Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Is It Naughty When It's Just Insane?

Let's skip Halloween and go directly to Christmas. From way back in December of 2004, comes this gem from Barbara Nicolosi which cracked me up then and alas, so fits me today.

I forwarded it on to a friend in a similar situation with this note:

In the 15 minute window of leisure allotted me between hand-signing 300 Christmas cards, discussing foundation funding options with our business manager, and packing for that 6:30 am flight to San Antonio tomorrow morning, I had to send you this true spirit-of-Christmas item from the great Barb Nicolosi's blog.

I don't know why it tickles me so much but it is *SO* my life - just change the names and details to protect the guilty.

Except for one thing: Barb's past life as a sister has obviously left her with excessive scruples. She's worried about being a mere 5 *weeks* late on a major writing project. Good grief, I've got a half dozen projects that I'm at least a year behind on. Once you're past the year mark, you pass beyond mere guilt into an alternate time-and-space universe where guilt becomes transcendent: a kind of all encompassing faith that gives meaning to your life.


My favorite line: Is it naughty when its just insane?


BARB'S BRAIN MAKIN' A LIST, CHECKIN' IT TWICE...

1. Am now officially eight days past my deadline to submit my National Catholic Register column. No hope of getting it done until Saturday. - NAUGHTY

...Am ducking their request for a special article about the Pope on Cinema because I really want to do it, but can't see how or when - NAUGHTY

2. Was supposed to turn in the first draft of the screenplay Nov. 25. Am now shooting for Christmas....We'll see how much I get done on Saturday. - NAUGHTY

3. Am five weeks late submitting my chapter for the Act One book. They would certainly cut me out of the project if it wasn't for the fact that the book editor works for me. Saturday looks good to wrap that up. -- DEFINITELY NAUGHTY

4. Have written but not typed up a preface to a new book on the theology of The Passion of the Christ. They made the mistake of saying, "Whenever you can get to it." I think I can get it done Saturday before I really start writing. - NAUGHTY

5. Managed to do all the final negotiations for the new Act One offices. We sign the lease Friday. - NICE

6. Am ducking a new friend who runs a cool ministry that I really love. She asked me two months ago to give notes on the marketing plan they will be rolling out this year. - SLIMEY NAUGHTY

7. Am spending the next two dfays participating in a consortium on theology and cinema. I actually read the four books they sent in advance of our discussions - NICE!

...But, then, they sent me a pile of papers to read based on the books, and I only managed to print those out. Sigh. - NAUGHTY

8. In anticipation of the Act One Board of Directors meeting tonight, we managed to get out an agenda and all the budget stuff and other info to the members three whole days ago. - NICE

...Me taking credit for the fact that my staff did the lion share of work getting all the Board meeting stuff together - PROBABLY NAUGHTY

9. Managed to coordinate several meetings this week between our Hollywood Christians, and a delegation of Christians from Capital Hill. The meetings have been very well-attended and interesting. - NICE

...Thinking of the follow-up blog or messages I should write about our discussions. Maybe can squeeze it in on Saturday... - NAUGHTY

10. Still have to find that 12" GI Joe tank for nephew John Thomas somewhere out there in Internet shopping land. Have been spending too much time surfing around looking for it. - MORALLY UNCLEAR. CONSULT FAGOTHEY.

11. Have so many cool things to blog. Been saving thoughts since the film festival back in October. What if I die suddenly without getting to post my ideas of how The Wizard of Oz fails thematically by having subverted itself as a musical in terms of its methodology? Thinking I can get up early on Saturday. - IS IT NAUGHTY WHEN IT'S JUST INSANE?

12. Everyone is asking me to comment on movies. Haven't seen anything for months. Need to see everything. - NAUGHTY

13. Missing the office Christmas party tomorrow to be at the theology thing. - NAUGHTY

...Saving money by not getting presents for anyone at the office and thinking no one will notice because I am missing the party - DEEP IN THE NAUGHTINESS ENDZONE* (*credit to Karen Hall for coining the usage)

14. While running between events yesterday, I turned on the radio and heard a song about Christmas. It made me think of Jesus and my heart swelled with love. Still got it, even now. - VERY VERY NICE

And now - must run to a staff meeting . ..

Catholic Fortunes in Japan

Sandro Magister has a moving article this morning about the bombing of Nagasaki in 1945 and its impact on the Catholic community of Japan. I had not realized that
"among the victims of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki, two thirds of the small but vibrant Japanese Catholic community disappeared in a single day. It was a community that was nearly wiped out twice in three centuries."

In 1945, this was done through an act of war that was mysteriously focused on this city. Three centuries before, it was by a terrible persecution very similar to that of the Roman empire against the first Christians, with Nagasaki and its "hill of martyrs" again the epicenter.

And yet, the Japanese Catholic community was able to recover from both of these tragedies. After the persecution in the seventeenth century, Christians kept their faith alive by passing it on from parents to children for two centuries, in the absence of bishops, priests, and sacraments. It is recounted that on Good Friday of 1865, ten thousand of these "kakure kirisitan," hidden Christians, streamed from the villages and presented themselves in Nagasaki to the stunned missionaries who had just recently regained access to Japan.

And again after the second slaughter in Nagasaki, in 1945, the Catholic Church was reborn in Japan. The most recent official data, from 2004, estimate that there are a little more than half a million Japanese Catholics. They are few in relation to a population of 126 million. But they are respected and influential, thanks in part to their solid network of schools and universities.

Moreover, if to the native Japanese are added the immigrants from other Asian countries, the number of Catholics doubles. A 2005 report from the commission for migrants of the bishops' conference calculates that the total number of Catholics recently passed one million, for the first time in the history of Japan.

Astronomical Terrorism

A reader of ID writes about the current beliefs of a grieving widower with whom he has been sharing his faith: "the cosmos is soooo enormous that he can't believe we humans have any significance."

To which I can not do better in a hurry than to quote from the "funniest, wisest, and most unorthodox cookbook ever written" (or so thought Craig Clairborne of the New York Times in the late 60's)

"Unfortunately, we live in an age which is too little impressed by the small and too easily intimidated by the great. It is the stock in trade of atheists and other knockers of the wonder of being to insist that the magnitude of the universe makes all men's musings insignificant. How, they ask, can we seriously think we are of much account in a universe where light travels at 185,000 miles per second, and it takes a hundred light years to go from one galaxy to the next?

Looking into my saucepan as the stock thickens, I find a counterfoil to such astronomical terrorism. Creation is vast in every direction. It is as hugely small as it is large. The number of water-filled insterstices in my three tablespoons of flour runs the interstellar distances a fair second, the appeal to size is a self-canceling argument. Plying my whisk, I know that what goes on here is neither less mysterious nor less marvelous than what happen there. We may not have settled the question of whether i am mad to think that I matter, but we have definitely eliminated the numbers game as a method of proof. I will listen to any man who wants to argue me down, but saucepan in hand, I refused to be snowed."

The Supper of the Lamb, Robert Farrar Capon

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Random Delights

Oh frabjous day!

More random quote generators than you can shake a stick at:

The wonderful Gerard Manley Hopkins poem generator:

Summa

THE best ideal is the true
And other truth is none.
All glory be ascribèd to
The holy Three in One.


-- Gerard Manley Hopkins. Poems (1918).

The glorious G. K. Chesterton day by day quotes

JUNE 22nd

THOSE thinkers who cannot believe in any gods often assert that the love of humanity would be in itself sufficient for them; and so, perhaps, it would, if they had it.

G.K. Chesterton, 'Tremendous Trifles.'

The profound Desert Fathers quote generator:

Of the infirmity of forgetfulness, and how we ought not to despond because of it.

A certain brother said to one of the elders, "Lo, my father, I frequently consult the elders, and they give me advice for the salvation of my soul, yet of all that they say to me I can remember nothing." Now it happened that there were two vessels standing empty beside the old man to whom he spoke. He therefore said to the brother, "Go, take one of the vessels. Put water in it. Wash it, and pour the water out of it again. Then put it back, clean, into its place." The brother did so. Then said the old man, "Bring both vessels here. Look at them carefully, and tell me which is the cleaner." "Surely," said the brother, "that is the cleaner which I washed with the water." Then said the old man to him again, "Even so it is, my son, with the soul which frequently hears the words of God. Even although the memory retain none of them, yet is that soul purer than his who never seeks for spiritual counsel."


Random Music - quotes from Jacques Maritain

Paradise consists, as St. Augustine says, in the joy of the Truth. Contemplation is paradise on earth, a crucified paradise.

-- Jacques Maritain, in Scholasticism and Politics, 1940.

All via the generosity of the Jacques Maritain center of Notre Dame.

Add that to the P. G. Wodehouse random quote generator and what more could you ask for?

If I had had to choose between him and a cockroach as a companion for a walking-tour, the cockroach would have had it by a short head.

Very Good, Jeeves (1930) ``The Spot of Art'

Any other great quote generators that you recommend?

The Social Agenda

A very useful tool:

The Social Agenda - an online summary in six languages of Catholic social teaching put together by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace which was then headed by late, lamented François-Xavier Nguyên Cardinal Van Thuân.

The Social Agenda is made up of passages from Church teaching assembled by topic. A good place to begin your survey of Catholic Social Teaching - although I would never stop at a survey.

I find that those cd collections of Church teaching up to and including Vatican II are a fabulous way to gather a comprehensive collection of statements on a particular subject. It only takes 60 seconds to find the quotes and a week to read em all!

If God is With Us . . .

Both Fr. Mike and I are still swamped. I will try to get back to blogging later today. In the meantime, enjoy this two wonderful videos of Michael Card (and friends like Steve Green and Phil Keaggy) jamming on

The Poem of Your Life



and singing the exquisite Immanuel



A sign shall be given
A virgin will conceive
A human baby bearing
Undiminished deity
The glory of the nations
A light for all to see
Hope for all who will embrace
His warm reality

Immanuel
Our God is with us
And if God is with us
Who could stand against us
Our God is with us
Immanuel

For all those who live in the shadow of death
A glorious light has dawned
For all those who stumble in the darkness
Behold your light has come

Immanuel
Our God is with us
And if God is with us
Who could stand against us
Our God is with us
Immanuel

So what will be your answer?
Will you hear the call?
Of Him who did not spare His son
But gave him for us all
On earth there is no power
There is no depth or height
That could ever separate us
From the love of God in Christ

Immanuel
Our God is with us
And if God is with us
Who could stand against us
Our God is with us
Immanuel

Immanuel
Our God is with us
And if God is with us
Who could stand against us
Our God is with us
Immanuel

Music that nourishes hope!

Monday, October 29, 2007

This Week

We're still blogging but things have gotten busy.

A number of remarkable opportunities have come the Institute's way in the past week. Several large dioceses have approached us about wide-scale implementation of the Called & Gifted discernment process, I've been approached to speak at a important national gathering, I have also been asked to consider teaching (part-part-part-part time - I'm not leaving the Institute!)at a seminary, and we have received another international invitation and there are other possibilities that I can't even talk about in vague terms.

And then I'm gone for 8 days. We leave CS Saturday for Maryland and Making Disciples (with Fr. Mike, Keith Strohm and Barbara Elliott.) And then I am doing a Day of Discernment in Washington, DC. And hope to get to meet and spend a little time with Gashwin Gomes of Maior autem his est caritas while I'm there.

So we are scrambling a bit to pray, prioritize, and respond. We could use your prayers as we try to discern where God is calling us.

But I will also be blogging as I can this week (and have some good stuff to blog!) so stay tuned.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"Wholehearted" Discipleship

At the end of the Cursillo weekend I attended a couple of weeks ago, there was a prayer service in which the candidates are invited to commit themselves to apostolic works. It ends with a simple question each individual asks of God,

"Lord, what do you want from me?"

As we came to that question, I was prepared to examine the activities I'm involved in, and reflect on how I might be more Christlike in them, or how I might be more open about my Christian faith. I was hoping I might have some direction as to what new project I might be involved in, or what to do next in the Institute.

Instead, no sooner had the question been posed, when I had a response,

"Give me your heart."

It was one of those moments that I've had once in a while, in which the words that come to mind seem to come from deep within me yet somehow not from me. It's hard to explain. In these cases, the words have always been something of a surprise, like these words. Yet, of course, they made all the sense in the world.

And at the same time, they cut like a two-edged sword, because, of course, they imply that I have not given my heart completely to my Lord - and thus he's not entirely "Lord."

In fact my heart - my loves and desires - are very divided. I get wrapped up in the passing things of this world (like Duck football, for example!) and my heart rises and sinks with each win and loss. The same rising and sinking of emotions happens in relationships that we cling to because the other has become a means to our own happiness, rather than someone for whom we're laying down our life, or when we're trying to manipulate the emotions of another through pleasing, for example. The same churning of emotions happens when we've given our heart to work; each success merely momentarily staves off the ever-present fear of failure.

So why is it so hard to give my heart to one who loves me enough to suffer and die for me? Why am I so convinced that living my life my way will be better than Jesus' way? I will have to think and pray about these questions.

But in the meanwhile, it seems I have some ideas of where my heart is divided, and where there is need of true mortification - a "dying" to passing things. I am in need of detachment, not so that I can be free, but so that I can be attached to him "who loved me, and gave his life for me." (Gal 2:20)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Christian life in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank

Consider visiting Tabula Gaza, an English language blog from a resident of the Gaza Strip. This morning they carry this report from French 24 about the death of Rami Ayyad, manager of the Gaza Strip's only Christian bookstore.

Rami was a man of great courage and faith.

"Palestinian Christians number around 75,000 but there are only 2,500 -- most of them Greek Orthodox -- living in the Gaza Strip among nearly 1.5 million Muslims, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics." (Note: there are only about 200 Catholics in the Gaza Strip)

"Gaza has no history of tensions between the two communities and Christians say they are bound to their Muslim neighbours by shared suffering.

But fears peaked on October 6 when Ayyad was kidnapped, tortured and shot dead, his body dumped in a field outside Gaza City. No one has claimed responsibility for the murder.

Ayyad ran a bookshop affiliated with the United Bible Societies, a worldwide organisation that tries to help people "receive the Word of God and see the true light in Jesus Christ", according to its website.

The shop -- the only Christian bookstore in Gaza -- was firebombed in April, and Ayyad's family members said he was threatened several times.

"Three months before Rami was killed a man came into the office," Ayyad's mother told AFP. "He said to Rami, 'What do think about converting to Islam?'"

"Rami said, 'If you convert to Christianity, I'll become a Muslim.' Then the man said, 'I know how to make you a Muslim'. It was a threat."

The Hamas-run government has vowed to find and punish Ayyad's killers, and senior Hamas leader Mahmud Zahar and former prime minister Ismail Haniya attended his wake, along with several of the family's Muslim neighbours.

But many Christians, frightened of the new extremist groups and desperate to escape the worsening economic situation in the Gaza Strip, are seeking to emigrate, sparking fears for the future of the community."


Tabula Gaza also has a link to this amazing interactive map of the West Bank. Here you can see the extremely complicated reality: the many barriers, restricted roads, Israeli settlements, areas controlled by Palestinians and by Israelis. Imagine trying to live life there.

Even when I was there 20 years ago, the landscape was beginning to change in a way that was unrecognizable to those who had lived there for decades. I learned quickly within my first 24 hours on the West Bank.

I was being driven by a Anglican sister from Ramallah to an Arab village a few miles away that she had know well for many years. But as she neared where the road to the village should have been, she couldn't find it. A road constructed for an Isreali settlement blotted out the familiar landmarks. Somehow we ended up on the Isreali road heading to the Jewish settlement and I begin to hear her say strange things under her breath as she tried to turn around within sight of the settlement. It went like this:

"Don't shoot. We are just turning around. Don't shoot. We are just turning around."

It took a few moments for the reality of our situation to dawn upon my pampered American brain. What on earth was she talking about? Who gets shot at for making a simple three point turn about on a road with no traffic on it?

Unless, of course, you are in a car with a tell-tell Palestinian license plate 400 yards from the entrance to the Jewish settlement. It was, shall we say, a wake-up call.

Ramallah was a 20 minute drive, via a jammed Arab taxi complete with beaded hangings and Arabic music, from the old city of Jerusalem. That drive is not possible today.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Caroline Chisholm - Australian Saint?

Clara, co-Director of our Australian office, sent me this article from the Sydney Morning Herald about Catholic lay woman and heroine, Caroline Chisholm. Caroline's cause is being opened on this bi-centennial of her birth.

We tell Caroline's story at every Called & Gifted workshop since she is such a brilliant example of the charism of wisdom. Caroline basically invented the employment agency. She found jobs and set wages and working conditions for 11,000 single emigrant women whose passage to Australia was paid by the British government which failed to make provision for them when they arrived on the dock in Sydney.



Clara is an authority on Caroline Chisholm and has been championing her cause for years. For more information, check out this BBC report on Caroline's remarkable life.

The Fingerpuppet Guide to Life on the Road and Graduate Theological Education

It was a wonderfully rich and blessed trip to Detroit although fraught with all sorts of unexpected snafus and roadblocks.

Things started out with a bang when I turned on my laptop in the CS airport at 5:45 am and all I got was the blue screen of death. My presentation at Sacred Heart was on Powerpoint slides which I had put some real work into and I had no other notes or hand-outs with me. Eeecckk!

But it was too late to leave the airport or even have another laptop delivered to me. My plane was about to board. Fortunately, I had a copy of my presentation on a memory stick so all I had to do was find another laptop with Powerpoint in Detroit and I would be ready to roll.

My host, Renewal Ministries, hunted for another laptop but no one on staff used Powerpoint. So I nabbed a yellow legal pad in case I needed to rough out some notes by which to do my presentation on Wednesday. But miraculously that afternoon at the hotel, my computer seemed to work fine!

I had dinner with Ralph Martin and Peter Herbeck in Ann Arbor and it was fascinating to see how our work had been parallel to each other although we had never met. There were lots of connections made and it was a lot of fun. It as especially fun to talk about the global missionary scene since I so seldom know Catholics who are knowledgable about missions. Renewal Ministries currently works in 27 countries.

Wednesday morning, I was off to be filmed for a TV show for the first time. Ralph has been doing these shows for 35 years so he is very relaxed and it was completely painless. I understand that this show will broadcast on EWTN next summer on "The Choices We Face".

Then we left immediately for Detroit and Sacred Heart seminary seminary where Ralph Martin heads up the STL/MA program in the New Evangelization. I got to have lunch with old friend from St. Dominic's in San Francisco (and fellow denizen of St. Blog's) Tim Ferguson who is both a canon lawyer and judge (his classmates would tease him "here come de judge" as they walked by) and a student in the STL program in the New Evangelization. Tim introduced me to Ed Peters, yet another blogger, who teaches canon law at Sacred Heart (Ed and Tim were talking shop)

Ralph sent out an all points bulletin to the students and faculty to come hear my talk so we had a number of visitors in the class (Evangelization Methodologies) including Janet Smith who also teaches at Sacred Heart, whom I was delighted to meet and Matthew Hill, who had attended Making Disciples in Colorado last August. (Scroll down and take a look at this fun interview that Ralph did with Janet Smith last year)

All seemed to be ready to go - computer was working and all was right with the world when . . .the power went out 10 minutes before class began! So I got to teach in the darkened classroom using my computer for prompts until the batteries died and then I just ad libbed. (In a jam, I recommend finger puppets and a bit of drama to help substitute for those cool Powerpoint slides I had prepared) But I had really worked on preparing so the words came and, despite everything, the students seemed most appreciative.

Which was great because I had to quit 45 min early, pack up and Tim drove me to the airport in a hurry where I caught my plane and made it home by 11:18pm.

Ralph and Renewal Ministries are really interested in doing further collaboration with the Institute in a variety of interesting areas which should be both fun and fruitful. So all in all, it was blessed trip.

In my small way, I try to emulate the practice of St. Frances Cabrini when in a jam.

St. Frances, who worked one of her canonization miracles on a hill just above my old apartment in Seattle, was a world class traveling missionary and had developed a wonderful perspective on the inevitable snafus involved. She always said that when things got really difficult, God was about to do something especially wonderful.

There is one hair-raising story about her that I have little hope of emulating. She was riding on a train in the wild west when her train was held up by robbers. One robber fired a pistol at her pointblank through the window but the bullet dropped harmlessly to the floor beside her. Frances was unfazed and unsurprised.

After all, she noted calmly, hadn't she commended herself to the protection of the Sacred Heart?

An Interview with Cardinal Arinze

Our local diocesan paper interviewed the Cardinal while he was in town last month and Catholic is running the whole interview here. Cardinal Arinze, is currently serving as Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments

Be sure and read the whole thing but are a few excerpts:

CCH: What should be the primary focus for Catholics: evangelization, the culture of life vs. the culture of death, the sanctity of marriage?

CARDINAL ARINZE: All of these you have mentioned are serious concerns for the church worldwide. If you would allow me to put it in one word, it is evangelization; to carry out the mission Christ gave the church through his apostles. He said to them, "As my father sent me, I also send you." He also said to them, "All power is given to me on heaven and earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations. Baptize them. Teach them to observe whatever I have said to you." So, that's the mission of the church. It is always urgent.

One particular aspect may need more attention at a particular time. For if you ask me what would be most urgent, I would say the prayer life in the Church is very important. That has no substitute, so that remains a priority. But also, of course, the areas you mentioned remain very important.

Snip.

Our faith is not based on theories or opinions. Our faith is based on a solid rock of God’s revelation: the holy Scripture, the tradition of the church, the teaching of the church which is alive in every age.

The church does not live in the museum. The church is alive today. Be with that church.<

Feast of the Forty English Martyrs

October 25 is the Feast of the 40 English Martyrs who died for the faith between 1535 and 1679.

This group does not include St. Thomas More (go here for the first post in our Thomas More and his family extravaganza. And then here )here, here, here, here, here, here,here, and here.

and does includes relatively well-known martyrs like Edmund Campion and Margaret Clitheroe whose story is here.

but also lesser known but remarkable people like Nicholas Owen, the ingenious designer/builder of priest hiding places in the great houses of England.


Here is a link to a long but fascinating article on the priest holes of England with many illustrations.

Owen gave himself up to distract attention from priests hiding nearby and although he was exempt from torture under English law because he was maimed, was, in fact, tortured to death. Father Gerard wrote of him: "I verily think no man can be said to have done more good of all those who laboured in the English vineyard. . . . He was the immediate occasion of saving the lives of many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular."

Someday I would love to leave a pilgrimage to Britain, focusing entirely upon the remarkable lay contribution to the Catholic underground of the 16th and 17th centuries when English prisons became amazing houses of formation for many lay people suffering for their faith. Margaret Clitheroe was taught to read by a priest in prison and given one of her greatest treasures: a copy of the newly minted English language Douai Bible there. Her Bible still survives and can be seen at the Bar Convent museum in York.

Muslim Conversions to Christianity

An interesting article appeared in Christianity Today online yesterday on the conversion of Muslims to Christianity. J. Dudley Woodberry is professor of Islamic studies at the School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, and served in the Muslim world for many years.

Since a reader had posted a query as to why Roman Catholics were not participating in a meeting on evangelization of Muslims, I thought it would be good to print the bulk of this article. It demonstrates the variety of ways in which Muslims are being drawn to Christ. The same means are also true for other non-Christians who seek baptism. The most important reason is the one that most Catholics are comfortable with – the witness of a truly Christian life (now how many Catholics are living exemplary Christian lives that are powerful witness to the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit is another topic altogether…). But the other ways in which God has been at work in the lives of Muslim converts to Christianity are startling: answered prayers, miraculous cures, dreams and visions, exorcism, and the power of the Gospel message of God's faithful love. Dissatisfaction with the way they experienced Islam, especially when it was enforced by the state, was another significant reason that Muslims turned away from their faith and embraced Christianity.

"So what attracts Muslims to follow Jesus? Between 1991 and 2007, about 750 Muslims who have decided to follow Christ filled out an extensive questionnaire on that basic question. The respondents—from 30 countries and 50 ethnic groups—represent every major region of the Muslim world. (Copies of the questionnaire are available from dudley@fuller.edu.) The participants ranked the relative importance of different influences and whether they occurred before, at the time of, or after their decision to follow Christ. While the survey, prepared at Fuller Theological Seminary's School of Intercultural Studies, does not claim scientific precision, it provides a glimpse into some of the key means the Spirit of God is using to open Muslim hearts to the gospel.

Seeing a lived faith
First, we can look at the experiences that most influenced Muslims. For example, respondents ranked the lifestyle of Christians as the most important influence in their decision to follow Christ. A North African former Sufi mystic noted with approval that there was no gap between the moral profession and the practice of Christians he saw. An Egyptian contrasted the love of a Christian group at an American university with the unloving treatment of Muslim students and faculty he encountered at a university in Medina. An Omani woman explained that Christians treat women as equals. Others noted loving Christian marriages. Some poor people said the expatriate Christian workers they knew had adopted, contrary to their expectations, a simple lifestyle, wearing local clothes and observing local customs of not eating pork, drinking alcohol, or touching those of the opposite sex. A Moroccan was even welcomed by his former Christian in-laws after he underwent a difficult divorce.

Many Muslims who faced violence at the hands of other Muslims did not see it in the Christians they knew (regrettably, of course, Christians have been guilty of interethnic strife elsewhere). Muslim-on-Muslim violence has led to considerable disillusionment for many Muslims, from those who survived the 1971 war between the Bengalis of East Pakistan and the Pathans, Sindis, and Punjabis of West Pakistan, to Arab and Berber tensions in North Africa, and to Arab herdsmen fighting black African farmers in Darfur.

The next most important influence was the power of God in answered prayers and healing. Like most of the factors that former Muslims list, experiences of God's supernatural intervention often increase after Muslims decide to follow Christ.
In North Africa, Muslim neighbors asked Christians to pray for a very sick daughter who then was healed. In Senegal, a Muslim marabout (spiritual leader) referred a patient to Christians when he was not able to bring healing. In Pakistan, after a pilgrimage to Mecca did not cure a disabled Shiite girl, she was healed following Christian prayer.

Closely related was the finding that some noted deliverance from demonic power as another reason they were attracted to Jesus. After all, he is the healing prophet in the Qur'an and has power over demons in the Gospels. In northern Nigeria, a malam (what some might call a witchdoctor) used sorcery against a man who was considering following Jesus. The seeker became insane, and his extended family left him. But then he prayed that Christ would free him, and he was healed.

It helps to note that a third of the 750-person sample were folk Muslims, with a characteristic concern for power and blessings. It is also worth noting that the Jesus portrayed in the Qur'an is a prophet who heals lepers and the blind and raises the dead. Not surprisingly, many Muslims find him attractive. Of course, power and blessings do not constitute the final word for Muslims. The Bible also offers a theology of suffering, and many Muslims who follow Christ find that their faith is strengthened through trials.

The third biggest influence listed by respondents was dissatisfaction with the type of Islam they had experienced. They expressed unhappiness with the Qur'an, which they perceive as emphasizing God's punishment more than his love (although the Qur'an says he loves those who love him [3:31]). As for Islam's requirement that liturgical prayer should be in Arabic, a Javanese man asked, "Doesn't an all-knowing God know Indonesian?" Others criticized folk Islam's use of amulets and praying at the graves of dead saints.

Some respondents decried Islamic militancy and the imposition of Islamic law, which they said is not able to transform hearts and society. This disillusionment is broad in the Muslim world. Many Iranians became interested in the gospel after the Khomeini revolution of 1979 brought in rule by clergy. Pakistanis became more receptive after President Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988) tried to implement Islamic law. And Afghans became more open after Islamist Taliban conquest and rule (1994-2001).

As with Paul and Cornelius in Acts, visions and dreams played a role in the conversion of many. More than one in four respondents, 27 percent, noted dreams and visions before their decision for Christ, 40 percent at the time of conversion, and 45 percent afterward. Many Muslims view dreams as links between the seen and unseen worlds, and pre-conversion visions and dreams often lead Muslims to consult a Christian or the Bible. Frequently a person in the vision, understood to be Jesus, radiates light or wears white (one respondent, though, said Jesus appeared in green, a color sometimes associated with Islamic holy persons). An Algerian woman had a vision that her Muslim grandmother came into her room and said, "Jesus is not dead; he is here." In Israel, an Arab dreamed that his deceased father said, "Follow the pastor. He will show you the right way." Other dreams and visions occurred later and provided encouragement during persecution. A Turkish woman in jail because of her conversion had a vision that she would be released, and she was. A vision of thousands of believers in the streets proclaiming their faith encouraged a young man in North Africa to persevere.

The message is the medium
Next in attraction for Muslims is the spiritual truth in the Bible. The Qur'an attests that the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospel (commonly understood as the New Testament) are from God. Even though Muslims are generally taught that these writings became corrupted, they often find them compelling reading and discover truth that they conclude must be from God. The Bible helped one Egyptian understand "the true character of God." The Sermon on the Mount helped convince a Lebanese Muslim that he should follow the one who taught and exemplified these values.

Respondents were also attracted by the Bible's teaching about the love of God. In the Qur'an, although God loves those who love him, his love is conditional. He does not love those who reject faith (3:31-32). There is nothing in the Qur'an like, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10), or, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).

A West African was surprised by God's love for all people, even enemies. Likewise, although the Qur'an denies that God is a father (37:152), many Muslims find this a comforting concept. Particularly attractive to Muslims is the love expressed through the life and teachings of Jesus. The Qur'an already calls him faultless (19:19). Many Muslims are attracted to him by his depiction in the Qur'an and then go to the Gospels to find out more. A Saudi was first drawn to him at a Christmas Eve service in Germany—even before he knew German. Like many, an Iranian Shiite was attracted to Christ before he was attracted to Christianity. A North African Sufi found Jesus' portrayal as the Good Shepherd particularly meaningful. When Christ's love transforms committed Christians into a loving community, many Muslims listed a desire to join such a fellowship as next in importance.

Subconscious influences
For the most part, respondents did not say that political or economic circumstances influenced their decisions. But it's hard not to notice that Iranians, Pakistanis, Afghans, Bangladeshis, and Algerians became more responsive after enduring Muslim political turmoil or attempts to impose Islamic law. Christian relief and development agencies try hard to guard against spiritually misusing their position as providers of desperately needed goods and services. But natural disasters in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Sahel region inevitably put Muslims in contact with Christians trying to follow Jesus. It is no surprise that some of these Muslims also choose to follow Christ.

In many places, apostasy [from Islam] is tantamount to rejecting family, religion, culture, ethnicity, and nationality. Thus, many Muslim converts face persecution from family, police, or militants. Two friends were unable to fill out the questionnaire—one because he was apparently poisoned by his own family, the other because the government imprisoned him and later his tongue was cut out by a warlord so that he could no longer say the name of Jesus.

But Muslim converts to Christ know that such persecution can, in a mysterious way, be part of the best of times. Jesus, in fact, said it was a blessing. That's because with or without persecution, Muslims are discovering an experiential truth unknown to them before. As a Zambian Muslim exclaimed, 'God loves me just as I am.'"

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Six Degrees of Separation


It's great to see the power of the charisms, technology and personal relationships converge and form a new apostolate. Friend of the Siena Institute, Joanne Wakim, has launched a new nonprofit, Catholic Global Impact (CGI). CGI makes the six degrees of separation between the world's 1 billion Catholics an asset in being agents of God's transforming love. Check them out!

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Mother Teresa's Dark Night


Michael Gerson, a journalist writing for the Washington Post, wrote a short piece on Mother Teresa's letters published last September. I remember there was consternation on the part of some folks who believed that Mother Teresa would not have wanted her private pain to be so public. And yet, they may be exactly what we in the developed world need to hear. Christians in the US and other affluent nations are used to comfort and physical blessings, and it's natural to presume that these are signs of God's favor. Many are the times I've had pastoral counseling sessions with people who told me they were losing their faith because they or loved ones had encountered misfortune, because God didn't seem to be answering their prayers, or because some aspect of the Gospel or the Church's teaching based on the Scriptures seemed difficult or "out of touch with reality."

Perhaps we Western Christians need to hear of Mother Teresa's personal sorrow and sense of abandonment. It makes her decision to follow Christ's call to her all the more poignant. Gerson seems to cut to the heart of the matter as he describes how Mother Teresa came to understand her own suffering in a profoundly Christian way. A selection of his article follows. The entire article can be linked in the title of this post....



Eventually, on the evidence of the letters, Mother Teresa made peace with her darkness, identifying her own anguish with the suffering of her Savior and the suffering of the poor. "Now it does not really seem so hard," she eventually concluded. But she never regained the subjective religious experiences of her youth. "If ever I become a saint," she said, "I will surely be one of 'darkness.' "

There are lessons in this complicated spiritual life -- that holiness has more to do with obedience than spiritual feelings; that faith can coexist with suffering and doubt; that sainthood can be harsher and more difficult than we imagine.

But Mother Teresa's sense of abandonment raises a deeper issue. Assuming, for a moment, that she was not self-deluded in her calling, what kind of God would set such a difficult path -- ministering to lepers and outcasts for a lifetime -- and then withdraw his presence? Mother Teresa herself seemed to struggle with this unfairness: "What are you doing My God to one so small?"

There is no easy answer here, but the question is central to the Christian faith. Other noble religious traditions promise serenity, detachment from striving and release from the suffering of the world. Christianity, in contrast, teaches that grace is found in the worst of that suffering, and through a figure who despairs of God's presence in his parting words. This anguish is not convenient -- "Why hast Thou forsaken me?" is hardly the best religious marketing slogan. But for millennia this abandonment has offered hope that God might somehow be present even in shame, loneliness and betrayal, even on the descending path of depression, even in the soul's hardness and doubt, even in the silence of God himself -- and that all these things may be the preface to glory.

Through her pain-filled letters, Mother Teresa offers this assurance: Even when all we have to offer is ashes, and all we feel is emptiness, something beautiful may come of it in the end. But her decades of lonely sorrow are not an easy source of comfort. And Graham Greene might have been speaking of this abandoned mystic when he wrote: "You can't conceive, my child, nor can I or anyone the . . . appalling . . . strangeness of the mercy of God."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cardinal Arinze: Potential Called & GIfted Teacher

On September 23, Francis Cardinal Arinze spoke at Holy Apostles Church in Colorado Springs on "The Apostolate Specific to the Lay Faithful." Unfortunately, I was out of town and unable to attend. However, I was able to get a copy of his lecture, and I have summarized it below, with many quotations and a few observations of my own. The content of his lecture is remarkably similar to the Friday evening portion of the Called & GIfted workshop designed by Sherry Weddell and Fr. Michael Sweeney.

His talk was divided into seven brief sections:
1. what is the Church's mission?
2. who are the lay faithful
3. the foundation of the apostolate specific to the lay faithful
4. areas in which the lay faithful will need to be particularly engaged
5. involvement of the laity within Church communities
6. collaboration between clergy and laity
7. lay spirituality necessary to reap the fruits hoped-for in the apostolate


Mission
"For this the Church was founded; that by spreading the kingdom of Christ everywhere for the glory of God the Father, … the whole world might in actual fact be brought into relationship with him." (Apostolicam Actuositatem [AA], 2) Everything the Church does in pursuit of this goal is called the apostolate, or the mission of the Church.

Every member of the Church has a share in this apostolate. There are no spectator Christians. 'By its very nature the Christian vocation is also a vocation to the apostolate'" AA,2

Who are the laity?
"The lay faithful, clerics and the religious or people in the consecrated state all have a share in the apostolate of the Church. Negatively, the laity are those not ordained and not in a religious community. "Positively, and more importantly, the lay faithful are those Christians who by Baptism are made one body with Christ, are given a share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly functions of Christ, and are sent to carry out their own part in the mission of the whole Christian people with respect to the Church and the world."

"A secular quality is proper and special to the laity, and this distinguishes them from clerics and religious. The laity, by their very vocation, seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God…The laity…are called to live and work in the midst of the secular professions and occupations, to offer them to God, and to give witness to Christ in these arenas as insiders, acting from within."

Foundation of the Lay Apostolate
The foundation is the sacraments of initiation which incorporate the individual into the body of Christ and through which Christ commissions the individual to the apostolate.
"Each layperson can therefore say: 'I am commissioned and sent to carry out the lay apostolate by Baptism, strengthened in Confirmation and nourished by the Holy Eucharist. The other Sacraments received by the laity also empower me. Matrimony gives spouses the graces they need to witness to Christ in that state of life.'

He specifically singled out Baptism as the beginning and foundation of new life in Christ. As priests, lay people offer spiritual worship for the glory of God and the sanctification of people, and their lives are offered at Mass with Christ through the ordained priest. In their prophetic ministry, he said, the laity "evangelize the world from within, beginning in the family (cf Lumen Gentium [LG], 35). In their kingly role, they "seek to permeate the world by the spirit of Christ so that it more effectively achieves its purpose in justice, charity and peace. To discharge this role, the lay faithful will need to acquire competence in the secular fields, to know how to promote greater justice in society and a better distribution of earthly goods, and how to change social structures that promote evil or sin."

To call the lay apostolate "secular" is not to say that somehow it is less holy than the priesthood. It means first of all that sociologically the laity live in the secular sphere. But theologically, "secular" means that that is the part of life "where God has called them to live and work from the inside, to give witness to Christ there, and to sanctify it" in the manner of salt, leaven and light.

The Specific Nature of the Lay Apostolate
"The apostolate specific to the lay faithful is the evangelization, or Christianization, or animation of the temporal or secular order." Quoting Christifideles Laici [CL], 15, he said, "The 'world' thus becomes the place and the means for the lay faithful to fulfill their Christian vocation, because the world itself is destined to glorify God the Father in Christ."

Cardinal Arinze rightly points out that we are not attempting to establish a theocracy, because the things of this world "not only can help towards the attainment of our final end, but also possess their own intrinsic value. They take on special dignity because they are related to the human person."

The lay person at work, at leisure, in the family, and in the culture lives out his or her faith only insofar as they "organize these affairs in such a way that they may always start out, develop, and persist according to Christ's mind, to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer" (LG, 31)

Some Areas calling for lay Apostolate
The Cardinal mentioned marriage and family – but emphasized that this apostolate extends beyond the home into the political realm and in the mass media so that family life and marriage are protected and good schools provided for all.

In the area of work, the apostolate is normally of "like to like. The apostles of doctors are to be doctors. Teachers are to be evangelized by their colleagues. Dock-workers are to be brought to Christ by dock-workers."

Mass media are other areas ripe for the lay apostolate: the press, radio, television, the internet, the entertainment industry, advertising and communications in general are the challenging fields 'ripe for the harvest.' The same is true for the world of politics and science, particularly biotechnology.

Different Roles of the Laity within Church Communities
Within the Church community, the laity are indispensable in the celebration of the liturgy, working as catechists, serving on parish and diocesan councils and participating in various lay movements. When ordained ministers are not available, a liturgical role can be entrusted to a lay person, but "the Church gains nothing from efforts to clericalize the laity or to laicize the clergy."

He pointed out that at times the laity don't feel sufficiently integrated into Church structures, and where that is true "the situation should be studied and remedied, with all due respect for the nature of the Church as willed by our Lord, her Founder." But at other times, the perception may come from a situation in which the vital apostolate to the world has been ignored and/or forgotten.

Collaboration between Laity and Clergy
The effectiveness of the lay faithful in carrying out their apostolate both in the temporal order and in the Church, requires collaboration between clergy and laity.
"The lay faithful have the right to receive from the clerics the Word of God and the Sacraments. They should reveal to their pastors their needs and desires. They are free to express their opinion in matters touching the Church. Sometimes, by reason of their special competence, they are bound to do so through the proper channels and always with respect…
The pastors, on their part, are to recognize and promote the dignity and responsibility of the laity, to welcome their advice and collaboration, to assign them duties in Church communities, to encourage them to take initiatives on their own especially in society, and to 'respectfully acknowledge that just freedom which belongs to everyone in this earthly city.' While everyone in the Church is to strive to work with the gifts or charisms that the Holy Spirit has bestowed for the good of the whole Church, the pastors 'must make a judgment about the true nature and proper use of these gifts, not in order to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good." (AA, 3)

(my comment) This paragraph makes a potent argument for the nature of the charisms to be taught in seminary, and for clerical candidates and those preparing for pastoral ministry to know their own charisms. How can I as a priest 'make a true judgment about the true nature and proper use' of the charisms if I don't know what the signs of a charism are, how they are manifested, and what their effects are?

Lay Apostolate Spirituality
The lay apostolate begins with union with Christ, apart from whom we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). This life is nourished by the sacraments, the study of Scripture, deliberately following Christ and "concretized and manifested in love of neighbor and solidarity with the needy." Yet it is a spirituality distinct from the spirituality of the monk or nun. It is shaped by the encounter with secular society and directs the lay person back into that milieu. The temptation for any person in the apostolate, cleric or lay, is pride. "The gifts that God has lavished upon us – talents, health, learning, high position, achievement – are for God's work, not for our self enjoyment."

Furthermore, if we are to have an impact in this world of ours, "The lay apostle has to learn to work with others. There are many complicated and difficult apostolates which cannot be carried out by individuals alone, but only by organized groups marked by discipline, self-forgetfulness and readiness to sacrifice one's opinion for the sake of a greater good.

(my comment) This seems to me to be a real challenge for us as Catholics. We seem to lack the imagination to work together towards a goal, unless it is within an already established apostolate like the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Even within lay groups like the Knights of Columbus, lay affiliates of religious orders (like the Dominican laity), or Opus Dei, our tendency seems to be to work primarily as individuals. When these groups do work on a common project, so often it is directed within the Church community – as catechists, or providers of pancake breakfasts, or liturgical ministers. Those are fine, but perhaps we priests need to challenge the laity to work together to change secular society – and provide the spiritual and emotional support that truly secular apostles will undoubtedly need.

I was delighted to read Cardinal Arinze's lecture and to be reassured that the Institute's understanding of the VCII documents regarding the nature of the laity and their apostolate is "spot on." I'm glad the tune is being sung by more and more Catholic clergy and laity these days!

A Matter of Perspective

I called my friend, Anna Elias-Cesnik, one of the faithful editors of the CSI e-Scribe, last night. Anna and her husband, Mark, teach the Called & Gifted workshop for the Institute, and live a few blocks from me in Tucson, AZ. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I had had to drive through a hard snowfall Sunday morning to a couple of small towns outside Colorado Springs, and that snow still blanketed much of the area.

Her gasp of horror was not too surprising. "Oh," I said, "no snow yet in Tucson?"

"Not at all," she said. "We're having a beautiful October. Not like normal when it's so terribly hot, and you're sick of the heat after the long, long summer. It's even chilly this evening. I had to put a sweater on."

"Really," I said, "How cold has it been?"

Pause.

"Upper 80's, low 90's."

Reminder to self: take sunscreen home for Thanksgiving.

The Rockies: Altitude with Character

Fascinating New York Times piece this am on the highly religious esprit de coeur of our Rockies baseball team:

The role of religion within the Rockies’ organization first entered the public sphere in May 2006, when an article published in USA Today described the organization as adhering to a “Christian-based code of conduct” and the clubhouse as a place where Bibles were read and men’s magazines, like Maxim or Playboy, were banned.

The article included interviews with several players and front office members, but team players and officials interviewed this week said it unfairly implied that the Rockies were intent on constructing a roster consisting in large part of players with a strong Christian faith. Asked how his own Christian faith affected his decision-making, General Manager Dan O’Dowd acknowledged it came into play, but not in a religious way. He said it guided him to find players with integrity and strong moral values, regardless of their religious preference.

“Do we like players with character? There is absolutely no doubt about that,” O’Dowd said during a recent interview in his Coors Field office. “If people want to interpret character as a religious-based issue because it appears many times in the Bible, that’s their decision. I believe that character is an innate part of developing an organization, and to me, it is nothing more than doing the right thing at the right time when nobody’s looking. Nothing more complicated than that.

“You don’t have to be a Christian to make that decision.”

Even if the Rockies are not consciously doing it, reliever Matt Herges, playing for his seventh organization, said the team had the highest concentration of devout Christians he had seen during his nine major league seasons.

Every Sunday, about 10 people gather for chapel, according to reliever Jeremy Affeldt, and Tuesday afternoon Bible study sessions usually attract seven or eight players. Affeldt said players discussed life and their families as well as scripture.

“Certain guys attend chapel, certain guys don’t,” outfielder Cory Sullivan said. “I don’t think that’s any different from how it is in any other major league clubhouse. Nothing’s shoved down your throats.”

On the whole, players were relaxed in speaking about their religious convictions but said that faith was not a requirement for peer approval. The Rockies, who will face the Red Sox in the World Series beginning Wednesday, care more about whether a teammate plays hard, is unselfish and treats everyone with respect.


Maybe we really are closer to God here ????? :-}

Is There A Thomist in the House?

Oh great, high, and worthy Thursday Night Gumbo, master of metaphysics and the mysteries of the universe. One can only meditate in silence upon your question:

I think it's time to discuss a really important question: Why, when the Colorado Rockies have already proven that they can take two out of three from the Red Sox and beat Josh Beckett, are they still underdogs in the World Series?

Is there a Thomist position on that one???


Fr Mike?

Monday, October 22, 2007

P. G. Wodehouse to the Rescue!

I had planned a little Wodehouse fest yesterday but alas our webserver was down all day.

It made me feel a bit like Percy, my twin brother, who died tragically years ago. I thought of the words inscribed on Percy's tombstone: Percy continued to stare before him like a man who has drained the wine cup of life to its lees, only to discover a dead mouse at the bottom.

I had dreamed of a entire day dedicated to the art of the master and my frustration grew until I couldn't stand to keep working away on my Detroit presentation. I started pacing as I often do when distressed. Unexpectedly, Fr. Mike dropped by to pick up some notes from our last meeting. As he told a friend later I could see that she was looking for something to break as a relief to her surging emotions ... and courteously drew her attention to a terra-cotta figure of the Infant Samuel at Prayer. She thanked me briefly and hurled it against the opposite wall.

Then Fr. Mike encouraged me in his usual compassionate way:Why don't you get a haircut? You look like a chrysanthemum.

As we talked, I was startled by a loud, sudden noise.The drowsy stillness of the afternoon was shattered by what sounded to my strained senses like G. K. Chesterton falling on a sheet of tin.

Fr. Mike, who used to work out religiously but was forced to give it up under the pressure of constant travel for the Institute, turned suddenly to see what caused the noise. I noticed that the lunches of fifty-seven years had caused his chest to slip down to the mezzanine floor.

We ran out of the house to find a large woman had been hit glancingly by a passing car and was sitting on the curb, gasping and furious, her face red and distraught. She looked like a tomato struggling for self-expression.

All in all, it was a trying afternoon. When it was all over and Fr. Mike was just about to leave, he turned and said thoughtfully: "I know that you wonder why you have so little name recognition. Have you ever considered changing your name to something more marketable like "She On Whom It Is Unsafe To Try Any Oompus-Boompus?"

Can no one rid me of this Dominican? I retreated back into the house and settled down with a badly needed gin and tonic. If only I had a lorgnette handy at moments like that! I knew that England was littered with the shrivelled remains of curates at whom a lady bishopess had looked through her lorgnette. I had seen them wilt like salted snails at the episcopal breakfast table.

It was then that I turned again to the one source of comfort that has never failed me in times of distress: The random Wodehouse quote generator.

Let me recommend it to you. When reading a P. G. Wodehouse quote, the slug is on the bloom and all is right with the world.

I'm Off to Detroit

I'm off on a little two day trip to Detroit. I'll be filmed for Ralph Martin's TV show "The Choices We Make" and then will have the fun of teaching an afternoon class for 27 grad students in the STL/MA program in the New Evangelization at Sacred Heart Seminary.

I'll also get to reconnect with fellow blogger Tim Ferguson whom I knew at St. Dominic's in San Francisco and who is now a canon lawyer and STL student at Sacred Heart. And spend some time with Ralph Martin who I have wanted to talk to for years because his knowledge of the breadth and depth of the Church is pretty nearly unsurpassed - especially for a layman.

Back Thursday. I leave you in Fr. Mike's and Br. Matthew and Keith's ever competent hands till then.

Do Something about Breast Cancer!

My friend, Patricia Armstrong, is, so far, a breast cancer survivor. Each year in October, she's asked by her local paper, the Eugene (OR) Register-Guard, to write an opinion piece on cancer awareness month. Below is this year's offering from her enormous heart and talented pen. Because I know she's a faithful reader of this blog, I want to add a few preliminary words of my own.

Pat and Rich, her husband, are wonderful people! Married over fifty years (she's counting more carefully than I am), they are inspiring models of mutual, self-giving love, and by their example have taught this celibate a thing or two about the kind of love that enables one to "lays down his/her life for a friend." Pat's battle with cancer has been epic. Guerilla warfare, all-out nuclear strikes, terrorist attacks - all the metaphors apply in one way or another. In the middle of the turmoil, Pat has also acted as journalist; chronicling the attacks and counter-attacks in poetry and prose that has expressed the thoughts, desires, hopes, and despair of many, many women and men who have experienced the same battles. One of my favorites is a collection of poetry titled, "Daring to Dance, Refusing to Die," which sums up Pat's attitude wonderfully! From her public readings of her widely published poetry, short fiction and essays, Pat has raised thousands of dollars for breast cancer research. If you have a spare prayer, you might ask the Lord to give some publisher enough guts to publish her wonderful novel, "The Fattest Woman in Ireland." Every publisher who reads it loves it, but she's not a well-known novelist - at least not yet. I'd prefer that the literary awards she'd receive for it not be given posthumously.

She has served as the confidante of priests and lay ministers, as muse to a gifted local writer (who I'll call, "what's-his-name," since that's how he has referred to me). With her husband, Rich, she has helped pastors at St. Thomas More Newman Center in Eugene prepare couples for the sacrament of marriage - and has continued to support and encourage them after their marriage. Three young women who serve meals at the Eugene Hotel where she and Rich live have been talked into going to college by Pat. Her powers of persuasion are prodigious. (How's that for alliteration??) She has consented to be an editor of the bi-monthly e-Scribe I try to cobble together, and has shown the utmost patience with my prediliction to constantly use split infinitives.*

But enough from me - now you can read for yourself. But don't just read this note about breast cancer; DO SOMETHING about breast cancer! I know Pat and Rich would encourage you to pray for those who have the disease, their loved ones, cancer caregivers, and researchers seeking a cure. She just couldn't ask for that in a secular newspaper.


OCTOBER: BREAST CANCER "BEWARENESS"

Your attention, please! We're back in the PINK again. It's October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a calendar commemoration, as with so many other worthy reminders, that must not be minimized, yet I muse continuously: where does the AWARENESS go for the other eleven months?

Q. Do we engage in some form of denial or benevolent amnesia?

A. No way! Not those of us with this damnable disease or our caregivers and loved ones.
Not we chickens (and some roosters, too) who follow our physicians' game plans with hopeful, if enervating endurance.

I've written in this same autumnal space before and, despite all predictions since my first dire diagnosis in 1992, I am still attached to the operative word "survival." I still dance the figurative hesitation waltz of treatments and some times horrific side effects, and I often feel almost apologetic for surviving this long. More than once in the past four years my local columnist friend has described me in print as "dying." Humor as my ultimate refuge, I chide him "Oh, isn't everyone?" True, there is a small inoperable alp on my already heavily radiated spine. (If one's cancer originates in a breast, the subsequent malignancies remain breast cancer in origin even if they travel to skeletal and/or visceral sites.)

And so this October I think the reminder should have an added focus, namely: Breast Cancer BEWARENESS Month! Consider the more than 40,000 women in this country we will lose again this year. Factor in the millions more who are in treatment now and perhaps a million who have not yet been diagnosed. Globally, the statistics haven't budged in the past two years. Someone, male or female, succumbs to breast cancer every 90 seconds.

This past year there were days when I almost felt part of something quite acceptably fashionable and grateful for the openness of women such as Elizabeth Edwards, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge and TV's Robin Roberts, following the revelations of previous headliners like Nancy Reagan and Betty Ford. Because of their various open testimonies, cancer organizations and treatment centers reported an upswing in requests for mammograms and other information. A salvo of PINK for such honest witnessing!

Sure, early detection is the ideal with frequent self-exams and mammograms, perhaps the latter scans from an earlier age than many doctors suggest. But later detection is NOT an automatic death sentence. New clinical trials are ongoing and there are continuous reviews and modifications of dosages. There is medical progress, AWARENESS. For example, an emphasis of the exacerbating role of alcohol consumption on already difficult side effects. And there is new, less uncomfortable mammography machinery (we gals have long thought this would have been invented decades earlier had men been in the majority for breast cancer!)

Websites are now a patient's adjunct tools of treatment. Without playing doctor, patients and those who care for and about them should check online information for all medicines prescribed, all protocols, preferably before doctors begin regimens; so intelligent questions can be asked and answered. We should be informed advocates, partners with our medical team. Physicians, no matter how specialized and board-certified, are not gods. More and more, I've learned that modern medicine is more art than science.

There is a plethora of websites. Every day I click on www.thebreastcancer.com/ (the PINK window in the middle). Corporate sponsors underwrite free mammograms using the number of visits to the site. Visit www.cancer.org/ and www.cancer.gov/ and cis.nci.nig.gov/. Patronize local merchants who give percentages of sales to Komen For the Cure or the American Cancer Society. Enhance AWARENESS by walking or running in the PINK periodic relays and races, including such local events as the Soroptimists' Walk for Life with pledges to help local women needing assistance with living expenses while they endure the effects of treatment. Wear the pink pins, buy the breast cancer stamps, volunteer for fund-raising. Reach out to diagnosed friends actively, offering rides to appointments, shoulders of compassion, humorous banter to distract from their onslaught.

I am in countdown, I know. But as a lifelong writer and fan of inspirational words, I offer this passage from Edith Wharton's "A Backward Glance:" "In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways..." Amen.



*THAT one was intentional, Pat!
However, I await the other corrections you'll have for me.

Great Canadian Catholics

Here's an intriguing website: CCHeritage: Dedicated to Canada's Christian Heritage.

This site features biographies of some of the giants of 17th century Canada who were affiliated with the French revival of that era:

Jean de Brébeuf, missionary to the Hurons, martyr, and patron saint of Canada;

Marie Guyart de l’Incarnation

Jeanne Mance

Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve

Marguerite Bourgeoys

and in the 20th century:

Georges and Pauline Vanier.

Unfortunately, many of the other biographies are not currently available.

Catholic Quote of the Day

. . . we should give serious thought as to how to achieve a true evangelization in this day and age, not only a new evangelization, but often a true and proper first evangelization.

People do not know God, they do not know Christ. There is a new form of paganism and it is not enough for us to strive to preserve the existing flock, although this is very important . . . I believe we must all try together to find new ways of bringing the Gospel to the contemporary world, of proclaiming Christ anew and of implanting the faith.”
- Address of Pope Benedict XVI to the German Bishops at World Youth Day

What Happened to Christian Canada?

Next year's Eucharistic Congress will take place in Quebec where local Catholic leaders are hoping that it will have the sort of impact that World Youth Day is expected to have in Sydney. It will be Quebec's 400th anniversary and organizers are hoping for a Mass of 100,000 on the plains of Abraham presided over by Pope Benedict.

This piece in Canada's Global National puts it this way:

"It's a sort of religious rock concert that Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the archbishop of Quebec, describes as a "religious and spiritual festival." And he believes this could revive the Roman Catholic faith that Quebecers have turned away from since the 1960s.

The International Eucharistic congress is slated for June 2008 and an outdoor mass that could be presided over by Pope Benedict will be the climax of the event. Some 15,000 delegates and 50 Cardinals from 60 countries will meet in Quebec to foster devotion to the eucharist, or mass.

"This will certainly be the culmination of our efforts to re-evangelize Quebec," said Ouellet.

"We have been preparing for this for years. There is a need in Quebec to reconnect with our Christian roots and to revive the Catholic identity," said Ouellet, the primate of the Church in Canada.

Quebec City is regarded as the cradle of French civilization in North America, but its role in the evangelization of the whole continent should also be celebrated, says Ouellet.

The provincial capital, the oldest diocese in Canada, was the gateway for the missionaries who went on to evangelize the continent. Fourteen of them have been beatified or canonized in the last 40 years, including Marie de l'Incarnation, a 17th-century nun who founded the Ursuline order in New France and converted natives, he added.

"There is a lot of criticism in the society now against the Catholic Church, and we need to be reminded of those positive values," Ouellet said.

Snip.

Cardinal Ouellet has invited Pope Benedict to the congress, but he doesn't know yet whether the pontiff will attend.


I visited the plains of Abraham back in my Protestant days where I witnessed a re-creation of the British victory in 1759 which made Quebec a part of the British empire. Quebec City is a beautiful and fascinating place where Catholicism once permeated all of life.

After 1627, only Catholics were allowed to live in Quebec province. Montreal, the biggest city of the province, was founded by lay missionaries (influenced by the 17th century French revival) to evangelize the Huron and Alonkian. The first period of Canadian life up to 1663 is sometimes regarded at the "mystic" or "theocrat" period since the Church was involved in most areas of community that we now expect governments to deal with.

Read this fascinating essay on Quebec's history. The harsh winter climate, disease, and the refusal of the French government to allow French Protestants to settle, meant that the colony remained much smaller than the British colonies south of it and so vulnerable to attack.

In 1774, partly in reaction to the looming rebellion in her colonies to the south, the British passed the Quebec Act, recognizing French law, language and the Catholic faith in the colony. American colonists, fearful of the establishment of Catholicism in Quebec, regarded the Quebec Act as one of the "Intolerable Acts" that gave rise to the First Continental Congress and the Revolution. English Canada was built by tens of thousands of Loyalist British subjects who moved to Quebec and settled among its 90,000 French inhabitants.

It was actually in the late 19th century that the practice of Catholicism reached unprecedented heights in Quebec. In 1840, only 50 -60% of French Catholics did their "Easter duty" (received communion at Easter), by 1896 the percentage was a staggering 98 - 99%! 18 new religious congregations were formed during this 60 year period and nearly 50% of those graduating from the many classical colleges became priests. Only Catholic schools were permitted in Quebec, the only form of marriage was Catholic.
The Church controlled health care, education, and charitable services. By the late 19th century, the Church had become the State in many ways.

The early 20th century was a time of intense Christianization of all aspects of French Catholic society. Dozens of Catholic colleges and associations, a vast number of social action groups - including a Catholic temperence movement led by the Church (oh my!) Catholic unions and cooperatives were actively supported by the Church. There were a number of strong Catholic newspapers and even a vast network of movie theatres in Church basements.

In the end, new media brought in outside influences and the Church, in any case, could not financially support and provide the personnel to staff all these institutions.

The essay ends with this poignant, sobering paragraph summing up Catholic fortunes since 1960.

The election of the Liberals of Jean Lesage in 1960 unleashed the floodgates of change. This change was so sudden and widespread that it received the name of Quiet Revolution. In this period of modernization of Quebec no institution was to suffer more than the Roman Catholic Church. Values, ideas and institutions from the past were all questioned; these had all been anchored by the Church. Language replaced Faith as the pillar of survival and distinctiveness of Quebec. The State took over schools and hospitals (all were to eventually be deconfessionalised) and churches nearly emptied completely. Within ten years Quebec went from being the province with the highest birthrate in Canada to having the lowest! The society became profoundly secularized and Church influence fell to nearly nothing.

From an article "Whatever happened to Christian Canada? by Mark Noll, the well-known evangelical scholar.
Listen to this description of Georges Vanier' installation as Governor General. (Georges was the father of Jean Vanier, founder of the L'Arche movement and is, with his wife, Pauline, a candidate for canonization)

On September 15, 1959, Georges Vanier was installed as Canada's nineteenth Governor-General, the Queen's formal representative in her Canadian dominion. Vanier, a much decorated general, diplomat, and active Roman Catholic, began his acceptance speech like this: "Mr. Prime Minister, my first words are a prayer. May Almighty God in his infinite wisdom and mercy bless the sacred mission which has been entrusted to me by Her Majesty the Queen and help me to fulfill it in all humility. In exchange for his strength, I offer him my weakness. May he give peace to this beloved land of ours and, to those who live in it, the grace of mutual understanding, respect and love."

Noll sums it up:

Put generally, in 1950 Canadian church attendance as a proportion of the total population exceeded church attendance in the United States by one-third to one-half, and church attendance in Quebec may have been the highest in the world. Today church attendance in the United States is probably one-half to two-thirds greater than in Canada, and attendance in Quebec is the lowest of any state or province in North America.

This inversion, and the history of the last sixty years that created it, could not have been imagined in the years immediately after the Second World War. At that time, the vigor of Canadian religious practice seemed entirely in keeping with the general trajectory of Canadian history. Not only was Canada more observant in religious practice and more orthodox in religious opinion than the United States, but these comparative results represented only the latest chapter in a remarkable history of christianization stretching back to the eighteenth century. That history began with the creation in Quebec of a full-orbed, organic Catholic society--grounded in the colonial period on the self-sacrificing labors of several religious orders (both male and female), subsequently renewed by devotional and institutional revivals in the mid-nineteenth century, and then sustained deep into the twentieth century by a hegemonic but still remarkably resilient blend of popular piety and clerical supervision.

Canada at the mid-twentieth century had a much stronger claim as a "Christian nation" than its large neighbor to the south.

What happened?

The Most Exclusive Blog in Town

No, we hadn't become the most exclusive blog in town. Our web server was down for nearly 24 hours (!) which is why you received the demand for log-on and password if you tried to view Intentional Disciples yesterday. We're delighted to be back up and will be posting soon.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Don't You Just Love Rocktober*?



It's a beautiful Rocktober* Day in Colorado.

(Non-Rockies fans may not grasp that the month between September and November has been renamed. And is being registered as a trademark. Seeing the Rockies still playing baseball in October is such a novel and unnerving experience.)

It's supposed to be 75 today so I'm going to be out and planting more bulbs. That's because it is supposed to be 39 and snowing tomorrow.

100 + more bulbs to plant in hard dry soil in and around established perennials. After my first trial last weekend, I went on line to discover the secret to planting lots of bulbs. Because those garden books I read talk lightly of planting 5,000 in one's yard. The defining moment was when I came across the story of a man who planted 400 bulbs with a pick-axe.

Precisely.

So I've bought a bulb auger, a sort of long dirt drill that you attach to your power drill. It's a miracle. It better be.

I also have to prepare the 400 sf bed for wildflowers.

I figure I can put the finishing touches on my Detroit presentations at Sacred Heart Seminary on Sunday. When it's snowing.

Catholic Video Evangelization - and Flannery

There was You tube, then God tube, now there's Love to be Catholic. Same idea: broadcase self-generated videos but only solidly Catholic stuff. It's just up so the content is meager but it is early days yet.

It's odd that Catholics who are historically the great artists and writers because our faith is sacramental, aren't nearly as creative in the video department. The Catholic videos that I've seen so far are essentially all straight catechesis or preaching or filmed liturgies - with or without music. Enthusiastic undoubtedly, triumphalist sometimes, but largely without imagination or humor.

They remind me very much of the earnest evangelical "art" that I grew up around. (I can still remember a professor comment with a bit of a shudder that so many of his Christian students thought that Carmen was great art).

Of course, Love To Be Catholic does market itself as an evangelization tool and I suppose that is the point. Evangelization is its own art form, in a sense, and great art is a different endeavor - the creation of beauty - although it certainly can have a powerful evangelical impact.

But it would be wonderful to see some Catholic videos that aren't just knock-offs of evangelial prototypes or EWTN. Where are the Flannery O'Connors of the new media?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Here Comes Everybody II

Per John Allen this morning in a article that is primarily about the distribution of Cardinals among the Catholic populations of the world but has some fascinating stats about the transformation of Catholicism during the course of the 20th century.

In 1900, there were 266 million Catholics in the world, 200 million of whom lived in Europe and North America. (75%)

Just a century later, there were 1.1 billion Catholics, only 380 million of whom were in Europe and North America with 720 million in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
The global South accounted for 25 percent of the Catholic population a century ago; today it's 67 percent and climbing.

Drawing on the most recent edition of the Annuario, the Vatican's official yearbook, the global Catholic population breaks down as follows: Latin America, 43 percent; Europe, 22 percent; Africa, 14 percent; Asia, 11 percent; North America, 8 percent; and Oceania, 2 percent.

Here's a projection of what the top ten Catholic countries on earth will be in 2050, as measured by population:

Brazil: 215 million
Mexico: 132 million
Philippines: 105 million
United States: 99 million (we are the largest Christian nation in the world but only the 4th largest Catholic country)
Democratic Republic of Congo: 97 million
Uganda: 56 million
France: 49 million
Italy: 49 million
Nigeria: 47 million
Argentina: 46.1 million

Catholic Culture(s): Here Comes Everybody

The huge influx of Poles into Britain since 2004 when Poland was admitted into the European Union is changing the face of British Catholicism and British life in dramatic ways. The New York Times has a colorful multi-media piece on Polish immigrants in London this morning.

500,000 Catholic immigrants over the past few years have made Catholic Church attendance take off. One London congregation was down to only 20 parishioners but suddenly had 1,400 in Mass on Sunday when they added a Portuguese Mass! In northern Ireland, where the police had been attempted to recruit more Catholic police officers because local Catholics mistrust the largely Protestant force, nearly 1000 Poles solved the problem by signing up.

Per the Washington Times:

"It is very, very good, but sometimes it can be difficult" to have so many parishioners, said Tadeusz Wyszomirski, a parish priest at Our Lady Mother of the Church in west London.

Even though he recently added a seventh Sunday Mass -- all of them are in Polish -- the large church with grand stained-glass windows still overflows at most services. Some people kneel in the aisles, others stand outside even in London's cold winter rain. Crowds also flock to the church's three daily Masses in Polish on weekdays.

"I hope it continues to grow," he said. But the five priests are very busy, he added, trying to keep up with all the weddings, baptisms and home visits to the sick.

At Sunday's 11:30 a.m. Mass, Marszalkowska stood outside, listening to prayers over loudspeakers with her 9-week-old baby and her father, who is visiting from Poland. She said she speaks both English and Polish but looks forward to hearing the Mass in her native language.

Afterward, she joined other churchgoers in the basement for tea and Polish pastries -- including huge slices of a very popular apple cake.

Monika Swierczyusko, who came here two years ago from Poland, was working behind the counter. She said she works in a factory six days a week and helps out at the church every Sunday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

"I don't understand people who don't like to go to church," she said, as another thousand people settled in upstairs for the next Mass.



There was much speculation last spring that Catholicism might become the dominant religion in Great Britain after 500 years of Protestant dominance.

Whether or not that happens, the new British Catholicism certainly won't be the Catholicism of, say, Brideshead Revisited. For one thing, the liturgical debates that have convulsed the Anglo world in recent decades have very little resonance for Poles. The Mass has been celebrated in the venacular in Poland since the 1940's with very little trauma. Just surviving in those days was traumatic enough. Dealing with the Nazis and the Communists and the death and deportation of 1/3 of your population tends to change your perspective on such things.

A lovely practice among Poles is to celebrate Christmas (and sing Christmas carols) for 40 days through Candlemas Day (February 2). What a wonderful thing it would be if that practice began to permeate the English speaking Catholic world!

One of the consequences of being a member of a truly world-wide faith at a time of globalization is change. The Poles and Portuguese are changing the face and practice of Catholicism in Britain today just as Hispanics and Vietnamese immigrants are changing the face of American Catholicism; just as Irish and German immigrants put their stamp on the American Church of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Our priorities, our debates, our practice and devotion will all be slowly transformed by the presence of the same faith shaped by a different historical experience and culture as their practice will slowly be changed by our traditions.

There is one Catholic faith but there are probably hundreds of Catholic "cultures" or "sensibilities". To talk of a single unitive Catholic "culture" as is so often done around St. Blog's is simply nonsense and is certainly not catholic.

There are as many Catholic cultures as there are Catholic peoples attempting to live and apply the one faith in the context of their own unique culture, history, time and place. Each unique Catholic culture will see, treasure, highlight, reverence, and celebrate different aspects of that one faith.

This wonderful diversity in a single communion is one of the great riches of living as a Catholic today. Catholicism in the 21st century does literally mean "here comes everybody."

Pray for Avery Cardinal Dulles

Pray for Avery Cardinal Dulles. This bulletin was issued October 5 and I haven't been able to find any other information about his illness on the web so I don't know how he is doing today.

I met and spent a little time with Cardinal Dulles in April at the Evangelical Catholic Conference where we were both speaking. He was very frail then, having just gotten out of the hospital after a long stay.

As I wrote on ID then:

But the most moving personal moment for me was meeting and spending a little time with Cardinal Avery Dulles. He is elderly and very frail now and walks with a four pronged cane, but still very sharp and possessing a lovely sense of humor. Very unpretentious - he simply introduced himself at breakfast as "Hello, I'm Avery Dulles". I got to sit at his small table at dinner and again at breakfast but the most memorable moment did not involve any words.

I visited the large, beautiful chapel before breakfast to spend a few minutes in adoration and found three other people there. Two students and Avery Dulles. He was alone, without his young priest assistant, who had been constantly at his side, steadying him throughout Mass and helping him ascend the podium. No longer able to kneel, he sat praying in a corner, his cane beside him.

The hidden source of all that wisdom.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sister Anne-Marie Kirmse, OP, Personal Assistant to His Eminence, Avery Cardinal Dulles, contacted the Diocesan Office of Catechesis with the news that Cardinal Dulles has developed a sudden neurological problem which has rendered speech near impossible. Therefore, with regret, it is announced that due to this sudden physical ailment, Avery Cardinal Dulles has canceled his visit to the Diocese of Lansing.
Cardinal Dulles' doctors have determined that he did not suffer a stroke; however, the origin of this neurological condition remains as yet unknown. He remains alert and able to communicate by writing. The Cardinal is undergoing testing to determine the exact nature of his condition and the correct course of treatment.

While asking your prayers for the Cardinal's restored health, I wish to emphasize that the Diocesan Catechetical Days will proceed as planned. The workshops and presentations are still being offered, as well as opportunities for catechist formation and enrichment. The full text of Cardinal Dulles' keynote address will be read by a priest of the Diocese of Lansing in his place.

Cardinal Dulles conveys his deep regret that he will not be able to join us, along with his hope that the Diocesan Catechetical Days will be blessed with much success and that they will provide inspiration and encouragement for all those who are engaged in this important ministry.

Michael E. Andrews
Director, Office of Catechesis
Roman Catholic Diocese of Lansing

Hat tip: Gashwin Gomes

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Layman Who Grew a Parish of 1,200

What a wonderful story of an extraordinarily creative and faithful lay apostle from Indian Catholic:

When Lingareddy Johannes Reddy came here as a teenager 63 years ago, the nearest Catholics were kilometers away.

Now, Mariapuram and five other villages served by Hyderabad archdiocese's Uminthal parish have more than 1,200 Catholics.

Archbishop Marampudi Joji of Hyderabad credits the 77-year-old Catholic layman for sowing and nurturing the Catholic faith almost on his own in an area of about 500 square kilometers.

Reddy related to UCA News that he was just 14 when his family moved here in 1944 from Guntur district, 300 kilometers southeast of Uminthal. The Reddys and two other Catholic families jointly bought about 60 hectares of land for cultivation, and they named the place Mariapuram (Mary's village).

A priest from neighboring Nalgonda diocese could visit only twice a year to administer sacraments and tend to other pastoral needs, Reddy recalled, but the Catholics later brought the priest on a bullock cart once a month for Mass.

Reddy remembered having no Bible when he began teaching villagers the basics of Catholicism. He said he learned the basics as a child from his father, who would explain them in the evenings after farm work. Reddy said he wanted to share the "strong Catholic faith and firm belief" he had inherited.

The villagers recognized his commitment and chose Reddy to lead their faith community when he was 16, with a fourth-grade education. In 1952, he married Jetrudamma, and their two daughters and six sons include a Jesuit priest.

Reddy's youngest son Bal remembers as many as 200 people attending his father's evening catechetical classes, which sometimes went beyond 10 p.m. Jetrudamma also taught prayers.

The layman's efforts bore fruit in 1968, when 170 people of Gattupally village were baptized. Archbishop Samineni Arulappa of Hyderabad sent five priests to conduct that ceremony. Ten years later, the archbishop sent Father T. Greenway, a Mill Hill missioner, to begin a mission in the area.

Reddy acknowledges that on his own he brought about 600 people from three neighboring villages to the Church. One village later became the base of Pargi parish and the home of Yesu Sneha Nilayam (abode of Christ's love) Church.

Reddy did not limit his service to preaching, his wife pointed out to UCA News. During a drought in 1972, she said, he distributed food items from U.S. Church aid agencies, and personally paid the transportation expenses.

Some villagers told UCA News about how Reddy has helped them. R. Rayappa, 50, a day laborer living in Manachanapally, said the lay leader obtains food for the poor, and even helps settle family problems and land disputes.

Sandaiah Doma, 52, a Catholic farmer in Gattupally, said Reddy conducted prayers in his village, which today has 60 Catholic, 10 Muslim and four Hindu families. When they were jobless, Reddy invited them to work in Mariapuram.

Father K.D. Joseph, the Pargi parish priest, told UCA News that though Reddy belongs to a high-caste group, he has worked mainly among dalit, people who come from the lowest castes and were once called "untouchable."

According to Father Stanislaus Manickyam, another priest in Pargi, Reddy has inspired local Christians to lead a good Christian life. As a result, the priest said, Hindu traders prefer farm produce from Mariapuram for its reliable quality and quantity, and bankers never hesitate to grant loans to the villagers since they are sure of being repaid.

Deep Waters and a Black & Tan

Speaking of looking toward the good . . Ironic Catholic is featuring an interview with Paul Cat of Alive and Young today as part of their series on Catholic blogging humor. Since ID was already well launched in a Wodehousian vein, I thought it would good to revisit the truly memorable

Paul Cat's Black and Tan: The Hypostatic Union of Christ in relation to a Black and Tan.

I overhead some of your conversation. What about Christ were y’all discussing?” I inquired.

“We were just discussing the humanity and divinity of Christ,” replied the man sitting nearest me.

“What about it were you discussing?”

“Well,” replied the other man farther from me. “I just can’t see how Christ is both fully human and divine.”

“Oh, you mean the Hypostatic union of Christ. I happen to be enrolled in a Christian Doctrine class at the University of Notre Dame Du Lac, and I just leaned about the hypostatic union the other day. Maybe I can help” I stated.

snip.

“The hypostatic union is kind of like this black and tan,” I began.

I was barely finished saying the phrase when at once I could see their eyes light up, ears perk, and both men seemed to lean a little close to me. At the thought of mixing religion and beer and their reactions to my opening comment, I knew I was speaking their language. I continued:

“You see, Christ was both true man and true God. That is, He has two different natures. Just like this Black and Tan has two different natures – or styles -- of beer within its glass. Yet, even though there are two styles of beer in a Black and Tan they are both contained in the one drink that is called a Black and Tan. Likewise, Christ’s two natures are both found in the one Person called Jesus of Nazareth.

“If you look closely at the Black and Tan you will see that there is no separation between the Guinness and Bass: no division. One beer seems to flow into the other. It is similar to Christ. He has no distinctions or separation between his two natures. Christ’s humanity and divinity both work in harmony with one another: just as Guinness and Bass work together in harmony to make a Black and Tan. To remove one nature from the two would be to radically change the definition of both the drink and Christ. Remove the Guinness and there is no Black and Tan, there is only Black. Remove Christ’s divinity (if such an thing is possible, which it isn’t) and there is no Christ, there is only Jesus the Man and not Jesus the Christ.

“Furthermore, there is also no confusion between the two beers – likewise, there is no confusion between the two natures of Christ. That is why the drink is called a Black and Tan. If there were confusion between the two beers in the one glass it would be called something else: maybe a Brown would be a fitting name.

“Lastly, a careful examination of a Black and Tan reveals that the distinction and preservation of each beer is present. The Bass at the bottom still contains all the properties and characteristics of what it means to be Bass. The Guinness layered on top contains all the properties and characteristics of what it means to be Guinness.

“It is the same with Christ. There are still two natures of Christ: one, 100 percent human containing all the properties and characteristics of what it means to be human, the other is 100 percent divine containing all the properties and characteristics of what it means to be divine. Each nature is preserved in the one Person of Jesus Christ. Where the distinction of Christ’s divinity and humanity occur, I do not know for certain, and it is not as certain and as clear as it is with the Black and Tan. Perhaps it might be most clear in His Passion, death, and Resurrection.”



These are deep waters indeed. I need a drink.

To See Good Rather than Evil

Tom over at Disputations has done it again.

St. Thomas writes:

It is the mark of a happy disposition to see good rather than evil. Wherefore if someone has conferred a favor, not as he ought to have conferred it, the recipient should not for that reason withhold his thanks. Yet he owes less thanks than if the favor had been conferred duly, since in fact the favor is less, for, as Seneca remarks (De Benef. ii.) "promptness enhances, delay discounts a favor."

"To see good rather than evil" -- the Latin is, "ut magis attendat ad bonum quam ad malum," which may be more like "to pay more attention to good than to evil."

This struck me as a neat little formula (neater still in Latin, perhaps, with the "boni/bonum" parallel). If you have a good disposition, you notice and respond more to the good in those around you than the evil. Contrapositively, if you respond more to the evil, you probably don't have a good disposition.

Moreover -- and I know nothing about the history of the "boni animi" as a philosophical concept, so this might be a silly thing to draw attention to -- St. Thomas's argument assumes that people should have a good disposition, or at the very least that they should follow the lead of those who do.

I think this points to one of my pet themes (touched on in various ways, most recently with the posts about loving the sinner) that human nature is properly oriented toward the good.

Some people express themselves primarily in terms of "away from the evil." And to be fair, there are some topics that really are about avoiding evil. But that's an unnatural orientation for a human, especially for a Christian, who ought to be directed toward Christ first and foremost, and away from other things only by implication. (If you see what I mean.)

Others strike a balance in being "away from evil toward the good." Even Scripture does this in places (e.g., "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse"). But when we think in these terms, it seems to me we need to avoid thinking we're in some third state from which we make our choice.

Let me try putting it this way: If I am looking toward Jesus, then I am necessarily looking away from other things (in the limit of Christian perfection, I'm looking away from all that is not God). But what I am actually doing is looking toward Jesus. I'm not looking away from evil and hey, what do you know, here's Jesus in front of me! I can't see what I'm not looking at; I certainly shouldn't be thinking about not looking at it.

True, a person might flee evil and collide unexpectedly into Jesus. But once they've seen Him, they shouldn't take their eyes off Him, not even to rebuke what they've fled.


Sherry's comment

Exactly. There are so many situations in life where this is playing out today: in our culture wars, in our liturgy wars, in the debates over "Catholic identity" and in our attempts at evangelization.

When we try to proclaim Christian morality without first proclaiming Christ, we give the impression that we have nothing beautiful, good and true to look toward. When we do not first present Christ whom we know and love and follow, but mutter abstractions about Christian "values", we will be understood by the average person as entirely negative since they assume Christian values are exhausted by a few wearily familiar "don'ts".

That's the impression many, many people that I've talked to who were raised within the Church received from their childhood catechesis.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Good Morning, Sir

LOL!

Should sir or madam desire it, it is possible to purchase an elegant British timepiece that awakens one with the dulcet tones of Stephen Fry, the world's most perfect English valet, uttering gems such as

I'm delighted that you survived another night. May I add my my own small congratulations to the roar of the world's approval? Thank you, sir.

or

Good morning, Madam. The current issue of Vogue has devoted its issue to your sense of style, beauty, purpose and personal grandeur. It may be advisable to use the rear entrance today, Madam, to avoid the crowds.

And how could sir or madam resist the chance to be gently nudged awake by

Good morning. I'm so sorry to disturb you but it appears to be morning. Very inconvenient, I agree. I believe it is the rotation of the earth that is to blame.

Listen to the samples. Morning will never be the same.

Errata:

Tom reminds me that Jeeves is a valet, not a butler. My head was full of an upcoming presentation when I posted in haste but there can be no excuse for such an error. One wonders if the term "gentleman's personal gentleman" would be wholly appropriate for one who would awaken Madam as well. One does indeed.

Why Am I Catholic?

And speaking of the net - here is something that it does very well indeed.



Hat tip: Oswald Sorbino

Put Out into the Deep of the Net

I love this. I don't know if I had even heard of blogging in May of 2002 when Pope John Paul II issued this message but it certainly seems relevant today. I've italicized some points I found most thought-provoking.

MESSAGE OF THE HOLY FATHER
FOR THE 36th WORLD COMMUNICATIONS DAY

THEME: "Internet: A New Forum for Proclaiming the Gospel"

Sunday, May 12, 2002


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. The Church in every age continues the work begun on the day of Pentecost, when the Apostles, in the power of the Holy Spirit, went forth into the streets of Jerusalem to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in many tongues (cf. Acts 2:5-11). Through the succeeding centuries, this evangelizing mission spread to the far corners of the earth, as Christianity took root in many places and learned to speak the diverse languages of the world, always in obedience to Christ's command to preach the Gospel to every nation (cf. Mt 28:19-20).

But the history of evangelization is not just a matter of geographic expansion, for the Church has also had to cross many cultural thresholds, each of which called for fresh energy and imagination in proclaiming the one Gospel of Jesus Christ. The age of the great discoveries, the Renaissance and the invention of printing, the Industrial Revolution and the birth of the modern world: these too were threshold moments which demanded new forms of evangelization. Now, with the communications and information revolution in full swing, the Church stands unmistakably at another decisive gateway. It is fitting therefore that on this World Communications Day 2002 we should reflect on the subject: “Internet: A New Forum for Proclaiming the Gospel".

2. The Internet is certainly a new “forum” understood in the ancient Roman sense of that public space where politics and business were transacted, where religious duties were fulfilled where much of the social life of the city took place, and where the best and the worst of human nature was on display. It was a crowded and bustling urban space, which both reflected the surrounding culture and created a culture of its own. This is no less true of cyberspace, which is as it were a new frontier opening up at the beginning of this new millennium. Like the new frontiers of other times, this one too is full of the interplay of danger and promise, and not without the sense of adventure that marked other great periods of change. For the Church the new world of cyberspace is a summons to the great adventure of using its potential to proclaim the Gospel message. This challenge is at the heart of what it means at the beginning of the millennium to follow the Lord's command to "put out into the deep”: Duc in altum! (Lk 5:4).

3. The Church approaches this new medium with realism and confidence. Like other communications media, it is a means, not an end in itself. The Internet can offer magnificent opportunities for evangelization if used with competence and a clear awareness of its strengths and weaknesses. Above all, by providing information and stirring interest it makes possible an initial encounter with the Christian message, especially among the young who increasingly turn to the world of cyberspace as a window on the world. It is important, therefore, that the Christian community think of very practical ways of helping those who first make contact through the Internet to move from the virtual world of cyberspace to the real world of Christian community.

At a subsequent stage, the Internet can also provide the kind of follow-up which evangelization requires. Especially in an unsupportive culture, Christian living calls for continuing instruction and catechesis, and this is perhaps the area in which the Internet can provide excellent help. There already exist on the Net countless sources of information, documentation and education about the Church, her history and tradition, her doctrine and her engagement in every field in all parts of the world. It is clear, then, that while the Internet can never replace that profound experience of God which only the living, liturgical and sacramental life of the Church can offer, it can certainly provide a unique supplement and support in both preparing for the encounter with Christ in community, and sustaining the new believer in the journey of faith which then begins.

4. There are nevertheless certain necessary, even obvious, questions which arise in using the Internet in the cause of evangelization. The essence of the Internet in fact is that it provides an almost unending flood of information, much of which passes in a moment. In a culture which feeds on the ephemeral there can easily be a risk of believing that it is facts that matter, rather than values. The Internet offers extensive knowledge, but it does not teach values; and when values are disregarded, our very humanity is demeaned and man easily loses sight of his transcendent dignity. Despite its enormous potential for good, some of the degrading and damaging ways in which the Internet can be used are already obvious to all, and public authorities surely have a responsibility to guarantee that this marvellous instrument serves the common good and does not become a source of harm.

Furthermore, the Internet radically redefines a person's psychological relationship to time and space. Attention is rivetted on what is tangible, useful, instantly available; the stimulus for deeper thought and reflection may be lacking. Yet human beings have a vital need for time and inner quiet to ponder and examine life and its mysteries, and to grow gradually into a mature dominion of themselves and of the world around them. Understanding and wisdom are the fruit of a contemplative eye upon the world, and do not come from a mere accumulation of facts, no matter how interesting. They are the result of an insight which penetrates the deeper meaning of things in relation to one another and to the whole of reality. Moreover, as a forum in which practically everything is acceptable and almost nothing is lasting, the Internet favours a relativistic way of thinking and sometimes feeds the flight from personal responsibility and commitment.

In such a context, how are we to cultivate that wisdom which comes not just from information but from insight, the wisdom which understands the difference between right and wrong, and sustains the scale of values which flows from that difference?

5. The fact that through the Internet people multiply their contacts in ways hitherto unthinkable opens up wonderful possibilities for spreading the Gospel. But it is also true that electronically mediated relationships can never take the place of the direct human contact required for genuine evangelization. For evangelization always depends upon the personal witness of the one sent to evangelize (cf. Rom 10:14-15). How does the Church lead from the kind of contact made possible by the Internet to the deeper communication demanded by Christian proclamation? How do we build upon the first contact and exchange of information which the Internet makes possible?

There is no doubt that the electronic revolution holds out the promise of great positive breakthroughs for the developing world; but there is also the possibility that it will in fact aggravate existing inequalities as the information and communications gap widens. How can we ensure that the information and communications revolution which has the Internet as its prime engine will work in favour of the globalization of human development and solidarity, objectives closely linked to the Church's evangelizing mission?

Finally, in these troubled times, let me ask: how can we ensure that this wondrous instrument first conceived in the context of military operations can now serve the cause of peace? Can it favour that culture of dialogue, participation, solidarity and reconciliation without which peace cannot flourish? The Church believes it can; and to ensure that this is what will happen she is determined to enter this new forum, armed with the Gospel of Christ, the Prince of Peace.

6. The Internet causes billions of images to appear on millions of computer monitors around the planet. From this galaxy of sight and sound will the face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard? For it is only when his face is seen and his voice heard that the world will know the glad tidings of our redemption. This is the purpose of evangelization. And this is what will make the Internet a genuinely human space, for if there is no room for Christ, there is no room for man. Therefore, on this World Communications Day, I dare to summon the whole Church bravely to cross this new threshold, to put out into the deep of the Net, so that now as in the past the great engagement of the Gospel and culture may show to the world "the glory of God on the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). May the Lord bless all those who work for this aim.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2002, the Feast of Saint Francis de Sales

JOHN PAUL II

Comments?

La Week OP



This looks like fun - La Week OP

Every August, the Toulouse province of Dominicans (friars and sisters) does a week of beach evangelization.

From August 8th to the 15th, Dominican friars and sisters came together at the beach to provide prayer and fraternity with a group of students and young professionals. The theme for the week was, appropriately: the treasure hidden in the sands. In addition to evenings at the cafe and beach volleyball, the friars offered a substantial serving of prayer and catechesis. Lauds (Morning Prayer) and Vespers (Evening Prayer) were prayed each day. In addition, there was a daily morning conference. The subjects of the conferences included: Dieu Un et Trine: invention des théologiens? [God One and Triune, Invention of Theologians?], L’homme créé à l’image de Dieu : le christianisme est-il une religion de la grandeur humaine? [Man created in the image of God: Is Christianity a religion of human greatness?]; and Dieu-fait-homme: a-t-on besoin du Christ pour entrer en relations avec Dieu? [God made man: Does one need Christ to be in relation with God?].

During the week, there was also time for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. There were also devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially in honor of the Feast of her Assumption, which concluded the week.


Of course, every week is La Week OP when one is privileged to work with such stellar Dominicans as Fr. Mike and Br. Matthew, mais oui?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Redefining the Norm



What is a normal Christian life? This question occurred to me recently during a discussion with some friends. We often take 'normal' to be synonymous with 'typical' or 'routine'. Given this understanding of the word and judging by the many statistical studies which have been done regarding the religious practices and beliefs of self-identified Christians, we would have to conclude that a normal Christian life is pretty hard to distinguish from the life of a normal unbeliever, albeit with some differences regarding matters of belief and disbelief. However, if statistics are to be believed, in other factors such as rate of divorce, spousal abuse, work ethic, the propensity to cheat on tests and staying chaste before marriage, we really don't distinguish ourselves that much, if at all, from the non-baptized. The thorny theological problems which these kind of considerations provoked prompted Fr. Paul Quay SJ to write his magnificent work The Mystery Hidden for Ages in God. The main theme of the book is the idea of recapitulation, which says that
each Christian is to

(a) relive in Christ, during the first portion of his life, all that God led His people through from the fall of Adam to Christ’s death and resurrection, and,

(b) thereafter, live as a son of God in Christ in the full freedom of the Holy Spirit, so as to glorify the Father in the Church by making Him known to all men through the Spirit’s power. (pg. 7)


That is, recapitulation happens as each individual Christian lives out the biblical narrative from Genesis to God's disclosure of the "mystery hidden for ages in God" which is the message of the Gospel: Christ's life, death and resurrection and the saving power of these events in the life of believers. All Christians relive the terrible effects of Original Sin described in Genesis. They feel the sting of sin; the pain of separation from the God for whom they were created. They understand the hatred and disordered passions which drive them to spurn God's ways and hate their neighbor. They understand the difficulty of following God, like Moses and the Israelites before them, through the barren desert on the way to a distant promised land. They understand their own propensity toward idolatry. Rather than being a shining light to the nations around them, many Christians, like the ancient Israelites before them, can easily outdo the pagans in the land with regard to their infidelity and abominable actions. Like we read in the Prophets, Christians can spurn and kill God's messengers and despise God's challenging message. We too have to spend time in exile in Babylon.

However, Christians also, if they stay faithful and strive to progress in the Christian life, have a growing awareness of Christ's mysterious presence within them. Like the Apostles in Acts, they inexplicably find themselves doing what Christ did: they find themselves loving their enemies, laying down their lives for others, preaching the Kingdom of God and doing and witnessing miraculous deeds of power.

Fr. Quay's book goes into great detail, using the Fathers of the Church as his guide, as to how this reliving of Scripture takes place. I would recommend the book to all who can find it (its a bit hard to come by). With regard to the question posed at the beginning of this post, I think the message of Fr. Quay's book is that the story of every Christian, the normal Christian experience, with 'normal' here defined as 'the norm' or 'what ought to be the case', is laid out for us with great clarity in the Scriptures. We are to read there not some irrelevant stories which happened to people centuries before us, but our own life story: the story of our alienation from and return to God. This is what Pope Benedict was getting at when he said, in his recent book Jesus of Nazareth, that the saints are the true exegetes or interpreters of scripture. They relive the story. They are the normal Christians.

Engaging the Culture of Abortion

I know I have been scarce of late. I had planned to post on Barb Nicolosi's thoughts about what is needed to transform Hollywood, but our Blogtrix beat me to it. :)

One of the challenges of applying the Church's teaching to the secular world is the necessity of engaging the culture with a language that draws on our common human experience rather than relying solely on theological principles or revelation.

I've said many times that Vox Nova, a group blog where lay men and women wrestle with this cultural engagement, is one of the best blogs around. Recently, several members of Vox Nova engaged in conversation with a feminist blog (Feministe) regarding abortion and the possibility of finding common ground across the ideological divide of pro/anti abortion belief. The result has been a fascinating example of how people of good will can indeed find some common ground while recognizing real division that still exists between them. Of course, the conversation also demonstrated how the lack of good will can cause people to talk past each other and retreat into ideological fortresses.

I found this quote to be particularly moving:

What is important to note is that the “excellent” social positions advocated by many of the contributors at Vox Nova directly follow from the fundamental principles of what appears to Toonces as the women-hating Catholic Church. Catholic positions on peace, immigration, distribution of wealth, environmentalism all unfold from the implications of a robust faith in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, who in his person, unites two natures–human and divine. In him, time and eternity, creation and Creator, the physical and the spiritual are eternally betrothed. And who stands at the center of this cosmic unity in Christ? Humanity, in the full scope of its essence and activity. Thus, a genuine Catholic is, indeed, “excellent” on social positions for this excellence excels in the very confidence of the Word made flesh. What I would propose is that if Karen agrees with much of the social concern at Vox Nova, yet argues for the right to abortion, then it is she who perhaps only “almost” gets it, for without the key component of protection of the unborn, social concern deteriorates into sham humanitarianism. I would suggest that it is the Catholic position–and I do not mean the partly Catholic position that is strong on liturgy and doctrine, but weak on social justice–that totally “gets it.”

Go here and check out the whole post (and subsequent comments).

Messianic Congregations in Israel

Startling tidbit:

As of 2003: there were 90 Messianic congregations in Israel(Hebrew-speaking fellowships of Jewish-background Christians)with an estimated 6,000 members—including children and non-Jews

In the 1990s, a rapid influx of Russian believers contributed to expansion. Today, despite reduced immigration, growth in Messianic congregations continues due to people coming to faith.

Hat tip: December 2003 Lausanne World Pulse

Prayer, Sacrifice, Patience, and Intentionality

The inimitable Barb Nicolosi shoots from the hip and make sense - again:

I said this at an event in Wichita this past summer, and a young woman came up to me cradling a child in her arms and kind of got in my face (with all the "You've clearly been poisoned working in Sodom, I bet you receive Communion in the hand" subtext) and said, "You don't have children, do you?" As though, the having of children would also spawn the conviction that cultural endeavors are exclusively for the damned. (I wanted to say to this young chicken something to the effect that, "Actually, at last count I have about 700," but it occurred to me that the appeal to the notion of spiritual childhood would just be way too Apostolicam Actuositatem for her.)

Snip.

" . . .we have only two real options for profoundly changing the channels (and literally changing the channels isn't one of them):

1) Create a new missionary imperative to recruit, form, support and commission for Hollywood a whole new generation of well-catechized, loving, merciful, prayerful, self-sacrificing, talented and professionally trained writers, directors, cinematographers, executives, producers, agents, attorneys, managers, publicists, editors, lighting designers, production designers, musicians, animators, and I suppose we must have some actors too.

2) Convert through prayer, sacrifice, patience and intentionality, the writers, directors, cinematographers, etc. who are already here.

Every other initiative to impact culture is ultimately straw.

And it is "straw" because it is not pleasing to God, who wants us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And He also wants us to tell "all creation" the Good News. He just isn't that wrapped up in us making mediocre, low-budget pep-rally projects for the disciples who are cowering in caves wishing the non-believers would either go away, or at least entertain us without sex, language and violence.


Sherry's comment:

I am struck once again by Barb's passionate take-no-prisoners wisdom and especially by her phrase prayer, sacrifice, patience and intentionality.

Boy does that resonate! Because it takes precisely that: long years of prayer, sacrifice, patience, and intentionality to live one's vocation(s) fruitfully and faithfully. To change the course of Hollywood or to affect the evangelization and formation of the baptized. Talk about a long obedience in the same direction . . .

Take this week for instance. It seems like a fairly quiet week but over time, as you answer a call, you forget what "ordinary" looks like has changed dramatically.

This week:

we're meeting with a bishop

We received an intriguing e-mail invitation to be part of an Orthodox-Catholic dialog on the theology and spirituality of the laity

Had a long conversation with our lay Australian director about all the opportunities opening up down under for the Institute

Received an inquiry by a priest doctoral student in Rome whose faculty advisor recommended that he contact us about research possibilities regarding collaboration between the clergy and laity

One of our staff is meeting with a family foundation interested in funding a major state initiative

Gave a talk to the DRE's of a major archdiocese

Writing a presentation to be given next week to graduate students of evangelization at a major seminary and prepping for a half-hour TV interview

Talked to an academic friend about possible funding for that graduate course on the "charismatic" in Catholic thought, history, and pastoral practice that I will be teaching next year at a major graduate school of theology

And it looks like I really will be able to begin work on that long-delayed book in the near future.

yet the week seems quiet. Probably because I haven't had to get on an airplane.

I still think of the Institute as a tiny, obscure, poverty-stricken, ramshackle outfit that is held together with paper clips and duck tape and kept afloat by God's grace and a series of small miracles. And so we are - but we are much bigger tiny-obscure-poverty-stricken-ramshackle-outfit than we used to be.

I joked with Fr. Mike yesterday that I must be the most obscure, very experienced, really, really good Catholic speaker out there. After 10 years of continuous travel and speaking in who knows how many venues, I apparently have no name recognition at all. My friend Mark's name is known everywhere I go. Barb Nicolosi is a personality.
But I'm just warning you, folks. Don't ever try to draw people to an event by using my name. You'll get three who show up and a fourth who dropped by looking for some other event. They will rave when I'm done and tell their friends about this great talk they missed - but I'll be just as obscure when it is all over. It is both mysterious and classically Dominican.

And yet, despite our many liabilities, the level at which we are working has very slowly changed over the years like the tide rising. We haven't noticed it a good deal of the time because we were too busy bailing. Prayer, sacrifice, patience, and intentionality in answering God's call over the years is bearing fruit; the ripples of a thousand small, repeated obediences and sacrifices on the part of hundreds of people have become a major wave but although you have been there for the whole ride, you can't quite reconstruct how you got here.

The only thing you know is that it wasn't you. So real and powerful and mysterious is the work of God's grace in our lives. We can give up everything to cooperate with God's grace but at the end of that long obedience in the same direction, you know that it was all a gift.

Attn: Former Catholic University of Lublin students (Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski)

Attention Polish readers of ID - especially if you attended Catholic University of Lublin (Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski).

My friend David Curp is a professor of eastern European history and especially of post-WWII Poland. David is acutely aware that most academics assume that when one speaks of the Church, one is really speaking of the clergy, not the laity and that really significant aspects of lay Catholic life have yet to be written about in English.

David is planning a large scaled research project - the KUL Project - about five cohorts of lay students who choose to study at the Catholic University of Lublin during the Communist years when they were also certain to be penalized for doing so. Dave is seeking to hear from lay students in the faculties of Philosophy and Humanities in the graduating classes of 1948, 1960, 1972, 1974 and 1980.

As Dave writes: the goal of this study is to consider the roles of faith, alienation (from the "new reality" of the PRL) and solidarity in sustaining and expanding KUL in the postwar era and to write a social history of KUL in the PRL.

Why did they choose KUL instead of a state university? How did graduating from KUL affect your career in People's Poland? Who helped you and why? Who discriminated against you? By pursuing these questions David hope to develop a more detailed description of lay religious life in Poland. Check out the KUL blog to learn more.

(Przepraszam, ze jeszcze nie pisze po polsku, a teraz chce zaczynac ten blog a to jest spieszniej dla mnie pisac po angielsku. To nie znaczy, oczywiscie, ze chce listy i informacje tylko po angielsku. Po okresie nauczanie w Ohio University tego kwartalu wiecej zamierzam pisac po polsku).

Which is the last intelligible Polish you are ever going to encounter on this blog!

Monday, October 15, 2007

A letter from a new missioner.

I received this e-mail from a very dear friend a couple of weeks ago. Her and I were social justice peer ministers together at our Newman Center in Bellingham, Washington. She is the person who first encouraged me to join the Dominican Order. She entered religious life, the Maryknoll Dominican Sisters, around the same time I entered the Western Dominican Province. She is now heading off to a mission of several years in East Timor. I count myself privileged to know her and to be her friend. Please keep her and her apostolate in your prayers. She sent along this letter regarding the situation in Burma with a link where ID readers can go to help alleviate the suffering of the Burmese people. Please take a moment and sign the petition.

Dear Sisters and friends,

Greetings to you from Bellingham, my precious college town, where I'm visiting a dear friend. It's been wonderful to be home in the northwest,reconnecting with many special people and places. Three weeks ago I officially received my first mission assignment. In late December I will be going to South-East Asia. I've been assigned to the Maryknoll community in East Timor. This was my first choice and I'm very grateful to be moving there. It will not bean easy place to live or work...but I believe that God's grace, which calls me there, will give me what I need. This message, however, concerns the people in Burma. You may be aware of what's going on there, concerning the military's attempt to stop the non-violent protest movement. The people's pro-democracy and resistance movement got international attention once the Buddhist monks and nuns came into the streets. They began praying, chanting, and publicly calling for change,and their cries for an end to military oppression was clearly heard. Now the country is full of martyrs suffering from attacks, imprisonment, torture, and death. The military is leading a counter-movement to block all communication and terrorize the people into silence. My heart was instantly moved to prayer and solidarity with the Burmese people--especially because of my intimate friendship with Sarah, my group-mate from Burma/Myanmar. Because of the violence and repression,she can't go home to visit her family. And as I enjoy my family and friends, I ask myself, "what can I do?" Here is a petition addressed to the UN Security Council and Chinese government, pressuring them to intervene. Please join our efforts to show solidarity with the Burmese and ask the UN to intervene now. Join us in prayer to share the experience of non-violent actions for peace. Please sign this petition to share a political effort to help. This is an instant LINK to the petition. Please, do something for the Burmese...

Thank you,

Julia

"The dominant factor in our lives is Love: love of God, and love of neighbor as we love ourselves for love of God. The missioner's portion is a special consciousness of God's thirst and hunger for the love of all. It was to satisfy this love that we came here".

MMJ, foundress of Maryknoll Sisters

Sri Lankan Parish Threatened

From Asia News:

More than 300 Catholic families cannot celebrate mass and teach catechism in the Rosa Mystica Church at Crooswatta in Kotugoda parish (see photo), about 15 kilometres north of Colombo, because of fear of violence by Buddhist monks and extremists.

Fr Susith Silva, Episcopal vicar for the northern region of Colombo, told AsiaNews that the chief Buddhist monk at a nearby temple, Uddammita, along with other extremists, protested on September 28 against the construction, threatening that “if building does not stop by tomorrow, you’ll lose 10 to 15 lives.”

Father Silva went to court where the judge appealed to both sides to settle the dispute amicably and temporarily suspended the church extension. The parish has obeyed the injunction but this has not stopped the problems.

On October 6, police interrupted the celebration of mass and told Fr Siri Cooray to stop the function. Scared and wondering what was going to happen next worshipers were ordered home

Some 301 families for a total 1093 Catholics attend the local church. “Most are poor people,” said Father Silva, “and cannot pay for a taxi to the nearest church, which is several kilometres away.”

Catholics have now gone to court to be allowed to hold mass, catechism and other religious activities whilst the broader issue of the church building is solved. Buddhists have protested instead that this is an insult to the 348 Buddhist families living in the area.

Uddammita Buddahsiri, the Buddhist monk who heads Kotugoda’s Boddhirukkaramaya Buddhist Temple said that “most people in the area are Buddhist and they don’t want a church here. Catholics can go to the other two or three churches in the area. We are not going to let them finish the building. If it restarts the whole village is going to rise up.”


Pray for this community - and the fearful Buddhist community around them. Remember that the freedoms we enjoy are not the norm. Be grateful for those freedoms, be creative and loving in taking advantage of those freedoms.

Baptizing . . .But Not Forming

"My parishioners did not know how to say 'no' to killing. We are baptizing, but we are not educating. How do we form Christians who are capable of saying 'no'?"

Anglican Archbishop Emmanuel Kollini, July 2005, to a Duke Divinity School group in Kigali, speaking of the killing of 800,000 people in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. What a terrible question - and how true and necessary that we ask it.

The Duke Center for Reconciliation is very impressive. Operating in the midst of the Divinity School, it's mission "flows from the Apostle Paul’s affirmation in 2 Corinthians 5 that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself,” and that through Christ, “the message of reconciliation has been entrusted to us.”

In many ways and for many reasons, the Christian community has not taken up this challenge. In conflicts such as the Rwandan genocide and challenges such as family fragmentation, neglected neighborhoods, urban violence, people with disabilities, and on-going racial and ethnic divisions in America and worldwide, the church typically has mirrored society rather than offered a witness to it. In response, the Center seeks to form and strengthen transformative Christian leadership for reconciliation."

Chris Rice, one of the co-Directors of the Program,wrote in an short article for the Lausanne Worldpulse magazine:

"The Church should have faithful practices of social engagement, even if they result in no visible change. These are profound indications of hope amidst destructive conflicts. Examples are when Christians forgive persecutors, prophetically challenge unjust situations and offer hospitality across divides."

The power of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy to change the entire spiritual atmosphere of a community. It is extraordinarily fruitful when those who are experienced, wise, and tempered practitioners of one or more of the works of mercy are given the opportunity to share their wisdom with the rest of us.

They seem to be doing this at Duke by bringing in Christian practitioners of reconciliation to live in residence for a semester. One of the current fellows started on his journey by spending several months with Mother Teresa in Calcutta. Today, his organization, Word Made Flesh, is at work with the poorest of the poor in many places, including Calcutta, where they work freeing women and children in the sex trade.

I've heard great things about the Duke program. Joe Waters, one of our Called & Gifted teachers, is a Catholic grad student in the Duke Divinity School who will be doing his 2008 summer internship with us. Duke seems to be remarkably flexible. Joe is spending his third and last year at Duke studying at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC.

Door to Door Evangelization

Aimee Milburn of Historical Catholic is writing about her long-dreamed of door-to-door evangelization training and asks for prayers. Aimee is just training her first "class" as part of her graduate internship and I hope, will keep us all up to date. God bless Aimee!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Amazing Little Green Laptop That Could Change the World

This is so cool. per the New York Times

The amazing One Laptop per Child is about to hit the market in November. One Laptop Per Child (laptop.org) has developed a very low-cost, high-potential, extremely rugged computer for the two billion educationally underserved children in poor countries. Watch this fun New York Times review featuring David Pogue.



Here's the deal:

For two weeks, starting November 12, you can give one and get one. Give one XO laptop to a child in a developing country and have another delivered to your own child for Christmas for $399.

What an incredible Christmas present to give a child that could literally change the course of her life and her family's life. What a wonderful gift for your child and yourself.

The possible impact of this innovation is so huge that a couple of Vatican commissions are sponsoring an evening (October 29) called Bold Innovations in Education: “One Laptop Per Child”with the creator of the XO, Professor Professor Nicholas Negroponte for superiors of missionary groups and those involved in the education of the poor.

St. Francis Magazine

An exciting missions resource that I just stumbled upon in St. Francis Magazine. One thing that is most unique about St. Francis magazine is that it clearly is the fruit of collaboration across the Christian spectrum - including Orthodox, Coptic and Catholic thinkers like Samir Khalil Samir, S.J.,an Egyptian Jesuit, who is a professor of Islamic studies and of the history of Arab culture at the Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut and at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome.

(Samir wrote this about Pope Benedict's approach to proclaiming Christ in a Muslim context: I really like this pope, his balance, his clearness. He makes no compromise: he continues to underline the need to announce the Gospel in the name of rationality and therefore he does not let himself be influenced by those who fear and speak out against would-be proselytism. The pope asks always for guarantees that Christian faith can be “proposed” and that it can be “freely chosen.” )

From the St. Francis website:

St Francis Magazine aims to strengthen the Christian witness in the Arab World. The magazine does this by the articles we publish here, through studies, and by offering applied training on matters related to the Christian apostolate in the Arab World.

In missiology much can be debated, and that is what we like to stimulate with St Francis Magazine. However, we have some solid parameters. Central for us is our commitment to the triune God as revealed in the Christian Scriptures and ultimately in his Son Jesus Christ. We adhere to the historic faith as expressed by the Ecumenical Councils of the early Church.

We also hold that good missiology can never be separated from good ecclesiology. As Jesus Christ expresses Himself through His Body, the Church, those who proclaim Him can never do so in an individualist manner, but only in communion with the Church.


Very interesting. Check it out!

The Basics: Global Christianity in 2007

2010 will be the 100th anniversary of the famous 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference. This anniversary is another example of the hermetically-sealed-alternate- universes of Catholics and evangelicals when it comes to missions.

Catholics like Fr. Peter Phan regard the Edinburgh Conference as a symbol of western over-reach and missionary failure. Meanwhile, Evangelicals are getting ready to throw a giant global party in 2010 to celebrate the extraordinary success and fruitfulness of the missions movement for which Edinburgh was a significant turning point. The party - better known as Lausanne III: International Congress on World Evangelization - will take place in Cape Town, South Africa. They expect about 4,000 delegates from missionary groups, churches, and denominations all over the world. This is not just an evangelical enterprise. Both Anglicans and Orthodox will be represented. What is unclear to me is whether or not there will be any significant Catholic representation.

It is not an accident that while the first Lausanne Conference took place in Switzerland in 1974, the third one, a mere 36 years later, is taking place in Africa. It is the global south, especially Africa, which has become the center of Christianity in our lifetimes.

A couple of graphs from Todd Johnson's plenary briefing given at the Lausanne Bi-Annual International Leadership meeting in Budapest, Hungary in June dramatically illustrate the changes.

First of all there has been little change in the percentage of Christians in the global population over the past one hundred years. Catholics today make up 55% of all Christians although many Catholics are "doubly affiliated" - i.e., involved with other Christian bodies. For the entire 100-year period, Christians have made up approximately one-third of the world’s population. This masks dramatic changes in the geography of global Christianity. There have been massive gains in the global south offset by massive losses in the industrialized west.

And types of Christianity that did not exist at the dawn of the 20th century are now major players such as the 600 million Independent Christians (millions of whom are double-affiliated Catholics or Protestants)

Look at the graph below which shows the proportion of Christians in the north and south over the past 2000 years. Note for the first 900 years of the church, southern Christians comprised the majority and that the Reformation occurred during the 16th century, the only century during which 90% of Christians lived in the global north. Also note that southern Christians become the majority again in 1981 and that in 2010, the proportion between north and south will be roughly the same as it was in 200 AD.



Now look at this fascinating map of how the geographic center of Christian population has moved over the past 2000 years and especially over the past 100 years. The large red dot in Spain shows the geographic center in 1910 - the year of the Edinburgh conference. The large red dot in western Africa shows the geographic center as of 2010 and the Cape town conference.



Here is a list of the top 10 Christians nations by population in 1900, 2005, and projections for 2050. Note: in 1910, 9 out of 10 of the most populous Christian nations were western, in 2010, only 3 are, in 2050, only the US will remain. (Fascinatingly, the US is the top of the list in all three years)



What is called "renewalist" Christianity - that is Christianity that is influenced by Pentecostal or charismatic beliefs and practices - is very important in the global south. Here is a global map showing the percentage of "renewalist" Christians in each country.



Note the languages that dominate renewalist Christianity. Number one: Portuguese because Catholic Brazil is both the second largest Christian nation and one of most pentecostalized countries on earth. Note that Spanish is number 3 - and Spanish Christians are overwhelmingly Catholic - and that Tagalog, spoken widely in the Catholic Philippines, is number 10.

Mission Sunday on ID

Last Sunday was Mission Sunday but I was in Seattle, attending Mass at Blessed Sacrament, and unable to blog. In an act of open and unapologetic despotism, I'm declaring today Mission Sunday on ID because I've just come across an amazing trove of great missions stuff that I'd like to share.

More in a bit. I need to compose.

Of Bulbs & True Grit

Several posts are brewing in my head and I'll try to get them down today. But first Mass and then more bulbs. 54 down, 120 to go. Bulb planting, I am discovering, is work. Hard work for the sake of something hoped for but not seen - 7 months from now.

Meanwhile, here's a glimpse of Mt. Sneffels from Ridgeway, CO this weekend - where the classic film "True Grit" (with John Wayne) was filmed.



via the fabulous nature photos from all over the world at weatherunderground.com. It is easy for you to submit your favorite weather/nature photos for the rest of us to enjoy.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Fall Planting Day

This weekend is bulb planting and preparing a 400+sf bed for wild flower seed sowing (to prevent premature germination, the seed can't actually be sown until our evening temps drop below 40 on a regular basis and they are just about to start to dip below)

but I will be doing some blogging as well.

What do you think of our Colorado Rockies, hmmm? Reminds me of the first year the Seattle Mariners got into the playoffs and "refused to lose".

Here's the reaction in the stands when the Rockies turned the corner: longest Wild card tie-breaking game in history, down 2 runs at the beginning of the 13th inning.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The New Big Question: Does Richard Dawkins Exist?



Featuring Dr. Tommy Tommyrot. Begin your weekend on a splendid high note - but don't attempt to drink anything while watching.

Hat tip: Barbara Nicolosi

Holiness: Like the Work of an Artist

Dreadnaught (John Heard of Australia) responds to comments from ID reader SWP on his original essay "More Ways of Being Catholic Than Have Been Imagined".

SWP responded to the original post:

I take it to mean that there are many paths to sanctity. If there were a prescription for how to live a holy life, we could simply plug in and hold on for the ride. But we are called to carve out that path in the material of our own daily striving. It we are truly listening to the Holy Spirit in consultation with what we know to be true doctrinally, we can't be led astray-- yet the path may lead us unexpectedly-- God may meet us somewhere we didn't think it possible for Him to be. Such surprises are nothing new to the Saints, but they were new to them at some point in their lives. John Heard articulates very well how this seeming paradox occurs. Note the accent on living authentically. Secular postmodernism offers falsehood and the absence of reality. Christ offers something dynamic and life transforming, even if only by steady degrees. We are called to unlimit what God can accomplish in our lives, to see heroic virtue as something possible in our ordinary day. And recall that poster you liked so much, "Ordinary Time: there's nothing ordinary about it."

We know what the prohibitions are; John is asking us to think more expansively about what might be possible, the manifold ways we might pursue Christ, each one of us in our uniquely flawed and infinitely redeemable raw material. When we remove the limits of where God can be and how me might follow, we open wide the doors to Christ- we fear not, we Dread Nought. I admire greatly John's courage and candor.

What a marvelous exercise: to ask ourselves, "Where am I meeting Christ today?"


Dreadnaught responds:

In other places I talk of 'living authentically' in line with the deposit of faith.

What I mean by this is simply that there is always more to living Catholic, more to our faith and our options for service, than a slavish adherence to what has already happened, or what has been previously modelled by other humans.

As long as our model is Christ, as long as were are tied on to orthodoxy, we can adapt to daily or cultural contingencies in ways that might otherwise be surprising, especially if we've had a merely legalistic view of the possibilities.

I guess this is what the saints do, they map out more ways of being Catholic, and they prove the quality of their vision by the virtue they accrue and the souls they win over.*

Thus, today we might blog our faith, we can carry Christ into the 'gay' bar, we can endeavour to write for the secular press and declare our faith - without compromise - in the most hostile regions.

We can be certain that while our particular context might change, the space occupied by the Church is always the same: namely, where Christ has gone before us.

:: The Upshot ::

As long as we hurry after Him, the 'ways of being' open to us are as limitless as His reign.^

* (It is, of course, trivial to speak of 'new' ways of being a Christian. There is, in an important sense, only this way to be a Christian - one must follow Jesus Christ. There is nothing novel then in what a saint either does or is, rather - and I am sure this is why Taylor avoided using 'new' - it might be better to say the saint finds yet another way to do/be part of something 'as old as time and (yet) fresh each morning', namely the Church. This points up the nature of Taylor's 'more'. The 'way of being' is novel only insofar as it is simply phenomenally/experientially unprecedented - but heroic virtue goes further, into 'more' - when it assimilates any such novelty into the wider constancy, what might be called the eschatological irresistibility, of Christ's reign).


Sherry's comment:

I think that Dreadnaught is wrestling with a question that is central to the secular office of the laity which are called to bring Christ to the world outside the parish. If we are the apostles to the unbelieving and unbaptized men, women, cultures, and structures of the world, we have to learn to walk - in obedience and virtue - in unaccustomed places where our allegiance to Christ is not understood or regarded with hostility. Some of us have special calls to follow Christ in especially delicate, difficult, and abandoned places. By the very nature of our call, lay apostles must often think outside the box in applying the faith to the infinitely complex situations into which we are plunged.

Is such a call potentially dangerous to our own faith and walk with Christ? I think the honest answer is that danger attends all vocations - within and without the Church (try talking to people who have lost their faith working within the Church). In some situations the danger is clearer and more immediate than others, but we can all lose our way - and yet, if we don't walk the path through which that Christ has ordained that we should reach heaven - we can lose much more. And those to whom Christ is sending us lose as well.

Which is exactly why is it so critical that we have access to genuine Christian community that is gathered around discipleship, around the teaching of the Church, around the sacraments and prayer - where people who love us and love Christ can say to us "How is it going?" A Christian community that can provide us roots, balance, discernment, and the encouragement necessary to take Christ to our world.

This whole wonderful discussion reminds me of Dorothy Sayer's repeating an observation by A. D. Lindsay in her The Whimsical Christian:

"The difference between ordinary people and saints is not that saints fulfill the plain duties that ordinary men neglect. The things saints do have not usually occurred to ordinary people at all . . .'Gracious" conduct is somehow like the work of an artist. It needs imagination and spontaneity. It is not a choice between presented alternatives but the creation of something new."

Delusional, Irrational Notre Dame Football Fan? This One's for You.



Took a look at this very funny you tube video.

Hat tip: Commonweal blog

where I loved this comment by David Gibson:

It's a bit scary how in my post-conversion life I have come to root reflexively for Notre Dame. My family is spooked.

Yet in my baseball passion, rooting for the Mets, I remain a Calvinist. It is the only way to deal with the inexorable, deflating, ending.

Torture and the Log in Our Eye

Latest update. Mark has taken down his blog post about the Catholic radio interview that seemed to support torture because the produce wrote and said that the show was only a "demo" and will not be aired and only heard by a few people at the network. So to please him I am also taking down his earlier letter to the producer. But color me hmmm . . . skeptical.

I notice that Relevant Radio ran a 1 1/2hour interview with Kevin Miller on the subject of "acceptable torture" on Tuesday. While I have every confidence that Kevin articulated Church teaching carefully during that interview, I can't help but wonder at the strange title. Can we imagine an interview entitled "acceptable abortion" or "acceptable euthanasia" being acceptable to Relevant Radio's listening public? I'm glad in any case that it won't air and perhaps the network will realize that contemplating "edgy" programming that strongly implies a rejection of explicit Church teaching in this area comes with a price.

God bless him! Mark has been relentlessly(and with some fireworks) making the case against torture for several years now and a number of his readers have written in to say that they "get it" now and both understand and support the Church's clear teaching in this area. Now he is beginning to think about writing a book on the subject - a project that I think would be of great value.

There is a fairly big gap between Mark's manner on his blog and his manner in person. You will seldom meet a sweeter, friendlier, more hail-fellow-well-met man than Mark is in person - and I've been a close friend for 20 years now. When he writes on his blog (as opposed to his books and talks which are witty, winsome, and illuminating), his Irish dander is easily aroused and the hyperbole flies. Although as his many readers can attest, he is remarkably willing to apologize when he had gone over the line.

On this subject, Mark has been absolutely right on and he has taken a lot of flack for it. I have often wished (and talked to him about it) that he took more a little more time to edit out the hyperbole and even out the tone which would only strengthen his arguments, I think, and be much better for him emotionally and spiritually. But I also know that many of his readers cherish his swash-buckling verbal exuberance and that he reaches some people that way who would not be drawn to and listen to a cooler, more staid case.

A little passionate rudeness in the course of opposing such a horrific evil will seem a very small matter when Catholics of the next generation look back upon our time and wonder how on earth so many of us - especially those of us who talk a great deal about Church teaching - were willing to support what our parents and grandparents knew to be war crimes. It is not an accident that it was the Pope who survived Nazi-occupied and Communist-run Poland who wrote Evangelium Vitae.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sacramento's 40 Days for Life

A couple of great stories via Catholic News Service:

We’re praying at Planned Parenthood at 29th and B Streets. St. Stephen's took the Wednesday shift and St. Joseph's in Auburn took Thursday. The parking lot of PP is well lit, and as an odd answer to our prayers, PP has hired a nighttime security guard, further insuring our protection throughout the night.

A young man named Hank who works at PP approached me today for the very first time. He began by saying, "I'm curious about something... Are you guys really going to be out here for 40 days? I said, "Yes." He continued incredulously, "...you mean all day and all night?" I answered "Yes" again. He responded, "Wow! That's amazing!" I told him how seriously we felt about this and he said, "Yeah, I know, I've been reading through the 40 Days web site."

He came closer and I took his hand, introducing myself. I told him we cared about him and he said, "Yeah, I know you do," looking me directly in the eye. His lunch break was about up, so he left to return to his job. Please keep Hank in your prayers.

At home, I received a long-distance phone call and a young woman's voice began, "Is this the 40 Days for Life hotline number?" Then, with great anger in her voice, she spoke for several minutes with this theme: "I'm a Christian, but I don't know how you people can judge women who are going in for abortions. You don't know anything about them! How dare you!”

This gave me an opening to tell my story, explaining that I had not always been pro-life, but actually helped my best friend obtain an abortion over twenty years ago, because that is what I thought a "best friend" would do. My friend has suffered tremendously, and I am very regretful for not helping her and her baby.

The woman’s anger gave way to sobbing as she described the "choice" she felt forced to make several years ago. "If someone had only helped me... I was so desperate," and "If I had only known how much it would hurt me, every day of my life, I wouldn't have done it". After about 20 minutes of conversation, she was very receptive to my suggestion that she contact Rachel's Vineyard Post-abortion Healing ministry – in Sacramento: (916) 733-0161, or on the Internet at www.rachelsvineyard.org. A call that began with anger turned into a miracle by God's grace.

And the Nominees Are . . .



Aimee Milburn of Historical Christian has nominated Intentional Disciples for a Mathetes award. Mathetes is the Greek word for disciple and nominees are blogs that foster Christian discipleship.

Started by Dan King of Management by God, the award is spreading around the web. The rules are simple. Winners of this award must pick five other "disciples" to pass it on to. As you pass it on, I just ask that you mention and provide links for (1)this post as the originator of the award (Dan King of management by God), (2) the person that awarded it to you, and then (3) rhe name and sites of the five that you believe are fulfilling the role of a disciple of Christ.

We are greatly honored and encouraged by Aimee's nomination and want to pass on the favor. There are many blogs who fit the bill and many of the major blogs have already been nominated like my friend Mark Shea and Amy Welborn so I won't repeat it here.

And my six nominees are . . .

Disputations (Tom the wry Dominican)
From the Anchorhold (Karen Marie Knapp died suddenly last summer but was such a beacon of Christian charity and spiritual wisdom around St. Blog's)
Catholic Analysis (Oswald Sorbino)
Church of the Masses (Barbara Nicolosi)
Everyday Apostles
Koinonia (Fr. Gregory Jensen, a Greek Orthodox priest)

Individualism and the Relationship with Christ

Cardinal Oscar Rodriquez Maradiaga, SDB, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, gave a presentation at Holy Apostles parish in Colorado Springs several weeks ago while I was on the road. Fortunately, I was able to get a copy of his presentation, and I'd like to share a few of his thoughts with you.

The Cardinal spoke of how individualism promises freedom and independence for each person, along with the promise of autonomy and the ability to practice our own form of justice. However, we inevitably stop to "look and see what others are doing and thinking and become more dependent upon public opinion with relation to what we ought to be thinking, doing, watching, buying, etc."

Finding God in this context requires us to practice a meditation that searches and finds God in every single thing on earth; this is an experience guided by the Holy Spirit, and occurs only when we take the Lord seriously and allow Him to guide our lives. If we do not take him seriously, then we will continue to live in an individualistic way and, instead, find OURSELF in all things.

The Cardinal pointed out that "the Christian of today does not live his life by reacting to what he sees others doing out of the dcorner of his eye, but lives his life in a postivie light ... putting into practice the gift or gifts that the Lord has blessed him with."

Towards the end of his talk, Cardinal Rodriquez touched upon "a personalized spiritual experience." He said, "Not everything associated with individualism is bad...It is because of individualism that we have the personal aspect relating to the Christian experience...There is a personal and unique way God addresses each person. Each person is blessed with a gift or given the power to inspire devotion or enthusiasm. These blessings are unique to the individual but they are given for the benefit of all people and the community."

He also emphasized the need for discernment in the 'personalized spiritual experience.' "We must listen to the personal and unique way in which God speaks to each one of us. The task at hand is to assume the unique and individual role that has been given to us by God, without pretending to occupy His role...To discern is to learn to recognize the feeling associated with Christ's presence... Discernment teaches us how to feel. By studying Christ, we educate our sensitiveness so that we are able to reach, like St. Paul states in a letter to the Philippians: 'the same sentiments that Jesus Christ had, who, aside from His divine condition, did not grapple with His rank of God, instead He made himself one of many...' (Phil 2:5)"

But these individual spiritual experiences, if they are genuine and Spirit-led, lead one to the Church. "It is in the church and in the service of others that things are proven...The Holy Spirit continues to expand the church so that it can give refuge to the lost so that they too can possess the eternal newness that the Holy Spirit has to offer."

Good News

According to the Executive Summary of the UN's State of the Future:

People around the world are becoming healthier, wealthier, better educated, more peaceful,and increasingly connected and they are living longer, but at the same time the world is more corrupt,congested, warmer, and increasingly dangerous.

Good news:

The global economy grew at 5.4% in 2006 to $66 trillion (PPP).
The average world per capita income grew by 4.3%
At this rate world poverty will be cut by more than half between 2000 and 2015, meeting the UN Millennium Development Goal for poverty reduction except in sub-Saharan Africa

The vast majority of the world is living in peace,
conflicts actually decreased over the past decade,
dialogues among differing worldviews are growing,
intra-state conflicts are increasingly being settled by international interventions,
and the number of refugees is falling.
The number of African conflicts fell from a peak of 16 in 2002 to 5 in 2005.

According to WHO, the world’s average life expectancy is increasing from 48 years for those born in 1955 to 73 years for those who will be born in 2025.

According to UNESCO, in 1970 about 37% of all people over the age of 15 were illiterate. That has fallen to less than 18% today.
Between 1999 and 2004 the number of children without primary
education fell by around 21 million to 77 million.

According to Freedom House, the number of free countries grew from 46 to 90 over the
past 30 years, accounting for 46% of the world's population, and for the past several years 64% of countries have been electoral democracies.
Since democracies tend not to fight each other and since humanitarian crises are far more likely under authoritarian than democratic regimes, the trend toward democracy should lead to a more peaceful future among nation states.

Over a billion people (17.5% of the world)are connected to the internet.

World trade grew 15% in 2006, according to the WTO. Higher oil and commodity prices contributed to the 30% trade growth for the least-developed countries—a world record—and their economies continued to exceed 6% for the third year in a row. The debt-to-GDP ratios decreased in all developing regions, partly due to debt forgiveness.

Where we are winning:
• Life expectancy
• Infant mortality
• Literacy
• GDP/cap
• Conflict
• Internet users

Down the Road to Denver

Off to Denver to speak to DRE's about gifts discernment and the implications for their ministry. Will be back in the late afternoon. I leave you in Fr. Mike's capable hands until he leaves this evening for his Cursillo weekend.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Can You Tell Me What a Parish Is?

The spring and summer issues of Chicago Studies - a journal published by Loyola University "for the continuing theological development of priests, deacons, and lay ecclesial ministers" are out.

And they contain the entire proceedings of the symposium on the parish that I participated in last summer: Can You Tell Me What a Parish is? The purpose of the symposium was to explore the state of the question from a variety of perspectives and disciplines: ecclesiology, canon law, constitutional law, etc. I was there to represent the grass roots pastoral perspective.

Part 1 in the Spring issue contains Fr. Michael Sweeney's "The Parish in the Mission of the Church" as well as Cardinal George's talk (just days before he announced that he had cancer)and Mark Chopko. The Summer issue contains my presentation on "The Parish and the Apostolic Formation of the Laity". along with Mark Shea's response to me.

I'm going to have to read it all now in detail and see how much more I pick up than when I was listening to the presentations. Chicago Studies isn't exactly ubiquitous - I think they have a circulation of about 1,500 - and rather heavily focused on the mid-west and diocesan and seminary libraries, I think.

But if you should happen to come across Chicago Studies and read my piece, I'd be interested in and honored by your thoughts.

More Ways of Being Catholic Than Have Been Imagined?

The remarkable, in-your-face Dreadnaught (John Heard) is a gay Catholic man who has shook up the Australian scene with his firm and clear belief in Catholic teaching on sexuality. Clara, our Australian Institute co-Director, turned me onto Dreadnaught last year.)

Anyway, Dreadnaught posted this on Monday and it is thought-provoking in more than one way.

"There are more ways of being a Catholic Christian than either the Vatican rule-makers or the secularist ideologies have yet imagined". - Charles Taylor

Last week I read an article by the philosopher Charles Taylor on sex and Christianity. It was in the magazine Commonweal. Because of the quotation above, I have been thinking about modernity and faith ever since.

However, when rigorously interrogated, secular modernity left me standing (to be honest, trembling) in a dark, wan-glittering space where the Christian world, our world, was destabilized.

It was a place, however I tried to conceive of it, of no-faith.

All the old certainties were challenged and order, all order – the possibility of order - was either overturned or else negated.

It would be silly then to take Taylor’s quote and his juxtaposition as a recommendation. He is not saying that secular modernity is a witness as credible about Christianity as – say - the current Pope.

Indeed, in many instances it seems one must reject secular ideologies, particularly late-Capitalist, secular modernism, if one is going to be any kind of Christian at all.

So, with Taylor, I can believe that there are ways of being a Catholic Christian that the secularist ideologies have missed. They appear to have missed most of them.

What then of the ‘Vatican rule-makers’? What might they have they missed?

Of course, such characterisations are crude. The ‘rule-makers’ are, we know, love-keepers and light-spinners. But they are also, it is uncontroversial to say so, mere men.

The Church, understood for the moment as just its historical complement of human beings – why else would Taylor use ‘yet’ - is only reliably the sum of its human inputs.^

There is, on that view, something to be said about the possibility thrown up by Taylor’s quote.

There may indeed be more ways to live an authentic Catholic Christianity than either the current Pope or else the popes, Curia or Curiae, etc. through history have yet imagined.

It is, without doubt, an exciting idea – it is a cause for great hope, a way of imagining Christianity that doesn’t limit heroic virtue to some glass case in a musuem.

But it is also rather obvious and firmly orthodox.

For it is not really shocking to say that there are more ways to be a Catholic Christian than might be learned from current Vatican texts or codes of canon law.

When G.K. Chesterton said that ‘the Catholic Church is the only thing that saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age’ he meant the Popes too, and he didn’t make the mistake of reducing the Church down to - or equating the Church with, mere instruments of power or particular human teachers.

Indeed, not even the Vatican rule-makers live by Vatican rules alone, certainly not if whatever it is that makes up Vatican rules doesn’t also include Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium.

Those three, which make the merely human Church vulnerable to super-human revelation, eternity and the Holy Spirit, are the important things about the deposit of faith.

They are the things that make the Catholic Church…Catholic.

This is why, and it is something Taylor describes in a very clear way, the Church could re-examine herself, during the Second Vatican Council (or any other Council, for that matter) and decide that there were some areas associated with some Catholic practices and culture that had become, or never really were, authentically Christian.

We only find this idea troubling if we’ve latched onto an overly legalistic, or positivist, conception of authority. Such a view, that something is right, true or good only because it is promulgated, is not the Catholic view.

For these reasons, the modes of Catholic Christianity mapped by the Vatican ‘rule-makers’ are almost always going to be more promising than those offered by a necessarily hostile modernity, but they are not the limit of sanctity. Not by a long shot.

Certainly what the Vatican prohibits cannot be – in good conscience – held out as a valid path to Christian perfection. There is no self-service withdrawal from the deposit of faith.

But between the rock of hypocrisy - those places where the Church as a human institution stumbles, where we as individual Christians fail - and the hard place of modernity, there is a fertile patch of ground - and it is already Christ’s.

It is a place that is also, in a profound sense, occupied by the Catholic Church. And there are people; ideas and ways of being that already flourish there.


What do you think?

Why We Do What We Do

Theresa offers this arresting comment on the Catholic Alpha in Austria post.

A fellow lay Dominican and I were comparing notes on our experiences teaching CCD classes. I had been a substitute for a few weeks and was increasingly amazed at how much the children didn't know. I shared with him my dismay and illustrated it with what happened at the confirmation retreat.

The confirmation class made a retreat day at the John Paul II center in DC. We were standing in front of replicas of Bethelehem and Jerusalem. The students were asked where Jesus was born. No one knew! Even when given the hint, "its in a Christmas carol." They didn't know where he died either. These were eight graders.

His comment was, "after teaching for two years, I went to our pastor and said, 'what these kids need is evangelization not catechesis.' I think that is true of good number of the people in the pews. Folks don't know Jesus - they don't know about him and they don't KNOW him. There is little conscious relationship.

This is why the work you are doing is so important.
"

Even for me, this is stunning - 13 year old cradle Catholics on a confirmation retreat who could probably hack into NATO's computer system but don't know where Jesus was born.

A professor of theology at a major Catholic university who is a reader of ID wrote me yesterday and made a similar comment:

"I particularly liked your observation in another post that evangelization--the church's deepest identity--is also entirely foreign to its sensibility or culture. That is very true, and we both know how such talk repeatedly gets classed as "not Catholic." I grew up in the remnants of a Catholic ghetto in NYC and such talk would have been inconceivable even a decade ago; in many ways, it still is. But, something is afoot, and we have to move forward as a church. Your labors are one such effort . . ."

Thanks for the affirmation and encouraging words.

Other comments?

When Love is Unquenchable

Stephen Pohl has written a moving description (via Catholic Exchange)of his dying father and his relationship with his wife of 60 years and his children.

It is at once an intimate, exhausting and deeply moving experience for everyone.

We children, not present during our parents' courtship, are now witnessing a kind of inverse courtship as their relationship here draws to a close with all the intensity and passion with which it began.

Mom now displays the ardor Dad once showed to get her to the altar of their nuptial Mass, as she prepares to take him to the altar for his funeral Mass, where their sons will be the groomsmen and their daughters the bridesmaids. Meanwhile Mom is attentive to Dad's needs, solicitous of his desires, patient in making sure she understands him and that he understands her.

Love is on a collision course with death, grief and eternity. At that intersection stands the crucified and risen Christ.


Read the whole thing. Pray for Stephen's family and for all who are dying or suffering today.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Snapshots from the Road

I've had the chance to witness the charism of prophecy manifesting in two very different people over the past month and neither has been involved with the charismatic renewal.

One is a young husband and father who is also Director of Adult Faith Formation at a large parish. He receives prophetic insights for his parish while praying and amazingly enough, is respected enough by his fellow staff to be able to share what he has received and be taken seriously! He has a passionate desire to see his parish develop a culture of discipleship and become a center of lay formation.

The other is an exuberant newly retired widow who is preparing to take a private vow of celibacy. She was very happily married for 32 years and is now amazed to discover that she is also very happy as a single woman. She feels very strongly that she is to simply make herself completely available to God. This woman seems to demonstrate both charisms of evangelism and prophecy. She has been known to feel impressed to say out of the blue to relative strangers "Its time you entered the Church!" and they do!

Just some of the fascinating, inspiring people we meet as we travel around the country helping Catholics discern charisms.

Cardinal George on Catholic Identity

John Allen was in Chicago recently and had an interview with Francis Cardinal George. In it, he asked the Cardinal about Catholic identity and culture - something that has been discussed in comments on this blog. I thought it might be helpful to quote the interview at some length and offer a few comments.

Allen: In March, Cardinal Bertone gave an address to the Ethics and Finance Association in the city of Milan. Asked to express the "main objective" of Benedict's pontificate, he offered this formula: "To recover authentic Christian identity and to explain and confirm the intelligibility of the faith in the context of widespread secularism." Why the concern with identity?

Cardinal George: I think there are two sides to that. One is what John Paul II often said, that there are whole cultures that used to be shaped by the faith but that aren't shaped by the faith any longer. The culture the present Holy Father, Benedict XVI, is most concerned about is that of Western Europe and its cultural colonies, like our own country. In that particular culture, individualism is so embedded that the loss of a collective identity is rampant. Each one feels not only free but obliged to determine his or her own religious identity, so we have a plethora of understandings of what it means to be Catholic as well as what it means to be human and what it means to be anything else. It's hard to bring that all together, because the culture doesn't foster any kind of collective identity … Depending upon whether you're left or right, as we define those terms in the culture today, you have trouble with one [element of Catholic identity] or the other. The right would say, 'I accept all the faith, but I can't stand the bishop,' while on the other hand the left says, 'The faith is goofy, but my bishop's not a bad guy.'

Allen: On the subject of religious identity, sociologists Rodney Stark and William Bainbridge talk about the distinction between "high tension" and "low tension" religion, arguing that over time low tension groups tend to dissolve into secularism.

Cardinal George: That's right. In the '60s, it was very important to show you could be American and Catholic. Whole magazines were devoted to that. There was a collective sigh of relief at the Second Vatican Council, with human freedom being so much in the forefront of the conciliar concerns, that the tension wasn't there anymore. I think some of the moves of the church in that period now seem sociologically naïve, in their long-term consequences.

Allen: What do you have in mind?

Cardinal George: Catholicism as a distinctive way of life was defined by eating habits and fasting, and by days especially set aside that weren't part of the general secular calendar. They were reminders that the church is our mediator in our relationship to God, and can enter into the horarium [calendar] that we keep, into the foods that we eat, into all the aspects of daily life, into sexual life. Once you say that all those things can be done individually, as you choose to do penance, for example, you reduce the collective presence of the church in somebody's consciousness. At that point, the church as mediator becomes more an idea for many people. Even if they accept it, it's not a practice. So then when the church turns around and says 'You have to do this,' then resistance is there to say, 'How can you tell me that? I'm deciding on my life for myself, and you even told me I could!'

Allen: So what's the answer? Is it rebuilding a subculture?

Cardinal George: I suppose it is, though not in a way that's divorced from the culture that we have now, which is ours - what else are we? … Ordinary lay people are to consecrate the world from within the world, as their world, not to be separate from it. If there is a subculture, it would have to be developed naturally in relationship to today's crisis, as earlier institutions were at one point. You can't go back, I think, and imagine that we're in the 19th century, just taking those solutions, good though they were then, to be ours now.

Allen: Can you point to something that offers an example of a viable contemporary Catholic subculture not excessively cut off from the broader society?

Do I see evidence of life in the church? Yes, and I think it’s primarily in the parishes. In Protestant ecclesiology, the church is what we would call a parish — this is my church. The church in Catholic ecclesiology is a diocese which has parishes, and then the universal church. Parishes are very strong in this kind of culture, and without being Protestants, we organize ourselves more or less along those lines. A lot of effort goes into the parishes, and some of the parishes are extremely good. They create a world, a subculture, as people get involved in their parish, which is sufficient very often for people to pursue in the world. Maybe there are other things too, but the parish is very important.


My comments:
1) The interview began with a quote from Cardinal Bertone on Pope Benedict XVI's interest in recovering an authentic Christian identity that can communicate effectively with a secular culture. Cardinal George later speaks of how Catholicism as a way of life was distinctive in terms of fasting, holy days, and other practices that marked the whole of the Christian's life. However, these practices weren't distinctive (theoretically) in Christendom, where presumably most everyone was Catholic. Some of the Catholic distinctives became distinctive after the Reformation, and in the U.S., Catholic practices, e.g. particular devotions, processions, abstaining from meat on Fridays, etc., distinguished Catholics (especially persecuted Catholic immigrants) from a Protestant culture and gave a better sense of community and identity.

The danger comes when these practices, which are all meant to deepen our relationship with Christ and his people, become ends in themselves, as I mentioned in an earlier post this morning. Perhaps our traditional Catholic devotions were discarded so widely after the Council not only because we wanted to "fit in" to our culture, but also because they had become unmoored from their goal: greater union with Jesus. For this reason we couldn't see their value; their value had become identified with, "this is what makes me different from those Protestants."

2) The Cardinal wisely points out that any distinctive Catholic subculture that develops today must somehow "explain and confirm the intelligibility of the faith" (to use Bertone's words) to the dominant culture, which is marked by post-modern secularism. It would be good for us, as we fast, pray, give alms (for example), to be conscious of why we are doing so in two regards.

First of all, how do I intend this practice to bring me closer to Christ, and secondly, in what way does it address and challenge an aspect of contemporary culture that is contrary to the fullness of human life? These two are intimately related, because, as the Cardinal points out, we are all products of the secular culture in which we are immersed from birth. That means my drawing closer to Christ requires me to (among many other things) consciously recognize and reject aspects of my culture like individualism and relativism that have formed me and that are inimical to the Gospel.

Unless I'm mistaken, the Cardinal may also be encouraging the development of new devotional practices that arise from an analysis of and a response to contemporary secularism. That's a creative challenge!

3) Cardinal George identifies the parish as a Catholic institution in the U.S. that is sufficiently "dense" enough to stand up to contemporary secularism, while at the same time allowing for interaction with and the transformation of secular culture from within. This is precisely why the Institute has consciously chosen to work primarily with parishes. That, and the fact that most Catholics encounter the larger Church and Christ through their parish.

But just as our devotions will be vibrant and effective if they draw us to Christ and lead us to service of others, so, too, our parishes. The vibrant parishes Cardinal George mentions must be those that both draw people to Christ through the liturgy, devotions, proclamation and catechesis, and form them as apostles who are sent into the world as leaven, light, salt and clever little lambs in the midst of wolves.

Catholic Alpha in Austria

There was an interesting conversation over at Amy Welborn's yesterday about evangelization - and what we can learn and not learn from evangelicals in this area and of course, I took part. One thing I suggested was that Catholics stop spending their time gawking at the bizarre and marginal evangelistic efforts that so often make the news and focus on learning from the really effective efforts like the Alpha Course.

Wolf Paul, who was raised Catholic in Austria, wrote in to share his experience of Alpha in Austria:

I don’t know what the situation is in the US, but in Austria the Alpha Course is a predominantly Roman Catholic project. Of course, Evangelicals and Charismatics also use it, but the driving force behind it is people from the Catholic “movimenti”, the renewal movements.

Again, can’t comment on the US situation (because while in the US I moved exclusively in Evangelical circles), but having grown up Catholic here in Austria, in a VERY Catholic family, I can confirm Sherry Weddell’s comment about many (most?) Catholics not hearing anything in church about a relationship with God and Jesus.

When I grew up the only people I ever heard talking about religion in terms of relationship were those who focused their piety on the BVM or some other saint– they talked about having a relationship with that saint. Jesus and God were considered far too remote and lofty to have a relationship with.

Now the renewal movements talk about having a relationship with Jesus, but the vast majority of parishes are wary of these movements because they rock the boat and can polarize the parish.


The Alpha course is a Catholic phenomena in those parts of Europe which were historically Catholic. To get a rather stunning sense of how widespread Alpha has become, go here and click on the nation flag of your choice to see Alpha activity in that country.

One reason for Alpha's growth in historically Catholic areas? As Wolf put it above "Catholics not hearing anything in church about a relationship with God and Jesus."

The One Thing


The late Jack Palance played grizzled cowboy Curly Washburn in the 1991 comedy City Slickers. In one scene, Curly offers a bit of advice to one of the urban cowboys who is trying to get his life back together.

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
Curly: This. [holds up one finger]

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean @(*&%$.

Mitch: But what is the "one thing?"

Curly: [smiles] That's what you have to find out.


I wonder if the writers of City Slickers had today's gospel passage in mind when they wrote that dialogue.

Jesus entered a village
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
“Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me.”
The Lord said to her in reply,
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.” Luke 10:38-42

What is the "one thing" for the Christian? Mary discovered it: being focused on the Lord. It is very easy for us to be anxious and worried about many things - including good things, like hospitality, or even "serving the Lord." In my own ministry I was - and still am, unfortunately - often very busy. But if my focus is taken from Jesus, the ministry will falter, and I'll begin focusing on myself. "How am I doing? Is our ministry successful? How's our attendance at Mass?" and on and on.

Just as my focus can shift from Christ to me in the active life, it can also shift from Christ in the life of prayer! I can approach the life of prayer like a checklist: "Did I get to Mass today? Say my rosary? Did I get the Divine Mercy chaplet in?" Or I can get upset that Mass wasn't just as I wanted: not reverent enough, or too formal; the music was poor or from the wrong period; the church architecture too traditional or too modern; the priest used inclusive language -or didn't - and on and on. Again, the focus has shifted from Christ to me.

When we are anxious and upset over anything, it may well be a sign that we've begun to focus on the means, rather than the end, which is the encounter with Christ, our Lord, our Savior, our Love, our Life. It is so easy to replace the end, the one needful thing - or, better, the One we need - with something that ultimately will pass away.

We cannot be satisfied by something that is good, perhaps, but not the Good. When that happens we'll always end up seeking "the More". When we lose sight of "the One," we'll become lost and engrossed in the many.

What is Cursillo?

This Thursday evening through Sunday I will be attending a Cursillo outside Colorado Springs. I have never been able to attend one before, and hadn't even been invited to attend one until after I was ordained and my weekends were generally full. I jumped at the opportunity when I was invited a few months ago by a parishioner at Holy Apostles. Sherry and I mention the Cursillo movement as one of the ways of evangelizing Catholics, but neither of us had attended one.

But I'm a bit confused. One Cursillista agreed that it's a tool for evangelization, while another said, no, it's purpose is to develop and support leadership among Catholic lay folks who are already engaged in their faith. The Cursillo website page titled, "What is Cursillo?" is linked in the title of this post. It wasn't very helpful - I'm guessing because the flow and content of the Cursillo is kept under wraps in order to have a greater impact on the attendees.

So without divulging the content of the Cursillo weekend, what effect did it have on your life?
Is it an evangelizing tool, a means of supporting active lay Catholic leaders, both?
Or did you experience something entirely different?
To whom would you recommend the weekend?

Thanks for your input.

East Bay Catholic Men's Conference

Here's a conference of interest:

The East Bay Catholic Men's Conference - November 10, 8 - 4pm

This conference is being co-sponsored by the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, Ignatius Press, and the Diocese of Oakland.

The topic is Fatherhood. Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP who founded the Institute with me and who is now President of the DSPT, will be one of the speakers. Fr. Michael is a marvelous speaker and sure to have something different and interesting to say on the subject.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Observations From A Reader

Thank you for the blog, "Intentional Disciples". I learned of it through Mark Shea's blog. You bring up many issues and give many impressions of the Church that correspond with mine. I too am looking to practice discipleship and find it a very lonesome undertaking.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

In Heaven it is Alwaies Autumne



John Donne gave this sermon on Christmas Day, 1624 but it is also beautifully appropriate for autumn:

"God made Sun and Moon to distinguish seasons, and day, and night, and we cannot have the fruits of the earth but in their seasons: But God hath made no decree to distinguish the seasons of his mercies; In paradise, the fruits were ripe, the first minute, and in heaven it is alwaies Autumne, his mercies are ever in their maturity. We ask panem quotidianum, our daily bread, and God never sayes you should have come yesterday, he never sayes you must againe to morrow, but to day if you will heare his voice, to day he will heare you.

If some King of the earth have so large an extent of Dominion, in North and South, as that he hath Winter and Summer together in his Dominions, so large an extent East and West, as that he hath day and night together in his Dominions, much more hath God mercy and judgement together: He brought light out of darknesse, not out of a lesser light; he can bring thy Summer out of Winter, though thou have no Spring; though in the wayes of fortune, or understanding, or conscience, thou have been benighted till now, wintred and frozen, clouded and eclypsed, damped and benummed, smothered and stupified till now, now God comes to thee, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spiring, but as the Sun at noon to illustrate all shadowes, as the sheaves in harvest, to fill all penurees, all occasions invite his mercies, and all times are his seasons."

Thursday, October 4, 2007

St. Francis, Patron of "Wordless Evangelization"?

Fr. Mike has recently posted some wonderful reflections on the "spiral of silence" and American Catholics unwillingness to share their faith with others. Today we celebrate the life of a saint who seems to have been taken up as the patron of "wordless evangelization." We all know the story: St. Francis, silently leading his cowled friars through the narrow streets of a medieval village, turns to them and proclaims, "Preach the Gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words."

This quote has become the founding document and rallying cry for those of us who are evangeliphobes. Rather than engaging in "God talk", wordless evangelizers witness to the Gospel by the spotless purity of our lives and manifest charity expressed in our works of love. However, there are a few problems here. First, the saying attributed to St. Francis is apocryphal. Franciscan scholars have been unable to locate the saying in any of the early documents of the Franciscan Order and, indeed, in any writings in the Order's first 200 years. The quote probably originated as a take-off from a section of the Rule of 1221, which, exhorting the friars to get proper permission before preaching, adds, "Let all the brothers, however, preach by their deeds." We can see that, in this case, preaching and good deeds are not being played off one another. While the friars are to "preach with their deeds" it is presupposed that they would also, given the necessary permission, preach with their words as well.

We have good scriptural warrant for the impossibility of a purely wordless evangelism. In Romans 10:14-17 we read: "But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?...So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ"

No matter how pure our lives or charitable our deeds (and we should brutally honest in examining ourselves in this regard), without the proclamation of the Gospel, without speaking and writing about the Good News, people will not be evangelized. Charitable works and works of power performed in Jesus' name have a place in evangelization. Such works can prepare people's hearts to receive the good news of the Gospel and they can powerfully confirm the message of that Gospel. What they cannot do is replace the proclamation of the Gospel message. St. Francis knew this. He preached this message at all times, even when his life was at stake. Let us ask his intercession today, that we too may be evangelizers in word and deed.

Holy Father Francis


El Greco's painting of St. Francis is one of my favorites of this great saint. No sentimental depiction of him preaching to birds or animals, but only the saint in deep meditation upon the cross of his Lord. His sunken cheeks speak of the hard discipline his "brother body" has endured, in order that he might experience the promise Jesus made to him during his prayer. "Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy."

Francis' life became such a reflection of Jesus' that his hands and feet bear His wounds. The skull is a reminder to Francis and us of the shortness of our life. And although the painting is dark, the brightness of Francis' face draw our eyes to it, and Francis' gaze invites us to also focus on the cross and to join him in prayer, "We adore you and we bless you, Lord Jesus Christ, here and in all the churches which are in the whole world, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world."

An Example of the Spiral of Silence

Most evenings I check out the Creighton University Daily Reflection Calendar to read and reflect upon the next days' readings at Mass. Often I also look at the reflection on the readings written by a member of the Creighton community (linked in the title of this post). This morning I was struck by the reflection of Brian Kokensparger, computer support coordinator for the Creighton College of Arts & Sciences, which I share with you here. His experience is an example of the "spiral of silence," and his reflection is beautiful.

"I recently attended a meeting of faculty and staff here at Creighton, to talk about how each of us works towards the mission of the University. We talked for about an hour, after which one of the erudite Jesuits spoke up: 'We have talked about the mission for an hour, but not once has anyone mentioned Jesus Christ.'

The room went silent. He was right.

Our mission statement explicitly mentions Jesus. Why didn’t we?

Even at Creighton University, where we work very hard to create an atmosphere where we can freely exhibit the Christian and Catholic nature of our University, I am often hesitant to mention the name of Jesus Christ in all but my most familiar circles. It’s not that I’m ashamed, or even afraid; it’s just that I don’t want to 'scare anyone away' with 'God talk.'

Could it be that discussing our love of Jesus Christ and the faithful providence of God’s love has become so rare that we categorize it as a special kind of discussion, much as we might describe 'baby talk' or 'money talk?' Do we fear that telltale rolling of the eyes when we interject a little bit of God Talk into an otherwise mundane discussion?

In today’s Gospel, the disciples are appointed and sent out ahead of Jesus. Jesus instructs them to 'eat what is set before you,' to cure the sick, and to say 'The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.'

There it is. God Talk. Jesus was all about God Talk. He lived God Talk. He taught God Talk (remember the Lord’s Prayer?). I don’t recall any passage in the Gospels where Jesus tells His disciples to witness to the coming of the Kingdom of God, but to maybe soften the message a bit when talking to people who may not take the message the right way and to be careful not to 'scare potential disciples away.'

St. Francis and his fellow Religious modeled their lives after this Gospel passage, proclaiming the Word of God to those who would hear it, eating the food that was offered, and sleeping in any house where they were invited. Most likely, they didn’t temper their message based upon the receptivity of their audiences; in fact, they were given specific instructions on how to deal with those who would not receive them: Pray for them.

Yet, I would be remiss here if I did not explore this charge a little further. In my heart of hearts, I do not believe that Jesus is calling us to blurt out passage and verse in the middle of board meetings and around the morning coffee cart. If not supported with a prayer life, words about Jesus Christ can be just as shallow and meaningless as words about that new BMW some of us might like to buy.

In musical theatre, I’ve learned that the very best musical productions are staged in a way that, when that big musical number comes up, the performers are so immersed in the flow of the performance that they can do nothing else but break into song.

Let us 'stage' our prayer and our lives in such a way that, when the time comes to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God, we are so immersed in the flow of Jesus’ presence in our world that it is our most natural, authentic, response. Our 'audiences' will recognize and share that moment with us, and our words will ring authentically in their ears."

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Revisiting the Spiral of Silence


Sherry wrote a few days ago about the Spiral of Silence, a communications theory postulated by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann over 25 years ago. As Sherry succinctly described it, "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."

I believe part of the point Sherry was making was missed. What is sometimes proposed as a Catholic way of living the faith without talking about it may actually be a response to the clearly secular nature of contemporary American culture. In many popular television shows Christianity is often trivialized (think "South Park"), or Catholics are depicted as ignorant and superstitious (e.g., "Dogma"). That is part of the "opinion expressed as dominant by the media." I won't even go into the sound-byte treatment of magisterial pronouncements in the secular press. The media in our country fosters a culture of silence among Catholics.

But while poll after poll indicate 95% or more of Americans believe in God or a universal spirit, our contemporary misunderstanding of the Jeffersonian idea of the separation of Church and State tends to marginalize religious conversations even more. Stephen L. Carter, a law professor at Yale wrote, "The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion," and advanced the thesis that American law and politics "trivialize" religion by forcing the religiously faithful to subordinate their personal views to a public faith largely devoid of religion. Carter cogently argues that religious beliefs are marginalized in our society and political stances founded on faith treated as invalid. This adds further pressure upon the believer to keep his or her mouth shut.

Contributors at ID are sometimes accused of being "Protestant" or too focused upon talking about faith, rather than living it, or focusing on subjective feelings rather than sacramental reality. I would propose that talking about one's relationship with Jesus, along with participating in the sacramental life of the Church, personal prayer, and performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, are all essential elements of the Church's communio.

Fr. Robert Barron, a priest from the Archdiocese of Chicago who teaches theology at Our Lady of the Lake University, describes communio as being like a rose window in a cathedral, "a wheel of light and color, all of whose elements are focused around a center that is invariably a depiction of Christ…it is a symbol of the well-ordered psyche, the well-ordered city, the well-ordered cosmos…Jesus preaches this communio message when he says, 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and the rest will be given unto you.' In other words, find the center, and the periphery will tend to fall into place around it."

If Christ is the center of our life and the object of our love, it would be unusual for him to not crop up in our conversations from time to time. I talk about the people I love with others. I am terrible at keeping really good news I've received to myself. And if we are indeed living our faith and becoming more and more like him, then "through this wordless witness" we will "stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how [we] live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst?" Pope Paul VI said, "Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization." [Evangelii Nuntiandi, 21]

But as the Pope explained, "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. The history of the Church, from the discourse of Peter on the morning of Pentecost onwards, has been intermingled and identified with the history of this proclamation." [EN, 22]

St. Paul certainly talked about Jesus, and was filled with a sense of urgency over the importance of that proclamation. "But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring (the) good news!'" Rom 10:14-15

The spiral of silence may explain why we may tend to not talk about our faith. Talk is cheap, but a life lived in such a way that it doesn't make sense unless God exists is bound to generate curiosity - and plenty of opportunities to give the reason behind our behavior.

But the same dynamics that prevent one from speaking against a perceived majority perspective also tend to prevent one from acting in a way perceived as strange – and Christianity is the strangest Way. So it should not be surprising that a recent survey from the Barna Group on Christians in America indicated virtually no difference in worldview and behavior from that of non-Christians.

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An Unusual Birthday Party

Monday after morning Mass I was invited to the birthday celebration of a young woman (I'll call her Vicky) who was baptized as a Catholic, but raised as a Protestant when her parents left the Catholic Church in her youth. She is cautiously returning to full communion; asking questions, attending daily Mass, participating in Eucharistic adoration. It was her twenty-fifth birthday, and some friends of hers were going to meet at a local park at 5:30 p.m.

When I arrived with another friend who was invited, I was welcomed by Kelly, a thirty- to forty- year old black woman dressed in military fatigues who took me over to Vicky. Other folks, mostly in their twenties, but some a bit younger were playing Frisbee, setting up a volleyball net, and milling about a table covered with pizzas, vegetable trays, and a couple of cakes. The only people I recognized were Vicky and three fellows from the gym where Vicky and I exercise each morning.

Before long I was introduced to Kelly's fiancé, Terry, who has such severe arthritis in his right shoulder that he needs surgery, and was concerned that the surgeon might remove the arm entirely. "Would you pray with me, pastor?" he asked. So we prayed over his arm for a bit. We got to talking afterward, and Terry told me how he'd been released from the penitentiary a few years ago, and how he and Kelly were sleeping in a tent in a park downtown.

Then the volleyball game began, and Kelly and Terry participated on opposing teams. Cries of "good hit, Kelly" or "nice try, Terry" punctuated the hour-long game.

At the end of the evening, after having met Vicky's mom and dad and seven of her eight siblings, the friend who had driven with me pointed out that Kelly and Terry had met Vicky at the local soup kitchen recently when Vicky was there volunteering. She was taking Jesus at his word, at least in a small way,

"When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." Lk 14:12-14

For at least an evening, Kelly and Terry were received, not as homeless people, but party-goers. They had conversations with people who might not have made eye contact with them out on the street. They were hugged when the party ended. They belonged. And perhaps that's the point Jesus was trying to make with his host. "The poor are welcomed to my banquet, so welcome them to yours."

What's more, in another conversation with Terry, I heard of his desire to somehow have an opportunity to speak to youth, especially at-risk youth. He wanted to share with them what he's learned from his mistakes, so they don't make them as well. I was impressed with his generosity.

He also wanted to know where I was pastor. The parish where I help out is on the other side of town from where he camps, and he was disappointed because he has no car. But the cathedral of St. Mary's is quite close, right across from the soup kitchen.

Will he be welcomed there?

It didn't cross my mind to say, "Let me meet you and take you to the church where I worship."

I can learn from Vicky - and Jesus.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Latte Land: A "cool Seattle rain"

That's for fans of Seattle's great classical music station KING-FM who used to talk about a "cool Seattle rain" - anyway - it's back to Latte land for me this week which is always a cheerful prospect. I must learn not to complain about the rain which I am no longer used to and I must not compare it to Colorado Springs' glorious weather at this time of year.

Just enjoy it for its cool, funky, damp, artsy, jumbled Seattle self - and my dear family and friends who live there.

Anyway, I leave very early tomorrow morning. I'll probably be able to get in some blogging - but it will be limited. I leave you in the capable hands of Fr. Mike, Keith, the other Sherry, Kathy Lundquist, and Br. Matthew.

The heat is on. Let's see how they deliver!

Meeting St. Therese of Lisieux

Just wanted to let you know that I have a piece up on Catholic Exchange today describing my encounter with St. Therese. Click the title of this post or go here and share your own stories in the comments.

How did you first meet St. Therese?

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Love in Baghdad

This month's Lausanne World Pulse contains a luminous first person account of costly discipleship in Baghdad by an Anglican, the Rev’d Cannon Andrew White. Do read it in its entirety. Here are some snippets.

As I sit and write this article, I can hear automatic weapons firing. I cannot imagine the tragedy going on outside our compound at this very moment. Constantly, I have people asking me to help them escape to another nation. It is not pleasant to live in one of the most dangerous places on earth. Yet I know this is where my work is; this is where God has sent me and this is where I love to be, here in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq. Today is Sunday, so we had church this morning. As I led worship, I saw my congregation place their body armour, rifles and helmets aside and start to praise the living God.

Snip.

In the midst of this war and trauma, we have a gospel to proclaim, the good news of Jesus. The whole notion of evangelism must be treated totally and utterly different in this context. There is no preaching on the streets or encouraging your congregation to convert the masses. Such activity would result in certain death.

Despite these restrictions, there is ample opportunity to show and share the good news of Jesus. The prime way is through love and prayer. I have seen people come to faith in Jesus. I have baptised people and then sought to find protection for them as the death threats grew. One little girl whose mother became a Christian started telling friends that every night her mother talked to Jesus. It was not long before they also were forced to flee. I have wept when people I have loved had come to faith and then been killed. Here it is a matter of life and death.


Snip.

Despite the difficulties of serving Jesus in Baghdad, there are several things we, as God’s Church, must and can do.

1. Love
Jesus taught us to love our enemies. Although it is not easy to love bad people, God can give us the grace to do it. Throughout my life I have listened to countless sermons, telling us we do not have to like our enemies—we just have to love them. Love is reduced to not pursuing the negative of hate.

To this attitude I say nonsense! Love is real. It is difficult, it is costly and it changes lives because it enables people to see Jesus. In our context, it is not some liberal concept of evangelism without risks—even loving these people is taking great risks. Love does and has completely changed people.


Snip.

We also need to seriously pray. I have a small group of intercessors who pray and intercede for us in our work. Although I cannot always tell them what is really happening, they often know because God tells them. There have been countless times when our intercessors have told me they have been praying about actual things that happened which I have not told them about. We should expect our Lord to work in supernatural ways when we are dealing with supernatural things.

Snip.

The Christians here in Iraq are wonderful and have an amazing history. At Christmas their evangelistic activity is to have a party for the locals where they show them love and give them food. Before the event, the Christians seriously pray for the event. If we really support and love the people here, we will provide them with food, water and money so they can continue to show love so that the gospel will be made known.

5. Expect Miracles
In such trauma, we must rely on the miraculous more and more. When people are sick, ill and dying, we often have no doctors to take them to. They have either left or been killed. Jesus often comes and heals our sick people. Because of this, people of other faiths see we have a God of miracles and it is not long before they want to come to the Great Physician as well. They want something back in their loss and Jesus alone can give it to them. Even in the midst of this crisis, God is still real and full of love. When people see him, they are drawn to him. And as we continue to serve him, we love, pray, seek to understand our context and the local church and expect miracles.

Speaking of Called & Gifted workshops

I'm going to post this today since I take off tomorrow:

Those of you in the Houston area, consider attending this weekend's C & G in Longview, Texas with Fr. Mike

Meanwhile, I'll be in Seattle, spending some time with family and friends and then teaching parish leaders how to facilitate the discernment of others at St. Brendan's in Bothell.

Because our parishes are filled with Claudia's.

How is God calling you?

She's Like Esther!

I've told the story of Claudia Bohnert before but I finally found more information and a picture of her on the Maryknoll Lay Missioners Website:

A little background:

In August of 2005, I received a letter from a recently retired pharmacist (who I had not met) named Claudia who had attended a Called & Gifted workshop in a South Carolina parish (that I did not teach).

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

And now the rest of the story:



Claudia joined MKLM in 2005. Although originally from Bethpage, N.Y., she came to Maryknoll from Annapolis, MD. Claudia holds a PhD in pharmacology and worked for thirty years in the pharmaceutical industry. She has extensive international experience in strategic planning and chairing and working on boards, as well as extensive technical expertise in research and development of drugs.

Claudia was very involved at St. Mary’s Parish in the Diocese of Baltimore, where she taught English as a second language. She also volunteered at an orphanage for AIDS babies, a home for women with AIDS and their children, and a homeless shelter. Claudia received degrees at the State University of N.Y. at Albany and University of Rochester School of Medicine. She is a mother with two grown children.

Current Ministry:

Claudia teaches clinical pharmacology to medical students at Weill Bugando University College of Health Sciences. This is a new medical school founded by the Tanzanian government and Catholic Church, with Weill Cornell Medical College (U.S.), to increase the number of MDs above today’s single MD for every 25,000 Tanzanians. The first class is scheduled to graduate in 2008.

Claudia’s also teaches pharmacology to MDs seeking further specialization, and to Intensive Care Unit staff and anesthetic nurses. Her research at Weill Bugando Medical Centre includes a clinical study of schistosomiasis, a major tropical disease in Africa. She also serves as study coordinator for a large clinical trial of a drug regimen to treat AIDS in the poor in rural Africa who lack access to AIDS drugs used elsewhere.


I am blown away. Claudia is impacting so many lives. What moves me most in reading this is noting how incredibly skilled and experienced Claudia is, what a wealth of knowledge she has to offer. Claudia is an Esther and she has obviously been prepared for just such as time as this.

And yet, the irony is that such a possibility was beyond anything Claudia had ever envisioned for herself. As Claudia put it, “I was deliberating what to do next and whether there might be some purpose for my life.” Discerning her charisms “set me on a path that I’d probably taken years to find on my own.”

What can one person do?

What Can One Person Do?

I love this.

The story (via the New York Times) of the obscure mid-level government official (Eduardo Arias) in Panama who read a label on a toothpaste container last May and then patiently spent a day off walking (he doesn't own a car) from health department to health department attempting to report that the toothpaste contained poison.

And in so doing set off a hunt for poisoned toothpaste that reverberated across 6 continents, reached all the way to China and saved who knows how many lives.

Fr. Michael Sweeney (my former partner in crime before Mr. Mike joined us) told me of once witnessing this exchange between a young college student and Dorothy Day. The young woman asked Dorothy "but what can one person do?". To which Day responded with some asperity:

"What is it that you lack? You are young, free, educated, healthy. Just what is it that you lack?

I've talked to so many western Christians who feel helpless to make a difference outside their own little circle. We are the freeist, wealthiest, most privileged people with access to the most remarkable technology in a globalized world and we are still asking "What can one person do?"

Sometimes this question can just be a way to blow off our larger responsibilities as lay apostles. But sometimes, it is because we truly believe that we are powerless because we have only heard the stories of people who do small things with small impact. That being obscure is the same thing as being powerless.

In fact, I've noticed that Catholics sometimes prefer the stories of small things. I recently overheard a man observe that he was uncomfortable with the stories of creative lay apostles being featured every week in his parish's bulletin. Stories of ordinary Catholics engaged in prison ministry or going on short term mission trips or working in creative ways with the homeless or unemployed. Why can't they talk about things that most Catholic can identify with, he asked, like smiling at someone or maybe bringing them a casserole?

Because my friend, we can smile at someone and tackle the transformation of human structures and cultures. We can do small things with great love and large things with great love at the same time. Indeed, you can't do large things with great fruitfulness unless you attend to the small things as well.

Because we are exceptionally privileged lay apostles called by Christ, as part of the overall mission of evangelization, to transform the cultures and structures of the world so that they nourish all that is fully human.

Because "a little butterfly in Panama beat her wings and created a storm in China.”

The Least is the Greatest


Today is the feast of St. Therese of Liseux, the "Little Flower," and by happy coincidence the day's Gospel (Lk 9:46-50) fits her beautifully. In response to the rivalry and envy Jesus recognizes between his disciples, he has a child stand next to himself and tells them, "“Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.” (Lk 9:48).

Children didn't matter much in Jesus' culture, and certainly would have been considered among "the least." To "receive" one such as a child requires something of a death within us. How often have we had the experience of meeting someone who is important, and watched their gaze focus somewhere over our shoulder, searching for someone "greater?" I can tell you I've done the same thing to others; after Mass when one of Christ's anawim (e.g., an adult whom I find to be a bit odd, or the woman who always has a complaint, or the bore) approaches me and craves my attention.

I can't help but imagine that when you encountered Jesus, you knew you mattered. I can imagine his gaze was penetrating, and depending upon the state of your soul, immensely challenging or tremendously comforting - and perhaps both, simultaneously. But you knew you mattered. It can be the same way in prayer, at least when we are able to stop focusing upon ourselves.

To "receive" someone is to engage in a kind of kenosis, or self-emptying. I have to set aside my own desire to be accepted, to impress. I have to stop evaluating how I am coming across to the other. I have to be humble, like Jesus, who, "though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross." (Phil 2:6-8)

Therese sought this kind of self-emptying. She chose to do simple acts of kindness and service with the greatest love possible. I remember reading that the nun in her convent who was most annoying to Therese thought herself to be Therese's greatest friend! This great saint and Doctor of the Church believed, “One word or a pleasing smile is often enough to raise up a saddened and wounded soul.” That simple observation reveals the heart of one who has forgotten herself and is able to receive the other as Christ.

Who needs your attentive and caring gaze today? What wounded soul will the Lord place in your life, and how might He work through you for that person's good? My prayer this morning is to less prideful, less preoccupied with my self, so as to make room for Jesus. For the objective of our own kenosis is not to be filled with that wounded person who stands before me, but to be filled with Christ, who alone brings healing to the world.