Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Spiral of Silence

As those of you who have read ID for a while know, I have often written about the "don't ask, don't tell" culture of Catholicism. We don't ask where people are in their lived relationship with God and we don't tell them the good news of Jesus Christ.

So I was fascinated to come across Communication scholar Elisabeth Noelle-Neuman's theory of the “spiral of silence". You can tell that I didn't major in communications because Neuman published this theory 25 years ago and it has been talked about endlessly since.

Neuman's idea is that most people have an intuitive awareness of the majority sentiment within a group, and most are less likely to speak up when they find themselves in the minority. The silencing effect thus reinforces itself: if a 40% minority does only 20% of the talking, they perceive themselves to be even more outnumbered than they truly are and are thus even less inclined to speak. Hence, the spiral into silence.

Neuman found that individuals avoid speaking out on controversial issues due to an innate fear of social isolation.

Because of this fear of isolation, people continuously scan their environment to try to assess the climate of opinion at all times. This would includes current and future distribution of opinion. If we think that our opinion is shared by the majority or that it is gaining ground in our culture/group, we are much more likely to talk about it openly.

And this is fascinating: If people find no current, frequently repeated expressions for their point of view, they lapse into silence; they become effectively mute. In other words, if we don't hear people about us or in the media talking about something, we literally don't have the language to think or talk about it ourselves. Most of us don't think completely original thoughts in completely original language. We are given categories and frameworks and language with which to think and talk about the world from those around us.

Neumann was concerned primarily with the role of the media in establishing the impression that certain beliefs are the belief of the majority but she also studied the role of interpersonal support in enabling people holding minority opinions to hold to them and talk about them openly. If interpersonal support decreases, the number of those who will talk about a minority opinion and eventually, even hold to it also decreases. A Christian culture that is silent about fundamental things produces Christians who will also be silent about these things with their families, their friends, and in the marketplace.

•Noelle-Neumann quotes Tocqueville about this dynamic in regard to the Catholic faith in revolutionary France.

People still clinging to the old faith were afraid of being the only ones who did so, and as they were more frightened of isolation than of committing an error, they joined the masses even though they did not agree with them. In this way, the opinion of only part of the population seemed to be the opinion of all and everybody, and exactly for this reason seemed irresistible to those who were responsible for this deceptive appearance.

The combination of our secularized post-modern culture without and our "don't ask, don't tell" culture within the Church has helped ensure that the Church's teaching on evangelization is a dead letter on arrival.

If we are to enable Catholics to buck the cultural tide and not only hold onto their own personal faith but share it eagerly with others, if we are serious about evangelization at all, we have to start talking about following Christ and intentional discipleship explicitly in our parishes. We have to both ask and tell on an on-going basis.

Can Anything Good Come Out of Nazareth?

From Luceat! - a blog of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS)come this moving anecdote:

As we began our pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James the Apostle in Santiago de Compostella, five FOCUS missionaries and six student leaders joined the Benedictine sisters who kept our albergue (hostel) for prayer before we began walking the next day. As the mother superior intoned the ancient prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours, something about her caught my attention. She possessed a beauty that was uniquely feminine and radiated a sense of peace that told me she had a heart that had experienced both profound suffering and profound joy. This was a holy woman.

After vespers, this beautiful bride of Christ spoke with Jason, the missionary that led our pilgrimage. With great sorrow in her expression, she spoke with Jason about the state of the Church in Spain – about the devastation after the Spanish Civil War and about the breakdown in family life and about the mass exodus of young people from the Church and about the profound shortage of priests. “And then I see you,” she said to Jason with a renewed light in her eye “and I have hope.”

She explained to Jason that she and her sisters beg our Lord for a renewal in the church in Spain, but they have not yet seen the fruit of their prayers in the way that they hope. She explained that she sees the Church flourishing in Africa and in India, but that with her understanding of how grace builds on nature, these places do not have the political stability nor the economic means to raise up the other cultures of the world.

“No,” she said, “I believe, as did our beloved John Paul II, that the center of the New Evangelization must be the United States. The new Avila – the new Sienna – the new Assisi - must be your St. Louis, Missouri, your Chicago, Illinois, your Denver, Colorado.” Referencing the story of Joseph in Genesis, which happened to have been the first reading in mass that morning, she suggested that just as the family of God in Genesis was saved from famine through their youngest brother, so would the family of God living at this moment in Salvation History be saved through their “youngest brother,” the faithful disciples of Christ, especially “the dear young people” of the Catholic Church in the United States."


I was struck some months ago by a comment by an evangelical mission leader from Africa. He observed the Holy Spirit is most often visibly active on the periphery, not in the center of powerful institutions. I suppose it's the "can anything good come out of Nazareth" phenomena. Certainly we have found in our travels that almost all effective evangelization going on in the American Church today is happening at the grassroots,parish level. And that there are a lot of wonderfully creative grassroots initatives out there. Could Mother Superior be right? Could the American Catholics be the key to the New Evangelization?

I think she is - with a few caveats: It's true for now - for the next 10- 15 years, perhaps 20 years. Because the third world is catching up with us quickly in terms of stability and economic growth. India has been famously enjoying a economic book over the past decade and even Africa is changing while our eyes are focused upon her many struggles. I read an article in the New York Times observing that three times as many African nations are democracies now than in 1989. Some are fragile but there has been a definite trend. This is probably a crucial moment for the American Church but our unique advantages aren't going to remain unique very long.

In the end, much more important through Christian history than wealth, infrastructure, and political stability is passionate discipleship. The fastest growing Christian community in the world for the past 3 decades has been in China where the growth has often occurred in the midst of terrible persecution and where religious initiatives are still routinely restricted.

Nepal is an excellent case in point. Until 1951, Nepal was completely closed off to all missionary work. In 1960, there was only a handful of known Nepali Christians. The big breakthrough occurred in the early 60’s when two lay evangelists from India crossed the Himalayas to share the Gospel.

By 1970, there were about 7,450 Nepali Christians in an illegal underground movement led by teenagers who were tortured and imprisoned for their faith. In the early 80’s, I remember hearing an evangelical woman missionary just back from Nepal describing the marks of torture still visible on the hands of the young leaders. By the turn of the millennium, there were almost 600,000 Christians in Nepal, most associated with indigenous, New Apostolic movements.

Nepali Christianity is growing so fast that Barrett estimates that the Christian population topped 768,000 by mid-2005 and now makes up 2.8% of the total population. 582,000 or 76% of Nepal’s Christians are Independents. There are only 6,626 known Catholics in the country.

“At least 40 to 60 percent of the Nepali church became Christians as a direct result of a miracle," says Sandy Anderson of the Sowers Ministry. "Most times the people do not know what we are talking about when we preach the gospel. That's why it is very important to demonstrate the gospel. We preach. Then God heals the sick when we pray. The gospel is not only preached but demonstrated in Nepal." (The Church at the Top of the World, April 3, 2000, Christianity Today).

Passionate evangelizers can and will use any cultural or structural opportunities to spread the gospel that present themselves - from the Pax Romana to the internet - but only if they are already burning to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Discipleship, prayer, and apostolic imagination trumps societal stability and technology in this area every time. A man or woman who loves Christ and his Church will find a way to share that love - and the greater the love, the more creative and compelling the sharing will be.

I suspect the good sister is right. A unique opportunity is before the American Church - but only to the extent that we are intentional disciples of Jesus Christ who have taken up and living our apostolic identity and mission.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Weight of Glory

Back from the Diocesan Ministry Congress where I did a couple of break-out sessions and have fun of some great conversations with people who are discerning. Including this really intriguing conversation just before I left this morning.

A 40-something woman sitting at the booth next to us in the vendor's room asked me that most shaming of questions to a mendicant like myself: Do You Remember Me? AAAAAAHHHHHH!

I did a emergency search of the slovenly, jammed-packed warehouse that I call my brain but nothing turned up - no memory of her face or her story - much less her name. It was confession time - again since I face this dilemma several times a week. When you've worked directly with 33,000 people, that's about 32,800 people whom I encountered briefly and whose names I either never knew or have probably forgotten but whom I'm probably going to run into again - 6 months or 8 years down the road. (It has gotten to the point where I've had flight attendants come up to me in my seat and ask if I'm the "Called & Gifted" lady.) I long ago learned that honesty and self-depreciating humor is the only graceful way out.

I confessed. Mea Culpa. So she (I'll call her Fiona) filled me in. Apparently Fiona attended a workshop I taught about 21 months ago for religious educators and taking the Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory was a huge turning point in her life. And I did a "5 minute" interview with her, looking quickly at her inventory scores and pointing out the possible significance of the patterns. She had gotten a high score in celibacy and I asked her if she had ever considered religious life - which, though I didn't know it, was the single biggest issue in her life. I apparently pointed out that her profile was classically Dominican (a focus on communication gifts and charisms of understanding) and suggested that she might consider exploring Dominican communities.

So she did. She contacted Sr. Francine Barber, OP who now works for the Diocese of Pueblo, Colorado 40 miles away but who used to be stationed in Seattle. What this woman could not know was the Sr. Francine co-taught my very first RCIA program in Seattle all those years ago. I like to joke that I blame everything on Sr. Francine because she could stopped this whole "should I become Catholic?" thing at the very beginning.

After a year of discernment with Sr. Francine, "Fiona" realized that her call was to "stability" and she is, today, a aspirant to a local Benedictine women's community. And she said over and over that taking the Inventory and my brief conversation with her was very significant in that process.

God's network is amazing. Sr. Francine encouraged my first steps into the Church and then I (without knowing) was used by God to encourage this woman on her way into religious life which sent her to Sr. Francine - and so it goes.

It's the circle of Life alright. God calling us to his own life. And incredibly, He entrusts small but very significant roles in this great drama to every one of us.

I quote from C. S. Lewis' magnificent sermon "The Weight of Glory" at every Called & Gifted workshop and Lewis sums it up with such eloquence:

"It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load or weight or burden of my neighbor's glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strong tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you know meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations-these are mortal and their life is to our as the life of a gnat. But it immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit-immortal horrors or everlasting splendours."

Friday, September 28, 2007

A Tribute to Gloria Straus

Go to the Seattle Times website and scroll down until you see the section with Gloria Straus's picture. Click on the audio slideshow: a tribute to Gloria.

It's radiant with love and faith and is a fitting remembrance of a radiant little girl.

A Hummingbird Spa

One of the things I'm doing this weekend is plant more Agastashe - a tough, xeric flower for this climate that attracts hummingbirds like this:

Colorado is a major bird migration point and hummers are all over the place in the summer. One goal: to grow a sort of hummingbird spa in the backyard.

Whatever Is Truly Christian . . .

Dr. Philip Blosser asks an excellent question in the middle of a long discussion with Janice Kraus:

"Let's get to the point: Here's a Catholic teaching and tradition. I would like you to comment on it. It says:

"... Catholics must gladly acknowledge and esteem the truly Christian endowments from our common heritage which are to be found among our separated brethren. It is right and salutary to recognize the riches of Christ and virtuous works in the lives of others who are bearing witness to Christ, sometimes even to the shedding of their blood. For God is always wonderful in His works and worthy of all praise."

But wait. That's not all:

"Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can be a help to our own edification. Whatever is truly Christian is never contrary to what genuinely belongs to the faith; indeed, it can always bring a deeper realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church."

Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) (1964), I, 4.


Janice, what do you think Mother Church is teaching us here? Which "truly Christian endowments" and "riches of Christ and virtuous works" among our separated brethren do you think could be described as "genuinely [belonging] to the faith," "wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren" and, moreover, could be considered as "a help to our own edification" as Catholics, bringing us to "a deeper realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church?"

Note, first, that the Decree is not even discussing Catholic converts here, but non-Catholic Christians; and, second, that the Decree is not stating merely that certain endowments and works of non-Catholic Christians are compatible with Catholic teaching or belong to "our common heritage, but that they may serve to edify Catholics. Your comments, please."

And we'd love to hear from you as well . . .

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bloggers: Witness or Shapers of History?

We have all heard the jokes about the pajamadeen, heros in pajamas and slippers who fight for truth and justice via the laptop on their dining room table. There has been huge debate about the power of bloggers to spread news around the world with astonishing speed. But this story coming out of Myanmar (Burma) gives a vivid sense of how powerful blogging can be.

Via CNN:

Armed with a laptop, a blogger named Ko Htike has thrust himself into the middle of the violent crackdown against monks and other peaceful demonstrators in his homeland of Myanmar.

Snip

He runs the blog out of his London apartment, waking up at 3 a.m. every day to review the latest digitally smuggled photos, video and information that's sent in to him.

With few Western journalists allowed in Myanmar, Htike's blog is one of the main information outlets. He said he has as many as 40 people in Myanmar sending him photos or calling him with information. They often take the photos from windows from their homes, he said.



Myanmar's military junta has forbidden such images, and anyone who sends them is risking their lives.


Ko Htike's blog (significant portions of which are in English)gives a chilling, immediate sense of the crisis and violence in Myanmar.


And the impact and significance of blogging.

Update: 9/28: CNN covered Ko Htike's activities, last night the internet was shut down all over Myanmar. Ko Htike writes:

Dear All,

I sadly announce that the Burmese military junta has cut off the internet connection throughout the country. I therefore would not be able to feed in pictures of the brutality by the brutal Burmese military junta.

I will also try my best to feed in their demonic appetite of fear and paranoia by posting any pictures that I receive though other means (Journos!! please don’t ask me what other means would be??). I will continue to live with the motto that “if there is a will there is a way”.

Update: 9/28, 10:00 am

Just another indicator. I stepped away from the computer for a bit, only to discover upon returning that CNN has linked to this post under the rubric of blogger's reactions to the plight of another blogger in London who is one of the few windows on what is happening on the other side of the world. The junta is desperately trying to control news leaving the country but it can't. Long live the pajamadeen.

Meanwhile in Ko Htike's comment boxes, journalists beg for interviews, bloggers in Italy are coloring their blogs in red in support, and lots of Americans are writing to let him know of their support. But, he's had to shut down his comments because someone "misused" them.

Please pray for the Ko Ktike and the people of Myanmar at this moment of crisis.

Rome, Sep 27, 2007 / 10:52 am (CNA).- The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Myanmar (CBCM) has called on Catholics to pray for their country as street demonstrations by Buddhist monks against the military government which has ruled for 45 years entered a second week.

According to press release published by the UCA News Agency, the bishops said, “The Church in Myanmar has been making chain prayers, fasting and perpetual adoration turn by turn in all the parishes of all the Archdioceses and Dioceses for peace and development in the country since February 1, 2006 up to now.”

“Especially at the present situation,” the bishops continued, “all Catholics are requested to make unceasing prayers and to offer special Masses for the welfare of the country. They also noted that in accordance with “the Canon Law and Social Teachings of the Catholic Church, priests and religious are not involved in any party-politics and in the current protests.”

Reclaiming Fatherhood

It's a first: a conference on the effect of abortion on men will be held at St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco on November 28, 29. Reclaiming Fatherhood

Topics covered will include current research, abortion as trauma, and counseling men who have experienced pregnancy loss through abortion. This is a unique opportunity for those who deal with men in pastoral or clinical settings to learn about this much neglected topic.

Carolyn Aigle

What a woman.

Carolyn Aigle would have turned 33 on September 12.

But this remarkable Catholic woman - the first fighter pilot in France - choose to risk her own life in order to save the life of her unborn son. Diagnosed with a very agressive cancer when she was 5 months pregnant, Carolyn, together with her fighter pilot husband Christophe, refused to have an abortion when urged to do so by her doctors. Her son was born at the beginning of August (3 1/2 months early) but it was too late and Carolyn died three weeks later. Her doctor reports that son Marc is doing well.



Carolyn's "funeral was celebrated by Father Pierre Demoures, a former fighter pilot himself. In his homily, he remembered Caroline as someone who led people to Christ with “her qualities, kindness, willingness, passion,” and he praised her for choosing to give life to her son, for whom she “postponed a treatment that was urgent.”

Father Demoures recalled that when Carolina and Christophe sought him out for marriage preparation, they asked him for a book that spoke not about the love of one for the other, “but rather about the love that opens us to love others.”


Remember Carolyn, Marc, her husband Christophe, and their two other children in your prayers.

The Works of Catherine of Siena in Braille

Over the past several years, thanks to some generous Catherine of Siena enthusiasts, the works of Catherine in English have been gradually transcribed into Braille. So far the Dialogue, Prayers, and one volume of the Letters have appeared, and just now Suzanne Nofke's Catherine of Siena: Vision through a Distant Eye.

If you are interested in access to these volumes, contact EVR Braille Services (Emelita de Jesus), 1906 Bonita Avenue, Burbank, CA 91504.

hat tip: Dominican Life

O Come, Let US ADORE Him

ADORE is a new ministry of the Diocese of Houma/Thibodaux in Lousiana

Their inspiration: The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2097:

To adore God is to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the nothingness of the creature who would not exist but for God. To adore God is to praise and exalt Him and humble oneself, as Mary did in the Magnificat, confessing with gratitude that He has done great things and holy is His name. The worship of the one God sets us free from turning in ourselves, from the slavery to sin and the idolatry of the world.

ADORE focuses on non-liturgical worship mixing contemporary Christian music, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and teaching. They offer regular gatherings within the diocese but have started to take it on the road, traveling to 8 states in the early-mid September.

In their FAQ's, they answer some obvious questions such as:

ADORE sounds more Protestant than Catholic. Is it Catholic?

In the Spring of 2004, Pope John Paul II declared October 2004 through October 2005 as �The Year of the Eucharist�. In October of 2004, the Holy See published �Mane Nobiscum Domine.� There, Pope John Paul II urged the Church universal to �cultivate a lively awareness of Christ's real presence, both in the celebration of Mass and in the worship of the Eucharist outside Mass.� In addition, the Holy Father writes, �During this year Eucharistic adoration outside Mass should become a particular commitment.� ADORE seeks only to foster worship that integrates the potent wisdom of the Holy Father, as well as the timeless Tradition of Eucharistic Adoration, with the contemporary trends of modern worship.

As a Catholic, I worship on Sunday, yet, ADORE is designed to lead worship. Don't Catholics worship at Mass?

Yes, we worship at Mass. In fact, worshiping on Sunday at Mass not only integrates the third commandment into our lives, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that "God's first call is that we accept Him and worship Him." In fact, the Catechism goes on to say, "The Church and the world have a great need for the various forms of Eucharistic worship." Thus, there are other forms of worship, Sacramental and Eucharistic worship, which have their ancient place in the Tradition of the Catholic Church. So, while Catholics are morally bound to worship at Sunday Mass, there are other experiences of worship in our Tradition.

Bishop Sam Jacobs seems to be supportive (the director - a lay man - and the other main speaker - a priest who is also a pastor and in charge of seminarian formation - work directly for the diocese). It probably is not an accident that Bishop Jacobs is Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Evangelization.

Take a look and tell us what you think.

Ham Lake, We're Coming Your Way , , ,

Well, Fr. Mike is coming your way - is actually flying your way - at this very minute.

Ham Lake, MN where he will be leading a team to put on our 325th live Called & Gifted workshop while

I will be slipping in and our of our local Colorado Springs Diocesan Ministry Conference.

Hope to see you there!

No More Elves Please . . .We're British

A wonderful review of Diana Pavlac Glyer's The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community ran in the London Times a couple weeks ago.

Tolkien and Lewis formed the spine of the Inklings, regularly convening to read and discuss one another’s work in Lewis’s rooms at Magdalen College. There were nineteen members in all, and Glyer excels at depicting their world, with its petty rivalries, joshing honesty (“he is ugly as a chimpanzee”, wrote Lewis of fellow Inkling Charles Williams), its wit and learning and championship of scholarship for its own sake. The Inklings were often supportive and sympathetic (“the inexhaustible fertility of the man’s imagination amazes me”, wrote Lewis in 1949 on receipt of another instalment of The Lord of the Rings), but were capable of ferocious criticism if it was felt that a member had done anything less than his best (“You can do better than that. Better Tolkien, please!”). Tempers must surely have become frayed at times – as Tolkien became unyieldingly critical of Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (“about as bad as can be”) or as the English don Hugo Dyson met the latest bulletin from Middle Earth by (according to Tolkien’s son Christopher) “lying on the couch, and lolling and shouting and saying, ‘Oh God, no more Elves’”.

Not that all of them were ever present at the Magdalen reading meetings: often no more than six or seven would turn up, while the rest preferred to save themselves for the more raucous social gatherings in the Oxford pub The Eagle and Child. Inkling James Dundas-Grant recalls a typical scene:

“we sat in a small back room with a fine coal fire in winter . . . . back and forth the conversation would flow. Latin tags flying around. Homer quoted in the original to make a point . . . . Tolkien jumping up and down, declaiming in Anglo-Saxon.”


Just like the old Nameless Lay Group. For Inkling fans and those - who like me - have visited the Bird and Baby in Oxford, it sounds like a must read.

Glory



The Colorado high country in late September

Orthodox Sense & Sensibility

Fr. Gregory Jensen of the great Koinonia blog, gave this response to my Catholic Sense and Sensibility post below and I just had to share it:

In the Orthodox Church one often hears about the need for converts to develop an Orthodox mindset (phronema). In my experience, it is worth noting that the development for an Orthodox phronema is almost always limited to converts. Not unsurprisingly, this need arise in response to a challenge that someone wishes to dismiss without a hearing ("You think too much like a Protestant/Roman Catholic--you need to develop an Orthodox phronema that will help you understand why we don't (or do) XXXXXX.")

But whatever else an Orthodox mindset or a Catholic sensibility might be, it is never an absolute thing. The desired mindset/sensibility is always relative to the situation in which we find ourselves. The mindset we need to develop is akin to the virtue of prudence--of knowing what the right and God-pleasing thing is in the situation. For the more biblically minded among us, it is the need for maturity as St Paul uses the term.

Our mindset/sensibility should serve our obedience to Christ, not (as it invariably is used to do) limit the range of our obedience to only what has been done before. Let me re-phrase that, we ought not to limit ourselves to only those things done in the past that met the approval of those who have a vested interest in limiting the range of grace.

This Time Around

I am going to be in Detroit on October 24 to appear on Ralph Martin's The Choices We Face and to speak at a graduate course in the New Evangelization.

The thing that has intrigued me is how Ralph Martin responded when I asked him the other day exactly what he wanted me to talk about. I presumed that it would be about the significance of charisms in the new evangelization.

To my surprise, he said "Tell us about the Institute and its work. Talk about what you've seen in the church as you travel. Talk about collaboration between the clergy and the laity, about evangelization, about charisms. Share from your heart. The whole class is yours."

I'm still startled two days later. No one ever asks me to just talk. About anything that I think is important. Like the humbler class of professional speakers everywhere, I'm always having to work inside parameters established by the sponsoring organization in light of their priorities (which is perfectly appropriate). You know, 45 minutes on charisms or a day on discernment. And I've got loads of pre-packaged talks for those sort of invitations.

But not this. And never has anyone asked me to speak from my heart. In the circles I run in, few Catholics ever talk about your heart - they definitely want your head.

The last time I had a chance to do something similar was 12 years ago before the Institute was a twinkle in anybody's eye. It was to the Dominican pastors of the Western Province. I had never seen that many priests before (I don't know if I believed that priests were entirely human at that point) and my knees literally buckled as I walked up the podium - which Fr. Michael Sweeney found highly amusing. (I remember fiercely muttering "you can faint when you are done, but not now!")

I had no credentials, was unknown outside my parish of Blessed Sacrament and Fr. Michael Sweeney, who had asked me to do this, had never heard me speak. As far as I knew, this was the only chance I'd ever have to do what many lay Catholics dream of: give a group of priests a piece of my mind.

My topic? The Strategic Role of Lay Catholics in the Dominican Mission. The impact of that talk helped birth the Institute.

And now I get to do it again. Dizzying. I'm really gonna have to pray about this one. If I could say anything to an international group of Catholic leaders, mostly clergy, what would I say? I hope and presume that I'm past the knee-buckling stage.

Because this time around, they know where to find me.

LAMP is Still Shining . . .26 Years Later

LAMP (Lay Apostolic Ministries with the Poor) of New York City is a "Catholic lay missionary association, comprised of people who serve among the materially poor, with a focus on evangelization. It was founded by a married couple, Tom & Lyn Scheuring in 1981 and is still going strong 26 years later.

LAMP Missionaries may be married couples, single men and women, as well as religious sisters and priests who can commit a least a year to this work. Lamp missionaries work in material poor parishes who can't afford salaried staff to do home visits, working with youth, adult religious education, Scripture sharing groups, etc. They also work with the homeless and their work is beginning to spread beyond the New York area.

Check em out.

Ancient Christian Ethiopia



The New York Times has a piece this morning about tourism's re-discovery of ancient Christian Ethiopia and the rock churches of LALIBELA.

Legend has it that these churches were carved below ground at the end of 11th century and beginning of the 12th after God ordered King Lalibela to build churches the world had never seen -- and dispatched a team of angels to help him.

Snip.

Ethiopia boasts eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites but decades of hunger, conflict and political instability have kept the country and its fabled palaces, obelisks and castles off the beaten track for most visitors to Africa.

Tourism represents a mere 2.5 percent of its gross national product -- something the government is keen to change.

It has set the ambitious goal of attracting one million foreign visitors a year by 2010, quadrupling current figures.

Religious tourism may prove to be the answer.

"We are focusing on our comparative advantage, which is the diversity of the cultures of the Ethiopian people, and ... the faith aspect," Dirir said.

TOO MANY TOURISTS?

Far from being a dead relic, Lalibela's churches throng with local worshippers on any given day.

Wrapped in white Muslim robes, some read Biblical passages on parchment in Ge'ez, a 2,500 year-old language. Others press lips and foreheads to damp walls, clustering round pillars or prostrating themselves to kiss the stone floors.


Check out this collection of incredible pictures from northern Ethopia, which includes the magnificent St. George above.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Purity and Openness

A second topic raised in the discussions over at Commonweal was that of Donatism (the converting Bishop had given a public talk on the subject)

Cathleen Keveny:

A. Donatism in the narrow sense is the heretical belief that the validity of the sacrament depends on the worthiness of the minister. (p.2)

B. Donatism in the wider sense is a certain attitude toward purity, error, and sin, as well as toward the proper stance on the relationship of the church to the world. On this point, he endorses the eminent Augustine scholar Peter Brown’s description:

“The Donatists thought of themselves as a group which existed to preserve and protect an alternative to the society around them. They felt their identity to be constantly threatened, first by persecution, later by compromise. Innocence, ritual purity, meritorious suffering predominate in their image of themselves. . . . The Catholicism of Augustine, by contrast, reflect the attitude of a group confident of its powers to absorb the world without losing its identify. This identity existed independently of the quality of the human agents of the Church; it rested on ‘objective’ promises of God, working out magnificently in history, and on the ‘objective’ efficacy of its sacraments.”


To which Christopher Ruddy made this striking reply:

I acknowledged then and acknowledge now that church-world tension, but I think it is wrong to conflate that unavoidable tension with a Donatist desire for a purer church. A church that is not in some sort of substantial tension with the world is either corrupt or deluded. Augustine, the anti-Donatist, wrote a few words on that tension, as did Vatican II; the church as leaven and the church as light to the nations are not mutually exclusive realities. Moreover, a concern for identity and orthodoxy cannot be reflexively reduced to a fear-driven desire for purity and security. One can be confident and open, as I believe Benedict is, in the face of a difficult, even hostile situation. His words and actions as pope give little evidence of a fearful, cramped man. On an impressionistic level, he looks relaxed and happy; he wears the yoke of his office lightly and does not seem burdened as Paul VI was.

and then went on to articulate an important balance

Gerhard Lohfink captures the difference in "Does God Need the Church?: Toward a Theology of the People of God" through his reflections on biblical election and his description of God's People as a "contrast society," one which avoids both sectarianism and cooptation; God's people are elected, called out (literally, an ek-klesia) through no merit of their own, precisely in order to exist for others, to reveal to the world God's will for all peoples. Election and openness go hand in hand, they call for each other. Donatists and their heirs get election, but forget openness. Some Catholics today get openness, but forget election. Thinking of the church as a contrast society--and living as such--helps one to see how brilliant intensity and broad openness can coexist.

The answer to your second question, I believe, is found in Acts of the Apostles and other New Testament writings, which I consider to be part of the history of Catholic ecclesiology. It's also exemplified in Vatican II's exposition of the universal call to holiness. Vatican II affirmed the basic, if easily forgotten, Christian insight that all of the baptized are called to the same high standard of perfection in Christ. That we all pursue that high standard in different ways and places (and very mundanely, as when I clean up a son who has diarrhea or you serve on a committee), or that we all repeatedly fall short of that standard, doesn’t take away from the intensity of that call, which "costs not less than everything," as T.S. Eliot put it. Calling people to the radical conversion demanded by the Gospel does not in any way necessarily involve excluding those who are searching or uncertain or struggling. God is patient and hospitable, and so must his followers be, too. This is what the then-Cardinal Ratzinger was getting at it in his comments on the catechumenate and the “God-fearers.”

I understand that some Catholics feel judged or excluded by such language and such currents--or dismiss them as 'evangelical'--but that doesn’t negate the basic reality: We are all mediocre, God-beloved people called to conversion and to divine life in community. No one is perfect, and one of the strengths of Catholicism is precisely its mediocrity, its anti-elitism, its willingness to welcome all who are willing to come. Go, for instance, to an urban, northeastern Catholic cathedral to see the congregation for a weekday Mass. I always find moving the communion procession, in which all kinds of people come forward to receive healing and strength and welcome from the Lord. But, that welcome is also bound to conversion, and it would be hard to read any of the Gospels or letters of Paul and not hear that call to conversion. Among the first words from Jesus's lips in Mark's Gospel are, "Repent, and believe in the Gospel." Paul calls the Philippians--and us--to be "children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom yo
u shine as lights in the world" (2:15)--quite literally a "brilliant intensity."

I believe that the renewal desired by Vatican II will take place only when more of the baptized become aware of their personal responsibility for the church’s life and mission—and when ecclesial authorities are equally converted to that vision and help foster it. That renewal will likely be driven by small communities of believers whose "brilliant intensity" shines not for themselves but for others and whom through their life and attractiveness draw the rest of us to live better our own high callings.

I'm liking this Christopher Ruddy guy!

Catholic Sense and Sensibility

Bishop Jeffrey Bishop Steenson of the Diocese of Rio Grande send a notice to his clergy last week that he had decided to be received into the Catholic Church. This has produced much debate around the blogosphere but especially over at Commonweal.

A long, most interesting, thoughtful discussion ensued. (A pleasant surprise for me since my previous, limited exposure to Commonweal led me to the conclusion that such discussions were unlikely to occur at Commonweal.) I won't attempt to recapitulate the arguments here but I wanted to highlight two fascinating sub-topics that emerged:

1) The issue of "Catholic sensibility": A few relevant comments:

Lawrence Cunningham observed:

Getting ecclesiology right has powerful ramifications on everything from who gets baptized to who presides at the altar. Being faithful to the Way of Jesus has profound ecclesiological undertones. Often people become Catholics precisely because it is there that they can best nourish their discipleship. Being faithful to the Way of Jesus has profound ecclesiological undertones. Often people become Catholics precisely because it is there that they can best nourish their discipleship.

To which Mark Jameson responded:

Ah, but is that really Catholic? Or is it the result of the layering of Catholic dogmatism onto an American-Protestant-Evangelical sensibility?

Cathleen Kaveney:

I think having a Catholic sensibility is something that takes a while to develop--and it's not the same thing as a Lutheran or Episcopal sensibility that rejects a defined set of progressive changes in their current polity.

Joseph Gannon:
I wonder if there is such a thing as a Catholic sensibility tout court, I suspect there are quite a few varieties. On the few occasions when I have watched EWTN I have found the sensibility exhibited quite different from mine.

Sensibility:

As used in the discussion above, "Catholic sensibility seems to be remarkably similar to what is sometimes called the "Catholic imagination" or "Catholic culture". I notice that "sensibility" and "imagination" are used more frequently by those on the liberal end of the aisle while "Catholic culture" seems to be a favorite term for those on the more conservative end.

As used in Catholic circles, "sensibility" seems to be a kind of intuitive sense of the faith that exists in considerable independence of the actual teaching of the Church: the Catholic "tune" for which dogma provides the lyrics. (A la the famous Mark Twain quip about his wife's attempts to use profanity: "you know the words but you don't know the tune.")

There is discussion of whether or not there are a variety of "Catholic sensibilities" but the term is used in the singular most of the time, the common assumption seems to be that there is one common sensibility that all true Catholics share. All seem to agree that this "sensibility" is one that you are socialized into gradually - ideally by being raised Catholic or having been Catholic for a long time and exposed to the right (truly Catholic) influences.

The fascinating things is that,as we have seen on this blog and elsewhere, the users of all three terms on opposite ends of the spectrum agree: the concept of "discipleship" is not in keeping with Catholic sensibility and is essentially foreign. I have yet to encounter a single person who asserts that evangelization or explicit discipleship is in keeping with "Catholic sensibility". Catholics who are advocating evangelization or discipleship appeal to Scripture and the teaching of the Church, not to "catholic" sensibility, imagination, or culture. When one appeals to Church teaching, the response is often a variation on "you don't know the tune so why should I take you seriously?"

Which puts us in the very odd position of having something which the magisterium has been declared to be the primary mission of the Church and yet is simultaneously felt to be contrary to the deepest, most "Catholic" instincts of the majority of the baptized.

Comments?

I'll address topic number two in a second post.

40 Days for Life

The 40 Days of Life campaign begins today.

40 Days of Life is "the largest simultaneous pro-life mobilization in history: a continuous, 960 hour, prayer and fasting vigil outside of abortion sites in 89 cities in 33 states."

Go here for encouraging stories of the impact made in 7 cities who have finished 40 day campaigns in recent years.

Any readers been involved or had direct knowledge of this initiative?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

It's Corn Harvest Time Again in Hungary

And the last Sunday Mass of September in Tiszaalpar is accompanied not by organ but the tekerő. Here's a brief clip of tekero players playing a traditional Hungarian hymn.

Ethiopian (Ge'ez) Rite Mass

Who knew that there was a Ge'ez Rite? This Mass was filmed at Kidane Mehret Ge'ez Rite Catholic Parish in Washington,DC, established for Ethopian and Eriterean Catholics.

Easter Joy in Malawi

I'm checking out You tube for videos of Catholic life around the globe and as I find good ones, I will post them.

I found the spirit of joy in this clip from an Easter Mass in Malawi absolutely infectious.



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Giving Couples A Vision of Marriage

Pete Vere of St. Blog's has written a piece for the Washington Times on the huge percentage of couples who are already sexually active or cohabiting when they approach the Church to be married.

In the diocese of Sault Ste. Marie, "about 60 percent of couples seeking marriage [from the diocese] are cohabitating, and about 25 percent of couples seeking marriage are either pregnant or bringing children into the marriage."

The Diocese of Lexington's marriage-preparation program, Father List works closely with Mike Allen, the diocese's director of family life ministry. About 60 percent of couples are cohabiting and about 85 percent of couples are sexually active when they approach the diocese for marriage preparation,Mr. Allen said.

The solution, he said, is to persuade couples seeking marriage to accept the Catholic Church's teaching on marriage and human sexuality "not as rules, but as a vision."

To this end, the Diocese of Lexington uses a program developed by moral theologian Christopher West. The program helps couples understand the four things Catholics believe are common to every marriage: permanence, faithfulness, openness to the procreation and upbringing of children, and the mutual support between spouses. The program also promotes sexual abstinence during the courtship and engagement as well as the practice of natural family planning during marriage. The last skill assists couples in spacing out childbirth and family size without the use of contraception.

Mr. Allen said the diocese's previous program focused mainly on building skills such as communication and management of household finances, leaving "a deficiency in helping couples to understand what marriage is."


The West program helps plug this deficiency by giving couples "a spiritual vision of marriage whereby they see how marriage fits in within the wider context of the Catholic faith," Mr. Allen said."

The Parish as a House of Formation for Secular Apostles

Good stuff is happening at Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha parish in the Archdiocese of LA.

Bobby Vidal, who is on staff at BKT has attended both Making Disciples, Equipping Apostles in 2006 and the revised Making Disciples last August here in Colorado Springs and is getting ready to rumble. He has gotten permission to change his title from Director of Religious Education to Director of Evangelization and Lay Formation and has come up with an intriguing implementation plan:

Two especially interesting bits in light of our discussion last week of diocesan planning processes and discipleship:

"We must form a compelling vision for what real Christian community can do:

1. Draw the unbelieving and the unchurched
2. Foster life-long discipleship & spiritual growth
3. Discernment of gifts (charisms) and vocations
4. Equip and support extraordinary apostolates

We need to integrate this vision into the different pillars of the pastoral plan (i.e,, Liturgy, Education & Formation, etc.) (Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us, #168)”

And this:

“Mapping out General Paradigm Shifts

From: How do I get more people to come to my ministry?
To: How can I and my minister get more people to experience an encounter with Jesus Christ?

From: How do I train those involved in my ministry to take on leadership (do what I do)
To: How do I and my ministry train those involved in my ministry to discern their individual call?

From: How do I get people who come to my ministry to commit (give more) of themselves to the ministry?
To: How do I and my ministry assist people in committing their life to Christ

From: How do I maintain the numbers of people in my ministry?
To: How do I nurture the discipleship (spiritual growth) of those involved in my ministry?”

I know that Bobby doesn’t mean that developing competence in a specific ministry is not valuable and important but he is asking first questions first: What is the end for which we are working?

His paradigm is mission not institutional maintenance: Service within as formation and support for a larger purpose shared by the whole Christian community: mission outward.

Most parish ministry is conducted by lay apostles, the vast majority of whom have vocations and apostolic calls that are to be lived outside the parish. Parishes are like seminaries in that they exist for the sanctification, formation, and governance of apostles whose primary mission is elsewhere. Parish ministry is formation for secular mission just as service within a seminary community prepares future priests to go out into their true mission field.

In light of this understanding, a ministry leader’s overall point of discernment becomes:

How does my specific parish ministry foster intentional discipleship, spiritual maturity, and prepare parishioners to discern and answer God’s call primarily (but not exclusively) outside ecclesial structures?

So this example regarding Religious Ed/Formation ministry from Bobby’s plan:
"
From: How can I get catechists to make good lesson plans?
To: How can I get the catechist to live and proclaim the kerygma and address the stages of pre-evangelization and initial proclamation of the gospel before initiatory catechesis is done?”

Good lesson plans are still critical. But we can’t determine what a good lesson plan or good ministry looks like until we are clear about the desired end result. When we are clear that our end is “evangelical” and “apostolic”, the criteria by which we judge the “goodness” of our lesson plans or our ministry structures changes dramatically.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Note from the Camino

This was a part of an e-mail I received from my friend, Sally, as she nears Campostela, the destination of her pilgrimage with her daughter.

"When we first began this journey and everyday was a hardship, physically, emotionally and all the other ly´s you want to throw in; I thought of how there really isn´t a line that separates us from the poor, nothing more than a hard days journey into the unknown. Learning the depths of gratitude that a waiting place of rest can bring about in a person. Last night we were in an univiting place, dirty and uncomfortable and I realized this morning that many, far too many live in conditions far worse than we were in, with no parallel existence where a nice clean bed waits for their homecoming, with no way clear to them of how to move on. There is a line that separates me from the poor, and I have drawn it with my own hand. "

If you are reading this on a computer, you are one of a tiny percentage of humans who are wealthy enough to have access to one.

We have so many reasons to be grateful!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Jesus Isn't Just the Healer; He is the Healing.

I'm writing this on the kitchen table of my gracious hosts in Santa Clarita. Half the world already knows but I just found out this morning: 11 year old Gloria Straus died Friday morning while I was stuck in the Colorado Springs airport.

Reporter Jerry Brewer who has covered her story and that of her family for the past 7 months has writing a moving interview with her parents this morning in the Seattle Times:

Hours after cancer killed Gloria Strauss, her parents looked at their little girl and saw a woman.


They gazed again. And again. And again. It was astonishing. She did not seem 11 anymore. The nurses had cleaned her body, a family friend had washed her hair and, goodness, there was a smile creasing her face. "She looked like a grown woman," said Gloria's mother, Kristen. "It was amazing. Her body seemed long and beautiful, just like a young woman."

After more than four years fighting neuroblastoma, Gloria stopped breathing shortly after her parents fell asleep in her hospital room Friday morning. It was 6:50 a.m. when two nurses tapped Doug and Kristen. Minutes later, the parents said goodbye. They did not receive the kind of healing miracle they wanted. Instead, they believe Gloria received the "ultimate healing" — heaven.

snip.

They know the obvious questions: Do they feel robbed? Can their faith withstand this loss? How can they believe in one miracle so strongly and accept this detour?

Tom Curran, a family friend who runs a Catholic ministry, has helped the Strausses throughout this process. To understand their beliefs, he says, one must look at this journey as an ongoing relationship between Jesus and the family.

"The key phrase, which Doug has used before, is that Jesus isn't just the healer," Curran says. "He is the healing. This is an intimately and profoundly relational thing."

To nonbelievers, it is an abstraction. To believers, it makes sense. But Doug and Kristen never demanded for God to follow through on a promise. They simply chose to trust, believe in what they hoped God meant and bend to his will.

"It's not going to make sense to people who are not in the relationship," Curran says. "It appears like a contradiction. It seems like, at the end, somebody just pulled a rabbit out of the hat. But that's not how God has been involved."



Jerry Brewer who told Gloria's story to hundreds of thousands of readers summed up his reaction this way:

Now that the writing is over, it's important for me to expose my feelings.

You can't cover a story like this for seven months and not ache for the family. You can't get to know a child like Gloria and say, "Tough break, kid."

This isn't a story to me. This is my heart on paper. This has been an opportunity for me to redefine myself, as well as my journalism career. I'm very honored to tell a story this moving. I'm very humbled that, despite how difficult this became, the entire Strauss/Trimberger family and Gloria's entire support base continued to embrace the telling of this story. Check that: They spurred the telling of this story.

This journey has been more uplifting than depressing. The tears I will cry for Gloria are for joy, for gratitude and for the other children who suffer like she did.


How has reading about Gloria and her family affected you?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

"Growing True Disciples"

This post is a nice follow-up to the one just made by Sherry, I think. I had been working on this yesterday and today, and just saw her post when I prepared to upload this.

I just finished reading a book by George Barna, the president of Barna Research Group, Ltd., a marketing research firm that focuses on issues related to faith and culture. He's an evangelical whose company has conducted research for hundreds of churches and parachurch ministries.

His book, "Growing True Disciples," is interesting in terms of his insistence that the focus of Christian ministry is to encourage and facilitate discipleship. Similarly, Pope Paul VI said in Evangelii Nuntiandi that the Church exists to evangelize, and the purpose of evangelizing, is, of course, to make disciples of Jesus. Barna's book looks at models of promoting discipleship used by different Protestant churches. All of the models demand a lot more from the individual than most Catholics are used to giving. The point that's made clear in the book is that discipleship usually doesn't "just happen," just as any significant change in the way we live doesn't "just happen."

Acts 2:42-47 describes (perhaps ideally) what the early church community looked like. What it describes is a group of people who are completely "sold out" to Jesus; who seek to not only follow his teaching, but to allow his life and power to flow through them. They have made following Jesus the focus and content of their life: all else is secondary

Early on in the book (p. 27), Barna lists the characteristics of a true disciple. They are challenging:

"Disciples experience a changed future through their acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior and of the Christian faith as their defining philosophy of life.

Disciples undergo a changed lifestyle that is manifested through Christ-oriented values, goals, perspectives, activities, and relationships.

Disciples mature into a changed worldview, attributable to a deeper comprehension of the true meaning and impact of Christianity. Truth become an entirely God-driven reality to a disciple. Pursuing the truths of God becomes the disciple's lifelong quest."

Of course, there's something missing here, yet is present throughout the disciple-making models he presents: a community of faith.

All of his models insist upon regular participation in a church community. It is through engagement with the word (and thus the Word), communal prayer, encouragement from other Christians, and accountability to others - as well, of course, through grace - that disciples are formed. As Catholics, we also include active, conscious participation in the sacramental life of the Church as a crucial, non-negotiable element.

While Barna's book has its flaws, and I don't agree with all of his presuppositions, I appreciate the unrelenting emphasis upon discipleship. He challenges pastoral ministers like myself to ask tough questions like, "Is my preaching, counseling, teaching, and leadership in and out of worship effective in assisting people to become disciples?"

I also have to ask myself if my life reflects the life of a true disciple. Do I consistently obey Jesus' commands and His Church's teachings? Do I love other people in practical ways that cause me to "pour out my life" for them? Have I put the attractions and distractions of this world in their proper place and focused my desire upon knowing, loving and serving God? Is my life "a living Gospel for all people to read"? Am I sharing my faith with others who do not know Christ?

In short, is my life bearing fruit worthy of a follower of the risen Lord?

One of the practices of most of the Christian communities that are successful in promoting discipleship is the setting of personal spiritual goals and practices that may help reach those goals. These goals must be practical, achievable, and specific; not simply "I will be more loving," but "I will stop gossiping about Mary Jane and instead spend time getting to know her better, choosing to discover her good qualities, and pointing out those good qualities as attributes that give glory to God."

That may be a little too specific, but you get the idea.

So that's my project for the next week or so: to re-evaluate my life and pinpoint some areas where I want to grow in my relationship to Christ and the Church, and come up with a gameplan. Maybe I'll share some of what I discover with you. Feel free to do the same.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Beginning With the End in Mind

Todd wrote in response to my post below

Sherry, thanks for the reply. I do agree with your thrust at ID as part of a catholic whole, shall we say.

Hi Tod:

Thanks for your response. First of all, I need to make it clear that I’ve heard nothing but good things about Archbishop Dolan and my limited experience of the archdiocese has been very positive so my concern really isn’t about Milwaukee as such. This is but another instance of a dynamic I have encountered all over the Catholic world: this same strange reluctance to talk explicitly about Christ and our response to him, this same strong preference for a spiritual language so general, vague, abstract, and bureaucratic that that our personal response to Christ is never called in question.

Following Christ is not the whole of Catholic belief and practice certainly but it is the source and center of the whole: all belief, worship, practice, theology, culture, etc. It is the encounter with Christ and the following of him that has birthed everything we hold to be essentially Catholic. And when the Church or members of the Church lose track of that Center, we know what happens: the belief, the worship, the practice, the theology, the culture cannot stand; it begins to wane and then disintegrate until renewed once again by intentional disciples that we often now know as saints. This cycle of renewal has been repeated many hundreds of times in the 2,000 year history of the Church.

You wrote:
I'm a little cautious about attributing too much to what people say. It's not as though modern society or even the Church offers much opportunity for people to be articulate.

Here we agree. One would hardly expect modern society to support articulation of Christian belief and hope but why should the Church fail to do something so critical to our most essential mission with great energy?

In the "Terzo Millenio Innuente" the late Pope John Paul II stated that the Church's mission is that of evangelization. And this idea evolved when in a gathering the Pope had with young people at the turning of the millennium, he told them,

"Do not be afraid to go out in the streets, and in public places, like the first apostles who proclaimed Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, town and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the roof tops." "What I say to you in the dark, tell in the daylight: what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops." (Mt.10,27).

Yet, as a community overall, we nod our heads at magisterial teaching on the subject and remain mute about Christ and the Gospel. We regard our muteness as not only normative but as somehow spiritual and faithful and find it puzzling and even bizarre when some Catholics violate that norm. Why is “don’t ask, don’t tell” our deeply embedded working paradigm – even at the level of diocesan leadership? Where did it come from? And, as you point out, that extends in startling ways to the blogosphere where the very idea of intentional discipleship has proved to be controversial even among seriously practicing Catholics.

You continue:
As long as we realize that mouthing the name of "Jesus" in a certain way is a tool, just like any other human-made endeavor, like Fr Philip's "crap," we should be fine.

Todd, human beings can use anything as a tool – including worship, and gestures of love and acts of justice but it doesn’t follow at all that the world would be better off if we just stopped. Sure, “Jesus language” can be a pious “front”, a form of manipulation or deception or shallowness but so can any language on any topic of significance. I haven’t noticed that we expect people to stop talking openly about those topics because such talk might be misused or empty. We simply must demand better, more thoughtful, deeper talk, talk that wells up from prayer, meditation, study – which may be conducted in silence - and having lived the reality of discipleship in our own settings.

It simply does not follow that our habitual silence regarding Christ among ourselves and in conversation with those who are not Christian is a good thing. It is not a sign of an attachment to Christ so deep, so profound, so habitual, that talking about it is unnecessary. In fact, all the evidence is to the contrary.

I have never known a human being, introvert or extrovert, who does not talk about what they love. We talk about beloved friends and family, things we love to do, books or films or music we love, etc. Often, even to strangers or casual acquaintances. If we love someone, we not only won’t hide it, we usually can’t hide it altogether from the thoughtful observer – even when we try.

And to not talk about “first principles” – about Christ, about evangelization and personal faith and discipleship when wrestling with why larger numbers of Catholics don’t practice the faith is like hospital staff not talking about patients and their illnesses and instead focusing exclusively upon room décor, food service, and the arrangement of medical records. (I worked my way through grad school on an oncology unit.) The physical health and well-being of the patient is the point, the end of all the various specialties and services that form the whole spectrum of medical care. In the absence of the patient and their needs, the purpose and the meaning of the rooms, the food, and the records vanishes. If you deal with a doctor or hospital administrator who talks only about such things, you know there’s something seriously amiss.

Tod:
Ultimately, the fruits will tell the tale.


Absolutely. But outside a direct intervention by God (which I would never rule out) the value of the answers that human beings get when attempting to solve a problem are usually determined by the value of the questions they ask.

When diocesan leaders talking about a major diocesan initiative in an article in the diocesan paper clearly intended to publicize their efforts mention only peripheral things, you have to ask why. One has to presume they are talking in a straight forward manner about the questions they mean to ask. And when you begin to realize that this focus on peripheral things is not unique in any way to that diocese, that it is part of Catholic culture and practice on a much larger scale, it is time to ask why.

Ah, To Be Stuck in the Airport Now That Autumn is Here

It seems that my 6:15 am flight has been delayed due to mechanical problems until 9:00 am and poor Delta is short-staffed and the only experienced person can't do anything for us abandoned orphans until she gets the flight to Atlanta off, etc.

I blame it all on Fr. Mike. When he left on Tuesday, his flight was delayed as well and he has passed the curse onto me. I'm sure I've flown out of here hundreds of times by now - no worries - until today.

Fortunately, I was getting into LA early so hopefully I will still get there in time. Since it is too early to call my LA hosts, I shall inflict myself on you.

Fair enough? Not that you could do anything about it if it isn't, but like those little red buttons on elevators that we are supposed to push in the event of an emergency, we like to give you the illusion of control.

A Weekend in LA

Off to LA (Santa Clarita)for a Called & Gifted and some teacher training, back on Monday. Blogging will be slim to none, depending upon my opportunities.

See you Monday!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

If Tom Didn't Exist, We'd Have to Invent Him

His latest is so fabulous that I must simply quote it in its entirety:

Just Say Yes to Nonisity!

Terrence Berres, Amy Welborn, and Sherry Weddell are critical of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee's reported plan to, er, energize their vibrancy. (I suspect William Strunk and George Orwell might also have words for anyone who proposes energizing vibrancy.)

Terrence:
And all we need to "energize the vibrancy" is energy. So isn't the question the source of the loss of energy? One possibility that comes to mind is asking what might be at stake if a Catholic routinely skips Sunday Mass, or, for that matter, if a Catholic leaves the Church. If the answer is "everything", that's probably more energizing than "not much".

Amy:
Because, see, that’s not the Catholic way, either - the way of evaluating the health and future of the Church via schematics and diagrams and planning packets either. The Catholic way is to imitate the saints, it seems to me. To preach, to teach, to gather the lost, to heal the sick, to be with the poor - to plunge into it.

Sherry:
Christian culture is not self-sustaining. Christian culture is the fruit of personal faith. Without the preaching of the kerygma and personal conversion which is the source of renewal in every generation, Christian culture ultimately withers away and dies.

I've been using the term "nonisity" to mean "the state of being satisfied with nothing less, and nothing other, than God." (From St. Thomas's answer to Jesus' question of what he would like: "Non nisi te, nothing but You.")

I can't see anything wrong with extending the use of the term to include "the state of having nothing less, and nothing other, than God." And if we do that, then we can say that the Church, qua Church, has nonisity. In spades.

Which is to say two things:

1. All the Church has to offer is God.

It has other stuff, yes, but that other stuff and a cup of coffee will get you a cup of coffee. Has the Church given the world the hospital and the university and the Pieta? Sure, but if (per impossible) the Church disappeared tomorrow, there would still be hospitals and universities and (for a little while, at least) the Pieta.

2. The Church offers GOD!!!

How do you sweeten that deal? Why would you try to sweeten that deal?

Disputations: A Holy Blog of Obligation

The Korean Martyrs: The Pursuit of God in the Company of Friends



Today is the Feast of the 103 Korean Martyrs and an excellent time to reflect upon the remarkable history of the Korean Church, which was founded by lay people, who first encountered the faith through books and gave birth to a devout Christian community of 50,000 and many martyrs before the first European missionaries arrived 50 years later.

From Ann Ball.com


The history of Korea's Catholic community is unique. Here the laity began to worship as Christians before missionaries came to prostelyze. A group of Korean scholars studied the Christian faith from the books that Lee Sung-hoon brought back from China. These lay Koreans began catechizing others and baptizing them. When the hoped-for religious evangelizers finally arrived, they found their work well begun. During the half century before the first European missionaries managed to sneak into this Confucian country, 50,000 lay people had already become Catholics.

Although a Catholic priest and a monk entered Korea in the 1590's, they were chaplains for the Japanese soldiers stationed there and could not have any contact with the native peoples. The first Korean contacts with Catholicism came through Korean diplomatic envoys who were regularly sent to China where they met Jesuit priests. The priests gave them some Catholic books which the envoys took home with them. A group of Korean scholars became interested in the books and began to study the new religion, comparing it with the Neo-Confucianism which was the traditional philosophy in Korea.

Lee Sung-hoon traveled to China with his father and while he was in Peking was baptized with the name of Peter. This intelligent young man read many Catholic books and tried to imitate the virtues of the saints and to promote the Catholic faith among his friends. On his return to Korea, he organized the first Catholic community, baptizing the new believers himself. These Catholics called one another "believing friends," abolished class distinctions, stopped offering sacrifices to their ancestors and spread the faith using books written in the Korean alphabet.

In 1785, the community was detected by the government and the Catholics were dispersed. Kim Bom-u who had allowed his house to be used as a sort of church was tortured and died two years later. Thus began the first of many persecutions suffered by the early Korean Catholics.

Two years later, Lee Sung-hoon reorganized the group and he and five others made themselves priests and began to administer the sacraments. They soon realized that this was a mistake and sent Yun Yu-il to Peking in 1789 to beg the bishop for priests.

The bishop at last assigned a Chinese priest, but he failed to enter the country having missed his guide. A second persecution had already broken out and Yun Chi-ch'ung Paul was sentenced to death for failure to sacrifice to his deceased mother. A Chinese priest was finally successful in entering the country in 1794, but he soon became the reason for a fresh persecution.

In 1801, Queen Chongsun determined to eradicate all Catholics. She considered the religion a heresy harmful to the customs and traditions of Korea. She issued orders to imprison Catholics of all classes and to punish their relatives. Almost 300 Catholics were killed during this persecution. Those who survived escaped deep into the mountains where many starved to death.

Here, in the beautiful mountainous areas, new Catholic communities were formed. The members shared what they had and practiced their faith without a priest for almost thirty years. During this time, the people continued to write, begging for priests. According to one letter sent to Pope Pius VII, there were more than 10,000 Catholics. A fresh wave of persecution in 1815, however, saw hundreds of Catholics in rural communities arrested and more than thirty killed.

Two priests attempted to enter the country in 1817, but failed. The Holy See tried to send missionaries, but none could enter. A new persecution broke out in 1827 during which hundreds of Catholics were arrested and many were killed.

During the severe persecutions, Chong Ha-Sang Paul and a few others visited Peking more than ten times to appeal for priests. Due to their efforts, the Vicariate Apostolic of Korea was formally established as of September 9, 1831, and the Paris Foreign Mission Society was asked to be in charge of spreading the faith in Korea.

The first Vicar Apostolic of Korea tried unsuccessfully to enter the country and died in Mongolia in 1836. The second Vicar Apostolic, Bishop Imbert, successfully crossed the Yalu River and entered Korea in late december 1837. By the end of 1838, Korea had a bishop, two priests, and more than 9,000 Catholics.


In 1984, during the bicentennial of the Korean Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II traveled to Korea to canonize 103 of some ten thousand martyrs of Korea. This group included 92 lay persons, 45 men and 47 women, from nearly every walk of life.

Today there are 4.5 million Catholics in South Korea which is 40% Christian. The Church there is vigorous, missionary-minded, and growing.


Pray for us that we might be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

September Journeys



CSI is on the road again this weekend:

This weekend, there are Called & Gifted workshops at

Greenville, SC (St. Mary's)

Manchester, Iowa

And Santa Clarita, CA (where Keith Strohm and I will be hanging out)

All the workshops will begin at 7 pm Friday night and run through 4pm Saturday.

September is a great time to be on the road - and to begin discerning God's call.

The Secret Christians of India

Gashwin Gomes sent me this eye-opening article from yesterday's Wall Street Journal about the struggle of Dalits ("untouchables") in India who have secretly converted to Christianity or Islam but don't do so publicly because in their desperate poverty, they need the government assistance available only to Hindu Dalits.

MEDIPALLY, India -- Every Sunday, women and children gather to pray in a tiny, whitewashed church on the edge of this southern Indian village, sitting cross-legged on blue plastic sheets as they sing Christian hymns.

The men don't dare to come. "If they are seen in the church, the officials will be informed," says Vatipally Aharon, Medipally's Baptist pastor.

Almost all the Christians here -- and the overwhelming majority across India -- hail from the so-called Dalit community, the former "untouchables" relegated to the bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy. Under India's constitution, Dalits are entitled to affirmative-action benefits, including 15% of all federal government jobs and admissions in government-funded universities. That provides the country's most downtrodden with a way to escape their traditional occupations such as emptying village latrines, burying cow carcasses, and tanning animal hides.

But there is a catch: Any Dalit caught abandoning Hinduism for Christianity or Islam loses these privileges, and can be fired from jobs gained under the quota. The rules are enforced by vigilant local officials who keep a close eye on villagers' comings and goings.

The plight of India's secret converts, ignored for decades, is now at the forefront of national politics. Partly driving the change is Indian Christians' new partnership with Islam, a religion frequently at odds with Christianity elsewhere in the world.


Read the rest at Gashwin's blog (the Wall Street Journal is available only to subscribers) As Gashwin points out:

It's well written, and thrusts into the spotlight yet again the harsh realities of Dalits all over India, a reality that the Western-educated urban elites are, I feel, completely clueless about.

Gashwin was startled by the article's mention that there might be as many as "25 million secret Christians" in India but this has been common knowledge around evangelical missionary circles for years.

According to the World Christian Database there are approximately

23 million "secret" Christians in India, that is Indians of either Hindu or Muslim background who baptized and active in Christian communities but have not changed their "official" religious status because of the economic consequences. In addition, there are also

25 million Independent/Apostolic Christians,
19.2 million Protestants,
19.8 million Catholics,
3 million Orthodox(obviously, I've rounded off the figures)
total: 65 million Christians or approximately 6% of the total Indian population.

A small percentage but three times the figure (2%) commonly quoted.

In addition, there is an even more surprising development: What are known as
NBBC's: Non-Baptized Believers in Christ. David Barrett, editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia, estimates that there are 15 million NBBC's in the Hindu and Muslim worlds - usually for reasons of persecution.

Personal faith in Christ of some kind without access to baptism. Of course, NBBC's have always existed through Christian history but globalization is ensuring that their number is becoming ever larger. Imagine: fifteen million underground catechumens.

Pray for them and for the secret Christians of India as they seek Christ(because he first sought them!)in a very difficult time and place.

Light in the Dark

Appropos of the discussion on ID and over at Amy Welborn's about the need to get missional, comes this charming account of a new form of evangelization in Malta.

It seems to be a variation on something pioneered by the Community of the Beatitudes in Rome where Adoration is held at the Pantheon and students of their School of Evangelization invited passers-by to come in, have something cool to drink, rest, pray, and soak in the Presence. Confession in several languages was also available. My pastor here in Colorado Springs stopped in and was very impressed.

Here's the description of the Maltese version:

Dawl bil-Lejl (Light in the Dark) is an experience of evangelization from young men and women to their counterparts on the road. It originated in 1999 in Italy by a group that called themselves "Sentinelle del Mattino" (morning watchers). The whole idea is to open the church of the locality at nightime for adoration, while a number of youths comb the streets inviting other young people to come and meet Jesus.

Evangelization in the streets is not a question of technique or a special method, but rather a change in mentality. It is founded on the principle that every Christian has a call for evangelization. In fact you can call yourself a Christian when you proclaim your faith to others. In the "Terzo Millenio Innuente" the late Pope John Paul II stated that the Church's mission is that of Evangelization. And this idea evolved when in a gathering the Pope had with young people at the turning of the millennium, he told them, "Do not be afraid to go out in the streets, and in public places, like the first apostles who proclaimed Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, town and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the roof tops." "What I say to you in the dark, tell in the daylight:what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops." (Mt.10,27).

Similar to this St.Paul wrote, "For I see no reason to be ashamed of the Gospel..." (Rom.1,16)

About 25 Maltese people have already participated in a basic course conducted by Fr.Andrea and Chiara, both from Verona. It was a basic course over a weekend, aimed at lighting again the fire in these young people which was bestowed upon them in baptism and these in turn promised to pass this light to the young people in Malta especially during Dawl bil-Lejl. There were also 3 seminarists who got involved. This basic course was organised by the Ministry for youth within the "Kommunita' Dixxipli ta' Gesu'" founded by Fr.Paul Fenech. Some of the youths who participated in the course had a first hand experience of how Dawl bil-Lejl works last July when they met up with a 130 strong contigent from all over Italy, in Bibbione, a famous tourist resort near Venice.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Proclaiming the Good News--Without Words

Powerful!


You Just Never Know...

Who's listening.

Thursday morning I met a young woman for coffee at a local Colorado Springs Starbucks. She wanted to talk a bit - turned out to be a conversation about "relationship difficulties." We got our caffeine fixes and sat outside in the glorious Colorado sunshine and began to chat. She spoke of her difficulties in keeping Christ first in her life, rather than a young man in whom she is romantically interested.

A fellow was seated outside at a table near us, and he finished his drink and left shortly after we sat down and began to chat. Awhile later, I noticed he had returned, sans coffee, and had sat down at a table next to us. While the young woman and I continued to talk, he continued to sit, staring off into the distance (I presume - had had dark sunglasses on, so I couldn't see his eyes.)

After about twenty minutes or more, he was now leaning forward on his chair, and I couldn't help but wonder if he was listening.

Finally, at one point, he interrupted me and asked, "Speak louder, please, the Lord's ministering to me through you." I was a bit startled, but said, "Thanks be to God, then." It wasn't long before Kevin was a part of our conversation about relationships, faith, God's love and will for us, Divine Providence, and the fact that we only get to see a small part of the big picture that is our life, while God knows the whole of it.

I wonder how many Kevins sit next to us on buses, planes, in coffeeshops, restaurants. How many Kevins are in the cubicle adjacent to ours at work? How many people are hungering to hear a word of hope, hungering to be assured of God's love, desiring to know God has a work of love for them to do?

St. Dominic was said to have always been either talking to God or about God. Evidently plenty of people were listening in.

"When I Heal Her, I Will Change the Lives of Many."

Speaking of evangelization, I'd like to encourage all ID readers to continue to check out the on-going Seattle Times series about Gloria Strauss, the 11 year old Catholic girl in Seattle who is currently hospitalized with neuroblastoma. Gloria and her remarkable, devout Catholic family have already impacted the lives of thousands through the work of reporter Jerry Brewer.

Gloria's mother, Kristen Strauss, heard a voice tell her before this journey even began.

"When I heal her, I will change the lives of many."

As everyone around Gloria recognizes, God has already used her suffering, courage, and faith and that of her wonderful family to change the lives of many. Including Cliff Wagner of Virginia who has never met her.

I live in Falls Church, Va., but I lived in Kent for a while. I was drinking so heavily while I was there I couldn't work, so I came back home.

I've been sober since Aug. 27. I had a four-day bender, a super hangover, and I was shaking — common stuff for me. I go to The Seattle Times Web site a lot, and I was pissed because they kept showing Gloria's picture every day. But I was hung over, so I finally read it. It was like I was hit by a 2x4.

I haven't had another drink since. If she can put up with that cancer, I can put up with not drinking. I haven't even been tempted. It's a Gloria thing. She did it.

The main thing I'd like is for someone to go up to Gloria and tell her that this gruff, 51-year-old man said, 'Thanks, your strength tells me there's hope for me yet.' Every day, I have two meetings. One is AA. The other is a meeting I hold with myself and God. I've never been a man of action. But an epiphany occurred.


Continue to pray for Gloria, her family, and for all who struggle with life-threatening illness and their families.

Pray that we, our families, and our parishes, might become powerful witnesses like Gloria and used as instruments of love, healing, conversion, and encouragement for millions who are seeking right now.

"Vibrancy" and Discipleship: Milwaukee Style

Amy Welborn sent me this link to a blog called The Provincial Emails yesterday about a planning process going on in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

It seems that there has been an 18% drop in Mass attendance in the Archdiocese between 1999 and 2006 and Archbishop Dolan understandably wants to know why and what to do about it. (For more details, read this piece in the local Catholic Herald.)

The Archdiocese has requested that every parish come up with a way to increase attendance by 20% and has hired a priest consultant. In July, Fr. James Connell published and distributed to about 500 people a document called “Energizing Our Vibrancy” in which he posed what he termed “starter questions” about the present and future of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

The "vibrancy" in question is not just fewer people, but fewer young people.

Of course, the first thing that the report tries to scotch is the idea that the drop is a reaction to the Scandal. But, in fact, the statistics from CARA about national attendance can't tell us what is at work in a particular diocese which may differ significantly from the nation as a whole. And as The Provincial Emails points out, the people who left aren't being asked why. The 500 people to whom the document is being distributed are apparently all ecclesial insiders.

Listen folks. It is so much larger than the Scandal. We already know that only 20% of Gen X'ers (late 20's to early 40's adults) Catholics attend Mass nationally. That means 80% do not. And it didn't start in 2001.

The famed "JP II generation" only comprises 20% of their age cohort. Unless Milwaukee is uniquely immune, they should (along with nearly every diocese in the country) expect to see a huge drop in the attendance of younger people.

The sacraments aren't bringing them back. They aren't coming back to marry. Catholic marriages have dropped 50% nationally since 1970 even though our Catholic population has risen 350%. Out of wedlock births now make up 40% of all births in the US.

And now the final frontier has been reached: they aren't even baptizing their babies. The number of infant baptisms is starting to fall - down 60,000 from 1995. Cultural Catholicism among Gen Xer's is really and truly dead with the exception of recent immigrant groups (Vietnamese, Hispanic, etc.) and it is most unlikely that it will survive another generation in those groups.

The really startling thing is not that attendance is dropping. The really startling thing is that both the original post and the article in the Catholic Herald talk in vague terms about a crisis of "identity" and "commitment" to the institution.

“If fewer people are coming, we are falling down on our Eucharistic commitment,” Welte said. “Each of us who calls ourselves Catholic must first be critical of ourselves and ask what kind of a member am I and if I am not a good member, can I commit to being one? If I am a so-so member, what can I do to improve? Our whole community is impacted whenever someone doesn’t show up.”

“Our Catholic identity stays with us,” she said. “But when someone dies, will there be a church to provide a Christian burial? There are huge implications here.”

But neither post and article mention Jesus. They never use the word Christ. They never mention God. And that, gentle readers, is our real problem in 21st century America.

Christianity cannot survive without Christ. It is Christ who is the center, the head, the life, the Lord of his Church. The Church is his Body, not an independent end in herself. As the Council of Trent taught so clearly 5 centuries ago, the sacraments are not magic.

Without personal faith and response to God's mercy and grace, the sacraments do not save; do not justify. Without personal faith and response to God's grace, there is no living faith to hand on to the next generation. Without personal faith and response, loyalty, identity, and commitment vanish. Without living faith, catechesis, which is intended to foster the Christian maturity of those who are already disciples, is without effect.

Christian culture is not self-sustaining. Christian culture is the fruit of personal faith. Without the preaching of the kerygma and personal conversion which is the source of renewal in every generation, Christian culture ultimately withers away and dies.

The New Evangelization that Pope John Paul the Great spoke about so constantly and with such fervor is the only fruitful response. We have to realize that for this generation, we cannot assume anything. Gen Xer's are post-Christian and post-modern to their toes. It is the air they breathe.

The vast majority will not come to us. We will have to seek them out, gain their trust, articulate the kergyma, and challenge them to believe and to follow Christ in communion with his Church. In other words, we will have to be pioneer missionary evangelists in the midst of a "Christian" country. And then we may well see attendance grow, not because of "institutional" loyalty but because a whole new generation is seeking to follow Christ. They will be in our midst with love in their hearts and fire in their eyes.

This is exactly what we deal in our new seminar Making Disciples. How to call post-modern Americans to intentional discipleship in the midst of the Church. Our next MD will be November 4 -8 in Faulkner, Maryland. Come join us.

Or if summer works better for you, consider attending our June, 2008 seminar.

In the archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Colorado Standards



On the spur of the moment last weekend, I decided to walk around the Rampart Reservoir near home. By Colorado standards, it's flat and only 15 miles around at 9,000 feet elevation. A mere stroll on a gorgeous mid-September day. By Colorado standards.

It was fresh and remarkably beautiful and serene and the first five miles were wonderful. But by the time I finished and dragged myself back to the car, the only parts of my body that weren't screaming was my head, my chest, and my left arm. (My right elbow was suffering from a repetitive motion injury - 15 miles of using a improvised walking stick). I have recovered quickly (although I'm a bit stiff today - the second day is always worst I understand)

The truly humiliating part was standing on the side of the trail while these perky, smiling true Colorado runner types zipped by.

Cardinal Arinze Gets High

Cardinal Arinze is coming to town this week. He's in Denver today, I believe, speaking to the Archdiocesan Stewardship group (so I was told by the stewardship coordinator who attended last weekend's Called & Gifted in Denver)

Then Wednesday, the Cardinal is speaking at my parish in Colorado Springs. I have one of the precious tickets although I have seen him before years ago at a Franciscan University of Steubenville conference. My parish, Holy Apostles, holds about 1,200 and I imagine it will be full. The topic of the Cardinal's talk is the apostolate of the laity which should be interesting.

Thursday, Arinze addresses the Legatus Summit at our local 5 star resort: the Broadmoor

Via What the Cardinals Believe, comes this related story:

To encourage Catholics to apply their faith in daily life, the Vatican is considering alternative endings to the priest's last line of the Mass: "The Mass is ended. Go in peace."

(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 15, 2007) "Many people, when they hear, 'Go, the Mass is ended,' think that what we are saying is, 'It is finished, you can go and rest,'" said Cardinal Francis Arinze, who heads the Vatican's office on liturgy and sacraments. He spoke Thursday night to 120 people at LeMont Restaurant on Mount Washington, during a benefit for the Apostolate for Family Consecration, an Ohio ministry where he spends part of each summer.

After the Synod for the Eucharist in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI asked Cardinal Arinze's office to consider optional closing words. So far he has received more than 70 suggestions, he said.

Examples include "Go and live what we have celebrated" and "We have celebrated the good news of Christ, go and share this with your brethren," he said.


Fascinating.

We've been talking about this for years at our Called & Gifted workshops. The blessing at the end of Mass is a sending forth of apostles, not a ritual "thank goodness that's over".

Wyoming Catholic College Is Open for Business



Wyoming Catholic College's class of 2011 - all 35 of them - have begun classes in Lander, Wyoming.

Their freshman orientation program? 21 days straight in the Wind River wilderness west of Lander, in the company of instructors from the National Outdoor Leadership School.

The three-week stint in the wilderness gives students the satisfaction of climbing 11,000-ft. passes and summiting 13,000-ft. peaks, trekking about 100 miles, fly fishing some of the most beautiful lakes in the Rocky Mountains, and cooking their own meals. They are exposed to learning many skills, using teamwork, having to treat all other members with respect, doing a good share of the work, tolerating adversity and uncertainty, and developing leadership. The goal is to give students the skills to enjoy their Rocky Mountain surroundings throughout their college career.

All freshman also participate in the Equine program: Three times a week, WCC freshmen travel to the Central Wyoming College campus where they gain knowledge and experience of horse behavior and horse care.

Attitude with Altitude as we say around here.

Monday, September 17, 2007

An Orthodox Take on Called & Gifted

Fr. Gregory Jensen attended the Called & Gifted workshop in Perrysburg, OH last weekend and then preached about some of his reactions on Sunday and now has posted at some length on the topic and the implications that he sees for parish life and ministry.

Check it out.

Islam and Christianity

Speaking of missions, check out this great, articulate blog, Islam and Christianity, written by an evangelistically savvy Christian in the middle east, whom I suspect is Catholic. He protects his anonymity - essential in his situation - by using an Arabic pseudonym.

He has also written a very interesting introductory series of posts on Islam. Read and learn!

Go and Make Disciples

Interesting conversations and links this morning:

Over at Catholic Sensibility,

Todd (I assume although it was not signed)comments about the International Congress for the New Evangelization going on in Budapest right now.

Budapest Cardinal Peter Erdo’s three points:

In Budapest we saw that what was needed first of all was to deepen the faith, spirituality and missionary awareness of those who are already working in the parishes, that is, priests, religious, catechists and laypeople, those who are completely dedicated to parish service.

“Then in a second step we must get in contact with the whole parish community, also in a liturgical way.

“The third step is a gradual opening to the world. This opening up to the world is not just directed toward our immediate environment, our city, the quarter where we live and where many do not believe and do not know Christ’s message or have not been baptized; it is also a look at the whole world, the most distant continents, through the witness of those people — priests, religious, missionaries and laity — who have lived in those parts of the world.”

Todd writes:

This is worth some reflection. The cardinal suggests starting with parish staffs. I’m assuming a big part of point two is good liturgy. The third step is likely the stumbling block for many people. How does the local parish open up to the world? Is it through charity? Catholics do that pretty well, even though it’s often through a generous check and not so much the hands on approach. How well do you think our example as Catholics plays out in our “immediate environment”?

I wonder what our friends at Intentional Disciples think of this, and if they’ve participated in this event in the past?


Alas, your friends at Intentional Disciples have never been to the Congress or to Budapest (but are always open to invitations to visit Europe!) but we have been thinking, praying, and working on these questions a long time - and have started to see some real fruit at the parish level.

It was exactly this issue that gave birth to the Making Disciples, Equipping Apostles seminars that we have been offering since the summer of 2004. They were 4 or 5 day seminars intended to enable pastoral leaders at all levels from vicar generals to pastors, diocesan and parish staff and lay leaders to really grasp the big picture and it's implications. The Church's primary mission of evangelization and that the parish is the most natural and accessible place where the apostles, saints, and leaders of the 21st century can be challenged to intentional discipleship, formed as Christians and apostles, and helped to discern and live their God-given vocation(s) - most of which will take them outside the parish to the world.

It is very critical that the secular nature of the vast majority of lay vocation(s) and the critical nature of the secular mission of the Church be emphasized throughout. The stranglehold of the "intra-ecclesial maintenance is our mission paradigm" must be broken. When leaders "get" that we really are a community of over 1 billion apostles, anointed and gifted for mission, that the Church's primary mission is outward, not inward, and that the mission field of 99.8% of our apostles lies outside ecclesial structures, then things start to change.

The amazing thing is see that change take place. We witnessed over and over pastoral leaders leave MDEA who had gotten it and were passionately committed to making it happen. They went home and changed their own ministry priorities and started to change those of their parish. Mission, not maintenance was the order of the day - and the formation of people, not sustaining programs was the priority. Houses of lay formation were springing up around the country!

And this seems to be intensifying with complete reworking of MDEA that we did last winter/spring. The new Making Disciples (as we call it now)is completely focused upon the initial pastoral work of effectively challenging Catholics to intentional discipleship and includes some cutting edge practical tools that are unique in the Catholic world. Our first Making Disciples last month was the most successful that we have ever held and seems to have been very successful in enabling participants to make the necessary paradigm shift from institutional maintenance to evangelical mission. So it is happening but it doesn't happen accidentally.

As we say: Disciples don't happen. Apostles don't happen. Weeds happen!.

Disciples and apostles are the fruit of an intentional plan effort by the Christian community.

The Cardinal's third point about local mission vs. global mission is an interesting one. As anyone who reads ID on a regular basis knows, I write a lot about global Christianity and missions and its implications for Catholic pastoral practice. I come from a world where it was normal for lay men and women to be knowledgeable and passionate about missions, not just at a concrete and specific level (as in what is happening in a orphanage that you are supporting in Mexico) but at the macro level (such as the fact that Christianity is exploding in China and that thousands of Muslims around the world are becoming Christians, often in response to visions of Christ).

I very much appreciate the Cardinal's point but my experience is that cultivating an outward, mission focus of any kind among Catholics - whether toward their own neighborhood, city or state or toward people on the other side of the globe - requires a great deal of spiritual and intellectual energy because their imagination and experience usually has no category for it. Why that is remains a mystery to me - and of course, it isn't true for everyone. But after working directly with 32,000 Catholics in 80 dioceses, I'd have to say that it is true of the overwhelming majority.

The principle involved in communicating a new idea to adults remain the same: Always start with the concrete and move toward the universal. That's why discerning charisms can be such a catalyst in this area because it enables adults to mentally link concrete lived experience with the concept "God is really calling me to a mission because he gave me this gift" and then the great "AHA" follows and all the world looks new.

So I think we'll have to start at the level of the concrete for most people (and one's own neighborhood or city is great for that) and then expand to the global.
Because in this matter of building a culture of mission and vocation at the parish level, we are, for all practical purposes, at Ground Zero.

A Few Words in Favor of Zealotry

John Allen has an article on why Fr. Peter Phan's book, "Being Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interreligious Dialogue" is being investigated by the CDF and the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Doctrine. The latter is questioning whether Fr. Phan's writing is obscuring three important points:
The uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the universality of his salvific mission
The salvific significance of non-Christian religions (without connection to Christ and the Holy Spirit)
The uniqueness of the church as the universal instrument of salvation

It's an interesting article, and I linked it in the title of this post. What struck me most, however, was the difference between what John Allen was reporting about Fr. Phan's writing, and what I was reading this weekend while traveling back and forth across the country.

In a wonderful book by Fr. Robert Barron, "the Strangest Way," Fr. Barron quoted Fr. Anthony de Mello (another theologian whose writing was discussed by the CDF posthumously) as saying that attachment is "anything in this world - including life itself - that we convince ourselves we cannot live without." Fr. Barron continues, "The implication, of course, is that in Christ we CAN live without anything in this world, and to know that in our bones is to be detached, spiritually free. To live in the infinite power of God is to realize that we NEED nothing else, that we CRAVE nothing more, that we CAN LET GO of everything else...To become focused on something less than God (anything created, including our own lives) is therefore to place ourselves in spiritual danger and desperately frustrate the will." (pp. 50-51)

It is Jesus who reveals this truth in a variety of ways, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom," "Sell all you have and give to the poor, then come follow me." The poor, meek, sorrowful, persecuted for the sake of Jesus are blessed precisely because they are not attached to things, status, and good feelings, but are attached to Jesus, for whom they willingly suffer persecution.

This is a kind of zeal that is seldom found within Catholic Christianity these days. We reserve such singlemindedness to the saints. Part of the testimony at the canonization process of St. Dominic reads, "he was zealous for souls, fervent in prayer and preaching, and unrelenting in his pursuit of heretics. He loved poverty, was strict with himself, but kind towards others. He was chaste, humble and patient, calm under persecution, and joyful amid tribulations. He was deeply religious and held himself in low regard."

Another book I'm reading is by the Evangelical George Barna, head of the Barna Research Group. In "Growing True Disciples" he writes about the cost of discipleship, "When we hear that the apostles were followers of Jeesus, the image that comes to mind is of people who tagged along after the Lord..." but "Each of the twelve disciples abandoned his profession. Each lived a minimalist lifestyle, carrying frew possessions and having no enduring sense of residential stability. The disciples learned new principles constantly and were expected to apply those principles on demand. Although all they tried to do was help people, they suffered persecution because their Teacher and His ways were so radical and threatening to some of society's powerbrokers...There were no textbooks on which they could rely, so they had to be constantly alert and retain all of the information and insights gleaned during their training stage. In short, they had no life apart from what they were being trained to do. Being a follower of Jesus Christ was an all-consuming obsession."

While many Christians would agree with that description, we tend to hear it as what described the Twelve, rather than as a model for all disciples of Jesus. Barna disagrees. "[Jesus] is seeking people who are absolutely serious about becoming new creations in Him - individuals who are fanatics, zealots, mesmerized, passionate about the cause, completely devoted to mimicking their model down to the last nuance. Discipleship is not a program. It is not a ministry. It is a life-long commitment to a lifestyle." (pp 18-19).

We can't be zealous in following Christ simply because he can help us lead a fulfilling life, or because he can help free us from attachments that screw up our priorities and make us addicted. We can be filled with zeal in following him only if we believe he is truly God incarnate, the sole Way, Truth and Life. While that zeal and full commitment might be preached differently in different cultures (and inculturation is a key point among many theologians working in non-Western cultures), the starting point is always Jesus, and not the culture.

I would propose that it might well be the postmodern West that will be the most opposed to the kind of zeal called for in the Scriptures, and the western consumer-oriented culture in which it might be the most difficult in which to be a passionate - and unencumbered - disciple of Jesus

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Culture and Conversion

The relationship between culture and conversion is fascinating. An established Christian culture can foster conversion but it cannot replace conversion. Culture can powerfully transmit the kerygma but it can also obscure it.

Christian culture is not self-sustaining. Christian culture is the fruit of personal faith. Without the preaching of the kerygma and personal conversion which is a source of renewal in every generation, Christian culture ultimately withers away and dies.

Discovering Christ

As commenter Pete Acosi points out in the discussion of the Alpha course below, Christlife of Baltimore is developing an interesting 6 week process called "Discovering Christ" to help adults (especially young adults) encounter Jesus and the fundamental kerygma in a supportive community.

Pete helped put it on for 60 young adults this summer and saw good fruit. Check it out.

Life After Sunday: Intentional Discipleship, Intentional Community

If your small group or parish is looking for small group discussion materials, consider Life After Sunday.

Life After Sunday is clearly influenced by the lay movement, Communion & Liberation, and has a balance that I don't often find in Catholic small group materials: Heart and head, intuition and intellect, catechesis and companionship. Reflecting C & L's emphasis on living encounter with Christ in and through others, their materials seem remarkably inclusive of whole person and their longings for love, beauty, joy, and significance while remaining totally faithful to Church teaching.

As their website puts it:

While in Boston attending the installation of Archbishop Sean O’Malley, Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, then president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, sat with a reporter for The Pilot to talk about the crisis in the Church. “Many of the problems that we are experiencing in the priesthood, I think, especially the sexual abuse, are due to a crisis, not just an acute crisis, but a long-term crisis in the parish and in the community of the parishes that is lived out. Part of it is rooted in the fact that people do not really experience love within the parish; it is a place in which they really do not trust one another enough to be able to experience the forgiving love of Jesus as that is mediated by the community.”[emphasis ours]

We believe the Cardinal has articulated well the most pressing need for the new evangelization in America today. In many parishes, relationships among parishioners can be casually indifferent in a way that often does not communicate Christ’s passionate, merciful love for each person “in the flesh.” As a result, the personal experience of God’s love can appear as distant as the impersonal contact with a fellow parishioner; faith in the Presence of Christ can become increasingly difficult to recognize in the breaking of the bread, in the Word and in the faces of the people in the pews or on parish committees. In the meantime, many Catholics attend Mass on Sunday, but then live the rest of the week without the mystery of the intimate Presence they have just received, a Presence who longs to permeate their lives every day. While many Sunday Catholics make an earnest attempt to live their faith, they still experience the faraway God of isolated Christians in the popular culture.

When Jesus is experienced only as One who “left a long time ago,” when parish leaders organize and plan as if they are on their own with only “a book to believe in” and “a lot to learn,” they may worry that everything is principally up to them. Failing to recognize and live the mystery of Christ’s living Presence in their midst, some parish leaders now fall back on calculating practices of the secular culture to “build community.” Some parish councils rely entirely on corporate models for planning, organization, communications, leadership skills and team-building. Even models of catechesis are often based on “values education” and psychological methods, rather than the real encounter with the Person who lives at the center of all existence. While many pastoral initiatives are well-meaning, there can be little fruitfulness among the persons the Lord has gathered unless there is first a foundational appreciation for his love…for his movement…for his mystery in their lives. In the midst of the very real work of parish life, Christ calls parishioners to shed their dependence upon secular practices alone and retrieve a real sacramental view of human life as his Body, lived through, with and in HIM in union with his Spirit of Love for the Father.

Clinging to Christ in Everyday Life

Inspired by the words of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, Life After Sunday seeks to help parishioners see that intimacy with Jesus Christ—an intimacy that begins with recognizing his living Presence in the heart of the parish—is the key to the new evangelization and the discovery of the truth and destiny of each human person. When parishioners have an encounter with “the forgiving love of Jesus,” when they have the experience of being brought into his “event of Love” with the Father and the Holy Spirit as a member of his Body in parish life, then they truly begin to live Life After Sunday.

"If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great," says the Pope. "Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human experience truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation."


With Cardinal Stafford and the Pope, we believe that this intimate friendship with Christ is meant to be experienced in a deeper way within the larger community of the parish, within smaller groups of friends that can help each other recognize the Presence of Christ in the sacramental life of the Church and experience that Presence “in the flesh” through their enduring bonds of friendship with each other.


To which I can only say "Amen!" We saw this hunger for fellowship manifested so clearly and intensely when putting on Making Disciples this summer and at our Building Intentional Community Day.

Each of the 23 topics (with names like Wonder, Follow, Beauty, Security) can be covered in 1, 2, or up to 4 meetings, depending upon they dynamic of your group. They can also be organized for groups with special focuses like New Catholics for mystagogia, men's groups, mom's groups, established groups, etc.


You buy and download the materials online. I've done so and really liked what I saw although I haven't had a chance (because of my schedule) to try them out with a group. Check it out.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Alpha and the Meaning of Life

Catholic Online carried a story yesterday about the kick-off of the Alpha Course's national million dollar advertising campaign in Canada.

For those who aren't familiar with Alpha, let's just say that it is the global juggernaut of evangelical/charismatic evangelistic processes. Alpha started at a charismatic Anglican church in London and has been experienced by 10 million people all over the world (30,000 courses are taking place in 163 countries right now, many of them in Catholic parishes and settings).

For more on Alpha from a Catholic perspective, go here
and here

(To put these numbers in perspective, consider that 8 million have attended Cursillo since its beginning in the 1940's and that 60 million Catholics have attended Life in the Spirit seminars since the late 60's.)

What is striking is how media savvy Alpha leaders are. Take a look at some of their marketing video's on the Alpha home page. (If you search for Alpha marketing videos on YouTube, you will find dozens in different languages (Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, etc.)some produced by local churches to market their course, others produced by Alpha International.)

How do the videos stike you? Remember that they are aimed, not at the churched, but at the unchurched of all backgrounds or none. Think about your non-practicing Catholic friends and family members. Would they be drawn or put off by these videos? Why?

Absolutely Fabulous




hat tip: Catholic Land

Spanning the Globe to Give You the Constant Variety of Discernment

As C. S. Lewis observed (reflecting his academic life), autumn is a wonderful time to begin new things - or to discern new things

So if you're interested in beginning to discern the ways that God has called & gifted you for the sake of others, consider attending a Called & Gifted workshop at a parish near you. We're working hard to give you lots of options.

Last weekend, our Australian team did a C & G at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, Gowrie, near Canberra.

This coming weekend (September 14/15)

I'm at Our Lady of Fatima in Lakewood, CO (Denver) with our Front Range team

Fr. Mike is flying off today to Perrysburg (Toledo)Ohio where Sherry Curp (the other Sherry of this blog) will join him.

There will also be a C & G at at St. Joseph's Catholic church in Libertyville, IL this weekend.


On the weekend of September 21/22, Called & Gifted workshops will be held in

Greenville, SC at the famous St. Mary's Church;

in Santa Clarita (Los Angeles)California at Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha Church where I will be teaching with Keith Strohm, one of our ID bloggers,

and at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Manchester, Iowa.


And closing out the month (September 28/29)

there will be a Called & Gifted in Ham Lake, MN (St. Paul's) where you can meet and greet Fr. Mike

while I will be speaking at the Colorado Springs Diocesan Ministry Congress.

We hope to see you there - and please come up and introduce yourself. We'd love to meet you.

"To hunt, to shoot, to entertain" - is that all there is to the lay vocation?

I just discovered Catholic author and blogger Mark Shea's latest article, which is up on the website of InsideCatholic (the successor to Crisis magazine).

It's on the subject of clericalism, which has been much discussed amongst those of us who have struggled with Protestant vs. Catholic concepts of Christian leadership. This is a very charitable and clear-headed consideration of the issue. Here's a taste:

"A few years back, Russell Shaw wrote a terrific book called To Hunt, To Shoot, To Entertain: Clericalism and the Catholic Laity. It took its title from an amazing remark by a 19th-century English monsignor who loftily declared, 'What is the province of the laity? To hunt, to shoot, to entertain. These matters they understand, but to meddle with ecclesiastical matters they have no right at all.'

"John Henry Cardinal Newman disagreed, pointing out that during the Arian crisis, it was the laity who kept the Faith while the majority of bishops vacillated, caved to heresy, or were silent during the 60 years of the crisis. That doesn't mean that the Church operates on the principle vox populi, vox Dei. But it does mean that clericalism ought to be avoided."

I encourage you to click on the link in the title of this post and read it all. Great food for thought.

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Are We Willing to Live with Tension?

I've been thinking about Sherry's post on "The Existential Cost of Love." On a number of occasions, Sherry has pointed out that although I've taken a vow of poverty (along with chastity and obedience), my life seems much more secure as a Dominican friar than hers does as a lay woman attempting to follow the call Jesus has entrusted to her.

I don't get offended by this observation, because it seems to be true.
1) I have job security like no other, unless someone accuses me of sexual impropriety in a convincing way,
2) I will always have food, shelter, education, automatic status within most Catholic contexts,
3) I will live a middle class American lifestyle that would qualify as luxury to most people around the world, and
4) I don't have to worry about retirement. Of course, most friars in my Province don't retire until we're convinced by the community that it would be best for the people of God, but I digress.

Sherry's post dealt with the cost of following one's personal call from God, and responded to a concern that a woman writing under the name of Chrys had regarding the discerning and use of gifts. In a nutshell, her concern was that discerning and living a mission from God based on the discernment of spiritual gifts can get bound up in the ego, so that one is no longer serving God, but one's own needs.

This is a valid concern, and the phenomenon of selfishly twisting a call to serve others into self-service is not at all uncommon. In the Catholic church, however, we seem to have become suspicious of the charismatic (here I'm not speaking simply about the Charismatic Renewal but the expression and struggle to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit). One possible sign of this is what tends to happen in religious communities, whether composed of men or women. The community is founded by a "charismatic" man or woman – meaning they have a vision of how one's life can change to become more life-giving, more Christocentric. They envision a way of living the Gospel that is fresh and new in their own time and place, and that helps others encounter the Gospel in a surprising way.

We then institutionalize the founder's vision in a rule or set of laws to attempt to legislate behavior in the next generation that had flowed from the intimate relationship that the founder had with Christ. The group, over time, may lose sight of its end, or purpose, and focus on the external means that are meant to support and promote it. It can happen that the group fails to adapt the means (while maintaining the principles and values behind them) and thus fails to communicate with the culture that has changed around them.

For example, the Dominican Order of Preachers "was founded, from the beginning, especially for preaching and the salvation of souls." We have a very beautiful way of life that is meant to help focus our effort to evangelize and be "useful to souls." We Dominicans have to be careful that our legislation regarding our way of life continually refers to that mission, that our discussions of any aspect of our life include the question, "Yes, but how does it help us be better disciples, and thus better preachers?"

There often is not a creative tension between the institution, which helps to order and regulate our life and tends toward the pragmatic and known (and thus more comfortable), and the charismatic, which tends more toward the spontaneous and surprising. Our parishes, religious orders, small Christian communities, lay movements can become comfortable with the predictable, and view the charismatic with suspicion. We can fail to "test the spirits to see whether they belong to God" and instead simply, "not trust every spirit" (cf. 1 John 4:1)

In his 1998 address to the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, Pope John Paul II addressed this tension:

"Whenever the Spirit intervenes, He leaves people astonished. He brings about events of amazing newness; He radically changes persons and history. This was the unforgettable experience of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council during which, under the guidance of the same Spirit, the Church rediscovered the charismatic dimension as one of her constitutive elements: “It is not only through the sacraments and the ministrations of the Church that the Holy Spirit makes holy the people, leads them and enriches them with His virtues. Allotting His gifts according as He wills (cf. 1 Cor 12:11), He also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank….” (Lumen Gentium, # 12) The institutional and charismatic aspects are co-essential, as it were, to the Church’s constitution."

"Co-essential" means that both are absolutely necessary to the health of the Church and all of its elements. It is the charismatic element, the willingness to follow the Holy Spirit, that helps us creatively bring the Gospel to bear upon the needs and challenges of our present generation. Without it, we will eventually lose sight of our mission given us by Jesus to "go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Mt 28:19-20a

We will baptize without making disciples.
We will attempt to teach, but it will be without authority and effect.
We will observe the commandments, but only live the letter of the law, rather than in the Spirit that inspires it.
We won't believe Jesus' promise, "I am with you always, until the end of the age." (Mt.28:20b)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Being Religious Interreligiously?

John Allen breaks this news:

Theologian Fr. Peter C. Phan of Georgetown is being investigated by both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and the US Bishops. At issue is his 2004 book, Being Religious Interreligiously, published by Orbis.

We have heard this all before. Per Allen:

According to sources who have seen the correspondence, the central issues flagged both by the Vatican and the U.S. bishops are:

* Christ as the unique and universal savior of the world;
* The role and function of the Catholic church in salvation;
* The saving value of non-Christian religions.

All three issues are core concerns of Benedict XVI, who led the doctrinal congregation when Dominus Iesus was published. Those concerns were also at the heart of previous censures of theologians such as the late Jesuit Fr. Jacques Dupuis of Belgium, as well as Jesuit Frs. Roger Haight of the United States and Jon Sobrino of El Salvador.


I must make it clear that I have not read the book in question. My interest in Phan's opinions was roused by his article Proclamation of the Reign of God as Mission of the Church: What for, to Whom, by Whom, with Whom and How?" which precipitated my 11 part series on The Challenge of Independent Christianity

Here are a couple excerpts from that series that specifically respond to things that Phan has written:

My missionary past and Catholic present collided when I came across Peter C. Phan’s article “Proclamation of the Reign of God as Mission of the Church: What for, to Whom, by Whom, with Whom, and How?” (www.sedos.org/english/phan.htm). Phan’s title intrigued me and I started to read eagerly, only to be stunned by the first few paragraphs:

"But now things have changed, and changed utterly. The change from the enthusiasm and optimism of the World Missionary Conference that met in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1910—whose catchy slogan was "The evangelization of the world in this generation"—to the discouragement and even pessimism in today’s missionary circles, Catholic and Protestant alike, is visible and palpable. . . .To the consternation of Western missionaries, the shout "Missionary, go home" was raised in the 1960s, to be followed a decade later by the demand for a moratorium on Christian missions from the West.

In addition to the political factors, the collapse of mission as we knew it was also caused by the unexpected resurgence of the so-called non-Christian religions, in particular Hinduism and Islam. The missionaries’ rosy predictions of their early demise were vastly premature. Concomitant with this phenomenon is an intense awareness of religious pluralism which advocates several distinct, independent, and equally valid ways to reach the Divine and therefore makes conversion from one religion to another, which was considered as the goal of mission, unnecessary."
[emphasis mine]

I was incredulous. I knew that the last word one could use of the Christian missionary enterprise at the beginning of the 21st century was “collapse”. Once more, I was standing on the edge of an unbridgeable chasm of experience that yawned between this prominent American theologian and the world I had known. I couldn’t help but wonder if Peter Phan inhabited the same planet as the evangelicals with whom I had lived and studied. Discouragement? Pessimism? Evangelical missionaries have faced the same historical and cultural realities as Catholics since 1960. But they believe that they have been privileged to be part of the greatest expansion of Christianity in history and are absolutely exuberant about the future of missions.


and regarding The Debate over Dominus Iesus & the Validity of Contemporary Missions

There is a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon between the Independent reading of Christian fortunes in Asia and that of theologians like Peter Phan. Phan asserted, in an article titled “The Next Christianity” (America, February 3, 2003), that at most Christians in Asia make up only 3% of the population after 500 years of evangelization and strongly implied that the missionary enterprise was a bust. Meanwhile, David Barrett gives a figure that is three times larger (9%), and which represents a fourfold growth in Asian Christianity since 1900. Indeed, Barrett estimates that Christians will outnumber Buddhists in Asia before 2025!

At first, I was flummoxed. How could two experts in the field come up with figures that were so far apart? The answer came when I discovered that both Barrett and Fides, the communication arm of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, put the number of Asian Catholics in 2002 at 110 million or 2.9% of the total population. (Sherry’s note: David Barrett’s updated 2005 figures estimate that there are nearly 123 million Catholics in Asia.)

I realized that Phan must be using the word Christian as a synonym for Catholic. But there are twice as many non-Catholic Christians as Catholics in Asia. When I added in the numbers of Asian Protestants (57 million), the Orthodox (13.6 million), and the huge numbers of new independent Christians (179 million), the gap between 3% and 9% was easily bridged.


My initial concern with Phan's work was staggeringly bad history and worse statistics. Phan's ahistorical reading of contemporary Christian missions systemically ignored massively documented realities like the explosive growth of Christianity in the third world which a casual reader could uncover with a 60 second Google search.

I knew that it was almost certainly theology that was driving this strange obtuseness on Phan's part because "missionary failure" would enable him to portray his theological positions as "realism" - the stoic acceptance of the fact that Asians had voted with their feet and rejected Christianity en masse - rather than an ideology that he was asserting in the teeth of overwhelming evidence that Asia (especially China) is on the verge of becoming one of the evangelizing dynamos of the Christian world.

So I'm relieved that serious questions are being raised at the highest level about the theological issues behind the lousy missiology.

Our Lady & the "Catholic Hemisphere"

Interesting up-coming event:


In honor of the 475th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego, the Knights of Columbus are organizing a nationwide speaking tour by Father Eduardo Chavez, one of the most renowned experts on the Guadalupe apparitions and the postulator of St. Juan Diego’s cause for sainthood.

Entitled Our Lady of Guadalupe: The Woman who Changed the Hemisphere, the fascinating 90-minute talk and accompanying slide show is both scholarly and accessible. It tells the story of St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe, and shows how Our Lady of Guadalupe provided the “perfectly inculturated” example of evangelization to help us to build the future that all nations share in the Americas, the Catholic Hemisphere.

The lecture series begins in Los Angeles at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Sept. 16. Other scheduled dioceses include Orange, Chicago, Corpus Christi, Dallas, and Santa Fe."


And this sign of the times:

"The lecture will delivered in Spanish, with simultaneous English translation available in most locations."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mother Teresa as Prophet

Fr. Benedict Groeschel, who knew Mother Teresa for 30 years, responds in the First Things blog to the recent controversy over the publication of her letters revealing her decades long dark night.

"It would be wise for the informed reader to take this opportunity to read what the great mystics have said about darkness, particularly of their own experience. Not all pass through this terrible trial, but certainly it is there for many saints who are outstanding mystics. Mother Teresa was such a person.

What many current articles do not mention is that toward the end of her life the darkness lifted. Fr. Brian records the sisters’ observation when Mother Teresa returned to Calcutta shortly before her death: “After her return from Rome [and New York] . . . Mother had been extremely happy, joyful, optimistic, and talkative. Her face was always radiant, full of fun. The Lord must have revealed to her the impending end of her life.”

Our readers may find it interesting to know that I personally observed this joyfulness the day before Mother returned to Calcutta. I was asked by her sisters to offer Mass for her. She was so weak that she could not stand, but attended Mass lying on a cot. My confrere Fr. Andrew Apostoli and I were utterly astonished after Mass when she was “bubbly.” She laughed and told us with great joy the number of sisters and convents they had throughout the world. Mother never spoke about this before, and she was not doing so in any boastful way. Rather, she was rejoicing “with triumphant exultation” at the great blessings God had been able to grant through the Missionaries of Charity. Many memorable events took place during the thirty years I knew Mother Teresa, but this by far was the most remarkable.

In the midst of all the ill-advised and stupid analyses done of Mother Teresa by her critics, who know little or nothing about the spiritual life, my own conviction, after watching her carefully for three decades, was that Mother Teresa was not only a saint but also a prophetess, pointing the Church in a new and right direction in the difficult and puzzling age that dawns on us.

It seems to me that she was like Catherine of Siena, who prepared the Church for the Renaissance, and Teresa of Avila, who pulled the Church out of the doldrums as the turbulence of the Reformation period broke over it. Should we be surprised that a prophetess receives such bad treatment? By no means. There are many examples in Sacred Scripture of exactly the same thing. In fact, Mother Teresa, who sought to emulate Jesus in so many ways, now does it by encountering vicious calumny and detraction."

Rock & Roll: Catholic Art Form; Power Tool of Evangelization

Or so says Mark Judge in the Washington Post:

"In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love), Pope Benedict refers to the love between a man and a woman as “that love which is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings.” In the U2 song, love “steals right under my door,” neither planned nor willed. Bono can only cry for more, delirious with the fecundity and gratuitous grace of God. It’s probably no mistake that he cried for more three times, reflecting the Trinity.

This all works because in the last 30 years the Catholic Church has closed the gap between eros and agape - the love of man and woman and the love between God and man.

The Church has never denied this connection, but since the pontificate of John Paul the Great it has been developed in powerful ways - and ways that make rock and roll music seem a power tool of evangelization. In his massive series of lectures that are known as the Theology of the Body, John Paul II revolutionized Catholic teaching about sex - a revolution that is now just starting to unfold as people distill the dense and gargantuan work. In the Theology of the Body, John Paul talks about the Song of Songs, those wonderful, and even steamy, love poems of the Old Testament, not as a metaphor of the love of God for His people, as was traditionally done in Catholicism, but as the reflection of a very real event - the love of Adam and Eve before the Fall.

In one crucial passage, John Paul II contradicts the notion that God made Eve as a “helper” so she could get next to Adam to push the plow in the Garden of Eden. In fact, Eve’s help was spiritual help. She would do no less than make it possible for Adam to experience the Trinitarian love of God. Prior to this Adam “sensed that he was alone.” He was different from the animals, and while in communion with God, he was not God. Eve, rather than bringing about Adam’s ruin, allowed him to experience the interior life of God."


Comments?

Witness

Alright, I repent already.

My Google alert "Christian community" just brought me this story from Malaysia Today about a Muslim reformer who is advocating the break-down of the historic distinction between "Dar al Islam" (the House of Islam) and the Dar al Harb (the House of War)"the idea that the world consists of an ordered Muslim culture and beyond it nothing but chaos and destruction."

This man's turning point?

A turning point came when he lived in Britain in the early 1990s. During the first Gulf War, he found a group of elderly women in a small provincial church praying during a night vigil 'for the people of Iraq.'

"Here was an example. Here were Christians in England praying for Iraqis who were being killed; people whose idea of Christian charity did not stop at the Christian community. For a while I felt a sense of shame because never had I been to a mosque where I saw Muslims praying for Christians, Hindus or Buddhists. We show charity, love and sympathy but only for fellow Muslims."

The World According to Google Alert

I've changed my Google alerts which notify me of interesting posts/articles/blogs around the world. One new alert is "Christian community" which throws up a remarkable variety of things. What is fascinating is what comes up and what doesn't.

Here's a sampling of this morning's find

1. Radio Free China cover the under-reported underbelly of the upcoming Chinese Olympics: continued harassment of Chinese Christians.

This report comes via Open Doors which has served persecuted Christians of all kinds for over 40 years. "Brother Andrew", a Dutch Christian, founded Open Doors in the 60's when he began smuggling Bibles into the Soviet Union. Today, he continues his remarkable outside-the-box ministry by doing things such as preaching to Hamas members. His organization is currently conducting Christian Marriage seminars in China where the divorce rate has skyrocketed.

2. Then there is a review of the book: School(s)of Converstion: 12 Marks of the New Monasticism.

The "New Monasticism" is a mostly Protestant, post-modern, wetsern exploration of intentional Christian community with eclectic roots: Dietrich Bonhoeffer's underground seminary in 1930's Germany, the Taize community, Jesus Abbey (an evangelical Episcopalian missionary community founded in Korea in the 60's) and others. "Neo-monasticism is ecumenical, prophetic, rooted in tradition but radically open to the new ways in which the Holy Spirit is calling Christians to create countercultural expressions of communal life in Christ."

3. An art auction in New Zealand to support a family's mission trip to India

4.A interesting essay for Episcoplian parents about what baptizing their children really means. The answer is challenging:

Parents who have their children baptized are making serious counter-cultural promises on their behalf:

• putting Christ at the center of their lives and household
• renouncing evil – which means evil is real and sometimes near at hand
• upholding the dignity of every human being – which means actively resisting the easy polemic, demonization, and protectionism of our society
• embracing a life of true obedience – which means so much more than the one-dimensional complicity that gives us cause to dismiss it in the name of freedom
• proclaiming the Gospel – which implies we need to know at least a little bit about it, and better yet endeavor to live into it!


5: Christians for Huckabee Mobilize

Now while often fascinating, none of these results (except perhaps the New Monasticism) was what I was looking for when I created the Google alert. I was hoping to find examples of Christian community among Catholics. But you seldom turn up Catholic endeavors if you search using the word "Christian".

While I am not willing to surrender the word "Christian", I can see the hand-writing on the wall with this one.

So new alerts: "small Christian communities"? "Catholic community"? what?

Google: window on the world and revealer of our deep cultural assumptions.

Monday, September 10, 2007

OP Vigil of All Saints



From the Dominican friars of the eastern province:

How to put on your own All Saint vigil (based upon their own enormously popular vigil)

Of course, it does help to have a lovely gothic chapel to work with but with sufficient creativity, many different sorts of spaces could be made to work nicely.

The Existential Cost of Love

I’m sorry for my vestigal postings this past month. It has been a wonderfully rich and fruitful summer and God has blessed every endeavor tremendously. I am so glad that we did it all, but it has also been totally absorbing, stretching, and very hard work. But over the past few weeks I have been meditating on a subject that I’m going to try and put into words: the Price of Love and Vocation.

The conversation about the Called & Gifted gifts discernment process going on over at Koinonia seems like a good place to start.

Chrys commented on Fr. Gregory's original post:

the workshop appears, as you say, intriguing. Having considerable experience in both the Charismatic and Church Growth movements (during my Protestant days), some of it looks familiar - and is vital to a fully functioning church. My only caveat is the distorted manner in which we tend to take up our "mission." Soooooo often (o.k., almost always) people became identified with their mission; the ego wrapped up in their special gift. Always glad to have people involved, but invariably their faith and their function became confused. (I was hardly exempt, lest it appear otherwise.) The offering becomes tied up with the sense of self and the validation of our value to God. I'd be curious to see if they address this.

To which I replied:

What you describe is a very common occurrence in the *early* stages of discernment and of the spiritual life. It is so common that I always address it at every workshop I teach. I describe it as "the temptation to use our gifts to meet our own needs".

Since charisms are always for OTHERS as we emphasize over and over, conducting covert negotiations (I'll give you my gift and in exchange, I expect you to do X for me)or "tax-collecting" is a distortion. But misusing a gift does not invalidate its proper use as Irenaeus observed in the second century.

The solution is not to be cease to value and discern the gifts and the facilitate their discernment but to openly acknowledge this very real and pretty universal phenomena which is corrected as we grow in trust of God and in the discipline of detachment. Which is another reason why discernment should be conducted within the Christian community where these sorts of common spiritual issues can be dealt with in a straight-forward and compassionate manner.

From the perspective of "a long obedience in the same direction" I have not found that the exercise of charisms and prayer/spiritual disciplines are at all at odds with one another. That's because accepting the charisms we have been given for the same of others is a very demanding form of self-giving, of asceticism, if you will.

All vocations and all gifts, however wonderful and divinely empowered, demand sustained sacrifice and growing dependence upon God to bring to fruition. They always involve saying "no" to other good things. Many of us don't think long and hard enough about the cost of bringing any work of love to completion in a fallen world. To answer the life-long call for the sake of others that comes with a charism is both joyful beyond words and very demanding.


Perhaps it is because the Institute just celebrated her 10th anniversary but I've been meditating upon the experience of the past 17 years since I received my call. My conclusion would have to be Dickensian: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I can hardly put into words how astonishing, fulfilling, fruitful, and graced a journey it has been overall or how demanding, relentless, exhausting, and heart-breaking large parts of it have been. People are sometimes surprised that I don't answer with simple one word enthusiasm when asked how I'm doing. That's because "good" or "fine" doesn't begin to cover the waterfront.

In this, I don't imagine that I am different from most intentional disciples (and/or parents!) in mid-life, maxed out and overwhelmed by our commitments and vocation(s). (Most of us have more than one vocation or work of love to which we are called).

It is always infinitely more complicated and cross-grained to actually live a vocation than to dream about it or even say "yes" to it at the beginning. And how many of us begin to withdraw our "yes" in small or large ways when the inevitable, chronic struggles and pain associated with any significant work of love begins to rear its ugly head. How many of us feel that there is something wrong with us, with our discernment, with our situation, with our faith, when the price of love in a fallen world comes due? (Here I am not speaking of the sort of suffering which is not an intrinsic part of our vocation(s) and should move us to appropriate change.)

Rolland and Heidi Baker of Iris Ministries are intimately familiar with this reality. In my 11 part article on Independent Christianity that I blogged in May, I wrote briefly about their remarkable work.

In 1995, the Bakers, who both have PhD's in theology, moved to Mozambique – the poorest country on earth. They were offered a crumbling orphanage by the government but no other support. The Bakers took it and 10 years later they care for over 6,000 orphans. In their spare time, they have planted over 6,000 congregations among the poor in 10 African nations.

Rolland wrote movingly in July of their personal and spiritual poverty in the face of the staggering challenges of their call:

Our four years in Pemba have been tumultuous, intense, filled with demonic attacks, violence, threats, opposition from the government, discouragement, theft, loss, disappointments, failures, staff turnover, and the constant, unrelenting demands of extreme poverty and disease all around us. It almost always seemed that our capabilities and resources were no match for the challenges we faced every day, resulting in a level of chaos and stress that literally threatened our health and lives. Intense witchcraft and a lack of exposure to familiar standards of right and wrong made our work in this very remote part of the world seem all the more impossible. Heidi and I remember many times when we did not know how we could continue, often wondering if we really had good, lasting fruit that was worth the sacrifice.

We are often asked what the overcoming key to our ministry and growth is. We don't think in terms of keys or secrets, but in the simplest truths of the Gospel. We have learned by experience that there is no way forward when pressed to our extremities but to sacrifice ourselves at every turn for His sake, knowing nothing but Jesus and Him crucified. We must die to live. It is better to give than to receive, and better to love than to be loved. We cannot lose, because we have a perfect Savior who is able to finish what He began in us, if we do not give up and throw away our faith.

In years past we did not think we could identify with Paul like this, but now we understand more of what he meant: "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead" (2 Cor. 1:8-9).

A witness to a 2005 presentation by Heidi Baker in Toronto summed up her message this way:

She took the passage of the angel Gabriel's message to Mary and preached on the inherent difficulty of carrying God's call on your life to its completion. Using illustrations from her own life and ministry, she effectively made the point that God's calling is neither easy nor comfort-laden but is filled with great difficulty and the humanly impossible. Thus it is a burden which God asks you to carry, a seed which he places within you which you must then carry and nurture to its completion regardless of the cost to you, your relationships or your reputation. When the Holy Spirit overshadows you (or Mary or I), and places within you the seed of God's Word for your life, you can bet that the cost and inconvenience will be significant and that the path to its completion will require utter reliance upon Him.

Coming to the point of actually hearing the Holy Spirit's (specific) Word for your (specific) life is a very important journey in itself. But once that (specific) Word is received an entirely new journey begins. And that journey promises to be the most difficult and exhilarating of any you can possibly take in your lifetime. It is the journey toward utter reliance upon the power of God and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit's ministry to others through that dependence.

Many lay Catholics, in my experience, regard this sort of language and life experience as “non-Catholic” or “Protestant” or at best, only for saints. But aspiring to great things for God and others is for all the baptized and a great virtue in Catholic understanding. As I wrote in “The Disciplines of Hope” for the Siena Scribe in 2003:

Magnanimity is the aspiration of the spirit to great things. St. Thomas Aquinas called it the “jewel of all the virtues” because the magnanimous person has the courage to seek out what is great and become worthy of it. Magnanimity is rooted in assurance of the highest possibilities of our God-given human nature.

When I first encountered the idea that “aspiring to greatness” was a Christian virtue, I had difficulty taking it in. Aren’t Christians supposed to be humble and to avoid trying to be something special, to minimize and even belittle our abilities and achievements, to avoid ambition, and to prefer anonymity? Even the idea of having charisms distresses some Catholics. Believing that God might do something really important and supernatural through them somehow seems to lack humility. One 84-year-old Scot told me in his lilting brogue, “I couldn’t have charisms; it wouldn’t be humble!

To allay such fears, we can recognize that humility is magnanimity’s necessary partner, the attitude before God that recognizes and fully accepts our creaturehood and the immeasurable distance between the Creator and his creation. But neither does humility stand alone: without magnanimity, we don’t see the whole of our dignity as human beings. Magnanimity and humility together enable us to keep our balance, to arrive at our proper worth before God, to persist in living our secular mission, and to persevere in seeking our eternal destiny despite apparent frustration and failure.

Magnanimity empowers us to aspire to whatever remarkable vocation God calls us to but the virtue of fortitude ensures that we finish the journey well. As Fr. John Hardon, SJ put it:

Fortitude is “the important commodity of enabling us to carry to successful conclusion the most difficult tasks that are undertaken in the service of God. There are two forms of courage implied in this gift of fortitude: the gift to undertake arduous tasks and the gift to endure long and trying difficulties for the divine glory.

At every Called & Gifted workshop, I quote Venerable John Henry Newman’s words:
“God has determined . . . that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, he calls me by my name. He knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness and he means to give it to me.”

I believe every word as did Newman. But, outside the Garden, our journey to that greatest happiness, always requires the Holy Spirit’s gifts of magnanimity and fortitude, no matter how blessed or apparently awful the particular circumstances of our unique journey may seem to outsiders.

When I encounter adult Catholics who seem strangely unmarked by the existential cost of love and mission, I can’t help but wonder if they are in a state of arrested spiritual or personal development. Have they truly said “yes” to Christ? Have they truly said “yes” to the loves and calls that God has given them?

At the heart of every life long, God-given vocation is the same mystery of love, joy, and pain that Christ himself embraced:

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

Hebrews 12:2

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Fr. Gregory Jensen Does It Again

Fr. Gregory, a Greek Orthodox priest keeps writing a lot of really intelligent and thought-provoking posts over at Koinonia and is worth checking regularly.

Fr. Gregory and his college roommate, Fr. Michael Butler (a Russian Orthodox priest) will be attending a Called & Gifted workshop in Perrysburg, Ohio next weekend. I won't be there (I'm teaching the workshop in Lakewood, CO) but Fr. Mike will be there and I'm sure it will be a merry meeting.

I look forward to finally meeting Fr. Michael at Making Disciples in November.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Living Royally



A month and a half ago I posted on Steve Bigari (link in the title of this blog), the former owner of fourteen McDonald's franchises and the founder of the America's Family Program. America's Family focuses on bringing together employers, workforce centers, and community agencies, including community colleges, to provide six major benefits to stabilize the shaky critical life needs of entry-level workers and their families– health care, child care, transportation, housing, communication, and education – benefits not usually associated with “fast food” jobs in Colorado. At this time, over 25,000 low income service workers benefit from participating in the program.

Mr. Bigari was quoted in an article in the local Colorado Springs paper as saying, "This (America's Family) is not a job. It's a mission."

It sounds like Mr. Bigari has responded to a call from God. He literally "sold everything" (at least he sold his source of income, the fourteen franchises) to follow Jesus. His discipleship didn't lead him out of the world, but more deeply into it; into the lives of the working poor whom he encountered as employees, but began to see as fellow children of God.

I bring up Mr. Bigari again because today we celebrate Blessed Frederick Ozanam (1813-1853). In 1831, while studying law at the University of the Sorbonne, certain professors there mocked Catholic teachings in their lectures (something which still happens today, sadly). Frederick defended the Church.


While in college, Frederick organized a discussion club. In this club Catholics, atheists and agnostics debated the issues of the day. He was obviously unafraid to encounter people who did not share his beliefs; doing so allowed him to better understand their positions, and made him more aware of their critiques of his own. The freedom to engage people so different from himself had a life-changing effect. Once, after Frederick spoke on Christianity’s role in civilization, a club member said: "Let us be frank, Mr. Ozanam; let us also be very particular. What do you do besides talk to prove the faith you claim is in you?"

It's a question that all of us who claim to believe in Christ need to be asked - and must answer.

Frederick was stung by the question. He soon decided that his words needed a grounding in action. He and a friend began visiting Paris tenements and offering assistance as best they could. Soon a group dedicated to helping individuals in need under the patronage of St. Vincent de Paul formed around Frederick.

This is an example of Christian freedom; the ability to look courageously at the world around us and ask, "What needs to change in order for people to live in dignity?" Frederick Ozanam and Steve Bigari found their lives moving in a different direction because of that question.

Both men began living with a deeper purpose. God blessed the work of Blessed Frederick Ozanam. Within ten years there were 25 St. Vincent de Paul conferences. When the revolution of 1848 left 275,000 people unemployed, the French government asked Frederick and the St. Vincent de Paul Society to supervise the government's aid to the poor, so effective were the conferences!

One of the greatest struggles Catholics seem to have these days is trusting a call from God, and many of us don't believe we even have such a call. But if we are willing to look at the world around us, recognize what human needs seem to move our hearts, discern our spiritual gifts given to us by God at baptism, and take the first step in responding to those needs, we might be surprised at what God chooses to do through us.

We are called to change the temporal order by Christ and His Church. That's living royally!

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Practice of Their Craft is Their Prayer

From the National Fellowship of Catholic Men blog
comes this interesting article about discipleship in the marketplace. I have had the pleasure of talking to the author (Dan Spencer) about his work in men's ministry and its relationship to the Institute's work.

I hope that I don't need to point out that Dan's questions are just as critical for women in the marketplace.

Your Marketplace Ministry

"They maintain the fabric of this world, and the practice of their craft is their prayer - -Sirach 38:34

Let me ask you a question: Where do you spend the majority of your waking hours? Most men spend 50-60% of their time planning for, or participating in, work. Let me ask you a follow up question: What is your specific strategy for co-laboring with Christ to impact your professional world for Christ? Not simply to be ”good” or “ethical”, but your daily plan to convert the temporal order: ”to sanctify yourself, your workplace and your coworkers,” as St. Jose Maria Escriva says. Most of us have no plan . Many have no clue how to do this. This in spite of the Vatican II call to “collaborate with Christ in the renewal of the temporal order” - a key component of which includes our worklife.

For far too many of us, “survival” is our strategy. Make as much money as possible, in the least time as possible. Tithe a bit. Support the “real” ministers of the Gospel. Retire as early as possible and THEN maybe “do something meaningful”. Sound familiar? Brothers, I have news - you are already IN fulltime ministry. Here are a few things to consider as you begin thinking of your professional life as your God-ordained Marketplace Ministry:

* Where do I most frequently encounter non-Christian actions?
* Where do I most frequently encounter non-believers?
* Where do I most frequently become tempted to boast, lie or mislead others?
* Where do I most frequently get tempted to not do my best?
* Where do I most frequently get angered at others?
* Where is my integrity and humility most frequently challenged?
* Where do I find it most difficult to pray for those around me?


Get my point? Work is the battlefield most of us deal with daily. This is where true virtue is put to the test. This is where the opportunity to impact people’s lives and the culture is up front. Due to this it becomes both an opportunity to sanctify ourselves, others and structures of the world for Christ. The good news is there are strategies and tactics for your calling to the workplace. We just need to begin seeing that this is one of our most challenging opportunities for evangelism, witness and conversion. We need to begin loving Monday.

Here are the final four questions to consider:

1. Do you understand how your work is a part of your lay vocation?
2. Do you clearly see the behaviors keeping you for impacting your workplace?
3. Do you comprehend how adversity at work builds your faith?
4. Do you have a specific strategy for walking this out next Monday?


Call it what you will - your marketplace ministry, workplace witness or vineyard vocation - the challenge is the same. This week, at the end of Mass, recall that we have been freed of sin, offered up ourselves to be transformed, inspired by the Word, filled with the Spirit and accepted Jesus into our very body. We are then commissioned by Jesus to “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19)! Like a college graduate who attends “commencement’s” just beginning! Monday will never be the same again."

Comments?

Scholarships are Going Fast!

We have money to give away!

And it is a nice problem to have.

A few months ago, the Institute received a grant that would enable us to offer scholarships to some of our seminars. We've got a bit of that money left and would like to use it to enable a few interested parties to attend Making Disciples at the stunningly situated Loyola Retreat House in Faulkner, Maryland on November 4 - 8, 2007.



So here's the deal:

We have two $500 scholarships available for any parish, diocese, or Catholic group that would be interested in sending two or more people to Making Disciples in Maryland this November.

What is Making Disciples about?

Making Disciples is a four day seminar for pastors and pastoral leaders that will help participants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




As I wrote here immediately after Making Disciples in Colorado Springs last month, it was a moving, powerful, and remarkably successful event for everyone concerned. Many participants told us that they didn't want to return home!

Here are a few participant comments taken from the evaluations.

"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: $ 5xx.xxx
Airfare: $ 4xx.xx
Taxis: $ 60.00

Program content: Priceless."


If your parish or diocese or group accepts one of these scholarships, the content will still be priceless - but the cost will be a good deal less! If you are interested, give Mike Dillon a call at (888) 878 6789 or drop him a line at miked@siena.org.

We'd love to see you there!

No We Haven't Forgotten You

It's just that I'm absolutely slammed trying to gear up for the fall. But I'm going to be blogging anyway. There is so much going on.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Faith & The Marketplace: A New Initiative

Over at the Deacon's Bench, I just read about a fascinating new initiative called The Catholic Business Journal. From what I can tell poking around the site, it is a website whose goal is to foster the integration of faith into the daily world of business. Here's what CBJ says about itself:

The Catholic Business Journal is a premiere online business platform where Catholic business professionals can exchange ideas, create new ventures, explore faith-based solutions to challenging business and human resource problems, post jobs and resumes, and foster new opportunities to serve together, ultimately, a higher purpose.

Fully faithful to the teaching magisterium of the Catholic church, the Catholic Business Journal is dedicated to fostering a seamless integration of faith and work in the practical arena of business.
Founded by, and designed specifically for, Catholic business professionals, the Catholic Business Journal also serves as a one-stop place to connect seasoned professionals with new and younger graduates of Catholic colleges and universities who are entering the workforce.

Catholic business-to-business networking and online community components include Job Listings, Discussion Boards, Prayer Requests, Business Directory and Peer Reviews of Books, Movies, Hotels and Restaurants.

News content features breaking and daily news feeds from respected business journals nationwide, including Business Week, Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones MarketWatch, and leading Catholic and religious news services such as ZENIT and Catholic World News.

Other content includes Catholic Business Columnists, Daily Mass Readings and reflections, Ads, and online Catholic and professional book and gift stores.

The transforming impact of the Faith in evaluating and assessing daily business decisions can radically change lives and culture in significant ways. The Catholic Business Journal is a useful tool in this process, and its leadership anticipates evolving and growing to accommodate the expanding needs of its readership.

I think that this is a fascinating initiative and one that takes seriously the call of the laity to live out the apostolic dimensions of their lives with fruitfulness and integrity. So, stop by the Catholic Business Journal and take a look around.

Pope Benedict XVI's Message to Youth

This weekend Pope Benedict XVI is in Loreto, Italy, meeting with Italian bishops, priests and thousands of Italian youth during the unveiling of a three-year pastoral plan for the youth of that country. (N.B. "Youth" in Europe usually refers to 18-35 year olds - what we in America would call young adults.)

In his homily yesterday, on "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted," Luke 14:11, the Pope urged the youth, "Do not follow the current produced by this powerful attempt at persuasion. Do not be afraid, dear friends, to prefer the 'alternative' ways indicated by true love: a sober way of life attentive to others; affectionate relationships that are sincere and pure; an honest commitment in study and work; deep interest in the common good.”

The Pope encouraged them to not be afraid "to appear different and be criticized for that which might seem foolish or unfashionable."

"Your fellow young people, but also adults and especially those who seem the farthest from the mentality and values of the Gospel, have a profound need to see someone who dares to live according to the fullness of humanity manifested in Jesus Christ," he said.

"The way of humility, dear friends, is therefore not the way of renunciation but of courage,” Benedict XVI emphasized. "It is not the result of a defeat but the outcome of a victory of love over egoism and of grace over sin."

Notice this humility is about forgetting oneself in order to evangelize! The Pope is telling Italian young adults to live in such a way that is fully human, and thus in imitation of Jesus. Such a life will undoubtedly look different from what most of us are pursuing, and the sense of dignity, purpose, direction and meaning that it gives will be incredibly attractive to those who are seeking those things.

The mission of evangelization was on the mind of many at the meeting, apparently. In an interview given by Monsignor Paolo Giulietti, head of National Service for Youth Pastoral Ministry at the Italian bishops conference, to the news service Fides, Giuletti responded to a question regarding whether youth are willing to share their faith with others. His response is beautiful and challenging.

"Mission is not something to do, it is more a way of being: Communicating with word and deed the beauty, the greatness of the experience of an encounter with Christ who makes life new. It is possible to kindle missionary impulse if we help young people to view their ordinary life with new eyes and to live it in an “extraordinary” manner. Naturally it is necessary to rethink the words and ways to speak of this at work, at school, at leisure time … for witness to be effective. The problem of little missionary spirit is due too often to dis-incarnated formation and spirituality."

What does the monsignor mean by a "dis-incarnated formation and spirituality"? I would suggest he means formation and spirituality that is essentially a "head trip." Perhaps a formation that focuses solely on the intellectual assent to faith, and a spirituality that is not centered on the sacraments and the need to embody Christ's love for others. Perhaps it is a spirituality that focuses on receiving grace for oneself, or experiencing consolation, or focused on a relationship with Christ that somehow does not impel the Christian outward in service. A dis-incarnated spirituality would contradict St. Paul's experience, when he wrote, "the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised."

In other words, a genuine Christian formation and spirituality that is centered on the incarnation flows from the conviction that Christ has saved us through his loving obedience to the Father and through his love for us - both of which led him to accept the cross on our behalf. When we truly grasp the depth of that love (not just "for us," but "for me"), we can more easily choose to love and live selflessly for others. Or, in other words, to live, "not I, but Christ living in me."

I would propose that the deeper root of the problem of little missionary spirit is the lack of an appreciation of the love that is offered us by the Blessed Trinity. Those who do experience and appreciate that love are natural (or, better, supernaturally empowered) evangelizers.

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Am I Evangelized?

In response to a previous post on John Allen's observation that the last two popes have had an evangelical focus, one former Evangelical Protestant (now Catholic), asked me the elements of Catholic evangelization. I responded with some key points from Pope Paul VI's 1975 Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World) [linked in the title of this post]. What hit me as I re-read that great teaching on evangelization was the question, "Have I been fully evangelized?"

That may sound like a peculiar question for a priest to ask, but let me briefly summarize a few points that Paul VI made.

For starters, the Holy Father wrote, "It [evangelization] is a task and mission which the vast and profound changes of present-day society make all the more urgent. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to
preach and teach,
to be the channel of the gift of grace,
to reconcile sinners with God, and
to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection." [14]

That much most Catholics would not take exception with, I'm guessing. It seems to be much of what happens within our parishes. But, Paul also pointed out,

"She [the Church after the Lord's ascension] remains as a sign—simultaneously obscure and luminous—of a new presence of Jesus, of His departure and of His permanent presence. She prolongs and continues Him. And it is above all His mission and His condition of being an evangelizer that she is called upon to continue. For the Christian community is never closed in upon itself." [15]

This is our challenge today, and always. Because our reaching out to the world is not simply to do good works, like establish hospitals and schools, run soup kitchens and homeless shelters, or work to promote good stewardship of the environment, or oppose abortion and promote child welfare. The Pope makes it clear that these good works must be intimately related to the proclamation of Jesus as Savior and Lord.

But I'm jumping ahead of myself. What are the aspects of evangelization that Pope Paul VI said must be included in its description?

These elements are:
1. "bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new: 'Now I am making the whole of creation new.'" [18]

But this transformation begins with the conversion and baptism of individuals, and eventually, through them, changing the judgments, points of interest, and even the thought of society.

2. Evangelization happens through the personal witness of individuals whose lives simply don't make sense if God doesn't exist. We are to be a leaven in society - a leaven that isn't invisible, however, but that raises questions; "Why is this person or these people this way? What or who inspires them to live so differently?" Catholics often like to repeat a line (incorrectly) attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach always. Use words if necessary." Francis could have said something like that because his life WAS so different from the rest of society. His life choices raised all kinds of questions that he was able to address through words.

3. That's the third element - that witness cannot remain silent. It must include words! "The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed." [22]

4. A fourth element seems to be the actual RECEPTION of the word (and Word) proclaimed. Our words can't truly be called evangelizing if our listeners and observers are not also moved by the Spirit to embrace a radically new life.

5. A life transformed includes, then, the desire to share the "Good News" with others; to speak of our love for the Beloved. "Finally, the person who has been evangelized goes on to evangelize others. Here lies the test of truth, the touchstone of evangelization: it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn." [24]

In summary, Pope Paul VI, said of evangelization:
"Evangelization... is a complex process made up of varied elements:
the renewal of humanity,
witness,
explicit proclamation,
inner adherence,
entry into the community,
acceptance of signs,
apostolic initiative.

These elements may appear to be contradictory, indeed mutually exclusive. In fact they are complementary and mutually enriching. Each one must always be seen in relationship with the others." [24] To leave any out or accentuate one element to the detriment of another is to "impoverish or even distort it."

Here's why I'm asking the question, "Have I been fully evangelized?" Have I embraced a radically new life?

Of course, my life looks superficially different from most people's. I belong to a religious community. I've embraced celibacy as a way of life and find it fulfilling. I am a priest. But if I look at the roots of who I am (radical comes from the Latin "radix", meaning root) am I radically different from my non-Christian neighbor? I live quite comfortably, enjoy the respect and friendship of others – so much so that I know my preaching of the Gospel has been compromised to protect that good will.

Have I accepted the word and given myself to the kingdom so that I bear witness to it and proclaim it in turn? I seldom seek to speak of my faith with others outside the parish environment, where such conversations would be accepted. In other words, I speak of Jesus pretty much only in my "official" capacity as priest, and not simply as another believer.

And that's a sign of a problem. I know that I talk to others about my closest friends and members of my family. I want to introduce people I love to others. Can I say that is true with respect to my relationship with Jesus? Do I want to introduce him to people who do not know him? Do I love others enough to want to introduce them to the One who loves them enough to offer his life for them? Have I experienced the Good News in such a way that it really is good news that MUST be shared with other people who have not heard it?

When I consider these questions, and compare my life to the saints who could answer these questions affirmatively, I have to conclude that my evangelization and conversion are not yet complete. Yes, conversion is a life-long process, but it must be an intentional process, as is evangelization, and as yet it is not receiving my fullest attention. With the grace of God and fervent petitioning of him on my part (and with your prayers) that will change.

But all this means we need to re-evaluate our parish life. Are they focused on the mission of evangelization, and the formation of lay Catholics who are intent on embodying Christ's love in the world and bringing the Gospel to others? Or are we content with "we've always done things this way"? The pamphlet "Mission or Maintenance," written by Sherry Weddell and Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, and sold on our website bookstore is a challenging look at how our parishes are meant to be.

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Saturday, September 1, 2007

The End of the Re-Union

I have literally just returned from the airport where we dropped the Sheas off to catch their plane back to Seattle. The Curps left this morning for the long drive east across Kansas. Kathleen Lundquist and her husband Gary were here for the Day in Building Intentional Community and will be here till Sunday. Then I'm gonna take Labor Day off.

It's been a wonderfully rich and rewarding August - beginning with the amazing experience of Making Disciples, the joys of the reunion, and the events of the past few days. But also endlessly demanding.

So I'll give myself the rest of the weekend to decompress and then I'll return to blogging. I'll probably be posting more pictures from the reunion.

Sherry Curp (the other Sherry) called from the plains of eastern Kansas to say that she is planning to write a series of posts on the fine points of organizing a fellowship group like the Nameless Lay Group. That's important because a common question from cradle Catholics yesterday was: "how do you do this?"

So expect to hear from the other Sherry in coming days.

May you all have a wonderfully restful Labor Day weekend!