Friday, June 29, 2007

This is a Test . . .

Bloggers has seemingly refused to publishing our posts over the past few days - it keeps them very carefully in a draft form and won't publish. The little publishing wheel goes round and round and nothing happens.

But someone managed to get the last two posts that Fr. Mike and I wrote on Wednesday up while I was commuting to Seattle. Keith?

So I'm going to try to publish this and just let it work on it as long as it wants and see if that is the secret. Obviously we've got to find a better solution in the long run. Any suggestions?

Peter Acosi writes in and says (in a comment that *I* can't read online to a post that *I* can't read online but must have been published - how is this possible??????!!!!!)
that I can blog via e-mail.

I"ll try. But in any case, know that Intentional Disciples is not gone or on sabbatical but the combination of travel, erratic access, and technical weirdness is making it very difficult.

Lazy In Latte Land

I've reached Mark Shea's Eden (Seattle) and hope to blog tomorrow. News flash: It rained in Seattle today - and I slept.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Ten Years Old

The Catherine of Siena Institute turns 10 years old this weekend (July 1).

I'll be in Seattle on July 1 where the Institute was born and have a chance to attend Mass at Blessed Sacrament where Fr. Michael Sweeney and I first began our collaboration.

We used to sit out on the priory steps at night (while he smoked) and wrestle with all sorts of theological and pastoral issues related to the laity and the secular mission of the Church to the world. The Institute grew directly out of our highly informal collaboration but what God has done with it has been totally beyond anything that I imagined. (Fr. Michael is a man of great vision so I suspect that we still haven't done all that he imagined!)

10 years, 77 dioceses, 33,000 Catholic attendees, two million air miles, five continents, and 4 near death experiences later, it is amazing what stands out - even when you are as tired as I am right now - and what begins to blur. I wrote about our dramatic beginnings as it was happening and it makes me smile to read it again today.

It's hard to begin to express all the journey has meant to me and to so many others -long-suffering Dominicans named Michael, our staff, past and present, and the hundreds of collaborators (teachers, trainers, interviewers, pastors and pastoral leaders, advocates, donors, intercessors,and other co-conspirators) around the country and in other countries who have made all this possible.

Our mission has remained the same over the years: to equip parishes to form lay apostles. But what is at stake in calling all the baptized to become intentional disciples and to follow Christ into the world as apostles has become ever clearer.

Summer before last, I received a letter from a recently retired pharmacist named Claudia who had attended a Called & Gifted workshop in a South Carolina parish. As a result of her discernment, she had volunteered to serve as a lay missionary in Tanzania. There she would teach pharmacology at the very first medical school in the country. Claudia’s mission: to enable Tanzanians to qualify for funding for AIDS medications by training them to administer the drugs in question.

This woman’s skill and expertise could conceivably save the lives of an entire generation and change the course of a whole nation. When I told her story at a small group gathering in my parish in Colorado Springs, one woman blurted out “She’s like Esther! Who knows but what she has been prepared for such a time as this?”

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

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

Christ's redeeming love breaking the power of sin and death in the lives of inviduals, of families, of communities, or parishes, of nations. The grace of Christ's Redemption being poured out throughout the world today through the assent and cooperation of all-too-ordinary people like you and me.

Forming others, whether a child or an adult, is like being John the Baptist. You are a kind of forerunner, called to make straight the path of one whom God has sent to bless and heal our world.

The great 19th century evangelist, Dwight D. Moody had a saying that I’ve always liked: “The world has not yet seen what God will do through the life of a man or a women who is wholly consecrated to him”

If we are faithful to God’s call to evangelize and form our own, I think we will see not just hundreds, but many thousands of such extraordinary men and women, new Dorothy Days and Jacque Maritains, Mother Teresas and Francis Xaviers emerge in our midst. Nurturing the faith, gifts, and call of others is a privileged ministry. Through this work, your and I can literally change the course of history by helping to unleash the greatest power in the universe, the Spirit of God working through a man or woman who is wholly consecrated to Him.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant

From this day all generations will call me blessed;
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

What's a Called & Gifted Workshop Like?

If you've wondered what a Called & Gifted Workshop is Like, you might click on the title of this post and read a description of the Friday evening portion from the Catholic Explorer. It includes some comments from participants, as well as quotes from the presentation given by Barbara Elliott and Keith Strohm, the teachers of that weekend. The workshop was held at St. Isidore Parish in Bloomingdale, IL, June 15-16.

When asked why she was attending the workshop, Connie Biala of Winfield, a parishioner at St. Isidore, said she was searching for answers.

“I have been troubled and want to know what I am here for,” Biala said of her time on earth. “I am still searching for what God wants for me to give back.

“God has been so good to me,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “I want to give back but I want to know what I can do. I already minister to the sick, but I feel I can do more.”

The 72-year-old registered nurse said she works in an operating room and doesn’t appreciate that some doctors think “they are God and rule the operating room.”

“I don’t work for the doctors, I work with the doctors. I work for God, but I don’t know how to let the doctors realize this,” Biala explained. “I want them to learn to love their coworkers and not look down on us. I am hoping to find out how to be able to do better. How do I bring love to my coworkers as well as to the patients? We are supposed to be here to love each other and maybe we can do better.”

As apostles of Christ, all Catholics are capable of changing, even a small portion, of the world.

“People encounter Jesus through us because of the things we have done,” Elliott told the audience. “We are, in a sense, ambassadors of Christ. If everyone looked at it this way, literally, can you imagine what the world would be like?”

Fr. Mike: People come to Called & Gifted workshops for many reasons. Some are returning to the Church, others are in between jobs, or are young adults wondering what their call in life is. Still others are in major transitions: enduring a divorce, mourning the loss of a parent or child, moving to a new location. Many of these people are consciously open to the grace God offers us daily, and the effects of the workshop are powerful as a consequence. People's lives are changed, and that, really, is a more interesting question - "what is the effect of a Called & Gifted workshop?"

If you've been to one, you might let us know what was the effect on your life.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Celibate's Temptation

Last night at the men's group I attend when I'm in Tucson we discussed a few chapters of Fr. Timothy Radcliffe's book, "What is the Point of Being a Christian?" In a chapter on human sexuality and chastity, Fr. Timothy makes the point that, "The Last Supper is the story of the risk of giving yourself to others. That is why Jesus died, because he loved. But not to take the risk is even more dangerous. It is deadly. Listen to C.S. Lewis:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all dangers and perturbations of love is Hell."

This quote from C.S. Lewis's "The Four Loves" caught my attention as I considered my life situation compared to the other men in the group. They are all married and have at least one child, with the exception of another single man who was absent last night. We spoke last night of the importance of commitment, and how at times it is simply remaining committed to the commitment that keeps you in relationship when things get difficult. Be selfish in a marriage, and your spouse will respond in such a way as to let you know, no doubt.

But celibates can fall into selfishness more easily, it seems to me.

Or at least I can.

It is a fairly simple thing to immerse oneself in ministry, especially when you are looked upon as the "expert" in religious matters, and if people defer to your judgments (either because you're the priest, or because you sign their paycheck and they serve at your whim). Many people will allow or even expect a certain distance or aloofness from you, and if not, it doesn't take long to communicate that you want distance. A few encounters with you when you're cranky or depressed or stressed or anxious, and the invitations to dinner, or a conversation over coffee, or spiritual direction or pastoral counseling will evaporate like a Sonoran playa.

You'll be left to your own projects, you'll be able to lower your golf handicap, you'll have plenty of time for reading, and you won't have those messy emotional ups and downs that are part of every human relationship to worry about.

Of course, parishioners will begin counting the days or years to your departure, but your Order or diocese are so strapped for vocations that you won't likely be confronted by them, so long as you keep your sexual and financial houses in order.

I remember when I was in Europe two summers ago with my sister being pleasantly surprised at some of the depictions I saw of the last Judgment in various churches we visited. It was not uncommon for them to show priests, cardinals, even popes leading the parade of the damned into Hell. It was a pleasant surprise to realize that centuries ago Catholics were well aware that ordination was no guarantee of personal sanctity. Perhaps the artist or his patron or both recognized the potential for celibates to be tempted - through fear of being hurt or fear of sinning, or both - to run from love into the arms of selfishness and self-absorption.

Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, wrote in "The Holy Longing" that marriage is an exploration of the depth of human relationship, while celibacy is an exploration of the breadth of human relationship. I like that image, but I wouldn't want so much breadth that I never have an emotional or spiritual connection with anyone - and that, as Lewis well knew - is a temptation, especially, I believe, for male celibates.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Born and Framed for Friendship

A description of St. Thomas More by his friend Erasmus in a letter of 1513:

"You ask me to paint you a full-length portrait of More as in a picture. Would that I could do it as perfectly as you eagerly desire it. At least I will try to give a sketch of the man, as well as from my long familiarity with him I have either observed or can now recall. To begin, then, with what is least known to you, in stature he is not tall, though not remarkably short. His limbs are formed with such perfect symmetry as to leave nothing to be desired. His complexion is white, his face fair rather than pale, and though by no means ruddy, a faint flush of pink appears beneath the whiteness of his skin. His hair is dark brown, or brownish black. The eyes are grayish The eyes are grayish blue, with some spots, a kind which betokens singular talent, and among the English is considered attractive, whereas Germans generally prefer black. It is said that none are so free from vice.

"His countenance is in harmony with his character, being always expressive of an amiable joyousness, and even an incipient laughter, and, to speak candidly, it is better framed for gladness than for gravity and dignity, though without any approach to folly or buffoonery. The right shoulder is a little higher than the left, especially when he walks. This is not a defect of birth, but the result of habit, such as we often contract. In the rest of his person there is nothing to offend. His hands are the least refined part of his body.

"He was from his boyhood always most careless about whatever concerned his body. His youthful beauty may be guessed from what still remains, though I knew him when be was not more than three-and-twenty. Even now he is not much over forty. He has good health, though not robust; able to endure all honourable toil, and subject to very few diseases. He seems to promise a long life, as his father still survives in a wonderfully green old age.

"I never saw anyone so indifferent about food. Until he was a young man he delighted in drinking water, but that was natural to him (id illi patrium fuit). Yet not to seem singular or morose, he would hide his temperance from his guests by drinking out of a pewter vessel beer almost as light as water, or often pure water. It is the custom in England to pledge each other in drinking wine. In doing so he will merely touch it with his lips, not to seem to dislike it, or to fall in with the custom. He likes to eat corned beef and coarse bread much leavened, rather than what most people count delicacies. Otherwise he has no aversion to what gives harmless pleasure to the body. He prefers milk diet and fruits, and is especially fond of eggs.

"His voice is neither loud nor very weak, but penetrating; not resounding or soft, but that of a clear speaker. Though he delights in every kind of music he has no vocal talents. He speaks with great clearness and perfect articulation, without rapidity or hesitation. He likes a simple dress, using neither silk nor purple nor gold chain, except when it may not be omitted. It is wonderful how negligent he is as regards all the ceremonious forms in which most men make politeness to consist. He does not require them from others, nor is he anxious to use them himself, at interviews or banquets, though he is not unacquainted with them when necessary. But he thinks it unmanly to spend much time in such trifles. Formerly he was most averse to the frequentation of the court, for he has a great hatred of constraint (tyrannis) and loves equality. Not without much trouble he was drawn into the court of Henry VIII., though nothing more gentle and modest than that prince can be desired. By nature More is chary of his liberty and of ease, yet, though he enjoys ease, no one is more alert or patient when duty requires it.

"He seems born and framed for friendship, and is a most faithful and enduring friend. He is easy of access to all; but if he chances to get familiar with one whose vices admit no correction, he manages to loosen and let go the intimacy rather than to break it off suddenly. When he finds any sincere and according to his heart, he so delights in their society and conversation as to place in it the principal charm of life. He abhors games of tennis, dice, cards, and the like, by which most gentlemen kill time. Though he is rather too negligent of his own interests, no one is more diligent in those of his friends. In a word, if you want a perfect model of friendship, you will find it in no one better than in More. In society he is so polite, so sweet-mannered, that no one is of so melancholy a disposition as not to be cheered by him, and there is no misfortune that he does not alleviate. Since his boyhood he has so delighted in merriment, that it seems to be part of his nature; yet he does not carry it to buffoonery, nor did he ever like biting pleasantries. When a youth he both wrote and acted some small comedies. If a retort is made against himself, even without ground, he likes it from the pleasure he finds in witty repartees. Hence he amused himself with composing epigrams when a young man, and enjoyed Lucian above all writers. Indeed, it was he who pushed me to write the "Praise of Folly," that is to say, he made a camel frisk.

"In human affairs there is nothing from which he does not extract enjoyment, even from things that are most serious. If he converses with the learned and judicious, he delights in their talent; if with the ignorant and foolish, he enjoys their stupidity. He is not even offended by professional jesters. With a wonderful dexterity he accommodates himself to every disposition. As a rule, in talking with women, even with his own wife, he is full of jokes and banter.

"No one is less led by the opinions of the crowd, yet no one departs less from common sense. One of his great delights is to consider the forms, the habits, and the instincts of different kinds of animals. There is hardly a species of bird that he does not keep in his house, and rare animals such as monkeys, foxes, ferrets, weasels and the like. If he meets with anything foreign, or in any way remarkable, he eagerly buys it, so that his house is full of such things, and at every turn they attract the eye of visitors, and his own pleasure is renewed whenever he sees others pleased."

A Man for All Seasons

I keep referring to A Man for All Seasons but just realized that there is no reason why all our readers should be familiar with a 40 year old film - even one that swept the Oscars. Here's the original trailer via You Tube:

Wow, have trailers changed since 1966! This one is 3 1/2 minutes long (intended for viewing in a movie theatre). We are used to things moving *much* faster.

By all means, rent the DVD and watch it. It has held up over the years wonderfully.

Richard Rich

Richard Rich, of course, is the amoral social-climbing young man in A Man for All Seasons, (played by the young John Hurt) who lies about More at his trial and ensures that he is condemned to death. The classic exchange, based upon Will Roper's biography, when More is told that Rich has become attorney general for Wales:

"Why Rich, it profiteth not a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul, but for Wales . . ."

(Note the all too common English distain in that day for the wild Welsh, which had produced the Tudors. Even saints were not immune.)

It's hard to believe that the real man, who looks so young and innocent in the Holbein drawing above, was even worse than he is portrayed in the movie. A particularly nasty governmental Vicar of Bray*, Rich wasn't just a turn-coat to save his own skin, but an active party in the destruction of others on all sides of the religious and political divide. Richard Rich seems to have cared only for . . . Richard Rich.

Strangely enough, Rich was Catholic, but that didn't stop him from being one of the prime actors in the dissolution of England's monasteries. The French Ambassador Marillac to call Rich ‘the most wretched creature ... the first inventor of the destruction of the abbeys and monasteries [and] the general confiscation of church property’,. He made a fortune overseeing the sales of monastic lands and had to later defend himself against charges of corruption.

As soliciter-general, Rich actively prosecuted those who refused to accept the licitness of the king's second marriage to Ann Boleyn or accept Henry as Supreme Head of the Church in England.

Five years, after More's death, Rich played almost exactly the same role in the condemnation and execution of Thomas Cromwell, who is portrayed as his mentor in A Man for All Seasons.

Rich, who was a hands-on kind of guy, even as chancellor, apparently personally tortured Anne Askew, an ardent Protestant in order to gain information that would incriminate Catherine Parr, Henry's sixth wife. Anne withstood months of torture but refused to speak and was eventually burned at the stake - and Catherine Parr managed to survive the King himself.

Rich always kept his really important fences mended. When asked to speak at the opening of Parliament in 1536,he compared Henry VIII to Solomon for prudence and justice, to Samson for strength and bravery, and to Absalom for beauty. Equally extravagant was his concluding address likening the King's care for his subjects to the sun's influence upon the world.

Richard Rich did become chancellor of England in 1547 and in this capacity was involved in the harsh treatment given to the then-Princess Mary, who was Catholic. He originally suported Lady Jane Grey as Queen but quickly changed his coat again and declared for Mary. During her reign,Lord Rich took an active part in the restoration of the old religion in Essex and was one of the most active of persecutors.

Somehow, I'm not surprised.

Rich survived them all: Henry, More, Cromwell, Catherine Parr, Lady Jane Grey, Mary Tudor, and died - "in his bed" - in 1567.

On the bright side, Rich was voted "worst Briton of the 16th century". Quite a distinction in a century that produce so many remarkable Britons.

*The Vicar of Bray was a Papist under the reign of Henry VIII, and a Protestant under Edward VI; he was a Papist again under Mary, and once more became a Protestant in the reign of Elizabeth. When this scandal to the gown was reproached for his versatility of religious creeds, and taxed for being a turncoat and an inconstant changeling...he replied, ‘Not so neither, for if I changed my religion, I am sure I kept true to my principle; which is, to live and die the Vicar of Bray.’ ” (He succeeded and is buried there.)

The Hounds of Heaven

I've linked in the title to David Ian Miller's interview of Brother Christopher, 52, the head of the New Skete dog-training program and a monk since 1981. While the story's predominantly about the dog training program the monks founded, one section caught my eye - a passage about Br. Christopher's conversion. Here it is:

Br. Christopher: I majored in international affairs in college but became more and more fascinated with religion. One of the books I read at that time was "The Seven Storey Mountain" by Thomas Merton. That book really spoke to me personally. It told a story that I could identify with, about a young man finding himself and wanting to make his life as meaningful a response to God as he could.

Miller: So you weren't always religious?

Br. Christopher: I was nominally Catholic. Church wasn't really that meaningful for me when I was younger. It was something that I was obliged to do. It wasn't until I got into college that I started asking much more serious questions, and I went through a personal conversion that helped me to see the importance of spirituality in my life.

Miller: What sort of conversion?

Br. Christopher: I was in Europe at the time -- after my freshman year in college. I was planning to go on a year abroad program to Tunisia during my sophomore year. I was right where everyone said I was supposed to be from a professional point of view. I had plenty of opportunities, I was meeting a lot of fascinating people and I was in a program where I could basically set myself up for a career in the Foreign Service. Yet inwardly I was just incredibly empty and basically unhappy.

Miller: What happened?

Br. Christopher: I think that the more I lived with that, the more it caused me to humbly say this isn't much of a life, living without any kind of meaning, without any kind of values -- personal values that are grounded in something transcendent, and so it was just a very humble prayer: "God, if you exist, I can't believe in a myth. Please meet me at this level." And it happened in just a very remarkable way, where, all of a sudden, I just realized that God reached out to me. It was something that I couldn't deny or doubt, and it left me with sort of a peace that has been a part of my life certainly ever since.

This is a pretty common pattern among conversions. Something happens to upset our "business as usual" attitude. It could be the loss of a job or a girlfriend or boyfriend, a divorce, serious illness (think St. Francis or St. Ignatius of Loyola), or a move. People who "hit bottom" with drug addiction or alcoholism, or whose criminal behavior catches up to them and lands them in jail. All of these are what's known as "liminal space." Br. Christopher was immersed in a foreign culture.

The difficulty is, so much of our behavior is bent on keeping us from experiencing these liminal states. We work hard to keep our job, our health, our relationships intact, and often are fairly successful in doing so. And these are good things, don't get me wrong. But when they are stripped from us, we often begin to ask deeper questions about meaning and purpose, and these can often point us towards God.

The challenge for the Church today - and always - is discovering a way to invite Catholics to invite the Lord to enter our lives fully, as Brother Christopher did in his young adulthood. What's preventing us from asking the Lord TODAY, "Meet me here, as I am, today, Lord. I want to know you, love you, follow you. Help my unbelief!"?


Sunday, June 24, 2007

There's More

I haven't gotten to Henry VIII, Richard Rich, Tyndale and, of course, the burning issue: just where is St. Thomas' head?

But you'll have to wait a bit since I've in the very last throes of creating the schedule and hand-outs for Making Disciples.

But I'm letting you know right now:

If part of having a saint for a father is pickling his
par-boiled,severed head as Margaret Roper did, it's all over.

Relic or no relic, I'm never going to be Catholic enough for that and someone should have warned me when I signed up.

Fidelity & Endurance

Everyone knows that St. Thomas died “the King’s good servant, but God’s first” but few of us realize the price that the More family paid generation after generation for their faithful adherence to the Catholic faith.

I have already told the story of Margaret Gigg’s heroism. But John More, St. Thomas’s only son, was imprisoned at the same time as his father for refusing to swear the same oath. He was later released to live on his wife’s Yorkshire estates.

Cecily, More’s third daughter married Giles Heron in 1525. In 1539, five years after More’s execution, a disgruntled former tenant reported that Giles Heron had "mumble[d] certain words touching the King" in the parlor of his manor house. Heron was arrested and executed for treason in 1540.

Thomas More II was the son of John More and St. Thomas’ grand-son. Thomas More II was imprisoned in London between 1582 and 1586 for his Catholic beliefs. Under Queen Elizabeth I, Catholics (or 'recusants' as they were called) were fined for not taking the oath of allegiance to the Church of England.

Cresacre More was the youngest son of Thomas More II and St. Thomas’s great, grand-son..Cresacre became the heir after his elder brothers John III and Henry died, and his other brother Thomas became a Catholic priest. In about 1631, Cresacre wrote a Life of Sir Thomas More, which was re-published many times in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Like his grandfather, Thomas, Christopher was a fervent Catholic. He dedicated the book to Queen Henrietta Maria, the Catholic wife of Charles I.

Cresacre’s daughter Helen, (as Dame Gertrude More, 1606 – 1633) became one of the founding members of the English Benedictine House at Cambrai (which became the famous Stanbrook Abbey when the community returned to English soil after the French Revolution. Stanbrook Abbey was the inspiration for Rumer Godden’s novel “In This House of Brede”) Her sister, Bridget More, joined the community in 1629 and eventually became Prioress of what is now Colfax Abbey, England.

The last known More heir, Fr. Thomas More, SJ, died in 1795.

As remarkable as the saga of the More family sounds to us, it was not remarkable for devout English Catholics in the late 16th and 17th centuries. Mary Ward, the extraordinary woman apostle of the early 17th century, was related to most of the recusant families in the north of England. Her mother, her grand-mother, and her aunts had all been inprisoned for their faith and two of her near relatives were involved in the infamous Gunpowder Plot (Think Guy Fawkes Day).

Imagine how differently one regarded being a Catholic if you grew up as the heir of such a heritage.

Margaret Giggs Clement: More's Adopted Daughter

Margaret Roper was not the only remarkable young woman in the More household. Margaret Giggs was raised by More as a daughter and also learned to read Latin and Greek which would have made her one of the most formidably educated women of her day.

Margaret Giggs married John Clement, a young man who also lived in More's houshold and bore 11 children. Her youngest daughter, also named Margaret, was educated by the Augustinian nuns of Louvain since her parents were forced to live in exile in Belgium twice: during the reign of Henry VIII and again when Elizabeth came to the throne. Not unnaturally, young Margaret joined the community and served as prioress of the convent for 38 years. It is she who tells this story about her mother as a young woman (from The Life of Mother Margaret Clement via Monique deCamps.

The Carthusian monks, along with Richard Reynolds, a monk of Syon Abbey, and More and Fisher, were the King's first victims: they all refused to comply with his demand that they should acknowledge him as Supreme Head of the Church in England.

On May 4th, 1535, the first Martyrs of the English Reformation, Reynolds and the Carthusian Priors of London, Beauvale and Axholme, were executed at Tyburn. During the next five years fifteen of the London Carthusians died, either violently on the scaffold or by slow starvation in Newgate gaol. The story of Mary Gigg's brave effort to bring relief to the monks in Newgate is told simply in the Life of her daughter:

Bearing a singular devotion to that holy Order and moved with great compassion for those holy Fathers, Margaret dealt with the gaoler so that she might secretly have access to them, and withal did win him with money that he was content to let her come into the prison to them, which she did very often, attiring and disguising herself as a milkmaid, with a great pail on her head full of meat, wherewith she fed that blessed company, putting meat into their mouths, they being tied and not able to stir, nor to help themselves, which having done, she took from them their natural filth.

This pious work she continued for divers days until at last the King, inquiring if they were not dead, and understanding to his great admiration that they were not, commanded a straiter watch to be kept over them, so that the keeper durst not let in this good woman any more, fearing it might cost him his head if it should be discovered. Nevertheless, what with her importunity and by force of money, she obtained from him that he might let her go up on to the tiles, right over the close prison where the blessed Fathers were. And so she, uncovering the ceiling or tiles over their heads, by a string let down meat in a basket, bringing it as near as she could to their mouths as they did stand chained against the posts. But they, not being able to feed themselves out of the basket, or very little, and the gaoler fearing very much that it should be perceived, in the end refused to let her come any more, and so, soon after, they languished and pined away, one after the other, with the stink and want of food and other miseries which they there endured.

In Mechlin in Belgium where Margaret Giggs, now Margaret Clement, lived during her second exile, her house became a home for all English priests passing through the country on their way to find a ship to take them to England. We do not know the exact date of her death, but the circumstances surrounding it are told in her youngest daughter's Life:

But the time had now come that God had appointed to reward her for her good works done to the Fathers of the Charterhouse. He visited her with an ague which held her nine or ten days, and having brought her very low and in danger, she received all the sacraments with great devotion, and being desirous to give her blessing to all her children who were all present except her Religious daughters and one more that remained at Bruges with her husband, she caused her to be sent for in all haste. Wednesday being now come, which was the last day before she died, and asking if her daughter were come, and being told no, but that they looked for her every hour, she made answer that she would stay no longer for her, and calling her husband she told him that the time of her departing was now come, and she might stay no longer, for there were standing about her bed the Reverend Fathers, Monks of Charterhouse, whom she had relieved in prison in England and did call upon her to come away with them, and that therefore she could stay no longer, because they did expect her, which seemed strange talk unto him. Doubting that she might speak idly by reason of her sickness, he called unto her ghostly Father, a Reverend Father of the Franciscans living in Mechlin, to examine and talk with her, to whom she constantly made answer that she was in no way beside herself, but declared that she still had the sight of the Charterhouse monks before her, standing about her bedside and inviting her to come away with them, as she had told her husband. At the which they were all astonished.

More on More

What? You thought we were done? Silly goose.

There's so much More . . .

Consider the relationship of Margaret More, Thomas's eldest daughter, and her relationship with Erasmus, one of the Thomas' most celebrated friends.

You haven't?

Well, you should. It's very interesting as you'll see if you read this wonderful essay by Patricia Demers: Margaret Roper & Erasmus: the Relationship of Translator and Source.

"When writing to the eldest, best-known and, presumably, most gifted of his children, Thomas More regularly used superlatives to address "puella[e] iucundissima[e]," "Margareta charissima," "dulcissima filia" and "dulcissima nata" (Rogers 97, 134, 154).

Eating a meal was "not so sweet" to More as talking to his "dearest child" (Stapleton 109), to whom he wrote from the Tower as "myne owne good doughter" and for whom he remained "your tender louynge father" (Rogers 509). In Erasmus's correspondence with Roper, whom he greeted as "optima Margareta," the humanist praised the letters of all the More sisters as "sensible, well-written, modest, forthright and friendly" (letter 1401, Basel, 25 December 1523).

His Christmas gift to her in the year of the publication of Precatio Dominica was his commentary on Prudentius's hymns for Christmas and the Epiphany; the gift not only verifies his confidence in Margaret's Latin but also reveals Erasmus's "attitude presque paternelle" since he casts himself as "le pédagogue attentioné, soucieux de former une élève de choix" (Béné 473).

The following year Erasmus used Margaret as "the probable model" (King 181) for Magdalia in the colloquy "The Abbot and the Learned Lady"; this interlocutor wastes no time chastizing the Abbot's fear of women's learning, deftly wielding a double-edged sword to reply to the claim that "a wise woman is twice foolish": That's commonly said, yes, but by fools. A woman truly wise is not wise in her own conceit. On the other hand, one who thinks herself wise when she knows nothing is indeed twice foolish. (Thompson 222)

Magdalia cannily engages her companion in the topic of clerical ignorance, part of her "veiled critique of the intellectual sloth afflicting men" (Jordan 60): "if you're not careful," she taunts, "the net result will be that we'll preside in the theological schools, preach in the churches, and wear your miters" (Thompson 223).

When, in September 1529, Holbein unveiled for Erasmus his portrait of the More family, this scholarly friend wrote immediately to Margaret, "the glory of [her] British land" (decus Britanniae tuae), assuring her that he recognized everyone, but no one more than her (omnes agnoui, sed neminem magis quam te), whose lovelier spirit within shines through the exterior (per pulcherrimum domicilium relucentem animum multo pulchriorem) (Letter 2212, Freiburg, 6 September 1529).

Thomas Stapleton, More's early biographer, devoted a whole chapter of Tres Thomae to More's eldest daughter, continuing the two strands of Margaret's reputation: her exceptionality ("she attained a degree of excellence that would scarcely be believed in a woman") and family likeness ("she resembled her father, as well in stature, appearance, and voice, as in mind and in general character") (Stapleton 103).


Only a portion of her writing has survived. Lost are her Latin and Greek verses, her Latin speeches, her imitation of Quintilian, and her treatise The Four Laste Thynges, which More considered equal to his own. What remain are a scattering of letters and the primary text associated with her name, the translation of Erasmus's Precatio Dominica (1523) as A deuout treatise upon the Pater noster (1524), whose subject and mode appear to confirm the derivative nature of this daughter's accomplishment."

This is the earliest woodblock from the frontpiece of Margaret's translation of Erasmus. Note that this remarkable woman is only 19 years old and already a wife and mother. (Margaret married William Roper at 15, not in her 20's as implied in A Man for All Seasons.)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The World of Thomas More

I spent a day at Hampton Court last May. The old part, originally built by Cardinal Wolsey and taken by Henry VIII when Wolsey fell, would have been very familiar to More. Under Wolsey, Hampton Court had been renovated into a luxurious palace with few equals in early Tudor England.

The inner tower with its magnificent clock and the paneled room date from Wolsey's time. Thomas would have entered Hampton Court by passing by this magnificent lion as portrayed in the film A Man for All Seasons.

A Map of Thomas More's Utopia, circa 1518

A Thomism

O Lord, give us a mind that is humble, quiet, peaceable,
patient and charitable, and a taste of your Holy Spirit in all
our thoughts, words, and deeds. O Lord, give us a lively faith,
a firm hope, a fervent charity, a love of you.

Take from us all lukewarmness in meditation and all dullness in prayer.

Give us fervor and delight in thinking of you, your grace, and your
tender compassion toward us.

Give us, good Lord, the grace to work for the things we pray for.

-St Thomas More, 1478-1535

Margaret More Roper

I just love this exquisite miniature by Hans Holbein the Younger of More's brilliant and cherished eldest daughter, Margaret. It is painted on a playing card.

It was Margaret who broke through the crowds and ran to her father as he walked to his execution and it was to Margaret that Thomas More wrote his last letter in charcoal. It was Margaret who rescued her father's severed head from London Bridge and kept it until her death 10 years later.

Hat tip: The Margaret Roper Forum: a Catholic home-schooling forum.

Here is Will Roper's (Margaret's husband) famously vivid description of her last meeting with her father:

When Sir Thomas More came from Westminster to the Towerward again,his daughter, my wife, desirous to see her father, whom she thought she should never see in this world after. and also to have his final blessing, gave attendance about the Tower wharf, where she knew he should pass by, before he could enter into the Tower, there tarrying for his coming home.

As soon as she saw him, after his blessing on her knees reverently received,she hasting towards him and, without consideration or careof herself. pressing in among the midst of the throng and company of the guard that with halberds and bills went round about him. hastily ran to him, and there openly, in the sight of them all, embraced him, took him about the neck, and kissed him, Who, well liking her most natural and dear daughterly affection towards him, gave her his fatherly blessing and many godly words of comfort besides.

From whom after she was departed, she, not satisfied with the former sight of him, and like one that had forgotten herself, being all ravished with the entire love of her dear father. having respect neither to herself, nor to the press of the people and multitude that were there about him, suddenly turned back again. ran to him as before, took him aboul the neck, and divers times together most lovingly kissed him ;and at lost, with a full heavy heart, was fain to depart from him - the beholding whereof was to many of them that were present thereat so lamentable that it made them for very sorrow thereof to mourn and weep.

Thomas More's last letter from the Tower before his death was written in coal to Margaret:

I cumber you, good Margaret, much, but I would be sorry, if it should be any longer than tomorrow, for it is Saint Thomas' Even and the Vtas of Saint Peter and therefore tomorrow long I to go to God, it were a day very meet and convenient for me. I never liked your manner to­ward me better than when you kissed me last for I love when daughterly love and dear charity hath not leisure to look to worldly courtesy.

Fare well my dear child and pray for me, and I shall for you and all your friends that we may merrily meet in heaven. I thank you for your great cost.

Catholic Quote of the Day

I've had a little plaque on my wall for some years that reads:

Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

- Thomas More

A word of encouragement and faith from a man who would know . . .

St. Thomas in the Tower

St. Thomas More's cell in the Tower of London (tip of the hat to the St. Thomas More Studies Center below)

Go here for a virtual tour of the Tower and an outside view of the Bell Tower in which Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher were imprisoned (one above the other).

Everything You Ever Wanted to Ask About St. Thomas More

Want to know more about St. Thomas More? Go here to the brilliant site for St. Thomas More Studies associated with the University of Dallas. Here you'll find nearly everything a Thomasophil could possibly want:

They sponsor a summer (July, 2007!) a two credit college course in England for upper class high school students on St. Thomas

and an annual academic conference in Dallas here

They have downloadable curriculum units on St. Thomas for teachers here

Continuing Education courses for lawyers here

A wonderful on-line library of More writings, letters, documents pertaining to his government service and trial, letters by friends (including Erasmus)about him here

A downloadable travel guide to St. Thomas's England

as well as downloadable texts of Moore's History of Richard III and Will Roper's (who married Margaret, Moore's famously brilliant daughter) life of his father-in-law

A list of recommended books to buy

An art gallery of St. Thomas paintings and images


Fabulous interactive map tours of 16th century London and elsewhere which enables you to follow More to places he would have known.

Tis the Season. . .to Do Thomas More. . .Fa la la la la, la, la, la

As part of our St. Thomas More weekend (ok, we missed the feast day itself but we know Thomas is the reason for the season!)take a look at this:

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

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

Courtesy of the fabulous Victoria & Albert museum on London.

Friday, June 22, 2007

A Technical Note From The Wizard

Hello all! I've stepped out from behind the curtain to let you know I hae worked my magic. After an accelerated novena to several saints, we have the sidebars returned to their regular format!

Actually, as I was scanning through each post, I noticed that Sherry's repost of a January entry looked different on the bottom. Usually, each post ends with a gray bar and then some space between it and the next post. The Osmosis repost had the gray bar after the space and not before it. I knew that was the root of the problem.

When I went to edit Sherry's post to see what was going on, I was surprised to see the text of the earlier post that she quoted was set to the maximum size blogger can do. For some reason, the font size was coming out normal inside the post, but the rest of the page layout was compensating for the ginormous letter size of Sherry's post. A quick "select all" and a click on the font size button to return it to normal size and . . .voila!

I shall now return to my curtained chamber and await the next time my anti technology anti-charism is needed!

St. Thomas More

Today, I walked out of my office at lunchtime totally stressed and frustrated. Not really having the time, I nonetheless worked my way to the downtown shrine and decided to go to daily Mass for the first time in I'm not sure how long. Months. I had forgotten that today is the feast day of probably the first saint I ever took an interest in: St. Thomas More. Very fitting.

I suspect most people's knowledge of St. Thomas is from either A Man For All Seasons (actually a quite well done movie) or Utopia (which I think many do not seem to understand). He is a fascinating man. His writings are finally being published in modern English by Yale and others. Every Lent, when I get asked for a book recommendation for spiritual reading during the season my answer is the same: The Sadness of Christ by St. Thomas More. It is an incredible work. I've never quite worked my way through it, but I'm told others hold A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation in the same regard that I do The Sadness of Christ.

And thanks to Catholic Sensibility, I've been introduced to the wonderful opera by the Fisher Ensemble, The Passion of St. Thomas More. Splendid!

St. Thomas, pray for us (especially me, I can use it).

Midsummer In the Park

The small and obscure city park behind my house is an oasis of remarkable beauty for those of us lucky enough to live nearby. Here are some pictures I took two days ago of the park and its wildflowers.


My powerful anti-charism is once again altering the course of internet history. For some reason, the links to past posts and to the Institute and bookstore and events on the right hand side of our posts now begins way, way down where our posts end.

Any powerful cyber wizards out there who can break the spell?

Just call me Elphaba: heir to the Eminent Thropp of Munchkinland

Fr. Mike already does.

Osmosis, Conversion, and Catholic Culture

This post originally saw the light of day in our first week of operation - on January 3, 2007. Now, 6 months later, it still seems as relevant as it was then.

We are already getting some great comments of considerable diversity on “The Question That Must Not Be Asked” post below. The two I quote below articulate the poles of American Catholic experience regarding the issue of discipleship with particular clarity:

First comment:

“Sherry, I think it's great that you converted, but I don't really want that sort of Protestant kind of discipleship in our parishes. Catholics lives in a different sort of culture. If we wanted a different kind, we'd convert to a Protestant denomination. You expect vivid, dramatic change, which is a Protestant (rather evangelical Protestant) characteristic. Catholic culture is different. Change happens more by osmosis. What gives you the right to come in and demand that Catholics change their culture to suit you?”

“You expect vivid, dramatic change, which is a Protestant characteristic” Hmmm – you mean like Protestants like St. Paul, St. Francis of Assisi, St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross(Edith Stein), etc.

Second comment:

“Bingo! You just described why I left the Catholic Church. There was no instruction or encouragement in living a Christian life. Hope this doesn't offend, but it honestly was my experience.”

No offense taken. I think we are listening to the same cultural reality being described from two very different perspectives.

I know from my travels that many cultural Catholics in the US do tend to regard any clearly differentiated experience of conversion or spiritual awakening as “dramatic” and therefore “Protestant”. Part of this is a consequence of living in the only western country with a huge and exceptionally vibrant evangelical Protestant movement which tends to hold up the St-Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus experience” as the paradigm for conversion. (You don’t often hear these kinds of comments from Catholics in Australia, for instance)

But I would like to point out a few things:

1) The experience of a clearly transforming conversion, whether dramatic, quiet, or in-between, is not Protestant. Like the Bible, evangelicals got it from us. If clear, transforming conversion were a Protestant invention, we would not expect to see it occur among Catholics prior to 1517. As anyone familiar with pre-Reformation history or the lives of the saints, life-changing conversions – and some exceedingly dramatic - are a routine part of wholly Catholic practice and spirituality.

2) We need to distinguish between a “clearly differentiated conversion” and “dramatic” conversion; between the beginning of “initial faith” and the on-going life of faith that result in salvation and the beatific vision.

Salvation is neither the fruit of a single event or decision but neither is it the result of a long, unconscious, impossible-to-differentiate-one-moment-from-the-other, glacial ooze that mysteriously but triumphantly results in complete sanctity at the end of one’s life.

As St. Augustine pointed out: God does not save us without us. We simply cannot be saved “unconsciously” or without any volition on our part. Cradle Catholics cannot simply be carried passively along by the culture into which we were born. At some point, we have to choose to accept the grace offered to us and to follow Christ as a disciple. And it is that choice, however it is made, however long it takes, however quiet or dramatic the circumstances, that is the issue at stake in intentional discipleship

Transformation into the image of Christ is a life-long weaving together of a series of larger and smaller “conversions” manifested in long intentional obediences in the same direction. But because human beings live in time and space, the process begins somewhere. Like falling in love, the awakening of initial faith is often experienced as a “big bang” rather than a tiny whisper, although a whisper would do. The initial discovery of another’s beauty and loveability isn’t the same as a life-time of faithful marriage but without the discovery, the marriage would never have taken place. Like falling in love, initial faith changes you and changes the direction of your life.

If we lived in a world without any love songs or love stories, one might come to the conclusion that the phenomena of “falling in love” was rare instead of universal. Similarly, there is more than one way to interpret a culture in which people regard “conspicuous conversion” as foreign and excessive and in bad taste and “non-Catholic”. It could be simply that that profound conversion is going on all over the Catholic world and it is simply bad taste to acknowledge it publicly – a sort of “don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses” approach. Pretty dramatically at odds with Christ’s commandment in Matthew 28 but possible.

Or – there is the possibility that many Catholics have never experienced initial conversion and hence, have nothing to talk about. Intentional discipleship can’t help but seem “foreign” to those who have never experienced it. If the pastoral leaders we have worked with are even remotely close to the mark, 90 - 95% of Catholics in the pews are not yet intentional disciples.

3) I do think that you are right. It is a matter of culture. Not of Scripture or magisterial teaching or the writings of the saints, which as Keith points out, all urge us to conversion and transformation and never mind about whether it is dramatic or not. In fact, I have a new name for the culture you describe: The culture of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" culture operates at several levels:


1) Never ask where George or Sue or Tasha is in their relationship with Christ.

Never, never ask them directly: Where are you in your relationship with God at this point in your life? Never ask "would you consider yourself an intentional disciple?" Asking directly seems to violate some kind of unspoken bargain - if you show up (i.e., attend Mass, are "active" in the parish, we won't ask you what your lived relationship with God is really like.

We can tell this is an unspoken bargain because of the universal knee-jerk response that we get from cradle Catholic (not converts!) pastors, pastoral associates, theologians etc. across the board when we suggest that we ask - even in the most gentle, natural, unobtrustive way. They almost all immediately say the same thing:

"We don’t do "me and Jesus"! That's Protestant, foreign, evangelical, invasive, judgmental, etc. Who am I to judge someone else's spiritual state?"

Of course, we haven't said anything about "me and Jesus" nor are we advocating it - but just where did the idea that to ask someone *directly* about their lived relationship with God is anti-Church, non-ecclesial, non-Catholic, and judgmental become so universal? What has given us the unspoken conviction that *not to ask* is truly Catholic?

What makes us assume that to ask is to judge instead of an essential pre-requisite to serving them effectively? In so many other areas we stress that to ask and to listen carefully and respectfully (about their family's needs, their sacramental needs, the needs of the homeless, etc.) is charitable. What had convinced us that to acquiesce in a situation where only 5% of our people, on average, are disciples is somehow the definition of charity?


2) Never ask if we (pastoral leaders) are doing what we are supposed to do. Just stay busy. Focus on programs and institutions. Never, never ask what impact our activities are having on the vast majority of parishioners. Never, never ask if we are being effective at the fundamental thing Christ asked us to do - make disciples.

I took part in a theological symposium in Chicago last summer on the parish and was stunned to hear a brilliant Roman professor of ecclesiology (who is familiar with our work) articulating the classic understanding of the pastoral office: to teach, to sanctify, to govern. I had always assumed that the point of teaching, indeed, the test of teaching was "are others learning?", that the point of sanctifying was to help others become holy, etc.

As I listened, I realized that the focus of classic Catholic theological reflection on the topic was all clerical - i.e., on the correct steps that the priest was to take. No where in the presentation was there any awareness or curiosity about the spiritual and personal impact of the actions on the recipient of those actions. No one was asking “Are those being ministered to actually learning, becoming holy, etc?

While I had run into this constantly on the ground in conversations with innumerable priests and parish associates, now I realized that it was also rooted in the ecclesiology that came out of the Reformation experience. (Formal ecclesiology was a by-product of the 16th century when Protestantism challenged the Church’s sense of herself in a whole new way. Robert Bellermine’s work is usually regarded as the first comprehensive Catholic attempt at ecclesiology), Protestants were attacking the objective value and efficacy of the priesthood and the sacraments so Catholics naturally focused upon defending the faith at the controversial points.

Five centuries later, we live in a profound different situation and need to look again at the other side of the equation. It was this realization that led me to write “’The Question that Must Not Be Asked”

3) Don't tell: Don't clearly articulate the kergyma in order to awaken personal faith. It is too invasive, too simplistic, too embarrassing, too Protestant, too much like a TV preacher, etc.

To be honest, I've seldom met a cradle Catholic priest or pastoral leader who 1) has actually thought about the content of the kerygma and attempted to articulate it; and 2) is wrestling with the idea that we could be undermining people's salvation by not preaching it. In 19 years as a Catholic, I've seldom heard it clearly preached or intentionally articulated by Catholics to other Catholics.

The vast majority of priests, pastors, and pastoral leaders I've dealt with function as practical universalists: that short of mass murder, everyone is going to heaven and so why bother with basic proclamation - especially about the Paschal Mystery - and therefore, the issue of intentional discipleship?

God saves us without us. Just get ‘em in the door but even if they don’t seem to darken the door, they will come back someday. On their own terms and their own time. When they get married, when they have children. (Despite that fact that surveys tell us over and over that huge numbers of today’s young adult Catholics are not coming back for marriage and not baptizing their children because the last vestiges of Catholic practice have ceased to have meaning), Nothing eternal is really at stake.

Almost always, if someone doesn't function as a universalist, I find they have been 1) influenced by evangelicalism and/or the charismatic renewal or 2) have a charism of evangelism (which trumps culture any day and ensures that you cannot not ask the question), or, 3) increasingly, that they have been influenced by us. When and how the initial proclamation of the gospel dropped from the picture, I don't know.

Peter Kreeft, a well known Catholic professor at Boston College, asked every student he had for many years, "if you died today, would you go to heaven and why?". Nearly all were the product of 12 years of Catholic schools; nearly everyone expected to go to heaven because they were a basically good person; very few students *even mentioned Jesus* as part of the reason.

That’s the product of a Don't Ask, Don't Tell culture that doesn't not preach the kergyma to its own and does not consider intentional discipleship to be normative.<>

NY Times: Abortion "Comparable to Slavery"

And they said it couldn't be done.

This sentence appeared in this morning's New York Times Op Ed page:

But real respect would require an understanding that what supporters of abortion rights genuinely see as a hard-earned freedom, opponents genuinely see as a self-inflicted wound and — though I can feel some of you tensing as you read this — a human rights issue comparable to slavery.

in an editorial by Melinda Henneberger entitled:
Why Pro-Choice Is a Bad Choice for Democrats

Henneberger pretty obviously doesn't subscribe to a fully Catholic position on abortion but she has the guts to make clear how wide-spread, deep, and serious is the resistance to abortion-on-demand in this country, a resistance that the Democratic elite has refused to acknowledge. Thirty five years of sacrificial labor by the pro-life movement has changed the parameters of the debate in this country and even the New York Times has to acknowledge it.

It's time the Democratic leadership did too.

When I Grow Up, I'm Gonna Be An Angelologist

The career path less taken . . .Angelologist. Imagine the casual conversations at parties and with your seatmate on planes. It wouldn't be dull.

As one inquisitive New Yorker exclaimed to me as our plane circled Manhattan "You! You're interesting!" Multiply that X 1000 for angelologists.

In any case, Zenit recently ran a thought-provoking interview with Angelologist Father M. Stanzione.

In 2002, Father Stanzione refounded the Catholic association Militia of St. Michael the Archangel, which organizes an annual theological-pastoral meeting on angels. The second annual meeting was held June 1-2 with the theme "The Return of the Angels Today, Between Devotion and Mystification." Q: What do angels represent for the Catholic faith and why are they the object of more attention by other groups and religious movements than by Christians?

Father Stanzione: Sadly, the catechesis on evangelization has been somewhat lacking on this point of the world's knowledge of angels. Others have taken advantage of the vacuum that has been created.

What is central in theology is the doctrine on God, the Holy Trinity, and Jesus Christ. But the angels are not useless or superfluous realities, because they are part of God's revelation.

Angels are creatures as we are, with an ontological difference. We are born and die; angels do not die and have been given to us by God to keep us company. The angels are an important complement in the creation of the body; they are human beings' best friends.

A theologian has written that the angels are servants of God, and they make themselves servants of those who make themselves God's servants.

Some maintain that Jesus Christ, being the only mediator, does not need angels. In fact, in the Acts of the Apostles, the history of the early Church makes evident the fundamental role of the angels. We can say that Jesus Christ is the only mediator and the angels collaborate in Jesus Christ's mediation.

Q: Is it plausible and Christian to think that each one of us has a guardian angel?

Father Stanzione: Whoever does not believe in the existence of the guardian angel is outside the doctrine of the faith. Each person has an angel as a good pastor. The Catechism of the Catholic Church also says it.

One cannot say that one believes in God, in the Holy Spirit, in the Virgin, without believing in the angels.

We do not see angels except in the history of the Bible and the history of the Church. Many saints had frequent contacts with angels; they experienced a relationship. Different mystics speak about the relationship with angels.

I think the time is ripe for the creation of courses on angelology and demonology in theological faculties.

Comments? Have any of you had experiences with angels that you'd be willing to share with the rest of us?

Evangelical Conversations

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur has an interesting essay over at Catholic Exchange called Evangelization 101.

The two women were distant acquaintances brought together by the one empty table in the small eatery. Over this chance meeting, they quickly got re-acquainted, and began discussing life. By the end of the ten-minute conversation, one left with the other's phone number and an agreement to take her to her Evangelical church the following Sunday.

Sitting at the next table, I couldn't help but be amazed at this interchange. I had just witnessed evangelization in action. One woman was looking for something in her life and the other had the answer. She spoke in glowing terms about her faith community and how welcoming they were. She told of Bible studies and women's groups and shared breakfasts. I admired her enthusiasm and her commitment to spreading her faith.

Would I have done the same? Sadly, I would have to say "No."

Since I just finished up the segment on what we are calling "Evangelical Conversation" for Making Disciples last night, this whole topic is much on my mind.

The goal is not to turn Catholics into stereotypical agressive evangelists who can't carry on a normal conversation on a bus without whipping out a tract and unnerving their seatmate. But we must find natural, respectful ways to facilitate and invite conversations about life's most crucial question: relationship with God.

Most people aren't original. Most of us can't even think about things that we haven't heard someone else talk about! We derive most of our understanding of life and our mental categories for interpreting our experience from others around us.

The direct work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds (which is going on all the time)must be met by a human assent of some kind. But most of us aren't spiritual geniuses and cradle saints who can recognize what is happening and fully assent to grace without any preparation or support from other human beings.

We have tried substituting the institutionalized witness of parish structures, religious ed classes, and "the professionals" for the personal witness of Christians we know well and love. But for most people, it doesn't work. And we know it doesn't work.

But still we can't bring ourselves to break the Catholic code of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell".

Cause we still think that it is about us and our comfort zone and embarrassment. But it isn't.

It is about God's love for this person here with me now.

The Asian Catholics Aren't Coming - They're Here

Rocco over at Whispers has posted a fascinating essay this morning

Just in case anyone hasn't realized it yet, American Catholicism's changing, folks -- and the ground is, literally, shifting right beneath our feet.

At least, that proved to be the case for me a few months back.

As winter bore down on the East, I slipped into a Sunday evening Mass at a neighborhood parish in Queens. The English liturgy began in its upper church at 5.30. At the same time, one in Tagalog was getting underway downstairs.

The Anglo Mass was what, unfortunately, passes as the norm these days: the sparse crowd, ho-hum, "get me outta here" kinda deal. But in the lower church, its counterpart for the local Filipino community began with no less than 20 minutes of singing, during which their roof (our ground) was actually... vibrating.

By the time the opening hymn was done downstairs, we were midway through the Creed. Maybe -- just maybe -- they were preparing for the Gospel as the English-speaking celebrant was out the door.

Moral of the story: sure, US Catholicism's Anglo contingent remains its dominant ethnic group (at least, as of this writing). But just as with the Hispanic core which will soon overtake the old immigration in numbers, the energy, the future -- and, it must be said, the hope -- of the enterprise on these shores is taking its lead on a massive scale from the increasingly-emergent Asian communities, especially those of Vietnamese and Filipino heritage, marked by firm cohesion, joyful spirit, and a spirit of devotion and love for their faith as strong as summer's first day is long.

It's not just catholicity at work -- it's what's happening right in our midst. And we better start paying attention.

To offer but a handful of examples: though Asian-Americans comprise but 3% of the nation's 70 million Catholics, the community pulled nearly four times its weight in its number of the US' priestly ordinands this year; with 11% of the candidates of Asian-Pacific birth, the group was tied with Mexico at the second-largest provider of the country's priesthood class for the year. The Filipino custom of the Simbang Gabi -- the annual pre-Christmas novena traditionally held before the break of dawn for the nine days -- has come to equal "packed-to-the-rafters" congregations in the places where it's held (including, as of SG'06, 114 of the archdiocese of Los Angeles' 280-odd parishes); same goes for the numerable places that hold weekly devotions to the Niño de Cebu, the Black Nazarene, or the other patrons of the islands.

And for all the ink and Klieg lights that focus on the 10,000 of all ethnicities who show up for the annual Roe Eve Mass for Life in Washington and the 40,000 gone to Disneyland for LA's Religious Education Congress, the States' largest Catholic gathering is actually "Marian Days," when no fewer than 70,000 -- repeat: 70,000 -- Vietnamese-American Catholics converge on Carthage, Missouri for three days in August. (The event celebrates its 30th anniversary this year from August 2-5.)

Sherry's note: So how come I've never heard of Marian days?

Here's a nice article on this celebration in the Ozarks of Missouri. Globalization indeed! (and of our own creation)

Fleeing to new land "The church in Vietnam wrote her history with her own blood," reads a caption at a campus center that honors Vietnamese martyrs. The Co-Redemptrix community shared that legacy.

When Saigon fell, about 185 community members piled into boats and sailed east.
An American cargo ship picked them up and, after a time, authorities brought
them to Fort Chafee, Ark.

The bishop of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese heard of their plight and
gave them an unused seminary in Carthage. After faltering initially, the
congregation has rebounded to more than 200 priests and brothers.
Father Anthony McGuire of the National Catholic Bishops' Conference, who
oversees pastoral care for migrants and refugees, compares the community to the
Poles, who suffered under Nazi and Communist oppression.

"That tends to draw people together. You see that in Carthage," he said.
Brother Thomas Dien puts it this way: "These are people who lived a hard life.
They need something to lean on. They may have come with no job, no money. So
they lean on their faith."

The congregation started Marian Days to thank Mary for her protection. About
1,700 attended the inaugural event. Early accounts describe picketing and taunts
from local residents.

Dien says some neighbors have moved, in part, to avoid the hubbub of the
festival. Several complain of traffic. Some homeowners blanket their front yards
with bright red "Keep Out" signs.

For the most part, however, the event has become part of the town's heritage,
like the Civil War battlefield nearby. Carthage has created a citywide holiday,
Vietnamese Day, even though the number of Vietnamese residents still is
relatively small. Townspeople visit to sample the gantlet of food tents. Several
neighbors even open their front yards for camping.

An Le of Joplin said only about a third of the 250 event participants from his
hometown are Catholic. The rest are Buddhist or of other religions. He said the
event highlights their similarities, not their conflicts.
"We all have the same struggles," he said.

And organizers are amazed at how Marian Days bridges the gap between
first-generation Vietnamese and their U.S.-born children.

My very first job out of college was Indochinese refugee resettlement but I hadn't yet grasped the nature of the spiritual journey I was already on and never dreamed that I might be helping to bring to this country the seeds of our Catholic future.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sumer is Incumen In

I can not believe that I have gotten so carried away with work that I just now realized that it is Mid-summer's Day.

And so we must have a rousing chorus of that old favorite: Sumer is incumen in . . .
What? You say you've never heard of it?

A round that is a mere 740 years old? The ultimate Oldie . .

Well, it looks like this

You all know the chorus:

Sumer is incumen in,
Lhude sing cuc-cu
Gro-weth sed and bloweth sed
and springeth the w-de nu
sing cuc-cu!

There Will Be Blogging This Weekend

I'm home - working on Making Disciples and the irrigation system for the garden - but home.

Evangelizing in a Post-Modern Age - Seattle

If you are in the Seattle area on June 27, check this out.

On June 27 at Blessed Sacrament church in the University district, Fr. Bryan Dolejsi will be speaking on this most interesting and critical topic.

Fr. Bryan has been one of our Called & Gifted teachers since he was a seminarian and is an absolutely dynamic speaker. (The grin in the photo is very Bryan and tells you a great deal about his energy and love for the faith).

Fr. Bryan will offer an overview of spiritual trends in our postmodern
culture in view of developing effective approaches to
evangelization. After considering the effects of technology,
secularization and individualism on the post-modern soul, he will
show how the wisdom of the saints on issues such as doctrine,
experience, grace and individual autonomy can help Catholics
fulfill their call to be apostles in the world.

I am totally bummed that I won't be in Seattle until Thursday, June 28. I'm sure it will be great.

Should Religion Govern Christian Institutions?

Really and truly. This is the debate in India.

The catalyst? The Catholic Church in Delhi wants to reserve 40% of the spaces at St. Stephen's College for Christian students.

The result: this debate on the Indian version of CNN. Fascinating and distressing all at the same time. But it gives a vivid sense of the issues faced by Christians in very different cultural circumstances around the world.

"As the debate still rages over the 40 per cent quota for Christians in St Stephen's College, the Delhi diocese says all the city’s schools and colleges that it runs should hire Christian teachers.

With the backdrop of fears that such proposals will lead to conversions, the question discussed on the show Face The Nation with Sagarika Ghose was: Should Christian institutions be governed by their religion?

On the panel to debate the issue was senior journalist Swapan Dasgupta, along with St Stephen’s College Principal Valson Thampu and Vice-Chairperson of State Minorities Commission and President of Indian Christian Voice Abraham Mathai.

The decision to reserve 40 per cent quota for Christians and Dalit Christians in St Stephen’s College has met with criticism across the board. Does it mean sacrificing excellence that has been built over years?

“The very sequence of news events today tells it’s own story. It shows the tremendous role Christian education plays. I welcome this tribute. But coming to Christianisation of St Stephen’s, what’s wrong with it? People want to study there but they do not want the Christian part of it. That’s hypocritical,” said Valson Thampu.

Christianisation concerns

Regarding the quota debate in St Stephen’s, a senior historian was quoted as saying, “You are actually consigning St Stephen’s College to a graveyard because you are the kind of Christian who is the kind of Hindu that Narendra Modi is.”

“It’s a great pity that such a historian cannot recognise the distinction between christianisation and saffronisation. It’s a great tragedy that many people in the country are better informed than the Supreme Court. They must read the TMA Pai Foundation vs State of Karnataka verdict, which obligates me to admit at least 50 per cent from the Christian community. The SC has taken the view that minorities are allowed to establish institutions mainly to meet the educational needs of the community. If you deny the aspirations of your community, the only motive for doing that would be corruption,” said Thampu.

Turning to Swapan Dasgupta, a Stephanian, Sagarika Ghose asked him whether he was opposed to the christianisation of St Stephen’s?

“It really depends on what you mean by a Christian institution. The College was always a Christian institution in the sense that it spread the wider ethos of Christianity. Now if it’s made a completely denominational institution, it would hit at the very purpose at what the founders has in mind. The institution was meant to be a facilitator of a happy amalgam between the east and the west. Thampu is making the College a church institution,” he said.

Was the Christian ecumenism being defeated by Christian evangelism? Are the traditions, which the institutions were built, getting lost in the search of power, glory and money.

“The church in India has taken the responsibility of starting educational institutions in the country and none of them can be proved to have indulged in conversions. We have a right to govern our institutions, which is guaranteed in the Constitution itself. So what’s wrong with that?” said Abraham Mathai.

2010: International Congress on World Evangelization

The evangelical missionary equivalent of an ecumenical council will be held in 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa: Lausanne III: the International Congress on World Evangelization.

This is significant for Catholics in so many ways.

It was the first Lausanne Conference, convened by Billy Graham in 1974, which was a major catalyst of the extraordinary growth of evangelical/Pentecostal Christianity around the world. The irony is that, at that very moment in time, the Catholic missionary movement was abandoning the proclamation of Christ as futile.

As Peter Phan wrote in his article: “Proclamation of the Reign of God as Mission of the Church: What for, to Whom, by Whom, with Whom, and How?”

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]

Ironies heaped upon ironies. Phan talks of the 1910 Congress as a discredited relic of the past while evangelicals are planning their next Congress in 2010 because it is the anniversary of the 1910 Congress which they regard as prophetic of the spectacular expansion of Christianity in the global south during the 20th century.

Truly, the contrast between Catholic and evangelical interpretations of mission history since 1960 is that of night and day, winter and summer. Catholic missions “as we knew it” has indeed collapsed but the evangelical missions movement swept past us and around the world without missing a beat.

The result:

In the 37 years since 1970, Christians in Africa grew from 117 million to 417 million and in Asia from 96 million to 353 million. But the lion’s share of that growth was non-Catholic and non-Orthodox.

The 2010 Congress on World Evangelization won’t be led by western Christians but by evangelical leaders from Uganda, Latin America, Malaysia, Egypt and Hong Kong. They are expecting 4,000 missionary leaders from 200 countries to attend Lausanne III.

And Catholic missionary leaders and scholars should be there – not just a few but in significant numbers to grasp what is happening and to be part of the conversation at strategic levels. Because hundreds of millions of baptized Catholics around the world are part of or are being formed by and heavily influenced by this evangelistic juggernaut. If we don’t evangelize our own, the evangelicals will do it for us.

But do we have the leaders committed to the proclamation of Christ as the center (but not the only aspect) of missions who are capable of doing so? As far as I can tell, we don’t in the US, but then we’ve never been a Catholic missionary powerhouse. Europe was the traditional center of Catholic missions but the current state of the Church there makes it unlikely that the next generation of missionary leaders will be European.

Perhaps the future of Catholic missions lies with the movements instead of the historic religious orders?

For more on the subject in general, take a look at my 11 part article on Independent Christianity.

Thoughts on Youth and Adult Formation

For the last few weeks-- in addition to preparing for a wonderful Called & Gifted Workshop over here in Bloomingdale, Illinois--I've been working on a short analysis of youth ministry. A little background:

Last year, after a lot of prayer and reflection, I joined my parish's youth ministry program--knowing that it had a number of issues and areas for improvement. After offering my own experience in youth and adult formation to help deepen and grow the program (most of which went largely unheeded--for a number of reasons, including an attachment to historical methods and a dearth of intentional discipleship), feedback and other events helped me to realize that I had possibly made some bad discernment.

I decided, ultimately, not to continue on as a youth minister this year. However, I love the teens and the folks alongside whom I ministered, and so I spent several weeks applying my experience in the Christians in Action program with my larger experience in youth and adult formation. I then wrote a reflection on youth ministry and offered concrete, practical suggestions to help the team if they wanted to take a risk and try some new things.

In doing so, I worked on identifying the necessary components of effective youth ministry, particularly in light of the goals of youth ministry--forming disciples who take personal responsibility for the Church's mission to the world. As I identified these components, I wondered if, in fact, the necessary components of youth formation are, in many ways, identical to the necessary components of adult formation. Perhaps it's not the structure or content of youth and adult formation that should be different, but rather the context.

In other words, our goals and ambitions shouldn't be lower for youth because they are young. Both teens and adults can become intentional disciples of Christ--but their journey toward that goal takes place in the context of different segments of life.

In any event, here are the elements of effective youth ministry that I identified. This is probably not an exhaustive list, but I think it hits the major points:

Effective youth ministry should provide a place where teens can come to:

· Encounter Christ (many for the first time)—as he is revealed through the Church (Scripture, Sacraments, Church Teaching), through the lives of the youth ministers who journey with the teens, and through their own lives—so as to build and deepen a personal relationship with God characterized by openness and trust.

· Clearly hear the kerygmatic dimensions of the Gospel (that Christ suffered and died for our sins so that we could be reunited with the One Who Made us for Love) in a way that allows them to relate to it, absorb it, wrestle with it, and, ultimately, make a decision about it in their own life

· Build habits of prayer, scripture study, accountability, and sacramental celebration/reception—along with support and formation in living out lives of discipleship.

· Learn about not only what the Church teaches and why, but also how to apply the richness of that Teaching to their lives and the lives of the world around them—addressing real needs in the community through acts of charity and social justice.

· Receive support and tools for a lifetime of discernment—growing steadily in an understanding of the Church’s mission and how/where they are personally called to participate in that mission

How this gets accomplished will look very different for teens and for adults, but the foundational components seem, to my eye, similar.


By the way, I am posting my detailed reflection on youth ministry in regular installments over at my blog. If you are interested, stop on by!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

St. Margaret Clitheroe & the Charism of Hospitality

Posting about the Martyr's Walk in London this weekend reminded me that I had written a short article about Margaret Clitheroe years ago and that it would be most appropos to post it here.

St. Margaret Clitherow

The urban center of northern England is the ancient and fascinating city of York. Still surrounded by 500-year-old walls and gates (called bars), filled with tiny stone streets and crooked medieval houses, and dominated by the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe, York is one of my very favorite places in England.

When I visited York four years ago, I was going as a pilgrim, following in the footsteps of two other Weddell women, who had lived there four centuries earlier. I had discovered them entirely by accident while reading about the life of St. Margaret Clitherow, York's most famous female citizen.

Those distant Weddells made it into a little-read history book in the University of Washington library because they had been imprisoned with Margaret Clitherow for the same crime: practicing the Catholic faith at a time when the penalties in England for such daring included imprisonment and death. It may strike us as almost unbelievable, but Margaret Clitherow was in fact martyred by the English government of her day for the exercise of a charism that we tend to think of as a thoroughly innocuous: the charism of hospitality.

The charism of hospitality empowers a Christian to be a generous channel of God's love by warmly welcoming and caring for those in need of food, shelter, and friendship. Why would any government possibly object to such a simple and inoffensive activity? Because among the guests that Margaret Clitherow warmly welcomed were Catholic priests who were risking their own lives so that lay Catholics might have access to the grace and consolation of the sacraments in the midst of persecution.

Thirty years before Margaret Clitherow was born, King Henry VIII had broken with the Papacy and had declared himself the "Head of the Church in England" because the Pope would not grant him a divorce from his first wife. All the monasteries and religious houses in England had been suppressed and their inhabitants forced to leave and take up secular dress and life, and some priests and religious died as martyrs. By the time that

Margaret Clitherow married at 15 (a common age for marriage at the time), it was illegal for an English man or woman to attend a Catholic Mass, to be reconciled with the Catholic Church, to go to confession, to be a priest or religious, or knowingly to offer hospitality to a priest or religious.

Since all English people were required by law to attend Anglican services at their local parish church on every Sunday and feast day, those who didn't attend as a matter of conscience were easily recognized and reported to the authorities. Margaret, who had been raised as a Protestant, had to go to elaborate lengths just in order to receive instruction in the Catholic faith.

A local doctor's wife who was a committed Catholic ran a sort of birthing center for Catholic women where they could be safely delivered of their babies, regain their health, and have the babies secretly baptized. When one of the hunted priests was in town, the doctor's wife would send Margaret a message that she "needed help with a birth" and Margaret would have the "cover story" which enabled her to leave home without arousing suspicion. Margaret was only 18 when she entered the Catholic Church.

While working with participants in the Called & Gifted process, I have noticed that hospitality is one of those gifts that tends to be under-appreciated. Like the charisms of helps and service, it is sometimes thought of as "nice" but not powerful, as comforting but not transforming, and certainly not as evangelistic or prophetic.

But like any other charism, hospitality is an exercise of genuine spiritual power and authority. Hospitality is, I believe, along with the gift of pastoring, one of the primary means by which God heals and strengthens individuals through the creation of Christian community. To create a safe, warm, loving environment in which many of the individual's needs for physical nurture, relationship, and spiritual companionship are met is a most powerful ministry of healing.

Indeed, the English Catholics of the sixteenth century were able to create such communities even in the prison where fifty or sixty serious York Catholics might find themselves at any given time. Wounded and bruised by rejection and persecution, uncertain of their future, the imprisoned Catholics would find themselves spiritually and emotionally healed and nurtured through the Catholic community life made possible by the very structures of oppression.

The doctor's wife who ran the Catholic birthing center in her home was reported to have temporarily lost her mind because of the many terrible blows dealt to her and her family. But in prison, amid the warmth of the Catholic community there, she was healed. In the hands of a pastoral evangelizer like Margaret Clitherow, who was always seeking out opportunities, despite the danger, to share her faith with her family and friends and to encourage the faith of her fellow Catholics, hospitality was far more than an exercise in bland politeness.

When the doctor's wife was arrested in 1581, Margaret offered her home to be the primary "Mass center" in York, a place where Catholics could secretly gather to attend Mass, where priests could be hidden as they passed through, and where liturgical furnishings could be stored. Margaret had a secret room constructed upstairs in a house that adjoined her own with a concealed passage running between the two homes.

Visiting priests slept in the room and all Mass gear was stored there. When safety permitted, Margaret delighted in feeding breakfast to all who had attended Mass in her home. She also offered space in her home to a Catholic schoolteacher to teach both her own children and a few of her neighbor's children. And all this she did, knowing that should evidence of her priestly guests ever be discovered, that she could receive the death penalty.

Finally in 1586, Margaret's house was forcibly searched by a band of local sheriffs. They found the schoolmaster at work with his pupils in an upstairs room. The schoolmaster managed to escape through the secret passage, but the searchers thought that he must have been a priest and arrested everyone in the house.

They took one of the children, a twelve-year-old boy, stripped him, and "with rods threatened him, standing naked among them, unless he would tell them all they asked." In his terror, the child led them to the secret chamber where they found the Mass gear and signs of recent occupation. That was all the evidence that was ever gathered against Margaret Clitherow. Margaret refused to enter a plea in order to prevent her children from being forced to testify against her.

The penalty for refusing to plead in English law was terrible. Margaret Clitherow was pressed to death by being covered with a heavy board while lying on the ground and then having 800 pounds of weights piled upon the board until she died. When she was declared a saint in 1970, a joint Catholic-Anglican service of repentance and reconciliation was held in York Minister in her honor. But the name and example of this hospitable woman has long survived those who put her to death. Today, she is known as St. Margaret of York, and the very house where she practiced her courageous ministry of hospitality is now a shrine dedicated to her memory.

Thanks for the Memories

The ultimate nightmare flight:

Being stuck for 7 hours on a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong that never leaves the runway at San Francisco.

I've flown that particular flight.

A word to the downwardly challenged:

Cathay Pacific seats and the space between the seats are designed for Asian bodies. That means if you are taller than about 5'5" and larger than a size 8, you are in trouble. (Of course, that does remind me of that line in The Devil Wears Prada: "Size "6" is the new "14".)

I did learn this much: Trying to sleep standing up and leaning against the wall in back of the plane on a 13 hour flight exacerbates jet lag.

Meanwhile, Fr. Michael Sweeney was stuck in a middle seat, without cigarettes, for 13 hours. Fortunately, his friends had insisted that he take Valium before boarding.

Have I mentioned the glamour of the mendicant life lately? My condolences to all on board.

Wanted: Athletic Aryans with a Passion for Housekeeping

David Brooks has a witty and disturbing piece over at Godspy about the fruit of popularized genetic engineering.

At this very moment thousands of people are surfing the Web looking for genetic material so their children will be nothing like me.

When given this kind of freedom of choice, people seem to want to produce athletic Aryans with a passion for housekeeping. There is tremendous market demand for DNA from blue-eyed, blond-haired, 6-foot-2 finely sculpted hunks who roast their own coffee. These are the kind of guys you see jogging in the park and nothing moves. They’ve got a stomach, a chest and flanks, but as they bounce along nothing jiggles, not even their hair. They’re like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime from the shoulders down, and Trent Lott from the scalp up.

Nor is brainpower neglected. In a bow to all that is sacred in our culture, one sperm bank has one branch located between Harvard and M.I.T. and the other next to Stanford. An ad in The Harvard Crimson offered $50,000 for an egg from a Harvard woman. A recent ad in the Chicago Maroon at the University of Chicago offered $35,000 for a Chicago egg and stipulated, “You must be very healthy, very intelligent and very attractive, and most of all, very happy. Liberal political views and athletic ability are pluses.”


Except for the height - and the hair - it all sounds distressingly like Fr. Mike, apparently a member of a tribe of mid-western ubermensch to which my clan was not invited.

Back to David Brooks:

In any case, a Harris poll suggested that more than 40 percent of Americans would use genetic engineering to upgrade their children mentally and physically. If you get social acceptance at that level, then everybody has to do it or their kids will be left behind.

Which means that sooner or later reproduction becomes a casting call for “Baywatch” and people like me become an evolutionary dead end. For centuries my ancestors have been hewing peat in Wales and skipping school in Ukraine, but those of us in the low-center-of-gravity community will be left on evolution’s cutting-room floor.

Sherry's note:

Or in the case of my family, serfdom in Prussia. I've see the 200 plus year old manumission papers.

Of course, the struggle that short men face is similar to the reaction that exceptionally tall women get. Consider what it feels like, as a woman, to be the tallest person in a nation of 260 million people as I seemed to be in Indonesia. Imagine being lost, and on foot, walking through small Muslim villages at a time of Muslim/Christian tension with a frame that simply shrieks "not-of-this-gene-pool-westerner". Imagine the rising anxiety of my Indonesian hosts who were walking with me.

People would ask me if I was Dutch. Being considered "Dutch" in Indonesia was not a compliment since the Dutch had been their colonial overlords for centuries and were not known and loved for their benign ways. There is a Indonesian term for white westerner that is not polite and translates roughly to "white buffalo". That just about summed up how I was feeling. It didn't help to try and explain that I am the smallest and shortest member of my family. We are simply too far out there on the bell curve.

So I have a feeling that exceptionally tall estrogen-based life forms with a familial history of mental illness will not be part of this brave new world either.

As lay apostles called to promote a culture of life, what can we do? Comments?

International Theology of the Body Symposium

The National Catholic Reporter has a thorough and very interesting article on the first International Symposium on the Theology of the Body held in Gaming, Austria last May.

I do like this definition:

"chastity is considered in the broad sense as “the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being” (Catechism, No. 2337)."
And I found this particularly interesting:

"What led John Paul II to his remarkable thesis that married love is nothing less than an icon of the self-giving love of the Blessed Trinity?

Dominican Father Jaroslaw Kupczak, who holds the chair of theological anthropology at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Krakow, Poland, followed the trail back to the Second Vatican Council.

He noted that before the council, Karol Wojtyla’s writings on spousal love, such as Love and Responsibility, were primarily philosophical in nature.

It was only after the council that Wojtyla began to refer to the Trinitarian foundations of love between husband and wife.

The first time he expressly did so was in a 1974 article, “The Family as a Communion of Persons.” Father Kupczak did not hesitate to make the claim that Vatican II transformed Karol Wojtyla the philosopher into Wojtyla the theologian."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Prince of Song Revealed

From Keith Strohm.

Simply lovely - a frumpy, unassuming young cell phone salesman from Cardiff shows up on Britain's Got Talent and says he dreams of singing opera. You can see the judges flinch and then - well, watch and cheer.

Never underestimate a Welshman's way with a song.

By the way, Paul did ultimately win the national competition - and will be singing for the Queen.

Martyr's Walk in London

Consider hopping the pond this weekend to be part of the Martyr's Walk beginning at Tower Hill and ending at Tyburn Convent in London.

As an Anglophile and student of recusant history, I'd enjoy something like that. I was moved to discover that two Anne Weddells - mother and daughter - had been imprisoned in York with St. Margaret Clitheroe for the crime of being Catholic. That's when I started using my middle name - Anne.

The picture above is of the famous "Shambles" in York - the medieval butcher's street where Margaret Clitheroe lived and offered such costly hospitality to priests in hiding and fellow Catholics.

I've posted a life of St. Margaret Clitheroe here.

The Last Great Push

This week is my last push to put the final touches on Making Disciples. So blogging will happen but be sporadic.

Fr. Mike is offerings a series of talks this week in a parish of his old stomping grounds in Eugene, Oregon. His topics sound exciting to me so if you find yourself in the Eugene area, consider attending.

There's a reason why Fr. Mike wears Oregon athletic gear so much of the time - he is a deeply committed fan of the . . .DUCKS. . . The Mighty Ducks. . . The mind boggles.

As a Husky myself (University of Washington alum), I've grown used to being on the receiving end of the slings and arrows of outrageous Duck fandom. He's told me some story about Walt Disney offering a large sum of money to the University 50 years ago if they would take the Duck (Donald?) as their mascot but I'm sure its just an urban legend.

But what else could explain it? Any of our readers know the true story?

Monday, June 18, 2007

National Catholic Singles Conference - San Diego

The National Catholic Singles Conference - San Diego is coming: Friday, June 29 - Sunday, July 1, 2007.

The roster of speakers looks interesting and includes Christopher West. Check it out.

I delighted to finally see something being done in this area since 50% of US Catholic adults are NOT married. 25% have never been married - but you wouldn't know it from the way our parishes are organized.

The Christian Underground: in Seattle, My Home Town

My tribe: Seattlites.

I'll be back in a couple weeks -savoring her five espresso stands on every corner, the wind whipping on the ferries, the salmon sailing through the air at the Pike Place Market. I'll hang out with Mark Shea and the clan, and see old haunts again and revel in her lush greenness and Mt. Rainer (if the mountain is "out") etc.

But I won't miss this: the incredibly hostile spiritual atmosphere.

Trying to live as a believing Christian (Catholic or evangelical) in Seattle's atmosphere of deep hostility and skepticism is like trying to take a relaxing stroll against a hurricane force wind. There's nothing relaxing about it. Nothing in the culture can be assumed to be for you. You are always on alert. There are some wonderful churches in town (Blessed Sacrament where the Institute started, being one of them) and some creative and significant ministries.

But if you are not part of the Christian "underground", you need never know they - or we - exist. Religion in the public square: unimaginable.

This piece in the local newspaper, the Stranger says it all - from the perspective of an unbeliever.

The Church of Skepticism: Seattle's One True Faith Gets Mobilized
By Sean Nelson

This is my 15th year living in Seattle, and I can count on one hand the number of churchgoers I've met since moving here—and still have a finger left to hail a taxi to drive me the hell away from them. That's a joke, obviously, but it reflects an attitude I've encountered a lot in Seattle: Religious people are to be avoided.

It's not fair or true to suggest that all people who believe in a god and attend worship services are crazy or unreasonable. We all know that. It's also possible that I've met observant Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists in my time as a Seattleite (someone's going to all those churches). But if I have, they've kept a pretty tight lid on their Sabbath adventures.

Maybe that's because, as certain religious leaders like to claim, the "faithful" compose a persecuted majority, and the observers are scared of being ostracized, even persecuted, for admitting their beliefs. That's a reasonable enough concern in a town as judgmental as Seattle, I guess. But leaving aside the question of how weak the faithful must be if they can be driven underground by a little ridicule, I don't think that's what's really going on. I think it's that the real religion of this city is skepticism, and the word is spreading.

Last week, 850 people packed Town Hall to hear a presentation by Christopher Hitchens, in town to promote his new book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, which was number one on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. Hitchens's stance in favor of war in Iraq has made him a polarizing figure among your standard-issue Seattle lefty crowd, but Town Hall was bursting with people ready to embrace the message that religion is a "Bronze Age myth."

"This stuff," Hitchens said, referring to religion, "is not to be believed." And the crowd roared.

Hitchens's argument—posed to a fully complicit choir, admittedly—was made all the more compelling because no one answered the call to debate the author about the existence of a god or the validity of religion. Seattle could not produce one radical Fundamentalist, sober moderate, or disinterested scholar to stand for the holy side. That's telling (we're the only city that has failed to meet Hitchens's challenge to debate all comers), but it's not what made the event resonate.

I described my shock at the open manifestation of religion in the marketplace in Colorado Springs in a Siena Scribe article:

When we moved our office to Colorado Springs I did not understand how different life would be in the "Evangelical Vatican." Over 100 national and international evangelical Protestant organizations make their home here including Focus On the Family. We have no skyscrapers, only "purple mountain majesties" (America the Beautiful was inspired by the view from Pikes Peak) and gigantic churches with names like "Radiance" or "New Life" that dominate the corners and hilltops. Visible, unapologetic faith is much more a part of the public scene here than would ever be imagined in Seattle.

When I drop into my local dry cleaner's or Mail Boxes, Etc., the staff is listening to Christian talk radio. During a recent morning walk, a friendly older man wanted to demonstrate his dog's best trick. I witnessed the apparently charismatic pooch "praise the Lord" by rising on her hind legs and waving her paws in the air on command. Honest.

If I walk into the local discount warehouse, the genial older gentleman who greets me will very likely bellow a few bars of "Amazing Grace" into the public address system. The first time I heard it, my West Coast urbanite paranoia kicked in. "He's singing a Christian hymn in a public place. He can't do that! He'll be fired for sure." Six months later, he's still singing at the top of his lungs. I now know that Colorado Springs shoppers consider him a bit of local color rather than a one-man assault on the separation of church and state.

So what is atmosphere like in your neck of the woods? Open hostility to the faith, indifference, or surrounded by believers? How does that affect how you live and express your Catholic faith?

News from the Front

Stories I heard this weekend:

1) Parishes where hundreds of second grade kids are prepared for First Communion every year. The overwhelming majority of these children then completely vanish for the next SEVEN YEARS until its time for Confirmation prep. They don't attend Mass. Their parents don't attend Mass. Talk about sacramental filling station . . .How soul destroying.

2) The diocesan sponsored catechist training where participants were told that conversion works differently for Catholics. Catholics, according to this scenario don't and shouldn't expect to experience any faith-based discernable change or transformation in their lives for a long, long time. None of that discernable, conscious, Peter "dropping-his-nets-and-following-Christ" stuff. Catholics just wake up one day. and find that they are just different.

Help me out here. I'm confused. Would a fair analogy be "Why bother going to the trouble of attending med school and living through the long purgatory of internship and residency because one day I'll just wake up to discover that I've became a brain surgeon in my sleep?"

I always knew those MCAT prep courses were a scam.

As St. Augustine observed: God created us without us but he won't save us without us.

Newark Parishes Support Women Suffering from Post-Partum Depression

Well, its a beautiful, cool, breezy, summer morning in my neighborhood. I didn't get enough sleep (plane delays in Burbank) so I'm only half awake - but home.

The Archdiocese of Newark has anounced a new initiative: parish-based support to women suffering from post-partum depression. What an interesting idea. I wonder how this evolved? There's usually intersting stories behind something like this: a story that began in suffering.

This news comes via Postpartum Progress, the blog of Canadian entertainer Amy Sky, which offers lots of links and information about Post Partum Depression. She points out that something like 10 - 15% of all women who give birth in the US every year - at least 400,000 women - suffer from ppd in the US.

I have a good friend who suffered a psychotic break immediately after her first pregnancy and experienced more serious ones after babies two and three. She couldn't care for her own children for over a year after the last birth.

So no more children - for the sake of those she already has. The family are devoutly Catholic and remarkably upbeat and cheerful about the whole thing - but my friend will be probably be on anti-psychotic meds the rest of her life.

Knowledge and understanding at the parish level for new moms confronting ppd and more serious problems would be such a help. It is part of being truly pro-life.

I"m Back

Will blog tomorrow. But now to bed.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What a Weekend Coming Up

500 attendees at two Called & Gifted workshops in two new dioceses
A Called & Gifted teacher training
A Called & Gifted interviewer training

8 teachers on the road including me and Fr. Mike. 20 boxes of resources


I just found out that 18 people from the parish in Boise which is HQ for the Called & Gifted workshop in Idaho are traveling to San Francisco this weekend to put on the first evangelization retreat at the parish which is HQ for the Called & Gifted in San Francisco.

I know because I had to call our team leaders in both parishes to see if they could meet with the representatives of a Australian archdiocese who are planning to criss-cross the western US in July talking to parishes who have implemented Called & Gifted.

Oh yeah, and I really, really have to get back to cutting those 15 slides out of the Tuesday morning schedule for Making Disciples because our teachers like Keith Strohm would really, really like to know what they are supposed to be doing.

There's a reason why brilliant, witty, original blogging is in short supply at the moment. (Beside the fact that Fr. Mike is putting the final touches on his presentations in Eugene next week!)

Your prayers appreciated. If you are a reader of ID and attend one of our events this weekend, be sure and give the teachers a shout out! We'd love to meet you.

That Parish With All the Believers

Reality in parish life captured in a single moment:

Via a ID reader who, I suspect, would prefer to remain anonymous so as not to identify either bishop or diocese.

Our bishop is known to embarrass the pastor by calling across a large roomful of priests, "Hey, how's that parish you've got with all the believers?"

Vatican Urges All Catholics to Stop Donating to Amnesty International

Amnesty's new position on abortion is very frustrating for me because I had long supported their human rights work.

From the BBC:

The Vatican, which regards life as sacred from the moment of conception, said it was an "inevitable consequence" of the group's policy change.

Amnesty said it was not promoting abortion as a universal right.

But the group said that women had a right to choose, particularly in cases of rape or incest.

"No more financing of Amnesty International after the organisation's pro-abortion about-turn," said a statement from the Roman Catholic Church's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

The Church's request covers funding from Catholic groups, non-governmental organisations, parishes, schools and individuals.

'Misrepresented account'

The council's president, Cardinal Renato Martino, described abortion as "murder".

"And to justify it selectively, in the event of rape, that is to define an innocent child in the belly of its mother as an enemy, as 'something one can destroy'," the cardinal said.

According to Roman Catholic doctrine, life - which begins with conception - must be respected.

Amnesty says it does not take any position on whether abortion is right or wrong.

But it defended its new position in support of abortion for women when their health is in danger or human rights are violated, especially in cases of rape or incest.

"We are saying broadly that to criminalise women's management of their sexual reproductive right is the wrong answer," Amnesty's deputy Secretary General Kate Gilmore told Reuters news agency.

"The Catholic Church, through a misrepresented account of our position on selective aspects of abortion, is placing in peril work on human rights," Ms Gilmore said.

Sherry's note:

Well, Ms. Gilmore, here's the deal: the right to life is a human right. You can't place the rights of adult women against the rights of the unborn (the majority of whom are the women of the future!)

And here's a stunner(for me anyway)

Some 45 million unintended pregnancies are terminated around the world every year, the World Health Organisation says. Nearly 70,000 women die annually from unsafe abortions, it says.

All those unique lives, created by God and redeemed by Jesus Christ.

Laws alone won't stop it as we have seen throughout history and around the world.
What will it take to ensure that all women everywhere have real, positive alternatives to abortion?

The You Tube Presidential Debates

Via the New York Times:

"The presidential debates are about to enter the world of YouTube, the anything-goes home-video-sharing Web site that puts the power in the hands of the camera holder. YouTube, which is owned by Google, and CNN are co-sponsoring a debate among the eight Democratic presidential candidates on July 23 in South Carolina, an event that could define the next phase of what has already been called the YouTube election, a visual realm beyond Web sites and blogs.

The candidates are to assemble on a stage in Charleston, S.C., at the Citadel (yes, the Citadel, the military school criticized by some Democrats a decade ago before it began admitting women). The questions will come via video submitted by ordinary people through YouTube. Moderating between the viewer and the candidates will be Anderson Cooper, the CNN anchor.

The video format opens the door for originality and spontaneity — elements usually foreign to the controlled environment of presidential image-making. Because visual images can be more powerful than words, the videos have the potential to elicit emotional responses from the candidates and frame the election in new ways.

“It’s one of the biggest innovations we’ve seen in politics,” said Mike Gehrke, director of research for the Democratic National Committee, which has sanctioned the YouTube/CNN event as the first of six official Democratic debates this year (which means the party has coordinated them).

User-generated video, he said, is changing the balance in campaigns. “It used to be a one-way street,” he said. “It would cost a lot of money for a campaign to put together a good TV ad, then you had to buy time, put it on the air and later on Web sites. Now it goes the other way too, and you have people talking to each other and to the campaigns.”


Billy Graham's Wife, Ruth, Close to Death

For your prayers:

Ruth Graham has fallen into a comma and seems to be dying:

Billy Graham said:

"Ruth is my soul mate and best friend, and I cannot imagine living a single day without her by my side," Graham said. "I am more in love with her today than when we first met over 65 years ago as students at Wheaton College."

My grandparents were married 67 years and I wear my grandmother's 1921 engagement ring as I write this. She was 16 and grandpa was 18 when they become engaged.

It is hard to imagine how it must feel to lose the one person on the planet who knows all your life in its details, to whom you have instinctively turned in all situations, to whom you have been deeply bonded for so many years.

Fr. Michael Sweeney has often commented about the death of his own father "he was the only person who still saw my mother as a young girl."

People like that: spouses, siblings, parents, close friends whose love stretches over the years and decades, hold such a precious and irreplaceable place in our lives. Only God knows us better.

It's a good day to tell them how much they mean to you.

Settling for Too Little

Zenit has a nice interview with Jean-Luc Moens, who has been recently named to the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Vatican dicastery that oversees the Church's charitable activities.

Moens has served as president of FIDESCO, a nongovernmental organization that helps in development projects, since 1997. FIDESCO is a NGO founded by the Emmanuel Community in 1981, currently operating in France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Poland, the United States, Australia, Rwanda, and Congo.

Since it was created, FIDESCO has sent more than 1,000 young people to more than 40 countries. At present, we have 120 volunteers on location and about 60 who are preparing to leave in September.

Sherry's note:

The more I hear of the Emmanuel community, the more impressed I am. I would certainly agree with Moen's comment:

Indeed, I have been impressed to discover that the new movements and communities that grant the laity an important role are also those where many vocations to the priesthood arise.

We must always bear in mind that all priests have started out as laymen!

We have certainly observed in our work that a Catholic culture of discernment where it is normal for all adults to ask "where is God calling me" is a culture that produces priestly and religious vocations as well as lay vocations of remarkable creativity.

There is so much more to facilitating the discerment of vocations than the traditional four "states of life": priesthood, religious, married, single.

As I wrote in Making Disciples, Equipping Apostles,"aren’t we’re in the middle of a vocation crisis? Indeed we are, but I would like to suggest that our crisis is that many are being called but only a few are discerning.

The Holy Spirit is planting charisms and vocations of amazing diversity in the hearts of all his people. Like the graces of the sacrament, they are real but they are not magic. Just as the gifts of children are in-born and yet must be fostered deliberately and with great energy by parents if their children are to reach their full potential, so vocations must be fostered by the Church.

In this area, we are not asking for too much, we are settling for too little. God is not asking us to call forth the vocations of a few people, he is asking us to call forth the vocations of millions. Our problem is not that there is a shortage of vocations but that we do not have the support systems and leadership in place to foster the vast majority of the vocations that God has given us."

Formation is not just something we give to a few who are already clear about God’s call. Formation awakens Christians to and clarifies God’s call; formation empowers men and women to hear and respond to the call that is already present. As Pope John Paul II has written: “The fundamental objective of the formation of the lay faithful is an ever-clearer discovery of one’s vocation and the ever-greater willingness to live it so as to fulfill one’s mission.”, 58.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Youth Mannafest

This sounds like a great event: Youth Mannafest Prayer Festival in Edmonton.

According to this article from the Western Catholic Reporter, a young man's swollen foot was healed and 25 young people indicated a possible call to a priestly or religious vocation.

The Debate Over Dominus Iesus and the Validity of Contemporary Missions

Since Amy over at Open Book has linked to my Monday post on Christianity in Asia, I thought it would make sense to repost a relevant excerpt from that 10 part article on Independent Christianity posted originally in early May.

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?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A new apologetics?

I don't see eye to eye with all of Dr. Jeff Mirus' projects, but this particular column of his is, I think, bang on. Read the whole thing. Here is a chunk of it, with some of my own emphasis added:

...I think it is time to bring to the fore what classical apologists have generally regarded as merely a preparation for apologetics: a consideration of the impediments to faith. Such impediments are all the intellectual, emotional, cultural and psychological factors, both conscious and subconscious, which make it impossible for a given person to genuinely consider the Christian message. It seems to me that the modern world is so tilted against faith, and in so many different ways, that this problem of clearing the impediments must now be the greater part of apologetical work.

Essentially, the effort to clear away the impediments to faith is the effort to determine why a given person or group simply doesn’t take the arguments for the truth of the Catholic Faith seriously. They aren’t interested, or they’re uncomfortable, or they “know” the arguments are absurd, or they just can’t relate to all this talk about the soul, truth and God. The question is, why? And how can the apologist overcome these impediments so that the person or group in question really hears what he has to say?

We Have Issues

Some of the impediments are universal in every age. Human pride, with its refusal to serve, always undermines the virtue of religion. (...) It is hard to be open to God when we’re in denial about ourselves.

Other impediments arising from attachments are similarly universal. We have a great capacity for material enjoyment which we often find difficult to transcend. If we do think about turning toward God, it always seems that we must relinquish control; there is an element of risk which deters us. Worse, when we have given ourselves up to this or that vice, we become enslaved. Our own bad habits make it very hard to open ourselves to God. Universal as all these issues are, I think it is fair to say that modern culture exacerbates nearly every one of them by specifically reinforcing all the wrong attitudes, feelings and attachments.

For example, it is difficult to conceive of a period in history so preoccupied with the tangible as to essentially deny the existence of anything that cannot be measured. It is also of the essence of the “modern” outlook that the new is always better than the old, which engenders a disdain for traditional beliefs and values. In many other cultures, tradition has been a chief means of inculcating a healthy regard for the supernatural. The modern era also boasts a distinctively false idea of freedom, which is always defined as an absence of restraint rather than a perfection which leads to the fulfillment of potential. Finally, for a variety of reasons, the modern period is intensely relativistic. The lack of comprehension of absolutes is certainly an impediment to faith.

And That’s Not All

You may think that’s a lot of impediments, but we’re just getting started. Consider the prejudices most people grow up with in the modern world. Many are taught by their parents, and all of us are taught by the mass media, that religion is silly, weak or dangerous. Nearly all of us grow up infected by the prejudice of liberalism—that is, the notion that legitimate authority is either untrustworthy or non-existent. Politically, we’re all very committed to democracy and, whatever else may be said for democracy, it tends to foster excessive individualism and the notion that everyone’s ideas are equal. All of this creates a tremendous peer pressure against commitment to any absolute value or belief system. Even when we don’t reject such systems from within, we refuse to embrace them for fear of looking foolish to the world.

Then there are all the distractions common to humankind which we’ve also raised to new heights in modern times. Consider the tremendous press of modern affairs, the unrelenting rapidity of the pace of life, the difficulty of finding a quiet space and, because of the ubiquity of attractive entertainments, the difficulty of even wanting to find a quiet space. We are so full of commotion that we scarcely know what to do without it. Sometimes we are actually afraid to be without it. Under these circumstances, how hard it is to “be still and know that I am God!”

The Final Mystery

As if all this did not make the apologist’s task sufficiently difficult, we know from Scripture that God rarely makes Himself known to those who lack the correct disposition. A passage from the Book of Wisdom, which I recently quoted in my blog, is well worth repeating in this context:
Love righteousness, you rulers of the earth, think of the Lord with uprightness,
and seek him with sincerity of heart; because he is found by those who do not
put him to the test, and manifests himself to those who do not distrust him. For
perverse thoughts separate men from God, and when his power is tested, it
convicts the foolish; because wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul, nor dwell
in a body enslaved to sin. (1:1-4)

For all these reasons, it may be time to take up apologetics again with a new emphasis on the impediments to faith. It may be time to attempt to clear away the intellectual, social, cultural, psychological and personal debris which prevents people from seeing things as they are. Instead of initially offering arguments for the Catholic Faith, we might better start by challenging fundamental assumptions and urging others to question the very things they take most for granted.

When It's All Been Said & Done

You'll have to pardon me this evening as I've been listening to some of my favorite praise music while working on Making Disciples and thought I'd share a bit with y'all.

Don Moen, who has been a huge figure in contemporary worship for decades, wrote and sings this song. He does a short intro, which is low-key, and the song that follows is worth the wait.

There's a distinctly Catholic feel to the whole thing, not surprising since Moen has been involved in a lot of projects with Catholic musicians although I don't know his own church affiliation.

When it's all been said and done
All my treasures will mean nothing
Only what I've done for Love's reward
Will stand the test of time.

Be Onto Your Name

This moving Youtube worship video features the music and voice of Robin Mark of Belfast. His recording "Revival in Belfast" become an international phenomenon in 1999.

Robin Mark has been worship leader for 20 years at a evangelical church in Belfast that has made a point of seeking to bridge the gap between Catholics and Protestants that led to many years of the "Troubles". Mark's second album, Come, Heal This Land was recorded at St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh.

Sherry's note: I'm completely stymied by the fact that the you tube video below seems to have vanished even though the HTML is still there. I knew I had an anti-charism in this area but this is . . .hmmm. Any suggestions?

Now suddenly and mysteriously it has returned. I'm going to bed before my terrifying unconscious powers bring down the entire internet.

New Biography of Wilberforce "Splendid"

There was a simply glowing review of a new biography of the great lay Christian and abolitionist, William Wilberforce, in the London Times Sunday. It captures the reader from the first paragraph:

At 4am, on February 24, 1807, the House of Commons voted by 283 to 16 for the second reading of a bill to abolish the British slave trade. In an almost unprecedented gesture, nearly the entire house rose to cheer one of its members who, for two decades, had been ignored, abused or violently opposed for making the promotion of this measure his life’s work.

William Wilberforce, the Yorkshire MP, was “completely overpowered by my feelings” and sat with tears streaming down his face. His campaign had been extraordinary. He made himself perhaps the most influential back-bencher in British parliamentary history. A remarkable man espoused a great cause to the point of obsession, and thereby achieved greatness for himself.

The reviewer sums it up:

But the author has produced a splendid read, for which he deserves the utmost credit. He tells Wilberforce’s story with such enthusiasm and narrative skill that, in this bicentennial year, his book seems assured of bestsellerdom. I put it down liking Hague as much as I was moved by his tale, one of the most remarkable in British political history.

Makes me want to run to and buy a copy!

Catholic Quote of the Day

The Catholic Church is not a duty-free assembly of free-thinkers. Neither is it a group of people who loyally follow their conscience. Every person has to do that.

A Catholic is someone who believes Christ is Son of God, accepts His teachings and lives a life of worship, service and duty in the community. Catholics are not created by the accident of birth to remain only because their tribe has an interesting history.

From Cardinal Pell of Sydney.

White Dwarf Christianity

Philip Jenkins has a nice essay in Foreign Policy this month on the state of European Christianity. As most readers know already, Jenkins does not believe that Europe is on the verge of being overrun by Islam as some fear.

He makes a memorable point:

But this does not mean that European Christianity is nearing extinction. Rather, among the ruins of faith, European Christianity is adapting to a world in which its convinced adherents represent a small but vigorous minority.

In fact, the rapid decline in the continent’s church attendance over the past 40 years may have done Europe a favor. It has freed churches of trying to operate as national entities that attempt to serve all members of society. Today, no church stands a realistic chance of incorporating everyone. Smaller, more focused bodies, however, can be more passionate, enthusiastic, and rigorously committed to personal holiness. To use a scientific analogy, when a star collapses, it becomes a white dwarf—smaller in size than it once was, but burning much more intensely. Across Europe, white-dwarf faith communities are growing within the remnants of the old mass church.

Perhaps nowhere is this more true than within European Catholicism, where new religious currents have become a potent force. Examples include movements such as the Focolare, the Emmanuel Community, and the Neocatechumenate Way, all of which are committed to a re-evangelization of Europe. These movements use charismatic styles of worship and devotion that would seem more at home in an American Pentecostal church, but at the same time they are thoroughly Catholic. Though most of these movements originated in Spain and Italy, they have subsequently spread throughout Europe and across the Catholic world. Their influence over the younger clergy and lay leaders who will shape the church in the next generation is surprisingly strong.

Similar trends are at work within the Protestant churches of Northern and Western Europe. The most active sections of the Church of England today are the evangelical and charismatic parishes that have, in effect, become megachurches in their own right. These parishes have been incredibly successful at reaching out to a secular society that no longer knows much of anything about the Christian faith. Holy Trinity Brompton, a megaparish in Knightsbridge, London, that is now one of Britain’s largest churches, is home to the amazingly popular “Alpha Course,” a means of recruiting potential converts through systems of informal networking aimed chiefly at young adults and professionals. As with the Catholic movements, the course works because it makes no assumptions about any prior knowledge: Everyone is assumed to be a new recruit in need of basic teaching. Nor does the recruitment technique assume that people live or work in traditional settings of family or employment. The Alpha Course is successfully geared for postmodern believers in a postindustrial economy.

Alongside these older Christian communities are hugely energetic immigrant congregations. On a typical Sunday, half of all churchgoers in London are African or Afro-Caribbean. Of Britain’s 10 largest megachurches, four are pastored by Africans. Paris has 250 ethnic Protestant churches, most of them black African. Similar trends are found in Germany. Booming Christian churches in Africa and Asia now focus much of their evangelical attention on Europe. Nigerian and Congolese ministers have been especially successful, but none more so than the Ukraine-based ministry of Nigerian evangelist Sunday Adelaja. He has opened more than 300 churches in 30 countries in the last 12 years and now claims 30,000 (mainly white) followers.

"White Dwarf" Christianity as a metaphor for intentional discipleship. I like it!

Catholic Quote of the Day

From a nicely written (and designed) blog called The Anchoress:

As long as I assume that the world is something I discover by turning on the radio . . . I am deceived from the start.
- Thomas Merton

Catholic Marriages in Boston Drop 61%

Via the Boston Herald:

Catholic marriages in Boston plummeted 61 percent in the past 20 years, going from 12,314 in 1984 to 4,820 just two years ago, according to a church document circulated by a member of an important archdiocese planning group.

The document says the church’s marriage rate is dropping more than the national average.

Terrence C. Donilon, an archdiocesean spokesman, said the church has launched a long-term effort to revitalize parish life and increase Mass attendance, marriages and baptisms. “The glass is more than half-full,” said Donilon.

The document, which Donilon called “unofficial,” points out that evangelical Christians and Mormons have success in committing teens to their faith, while evangelization is a “low institutional priority” for the Catholic Church.

“There is a disconnect between what youth believe about God, themselves, their lives and their behavior,” the document said.

There are so many ramifications of our failure to evangelize. This is only one of them.

They Also Serve Who Only Sit and Spoof

If you've been dying to try your hand at comedy spoof news writing, check out this blog: Spoof.

Here's a sample built upon President Bush's much publicized mistake when he responded "yes, sir" instead of Yes, Your Holiness" to Pope Benedict the other day.

President Bush drew gasps at the Vatican on Saturday by referring to Pope Benedict XVI as "Mr. Pope" instead of the expected "His Holiness," according to reporters.

When the pontiff asked him if he was going to meet with officials of the lay Catholic Sant'Egidio community at the US embassy during his visit, the US leader was heard to say, "Mr. Pope, sounds like a plan."

In addition, the President apparently greeted a cardinal in the corridor with, "Nice robe. How's it hangin'?"

White House spokespersons have refused to comment on the President's casual vernacular except to say that George W. Bush has always been a man of the papal.

Yes, its pretty bad - but could you do better? Anyone want to share a bit of their comedy writing with us? (Keep it clean!)

Begin Your Discernment Journey This Weekend

This weekend:

If you live in the diocese of Stockton, California or in Chicagoland, this is your opportunity to attend the Called & Gifted workshop. We're expecting something like 500 Catholics and other Christians to attend these two workshops but there is always room for you!

The Modesto workshop will be held at St. Joseph the Worker parish where Mary Sharon Moore from Eugene and Mark Egbert of Colorado Springs will be teaching.

Chicagoland folks can travel to Bloomingdale where Keith Strohm (of Intentional Disciples and Chicago) and Barbara Elliott of Houston will be teaching at St.Isidore church with the able assistance of Brenda Jasinski of Wisconsin.

Please call the respective parish office beforehand and let them know that you and your friends are coming so they have some idea what numbers to prepare for.

Meanwhile, Fr. Mike and I will be training a parish-based Called & Gifted team in Santa Clarita, CA (LA) at Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Church while Mark Cesnik of Tucson will be training gifts discernment facilitators in Libertyville, IL for St. Joseph parish.

Prayers much appreciated for traveling mercies for all and for the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of all who attend and teach!

Deep Water Discipleship

The Kergyma teams - the Catholic branch of Youth With A Mission - is sponsoring a unique international, English language formation opportunity for young adults that combines sailing with formation!

It takes place July 14 - 22 off the coast of Ireland aboard the Next Wave, a gaff rigged sailing ship that can handle 52 passengers. Ages 17 - 30 are welcome. Pass the word to young adults you know who might be interested. Here's a brief You tube video.

I love the water and it sounds so wonderful but even if I was still a twenty something, I'd be puking the minute the boat hit open water.

They also serve who can only sit on the shore and wave as the sailor-apostles sail by . . .

Monday, June 11, 2007

Dog: Apostle to the Undesirable!

He's rough. He swears. He dresses like he's at a Harley Rally. He hunts down criminals. And he is one of the most effective apostle for Jesus Christ that I have ever seen.

Duane "Dog" Chapman is an ex-con once imprisoned for murder (the group he ran with killed someone) whose life ws transformed by the Gospel of Christ. He's now a rough and tumble bounty hunter (with his own show on A&E) in Honolulu who chases down criminals who have escaped from the police or jumped bail. By all accounts, he's captured over 6000 fugitives.

The thing is, I've watched his show now for several weeks, and I'm stunned at how vicious he is in catching the criminals, and then how much he treats them with respect and, even, love, once he has captured them. I stare in amazement at the tv as, more often than not, these strung out, hardened criminals begin to respond to Dog's presence, his love. They soften up, revealing the human person beneath their hardened exterior.

I suspected, after watching several episodes, that Dog doesn't just drop these guys in jail and then take off. After going to his website, I found out my suspicions were correct. In many cases, he mentors these folks when they come out, helping them stay out of trouble and rehabilitate their lives. In fact, Dog likens his relationship to these criminals and convicts to being a father.

If you are interested in seeing Christianity in action, tune in to his show, Dog the Bounty Hunter. But don't expect images and dialogue that resembles Touched By An Angel. This is Christ in a very distressing disguise.

I Want to Believe

I just returned home to Tucson after about seven weeks on the road, only to find my mailbox on the corner of Cherry and 2nd Street crammed with junk mail. Much of it was from the "Tucson Shopper," my nemesis. I've called four times to beg them to take me off their mailing list. All four times the person I spoke with dutifully took my name and address. All four times, nothing happened. The coupons, advertisements and Tucson Shopper newsletters kept arriving with the regularity of Halley's comet.

Only much, much, more frequently.

Today I stopped by the Post Office to get some stamps. I took along as exhibit A the grocery bag of Tucson Shoppers that had accumulated in my mailbox.

The woman at the post office was polite. "I'm sorry, Father, we have to deliver that mail. They pay for it."

"I don't want it. I never asked for it. I'm seldom home, and it makes it difficult for the mail delivery agent to give me my real mail."

"Well, you could put a hold on your mail every time you leave town for awhile."

"Could I call the Better Business Bureau, instead?"

"Yes, that might work." (I could tell she was skeptical)

"Here's something you might try." She handed me a slip of paper. It was obviously a photocopy of a copy of a copy of a copy of the Holy Grail of beleaguered junk mail recipients.

Here's what was printed on it:

"Customers wishing to reduce the amount of marketing mail they receive may write to the Direct Marketing Association Preference Service, which is independent of the Postal Service, to express this desire.

Mail Preference Service
Attn: Dept. 13509534
Direct Marketing Association
P.O. Box 282
Carmel, NY 10512"

With great satisfaction, I fired off a polite, yet firm, request to reduce my junk mail, dropped it in the mailbox, and walked away satisfied that not only was I saving the forests of Oregon, I was reducing my own frustration at having to carefully sort through the Tucson shopper newsletters to make sure none of my real mail was stuck between its pages. I want to believe my direct marketing mail problems are over.

Then a thrill of horror sent a shock of adrenaline through my body.

What if the Postal Service and the Mail Preference Service are actually part of a massive conspiracy? I mean, I just sent my address and name to the agency in charge of direct marketing! What if I had just guaranteed that every direct marketer in the country now has access to my small, corner mailbox? What if I start getting the Phoenix Shopper, the Tombstone Shopper, the Dusseldorf Shopper, the Shanghai Shopper, and more?

Is there the equivalent of the Protected Witness program for the recipients of junk mail?

Or perhaps the FBI is in on the scam with the Postal Service and the Mail Preference Service. Fox Mulder was right. Trust no one.

Not when it comes to direct marketing.

All Inferno and Little Paradiso?

Greg Erlandson, President of Our Sunday Visitor, has a thought provoking piece up

Orthodoxy's Dry Drunks

From the beginning, however, my encounter with what I have called "dynamic orthodoxy" has been occasionally darkened by the shadow of doctrinaire Catholics who hold all the "right" positions and say all the "right" things, yet exhibit an angry, sour attitude that seems the opposite of Christian joy or an evangelizing spirit.

They do not so much engage culture as demand its unconditional surrender, and they take greater satisfaction in elaborating on sin and its punishments than on the beauty of the Savior. They tend to be all Inferno and little Paradiso.

And Tom of Disputations has a wry, thoughtful response:

Catholics can't generally afford the luxury of being misunderstood; our mission is to make disciples of all nations, which we can only do by balancing Paradiso and Inferno in public.

What good is a heart full of joy if the only thing others ever see is bitterness? And by what others see, I mean what actual people actually see, not what they would see if they followed you around and listened in on your private conversations and prayers. If my public blog presents a different personality than my private speech, then I lack integrity; my joy and my [let's stipulate it as righteous] anger are dis-integrated, and therefore a poor reflection of the One God.

You see, then, what this means for the external/internal distinction. If I am more or less internally integrated, then I should make sure my external acts reflect this.

Oh, and we can also distinguish between integrity and balance. I might have an 80/20 balance of Paradiso/Inferno, but if I do it by being all Paradiso 4 days out of 5, and all Inferno the other day, then I'm not integrated. If I were integrated, then no matter how you sliced me, you'd get the same balance.


Christianity in Asia: Kingdom or King?

And on a related topic:

I'm still stunned every time I read something like this:

Fr. Peter C. Phan, speaking to the Catholic Theological Society in LA (via John Allen)

“In a context in which only three percent of Asians are Christians, how do you account for salvation and goodness in Asia? To talk to non-Christians, to say that their religions have elements of truth and goodness, how do you explain it except through the Holy Spirit?” he asked.

In the Asian way of thinking, Phan said, the Reign of God comes first, the mission serving it second, and the church third.

“If people come to the church, that’s great,” he said. “But if they continue as Hindus or Buddhists, that’s great as well. Our concern is not to increase the number of Christians in Asia, but to promote the Kingdom.”

The Kingdom Without the King, notice.

Like Phan, Chia said that the FABC’s emphasis is on mission in an overwhelmingly non-Christian context. He cited the example of the theme of the 1998 Synod for Asia, which was chosen by the Vatican: “Jesus Christ the Savior and His Mission of Love and Service in Asia.” When the FABC organized its plenary meeting in 2000, the bishops decided they wanted to continue the discussions from the synod. They did so with the theme, “A Mission of Love and Service.” In other words, they deleted the specific reference to Jesus.

Chia described the choice as an “instinctive sense” of what would communicate best in Asia, rather than the result of any “grand vision.”

Simply stupifying. Where do I begin?

How about that the fact that the number of Christians in Asia is nearly three times larger than Phan states? (Catholics makes up 3% of Asia according both to FIDES and the World Christian Database. All Christians together make up nearly 9%.)

How about the fact that Christians were already 2.3% of the Asian population in 1900 and their share of the continent's population is 400% larger as of 2005.

To substitute "Catholic" numbers alone for "Christian" stats as a whole and then use that as a justification for a theological position is just about the sloppiest, most unprofessional, disengenious position possible for an academic. And what's amazing is that Catholic academics and bishops are sitting still for it when a huge volume of information to the contrary is available in a 60 second Google search.

How about that Asian Christianity has seen large scale growth in the last half of the 20th century because of passionate lay proclamation of Christ from nearly 22 million (2.3% of the population) to 345 million (8.8%). In places like Nepal where Christianity was brought on foot by lay evangelists from India and where the "church fathers and mothers" of the underground church of the 70's were teenagers. And in places like China and South Korea. No one told them that "our concern is not to increase the number of Christians in Asia." Phan and company clearly have massive catechetical work ahead of them.

By comparison, consider that there are only 372 million Buddhists in Asia, and 143 million traditional ethno-religionists. Consider that Christianity is growing so fast in Asia that Asian Christianity will almost certainly outnumber Asian Buddhists by 2025.

But the growth is mostly non-Catholic and that's the rub. The Christianity that is growing like wildfire in Asia is largely lay driven, evangelistic, Pentecostalized, non-academic, and non-Catholic. And they don't accept that the proclamation of the Kingdom has replaced the proclamation of the King at the center of the faith.

If we simply don't pay attention, maybe it will go away.

Or maybe, we are seeing happen in Asia what is happening in Europe: the replacement of older, non-evangelizing, forms of Christianity with new dynamic forms that haven't heard that Asians aren't into proclaiming Christ.

for more, check, out my series on Independent Christianity, especially here and here.

Pentacostalism in Denmark and Elsewhere

Mark Shea has kindly listed me as the "go-to" girl regarding an article he posted that described a multi-ethnic Pentecostal church in Denmark.

Meanwhile, the "go-to girl" was sleeping. Until noon. Which I haven't done in years. Because her "go" was gone.

But then I got a call from the office saying that 300 are registered to attend our Modesto, CA Called & Gifted next weekend and should we do "x"?

So it looks like next weekend with four events is going to be very, very busy. I think I need to go back to bed to prepare.

But before I do, about that Pentecostal phenomena in Europe.

Basically, gentle reader, what is happening in front of our eyes - in some areas of Europe - is that a Pentecostalized evangelicalism is rapidly becoming the de facto Christanity. British Anglicanism is being completely transformed as "broad" churchmanship is disappearing (and Anglo-Catholics become Catholic) and being replaced by an Alpha-influenced evangelical Anglicanism. It's the only thing left standing.

And it isn't just Anglicanism that is being affected. So is Catholicism. Many European dioceses are using Alpha as an evangelistic tool.

I've written a lot on the subject. For information on Alpha, go here, for stuff on evangelicals in Britain, go here, the resurrection of Christianity in Europe here and in France.

You've heard it here before:

God has no grandchildren.

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

We're back

And blogging will resume today later. Check back in.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Cardinal Dulles on Evangelization

From the CatholicTrends newsletter comes this summary of Avery Cardinal Dulles' take on evangelization. This was taken from his address at the same event at which Sherry Weddell spoke.

Has the Catholic Church lost its missionary spirit? Although the church continues to grow, its growth rate lags behind the growth of world population, and in the U.S. the Catholic population would probably be shrinking if not for the number of
immigrants coming from Catholic countries, observed Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, recently.

Cardinal Dulles, the Lawrence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University in New York, addressed the Evangelical Catholic Institute 2007 in Madison, Wis., April 14. “We cannot simply wait for people to find their way into the church on their own initiative,” he said. “Who except us, who are within the community of faith, can tell the world about Jesus Christ the redeemer?” he asked. The cardinal drew from Father Timothy E. Byerley’s The Great Commission, soon to be published by Paulist Press, to offer six “models of evangelization.”

The first model is personal witness, “the good example of a life totally dedicated to Christ,” he said. While its pre-eminent form is martyrdom, “it more often takes place in less dramatic ways,” he said.

The second model “consists of verbal testimony in its various forms: initial proclamation, catechesis, apologetics and the like.” The cardinal pointed to the many “heralds who have courageously and tirelessly preached the Gospel in difficult circumstances,” beginning with St. Paul. Also included, he said, are the great essayists and novelists “who evangelized not
so much by the spoken word as by the power of the pen.”

The third model is Christian worship, “an activity of the believing community directed primarily to God ... [and] not conducted for the sake of making an impression on outsiders,” who nevertheless “are struck by the intensity and sincerity of the church’s relationship to God,” said Cardinal Dulles. Worship also “immerses the participants in the mystery of Christ and thereby helps them to center their lives on Christ and to become heralds and bearers of the Gospel,” he said.

The fourth model is community, offering friendship and support to people seeking a refuge from the “anonymity of our secularized and mechanized world” just as early Christian communities offered an alternative to ancient paganism. Cardinal Dulles said he thought the new lay movements and associations reflect a similar dynamic. “If the church is seen as a cordial community of love and mutual support in which all have but one heart and one soul, it will attract new members almost without trying,” he said.

The fifth model is inculturation, “meaning the incarnation of the Gospel in the cultural forms familiar and intelligible to those being evangelized,” Cardinal Dulles said. Included here would be communications, scientific research, human rights and
international relations, fields where “the evangelization must come from within by committed Christians thoroughly familiar” with them.

A sixth model would be works of charity and include the church’s stance on public policy issues. “Although evangelization may never be reduced to the dimensions of a mere temporal project,” said the cardinal, “the Gospel has necessary implications regarding peace and justice in the human community,” and laypersons bear special responsibility here.

Fr. Mike's quick note:
These models provide some guidance for parishes and individuals who are willing to take the Church's mission seriously. I would also note that all of them - including worship - fall within the bailiwick of the laity. All of them, if they are to be successful, will require true collaboration and cooperation between the clergy and the laity.

The Church's mission is....what?

Yesterday I spent a few hours with the Kenedy directory of the Catholic Church in America, which lists the various departments, agencies, parishes, and basic administration of each diocese in the U.S. I was looking for the names and addresses of the directors of evangelization for the dioceses in and around Colorado and Maryland, the sites of Making Disciples this summer and autumn. I figured we should send a few brochures to these folks who might be very interested in what we're discussing in the workshop.

Imagine my surprise to find that most of the dioceses I looked at did not have a director of evangelization. In some cases I ended up putting down someone who's in charge of RCIA for the diocese, or adult faith formation, or the director of catechesis. Why was I surprised? Because Paul VI made it clear that our primary purpose as a Church is evangelization!

"We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church. …evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize…For the Christian community is never closed in upon itself…. Thus it is the whole Church that receives the mission to evangelize, and the work of each individual member is important for the whole." (Paul VI, “Evangelii Nuntiandi,” par. 14-15)

I was talking with Fr. Paul, the pastor of Holy Apostles Catholic Church in Colorado Springs, this morning about my surprise, and he had his own observations. He told me that at a clergy meeting not too long ago, he had reported a little about what his parish is doing to reach out to the local community. He said there are 40,000 people living within the parish boundaries, with 2500 families (about 7,000 people) registered. The parish has identified about 1800 inactive Catholics and discovered that 72% of the people living in one zipcode in their boundaries are unchurched. 5700 new residents moved into their parish in the last year.

He told the clergy that as a result of a series of parish meetings during Lent they had decided to hold an open house on the feast of Corpus Christi and had sent postcard invitations to the 5700 new residents. 1500 door hangers inviting people to the parish fall festival will be placed on the homes within the zip code in which 72% of the folks are unchurched.

The parish staff is committed to form the members of its 70+ ministries into intentional disciples (whom Fr. Paul calls "employees of Christ.") They are committed to mobilizing all the registered parishioners to "deploy" them into their neighborhoods, workplaces and families where they can give explicit witness to their faith - even to the point of using words!

Last year the parish welcomed 70+ new Catholics at the Easter Vigil.

The response of some of the clergy?

"Why do you want more parishioners? You already have the largest parish in the diocese?"

I can sympathize with the priest who asked that question. As long as you think of the parish as a place where spiritual needs are met, rather than as a place of formation for intentional disciples who live their faith in a conscious way throughout their week, and who put their discipleship into practice through works of service and evangelization within the secular community, "more parishioners" means just more work.

But more Catholics who have a living relationship of love and obedience to Christ means the Church's mission is more likely to be realized. We talk about those we love. We imitate those we admire. And the way we give glory to God is through our worship on Sunday at Mass - and through our worship as we follow his commandments and apply our faith 24/7 Monday through Saturday.

The Church's mission is to proclaim Christ to the world. But I bet your parish priest has not had a course on evangelization. I bet your local seminary doesn't offer a course on it, either. And if you asked about it, the rector would probably say something like, "well, it's woven into different classes we offer."

Perhaps if we took our mission seriously, we'd weave all of our seminary courses into the overall purpose of the Church!

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The Emergence of the Eucharist in the Emerging Church

Most traditionalist Catholics who are concerned about the infiltration of "Protestant" ideas into the faith aren't aware that a mirror opposite movement exists among evangelicals that monitors Catholic ideas creeping into Protestant practice.

Understand the Times is a blog from within this "guard the purity of the Reformation" movement which has a fascinating article "THE EMERGENCE OF THE EUCHARIST IN THE EMERGING CHURCH"

One of the common beliefs circulating amongst the supporters of the Emergent Church is a concept called “Vintage Christianity”. According to this view, experiences effective in attracting Christians to come to church in the past should be reintroduced today in order to attract the postmodern generation who are hungry for experience.

Dan Kimball, author of the book The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generation is one of the key proponents of this idea. He firmly believes that worship must play an important role to attract post-moderns into Christianity. In a section of his book subtitled “Truly worshipping in a worship gathering,” he writes:

We should be returning to a no-holds-barred approach to worship and teaching so that when we gather, there is no doubt we are in the presence of God. I believe that both believers and unbelievers in our emerging culture are hungry for this. It isn’t about clever apologetics or careful exegetical and expository preaching or great worship bands. … Emerging generations are hungry to experience God in worship. [1]


One example?

It may not qualify as a mini-Reformation, but a Communion service driven by the music of singer Bono and his U2 bandmates is catching on at Episcopal churches across the country. The U2 Eucharist is not some kind of youth service held in the church basement but is a traditional Episcopal liturgy that uses U2's best-selling songs as hymns.

"It makes you, like, warm inside," says Bridgette Roberts, 15, who is a Roman Catholic and attended a recent U2 Eucharist at All Saints' Episcopal Church in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. "Usually at church, you love Jesus and everything. But this way you can express how you feel." Says her friend, Natalie Williams, 17: "I love Bono, and you can rock out to the music. But in church, you hear it in a different way. It's like new." [6

According to the article, the Rev. Paige Blair, an Episcopal priest in York Harbor, Maine, came up with the idea for the “U2-charist.” She held the first service at her church on July 31, 2005, displaying U2's lyrics on a screen by the altar. Since then she informally has consulted with about 150 churches that have had U2 Eucharists (or are planning to) in fifteen states and seven countries. [7]

Eucharistic Evangelization

Apparently interest in Rev. Blair’s innovation to celebrate communion is catching on. Blair's church is starting what it calls a "U2-charist team" to take U2-charist evangelism on the road.

The article's summary? "You can expect Eucharistic evangelization to become more popular and successful. We are living in the Last Days and spiritual deception is intensifying in the name of Jesus."

My question:

So what is this? A new openness to the idea of the Eucharist that will ultimately lead to the fullness of Eucharistic theology and full communion? Or will it be a temporary fad, unconnected to historic Eucharistic theology and ecclesiology and essentially Protestant. Or, most likely, a door to the historic Catholic faith for some and a passing fancy for others?

The Stem Cell Debate Down Under

In Australia, Cardinal George Pell has made headlines and aroused a storm of controversy again.

Thursday, the New South Wales Parliament overwhelmingly voted for therapeutic cloning under regulated conditions. A national law on the subject comes into effect June 12.

According to a Cath News piece,

A NSW minister has compared Sydney Cardinal George Pell to controversial Muslim cleric Sheik Al-Din Hilali over his cloning vote intervention while the WA Speaker has described a similar message by Perth Archbishop Barry Hickey as a "contemptuous incursion" into parliamentary deliberations.

Addressing the NSW Parliament, Cabinet Minister Nathan Rees said that Cardinal Pell could be compared to "that serial boofhead Sheik al Hilali", the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Mr Rees, a Catholic, accused him of "emotional blackmail" for warning that Catholic MPs faced "consequences" in their religious lives if they supported a bill that would expand stem cell research.

"The hypocrisy is world-class. No government would seek to influence church teachings when providing taxpayer funds for refurbishment of St Mary's Cathedral, or taxpayer funds for the education of Catholic school children, or taxpayer funds to subsidise rates exemptions for churches," Mr Rees, the minister for water utilities and emergency services, said yesterday.

Catholic Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally said she would not support the bill but criticised Cardinal Pell, accusing him of not taking a "pastoral approach to this issue".

"If the cardinal's approach is to start excommunicating Catholic MPs, I think he might want to know of my support for the ordination of women."

Planning Minister, Frank Sartor, a Catholic who supports the bill, described Cardinal Pell's comments as reminiscent of the church in the Dark Ages.

"I'm very sceptical about people who claim to speak in the name of God but are human beings, because if you look at history people have been burnt in oil in the name of God," he said.

"Now I don't think God ever wanted them burnt in oil - I would have thought that we have moved on.

"These are matters for individual conscience. Churches are there to guide us; they are not meant to be there to tell us."

Sherry's note:

"serial boofhead"? I'm gonna remember that phrase. You gotta admit that Australian political discourse is more colorful than our own.

It is hard to grasp how different the debate about life issues is downunder. Fr. Mike and I spent the 2004 US election night in at the Dominican priory in Melbourne. I learned alot about the Australian pro-life scene because I was sitting next to Bishop Anthony Fisher, who has been passionate about pro-life issues since college, has a PhD in bioethics, and had just returned from an invitation-only theological symposium on the subject at the Vatican.

Abortion has just begun to become a national issue in Australian politics for the first time over the past few years as fledging Christian political parties speak up. It has not been a political hot button for 30 years as it has been here.

And Christianity is a much weaker force, as a whole, in Australia than in the States. A 2004 national Catholic survey showed that only 15% of Australian Catholics attend Mass once a month (which is considered to be "practicing".) That's approximately 750,000 practicing Catholics who attend Mass at least once a month vs. at least 18 million Catholics at Mass in the US on any given Sunday.

Since Australians are mandated by law to vote in national elections, abstention is not an option. One result: The sort of debates going on among US Catholics over "non-negotiable" issues, voting, and receiving communion in 2004 seemed extreme and unworkable to the most theologically knowledgeable and ardent pro-life Australian Catholics.

So Pell's high profile statements, which could be shrugged off here as politics as normal, seem stunning in Australia.

Anyone know what a "serial boofhead" is anyway?

The Annual Migrant Trail

The Tucson weekly has an interesting article about the annual Migrant Trail in which many Christian walk 75 miles through the scorching desert at the beginning of "death season" in memory of those who have died trying to get into the United States.

The 40 or 50 walkers are Christians: "two Franciscan friars are marching in long, brown robes--and conceive of the trip in religious terms.

"As a Christian, I'm called to be a welcomer who makes a place for the immigrant," says Dan Abbott, a retired social worker and Presbyterian from Tempe who's pitched his tent near Albeser's. "It's a spiritual journey, too. The desert is a theme running through the scriptures."

Friar Martín Ibarra says he himself crossed the border illegally back in 1989, when it was less dangerous. Now, as a Franciscan, he follows the "charism"--or religious mandate--of his order.

"We are on the side of the poor, the marginalized, the broken," he says, taking a rest after what he calls "four very long days."


So far this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, known migrant deaths number in the high 80s, but the toll typically skyrockets during the 100-degree days of summer.

Each walker wears a white cross emblazoned with the name and age of a dead migrant. (Ableser's is Mario Castillo Fernandez, age 26.) The walkers believe they can raise people's consciousness about the deaths, even if their trek is not heavily covered in the media. The can bring their stories back to their far-flung communities.

The whole illegal emmigrant issue is highly controversial - but no one, on any side of the issue, wants those deaths.

Humane Borders is one group who provides water stations for those attempting the scorching walk across the desert. 8,000 volunteers maintain 83 water stations through the Arizona border region from May to September.

In 2005, The supervisors of Pima county voted 4-1 to provide $25,000 for another year to Humane Borders, the Tucson faith-based agency whose members have provided more than 65,000 gallons of water to immigrants who have crossed into Arizona's deadly deserts over the past five years.

One reason?

It costs about $300,000 annually to recover and store the bodies of illegal immigrants who die in Pima County, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said.

Between October 1, 2004 and September 30, 2005, 279 people died tried to illegally cross the Arizona/Mexican border. Humane Borders distributes these posters along the Mexican side of the border, trying to head trekkers off. Every red dot represents a place where someone died.

( In English, the poster reads Don't Do It! It's Hard! There's Not Enough Water!)

Breakthrough in Stem Cell Research

The New York Times reports a startling breakthrough:

converting ordinary skin cells into stem cells that can be used in transplants.

The advance is an easy-to-use technique for reprogramming a skin cell of a mouse back to the embryonic state. Embryonic cells can be induced in the laboratory to develop into many of the body’s major tissues.

If the technique can be adapted to human cells, researchers could use a patient’s skin cells to generate new heart, liver or kidney cells that might be transplantable and would not be rejected by the patient’s immune system. But scientists say they cannot predict when they can overcome the considerable problems in adapting the method to human cells.

“From the point of view of moving biomedicine and regenerative medicine faster, this is about as big a deal as you could imagine,” said Irving Weissman, a leading stem cell biologist at Stanford University, who was not involved in the new research.

The technique seems likely to be welcomed by many who have opposed human embryonic stem cell research. It “raises no serious moral problem, because it creates embryoniclike stem cells without creating, harming or destroying human lives at any stage,” said Richard Doerflinger, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ spokesman on stem cell issues. In themselves, embryonic stem cells “have no moral status,” and the bishops’ objections to embryonic stem cell research rest solely on the fact that human embryos must be harmed or destroyed to obtain them, Mr. Doerflinger said.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Red Terror on the Amber Coast

This is a trailer for a film produced by Fr. David O'Rourke of the Western Province, in association with Fr. Ken Gumbert, also of the Western Province. It gives you an idea of some of the horrors that many Europeans faced under communism and fascism.

Fr. Paul Wicker, the priest I live with when in Colorado Springs, just returned home from the Ukraine with similar stories - and with what amounts to a screen play for a similar movie about the suppression of the Catholic and Orthodox churches in that country.

The tragedy is that similar atrocities continue to occur in areas like Darfur, in Iraq between Sunnis and Shiites, North Korea, etc. Perhaps it's not Catholics or other Christians who are being persecuted, but their terror and suffering are just as real.

My Friend Mark Shea

ls living a much more interesting life than I am at present - chained to my computer, sorting through and editing hundreds of Powerpoint slides for Making Disciples.

Mark gets to be part of the global Jewish-neo-con conspiracy to destroy the Church and free people everywhere.

No one ever asks me to be part of a conspiracy.

And he gets to be the star of a real movie (Mark Shea is Innocent Smith in Manalive!) and he gets to spend time filming in England and Ireland this fall.

And I get to go to . . . Detroit.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Puddles & the Head of a Pin

My old partner in crime and co-founder of the Institute, Fr. Michael Sweeney gave a very typical commencement address at the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology in Berkley(of which he is President)last month.

It's vintage Fr. Michael, witty and thought-provoking and a fun read:

May 17, 2007

We are all of us well aware that our age presents certain challenges, especially, perhaps, to our graduates. There is what our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has called the “tyranny of relativism”, according to which any claim to truth is held suspect. So, for example, you, our graduates, will receive degrees in philosophy and theology. Undoubtedly you have friends and family who have called into question the value of your studies. These are, after all, disciplines in which everyone considers him or herself expert, without ever having considered the necessity for recourse to study. Even in our universities there has developed a sort of amnesia concerning the founding ideas and convictions that produced our civilization –which are the very things that you have made your study.

To remark upon such troubles is by no means new. Writing almost a century ago, G. K. Chesterton expressed his frustration over the state of higher education in England. "A puddle,” he wrote, “reflects infinity and is full of light; nevertheless, if analyzed objectively, a puddle is a piece of dirty water spread very thin on mud. The two great historic universities of England have all this large and reflective brilliance. They repeat infinity. They are full of light. Nevertheless, or rather on the other hand, they are puddles. The academic mind reflects infinity and is full of light by the simple process of being shallow and standing still."

Happily, you are not graduating one century ago from either of the two great historic universities of England. Rather, you are graduating on the afternoon of May 18, 2007 from an institution that is rooted in the scholastic tradition of the Middle Ages, the tradition of Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, a tradition that reveres and preserves the authority of the past, but revels in engagement with the present, and lays claim in hope to a future yet seen. It is a tradition that has never suggested a puddle to anyone. There was, of course the caricature of scholasticism concerning angels on the head of a pin. But we might well point out that even the caricature contains a veiled respect for the schoolmen: a pin, we should note, is sharp, pointed and, without expending much effort, penetrating. A pin is very un-puddle-like.

A civilization that has forgotten its past, such as ours is fast becoming, is a civilization that may reflect infinity, but can only reflect it: it cannot defend its founding ideas or the institutions that express them. Civilizations are not now, nor have they ever been, founded upon mere economic surplus; they are not the product of biological or social determinisms; they are the intentional achievements of personal love, personal labor and personal loyalties. You have studied the founding ideas of our civilization, and the faith that produced them. The degree that you receive today is, for this reason, unusual, even exclusive. It is not the case that the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology intends to exclude anyone from the tradition that we together reverence and preserve. We have not parted from our civilization; rather, contemporary society, by forgetting its roots, has departed from us.

This is the first contribution that you, our graduates, have to offer our world: a sense of its own past, made present. In this you are not historians; the tradition of the West is not a mere historical artifact, a venerable curiosity or a relic of the way people once thought. We do not treat of the great philosophers or theologians as voices from the past; rather, we invoke their presence, sit at their feet, and seek to be taught. The tradition of the West is a living thing; you have studied, not merely the history of the West, but the lore of the West, for “lore” is the other word for tradition: you have contemplated the ideas and the relationships that still haunt us and that, alone, can come to our help. As graduates of this school you preserve a living tradition; you are lore-masters. Your office is to summon for others their own past, and the past of their fathers, and their fathers before them, to make present the past that is theirs, that they may claim it, and therefore make sense of their present life.

You are to assist others to make sense of their present life –but to do so in order that they may claim a future, which is to hope. Our civilization has not been founded upon surplus or evolution, or any other determinism, and neither is our hope. All hope is founded upon a promise. Our Lord promises us eternal life, and we have built a civilization that is founded upon that hope. But, having forgotten our past, our contemporaries find it difficult to hope any longer in the great institutions that our civilization has produced. There can be no common hope if there is no common destiny, common allegiance or common good –the elements that constitute a people. No longer hoping in the things that are common, our hopes have become isolated and isolating: hopes in one’s individual possibilities; the hope –or is it not, rather, merely a wish?—that there will be someone or something holds promise for us.

In a very real way, the hope of our civilization rests with you. Only those who can invoke a living past, who can summon the fidelities and the promise that gave birth to our culture, can possibly offer a reason for hope.

These responsibilities are ours –and, now, yours. They are responsibilities that will command our whole intelligence, and require of us the cultivation of every virtue. Above all, however, they are responsibilities that confer rights upon us: the right to the solicitude and prayer of the Church, and the right to take our place among God’s people. The degree that you receive also confers rights and privileges: the right to the assistance and counsel of this School community, and the privilege of collaborating with us as we seek together to form and educate the people whom Our Lord has entrusted to us. And so we ask you, indeed, exhort and even command you, to take your place, and to enter fully into the work that you have begun here, with us.

Protestant Vs. Catholic Heaven

This has probably already made the rounds but I hadn't seen it before and it is very funny. The Simpsons' take on heaven.

Taking Advantage of Paul

According to Catholic News Service, the pope plans to declare 2008-2009 the Year of Paul in honor of the 2000th anniversary of the apostle's birth. I've been thinking about this a little since I first read about it, and I believe that this declaration would be a significant opportunity not just to examine some of the theological themes in Paul's writings (as I'm sure many parishes would do), but also to frame a conversation and highlight formation around the whole notion of mission and evangelization that uses Paul's travels as its foundation.

Here are some of the things I think such a conversation at the parish level could highlight:

1. The notion of 'apostleship' of being sent--both in its ordained and lay dimensions

2. An examination of the Great Commission--particularly as it relates to the Great Commandment (i.e., are these in tension--as many Catholics believe--or are they, in fact, two sides of the same coin?

3. The role of mission and the Church. Is the Church supposed to be missionary?

4. Different strategies and styles in evangelization: Am I supposed to evangelize? What are the different ways that I might go about spreading the gospel?

5. Paul at the Areopagus: Communicating the Gospel to Culture. Finding cultural openings for announcing the kerygma

6. Reading Apostolicam Actuositatem in tandem with Acts of the Apostles to examine the life of early lay Christians

These are just a few of the thoughts that are bouncing around in my head. I think that knowing in advance that this is coming offers parishes an opportunity to plan ahead for these things now. What are some other ideas that I missed?

Monday, June 4, 2007

Youtube Summer Project

PhatCatholic Apologetics is sponsoring the Catholic Youtube Summer Project - cataloging all the Catholic videos available through Youtube.

Take a look and consider helping out.

Hat tip: Whispers

Making Disciples

We (Fr. Mike and I) are really up against a deadline on finalizing Making Disciples so blogging will be sporadic this week, I think. But I will try to post short items as I come across them.

Miraculously, the patio was finished this weekend and looks fabulous. I did manage to find 4 pallets of the right colored pavers and snatched them while the snatching was good. I'll post pictures when the rubble is cleared away.

Amazing Grace: Catholics & Evangelical Hymnody

Todd over at Catholic Sensibiliy is hosting a discussion of the influence of Evangelical hymnody on Catholic worship and invites ID readers to take part. It features a lovely article by Mark Noll from Christianity Today on the place of singing in evangelical worship and hearts.

When I was still at Blessed Sacrament, Nan Holcomb used to host periodic hymn sings in which the Other Sherry and I took enthusiastic part. We drew from a collection of both Catholic and Protestant hymns but the ones most of us wanted to sing were classic Protestant ones.And we sang non stop for two hours.

I can even remember a party at my apartment in which the group (all Catholics but many converts) started singing hymns and choruses and sang them, one after another, for a solid hour. I can't imagine singing Glory and Praise songs spontaneously at a party - or Gregorian chants.

But the classic hymns and choruses of evangelicalism are an altogether different species from either of those - and the loss of that kind of singing is one of the things that nearly every convert I know still mourns. I'm no musician so I don't have language for all this but the spiritual impact of such singing is real and very powerful and there doesn't seem to be any reason why Catholics can't incoporate it - except that it isn't what we are used to and it smacks of them.

But this isn't necessarily the case outside the Anglo Catholic world. I used to live in Wales and it was the first time in my life that I attended a Catholic church on a regular basis and experienced the liturgical year. But one thing I remember - Welsh Catholics sing. They sang large parts of the liturgy in parts - spontaneously. What else can you expect from a people who sing hymns at football games and erect large monuments to choral conductors?

But the Welsh are, like the US, a culturally Protestant country - specifically an evangelical country - and choral singing is hard-wired in their collective psyche. The difference is that they are Celts, not Anglo-Saxons. Even Catholics in Wales can sing.

Many of the hymns of my Mississippi childhood are to be found in the Catholic missal I pick up on Sunday. But when sung, they are so often done so without gusto, too slowly, almost in a funeral dirge manner.

Anglo Catholics know the words but they don't get the tune.
It's our loss.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Ghana Girl

Follow the adventuries of a young Catholic convert working in refugee camps in Ghana over at Ghana Girl.

One of the perks of my job is that we get Ghanian and American holidays, so over Memorial Day weekend I also had Friday off for African Unity Day. I seemed to remember the cathedral that I attend having Pepetual Adoration (the adoration of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist) on Fridays so I planned on praying for some hours there. It’s something I really miss and inspired some of my writings that I posted. I and many others have had rich, spiritual experiences in prayer at Perpetual Adoration so I was excited.

I turned on my housemate’s shortwave radio over breakfast to catch some BBC news (since I’ve been in a news-hole) and heard instead the dire story of a Congolese woman. Needing a break from the stories of persecution and torture I hear now at work, they proceeded to tell me how this woman had been kidapped from her village by Rwandan rebels, had seen each of her children killed, was forced to kill her youngest baby, was raped by a number of men and then had to dig her own grave. She was the only one to survive from a village of a couple hundred people. Why am I telling you this?

Time was moving forward so I made my way to church. Seeing no monstrance with Jesus inside I asked a fellow near me what was happening. He said mass was just starting. I had made it in time for mass! Now, when you’re subject to the whims of African city traffic, traffic lights out due to power outages and few masses in a day, it’s really hard to “just accidentally make it in time” for mass. I was tickled. As the mass began and the priest began talking about Africa Unity Day I suddenly realized why I was there. I was there for the Congolese woman. I was there to pray personally for her and to intercede for her suffering. I was there for the Africans who are yet to see unity in their country. Who live generation after generation suffering from conflict and division.

I stayed there for a couple hours praying for her, for you and so many other things and people. I saw the simple and deep humility of my African brothers and sisters kneeling prostrate on the floor in front of the tabernacle in love of Jesus and filled with love, removed my shoes also to lay on this holy ground with my face to the floor in adoration.

The last thing I want to share before moving on to the fun facts section is something delightful that happened yesterday at work. One of the hardest things for me to deal with here is being in the spiritual minority. I may work for a Christian non-profit but that doesn’t really translate to much on the ground. Faith isn’t a criteria for being hired which can be good and bad. Letting it be known in even quiet, overly-respectful ways that I am a person of active faith has distinguished me from my coworkers and makes itself felt in the lack of inclusion I sometimes experience socially and at work with them. We’re on different wavelengths, baby. So I’ve prayed a lot about it knowing it’s happening for a reason but is frankly hard to deal with.

Well! I waltzed in to work with my medals and crucifix around my neck for the first time and suddenly my Ghanian coworkers’ faces lit up and they asked if I was Christian. I said, “Yes! Of course.” And added my usual musical quip, “I’m a happy, Catholic convert”. They were so receptive and affirming of this. I cannot overemphasize with what love and enthusiasm they received this news.

I was rather floored because it’s the exact opposite of my American colleagues’ opinions. This was the solidarity and communion I had been craving for so long and I found myself once again in awe of the spiritual maturity and intelligence of those from the third world, and the lack of it in those from the first. We spent our lunches sharing our conversion/faith stories and had perfect Christian communion disregarding our less important denominational differences.

Catholic-Orthodox Conversation on Lay Formation

The Catholic-Orthodox Conversation on Lay Formation over at Koinonia is proving very interesting but many of the posts are too long for me to copy over here.

Be sure and check it out and join in.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Giants in Our Midst: Henrietta Mears

Meanwhile, Henrietta Mears, she of the infinitely goofy hats, was American to the bone, and an evangelical Protestant who made her mark on a whole generation in a way that most of us would find laughable: as a Sunday School teacher. Mears never once saw her ministry as modest but as a way to impact the whole world for Christ.

Henrietta was the Director of Religious Education at a Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, California for 35 years. She had a passionate conviction that through her Sunday School, which provided Christian education for all ages, she was to challenge parishioners to follow Christ and to prepare for a unique personal vocation. Over 400 young adults entered full-time Christian ministry under her influence and many hundreds of others entered business, the arts, and education as dedicated secular apostles. Among those whose lives were redirected through Henrietta’s ministry were the founders of several global movements such as Young Life, Campus Crusade, and the young Billy Graham.

Henrietta would sometimes ask other teachers what they thought the purpose of their Sunday School program was. Almost inevitably someone would say “ to lead boys and gifts to Christ”. “No!” Henrietta would respond emphatically, “That, of course, is part of it, but if you stop there, you will never be successful. Every man and women, every boy and girl “must feel that there is a task for them to do, that there is a place marked X for every person in God’s Kingdom. Here is my X, no one can stand in this place but me. I must help others to find their places.” (Dream Big: The Henrietta Mears Story, p. 191).

You can find a detailed biography of Mears and a description of her impact here.

Giants in Our Midst: Dietrich Von Hildebrand

A couple of lay Christians who had a huge impact on the 20th century were Dietrich von Hildebrand and Henrietta Mears.

They could not have come from more profoundly different backgrounds. Von Hildebrand was the son of sculptor and had an extraordinary childhood, growing up in a 16th century Franciscan monastary turned villa in Florence in an remarkably cultured and artistic non religious family.

He converted to Catholicism as a young man and moved to deeply Catholic Munich, was a brilliant philosopher but not a man of practical action. And yet, he was one of the first Catholics in Germany to see clearly and absolutely the profoundly anti-Christian nature of the Nazism and became a hero of the resistance.

I have found it almost unbearably poignant is to read in his biograph Soul of a Lion (a great read, by the way!) of the many Catholic leaders in one of the most sophisticated and Catholic cities in Europe who actively suppored Hitler: bishops, Dominican theologians and provincials, etc.

Discernment, real discernment, takes more than a knowledge of doctrine and more than being steeped in Catholic culture. The Catholics of Munich had those things in spades and they were still taken in. But Hildebrand had a remarkable ability to see to the root of things and an asbolute willingness to follow wherever the truth lead. He sacrificed everything to take a public stand against the rising tide.

He is a wonderful example of one type of lay apostle.

Visit the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project to learn more.

I'll talk about Henrietta Mears in a separate post.

Report from CELAM

John Allen, the Vatican reporter for the National Catholic Reporter, has an interesting summary of the results of the Latin American and Caribbean bishops' meeting in Aparecida, Brazil that just ended.

One of the major concerns had to do with the state of evangelization and catechesis among the largest Catholic population in the world.

"Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Brazil, the Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy in Rome, put the reality bluntly: "The majority of Catholics on this continent no longer participate, or never have participated, in the life of our ecclesial communities," he said. "We baptized them, but for many reasons, we never really evangelized them sufficiently."

The fruits of that inattention are obvious. During the 20th century, more Catholics converted to Protestantism in Latin America, especially Pentecostal and Evangelical movements, than in Europe during the 16th century Protestant Reformation. There's also a growing phenomenon of abandonment of religious faith altogether, especially among the poor along the peripheries of Latin America's sprawling mega-cities. In Brazil, to take one example, the percentage of people reporting no religious affiliation went from 0.7 percent in 1980 to 7.3 percent in 2000, more than a ten-fold increase in just 20 years.

In the past, the tendency of some Latin American bishops has been to blame these losses on outside forces -- on deceitful proselytism from the "sects," on financial and logistical support from Protestants in the United States, even on supposed policies of the United States government aimed at undermining the Catholic identity of Latin America as an impediment to the spread of free-market capitalism. In that light, the breakthrough in Aparecida may be the bishops' acknowledgement that the fault lays not in their stars, but in themselves."

The bishops called for a continent-wide re-evangelization that would include door-to-door visits. Because the ratio of priests to lay people is on average 1-7,000, many laity will have to be involved. Of course, the mission of evangelization, the Church's purpose, is always the responsibility of the laity with the guidance and collaboration of the clergy, so this really isn't news.

The difficulty, as always, is the bishops have the right idea, but in the course of their conversations, they are short on exactly how to implement this great mission. It's not even clear if it will be left up to individual bishops or bishops' conferences, or even CELAM, to come up with a specific plan.

"Aside from committing themselves to promoting a "mature laity, co-responsible in the mission of announcing and making visible the Reign of God," the bishops did not offer any clear sense of what this lay empowerment might look like."

The bishops will take up this conundrum again in July, when they meet in Havana, Cuba. It would be wonderful if in the meanwhile the bishops go home to their dioceses and get some of their local clergy, religious and most active and faithful laity together to discuss possible implementation strategies. Surely the laity and local clergy are aware of what techniques the sects use to evangelize nominal or lapsed Catholics. They can also look first in the Scriptures and in the great evangelizing movements within Catholic history to find out how God has worked through His Church in the past. They'd be wise to enlist the help of those involved in the charismatic renewal, and some of the new lay movements. But clearly, the success of the "Great Continental Mission" will require well-formed Catholic laity, and that may take some time.

The bishops also took up a dialogue with liberation theologians, who were among the theological experts present at the meeting.

John Allen writes, "The bishops explicitly affirmed liberation theology's famous option for the poor, but tweaked it to become a "preferential and evangelical option," making clear this is no merely political or social commitment. At a concluding press conference, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras took pains to stress that this option "is not ideologized." Similarly, the bishops said that their final document was structured according to the "see-judge-act" method, but gave it a Trinitarian frame (seeing "with the eyes of faith," judging "according to the Gospel of Jesus," and acting under "the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.") The explicit confirmation of the "see-judge-act" method was considered especially telling, since it had been dropped in the 1992 edition of CELAM in Santo Domingo."

Allen comments, "With regard to liberation theology, the texts from Aparecida often read like compromise documents, with something to please both friends and foes."

I disagree with him here. Rather, it sounds to me like liberation theology is growing closer to its scriptural roots, and closer to the Church's vision of life and mission. It's great that the need for evangelization is linked to the preferential option for the poor. The poor need the basic necessities of life, as is their right. They also need, as do we all, to hear the Gospel. That, too, is our right. Jesus said there's no profit in gaining the world, but losing your soul.

The see-judge-act method was something I became familiar with in South Africa, when I worked there during the summer of 1991. There, it was specifically linked to the Trinity as the bishops just did in Aparecida. I don't think it's anything new, and I hope it wouldn't be considered a compromise. It's the way Christians should all see, judge and act.

And not just in Latin America.

Of Blogging and Fleabite Airways

Blogging will happen - but sporadically again this weekend.

Fr. Mike and I are in last minute throes of finishing the basic draft of our new four day seminar on helping Catholics, practicing or not, become intentional Disciples (We call it Making Disciples: Growing Extraordinary Catholics) before we take off to Iowa next weekend to train a diocesan team of new Called & Gifted teachers.

Training C & G teachers is a very intense weekend affair which including 8 hours of theology: of the laity, of the secular mission of the Church, as well as grace,redemption, the theology and history of charisms, etc. Each teacher also prepares to teach a section of the C & G workshop and teaches that section in front of the rest of us and gets feed-back. It is always amazing to see how differently individual teachers approach the same material - and yet are equally effective.

Really good, high energy, high content, life-changing, funny popular teaching, is an art form. If the tens of thousands of evaluations I've read over the past 14 years are any indication, its not a common one in the Catholic world.

Our teachers are mostly non-professionals who are so excited by the C & G process that they come up to us during workshops and volunteer. They give up their weekends to fly around the country with us (or teach in their own parish or deanery or diocese)because of the difference discernment made in their lives and can make in the lives of other Catholics.

Our teachers are incredible and serve out of love. We have national level speakers, who normally get $200 an hour for a presentation, flying in on Fleabite airways to Hays, Kansas or Pedukah, Kentucky to put on a Called & Gifted workshop in exchange for an honorarium that just about covers a movie and nice dinner for two. Apostles indeed.

I remember how terrified I was in the early days when a professional teacher or counselor or pastor or other "authority" was in attendance, certain that they could tell that I had cobbled this together on my own without certification from the official Catholic-charism-teachers-factory that I still thought existed somewhere out there.

It didn't, so we created out own traveling show. And since the demand for local
C & G teaching teams keeps going up, we keep going out.

But this morning,it looks like the pavers for the patio due to be delivered today aren't the right color so I'm going to have to drive down to the yard and do a visual inspection rather than deal with several tons of ureally ugly pavers in the backyard.

And I felt like I had a touch of some low level virus last night.

So you'll hear from us - but it will be intermittant.