Sunday, July 29, 2007

Check out Koinonia

Check out Fr. Gregory Jensen's blog where he has two wonderful posts: on disappointment and on inwardness.

Update on Gloria Strauss

Following the story of an 11 year old cancer patient and her devout Catholic family in Seattle here and here.

From Jerry Brewer's Reporter's Notebook:

I spent Thursday night in Federal Way, checking in on the Strauss family and attending a prayer service for Gloria at the Brennan home.

Things are even better than they were before. It's pretty amazing. Gloria remains mobile. Her mother is still sick with strep throat, but the family is in terrific spirits.

On Thursday, I also got an even greater sense of the depth of the Strauss' support system. The Brennans open their home to prayer every Thursday night, and it's tailored toward youths. Mike and Anne Brennan's daughter, Theresa, is a close Strauss family friend and often baby-sits.

Nearly 50 teenagers, young adults and parents showed up to pray. The Strausses did not attend, but it felt like they were there. And the incredible thing is that there are gatherings such as this one every night of the week. I've just mentioned that as a little fact in previous stories. But to experience it up close was inspiring.

You can't help but wonder if something extraordinary is happening. I'm preparing Gloria Part VI, which is being planned for early next week, and I hope to play off this newfound hope quite a bit in the piece.

You're also going to learn a lot more about Kristen and her battle with multiple sclerosis, as well as receive more insight into one of Gloria's grandmothers, Diane Strauss.

I'm going into "Gloria mode" starting tomorrow. As I start this writing process, there's such a positive vibe. Doug has called it a "mini-miracle" that Gloria is walking, and the family is back to a place of comfort. How long will it last? I don't know. But the Strausses know to cherish the sunlight.

Sherry's note: Consider what God might be doing in one of the least churched, most anti-Christian cities in the US, through the widely reported story of this tough, loving, funny, deeply believing Catholic family and their unsinkable Gloria. Think of what God might be doing in Jerry Brewer's life. Please pray for Gloria, for her family, and for all who read her story.

And for me, if you have a moment. The cold that I thought was making an exceptionally fast exit seems to have returned (which is why I'm up blogging at 4 am) and I've got a hugely demanding week ahead. Your prayers are most appreciated!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Do We Look Like the Christ We Are Proclaiming?

I didn't intend to post again today but notice of this event was sent to me and I could not not share it.

John Stott, 87, the great evangelical Anglican statesman gave the last public speech of his career last week at the historic Keswick conference to an audience of thousands. I have heard him speak only once myself, years ago at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle. But what Stott said should challenge all the baptized, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox alike. Via Christianity Today

As the world says goodbye to one of the most celebrated evangelists of the modern era, Dr Stott told the crowd: “I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth. God wants His people to become like Christ. Christ-likeness is the will of God for the people of God.”

Giving his last major address before retiring from public ministry, veteran preacher and Queen's Chaplain Dr John Stott electrified his audience and was greeted with a standing ovation.

Building his sermon on three texts, Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18 and 1 John 3:2, Dr Stott affirmed that “if we claim to be a Christian, we must be Christ-like”.

He went on to stress that the five main examples in the New Testament of how Christians should seek to imitate Christ: “We are to be like Christ in his Incarnation,” he said. “It was unique, in the sense that the Son of God took our humanity to himself in Jesus of Nazareth, but the amazing grace of God in the Incarnation of Christ is to be followed by all of us. We are to be like Christ in his Incarnation in the amazing self-humbling which lies behind the Incarnation.”

Dr Stott is revered the world over for his life of ministry. The world famous evangelist Rev Billy Graham testified him as “the most respected clergyman in the world today”.

Now 87 and increasingly fragile, Dr Stott's frailty vanished as he started to preach for the final time publicly.

He warned his audience that being Christ-like in “patient endurance...may well become increasingly relevant as persecution increases in many cultures”.

The Anglican evangelist then returned to the subject of the importance of being incarnational: “As Christ had entered our world, so we are to enter other people's worlds. This entering into other people's worlds is exactly what we mean by incarnational evangelism. All authentic mission is incarnational mission.”

He continued: “Why is it, you must have asked, as I have, that in many situations our evangelistic efforts are often fraught with failure? ... one main reason is that we don't look like the Christ we are proclaiming.”

Explaining his comments, Dr Stott revealed: “John Poulton, who has written about this in a perceptive little book entitled ‘A today sort of evangelism’, wrote: 'The most effective preaching comes from those who embody the things they are saying. They are their message. Christians need to look like what they are talking about. It is people who communicate primarily, not words or ideas. Authenticity gets across. Deep down inside people, what communicates now is basically personal authenticity.'”

Dr Stott pointed out the impact that a Christ-like church would have on the world: “There was a Hindu professor in India who once identified one of his students as a Christian and said to him: ‘If you Christians lived like Jesus Christ, India would be at your feet tomorrow.’ ... From the Islamic world, the Reverend Iskandar Jadeed, a former Arab Muslim, has said “If all Christians were Christians – that is, Christ-like – there would be no more Islam today.”'

Rallying a captivated congregation, finally Dr Stott asked the question: “Is Christ-likeness attainable?”

He concluded: “In our own strength it is clearly not attainable but God has given us his Holy Spirit to dwell within us, to change us from within ... God's way to make us like Christ is to fill us with his Spirit.”

Commenting on the evening, Keswick Convention Council Trustee and preacher Jonathan Lamb said: “He may be known as one of the greatest Christian leaders of the 20th century, but few of us could remain unmoved by the sight of a stopped figure, now quietly spoken, calling us to become more like Jesus Christ.

“Emotions were high amongst the thousands present, each with memories of the power and clarity of John Stott's writing and preaching, and thankful for a life of godliness, integrity and humility. How fitting that his final visit to Keswick should deliberately point to the Lord Jesus, whom he has served so faithfully.”

God bless you, John Stott!

How did we get here from there? And how do we get to where we need to be?

DarwinCatholic has an interesting post about the roots of the post-Vatican II chaos. He's been reading Frank Sheed's The Church and I, and has found it illuminating.

During Sheed's work with the Catholic Evidence Guild in the 30s through the 50s, he found

... through his work doing apologetics in parks and on street corners, Sheed was in a particularly good position to see what the see the intellectual state of the average Catholic, as well as the intellectual. And what he saw, it seems, worried him. Throughout the '30s, '40s and '50s he spoke to bishops about the state of catechesis (which he generally considered to not be at all good -- in part because those doing the catechising were not themselves sufficiently knowledgeable) and addressed numerous groups of seminarians and teaching sisters.

What he found was that all too often even the priests and nuns tasked with teaching the laity were not able to deal well with questions that went beyond the memorized questions and answers in their catechisms. This was not, he said, through any lack of faith (far from it, there was in intensely strong belief in the teachings of the Church and if anything an overly strong belief in infallibility, which attached the stamp of dogma equally to the everything from abstaining from meat on Fridays and women covering their heads in church to the immaculate conception and purgatory) but rather through a defensive posture which the Church had taken in much of Europe since the Reformation, emphasizing memorization over argumentation and discipline over education.

One of the examples of the kind of "beyond the catechism" questions that Sheed would pose is as follows:

Sheed: "Does the pope need to go to confession?"

Other: "Yes, of course. The pope must go to confession regularly to receive forgiveness for his sins."

Sheed: "But if the priest's authority comes from the bishop, and the bishop's authority comes from the pope, who has the authority to forgive the pope?"

The answer, of course, is: Christ. And since our sins are forgiven through the power of Christ by the priest who acts in persona Christi, any priest can grant the pope absolution. People knew this, Sheed says, in their hearts. They understood that the pope needed and received absolution. But far too often questions like this would stump not only Catholic school children, but also the nuns and priests who taught them, because they weren't used to thinking about what they believed meant.

(He has a good bit more that is well worth reading; take a look at the whole thing (link in the title of this post].)

It sounds like the real formation of the laity has been something desperately needed in the Church for probably at least the last several generations. Developing a universal culture of intentional discipleship, formation and support for lay apostles is a pressing need, as urgent as the mission of the Church -- as urgent as the Gospel itself.

What we do not need is a return to an idealized Catholic past. The years before the Council were not a Golden Age, if you look below the surface.

What we need is lots and lots of thinking, and meditating, and praying, and conversing, (not necessarily in that order), and then also strategizing and acting on what the things proposed to us by our Faith mean.

Only thus, I think, can this generation hope to hear the Gospel preached in terms it can understand and embrace.

Please Pray for Making Disciples

We are in the final stages of preparing for Making Disciples which begins Sunday evening and runs through Thursday at noon here in Colorado Springs.

We're expecting folks from 22 dioceses including Brisbane, Australia to gather for this exploration of how to facilitate the journey to intentional discipleship. (By the way, if this subject sounds interesting, be aware that we will be offering Making Disciples again in November in Faulkner, Maryland)on the Potomac just south of Annapolis.

This material is new and exciting but your prayers would be greatly appreciated for Fr. Mike, myself, Keith Strohm, and Barbara Elliott as we teach, discuss, and listen and for our staff as they take care of the critical logistical stuff.

Pray that all of us gathered for Making Disciples might be encouraged and strengthened in our own discipleship and given a heart and a vision for helping others have a transforming encounter with Christ in the midst of his Church.

Blogging will be sporadic at best and since I have three other commitments immediately after MD, you won't be hearing from me a great deal until after August 7. I'll try to check in as I can.

"Protestant Reformation for Hispanics"?

Some challenging stats regarding the growth of Hispanic Protestantism in the US via the Wichita Eagle:

Nationwide, there are now about 10 million Hispanic Protestants, according to the recent Hispanic Churches in American Public Life research project.

That number has doubled during the past 10 years, according to the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr., founder and president of the Sacramento, Calif.-based National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. The conference represents Hispanic evangelicals in the United States and Puerto Rico.

"This is the Protestant Reformation for Hispanics," Rodriguez said.

Nationwide, the U.S. Hispanic population grew from 22.4 million in 1990 to an estimated 42.7 million in 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Among all U.S. Hispanics, nearly 70 percent are Catholics.

But a report on Hispanics and religion released earlier this year showed that half of Hispanic evangelicals came to the faith from other backgrounds and more than 80 percent of them are former Catholics.

That report -- conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based research groups Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life -- said that more than 80 percent of all Hispanic Christian converts cited a "desire for a more direct, personal experience with God" as a reason for their conversion. Few Hispanics -- only 7 percent -- said they left Catholicism because they were dissatisfied with the church's position on certain issues, the report said.

"They are saying, 'We like our Catholic faith. However, these evangelicals, they really have this going on with this personal relationship component,' " Rodriguez said. "'It has more animated services, it's more lively, it's more Hispanic.' "

Sherry's note:

Let's see: one half of the 10 million Hispanic Protestants converted from other faiths and more than 80% of those approximately 5 million Hispanics were Catholic. So that would make about 4 million Hispanic Catholics who have become Protestant in recent years.

Of that number, only about 7% or 280,000 left because they did not agree with Catholic teaching.

3,720,000 left because of a "desire for a more direct, personal experience with God"

So "I like my Catholic faith.: But it doesn't seem to include this personal relationship component. That I discovered elsewhere. And evangelicalism is "more Hispanic" than the Catholicism that has shaped them for many generation.


Friday, July 27, 2007

2007 Reasons Why Mark Shea is Coming Back in 2007

On August 30, in fact, and he has authorized me to convey to you his Imperial request that you be there.(Colorado Springs) so y'all can chew the fatted calf together.

Then come and hang out with the Sheas, Curps, Kathleen Lundquist, Fr. Mike and moi on August 31 at our Building Intentional Community Day at gorgeous Penrose House.

Commentary and Community in Colorful Colorado! How can you beat that?

Pope Benedict on the Second Vatican Council

Via John Allen from the Pope's July 24 conversation with priests from the northern Italian dioceses of Belluno-Feltre and Treviso. (emphasis mine)

The last question came from a priest who described himself as a member of the Vatican II generation. He said many priests of his era are feeling tired and disheartened; they began, he said, with great dreams of changing the world, many of which have not been realized. What message, he asked, does the pope have for them?

Benedict began by describing Vatican II as a magna carta for the future of the church, which remains "very essential and fundamental." He also noted that historically, councils are always followed by turbulence. St. Basil, he recalled, compared the situation following the Council of Nicea to a naval battle at night, when nobody can recognize who's who and so the fight becomes all against all. St. Gregory Nazianzen, he said, actually refused to participate in the First Council of Constantinople for precisely this reason.

Benedict argued that the post-conciliar period was framed by two great historical turning points. The first was the explosion of revolutionary energies in 1968, which the pope said triggered a cultural crisis. The "new, sane modernity" envisioned by the council found itself facing a Marxist-inspired violent break with the past. Some Catholics, he said, read the council as a warrant for cultural revolution, while others rejected the council for the same reason. Then came 1989 and the implosion of Marxist utopian dreams, which left skepticism and nihilism in its wake. In that context, he said, "the timid, humble search to realize the true spirit of the council" was often overwhelmed.

Yet, Benedict said, while falling trees make noise, growing ones are silent. In just that fashion, he said, it's possible today to see new growth resulting from the council. He pointed to Brazil, saying that when he went in May he knew about the explosion in non-Catholic religious movements in the country, but what he didn't understand was the growth taking place inside Catholicism. He said that almost every day in Brazil, a new religious order or lay movement is born. That growth is not enough to "refill the statistics," he said, but he called that a "false hope," adding that "statistics are not our divinity."

Despite the vicissitudes of recent history, Benedict argued, Vatican II provided "a great roadmap," allowing the church to move forward "joyously and full of hope."

The Gloria! update

I wanted to keep abreast of developments re 11 year old cancer patient Gloria Strauss that I wrote about here.

According to the Seattle Times reporter who is doing a series on Gloria and her devoutly Catholic family:

Gloria is doing even better now. For the fifth straight day, she was on her feet today. Of course, the spirits of her parents are soaring.

They're not fooling themselves. They know Gloria is still in a lot of pain, but they're appreciating this positive sign. On Sunday, Gloria went to Mass and wowed the congregation, Doug reports.

I'm thrilled for the family. It needed this. Doug called me early this morning and sounded more excited than I've ever heard him. He told me I have a gift for this type of storytelling, which meant more to me than I could express to him.

I've worried so much about misrepresenting this story. I've never focused more on ensuring a proper tone than I have while writing this series. I'm finding that the stories are reaching people on many levels.

People who don't have similar religious beliefs have been e-mailing to tell me that they're considering this a story about love. I'm glad they can take that from the series. There's definitely a lot of love in the Strauss family.

I had one reader -- who can't stand the suffering -- send an e-mail calling us "cruel" and "voyeuristic vultures" and someone who is "pimping tragedy" today. It was upsetting, but there were 200 other e-mails from people who got the message.

We're all entitled to our opinions, and his disgust came from not wanting to see a child hurting. So I don't want to argue with the guy or condemn him for disagreeing with the series. I think I've spent plenty of time in this space talking about my motivations and the Strausses' motivations for doing this story, so I'm not going to repeat myself again.

In the series, I have presented what the Strausses believe and how it moves through every fiber of lives. I have done so without judging them and without lionizing them. So I'm not going to judge or ridicule a cynic.

This story is about believing, or having faith. You can believe what you want. But are you strong enough to put yourself on the line for it?

The Strausses are. That's their charm. That's their burden. That's their life.

And right now, life is good. Gloria is active. One prayer has been answered.

Time to Get Over the 60's

There is a brutal essay by Damian Thompson in the London Telegraph this morning about the announcement by the Bishop of Lancaster that he is planning to close down dozens of parishes, including their great showplace, St Walburge’s, which was built after Catholic Emanicipation in the mid 19th century and is the tallest spired parish church in England.

The statistics that the Bishop released to support his decision are startling.

"The latest figures released by the diocese show that the number of worshippers has dropped from 17,023 in 1974 to 6,427 in 2004." (That's a 2/3 drop in 30 years)

"By 2020 it is estimated that there will be 4,500 faithful Catholics in Lancaster." (To put this in perspective, the average parish in California has 10,000 parishioners! It would be unthinkable to have a diocese of only 6,427 people in the US.)

"The review claims that by 2020 the diocese will have 10 priests under the age of 65. At present there 110 Lancaster priests, only 30 of whom are under 65. According to the proposals, the number of parishes in Fylde, which includes the seaside town of Blackpool, would be cut from 27 to 13 by 2020. In Preston, meanwhile, 25 parishes would be clustered into 12. Ten of the city’s 24 churches are to be closed."

Consolidation is a story that I'm hearing all over the US. While the numbers of Catholics in the US continues to grow (due to immigration and to the highest level of conversion in the west) and we currently enjoy a level of Mass attendance which is unmatched in the western world outside of Poland and perhaps Ireland (although attendance is dropping there like a stone), we don't have the priests to deal with it.

In the past two months, I've heard the details of consolidation plans of various mid-western dioceses. One with 271 parishes is making plans to reduce to 76 "pastorates" of 2 - 12 communities which will be overseen by a single circuit riding priest.

Thompson's verdict:

I know I can bore for Britain on this subject, but how much proof does the Pope need that most English bishops couldn’t run a corner shop, let alone a diocese?

St Walburge’s congregation has shrunk to 100 a week. That number will halve in 10 years’ time, says the diocese. Really? And whose fault will that be?

The bishops, with their dreary Leftist mindset, think in terms of managing decline. They are unaware of a huge body of academic research showing that, if you provide charismatic pastors and high-quality services, PEOPLE WILL COME BACK TO CHURCH.

Happy-clappy religion sets my teeth on edge, but you have to hand it to evangelical Anglicans: when they see an empty church they don’t lock the doors and trudge off to look for more modest premises; they start making plans to fill it again. And they do so by recruiting lively, talented and pushy people who aren’t afraid to take risks.

Note the assumption: that to be evangelistically proactive and creative is to be "evangelical". It's smart and its effective and we're not - but it isn't Catholic. It is being forced by circumstance to adopt an attitude and methology that is intrinsically "foreign".

One of the fascinating things about the "Generation of Saints" in France that I've written about here , here and here is how free they felt to be evangelically and pastoral innovative without any fear of being less than Catholic.

When St. Francis de Sales set out on foot to personally re-evangelize an area of France in which all the Catholic churches had been padlocked for 60 years, it was unheard of because the working assumption then was that the religion of the ruler must be the religion of the people - but no one accused him of adapting "Protestant" methodology. When St. Vincent de Paul sent his priests to put on great missions in areas of rural France that had, in the opinion of many historians, never been evangelized before, no one regarded it as an "evangelical".

That's because Protestants weren't doing that sort of evangelism yet. The sort of agressive missionary and evangelistic efforts that we now associate with the evangelical world didn't begin until much later - the last 18th and early 19th centuries. It was Catholics who were the great evangelizers and missionaries of the 16th and 17th centuries. The letters of St. Francis Xavier from Asia and the Recollections of the Jesuit missionaries in early America were read widely by devout Catholics and set their hearts afire with missionary zeal.

There are pros and cons to the current "ecclesiology of identity" that so emphasizes Catholic distinctives in contradiction to the practices of other Christians. But one problem is that our sense of what is uniquely Catholic is so parochial. What we mean by "Catholic" is defined by what passed for normative Catholicism and Protestantism in the mid-20th century in the US. And a central part of our self-definition is negative: we are "not Protestant"

But we have fallen into the trap of defining ourselves against a movement (evangelicalism)that is only 60 years old. In so doing, we have jettisoned centuries of evangelical and apostolic practice and wisdom by great saints and doctors of the Church that is just as much a part of our heritage as the liturgy.

It is so time we got over the 60's. The battles of that era looms so large that we still can't see anything else. It is here that we can really benefit from the wisdom of the "generation of saints" who had lived through a much more dire upheaval - decades of religious civil war. They were a post-conciliar generation just like us but they lived amid a level of clerical corruption, indifference, and careerism that we can hardly imagine. (Vincent de Paul was ordained a priest at 20. It was the traditional path to financial security and responsibility for a peasant boy and his family. His conversion came after ordination.)

But this remarkable group of friends were possessed of an abiding faith in what the Holy Spirit had revealed through the Council and they had no qualms at all about being innovative in the implementation of that revelation. We'd do very well indeed to model our own response to the challenges of our day after their spirit of faith, hope, and love.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Entrepreneurial Social Action

I am preparing a talk for a father/son retreat this weekend and was looking for a good story to tell about a man living out his royal office in the workworld. Fr. Paul Wicker, the priest I live with when I'm in Colorado Springs (as I am now) turned me on to a local story of a fellow named Steve Bigari - a friend Fr. Paul calls a "street saint." You can read the full story by clicking on the title of this link, but here are a few excerpts with a few comments from me...

"Low-wage workers in the United States are often one crisis away from extreme poverty. Steve Bigari recruits employers to take a lead role in addressing the problems that make workers vulnerable, breaking the cycle of persistent poverty by helping workers achieve personal stability and develop the skills they need to get a foothold on the ladder to the middle class."

This has been an ongoing problem for some time. I remember the shock I had when, as a novice over 23 years ago, I stayed overnight on a regular basis in a homeless shelter run by a Catholic organization in Oakland, CA. What was so surprising? The fact that I had to wake a number of the men and women who stayed there anywhere between 4 and 5:30 a.m. so they could get ready for work! They didn't make enough money, or didn't have the skill set necessary to manage what they earned, to provide housing for themselves.

Today, "a quarter of American workers—27 million people—earn less than $8.70 per hour, much too little to support a family. Only 18 percent of the working poor get health insurance through their job. Only 25 percent own a computer. Most pay over half of their income to live in substandard housing, and many lack the reliable transportation they need to get to work each day and to attend education and training programs.

All of these factors make it more difficult for these millions of workers to develop essential job skills. Without adequate transportation, affordable housing, child care, health care, access to technology, and the time and money for education and training, low-wage workers cannot achieve the stability they need to succeed in their current jobs and advance to better ones.

They are stuck in a vicious cycle: The problems that cause them to miss work make them poor candidates for advancement; employers are not motivated to help workers solve these problems because they can’t count on them to stay on the job. As a result, low-wage workers drift from one unskilled job to another, unable to sustain employment and move from poverty to the middle class."

Mr. Bigari went to work at a McDonald's franchise as a vice president and operations manager for a friend of his. When the friend died, Mr. Bigari bought the franchise and expanded it to twelve in twelve years, often creating innovative ways to increase the productivity of each store. During the 19 years he was involved in those franchises, he witnessed the effects of shifts missed due to car problems or a sick child. Like many employers in the service industry, he saw productivity decline due to the rapid turnover of workers.

Unlike most employers, however, he chose to find a way to help his employees gain stability, rather than believe they weren't worth the effort because of the possibility of their leaving the job. He loaned over $500,000 to solve a wide variety of problems that threatened the security of employees and the success of his business. During that time, he learned some things about what does and doesn't work when it comes to helping people.

He is proving that helping workers find financial stability is in the employer's best interest. How does increase the stability of his workers? He founded America's Family ( to partner employers, workers, and social service providers to meet employees’ essential needs of health care, transportation, child care, housing, and education. His program offers a coordinated continuum of services, ensuring that low-income workers have the resources they need to stay on the job and succeed at work.

"America’s Family has created an innovative plan to provide health care to low-wage workers. Steve persuaded Community Health Centers, a provider of high-cost emergency care, to create a Healthy Workforce program for workers with an emphasis on prevention and health education. To pay for the program, he instituted a payroll deduction/employer match system. In this way, employees gained access to affordable health care, while Community Health Centers gained a new source of revenue. Furthermore, because the Community Health Center program emphasizes the prevention of illness and maintenance of wellness, it dramatically lowers workers’ dependence on costly emergency services.

Through their work with Steve and his organization, hundreds of workers obtain computers, affordable childcare and housing, reliable transportation, and online access to education. Clients of America’s Family can purchase low-cost computers through a payroll deduction program; they receive their computers when they pay 50 percent of the cost, and get free Internet service as a bonus.

America’s Family recently partnered with citizen groups and a government housing provider to create a 100-unit hotel providing its members with low-cost transitional housing. America’s Family also works with car dealers and banks to help employees establish credit and qualify for loans, and trains employees to manage these loans through an online course on personal finance.

Today, 100 percent of the 1,200 clients of America’s Family have access to affordable housing, child care, car transportation and email. Many have progressed from subsidized to private health insurance.

Proven benefits to employers’ bottom line positions America’s Family to change the way the service industry treats low-wage workers. Steve piloted the program in four McDonald’s franchises, carefully tracking profits and measures of employee performance. When he began his study, his franchises were plagued with the high rates of turnover and absenteeism that pervade the service industry. After a year under the America’s Family program, profits improved by $300,000. Turnover rates were 63 percent lower after one year and an additional 29 percent lower after two years."

All of this work flows from Steve's life of faith, and is an expression of that faith. He recognized he was making money while his employees were often struggling to make ends meet. They'd go to work, do everything right, and return home each night to poverty. Through his experiences, creativity, and compassion, he is now in a position to change the way service workers are treated.

He is not only doing well, he is doing good!

In fact, by harnessing the power of private enterprise, non-profit organizations, and government initiatives, Steve and America's Family have as their goal to eliminate poverty for working Americans by 2025. This is a huge vision for a man who, among the many awards hanging on his office wall, has this prayer framed:

"Slow me down, Lord! Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind. Steady my hurried pace with a vision of the eternal reach of time.

Give me, amidst the confusion of my day, the calmness of the everlasting hills..."

It is amazing what one person can begin, if they begin in God.

Getting Over Ourselves

Our Sunday Visitor has a great editorial this week. Via Catholic Online.

The emphasis is mine.

Getting over ourselves
Our Sunday Visitor (

Throughout its long history, the Catholic faith has been in a state of dialogue, and often dynamic tension, with whatever society in which it resides. At times, as in China or Zimbabwe today, Catholics are seen as outsiders and a threat. In other countries, Catholicism is often so integrated into the social structure that the Church seems almost an extension of the state.

Most often, a local church is neither in opposition to, nor swallowed up by, the larger society. Rather, it tends to reflect the prejudices and shortcomings as well as the strengths of the surrounding culture.

In the United States, Catholicism struggled for more than a century to win acceptance by the dominant, Protestant culture. This newspaper, in its early years, sought to defend Catholics – who were primarily immigrants – from the prejudices and anti-immigrant xenophobia of the wider society. In seeking respect, Catholics often tried to portray themselves as fully American, subsuming their Catholic identity.

The successful integration of U.S. Catholics into American society was popularly symbolized by the election of John F. Kennedy as the first Catholic U.S. president. Scholars and social critics noted that this may have been the moment when Catholics began to lose their identity, becoming virtually indistinguishable from their fellow Americans in terms of behavior, politics, prejudices and beliefs.

It is not only our Catholic identity that was threatened by the success of our assimilation. As an immigrant church, Catholics in this country often had a strong sense of the wider church outside. Appreciation for the missions was common. This identification with the Catholics of other lands was a way of acknowledging the larger church to which we were connected.

But material and political success may have brought with it a greater provincialism. We tithe less than other faiths. We pay scant attention to the church in other parts of the world. We have almost completely lost our commitment to the missions. Evangelization has become just “church talk.” Though we were an immigrant church, many of us rail at the immigrants. And though we no longer produce enough vocations, many of us grumble when our bishop sends us a priest from Africa or Asia because he has no one else to send.

Yet, these shepherds from far away shores are reminders to us of a greater church than what exists in our parish, or diocese or even nation. The billion Catholics in the world today are a vibrant testimony to the diversity of the church and the universal glory of our savior. For U.S. Catholics in particular, acknowledging that we are all parts of one body – African, Asian, Latin American, European, Eastern rite and Roman rite, immigrant and native born – is an absolutely critical awareness if we are not to be blinded by our own pride, power and wealth.

Many young Catholics already get this, in part because of the amazing phenomenon of World Youth Day. In 2008, it will be held in Australia, and this will be another tremendous opportunity for Catholics to join with their fellows from around the world.

Americans, bounded by two oceans and seemingly a world apart, have always tended toward isolationism. For Catholics such a temptation is to be resisted. We are many members, but one body. Perhaps the priest shortage and the influx of foreign-born priests, like the immigration crisis, are invitations for U.S. Catholics to get over ourselves and see what a Catholic world it truly is.

Friendship & the Parish

My friend Mark has been meditating on Fr. Raniero Cantalemessa's reflection upon friendship:

"I've been reflecting a lot on friendship the last few days, so this is timely for me. I particularly like this:

It is a mutual attraction and deep understanding between two people, but it does not have a sexual component as does conjugal love. It is a union of two souls, not two bodies. In this sense the ancients said that friendship is to have "one soul in two bodies." It can be a stronger bond than that of family. Family consists in having the same blood in one's veins. In friendship one has the same tastes, ideals, interests.

It is essential to friendship that it is founded on a common search for the good and the true.

I had dinner the other night with Fr. Bernhard Blankenhorn, my pastor, and another friend of mine. In the course of the conversation, we discussed various things, including the different ways in which cradles and converts relate to the Church.

This led on to other reflections. One thing I got thinking about was the way in which Evangelicals seem to be so good at creating community and Catholics so lousy at it. I'm sorry, but I've never chalked that up (as cradles are wont to do) as simply and solely (or even primarily) due to some supposed Evangelical "emotionalism" that stands in negative contrast to the Deep Maturity of Catholics. This excuse may satisfy Catholics in profound denial over the intense loneliness many Catholics feel, but it remains an excuse. The fact is many parishes are crappy at giving their members a living experience of the love of Christ.

What got me thinking is that I am very grateful because I *have* been given a living experience of the love of Christ, both as a Protestant and as a Catholic. That experience has taken place, since entering the Church, largely at Blessed Sacrament parish."


"Part of it, I think, is that the parish is, like everything in the Catholic tradition, rooted in a "grace perfecting nature" mode of thought. Parishes presume a pre-existing human community with some stability: the village, town or polis where people are born, live and die and everybody knows each other. With that sort of natural soil you can get a parish which builds on the natural familial relationship to the divine familial relationship of the Body of Christ.

But what happens when the parish is placed in a culture like ours that is profoundly mobile and transitory. The soil gets pretty thin. And the attempt to fix the problem often results in things like my old parish: lots of plastic bonhomie and fake glad-handing of the "We are Community!" variety. Real communities don't have to organize rallies to remind people that They Are Community. They are too busy living the communal life, which is about something else and not about itself.

The surest way to destroy communal life is to try to make it be about communal life, just as the surest way to kill any hope of conversation is to stare into somebody's eyes and say, "Let's have a really good talk" and the surest way to induce illness is to obsess over your health. Healthy community is a by-product of a life lived toward some other end. And the end toward which the Church is supposed to living is God, not itself.

So what about Evangelicals then? Why do they do so much better? Well, they do and they don't. At their best, Evangelicals are freed by not needing to follow a parish model. They do not need to build an ecclesial community on the paradigm of a family, so they often wind up building communities that instead specialize in friendship, which is another form of love.

Partly this has to do with the congregational nature of Evangelical communities. Catholic communities tend to be like block parties. Protestant ones tend to be about bringing like-minded people together around a particular set of ideas. That can be fractious, but it can also produce close friendships as people with a common vision speak the essential words, "You too? I though I was the only one!"

Friendship can be a love every bit as intense as eros in some ways. Indeed, in our sex-soaked culture it is often identified with eros. And that, in turn, hampers friendships from happening, because there is a sotto voce fear that a close friendship will be identified as somehow homosexual. But real friendship has nothing to do with sex. It is, as Fr. Cantalamessa says, "a union of two souls, not two bodies". To have known true friendship, even once, leaves a mark of gratitude on the heart that cannot be erased.

That's why I've been thinking about my experience at Blessed S. God graced me with so many different experiences of love there. Familial love. Real experiences of friendship. Even fatherly love through a priest who had a profound impact on me.

I'm still sorting it out. But I think this experience of Church as family and the experience of the Church via friendship is very important. I will have to give it more thought."

And a commenter,Joe Roberts, made these observations:

"My .02: I'm a revert. One of the differences I note between the evangelical congregations I went to and the Catholic parishes I've been to is the essential disposition of the people vis a vis Jesus Christ

In the Greenfield Church of Christ, in which I was (re-)baptized by full immersion in my early 20s, every single adult had made a definite and defining decision to accept Jesus and follow him. Each could name the time and place this decision had been made. In my parish today (I'm now in my late 40s and back in the fold for around 20 years), I have a hard time knowing why many of the people are there at Mass. Lots of them neither pray the prayers, nor sing the hymns, nor pay attention to the homily. Not all, mind you, but more than just a few.

but I'll bet most of your readers know exactly what I'm talking about. You just don't see that sort of passivity, that sense of dry fulfillment of drudgery duty, in your average evangelical-Protestant church.

"It's ironic, really. We've got a full banquet in front of us, the fullness of truth and the Body of Christ, and we accept it with a shrug. They've got the appetizer tray, a key piece of the banquet but a very limited one, and they're excited about it as all get-out.

Evangelicals are mostly intentional disciples, to borrow a term from Ms. Weddell. They make friends with one another very naturally, almost exactly in accord with Fr. Cantalamessa's definition of friendship. Catholics are largely bored spectators. Neighbors, yes; friends, not so much."


How a Company of Friends Changed France

I've been working on the Building Intentional Community Day that will be held in Colorado Springs this August 31 and, in the process, was inspired to attempt to diagram the relationships between the major players in the 17th century Catholic revival in France.

In their case, it truly was the pursuit of God in the company of friends - and their friendship changed the spiritual atmosphere of an entire nation. This interlinked network of 11 people known as the "generation of saints" (and here I am only acknowledging the most visible personalities - there were many hundreds and thousands of fellow travelers with which only specialists in the period are familiar)were:

"all intimately acquainted with, and more important, were inspired to become holy and zealous from personal contact with each other. They visited each other frequently or kept up active correspondence about their visions, prayers, sense of sin, and missionary activities. In a way, they set out as a group to remake the Church . . .”
Paris in the Age of Absolutism, Orest Ranum

They were remarkable for their diversity:

A Cardinal, a Bishop, three priests including one who had grown up a peasant, two young widows with children, a Parisian housewife, a single woman, a soldier. Today, the same group is recognized for including four canonized saints, one blessed, one Doctor of the Church, and six founders of religious congregations.

Among the many fruits of their collaboration:

1) Re-evangelized large areas of France, especially the countryside, parts of which were being evangelized for the first time in history
2) Fostered a distinctly lay spirituality for the first time and inventions like the "retreat" to nourish the personal spiritual lives of lay and ordained>
3) Renewal of the diocesan priesthood
4) Successful establishment of the "new" seminary system for forming priests
5) New, more systematic and effective methods of compassion for the poor
6) Establishment of the first "active" non-enclosed women's religious communities
7) A vibrant new missionary outreach around the world
8) Four new religious communities
8) The founding of one of the world's great cities: Montreal

Anyway, here's the Powerpoint slide I came up with:

The green lines represent personal friendships, the orange lines spiritual direction or mentoring; and the blue lines founders. Many times, such relationships overlapped as between Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal who were dear friends as well co-founders.

As you study the network of relationships, what difference would it have made if they had not had each other?

“In fact, even cursory glances through the Gospels confirm that the work Jesus did in the lives of his disciples occurred because the disciples were in relationship, not simply with him, but with each other.

That manner of growth in spiritual depth – in the context of community – is not accidental. It is part of how people are built.

We were created to seek God and we were created to find him with others.”

- Richard Lamb

To Evangelize is to Say that God is My Joy

Oswald Sorbino links to a really intriguing Crisis article from 2002:

No Ordinary Joy
How the Charismatic Renewal is Changing the French Church

This article describes the birth of two significant lay movements in the 1970's. The first is the Emmanuel community:

During this period of confusion and apparent decline, it seemed to many that only a return to a spirituality like that of the early Church would be able to bear new fruit. This is one way to interpret the birth of a small charismatic prayer group one evening in May 1972. The first Catholic group of its kind, it originally consisted of four young people brought together by a 58-year-old Catholic film critic in Paris. Ironically, the first meetings took place in a small apartment just a few yards from the café where Sartre’s existentialism was born. The film critic, Pierre Goursat, had just come back from a trip to the United States where he had seen the beginning of a charismatic movement in the American Church. With the encouragement of his spiritual father, Goursat organized a meditation on the charisms as they are evoked in the Acts of the Apostles, followed by a period of spontaneous prayer. The project was no more defined than that, Goursat’s very aim being to leave the group free to the invitations of the Holy Spirit. Little by little, the gifts of the Spirit began to appear. Some people sang in tongues, which others interpreted; all were astonished and overwhelmed by what they had seen and felt.

One year later, the group had grown from five to 500 members. According to Martine, one of the five original members, they felt as if they were "reliving the Pentecost."

Where the Spirit Is

Surprised by this unhoped-for growth, the original group spawned several smaller groups in Paris before moving into other cities in France. They called themselves the Emmanuel Community. With this name, Goursat wanted to indicate that the prayer groups were not meant to be social clubs turned in on themselves; they were called to become gifts of God to the world, to become new "Emmanuels" (God with us). In 1976, the Church gave the community official status. During the first few years of its existence, its members were married or single laypeople living in the world. Then religious vocations began to manifest themselves: First, there were just brothers and sisters of Emmanuel, but later, the community—which had its first headquarters on a barge in the Seine—decided, with the agreement of the bishops, to form its own priests.

If many young people see their faith come alive in the Emmanuel prayer groups, the community is also a source of renewal for older Christians. André, who recently became a grandfather, describes it as a "new youth." "I was a Sunday Christian," he says. "For me the faith was the Mass, a few holy days, and not getting into trouble during the rest of the week. In the prayer groups, I came to understand that a God who had given me His life—well, I could at least give Him mine. Now, even when I’m playing with my granddaughter, in a way it’s for Jesus."

The second is the Community of the Beatitudes, which has a branch in Denver:

The same period saw the birth of the Community of the Beatitudes. Brother Ephraim, the founder of the community, had struggled through all the contradictions and questions of his generation: Raised in a Protestant family, he had studied to become an artist before joining the community of Lanza Del Vasto, a utopian group that practices a kind of syncretic spirituality loosely tied to Eastern mysticism. After his conversion to Catholicism, Brother Ephraim started the Beatitudes community, which evolved through a series of forms between 1973 and 1981. Members live away from cities and towns in community houses that give material and spiritual support to those in need. Following a routine deeply rooted in prayer—especially eucharistic adoration—the lay and religious members of these houses are united by the same desire to live in the spirit of the beatitudes. The community now has houses in 25 dioceses in France and in 28 other dioceses around the world.\\

The common themes of these communities:

The call of the laity to holiness and making an inherited faith personal:

Significantly, both Brother Ephraim and Goursat founded their communities as laymen. Brother Ephraim is married. Goursat, who several times refused to be ordained as a priest, envisaged the lay life as a veritable vocation. Here one sees another of the features that characterize these communities, a feature that corresponds to one of the key intuitions of Vatican II: Both the Emmanuel and Beatitudes communities testify to the calling of all Christians—lay or religious—to holiness. To accept this calling, one must be willing to surrender himself to God in even the most ordinary circumstances. It is an idea that comes up again and again as Celine describes her spiritual journey: "For me, the charismatic renewal is above all—as the name itself suggests—a renewal. I understood that my faith was condemned to fade away if it was nothing but the preservation of a tradition. I had received the faith as a kind of inheritance from my family—and that is by itself a tremendous grace—but this community allowed me to make that faith my own, to make it the heart of all my personal commitments.

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

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

World Youth Day's Theme: Receive the Holy Spirit

From Bishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney in the World Youth Day Newsletter:

"Jesus promised that this work and His presence would be made possible by His gift of the “Advocate”/“Paraclete” who is the “Spirit of Truth” (John 16:7-15) known to Christians as the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, God the Holy Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles describes the coming of the Holy Spirit like “tongues of fire” upon the Disciples in the Upper Room (or Cenacle) on the day of Pentecost (Act 2:1-13). It is the Holy Spirit who continues to animate and unite the Church through her leaders and through her faithful.

Each person Baptised in Christ, is “remade in Him” and receives special gifts and strengths of the Holy Spirit. The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit are the personal graces of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and awe for the Lord.

The graces of the Holy Spirit are also called “charisms”.

These were identified in the New Testament (Rom 12:6; 1 Cor 12: 4, 30f; 1 Tm 4:14, 2 Tm 1:6; 1 Pt 4:10). The charisms are particular spiritual powers freely and often surprisingly given by the Holy Spirit at different times in response to the needs of
others and particularly in order to revive, build up, purify or restore the work of Christ in the Church. Charisms appear in the Church’s history especially in times of crisis. The charisms of healing, encouragement, discernment of spirits, mercy, organisation, preaching, prayer, and wisdom in the lives of Saints Dominic, Francis, Teresa of Avila, Vincent de Paul and Mother Teresa and in notable figures such as Jean Vanier and Dorothy Day ignite movements and new institutions within the Church which shine the Gospel to the world.

The Church and the Holy Spirit

At the end of St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus as he returns to the Father at His Ascension assures his disciples, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). This assurance of Jesus’ continuing life-giving and healing work in His Church is accompanied by His commission to the disciples that in His Name, they continue His saving work in time: “making disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) and proclaiming “repentance and forgiveness of sins...” (Luke 24:47). Since that time, Christians understand that they are not to keep Jesus to themselves but must help all people to know Jesus Christ and His saving love and presence in the Church. This is the task of evangelisation.”

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Catacomb Era of Australian Catholicism

From Catholic Online:

Last Friday, July 20, a year from the day of the final papal Mass, young and old alike united in one of the oldest churches in Sydney for what the coordinator of WYD '08, Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Fisher, dubbed "A Holy Hour of Power."

The evening began with a stunning rendition of the already popular WYD theme song, "Receive the Power," performed by young Catholic performing arts students.

Tears then sprang to the eyes of some of those gathered as they witnessed a screening of Benedict XVI's most recent audience emphasizing his encouragement in the Australian mission.

But following some more song, Scripture and a personal testimony from ex-professional football player-turned WYD director of evangelization and catechesis, Steve Lawrence, it was really Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament who took center stage.

Then Bishop Anthony Fisher talked about this poignant moment in Australian Catholic history that I have never come across before:

He recounted the history of St. Patrick's Church as dating back to the early 1800s when the first Catholics in the nation tried to obtain a grant of land for a church and the government refused their request. Then, the only priest was expelled by the British Authorities, leaving behind just one consecrated Host.

But this didn't stop the Aussie Catholics witnessing to their faith, the bishop told us. The picture of persecuted Catholics gathering secretly for prayer was used to describe those early years as a "catacomb" era.

"The lay faithful continued to guard and adore Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament for an entire year … until another French priest arrived to consume it and say a Mass for them again," the bishop explained.

World Youth Day 2008 Theme Song

Take a look at this: the World Youth Day 2008 Theme Song,

Recieve the Power.

What do you think?

That Man Is You!

As Sherry has mentioned, one of the least honored (and least supported) roles in the Catholic Church today is that of the lay man. I just came across what looks like a very well produced, faithful, creative, and challenging response to that reality: a program called "That Man Is You!", put together by Paradisus Dei.

Some of the description from the website:

That Man is You! seeks to form men who are fully alive by harmonizing what has typically been referred to as the Three Wisdoms of the Catholic Church: knowledge (secular knowledge including medical and social science); understanding (theology including Scripture, the Magisterium and Tradition); and wisdom (contemplative or mystical knowledge found primarily in the writings of the saints).

Recognizing that modern men live in and are comfortable with a culture dominated by the findings of secular science, the program makes extensive use of medical and social science. The findings of medical science have proven invaluable in helping men understand the mystery of the human person, created male and female, while the findings of social science have proven indispensable in helping men understand the fundamental importance of marriage and the family to larger society.

Recognizing that the vast majority of men are married at some point in their adult life, the theological content of the program heavily emphasizes the importance of the spousal union in salvation history: "Marriage has been placed at the heart of the great struggle between good and evil, between life and death, between love and all that is opposed to love" (Pope John Paul II, October 7, 1995). As such it relies heavily upon the writings of Pope John Paul II. Special emphasis is given to his Wednesday audiences gathered together in The Theology of the Body and to his Apostolic Exhortation on the family, Familiaris Consortio.

A particular strength of the program is the vision of woman presented to men. This vision is heavily influenced by St. Maximillian Kolbe's contemplative insights into Our Lady's inseparable union with the Holy Spirit. The understanding of woman provided by this vision is credited with literally transforming men and their marriages.

Recognizing that Pope John Paul II has made the "contemplation of the face of Christ with Mary," an essential aspect of the new evangelization, the program seeks in a somewhat limited manner to introduce men to the Church's great treasury of contemplative theology. The writings of the saints as well as those of Fr. Marie Dominique Philippe, founder of the Brothers of St. John, one of the fastest growing contemplative orders in the Church, have proven effective in providing the theological depth lacking in many men's programs.

By harmonizing these "three wisdoms," the program has "opened vistas" and "made the faith come alive" for men in ways that would have been impossible given a more narrow focus. Men consistently consider the content to be the greatest strength of the program.
Seven Covenants
The path of conversion whereby men turn away from sin and turn towards God according to each of the three fundamental orientations takes concrete form in The Seven Covenants of That Man is You!

Covenant on Sexual Purity: "I will live in sexual purity according to the sixth and ninth commandments and I will take whatever action is necessary to safeguard sexual purity for myself, my spouse and my children."

Covenant on Financial Responsibility: "I will become financially responsible for myself and my family by giving God the first fruits of my labor, saving a portion of my earnings and eliminating all credit card debt."

Covenant to Reclaim Sunday as the Lord's Day: "I will reclaim Sunday as the Lord's Day by attending Mass together with my family and making the gift of that day to my family so that we may experience the superabundant joy of God together."

Covenant on Reading Scripture: "I will spend at least fifteen minutes a day gently reading Scripture and allowing God to speak to me. I will validate my insights through my spouse and/or spiritual guide as appropriate."

Covenant to Encounter God in the Home: "Seven times each day I will stop what I'm doing and praise God for all the gifts that He has given me, beginning with the gift of my spouse."

Covenant on Intimacy with Christ in the Eucharist: "In addition to receiving Christ in the
Eucharist on Sunday, I will receive Him in the Eucharist once per week in thanksgiving for all his gifts. If I am unable to receive Him in the Eucharist, I will at least stop to visit Him residing in the Tabernacle."

Covenant to Profoundly Receive God's Mercy: "I will receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation once each month or immediately upon committing a serious sin. I will manifest the merciful Father by gratuitously offering something to each member of my family at least once per week."
That Man is You! began in the summer of 2004 when a group of exceptional men in Houston, TX decided to pool their talents to do something wonderful for Catholic men all across America. After studying successful men's leadership programs from various Christian denominations and corporate America, they designed a 26 week interactive men's program combining the best research from science with the teachings of the Catholic faith and the wisdom of the saints to develop the vision of a man fully alive. Test programs were run in the Houston and Dallas/Ft. Worth areas, which were unqualified successes.

Responding to inquires from numerous parishes and dioceses, a plan was developed to bring That Man is You! to parishes across the nation. The theology was reviewed by leading theologians on marriage and the family. Promotional materials were professionally prepared. A host parish packet containing an abundance of supporting materials was prepared and presenter training workshops were organized. Finally, an interactive website was designed to bind individual programs together and to accommodate the busy lifestyles of modern men.
That Man is You! is a 26 week interactive, multimedia men's program divided into two 13 week "semesters" that follow the typical academic year. The Fall semester is dedicated to developing a vision of man fully alive while the Spring semester is dedicated to becoming "that man." The Spring semester includes an organized Lenten journey that participants make together.
The weekly meetings are designed to provide men with the opportunity to receive and apply relevant information to issues facing men today. The essential elements of the weekly program include:
  • Gathering over a Fellowship Meal: Men gather together over breakfast or dinner while light entertainment (sports highlights or bloopers) are projected onto a large screen in the background. The casual meal setting is designed to facilitate men's social interaction.
  • Transitional Music Video: Men transition from the casual meal to the heart of the program with the aid of specifically produced religious music videos containing images of our Catholic faith set against popular religious music.
  • Master of Ceremonies: The MC has the essential role of ensuring that the men are familiar and comfortable with the overall program structure and logistics as well as setting the tone of the individual sessions. He also helps guide the men in their continuing education efforts.
  • Presentation: The presentation utilizes an interactive, multimedia approach where a live presenter is supported through animated PowerPoint presentations and video clips from the original presentations in Houston. The combination of theological material, social science statistics and personal stories is designed to engage the men's mind in understanding the relationship between our faith, our personal lives and larger societal issues.
  • Small Group Discussion: The small groups provide the indispensable opportunity for men to form substantial bonds of fellowship which provide the necessary support to embrace a life of discipleship which is counter to the prevailing culture.

It is a 3-year program. The topics for the first year:

Week 1: The Need for Leadership

Week 2: A Society in Crisis

Week 3: The Family as the Foundation of Society

Week 4: The Image of God in Man

Week 5: Behold the Man

Week 6: Woman: The Masterpiece of Creation

Week 7: The Union of Man and Woman

Week 8: Satan's Attack on the Family

Week 9: A New Adam and a New Eve

Week 10: Marriage as the Return to Paradise

Week 11: The Temptation of Modern Man

Week 12: A Broken Covenant?

Week 13: The Passion of the Church

Objectives: Identify the four leadership roles of men. Identify Moral Leadership - man's union with God - as the foundation for all authentic leadership. Identify Satan's enduring attack on authentic leadership. Understand how Christ perfectly fulfilled the leadership roles of man and offers every man the opportunity to do so.

Becoming a Man after God's own Heart

Week 14: What Must I Do?

Week 15: I Will Turn the Hearts of Fathers

Week 16: Becoming a Man after God's own Heart

Week 17: The Temptations of Satan

Week 18: Penance: Conquering the Flesh

Week 19: Charity: Conquering the World

Week 20: Prayer: Overcoming the Devil

Week 21: Scripture: The Ascent of the Mind to God

Week 22: Eucharist: The Practice of the Presence of God

Week 23: Marriage: God Coming to the Soul

Week 24: Confession: The Triumph of Mercy

Week 25: Guideposts for Your Faith

Week 26: The Path to Life

Objectives: Identify the three fundamental orientations of each person and the means by which we encounter God according to these orientations. Identify the three fundamental temptations in the spiritual life and the means for overcoming them. Put into place a spiritual plan of life.

It would be a bit late to begin implementing this program this fall in a parish (they recommend beginning preparation by June of the previous year), but since the materials and presentations are available in audio and video formats, a small group of guys might be able to pull this off even starting this late, with a plan to then do a more full-scale version beginning the following year.


Celibacy in Context

Since I'm talking about my friend Fr. Maximos, I should mention an article he wrote for First Things some time ago. It is a searching examination of celibacy and its rootedness in one's baptismal vocation. He reminds us that a renewal of priestly celibacy will not come about without the support of an overall ecclesial culture of asceticism. In a paragraph that may sound strangely un-CatherineofSienaInstitute-ish, he says:
There is therefore something deeply tragic in the way the contemporary Church has gradually stripped itself of much of its traditional asceticism, leaving only a few craggy remnants of this vanished culture silhouetted against the sky. Of these lonely remains, surely the most incongruous is clerical celibacy. Until the Church restores the supporting superstructure of her ascetical tradition, clerical celibacy will remain a fundamentally meaningless and even dangerous relic of a past long gone...In short, the laity cannot justly complain that their priests do not keep the law of celibacy while at the same time demanding that they themselves be subject to no ascetic discipline. Until the laity begins to accept the need to fast, to be mindful of what we wear, how we speak, how we relate to each other-in short, until the laity accepts its baptismal vocation in all its radical other-worldliness-there is no hope that the clergy will find the strength to do so. Only a Church of mystics can realistically expect their clergy to be saints.

Again, to those familiar with the work of the Institute, the other-worldly vocation of the laity may sound like a misnomer. However, just as I think the Eastern Churches can benefit from examining the West's theology of the laity, the East can gently remind us, with its heavenly liturgy and demanding ascetism, that while the earthly city is the primary place of the laity's apostolic labors, the heavenly city is their final abode (domus).

Sunday, July 22, 2007

New Ecumenical Blog...

In the barren swath of desert that separates Los Angeles and Los Vegas is a community of Byzantine Rite Catholic monks, the monks of Holy Resurrection Monastery. I and the rest of the Dominican brothers in formation at St. Albert's Priory have had the pleasure of sharing a couple of academic years with a member of this monastery, Fr. Maximos Davies. Fr. Maximos lived with us at St. Albert's as he completed a degree at the Athenagoras Institute at the Graduate Theological Union. Recently, I also had the opportunity to do a week-long retreat with the rest of the community at Newberry Springs. I was moved by the community's commitment to the monastic life and their life of devotion and ascesis. Recently, they have started a blog dedicated to building ecumenical relations between the Eastern and Western Churches. Visited the blog here. In the meantime, here is Abbot Nicholas' opening post, describing the mission of the blog:

"Welcome to the latest ecumenical endeavour of Holy Resurrection Monastery. We have always been convinced that Eastern Catholic monastics have a special responsibility to work for the re-union of the Churches, especially those Churches with which they share their tradition of prayer, theological reflection and ascetic practices. Not only is this idea one we hold firmly, it is actually a demand made of us by our own Church, and made with special forcefulness by the late Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter, Orientale Lumen.
There are a number of monastic ventures around dedicated to building bridges between ecclesiasial communities and faiths. The Benedictine and Cistercian families in particular have institutionalized this work in such important organizations as the Dialogue Interreligieux Monastique and in the special vocation of the monastery of Chevetogne in Belgium. The monastic family of Holy Resurrection Monastery (including the sisterhood of Holy Theophany Monastery in Olympia, Washington) with the blessing of our hierarch, His Grace Bishop John Michael (Botean), and the encouragement of a number of other prelates both Catholic and Orthodox, is now beginning to embark on our own, more humble, version of these ministries.
Hence, The Anastasis Dialogue, a way to bring together Catholics and Orthodox, especially in the English-speaking world, to explore their common monastic heritage with a view to finding common ecumenical ground.
This blog is the first step in beginning this askesis or podvig as we see the work of ecumenical dialogue. For us, ecumenism is not an "apostolate" in the sense that it is simply a thing to do in order to support the inner religious life. Rather, it is a necessary and organic overflow of our internal life of prayer, work and fasting.
What we will do here, is gather our thoughts on the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, news from home and abroad and provide a place where all this can be digested and discussed by our wider community of friends. All this is designed to support the next stage in the work of this Anastasis Dialogue which is likely to include sponsorship of seminars and lectures, retreats and other work in partnership with such organizations as the Orientale Lumen Conferences, Society of St. John Chrysostom and so forth."

Catholic Life in China & Tibet

We have gotten a couple requests in the past week to translate the Called & Gifted workshop and materials into Chinese.

One such request was from a Chinese American Dominican who will be attending Making Disciples and four days later traveling to Hong Kong to join the Province of the Holy Rosary, which is entirely dedicated to missionary work.

I knew nothing about them so looked up their website and found this remarkable set of pictures of Catholic life in rural northern China and in Tibet.

It is the stories behind the pictures that are so moving and shed so much light on the realities lived by Catholics elsewhere.

This is a gathering of Catholics in a small village. They have being many years without a priest, but today Fr. Dang has come from the city of Kunming, more than 900 km. away, so the people from the village have spread the news around and everybody has come to the church, but the size of the crowd exceeds the capacity of the church, so many of the Christians have to attend Mass standing outside.

China has adopted the one child policy. This sight of brothers and sisters together is very seldom seen in the cities.

The Feast of Pentecost

See the whole slide show here. Whoever took this pictures has an artistic eye and a great love for the people.

There has been so much talk of "Catholic culture" around St. Blog's and the assumption is always that there is a single Catholic culture which is manifest nonsense.

There is one Catholic faith and as many Catholic cultures as there are Catholic peoples.

Every believer must attempt to integrate the universal faith into their own life setting - which means their own culture. And that means that there is a "cultural Catholicism" in China and Philippines and Brazil and Nigeria but these "cultural Catholicisms" are all different from one another and certainly from our version. The Chinese have a Catholic history and culture that is as old as that of Latin America but it isn't the same.

The industrialized west is not the world. The west is no longer synonymous with Christianity and our cultural debates are not the debates of the Church as a whole.

Look at these pictures and meditate for a moment on the cultural issues that these brothers and sisters wrestle with.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Pope Benedict Putting More Women in Top Jobs at Vatican

Via the Guardian:

"Pope Benedict is working on a plan to put more women in top jobs at the Vatican, his spokesman has disclosed.

Briefing journalists after visiting the Pope at his holiday retreat in the Alps, the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said the pontiff would give women "more space and more importance". At a debate late on Wednesday, the cardinal, who runs the Vatican bureaucracy, said changes would be introduced in an expected reshuffle of senior posts.

"We're drawing up the new appointments in the Vatican - everyone knows that - and in the context of the responsibilities of the women, there'll be posts that they take up", he said.

The top priority of Benedict's papacy is to tackle what Catholic leaders see as rampant secularisation in Europe. A key reason for this, in the view of many Vatican officials, is the disaffection of women who once formed the backbone of Catholic congregations."

Rocco over at Whispers has written about this last March: "that Benedict is intent to keep making good on his much burnished record of giving women the most collaborative place possible at the table of ecclesiastical administration.”

As I have noted before on ID, the issue at stake is governance and the laity, not just women.

Since I can never think in tidy politically correct categories, I have often been struck by the fact that the acrimonious debate over the ordination of women and feminism in general in the west has obscured and distorted several other critical discussions.

Like the fact that the debate over governance is not first and foremost a male-female issue. It is a ordained/non-ordained issue. And male cleric and non-ordained woman are not the only two categories at issue here. What about lay men?

Of the approximately 500 million Catholic men in the world, only 441,669 are ordained bishop, priests, or deacon. That's .0008833 %, folks. Only 9/100th of 1 % of all Catholic men are ordained. Yes, we ordain men but it doesn't therefore follow that the charisms, leadership and creativity of men, as a whole, have been honored and welcomed. (Of course, that also imply that simply changing the gender make-up of this tiny ordained minority would not mean that the charisms, leadership and creativity of women, as a whole, would have been honored and welcomed either.)

It has been my experience that the role of lay men is the least honored and appreciated one in the western Church today. The debate over feminism have made most western Catholics eager not to seem to be sexist. (This is clearly less true in cultures where women are regarded as inferior). In the west, because the image of the male cleric looms so large, there isn't a lot of room for another kind of strongly Catholic male image.

The debate over governance and leadership in the Church is not just, as it is so often portrayed, a battle of the sexes. It is most profoundly, a opportunity to consider the implications of the Church's teaching on the apostolic anointing of all the baptized (female and male), the insistence that the Church's primary identity is that of mission outward, and the integration of the “co-essential” (as Pope John Paul II put it) charismatic and institutional dimensions of the Church.

As we become clearer about the mission and role of the laity, it sheds new light on the ordained priesthood, whose entire purpose for existence is the fruition of the baptismal priesthood, and the larger issue of leadership as well. If Church’s primary mission is truly outward, not inward, that has huge implications for all forms of leadership, ordained or lay.

A CNS story from last March (which no longer has a working link) acknowledged the larger issue of the role of the laity with these final paragraphs:

"Some sources noted that while attention is often given to the men-women ratio at the Vatican another slow but significant shift has occurred in the number of lay employees in the Curia.

Laypeople now represent about 38 percent of employees in major curial agencies, numbering close to 300 people. Fifty years ago, half of the 12 Vatican congregations had no laypeople on their staffs; among the handful of laity who did work there at the time, none were women."

Pent-Up Baptism?

There's a noteworthy article in's Outlook on Christianity in Kerala: one of the largest Christian communities in India and one of the oldest in the world.

The title? "Pent-Up Baptism" How's that for evocative?

The bottom line sounds a great deal like the stories we hear from Latin America: the Pentecostals are coming and main-line Christians, especially Catholics are leaving for Pentecostal groups in great numbers.

"Catholic clergy estimates that such desertions, if unchecked, will earn the Pentecostal church more followers in Kerala than the mainstream ones by 2020."

The language is more colorful that we are used to seeing in stories on the same topic:

"frenzied alternatives", "crazed sects" BUT

there are also some useful observations.

Father Paul Parathazham, a sociology professor at the Papal Seminary in Pune, who surveyed "flock stealing/flock desertions" in 2002, says the Church should be "perturbed" by the phenomenon. His study located three reasons for the near-exodus: the absence of Christian fellowship in mainline churches, an inability to "experience" God and decreasing exposure to the scripture. The report prompted the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India to issue a set of guidelines—it conceded the symptom of the "unmet religious needs of the faithful".

The Conference felt the answer to the problem was making prayers more spontaneous, appealing and personalised. The Catholic church has also sought initiation of the bcc—Basic Christian Community—movement through family units for closer interaction.

If a section of the clergy sneers at migrations, Fr Parathazham's survey reveals that 83 per cent left in times of personal crisis when they were deprived of emotional support—or lack of pastoral care.

Note: "unmet religious needs of the faithful"

Note the list: lack of fellowship, little "experience" of God, decreasing exposure to Scripture, Lack of emotional support and pastoral care during crisis.

Sounding familiar?

Now, look again at the assumptions behind the Nameless Lay Group. It is nearly a perfect match.

It isn't rocket science. The bishops in Latin American have come to nearly identical conclusions. In an era where lay people around the globe have attractive and readily available religious and spiritual alternatives to Catholicism, millions won't stay or come back unless they experience the faith as personal, living, and life changing.

"You're God. You Can Do Anything"

There is a story on the front page of the Seattle Times today that has moved the city: 11 year old Gloria Strauss is in the last stages of cancer and a local reporter has been following the story of her and her devoutly Catholic family. Gloria's dad supports the whole clan on his salary as a coach at a local Catholic high school. His wife has MS. They have 7 children.

This is the 5th article in a series on Gloria. In a city famous for its antipathy to traditional faith, especially orthodox Christianity, the gospel is being preached via the media in a way that is moving thousands.

Since further treatment has been declared impossible, the family has turned to their faith. A huge support network has developed around the family. Prayer groups for Gloria meet every night of the week.

TOM CURRAN, A STRAUSS FAMILY FRIEND, has been directing a ministry to Catholics for almost two decades. For the past few weeks, he and his wife, Kari, have held a Tuesday-night prayer session about Gloria at their home. He visits the Strausses often to pray with them. In some ways, he is the family's spiritual adviser, but he refuses any credit.

Curran encounters a common question while praying for Gloria with others: What do you pray for?

He says people fear they are praying wrong. They wonder if they are good enough to be asking for a miracle. Curran explains the idea behind praying for Gloria.

"You're asking for Jesus to come close to this situation and to be who he is," Curran says. "You're saying, 'I want you, Jesus. Come close. Be who you are. And bring salvation.' That's the first miracle. When we say yes to Jesus and we come and we pray, in some mysterious way, God uses that.

"I pray with great confidence. I don't come seeking some thing. I come seeking someone."

It's a long article but be sure and read it to the end.

As the reporter, Jerry Brewer, puts it on his blog:

Gloria V is ready to go. I'm really excited about it now because I had to change the ending. This was -- and in many ways, still is -- the saddest story of the five, but Gloria does something at the end that leaves plenty of hope. That's all I'll say about it right now.

The story could've run as early as Thursday, but some other news events pushed it back a few days. At first, I was disappointed about that, but now I see why. If the story had been in the paper before Gloria's hopeful moment, it would've left everyone sad and even bitter. Now you should marvel at the girl's strength.

If you're not religious, you will say it's totally random, pure luck, that the story got moved back to allow for this development.

But if you are religious, you will say that God doesn't want the family or readers to give up on Gloria, so the story got delayed and allowed time for God to send a message.

Throughout this series, I've never forced beliefs on anyone. My job is to simply explain the Strausses' Catholicism and how it influences their lives. I owe that balance to readers, even though it means suppressing my personal Christian beliefs.

So take your pick on luck versus God's message. I will say, however, that one sounds a lot more hopeful than the other.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Unthinkable is Happening in Rwanda Once More: Forgiveness

Take a look at the trailer of this moving documentary in the making As We Forgive Those about a movement in Rwanda to reintegrate 40,000 killers into society who confessed to murders during the genocide.

Faced with the harsh reality that full justice will never be served, Rwanda’s response, both politically and socially, has been to promote reconciliation. In response to the enormous backlog of genocide court cases still awaiting trial in 2003, the government began releasing from prison thousands of genocide perpetrators who had confessed to their crimes and served a minimum sentence. Consequently, these ex-prisoners were sent back to the very communities where they murdered to await a less formal, community trial known as the ‘gacaca‘ court.

After discovering the truth of their loved ones’ murder through the gacaca process, a growing number of genocide survivors are releasing their impulse to seek just punishment and seek instead reconciliation. While most victims still refuse to associate with the murderers, a few are choosing not only to forgive, but also to befriend the people who slaughtered their families.

Why are survivors who lost entire families willing to forgive and befriend those who destroyed their lives? Why are once-militant Hutus who brutally murdered their neighbors now repenting of their crimes? How does the church, which failed at moral leadership during the genocide, fit into the process of reconciliation today? In a world that exalts “justice for all,” what does the concept of radical forgiveness say about the human capacity to forgive and its need for redemption? And what does it mean for the restoration and future of Rwanda? As We Forgive Those explores these questions through the lives of three genocide survivors and their encounters with the men who once sought to wipe them out.

In Rwanda, ex-prisoners are building houses for the families of the ones they killed as part of reparation and forgiveness.

"Forgiveness is not human. It's divine."

The "I Stayed Up all Night to Read Harry Potter Brunch"

is being held at my local library branch in Colorado Springs starting at 10 am on Saturday so that readers who bought their copy at Barnes & Nobles at midnight can talk to other insomniacs. Just thought you'd want to know.

I do like my library. Its a truly civilized place with a large iris garden out front, a lovely little espresso and sandwich cafe inside, a great used bookstore where I can pick up disposables for the next airport, and comfy chairs where you can drink your latte and read your book or contemplate the full-on view of the Rockies through the floor to ceiling windows.

What Potter mania is planned in your neck of the woods?

Do you think Harry lives or dies?

It Is Normal . . .

In the beginning, before the Institute, there was . . .the Nameless Lay Group

In the fall of 1993, a group of young adult friends in Seattle (including me, "the other Sherry" and her husband and Mark Shea among others) got together to create a support group for lay Catholics that we called the "Nameless Lay Group" because we couldn't think of a good name. Over time we became attached to being Nameless. The NLG was the most powerful and concrete experience of a Christian community centered around discipleship that any of us have experienced as Catholics.

We'll be drawing upon that experience among others during the up-coming day on Building Christian Community that the Institute is sponsoring August 31 in Colorado Springs. Many of the original NLG gang will be in attendance.

Anyway, Sherry just found and sent to me last night a copy of our initial founding vision or as we knew it, the "It is Normals". What you do think?

Our Vision:
That we would be a Catholic community that nurtures the faith and gifts of lay Catholics, enabling them to become effective, committed disciples of Jesus Christ who have discerned and are living out their God-given mission in life.

Our Values:

1. It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to have a living, growing, love relationship with God.

2. It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to be excited Christian activists.

3. It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to be knowledgeable about their faith, the Scriptures, the doctrinal and moral teachings of the church, and the history of the Church.

4. It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to know what their charisms of service are and to be using them effectively in the fulfillment of their vocation or call in life.

5. It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to know that they have a vocation/mission in life (primarily in the secular world) given to them by God. It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to be actively engaged in discerning and living this vocation.

6. It is NORMAL for lay Catholics to have the fellowship of other committed lay Catholics available to them, to encourage, nurture, and discern as they attempt to follow Jesus.

7. It is NORMAL for the local parish to function consciously as a house of formation for lay Catholics which enables and empowers lay Catholics to do #1-6 above.

Formation as Ecumenism

Fr. Gregory Jensen, over at Koinonia, posted this most intriguing proposal while I was on the road last weekend:

In the past several weeks I've had conversations with both Roman Catholics and Evangelical Christians about the possibility of working collaboratively with them. Stated broadly, the goal of these projects would be for each partner to help the other in their respective spiritual formation ministry. So for example, Orthodox Christians would come together with Evangelical Christians and each other to the other their gifts and insights to help strength the other's pastoral care; so rather then proselytizing, we want to help each other minister more effectively to their own members. Why would we do this?

The awfully little secret in the Christian world is that surprising few Christians--of whatever tradition--are intentional disciples of Jesus Christ. This is not to say that people aren't convinced of the integrity or truthfulness of our own tradition's understanding of the Gospel. In fact, I think the less committed I am to being a disciple of Jesus Christ, the more likely I am to be very committed to my tradition.

We all know, among the Orthodox, fervent defenders of Holy Tradition and all things Eastern against all things Western, Protestant and Roman; among the Catholics we have strident proponents of papal infallibility and universal jurisdiction; among Evangelical Christians, we have aggressive soul winners who don't even bother to learn your name before they "share" the Gospel. Unfortunately, many of the loudest and most active among us have not, as the old song says, "decided to follow Jesus." Instead, we have allowed substituted a tradition, an institution, a program, for a living relationship with Jesus Christ.

In my informal conversations with people, this is a fairly widespread phenomenon that cuts across not only traditional and denominational lines, but also is seen in clergy and lay leaders alike. Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and Evangelical Christian congregations are filled with that most curious of creatures, the professing, even active, Christian (whether a lay person or a member of the clergy) who has never been evangelized, much less reconciled, to Jesus Christ.

As I have said before in these essays, I think that formal, theological ecumenical dialog is essential. But, and again as I've said before, the vast majority of Christians have neither the competency, nor the authority, to engage in such discussions.

Instead of focusing of these theological and dogmatic issues, the proposed projects reflect a pastoral mode of ecumenical dialog. What can we learn from other Christian traditions that will serve the pastoral care of the people that Christ has entrusted to our care. What can I as an Orthodox Christian learn from Roman Catholics and Evangelical Christians to make me a more effective priest? What can I learn from my Roman Catholic and Evangelical Christian brothers and sisters, to help me bring myself and other Orthodox Christians into an intimate, life-giving and dynamic (in the sense of growing, not emotionally charged) relationship with Jesus Christ? And, in all humility, what can I as an Orthodox Christian and a priest offer in return?

I think that Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics and Evangelical Christians need to see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes because of our respective historical and doctrinal commitments, there are painful divisions among us that undermine the very unity we might experience personally. So until our differences are resolved we must bear the pain of these divisions precisely because we are called by Christ not only to respect not only each others' consciences, but the consciences of the different Christian communities within which we stand.

At the same time, we can, and should, look to find the areas where our personal and communal consciences overlap. It may be a very small area. We might be able to have only a brief conversation or offer only minimal suggestions or assistance to one and other. But so what? As St Dionysius the Aeropagite says somewhere, Christians are all vessels of difference sizes, but whatever the size of our own vessel, we are filled to overflowing with divine love.

As I tell my own spiritual children, this means that some of us our oceans of divine love, others lakes or swimming pools. Me? I'm a quarter teaspoon--but that's okay, because some time you need a quarter teaspoon. Try and bake a cake with only a swimming pool to measure out the ingredients.

Granted very little may come of these common projects--indeed beyond the idea, nothing may come at all. But in Christ, very little, or even nothing at all, can become an encounter with God's grace.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What Have You Seen God Do Lately?

A life transformed by Christ is a compelling witness.

From The Pursuit of God in the Company of Friends I am currently reading in preparation for our Building Intentional Community Day on August 31.

An excellent observation:

". . .if we don't have current stories of God's goodness to us, of struggles we have faced or answers to prayer, it may be that our relationship with God was more alive in the past that it is in the present."

My Growing Tuscan Garden . . .

Here's a snapshot that I took the other day of my growing garden. I thought you'd like to see how it was shaping up.

Oops - wrong picture.

I guess it is the Vatican Gardens.

But what you see is what my garden is becoming in spirit.

Fellowship Across Boundaries

Yesterday was a day in which I got to experience the breadth of global Christianity again.

First of all, I had another long talk with another Orthodox priest about Called & Gifted and Making Disciples and their possible usefulness within an Orthodox congregation. Although I tried to be very clear that both these formation events were written for Catholics and reflect Catholic teaching and experience, he was still very intrigued and felt that there was a lot of resonance between Catholic and Orthodox experience and theology in this area. So we could have several Orthodox priests and some of their students and parishioners attend a Called & Gifted workshop this fall.

Then I had two hours with my friend Natali and she was telling me of stories she was hearing from Independent/Apostolic missionaries and asking my help in putting some of their practices in perspective. Natali also told me of the Turkish Christians whose murder made the news recently.

Both my conversational partners were intentional disciples and it is intentional discipleship that drew us together and fueled our conversations.

Our ecclesiology and experience is vastly different (I had to explain to Natali the whole concept of a cloistered Carmelite community, and the call to contemplation and the long process of discernment that precedes final vows. She was open but clearly puzzled. There was no category for this in her experience.)

But Christ - the Lord, source and summit - was the unquestioned center for all of us and that makes true fellowship possible despite our unquestioned and important theological and experiential differences.

The Cafeteria is Not Closed . . And the Line is Snaking Around the Block

I got back from Chicago late Sunday night only to discover that Intentional Disciples and my name had been bandied about on several blogs in response to the criticisms of one garrolous individual who seems to have only one topic: the corrupting influence of evangelical converts upon Catholic tradition.

I wouldn't normally pay that much attention to the ramblings of one individual except for this: She is being given a platform in respectable circles. She is currently scheduled to give a presentation to the annual conference of a national liturgical society whose founder currently heads up the Liturgical Institute at the Archdiocese of Chicago. The topic? “Finding Jesus Christ in Prayer, in the Liturgy, in the Church: Catholic Liturgy and the Problem of Protestant Evangelical Converts”.

Hmmm . . . What will we do with a problem like Maria?

Strangly enough, when I met Cardinal George last summer in Chicago (where we were both speaking at the same theological symposium on the parish), he didn't seem to be bothered by my fundie past. As Mark Shea and I walked with him over to the symposium's venue, I described myself as "the survivor of three RCIA's and graduate of none" and the Cardinal roared with laughter. Apparently, he didn’t regard Mark and I as "problems". Nor did he make any attempt to stop us from speaking or from having our presentations published this summer in a national theological journal published in his archdiocese for pastoral leaders.

This woman’s choice of topic is made more troublesome by the fact that she has recently explicitly stated in considerable detail online that she does not hold Protestants in general and evangelicals and Pentecostals in particular, to be real Christians because they lack the Eucharist and the hierarchy.

I have already banned her from commenting on ID at least four times because she would not stop implying or asserting that people who disagreed with her weren’t real Christians and should leave the Church. Now I realize that these comments were not just said in the heat of the moment. That this directly contradicts reams of Church teaching at the higest level of authority apparently doesn’t give her any pause at all.

From her perspective, we do have a problem. Because an average of 160,000 adults have entered the American Catholic Church every year for the past 12 years. That's nigh on 2 million converts and a significant number hail from an evangelical background. We are the only part of the global church that faces this particular situation. Half of these adults were "Christians" coming into full communion, who were, like myself, not conditionally re-baptized upon being received Of course, if we were not true Christians, that would mean our previous baptisms were not valid, and that none of the sacraments we have received since are valid either.

I suppose that if you believed this, the good news would be that so many new "Catholics" are gone within a year. I had always thought this a failure of evangelization, catechesis, and community but what if I'm wrong? What if what looks like apparent failure is actually a rear-guard action by the Holy Spirit, shielding the Church from the consequences of not wiping the mental and spiritual hard drives of converts and installing the latest version of Traditional Catholic 196.2 before letting them loose within the Church? Enough to make one pause, no?

But this situation is only one instance of a reality that is growing. The polarization of the American church had progressed to the point that in the name of a hermeneutic of “continuity”, some Catholics, who are still in official communion, are advocating discontinuity of the most explicit kind. “Catholic identity” = only that which is unique to Catholics and not what that we hold in common with other Christians and a particular reading of “Catholic culture” is held to trump formally defined Catholic doctrine without apology.

As I have noted before on this blog, I attended a meeting last year with a group of orthodox theologians, scholars, and pastors with doctorates, and listened to one very conservative scholar (who was not a theologian himself but very influential man who forms priests) vehemently assert that there was no such thing as "the charismatic dimension of the church". I pointed out that Pope John Paul II had talked about the charismatic dimension of the church and its "co-essential nature" with the institutional several times in major addresses. He just shook his head, unimpressed by mere papal teaching. (This exact same point has been repeated by Pope Benedict)

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

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

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

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

Then he insisted that the concept of the "People of God" (a phrase that occurs 41 times in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 106 times in the documents of the Council and 650 times in magisterial teaching since the early 60's.) was no longer valid, having been completely replaced and subsumed by the theology of "communio".
The other men in the group tried gently and then humorously to take issue with him but he was adamant. Privately, several told me later that the whole thing was absurd and inexplicable.

I must admit that I was completely floored. I had just met my first highly placed "conservative" dissenter who wasn't even attempting to make an argument for his assertions. He wasn't thinking critically at all. He was emoting using theological categories. It was as though he was trying, by sheer force of will, to erase large portions of the past 45 years of Church teaching and history.

A truly Catholic faithfulness and a true "hermeneutic of continuity" demands more of us: that we maintain a fundamental trust that the Holy Spirit have never ceased to guide the Church in matters of doctrine - in 1950 and in 1980.

It is about remaining open and grateful for the whole Tradition of the Church and its legitimate development - pre and post Vatican II. True continuity demands that we not try to use one part of the Church's teaching to suppress or bludgeon another part into oblivion in defense of our pet theories or personal preferences. To be faithful, we must embrace Church teaching on ecumenism and the liturgy, evangelization and social teaching.

Faithfulness demands a basic attitude of humility and docility. What is docility?
According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia: Docility is “ readiness to learn from others.” . . When one so perfects nature as to learn willingly from the more experienced, docility becomes part of prudence. In the relations of human beings with God, all are as children, docile by grace to His revelation received through Holy Church.

Alas, some of the children have run away from home. Now some Catholics, in the name of reasserting Catholic identity and culture, have abandoned any pretense of docility and adopted what can only be described as a thoroughly Protestant view of the Church’s teaching. The cafeteria is not only not closed, the line to get in is snaking around the block. Only the menu items have changed.

And those who persist in cultivating a basic stance of docility, of making a good faith effort to be open to the whole of Church teaching and to think with the Church across American ideological divides are being dismissed as openly deluded, duped, culturally corrupt, and the ultimate insult these days: “Protestantized.” Even when most of us are cradle Catholics and have never been anything else.

If that is the new definition of delusion, count me in. Here at Intentional Disciples and the Catherine of Siena Institute, we will continue to make every effort to think and teach with the Church and to foster faith and hope in revelation and that it is living and speaks to the hearts of 21st century men and women.

Our area of focus will continue to be limited – the theology, evangelization, mission, gifts, vocations, and formation of the laity (so don’t expect posts on liturgy anytime soon) but in this area, we will do our best to think deeply, expectantly, and creatively, to pray faithfully, and to teach and share the riches of the Tradition with joy and confidence.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Director of Development Job Available

St. Patrick Catholic School (Spokane, Washington) is seeking a dynamically orthodox Director of Development to help us advance the mission of Catholic education in full communion with the Church. Working with the Principal, Pastor, and School Advisory Council, the Director will facilitate the planning, execution, and evaluation of all fundraising, public relations, and marketing efforts. Competitive salary and benefits commensurate with experience. Interested applicants may send cover letter and resume to Dorothy Gallagher ( or 5021 N. Nelson St., Spokane, WA 99217 Attention: Development Search Team

Send resumes or inquiries to:

This job advert comes to us via St. Patrick's where their very sharp, high energy, and creative pastor has been working with us and where some very exciting things have been happening over the past several years.

Spokane is a lovely smallish city (that feels more cosmopolitan than its size because it is a regional center) in a lovely place. The diocese has emerged from bankruptcy and is moving beyond it. If development work and marketing is your thing, check it out.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Muslims Who Become Christian and the Price They Pay

Fascinating and disturbing article with the first actual statistics I've seen on the phenomena of Muslims becoming Christians around the world and the continued difficulties they face - even as residents or citizens of the US.

Julia Duin writes in the New York Times (July 10) via

Muslims Who Convert To Christianity and The Price They Pay
Daring Leaps of Faith

By Julia Duin
Religion writer
The Washington Times
July 10, 2007

Having just come out of church, they were at an indoor cafe, conversing about former Muslims they knew who were now Christians. Some married into the faith. Some of the converts no longer believed in the Koran. Others said they had had visions or dreams of Jesus Christ. And others felt the Christian message of God becoming a man was more compelling than their faith. These converts face all kinds of dangers for having left Islam: ostracism from family members and friends, kidnappings and even death threats.

"Most of the people who come here start to question the Koran," one of the Egyptians said. "They can read sources not available in our countries, especially sources in Arabic." The government of Saudi Arabia, for example, blocks thousands of Web sites through its Internet Services Unit in Riyadh, including anything criticizing Islam. A Harvard University study conducted in May showed that out of 2,038 sites banned by the Saudis, 250 were religious.

In the West, seekers who've never heard a serious debate on Islam can click on, and Then there's, a chat site featuring discussions in various languages on a wide range of topics. Some former Muslims enter these chat rooms with the intent to convert Arabic speakers to Christianity, including "Sam Ash," a New Jersey hairdresser.

"I ask them to prove to me that Islam is the way to God," he said. "Jesus said He is the way, the truth and the life. If you can show I have eternal life through Muhammad, I'll become a Muslim this moment."

There is no lack of people who wish to challenge him, which is why he will not divulge his real name.

"I've been hacked" into, he said, "and you should see the viruses people send me."

Most of these converts keep their new affiliation secret, as Islam considers those who leave the faith to be apostates. According to Islamic law as practiced in countries such as Iran, Sudan, Pakistan and in northern regions of Nigeria, the penalty for changing one's religion is execution. The U.S. State Department has documented numerous instances of religious persecution overseas against Muslim converts to Christianity. What is not so well known are the threats against such converts in the United States.

Some have simply been shunned by their families. Others have been kidnapped by family members and friends, and put on a plane back home. All are reluctant to ask for protection from U.S. law enforcement, especially those converts with Arabic surnames who are leery of getting their names on a U.S. police report. However, there are no known instances of converts from Islam to Christianity who have been killed in the United States for their decision to leave their faith.

Most established Christian denominations are unaware of the situation, as converts attend Bible study groups in their own language or small hidden churches that appear on no denominational radar. No academic research has been done on such converts. The closest figures are those by David Barrett, co-author of the World Christian Encyclopedia, who estimates that within U.S. borders, 50,000 Christians per year turn to Islam while 20,000 Muslims adopt Christianity. Befriending the latter, the men say, is a dicey proposition.

"It's written in their books," one said. "You cannot be a friend with unbelievers."

'Christ in the Koran'

The Rev. Esper Ajaj, the Syrian-born pastor of Washington Arabic Baptist Church at 4605 Massachusetts Ave. NW in the District, concedes that there are dangers to working with Muslims. Situated within walking distance of American University, he gets a fair amount of seekers at his door.

"They want to ask questions," he said. "Sometimes they come to pray here. Then they have a cup of coffee, and I talk to them. Then I discuss the greatness of Christ in the Koran. "We've seen more Muslims in [the 1990s] become Christians more than any time in history. If they are open-minded, it is easy. If they are closed-minded, it is not."

He is writing a book tentatively titled, "Difficult Questions a Muslim Asks" but confesses that "I don't know if I'll put my name on it."

"Look at Salman Rushdie," he said, referring to the Muslim author from India whose 1988 book "The Satanic Verses" earned him a death warrant from Pers ian mullahs.

"One guy called my wife and said, 'Let Esper die.' They could give a person $1,000 and shoot me, and no one would know."

Mr. Ajaj said Christianity is not logical to a Muslim mind that cannot fathom worshipping someone who was ridiculed, then killed. Muslims are divided on whether Jesus even died, and the Koran said Jesus was snatched up to heaven by God before the Crucifixion. Some Muslim commentators think Judas Iscariot or Simon of Cyrene died in His place, and none believe He rose from the dead.

The Rev. Hisham Kamel, pastor of the Arabic Evangelical Church in Temple City, Calif., said the certainty of heaven is what draws Muslims to risk losing family and friends when they accept Christ.

"In Islam, the only way they know they'll get to heaven is if they take part in jihad," he said. But there is a downside of working with converts, said the Rev. Charles Farag of Trinity Arabic Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. Two years ago, he gave one convert, who showed up at his door with a hard-luck story, one of his favorite cars, a 1994 black Chrysler New Yorker. The convert totaled the car the next day, then showed up back at the church, saying someone had tried to run him off the road.

"Sometimes people lie so they can apply for religious asylum," Mr. Farag said. "Then, after they receive help from you, you never hear from them again." The Immigration and Naturalization Service refused to provide details on religious asylum requests.

Sometimes even offering sympathy to a convert brings opposition. One Washington area pastor asked not to be named because of a nearby mosque that has been scrutinizing him. "I have seven Muslims who have converted," he said. "I do not want any trouble."

Ann Buwalda, an immigration lawyer for Just Law International in Fairfax, sa id she's been approached by Pakistani converts who are refugees. One man, "Masih," was working at a retail store in Northern Virginia, she said, when a Muslim co-worker from Pakistan noticed he was wearing a cross. The man asked Masih why he was wearing it.

"I am Christian," said Masih. The Muslim co-worker became angry, called him derogatory names in their native language, shoved him in a hallway and thereafter tried to get him fired and threatened him after work one night.

"He told the security guards at the retail store, so the employer has separated the two," Ms. Buwalda said.

"I worry about these people. I have given him a cell phone so he can call 911 if these guys stalk him. He has informally told police about it but filed no report" because, she adds, most refugees view American law enforcement in the same light as police from their own countries: people to be avoided at all costs.

She tells of another young female convert who wears a cross and who was stalked by a Muslim Pakistani taxi driver in the retail store where she works. Yet another Pakistani woman who converted to Christianity was threatened with death by Pakistani neighbors. "That kind of stuff, it's frightening when it happens," Ms. Buwalda said.

Victor Gill, a Pakistani immigrant who lives in Philadelphia and who leads a ministry called Christian Voice of Pakistan, said converts are regularly harassed in the United States. "The threat is real," he said. "They think they are doing something to earn credit with God when they kill Christians. When John Walker Lindh converted to Islam, his family supported him. But not so for the converts here. The Koran said people who leave Islam must be killed."

Killing converts

Actually, that instruction is in the Hadith, a collection of the sayings of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. It has been enforced in varying ways. Female converts are usually imprisoned in a room - for months or years - as a sort of psychological torture until they recant. As for the men, all the traditional schools of Shariah (Islamic) law stipulate that "apostates" - those who leave their faith - must die. But before they die, they lose all civil liberties. Their children are taken away, their marriage is dissolved, they lose their family inheritance and they cannot be buried in a Muslim graveyard.

One dissident to this traditional interpretation of the Hadith is Taha Jabir Alawani, president of the Graduate School for Islamic Social Sciences in Leesburg, Va. He said the apostate rule was formed in the early seventh century, when leaving one's religion was seen as a traitorous act.

"Mine is a minority opinion," he said. "There's a certain hadith [verse] that said if anyone changes his or her religion, he deserves to be killed. In my research, I found that was linked to some people who were trying to penetrate the Muslim community at the time in Medina. They came from Jewish or pagan communities, and announced they had become Muslims. Then after a few days, they announced they had found this religion to be very bad and they had decided to go back to their religions: Judaism, paganism, whatever.

"The Prophet was trying to stop that kind of conspiracy so he said that if anyone changes from the religion he has adopted, we will kill him. Islamic jurists [ scholars] have not paid attention to [the exceptional nature] of that event. They have generalized that hadith to say if anyone practices apostasy, we should kill him."

Not only has the Hadith been misunderstood, Mr. Alawani said, but the famous Koranic command that there is "no compulsion" in the choice of one's religion has been ignored.

"Everyone has the full right to choose his or her religion," he said. "No one should interfere with that." He is writing a book on the topic but jokes that it should never be released in countries where Islamic law is in full force.

"I should stay away from Pakistan and other places, or I would lose my neck," he said. "Some people living in America even, they don't like those kind of opinions. They will say: 'Don't listen to him. He is trying to Americanize Islam.'"

Some Muslims who convert to Christianity in this country are ordered home immediately, said Samy Tanagho, an Egyptian evangelist associated with Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Calif.

"Last year we had one of the princesses from the Saudi royal family who came with her mother who was seeking medical treatment," he said. "I led her to Christ. It was a huge problem with her family.

"Her faith was genuine. We tried to help her and even contacted Congress to try to protect her. All of a sudden, her family sent a limousine to where she was living and they took her away. She didn't have much support here from Christians, and her family had cut off all financial support."

A California lawyer, who asked to remain unnamed for safety reasons, confirmed this account, adding that a security firm hired by the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles nabbed the woman under the pretext of protecting the royal family.

"Religion and conversion and the royal family; those are the hottest buttons you can push," he said. A call by this newspaper to the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles asking for comment was not returned.

"Another convert I know here who is Lebanese, his family threatened to kill him," Mr. Tanagho said. Hence, he added, when he baptized a Persian woman a few years ago, she asked that her baptism be kept secret.

"Egyptians and Iranians show some of the greatest interest" in Christianity, he said. "They've seen the ugly side of Islam."

Iranians 'feel free'

Unlike the aforementioned Pakistanis, Egyptians, Saudi Arabians and Syrians, Iranian converts reported the fewest repercussions for their faith.

"I've seen some people who've come from Iran to the United States to persecute, if not kill, in order to bring back their relatives to Islam," said Kris Tedford, a Farsi-speaking American who pastors the Iranian Church of Eternal Life in Oakton. "That's not the general rule, though. More people tend to feel freer here."

"Of all the Muslim nations, Iranians are the most receptive to the Gospel of Jesus Christ," said Abe Ghaffari of Iranian Christians International in Colorado Springs, Colo. "They've been so well exposed to the Islamic republican government in Iran and they have a lot of disillusionment with life there and the economy."

He guesses that 7,000 evangelical Christian Iranians live in this country, mostly in California.

"There was one case of an Iranian who became a Christian in New York," he said. "His wife, a Muslim, reported this to their families in Iran. The next thing, the father put pressure on him to return to Islam and even had an imam in New York call him and try to pressure and intimidate him.

"He has applied for asylum here because he knows he can't return to Iran and be safe there. Under the Islamic law, he'd be severely punished and if he persisted in his Christian faith, he'd probably die.

"People here are in danger, including from family members in the United States, who shun them, disown them and deprive them of any inheritance. And their family members still back in Iran get used as hostages."

Mina Nevisa, an Iranian convert who lives in the Los Angeles area, has not seen her family since she and her husband fled the country in 1984. She had just started attending an underground church in Tehran with her 28-year-old female cousin when a police raid on the home of the pastor revealed a directory with a listing of names of secret converts to Christianity.

The cousin was arrested on charges of apostasy and taken to the notorious Evin prison, where she was raped, tortured and then killed by a firing squad. The pastor was also killed. Mrs. Nevisa and her husband fled first to Turkey, then to Spain and then Sweden. While in Sweden, she said, she got threatening letters from the Iranian government. She said she also received threatening phone calls.

The couple fled here in 1998, settling in Northern Virginia and setting up an evangelistic ministry geared toward Muslims. In 1999, she published a book: "Don't Keep Me Silent: One Woman's Escape from the Chains of Islam."

The threatening calls started up again. This past January, Mrs. Nevisa said she was alone at home when a caller informed her he knew her husband was out of town.

"Don't you know we know your schedule?" the caller asked. The couple decided to re-establish their ministry in Southern California, but their Web site leaves only e-mail addresses and post office box numbers with which to find them.

"We got a letter this past Christmas saying 'die' in English," she said. "It's not only the Iranian government that wants to hurt you; it's fanatic individuals."

Muslim Background Believers

At Millersville University, a small college in the gentle hills just southwest of Lancaster, Pa., several hundred Arabic-speaking Christians were having their annual conference.

Several called themselves MBBs: Muslim Background Believers. MBBs are former Muslims who become Christians.

One Jordanian who refused to have his photo taken - "Someone published my picture before and there was trouble" - went by the assumed name of Maxwell Mohammed.

"I go out of my way to find MBBs across the country," he said. "They have no one to talk to. Last week I got a call from New York, an Iranian couple. His family had cast him off because he had become a Christian."

Mr. Mohammed, 53, who said his family has disowned him as well, said Muslim groups meet all over northern New Jersey but in numbers of 10 to 20 to escape detection.

"These MBBs have unique problems," he said. "They become family-less and jobless. I help these people with money, jobs and visa problems. It's hard for these people to find mates as well. Even other Christians wonder if they'll go back to Islam.

"They need a family. It's like they carry a cross their whole life. My own mother said to me: 'Your father is dead and you, too.' If you convert, you are given three days to come back. If you do not, blood is shed."

He added: "It is not easy to minister to Muslims. They are good people who love and revere God. I was one of them, and if it weren't for a faithful Christian who loved me for three years, I wouldn't have seen the light of salvation through Jesus Christ."

Zechariah Ananni, a Lebanese who converted to Christianity in 1975 after hearing an American missionary preach on the streets of Beirut, was also at the conference. Convinced that his life was in danger, he emigrated first to Detroit, then to Windsor, Canada, where he spends his time trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. His wife is so afraid for their lives, she has fled back to Beirut, lea ving him with two young daughters.

A Moroccan at the conference said his married daughters were threatened by their Muslim husbands with divorce if they so much as talked to him about his conversion to Christianity. A Palestinian woman told of how her father tore her New Testament in half when he learned she had converted.

"Noor," a woman from Algeria who was converted through an Arabic-language service at Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, said her husband divorced her soon afterward. A court in Algiers awarded him custody of their two sons. She retains custody of a daughter. "He still bothers her a lot," Noor said. "He tells my daughter I am an unbeliever, and I am going to hell."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Got Perfection?

The other day my friend, Daniel, was talking to me about Jesus' admonition to his disciples to "be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Mt 5:48) It's one of those passages that's easy to file away in my mind as impossible to achieve (and thus not worth striving toward), or to interpret in such a way as to diminish the challenge. So I can try to understand it as the ancient Greeks understood perfection, which, as I recall from seminary, was for an object to be used in the way it was intended to be used. So, for example, my pen is perfect when I'm using it to write with. In that sense, perfection is doing that which God made me to do.

That means, of course, that discernment is critical. I have to discern my gifts, talents and skills. I have to discern what issues in the world today engage my heart and mind and don't let me go. I have to pay attention to the feedback I get from other people, as well as the input that the Lord is offering me in the scriptures and his Church's teaching.

But even in that understanding of perfection I cannot escape what is, I believe, at the root of the command of Jesus, and that is spiritual perfection. After all, the Father, while the Creator of all that is, including all matter, is not himself material. Ultimately, doing what God made me to do means doing God's will in all things.

Daniel mused, "Doesn't the fact that Jesus command us to be perfect mean that it must be possible? Not on our own, of course, but with his grace? And if it's possible, doesn't that mean that I have to seek after that perfection every moment of every day? And how can that happen unless I'm talking to him throughout my day, before and during every activity, every conversation?"

He began to speculate how often an examen of conscience might be needed throughout the day, and would it be possible to be perfect through mid-morning, or midday, even.

It's sad how easily I can dismiss the hard sayings of Jesus. Yet what am I going to say when I face him at my judgment? "Oh, I thought you were exaggerating! I knew it wasn't possible, so I didn't even bother trying." To dismiss the call to perfection is to deny the efficacy of sanctifying grace, which we are ordinarily offered through the sacraments. For me to not even strive for perfection is to say to God, "You're not powerful enough to help me overcome my sinfulness. You can't make me a new creation, steady my spirit, or turn my stony heart into a natural heart." Sure, alone I can't do it on my own, but what might be possible for God? The angel Gabriel tells Mary "nothing will be impossible for God" (Lk 1:37), and Jesus echoes that sentiment in saying, "all things are possible for God." (Mk 10:27)

It's tragic how much we try to control our environment and the people in it, while we give up so easily when it comes to trying to control ourselves. We get so angry when people don't bend to our will, or when situations, many of which are extremely complex, don't turn out the way we want.

When we were baptized and anointed king (along with priest and prophet) we were anointed so that we could govern, and the first thing we are to govern is ourselves! Yet my refusal to do so is to give into the age-old temptation to demand, "Not Thy will, but MY will be done!"

I don't fear my friend Daniel falling into perfectionism, which usually refers to a need to control my environment ("are the hospital corners on my bed really tight enough?") Nor do I fear him becoming scrupulous, because he is much too secure in the knowledge of God's love for him. If the striving for perfection is grounded in a reciprocal love for God and a desire to please him even more than we already do; if it is rooted in a desire to give him glory through our smallest actions and each word from our lips, then I don't imagine the search for perfection becoming an occasion for self-flagellation or self-absorption. Rather, my failures become opportunities to ask God's forgiveness and patience, and to beg for more grace. It places me in a stance of supplication and dependence, or what could be properly called poverty of spirit.

This search for spiritual perfection, if it is genuine, will not make me self-absorbed, but thrust me into concern for the welfare of others. Not the desire to change them (they are not to be subject to my will), or even to judge whether or not they are seeking spiritual perfection, but into a stance of humble service. I will want to serve others, forgive others, heal others, work for justice for others, protect others, because all these are commands of God.

And isn't this search for spiritual perfection really at the heart of the life of each of the saints we honor and from whom we ask for intercession? Aren't they held up to us as models for imitation by the Church so that we may imitate them? I don't mean imitating the details of their lives, but their desire to please God in all things. These men and women we call "friends of God" became his friends during their lifetime, and through their daily conversations with him and through making his will their own were not strangers to him when their lives ended.

I was challenged by Daniel's musings, but also inspired by them, which is why I share them with you. And just to add an exclamation point to his conversation with me, the reading for that night prayer was just one verse from St. Paul:

"May the God of peace make you perfect in holiness. May he preserve you whole and entire, spirit, soul, and body, irreproachable at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

On The Road Again

This time to Chicagoland where Fr. Mike and I are training yet another local Called & Gifted teaching team. Joe Waters, a graduate student of divinity at Duke will be attend in preparation for doing his summer internship with us in 2008.

And we'll have the chance to chew the fat with Chicagoland resident and ID blogger Keith Strohm who will be helping us teach our four day Making Disciples seminar at the end of July in Colorado Springs.

We'll be back late Sunday evening and plan to get back to blogging speed (is that like ramming speed?) next week.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Neither Triumphalism or Indifferentism

Tom over at the remarkable Disputations has a really thoughtful and thought-provoking take on the recent CDF document about what exactly is meant when we say that the Church "subsists" in the Catholic Church.

Much of the commentary I've seen on St. Blog's about the CDF's "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church" has to do with the quality of secular news reports on it. The CDF document itself, it's pointed out, says nothing new, and in fact says:

The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change [the Catholic doctrine on the Church], rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it.

Until yesterday, though, my own understanding of the conciliar expression:

"... the one Church of Christ... which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth", ... constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him."

amounted to something like, "Well, you see, the Church erected by Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, don't you know." And my answer to the question, "Why didn't they just say 'is'?," was a variation adapted to time and place of, "Because, on the whole, they decided to say 'subsists in.'"

With yesterday's document, though, the penny has fallen, at least a little.

"Subsists in" comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are "numerous elements of sanctification and of truth" which are found outside her structure....Subsistence accounts for the second-order phenomena of disunity in a way that identity or predication does not.

But wait. There's more.

Catholic ecclesial doctrine -- at least as it's framed in recent CDF documents -- distinguishes three kinds of Christian communities:

Particular Catholic Churches, led by a bishop in communion with the Bishop of Rome(collectively,the Catholic Church}.

Particular Churches with true sacraments that are not in communion with the Bishop of Rome.

Christian Communities that lack a sacramental priesthood.

The Lazy Reporter's Guide to Vatican Pronouncements directs you to identify all the bad things written about the second and third kinds, and indeed that can be done.

With careful editing, we can get:

"It follows that these separated churches and Communities... suffer from defects...."

"... these venerable Christian communities [i.e., Particular Churches not in communion with Rome] lack something in their condition as particular churches."

"... these Communities [that] do not enjoy apostolic succession ... are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church [and] cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called 'Churches' in the proper sense."

Nothing new here, right?

But yesterday's document also includes a knock against the Catholic Church!

A gentle knock, to be sure, but a knock nonetheless:

On the other hand, because of the division between Christians, the fullness of universality, which is proper to the Church governed by the Successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him, is not fully realised in history.

This, I take it, is part of the development and deepening of the Catholic doctrine on the Church that occurred at the Second Vatican Council. Sure, the Orthodox are hosed up by not being in communion with the Successor of Peter. And sure, the other Christian communities are even more hosed up by lacking apostolic succession and all that implies.

But Catholics are also hosed up! We lack the fullness of universality, the "plenitudo catholicitatis"!

The Catholic Church may possess the mark of catholicity, but she isn't fully catholic in history as long as there are Christian communities outside her.

(The commentary on the CDF document distinguishes "the fullness of the means of salvation," which the Catholic Church has, and "the fullness of catholicity proper to her," which "still has to grow in the brethren who are not yet in full communion with it and also in its own members who are sinners.")

And it's looking at herself in this way -- not merely as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church calling to those Christians outside her fold, as the one who has lecturing those who have not, but as a Body herself genuinely wounded and lacking -- that informs the Church's post-conciliar efforts in ecumenism and Christian unity.

Not a take-it-or-leave-it triumphalism, not a mix-n-match indifferentism, but a true-to-your-proper-nature catholicism.

Oh, and we should never forget that the proper nature of Catholicism has been given to the Church, not by Council or Pope, but by Jesus Himself. As the commentary puts it, "progress in fullness is rooted in the ongoing process of dynamic union with Christ."

I knew this before, of course, maybe even a little better than I knew why Lumen gentium says "subsists in," but something in the brevity and clarity of yesterday's Q&A made it pop out for me.

Sherry's comment:

Tom's commentaries are always worth reading but this is exceptional even for him.

It reminds me of Fr. Michael Sweeney's noting that the Instruction on the Collaboration of the Lay Faithful in the Ministry of Priests that came out in the 90's and caused such a furor, actually represented a development of the theology of the laity and contained some of the strongest language asserting that the entire purpose for the existance of the ordained priesthood was not for its own sake but for the sake of holiness and mission of the royal priesthood (the laity).

So often, we don't carefully read church teaching because we approach simply as fuel for our pre-existing ideological conflicts. Is it "for" or "against" my position? But if we can get past the defensiveness and read in a spirit of faith, hope, and docility, very exciting things start to pop out.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Are Catholics Christian?

Christianity Today ran an interview with Sinead O'Connor, now an aging rocker known for a hit album and for tearing up a picture of JPII on SNL (Saturday Night Live). It will make many Protestants who read the article to wonder whether Catholics are Christian (even though many Catholics would argue Sinead O'Connor's not Catholic).

The interview is about her new album based on passages from the Old Testament and titled, "Theology." I found it another distressing glimpse of a perhaps large segment of contemporary Catholicism that is thoroughly influenced by postmodern attitudes.

Now the term "postmodern" might put you off, but you've experienced some of the basic presuppositions of this worldview. They are, in a nutshell:

- All truth, including morality, is relative; nothing I do is a sin.

- Truth claims are ideological at best and lead to violence at worst.

- We don’t “know” anything, we only “interpret,” so pick a worldview and interpret accordingly, but be “open” to others’ worldviews.

- My personal experience and feelings are most trustworthy; yours are not necessarily “real”.

In our new workshop, Making Disciples, we point out how postmodern attitudes effect Catholics, and Ms. O'Connor's comments are illuminating in this respect. For one thing, postmodern attitudes lead many Catholics to be practical Universalists, meaning they believe that almost everyone - or everyone - is saved by a loving God. They also lead to the relativism that Pope John Paul II pointed out as so dangerous. For the Catholic who embraces postmodern relativism, there are many equal paths to God. There is nothing uniquely salvific about Jesus.

Ms. O'Connor is a case in point - here's part of the interview

Christianity Today: Where do you stand in your faith in Jesus?

O'Connor: I think everybody has an individual relationship with Jesus. I kinda really do believe in this Trinity thing, that God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are all one thing. I understand Jesus as being an interceder, someone you ask when you really need a big favor from God. I also feel that Jesus is inside everybody. It's almost like an energy or a thing that lives inside of us.

CT: How about his role as a Savior?

O'Connor: I grew up in violent circumstances [in Ireland, where religious violence was common], and Jesus was a Savior to me insofar that he would make me forget what was going on. But to say that Jesus is a Savior can sometimes translate as, "Unless people know doctrine, they're not going to be saved." I don't believe that. I believe God loves everybody. And at the end of the day every creation of God goes on to God and his love equally. So I have difficulties with the implication that because somebody on the other side of the world doesn't know Jesus, they don't get saved.

CT: So there's no such thing as Jesus being the one way, truth, and life?

O'Connor: I believe that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and that whole kind of thing is one particular energy. If you want a put a picture of a body on it, then fine. But I call it an energy. Some people paint a picture of Jesus. But to me, he's an energy. That energy is the same no matter where you are in the world or whose side you're on. If you call it Allah or you call it God or you call it Buddha, it's all the same. I thing God saves everybody whether they want to be saved or not. So when we die, we're all going home.

CT: So it doesn't matter your lifestyle, we're all going to heaven.

O'Connor: Yeah, I don't think God judges anybody. He loves everybody equally. I think there's a slight difference when it comes to very evil people, but there are not too many of those in the world.

Fones: At Intentional Disciples we are encouraging Catholics to consider the invitation from God to enter into a personal relationship with Him. If God is simply an "energy," it's hard to see how a relationship is possible. It's also true that an "energy" can't really make claims on me or my behavior.

Postmodern individualism also warps the Christian perspective on how we should relate with others. Whereas the Christian is willing to love another enough to confront them if they are doing something wrong or sinful (cf Mt 18:15-18 and, oh, any Pauline letter for examples), the postmodern credo is "I should not interfere in your life; that would be presumptuous and judgmental." Of course, the converse is true as well - don't you dare tell me what to do! Again, the interview gives a stunning example of this:

CT: Listeners of Christian music have a high moral standard for artists in the genre. Are you ready for that part of this industry?

O'Connor: I think everybody knows who I am. I'm not trying to act like I'm a perfect person. I'm not going to be personally insulted if anyone doesn't want to have anything to do with me. If someone turns their back on me because I'm not a perfect person, then it's not my problem. It's their problem. If we're all going to turn their backs because they're not perfect, then we're going to be very lonely.

CT: You have no qualms about swearing or smoking. How do you feel about the prospect of losing the respect of the faith community because of those things?

O'Connor: If I did, actually I wouldn't mind, because I'm trying to be myself. God loves everybody the way they are, that's the way I see it. God made me the way I am. If somebody else doesn't like it, it doesn't matter. I could always get a job doing something else. I don't fear poverty.

Finally, if you read the post from the Barna Group survey, you know that Catholics are more likely to believe that Jesus sinned and God is fallible than the general population. Again, Sinead O'Connor gives an example of this:

O'Connor: God's character is very human; he goes through the whole gamut of emotions that a person might go through.

CT: By human, do you mean fallible?

O'Connor: People often say, "If there's a God, why does he let bad things happen?" We expect God to be perfect, but if we're made in God's image, then perhaps God isn't perfect. And that's OK. But I also believe that partly we are God. We are part of God and God is something that's in us and all around us.

Fones: I feel real sorrow for Sinead. She may not fear material poverty, but there seems to be a certain poverty in regard to her relationship to Jesus. Yes, God loves us - she's right there. We were created in love. But we are also fallen, and left to our own devices and without grace we are only poor approximations of whom God calls us to be.


Catherine Jarrige

Catherine Jarrige is one of my favorite heroines of the faith because she was so unpretentious,creative, and fearless. Catherine was not a "catechist" in our normal sense of the word - one who teaches catechism lessons to small children. But what do you call a lay woman who created an underground for priests and carried the entire weight of Catholic religious life on her shoulder for several years during the French Revolution. Parish life director, indeed!

Here is an article that I wrote year ago about the charism of service, using Catherine as an examplar.

This July 4, American Catholics will have something more than independence and fireworks to celebrate. It will mark the first celebration of memorial of Blessed Catherine Jarrige, who was beatified last November.

By any standards, Catherine, a French peasant and lay Dominican who outwitted a revolutionary government in order to keep Catholic life alive in a time of oppression, is a remarkable women. But more remarkable is the fact that her exploits seem to have been empowered by a gift that we consider one of the most ordinary and unremarkable - the charism of service.

The charism of service empowers a Christian to be a channel of God’s purposes by recognizing the logistical gaps or unmet needs that can prevent good things from happening, and by personally doing whatever it takes to solve the problem and meet the need. Christians with this charism see what the rest of us can so often miss—the organizational roadblocks and practical gaps that keep good things from happening. They are gifted with a kind of radar that seeks out and anticipates potential logistical problems.

Those with a gift of service are also energized by the challenge of taking personal action to solve the problem they have recognized. These are the people who will set up chairs without being asked when the facilitator of a meeting falls sick, or will spot a vacancy in the schedule of ushers and voluntarily fill in for the missing person.

People with the gift of service really know what it takes to get a job done and are personally willing to do whatever is necessary. Usually able to turn to their hands to most any practical task, servers are the hard-working backbone of any community. They are usually deeply involved in their local parish or Christian community because they find it intolerable that things should not be done for want of a little “common sense” and elbow grease.

Of course, their sense is anything but common. Catherine Jarrige, for example, was shrewd, fearless, and absolutely ingenious. During the French Revolution, all Christian churches and monasteries in France were closed and priests who were caught were routinely executed.

Catherine set up an underground for hunted priests, hiding them in robber’s dens and provided them with food, shelter, safe passage, and false papers. In her region, no babies went unbaptized or the dying without last rites. The entire religious life of the area rested on her capable shoulders for several years.

Catherine also helped restart parish life after the Revolution. There is real evidence that Catherine is still busy coming to other’s aid today. Attending her beatification ceremony in St. Peters last November was a man who had been miraculously healed at the age of six through Catherine’s intercession

I must not forget to mention that Catherine was a lay Dominican as well.

Catholics are Mainstream America

Please click on the title of this post to be directed to a sobering report of a random survey of some 4018 Catholics recently conducted by the Barna Group ( that examined 97 different facets of the lives of Catholics (beliefs, behaviors and attitudes), comparing them to national norms. The outcome is disturbing: we are "virtually indistinguishable from people aligned with other faith groups - except in the area of faith."

George Barna, the founder of the organization, is Protestant, and the surveys likely reflect in some ways an evangelical outlook. Nevertheless, they provide useful information, and have been used by Catholic parishes and other Catholic organizations. So taking the report with a grain of salt doesn't diminish my dismay at the results.

According to the report, "of the dozen faith-oriented behaviors tested, Catholics strayed from the norm in relation to eight of the 12 items. Specifically, the typical Catholic person donated about 17% less money to churches; was 38% less likely than the average American to read the Bible; 67% less likely to attend a Sunday school class; 20% less likely to share their faith in Christ with someone who had different beliefs; 24% less likely to say their religious faith has greatly transformed their life; and were 36% less likely to have an "active faith," which Barna defined as reading the Bible, praying and attending a church service during the prior week."

Also disturbing was the fact that in spite of all the attempts at catechesis through Catholic schools, CCD, sacramental preparation classes, and homilies, the respondents "were more likely than the norm to say that Satan is not real; to believe that eternal salvation is earned; and to contend that Jesus Christ sinned while on earth."

If I had hair, I'd be pulling it out.

Barna's assessment at the end of the report is insightful, I believe.

"The history of American Catholics is that of a pool of immigrants who have successfully blended into the native culture. They have done well at adapting to their surroundings and emerging to become a backbone of the community and the national economy. The questions raised fifty years ago about the political loyalties and social objectives of Catholics are no longer relevant in this society," Barna commented. "Yet, the cost of that struggle to achieve acceptance and legitimacy is that Catholics have largely lost touch with much of their substantive spiritual heritage. They retain an appreciation for tradition and consistency, but have much less of a commitment to knowing and practicing the commands of Christ. For instance, the data show that some of their long-held distinctives, such as being champions of social justice, are no longer a defining facet of their community."

"The trail of Catholicism in America is a clear example of culture influencing faith more often than faith influencing culture," Barna continued. "The faith of tens of millions of Catholics is affected by the prevailing culture more than by the central principles and teachings of the Bible. Spiritual leaders who are passionate about remaining true to the scriptures and to Catholicism’s historic commitment to Jesus Christ and the Word of God must address this spiritual drift within the body. If they fail to do so, in the next quarter century American Catholicism could well lose its ability to shape people’s minds and hearts in ways that conform to the historic teachings and purposes of Christianity."

The Second Vatican Council was meant to turn Catholics to the world - not to be assimilated by it, but to transform it through their faith. The problem, as far as my limited brain can analyze it, isn't with the teachings of the council, but with their lack of implementation. The Church exists to evangelize, according to "Evangelization in the Modern World" and to give praise to God through the liturgy. We can't focus on only one or the other without serious repurcussions. We've done just that, and Barna's survey illustrates the consequences.


In Praise of Catechists

Writing about Peter To Rot last weekend reminded me of the huge debt that all Catholics owe the millions of lay catechists who have evangelized, formed, prayed with, and baptized their fellow Christians and often suffered persecution and death for doing so. They have renewed and sustained the faith of millions during centuries of persecution and isolation.

When most western Catholics hear the word “catechist”, we think of the army of volunteer CCD teachers or Directors of Religious Education who work with children in an established parish under the supervision of a priest pastor.

But that hardly begins to scratch the surface since almost all direct evangelization and religious service to the Christian community not conducted by priests or religious is considered by the Vatican to be the work of “catechists”. All lay ecclesial ministers, even parish life directors, would fall under the category of “catechist”. So would people like myself and the Institute’s many lay teachers and Mark Shea and Amy Welborn and Christopher West and Ralph Martin and lay theologians like Scott Hahn – anyone who teaches or communicates the faith in some kind of public setting.

In the current polarized atmosphere in the US, lay catechists, especially lay women who are paid to work in the church, have become the object of withering scorn by many conservatives who regard them as so many ecclesial Trojan horses engaged in ministry in order to destroy the priesthood and its unique dignity and ministry.

My response in brief: nonsense.

Not only is it historical, global, and theological nonsense, it isn’t even true on the ground. Over the past 14 years, I’ve worked with thousands of “catechists”, paid and unpaid, in hundreds of parishes in 77 dioceses on 4 continents. Have I met lay ministers who are ideologues with an agenda? Of course. But I’ve met just as many priests and religious with ideological agendas and they don’t all come from the left, folks. Lay catechists are no more likely to be corrupt ideologues than priests or religious. Like priests and religious, they turn out to be remarkably like human beings: that is, they are all over the map.

Historically, it is a truly wicked nonsense, because lay catechists have held the church together heroically in so many difficult and cataclysmic circumstances that it is impossible to recount them all. It continues to be nonsense today because lay catechists are absolutely critical to the life of the Catholic Church in the global south where the majority of Catholics now live.

In Latin America, Africa, and Asia, lay “catechists” have a huge role. In Latin and Central American, catechists often work as de facto “parish life directors” since there are only 61,000 priests and a “parish” in Latin America can contain 50,000 Catholics spread over hundreds of villages and hundreds of miles . In some rural places in the Andes, a priest may visit a village only once a year. The 1,092,452 catechists of Latin and Central America are literally holding the Church together.

It is indicative of their crucial importance in the Church today that the Vatican has started to carefully track and publish catechist numbers, just like they do those of priests and religious. As of 2002, there were 2.767.451 “catechists” compared to 837,760 religious and 422,952 priests, bishops, and seminarians combined. (via Fides)

Together, that makes a total of 4,028,163 acknowledged “pastoral workers” (It’s clunky but I’ll call them this in aggregate for lack of a better term).

69% of the Catholic world’s “pastoral workers” are lay catechists. Think about that for a moment.

Then consider this: Again, according to FIDES, as of 2002:

There are 12,108 persons per priest and 2,642 Catholics per priest in the world as a whole.

How is a single ordained man, by himself, – even one who is healthy, young, zealous, and exceptionally gifted - supposed to teach, sanctify and govern 2,642 Catholics, the majority of whom are not practicing and are often spread out over wide distances, while simultaneously evangelizing those 9,466 non-Catholics that are his “share” in his spare time? (This is a factor because a pastor, in Catholic understanding, is responsible for every human being in his jurisdiction, not just the Catholics!) It isn’t humanly possible.

But if you consider that there are 2,248 persons in the world per catechist and 386 Catholics per catechist, things start to look considerably better. Admittedly, 1,862 non-Catholics per catechist is still a big number but it is still one fifth of the number that is a individual priest’s theoretical “share”.

And, if we consider priests, religious, and catechists together as evangelists, formators, and apostles, the per person/ecclesial agent ratio is reduced to 1,545 non-Catholics to one, about one eighth of the priest/person ratio alone, and the Catholic/pastoral worker ratio lowered to 265 to one, one tenth of the priest/person ratio alone. No wonder the Vatican is tracking catechists.

The Americas, where half the Catholics of the world live, has the highest number of catechists and a good thing too. In the Americas, there are 7,066 human beings for every priest and 4,402 Catholics per priest but only 529 persons and 330 Catholics per catechist.

To bring life to these numbers and to remind us of what we owe them, I think I’ll make the heroic and creative contributions of lay “catechists” around the world and through history the subject of my personal blogging for a while. I’ve done quite a lot of research in this area over the years so will just have to sort through stuff that has been sitting patiently on my hard drive for years.

You Too Can Be An Evangelizing Avatar in Your Second Life

One of the most astonishing communities on the web is that of Second Life.

Second Life is a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents who are called "avatars". Since opening to the public in 2003, it has grown explosively and today is inhabited by a total of 7,942,532 Residents from around the globe. Second Life is the ultimate "create your own reality" experience. You can do almost anything on Second Life that you can in real life, including purchasing land.

And evangelize. Wherever the media takes a large number of people, you can be sure that evangelicals see a new mission field.

As per this article from World Gospel Mission which is creating a handbook for Christians who are members of Second Life about how to share their faith in that setting.

Monday, July 9, 2007

2007 Is a Very Good Year

Some things you just gotta acknowledge. According to my local utility:

During a nationwide taste test at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ 75th Annual Meeting, the country’s mayors placed Colorado Springs Utilities’ water among the best tasting water in the United States. Colorado Springs was among the top five finalists, with St. Louis winning the top prize. A total of 93 cities competed in the contest.

The blind taste test was performed by the nation’s mayors over the course of three days earlier this month in Los Angeles. Colorado Springs outranked cities such as Arvada, CO; Beverly Hills, CA; Dubuque, IA; Green Bay; WI; Lansing, MI; Northbrook, IL; San Jose, CA and Tallahassee, FL.

And way ahead of Seattle, Mark!

Sending Out the Seventy (or Seventy Two)

The gospel for yesterday was the famous passage from Luke 10. Fr. Mike is back in Colorado Springs and preached a really good sermon in which he acknowledged publicly for the first time that he is J.K. Rowling's long-lost twin brother and that she has entrusted him with the answer to the burning question: "What happened to Harry Potter in book 7?" - under the seal of the confessional.

Ok, maybe not . . . (dodging brickbats) but his homily was very good and the passage brought back vivid memories of my pre-Catholic life.

As a young evangelical preparing for a missionary career, I attended the "cross-culture" part of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA.

I vividly remember the beginning of one class in which the instructor rolled in . . .in a wheelchair. He was a quadrapalegic former missionary and instructor in an innovative course: Language Learning in Community. It seemed like another ordinary graduate course - with a huge syllabus, lists of books, exams, papers, etc.

Except for one thing: When the instructor rolled in, I had a sudden, intense sense of the presence of God in, over, and around him. I blinked and kept staring at him, looking for some obvious, visible sign that he was different from the other professors, all of whom were devout Christians and experienced missionaries. Nothing. So I thought, I'll just wait and see.

Several weeks into the course, the instructor started to speak about the same passage: Luke 10 and the sending out of the disciples two by two. As he spoke, something happened. We were no longer in a classroom - we were in worship and I can't tell you how or why it happened. But I thought "Now I am seeing manifested what I somehow recognized on that first day when he rolled in"

After class, I went to him, knelt by his wheelchair, and told him what I had sensed on that first day - and he began to cry. I think it was a confirmation to him that God had granted the desire of his heart - to be so embued with the spirit of Christ that even total strangers could sense it.

Some time later, I heard that he had died, struck down by one of the chronic ailments that affect quadrapolegics. I hadn't thought of him in years until the gospel was read yesterday but it all came flooding back.

May that be the desire of our hearts as well - and may God grant it.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Australia: Why do Catholics Leave? Why Do They Come Back?

An alternately interesting, illuminating, and depressing article in the Sydney Morning Herald Sunday about the Australian Catholic Church's attempts to bring home the vast number of lapsed Catholics in the run-up year to World Youth Day.

The paradoxes:

A) World Youth Day in 2008 will be the largest religious gathering in Australian history.

B) In 2007, 4.2 million of Australia's 5 million Catholics don't practice the faith (and in Australia, "practicing" means that you show up at Mass once a month!)

And this illuminating story:

"Jan Heath was once an inactive Catholic but 24 years ago found her way back. The truth, she says, is the Catholic Church has never been good at keeping its own. "I was brought up in a very strict Catholic family. When I got to 18, I drifted away; work, travel and boyfriends were more exciting than going to church.

"I found once you stopped going it was easy not to go the next week, the next and the next.

"One day a man came to paint my house and as I paid him for the job he looked at the view from our home and he said, 'Did you know, Mrs Heath, you could find God here without telling anyone?' He didn't hit me over the head with a Bible but he told me the story of his own discovery of God. I thought he was a bit weird but long after he had gone, he set me thinking.

"Two weeks later an interior decorator came to measure curtains and she asked: 'How do you and God get on?' We spent five minutes talking about curtains and five hours talking of God.

"Then a week later we got new neighbours and they invited me for a coffee. Before my backside was on the chair, the wife asked me if I'd been saved. I can tell you those three witnesses in six weeks stirred me up."

As she settled back into her faith, Heath wondered how it was that God sent an Anglican, a Lutheran and a Pentecostal to get her back to the Catholic Church. "Was there no Catholic who cared enough to lead me back? That led me to my passion."

Heath's passion is Catholics Returning, a parish program of four, two-hour sessions which invites spiritually adrift Catholics to return to the fold. It is a program that has been used in 100 parishes and has been successful, mainly because it is non-judgmental. It asks Catholics, in small groups, to tell their stories of the wilderness - and patches them back into parish life.

Heath finds people leave the church mainly out of boredom, indifference and anger - at God or the church. They drift away when struggling with life choices and usually stay away until some crisis or event, such as marriage or children, makes them rethink their spiritual direction."

Sherry's Note: All three of the "witnesses" who spoke to Heath, asked her about her relationship with God. (and how delightful that they were all lay people who witnessed in the context of their secular occupations!)

But Heath and the other Catholics interviewed talk mostly about other things: church scandals, ecclesiology, structure, politics, inclusive language, social ministries, etc.

None of them mentioned Christ.

Sometimes what is not said and what doesn't occur to anyone to say is as important as what is said.

Blessed Peter To Rot of Papua New Guinea

Fr. Anthony, the Institute's Dominican Co-Director in Australia, reminds me that yesterday was the feast of Blessed Peter To Rot, the protomartyr of Papau New Guinea. His is a remarkable story (via From L'Osservatore Romano, 25 January 1995)

Martyr - AD 1945

Peter To Rot was born in 1912 in Rakunai, a village on the Melanesian island of New Britain, today an eastern province of the independent nation of Papua New Guinea. Due to the lack of documentation, destroyed by the Japanese during the war, it is impossible to determine his date of birth. This is also the case for his martyrdom and for almost all the events in his life. In the culture of Papua New Guinea it was not customary to keep public records.

His parents, Angelo To Puia and Maria la Tumul, baptized as adults, belonged to the region's first generation of Catholics. It should not be forgotten that the evangelization of Papua New Guinea owed a great deal to the extraordinary faith, training and commitment of English Methodist Missionaries.

On 29 September 1882 the first group of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart arrived in Matupit, New Britain, 10 years after the Methodists had begun preaching and had established the Malaguna Mission. What happened in 1898 is surprising. Angelo To Puia, the great chief of Rakunai village on the hills near Rabaul, told the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart that the majority of his people wished to be Catholic and not Methodist. It was precisely in these circumstances that Peter To Rot's father, together with other powerful tribal chieftains, was solemnly baptized, forming the nucleus of the first generation of Catholics in the region. It was Angelo To Puia himself who opened the village of Rakunai to the faith and to collaboration with the missionaries. He promoted the Christian life in his village, where he was chief for 40 years.

Beginning in adolescence, Peter To Rot had a strong inclination to piety and obedience, which convinced his parish priest Fr Emilio Jakobi that the boy was born to be a priest. But Peter's father considered this choice premature. He felt none of his people were ready for the priesthood at the time. He nonetheless agreed that Peter should be trained as a catechist.

A capable but modest catechist

In 1930, at the age of 18, the Servant of God was enrolled at St Paul's Mission School for training catechists who would work closely with the missionaries in evangelization. He succeeded brilliantly in his studies and in 1933 obtained the catechist's diploma. An account testifies to the character of this young student: "...he was modest and there was not the slightest vanity in him, neither with regard to his background nor capability. He let the older catechists guide him in his work and accepted their advice, but eventually eclipsed them all and soon became their recognized leader, although he was younger".

When he had completed his studies, Peter was assigned to the mission in his own village, and so began his work as a catechist in Rakunai. These were years of intense work to organize catechesis in the village, to gather large and small groups for instruction and prayer and to become acquainted with people's real life situations. All those who had him as their catechist recall his straightforward, immediate and effective teaching. He referred constantly to the Bible and always carried it with him (rare for Catholics of the time!), quoting it directly as the occasion required. He was particularly sensitive in discovering the inner problems in others' lives and shared them intimately.

On 11 November 1936, the only certain date in his life, Peter To Rot married the young Catholic Paula la Varpit from a neighbouring village. Their marriage was celebrated in church but many local traditions—like the 50 shell necklaces to buy the bride—were joyously included. Three children were born from his marriage with Paula: Andrea, who died after the war; a little girl, Rufina La Mama, who is still alive; and the third child (name unknown), who was born shortly after the Servant of God's death in 1945 and died soon thereafter.

The decisive turning point in Peter To Rot's life and mission occurred in 1942. After the Japanese occupation, all the missionaries and mission staff were imprisoned in a concentration camp. The Servant of God remained alone. During the war he was the only spiritual guide for Catholics in the Rakunai district. With his constant presence, he provided prayer services, catechetical instruction, the administration of Baptism, the preservation and distribution of the Eucharist to the sick and the dying, and assistance to the poor. On the outskirts of Rakunai, he built a church for the Catholic community from branches, the only material available. The main church had been destroyed by the Japanese.

At the start of the Japanese occupation, he was on good terms with the military authorities. This sort of friendly relationship with the inhabitants ceased in 1942 after the Japanese suffered some military reverses. At that point the military police replaced the local authorities, creating an atmosphere of repression.

Therefore, they decided to forbid Christian worship and all types of religious gatherings, public and private. Subsequently, the repression became more violent. The Japanese, seeking to force the local chieftains into collaborating with them, decided that the Tolais should return to their previous practice of polygamy. This was a severe blow after almost half a century of missionary work. Peter firmly opposed this and was not afraid to disagree publicly with his brother Joseph.

The Servant of God was arrested in April or May 1945. According to accounts, his questioning by the official Meshida was a farce as well as an expression of the crudest violence. He was sentenced to two months' imprisonment. Later, referring to his imprisonment, Peter said: "I am here because of those who broke their marriage vows and because of those who do not want the growth of God's kingdom".

'A martyr for the faith'

The Servant of God was held in a concentration camp which had been set up in a cave. Various accusations were leveled at him, including: religious gatherings, undue interference in the Japanese plan for polygamy and persistence in his catechetical activities.

Efforts by the Methodist chief of Navunaram and the chief of Rakunai, Anton Tata, to have Peter released failed. A prison mate said: "He was often visited in prison by his aged mother and his wife, who brought him food every day. At one of their last visits, To Rot said to his mother: the police have told me that the Japanese doctor will be coming to give me some medicine. I suspect that this is a trick. I am really not ill at all and I cannot think what all this means".

Despite the precautions of the Japanese, Arap To Binabak, a prisoner, could see the brightly lit room where Peter had been summoned after the doctor arrived. The doctor gave Peter an injection, then something to drink and finally stuffed his ears and nose with cotton wool.

Then the doctor and two police officers made him lie down. Peter was stricken with convulsions and looked as though he was trying to vomit. The "doctor" covered his mouth and kept it closed. The convulsions continued for a time, while the doctor held him still. Peter fell into unconsciousness and after a long while drew his last breath. The same eye witness gently spread the terrible news of Peter's death to his companions. Several prisoners, taking advantage of the night-time absence of the Japanese, wanted to see his body. Thus they verified his horrible death.

But in the morning they saw a totally different scene: Peter's corpse was now arranged on the dormitory floor. The Japanese, summoned by loud speaker, registered great surprise when they saw Peter's corpse. Later, to Anton Tata, an old family friend, the Japanese cynically replied that the prisoner died from a secondary infection. In the meantime, they informed the family and returned his corpse for burial, which took place in silence without a religious rite.

The immense crowd which attended the Servant of God's burial, notwithstanding the presence of the Japanese police, immediately considered Peter a martyr. This was not a momentary reaction but a growing certitude. In fact, in the Tolai language Peter To Rot is called "A martir ure ra Lotu": "A martyr for the faith".

Fr Renato Simeone, M.S.C

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Ecumenical Evangelization

I had a most interesting two hour conversation with a very sharp Orthodox priest last week which gave me new understanding of Orthodox life in this country in a few very specific areas. Fr. X is intrigued by our work at the Institute and wanted to see how what we are doing might be adapted to his situation.

(I need to make clear right now that what I know about Orthodox theology, history, ecclesiology, and current practice could be put into a thimble with what I know about nuclear physics - with room to spare. So I spent most of the time asking questions and listening, trying to understand his quite different situation.)

Several things startled me: Fr. X's statement that only about 150,000 of the members of his communion in the US attend the Liturgy on Sundays. (And we think we have problems with 25 - 48% of Catholics at Mass on Sunday - that's at least 18 million.)

He said that, to his knowledge, there was almost no evangelizing initiatives among his group, that there is no theological understanding of a lay spirituality or mission dedicated to the evangelization of the secular and that the vast majority of "practicing" Orthodox do so for cultural reasons.

When I asked him to describe what a truly holy lay person looked like according to Orthodox tradition, he hesitated and then said "I can't describe one because there isn't a tradition of lay sanctity. Monastic holiness is the ideal for everyone, lay people are expected to be less intense about it than monks."

He was most interested in some form of ecumenical cooperation centered not around historical or theological debates but around a common concern for evangelism and the formation of all the baptized - which we would certainly be interested in exploring. Evangelization and formation with "both lungs" of the Church! What a great idea!

He hopes to attend a Called & Gifted workshop in the fall with a few friends and then we'll talk some more.

Friday, July 6, 2007

The American Catholic History Classroom

Check this out - a new web-based resource for teaching 20th century American Catholic history in high schools. So far 5 topics are up: Catholics and industrialization, labor, education, race, and a living wage. The site includes a number of original documents for each topic, a chronology, and a recommended biography for further reading.

When I have time, I'd like to work through it myself.

Gospel Riches & Globalization

A fascinating article in Christianity Today about the globalization of American inspired prosperity gospel in Africa.

"prosperity-tinged Pentecostalism is growing faster not just than other strands of Christianity, but than all religious groups, including Islam. Of Africa's 890 million people, 147 million are now "renewalists" (a term that includes both Pentecostals and charismatics), according to a 2006 Pew Forum on Religion and Public life study. They make up more than a fourth of Nigeria's population, more than a third of South Africa's, and a whopping 56 percent of Kenya's.

Cars in many African cities display bumper stickers like "Unstoppable Achiever," "With Jesus I Will Always Win," and "Your Success Is Determined by Your Faith," says University of London professor Paul Gifford in his 2004 book New Christianity: Pentecostalism in a Globalising African Economy. Gifford notes how these renewalists move beyond traditional Pentecostal practices of speaking in tongues, prophesying, and healing to the belief that God will provide money, cars, houses, and even spouses in response to believers' faith—if not immediately, then soon.

In its 2006 survey, Pew asked participants if God would "grant material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith." Eighty-five percent of Kenyan Pentecostals, 90 percent of South African Pentecostals, and 95 percent of Nigerian Pentecostals said yes. Similarly, when Pew asked if religious faith was "very important to economic success," about 9 out of 10 Kenyan, Nigerian, and South African renewalists said it was."


Allan H. Anderson, professor of Global Pentecostal Studies at the University of Birmingham, says African renewalists are, indeed, eclipsing denominationally based churches and missions. "The older churches," he says, "are struggling to keep up with the jet-setting entrepreneurs who head up these new organizations."

"If you're not willing to play that [prosperity] game," says Vince Bacote, associate professor of theology at Wheaton College, "get ready to get steamrolled."


Why is this happening? A confluence between traditional African values and American lifestyles. And the staggering global reach of evangelical media.

"As Pentecostal-charismatic programming has flooded Africa, renewalist numbers have risen from 17 million in 1970 to 147 million in 2005. The continent's largest religious broadcaster is Santa Ana, California–based Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), followed by Europe's GOD TV.

As TV sets grow common in African cities, these broadcasters are gaining huge audiences. People who lack a TV often watch with neighbors, and viewing options are limited. In Zambia, only three stations click on: MUVI TZ, which airs reruns of U.S. shows and old movies; ZNBC, the Zambian National Broadcasting Company; and TBN. Television is becoming the continent's religious classroom.

"People turn it on and assume that TBN is American Christianity, and Americans know everything, so why not listen to it?" says Bonnie Dolan, founder and director of Zambia's Center for Christian Missions, a Reformed school for pastors. "[W]e have Zambians looking to the West for direction, and they associate TBN with the West. And it's killing our churches."

Since TBN has always given me the creeps, its hard to grasp its fascination for people from other cultures. But I know that CT is describing a reality we need to grapple with.

When we were in Indonesia, we discovered that most fervent Indonesian Catholics had attended the evangelistic crusades of American Pentecostal preachers like Benny Hinn. They sang (in two languages and with a beautifully dressed choir that changed clothes between afternoon and evening) global praise and worship standards like Shout to the Lord which was written by an Australian evangelical.

Evangelicals are masters of the global media and English is the linqua franca of large parts of the world.

Read the whole piece. How can Catholics of our generation respond besides saying "in three centuries they'll be gone and we'll still be here".


A Wider Window on the World

Although I really enjoy doing original research through the use of texts, nothing nurtures my heart, mind, and spirit as doing research by listening and talking to remarkable people.

This past week, I had a wonderful luxury of spending relaxed, in-depth time with several intimate friends and my sisters. This is so rare in my life these days (especially the relaxed part!) and when you get to do so in beautiful Seattle during a period of really good early summer weather - you could hardly do better. I also had the chance to make a new acquaintance via a two hour phone call with an Orthodox priest interested in our work.

Such interesting conversations that covered such a breadth of Christ's redeeming work in the world!

My oldest female friend (I'll call her "Natali") had lived in the Muslim world for a total of 25 years in several different countries. Her Arabic is fluent these days and her network of relationships incredibly broad across many cultures, so listening to her is getting a chance to get a glimpse of the experience of Christians in Muslim cultures. Natali kept mentioning "Muslim background believers" who are now emerging into Christian leadership in the middle east. These are men and women who were born and raised Muslim and became Christians as adults. They are popping up everywhere - as individuals, in families, small fellowship groups - and rumor has it - in significant mass movements of thousands in some parts of the Muslim world.

But because the cost of following Christ is so high in the Muslim world, information is strictly on a need to know basis and even when given out, is always vague and full of pseudonyms and so even someone like my friend Natali has no idea how many MBB's there are. All she could tell me was that when she first went to the Middle East, there weren't any and now you meet them pretty regularly. We had a MBB on our C & G teaching team in Jakarta and I even met a priest there who was a convert from Islam.

There are also huge numbers of Catholic guest workers (from India, the Philippines, etc.) in the Muslim world who are often treated atrociously. Natali told me of one such woman who worked behind a counter in a grocery story and poured out her story in a produce aisle - the most private place she could find. You sign a contract - without being allowed to read it first!!! - and then find yourself working essentially as a slave for pennies and no way to get out because your passport has been confiscated. This poor woman had serious health problems but had to walk for an hour in 120 degree heat every day after her 12 hour work day to receive a single dose of medicine because the state would not trust her with the whole perscription. Natali has generously helped several people like this woman before and brought her plight to the attention of some wealthy expat women who could do the same.

A couple years ago, Natali told (in a lowered voice even though we were in private in the US!) of a Christian woman (no longer living in the ME today) who had actually made Arabic Bibles available to Muslim seekers who sought her out. But because it was so extraordinarily dangerous, they had to approach her three times before she would even consider it and only if she sensed they were serious - and not a government agent - would she do a delivery in a grocery store. A woman, covered head to toe in a burka, would come to the shop with a large shopping bag which she would set down for a moment. Then, just as in a spy movie, she would pick up an identical shopping bag nearby containing the carefully wrapped Bible, complete her shopping, and walk out without ever conversing with or acknowledging its source.

Natali loves the Arab world and its people and for 25 years has lived there as an intentional witness to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. She told me again this time that she doesn't feel endangered or afraid living there. She brought me up to date on Muslim friends that she had described over the years. She showed me pictures of her recent trek to the Bedouin families she has known and visited for years. She had taken an young American woman, a recent high school grad on a three week tour, and there they sat, on the floor, in their Bedu clothes wearing the henna face painting given to honored guests.

Muslims are people she knows and individuals she loves. In her world, historic realities that loom so large for us - like Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox, mean little. All that matters is are you a "believer", a follower of Isah? or are you perhaps a true seeker like one wise Muslim friend of Natali's with whom she prays. This woman friend attended a Catholic school and has ever since had a remarkable trust of Christians.

It was good to be reminded that there is much more going on in the Muslim world of 1.3 billion people than the highly publicized acts of terrorism that dominate our discussions in the west.

A Catholic Among Evangelicals

The post below about Luis Palau has brought back memories of attending large-scale Christian Music festivals. Creation West is a beautiful event that takes place in George, Washington at the Columbia River Gorge. The amphitheatre is set against the backdrop of the Gorge. It's a place that simply brings you face to face with the majesty of Creation! In fact, it's billed as a 5-day tribute to our Creator. There's a snapshot of dusk at the festival to the left of this text.

Basically, there are about 21,000 attendees at the festival--20,920 of whom are evangelical or otherwise protestant, and 80 of whom are catholic (most from my last parish). The event itself really is wonderful, with morning worship, talks throughout the day by performers and other youth ministers (many of them taking place in smaller tents), music at various stages, and activities like rock climbing, skateboarding, etc.

What I miss when I'm there is an experience of Liturgy. Rather than just have a "worship leader" play music and read a bit from the bible, I think it would be wonderful to start the day off with psalms read (and sung) monastic style. The big "climax" of each day are the concerts at night (complete with a daily "message" from a noted speaker), particularly the Candlelight vigil on Friday night. I always walk away from these experiences feeling like something is missing, and it is--the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

In any event, each year that I've gone with my parish, we brought our youth ministry music group with us. They are a powerful group of music ministers who each have a music charism and a commitment to offer their best in the ministry to which God has called them. After the last concert each night, we would gather as a group in our campground and finish the night off with a prayer service that included music, scripture, and some teaching. Because our music ministers really are quite gifted, each night we would find more and more folks from other protestant communities drifting in to our campsite to pray with us. It wouldn't be unusual for our campsite of 80 persons to host over 300 additional people.

Generally, I led those prayer services (which sometimes used the Divine Office) and had the opportunity to share my faith, teach, and evangelize to people all across the Body of Christ. While I was careful to not overwhelm my largely non-Catholic audience, I preached from the fullness of the Church's Tradition--though generally the focus was on helping teens hear and respond to the kerygma, which is a foundation point for all Christians.

It always made me (and the other folks from my parish) smile when we heard these teens and adults from other protestant communities exclaim, "Wow...I can't believe I'm worshipping with Catholics!" :) I'm not sure what these same folks from neighboring campsites thought the next day when we prayed the Rosary as a group at 3 pm.

Overall, this experience was great for our teens. They were exposed to teens their age who lived and spoke about their faith in Christ openly, and the "messages" that they heard from other speakers were great opportunities to delve more deeply into the Catholic Tradition. I also believe the experience was good for our Protestant brothers and sisters who had an experience, however brief, of Catholics who strive to live their faith intentionally.

God's Time

I feel a little sheepish (no pun intended) making this post. I feel that way when God gives me an insight into Scripture and suddenly things seem so much clearer. I think, "Why didn't I see that before?"

Let me explain. Yesterday evening at Mass we heard the story of the testing of Abraham by God in Genesis 22. You know the story. "God said: 'Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.'" Abraham prepares to do just that, and at the last moment, when the knife is raised above the terrified boy, the angel of the Lord stops Abraham, saying, "I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son."

This story causes problems for a lot of people, especially parents, who are better able than I am to place themselves in Abraham's position, feel his confusion and anguish, and wonder, "Just what does this reveal about God, and can I really trust such a deity?" It seems cruel to test Abraham, to seemingly ask him to kill his hope in a multitude of descendants, and it leads many people to view the greatest evils in our life as directly willed by God to test our faith.

Yesterday, however, a young woman proclaimed the passage beautifully, and I heard it again for the first time. One passage in particular brought me close to tears.

"Abraham took the wood for the holocaust and laid it on his son Isaac's shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two walked on together, Isaac spoke to his father Abraham. 'Father!' he said. 'Yes, son,' he replied. Isaac continued, 'Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust?' 'Son,' Abraham answered, 'God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.' Then the two continued going forward."

The image of Isaac carrying the wood for the holocaust on his shoulders struck me as a foreshadowing of Jesus, who would carry the cross - the wood of his own holocaust - on his shoulders some two millenia later. This is a beautiful example of the Catholic understanding that all of the Bible must be read in light of Jesus and the events of his life, death, resurrection and ascension. ("The Church, as early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God's works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son. Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen." Catechism of the Catholic Church #128, 129)

As soon as the image of Isaac as a "type" of Christ struck me, the response of Abraham, "God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust." took on a new significance - that of a prophetic and deeply faith-filled statement, rather than simply wishful thinking, or deception.

Indeed, God did provide a sheep for the holocaust, not just the ram caught in the thicket, but the Lamb of God, His only begotten Son of whom he could say, "You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased." (Mk 1:11)

The first Adam failed to place himself between the serpent, the most cunning ("intimidating" is another possible translation) of all the creatures, and his wife, Eve. He was not willing to possibly "lay down his life" for her, and the whole narrative thread of Scripture leads up to the second Adam who finally lays down his life for us all, fulfilling the Law in his life, and putting and end to it with his death and resurrection.

God's time, God's infinite patience and wisdom, are revealed in the Scriptures. If we are patient and observe the events of our own life with the eyes of faith, we will undoubtedly find examples of this wisdom being revealed in them as well.

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Thursday, July 5, 2007

Luis Palau in a Catholic Town

Luis Palau is a very famous Latin American evangelist known for his gigantic meetings around the world (25 million have heard him speak in "live" events).

These days Palau is doing "festival evangelism" which combines a weekend of national contemporary Christian music groups, motorcross, professional skate boarders with food and Palau's preaching.

Anyway, the Heartland Festival in Omaha this summer will have a new wrinkle: official participation from the Archdiocese of Omaha.

So far, 11 parishes have signed up to participate. I enjoyed these rather militant comments from Fr. Lewis, vice chancellor of the diocese:

"We want strong, active, motivated Catholics who are very secure in their faith down at that festival doing evangelization and speaking articulately about the faith," Father Lewis said. "I would say the archbishop is very pleased with the response from the Catholic community and he continues to see it as a real opportunity to bring back the lost, those who have fallen away and those who've never really heard the message to begin with."

For the first time at a Palau festival, all participants will fill out a card indicating their religious denomination. The cards on which a person states he or she is Catholic or once was Catholic will be given to representatives from Catholic parishes who will follow up after the festival, Father Lewis said.

The archdiocese will have a large tent on the grounds where Catholic literature and items will be available and where priests will hear confessions all day long, he said.

"Initially there was so much fear about whether we were making a terrible mistake by getting involved, but I think it's quite the opposite," Father Lewis said. "I've been overwhelmed by how strong the Catholic response has been. It's certainly going to be a Luis Palau festival unlike anything he's ever experienced before and he's taking a risk by coming into this Catholic town and inviting the Catholics in."

The exact nature of the risk is unclear. A number of strongly conservative Protestant groups are already complaining that Palau has sold out by collaborating with Catholics but I don't think that that is the risk to which Fr. Lewis was referring.

The Barnabites

Today is the memorial of St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria. The Saint of the Day e-mail I receive from the St. Anthony Messenger Press has this to say about him:

"At the same time that Martin Luther was attacking abuses in the Church, a reformation within the Church was already being attempted. Among the early movers of the Counter-Reformation was Anthony Zaccaria. His mother became a widow at 18 and devoted herself to the spiritual education of her son. He received a medical doctorate at 22 and, while working among the poor of his native Cremona, was attracted to the religious apostolate. He renounced his rights to any future inheritance, worked as a catechist, and was ordained a priest at the age of 26. Called to Milan in a few years, he laid the foundations of three religious congregations, one for men, one for women and another for laity. The three foundations met regularly and engaged together in various forms of apostolic action. Their aim was the reform of the decadent society of their day, beginning with the clergy and religious. The Laity of St. Paul died out soon after Anthony's death but experienced a rebirth in the 1990s.

Greatly inspired by St. Paul (his congregation is named the Barnabites, after the companion of that saint), Anthony preached with great vigor in church and street, conducted popular missions and was not ashamed of doing public penance.

He encouraged such innovations as the collaboration of the laity in the apostolate, frequent Communion, the Forty Hours devotion and the ringing of church bells at 3:00 p.m. on Fridays.

His holiness moved many to reform their lives but, as with all saints, it also moved many to oppose him. Twice his community had to undergo official religious investigation, and twice it was exonerated.

While on a mission of peace, he became seriously ill and was brought home for a visit to his mother. He died at Cremona at the age of 36. "

According to the Barnabite website, the charism of the order - clerics, religious, and lay - is similar in vision to that of the Institute:
"Both church and society were in need of reformation, that is, "a renewal of Christian fervor" that had lost its vitality on account of lukewarmness and mediocrity.

Anthony Mary envisioned a reformation movement to bring "everywhere the vital energy of the Spirit" (Letter 5) by the concerted involvement of priests living in community under a rule (the Clerics Regular of St. Paul - Barnabites), religious women actively committed to apostolic ministry (the Angelics of St. Paul, the first uncloistered order of nuns), and lay persons, especially married couples, committed to both spiritual life and pastoral work (the Marrieds of St. Paul)."

You might check out their website, linked in the title of this post. I'll leave you with a brief quote from a letter of this saint:

"Do not think that my love for you or the good qualities you are endowed with, may have me desire that you be just little saints. No, I greatly desire that you become great saints, since you are well equipped to reach this goal... All that is required is that you really mean to develop and give back to Jesus Crucified, in a more refined form, the good qualities and graces He has given you" [Anthony Mary Zaccaria, Letter XI]

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

An Act of Courage and Idealism

I reread the Declaration of Independence this morning and reproduce it here for your reading as well. It is a remarkable document, and publishing it was a tremendous act of courage, since it meant all the signatories were guilty of treason under British law. Because they had no recourse under British law, they looked to a higher law - Natural law - and the source of that law, the Creator, in order to justify their actions. Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the Revolutionary War, another had two sons captured. Nine of the fifty-six fought and died from wounds or the hardships of the Revolutionary War.

I find it uncomfortable reading, however, given the destruction unleashed upon Iraq in the hopes of bringing it peace, and our treatment of people suspected of being terrorists who are incarcerated in Guantanamo and possibly other locations around the world. Specifically, the charges against the British crown of

"depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:"

might be made against us. This is a shame and a travesty, and overshadows the many good things that our troops are doing in Iraq, both those done in obedience to commands given by their superiors and those done out of the goodness of their hearts.

It's easy for us to forget that our Founding Fathers and the colonial militia were considered traitors, and quite possibly terrorists by the British in their day. Recall that the colonists waged a guerilla war, since they were vastly outnumbered by the British army. I do not want to compare our ancestors too closely with al Qaida, primarily because the values that guided the colonists are quite different from those that guide al Qaida. But Islamic terrorists are guided by values that they hold dear and are willing to die for, even if we find them reprehensible (presuming we know what they are at all, and many of us, including me, don't).

Catholic moral teaching clearly states that you cannot willfully do an evil act in the hopes of achieving a good end. "The end does not justify the means," as the old saying goes, and that is based on natural law. That means it is true for Muslim terrorists, and they should end their violence against innocents. It's also true for each one of us, and for our great nation.

Here's the entirety of the Declaration. It is thrilling in its language, its ideals, its stirring declaration of solidarity, and its hopefulness. May it serve as a guide for our government's actions today and in the years to come.

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Who's Almighty?

This past week was rather exhausting. We celebrated the birthdays of three members of our community, and Wednesday was also my mother's 85th birthday. I don't even want to think about cake.

Thursday I took Fr. Bede, a 78 year old member of our Dominican community who has been diagnosed with dementia and lives in a residence near our community, to Evan Almighty. Since he loves animals, I figured he'd get at least two of very kind in the movie. It's entertaining, though rather heavy-handed and boilerplate at times, but the central visual image is challenging. All the advertising shows a white-bearded, robe wearing fellow surrounded by pairs of animals.

You don't need to know much more to get the gist of the movie.

Evan has a rather odd mission given to him by God.

That places him at odds with his own plans and with the expectations of his family, his neighbors, his government, and the constituents who elected him to Congress.

They elected him because of his ambitious campaign promise to "change the world," not "build an ark for God."

The whole beard and robe schtick is a real challenge for a man whose personal mantra is, "I'm strong, powerful, handsome, happy."

When he finally gives in to the request, he appears to lose everything – until the happy ending, of course.

The Gospel last Sunday begins with a huge transition in Luke's account of the ministry of Jesus. Jesus has set his face for Jerusalem, where he will lose everything, even his life, which he offers to His Father on our behalf.

The Samaritans won't welcome him because he's going to Jerusalem, and they rejected Jerusalem as the place to worship God; thus James and John want them destroyed for their insult.

Jesus rejects the "eye for an eye" mentality.

He lives by a different standard than his countrymen. The question is, are we willing to do the same?

According to Cardinal George in a 2002 address to the U.S. bishops, "Our culture tells us what to do. It is a normative system. So is faith in Jesus. If the faith and the culture clash or disagree, as they always do to some extent, it is because faith is a gift from God and culture is a human construct. There will be tension in us because the faith and the culture are both inside us.

That's why one of the most controversial articles of the creed is the one that says, "I believe in God, the Father almighty." One of Jesus' most controversial statements is, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me." The belief in a powerful God, an almighty God, an all-powerful God is, in a secularized culture, appears as a threat to human freedom."

Since freedom is our primary cultural value, and one that we'll celebrate on the 4th of July, claims that God has power over us are very problematic.

While atheism is becoming more vocal these days, I doubt we'll become an atheistic country in name. But there is a subtle way of reducing the threat that God's power might have for us, and that is to tame God. This is the kind of secularization that we live with in the United States. We'll slap a "God bless America" or "God bless our troops" bumper sticker on, but you never see a "God LEAD America" bumper sticker. We don't let God make any demands on our behavior, because that would be to give Him power. We cannot permit Him to have power or we will lose our freedom.

The freedom that we celebrate today in America is the freedom to do whatever we want, say whatever we want, buy whatever we want, with no thought of consequences. Lawyers are hired to protect our rights, and to expand them, if possible.

When this is the case, religion becomes akin to belonging to the Lion's club or the Lady's Garden Society. It's a nice, pleasant way to spend some time on occasion with like-minded folks. But you don't expect it - or permit it - to change your behavior, your opinions, your thoughts.

In our thoroughly post-modern American culture, any objective truth claim is illegitimate, primarily because it threatens freedom. If there is an objective truth, then it can reasonably demand a response on my part; a response that demands that my subjective desires be limited by a reality beyond me. Religious truth claims in particular are a threat. We have managed to weaken them and even dismiss them, however, by misinterpreting Jefferson's famous phrase about the separation of Church and State. Rather than referring to the Constitutional prohibition against state-sponsored religion, we've taken it to mean that political positions can't be argued from the basis of one's faith.

For a Christian to live by faith, he or she has to submit to the idea that many things should not be done. I shouldn't call down fire from heaven on those who insult me. I shouldn't pay my employees unjust wages. I shouldn't ignore the poor, the homeless, the hungry; and there are consequences if I do. St. Paul, whose life was transformed by his encounter with the risen Lord, reminded the Galatians of Jesus' command, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Within that simple positive command is much activity that is forbidden.

The question is, do I really believe in an almighty God? Can I honestly refer to Jesus as , "Lord," as we do throughout the Mass and our prayers. To call Jesus "Lord" means that He is calling the shots in my life. When Evan Baxter asks God for help in changing the world, God answers, but the plan that's followed can no longer be Evan's, but God's.

Do I believe in God, the Father almighty? Or Fr. Mike Almighty? That's the question, and it's the age-old garden-variety temptation. You know what garden I mean. The tempter seduces Adam and Eve with the promise, "eat this, and you will be like gods." Meaning, of course, "You won't need God to tell you what to do anymore." You'll be Eve Almighty, Adam Almighty.

When St. Paul talks about freedom and slavery, flesh and the Spirit, he's looking all the way back to the fall. Because for St. Paul, freedom is the hallmark of Christian existence. Christians are free because they do not have to earn salvation by their own works. Redemption is a gift, and they are free to embrace their salvation in grateful obedience to the command, "love one another as I have loved you." This is life in the Spirit.

"The flesh" isn't our earthly body, it's life under the power and control of the tempter, who keeps up the empty promise of freedom as doing our will, rather than God's. The flesh is a life lived according to the principle, "I'm #1." The flesh is a life lived at odds with others; competitive, compulsively consumeristic, fraught with rivalry, jealousy and distrust.

So what's it going to be? Do we believe all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus? Are we willing to follow him?

There's a price to pay if we do. One would-be follower says, "I will follow you," and Jesus lets him know the cost – for he himself has "no where to lay his head." No place to call his own, where he can be safe and comfortable.

Another says, "Let me first bury my Father." That was one of the most laudable, pious things a Jewish son could do, yet Jesus' response indicates that following him is life, and everything else - even fulfilling Jewish law - is death. So too, following Jesus for us must supersede any other law – even civil law. We cannot make the accommodation John F. Kennedy promised the American people. No Christian can.

The third would-be follower asks to do exactly what Elisha did when Elijah called him. The placing of leader's cloak over your shoulder was a symbol in the ancient near east of being chosen to take the leader's place.

Elisha says farewell to his family, kills his oxen, burns his farming equipment to cook them, then feeds his family and leaves them forever. With the tools of his trade destroyed, he literally has nothing to go back home to. There was no looking back for him.

Nor can there be for us, Jesus says. The only way we can follow him is to keep our eyes on his back; not knowing exactly where he's leading us, except for the next few steps.

The challenge is not so much knowing what Jesus commands us. Paul easily summarized it, "love your neighbor as yourself." Do to them exactly what you would want them to do to you.

Do that, and you'll be at odds with the culture.
Do that, and people will think you're odd – or worse
Do that, and you won't change the world – Jesus will.
Because HE's "almighty."

In a Hole in the Ground Lived a Hobbit

Visiting with long time friends and family and problems of access is going to make it impossible to blog until I'm home on Friday but most of you will be celebrating this week as well. My vacation has been enormously restful and healing so far: sleep, prayer, intimate friends, and beloved natural beauty are a blessed combination.

So I leave you with this snippet:

J R R Tolkien being interviewed about the the moment one summer when he first wrote the words: "In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit."

It's so quirky - it's delightful - and gives a vivid sense of his zest, energy, and quickness of mind when he was in his prime.

Happy Fourth of July to everyone. Intentional Disciples will return on July 6th.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

This is another test

Just checking in to see if Blogger will publish this or insist that I perish.