international, that demonstrate outstanding involvement and effectiveness in the fight against AIDS. Sponsored by World Vision with funding from a private donor, a total of $100,000 will be awarded, with $60,000 going to the winning church and $20,000 going to each of the two runners up. Dividing the $100,000 between three churches will allow more churches to be recognized for their work on this important issue.
To me, the award brings up an interesting question of Stewardship. Could that money be better applied directly to the battle against AIDS? Just because it is going to a church, does that mean it won't be employed in that way or in a way that would strengthen that particular community's fight against AIDS?

I know where I stand on this issue. What are your thoughts and opinions?

Missionary Boom

According to Christianity Today, there is a marked increase in missionary activity among Baby Boomers. Many Boomers are, apparently, taking early retirement and then moving out in to the missionary field. Because of this, many missionary organizations are having to rethink their pradigm--from having (and expecting) young, full-time, and long-term volunteers to older volunteers who are available for shorter term assignments.

The missionary world has begun to adapt to such a change, starting programs like Finishers Project which:

. . .works with 100 organizations, matching retirees with volunteer mission projects. Finishers Project has placed 1,000 volunteers in full-time mission since 1998, has another 1000 in process, and has additional 1,200 saying they will make the transition in the next two years.

Searching the web for Catholic Lay Missionaries, I came across Catholic World Mission, which "exists to bring education and the message of Christ to neighbors throughout the world." Currently, CWM has 900 lay missionaries working in 43 diocese. Do check out there site if you can. It seems like an exceptionally promising apostolate

I was surprised that such an endeavor only had 3 full time employees "in order to keep costs down." I wonder what a better funded Catholic Lay Missionary organization might be able to accomplish? When I lived in Seattle, I was surprised by the amount of positions that regularly opened at World Vision--positions thact actually payed enough to support a family.

Anyway, it's nice to see the missionary world making room for those who want to serve in their later years. A very wise friend of mine once said, "You know, I've found that I spent the first half of my life trying to discover who I was, and the second half of my life giving all of that someone away to others."

A model that I would like to follow...sooner rather than later!

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Totalitarian Faith Enfleshed

Br. Matthew's post made me think of an example of "totalitarian faith" as expressed in a particular person's life. Would that it were my own... Nevertheless, here's an example.

About two years ago, I met a young adult male, then 33 years old, who I'll call Adam. Just six months previous to my meeting him, he had undergone a huge conversion that had radically changed his life. He had quit drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, swearing, and was attending daily Mass, praying throughout the day, reading scripture and studying the catechism. All of this was due to an encounter with the love of Christ, which itself was an answer to five years of graced prayer in which he asked to know that love. I don't know that I've ever seen someone so beautifully changed by Christ.

But I was a little unsettled in some of our early conversations. I had learned to be wary of the enthusiasm of new converts. They want to do all kinds of crazy things, like enter religious life or the seminary – so we require them to live their faith for a few years before doing something precipitous. His enthusiasm was wonderful, but I wanted Adam to be prepared for the fact that this fervor wasn’t going to last. One evening while we were sitting at the kitchen table, I gently tried to warn him to be prepared for his spiritual intensity to wane. I likened it to the infatuation we have when we first start dating someone. Adam responded indignantly: “Why should my love for Jesus simmer down? I don't want it to. I don't ever want to forget what God has done for me. I don't want to go back. I don't want to lose God."

I was struck silent. I didn't have an answer. What I had just witnessed was the virtue known as "the fear of the Lord." Not a fear that God would punish, but a fear of losing a relationship with Him.

So I began to re-read some of St. Paul's letters. I figured Adam's experience was like Saul's encounter on the road to Damascus. I read St. Paul saying to the Ephesians, "you must lay aside your former way of life and the old self which deteriorates through illusion and desire, and acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking." (Eph 4:22-23a)

And "May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith, and may charity be the root and foundation of your life. Thus you will be able to grasp fully, with all the holy ones, the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ's love, and experience this love which surpasses all knowledge, so that you may attain to the fullness of God himself." (Eph. 3:17-19) Both of those quotes sounded like Adam's experience.

I asked myself, "Had Paul's love for Christ, initiated on that lonely stretch of road, 'simmered down?'" He boasted that, "five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes less one; three times I was beaten with rods; I was stoned once, shipwrecked three times; I passed a day and a night on the sea. I traveled continually, endangered by floods, robbers, my own people, the Gentiles; imperiled in the city, in the desert, at sea, by false brothers; enduring labor hardship, many sleepless nights; in hunger and thirst and frequent fastings, in cold and nakedness. Leaving other sufferings unmentioned, there is that daily tension pressing on me, my anxiety for all the churches." (2 Cor. 11:24-28)

Of course, we know Paul eventually could add imprisonment and beheading for his faith in Jesus to his list of trials. No, rather than "simmering down," that relationship with Christ only grew stronger through the years, as any good relationship does.

Then I read Galatians, and came across these words, "I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal 2:19b-20)

What had always sounded like an exaggeration was what I was witnessing in Adam. He'd practically said as much. I was ashamed to realize that my own love for Jesus – a love that had led me to give my life as a religious - had waned. I had lost what passion I had had for Christ. I had taken back the life I'd once offered. And I had taken that loss of zeal as normative.

Now when I think of intentional discipleship, I often think of Adam, and how Christ has changed (and continues to change) his life. Is it too much for us to hope to know something of the love of Christ in this lifetime? Are we willing to take the Gospel seriously enough to allow it to challenge our "common sense" and even change us? Are we willing to cooperate with God's grace to love each person we meet as though Christ were standing before us? Are we afraid of no longer "fitting in" with our families and friends if we our faith, expressed as a relationship with Christ and His Body, becomes the center of our life?

I find myself shaking my head as I read the Scriptures these days, because it seems clear to me that Adam's behavior is much closer to what Christ asks of us than my behavior. Jesus teaches a crowd and his disciples, "Whoever would preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will preserve it." (Mk 8:35) It would seem that only one who is prepared and willing to risk all for Jesus and for the gospel will truly become himself or herself. It would seem that if we are to know Jesus intimately, we have to answer his call. Certainly my friend Adam has learned a lot about Christ in a short time because he tries to take Jesus at His word, and tries to cooperate with God's grace in order to live according to that word.

Adam's not afraid to speak of what Christ has done for him, and his words are supported by his actions. Both have evangelized me, so that I am seeking a renewed relationship with my Lord.

Is it possible that our expectations of what it means to live as a Catholic Christian are set too low – especially for ourselves?

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Friday, February 2, 2007

Our totalitarian faith

A couple weeks back I spent six days on retreat in the Mojave Desert at Holy Resurrection Monastery, a wonderful Byzantine Rite community in Newberry Springs. This was during the great cold front that swept through California and ruined much of the state’s citrus crop. During most of my stay the daytime temperature rarely rose above freezing. As a result, I spent a more than usual amount of time reading in my room. Of the books cluttering my desk, one was on the thought of Fr. M.D. Chenu OP called Contemplation and Incarnation: The Theology of Marie-Dominique Chenu. One of the great projects of Fr. Chenu, and his younger confrere Fr. Yves Congar OP, was to give an account of the origin and nature of Modern secularism. One of the distinguishing marks of secularism is its attitude toward faith. While some very strident secularists see no place at all for religion and faith in contemporary society, most would tolerate it so long as it stays within certain well-established bounds. For instance, they would see religious faith as acceptable and benign so long as it concerned assent to certain religious articles that are privately held. They would see religious observance as safe and acceptable so long as it involved private religious ceremonies that intruded as little as possible into the public sphere. What these two thinkers, and particularly Fr. Congar, note is that Christianity cannot possibly exist within such bounds. Such restrictions go against the reality of the Christian faith- they go against what Congar calls faith’s totalitarian nature.

The word ‘totalitarian’ doesn’t have nice connotations, and speaking of Christianity as totalitarian may seem to justify secularist fears. When we think of totalitarianism, we think of a totalitarian state; that is, we think of a nation in which the State no longer serves human persons but visa versa; a nation in which the State manipulates and assumes all that is integral to human personhood. The point which Congar makes in calling Christianity totalitarian is that authentic Christian faith is a reality which touches upon the entire human person- but in doing so it completes and perfects, rather than destroys, the human person. Authentic faith does not merely end in assent to certain doctrines, but has, as its end, God himself. Obviously, such an encounter with the living God is going to effect a personal transformation, and not a transformation that limits its consequences to the private sphere. Among other things, some of the effects of an encounter with God through faith and the sacramental life of the Church are the infused virtues (CCC 1265), the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (CCC 1831), the fruits of the Holy Spirit (CCC 1832), and the charisms (CCC 799-801, 2003).

According to Congar, given that we are persons enmeshed in society and bound up with the lives of others, our personal transformation through grace should naturally further the building of a Catholic culture. Not a ghettoized culture which gazes with suspicion on the world outside its shell, but a culture naturally formed by Christians just being who they are wherever they happen to be. There has been a lot of discussion at this blog and elsewhere about the number of Catholics who are devoted Christian disciples. Perhaps one way of gauging this is to look at our culture. Does are culture reflect the presence of 69 million people with have been re-created and transformed by faith and the sacraments? Does it reflect the presence of people who have been given virtues from on high and supernatural gifts bestowed on them for the sake of others? If not, why? Would most Catholics even agree they possessed such gifts?

The Way We Were

Greetings from Latte land! (from your friendly University District Tully’s!)

Over at Catholic Sensibilities, the questions about who we are and what known movement we are related to or derivative of, keep coming in:

“How are your consults and programs at parishes different/same than the good ol’ Life in the Spirit seminars from the 70’s and 80’s? Renew from the 80’s and 90’s? Neocatechumenate Way from 2000? I’m just trying to understand where CSI and your term “intentional disciple” fit it to what has been done in US parishes since VII. Just trying to put you into a context.”

The short answer: we're not related to or derived from any of the above or the emerging Church movement or any other movement, for that matter. I'm a convert and so had no knowledge or experience of the Church until the late 80's and have never attended or been part of a Renew process in any way or the Neocatechumate in any way. Nor have I ever attended a Life in the Spirit seminar although I think I was asked to give a talk once at a seminar session but it never happened. Fr. Michael Sweeney, with whom I founded the Institute had no background in any of the above either.

The Institute arose out of a personal collaboration that began at Blessed Sacrament parish in Seattle between Fr. Michael (who was pastor) and myself (parishioner and grad student) in the mid 90's. Our primary Catholic influences were intellectual with a strong Dominican slant: Vatican II, John Paul II, St. Thomas Aquinas, Yves Congar, Josef Pieper, etc.

In my case, I brought my background at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA and in the global evangelical missionary movement and the knowledge of the cutting edge stuff that passionately apostolic Christians are doing all over the world. Also, I'd created the gifts discernment process 3 1/2 years previously and had been offering it in the Seattle area and re-working and re-writing it as I went. While Fr. Michael, who is a cradle Catholic’s cradle Catholic, had been studying the theology of the laity and wrestling with the role of the parish in the mission of the Dominican order.

I can't explain it and it certainly wasn't part of anyone's plan or derived from another movement. It was just one of those spontaneous combustion God things. When Fr. Michael and I got together, intellectual and creative sparks flew. I suppose you could think of us as the theological and pastoral equivalent of Micky Rooney and Judy Garland saying "hey, gang, I know what we can do. Let's put on a show!" Or John Steed and Mrs. Peel (alas, I will never look like Diana Rigg in black leather :-\) - well, you get the idea . . .

Our purpose: To actually implement what the Second Vatican Council and the Church since has asked for in the area of the theology, evangelization, formation, and apostolic support of the laity. And to do it in the only place that 98% of lay Catholics have access to: the local parish. We weren't following any existing model because we didn't know of any that was parish-based.

The Called & Gifted process already existed and proved to be a wonderful popular vehicle to help spread the Church’s vision of the apostolic mission and authority of the laity. It also enabled us to generate the income necessary to support the hand-to-mouth lifestyle to which we had become accustomed.

Our work is a lot closer to the explorations of Lewis and Clark than to that of Mapquest.
People sometimes ask me what our 5 year plan is. I laugh and say that I have a two year guess. Because educated guesses are what you work from when you are exploring something new.


If you'd like to read the story of our beginnings, go here. It was written in the summer of 1997 just as the Institute began and so you can see what we were thinking at the very beginning.

Sharing is Caring!

Apologies for being scarce yesterday. In addition to job searching, I'm working on a number of short stories and novel proposals that require a certain committment to making a daily word count--something that I've been shirking as I let loose my words here at ID :)

Anyway, I've mentioned that over at Catholic Sensibility the conversation has also turned to discernment. In response to a question about who gives someone the authority to help someone else discern their gifts and vocation, Neil wrote a rather profound post. I'd like to quote some of it here and direct you over to the Discerning the Discerners thread for more:

The “authority” of someone who assists in discernment comes from their ability to see things for what they are - to identify a right course of action that “follows from” Scripture and tradition. Such a person is able to show me that a particular action or way of life would reflect the character of the God who called me and the character of the Body of Christ to which I belong (Rowan Williams’ words), and, if I were to carry out that action or proceed on that way of life, I would be more faithful to my real identity as a Christian.

This person isn’t just telling me about my own future. She is saying that I might manifest Christ if I follow a certain path, and this is a gift to the entire community. She is implicitly agreeing to look for Christ in my life and to receive the gift that I might eventually give. Thus, she is, in a way, telling me about her own future. Discernment, then, is about a shared future in which we might both participate.

In short, perhaps we should look at discernment as a process of sharing …

Discernment as a process of sharing does, I believe, get to the heart of that discipline. It is a means by which we can help others become more truly who God made them to be. It can't be something that we do from our pedestal of perfection. Rather, we need to walk together, to be in "com-union" with those whom God has ordained we will journey.

The expectation is not just that I will help you, but that you will be an indispensable part of my own discernment process. I can't tell you how relieved I was when the pastoral staff at my last parish helped me realize that my gifts weren't directed toward administration (which had become the single biggest drain upon me as Confirmation Coordinator). They helped others who could handle the administrative load with supernatural efficiency connect with me.

The result was confirmandi who were well formed and prepared for the sacrament, and a rather well-balanced, not frazzled me. I could have been upset when they (gently) removed the administrative piece of Confirmation away from me, but they did so as they affirmed my other gifts. It was an eye-opening experience for me and has colored how I approach discernment as a discipline.

What I often see in conversations regarding discernment is people highlighting how that discipline can be abused and then using that as the reason why it shouldn't be undertaken at all. But abuse certainly doesn't invalidate the principle.

If we act like it does, we'll be missing an integral piece to living out our communal and individual mission as Christ (through the Church) asks us to.

Baby, it's Cold Outside

At least today, in Colorado Springs, where at 9 a.m. it's a brisk 2 degrees below zero. Ironically, the headline in the Colorado Springs Gazette was, "Warming 'very likely' man-made." That's right, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of hundreds of climatologists and other scientists representing 113 governments, issued a twenty-page report today representing the most authoritative science on global warming and based on years of peer-reviewed research. The "very likely" wording "translates to a more than 90 percent certainty that global warming is caused by man's burning of fossil fuels." (AP release)
The panel also said its best estimate was for temperature rises of 3.2 to 7.1 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century, accompanied by sea level increases of 7 to 23 inches over the same time period. Some scientists felt this estimate was too cautious, and that due to polar ice melt, the sea levels could increase four to eight inches more.

In addition, the scientists predict that the temperatures and sea levels would increase for centuries, no matter how much we try to control pollution. Nevertheless, scientists urge we do what we can to reduce emissions, as well as adapt to a warmer world with wilder weather. This poses all kinds of challenges to Christians, who should have an understanding of themselves as stewards of God's creation. Here are a few I can think of. Perhaps you can think of others you might like to add.

1. How can we (as a nation, as a species) begin to develop a longer perspective with regard to economic development and our use of natural resources, so that we begin to factor in the consequences of our actions on the lives of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren?
2. How might I personally respond to this issue in terms of my lifestyle? Is this a call to a simpler lifestyle? Do my actions matter, even?
3. Will American culture, which emphasizes consumption, convenience and comfort, need to change? How? What changes in mindset might be required?
4. How might we as people of faith respond from that faith to this issue?

Feel free to add your own questions or make suggestions, please.

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Feast of The Presentation of the Lord

A little while back, on Fr. Mike's post on memorization of Scripture, I mentioned some reflections that I drew for my own life and preparation for receiving the Eucharist from St. Luke's account of God's promise to Simeon and its fulfillment when St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother, carrying the Christ child, entered the temple for the purification ritual and the child's presentation.

Well, today, February 2nd, is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, which celebrates this event. (Besides the Mass readings for the Feast, you can find also the Office of Readings for today over here.)

I was reminded of this fact when I decided to look at the entry for today in our now-Pontiff's book, "Co-Workers of the Truth". Clearly, a rich passage -- it's the fourth mystery of the rosary, after all -- I was intrigued by then-Cardinal Ratzinger's focus on how this event in the East is known as Hypapanti, or meeting. The encounter of Simeon and Christ. And Saint Sophronius, in the office of Readings, universalizes this, saying, "In honour of the divine mystery that we celebrate today, let us all hasten to meet Christ. Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light."

I'd be interested in other people's reflections on this Feast. And if you are looking for a way to enter into Scripture, besides Fr. Mike's original recommendation, consider spending some time each day with the readings that are part of the day's liturgy. It's not a bad way to start.

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Thursday, February 1, 2007

Catholics in Political Life

With the death of Fr. Robert Drinan, SJ, the Jesuit who served as a representative for the state of Massachusetts in the House from 1971-1981, the issue of Catholics, Catholic teaching, bishops and politics is surfacing. An article on the Church's influence on the state in Latin America (linked above) talks about the various relationships between secular leaders, bishops and lay Catholics throughout that region (including the fact that a minority of Catholics throughout the region identify themselves as "practicing!")

Recently there was a heated discussion on Amy Wellborn's blog about the U.S. bishops' statements on the war in Iraq and immigration, and with the 2008 race for the White House beginning already, it's only a matter of time before the Vatican's "Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life" becomes an issue. Here's a few choice quotes from that document, along with a couple of brief observations.

'The commitment of Christians in the world has found a variety of expressions in the course of the past 2000 years. One such expression has been Christian involvement in political life: Christians, as one Early Church writer stated, "play their full role as citizens"....

By fulfilling their civic duties, "guided by a Christian conscience", in conformity with its values, the lay faithful exercise their proper task of infusing the temporal order with Christian values, all the while respecting the nature and rightful autonomy of that order, and cooperating with other citizens according to their particular competence and responsibility.... The right and duty of Catholics and all citizens to seek the truth with sincerity and to promote and defend, by legitimate means, moral truths concerning society, justice, freedom, respect for human life and the other rights of the person, is something quite different....

By its interventions in this area, the Church’s Magisterium does not wish to exercise political power or eliminate the freedom of opinion of Catholics regarding contingent questions. Instead, it intends – as is its proper function – to instruct and illuminate the consciences of the faithful, particularly those involved in political life, so that their actions may always serve the integral promotion of the human person and the common good. The social doctrine of the Church is not an intrusion into the government of individual countries. It is a question of the lay Catholic’s duty to be morally coherent, found within one’s conscience, which is one and indivisible. "There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life’, with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture."'

When I arrived in Eugene, OR, as pastor of the Newman Center there, the state was in the middle of a contentious ballot measure that eventually opened the door to state-sanctioned euthanasia, or "death with dignity," depending upon your point of view. The local dioceses spent, I believe, about $1-2 million to defeat the measure, publishing various pamphlets that carefully outlined an opposition to the measure which did not mention suicide, but, instead, focused on the dignity of life and the effects of state-sponsored euthanasia in Europe, as well as possible unintended side effects that might pressure terminally ill patients to choose "death with dignity." Among these were fears that the elderly, especially, wouldn't want to be a "burden," or "eat up my children's inheritance," as well as the fear of experiencing physical pain.

The ballot measure passed, perhaps because in a largely unchurched state, the proponents of the measure claimed the Catholic Church was trying to force its doctrine upon everyone. In fact, what the bishops were attempting was to "instruct and illuminate the consciences of the faithful, particularly those involved in political life, so that their actions may always serve the integral promotion of the human person and the common good." All of us who are able to vote are "involved in political life," and have an obligation to study and understand as best as we are able, the Church's teaching. The presumption behind this isn't to re-establish Christendom, where there is no distinction between Church and State, but rather the idea that supporting the common good and promoting the legitimate rights of the individual (sometimes a difficult balancing act) will lead to peace, justice and equity that benefits us all.

I vaguely recall when Fr. Drinan was asked to not run for re-election after five terms in office. I remember Catholics being upset because they thought, "who wouldn't be a better, more honest, more Christian politician than a priest?" Others saw it as a slap against the political process as being "beneath" a cleric, or a meddling in our political system, or a reaction to some of his politics. I recall not understanding the decision myself.

I see it differently now, however. As a priest, my job is to serve the Church by helping the laity under my jurisdiction understand their gifts and calls, and to help them understand the Scriptures and Magisterial teachings so that they can apply these to the difficult situations we have to address in the secular realm. A priest running for office (including a retired bishop in Paraguay who is running for president there) is proposing to lead in the arena the bishops at the Second Vatican Council said is the proper jurisdiction of the laity. My apostolate as a priest (sanctifying, teaching and governing) is focused primarily within the Church – particularly with regard to helping the laity be better equipped to succeed at their apostolate (sanctifying, teaching, governing), which is directed towards the world. This can include helping the laity organize and coordinate their gifts, talents and skills in order to better address needs in the secular realm. In that sense I am involved indirectly in shaping secular society. Unfortunately, when we forget that the Church's primary mission is to the world, we get caught up in who is able to do what in the sanctuary and in the sacristy. If what happens there is seen as having primary importance, I have to take some responsibility for that as a priest. It means I have forgotten the primary call of the Church to "infuse the temporal order with Christian values," i.e., to evangelize individuals and transform the institutions and structures of society so that they reflect what is truly human.

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