Saturday, March 31, 2007

Go Underground Tonight!

In light of our discussions about contemporary Catholic music and the new evangelization, here is something to watch: Another creative outreach of the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Renewal in New York: Catholic Underground. And their next meeting is tonight!

Catholic Underground © is a direct response to a call that began with Pope John Paul II, and is continued by Pope Benedict XVI. JPII said that because the Gospel lives in conversation with culture, we must be fearless in crossing the cultural threshold of the communication and information revolution now taking place.

The first part of the evening is Eucharistic adoration, and begins with Vespers (Evening Prayer). This is the universal prayer of the Church - prayed by the Catholics throughout the world in every time zone and in every language. After Vespers, there is a time of simple praise. This provides a window for each person to personally encounter Jesus Christ. The beauty of the darkened Church illumined by candles helps us enter the mystery of our Lord's presence in the Eucharist. The holy hour ends with solemn Benediction.

The second part showcases Catholic artists. Here we experience the “new evangelization”. The Underground includes music, poetry, visual art, dancers, film, drama, etc.

We end our evening as we began. With the prayer of the Church. Compline (Night Prayer) is simple and beautiful. It concludes with a hymn to Our Lady, Daughter Zion. Mother of the New Jerusalem.

When: tonight, March 31


Our Lady of Good Counsel
230 East 90th Street, New York, NY 10128
7:30 - 10:30 PM
Note: Other Catholic Undergrounds have been established in Long Island, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, Allentown, and Mountain Top, PA.

Here's an introductory You tube video:

If I Am Lifted Up, I Will Draw All Men to Me

I'm taking the weekend off blogging - things to do, places to go.

But I wanted to leave you with some images of Palm Sunday as it is celebrated around the world. With my background in missions, I just love the fact that the Church is truly global.

I have an atlas of Christian history. It is disconcerting to realize how geographically small Christianity was in say, 750 AD.

After the Muslim invasion had eliminated the great Christian centers of North Africa and the Middle East and covered Spain and halved the Byzantine empire and before monastic missionaries had brought the faith to Russia, Hungary, Poland, and Scandanavia. The Roman empire was dead. The Muslim armies were at the door. The Vikings were about to make their debut. Chaos reigned. A small island in the west - Ireland - was one of the few bright spots. That time is often referred to as the "dark ages" for a reason.

And yet today, one out of three human beings on the planet is a Christian. All 2.15 billion of us and 51% are Catholic.

Catholics alone number more than any faith on earth, except Islam. There are more Catholics than Hindus, three times as many Catholics as Buddhists. And for that matter, three times as many Catholics as historic Protestants.

Can any of us really take in what it means to be part of a truly global 1.1 billion member communion?

A communion in which the majority no longer lives in the embattled western Europe of 13 centuries ago but in Latin America and Africa and Asia? That when you and I receive the Eucharist this weekend, we are assenting to and nurturing a mystical, sacramental bond with members of the body of Christ in Doha, Mumbai, Jakarta, Nairobi, and Columbo? What difference does it make?

"If I am lifted up, I will drawn all men to me".

What difference does it make?

Mass - Congo style - in Boston

The church is truly global.

A day in the life of an Cardinal named Sean Patrick O'Malley in Boston - celebrating a Congolese Mass. From Cardinal Sean's blog:

The Congolese community at St. Mary’s in Lynn invited me to celebrate the Sunday Mass with them.

"They have a wonderful, vibrant community there. Some of the young African Jesuit fathers who are studying at Boston College celebrate Mass for them regularly and there is a lay woman, Jacky Kalonji, who serves as coordinator of the community.

I was very impressed with their celebration. I celebrated the Mass and preached in French. The songs were both in French and in their native language, Lingala. The music was beautiful, and the Mass lasted for around two hours. They said it would have been much longer, but in Lent they keep things more austere!

One of the most interesting moments of the Mass came at the time of the offertory. Rather than passing baskets through the assembly, the people come up in line together singing and put their contribution in the basket. It is certainly something interesting.

I leave you with my photo of the week: a picture of the beautiful vestment given to me by the Congolese Catholic community in Lynn. I have included a close-up of the detail so that you can read the inscription. For those of you who don’t speak French, on the top it reads, “The Lord is my shepherd” and below is written “The Lord is my savior.”

And a reader added this rather moving comment:

"I don’t go to church due to very painful experiences in the past with the Church’s authorities/figures, but I often visit your blog and to read your reflections on the Gospel. They slowly help me to reconnect with church and its people. Thank you so much for sharing."

Martha Theresa

God bless you Martha Theresa! It's a good week to come back home.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Beginning of the Beguine

A fascinating website - that of the historic Beguinage of Amersterdam. It tells the story of this unique movement of lay women - the Beguines - who had an enormous influence and survived for 7 centuries right through the Reformation and persecution.

A Beguine could hardly be called a nun. She took no vows, could return to the world and wed if she would, and did not renounce her property. If she was without means she neither asked nor accepted alms, but supported herself by manual labour, or by teaching the children of burghers. During the time of her novitiate she lived with "the Grand Mistress" of her cloister, but afterwards she had her own dwelling, and, if she could afford it, was attended by her own servants. The same aim in life, kindred pursuits, and community of worship were the ties which bound her to her companions.

There was no mother-house, nor common rule, nor common general of the order; every community was complete in itself and fixed its own order of living, though later on many adopted the rule of the Third Order of St. Francis.

Communities were no less varied as to the social status of their members; some of them only admitted ladies of high degree; others were exclusively reserved for persons in humble circumstances; others again opened their doors wide to women of every condition, and these were the most densely peopled. Several, like the great Beguinage of Ghent, numbered their inhabitants by thousands.

Admirably adapted to the spiritual and social needs of the age which produced it, it spread rapidly throughout the land and soon began to exercise a profound influence on the religious life of the people. Each of these institutions was an ardent centre of mysticism and it was not the monks, who mostly dwelt on the countryside, nor even the secular clergy, but the Beguines, the Beghards, and the sons of Saint Francis who moulded the thought of the urban population of the Netherlands.

By the close of the 13th century there was hardly a commune in the Netherlands without its Beguinage, whilst several of the great cities had two or three or even more.The last Beguine died only a few years ago.

The story of the Beguines also shows something of the relative freedom of the pre-Reformation Church, especially where women were concerned.

In reaction to the Reformation, nearly all attempts to found unenclosed women's communities were suppressed for over 100 years. But prior to the Reformation, other unenclosed communities who took no vows were approved , such as that of St. Francis of Rome, who was married and lived at home with her husband until his death.

The website has many pictures and a very interesting section on the Eucharistic "Miracle of Amsterdam", which still inspires the "Silent Process" every March in which 10,000 pilgrims from around the country walk in complete silence in the wee hours of the morning.

Why Hasn't Five Centuries of Catholicism Had More Effect?

John Allen's All Things Catholic essay is up and he is asking some probing questions:

"Latin America has been Catholic for five centuries, yet too often its societies are corrupt, violent, and underdeveloped. If Catholicism has had half a millennium to shape culture and this is the best it can do, one might be tempted to ask, is it really something to celebrate? Mounting defections to Pentecostalism only deepen such ambivalence."

Honduras is deeply violent (it has a murder rate five times that of the global average) and is deeply corrupt ("revenue shortfalls due to corruption have produced a staggering national "electricity tax" of 49 percent, prompting people to refuse to pay their bills".

Allen was surprised that blaming the US wasn't the first response his hosts gave. Snip.

"The most frequent explanation I heard boils down to this: For most of the 500 years since the arrival of Columbus, Catholicism in Latin America often has been skin-deep. People were baptized into the faith, married and buried in it, but for a variety of reasons there was precious little else.

To be sure, the church exercises considerable political clout. But that influence, many observers say, often masks a superficial Catholicism at the grass-roots.

At first blush, the claim that five centuries haven't afforded enough time for real evangelization might seem a terrible indictment. Honduran Catholics told me that, given its scarce resources, the church never stood a chance. Moreover, they say, baptismal counts notwithstanding, the region has never been ideologically homogenous.

For example, some Hondurans assert that during the Cold War, the dominant ideology was not Catholicism, but Marxism, which had a much greater impact in shaping the attitudes of political and social elites. That's the view at the new Catholic University of Honduras, founded in 1993 and named "Our Lady Queen of Peace" in honor of the reputed apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Medjugorje, in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

During my visit, rector Elio David Alvarenga Amador and members of his staff explained that the university was founded by lay Catholics who taught at the secular national university, and who were frustrated with what they saw as Marxist indoctrination, especially in education and the social sciences.

Vice-rector Virgilio Madrid Solís, who keeps an image of St. Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, on his desk, though he's not a member, minces no words in describing the new university's mission: "To change Honduras."

Erika Flores de Boquín, another vice-rector, unpacked the point. She told the story of a recent engineering graduate who went to work for the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, where he was asked to sign what Flores described as a falsified environmental impact study, presumably skewed by corruption. The engineer lost his job, but he made a stand for principle.

"Little by little, such acts will transform this country," Flores de Boquín said. "The church is starting this work only now."

Hondurans also point to a severe priest shortage as limiting the extent to which Catholicism took hold. With just over 400 priests, the ratio of priests to people in Honduras today is 1 to 13,000.

"At the time of independence from Spain, most of the Catholic clergy were expelled," Rodriguez said. "We had one bishop and 15 priests for the entire country."

That shortage left vast sections of the population with no regular access to the sacraments, and no meaningful catechesis. The few clergy on hand, mostly foreign missionaries, did their best, but dreams of Honduran Catholicism shaping culture in the sense that one associates with Poland under Communism, local Catholics say, was never in the cards.

It's encouraging to see the lay initiative in founding a new university with the specific purpose of evangelization of both individuals and society.


More Spanish Colonial Art

If you are like me and are fascinated by Spanish colonial art, you'll be interested in this exhibit at the Tucson Museum of Art

The Virgin, Saints, and Angels: South American Paintings 1600 - 1825 from the Thoma Collection

January 20, 2007 - April 29, 2007

This exhibition examines the diverse schools of painting that developed over time within the vast Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru, a territory that encompassed present day Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay, Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador.

The painting is part of the exhibition and is of the Virgin Mary, as a child, spinning thread.

Lay Evangelist Martyred in Ethiopia

Via International Christian Concern, a group that provides advocacy, assistance and awareness for the persecuted Christian Church all over the world. They are evangelical but track persecution against all Christians: Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox. A group worthy of your attention.

The Christian minstries most likely to result in martyrdom? 1) bishop; 2) evangelist; 3) catechist.

WASHINGTON, Mar. 29 The Washington-DC based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC) has just learned that an Ethiopian evangelist named Tedase was beaten to death by militant Muslims on Monday, March 26th, as he and two young women were on a street evangelism assignment in Jimma, Ethiopia. This marks the second time in six months that Christians residing in Southeast Ethiopia have been attacked and killed by extremist (Wahabbi) Muslims.

On Monday afternoon Tedase and two female coworkers were conducting street evangelism on Merkato Street in Jimma, Southern Ethiopia. Merkato Street runs by a Wahabbi Mosque. As the team was walking by the Mosque, a group of Muslims exited the Mosque and began to run after them to confront them. Tedase's female coworkers ran away from the mob but Tedase continued on. The Muslims caught up with Tedase, pulled him into the mosque, and savagely beat him to death. Sources from Jimma reported that Tedase was beaten with a calculated intention to kill him. This was no accident or case of mob frenzy getting out of control. His body was later taken to the hospital for an autopsy and he was buried Tuesday, March 27.

Our sources also reveal that Jimma Christians were conducting an evangelism campaign, and news of the outreach was spreading among Jimma residents as well as militant Muslim groups in the area. The Muslims that belonged to the Wahabbi sect purposefully beat Tedase to death as a message to Christians that they are ready to combat evangelism.

Aftershocks of the September 2006 Pogrom

This most recent incident in Ethiopia confirms ICC's decision to include this country in its Hall of Shame list, which highlights nations where Christians are enduring the most severe persecution. It is important to note that the Muslims who attacked Tedase belonged to the Wahabbi brand of Islam, an extremist sect imported from Saudi Arabia. It is clear that the Christians in Ethiopia are feeling Saudi Arabia's influence, particularly in Jimma, a Muslim dominated area where local authorities are almost exclusively Muslim. It was only six months ago, in September of 2006, that Muslim extremists burned down a number of churches and parishes, as well as Christian homes. As many as 2,000 Christians were displaced by the attack, an attempt to intimidate Christians with the hopes of converting them to Islam.

Evangelical church leaders are fearful that if police ignore Tedase's death, it will be a green light for Muslim groups in the area to attack their Christian neighbors at will and without retribution. We appeal to concerned individuals to contact the Ethiopian embassy in their own countries to ask for an investigation of Tedase's murder.

Ethiopian Embassy, Washington D.C.
3506 International Drive, NW
Washington, DC 20008 USA
Tel: 202/364-1200
Fax: 202/587-0195

Ethiopian Embassy, London
17 Princes Gate
London SW7 1PZ UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7589 7212
Fax: +44 (0)20 7584 7054

Ethiopian Embassy, Canada
#210-151 Slater Street
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1P5H3
Tel:- 613-235-6637
Fax: 613-235-4638

Marriage and Conversion?

Over at Standing on My Head, Fr. Dwight reflects once again on the reality that converts to the Church often experience a disappointing reality once they make their decision to convert. Rather than just highlight the complaint, he compares conversion to the Church with marriage:

I'm sympathetic, but I'd like to stand this commonplace moan on it's head. Oh yes, you come into the Catholic Church and the liturgy is dreary, the music lyrics come from greeting cards and the music from the nursery. The preaching is dire, the youth ministry is downright creepy in its attempt to be 'cool' and the fellowship is non existent.

Remember two things: first, the disappointing human reality does not obliterate the eternal Truth. When we marry most people have high expectations of living happily ever after. Unfortunately, most marriages are not rosy all day every day. People fight. In laws arrive. Kids disobey and rebel. Siblings hate each other. Tragedy happens. Ignorance and vanity and selfishness intrude. Complacency and taking each other for granted grows like a cancer. Relationships break down. It's a mess.It's also what we call marriage.

When it doesn't go as we planned we don't bail out of the marriage (at least we shouldn't) Neither do we dismiss the institution of marriage as ill conceived. We don't throw marriage out and look for some different arrangement. We don't suddenly tell young people not to marry. We stick with it. We hang in there for better or for worse. If we are disappointed the best thing we can do is to examine our expectations. Maybe we are disappointed because we were expecting the wrong thing in the first place.

It's a beautiful reflection, and I encourage you to read the whole thing.

I agree with Fr. Longenecker wholeheartedly, and I believe that the Church needs to offer better preparation and support for this marriage. We'll never experience the "perfect" living out of our communal faith this side of heaven, but we can be more faithful to the "praxis" called for by Christ through the Scripture and the Tradition of the Church.

Sometimes the default response of cradle Catholics is, "Sure it's not perfect, just tough it out. Then you'll know that you've really converted." And I don't think that's helpful to converts at all. The real question is, "Gosh this is tough, so how can we more fully live out the gift that God has given us so that we might create more Christ-like communities of intentional disciples that draw all men and women to them?"

Debate or Talk?

Jeff Vihige over at Thursday Night Gumbo has a really interesting post on how those with a minority religious worldview can interact with a the majority secular worldview.

A short summary of Jeff's options:

The religious person can adopt:

1) a ghetto mentality
2) a "liberal" mentality
3) the attitude of open-dialogue with the secular mind

Jeff is proposing:

, i.e., an open consideration of the secular, modern mindset. This attitude rejects the isolationism of the ghetto; it realizes that Christianity, if it is to be effect, cannot exist in a hermetically sealed community. The modern world is asking questions. If Christianity is the truth, then it should be able to answer those questions. If it cannot . . . then do we not have a bigger problem at our door?

But the ghetto mentality has a legitimate concern, namely, that aggiornamento can lead to liberalism. What, exactly, is meant by an open consideration of the secular, modern mindset? Of what do these considerations consist? Is there a line between consideration and concession? Where is that line? If the Christian engaged in this open discussion with the modern world is not careful, they will soon loose everything distinctively Christian. They will be left with nothing.

So what is a modern Christian, who is interested in evangelization, to do? The best answer I can give is this: Study your faith. Do not study apologetics, because that won't help you much. Why? Because your study is based on your interlocutor's questions, not on the whole of Catholic theology. If you want to evangelize, then you need to know what the Church teaches, not how to win a debate.

Then when you come into contact with a non-Catholic view, regardless of whichever perspective it takes (secular, anti-Catholic, Protestant), you will be able to both defend the Church as well as evangelize the person. Why? Because this kind of in-depth study teaches you that when it comes to truth, one cannot debate, one can only talk."


As some of you know, I am busily at work on a new four day seminar on evanelization that we will be offering this summer called Making Disciples.

One of the issues that is coming up is that post-modern people simply don't think in categories of "this is true" and "this is not true". And that the classic catechetical approach that arose in the early modern era (late 16th, early 17th centuries) as part of the Catholic Reformation
(as many contemporary historians prefer to call it since it wasn't just a reaction to the Protestant Reformation as the term Counter-Reformation would imply) doesn't work as well in a post-modern era when people's beliefs and issues are very different.

Yet, Christ and the faith must be proposed for people to respond. So how did we propose it effectively in a very different era?

I'll post more on this later but now I must work. Thanks Jeff! Your post has triggered some great "ahas!"

Thursday, March 29, 2007

What Would It Have Been Like?

Since moving to southern Colorado, on the very border of historic Spanish America (the Arkansas river 40 miles south of us was once the boundary of New Spain), I've enjoyed becoming familiar with Spanish colonial art and especially the popular devotional art of Mexico and New Mexico.

Next week, many pilgrims will come on pilgrimage to San Luis, the oldest town in Colorado to the La Mesa de la Piedad y de la Misericordia” (or The Mesa of Piety and Mercy). A series of gripping, life-like bronze sculptures are presented along a path that winds up a nearby mesa to an adobe chapel. The monument is the work of local artist Huberto Maestas, whose initial works on the shrine were presented to Pope John Paul II and are currently in the permanent collection of the Vatican Museum.

My Baptist gut was reeling a bit as I wandered through the museums in Santa Fe because nothing could be further from the aesthetic of the fundamentalism in which I was raised than popular Spanish devotional art.

I was completely stymied by one bulto, a small statue of a plain, unidentified woman in a long dress with seven . . .count 'em . . .seven swords plunged into her torso. It took me several minutes to grasp who she was: Our Lady of the Seven Dolours, of course!

The Protestant mind regards the "sword" that would pierce Mary's soul as a metaphor for her emotional and spiritual distress over her son's rejection, suffering and death. But the residents of New Spain didn't go in much for metaphors. The more concrete, graphic and gorier, the more devout you were. Why stop with one sword when you could have seven? I found myself wondering if the artist would have used more swords if Mary's frail torso could have accomodated them. In portraying the sorrows of Our Lady, there are apparently no such thing as too much.

The picture to the right is a 19th century retablo "La Mano Poderosa," or "The Powerful Hand" The five figures at the top represent Anne, Mary, Baby Jesus, Joseph and Joachim. In the lower quadrant, blood is flowing from the stigmata into an open gold chalice which is received by the seven sacrificial lambs below.

My favorites: the delightful ex-votos. Testimonies (a term that warms the evangelical heart) on tin. Ex-votos are small paintings of answered prayers and gratitude that combine a picture of the crisis with a written version of the story as well. The grateful recipient of the favor puts it up in their local church as an act of gratitude and praise.

So, Christ with a Van Dyke beard asleep in his four poster bed on a fluffy white cloud is awakened by the desperate prayer of some penitent below. (The Charles I Van Dyke beard with huge lace collar and large brimmed hat with feather trim was a very popular look well into the 19th century. I was smitten by a painting of the Trinity in a colonial church which basically looked like Charles the Father, Charles the Son, and Charles the Holy Spirit.)

Ex-votos date back to 16th century Italy but become hugely popular in Spain and therefore, Spainish America.

(The ex-voto above is dated 1853. The woman in bed was so ill that she was in danger of dying, after invoking the Virgin as the Immaculate Conception, she was cured and her mother gives thanks for the favor. Notice: the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was not defined until 1854.)

Of course, I can't leave this topic without sharing this popular image of the famous Dominican preacher, St. Vincent Ferrar, as an angel. Certainly all the Dominicans I've ever known were angelic. Wouldn't you agree, Br. Matthew?

I stood in those old adobe churches and wondered: if this art was all the catechesis you have access to, how would those who worshipped in these little villages have understood the faith?

Theirs was a hard world, full of poverty, hard work, little or no education, and few remedies for disease or disaster. Many times there was no priest available. Penitential brotherhoods who whipped themselves bloodly were a major force in Spanish colonial Catholicism.

Would you have known that God loved you?
Would it have been a relationship or would the Church and the sacraments and the saints be regarded in a magical light?

What would it have been like?

Catholic Quote of the Day

From Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn of Vienna. It serves as a great summary, or starting point, for the Catholic approach to, well, just about everything:

"Despite sometimes heavy criticism, the church continues to firmly believe that there is in nature a language of the Creator, and therefore a binding ethical order in creation, which remains a fundamental reference point in bioethical matters," he said.

This is the difficult piece, the "untranslateable paradigm" that makes communication between those who believe in what the Church teaches and those who don't highly difficult--especially when it comes to the sciences. And yet, there is, really, nothing anti-scientific, in the Catholic position simply because it has this viewpoint at it's genesis (pun intended).

Nature does not simply signify itself. Rather, it points to (and is pointed to by) the Creator. We see this belief highlighted in the very first lines of the Nicene Creed: "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth." This physical (and metaphysical) reality is the lens through which Catholics (and most other Christians) view the social, psychological, scientific, and spiritual questions of our age.

I think it is incumbent on those of us who do come from this paradigm to make that more explicit, and I also believe that others should take more time to listen to that. At the very least, it may help us communicate better with each other.

What Poetry Form Are You?

I'm terza rima, and I talk and smile.
Where others lock their rhymes and thoughts away
I let mine out, and chatter all the while.

I'm rarely on my own - a wasted day
Is any day that's spent without a friend,
With nothing much to do or hear or say.

I like to be with people, and depend
On company for being entertained;
Which seems a good solution, in the end.
What Poetry Form Are You?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Catholic History.Net

Those of you who are interested in American Catholic history, as I am, would do well to check out Catholic History.Net. It has good bibliographies about different aspects of Catholic life in the US: American Catholic intellectual history; African American history, Catholic social thought, the history of women's religious orders, etc.

The site also lists important people, places, and events in American Catholic history organized by region of the country and era. The descriptions of each are very short but it's a good place to do basic research and become acquainted with people and events that are new before doing your in-depth research elsewhere.

Dissent Can Take Surprising Forms

In his speech at the Communion and Liberation gathering in Rome last weekend, Pope Benedict XVI said this:

"In the message to the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements, May 27, 1998, John Paul II repeated, that in the Church there is no contrast or contraposition between the institutional dimension and the charismatic dimension, of which the movements are a meaningful expression, because both are co-essential to the divine constitution of the People of God, and in the Church even the essential institutions are charismatic, and, in any case, the charisms, in one way or another, have to institutionalise themselves in order to have cohesion and continuity."

I'm delighted to hear the Pope reaffirm the reality of the "charismatic dimension of the Church. Because dissent can take forms that would surprise most parishioners of St. Blogs.

Last spring, I sat in a meeting with a group of orthodox theologians, scholars, and pastors with doctorates, and listened to one very conservative scholar (who was not a theologian himself but very influential man who forms priests) vehemently assert that there was no such thing as "the charismatic dimension of the church". I pointed out that Pope John Paul II had talked about the charismatic dimension of the church and its "co-essential nature" with the institutional several times in major addresses. He just shook his head, unimpressed by mere papal teaching.

If fact, he went on to insist that charisms didn't really exist at all outside hierarchical functions. The 481 references to the word "charism" and its cognates in magisterial teaching since V2 and the debates in the Council on the charisms in the context of the apostolate of the laity didn't phase him. He implied that the term "charism" in the English documents was the result of a mistranslation of the Latin word "munus" meaning task or office.

(Since this isn't exactly Da Vinci Code territory - all the Latin originals being readily available on the Vatican website - I went home and looked up 38 important passages in eight major conciliar and magisterial documents where the English translation uses the word "charism". The passages about the responsibility of the clergy to honor, call forth, and help the laity discern their charisms and the passages about the importantance of the laity discerning their own charisms. In all cases but one, the Latin original was charismata or some cognate thereof. In one case, the Latin word was the "dones", meaning gift. In no instance, was the word "munus" translated into English as "charism".

It was the theological equivalent of an urban legend. To wit, that a ill willed hoax had been perpetrated on the Body Catholic by the simple expedient of a translation slight-of-hand . A hoax that had been repeated throughout the decades by two generations of translators every time a magisterial document referred to charisms. And no theologian,
including Josef Ratzinger, in the only institution on earth which still uses Latin in its daily round, had noticed for 40 years.

Unless, of course, the Latin editions on the Vatican website have been corrupted by the same band of conspirators. . . . and the originals are buried in an archbishop's casket in St. Sulpice! Wow, this is bigger than I thought. )

Then he insisted that the concept of the "People of God" (a phrase that occurs 41 times in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 106 times in the documents of the Council and 650 times in magisterial teaching since the early 60's.) was no longer valid, having been completely replaced and subsumed by the theology of "communio".

The other men in the group tried gently and then humorously to take issue with him but he was adamant. Privately, several told me later that the whole thing was absurd and inexplicable.

I must admit that I was completely floored. I had just met my first highly placed "conservative" dissenter who wasn't even attempting to make an argument for his assertions. He wasn't thinking critically at all. He was emoting using theological categories. It was as though he was trying, by sheer force of will, to erase large portions of the past 40 years of Church teaching and history.

In my travels, I've witnessed people on all sides of the spectrum do that. Under the right circumstances, we are all capable of doing it.

A truly Catholic faithfulness demands more of us: that we maintain a fundamental trust that the Holy Spirit have never ceased to guide the Church - in 1950 and in 1980. It is about remaining open and grateful for the whole Tradition of the Church - pre and post Vatican II and in all its breadth; ecumenism and the liturgy, evangelization and social teaching. Faithfulness demands that we not try to use one part of the Church's teaching or history to supress or bludgeon another part into oblivion in defense of our pet theories or personal preferences.

And faithfulness demands a basic attitude of humility and docility. Having striven for genuine expertise in one small area of the Church's teaching, I am exceedingly aware of the vast continents of Church teaching and life about which I am exceedingly clueless. A certain humility and willingness to trust the judgment of the Church is required even of the most learned Catholic. All of us are called to

So I'm very grateful that Pope Benedict, whom this gentleman could hardly accuse of being either "liberal" or theologically incompetent, reinterated the validity and "co-essential" reality of the charismatic last weekend.

Because it has been part of the Tradition since St. Paul. And
the Didache, Ignatius of Antioch, The Shepherd of Hermas, Justin Martyr, Ireneus, Tertullian (in his pre-Montanist days), Origen, Eusebius, Hilary of Poitiers, Cyril of Jerusalem, Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzus, the Apostolic Consitutions, John Chrysostom, and Thomas Aquinas. And yes, the second Vatican Council and all magisterial teaching since.

I hope his nibs was listening. More importantly, I hope I'm listening.

The Near Occasion of SIn

Via Mike Liccione at Sacramentium Vitae, who obviously knows whereof he speaks! :-]

The View From My Neck of the Woods

Just for fun. The view from my neighborhood on a fresh, sunny Sunday after a day of rain and sloppy snow.

hat tip: Weather Underground's wonderful collection of weather/nature photos sent in by amateur photographers from all over the world. Some are just spectacular!

Cool Angelus

Sherry wanted me to post this way cool Angelus that she found over at You Tube. I love the integration between the chant, the visual images, and the text.

Check it out!

Addendum from Sherry: this Angelus was produced by the Daughters of St. Paul who are now producing media just for You Tube!

Hat tip: Rae Stabosz of Confessions of a Cooperator, who is a cooperators with the Daughters and sometime commenter here on ID.

Nurture the Child's Life. . .and the Mother's as Well

Related and tragic. A wave of infanticide has stunned Germany which is trying to fight it by aggressively marketing Baby-Klappe hatches that allow women to drop off their babies to be found and cared for without having to give their names. 23 known cases of infanticide have come to light this year - well above average.

" Professor Helmut Kury, a criminologist, say: “Some women have a greater fear of losing their partners than of losing their child. They take desperate measures to save a relationship.”

"Professor Mechthild Neises, head of the Psychosomatic Unit at the Medical University in Hanover, agreed: “Such women have usually lied about their pregnancy for so long that they have stopped believing that they are actually pregnant. When the baby suddenly arrives, they panic and just want to get rid of it.”

But the baby-drops, modeled on foundling wheels that were first used in Italy in medieval times, are not seen as the final antidote to these killings. “Often the mother is under such psychological pressure that she doesn’t even register alternatives like the Baby-Klappe,” Dr Neises said.

But they do offer an alternative for some mothers. The drop-off point is usually hidden from view, shielded by trees and away from security cameras. The baby is put on to a tray that slides through a hole in the wall and is gently lowered into a heated cot. An alarm bell alerts nursing staff — but only after the mother has been given sufficient time to make a getaway. The baby can be reclaimed, usually up to three months later, should the mother change her mind.

In Berlin the posters, giving full addresses and phone numbers of three hospitals with baby-drops, are sponsored by Hans Wall, a businessman whose company maintains bus shelters and public lavatories. A baby was dumped in one of his shelters on a cold night last January. He became its godfather and will finance its education."

Sherry's comment: The baby drops are wonderful (thank God for them!) but the church has been fighting abortion with foundling wheels and homes since the middle ages.

A woman centered approach like the Nurturing Network is a longer term solution but requires someone with the vision, resources, and entrepenturial ability like Mary Cunningham Agee to set it up.

NN has saved 18,000 babies by focusing on meeting the needs of their mothers. When women don't feel that they have to choose between their own future and that of the baby, they almost always choose life. This is certainly true of college and professional/working women - the group whose worldview and needs the Nurturing Network was specifically formed to address.

The Nurturing Network’s objective is not a political one but a most practical one: to provide a real choice to women whose own support networks have let them down. Each woman served by TNN is empowered to move beyond her economic, emotional and social constraints in order to exercise her choice to have a healthy pregnancy and nurture the life of her child.

As Mary Cunningham Agee puts it:

Those who support ‘choice’ can hardly dispute
the value of creating another choice;
those who support life
can hardly reject an alternative made real.”

The key is NN's 47,000 volunteer resource members who provide all of the practical support a woman needs to nurture her child’s life—and make the most of hers as well.

The good news: The Nurturing Network has spread to 30 countries now and is present in all 50 states. Their website features "Maternal profiles in courage" - true stories of women who made the journey and chose life.

Check NN out. Tell your sister, daughter, grand-daughter, friends about it. Pray about getting involved.

Mission on Campus

Take a look at this simulaneously cheering and discouraging post by Katie Crane from Luceat!, the blog of FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students about their esperience of a "Sex Out Loud" sexual health fair at the University of Illinois.

It reveals alot about current student culture and the impact that smart, faithful, daring lay Catholics in their midst, who are willing to talk about the faith, can have.

"Last week, Student Health Services along with a feminist student organization at the University of Illinois sponsored an event called “Sex Out Loud,” a so-called “sexual health fair” held in the Illini Student Union. Upon entering the room, one was aware of the driving-animalistic beat of the latest dance club favorite emanating throughout the hall, a variety of t-shirts with pithy sayings so fraught with sexual innuendo I am unable to repeat them, free condoms everywhere, and a nurse practitioner filling out prescriptions for the “morning after pill” before our very eyes. And there I was, wearing a pink baby tee with the words “Virtue is Sexy” scrawled across the front, standing with a group of young Catholic students by a table sponsored by St. John’s Newman Center dedicated to the proclamation of the Theology of the Body. And I loved every minute of it!

In nearly two years as a missionary with FOCUS, never have I ever had such a dramatic experience of sharing the Gospel. Picture this: with half a dozen condoms and/or morning after pill prescriptions in hand, students would meander passed our table, read the words “Theology of the Body,” and just sort of stare, dumbfounded at how these two words might have anything in common with one another. At this moment, one of the Catholic students and I would approach the aforementioned dumbfounded co-ed and ask if they had ever heard of Theology of the Body - to which they would invariably reply “No.” Next, we asked if they would like to hear a little bit about the Theology of the Body to which they would invariably reply “Yes!” We then shared the following five points:

1) The Theology of the Body is a rearticulation of the Christian Gospel rooted in terms of human sexuality, who we are as men and who we are as women.

2) In Genesis, we read that men and women are made in the image and likeness of God. Sounds nice, but who is God?

3) God is a communion of Love. God the Father pours himself out in love to God the Son, and God the Son receives that love and gives a total gift of Himself back to the Father in return by dying on the cross. And the love between them is so tangible that it becomes a third person, the Holy Spirit.

4) In the same way, in the sexual act a man pours himself out in love for a woman. The woman receives this love and gives a total gift of herself back to the man. And the love between them is so tangible that nine months later, you have to give it a name - it becomes a third person!

5) Therefore, the sexual act is meant to be nothing less than the number one sign and symbol that God has written into our very nature as men and women to be an image - a symbol - an icon - of who He is in His inner self - a communion of Love. That’s why Catholics save sex for marriage - because it is so good and so holy and so sacred. We say “no” to sex before marriage so we can say “yes” to sex in a much deeper way - in a way that most perfectly images the God himself.

People’s jaws dropped down to their knees. “That’s so beautiful,” said a Kim, a freshmen business major. “It’s refreshing to hear chastity and abstinence spoken about in the positive rather than in the negative,” said John, an agnostic religious studies major. “Why hasn’t anyone told me this before?” asked a beautiful young woman named Jill with a quivering lower lip and a tear in her eye.

I don’t know, Jill. But I am honored to be the first."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Home At Last!

(Cross-posted at Integrity.)

Well, after a day's delay, I finally walked in the door at my house about 6pm. Much to do, so the reflections on the papal audience will have to wait a bit. But in the meantime, here's a couple of pictures and now YouTubes of short movie captures I did at the papal audience. I apologize for the quality of some of the pictures you will see in the coming weeks. Once I learned that Rome was so dark, I decided to forego my flash. But I am not as patient as I should be, without a tripod as well, to do the camera tricks (the limited ones my cheap digital camera can do) to compensate for that. Also, does anyone know where I might be able to host the audio for free? YouTube limits length to 10 minutes and if I were to just host it as a file at Integrity on the side a mere 7 of you downloading it would eat up all my bandwidth. Any suggestions?

"My" Pope

In Poland, its no contest:

From Catholic World News - According to the results of surveys undertaken by Poland’s Center of the Thought of John Paul II, 94% of Poles speak of the late Pontiff as “my "Pope” and identify Pope Benedict XVI's predecessor as an important moral authority.

Some 75% of those who responded to the survey prayed at least once for the beatification of the Krakow's former archbishop. More than 90% have at least once listened to a media broadcast of a homily by the former Pontiff, while 50% reported at least once reading in the press a homily by the Polis Pope.

And 33% of Poles responded that they had read at least one book written by the former Pope and 75% reported that they are familiar the teaching of the Polish pontiff. An ever greater number, 80%, declared that they live according to the teachings of John Paul II.

Somehow I missed this last year.

So it's not surprising that for the second year running, the Torch of Lolek, as Karol Wojtyla was called when he was a boy, will be carried from Rome to the late Pope’s home town of Krakow in Poland. Also this second edition will combine Spirituality and Sport and there will be a special stop in Venice with a torch- light procession of boats along the Canal Grande of Dragon Boats and Canoes.

The 8 lap journey began on Sunday 25 after a special Mass and the lighting of the Torch at the tomb of John Paul II in St Peter’s Basilica.

Philip Neri and the House of Christian Mirth

Rocco Palma over at Whispers has a refreshing essay on "Did Jesus Laugh' and the history of Christian attitudes toward levity, jokes, humor, and playfulness. His post was triggered by Fr. James Martin's essay: On Ash Wednesday, Religion, and Joy.

Rocco mentions one of the most delightfully eccentric and winsome saints of all : St. Philip Neri.

"Some saints were known specifically for their sense of humor. St. Philip Neri, called “The Humorous Saint,” hung at his door a little sign: The House of Christian Mirth. “Christian joy is a gift from God flowing from a good conscience,” Neri said."

Neri was the only saint we know of who had a joke book and a Bible beside his bed. He began his apostlate as a lay man and later become a priest and founded the Oratorians. Many of the practices associated with Neri's Oratory, for many years a gathering of lay men before it became a community of priests, are remarkable for their spontaneity and directness.

Louis Boyer (who was an Oratorian) wrote in The Roman Socrates: A Protrait of St. Philip Neri,

"The program of their meetings took some ten years to crystallize into the following form: reading with commentary, the commentary taking the form of a conversation, followed by an exhortation by some other speaker. This would be followed in turn by a talk on Church History, with finally, another reading with a commentary, this time from the life of some saint. All this was interspersed with short prayers, hymns and music, and the service always finished with the singing of a new motet or anthem. It was taken for granted that everyone could come and go as they chose, as Philip himself did. He and the other speakers used to sit quite informally on a slightly raised bench facing the gathering.

We have already compared one of Philip's activities to those of the Salvation Army; the same comparison holds good for these informal meetings.

Generally speaking, the pattern followed by Evangelist meetings, invented as is supposed by Anglo-Saxon revivalists of the eighteenth century, was no more than a repetition of this Roman priest's experiment in the sixteenth century. We find the same spontaneity, jealously suspicious of any rule which might bridle inspiration or lead to formalism, the same outburst of sensible fervor, above all the same attempt to return to the Gospels and make them available to everyone."

It was Neri and the confraternity that he founded who introduced the 40 hours Devotion to Rome, accompanying Adoration with continuous prayer and spontaneous feverini. Whever Neri went, music followed, but especially the Laudi, venacular hymns of praise. Palestrina, who was one of Neri's disciples, wrote many Laudi for the Oratory. It was Neri who instituted the pilgrimage to the seven churches of Rome as an alternative to Mardi Gras - but typically, he inserted a picnic and live music into the pilgrimage.

Frederick Faber, who joined the English branch of the Oratorians to which John Henry Newman also belonged, wrote in his life of Neri:

"He looked like other men.. he was emphatically a modern gentleman, of scrupulous courtesy, sportive gaiety, acquainted with what was going on in the world, taking a real interest in it, giving and getting information, very neatly dressed, with a shrewd common sense always alive about him, in a modern room with modern furniture, plain, it is true, but with no marks of poverty about it -- in a word, with all the ease, the gracefulness, the polish of a modern gentleman of good birth, considerable accomplishments, and a very various information." Accordingly, he was ready to meet the needs of his day to an extent and in a manner which even the versatile Jesuits, who much desired to enlist him in their company, did not rival; and, though an Italian priest and head of a new religious order, his genius was entirely unmonastic and unmedieval; he was the active promoter of vernacular services, frequent and popular preaching, unconventional prayer, and unsystematized, albeit fervent, private devotion."

Living As the True Church?

Discussing the situation that is occurring within the Anglican Communion, Amy Welborn over at Open Book talks a bit about subjects that make up the focus of the blog. She writes:

A subject that comes up here a lot runs sort of like this:

A. The Roman Catholic Church claims to be the one, true Church of Jesus Christ.
B. The Roman Catholic Church botches things up more or less continually.
C. So, how can the Roman Catholic Church be the one, true Church of Jesus Christ?

The discussion usually revolves around issues of liturgy, catechesis and evangelization. It goes deeper than "bad liturgy." The question, as I've come to understand it, really comes down to this:

You have an "ideal" Catholic Church that is constituted in the deep rich Tradition of Catholicism. But hardly any of that is visible in the experience of the average Catholic parish today. Liturgies do not reflect the mind (not to speak of the liturgical law) of the Church, catechesis only scratches the surface and homilies..well...why do they even bother to go to seminary?

The problem is particulary acute for those who have "read" their way into the Church. It's been articulated over and over again.

She then highlights the same question that has been asked on Fr. Kimel's blog, Pontifications:

I do believe the pastoral problem is not one to be ignored. The transition of converts into the Catholic Church can be painful in a way that extends beyond the difficulty so many parishes have in communicating and expressing, in word, sign and ministry, the fullness of the Faith. Many former Protestants, active in their former church communities, have a difficult time finding a similar sense of fellowship and interest in evangelization in a Catholic parish.

All of that is by way of introduction to a comment hidden away on another blog. The comment is by the blogger - Fr. Al Kimel - but it is buried in the comments and was so good I thought it was worth sharing. It's #13 on this post:

#11: Adam, it is not just the poor worship. The poor worship has a cause, and the cause is ineffective, poor, or misleading catechesis. And, for me, still, this calls into question the proposition that “this is THE church”. If this is THE church, shouldn’t it do better at making Christians, out of both unchurched adults and little children?

Check out more of Amy's reflection and Fr. Kimel's response to the above question by going here. It's worth the look.

I Can Only Imagine . . .

But this is something we can all come together around: This very moving video of Team Hoyt. Amy featured it on Open Book a year or two ago but it's worth watching again - and especially if you have never seen it before.

Dick and Rick Hoyt are a father-and-son team from Massachusetts who together compete just about continuously in marathon races. And if they’re not in a marathon they are in a triathlon — that daunting, almost superhuman, combination of 26.2 miles of running, 112 miles of bicycling, and 2.4 miles of swimming. Together they have climbed mountains, and once trekked 3,735 miles across America.

It’s a remarkable record of exertion — all the more so when you consider that Rick can't walk or talk.

For the past twenty five years or more Dick, who is 65, has pushed and pulled his son across the country and over hundreds of finish lines. Team Hoyt is scheduled to run again in the 2007 Boston Marathon.

Work is Love made visible.

This is You . . .On God Tube

God tube- . Yes, now there is a Christian version of You Tube.

It has all sorts of things from footage of Benedictines taking final vows to a quite funny take-off on the MAC/PC commercials that skewers the gap between traditional evangelicalism and emergent church approaches - and inadvertently shows how different the ethos and debate is in the Catholic world. (especially funny if you have some first hand experience of the evangelical world.)

The Catholic footage is long on sermons and religious congregations. There's footage of John Paul Ii's funeral, the God and the Girl tv series, a number of homilies, portraits of religious life, the ordination of a priest, etc. Some moving footage of Mother Teresa. The tone is sooo different from the evangelical stuff.

And then there are lots of debates between James White (a professional anti-Catholic) and well, everybody.

This is why I call myself a bi-cultural Christian. Watch this and you think:

Two peoples separated by a common devotion to Christ.

Monday, March 26, 2007

No Ordinary Joy

Again in light of our recent discussions, this 2002 Crisis piece is very intriguing. It's topic: the charismatic renewal in France.

In France, the renewal has sponsored a number of lay movements including the Emmanuel community, the community of the Beatitudes,
Le Chemin Neuf (the new path); and Verbe de Vie (Word of Life).

In France, these communities play major roles. For instance, the Beatitudes is in charge of the shrine of St Therese in
Lisieux. Two members of the Emmanuel community are now French bishops.

Some excerpts:

It is the charismatic movement within the French Church that insists most urgently on the importance of evangelization. For these communities, evangelization is a matter of letting the Word shine forth, not shutting it up in small clubs of polite company. This is what motivates members of Emmanuel to organize regular missions of evangelization. They gather in front of churches to sing and share their faith with passersby, inviting them inside to adore God in the Eucharist or to speak with a priest. Marie, who works for a job-placement agency, participates regularly in these missions. "To evangelize, to witness—whether it be in the community or in my professional life—is to say that God is my joy," she says. "Joy can’t be selfishly preserved; it is diffusive of itself. It’s like being in love and wanting to tell everyone all the time about the person you love."

"Dressed in the white habit of an Olivetan Benedictine novice, Brother Dominique is a child of the charismatic renewal. It was in one of the newer communities, Le Chemin Neuf (the New Path), that his contemplative vocation was born. "Of course, I might have discovered it some other way, but it was during the charismatic prayer groups that the Lord revealed to me what prayer is," he says. "More than a duty, more than a set of requests, prayer is a song of love. I also saw that God is not far away but very close, intimate."

For Brother Dominique, the journey from the charismatic community to the Order of St. Benedict was a smooth one. "There are, of course, differences of style, of form, as one passes from upbeat modern melodies to the sublime sobriety of Gregorian chant, but there is something ludicrous about opposing the one to the other," he says. "Generally speaking, I’m a little suspicious of these overly subtle distinctions that are set up between these different spiritualities: Catholic spirituality is really one thing, even if it takes on several forms. The charismatic renewal, the Benedictines, it’s all the same holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. It would be better not to draw boundaries where they don’t exist."

And this story of a young Muslim is quite moving:

"Ahmed walks calmly toward the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. The young philosophy student says that it was in a charismatic prayer group that he "met the living Jesus Christ." Reacting against his Muslim upbringing, Ahmed had become an atheist. "I saw life as an absurd evasion, a perpetual fleeing," he says. "This idea fit very well with my melancholic temperament. Then at university I met a group of young people whose joy intrigued me. It was more profound than ordinary joys, and it seemed to unite them. After a few months, I wanted to know where this light came from. They told me about a charismatic community where they went regularly to make retreats."

He stops as a priest motions for him to join a group of young people who are entering the cathedral. Ahmed was baptized last year.

Chant for Lent and Holy Week

Exaudiam Eum is the name of a wonderful recording by Consortium Vocale. It features chants from the five Sundays of Lent, Palm Sunday and Good Friday, recorded in the medieval church at Ringsaker in Norway.

Listen to excerpts here. It is quite marvelous!

John Allen Has Reached Some Conclusions

And you can read them here. This one seems to be the most relevant given our recent discussions:

That brings us to my second conclusion. In the north, when Catholics become frustrated with the church, they usually just drop out, drifting into non-practice. In the south, when Catholics become frustrated, they often become Pentecostals.

Hat tip: Amy Welborn!

More Discussion of Contemporary Catholic Music

The huge discussion of contemporary Catholic music that took place on ID earlier this month has spawned another discussion. Listen in on today's podcast of the Grapevine which features a round table discussion that covered questions like

  • the state of our community - is it too insular?
  • Is our vision broad enough?
  • The need for mentors
  • Why are there so many different factions within the Catholic artist community?
  • Demographics that are sorely overlooked
  • The need for infrastructure
  • The effectiveness of Catholic music organizations such as CAM and the UCMVA

The Art and Theology of the Icon

Brendan McAnerney, OP, who wrote our wonderful icon
of St. Catherine of Siena for us, will be offering two very
interesting courses on iconagraphy this summer at the
Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology.

Icon-Sacred Image (1.5 units)

June 18-22: M-F/ 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
This course will examine the history, theology, spirituality and tradition of icons as sacred Eastern Christian images, established on the doctrine of the Incarnation. It will demonstrate that iconography is a sacred craft and prayer form. This course is a prerequisite for “Introduction to Icon Painting.”

Introduction To Icon Painting (1.5 units)
June 25-29: M-F/ 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

In his course each student (maximum 20) will be instructed and aided in the painting (writing) of an icon of the Holy Mandylion in the Byzantine tradition using acrylic paints, gold leaf, ancient and contemporary techniques. No previous artistic experience is necessary, only a desire to encounter the Creator God in the exercise of the sacred craft. This course requires 24 hours of painting, so it will meet 4.5 hours each of the five assigned days.

Fr. Brendan is the only Dominican in the country who is bi-ritual (Latin/Byzantine) and is a wonderful teacher and iconographer. If you are interested in icons, you'll really enjoy this. Think of it as a two week vacation devoted entirely to iconography!

These classes are part of the new summer intensive courses offered through the DSPT. Check 'em out!

Lovely Profile of Fr. Benedict Groeschel

In today's New York Times:

A postive and really interesting portrait of a most interesting man and apostle and New Yorker to the bone. I didn't realize he had been so involved in the civil rights movement.

My favorite Groeschel line: "Happy face Christianity? Its not me. . . Its not New York."

Catholic Quote of the Day

“Love the poor and your life will be filled with sunlight and you will not be afraid in the hour of your death.”

-St. Vincent de Paul

Back Home ... Almost

As some of you know, I have not been participating on Intentional Disciples recently, too busy getting ready for, and then on, my trip to Rome for the audience with Pope Benedict for the 25th anniversary of the pontifical recognition of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation.

Well, some plane difficulties have me stuck in Paris rather than on my way to Chicago. (I'll save you the complaints. Despite being confined on a practical level to one of those hotel airports that frankly look the same, whether you are in Kansas City or Paris, I have a tough time complaining about missing another day's work and getting a chance to test how well I remember French. Of course, that assumes the kind people at this hotel bother to give me the chance. I'm thankful, but can't help being a little disappointed when they switch to English at the first sight of that blue cover of the passport.)

So, with that, I don't have access to the 800 pictures -- aren't digital cameras and gigs of memory great! -- or the audio of the audience, most of all I will spare Intentional Disciples readers by posting over at Integrity. But I thought some might be interested in the Pope's address, which Fred of Deep Furrows has posted here. And if you happened to see the EWTN coverage of the event, and somehow spotted a blue poncho in the sea of ponchos and umbrellas covering the thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square, about four or five rows back in the section just below the statue of St. Paul on the right-side of the steps to the Basilica, then you spotted me. I'll be amazed if that's true.

Learning Civics Through the Movies

Recently, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I actually wasn't the last blogger to post about the movie 300. The fine folks over at Thursday Night Gumbo saw the movie last week and have posted their thoughts. I was particularly taken with Jeff Woodward's reflection upon his viewing.

Rather than just talk about the visuals, Woodward highlighted the movie's demonstration of the civic virtues in the life of the fictionalized spartans. Here's some of what Jeff had to say:

The qualities celebrated in 300 are what we once called the “civic virtues.” Love of country. Love of family. Love of civilization – although relatively few human beings in the history of the world have found themselves caught up, as Leonidas was, in a true contest of civilizations. We don't really think in those terms any more. All the virtues publicly celebrated in our own time are virtues linked to individual freedom – the virtues of personal expression, the supreme virtue of being ourselves. If we are exhorted to any “civic virtues” nowadays, they are virtues that would have seemed quite alien, and quite trivial, to the 300 Spartans: avoiding “offensive speech”; minimizing our “carbon footprint” (or paying someone to do it for us); voting higher taxes so that the government can “take care of” all those inconvenient people that we would rather not have to worry about as individual human beings.

I walked out of the theater last night feeling rather ashamed.

I think he has a point.

If Christianity is to be more than merely a place for those who want to exercise a private religious option, if it is to be what Fr. Neuhaus calls, "a very public proclamation of the nature of the world and our place in it," then we must do more to engage with the culture we find ourselves in. Christianity is, among many things, concerned with the good of society and of the individuals within that society--both temporally and eternally. Being salt and leaven means, in the words of John Paul II's Christifideles Laici, "ordering creation to the authentic well-being of humanity."

Thus, authentic Christian formation must provide support for responsible citizenship and the advancement of civic virtues--not in a way that entangles patriotism and religion in wrong relationship, but rather in a way that promotes the just (rightly-ordered) participation of men and women of faith in government and civic activity. Such civic activity should by no means exclusively proceed utilizing theological principles (though it should remain in harmony with the gospel). Rather, men and women of faith are called on to propose gospel-based solutions to particular issues utilizing a common language and common reason to engage in authentic dialogue with their fellow citizens.

In that way, we can fulfill the Great Commission and evangelize the culture and institutions of our time with the light of the gospel in a way that respects the dignity and the freedom of others. If we truly believe that Christ has shown us "a more excellent way," then we should not be afraid to advance that Way in a manner that is intelligible to non-Christians (1Cor 12:31).

It seems that Frank Miller's Spartans have much to teach us.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker and the Gargoyle Code 11

I'm been enjoying dropping in a Fr. Dwight Longenecker's blog Standing on My Head.

As many of you already know, Fr. is a married convert from Anglicanism who was recently ordained under the Pastoral Provision and is currently working at St. Mary's Church in Greenville, SC which is famous for its beautiful, traditional liturgy. (We will be offering a Called & Gifted at St. Mary's on April 20,21. Check it out)

Fr. Dwight has a lovely sense of humor and has been doing a funny series called the Gargoyle Code. The 11th installment in that series is particularly appropos to our discussions here. It reminds me very much of the passage in the Screwtape Letters when C. S. Lewis talks about the relationship between high church and low church Anglicans.

Here's an excerpt:

"It happened like this Hogwart: First my patient was playing the back nine with his priest, and the next thing I know they're in the clubhouse knocking back a couple of whiskeys. Knowing the priest's fondness for the nectar of Scotland, I admit I dozed off for a few moments. The enemy saw the gap and was through it in a flash. He used the booze to lower my patient's resistance. Imagine the sneakiness of it Hogwart! Next thing I know the priest has brought up the topic of this healing Mass, and my patient has signed up.

I am not making excuses Hogwart--just explaining so that you might learn from my mistakes. I'm sure there is nothing to be too worried about. I have been working on my conservative Catholic patient now for many years. I've groomed his taste for things old fashioned so that he now confuses his sentimental attachment to the Middle Ages with doctrinal orthodoxy and the heights of spirituality. The poor booby actually thinks that he is closer to God because he loves the Latin Mass, fiddleback chasubles, incense and lacy vestments. I agree with you Hogwart that such things are hideous, but I would rather have my patient attached to them and be truly uncharitable to everyone he disagrees with than to be open minded and patient. I once had him engage in an email debate for three weeks on whether a lay person was allowed to touch the monstrance without wearing white gloves. If only you could see my moments of triumph Hogwart!

I must get back to the point. The healing Mass is taking place in the neighboring parish where the church looks like a huge brick dunce cap. Because of all my work over the years, my patient hates the place. I'll try to get him to cancel, but if he gets through the door and takes one look at the priest's day-glo vestments and hears guitars and sees all the happy people in jeans and T-shirts hugging one another he is likely to gag and run for the door. He's a snob Hogwart! a snob of the most deliciously religious type! I doubt whether he'll even get past the holy water stoop, but it is still a dangerous proposition. I'll have to stick by him. You work and work for years, and then one little cancer scare and they become intractable and unpredictable.

Now about your situation: I understand your little chimpanzee has been to a Bible study group, and he has not just bought a Bible, but a Catholic study Bible. What is going on Hogwart? You've been boasting about your paltry little success in getting him to look at pornography, and now he's not only been to confession, but joined a Bible study group at college? Furthermore, Britwiggle tells me he went to the Bible study with a Christian girl who does 'pro-life' work. Where have you been you despicable worm? Where did he meet this nauseating little lipstick? I expect it all happened while you and Squirmtuggle were chortling over your squalid little success. You don't understand a thing do you Hogwart? This is a disaser of the greatest magnitude.

I've checked the files. Your patient is of the emotional and romantic sort. He's going to be a sucker for a skirt--especially one with high ideals like this one. Furthermore, he's looking for a 'personal experience of his faith.' You should have kept him far, far away from any form of Christian community and directed his emotional, romantic nature into safer areas like literature, drama, film and music. We have enough servants in those fields to have kept him entertained for a very long time."

Be sure and check out the previous installments!

Cardinal Kaspar on Responding to Pentecostalism

Sorry I've been silent for the past few days, I've been in New Jersey standing up in my best friend's wedding. I'm back now, and on the much-delayed return flight to O'Hare airport, I had the chance to read through the April 2007 issue of First Things. This journal of "Religion, Culture, and Public Life" is always thought provoking, but the April Issue was particularly meaty. I'll have more than a few posts to share on various subjects after more reflection.

However, I was going to post this quote from Cardinal Kaspar, head of the Pontifical Council on Promoting Christian University, as soon as I returned home. Since it deals with a number of posts and comments that have cropped up here recently on ID, I'll take it as a sign. :)

Speaking at Duquesne University, Cardinal Kaspar (as reported by Fr. Richard Neuhaus) had this to say in regards to dealing with the growing rise of Pentecostalism--particularly in the Global South:

"the first pastoral response to Pentecostalism is for the Church to examine herself, asking why so many are finding in these new movements an intensity of discipleship that they apparently do not find in the Catholic Church."
That examination is certainly an undertaking that the Catherine of Siena Institute is interested in, and it is a central focus of this blog as well. I know that to many folks, the cardinal's thoughts and the posts that are uploaded here on ID may seem too critical of the Church, too enamored of protestantism, and motivated too much by discontent.

The reality is, I believe, that such criticism and such engagement with the question of why so many Catholics find discipleship and a relationship with Christ outside the Catholic Church is, in fact, motivated by a deep love of Christ and His Church. The methods and conclusions that we propose and explore must remain in harmony with Scripture, Tradition, and the Magiserium of the Church.

That is the goal of the conversation--to arrive at an authentically Catholic way of being Catholic--of embracing the whole of the Catholic experience and living fully from the riches of the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ--as a disciple and apostle of our Lord!

I want to take a moment to thank Sherry and Fr. Mike from the Institute, my fellow ID bloggers, and--most importantly--everyone who reads and participates in this blog for making this conversation and engagement with the questions of Intentional Discipleship possible!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Catholic youth have a personal encounter with Jesus

This weekend some of our friars participated in a CFR-run youth retreat called Youth 2000. At one point the youth were gathered together in a circle, were read the Gospel account of the woman who was healed after touching the hem of Christ's garment, and prayed as a deacon approached each young person individually with a monstrance carrying the Blessed Sacrament. As he approached, the youth could reach out and touch the corner of the humeral veil. The brothers who assisted at this event said few if any of the three hundred or so youth went away unmoved- some who had been aloof and critical during other parts of the retreat were moved to tears as they encountered Christ in this way. As I said in my "What NOT to learn..." post, I don't think worship can be evaluated solely by emotional response. Nevertheless, I don't see how anybody could regard such an event, and the visceral response it occasioned in so many young people, as anything but a good thing.

Congar on the Charismatic Renewal: Beyond Reason

In the second volume of his three-volume work on the Holy Spirit entitled I Believe in the Holy Spirit, Yves Congar, O.P., devotes an entire chapter to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. It is well worth a read. He has many positive things to say about the Renewal, as well as a few challenges. Here are a few paragraphs that seem pertinent to the discussion we've been having:

"I could hardly speak disparagingly about human reason and understanding, but there are clearly aspects of man, both psychical and physical, which go beyond reason. These are precisely the aspects of man and the values which have been neglected, excluded, or misunderstood in the Western Church. Even now, since the best of the aggiornamento of the Second Vatican Council, the Church has, as an institution, continued to share in the general and prevalent climate of rationalism and organization. Its liturgy is strictly regulated and it is still extremely inclined to indulge in didactic, if not cerebral, explanations. As a result of this, the members of the Renewal tend to say, when they are asked why they belong to the movement and what benefits they derive from it: In a world that is excessively organized and totally dedicated to efficient productivity, we find in the Renewal freedom, simplicity and a certain child-likeness of heart. We find even the liturgy, the preaching and pastoral care of our Church too external and rational. In the Renewal, we find an inner life and contact with the essence of things in its pure state....

A reassessment of these areas of human life that cannot be reduced to mere reason is, of course, to be welcomed. It is, however, impossible not to be to some extent apprehensive of the danger of a rather pietistic anti-intellectualism. Teaching without prophetism can easily degenerate into legalism, but prophetism without teaching can become illusory. There is a clear need for the movement and the institutional Church to question eachother continuously, like the hill and the field in Barres' novel." (pgs. 154-155)

Does God Speak in an Earthquake or a Whisper?

John Allen posted a very interesting story Friday. It was about Oscar Osorio.

"Osorio, an articulate Honduran layman with a wife and four children, is a leader in the Catholic Charismatic movement in Central America. He’s also a star of Channel 48, the Catholic television network in Honduras, where his compelling Bible-based preaching opens each morning’s programming.

In a Catholic culture without much tradition of lay activism, Osorio is a rare bird – a full-time lay preacher with a wide regional following. . .Part of Osorio’s appeal is that he unabashedly speaks the same deeply personal, spiritual language which has driven the phenomenal growth of Pentecostal Christianity across the globe. He was, in effect, a Catholic version of what the Pentecostals do so well … offering personal testimony about the awesome power of God to change lives."

Amy Welborn posted a link to the piece and I found myself expecting a certain reaction from her readers because Osorio is charismatic. And it quickly happened. As one commenter put it:

"It is my perception that much of Pentecostal evangelization is based upon an emotional appeal. Emotions can be a dangerous and fleeting thing and emotion-based evangelization can be like planting seeds on rocky ground.

Does God speak in an earthquake or a whisper?"

When the commenter above asked that question - he or she had already made it clear what the answer was: God really speaks in whispers.

The working assumption around St. Blog's seems to be that the evangelical/charismatic experience is simple shallow emotionalism. This is often accompanied by the insinuation that the charismatic renewal is not orthodox, not legitimately Catholic, and should be avoided like the plague.
So we don't need to take Allen's implications about Osorio's impact on the Honduran church seriously - because his manner isn't really Catholic and therefore any evangelizing impact he could have will be shallow and ephemeral.

The fact that the church has already rendered its judgement by officially recognizing the charismatic renewal (here is the the decree from the Pontifical Council for the Laity. ) doesn't seem to matter.

There are, indeed, many signs throughout the world by which we can see the fruits of the Spirit. Currents, movements and testimonies of holiness renew the communion and the mission of the Church, built on hierarchical and charismatic gifts. Among them are the Catholic Charismatic Renewal or Renewal in the Spirit and the new forms of Community life arising from it. "The vigour and the fruits of the Renewal – said His Holiness John Paul II to the participants in the 6th International Assembly of Charismatic Renewal, on 15 May 1987 – certainly testify to the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church during these years following the Second Vatican Council. The Spirit has, of course, guided the Church in every age bringing forth a great variety of gifts among the faithful. Thanks to the Spirit, the Church constantly keeps her youth and vitality. And the Charismatic Renewal is an eloquent manifestation of this vitality today, a vigorous affirmation of what "the Spirit is saying to the Churches" (Rev. 2:7), as we draw near to the end of the second millennium".

As John Allen pointed out, Osorio's impact is based upon his personal testimony about the awesome power of God to change lives." In other words, the real issue isn't emotionalism or a particular kind of spiritual experience. The real issue is God's transformation and salvation of human beings which he accomplishes through a spectacularly wide variety of means and people.

My personal passion has always been this area which the church calls "subjective redemption". Subjective redemption is the whole historical drama whereby the grace of Christ's redeeming sacrifice reaches and is appropriated by individuals and communities, the power of sin, alienation, and death is broken; and we are transformed into the image of Christ. The whole historical drama that you and I are living right now. The drama in which Osorio has been used by God.

I have never have been part of the charismatic or Pentecostal movement either as a Protestant or a Catholic. I used to be a Quaker and so was used to charisms emerging out of silence.)

The fact that Our Lord did a number of in-your-face, attention-getting things during his earthly ministry seems to slipped our minds. Walking on water, anyone? Healing crowds of the sick? Driving out demons? Multiplying loaves and fishes? Raising the dead on several notable occasions?

And then there's that low-key, subtle resurrection thing that we're going to be celebrating in a couple weeks. You know, the event the whole world has been talking about for the past 2,000 years. While the exact means by which the resurrection took place is subtle enough to have eluded us, one could hardly call the event itself "a whisper". Especially with those little added dramatic touches like the veil in the Temple in Jerusalem ripping in two.

The answer seems to be God speaks and acts for our ultimate salvation in many different ways. He accomplishes our redemption through earthquakes and whispers; whatever is most appropriate and loving in a given situation or life. He may knock you off your horse or he may whisper. Sometimes he does both together. He'll use a Oscar Osorio and a Ronald Knox. It's up to Him. All we can do is be open, receptive, and grateful.

The Church recognizes the legitimacy of both the earthquake and the whisper while reminding us that both must be discerned. How can a faithful Catholic do otherwise?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

165 New Religious Communities in US Since 1965

Just when you could get the impression that religous life is dying out in this country:

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) has just issued a new directory of the 165 religious communities that have sprung up since 1965. "Emerging Communities of Consecrated Life in the United States, 2006,” was released in early March, 2007.

These communities have 1,300 full members and several hundred members in formation. A little more than half admit only women, 24% admit only men, and 25% of the communities have both male and female members. 32% report that they have a new spiritual vision or focus and are not following established religious traditions.

They are Taking It to the Streets of Denver

Next Saturday, the young Catholics of Denver are Takin’ it to the Streets of downtown Denver. This day of evangelization will be on March 31st at Holy Ghost Church. Beginning at 8AM, the day will consist of talking to people on the streets about Christ, celebration of and Adoration of the Eucharist, worship music, and a night of prayer. Come and see, and, experience the awesomeness of takin’ it to the streets!

The Place:

Holy Ghost Catholic Church

1900 California St.

Denver , CO 80202

The time: 8 am - 10 pm

Be there. Aloha.

We are all converts

An occasional commentor at our little blog, Tom from Disputations, responding to a bizarro anti-convert screed in Mark Shea's comboxes, posted this wonderful qoute from the Dominican, Cardinal Cottier:

...As Georges Cardinal Cottier, O.P., former theologian of the Pontifical
Household, pointed out a few years ago in an interview: "We are not born Christians. One is born a Jew, one is born a Moslem. One becomes Christian, with baptism and the faith."Cardinal Cottier went on: "Hence Christianity is unarmed.It is a divine helplessness. Because Christians are not manufactured, as those belonging to other religions can become so simply by being brought into the world. Every child must take its own step, nobody can do it in its place. Surroundings, catechesis, can help it. But no sociological condition can replace the attraction that is gift of the grace,
that makes personal liberty assent."

I had the pleasure of meeting the cardinal on a trip to Rome last summer. It was at the Feast of the Translation of the Relics of St. Dominic, which is celebrated as the main feast of St. Dominic in Rome. Also there was the new theologian of the Pontifical Household, Fr. Wojciech Giertych OP. Both stuck me as prayerful and humble men. That feastday in Rome ranks as one of the best days of my life. Short of my first profession of vows, nothing before or since has done more to deepen my identity as a Dominican. Veritas!

March Edition of the Siena E-Scribe is Here

The Scribe is posted on our website here. If you would like to receive your very own e-mail version, send an e-mail to

The Spanish Civil War and the Discernment of Evil

Today's New York Times has a review of a new exhibit which opened yesterday Facing Fascism: New York and the Spanish Civil War and the tenor of the review might surprise a lot of readers around St. Blogs.

The exhibition is a celebration of the heroism of “the 3,000 or so United States citizens (about a third from New York City) who defied the government’s prohibition and secretly went to Spain in 1937 to fight the forces of fascism. Some 800 lost their lives. . . " George Orwell was among those who volunteered and was wounded.

The exhibit’s version of the story goes like this: The American volunteers were heroes because they fought fascism in Spain. They were heroes because they recognized that fascism threatened a whole world on the verge of war. And they were heroes because they continued to fight fascism at home. “ In a series of video interviews, one veteran argues (presumably in the 1980s) that what happened in Spain was no different from what was happening in Nicaragua, El Salvador and South Africa; another asserts that the United States in Vietnam was doing just what Hitler and Mussolini did.”

The Times review is critical of portraying the civil war as a morality tale with simple heroes (the communists) and villains (Franco's supporters) and points out that this is a trend.

In February, for example, in The Guardian of London, the historian Eric Hobsbawm celebrated the ultimate triumph of the war’s losers and suggested that the virtues of their cause transcended Stalin’s machinations. The recent film “Pan’s Labyrinth” portrays populist forest-dwelling partisans confronting a monstrously evil fascist leader. In June, W. W. Norton is going to release the latest edition of Paul Preston’s much-hailed history, “The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution, and Revenge,” which blames “an unholy alliance of anarchists, Trotskyites and cold warriors” for obscuring the nature of the war against Spanish fascism.”

The truth is that both sides were guilty of atrocities. What I find particularly frustrating is that nowhere in the article is the horrific persecution of the Church during the civil war mentioned – a persecution which convinced many Catholics of the day to support Franco.

It is hard for us to see the world as they understood it before World War II and the holocaust and a thousand movies made anything to do with Nazism an unthinkable and abhorrent alternative. What Catholics in the 30’s were wrestling with was this:

12 bishops, 4,184 priests, 2365 monks and 300 nuns were killed by the Communists in Spain. Seven priests and a nun were beatified as martyrs in 2005. (The picture to the right is that of a church destroyed during the civil war)

The remarkable Catholic lay apostle, Catherine Doherty, who later went on to found Madonna House, was a witness of these horrors in Brunette, a town near the French border that had recently been recaptured from the communists. (warning: the next few paragraphs are pretty graphic)

She writes in Fragments of My Life that she and her Irish companion entered a church in which they found a large ciborium on the altar in which consecrated hosts were inserted in feces. Next they came to the cemetery of a Carmelite monastery in which both nuns and priests had been buried. The bodies had been disinterred and some had been arranged naked in positions of intercourse.

Catherine remembers: “My companion sat down on a rock and swore as I’ve never heard a man swear before-deliberately, slowly, monotonously, in every way it is possible to sear. He swore in sheer horror before the blasphemy that met our eyes.”

Catherine’s response? “We are going to kneel down right here in the midst of these bodies and pray for those who have done this. It is the only way to purify the cemetery.”

They moved on to a hospital run by Carmelite nuns. There they found a dying nun of about 20 years old. She had been raped by about 15 soldiers. When they were done, the soldier had cut off her breasts and cut her thighs into small pieces. This time, Catherine fainted.

Most Catholics at the time recognized that it was the choice between two evils and were trying to determine which side was the lesser. For all of Franco’s faults and their distaste for his alliance with Hitler, many Catholics considered anything preferable to the brutal anti-Catholic atheism of his opponents.

For poet Roy Campbell, who, with his wife, had converted to Catholicism in Spain and loved the traditional life of the Spanish countryside, the situation seemed very clear. He enlisted to fight for Franco. Ronald Knox, Evelyn Waugh, and Christopher Dawson, among many other well-known Catholics of the day, also came out in support of the Nationalists.

Graham Greene couldn’t stomach Franco and his connections with Hitler but couldn’t support the Republicans either. So instead, he tried to support the Catholic Basques who were fighting with the Republicans but not for a communist state. Greene was attacked from both the right and the left for his position. Jacques Maritain and Francois Mauriac also supported the Basques but theirs was a lost cause.

The Spanish civil war is a good example of the extraordinary complexity of the world in which lay Catholics have to navigate. That’s why it is possible for equally orthodox and devout Catholics to ultimate disagree with one another about the application of Church teaching to concrete situations in the world. Who among us would dare to say that Ronald Knox was a real Catholic and Jacques Maritain was not – or vice versa?

Our best efforts to discern, to avoid the evil and do the good, can be hampered by partial knowledge, propaganda, pressure from those about us, our own history, and situation in life and many other factors. Sometimes all you can do is pray like Catherine Doherty. Around St. Blog’s, we must remember that our oneness in Christ is deeper and fundamental than our oneness with those who agree with us on any given issue. Especially since the secular mindset isn’t going to understand either of us.

What Causes More Damage: Lust or Resentment?

Thinking in Ohio has a moving post on the bitterness of the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son. Here's an excerpt:

"Often we think about lostness in terms of actions that are quite visible, even spectacular. The younger son sinned in a way we can easily identify… (but) the lostness of the elder son, is much harder to identify. After all, he did all the right things. He was obedient, dutiful, law-abiding, and hardworking. People respected him, admired him, praised him, and likely considered him a model son. Outwardly, the elder son was faultless. But when confronted by his father's joy at the return of his younger brother, a dark power erupts in him and boils to the surface. Suddenly there becomes glaringly visible a resentful, proud, unkind, selfish person, one that had remained deeply hidden, even though it had been growing stronger and more powerful over the years.”

Looking deeply into myself and then around me at the lives of other people, I wonder which does more damage, lust or resentment? There is so much judgment, condemnation, and prejudice among the “saints.” There is so much frozen anger among the people who are so concerned about avoiding “sin."

When I listen carefully to the word with which the elder son attacks his father—self-righteous, self-pitying, jealous words—I hear a deeper complaint. It is the complaint that comes from a heart feels it never received what it was due. It is the complaint expressed in countless subtle and not-so-subtle ways, forming a bedrock of human resentment. It is the complaint that cries out: “I tried so hard, worked so long, did so much, and still I have not received what others get so easily. Why do people not thank me, not invite me, not play with me, not honor me, while they pay so much attention to those who take life so easily and so casually?”

There is an enormous, dark drawing power to this inner complaint. Condemnation of others and self-condemnation, self-righteousness and self-rejection keep reinforcing each other in an ever more vicious way."

Strike a cord? It does with me - who have played both parts: prodigal and elder daughter. Comments?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Nature is Never Spent

Tis the season when gardeners everywhere begin to plan and delve - except in the Rockies where they insist that we can't plant until mid-May (although I recently had a long time resident insist to me that you don't dare plant any flower until Memorial Day here, Just try and stop me!) But my lilacs are beginning to bud - they know they are in lilac heaven and refuse to acknowledge that they are not allowed to flower before June in the high country.

Which brings us to the subject of the long and rich traditions that Christians have long practiced regarding gardening. The painting below is of St. Thomas More's garden. with his grand-daughter in law and great grand son in front.

More loved his garden and used it as a place for contemplation. The garden was famous in More's day and he entertained King Henry VIII there. Walled gardens had symbolic importance for they represented chastity and distance from worldliness. Lockey may have painted this garden in the background of the picture to symbolise More's moral wisdom as well as his love of gardening.

St. Thomas would have loved this wonderful website: The Catholic Garden. Mary gardens, Rosary gardens, Trinity gardens, Cistercian gardens, - they are all here with wonderful links and pictures.

As the Catholic Garden website points out, gardens can evangelize, feed the hungry, heal the sick, and bring comfort to those in prison and they provide links to resources for all of the above.

Or perhaps guerrilla gardening is your call. Guerrilla gardeners in London are planting illicit gardens in abandoned spots around London, subverting the status quo with beauty, nature, and civility. Check out this map of guerrilla gardens all over the world, including the US!

Another amazing source is the Marygardens homepage.

Into medieval plant symbolism or want to see pictures of the Mary Garden at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception or the Marian shrine at Knock? It's all here along with detailed instructions on how to plant a Mary garden in your yard or on your patio.

The medievalist will love visiting Penn State's medieval garden.

As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote:

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

I Didn't Know Scots Were Allowed to Get Frenzied

Planning to be in Scotland this June? You might want to plan to drop by Frenzy, the largest one day Christian music festival in the UK. Frenzy drew about 7000 last year and they have an interesting website.

Ah, but just what would John Knox think of this ??????

A Rocky Mountain High, Mark Shea, and Christian Community

Admit it. You dread those humidity saturated dog days of August ahead of you. You know that you keep dreaming of a vacation in the mountains. This is the year to make it happen. Plan a refreshing late summer/Labor Day vacation in Colorado and begin it by attending two one-of-a-kind events in Colorado Springs.

On Thursday, August 30, the Catherine of Siena Institute will be sponsoring An Evening With Mark Shea from 7 - 9pm. This free, informal gathering will feature Mark speaking on "The Care and Feeding of Lay Apostles", a question and answer time, and a reception where you can get to hobnob with Mark. We are firming up the location now and will let you know when we are sure where it will be held.

Mark is a wonderful speaker and jolly, gregarious soul who delights to meet and talk about the faith with all comers.

Then, on Friday, August 31, (the day before Labor Day Weekend) the Institute is sponsoring a day long gathering on the subject of Building Intentional Christian Community.

So many of us long for real fellowship and support with other devoted Catholics, but don't know where to find it. The good news is that we don't have to wait for someone else to provide opportunities for fellowship. We can take the initiative to nurture Catholic community, now, in our communities. We will be drawing upon some of our experiences with the Nameless Lay Group in Seattle as well those of parishes and groups around the country. And there will be plenty of time to hear your ideas and experiences as well.

We will be spending the day (9 am – 4 pm) together at the stunningly beautiful Penrose House at the base of Cheyenne Mountain (lunch will be provided) and then end the day (starting at 6 pm) with an evening barbeque at a nearby city park.

This will be your chance to get to know some of our ID team (Sherry W, Fr. Mike, the other Sherry, Kathie Lundquist, etc.). In addition, Mark Shea and his family will also be joining in the festivities!

To cover the cost of lunch and dinner and the other expenses of putting this day on, we are asking for a donation of $40/per participant for the whole day.

The day gathering at the Penrose House is an adult only event as there are no child care facilities on the grounds. The Institute cannot provide child-care.

The evening barbecue would work well for families. Cost for adults and teenagers to attend the barbecue only is $20 and for children under 12 to attend the barbecue only would be $10.

If you are interested in either or both events, please call Mike Dillon in our office at 888 878 6789 or e-mail him at We do need you to pre-register for the day on Building Christian Community by August 1 so we know how many to plan for. Let us know as early as possible since our meeting space, the old Coach house, can only hold a certain number.


Colorado Springs has a small, attractive airport although you can also drive down from Denver international Airport which is about 1 ½ hours away via freeway.

Rental cars at the Colorado Springs airport and local hotels are relatively inexpensive. Mike Dillon in our office can recommend inexpensive local hotels if you need them.

The day gathering at the Penrose House is an adult only event as there are no child care facilities on the grounds. The Institute cannot provide child-care.

There are a number of good day options for those with children. If a spouse or family member would prefer to sight-see with the children, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the highest zoo in North America is nearby. You can feed giraffes by hand – it’s smelly but very cool!

Or you could choose to visit Focus on the Family, the amazing Garden of the Gods, Pike’s Peak (America the Beautiful was written about the view from the top of Pike's Peak) , Manitou Springs, the Rock Ledge Ranch Living Museum, go on a day hike, etc. (There is a reason why 5 million tourists visit CS each year).

Labor Weekend in Colorado Springs is the weekend of the Colorado Springs Balloon Classic which is wonderful early morning or evening event for the whole family.

Notice the clothing we were wearing last Labor Day! Yes, it starts to cool off here at 6,000 ft plus altitude in late August and we have very low humidity and almost no bugs!

The Becket Fund for Religious LIberty

Raphaela Schmid who reported on the situation in the Church in China below, heads up the Roman branch of this organization: The Becket Fund. It is an interesting group that I had never heard of.

Named for St. Thomas Becket, the Fund is a law firm dedicated to protecting the religious freedom of people of all faiths. The Becket Fund advocates for religious freedom internationally and nationally.

Areas of special concern include laws prohibiting religious apparel and other forms of peaceful religious expression; laws that prohibit proselytizing or religious conversion; the persecution of “unregistered” religious groups; and the seizure or destruction of houses of worship. The website makes this clear the Fund does not just concern itself with situations where the Christian faith is restricted but all faiths - including Islam - and in all places - including prisons.

Their Board of Advisors is high powered: Cardinal George, Mary Ann Glendon (prof of international law at Harvard); Eunice and Sargeant Shriver, etc. They have a very extensive web site that lists the various cases they are involved with in the US and elsewhere. Check them out.

Theology on Tap Does China

per Zenit:

The Roman version of Theology on Tap met last week to hear Raphaela Schmid on the situation and suffering of the Church in China.

"Schmid opened with an insight into the open Church in China, which is government-recognized. This Church is run, to varying degrees, by the Patriotic Association, a state agency. Startled students learned that the head of the Patriotic Association, Liu Bai Nian, is a layman, who while well versed in party rhetoric, gets stumped when asked the name of his favorite saint or devotional reading.

The underground Church remains loyal to the papacy and has refused to allow any state control, especially in the appointment of bishops. As a result, they are not condoned by the state, and in some regions they are persecuted.

"The people I interviewed always wanted to talk about how God entered their lives, they were eager to express how much it meant to them to be Christian," Schmid told the crowd. "Only afterward, when asking directly, would it come out that they had been to prison because of their faith."

"They consider the suffering for their faith secondary to their experience of faith," remarked Schmid. "They never complained or put forward that they had lost jobs or been arrested."

The lay people aren't the only ones who face difficult conditions. The precious and few priests in the area demonstrate heroic virtue as they cover huge distances to tend to their flocks. One priest, recounted Schmid, when asked where he lived, announced that he had "23 rooms." She later discovered that in fact he had no house of his own. He rode his old motorbike to the 23 villages that make up his parish, staying with Catholic families in the poorest conditions.

These stories became all the more poignant because as Schmid probed what drove these people to be willing to endure hardship, she discovered that they were keen to know how Catholics live in the West. "

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ah, To Be in England Now That Spring is Here

Ah, to be in England now that spring is here. I did jump the pond last spring and spent a week in London.

It is hard to believe it now that the Da Vinci Code has vanished so completely but I was there the week the movie was coming out in theatres and it was everywhere! Giant posters in the tube, on tv - and everyone was reading it or discussing it. Even tourists on the train to Hampton Court were talking about it!

But I had eyes only for Hampton Court which I had longed to visit for years. The gardens were simply stunning as was the architecture and the history. To lounge where Cardinal Wolsey had lounged and Thomas More had walked. Although I must say that the medieval/Tudor section where Henry VIII and his various wives hung out gave me the willies - as such things often do and I tend to forget until I'm there.

I hopped over to Belfast to see my old friend Mark Shea speak on the
Da Vinci code. Mark and I are often in the same place at the same time on our speaking tours (such as the fall of 04 in Australia) but had never been able to get together. When I found out that we were going to be in the British Isles the same week, I determined to do something about it.

His Belfast host very graciously agreed to put me up on very little notice and so I was introduced to a small community of serious lay Catholics in Belfast that reminded me very much of the Nameless Lay Group in Seattle. They were thrilled at the turn-out to Mark's talk, which was standing/sitting room only - very unusual in Belfast!

Afterwards, We all gathered to celebrate in a private home where this little girl was clearly the resident princess.

The Cenacolo Community: A New Life for Addicts

The story of an amazing ministry and community. From an article by Kristina Cooper in Good News newsletter, UK.

"The Cenacolo community was founded by Sr Elvira Petrozzi, an Italian nun in 1983. For many years she had been concerned by the destruction she had seen among young people through drug abuse and she longed to help them. Since she had no formal training to work with addicts and the charism of her order was teaching, it was 8 years before she managed to persuade her superiors that this was a genuine call of God and to release her for the work.

She began with two companions - a fellow religious, Sr Aurelia, and a teacher Nives Grato. They were given an abandoned old house in the city of Saluzzo in Italy, which was leased to her by the city for a dollar a year, and on July 16th, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Cenacolo community officially opened. Soon young people began to arrive on her doorstep needing help and the work began.

While secular de-tox programmes will use methodone and other drug substitutes to wean people off hard drugs, Sr Elvira has a completely different method. She believes that the problem of the young people is not so much one of chemical dependence on drugs, but that drugs are the only way that these young people have found to cope with their problems in life. She sees her job as showing them, a better and much more effective option - Christ.

The Cenacolo is not so much a therapeutic community or drug rehab centre, as a school of life with prayer at its heart. The young people are thus put through a kind of intensive spiritual boot camp where they leam to live in a totally new way - to accept a simple lifestyle, and to rediscover the gifts of work, friendship and of faith in the Word of God, instead of relying on the crutch of drugs to escape from everything that is too painful to deal with. In their brochure the Cenacolo members explain their biggest problems are not the chemical withdrawals but re-orienting their lives.

One of the keys to the healing of the drug addicts is the role of their "guardian angels". These are fellow addicts who are further along the spiritual journey, who can offer emotional and spiritual support to new boys. The guardian angels provide 24 hour support for their charges, listening to them, encouraging them, making them cups of tea if they wake up in the night troubled, or even doing their work for them, if they feel too ill to do it.

The programme also teaches the addict to embrace the suffering and pain in their lives and give it to Christ through prayer, particularly in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Thus they learn in a practical way that these things can be carried with the grace of God and the love of community without having to resort to chemical escape mechanisms. Those who successfully complete the programme emerge not just healed of their addiction but strong, vibrant Christians with a heart to give and serve, particularly to help others who are suffering in the way they did in the past.

There are now 47 communities world wide, with 1500 people in them, as well as many prayer groups and support groups for the families of addicts."

The Cenacolo community in the US is in St. Augustine, Florida.

Christus pro nobis immolatus est

Catholic writer David Delaney has posted some of his thoughts here on Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist. This paragraph really struck me:

B16 does a very good job in showing how the entire Christian life is formed around, must be structured by, and is made possible through the Eucharist and the liturgy. The Mass is the one and only acceptable offering to God on the part of humanity. As such, Benedict recognizes that the accidents which surround and adorn the liturgy must accord with the liturgy’s nature. We therefore, must adorn the one Sacrifice that reconciles man with God with the very best that humanity has to offer. It is in light of this that he earnestly desires to reshape the way the average Catholic looks at and approaches the liturgy. Clearly he thinks that an important step in do so will come in replacing the mundane adornments with the sacred.

Just over ten years ago, when I first began to consider the claim of the Catholic Church to be The Church that Jesus Himself founded, this concept of “offering” or sacrifice in connection with Communion was a stumbling block to me. I had internalized a Protestant understanding of Hebrews 9-10, that Christ suffered for our sins “once for all”, and that any other religious action done by humans that called itself a sacrifice for sins was beyond the pale. In the midst of my prayer and thought about this, strangely enough, it was the memory of an old Star Trek episode that helped me understand the Eucharistic sacrifice. At that time (1996), I wrote the following in my journal:

If the Eucharist is a sacrifice, who is doing the offering of the sacrifice? Are we/the priests making the offering, or is Christ offering up Himself? If we are simply jumping through hoops in performing the ritual, we’re doing nothing more than offering fruit baskets at the mouth of the cave of Vaal (Star Trek original series, episode #38 – “The Apple”). If, however, Christ Himself does the transforming through the office of the priest and the proclamation of His Word, then He really is offering up Himself, which places us with Him in that “wrinkle in time”, which means it’s the real McCoy. (Sorry for the bad pun.)

In every Mass, Christ (the true celebrant of every Mass, with the priest standing in persona Christi) offers up Himself – a unbloody reiteration of His blood-soaked death by torture on the cross of Calvary. Time and space fold over; matter changes its essence; God gives Himself again into our hands to have His flesh torn and His blood poured out. This is our spiritual food and drink, our sustenance for our real life, the one we live in Him.

In the midst of how busy we all are with seminars, missions, Masses, choir rehearsals, classes, and retreats (and don’t forget the day job!) in preparation for Easter, I think it’s good to remember that God is the one whose will controls things, who directs our steps, who plots our course. Though we’re hard at “working out [our] salvation with fear and trembling”, let’s keep in mind that “it is God who works” in us, both to will and to act according to His design (Phil. 2:12-13). I believe He is pleased to see trust in our eyes when we look to Him, rather than the impatience that often (in my case, at least) meets His gaze.

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Parish Life & Evangelization - London Style

Welcome to St Patrick's Parish, Soho Square, London. I've tracked this extraordinary 200 year+ old parish in the heart of Soho for two years and am delighted to see how things are continuing to develop.

Soho is known for sex, seediness, poverty, drug abuse, and homelessness. The church, on the corner of Soho square is vast, in desperate need of repair, and has a congregation of only 150. St. Patrick's is attempting to raise 4 million pounds to renovate the church while keeping all its outreaches afloat. Yet, St. Patrick's has risen to the challenge in a remarkable way. Led by their dynamic pastor, Fr. Alexander, St. Patrick's had undertaken some very creative initiatives.

(The image is that of Hogarth's famous "Gin Lane" painted of Soho Square in the 18th century. It hasn't changed much)

SOS prayerline. Every evening from 7 - 11pm, volunteers answer a prayer line and pray for people's requests in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Since May, 2002, the prayer line has received over 19,000 calls.

Open House: Every Tuesday night, the parish cooks a meal and welcomes the homeless to St. Patrick's

The Central London Fertility Care Clinic is located at the parish. Here they teach the Creighton method of natural family planning and help those struggling with infertility.

Communities: St. Patrick's is the center for the Chinese Catholic community, the Brazilian Catholic community of the West End and the South American Catholic Community. Every Sunday St. Patrick's celebrates Mass in Cantonese, Portuguese, Spanish and English.

Catholicism for the Curious: a weekly meal and lecture series on different aspects of the Catholic faith.

Cenacolo prayer group: Cenacolo is a movement set up by Sister Elvira in Italy to support young men and women who have suffered from addiction. It happens that most are addicted to drugs. We started a prayer group here in St. Patrick’s giving an opportunity for those who support the movement and the addicts we meet on the street and elsewhere to come together in the spirit of prayer, solidarity and togetherness.

Perpetual Adoration

St. Patrick's Evangelization School (SPES) SPES is a 9 month formation in evangelization/discernment of vocation program for young adults.

What an inspiration! Parishes have been center of mission and innovation throughout Catholic history but so often the story of what God has done through them is lost. It is wonderful that the internet makes a place like St. Patrick's accessible to Catholics throughout the world.

Unleashing the Laity (or, how to revive a Catholic parish)

In poking about the website of St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine in Boston (at I found this fascinating article on Godspy about how two parishes, one a fairly typical suburban parish, one in the heart of Boston's Back Bay on the verge of being closed, were revived and turned into what I think could be fairly described as houses of formation for lay apostles.

A snippet:

St. Andrew's and St. Clement were renewed by putting worship and catechesis first. Fr. Peter minimized the "happy get-togethers," parish dinners and the like, and took his parish leadership on retreats instead. By giving lay leaders opportunities to talk about their faith, he inspired them to claim that faith as their own and prepared them to lead others in doing the same.
St. Andrews and St. Clement were renewed by putting worship and catechesis first. I asked Fr. Peter how difficult this task was. I have been in so many Catholic groups where, when a theological question was raised, all eyes turned to the priest. The clericalism of the past has created an atmosphere in Catholic culture in which only the priest is expected to address such questions.

He said that asking lay Catholics to talk about their faith can be awkward at first. They don't always have the necessary theological vocabulary, so they found themselves stumbling to explain things, the way most of us do when we take our cars to a mechanic. "That thing there," he says, mimicking such an encounter, "you turn it on and it makes a funny noise." Once people become comfortable, though, "they find themselves speaking the language; they start to talk from the heart and it's a great thing to see."

We talked about why so many pastors seem afraid of entrusting teaching responsibilities—particularly adult catechesis and ongoing spiritual formation—to lay leadership. Fr. Peter didn't want to generalize, but he attributed the problem to a lingering clericalism—"Don't talk about the faith," he said, spoofing these attitudes, "just shut up and listen, and I'll tell you what the faith is."

Then he introduced a truly radical and hopeful notion: he thinks that the religious vocation crisis in the Western European Church today is being used by the Holy Spirit to correct the clericalism of the past. The clergy and the laity must now join in a true evangelistic partnership in which the clergy and religious focus on feeding the people and the people bring the world to Christ. "God's running the Church, hang in there," he told me, gently chiding my pessimism. "God's doing a good job, He's directing the Church to where it's going."

Read the whole thing here:


Conscientious Objection in the Service of Life

Zenit published an thought provoking interview two day ago with Dr. José María Simón Castellví, president of the World Federation of the Catholic Medical Associations. He was interviewed while attending the congress on "The Christian Conscience in Support of the Right to Life," organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life in Rome on Feb. 23-24.

Dr. Castellvi made some pointed observations:

"it was surprising to learn that in the so-called democratic countries in Europe, it is not possible to study to be a gynecologist without having to perform abortions.

Power elicits complicity when it attempts to subdue good people so that they keep quiet and let the powerful act.

Many people, especially the youth, rebel against this situation and do not easily conform to a society that gives us well-being and, to a certain point, anesthetizes us with it, and makes it more difficult for us to defend the weak.

The conscience should be followed. Also, the conscience should be care for, because it can become sick. It should be educated, it should be well informed and it should be polished often as a very precise instrument. We are gambling away a lot if the conscience is not in good shape.

It is the work of the laity to make the world a better place. We shouldn't think that the hierarchy of the Church is going to do everything.

The laity are everywhere, and we should sweep and polish every corner of the world.

The laity should pray, make sacrifices, follow the important guidelines set out by God through the magisterium, and work, work practically without rest."

Mars HIll Audio

Mars Hill Audio Journal is a specialized service for thoughtful Christians. The Journal is a monthly 90 minute series of 10 - 15 minutes audio interviews intended to provoke engagement with our culture. Ken Myers, who worked for National Public Radio as a producer for 8 years, chooses the topics they run the gamit from community-building, literature, music, art, law, history, life issues. The Journal is what I would call "High Ecumenical" and features a number of Catholic interviewees and topics such a J R R Tolkien, Gerard Manley Hopkins, or Ralph McInerney.

Their purpose:

"We believe that fulfilling the commands to love God and neighbor requires that we pay careful attention to the neighborhood: that is, every sphere of human life where God is either glorified or despised, where neighbors are either edified or undermined. Therefore, living as disciples of Christ pertains not just to prayer, evangelism, and Bible study, but also our enjoyment of literature and music, our use of tools and machines, our eating and drinking, our views on government and economics, and so on."

Go here to hear a number of their past journals for free.

An interesting new way to evangelize....

Amy Welborn has an interesting post regarding a new idea from a group promoting Catholic evangelization.

CATHOLICI SUMUS is a non-profit Catholic organization formed to help bring about the late Pope John Paul II's vision of a new springtime for the Church. Our name
is Latin for "We are Catholic." We are advocates for the Catholic Faith. In
doing so, our goal is to help bring people into a closer relationship with
INNOVATE - That's how we plan to share our message. Our first initiative is to sell one million wristbands with the Latin phrase Periucundum Est Catholicum Esse. That translates to: "It's cool to be Catholic!" All profits from the sale of these wristbands will go to support our mission and the Church.
EVANGELIZE - It is our hope that these wristbands will become a way for Catholics to evangelize. Wearing the bracelet makes a statement. More importantly, every time someone inquires about the purple (the color of penance) band on a friend's wrist it opens the door for dialogue. This can be a welcoming opportunity and unassuming way for people to talk about their Catholic faith.
IMAGINE - One million Catholics wearing these wristbands, leading to millions of daily opportunities to share the faith!

See the wristbands at their website.

I think I'll stick with my usual evangelization accessories- chains, hairshirt, cilice, stigmata, and pocket-sized Summa Theologica. ;)

Augustine the Bishop, Part II


Here is an interesting ditty on the phenomenon of chariot racing in Augustine's day:

"There was always the same insensate roaring of the crowd, the same wild gambling, the same passionate partisanship for one of the four colours, the same fury of disappointment on the part of those whose colour had lost, the same everlasting quarrels when partisans shouted up the colours they favored, the same adoration of a popular charioteer, the same kind of mass magnetism that a champion of sport always seems to command; there was the same never-ending chatter about favorites and fancies."


If I am Lifted Up . . .

One very interesting thing I have see in my own experience and heard from others as I travel is the mysterious power of the presence of the Blessed Sacrament to affect even those who are not believers and have no idea Who is present.

There are a number of stories I could tell:

There is my own story since it was the recognition of a presence of God that I had not experienced elsewhere that originally lured me into praying in Catholic churches as an undergraduate.

And the story of a friend of mine, who was a unbelieving, practicing homosexual and yet was also seeking and would spend hours at a time simply sitting in my parish, soaking up the Real Presence.

I could tell you of an unbaptized college student who went to a friend of mine, a Catholic chaplain and said she wanted to become Catholic. The priest asked "Why? Do you have Catholic family members or friends, do you attend Mass, have you been reading books? What has made you want to become Catholic? "No", she replied and then dragged him with trembling hands into the sanctuary and pointed to the tabernacle. "I want that", she said. She didn't know what That was but she could feel the goodness eminating from the tabernacle.

I could tell you of a large, urban diocese rejuvenated by a lay person who championed Eucharistic Adoration and collaborated with her bishop to establish it in the cathedral and then throughout the diocese.

My question:

What if we stop thinking of Adoration as only a devotion for the already devout and consider it also as a form of evangelization particularly suited to the post-modern mindset which responds to mystery and presence?

The presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is accessible to the non-baptized, the non-Catholic, the unchurched, the lapsed, the badly catechized, the wounded, the skeptical, the seeking, and the prodigal.

I know that there are movements for youth and young adults that combine adoration and praise and worship in various creative ways. I know of evangelization retreats that incorporate Adoration into the retreat. But this is the sort of thing that could be easily done in the local parish - Adoration regularly presented in a context that would be accessible to and sensitive to the unbelieving, the marginal, the seeking.

So it would have to be simply explained and simply presented and not simply dripping with the uber Catholic insider visuals that could distract or alarm. Reverent, haunting, and intentionally accessible on a regular basis to those with no Catholic background.

"If I am lifted up, I will draw everyone to me" said Christ in John 12:32.

Anyone know of a parish or diocese that is doing this?

Graduate Study in the New Evangelization

FYI, For those of you passionate about the New Evangelization:

Sacred Heart seminary in Detroit began the first STL in the US in the New Evangelization in 2004. They offer an STL (Licentiate in Sacred Theology, pontifical degree which allows the graduate to teach at the seiminary level), an MA in theology, and an MA in Pastoral Studies, all with a specialization in the New Evangelization.

The goal? The graduates lead programs in evangelization in parishes or dioceses. What is interesting is that the program is headed up by Ralph Martin, who is not an academic (MA in theology) but a actual practicing evangelist of many years experience.

I've wondered exactly how they approach the topic and will get a chance to find out more this
October 24 when I'm scheduled to speak on charisms in the "Models of Evangelization course".

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Belloc at Mass

I just recieved this Hilaire Belloc story from a friend:

"[Belloc] was visiting New York and attending High Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral. During the Canon he remained standing, as was the custom on the Continent. An usher came up and said to him, 'We kneel here, sir.' Belloc, holding his missal, turned to the usher and said calmly, 'Go to hell.' The surprised usher replied, 'I'm sorry! I didn't know you were a Catholic!'"

What NOT to learn from Evangelicals...

There have been a number of posts on ID of late regarding what we can learn from evangelicals. I must admit that while I typically agree with the substance of these posts, I always find myself squirming a bit. What is it that makes me uncomfortable with such posts? I think the answer is that I, as a former evangelical, have become keenly aware of some of the weaknesses of evangelicalism. Therefore, while I agree that we need to learn from evangelicals (for instance, I agree that the Catholic Church needs to recapture the four points Keith alludes to in his 'Rant' post), this shouldn't mean imitating evangelicals. We need, in capturing the strengths of evangelicalism, to use Catholic means. This is not a new concern -- on several occasions Sherry has urged caution in importing evangelical methods in toto. However, I think it might be helpful if we brainstorm a bit at how we might, in practice, achieve these ends while avoiding certain irksome evangelicalisms. Toward such a goal I offer a list of certain evangelical shortcomings to be avoided while trying to take possession of its strengths.

1) Making the Scriptures too "relevant": Evangelicals, in their concern that Scripture be relevant to contemporary men and women, tend to make the biblical message more transparent than it really is. The difficulty, opacity, and strangeness of certain biblical passages are passed by or explained away, with the result that a certain depth of meaning is lost or certain possibilities in the text are not realized or apprehended.

2) Confusing worship with 'having an affective experience of God": Evangelicals utilize worship and music styles which seek to engage people on an affective level. Evangelical preaching is also ordered too exclusively, in my opinion, toward an affective response. You can see this in the typical layout of their services: initially there is upbeat and joyful worship music which is followed by a sermon with a rhetorical punch. The effect of that 'punch' is nurtured by quiet introverted ballad-type music (maybe with dimmed lighting) and the service is typically ended with the sort of upbeat music with which it began. As can be seen, the whole of the service is often ordered to producing affective responses and if those responses do not happen, people may go away with the sense that their worship was diminished. They may even blame themselves for not having had the 'correct' experience. I remember going to church and seeing people rise from their seats and wave their hands in the air ecstatically. I would close my eyes and pray that I might be inspired to do such things or have the kind of worshipful experience they were having and, if I didn't, I would wonder what was wrong with me.

3) Superficial community and a spirit of conformity: Sometimes in evangelical churches people's engagement with one another can tend toward superficiality. I remember that my sister and I, when we were just elementary-age children, could see right through this. We used to parody people's overwrought interactions with each other. I admit that this was wrong of us. I also remember as a teenager deliberately looking unfriendly and glum as an (admittedly immature) protest against the pressure to put on an unnatural facade of cheerful contentedness. Thus, while it can sometimes appear that evangelical churches are friendlier places and have better communities, the reality can belie the appearance.

Not all evangelicals and evangelical churches are guilty of the above mentioned weaknesses. Nevertheless they are problems which I believe evangelicals generally face.They are all drawn from my own lived experience of being an evangelical. That said, I owe much to my evangelical background, perhaps even my Catholicism. I can honestly say that if I had been raised a Catholic, I may well have fallen away. We can learn much from evangelicals, but it would be a shame if in learning their strengths we also inherited their weaknesses. Can anyone think of other negative 'evangelicalisms' which we might avoid? And how might we draw upon the resources of the Catholic Church to avoid these quirks while at the same time capturing the strengths of Evangelicalism which often (lest we forget) cause people to leave Catholicism for these other communions?

John Allen: Charismatic Movement Stems Catholic Losses?

We certainly seem to have a theme going today - dramatic spiritual experience, Muslims converting to Christianity, Keith's rant, and Phillip Jenkins's interview.

And now John Allen, writing from Honduras, touches on all these issues - with a new twist: Priestly vocations are rising dramatically although the percentage of Catholics in Honduras has dropped sharply!

"Rev. William Okoye, founder of the All Christian Fellowship in Nigeria and chaplain to the country’s president, Olusegun Obasanjo, told NCR in early March that the “explosive growth” of Pentecostalism in his country initially came at the expense of other Christian bodies, “especially the Anglicans and the Catholics.”

“Some years ago, this was an ecumenical problem,” Okoye said in the office of his sprawling church in downtown Abuja. “Now, the other churches are more accommodating. The Catholics allow the charismatic renewal movement. The Anglicans do the same thing, so their people can remain Catholics and Anglicans, but they act like Pentecostals.”

“To a large extent, that has stemmed their losses,” Okoye said.

Okoye said that in his own congregation of several thousand, he notices substantially fewer ex-Catholics than was the case perhaps 10 or 20 years ago. Today’s growth, he said, is more likely to come in the north of Nigeria, among people who were once nominally Muslim but who today are attracted to the dynamism and family spirit of Pentecostal Christianity.

Rev. Orestes Zúniga Rivas of the Iglesia di Diós in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, one of the two largest networks of Pentecostal churches in the country, said much the same thing in a March 20 interview.

“There are fewer converts today [from the Catholic church] because the charismatic option exists within Catholicism,” Zúniga said.

“Today, it’s common for us to hold spiritual retreats where Catholic charismatics will join us, but then they return to their own church with no problem,” he said. “There are others who come to our church as well as the Catholic church, which is no problem for us, because you can find God anywhere.”

Today, Zúniga says, new converts to Pentecostalism do not come from practicing Catholics, but from Hondurans who have been largely “unchurched.”

That growth is clearly visible in both Nigeria and Honduras. In Nigeria, Christians are roughly half the population of 140 million, with Pentecostals today representing as much as 50 percent of the Christian total. In Honduras, once an overwhelmingly Catholic nation, Pentecostals are today 35 percent of the population, and Zúniga believes they could eventually be as much as 50 percent.

Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez of Tegucigalpa told NCR on March 20 that it would not surprise him if the Honduran population is one day evenly divided between Catholics and Protestants, with most of the latter being Pentecostal.

Some of our people were never real Catholics,” he said. “They were baptized but had no real formation. Today, we’re more consolidated, our laity are more involved, and we’re growing in terms of those who are really alive in the faith. It’s not that we are losing, we are gaining,” he said.

Rodriguez pointed to rising vocations to the priesthood as one sign of growth. A generation ago, the seminary population in Honduras had dwindled to the single digits; today, there are 170 candidates in the seminary in Tegucigalpa, and the number is expected to continue rising."

Phillip Jenkins on God's Continent

A simply fascinating interview with Phillip Jenkins in the March Catholic World Report about his new book coming out in May: God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis. (via Virtueonline). Some of Jenkin's observations:

"If you're trying to track the decline of institutional Christianity in Europe, you can take a point in 1960 or 1965 and compare that to today. Whether you are looking at vocations or number of seminarians, we are now at one tenth of where we were, across the continent. People are not going to seminaries. They're not choosing vocations in anything like the number they used to.

Question: How effective was the Soviet Union at stomping out religious belief, in Russia and in its satellite countries?

Jenkins: They were very effective in transforming it. What they did was almost a Darwinian process. In some areas, they drove away a lot of the more lukewarm believers and created a very fiery hard core. The great example of that would be in the Caucasus with the Chechens. Middle-of-the-road tolerant people got purged and that just left the very hardcore Sufi-run resistance.

Sometimes the scale of the destruction was so total they did uproot the whole apparatus. The Buddhists in Central Asia were basically utterly destroyed-it was a very bad century for Buddhism. But they couldn't be as effective in Eastern Europe, in Poland, where they did a wonderful job of making the Catholic Church the symbol of anti-Communist resistance. They just made going to mass a way of ticking off the Soviets.

Question: How does the rate of Christian observance in the U.S. compare to Europe if we count only mainline, well-established denominations?

Jenkins: Well, until you added the last clause, I had a great answer. In terms of church attendance, it's probably about three terms larger. In terms of how people identify and how they assume that religion is part of the landscape, it's even higher.

There are all sorts of possible answers. Two things I pay attention to. One is the constant history of migration in this country. You continually have new waves of people coming in. They are looking for community. They find it in churches, synagogues, religious institutions. Europe, traditionally, was a much more static society.

Linked to that, America is a vastly larger country. It's best to think of it as a subcontinent by European standards. When people move around within the United States, they look for community, they look for somewhere they can send the kids. The obvious place for that is a religious institution. Historically, Europe, a much smaller society, much more compact, much less mobile, has not had those kinds of forces. Belgium is about the same size as Maryland. If you move from one side of Belgium to another, you haven't actually gone all that far. If you move within the United States, then you are cutting yourself off from your older, established community and roots.

Also, there is evidence that when people migrate, it's that quest for community that makes than more religious than they ever were at home. That's what happened to Italians when they came to America at the end of the nineteenth century. People who'd never been inside a church in Italy suddenly find themselves quite devoted churchgoers in the U.S.

Question: Are fears of a future "Muslim Europe" well-founded?

Jenkins: I don't think they are because the numbers at present are very small. And while they're going to grow, by American standards Muslim minorities in Europe are not going to be that huge. The other big issue is that when people talk about Muslim minorities, they automatically assume that everyone of Muslim background is going to continue to be a dyed-in-the-wool, hardcore Muslim in Europe.

There's a lot of evidence that they're not. If you look at Algerian people in France, they have a strong sense of ethnic identity, but there's quite a low level of religious observance. They look like Episcopalians more than anything. Now obviously, there's a small and potentially very dangerous hardcore of quite extreme Islamists, and you'd have to be a fool to ignore that. But the majority of people are very happy to assimilate to some kind of French or Dutch or German identity."

Question: You note that birthrates have leveled off in some countries that most readers wouldn't expect. Between 1986 and 2000, average births per woman in Iran have fallen from 6 to 2, which is slightly lower than the replacement rate of 2.1. Indeed, birthrates almost everywhere are plummeting. Why is that?

The Middle East in the last 15 years is going through the great demographic transition and that is one of the great facts in world politics. What it should mean is that in about 15 years these countries should be vastly more stable. The next 15 years could be a very rocky ride, but the long-term trend is to underpopulation. These countries will have to figure out how do deal with all those old people. Sometimes-and I'm not speaking about Steyn particularly here-when people talk about these astronomical birthrates, they're using pretty dated figures.

Question: You write that the U.S. has managed to "resist the trend of sharply falling fertility" nearly everywhere. What explains that?

"Partly, it's very very high immigration rates. People who migrate tend to be the young and the fertile and the ambitious and that creates a particular kind of population profile. Also, you still have this strong religious commitment which is usually reflected in larger families. Increasingly, the U.S. looks like a very weird society on the global stage. On religious affiliation, it's half way between Europe and Africa and in some ways it looks like that in demography too. It's not a European society, it's not a Third World society, it's something very distinctive. So there I am back to American exceptionalism."

It is long but rich. Read it all.

A Wonderful Musical Initiative

If you are involved in music ministry of any kind, pop on over to Michael James' video podcast Forty Days of Praise. A gifted catholic musician, Michael is featuring a new song each day of the lenten season.

Each podcast includes a video tutorial and downloadable sheet music that is available for use according to the generous usage agreement.

Check it out!

A public service announcement from the fine folks at Intentional Disciples!

I Feel A Rant Coming On

So, today while driving in my car, I heard a segment from the Drew Mariani show on Relevant Radio. A mother was calling in basically saying that her daughter had attended an evangelical Church with her boyfriend and was completely blown away by the experience. This concerned mom wanted to know how to help her daughter appreciate the mass.

Drew's ultimate response: Give her a book!

All through the discussion every Catholic involved made references to the fact that the protestant service was "feel good." At several points, Drew said that since the protestant service didn't contain the sacraments all you had was great music and an inspirational message.

Not once did anyone mention the fact that their might--just might--be something that we as Catholics can learn from our brothers and sisters.

I'd like to know what conciliar document or post-synodal apostolic exhortation says that I must make a choice between licit and valid sacraments and powerful music and an inspirational homily. Where does it say that the Catholic worship experience must primarily involve the intellect at the expense of the other faculties?

God made my whole being, He redeemed my whole being, and I'd like to offer my whole being back to Him in worship.

This whole "Catholic" notion that protestant worship is primarily entertainment and "feel good" is just so much arrogant garbage that must be jetissoned from the Body of Christ if we are really ever going to be able to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to bring about unity in the Church.

Let me tell you what "feel good" translates into for many of the Catholics who either leave the Catholic Church for a protestant denomination or "double dip" (attend both Catholic mass and a protestant service):

1. A personal encounter with Christ that involves the whole person--mind, will, and heart. Often, this encounter is a Power Encounter--involving definite sensible and practical supernatural experiences that reveal the Love of God for the individual.

2. A breaking open of scripture that is directly applicable to living one's life as a disciple of Jesus Christ in the world.

3. A welcoming community of believers that actively participate in the life of the new believer (as spiritual companions and fellow disciples who help support the individual and help hold them accountable).

4. High quality teaching and worship--offering God the best of the gifts the community has to offer.

Now, I'm definitely not advocating that anyone leave the Catholic Church for protestantism. The fullness of the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ subsists in the Catholic Church. I believe and affirm this with every fibre of my being. There are definitely things that are missing from protestant worship services (most notably the Sacraments) and beliefs that are incompatible with the Deposit of Faith.

All that being said, a careful examination of these communities can help us rediscover some of the riches of the Church that we have either put aside or forgotten.

For those people who encounter the "feel good" nature of protestant worship, very few are simply going to remain in the Catholic Church based upon a theological principle. Why should I stay in the Catholic Church because of the Eucharist when its a doctrine I don't understand and, more importantly, it has no "real" bearing or effect on my life. And that's what we have to realize. For most Catholics, the reality of the Eucharist is not immediate.

We know that the Church teaches Christ's Real Presence (well, we should know, anyway), but it is a distant thing. In practice, the host is a piece of bread that we are supposed to believe is something else.

That's it.

Now, the reason we have generations of Catholics in this situation is complex. And some of it does have to do with poor catechesis. But we can't lay the whole blame on faulty teaching. We must also acknowledge that on some level, we have not lived out the fullness of our faith. If, indeed, lex orandi, lex credendi, lex celebrandi, lex vivendi (the rule of prayer is the rule of belief is the rule of worship is the rule of life) then as Catholics we evidence a fundamental disconnect, a dissonance between the richness of what God has given us and and the poverty of our stewardship of these gifts--particularly at the parish level.

Our response to somebody who has encountered "feel good" protestant worship and is struggling to encounter the full Church of Christ can not be a book. It has to be an invitation to live out all of the dimensions of our life as the Body of Christ.

And to do that, we need to rediscover them ourselves.

End of rant!

Eucharistic Miracles - Live!

On Catholic Answers live today with Patrick Madrid. 4 - 5 pm. Looks interesting!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Unity Humility Prayer

The Artisan Initiative is another amazing lay apostolate. It was founded 10 years ago in London by Steve Cole, "a non-professional musician" as a resource for people working out their Christian faith in Arts, Media, Fashion and Entertainment industries.

Their values:

Unity – We need one another. Life and our relationship with God was never designed to be a solo journey.

Humility – As individuals we all have our part to play, but we are not the key. Only God can transform these industries.

Prayer – As in all of life, prayer must be central. It is so often key to seeing God breaking into nations; people; industries.

The Artisan Initiative has spread around Britain and now has groups in New York, San Francisco, and LA.

90028: The World's Most Influential Zip Code

The Hollywood Prayer Network invites you to pray for the most influential zip code in the world: 90028. HPN is a non-denominational Christian prayer ministry for the purpose of praying for the people, the projects and the powerful influence of the Entertainment Industry.

"HPN believes that by mobilizing global prayer we can be a part of God's miraculous work of changing the spiritual climate of Hollywood, from the inside out."

They estimate that there are 5,000 plus Christians working in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Go here for a list of Christian ministries (including Act One) that are active in Hollywood.

I Am the Lord Whom You are Looking For

There was a brief post Sunday over at the Whapsters on the subject of Muslims converting to Christianity because of dreams or visions of Christ. Being as I actually have some knowledge of this phenomena, I thought I'd expand a bit on the subject.

Yes, Virginia, it is indeed happening. This article published in Mission Frontiers by Dr. Dudley Woodbury (under whom I studied at Fuller) is based upon interviews with some 600 "Muslim background believers" or MBB's as they are called. Those interviewed were from 39 countries and over 50 cultural backgrounds.

The whole thing is very moving, but here are some excerpts:

"in nearly every corner of the world, even in nations that have an overwhelming Muslim dominance, people from Muslim backgrounds are coming to faith in Christ. Exact figures are elusive. In some areas a shift of allegiance to Christ is happening on a fairly grand scale, with bold, public professions of faith. In many other places, believers in Christ live very low-key lives, using great discretion as to whom they disclose their faith commitment. Increasingly prevalent are the small, secret groups of a few faithful followers that meet on a regular basis, sometimes not disclosing their new-found faith even to their family.

. . .over one-fourth of those surveyed state quite emphatically that dreams and visions were key in drawing them to Christ and sustaining them through difficult times.

A convert from the Middle East who had been afflicted with severe headaches was lying on his bed after having prayed for his sick son. A man with a beautiful, peaceful face appeared. Dressed in white, the figure walked to the head of the man's bed and touched him three times on the head. The next morning his headaches were gone. His son, too, was fully healed. Understandably, he now recounts with confidence, "I believe in prayer in the name of the Christ."

A North African believer found the needed strength to face his imprisonment from a dream he had while imprisoned for his faith. In it, he saw thousands of believers pouring through the streets of his city, openly proclaiming their faith in his restricted country. While in prison, he was tortured, suspended upside-down naked for hours, beaten with electrified rods and repeatedly threatened with execution. His vision of a day when people of his country would openly proclaim their faith in the streets gave him great strength to persevere through this most difficult time.

Though not strictly a dream or a vision, a number of Muslim-background believers have had a significant supernatural encounter that was instrumental in drawing them to Jesus. One Egyptian Muslim was reading the Injil (Gospel), when he came to Luke 3, where the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove. God said, "This is my son, in whom I am well pleased." As he read those words, a stormy wind broke into his room. A voice spoke to him saying, "I am Jesus Christ, whom you hate. I am the Lord whom you are looking for." He recalls that he "wept and wept, accepting Jesus from that time."

Dreams and visions may have been used by God in part because there is a dearth of flesh-and-blood witnesses for Christ willing to articulate and demonstrate the power of the Gospel in person. If nothing else, the preceding testimonies of these witnesses for Christ show that God is at work. Apparently, when Muslims do have an opportunity to see the love of Christ revealed in all its fullness, they are finding a life with Christ quite compelling. After all, grace does have an irresistible quality to it."

Secondly, check this out: a video of five MBB's telling their story of being converted by dreams or visions.

And another note: John Allen reports that "some estimates, for example, are that at least 10 percent of the people preparing for adult baptism in France come from a Muslim background. Since about 9000 adults were received in France last year, that would mean about 900 were from Muslim backgrounds? (By the way, the 9000 figure is double what it was just a few years ago)

And also, this report of large numbers of Muslims becoming Christian quietly in North Africa.

Your Brain on Tongues

This story about speaking in tongues is going to be on ABC's Nightline tonight.

The part that really fascinates me is this:

"At the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Andrew Newberg is looking for an explanation for what most regard as inexplicable.

Newberg is determined to unravel the relationship between faith and science by studying what happens in the brain during the deepest moments of faith. He's recently published a study looking at the brain activity of eight Americans who speak in tongues.

"If we are really going to look at this powerful force in human history of religion and spirituality, I think we really have to take a look at how that affects our brain — what's changing or turning on and off in our brain," Newberg said.

Newberg used CT scans to look at what happens in the brain's control center when someone speaks in tongues.

In earlier studies, he looked at what happens in the brains of Buddhist monks meditating and Franciscan nuns praying. The results were quite different from what happens in the brains of people speaking in tongues, whose brains, he found, went quiet in the frontal lobe — the part of the brain right behind the forehead that's considered the brain's control center.

"When they are actually engaged in this whole very intense spiritual practice … their frontal lobes tend to go down in activity. … It is very consistent with the kind of experience they have, because they say that they're not in charge. [They say] it's the voice of God, it's the spirit of God that is moving through them," said Newberg.

"Whatever is coming out of their mouth is not what they are purposefully or willfully trying to do. And that's in fairly stark contrast to the people who are — like the Buddhist and Franciscan nuns — in prayer, because they are very intensely focused and in those individuals the frontal lobes actually increase activity."

Fascinating although I don't quite know what to make of it. What do you think?

Oh, and just FYI, since I do get this question from time to time. Yes, speaking in tongues is recognized by the Catholic Church as legitimate although I know the idea makes many Catholics intensely uncomfortable. There are only two charisms named in the catechism: one is healing, the other is tongues.

Jurisdiction and the Laity - Again

As our regular readers know, we don’t usually follow ecclesial politics here at ID. But last Thursday, Rocco Palma of Whispers in the Loggia fame, noted a development in the curia that could have long term significance for lay women and men.

“ . . .last Saturday Benedict elevated Servants of the Poor Fr Vincenzo Bertolone to the episcopacy, sending him to head the Italian diocese of Cassano all'Jonio.

Since 2004, Bertonlone, 60, has served as undersecretary at the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Vatican office that supervises religious communities. Also a longtime staffer there, he was named undersecretary six weeks following the precedent-shattering appointment of Salesian Sr Enrica Rosanna as the sole holder of CICLSAL's #3 position after arguments won the day that a woman religious -- devoid of holy orders, of course -- lacked the grace of office to supervise priests. (emphasis mine)

Yet again, Sr Enrica -- the highest-ranking woman in the history of the Vatican bureaucracy -- is the congregation's lone sottosegretario. If that holds, it'd be the surest sign yet that Benedict is intent to keep making good on his much burnished record of giving women the most collaborative place possible at the table of ecclesiastical administration.”

The issue at stake is that of jurisdiction and governance by the non-ordained. The question raised by Sr. Enrica’s position: Is there a basis for jurisdiction within the Church other than ordination?

There are many Vatican organizations and positions that simply cry out for substantial secular (that is, lay) expertise and leadership (Pontifical Councils for the Laity; the Family, Health Care, Migrants and Immigrants, Justice and Peace, Social Communications, for example) but all are headed (and seconded) by Cardinals and Bishops. Although 38% of Vatican staff are not clerics, lay people seldom serve in positions of real decision-making authority.

If Sr. Enrica is permitted to exercise her office alone, an office which has always been understood to include ecclesial jurisdiction, it forces the theological issue. Both John Paul II, who first hired Sr. Enrica, and Benedict seem to mean to challenge the assumption that jurisdiction within the Church can only flow from Holy Orders, and to jump start the necessary theological and practical conversation.

And, of course, the result of that conversation has big implications for all the baptized who are not ordained; religious and lay, male and female.

It’s a Country. . .it’s a Religious Order. . . It’s a Lay Movement. No, Wait – It’s the Knights of Malta!

A friend of mine summed up her impression of the Knights this way: “it’s an honorary order for people who give lots of money to the Church.” Fortunately, the reality is much more interesting.

(This picture is of the Loggia of the Palace of the Knights of Malta which hangs dramatically over the imperial forum. I spent one noon time on top of Trajan's market next door, listening to the bells of Rome and admiring the Loggia.).

The Knights of Malta are absolutely unique: both a sovereign entity under international law and an essentially lay religious order. The Order has its own constitution, passports, stamps, etc. and has diplomatic relations with 94 countries as well as observer status at the United Nations.

Although some members of the Order, including the Grand Master, who is elected for life, are professed knights (having taken the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience), others have pronounced only the promise of obedience. Most of the Order's 12,500 knights and dames are lay.

The Knights have a dramatic history. Formally known as the "Sovereign Military Hospitalier Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta", the community was founded in the 11th century to run a hospital for pilgrms in Jerusalem. In 1113, the Pope declared the community to be an Order and all the Knights religious.

The constitution of the Kingdom of Jerusalem obliged the Order to take on the military defense of the sick, the pilgrims and the territories that the crusaders had conquered from the Moslems. The Order thus added the task of defending the faith to being hospitallers.

As time went on, the Order adopted the white eight-pointed Cross that is still its symbol today.

When the last Christian bastion in the Holy Land fell to the Muslims, the Knights moved to Rhodes where they defended Christian interests against Muslims for 250 years. In 1523, the Knights were forced to surrender Rhodes to Suleiman the Magnificent after a 6 month siege and were allowed to leave with military honors.

The Order was given the island of Malta in 1530 and played a major role in the battle of Lepanto in 1571 which destroyed Ottoman naval power in the Mediterranean. Two centuries later, the Order was forced to leave Malta by Napoleon and eventually settled in Rome.

(The picture at left is of St. Peters seen through the famous "keyhole" of the Palace of the Knights of Malta. Since the Palace is a sovereign nation and so is the Vatican, the joke is that you are seeing three countries at once as you peer over Italian territory to the dome of St. Peters!)

Today, the Order has undertaken an astonishing variety of good works in the field of medical and social care and humanitarian aid, in over 120 countries, supported by the diplomatic relations it currently has with 94 nations. The Order also runs hospitals, medical centres, day hospitals, nursing homes for the elderly and the disabled, and special centres for the terminally ill .

The Order relies on the involvement of its 12,000 members, as well as approximately 80,000 trained volunteers and 11,000 employees, most of whom are medical personnel.

Malteser International, the Order’s worldwide relief service, works in the front line in natural disasters and armed conflicts. For over 40 years, the Order has been dealing extensively with the treatment of leprosy - through its CIOMAL foundation (Comite International de l'Ordre de Malte). CIOMAL is also involved in the fight against disease or handicaps and has launched programmes to assist mothers and children in the third world who suffer from AIDS.

The primary responsibility for funding all these works lies with the Order’s members so they give to good purpose.

Last year, the Knight reclaimed their historic headquarters, the Castle St. Angelo, on Malta. They have a 99 year lease on the castle and have finally returned to Malta.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Catholic Perspectives on Sexuality

Speaking of Knights of Malta, This looks interesting:

Seton Hall University, together with the Order of Malta, has organized the Catholic Perspectives Lecture Series titled "A Question of Clarity" to delve beyond the politics and sensationalism and shed light on one of the most pressing moral issues of our day. The third lecture in this series, on April 11 at 6:30 p.m, titled Human Sexuality, features two nationally known theologians, one male and one female, for a stimulating discussion that is free and open to the public. Advance registration is requested by phone, (973) 378-2600, or e-mail,

Janet Smith is serving a second term as a consultant to the Pontifical Council on the Family. A professor of life ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Smith is the author of Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later. Over a million copies of her seminal talk "Contraception: Why Not," have been distributed.

Christopher Klofft is an expert in the relationship between sexual ethics and the virtues, the role of the body in moral theology and the place of sexual pleasure in Christian sexual ethics. A Knight in the Order of Malta, he is a professor of theology at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The Price of Coming Home

Many of you are already familiar with the Coming Home Network. CHN provides fellowship, encouragement and support for pastors and laymen of other traditions (Protestant, Orthodox, etc..) who are somewhere along the journey or have already converted to the Catholic Church. They are particularly noted for helping Protestant clergy who are considering becoming Catholic.

According to their latest newsletter, they have worked with nearly 1300 ministers to date. As Marcus Grodi put it: "Many, if not most, of these formerly ordained clergyman presume that God is calling them to continue at the same level of ministry once they become Catholics . . .from ministers to priests." Of course, it isn't that easy.

I read recently that about 60 married men had been ordained under the Pastoral Provision (including, very recently, blogging Frs. Dwight Longenecker and Alvin Kimel.)

Of the 440 clergy converts for whom CHM has full data, 2/3 have remained laymen after conversion. 114 have become priests (presumably a goodly number of those were single) and 7 have become religious. 60 work as academics, and 97 are in some form of full time lay apostolate. 129 are in secular employment.

I remember discussing this once a few years ago with Scott Hahn. I asked him if there was some kind of informal network of converts strategizing how to offer our evangelizing expertise to the Church. Scott just shook his head. "No", he said, "they are too busy trying to figure out how to survive now that they've given up their livelihood."

My friends and I were all young and totally obscure lay types so we didn't experience this particular sacrifice. Some of us, like Mark Shea and I, felt led to gradually work our way into full-time lay apostolate. Others have pursued various secular callings.

But I have talked to older men, who after a long and fruitful career in ministry, are simply torn and don't know what to do. Becoming Catholic means that they would lose everything, including their homes, the ability to support their families, their retirement, their life's work, and their sense of themselves. They wrestle themselves into exhaustion over "what is God asking of me?"

And, of course, there are a few women now, who feel called to leave ordained ministry or the possibility of ordination to enter the Church. One such young woman, who is single, and has taught for us, was on the verge of being ordained as a UCC minister and now is eeking out a fragile living as lay staff in a parish.

I know the realities of the situation well. CHN has done wonderful work but I know all too well that a converting clergyman, especially if they are not from a high church background, is not likely to experience significant personal support from the average Catholic diocese or parish. And it is very difficult, even for the best willed cradle Catholic, to understand all that one has given up and still grieves. The older you are, the harder it becomes.

I keep thinking that we could make much better and more fruitful use of these exceptionally committed and well trained people who have paid such a high price for the right to be called Catholic. In any case, we can all make a special effort to be-friend them and be an encouraging presence in their lives.

Virtual Volunteers

You could feel it coming. You can now volunteer for faith-based ministry from home via your computer.

Just hop over to

Sure, they have long lists of all the usual volunteer activities that require your presence. But presence is so 20th century . . .How about virtual volunteering?

Now you can do online marketing for a children's home in Nairobi, work as a remote artist/illustrator for an evangelistic ministry in Texas, a grant writer for a homelessness project in Arkansas, or help a rescue mission raise funds by persuading people to donate their old junker cars in exchange for a tax write-off. And all without leaving your home office. Or your blog.

Catholic Radio is Taking Off

Catholic radio is taking off. In 1996 there were only seven U.S. Catholic radio
stations. Ten years later, 130 stations across the United States now broadcast full or part time Catholic programming.

That is still a small fraction of the total religious radio stations in the US — there are over 2000 and the vast majority are evangelical. Religious stations, as a whole, have grown by about 85 percent since 1998 alone. They now outnumber rock, classical, hip-hop, R&B, soul, and jazz stations combined.

In an evangelical hotbed like Colorado Springs, I suppose I won't surprise anyone if I report that we have 5 local Christian radio stations. Meanwhile, a valiant group is struggling to start the first Catholic station along the Front Range, in Denver, a city of 3.5 million.

One big difference between Catholic stations and non-Catholic Christian radio stations is music. Catholic stations are heavily talk-oriented: preaching, teaching, news, call-in talk shows, etc. EWTN is the biggest source of programming and the majority of Catholic stations broadcast some EWTN content while supplementing it with locally produced fare.

But non-Catholic Christian radio is a platform for the burgeoning contemporary Christian music industry.
Christian radio’s audience, in particular, has climbed 33 percent over the last five years, thanks in large part to the emergence of contemporary Christian music. No other English-language format can boast that kind of growth.

Despite their growing reach, Christian networks still lag behind many secular heavyweights when it comes to audience size. About a million U.S. households tune in daily to each of the most popular Christian television shows. Likewise, Christian radio stations draw about 5 percent market share, on average. Nevertheless, the draw of Christian radio is beginning to create an "alternate universe of faith-based news according to this article in the Columbia Journalism Review.

What is the future of specifically Catholic radio? Has the lack of high quality contemporary Catholic music affected the spread of Catholic radio? Will Catholic radio and television remain essentially catechetical and apologetic or will it begin to branch out?

Can We Bear to Imagine It?

Therese asks a good question below is response to the post on declining Mass attendance in Mexico: "Wonder how many hungry people would be fed; naked or poorly clothed, clothed; homeless, housed; injustices, made just; etc, if all Mexicans took their faith seriously???? Wonder how much better their country might be?"

I had just been conducting one of the mental experiments I sometimes indulge in. What if the Christian faith had never existed (as some feverently wish) and you could remove from the last 2,000 years of history all the ripples and consequences from the actions of intentional disciples? What if every last fruit of the faith over the centuries was wiped away? What would the world look like today? Can we even begin to imagine it? Can we bear to imagine it?

Would slavery, which had always existed in every culture and was accepted as a unchangable part of human life, have been largely abolished and made abhorrent? The concept of the individual, human rights and the rights of women, healthcare, education, political life - what would they look like if millions of people had never attempted to be the love of Christ in their time and place?

Just to give you a concrete handle - let's look at the latest figures for 2006 from Fides, the Society for the Propogation of the Faith. These are figures only for a few categories of Catholic apostolates. Remember - 50% of the Christians in the world are not Catholic.

51.7 million students are in Catholic schools (K through university) in 2006

5,000 hospitals, 17,000 dispensaries, 648 leprosary centers, 15,000 homes for the elderly, chronically ill and disabled, 10,000 orphanages, 14,000 marrriage counseling centers: altogether 83,500 institutions devoted to social ministry around the world in 2006 were run by the Catholic Church.

Did I mention the 186,000 Catholic lay missionaries? The nearly 3 million catechists?

And yet, when you consider that there are 1.1 billion Catholics in the world, your eyes start to pop when you consider what the impact could be if the majority of our people were well-formed intentional disciples whose baptism was coming to fruition.

Can we imagine the Dorothy Days and Mother Teresas and Thomas Aquinases and Frederic Ozanams who are in our parishes today - or crossing the street to avoid our parishes! - who do not yet know Christ and therefore, are not yet living their call? Can we begin to imagine the gifts and vocations that Christ intends to send us but we have not yet cooperated in calling them forth? Can we imagine what is at stake in our failure to evangelize and form our own?

Can we bear to imagine it?

Importance of Worldview

Over at Amy Welborn's blog, she reflects a bit upon the Death of Catholic Culture by quoting an article written by a James Matthew Wilson, a Sorin Research Fellow at Notre Dame. The article speaks quite powerfully on the current disconnect in the lives of Catholic lay men and women between our faith and our worldview. Here are a few selections:

Ignorance of the Church's faith, however, is just a symptom of an even more grave condition. It is one thing not to know the doctrinal expressions of particular sacred truths; it is another thing - and a more serious thing - to live one's life with a worldview blind to and uninformed by those truths. The great achievement of the so-called secularizing forces of modernity has been in reshaping the way in which we live in and perceive the world. Plenty of persons deny the religious truths their parents and grandparents approved and defended confidently. But plenty more persons affirm their belief in God, or confess they accept myriad other formal doctrines of our faith, while they see the world with the eyes of indifference and unbelief. One can claim to believe in the God Who died for our sins, while at the same time thinking about the world as if none of that business had happened. I do not speak of hypocrisy, but of a loss of religious feeling. . . .

The ignorance that resulted in misnaming abstinence "penance" is easily corrected. I have just corrected it. But how can one correct a worldview that blindly believes one's life of faith is entirely private - an affair between the individual soul and God and nobody else? I am no Church historian, but I bet it took many generations for the truth that Christians are "one body in Christ" to disseminate widely and become deeply meaningful. It has taken at most two generations to wipe out that truth, to make it appear repugnant to the average American, Catholic or otherwise.

The great vision of Christianity is that no person is an individual and no one exists alone. God created all things and keeps them in being through a personal act of His love. He creates us not separately, but for each other and in His Kingdom. The families, clubs and countries of which we are children, members and citizens are legitimate but relative analogues to our role as subjects of that Kingdom. When we worship together in mass, we perceive with our senses the fellowship of the Kingdom. When we pray in silence in a monastery, we experience that fellowship in the deepest part of our souls. Being part of Christ's spiritual body is what makes us most fully persons. From this perspective, there is no such thing as an individual, but only persons in one spiritual body (an analogue to the Blessed Trinity).

One of the goals of intentional discipleship is to help each other integrate this Christian worldview into our lives so that how we understand the world, the Church, and ourselves all flows from this worldview. We do so, however, not simply by assimilating ideas, philosophies, or theologies, but by encountering and nurturing our communal and individual relationship with Christ, the foundation from which the whole worldview flows like streams of living water.

Faith formation, therefore, should always keep this goal in mind. It is not simply about personal enrichment, but about preparation for mission.

Do read Mr. Wilson's whole article!

Susan B. Anthony list

Heard of Emily's List, the political action committee for pro abortion women candidates?

Well, now there is the Susan B. Anthony list, dedicated to ending abortion by working to increase the number of successful pro-life women candidates for office.

· Trains pro-life activists and candidates in the fundamentals of running a successful grassroots for political campaign.

· Works to increase the percentage of pro-life women in Congress (through our Candidate fund. The Candidate Fund assists pro-life women candidates and works to defeat proabortion women candidates and incumbents.

· Advocates the passage of pro-life legislation in Congress. Works to dispel the myths about abortion.

· Educates women voters on the importance of voting.

The list is named for the famous feminist Susan B. Anthony, who was an outspoken opponent of abortion. The Susan B. Anthony List: And while checking them out, take a look at the list of pro-life women in the 2006 Congress. Fourteen may not seem many but it is double the number we had 6 years ago.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Outward Show and Inward Reality

From the blog Catholic Laity (sponsored by Requiem Press) this challenging post by J. Curley analyzes the weaknesses underneath the apparently flourishing pre-Vatican II Church, especially regarding the formation and spiritual life of lay Catholics (with italicized emphasis by me):

"Catechesis generally consisted of learning the Ten Commandments, the valid administration of and participation in the sacramental life of the parish, the natural laws of moral and social living, the human statutes of the institutional Catholic Church, and the positive laws of the political regime. In a nutshell, the Old Testament Commandments and licit reception of the sacraments directed the lives of the laity more than the New Testament Commandment: "You must love one another just as I have loved you" (Jn 13:34).

Another weakness was the strict obedience required of the laity. When it came to the application or interpretation of the above-mentioned laws, diocesan bishops exercised a paternalistic authority which, in turn, was employed by pastors of parishes, resident clergy, and teaching religious orders. As a result, the laity became habituated to obey ecclesiastical authorities without question — whatever the bishop, father, brother, or sister said was to be followed to the letter.

Paternalistic authority sometimes even entered into free-willed human acts that necessitate individual choice, such as the exercise of personal freedom when entering into the marriage covenant, or priestly or consecrated religious life. The exercise of that style of leadership sometimes attempted to influence political and social matters that contained neither a Faith-related subject nor a moral principle. Consequently, law and morality, in an odd way, assumed the stature of a quasi-religion.

Relying too heavily on strict adherence to the ancestral cultures of piety, parish instruction and formal Catholic education established in the baptized a mentality that was legalistic and moralistic. Even though most lay people possessed strong personal beliefs, Faith, morals, and paternalistic authority had become so tightly entwined that it was near impossible for most of the laity to distinguish one element from another.

An unbalanced emphasis on morals reduced religious practice to obeying laws and rules. Enforcement of laws and rules was via the notion of "possibility": possible punishment in the hereafter. Violators of laws or rules were made to consider the content of a minor offense as possible grave matter and, therefore, a mortal sin punishable in Hell. Too many Catholics, for example, attended Mass on Sundays because the threat of mortal sin and Hell-fire was very real to them.

Paternalistic oversight of their popular base was considered by bishops to be necessary. It not only preserved unity among the laity, it protected, they thought, the institution against attacks, such as those experienced during the French Revolution. But, by the twentieth century, it was clear that the Catholic Church in America was no longer under siege. In fact, the institution had not only survived, it now prospered.

Weaknesses such as the ones mentioned above produced a multitude of mechanical Catholics. As Monsignor Romano Guardini suggested, "There was too much outward show and too little inner reality." In the long run, parish instruction and formal Catholic education created — from top to bottom — a religious culture of routine formalism and narrow piety: a "culture of laws" (Saint Cyril of Jerusalem). Consequently, for many lay people, the institutional Church had become an empty enterprise:

The tragedy of baptism, at any age, is that so often we are incorporated into a Christian community that has forgotten its splendor. Frailty and dust are given predominance in teaching. The possibility of splendor, glory, and holiness, the call to be saints, is the wealth hidden away. . . Overemphasis on the magical wiping away of sin has created some very bad habits in Church people. These bad habits emerge from an attitude that [theologian Dietrich] Bonhoeffer calls cheap grace. Cheap grace is never really valued because those receiving it put forth little effort on their own. (Macrena Wiederkehr, Benedictine nun)
Although it may seem harsh to some, the assessment above is not intended to malign in any way the heroic efforts or impugn the character of bishops, priests, and teaching religious who sacrificed their lives to transmit basic Catholic beliefs to childlike believers. Nonetheless, it must be recognized that there was a tendency in Catholic life, prior to Vatican Council II, to place the tower of morals in front of, if not above, the tower of Faith."

My comment:

This would fit what I have heard from many Catholics who were young adults at the time of the Council and from pastors who deal with them. One after another has told me "I was X (50, 60, 70) years old before I understood that it was about relationship with God and not primarily about rules."

And it wasn't just a problem for the laity. Last week I came across stunning description by an elderly Jesuit of his experience of the Spiritual Exercises while in formation in the 1950's. In those days, the Exercises were always given en masse as preached retreats to a large group. As he put it:

The idea of one on one direction of the Spiritual Exercises never entered our minds during all those years. . . . I am not assigning blame. No one knew any better. None of us were operating out of an experience based belief that God wants to engage each one of us in a personal relationship."

Ignatius's original practice of giving the Exercises to individuals was rediscovered and recovered by the Jesuits in the 60's and 70's.

While I know that there were many exceptions, the overall pre-VII Catholic culture that the majority of ordinary lay men and women seemed to have encountered in the majority of ordinary parishes was one of "routine formalism and narrow piety." In
Guardini's words: "too much outward show and too little inner reality."

Christian institutions, no matter how successful or venerable, can not ultimately survive a sustained dearth of intentional discipleship. Catholic identity is a wholly inadequate substitute for discipleship. God has no grandchildren.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

St. Thomas More's Family Portrait

Check this out. It is a beautiful multi-media exploration of the the 1593 painting (based upon Hans Holbein's 1520's sketch) of St. Thomas More and his extended family.

You can zoom in to see every detail, read bios of each family member and learn about the clothing, architecture, furniture, garden, and books that are portrayed in the painting. Thomas More fans like myself and history buffs in general will love it.

It is provided by the amazing Victoria and Albert museum in London. The V & A website has a dazzling collection of "micro-sites" such as the At Home in Rennaisance Italy microsite.

St. Patrick was Not Irish

Read this essay by David Alexander, Man With Black Hat

"Patrick was not Irish, and on his Feast Day, we do not celebrate being Irish; we celebrate being Catholic."

Fostering Curiosity About Christ

I'm just finishing up a presentation that I'll be doing next month at the Evangelical Catholic Institute.

I'll be speaking about charisms (naturlich!) but also about recognizing pre-discipleship levels of spiritual maturity. Since this last subject involves all new material, I went over my presentation with Fr. Mike (in CS for 36 hours between missions).

One of the issues that I address is how to foster curiosity about Christ in the unchurched or non-believing. Not first curiosity about the Church or the Catholic faith - but about the head of the Church and the center of the faith: Jesus Christ.

I started with this list of suggested ways from the work of Doug Schapp:

  1. Seeing the faith lived out in a concrete and practical way (work with the poor, etc.)
  2. Experiencing genuine Christian community
  3. Speaking of our struggles and sharing how Christ has responded
  4. Asking good questions, raising spiritual topics
  5. Telling stories of Christ’s work in our life and the lives of others
The list looked good but we both turned to one another and said, "yes, but the chances of any of these happening in an average Catholic community are pretty low."

We don't ask about and we don't talk to fellow practicing Catholics about our relationship with God, so what are the chances we'd look for ways to ask someone who is unchurched about their spiritual journey? We are developing a simple process to teach Catholics how to do so in a non-threatening manner but it isn't the norm, for sure.

So 3 - 5 are unlikely except in very specialized groups or settings (we routinely ask in our gifts interview process and find people ready to talk, but so often they tell us this is the first time in their life that they have ever shared X with another person).

We knew that 1 & 2 would be much more comfortable ideas for Catholics, but how practical are they? Lay Catholics seldom experience genuine Christian community that transcends the family. And how many of us live such radiantly Christ-like lives that just being around us in daily life generates curiosity about Christ?

The remaining possibility on the list was serving the poor which many Catholics do through groups like St. Vincent de Paul.

Any ideas? How would you seek to foster genuine curiosity about Jesus in someone who was truly unchurched?

Poor Mass Attendance in Mexico

From Catholic News Service:

In a city where 90% say they are Catholic, only 6 -9% attend mass regularly on Sunday.

A report published by the Archdiocese of Mexico City said only 6 percent to 9 percent of its Catholics attend Sunday Mass regularly. The report, which was written by the archdiocesan information director, Carlos Villa Roiz, said the archdiocese's churches are packed for Christmas, Ash Wednesday and popular saints' feast days.

If all the archdiocese's Catholics attended Mass, the archdiocese would be challenged to meet the demand, said the report published in the archdiocese's weekly bulletin March 11. "If all Catholics attended Sunday Mass, the (churches) of Mexico City would be inadequate, and priests would have to direct Mass outdoors," it said. Mexico City and the surrounding metropolitan area form one of the world's largest urban conglomerations."

There isn't a single country where, if all the resident Catholics showed up at Mass on a given Sunday, the church wouldn't be completely overwhelmed. We complain of priestly shortages now and sacramental overload. What would we do if even the majority of our people decided to return to the practice of the faith?

It would be a nice problem to have. Christmas and Easter all year round.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Beauty of Language

I've been in love with language for about as long as I can remember (knowing me, it probably happened in utero). There is a beauty to its cadence, the lush rhythm of phonemes and morphemes, the geography of its syntax, the compelling pulse of meaning and intimation--language has captivated me! Used well, language is scintillating, it's sharp as Excalibur and precise as any laser scalpel. Whether its poetry or essay, the beauty of language transcends genre or idiom--it even transcends the particular language family it's in (I think German is a beautiful language, for example).

That's why I pay attention whenever a master of language speaks about that which I love. While surfing the net, I stumbled across this quote by Ursula K. LeGuin:

“Socrates said, ‘The misuse of language induces evil in the soul.’ He wasn’t talking about grammar. To misuse language is to use it the way politicians and advertisers do, for profit, without taking responsibility for what the words mean. Language used as a means to get power or make money goes wrong: it lies. Language used as an end in itself, to sing a poem or tell a story, goes right, goes towards the truth.”
- A Few Words to a Young Writer

Language is a gift that comes, ultimately, from God Himself--a way in which we can explore the human heart and the world around us, a way in which we can experience Truth and share that experience like early man shared fire. As with gifts, we must use it wisely, taking responsibility for our stewardship. LeGuin rightly warns against a co-opting of language, a perversion of its purpose.

While there certainly is a science to marketing and ad copy, there is no artistry in propaganda--and considerable peril, if you listen to Socrates. Language can wound and vilify, it can feed hatred and spin webs of deceit, clouding truth and confusing the conscience, dulling the sharp edges of right and wrong. Like digitalis, language is a medicine that, used incorrectly, can kill. Christ warned us not to "be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna." (Matthew 10:28). Language is the chief weapon of those who kill the soul.

And yet, all words are, in an ultimate sense, reflections of The Word, through whom all things were made. Despite the danger, we are called to use this gift to help heal and restore the world, making songs "from the Shattered Drum" that is language. And so, in my own small and humble way, I will strive to do just that.

One beautiful word at a time.

Blasphemy is its Own Punishment

Last week, Mark Shea, over at Catholic & Enjoying It, reflected briefly (and pithily) on the sin of blasphemy, spurred on by comic Sarah Silverman's sketch where she gives God the brush-off after having sex with Him. Mark writes:

It is amazing how so many people think that blasphemy is the most courageous of the sins. They all seem to have some fantasy that either a mob of Christians is going to string them up for their transgressive courage, or the irritable old gentleman in the white beard is going to finally lose his temper and start throwing thunderbolts. They don't *get* that blasphemy, like all sin, is its own punishment. That, like all sin, it darkens the intellect, hardens the heart, and further disorders the appetites. It also, like all sin, cuts you off from the love you've wanted all your life and surrounds you with various fakes (whom you know to be fakes at some level) and make the universe a colder, deader place than you already have told yourself it is. The apotheosis of this is the loneliness and coldness of hell, which is not some place God "sends" you because he's a vain popinjay who is ticked about affronts to his ego, but because despite every attempt to love you (including taking three nails and a lance for you) you remained the pathetic sort of person who prefered to write "pee pee" on the bathroom wall and pat yourself on the back for your transgressive courage.

God have mercy, not just on Sarah Silverman, but on a culture like ours that lionizes such juvenile drivel. It's a good thing we're on the side of Righteousness and not simply a decaying relativist culture which believes that Might Makes Right, or else we might have cause to think that Islam is a scourge like the Assyrian that, in the Providence of God, is meant to bring us to our senses. But since we're alright, Jack, there's no need to consider such things.
Most folks nowadays would probably just ask, "What's the big deal?" And that's a little of what Mark is trying to get at. American culture has, overall, been deadened and darkened by repeated sinfulness--to the degree that pee-soaked statues of Mary and bits like that of Sarah Silverman are seen either as harmless or as brave attempts at noble acts of transgression against a dominant, repressive ideology.


That's why it is more important than ever for baptized lay men and women to support, nurture, and create artistic works that offer beauty to the world. We need to engage with the culture, not simply with another offensive in the culture wars, but by living lives that express beauty and love, offering witness to the dignity of the human person and the majesty and beauty of the God who Loves us even to His death.

That's Christian martyrdom.

Notice how it doesn't involve bombs strapped to our chests?

The Real St. Patrick

Check out Irish Abroad, the website of the Irish Diaspora

They have lots of links regarding St. Patrick, his Day and the celebrations around the world.

But if you haven't seen this before, take a moment to read St. Patrick's Confession which begins, in words that are so clearly not of this age, you can almost hear the sea pounding against the Irish shore 16 centuries ago.

"I am Patrick, a sinner, most unlearned, the least of all the faithful, and utterly despised by many. My father was Calpornius, a deacon, son of Potitus, a priest, of the village Bannavem Taburniæ; he had a country seat nearby, and there I was taken captive.

I was then about sixteen years of age. I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity to Ireland with many thousands of people---and deservedly so, because we turned away from God, and did not keep His commandments, and did not obey our priests, who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought over us the wrath of his anger and scattered us among many nations, even unto the utmost part of the earth, where now my littleness is placed among strangers.

And there the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my abjection, and mercy on my youth and ignorance, and watched over me before I knew Him, and before I was able to distinguish between good and evil, and guarded me, and comforted me as would a father his son."

The Horror of Evangelization

There has been much discussion here and elsewhere on what exactly is "evangelization" and why are Catholics, unlike Protestants, so uncomfortable with the idea of proclaiming Christ?

Here is a very interesting post by a self-described "liberal" Catholic in his first year in a seminary with the Paulists.

Now, as many of us know, the Paulists were founded to evangelize. Specifically to evangelize American Protestants. But this whole evangelization thing is making this young man squirm. Especially when the Paulists send him, as apparently is their normal practice, to spend a week at the Overseas Ministry Study Center, an evangelical missionary study center in New Haven.

"So we are spending a week with evangelical Protestants to learn how to convert other people to Christianity; it is hard not to begin this seminar without an eyebrow raised. Not the Protestant part of course, but the evangelical part... yet this has been part of Paulist formation for years. . .

After freshening up at the hotel, we had back to the center for dinner and start to get to know the other attendees during dinner. Most of them have come to this seminar from all over the globe from serving in missions for different denominations. I meet one couple and tell them that I used to work for Catholic Relief Services and while I myself never got to go abroad, asked if their work ever crossed paths. The guy responded that their paths did not overlap too much because CRS’s relief work did not involve evangelization, and that it was important to both provide relief services in conjunction with spreading the Word.

That took me aback somewhat. I have done a lot of work with the poor through the Catholic Church over the years, and the one constant in the organizations that I have been involved with was that we would not push our religion on others. We would of course not be ashamed of who we are as Catholics and would share our faith if asked and as appropriate, but there were going to be no price tags on the work we would do for others. No required prayer meetings, no required testimonials; the poor have been stepped on enough. At the same time, this is also a time in my life where my relationship and understanding of God is on somewhat rocky ground, so if I go into a “faith off” with this guy, I suspect I’m going to lose, so I hold back. Plus, a part of me envies his certitude."

Notice his assumptions:

Evangelization = "pushing our religion on others", putting a "price tag" on our work, visions of "required prayer meetings and testimonials"

As though evangelization was forcing homeless men in a shelter to attend prayers before they could eat dinner. And yet, I know that the very sophisticated folks at OMSC (a very well-known institution that draws some of the foremost evangelical missionary scholar and strategists in the world) are proposing nothing of the kind.

His fears are a century out of date. The echoes of a much earlier generation of liberal Christians critique of fundamentalism in the early 20th century. Passed on from generation to generation in vague assumptions and horror stories. That make any attempt to proclaim Christ seem automatically simultaneously oppressive and laughable.

Whatever he ends up discerning regarding God's call and the Paulists, I hope he hangs around long enough to find out that that isn't what evangelization is about.

A Guide to the Lay Movements

Yet another lay community devoted to evangelization has been approved by the Pontifical Council for the Laity. The Shalom Community was founded in Brazil in 1982 to evangelize youth and to counter the influence of liberation theology according to this New York Times piece on the evangelization of youth written at the time of Pope John Paul II's death.
Maria Emmir, one of the founders, says that Shalom Community has about 50,000 members.

Zenit has publishing a short description of all the approved lay movements and EWTN has a list here. There are 76 listed. It is fascinating to see the breadth of the list. Not all are conservative politically. A number are only 25 -30 years old.

Some are well-known, like Communion and Liberation, Regnum Christ, Sant'Egidio, and the Legion of Mary. I noticed that the Cooperators of Opus Dei are listed but of course, not Opus Dei iteself, since it is not a lay movement. But some are unexpected.

Did you know that the Cursillo movement, Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services (the international office of the charismatic renewal in Rome), Marriage Encounter, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are officially approved "lay movements?"

More of us are part of or "cooperators" with lay movements than we knew!

Check out less familiar movements like the Emmanuel Community and Foyers de Charité.

And this one, whom I had never heard of: The Association of Missionaries of Political Charity:

"Twenty years ago, a man named Alfred Luciani founded the Association of Missionaries of Political Charity, an organization devoted to the promotion of Catholic social teaching in the world of politics. Cardinal Pironio recognized the group for its efforts to "promote and cultivate authentic Christian vocations toward political engagement."

Thus the canonical recognition of the group is, in effect, an acknowledgment by the Church that the members of the Association have a calling to work within the secular world for the promotion of the Gospel. Cardinal Pironio explained that under the new Code of Canon Law-- informed by the call of Vatican II for lay people to work within the secular world to transform their society-- recognizes the validity and importance of such lay vocations.

For Alfredo Luciani, the founder and president of the Association, the new canonical recognition is "an extraordinary event." Working as a Christian in the political world, he said, is a form of "service for the common good." Such a calling, he insisted, should be presented to the laity as a form of sanctification and evangelization. Toward that end, his Association insists that lay people must receive the political training and spiritual formation they need to make their work a form of apostolate, guided not only by good intentions but by the highest professional standards as well.

Imagine serous formation for Catholic politicians. We could use some of that in this country!

The Flip Side of Nairobi

How odd that just as I finished the long piece on parish life in the slums of Nairobi, the NY Times came out with a tourist's guide to the city which gives you a sense of the city from the other side of the tracks.

You would never know from the article that 62% of the population lives in slums.

But you can visit Karen Blixen's (Isak Dinesen of Out of Africa fame) home, now a museum and soak up that famous view of the Ngong Hills.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Parish life - African style

John Allen was writing from Africa last week and spoke of how the extraordinary growth of Catholicism there will give Africa real influence in the Church of the 21st century. Often, in our debates around St. Blog's, we seem to lose track of how many millions of Catholics live profoundly different lives and how different their burning issues are.

This is a glimpse of life in St. John parish in Korogcho, an illegal squatter’s community in Nairobi, Kenya. Korogcho houses 120,000 people crammed with a single square kilometer. Korogcho is one of the 200 slums of Nairobi in which 2.5 million people live – 63% of the city’s population. St. John's is part of a network of 13 parishes that attempt to serve the slum dwellers of Nairobi.

70% of the population of Korogcho is under 30. There are no public services. Huge numbers of street children hide in Korogcho to escape police round-ups. The most relevant problems are: prostitution, unemployment, drug addiction, alcoholism, rapes, criminality, domestic violence.

St. John’s parish cares for 3,000 practicing Catholics distributed in 26 small Christian communities about Korogcho. Two of the communities are made up of scavengers and Tanzanian lepers.

There are two priests, two women lay missioners and two pre-noviate Jesuit aspirants. An informal school serving 1000 children is beside the chapel. 16 lay run service groups focus on ministry in specific areas such as Justice and Peace, Liturgy, Catechists, the Poor, the Sick, Alcoholic Anonymous and Widows.

The two Masses on Sunday use the Zaire rite, which was approved by the Vatican in 1988.

(A modified version of the Zaire rite was used in the Opening Mass of the African Synod at St. Peter’s in 1994. Tthe entrance rite took 30 minutes as the celebrant and male and female dancers danced up the aisle and around the altar. The reading of the responsorial psalm drew from the ancient Ethiopian rite and had the three kings sheltered by a multi-colored umbrella. The Gospel was read according to the even older Coptic rite which featured clashing symbols.)

Every year, 80 – 100 catechumens, who have been prepared by 15 well-trained lay catechists, enter the parish of Korogcho at Easter. Two hour workshops are offered every week on specific topics for all the community. The topics reflect the broad needs of the community: Aids, the sacraments, alcohol/drugs, Bible, visit to the sick, counseling, etc.

Surprisingly, there is a Taize community in Korogcho but the service is very different. Here is a description of the Mass for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

"Now the dormitory-cum-prayerroom is packed with children and about 20 adults. In one corner of the room there is the Blessed Sacrament. Above this is an icon from the Coptic Church: Christ as a brother to people. Brother Gregoire is also present. He sleeps here, but he works in town during the day. The few belongings the brothers have, their clothes, their blankets and their sleeping mats, hang on wires from the ceiling. In this way they escape the rats. The roof is supported by two poles in the middle of the room.

I have to step carefully over several children so as to reach the small altar-table. Many of the children demand attention; they even try to shake hands with me while I try to put on my vestments. Martin van Asseldonk comes in. The children know him and several want to sit on his lap, but he has only place for two. The wooden shutters are open. A young man, slightly drunk, leans in through one of the windows, still debating whether or not he will attend.

With an opening song we easily drown the noise of the radio next door. This radio is always on when we celebrate Mass here. This evening we celebrate the feast of the previous day, the feast of Peter and Paul, two pillars of the early Church. I try to find out who is called Peter, Paul, Paulina, Petronella, Petra or Paula. This is their feast day too. Hands go up and we applaud all of them. The face of a small Paul or Peter in front of me lights up in response.

They start singing again. No, they don't sing solemnly or beautifully as one might expect in a monastery of Taizé. These adults and children sing the way life is in Mathare Valley, raw and loud. They are not nice, sweet little children. They are restless, in some ways demanding, craving the care and attention they have a right to, but which they don't seem to get in the broken homes they grow up in.

At times, when I get here, I wish we could do something very beautiful, so that they would all look and listen in amazement. But they aren't easily amazed. A boy of 15 beats the drum vigorously, as if he is accompanying a group of traditional dancers.

We read about those disciples of Christ, Peter and Paul, whose lives are to be an inspiration to us today. At the same time people can listen to the news on the radio next door.

The two poles in the middle of the room have been dressed up today. With the help of blankets, faces drawn on old paper, cement sacks, and beards made of sisal, they have become contemporary statues of Peter and Paul.

Denis tries to explain this and what it might mean to us. At the same time somebody else is trying to sell us Blue Band margarine on the radio. I must admit that technically the man who is advertising Blue Band is much better than Denis. But we easily shut him up with a very loud version of the Creed. The advertiser can’t beat that one. Passers-by stop and look through the window. The half-drunk man, who seems to have decided to stay, scratches his head thoughtfully as we pray for people who are in distress. Now and again he joins in with the singing. Many others have gathered at the window and the Mass is now half in the street.

The wishing of peace to one another before Holy Communion is rather chaotic; everybody wants to shake hands and everybody, especially the children, climbs and falls over one another in an effort to do this. Together with Brother Denis, I give Communion. For some we have to reach very far over all these singing children. People hand the chalice to one another. During the last song, after the Blessing, some adults and Brother Gregoire start leading the children out. Some don't want to leave; they protest that the song isn't finished yet.

As I walk home I still think about the service in the 'monastery' of Taizé. 'Beautiful', 'devout', 'solemn', 'meditative' - all these words have nothing to do with it. Perhaps the words 'real' or 'true to life' describe it better. In any case this liturgy doesn’t stand apart from everyday life in Mathare Valley.

Oprah, Albino Assassins, and "The Secret"

Emily Stimpson of St. Blogs wrote this very funny piece on the latest Oprah "book of the moment" for Our Sunday Visitor.

"What she (the author) discovered (after a mere year of research) was "The Law of Attraction.”

"According to her book, this “law” was practiced by historical greats such as Plato, Galileo and Einstein, and has been “discovered, coveted, hidden, lost and recovered” repeatedly for the past 4,000 years. The book also claims the Catholic Church worked assiduously through the centuries to keep “The Secret” a secret."

The secret that may not tell its name?

Think positive thoughts and positive things will happen to you.

My favorite Emily line?

" So, what is this “Law of Attraction” that even armies of albino monks could not keep off Oprah?"

But the most gripping theological question comes from Michael McCallion, professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit:

“What happens if a teenager channels all his energy into visualizing a bright red bike into existence, while his parents channel all their energy into visualizing that he doesn’t get that bike?”

I feel an existential crisis coming on. Guess I'll have to take the rest of the week off to deal with it - and St. Paddy's Day, of course.

St. Patrick's Day in Ireland

Ah, the good old days - say, before 1980.

You might pin a bit of shamrock to your clothes but wearing a lotta green is actually bad luck - because green is the favorite color of fairies - er, I mean, the Good People. (Note to self: The Good People hate it when you use the "f" word.)

No one was dying the Shannon green. Partly because the original color associated with St. Patrick was blue.

And even more staggering. You couldn't get a drink in Ireland on St. Paddy's Day. "According to Mahony, Irish pubs used to be closed on two days of the year: Good Friday and St. Patrick's Day."

The Irish-turned-teetotallers on St. Patrick's day. The mind boggles.

You had the day off, went to Mass, and had a family meal. It was a religious holiday.

It is easy to understand that the whole American approach can be a bit of shock to the true Irish man or woman - although our approach to the day has now jumped the pond and taken root in Dublin.

And Now for a Very Different Kind of Art Form

The Op-Ed.

There is a fascinating article in the New York Times about a course that trains women to successfully write and publish opinion editorials. The teacher of the course, Catherine Orenstein, is concerned that 65 - 75% of unsolicited manuscripts at major newspapers come from men. But imagine the possible impact from lay apostles, men and women, who seriously take up this art form.

“It’s a teachable form,” Ms. Orenstein said recently over coffee and eggs. “It’s not like writing Hemingway. You show people the basics of a good argument, what constitutes good evidence, what’s a news hook, what’s the etiquette of a pitch.”

“I try to convey the idea that there is a responsibility,” she said. “Op-ed pages are so enormously powerful. It’s one of the few places open to the public. Where else is someone like me going to get access? It’s not like I can call up the White House: ‘Hello?’ ”

Ms. Orenstein also makes some observations about women's motivations which I have also noticed on the road.

She asked: Could every woman . . . name one specific subject that she is an expert in and say why?

"Of the next four women who spoke, three started with a qualification or apology. “I’m really too young to be an expert in anything,” said Caitlin Petre, 23.

“Let’s stop,” Ms. Orenstein said. “It happens in every single session I do with women, and it’s never happened with men.” Women tend to back away from “what we know and why we know it,” she said."

In my experience, Catholic women, especially older women, also tend to resist the idea of being specially gifted, of being called in some way that makes them stand apart from the group. They are the ones who tell me "I know what my gift is but I got so much positive feed-back about it that I stopped using it for fear I would become proud." They are the ones who ask "Can I use a charism at work, to make money?"

Answer number one: It's not about you. Really. It is about what God wants to reach that other person through you.

Answer number two. You are a secular apostle, called to evangelize and heal the cultures and structures of the world and one of the primary ways you do that is through your work! So, yes, please use your charisms in the marketplace.

So, fellow apostles - men and women - consider the ministry of the op ed. Help shape the conversation. Where else is someone like you or me going to get access?

Excellence is Not Optional!

In the wonderful discussion that has ensued in the comment box of the Christian Music post, one of the things we have been talking about is the issue of quality. I've been thinking and reflecting quite a bit on the notion of quality and ministry (not just in music, but in all areas of apostolic endeavor). For a variety of reasons, the unspoken Catholic cultural norm seems to be that poor or sub-standard quality is acceptable because what we are doing is a ministry and we shoud be grateful that a number of folks have stepped up to volunteer. It's almost as if we are embarassed to hold ourselves to a high standard.

I think, first off, that part of the issue is how we view the work of ministry--the notion that individuals are simply volunteers and not competent lay apostles called and gifted by God for very particular and powerful vocations in the world. Seen as simply volunteers, men and women get a pass for just showing up. This happened frequently in my last parish. When I remarked to one of the leaders of a music ministry group that we should have higher expectations (and formation) for those who help lead musical worship at Mass, her response was to say, "Well, they're just volunteers; they don't do this for a living, you know."

And yet, if we take the theology of Stewardship seriously, we are called to give our first fruits, the best we have to offer, to the Lord and His work! What I hear when I engage with the theology of Stewardship is that excellence is not optional. What we do for the Lord (which is to say, all that we do) should be undertaken wholeheartedly, surrendering all that we have to the Lord for the sake of other people.

This excellence needs to extend not just to "product" (what we are offering), but also to "process" (how we are offering it). Why? Because if we are serious about the Lord's command to go out and be salt and leaven for the world, we must compete with the other offerings that the world presents to men and women, offerings that are often packaged carefully and have a great deal of resources put behind them.

Now, I know there are folks here who are reading this and thinking that becoming too molded to the way the world does things could water down the gospel we are presenting, but excellence in quality does not automatically mean abandonment of gospel truths. I'm not advocating profligate spending to make things slick and shiny for the sake of being slick and shiny. Simple presentation is effective--and there is a world of difference between simple presentation and poor presentation. If we can't be bothered to present the richness of our relationship with God well, why should anyone be bothered to listen?

The reality of lay apostolates being what they are, I'm also not advocating the need for perfection right out of the gate. In the early days of the Catherine of Siena Institute, for example, I'm sure things were held together by duct tape and prayer. However, a committment to continued excellence and improvement of what we have to offer (that is to say, the principles of solid stewardship) is fundamental to the living out of our vocations. What God has called us to do, He calls us to do well!

Excellence in process is also central to our response to God. The principles of Stewardship call us to work toward the maximum result from the resources we have been given (check out the Parable of the Talents sometime). Part of that comes from how we manage the ministries we have been given (whether a "formal" apostolate or the (super)natural extension of just living our lives.

In the current issue of Christianity Today, there is an article on Rich Stearns, the current CEO of WorldVision, one of the largest Poverty Relief Agencies in the world. In that article, Jonathan Reckford of Habitat for Humanity has this to say: times, people in the nonprofit world believe that being grassroots and faithful is enough--that results and good management don't matter . . .The idea that an organization that's using other people's money to serve God would be less well run than a business or corporation is atrocious. . . .We ought to have much higher standards than the business world."
We wouldn't think of running our households poorly, or in approaching our careers in a lackadaisical or sub-standard fashion. So, we do we tolerate that same approach to ministry?

To be sure, we don't just operate in the world on our own human resources. We have the power of God working with us. But just as we must cooperate with grace for our own salvation, offering a human response to His Gift, so too must we cooperate with God for the salvation of others, giving to God our committment, our talent, our gifts--our very best--for the sake of others. This union of divine action and human will yields powerful results both in personal holiness and in the sanctification of the world

Poor and sub-standard quality in ministry does not honor God, nor does it honor the men and women we have been called to serve. The problem is that we, as a People, don't really reflect on this reality that much. And so, we have a culture that tolerates and, in subtle ways, encourages mediocrity. We must work tirelessly to reverse that trend and help build cultures and structures that see excellence in ministry as the normative response to God's call.

In that way, we can all hope to hear the voice of Christ at our lives' ends saying, "Well done, my good and faithful servant.

Who Knows But That You Were Raised Up For Such a Time As This

I've been meaning to blog about this group for some time: Talk about lay apostles!

It's the International Justice Mission. They are an ecumenical group of Christian human rights professionals who rescue victims of violence, sexual exploitation, slavery, and oppression. IMJ was founded in 1997 by Gary Haugen. As a lawyer for the US Department of Justice, Haugen was loaned to the UN to direct their investigation into the Rwandan genocide. The atrocities he witnesses prompted him to found IMJ.

Watch this. It is a talk that a young woman, an IMJ lawyer (and Jewish convert to Christianity), gave at last December's mammoth Urbana gathering (the world's largest missions conference - 22,000 Christian students exploring their future in all kinds of faith-related ministry or work and yes, there are many Catholic students among them.).

She tells the story of a Christian teenager who was tricked into sexual slavery and was rescued by IMJ. She begged God to be rescued before her one year anniversary in sexual slavery. When the IMJ team entered her room at the brothell, they found that that she had written
Psalm 27: 1 -3 on the wall. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."

Last year, I received a letter from a newly retired pharmicist who, as a result of going through the Called & Gifted discernment process, is now in Tanzania, training local care-givers to administer AIDS medications. Without this training in the only medical school in the country, the World Health Organization won't give the AIDS meds. As I read her letter, it dawned upon me that this woman's obedience could change the lives of a whole generation and the course of a whole nation. When I told her story in a women's small group in my parish, one woman said in amazement: "She's like Esther, who knows but what she was raised up for such a time as this!"

I often think "who knows but what she (or he) was raised up for such a time as this!" as I travel about the country, teaching lay Catholics (and other Christians who come) how to discern how God has called and gifted them for the sake of others. I thought of it again as I watched the video above. Sometimes I hear it said to me in my weakest and most discouraged moments.

Right now, there is someone out there who is waiting for what you have been given to give. And their life hangs in the balance. You may not know them yet. They may not even have been born yet. But in God's Providence, you are the one. You are the one who has been raised up by God for exactly such a time as this. For such a person as this.

It is time to take your place.

More on Christian Music

*Pant, pant.

I’ve been struggling to keep up with my life over the past week, but I need to add my voice to the very exciting conversation re: Keith’s post on Christian music. I apologize in advance for the length of this post; you might get yourself a glass or cup of whatever you like to drink and then settle in for a bit.

I have an extensive background in Christian music: I was born and raised a Baptist, and I’m well acquainted with traditional Protestant hymnody as well as the earliest CCM albums and artists. I became a charismatic Evangelical in my early twenties and am well versed in the praise chorus repertoire. I’ve always loved pop music, and my ear was trained by Top 40 radio in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I’ve played the piano since I was five and have been writing songs since I was fifteen. I have a degree in music theory and composition from a well-known East Coast college. I worked in Christian retailing and for a Christian record company in California in the early ‘90s, the heady days of Amy Grant’s and Michael W. Smith’s first CHR crossover hits. Finding myself dismayed and heartbroken over Evangelicals’ ambivalence toward music and other artistic achievements of Western culture, I began studying art history and iconography; from there I discovered church history and uncovered a truly Christian theology of art, and it was this (among other beautiful things) that led me to convert to the Catholic faith with my husband in 1999. I’ve sung with a gospel choir in a Pentecostal church, a Renaissance madrigal ensemble at Christmastime in a shopping mall, a Christian rock band in a church basement, and an experimental electronic vocal trio in a downtown punk club. Right now, the original piano/vocal songs I play in coffeehouses and at open mics are mostly Joni Mitchell/Carly Simon/Karen Carpenter-flavored, with liberal sprinklings of Enya, Tori Amos, and Sam Phillips thrown in.

And… I’ve been doing church music all – my – life. I can’t escape it. It pursues me; it dogs my steps everywhere I go. It’s not that I mind so much; it’s just that – well, my relationship to church music is a bit complex. Sometimes it seems to take the form of a beautiful wolfhound that trots gracefully beside me on the path; sometimes it’s like a springer spaniel puppy that keeps throwing itself under and between my feet, tangling the leash around my shins; sometimes it’s like a overcaffeinated Chihuahua who’s been cooped up all day and loudly, nervously, incessantly yaps at me when I step in the door.

Since I was in grade school, I’ve always sung in church. From the time I was 12, it was expected that when my family went to visit Grandma (2 hours north of us in Washington State) over a weekend, I would be prepared to sing “a special” for the Sunday service in her tiny Plymouth Brethren church. No one ever implied I had a choice in the matter; the question was always “What are you going to sing today?” rather than “Will you sing today?” As I landed in different churches according to the various twists and turns in my spiritual journey, when people discovered I was a singer and musician, it was never long before I was pushed up onto the platform to serve regularly in some musical capacity. In nearly every church I’ve attended, when people hear me singing in the congregation, they turn around and say, “You have a nice voice. You should sing in the choir.”

I know I sound horribly ungrateful for all this support; I appreciate the fact that I can be a blessing to people in church, but what I need to say is this: Being surrounded by this perspective, this idea that my musical gifts are meant solely for church use, that church music is the holiest thing I can do as a Christian musician, kept me from seeing God’s actual plan for my life for a long time.

Through years of struggle, study, prayer, and encouragement from trusted friends, I have come to the realization that my vocation is profoundly secular in nature. I do enjoy singing in church, and I know it blesses other people, but it’s not the true heart of my vocation. What gives me the most joy is being able to play a “somebody-done-somebody-wrong” song in a dimly-lit coffee shop late at night, that touches another human heart with sympathy and understanding, and shows a light on the pathway toward healing and hope – a pathway that I trust will lead ultimately to Christ. I see myself as a sower of seed, a “pre-evangelist” in that sense. A flashlight in a dark hallway. Something like that.

In order to have some credibility with nonbelievers, I’m compelled to do what Flannery O’Connor did with her writing – not to shy away from unsavory characters or violent endings, but rather to portray the whole of the human condition, to capture the sadness and despair of the soul without God, to acknowledge that “grace has to cut before it can heal”. The “shouting to the deaf” and the “startling figures” that must be drawn for secular audiences aren’t appropriate for church music, of course. When I realized and accepted the fact that these types of songs were coming out of my heart and prayers for a reason, for God’s reasons, I had to reorient myself in terms of my career.

That’s not to say that I think all Christian/Catholic musicians ought to be duking it out with Coldplay for an airplay spot on VH1 (though I think there should definitely be some of us doing that). I don’t mean to disrespect any musician or performer who senses a call from God to serve His people within the church, to challenge and encourage Christian youth, or to teach and enlighten folks using familiar Christian/Catholic language and symbology. God knows we need you, each one of you, and we surely need all the support we can muster for one another. I’m certainly not against church music ministry; I still cantor for funerals, weddings, and Taize prayer services, for example.

However, it’s my fervent hope that we can continue this conversation about Christian music, church music, and artistic charisms in general, broadening its scope to include the myriad ways in which God uses art and artists in His plan of redemption – not just of the entire person, but of the entire culture and temporal order in which we live. I strongly support Keith’s idea of forming some sort of formation network, taking into account the different spheres of the Church and of culture in which we as Catholic artists are called to minister.

Here’s a link to my website. It was actually built in 2005, so hopefully it won’t bother Keith with memories of 1997. ;^) There’s streaming audio of my professionally-produced Christmas album, as well as music from some previous custom recordings and links to published articles, pictures, and biographical info. I have a new EP of originals that I haven’t got up on the site yet; I’ll be sure to keep you posted when that’s done. I also have a press kit available (through SonicBids, highly recommended); hit me with your email address, and I’ll send it out.

Here also is a link to a piece I wrote a while back in response to my friend Michael McNamara’s question regarding Catholic contemporary music: Is it getting any better? Those of you who do Catholic-themed pop or rock music should contact Michael and see if he’ll have you on his radio program, Cross Signals (just picked up by the new Catholic satellite radio station out of New York).

And God bless you, Nick Cardilino (in the earlier comments thread – can’t figure out how to link to your comment) – I attend a Christian songwriters’ group under the auspices of an “Emerging Church” congregation that desperately needs a more solid focus, and your ideas are just perfect. I hope they respond with courage to the challenge to take what we do more seriously, to write better songs and help each other do that, rather than continuing down the ego-centered path of the “mutual admiration society”.

Looking forward to your comments!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Baptizing the Pagan Organ

In light of the vigorous discussion of the dilemma of contemporary Catholic praise and worship here over the past two days, I found this interesting:

From the July, 1996 issue of Speculum, the journal of the Medieval Academy of America comes this fascinating review of The Organ in Western Culture, 750 - 1250 by Peter Williams (Cambridge University Press)

"The organ's status as a fixture of western churches, Catholic and Protestant alike, is centuries old. . . this situation ranks among the more remarkable, even ironic accidents of history. Direct ancestors of the modern organ . . .were known to the Mediterranean world long before the birth of Christ. But the social settings for those instruments in Roman times were those the early Christian Church was most determined to reject: wedding feasts with their suggestive dancing; night serenades, games, and imperial ceremonies."

so "How did the organ become accepted by the Church?"

William's answer: it is very complicated and much "common knowledge" on the subject is anachronistic and without foundation.

As has happened throughout history, secular gifts can and are adapted for use by the Church in her worship and mission in remarkably creative ways. After all, as Wesley famously quipped: "Why should the devil have all the good music?"

Oswald Sorbino's response:

"How interesting! The excerpt sounds like a description of the way many rigorists describe why the guitar or the piano or the drums should never be used in the liturgy. What happened to the sensual, pagan organ? It was baptized!

No surprise: Christ came to transform all things, and so He did and does. That is why the Church makes no hard and fast prohibitions as to musical instruments but leaves the decision to the discretion of the bishops based on the evolving standards of common opinion and usage, which are, obviously, by their very nature changeable.

Newman noted (my paraphrase) that to be immersed in history was to cease to be a Protestant. To read history is to cease to be a fanatical rigorist when it comes to liturgical musical instruments. I think the two mentalities: the historically Protestant and the rigorist mentalities are indeed related--both tend to deify and reify one partial aspect that they have abstracted from a complex reality, as the Donatists schismatics combatted by
St. Augustine in the fourth century, did. "

Oswald is currently a student at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. I have been invited to speak to the students in the New Evangelization program at Sacred Heart this fall. Perhaps I'll have a chance to meet a fellow blogger there!

Catholic Quote of the Day

"We need to rediscover that we Catholics are the original evangelicals, the original evangelists, the original experts in evangelization"

- Oswald Sorbino

Lay Communities to Evangelize Gypsies

Here's an interesting piece from the AP:

The Vatican's office for migrants issued a set of guidelines for priests, nuns and lay groups on preaching Catholicism to Gypsies. Gypsies are also known as Roma and live predominantly in Europe.

"The document said that Gypsies are by nature religious but that they often adopt the main confession of the country in which they live: Lutheran, Reformed, Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim or other. It said Gypsies often turned to non- mainstream Protestant groups, which the Vatican calls "sects."

"This constitutes a rather urgent call to open our arms to a population that, despite everything, constantly yearns to meet God," it said. Since Gypsies are spread out and often move around, the guidelines recommended that lay Catholic communities, rather than traditional parishes that are responsible for specific territorial areas, be mobilized to try to invite Gypsies in."

It is fascinating to see evidence of how seriously the Vatican now takes the laity as responsible for significant portions of the Church's life and mission. In the not so recent past, the unquestioned assumption would simply have been that religious orders would evangelize the Roma.

Of course, it probably also reflects that for several decades, the real impetus for evangelization has come from lay groups such as the charismatic renewal which has sponsored many schools of evangelization or the NeoCatechumenate or the Emmanuel Community which sponsors its wonderful English language School of Missions in Rome. Most religious orders (not all) have placed the proclamation of Christ at the bottom of their priorities since the 1960's.

It is only in the past 10 years that the Congretation for the Evangelization of Peoples started to publish global figures for the 2.7 million "Catechists"in the world as well as priests, bishops. seminarians, and religious.

I'd love to know how they arrive at that figure and who it includes (every volunteer CCD teacher in the world?) but I don't imagine it's very exact.

To Be a Witness

To be a witness is not to engage in propaganda. . .

To be a witness is to live your life in such a way
that it would not make sense if God did not exist.

- Cardinal Suhard

It's a Mountain Thing

It's official:

As of yesterday, Rocky Mountain High became the official second state song of Colorado.

While Take Me Home, Country Roads is already the official second state song of West Virginia

Wouldn't you know, we're holding Making Disciples this year in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia.

This John Denver connection thing is way scary. It is keeping me up nights.

But you know, the last time we were driving to the retreat center in West Virginia and the sun was setting over the Blue Ridge mountains and we crossed the Shenandoah and darn it if I didn't find myself humming "Almost heaven, West Virginia . . ."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Nurturing Converts

Over at Catholic Answers forum, their is a thread about why some converts feel like they have been "duped" by the realities of a typical catholic parish and how to help those newly-intitiated ground themselves in the catholic community.

Since we have spoken a bit about this topic, I thought that it would be good to bring it to the attention of the enlightened readers here at ID. :) So, go check out the thread by clicking here, and participate in the discussion if you feel so moved!


First, I want to apologize for not being around Intentional Disciples much recently. I've been really busy with things, trying to get a head start on tasks, knowing that I am going to be out of town for about five days starting next week.

Well, out of the country...

See, I'm going to Rome.

(And the chorus of the world's smallest violins begins to soothe my stress after learning of its cause.)

I can't promise much posting between now and when I return from my trip. But I will return bearing pictures of CL's papal audience and of Rome and Vatican City. Sherry, I'll bring pictures of Sopra Minerva when I return.

In the meantime, I will try to pop into the comment boxes more frequently and maybe a post or two. (Although I probably will devote whatever time I've got for blogging to get up the next two entries in my series at Integrity on Giussani's The Religious Sense.)

How Has the Eucharist Changed Your LIfe?

The way lay Catholics contribute to the development of doctrine is by sharing with the rest of the Church our experience of applying and living the teaching of the Church in our unique personal circumstances. In that way, we help the whole Church see more clearly the riches of the faith.

The Pope's new Apostolic Exhortation raises an important existential question: How has the Eucharist *really* impacted your life and faith?

Not at a intellectual or theological level - at a lived level. How has your encounter with Christ in the Eucharist changed you? healed you? enabled you to forgive, to love, to hope, to create, to live your vocation(s)?

I Win...

....the contest to be the first ID blogger to post on the Pope's new apostolic exhortation, SACRAMENTUM CARITATIS. Didn't know this was a contest? Too bad. :) Here is a snippet:

And because the world is "the field" (Mt 13:38) in which God plants his children as good seed, the Christian laity, by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, and strengthened by the Eucharist, are called to live out the radical newness brought by Christ wherever they find themselves. (219) They should cultivate a desire that the Eucharist have an ever deeper effect on their daily lives, making them convincing witnesses in the workplace and in society at large. (220) I encourage families in particular to draw inspiration and strength from this sacrament. The love between man and woman, openness to life, and the raising of children are privileged spheres in which the Eucharist can reveal its power to transform life and give it its full meaning. (221) The Church's pastors should unfailingly support, guide and encourage the lay faithful to live fully their vocation to holiness within this world which God so loved that he gave his Son to become its salvation (cf. Jn 3:16).

Read the rest here.

What Evangelicals Owe Catholics

There's a lovely appreciative post at The Evangelical Outpost on the subject of what Evangelicals Owe Catholics. The author isn't about to convert but he is serious and a very nice conversation is ensuing. Three areas that he highlights:

Marian devotion (surprising, no?)

"Our complete renunciation of Marian theology, however, often causes me to downplay the importance of Mary herself, indisputably one of the most incredible humans who every lived. How can we not be in awe of this woman when we realize she held God in her womb? Our Catholic friends remind us that Jesus wasn’t just the son of God; He was Mary’s son too.

On the sanctity of life

"For nearly thirty years, evangelicals have been working to catch up to our Catholic brothers and sisters on issues of the sanctity of life. Even today, the Catholic Church is more consistent in its application."

Ecclesiology (now this is very interesting)

"One of the first principles of Reformed ecclesiology is that there is but one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Because this principle is difficult to square with the existence 10,000+ different Protestant denominations, we claim that this refers only to the invisible church. But what about the church that is visible? After all, it is Jesus desire to “gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” (John 11:51-52)"

My question for ID readers. Can we return the favor? Around St. Blog's, we spend a lot of time lamenting the pervasive evangelical influence in the US and the number of Catholics who fill evangelical churches. But is there another side to this?

In your opinion, how have we as Catholics benefited, directly or indirectly, from the strong evangelical presence in this country?

Hat tip: Mark Shea

Powerhouse Parishes

As we travel, we often come into contact with dynamic parishes, pastors and lay apostles that are seldom if ever discussed around St. Blog's.

One such place, where I have taught, is St. Marie's Church in Manchester, New Hampshire. St. Marie's is a lovely, 19th parish that was originally established for the French speaking community of Manchester.

How different is St. Marie's?

They have two "evangelists" on staff. In their Office of Evangelization. (This is the only parish I've ever worked in that used the title "evangelist")

They sponsor a School of Healing Prayer that offers continuing eduction for the New Hampshire Nurses Association.

Their local Secular Franciscan group requires that you do a year's Novena before joining. Which you can easily do because the church has perpetual adoration.

The parish also has its own Catholic bookstore.

The pastor. Fr. Marc Montminy, is a dynamic man who has mentored half the pastors in his diocese.

Do you know of other stand-out parishes? Please encourage the rest of us by telling us about them.

Perinatal Hospice

The New York Times has a moving article and video on a little known program: perinatal hospice. Twenty to forty percent of families who are told that their unborn child has a fatal condition choose to carry the baby to term rather than abort. Often in the face of pressure from the doctor to abort:

“Some have been told they’re wasting their time for a baby that would be dead anyway,” “Some have been told they’re wasting the doctor’s time.”

In such a situation, perinatal hospice is a new and most welcome alternative. There are at least 40 such programs in the US now but most parents in crisis don't know about them. In Minnesota, a law was passed last year that called for women to be informed about perinatal hospices.

It is interesting that the featured parents in the article are described as "pro-choice" Catholics who nevertheless choose to care for their baby, however long she lives. They were told she would die within 24 hours of birth. Twenty weeks later, she is still living and may live for years.

Check it out. Let your friends know about it. Pray for all involved.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Christian Music

While I've got music of a spiritual nature on my mind, I wanted to make a quick comment about "Christian" Music. Normally I resist categories like Christian Music or Christian Politics because, of course, there really isn't such a thing--there is music and there is politics. We are called, as lay men and women, to render all areas of human endeavor more authentically just and truly human, bringing the presence of Christ to the areas of secular life in which we live.

Fostering and supporting categories of "Christian" endeavor leads to a kind of enclaving, where Christians only support or inhabit "Christian" areas, and the rest of the world avoids those areas because of their specifically Christian topography.

And yet, I cannot dismiss the profound effect that "Christian" Music has had on the faith of millions of people. It has been a powerful tool for evangelization and encounter with Christ and shouldn't be "tsk-tsked" out of hand.

Many Catholics look down their noses at "Christian" music, pointing out that it is highly reliant upon a "me and Jesus" theology and overly emotional. And yet, the Catholic Church, for all its traditional success in music and the arts, simply hasn't made the inroads into the surrounding culture that our protestant brothers and sisters have in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. I can think of, perhaps, a handful of specifically Catholic musical artists whose work has the depth of musicianship, production quality, and marketing muscle routinely given to "Christian" musical artists.

To be sure, utilizing the culure to transmit the gospel message carries with it some dangers. Looking in to the Christian music scene, it is clear that sometimes the medium has co-opted the message. And yet, bands like Third Day, Jars of Clay, and Switchfoot make their mark--leading hearts and minds to Christ through music.

As Catholics, we can learn a great deal from our protestant brothers and sisters on how to more effectively support and promote the fullness of the gospel message using contemporary forms of music. Note that I am NOT talking about guitars in the sanctuary, but rather, I'm highlighting a specifically secular medium in which we have not lived up to our potential.

And it's a shame.

Multi-culturalism, Islam, & Women's Rights

Speaking of which, Asia News is featuring this pistol of an article by Samir Khalil Samir, SJ on the European tendency to tolerate traditional Muslim practices of polygamy and wife-beating, even though they are against the law and the dignity of women in the name of "multi-culturalism"


News & the New Evangelization

Asia News is a site that all interested in the welfare of Christianity around the world should check regularly. The Asia News folks regard their work as a form of evangelization. As they wrote when beginning their English language on-line version in 2003:

"A sociological study conducted by China's Open University (Renmin Daxue) demonstrates that 61.5% of Peking's students are interested in Christianity and want to be believers. The majority of them search for information on the Christian faith by way of literature. Since university students have internet access, we think that AsiaNews will help them to be familiar with the impact Christianity has on Asian and Chinese society. Already many Chinese intellectuals think China can be saved by Christianity, so as not to explode into a soulless market or a dictatorship that humiliates the individual."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Charisms & Conversion

A discussion of charisms, Called & Gifted and even Intentional Disciples from David Schutz of Melbourne, a former Lutheran pastor turned Catholic, with the able assistance of our AU Co-Director, Clara Geoghegan.

As Clara puts it so well:

"I agree with you in that Baptism and Confirmation are the only sources of spiritual gifts. Unfortunately many in the Catholic charismatic movement have been exposed to Pentacostalist theologies and have adopted the term 'Baptism in the Spirit' to explain the phenomenon that not all Baptised Catholics appear to manifest their charisms. The terminology is wrong, but they are trying to name that event which alters the consciousness of Christians and places Jesus at the centre of their lives. To my mind it is a conversion experience - dramatic for some, or part of an ongoing conversion for others."

Left to Tell

The stunning true story of Immaculee Ilibagiza, a devout 22 year old Catholic woman who survived the Rwandan massacre and somehow found the strength to forgive. She wrote her story in "Left to Tell".

“In 1994, Rwandan native Ilibagiza was 22 years old and home from college to spend Easter with her devout Catholic family when the death of Rwanda's Hutu president sparked a three-month slaughter of nearly one million ethnic Tutsis. She survived by hiding in a Hutu pastor's tiny bathroom with seven other starving women for 91 cramped, terrifying days. This searing firsthand account of Ilibagiza's experience cuts two ways: her description of the evil that was perpetrated, including the brutal murders of her family members, is soul-numbingly devastating, yet the story of her unquenchable faith and connection to God throughout the ordeal uplifts and inspires. This book is a precious addition to the literature that tries to make sense of humankind's seemingly bottomless depravity and counterbalancing hope in an all-powerful, loving God.”

By the way,
Immaculee Ilibagiza is one of the featured speakers at the Boston Catholic Women's conference which starts March 18th.

Evangelism and Pluralism

Mark Mossa, SJ has a thoughtful post on Evangelism and Pluralism here.

An excerpt:

"We should take a cue from the fact that often in interreligious dialogue, the representatives of other faiths often do not concede anything. We respect them for that, while we go out of our way to be sure that they are not offended or excluded by indications of our devotion to Christ. And then we blame the erosion of the Church on secularism from without. But are we suffering from a secularism from within?

Vibrant evangelization and an engagement with the problem of pluralism need not be mutually exclusive. Like Rahner, we have to hold fast to the centrality of Christ, and proclaim that in our lives without fear of his name offending others. After all, Jesus promised that this would indeed be the case. If the Gospel is true, then isn’t withholding Jesus for fear of offense a betrayal? In interreligious dialogue, should our interlocutors leave the table saying, “That Jesus Christ must really have been something for them to have such strong faith,” or “Gee, those Christians were really nice”?

We Do Not Drift Into Devotion

A long post on small groups and spiritual transformation by John Ortberg, an evangelical Presbyterian that still speaks directly to our situation, I think:

"Small groups are the place for people to get on the scale and reveal how intentional they have been to pursue transformation into the image of Christ. William Paulson writes, "It is unlikely that we will deepen our relationship with God in a casual or haphazard manner." I think he understates it. People do not drift into full devotion to Christ. People do not drift into becoming loving, joy-filled, patient, winsome, world changers. It requires intention and effort.

But the default mode of the human heart is to drift. If a person has experienced real transformation, it's typically because someone else has cared enough to say, "I want you to live God's way, and I want to help you know if you are serious about it."

We need to make some key decisions on our journey of transformation: what are my commitments about prayer, about Scripture, about my use of money, about evangelism, about servanthood, about truth? Keeping these commitments requires a community of accountability to serve as a scale revealing how we're achieving our goals or missing them.

During the spiritual revolutions of 18th century England, the Wesleyan movement thrived on small groups. When those groups originally formed, they existed to hold people accountable to their commitments as followers of Christ. They gathered in little bands to ask one another how their obedience to Christ was going. History notes, however, that over the decades the focus of the groups shifted from accountability to vague "sharing," in the process the power of the revival was lost, and eventually the groups died out."

In our experience, there is a big difference between small formation groups and faith-sharing groups. Any readers been part of a small formation group? What was your experience?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

From the Dallas News Religion Blog

Daniel Burke of Religion News Service has a story noting that Catholic participation in the sacrament of confession (or, as it's formally known, "reconciliation") has plummeted. He cites a Georgetown University study that says only 14 percent of Catholics go to confession even once a year. (The church would have all Catholics go much more often than that.) And 42 percent say they never go at all.

14%. Once a year. Even I didn't think it was that low.

(The article references Archbishop Donald Wuerl's confession initiative this Lent: All the churches in his archdiocese will be open for confession every Wednesday evening from 7 - 8:30.)


Speaking of Reverts

Over at Musings of a Pertinacious Papist, Dr. Phillip Blosser reflects upon the sad reality that a number of men and women who convert to the Catholic Faith from protestantism revert back to their roots and fall away from the Catholic Church.

Here's some of what he has to say in a post entitled, Protestant Reverts: Catholic Dishonesty in Advertising:

I am profoundly disappointed. Yet another of the souls I have seen through from an evangelical Protestant background to membership in the Catholic Church has, after some seven years' sojourn in Catholic parishes, reverted to Protestantism -- to a certain "Bible Covenant Fellowship Church" in Texas.

The sad thing is that these stories are not entirely rare. Sadder still the fact that I understand very well the reason why.Those who fall away from the Catholic Church typically fall into two classes: the (1) lapsed, who simply stop practicing their Faith in any institutional way, and (2) reverts, who return to the practice of some (usually Protestant) non-Catholic form of Christianity. (I realize I'm using the term 'revert' in an unconventional way here.) . . .

The situation with those who revert, however, is less transparent and perhaps even more troubling. These are almost without exception individuals of impeccable character for whom questions of "faith and morals" are of basic importance. When they become Catholics, they do not do so without expending serious effort in endeavoring to understand Catholic teaching, particularly since there is typically a personal cost and social stigma associated with the move they are making, at least in their erstwhile communities of faith.

In my own experience, I have had the privilege of serving as mentor or sponsor to some twenty Catholic converts over the past ten or twelve years. Of this number, three have lapsed, including the only two of the group who were baptized Catholics but never catechized or confirmed. Of the total number, three have reverted to Protestant forms of Christianity -- one, studying to become a Protestant pastor, the other two resettled in evangelical congregations.

So what is it that happens to Protestant reverts? While every individual's story is unique, I think some generalizations are fairly safe. These are generally souls who come from backgrounds already well-rooted in evangelical Christianity, in a life of Bible reading, prayer, and personal relationship with God. When these souls discover the truth about the Catholic Church, they fall in love with her. They are thrilled when they finally come, at least on some level, to apprehend the Catholic vision of the Church and to see and and understand her glory -- "ever ancient, ever new." They love the Church that spans the ages, the Church of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Cardinal Newman, Pope John Paul, Pope Benedict XVI. They love the moral courage of the Church, which stands like an adamantine bulwark against the evils of abortion, pornography, and relativism. They love the magnificent beauty of her ancient European cathedrals, her basilicas, her paintings and sculptures, her Gregorian chant and polyphony (readily accessible in any music store). They love her theology, which they encounter in the writings of great doctors and theologians of the Church. They love her incarnational vision of life, which they encounter in the writings of numerous Catholic novelists.

But then they join a local Catholic parish ...The process usually begins with a desert experience called RCIA (Rite for the Christian Initiation of Adults) -- a series of meetings and classes in which they are treated more like preschoolers than intelligent adults, spoon fed pathological doses of hand-holding and introspection, and treated to ample quantities of shared feelings. If they survive that, they're welcomed into an Amchurch parish, whose music is Haugan and Haas, whose homilies are psychology tips from Dr. Phil, whose art and architecture is a combination of bog Bauhaus and degenerate Art Deco, and whose members never read traditional Catholic authors but whose discussion groups can't stop talking about Richard Rohr, Thomas Groome, Anthony Tambasco, Sr. Joan Chittister, Andrew Sullivan, and John Dominic Crossan.

It would be easy enough to say their conversion to the Catholic Faith was never authentic, or that their understanding was incomplete. . . .Just today I received yet another email from a former student, a mature Protestant, who wishes to take more of my classes and has asked about starting RCIA classes at my church. I know I should be happy, and I suppose (trusting God) I am. Yet I cannot help feeling a bit of the ambivalence Malcolm Muggeridge's Canadian-born daughter-in-law, Anne Roche Muggeridge, expressed when, distraught over the disastrous aftermath of Vatican II, she wrote about converts she knew:

I must confess that some of us, to our shame, earnestly tried to delay them, on the grounds of the growing disorder in the Catholic Church. They forced their way past us anyway, thank God; though the priest I brought them to for instruction and I could not resist saying, when they had their first shocking confrontation with revolutionary priests and nuns over their children's education: "Well, you can't say we didn't warn you!"

The point is, these converts remind one of what one asks of the Church of God, as the old baptism question went; the answer being, "Faith!" (The Desolate City: Revolution in the Catholic Church [1986; Rev. ed., San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990]) Don't worry. I never remain depressed for long. But my present state of mind is not far from that in which I offered the rant late last year, "Welcome aboard the shipwreck: what converts don't know," (December 13, 2006).

I worry whether, one day, one of these students who gets fired up and converts to Catholicism will want to take me to court and sue me -- or the Church, for that matter -- for dishonesty in advertising.

We've talked about this phenomenon a great deal--the disappearance rate of those who enter the Church. Dr. Blosser approaches the problem from a catechetical point of view, but many Catholic converts speak of an incredibly deep isolation that they experienced after they entered the Church. What is it within Catholic culture that isolates the newly joined in the midst of the most profound experience of communio (rooted in the profound reality of the Eucharist)? How can we help to provide better formation and connection for these men and women, many of whom are making choices that profoundly affect all of the major relationships in their lives?

Flannery Wisdom

On having her picture taken for marketing purposes (or turned into a bizarro marketing video)

"I looked like I had just bitten my grandmother and it was one of my few pleasures in life."

From The Habit of Being

My sentiments exactly.

The Liturgy of the City

Paul Grenier and Tim Patitsas have written in a intriguing Godspy article: "In America, a good city, like good bread, is considered a luxury whose enjoyment is a necessity only for the virtuous, in other words, for the wealthy. It is not considered necessary for the poor to be allowed to be human."

They are asking why has the New Urbanism failed to create good cities. And their answers are simple:


"The economic value of old buildings," wrote Jacobs, "is irreplaceable at will. It is created by time." What is missing from this picture more than anything else is a liturgical understanding of time. It is missing from most New Urbanist projects because the economics of real estate development in the free market won't allow it.

Because these new town centers rely on expensive new construction, developers are forced to lease their retail space at very high rentstoo high for such humble ventures as the pottery studio or the old produce market to pay."

Casual friendships build over time:

What gets thrown away and rejected? The casual kind of friendships which gradually form between store owners and clients who see each other over the course of years and decades. The emotional warmth that places acquire because others before us have also drank and laughed there."

An unhurried pace made possible by low rents:

At the old site the atmosphere had been relaxed. Now, in the new high-rent building, high-speed and high-volume is the only way for the owner to stay afloat. The pace is frenetic.


"Finally, they destroyed the spirit of the Italian restaurant, where the owner's whole attention was devoted to this particular place, a place where he could give his food (in a certain sense) as a gift to his clients. Vignola's had been a place where a man of small means could do what he loved. Mr. Vignola was not primarily motivated by profit. The spiritual warmth of the experience at his restaurant came from one's recognition that this was the case."

I know that one of the things I really liked about Colorado Springs was that even the very poor had often staggering mountain views. In Seattle, even a glimpse of a mountain or a bit of water meant that the cost of a home jumped $ 50,000 immediately. Here, the mountains are so close and so dominant that even developers can't monopolize them.

Read the whole Godspy piece and be sure and browse the left sidebar which lists interesting related links.

Young Evangelists

Here's an interesting initiative that I'd never heard of before: Youth to Youth Catholic Evangelization of Lansing, MI.

It seems to be rather like NET only the teams seem to limit their evangelization work to the state of Michigan. But then Net started 25 years ago just offering youth led retreats in Minnesota. Today, they have offices in Canada and Australia.

In an average 9 month NET season, each NET team will:

* travel 20,000 miles
* serve 9 to 11 dioceses
* facilitate close to 120 retreats
* stay in 105 host homes
* reach 8,500 young people one on one with the Gospel

As I travel, I have run into many priests, religious, and diocesan leaders whose lives were transformed by being part of a NET team. Nine months of intensive formation and the experience of mission seems to leave a permanent mark.

Any of our readers been part of NET or a Net-like program? What was your experience and how has it continued to affect your life today?

Raising Our Children as Intentional Disciples

Internet Monk has a very thought-provoking essay on his blog this morning about raising our children in the faith: He's writing as what he calls a "post-evangelical" but nearly all his points seem to be one that serious Catholic parents are dealing with except #2.

(As I travel, I've listened to hundreds of Catholics moan about their children and grand-children who have left the Church, many for evangelicalism. In fact, I've started tracking the number of Catholic families that I met, all of whose children are practicing as adults. I think I'm up to seven. Fr. Mike's family is one of them. But I almost never hear Catholic parents openly worrying about the ultimate salvation of their children.)

Here's Internet Monks' points:

When we look at our children, several major highways come together:

1) Our belief that the family is supposed to love, nurture, protect and discipline children in the knowledge and fear of the Lord. In other words, raise them in the faith.

2) Our belief that our children are, by nature, lost, rebels and sinners who must be converted, i.e. “born again,” if they are to have eternal life.

3) Our desire to protect our children from the worst aspects of culture.

4) Our desire for our children to participate in the best aspects of culture. Few evangelicals see the “Amish option” as viable, though from what I can tell, it’s making a lot of progress in some quarters.

5) Our ambiguity, as a religious movement, over public education. In short, we believe in it as a public good in a nation with over 40 million kids who need to be educated, and we hate/fear/loathe it as the primary competition for the minds and values of our kids. All at the same time. (Things seem to be tipping very strongly toward the hate/fear/loath side.)

But there are several warnings we need to heed:

1) Building a moral fortress will not make our children Christians, and the evangelical culture warrior’s version of “normal” may be more of an illusion than we want to admit.

2) Withdrawal from culture is much more difficult than we tend to think, especially in this information savvy age.

3)The building of an alternative culture that is safe for our children does not necessarily resemble the movement Jesus initiated in history.

4) Christian history teaches us that our calling to make disciples must extend to our children, and discipleship today calls for intentional, intelligent, interaction with and influence of culture.

5) Our anxieties about our children often make us vulnerable to manipulation, especially by those seeking political power, money and cultural influence. Can we be true to our desire to love and care for our kids and not become the unthinking dronish supporters of political demagogues, fear-mongers and salesmen?

6) We should beware of mis-reading scripture. God’s promises to our children are generous…but they are not absolute. Morality, isolation, saturation in a Christian ghetto and so forth does not make the Gospel true or Christ precious to a single person. Many Christian parents do not know the way the covenants work or how the Gospel promises to families work. Many of those parents will be greatly surprised and disappointed.

7) The evangelical strategy of making the church a collection of children’s and youth programming is a well-motivated, but highly flawed, response to these concerns regarding our children. It speaks deeply to how much we are willing to pay and do to assuage our anxieties. Evangelical young people are, to be blunt, doted over and spoiled by mega-churches. They are seldom asked to mature in ways the larger culture avoids, and the approaches we take in working with them often ship in much of the culture’s worst characteristics.

8) Many of these anxieties have roots in some of our own religious and psychological issues as a movement and as individuals. Our families are not the pretty pictures we see in church advertisements. . . Our children have the same disorders, the same addictions, the same frequency of medication. It is rare for a church not to have to deal with some issue of domestic abuse or sexual abuse.

How can we raise our children as intentional disciples?

Friday, March 9, 2007

Nigeria: the "Powerhouse" Church

Per John Allen who is in Nigeria today:

In the 20th century, Africa went from a Catholic population of 1.9 million in 1900 to 130 million in 2000, a staggering growth rate of 6,708 percent. Half of all adult baptisms in the world, the surest sign of missionary expansion, are in Africa. Inexorably, pastoral and intellectual energy in the church will follow population, and this means that African leaders are destined to play an increasingly important role. Nigeria will have 47 million Catholics by 2050, and has the human capital and ecclesiastical infrastructure to become an African 'voice' in the global church.

Read the whole thing. It's fascinating.

The Primate of Ireland Tells It Straight


Some excerpts from a March 7 homily:

"Ministry in Ireland is much more exciting today than it was at the time I was ordained. Yours will be a challenging path, yes, and it will certainly not be business as usual. People will be coming to the Church from a wide variety of starting points. Your path will take you to a world where many of the traditional prerequisites for belonging to a Church community will no longer be the relevant ones. Young people will come having very little of the traditional knowledge and culture of their faith, despite years of education in Christian schools."

"We should not be dreaming of a golden age of the past, of a religious culture which is no longer there."

"Jesus is the one “who casts out demons and performs cures, today, tomorrow and the next day”, until his work is completed. The message of Jesus is not primarily a collection of dogmas and moral norms, of rules and practices or plans for a better world. It is above all an encounter with a person, with Jesus Christ, who addresses us and addresses us in our history, in our lives. We can learn off as many catechetical definitions and formulae as we wish, but if we do not have that liberating personal encounter with Jesus, then we have not understood what Christianity is about. We can propose plans to revolutionise the world’s economy and international political life, but if our plan does not lead to an encounter with the God whose love is revealed in Jesus Christ, then our plan will be just one plan among many."

"What is then the language of Jesus? Jesus identifies himself as he “who casts out demons and performs cures, today, tomorrow and the next day” until his work is completed. His is the language of healing and the restoration of people to their fullness in freedom."

"Knowing Jesus is an encounter with Jesus in which his desire to heal our infirmities and lead to the path to freedom, becomes our desire, even in the context of our limitedness and our brokenness. We live in a culture which prizes success and celebrity, which has difficulty in coping with brokenness. The loving tenderness and compassion of God reaches out in the first place to the weak, the poor and the marginalised, not to develop an ideology of weakness and poverty, but with the desire to restore their wholeness."

Can any of our readers give us a sense of what is happening in the Church in Ireland that might have prompted the Archbishop's words?

Hat tip: Neil at Catholic Sensibilities

Intentional Community: Post the First

A Conversation so Big, We Named It Thrice. Like so: Community, Community, Community!

Back in November, I was involved in a multi-post, weekend-long conversation (here, scroll down to November 15, 16, 17) at Mark Shea’s Catholic and Enjoying It about the critical role of genuine community in nurturing intentional discipleship and stemming the tide of Catholics who leave for the evangelical world.

Dozens of people wrote in to say “me too”. Some were converts from evangelicalism, others just lonely or isolated cradle Catholics struggling to make a go of it alone. Some excerpts:

“Gotta admit, this rings painfully true...I joined the Church in 2004, but since then I've felt very disconnected from any sort of church life, and I've been tempted to just give up and go back to the Episcopal church...

My husband and I were confirmed in a Franciscan parish in 1999, and we still can count the number of people we regard as friends currently at our parish on one hand.

It sounds like our non-Catholic brethren are vastly better at this. So-- someone who's been there, please explain!!! Who, what, where, when, why??? Surely they are just as busy as we are-- yet apparently the singles and the families and the doubtful and the sorrowful all have an active place. How is this done?

My current parish is beautiful and true in its liturgy, but the people there are so cold, critical and judgemental.

Of the four lay Catholics I interviewed last weekend, two were struggling with serious depression. They were serious, orthodox, pro-life cradle Catholics who found it very hard to believe that God loved them which they attributed to, among other things, their pre-Vatican experience as children.

The third was a woman who has been intensely involved with her parish for many years but nearly left a few years ago and gets almost all of her spiritual nourishment from (you'll love this) Joel Olsteen. She told me that she picked me to talk to because she thought I'd understand because of my background.

There is an entire underground of Catholics either heavily involved or significantly involved with Protestant churches or ministries. Bible Study Fellowship, Young Life, Aglow, the local mega church, you name it. I've talked to many hundreds of them, perhaps thousands, by now.

There are two things they mention over and over as the reasons they look to the evangelical world: lack of support, community, and spiritual fellowship in their parish and lack of "being fed" - that is, an approach to teaching the Christian faith that is *directly applicable to daily life.*

As a former evangelical, who finds the same things in the Catholic church, all I can say is I'm struggling too.

Yes, I've spent time in adoration and yes I have received the Eucharist and yes I believe in the Real Presence. But its not the same as flesh-and-blood human beings yu can have group activities with or even just to talk with and share life with. All the theologising, all the philosophizing, and all the poetizing isn't going to change that.

As a former Baptist minister, I can attest to the change in the idea of community we have experienced. Granted, we are only familiar with our own parish, but it is a far cry from what we knew as evangelicals. . . . But we have our moments when we look back and sigh, and think about all those fun and meaningful elements that were tied to such a developed sense of community and fellowship. I would be interested in what is out there to help fill this gap.

It is terrifyingly lonely when you long for fellowship, and find yourself increasingly isolated.

I am one of those who knows "nobody" in my parish despite 9 years of faithful attendance and participation in various committees.”

I(Sherry W) wrote at the time:

I'm struck by the fact that so often we emphasize that God instituted the sacraments because human beings need a physical encounter with God - the sacraments were instituted to give us a truly human as opposed to an angelic way.

And yet, when it comes to relationship, so many Catholics insist that our spiritual journey through this world can and should be angelic - that although God declared at the very beginning "it is not good for the man to be alone" - that really, it shouldn't matter if we are. But relationship too is essential to the human person and to the spiritual life.

We need both. We were created for both. As it is, ordinary Catholics too often feel as though we must choose.

During that conversation, I proposed a national gathering here in Colorado Springs to address this topic. And so I want to announce that it is going to happen and that we’d love you to be part of the conversation. For more information, first read Intentional Community: Post the Second, and then Intentional Community: Post the Third.

Intentional Community: Post the Second

An ad hoc solution that I and a group of friends (including Mark Shea) tried in Seattle in the early 90’s was the famously Nameless Lay Group. Here is my brief description of the NLG followed by Mark’s memories:

Sherry W:

That why our experiment with the Nameless Lay Group was so powerful. We had lots of young adults, but middle-aged and retirement age as well. Married and single. Parents of big families (8 kids) and the childless. The Baptist spouse of a Catholic, converts, and cradle Catholics. People from different parishes. Some of us were close friends outside the group but we were truly open to whoever showed up. We even helped a Protestant family in New Zealand enter the Church long-distance!

What united us was intentional discipleship as Catholics and our awareness of the need for *both* formation and personal support (no either-or mentality.)

It wasn't complicated and could be easily copied. So monthly meetings with a potluck and speakers and a prayer time in a Eucharistic chapel, a newsletter, the occasional party, (Epiphany, Mardi Gras, etc.)

After we disbanded (after three years) because certain members of the core team (like myself) returned to grad school, members talked of the experience nostalgically for years as the best experience of Christian community we'd ever known.

The NLM was the unwitting sparkplug of the Catherine of Siena Institute. When Fr. Michael Sweeney became aware of what we were doing, he said that he was finally seeing the theology of the laity in action.

Mark Shea:

The Nameless Lay Group was a fundamentally lay initiative, undertaken for the express purpose of trying to encourage one another, not in our *feelings* but in our lives as *disciples*. It was paraliturgical in that there was a loose sort of format of (if memory serves) a common meal, prayers (often drawn from the liturgy of the hours and including singing together), a presentation on some topic related to the life discipleship, and discussion, followed by closing prayer.

Attention was paid as well to aesthetics (there was a fondness for candlelight, as my gauzy memory looks back) but much *more* attention was paid to a combination of intellectual and spiritual substance with what is best described as "Christian friendship". We read, for instance, Josef Pieper's book on the Four Cardinal Virtues. We tried to make our needs and struggles known to one another and support one another with prayer and mutual discernment. We were conscious that we were experimenting, but we were equally conscious that we did not want to *innovate*. We were trying to live on the creative edge of the Tradition, rooted in the Tradition rather than in reaction to it as so many post-conciliar experiments have wound up being.

For myself, I can only say that this period of intense creativity, love, friendship and challenge within the context of the Tradition during the 1990s at Blessed Sacrament has left an indelible stamp on who I am. I don't believe in living in the past and crying "O Moment! Stay!" But I will be grateful for that time and those people till the day I die.

We started the Nameless Lay Group in order to pursue *discipleship*, not fellowship. And discipleship, it seems to me, is bound up with mission. We found that as each person pursued their particular work of mission in the world, they grew in a sense of common purpose with one another.

Conversely, when the parish at large would sit down and periodically have a "How can we build community with each other?" gabfest it typically ended as a gripe session where people just talked about whatever it was they felt the parish wasn't doing enough of. It was the difference between looking somebody in the eyes and saying "Let's have a really good talk!" (followed by awkward silence) and two people looking at something they both admire and then realizing, "You too? I thought I was the only one!" (followed by much happy conversation).

Finally, I think it is important to note that mission and witness are intimately bound up with the sacrament of Confirmation. The gifts necessary to the work of mission are given to us in baptism and, particularly, in Confirmation.

The Nameless Lay Group did not give me a sense of mission. What it did was school me in the friendship of God through Christian friendship. Friendship, as distinct from eros, is supremely the love that is the consequence of a shared vision. Eros looks into the eyes of the Beloved. Friends stand side by side looking at something else. You cannot make friendship happen, any more than you can make eros happen. But you can prepare the ground for it and ask God to give the seed. That was what the Nameless Lay Group was, an attempt to "make straight his path" in the hope and prayer that God would then come and walk among us. And He did, for which I am grateful.

During that conversation, I proposed a national gathering here in Colorado Springs to address this topic. And so I want to announce that it is going to happen and we’d love you to be part of the conversation. For more information, go onto Intentional Community: Post the Third.

Intentional Community: Post the Third

So, now that you’ve got the picture, here’s what we propose:

The Catherine of Siena Institute is sponsoring a day long gathering on the subject of Building Intentional Community in the Parish in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Friday, August 31 (the day before Labor Day Weekend).

We will be drawing upon some of our experiences with the Nameless Lay Group as well those of other parishes around the country. And we want to hear your ideas and experiences as well.

We will be spending the day (9 am – 4 pm) together at the beautiful Penrose House at the base of Cheyenne Mountain (lunch will be provided) and then end the day (starting at 6 pm) with an evening barbeque at a nearby city park.

This will be your chance to get to know some of our ID team (Sherry W, Fr. Mike, the other Sherry, Kathie Lundquist, etc.). In addition, Mark Shea and his family will also be joining in the festivities!

To cover the cost of lunch and dinner and the other expenses of putting this on, we are asking for a donation of $20/per participant for the whole day.

The day gathering at the Penrose House is an adult only event as there are no child care facilities on the grounds. The Institute cannot provide child-care.

The evening barbecue would work well for families. Cost for adults and teenagers to attend the barbecue only is $10 and for children under 12 to attend the barbecue only would be $5.

If you are interested, please call Mike Dillon in our office at 888 878 6789 or e-mail him at We do need you to pre-register for this by August 1 so we know how many to plan for. Let us know as early as possible since our meeting space, the old Coach house, can only hold a certain number.


Colorado Springs has a small, attractive airport although you can also drive down from Denver international Airport which is about 1 ½ hours away via freeway.

Rental cars at the Colorado Springs airport t and local hotels are relatively inexpensive. Mike Dillon in our office can recommend inexpensive local hotels if you need them.

The day gathering at the Penrose House is an adult only event as there are no child care facilities on the grounds. The Institute cannot provide child-care.

There are a number of good day options for those with children. If a spouse or family member would prefer to sight-see with the children, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the highest zoo in North America is nearby. You can feed giraffes by hand – it’s smelly but very cool!

Or you could choose to visit Focus on the Family, the amazing Garden of the Gods, Pike’s Peak (America the Beautiful was written about the view from the top of Pike's Peak) , Manitou Springs, the Rockledge Ranch Living Museum, go on a day hike, etc. (There is a reason why 5 million tourists visit CS each year).

Labor Weekend in Colorado Springs is the weekend of the Colorado Springs Balloon Classic which is wonderful early morning or evening event for the whole family.

Notice the clothing we were wearing last Labor Day! Yes, it starts to cool off here at 6,000 ft plus altitude in late August and we have very low humidity and almost no bugs! So if you would like to escape the dog days of August, this is the place.

Sherry's Web Intro

Inspired by the Flash Intro of another woman speaker posted here on ID, I've labored long and hard to provide Sherry with a suitable introduction for the Catherine of Siena Website (or for, for that matter).

So, without further ado, I present Sherry's new web intro:

Umm...I'm going to run and hide now! If there is such a thing as a novena of Mercy, now would be a good time to say it on my behalf!

Hearts of Servants

One of the great joys for me is stumbling upon a powerful piece of music that moves me to an experience of worship and helps me to reflect on my relationship with God and my mission to the world. That happened recently when I encountered the song, Hearts of Servants by Shane Barnard of Shane & Shane.

The song, sung heartbreakingly well by the duo, is a powerful Lenten reflection upon how we are called to have the hearts of servants, imitating Christ who was a perfect Servant to His People. Here are the simple words:

Jesus, You are
Jesus, You were
Jesus, You will always be
a perfect servant to us
a perfect servant to death
even death on a cross

give us a picture of Your face
show us the measure of Your grace
reveal the love of the Father
put within us tenderness
release from us all selfishness
we'll consider them better
we are Yours
give us hearts of servants

(philippians 2:3-8)

If you are interested and you'd like to listen to the song, I have it playing on my MySpace page. Simply click here and listen once you get to the page.

Forty Days of Grace

Mark Gordon is doing a lovely thing for Lent. Since this Easter Vigil marks his 10th anniversary of entering the Church, he is posting daily reflections throughout Lent "on the practices, doctrines, personalities, and moments that have been particularly precious to me during my ten years as a Catholic."

Today: St. Maximilian Kolbe but worth checking every day this Lent.

His first entry: the little lady with lupus. It's a moving story.

"Ten years ago today, as I was preparing for reception into the Church, I decided that I would attend daily Mass during Lent. Because I was unemployed at the time and my schedule, uh, “flexible,” I typically made it to the 9:00 AM at St. Brendan Church. I sat in the same place every morning, about twelve rows back on the left side of the center aisle, precisely two rows behind a woman who, I came to realize, was in constant pain. At the time, I had no idea what the source of her discomfort might be, but every movement was clearly an agony, and though she was relatively young, her progress into and out of the pew was slow and labored, like that of a very old person. And yet, every day she was there without fail, always before I arrived and usually lingering while I walked out the door.

Believe it or not, you can learn a lot about someone just staring at the back of their head. For instance, as the days went on I noticed that this woman did something quite unusual at the conclusion of the Gospel, during the congregational response, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” While speaking those words, she would invariably swivel her head to the right and nod, as if in acknowledgement of someone walking up the aisle. For weeks I attempted to unlock the significance of this movement, which she executed with mathematical precision and ritual solemnity. It seemed to make no sense to me. At first I wondered if perhaps she was merely daft, and whether this motion might just be some sort of mental tic. But she never repeated it at any other time during the Mass, and when I had occasion to look her in the eye I saw a fierce and controlled intelligence there. Then I thought that perhaps it was a by-product of her physical condition. But again, the motion wasn’t repeated during any other liturgical response, even those that unquestionably involved greater exertion. Then I thought that it might be some sentimental gesture toward a seat or a pew, perhaps where a now-dead friend or relative had once sat. But I had no evidence of this, and anyway, she executed the movement in a rather mechanical, unsentimental fashion.

Then one day I connected the dots. Or rather, I connected the direction of her nod with its true destination. I realized that when speaking the words, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ,” she was turning to address the tabernacle. But that’s not right either. No one in their right mind addresses a tabernacle. No, she was in fact addressing the Divine Inhabitant of the tabernacle, Jesus, truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament reserved there. I was thunderstruck. It made all the sense in the world even as it convinced me that though I had accepted the doctrine of the Real Presence as a theological concept, I hadn’t yet grasped it as a tangible reality. While I was saying the words of the response into thin air, this woman, overwhelmingly conscious of Christ’s genuine physical presence in the room, was simply addresing him. And just as no polite person would speak to someone while facing a wall, she apparently thought it rude not to turn her head and speak directly to her Lord.

A few years later I saw this woman sitting with her husband in a restaurant. After screwing up my courage I approached them, introduced myself as a fellow parishioner, and asked if I could sit. I told her the story I’ve just related to you, and I thanked her for the gift of that gesture, and also for the gift of her example as one who, though in great pain, was faithful in even the littlest of things. She wept and explained that she suffered from lupus, and that she didn’t expect to live very long. She said my impromptu visit had given her a great sense of joy, and she thanked me. Sadly, I learned not long afterward that she had died. Although she is gone, her gift to me has persisted, because on the very day I figured out the significance of her gesture, I adopted it as my own. In ten years, I have not attended a single Mass in which I have not turned my head toward the tabernacle and nodded profoundly as I said the words “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” And there has not been a even one time I’ve offered that devotion without also thinking about the little lady with lupus."

Quote of the day

“Attempt something so great for God that it’s doomed to failure unless God be in it.” - John Haggai, evangelist.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

ID wins "Blog of the Day"

According to Christ Burgwald over at Veritas.

His summary? "Great stuff, all the time."

We are honored. But not "Blog of all time????"

We still have our work cut out for us!

Augustine the Bishop, Part 1

The ruins of Hippo Regius

I am currently reading a book about my patron, St. Augustine. The book is not new- it was published in English by Sheed and Ward in 1961. As a historical book, it may have been surpassed by other books of its kind based on more recent research. Perhaps someone with more knowledge in this matter can fill me in. The book is called Augustine the Bishop by F. Van Der Meer and it is a study of the day to day life of Augustine as bishop of Hippo Regius. As such, it gives the historical context in which Augustine’s thought took shape. As I read the book it amazes me how relevant it is relative to what we talk about here at Intentional Disciples and I hope to share some of my impressions in upcoming posts.

What struck me as I was reading last night is how reluctant the early Christians were to be involved in civic life, notably in politics and the military. In several of his letters Augustine reveals the reason for this reluctance: Christians were afraid that such duties would necessarily involve them in evil. By Augustine’s time Christianity had become so pervasive in the cities of North Africa that Christians could no longer avoid civic responsibilities. Therefore, those who couldn’t avoid these civic duties often delayed their baptism until shortly before death, hoping that their souls, dirtied through war and politics, would be washed clean in the laver of baptism on their deathbed. This obviously presented a grave pastoral problem, one which Augustine would rise to meet in his wise and erudite City of God, a work whose foremost concern is how Christians can, to use a well worn phrase, “be in the world without being of the world.” This work affirmed that not only can Christians be civically engaged and avoid evil, but that such engagement can be just and virtuous if animated by a life of grace.

The qualms of conscience faced by lay Christians in Augustine’s time are faced daily by lay Christians in our own time. How many lay Christians live and work in situations where there is a tacit understanding that illegalities and immorality are unavoidable and necessary? Moreover, in order for them to fulfill their mandate to transform the temporal order, making it more just and amenable to the dignity of the human person, they need to face these moral problems with a certain equanimity- neither cynically accepting that dirtying one’s hands is inevitable nor abandoning their duty to societal and cultural engagement. Does anyone here have stories of trying to live and work in this tension?

Lay Catholics: Church's "Most Promising and Effective Force" in Evangelization

From a CNS article of April, 2006 which I somehow missed and didn't see discussed around St. Blogs. The piece is primarily on Italian Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, president of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples who offered some very interesting observations:

"The face of today's missionaries, however, has changed; they are laypeople, groups of families or religious from a country nearby

The numbers of lay Catholics working in mission lands "has exploded" during the past decade as laypeople fill the void left by an ever-dwindling number of people entering traditional missionary orders

Laypeople and especially local catechists represent the church's "most promising and effective force" in evangelization, he said, because they live the same day-to-day lives as the people they r each out to and are often more familiar with local customs and the native language."

Mini-rant time:

This is a passage taken from the first talk I ever gave to priests, the Dominican pastors of the Western Province. as a still-wet-behind-the-ears Catholic in November, 1995.

I believe that the most effective itinerant evangelists are trained lay disciples whose natural roles and responsibilities carry them among the unchurched every day. But is all this just a another idealistic theory that can never be realized? Is it really possible for lay Christians to successfully evangelize the unchurched ? I can attest that it is not only possible, it is happening right now.

My oldest female friend is currently living in one of the most religious repressive of the Islamic countries. I cannot reveal either her name or her location because it would be dangerous to both her and her family. She is a quite ordinary, middle-aged, five-foot -nothing housewife and mother. She and her husband spent years equipping themselves to be "tent-making" missionaries, that is, Christians who work at a secular profession that enables them to live in a country where no overt missionary work is possible in order that some living witness to the love of Jesus Christ might be found there. She now speaks the language fluently and frequently dons her national dress and goes out to the desert tribes and the outlying villages where she has developed many friendships. There she shares not only goat and spiced coffee, she shares the gospel.

What she does is possible only because she is a lay woman - no "official" missionary, no pastor, priest or nun would be allowed into the country. My friend is supported in her efforts not just by her husband but by her local Protestant congregation back home in the States. But when I tried to tell her story in a magazine article on lay vocation, the editor of a national magazine for committed lay Catholics told me to take it out. "None of our readers could hope to aspire to such a ministry" he said.

11 + years later, my friend is still living her life of witness in the Muslim world and there are thousands more "unofficial" but intentional lay witnesses like her all over the world.

Would an editor of a magazine for lay Catholics today tell me that "none of our readers could hope to aspire to such a ministry? What do you think?

Lenten University - at the Parish level

From a reader

Here's an ambitious initative from a group of parishes in Ventura, CA - a Lenten University. More than 70 courses for adults offered at various locations over Lent. Scroll up a little to click on the calendar link on top to see the whole schedule.

This is the most ambitious Lenten education offering I've ever come across. And some of the speakers are big names: Sr. Helen Prejean, Cardinal Mahoney, etc.

Nearby ID readers may want to participate. But it can also inspire us.

Is your parish doing something related to adult formation that is especially creative or significant this Lent? Share it with the rest of us.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

A Fellowship of Workplace Christians

Catholics have a wonderful theology of the secular mission of the laity but once again, evangelicals are way ahead in practice. There is an enormous, booming marketplace ministry emphasis in the evangelical world and the International Coalition of Workplace Ministries is a great place to check it out.

The ICWM is impressive with a directory of over 1,300 Christian groups that are seeking to integrate faith and work, with links to newsletter and devotionals, ministries and organizations all devoted to the subject of the Christian in the workplace. And pretty ordinary businesses run by Christians who are serious about living their faith in the marketplace.

I haven't been able to make my way through all 1,300 groups but the vast majority seem to be evangelical. There is a fairly strong Pentecostal/Independent flavor to some of the allied organizations.

I haven't seen any Catholic groups in the list yet but they may well be there.

Anyone know any comparable Catholic ministries or groups other than lay movements?

Re: Holy Conversation and Making Disciples

Several people have asked, are the vision and skills that you would learn at this summer's Making Disciples transferable to Newman centers, and many other pastoral settings outside RCIA and the parish?

The skills involved?

It's all about Do Ask, Do Tell.

The fundamental topics will include:

How to recognize pre-discipleship levels of spiritual development.

· How personal faith “releases” graces that transform lives.

· How to respond pastorally and effectively to people at different levels of spiritual maturity.

· How to ask questions and facilitate discussion that encourages participants to freely share (and discover!) their real beliefs and issues and move closer to discipleship.

· How to clearly and effectively share the basic kerygma.

· How to help someone who is ready actually become an intentional disciple

In fact, one of our goals is to help all kinds of Catholics, whether in leadership or not, become comfortable with and skilled at asking where people are in their relationship with God, at listening well, respectfully, and prayerfully, and at articulating the basics of the gospel in a way that invites intentional discipleship.

A culture of intentional discipleship is built and reinforced by many inputs by many people. If many people in our parishes, Newman centers, schools, or other groups were ready and able to do this, it would reinforce and maximize the impact of whatever other evangelization efforts were underway: retreats, missions, homilies, small Christian communities, adoration, Bible or catechism studies, RCIA, etc.

Further Exploration of Evangelical Catholicism

In the comments of Fr. Newman's blog, Dionysus asks the following question about the Principles of Evangelical Catholicism:

You mention that these principles help guide your pastoral pratice. How would you say it leads you to do things differently than they are done in other parishes?

Fr Newman's response is enlightening, and I'd like to highlight it here:

The rubber meets the road at the preparation for and administration of the sacrametns, especially Baptism, Confirmation, First Communion, and Marriage. We do not administer these sacraments to strangers, which means that those who ask for them must truly be active members of our parish and give evidence that they understand the moral duties imposed on those who receive these sacraments. There was a time in the Church's history when we could responsibly give these sacraments almost simply because they were requested, and this condition obtained because of the vigor of Catholic culture and Church life.

That is no longer the case, and so our sacramental practice must be adjusted to the new reality....something much close, I suspect, to the discipline of the Early Church.Failing to adjust our discipline of the sacraments in the face of a neo-pagan culture results in millions of what I called "baptized pagans", meaning those who have received the sacrament without receiving the Gospel. This is one of the reasons why 75 to 90% of the baptized in the First World no longer attend Mass, and this must stop if we are to bring about real conversion in those who are called by Christ in the sacraments to follow Him in the Way of the Cross. The sacraments work ex opere operato, yes, but they are not magic. Each sacrament is a mystery of faith, and absent real faith in those receive the sacraments, superstition is more often the result than authentic Christianity. Evangelical Catholicism is one response to the challenge posed by this trend in our time.

Here is an example of a priest who understands the pastoral role of governance and focuses on the creation, formation, andnurturing of intentional disciples as a pre-requisite for embracing the Church's mission to the world.

Principles of Evangelical Catholicism

Fr. Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary's Church in Greenville, South Carolina, has a wonderful webpage and blog in which re reflects on many facets of living the faith. Here's a list of his 8 principles of Evangelical Catholicism:

The Principles of Evangelical Catholicism

1. The Lord Jesus Christ is the crucified and risen Savior of all mankind, and no human person can fully understand his life or find his dignity and destiny apart from a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. It is not enough to know who Jesus is; we must know Jesus.

2. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is divine revelation, not human wisdom, and the Gospel is given to us in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition which together constitute a single divine deposit of faith transmitted authentically and authoritatively by the Bishops in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. We must surrender our private judgments in all matters of faith and morals to the sacred teaching authority of the Church’s Magisterium if we are to receive the whole Gospel.

3. The seven Sacraments of the New Covenant are divinely instituted instruments of grace given to the Church as the ordinary means of sanctification for believers. Receiving the Sacraments regularly and worthily is essential to the life of grace, and for this reason, faithful attendance at Sunday Mass every week (serious illness and necessary work aside) and regular Confession of sins are absolutely required for a life of authentic discipleship.

4. Through Word and Sacrament we are drawn by grace into a transforming union with the Lord Jesus, and having been justified by faith we are called to sanctification and equipped by the Holy Spirit for the good works of the new creation. We must, therefore, learn to live as faithful disciples and to reject whatever is contrary to the Gospel, which is the Good News of the Father’s mercy and love revealed in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

5. The sacred liturgy, through which the seven Sacraments are celebrated and the Hours of praise are prayed, makes present to us the saving mysteries of the Lord Jesus. The liturgy must therefore be celebrated in such a way that the truth of the Gospel, the beauty of sacred music, the dignity of ritual form, the solemnity of divine worship, and the fellowship of the baptized assembled to pray are kept together in organic unity.

6. Receiving the Sacraments without receiving the Gospel leads to superstition rather than living faith, and the Church must therefore take great care to ensure that those who receive the Sacraments also receive the Gospel in its integrity and entirety. Consequently, before Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, and Marriage are administered, there must be in those who request these Sacrament clear evidence of knowledge of the Gospel and a serious intention to live the Christian life.

7. Being a follower of Christ requires moving from being a Church member by convention to a Christian disciple by conviction. This transformation demands that we consciously accept the Gospel as the measure of our entire lives, rather than attempting to measure the Gospel by our experience. Personal knowledge of and devotion to Sacred Scripture is necessary for this transformation to occur through the obedience of faith, and there is no substitute for personal knowledge of the Bible. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.

8. All the baptized are sent in the Great Commission to be witnesses of Christ to others and must be equipped by the Church to teach the Gospel in word and deed. An essential dimension of true discipleship is the willingness to invite others to follow the Lord Jesus and the readiness to explain His Gospel.

Wonderful stuff! What do you think of these principles?

St. Mary's parish is one of the leaders in forming and preparing men and women as secular apostles sent out in the world to continue the mission of Christ. There parish has created a Center for Evangelical Catholicism which "exists to evangelize, establish and equip adult Christian disciples for their Baptismal vocations in the world."

Check it out when you have a chance and do peruse Fr. Newman's website and blog!

One of the things we'd like to do is have Intentional Disciples provide links to those places active in the formation and equipping of intentional disciples for their mission in the world. Once we overcome Sherry's anti-charism of technology, we'll have that up and running.

Pray for us!


Sometimes in life we find ourselves moving forward, sometimes we find ourselves moving backward, and sometimes we don't move at all. I used to think that backwards movement was the most painful--watching the things that you cherish and have worked hard for slip away slowly, or experiencing those things being suddenly destroyed.

However, there is a desert every bit as dry, dusty, and scorching as that of the "Backwards" desert, a place of stasis where your whole life seems to be on hold. What I have discovered about myself is that this total lack of movement carries far more pain and discomfort. For me, not moving is worse than moving in the wrong direction.

The funny thing is that God is present in both deserts, where the hot wind carries sand like glass shards to strip your life of everything, flaying skin and muscle until only white bone bakes beneath the brilliant sun, laying everything open. There is honesty in this experience. It is a kind of dying--a surrendering that God calls each of us to.

I am not good at surrendering. Even as a child, I often refused to admit when I had been beaten. This fortitude and stubbornness served me well in the secular world, but spiritually it is an obstacle, a chasm as deep and as wide as any that ever separated Lazarus from Father Abraham. During the last few years, God has taught me quite a bit about the cross . . . and about surrender. The contours of this desert are familiar to me. Almost, I can feel at home here. But not quite. And so I struggle and resist. I call out to God, "Why have you forsaken me?"

Only the hiss of wind-blown sand responds.

In the midst of it all, I think about how I am not alone. Other feet have trod this desert path before me, other men and women have cried out here, other blood has watered the sands--including the Blood of the Lamb. And so if God asks me to remain here, I shall.

Unhappily so.

Imperfectly so.

I will offer my Self to the desert.



For the Lord.

If You Give Them Jesus, They Will Come"

"If you give them Jesus, they will come."

A commenter at More Evidence that Cultural Catholicism is Dead" below, quoting a young adult minister.

Short, terse, and to the point. And everyone at Intentional Disciples would say "Amen!"

But the question is, if you offer cultural Catholicism or "Catholic identity" as a substitute for Jesus or that obscures Jesus, will they come?

And the evidence seems to be in. The answer is "no", at least not any more.

The lived encounter with Christ that heals hearts, changes lives, gives rise to charisms and vocations, and releases the graces of the sacraments has always been at the center of the faith. But large numbers of Catholics didn't know it. They were cultural Catholics without being disciples.

If you offer a cultural Catholicism that is deeply, profoundly, and visibly rooted in Jesus, that is clearly all about facilitating a relationship of faith, hope, love, and discipleship with Christ, that's a whole 'nother matter.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Committment to Transformation

One of the obstacles for most parishes as they try and become Houses of Lay Formation is the work of overcoming decades (and centuries) of inertia. Embracing a mission (over a maintenance) mindset requires a great deal of prayer, planning, communication, evangelization, and execution.

And most parish communities don't possess the culture for such work.

Think of it this way:

Most councils, commissions, and committees meet only once a month. In any given three year term (which seems to be how most councils are set up, for example), that means the group will meet only 36 times for an average of about two hours (7-9 seems to be the standard). That's a total of 72 hours in three years to accomplish major undertakings.

That's the best case.

Leave aside the fact that Parish Councils are supposed to be consultative bodies to assist the pastor and assume that the group in question is actually a working group. Now consider that most parishes "take the Summer off" from June-August. That's three months off every year for three years (a total of 9 meetings of 18 hours that are "lost").

In addition, the first meeting of the year is usually more of an orientation/catching up meeting, and the last meeting of the year (or the December meeting, depending upon the fiscal calendar) is often a Christmas party), thereby costing the group another 6 meetings (or 12 work hours) over three years.

That leaves a council, commission, or committee only 21 meetings (or 42 hours) in which to complete their mandate. Now, some work may get done between meetings (but that isn't necessarily the norm). However, given that major initiatives (like building parish-wide formation programs) could take years of regular frequent meetings (in my last parish, it took 3 years of weekly meetings for a Council to adequately form, plan, and execute--through the creation of various commissions--on a parish-wide initiative), the working culture in most parishes isn't conducive to the kind of formation and planning it takes just to start some of the work that is necessary to transform our parishes.

And yet, any suggestion that a committment for a parish work group might be more than just once a month is met by horrified stares and declarations of impossibility from parish staff and parishioners.

How can we transform our parishes if the folks who have the charisms, talent, and experience to do so don't make the committment?

How does the work get done at your parish?

More On Forming Formators

One of the things that I have had the opportunity to do over the past several years is work closely with pastoral and finance councils as parish communities seek to transform from places focused on maintaining the community to Houses of Lay Formation with a focus on the Church's mission to the world.

If, indeed, much of pastoral leadership is about calling forth, nurturing, and "unleashing" the gifts of the community for the sake of Christ's mission, then it stands to reason that pastoral leadership requires formation in and around the notion of mission, discernment, charisms, and, well, formation.

I'm currently working closely with one such council to help provide comprehensive formation for the sake of their role in the pastor's office, and I've identified the following as areas important for their formation:

If council has as its mission (as this one does) helping members of the parish respond to Christ's call of service to the world, then formation for the council should include:

1. A deeper examination of the mission of Christ and the Church in Scripture and Tradition

2. An exploration of the role of the laity and the ordained in the mission of Christ in the world

3. Opportunities for continuing personal encounter with Christ through prayer, reflection, scripture study, and devotions.

4. Continued faith sharing through small and large group discussions and activities.

5. Exploration of the way God gifts men and women for their work in the world, with particular attention to the ways in which He has gifted the individual members of the PLAC

6. Examination of what discernment is, along with opportunities to engage in discerning one's gifts and vocation in the world.

7. Continued discussion and study on the role of the parish in the formation of lay men and women.

8. Further support in the pastoral planning process, particularly when it comes to evaluating and putting together a comprehensive plan for adult formation in the parish.

Are there any other areas of formation that you think it might be important for a council to have?

Ancient Future Evangelism

Robert Webber, has been seeking to persuade evangelicals to look to the practices of historic Christianity for the past 25 years. Webber wrote his new book, Ancient-Future Evangelism in response to a driving question raised at the 1999 International Consultation on Discipleship in Eastbourne, England. The question was, "How can our evangelism produce not only converts but disciples who grow in faith and become active members of the church?"

Webber rightly points out that our twenty-first century context is similar to the ministry context that the early church faced for the first three centuries of the church. That is good news for us as we grope for ways to connect with people who are often hostile toward the Christian faith. We can learn much from the ways that the ancient church practiced evangelism and discipleship despite harsh opposition and disparate religious and social communities.

His new book Ancient Future Evangelism might be helpful to Catholics.

Our theological and spiritual resources are wider and deeper but they ask better questions in this area than we do. I find that the questions that evangelicals ask in this area are very challenging and often stimulate some great out-of-the-box and deep-in-the-Tradition thinking.

Because the questions you ask determine what you can see.

More Evidence that Cultural Catholicism is Dead

From a disturbing article on Catholic online:

"Two recent sociological studies focus on important generational differences among Catholics.

They indicate that younger Catholics are more individualistic, more tolerant of religious diversity and far less committed to the practices of their faith than older Catholics. Based on their findings, researchers speculate that the future Catholic Church in the United States may be a fraction of the size it is now.

In the longitudinal study, four generations were identified. The youngest is the “Millennial generation” born between 1979 and 1987, now 20 to 28 years old. The oldest generation is the pre-Vatican II Catholics, born before 1941, now ages 66 and older. The middle two generations constituting three-quarters of current adult laity are today’s Baby Boomers who were teenagers when the Second Vatican Council was first convened in 1962, and the slightly younger generation, now 29 to 46, who have taken Vatican II for granted.

80 percent of the Millennial college students disagreed with the statement, “Catholicism contains a greater share of truth than other religions.”

While the national sample of Millennials has a weekly attendance rate of 15 percent, their peers at the five Catholic colleges are only marginally higher at 22 percent.

Both authors are concerned with the direction of these changes. The trend is troublesome, they say, for if the youngest generation – including Catholic college students – have established habits that move the church and the sacraments far from the center of their lives, it’s unlikely that this will change significantly as they age. “Once a generation has established a pattern of Mass attendance, evidence suggests that it does not change much throughout their lives. If we follow the present pattern, the church of 2050 may well be a fraction of its present size,” the authors said."

Unless, of course, we evangelize.

And what of the "JP II" generation" of orthodox younger Catholics that we've heard so much about?

They do exist (We've met many!) but they are simply a much smaller portion of their generation than the church-going segment of their parents' and grand-parents' generation.

The issue is how to reach the 85% who are unchurched. Our earlier strategy of evangelizing by running them through Catholic institutions has clearly failed. Increasingly, they are not coming back when they get married and when their children are born. Increasingly, they are just not coming back - period.

We are going to have to get outside our institutional mindset and begin to think apostolically. We are going to have to seek them out and evangelize them rather than expect them to come back to us on our terms. We are going to have to focus on making intentional disciples rather than assume that "Catholic identity" is going to carry people through life.

Quote of the Day

"Mediocrity and hypocrisy characterize the lives of many avowed Christians, at least in part because of our default answer to the salvation question. Anyone can, and most Americans do, "believe" in Jesus rather than some alternative savior. Anyone can, and many Americans sometimes do, say a prayer asking Jesus to save them. But not many embark on a life fully devoted to the love of God, the love of neighbor, the moral practice of God's will, and radical, costly discipleship."

David P. Gushee, Jesus & the Sinner's Prayer

Hat tip: Mark Shea

My favorite Colorado March Thing

My favorite Colorado March thing:

Get up at 3 am and drive to the Wet Mountain Valley. Get there in time to see sunrise on the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

In 1719, Spanish explorer and governor of New Mexico (which was then part of New Spain - the border between Spanish and Anglo America runs along the Arkansas river, 40 miles south of us) saw the mountains at dawn and named them "Blood of Christ" mountains.

One of the most beautiful places on earth.

We could stop and have breakfast and a latte in Westcliffe. Sound good?

Spring? Bah, Humbug!

Why its the middle of winter here in the spine of North America and time for ski-joring.

This is the ski-joring competition held last weekend in Leadville, Colorado, highest incorporated town in North America at 10,200 feet elevation. Whimpy easterners do it with dogs. Westerners do with horses.

If you find yourself asking "why", you clearly lack the pioneer spirit to make it through a winter here.

So perhaps you'd prefer Colorado in August and the epic (and very moving) challenge of the Leadville Trail 100 which I wrote about in the Leadville Effect. You could attend Making Disciples and then tour our stunning state and finish by witnessing the highest altitude ultra-marathon in North America.

Colorado: altitude with attitude. It helps to be a little bit crazy.

Holy Conversation or What I'm Working on This Lent

I've got a big project to which I will be dedicated the next several months - a complete re-write of Making Disciples, our 4 day training in Colorado Springs this summer (July 29 - August 2) which we will be offering again in the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia in early November.

It's all about Do Ask, Do Tell. The fundamental topics will include:

How to recognize pre-discipleship levels of spiritual development.

· How personal faith “releases” graces that transform lives.

· How to respond pastorally and effectively to people at different levels of spiritual maturity.

· How to ask questions and facilitate discussion that encourages participants to freely share (and discover!) their real beliefs and issues and move closer to discipleship.

· How to clearly and effectively share the basic kerygma.

· How to help someone who is ready actually become an intentional disciple

The awareness and skill set that participants will learn will be immediately applicable to RCIA and a wide variety of other pastoral ministries and settings.

So this is a heads-up. A lot of my blogging this spring is going to be around the many pastoral issues raised by all this.

Latin America: It's Complicated

From a Catholic News Service story of Jan 31:

"In 1995, 80 percent of Latin Americans identified themselves as Catholic, but by 2004 that figure had dropped to 71 percent, according to the Chile-based Latinobarometro polling firm. Only 42 percent of Catholics considered themselves practicing, however, compared to more than 74 percent of evangelicals.

"It's pretty evident that the church is going through a long period of disengagement" compared to the close church-state relationship that existed in colonial times, said Jesuit Father Jeffrey Klaiber, a historian at the Pontifical Catholic University in Lima.

Father Klaiber said the strength of the region's Catholicism has always been somewhat exaggerated. The church was always weaker than it appeared, "even in colonial times, but people didn't realize it, because of its dependence on the state," he said. "People were there not so much for the church, but for the devotions."

Religious devotions such as those to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico and the Lord of the Miracles in Peru are celebrated by Latin Americans around the world.

In Argentina, where the disengagement of church and state dates back to the 1850s, only 34 percent of people identify themselves as Catholic, according to Latinobarometro. In Chile, which legalized divorce in December 2004 over the protests of the Catholic bishops, the figure is 31 percent.

But while people may be less willing to follow their bishops' lead on issues such as divorce or birth control, the church still "has the power to call people together in a crisis. And people still look to the church to have a voice" on social justice issues, Father Klaiber said.

Although many of the bishops who spoke out most strongly on those issues in recent decades have retired, the church's defense of human rights and social justice continues to give it great credibility in the region, according to Dominican Father Edward Cleary, who heads the Latin American studies department at Providence College in Rhode Island.

With seminary enrollment up, about 175,000 religious and more than 1 million lay catechists, "to me it looks like the church (in Latin America) is doing better than in the United States in terms of work force, confidence and missionary spirit," Father Cleary said. "How can there be 1.1 million lay catechists if there's not a commitment?"

Excellent question. Could it be the sign of a spiritual resurgence or something else? And encouraging that it is the lay catechists who are regarded as the sign of missionary spirit and commitment.

This paragaph really struck me:

Father Klaiber said the strength of the region's Catholicism has always been somewhat exaggerated. The church was always weaker than it appeared, "even in colonial times, but people didn't realize it, because of its dependence on the state," he said. "People were there not so much for the church, but for the devotions."

I have two observations. Note that Fr. Klaiber said "People were there no so much for the church, but for devotions."

What does he mean? Are those engaged in devotions doing so out of devotion to Christ or as a kind of popular magic? Is he implying that there is some kind of "devotions and me" dynamic going on without any real commitment to the Church herself?

Two: "the church was always weaker than it appeared."

Couldn't that have been said of the golden age of US Catholicism prior to the Council? It seemed to be flourishing but collapsed in upon itself in a single decade when the wide-spread cultural assumptions that supported it were challenged during the 60's.

All of us are children of our culture and disrupting the culture we presume disrupts everything. How can we make sure that we have not confused culture with discipleship? How can we be rooted enough in our discipleship so that we stand apart just enough to both love and discern the flux of the culture about us and respond in a Christ-like way?

Monday, March 5, 2007

It's Not a Test!

This was fun - coming across a comment from a Protestant RCIA candidate who writes that he took the Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory in his RCIA class this week. As he keeps reminding himself, "its not a test!".

We've sold about 35,000 inventories over the years so I know that they are lying about somewhere but it is increasingly exciting to run into people and parishes that have been exposed to gifts discernment in ways that we would never have anticipated.

More of Barb Nicolosi

Keith and I were writing posts on the same topic at the same time, so I deleted mine but just wanted to add these typically pungent Nicolosian observations from the same proposal:

The religious and priests will work at the place but this is innately a LAY initiative. The media is absolutely the temporal sphere. Besides, we don't want to pin our fortunes here on the weird inner workings of a religious community in which people too often get power because they don't rock the boat.)

Write the person a big check, and then trust. Over sight yes, but trust. Because most of us orthodox Catholics have no idea of what beautiful art is. We only know what we like. Not what we are talking about, as a rule.)

Why does this thing have to be interdenominational? Can't it be just Catholic?

This Center has to be interdenominational, because that is how God is working to renew the entertainment industry. It has been an interdenominational effort for the last twenty years. And it is wonderful and working. So, let's all just get over ourselves and let God be God and send His spirit and inspirations through whom he will.

Question: So why do we need a Chapel and priests and religious? Because the Catholic contribution to the fruitfulness of this Center will be in the sacraments. I have seen Christianity from both sides now. And the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the power of the Eucharist have irreplaceable undeniable power.

Serendipity Is . . .

The last two posts on this blog! :)

Mission Hollywood

Barb Nicolosi, former Executive Director of Act One and a tireless advocate for impacting American Culture through Hollywood, shares a little bit of her vision for how the Church can have a greater impact on culture over at her blog, Church of the Masses.

The thing I love about Barb is that she understands both the creative and business side of Hollywood and has a deep understanding of the Lay Office. Her work and thought brings all of these things together in surprisingly practical ways.

Here's some snippets from her post:

I was asked by a group of Catholic business leaders recently, to give some ideas as to how the Church could make a more strategic impact on the culture. I think everybody expected me to say that the answer is in writing checks to fund movies. But that's not what I said. I don't think we need to get Catholic millionaires to write big checks to pay for movie budgets. I think we need to get Warner Bros., Paramount, Sony and the like to start financing movies that would have a Catholic worldview.

And how do you do that? It's so damn simple I can't believe it has to be said. Still not getting it? The secret to changing what is on the screen is mysteriously connected to the Church carrying out her perpetual mandate. Which is not to start production companies...

Barb then lays out a very well-thought out vision and plan of execution on exactly how to get that done. Here she is again:

Problem: Pope John Paul II noted with dismay many times, and in particular in his Letter to Artists (2000), that something must be done to “renew the fruitful dialogue that used to exist between the Church and the arts.” There is a great need for the Church to connect to the creative and business communities that are setting the global arts and entertainment agenda. Inspired by the success of The Passion of the Christ, the Lord of the Rings franchise, and the Narnia franchise, many young Catholics are finding their way into Hollywood careers. Programs like Act One, the Angelus Awards, and the Los Angeles Film Study Center exist to help them in their initial steps. There is currently very little to support Christians who are established in the business, who want to stay close to Christ, as well as grow in their professional achievements.

Goal: The Church needs to offer professionals in the entertainment arena:
- ethical guidance
- spiritual formation
- vocational and professional discernment counseling
- state of the art professional and artistic training and mentoring informed by a Catholic worldview
- RCIA geared specifically to media professionals- A community of peers centered around Christ and the desire to do good

Vision: 1) An Artists Chapel that would become a place of pilgrimage for everyone who is setting out on a new entertainment/media/arts project. A place of real artistic beauty, the Chapel would be dedicated to God the Creator, the Holy Spirit as the Author of new Epiphanies of Beauty, and to the Angels who are the Patrons of Communications and of the City of Los Angeles. We would decorate it with all the artist saints of the Church: St. Gregory the Great, Bl. Fra Angelico, Ven. Hildegrard of Bingen, Bl. James Alberione, etc. The Chapel would be geared to minister specifically to people in the arts and media world. It would be staffed by priests and religious who spend their time praying for the media when they are not hearing confessions, giving spiritual direction and teaching RCIA to industry converts.

2) A Think-Tank Center of Study on the Church and the Arts – With state of the art conference facilities, a production library and screening rooms, this center would offer the broader entertainment industry a continuous program of topical conferences and seminars on topics like “Human Development and Entertainment,” “The Nature and Power of Beauty,” “Good Comedy and Bad Comedy,” “Marrying Truth-telling and Creative License,” etc. In addition, the center would be a place for scholars in residence who will come from ecclesiastical and other places of higher learning in the Church, to brood, write and think on the theology, spirituality and ethics of man as a creative being.This Center would also be a source for the secular media which is looking for informed statements from the Church on cultural topics. This Center would have been the one to be on all the networks discussing The Da Vinci Code, and why James Cameron’s documentary is only significant as a sign of the spiritual bankruptcy of our times.

3) A large Theater/Screening Facility – to rival the coolest ones in the city (ie. The TV Academy, the WGA Theater, the DGA theater). From here, the Church can hold film festivals that look at the intersection of cinema and spirituality. We can give prestigious screenings to secular industry projects that are worthy of praise or discussion.

4) A State of the Art Graduate Level Cinema School. Act One is already doing this, but with rented facilities and without the resources to expand the program to offer training and mentoring to actors, directors, and technical professionals. Act One needs a building. It needs a long term financial structure that will allow it to expand without the insane trying to pay the bills month-to-month.

5) A center of ministry - To give a home to the myriad Christian ministries that operate in Los Angeles that are beggars and renters without a permanent home. Ministries that could be brought together under the Center's roof include, LAFSC, the City of Angels Film Festival, Open Call, Catholics in Media Associates, Inter-Mission, the Hollywood Prayer Network, Hollywood Connect, the Actors Co-op, etc.

6) Community Housing – There is a great need for housing for young Christians just arriving in Hollywood, and those who are already here, but who want to live in an environment of prayer and Christ-like fellowship. We need an apartment building with quiet, orderly places for the students to work on scripts, storyboards, audition prep, etc. It will need a Chapel, and quarters for a chaplain. There should be some common areas and maybe a coffee shop operated by the young people who live there, which would be open to the general public. It could be a first place to land and work for young people just arriving in Hollywood.

Strategic Plan:
- Gather a core team to support this right now. Find somebody who is spiritually mature, philosophically trained, experienced in non-profit management and conencted in Hollywood to run it. (Not me...and not anybody who is a religious or priest either. The religious and priests will work at the place but this is innately a LAY initiative. The media is absolutely the temporal sphere. Besides, we don't want to pin our fortunes here on the weird inner workings of a religious community in which people too often get power because they don't rock the boat.)

Write the person a big check, and then trust. Over sight yes, but trust. Because most of us orthodox Catholics have no idea of what beautiful art is. We only know what we like. Not what we are talking about, as a rule.)

Barb continues her plan in remarkably practical ways. Do go check out the whole post!

Reading her vision and plan stirs something inside of me personally. As an artist (a novelist) who hopes to communicate the beauty and truth of God in some small way through my chosen medium, and as someone who has had dealings with movie studios, I can clearly see the need for what she proposes.

I think that all of us who are serious about living as a lay apostle in the 21st century, however, should sit up and take note of how Barb has combined her experience in Hollywood with the mission of the Church in the world. What she has proposed flows directly from her lay office, her secular competence, and her faith in God. Her plan is clear, measurable, and practical. And her approach refuses to have the Church retreat into an enclave where She produces "Catholic" movies for a Catholic audience.

Pray for Barb and pray for the Church in Hollywood!

Cashing In On The Charismatic Economy

God wants your parish to be rich . . .

Rich in faith, rich in hope, rich in love--

and rich in charisms.

In fact, God has given each parish community all of the gifts it needs to fulfill the mission to which He has called it (and its members). If we take the both written and oral Tradition seriously and acknowledge the reality of the charisms in our midst, then we begin to realize that there is a charismatic economy to the Church--a way in which God intends for His Body to go out and continue the mission of Christ to the world.

We are not left to our own devices in responding to the call of Christ to "go make disciples among all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:18-19). Rather, God has equipped us with particular talents and charisms to accomplish the particular work of love that He has called us to. We limit ourselves and we place artificial boundaries upon God when we simply throw bodies at particular issues, deploying resources like any solely human institution.

In honoring this economy (by discerning the charisms among us and connecting particular gifts with particular work) we not only realize the full flowering of effectiveness in our mission, but we also honor the Giver of These Gifts. Recognized in this light, calling forth and nurturing the gifts and vocation of the community becomes one of the fundamental expressions of the pastoral role of governance and a living example of good stewardship.

Solid stewardship of treasure, for example, seeks the maximum result for every single penny spent. Why do our parishes not have the same approach with its members. We should seek the maximum effect in every area of our formation, our worship, and our mission to the world. Lining up people's experience and charisms with particular tasks that must be accomplished. Their are charisms of leadership and administration waiting to be used to address the particular issues of the local community in which the parish is placed. There are charisms of teaching and encouragement that are waiting to be used in our sacramental preparation and formation for mission. There are an abundance of riches that God has showered upon us in the charismatic economy.

How, then, can we best cash in on this economy? How can we, at the parish level, provide better formation, discernment, and "deployment" so that all of the God-given resources of each parish may be offered for the sake of the world?

Too Funny

I'm sure you have all heard about this:

esus married Mary Magdalene, had a son named Judah, died, and stayed dead, says Simcha Jacobovici, an award-winning filmmaker. A Discovery Channel documentary on his findings, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, will be televised March 4.

As Christianity Today puts it:

"The only thing more ridiculous than filmmakers' claims that a tomb outside Jerusalem once held the bones of Jesus of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene, a son of Jesus, and other family members is some of the media coverage those claims have garnered.

It's hard to top James Cameron when he says things like, "This is the biggest archeological story of the century. It's absolutely not a publicity stunt." But some media outlets seem to be trying hard to do so."

So CT is sponsoring a contest:

What media outlet has the most credulous, exaggerated, or otherwise wacky report on the "tomb of Jesus"? Entries (use the feedback form below) are due by Friday, March 9. The winner will receive a one-year subscription to Christianity Today (or one of our sister publications) and a copy of The Tomb of Jesus (the tie-in book to the Discovery Channel "documentary"). The winner will be determined purely at the whim of one or more editors here at CT.

So don't take the contest too seriously. We hope you're not taking the documentary too seriously, either.

Vatican Glass Ceiling . . & the Laity

Catholic News Service has an interesting article this morning Women chip Vatican's glass ceiling with increased numbers, influence.

To sum it up:

Women now make up 21% of Vatican employees but few have real decision-making power. That's because the power to "govern" in the Church has historically been understood to require ordination.

In 2004, Salesian Sister Enrica Rosanna was named an undersecretary of the Vatican congregation that deals with religious orders. That's No. 3 in the chain of command, a position that has always been understood to involve governance, and it made her the highest-ranking woman at the Vatican. But it didn't settle the question of whether she, as a non-ordained person, could exercise the power of governance in her role.

CNS points out that

"Strangely, women remain a small minority -- about 10 percent -- in the ranks of consultors to Vatican agencies. These are experts around the world who advise the congregations or councils on matters under study, and who generally come to the Vatican once or twice a year for meetings.

Most congregations have between 30 and 40 consultors. But at present, the congregations dealing with doctrine, liturgy, clergy, saints' causes and Eastern churches have no women consultors at all.”

(Sherry’s note: the Congregation for the Clergy oversees all matters related to parish life and the catechesis and the religious formation of the all baptized, two areas that profoundly affect the lives of nearly all practicing Catholics and where lay consultors would seem to be not only appropriate, but essential.)

Since I can never think in tidy politically correct categories, I have often been struck by the fact that the acrimonious debate over the ordination of women and feminism in general in the west has obscured and distorted several other critical discussions.

Like the fact that the debate over governance is not first and foremost a male-female issue. It is a ordained/non-ordained issue. And male cleric and non-ordained woman are not the only two categories at issue here. What about lay men?

Of the approximately 500 million Catholic men in the world, only 441,669 are ordained bishop, priests, or deacon. That's .0008833 %, folks. Only 9/100th of 1 % of all Catholic men are ordained. Yes, we ordain men but it doesn't therefore follow that the charisms, leadership and creativity of men, as a whole, have been honored and welcomed. (Of course, that also imply that simply changing the gender make-up of this tiny ordained minority would not mean that the charisms, leadership and creativity of women, as a whole, would have been honored and welcomed either.)

It has been my experience that the role of lay men is the least honored and appreciated one in the western Church today. The debate over feminism have made most western Catholics eager not to seem to be sexist. (This is clearly less true in cultures where women are regarded as inferior). In the west, because the image of the male cleric looms so large, there isn't a lot of room for another kind of strongly Catholic male image.

The debate over governance and leadership in the Church is not just, as it is so often portrayed, a battle of the sexes. It is most profoundly, a opportunity to consider the implications of the Church's teaching on the apostolic anointing of all the baptized (female and male), the insistence that the Church's primary identity is that of mission outward, and the integration of the “co-essential” (as Pope John Paul II put it) charismatic and institutional dimensions of the Church.

As we become clearer about the mission and role of the laity, it sheds new light on the ordained priesthood, whose entire purpose for existence is the fruition of the baptismal priesthood, and the larger issue of leadership as well. If Church’s primary mission is truly outward, not inward, that has huge implications for all forms of leadership, ordained or lay.

The CNS story acknowledged the larger issue of the role of the laity with these final paragraphs:

"Some sources noted that while attention is often given to the men-women ratio at the Vatican another slow but significant shift has occurred in the number of lay employees in the Curia.

Laypeople now represent about 38 percent of employees in major curial agencies, numbering close to 300 people. Fifty years ago, half of the 12
Vatican congregations had no laypeople on their staffs; among the handful of laity who did work there at the time, none were women."

Easter blitz

I've got just a few hours before I hit the road again, but I have a question for all of you who read Intentional Disciples. We know that many "Christmas and Easter" Catholics will be filling our churches in a few weeks. Rather than crack jokes about them, are your parishes doing anything to help not only welcome them, but reach out to them?

I can guarantee that your parish staff is probably not going to take the initiative on this one. Not because they don't care, but because they are immersed in liturgical preparations, working on Lenten projects to help you grow in your faith, and focusing a lot of attention on the people in the RCIA process.

If you or others in your parish are interested in the faith of the "C&E" Catholics, what might you do? Or, if your parish is doing something to intentionally reach out to these folks, what is it? Is it transferable to other parishes? Could people with the charisms of evangelism and hospitality work together to figure out some way of connecting with folks who are simply brushing the tassle of Jesus' cloak?

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Sunday, March 4, 2007

Spirit and Truth: Praise, Worship & Adoration

This intriguing initiative began in Georgia with college students and is spreading around the country. There are now S & T groups in 16 cities in 11 states.

Spirit and Trust is a weekly prayer group combined spontaneous praise and worship with contemplative time in front of the Eucharist. The group’s name was inspired by John 4:23, where Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, “The hour is coming, and is here now, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth, and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.” It sounds wonderful since Eucharistic Adoration is one of the Catholic traditions that has been most nurturing and important for me.

Scroll down on their site to find a map and contact information for groups around the US.

Spirit and Life will be sponsoring its first young adult (19 - 29) conference, April 13 - 15 in Pensacola, FL.

Lenten Theatre

On March 29, 30, the residents of Minneapolis (brave, frozen souls!) will be able to attend an original theatrical production at St. Olaf's Church - the Scrutiny Passion.

Maggie Mahrt, who played Therese of Lisieux in the original St. Luke production of Story of a Soul, will be one of the performers.

If you live the Minneapolis area, check it out! It looks really interesting.

St. Mary's. Greenville, Reaches Out to Hispanics

Here's a very interesting initiative - from the famous St. Mary's in Greenville, South Carolina - the home of Bob Jones University and Fr. Dwight Longennecker. St. Mary's is known for it's liturgy, preaching and the St. Mary's Center for Evangelical Catholicism.

(I've been to St. Mary's several times to do Called & Gifted workshops and training. In fact, we'll be offering training next weekend at St. Mary's for those who want to facilitate the discernment of others and offering a Called & Gifted worksshop there on April 20/21.)

But back to the topic.

Fr. Christopher Smith - the administrator pro tem during the pastor's sabbatical issued this letter to his parish on February 11.

Many of the original Scotch-Irish settlers in this part of Carolina were Catholics; in a generation, they overwhelmingly became Protestants. Why? Because the Church was not visible to them, because there were no priests and no sacraments available to them. The same thing is happening again, this time to the Hispanics. There are now approximately 37,000 Hispanics in Greenville County. In theory, almost all of them should be Catholics. But at this moment, there are now more practicing Latino Protestants than Catholics.

How has this happened? Many of the non-Catholic churches have become very aggressive in converting Catholics away from the fold. They learn Spanish and congregations invest time and money into what they see as fertile ground for evangelization. They bring highly trained native pastors to do missionary work within the United States among the Latinos. What’s more, so many of those who come from Latin America are so poorly catechized that they are easily taken in by those who shower them with love, gifts and the Gospel. Who can blame them?

I have spent a year and half trying to meet with the Latino Protestant pastors in Greenville, and they refuse to even return my letters and calls. Their tactics have become more antagonistic; they have now bought a radio station, 1580AM, and are broadcasting anti-Catholic programming in an attempt to take away their countrymen from the Church of their forefathers. Are we going to let this happen, again?

Many of our Anglos want to help the Hispanics, but do not know how. Here is a chance: we are in the process of putting together a newspaper which would tell people the truth about the Catholic faith, a weekly or monthly which will go into Spanish shops all over Greenville. Also, we want to buy time on 103.9FM so that we can counter the attacks on our Faith and on our priests. Say you don’t speak Spanish? It doesn’t matter. We need money, we need volunteers, we need paper, we need graphic artists, we need ink, we need people who can help us reach out to the Latino community. We need you!

Deacon Diego Ferro is waiting for your call or email to help make this happen:

Deacon Diego Ferro
Director of Hispanic Ministry
864.271.8422, ext. 126
Send E-mail »

If we are a parish that wants to spread the Gospel, why not start with the largest group of people in Greenville who are Catholics and the largest group in Greenville who are on their way out because we are not doing our part to reach them? You can help save souls, one at a time – all for Jesus!

Padre Cristóbal Smith

I'm Back!

From the knee-deep-in-frozen snow upper midwest. I spent most of Friday trapped in the Minneapolis airport (my home away from home!) and reached Milwaukee at 5:30pm after leaving home at 4:30 am. But I was in time for the workshop and a very good time was had by all. The participants were very enthusiastic.

One of the things that is exciting about this work is to see the amazing new initatives that people undertake when they begin to discern their charisms. At Christ King Parish in Wauwatosa, Joan Carey and Cindy Stuart with a team of collaborators have created Simply the Word, a Catholic Bible study that incoporates music, prayer, small group discussion and lecture.

Joan and Cindy had spent 7 years in Bible Study Fellowship (I've talked to hundreds of Catholics over the years who have been part of Bible Study Fellowship, which is "non-denominational" but whose assumptions are exlicitly Sola Scriptura and anti-Catholic) but wanted to create something equally effective that was truly Catholic in its approach.

Cindy, who has a PhD, does the research and writing and Joan gives the 20 min talk. Each member of the Simply the Word team contributes their unique charisms and the results have been very exciting. In a parish where Bible study has fizzled before, 80 -90 excited Catholics from around the diocese are now attending every week.

Good stuff is happening all over.

It is good to be home however, especially to arrive home in early afternoon on one of the those brilliantly sunny Colorado days. I'll be blogging more this evening as I plow through my e-mails.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

A picture of the Charism of Hospitality

Check out this article in yesterday's Oregonian, the major newspaper of western Oregon. It's a beautiful illustration of a man using his spiritual gifts in a simple, small, unobtrusive, consistent way and making a big difference in the life of his church - indeed, the whole Church. Enjoy.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Sherry Will Be Pleased To Know ...

That Intentional Disciples (at the moment) is accessible behind China's Internet firewalls. (See The Great Firewall of China.)

Off I go, parents and kids in tow....

I, too am heading off for a few days. My uncle Don, a retired missionary, has been very ill for some time and has been readmitted to the hospital; it seems likely that his homegoing will be quite soon. My Dad wants to see his brother. I will be driving my parents and my three girls from here to there tomorrow, with about 8 hours of road time. We plan to be home sometime Tuesday or Wednesday, unless events intervene otherwise.

Prayers for safe travel, reasonably happy kids, and my sanity/alertness would be appreciated. Most of all, please pray for a happy, peaceful death for my Uncle Don in God's time, for his wife, my Aunt Norma, and for my cousin Sarah who is in charge of his care.

I am reminded by all of this of the wonderful heritage of faith that is mine in my family. None of my extended family is Catholic, but I was in Sunday School from the first Sunday of my life (Mom was teaching) and cannot remember *not* knowing the basics of the faith. My parents met in the home missions, and my Uncle Don and Aunt Norma were missionaries overseas for more than 30 years. Most of all, my parents taught me to love Jesus, that loving Him matters more than anything else, and that loving Jesus means helping others love Him too.

Tell your children about Jesus. If you don't have any of your own, tell somebody else's children about Jesus.

Oh, Slushing Through the Snow . . .

Yeah, Keith - you are abandoning the frozen north for California and I'm off to join Fr. Mike on the tundra tour. Who set this up?

But if you have shoveled out in Milwuakee, consider coming to the Called & Gifted at Christ King Church in Wauwatosa, WI and saying "hi!". It's a great Lenten thing.

Back Sunday afternoon. In the interim, we leave you in the capable hands of Sherry the Greater, Kathie, JACK, and the gang.

Fantastastic Pictures of Vigil for Life in DC

An amazing photo essay of this year's Vigil for Life at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC. It's the biggest Mass of the year in the US - 10,000 strong!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Away to Cali-forn-i-a

I'm off again to teach a Called & Gifted Workshop--this time to Woodland Hills, CA. Sorry I've been so scarce lately. Things should return to normal after my trip. God bless you all. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

Catholic Quote of the Day

From the Lenten retreat that Cardinal Giacomo Biffi is conducting for the Pope and curia:

"The Antichrist is the reduction of Christianity to an ideology, instead of a personal encounter with the Savior."

Hat tip: Mark Shea

Milwaukee Catholics Inviting 60,000 to "come home"


2/3 of American Catholic adults leave the Church for some portion of their life. In the Archdiocese of Milwuakee's district 16, they are doing something about it - on a large scale.

They are inviting 60,000 people to attend a "Come Home" Day on March 25. They hope for 250 to respond. Our prayers for the work of the Holy Spirit through this outreach would be wonderful.

Maybe I'll hear more when I'm in Milwaukee this weekend for this C & G.

How do I know what my "calling" might be?

I once had the opportunity to hear a Jesuit priest being interviewed about his sense of ‘calling’ and his view of his vocation. He told a surprising story:

He was nearing the end of his formation, and his ordination date was drawing near. As the day approached, he began to get “cold feet”; he began to doubt himself, wondering whether he’d really been led by the Holy Spirit in responding to God’s call or whether he had just been deluded by a passing fancy. Dread began to pile up in his heart and mind, and he sought out his director, who gently helped him in dealing with his fears and encouraged him to continue on the pathway toward priesthood.

His ordination day arrived, and then passed; however, the nagging feeling that he’d made a huge mistake didn’t go away in the midst of the joy and celebration of the end of the long formation process. Even after years of intense study, examination, spiritual direction, and practicum, deep down he didn’t feel prepared at all for the situations he imagined he might face as a priest. He accepted his first assignment with obedience, but still struggling with his fear.

After a year and a half in his parish in a small Alaskan village, including the stresses and strains of adjustment to the culture and some initial awkwardness in carrying out his duties, he realized one day that he felt better – he felt at home, he felt confident and useful, he no longer felt the sense of dread that had dogged his steps. He considered how this transformation had happened in his heart, and he came up with this answer:

He realized that he had been taught to be a priest by those whom he was called to serve. The people who surrounded him had brought their needs and problems to him, and he had somehow found within himself the resources to help them – and he realized that those resources had been placed in him by virtue of his vocation and his obedience to it. From his parishioners, he learned what was needed, and God seemed to have supplied him as the conduit through which they could receive the grace they sought. From their feedback, he learned how best to provide and care for them.

I think that the experience of this priest applies to each one of us in our vocation as lay Christians, i.e. the priesthood we received by our baptism, which we exercise each day in our roles as parents, teachers, managers, administrators, etc. People come to us to draw out what God has welled up within us – for them. This underlines an important idea that all Called & Gifted seminar participants hear: Your spiritual gifts are not for your own edification; they are for others. As a comfort, recognize this: Other’s spiritual gifts are for you.

Paying attention to our interactions with friends and family is one way that we can get a glimpse of what our specific charisms are. If you wonder what your personal spiritual gifts or vocational direction might be, ask yourself this: What is it about yourself that you find constant joy in giving away to others?

Corrie Ten Boom

Also featured in this month's Lausanne Gobal report is one of my favorite Protestant heroines, Corrie Ten Boom. A single, middle-aged watchmaker when the Nazis marched into Holland, Corrie and her devout family hid large numbers of Jews as part of the underground. (Their house is now a museum) They were betrayed and sent to concentrations camps in 1944. Four of her family died but Corrie survived, released due to a typographical error one week before all the women her age were gassed.

For the rest of her long life, Corrie became a traveling evangelist, telling anyone who would listen that "There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still". As her sister told Corrie before she died in the camp, "they will believe us because we were here."

A lovely film was made about Corrie and her family called the Hiding Place. It is available on dvd and worth a viewing.

April 29: Feast of St. Catherine of Siena or Internet Evangelism Day?

Or both.

I can't imagine St. Catherine objecting. Check it out here.

From the March edition of the Lausanne World Pulse - always full of interesting news re global missions as seen through evangelical eyes.

Rant of the Week: Don't Dis Lay "Ministry"

I feel another rant coming on:

The subject: Lay Ministers and Catechists.

First of all, the big picture:

In Vatican-speak, the generic term “catechists” means all Catholics who work intra-ecclesially – full or part-time, paid or volunteer – and who are not a bishop, priest, deacon, seminarian, or religious. They are critically important because “catechists” make up 69% of the global “ecclesial work force”. All 2.76 million of them.

In most parts of the world, the role of a catechists runs the gamut from open air evangelistic meetings, religious education, leading weekly prayer services in remote mountain villages in Ecuador, or providing trauma counseling to victims of religious violence in the Sudan. Whatever is essential to the life of the Christian community and doesn't require ordination. That’s why the Vatican tracks and publicizes their numbers. That’s why the Apostolate of Prayer has dedicated the month of March to praying for their formation. Because the life and work of the Church in most of the world would simply be impossible without these dedicated lay apostles.

Since the Vatican doesn’t have a statistical category for “lay ecclesial minister”, the term “catechist” includes people that both sides of the American Catholic spectrum love to hate. The 1.6 million “catechists” listed for "America" (which for the Vatican includes the entire western hemisphere, north and south) would include professional lay ecclesial ministers in Seattle, LA, and Boston and the volunteer CCD teachers in western Kansas for whom we put on a Called & Gifted workshop two weeks ago. “Catechists” would also include the 140 young lay evangelists who preached the three week “Great Mission” in the Peruvian Andes that culminated in the baptism of 1,000 young people last week.

“Catechist” would include people like Scott Hahn and theologians like Tracey Rolland at the JP II center in Melbourne who is known as an theological soulmate to the former Cardinal Ratzinger. To the extent that they give ecclesially sponsored presentations, it would include Mark Shea and Amy Welborn. And the term would include people like me and Clara, my Australian equivalent, and our many part-part-part-time lay collaborators who buzz around on weekends putting on formation events.

Why am I ranting?

Because I have witnessed innumerable conversations at St. Blogs over the past three years that ooze distain and heap ridicule upon lay people - especially women - in some form of ecclesial ministry. Over and over, lay people who work inside the Church are portrayed as self-absorbed, irony-impaired, power-hungry, dissenting ideologues who are out to hijack and shipwreck the faith of anyone unwary enough to go near them. Oh, and for reasons that I don't even want to contemplate, the women are often described as old, fat, and remarkably unattractive. The horror of "lay ecclesial ministry" has become an urban legend with conservative Catholic bloggers. It's time to say "Stop it!"

Rant the first:

No one has put more time and energy into preaching the gospel of the secular nature of the lay apostolate than we have. It is one of the first things we cover in every single Called & Gifted. We sell Russell Shaw's excellent "Catholic Laity in the Mission of the Church" at every event and at our webstore.

But it does not therefore follow that lay Catholics who are called to work inside ecclesial structures are betraying that secularity or that mission. We don't cease to be lay or lose our secularity when we work inside the Church for the sake of the mission to the world; it is one of the unique things we bring to our common mission. And it is lay involvement in and especially outside the ecclesial structures that makes that mission possible.

In a 1.1 billion member Church which has formally declared that formation for mission is a "right and duty" of all Catholics (Christifideles Laici, 63), do we really imagine that a mere 405,000 priests can tackle that in addition to their already heavy sacramental responsibilities? (Fides: there are 2,642 Catholics per priest in the world.) Not to mention this little matter of the Church's primary mission: evangelizing the people and cultures and structure of the world? (Fides: there are 12, 108 persons per priest in the world.) I've worked with a lot of hard working priests but have never known one who bilocated.

As those of you know who followed the debate in the US Bishop's conclave about the use of the word "minister" with regard to the laity, it was the legendary Cardinal Avery Dulles who made the crucial intervention that ensured that the word "minister" was retained when referring to lay ministry. We are not faced with a choice between the "good" secular apostolate and "bad" lay ministry within the Church. As Dulles noted in his 2006 lecture on The Mission of the Laity:

"It would be a mistake, I believe, to make a sharp dichotomy between ministry in the church and apostolate in the world, as if it were necessary to choose between them," Cardinal Dulles said. He said those in lay ministry have an important role in forming "a Catholic people sufficiently united to Christ in prayer and sufficiently firm and well instructed in their faith to carry out the kinds of apostolate that Vatican II envisaged."

Rant the second:

It is so time to get over the 70s. Regarding the wacky 70s, I only know what I've heard from those who were there, but I can tell you that the American Church in 2007 is enormously different. Over the past 10 years, I've worked directly with hundreds of lay pastoral leaders in 75 dioceses in the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Indonesia.

The vast majority are there simply to serve God and the Church
. They didn't create the priest shortage and most would be really happy to have more good priests. They don't have any problems knowing the difference between their ministry and that of a priest and they aren't dying to be ordained. This is going to be a dreadful disappointment to the conspiracy theory fans among us but it really is that simple most of the time. Most started out as volunteers (many still are volunteers) and their work gradually grew into something larger.

I've met lay ideologues, of course, just as I've met ordained and religious ideologues on both sides of the spectrum but they tend to congregate with fellow-travelers in ideologically charged environments such as universities and large urban dioceses. But out in the trenches, most people are acting in non-ideological good faith, even if they aren't well catechized. Many are are making considerable personal sacrifices in order to do so. And some are very, very impressive lay apostles who are responding to a call of God and giving themselves utterly to the building up of the Christian community and the furthering of its mission. But you wouldn't know it from what you hear around St. Blogs'.

Rant the third:

It is sin plain and simple. To ooze blanket contempt for a whole group of fellow Christians whom you have no direct knowledge of and who are, in their stumbling fashion, attempting to serve Christ is calumny. It is reducing their attempt to follow Christ and serve his Church to a weapon in the culture wars. It is about as far as you can get from St. Paul's admonition that love is "not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes." (I Corinthians 13)

The next time you come across someone dissing the idea of lay Catholics in ministry, ask Marko Makuec Shir to pray for him or her.

In February 2003, Marko, a married man with three children, was trained to do trauma counseling by his diocese. In April 2003, his little village was attacked by rebel forces. Marko sent his wife and children to Khartoum but stayed behind to spiritually assist the 12 Christian families and the 500 soldiers defending the town, most of whom were Christians as well.

In August, the rebels finally took his town. While visited a wounded friend in the hospital, Marko was shot and killed by a rebel who thought he was a soldier. FIDES calls him a "martyr catechist".

Marko Makuec Shir, pray for us.

Apostleship of Prayer Intention: Lay Formation

From the US Apostleship of Prayer website:

"The Apostleship of Prayer began in France in 1844. At that time Fr. Francis X. Gautrelet told a group of Jesuit seminarians who were eager to work on the missions:

"Be apostles now, apostles of prayer! Offer everything you are doing each day in union with the Heart of our Lord for what He wishes, the spread of the Kingdom for the salvation of souls."

In 1861 the first Messenger of the Sacred Heart was published. Besides promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, this periodical also tried to develop in its readers an awareness of the needs of the Universal Church. In time the Pope himself proposed a particular monthly intention and since 1929 a specific mission intention has also been proposed to the faithful for their prayerful attention.

On its 100th anniversary in 1944, Pope Pius XII gave thanks to God for the Apostleship of Prayer, calling it “one of the most efficacious means for the salvation of souls, since it concerns prayer and prayer in common.” He commended the organization for its goal: “to pray assiduously for the needs of the Church and to try to satisfy them through daily offering.”

March Intentions:

Hearing God’s Word:

That the Word of God may be ever more listened to, contemplated, loved, and lived.

Lay Formation:

That the training of catechists and lay people may be the constant concern of those responsible for the young Churches.