Monday, April 30, 2007

Internet Porn: The Crack Cocaine of Sexual Addiction

Posted for Sherry Weddell

A powerful piece from Catholic Exchange on the pervasive lure of on-line pornography addiction. Read the whole thing by clicking on the title, but here's an excerpt.

"What Andy didn't realize was the highly addictive nature of his porn activity. Even at this entry-level porn use, he was already caught in the web of a chemical-like dependency called the "crack cocaine of sexual addiction."

Pornography or cybersex addiction can progress much more rapidly than any other chemical or behavioral addiction — the individual can become addicted in only a matter of weeks or months. The internet has an extraordinary capacity to introduce a trance-like state. Hours may pass while the individual is completely preoccupied with chatting online or gazing at pornographic images on the computer screen. This trance-like state is the first key element in the addiction cycle, which intensifies with each repetition. "


"Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., pioneer in the field of sexual addiction, maintains that all sexual addicts have certain faulty, core beliefs that make them vulnerable to addiction. They experience a fundamental lack of self-worth and a mistrust of others that come from early childhood experiences (whether through some traumatic incident or through impaired early attachment experiences) and are reinforced by our culture. The four dysfunctional core beliefs are:

1. I am a bad, unworthy person

2. Nobody would love me if they really knew me

3. My needs are never going to be met, if I have to depend on others

4. Sex is my most important need

Viewing pornography is accompanied by self-gratification and triggers arousal, satiation and an increase in fantasy, which induce powerful neurochemical responses in the brain similar to those induced by addictive drugs and alcohol. When these neurochemical changes happen repeatedly, the responses to sexual behaviors become habituated, and these behaviors are now "hard-wired" in the brain.

Yet this cycle repeats itself, often escalating as the user compulsively seeks increasingly deviant websites, or even tries to live out some of his sexual fantasies. The user may try to stop, but discovers that he experiences anxiety, restlessness, and unease (symptoms of withdrawal). Often the secret sin is never disclosed — until a loved one stumbles upon his addiction, or until he loses a job, or gets caught engaging in an illegal sexual act.

Once discovered, it is difficult, but not impossible, to treat. The treatment requires an integrated model of individual therapy, a self-help twelve-step group such as Sexaholics Anonymous, and a strong spiritual program with frequent reception of the sacraments. Our Catholic faith can combat the faulty core beliefs of the addict, but often therapy is needed to face the issues of the past that gave rise to the feelings of worthlessness, fear, and mistrust. Oftentimes, there is a childhood trauma or abuse that needs to be addressed.

There is a growing movement to address the problem of pornography and to offer hope to those afflicted. In his pastoral letter, "Bought with a Price," Bishop Paul S. Loverde outlines the nature of the offense and counters many of the false arguments that attempt to justify pornography. Just last week, the second largest Canadian wireless phone company pulled their plans to sell pornography on mobile phones, after the Archbishop of Vancouver, Raymond Roussin, urged Canadian Catholics to boycott.

If anyone is suffering from pornography addiction, a first step is to take a look at the website which was developed by Catholic mental health professionals and especially designed to help Catholics (and their families) who are afflicted by the scourge of pornography.


PBS on "The Mormons"

A strikingly positive review of the PBS show "The Mormons" in today's New York Times which will broadcast tonight and tomorrow.

If you watch it, come back and share your impressions with the rest of us.

Orthodox Politics?

As I was reflecting on the issue of Global Warming on my blog, I started thinking about the ways in which American politics seem to intertwine with orthodox Catholicism. If one were to take the whole of Catholic doctrine and "map" where it might fall on the American Political Spectrum, it would become quite apparent that it extends well into both Conservative and Liberal camps.
This has ever been the problem for many Catholics who wish to apply Catholic teaching in the current political landscape--for whom should I vote, seeing as no single political party stands for everything that I do? The Truth of Revelation can not simply be fit neatly into either increasingly polarized political view.

Over the course of the last year or so, I have been increasingly impressed with the folks over at Evangelical Catholicism. They consistently undertake a rather rigorous and nuanced application of Catholic Teaching to the issues at hand. And, at the end of the day, that is exactly what we, as lay members of Christ's Church, are called to do: apply the Truths of the faith to the world in which we live.

Regarding the relationship of Catholic Teaching to , Evangelical Catholicism has this penetrating analysis:

In my experience, it seems that in recent times, some Catholics in this country understand orthodoxy as a synonym for conservative ideals. However, these ideals are not necessarily concerned with the traditional moral values that many cultures still refer to. For instance, when I was growing up, my mom would always talk about how I had to uphold the conservative values she taught me: dress modestly, save myself for marriage, respect your elders, etc. These are not the ones I am referring to on this post. In contrast, the conservative ideals I am referring to seem to extend to the political and social spheres that are based on the principles of the Republican party. The problem is that when you go outside of the U.S., you will not find such marked differences between one party and another, so to evaluate orthodoxy in terms of one country’s political ideologies is not universally applicable, other than just being completely erroneous.

Orthodoxy means “right belief” and because as Christians we believe that belief is not isolated from actions, orthodoxy is always coupled with orthopraxis or “right action.” Some Catholics seem to use the term orthodoxy quite loosely even forgetting that one cannot judge someone else’s belief without looking at how their actions correspond to that belief. As a result, just because I prefer Gregorian chant to be sung in the liturgy and I enjoy the Tridentine Mass over the Novus Ordo, does not make me an orthodox Catholic if I ignore the homeless mother waiting outside of the church asking for help.

To be sure, faithful and orthodox Catholics can disagree on the best way to actually apply the Church's Teaching to particular issues--but we must all begin from the same set of Principles. As Katerina over at EC writes:

Catholic teaching is simply true. It is not conservative, nor liberal, nor socialist. Let us not reduce true Christian teaching to mere political ideals. Rather, let us see the problems we face in society in light of Catholic teaching, because if we take our political ideologies as our starting point, we will ignore the fullness of truth contained in the entire corpus of Catholic doctrine.

This is the classic Catholic both/and--a fullness and integrity of Truth with which we have been gifted. As men and women who have received this great gift, it is our responsibility to reflect carefully on how to bring this Teaching in to every area of human endeavor--this is the lay apostolate in action.

Coming to a Youtube near You: That Catholic Show

Fr. Broderick and his gang over at SQPN have just launched That Catholic Show - a popular 5 minute video on the Catholic faith. Take a look at the initial episode: Sit, Stand or Kneel?


Catherine of Siena mega-site

Do pay a visit to this wonderful site dedicated entirely to the life, work, writings, and spirituality of St. Catherine of Siena.

Hat tip: Amy Welborn

The Seuss is Loose

This weekend I helped out a bit with a LifeTeen retreat sponsored by Holy Apostles Catholic Church in Colorado Springs, CO. The title of the retreat was "The Seuss is Loose," and the presentations offered by various members of the core team were reflections based on a few beloved Dr. Seuss stories, and focused on the need for perseverance in the faith in the face of opposition, growth in virtue, overcoming peer pressure, and the unique love that God has for each person.

I had the privilege of listening to some of the kids share about what's going on in their life, and I was blown away. Their adolescence is so different from my own. The pressures they encounter at school, the difficulties they face when they go home, sometimes, are incredible. I don't know how well I would handle them at age 47, much less age 17! In some cases, the children's parents are divorced, or working hard to maintain a standard of living and providing what their kids ask for. But of course, what the kids ask for and what they really need - parental time and individual attention - are two different things.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the importance of parents in the lives of their children:
"The joyful love with which our parents welcomed us and accompanied our first steps in this world is like a sacramental sign and prolongation of the benevolent love of God from which we have come. The experience of being welcomed and loved by God and by our parents is always the firm foundation for authentic human growth and authentic development, helping us to mature on the way towards truth and love, and to move beyond ourselves in order to enter into communion with others and with God."
Pope Benedict XVI. Sermon at the Fifth World Meeting of Families, Valencia 2006

George Barna, in a reflection on the Virginia Tech shooting linked in the title of this post, cites a number of chilling facts about parenting and the state of parenthood today, including:

-By the time an American child is 23 years old, as was the killer in Virginia, he will have seen countless murders among the more than 30,000 acts of violence to which he is exposed through television, movies and video games.

-By the age of 23, the average American will have viewed thousands of hours of pornographic images, which diminish the dignity and value of human life.

-After nearly a quarter century on earth, the typical American will have listened to hundreds of hours of music that fosters anger, hatred, disrespect for authority, selfishness, and radical independence.

-The typical worldview of a person in their early twenties promotes self-centeredness, the right to happiness and fulfillment, the importance of personal expression in all forms, the necessity of tolerating aberrant or immoral points of views, allows for disrespect of other people and use of profanity, and advances forms of generic spirituality that dismiss the validity of the Judeo-Christian faith. Largely propelled by postmodern thought, the typical worldview of young people does not facilitate respect for life, acceptance of the rule of law, or the necessity of hard work, personal sacrifice, paying the dues or contributing to the common good.

-The average adolescent spends more than 40 hours each week digesting media, and the typical teenager in America absorbs almost 60 hours of media content each week. For better or worse, the messages received from the media represent a series of unfiltered, unchaperoned worldview lessons.

-It appears that as many as one out of every five young people is or has been under the influence of mood-altering medications, some of whose long-term side effects are not fully understood by the medical community. Drugging children has become one of the ways in which we have coped with other issues.

-Stress levels have been steadily rising among young children over the past couple of decades. A variety of factors have contributed to such stress, including parental acrimony and divorce, household financial troubles, media-fed expectations regarding materialism, overscheduling of children, bullying, physical abuse within the home, and excessive peer pressure.

-One-third of the nation’s teenagers report having been in a physical fight at least once in the last year. Nearly one out of every five 9th through 12th grade students has carried a gun, knife or club in the past month.

-Education, both in the home and outside of it, provides diminishing emphasis upon the development of character, and increasing emphasis upon meeting academic performance standards, especially through standardized testing.

-Growing numbers of children seek to make their way through an increasingly complex life without the traditional safety net comprised of a loving and supportive family, a stable circle of supportive peers, teachers who know and help nurture the child, and a community of faith that assists in giving meaning to life and a sense of belonging.

-Most young people admit that they feel as if they do not receive sufficient attention from their parents; do not have enough good friends whom they can count on; are unsettled about their own future; have personal spiritual perspectives but not much of a sense of spiritual community; lack role models; and do not feel that they have intrinsic value."

The stress parents face is also outlined in the article.

In spite of this, the retreat demonstrated that adolescents can and do respond positively to positive role models, can support one another, are willing - even craving - a relationship with Jesus (witnessed by their attentiveness to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament). They can sing songs of praise with great enthusiasm, are able to be achingly honest in the sacrament of reconciliation, and will even forego an extra hour of sleep to attend a non-required early-morning Mass.

My hat's off to all those who work with our youth, and to parents who are struggling to remain in a healthy, positive, Christ-centered relationship with their children!

How can we support each other in this vital task?


Sunday, April 29, 2007

In Honor of St. Catherine

Some Fruits of My Labor

I know I haven't been around the blog much. I've been quite busy at work and, in what free time I have had, I've been busily organizing my videos, pictures, etc., from my Rome trip onto a DVD. My, oh my, did I not realize how tedious that would be. Still working on it, but I thought I would share the fruits of some of my labor. Here's the intro to the DVD. The pictures are all mine. The music is a sample from Claudio Chieffo's work and is a beloved song within CL and was the one sung when the Pope arrived at the audience. (I know it has been over a month, but I will post on the trip soon, I promise!)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Let me take a stab at this...

I’ve been following the dust-up regarding the word “evangelical” – the conflict between Protestant converts’ varied understandings and experiences of it and the negative images the word conjures in cradle Catholics’ minds, and the concerns about elitism and condescension on the part of those involved in such lay groups.

In my opinion, the best posts framing the issues and answering the questions are here (by Sherry W), here (also by Sherry), and here (Fr. Jim Tucker of Dappled Things), as well as Fr. Mike's post (below) from today.

From my perspective as a participant in the Institute's programs and an avid supporter for many years, I have to say this first regarding the charge of an elitist attitude: No one is trying to turn introverted, shy, prayerfully devoted contemplative cradle Catholics into happy-clappy extroverts who shout “Amen!” back at the priest during his homily and chatter incessantly about their “personal relationship with Jesus” to the person who sits next to them on the bus. No one is trying to turn faithful Catholics into something they’re not. The programs and resources of the Catherine of Siena Institute are not geared toward changing your personality; rather, they are designed to treat your personality, your personal conception and experience of God, and your specific charisms with the greatest of respect and care. Discerning one’s charisms in response to God’s call is a deeply and uniquely personal process, and the Institute’s goal is to equip you intellectually and emotionally to grow into the best you that God designed for you to be.

Though the standards of holiness are the same for us all, because of our unique personalities, holiness looks different on everyone – and this is what we recognize and encourage. Our vision is the diametric opposite of elitism – for how could we measure such a thing? Could we say that St. Thomas Aquinas was a more “intentional” disciple than St. Francis of Assisi, or vice versa? That Mother Theresa was more “evangelical” than St. Teresa of Avila? Taking the analogy of the human body for the Body of Christ, for a moment: Is the eye less important to the function of the body than the spleen? Is your right hand more important than the hormones secreted by your pancreas? Please – anyone who’s ever actually encountered the programs or materials of the Institute can vouch for the fact that charges of spiritual arrogance or elitism are unfounded (except for the unfortunate fact that we all sin personally now and again).

To me, “intentional discipleship” means “things I think about and plan on doing for/with Jesus, and then I do them”. There are no prescribed practices, no celices, no special society prayerbooks. Nothing but the “me” I’ve dedicated to the service of God and my fellow man on planet Earth; the equipment He’s given me in terms of my talents, experiences, and intellect; the resources of the Church and the power infused into my soul by the Sacraments; and my willingness to do the tasks and love the people He sets before me each day. That’s it.

I’ve been reading a book by Fr. Luigi Giussani, the founder of Communion & Liberation, entitled The Journey to Truth Is an Experience. Here’s a quote from his exegesis of Acts 1:12-14 that describes what happens when someone encounters Christ in a personal way, i.e. responds to the kerygma with faith, i.e. has an experience of Jesus Christ that radically alters their view of themselves and their place in the universe:

One who truly discovers and lives the experience of powerlessness and solitude does not remain alone. Only one who has experienced powerlessness to its depths, and hence personal solitude, feels close to others and is easily drawn to them. Like someone lost, without shelter in a storm, he or she feels his or her cry at one with the cries of others, her or her anxiety and expectation at one with the anxieties and expectations of all others.

Only one who truly experiences helplessness and solitude stays with other people without self-interest, calculation, or imposition, yet at the same time without “following the crowd” passively, submitting, or becoming a slave of society.

You can claim to be seriously committed to your own human experience only when you sense this community with others, with anyone and everyone, without frontiers or discrimination, for we live our commitment to what is most deeply within us and therefore common to all. You are truly committed to your own human experience when, saying “I”, you live this “I” so simply and profoundly that you feel fraternally bonded to any other person’s “I”. God’s answer will reach only the person committed in such a way.
(Giussani, Fr. L. The Journey to Truth Is an Experience. Quebec City: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006, p. 55-56)

Fr. Giussani’s words take some pondering and unpacking, but what I get from the above passage is this: It’s only through our experience of Jesus Christ, the One Reality, that we can have any sort of healthy bond to our fellow creatures at all. The recognition of our own powerlessness, sinfulness, emptiness, and aloneness without God is what we truly have in common with every other human being, and it’s on this basis that we bond, with the goal of helping one another succeed in apprehending the grace that God offers us and becoming what God intends for us to be. It’s only through the personal recognition of the truth of who God is, and therefore who we are and what our experience means, that we can be knit together in a diverse, complex, yet unified entity that can be a powerful force for good on our planet.

Every Protestant I know would agree with the following statement: The experience of Christ always leads a person to the Christian community. Though some Christians don’t make it into the Catholic Church, they still respond the best they can to Christ’s directives in the Scriptures, not the least of which is “We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25) Yes, Protestant ecclesiology is different; though they don’t believe in The Church, nearly all believe in a church. If they didn’t, there wouldn’t be anything we call a “Protestant denomination”; we would simply encounter individual Christian believers outside the Catholic Church, floating like tiny atoms of light in the midst of the darkness that surrounds us.

I hope this helps to allay the concerns of those who fear a “Protestantization” of the Church, but I don’t know if it will… Comments? Clarifications? Questions? (Coffee?)

Labels: , ,

Reader Bleg

From an ID Reader:

I am a big fan and daily reader of the Intentional Disciples blog and I have what I think they call a "bleg" for you and the other readers... I have just been hired at a parish to join their faith
formation team. They are a Generations of Faith parish, and really are ahead of their time in terms of thinking ahead, wanting to involve the whole parish in catechesis and evangelization. The idea is I'm supposed to work with the pastor and the faith formation team to get the parish all on one page, catechetically- I'll be working with RCIA and Marriage prep and Baptism prep and sort of filling in the nooks and crannies which aren't traditionally considered to be
included in faith formation.

The reason I'm having trouble describing it is actually the nature of my bleg... we are inventing this position as we go along! So I'd love to hear from your readers; What would your readers call a position like this? What could my title be? What would you include in the job
description? Does anyone have a position like this in existence in your parish? Any helpful hints or ideas?

I won't use my real name because I haven't made the move yet... but I appreciate your help and look forward to reading on your blog if there are any answers forthcoming!

MORE on Evangelization

I made a long comment on Amy Welborn's blog, Open Book, where another discussion rages about intentional discipleship, evangelization, and the personal relationship to Jesus. A lot of Catholics in the blogosphere are passionate about the Church, Jesus, the Sacraments, evangelization, RCIA, which is a hopeful sign. Too often, though, we end up sniping at one another in a most unchristian manner. Sometimes, it's because we can't agree on what to do first. I spent too much time on this to not post it here, too. I include a picture of St. Dominic Here goes...

I hope this comment allows all of us who are passionate about Christ and His Church to make some important distinctions which can be forgotten when we talk about evangelization, sacramental preparation, and discussions about the disposition of an individual with regard to the reception of sacraments.

There seems to be some disagreement about the nature and interrelationship between evangelization, proclamation and catechesis. Some argue the importance of catechetical content, others emphasize the importance of personal conversion to Christ, and so on.

All of these are important, but each has a particular role and place in the process of bringing someone into the fullness of relationship with Christ and His Church as it can be experienced in our earhtly life.

The National Directory for Catechesis recognizes that individuals fall into different categories with regard to what they need from the Christian community or the individual Catholic Christian.

Some people are in need of Pre-evangelization, i.e., preparation for the first proclamation of the Gospel. These include “non-believers, the indifferent.” The indifferent, I believe, can sometimes include people in our parishes. Pre-evangelization indicates that there are some obstacles that may need to be overcome before someone is capable of hearing and receiving the gospel. Sometimes that can be as simple as needing to trust a particular Catholic person who seems to genuinely care about me.

"Sharing the Light of Faith" (the old National Catechetical Directory) expresses this beautifully:

"Catechesis presupposes prior pre-evangelization and evangelization. These are likely to be most successful when they build on basic human needs - for security, affection, acceptance, growth, and intellectual development - showing how these include a need, a hunger, for God and His Word.

Often, however, catechesis is directed to individuals and communities who, in fact, have not experienced pre-evangelization and evangelization, and have not made acts of faith corresponding to those stages. Taking people as they are, catechesis attempts to dispose them to respond to the message of revelation in an authentic, personal way.

There is a great need in the United States today (1978!!) to prepare the ground for the gospel message. Many people have no religious affiliation. Many others have not committed their lives to Christ and His Church, even though they are church members. Radical questioning of values, rapid social change, pluralism, cultural influences, and population mobility - these and other factors underline the need for pre-evangelization." (Nat'l Catechetical Directory for the U.S., 1978, #34)

Once we have established some kind of relationship and have dealt with issues that might prevent the acceptance of the Gospel (which might be personal or philosophical), and individual is prepared for the initial announcement of the Gospel. This can include a wide variety of people: “Non-believers, those who have chosen not to believe, those who follow other religions, children of Christians, those who may have been baptized but have little or no awareness of their Baptism and . . . live on the margins of Christian life.” (Nat'l Directory for Catechesis, 2005, #49

Notice that proclamation is of the Gospel, which is about Christ! The intent is to foster the individual's relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior, which necessarily calls for personal conversion that is indicated by a change in one's life. This is the focus of the inquiry and precatechumenate stages of RCIA. If the RCIA process is to be a model for adult faith formation in this country, as the U.S. bishops suggested in Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us, we cannot afford to ignore the question of whether or not an individual has committed their life to Christ. A judgment has to be made by each one of us whether or not this is true.

AFTER initial faith and conversion, one is ready for initiatory catechesis that introduces the life of faith, the Liturgy, and charity. According to the National Catechetical Directory, this is appropriate for “Catechumens, those who are coming to the Catholic faith from another Christian tradition, Catholics who need to complete their initiation, children and the young.” (49) But always, personal conversion is presumed in these individuals. If it has not happened, they are not ready to receive the fullness of the truth the Church has to offer because they have not received Him Who is the Truth.

The teaching of the Church regarding evangelization, catechesis and proclamation is beautiful, scriptural, practical, recognizes the essential role for grace - and remains to be put into effective practice in many of our parishes and in most of our lives. It requires patience, prayer, good people skills, grace, a lived relationship with Christ and His Church, time, attentiveness to others, selfless love. It wouldn't hurt if the fruits of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,
gentleness, self-control (attributes that sometimes are lacking in Catholic blogs) were clearly to be found in us who would bring others to Christ and His Church.

Labels: , ,

St. Catherine of Siena

In honor of our patroness's feast day, Sherry thought she'd post a brief article she wrote several years ago about Catherine's life and impact

Life in 14th-century Siena seemed to offer 16-year-old Catherine Benincasa only two alternatives, an arranged marriage or life as an enclosed nun. What else could an illiterate, teen-aged daughter of a middle-class Italian merchant do? Astonishingly, Catherine refused to accept either option, fighting hard and successfully for a third way of life.

Catherine’s family, horrified at her refusal to do the conventional thing, forced her to endure months of mistreatment before she won the right to join the Dominican Third Order and live a devout life at home. For three years, Catherine lived a life of prayer, silence, and austerity in her tiny 9-by-12-foot room. During the Carnival of 1366, she experienced a mystical betrothal to Christ. A few days later, she realized that God was asking her to leave her contemplative isolation and re-enter the world. Catherine of Siena was only 19 when her public ministry began.

It was just as well that she got such an early start. Over six hundred years later, her life still strikes us as astonishing. In the next fourteen years Catherine lived the life of a dozen women. She was an ambassador and peace-maker, a nurse and a healer and a powerful evangelist whose very presence triggered innumerable conversions. She served as a counselor to Popes, queens, priests, housewives, and condemned prisoners, while composing one of the great works of Christian mysticism. Importantly, it was her status as a single laywoman that set Catherine of Siena free to answer a call from God that would alter the course of Western history and result in her becoming the first lay Doctor of the Church (as a Third Order Dominican, Catherine was not considered a nun).

Like her spiritual father, Saint Dominic, Catherine had remarkable charisms. While making peace between two branches of the Salembeni family, she sparked a religious revival. Thousands of local people would make their way through the mountains to the castle where Catherine was staying. The mere sight of her would set them clamoring for the sacraments. Seven priests worked all day and half the night hearing their confessions and could not keep up with the demand from penitents, some of whom hadn’t been to confession in forty years. Numerous healings were also attributed to Catherine. Her spiritual director, Blessed Raymond of Capua, once fell ill of the plague and had all the symptoms of impending death. She knelt by his side and prayed for an hour and a half until he wondered if she had forgotten about him altogether. But after eating food that she had prepared, he fell asleep, and upon waking, found himself completely well.

Catherine’s life was so remarkable that we are tempted to feel as if she has nothing to say to those of us whose faith and gifts seem all too ordinary by comparison. Remarkable as her gifts were, more remarkable was her sense of personal responsibility and authority to tackle the urgent issues of her day. She had no credentials of note in medieval society except that she was a disciple of Jesus Christ, a faithful daughter of the Church, and a woman of great spiritual depth and giftedness. Few lay Christians have had a clearer sense of standing in Jesus’ place than Catherine. Her influence was based upon her personal holiness and charisms, not her position. The most staggering thing about Catherine of Siena is that she did it all as a laywoman. Precisely on this account, there is much about Catherine’s ministry common to all of us who are called to live out our faith as lay Christians.

Like us, she cared deeply about the people and the world about her. One of my favorite stories about Catherine is of her experience in Pisa, where crowds thronged about her, kissing her hands. When accused of enjoying this attention, she protested that she hadn’t even noticed how people saluted her because she had been so interested in them! Catherine cared about the good of her hometown, of Italy, and of the whole of Christendom, which included the spiritual and institutional well-being of the Church itself. Like Saint Dominic, she constantly asked "What about the others?" But Catherine did more than care, she took action. When Siena was ravaged by recurring bouts of the plague, Catherine and her disciples risked their own lives to care for the sick and bury the dead. When the Pope needed to be strengthened in his resolve to leave Avignon and return to Rome, Catherine’s counsel gave him the courage he needed.

She plunged into the murky, chaotic world of Italian religious and political life without thinking that, because she was only an uneducated woman, she had no right to be there. There were no handy self-help guides to tell her How to Reconcile Warring City States in Five Easy Steps or How to Deal With Difficult Popes. The problems before her were every bit as complex and hard to grasp as are the problems facing us in our world. And, just as achievements in the our modern world can be difficult to measure, partial, and ambiguous in impact, so were Catherine’s.

Even her greatest political accomplishment, convincing Gregory VI to return to Rome, quickly lost its luster when two years later the Church found itself with two competing claimants for the office of Pope. Thus began the "Great Schism" that lasted thirty-six years and during which three men claimed to be Pope at the same time. Just as the results of our love and work are often obscured by the pressure of the problems and personalities about us, so the long-term effects of Catherine’s courageous struggle were not visible when she died at the young age of 33. At the end of her life, almost all of Catherine’s efforts in peace-making and church reform seemed to have ended in failure.

The key to Catherine’s lasting impact lay in her collaboration with others. A group of friends and disciples had gathered around her in Siena. It was a eclectic group made up of men and women, lay, religious, and priests, members of her family (including her mother, who repented of her opposition to Catherine’s vocation) and members of the nobility. A number of the "caterinati," as skeptics referred to her friends, went on to have an enormous impact for good. One of Catherine’s lay followers eventually became Prior General of the Carthusian Order. Raymond of Capua, who was Catherine’s confessor and biographer, became Master of the Dominican Order after her death and helped lead a major reform. John Dominic, the other great leader of the Dominican Reform, was only able to join the order because Catherine healed him of a speech impediment. He played a critical role in healing the Great Schism. He also founded the famous convent of San Marco in Florence and encouraged the work of Fra Angelico, the great Dominican painter. Catherine’s influence on all these men was profound.

Saint Catherine continues to touch the lives of men and women today. In the past six months, three different women have told me how traveling to Siena to visit Catherine’s home (which is carefully preserved) and shrine has powerfully changed their lives. We get phone calls and e-mail from people all over the country looking for information about our patroness. Others show up at our workshops simply because our organization is associated with Catherine of Siena.

We have much in common with the people of Rome who, upon hearing of Catherine’s death, poured into the chapel where her body lay, bringing their sick to ask for her intercession (miraculous cures did occur that heightened the crowd’s fervor). One of her Dominican friends mounted the pulpit to speak words of praise about her life, but he could not make himself heard over the voices of the vast throng praying around him. His response seems prophetic of her continued significance for us today as a saint and Doctor of the Church. "Catherine," he said, "speaks better for herself."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Come To Making Disciples

Posted For Sherry W:

The discussion about "is evangelism and intentional discipleship Catholic or Protestant?" has finally spilled over to Amy's.

I admit, I'm still a bit staggered at the seemingly endless controversy on a topic that has been the subject of endless magisterial teaching over the past 40+ years. But if any ID readers or visitors are interested in actually doing something about evangelization, consider attending Making Disciples this summer in Colorado Springs or this fall in West Virginia.

As we say on our website: The non-negotiable foundation for Christian maturity and vocation today, as it has always been, is discipleship. And the key to intentional discipleship is a critical part of catechesis and formation that seldom happens in the Catholic pastoral practice: thoughtful pre-evangelization and an initial proclamation of Christ that asks for a deliberate personal response.

Making Disciples is a four day seminar that will help participants

· Understand intentional discipleship and that it is the normative source of spiritual life, and thus the ultimate end of all pastoral ministry.

· Understand why initial discipleship precedes catechesis and how life-changing catechesis and formation builds on discipleship.

· Learn how to listen for and recognize pre-discipleship stages of spiritual growth.

· Learn how to facilitate the spiritual growth of those - whether baptized and “active” or not - who are not yet disciples.

· Learn how to articulate the basic kerygma that awakens initial faith in a gentle and non-threatening way.

· Learn how to use these skills in a wide variety of pastoral and personal settings: RCIA/inquiry, adult faith formation, sacramental prep, spiritual direction, pastoral counseling, gifts and vocational discernment,and personal relationships of all kinds.

· Have an opportunity to prayerfully reflect on their own journey toward discipleship.

Although the focus of Making Disciples is primarily pastoral and practical, Church teaching on evangelization and catechesis, grace, faith, disposition, the Holy Spirit, baptism and confirmation, and the charisms will be integrated throughout the seminar.

Check it out.

More On Evangelical Catholics

John Armstrong has a fascinating analysis regarding "evangelical" Catholics from an evangelical perspective:

The word evangelical has been variously misunderstood and disowned by Roman Catholics. The reason for this is not hard to understand. Catholics remember the reactions of fundamentalists and they watch evangelical Christian television and find it most unattractive and, at times, anti-Catholic. But the word originates from the Greek word for gospel in the New Testament (euangelion). It has always been a word that described those whose lives were transformed by the good news. This is why the Protestant revivals produced new "evangelicals." (By the way, there have been real Catholic revivals as well, as scholar Jay P. Dolan has made abundantly clear!)

I believe Catholics should help us reclaim the right use of the term evangelical. This word can be reclaimed, in a new time and with new meaning, if we both recognize it as a way to express the transformation that is brought about by believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. And if we are committed to proclaiming this message, in word and deed, then we have a common basis for a true ecumenism in a world that needs a strong Christian witness from all churches.

I found the entire article to be fascinating. Check it out here!

Hat Tip: Deep Furrows

The Political St. Catherine of Siena

St. Catherine of Siena's feastday is April 29. Because if falls on a Sunday this year, we won't be celebrating her in the normal way, but it is good to reflect on her life just a bit, especially as an example of someone who responded to her vocation! Catherine was a lay woman. She's often called a nun, and is pictured in a Dominican habit because she was a Dominican tertiary, but make no mistake, she was lay. She was also a woman of deep, contemplative prayer who was also immersed in the travails of her age, which included religious schism, incredible political machinations, devastating plagues, incessant wars between nations and among Italian city-states. The clergy of her day were ill-formed and often corrupt, and the moral state of most of her contemporaries was, well, a matter of constant prayer for Catherine.

What I find fascinating about Catherine is how her powerful contemplative life compelled her into the major frays of her day. She was a prolific letter-writer, and also traveled extensively during her life - most unusual for men, unheard of for women who weren't royalty. She fearlessly addressed the corruption of her day, whether it was within the Church, or in the secular realm. Here's just a sample, from a letter to Charles V, king of France, who was supporting an anti-pope at the time.

"Be, ah! be a lover of virtue, founded in true and holy justice, and despise vice. I beg you, by love of Christ crucified, to do in your state three especial things. The first is, to despise the world and yourself and all its joys, possessing your kingdom as a thing lent to you, and not your own. ...I beg you that, as The Wise, you should act like a good steward, made His steward by God; possessing all things as merely lent to you.

The other matter is, that you maintain holy and true justice; let it not be ruined, either for self-love or for flatteries, or for any pleasing of men. And do not connive at your officials doing injustice for money, and denying right to the poor: but be to the poor a father, a distributer of what God has given you. And seek to have the faults that are found in your kingdom punished and virtue exalted. For all this appertains to the divine justice to do.

The third matter is, to observe the doctrine which that Master upon the Cross gives you; which is the thing that my soul most desires to see in you: that is, love and affection with your neighbour, with whom you have for so long a time been at war. For you know well that without this root of love, the tree of your soul would not bear fruit, but would dry up, abiding in hate and unable to draw up into itself the moisture of grace. Alas, dearest father, the Sweet Primal Truth teaches it to you, and leaves you for a commandment, to love God above everything, and one's neighbour as one's self."

Sometimes Catherine's words and presence had an effect, sometimes not. She grieved for the division within the Church, lamented the corruption in the politics of her day, and, in spite of these realities, always encouraged her followers to look for the best in others.

We need Catherines today. We need women and men who are imbued with the message and values of the Gospel. Where is the outcry over Abu Ghraib in our country? Over the perhaps lawful, yet unjust detaining of prisoners in Guantanamo? Can we have loving concern, like St. Catherine, for the souls of politicians who promote profit over justice and stewardship; private concerns over common good; personal choice (with respect to abortion) and revenge (with respect to capital punishment) over life?

Some of us have vocations that may lead us to pursue a life in politics. Others may be called to pray for changes in our country. Still others may be called by Christ to dive in to problems that we find compelling, without waiting for the government, business, or non-profits to address the issue.

All of us are called in some way, like Catherine, to apply our faith to the problems and opportunities that surround us.

Vocation Sunday

Sunday's Gospel shows us Christ, the Good Shepherd who calls his sheep by name. For this reason, it's celebrated as a World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Many of us will hear homilies about answering the call to priesthood and religious life, and certainly there is a need for generous responses to those vocations.

I will preach about the unique call or vocation given to each one of us. It is more than just a call to a particular state of life, like marriage, priesthood, religious life, single life. Every call from God is an invitation to service, and to love. Most of us receive a multi-faceted call. Having discerned a call to priesthood and religious life (which did not end when I received the Dominican habit, but continued throughout my formation) did not mean that I was finished discerning my call!

The call is continuous, throughout our life. The Lord calls us to lead us ever deeper into Life, into relationship with Him, and into new adventures of service of our brothers and sisters. As you may have read on an earlier post, people in business have a call to operate not in accord with the world, which often uses devious practices, but to be transparent and honest, and work towards goals that benefit as many as possible without doing injustice to anyone. A physician may have a call to bring healing not only through his or her skill, but also through the love and heartfelt compassion offered to the patient, along with prayers to God for their healing.

Sometimes we hear of a seemingly hopeless situation in our own city, and wonder what we can do to respond. Barbara Elliott, one of our splendid Called & Gifted teachers, is the president of the Center for Renewal (, a resource center she founded in 1997 for faith-based organizations working to renew the inner cities of America. She is the author of Street Saints: Renewing America’s Cities (Templeton Foundation Press, 2004) based on more than three hundred interviews across the country of people. These are often ordinary folks who saw unremitting poverty, high rates of felon rescidivism, drug and alcohol addiction and said, "Jesus does not want this," and did something about it.

The people highlighted in Street Saints are ordinary folks who responded to a call that came to them in the form of a sense that *something* needed to be done about a certain situation, and no one else seemed to be doing anything, so...
They use their experience, their savvy, their education, but most of all their prayer and the Lord's guidance to achieve what many thought would be impossible. They gather collaborators, often one by one, who bring their own competence and experience to the table. And in the answering of their call, they come to be who God has intended from all eternity they should be. They experience the "fullness of life" promised by Jesus.

Because that is part of what is implied in being called "by name." In Jesus' society, a name was more than a moniker designating you from someone else. It said something about who you were to be. So Jesus, we are told, means, "Yahweh saves," and indeed He does through Jesus. The Lord calls each of us by name. Responding to our vocations means that we have the opportunity to fulfill the Lord's dream for us, which often is a dream beyond our feeble imagination.


Hispanics Changing the Style of the Church

There is an interesting article here on how the presence of Hispanics is changing the style of the Catholic Church. Here are a few tidbits:

Hispanics are changing the nation's religious landscape, particularly in the Roman Catholic Church, according to the study released Wednesday by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Spirit-filled or renewalist movements, including divine healing and direct revelations from God, are a style of worship favored more by Hispanics than by their non-Hispanic counterparts in the national survey.

Also, many of the Hispanics joining evangelical churches are Catholic converts who say they want a more direct, personal experience with God, said the survey, titled "Changing Faiths: Latinos and the Transformation of American Religion."

Hispanics make up about 32 percent of Pima County's population and about 28.5 percent of Arizona's population, U.S. Census data show. Pinpointing Hispanic percentages in the local Catholic Church is difficult because of the number of illegal immigrants who live here, said Ruben Davalos, director of evangelization and Hispanic ministry for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson.

But it's clear that the Hispanic presence is growing among local Catholic churches. Five years ago, 30 percent to 40 percent of the diocese's 74 parishes had Spanish services. Now it's closer to 90 percent, Davalos said.

"There are parishes that used to have four or five Masses in English and one in Spanish, and now those parishes have four Masses in Spanish and one in English," he said.

About 22 million of the nation's 66 million Catholics are Hispanic. They have accounted for 71 percent of the U.S. Catholic Church's growth since 1960. The study projects that the Hispanic share will continue climbing for decades. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says that if current growth continues, Hispanics will make up a majority of American Catholics by 2020.

But one of the study's most significant findings is that more than half of Hispanic Catholics identify themselves as charismatics, compared with only one-eighth of non-Hispanic Catholics. Charismatic typically means showing an emotional response to the Holy Spirit.

"Spirit-filled religiosity does pose a contrast to what have been the dominant characteristics of the Catholic Church in the United States at least for the last generation," said Suro, of the Pew Hispanic Center. "There will be a process of change."

While I do quibble with the reporters characterization of charismatic spirituality (which I'm sure will confirm the worst fears of those Catholics with a phobia for all things emotional) as an "emotional response to the Holy Spirit (it is far more than that--a yielding of the whole person to the Spirit of God, not just emotions), it is an interesting article.

I'm most troubled by the sheer number of Hispanics who are leaving the Church for evangelical and pentecostal communities. This, again, is something that we need to address in the life of the Church.

In any event, take a peek at the whole article!

Proclamation and the Church

Posted for Sherry W:

One of the issues that has arisen during the kafuffle over “Evangelical Catholicism” here at ID and over at Standing on My Head and several other blogs during the past week is exactly what is the content of initial proclamation of the gospel . If we proclaim Christ to the unchurched and unbelievers without simultaneously proclaiming the Church, are we somehow proclaiming a Protestant gospel of “me and Jesus” Christianity?

In the course of working on previous incarnations of Making Disciples, I set out to closely read and take meticulous notes on every significant mention of proclamation and evangelization in Church teaching in the Second Vatican Council and since. It took me ten - 12 hour days but I did it. I ended up with 59 pages of nothing but magisterial quotes on the topic, organized by subject. This I used to produce a one hour presentation on the subject for Making Disciples. (For those who are wondering, this is typically how we go about preparing our presentations. We are not at all casual about trying to teach with the Church.)

So this morning, I returned to this hard won document and simply bolded every mention of “proclamation”, “Christ”, and “Church” to highlight exactly how the magisterial teaching understands the content of the kerygma and its relationship to the Church.

First of all, we need to grasp that in the Church’s understanding, initial proclamation of the gospel is not catechesis. There are two critical stages that occur before “initiatory catechesis” but which Catholics hardly ever address in our pastoral practice: “pre-evangelization” and “initial announcement of the Gospel.”

We leap right into catechesis which is why we 1) tend to confuse catechesis and kerygma; 2) are not very successful in fostering intentional discipleship.

As Catechesis in Our Time, 19 puts it, many Catholics are “still without any explicit personal attachment to Jesus Christ; they only have the capacity to believe placed within them by Baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit.”

According to the National Directory for Catechesis, p. 49, the stages are:

1. Pre-evangelization: Preparation for first proclamation of the Gospel - “non-believers, the indifferent”
2. Initial announcement of the Gospel

– “Non-believers, those who have chosen not to believe, those who follow other religions, children of Christians. those who may have been baptized but have little or no awareness of their Baptism and . . . live on the margins of Christian life.”

3. Initiatory Catechesis: introduce the life of faith, the Liturgy, and the charity

– “Catechumens, those who are coming to the Catholic faith from another Christian tradition, Catholics who needs to complete their initiation, children and the young.”

The question before us right now is not “What is the fullness of the teaching of the Church” but “what is the content of #2: “Initial announcement of the Gospel” which is directed to both the unbaptized and the baptized who are unchurched, unbelieving, lapsed, or weak and marginalized in the practice of the faith.

The short answer: Initial proclamation is always about Christ, not the Church.

Proclamation of Christ is the
*Permanent priority

of evangelization. (Mission of the Redeemer, 44)

Proclamation of Christ is the primary mission of the Church
Proclamation of Christ births the Church
Proclamation of Christ is the doorway into the Church
(Mission of the Redeemer, 44, Evangelization in Our Time, 27)

The Church does not proclaim herself, she proclaims her Lord which naturally leads the new believer to baptism and membership in the Church.

The universal catechism puts it this way: Salvation comes from God alone: but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother; “We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation.(Faustus of Riez, De Spiritu Sancto, 1,2: PL 62,11.)

To whom do we proclaim Christ?

*Catholics with weak faith or who are badly catechized (including the “practicing”).
*Catholics who “need to know Jesus Christ in a light different from the instruction they received as children.
*The baptized but non-practicing

. . .there is a very large number of baptized people who for the most part have not formally renounced their Baptism but who are entirely indifferent to it . . . The resistance . . . takes the form of inertia and the slightly hostile attitude of the person who feels that he is one of the family, who claims to know it all and to have tried it all and who no longer believes it.

Evangelization in the Modern World 56

*All humanity (not just Catholics)

“invite all people in the United States . . .to hear the message of salvation in Jesus Christ so they may come to join us in the fullness of the Catholic faith.”
US Bishops, Go and Make Disciples:

We have got to stop confusing our internal culture wars with the mission of evangelization. Our situation is that many, many baptized adult Catholics, practicing or not, have never heard and personally embraced the proclamation of the kerygma about Christ. They were baptized as infants and that baptism was never followed up by the necessary, clear, initial proclamation of the gospel (which is different from catechesis, remember) when they reached the age of reason and responsibility.

Baptism without the response of personal faith in Christ is salvific for an infant because personal response is impossible at that age; it is not salvific for an adult.

Proclaiming Christ is not about "me and Jesus". It is taking seriously the Church's teaching that the preaching of the kerygma awakens initial faith and that without the response of personal faith and hope in Christ, of incipient love, and repentance for sin, adult membership in the Church alone does not save. Even a merely intellectual faith in the Church’s teaching alone does not save. (The Council of Trent called mere intellectual or dogmatic faith “fides informis” and clearly taught that it does not save.)

Business as a Means of Evangelization

There is an interesting article in this month's issue of Christianity Today that features an interview wit Ram Gidoomal, a businessman and convert to Christianity to Hinduism. One of the things that struck me about the article is not only how working as a Christian businessman internationally helps build a more just world (Ram, for example, chairs two investment groups that seek to invest in socially responsible and sustainable businesses), but also how business offers opportunities for direct evangelization:

Business gives you access , geographic access as well as access to relational networks . . .the goal is to do business in a way that is not conforming to the world's patterns. In global business, there is often corruption. There's no accountability, no transparency. As a Christian, if you're willing to be transparent and accountable, then you're demonstrating a different way of doing things . . . .

If we do the work of discerning what transformational business looks like, that is worship . . .Business is a uniquely global endeavor . . .There is no other field that so closely matches the global nature of God's mission.

I thought that was a wonderful way of viewing business--as a medium for building the kingdom and as a direct, hands-on way of evangelizing. When I work as a manager in business--whether it is of a team or a whole Strategic Business Unit, God has given me a responsibility to serve both the company as a whole and all of the individuals whom I manage. We need to be Christians not just at Church, but in every facet of our lives.

Letter From Jesus

I posted this over at my other blog, but thought I'd share it here with the folks at ID.

One year, when I was the Director of the Retreat Team for my last parish's Life Teen youth ministry program, we did a retreat that focused on the Bible as a Love Letter from God. We often used affirmation notes, which we wrote to our small group members and placed in decorated bags with their names on it so they could read them after the retreat. That year, we decided to put up an affirmation bag for God so that the teens could write God a note of affirmation.

Well, God's bag was full of the most powerful and beautiful prayers and affirmations to God. So much so, that when we had our retreat debrief, we passed God's affirmations among the adults and we were all moved to tears. Don't let anyone tell you that teens do not have an appreciation for, or an ability to pay attention to, the spiritual life.

Anyway, that's not even the point of this post (though it's a good point). We also decided to include a Letter from Jesus and place it in each teen's affirmation bag. While cleaning out some old files, I stumbled upon that letter and thought it would be interesting to post it here. So, without further ado, here's a letter from Jesus:

My Precious Friend,
I know that sometimes life can be difficult and depressing. There is still much darkness in the world because My people have not come to Me as I have asked—yet I love them (and you) with a love that is without end. Every stinging bite of the soldiers’ whips, every jagged cut from my crown of thorns, each terrible kiss of the nails driven hard into My body—all of it was for you. I endured every second upon the Cross for your sake, because I love you.

Do you think, then, that I don’t hear you when you cry out to Me in your time of need? Truly, I do hear you. If I hear the final cry of every sparrow that falls in death, would I not hear you?
Do you wonder if I listen when you pray to Me for an answer to the troubles that weigh you down? Indeed, I listen. If I listen intently for the very heartbeat of every baby conceived in the womb, would I not listen when that child prays? I listen, and I remember precisely the instant that your heart took its first beat; the moment that you took your first gasping breath upon leaving the security of your mother's womb; the contented sigh of relief at your first belly full of warm milk. And, though you've grown up, I still listen with My whole Heart for every word you whisper to me.

I am with you always, through whatever storms and struggles that you face. Trust in me, and I will guide you through the darkness. If you take one faltering step toward me, I shall run ten thousand steps toward you. My love for you is so deep, that I once traveled the distance between Heaven and Earth to find you. I will not abandon you now.

My friend, I know that you are discovering yourself—your own gifts and talents—and the world that I created for you. I know that you are beginning to make plans for your life. Will you not let Me help you? The Father and I have a very special plan for you, one that we created before you were even born. Let us discover this plan together, you and I. For there are others in the world who do not know Me, who hurt and cry out, but who have no one to help them. I want to send you in My place, to go to them and do the work I have created you for.

My love, I desire nothing more than that you would come to Me, not just when you are sorrowful or struggling, but also when you are satisfied and happy. I would have you share your life with Me, as I share My life with you. I especially desire that you come to Me in the Eucharist—you dwelling with Me and Me dwelling with you—for that is My greatest gift to you.

This day, and every day, I stand at your heart's door, knocking and asking entrance. Will you not let me in?

You are my Beloved, always.


Russell Shaw on Evangelizing

Posted for Sherry W:

Carl Olsen over at Ignatius Insight has a really interesting interview with Russell Shaw about his new book (with Fr. C. John McCloskey, III) Good New, Bad News: Evangelization, Conversion, and the Crisis of Faith.

In light of the continual hubbub around here over things "evangelical," I appreciate Shaw's comments: It's fair to say, I think, that most people do not usually put the words "Catholics" and "evangelization" together. Why is that so?

Russell Shaw: The conventional answer is that it's a problem of language. Protestants talk about evangelization. Some Protestants are evangelicals. Until recently, these have been Protestant words. They didn't seem to have much to do with Catholics.

That explanation is correct, I think, but the problem also goes deeper than that. It's clericalism at work. By that, I mean the assumption--on the part of lay people, mind you--that if any evangelizing was going to be done by Catholics, it was the job of priests and religious. It wasn't something that the Catholic laity needed to be concerned about. You're written much about the role of the laity over the years. Where do you think evangelizing ranks, so to speak, in the work that laity are called to do in the greater context of the Church?

Russell Shaw: It ranks right up at the top. It's often been said--for example, by recent popes like Paul VI and John Paul II--that the mission of the Church is synonymous with evangelization. In other words, announcing the Good News, telling the world about Jesus Christ and how he has redeemed us, and encouraging people to have a living relationship with him.

Now, as a result of baptism and confirmation, all members of the Church--including the laity--have roles to play in the Church's mission. All of us--including us laity--are called to participate in the work of evangelization. It isn't optional. It's a central part of the Christian vocation."

Russell Shaw is one of the best popular writers on the whole subject of the theology of the laity and the lay apostolate around. We strongly recommend reading Catholic Laity in the Mission of the Church. if you'd like to understand the Church 's teaching on that subject.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

President Candidates Reaction to Supreme Court Ruling on Partial Birth Abortion

Peter Nixon, who occasionally graces ID with his comments, has gathered a thought-provoking collection of reactions by major candidates in the 2008 Presidential election to the recent ruling of the Supremes on partial birth abortion:

From the Commonweal blog:


This decision marks a dramatic departure from four decades of Supreme Court rulings that upheld a woman's right to choose and recognized the importance of women's health. Today's decision blatantly defies the Court's recent decision in 2000 striking down a state partial-birth abortion law because of its failure to provide an exception for the health of the mother. As the Supreme Court recognized in Roe v. Wade in 1973, this issue is complex and highly personal; the rights and lives of women must be taken into account. It is precisely this erosion of our constitutional rights that I warned against when I opposed the nominations of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito.


I could not disagree more strongly with today's Supreme Court decision. The ban upheld by the Court is an ill-considered and sweeping prohibition that does not even take account for serious threats to the health of individual women. This hard right turn is a stark reminder of why Democrats cannot afford to lose the 2008 election. Too much is at stake - starting with, as the Court made all too clear today, a woman's right to choose.


The Supreme Court reached the correct conclusion in upholding the congressional ban on partial birth abortion. I agree with it.


Today's Supreme Court ruling is a victory for those who cherish the sanctity of life and integrity of the judiciary. The ruling ensures that an unacceptable and unjustifiable practice will not be carried out on our innocent children. It also clearly speaks to the importance of nominating and confirming strict constructionist judges who interpret the law as it is written, and do not usurp the authority of Congress and state legislatures. As we move forward, it is critically important that our party continues to stand on the side of life.


I strongly disagree with today's Supreme Court ruling, which dramatically departs from previous precedents safeguarding the health of pregnant women. As Justice Ginsburg emphasized in her dissenting opinion, this ruling signals an alarming willingness on the part of the conservative majority to disregard its prior rulings respecting a woman's medical concerns and the very personal decisions between a doctor and patient. I am extremely concerned that this ruling will embolden state legislatures to enact further measures to restrict a woman's right to choose, and that the conservative Supreme Court justices will look for other opportunities to erode Roe v. Wade, which is established federal law and a matter of equal rights for women.


Today, our nation's highest court reaffirmed the value of life in America by upholding a ban on a practice that offends basic human decency. This decision represents a step forward in protecting the weakest and most innocent among us.

A "Post-Evangelical"s view of Catholicism

A fascinating look at issues of discipleship and formation from the other side: Internet Monk (a "post-evangelical" Christian) looking at the resources of the Catholic faith:

"Every time I feel like I have lost my way in the Christian life, I find myself back looking at monasticism, and the lessons I learned in two decades of reading Thomas Merton.
I’m not attracted to Catholicism, but I am very much attracted to the tradition of self-conscious, disciplined spiritual formation into a disciple of Jesus Christ. This is a great failing of our side of the church.

As much as we Protestants talk about being shaped by the Bible alone, most evangelicals are thoroughly formed and shaped by the communities where the Bible is handled, taught and practiced according to a “rule” or accepted authority, and by the media that supports and communicates the values of that community.

It is, without a doubt, one of the most appealing and positive aspects of Catholicism that it is self-conscious about its “rules” and authorities for spiritual formation. (Rule as in “way,” as in The Rule of Benedict.) It surely must be humorous to knowledgeable catholics to look at the various sects, denominations and varieties of evangelicalism and fundamentalism, all claiming to “just read the Bible.”

"It’s amazing how many Christians conceive of almost the entirety of discipleship in terms of argumentation. This is seen in the pastoral models they choose, the books/blogs they write and the spiritual activities they value most (debate and classroom lecture.)

These largely unarticulated forms of spiritual formation can be seen in what is not important. I note with interest that one simply cannot say enough bad about most kinds of contemplative prayer, and any sort of silence among many of the reformed particularly. Any kind of intentional approach to spiritual formation, and any kind of intentional approach to discipleship (Dallas Willard, for example) is undertaken amidst a barrage of criticism. If the imagination is mentioned, all fire alarms are pulled and a search for Oprah Winfrey ensues."

Your thoughts?

Never Attend Church? It Isn't All Tending in One Direction

I came across these interesting statistics embedded in a 2005 USA Today article on the dramatic drop of Church attendance in Europe. There were the usual gloomy stats:

Europeans who "never" or "practically never" attend Church in 2000 as compared to 1981:

France 60%
Britian 55%
down to Ireland (8%)

But I also noticed this:

While 22% of Italians in 1981 claimed never to go to church, that number had dropped to 17% by 2000. And the US total had also dropped from 18% in 1981 to 16% in 2000.

So again, some indication that it isn't all going one way and that rumors of some kind of Christian renewal in some parts of Europe have some basis.

What is a Social Entrepeneur?

from the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepeneurship:

Just cause it tickled me.

What is a Social Entrepreneur?

  • A pragmatic visionary who achieves large scale, systemic and sustainable social change through a new invention, a different approach, a more rigorous application of known technologies or strategies, or a combination of these.
  • Combines the characteristics represented by Richard Branson and Mother Teresa.
I'm fascinated by the whole emergence of the "social entrepenuer" scene because it seems so applicable to the mission of lay apostles called to transform the structures and cultures of the world. So I hope to blog more on the subject later.

I Just Gotta Point Out

It's snowing outside. . .

Happy-getting-close-to-the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena!

I don't think it snows in Tuscany in April.

The view from a Siena courtyard - looking up!

Death Penalty Methods Re-examined?

A new scientific study has determined that the combination of drugs used to kill prisoners under a sentence of death has not always worked correctly:

The drugs used to execute prisoners in the United States sometimes fail to work as planned, causing slow and painful deaths that probably violate constitutional bans on cruel and unusual punishment, a new medical review of dozens of executions concludes.

Even when administered properly, the three-drug lethal injection method appears to have caused some inmates to suffocate while they were conscious and unable to move, instead of having their hearts stopped while they were sedated, scientists said in a report published Monday by the online journal PLoS Medicine.

You can read more about the study here.

As I understand it, the Church has declared that capital punishment may be a legitimate means of protecting and securing the common good if no other practical means exists to do so. She recognizes therefore the right of legitimate governing authority to render prudential judgement in the matter, while upholding the foundational principal of respect for each and every human life. However, John Paul II has said that the current realities of society make the necessity of capital punishment exceedingly rare. Here is the section from the CCC:

2266 The State's effort to contain the spread of behaviors injurious to human rights and the fundamental rules of civil coexistence corresponds to the requirement of watching over the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime. the primary scope of the penalty is to redress the disorder caused by the offense. When his punishment is voluntarily accepted by the offender, it takes on the value of expiation. Moreover, punishment, in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.

2267 The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor. If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today ... are very rare, if not practically non-existent.'[John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56.]

Given the results of this study--and the fact that 11 states have suspended the use of lethal injection as a more humane method of capital punishment--what can Catholics bring to the further discussion of capital punishment that will inevitably result in the wake of this discovery? How can the riches of the Church's Teaching best be applied to this situation?

It's Not Mass - and It is "Seeker-Friendly"

Apparently Xavier University is offering a class on evangelization and they are experimenting with a "seeker-friendly" service that is clearly not Mass (then why not drop the term "service" as it will just confuse people?) and is called "Road Trip".

"Road Trip will feature contemporary Catholic music by several local artists and the Rev. Eric Knapp, a Jesuit priest in his 30s. It's aimed not only at the college campus but young adults throughout Greater Cincinnati."

It sounds a bit like Catholic Underground sponsored by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal which combines high level contemporary music and art with prayer and is spreading around New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

So much depends upon how this is done. It requires top flight music and serious prayer - but I wish them well. Catholic Underground seems to be packing em in.

May Christ be revealed and glorified in all things.

PS. The Storm Theatre in New York is sponsoring THE KAROL WOJTYLA
THEATRE FESTIVAL starting May 16th. They will be performing three of the plays of Pope John Paul II.

Kathleen Lundquist's New CD

A note from Kathleen Lundquist, a member of our multi-talented ID team:

Just a note to let you know that my newest release, Mystagogia – the EP, is available now for your listening (and purchasing) pleasure at CD Baby ( Follow this link:

This is a 5-song custom CD-R recording, a little taste of what I’ve been doing in coffeehouses and other small venues around the Northwest in the last year. There’s lots of information there on the webpage, including a link to my previously released album Light in Our Darkness and to my website (

What’s more, the Mystagogia EP is on CD Baby’s $5 Specials program, which means that if you buy 2 or more (different)CD Baby albums from this “bin”, they’re only $5 apiece. (The regular price for the EP is $6.50.) Such a deal! And, quantity discounts are our middle name!

So, check it out! Let me know what you think, too. And if there’s a coffee shop or other small venue near you that does live music and you think they’d like me, send me their contact info and I’ll send my press kit out to them. I’m currently booking for June onward.

Thanks so much, and have a lovely Spring day!

Kathleen Lundquist

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Evangelical Nature of Catholicism

A post from Sherry via her trusty, smug, Mac-using minion:

There was a kerfuffle all weekend at Fr. Dwight Longenecker's blog over his post on his experience at the Evangelical Catholic Institute the weekend before. Fr. Mike and I also attended the Evangelical Catholic Institute (I spoke several times) - as did Cardinal Avery Dulles, who gave one of the keynotes.

There seems to be two issues: 1) simply the term "evangelical Catholic" which is perceived by some as off-putting in and of itself; and 2) the fear that focusing on calling Catholics to a personal relationship with Christ, to intentional discipleship, is somehow a rejection and/or minimization of the role of the Church and magisterium. If we lay down our catechism for a moment, we are repudiating doctrine and revelation and the authority of the Church's teaching altogether and becoming Protestant.

What is, alas, no longer surprising for me, is to see clergy and lay people that I know to be devoted to Church teaching and meticulous about teaching with the Church being dismissed as covert dissenters because they are talking about the same thing that Pope Benedict has spoken about so movingly: personally following and entrusting one's life to Christ.

At the Institute and ID, we don't ever use the term "evangelical Catholic" because of its potential in our situation in the Protestant hotbed of the US to be understood as saying that the evangelical is not an intrinsic part of the Catholic faith and has to be borrowed from elsewhere and "tacked on".

But if we are going to be fully Catholic, we have to wrestle with the irreducibly evangelical nature of the Catholic faith - the mission to proclaim Christ to every person, every culture, every society. Protestants didn't invent the evangel or evangelism. They got it from us and then majored in it.

One commenter in the debate mentioned above pointed out this reality: The term "evangelical" is used 482 times in the documents of Vatican II and in papal and material teaching since. No reality spoken of 482 times in authoritative magisterial teaching can be dismissed as marginal, sectarian, or non-Catholic.

For instance, as in the Decree on the Laity, 31, doctrine and the evangelical are not, in any way, seen as opposed.

a) In regard to the apostolate for evangelizing and sanctifying men, the laity must be specially formed to engage in conversation with others, believers or non-believers, in order to manifest Christ's message to all men.(5)
Since in our times different forms of materialism are spread far and wide even among Catholics, the laity should not only learn doctrine more diligently, especially those main points which are the subjects of controversy, but should also exhibit the witness of an evangelical life in contrast to all forms of materialism.

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 41

"married couples and Christian parents should . . . imbue their offspring, lovingly welcomed as God's gift, with Christian doctrine and the evangelical virtues."

The "evangelical" is also clearly declared to be part of the priestly office (Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests, 2,

"Their ministry, which begins with the evangelical proclamation, derives its power and force from the sacrifice of Christ."

And a critical part of the Church's mission to the world (from the Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church, 24,:

"By a truly evangelical life, in much patience, in long-suffering, in kindness, in unaffected love (cf. 2 Cor 6:4ff.), he bears witness to his Lord, if need be to the shedding of his blood."

The irony is that in defending ourselves against recent history (to a community that is 2000 years old, the 500 year span of Protestantism is a johnny-come-lately.) we can find ourselves rejecting as "foreign" something that is Catholic to the core, that is absolutely essential to the faith, and dates back to St. Peter's sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2).

"'Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.'

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, 'What are we to do, my brothers?'

Peter (said) to them, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.'"


We're Back and We Will Be Blogging

Soon. Fr. Mike and I were on the road this weekend and poor Keith is suffering complete technical melt-down, it seems. But I seem to be able to post so we'll be working on stuff and posting later today.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Weekend Scarcity

Sorry I've been so scarece this weekend. My laptop decided (quite literally, I fear) to meltdown. I am hitching a ride on Deb's computer right now, but my connection over the next few days might be spotty at best. I hope that the issue is just one of fans and not a real meltdown on the motherboard.

Say a prayer for my Sony Vaio!

I Got That Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy . . .

Fr. Dwight has a beautiful reflection on the reality of joy in the life of a Christian. He writes:

I'm not sure exactly how to describe joy, but I know what it's not. It's not mere happiness or feeling fine. Neither is it giddiness, hilarity or what some people call 'evangelical perma-grin' (that everlastingly smug smile some pious people paste on) Neither is it a sentimental, twee religious happy time, nor some spooky religious high that you sometimes find in devotees of Eastern religions.

Instead Christian joy is a tough, shrewd realism built on a bedrock of optimism. The energy and determination of joy is formidable. Joy is a steam engine that is unstoppable. Joy laughs quickly, but it also weeps quickly in compassion. Joy is an authentic clarity of vision, a simplicity of style and a direct way of speaking in total honesty, but without a touch of malice. It is honest, open, attractive and infectious. Joy is more than a lift of the heart or the buoyancy of spirit that comes from external circumstances. Joy springs up from the depths of a heart that has been truly converted by the power of the resurrection.

That is the best way to describe joy: it is a heart raised up and being raised up and forever being raised up. It is the everlasing lift of the heart renewed. It is tough, tender, hilarious and alive.

We are so often caught up in the notion that joy is simply happiness. That to be a Christian means "putting on a happy face" in the midst of your trials. But, as Fr. Dwight has written, it is so much more than that. Christian joy transforms and renews everything it looks upon. This is why Mother Theresa talks of suffering as the loving embrace from the crucified Christ. When I listen to that description with through the ears of modern culture, it seems almost repulsive and pathological.

Yet, Christian joy embraces suffering and responds to it with the gentle, beautiful, and captivating love of Christ Himself.

Knowing what I now know about the spiritual aridity that Mother Theresa suffered throughout most of her life, I am moved even more by her joyful witness. As we move out in the world of our everyday lives, may we, like Mother Theresa, radiate the very joy of Christ to those we meet.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Buddhism & Catholicism

Put this one under inter-religious dialogue. Most interesting. From a Buddhist blog Buddhist Jihad:

A National Catholic Register article about Catholic reactions to the visit of the Dalai Lama with many quotes from Catholics who left the Church for Buddhism and have since returned. The two faiths are contrasted in some detail.

“Anthony Clark, an assistant professor of Chinese history at the University of Alabama and a noted Catholic expert on Buddhism, urges Catholics to show respect but not receptivity. “As Catholics, we should not allow our respect to evolve into a belief of sameness,” Clark said. “We’re not the same.”

The Buddhist blogger who posted this ended with this comment: “It's a very civil and respectful article. Yay. Way to go!”

Evangelicals in the U.K.

Published for Sherry:

Evangelicals make up 40% of the UK's church-goers and the majority of Anglican church-goers. 72% of Britains consider themselves Christian but the vast majority don't attend church. The majority of UK Christians are nominally Anglican but only 10% of Anglican are in Anglican services on Sunday. And the majority of those who are, belong to the evangelical wing.

White evangelical churches have been heavily influenced by the Alpha course which began in a charismatic Anglican church in London: Holy Trinity Brompton.Black evangelical churches are fueled by heavy African immigration (nearly 1/3 of the 160,000 new British citizens in 2005 were from Africa).

Both groups are intensely evangelistic and tend to be charismatic/Pentecostal in their spirituality. Living British Christianity is losing its stiff upper lip and can no longer be described as the "Tory party at prayer". And disputes have broken out on campus with regard to evangelical student groups :"At Exeter University in southwest England, the student guild suspended an evangelical group and had its bank account frozen because it was asking all its members to sign a statement of belief in Jesus as savior. Conservative Christians have challenged the legality of that decision under the Human Rights Act, which bars public bodies from violating a person's freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The High Court is expected to hear the case soon.

"Two questions:What happens when a secularized society that presumed the death or complete privitization of Christianity, finds that Christianity is resurgent in a new, more vibrant, and more evangelizing form?What about UK Catholics? They weren't mentioned in the article. How do they fit into all this?

For Such a Time as This: How to Find and Live God's Purpose for Your Life.

Posted for Sherry:

Obviously, in a single day, we can only scratch the surface of this fascinating topic. If someone has never been to a Called & Gifted, the day of discernment seems to have a big impact. The day runs from 9 am - 3 pm and includes four talks:

You Are on a Mission from God:
A basic introduction to the Church's teaching on lay apostleship and the secular mission of the laity.

You Have Been Gifted to Answer the Call:
An introduction to charisms and discerning charisms. This was one of the talks that I gave at the Evangelical Catholic Institute last weekend.

There is No Such Thing as Vocational Unemployment:
An hour on the basics of recognizing the vocational clues that are probably already present in our life, including the charisms that God has given us.

The Exercise in Releasing Control:
How to identify ways that we learned to control life as a child that get in the way of using our gifts and answering God's call as adult. This is not a lecture but very much an exercise that is very powerful for many people. (And you don't have to share anything with anyone else!)It's all drawn from Church teaching, Scripture, and the lives of the saints, filled with stories and humor, and is useful and illuminating for adults of all ages and all vocations - from college onward.

As in everything else we do, we use Power Point slides and hand-outs. These days are mostly a form of play for me, especially if the group is responsive. And they can be electrifying for someone who has never been exposed to the Called & Gifted process. I'm giving one this weekend in Riverside, California at St. Andrew's Newman Center at the University of California, Riverside, and again on May 5 in Denver at the John Paul II Pastoral Center. My experience is that many adults feel as one woman put it in a workshop in San Francisco: "I know there is something else that God wants me to do but I don't know how to find it."

As a Church, we hardly provide any assistance to Christian men and women trying to discern a non-ecclesial call. But the Day of Discernment seems to speak to that hunger and serves as a good introduction to the whole Called & Gifted process. The day is open to all but let the sponsoring organization know that you are coming so they can make sure we have enough hand-outs. (I'm told, for instance, that a group from the Diocese of Orange is coming to the Riverside Day of Discernment but we don't know if that means two people or sixty!). And yes, there is a lot of God language. Just in case your non-Christian friend wants to come along (as some do) because they are facing a career crisis. They are certainly welcome and may well enjoy it if they are open to the spiritual aspect but it isn't a typical secular career workshop. Its all about answering a call from God.

Because you and I were raised up for such a time as this - and someone out there is waiting for what we have been given to give in Christ's name.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Could the Gospel of John be evangelical?

While preparing last night to preach this morning, I looked at the "New Testament Message" commentary on the Gospel of John by James McPolin, S.J. At the conclusion of his commentary on the encounter in the third chapter of John between Jesus and Nicodemus, McPolin added a section titled, "The Gospel of Belief" which I found quite interesting. I'll share a bit of it with you.

"Faith is the key theme not only of Jesus' dialogue with Nicodemus and the rest of the chapter but also every chapter in the gospel is about faith, from beginning (1:9-13) to end (20:30-31). Therefore it has been rightly called the gospel of belief. Still, not once does the abstract word "faith" occur in the gospel because there is only the personal activity of believing which is almost exclusively directed towards the person of Jesus. One may believe something about Jesus, for example, that he is Messiah and Son of God (20:30-31) or give credence to him by accepting as true what he says (2:22). But the element of personal commitment to Jesus is expressed in the most frequent phrase: "believing into" Jesus: "He who believes in (to) me has eternal life" (6:47; 3:18)

This "believing in (to)" Jesus goes far beyond accepting his message for it is a movement towards the person of Jesus, an attachment to him as the promised one and Son of God in such a way that the believer appropriates the very life of Jesus. Thus faith means to enjoy a life-giving relationship with him and to give oneself to Christ in dedication and full confidence.... Furthermore, believing in Jesus leads to "knowing" him; but this knowledge extends beyond the understanding of faith (6:69) and includes the experience of the person of Jesus in understanding and love, and a fellowship and communion of life with him (17:3)..."

Yesterday on Fr. Dwight Longenecker's blog, "Standing on My Head," he mentioned that he had been a speaker at the Evangelical Catholic Institute at which Sherry also spoke. He received several comments from people who were skeptical about EC - one, who was very concerned about orthodox belief, even went so far as to claim there was nothing on their website even remotely Catholic. But here's a quick quote from EC's welcome page:

"Jesus' ministry represented a continual invitation to a life of purpose and abundance that is discovered through communion with God, fellowship with His people, and mission to the world.

The Evangelical Catholic extends this same invitation, welcoming you to experience the profound love of God and to reflect that love in relationship. This transformational experience serves as the foundation and wellspring of our ministry, our deepest calling, and the very mission of the Church universal-calling people to interior conversion in Christ, helping people to grow in their faith, discerning and sharing our personal gifts in his Body, and transforming society by the power of the gospel."

I find it disturbing that a Catholic might read this and suspect that somehow it's creeping Protestantism.

We are hearing from the Gospel of John throughout this Easter season. Is our Catholic culture such that we don't recognize the call - the demand - for personal conversion and relationship to Jesus? How can I participate "fully, actively, and consciously" in the Mass if I'm not consciously seeking transformation in the encounter with Christ's body, blood, soul and divinity? How effective is the grace poured out upon me in any of the sacraments if I'm not willing to allow Christ to prune all that is unfruitful and un-Christlike from me? Can we say with St. Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me" (Gal 2:19b-20a)? How can I participate fully in the Mass if I'm not willing to offer myself in loving obedience to the Father with Jesus in his one, perfect sacrifice?

The assent to doctrine alone does not constitute a saving faith. Orthodoxy is necessary, but right doctrine alone does not save us. Otherwise, the Pharisees wouldn't have come under Jesus' critique. The Council of Trent, in chapter 7 on justification, says, "For faith, unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body. For which reason it is most truly said, that Faith without works is dead and profitless..." Faith informed by love of God and neighbor, made joyful by the hope of salvation that is ours in Christ is a living faith - a faith that transforms our lives. It is a faith that is, at its foundation, a relation with Jesus.

Is the Gospel of John evangelical? Of course! The word evangelical comes from the Greek for "Good News!" And, of course, it's Catholic. After all, we included it in the canon of inspired texts!

Let's hear the call to become Beloved Disciples of Jesus that is contained on each page. Moreover, let's respond to that call.

Labels: , ,

The Current Crop of Seminarians

One of the fringe benefits of my job is the chance to have fascinating conversations with Catholic leaders all over the world whose ministry gives them insight and experience that I will never have. Recently, I had the chance to chat with a director of formation at a major US seminary and asked him how he would characterize the current crop of seminarians. He'd clearly thought much about it. Here is how he described his students:

1) They are extremely devout.

2) They are academically poorly prepared and need more remedial work than his generation.

3) They know they are loved by their parents ("baby on board" babies) but at the same time, oddly lonely and vulnerable - some of which they pour into their prayer life.

4) They are not workaholics (like his generation, he said) but more balanced in their approach to life.

5) They tend to fold rather than fight under pressure so you can only ask so much of them.

Presumably, some of this will change as they mature through the formation process. But they are going into a high pressure situation where they will be made pastors almost immediately and may well have responsibility for two or three parishes, (due to the shortage of priests), have to work very hard and deal with conflicting demands on every side, will probably live alone, etc. I couldn't help but be concerned about their future.

The number of priests will stabilize about 2015 when the last of the V2 generation leaves ministry but every indication is that the number of Catholics in the US (especially Hispanics) will keep growing so the pressure on the newly ordained won't let up.

Comments? How can we help support them and carry the load?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Great Internet Research Resources

If you are a history or research maven like me, you'll love this:

There are great new internet research data bases being created as we speak. For instance,

if you are at all interested in St. Vincent de Paul or any bit of Vincentian history, bookmark this: The Vincentian Encyclopedia - basically a Vincentian Wickipedia that is still in the early stages but already has a good deal of fascinating info - including pictures of still existing sights associated with St. Vincent.

There is also the amazing Franciscan Women Internet Guide with over 5,000 searchable bios of Franciscan women from the thirteenth through eighteenth centuries.

Franciscan historical mega links page (13th through 18th centuries)

Evangelical Does Not Mean Protestant

A thought-provoking comment from Fr. Jay Scott Newman of St. Mary's in Greenville, SC about the fear that some Catholics manifest: If something is not clearly non-Protestant, it can't be true, unadulterated Catholicism.

"Some Christians think of the Reformation like a nasty divorce: You get the kids; I get the dogs. You get the house; I get the car. You get the Scriptures; we get the sacraments.

Once this mentality has taken hold in the Catholic imagination, reading the Bible is something the Protestants do and evangelical is an adjective that can modify only the noun Protestant.

But it is the Catholic Church which teaches us that ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. And is the Catholic Church which offers the adjective evangelical as a way of applying the Gospel to every part of Christian life.

An Evangelical Catholic (as opposed to a cultural, cafeteria, or casual Catholic) is one who understands that Baptism makes every Catholic a herald of the Gospel with the duty and privilege of bearing witness to the Lord Jesus. For more than 25 years, John Paul the Great called the entire Church to the work he described as the New Evangelization.....announcing the timeless Gospel as though for the first time to a world that once received but then forgot the Word of God. Being an Evangelical Catholic is nothing other than accepting the work of the New Evangelization and doing our part to fultill the Great Commission.

Please do not allow false dichotomies to rob you of your own patrimony. Evangelical does not mean Protestant; it means of and for and by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. That is exciting stuff, and it is great to be an Evangelical Catholic."

An Encouraging Word from France

A French cardinal has urged Catholics to follow Christian principles in the April 22 presidential election. "I'd like Christians to be Christians and speak out more," said Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon. He said that meant "defending what, in the view of Christians, is right for everyone." Twelve candidates are vying to succeed French President Jacques Chirac. In an April 9 TV interview, Cardinal Barbarin said he saw the emergence of a "new, exceptionally dynamic generation" of French Catholics whose faith had developed outside "previous frameworks and structures." "The terms right and left don't fit Christians, whose actions should be guided by the love Christ shows for people and for life," Cardinal Barbarin said. "We should remember democracy is only a means of action. It's the best we have, but it isn't God and it can sometimes lose its head," he added. In a statement in his diocese's Eglise de Lyon magazine, Cardinal Barbarin said Christian politicians were "called to show a coherence between their faith and engagement, the Gospel spirit and service to the current society," adding that Catholics should oppose "a capitalism which becomes purely financial."

Catholic News Service, April 12

I wish the good Cardinal had been able to give more details about those exceptionally dynamic Catholic and what "previous frameworks" they had developed apart from. Any ideas?

More on New Chinese Catholics

Although no firm number is available from China's 100 dioceses, there are estimates:

"Song estimated that the total number of Easter baptisms on the mainland exceeded 10,000 and said 80 percent of the newly baptized in major Chinese cities have at least some college education. "It's hard to account" for all the baptisms, "as parishes are numerous, and some dioceses baptize at Pentecost, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or at Christmas," he said. Bishop Johan Fang Xingyao of Linyi told UCA News April 11 that he credited laypeople for actively evangelizing their relatives and friends and priests and nuns for spreading the Gospel."

From Catholic News Service, April 13.

March Music Madness

Somehow March slide by without my being aware of March Music Madness, the annual contest in which you can listen to and vote for your favorite Spirit and Song contemporary Catholic musician. This year's winner is "Come to Jesus" by Josh Blakesley.

While I know that this is a marketing ploy, its also fun. There are 64 songs up for internet listening. Check it out.

Priestless Parishes

Per Fresno Bishop John Steinbock:

"In our nation there are seven dioceses that half of their parishes have no resident priest.”

It's not a surprise to us since we spend a good deal of our time in very small, poor, or missionary dioceses. Like Dodge City, Kansas - for which Institute teams have put on a least a dozen events - or Pueblo, Colorado which spans the entire southern portion of the state and is the third poorest diocese in the country.

More on this later when I have time.

114 Year Old Woman Received Into Catholic Church at Easter

In Taiwan. Her secret to a long life? An exclusive diet of rice porridge and bean curd, her cheerful personality and regular exercise.

Welcome home, Hsu-Song Ai-ren!

I will be blogging more this evening now that Fr. Mike has exorcised my PC and bestowed upon it the demon-destroying MacBlessing.

Needless to say, SMUG doesn't even begin to describe him today.

Who wants to be a Lucifer?

Undoubtedly, some people are speculating about the eternal destiny of the disturbed young man at Virginia Tech who slew thirty-two faculty, staff and students and wounded more than two dozen others. Some might hope or even presume he's in hell. God will have mercy on him, and will deal with him justly. That's the way God is.

But the speculation reminded me that rather than judging another person, I have to consider my own life, my own behavior and attitudes. Fr. TImothy Radcliffe, OP, in his book, "What is the Point of Being a Christian," mentions that Dante, the great Renaissance Italian poet, speculated in his great reflection on hell, "Inferno," that the uppermost reaches of hell were reserved for sinners who had succumbed to their passions. They desired the good, but their desire was disordered. The middle reaches of hell housed sinners who had actually desired and committed evil, especially those who did violence to others. But the coldest, deepest parts of hell, closest to the Prince of Lies, were inhabited by liars, traitors, forgers, and flatterers. It was they who undermined human society itself, who rent asunder through their deception what God would join. Their dissembling undermined trust, the foundation of human relationships, whether with other people or God Himself.

All this got me thinking about my own level of honesty, and my reticence to unmask the lies of others. We live in the world Orwell envisioned in "1984" in many ways. In Nigeria if a policeman asks you for "a little something for the weekend," he's expecting you to give him a bribe. We here talk of "death with dignity" when what's being referred to is euthanasia. Military reporting might mention "collateral damage," and how many of us realize that means the death of innocents who got caught in the line of fire? The words "final solution" and "ethnic cleansing" sound positively positive, rather than revealing the gruesome desire to effect genocide. Who wouldn't want to fight for "reproductive rights," unless you knew that meant having the option to destroy an innocent life? And if "alternative interrogation" is necessary to protect us from terrorists, then so be it. Just don't call it torture, and my conscience is fine.

My own life is marked with little "white lies," or moments when I don't correct someone's false impression of me. I have betrayed friendships because I feared speaking up for someone I had convinced myself I cared about. I go along with the crowd all too easily, and my conscience isn't pricked by the euphemisms we use to cover our moral butts. We should know better, and we are liable to judgment - and, in fact, stand in judgment already.

"This is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God." John 3:19-21.
These euphemisms and our lies are signs that we prefer the darkness to the light. When we are willing to speak truthfully, and accept the truth others might speak to us (especially about ourselves), we are drawing closer to the light. And in that light we will see our sin all the more clearly, as one sees one's shadow better as a source of light is approached. But in that light we see light and come to the fullness of life. In that light we encounter not only God's judgment, but his merciful and healing love.

And if we live in truth, live in Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, we become bearers of light to others. Ironically, that means we take the place of Lucifer, whose very name means "light bearer."

Better to take his original place, than to take his current place!

Why Retreats Are Bad

No, I'm not talking about taking a weekend away from your everyday life to focus on God. I'm talking about the tendency for people of faith to draw away from the world, to retreat from its sometimes hostile environment.

I've been thinking a great deal about this, particularly in relation to fiction writing. In fact, I just finished a reflection entitled Why I Hate Christian Science Fiction and posted it on my blog. As a group, Christians tend to do what I call "enclaving," creating a cultural space around themselves where they feel safe. We see it in Christian Music, in Christian Films, and, yes, in Christian Science Fiction. We copy a cultural phenomenon and then "Christian-ize" it so we can feel good about enjoying it.

The bad thing about enclaving is that it tends to enforce an artificial separation between "the world" and us--a separation which, according to Christ who calls us to be salt, and leaven, and light--shouldn't exist. Catholics aren't immune to this instinct to draw back. In fact, we have institutional enclaves, called parishes, which more often than not focus their resources on protecting and meeting the needs of parish members rather than moving out into the local community to evangelize its people and structures.

Our shepherds (the ordained) need to do more than protect the flock from attack by wolves. They must equip us so that we can go forth among the wolves "as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves." In short, we need to be formed, equipped for our role in spreading the gospel of salvation and building the Kingdom of God here on earth.

We shouldn't abandon our enclaves to do so. But we do need to leave them behind occasionally.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Your Best Life This Weekend

Left or right coast, we have you covered this weekend.

Fr. Mike and Barbara Elliott will be presenting the Called & Gifted workshop at the famous St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville, South Carolina this Friday night and Saturday.

Meanwhile, I will be jetting over to the left coast and Riverside, California for

For Such a Time as This: How to Find and Live God's Purpose for Your Life.
A day devoted to the practical art of discernment.

LOCATION: St Andrew's Catholic Newman Center, Riverside CA.
Saturday, April 21, 9 am - 3:30 pm.

If you are an ID reader and can make one of these events, please come up and say "Hi!"


Blogger has been refusing to accept my posts so this is a test.

In the absence of blogging, we are getting a lot of good work done on Making Disciples though.

Bad Joke. Bad, bad, bad

A friend sent me this joke the other day via e-mail. It's a fairly common genre, but I read it a little differently yesterday.

An eye doctor, a heart surgeon and an HMO executive die and are in heaven. God asks the eye doctor why he should be let into heaven and the doctor explains to God that he helped people save or regain their sight. God says, "Welcome to heaven, my son."

God then asks the heart surgeon what he had done in life that should allow him into heaven. "I saved people from death from heart attacks and heart disease," the doctor replies. "Welcome to heaven, my son," God says.

God then turns to the HMO executive. God asks him what he was, and the man replies that he worked for an HMO. "Welcome to heaven, my son," says God, "but you have to leave in two days."

Why is this a bad joke? Not because it's a groaner (it is actually pretty funny and pointed). But notice the theology at its heart: salvation is something earned by being good, and conversely, hell is something earned by being bad. Relationship with Christ, belief in the salvific effect of his cross and resurrection, or even doing God's will in response to what God has done for me is not part of the picture.

Yes, I'm making a lot out of a silly little joke, but I'm reminded of an anecdote I heard about Peter Kreeft, who teaches in the theology department at Boston College, a little Jesuit school out east. He commented that for 25 years of teaching he has asked the students in one of his classes, "If you died today and were presented before God the Father and He asked you why you should be admitted into heaven, what would you say?" He lamented that year after year, students with eight to twelve years of Catholic education would reply something along the lines of this joke - "because I was good." Seldom, he said, was the name of Jesus mentioned. It seems remarkable that at every Mass we see the presider hold a cup of wine and hear him repeat the words of Jesus, "this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all SO THAT SINS MAY BE FORGIVEN..." and we still think we somehow earn salvation. Perhaps we think we're still drinking wine, too!

We are being formed in a variety of ways, much of it subtle, much of it unintentional, like this joke. All the more reason for us to take formation of ourselves, our children, and all Catholic adults seriously!


Monday, April 16, 2007

Sherry on the Evangelical Catholic

We're back . . . from Madison, Wisconsin.

I didn't realize that Fr. Mike was keeping you up late regalling you with his thoughts. Love the Hell: No, We Won't Go meditation and title.

I didn't get the chance to blog or attend most of the sessions because I was talking, talking, talking. It was my first chance to present the Pre-Discipleship Stages of Spiritual Development as well as do two introductory talks on discernment and charisms.

Sometimes it is like that at conferences. What you say hits a nerve and everybody wants to talk. A presenter is usually wondering how something brand new is going to hit people, especially if it is a group that you have never worked with before. The exciting thing is not only when people tell you how much they appreciate it but when they begin to quote you or ask really detailed questions. The thrill of "By Jove, they got it!" runs through you with the secondary peace of knowing that you aren't in for a massive re-write following close behind.

I got to meet a lot of interesting denizens of the Apostolic Underground* ( There was the gang from National Evangelization Team (NET -, a young man representing the Glenmary Missionaries ( who work in and support Catholic parishes in the rural south, and Emmaus Journey (, the ministry of Rich Cleveland, a Catholic Navigator (, who attends my parish. A number of campus ministers from around the eastern half of the country as well as a few long-time friends like Bernie Vogel and Sue Lahocky. And I was excited to meet some readers of ID there as well!

I had long wanted to meet Fr. Dwight Longenecker "Standing on My Head" ( and was delighted to find him at the EC Institute and we had a nice long chat. He and his wife are hoping to attend the Called & Gifted workshop ( at St. Mary's in Greenville, South Carolina next weekend.

And of course, I had many diverse and long conversations with the Evangelical Catholic ( team who are young, smart, creative, and vibrant apostles. I hadn't understood how ad hoc the whole EC thing was, arising out of a small circle of Catholic friends on the Madison campus seven years ago. They have just hired their first staff member, are bringing on a husband-wife leadership team (who both hold newly minted MAs from Notre Dame) this summer, and have been asked by their Bishop to spread the EC vision of making disciples to parishes in their diocese.

They fit the Apostolic Underground (AU) model: small, passionate, risk-taking, evangelistic, orthodox, entrepreneurial, creative, lay-lead, and hand-to-mouth. Somehow, God will provide.

The theme of the weekend: parishes and dioceses are turning to small AU groups for help. I heard this not only from the EC people but also from the NET leaders. A chronic shortage of priests, youth ministers, resources of all kinds means that small, under funded or missionary parishes and dioceses are drawing upon the resources and energy of small apostolic groups. For instance, NET has its first "long-term" parish team which will spend two years in a specific parish focusing on youth ministry and outreach rather than a single week.

And all these groups wanted to know how to successfully transfer their gifts and expertise to the parish scene. Hence, all the talk, talk, talk.

But the most moving personal moment for me was meeting and spending a little time with Cardinal Avery Dulles. He is elderly and very frail now and walks with a four pronged cane, but still very sharp and possessing a lovely sense of humor. Very unpretentious - he simply introduced himself at breakfast as "Hello, I'm Avery Dulles". I got to sit at his small table at dinner and again at breakfast but the most memorable moment did not involve any words.

I visited the large, beautiful chapel before breakfast to spend a few minutes in adoration and found three other people there. Two students and Avery Dulles. He was alone, without his young priest assistant, who had been constantly at his side, steadying him throughout Mass and helping him ascend the podium. No longer able to kneel, he sat praying in a corner, his cane beside him.

The hidden source of all that wisdom.

Labels: ,

Evangelism & Salvation

Hello everyone! I'm back from a rather protracted bout with writing and editing deadlines. Thankfully, I think I managed to hit my deadlines and remove those particular monkeys from my back!

The youth ministry program at my parish is wrapping up its year (we had our final meeting last night and a retreat next weekend), and this has me reflecting on a few things related to sharing the faith.

At some point during the year, as the "moderators" (youth ministers) were discussing the possibility of making some substantive changes in order to deepen and improve the ministry, one person exhibited resistance to a proposal that the moderators make a commitment to actually come to every meeting and prepare for their talks by proclaiming that "this isn't my job."

My initial thought (which I never voiced, unfortunately) was that this might not be your profession, but it's their (the teens') eternal life. What we do (or don't do) in terms of our own lackadaisical or half-hearted approach may have a direct effect on the eternal destination of the young men and women God (through the pastor) has entrusted to our care.

Of course, this expands beyond youth ministry to all elements of intentional discipleship. If, indeed, the Church's deepest and most profound identity is found in evangelization, then living out a life of faith isn't just about securing my own salvation, but also helping others experience the saving love of Christ.

In fact, my own salvation is, if I am correctly listening to the voice of God speak through the Tradition of the Church, intimately bound up with the salvation of others. To love my neighbor as myself includes sharing with them the transformative power of the gospel. If I won the Lottery, I would want to share my good fortune with those I love.

How much more have we been given in Christ Jesus. And how much more have we been called to share!

Evangelization is a way of salvation for others--and for ourselves--because it leads to the Way, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Hell - No, We Won't Go!

"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few." Mt. 7:13-14.

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, a day in which we celebrate the unfathomable mercy that God has for us. Yet as I witness the zeal of the young students here at the Evangelical Catholic Institute, and as I pray the last day of the Divine Mercy Novena, I am struck by a thought.

We Catholics act as though Heaven is the default destination of our souls, and that Hell (if it exists at all, we think) is reserved for really, really evil people: genocidal dictators, unrepentant mass murderers, and, one would suspect reading some Catholic blogs, people who play the guitar at Mass. You have to try really hard to get there, because God's mercy and love is so great. We forget, of course, that in God justice and mercy meet and embrace and are inseparable. Yet in Dante's vision of Hell, the deepest abyss isn't filled with the people we imagine. It's reserved for traitors and liars! I know I have betrayed friends and although I belong to an Order whose motto is truth, I haven't yet broken the habit of lying. In this day and age, lying seems more like a way of life than the road to perdition.

But the last day of the Divine Mercy novena focuses its prayer on a surprising group - lukewarm Christians; "tepid souls who, like corpses, filled You with such deep loathing (at the Garden of Gethsemane)" [Divine Mercy Novena] It seems ridiculous that Hell might await Catholics who are lukewarm, who show up for the sacraments but don't cooperate with the grace offered in them and thus aren't transformed by them. Could Hell really await people who have given up hope in or never even seriously desired a loving, living relationship with the Lord? If that were the case, why then, Hell would be a real possibility for me!

Would it benefit my own soul to consider that Hell - separation from God for eternity - might be my default destination if I am only mildly interested in a relationship with God in this life? Is going through life concerned primarily about my own success, my own likes and dislikes, my own goals, pursuing my own interests and pleasures a betrayal of my baptism? Does it make me a liar every time I claim to be a Christian?

I don't want to be someone who clings to religious things because of a fear of Hell. I hope to be someone who appreciates the Divine Mercy - the unmerited love that is offered to me by God - and responds joyfully, wholeheartedly, enthusiastically and selflessly. But I'm not there, yet, so maybe the reality of Hell as a possibility makes me ask for the grace of conversion with a bit more fervor and a bit more insistently.

P.S. I was really tempted to label this post under "global warming."


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Evangelical Catholic Institute, part II

I had a great day today at the Evangelical Catholic Institute! The speakers I heard were insightful, and practical in their comments, and everyone here is talking about discipleship - even intentional discipleship! There are officially 215 folks here, including a dozen student leaders from Michigan Technological University in Houghton, MI, my alma mater! It was wonderful to hear them talk about what it's like on campus now, and sobering to realize that I graduated from Tech before any of them were born! Most amazing was the fact that I was an acquaintance of the mother of one of the students!

This day ended with a keynote address by Avery Cardinal Dulles, who spoke on six models of evangelization: personal witness, affirmation, worship, community, inculturation and works of charity. These models were drawn from the work of Fr. Timothy Bayerly (whose last name I may have butchered), a graduate student whom Cardinal Dulles advised. I'll share very briefly a few of the notes I took on Cardinal Dulles' keynote.

PERSONAL WITNESS - involves the witness of a life totally given to Christ; a communion with God that nothing can destroy. His Emminence quoted Evangelii Nuntiandi, 21.

AFFIRMATION - involves verbal testimony, which can include apologetics, catechesis and the "explanation for the hope we have in Christ." This testimony often follows upon the silent witness of one's life and is described as necessary to prevent even the best silent witness from being ineffective in the long run (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 22)

WORSHIP - worship is not normally conducted in order to make an impression on outsiders, but our sincerity of relationship with God, our sense of mystery and devotion, can and does have an effect on others; it can change hearts. Some people, in seeing the liturgy, are moved to study the doctrine behind the fervor and devotion of the Catholic faithful. Liturgy and the sacraments immerse us in the mystery of Christ, centers us on him, and makes us his heralds in the world.

COMMUNITY - combats the anonymity that so often marks modern secularism. The Protestant writer Rodney Stark wrote in "The Rise of Christianity" about the way in which the intentional community of the early Christians was such a witness to a pagan world that had no regard or mercy for children, women, the elderly, the sick or the poor. We need a similar communal witness today, and that is part of the power of the Neocatechumenal Way, Focolare, Communion and Liberation, the community of San Egidio, and communidades de base. As Cardinal Dulles spoke of this, I was reminded of a quote by Pope Benedict XVI, who encouraged every Catholic Christian to work to ensure that "new generations experience the Church as a company of friends who are truly dependable and close in all life's moments and circumstances, whether joyful and gratifying or arduous and obscure; as a company that will never fail us, not even in death, for it carries within it the promise of eternity."

INCULTURATION - the Cardinal called this the "incarnation of the Gospel in cultural forms recognizable to new cultures." He mentioned the long history of inculturation, beginning with the translation of Jewish categories of thought to Greek categories in the first century (especially the example of St. Paul in the areopagus [Acts 17:23-31], which is a model of incultured evangelization, since St. Paul quoted Greek authors and poets in that speech.) Sts. Cyril and Methodius inculturated the Gospel for the people of easter Europe, while St. Matteo Ricci was "successful in clothing Christianity in cultural forms of China and India." Yet the Cardinal also pointed out that culture, too, needs evangelizing, and John Paul II called us to transform the values we find already present in the world around us. This need for inculturation is especially profound when we talk about communications/mass media; human rights, international relations, bio-ethics. These are all new areopagii. These are areas that cannot be evangelized from without, but, rather, must be evangelized from within.

WORKS OF CHARITY - also known as the "social apostolate." St. Paul got us started by taking up a collection among the churchs in order to support the Jerusalem church during hard times. The Cardinal reminded the students of the history to which they are heirs; that we belong to a community that inspired people to begin hospitals, schools, the Catholic Worker, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Cardinal Dulles reminded us that, while works of charity are impressive, they can't take the place of the Gospel, nor can the Gospel be reduced to the pursuit of peace and justice in this world. He also pointed out that the social Gospel is lived out primarily by the laity.

Cardinal Dulles concluded by reminding us that evangelization is an act of love - that it begins and ends with the Holy Spirit. Finally, he said, "Faith is strengthened when it is given away, and, conversely, weakened when it is hoarded."

I'll try to write more tomorrow after the conclusion of the Institute! I'm falling asleep at my computer!

Labels: ,

Friday, April 13, 2007

Read this, do one act of contrition, and call me in the morning...

Reading this post from Godspy was like peering into my own soul. Ick. Thank you for writing this Mr. Pessaro. I'll go do an act of contrition now.

Evangelical Catholic Institute

Sherry and I managed to avoid snow-related snafus in air traffic and arrived in Madison, WI on our separate flights from Colorado Springs and Tucson. We are attending the 2007 Evangelical Catholic Institute at the Bishop O'Connor Center here in Madison. This event is sponsored by Evangelical Catholic, a ministry begun at St. Paul's Catholic Campus ministry here at the University of Wisconsin.

What is The Evangelical Catholic? According to their website, "The EC's vision is that the Catholic Church be experienced as a vibrant, evangelical movement. We work towards the renewal of individuals, campus ministries, and parishes through an emphasis on interior conversion, devotion to the Scriptures, formation in the habits of discipleship, intense Christian community, and a commitment to evangelization.

How many of us, lay and ordained, charged with providing pastoral care have ever received the practical training needed to effectively recognize, reach, inspire, encourage and help the spiritually hungry? Our hearts are filled with love for God and for those we serve, but we are unsure how to implement ministries that help people enter into a meaningful and life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. Our best attempts at offering interesting talks, community gatherings, and other events often leave us disappointed at how few they have attracted and how little they have impacted the lives of our students, parishioners and the life of the parish as a whole.

The EC seeks to provide solutions to these problems so that our vision, and the Church's mission, can become reality."

"Evangelical Catholic Ministry is a concrete method for bringing about the Evangelical Catholic Vision. Its goal is relational, not ideological, nurturing individuals and ecclesial communities in their relationship with Jesus and His body, the Church, through a focus on the priorities of the Evangelical Catholic Vision. It has three stages and four settings."

The Institute is hosting what looks to be about 200+ people from around the midwest and east, primarily. The vast majority of them are college students involved in campus ministry, along with their campus ministers. Sherry will be giving a couple of workshops over the next two days, as will several other presenters. Keynote speakers include Avery Cardinal Dulles and Msgr. Stuart Swetland, a professor at Mt. St. Mary's Seminary and the former Director of the Newman Foundation and chaplain to the Catholic students at the University of Illinois.

This evening Msgr. Swetland gave a spirited plea for the importance of personal conversion to Christ. He used John the Evangelist and St. Paul as examples of people whose lives were turned around by their encounter with Christ, and emphasized the warning from Scripture that "without Christ, we can do nothing." Sherry commented that his use of Scripture (including carrying the Bible around the stage and reading from it), his expansive gestures, the fervor in his voice reminded her of some of the preachers she knew from her Evangelical days. Both Msgr. Swetland and Mr. Michael Haverkamp, executive director of Evangelical Catholic, quoted Popes Benedict and John Paul II and their insistence that evangelization is not primarily about doctrine or programs, but the sharing of an experience of a person - Jesus Christ.

This promises to be an interesting couple of days. I'll do my best to keep you posted.

Labels: ,

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A delightful flight of fancy in Ecclesialand

Tired of the liturgy wars, conflict over Catholic cultural markers, and the continuing quarrel over "the spirit of Vatican II"? I invite you to go with me and the lovely Anastasia down the rabbit hole into the story of Anastasia in Ecclesialand. This brilliant fantasy is the perfect spiritual bedtime story for those of us (intentionally Catholic) children who've come home from school exhausted from parsing teachers' sentences, struggling to impress our friends, and fighting with our siblings while the butler and governess ignore us. Here's a sampling:

Anastasia walked away. She walked on until she found two people loading a wagon. At least, that had been the original idea, but they were going about it in a crazy manner. One of them would load a box and the other would move that box to another position, throwing the load completely off balance and knocking another box off the wagon. They were both dressed in elaborate costumes, one wearing bib overalls and a shapeless red cap and the other dressed in an expensive business suit which he had to keep brushing off.

When they noticed Anastasia, the one in overalls stopped to say, "It's his fault you know. He is going about this all fifteenth-century-ish."

"Modernist!" cried the one in the suit, flinging a box off the top. "How, oh how, shall we ever get this wagon on the pilgrimage?"

Anastasia noticed she still had in her hands the book from the library. On the cover, it said, "READ ME." She opened it to an illustration of the wagon perfectly loaded, with full instructions on how to load it.

"Would this help?" she asked, offering the book.

"My dear, that book is positively twelfth-century-ish" cried the one in overalls.

"That book is full of modernisms," said the one in the suit.

"It's repressive!"



"Not authoritative!"

They kept up until Anastasia saw the bird fly out from under the wagon and onward down the path. As she followed it, she noted the sign on the side of the wagon: "LITURGY MOVERS-LET US MOVE YOU IN CIRCLES."

It's a brilliant piece by Martin Fontenot, originally published in the July/August 1996 issue of This Rock magazine. It sure gave a good rest, and much-needed perspective, to this child's tuckered-out heart and mind. Enjoy.

On Pilgrimage

Speaking of travel:

If you are planning a pilgrimage to Lourdes, Rome, or Knock or have dreamed of walking the medieval pilgrim's route to St. James de Compostela in Spain . . .

You should visit our Pilgrimage/travel section on our website. We have gathered links to shrines all over North America and Europe.

For instance, you can check out this wonderful interactive map of the pilgrim route from Paris to Compostela or simply do an armchair tour of the Splendours of Christendom via Christus Rex.

When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage -

Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

April in Paris? . . . Or a Blizzard in the Rockies?

Trying to figure out how to fly out of Colorado Springs tomorrow morning in the midst of a blizzard feels like this:

By the way, its 73 degrees and clear in Paris right now.

But I'm not jealous. Not me.

Suffering while traveling for the sake of the Gospel - and kvetching about it - is very Dominican.

New Catholics in Oregon

There are 900 new Catholics in Oregon this week. This story focuses particularly upon one family who who had been devestated when their bright 16 year old daughter was reduced to being "a blind and brain-damaged girl who will require round-the-clock care the rest of her life. A potent virus had invaded the girl’s body."

“We changed from a family planning spring break vacation to four lost souls huddled together feeling as if we’d mistakenly been put on house arrest,” Shelly Buell says. “We never thought it was possible to feel so frightened and alone.”

Holly requires two people to tend her and Buell wants one family member to be with her most of the time. Vance is the busy breadwinner and daughter Chelsea is making her own way in the world. That leave Buell to be caretaker.

Shelly sent out to "find a spiritual survival kit that I can count on to get me through 40 years in the desert.”

Continue to remember and pray for all who entered this Easter.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Rethinking the Carbon Dating of the Shroud of Turin.

I happened to stumble tonight upon this PBS program about the Shroud of Turin and the new evidence that seems to contradict the carbon dating results which indicated that the cloth was medieval. The program is really very interesting, covers aspects of the case that I had never heard before, and definitely leans toward the possibility that the Shroud is first century.

The most compelling evidence is given at the end by one of the world's foremost experts on historic textiles. Before dealing with the Shroud, she studied and restored a priceless collection of ancient cloths, including the 13th-century grave garments of St. Anthony of Padua and of King Rudolph I of Bohemia, plus 11th-century liturgical vestments, the Tunic of Christ at Treves, and the cowl of St. Francis of Assisi.

She was the only person considered capable of doing repairs to the Shroud in 2002. On examining it, she was astonished to realize that the throud's very fine seam represented a kind of sewing that she had encountered only once before: in textiles used by the first century Jewish defenders of Masada!

Watch the show if you can or check out their extensive website information.

Seven Theses to Nail to the Church Door

Fr. Jordan Aumann, O.P. has an interesting article (linked in the title of this post) on the history of the laity in the Church. What struck me was how recent is the idea of a truly lay apostolate, rather than the idea that the laity participate in the only true apostolate, that of the hierarchy. Fr. Aumann writes,

"During and after the Second Vatican Council the lay members of the Church have been called repeatedly to assume their rightful place among the People of God and to perform the apostolate that is their responsibility. This in itself constitutes a remarkable change in the traditional under standing of the role of the laity in the life and ministry of the Church."

Briefly looking at the role of the laity through time and the clericalization of the Church, he notes that "Closer to our own times, Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846) stated: 'No one can deny that the Church is an unequal society in which God has destined some to command and others to obey.' Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) also declared that there are two distinct classes in the Church: pastors and their flocks, the leaders and the people. 'The role of the first order,' he said, 'is to teach, to govern and to lead men in life; to impose rules. The duty of the other is to submit itself to the first, to obey it, to carry out its orders and to honor it.'"

He mentions a few clerics who were instrumental in changing this view of the laity, like John Henry Cardinal Newman and St. Vincent Pallotti, founder of Catholic Action, not to mention the Popes named Pius X-XII. One of the foremost voices in the changing of the view of the hierarchy came from an outspoken and often suspected proponent of the laity, who in 1932 wrote,

"The prejudice that ordinary members of the faithful must limit themselves to helping the clergy in ecclesiastical apostolates has to be rejected. There is no reason why the secular apostolate should always be a mere participation in the apostolate of the hierarchy. Secular people too have to have a duty to do apostolate; not because they receive a canonical mission, but because they are part of the Church. Their mission... is fulfilled in their professions, their job, their family, and among their colleagues and friends."

That thought was taken up by the Second Vatican Council, which discussed the secular character of the laity in paragraph 31 of Lumen Gentium,

"Their secular character is proper and peculiar to the laity... By reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will. They live in the world, that is, they are engaged in each and every work and business of the earth, and in the ordinary circumstances of social and family life which, as it were, constitute their very existence. There they are called by God that, being led by the Spirit to the Gospel, they may con tribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties... The laity... are given this special vocation: to make the Church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them that she can become the salt of the earth."

Whose prophetic voice was it that challenged the view of the laity as simply being the helpers of the clergy?

None other than Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer, the recently canonized founder of Opus Dei.

In our polarized American Church (which too often mirrors the polarization in secular politics in our country), we too often find it impossible to believe that voices from the opposite side of the (church) aisle might have something to say that we can agree with. So we don't listen to each other. What a tragic mistake, and what a scandal we present to the world. But there is also a tremendous irony in the emphasis on the part of some people in the Church, mostly toward the progressive end of the spectrum, that sees the key to greater lay dignity in being involved in roles that were traditionally taken by clerics. Such a view stems from a pre-Vatican II view of the Church!

What do I mean by that? Fr. Aumann points out the, "slow and gradual process by which the laity were given their rightful place in the mission of the Church. For example, in the early days of Catholic Action, Pope Pius XI defined it (i.e., the rightful place of the laity) as 'the participation of the laity in the hierarchical apostolate of the Church.' That statement was made in 1939..."

Within a generation, the Second Vatican Council, focusing on the purpose of the Church as the spreading of the Kingdom of Christ throughout the earth and enabling all people to enter into a relationship with Jesus, wrote, "All activity of the Mystical Body directed to the attainment of this goal is called the apostolate, which the Church carries on in various ways through all her members. For the Christian vocation by its very nature is also a vocation to the apostolate...Indeed, the organic union in this body and the structure of the members are so compact that the member who fails to make his proper contribution to the development of the Church must be said to be useful neither to the Church nor to himself."

The Council, which has sometimes been called a council on the laity, calls the Church to see its primary focus as leaven within the world. In this sense, the laity have a primary role, and the role of the clergy is, in some ways, secondary, and focused on helping the laity be prepared for that apostolate, and offering their efforts with Christ to the Father in the eucharistic liturgy.

The Mass is essential to the success of the apostolate, don't get me wrong. We can do nothing without Christ and the grace His death and resurrection make available to us. The Mass is the source and summit of our life as Christians. It is the source of the success of the Church's apostolate. It is also the summit of our life as Christians when the fruits of the apostolate are offered to the Father with Christ within the eucharistic sacrifice. Those fruits include new Christians gathered around the table of the Lord and the efforts of Christians to humanize secular institutions. Both of these give glory and praise to God.

Unfortunately, many of our ecclesial structures still reflect the pre-Vatican II mentality that saw the role of the cleric and the inner workings of the Church as institution as primary. I am not advocating a "democratization" or "Protestantization" of the Church. Such a process would still be focusing on the Church and its inner workings. What I am suggesting can be summarized in this way:

If the purpose of the Church is the evangelization of the world and the changing of secular institutions so that they respect the human dignity of each person and better reflect the will of God which is the good of each person, then

1. The focus of each diocese and parish must increasingly become that purpose.
2. The role of the clergy must be seen as primarily helping the laity embrace and succeed in their apostolate, since it is the laity who have access to those far from the Church and who participate in secular institutions.
3. This will mean a change in priestly formation to include a coherent and integrated emphasis on evangelization, pastoral governance, charisms, and the role of the laity in the Church's mission.
4. This also requires a re-examination and restructuring of the ways in which the clergy and lay pastoral staff spend their time and energy, as well as a change in how lay Catholics view themselves, the Church, and the world.
5. A primary goal of the clergy and lay pastoral staff must be the conversion of individual Catholic Christians to a personal relationship with Christ and intentional discipleship, as well as an intention to help the Christian community support individual and communal apostolic initiatives.
6. The sacraments, particularly the Mass, which is the source and summit of our life as Christians, must be studied and experienced in the context of our mission to the world and as the catalysts and ongoing graced supports to the individual and communal relationship with Christ.
7. That means that our apostolic efforts must be consciously, purposefully and specifically acknowledged in appropriate places in Mass, and also recognized as an integral part of our worship and praise of God. That is, I am worshipping God not only before the altar, but also when I act from Christian principles at work, at home, at play, and at rest.

I'm sure there are other points that could be made, but this is a start. Feel free to add other ideas or observations I may have overlooked.

Labels: ,

Barb Nicolosi Reports: The Mount of the Beatitudes

Check out Barbara Nicolosi's great pictures and fascinating experiment on the Mount of the Beatitudes. How could Jesus have spoken to 5,000 people without a microphone? Turns out there's a natural amphitheatre on the mount where you don't have to shout to be heard far away.

I've been there. Had the wonderful privilege of walking around the Sea of Galilee from Tiberius to Capernum because it was Shabbat and no public transportation was available. Through showers and banana plantations. Accumulating a ton of Galilean mud on my sandles and really understanding for the first time something of what it was like for Jesus to hike from town to town and why washing one's feet after traveling was such a big deal. Spent the night at Tubgha, near the little shrine to Peter's primacy.

The most memorial moment: stumbling upon ruins amid the bananas and reading a sign in three languages: English, Arabic, and Hebrew: "This is the site of Magda, the home of Mary Magdalene.

It is exceedingly lovely and moving. Go if you have the chance.

Heart's Home

Another member of the Apostolic Underground: Heart's Home or Points Coeur

A missionary lay movement founded in 1990 by a French priest,
Father Thierry de Roucy, S.J.M, Heart's Home gives young adults a chance to spend 14 months of their lives as missionaries serving some of the most suffering people in the world.

A Heart's Home is a very simple and welcoming house, a refuge of love and tenderness, located in a slum or a deprived area. It is the house of 4 or 5 missionaries (age 21 to 35 years), men or women of various nationalities, who chose to answer God's call through dedicating at least 14 months of their lives to the service of the poor. No previous experience or degree is necessary.

There are currently 30 "Heart's Home" in 20 countries, including two villages for the poor in Brazil and India. The first home in the US was opened in the Bronx in 2003.

If you or a young adult of your acquaintance is exploring missionary service, check it out.

My Life on the Road: Madison, Wisconsin

This weekend, I'll be speaking at the Evangelical Catholic Institute in Madison, Wisconsin.

My topics: an introduction to pre-discipleship levels of spiritual growth (a one hour preview of our new Making Disciples seminar) and their implications for evangelization and (naturlich!) an introduction to charisms and discernment.

The good news is that it is supposed to be snowing in Colorado Springs when I leave and in Madison when I arrive.

So there's no danger that I'll be traumatized by unfamiliar weather.

If you are there, be sure and say "hi".

Addendum: I have just discovered that we have a BLIZZARD warning for late Thursday/early Friday morning when I am scheduled to fly out to Minneapolis. It's only a warning, not a watch, but in mid-April! Your prayers that I make it out would be greatly appreciated. I don't have to speak until Saturday so I can be late but I do need to arrive!

Of Tripe Dressers & Offal Salesmen

A charming Anglophile must-read from the New York Times this morning:
The Perfect Bacon Sandwich Decoded

Or bacon buttie as many Brits call it.

"For Britons, butties come in a variety of guises — chip butties (French fries between slices of bread), crisp butties (ditto with potato chips) or even sugar butties, which are self-explanatory. None are viewed as especially healthful.

There are some finer points in the language, if not the cuisine. A sandwich containing sausages, for instance, is likely to be referred as a sausage sarnie, while sausages served with mashed potatoes are called bangers and mash.

There is no easy explanation for this."

Or indeed for many things British. Enjoy.

Flannery O'Connor on the Air

Disciples with Microphones not only does a lot of pod-casting, they have their own blog. Michael Kreidler raises a really interesting question: the quality, or lack therefore, of the Catholic media in this country. Overall Kreidler gives it a solid "C".

Note: Kreidler does not hold to grade inflation where "fine" = a B. In Kreidler's grading scheme, average or "fine" is a C.

Kreidler on Catholic TV:

" EWTN? I am stepping into a quagmire here but I would say it is definately fine. I do not dispute that Mother brought the network about through blood sweat and tears and that God’s intervention allowed EWTN to be established and grow. I also admit that God has used the channel to bring about countless conversions. That is not my point. I assert the vast majority of the programming on EWTN is made up of talking heads. Sometimes the content is compelling and other times not."

Catholic terrestial radio?

"pretty bad. First of all, much of the programing is repurposed EWTN television. Hearing statements such as “as you can see…” on the radio is just terrible. Also, the broadcast of the Holy Mass on radio is just bad radio. . . So if EWTN on television is a ‘C’ then EWTN on radio is a ‘C-’. Beyond that, when local stations do original programming, it is again a duplication of the talking heads. Sometimes it is engaging, often boring.

The rise of some interesting programming is heartening, but the fact that no terrestrial station would pick it up speaks of a bigger problem. I suggest that the majority of terrestrial stations are afraid to take a chance on truly interesting shows. The fear seems to be not only the fear of making a bad programming choice, but a fear of saying or doing something wrong that is perceived to be ‘out of line with the Church’. These fears seem to drive all decisions in terrestrial radio. There is prudence and then there is fear. I see more fear than prudence. As a result we are left with pretty dull programming (with occasional notable exceptions). (Here Kreidler makes it clear that he is not referring to Relevant Radio since he hadn't heard enough to have an opinion.)

I am saying Catholic media is average, good, fine. Nothing necessarily wrong with it, but nothing that allows it to rise above the mediocre media that is in abundance in our world. The question we must answer is how will Catholic media move from ‘good’ to ‘GREAT’?"

Sherry: I have to agree. I seldom watch EWTN. In fact, haven't watched it since JP II's funeral. It's comes across as oddly evangelical in an old-fashioned way - endlessly earnest and exhorting. Can't comment on Catholic radio since I don't have access to it. My question: what would Flannery O'Conner do?

In any case, check out Disciples With Microphones.

But the whole discussion does remind me of another episode in the funny evangelical spoof on the MAC/PC ads.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Thousands of New Catholics in Beijing This Easter

What an inspiring story from China via the always interesting Asia News.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Thousands of people were baptised into the faith in Catholic churches across China on Easter night. Yet in some areas the underground Church is still subjected to persecution and imprisonment.

In Beijing alone during the Easter Vigil, the number of adult baptisms numbered in the thousands! In the Church of Our Holy Saviour (Beitang) there were 180; in St Joseph’s (Dongtang) hundreds and in the Church of St Michael, where the Chinese of Korean origins, hundreds more, added to these, baptisms carried out in the underground Church.

The wave of religious rebirth and conversion to Catholicism is so great that the Christian community is having some difficulty in finding godparents to accompany the new catechumens. In the capital it is almost standard that any one godparent will have at least a dozen newly baptized to follow. The situation is analogues in most of China’s large cities: Shanghai, Xian, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Xiamen, Shenzhen…

A priest and seminary professor points out to AsiaNews that contemporary Chinese society is marked by many open wounds: “the materialism of daily life,…. unbridled individualism, which generates selfishness and a lack of interest in other people, the future, the world around us”. The Church continues the priest “answers the silent cries of these people’s hearts, the thirst for God which is spreading throughout China”. Moreover, Christians are showing that “a healthy collaboration between faith and reason improves human life and promotes respect for creation”.

For the most part, the newly baptized tend to come from upper class backgrounds; they are materially wealthy, high level civil servants who despite having secured a comfortable lifestyle for themselves remain unsatisfied. “Only Christianity – one of them notes – has been able to sate my spiritual needs”.

Among those baptised are also University professors and students, people who question the meaning of existence and for whom the myths of Buddhism and Taoism, while fully respectable, have been unable to provide answers to scientific or rational exigencies.

The neo-converts also count the poor and immigrants, young people who have come to the cities from the country, in search of some monetary relief for their families. In the world of Chinese economics they are treated like slaves, underpaid, sometimes even unpaid and forced to work illegally.

Asking a Tough Question

John Garvey, an Orthodox Christian and columnist over at Commonweal asks, "Why People Leave the Church?" He suggests it is too easy to blame the cultural climate alone, rather than admit the failings and frailties of the institutions that make up the Church. He claims that while, for example, the existence of pedophile priests shook the faith of some Catholics, the attempt to protect the reputation of the Church by some of Her leaders was more disturbing. He also writes,

"it is too easy for some of us who stick with the church to say, “Where else have we to go?” That was said of Jesus Christ, not of the institution. These days there are many other paths a seeker might choose-not only other churches (all of which have their own share of sorrows), but an honest, individual, inquiring search that might or might not end up leaving the searcher open to the truths of the gospel. Such an individualistic course is a great loss, I think, where the life of the sacraments and spiritual counsel is concerned; but I can see how someone might end up there.

We excuse the institution and its representatives too easily. One of my teachers, the late historian and theologian John Meyendorff, pointed out that Jesus’ denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees, the representatives of organized religion at the time, can-and should-be understood as a criticism of a similarly complacent and self-satisfied Christianity."

In some of the earlier discussions on this blog some commenters indicated concern that we at Intentional Disciples were trying to separate Jesus Christ from the Church; that in emphasizing the personal relationship with the Risen Lord, we were somehow downplaying the importance of the Church, which is His Body. I certainly do not want to do that. But I believe it is important that as His Body, or, perhaps, his Mystical Body, we keep in mind that our behavior must never tend toward self-preservation, and certainly not toward the denial of the woundedness of the Body. The resurrected body of Jesus still bears holes in his hands, feet, and side. The Church, too - all of us individually and together - have wounds which we dare not hide or pretend don't exist.

Rather, we need to keep Christ - and the focus of his earthly ministry - in mind. He did little to protect his reputation, other than to state again and again that nothing he does is his own, but only what the Father tells him to do. His focus seems to have been preaching the Good News of God's love and desire to save us, and to be that Good News through the miracles that were signs of the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God and the defeat of Satan. So, too, our focus as individuals and as a Church must be service, not self-preservation. If we really believe Jesus' promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church, then we have no need to protect our reputation, and can give ourselves over freely to the service of others and evangelization. Jesus said, "I have come not to be served but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many." (Mt 20:28)

If we forget that we give praise and worship to God not only in our liturgies but also in our service to and forgiveness and love of others, we will be in danger of becoming complacent and self-satisfied like the Pharisees of old. We will look much less like the Body of Christ, and people will drift away, seeking Him elsewhere.

The Apostolic Underground

Over the past 60 years, a grass roots, hand-to-mouth, lay-lead network of small and large evangelizing groups has emerged in the Church. Everyone knows about them and few people talk about them. We take them for granted like background noise.

If forced to notice them, a goodly number of the Catholic chattering classes (conservative and liberal) shrug them off as faintly ridiculous groups filled with well-meaning but faintly ridiculous people who are filled with an embarrassingly literal and emotional enthusiasm for the faith. They aren't necessarily even aware of the big issues that interest us: the latest liturgical or curial rumor or social justice fashion or new theological development. Meanwhile these unfashionably ordinary Catholics continue to evangelize other ordinary people. By the millions.

Cursillo, which began in the 40s in Spain, has spread all over the world and spawned a legion of spin-offs, is the original. Eight million people have gone through Cursillo weekends in the past 60 years. And then there's the ubiquitous Life in the Spirit seminar that arose out of the charismatic renewal. Sixty million people have attended Life in the Spirit seminars around the world since the early 70's.

And then there is a quiet apostolic underground of "schools of evangelization" that have sprung up all over the world. Inspired by the documents of Vatican II, Pope Paul VI's Evangelii Nuntiandi, and John Paul II's call for a new evangelization, they have set out to, well, evangelize the world. In English and Spanish, French, Italian, and Chinese, they form adults (mostly young adults) to become apostles and evangelizers.

There is the Catholic School of Evangelization in Manitoba, Catholic Evangelization and Outreach in St. Augustine, Florida, the Pope John II Society of Evangelists in Hesparia, California, and the Eagle Eye School of Evangelism conducted by the Congregation of St. John in Princeville, Illinois. Or traveling groups like National Evangelization Team (NET) or the Militia Immaculata youth teams who travel the country putting on youth retreats in small town parish basements. (This is a picture of Mark Shea's 18 year old son Matthew - better known to his friends and family as "Cow" - leading an IM retreat in Ponchatoula, Lousiana last month.)

And then there's SOUL, the Servants of Unconditional Love in Picayune, Mississippi.

Picayune. A picayune was the name that the 18th century French inhabitants of New Orleans gave to a small Spanish coin worth about a nickel. Over the centuries, "picayune" has come to mean "trivial" or of "little worth".

I grew up 44 miles from Picayune and even as a Yankee transplant child, I found the town faintly ridiculous. For one thing, it was HOT, 40 miles inland from the perpetual cooling breezes of the Mississippi Gulf Coast where I lived. And it just wasn't the historic, beautiful, culturally rich Gulf Coast where wealthy New Orleanians had spent summers for 150 years. (Ironically, Picayune' population has doubled since 2000 due to Katrina refugees from the coast.)

20% of the Picayune's population lives below the poverty line. The median household income is 27,000. Catholics made up 4% of the county's population in 2000. There is one parish - St. Charles Borromeo. But what a parish.

The Catholic community of St. Charles is determined to give an answer for the hope that is within them. Their parish website is filled with home grown apologetics and catechetical resources and has won all kinds of award for excellence. In 1996, their pastor asked parishioners to submit the questions they were asked by their non Catholics neighbours. The questions were so good and covered such a variety of topics that the pastor published them in a book, I'm Glad You Asked, that local Catholics could use as a reference. (Note: Since most of the local non-Catholics were familiar with the King James version of the Bible, they used that version in formulating their responses. Talk about inculturation!)

St. Charles has Perpetual Adoration and Virtual Stations of the Cross
and a downloadable three year Bible study based upon the lectionary. And in addition, Picayune has its own school of evangelization for young adults.

All part of an apostolic underground led by obscure local Catholics in unfashionable places that most of us don't even know exist. Places where they don't have exquisite liturgies, historic churches, and great scholarship. Places we hardly ever talk about at St. Blog's or the Catholic media. The places where the majority of the really fruitful work of the Kingdom is taking place, has probably always taken place.

Let us praise and rejoice in the apostles of the underground.

Zero or Hero?

I posted this video over on my personal blog because pretty much I'm a fan of the tv show Heroes and this vid made me split my gut with laughter.

The thing is, I started to reflect a little bit more about the show and about our identity as apostles of Christ. For those of you who are not familiar with Heroes, the show follows a motley group of people who slowly discover that they each have unique special powers that enable them to do something spectacular and heroic. One person can fly, another read thoughts, and another can mimic the powers of other heroes that he knows.

In some ways, the conceit of heroes--that there are individuals who possess super powers and who must grow in their acceptance of their true identity to help save the world--is somewhat analagous to the reality of the Christian life.

Rather than possessing super powers, each of us has been given charisms, spiritual gifts that allow us to be supernaturally effective agents of God's purposes on the earth. Unlike the heroes on TV, we don't own these gifts, whose origins are found in God Himself. Rather, we are stewards of these charisms, and part of being that Good Steward means journeying to discover more truly our identity as sent ones, apostles of Christ, and discovering the particular vocation He has given each of us.

Like the heroes on TV, we have been called together to help save the world--to help every man, woman, and child meet the Risen Christ and labor to redeem the very social structures and cultures of the world, rendering them more authentically human.

The Enemy would like nothing more than for us to go on believing that we are zeros--that we don't matter, that we labor simply under our own fallen and limited powers, servants of a distant, uncaring God who forces us to fend for ourselves amidst the pain and suffering of the world.

The reality is, however, quite different.

Sure, I have the meaningless ability to balance a sheet of paper on one finger (or the back of my knuckles), but I'm also a precious child of God who has been given the power, jurisdiction, and authority to stand in the place of Christ to bring His love and healing into the world.

We're all called to be heroes.

It's time that we took our place!

Blogs That Make You Think

Todd Flowerday over at Catholic Sensibility has put together his own list of "blogs that make you think" - which includes our humble effort at ID. But he raises a good question.

Blogging often becomes its own world. We read each other's stuff, react to it, cheer it, critique it, sometimes damn it with faint praise, link to it. And, of course, engage in huge, drawn out com box discussion/battles.

But the strength, the potential good of blogging is the extent to which each of us is a unique window on the larger world. That blogging at its best enlarges our understanding of the world because it gives others access to perspectives, questions, and life experience that we would never encounter otherwise. In the case of St. Blog's, mostly about our attempts to believe, live, apply the Christian and specifically Catholic faith, and to see the world through Christian Eyes.

So. What blogs make you stop. Think again. Think something new. Give you hope. Nourish your faith. Foster your relationship with God. Enlarge your world. Encourage your sense of vocation?????

Monday, April 9, 2007

Civility is Breaking Out All Over

At least the possibility of a Blogger's Code of Conduct is being discussed - civilly - here.
Read about it in the New York Times today.

Take back blogdom. Join in the conversation.

Catholic Bishops of the Philippines doing Video Blogging

Begun for Holy Week and broadcasting to 100 schools and dioceses across the country and the world. Including the Service of Light from the Easter Vigil - in English.

More Bishops and dioceses getting on board. How will this media access change us? A fabulous tool for evangelization if we are savvy but it can have other undesired effects as we have seen with word based blogging - and yet, if we don't get out there . . .


A Missionary Question

The editors over at Christianity Today have sponsored The Christian Vision Project, which asks a select group of creative Christian thinkers—pastors, scholars, artists, and activists—one big question. The question for 2007 is: What Must We Learn, and Unlearn, To Be Agent's of God's Mission in The World?

The answers to this question appear in the pages of several Christian magazines, and I was struck by the insights garnered from this month's Christian Vision article, Living With Islamists. Joshua White, like many young evangelicals today, pursued advanced training in International Relations and apprenticed at high-level diplomatic programs (he's a Graduate Fellow at the Institute For Global Engagement).

After elections in Northwest Pakistan led to a hardline Islamist political party coming to power, the Institute for Global Engagement invited its Chief Minister to come to Washington for a week of relational diplomacy and face to face engagement. After this encounter, Joshua and others from IGE were invited to Pakistan. Joshua felt moved to stay for an entire year.

His reflections are quite moving as he describes his experiences as a Christian in Pakistan:

Religious minorities in Pakistan must learn to live with their expressions of faith being put under a microscope, struggling to find the proper balance between public conviction and sensitivity to the majority culture. One of my most memorable experiences in Peshawar reflected this deep and unending tension. I was invited by a young friend to participate in the annual Easter march in Peshawar's Old City, a tradition dating back at least 40 years. I can't imagine there are many places in the Muslim world where this happens.

At three o'clock in the morning, my friend drove me to the heart of the Old City. There we joined what was an extraordinary scene—hundreds of Christians marching through dark, narrow streets, with candles lit, in a line that stretched for an entire block. At the front of the line were Anglicans and Catholics, marching in their vestments. After them came—what else?—a decorated Suzuki minibus, with a pa system mounted on top and an eager young preacher in the passenger seat belting out sermons in Urdu, then Pashto, then Punjabi. Behind the minibus came a tightly packed crowd of dancing Pentecostals, who, much to the relief of the nervous Anglicans, somehow managed to keep moving along with the crowd. And all around this scene—around the flickering lights and the children singing hymns and the minibus creeping through the dark streets in the wee hours of Easter morning—were policemen.

It was my first Easter celebrated within a police cordon.

What dissonance to be saying "Jesus is risen!" in the still-dark streets of an ancient Muslim city while surrounded by men with batons and Kalashnikovs. Part of me felt a measure of awe that a state—an Islamic republic, no less—would go to such lengths to protect a declaration that has no standing in its received revelation. Another part of me felt a despairing sadness that police were necessary and that Easter needed to be managed as a security event. Amid all this, in spite of the dissonance of it all, I kept coming back to a lingering sense that this experience must be truer to that of the early Christians than the grand, note-perfect pageants I had come to know as "Easter Sunday."

I celebrated Easter in Peshawar as an outsider, as someone who had internalized only a small part of what it is to be a minority—the fundamental insecurity of being few among many. But for me, at least, even that fractional experience was enough to breathe new meaning into the words of the liturgy:
Dying, he destroyed our death. Rising, he restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory.

You can find Joshua's full article here. Do read it, as it offers a glimpse into what some missionary activity looks like in the 21st century. I also like the general question posed by the editors of Christianity Today. It's one that we should ask ourselves as Catholics:

What Must We Learn, and Unlearn, To Be Agent's of God's Mission in The World?

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Liturgical Rhythm

Happy Easter to everyone here at Intentional Disciples! I've been pretty scarce over the course of Holy Week, but I'm happy to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ by returning to regular posting!

The Easter Triduum happens to be my favorite series of liturgies of the whole Liturgical Year. There is a powerful rhythm as the whole Church moves from Holy Thursday, through the passion of Christ on Good Friday, and then into the Silence of Holy Saturday--culminating in the joyful celebration of the Easter Vigil, where the world once again receives the Light of the Resurrected Christ.

If I'm honest, this rhythm echoes regularly in my own life of faith, as I move from celebration and victory into sin and, ultimately, back again to new life in the reconciling love of Christ. Each day is, for me, a triduum, where I recall firsthand the necessity of Jesus' suffering and death on the Cross.

Rather than hiding or disguising this distressing rhythm from others in my life, I believe that the power and truth of the gospel comes alive for others if they can witness this rhythm of grace. Breaking open our struggles and our victories in Christ is part of evangelizing, of announcing the Good News of Christ.

That is precisely what I hope to do more of this Easter season, as the Church celebrates and proclaims the victory of Christ!

Alleluia! He is Risen!


Christ is Risen! . . .And its Snowing!

Here in Colorado Springs, its 26 degrees and snowing. The trees are miracles of white frost with long delicate needles of ice. Tomorrow it supposed to reach 59! Its what we call "weather" around here.

My pastor told a corny joke this morning. In his early days as a priest, he pastored a black parish in Denver. On another white Rocky Mountain Easter, he came to church singing "I'm dreaming of a white Easter." He was confronted by a large black woman who changed his tune. "My name is Easter", she asserted, "and I like the way I am!"

I hear we are not alone. How's the weather in your neck of the woods?

Do you believe?


Acts 10:34a, 37-43
I Cor 5:6b-8
Gospel_Jn 20:1-9

The Catholic scripture scholar, Raymond Brown, observed that the Gospel of John is a story of encounters of individuals with Jesus. Nicodemus, the Pharisee, the woman at the well in Samaria, the cripple at the pool of Bethesda, a woman caught in adultery, the man born blind, Martha, the sister of Lazarus, even Pilate. Each of them encounters the light that has come into the world, and each of them judges themselves based on their response to the encounter with that light: do they move away, or do they continue to come toward the light.

In this enigmatic Gospel from John we have three individuals now confronted with the empty tomb, and we are presented with two reactions. Mary Magdalene, the one person present at the tomb in all four Gospel accounts, comes in darkness mourning her dead Lord and discovers his tomb open. Without even looking inside, her response is to presume that some of Jesus' many enemies have stolen his body.

Peter and the beloved disciple run to the tomb. The beloved disciple sees the burial cloths there, and the cloth that covered Jesus' head rolled up in a separate place and believes.


Was it simply because of his love for the Lord?
Was it because grave robbers wouldn't have stopped to unwrap the corpse of Jesus?
Was it because he remembered that when Lazarus was raised he had come out still bound by his burial cloths – a sign that he would still need them someday, while Jesus would never need his again?
Was it because of grace?

Perhaps it was all of these, or something else. We don't know.
The evangelist simply tells us that the beloved disciple believed Jesus was raised from the dead not because of an appearance of the resurrected Lord, but because of the empty tomb!

What's Peter's response?
We don't know exactly from the text; one could argue he did not believe or he did based on what's said and not said, but the answer isn't nearly as important as the question, "what's his response?"
Because the text raises a question that is addressed to each one of us, "what's YOUR response?"

When we believe something to be true or not, it effects our behavior.
If I believe the weatherman's report of thunderstorms, I take my umbrella to work.
A woman who doesn't believe her husband's claim to work late day after day hires a P.I. to investigate.
What is your response to the empty tomb?

What is your response to Peter's claim that "everyone who believes in Jesus will receive forgiveness of sins through his name"?

Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and his family and friends, listened to Peter's summary of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and received the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that Peter could see no reason why they shouldn't be baptized.
They became intentional disciples of Jesus.

Paul, whose own life dramatically changed after his encounter with the risen Lord, reinterprets the Jewish Passover, which celebrated an escape from slavery to new life, new freedom, in light of the resurrection of Jesus.
He told them their lives must change as a consequence of their belief.
He tells us, "let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."

Shouldn't the belief that Jesus has been raised from the dead change our lives?
Shouldn't the belief that our sins were nailed to the cross and left there generate a response of gratitude?
Shouldn't the resurrection of Jesus be the Father's validation of the truth of all that Jesus said?
And doesn't that mean, then, that we have to take all of Jesus' words with deadly seriousness?
Doesn't the empty tomb mean, then, that we really must love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, comfort the dying, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, forgive 70 x 7 times and not ask, "does this person deserve to be loved, prayed for, comforted, fed, clothed, visited, forgiven?"
We can't ask that question, because Jesus never asked it.

Doesn't belief in Jesus' resurrection change everything?
It did for the beloved disciple, and eventually for Mary Magdalene, Peter, and a host of others whom we'll hear about during this Easter season.

So if our lives aren't changed, really radically changed, like theirs, what then, do we really believe?


Saturday, April 7, 2007

Hope in Silence and Growing Darkness

My friend, Pat, has co-habited with an undesirable suitor off and on for fifteen years or more. His name's Cancer, and he is a crab. He's attached himself, unbidden, to different parts of her body: breast, femur, ribs, spine, yet she remains, as always, Pat. She's a writer, a teacher, mother, grandmother, a poet, an editor of the Institute's bi-monthly e-Scribe who joins infinitives I've tried to sunder, a vagabond who's dragged her doting, love-besotted husband Rich around the country to more than fifty addresses they've called home.

I spoke to her today on the cell phone (she already disapproved for you, so don't bother lecturing me) while driving back from Phoenix. The doctors have said, once again, that there's nothing they can do for her. This should be her last Holy Saturday (but they said that last year, too.) She shared with me a meditation given to her by a college friend, like Pat, a former Presbyterian. Imogene became Jewish, Pat became Catholic. They remained friends.

I share it with you, with tears for Pat, for the millions lost in the death camps, and for the millions joined with Cancer, "until death do they part."

How can we give thanks when we remember Treblinka? Only silence speaks
loudly enough for
our millions who were marched into the abyss.
We have been where we did not find You, O Hidden One! Yet even there,
even there, our people sang: I believe in redemption. Ani Maamin. And
they sang again.


And even then this deathless people was renewing itself, its life.
Whose faith is equal to this people's? Whose will to live? The storm
ends. In the sky, a rainbow signals hope and new life. Again, and yet
again, there is a song to sing.

And Pat, let me add my own meditation for you. Actually, it's not mine, but Mary Chapin Carpenter's, and I wish I could sing it to you, but the lyrics will have to do. It's without doubt my favorite song of all time.


I can tell by the way you're walking
That you don't want company
I'll let you alone and I'll let you walk on
And in your own good time you'll be

Back where the sun can find you
Under the wise wishing tree
And with all of them made we'll lie under the shade
And call it a jubilee

And I can tell by the way you're talking
That the past isn't letting you go
But there's only so long you can take it all on
And then the wrong's gotta be on its own

And when you're ready to leave it behind you
You'll look back, and all that you'll see
Is the wreckage and rust that you left in the dust
On your way to the jubilee

And I can tell by the way you're listening
That you're still expecting to hear
Your name being called like a summons to all
Who have failed to account for their doubts and their fears

They can't add up to much without you
And so if it were just up to me
I'd take hold of your hand, saying come hear the band
Play your song at the jubilee

And I can tell by the way you're searching
For something you can't even name
That you haven't been able to come to the table
Simply glad that you came

And when you feel like this try to imagine
That we're all like frail boats on the sea
Just scanning the night for that great guiding light
Announcing the jubilee

And I can tell by the way you're standing
With your eyes filling with tears
That it's habit alone keeps you turning for home
Even though your home is right here

Where the people who love you are gathered
Under the wise wishing tree
May we all be considered then straight on delivered
Down to the jubilee

'Cause the people who love you are waiting
And they'll wait just as long as need be
When we look back and say those were halcyon days
We're talking 'bout jubilee

Around the Catholic World in 365 Days

You gotta visit Ad Solidatem, the website of a youth minister, David Heimann, who is in the middle of a pilgrimage to 365 churches in 365 days through 35 countries over 5 continents with the blessing of his ordinary, Cardinal George.

His goal? Giving us all the chance to communicate with and learn about the Church throughout the world and the importance of a spirituality of solidarity. You can follow along

Here's his
blog. This week, he's in Rome, naturally. Read his observations on "Socially Just Palm Sunday". It's full of wry humor about a movement that I had never heard of among liberal US Catholics (of which he is one).

"The radiance of their social consciousness has led to research, in which marginalized communities have been discovered, that are being devastated by the production of palms for Palm Sunday. These communities strip all the palms off of the trees, with horrific consequences to the environment. It disturbs natural habitats of animals, kills trees, and destroys the underbrush which needs more shade to grow. The local cattle then have nothing to eat, and the arability of the land becomes desolate due to soil erosion. The communities which have committed their entire economy to the production of these palms, so that Christians can celebrate Palm Sunday, are thereby looted, and left impoverished, with no sustainable way of renewing the resources within the community. Their eco-system has been ruined, just so some smiling Christians in the United States can have some palm branches to wave for a religious holiday.

Some of these self-righteous justice and peace commissions are bold enough to get the parish to abstain from using palms on Palm Sunday, so they can feel good about their socially just, eco-friendly, Christian approach to religious worship."

David's conclusion after spending Palm Sunday in India?

"They need to get a life.

I’ve been in equatorial regions of the world for six weeks now and I can tell you there is no shortage of palm trees in the world. I have been telling the Christian communities that I have visited about the “socially responsible parishes” in the United States, and they laugh at me. “Don’t you guys have something better to do with your time?” is the look I get.

Sure enough, the palms for Palm Sunday where I went to Mass, Ascension parish in Bangalore, were gathered from the palm trees growing around the parish, maybe a few extra from the homes of the parishioners.

I don’t want to discourage my well meaning friends in the United States. Their efforts are praiseworthy. There is a real problem that severe poverty is being caused by the inconsiderate enterprise of companies who are competing in the market of supporting Christian religious items. Let’s look at the facts though.

The reasons marginalized communities in developing countries are being stripped of their natural resource of palm trees are because companies, being financed entirely by Church dollars, are in a price war. They have found it more profitable to strip one community’s resources than to develop a fair harvesting of palm crops, in ways that are eco-friendly, and support overall community development. It is cheaper for them to rip, burn, and loot, rather than to care for the numerous communities in equatorial climates that could easily afford to trim up a few palm trees. And the people who feed these companies policies? Those of us who would rather pay $35 dollars for a bundle of palm branches than the $40 it would cost to develop socially just business practices.

If this is the way the companies that are supported by Church dollars operate, you can imagine how much less concern for the poor there is in companies financed strictly by the market. It is scary.

Palm Sunday is the day that we honor Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We remember how his followers praised him with phony praise that came from human esteem. When they really learned what he stood for, they become quiet and silent. Esteem turns to despair, when we discover that Jesus’ words, and works, turn our world upside down.

I think Palm Sunday is a great day to reflect on the kind of justice Jesus wants to bring to our world. If you went to a Catholic Mass, you are probably carrying palms with you. Unless you grew those palms yourself, they probably came from some place else in the globe, and probably a region that is hot, and probably suffering from poverty.

Just in case you wonder why I keep up this fight to make people aware of globalization and what it means to the Christian, just look back at that palm branch you are carrying. We’re all connected. There’s no avoiding it anymore. Now what do we do about it as Christians? (I would support trying to change the companies that support Christian worship before we move on to the big guys like, say… Wallmart.)"

A Very Good Friday, Indeed

I spent yesterday with a family that is very dear to me. I've known Pam and Andy (or 'Pam'n'Andy', as I usually think of them) since I was first ordained. They were the "young couple" at the first Engaged Encounter weekend in which I participated. We hit it off so well that they asked me within a few weeks if I would join them as part of the regional leadership team of Engaged Encounter for Arizona and Utah - even though I'd only experienced one weekend! I said, "Yes" only because I found them so enjoyable. We've been friends since, and I am the godfather of their eleven-year old son, Jacob. Pam and Andy are also the parents of Melissa (age 20), Kyle (18), Zachary (16) and Grace (9), all of whom have received or are receiving their grammar and high school education at local Catholic schools.

Pam'n'Andy invited me to join them on a Good Friday hike/retreat with their children, and since I hadn't seen them since Christmas, I readily agreed. I drove up to Phoenix yesterday, arriving at their doorstep at 7:15 a.m., just a few minutes before Andy, who had just finished his shift as a firefighter in Chandler, AZ. We loaded up the van, picked up Melissa, who lives in a house with another college student, and headed out to the desert.

I didn't know quite what to expect, besides a hike. What I experienced was a glimpse of how I believe the Church imagines Catholic family life should be - a domestic church.

While on our short 1.5 mile hike, Andy instructed each of us to pick up a stick that in some ways represented us. When we returned to the trailhead, we sat around a picnic table and each of us described some aspect of ourselves based on the random sticks we'd found along the trail. There was talk of how a bend in a branch represented a time the individual had strayed from "the narrow way," or of how the sharp buds of branches on one stick were irritating, like the stick's possessor could be at times. It was amazing to hear the members of this family be so vulnerable in front of each other. Pam cried as she described the small branch she'd found with five smaller branches, each further subdivided, spreading out from the main branch. Each of them represented one of her children, who would soon be leaving her and Andy's side to start their own families. So much of her life has gone into attending to her children, sharing her faith with them. Sometimes, she said, she feels diminished by the project of raising children. She and Andy are like John the Baptist, decreasing so their children can increase. I pointed out that their children, so good, so compassionate, so grounded in faith, will each have their own positive effect on other people and the institutions of which they become a part.

I chose the skeletal remains of a teddy bear cholla (a particularly nasty cactus) and said that it represented more of how I want to be than how I am. I want to cooperate with God in letting him remove my prickly exterior, and be able to be "seen through" the way one can see through the gaps in the cholla's skeleton. After we described ourselves based on the stick, we were instructed to break the stick in half. When I did that, a little mound of dirt fell out of my cholla, at which point one of the adolescent boys piped up, "I guess that means you're full of cr*p, Fr. Mike."

I don't know why the others laughed.

Andy gathered all the broken sticks together and tied them with string while Pam explained that Christ is like the string that holds us all together. Even though it is not too difficult to break a single stick, when all our broken pieces are tied together by Christ, we are strong. A simple message, clearly illustrated, and one that will stick with me (no pun intended) a long time.

After a small lunch we were each given sticky notepads and pencil and told to think of some affirmation that could be given to each person in the family (and me), as well as a brief memory of an event involving that person. Twenty minutes later we regrouped and again, I was deeply moved as I observed this family, whose interactions are so often marked by good-natured teasing and competition, dive wholeheartedly into an intimacy that most families avoid except at funerals. How many children get to hear their parents affirm their love for each other, and tell an endearing anecdote from their life together? How many adolescent brothers and sisters tell each other something positive, without sarcasm, and with genuine appreciation? When do we listen to the youngest member of the family and treasure the contribution they make to our life?

The whole event took less than four hours, and cost Pam and Andy a $5 park use fee and a few dollars of gas. Yet it was a blessed time of tears and gut-busting laughter, of memories re-lived and new memories made - a glimpse of the joy of heaven whose gates are opened by the cross-shaped key of the Son of David.

Thank you Andy, Pam, Melissa, Kyle, Zach, Jacob and Grace. May God continue to bless you and keep you in His love and in my life.


Seoul Train: The New Underground Railroad

In the stillness of this Holy Saturday, it would be profitable for us to consider the harrowing realities that face the Christians of North Korea, the most closed and oppressive country on earth.

They do exist despite horrific persecution and are the daring center of one of the extraordinary works of mercy in our day: a new Underground Railroad that smuggles desperate refugees from North Korea.

Read this gripping description of the Underground Railroad here. Warning: it is almost unbearable to read in parts. It will haunt you. It should haunt us. Here's a portion:

"He came out of the darkening snow flurries to our rendezvous near a pagoda set in a frozen ornamental pond, a man who was both saviour and fugitive.

Nam Hong-chul, as he called himself, had slipped in to the far northeast Chinese city of Yanji to rescue 11 refugees from North Korea. Now he had to make a plan.
Nam had the classic North Korean looks, aged about 35, with dark wavy hair and high cheekbones. Armed with money, documents, warm clothes and maps, he was trying to save others who, like him, had risked everything to escape starvation and violence under the regime of Kim Jong-il.

“Four of them are living with the pigs,” said Nam, as we made our way to a dingy hotel room to talk. “One of them is going insane. And they are not the worst off. There are others surviving in burrows dug in the ground. “They have crawled through the fields, then waded across the river or walked over the ice when it freezes,” Nam added. “They are desperate.”

Nam is a courier on the “underground railroad” that helps a lucky few North Koreans to sanctuary in Thailand or Mongolia, where they can seek asylum in South Korea.
He muffles his face and hides in the back of a car. Every Chinese checkpoint is a challenge. North Korean agents are out to kill him. Chinese-Korean gangsters hate him for rescuing women doomed to sexual slavery.

Nam made his own escape after his wife and younger son perished in a famine in 1998, only to lose his beloved first son, not yet in his teens, who died on the journey.

A simple man, he found that the Christian faith consoled him in his sorrow. It fired him with zeal to help others in memory of his own boy, who tried to reach freedom but never made it. “Helping other people makes it easier to deal with my grief for my son,” he explained. “I try to get the orphans out first. You will understand why.”

Once again, new Wilberforces have arisen as part of this new abolitionist movement: The Asia edition of Time magazine ran a cover story on Tim Peter's work with Helping Hands Korea. Peters, an American missionary whose wife is Korean, has become the public western face of a daring network of Korean activitists, many of whom are motivated by their Christian faith.

Helping Hands focuses on four primary tasks: 1) food deliveries inside North Korea where reliable monitoring is possible; 2) feeding. clothing, and sheltering some of the 300,000 North Korean refugees in China; 3) establishing and support a large number of secret orphanages for North Korean children in China insuring that they have food, shelter, clothing and access to rudimentary education while in hiding; 4) when all else fails, the underground railroad that smuggles these young refugees out for eventual resettlement in South Korea.

The Times article tells the story of one woman's escape via the Underground. Check out this
map which outlines her path to freedom.
Meanwhile, Phillip Buck, an evangelical Korean pastor from Seattle, spent 15 months in prison in China for his work with the underground railroad and was only released in August, 2006.

As this
BBC report notes: 80 - 90% of those who make it to South Korea turn to Christianity.

"But for 24-year-old Kim Kun Il, the Church is about to become his vocation.

Kim Kun Il, who left the North after his father died from hunger six years ago, is now studying to be a reverend at a missionary school.

He said he goes to church for the mental help, not the material help, the church groups give.

"Money and food has its limitations. Once you are back to a normal state, it doesn't really help," he said.

Douglas Shin agreed. "When you recover from malnutrition or absolute starvation, the human body adapts very quickly. So one or two meals in freedom will be enough to get you on your own feet," he said.

"But it takes a long time and a lot of effort to be revived spiritually. They need some kind of comfort, mental and spiritual."

"This is our role, the Christian role, to save the people from drowning. It's almost like Noah's Ark," he said."

File this under "Who knows but what you were raised up for such a time as this?

Easter in Vietnam

Sandro Magister has a long, interesting piece up on Easter in Vietnam.

"Vietnam is one of the Asian countries where the Church is growing the most vigorously. There are more than six million Catholics there, and their numbers are expanding significantly. The level of religious practice is high. The seminaries are full, especially now that the communist regime has made it easier to enter them.

In effect, living as a Christian in a country like Vietnam requires great faith and strong courage. At the beginning of April, a Catholic priest, Nguyen Van Ly, was condemned to eight years in prison for propaganda against the communist party. Two men and two women were also condemned with him."


"But the most encouraging signs come from the Vietnamese Christian community. This much is clear in the sometimes emotional account that the head of the Vatican delegation, Pietro Parolin, wrote after his recent visit to the country.

" . . . we moved into the interior, to the parish of Goi Thi, which was the center for the spread of the Christian faith in the region and preserves the memory of the great French bishop and martyr Théodore Cuénot [1802-1861], apostolic vicar for eastern Cochinchina. We also went to venerate his shrine, the destination of continual pilgrimages, after a moment of prayer in the large and beautiful parish church, which was overflowing with people, most of them young adults, teens, and children, and after a visit to the Lovers of the Cross sisters in Quy Nhon.

It is difficult to express the emotions, the sentiments, the gratitude to the Lord, and the spiritual joy that is felt in such situations. In the public encounters, I constantly repeated that we were receiving much more than we had brought. In the relation that we would deliver to the Holy Father after the end of the voyage, I noted the difficulty of recounting these realities in writing, and partly for this reason I expressed the hope that the day will soon come when the pope can form his own impressions in person.

We had similar experiences in the diocese of Kontum, an ecclesiastical territory situated in the high central plains and inhabited mostly by ethnic minority mountain dwellers, the "Montagnards". The Eucharist, concelebrated by the delegation with bishop Michel Hoâng Dúc Oanh and many priests, saw more than five thousand faithful gathered in the square outside the cathedral, on a tepid evening that was warm with faith, devotion, love for the pope, and Christian witness.

The following morning, we celebrated the Holy Mass in the church of Pleichuet, constructed on the model of an ordinary Montagnards' home, with a very high straw roof. Most of the parishioners are neophytes. One saw in their eyes the joy of the faith and of belonging to the Catholic Church, which they expressed with their very colorful traditional customs, the sound of their instruments, and the dance movements that accompanied the various parts of the liturgy. At the end, we continued the meeting in a festive atmosphere, tasting the distinctive foods of the Montagnards and not refusing, even early in the morning, to sip the highly alcoholic beverage that they distill from rice.

On all these occasions, I was always profoundly struck by the way these people prayed – with comprehension, attention, and devotion, and at the same time with great involvement on the community level: children and adults, young and old, men and women singing and responding together. I was struck by their love, dedication, and faithfulness toward the bishop of Rome, sentiments that were continually demonstrated for us."

God Has Died in the Flesh and Hell Trembles With Fear

I’ve always had a special love for Holy Saturday. Today is the day that the power of the resurrection of Christ begins to break in to our world in a real, transforming, but still largely hidden way.

Much as we experience it in our own lives.

Its Saturday but Sunday's coming.

The Harrowing of Hell was a major theme in medieval English literary tradition. The British Museum has a collection of seven wonderful images of the Harrowing of Hell online.

I have always loved this passage, described only as an "ancient homily" in the Office of Readings for today:

“Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapons that had won him the victory. At the sign of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him. “And with your spirit.”

He took him by the hand and raise him up saying: “Awake O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

Friday, April 6, 2007

Papal Stations of the Cross

Here is a beatiful photo of today's Stations of the Cross in Rome. The Stations were led by the Holy Father at the Colosseum. You can see more pictures here.
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Ephesians 5:25-27

For the Joy That Lay Before Him

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.

For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12: 1-2

Image via Asian Christian Art

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Fruits of Conversion

Here's a wonderful story from the Arkansas Catholic, the diocesan newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock.

The Diocese has seen 11,000 adults enter the Church since 1984 when records began to be kept. Last month, the paper asked parishes, schools, and religious orders across the state if they could identify converts who were making a difference.

"The response was impressive. Many who have entered the local Church through RCIA are now deacons, religious sisters, Catholic and public school educators, RCIA coordinators, diocesan and parish employees, Knights of Columbus, Cursillo leaders, theology students, catechists, youth ministers, extraordinary ministers of Communion and lay oblates for religious orders. And that's just a sampling from those identified."

The paper tells the story of 3 such converts: a doctor who has been ordained as a deacon and now runs a medical clinic in Honduras where 60,000 have received basic medical care; a woman who become a Catholic school principal; and another woman who is now a Benedictine sister.

It's a mixed bag. We know that large numbers of those received at Easter are gone within a year. But we also know that a good portion of those who do continue to practice go on to do remarkable things for Christ and the Church.

So during the Easter Vigil while you watch those new Catholics professing their faith and being received, remember you may be watching the Church's future leadership.

Wilberforce is Hot

Too fun.

This election year, join the Draft William Wilberforce for President movement - a campaign 200 years in the making!

"He accomplishes the rare feat of making moral fervor dashing."

And of how many candidates can that be said?
Or for that matter, of how many of us can that be said?


This morning, the Dominican community - friars, sisters, laity - along with several dozen students, faculty, and city workers celebrated a simplified form of the ancient liturgy of Tenebrae (latin for "shadows"). It is a combination of office of readings and lauds (at least as the Dominicans in my Province celebrate it), with readings typically from the Lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah, although this morning we heard from a homily from one of the Church fathers instead. It is another example of a carefully crafted, highly symbolic liturgy that we Catholics are known for. You can read more about it at the link above.

What struck me about the liturgy was the powerful language of abandonment throughout most of the service, yet every day ends the same, with a psalm of hope, looking forward to the Resurrection. During the chanting of one of the psalms of despair we could hear jets flying overhead from the local military base, and suddenly for me, the psalms were transformed from an ancient lament applied to Jesus to a contemporary lament that I could sing on the part of my brothers and sisters around the world whose lives have been violently disrupted by falling bombs, sniper fire, suicide bombers, anti-personnel bombs disguised as dolls, and small arms fire.

In the ongoing agony of a world so battered by human hatred and rage, we look to the agony of Christ on the cross, and see His sharing in our suffering - and dying for the sins that cause such suffering - as a sign of hope. In Jesus, God chose to walk in the midst of our self-destructive behavior, clothed in our humanity, wrapped in our fragility and impermanence. Knowing He was to be betrayed and abandoned by His closest friends, He washed their feet as a silent testimony and example of how they were to live. With His Passion closing in upon Him, He chose to break bread with them one last time and invited them to share in His life as they drank His blood from a common cup and became one with Him and each other as they shared His body-become-food.

These next three days are painful and uncomfortable for those of us for whom life is sweet. It's tempting to look past them to the joy and promise of Easter. They are a reminder that sorrow and pain are a part of life, but not the last word. But too many of our brothers and sisters continue to share in Christ's Passion on a daily basis, and our failure to notice is to be like the apostles who slept through Gethsemane, and fled from Jesus' side when the powers of this world got the upper hand. These days demand we take notice of their suffering, and resolve to see it as Christ's, and ask if we have the courage and grace to step out from the shadows and confront the powers of this world - especially when we benefit from those powers.

Masses of Holy Week Online

You can watch Cardinal Sean O'Malley celebrate the Archdiocese of Boston's Charism Mass as well as all the services of the Triduum here via Catholic TV.

Listen to Cardinal O'Malley's homily on the priesthood for the charism Mass if you have a chance. Very rich and moving.

Holy Thursday on the High Road to Taos

Several years ago, I had the wonderful experience of spending Holy Thursday wandering down highway 76 (the "high road") in northern New Mexico from the Colorado border to Taos.

There are several wonderful mission churches en route but I left my heart in San Jose de la Gracias in Trampas where I found a older woman carefully feeding the wood stove to warm the sanctuary up in time for Mass.

Built over a 20-year period beginning in 1760, subsidized by the tithing of Las Trampas villagers' crops, dedicated to the 12 apostles, and adorned with tower bells of silver and gold, San Jose de las Gracias is one of the best preserved and least altered Spanish Colonial churches in New Mexico.

No electricity. Candles on wooden crossbeam candelabras hoisted by ropes provide the only artificial light. All of the church's original paintings have survived. It is here that I stood and wondered "What would it have been like?"

The most famous little town on the high road is
Chimayo the "Lourdes of America" with its famous sanctuary and miraculous healing dirt. 300,000 visit every year. Thousands of pilgrims clog to the road to Chimayo on Good Friday, some carrying crosses. Some walk a hundred miles from as far away as Albuquerque.

Do go here and read this moving description of the pilgrimage to Chimayo.

"The destination of the pilgrims, El Santuario de Chimayo, is believed to hold the power to heal mind and body.

A pilgrim from Las Cruces, New Mexico years ago left a note in the shrine advising: "If you are a stranger, If you are weary from the struggles in life, Whether you have a handicap, Whether you have a broken heart, Follow the long mountain road, Find a home in Chimayo..."

The "Martin Luther Moment" of the Hispanic Community?

Another article about the large numbers of American Hispanics leaving the Catholic church for other faiths. Nothing new in and of itself, but I am blogging about this one because there were some striking quotes that we would do well to ponder (not swallow wholesale or just react to but really critically meditate upon to begin identify the possible truths and distortions involved.)

"Today, around 70 percent of U.S. Latinos identify themselves as Catholic, compared to 90 percent 30 years ago.

"The longer they are in this country," said Edwin Hernandez of the University of Notre Dame, "the more likely they'll leave the Catholic Church. We know that and we're able to track that"

There are 43 million Latinos in the country, and 15 million identify themselves as born again, according to the Sacramento-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

"Latin America never experienced the reformation until now," said Samuel Rodriguez, president of the Leadership Conference, the nation's largest Latino Christian organization.

"What you're seeing is the Protestant reformation, the Martin Luther moment of the Hispanic community," Rodriguez said. "For the first time, they're a product of personal relationship with God. They're able to read the Scripture and apply it personally on a practical basis. They're going Pentecostal, and in a nutshell, it's all about personal power".

And evangelical establishments run by Spanish-speaking ministers are leading the way in the Pajaro Valley, appealing to immigrants who are either down on their luck or determined to change their sinful ways.

Felipe Piña, a member of the small La Iglesia del Rey in Las Lomas, a Southern Baptist church, was born Catholic. He was baptized with holy water in a centuries-old church in the Mexican border town of San Luis de Colorado, but he broke away from the "formality of Catholicism" and found comfort in being born again seven years ago.

Since then, Piña has undergone a massive metamorphosis — from a criminal who snuck illegal immigrants across the Arizona desert to a born-again Baptist who now washes cars to fund his missionary work.

"I used to make $10,000 a week doing what I did. I was living life big, but I was also living dangerously and in sin," said the 40-year-old Piña, a father of four. "I was drinking. I was doing drugs. Then I began to abuse my wife. I started hanging out with prostitutes. My wife tried to kill herself, and that's when I knew I had to change"

The Pajaro Valley, with a population that is 75 percent Latino, sports many one-time Catholics who now belong to other denominations — whether it's Jehovah's Witnesses in Las Lomas, the Calvary Christian Center, the Church of God or Iglesia Santa Pentecostes Templo Jerusalem, all in Watsonville.

George Rodriguez, a former Catholic who is now a Jehovah's Witness for the South Spanish Congregation in Las Lomas, said it has added structure to his life.

"It gives me guidance that I didn't have as a Catholic. It's based on the Bible and not the sort of tradition and philosophies that have filtered into so many other faiths," said Rodriguez, 30, a salesman from Salinas who remembers when he switched faiths: Dec. 19, 1998.

"There was about eight of us and we were at a gathering outside of Madera," he said. "We all submerged ourselves in a swimming pool, just as Jesus did in the Jordan River"

While Catholic churches try provide the same sorts of services, they are often limited by time and resources.

"One of the things that I've found challenging with the Spanish-speaking communities is trying to encourage leadership from within," said the Rev. Mark Stetz of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Santa Cruz. "... I think in other denominations there's less reliance on priests and it's more lay-led"

Piña, for example, helps host Christian rock concerts and is dealing with gang members trying to turn their lives around through the church-run program called "Terremoto," or "Earthquake" in Spanish.

He receives help from the church's senior pastor, Joel Jimenez, a self-described former "gangbanger" who was raised Catholic but turned his life around nearly three decades ago after his baby died.

Today, he's 48 and is director of the Central Coast Baptist Association in Gilroy.

"You have to repent and confess your sins," Jimenez said. "But it's more than just saying 'I repent.' You have to turn away from your sins, once and for all. That's the goal"

Personal relationship with God. Personal power. Metamorphosis.

Such a complex and ambiguous mixture of themes.

My question: what would a deeply Catholic understanding of these three ideas look like? How is it really good news for people whose lives are difficult, deeply disfunctional, or in chaos?

And that stunning comment about the "Martin Luther moment of the Hispanic community" with it's aura of Protestant trimphalism?

The odd thing is that the challenge of the Reformation, after a century of chaos and civil war, resulted in a new and very creative and effective Catholic springtime in the 17th century, sometimes called the "generation of saints."

The thing that has struck me in studying the great saints and apostles of the 17th century Catholic renaissance is that none of them were trying to restore or recreate the middle ages. Their sources were the Tradition, the recent council (Trent) and the very real challenges before them but they were essentially future-oriented.

Some of the new things that come down to us from their evangelistic and apostolic creativity are:

  • 40 hours Adoration
  • Parish missions
  • Retreat centers and retreats for the laity
  • A whole new understanding and appreciation for the spirituality and possible sanctity of the laity
  • Understanding of sacramental preparation and essential catechesis was tremendously expanded and implemented by the many new religious communities.
  • Evangelization. Some modern scholars contend that large parts of rural France weren't evangelized until the new efforts at rural evangelization in the 17th century.
  • The seminary and a revival and transformation of the diocesan priesthood.
  • The Catholic school system and the first religious communities that dedicated themselves to education, religious and secular.
  • Active religious communities for women
  • A missionary explosion, which included lay men and women and that set the stage for a truly global Catholicism
  • An explosion of charitable works and organizations by both religious and laity.
By most measures, the state of the church in western Europe was much improved in 1700 compared to its condition in 1500.

Apparently "Martin Luther moments" can have many outcomes. If we answer God's call and rise to the challenge.

Your thoughts?

Journey of the Heart

Charles Colson, of Prison Fellowship fame, did one of his radio commentaries yesterday on a PBS documentary on the life of Henri Nouwen which will be airing this Easter season. Colson writes:

"Now, of course, the fear is that when such a figure is profiled on PBS-or any TV station, for that matter-that his faith will be watered down and his message diluted into some vague feel-good pap deemed acceptable to the multiculturally minded. I am happy to report that that is not the case at all in this documentary. The emphasis is often on Henri's message of God's love for humanity and the fact that each of us is God's "beloved child"- a message that, tragically, is often
distorted today to make it sound as if God loves us so much that He does not care what we do.

But Nouwen did not make that mistake, and the film doesn't either. "Journey of the Heart" emphasizes repeatedly that the source of Nouwen's faith, calling, and identity was Jesus Christ. And the cost of discipleship in Henri's life-to borrow a phrase from another great Christian thinker-is also very much on display here. Many people interviewed for the film discuss his struggles with depression or "self- rejection." It is made clear that the reason for his emphasis on God's love, and his ability to identify with the broken and wounded, was precisely that he often felt unloved and unworthy.

Now, the film acknowledges that Henri Nouwen was no perfect saint. But the way he lived out Christ's love should be an inspiration to all of us. One of the most moving parts of the "Journey of the Heart" is when disabled members of the L'Arche Daybreak community talk about how much Nouwen meant to them and how much they still love and miss him. What an example of the truth that Christ spoke when He said, "By their fruits you shall know them."

I heard Henri Nouwen speak once - while I was a student at Fuller. My most vivid memory is of him giving a impromptu piano concert between sessions.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

April in Maine: Snow on Mary's Garden

This picture was shot today and put up on Weather Underground's great weather photo section. It's a Mary Garden in Penobscot, Maine.

I visited Penobscot years ago as a student - while doing research on the oldest town clerk in America whose great, great-grand father had fought with George Washington and then founded the town for which his great great, grand-son was town clerk!

Maine is beautiful but a picture like this makes me long for spring!

Iconograms: When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best

A creative Orthodox approach to evangelism: Iconogram

"The mission of the Department of Internet Ministries is to follow the commandment of our Lord Jesus Christ who said: "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation" (Mark 16.15).

As a part of this ministry, we have created, a FREE Orthodox e-xcard service."

As of April 2007, a total of 273,110 Iconograms have been sent out to people all over the world!

They have specific icons for Holy Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter!

I can see Icons whipping around St. Blog's this Triduum!

The Redeeming Cross

Via Happy Catholic:


Forming part of the procession, their presence making his impending death yet more shameful, are two convicted criminals, described as two thieves. A recently-arrived spectator to the scene would see three men, each laden with a cross, walking towards death. But only one is the Saviour of the world. Only one of the crosses is the redeeming Cross.

Today, too, the cross can be carried in different ways. There is the cross carried furiously or sullenly, in a rage; man writhes and squirms, filled with hate, or at least, with a deep and burning resentment. It is a cross without meaning and without any explanation, useless; such a cross may even separate one from God. It is the cross of those in this world who seek comfort and material well-being, who will put up with neither suffering nor setbacks, for they have no wish to understand the supernatural meaning of pain. It is a cross which does not redeem. It is the cross carried by one of the thieves.

On the road to Calvary is a second cross, carried this time with resignation, perhaps even with some dignity, with an acceptance of the situation simply because there is no alternative to it. This is the one carried by the other thief. Little by little he realizes that close by him is the sovereign figure of Christ, who will radically change the final moments of his life on earth, and for eternity; he will be the one converted into the good thief.

There is a third way of carrying the cross. Jesus embraces the saving wood and teaches us how we ought to carry our own cross: with love, co-redeeming all souls with him, making reparation at the same time for our own sins. Our Lord has conferred on human suffering a deep meaning. Being able, as he was, to redeem us in a multitude of ways, he chose to do so through suffering, for greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

Welcome Home

From the US Bishop's website:

The annual Easter deluge - that we can take for granted - but is unique in the world.

"Adults will enter the church in every one of the country’s 195 dioceses and in virtually every one of the nation’s nearly 19,000 parishes." Wow. Think about that. Do we grasp how extraordinary that is?

When I was in Australia for the first time in 1998, I remember how excited a local priest was to have a mother and daughter entering the Church at Easter. He was so excited because the local cathedral didn't have anyone entering at the Vigil that year.

154,501 in 2006. How many this year?

"The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest archdiocese, with over 4.4 million Catholics, celebrated two Rites of Election in order to accommodate all 1,294 catechumens and their sponsors. In addition to the catechumens, nearly 1,500 candidates in Los Angeles will be formally welcomed into the church Holy Saturday.

Numbers vary across dioceses. Some of the largest groups coming into the church are in the Archdiocese of Detroit, which is welcoming 612 catechumens and 913 candidates and the Diocese of San Diego, with 851 catechumens and 1,036 candidates. The Archdiocese of Atlanta reports 457 will be baptized and 631 received into full communion. In the Archdiocese of Seattle there will be 636 catechumens baptized and 520 candidates welcomed.

The Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota, has 11 catechumens and 42 candidates; the Diocese of Juneau, Alaska, has 15 catechumens and 11 candidates. In the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan, 27 catechumens will be baptized and 31 candidates will be welcomed into full communion.

In the Diocese of Honolulu, 33 catechumens are part of the RCIA at the Korean Catholic Community at St. Pius X Church. This group consistently has the highest number of the state’s converts.

In the Diocese of Salina, Kansas, as in past years, the largest RCIA group is from the student center at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas. This year the college community has 18 catechumens and 46 candidates.

The 2006 Official Catholic Directory reported 80,817 adults baptized in the Catholic Church and 73,684 coming into full communion the previous year. In addition, there were 943,264 infant baptisms.

A breadth of diversity shows among those joining the Church in the Archdiocese of Washington’s Mother Seton Parish in Germantown, Maryland. Among the 10 catechumens are one Hindu and two Buddhists. The youngest is 16; the oldest over 40. Their countries of origin include Sri Lanka, Laos, Japan, and Jamaica. The 14 candidates include a 23-year-old newlywed and a 62.year.old Baptist who has been married to a Catholic for 37 years. Others come from Christian backgrounds, including the Episcopal, Baptist and Christian Reformed churches.

One priest in the Archdiocese of Washington is preparing his father to join the church on Holy Saturday. Father Scott Woods, parochial vicar at Mt. Calvary Church, Forestville, Maryland, joined the Catholic Church in the ninth grade while a student at Archbishop Carroll High School. His father, James Woods, a former Baptist, began learning about the Catholic faith around the time of his son’s conversion and recently formalized his faith formation. Father Woods was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Washington five years ago and will preside over his first Easter Vigil service Saturday evening when his father is welcomed into full communion with the church.

Adults will enter the church in every one of the country’s 195 dioceses and in virtually every one of the nation’s nearly 19,000 parishes.

In the Diocese of Austin, Texas, high school junior Meghan Avery is joining the Catholic Church after enrolling at a Catholic high school. She was baptized in the Presbyterian Church as a young child, later attended services of various denominations, and started to know Catholicism when she helped one of her mother’s Catholic friends with a vacation bible school at St. Luke Parish. There Meghan befriended another Catholic teen who encouraged her to enroll in Holy Trinity Catholic High School last fall. Prior to changing schools she read up on Catholicism, then grew even closer to the faith while attending Mass at her new school.

An entire family of 10 is eagerly anticipating reception into the church together at St. Anne Catholic Church in the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas. They grew interested in the church when Jennifer Eastman, 29 weeks pregnant with her youngest daughter, Victoria, was admitted to Via Christi-St. Joseph Hospital, where she prayed the rosary for the first time while watching the EWTN Global Catholic Network. Less than a week after delivering Victoria, the entire family attended its first Mass together. Jennifer and her husband say they had considered becoming Catholic for some time and wanted to help their children grow spiritually. They found added appeal in the church’s universality."

How many will be entering in your parish this year?

Catholic Quote of the Day

Adult Catholics need more than a catechesis designed for children. Along with the ordained, we have also been consecrated for a mission. We are called not only to receive Christ in the sacraments, but to bring Christ to the world. Adults need an integrating catechesis that prepares them to live as apostles, gifted men and women of faith, who are called by God to shape the world they live in through their love and work.

If formation for mission is essential to true catechesis, then the overwhelming majority of lay Catholics are not being truly catechized.

The Parish: Mission or Maintenance

Entering Communion

As the Church will be receiving hundreds of thousands of men and women into full communion during this upcoming Easter Vigil, Aimee over at Historical Christian has put up some reflections on, and stories about, the RCIA process.

It is always encouraging to cradle Catholics like mysef to hear about the journeys that others are making into full communion. My own life has been blessed and enriched by sponsoring a number of folks through the Confirmation and RCIA process.

To all those entering the Church this Easter--welcome home!

Do check out Aimee's stories, and her blog in general. It's good reading!

Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead?

Do take a moment this week to read this very moving account of a Jewish Catholic's Lenten journey to Dachau. The author, Miriam Stulberg, is a member of the Madonna House community.

"I stood at the ash grave before the remains of thirty-six thousand lives. "Thirty-six thousand" seemed more personal, somehow, than "six million."

Thirty-six thousand individual existences, destinies, living, breathing, laughing, loving, and now reduced to a six-by-two foot grassy knoll.

I tried to take it in.

Then, in the silence of Dachau, I heard the angel’s voice:

Why do you look for the living among the dead?

He is not here. He is risen (Lk 24:5-6).

That evening, as I received communion at Mass in the Carmelite cloister, I stood for a long moment with the host in my hand. My whole being trembled. To receive the Body of Christ was to receive all those for whom he died. It meant communion with the executioners and communion with the victims.

In Christ, there is neither Greek nor Jew
(Gal 3:28), and I too am a sinner in need of God’s mercy."

The Resurrection of Christianity in Europe?

The National Catholic Register has a new editorial: Will He Rise Again in Europe, Too?

"Something unexpected is happening in Europe. Signs of a re-awakening of the Christian faith are slowly cropping up. We have been reporting on the phenomenon, in bits and pieces, all year.

We covered the increase in female religious vocations in Italy. We summarized an article in the German magazine Der Spiegel headlined “Religion, Born Again.” The article made its case from a worldwide perspective, but added that “there are signs that faith in God” is growing “even” in the West.

In an astonishing article in the Weekly Standard, Joshua Livestro wrote about the revival of Christianity in thoroughly secularized Holland. He quoted a book by “professional trend-watcher” Adjiedj Bakas and Minne Buwalda, who predict: “Throughout Western Europe, and also in Holland, liberal Protestantism is in its death throes. It will be replaced by a new orthodoxy.”

Christian books are selling well in Holland, and a prayer-in-the-workplace movement has been surprisingly popular. Crucifixes have been re-introduced to Catholic schools, and school Masses which were formerly empty are now packed."

The Register's analysis of the reasons why?

1) The creation of the European union has created a blurring of national identities and a openness to new concepts of what to believe

2) A reaction to extremist Islam

3) The impact of Pope John Paul II and his successor, Benedict.

John Paul left behind him the seeds of a religious revival: The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Jubilee Year, the wildfire growth of the movements he encouraged within the Church, the World Youth Days, the Year of the Rosary (and the growth in personal prayer), the Year of the Eucharist (and the growth in adoration), and, after his death, the Synod on the Eucharist, a roots-up revamping of the Mass.


He also had a direct affect on Europe by the way he revitalized the faith of the Polish people.

“In the midst of a continent that suffers from priest shortages,” said one British newspaper, “Poland is the only country in Europe that is overflowing with priests” — priests who, increasingly, are being sent to churches in other countries. News reports show how British churches that were empty a short time ago are now filling up with Polish immigrants.

Even in Germany, which didn’t have Poland’s Catholic background, the fact that the new Pope is dynamic, courageous and German is having an effect.

The success of Pope Benedict’s World Youth Day in Cologne, and September trip to Germany, caught his home country by surprise. A German newspaper called him “The Pope of Hope.”

I would add one more factor, which is widely reported in evangelical circles: The rise of evangelicalism (who are mostly Pentecostals) in Europe.

It's been noticed from France, where evangelicals have grown 800% over the past 50 years - fueled partly by immigration from Afica - and where the Alpha course which is running in two thirds of the Catholic dioceses to the Ukraine where 17% of the population, 8 million people, are now members of "Independent" churches. (Ten months ago, I had breakfast in London with a missionary freshly returned from the Ukraine. He was simply bubbling with stories of the wonderful things happening there and regarded American Christianity, by comparison, to be moribund.)

Liberal, state sponsored Protestantism is dying. What sort of Christianity will become the standard bearer of the faith in 21st century Europe is the question.

Catholicism and evangelicalism would seem to be the answer. How those two forms of the faith will relate to and influence one another will be fascinating to watch.

Sillon: The Furrow Re-born?

Francois Bayrou is heir of a historic "liberal" Catholic tradition in France. His father was associated with movements who were the heirs of one of the earliest lay movements, the famous Sillon ("Furrow") movement founded by Marc Sangnier in 1894.

(This is a picture of Marc Sangnier working in the Sillon office)

Encouraged by Rerum Novarum, the landmark encyclical by Leo XIII, Sillon
established Study Circles for young workers and students to apply the church's teaching and build democracy in France. Peter Maurin, who would later found the Catholic Worker Movement with Dorothy Day, was part of the Sillon movement in the early days.

Starting in 1906, Sillon became politically involved which led to conflict with the Church. Although Sillon was reorganized to try and meet the concerns of the French hierarchy, it wasn't enough.
Pope Pius X wrote a letter to the French bishops, Notre Charge Apostolique, which condemned the Sillonnist conception of democracy, and called for resignation of leaders and episcopal control. Faithful to the Church, Marc Sangnier and the sillonnists closed down the movement.

80 years later, Pope John Paul II described the Church's response to different understandings of democracy:

"The Catholic acceptance of democracy becomes more convinced and open-armed, and this also, of course, implies the more precise delimitation of the positive side of democracy, which is chosen over against the negative and relativist meaning of democracy. To be sure, the right of being guided politically, in a participatory way, does not originate at all from an uncertainty about truth, and therefore from a leveling of all opinions as if they shared equal value. It originates, rather, from a specific dignity of the human person, who, to perceive the common action as his own and to grow through it, needs to be guided by an authority which gives reasons for its actions and which solicits the assent of those subordinated to itself."

After Marc Sangnier's death on Pentecost Sunday 1950, his wife Rénée received this remarkable testimony from, Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, then Nuncio of the Holy See in Paris:

"I first heard Marc Sangnier speak at a meeting of Catholic youth in 1903 or 1904. The wonderful charm of his words and soul exhilarated me. The most vibrant memory of my whole young priesthood is of his personality as well as his political and social action.

His noble and frank humility in accepting late in 1910 the admonishment of saintly Pope Pius X - as affectionate and benevolent as it was - was to my mind the true measure of his greatness.

Souls like his with such a capacity to remain faithful and respectful to both the Gospel and the Holy Church are destined for the highest ascents which ensure glory: the glory of Christ who knows how to exalt the humble, even the glory of the present life before his contemporaries and posterity for whom the example of Marc Sangnier will remain as an example and as an encouragement."

Of course, Roncalli would eventually be known as Blessed John XXIII.

A Serious Catholic Candidate for President of France

From Eureka Street, the Australian Jesuit periodical (you have to subscribe to read the whole thing):

Francois Bayrou: a former school teacher and 55 year old father of six is making a solid showing in the early stages of the French Presidential elections. And he is an openly serious Catholic.

"Indeed, Bayrou has never hidden neither his Catholic faith nor its importance for his vocation as a politician. "I am a Christian-democrat and fully aware of the significance of the linkage between the two words", he repeated recently."

But the dialogue between Catholicism and the political spectrum in France is very different than here in the US. In France, he is regarded to be part of "the right" while here, he would definitely be considered on "the left".

. . .many of Bayrou’s positions do in fact correspond to those of the modern environmental movement – moratorium on GM foods, support for bio-fuels, organic farming, a call to "defend the planet".

His positions on these and other issues illustrate why, even though his French critics often attempt to classify Bayrou with the right, he would generally be regarded as centre left on the Australian political spectrum.

Even on litmus-test 'faith' issues, Bayrou has managed to carve out political positions that seek to respect Catholic teaching without necessarily alienating other groups. He backs legal recognition of 'civil unions' among homosexuals, for example, while insisting that such unions remain legally distinct from marriage between a man and woman. He also supports the right of homosexuals to adopt children as individuals – as heterosexual singles may also do – but not as couples.

He also opposed the Iraq war because it was "not a just war" and was "contrary to the wishes of the international community and the UN". However, he also criticised Europe’s role in the crisis, saying that if the continent had managed to unite, it could have perhaps prevented the alliance of the UK with the US on the issue."

I have certainly noticed in my travels that the issues that grip American Catholics are often not those that serious, smart, orthodox Catholics in other countries find compelling. An abiding concern about abortion and marriage seems to be universal but outside of that, there is huge variety. Each Catholic community has its own distinct history and small "t" traditions that influence greatly how they understand and respond to the challenge to live the faith in the 21st century in their context.

It's refreshing to get outside the American context occasionally and realize how different "application on the ground" can look while still welling up from the same source: intentional discipleship.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Radio Churches

This story comes via Lausanne World Pulse, April edition:

It is a phenomena that most of us aren't aware of, but there are millions of Christian "believers" (they may or may not be baptized) around the world who gather together in isolated groups around radio broadcasts.

David Barrett, the guru of world Christian statistics, estimates that there are 9 million people are part of "radio churches" in India, for instance. There are also huge number of "radio churches" in China.

Here is a story of a "radio church" that is rather closer to home: the border between Mexico and Guatemala.

adio Impacto, a small, 1,000-watt FM Christian radio station in La Mesilla, Guatemala, is also planting churches.

“Our goal is to reach Chiapas state [in southern Mexico] with the gospel,” said Christian Villatoro, pastor of the fast-growing Twelve Pearls Evangelical Church and general manager of the radio station. “It’s difficult to do ministry in Mexico and almost impossible to put a Christian radio station there. So we decided to focus our broadcasts to that audience.”

To do that, Radio Impacto incorporates Mexican music and invites pastors from Chiapas state to appear on the air regularly. In Mexico, it is illegal for a radio station to be owned by a Christian organization. Villatoro knows that the broadcasts are bearing fruit.

“Three years ago a listener traveled all the way from his small town in Mexico to visit me here in Guatemala,” Villatoro said. “He told me that he was Roman Catholic but had doubts about his faith. I invited him to my house and two hours later he accepted Jesus Christ. Today, in his town, there is an evangelical church and a growing number of Christians.”

Villatoro says that someone from Radio Impacto visits that town every eight to ten days to provide training and discipleship and help the new church grow.

Villatoro says that thirty percent of Guatemala is considered to be evangelical, but in his town the number reaches thirty-five percent of the population. In contrast, the evangelical population in Chiapas is about nineteen percent."

Radio Impacto is being assisted by HCJB (headquartered here in Colorado Springs, naturlich!) a global missionary radio network.

File this under the category

If we don't evangelize our own, someone else will do it for us - through the airwaves.

John Allen on Mega-Trends

Last week I was back in the Seattle area to give a mission at Mary, Queen of Peace parish in Sammamish, WA. While there, I was invited by Zoltan Abraham, a pastoral associate there, to attend the Archdiocese of Seattle's Chrism Mass day lecture. It was given this year by John Allen, the Vatican correspondent of the National Catholic Reporter. He gave an overview of ten megatrends facing the Church and the world, and I found his presentation interesting and challenging. Although I didn't take notes, he mentioned, as far as I can remember:

1. the difference between the Catholic Church in the north and the Church in the south (south more biblically focused, rather than speculative theologically, more conservative morally and liberal politically [i.e., somewhat skeptical of free market capitalism])
2. the rise of Islam
3. the rise of Pentecostalism as the new second-largest Christian denomination
4. China
5. ecology (not just global warming, but more specifically the shortage of potable water in Africa, the middle East, China, India, Pakistan, etc.)
6. bioethics and the increasing rate of moral issues associated with scientific research
7. the turn of the Church to the world vs. a return to a "ghetto" mentality (this might have been part of another mega-trend)
8. the slowing of population growth worldwide and the grayby boom - the increase in the number of 65+ people in the American church (meanwhile 90% of the world's people under the age of 15(I think) live in the southern hemisphere...)
9. changes in the laity's involvement in governance.

I can't remember the other trend, and I might have a few of these wrong. However, his basic thesis is, "people who are trying to change the Church from the inside should focus instead on the Church's interaction with the world and world events." The mega-trends he's looking at will require changes in the Church; not in terms of structure, really, but in terms of our ability to respond to, interact with, anticipate and shape these mega-trends.

I sat next to Fr. Bryan Dolesji, one of the Institute's teachers, for the second part of the presentation. On several occasions we were jabbing each other in the ribs, because Mr. Allen's presentation highlighted the centrality of the work of the Institute in terms of addressing some of these mega-trends. We're a cutting edge organization!

Images of Holy Week

Christianity Today ran an article today about contemporary images of the events of Holy Week. Here's their short description of the images:

"During the Middle Ages, a tradition of prayer and reflection on images of the Passion formed into the Stations of the Cross, a sort of Via Dolorosa of the visual arts. This slideshow of contemporary art, although it doesn't stick to the traditional fourteen stations, can be used as a meditation on Jesus Christ's path to the Cross. Each artist's statement below the art explains how it connects to Christ's sacrifice."


World Missions Visa Card

This is new! Via the Christian Post:

Announced Monday by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the World Missions Visa Card will take a small percentage of everyday purchases and send the money to support Catholic Church programs in more than 1,150 mission dioceses in the world's most destitute nations.

With the card, one percent of all purchases will be donated to the Propagation of Faith, which they would use to support the church’s evangelizing mission in more than 120 countries throughout Asia, Africa, the Pacific Islands and Latin America. It would also help support educational and healthcare efforts.

According to The Society for the Propagation of the Faith, “Just $10 generated from this program can buy clothing for 10 Catholic school children in the Sudan for a year; $4 buys enough food for one week for a kindergarten program in the Missions where children learn the basics and discover, through the service of local Sisters, the love of Jesus.”

Besides aiding Catholic mission efforts, World Mission Visa cardholders also have many benefits, including full platinum privileges, coupons, online payment options, zero fraud liability, and no annual fee.

Find out more here.

Don't leave home without it.

Video Tributes to John Paul II

A sign of our times in more than one way:

You Tube is filled with tributes to John Paul II. Take a look at this wonderful tribute by
Dom here and then, if you have time, check out some of the others.

John Paul II: Reclaiming the Culture

Last night, I was discussing early modern Church history with a friend of mine, a leading historian of 20th century Poland. We talked about how the Catholic church, in the late 16th and 17th centuries, reclaimed large parts of Europe that had become Protestant.

I was vividly reminded of that conversation when I came across this quote this morning. It seems a most appropriate way to remember John Paul the Great.

From an interview with Gian Franco Svidercoschi, a Vaticanist and co-editor of the book 'Swiadectwo' [Witness] by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Pope John Paul's long time secretary. In the Polish English language magazine Sunday Catholic Weekly (published in Czestochowa)

Question: - Did the efforts of John Paul II stop the process of secularisation and the Church managed to regain her right to act in politics and culture?


"In his book Cardinal Dziwisz wrote a beautiful sentence, ''The Pope regained the territory which the Church and Christians had lost throughout centuries. He regained the squares that the left-wing party had occupied; he regained the intelligentsia that had been under the influence of the secularised culture; he regained the youth that stopped to be ashamed of confessing faith and that aimed at their sanctification.' Thus John Paul II regained the Church's right to be present in society, naturally not to rule over it but to give it moral help."

Charisms & the Flourishing of the Church

Oswald Sorbino asks an challenging question this morning:

I seriously wonder if the decline of Christian churches is tied to the neglect of charisms. If charisms are for the building up of the Church, then it makes sense that their neglect leads to empty and dying churches. The fastest-growing form of Christianity today is the type that emphasizes the charisms. The fastest-declining form of Christianity today is the type that is oblivious to the charisms.

And charisms are not just extraordinary. They are also more ordinary in character--to the extent that we can dare to say that anything inspired by the Holy Spirit is ordinary--such as teaching, administration, helping, etc.

But, hold on, you might say: aren't such ordinary charisms present in all the Christian churches? Yes and no. The problem is that instead of focusing on charisms or gifts of the Holy Spirit, many churches with a secular, overrationalistic spirit instead view abilities like
teaching or administration as talents that come from us and are primarily part of our own self-realization.

When, instead, you look to talents as the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, something changes: we are no longer the focus, but the leading of the Holy Spirit is the focus. And where the Holy Spirit leads, churches grow and grow--just read the Acts of the Apostles.


I say it again: if charisms are given to build us up and to build up the rest of the Church, then their neglect equals decline. Ironically, there seems to be a form of orthodox or traditionalist Christianity that rejects the emphasis on charisms (for example, Southern Baptists and even some Catholics). Such rejection is ironic because these forms of orthodox Christianity have, willy-nilly, adopted the rationalistic viewpoint of the secular West, a viewpoint that rejects the supernatural, charismatic view of our talents. To the extent the charisms are neglected, we can say that those claiming to be orthodox are not being as orthodox as they think because they are neglecting an essential part of the deposit of faith so obviously displayed in the Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments.

And I would add, as I have before: an essential part of the deposit of the faith to be found in the Fathers, in St. Thomas, in the documents of Vatican II and throughout magisterial teaching since Vatican II.

Charisms empower us to be instruments of the redemption that Christ accomplished through his Incarnation, earthly life, passion, death, and resurrection on our behalf.

Holy Week is an excellent time to resolve to begin your discernment for the sake of others and the sake of the Church herself.
It is a wonderful way to celebrate the Resurrection by opening yourself to the ways that God intends you to be a small channel of that resurrection yourself.

You can always attend a live Called & Gifted workshop or pickup a cd or the workshop and an inventory from our store and begin yourself or with a small group of friends during the Easter season.

"Whether extraordinary or simply and humble, charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of men, and to the needs of the world." Catechism of the Catholic Church, 799)

Confession: the Best Part of the Day

Apropos of Fr. Mike's post below, comes this description from Confessions of a Catholic School Teacher of taking a group of middle school students through Reconciliation as part of a retreat.

"It was absolutely amazing: Many of the students had never gone through the sacrament before. 7 priests responded and were able to hear confessions after the brief communal celebration. Although students were told it was optional, fully 95% chose to participate. Some cried; others laughed nervously; many paced and asked a million last-minute questions. But they went. And--most incredibly of all--on the evaluation form I asked them to fill out at the end of the day, many asked to have the experience repeated. Many listed it as the most positive part of the day."

May a Million Musicians Bloom

According to a New York Time series that begins this morning, China is the future of the classical music.

While the west is losing its enthusiasm for classical music ("Sales for a top-selling classical recording in the West number merely in the thousands instead of the tens of thousands 25 years ago." and symphanies struggle to fill their halls, western classical music is a hit in China. With 30 million piano students and 10 million violin students, China now dominates world production of pianos, violins, and guitars. As is often the case, the article includes a nice audio slide show.

So next time you shop for that violin, check the label.

Mary: Mother of All

The US Bishops have just issued a glowing new documentary Picturing Mary that explores the ways in which the Virgin Mary is portrayed throughout time and in cultures all over the world. Picturing Mary is scheduled to run on public television in April and May so check your local schedules. There's a very nice trailer.

I came across the film while following up on an interesting Holy Week story:

How in
Siparia, Trinidad (founded originally as a Capuchin mission) a local statue of Our Lady reverenced by Catholics has also long been a pilgrimage site for over 100 years by Hindus who regard the black image as an image of Kali. Since Good Friday was a holiday even for poor Hindu sugar cane workers in Trinidad, they would camp outside the church on Holy Thursday with lighted candles and fill the place on Good Friday.

Numerous attempts have been made to discourage the practice but when in the 1920's, the priest locked the doors on Holy Thursday night, the crowd threatened to burn the church down. So to this day, Good Friday at Siparia remains a Catholic - Hindu affair. A local Hindu doctor wrote a editorial in today's Carribean Net news in which he is critical of the Catholic refusal to, among other things, not give communion to their Hindu guests who often attend Mass. He regards this as an expression of resurgent anti-Hinduism.

As he describes it "Stalls on the roadway are stacked with Indian sweetmeats and delicacies. Framed pictures of Hindu deities are sold alongside those of Christian saints, and potters peddle their kalsas [jars], jugs and goblets. Members of the Hare Krishna sect peddle incense, images and japa
beads [rosaries] in their trademark traditional dress on the church compound and street. "

Not exactly the image most of us have of Good Friday.

While researching this story, I came across two familiar themes: the local bishop lamenting that Catholics are falling away from the faith because their faith was not personal - and the Hindu doctor noting that only 65% of local Indians are Hindu and that "It is believed that the majority of Christian Indians now belong to the new Evangelical Church and are converts from Hinduism."

Catholic Quote of the Day

"if the world is a global village, John Paul was known as the village priest."

from Sheila Liaugminas at Inforum

Monday, April 2, 2007

Colorado Dreamin'

This is your chance to win one of five free Colorado vacations.

They keep trying to sell me but I'm already sold and figuring out my Colorado state income tax as I write.

But perhaps one of our brilliant readers can win.

We'll put some buffalo burgers on the barbie for you!

In case you forgot - this is what it looks like . . .

Bridal Veil Falls - coming down from the infamous Imogene Pass between Telluride and Ouray.

Returning to a Christendom of the South

From the April edition of the ever illuminating Lausanne World Pulse

The twentieth century saw a radical shift in the Christian world, with a majority of believers now being found in the global South (Asia, Africa, Latin America, Oceania) rather than the global North (North America and Europe). This has not been the case since AD 923 (see graph). The shift has been well documented and presented by scholars over the past decade, most notably Philip Jenkins in his work The Next Christendom.

The graph below is fascinating, showing clearly that in the 16th century - the century of the Reformation and religious wars and Council of Trent, that 90% of Christians were to be found in
Europe. But it was also the extraordinary missionary expansion of Catholicism to the west and the east in the 16th century that laid the foundation for our situation today.

The most staggering change took place in the 20th century when through huge increases in the south and equally huge losses in the north, we reached our current situation. Christians still only make up 33% of the world's population but the Christian body changed from 20% "southern" to 70% "southern" in a single century. In a sense, we are returning to our origins.

And I doubt very much whether any of us have fully grasped what that means.


I just returned from a Lent full of parish missions in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Washington. All four were wonderful experiences for me, partly because they all involved hearing many, many confessions. I easily heard well over one hundred-fifty confessions. That number, however, pales in comparison to what happened at St. Thomas More Newman Center in Tucson, AZ, home of the Dominican community to which I'm assigned.

Last Thursday night the Catholic community at the University of Arizona held what I would call "Confessapalooza." What else would you call fourteen confessors, 300+ penitents, a twelve-piece praise band and a Mexican dinner held in the parish hall? Taking the story of the prodigal son as a model, the Newman staff decided to emphasize the joyous response to the surprise of forgiveness, and the aspect of the celebratory feast that the Father holds for his reprobate child.

Now, perhaps having 300 penitents at a communal penance service is the norm at your parish, but in the past at Newman, they've typically had about 50 or so, including the children preparing for first (and sometimes, last) confession. What was different about this year's? First of all, the season of Lent was intentionally approached as a community-wide event, and commenced the season with a community-wide retreat. The Dominican friars who are the clerics at the Center carefully prepared their preaching throughout Lent to focus on various aspects of forgiveness, and the communal penance service was consistently mentioned in their preaching. By the time the day arrived, there was a real sense of anticipation in the community.

The community gathered at 5:30 p.m. for an authentic Mexican fiesta, followed by a communal penance service that began at 7 p.m. After a liturgy of the word, preaching, and examination of conscience, the priests stood in the sanctuary and other parts of the church while penitents came and confessed while the remainder of the congregation, led by a very talented group of college students sang. Three times the singing was interrupted by a testimony on the experience of going to confession prepared in advance by two undergraduates and a graduate student - who gave her testimony in Spanish.

Fr. Bartholomew Hutcherson, O.P., the pastor of St. Thomas More, said that priests who participated in the event walked away amazed - and at least one copied aspects of it for the communal penance service in his own parish, while other priests spoke of how powerful the service was.

Fr. Bartholomew told me that a number of parishioners who had not received the sacrament for extended periods spoke to him of their renewed appreciation for the sacrament, and it was such a powerful experience for the community that people are asking to have communal penance services more often than just Advent and Lent!

The penance service lasted less than 90 minutes, and almost all the people present took part in an individual confession!

One of the talks I gave for each mission focused on the sacrament of reconciliation, and I, too, heard confessions of people who had been away from the sacrament for decades. I think it just goes to show that if we speak of the importance of this sacrament, and make it readily available, we may very well be surprised at how many Catholics will take advantage of this experience of the Lord's love for us.


Red Hot Apostolic Dance

This is different. They're hot, they're Catholic, and they are taking back the culture.

Take a look at the St. Michael's Warriors dance company.

From their website:

"Saint Michael's Warriors is a red-hot dance company, burning with the creative fire of Christ's love. The teachings of Christ are the message and dance is the medium. Turning on its head the modern dance culture of the vulgar and the violent, Saint Michael's Warriors spearheads a renewal to jolt the MTV generation back to God.

Dancing original works and the best of established dance art, Saint Michael's dancers spark the stage as witnesses to Christ. Through their movements and the whole of their performances, dancers manifest the joy that is part of prayer, the sacraments and a life joined with God."

SMW are New York based and have performed for Catholic Underground sponsored by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. They have performances scheduled around the wider New York area in 2007.

My favorite has to be this:

Sunday January 21st, 7pm

Hopewell Reformed Church Youth Night
Full evening engagement with Rabelz and the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal

This is a kind of ecumenism I 'd like to see more of.

hat tip commenter Pete Ascosi, whose sister dances with St. Michael's Warriors:

The Journey to the Fullness of the Incarnation

My parish, Holy Apostles, received 41 new Catholics into communion yesterday and will be baptizing 17 more at the Easter Vigil.

Every year for the past twelve years, 150,000 - 160,000 American adults have been received into the Catholic church. So far as I know, that is the largest group of annual adult conversions in the world (with the possible exception of Africa - if anyone has more information, please share it.)

At a gathering in San Francisco with Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna, I remember how astonished he was when the sponsoring parish told him that they received 100 new adult Catholics every year. "A hundred?" he asked three times as though certain that his excellent English was failing him.

Shortly after I was received, Peter Kreeft wrote me a note (in response to a letter I wrote him) congratulating me on my "one month marriage to the fullness of the Incarnation." Although I was received at Christmas rather than Easter, I've always feel a deep identification with others who enter the Church as an adult.

We'd like to hear from those of you in RICA or who have entered the Church as an adult during Holy Week, tell us what is (or was) like for you?

Those of you involved in RCIA or the catechumenate ministry, what is it like to make this journey with those who are entering? How has it affected your relationship with Christ?

In Blessed Memory

Somehow, it seems very fitting that the anniversary of Pope John Paul II's death occurs right near the beginning of Holy Week. The time surrounding his death was a very painful one for me--on many levels. In addition to watching my beloved papa weaken and die, my personal life seemed to be doing exactly the same thing.

Remembering John Paul II brings back all of the feelings and experiences that I had during the spring of 2005, but through it all, I carry a wonderful sense of what a gift Pope John Paul II was, both to the Church and to the World.

In memory of his death, I'm going to repost something that I wrote on my blog, Take Your Place. It is a short reflection on my experience of John Paul II. It's entitled, Why I Hated The Pope, and it was written during the time of his last sickness:

When I was younger, and heavily influenced by my undergraduate and graduate school indoctrination into postmodern critical theory, I viewed the Church--its teachings and its life--with what many modern day Christian Feminists would call a 'hermeneutic of suspicion.' The institutional Church was, in my view, an outmoded expression of Christianity, weighed down with patriarchal baggage. It required liberation through an authentic entry into postmodern discourse and a true embracing of postmodern, post structural, and post-colonial 'praxis.'

The pope, then, as the symbol of the Church's unity and its supreme legislator, became a target of my disaffected intellect. Though my heart yearned to be with Christ, my mind fought His Church. Pope John Paul II's consistent call to radical orthodoxy, his insistence on a male-only priesthood, his reiteration of the Church's teaching on homosexuality, were like goads in my flesh. They fueled my arrogant rebellion in a way that little else did.

By the time I encountered his encyclical, Veritatis Splendor, my personal magisterium was, quite frankly, fed up with this old white male, a symbol of everything that was wrong with the Church. I choked my way through the text of that encyclical, growing more and more angry as John Paul II laid out his teaching. By the time I had finished it, I knew what I had to do. Somewhere around 1993 or 1994, I excommunicated the pope. He was stricken from the Book of My Life, and if, in the course of the next five years, his name was mentioned--either on tv, in books, or during conversations--I was sure to measure a heap of uncharitable observations and critical comments. Truth be told, I spent a good portion of the 90's waiting for the pope to die.

It was only after a series of powerful encounters with God, and a host of daily conversions, that I have truly come to understand that this man, whom I have 'known' for over two thirds of my life, has been called by God to be the true Vicar of Christ on earth. I am humbled by the vastness of his intellect, his unwavering committment to shepherd the Church, and his deep personal holiness. As I sit and study his words and reflections, I am brought ever more deeply to the realization of my own personal, intellectual, and spiritual poverty.

I grieve the time that I spent vilifying this great man--time that I could have (and should have) spent listening to him call me to Christ. Every time I see him struggling, living, and, ultimately, accepting his infirmity, every time I read an exhortation or encyclical written by his hand, and every time I hear his quavering voice, I remember why I once hated the pope--and why I love him so deeply now. Not only is he my papa, but he is a living example of Christ on earth.

I have never known the Church to be without John Paul II, and although I know and trust in the promises of Christ, I hope against hope that I never have to know the Church without John Paul II.

Please pray for our beloved papa, tonight and always.

It was a curious thing to be a part of the Church without John Paul II alive. I can remember crying when they announced Benedict XVI as the next Pope, not because I had any strong attachment to Cardinal Ratzinger, but because I was witnessing apostolic succession par excellence, the very real manifestation of Christ's promise that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church.

There is so much work to be done by the Church in this age, work that we, as laypeople, are called particularly to accomplish. John Paul II, we ask you to pray for us, for the work of the New Evangelization, for the spreading of the Name and the Love of Christ to every corner of the world. On the anniversary of your death, may you continue to intercede for your successor, for all of the Bishops, and for the whole Church united in the fulfillment of Christ's mission.


Upcoming Called & Gifted Workshop

If you are in the Chicagoland area, St. Isidore's parish in Bloomingdale, Illinois invites you to attend their upcoming Called & Gifted Workshop, June 15th-16th. St. Isidore's is one of the largest parishes in the Chicagoland area, and they are working as a community to become a House of Lay Formation, a parish where the gifts and vocations of every lay man, woman, and child are taken seriously and nurtured.

If you are curious about what a Called & Gifted Workshop is, you can find out more about it here.

Anyone interested should pop over to St. Isidore's website and click on the image of Pete, who is taking a peek at the gifts God has given him. That will lead you to an online registration area where you can reserve your space for the workshop!

I'll be teaching at the event, and so will Barbara Elliot, a wonderful Institute teacher and author of Street Saints: Renewing America's Cities.

I hope to see you there.

Holy Week Traditions Around the World

Check out this fascinating blog Throat Singing: in Pursuit of Overtones

Robert Beahrs of Minneapolis is on a mission to witness remarkable traditions of throat singing around the world. In Sardinia, he find a wonderful Holy Week tradition:

In the sacred tradition of Castelsardo, a quartet of men from the Catholic brotherhood sing together during Holy Week in an inward-facing circle in four-part harmony, manipulating their vowels and timbre in a such a way as to create what’s called a quintina, or a virtual fifth voice soaring above, from their harmonics.

In order to enhance one specific harmonic and achieve this effect, each of the four singers uses his vowels differently when singing the liturgical chants (in a sense, each one is speaking the vowels differently from the others) And Robert includes an analysis of the technique involved.

So when the four vocalists come together to sing a chant such as Stabba during Holy Week, they each have a different way of pronouncing the text (sung in Latin): “Stabat Mater dolorosa, Juxta crucem lacrymosa” in order to support the creation of this elusive and floating quintina, or fifth voice, moving melodically above the quartet.

The Monday of Holy Week, Lunissanti, is the most important of the Easter festivals in Castelsardo which includes “la prucissioni,” a grand procession through the Citta Storico and a midnight feast.

Holy Week

Growing up, Palm Sunday used to be my least favorite Sunday of the year. The length of the gospel reading weighed down on me, and I resented having to stand that long. I actually remember being exceptionally excited if the priest decided to use the short form of the reading.

Rather than being a particularly special reflection on Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and His subsequent passion and death, I just tuned out the readings because I had heard them so many times before.

As my relationship with Christ and His Church has (in some small ways) deepened over the past 10 years, I've discovered that my attitude toward Palm Sunday has changed as well. What was indifference has been transformed to a deep and abiding love for Palm Sunday. As we celebrate Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem, it is our own entry into Holy Week--a particular doorway to the grace of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.

Each year, as the Palm Sunday reading is proclaimed, I am convicted of my own sinfulness and for the necessity of the Cross, even as I delight in the liturgical depth of Palm Sunday and--especially--of the Triduum. Each year, I discover new graces during Holy Week and know in the depths of my being that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, has offered everything for the sake of His People and, in a very real way, for my sake.

It also strikes me that apart from Ash Wednesday, where a visible sign of our commitment to penance and conversion adorns our heads, Holy Week provides the greatest opportunity to engage in conversation about our faith. It is a week where the daily routines are interrupted by liturgy, where the passion of Christ transgresses on afternoon meetings and coffee breaks, where strains of angelic alleluias whisper softly in the darkness of the tomb.

I have made a personal commitment to enter into this Holy Week with a certain intentionality--to not float through it as I am sorely used to doing. How do you celebrate Holy Week? What are the things that you are looking forward to as we journey toward our Easter celebration?