Thursday, May 31, 2007

9/11, A Homeless Man, A Bagel, & the Grace of God

Over at Busted Halo, newly ordained deacon and staffer at CBS News, Greg Kendra tells his wonderful conversion story:

It started around the time my parents died, in the early 1990s, and I began to feel asense of my own limitedness—my own mortality. And the cavity grew in the wake of 9/11. After the towers fell, I spent two days in New York City, writing special reports for CBS News, unable to make it home because all the roads and subways were closed; in the days that followed, between the candlelight vigils and photocopied pictures taped to bus stops and the endless funerals accompanied by bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace,” I had a growing sense that there had to be something more. My cradle Catholicism had faded into indifference; mass was something I attended when I felt like it. My faith, if you can call it that, was patchy at best.

But after 9/11, I realized with a blinding clarity that the tidy life I’d established for myself could vanish at any moment. Then, one day, on the way back from picking up bagels, I passed a homeless guy on the subway, begging for money. I offered him a fresh bagel. He thanked me with so much enthusiasm, you’d have thought I’d given him a fresh cut of sirloin. When my train came, I looked over my shoulder to see where he’d gone. And there he was, at the end of the platform: he’d broken his bagel in half and was sharing it with another homeless man.

This withered old man who had next to nothing gave half of what he had to someone who had even less. Deep in the recesses of my Catholic memory, something stirred. “And they knew him in the breaking of the bread.” Something began to speak to me.

I realized: I’d been given much. What could I give back?


While on retreat at a Trappist monastery in 2002, I found my answer. There, I stumbled on something unusual: a deacon. He was from England, but at that time was living in France. I’d never met a deacon before. I’d heard about them, and once or twice I’d seen them, but my parish back in Queens never had one, and I was intrigued. (Deacons, I discovered, are married, and they have jobs outside the church. They are part of the Catholic clergy, and receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. They preside at weddings, baptisms and funerals, and can proclaim the gospel at mass and preach.) We spent a long afternoon talking about the diaconate, and I was amazed to learn that he also worked in broadcasting, for the BBC. He’d done some freelance work for CBS, too, and we knew a lot of the same people. Was God trying to tell me something?

The next day, I saw the deacon in action, serving mass in the abbey church and preaching a wonderful homily in three—yes, three—different languages. And it was then that it struck me. Here was a man much like myself, doing what I did for a living, and elevating his life to God in a way that was, to my disbelieving eyes, quite beautiful. Could I do this? As I sat in the abbey and heard the chants and watched him elevating the chalice, it dawned on me: Yes. Yes. You can do this. You should do this.

Catholic-Orthodox Conversation on Lay Formation

Fr. Gregory, an Orthodox priest and campus minister over at Koinonia and I have started up a interesting conversation on the difference between (and what we can learn from)Catholc and Orthodox approaches to lay formation.

Take a look and feel free to join in.

A Christian Craig's List

Craigslist is a centralized network of online urban communities, featuring free classified advertisements (with jobs, internships, housing, personals, for sale/barter/wanted, services, community, gigs and resumes categories) and forums sorted by various topics.

It was founded in 1995 by Craig Newmark for the San Francisco Bay Area, and as of November 2006, Craigslist had established itself in approximately 450 cities all over the world.

Sam, the Chief Operating Officer at Holy Apostles parish here in Colorado Springs turned me on to a very interesting and potentially useful tool for parishes similar to Craig's List. It might be valuable for parishes that are trying to move into a more 'mission focused' ministry.

Ark Almighty is connected to the new movie, Evan Almighty, which apparently is about God calling a character from the Bruce Almighty movie to become a contemporary Noah, complete with heavy beard and plans for an ark. Youth Specialties, Willow Creek Association and the International Bible Society, three religious groups apparently within the evangelical world, partnered with Universal Pictures and Grace Hill Media to shape the ArkAlmighty program.

The website is linked in the title of this post.

THE INSPIRATION: "Doing kind deeds for others isn’t a new phenomenon. Fourteen years ago, Pastor Steve Sjogren inspired thousands of people to engage in random acts of kindness in his ground-breaking book, Conspiracy of Kindness: A Refreshing New Approach to Sharing the Love of Jesus with Others. The book ignited a flurry of selfless, unexpected acts of kindness intended to help others understand God’s gift of love and grace to all people.

ArkALMIGHTY takes Sjogren’s ideas one step further by actively seeking out people in need and connecting them with those who are willing to help. Inspired by the themes in the upcoming film, Evan Almighty, ArkALMIGHTY seeks to follow God’s call for Christians to always do good - to friends, to neighbors, to family members, to strangers, even to those who don’t like us.

What makes ArkALMIGHTY unique is that it harnesses the power of the internet to effortlessly match needs with the skill sets of everyday people. The impact of ArkALMIGHTY is boundless – first by meeting the needs within the church, it can easily expand its reach into neighborhoods, communities, and beyond."

The idea behind the website is that church communities can sign up and have their own page in which parishioners or people from the local community can post requests for help, ranging from walking the family dog, helping repair a fence, to forming a prayer group. People in your church community can see the requests and then respond with offers of help.

Sam showed me the free starter kit that he was sent - a 3x6 foot vinyl banner, four t-shirts, four baseball caps, 200 door hangers, 200 flyers, a bunch of small buttons, a CD with instructions, a BOOK, a teen's guide to arkalmighty, etc. He was astounded at the haul - probably worth $100.00, he estimates.

"There's some money behind this," he said. I have to agree. I mean it's not every website that has John Goodman walk across the page and make a pitch to "get involved."

This seems to be a new way of promoting a movie, one that actually helps people in the process. It's also a very media-savvy way for churches to reach out to the unchurched. Included in the website are some "success stories" in which people tell how they benefited from the kindness of others through the website.

Check it out!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Iraq War is Hitting Home

In the last few weeks I've met two young men who are going to go to Iraq. Sean has just graduated from high school, where he was on the wrestling team. He's fiercely proud of his high school. His pastor commented to me last year on how much he had matured in the last few years, and that his participateion in the youth group had really helped him in that process.

Tonight I offered a home Mass for a couple whose eldest of two sons, Patrick, leaves for California tomorrow to prepare to go with his Marine battalion to Iraq in August. He's part of a rapid response team that will be working in a city that is known as a gathering point for insurgents, and from which they are sent to other parts of Iraq. He was telling some of his friends at the dinner after Mass that he had been told that the previous tour of his battalion had been exceptionally quiet, but that this tour would be just the opposite.

He was not grandstanding, or bragging. When asked if he felt prepared, he said, "Yes, of course."

Patrick will be nineteen a few days before he leaves for Iraq. Sean's eighteen. Patrick might weigh 140 lbs. I don't think he shaves. Sean can manage a bit of fuzz around his chin, but that's about it.

I don't know how anyone can be prepared to be in an environment where anyone not in uniform could be a potential assassin; where the body of a dead comrade could be booby-trapped to maim or kill a soldier who comes to retrieve it. How can eighteen and nineteen year-olds expect to be prepared to see their friends bloodied by shrapnel? How will they respond if one morning they find the body of a child they'd befriended?

I know the military does its best to prepare these adolescents - many of whom no doubt have seen their share of carnage on TV, movie and computer screens - but Iraq is not a videogame.

I mourn for Sean and Patrick, and the thousands of youths like them who are in Iraq or headed there. They will be forever changed by their experience, like their brothers and sisters who have gone to war before them. Some come back stronger, more resilient, more confident, more aware of the complexities of the world and politics. They sometimes become wonderful leaders.

Others come back broken in body or spirit, innocence lost and replaced with cynicism or fear or worse. They don't make us comfortable, and too often we subtly shun them, or lose them in some bureaucracy. They take some of the imagined glory out of war. Some of them end up in our soup kitchens and we judge them without knowing their story or their sacrifice.

God bless and protect you, Sean and Patrick. God bless all of our troops in Iraq. May you come home safely, and soon. May peace come to the Iraqi people soon, too.

Over 3500 American soldiers have been killed, and another 25,000+ wounded. Sixty-four to seventy-thousand Iraqi civilians have also died.

Let us pray for them all, and for an end to this conflict.

Vox Nova Again

I know that Br. Matthew has highlighted the folks over at Vox Nova before, but I wanted to throw in my two cents!

I know that I often point readers of this blog over to Michael and Katerina over at Evangelical Catholicism. Their blog is by far one of the most articulate and rigorous attempts at examining the issues of the world through the lens of Revelation. Now, Michael and Katerina have joined a group blog with other men and women who seek to expand the conversation regarding the evangelization of social structures and cultures. According to its Purpose:

Vox Nova is a response to the ecclesial mandate to promote the common good in every sphere of human existence. We come from varying backgrounds and carry diverse social outlooks, traversing a wide range of demographics and political sympathies. Vox Nova is free, to the furthest extent possible, from partisanship, nationalism and demagoguery, all of which banish intellectual honesty from rational discourse.

United in our Catholic, pro-person worldview, yet diverging in our socio-political opinions, we seek to provide informed commentary and rigorous debate on culture, society, politics and law, all while unwaveringly adhering to, and aptly applying the principles of Catholic doctrine. We are not intellectually wedded to any single political ideology. Following the example of the rich tradition of Catholic social doctrine from Pope Leo XIII to Pope Benedict XVI, we do not forge artificial blockades between "faith and morals" and "social judgments." We do not and will not filter Catholic doctrine and morality through contrived categories in order to morph our Catholic faith and practice into some ideologically acceptable form.

I have found the posts at Vox Nova to be uniformly thoughtful, thought-provoking, rigorous, reflective, and completely engaging. It is a current example of how faithful Catholics can have varied views on how to apply the Church's Teaching to the world.

I absolutely can not recommend it enough!

Living the Resurrection

Wow. What a story.

At 17, Kristen Anderson lay across the railroad tracks a few yards from her parents' house and let 33 freight train cars pass over her at 55 miles per hour. She had lost several friends, her grandmother, and then had been raped. She wanted to die.

But, inexplicably, she didn't - although her legs were severed.

"Kristen knows there is no logical explanation for her survival.

"It was a God thing," she says.

Kristen celebrates the anniversary of her suicide attempt the way most celebrate a birthday.

She calls it her "rebirthday," a symbol of the spiritual change after painful months of recovery.

The experience prompted her to turn her life over to God, and in the process, Kristen began reaching out to teens who felt as hopeless as she once had.

Kristen underwent a conversion after leaving the hospital and now has a ministry of outreach to those who are considering suicide. I'll bet they listen.

"When I first started this, I was surprised by how many people thought about or tried to kill themselves. Nothing surprises me anymore."

You can visit her website here.

Today in My Town

This is the sort of annual event that only two other cities in the US, Annapolis, Maryland and Newburgh, NY, witness: The annual military academy graduation with it's dramatic fly-overs over the town.

It is Air Force Academy graduation day - in this heavily military town, in the midst of a long war.

The war in Iraq is not an abstraction here. Thousands of local residents are in the middle of or preparing for their third tour of duty in Iraq. Liz, who is very active in my parish and generously loans Fr. Mike her car "Lazarus" when he is in town, is also a Colonel and has served in both Iraq and Kuwait. Men and women in military fatigues are a common sight - at Mass and around town.

On many flights back to Colorado Springs, I have sat near returning soldiers or watched their eager families waiting to greet them. As I watch and listen to them, I wonder:

How do you deal with the pressures of separation and possible injury and death? How do you deal with what you see, hear, and do on the battlefield? How do you, as a lay apostle, responsible for issues of government and war and peace, find your way through the minefield of moral and spiritual dilemmas involved?

A couple weeks ago, a retired military man gave his testimony at our parish. In passing, he mentioned that he had been away from the Church for many years before returning to the practice of the faith after retirement. One reason? For years, he had carried the keys to nuclear missiles around his neck and he felt he could not do that and practice his faith at the same time.

It is the sort of story you hear in a town like this. Where the local paper produced this moving on-line memorial to local soldiers who have died in Iraq since 2003.

All 219 of them. As of Monday.

An Apostle for Bhutan

What a fascinating story. Via Asian Catholic news.

The only Bhutanese convert to Catholicism today is a Jesuit priest, Father Kinley Tshering, who discovered his vocation when he found himself sitting next to Mother Teresa of Calcutta on an airplane.

He encountered Christianity as a student in a Jesuit school in Darjeeling, India. He wanted to become a Catholic but the Jesuits refused to baptize him. Finally, a Salesian priest baptized him in the 9th grade.

"He wanted to become a Catholic priest, but some missioners dissuaded him saying he could serve the Church better as a married layman in Bhutan.

All this changed after a chance meeting with Blessed Teresa of Kolkata during a flight in 1985. The young Bhutanese executive sat next to the founder of the Missionaries of Charity. "She convinced me that I had a religious vocation. Then nobody could stop me."

Today, he is headmaster of the school in Darjeeling that changes his own life. But he is waiting for democracy to be established in Bhutan so that he can return there and minister as a priest.

"Father Tshering says he can "literally count" the number of Christians in Bhutan. "They are mostly Indians and Nepalese, and are considered outsiders." Protestants outnumber Catholics."

Father Tshering says his faith in Christ has never wavered. However "so many dissenting voices in the Catholic Church" worry him.

At the time of his conversion, he wanted to preach the Gospel in his country. "After so much training, we get confused," he said, adding that "only Christ" remains unchanged. "It is a real challenge to be a Catholic. It is one's basic conviction in Jesus that keeps one's faith (alive)," he added.

Sherry's note: The World Christian Database estimates that Bhutan has 17,000 Christians out of a population of 2.1 million. 1,000 are Catholic, 5,000 are Protestant, 11,000 are Independents.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Fall of Constantinople - 1453

Today is the 554th anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to the Turks and Paul J. Cella III pays homage here.

As he points out, at that moment, the centuries of bitterness between Greek and Latin Christians simply evaporated:

A mass was said at Holy Wisdom on Monday, May 28; at last, in this final hour, Catholic and Orthodox joined together in worship of the Risen Lord. Greeks who had sworn oaths never to darken the doors of a church contaminated by Romish heretics heard liturgy next to Italians who had declared the Orthodox more loathsome than the infidel Turk. There, in that last agony of the Roman Empire, Christendom was unified, and the Church breathed with both her lungs. There, in the person of the ragged remnants of Constantinople's defenders, the sons of the Church Universal joined in true fellowship. There, in this greatest of tragedies, and only at the bitter end, was a true Christian brotherhood of Greece and Rome.

The lineaments of the Emperor's final speech are known to us. John Julius Norwich gives us perhaps the most moving construal:

He spoke first to his Greek subjects, telling them that there were four great causes for which a man should be ready to die: his faith, his country, his family and his sovereign. They must now be prepared to give their lives for all four. He for his part would willingly sacrifice his own for his faith, his city and his people. They were a great and noble people, the descendents of the heroes of ancient Greece and Rome, and he had no doubt that they would prove themselves worthy of their forefathers in the defense of their city, in which the infidel Sultan wished to seat his false prophet on the throne of Jesus Christ. Turning to the Italians, he thanked them for all that they had done and assured them of his love and trust in the dangers that lay ahead. They and the Greeks were now one people, united in God; with his help they would be victorious. Finally he walked slowly round the room, speaking to each man in turn and begging forgiveness if he ever caused him any offense.

Why must we wait for the bitter end to embrace our brothers and sisters?

The Vocation of Business

Mark Shea posts about a new book of interest to lay apostles:

John Medaille's The Vocation of Business: Social Justice in the Marketplace published by Continuum Press.

The overriding theme of this book is that the original unity of distributive and corrective justice that prevailed in both economics and moral discourse until the 16th and seventeenth centuries was shattered by the rise of an individualistic capitalism that relied on corrective justice (justice in exchange) alone. But an economics that lacks a distributive principle will attain neither equity nor equilibrium and will be inherently unstable and increasingly reliant on both government power (Keynesianism) and consumer credit (usury) to correct the imbalances. Catholic social teaching, by contrast, emphasis a greater equity in the distribution of land and other means of production, and the just wage, and thereby leads more naturally to economic equilibrium and social justice. Finally, the book shows many examples of functioning systems, both large scale and small, that operate on the principles taught by the Church and produce a high degree of both equity and equilibrium.

And here are some very positive "blurbs" about the book:

'In this remarkable book John Médaille succeeds in showing how the more radical elements in Catholic Social teaching can be turned into really practical projects for building an alternative to capitalism. He shows that the key is to alter the culture of the business and the corporation in order to ensure that political and economic purposes, distributive and corrective justice become once again integrated, as classical philosophy and Christian theology alike demand. *The Vocation of business* supplies us at last with some keys for the turning of Christian critique of liberalism into a new from of effective practice.'

John Milbank University of Nottingham

"John Médaille has produced a tour de force - a book that manages to give the reader just enough insight into the various thinkers and subjects treated without overloading the reader and without missing anything important out. The careful yet unequivocal judgement on neoconservatism and the chapter on Distributism are particularly good."

Helen Alford OP, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, The Angelicum

Looks very interesting! Check it out.

Who Are Our Untouchables?

Several thousand tribal and Dalit Hindus in India have converted en masse to Buddhism at a ceremony in Mumbai. The converts hope to escape the rigid caste system in which their status is the lowest. You can read more about the event in a BBC article linked to the title of this post.

It makes a lot of sense that those of low caste might wish to "cast off" the shackles of a religion that keeps them marginalized within their own culture. Indeed, the hope of new opportunities, a new life, have always been a part of religious conversion.

St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (1Cor 1:26-29) would indicate that that community wasn't composed of elites. "Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God."

The Gospel was first embraced by those who had become marginalized within traditional Judaism - known sinners and women. Of course, the Gospel still must be proclaimed to sinners, which includes each one of us. But beyond that commonality, to whom else might the Gospel be effectively addressed today?

When we think of evangelization within our own communities, we need to consider those who might be most open to the Gospel may not be the wealthy, the educated, the powerful, but, instead, the poor, the unemployed, and those who are marginalized because of disability, sexual orientation, marital status, or the lack of education. These may well be our own "untouchables."

Yet when I think of the communities in which I have served, I have to admit I don't know how well the homeless, the single parent, the hearing impaired, or the person with a homosexual orientation were embraced. It is not enough to preach about welcoming these individuals, that welcome has to be extended by people in the pews, and that means often stretching beyond ourselves, and seeking to find the Lord where we might rather not look.

I'm guessing that throughout the history of the Church, the people who have been most open to receiving the hope-filled Gospel of new life and conversion have been precisely the sort of people "respectable folks" are uncomfortable around.

These days would a recent Hispanic immigrant (illegal or not) find welcome in our parishes? Or a middle-eastern Catholic? Why do so many of our parishes look so homogeneous? Why do we tolerate the fact that in our dioceses some parishes have gleaming physical plants and all the electronic bells and whistles imaginable, while Our Lady of Deferred Maintenance barely survives financially from month to month, and has a skeleton staff?

Which of these parishes, do you think, would have a community like that described by St. Paul?

We who are "respectable" in the eyes of the world may not be as converted to the Lord as we think. We may need to be reduced to nothing.

My friend, Pat Armstrong, occasionally sends me these interesting articles from the BBC and the Irish Times, and for that I'm grateful!

The Eight Cent Bible in Vietnam

I love creative local initiatives like this, reported by Asia News (hat tip: Amy Welborn)

In a small parish in Vuon Xoai (Central Vietnam) someone came up with the idea of selling small Bibles at the price of 2,000 dong (US$ 0.08) or giving them away for free to those who could not afford even that much. So now, every Sunday, at the end of mass, a small table is set up in front of the church with Bibles and a collection box. The area might be poor and life hard, but Catholics lead a life of faith and have not renounced the idea of spreading the word among the residents of nearby hamlets and villages.

The idea has caught on so much that it is now being implemented in some parishes in Ho Chi Minh City. It is also informed by a belief that if the six million Catholics of Vietnam read the Bible, led their lives according to its principles and devoted themselves to mission, in two years they should be twice as many.

The apostolic underground is taking root everywhere.

Iraqi Christians Online

Stroll on over to Chaldean Thoughts, the blog of a Catholic Iraqi woman, now married to an American and living in Beaumont, Texas.

Fayrouz (the name of a very famous Arab woman singer) is a good source for news of the Christian community in Iraq. If you scroll down, she also has links to other Christian Iraqi blogs on the right hand side.

And if you'd really like to go cross-cultural, check out this website for Fayrouz, the Lebanese singer and listen to clips from her cd's.

Iraqi Women Paying the Price of War

The New York Times has a heart-breaking story this morning about Iraqi women refugees now dominating the sex trade in Syria.

Back home in Iraq, Umm Hiba’s daughter was a devout schoolgirl, modest in her dress and serious about her studies. Hiba, who is now 16, wore the hijab, or Islamic head scarf, and rose early each day to say the dawn prayer before classes.

Maraba, a suburb of Damascus, has become a hub of prostitution.

But that was before militias began threatening their Baghdad neighborhood and Umm Hiba and her daughter fled to Syria last spring. There were no jobs, and Umm Hiba’s elderly father developed complications related to his diabetes.

Desperate, Umm Hiba followed the advice of an Iraqi acquaintance and took her daughter to work at a nightclub along a highway known for prostitution.

During the war we lost everything,” she said. “We even lost our honor.” She insisted on being identified by only part of her name — Umm Hiba means mother of Hiba.

And this little excruciating detail:

Even in central Damascus, men freely talk of being approached by pimps trawling for customers outside juice shops and shawarma sandwich stalls, and of women walking up to passing men, an act unthinkable in Arab culture, and asking in Iraqi-accented Arabic if the men would like to “have a cup of tea.

Sherry's note: If you haven't spent time in the Arab world, this won't make sense - but it is literally unthinkable. Simply meeting the eyes of a man is enough to convey the message that you are "available". I once had to stand across the street from a mosque outside Jerusalem's Damascus Gate for 45 minutes waiting for a ride. Forty five minutes of fruitlessly trying to hide behind a telephone pole with my eyes absolutely glued to the ground as man after man walked up to me and tried to start a conversation in Arabic (My standard answer being "La, la shukran") Until a pair of shoes walked up to me and started talking in Hebrew (Damn! I thought, "now its the Israelis!) and I responded in English, "I'm sorry,I don't speak Hebrew" - only to have the voice respond in familiar American English. So I slowly let my eyes travel up until I saw the gun he was carrying . . . Life on the West Bank just isn't American suburbia.)

This is one of the prices that women of all cultures and times have paid for war, poverty, societal collapse, and abandonment. Those of us who won't be pushed into such a life if we lose our parents or are born into poverty or abandoned by a spouse or never married or can't find a job in a bad economy are incredibly privileged.

And those of us who are privileged owe something to our sisters who are fighting for their lives and the lives of their children.

Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf is a Syrian nun at the Good Shepherd convent in Damascus, which helps Iraqi refugees. She tells of an Iraqi family she just met:

“I met three sisters-in-law recently who were living together and all prostituting themselves. They would go out on alternate nights — each woman took her turn — and then divide the money to feed all the children.”

More on this later.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Ground Zero in Greensburg, Kansas

A moving piece that gives you a sense of what it is like to live through and survive a F5 tornado as the citizens of Greensburg, Kansas did recently.

From the Wichita Eagle.

Then check out these pictures from the Diocese of Dodge City.

Ya Gotta Take the Long View

I've posted about the first new Maltese saint, Dun Gorg, before. He was the founder of the MUSEUM movement and a pioneer in the formation of the laity. But it has been a while and an article in the Malta Times about him made me chuckle - because the story sounds so familiar.

A century ago, in 1907, parish priest Dun Gorg set out to form the laity of Malta, a country that was nearly 100% Catholic and overwhelming uneducated. (Sherry's note: in 1907, the vast majority of lay Catholics in the world were not hanging around theological salons with the likes of Jacques Maritain. The majority were in a situation much closer to that of the Maltese than to the educated elite of the US.)

What got Dun Gorg going? Experiences like this:

On one occasion, as he was teaching catechism in church, Dun Gorg overheard the sacristan tell a group of children that God had created Himself. It was one of those incidents, it seems, that made Dun Gorg decide to gather a group of young men and prepare them to teach catechism, to found an institution for such a purpose. Dun Gorg's intention was that the society would be made up of lay people who would commit themselves to live by God's word in everyday life, and give their lives to teaching.

Dun Gorg laid emphasis on the need for people to learn the Bible, even being able to recite parts off by heart, and on the need to know the moral teachings of Christ and the Church.

And the reaction? I suppose it was entirely predictable:

Certain priests thought that moral theology should not be taught to the "ill-mannered and socially inept". A fellow priest who said he had been "teaching moral theology to boors"

Some priests opposed it because they feared that the movement was a sect that would break off from the Church.

In one town, word spread that the society's members were sick people. Mothers stopped sending their children to catechism as a result, fearing they would get some kind of disease.

Dun Gorg started being compared to Manwel Dimech, an important progressive figure at the time who led an "anti-clerical" movement called Society of the Enlightened. One of the most controversial Maltese political figures, Mr Dimech was eventually exiled and died in Alexandria.

It was feared that MUSEUM was promulgating some kind of dubious spiritual illumination.

Various members of the society testified that he took into his home "known sinners and people not pertaining to the Catholic faith".

Suspicions, according to Crispin Mangion, a member of the society whose confessor was often Dun Gorg, also derived from the fact that the priest had established contacts with a mission of a British Protestant Church. Dun Gorg's ecumenical spirit led to suspicions that his covert intention was to protestantise the Church.

Short term result?

When Archbishop Mauro Caruana asked Dun Gorg to close the houses, the MUSEUM founder obeyed immediately. But soon after the first two were closed down, a counter order arrived as the Archbishop no longer doubted Dun Gorg's intentions.

Long term result?

The MUSEUM movement was approved by the Church in 1932, 25 years after its founding.

And next Sunday, Blessed Dun Gorg Preca will be canonized at St Peter's Basilica.

I happen to be one of those Catholics who really believes what Catholics are supposed to believe: that the Second Vatican Council was led by the Holy Spirit and ultimately, a really good thing for the Church.

And stories like that of that soon-to-be-Saint Dun Gorg Preca is one of the reasons why.

Discussion on Orthodox Blog: The Parish: Mission or Maintenance?

Fr. Gregory, an Orthodox priest over at Koinonia, has started a discussion of our vision booklet, The Parish: Mission or Maintenance, which Fr. Michael Sweeney and I gave as presentations to theologians and seminarians at the Angelicum and North American College in 2000.

Pope John Paul II inaugurated his pontificate with this invitation to the world; now he inaugurates a new Christian millennium with the same invitation. And, throughout the Church, we are witnessing a remarkable convergence of signs of renewal of the Church in her mission to the world. The apostolic role of the laity has been resoundingly affirmed and promoted at the highest levels of the Church for the first time in our history. The Holy Father has called the whole Church to re-dedicate all her energies to the new evangelization. Lay Catholics who assume personal responsibility for the Church’s evangelical mission are emerging by the millions all over the globe. A dramatic shift in the historic relationship between clergy and laity is well underway, which has important implications for all Catholic leaders who work with lay people.

It is our conviction that, through these historic developments, the Holy Spirit is both illumining and empowering the office of the ordained, and releasing the full vigor of the lay apostolate, for the sake of Christ’s redeeming purposes in the world. But something even more unexpected is happening. As the apostolic gifts and call of the laity have become evident, the apostolic potential of the parish – the one truly universal Catholic institution and the place where ninety-eight percent of Catholics have their only contact with the Church– has also been revealed in a whole new light. No longer can the parish be simply a place where the laity receive the spiritual goods of the Church. If all lay Catholics are apostles to the world as the Church teaches, then the institutions that nourish them must become places of apostolic formation, support, and consultation. The worldwide network of parishes that has sustained the faith of lay Catholics for centuries can and must become primary centers of lay formation and outreach to the world. We would like to explore with you the theological and practical implications of this new challenge.

To read (or download) the whole of PMM, go here.

(For those of you who like to hold a text or would like to discuss it in a group - as many parish leadership teams have done -, PMM can also be ordered in dead tree version for a mere $2 through our online bookstore).

To take part in the discussion at Koinonia, go here.
Koinonia: The Parish: Mission or Maintenance?

And, of course, be sure and tell us what you think below.

Philip Neri and the House of Mirth

Today is Philip Neri's Feast day as well as Memorial Day. So I thought it appropriate to link to a post on Neri that I did back in March:

Philip Neri and the House of Mirth

Where's an Intentional Disciple When You Need One?

This is an excerpt from an essay (click the title to link) by David Lazarus, who writes for the San Francisco Chronicle. The article is about the pulling of what's known as an "alcopop," an entry-level drink aimed at young adults, according to the beer industry, but very attractive to underage drinkers.

There's usually a lot of partying over Memorial Day weekend. But one thing
people -- particularly young people -- aren't drinking is Spykes, a
candy-colored beverage from Anheuser-Busch that the company has pulled
from the market after criticism from consumer watchdogs and the attorneys
general of California and 28 other states.

"This is great news," said Mike Scippa, advocacy director for the Marin
Institute, a San Rafael alcohol-awareness group. "We've been pushing for
this for as long as we've known about the product."

Spykes was introduced in 2005 with virtually no traditional marketing,
relying instead on the Internet and word of mouth to generate buzz among
consumers. It became available nationwide in January.

Spykes packed a considerable wallop, with 12 percent alcohol content and a
hit of caffeine to boot. It came in flavors like Spicy Mango and Spicy
Lime, and was packaged in little 2-ounce bottles that sold for about a
dollar apiece.

In a letter earlier this month to August Busch IV, Anheuser-Busch's chief
exec, the attorneys general expressed "serious concern about your
company's promotion and sale of alcoholic energy drinks -- alcoholic
beverages that contain caffeine and other stimulants and are highly
attractive to underage youth."

Anheuser-Busch announced about a week later that it was calling a halt to
Spykes. But the company pointedly insisted that there was nothing wrong
with its product or how it was marketed.

Spykes "has not performed up to expectations," Michael Owens, an
Anheuser-Busch vice president of marketing, said in a statement. "Due to
its limited volume potential and unfounded criticism, we are ceasing

He added that Spykes had been "unduly attacked by perennial anti-alcohol
groups," including the Marin Institute.

To be sure, Spykes wasn't alone among what critics call "alcopops" --
flavored alcoholic beverages that some say are designed specifically for
teenagers, especially girls (although alcohol companies say the target
market is young adults).

The American Medical Association reported in late 2004 that about a third
of teenage girls had tried alcopop drinks, and that teenage girls consumed
more alcopops than any other alcoholic beverage.

Owens at Anheuser-Busch noted that the alcopops market "has more than 50
products available ... in all colors and flavors." He said Spykes had "the
lowest alcohol content product in this market segment."

But Scippa at the Marin Institute said Anheuser-Busch, maker of Budweiser
and Michelob beers, "has distinguished itself with egregious products and
marketing tactics."

He called Spykes "an entry-level drink, particularly for young women," and
said the product "also crossed the line into energy drinks, which young
men enjoy."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has taken a similarly
strong stand against alcopops, said that "Anheuser-Busch did the
responsible thing, if begrudgingly, by pouring its caffeinated,
child-friendly alcoholic drink known as Spykes down the drain."

"But the real question is how this ill-considered product slithered from
the drawing board to the assembly line in the first place," said George
Hacker, the group's alcohol policies director. "One also wonders whether
the company truly hit bottom with Spykes or whether it will again stoop to
market kid-friendly drinks after the furor subsides."

One has to wonder; do any Catholics work for Anheuser-Busch? Any serious Christians at all? Or even anyone asking the question, "would MY underage child be attracted to alcohol by this product?" How does a product like this get off the drawing board?

I am guessing that there were people involved who had some serious reservations, but perhaps they didn't raise any objections for fear of losing their job, or losing their promotion. Wouldn't it be great if somehow our parishes could support parishioners who want to take a stand against the development of such products, and who might lose their jobs as a result? Or better, wouldn't it be great if our parishes could support these parishioners by letting a company know that doing the wrong thing would lead to financial and public relations woes!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Did you hear it?

...the Pentecost Sequence, that is. What is the Pentecost Sequence? It is a ancient and beautiful prayer to the Holy Spirit which is often set to music. The prayer is better known as Come, Holy Spirit or Veni Sancte Spiritus. Here are the words of the prayer, with verses in Latin and English:

VENI, Sancte Spiritus,et emitte caelitus lucis tuae radium.

COME, Holy Ghost,send down those beams,which sweetly flow in silent streams from Thy bright throne above.

Veni, pater pauperum,veni, dator munerum, veni, lumen cordium.

O come, Thou Father of the poor;O come, Thou source of all our store, come, fill our hearts with love.

Consolator optime, dulcis hospes animae, dulce refrigerium.

O Thou, of comforters the best, O Thou, the soul's delightful guest, the pilgrim's sweet relief.

In labore requies, in aestu temperies, in fletu solatium.

Rest art Thou in our toil, most sweet refreshment in the noonday heat; and solace in our grief.

O lux beatissima, reple cordis intima tuorum fidelium.

O blessed Light of life Thou art; fill with Thy light the inmost heart of those who hope in Thee.

Sine tuo numine, nihil est in homine, nihil est innoxium.

Without Thy Godhead nothing can have any price or worth in man, nothing can harmless be.

Lava quod est sordidum, riga quod est aridum, sana quod est saucium.

Lord, wash our sinful stains away, refresh from heaven our barren clay, our wounds and bruises heal.

Flecte quod est rigidum, fove quod est frigidum, rege quod est devium.

To Thy sweet yoke our stiff necks bow, warm with Thy fire our hearts of snow, our wandering feet recall.

Da tuis fidelibus, in te confidentibus, sacrum septenarium.

Grant to Thy faithful, dearest Lord, whose only hope is Thy sure word, the sevenfold gifts of grace.

Da virtutis meritum, da salutis exitum, da perenne gaudium, Amen, Alleluia.

Grant us in life Thy grace that we, in peace may die and ever be, in joy before Thy face. Amen. Alleluia.

Here is the prayer set to different musical settings:

This is my favorite. It is a beautiful setting composed by a contemporary composer, Arvo Pärt.

Here is a setting by the 15th Century composer, John Dunstable.

Here is another by an early master of polyphony, Palestrina.

For something entirely different, here is a Nordic version of the Veni Sancte Spiritus.

So, did anyone hear this piece at Mass today? Do you know what version it is?

A Pentecost Homily

This was preached by a priest ordained almost one year, Fr. Brian Dolejsi, who teaches with the Institute (as you might gather from the content of his homily). He serves a cluster of parishes in South Tacoma.

A few years ago, I went hiking with two friends. Towards the end of the second day, our trail disappeared. We are all experienced hikers but our trail simply had not been maintained and so we were a little anxious. At this point, we had hiked many hours and miles that day and planned to return to our car that afternoon. The sun was starting to set and we thought we were almost there…what to do? We knew it would be difficult to stay another night not to mention there were people waiting for us at home. We could go down a different valley, far from our car but not sure where that would lead. We could go up, which we tried but there was an impassible crevasse on the other side. Our only option was to patiently retrace our steps for a little while in search of our trail. After a few minutes, we could see the continuation of our trail up a steep incline. We had to work hard but after several minutes of effort we blazed a new trail which led us to where we needed to go. Eventually, we made it to our car some three hours later in pitch black, happy for soft seats and a warm place.

This evening, we gather as a community of faith in south Tacoma. Where are we on our journey of faith as followers of Christ? Fundamentally why are we here as parishes? Are we to thrive or to fade out? Some might say, like me and my friends we have lost the trail, the path God has called us to. My friends and I could have stayed in the same place in fear, or we could have gone another more dangerous direction of our choosing either up or down but none of these options would have helped us attain our goal. Instead, we retraced our steps a little bit to get back to common and familiar ground, then we scanned the horizon for our destination and blazed a trail to get there.

I propose this evening that we now have the opportunity to do the same. We have the opportunity to look back to remember our identity and then to scan the horizon of our faith again to see where God is leading us, to final glory and the fulfillment of the kingdom of God here and now. The only way to get there is to blaze a new trail, by having hope, working hard and together and taking courage we are moving in the right direction.

I propose nothing less than a re-evangelization of south Tacoma through our parishes. This is the new trail we must blaze through the work of the Holy Spirit. We can accomplish this by shifting our paradigm, doing what we already do in an excellent way, and in creative new ministries.

First, we need to shift our paradigm of how we see ourselves. The only reason the church exists is to evangelize. We begin with evangelizing our own and then proclaiming the good news to the local community. In turn, our parishes are not to be seen as a hospital where people only come if they have problems to be solved. We are this for many; however, we are to be centers of evangelization where we form competent lay apostles able to respond to the various needs of the local community. The model of the parish as a house of lay formation proactively meets the needs of the local community. Instead of waiting for people to come to us, we move out into the world preaching the good news that we are redeemed, that God’s grace is at work in everyone’s life and can lead us to new life. In this area, we need to start with inviting back, indeed calling back those who have fallen away from regular participation in their parishes. These may be your family, friends, or co-workers, and it will take time but unless we invite we cannot expect a return. After this, we move to the larger community of those who have no experience of the church and the presence of the Risen Christ in their lives.

Secondly, we need to renew excellence in all of our ministries to accomplish our mission of re-evangelization. Many positive ministries are already taking place with many faithful people engaged in helping proclaim the message of Christ. What I am proposing is a thorough and prayerful reflection about the quality of each ministry in our parishes. Can they be improved? Are we accomplishing what we have set out to do? Can we do a better job of showing God’s love? Are we doing our ministry not just in an adequate way but in an excellent way? In our communities, perhaps more than most places in the Puget Sound, there are people hurting, lonely, lost, fearful, and in need of a place to call home. These needs stem from lack of jobs, drugs, depression, abusive relationships, discrimination and other injustices which infect our world. Yet, it is us, the people of God, who have a message of healing and grace to offer to all. Why should we not be the ones to offer these people a message of healing and grace? Indeed, we exist to do just this, to evangelize, to propose the faith, to invite, to be the risen Christ in the lives of others.

Thirdly, we are called to create new ministries. If what we are currently doing is not helping our church grow, then things need to change. We need to start with an honest evaluation of the place when we encounter 90% of our people, the weekend masses. We need to re-evaluate and do a better job of celebrating our Sunday liturgies in an excellent way. We should have a greeter and commentator at the beginning of each mass welcoming and educating the entire community before mass even begins. Our music, preaching, and liturgical ministries should be performed in the most excellent manner possible. There should be effective advertising of our parish services and opportunities for people to easily become engaged with us. We need to invest more time, energy and resources into making our Sunday liturgies consistent moments of evangelization. I also propose we take a new parish census. This would involve a systematic assessment of the local community in south Tacoma. This takes place with a series of phone calls to those already on our parish directory, thanking those that have remained engaged and welcoming those back that have fallen away from active participation. Following this, we can move out into the local community and go door to door if necessary and welcome Catholics back or at least make personal contact with our neighbors to let them know we are here as a resource for them.

No doubt this is a great deal of work but it must be supported by my other proposed new ministry. In order to strengthen and engage all parishioners, I propose a renewal of small faith sharing communities. Many of the most active and happy Catholics I have met in these parishes are the ones who are actively engaged in a ministry which on many levels functions as a smaller community within the larger parish, enabling a sense of place, support, and ongoing spiritual growth. We need to invite all members of the parish into similar types of groups, meditating upon the Gospel and living it in our lives in a spirit of prayer. I believe that a renewal of our Sunday liturgies, a parish census, and an increase in small Christian communities as a way for us to blaze a new trail of evangelization. These ministries will help us welcome all, proclaim the risen Christ in a tangible way, and give us all a new sense of mission as the baptized…and just maybe renew our own faith experience.

Many of you might be thinking…the new priest is full of unrealistic ideas…it can't be done. My question to you would be, why can’t we do it? Are we happy with our parishes right now? Sure, there are some good people and some ministries are functioning well, but could we do more to proclaim Christ? These are things I have prayed over…if you have other ideas, let’s hear them and bring them all before the Lord in prayer and ask God to show us the way and we will gladly follow.

Actually, I beg the Holy Spirit to show us this night, do you want these parishes to survive and thrive or not? If you don’t, if this is not your will, then give us the courage and patience to accept this and to find ways in which to fulfill our vocations. However, if by chance you do…then all of us gathered here this evening shows not only who we are but what we can be. If you do want us to thrive, then Holy Spirit blow through us this evening. Renew us again just as you did for the disciples, revealing to them the presence of the Risen Christ in the Church and giving them courage and wisdom to carry out your mission in the world as apostles. Holy Spirit, enliven our minds and hearts to know and love your goodness so that renewed in our love of you we may invite others into the wonders of your mystery.

Can we respond to the needs of our local community? YES. Can we form members of the community who can live out their baptismal call for their own benefit and benefit of others? YES. Can we inspire another generation of Catholics to live and love the faith? YES. Can we re-evangelize our community? YES. We can accomplish this mission - with the help of God alone. But this has been the experience of the Church throughout generations. Trusting in God’s grace, the mission continues. Indeed this process of re-evangelization will lead to your own perfection and growth in holiness as you fulfill again the mission Christ has given you through the use of our individual and common gifts of the Holy Spirit. This will not take place over night as we know, but if we are not moving towards this, blazing a new trail, if we do not have a goal as a cluster of parishes, as individual parishes, then we are lost. We trust that nothing is impossible for God, even bringing life from death and filling the people of God with grace when we say Amen!

Many would say that these parishes are like a smoldering fire. They once were great but now they are ashes, with only a few coals burning at the bottom. But what is in the coals simmering down below but an intense heat: the faithful that have remained true, that have been consistent in their love of God and the Church. And what do we do this evening is invite the Holy Spirit to come and breathe new life into these ashes…and, just like a real fire, have those smoldering embers catch blaze again and produce light, heat and goodness…to catch fire again, to be filled with the Holy Spirit and generate a blaze that will be seen for miles, all the miles of south Tacoma. A blaze of a new trail leading to our final destination, the proclamation and the building of the kingdom of God in the world and our own perfection in love. Veni Sancte Spiritus! Come Holy Spirit!

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Rose Petals at Pentecost

Over at What Does This Prayer Really Say?, you'll find some pictures of the annual Rose Petal shower at Rome's Pantheon on the Feast of Pentecost. Find all the pictures at


Shout-out to Fr. Mike: Consider your options for next Pentecost!

Have I Strayed From God's Purpose?

Fr. Mike preached at my parish this morning (my pastor is doing mission work in the Ukraine this week)on the mission and purpose for which all of us as individuals and the Church, as a whole, has received the Holy Spirit.

Here's an apropros post from Catholic Writings on the same theme (

I watched “Pirates of the Carribean : At World’s End” today. I was struck by one line that was said to Davy Jones, who used to be a man but was transformed into an octopus-like creature. Someone in the movie says to him something like: You have strayed from your purpose, and that has changed who you are.

As Christians in the world today, we each have a God-given mission in life, and we are called to stick to our purpose. There are many things, good things in fact, that can make us stray from our purpose. For example, what may have started as a good means of evangelization, such as blogging for God, may make us so obsessed with gathering more hits for the blog that we stray from our purpose. Or what may have started as an interest in liturgy may become an obsession that turns into legalism that makes us stray from our purpose. Or what may have started as a love for tradition may become an obsession with tradition that makes us intolerant of others that makes us stray from our purpose.

Our purpose is not something that we create for ourselves. Rather, it is given to us by God and discovered by us. Let us all pray for the wisdom to discern our true purpose in life, and not stray from that purpose.

Pentecost and Mission

As Fr. Mike noted below, the Feast of Pentecost is not only the birthday of the Church but simultaneously the reception of supernatural power for the sake of her primary mission: to preach Christ to all and make disciples.

So just a few things to contemplate:

Michael Green in Evangelism in the Early Church points out that conversion, as we know it, was something almost totally new in the ancient world, when Christianity was born. The Roman attitude was: if you encountered some new faith that appealed to you, you simply added that new god/goddess or devotion to your pantheon - and many of these gods were "local" deities. The idea of conversion to an exclusive devotion to a single, universal God was introduced by Judiasm. So the impact - and scandal - of the "great commission" to go out and make disciples of all nations.

Most Catholics tend to think of religious identity as basically stable, that most people stay in the faith of their birth. But, as David Barrett points out, religious affiliation is, in fact, remarkably fluid. He estimates, as of 2000, that

19 million people convert to Christianity every year.

16.5 million Christians leave the faith every year!

The old saying:"God has no grandchildren" certainly comes alive when contemplating this statistic.

It is staggering to realize that 35 mlllion people move in or out of the Christian faith every year! That does imply a net gain of 2.5 million Christians every year or 69,000 new Christians every 24 hours!

In a given 24 hour period 122,000 new Christians are baptized and 37,000 new Catholics are added to the Church.

The "New Evangelization" is directed to the 16.5 million and their families who leave every year. The Mission Ad Gentes is directed toward the 19 million who will hear and be baptized for the first time this year.

And both spring from Pentecost.

Blessed Pentecost

"Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name--he will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you." John 14:23, 26

The Holy Spirit is given to us not only so that we can remember what Jesus taught, but also to help us "keep his word."

For each of us, that means applying that word in the various environments and situations in which we find ourselves. The great saints are always creative people. Not necessarily artists working with marble or oil paints, but creative in terms of responding to or anticipating the needs of the humanity around them. Often they begin doing things that the rest of us look at as quixotic, idealistic, simplistic, or doomed to fail.

And then they succeed.

Or at least they make a difference in the lives they touch - a difference that is supernatural, as they use the gifts the Holy Spirit has given them so that people experience a glimpse of the healing power, love, providence, and joy of the risen Lord.

Barbara Elliott, one of our Called & GIfted teachers, and a great supporter of the Institute along with her husband, Winston, has written a book of contemporary saints who are making a difference in the inner cities of some of our largest metro areas. I encourage you to visit her website, "Street Saints," (click the title of this post) to get a glimpse of the inspiring lives of individuals who are truly living in the Spirit.

Perhaps they may inspire you to respond to a call God has placed in your heart.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Lots Going On This Weekend

This three day weekend won't exactly be a holiday.

It's full. Major landscaping, wall and bed building, sand and paver ordering - all in preparation for the creation of a new patio for the emerging rustic Tuscan garden. And probably planting tons of basil for pesto and impatients as well.

This is a picture of the starter garden on Labor Day weekend last year, with a portion of the really long (70 ft?)hand-built, dry stone wall snaking erratically down one side. Imagine a really big mountain looming over it and you get the idea.

Three strong, competent men planted 4 trees in the back this week so its already beginning to feel very different. Fr. Mike, the incredible weight-lifting OP gardener, will be over shortly to haul that dirt and lift those stones.

You get occasional glimpses of enchantment to reward you for your aching back and rapidly emptying bank account. (Even done mostly by generous, unskilled, free labor and as cheaply as possible, gardening isn't cheap).

It's an act of magninimity -especially at 6,700 feet high - aspiring to do something great for God and for the community. (When your home backs onto a city park and everyone in the neighborhood gets to meditate on a daily basis upon the sun-baked desolation that passes for your backyard, gardening is a corporal work of mercy)

Also I'll be trying to finish up my section of Making Disciples on how the exercise of charisms assist spiritual seekers on the journey to discipleship. (Interesting stuff!)

And I need to race through the 390 pages of Michael Green's Evangelism in the Early Church which looks at the practice of evangelism through about the year 300 AD. Just got last night from Amazon and it looks very good!

I will be blogging - but it will be intermittant and probably full of gardening, charisms, and/or the history of evangelism - at least from me.

My partners in crime on ID, no doubt, have many varied and brilliant things to say.

Erin Go Bragh with Kielbasa

My friend Pat, a lover of all things Irish, was lamenting the loss of Irish traditional culture under the tidal wave of cash generated by the "Celtic Tiger" the other day. The next day, she sent me an interesting link to a BBC article on the influence of immigrants from Poland, of all places, on the Irish Catholic Church. It's quite a change for Ireland to become a destination for immigrants. You can link to the article by double-clicking the title of this post (which was Pat's comment in her e-mail to me!)

The Irish Catholic Church has lost influence in Irish society due to sexual scandals similar to those that occurred in the U.S. immigrants often leave their homeland in search for a better life elsewhere, as millions of Irish men and women did when they came to this land. I wonder if Polish immigrants to Ireland are holding on to their Catholic faith and Polish Catholic traditions as a way to hold on to their identity in a new, foreign culture.

A few paragraphs got me thinking, too -

"The Polish mass lasts 90 minutes and many of the faithful remain afterwards for a separate service remembering the late Pope John Paul II. It is reminiscent of an Irish Catholic Church of 20 years ago. Vibrant, busy, dedicated.

The Bishop of Cork and Ross, John Buckley, drops into the service to greet this new congregation and to urge them to support Cork in upcoming sporting events. He readily accepts that the immigrant community is a lifeline for the Church, with many Irish Catholics having left following a difficult period of public scandals.

'We have had problems in the Church, but we have dealt with them, unlike secular society,' he told the BBC News website.

'I believe Irish people still have an affiliation with their Catholic faith. The Sunday obligation to attend mass may no longer be relevant in people's lives, but on the big occasions like weddings, funerals, baptisms, the faith is still there and evident.'"

1) It's disheartening to hear a bishop to sound like he's accepting a mere "affiliation" with the faith on the part of the people of his diocese. Can he truly be comfortable with a kind of cultural Catholicism? A living faith is more than Church attendance, particularly when it's only on "big occasions."

2) The American Church has experienced the same kind of scandals. I don't know if the sexual abuse by clergy was more widespread in Ireland, but why has participation in Church and a decrease in those claiming to be Catholic decreased in Ireland, but not in the U.S.?

3) The Irish Church of 20 years ago may have had busy parishes, but something was missing if it could be in collapse so suddenly. Perhaps the missing piece was a more intentional discipleship in which the faith was lived throughout the week, and informed decisions made at the workplace, home, and even the pub.

I welcome any comments and insights you may have.

Friday, May 25, 2007

My favorite image of Pentecost...

(click image to enlarge) El Greco's

The virtue of prudence and the gift of counsel in political life.

A couple days ago, Sherry linked to a post in which George Wiegel speaks of a charism of political discernment. Sherry noted some common misconceptions of charisms latent in Wiegel's discussion. However, while I wouldn't speak of a charism of political discernment, I think Wiegel is on to something. In the Secunda Secundae (Second part of the second part) of St. Thomas' Summa Theologica, Aquinas deals with the virtue of prudence and its corresponding gift of the Holy Spirit: the gift of counsel. In speaking of the virtue of prudence, St. Thomas borrows a definition from Augustine. "Prudence", says Augustine, "is love discerning aright that which helps from that which hinders us in tending to God." Specifically, this love is charity, which is poured into our hearts through faith and the sacraments. This charity moves through our hearts in various ways, and one of the ways it does this is by moving the human person to discern what means are most appropriate to reaching life's most important ends. This is prudence. Every Christian who is in a state of grace is in possession of this virtue even if, for some reason, they are unable to actualize it. One of its most important forms is political prudence. By this one is able to "counsel, judge, and command concerning the means of obtaining a due end", but not with reference merely to one's individual good, but to the common good. Obviously, such a virtue is indispensable to a politician. One can see from this how the effects of faith cannot be limited to the private sphere. Grace transforms the person on whom it acts and the effects of this transformation cannot fail to manifest themselves publicly. A politician's Christian faith is never peripheral; all his actions must be informed by it if he wants his vocation as a politician to yield God's results. God, however, isn't satisfied with his grace perfecting what is natural in us. He also wants to guide us by supernatural means. Accordingly, all of the most important virtues are supplemented by the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Is 11:2: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord. According to Aquinas, the gift of counsel perfects the virtue of prudence. The gift and the virtue have the same objective- finding the appropriate means for attaining certain ends. However, by the gift of counsel the Christian is given, in a manner of speaking, a God's eye view of things. Christians are guided supernaturally in discerning the means to certain ends which, unaided by God, they would never be able to discern. In the case of the Christian politician, he or she is supernaturally guided in seeking certain means toward attaining the common good. Therefore I think there is something which, if not a charism, nevertheless can guide Christian politicians in their vocation as civil servants. Such guidance and help from God, however, doesn't come automatically. Such politicians need to make sure that they are acting from their faith and they need to dispose themselves to and avail themselves of the help that God gives them. Otherwise, the results are all too human. Therefore, during this celebration of Pentecost let us remember our brothers and sisters who labor in the political field and pray that God may transform them through the infused virtue of prudence and guide them through His gift of counsel.

An Ascension Homily from Timothy Radcliffe, O.P.

I know this is a few days late, but I just received a copy of a homily on the Ascension by Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., former Master of the Order of the Friars Preachers. Fr Timothy gave the following homily at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption & St Gregory, Warwick Street, London on Sunday. Here are a few excerpts.

Just outside Jerusalem, you can see the Chapel of the Ascension. There is a footprint of a right foot in the rock, as if Jesus had used it as a launching pad. And people often wonder how long Jesus went on going up. I spend much of my time at 36,000 feet. What might I have seen then?

The point is that today we celebrate Jesus' disappearance. At Easter we celebrated the appearances of the Risen Lord to the disciples. And now we celebrate that they ceased. He withdraws and is seen no more. And Luke's gospel, which we have just heard, tells us that the disciples went back to Jerusalem filled with joy. So what is so joyful about the disappearance of Jesus? You might have thought that it was a cause for sorrow.

One explanation might be that Jesus is going back to his Father. Having completed his work on earth he is going home to the Father. But this does not seem quite right, because the Father has never been absent. God is everywhere. Jesus could not make a journey back to God, as if the Father lived on some fluffy cloud in the sky.

Perhaps it would be better to think of the disappearance of Jesus as part of our homecoming. Jesus says in John's gospel: 'When I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.' The disciples had been at home with Jesus. They had shared his company, eaten and drunk with him, walked with him to Jerusalem, and witnessed his death and Resurrection. He had been their companion, the centre of the community.

But Jesus must disappear if they are to be not just with him but at home in him. With the Ascension and Pentecost, Jesus is transformed from being someone with whom the disciples are at home. Instead he becomes their home. They used to be with his body. Now they are becoming his body, as we are the Body of Christ. They have to lose him, paradoxically, if they are to discover this new intimacy.

It is the opposite of our own birth. When we are born, we lose the warm cosy home of the womb so as to be at home with our mother. We lose the intimacy of being in our mother's body so as to be able to see her face to face. The joy and the pain of birth is that we lose one form of intimacy, snuggling up inside our mother, being one body with her, so as to gain another and deeper intimacy, which is seeing her face, being with her, and eventually being able to talk to her. With our Christian rebirth, it is the other way around. The disciples lose Jesus as the one whose face they can see so as to find him as the one in whom they can be at home.

... the whole long history of salvation has been of God's slow disappearance. At the beginning, God walks in 'the cool of the day' in the garden, just like one of us after a hard day at work. But God comes to Abraham and Sarah in fire and smoke in the night, and then as three mysterious strangers needing food. He wrestles with Jacob. By the time we get to Moses, we have only a voice from a burning bush, and unbearable visions on the mountain. Then with the establishment of the Kingdom of David, God is seen no more. He speaks through the voices of the prophets. Finally he appears in an ordinary man who dies on a cross and shouts out, 'O God, my God, why have you abandoned me?' Today he disappears altogether.

So God is like the Cheshire Cat, slowly disappearing from our sight. But this is so that we may become more intimate. We lose God as over against us, a powerful stranger, the Big Guy who runs the Universe, so that we can discover him at the very heart of our existence. St Augustine famously said that God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. 'Late have I loved, O beauty so ancient and so new. For behold you were within me and I was outside; and I sought you outside. You were with me and I was not with you.' As Thomas Merton, the Cistercian said, we lose him as an object so as to find him as a subject, the core of our own subjectivity. We do not look at God so much as with God.

So like the disciples, we can rejoice today at the disappearance of Jesus. It is all part of our coming home to God, or God's making his home in us. So the Church should be a sign of our home in God.

...The apostles who witnessed the disappearing of Jesus still clung on to images of God that took time to go. It took them time to realise that the God who only wanted to have Jews in his community was gone and that we Gentiles also are at home.

We are all learning.

The chapel of the Ascension is both a Church and also a mosque, a shared holy place for Christians and Muslims. It is a sign of God's unimaginably spacious home. Happy Ascension!

More From the Bishops in Brazil: "Great Continental MIssion?"

Very interesting reports are coming out of the CELAM gathering, in light of our many discussion on ID about the mission and formation of the laity. Via Catholic News Service (

The first draft of the document coming out of CELAM is concerned with:

"The fundamental question of how to inspire Catholics to take ownership of their faith, seek a personal conversion that leads them to follow Jesus, and live out that commitment in the church and the world. The church leaders must candidly examine trends in both society and the church that lead some Catholics to join evangelical groups while a much larger number remain Catholic in name only.

In the description of "light and shadows" in the church, many of the strengths listed -- such as catechesis, liturgy, base communities and the use of the media -- are areas that bishops cited in the first two weeks of their conference as needing improvement or reinforcement. The draft describes weaknesses, including an overemphasis on sacraments to the detriment of the other aspects of faith life; financial troubles; clericalism; and discrimination against women and indigenous people. However, it offers few concrete steps toward solutions.

Nearly half the draft is devoted to the theology underlying the bishops' views of discipleship and mission, with specific sections devoted to issues such as vocations and formation. The document emphasizes the need to make Scripture central to Catholic life, a constant theme since the pope's speech May 13. It also notes the centrality of the Eucharist, a difficult challenge in a region with an average of one priest per 7,000 parishioners.

Christian initiation, continuing formation and Catholic education are seen as key to developing a sense of missionary discipleship. This must be further nourished through participation in groups such as base communities or lay movements, which are given relatively equal weight in the document, although they tend to reflect different ideological stances.

the greatest expectations were not of a document, but of a "great continental mission" that would breathe new life into evangelization.

Little was said about the mission until May 24, when Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Brazil, who now heads the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy, raised the subject in the assembly. Afterward, he told journalists that the goal is not to convert non-Catholics, but to reach baptized but inactive Catholics.

Some bishops envision door-to-door canvassing, while others say that is not the main thrust. They must still define how and by whom the mission will be carried out.

One prelate commented that the region's conferences of bishops differ in their degree of enthusiasm and preparedness for such an effort. Another pointed out that before a "great continental mission" can be launched, the church needs high-quality promotional and training materials.

The bigger question, however, is to what kind of church lapsed Catholics are being invited to return. If it is structurally the same one they left, there is no reason to expect them to stay. Unless the bishops answer that question, neither the final document nor the great continental mission will have the desired effect."

Your thoughts?

Apostles on Stage

This is great.

John Allen's Friday article is on New York's Storm Theatre and their "The Karol Wojtyla Theatre Festival, which we have blogged about before on ID. (

The Festival is up and running now through June 17, so if you are in the New York, check it out.

Allen's interview emphasizes that this theatre is a realization of the Church's call, so emphasized by JPII, on the secular mission of lay apostles:

The deepest legacy of John Paul II, however, may be less expressed by a small theatre company staging his plays, than the fact that the Storm Theatre exists at all. As its 47-year-old co-founder and artistic director, a devout Catholic named Peter Dobbins, puts it: "The purpose of this theatre is to lead people to God."

Utterly unplanned by anyone in ecclesiastical officialdom, Dobbins' Storm Theatre is precisely the sort of spontaneous, grass-roots evangelization of culture that John Paul hoped to set loose -- confident in the Catholic message, audacious in its determination to "set out into the deep." Since 1997, the Storm Theatre has staged a series of well-reviewed productions. Some, such as "Murder in the Cathedral" and "The Power and the Glory," have explicitly religious themes, but more often they're secular works with a spiritual and moral undertone.

In a sense, the Storm Theatre is John Paul II's ad extra> model of the lay vocation in action. Dobbins isn't interested in reading at Mass, or working in a chancery; his more daring aim is to redeem the entertainment industry from the inside out.

The Wojtyla festival, it should be said, is hardly the lone religious presence on Broadway. Nearby is the Jewish Actor's Temple (which bills itself as a "Cool Shul"), as well as a Church of Scientology. On the Catholic side, St. Malachy's Parish on 49th Street, also known as the Actor's Chapel, serves New York's artistic community. The Storm Theatre itself rents space from the Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin, built in 1894 as a physical expression of the tenets of the Oxford Movement -- an impulse which famously helped launch John Henry Neman's journey into the Catholic church.

In various forms, however, these are all ministries to theatre people. What makes the Storm Theatre unique is that, in effect, it's a ministry by theatre people.

Dobbins grew up in Philadelphia, where he attended Roman Catholic High School and Temple University. He developed a vocation for the theatre and drifted away from the faith. (As he puts it, "I lapsed pretty spectacularly.") Dobbins ended up in the prestigious Fine Arts program at Southern Methodist University in the late 1970s, whose all-star alumni include Kathy Bates, Powers Boothe, and Beth Henley. He said he went through a conversion experience triggered by being tossed out of SMU when he hit a wall as a student.

Ironically, Dobbins said he was led back to Christianity through the ubiquity of Eastern spirituality in the entertainment world.

"There's a lot of Eastern stuff that gets taught to you as an actor, relaxation techniques and so on. I began reading about Buddhism, and it was great, but when I picked up Christian writers, I found that they take it to another level. I always felt that Eastern spirituality goes in a circle, whereas Christianity breaks through it -- like a Cross, infinity in both directions."

Concretely, Dobbins said the books of C.S. Lewis were his point of departure, but what sealed the deal was reading Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton -- whose work Dobbins described as "Lewis to the zillionth power."

"This theater would never have existed if I hadn't read that book," Dobbins said. "It was literally like having a brain explosion."

Gripped by Chesterton's capacity to express the faith, Dobbins decided he wanted to try to do for the contemporary theater what Chesterton had done for early 20th century English letters. His Storm Theatre, founded in 1997, takes its name from a line in Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus": "Now is a time to storm; why art thou still?" (Dobbins believes Shakespeare was a "great Catholic playwright.")

Read the whole piece ( be inspired.


I am returned from a long and unplanned hiatus. However, I have been checking ID faithfully and following the ongoing conversations here. In keeping with our pre-Pentecost theme, I wanted to share a little bit about how the Charismatic Renewal challenged my faith and helped me to move deeper in my relationship with the Lord.

I should actually preface this post by saying that I am not a member of the CCR, nor have I ever been. I hang around the outskirts of the Renewal, attending a prayer group on an irregular basis.

Growing up, I had a very cultural and intellectual formation in my faith. What catechesis I did receive pre-High School consisted of the message "God is Love" (a rather central and important one) and a number of exercises whereby I cut out doves and pictures from magazines to make mobiles. While in High School, the Marianists provided a rather rigorous 4-year formation that started with a year spent on the Old Testment, a year spent on the New Testament, a year studying Christian Philosophy, and a year studying Christian Existence (still more examination of philosophy, particularly from a Christian Humanism perspective).

By the time I made it through College and in to Graduate School, I had developed a love of meditation, the rhythms of monastic life, and contemplative prayer. Then, I met the folks at my Graduate School's Neman Center. They were, by and large, undergraduates. In addition to Mass on Sunday, they got together on Sunday evenings for prayer, praise, and worship. I went a few times and definitely enjoyed it. However, there were certain times that I would feel a little uncomfortable--mostly when they would ask if someone needed prayer and then "pray over" that individual. Sometimes, a few of them uttered things that sounded suspiscously like tongues.

Little did I know, but this group was sponsored by a local Catholic Charismatic Group. I found that out when my fellow Newman-ites invited me to attend Bible study at the house of one of the older members of the Charismatic Prayer Group. I went, and came face to face with what I called at that time full-blown "Charismania." There was praying out loud, calling on the name of Jesus, praying in tongues, talk of deliverance, and a very "literal" approach to the Bible.

I fled as fast as I could! I should say that at this time, courtesy of my English MA program, I was receiving a rather harsh indoctrination into post-modern literary theory, deconstuction, and feminist cultural criticism. Unfortunately, I took to that stuff like a duck to water. Therefore, the whole Charismatic approach to my faith seemed, in addition to being superstitious, backwards, and just plain horse hockey, also dangerously partriarchal and oppressive. The members of the prayer group spoke of Truth, of Good and Evil, of a personal and even physical experience of God through the Holy Spirit.


I resisted with all my heart, mind, and strength--protesting to my friends that I wanted no part in their damned charismania.

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit had some other ideas.

One evening, while praying with the members of the Newman Center prayer group, I spoke a prayer out loud for those who were caught in the cycle of addiction (referring to some relatives). At that moment, I experienced what could only be explained as the sensation of two hands touching my head and praying over me (none of my friends were around me). I felt wave after wave of peace crest over me, and all of a sudden it was as if my head were expanding to touch the ceiling. Somehing was happening in my heart, as well--as if a soft voice were whispering something there, and that something was just out of hearing range.

I know that I've shared this story before here on ID, but I can not tell you how foriegn this experience of prayer was to me. When we ended with the Our Father, I opened my mouth and promptly snapped it shut, for I knew that if I prayed that prayer out loud, watever came out of my mouth would not be in the English language.

What followed in those weeks and months was an unending pursuit of my heart, mind, and soul by the Holy Spirit. I resisted and ran, and the Holy Spirit pursued and found. I have often described it as that period of time when God consistently hit me upside the head with spiritual 2 x 4's. When I think back on the amazing ways that God was manifesting His Love and Desire for me I am completely humbled and ashamed. I did everything I could to reject Him.

This period of uneasy courtship ended with a profound emotional healing--an amazing gift that God offered me--as well a powerful, life-changing experience of an anointing of the Holy Spirit (I don't like the term "baptism" in the Holy Spirit because I find it theologically confusing).

The thing is, none of that would have happened to me without the gentle support, encouragement, and challenge of my fellow Catholics who answered my questions, listened openly as I railed against this kind of spirituality, and who continud to love me day in and day out as I wrestled with the ways in which God was calling me to a deeper relationship with Him.

Yes, there were some kooky folks attached to that adult Charismatic Prayer Group, and yes there are sometimes rather unique views by individuals in the Renewal regarding the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but their lives of intentional discipleship and their willingess to be apostles of Christ, sharing the ways in which the Holy Spirit worked in their lives, helped to prepare me for the way in which the Holy Spirit wanted to be in relationship to me.

I began to realize that if I was experiencing the very same things that Christians in the Bible experienced, then maybe my default "Christianity without the supernatural" approach to things was actually a way to hide myself from the fullness of that love relationship He was calling me to.

So, the Charismatic Renewal and their charismania changed my life.

Of course, now I realize tha it wasn't just them--the Holy Spirit changed and transformed me. The Advocate, the Paraclete, the Lover who touches the deepest part of who I am--He has wrapped me in His Love. I will never be the same.

And I never want to be!

The Pursuit of God in the Company of Friends

Christianity Today has an interesting interview with Richard Lamb, author of The Pursuit of God in the Company of Friends.

Lamb is an evangelical (he does campus ministry with Intervarsity) so some of his specific experiences don't apply to Catholics (such as the experience of "planting" a new Christian community) but many of his insights are most apropos.

Community is a buzz word. Everybody is talking about community. What essentially are people missing when they talk about community in the Christian community today?

I'm not sure if there's one thing. But part of the answer involves understanding what I think are three essential and kind of irreducible components of community. Community involves a move outward, a move inward, and a relational glue that keeps us together. I call the move outward partnership in mission; the move inward is accountability, depth of relationship; and the glue, the relational glue is friendship.

One of the points that you make in your chapter on presence and intimacy is the time factor involved in pursuing God in the company of friends. And you talk about Jesus and how he had a way of using his time that reached a lot of people but maximized that company of friends as a more important use of his time.

The whole notion there is a focus on the few for the sake of the many. This is an ancient notion and well discussed by Robert Coleman in his book of 40 years ago, The Master Plan of Evangelism. The idea of being intentional with people can be a little intimidating because it feels like, if I spend more time with this member of my small group then do I have to be fair about it? Just realize, Jesus focused on a few. He had 12 that he spent a lot of time with, and he had three that he was even more intimate with. And his pattern of relationship can be our pattern as well.

Many times the company of friends doesn't really have a stated leader, but there is an interplay between serving and leading.

Part of what I'm trying to recover is the notion that friendship and intentionality somehow don't go together. Friendship should be spontaneous. Intentionality implies work and insincerity. And I'm saying the deepest friendships are going to be highly intentional where we think about people even when they're not in the room, and we pray for them even beyond what they're asking prayer for.

That's a part of the case I'm trying to make that the effort and thoughtfulness applied to our friendships really strengthens those friendships.

What about somebody who hungers for community, but they feel they are alone? They don't feel like they have any friends, and what you're describing is even making that feel more painful.

I think everybody has a chance to find a group, like a small group or a new church perhaps, or a new small group. But you show up at that church or at that small group and you look around and you say, these people aren't like me. Or, I don't really feel like this is really meeting my needs. And one of the primary pathways or primary steps to community is to decide to make a commitment to a community.

You say this small group didn't meet my needs tonight. And it may not meet my needs for several months, but if I commit to this group of people over time, by virtue of that commitment I'm going to experience a deeper experience of community. I will no longer be alone. Then I can make other choices like deciding I am going to let them know what's going on in my life. I'm not just going to wait around and see if they like me. I'm going to be a part of making this group community for me.

We all can make those kinds of choices in our lives. We don't have to feel like that's a party to which we have not been invited.

If this topic speaks to you, consider attending our gathering on Building Intentional Community here at the stunning Penrose House in beautiful Colorado Springs on August 31. A number of the denizens of ID will be there: Fr. Mike, the Other Sherry and her husband Dave, Kathleen Lundquist & her husband Gary, will be present along with our old friend, Mark Shea and his wife, Jan. Everyone is welcome but we do need you to call and let us know you are coming so we can plan.

For more information, go to

How Will You Celebrate Pentecost?

Via the Catholic Virginian (

At Fr. Jay Biber's church, St. John the Apostle, in Virginia Beach (

It is in this same Spirit that individuals and different groups — families, youth groups, prayer groups, small faith communities — are gathering at St. John the Apostle on Pentecost Sunday, to pray anew for a fresh outpouring of the graces of Pentecost, of the Holy Spirit, upon our own Diocese of Richmond and the world.

This birthday celebration of the Church begins with an opening procession in which area youth groups display their banners and with Praise and Worship, led by Josh Dart, youth minister of St. Gregory’s, Virginia Beach. Walter Matthews, executive director of the U.S. National Service Committee of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, will be the keynote speaker.

Father J. Morton Biber, pastor of St. John’s, will lead a procession of the Blessed Sacrament with the Knights of Columbus providing the honor guard. A potluck supper will follow.

I like the idea of praying intentionally for a fresh outpouring of the graces of Pentecost in my life, my parish, my neighborhood, my world today.

In the middle ages, Pentecost was celebrated in creative ways.

Some churches had "Holy Spirit holes" in the ceiling to symbolize their openness to God. On Pentecost, doves were released through the holes and bundles of rose petals were dropped from them onto the people gathered inside. Choirboys moved through the congregation making whooshing sounds and playing drums to remind everyone of the rush of the Spirit.

How will you and your friends, family, or parish celebrate Pentecost? What sort of transformation would you like the Holy Spirit to work in your life?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

To Err is Human...

A fragment of the Gospel that many of us may hear this weekend caught my attention in a slightly new way this year. In John 20:21-23, we read,

"(Jesus) said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.'"

As is often pointed out in scripture commentaries, Jesus' act of breathing upon the disciples is
art by Hanna Cheriyan Varghese - Malaysia

a recapitulation or even fulfillment of God's imparting the breath of life to the lump of clay that becomes Adam in Genesis 2. Our Lord breathes a "new Spirit" and a new life into us at Pentecost - a new, supernatural life in Him that was lost in the Fall.

But what he says to them as a consequence of their receiving that Spirit also has links to the third chapter of Genesis, I believe.

In the temptation of Eve, the serpent responds to her protest that she and Adam will die if they eat of the forbidden fruit, "'You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad.'"

Not only does he call God a liar, he promises that the fruit will make Eve and her husband like gods because of their knowledge. Knowledge in the Hebrew scriptures is often a euphemism for "carnal knowledge," an intimacy with the thing known. Certainly ever since we have had an intimate knowledge of what is bad; from wars, plague, all the vices, betrayals - the list seems endless.

But this passage from the Gospel of John fulfills that longing to be like God that our first parents and all their children since have had. Jesus says, "whose sins you forgive are forgiven them..."

In the story of the paralytic lowered through the roof and healed by Jesus, (as well as in other similar stories) the scribes are scandalized because Jesus says to the man (because of the faith of his friends), "Child, your sins are forgiven."

They ask, "Who but God alone can forgive sins?"

In their question and in the command of Jesus in the Gospel of Pentecost we discover what it is to truly be like God. We are given a share in His power to forgive.

It can seem rather disappointing. For the human being, becoming like God doesn't convey the power Hollywood imagines in movies like, "Bruce Almighty." Nor does it look like the seeming power over others to which despots cling. For us, becoming like God is simply a sharing in the power that Jesus last exercises in the Gospel of Luke from the cross: "Father, forgive them..." (Lk 23:34)

But for those who experience forgiveness where none was hoped for or deserved, it is an awesome power. It is the power that changes attitudes, perspectives, priorities. It is the power that changes our life in time - and for eternity.

Images of Christian Ethiopia

Very cool pictures of Christian Ethiopia are to be found here via Oasis:

Hat tip: commenter Alex Vitus

Prayer for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Consider using this prayer as part of your preparation for the celebration of Pentecost.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Who before ascending into Heaven promised to send the Holy Spirit to finish your work in the souls of Your Apostles and Disciples, grant the same Holy Spirit to me, that He may perfect in my soul the work of Your grace and Your love.

Grant me the spirit of wisdom, that I may despise the perishable things of this world and aspire only after the things that are eternal;

the spirit of understanding, to enlighten my mind with the light of Your divine truth;

the spirit of counsel, that I may ever choose the surest way of pleasing God and gaining Heaven;

the spirit of fortitude, that I may bear my cross with You and that I may overcome with courage all the obstacles that oppose my salvation;

the spirit of knowledge, that I may know God and know myself and grow perfect in the way of the Saints;

the spirit of piety, that I may find the service of God sweet and amiable;

the spirit of awe and wonder, that I may be filled with a loving reverence towards God and my dread in any way to displease Him.

Mark me, dear Lord, with the sign of Your true disciples, and animate me in all things with Your Spirit.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Bible Geek and Life Teen

This article from the Arizona Republic tells the story of Mark Hart, the 33 year old Executive Vice President of Life Teen.

He picked up his moniker, the Bible Geek, a few years ago by accident. He was leading a Bible study and had to leave town. Before he did, he e-mailed a dozen teens in the study explaining how the scripture they were studying pertained to their lives.

"I didn't want the e-mail to be about me so I signed it 'Bible Geek,' and it became a huge hit instantly," said Hart, who lives in Gilbert.

Since then he has answered thousands of questions from teens, making the Bible fun and relevant.

Hart points to relevance, or lack thereof, as a reason teens have left the church. Life Teen, which was launched more than 20 years ago, has helped change that. Today, the program is in 1,200 parishes and 20 countries.

"Adults are willing to or wanting to kind of write teenagers off," Hart said. "Not all teenagers are deviant, taking drugs or a part of gangs."

A relationship grows when teens can look at God as their father, not just their savior, enjoying a more intimate connection, he said.

"I am not going to teach about a God that we don't know personally," Hart said.

Hart helps teens through Bible studies, online questions and answers, retreats and live podcast of the scriptures to help them find and understand individual relationships with God.

Hart emphasizes seven core values of a personal relationship between a teenager and God: love, joy, evangelization, primary vocation, affirmation, authenticity and Eucharistic spirituality.

Now those are seven core values that every Catholic can embrace.

A Charism of Political Discernment?

Now this is interesting: a new development in the theology of charisms has just been brought to my attention.

At the end of a long essay by George Weigel in the January, 2003 issue of First Things arguing for US intervention in Iraq, the reader comes across two memorable sentences:

There is a charism of political discernment that is unique to the vocation of public service. That charism is not shared by bishops, stated clerks, rabbis, imams, or ecumenical and interreligious agencies.

William Cavanaugh, associated professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, offered this pithy comment:

“Charism” is a theological term denoting a gift of the Holy Spirit. To apply such a term to whomever the electoral process of a secular nation-state happens to cough up does not strike me as theologically sound or practically wise.

Ya think?

Then there are the fundamental tests of a charism - that it cannot be used for evil, that it is an instrument of God's mercy, love, deliverance, healing, wisdom, beauty for others, that it flows directly from one's lived relationship with God, and of course, that it does what it is supposed to do.

For instance, if a charism of healing is present, people get well. If they are worse off after you are done - it's a clue.

Similarly, if a charism of political discernment is present, good, God-honoring, Kingdom building, political directions and decisions are made.

If the country is worse off after you are done - it's a clue.

Catholics in Mali

Two thirds of the Christians in the west African nation of Mali are Catholic and the Catholic News Service did a nice article on them a few days ago. (

The 232,000 Catholics have 100 local priests and some missionary priests and sisters.

“There are catechists and as everywhere in Africa, they too are extremely important,” says the Bishop of Mali. (Sherry's note: there are about 30,000 Catholic priests in the whole of Africa for 137 million Catholics or 4,566 Catholics per priest. So the 358,000 catechists (382 Catholics/catechist) make an enormous difference.)

Lay Catholics are called to bear witness to the Gospel at work, with honesty, sincere and disinterested promotion of the common good. I am happy to say that I have heard non-Catholics say that we do not impose the Gospel, we live it.”

At the same time, the bishop says he reminds priests, religious and lay people that the Gospel must be announced. “I remember visiting a forest dispensary run by a religious order, an indispensable structure for several thousand people. I asked the people working there: Why are you here? Do you tell your patients why you care for them? The replies were somewhat reticent, almost as if not to hurt the feelings of non-Catholics.

“We must explain that we are animated by the Spirit of the Gospel: we do not want to impose our faith, but we do want to announce it,” he said. “The Church is not a non-governmental organization; it is at the service of the proclamation of the Word.”

"May They Be One"

I am both amused and saddened by the readings for Thursday, May 24. I get the giggles thinking about Paul's cleverness. Paul's been hauled before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem after causing a ruckus while telling a crowd of his conversion. We read,

"Paul was aware that some were Sadducees and some Pharisees,
so he called out before the Sanhedrin,
'My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees;
I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead.'
When he said this,
a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees,
and the group became divided." (Acts 23:6-11)

As the story unfolds, the Sanhedrin ends up forgetting about Paul's testimony about Jesus, and basically dissolves into a fracas over Jewish doctrine.

But the readings are also incredibly saddening, because in the Gospel, we hear Jesus praying to His Father,

“I pray not only for these,
but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
so that they may all be one,
as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me." (John 17:20-21)

We dare not be comfortable with all the divisions within Christianity, and certainly must think twice about causing any division within the Catholic community. We know already that the divisions greatly impede the Church's mission of evangelization. How can people believe in Jesus through our word, when
1) we continue to emphasize the differences between Christian denominations and forget our common ground?
2) we speak disparagingly or even hatefully of other Christians?

We are like the Pharisees and Sadducees who forget why they'd gathered in the firstplace, and our divisions (especially when they become particularly violent, like in Northern Ireland) not only make evangelization less effective, they lead some people to the conclusion that Christianity is a detriment to human welfare.

I'm not just crying, "why can't we all just get along?" But I believe the closer we come to the Lord, the more intolerable will divisions in His Body be to us, and the more we will do what we can to be reconciled with one another. Christian unity can't only be addressed on the level of interdenominational ecumenical bodies. It begins with ordinary Christians, lay AND cleric, working side by side to address the problems in secular society. It begins with ordinary Christians praying together in simplicity and humility. It begins by inviting the Holy Spirit into our hearts and lives, for it was in the Spirit that Jesus prayed for unity, and it is the work of the Spirit to make us all one.

Nothing breaks down the barriers between Christians than to recognize the Holy Spirit at work within people of different denominations. The charisms are common to all the baptized, and through them God works in us for one another. Learning about them gives us a very powerful way to talk to one another of our lived experience of being a Christian and an instrument of God. If you want to know more about these spiritual gifts, visit our website at

Finally, not only did the Lord pray for our unity, but so did St. Paul. His words are particularly poignant as we approach the feast of Pentecost.

"I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift." (Ephesians 4:1-6)


Virtual Tour of the Vatican, part two

Virtual Tour of the Vatican via You tube

Take a look at this.

A clip from a National Geographic program on the Vatican. Martin Sheen narrates:

Light From the East: Orientale Lumen Conferences

Orientale Lumen

Eastern Christian Publications and the Society of Saint John Chrysostom regularly sponsor ecumenical conferences for lay men, lay women, religious and clergy entitled Orientale Lumen that focus on the dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

Open to the public, these conferences provide an opportunity for Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Eastern Catholics to gather, discuss and learn about their respective traditions. They include presentations by scholars and theologians, liturgical celebrations of many varieties, and opportunities for everyone to learn from each other and participate in a "dialogue of love and understanding."

Eastern Christian Publications and the Society of Saint John Chrysostom regularly sponsor ecumenical conferences for lay men, lay women, religious and clergy entitled Orientale Lumen that focus on the dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches

Open to the public, these conferences provide an opportunity for Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Eastern Catholics to gather, discuss and learn about their respective traditions. They include presentations by scholars and theologians, liturgical celebrations of many varieties, and opportunities for everyone to learn from each other and participate in a "dialogue of love and understanding."

There are Orientale Lumen conferences coming up in June in Washington, DC and in San Diego. Looks interesting!

Also check out the Society of St. John Chrysotom and Eastern Catholic Publications.

Must Call to Activate

Marcellino D'Ambrosio has a very nice essay on his website: The Gifts of Pentecost:
The Charisms of The Holy Spirit
In fact, it sounds remarkably like parts of the Called & Gifted workshop.

"Vatican II also taught that every Christian has a vocation to serve. We need power for this too. And so the Spirit distributes other gifts, called “charisms.” These, teach St. Thomas, are not so much for our own sanctification as for service to others. There is no exhaustive list of charisms, though St. Paul mentions a few (I Cor 12:7-10, Ro 12:6-8) ranging from tongues to Christian marriage (1 Cor 7: 7). Charisms are not doled out by the pastors; but are given directly by the Spirit through baptism and confirmation, even sometimes outside of the sacraments (Acts 10:44-48).

Pentecost, Confirmation, Sacrament of ConfirmationDo I sound Pentecostal? That’s because I belong to the largest Pentecostal Church in the world. Correcting the mistaken notion that the charisms were just for the apostolic church, Vatican II had this to say: "Allotting His gifts “to everyone according as he will” (1 Cor. 12:11), He [the Holy Spirit] distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. . . . These charismatic gifts, whether they be the most outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation, for they are exceedingly suitable and useful for the needs of the Church" (LG12).

Powerful gifts, freely given to all. Sounds like a recipe for chaos. But the Lord also imparted to the apostles and their successors a unifying charism of headship. The role of the ordained is not to do everything themselves. Rather, they are to discern, shepherd, and coordinate the charims of the laity so that they mature and work together for the greater glory of God (LG 30).

Sacrament of Champions, Confirmation, Catholic Church

So what if you, like me, did not quite “get it” when you were confirmed? I’ve got good news for you. You actually did get the Spirit and his gifts. Have you ever received a new credit card with a sticker saying “Must call to activate before using?” The Spirit and his gifts are the same way. You have to call in and activate them. Do it today and every day, and especially every time you attend Mass. Because every sacramental celebration is a New Pentecost where the Spirit and his gifts are poured out anew (CCC 739, 1106)."

The Global South is Coming

Michael Gerson of the Washington Post Writer's Group had a fascinating piece published on Sunday.

As he put it:

"AN EPOCH-DIVIDING event recently took place in the religion that brought us B.C. and A.D. Too bad hardly anyone noticed."

"The intense, irrepressible Christianity of the global south is becoming -- along with Coca-Cola, radical Islam and Shakira -- one of the most potent forms of globalization. When I visited Martyn Minns, the missionary bishop installed by Akinola, his first reference was not to St. Paul or to St. John but to St. Thomas: Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. "The Church is flat,'' Minns told me, paraphrasing the title of Friedman's best-selling book. Rigid, outdated church bureaucracies are proving unable to adjust to the shifting market of world Christianity. "People used to pronouncing from on high,'' he said, are now "gasping for air.''

In 1900, about 80 percent of Christians lived in North America and Europe; now more than 60 percent live on other continents. There are more Presbyterians in Ghana than in Scotland. The largest district of the United Methodist Church is found in Ivory Coast. And many of the enthusiastic converts of Western missions have begun asking why portions of the Western church have abandoned the traditional faith they once shared. Liberal Protestant church officials, headed toward international assemblies, are anxiously counting African votes, because these new voters tend to take their Bible both literally and seriously.

This emerging Christianity can be troubling. Church leaders sometimes put more emphasis on communal values than on individual human rights, and they need to understand that strongly held moral beliefs are compatible with a commitment to civil liberties for all. Large Pentecostal churches are often built by domineering personalities making easy promises of health and wealth.

But the religion of the global south has a great virtue: It is undeniably alive. And it needs to be. A mother holding a child weak with AIDS or hot with malaria, or a family struggling to survive in an endless urban slum, does not need religious platitudes. Both need God's ever-present help in time of trouble -- which is exactly what biblical Christianity claims to offer."

Indeed. It's worth a read.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Another Catholic Quote of the Day - From the Office of Readings

Our old friend, John Jensen of Pukekohe, New Zealand (and a member at large of the old Nameless Lay Group) reminded me that this following passage from Lumen Gentium is in today's Office of Readings:

The mission of the Holy Spirit in the church

When the Son completed the work with which the Father had entrusted him on earth, the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost to sanctify the Church unceasingly, and thus enable believers to have access to the Father through Christ in the one Spirit. He is the Spirit of life, the fountain of water welling up to give eternal life. Through him the Father gives life to men, dead because of sin, until he raises up their mortal bodies in Christ.

The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful as in a temple. He prays in them and bears witness in them to their adoption as sons. He leads the Church into all truth and gives it unity in communion and in service. He endows it with different hierarchical and charismatic gifts, directs it by their means, and enriches it with his fruits. By the power of the Gospel he enables the Church to grow young, perpetually renews it, and leads it to complete union with its Bridegroom. For the Spirit and the Bride say to the Lord Jesus: "Come!"

In this way the Church reveals itself as a people whose unity has its source in the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The whole company of the faithful, who have an anointing by the Holy Spirit, cannot err in faith. They manifest this distinctive characteristic of theirs in the supernatural instinct of faith ('sensus
fidei') of the whole people when, from the bishops to the most ordinary lay person among the faithful, they display a universal agreement on matters of faith and morals.

This instinct of faith is awakened and kept in being by the Spirit of truth. Through it the people of God hold indefectibly to the faith once delivered to the saints, penetrate it more deeply by means of right judgement, and apply it more perfectly in their lives. They do all this under the guidance of the sacred teaching office: by faithful obedience to it they receive, not the word of men but in truth the word of God.

Moreover, the Holy Spirit not only sanctifies and guides God's people by the sacraments and the ministries, and enriches it with virtues, he also distributes special graces among the faithful of every state of life, assigning his gifts to each as he chooses. By means of these special gifts he equips them and makes them eager for various activities and responsibilities that benefit the Church in its renewal or its increase, in accordance with the text: To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for a good purpose.

These charisms, the simpler and more widespread as well as the most outstanding, should be accepted with a sense of gratitude and consolation, since in a very special way they answer and serve the needs of the Church.

Fuller Seminary & the Saints

Richard J. Mouw, the current President of Fuller Theological Seminary (one of my alma maters) has an intriguing article in the Christian Century about his changing attitude toward the Catholic belief in the communion of saints. It is the subject of much discussion on Amy Welborn's blog this morning.

Mouw has his own blog and his post of April 7 illustrates clearly the sort of currents flowing through intellectually oriented evangelicalism right now:

"There is a very strange ad in the current issue of Crisis, a conservative Catholic magazine. Billed as “An Appeal from Faithful Catholics to America’s Bishops,” it issues this plea: “Please Protect the Body and Blood of Christ from Pro-Abortion ‘Catholic’ Politicians.” I don’t pretend to be able to give advice to Catholic bishops about their sacramental policies, but I certainly don’t think that in either their theology or mine the Body and Blood of Christ need to be “protected” from Catholic politicians who defend Roe v. Wade.

Actually, I may end up being a part of a group that does give some kind of Eucharistic advice to the Catholic bishops. I am presently co-chairing, along with Bishop Patrick Cooney of the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan, the official Reformed-Catholic dialogue. The four Reformed denominations are the United Church of Christ; the Presbyterian Church (USA), which I represent; the Reformed Church in America; and the Christian Reformed Church. We are just finishing up a few years of talking about baptism and will soon get started on the Eucharist.

In the Reformed congregations in which I was raised, there was never any suggestion that the Table needed to be protected from threats posed by sinners. Indeed, it was the other way around: we were the ones who needed protecting. We were constantly warned against eating and drinking “unworthily,” lest we do so “to our own damnation.”

I broke with that tradition of “fencing the table” in two stages. The first occurred in a kind of instinctive manner. When Phyllis and I first moved to Pasadena, we worshipped frequently at All Saints Episcopal Church, in good part because they had a active program working against South African apartheid, and having worked hard on that issue in my Grand Rapids days I joined the cause at All Saints. Each Sunday when the time came for the Eucharist, the rector, George Regas, would say in a gentle Southern drawl, “Wherever you are in your journey of faith, we welcome you now to this Table.” Even though I had questions about the theology at work there, that felt right to me.

One Sunday I noticed Dr. Art Glasser in line to receive communion at All Saints; Art is a conservative Presbyterian (PCA), but his wife Alice was an active member at All Saints. The next day I went to Art (a Fuller colleague) and asked him how he worked all of that out theologically. “Oh, Richard,” he said, “long ago I was convinced by John Wesley that the Eucharist has an important evangelistic function!”

That too seemed right to me, but I still had to get past the I Corinthians 11 passage about eating and drinking unworthily, which had been so prominent in my upbringing. When I actually studied the passage in its context, I made my peace. Paul begins by chiding the members of Corinth for making a gluttonous meal out of it. They were overeating, and even getting drunk on the wine. It is with that in mind that he tells them that they are treating as if it were just another meal, and by not approaching the Lord’s Supper with respect they are risking judgment. There is nothing in what Paul says that would suggest that an honest seeker who is drawn to the Table without yet having a well-formed faith will be damned for partaking.

I hope that my thinking about the Eucharist will get further clarified in my forthcoming discussions in the Reformed-Catholic dialogue. To be sure, I doubt that my Catholic partners will be very interested in any practical advice I might have to offer. But if anyone does ask, I’ll tell them that, on my reading, the Crisis ad is very confused. While, like the persons who published the ad, I don’t agree with the pro-abortion politicians, I do hope they will continue to feel drawn to the Table of the Lord."

Many of the old anti-Catholic barriers have fallen but where that will lead?

As Mouw shows, it is most often the influence of articulate Catholics that evangelicals respect and trust, whom they know to be thoughtful, serious intentional disciples, that open new windows on the Christian faith for evangelicals.

It is an important spiritual work of mercy in our day.

Catholic Quote of the Day

"The laity derive the right and duty to the apostolate from their union with Christ the head; incorporated into Christ's Mystical Body through Baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation, they are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord himself . . .

For the exercise of this apostolate, the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the People of God through ministry and the sacraments gives the faithful special gifts also (cf. 1 Cor 12:7), "allotting them to everyone according as he wills" (1 Cor 12:11) in order that individuals, administering grace to others just as they have received it, may also be "good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1 Pt 4:10), to build up the whole body in charity (cf. Eph 4:16). From the acceptance of these charisms, including those which are more elementary, there arise for each believer the right and duty to use them in the Church and in the world for the good of men and the building up of the Church, in the freedom of the Holy Spirit who "breathes where he wills" (Jn 3:8)."

The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, 3
Second Vatican Council

Images of Pentecost

From Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry

I love the fact that the Wicki article where I found this notes that this image's copyright has expired.

Ya think?

A New Wave of Evangelists?

There are so many dynamic programs of evangelization and formation cropping up for high school and college students that it is hard to keep track. But here are a couple more and they are very media savvy:

St. Paul's Outreach in Minneapolis "Our Mission: To Engage Young Adults in a Life of Christian Discipleship."

Like many of these groups, St. Paul's is holding Schools of Evangelization and training what they call a "Missionary Corps" to do evangelization among high school and college students and young adults.

And then there is Youth Arise North America
Youth Arise is an international movement that emerged in the mid 90's in Malta out of a Catholic charismatic covenant community. (Youth Arise will be sponsoring a "festival" as part of World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008.)

Anyway, Youth Arise North America is sponsoring a national gathering (Arise 07) in Prescott, Arizona this weekend and they aren't shy when it comes to describing their purpose:

We are a generation of young adults in pursuit of truth. We have seen the offerings of this culture and we are not satisfied. We are thirsty, for it is a dry well. But we have tasted and seen Him, and He is glorious. Immense. Loving. Breath-taking. Worthy.

We are a generation raised by John Paul II. We are ready to go where God leads, to do what pleases Him, and to live lives that proclaim God's glory, His grandeur, His renown, and His love. We want to live lives that count. We want to be among the saints that have gone before us and become the generation that reverses the tide of a crumbling society. We shall not be afraid.

So we will unite at a college campus in Prescott, Arizona for 4 days of worship, teaching, and fellowship—with our hearts set upon His Most Sacred Heart.

The JP II generation - on-fire intentional disciples and yet, if you watch the video on their homepage, obviously not traditionalist.

Now if only our parishes, Newman centers, and these sorts of ministries were all working together: on the same page, with the same purpose: Raising up the disciples, apostles, and saints of the 21st century.

A Doctor is Healed

Dr. Joe McKenna's testimony was posted this morning on the Madonna House blog website:

The turning point?

"But I still was not taking my faith seriously enough. Then an eight-year struggle with back disease and constant pain brought me for healing prayer to a small charismatic community. There I got to know spiritually committed Christians for the first time.

I decided to learn more about this life in the Spirit they talked about, and as a result, I made a firm commitment to turn away from sin. Soon after that, I was prayed 'over, and my back was totally healed.

But far more significant than the physical healing, genuine repentance and the sacrament of reconciliation had a great cathartic effect, lifting the sense of guilt and despair from my spirit.

Recognizing that we are eternal beings and that the earthly portion of our eternal existence is infinitesimal was an important breakthrough for me. Equally important, I now discovered the spiritual component in disease."

It changed his practice of medicine:

"Early in my newfound approach to cancer management, God showed me the importance of prayer in conjunction with the standard forms of treatment. When I prayed over the dying mother of an Italian family, both she and her family received dramatic spiritual healing.

This incident encouraged me to be bolder in praying for others. I began to do so even while operating and had some dramatic results.

This power is available to all who wish to plug into the Source: an all-loving God."

"My primary objective now in all my patient contact is to help people save their souls and to bring them closer to God."

A Surprising Ecumenism at CELAM

John Allen had an interesting set of observations about the gathering of Latin American bishops yesterday.

"To be sure, several bishops have complained of aggressive “proselytism” by Pentecostal and Evangelical groups. Guatemala’s Ramazzini, for example, said that 20 years ago these groups launched a well-organized campaign called “New Dawn,” which aimed at making 50 percent of the Guatemalan population Protestant by the end of the century. By most measures, it worked; in 1970, according to a national census, Guatemala was 88 percent Catholic, while in 2002 the official number was 52.6 percent. Many religious sociologists believe that today, Guatemala is Latin America’s first majority Protestant nation."

Sherry's comment:

I'm sure that "New Dawn" is a reference to the Discipling a Whole Nation movement (DAWN) that I wrote about in my article on Independent Christianity.

Starting thousands of brand new small evangelizing Christian communities is known as “saturation church planting” and has become the central strategy in both evangelical and Independent missions over the past 20 years.

As the DAWN (Discipling a Whole Nation) movement puts it: “the whole Church of a whole nation is committed to reach the goal of seeing Christ become incarnate in every small group in every village and neighborhood and for every class, kind and condition of man. This means having at least one gathering of believers sharing Christ within easy access of every person in each country.”

DAWN’s webpage on its ministry in Latin America puts it this way: “Evangelical Christians compose 18.35% of the population. This percentage has been the result of a massive church planting effort in the last ten years. The rest of the population is primarily Catholic—characterized by the popular religiosity and nominalism found in the region... we have established a goal for the next 15 years to challenge, train, and mobilize the church and its leadership to plant 3 million NEW healthy, holistic, and harvesting churches.

Saturation church planting is very much a present reality, not just a past campaign. And it is an approach being used all over the world, not just in Latin America.

It has long been predicted that Guatemala would become the first majority Protestant country in Latin America. Whether or not that has actually happened at this point is still unclear - but the fact that the question is being seriously raised shows what a massive transition has gone on in that country since 1970 when it was still 88% Catholic.

In the midst of all this, Allen points out the surprise: creeping ecumenism.

"For one thing, the assembly includes seven observers from various Christian bodies, including the Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist and Pentecostal traditions, as well as representative of Latin American Judaism.

Towards the end of last week, the “representatives of the Reformation,” as the Protestant observers were designated, had the opportunity to address the bishops. Néstor Oscar Míguez, a Methodist pastor from Argentina, spoke on behalf of the group, urging that the “diverse Christian presence” in Latin America not be marked by “confrontation and competition,” but by “the common vocation to be disciples and missionaries of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Latin American Protestantism has an anti-Catholic tradition within it that makes US anti-Catholicism pale by comparison. So this is really significant - but the majority of the Reformed "representatives" are from main-line denominations. I doubt that any represent Independent churches.

But just as in the US, it is common cause in social issues that is making allies out of historic enemies.

"Observers say that one factor driving this new ecumenical sensitivity in Latin America is awareness that despite inter-confessional rivalries, there is also tremendous opportunity for common cause on social and political concerns.

In Brazil, for example, where the Minister of Health has recently floated the idea of broader legalization for abortion, it’s generally the Pentecostals who are most receptive to a pro-life message."

Harold Segura, the Baptist delegate to CELAM, has his own blog where he has been posting in English as well as Spanish:

"Ecumenism is not merely a matter of specialized theologians enclosed with monastic walls, deciphering the mysteries that separate them and arriving at fixed agreements," Segura wrote. "Ecumenism has another dimension, that of daily life, of respect among people who do not believe the same thing, of easy friendship among those who are different, of courtesy which is a sign of charity and a breath of a new world. ... Without renouncing our faith, we can stop our hatreds and give testimony to reconciliation."

Monday, May 21, 2007

Ask, Seek, Knock

"Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.

For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Matthew 7:7,8

"Anything God has ever done, He can do now.
Anything that God has ever done anywhere, He can do here.
Anything that God has ever done for anyone, He can do
for you."

A. W. Tozer

Images of Pentecost

We are hoping to post images, prayers, writings of the fathers, saints, and popes regarding Pentecost during this week leading up to the Feast. Here's the first

From the parish website of St. Therese of Carmel, Carmel, California.


The New Monastics

On the American Public Media website you can download a podcast version of an interview of Shane Claiborne, a 31-year old founder of the 10-year old intentional community in north Philadelphia called, "The Simple Way." It's a wonderful example of intentional Christian discipleship. You can link to it by clicking on the title of this post.

Listening to the interview, led by Krista Tippett, I kept thinking of my own life, of enthusiasm for a prophetic lifestyle that has waned over the years as a member of an established religious community. Many people might dismiss Mr. Claiborne and his community as 21st century hippies, or idealists. Perhaps there are similarities. But this group of Evangelicals, Catholics and others who had grown disillusioned with accomodation to nationalism, capitalism, and laws that tend to divide people from one another are drawing inspiration from the New Testament and its practitioners. Their heroes and models are St. Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Teresa.

They are not at all drawing away from the world. Rather, they are looking at local problems in the inner city where they live and asking, "how can we creatively respond to these issues in the light of faith." I wouldn't be surprised if the charisms of mercy and wisdom might not be driving this community, with perhaps a whiff of prophecy as well.

One of the stories Shane told in the interview was of a married couple in their 50's who had never been able to have children. One day in their neighborhood they came across a young homeless woman who was six months pregnant. They decided to invite her to come live with them until she had her baby. They hit it off from the start, and after the baby was born, they welcomed her to continue to live with them. Eventually they told her, "You're helping us live our dream. What dream do you have, and can we help you follow it?" She said she'd always wanted to be a nurse. So they put her through nursing school, and took care of her child when she was in class. Now ten years have passed, and she still lives with the married couple, and works as a nurse. Her daughter is ten years old.

The married woman now has multiple sclerosis, but has a nurse living in her home to help care for her.

I encourage you to listen to the interview. Then look around your own neighborhood and see if there's something Jesus might be inviting you to do.

Shane Claiborne has also written a book titled, "The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical." You can find it at

If you want to read more about "The Simple Way," check out their website at

hat tip: Sue Gifford, Oregon State Newman Center

"Saint Bombing" the Campus at Oregon State

via Amy Welborn:

A creative approach to Catholic evangelization on campus in Corvallis, OR:

"Well, some friends of mine got the idea to "Saint bomb" campus. Using chalk, hundreds of Catholic Saint names were written all over campus last week. This was done during perhaps the busiest week of spring term. Many events took place this week on the Quad. The Genocide Awareness Project came to the quad, drawing a large number of people. The "Snow in the Quad" (put on by the Protestant apparel designer CIVIL) came to set up the next day. The Relay for Life event happened at night on the quad, which meant hundreds of students were walking by Saint names nonstop all night long. We also used chalk to advertise Mass times. Lots of exposure for the Church!

The Newman Center had a booth set up inside the Memorial Union building with a "Find your Saint" computer set up. Some non-Catholics came by to find their Saints. Other Catholics who haven't been to Church for a while saw their confirmation Saint name on the ground. Other Catholics got a lot of joy to see the names and to see Christ's presence in a tangible form on campus. And some others were annoyed at the audacity of these students.

We are trying to get more exposure to this project, so if you'd like to link to this video, please do! We'd like to see others get this idea, and maybe do it at their campus, to remind wayward Catholics of their roots and to show a strong presence of Faith! The response we've gotten from people around the community has been amazing, and the priests loved it!

One more thing to note... we got permission from the Memorial Union (the student union on campus) as well as the Church before doing this."

And naturally, the students have got a You tube video up:

Sue Gifford, the Catholic campus minister there, is a good friend of Fr. Mike's and has commented sometimes on ID.

What's the word on the street, Sue?

This Year's New Priests

USA Today has an article about the 475 men preparing for ordination to the priesthood in the next few weeks in the U.S. Interestingly, 9% have been touched by the Iraq war or served in the military before responding to a call to serve the Church, according to a survey by the USCCB. Of those who served in the military, one-third were in the Air Force.

"The 2007 class of priests includes a widower whose son was serving in Iraq when he became a deacon last year, and a 16-year Air Force veteran who flew B-52 bombers and saw combat in the Persian Gulf War. It also includes a graduate of the US Naval Academy who served on nuclear submarines before becoming a businessman and then joining a religious order."

"As in past years, most new priests worked at other vocations before deciding to take their vows. One in 10 were teachers. Others were skilled laborers, farmers, fishermen, salesmen and computer technicians. The group includes a professional pilot who once owned a hot-air balloon company, a retired bank president, an ad agency executive and a double bass player. Other class notes:

- The average age is 35, two years younger than in 2006. That's the first decline in age since 1998, when data were first collected. The youngest new priest is 25; the oldes is 68.

- One in three were born outside the USA, up from 24% in 1998. The largest number come from Vietnam, Mexico and Poland.

- There are more Asian and fewer Hispanics than the overall U.S. adult Catholic population. Asians make up 3% of American Catholics but 11% of new priests. Hispanics constitute 36% of Catholics but 11% of new priests."

The number of priestly ordinations has held stable at around 450 for the past five years, but during each of those years approximately 1300 priests have died or retired.

The Western Dominican Province is ordaining four men this June. All of them are younger than the average age for this country, and all of them entered immediately or shortly after finishing college. The eight-year Dominican formation they've gone through means they are all around thirty years old. You can read about them on our Province website at Two of them are interested in pursuing more education, one is interested in mission work, and one will be serving at the University of Arizona Catholic Campus Ministry, where I live when I'm not on the road.

In your experience, do you believe it makes a difference if a priest has had some kind of secular career prior to studying for priesthood? If so, in what ways do you believe they minister differently?

Walking Down the Road of Bittersweet

Check out this wonderful ministry - Prenatal Partners for Life - and pass it on to friends who might need it.


"Prenatal Partners for Life is a group of concerned parents (most of whom have or had a special needs child), medical professionals, legal professionals and clergy whose aim is to support, inform and encourage expectant or new parents.

We offer support by connecting parents facing an adverse diagnosis with other parents who have had the same diagnosis. We have many resources such as adoption agencies with clients waiting to adopt and love a special needs child should a parent feel they could not care for them.

We believe each child is a special gift from God."

They have a great list of links to resources for parents facing this crisis. Take the time to listen to the song that was written for them:

"Walking Down the Road of Bittersweet"

The "New Evangelicals" As Seen by the New York Times

New York Times is running a interesting article on the "New Evangelicals" emerging as the old standard bearers like Jerry Falwell, who merged conservative politics and the faith, die or retire from active leadership. (

As always, Rick Warren is held up as the new model:

"the new breed of evangelical leaders — often to the dismay of those who came before them — are more likely to speak out about more liberal causes like AIDS, Darfur, poverty and global warming than controversial social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage."

But the issue of abortion remains constant:

But the conservative legacy of the religious right persists, and abortion continues to be a defining issue, even a litmus test, for most evangelicals, including younger ones, according to interviews and survey data.

“The abortion issue is going to continue to be a unifying factor among evangelicals and Catholics,” said the Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, who is often held up as an example of the new model of conservative Christian leaders. “That’s not going to go away.”

The persistence of abortion as a core concern for evangelical voters, who continue to represent a broad swath of the Republican base, could complicate efforts by Rudolph W. Giuliani, who has been leading the Republican presidential field in nationwide polls, to get primary voters to move past the issue and accept his support for abortion rights.

Catholic Evangelization in Britain

Zenit is running a interesting interview this morning with the English priest who is director of the Catholic Agency to Support Evangelization (CASE) of the bishops' conference of England and Wales (

Via Indian Catholic: (

LONDON ( ): A new report on church attendance in the United Kingdom suggests that many Britons have no connection with organized religion, and that the majority of those who identify themselves as Christian never go to Church.

The Christian relief and development agency Tearfund released the report "Churchgoing in the U.K." in April, which revealed that more than half of those polled claim to be Christians.

Monsignor Keith Barltrop, director of the Catholic Agency to Support Evangelization (CASE) of the bishops' conference of England and Wales, tells ZENIT in this interview that the key to successful evangelization in the modern world is renewing a sense of confidence among Catholics in their faith.

Q: How did the decision by the bishops of England and Wales to establish CASE three years ago herald a change in the way the Church engages with evangelization?

Monsignor Barltrop: First of all, the decision to establish CASE heralded a recognition by the bishops that there was already a certain amount happening at grass roots level in England and Wales regarding evangelization, but it needed more official support and coordination if the challenges of 21st century Britain were to be met.

When the archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, asked me to help in setting up CASE, he told me that we needed to look at such new ecclesial movements and distil the secrets of their success into the mainstream of parish life, so that evangelization would no longer be a foreign, or even an embarrassing, concept to Catholics, but something they felt happy to engage in.

The bishops were thus trying to root in English and Welsh soil the understanding that Pope John Paul II gave the universal church -- that the time has come for a new evangelization. By that he meant that secularization had made such inroads into what were once Christian societies that the Church needed a new ardor and new methods in evangelization.

Q: What are the biggest obstacles to evangelization in Europe today?

Monsignor Barltrop: The biggest obstacles are sheer ignorance or "forgetting" of the Gospel, and the fact that many people who think they know what Christianity means actually have a distorted and woefully incomplete picture.

The "forgetfulness" of Christianity -- summed up in the well-known saying that "God is missing but not missed" -- is a phenomenon with a complex origin. In the 20th century the twin disasters of Communism and Fascism led people to become profoundly disillusioned with all attempts to explain and save the world. People have now become consumers of spirituality and religion, as they are of material products, and Catholic truth itself can become one more lifestyle option among others.

This problem is compounded by the way values of Christian origin -- such as justice, equality and human rights -- have become detached from their Christian roots and are now even being turned against the Church, so that the very proclamation of the truth is seen as somehow oppressive and destructive of human freedom and happiness. In such a world it becomes difficult to avoid the impression that evangelization is about clever manipulation of the truth or, even worse, associated with that fundamentalism which the modern world both fears and is, paradoxically, responsible for.

Q: Why is it often difficult to engage Catholics with the need to support evangelization?

Monsignor Barltrop: In Britain, one of the main factors is that evangelization is associated with a certain kind of Protestantism, or with related images such as people preaching aggressively on street corners and "televangelists" looking for money.

By making known a variety of Catholic methods of evangelization, and especially by associating it with the Eucharist and Eucharistic adoration, CASE tries to get across the message that there is a Catholic way of evangelizing.

There is also the problem that evangelization is seen as the preserve of specialists, but we want Catholics to see that it is fundamentally about living and sharing their faith in everyday life, with the people they meet at home, in the office or in their neighborhood.

This means Catholics need to recover a sense of confidence in their faith, and to see it as something coherent -- nothing less than the splendor which radiates meaning to every corner of the universe. Where there has been poor catechesis, liturgical deformation or a false understanding of ecumenism or interfaith work, Catholics lose the sense that the Gospel is a marvelous treasure that all need to hear.

Q: A report released recently by Tearfund on church attendance in the United Kingdom found that, while 53% of adults still claim to be Christian, only 15% attend church at least once a month. How do you explain this discrepancy?

Monsignor Barltrop: I think that by claiming to be Christian, people are saying they want to be associated with Christian values such as kindness, fairness and compassion. Obviously that is an inadequate understanding of Christian identity, which is actually based on faith in Christ leading to a personal relationship with him which can only be real if it is rooted in active membership of his body, the Church.

However, it does constitute a reminder to the Church that there is more good will and openness to the Christian faith in our society than we might think. It is up to us to find creative ways of engaging with whatever spiritual quest such people are on, however inadequate we judge its basis to be.

Q: How can the Church re-engage people with the Gospel who may never have encountered it?

Monsignor Barltrop: Through a change of mentality where we see ourselves as having something of immense value to offer everyone in our society, and through more imaginative methods.

As an example, I have just come back from a "Christian Spirituality Fair" in one of our Anglican cathedrals, at which I joined the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in blessing animals -- and people -- and in explaining the cross of San Damiano which spoke to St. Francis. We joined Christians of other denominations in reaching out to passers-by, yet were very clear about our Catholic faith and way of life. We have to believe fully in what Pope Paul VI called "the divine power of the message the Church proclaims," and look for creative ways to bring it to non-Christians.

Sherry's note:

The Catholic Church in Australia released a report a few years ago in which they estimated that 15% of the baptized attended Mass once a month. In Australia, attending once a month is the official definition of a "practicing" Catholic.

My Anti-Charism of Technology

Know what an anti-charism is?

It's a specific area of life where you suck love out of the world.

I have an anti-charism regarding technology: a seemingly supernatural power over technology. My mere presence makes it die or go into convulsions. Even Bill Gates with all of his Empire and all of his minions cannot thwart the terrible power of my anti-charism.

Blogger is now letting me post (why? why did it refuse me for two weeks and suddenly let me in again? Does anyone know?)

But new Blogger won't let me create links to other sites so I'm having to provide the whole url.

Hey you! Yes, you - normal person without an anti-charism and some experience of Blogger out there. Any ideas?

And Now for Prayer of a Global Kind

You knew that this coming Sunday is the Feast of Pentecost, right?

Well, an ecumenical movement will be celebrating Pentecost as the Global Day of Prayer. This is one of the offshoots of the global prayer movement that I described in my article on Independent Christianity.

The movement is multi-faceted:

For instance this is apparently a year of prayer for London ( Churches around the city each take a 24 hours period to pray for the city "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done." The prayer started late last fall.

But this Sunday, you can take part in the Global Day of Prayer London ( Notice that many of the "worship leaders" are black. This is an expression of the new British Christianity we've been hearing about - fueled by immigration from all over the world. It's multi-cultural, ecumenical, and charismatically flavored.

The organisers of the Global Day of Prayer London have expressed their hope that the event will encourage prayer participants to get involved in social action programmes seeking to combat some of the pressing issues facing Britain today.

That's not a surprise because the whole Global Day of Prayer movement began in Africa - with a vision received by a white South African Graham Power. As Christianity Today puts it: The Global Day of Prayer is an international prayer initiative that was started in 2001 by Power, a businessman, who felt God was calling him to bring South African churches together to pray. Over 45,000 Christians attended that event.

The vision was then expanded to the whole of the African continent in 2003 and in 2005 Christians from 156 nations took part in the first ever Global Day of Prayer. This grew last year as events took place in 199 nations. This year all nations are expected to take part.

In a letter sent around the globe, Power wrote: “Of the 21 nations which did not participate in 2006, good progress is being made in making contact. My request and plea is that you would pray for God to release 'believers' in those nations to join with you and I, and a likely 350 – 400 million Christians across the globe.”

Power will spend Pentecost climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with 100 other people, to pray for "repentance, revival and restoration for the whole world."

Closer to home, Global Day of Prayer, St. Louis ( will be meeting in the new Busch stadium on Pentecost evening. As they put it "Everyone who accepts the essential beliefs of Christianity as summarized in The Apostle's Creed and/or The Nicene Creed is encouraged to come."

Among the published co-sponsors in St. Louis are the priest in charge of eccumenical affairs for the Archdiocese, the leaders of the Catholic charismatic renewal, and the Rector of Rector Kenrick/Glennon Seminary.

Here's the website for the US ( and the global website ( in Spanish, Portuguese, and Polish as well.

Sherry's note: The organizers have an alert up regarding the last few countries in the world who haven't signed up to participate: There are 20, including North Korea, the Virgin Islands, and the Vatican.

Mirezo: Where Middle Ages & the 21st Century Meet

I don't quite know what to do with this.

For a mere $10 (US), you can have a prayer and blessing said for you at the Orthodox Church of the Anunciation in Nazareth and you can watch it live online.

The website is in English and the currency American but the name of the site is Spanish - Mirezo. (

The whole thing makes me a bit queasy but similar things have been done through Christian history - just not over the internet - via credit card - with your own account.

Now you know.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Fox News PIece on the Bo Go Light

Let There Be Light

It's almost unimaginable for us who spend so much of our lives in contact with the media but nearly two billion people on the planet today do not have access to affordable artificial light at night.

Today's New York Times has a fascinating article (
on a Houston oilman who spent 250,000 dollars of his own money to develop a inexpensive solar-powered flashlight which will last nearly 3 years between replacements of three 80 cent AA batteries.

“I find it hard sometimes to explain the scope of the problems in these camps with no light,” Mr. Bent said. “If you’re an environmentalist you think about it in terms of discarded batteries and coal and wood burning and kerosene smoke; if you’re a feminist you think of it in terms of security for women and preventing sexual abuse and violence; if you’re an educator you think about it in terms of helping children and adults study at night.”

As Peter Gatkuoth, a Sudanese refugee, wrote on “the importance of Solor.”

“In case of thief, we open our solor and the thief ran away,” he wrote. “If there is a sick person at night we will took him with the solor to health center.”

A shurta, or guard, who called himself just John, said, “I used the light to scare away wild animals.” Others said lights were hung above school desks for children and adults to study after the day’s work.

The flashlights usually sell for about $19.95 in American stores, but he has established a BoGo — for Buy One, Give One — program on his Web site,, where if you buy one flashlight for $25, he will buy and ship another one to Africa, and donate $1 to one of the aid groups he works with.

Check out BoGoLight - and consider becoming a light to the world in more than one way!

A Blessed Ascension

Cyril of Alexandria wrote regarding the Ascension of Our Lord, "As man then, Jesus appeared before the Father on our behalf, to enable us whom original sin had excluded from his presence once more to see the Father's face. As the Son he took his seat to enable us as sons and daughters through him to be called children of God. So Paul, who claims to speak for Christ, teaching that the whole human race has a share in the events of Christ's life, says that God has raised us up with him and enthroned us with him in heaven. To Christ as the Son by nature belongs the prerogative of sitting at the Father's side; this honor can rightly and truly be ascribed to him alone. Yet because his having become man means that he sits there as one who is in all respects like ourselves, as well as being as we believe God from God, in some mysterious way he passes this honor on to us."

I am a very privileged human being. I live a middle-class or better life. Moreover, I never worry about going hungry, being homeless or even unemployed. I have opportunities of which most people in this world never dream. So when problems arise in my life, or injury, either physical or emotional, or when someone I care about suffers, it's important for me to remember St. Paul's insight, "that the whole human race has a share in the events of Christ's life." That includes His suffering and death.

Human life is a repeating pattern: attachment, separation, loss, and recovery. It's a continual sharing in Christ's Paschal Mystery of life, death, resurrection and ascension. It begins for each of us as it began for Jesus: physical attachment to our mothers in the womb; birth, which is a death of the only existence we'd known to that point - a separation and loss that must happen if we are to continue to grow. Then begins our recovery. We enter into a new relationship not only with our mother, but with our father, our family, and a whole life of people who will become part of this new pattern we've joined. While Our Father knew us when we were being "fashioned in secret in our mother's womb" (Ps 139), we did not know Him. That begins with our baptism, and through the love we receive from those around us, and the grace the Father offers us as we grow in faith.

If we are to grow in Christ, this pattern must become conscious for each of us, as well as whole-heartedly embraced. For Jesus says, "Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self, take up his cross each day, and follow in my steps. Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." (Lk 9 :23-24) This takes daily acts of faith. We must trust that as we experience the loss of that to which we've grown attached, there is a recovery of something greater; and that "something greater" is a deeper union with Jesus, our Exemplar and Savior. In fact, we must choose these separations and losses, and not simply passively accept those that will inevitably come our way; choose them, and pursue only one attachment and consider all else as loss.

This is the Way we are to take, the path we must follow, in grace, if we would share in Jesus' resurrection, and join Him at His Father's - and Our Father's - side, in our true home.

This is so hard for me to write, because I am aware of some strong attachments I have, mostly to people. I can only imagine how someone with children might feel. But to become "unattached" to those we love doesn't mean we stop loving them. It means, among other things, we no longer try to possess them. We do not cling to them, try to keep them as they are, as Mary Magdalene may have tried to do with Jesus. (Jn 20:17) We do not try to mold them according to our image, but point them to Jesus, who would mold them into His image, whose love for them is far greater than our own, and who calls them from our side to His.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Catholic Quote of the Day

I used this in my long ago Master's Thesis on the discernment of vocation:

"Work is love made visible"

Khalil Gibran

That Tuscan Garden in the Rockies

May is a very busy month for me since I have two huge creative projects underway:

1. That Tuscan garden in the Rockies. Today I'm planting 100 plants in the two beds in back. In anticipation of the great reunion later this summer with Mark Shea and his family and "the Other Sherry" and her family here for two weeks. The locals who walk their dogs in the park behind the house are beginning to stop and monitor progress.

2. Making Disciples - this month is our last chance to do the major new work on our new four day training on helping ordinary people - Catholic or not, become intentional disciples. It's very exciting stuff but original work takes a lot of time. (See side bar on the right for more information)

Result: not much original blogging going on. Sorry.

I'll get back to it this weekend but right now, need to get out and begin planting before it gets too warm. When the whole thing is done, I'll post pictures.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Rocco Palmo: Confessions of a Bad Catholic

You have to love it!

Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia, king of Catholic ecclesial news, has written a lovely article for Busted Halo about the the Rev. Jerry Falwell. (
AlmostHoly16ThedeathofJerryFalwell.htm) Turns out that members of Rocco's family are part of Lynchburg Baptist and that Jerry Falwell was almost part of the family.

"It doesn’t say much for modern discourse that friendship, kindness and respect are often only given when we’ve vetted others enough to see how their worldviews mesh with our own. If we’re really going to preach a Gospel of Life, however, we’ve got to be prepared to live it, and not only when it’s easy or convenient.

I haven’t always seen eye to eye with Jerry Falwell—or, for that matter, with my relatives who have been part of his flock. But while ideas and teachings are one thing, their practice is entirely another. Catholic, Mainline or Evangelical, conservative, liberal, libertarian, or anywhere in between, those of us who call ourselves Christian all come from a tradition where we’re charged to love our neighbor as ourselves.

The living witness of my family’s faith and love was inspired by the example of the pastor who taught them more than all the acres of newsprint and airtime he ever garnered could ever hope to cover. To grieve their loss and pray alongside them, both in hope for the future and for their comfort in these difficult days, is the best—and only—Christian thing to do."

Rocco entitled his piece: Confessions of a bad Catholic...A death in the family. I knew exactly what he meant.

Those of us whose friends and family are strewn about the Christian world and across the political and cultural spectrum, can sometimes begin to wonder if we are a "bad Catholic" in the current climate because our relationships don't fit into purist cultural war categories.

I mean, how you can be friends with someone who is "one of the them?"

Easy. Because genuine goodness and lovebleness is so much larger than ideology.

New addition to St. Blog's...

For those who have not yet run across it, there is a smart new blog in town: Vox Nova. Its a group blog devoted to an ongoing discussion regarding the application of Catholic Social Doctrine in contemporary society. Those who are familiar with St. Blog's should recognize some of the contributors and, moreover, should recognize that they represent a fairly wide spectrum with regard to their political backgrounds. I say 'fairly' because, in my opinion, it could be a little wider. That said, it seems to be a promising new site. Check out Katerina's (from Evangelical Catholicism) posts on the principles of CSD here: part 1, part 2.

I think the blog underscores something important regarding Catholic Social Principles: Catholics don't need to achieve some kind of exhaustive ideological consensus in order to apply them. The Church asks people of all political and ideological stripes to apply them toward the common good of society. Not that the principles won't ever challenge our deeply held beliefs. Part of being a Catholic means being able to critically examine such beliefs in light of what the Church says about the human person and his or her role in society. Anyway, I wish the folks at Vox Nova well. Drop by for a look around.


Yes, folks, it exists. (Blogger is giving me fits again - you'll find it at Read the "testimony" on the first page. Note this paragraph:

"I learned that Spain was a Muslim country for almost a thousand years and that when the Muslims were expelled from Spain by the Christian king and Queen (Ferdanand and Isabela), the Christian Spaniards came to Mexico and forced the Aztecs and others to become Catholic, history and my Islamic roots was all becoming clear to me."

As I browsed around the site briefly. I can across another curious comment: That when Christopher Columbus had reached the New World, he found mosques there.

Someone is creating a convenient alternate history and these converts don't know it is bogus. So now Spanish history is really Islamic history. hmmm

A "Closed Jewel Box": Christianity and Muslims in Europe

Still on the same basic theme, here is a fascinating article (in a English language Polish periodical for the Polish diaspora, Sunday Catholic Week) on Muslims who convert to Christianity. The authors tracked down and interviewed 30 converts who were convinced to tell their story.

I found this last paragraph especially moving:

"Muslim converts are also a great challenge for the Church because they are elements of 'the spring' of Christianity in the times where in many countries it has stopped being 'the agent' of existence and has become only 'a decoration'. Meeting these new Christians, coming from Islam, we were impressed by their enthusiasm and courage. 'You do not realise what treasure you have... Jesus Christ has revolutionised our lives'.

Certain Algerian told us, 'You possess a closed jewel case in which you have a treasure. We come to your churches and cannot see this treasure; we come to your country and see a closed case. You should keep it open because it contains treasures for all people. You are shy and ashamed of Jesus instead of promoting Jesus to immigrants'. We saw extremely living faith in those converts and that makes us aware that Christ has brought about a real revolution in the world."

Thursday, May 17, 2007


The extraordinary Abuna (Fr.) Elias Chacour of northern Galilee, has spent the last 25 years in an extraordinarily creative work of peace-making between Palestinians and Israelis.

Operating out of the tiny Arab town of Ibillin since 1965, Chacour has created a huge educational facility, the Mar Elias Educational Institutions,
where thousands of Arab and Israeli students study together in Arabic, Hebrew, and Arabic.

Chacour, who has been nominated for the Noble Peace Prize three times, was named
Archbishop of Galilee of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in 2006. He is the first Hebrew speaking Melkite Archbishop.

His book Bloodbrothers,
describes his childhood growing up in the town of Biriam in Northern Israel, his development into a young man, and his early years as a Priest in the Melkite (Greek Catholic) Church in Ibillin, Galilee. This book has been translated into 28 languages.

Abuna Elias (as he is still known) writes:

"We have at Mar Elias College a memorial for the "holocaust" it is two circular walls facing each
other thus making a perfect circle. On each of the walls we engraved a statement : one in Arabic and one in Hebrew. This reads "Memorial for the Palestinian martyrs" and that " Memorial for the Jewish martyrs".

The whole place is named "LISTENING POST" listen to the martyrs. They would say all
together with one voice :" ENOUGH MARTYRS".

It is insane to continue with the satanic method: reaction--reaction; violence for violence; teeth for
one is time that we introduce the freedom on the One hanging on the cross, I mean our
Compatriot , Jesus from Nazareth. The ultimate expression of freedom was expressed while He was hanging on the cross: FATHER FORGIOVE THEM , THEY DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY
DO '"

Catholic Near East Welfare Association

is the papal humanitarian agency that supports Christians from the historic Christian East – that is, those lands in which, from ancient times, Christians belonged to the various Eastern churches.

That includes the Middle East, northern Africa and India as well as eastern Europe and increasingly immigrants from these areas to the west.

"From training priests to serve the people of God in India to providing clean water systems to war-damaged villages in Lebanon – from providing job opportunities to unemployed Palestinians to caring for orphaned children in Ethiopia – from providing health care to the poor in Iraq to awarding scholarships for Orthodox priests to study in Catholic universities in Rome, CNEWA connects generous North Americans with those in need living in some of the remotest parts of the world."

It's a very important work. Worth checking out and supporting.

Christians in the Muslim World

What are we talking about?

According to the World Christian Database, here are the approximate numbers of Christians in areas of the world that are majority Muslim as of 2005:

In Western Asia (or what most of us would think of as “the middle east”:

There are 13 million Christians or 6% of a total population of 214 million (189 million Muslims).

4 million are Catholic, 8 million are Orthodox. The majority of the rest of the Christian population (700,000) are Independents. (For more on Independent Christianity, go here)

North Africa (which includes Egypt)

There are 17 million Christians or 9% of the total population of 191 million (167 million Muslims)

4 million are Catholic, 10 million are Orthodox. 500,000 are historic Protestants.

In western
Africa (which would include Nigeria and Senegal):

There are 93 million Christians or 35% of the total population of 264 million. (122 million Muslims, 47 million traditional religionists).

32 million are Catholic, 33 million are Independents, 30.5 million are historic Protestants.

In south central
Asia (which includes Iran, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan who are overwhelmingly Muslim, but also India, the center of Hinduism)

76.5 million Christians or 4.75% of the overall population of 1.6 billion. (555 million Muslims, 851 million Hindus)

23 million are Catholic, 30 million are Independents. 22 million are historic Protestants, 5.5 million are Orthodox.

Indonesia (the largest majority Muslim country in the world):

29 million Christians or 13% of the total population of 223 million. (125 million Muslims)

6.5 million are Catholic. 14 million are historic Protestants. 8 million are Independents.

So we end up with a rough figure of 229 million Christians in these 5 areas immersed in a sea of 2.5 billion people: 1.28 billion Muslims and 851 million Hindus – and various other smaller religious traditions.

Overall Christians make up 9% of the population in the 5 areas, Muslims 51%.

The 229 million Christians in the 5 areas are split pretty evenly between Catholics 69.5 million (30%), Independents 71.7 million (30.5%), historic Protestants 67 million (29%) with a significant minority of Orthodox 23.5 million (10.3%).

From another perspective, you could say that historic, liturgical Christians make up about 41% of the total and the Reformation heritage Christians about 59%.

Obviously, which Christian tradition dominates depends upon where you live. In western Asia and north Africa, the ancient centers of Christianity, it is historic Christianity that constitutes the majority. In the newly evangelized areas of western Africa, south central Asia, and Indonesia, Independents lead the way with historic Protestants a strong second.

One result: historic Christian communities who have lived in majority Muslim cultures for many centuries and experienced long, slow attrition under difficult circumstances, can have a different take on their situation than the relatively “new” Reformation heritage communities who only arrived in the area in the 19th century for the first time and have experienced sometimes remarkable growth in the past few decades.

To maintain our perspective, we must remember that Catholic Christians are a minority among a minority. 2.78% of the population in the majority Muslim world is Catholic but that number only represents 30% of the entire Christian population in the region. Our experience is important but is only one part of the whole.

A Good Day to Pray for Christians in the Muslim World

I think I see a theme for today's blogging:

The situation of Christians in the Muslim world and (as Fr. Mike posted below), how to respond, as intentional disciples, to real world oppression and violence.

First of all, a reminder: Please pray for the Christians of Pakistan today who are facing an ultimatum from local Muslim extremists.

And another note: This topic seems to draw out the extremists on all sides so I’m just letting you know now. Comments that advocate violence towards anyone for any reason or are filled with bizarre conspiracy theories will be deleted immediately without apology or explanation. And the usual rules here at ID apply: Assume the good will and truthfulness of other posters; no ad hominems; never tell or imply that anyone is not a “real” Catholic or Christian or should leave the Church.


Read this moving article from Catholics News Report about the real life struggles of Christians in Gaza who are trapped in the middles of the fighting between Fatah and Hamas factions. It's the details that say so much. Imagine for a moment, that it is your children and your neighborhood:

"Exploding violence in the Gaza Strip has left the people weeping and trapped in a war zone, said a local parish priest.

"We are very anxious about our students. This has touched us through our students," said Msgr. Manuel Musallam of Holy Family Parish in
Gaza. The priest added that anyone who could get out of Gaza had left.

In a May 16 telephone interview, he told Catholic News Service that after days of intensive infighting between gunmen of the Palestinian Hamas and Fatah factions, he had offered to protect local children at the church, but there was no safe way to get them to the building.

Msgr. Musallam said he closed the parish elementary and high schools May 16 although students were in the middle of exams, because there was a "feeling of deep anxiety" among the students and their parents.

Still, Anas Farah,16, walked to school, passing 18 checkpoints manned by gunmen because he wanted to complete his exams. Msgr. Musallam said he intended to keep the boy at the school until the area was safe, but after a few hours the boy, eager to go home, left the school on his own.

Two prominent pro-Fatah families, who were attacked and had members killed by militant Hamas forces May 15, have children in the parish school, said Msgr. Musallam. The children were in the house while the battles raged inside and outside, he said.

Many of the students live in high-rise buildings that have been taken over by gunmen, and the fighting is taking place on the streets in front of their homes, he said.

"It is a war," he added.

Hospitals were running out of blood to treat the wounded and had no means of receiving blood donations, Msgr. Musallam told CNS.

Dr. Bandali el Sayegh, Caritas Jerusalem clinic director in Gaza, said he could not open the clinic May 16 because many of the workers could not get there. Caritas Jerusalem is the local agency of Caritas Internationalis, the umbrella organization of national Catholic charitable agencies.

El Sayegh said that by
midday he had treated three wounded people near his home.

And this poignant observation from Omar Shaban, Catholic Relief Services' Gaza project manager. CRS is the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency.

"Most people who remain in the Gaza Strip are there simply because they cannot leave, he said. They must get a visa just to visit nearby Egypt or a travel permit to visit family members in Israel or the West Bank, he said.

"It has become a nightmare. This time I want to take care of my children. They have no future here, but where will I go,
Norway, Holland, Israel?" Shaban asked.

He said young people and those not involved in the fighting are eager to leave but that the exodus would leave only extremist elements, which would make
Gaza a powder keg of violence.

"At the end of the day
Gaza will be left with people who do not believe in peace and the extremists will be fighting each other and Israel," he said. "If people like me leave the country, who will teach our children about peace, about stability, about talking to the other?

"What kind of education will they have? It is very depressing," said Shaban. "This is not only about the present, it is also about the future. This will end our future."

Following Christ in a Time of Violence

Last night at a Knights of Columbus meeting the lector read a letter he believed had been written by a housewife from New Jersey. This morning I read that it was actually penned by Doug Patton, a free-lance writer and political speechwriter. Both claims were found on the internet, and, like so many things on the internet, I'm not quite sure what to believe. A discussion of the "letter" can be found at

The letter basically says, "I don't care" about the rights or religious sentiments of Muslim radicals. The writer indicated she/he is Christian, that Jesus died for our soul, and a G.I. dies for our freedom. At the Knights meeting, the lector prefaced by saying that the emotions were pretty raw, and that he was presenting it as food for thought. At its conclusion many of the members of the Knights applauded. The Grand Knight asked me if I had any words to add.

I stood up and tried to explain that we do need to care. If we don't we begin to imitate the violence we say we hate.

This morning, I was thinking that I wished I had said, "Jesus said we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, to pray to Our Father, 'forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.'" I wished I had remembered to point out that Jesus said these words in the midst of his country that was occupied by the superpower of his age, and that he had undoubtedly witnessed the crucifixion of some of his own countrymen, since it is estimated that thousands were killed in that way during his lifetime.

Jesus lived in an extremely violent environment, which included insurgents called sicarii who cut the throats of Roman soldiers and sympathizers when they were about in public crowds. One of Jesus' own disciples, Judas Iscariot (a form of the word sicarii) was a former zealot.

The teaching of Jesus regarding how we respond to our enemies is extremely challenging, but was not formulated in a nice, safe environment, but in one that was rife with sentiment not unlike that of today's Muslim extremist. It seems obvious what Jesus would say to the insurgent/terrorist. We need to hear him saying it to us, as well.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Barb Nicolosi & A Severe Mercy

Barb Nicolosi has been asked to write the screenplay for the film version of "A Severe Mercy". She announced it on her blog May 7 but I'm so far behind the times that I just noticed. Better late than never - I thought I'd let our readers know.

Barb is really excited about this one and so am I. If you have never read "A Severe Mercy", do so now!

Sheldon Vanauken, who wrote the book about the extraordinary love that he shared with his wife, Davy, and the sorrow of her early death, was one of the ten people that I studied for my Master's thesis on the discernment of vocation.

Barb is very funny. I laughed out loud at her comparison of the woes of a screen-writer with those of the guy bagging groceries:

"I often experience envy of the guy down at the hall who bags groceries at Mayfair. Nobody ever takes him aside at the end of the night and says, 'What did you mean by putting that shampoo in with the Raisin Bran? And in a paper bag?!??! Don't you realize that every other grocery bagger is packing cereal and hair products just that way? How could you be so unoriginal? It just doesn't work for me.

And that weird little thing you did with letting the lettuce peak out of the top of one of the bags? What the hell was that? The customer isn't going to get it, when the lettuce is all wilted by the time she gets home. You are going to have to find another way. Tomorrow we will talk about this weird cliche you use in putting the heavy stuff on the bottom of the bags. Get over it already. "


A Rich Young Man . . . and Bella

Interesting story via Catholic News Service this morning about the conversion of a hugely successful Mexican actor and how it led to the creation of a new film company and the movie "Bella".

"If the story of the rich young man from the Gospel of Matthew had a sequel updated for modern times, it might resemble the life of actor Eduardo Verastegui, a Catholic who stars in the film "Bella." In the Gospel account, Jesus tells the young man to sell all he has and follow him, but the man goes away sorrowful. In the modern-day sequel, Verastegui sells all he has and is prepared to give up his budding acting career to follow Jesus. Verastegui had reached the zenith of Mexican celebrity as a soap star and singer who had toured at least 13 countries to sold-out crowds. His resume includes music videos and films.

But while studying English in Los Angeles, he found himself drawn to a deeper faith in Jesus through the example of his Catholic teacher, and began to see all the reasons he had wanted to be an actor -- fame, money and pleasure -- as empty and vain. In 2004 he met movie producer Leo Severino while attending daily Mass. Not long after, Verastegui and Severino co-founded Metanoia Films to produce movies that could change lives and hearts. "Bella," released in 2006, is Metanoia's first film. It won the coveted People's Choice Award at last fall's Toronto Film Festival."

Here's the website for Bella and Metania Films. Here's a review of Bella.

Finding God on Campus

Here's a fascinating initiative that is impacting campuses. The Veritas Forum was founded at Harvard in 1992 and has spread to over 50 campuses across the country.

Veritas Forums are university events that engage students and faculty in discussions about life's hardest questions and the relevance of Jesus Christ to all of life. The forums are created by local university students, professors, and ministers while shaped and guided by the national Veritas Forum team. A full blown forum lasts 3 -5 days and attempts to engage the entire campus community.

The first Veritas Forum, which was spearheaded by Kelly Monroe, drew 700 to a weekend of open lectures, discussions, films, and workshops and gave rise to the book: "Finding God at Harvard". As Kelly Monroe puts it: "The goal of veritas is not religion. The goal is life."

Catholic scholars and students routinely participate in Veritas gatherings (which are fully ecumenical) although they are most commonly sponsored by a coalition of evangelical campus ministries.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

More on Hispanic Catholics and the Charismatic

Here is an interesting National Catholic Reporter article on Rubén Davalos, the new Director of Evangelization and Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Tucson. Apparently, encountering the charismatic renewal was the turning point in his life.

The article points that Hispanics who become involved with the Catholic charismatic renewal are more Catholic in their practice and other Hispanic Catholics.

They’re still Catholic and more fervent Catholics, in many ways, than those who don’t describe themselves as charismatic.”

More than half of Hispanic charismatic Catholics pray the Rosary at least once a month, far more than the third of non-charismatic Catholics who do. They also go to confession more frequently than non-charismatic Catholics, and nearly nine out of 10 venerate the Blessed Mother, twice the total for Catholics in the United States as a whole."

Once again, the article draws upon the research done by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public life.

"For Alejandro Aguilara-Titus, assistant director of the Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the “cross-fertilization” of Latin cultures, as well as Hispanic and non-Hispanic populations, means “Catholics will continue to learn from each other.”

The surge in charismatic worship reflects “a traditional Hispanic desire for a deeply felt kind of relationship with God,” and the embrace of the movement, even in association with Protestant Pentecostal Christians, “doesn’t mean they lose their Catholic identity.”

He said, “With a Marian dimension and devotions to the saints,” Hispanic charismatic worship “is a very Hispanic way of celebrating the faith.”

Catholic Quote of the Day

Imagine Christ without disciples, without followers;
imagine Jesus without apostles; doesn't it seem absurd?

Mexican Archbishop Robles Díaz was the apostolic nuncio to Cuba and former vice president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. He said this in an interview with the FIDES news agency days before he died suddenly on April 7, at age 69.

St. Isidore and Laughing Stock Farm

The memorial of St. Isidore, the saintly twelfth-century farmer made me think of another saintly farmer. I'd like to tell you a bit about him.

Outside Eugene, OR, in the rolling tree-covered hills of the Crow-Applegate district is a little slice of heaven called "Laughing Stock Farm." Paul Atkinson is a farmer who has had a profound influence in my life. I was present at his wedding to his wife, Syd, when I was just a residency student working at the Newman Center in Eugene. I remember well their simple ceremony and joyful reception on the farm owned by Paul's parents at the time, and now managed and owned by Paul.

Paul is passionate about farming, especially sustainable farming that feeds people who live in the area where the farm is located. He has worked hard to educate locals about the virtues of sustainable agriculture, including the state legislature. Since WWII, farming has changed dramatically in this country. New technologies, mechanization, increased chemical use, specialization and government policies that favored maximizing production has meant that more food is grown by fewer and fewer people. But there have been many costs. Prominent among these are topsoil depletion, groundwater contamination, the decline of family farms, continued neglect of the living and working conditions for farm laborers, increasing costs of production, and the disintegration of economic and social conditions in rural communities.

A growing movement has emerged since the late 70's to question the role of the agricultural establishment in promoting practices that contribute to these problems. Paul is one of a growing number of people involved in food production who are searching for more sustainable ways of farming. I remember visiting Laughing Stock farm one time and listening to Paul explain one small aspect of sustainable agriculture. We walked through a field in which free-range chickens were scratching through the grass. Paul explained that the previous year his small herd of cattle had grazed on the grass. This year the chickens were scratching through the manure in search of bugs. As they foraged, they worked the manure into the earth, naturally fertilizing it. To this day, Paul does not depend upon petroleum-based fertilizers to amend the soil.

I also learned of an ongoing project of Paul's. He has been correlating soil types and zoning laws in and around Lane County for years. What he has discovered is that the land that is most suitable for farming lies in the rich Willamette Valley floor. That land is almost exclusively zoned for commercial and residential use. The land zoned for farming is the least suited for farming in the area! This means that many farmers need to fertilize their soil, remove boulders, struggle with sloping fields that erode more easily, and other factors which increase their costs, raise their prices, and make their produce more expensive than that grown in Mexico, California, and other regions.

Part of the move to sustainable agriculture is to connect people with the farmers who produce their food, and to encourage people to buy local produce. My Dominican community and many families in our parish and beyond benefited from this aspect of sustainable agriculture. Our church became a drop-off point for a local farm that was participating in a program known as "community supported agriculture" or CSA. CSAs allow people to buy directly from local farmers, paying at the beginning of the season to share the economic risk with farm families. Farmers get cash flow to start the season without going into debt. Households receive a weekly box of fresh fruits and vegetables during the harvest. In Eugene, it meant we got fresh vegetables each week from May through October/November. Now in Eugene, some farms even offer chicken, cheese, honey and flowers!

Each week was a surprise. You never new what you were going to get, but the farm also supplied each box of food with recipes. Never had fresh spinach before? There would be a couple of great recipes to try. Don't like kale? People would gather at the steps of the church and trade vegetables with each other. It was a great experience, and prompted me to devote a small patch of our rectory backyard (which had no grass, only perennial flowers, bulbs, a few annuals, rhododendrons, azaleas, roses and wisteria) to an herb, tomato and lettuce garden.

I have very fond memories of helping Paul weigh and bag his free-range turkeys on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. They were all hormone free, and some of them topped 40 lbs.! Pulling the turkey carcasses out of their ice bath, draining the frigid water from them, stuffing them quickly into a bag, weighing them and putting the pricetag on the birds was gratifying labor, and made me appreciate the hard work involved in food production. Of course, our community always bought one of these delicious, juicy turkeys. They were incredible!

Why does Paul do this? It's not to make more money. In fact, today when I spoke to him on the phone, he mentioned that he's worried about the future. With agribusinesses (four major ones dictate much of our social policy regarding food production) promoting the use of ethanol and other grain alcohols to fuel our cars, the cost of food grains (whether used in the process or not) is going to increase. That means the grains that Paul uses to feed his pigs, turkeys and chickens will increase, and thus cause his costs to soar. Because he sells his meat locally, some of the cost will be offset by lower shipping expense, but I could tell he was worried.

Paul does this because he sees farming as an act of stewardship of God's creation. The farm's not his, he says, it's God's. Paul believes "that to eat from local farms is the most universal introduction and connection to 'home' and to 'place.'" As an intentional disciple of Jesus, he's doing his best to change food production in his county. He has worked with other farmers to improve the sustainability of pasture and livestock management through the development of a grazing network in Lane County, OR. He's taken his findings regarding land use to the state legislature. He's helped school children understand better where food comes from, and led a Lenten study project at St. Thomas More parish in Eugene which allowed members of the community to understand the hidden costs in the cheap food we so often find in our mega-super-dooper-markets.

If you want to read more about Paul and his farm, click on the title of this post and read what a writer for the Atlantic Monthly had to say about his "principled pork." Unfortunately, you need to be a subscriber to read the entire piece.

Happy Feastday, Paul - and all local farmers. God bless you!

Starting Over in Greensburg, Kansas

Catholic News Service has a moving piece this morning about a 70 year old parish secretary in Greensburg, KS, who survived the tornado by huddling in her hallway with her oxygen tank.

They also interviewed Ellen Peters, a fellow parishioner at St. Joseph's, who was not alone in dropping everything to pitch in. "She told CNS the assistance was overwhelming. "I can't say enough about people learning Gospel living when the chips are down," she added.

One difficult aspect of volunteering, though, was hearing so many stories of loss.

"So many people lost everything," she said, noting that after the tornado it rained for three days, further ruining people's belongings. But even amid this loss, she heard countless stories of people picking through the rubble and finding items of personal value.

She also said the people she talked to showed amazing resiliency and faith. They frequently spoke of the storm as an "act of nature, not an act of God" and were convinced God would give them the strength they needed to move on.

"There was none of this, 'Why did this happen to me?'" she said. Instead, the Greensburg residents seemed determined to "keep at it and dig in, knowing they will be back.""

It may seem odd but people caught up in a large communal catatrophe don't usually ask "Why did this happen to me?". I know that was my family's experience as homeless hurricane refugees from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. A large tragedy seems much less personal than say, having your your house burn down while the houses next store remain untouched Having a community around you who really understands from the inside makes a huge difference.

Here is the latest news about diocesan efforts to respond to the destruction. One poignant note: The bell from St. Joseph's Catholic church is the only surviving bell in town. It is run twice a day - at noon and 6 pm - as a sign of hope.

Proclamation: Catholic and Protestant

The Pope's visit to Brazil last week generated a lot of attention to the success of Protestant evangelistic efforts there. Pete Acosi raised an important point last week in his comments on the “God is a God of the Present” post below:

"I think we can take two courses of action when we see God clearly working among our Protestant brothers and sisters - we can 1) react or 2) humbly learn (as JPII encourages us in Ut Unum Sint) and grow. Though it puts us in a position of "weakness" - I think that is a good thing. Listen to the words of Cardinal Avery Dulles:

“The Church therefore has one inescapable task: To lift up Christ. When she seeks to lift herself up she becomes weak, but when she acknowledges her own weakness and proclaims her Lord, she is strong.”

Or we can imitate
St. Paul - who tells the Church in Philippi that some are preaching Christ for this reason or that ... and he goes on to say, "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in that I rejoice!" (1:18)

In many ways Christ is being partially or fully proclaimed in many churches for many different sincere, insincere, or ignorant reasons ... but like St. Paul, I think we can learn to first rejoice as long as Christ is proclaimed... and then move from there... because, if our reaction isn't one of first rejoicing in the proclamation of Christ and him crucified - then we may need to allow God to purify our hearts..."

Sherry's response:

I think that there are a couple important issues here that are often conflated:

1) What is to be our response to non-Catholics who are effectively preaching Christ as they understand him?

2) How should we, as Catholics, preach Christ?

Issue number one: Our response to the evangelistic efforts of non-Catholics:

I think Pete is absolutely right. We should first be rejoicing that Christ is proclaimed, even if partially. (As will be outlined below, I don’t think this need be our only response.) Evangelicals are seeking to fulfill the “great commission” in Matthew 28 with great sacrifice and creativity and prayer and it makes no sense for us to grumble because they have been exceptionally faithful in this area in recent years and we have not.

(This wasn’t always the case. It was Catholics who were the great, creative, unstoppable missionaries of the 16th and 17th centuries when Protestantism was pre-occupied with other things. It was the great preachers of the 18th century – the Wesleys and Whitefields and the experience of the great awakening that began to change that. The evangelical missionary movement really didn’t get going until the 19th century and exploded in the late 20th century, just when Catholic commitment to the mission ad gentes imploded.)

Issue number two: How should we, as Catholics, preach Christ?

This is our real problem: We simply aren’t effectively proclaiming Christ to this generation. And so the evangelistically oriented among us naturally turn to those we regard as “experts” – evangelical-Pentecostal Christians.

I’ve spent time with Catholic leaders who were so frustrated with Catholic apathy and cluelessness in this area that they had come to these conclusions: 1) Catholics don’t evangelize; 2) the sacraments are only relevant to on-going, not initial conversion, therefore, 3) Catholicism has nothing to say about initial conversion and
4) therefore, we must think outside the “Catholic box” by following the methodology of our evangelical brothers and sisters.

We’ve got a problem when Catholics use evangelical evangelistic resources, approaches or programs, without vetting and amending them to reflect the fullness of Catholic teaching. That’s because evangelistic resources teach as well as evangelize.

Such resources explicitly teach the classical Reformation view of salvation – one’s personal faith alone is both the pre-requisite and the instrument through which one becomes a Christian, receives forgiveness for all sins, justification, adoption as God’s child, and eternal life.

We can’t expect them to teach the Catholic understanding that : “. . .the "good news" is directed to stirring a person to a conversion of heart and life and a clinging to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; to disposing a person to receive Baptism and the Eucharist and to strengthen a person in the prospect and realization of new life according to the Spirit (Catechesis in Our Time, 6).

When we use evangelical materials, the sacraments are presented, at best, as symbols of the real salvific event which has already happened in the privacy of one’s heart. Once you have absorbed the idea that work of salvation happens entirely through the disembodied, invisible, and interior means of one’s personal faith, the proposal that the grace of God is truly made available to us through the visible, physical, public means of the Church and the sacraments makes no sense at all.

If Catholics rely entirely upon evangelical materials, they may be making one of the most important parts of our faith not only obscure but practically unimaginable. At a point of tremendous spiritual openness – perhaps the first in someone’s life - we would not be taking the trouble to tell them the whole truth.

Catholics should be preaching both-and: personal faith in Christ and repentence in the context of the sacraments and the Church. Of course, if the folks doing the lion’s share of proclamation don’t possess the fullness of the faith, we really can’t expect them to proclaim it.

As Billy Graham famously quipped “I prefer the evangelism that I’m doing to the evangelism that you’re not doing.”

The man has a point. It’s our job and, for the most part, we haven’t shown up for work.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Servants or Friends or ?

The Gospel pericope for today (John 15:9-17) is one of my favorites in the Gospel of John. Today we hear Jesus saying to us, his disciples,

"As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love. have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another."

Fr. Michael Sweeney, O.P., co-founder of the Catherine of Siena Institute, presented a beautiful and profound reflection series on the topic of "Friendship with God" (linked in the title of this post). I highly recommend it.

A couple of things have struck me as I have reflected on the whole series of readings from the Last Supper Discourse during this Easter season. FIrst of all, Jesus is inviting us into an intimacy that so often we refuse. We prefer to be servants, rather than friends. When I was involved in campus ministry, students (always young men) would sometimes ask me, "Father, how far can I, you know, 'go' with my girlfriend?" In the Called & Gifted workshop I refer to this as "limbo theology," i.e., "how low can I go, Father?" This is, at best, the attitude of a servant or slave: what is the least that I have to do.

Our attitude with a friend, with someone we love, is much different. Jesus is not inviting us into just any friendship - a kind of friendship with Buddy Christ from the movie, "Dogma" that hints that no demands will be made upon us. In the passage above, John uses two word forms to describe this friendship - one of which indicates a willingness to "lay down one's life" for another.

When I think of my deepest friendships, there is a hint of that kind of love in them. I want to anticipate their needs. I think about them regularly. I hold them in prayer. I am happy to do what they want simply because I know it delights them, and it really doesn't make much difference what we DO together, because we're doing it TOGETHER.

I believe this is the kind of friendship Jesus is saying he wants of us. Yes, obeying the commandments are important. Following the Church's precepts are important. But they are the minimum requirements placed upon us, and a servant (particularly an unprofitable one) does only what he or she is commanded to do. Jesus is inviting us into a friendship with Him, in which we think about Him throughout our day and ask for His guidance. We can entrust the well-being of our earthly friends and family into His care with confidence. We seek to please Him through the way we treat every person we meet, particularly those who are most difficult to love, for He says, "Whatever you did to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me." (Mt. 25:40)

Servant or friend of God? How about both. When we've done all we've been commanded to do, we can take no pride in ourselves, for all that we have accomplished - all the fruit we have borne for the kingdom - has come because of our union with Jesus, the vine. It is truly his fruit, but our cooperation as servants was essential.

But at the same time, is it a servant who laments, "I am an unprofitable servant, I have only done what I was commanded"? (cf. Lk 17:10) Or is it truly a friend, someone who loves another enough to lay down his or her life for another, who would regret that they could not do more, or somehow anticipate an unspoken or unnoticed need?

We are servants of Jesus, Whom we rightfully call "Master" and "Lord". But in His love for us He calls us friends, and invites us into an intimacy that is as deep and profound as the intimacy the Father shares with Him.


You Know You're Back in the South When

The flight attendent calls total strangers "darlin";

You get to explain to a visitor how to eat grits;

You are a part of a serious group discussion about the fine points of using the phrase "Yes Maam";

People use the possessive form of "y'all" - as in "Y'all's supper is gettin cold";

The church you are teaching in was once pastored by the poet laureate of the Confederacy;

The waiting areas in the airport are filled with rocking chairs.

You know that you are a former southerner who has lost touch by living too long in Colorado when you:

Point to the small bug hovering by your outdoor restaurant table and exclaim:

"Hey! That's a mosquito!"

Friday, May 11, 2007

Contemporary Signs and Wonders

In preparation for our new seminar, "Making Disciples," Sherry and I have been studying the kerygma - the basic Gospel message preached by Jesus, and then by the apostles. Jesus preached the Kingdom of God (and is that Kingdom in flesh and blood) and that the apostles preached Jesus Christ crucified, died, risen and ascended. With all the reports about signs and wonders becoming more and more a part of the expectations of Latin American Christians (both Protestant and Catholic), I found the beginning of the description of the kerygma in the New Catholic Encyclopedia quite challenging.

The article on Kerygma begins, "the solemn and public proclamation of salvation in Christ made in the name of God to non-Christians; it was accompanied by an appeal to signs and wonders to dispose the hearers to faith, conversion, and a return to God."

What's interesting to me, is that the sentence is in the past tense! Perhaps it is an unspoken expectation on the part of many Catholics that God does not work through signs and wonders anymore. Until recently I would say I fit in that category. And some might reasonably say it is "a faithless generation that asks for a sign." (Mt 12:39; 16:4)

Yet as I study the charisms of the Holy Spirit given to the baptized, I realize that it is ordinary for God to work through us so that his power and providential care reaches them, and that extraordinary - really supernatural - things happen. A lonely person receives the hospitality of a Christian and is no longer lonely. Someone suffering in a hospital bed receives mercy from a nurse or physician and not only is their suffering reduced, but they experience their human dignity restored. A young child is encouraged by a one-on-one interaction with their teacher and suddenly have confidence in their ability to learn and succeed in the classroom. Moments like these won't make the headlines of our newspapers, and may even escape our attention unless we begin to look for them. Because some of them may be opportunities to share our faith, particularly if the person asks us, "why are you doing this?"

The work of Mother Teresa and her sisters continues to be a sign and a wonder. So, too, the pro-bono work of a Catholic lawyer for a poor defendant, or the willingness of a pro-life family to open their home to one or more orphans or foster children.

In the Gospel of Luke (11:32), when Jesus is asked for a sign, he says no sign will be given but the sign of Jonah, and goes on to speak about the sign of Jonah as the repentance of the entire wicked city of Ninevah. I would not doubt that one of the greatest signs and sources of wonder for non-Christians is a life transformed by grace. Seeing someone radically change; move from darkness to light, from death to life may be one of the most powerful ways in which God opens up the hearts and minds of non-believers.

In fact, it is in witnessing just such a conversion that has opened me to the effectiveness of "signs and wonders" in the proclamation of the Gospel.

It may be an act of faithlessness to demand a sign as a prerequisite for my belief.

It may also be an act of faithfullness to expect God to use a sign to generate curiosity in and openness to the Gospel.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Another Day in Paradise . . .

But not till Sunday evening.

Off to Knoxville before dawn tomorrow, back Sunday evening. In the meantime, Fr. Mike will entertain you with cat tales and the other minions of our little blog community will contribute their thoughts.

Just had to share this:

This evening as I was digging up a new flower bed, a young man walked along the path that runs through the park behind my house and stopped.

The park has a full on view of Pike's Peak and the surrounding mountains. It was a perfect spring evening - cool, everything freshly green, and the sun low over the Rockies.

Pike's Peak is currently groaning with snow and the combination of the glow of the setting sun and some clouds meant that we saw the mountain's great shoulders through a golden haze.

The young man looked at me over the fence and said "I just have to say this. Another day in paradise!"

I could hear Ray Charles singing in the background:

Oh Beautiful, for spacious skies . . .

To Those Who Have...

I have been preparing for preaching this Sunday, as well as preaching each day during this season of Easter, when we hear consistently from the Gospel of John. For the past week or so we have been hearing the Last Supper Discourse from John's Gospel, and as I read Sherry's post on "Clapping for Jesus," something clicked.

If you recall, Sherry quoted a Time magazine article, "After decades of losing ground to the Protestants, the local Catholic clergy had also noted that these rival churches lured believers not just with promises of rewards more immediate than a place in heaven, but also by offering services that are more joyful, happier, friendlier and more down-to-earth. By comparison with the Protestants' approachable pastor next door, the rock and roll liturgy and the 24-hour service, the Catholic Church could look cold and distant."

Like a lot of fairly straight-laced Catholics, I am wary of religious services that are too slick, and that seem to play on my emotions. At the same time, however, I know our huge parishes can sometimes feel "cold and distant" to people who are suffering, or lonely, or depressed. We can forget that Christ is not only present in the Word proclaimed, the presider acting in persona Christi, and the Blessed Sacrament, but also in the "two or three [thousand] gathered in His name." The problems of my brother and sister in Christ should be of concern to me.

And this is where the readings from the Gospel of John come in.
On Monday of this week (June 7) we heard, "'Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.' Judas, not the Iscariot, said to him, 'Master, (then) what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?' Jesus answered and said to him, 'Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.'"

Judas may have hoped for some powerful, universal manifestation of Jesus' divinity that would end the doubts of unbelievers. What Jesus proposes is more subtle - a presence of God in the innermost being of His creature, who responds in love to the love poured out upon him or her. It is a gift that is given ever more generously as we respond by living according to the word of Jesus, which in the Gospel of John can be summarized as "As I have loved you, so you also should love one another." (John 13:34)

It is love, ultimately, that brings people to Christ. Sometimes that love may be manifested in signs and wonders: miraculous healings, even the raising of the dead. In those situations, hearts and minds are opened quickly to hear the Gospel message. But love works just as powerfully, though perhaps more slowly, through kind words in the face of loss, companionship offered to the lonely, encouragement given to the depressed, kindness and patience offered where they are not expected.

Our communion with Jesus depends on our own response in grace and love to his word. The more we respond, the deeper the communion, and the more profound the transformation. Regardless of what our worship looks like (and there is a wide variety of acceptable expressions of worship within the Catholic Church), the most profound question has to do with whether or not my worship and my participation in the sacramental life of the Church is deepening the love I have for Christ and assisting me, through grace, to respond to his word. The indwelling that Jesus speaks of throughout his Last Discourse is His Father's gift of love to His Son's disciples. That indwelling should be recognized by a life that is transformed and that reaches out to others in love. That, too, is a sign and wonder! If our liturgies are experienced as "cold and distant," might it not be because those participating in the liturgy have not been transformed by it - and are themselves cold and distant?


Brazil and Abortion: Are Pentecostals a Pope's Best Friends?

John Allen raises a good point this morning:

"Though part of the unspoken logic for Benedict XVI’s trip to Brazil is to offset Catholic losses to Pentecostalism, now estimated at almost 20 million Brazilians and growing, political realities in the country on issues such as abortion and gay marriage in some sense make the Pentecostals the pope's best friends.

Such are the ironies of life in Latin America."

For example: The President of Brazil, a Catholic, is personally pro-life but feels that “the state cannot abdicate from caring for this as a public health question, because to do so would lead to the death of many young women in this country.” Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, the Vice-President of Brazil is a member of the Pentecostal Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and the strongest pro-life member of the administration.

“It’s not just the specific question of abortion or homosexuality,” one Brazilian journalist explained today. “It’s the broader question of the ‘religiousness’ of Brazil. If the pope had to rely just on the Catholics, the country would actually be much secularized than it already is.”

Just as Catholics and evangelicals have found common ground in this country over the battle for life (and numerous evangelicals were exposed to serious Catholic Christianity for the first time which has precipitated not a few conversions), so too in Brazil.

Understanding the Numbers Game

One of the things that is easily missed in grasping the spread of new forms of Christianity like Pentecostalism is the whole issue of what David Barrett, editor of the world Christian Encyclopedia, calls "double affiliation" or "double confession".

We usually assume that if you are one faith, that's it. If you are Protestant, you can't simultaneously be Catholic or Buddhist or Hindu. But, in fact, the world of faith is much more complicated than that. Many millions around the world are "double dipping" in two or more seemingly contradictory faiths at the same time.

In Brazil in the year 2000, for instance, Barrett estimates that over 55 million Catholics or 36% of all Catholics in the country were "double-affiliated", that is, simultaneously "affiliated to or claimed by the Catholic Church and by a church termed "Evangelica" by the government. And this sort of thing happens all over the US as well. Barrett estimates that there were 21 million "double affiliated" Christians in the US and nearly 200 million around the world in 2000. And the numbers are steadily growing.

In a place like India, "double confessing" of Christianity and another non-Christian faith is common since there are legal and financial consequences to one's formal religious affiliation. For instance, Barrett estimated that there were over 21 million "crypto Christians" in India in 2000. A "crypto Christian" is a person affiliated with a church but still listed by the state as being of another faith.

It gets every more complex. There is the whole phenomena of "Non-baptized Believers in Christ" in the Muslim and Hindu worlds. Muslims and Hindus who regard Jesus Christ as the messiah and Son of God but are not baptized and are still officially Muslim and Hindu. It is estimated that there are 15 million NBBC's in the world.

The boundaries between faiths has always been porous, not only officially but especially in terms of ideas and influence. This is especially common in times of relative peace and freedom where travel and interchange between peoples of different faiths is common and governments or local rulers or customs don't punish people for not strictly adhering to the faith of their birth.

In a globalized world saturated with media and technology, the boundaries are even more fluid. This has big implications for our evangelization and pastoral practices and is one of the situations in which extremely flexible, passionate communicators like evangelicals and Independent Christians thrive and in which "institutionally oriented", historic forms of Christianity like Catholicism, with its memories of Christendom, are at an disadvantage.

Unless we adapt to our new historical and cultural situation, which it seems that Catholics have been doing pretty successfully in Brazil recently. I'll try to write more on this later.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Stabilization in Latin America - and Clapping for Jesus

The news story coming out of Brazil over the past two days:

The Catholic Church has stopped hemmorhaging members over the past three years. A government survey in 2003 showed that 73.9% of the population claimed to be Catholic after a 20 year free fall from 89% in 1980. Three years later, 73.8% responded that they were Catholic. Protestants inched up to 17.9%.

As Time magazine puts it:

". . .two factors behind the slowdown: The stabilization of Brazil's economy after decades of boom and bust; and the adoption by local Catholic diocese of some of the methods that brought success to the Protestant denominations.

Protestantism, says Neri, takes root quickest in impoverished urban areas where the state is absent. But significant income gains among the poorest sectors of society, combined with a far-reaching government assistance program, have given hope to people who once turned to Protestant Pentecostalism for financial and social aid.

After decades of losing ground to the Protestants, the local Catholic clergy had also noted that these rival churches lured believers not just with promises of rewards more immediate than a place in heaven, but also by offering services that are more joyful, happier, friendlier and more down-to-earth. By comparison with the Protestants' approachable pastor next door, the rock and roll liturgy and the 24-hour service, the Catholic Church could look cold and distant.

The best example of the trend is Father Marcelo Rossi, a charismatic and media-savvy priest who has sold millions of CDs featuring songs like "Clapping for Jesus," "Raise Your Hands" and the "Jesus Twist." Rossi has a daily radio show, two weekly TV shows and a busy web portal, and he hosts regular concerts-cum-shows at which thousands of young fans dance to his catchy gospel pop. He once attracted 2.4 million fans to an appearance in Sao Paulo, and his draw is such that he has been invited to give a live performance immediately after Benedict XVI says mass in Sao Paulo on May 11."

Sherry's note: My friends know that I simply loathe the easy dismissal of evangelical worship as "entertainment" and "happy clappy" by conservative Catholics. When we do that, we are taking the easy way out. We don't have to ask "why" because we can just dismiss the millions of Catholics drawn to these services as spiritual and aesthetic morons. And, of course, preen ourselves on our spiritual discernment.

But "Clapping for Jesus???" "Jesus Twist??????" Yeeeew. I can live in the faint hope that's just a bad translation.

But the fact that he was asked to perform for the Pope is significant. Why was Fr. Rossi chosen? While I am sure that his performance for Pope Benedict will be subdued, it certainly won't be Mozart. I wonder if it will be broadcast?


"Even in Guatemala, Latin America's most Protestant nation, there are signs that the more charismatic approach of the Catholic Church can reverse the trend. The number of Guatemalan Protestants stopped growing at the start of the decade and now numbers between 33% and 40%, according to Dr. Virginia Garrard-Burnett, Interim Director of the Religious Studies Program at the University of Texas. Every nation in this once homogenously Catholic continent has a bedrock of Catholic support that will never be eroded, and the numbers presented in Brazil last week may be a sign that those willing to choose an alternative have already done so. "It doesn't surprise me," Garrard-Burnett said of the study's findings. "You just see Protestant growth plateau and I think that may be true in Brazil."

Sherry's note:

Very interesting. Because at one time, Guatemala was expected to become the first majority Protestant nation in Latin America. Although a 40% minority is, admittedly, a really big minority, a minority with clout.

Are we settling down into a pluralistic but more stable religious environment? Or, as happened in Europe in the late 16th century, can a new, passionate, and more intentionally "evangelical" Catholicism regain some of the ground it has lost? A Catholicism that no longer takes its hegemony for granted but knows that even for Latin Catholics, the gospel must be proclaimed afresh to every person in every generation.

That it is true that even for Latin Catholics: "God has no grand-children".

EWTN Will Be Covering Pope's Arrive in Brazil Live

Here is the schedule for EWTN coverage.

The live feed from the Vatican is here.

"Parent Evangelists" for Down Syndrome Children

From today's New York Times:

The new push for universal testing for down's syndrome is having an entirely predictable outcome: 90% of parents choose to abort.

The result: there are only about 350,000 individuals with Down's Syndrom in the country today: ,less institutional support, less research, and a lonelier world. As one father put it: "How much more hostile will the environment be if there are fewer people with down syndrome?"

The parents of down syndrome children are organizing and fighting back:

They are offering expecting parents a chance to meeting their children and hearing their experiences before they make a decision.

The Times calls them "parent evangelists". Indeed.

The Times carefully portrays a large number of these parent advocates as "pro choice" and not religiously motivated, because, you know, because not being religiously neutral on this subject would be bad. It is very poignant to hear one mom described her motivation as possibly "selfish".

"Others admit freely to a selfish motive for their new activism. “If all these people terminate babies with Down syndrome, there won’t be programs, there won’t be acceptance or tolerance,” said Tracy Brown, 37, of Seattle, whose 2-year-old son, Maxford, has the condition. “I want opportunities for my son. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, but I do.”

But love for their children has enabled these carefully neutral parents to grasp one essential thing:

"some see themselves as society’s first line of defense against a use of genetic technology that can border on eugenics. “For me, it’s just faces disappearing,” said Nancy Iannone, of Turnersville, N.J., mother to four daughters, including one with Down syndrome."

George Will calls it "a search and destroy mission". (Will is father of an adult Down Sydrome man named Jon. Jon was born in 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade).

This is a work that pro life advocates should get behind in a heart-beat.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Knoxville, Tennessee This Weekend

Speaking of the present:

I'll be teaching a Called & Gifted workshop at Immaculate Conception Church this coming weekend with Mark Egbert, one of our Colorado teaching team members.

As usual, the festivities begin at 7 pm on Friday and run through Saturday at 4pm.

I look forward to seeing some of you there!

"God is a God of the Present"

Fr. Jim Tucker of Arlington, Virginia has written a long post in response to the Washington Post article on charismatic Catholics. He made one particularly interesting observation, which I have certainly corroborate - having worked in huge parishes in Fr. Jim's diocese:

"A third thing that contributes to the hemorrhages is the proportion of laymen to minister. In my own parish of 10,000+ parishioners, it's physically impossible for the three priests here to have a meaningful, personal relationship with the vast majority of parishioners. One knows a couple hundred of the people by name, is involved on a more personal basis with a few dozen, and the rest are anonymous faces.

Most of the sects' congregations are much smaller (except for the mega-churches), the pastors are in readier supply due to fewer requirements and a much shorter formation period (if any at all), and so the congregant-to-minister ratio is much more manageable, allowing for a lot of personal interaction. If you go from a place where a nameless Padre is glimpsed for 50 minutes from the crowded pews once a week (if you go that often), to a little storefront place where the pastor and his assistant ministers know your name, your kids, your job, your address, and get involved in your life -- well, quite apart from questions of doctrine, the human appeal is obvious.

For a long time, I've thought that we should come up with a way to get sound, trustworthy lay leaders in our parishes, set up as sort of grass-roots "ministers" for groups of families who want a more personal connection to the Church."

Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa would agree:

In a 2001 interview with an Italian magazine, the cardinal said: "In my country, Honduras, the church is lay. This may scandalize. We don't even have 400 priests in the entire country, and in a medium-size city of 60,000 inhabitants there is only one priest, who must also care for the faithful spread out in 60 or 80 little villages among the mountains. He simply cannot do it."

So the Catholic Church in
Honduras has trained and deployed 15,000 lay "delegates of the word," who evangelize, catechize, lead Sunday liturgies and distribute Communion, he said.

As I mentioned in my article on Independent Christianity, that is precisely the approach that evangelicals/apostolic Christians in Latin America are taking: systemically "planting" millions of small, neighborhood, evangelizing "churches" - we would call them small Christian communities - with leaders who are part of the community and have come up from the ranks.

And there is an important related issue:

I've been doing a lot of research on grace and specifically "actual grace" for Making Disciples and it has been most illuminating. One of things that the late Fr. John Hardon (famous for his orthodoxy and heroic catechetical efforts) pointed out in his on-line writings on actual grace (to my surprise) is that

"God is the God of the present, and He uses things which move me now. Often His starting point is a prayer, but not always.

God works in many ways. He appeals to people in different ways and to the same person in different ways at different periods of life. We outgrow certain things.

So he calls, draws us in another way.”

What is so attractive about these alternative forms of Christianity?

They emphasize the here and now, personal and experiential aspects of the faith.
The sort of things that move and touch the lives of ordinary, working or poor people who are not academics and historians and philosophers and theologians and whose daily life is a constant struggle. Add the promise of the experientially supernatural or miraculous answers to their suffering or struggle and you have an irresistible combination.

The Independents and Pentecostals got it from us, you know. This is exactly how the faith spread throughout ancient Rome.

That’s what Ramsey MacMullen says. (Ramsay MacMullen, the author of Christianizing the Roman Empire, was the Dunham Professor of History and Classics at Yale University. On January 5, of 2001 he was the recipient of a lifetime Award for Scholarly Distinction from the American Historical Association. The citation begins, "Ramsay MacMullen is the greatest historian of the Roman Empire alive today.")

MacMullen’s thesis? At the end of the first century, the church held a minimal significance in Roman society. It simply "did not count." Within three centuries it included ten percent of the population and had displaced the other religions of the empire. In Christianizing the Roman Empire, MacMullen addresses the factors for this amazing growth. The author demonstrates that these mass conversions first came through the power of miracles and later through the social advantage of becoming a Christian.

Not through reading the apologists and church fathers. Most people were illiterate and in any case, had neither the time or leisure or access to their works. Not primarily through the witness of Christian piety and the martyrs. Most people in the
Roman Empire didn’t know of the martyrs. It wasn’t by wandering into a liturgy and being smitten by its beauty and power. The early Church practiced the discipline of the secret and didn’t allow pagans and the non-baptized to attend Mass.

No, in the early days, it was primarily signs and wonders. Healing, exorcisms, prophecy. Often through those considered to be “non-persons” in their culture. Slaves, women. That sort of thing.

MacMullen observed in his book that early sources tell us that is what motivated most people but, as post-enlightenment minded moderns, we have refused to take their word for it. “Miracles” and “healings” must be a metaphor for something else. We could, MacMullen suggests, assume that they are intelligent observers who meant what they said without anachronistically imposing our mental map upon them.

"God is the God of the present, and He uses things which move me now."

Knowing this and acting accordingly is part of being “deep in Catholic history” and in our faith.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Mugabe's Wrong

Catholic News Service reported on the response of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's response to a pastoral letter written by the nine bishops of Zimbabwe. The original story is linked to the title of this post. Mr. Mugabe's response reveals a narrow view of the place of faith in society.

"Mugabe, a Marist-educated Catholic, told the London-based New African magazine that he was not at Mass on Easter to hear the bishops' letter read.

'If I had gone to church and the priest had read that so-called pastoral letter, I would have stood up and said "nonsense,"'he said in an interview in the May edition of the magazine.

Mugabe, 83, said the letter is not 'something spiritual, it is not religious,' and the bishops 'have decided to turn political.'

'And once they turn political, we regard them as no longer being spiritual, and our relations with them would be conducted as if we are dealing with political entities, and this is quite a dangerous path they have chosen for themselves,' he said.

Aside from the not-so-veiled threats made against the bishops, there is a misunderstanding beneath Mugabe's words that is common here in the United States. The error is to believe that a person of faith, if they act according to their faith in the public forum, have moved beyond the area of faith. Sometimes it's said they've "politicized" their faith, other times, they are accused of acting politically, rather than spiritually, as Mr. Mugabe claims.

Pope Benedict has emphasized the Second Vatican Council's wider goal: to bring the faith out of the private sphere and renew it as the driving force of history. In the context of Mr. Mugabe's comments, it's important to consider a few quotes from the teaching of the Council and other magisterial documents.

First of all, according to the Council Fathers' teaching, the Zimbabwean bishops have a right to address, even critique President Mugabe's policies. "It is only right, however, that at all times and in all places, the Church should have true freedom to preach the faith, to teach her social doctrine, to exercise her role freely among men, and also to pass moral judgment in those matters which regard public order when the fundamental rights of a person or the salvation of souls require it. In this, she should make use of all the means-but only those-which accord with the Gospel and which correspond to the general good according to the diversity of the times and circumstances." Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 76

In fact, the bishops - and all Catholics within Zimbabwe - would be remiss if they did not speak out against a government that is disregarding basic human rights. "For Catholic moral doctrine, the rightful autonomy of the political or civil sphere from that of religion and the Church – but not from that of morality – is a value that has been attained and recognized by the Catholic Church and belongs to inheritance of contemporary civilization...The right and duty of Catholics and all citizens to seek the truth with sincerity and to promote and defend, by legitimate means, moral truths concerning society, justice, freedom, respect for human life and the other rights of the person, is something quite different. The fact that some of these truths may also be taught by the Church does not lessen the political legitimacy or the rightful 'autonomy' of the contribution of those citizens who are committed to them" Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life, 6

The kind of disjuncture that President Mugabe would make between one's spiritual life and political life is precisely what the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity from the Council warns against.

"There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life’, with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture. The branch, engrafted to the vine which is Christ, bears its fruit in every sphere of existence and activity. In fact...every activity, every situation, every precise responsibility – as, for example, skill and solidarity in work, love and dedication in the family and the education of children, service to society and public life and the promotion of truth in the area of culture – are the occasions ordained by providence for a ‘continuous exercise of faith, hope and charity’" (Apostolicam actuositatem, 4)

Yes, Mr. Mugabe's wrong to suggest that the bishops are no longer acting spiritually, but only politically. But how many Americans would agree with him?


Quote of the Day - from Dorothy Sayers

I came across this again as I'm working on Making Disciples. One of the things that we have seen over and over emerge from intentional discipleship is a remarkable new kind of apostolic creativity. Dorothy Sayers understood why.

She quotes A.D. Lindsey’s wonderful observation:

“The difference between ordinary people and saints is not that saints fulfill duties that ordinary men neglect. The things saints do have not usually occurred to ordinary people at all. . .’

Gracious’ conduct is like the work of an artist. It needs imagination and spontaneity. It is not the choice between presented alternatives but the creation of something new.”

The Whimsical Christian, p. 131

The Latin Future of the US Church?

Whispers covers the Washington Post article on the Catholic charismatic renewal in this country and how Hispanic immigration is reviving it.

"Though the Catholic Church does not keep official statistics on its charismatic flock, church leaders and academics say the study, considered alongside trends in the Hispanic population, suggests that the number of Catholics embracing at least some aspects of charismatic devotion has almost doubled over the past 20 years to more than 10 million adults."

As Rocco puts it in his inimitable style:

"As the continuing infusion of Hispanics into the States strengthens the church in the south and west, the new arrivals' distinctive piety putting an ever-more dominant stamp on American Catholicism in the process, the papal visit and meeting serves as further reminder to this flock to the north that -- for all the current fixation of the church's more rarefied elements on the Tridentine Mass -- the Latin future of the US church is more one of Guadalupe than Ghislieri, less "Et cum spiritum tuo" and more "Y con tu espíritu."

If you want to know more and somehow missed my 11 part article this past week on "The Challenge of Independent Christianity, go here.

Pray for Greensburg, Kansas

Greensburg, Kansas, which was destroyed in that terrible tornado last week is located in the diocese of Dodge City, Kansas. Thank God, they have just found another survivor after two days.

We've done a lot of work in the diocese (which borders the diocese of Colorado Springs) which stretches across the praries of southwest Kansas and is one of the smallest dioceses in the US.

It's a diocese so small that Bishop Gilmore knows all the children being confirmed and that most of the diocesan leaders have their eye on that likely Catholic teen in Hays or Garden City who shows such potential. In southwestern Kansas, a town of 4,000 like Greensburg is a significant center. Its loss is enormous.

The Greensburg Catholic church, St. Joseph's, was completely destroyed and the pastor is still attempting to locate members of his congregation.

But the diocese is rallying its far-flung members via the internet. The children who attended school in Greenburg will be welcomed, without charge, to finish out the school year in any of the Catholic schools in the diocese. Collections are being taken up at every parish in the diocese and will be distributed through Kansas Catholic Social Services.

Pray for the people of Greensburg. Consider giving to the diocesan fund to assist the victims rebuild their lives.

Update Tuesday:

Catholic News Service has this piece this morning on St. Joseph's in Greenburg and the efforts of the diocese to respond.

Tim Wenzl, media liaison for the Dodge City Diocese, said St. Joseph Church was destroyed in the May 4 tornado, with only a memorial bell and a statue of St. Joseph left standing in an exterior niche of a wall. But all 160 parishioners have been accounted for and no one was killed, he added.

Another Catholic church, St. Peter and Paul in North Ellinwood, lost its steeple and has a large hole in its roof, Wenzl said. The church, which was built in a rural area and predates the Second Vatican Council, had been closed but was being maintained as a heritage site, he added.

Catholic Charities USA sent an initial $10,000 emergency grant and was collecting donations to assist in long-term recovery efforts for tornado victims. "Catholic Charities USA's Office of Disaster Reponses remains in close contact with Catholic Social Service to determine what other assistance the local agency may need in the days and weeks to come," the Virginia-based agency said May 7.

Editor's Note: Contributions to aid tornado victims may be made by phone at: (800) 919-9338; on the Web at:; or by check to: Catholic Charities USA, P.O. Box 7068, Merrifield, VA 22116-7068.

More on Pope's Trip to Brazil

Check out this website (the Papa Ratzinger Forum), which has lots of background and great pictures regarding the Pope's visit to Brazil in English.

Snow Again This Morning

It started last night and lasted a good deal of the night. It will be gone within hours - but still. This Mississippi girl never thought she'd wake up to snow on May 6th. They are calling it the Cinco de Mayo snow.

Around here, we think of it as white rain.

Women of Solidarity

Here's an encouraging new lay formation and support initiative in the Diocese of Bridgeport: Women of Solidarity.

I had the chance to talk to Amy Wanamaker, one of the leaders when she called to look into learning how to help the women attending discern their charisms

Their first big event is a networking supper Tuesday night featuring a talk on the dignity of women. If you are in the Bridgeport area, check it out.

Pope to Meet with Latin Protestants

The Pope invited the faithful to pray for the May 9-14 "apostolic pilgrimage and, in particular, for the 5th General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean, so that all the Christians of those regions may see themselves as disciples and missionaries of Christ, the way, the truth and the life."

I find it interesting that the Pope, who is nothing, if not precise, phrased his prayer request in this way: "All the Christians of those regions may see themselves as disciples and missionaries of Christ" If he was talking only about Catholics, he'd have said "the faithful".

I noticed that he is scheduled to meet
with the representatives of other Christian confessions and religions and give an address on May 10, 2007. (per the Vatican website)

It will be interesting to who attends that gathering (and who doesn't) and what the Holy Father says.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Challenge of Independent Christianity (part 11 - the end!)

See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10.

Just a reminder for my readers: NONE of the staff or teachers of the Catherine of Siena Institute have ever been or are currently part of the “Independent Christian” movement! Nor have any of our posters on ID ever been part of it (as far as I know).

I am writing about this movement as a journalist, not an apologist. I am describing the second largest, fastest growing, and most missionary-minded Christian community in the world today because we have to recognize their existence in order to deal with them.

As a journalist, my job is to try and help you grasp the nature and significance of the movement. Since Independent Christianity is complicated to describe, I will spend most of my time describing and secondarily exploring some of the implications for the Catholic Church. I will not be spending my time in a detailed analysis and rebuttal of their many theological problems, not because I agree with their stance but because it would require another 20,000 words to do so and this is long enough as it is!

Evangelization and Formation of the Laity

In a previous life, I traveled across the country teaching gifts discernment and lay formation workshops with a brilliant and witty Dominican who enjoyed a little friendly “Protty-bashing”. (Sherry’s note: Have I mentioned that all Dominicans are - by definition - brilliant and witty?)

When we would zip by some six-flags-over-Jesus megachurch on our way to the next parish, he would ask me about their history and beliefs. Want to know the beliefs of Old Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists? No worries! I had it all squirreled away in a mental drawer labeled “truth is stranger than fiction”.

When I was done, Fr. Michael would brood for a moment upon the inexplicable ways of Providence and then utter this heartfelt prayer: “Thank God, Dad was born Catholic!”

Some of you may be feeling the same way about now. I remember early on having a conversation with Fr Michael Sweeney about the millions of Catholics who had left the Church and were to be found everywhere in non-denominational mega-churches. His response was immediate and vehement: “Just tell them to stop it!”

If only I could. I know that it is utterly, utterly mystifying to many Catholics. The idea that anyone would voluntarily leave the Catholic Church to join a congregation led by someone who has the chutzpah to announce that they’ve been personally anointed as an apostle by the Holy Spirit is too absurd – too appalling - for words.

But I know many Independents personally – some are family members and close friends– and I know that they are often impressive, intelligent people of great faith who are asking very specific, practical, existential questions. They want to experience God now – in their own lives and in the lives of others. They want to believe that God still moves today as he did in the first century. They are like my brother, rejoicing in the healing of a frail women’s arm. They are like Rolland and Heidi Baker, taking the kind of risks for others that are only possible if you don’t have to protect yourself, if you know that God will provide and there will always be enough.

We can’t simply dismiss these people, no matter how uncomfortable they make us. For one thing, the United States is the Western epicenter of Independent Christianity. There are some 80 million Independent Christians in this country. They are, by far, the largest bloc (as opposed to denomination) of Christians.

And the Independent churches that dot our landscape are full of baptized Catholics. For instance, Ted Haggard believed that 1/3 of the 14,000 locals who regularly attend New Life Church in Colorado Springs would consider themselves Catholic. It has been estimated that 30% of today’s American evangelicals are first or second generation former Catholics (The Catholic Church at the End of an Age, Ralph Martin, p. 38). Hard numbers are difficult to come by, but
I know that whenever I re-enter the evangelical world, I run into large numbers of Catholics. Some still attend Mass, others do not.

There has been much discussion of the fact that the generation of practicing Catholics just now coming into their own – the “JP II generation” – is much more traditionally minded than their Boomer parents were. There certainly is a JP II group of young adult Catholics. I have met a large number as I travel.

But we must remember that these “New Faithful” are estimated to make up only 20% of their peer group. "... a sizable number of young adults -- we estimate about 20 percent -- attend Mass and go to Communion regularly, go to confession occasionally, think of themselves as 'orthodox' Christians and read the Scriptures whenever they can. They see themselves as the future of the church and are quite naturally offended when others describe young adults as the
problem." From "American Catholics Today: New Realities of Their Faith and Their Church," reviewed in Catholic News Service, April 5, 2007.

The same study notes that, all together, only one-fourth of Catholic young adults go to Mass on a weekly basis. So it would seem that four fifths of the young adults we see at Mass every Sunday are of the “New Faithful” mindset. But 75% of baptized young adults are not at Mass. Where are they? There are other, parallel movements of Catholic young adults that are hidden from us because they are not among us anymore. As St.Dominic was fond of saying, “What about the others?”

Independent congregations are filled with young adults. The front of New Life Church is like a mosh pit during services. A couple of hundred teen-agers and young adults freely dance and sing and prostrate themselves in spontaneous worship. They believe that real worship is highly personal and spontaneous. Many of them were raised Catholic. If they are inwardly longing for the solemnity of the Latin Mass, they are certainly looking for it in all the wrong places.

Millions of Catholics of all ages – often the most spiritually hungry - are having their hearts, minds, and imaginations formed in a non-Catholic worldview. More American adults use Christian media than attend church in a given month. 78% of all churched adults in the US supplement what they receive on Sunday with Christian media. 93% of the most committed Christians – those who go to church, read the Bible and pray in a given week - use Christian media during a given month. Notice that the use of Christian media grows as the intensity of one’s Christian commitment grows. I don’t have to tell my readers that the Christian media in the US is overwhelmingly non-Catholic. (Christian Mass Media Reach More Adults With the Christian Message Than Do Churches, July 2, 2002, Barna Research.)

The temptation is to shout “Just stop it!” But simply forbidding Catholics to look outside the Church for spiritual sustenance is futile. Few adults wrestling with burning personal issues are going to accept “no” as an answer. If they believe that they are not finding what they and their families need in the Catholic church, they will vote with their feet. In the United States, all they have to do is talk to their friends or fire up their laptops or turn on their TVs or run down to the local Christian bookstore or post-modern cell church. If we do not evangelize our own, someone else - it may well be an Independent - will do it for us. If we do not form our own, someone else will. In fact, someone else is doing so at this very minute!

Nor are we free to do as the early Reformers did and shield ourselves from the New Apostolic influence by sternly jettisoning anything that smacks of the charismatic. That is not thinking or teaching with the Church.

Everyone should painstakingly ready himself personally for the apostolate, especially as an adult. For the advance of age brings with it better self-knowledge, thus enabling each person to evaluate more accurately the talents with which God has enriched his soul and to exercise more effectively those charismatic gifts which the Holy Spirit has bestowed on him for the good of his brothers.

The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem) 30.

Independent Christians can only envision a world in which the institutional and the charismatic are opposed to one another. In this, as in so many other areas, magisterial teaching demands that Catholics teach, live, and model a more sophisticated balance. As the Holy Father proclaimed at the Pentecost 1998 gathering of the new lay movements, “The institutional and charismatic aspects are co-essential as it were to the Church's constitution. They contribute, although differently, to the life, renewal and sanctification of God's people.” (emphasis mine)

You want miracles? Ever heard of Padre Pio? Visions? Let me introduce you to Catherine of Siena. Raising the dead? Old news. John Wimber had nothing on Dominic Guzman, that cutting edge 13th century evangelist who regularly saw signs and wonders accompany his ministry.

It’s a false reading of history to believe that it is “either-or”. As Pope John Paul II put it, “True charisms cannot but aim at the encounter with Christ in the sacraments.”

The supernatural is still happening in the lives of ordinary men and women today. I know. To date, the Catherine of Siena Institute has helped over 25,000 Catholics around the world discern the charisms which the Holy Spirit bestowed upon them in Baptism and Confirmation. As my many lay and priestly collaborators can tell you, what the Holy Spirit is doing in and through the lives of ordinary Catholics – most of whom have never been part of the charismatic renewal – is both amazing and immensely encouraging.

As John Paul II observed, “Whenever the Spirit intervenes, he leaves people astonished.”

Your thoughts?

(Sherry's note: If you would like to become part of the solution, consider attending the Catherine of Siena Institute's Making Disciples in Colorado Springs this summer or West Virginia this November.)

To learn more about topics raised by this article, check out:

The World Christian database at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. Based upon the World Christian Encyclopedia, this online searchable colossus is regularly updated. Data on 9,000 Christian denominations, 13,000 ethnolinguistic peoples, 5,000 cities, 238 countries and all major world religions.

Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization website

AD 2000 and Beyond Movement The office is closed, but the website remains and has lots of information.

Global Harvest Ministries, Peter Wagner’s organization in Colorado Springs. To get a flavor, read the Global links and Global prayer newsletter. Has links to Wagner Leadership Institute.

Ministries Today Magazine, Pentecostal/charismatic/Apostolic. Did a series of issues on the five-fold ministries.

DAWN Friday Fax, global mission and evangelization news from an independent perspective

Iris Ministries, website of Heidi and Rolland Baker. Read their blog and newsletter for a taste of the best of apostolic Christianity. Read this article about their ministry. Be prepared to be blown away.

The Parish: Mission or Maintenance?, Sherry Weddell & Michael Sweeney, OP. Catholic perspective on the role of the ordained and the parish in formation of the laity; the significance of charisms in formation. Originally presented at the North American College and the Angelicum in Rome.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Challenge of Independent Christianity (part 10)

Posted for Sherry W.

See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9.

Just a reminder for my readers: NONE of the staff or teachers of the Catherine of Siena Institute have ever been or are currently part of the “Independent Christian” movement! Nor have any of our posters on ID ever been part of it (as far as I know).

I am writing about this movement as a journalist, not an apologist. I am describing the second largest, fastest growing, and most missionary-minded Christian community in the world today because we have to recognize their existence in order to deal with them.

As a journalist, my job is to try and help you grasp the nature and significance of the movement. Since Independent Christianity is complicated to describe, I will spend most of my time describing and secondarily exploring some of the implications for the Catholic Church. I will not be spending my time in a detailed analysis and rebuttal of their many theological problems, not because I agree with their stance but because it would require another 20,000 words to do so and this is long enough as it is!

Ecumenical and Intra-Ecclesial Implications

We tend to regard the three basic “types” of Christianity - Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy - as essentially stable and fixed. Given the long histories and long memories of these faiths, it is only natural to think of religious affiliation as a deeply-rooted identity that changes only with difficulty and very slowly. We don’t expect to wake up tomorrow and find that Protestants have decided en masse that the Reformation was not a good idea or that the Orthodox have jettisoned their icons in favor of store-front missions. Our ecumenical dialogue is founded upon this presumed stability.

David Barrett, however, has a fascinating sidebar in his World Christian Encyclopedia indicating that a surprising amount of religious change is, in fact, the norm. As Barrett puts it, “Every year, millions of people are changing their religious profession or their Christian affiliation. Mass defections are occurring from stagnant majority religions to newer religions” (World Christian Encyclopedia, p. 5). It is imperative for us to understand that a significant part of this change is the result of personal choices, and not just natural birth and death. Evangelicals have a saying: “God has no grandchildren”. Although Catholics don’t usually think in these terms, the Church’s recent experience in the West should give us pause.

Christianity has experienced massive losses in the Western world over the last 60 years...every year, some 2,7655,100 church attenders in Europe and North America cease to be practicing Christians within the 12-month period, an average loss of 7,500 every day. At the global level, these losses from Christianity in the Western World slightly outweigh the gains in the Third world. (World Christian Encyclopedia, p. 5).

Most thoughtful Catholics are already aware of the grim situation of the Church in the West which, in part, spurred Pope John Paul II to call for a new evangelization.
On the other hand, Christianity has experienced massive gains across the Third World throughout the 20th century... The present net increase (in Africa) is 8.4 million new Christians a year (23,000 a day) of which 1.5 million are net new converts (converts minus defections or apostasies). Sizeable net conversions are also taking place in Asia (2.4 million/year). (World Christian Encyclopedia, p. 5).

Looking at the global scene as a whole, one must conclude that the mission ad gentes has been the great success story of the 20th century. It is the pastoral care and on-going evangelization of established Christian peoples – especially in historic European denominations - that has “collapsed”.

But there is another change, just as dramatic, which most Catholics have not yet noticed, even though it has occurred in our lifetime - in a single generation. The rise of the Independent movement is one consequence of the massive “pentacostalization” of those Christian communities who are the spiritual heirs of the Protestant Reformation.

Every day, 30,000 Christians around the world join the ranks of what Barrett calls the “renewalists”. Under the generic term renewalist, Barret would include all members of classic Pentecostal denominations (80 million); all charismatics within standard denominations including Catholics (186 million), and all “neo-charismatics” who are neither classic Pentecostals or within standard denominations (324 million). In mid 2005, there were approximately 590 million renewalist Christians in the world.

In 1970, only 16% of non Catholic, non-Orthodox Christians qualified as renewalists. By 2000, 60% of Reformation heritage Christians in the world were renewalists. And a significant percentage of the remaining 40%, who would not formally qualify as renewalists, have nonetheless absorbed some of their ideas and practices. The part of the world where Christianity is most obviously faltering, such as Europe, has the fewest number of renewalists while Latin America and Asia have the most. The United States is the western country with the largest number (31%). (A detailed look at the global growth of the renewal is available in the World Christian Encyclopedia, pages 19-21).

This is especially significant because cessationism - the theological conviction that the miracles of the apostolic age ceased when the full canon of Scripture become available as a source of revelation and guidance – is a Protestant idea. Cessationism never made much sense to Catholic or Orthodox Christians who continued to expect the saints to work miracles, but it was the norm among non-Pentecostal Protestants only a generation ago. As a baby Baptist in southern Mississippi, I was taught that things like speaking in tongues and miraculous healings were demonic manifestations. In the 80’s, many evangelical mission agencies still would not accept charismatic candidates.

Today, it is a rare American or Latin or Asian or African Protestant indeed who holds to strict cessationism. They aren’t necessarily going to be speaking in tongues anytime soon, but even the most cautious are usually open to the possibility of divine healing. This can’t help but strongly affect our ecumenical dialogue with our Reformed heritage brothers and sisters.

To understand the impact of charismatic spirituality on Catholics, we have to distinguish between actual magisterial teaching on charisms and the charismatic dimension of the Church, the Catholic charismatic renewal, and those who have simply absorbed charismatic beliefs or practices, whether via Catholic or Protestant sources.

The whole issue of charisms - how common and widely they are given, and how they are related to baptism and the apostolate of the laity - was specifically discussed in October, 1965 during the debates on the Decree on the Laity at the Second Vatican Council. Welcoming and discerning the charisms was already formal Church teaching at the highest level when what is now known as the charismatic renewal broke out in 1967 at a student retreat at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh:

It is not only through the sacraments and the ministries of the Church that the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the People of God and enriches it with virtues, but, "allotting his gifts to everyone according as he wills (1 Cor 12:11), he distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church, according to the words of the Apostle: "The manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit" (1 Cor 12:7).

These charisms, whether they be the more outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation, for they are perfectly suited to and useful for the needs of the Church. Extraordinary gifts are not to be sought after, nor are the fruits of apostolic labor to be presumptuously expected from their use, but judgment as to their genuinity and proper use belongs to those who are appointed leaders in the Church, to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to that which is good (cf. 1 Thes 5:12; 19-21). (Dogmatic Constititution on the Church, 12)

Formal involvement in the charismatic renewal is a minority experience among Catholics – especially in the West. As of 2000, about 120 million (11.3%) Catholics in the world had been involved in the charismatic renewal at some point. It is much rarer among the Orthodox - only 1.5%. (Sherry’s note: in any other communion, 120 million would be a massive majority. Remember that the entire world-wide Anglican communion is only 86 million strong.)

However, the numbers of Catholics around the world who have adapted “renewalist” ideas or practices is much larger. Consider Latin America. Brazil is not only the largest Catholic country in the world; it is also the home of the largest number of denominational Pentecostals (24 million) and the largest number of charismatics (35 million) – most of whom are Catholic. A recent survey conducted by The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found, for example, that “more than half of Brazilian Catholics have embraced important elements of spirit-filled or renewalist Christianity, including a highly animated worship style and such practices as speaking in tongues and divine healing.”

And the same phenomenon is changing the face of the American Catholic Church. To explore the complex nature of religion among Latinos in the US, who already make up 39% of Catholics, the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life collaborated on a series of surveys that totaled more than 4,600 interviews, constituting one of the largest data collection efforts conducted on this subject.

They found that, in the US,
more than half of Hispanic Catholics identify themselves as charismatics, compared with only an eighth of non-Hispanic Catholics. While remaining committed to the church and its traditional teachings, many of these Latino Catholics say they have witnessed or experienced occurrences typical of spirit-filled or renewalist movements, including divine healing and direct revelations from God. Even many Latino Catholics who do not identify themselves as renewalists appear deeply influenced by spirit-filled forms of Christianity.

This gap between those who are consciously open to charismatic phenomena and those who are not is rapidly becoming the new global divide between Christians. Most importantly for the US, it is opening a nearly unbridgeable chasm of experience and imagination between the enlightenment-influenced, Anglo Catholic elite (conservative, liberal, and traditionalist) and their charismatic Protestant and Catholic brothers and sisters.

(Sherry’s note: In my experience, the fear and loathing with which some intellectually inclined Catholics regard charismatics isn’t about charisms at all. The loathing is really directed toward a particular style of emotionally demonstrative worship and the fear is that the intellect and its fruit will cease to be valued. They don’t know that there are very real, supernatural charisms of the intellect.

I have had many conversations around the world with traditionalist and intellectual Christians who would shudder at the prospect of darkening the door of a charismatic prayer meeting but were clearly manifesting charisms. I’ve talked to people in dioceses so adverse to the renewal that charismatic prayer groups are literally underground. I have listened to priests who are clearly manifesting charisms of healing (and talking about it in whispers!) in the most traditionalist dioceses on earth. When I point that out to them and show them how their experience corresponds to magisterial teaching, they rejoice – but would still shudder if asked to raise their hands and sing praise songs.

In magisterial teaching, the charisms are one of the normative fruits of baptism, given for the sake of others and the mission of the Church; hence the urgency that they be discerned. If we simply regard the charisms in themselves, the whole charismatic/non-charismatic tension – which is really about something else - just dissolves.)

There is more at stake in all this than openness to the miraculous.

Protestantism, as a whole, is undergoing the biggest changes in ecclesiology, pastoral practice, and spirituality seen since the Reformation. Mainline and evangelical Protestant strategists in the west are starting all kinds of alternate congregations and movements aimed at post-modern seekers. They are called by various names: “emergent church”, “missional church”, or “simple church”. They may or may not be part of the New Apostolic Reformation but they share many similar convictions.
We believe the missional genius of the church can only be unleashed when there are foundational changes made to the church's very DNA, and this means addressing core issues like ecclesiology, spirituality, and leadership. It means a complete shift away from Christendom thinking, which is attractional, dualistic, and hierarchical. (The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church, by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost, 2003)

Cardinal George of Chicago has famously observed that U.S. citizens "are culturally Calvinist, even those who profess the Catholic faith." Ordinary American Catholics will inevitably be deeply affected, even if they never leave the Church, when Protestantism, which so dominates our religious imagination and culture as a nation, undergoes a dramatic transformation. The fact that Latinos, with their very different cultural and charismatic sensibilities, will probably soon constitute a majority of American Catholics, is only going to reinforce this trend.

More on implications for Catholics tomorrow.

Catholic Quote of the Day

Via David as part of this discussion at a valuable discussion of zeal and its sometimes toxic effects over at Disputations:

"There are two kinds of workmen equally earnest in their labour. The first build without destroying. They are those who temper their zeal with prudence so as to be useful to every one and to injure no one. These skilful workers do not consider that whatever is possible should be attempted ; on the contrary, they regard as possible and allowable what will serve for the profit of others. If they perceive the slightest signs of the danger of a scandal, or even of the appearance of one, which would have the effect of alienating from them the hearts of men, especially of those whose influence should be considered, they draw back and their humility is the gainer, because through the fault of others, they cannot realize the good which they hoped to accomplish.

The workmen of the second class build and destroy at the same time. They continually cut the thread which they are weaving, they possess zeal, but an inconsiderate zeal ; they allow themselves to be much more carried away by their impetuosity than guided by sound reason ; they have no regard for the grievous consequences which result from the good at which they
aim. In order to gain one soul they sometimes lose ten, and never give it a thought; if they meet with some opposition, they wish that, even if the world should be upset, their grievances should be fully redressed, and they thus change into hostility the good will which their Order had acquired and which it needs in order to promote the glory of God.

"We should not confine ourselves to looking at what zeal for the honour of God, considered in Himself, may require, but we should accommodate that zeal to what our neighbour's profit demands. Zeal for God s honour is neither zeal, nor according to knowledge, except when it is exercised for the profit of others, when it associates God s glory with the salvation of souls, and when it furthers the interests of creatures while seeking the glory of the Creator.
We ought sometimes, if we may so say, to leave God in Himself in order to seek God in our neighbour.

'I will have mercy and not sacrifice," says the Lord.'"

- Ignatius of Loyola

The Challenge of Independent Christianity (part 9)

Posted for Sherry W.
See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8.

Just a reminder for my readers: NONE of the staff or teachers of the Catherine of Siena Institute have ever been or are currently part of the “Independent Christian” movement! Nor have any of our posters on ID ever been part of it (as far as I know).

I am writing about this movement as a journalist, not an apologist. I am describing the second largest, fastest growing, and most missionary-minded Christian community in the world today because we have to recognize their existence in order to deal with them.

As a journalist, my job is to try and help you grasp the nature and significance of the movement. Since Independent Christianity is complicated to describe, I will spend most of my time describing and secondarily exploring some of the implications for the Catholic Church. I will not be spending my time in a detailed analysis and rebuttal of their many theological problems, not because I agree with their stance but because it would require another 20,000 words to do so and this is long enough as it is!

Some Implications for Catholics

The Debate over Dominus Iesus & the Validity of Contemporary Missions

There is a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon between the Independent reading of Christian fortunes in Asia and that of theologians like Peter Phan. Phan asserted, in an article titled “The Next Christianity” (America, February 3, 2003), that at most Christians in Asia make up only 3% of the population after 500 years of evangelization and strongly implied that the missionary enterprise was a bust. Meanwhile, David Barrett gives a figure that is three times larger (9%), and which represents a fourfold growth in Asian Christianity since 1900. Indeed, Barrett estimates that Christians will outnumber Buddhists in Asia before 2025!

At first, I was flummoxed. How could two experts in the field come up with figures that were so far apart? The answer came when I discovered that both Barrett and Fides, the communication arm of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, put the number of Asian Catholics in 2002 at 110 million or 2.9% of the total population. (Sherry’s note: David Barrett’s updated 2005 figures estimate that there are nearly 123 million Catholics in Asia.)

I realized that Phan must be using the word Christian as a synonym for Catholic. But there are twice as many non-Catholic Christians as Catholics in Asia. When I added in the numbers of Asian Protestants (57 million), the Orthodox (13.6 million), and the huge numbers of new independent Christians (179 million), the gap between 3% and 9% was easily bridged.

This is not just statistical nit-picking. Our understanding of the state of global Christianity is shaping our theological discussions. For example, John Allen’s September 23, 2005 summary of global Catholicism in The Word From Rome, states:

There's a sense in which Asian Catholicism is to the Catholic church today what Latin America was in the 1970s and 1980s, that is, the frontline of the most important theological question of the day . . . Today, it's over what theological sense to make of religious diversity, meaning whether or not we can say that God wills religious diversity, and if God does will it, what does that do to Christianity's missionary imperative? In Asia, the social reality of Christianity as a tiny minority surrounded by millennia-old religious traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism makes this an urgent, and inescapable, theological challenge. (Sherry’s note: the emphasis is mine.)

Once again, we are being told that one of the primary reasons to rethink historic Christian belief and practice regarding the mission ad gentes is the failure of that mission. And once again, the dramatically different experience of non-Catholic Christians, who comprise two thirds of Asian Christianity, is not being taken into account when discussing this issue.

It is sometimes said that Catholics have a “big battalion” mentality. Is being a small but growing minority evidence of a failed mission? This would seem to imply that “success” involves the rapid conversion of the majority and the establishment of some kind of “Christendom”. In contrast, Independent Christians expect to be a minority and have no use for Christendom. They accept “outsider” status as the normal situation in which Christians live in this world and in which evangelization and mission occurs. For them, minority status is not evidence of mission failure. What matters is, “Are people becoming intentional disciples of Jesus Christ?”

The conversion of 1% of the population of a hitherto completely non-Christian people would be regarded by Independents as a giant breakthrough. But viewed through the lens of the “Christendom norm,” it could be used to “prove” the futility of missionary activity.

Nepal is an excellent case in point. Until 1951, Nepal was completely closed off to all missionary work. In 1960, there was only a handful of known Nepali Christians. The big breakthrough occurred in the early 60’s when two lay evangelists from India crossed the Himalayas to share the Gospel.

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

Nepali Christianity is growing so fast that Barrett estimates that the Christian population topped 768,000 by mid-2005 and now makes up 2.8% of the total population. 582,000 or 76% of Nepal’s Christians are Independents. There are only 6,626 known Catholics in the country.

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

So what’s the verdict? Are the Christians of Nepal a failed and beleaguered minority, or a success story that sounds remarkably like the first century church? How different the evangelical imperative looks if we stop assuming that creating another Christendom—the ultimate big battalion—is the measure of validity.

Independents aren’t the only Christians who have experienced dramatic growth in recent years. Catholic growth alone - outside the west - has sometimes been spectacular in the past century. As John Allen points out:

Africa in the 20th century went from a Catholic population of 1.9 million in 1900 to 130 million in 2000, a growth rate of 6,708 percent, the most rapid expansion of Catholicism in a single continent in 2,000 years of church history. Thirty-seven percent of all baptisms in Africa today are of adults, considered a reliable measure of evangelization success since it indicates a change in religious affiliation.” The Word from Rome, September 23, 2005.

How can we simply dismiss Catholic missions as a failure? If we look at the overall picture of Asian Christianity, Christians are likely to outnumber Buddhists in less than 20 years. How can we call them a “tiny minority”?

Here the contrast between Catholic and evangelical interpretations of mission history since 1960 is that of night and day, winter and summer.

What does it mean for the debate about Dominus Iesus and multiple economies of salvation if a significant portion of global Christianity is experiencing dramatic, unprecedented growth as a result of vigorously proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord?

In what ways should the very different experiences of non-Catholic Christians challenge our current practice in this area?

Click here for next post in the series.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Challenge of Independent Christianity (part 8)

Posted for Sherry W.

See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7.

Just a reminder for my readers:

NONE of the staff or teachers of the Catherine of Siena Institute have ever been or are currently part of the “Independent Christian” movement! Nor have any of our posters on ID ever been part of it (as far as I know).

I am writing about this movement as a journalist, not an apologist. I am describing the second largest, fastest growing, and most missionary-minded Christian community in the world today because we have to recognize their existence in order to deal with them.

As a journalist, my job is to try and help you grasp the nature and significance of the movement. Since Independent Christianity is complicated to describe, I will spend most of my time describing and secondarily exploring some of the implications for the Catholic Church. I will not be spending my time in a detailed analysis and rebuttal of their many theological problems, not because I agree with their stance but because it would require another 20,000 words to do so and this is long enough as it is!

Ministry Focus

Traditional Christianity starts with the present situation and focuses on the past. New apostolic Christianity starts with the present situation and focuses on the future. Many traditional churches are heritage-driven . . . the founders of the movement are often thought of as standing shoulder to shoulder with the 12 apostles. On the other hand, new apostolic church leaders are vision-driven. (The New Apostolic Churches, p. 21-22). (emphasis mine)

What makes the evangelization efforts of Independents stand apart from the historic Christian practice of proclamation is the assumption that how you go about your mission changes from year to year and from situation to situation. New Apostolic Reformation leaders continually talk of “new wineskins” and “seasons”. How a particular group is to go about the Great Commission in this situation and at this time will be revealed by God directly to anointed leaders. Most frequently, receiving such revelation is the responsibility of those recognized to have the gift of apostle or prophet or both “annointings” operating together.

In October, 1999, a weary Peter Wagner returned home from a huge intercessory gathering in Turkey. He had hardly unpacked his bags when Chuck Pierce, a close collaborator, called. Pierce asked,

Peter, are you still the apostle of the global prayer movement? . . .you are the one responsible for casting the vision for all of us. If you do not seek the Lord for the next vision now, we are in danger of losing the momentum that God has given us for a whole decade.

Wagner agreed that he was responsible. He spoke to God in the shower the next morning and after breakfast “revelation began, thick and fast.” Before noon, Wagner knew that God’s next assignment for the global prayer movement was the “40/70 window” (the heartland of historic Christianity, which includes 61 countries in Europe and Asia). (The Queen’s Domain, p. 34.)

NAR leaders are not unaware of potential abuses but most are convinced that the immense good to be gained by being open to the present inspiration of the Holy Spirit given to an anointed leader outweighs the possible damage caused by “flakiness”. The assumption is that one’s close collaborators, who are spiritually mature, will “confirm” the vision if it is truly of God. Wagner writes:

So I shared these and a few other thoughts with my Global Harvest Ministries staff at lunch that same day. . .The immediate, high voltage affirmation that this was truly what the Spirit was saying to the churches was incredible....”(The Queen’s Domain, p. 35)

(Sherry’s note: Some of you began to twitch involuntarily while reading those last few paragraphs. Please remember that I am describing the beliefs of a very different kind of Christian. I am not proposing them. I will deal with some of the implications for Catholics later.)

New Outreach

The title of Ted Haggard’s 1995 best selling book captures the spirit of Independents perfectly: Primary Purpose: Making It Hard for People to Go to Hell from Your City. Independent churches are especially committed to helping the unchurched - whether baptized or not - become intentional disciples and to mature into apostolically-minded Christians. It is axiomatic among independents that as a congregation grows, it should “plant” new congregations because new congregations are the most effective evangelizers. Since most independents are not part of a denomination, they don’t have to ask anyone but God for permission.

The Church planting movement was given a huge global boost by the AD 2000 movement whose motto was “a church within every unreached people group and making the gospel available to every person by the year 2000”. Starting thousands of brand new small evangelizing Christian communities is known as “saturation church planting” and has become the central strategy in both evangelical and Independent missions over the past 20 years.

As the DAWN (Discipling a Whole Nation) movement puts it: “the whole Church of a whole nation is committed to reach the goal of seeing Christ become incarnate in every small group in every village and neighborhood and for every class, kind and condition of man. This means having at least one gathering of believers sharing Christ within easy access of every person in each country.”

DAWN’s webpage on its ministry in Latin America puts it this way: “Evangelical Christians compose 18.35% of the population. This percentage has been the result of a massive church planting effort in the last ten years. The rest of the population is primarily Catholic—characterized by the popular religiosity and nominalism found in the region... we have established a goal for the next 15 years to challenge, train, and mobilize the church and its leadership to plant 3 million NEW healthy, holistic, and harvesting churches.”

Almost all apostolic churches are heavily involved in church planting and foreign missions. They are also engaged in creative ministry to the poor.

Rolland and Heidi Baker are excellent examples of this new kind of missionary. The Bakers are a part of an apostolic network headed by Bill Johnson and headquartered in Bethel Assembly of God Church in Redding, California. The Bakers’ life direction was changed when they met Jackie Pullinger, a charismatic Anglican who has worked with the gang members and drug addicts of Hong Kong for 30 years.

In 1995, the Bakers, who both have PhD's in theology, moved to Mozambique – the poorest country on earth. They were offered a crumbling orphanage by the government but no other support. The Bakers took it and 10 years later they care for over 6,000 orphans. In their spare time, they have planted over 6,000 congregations among the poor in 10 African nations. Their work, Iris Ministries, combines an unending passion for evangelism, a constant expectation of the miraculous, and a bottomless compassion.

In the forward to their book, There is Always Enough: God’s Miraculous Provision Among the Poorest Children on Earth, Rolland writes:

I always wanted to live and believe the Sermon on the Mount, but usually got told that it did not mean all that I thought it meant, and that I needed to be practical. I would read the Scriptures longingly, trying to imagine how wonderful it would be not to worry about anything, safe and secure in the presence of Jesus all the time. Miracles would be normal. Love would be natural. We could always give and never lose. We could be lied to, cheated and stolen from, and yet always come out ahead. We would never have to take advantage of anyone, or have any motive but to bless other people. Rather than always making contingency plans in case Jesus didn't do anything, we could count on Him continually. We, our lives, and all that we preach and provide would not be for sale, but would be given freely. . . .There would always be enough!

When I read Rolland Baker’s comments, I was struck by how some of the very best Catholics I know long for a similar unlimited confidence in God. Independent Christianity may be Catholicism’s ecclesial antitype, but a good deal of the movement is not intentionally anti-Catholic. In fact, most tend to associate anti-Catholicism with the old wineskin of denominationalism. There are often surprising parallels between Independent ideas and Catholic teaching. As far apart on the spectrum as Independents and Catholics may be, we are all seeking to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.

In the next installment, I'll begin to look at some of the implications of this movement for different areas of Catholic life.

John Allen on Latin American Catholicism & Pope Benedict's Visit

John Allen has a most interesting column this morning light of the series of posts on Independent Christianity and Pope Benedict's upcoming visit to Brazil. It's all illuminating but here are the passages that are especially pertinent to our discussions here on ID.

John Allen:

Pentecostals: While Latin America is home to almost half the world’s Catholic population, in some sense the Catholic church is under siege. Belgian Passionist Fr. Franz Damen, a veteran staffer for the Bolivian bishops, found that the number of conversions from Catholicism to Protestantism in Latin America during the 20th century actually surpassed the Protestant Reformation in Europe in the 16th century. In 1930, Protestants amounted to one percent of the Latin American population; today it’s between 12 and 15 percent. A study commissioned in the late 1990s by CELAM found that 8,000 Latin Americans were deserting the Catholic church for Evangelical Protestantism every day. Some religious demographers believe that Guatemala has already become the first majority Protestant nation in Latin America.

Theories to explain the attrition abound. Some conservatives blame liberation theology for politicizing the church, while liberals fault the hierarchical and clerical nature of Catholicism. Conspiracy theorists point to heavy funding and logistical support from Pentecostal and Evangelical churches in the United States. In the end, however, most observers seem to believe that the key factor is the failure of the Catholic church to deliver even rudimentary pastoral care to a large segment of the population, leaving millions of nominal Catholics without any real catechesis, spiritual formation or regular access to the sacraments. That created a vacuum which the Pentecostals have exploited. In turn, this failure is attributed to a severe priest shortage. (That point will be addressed below.)

One response to the Pentecostal challenge has been the growth of the Catholic charismatic movement, an enthusiastic and spontaneous form of spirituality focused on the gifts of the Holy Spirit: prophecy, speaking in tongues, miraculous healings, and inspired preaching. A recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 62 percent of Guatemalan Catholics call themselves “charismatic,” the highest percentage in the world, followed closely by Brazil at 57 percent. Overall, charismatics now account for roughly half the entire Catholic population of Latin America.

Some observers believe the growth of the charismatic movement is helping to stem the Pentecostal tide, because it offers most of what Latin Americans find attractive about Pentecostalism within the Catholic church. Others, however, worry that it too closely mimics the Pentecostals, especially when it comes to the “prosperity gospel” and an emphasis on immediate emotional gratification.

In that light, two challenges await Benedict XVI.

First, can this notoriously cerebral pope, famous for generating more light than heat, wear enough of his heart on his sleeve to win over audiences steeped in the charismatic style? Second, can Benedict affirm the enthusiasm and deep faith of the charismatics, while at the same time ensuring that they remain rooted in the broader pastoral concerns of the church?

Priests: By universal consensus, the shortage of priests throughout most of Latin American has created enormous holes in the church’s network of pastoral care. While the priest-to-person ratio in the United States is 1 to 1,229, in Brazil it’s 1 to 8,604, and in Honduras it’s 1 to 14,462. The experience of Fr. Ricardo Flores, pastor of San Jose Obrero parish in a residential neighborhood of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, is typical: he’s responsible for his large urban parish, as well as 14 other churches in the area that have no resident priest; he’s a professor at the seminary, teaching a full load of four courses each semester for around 60 students; and he’s the ecclesiastical moderator for two large national movements.

Though there are upticks in vocations in some countries, there’s no foreseeable future in which there will be a sufficient number of priests to staff all the parishes in Latin America, to say nothing of comforting the sick, teaching the young, and conducting the other ministries of the church. For many Latin American Catholic leaders, the answer is obvious: lay empowerment.

“Our current pastoral model is exhausted,” said Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras. He favors an aggressive program of forming laity to fill the gaps, learning from the success of the Pentecostals in fielding small armies of lay preachers and evangelists.

Given that liberation theology also promoted lay empowerment, however, in a way that critics saw as forming a kind of “church from below” in opposition to the hierarchy, other Latin Americans remain wary. In that light, if Benedict XVI chooses to speak positively about lay collaboration, it could have decisive significance for which way CELAM chooses to move.

The Challenge of Independent Christianity (part 7)

Posted for Sherry W.

See part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, part 5 here, part 6 here.

Just a reminder for my readers:

NONE of the staff or teachers of the Catherine of Siena Institute have ever been or are currently part of the “Independent Christian” movement! Nor have any of our posters on ID ever been part of it (as far as I know).

I am writing about this movement as a journalist, not an apologist. I am describing the second largest, fastest growing, and most missionary-minded Christian community in the world today because we have to recognize their existence in order to deal with them.

As a journalist, my job is to try and help you grasp the nature and significance of the movement. Since Independent Christianity is complicated to describe, I will spend most of my time describing and secondarily exploring some of the implications for the Catholic Church. I will not be spending my time in a detailed analysis and rebuttal of their many theological problems, not because I agree with their stance but because it would require another 20,000 words to do so and this is long enough as it is!

Power Orientation

The Wagner Leadership Institute’s offerings begin to make sense when you realize that the heart of church government and ecclesiology for the New Apostolic Reformation/Independent movement is restoration of what is called the “Five-fold Ministry” (based on Ephesians 4:11). The five ministries are: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher.

By now I’m sure it’s obvious that, within the New Apostolic Reformation, the word “apostle” does not refer to apostolic succession in the sense that Catholics understand it. For Independents, “apostle” refers to both a charism (spiritual gift) and an office bestowed directly by God on an individual as an “anointing” or spiritual empowerment. This anointing or spiritual authority is understood to operate within a specific sphere. So “ecclesiastical apostles” exercise authority over a number of churches, presumably in an apostolic network headed up by the apostle, while “ambassadorial apostles” have itinerant, frequently international, ministries of catalyzing and nurturing apostolic movements. There are numerous other recognized apostolic “specializations”. Some women as well as men are recognized as apostles.

In their understanding, when the office of apostle has been bestowed, it is usually revealed by God directly to the recipient and then confirmed in his or her life through supra-local spiritual authority, signs and wonders, and remarkable evangelistic effectiveness. As Matthew Green, editor of Understanding the Fivefold Ministry puts it, each apostle

. . . demonstrates humility and servanthood, intent not on building a personal empire, but on equipping and releasing others for effective ministry. Each received a dramatic call and possesses unique gifts as a pioneer in his or her area of ministry. Each has experienced signs and wonders in the wake of his or her ministry. Each is passionately committed to sound theology, both in its practical and doctrinal expressions. (p. 3)

Naomi Dowdy would be a good example of a recognized “apostle”. When Tennessee-native Dowdy founded Trinity Christian Centre in Singapore 30 years ago, her colleagues in the Assemblies of God regarded her as a missionary. But today this successful pastor and church-growth consultant is usually referred to as “Apostle Naomi.”

“Apostolic networks” are voluntary gatherings of individual congregations and pastors under the personal spiritual “covering” of an individual apostle. Dowdy seems to lead several networks. Her Global Leadership Network is described as “a network of networks committed to fulfilling the Great Commission in our generation.” One member of the GLN is David Mohan, pastor of the largest congregation in India, New life Assembly of God in Chennai. David writes, “After we embraced the GLN Cell Church model, the new converts were nurtured and were transformed in their character and lifestyle. Now we have grown from 2,500 to 30,000 in 15 years”).

Dowdy “provides apostolic covering, mentoring, and impartation for strategic leaders in key ministry positions globally” via her Global Covenant Network . Leaders ordained through Dowdy’s network are required to have the following qualifications:

  • Five years in one of the ascension gifts [five-fold ministry]
  • Strong integrity and Christian character
  • Recommended by members of GCN
  • Two years as a Licensed Credential holder (conditional)
Dowdy is currently working hard to raise up other women apostles. “‘Women must arise and take their place beside the men,’ Dowdy told delegates last week at the Apostolic Women Arising conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Hundreds of Christians from seven nations—including Bahrain and Vietnam—received three and a half days of training at the event.” (Fire In My Bones: A New Assignment for Women - Apostolic Conquest by J. Lee Grady, Charisma online, October 11, 2005 - select from drop-down list of archived columns). The Apostolic Women Arising conference, featuring several well known women apostles, will be held in Jakarta and in Atlanta in July 0f 2007.

Typically, an apostolic network includes 50 – 150 local congregations that may be spread around the world. (Sherry’s note: remember that David Barrett estimated in 2000 that there were about 22,000 such networks or para-denominations in existence involving 1.7 million congregations.) In 1968 Terry Virgo started a small community of Christians on the south coast of England. His goal was to build a radical church life founded on the principles that he saw in the New Testament. Other English churches asked for Terry’s help and by 1980, he was working with 20 different congregations. 25 years later, New Frontiers has become “a worldwide family of churches together on a mission to establish the Kingdom of God” ( That family includes congregations in Africa, North America, Asia, and Europe. Some apostles such as Bill Harmon of Christian International Ministries, use the title “Bishop”. Here is a map of Harmon's global apostolic network which includes about 80 congregations and 54 ministers at large in 20 countries.

By this point some of you are asking, “Haven’t these people ever heard of Montanism?” Yes, gentle reader, a number of Independent leaders have graduate degrees and know about Montanism and its condemnation by the Church in the late second century. But suspicion of Catholics is part of their Reformation DNA; they don’t trust the Church’s judgment on that score. Vinson Synon, a Pentecostal elder statesman, calls Montanism “Charismatic” and is carefully agnostic as to its validity: “In the end, rightly or wrongly, the church rejected Montanism” (Understanding the Fivefold Ministry, p 50). Unlike Catholics, most Independent leaders do not feel bound by the practice or decisions of earlier generations.

    Continued in part 8....

    Thursday, May 3, 2007

    "The Future of Worldwide Catholicity is at Risk"

    Posting for Sherry W.

    This is intense!

    Via Indian Catholic

    BRASILIA (CNA): The prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, called on the faithful in Latin America to reach out to fallen away Catholics who have joined other Christian denominations.

    "We can’t sit and wait in the parishes," he said. "We should go out ourselves to bring the baptized back. We should go out to poor on the outskirts of town, who need our solidarity, our warmth. We should help them with their daily problems, but also to fulfill their dreams, because the poor also have dreams," the cardinal said.

    "In recent years," he continued, "the Church in America has lost 1% of its faithful each year." Therefore, he encouraged Catholics to create new initiatives of evangelization in the region where almost half of the world’s Catholics live. "Perhaps the future of worldwide Catholicity is at risk," he said.

    Among the reasons Catholics leave the Church to join other Christian denominations is "the moral relativism imported from Europe and introduced into Latin America, especially by local leaders, the mass media and intellectuals," the cardinal said, citing the recent legalization of abortion in Mexico as an example."The Church in Latin America should ask itself what it has not done right and why it has not been able to implant a more profound faith in the baptized," he continued, warning also that this is not a problem affecting solely the Church in Latin America but also in the rest of the world.

    The Challenge of Independent Christianity (part 6)

    Posting for Sherry W.

    See part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, part 5 here.

    Just a reminder for my readers:

    NONE of the staff or teachers of the Catherine of Siena Institute have ever been or are currently part of the “Independent Christian” movement! Nor have any of our posters on ID ever been part of it (as far as I know).

    I am writing about this movement as a journalist, not an apologist. I am describing the second largest, fastest growing, and most missionary-minded Christian community in the world today because we have to recognize their existence in order to deal with them.

    As a journalist, my job is to try to help you grasp the nature and significance of the movement. Since Independent Christianity is complicated to describe, I will spend most of my time describing and secondarily exploring some of the implications for the Catholic Church. I will not be spending my time in a detailed analysis and rebuttal of their many theological problems, not because I agree with their stance but because it would require another 20,000 words to do so and this is long enough as it is!

    The Dummies Guide to the Independent Christianity

    What does David Barrett mean when he says that this emerging group is “post-denominationalist”? The vast majority of “independent” Christians have “replaced historic denominationalism by non-centralized lifestyle and church order” (World Christian Encyclopedia, p. 29).

    A common theme among Independent Christianity writers is rejoicing at having escaped 1700 years of “Constantinian spectator Christianity” that began when Christianity moved from being “a dynamic, revolutionary, social and spiritual movement to being a religious institution with its attendant structures, priesthood and sacraments.” (The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church, Michael Frost &, Allen Hirsch)

    This movement is often described as the most radical change in the Church since the Protestant Reformation. Many prominent leaders regard even the structures of 20th century evangelicalism as “old wineskins” that can and should be sloughed off in order to open the door to the new things that God is doing today. Novel approaches for classic Protestant ways of doing church is what really sets apart the New Apostolic Reformation. Peter Wagner lists a number of “new wineskins”, including new authoritative structure, new leadership training, new ministry focus, new outreach, and new “power orientation”. (The New Apostolic Churches, C. Peter Wagner, editor, p. 19-25.)


    In denominational Protestantism, the pastor has historically been regarded as the employee of the congregation. As Wagner dramatically puts it,

    In my judgment, the view of leadership and leadership authority constitute the most radical of the nine changes from traditional Christianity. Here is the main difference: The amount of spiritual authority delegated by the Holy Spirit to individuals.... We are seeing a transition from bureaucratic authority to personal authority, from legal structures to relational structure, from control to coordination and from rational leadership to charismatic leadership.

    The New Apostolic Churches, p. 19-20.

    The distinction between clergy and laity, as understood within both Catholicism and Protestantism, is actively repudiated by Independents. Seminary and ordination by a denomination are no longer considered essential pre-requisites for pastoral ministry. Leadership is charismatic. Men and women are “ordained” by their local pastor in recognition of their personal faith and God-given “anointing”. What matters are an individual’s personal faith and holiness, and their demonstrated leadership in evangelism, church-planting, and vision-casting.

    Leadership Training

    Because seminary is optional, many staff of new apostolic churches are “homegrown” and alternate forms of leadership formation are emerging. The Wagner Leadership Institute is one model of the new style of pastoral formation. Catholic seminarians would not recognize the short courses offered this past November at the Wagner Leadership Institute in Colorado Springs: Prophetic Evangelism, Releasing Your Anointing, and Moving in the Apostolic.

    (Sherry’s note: My comments about Ted Haggard were written 11 months before his widely publicized “fall” in November of 2006. Although he is no longer in leadership, the dynamics that he represented are still very much at work and so I chose to retain my paragraphs about him.)

    Pastors and leaders do not need to be a part of this new movement in order to be heavily influenced by it. The stature of Ted Haggard, the current President of the National Association of Evangelicals, shows us how the influence of Independent leaders and ideas has moved far beyond the Independent Christianity movement. Haggard’s dazzling smile was featured on the November 4, 2005 cover of Christianity Today, the premier magazine of evangelicalism. He manages to be both an icon of the Independent movement and a top leader among more traditional denominationalist evangelicals—an excellent example of how porous is the boundary between the two. The influence of New Apostolic ideas and practices upon “denominationalists” is facilitated by their common Reformation heritage and, most importantly, a common commitment to evangelism and world mission.

    More on ministry focus and outreach in my next post.

    The Challenge of Independent Christianity (part 5)

    Posted for Sherry W.

    Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, part 3 is here, part 4 is here.

    Just a reminder for my readers: NONE of the staff or teachers of the Catherine of Siena Institute have ever been or are currently part of the “Independent Christian” movement! Nor have any of our posters on ID ever been part of it (as far as I know).

    I am writing about this movement as a journalist, not an apologist. I am describing the second largest, fastest growing, and most missionary-minded Christian community in the world today because we have to recognize their existence in order to deal with them.

    As a journalist, my job is to try and help you grasp the nature and significance of the movement. Since Independent Christianity is complicated to describe, I will spend most of my time describing and secondarily exploring some of the implications for the Catholic Church. I will not be spending my time in a detailed analysis and rebuttal of their many theological problems, not because I agree with their stance but because it would require another 20,000 words to do so and this is long enough as it is!

    Meanwhile, a spontaneous spiritual fire swept the globe in 1994 -1995. It was called the Toronto Blessing because the first well-known manifestations took place in January of 1994 in a small Vineyard church near the Toronto airport.

    The Toronto Blessing was associated with dramatic scenes of hundreds being “slain in the Spirit” or experiencing “holy laughter” when prayed over. The blessing seemed to be transferable and could be passed on through what they termed “impartation”. An individual who had been prayed for and had received the “anointing” passed the blessing on to others by praying for them in person, usually through the laying on of hands.

    Within months, the Vineyard Church had become a spectacular international draw. Toronto Life Magazine billed the Toronto Blessing as the top tourist attraction in 1994. By September, 1995, 20,000 Christian leaders and 200,000 first-time visitors had come from virtually every country and denomination to experience the blessing and bring it home. (See Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship)
    In May, 1994, the Toronto blessing reached London and Holy Trinity Brompton (read the Mystery Worshiper’s impression of HTB here), the charismatic Anglican parish that birthed the popular Alpha course. A strange phone call pulled Sandy Miller, then vicar of Holy Trinity, out of a very serious meeting. The church secretary reported that all the staff had been slain in the Spirit and couldn’t get off the floor. Eleanor Mumford, who had "received" the blessing in the US, was invited to speak at all the Sunday services about the experience and many present were affected.

    Although Holy Trinity Brompton could not be characterized as an Independent movement congregation, its leadership had strong ties to both John Wimber, until his death in 1997, and to Fuller seminary, which strongly promoted the Alpha course in the US. It is very characteristic of the New Apostolic Reformation that traditional denominational ties are much less important than a shared passion for evangelization and openness to the present action of the Holy Spirit.

    After this event, the Alpha course, a 15 week introduction to Christianity, took off in a big way. In 1991, only 900 attended; in 1996 there were 250,000. An important part of the course is a weekend away where participants pray for the filling of the Holy Spirit and are encouraged to speak in tongues.

    Sherry’s note:

    8 million people have been through Alpha over the past 20 years. In mid 2006, there were 31,763 Alpha courses running in 164 nations. Alpha has been adapted for the workshop, the armed forces, schools, prisons, campuses, and youth versions and has been translated into 64 languages. The course is being used by nearly all Christian communions – including the Catholic church. 1.6 million have attended in the US alone as of 2006, 2 million in the UK out of a total population of 60 million.

    In September 2006, a
    60-second Alpha commercial was shown in cinemas nationwide. Alpha postcards were placed in every multiplex cinema foyer in the UK and a full page advertisement in the October edition of Cosmopolitan magazine came out on September 16. There were also posters on the sides and backs of over 2000 buses throughout the UK.

    Catholic dioceses all over the world are using Alpha with the support of local bishops. Go here for what the Alpha people say about running an Alpha course in a Catholic context. Note there are national Alpha offices in a number of overwhelmingly Catholic countries such as France (take a look at this article about the beginning of French Alpha, which is now running in 2/3 of the Catholic dioceses in the country.) And check out the Alpha national offices in Ireland, Austria, Poland, and Spain. Information about the Spanish language version of Alpha is here. A good deal of the positive signs about the resurgence of Christianity in Europe being reported lately are Alpha-related or influenced.

    Nicky Gumbel, who heads up the Alpha movement, met Pope John Paul II in 2004, and met with Pope Benedict XVI when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger. He says the present Pope already knew about Alpha because he had previously met with Alpha leaders from Germany.

    In August of last year, Gumbel began his Canadian visit in Quebec City with a positive meeting with Canada's Roman Catholic Primate, Cardinal Marc Ouellet. "His love for Christ came through," Gumbel said. "His passion for evangelization, for unity, for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is all so obvious in his life and his ministry. I felt so refreshed being with him."

    From a Catholic perspective, Alpha is a mixed bag. What Alpha does very well is present the basic kerygma and challenge participants to a conscious discipleship which is life-changing. Another reason for its popularity is that it is designed to be highly accessible to the unchurched of no religious background, a factor very important in the UK, its birthplace. The majority of churches that use the Alpha course grow. Alpha is designed to take the initiative to reach out rather than wait for the unchurched to come to us. And it seems to be attractive to young adults.

    Which is why Catholic leaders often approve its use (see this
    list of approving letters from various US bishops and other Catholic leaders).

    From a teaching perspective, there are serious content problems with Alpha which I have outlined in the Siena Scribe article “
    When Evangelical is Not Enough.”

    Catholic leaders are often aware of Alpha’s doctrinal deficiencies but regard it as a necessary trade-off. Alpha is pre-packaged, polished, effective, and heavily supported. Pastors and staff are very busy and don’t know how to go about evangelizing so it is much easier and very attractive to go with a tested “plug and play” program. The assumption is that doctrinal issues will be, ideally, dealt with later in a post-Alpha follow-up teaching such as the DVDs produced by
    Catholic Faith Exploration which were specifically developed by the Archdiocese of Westminister as a Catholic answer to Alpha.

    Back to the development of Independent Christianity:

    By 1996, a consensus was developing among many evangelical leaders that a new sort of global Christianity was emerging. That year, Peter Wagner convened the first National Symposium on Post-Denominational Church at Fuller. One of the participants later wrote, “The consensus of the panelists was that there are still apostles and prophets in the Church, and there is an emerging Apostolic Movement that will revolutionize the 21st Century Church” (Prophetic Destiny and the Apostolic Reformation, Bill Hamon, p.18).

    I will return to the subject of apostles in my next post.

    Wednesday, May 2, 2007

    The Challenge of Independent Christianity, part 4

    Posted for Sherry Weddell:

    Part 1 is here; part 2 is here; part 3 is here.

    Just a reminder for my readers:
    NONE of the staff or teachers of the Catherine of Siena Institute have ever been or are part of the “Independent Christian” movement! Nor have any of our posters on ID ever been part of it (as far as I know).

    I am writing about this movement as a journalist, not an apologist. I am describing the second largest, fastest growing, and most missionary-minded Christian community in the world today because we have to recognize their existence in order to deal with them.

    As a journalist, my job is to try to help you grasp the nature and significance of the movement. Since Independent Christianity is complicated to describe, I will spend most of my time describing and secondarily exploring some of the implications for the Catholic Church. I will not be spending my time in a detailed analysis and rebuttal of their many theological problems, not because I agree with their stance but because it would require another 20,000 words to do so and this is long enough as it is!
    The pace accelerated in the 90s. A complex series of planned initiatives and spontaneous spiritual movements all fueled the global emergence of the Independent Christianity. In July 1989, more than 4,300 participants from 173 countries gathered at the Second International Congress on World Evangelization in Manila (Lausanne II). It was at that meeting that the “AD 2000 & Beyond Movement” was born. The movement sought to “encourage cooperation among existing churches, movements, and entities to work together toward the vision of a church for every people and the gospel for every person by the year 2000” (

    AD 2000 focused its energies on what was called the “10/40 window”. The 10/40 window comprises that part of the world extending from 10 to 40 degrees north of the equator, stretching from North Africa to China. This area contains the largest population of non-Christians in the world, and 82% of the poorest of the poor live there.

    Also emerging from Lausanne II was the concept of a network of intercessors dedicated to what is termed “strategic-level spiritual warfare”. Independent Christians take Ephesians 6:12 very seriously: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world..." They believe that dealing through prayer with the spiritual obstacles to wide-spread awakening is an essential part of preaching the Gospel.

    The result was “Praying Through the Window”, the largest movement of coordinated intercessory prayer in history. Starting in 1993, Peter Wagner headed up four massive global campaigns of strategically focused prayer for the peoples and places of the 10/40 window. Tens of millions of Christians took part through prayer, and tens of thousands made “prayer journeys” to the most un-evangelized cities and communities on earth. After each campaign, any reported impact would be gathered and published.

    Participants strongly believed that that such “spiritual warfare” would be the catalyst of a changed spiritual atmosphere and, therefore, of a remarkable increase in miracles and a remarkable expansion of Christianity. Stories of the conversion of whole families and villages, miraculous healings, deliverance from demonic spirits, prophecies and visions--even the raising of the dead--have poured out of the 10/40 window in the past 15 years becoming almost commonplace in Independent Christianity circles.

    The heavy rain in the monsoon period drives many snakes out of their territories and into the villages. That leads to many snake bites, and only lucky people can be treated in time. Mohit was in the forest with his herd when he was bitten by a snake. He managed to make it back to his village and tell people what had happened, then lost consciousness. Neither the snake-charmers nor the village healer could do anything to help him. One of his neighbours asked a follower of Christ to pray for Mohit; 25 minutes later, he regained consciousness. Many people became open for the gospel through this miracle. (DAWN Friday Fax 2005, #32,

    By 1993, Peter Wagner felt that he was seeing a new pattern in church growth. He had been studying three major church growth movements in Africa, China, and Latin America. He put his observations of these groups together with his studies of Independent charismatic churches, which had been the fastest growing congregations in the US. Wagner came to the conclusion that “a pattern of divine blessing today on certain identifiable groups of churches is discernible” (The New Apostolic Churches, p. 17)

    In January of 1995, the Global Consultation on World Evangelization brought together some 4000 Christian leaders from 186 countries. South Korea was chosen to host the event because it contains some of the largest and most mission-minded churches in the world. More than 70% of GCOWE 95 funding came from Africa, Asia and Latin America. With this conference, the two-thirds world demonstrated its full partnership, if not primary initiative, in the cause of world evangelization.

    Continued in part 5, here.

    Revival on Campus?

    New York Times has a interesting piece on the revival of faith on college compuses.

    Peter J. Gomes has been at Harvard for 37 years, and says he remembers when religious people on campus felt under siege. To be seen as religious often meant being dismissed as not very bright, he said.

    No longer. At Harvard these days, said Professor Gomes, the university preacher, “There is probably more active religious life now than there has been in 100 years.”

    Speaking of Harvard, I've heard rave reviews of the work of this woman at the Harvard St. Paul's Catholic Church - Faye Darnall, the undergraduate chaplain.

    The Challenge of Independent Christianity (pt3)

    Posted for Sherry W:

    Part I is here; part II is here.

    Just a reminder for my readers:

    NONE of the staff or teachers of the Catherine of Siena Institute have ever been or are currently part of the “Independent Christian” movement! Nor have any of our posters on ID ever been part of it (as far as I know).

    I am writing about this movement as a journalist, not an apologist. I am describing the second largest, fastest growing, and most missionary-minded Christian community in the world today because we have to recognize their existence in order to deal with them.

    As a journalist, my job is to try and help you grasp the nature and significance of the movement. Since Independent Christianity is complicated to describe, I will spend most of my time describing and secondarily exploring some of the implications for the Catholic Church. I will not be spending my time in a detailed analysis and rebuttal of their many theological problems, not because I agree with their stance but because it would require another 20,000 words to do so and this is long enough as it is!

    How Did We Get Here?
    Independent Christianity emerged from the convergence of two major spiritual tributaries. The first is the world-wide growth of evangelical-style Christianity that David Barrett and many others have documented. The second is the global spread of Pentecostal/charismatic spirituality.

    The demand in the early 70’s for a moratorium on Christian missions from the West noted by Peter Phan proved to be an important catalyst. 2500 evangelical missionaries and strategists from 150 countries met for 10 days in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974 to discuss the challenges before them of maintaining two central tenets:

    · the uniqueness of Christ, called into doubt by the advocacy of tolerance for other religions

    · the validity of missions, challenged by the call for a moratorium on missions that was issued by some third-world church leaders.

    Their conclusions, captured in the Lausanne Covenant, were to shape history:

    We affirm that there is only one Saviour and only one gospel, although there is a wide diversity of evangelistic approaches. . . We also reject as derogatory to Christ and the gospel every kind of syncretism and dialogue which implies that Christ speaks equally through all religions and ideologies . . . To proclaim Jesus as "the Saviour of the world" is not to affirm that all people are either automatically or ultimately saved, still less to affirm that all religions offer salvation in Christ...

    In the Church's mission of sacrificial service evangelism is primary. World evangelization requires the whole Church to take the whole gospel to the whole world. The Church is at the very centre of God's cosmic purpose and is his appointed means of spreading the gospel. (

    This gathering, commonly referred to as Lausanne I, gave birth to a fresh commitment to global evangelization and a greatly intensified level of cooperation across denominational and organizational lines.

    Meanwhile, the paths of two remarkable men converged. C. Peter Wagner began as a conservative evangelical missionary to Bolivia who was extremely skeptical of Pentecostal claims. Wagner changed his mind after being healed at a prayer service in India. In 1971, Wagner became Professor of Church Growth at the Fuller School of World Missions. (Fuller seminary, located in Pasadena, California, is the largest interdenominational seminary in the world with 4,300 students from over 67 countries and over 108 denominations.) In the early 70’s, Wagner wrote his first book documenting Pentecostalism in Latin America as a rising missionary force. Shortly thereafter, he struck up a friendship with John Wimber, an evangelical Quaker pastor with a gift for evangelism, and eventually invited him to work at Fuller as a church growth consultant.

    After a few years, Wimber left Fuller to begin pastoring a church of 50. This small group was the genesis of the Vineyard Association, a hugely influential family of churches that now includes 850 congregations around the world. The turning point for Wimber came in 1977 when his wife Carol was dramatically healed. Wimber's attitude regarding divine healing changed from skepticism to openness. He began asking why healing and other miracles were happening in third world countries but not in North America. He wrestled with God and prayed for the members of his congregation every Sunday for 10 months before he saw his first physical healing.

    In 1982, Peter Wagner invited Wimber to teach the class, “Signs and Wonders and Church Growth,” which quickly become the most popular course at Fuller. Hundreds of missionary leaders from around the world attended during the three years that the course was offered. I took it myself. John Wimber published the book Power Evangelism in 1986, which introduced the evangelical community at large to ideas that now are considered axiomatic among most Independents, especially that effective evangelism needs to be preceded and undergirded by supernatural demonstrations of God's presence.

    I attended a week long seminar taught by Wimber on healing at the Anaheim Vineyard. Although I knew nothing about his history at the time, I can see now that Wimber had come a long way. I appreciated both Wimber’s confidence in God and his freedom to say “I don’t know”. He talked openly about his friend, David Watson, a high-profile Anglican pastor in England from whom he had prayed and who had recently died of cancer. But he also spoke of witnessing the instantaneous healing of a woman who had been born blind. The highlight of the conference for me was hearing the story of a small group of ordinary participants who had spent all night praying for a young woman bound to a wheel-chair. At dawn, she rose and walked. (Sherry’s note: this wasn’t just a rumor circulating around the conference, I talked to the woman myself.)

    Wimber wasn’t the only proponent of signs and wonders at Fuller in the early-mid 80’s. David Hubbard, President of the seminary from 1963 to 1993, was the son of ordained Pentecostal ministers and supportive of integrating the insights and practices of charismatics. I had a required class with Peter Wagner where we spent the first 30 minutes praying for one another’s healing. Chuck Kraft, a professor of anthropology, pointed out that our western worldview, shaped by Enlightenment rationalism, had systemically filtered out the possibility that God might act directly in miraculous ways. (Sherry’s note: I have never been part of the charismatic renewal myself so this was new to me. This was not why I choose to study there. I was preparing to be a missionary and Fuller came highly recommended. )

    Since two thirds of my fellow students were mid-career missionaries or non-western pastors and leaders, we inexperienced westerners learned first hand of the great strides that evangelicalism was making in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Many of the non-western students were already “neo-charismatic” in their practices. The Fuller School of World Missions had become a global center of influence where the re-vitalized missionary movement and neo-charismatic spirituality merged. Professors like Wagner and Kraft also played major roles in the new structures for world-wide missionary cooperation like the Lausanne Committee.

    Continued in Part 4, here.

    Immigration Information

    Immigration has been a very hot-button issue lately--particularly in our post 9/11 environment. How do we balance meeting the needs and sustaining the dignity of immigrants who are often fleeing poverty and oppression while safeguarding and strengthening the overall common good. I'm still taking time to reflect, pray, and learn about this issue, and I'm always happy when I can find a lot of resources in one place.

    Katerina Marie over at Evangelical Catholicism has gathered together a number of important resources and posts (including papal and conciliar teaching) regarding a Catholic perspective on immigration. If, like myself, you are looking for the best way to apply Church Teaching to this issue, stop by EC and take a look at those resources.

    It's so easy to get sucked into talking points from the Right and the Left, and forget that we are called to bring the wisdom and Truth of God into our response to this issue.

    I know I've been drawing a lot from Michael and Katerina over at Evangelical Catholicism, but they have really turned their blog "up a notch" lately! Check them out.

    Tuesday, May 1, 2007

    Cafe Apostolique

    I'm not sure why I'm in a French mood tonight, but I did see a fascinating article at Dom Bettinelli's about a Cafe in Denver (thanks Sherry!) that seems like a wonderful application of the lay apostolate in action. So All May Eat Cafe serves both the the homeless and the homed, offering healthy, balanced meals--without charging a fixed price. The owners ask only that a patron pay what they can:

    After years of volunteering in soup kitchens, Libby and Brad wanted to create a place that would nourish the hungry without setting them apart. No assembly-line service, no meals mass-produced from whatever happened to be donated that week. Just fresh, sophisticated food, made from scratch, served up in a real restaurant -- but a restaurant without a cash register.
    Pay what you think is fair, the Birkys tell their customers. Pay what you can afford.

    Those who have a bit more are encouraged to drop a little extra in the donations box up front. Those who can't pay are asked to work in the kitchen, dicing onions, scrubbing pots, giving back any way they can.

    The Birkys could probably feed more hungry people, with far less effort, by donating the cash they spend on groceries to a homeless shelter.

    That's not the point.

    "It's not just the food," Libby says. "Often, homeless people, people in need, don't receive the same attention and care. Here, someone recognizes them, looks them in the eye, talks to them like they're just as valuable as the next person in line. That's why we do this."

    This is a beautiful example of a Christian approach to service. You can read more about it here.

    St. Joseph, the Worker

    This is a bit late, but I thought a quick reminder of the Church's teaching on the dignity of work and the rights of workers would be in order on this memorial of Joseph which focuses on his vocation as a carpenter.

    "The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected--the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative."

    The Challenge of Independent Christianity (part II)

    Part I is here.
    Sherry's note:
    As I begin to describe the movement of Independent Christianity, I need to make a few things very clear. NONE of the staff or teachers of the Catherine of Siena Institute have ever been or are part of the “Independent Christian” movement! Nor have any of our posters on ID ever been part of it (as far as we know).

    I am writing about this movement as a journalist, not an apologist. I am describing the second largest, fastest growing, and most missionary-minded Christian community in the world today because we have to recognize their existence in order to deal with them.

    As a journalist, my job is to try and help you grasp the nature and significance of the movement. Since Independent Christianity is complicated to describe, I will spend most of my time describing and secondarily exploring some of the implications for the Catholic Church. I will not be spending my time in a detailed analysis and rebuttal of their many theological problems, not because I agree with their stance but because it would require another 20,000 words to do so and this is long enough as it is!

    The Basics About Independent Christianity

    Dr. David Barrett is the foremost expert in the world on the status of global Christianity and editor of the massive 2001 edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia published by Oxford University Press. He divides the contemporary Christian world into six ecclesial traditions or what he calls “Christian megablocs”. Five of these blocs are familiar historic groups: Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and what Barrett calls “Marginal Christians”; a bloc that would include groups like the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    The sixth bloc is a 20th century phenomena that goes by the name of “post-denominationalist Independent”. This new kid on the block is already a major player. As of mid-2007, Barrett estimates that Independent Christians number 437.7 million, or roughly 20% of all the Christians in the world. (The updated mid-2007 figures that I will be quoting are available online at Status of Global Mission, 2007 in the Context of the 20th and 21st Centuries (hereafter SGM), If Barrett’s figures are close enough for government work, Independent Christianity is second in size only to Roman Catholicism. It is larger than all historic Protestant groups (excluding Anglicanism) combined, twice the size of Orthodoxy, and over five times larger than the entire Anglican communion.

    Independent Christianity is growing faster than Islam. Independents constituted only 1.4% of world Christianity in 1900. By 2050, Barrett estimates they will make up nearly 25% of all Christians and 8.5% of the world’s population. In 2007, the Catholic Church showed a minimal growth rate of 1.14%, while Islam’s annual growth was 1.81%. Independent Christianity led the way with an annual growth rate of 2.12 % - nearly double that of Catholicism. (SGM)

    None of this is surprising in light of Independent Christians’ passionate commitment to proclaiming Christ – to the baptized and non-baptized alike. As a group, Independents are what Barrett calls “Great Commission” Christians. That is, they hold that mandate of Christ to evangelize, baptize, and disciple all nations is still valid and is the central mission of the Church. (According to the SGM, 703 million or 32% of all Christians in 2007 were “Great Commission Christians”.). The five nations with the largest numbers of Independents in 2005 are China, the United States, India, Nigeria, and Brazil. According to Barrett, 52% of Asian Christians, 30% of North American Christians, 22% of African Christians, and 7.3% of Latin Christians are part of the Independent movement.

    In light of its global size and dynamism, you would think that “Independent” Christianity would register on the Catholic ecclesial radar. One reason it does not is that this post-denominational Christianity has only been recognized as a unique movement in the past 20 years. It is so new that it can be easily dismissed by the historically-minded as yet another fly-by-night “sect”. Granted that the word “church” has a very specific meaning in Catholic thought, this does not mean that “sect” is an adequate label for Christian communities who do not qualify as churches. This word tells the listener nothing and gives the strong impression that the group in question is too marginal to be taken seriously. In any case, the term “sect” is manifestly inadequate to describe a movement that is 437 million strong.

    A second reason we may overlook Independent Christianity is that it is a development from within evangelicalism that intentionally leaves historic Protestant practice far behind. They are therefore not an obvious partner for the sort of ecumenical dialogue we are familiar with that engages traditional Protestant denominations.

    A third reason is that the Independent movement is not structured in standard ways. Most Independent Christians are part of loosely affiliated “apostolic networks” held together by personal relationships, a common charismatic spirituality, and a joint commitment to proclaiming Christ. Barrett estimates that there were about 22,000 such networks or para-denominations in existence in 2000 involving 1.7 million congregations.

    The fourth and most critical reason is that Independent Christianity is nearly devoid of and completely uninterested in the marks of the Church that are so central to Catholic ecclesiology: historic, apostolic, creedal, and sacramental. The movement is almost a perfect antitype; it is a-historical, anti-hierarchical, anti-intellectual, and non-sacramental. It is also massively “pentecostalized” in spirituality and ecclesiology.

    There has been considerable debate about appropriate names for the movement within the movement itself. Peter Wagner, who has played a central role as journalist, networker, teacher, and leader, examined and rejected 60 different possible names. (Churchquake!, p. 38). There were leaders who objected to “post-denominational” because some churches involved are still active members of their historic denominations. Wagner now uses the term “New Apostolic Reformation” to connote the same group that Barrett calls “Independents.” A third term that is sometimes used is “neo-charismatic” (Barrett) or “Third Wave” (Wagner) meaning a person, church, or network that embraces Pentecostal/charismatic style spirituality but is not connected to a mainline or Pentecostal denomination. These alternative terms: Independent, post-denominationalist, New Apostolic Reformation, and neo-charismatic/Third Wave all reflect important qualities of this new bloc of Christians.

    Click here to jump to Part III.

    Catholic Quote of the Day

    From Pope Benedict's March 25 homily at the Roman parish of St. Felicity and Her Children, Martyrs:

    Here you have the Vocationist Fathers. The word "Vocationist" is reminiscent of "vocation". We can examine two dimensions of this word. First of all, we think immediately of the vocation to the priesthood. But the word has a far broader, more general dimension.

    Every person carries within himself a project of God, a personal vocation, a personal idea of God on what he is required to do in history to build his Church, a living Temple of his presence. And the priest's role is above all to reawaken this awareness, to help the individual discover his personal vocation, God's task for each one of us. I see that many here have discovered the project that concerns them, both with regard to professional life in the formation of today's society -- where the presence of Christian consciences is fundamental -- and also with regard to the call to contribute to the Church's growth and life. Both these things are equally important.

    Just Being Plain (Catholic)

    Posted for Sherry W:

    It looks like Kathleen has a fan here at Just Being Plain. They very nicely linked to her post in light of the big discussion last week at Amy's. Why so many Catholics "read into" our conversation about evangelization ("only one way") is fascinating. It's probably the liturgical instinct (always what's the rubrics?) and the fact that most lay movements are quasi-religious in tone and tend toward "one way" rather than the expansive universal approach of the parish.

    Kathleen adds: Thanks for the hat tip!

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    Miracles for Skeptics

    John Carroll, a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, has a reflection on the cure of Sr.
    Marie-Simon-Pierre, a nun in France who suffered from Parkinson's disease, prayed for the intercession of Pope John Paul II after his death, and received an "inexplicable" cure, according to Vatican medical experts. Now Mr. Carroll is a bit of a skeptic when it comes to this miracle. He believes there are political motives behind it, and that inexplicable things happen all the time, like his finding of a much-needed plastic cutting board on his morning walk by the beach.

    The problem is, Mr. Carroll defines miracles in a rather unusual way. Finding the cutting board was a coincidence, and inexplicable. A miracle, he says, would be if the cutting board began to float and speak Sanskrit.

    Unfortunately, that's not what Catholics expect with a miracle. According to the old Catholic Encyclopedia, there are different types of miracles,

    "A miracle is said to be above nature when the effect produced is above the native powers and forces in creatures of which the known laws of nature are the expression, as raising a dead man to life, e.g., Lazarus (John 11), the widow's son (1 Kings 17). A miracle is said to be outside, or beside, nature when natural forces may have the power to produce the effect, at least in part, but could not of themselves alone have produced it in the way it was actually brought about. Thus the effect in abundance far exceeds the power of natural forces, or it takes place instantaneously without the means or processes which nature employs. In illustration we have the multiplication of loaves by Jesus (John 6), the changing of water into wine at Cana (John 2) -- for the moisture of the air by natural and artificial processes is changed into wine -- or the sudden healing of a large extent of diseased tissue by a draught of water. A miracle is said to be contrary to nature when the effect produced is contrary to the natural course of things."

    Mr. Carroll is limiting miracles to events that are contrary to nature, since it's not within a normal cutting board's nature to either fly (unless I throw it at someone complaining about my cooking) or to speak Sanskrit.

    Miracles come in all sizes, one could say. I've had the privilege to witness a few. My cat Momma Kitty (God bless her) used to come running when I called for her. Perhaps a small miracle outside nature, that!

    Conversion of a great sinner is perhaps one of the greatest miracles of all, and one which we all should pray to experience personally.

    hat tip - Patricia Armstrong

    The Challenge of Independent Christianity

    Posted for Sherry W:

    At the end of 2005, I spent several weeks writing a 10,000 word article about the dramatic rise of a new kind of Christianity – sometimes called Independent Christianity – which already makes up 20% of all Christians in the world. I wrote the piece for Dom Bettinelli, who was then editor of the Catholic World Report but in the end, it didn’t get published.

    I can’t really see another Catholic magazine publishing a unique 10,000 word piece like this but it incorporates one of a kind information made possible by my unusual background and it seems important that it be published in some venue. So I decided to post it (in several installments!) on ID for your web reading pleasure. Here’s installment number one.

    Twenty years ago, as a young evangelical Protestant preparing to become a missionary, I spent some time on the West Bank. One of the things that forcibly strikes anyone who visits that part of the world is how incredibly difficult it is to sort out whose history, whose view of the situation, is real. You could listen to impassioned stories from Palestinians about Israeli atrocities and be utterly convinced that you understood what was happening. Then, all you had to do was hear Israeli horror stories about terrorism and all your certainties crumbled. How could such mutually exclusive understandings of the same recent history co-exist? I was stranded between alternate universes that were hermetically sealed off from one another by diametrically opposed communal narratives.

    A few years after returning to the US, I entered the Church. Since then, the mission ad gentes – in both its evangelical and Catholic guises - have remained a kind of private passion and I’ve done my best to keep up with the global missions scene. My current work in lay formation hasn’t called upon my rapidly vanishing knowledge of Arabic but the lessons on negotiating profoundly different worldviews have proved invaluable. I think of myself a bi-cultural Christian. I “speak” both Catholic and evangelical Protestant fluently and spend a lot of time translating concepts and terms from one tradition to the other. Over the years, I have discovered that the biggest gap between these two forms of Christianity is not covered in the classic debates about the authority of Scripture or salvation by faith alone. The biggest gap, the one I still struggle with, is a chasm of imagination.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What do you think? Does my brother’s story sound too “out there”, too dramatic or perhaps too presumptuous? If so, I have some folks I’d like you to meet. My brother and the missionaries that I knew in my Protestant days are part of an explosive global movement that most Catholics, even missiologists like Peter Phan, apparently don’t yet know exists. This new kind of Christianity is growing like wildfire, expects signs and wonders to occur on a regular basis, and is “separated from, uninterested in, and independent of historic, denominationalist Christianity” (World Christian Encyclopedia, p. 28).

    To be honest, I have both longed and hesitated to write this article. I longed to write it because Catholic ignorance of this emerging form of Christianity is distorting our pastoral and theological discussions. More immediately, millions of Catholics around the world are already part of the movement or are being significantly influenced by its beliefs and practices. I have hesitated because trying to explain this kind of Christianity to conservative Catholics is a bit like trying to describe life on Mars. It is exactly the sort of thing that gives many traditionally minded Catholics hives. All I can ask is what the average Cineplex blockbuster asks of you: the willing suspension of disbelief and the active engagement of your imagination.

    Part two tomorrow!

    Click here to jump to Part II.