Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Evangelical Catholicism Redux

John Allen, senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, has a very interesting article on evangelical Catholicism, which you can link to in the title above. He points out that the last two popes, along with many of the bishops they have appointed, are evangelical in outlook. "Beginning with the election of Pope John Paul II in 1978, Catholicism has become a steadily more evangelical church -- uncompromising and unabashedly itself. Evangelical Catholicism today dominates the church’s leadership class, and it feeds on the energy of a strong grass-roots minority."

Back in April Sherry posted on the "Evangelical nature of Catholicism" [] and that post generated many, many comments, some of which denied the possibility of using the word "evangelical," and implying that to use it was to separate Christ from the Church, or "protestantize" Catholicism. What Sherry was arguing was that the mission of the Church is both the worship of God and the spreading of the Gospel. Unfortunately, I believe most Catholics have focused almost exclusively on the first and forgotten the second since the Council.

Allen goes on to write, "The evangelical impulse isn’t exactly “conservative,” because there’s little cultural Catholicism these days left to conserve. Instead, it’s a way of pitching classical Catholic faith and practice in the context of pluralism, making it modern and traditional all at once.

David Bebbington, a leading specialist on Protestant evangelicalism, defines that movement in terms of four commitments: the Bible alone as the touchstone of faith, Christ’s death on the cross as atonement for sin, personal acceptance of Jesus as opposed to salvation through externals such as sacraments, and strong missionary energies premised on the idea that salvation comes only from Christ. Clearly, some of these commitments mark areas of disagreement with Catholics rather than convergence.

Yet if these points are restated in terms of their broad underlying concerns, the evangelical agenda Bebbington describes pivots on three major issues: authority, the centrality of key doctrines, and Christian exclusivity. If so, there’s little doubt that Catholicism under John Paul II and Benedict XVI has become ever more boldly evangelical."

Allen's article is interesting, but he may be failing to appreciate, I believe, a characteristic of a truly evangelical Catholicism. While, as Bebbington points out, Protestant Evangelicals may believe in "personal acceptance of Jesus as opposed to salvation through externals such as sacraments," that is not the case for Catholics. The evangelical thrust he's observing in the emphasis on authority, doctrine and the uniqueness of Jesus' sacrifice for our redemption within the Church also includes, I believe, a powerful commitment to the person of Jesus and a lived relationship with him.

For example, Allen mentions Pope Benedict XVI's recent book "Jesus of Nazareth" as coming from a concern for traditional Christology. That may be the case, but the book also flows from the Pope's reflection on the Scriptures and his relationship with his Lord. It is a product of prayer, as well as intellectual study.

Some may look upon Allen's description of evangelical elements in Catholicism as simply the triumph of a conservative agenda within the Church - and among those some will be dismayed, while others will be delighted. But I believe a true evangelical Catholicism - one which transcends the conservative or liberal label - is one which embraces the personal relationship with Jesus AND the sacraments. It embraces the authority of Christ over one's life, and is grateful for the guidance of Christ acting through the Church's magisterium. It is grateful for the offer of love and salvation that is given uniquely in Christ, and is willing to share that belief joyfully, patiently, and humbly with others - and is willing to incarnate that love as an instrument of Jesus, the Lord.

Pope Benedict XVI said in his first homily as Pope, "There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know him and to speak to others of our friendship with him." This is the heart of a truly Catholic faith. It is a heart surprised by an unmerited love, and desirous to share that love with others. It is a love which claims an authority over the beloved, who will accept no substitute for the Lover. It is evangelical - "Good News."

Nature Lover

Sherry has been crowing about the beauty of Colorado, and I have to admit she's right. This is a beautiful state (as is Oregon, Utah, California and Arizona - all the states in the west in which I've lived). I had the blessing of doing some hiking in the Rockies last week with a friend of mine, Fr. Scott Steinkerchner, OP, who took a number of pictures of our adventures. I'm the small figure in the picture above.

That's part of the gift of hiking amid the mountains, streams, glacial valleys and alpine meadows of Colorado. I can't but recognize how insignificant my problems and concerns are in the presence of the majesty and beauty of God's creation. My background in geology and geophysics gives me an appreciation for the power at work in raising mountains, and the incredible span of history illustrated in the contorted beds uplifted before me, and the inexorable work of wind, water, ice and gravity in slowly tearing those mountains down. I find it comforting to be reminded that life doesn't revolve around me, and that the work I do, if it is at all successful, is not because of me, but because of the all-powerful Creator who chooses to work through me if I ask, and if I acknowledge Him as the one at work.

In the silence I hear the Lord calling me to set my burdens down and to simply rest in him. That invitation is so hard to hear in the roar of car engines on the road outside the room where I'm writing this, or in the brightly lit Safeway store with its Muzak-inspired siren song to "buy, buy, buy." The warm sunshine on my back and shoulders reminds me of the ever-present gift of grace that he's offering me. Laying back in the grass and looking up at the clouds as they morphed from one fantastic shape to another brought me back to the simpler days of my childhood, when being was more important than doing.

So many people I know say they find God in nature. I certainly won't deny that, since the Artist is present in some way in His art. Some will say, "yes, but nature doesn't make any demands upon us, the way God does in Scripture, or in liturgy, or in doctrine."

But I cannot agree with that statement completely. Jesus invites us to look at the birds in the sky and the flowers of the field. He points out, "they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?" (Mt 6:26-30)

The urge to be busy and productive, to achieve (and, more importantly, be known as an achiever) can be a sign of my lack of faith. This is especially true when my busy-ness is precisely that: MY business, rather than the Lord's. Getting out into the wild, untamed natural world, even if it's the mini-jungle of your backyard or the local park, and paying attention to the uncountable blades of grass, the tenacity of the weed popping through the cracked sidewalk, or the songbird giving voice to its ancient melody, challenges my sense of importance. The spent dandelion, with it's proud, bald head, reminds me of my mortality, and that my call from God is to be fruitful for His kingdom in the way he has established for me.

Perhaps we don't spend more time enjoying nature precisely because it challenges our self-importance and permanence. Yet if we remember the words of Jesus, "will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?" we may discover reminders that in spite of our insignificance compared to the whole of creation, we are still more than cared for, and more than precious in the eyes of our loving Creator.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Children as Mirror

An old friend from my first ministerial assignment, Rob Drapeau, has a blog called, "The Natalist Diaries" (click the title of this post for a link). He describes it as a sort of field journal of his domestic safari. He and his wife Amy have five children under the age of eight, so I suppose there is a fair share of wildness within the walls of their home.

He has a wonderful post titled "of hooks and mirrors," that chronicles a recent nightmare of his oldest, and here's the punchline (the Queen, by the way, is Amy, his wife):

"What amazes me is that as crazy as my kids can be, they always hold a mirror to my own irrationality. It seems each of our kids embodies some of the good and bad traits of Mama and Papi. This makes for a pretty entertaining home life, but it also serves as looking glass for the Queen and me to see our own faults and strengths."

It takes a lot of insight to realize this, and then courage to keep looking at our kids in such a way as to see our own foibles.

Good friends, especially spiritual friends, can do the same, albeit a bit more directly. If we're willing to listen and see, that is.

Deep Colorado

It's hard when you have 5 children, ages almost 3 to 12, to drive long distances but I did manage to get the gang a hour west to Wilkerson Pass about which Mark wrote below.

It is frustrating when guests come all this way and yet can't manage a two hour drive to the Continental Divide because the Springs, as lovely as it is, isn't, well, deep Colorado.

I was pleased with the trip to Wilkerson Pass but had to explain as the Sheas and Curps were oohing and aahing that this isn't really particularly spectacular scenery by Colorado standards.

What would "spectacular" be? Dave Curp asked me.

"The Million Dollar Highway through the San Juan mountain in late September" was my instant answer. Alas, we are one month early and it is a 6 hour drive from here so I can't let my guests see it for themselves.

Then just now, I found this absolutely wonderful slide show of the Million Dollar highway in autumn. What is striking is that the photographer, Weldon Schloneger, managed to capture the brilliance of the aspen at their height which is quite difficult to do.

The high country in late September is as close to the beatific vision via natural beauty as I expect to come in this mortal life.

Million Dollar Highway, Autumn

Ya Gotcher Basic Poiple Mountain Majesties Above Da Frooted Plain Goin' on Here

All us vacationers made the haj to South Park yesterday. No, not that South Park. The South Park that is an awesome vista consisting of an immense valley in the interior of the Colorado Rockies, surrounded by huge mountain peaks. It's the sort of place that should still having living dinosaurs in it.

Peter Shea

We had a loverly leisurely walk with the kidlets on a nature hike trail and looked for various plants and critters. We ate donuts. We cruised past the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center (which we plan to visit today with our guys). We experienced the pleasures of mild hypoxia (I come from the land of oxygen-thick air right at sea level). And we sat out on the patio in the cool of the evening and watched the full moon rise. God is good.

Sean Shea

Two more days and then I give a talk for Siena and the Diocese on the Care and Feeding of the Lay Catholic Apostle. Three more days and we have our soiree on Discipleship and Community. Looking forward to meeting all y'all! Till then, our boys have more fossils to check out (and I don't mean me).

Sherry Curp (AKA "the other Sherry on ID)

Curps on a Rocky Mountain High (Miriam, Dave, Helen, and Elizabeth who was calling herself "the mountain star" at that moment.)


Friday, August 24, 2007

Family as Sign

We hear a lot today about the differing variations on family. We have single-parent families, same-sex parent families, blended families, and the steadily diminishing original two-parent families. It's easy, with all of this variation, to walk away with the notion that the human family is merely a biologically pragmatic arrangement or helpful social construction--the basic building block of human society.

These are, in a very certain sense, truths. However, to say that these elements define the notion of "family" in its totality is to reduce the rich significance of the family in the fullness of human life and denude its very real power for the world today. Family is not just a biological reality and a building block of society, it is also a participation in the Trinitarian Life of God Himself--particularly when it flows from the sacrament of marriage. David over at Cosmos--Liturgy--Sex has an insightful post on the rupturing effects of divorce on the family. In it, he highlights the very real sacred dimensions of marriage and family:

A family relationship has an existence, an ontology, that is more than simply the sum of its parts. It is not simply an aggregate of the multifaceted relationships among the various members of the family. The family relationship has its own existence. Its foundation begins with the marital union between wife and husband. Its ontology arises from the fact that marital union is the most unique and perfect interpersonal bodily participation in Trinitarian Communion. The marital relationship gives rise to the potency for integrating other persons (children) into it, but this marital relationship is the foundation for the entity known as the family. Thus, while the rupture of other relationships within a family can damage its over all health, the rupture of its ground–the marriage– destroys the whole. What is left is only the possibility for individual relationships. There is no whole left by which all of the multipersonal relationships can be integrated.

This is why the Apostolic Tradition speaks of a family as the domestic Church, and it is precisely because of this ontology that John Paul II said that the grace of God flows through the family. Like the Universal Church, the family is a sign and sacrament of God's love, one that can help accomplish what it signifies. God's love is made present to the world through the family united to Him and each other.

Therefore, part of the work we are called to do (transforming cultures and social institutions to render them more just and human) includes supporting the discernment and living out of solid, godly marriages, where men and women are prepared for the vocation of self sacrifice and giving, and helping the growth and nurturing of family life.

In a culture that often views multiple children as a burden rather than blessing, this is no easy task.

Yet the call remains.

Atheists Whose Deepest Yearning is to Be Wrong

John Allen's All Things Catholic just came out and is dedicated to the remarkable relationship between the famously atheistic Oriana Fallaci and the Catholic Church.

It's all fascinating but two quotes in particular struck me as fodder for a larger discussion:

Allen begins:

"Conventional wisdom has it, "There are no atheists in foxholes." In truth, atheists can be found even in foxholes, but often they're atheists whose deepest yearning is to be wrong."

And continues with a long passage from the man whom Fallaci asked to be at her side as she died: Bishop Rino Fisichella, rector of the Lateran University in Rome:

During those days, a phrase came into my mind from the posthumously published book of Ignazio Silone called Severina. The protagonist is a sister who had left the convent, who is now dying from a wound she received during a protest. At a certain point, one of the sisters from the convent comes to her deathbed and takes her hand, saying, 'Severina, Severina, tell me that you believe!' Severina looks at her and says, 'No, but I hope.' I believe we Christians have a great responsibility to talk about our faith with the language of hope. Quite often, people won't understand us when we talk about the content of our faith. But without doubt, people of today can understand when we talk about hope, if we talk about the mystery of our existence and the meaning of our lives …

Post-modern people are much more intrigued by our hope than our doctrine. Until our existential hope, our serenity, our wholeness, our love, our sanctity is visible, they won't listen to our propositions.

How can we live in such a way that atheists who long to be wrong find in us a compelling reason to doubt their conclusions about the universe and the one who holds it in being?

Outward Bound and Looking In

A distressing and moving multi-media piece in the New York Times this morning on Iraqi war vets seeking to gain strength for re-entry into civilian life by becoming part of a tough outward bound course near Leadville, Colorado.

"I don't know how to relate the experience of war and conflict to someone who hasn't been through it."

Reciprocity & Religious Freedom

John Allen posted an intriguing piece yesterday about how the changing global make-up of Catholicism is changing how ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue is understood.

In the immediate post-Vatican II period, the architects of Catholicism’s relationships with other churches and other religions were mostly Europeans, many of whom carried a sense of historic guilt for sins of the past, from the Crusades to the Wars of Religion, and in particular they were haunted by the Holocaust. Their approach was therefore dominated by the need for an examination of conscience, and a spirit of reconciliation.

Tomorrow’s trailblazers will be Africans, Latin Americans and Asians, who are often more likely to regard themselves as victims rather than perpetrators of religious intolerance. In the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia today, Catholics suffer under aggressive forms of Islamicization, while Catholics in India are reeling from militant Hindu nationalism. In Latin America, Catholics often see themselves as targets of aggressive proselytism from Pentecostal and Evangelical movements.

In such contexts, self-defense rather than deference becomes the leitmotif. Two stories this week, both from the Indian subcontinent, help make the point.


None of this means that ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue is headed for extinction under Southern leadership. On the contrary, the Catholic bishops of Asia have pioneered a flourishing “triple dialogue” with the cultures and religions of Asia and with the continent’s poor. In much of Africa and the Middle East, relations among Christians are close, in part because they face a common threat vis-à-vis radical Islam. Anglican/Catholic relationships in Africa may be stronger than anywhere else on earth, as both share a sense of revulsion about liberal moral tendencies among their co-religionists in the North. In Latin America, Catholics and Pentecostals are making common cause against the stirrings of secularization, especially in the legislative arena.

Demographic shifts in Catholicism are nevertheless reorienting the ecumenical and inter-faith outreach of the Catholic Church in two important ways.

First, reconciliation and mutual theological understanding are yielding pride of place on the inter-faith agenda to reciprocity and religious freedom. If the top post-Vatican II question was how Catholicism can be reformed to make space for a positive view of others, the question more likely to drive the 21st century is how other religions, and the societies they shape, can be reformed to make space for Christianity.

Second, the monopoly of “dialogue” as virtually the only way Catholicism relates to other Christians and other religions is giving way to more complex forms of engagement. Dialogue will remain important, but the 21st century is also seeing a comeback of apologetics, meaning a principled defense of the faith, and proclamation, meaning explicit efforts to invite others to conversion. Both are a reflection of the fact that many Southern Catholics are less inclined to tip-toe around the sensitivities of others, because they don’t feel responsible for creating those sensitivities in the first place.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Intentional Disciple Elves Hard at Work

Mark Shea here again. The little elves of the Siena Institute are (between going to the Uncle Wilbur Fountain, visiting the Cave of the Winds and hanging off of cliff dwellings) getting revved up for our soiree next week. It's been a peculiar combination of goofing off (for us visitors from Ohio and Washington) and working (for Dave Curp and Sherry W.).

Sherry is toiling away on the prep for the Building Community meeting on the 31st. We had a good long talk into the evening and got a bit of a preview of things to come. I think those who are coming will be happy with the chewiness of the content. Sherry is not fluffy.

Here on the Shea front, sleep seems to have been interrupted last night. I got in about four hours and then woke with a headache, so I talk a long walk at dawn and had a lovely view of the prairie stretching away off to the east from Colo. Spgs. I also got in a decade of the Rosary and spent the walk sort of venting at God and trying to listen a bit. Jan and the kids are still in bed, which is a switcheroo since I've been the slugabed.

I've been laboring to not think deeply about things much, which I find is disturbingly easy. That said, I've also been enjoying our time here. I've got some big decisions I need to make and not having other things pressing has been good. Especially good has been the chance to, 'ow you say?, "pursue God in the company of friends" (a phrase of which you shall hear more on this blog presently). It's been really wonderful having a chance to re-connect with Sherry and the Curps (and the little Curplings). Simply the chance to hash out things out loud is really sweet, since we all have our various struggles and trials to deal with. So I am grateful.

Sherry is going to need the computer pretty soon and I have to decide whether to crash or go to today's expedition, so I'm logging off for now. But I will check in later.


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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Inside Baseball vs. Evangelization

Challenging words From Oswald Sorbino's blog, Catholic Analysis:

Inside Baseball vs. Evangelization

When you blog on Catholic topics, the natural and understandable tendency is to spend a lot of time on what one could call "inside baseball"--arguments about liturgy, Catholic problems, charisms, etc. But, once in a while, it is good to set forth the Good News so that non-Catholic or non-Christian visitors can see what is surely most important: Jesus Saves.

Jesus not only saves; but, as I have heard others say, Jesus loves to save. And "saving" includes healing of all kinds, not just spiritual but also emotional, psychological, and physical. Saving includes healing all wounds, even those from a very long time ago. Saving also includes forgiveness so that one can start again and be born anew from above (if you have already received the Sacrament of Baptism, then it is a matter of activating again the new birth you have already received).

Saving also includes empowering to live in the Holy Spirit in joy and peace. Saving includes the power to do the right thing, not to be crushed by impossible moral ideals that we, on our own, can never meet. Saving also means making us part of the Body of Christ where we can be refreshed with the sacraments, the prayers, and the communion of our fellow Catholics. Saving means we enter a new family united in the joy of praising the Lord Jesus and bound together by a bond that can surpass even biological ties to others.

The formula is basic: repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. But notice that repent is not just regretting this sin or that sin. The Gospel call to repentance, in the original New Testament Greek, has the sense of turning ourselves around, of changing our hearts and minds, of surrendering control to the true Sovereign and Lord. If you are non-Christian, you hand over your life to Jesus and begin instruction for receiving the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist). If you are a non-Catholic baptized Christian, you receive instruction to receive the Sacraments of Penance, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. If you are already Catholic, you rededicate your life to Jesus and seek out the Sacrament of Penance, also called the "Sacrament of Conversion." The end result is the happiness that never dies.

Yes, sometimes we have to take a break from all the "inside baseball" and talk about the crucial arena of our lives because the stakes are too high for all of us and because we may forget that many are desperately seeking Jesus.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Running the Race

Take a look at this interactive slide show of the Pike's Peak Ascent that was run last Saturday. Then remember the reading from Sunday:

Brothers and sisters:
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us
and persevere in running the race that lies before us
while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus,
the leader and perfecter of faith.
For the sake of the joy that lay before him
he endured the cross, despising its shame,
and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.
Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners,
in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.
In your struggle against sin
you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.
Hebrews 12: 1-4

How does one run the race?

With the grace of God and the selfless and faithful help of friends like the volunteers portrayed in this slideshow of those who helped the runners on Pike's Peak.

Longing to pursue God in the company of friends?

Consider attending our Building Intentional Community day August 31.

No one finishes the race alone.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Greetings from the Sheas of Colorado!

Mark Shea here. Chesterton said that inconveniences were only adventures wrongly considered. On that accounting, I have had a weekend of adventures! After I saw Jan, Peter and Sean off on their flight to Colorado Springs, my flight to Amarillo was canceled, so I caught a redeye and was up all night. I got into Amarillo shortly before I was to speak, gave my first talk, then crashed in my hotel room with a wakeup call for 15 minutes before the next talk. Both talks seemed to go well (though it's typically hard for me to tell). I got to meet the bishop of Amarillo (a very good man named Yanta, a Pole who has, among other things, given Priests for Life a sort of headquarters and house of formation, not to mention coordinating a bunch of laypeople in a prayer campaign which has shut down 18 out of 20 abortuaries in the diocese. Speaking of Priests for Life, Fr. Frank Pavone was there this weekend and he kindly gave me a little tour of the new facilities for his apostolate. He seems to know what he's doing in terms of organization and creating a long-term ministry that will be fighting for the rights of the unborn for a long time. Also, he preached the Mass yesterday and was, as usual, terrific.

The flight to Colorado Springs was also full of adventure. The plane to Denver was inexplicably late by an hour, so I wound up missing my flight to Colorado Springs. However, I was able to catch a later flight and so arrived safe and sound and delighted to see Jan (who came and got me) and Sherry Weddell and the Curps (old friends all) as I stumbled through the front door of the house.

We sat up talking till 1:00 and played a bit of catchup (we haven't all been together since the last trip to C. Springs in 2003). Then we drifted off to bed and (for me) the beginning of some serious sleep deficit payoff. Today we popped out to the library and brought home *ridiculous* numbers of books--ridiculous as in "people were laughing at the giant armload of books I was lugging out to the car".

C. Springs is All That. Clear blue skies and warm with the Colorado Rockies Right There and Pike's Peak looming over you. The streets in the neighborhood are all named for plants and flowers. It's like the classic American town in addition to being the Vatican of American Evangelicalism.

We're taking it easy mostly. The oxygen level here is half that of Seattle due to altitude. So I am dutifully taking my iron and drinking a lot of water to stave off headaches. The two Sherrys and Jan are planning Big Things (something I overheard as I slipped off into my afternoon nap (ah!). I have no big plans at all. That's my idea of vacation. We did bring along the Dangerous Book for Boys as a resource idea for fun stuff to do as father and sons and will probably consult that oracle in our next bit of down time. I'm going to push for swimming soon, because it's 83 degree indoors.

I may be popping in from time to time on this blog to say howdy and chronicle our adventures. And I look forward to seeing those of you who are coming to the Siena Soiree in a week or so! Till next time: toodles!

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Raised to the Dignity of Being Causes

More stuff from the archives which haven't seen the light of day in a long time:

Some years ago, a uniquely silly phrase enjoyed its fifteen minutes of fame. For one brief, tarnished moment, license plates across Seattle urged me to “Commit random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty”. I confess that I found the words “random” and senseless” to be intensely annoying.

I could not believe that someone was actually proposing that we put intentional acts of kindness in the same category as a sudden whim for a pickle and peanut butter sandwich or that we believe that the creation of beauty is a meaningless gesture that required neither sense nor skill. I hoped that no one was expecting torrents of completely artless kindnesses and spontaneous beauty to start pouring forth from my remarkably ordinary heart and soul. If the human community was waiting for me to become an unconscious fountain of inspired creativity and warm fuzzies, it might as well make itself comfortable. We’re gonna be here awhile. I may be accident-prone but I am not prone to either accidental niceness or artistic brilliance.

Thank God, our hope lies in something stronger than our personal whims of the moment. It lies in our freedom to make thoughtful, deliberate choices that have real, historical consequences. As Blaise Pascal observed, God has raise us, far beyond our merits, “to the dignity of being causes.” We are not random causes or senseless causes, but graced, intentional, prayerful causes.

A priest at a recent Called & Gifted workshop asked me a most interesting question. Why, does God give certain charisms only to a few? For instance, if a few people having the gift of healing is a wonderful thing, why not give the gift to millions? Of course, we don’t know why God distributes the gifts the way that he does. Such questions are natural and intriguing but they can distract us from a far deeper mystery: why does God bother giving us any gifts at all?

Why delegate any real power to us to affect things for good or ill? Why not just heal all our wounds and forgive all our sins by divine fiat? Why does God insist on raising us to the dignity of being causes? And not just causes of trivial things but of ideas, decisions, actions, and movements whose consequences ripple through the lives of million over the centuries and right into eternity.

When we ask such questions, God does not respond with an answer. Instead, he gives us a mystery: the Incarnation. The Church has long recognized that God did not have to take on our humanity in order to save us. He freely chose to redeem us as a human being through the medium of a fully human life and death. Further more, he choose to become incarnate by means of the Holy Spirit working with the consent and cooperation of a human teenager. In his major work, Against the Heresies, written in 190 AD, St. Irenaeus uses extraordinarily strong words to describe the consequences of a decision made over two hundred years previously by a young woman named Mary:

“Eve. . .having become disobedient, was made the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race, so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless till a virgin, being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race . . . Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith.”

Recently, a friend and I were talking with great energy about the need for lay Catholics to be "conscious, intentional" disciples. At the end of our conversation, he was silent for moment and finally commented, with the air of one giving into the inevitable: "Well, I guess it's ok if most Catholics are unconscious".

But it is not ok. God will not save us without us and he has chosen not to save the world without us either. There are no random saints or accidental apostles. As Christ began, so he continues to work today. He continues to pour out the graces of his redemptive sacrifice freely through fully human ways. We could never have earned these graces but we must deliberately choose to cooperate with them. We will not be transformed ourselves or become a channel of this grace for others without our free consent and intentional cooperation. God does insist on raising us to the dignity of being causes. If this is true, how many people's lives and salvation, how many communities, organizations, families, and cultures - history itself and its eternal significance - hang in the balance on the life choices of ordinary Catholics?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

From Atheist to Newly Minted Catholic

Check out Et Tu? - the blog of a brand new Catholic (received at Easter, 2007) who tells her journey from atheist to believing Catholic in three years.

Catholic Fundraising

Back when I was in seminary in the mid- to late- eighties, the Dominican house of studies in Oakland, CA, began a wine tasting and wine auction to help our budget. Since we were only an hour or so away from the Napa and Sonoma valleys, it was a fairly simple matter of getting donations from local wineries. Over eight years it grew to become a very elegant event held on our priory grounds. Lay people were involved in preparing phenomenal hors d'oeuvres, and the friars in their habits and the wineries pouring tastings on the perimeter of our backyard with our tudor-style priory on one side and a small forest grove on the other made for a very classy event.

WIth the money made from the day-long event we were able to purchase the first computers for the use of our seminarians.

At the end of the seventh or eighth year the community voted to end the event, primarily because some students were uncomfortable with fundraising, saying, "I didn't become a Dominican to do fundraising events!" (uh, we ARE a mendicant Order...). Others felt it was morally indefensible to raise money using alcohol, when so many people suffering from alcoholism.

You can probably tell I was in favor of continuing the fundraiser, and, in fact, had been in charge of it for several years in a row.

Fast forward to the present. A local parish is having its annual fundraiser, and part of the festivities include a beer tent and a casino night. It would be illegal to allow people to gamble for money, but those with the most chips (which are given with the cost of a dinner with additional chips for sale throughout the night) at the end of the night can turn them in for prizes.

The parish festival is also used to attract non-Catholics to the parish.

Now a member of the parish is raising the question, "Should we promote gambling and drinking as part of our fundraiser, when so many people suffer from addictions to these activities?" The parishioner is suggesting that there may be other ways of raising funds that wouldn't include drinking and gambling. He points out that there will be children and teens at the festival (though not at the casino night, and beer is restricted to the confines of a tent), and what are we saying to them about the Christian life by promoting these activities?

Others argue that these are harmless activities if done in moderation, and to exclude them from the festival activities will decrease attendance and unfairly punish those who can enjoy them without going to extremes.

As a former pastor who has been involved with parish-wide garage sales, dinner auctions and other time-consuming fundraisers and development activities, I can assure you I wish we could rely upon the stewardship of the entire parish community to meet our budgetary needs. Perhaps when a majority of parishioners are intentional disciples finances will no longer be an issue. And it's kind of a catch-22. Whatever time and energy we're spending raising funds, we aren't spending on proclamation of the Gospel and the call to conversion or catechesis.

But until that financial and spiritual golden age dawns, what do you think about the use of alcohol or bingo, raffles, "casino nights" and other forms of gambling, to raise funds for other parish activities? Does your parish have any succesful fundraising events that don't involve what could be "vicious" behaviors for some people? Is the parishioner being a Puritan, or is he putting his finger on something that needs to change?

The Gang Has Descended

So blogging will be limited over the next two weeks. I'll see if I can get some of the ID gang (here and elsewhere) to post and a guest appearance perhaps by Mark Shea.

It is amazing what how the energy of 5 children (ages 2 - 12) changes a house! What's amazing is that the house manages to absorb it. We did this 4 years ago and we were still talking to each other at the end of 2 weeks. We are hoping to repeat the same thing this year.

Friday, August 17, 2007

It's a Mystery

It's a mystery . . .

Blogger has gone back and italicized everything I've ever written - without the slightest desire or effort on my part to do so. Even this may post as italicized even though I am NOT italicizing as I write.

Any suggestions, oh uber-blogging gurus?

Members of Lay Movement "Don't Like Church"

Take a look at this interesting Chicago Tribune article about the Focolare movement in Chicagoland.

But there is one stupifyingly stupid bit:

Since its founding, Focolare, the Italian word for "hearth," has grown to nearly 90,000 members worldwide. Most live in Europe, where the percentage of people who attend church has declined rapidly in recent decades. The Gallup International Millennium Survey found that just 20 percent of respondents in Western Europe and 14 percent in Eastern Europe attend religious services regularly.

Catholic lay movements have helped fill the cracks, said Dorian Llywelyn, a professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

"They are attractive to people who don't like church but who want to get involved with their faith," Llywelyn said.

HUH? You take life-long vows in a lay movement, which incidentally means that you attend daily Mass because you don't like church?

Stupid comment by professor? Terrible writing by journalist augmented by lame editing? Or both?

Or did Llywelyn mean "the movements are attractive to people who don't like average parish life?" This is not fair or true either but note the implication: life in intentional Christian community is not "church" and is somehow opposed to "church".

Just how did the professor and/or writer get that idea?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Next Wave Faithful

Joe Waters is a Catholic grad student at the Duke divinity school in North Carolina who plans to spend the summer of 2008 doing an internship with the Institute. He writes to tell us that he'll be interviewed on EWTN's Next Wave Faithful radio show tonight in the 9pm (Eastern) time slot.

Joe's topics? The role of the laity, charisms, etc. You can listen live here. It should be good!

"If I Left the Church" and the Culture of Intentional Discipleship

I'm reviewing some of the many things that I have written over the years.

What is surprising to me is how relevant most of my early observations as a Catholic still seem to be. A million air miles and conversations with tens of thousands of Catholics have only show me how wide-spread the phenomena that I first encountered in Seattle and that I describe in the essay below is throughout the Catholic world.

I wouldn't write the same way today. I wouldn't use the same language. But my conclusion would be the same: As Catholics, we have a wonderful rich theology of evangelization and mission and the apostolate of the laity - but we aren't living it.

An absolutely critical piece is missing for 99% of Catholics: an experience of a culture of intentional discipleship and all that flows from that. Most people won't "get" the theology until they experience the reality on the ground. That's how most of us grasp new concepts. We see it enacted before us and around us by other people with whom we can identify.

The one percent of US Catholics who have been part of a lay movement like Communion and Liberation or the charismatic renewal or an evangelization process like Cursillo or some kind of evangelization retreat or part of a most unusual parish (and for links to some really remarkable parishes, check out our links here)tell similar stories.

I lost track a long time ago of how many like stories I've heard on the road. At least half of the pastoral leaders who attended Making Disciples last week expressed very similar frustrations. They were from 22 dioceses all over the US and Australia and yet they told us over and over again how isolated they were back home and how incredibly healing it was to be able to talk to other Catholics who cared about the same things they cared about.

Even more telling is the fact that five deeply committed, orthodox, and theologically sophisticated Catholics have used the same ominous language in totally unrelated conversations over the past two weeks, "if I left the Church". And the reason was always the same: lack of a community of friends with which they can pursue their relationship with God. ( I need to make it clear that I am NOT considering leaving the church myself nor did I bring the subject up - they used this language spontaneously)

Most of these people are cradle Catholics. It really transcends the issue of "Catholic or Protestant?". The central issue is whether or not you have ever experienced being immersed in a culture of intentional discipleship. Christians who have been part of a culture of discipleship have much in common with other Christians who have done so, even if they come from different ecclesial backgrounds. And many Catholics who have left us for the evangelical world would come back in a heartbeat if we could offer them a truly Catholic environment where they felt truly supported in their attempts to follow Christ.

So here's my take on the same dynamic from 10 years ago. It is fairly long and covers briefly the story of my conversion (I think I wrote it at the request of a Catholic media group)and ends rather abruptly but still manages to give a pretty vivid sense of what it means to move from a culture of discipleship into a Christian culture that is not primarily centered around discipleship.

"When I think back on my early life, the thing that is most striking is how easy it was for me to find instruction and support for my Christian faith. I was not a Catholic but was raised in a Christian family that took the faith seriously. Every member of our family was strongly encouraged to make a personal commitment to follow Christ. I studied and memorized the Bible at home as a child. We played games based on Scriptural knowledge during mealtimes. Our Christian culture and local church assumed that every member had a call from God and should be actively discerning that call as a teen-ager and young adult.

As a college student I received training in Scripture study, how to share my faith with others, how to lead a small group, how to pray, and how to discern God’s call. All kinds of practical formation in Christian living was available in my tiny local church of 150 people or through local branches of para-church organizations that worked hand-in-hand with local parishes. For instance, I received one-on-one mentoring in the faith by another young woman who had been specifically trained to help me in this way. I was strongly encouraged to study on my own as well and taken on a tour of several local Christian bookstores to familiarize myself with the resources available through the wider Christian community.

While I was still in college, a remarkable woman leader in my local church took me under her wing and changed the direction of my life. She taught me how to listen to my own heart, how to listen to God’s voice, and how to pray for others. I was deeply impressed by the her wholeness, the way in which she had integrated her life and faith, and the way in which she used her gifts and exercised leadership as a lay women.

Because I had an interest in missionary work to the Middle East, I was able to link up with other young local Christians in my neighborhood who met to pray for missions, to prepare themselves for missionary work and to reached out to international student studying in the US. With this support, I switched majors and studied Arabic and Near Eastern history. I lived in a house near the university run by a young woman who had already spent 6 years abroad with a lay missionary organization. The day after I graduated from college I drove across country with some friends to a national conference on Christian outreach to Muslims put on by an organization dedicated exclusively to the formation of the lay evangelists.

In retrospect, I am astonished that I never marveled at the abundance of personal formation and support that was readily available to me as an ordinary Christian lay woman. I assumed that it was normal for local churches and student organizations to provide numerous opportunities for apostolic formation. Since Christ had called every one of his sons and daughters to mission, we thought it was only natural that every Christian be readied for that mission in their local parish. Most importantly, I never found myself alone in my spiritual questionings or discernment process. I was surrounded by lay peers who were asking the same questions and wrestling with the same issues and perfectly at ease in talking about it. I was regarded as gifted (but then so was everyone else in different ways) but never exceptional.

We took St. Paul’s teaching in his epistles about spiritual gifts quite seriously and sought to discern the gifts each Christian had been given by the Holy Spirit to empower them for their personal vocation. In my small local church, a group of us took an inventory to help us discern our spiritual gifts or charisms. As a young adult, I had begun to see particular gifts of the Holy Spirit emerge. I had a strong desire to pray for others and saw remarkable things happen when I did so.

I discovered that I had a charism of teaching when an older married woman asked to meet with me every week to discuss prayer and the spiritual life. I prepared for these sessions by writing up little lessons on prayer, which she found extremely helpful. Our informal mentoring relationship continued for two years until she left to do missionary work with her family in a "closed" Muslim country, a choice which was not unique in my experience. I knew at least a dozen Christian families in the neighborhood who had done similar things.

By that time, I had started to teach small, informal classes in discernment and prayer for interested lay people in homes. I later taught similar classes to the staff of a Christian bookstore where I worked. The classes included prayer exercises that each person would do during the week, often at work, and then would share their experience. I received very strong positive feedback from those who took the classes and begin to discern that here was a specific area in which God had called and gifted me.

In light of my desire to do missionary work, it seemed only natural that I do further training and so I enrolled at the largest graduate missions training institution in the world. While there, I lived and worked on a college campus occupied by a lay organization which focused entirely on outreach to completely unevangelized peoples. I lived and breathed frontier world missions twenty-four hours a day with hundreds of eager missionaries and leaders from around the globe. I never knew whether the person next to me at dinner would be an experienced missionary to the Philippines or a Ugandan refugee. It never once struck me as odd that all these people training to spread the faith to the farthest and most inaccessible parts of the globe were ordinary lay Christians.

As the ways in which God touched other people through me became clearer, I began to call myself a "people-gardener". I wasn’t exactly a counselor or a healer but mysterious though it was, I recognized that Christians grew as human beings and as apostles around me. I was fascinated with bridging the gap between Christian ideals and the experience of average Christians. I strongly identified with committed Christians who were struggling or discouraged in their attempts to live the faith in a whole-hearted manner and desired to help them. In this area I did not find myself alone since many Christians I knew were concerned about the same thing. In a world where serious lay discipleship was normative, all leaders and pastors were asking "How can I help people live and share the faith in as full and joyful a way as possible?" I was not exceptional in my concerns, I was simply recognized to be especially gifted in this area.

In the midst of all, I was slowly awakening to the riches of the Catholic Church. When I began seeking out private places to pray for others, I found that most Protestant churches were closed during the day. And so I entered the lovely church of the Blessed Sacrament for the first time. Its austere beauty accommodated my Protestant sensibilities. But the truly compelling attraction was a sense of God’s presence there in a particularly powerful way. I was completely unfamiliar with Catholic belief in the Real Presence, an idea I would have rejected. Rather, I presumed that since Blessed Sacrament was old, what I was experiencing was the "residue" left from decades of prayer. In any case, I was hooked. Protestant churches, however lovely, weren’t filled with that same Presence. From that time on, I prayed as much as possible in Catholic churches.

Those hours spent in different Catholic churches as I moved around the US and then to Britain, and the Holy Land slowly and subtly undermined my anti-Catholic prejudices. My first Easter Vigil service marked the fall of another barrier to the Catholic faith. In my casting about for a fuller way to celebrate Easter, nothing had prepared me for the power and truth of the Vigil. The many Scriptural readings impressed me, and I found the Exultet majestically beautiful. Thereafter, I decided to attend the Vigil every Easter.

While serving in Wales, I discover to my surprise that the most nourishing worship service available to me was at the local Catholic parish. The Welsh, mind you, are a people for whom singing hymns in massive choirs is a national sport. And so it was among this nation of choristers that I experienced the rhythms of the liturgy for the first time. Welsh Catholics sang most of the liturgy in parts. I was still very Protestant in my approach to worship. By the time I’d heard all the readings and listened to the homily, I figured the essential part of the service was over. But as I experienced the life of the Church from Epiphany through Corpus Christi, more of my misconceptions fell away.

Upon my return to Seattle, I went on an intense, three-week retreat overseen by a Christian psychologist. During one of the high points of this experience, I felt God's goodness and grace passing through me, a created being, into the world. In a flash, the whole sacramental notion that God's grace can and does enter the world through matter became real to me. This was a crisis! My tiny church didn't celebrate sacraments in any form. After a single visit back, I knew I could no longer make do with non-sacramental worship. For me, the sacraments had become spiritual necessities and I knew where to find them! My longing for the sacraments was enough to overcome my remaining reservations and I quickly entered RCIA.

It took a couple more years to resolve all my issues but in December of 1987, I was finally received into full communion. When astonished Protestant friends would ask me why I had joined the Catholic Church, I would simply reply "To follow Jesus". I longed to be at the center of the Body of Christ, not at the periphery. I wanted to be where Christ’s redeeming work was the center and focus of worship and His presence the heart of the sanctuary. I wanted to be united with the communion of saints throughout time and space. The Christian world I was entering was infinitely larger than the one in which I had been raised. The inexhaustible depths of the ancient, universal Church dazzled me. New spiritual, intellectual, cultural, and historical horizons beckoned in every direction
My reasons for entering were partly experiential, partly mystical, partly liturgical – but always centered around the compelling vision of Church universal. I had had the best of evangelical Protestantism and was tremendously grateful but now I was being called into an infinitely deeper and richer Christianity. In my joy, I felt like the inhabitant of Sheol being called forth by the victorious Christ in an ancient homily for Holy Saturday "Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you life"

But nothing I had read in any catechism could have prepared me for the reality of trying to sustain my faith in a local Catholic parish. During my first full year as a Catholic, I nearly drowned in loneliness and despair. Where I had once been surrounded by lay peers who shared a similar experience and formation, I now felt as though I were a freak of nature.

I had come from a world where our common faith was at the center of every gathering of Christians and at least alluded to in nearly every conversation. Outside of Mass, Catholics seemed to talk only about the weather or the Mariners. The lay men and women in the pews with me were strangely uncomfortable talking about the faith and were mystified and irritated by my enthusiasm for doing so. As one cradle Catholic told a convert friend of mine" if you’re going to pray, pray. If you’re going to socialize, socialize. Don’t mix the two."

I quickly discovered that it was better if I didn’t talk about my experience and training or about the accomplishments of the lay missionaries who were my friends. It was simply light years beyond the experience and imagination of nearly every Catholic I met. I was once asked to write an article on lay vocation for a national magazine aimed at serious lay Catholics. I broke my rule and wrote the true story of the woman friend whom I had mentored and who was now quietly doing remarkable things in one of the most oppressive countries on earth. The editor told me to take her story out. "None of our readers could possibly aspire to such a ministry" he told me.

Every summer, this very woman returns for a few weeks to Seattle and attempts to describe the struggles and victories of her entire year to me. I meditated on that Catholic editor’s comment during one such visit as I watched her talking. This five-foot-nothing, middle-aged housewife, her rumpled clothes and drooping eyes mirroring her exhaustion and jet lag, was this woman so very extraordinary? Could none of the thousands of lay Catholics who read that magazine never aspire to do something similar?

I knew that my friend was not unique. Ordinary lay people aspired to such things all the time in the Christian world I had known. I came from a quite ordinary family. We do not have a tradition of becoming missionaries or pastors or evangelists. And yet had I not listened to my cousin’s stories of his missionary work in Moscow? What about my roommate in seminary who spent five years as a lay missionary in Turkey before marrying a local Armenian. My 19 year old sister had served in Nigeria with a team of young adults supported by a vibrant church only three blocks away from my own parish. I knew that there were thousands of non-traditional lay missionaries in the world. What was it that made Catholics so certain that such a work was "too much" for a lay man or woman to undertake?

I once asked that question of a group of Dominican pastors to whom I was speaking on the lay apostolate. A very knowledgeable and committed lay DRE who heard my talk simply could not believe it. "You can’t have come from an ordinary Protestant family", she protested. By that time, I knew that Christians who had been raised Catholic shared a powerful, if invisible lay culture that wasn’t described in any catechism and was foreign to my own experience. In the world of ordinary lay Catholicism, my formation and experience was abnormal and alienating. I gradually ceased to talk seriously with other lay Catholics unless I was with other converts from the same background.

The most painful moment came when I realize that I had to admit to myself that if I had been raised Catholic, I would not have received the years of personal nurture and formation that made me who I was. It simply wasn’t available to ordinary lay Catholics in their local parishes and communities. I believed that all that the Catholic Church believed and held to be true, but I was living off the spiritual abundance of my Protestant past.

I held on through a naked act of the will. Christ had called me into the center of His Church and I would not leave. But neither could I settle for so little. I would walk the three blocks to the neighborhood evangelical mega-church and look on with longing envy. This church was no larger than many Catholic parishes in Seattle, but it might as well have been on the far side of the moon, so profoundly different were the assumptions at work there.

Their motto was "every member a minister" and they meant it. This church had high-powered formation program for children, university students, and adults of all ages. It was normal for 6-9 different classes to be offered for adults every Sunday. This church’s largest department was "Urban and Global Mission". They supported lay missionaries and programs in 25 different countries and sent their own members on short and long-term missions every year. This was the congregation that had enabled my sister to go to Africa. This was the world I had given up by becoming Catholic.

I tried to participate in both communities for a while but found it surprisingly difficult. Although people were certainly welcoming, I was no longer Protestant in my theology and understanding of the church and I gradually realized that evangelicalism could never be "home" again. I felt, as have many other converts, personally torn in two by the schism that had riven western Christendom for nearly 500 years. Either I could have the sacraments, the communion of saints, and the Church universal or I could have a vibrant local community where I could really share with like-minded lay Christians and receive real nurture and support in living out my faith. I could not have them both. They belonged to two irreconcilable spiritual universes that dwelt in splendid isolation from one another.

Two years after being received into the Church, I felt that God was calling me to prepare for a new work of helping other lay Christians discern their vocations. By this time, I knew better than to turn for assistance or support from my parish or diocese. I was entirely on my own. I made plans to change jobs in order to return to graduate school. Co-workers innocently asked me if I would be getting help from my church. I laughed inwardly at their naivete. My confessor had written a nice letter of recommendation for me but I was quite certain that that was the only help I would receive from the Catholic church.

I truly did not know where God was leading me. I certainly never expected to work in a parish. I could not imagine a Catholic parish being seriously interested in serious formation for the laity. The pastors I had met regarded lay people at best as potential parish volunteers, not apostles. I could see no obvious forum for my work in the local Catholic church but felt that if I was faithful, God would make some informal opportunities available. I reminded myself that perhaps God intended that I help just one other person. My ministry might always be quiet and informal. My job was simply to follow as best I could. So I changed jobs and planned to gave up all my discretionary income and my weekends for three years in order to finish school. Those three years turned into six as I finished school and then began helping small groups of lay Catholics discern their charisms.

During this time, I kept getting called by lay Catholics who were thinking of leaving the Catholic church for the evangelical world because they longed for fellowship and real instruction. I did my best to support these individuals over the phone for a while. Then, in a single day, I talked to two Catholics on the verge of leaving and was called by a Protestant professor who was seriously considering becoming Catholic but despaired of finding a local parish where his family could be really nourished. I hung up from that call determined to do something.

I had been a Catholic for six years by this point and looked to my local parish for nothing beyond the sacraments. In my experience, pastors tended to dismiss Catholics who left the Church for such reasons as fundamentalists who wouldn’t be missed. If anything was going to be done about this, it would have to be done by lay people. I gathered a group of mostly convert friends together and started a fellowship group so that those on the verge of leaving or entering the Church wouldn’t have to wrestle with their issues alone. We met once a month for prayer, a potluck dinner, a talk and discussion. Since we couldn’t come up with a name for our little group at first, we called ourselves "The Nameless Lay Group". In time, we decided that we liked being nameless and nameless we remained.

We gave eager young lay Catholics their first experience of personal support and formation in their faith. A Catholic father of eight who had left in frustration found the support he needed to be able to return to the Church. We gave a young Baptist man his first positive experience of lay Catholics and he soon began to attending Mass regularly with his Catholic wife and eventually entered RCIA. Through the miracle of the internet, we helped a entire Protestant family in New Zealand enter the church."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Gloria Strauss update

The Seattle Times reporter, Jerry Brewer, who is covering Gloria and her family (Gloria is an 11 year old cancer patient in crisis whose fight has been covered by the Seattle Times over the past 4 months) is keeping a blog and this is his most recent entry:

"As promised, I want to tell more about last night's touching prayer session.

It was truly a sight to see about 30 people praying around Gloria. With the permission of Gloria's parents, we taped portions of it. Once audio is edited, we plan to make it available online, perhaps by tomorrow morning.

In the meantime, I'm going to give some highlights from last night.

-- Kristen shared that she heard God give her a message in Gloria's diction: "Give her to God and let Him do his thang."

Kristen was searching for what to do. When those words popped into her head, she was comforted. Gloria is a big "American Idol" fan, and she can do impressions of all the judges. Her Randy Jackson may be the funniest, and the way Kristen heard the words, "do his thang" sounded much like Gloria imitating Jackson.

To explain it very simply, Kristen took it to mean God was assuring her that Gloria will be just fine.

-- Kristen also read a passage from the Magnificat, a collection of spiritual writings that she reads every day. This just happened to be the selected reading for Monday:

"Let the Lord, God, show us what way we should take and what we should do. To God, the darkest the steps of the human heart are as clear as the page of a book lying open in the sunlight. He knows us through and through, and He loves us as deeply as He knows us. Rather than hide from Him, let us put our life in the hands that fashioned us and allow Him to lead us in the path of eternal life."

Said Kristen: "Just hearing that, it confirmed to us that God is still walking with us in this and that He's still guiding us. He's not abandoning us."

-- Jessica Morley, a senior-to-be at Kennedy High School in Burien, where Gloria's father teaches and coaches, revealed that she had a dream Saturday night.

"I had a dream that I was talking to a man, and I was explaining to him how frustrated I was that so many people are giving up on Gloria's miracle," Morley said. "He told me that I don't have to be like them. That I don't have to settle for an average faith.

"When I woke up in the morning, those words were ringing in my head, and it gave me a lot of comfort."

Back story on Morley: As an infant, she had neuroblastoma, but doctors found it early enough to save her. She's now in remission. Though the situations are different, the Strausses look at Morley as an inspiration.

-- Random quote from Gloria's father, Doug, talking about praying with conviction: "Like Shaq said, don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk."

Doug uses humor to get through all of this. But he warned everyone last night, "I'm not using humor to hide from the truth. I am being realistic."

-- And here's the moment that made me tear up: Watching Seattle University student Diana McKune, who has a brain cancer called intracranial germinoma, get out of a wheelchair in struggle, in pain, to get on her knees to pray at Gloria's bed.

McKune met Gloria a few years ago and has been taken by her story ever since.

It was an unbelievable night.

-- On a personal note, all of this is reminding me of the value of community. As I've tried to rise in journalism, I've gone from city to city, trying not to settle in too much because I don't want to be afraid to run to the next opportunity.

Because of some childhood experiences, I've also been against being part of a church community. I've preferred to study the Bible alone or in small groups and visit churches from time to time but not join one.

I became jaded because there are always negatives when a large number of people gather and try to do something together. Jealousy. Gossip. Back-stabbing. Those kinds of things.

This experience has taught me that there are church communities with different DNA, and I shouldn't be so stubborn. My faith has always been there, but my faith in others waned. Now that is starting to turn.

It's been an invaluable revelation.

It doesn't really influence how I write this series, but it may change my life in the very near future."

The Leadville Effect

The amazing, bizarre, and incredibly moving Leadville Trail 100 will be taking place this weekend on the backbone of North America. I haven't been able to talk the Sheas and Curps into racing over to catch the final on Sunday morning (they mumbled something about being tired)but my memories of last year's are still fresh and I'd like to share them with you.

I blogged about this back in our first week of existance back in January but probably only 20 people read it - so it is again:

The Leadville Effect

Leadville, Colorado is a perfect setting for human drama. Leadville started life as a classic, wild-west town full of miners in search of fabulous wealth. It is the highest incorporated town (10,200 feet high) at the foot of the highest mountain range in North America. That means that it is short on oxygen and long on superlatives. The steeple of the exquisite Victorian Catholic church (where the famous “Unsinkable Molly Brown” was married) is, naturally, the highest church steeple in North America. In the grip of an 24-hour stomach flu, I recently earned the distinction of throwing up on the lawn of the highest town hall in North America!

Every August, hundreds of outsiders descend on Leadville to kick the inherent drama of the place up a few notches. They have come to attempt the highest ultra-marathon in North America: The Leadville Trail 100, “the race across the sky”. Runners seek to cover 100 miles across mountainous terrain that rises as high as 12,600 feet and to finish within 30 hours. They begin the race in the pre-dawn darkness at 4 am on Saturday. To be counted as a “finisher” you have to stagger across the finish line before the gun goes off at 10 am on Sunday. To finish on time, runners cannot sleep, and must run or walk all night up and down steep mountain trails in temperatures that routinely drop into the 30’s. This past August, 199 runners – 51% of those who started - finished on time.

I first heard of the Leadville 100 from the bemused owner of a bed and breakfast in a tiny mountain town which serves as one of the race’s primary aid stations. The poor man described dazed runners who were so exhausted that they had to be pushed in the right direction or they would simply miss the trail. The whole thing sounded so extreme - so utterly crazy - that I couldn’t believe that rational human beings would take part. I have since found out that nearly every person – including those who now run it - reacted that way when they first heard about the Leadville 100. Everyone thinks it is crazy - until you witness one - and what I have come to think of as the “Leadville Effect” hits you:

When a community promotes, models, and intentionally supports outstanding achievement in its members, people change . This transformation, and the extraordinary achievement that results from this transformation, is what I mean by the “Leadville Effect”:

People begin to see themselves differently and the world differently.

What they assumed to be “normal” and “possible” begins to change.

The result: “ordinary” people begin to imagine, aspire to, and accomplish extraordinary things.

Let me try and explain.

First of all, no one attempts the Leadville Trail 100 alone. The secret of the race is the very high level of community support behind each runner. There are a minimum of two supporting workers for every participant. Hundreds man aid stations all day and night, handing out water, Gatorade, power gels, cookies, and hot potato soup to all. Volunteers time runners in and out of aid stations, weigh them and assess their condition, give them a chance to warm themselves, to change their clothing and gear, and if necessary, insist they stop before they hurt themselves. Teams on mountain bikes follow behind the runners “sweeping” the trail in the dark to make sure that all stragglers are found and no one gets lost.

In addition, most runners have their own personal team of supporters. Many have “pacers” who can run beside individual participants for the last 50 miles. Pacers are not competitors but often run the equivalent of an ultra-marathon themselves simply to support someone else. Throughout the night, pacers can be heard softly talking, encouraging, challenging; making sure their runner keeps hydrated and doesn’t get lost, and if necessary, telling their runner when to quit. Family and friends, often wearing matching sweatshirts with mottos like “Ted’s team”, met the runners at aid stations with specially prepared food, changes of clothing, and sun block. They massage and bandage battered feet, provide dry shoes and socks, and a stream of encouragement.

The whole drama culminates at the finish line between 9 and 10 am on Sunday morning. The uber-athletes have long since finished and gone but the crowd just keeps getting larger and more exuberant. They know that the last hour is the most moving because so many of the late finishers are ordinary men and women who are attempting something extraordinary, perhaps for the first time in their life. The “race across the sky” is not just for the young and extraordinarily fit. Runners in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s finish every year. Finishing Leadville is not primarily about speed; it is about courage and heart and the power of community.

At the finish line this past August, I could not help but notice a large support team of perhaps 40 people all dressed in brilliant scarlet t-shirts. On the back of each shirt was the phrase “already finished”. I was intrigued and asked a couple of the team members who they were supporting. They pointed to the writing on the front of their shirts “In loving memory of Daryl Bogenrief”. Twenty five year old Daryl had been killed the summer before in a white water rafting accident. His young wife of 10 months, Angela, was running the Leadville 100 in his memory. A few minutes later, word spread among the team that she was two miles away with only an hour remaining. Instantly, Angela’s army set off to meet her.

I waited by the finish line. The minutes passed. One by one, runners crossed, often running hand-in-hand for the last 100 yards with the spouses, children, and friends who had made their achievement possible. Grizzled, grey-haired men broke down and wept in joy and relief within seconds of finishing. Each one was cheered vigorously by the hundreds of on-lookers who had by this time formed a kind of human tunnel around the finish. But I kept my eye on the ridge of the last hill, looking for signs of Angela.

Then I saw it: a scarlet phalanx formed at the crest of the hill a quarter mile away, and began to marching steadily towards us. As the group drew closer, I could see that they had formed a solid, cheering, human wall around a young woman with long brown hair. Angela’s pacer was beside her. Her friends were carrying all her gear but a single water bottle, freeing her up to focus on one thing alone: finishing. Angela was limping but her face was radiant, as she crossed the line 18 minutes before the final gun went off.

The power of the Leadville experience has stayed with me because it has such obvious implications for the formation of lay apostles. I know many “Angelas”, men and women who are doing astonishing things for the Kingdom of God because and only because they have the active, sustained, enthusiastic support of the Christian community – a sort of ecclesial Leadville effect.

Last summer, I received a letter from a recently retired pharmacist named Claudia who had attended a Called & Gifted workshop in a South Carolina parish. As a result of her discernment, she had volunteered to serve as a lay missionary in Tanzania. There she would teach pharmacology at the very first medical school in the country. Claudia’s mission: to enable Tanzanians to qualify for funding for AIDS medications by training them to administer the drugs in question. This woman’s skill and expertise could conceivably save the lives of an entire generation and change the course of a whole nation. When I told her story at a small group gathering in my parish in Colorado Springs, one woman blurted out “She’s like Esther! Who knows but what she has been prepared for such a time as this?”

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

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

The Garden: Before and After

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

How Could I Make This An August to Remember?

Come to Colorado Springs and join us in God's country for two one-of-a-kind events.

On August 30, the Institute and the Diocese of Colorado Springs will be sponsoring An Evening with Mark Shea.

Mark will speak on The Care and Feeding of the Lay Catholic Apostle . Lay Catholics are called to do the vast majority of the work in the New Evangelization. This talk gives some tips, not only to lay people about the cultural and theological glitches that confront the lay apostle in Millennial America, but to clergy and pastoral leaders who are interested in helping to form their flocks into fellow workers in the Vineyard.

The evening will feature a talk, Q & A, and reception/social hour afterwards. The presentation will begin at 7:00pm on Thursday, August 30 '07 in the parish hall downstairs at Holy Apostles Catholic Church (4925 Carefree Circle North Colo Spgs, CO 80917). A free will offering will be taken to cover expenses.

And on August 31, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (adults only*)

The Catherine of Siena Institute is presenting a day-long gathering on the subject of "Building Intentional Community" at beautiful Penrose House in Colorado Springs.

One of the comments we hear repeatedly from lay people around the country is a desire for a deeper experience of community and personal support as we seek to follow Christ in our parishes, families, and in the marketplace.

Come hang out, share, discuss, stroll, pray, eat, and play with former members of the famously Nameless Lay Group of Seattle including Mark Shea, Sherry Weddell, and other denizens of the Intentional Disciples blog. We will be drawing upon the wisdom of Scripture, contemporary Church teaching, Canon Law, your own experience of Christian community and what we have learned as we have traveled to hundreds of parishes around the country. You will also have the chance to participate in a small Christian community gathering.

A catered lunch will be provided and the day will conclude with a 6pm barbecue at a local park.

The day at Penrose House is for adults only but we invite family, children, and friends to the evening barbeque.

Penrose House
1661 Mesa Avenue
Colorado Springs

Family & friends, including children, are invited to an evening barbeque at 6 pm.
North Cheyenne Canyon Park

Cost: for Day Gathering and Barbeque: $20

Barbeque only adults: $10

Barbeque only children (under 12): $5

We do need you to RSVP for the Building Intentional Community Day in order to ensure that we have enough food for you!

To RSVP or to ask questions about either event, please call Mike Dillon on our office at (888) 878- 6789 or e-mailus at

See you there!

Reeves & Booster & the Motu Proprio That Binds

Nothing refreshes on a steamy August dog day like a new episode of Reeves & Booster.

Shimmer on over to Disputations and tell Tom that Gussie Fink-Nottle sent you.

The Call to Build Community

I had a fascinating and fruitful conversation yesterday with Roz Deiterich, an ID reader and occasional commenter, about our experiences of Christian community in anticipation of our Building Intentional Community Day at the end of this month.

Roz raised an excellent question: are some among us specifically gifted by God to give themselves to nurturing a kind of Christian community that is centered around mutual discipleship? Do some of us have a call to facilitate the "pursuit of God in the company of friends?"

As I thought over my own limited experience of transforming Christian community and of course, all that we've learned from helping tens of thousands of Catholics discern their charisms - I had to say "yes! absolutely!

And I thought back on all the people I had know who had felt such a call and how each call to foster Christian community had looked so different in practice but all had born enormous fruit in the lives of other people.

But in the absence of a compelling vision for what real Christian community can do: draw the unbelieving and unchurched, foster life-long discipleship, spiritual growth, discernment of gifts and vocations, and extraordinary apostolates, how many of us hear the call? How many of us recognize that we may have charisms of pastoring or hospitality or leadership in this area? How many of us grasp what is at stake?

What's been your best experience of Christian community, large or small? An experience of community that fostered your lived relationship with Christ? How did it change your life?

High Summer in the High Country

Columbine on Imogene Pass in August.

We've driven the incredibly difficult Imogene Pass road in the magnificent San Juan mountains in August. The Pass crests at 13,000 + and it took us 5 1/2 hours to travel 15 miles. It's amazing how long it can take to stop every 25 feet and calculate exactly at what angle you should attempt to crawl over the boulder ahead.

Imogene Pass is what in Colorado is known reverently as an "Oh my God!" road. That's because even atheists are moved to intense prayer by that single track, 120 degree curve bit with the 3,000 drop off where you meet the on-coming four by four and one of you has to back up without going over the edge.

But there are many less death-defying pleasures - there's always the wildflowers and views like this, which we saw coming down the Telluride side: Bridal Veil Falls (although this picture was taken in late September about a month after we were there).

Monday, August 13, 2007

Update on Gloria Strauss

Gloria is the 11 year old cancer patient from a devout Catholic family whose progress is being extensively covered by the Seattle Times. I've blogged about Gloria twice before here on ID.

Three weeks ago, Gloria started walking again and had a wonderful two week reprieve but last week, her pain become unmanageable, and she was put into a drug-induced coma from which she is being weaned today.

The family's support community is huge and they will be praying all night in a Eucharistic Chapel for Gloria and her family. The Times reporter who is following all of this is blogging regularly and has been clearly moved by it all.

"Gloria is such an amazing little girl. Following the family's story has redefined how I view journalism. Getting to know Gloria these past few months has made me a better writer, better reporter and a better person.

I hope I will have a chance to tell her that."


"On Saturday, her parents placed a crucifix on Gloria's chest, and I couldn't stop looking at it. As the respirator filled her body with air, the crucifix would rise along with Gloria's chest. That image stays with me. The message of why she's suffering was right there, obvious with every breath.

Then I looked at a dry-eraser board in her room. It reads, "We're Here To Glorify God Through God."

Read the updates here and pray for Gloria and her tough, loving, profoundly faith-filled family.

Mercy Ships, Plowshares, & Faithful Servants

I just stumbled across an Australian version of Christianity Today online which will be a useful way to track events around World Youth Day which is less than a year away.

They are running an article about Operation Plowshare - Christian education for children of war.

"In the war torn West African nation of Liberia, children who were forced to serve as soldiers during the 14-year civil war are being offered an opportunity to replace the ruthless skills of war with a Christian education. Mercy Ships is raising funds to support a Christian school in the capital Monrovia, and Christian schools across Australia are being invited to participate in the project, known as Operation Plowshare.

Mercy Ships is raising funds to support a Christian school in the capital Monrovia, and Christian schools across Australia are being invited to participate in the project, known as Operation Plowshare. ‘They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore’ (Isaiah 2:4)."

Liberia, originally founded to give an African home to former American slaves, "is described as the classic ‘failed state’ in every respect. A great proportion of Liberia’s population is illiterate, living below the poverty line, unemployed, malnourished, lacking basic health care, and with no access to safe drinking water. Almost an entire generation has missed out on formal primary education, learning instead to live by a warlord culture where force is the response to many of life’s challenges."

This school is just one of the many initiatives of a remarkable ministry called Mercy Ships which runs a fleet of hospital ships that roam the world. Founded in 1978 by a couple, Don and Deyon Step, Mercy Ships is one of those extraordinary lay initiatives that many of us haven't heard about. Yet their impact has been considerable.

Performed more than 32,500 surgeries such as cleft lip and palate, cataract removal, straightening of crossed eyes, orthopaedic and facial reconstruction.

Treated more than 212,000 people in village medical clinics. Performed more than 183,000 dental treatments.

Taught over 14,500 local health care and professional workers, who have in turn trained many others in primary health care.

Taught 95,000 local people in primary health care.

Trained local medical professionals in modern health care techniques.

Delivered more than $60 million worth of medical equipment, hospital supplies and medicines.

Completed more than 900 community development projects including construction of schools, clinics, orphanages, water wells and agriculture programs.

Demonstrated the love of God to people in over 550 port visits in 70 different nations.

More than 850 career crew from over 40 nations serve today.

More than 1,600 short-term volunteers serve with Mercy Ships each year.

Be sure and take a look at this touching tribute to crew member Collin Carroll who drowned off a Liberian beach three days short of his 22 birthday. It captures the spirit of the whole enterprise and the quality of those who serve - even if, as in Collin's case, it was only for 6 weeks.

As Collin wrote in his application to serve with Mercy Ships:

"I have two options. I can start a meaningless job that I would soon have to leave to continue my education, or I can do something that will have a profound and meaningful effect on my life while glorifying God and helping those in need. I choose the latter."

Now, I would disagree with Collin that any job is meaningless - but I certainly understand the feeling behind that statement. But consider what kind of young man he must have been to write at 21: I want to "do something that will have a profound and meaningful effect on my life while glorifying God and helping those in need."

Well done, good and faithful servant.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Dear ID readers:

I'm not ignoring you - but for reasons I don't understand, Blogger won't let me into comments so I can't respond to anything you write in the comboxes except by posting.

I've read all your comments and very much appreciate them! Please keep it up!

I'll blogging this coming week but I'll also be finalizing our Building Intentional Community Day (August 31 here in the Springs) and getting ready for the great onslaught on Friday when the Sheas and Curps show up. So I won't be posting "eleventy billion words" this week as one blogger has described us.

The grass is in and the garden is looking fabulous and as soon as I can get the camera back, I'll try to post pictures - if Blogger is feeling kindly toward me. We've had 2 1/2 inches of rain in the past week so just think of us as a 7,000 foot high Ireland. The lawn in the park behind is so green, it glows.

Fr. Mike will be returning to CS on Wednesday so hopefully you'll be hearing from him soon as well.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Young Adults Discovering Christ

Christlife in Baltimore is undertaking a really interesting initiative to young adults:

60 young adults attended the first 6 week pilot program. Check it out!

hat tip: Pete Acosi

Friday, August 10, 2007

"This is Not Us": Muslim anti-terrorist video

Take a look at this Muslim anti-terrorist You tube video made by 8 of the top musicians in Pakistan.

"This is Not Us"

hat tip: Julianne Wiley

Open Letter to the Catholic Laity of Australia

There's a break in the grass action as we do the first sod run.

So I thought I'd direct you to this post by David Schutz of Melbourne. David is a convert from Lutheranism and Fr. Mike and I got to meet him when we were in Australia last. David has styled it an "Open Letter to the Catholic Laity of Australia".

Dear Brother/Sister in Christ,

I write to you as an Australian brother in Christ to express my deep concern about several key challenges that are facing us all as Catholics. As you may be aware, a recent petition was addressed to the Catholic Bishops of Australia on the specific issues that I wish to highlight.

These specific issues are:

The acute shortage of priests in many of our Churches in Australia;
The increasing drift of young people from the Church;
The lack of encouragement for lay Catholics to identify, recognise and utilize their spiritual gifts for the service of the Church and world.

It is obvious to most Catholics that there is a major crisis of evangelisation and catechisation in the Catholic Church in Australia. Many lay people and priests, and some bishops, have acknowledged that there will be no solution to the major pastoral problems the Australian Catholic Churches are facing without full, conscious and active evangelisation and catechisation—although there are others who are in denial about this.

This is fear of faithful evangelisation and catechisation is limiting the Church's capacity to bring the gospel to secular Australia. It is at the root of the crisis vocations and the transmission of the faith to new generations. Yet the Church can never ignore Christ's Great Commission to proclaim the gospel to all nations, to baptise in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and to teach everyone to keep his commandments.

We lay Catholics cannot assume that the full responsibility for this crisis of evangelisation and catechisation belongs with the bishops. We have been given the Spirit of God at our Baptism and Confirmation. We have all, young and old, men and women, lay and ordained, been called and gifted to serve Christ in the Church and in the World. While ultimate pastoral responsibility in the diocese belongs to the bishops and is exercised by our priests, we too have a role in bringing the Gospel to our society and in catechising a new generation of Catholics.

Many lay people have already sought education in theology, liturgy, scripture and pastoral care. But we are all gifted with talents in some way to serve the Kingdom of God in whatever context God has placed us.

I am therefore asking you all, individually and as a whole community, to:

Acknowledge that there is a major crisis in of evangelisation and catechisation in the Catholic Church in Australia, and to resolve to be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem;

Acknowledge that there is no doctrinal or theological barrier to the active service of all the baptised in the Church—we each have a particular vocation within the Church, and the Holy Spirit has given each of us the gifts which are necessary to fulfil this vocation;

Take practical steps toward identifying your vocation and putting your spiritual gifts into action;

Never be ashamed to preach the Gospel, and to specifically proclaim the name of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for our salvation: Preach in words as well as in actions--actions may be sufficient to show God's love, but are not sufficient to proclaim the fullness of the Gospel that has been revealed in Christ;

Commit yourself to the faithful catechisation of those in your care—especially if you are a parent or a teacher; and to being an apologist for the faith among your friends and relatives;

Seek out opportunities to grow in your own spiritual life: through scriptural, theological and pastoral training programs; and find a way of putting your gifts to work in your parish;

Always be ready to help others identify their Spiritual gifts and to encourage them to follow their vocation; this especially applies to your children, your students, and to other young people, and to those in whom you see the gifts for priesthood or religious life;

Take special care to include young people in the life of the parish; value them enough to speak the gospel clearly to them and to teach the authentic Catholic faith to them;

Never criticise the Church in the presence of a young person, but help them to see the beauty and splendour of the Catholic faith;
Pray for our bishops and priests.

The challenge of this crisis of evangelisation and faith which we are currently facing in the Australian Catholic Churches can be met. We have the Holy Spirit. We are the Church. We will not expect others to do what is our duty. We will not be afraid to put out into the deep, proclaim the gospel and teach the faith.

Yours in Christ,

David Schütz


Grass: The Movie

The day has finally arrived. By noon, we should have a lawn in our backyard.

Those of you who thought that grass came with a house? Heh.

Not when you are smart enough to buy a 6 bedroom fixer-upper whose 1/3 acre backyard was trashed for seven years. It was a great deal. Honest. And to a former Seattlite who knew that she would never be able to own a walk-in closet in her hometown, it looked even better. Backed up against a lovely city park. Mountain views. A potential paradise. Potential being the operative word.

Potential is what reminds you to be nice to weight-lifting Dominicans and their friends who just might be looking to do some serious stone-hauling or digging.

Five years, three sessions with bull dozers, a 70 foot dry stacked stone wall, a 400 sf hand-laid patio, 1/4 mile of paths, and a high level do-it-yourself irrigation system later, we are about to summit. Grass.

It's not done. We need to plant at least 8 more trees, and fill the dozen or so beds with perennials and wildflowers. My wild flower and wild grass seeds arrived last night. I buy seeds by the pound and plants by the dozen since my flowerbeds tend toward the 4-500 sf variety. And I've got a dozen beds to fill.

Not to mention the shrubs and climbing roses and lilacs and silver lace vine to plant along the fence. And the water feature. And the deck.

But hey, today, we're doing grass.

Casa Siena is about to go green.

Rejoice with me.

Colorado: Where Batman Really Hangs Out

Every summer, a whole lot of Mexican long-tailed bats migrate to an abandoned mine in southern Colorado and every evening at 8:18 pm sharp, you can witness them leave the cave for their nightly journeys. All 250,000 of them. A steady stream of bats pouring from the cave for 30 minutes.

This is a Shea boy thing if ever I've heard one. Hey Mark, it's only a 3-4 hour drive away and then a mile hike but what a finale! I'll loan you a car!

Hords of bats against a mountain sunset. Abandoned mines (haunted, no doubt!)waist high in bat poop.

You gotta admit that Colorado is so much cooler than Seattle.

Cardinal Lustiger: Evangelical Catholic

John Allen has an interesting article in today's Wall Street Journal about Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger of Parish who died a few days ago.

"Conservative revolutionary" and "evangelical Catholic" a la Francais is Allen's take.

Lustiger was born a Jew and converted to Catholicism at 14 during World War II. "Lustiger insisted that his Christianity did not mean he had turned his back on Judaism. "I was born a Jew and so I am," he once said. "For me, the vocation of Israel is to bring light to the goyim. That's my hope, and I believe Christianity is the means for achieving it.""

Lustiger "embraced Christianity's minority status in ultrasecular France, seeing it not as a way station along the path to oblivion but rather as an invitation to beat secular intellectuals at their own game by making an aggressive case for the philosophical truth of Christian doctrines.

This attitude made Cardinal Lustiger an anomaly in French Catholicism. Before him, conservatives were those nostalgic for Christendom, longing to use the coercive power of the state to enforce church precepts. To be modern, meanwhile, was to be leftist. Lustiger's revolution was to proclaim classic Catholic principles in the context of pluralism and religious freedom, being at once modern and traditional."

As a university chaplain at the Sorbonne during the leftist turbulence of 1968, he wrote a memo to then-Cardinal François Marty of Paris arguing for a new strategy. It's time to abandon any pretense to power, he said, and aim instead at evangelization. Lustiger became bishop of Orleans in 1979, and archbishop of Paris in 1981.

In an era in which faith has to be a matter of personal conviction rather than an accident of birth, Lustiger brashly proclaimed, "We're really at the dawn of Christianity." He was utterly at home with laïcité (secularism), yet convinced that, without Christianity, French culture was fated to dissolution.

Lustiger was tough on doctrine and discipline, earning the nickname "the Iron Cardinal." Yet unlike imperial bishops of ages gone by, he was always ready to debate the underpinnings of his positions, winning admiration in a country where intellectuals enjoy pop culture adulation. His Sunday evening Masses at the Notre Dame Cathedral, styled as a form of dialogue with French culture, attracted overflow crowds in an era in which the average rate of Mass attendance hovers at around 5%.

Sherry's note:

Lustiger sounds truly remarkable. I can understand why his Masses had overflow crowds. But I wonder what was his overall impact upon French Catholicism? Was he a phenomenon, a single brilliant, dazzling personality or did his initiatives light a fire in others? Any comments?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

How I Pray Today

I wrote this little essay years ago when I still lived in Seattle but all of it is still true today. I'd love to hear from you.

How do you pray today? How has your prayer changed as you have walked with Christ?

Sometimes I look back with nostalgia to my early years as a committed Christian. My life was one long vocational crisis but my days were filled with unceasing prayer. I had been raised in the evangelical Protestant tradition, which does not have a tradition of contemplative prayer. Prayer for us was nearly always seen in the light of mission. The closest we came to the Catholic understanding of union with God as the pinnacle of prayer was when we sought to be aware of God’s presence throughout every moment of the day, a spiritual practice written about by Brother Lawrence, one of the few Catholic authors that we read.

In those days, prayer of the heart, prayer for everything and everyone seemed to pour out of me in an inexhaustible flood. I sought to use everything as a reminder of God’s constant presence, to bless everyone I met, to live a life of single-hearted communion. The evangelicals I knew considered me something of a mystic and God help me, I started to look upon myself as something of an expert on prayer. I taught a number of classes on prayer - the prayer of presence, of listening, of guidance, which people seemed to find very helpful. Prayer was so central to my life that I was honestly puzzled by books on prayer that spoke of dryness and the desert experience. I had never experienced spiritual dryness and finally decided that such dryness wasn’t necessary and that somehow I had escaped it.

My relatively tidy spiritual universe was completely undone when I returned from a year living abroad. In order to deal with wounds from my childhood, I went through a program of extremely intense therapy. The experience changed my life in ways I could never have expected. I did experience dramatic healing. The pain that had filled my inner world disappeared, half of my constant, anxious, inner chatter vanished never to return, and I experienced, for the first time in my life, my own goodness, the goodness of God’s creative purposes in and through me. I entered therapy as an evangelical Quaker, but emerged with the clear and stunning conviction that I had to have access to the sacraments. To my astonishment, I found myself seriously contemplating joining the Catholic church.

There was another change that I did not grasp until later. I had never realized how much of my constant prayer had been driven, not by love, but by my own neediness and anxiety. As the interior “noise” in my head faded, so did certain experiences that I had always considered the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but which I began to realize was simply “my own stuff”. Between this profound inner change and the disorientation brought on by leaving the Christian culture I had known all my life and becoming Catholic, I slowly began to feel paralyzed in prayer.

First, I made the humiliating discovery that I was not a great prayer, but a mediocre member of a enormous family filled with spiritual giants, whose experience was light years beyond anything I had ever imagined. Even worse was realizing that my prayer life had been partially motivated by the praise and affirmation of other Christians about me. My old perception of myself as an advanced pray-er died a slow death. The prayer of quiet, as described by the Carmelite masters of spirituality, was simply incomprehensible to me. The pursuit of spiritual union, of mystical marriage, which seemed to be the Catholic ideal of holiness, seemed utterly beyond my desiring, much less my grasp.

What was wrong with me, I wondered in some anguish of spirit. Why was I so fascinated with the work of redemption and healing, with what God did in the lives of human beings, but not with the prospect of union with God? I would sit in front of the beautiful crucifix in my home parish and beg God to change me, strike me with a lightening bolt, something, anything, that would give me that desire for union with God that a good Catholic was supposed to desire above all else.

It was my Dominican pastor who gave me the first indication that there was a way out of my dilemma. He told me that there were historic Catholic spiritual paths to holiness that were primarily centered around mission rather than mystical marriage. Dominican spirituality was such a path, centered as it was around the apostolic mission of preaching and being useful to the souls of others. I now know that many of the ways in which I pray are typically “Dominican”.

First of all, I have been tremendously encouraged to realize that Dominicans had always understood study as a form of prayer, of contemplation. Study has always been a major spiritual catalyst for me and much of my prayer is rooted in and triggered as I seek to understand the universe God has made. Somehow, I had gotten the impression that contemplation always involved the silencing of all thought. The discovery that when I am struggling to understand the truth about human beings or the creation, I am really praying, that I am contemplating God, the Creator and Redeemer, has been enormously freeing.

Another thing that puzzled me was that I pray best when I’m on the move. I was dismayed by the idea that serious prayer required silent immobility, preferably in front of the Blessed Sacrament. While I have always had a strong sense of the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, I am better able to pray while walking. So I try to pray in churches that are empty so that I can take off my shoes and quietly pad about as I talk to God, stopping to bow before the altar and genuflect in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I was delighted to discover that St. Dominic was a champion prayer-walker, preferring to lag behind his brothers on their long apostolic journeys, so that he could pray as he trudged along.

One of my favorite prayer places is a nearby lake-side park, where I can often be found walking and praying before sun-rise. There on a hill that dominates the park, I stand and adore the Holy Trinity and then consciously take my place in the Body of Christ, surrounded by the communion of saints. I ask God’s blessing on the place and all the homes and families that I can see, and pray for myself, my family and friends, the redemption of all things, and the mission of the Church.

It was said of St. Dominic that he spent his day talking to others about God and his nights talking to God about the needs of others. Another great Dominican, St. Catherine of Siena recorded this word of the Lord: “You cannot do Me any service, so you must do it to your neighbor. This will be the demonstration that, by grace, you have Me in your soul.” I now understand that to be of use to others is nucleus of my own spiritual path and therefore of my prayer. The miracle is, that under the Mercy, even my walking and my wondering have been transformed into real prayer.

I should mention that a Dominican nun read this piece and sent me a lovely note assuring me that I was a true Dominican in spirit.

A Church of "Yes"

Via Whispers:

An excerpt from Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB message at the Knights of Columbus gathering this week. Rocco calls it "the most significant message of Benedict XVI's pontificate to the church in the United States. The audience in the room may have been the top leadership of the Knights of Columbus, but it's real target goes wider -- much wider -- than that":

(Sherry's note: the emphasis is mine)

In regard to the first question, this “Yes” is quite simply the “Yes” of faith. It is our full, unmitigated acceptance of Jesus as Lord and our commitment to follow him as master and teacher. Indeed, the word “Yes” only makes sense within the context of a dialog between two persons: someone who utters the “Yes” and someone who accepts it. In the case of faith, the person to whom we utter this “Yes” is none other than the Son of God, the Anointed One, the Eternal Word made flesh. Pope Benedict has emphasized the critical need for each of us to encounter Jesus; more importantly, he has shown and continues to show – both in his words and through his life – that true fulfilment, joy, and lasting peace can only be found by saying “Yes” to God’s plan of salvation as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Only in intimate communication with the incarnate Son of God do we discover the grace to “put our faith into action.”

Could intentional discipleship be articulated more clearly?

Theft on a Grand Scale

And related to our focus on St. Dominic yesterday is this playful presentation that Fr. Michael Sweeney made 11 years ago to the assembly of the Western Province on Collaboration With the Laity. Read the whole thing by all means but I wanted to highlight his observations about the similarities of St. Dominic's day and our own below:

When I consider the work of the Order in such a milieu I am struck by the remarkable similarities which seem to pertain between the age of St. Dominic and our own age. St. Dominic faced a Church which appeared to be institutionally moribund in the face of the Albigensian heresy, much as our institutions, whether of diocese, parish, or Newman Center, seem inadequate in the face of the growing atheism and even paganism of modern culture.

Dominic witnessed the remarkable success of the Poverello movements of the Middle Ages which, though separated from the communion of the Church, nevertheless were inspired by a genuine evangelical zeal and a desire to follow Christ, much as we are witnessing the growth of evangelical Protestantism.

In the Albigensian heresy Dominic perceived, not just a false doctrine which was to be exposed, but a whole movement, as much cultural as it was religious, which threatened the whole fabric of medieval society, much as we are witnessing the defection of our own culture from its Christian roots.

Dominic's response was, if we can be both playful and honest, theft on a grand scale. Dominic stole from the Albigensians their zeal and their poverty, to reclaim it for Christ and his Church. He stole from the Poverello movements their evangelical zeal and their literal application of the evangelical counsels, in order that they might be placed, once again, at the disposal of the Church. He stole from Augustine his rule to accommodate his new Order, and stole from the cathedral canons their education and its place in their lives. Most significantly of all, he stole from Christ his sending of the disciples by twos, to proclaim the advent of the kingdom. The result of his thefts was the Order of Preachers.

I would like to suggest some thievery of our own. The one thread which is common to New Age, Protestant Evangelism and similar contemporary movements, is that they have mobilized their membership. They form intentional communities, with conscious and specific agenda; and no matter how little we may appreciate their ends, we should nonetheless be impressed by their means.

In truth, we were there ahead of them: the single-minded zeal of the Evangelicals bears a great resemblance to the early Order. The only theft which it is really necessary for us to engage in is from the riches of our own tradition. We can mobilize our Catholic laity, and thereby play a significant role in the renewal of our Church, simply by applying our own tradition.

Mapping Transformation

There has been a goodly bit of discussion around St. Blog's about Robert George's passionate plea at First Things: Danger and Opportunity: A Plea to Catholics I'd like to use a few of his comments as a chance to pull out some realities that are not usually mentioned in a discussion of this sort:

Robert George:

What is in need of transformation is not the teaching of the Church but the human mind and heart to which these teachings are addressed. Christianity is a religion of transformation. No one is literally born into it; even infants at baptism are converted to it. There is not a Catholic on the planet or in the history of the Church who is not a convert.

Sherry's comments:

Thank God, someone is saying this loud and clear! Absolutely.

One huge evangelical gap for Catholics is our failure to give serious attention to the development stage when our children, who were baptized as infants, must become "converts", that is, they must enter intentionally into the process of conversion which is required of all. We've tried to use Confirmation prep to do this in a half-hearted way but now that many dioceses are lowering the age of Confirmation, even this is being taken away from us.

Our catechetical practice is much more informative than transformative. We are much likely to offer concepts than Christ but it is the encounter with Christ that sets transformation in motion.

Robert George:
Conversion is effected, by God’s grace, by transformative acts of the intellect and will.

Sherry's comments:

George is using a sort of Thomistic short-hand here because he presumes that his theologically literate First Things audience can fill in the blanks.

But our experience is that many, many Catholics who are literate in other areas of the faith can't fill in the blanks when it comes to understanding or describing how God's grace that flows from Christ's self-giving love and our personal faith and assent work together to produce personal transformation. They can't fill in the blanks because no one has ever described the process to them in a meaningful way and especially because they have not seen it lived out in a compelling way.

The phrase "transformative acts of the intellect and will"
actually falls far short of conveying all that the Council of Trent taught about the process of coming to faith for those who have reached the age of reason. And in a post-modern era, in which almost all the theological underpinnings presumed by George are missing, talking about the process of salvation in this way can be profoundly misleading.

Post-modern Catholics can and will readily assume that we are describing a completely impersonal and mechanical process - a sort of salvation by the "triumph of the will". No wonder when Peter Kreeft asked his Catholic students at Boston College why they should go to heaven, nearly all of them responded that they were saved because they were basically good people who did good things and hardly any of them mentioned Jesus Christ at all.

In the Decree on Justification, the council taught that there was a progression of spiritual "movements" on the journey to salvific faith for adults and those children who have reached the age of reason. And we must remember that what the Church is describing below is non-negotiable pre-baptismal faith, not Christian maturity.

The adult ready for baptism is described in this way:

1) Moved to initial faith by hearing the kerygma (the basic summary of the saving purposes and work of Christ in which initial faith is placed)

2) Moves freely toward God as a result of #1

3) Believes all that God has revealed to humanity through the Church
a.Especially that we are justified by God’s grace through the redemption in Jesus Christ

4) Knows themselves to be a sinner

5) Trusts in the mercy and love of God for Christ’s sake

6) Repents of our sins

7) Resolves to receive baptism

8) Begins a new life by seeking to obey the commandments of God (the obedience of faith)

If we mentally and verbally collapse this journey to "acts of the intellect and will", we effectively render points 1, 2, 3a, 4, 5, 6 invisible to ourselves and to those we seek to evangelize.

Robert George:
And the process of conversion is lifelong, whether one begins it a few days or weeks after birth or on one’s eighty-fifth birthday. Christ is constantly calling us to conversion and making available to us the divine graces that are its fundamental resources. We falter and fail; he lifts us up and puts us back on track. We grow in him, so long as we are faithful in responding to his acts of love for us by our acts of love of God and neighbor.

Sherry's comments:

I would agree with George absolutely. With one caveat. The journey of lived conversion that George describes so clearly here begins when we say an intentional, personal "yes" to the Lord who bestowed upon us the baptismal and other sacramental graces that most of us received as infants. Our strong tendency is to presume that this intentional "yes" has been given because we were baptized even when the evidence of millions of lapsed Catholics tells us otherwise.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Life of St. Dominic

A great source for a good life of St. Dominic is to be found (naturlich) on the international OP website here

Dominicans writers like Simon Tugwell have observed that as charismatic a figure as Dominic was, Dominic the man does not loom nearly so large in the minds of his followers as the mission that he gave them. Unlike St. Francis, Dominic himself did not become the focus. The focus was and still is the mission.

Why? It is true that Dominic only lived 5 years after founding his Order (while early Franciscans had 16 years with Francis) and that he doesn't seem to have shared nearly as much of his inner life and spiritual experiences with his closest companions as did Francis.

The first years of the Dominican Order also saw a series of dazzlingly gifted and memorable men and women join the community and shape it: Reginald of Orleans, Jordon of Saxony, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, etc. It is also true that Dominic organized his community in a manner that meant that the community could and did make decisions that were contrary to the founder's expressed preferences even during Dominic's lifetime.

It may also have something to do with the fact that Dominicans fairly quickly become involved with the Inquisition and so Dominic's name became unfairly entangled with the Black Legend. (St. Dominic was never involved with the Inquisition. He died 10 years before the first papal inquisitor was named in 1231. The irony is that 16th century Catholic Spanish painters sought to bring glory to St. Dominican by portraying him as overseeing Inquisition tribunals and executions.)

Or that intellectually oriented figures don't strike the popular imagination as winsome and lovable as a troubadour who would invent a creche.

That Dominic was an attractive, magnetic figure to those who knew him is well-documented. But the mission and the Order was understood to be more important than the man.

You Gotta Party Like an OP - in Malta

Who knew that St. Dominic's Day was party time in Valletta, Malta?

I have no idea what they are singing but you'll notice a few black and white Dominican "flags" being waved about.

"Queen of Preachers, Pray for Us"

Although the story of St. Dominic receiving the Rosary directly from Our Lady is pious legend (it was a Dominican in the 15th century who led the drive to popularize the Rosary),early Dominican devotion to Mary is not. For nearly 800 years, Dominicans have sung the Salve Regina at the end of Compline.

As for Dominic himself, whenever he met with any difficulty along the road he loved to intone the Ave Maris Stella (Bologna, 21). He also chose to retain the custom of reciting the liturgical office - or, para liturgical in modern terms - of the Blessed Virgin, as was done at Citeaux and Premontré. He arranged this in a special way, however. So as not to make the liturgy burdensome, but to prepare for it and place it under the protection of the Mother of God, he had the brethren say the Hours of the Virgin Mary before the canonical Office. Thus they recited Matins of the Blessed Virgin in the dormitory on rising (Primitive Constitutions, Dist. I, 1) and the other hours before those of the office.

In this way Mary was ever present in the life of the brethren. Singing her litany at the end of Compline on Saturdays was a devotion the brethren transmitted to the lay confraternities of the Rosary in the sixteenth century. During the first half of the XXth century Dominicans added to it the invocation, "Queen of Preachers, pray for us.

This image of Mary was transferred by St. Dominic to San Sisto, the first monastary of Domincan nuns in Rome.

Dominican Vignette

Many know that the Dominican Order is distinguished by its commitment to evangelistic preaching informed by study. The early Dominicans were remarkable for many things, among them

1) being nearly all literate (lay brothers might not be literate) in a time when the vast majority of Europeans were not.

2) preaching was their primary mission. At that point in Catholic history, preaching was regarded as a bishop's province, not that of a priest. Dominicans did not run parishes. In fact they were forbidden to take on parishes. Their call was not liturgical preaching as we know it today but evangelistic preaching, directed especially to those outside the Church or on the margins.

3) Possessing books - hand copied editions of a gospel, for instance, that they carried around with them on their preaching tours. This was extremely rare since printing had not yet been invented and books were expensive and rare.

If you know the above, you'll grasp the significance of this vignette from St. Dominic's life more clearly.

In 1191, when Spain was desolated by a terrible famine, Dominic was just finishing his theological studies. He gave away his money and sold his clothes, his furniture and even his precious manuscripts, that he might relieve distress. When his companions expressed astonishment that he should sell his books, Dominic replied: "Would you have me study off these dead skins, when men are dying of hunger?"

This utterance belongs to the few of Dominic's sayings that have passed to posterity.

Facetime with St. Dominic

Very cool.

This bust of St. Dominic was commissioned by Pope Pius XII, who was a Dominican tertiary, and is based upon measurements of his skull.

One of the early Dominicans, Sr. Cecilia, left this vivid description of Dominic:

He was of middle height, his countenance beautiful with little coloring, his hair and beard very fair, and his eyes strikingly fine. A certain radiance shone from his forehead and from under his eyelashes attracting love and respect. His hands were long and beautiful, and his voice strong and sonorous...He was always radiant and joyful, except when moved to compassion by some misfortune of his neighbors.

Hat tip: V for Victory

Catholic Quote of the Day

The Christian gospel has many humble and practical applications but, at its core, it contains a vision extravagant in range and scope. Well worth remembering, therefore, and especially in an age of new evangelization, are these words from Eric Hoffer's book, The True Believer. Hoffer writes : "Those who would transform a nation or the world cannot do so by breeding and captaining discontent or by demonstrating the reasonableness and desirability of the intended changes or by coercing people into a new way of life. They must know how to kindle and fan an extravagant hope." It was no accident that Pope Paul VI, when he was reflecting on the mystery of Christian hope, chose to define it as "hope for something that is not seen, and that one would not dare imagine." The Christian gospel is a gospel of vision or it is nothing at all.

From Dominicans and the Wine of New Hope by Paul Murray, OP

All Dominican, All Day

I thought it would be fun to focus upon the life, spirit, and mission of St. Dominic and the early Dominicans today.

I realize that some of our readers may not realize that the Catherine of Siena Institute is an apostolate of the
Western Dominican Province and arose 10 years ago out of my collaboration with
Michael Sweeney, OP.

Fr. Mike, of course, is a finalist is the "Mr. OP Universe Contest" which will be covered by ESPN once again this year and Br. Matthew Miller is a Dominican in training. And of course, Fr. Anthony and Clara, our Australian Co-Directors, are both OPs (Clara is a third order Dominican).

If any of them have time on this feast day, I will try to chivvy them into posting. As far as I'm concerned, if they abandon the airwaves to She-who-is-not-OP, they deserve what they get.

I'd like to start with excerpts from a simply wonderful talk by Paul Murray, OP:

Dominicans and the New Wine of the Gospel
about the Wine of Gospel Joy": the role of passion, joy, and enthusiasm in early Dominican preaching and spirituality.

Blessed Cecilia has also handed down to us another story concerning Dominic in which a great burst of laughter is recorded. What provoked the laughter was an unusual miracle he worked in the Church of St Sixtus. According to the ancient account, Dominic, with unrestrained enthusiasm, unmasked the Evil One who had come flying into the Church disguised as a bird in order to prevent him preaching. All the Dominicans who were present, both the brethren and the sisters, at once burst out laughing (subridentibus fratribus et sororibus). Although many saints, over the centuries, have worked miracles which have moved crowds of people to wonder and amazement, in all of Christian hagiography, I have never heard of a miracle which provoked immediate and joyous laughter among those present. Blessed Cecilia, in her Legenda, refers to it as "iocundum miraculum," "a laughter-stirring miracle."

Laughter was by no means always approved of in the Middle Ages. For example, the medieval contemplative, Mechtild of Magdeburg (who enjoyed for many years a close connection with the Dominican Order) admits that up to a certain stage in her life she considered laughing not only frivolous but "wrong". What changed Mechtild's mind on the subject was a vision she received once on the feast of St Dominic. The Lord explained to her, first of all, that Dominic was a great example of moderation, that he never troubled his fellow Dominicans "with things arising from some whim of his own" and that, in fact, "he often improved the food to help and show affection for his brethren, so that the young brothers might not think back on the world and so that the older ones might not succumb on the way." But then, addressing directly the subject of laughter, the Lord added, and the sentence is memorable, "Whenever Dominic laughed, he did so with the true delight of the Holy Spirit." Another German, the great Dominican, Meister Eckhart, also dares to speak of God's laughter and of "laughter" at the very heart of the Trinity. In an astonishing passage he writes : "the Father laughs at the Son and the Son at the Father, and the laughing brings forth pleasure, and the pleasure brings forth joy, and the joy brings forth love."

St. Dominic at Prayer

From the delightful 13th century illustrations: the Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic. Dominic was a great intercessor and his early followers observed his gestures closely when "he was inspired by God to know that something great and marvelous was to come about through the power of his prayer".

Our holy father, Saint Dominic, was also seen to pray standing erect with his hands and arms outstretched forcefully in the form of a cross. He prayed in this way when God, through his supplications, raised to life the boy Napoleon in the sacristy of the Church of Saint Sixtus in Rome, and when he was raised from the ground at the celebration of Mass, as the good and holy Sister Cecilia, who was present with many other people and saw him, narrates. He was like Elias who stretched himself out and lay upon the widow's son when he raised him to life.

In a similar manner he prayed near Toulouse when he delivered the group of English pilgrims from danger of drowning in the river. Our Lord prayed thus while hanging on the cross, that is, with his hands and arms extended and "with a loud cry and tears ... he was heard because of his reverent submission" [Hebrews 5:7].

Nor did the holy man Dominic resort to this manner of praying unless he was inspired by God to know that something great and marvelous was to come about through the power of his prayer. Although he did not forbid the brethren to pray in this way, neither did he encourage them to do so. We do not know what he said when he stood with his hands and arms extended in the form of a cross and raised the boy to life. Perhaps it was those words of Elias: "O Lord, my God, let the soul of this child, I beseech thee, return into his body" [III Kings 17:21]. He certainly followed the prophet's exterior manner in his prayers on that occasion. The friars and sisters, however, as well as the nobles and cardinals, and all others present were so struck by this most unusual and astonishing way of prayer that they failed to remember the words he spoke. Afterwards, they did not feel free to ask Dominic about these matters because this holy and remarkable man inspired in them a great sense of awe and reverence by reason of the miracle.

In a grave and mature manner, he would slowly pronounce the words in the Psalter which mention this way of prayer. He used to say attentively: "O Lord, the God of my salvation: I have cried in the day and in the night before Thee," as far as that verse "All the day I have cried to Thee, O Lord: I stretched out my hands to Thee" [Psalm 87:2-10]. Then he would add: "Hear, O Lord, my prayer give ear to my supplication in Thy truth . . ." He would continue the prayer to these words: "I stretched forth my hands to Thee . . . Hear me speedily, O Lord" [Psalm 142:1-7].

This example of our father's prayer would help devout souls to appreciate more easily his great zeal and wisdom in praying thus. This is true whether, in doing so, he wished to move God in some wonderful manner through his prayer or whether he felt through some interior inspiration that God was to move him to seek some singular grace for himself or his neighbor. He then shone with the spiritual insight of David, the ardor of Elias, the charity of Christ, and with a profound devotion, as the drawing serves to indicate.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A Word from St. Dominic, in Honor of His Feast

When St. Dominic went to Rome, presenting a plan for an Order of Preachers to the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. At first, this was not possible, as the council had prohibited the formation of any new religious orders. But Dominic got around that by choosing the Rule of Augustine for his order, and in 1216 the official sanction came from Honorius III.

On his trip to seek authorization, he reportedly received a personal tour of the Vatican's treasures by the pope. "Peter can no longer say, 'Silver and gold have I none,'" said Innocent III, referring to Acts 3:6.

Dominic, now wholly dedicated to his life of poverty, replied, "No, and neither can he say, 'Rise and walk.'"

Sherry's note:

But St. Dominic could and did. Among other things, he raised a boy from the dead in the presence of numerous trustworthy witnesses who testified to that fact after his death.

Is Christianity's future in China?

Take a look at this extraordinary editorial in today's Asia Times about the global implications of the Rise of Christianity in Asia. It expands on the John Allen article that Fr. Mike blogged about last week.

Ten thousand Chinese become Christians each day, according to a stunning report by the National Catholic Reporter's veteran correspondent John Allen, and 200 million Chinese may comprise the world's largest concentration of Christians by mid-century, and the largest missionary force in history. [1] If you read a single news article about China this year, make sure it is this one.

I suspect that even the most enthusiastic accounts err on the downside, and that Christianity will have become a Sino-centric religion two generations from now. China may be for the 21st century what Europe was during the 8th-11th centuries, and America has been during the past 200 years: the natural ground for mass evangelization. If this occurs, the world will change beyond our capacity to recognize it.


People do not live in a spiritual vacuum; where a spiritual vacuum exists, as in western Europe and the former Soviet Empire, people simply die, or fail to breed. In the traditional world, people see themselves as part of nature, unchangeable and constant, and worship their surroundings, their ancestors and themselves. When war or economics tear people away from their roots in traditional life, what once appeared constant now is shown to be ephemeral. Christianity is the great liquidator of traditional society, calling individuals out of their tribes and nations to join the ekklesia, which transcends race and nation. In China, communism leveled traditional society, and erased the great Confucian idea of society as an extension of the loyalties and responsibility of families. Children informing on their parents during the Cultural Revolution put paid to that.

Now the great migrations throw into the urban melting pot a half-dozen language groups who once lived isolated from one another. Not for more than a thousand years have so many people in the same place had such good reason to view as ephemeral all that they long considered to be fixed, and to ask themselves: "What is the purpose of my life?"

The World Christian Database offers by far the largest estimate of the number of Chinese Christians at 111 million, of whom 90% are Protestant, mostly Pentecostals. Other estimates are considerably lower, but no matter; what counts is the growth rate. This uniquely American denomination, which claims the inspiration to speak in tongues like Jesus' own disciples and to prophesy, is the world's fastest-growing religious movement, with 500,000 adherents. In contrast to Catholicism, which has a very long historic presence in China but whose growth has been slow, charismatic Protestantism has found its natural element in an atmosphere of official suppression. Barred from churches, Chinese began worshipping in homes, and five major "house church" movements and countless smaller ones now minister to as many as 100 million Christians. [2] This quasi-underground movement may now exceed in adherents the 75 million members of the Chinese Communist Party; in a generation it will be the most powerful force in the country.

While the Catholic Church has worked patiently for independence from the Chinese government, which sponsors a "Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association" with government-appointed bishops, the evangelicals have no infrastructure to suppress and no hierarchy to protect. In contrast to Catholic caution, John Allen observes, "Most Pentecostals would obviously welcome being arrested less frequently, but in general they are not waiting for legal or political reform before carrying out aggressive evangelization programs."

Sherry's note:

These realities have been written about by evangelicals for 25 years but are now just being acknowledged by Catholics and the secular press.

While we've been endlessly debating the Second Vatican Council and it's implementation and ramifications, the world has revolved around us - and we euro-centric western Christians, are no longer at the center.

Of course, Africa and South American will also be vigorous centers of 21st century and beyond Christianity, so Sino-centric Christianity is hardly a slam dunk. And the US will remain the largest Christian nation in the world through 2050.

But as Catholics, we have to grasp that our fixation on the intra-western cultural battles of the past 40 years is only one important debate within true global Christianity. It has to be at least matched with an awareness of the fact that non-western Christianity is going to be at least as important, if not more so, in the next few centuries.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Reform After the Abuse Scandal

Randy, one of our Making Disciples participants and a DRE in St. Paul, MN, sent me an interesting article on the response to the clergy sexual abuse scandal. I've asked him for the link to the website from which it came, but until then, you might find the article worthwhile in itself.

Total Reform
by Dr. Jeff Mirus
August 3, 2007

At the June 8th meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America, Christopher Ruddy addressed the “ecclesiological issues behind the sexual abuse crisis.” I haven’t been a fan of the CTSA, but Ruddy is right on target. He says that things won’t get better if all we do is address abuses. We need a more deeply-rooted reform.

Reform that Matters

Ruddy, an Assistant Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, is inspired in his analysis by a book by the Dominican Yves Congar entitled True and False Reform in the Church. Congar was one of the most brilliant theologians of the twentieth century, a man to whom John Paul II was sufficiently indebted to make a cardinal shortly before his death in 1995. His prescient book on reform was written ten years before Vatican II.

Congar distinguished three types of reform: reform of abuses, which is necessary but never sufficient; doctrinal reform, which is contrary to the Faith and must be rejected; and reform of “the state of things”, a “deep resourcing into the truth of things, a renewing of the spirit from the foundations.” As Ruddy sees it, what we need now is a thorough reform of the state of affairs in which we find ourselves as Catholics.

In this he is undoubtedly correct, and he identifies in particular three key words which need to be integrated into the life of the Church in order to stimulate this “big picture” reform: “accountability for bishops, identity for priests and adulthood for the laity.”

The Bishops

With respect to the bishops, Ruddy argues that the bureaucracy of the Church tends to favor the creation and promotion of bland bishops well-prepared to function as CEOs rather than as creative and inspired pastors. Everything from the way bishops are selected to how they schedule their time in today’s mega-dioceses tends to reinforce the CEO model, which in turn distances the bishop not only from his people but from his priests. As Ruddy puts it, “If a bishop is not regularly preaching, celebrating the sacraments (especially confession, preferably in his cathedral or another parish) and performing corporal works of mercy, his life and ministry are going to suffer.”

The resulting bureaucratic anonymity, says Ruddy, is disastrous. The bishop loses all normal accountability to his brother bishops, his priests, and his people, and accountability to the Vatican is often only a distant and manageable threat. It is nearly impossible to have incompetent or morally bad bishops removed, even in the new era of zero tolerance for sexual abuse, which can see priests removed on the basis of a single unsubstantiated charge. In the age of transparency, bishops have remained masters of stonewalling, and of hiding.

Interestingly, both conservatives and liberals agree that the current system too often elevates and perpetuates plain vanilla, look-alike bishops who don’t make waves. Most people will agree that the number of dioceses with any sort of striking leadership can be counted on one hand. This does not mean that all other bishops are inadequate, but it may be indicative of a larger problem.

The Priests

Ruddy correctly points out that the post-conciliar situation for priests has been extraordinarily difficult. In contrast to the period before the Council, when the vocation of priesthood was elevated and cherished, following the Council “marriage was valued as an equal state of life, and optional celibacy seemed imminent, repression was jettisoned under the influence of humanistic psychologies but inadequately replaced and the supportive environment quickly eroded even in the church.”

After decades of drift, formation for celibacy has become critical. But to be formed for celibacy, the candidate for ordination must be given a strong sense of priestly identity. Vatican II itself devoted far more attention to bishops and laity, so that even where the Council has been properly implemented, the theology of the priesthood has developed very little. Instead we have had various secularized frameworks and models for priesthood superimposed from outside the Church. Is the priest merely the one who presides? Is he merely the servant of his flock?

Ruddy is hopeful that this situation is on the verge of change. He looks toward a “deeper theology and spirituality of priesthood, one that can fruitfully hold together both the priest’s distinctive identity and his thorough relatedness to other believers in the church.” This is clearly necessary to foster a healthier sense of identity for priests today.

The Laity

On the theme of “adulthood” for the laity, Ruddy does not have in mind only the deficiencies of the laity but even more the besetting sin of clericalism, by which the laity are often reduced to a passive audience with no role to play in the building up of the Church. In a clericalist atmosphere, problems raised by lay people are stonewalled or simply dismissed. When the problems involve clergy, the wagons are automatically circled, and it too often becomes “us” vs. “them”. I have long referred to this as the “clerical club”. Ruddy rightly calls clericalism “a sin against baptism and confirmation”.
Contributing to this problem is the incredible ignorance of the Faith on the part of lay people, in part because the clergy have not taught them, and in part because the laity tend to regard such knowledge as unimportant. On both sides, a profound ignorance appears to be acceptable with regard to the Christian life which would not be tolerated for a moment in any other pursuit. Lay people need to be formed and educated in a manner which enables them to live out their baptism and confirmation, joining with the clergy to play their own part in a true renewal of the Church.

Referring unfavorably to a recent book entitled The Lay-Centered Church, Ruddy comments that this simply replaces one dominant group with another. “We need instead The Baptism-Centered Church,” he says, “one that situates distinctiveness within the identity and mission that all believers have in common.” He also notes that participation in the life of the Church, properly understood, is not the same as democratization.

Conditions for Reform

Yves Congar stipulated four conditions for true reform: the primacy of charity, the need to maintain communion with the entire body of believers, patience, and a return to the sources of tradition. Louis Bouyer suggested a fifth condition which Congar accepted, namely, common sense. Ruddy makes all five points his own and also suggests three other ingredients for a successful reform. The first is that the ordained need to be defined primarily “by their relationships to other members of the church rather than simply through their possession of special powers.” This can help overcome clericalism.
The second is that the Church needs to “foster habits of truthfulness and boldness.” We must not shy away from unpleasant or unfashionable realities. Since the sexual abuse problem was the occasion for Ruddy’s reflections, he notes as his prime example the 600 percent rise in priestly abuse against boys between ages 11 and 17 at the same time as sexual abuse against girls was declining steadily. He concludes that this should tell us something, and that we must not be afraid to engage in a frank discussion of homosexuality.

The third is that trust is essential to the effective exercise of authority, “and trust is precisely what was broken in the sexual abuse crisis.” Ruddy argues that trust cannot be restored merely by structures and procedures, though these are important. In addition and more importantly, there must be a “a renewal of evangelical poverty.” As Congar pointed out, “it is impossible to think wholly evangelically if one’s condition or manner of life is not evangelical.”

I’ve summarized Christopher Ruddy’s presentation at length because I believe he has things just about right. There is a tremendous need in the Church to concentrate on something more than merely fixing abuses. In the wrong atmosphere, fixing abuses becomes the equivalent of ecclesiastical whack-a-mole. We need instead exactly what Yves Congar, Vatican II, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI have called for all along: A deep examination of the truth, a renewal from the foundations.

Fr. Mike's comment:
Of course, I'd add "intentional discipleship" as the primary need for both clergy and laity, and the necessary foundation for any true reform. I'll have to read Congar's book myself. It sounds very timely.

Another View of Heaven

Last week at "Making Disciples" in Colorado Springs we introduced the forty+ participants from 20 dioceses in the U.S. and Australia to the idea of having conversations with people that aim at learning about their relationship with God. In listening to these responses, we might hear moments of significant insights, conversion, as well as disappointments and disillusionment. But by entering into the story of their relationship with God we can have a better sense of what their perspectives and questions are with regard to faith.

We thought it would be good to let them witness such a conversation (and then to have one with a volunteer from the Colorado Springs area), so I invited my friend, Daniel (of whom I've blogged before (see: Daniel had a powerful conversion about two and a half years ago, and my friendship with him has had a profound effect in my spiritual life.

At any rate, I asked Daniel the basic question we were encouraging people to ask, "Can you briefly describe your relationship with God to this point in life?" Now, of course, there are a whole series of specific questions that can follow that basic question, depending upon whether you're talking with an atheist, an agnostic, a non-Christian person of faith, a Protestant, a New Age devotee, a Catholic. And within faith traditions there are many questions depending upon whether or not they "practice" or not. The purpose of the conversation, however, is to listen well, and to hear the person express their experiences, and to try to hear whether or not certain "thresholds" that precede intentional discipleship have been crossed or not.

It's not my point to try to describe the whole process. Needless to say, Daniel got a chance to speak of his conversion experience and his relationship with God today.

Why this post has a connection to the other Sherry's post quoting Denise's reflection on heaven is that the conversation Daniel and I had ended with the question, "If you could ask God any question right now, and you knew God would answer right away, what would you ask?"

I expected Daniel to ask something along the lines of, "What would you like me to do with my life, Lord?" since that is a question that I know he would like answered.

Instead, Daniel thought for about five seconds, then looked me in the eye and asked, "What's for dinner?"

The room erupted in laughter and applause, and some of the participants stood in admiration of that amazing end to an amazing interview.

I was puzzled, however. Daniel doesn't take such matters lightly, so I knew he wasn't just making a joke - even though he likes to eat. Was he simply indicating that his trust in God was so complete that just knowing what was going to happen in a few hours was enough for him? Was it a reference to the Eucharist? Or was it something else?

So a few days later, over a burrito at Chipotle, I asked him the meaning of the question.

He said something along the lines of, "Well, Fr. Mike, you know that I want a one-on-one game of basketball with Jesus as soon as I get to heaven. But I figured we'd eat first, so I would want to know what we'd have." Then he told me his own image of the Paschal Feast of heaven.

That made a lot of sense, and fit the Daniel I've come to know and admire. As Denise indicated in the previous post, heaven does begin here, because our relationship with Jesus begins here. Daniel is consciously making the Lord a part of his everyday life; praying as he works as a carpenter/handyman (not unlike the Lord he loves and serves), praying for the people he talks with, and praying for guidance that he says what the Lord would want. No part of his life seems to be "out of bounds" in regard to his relationship with Jesus, including his love of sports.

Now Daniel doesn't have simply a "me and Jesus" approach to faith. He truly desires to know others who share a similar relationship, and participates in daily Mass and many other community events. He seems to have the charism of evangelism, so he has plenty of opportunities to gracefully share the love that he's discovered in very effective ways.

Daniel's response and vision might sound simplistic to some, but I don't believe it is. It is a function of a profound trust he has in Jesus' love and Jesus' will for him - and for each of us. While some of us (including me) say things like, "I have a lot of questions to ask the Lord about things that have happened to me," a person who really trusts the Lord may not have a need to ask questions. In that case, simply being with the Lord in something as intimate as a game of one-on-one hoops would be top priority.

As for me, I hope the Lord and Daniel are open to an occasional game of two-on-two. I always imagine St. Peter to be on the tall, stocky side, so I think the Rock and I could give them a good game.

But I'd want Our Lady to act as referee. I suspect Daniel fouls a lot.

A taste of Heaven

Rae Stabosz published on her blog the response of a fellow parishioner of hers, Denise Duchesneau, to a question in her local diocesan newspaper: "What do you think heaven is like?"
Steps toward intentional discipleship can begin in many ways....

A Taste of Heaven

Denise Duchesneau


"Macaroni and cheese!!" I exclaimed. A picture of an enormous bowl of Kraft’s most popular lunch choice for kids popped into my mind. Fork in hand, I stood staring at that bowl, wide-eyed, as white celestial clouds swirled around me.

“What is Heaven like?” I had asked my Mom. “It’s whatever makes you happy,” she told me.

Although excited about the prospect of a macaroni and cheese heaven, at six years of age I wasn’t yet ready for an eternity with my favorite food. I would miss my parents, grandparents, sister and soon-to-be-born baby brother here on Earth. As I grew up, I was too preoccupied with college and marriage to think much of God’s Eternal Plan. But now, 29 years after my initial cheesy thoughts, I look forward every day to getting to heaven.

What is Heaven really like? Do we know? Can we know?

Jesus gives us glimpses of heaven in the Gospels. There will be no marriage, no tears, no suffering and many rooms, one of which He prepares for us. Those that love God and each other, and care for God by caring for each other, will get to go. And once there, we will be the same yet different, as Jesus was the same yet different after His resurrection.

John’s book of Revelation also gives us this image of the saints that have washed their garments in the blood of the Lamb: they surround His throne singing and praising Him while incense burns at His altar. Catholic author Scott Hahn compares this image to our celebration of mass, which according to Catholic teaching, links
the angels and saints in heaven to us here on earth in glorious praise of our Lord and His sacrifice for us. Saints such as the Therese of Liseaux (the Little Flower), St. Jude and Saint Anthony intercede there forever for us as part of the Communion of Saints.

It all sounds both comforting and strange, wonderful but a bit out of reach, and also hard to imagine or understand.

My Medjugore newsletter spoke about one of the visionaries who was privileged to see heaven once when he was just a young boy. He described it as a place of immense light, peace, joy and unending space, where people who were dressed in pink, yellow and gray garments walked around praying. They all knew each other. My Mom, whose favorite color is blue, remarked, “I’m in trouble – but I guess I could settle for pink.”

I hate to admit it, but we both agreed that it didn’t sound that great.

These thoughts and feeling disturbed me. Shouldn’t I desire heaven more that anything? Isn’t Jesus supposed to be the most important thing in my life? Why don’t I feel that way? Perhaps this is why I was afraid of heaven: I needed a priority check.

Thankfully, God always hears and answers those kinds of prayers -- the ones where we want to know Him and His kingdom more. I sat one day at daily Mass, with my three children ages four, two and one. It was around All Soul's Day, 2005. The readings talked about heaven. The visiting priest to our church that day said that although we can’t know for sure, it seemed logical to him that heaven involves a continuation of the relationships that start here on earth, in God’s love. God, who is Love, created us out of Love, to love Him and each other. I thought of Genesis. Adam and Eve messed it up in the Garden of Eden, but God didn’t want that to happen. He wants us to choose Him. Through Jesus, heaven is the perfection of our relationship with God and each other in love.

I was totally excited at hearing that homily. So it starts here!! It’s not something that happens only after we die. We can begin to know heaven now – with each other, and of course, the Lord! I was swept up with the hope that I could take all the good people, friends, relatives, and memories with me to heaven. My childhood fears were abolished, and at that moment I felt relief about the whole thing.

In the months that followed, it seemed like this vision of heaven was confirmed. I knew I had to get to know Jesus more. I turned off Law and Order and began to pray the rosary. I shared my faith with people. I stopped worrying as much about everything as I began to trust Jesus more in my life, for even the small (which are actually the hardest) things.

I began to see heaven every day. It was with me when I looked forward to talking with friends and realized that even though I had to get back to the daily grind, I’d have plenty of time in heaven to continue the conversations. Being seven hours away from my parents and Gram, sister and brother, seemed less burdensome. I trusted that my deceased grandparents could see my kids and were with us. I mourned less the inevitable growing of my children, and the recent loss of one by miscarriage, and kept them in my heart for someday in eternity.

That was just the beginning! God is so good and so eager to shower us with blessings. He is happy to give us a taste of heaven on earth. Scott Hahn is right – mass is an experience of heaven if I let it be -- especially when I can sing the Gloria. How wonderful to praise God with old acquaintances and new friends while our children dance around us! The Community of Saints is found in our Catholic Moms group, where I’m sure Mary intercedes for us. We Moms have found wonderful friendship and healing. Three women were blessed with pregnancies they never thought they’d have, and we hold one of these babies almost every time we meet.

Being a part of God’s kingdom is an honor and responsibility. God’s kingdom involves inviting others to join, and I feel a deep sense of peace and joy when I can do so. As much as I can, I add little moments of joy to my heaven bank: sharing hugs and snuggles with my kids, taking time with my husband, contacting old friends and making new ones, walking at the beach, breathing in the waves and sunset, jogging, giving out Communion, skating on the bay, looking in on my peacefully sleeping children before I go to bed. Jesus is faithful to those who seek Him. If we all understood how much Jesus wants to give us, and not just when we die, I can’t see why everyone wouldn’t want to be starting heaven now.

My two older children, Elizabeth and Daniel, are five and three respectively. They are beginning to ask me about heaven. A couple weeks ago I told them that I used to think it involved a big bowl of macaroni and cheese. But now, I add, I think it really means sharing a humongous pepperoni pizza and Coke fridge pack with Jesus, our family, and the whole bunch of our relatives, friends and people we have yet to meet, including the Baby. There’s probably chocolate of some sort for dessert.

Do you care to join us?

“Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, what God has ready for those who love Him.”

Sunday, August 5, 2007

A Postmodern Dilemma

A recent (July 23) survey of 4000 Americans indicates a problem for us that stems from our individualism. While an overwhelming majority of us think of ourselves as well-informed leaders who are loyal and reliable independent thinkers who are making a positive difference in the world, there are apparently SOME of us who are bringing the rest of us down. Of course, because we are individualists and respectful of other's moral views, we aren't going to have the bad taste to actually try to convince them of the destructiveness of their views to themselves or to society!

"Sociologists have good reason to call this the era of hyper-individualism, according to data from a newly released study from The Barna Group. Based on interviews with a nationally representative sample of more than 4000 adults, the self-image of American adults came through loud and clear.

Most Americans think of themselves as leaders (71%) and believe they are well-informed about current events (81%). They almost unanimously view themselves as independent thinkers (95%), and as loyal and reliable people (98%). They also say they are able to easily adapt to changes and a whopping four out of five people believe they are making a positive difference in the world. Two out of three adults noted that they like to be in control of situations.

And while most Americans contend that they are free thinkers who are "very open" to alternative moral views (75%), a huge majority support traditional family values (92%), resulting in a large majority who claim to be concerned about the moral state of the nation (86%). Interestingly, though, only one out of four adults is concerned enough to try to convince other people to change their views on such issues."

I'll have a separate post on the statistic that two out of three adults like to be in control of situations.

Making Chinese Disciples

John Allen has an interesting article on the growth of Christianity in China. If you're like me, it will be a surprise. I tend to think of China as an atheist nation, so it came as a shock to learn that it is the third largest Christian nation in the world. Having a huge population helps, and Christians are still a minority (and an often oppressed minority), but as Allen points out, there is a real hunger for meaning that is turning the Chinese to religion, even as the standard of living for many Chinese is improving.

But the growth of Christianity isn't happening in the Catholic Church, which remains divided between the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association recognized by the government, and other Catholics who were underground during the worst of the oppression. In a nutshell, Catholicism is keeping pace with the growth of the population, while Protestant Christianity, particularly Pentecostalism, is rapidly growing. Part of the reason is in the approach to evangelization. Allen writes,

"Much Catholic conversation about evangelization in China is usually phrased in the subjunctive: 'If China were to open up on religious freedom …' or 'If the Holy See and China were to establish diplomatic relations …' The implicit assumption is sometimes that structural change is required before Catholicism can truly move into an expansion phase.

Pentecostal talk about mission, on the other hand, is very much phrased in the simple present. Most Pentecostals would obviously welcome being arrested less frequently, but in general they are not waiting for legal or political reform before carrying out aggressive evangelization programs. The most audacious even dream of carrying the gospel beyond the borders of China, along the old Silk Road into the Muslim world, in a campaign known as "Back to Jerusalem." As Aikman explains in Jesus in Beijing, some Chinese Evangelicals and Pentecostals believe that the basic movement of the gospel for the last 2,000 years has been westward: from Jerusalem to Antioch, from Antioch to Europe, from Europe to America, and from America to China. Now, they believe, it's their turn to complete the loop by carrying the gospel to Muslim lands, eventually arriving in Jerusalem. Once that happens, they believe, the gospel will have been preached to the entire world.

Most experts regard that prospect as deeply improbable; Madsen said he doubts more than a handful of Protestants in China take the "Back to Jerusalem" vision seriously. Aikman is more sanguine, reporting that as of 2005 two underground Protestant seminaries in China were training believers for work in Islamic nations. In any event, it's revealing as an indication of missionary ferment.

One exception to the general Catholic hesitancy is Bishop Jin Luxian of Shanghai, a controversial figure because of his willingness to register with the government, but someone who enjoys the respect of many senior Catholic leaders internationally. Luxian, the subject of a flattering profile in the current issue of The Atlantic, is revamping his cathedral to draw upon traditional Chinese aesthetics, part of a larger program of forging an authentically Chinese expression of the Catholic faith.

'The old church appealed to 3 million Catholics,' he said. 'I want to appeal to 100 million Catholics.'"

Sherry has reported extensively on the tendency for Catholic missiologists to deny that Christianity is taking root in Asia. Allen's discussion raises an issue for me: what excuses do I give for not sharing how Christ has changed my life with others? Even more to the point - HAVE I been changed by a relationship with Jesus? That was a question raised in our new workshop, "Making Disciples."

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Making Disciples

Just a brief check-in as I pack to head to Galveston, Texas, to do a Called & Gifted for the Catholic principals of the Archdiocese.

As Fr. Mike has noted, Making Disciples was remarkably fruitful and several people commented that they didn't want to leave! This is without doubt the most successful one we've ever done and it was very exciting to see leaders from 22 dioceses grappling with the implications of helping Catholics become intentional disciples. Thanks so much for your prayers! I could feel the impact!

We'll be honing and refining before we offer Making Disciples again in November but I'm so relieved that I don't face a massive re-write. Fr. Mike, Keith, and Barbara were fabulous to work with (as usual), the participants were exceptional, and all of us felt very blessed to be there. We didn't sleep much (which always seems a good idea at the time) but we were certainly spiritually refreshed!

Those present who had attended earlier incarnations of Making Disciples, Equipping Apostles told me that it was so, so, so much better than earlier versions. (Which reminded me of the woman who came up to me a few years and enthusiastically told me how this Called & Gifted was so, so, so, so SO much better than the workshop she attended 8 years previously!)

Here are a few participant comments:

"The concept of intentional discipleship is absolutely exciting!! The team did a great job presenting, explaining, equipping, motivating, modeling it. THANK YOU VERY VERY MUCH! I will never forget this 5 day experience!!! It has changed my life."

"I have been changed forever. The people I have met and networked with are extraordinary. This is truly an amazing week."

"I cannot begin to tell you how much I have learned from all of the sections."

"The conference truly lived up to and surpassed my deepest expectations."

"It was great to hear about an intentional disciple. I have recognized this stage in others myself but have never been able to name it."

"As an individual, I've found these days very inspiring. Most of the contents have opened me to wonderful memories of witnessing to my faith and trust in God in a personal context, and has set a fire in me that I hope and pray stays enflamed. So help me God! Amen."

"This was a life-changing experience for me. I don't think I have ever gone through a program where I have taken back so much.

Cost of program: $
Airfare: $ 4xx.xx
Taxis: $ 60.00

Program content: Priceless."

Fr. Mike takes off for Tucson tomorrow but may check in from time to time. I'm back Tuesday evening and will be blogging again on Wednesday.