Monday, December 31, 2007

Twenty Catholic Church Workers Gave Their Lives in 2007

Let us remember them, pray for them, honor them: Via Catholic News Service:

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- From the war-torn lands of Iraq and Sri Lanka to violence-ridden neighborhoods around the world, at least 20 Catholic Church workers were murdered or sacrificed their lives for others in 2007, the Vatican's Fides agency said.

Each year, Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, publishes a list of pastoral workers who died violently. The 2007 list was released Dec. 29. The Fides report included a priest whose death was found most likely to be self-induced and accidental.

While Fides does not refer to the missionaries as martyrs -- technically a term reserved for those the church formally recognizes as having given their lives for the faith -- it said it was important to remember their sacrifices and to recognize that "each one of them, in a different way, contributed to the growth of the church in various parts of the world."

The list included Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni and three subdeacons who were shot outside a church in Mosul, Iraq, in June; and Father Nicholaspillai Packiyaranjith, a diocesan priest who worked with the Jesuit Refugee Service in Mannar, Sri Lanka, and was killed in September when a roadside bomb exploded as he was driving to a refugee camp.

Fides also highlighted the case of Sister Anne Thole, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Family, who died in April trying to rescue three patients trapped in a fire in an AIDS clinic in Ratschitz, South Africa.

The Fides' list included 14 priests, the three Iraqi subdeacons, a Marist brother, Sister Thole and a seminarian from the Society of St. Paul.

Besides the four killed in Iraq, two died in Mexico, three died in the Philippines, two died in Colombia, two in Spain, two in South Africa and one each in Brazil, Guatemala, Kenya, Rwanda and Sri Lanka.

A New Year's Tradition of a Completely Colorado Kind

It is exceptionally cold in Colorado on this New Year's Eve. I-70 is still closed across the mountains (and 2,000 travelers are stranded) and Leadville is expecting -15 F temps tonight. Alamosa is expecting a low of -31 F.

I'm back in the lowlands (6700 ft) where it is only supposed to drop to -3. Weather like this creates the proper mindset to contemplate the heroic efforts of the AdAmAn Club.

Every New Year's Eve since 1922, this dauntless group has spent two days climbing Pike's Peak in the dead of winter in order to set off fireworks from the peak (14,110 feet) at midnight New Year's Eve. Moonglow, snow or 50 below. Whether those of us living at the mountain's foot can see the fireworks or not. On a clear night, the fireworks can be seen for 125 miles. Every year, they "add a man" or woman to the original "frozen five" below.

There are 88 members now although I don't know if they all will make the climb this year. Here is a detailed description of the process from a member of the AdAmAn club.

Enjoy this picture of the fireworks from 2004. And be grateful that you will be at that party or curled up by the fire with a nice Irish coffee.

Religion Stories of the Year

Apparently it all depends . . .

Time magazine's list of the top ten religion stories:

1) Mother Teresa's darkness
2) Democrats Embrace Religion
3) Death of Jerry Falwell
4) The Pope's Moto Proprio
5) The Episcopal Church at Odds Over Homosexuality (Again!)
6) The "Greening" of Evangelicalism
7) The Road of Atheist Books
8) The Trials of our local meg-church, New Life
9) The Creation Museum opens (boy, did I miss this one!)
10) South Korean Missionaries Kidnapped in Afghanistan

From the annual poll of US Catholic editors conducted by Catholic News Service, the three top stories were:

1) The debate over immigration
2) The war in Iraq
3) Developments in stem cell research

From Jim Wallis' God's Politics blog:

1) Faith & Politics: "how the conversation on faith and politics has changed in the U.S"
2) Region in Crisis: Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan
3) Israel-Palestine
4) Democratic Congress in 2008
5) Global Warming
6) Darfur
7) the Death Penalty
8) Immigration
9) Guns
10) Muslim-Christian dialog

What stories do you think should have made the list and didn't?

Why Dick Clark Owes Pope Gregory

We take for granted the TV and internet images of New Year's celebrations around the world but January 1 wasn't a truly global celebration until well into the 20th century.

The celebration of January 1 as the first day of the New Year was a Catholic innovation. January 1 became New Year's Day as a result of the adaption of the Gregorian calendar in 1582. The change had been mandated by the Council of Trent. The goal was to ensure that the Church celebrated Easter on the day that the Council of Nicea in 325 had celebrated Easter.

There is a very detailed Wikipedia article on the Gregorian reform.

Only 4 Catholic countries adopted the new calendar in 1582: Spain, Portugal, the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, and most of Italy. "Most non-Catholic countries initially objected to adopting a Catholic invention, especially during the Counter-Reformation (of which Gregory was a leading proponent); some Protestants feared the new calendar was part of a plot to return them to the Catholic fold. In the Czech lands, Protestants resisted the calendar imposed by the Hapsburg Monarchy. In parts of Ireland, Catholic rebels until their defeat in the Nine Years' War kept the "new" Easter in defiance of the English-loyal authorities; later, Catholics practising in secret petitioned the Propaganda Fide for dispensation from observing the new calendar, as it signalled their disloyalty. [6]

Denmark, Norway and the Protestant states of Germany adopted the solar portion of the new calendar on Monday, 1 March 1700, [7] . . They finally adopted the lunar portion of the Gregorian calendar in 1776. The remaining provinces of the Dutch Republic also adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700.

Britain and the British Empire (including the eastern part of what is now the United States) adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752 (see the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750) by which time it was necessary to correct by 11 days. After 1753, the British tax year in Britain continued to operate on the Julian calendar and began on 5 April, which was the "Old Style" new tax year of 25 March. A 12th skipped Julian leap day in 1800 changed its start to 6 April. It was not changed when a 13th Julian leap day was skipped in 1900, so the tax year in the United Kingdom still begins on 6 April.

In Alaska, the change took place when Friday, October 6, 1867 was followed again by Friday, October 18 after the US purchase of Alaska from Russia, which was still on the Julian calendar. Instead of 12 days, only 11 were skipped, and the day of the week was repeated on successive days, because the International Date Line was shifted from Alaska's eastern to western boundary along with the change to the Gregorian calendar.

In Russia the Gregorian calendar was accepted after the October Revolution (so named because it took place in October 1917 in the Julian calendar). On 24 January 1918 the Council of People's Commissars issued a Decree that Wednesday, 31 January 1918 was to be followed by Thursday, 14 February 1918.

The last country of Eastern Orthodox Europe to adopt the Gregorian calendar was Greece on Thursday, 1 March 1923, following Wednesday, 15 February 1923.

Just in time to witness that glittering ball descending in Times Square.

Christmas In Japan

This fascinating seasonal vignette from Japan comes via Asia News. Christmas has been nearly universally adopted as a national holiday in Japan as a result of US influence during the occupation after World War II. But it is an almost totally secular celebration. The three words used of Christmas are "illumination", "Santa", "presents"

But the church that is an example of a flowering oasis lies 25 kilometres from Fuchu, almost within the heart of the capital- It is the Church of St. Ignatius, run by the Jesuit fathers. For six months now the parish priest is a 70 Italian Fr. Domenico Vitali, who has spent the last 43 years in Japan. He entered the Jesuits after having read the biography of his compatriot: Fr. Matteo Ricci.

I knew that the Church of St. Ignatius is more or less the heart of Catholicism in Tokyo, but after meeting with Vitali I came to learn details that positively shocked me.

The Yotsuya quarter, where the Church lies, isn’t a residential area, but an office district. Even on working days, besides the morning masses there is midday mass and an evening mass at 6 pm: both are assiduously attended by employees from the local offices.

On the afternoon and evening of Christmas Eve, 6 masses are celebrating in order to cope with attendance.

“This year, Vitali told me; over 10.500 people took part in the celebrations: three quarters of them weren’t even Christians”. What lies behind this non-Christian affluence? Curiosity? No… All of those people were willing to withstand hours of queuing in the cold because they felt, instinctively, that Christmas is celebrated in the Church and not in restaurants or hotels.

Madonna & Child

On the 7th day of Christmas, enjoy this Nativity image from Asia News:

Cuddle Corps to the Rescue

Here's a great story from Catholic News Service about Anchorage Catholic Hospital's "cuddle core" - the group of volunteers whose job is to hold sick infants for two hours at a stretch. Parents of children hospitalized for weeks or months usually an't be at the hospital 24/7 for that long and nurses have too many other duties to supply that much attention.

"Dr. Lily Lou, medical director of the unit, is unequivocal in her praise of the Kuddle Korps.

"For any baby that can't be home with their families, it's a lifesaver," the doctor said.

Occupational therapist Carol Matthews agrees.

"There's a huge difference in the way babies act and look when they're regularly touched and held," she said, adding that studies show that being touched is necessary for the proper development and even survival of infants.

Anchorage Catholic isn't the only hospital to do this. We had a similar group of volunteers at the NICU at the hospital where I worked while finishing grad school and creating the Called & Gifted workshop. And I'm sure that there are many such corps around the country.

But If you are asking yourself where you could volunteer or make a difference in 2008, consider becoming a baby cuddler. Being pro-life doesn't get much sweeter than this

Sunday, December 30, 2007

35 Million Move In and Out of the Christian faith in 2008?

Some fascinating realities to contemplate on the verge of a New Year:

First of all, religious identity is remarkably fluid: for good or ill. This is contrary to what most Catholics have assumed and has helped fuel our "don't ask, don't tell" culture. As I wrote in part 10 of my series "The Challenge of Independent Christianity"

"We tend to regard the three basic “types” of Christianity - Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy - as essentially stable and fixed. Given the long histories and long memories of these faiths, it is only natural to think of religious affiliation as a deeply-rooted identity that changes only with difficulty and very slowly. We don’t expect to wake up tomorrow and find that Protestants have decided en masse that the Reformation was not a good idea or that the Orthodox have jettisoned their icons in favor of store-front missions. Our ecumenical dialogue is founded upon this presumed stability.

David Barrett, however, has a fascinating sidebar in his World Christian Encyclopedia indicating that a surprising amount of religious change is, in fact, the norm. As Barrett puts it, “Every year, millions of people are changing their religious profession or their Christian affiliation. Mass defections are occurring from stagnant majority religions to newer religions” (World Christian Encyclopedia, p. 5). It is imperative for us to understand that a significant part of this change is the result of personal choices, and not just natural birth and death. Evangelicals have a saying: “God has no grandchildren”.

(You can read the whole 10,000 word article on Independent Christianity beginning here)

This has been especially so in times and places where certain factors converge :ready access to new religious ideas (sometimes through evangelizers who come to you and sometimes through locals who are exposed to new ideas elsewhere and bring them home like the lay scholars who brought Christianity to Korea from China in the last 18th century) and circumstances that have prepared local people to be open.

We live in one of those times. The advent of the internet and globalization combined with the world-wide spread of new, intensely evangelizing forms of Christianity and post-modern ideas and assumptions has rendered clear, this-not-that, "steady state" religious identity a thing of the past-especially in the west but increasingly in large parts of the developing world as well. There has been some discussion around St. Blog's in the past year about the idea that a first generation, personally "chosen" faith is not as culturally rich as an inherited, historic faith that one simply absorbs from one's serenely homogenous, practicing family and community.

No doubt but that isn't the choice before us. Not in 2008.

Every serious Anglo Catholic (on the left or right) that I've ever met in this country has a sense of going against the flow of the culture - and often against the feelings of significant parts of his/her family and friends as well. The situation is not as grave among recent immigrants from strongly Catholic backgrounds but it will be for their children.

Our situation both demands and is tailor-made for the New Evangelization. Spend a few minutes at this year's end contemplating the following global statistics in light of our Lord's call to make disciples of all nations and the recent CDF Note on evangelization:

19 million people convert to Christianity every year around the world. (Conversions to all other faiths combined: about 2.5 million/year)

122,000 new Christians are baptized every 24 hours around the world.

37,000 new Catholics are added to the Church every 24 hours around the world.

This fluidity of belief and practice cuts both ways:

16.5 million Christians leave the faith every year.

In the historically Christian west, we naturally been acutely aware of those leaving.

Christianity has experienced massive losses in the Western world over the last 60 years...every year, some 2,7655,100 church attenders in Europe and North America cease to be practicing Christians within the 12-month period, an average loss of 7,500 every day.

But the global result is still a gain:

David Barrett, in his World Christian Encyclopedia, estimates a yearly global "net gain" of 2.5 million Christians or 69,000 new Christians per day.

If (as is most unlikely) 19 million non-Christians became Christian and a entirely different 16.5 million Christians left the faith in the new year, it would mean that over 35 million people moved in and out of the Christian faith in 2008 (more than the entire population of Canada!) Whatever the actual numbers are, this is clearly anything but "steady state", if-it-was-good-enough-for-mama, it's-good-enough-for-me faith.

At the beginning of the 21st century and at the end of 2007, huge numbers of people on this planet are searching, are open to something new, are spiritually hungry. Not a few exceptional souls but tens of millions.

And a few of them are living or working or hanging out around you and me.

In 2008, how can we reach out and present Christ in the midst of his Church to those who are seeking him - perhaps without knowing it, without the words to articulate what they are seeking - around us?

Christmas Season in the Rockies

Saturday's sunrise over St. Catherine of Siena's chapel at the Archdiocese of Denver's retreat center, St. Malo's. By a enthusiastic local photographer via weatherunderground.

Colorado's beauty breeds photographers like it breeds extreme outdoor enthusiasts.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas Evangelization in China

A great evangelization story from China to end 2007. Via Indian Catholic:

Non-Catholic neighbors joined Catholics in Lingbi county for Christmas Eve festivities despite freezing temperatures in the poverty-stricken lowland area in eastern China.

At 8:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, about 1,000 Catholics of Bengbu diocese and 200 guests braved a temperature of minus-seven degrees Celsius to watch a fireworks display that kicked off an almost-four-hour entertainment program ahead of midnight Mass.

Many of the guests had received help from Catholics when storms and floods affected their livelihood this year.


During the program, Catholics gave cultural performances, sang hymns and acted in dramas portraying the story of Christ. They also staged comedies, danced and chanted. Some middle-aged Catholic men also acted as Santa Claus, provoking laughter from the crowd.

Before the program ended, the parish priest, who gave his name as Father Paul, handed each performer a souvenir. The priest also sang a song, titled Give me hope in English translation, for the audience.

The non-Catholic guests left before the start of the Christmas Vigil Mass.

Around midnight, amid music from bands, a statue of the Infant Jesus was carried into the church and placed in a manger beside the Marian grotto. The Mass ended two hours later, after which participants enjoyed a light meal of hot rice porridge with beans and cereal.

One lay Catholic told UCA News that many non-Catholic residents of the area joined the program because the Church helped them when natural disasters struck during the year. "Local villagers affected by floods were moved by the Church's concern for them," he said.

After incessant rain and floodwaters destroyed most of their crops, Catholics helped the villagers by selling them 58,000 kilograms of corn, peanuts and wheat at low prices for consumption and cultivation.

Father Paul told UCA News some of the villagers initially were suspicious of the Catholics' gesture but later expressed appreciation and even attended the Christmas celebration.

"Some even volunteered to perform in the program, and some expressed their desire to know God," he added.

"Our Church is located in an area which has very poor people," the priest noted. "Instead of using words to preach, which may not help them to understand what the Church or faith is, we did something practical for them."

The power of the corporate and spiritual works of mercy together: the Great Commandment lived in light of the Great Commission. Not either or. Both and.

The Year That Was and the Year That Will Be

2007 has been quite a year for the Catherine of Siena Institute: 78 live events in total - including 46 Called & Gifted workshops, 5 parish missions, 9 one-of-a-kind presentations; 12 gifts-related training events, and 2 Making Disciples seminars.

December 31 will mark the end of our first year of blogging here at ID. You have paid us over 90,000 visits this year. While that is nothing compared to the big boys and girls (before she cut back to spend more time writing, Amy Welborn probably had that many visitors in a month!), we're happy.

We have written our 1300 posts this year in and around those 78 events and the 500 plane flights required to get our many wonderful teachers to those events, between answering the thousands of phone calls and e-mails from all over the world, publishing and shipping out thousands of formation books and cds, and responding to hundreds of donors whose continual generosity enables us to do all the rest. Oh yeah, and then there's the continuous research and writing necessary to keep producing new lay formation resources. God has blessed and sustained us in the midst of the never ending demands.

It makes for erratic but interesting blogging and I wanted to say "thank you, thank you!" to all who have dropped by this year and especially to those of you who have commented and added to the richness of the conversation. And thanks to Fr. Mike, Kathleen, the other Sherry, Keith, Br. Matthew, Bernadette, JACK and all who have posted on ID this year.

2008 is shaping up to be even busier: so far we have 50 events on the Institute calendar and the year hasn't begun: 30 Called & Gifted workshops, 9 parish missions (Fr. Mike is the mission king!), 4 special events (including some very exceptional gigs like World Youth Day!) and 5 Making Disciples seminars.

But we are also looking forward to another year of blogging on Intentional Disciples. A Happy and Blessed New Year to you all!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Life and Times of Benazir Bhutto

A interesting video biography of Benazir Bhutto via Al Jazeera's English language news division.

And Sir David Frost's interview with her last month about the terrible bombing which killed 158 people (and in which she herself nearly died) that marred her first day back in Pakistan in October.

Glory to God in the Highest

Back from the high country where when the sun shines, it is magnificent beyond words, (Glory to God in the HIghest, indeed) and when the sun does not shine, it's very, very cold.

But the cold and the snow have followed us "down" to 6,700 feet - the whole Front Range is expected a major winter storm today and its has begun to snow already.

Meanwhile, Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated (please pray for that extremely dangerous situation in Pakistan and the whole region) and Armenian and Orthodox priests were engaged in a brawl at the Shrine of the Nativity in Bethlehem, The same thing happened the year I spent Thanksgiving in the Holy Land. It's old news. Sigh.

The world didn't look noticeably brighter two days after Jesus' birth 2000 years ago either. But God had entered the world in a wholly new way and the work of redemption had begun in history. And we are, all of us, caught up in that great, cosmic work today - however unlikely it may seem. How can we offer ourselves today, to be used as an instrument of Christ's love?

O come, let us adore him.

There will be more blogging today as I wade through e-mails, etc.

Monday, December 24, 2007

900 Volunteers "Monitor" Santa in Colorado Springs

This is obviously not a Christian tradition but a strong local tradition in Colorado Springs on Christmas Eve.

NORAD (headquartered in Colorado Springs) has been "tracking" Santa Claus every Christmas Eve since 1955. This year 900 local volunteers will be answering phone calls and e-mails from children (as of this moment, they say that 46,000 children have contacted this this evening) and offering "updates" as to Santa's location.

Here are tonight's updates - if you or someone in your family just has to know. Word is that Santa Claus is over Caribou, Maine at this every moment. There are many "videos" of Santa over the Great Wall of China, India, Iraq, etc.

See Here where Santa meets up with the International Space Station.

Which raises the obvious question - how do we proclaim Christ when this charming, deeply embedded tradition is so dominant for so many?

Christmas Goes Global

The BBC has pictures of Christmas all over the world. Enjoy.

Snow in Bethlehem

This was posted amid fields and high mountains and great alpine valleys covered with snow in Leadville, Colorado. Few things are more stunning or awe-inspiring than a great alpine valley surrounded by towering mountains in mid-winter.

But this was written by G. K. Chesterton from my treasured "The Spirit of Christmas"

This was written amid fields of snow within a few days of Christmas. And when I last saw snow it was within a few miles of Bethlehem. The coincidence will serve as a symbol of something I have noticed all my life, although it is not very easy to sum up. It is generally the romantic thing that turns out to be the real thing under the extreme test of realism. It is the skeptical and even rational legend that turns out to be entirely legendary.

Everything I had been taught or told let me to regard snow in Bethlehem as a paradox, like snow in Egypt. Every rumour of realism, every indirect form of rationalism, every scientific opinion taken on authority and at third hand, had led me to regard the country where Christ was born solely as a semi-tropical place with nothing but palm tree and parasols.

It was only when I actually looked at it that it looked exactly like a Christmas card.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

The House of Christmas

G. K. Chesterton, of course.

There fared a mother drive forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost - how long ago@
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as a old wive's tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as fare as the fire-drack swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
"Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,k
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Good Christian Men (and Women) Rejoice!

My pastor reported to us at Mass this morning that several very remarkable - apparently miraculous - healings have occurred in our congregation in the past few days. Without identifying anyone involved, he reported that someone with 4th stage cancer had the disease suddenly vanish and another man, who was expected to die at any moment of heart disease, suddenly got better and walked out of the hospital with his family to celebrate Christmas at home.

Dickens didn't have a corner on dramatic Christmas turn-arounds. Sometimes we get a glimpse of the great river of redeeming grace flowing through this world - often through the prayers, penance, self-offering, charisms, vocations, and sacrifice of millions of ordinary people around the world - who offer themselves to God to be used as instruments of his amazing love for others.

I know that this is a very tough time of year for many of us. Our struggles, suffering, loneliness or personal and spiritual darkness seems to be in vivid contrast to the endless jolliness that our culture insists upon. And I suspect that most of us will go through at least one experience of sadness or darkness at Christmas in our earthly lives.

But how many of us have also experienced great blessing, healing, renewal, restoration, or forgiveness at Christmas? Those moments are just as real as our sad times and more real - because they point to - are the first fruits of - our ultimate destiny in Christ, that for which God created us, became man for us, died for us, rose and ascended for us.

As John Henry Newman wrote:

God intends, unless I interfere with his plan,
that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness
He looks upon me individually,
He calls me by my name,
He knows what I can do ,
what I can best be
What is my greatest happiness
and he means to give it to me.

Sometimes in life, we progress toward that happiness like Frodo and Sam trudging, obediently in darkness through the darkness, and sometimes we are refreshed with stays in Rivendell or Lothlorien. But all the while, a relentless work of redemption is taking place in us, through us, around us, for us - and sometimes we are given glimpses of the joy and endless life in Love that lies before us.

Anyone else have a hopeful Advent or Christmas story to share?

Please Don't Shoot the Pianist

I'll be spending a bit of my Christmas time off on the spine of North America, in historic Leadville, Colorado at 10,200 feet high. I have blogged before about Leadville in the summer and in the spring but I've never been there in the dead of winter before. Snow. Lots of snow. And very, very cold. I will never be able to complain that I don't know what a true white Christmas is like again.

Since Leadville was the quintessential silver mining town, it has quite a past and lots of characters. Here is Oscar Wild's inimitable impression of the city at its silver boom height:

From Salt Lake City one travels over great plains of Colorado and up the Rocky Mountains, on the top of which is Leadville, the richest city in the world. . . They are miners—men working in metals, so I lectured them on the Ethics of Art. I read them passages from the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini
and they seemed much delighted. I was reproved by my hearers for not having brought
him with me. I explained that he had been dead for some little time which elicited the enquiry ‘Who shot him?’

They afterwards took me to a dancing saloon where I saw the only rational method of art criticism I have ever come across. Over the piano was printed a notice: ‘Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best.’

Impressions of America
Oscar Wilde, 1882

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Tony Blair Swims the Tiber

Tony Blair has done it. He was received into the Church Friday night by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor in London.

Whispers in the Loggia covers the story:

BBC correspondent David Willey said it had been no secret in Rome that Mr Blair had been taking instruction from a Catholic priest as a prelude to conversion.

He added that the Pope was informed of Mr Blair's intentions prior to his visit to the Vatican in June 2007, shortly before he left office.


Mr Blair's ex-spokesman, Alastair Campbell, once famously told reporters "We don't do God". But reacting to news of Mr Blair's conversion, Mr Campbell said: "I can't say it surprises me at all. His faith does matter an awful lot to him.

"It's something I suspect he probably felt he couldn't do when he was prime minister and he's done it now."

According to the BBC:

A spokesman said such an "authoritative personality" choosing to join the Catholic Church "could only give rise to joy and respect".

It comes as research shows Catholic churchgoers now outnumber Anglicans for the first time since the Reformation in the UK.

(Sherry's note: That was the buzz on the Catholic street 20 years ago when i lived in Britain. Guess its official. I wonder how the influx of Polish immigrants in the UK has affected this.)

Opps. Should have read to the end of the BBC piece before posting:

The numbers have swelled due to the large number of EU nationals from Eastern Europe who have immigrated to the UK in recent years, it says.

Estimates for church attendances in 2006, based on previous years' figures, reveal 861,800 Catholics attended services every Sunday compared with 852,500 Anglican worshippers.

To compare, there are about 18 million US Catholics in Mass on a given Sunday and about 750,000 Australians (out of 5 million) attend Mass once a month.

Anne Widdecomb, a convert herself, raises the obvious question which will be swirling about St. Blog's in no time:

"If you look at Tony Blair's voting record in the House of Commons, he's gone against Church teaching on more than one occasion. On things, for example, like abortion," she said.

"My question would be, 'has he changed his mind on that?'"

But as someone who knows what it feels like to enter the Church just before Christmas, I can't think of a better Christmas gift. Welcome home, Mr. Blair.

O Emmanuel!

The Great Antiphon for December 23 sung by the Dominicans of Blackfriars, Oxford

O Rex Gentium

The Great Antiphon for December 22, sung by the Dominican friars of Blackfriars, Oxford.

Taking Jesus for a Ride

Here's a heartwarming little story.

It was the day AFTER Christmas at a church in San Francisco . The pastor of the church was looking at the manger scene, when he noticed that the baby Jesus figure was missing from the cradle. He immediately turned and went outside and saw a little boy with a red wagon walking down the street. And in the wagon, was the figure of the infant Jesus.

So the priest walked up to the boy and said, "Son, where did you get that little baby Jesus that's in your wagon?"

The little boy replied, "I got him from the church."

"And why did you take him?"asked the cleric.

The little boy replied, "Well, about a week before Christmas, I prayed to the little Lord Jesus. I told him if he would bring me a red wagon for Christmas, I would give him a ride around the block in it."

hat tip: Judy Kenney

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Gift of Faith

Often in our prayers of thanksgiving, we offer to God our gratitude for the gift of faith. During this Christmas season, many of us might refer to our faith as "the greatest gift of all."

While faith is a gift from God, it is often modeled for us by others. My parents never missed Mass, unless they were sick. I remember driving for an hour with them to church one Sunday when we were vacationing in Arkansas (Catholic churches weren't all that common). My mom would pray often before starting the car.

I prayed fervently at times when she was driving.

I'll never forget getting up one night to get a drink of water when I was about seven years old and glimpsing my dad on his knees at the foot of my parents' bed as he said his night time prayers.

I knew my parents were people of faith not only from their prayer, but from the way they lived.

But I have a question for you, dear readers.

How would you describe your faith? What does this great gift look like in your life? What are its characteristics and qualities? How does it impact your daily life? How would you describe the faith you hope your children have? If you aren't quite living your faith as you'd like, what is your goal? Describe how you'd like your faith to be.

One caveat: if you use the phrase, "practicing Catholic" or "active Catholic," please describe what you mean by that.

I promise to share my own response to those questions in a few days.

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Hallelujah Nuns

Here's a quirky take on Handel's Hallelujah chorus from The Messiah. It's complex.

P.S. They aren't really nuns.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Called & Gifted at World Youth Day

Encouraging news for the end of this Advent day.

Clara, the Institute's Australian lay Co-Director (with Fr. Anthony Walsh, OP), e-mailed me this evening to tell us that the Institute's proposal to offer a 90 minute introduction to the Called & Gifted discernment process at World Youth Day 2008 has been approved. We don't know the specifics yet - like when or where or exactly how it will be configured but it is still exciting.

Thanks be to God, who continues to open new doors and kudos to Clara who wrote the proposal and will lead the team!

O Oriens

The Great Antiphon for December 21 sung by the Dominican friars of Blackfriars, Oxford.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Roman Colosseum Lights Up to Mark New Jersey's Decision to Abolish Death Penalty

The Roman Colosseum was lit up with gold light tonight to celebrate New Jersey's decision to abolish the death penalty and to celebrate a United Nations vote to establish a moratorium on the death penalty. The lay movement, The Community of Sant'Egidio, is one of the prime movers behind this gesture.

The Colosseum, a site of executions and gladiator contests during the Roman Empire, has emerged as a symbol in organized campaigns against capital punishment. It has received the golden treatment -- its regular lighting is white -- about 20 times since 1999.

The Advent of the Three Miracles

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of my entrance into the Church, as I have mentioned before on this blog. Mark Shea & I were received in front of a small group of family and friends (Catholic and Protestant) and two convert friends of our were confirmed and then five minutes later, turned around and served as our sponsors.

I have sometimes referred to that December as the "Advent of the Three MIracles". One was the miracle of getting in - without finishing RCIA, on 10 days notice - and at Christmas time. Another was the miracle of Anna.. I've told the story many times at workshops since and told it in the recording of my conversion story.

The word going around the regional trauma center where I then worked, was that an 18 month old baby girl was in our burn unit, dying from third degree burns over 90% of her body. She had been immersed in scalding water from the neck on down. Since no one was clear how it had happened, Child Protective Services had been called in and her family was not allowed to have contact.

It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I knew that death was not God's will for this little girl - and I couldn't tell you why I knew. But Mark and I scattered around town spreading the word and soon hundreds of people were praying for her.

Because of my job, I was the only one who had access to her, so every day I would enter her room for a brief visit. I was intimidated by the nurse always at her side, so I didn't have the nerve to obviously pray for her, so I just rubbed her forehead for a couple seconds with my finger. It was as though I was the little finger of the wider Body of Christ who were praying for her. I was the witness.

On my last day on the job (I was a temp) and two days before I entered the Church, I went up to visit her and her bed was empty. My first thought was "She's dead". But I had to find out what had happened. So I found the nurse on call and asked what had happened. Her response?

"Oh, she's off her morphine and IV's and she's downstairs playing."

Wow, I thought. What do I say now? "That's great! When do her skin grafts begin? "

"Oh, she won't need any skin grafts." replied the nurse.

"Not even on her legs?
" I questioned - because her legs had been really bad.

"Not even on her legs." she responded firmly.

I thought frantically. Third degree burns, by definition, do not heal. The skin has been destroyed and must be replaced by grafts. No skin grafts meant that either she had been misdiagnosed originally or her skin had somehow regenerated. I thought I put my next question with considerable delicacy under the circumstances

"Isn't this a little unusual?"

"Oh yes, we're surprised, the nurse said. "Of course, we could have misdiagnosed her, but, boy, she looked charred when she came in".

I went downstairs to the department where I had been working and told my supervisor what they had told me upstairs. She was a lapsed Catholic who knew the story of this little girl and that we had been praying for her and that I was entering the Church that weekend.

She listened carefully and then said "I think we know that more than mere medicine has been at work here." Then she added wrying "Maybe we should just hire you and let you wander the halls."

She thought - and I hoped - that this was a sign that I had been given the charism of healing. I now know (after considerable discernment) that is not the case. I do believe that I was given the immense privilege of being a witness to what God will do when his people together, offer themselves and their charisms on the behalf of God's redeeming purposes for a specific person or situation. I got to witness the power of corporate intercession. And two days later, on the 4th Sunday of Advent, I become Catholic.

Today, Anna is 21 years old. I often think of her and pray for her. Where is she? Does she still suffer physically or psychologically from her ordeal? Who raised her? Does she know how God intervened in her life? What is his purpose for her life? I presume that I will never know the answer to those questions in this life - but it is enough that God knows.

You will understand why I felt a glowing sense of almost giddy joy and exultation that Christmas. Nothing comes closer to expressing how I felt on that Advent Sunday 20 years ago than the inspired scene from the 1951 Alastair Sims Christmas Carol when Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning. " I'm as light as a feather, I'm as happy as an angel, I'm as merry as a school boy, as giddy as a drunken man."

Relish again Alastair Sim's portrayal of what redemption experienced feels like. A tiny foretaste of the happiness for we have all been created.

O Clavis

The Great Antiphon for December 20, sung by the Dominican brothers of Blackfriars, Oxford.

A Nun's Life

The Dominican nuns, the first branch of the Dominican family founded by St. Dominic, celebrate their 800th anniversary this year. NPR interviewed Sr. Mary Dominic, OP, and she tells a bit about her vocation - her call from God that led her to enter the cloistered Dominican community of the Monastery of the Angels, overlooking Hollywood. There, 22 nuns pray for the world, especially for Hollywood. Listen to the interview here. She has a wonderful comment or two about the importance of prayer which we in the world need to hear in this busy, busy season.

December Delights

Drove from Boulder to Colorado Springs along the foothills (avoiding I-25) yesterday. Gorgeous day, lots of snow, sunshine, and the mountains beautifully visible even from Denver (which does not always happen).

It seems most of the country is having a white Christmas. Love this picture from West Virginia:

How Are They to Believe In Him of Whom They Have Never Heard?

My time to blog is limited these days: trying to respond to e-mails and phone calls, prepare for events in January, try to organize a birthday gathering for one of my sisters next month, cards and gifts, Christmas preparations, etc. is starting to overwhelm.

But in trying to respond to one e-mail this morning, I had occasion to review Fr. Cantalemessa's first homily of Advent, 2005 for Pope Benedict and the Roman Curia - (part 1 and part 2) It is very long so I can only quote snippets.

But the whole makes a wonderful meditation for the last week of Advent and seems especially appropriate in light of the recent CDF Note on evangelization. His theme: "How Are They to Believe In Him of Whom They Have Never Heard?"

Cantalemessa starts with a great question:

A certain theological current maintains that Christ did not come for the salvation of Jews (for whom it would be enough to remain faithful to the Old Covenant), but only for the Gentiles. Another current maintains that he is not necessary either for the salvation of the Gentiles, the latter having, thanks to their religion, a direct relationship with the eternal logos, without needing to go through the incarnate word and his paschal mystery. We must ask, for whom is Christ still necessary?

And a bracing observation:

In what, in fact, do those in Europe and other places believe who define themselves "believers?" In the majority of cases, they believe in a supreme being, a creator; they believe in "the beyond."

But this is a deist faith, not yet a Christian faith. Taking into account Karl Barth's well-known distinction, the latter is religion, not yet faith. . . . In practice, Jesus Christ is absent in this type of religiosity.
. . .

Suffice it to glance at the New Testament to understand how far away we are, in this case, from the original meaning of the word "faith" in the New Testament. For Paul, the faith that justifies sinners and bestows the Holy Spirit (Galatians 3:2), in other words, salvific faith, is faith in Jesus Christ, in his paschal mystery of death and resurrection. Also for John, the faith that "overcomes the world" is faith in Jesus Christ. He writes: "Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:4-5).

His conclusion:

To re-evangelize the post-Christian world it is indispensable, I believe, to know the path followed by the Apostles to evangelize the pre-Christian world! The two situations have much in common. And this is what I would now like to bring to light: How was the first evangelization carried out? What way did faith in Christ follow to conquer the world?

This tradition presents two aspects, or two components: a component called "preaching," or announcement (kerygma) which proclaims what God has wrought in Jesus of Nazareth, and a component called "teaching" (didache) which presents ethical norms for correct conduct on the part of believers. . . faith as such flowers only in the presence of the kerygma, or the announcement. "How are they to believe -- writes the Apostle speaking of faith in Christ -- in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?" Literally, "without some one who proclaims the kerygma" (choris keryssontos). And he concludes: "So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ" (Romans 10:17), where by "preaching" the same thing is understood, that is, the "gospel" or kerygma.

This more concrete nucleus is the exclamation: "Jesus is the Lord!" pronounced and accepted in the wonder of a "statu nascenti" faith, namely, in the very act of being born. The mystery of this word is such that it cannot be pronounced "except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3). It alone can bring one to salvation who believes in his resurrection: "because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).

"Like the wake of a ship," Charles Péguy would say, "it enlarges until it disappears and is lost, but it begins with a point that is the point of the ship itself," so -- I add -- the preaching of the Church goes enlarging itself, until it is an immense doctrinal edifice, but it begins with a point and that point is the kerygma: "Jesus is the Lord!"

Therefore that which in Jesus' preaching was the exclamation "the Kingdom of God has come!" in the preaching of the apostles is the exclamation: "Jesus is the Lord!" And yet there is no opposition, but perfect continuity between the Jesus that preaches and the Christ preached, because to say: "Jesus is the Lord!" is as if to say that in Jesus, crucified and risen, the kingdom and sovereignty of God over the world has at last been realized.

We must understand each other well so as not to fall into an unreal reconstruction of the apostolic preaching. After Pentecost, the apostles did not go around the world repeating always and only: "Jesus is the Lord!" What they did when they found themselves announcing the faith for the first time in a specific environment was, rather, to go directly to the heart of the Gospel, proclaiming two events: Jesus died -- Jesus rose, and the motive for these two events: he died "for our sins," he rose "for our justification" (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:4; Romans 4:25). Dramatizing the issue, in the Acts of the Apostles Peter does no more than repeat to those who listened to him: "You killed Jesus of Nazareth; God has resurrected him, making him Lord and Christ."[6]

The proclamation: "Jesus is the Lord!" is nothing other therefore than the conclusion -- now implicit, now explicit -- of this brief history, recounted in an always living and new way, though substantially identical, and is at the same time that in which this history is summarized and becomes operative for the one who hears it. "Christ Jesus ... emptied himself ... and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him ... that at the name of Jesus ... every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Philippians 2:6-11).

We have seen that, in the beginning, the kerygma was distinguished from the teaching (didache) as well as from the catechesis. The last things tend to form the faith, or to preserve its purity, while the kerygma tends to awaken it. It has, so to speak, an explosive or germinating character; it is more like the seed that gives origin to the tree than to the ripe fruit that is at the top of the tree and that, in Christianity, is constituted rather by charity. The kerygma is not obtained at all by concentration, or by summary, as if it was the core of the tradition; but it is apart, or better, at the beginning of everything. From it all the rest is developed, including the four Gospels.

On this point an evolution was interrupted due to the general situation of the Church. In the measure that one moves to a regime of Christianity, in which everything around one is Christian, or considers itself as such, one is less aware of the importance of the initial choice by which one becomes a Christian, so much so that baptism is normally administered to children, who do not have the capacity to make it their own choice. What is most accentuated of faith is not so much the initial moment, the miracle of coming to faith, but rather the fullness and orthodoxy of the contents of faith itself.

3. Rediscover the Kerygma

This situation greatly affects evangelization today. The Churches with a strong dogmatic and theological tradition (as the Catholic Church is par excellence), run the risk of finding themselves at a disadvantage if underneath the immense patrimony of doctrine, laws and institutions, they do not find that primordial nucleus capable of awakening faith by itself.

To present oneself to the man of today, often lacking any knowledge of Christ, with the whole range of this doctrine is like putting one of those heavy brocade capes all of a sudden on the back of a child. We are more prepared by our past to be "shepherds" than to be "fishers" of men; that is, better prepared to nourish people that come to the Church then to bring new people to the Church, or to catch again those who have fallen away and live outside of her. . .

In many people, everything continues to turn, from the beginning to the end, around the first conversion, the so-called new birth, whereas for us, Catholics, this is only the beginning of Christian life. After that must come catechesis and spiritual progress, which implies self-denial, the night of faith, the cross, until the resurrection. The Catholic Church has a very rich spirituality, innumerable saints, the magisterium and, above all, the sacraments.

It is necessary, therefore, to propose the fundamental announcement clearly and sparely at least once among us, not only to the catechumens, but to all, given that the majority of today's believers have not gone through the catechumenate. The grace that some of the new ecclesial movements constitute at present for the Church consists precisely in this. They are the place where adult persons at last have the occasion to hear the kerygma, renew their own baptism, consciously choose Christ as their own personal Lord and Savior and commit themselves actively in the life of their Church.

. To Choose Jesus as Lord

We began with the question: "What place does Christ have in present-day society?" But we cannot end without asking ourselves the most important question in a context such as this: "What place does Christ occupy in my life?" Let's call to mind Jesus' dialogue with the apostles in Caesarea Philippi: "Who do men say the Son of man is? ... But who do you say I am?" (Matthew 16:13-15). The most important thing for Jesus does not seem to be what the people think of him, but what his closest disciples think of him.

I referred earlier to the objective reason that explains the importance of the proclamation of Christ as Lord in the New Testament: It makes present and operative in the one who pronounces it the salvific events that it recalls. But there is also a subjective and existential reason. To say "Jesus is the Lord!" means, in fact, to make a decision. It is as though saying: Jesus Christ is "my" Lord; I recognize his full right over me, I hand the reins of my life over to him; I do not want to live any more "for myself," but "for him who died and rose for me" (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15).

To proclaim Jesus as one's Lord means to subject to him all the region of our being, to make the Gospel penetrate everything we do. It means, to recall a phrase of the venerated John Paul II, "to open, more than that, to open wide the doors to Christ."

For whom do we work and why do we do so? For ourselves or for Christ, for our glory or for Christ's? It is the best way this Advent to prepare a welcoming crib for Christ who comes at Christmas.

O Come, let us adore him.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

O Radix

The great Antiphon for December 19 sung by the Dominican brothers of Blackfriars, Oxford.

Monday, December 17, 2007

O Adonai

The Great Antiphon for December 18, sung by the Dominican brothers of Oxford.

The One Who Baptizes in the Holy Spirit

Fr. Raniero Cantelamessa's Second Advent homily (given before Pope Benedict and the Roman Curia yesterday) is encouraging and bracing on many levels.

Fr. Cantalemessa talked about Jesus as distinguished from John the Baptist as "the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

What does it mean to say that Jesus is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit? The expression serves not only to distinguish Jesus' baptism from John's baptism; it serves to distinguish the entire person and work of Christ from that of the precursor. In other words, in all of his work Jesus is the the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit. Baptism has a metaphorical meaning here; it means to inundate, to completely cover, as water does to bodies that are immersed in it.

Jesus "baptizes in the Holy Spirit" in the sense that he receives and gives the Spirit "without measure" (cf. John 3:34), he "pours out" his Spirit (Acts 2:33) on all of redeemed humanity. The expression refers more to the event of Pentecost than to the sacrament of baptism. "John baptized with water but before many days you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit" (Act 1:5), Jesus tells the disciples, obviously referring to Spirit's descent at Pentecost that would happen in a few days.

The expression "baptize with the Spirit" therefore defines the essential work of the Messiah, which already in the prophets of the Old Testament appears as oriented toward the regeneration of humanity through a great and universal outpouring of the Spirit of God (cf. Joel 3:1ff.). Applying all of this to the life and time of the Church, we must conclude that the risen Jesus baptizes in the Spirit not only in the sacrament of baptism, but, in a different way, also in other moments: in the Eucharist, in listening to the Word and, in general, through all the channels of grace.

If we want, and have enough faith, this very chapel in which we stand can be the cenacle into which the Risen Lord enters, [despite] closed doors, breathes on our faces and says almost begging us: "Receive the Holy Spirit."

St. Thomas Aquinas writes: "There is an invisible mission of the Spirit every time there is a progress in virtue or an augmentation of grace...; when someone moves to a new activity or a new state of grace."[3] The Church's liturgy itself inculcates this. All of its prayers and its hymns to the Holy Spirit begin with the cry, "Come!": "Come, O Creator Spirit!" "Come, Holy Spirit!" And those who pray this way have already at sometime received the Spirit. This means that the Spirit is something that we have received and that we must receive again and again.

And he spent a good deal of time talking explicitly about the charismatic renewal and its impact on the Church over the past 40 years. Pretty obviously, the charismatic renewal is recognized as fully legitimate by Pope Benedict since Cantalemessa's homily is getting its usual high level of media distribution. Cantalemessa makes the point that the classic experience of the "charismatic renewal" is not universal or normative as such but the renewal of the Holy Spirit's work in our lives, however it occurs, is universal and normative. We "are all called to not remain outside this 'current of grace".

3. Baptism in the Spirit

In this context, we must say something about the so-called baptism in the Spirit that for a century has become an experience lived by millions of believers in almost all of the Christian denominations. This is a rite made up of gestures of great simplicity, accompanied by dispositions of repentance and faith in the promise of Christ: "The Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him."

It is a renewal and an activation, not only of baptism and confirmation, but of all the events of grace of one's state in life: priestly ordination, religious profession, marriage. Besides making a good confession, those who are involved prepare by participating in catechism meetings in which they are put again in living and joyful contact with the principal truths and realities of the faith: the love of God, sin, salvation, new life, transformation in Christ, charisms, the fruits of the Spirit. Everything is characterized by a profound fraternal communion.

Sometimes, however, everything happens spontaneously, outside of all formal contexts and it is like being "surprised" by the Holy Spirit. A man gave this testimony: "I was on a plane and I was reading the last chapter of a book on the Holy Spirit. At a certain point it was as if the Holy Spirit came out of the pages of the book and entered into my body. Tears streamed from my eyes. I began to pray. I was overcome by a power quite beyond me."[4]

The most common effect of this grace is that the Holy Spirit passes from being a more or less abstract object of faith, to being a fact of experience. Karl Rahner wrote: "We cannot deny that here below man can have experiences of grace that give him a feeling of liberation, open totally new horizons to him, make a deep impression on him, transform him, shaping, even over a long period of time, his deepest Christian attitude. Nothing prohibits us from calling such experiences baptism in the Spirit."[5]

Precisely through that which is called "baptism in the Spirit," there is an experience of the anointing of the Holy Spirit in prayer, of his power in pastoral ministry, of his consolation in trials, of his guidance in decisions. Before his manifestation in charisms it is thus that he is experienced: as Spirit who interiorly transforms us, gives us a taste of the praise of God, opens our mind to the understanding of the Scriptures, teaches us to proclaim Jesus "Lord" and gives us the courage to assume new and difficult tasks in the service of God and neighbor. This year is the 40th anniversary of the retreat that gave birth, in 1967, to the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church, which is estimated to have touched no fewer than 80 million Catholics in a few decades. This is how one of the people who was present at that first retreat describes the effects of baptism in the Spirit on himself and on the group:

"Our faith has come alive, our believing has become a kind of knowing. Suddenly, the world of the supernatural has become more real than the natural. In brief, Jesus Christ is a real person to us, a real person who is Our Lord and who is active in our lives. [...] Prayer and the sacraments have become truly our daily bread instead of practices which we recognize as 'good for us.' A love of Scripture, a love of the Church I never thought possible, a transformation of our relationships with others, a need and a power of witness beyond all expectation, have all become part of our lives. The initial experience of the baptism in the Spirit was not at all emotional, but life has become suffused with calm, confidence, joy and peace. ... We sang the 'Veni Creator Spiritus' before each conference and meant it. We were not disappointed. We have also been showered with charismata. This also puts us in an ecumenical atmosphere at its best."[6]

We all see with clarity that these are precisely the things that the Church needs today to proclaim the Gospel to a world that has become wayward to the faith and the supernatural. We do not say that everyone is called to experience the grace of a new Pentecost in this way. However, we are all called not to remain outside this "current of grace" that flowed through the post-Conciliar Church. John XXIII spoke, in his time, of "a new Pentecost"; Paul VI went beyond this and spoke of "a perennial Pentecost," a continual Pentecost. It is worthwhile to listen again to the words he pronounced during a general audience:

"On several occasions we have asked about the greatest needs of the Church. [...] What do we feel is the first and last need of this blessed and beloved Church of ours? We must say it, almost trembling and praying, because as you know well, this is the Church's mystery and life: the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. He it is who animates and sanctifies the Church. He is her divine breath, the wind in her sails, the principle of her unity, the inner source of her light and strength. He is her support and consoler, her source of charisms and songs, her peace and her joy, her pledge and prelude to blessed and eternal life. The Church needs her perennial Pentecost; she needs fire in her heart, words on her lips, prophecy in h
er outlook. [...] The Church needs to rediscover the eagerness, the taste and the certainty of the truth that is hers."[7]

And I found this last note especially moving:

"Jesus' testimony," we read in the Book of Revelation, "is the spirit of prophecy" (Revelations 19:10), the spirit of prophecy is required to bear witness to Christ. Is this spirit of prophecy in the Church? Is it cultivated? Or do we believe, implicitly, that we can do without it, depending more on human expedients?

In 1992 there was a retreat for priests in Monterrey, Mexico, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the first evangelization of Latin America. There were 1,700 priests and about 70 bishops present. During the homily of the concluding Mass I spoke about the urgent need that the Church has for prophecy. After Communion there was prayer for a new Pentecost in small groups scattered throughout the great basilica. I remained in the presbytery. At a certain moment a young priest came up to me in silence, knelt down in front of me and with a look I will never forget said to me: "Bendígame, Padre, quiero ser profeta de Dios!" -- "Bless me, Father, I want to be a prophet for God!" A chill went down my spine because I saw that he was plainly moved by grace.

We can with humility make that priest's desire our own: "I want to be a prophet for God." Little, unknown to anyone, it does not matter, but one who, as Paul VI said, has fire in his heart, words on his lips, and prophecy in his outlook.

Good stuff. Makes want to pray right now for openness to and an increase of the Holy Spirit's work in my life!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Consulting the Oracle

Tom of Disputations has the whole vocational discernment thang worked out.

Just follow his nifty diagram, answer a few "yes-no" questions and bingo - you know what you are supposed to do!

Ecclesial vocations all round - unless you are a married woman, I guess.

If only i'd thought of it. Dang, now what will I do?

Memories of Advents Past

This Thursday, December 20, will mark the 20th anniversary of my reception into the Church. As some of you already know, Mark Shea and I were received into the Church in 1987 on 10 days notice. We had missed an appointment with a sweet old Redemptorist pastor who was afraid that two souls had slipped through his fingers when it really was our mistake. O happy fault! Mark and I leapt at the opportunity so our memories of entering are those of Advent and Christmas, not Easter.

Eight years ago during Advent, I told (and we taped) the story of my conversion before a small group at Blessed Sacrament in Seattle. I listened to the cd again (The Making of a Bi-Cultural Christian) today as a way of meditating upon the ways God has led me to this point. Since several of the major spiritual turning points in my life have occurred during Advent, I thought I’d share some of the Christmasy bits.

On my memories of my first Christmas after my conversion as an undergrad:

That Christmas, I was like Ebeneezer Scrooge on Christmas morning. I was delirious. I remember going around from Salvation Army kettle to Salvation Army kettle, stuffing $20 bills in every one of them.

And on Christmas Eve – don’t ask me how I got this idea in my head – I went out at midnight, certain that all the bells in the city would ring. Nothing. Silence. Dead silence.

And I thought “Sherry, have you ever, in your life, heard the bells ring on Christmas Eve at midnight?” The answer was “No!”. Why did I expect it now? But they should be ringing! It was like Dylan Thomas’s famous poem A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Thomas writes “the bells the children hear are inside them.” I was projecting my own inner “bells” on the universe.

Enjoy this picture of Swansea's beautiful bay (Dylan Thomas's birth place) where I once lived and about which "A Child's Christmas" was written.

O Sapientia!

Here is the first of the tradition "O" antiphons for December 17: O Sapientia, sung by the Dominican friars of Blackfriars, Oxford

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One very cool addendum. You can send this and any other You tube clip as a video Christmas card if you have a You tube account.


Savor this wonderful, live, a cappella version of the Coventry Carol by the group Gregorian:

Red and White in Motion

Another crystal clear, snowy morning as I sit before my MAC, looking out the back window. A few minutes ago, I was startled by the sudden appearance of a red fox against the snow. He had caught some small prey - bird, squirrel, rabbit - which he held in his mouth as he cantered across the length of the backyard and then hopped the fence into the park.

There had been mysterious footprints along the now covered path along the fence. Now we know to whom they probably belong.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Prayer for the Dying (and the Living)

This just in from my friend, Pat, who is on particularly intimate terms with cancer. The quote is from Teihard de Chardin.

When the signs of age begin to mark my body
(and still more when they touch my mind);
when the ill that is to diminish me or carry me off
strikes from without or is born within me;
when the painful moment comes in which I suddenly
awaken to the fact that I am ill or growing old;
and above all at that last moment
when I feel I am losing hold of myself
and am absolutely passive within the hands
of the great unknown forces that have formed me;
in all those dark moments, O God,
grant that I may understand that it is You
(provided my faith is strong enough)
who are painfully parting the fibres of my being
in order to penetrate to the very marrow
of my substance and bear me away within yourself.

You are the irrestible and vivfying force, O Lord;
and because yours is the energy,
because of the two of us,
You are infinitely the stronger,
it is on You that falls the part of consuming me
in the union that should weld us together.
Vouchsafe therefore, something more precious still
than the grace for which all the faithful pray.
It is not enough that I should die while communicating.
Teach me to communicate while dying.

For the Person Who Has Everything

...except flecks of gold in their (ahem) poop.

But that can change, thanks to Ju$t Another Rich Kid and Tobias Wong. For a mere $425, you can purchase a gold-dipped pill filled with gold flakes to increase your "self-worth."

I can't tell if this counts as conspicuous consumption, or conspicuously inconspicuous consumption. I mean, really, who's gonna know you took the pill?

Maybe it's just social commentary.

Hat tip: Anna Elias-Cesnik, who's pretty much 24K herself.

Soul Music

My friend, Pat, in Eugene, regularly sends me articles by Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle. They're often funny, and Carroll's quite secular, as he admits in the quote below (the entire text is linked in the title of this post). However, I found it touching - and worth noting - that the beauty of music and a darkened church environment touched him so powerfully. I've had similar responses to Scripture, music, poetry, and, most recently, memories of a trip to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

He attributes his reaction to beauty and nostalgia, but perhaps God, who is Beauty, Goodness and Truth, touched him on all three levels - in spite of his protestation to the contrary.

At halftime, as we say in Bach Choir circles, I thought: Well, that was a
nice thing. Once every decade or so I could do this.
So then came the second half. The church was plunged into darkness. From
each side, singers emerged from the large doors and walked up the side
aisles and then back down the middle aisles, singing as they went, candles
burning in a clever potable music-stand-cum-candleholder. They were
singing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."

And I lost it. Tears were streaming down my cheeks. I was surprised by my
tears and uncertain how to turn them off. At one point I was sobbing like
someone who had just lost a relative.

It's a carol I know, so I guess some childhood nostalgia thing may have
been at play. But I am not religious and thus do not believe that Emmanuel
has come to ransom captive Israel - although I wish someone would ransom
captive Israel and soon too, before the world blows up. Just tell us where
to leave the money. I do not believe that the birth of Jesus of Nazareth
is a cause for rejoicing any more than I believe that the birth of Jesus
of Mexico City is a cause for rejoicing, except among Jesus' immediate

And yet, and yet ... music is music. Good singing is good singing. And
candlelight is candlelight, and when you are surrounded by song in a
darkened room, something in your soul - in my soul - reaches out for the

Yes Jon, and your soul is reaching out constantly for that which is beyond this world with its pain, sadness, and ephemeral beauty. God works in ways mysterious to us, but undoubtedly when Emmanuel returns in glory (although he hasn't really left us orphans), those ways will be revealed as oh so constant, grace-filled, and beautiful.

The Saturday Morning Doctrine Club

David Schultz of Melbourne (who we met when we were last there in 2004) has a similar idea of how to begin his Saturday.

Now I can sit down, have my breakfast, unwrap The Age AND read the latest infallible pronouncement... (W.G. Ward eat your heart out.)

David, while CDF notes are authoritative, they aren't infallible as such. But I do understand the spirit of David's comment.

David, of course, is referring to the old story of 19th century English convert W. G. Ward, who asserted that he wanted a papal bull beside his bacon & eggs in the morning.

It just gave me a grin - to envision a global network of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Catholics, sitting down this morning to a leisurely perusal of A Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization - in their respective languages - with their Saturday morning tea or brioche or rashers. Fellow searchers after truth - I salute you!

What Ward could only dream of - made possible by the internet.

PS. Anyone else disoriented by having to read what amounts to a crooked fax 24 hours after the document was released? Why the delay in publishing a more readable version?

More Notes on the Note - After My Morning Latte

Several people kindly sent me e-mails, pointing me to the UK Bishop's page where the full 19 page text of the CDF Note on Evangelization is to be found. Thanks for the tip.

Alas, I really do work for a living - especially these days, with an intense winter schedule bearing down upon us. I was working pretty furiously with Fr. Mike, outlining those three Lenten missions that we are going to be offering together in February/March, until 9 pm last night. My early morning entries were all that I could give to the cause. I was surprised that the full text was out so much later than the summary - but I suppose that the summary was issued first for media purposes.

But today is different. I plan to read the full Note with my morning latte and watch the sunrise from my window. It is very cold here at the moment - a wind chill of -6 - but the clear winter skies should be beautiful.

I'll post my thoughts later today.

The Five Ps of Parenting

The Barna Group continually tracks cultural changes, especially in relation to matters of faith, entertainment, lifestyles and values. A special analysis of thousands of interviews the company conducted during 2007 identifies several patterns that are significantly affecting the development of American culture. Those transformations were described as Americans’ unconditional self-love; nouveau Christianity; the five Ps of parenting; and designer faith with rootless values.

The article is interesting, but I'd like to look briefly at one section, which I've copied for you here:

The 5 Ps of Parenting

Most parents want to do a great job of raising their children. However, Barna studies conducted throughout the year among parents of children under 18 revealed that few parents have a strategy or plan for how they will accomplish that goal. There are, however, five primary outcomes that most parents have focused upon and serve as a de facto strategy. George Barna, author of the book Revolutionary Parenting, about parenting strategies, called them the "five P’s of parental hope."

1. Preparation. Millions of parents enroll their youngsters in numerous and varied activities in order to prepare their children for success. Most parents do not see themselves as the key to grooming a well-rounded child; they believe their role is to place their child in developmental environments and under the tutelage of those who can take their prodigies to the next level of proficiency.

2. Performing well. Parents look for measures of productivity that indicate how their child is doing on the path to success. Good grades in school, scoring in sports, and performing well in artistic endeavors are among the measures parents rely upon, as well as feedback from other parents, teachers, coaches, pastors and other experts.

3. Pressure management. Amidst significant parental expectations, stiff academic standards and peer pressure, many kids struggle to stay healthy and balanced. Parents who are cognizant of these mounting pressures attempt to help their offspring learn how to manage stress, competition and disappointments.

4. Protection. The age-old problem of bullies - still considered by kids, parents and teachers to be a significant issue - can be added to such parental fears as kidnapping, drugs, and sexualization, making the security of children one of the top priorities of parents.

5. Public perception. In a society where image is reality, and parents are as anxious about their image as a parent as they are about their child’s image in their peer group, influencing public perceptions is a major concern among parents. Like politicians, many parents hone their skills in spin control and positioning in order to place them and their children in the best possible light.

Barna’s surveys point out that most parents underestimate the influence they can exert on their children. Consequently, they often focus on the 5 Ps but neglect emphasis upon activities that would strengthen their relational bond with the children. Many parents, even those who are born again Christians, also overlook the need to foster deeper a connection between their children and God, or to enhance the child’s worldview as a critical component of their decision-making skills.

The article also mentioned that Americans, especially adults under 30, strive to be connected to lots of people, but have a nagging sense of isolation and loneliness. You'll see them congregating (the use of a quasi-religious word is intentional here, folks) at Starbucks, or feverishly text messaging or talking on cell phones, but the depth of relationship is not satisfying. It's hard to bear your soul using txt msgs 2 try 2 xprss ur hart - lol : )

We're setting our children up for more of the same if we're content to farm their formation out to "experts" like teachers, coaches, piano and jujitsu instructors, computer spelling games and whatever TV show has taken the place of Sesame Street. Parental interaction on a consistent basis is important and irreplaceable. Talking over thoughts, feelings, sharing activities together, and, most importantly, sharing one's relationship with Jesus and the saints teaches our children how to be in relationships that have depth, meaning and mutuality.

And that mutuality is important. Americans have a very high opinion of themselves. At least that's one of the mega-trends the Barna research uncovered. We are able to love unconditionally quite well - as long as the object of that love is ourselves! I remember one of the things one of my former student masters would say when he realized that he'd been talking about himself for awhile. He'd look a bit sheepish for a moment and then joke, "But enough about me - what do you think about me?"

Success in nurturing satisfying relationships require us to move beyond ourselves, and to allow another person to be the focus of our attention, allowing their concerns to move us, their thoughts to challenge our own, their heartache to break our own heart. This is part of what "dying to ourselves" entails. And from what I've observed, raising children well requires a lot of death on the part of the parents!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Too Close to Home

Sometimes humor hits a little too close to home. Here's an example:

There were four country churches in a small Texas town. The Presbyterian Church, the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church and the Catholic Church. Each church was overrun with pesky squirrels.

One day, the Presbyterian Church called a meeting to decide what to do about the squirrels. After much prayer and consideration, they determined that the squirrels werre predestined to be there and they shouldn't interfere with God's divine will.

In the Baptist Church the squirrels had taken up habitation in the baptistery. The deacons met and decided to put a cover on the baptistery and drown the squirrels in it. The squirrels escaped somehow and there were twice as many there the next week.

The Methodist Church members got together and decided that they were not in a position to harm any of God's creation. So, they humanely trapped the squirrels and set them free a few miles outside of town. Three days later all the squirrels had returned.

But the Catholic Church came up with the best and most effective solution. They baptized the squirrels and registered them as members of the Church. Now they only see the squirrels at Christmas and Easter.

Hat tip: the always gorgeous Patricia Armstrong

More Cellphone Saints

The company that is producing cell phone wallpaper of saints now has an English webpage. If you have AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Virgin Mobile, you can download a saint's image to your cellphone for a small fee.

I was able to download the image of St. Catherine of Siena from our website to my computer, then send it to my phone for free via bluetooth technology. It's a little busy, but a good reminder to ask St. Catherine for her prayers on a regular basis.

Hat tip: Sue Gifford

Making Disciples: the Art of Evangelistic Dialogue

If you are interested in the CDF Note, you'll be interested in Making Disciples.

Making Disciples is a four day seminar that will cover:

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

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

You will learn to engage in the sort of dialogue that is described in the CDF note, a dialogue that leads others to know and love Christ and his Church, including

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

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

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

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

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

The Catherine of Siena Institute will be offering Making Disciples three times next summer:

June 8 - 12 at St. Benedict's Abbey in Benet Lake, Wisconsin

July 27 - 31 at beautiful Mt. St. Francis retreat center in Colorado Springs, Colorado (7,000 feet high on the edge of the Pike National Forest)

August 10 - 14 at the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center in Spokane, Washington

You can download the color brochure here.

Get to know wonderful Catholic leaders from all over the country - and other countries - who care passionately about evangelization and want to wrestle with the implications of our mission for all aspects of our pastoral practice. We have been getting rave reviews like the following from attendees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Program content: Priceless."

Come be a part this summer.

Notes on a Note: the CDF Note on Evangelization

After much searching, I haven't been able to find the complete 19 page text of the New Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization. Here is the English summary released by the Vatican



I. Introduction

1. The Doctrinal Note is devoted principally to an exposition of the Catholic Church’s understanding of the Christian mission of evangelization, which is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ; the word "Gospel" translates "evangelion" in the Greek New Testament. "Jesus Christ was sent by the Father to proclaim the Gospel, calling all people to conversion and faith. ‘Go out into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature’ (Mk 16,15)." [n. 1]

2. The Doctrinal Note cites Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical Letter "The Mission of the Redeemer" in recalling that "‘Every person has the right to hear the Good News [Gospel] of the God who reveals and gives himself in Christ, so that each one can live out in its fullness his or her proper calling.’ This right implies the corresponding duty to evangelize." [n. 2]

3. Today there is "a growing confusion" about the Church’s missionary mandate. Some think "that any attempt to convince others on religious matters is a limitation of their freedom," suggesting that it is enough to invite people "to act according to their consciences", or to "become more human or more faithful to their own religion", or "to build communities which strive for justice, freedom, peace and solidarity", without aiming at their conversion to Christ and to the Catholic faith.

Others have argued that conversion to Christ should not be promoted because it is possible for people to be saved without explicit faith in Christ or formal incorporation in the Church. Because "of these problems, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged it necessary to public the present Note." [n. 3]

II. Some Anthropological Implications

4. While some forms of agnosticism and relativism deny the human capacity for truth, in fact human freedom cannot be separated from its reference to truth. Human beings are given intellect and will by God that they might come to know and love what is true and good. The ultimate fulfillment of the vocation of the human person is found in accepting the revelation of God in Christ as proclaimed by the Church.

5. This search for truth cannot be accomplished entirely on one’s own, but inevitably involves help from others and trust in knowledge that one receives from others. Thus, teaching and entering into dialogue to lead someone in freedom to know and to love Christ is not inappropriate encroachment on human freedom, "but rather a legitimate endeavor and a service capable of making human relationships more fruitful." [n. 5]

6. The communication of truths so that they might be accepted by others is also in harmony with the natural human desire to have others share in one’s own goods, which for Catholics includes the gift of faith in Jesus Christ. Members of the Church naturally desire to share with others the faith that has been freely given to them.

7. Through evangelization, cultures are positively affected by the truth of the Gospel. Likewise, through evangelization, members of the Catholic Church open themselves to receiving the gifts of other traditions and cultures, for "Every encounter with another person or culture is capable of revealing potentialities of the Gospel which hitherto may not have been fully explicit and which will enrich the life of Christians and the Church." [n. 6]

8. Any approach to dialogue such as coercion or improper enticement that fails to respect the dignity and religious freedom of the partners in that dialogue has no place in Christian evangelization.

III. Some Ecclesiological Implications

9. "Since the day of Pentecost … the Gospel, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is proclaimed to all people so that they might believe and become disciples of Christ and members of his Church." "Conversion" is a "change in thinking and of acting," expressing our new life in Christ; it is an ongoing dimension of Christian life.

10. For Christian evangelization, "the incorporation of new members into the Church is not the expansion of a power-group, but rather entrance into the network of friendship with Christ which connects heaven and earth, different continents and ages." In this sense, then, "the Church is the bearer of the presence of God and thus the instrument of the true humanization of man and the world." (n. 9)

11. The Doctrinal Note cites the Second Vatican Council’s "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World" (Gaudium et Spes) to say that respect for religious freedom and its promotion "must not in any way make us indifferent towards truth and goodness. Indeed, love impels the followers of Christ to proclaim to all the truth which saves." [n.10] This mission of love must be accomplished by both proclamation of the word and witness of life. "Above all, the witness of holiness is necessary, if the light of truth is to reach all human beings. If the word is contradicted by behavior, its acceptance will be difficult." On the other hand, citing Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, the Note says that "even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run, if it is not explained, justified… and made explicit by a clear und unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus." [n. 11]

IV. Some Ecumenical Implications

12. The CDF document points out the important role of ecumenism in the Church’s mission of evangelization. Christian divisions can seriously compromise the credibility of the Church’s evangelizing mission. The more ecumenism brings about greater unity among Christians, the more effective evangelization will be.

13. When Catholic evangelization takes place in a country where other Christians live, Catholics must take care to carry out their mission with "both true respect for the tradition and spiritual riches of such countries as well as a sincere spirit of cooperation." Evangelization proceeds by dialogue, not proselytism. With non-Catholic Christians, Catholics must enter into a respectful dialogue of charity and truth, a dialogue which is not only an exchange of ideals, but also of gifts, in order that the fullness of the means of salvation can be offered to one’s partners in dialogue. In this way, they are led to an ever deeper conversion to Christ.

"In this connection, it needs also to be recalled that if a non-Catholic Christian, for reasons of conscience and having been convinced of Catholic truth, asks to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church, this is to be respected as the work of the Holy Spirit and as an expression of freedom of conscience and of religion. In such a case, it would not be question of proselytism in the negative sense that has been attributed to this term." [n. 12]

V. Conclusion

14. The Doctrinal Note recalls that the missionary mandate belongs to the very nature of the Church. In this regard it cites Pope Benedict XVI: "The proclamation of and witness to the Gospel are the first service that Christians can render to every person and the entire human race, called as they are to communicate to all God’s love, which was fully manifested in Jesus Christ, the one Redeemer of the world." Its concluding sentence contains a quotation from Pope Benedict’s first Encyclical Letter "Deus caritas est": "The love which comes from God unites us to him and ‘makes us a we which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is all in all (1 Cor 15:28)’."

Sherry's comments: Great stuff. Several points that stand out:

1) ‘Every person has the right to hear the Good News [Gospel] of the God who reveals and gives himself in Christ." Freedom of information extends to the knowledge of Christ.

2) The fact that it is possible for people to be saved without explicit knowledge of Christ or formal incorporation into the Church is not a reason to stop proclaiming Christ.

3) I am struck by the phrase "the vocation of the human person" as in "The ultimate fulfillment of the vocation of the human person is found in accepting the revelation of God in Christ as proclaimed by the Church."

4) The search for truth cannot be conducted alone. "Thus, teaching and entering into dialogue to lead someone in freedom to know and to love Christ is not inappropriate encroachment on human freedom, "but rather a legitimate endeavor and a service capable of making human relationships more fruitful.".

Notice: dialogue leading someone to know and love Christ - which is very exciting since that is exactly what we are doing in our new seminar: Making Disciples. How to begin a conversation with post-moderns that stimulates curiosity about and movement toward Christ and his Church.

5) Catholic traditionalist purists will not like this:

"Likewise, through evangelization, members of the Catholic Church open themselves to receiving the gifts of other traditions and cultures, for "Every encounter with another person or culture is capable of revealing potentialities of the Gospel which hitherto may not have been fully explicit and which will enrich the life of Christians and the Church."

Notice: our encounter with non-Catholics enables us to turn back to the fullness of the Apostolic faith and see new "potentialities of the Gospel" which will "enrich the Church." It seems that the CDF thinks we can learn things from non-Catholics - even from evangelicals.

6. I simply love this: "
"entrance into the network of friendship with Christ which connects heaven and earth, different continents and ages." Would that it were more clearly experienced on the ground. As a close friend told me excitedly this week: "Guess what! We met a family of Catholics who are believers!"

7. Even the finest witness of life is not enough without verbal proclamation:

"even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run, if it is not explained, justified… and made explicit by a clear und unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus." [n. 11]

8. Ecumenism among Christians is critical to evangelization and evangelization is done differently (not eliminated!) in countries with a local Christian tradition. " With non-Catholic Christians, Catholics must enter into a respectful dialogue of charity and truth, a dialogue which is not only an exchange of ideals, but also of gifts, in order that the fullness of the means of salvation can be offered to one’s partners in dialogue. In this way, they are led to an ever deeper conversion to Christ." Non-Catholic Christians have gifts to give us.

Which reminds me of Cardinal Avery Dulles' First Things "Saving Ecumenism From Itself" in which he writes "I have therefore been urging an ecumenism of mutual enrichment by means of testimony. This proposal corresponds closely, I believe, with John Paul II’s idea of seeking the fullness of truth by means of an “exchange of gifts.”

9. Non-Catholic Christians have the freedom to enter the Catholic Church as a free act of conscience without it being the result of proselytism. (Obviously this is aimed primarily at the Orthodox. It will be interesting to see their response)

None of this is new, of course. Just clear, high level, authoritative reaffirmations of points that are currently debated on several fronts.

"The proclamation of and witness to the Gospel are the first service that Christians can render to every person and the entire human race, called as they are to communicate to all God’s love, which was fully manifested in Jesus Christ, the one Redeemer of the world."

Absolutely. I look forward to reading the entire Note in depth.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Apostolic Oneupmanship

When you've done something like 400 live events, you end up having conversations like this one from yesterday:

Fr. Mike: Who was sent to Fargo in mid-winter - more than once?

Me: Yea, but who drove across the high plains of Kansas and Nebraska eight times in winter?

Fr. Mike: Yeah, but who got to go five times to Hawaii . . .


Cause you know, in the "I've suffered more than you" wars, five - all expenses paid - trips to Hawaii leaves you pretty much unarmed . . .


It has just occurred to me. I could battle on . . .

Me: Who got dysentery in Jakarta?

FM: Who spent a month in a hospital in South Africa and nearly died?

Me: Yeah, but you were dying on your own time. . . I was dying on Institute time.

Mark Your Calendars

Much going on . . .

Yesterday Fr. Mike and I had a fascinating conversation with an experienced travel agent about a possible "In the Footsteps of St. Catherine" tour of Rome and Tuscany in April of 2009. We may have to fiddle things a bit with Fr. Mike's schedule but it looks very doable. We'll let you know more as we know.

We are still wrestling with more requests for several more Called & Gifted workshops during Jan - March (we are already doing 21 C & G's in those three months) and Fr. Mike has got two more parish missions - ten in all this year so far = three of which I will be doing with him. (University of Indiana Newman Center and two here in Colorado Springs)

Here's the schedule for early January so ID readers can make plans to attend one near you:

Jan 4: A one day Called & Gifted for Catholic school teachers at St. Francis de Sales School in Houston.

Jan 4/5: Spanish language Called & Gifted, St. Isidore's Parish, Bloomingdale, IL

Jan 4/5: Called & Gifted workshop, St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Pasco, WA

Jan 7 - 10: Fr. Mike and I will presenting a abridged version of Making Disciples for the Dominican pastors, pastoral staff and lay leaders of the Dominican parishes and Newman Centers of the west coast, Menlo Park, CA. This should be interesting for many reasons, including the fact that we'll have a chance to meet Mike Hayes of Googling God who will also be speaking there. (Alas, this one is not open to the general public)

Jan 11/12: Two Called & Gifted workshops in the Seattle area:

St. Stephen the Martyr, Renton
St. Brendan's, Bothell

and two workshops that same weekend in Jetmore, Kansas:

Jan 12: St. Lawrence Catholic Church, Jetmore

Jan 13: High School/teen Called & Gifted, Jetmore

Click here for our whole upcoming event schedule

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Test

This is a test - as recent posts and comments don't seem to be showing.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Amazing new resource for Scripture study

The Congregation for the Clergy has launched a new website with a fabulous resource for studying Scripture with the Church: Biblia Clerus.

From the website:

This program offers Sacred Scripture, its interpretation in light of Sacred Tradition and the teachings of the Magisterium, with appropriate theological commentary and exegesis.

The downloadable version allows you to connect Sacred Scripture to the complete works of many Doctors of the Church, Councils, Encyclicals, teachings of the Popes, Catechisms, as well as commentaries from secular literature, etc.

The site is available in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish.

All of this is being made available at no charge. What a Christmas present!

This will be a wonderful resource for homilists; just look up the appointed text, and in the sidebar get immediate references to all sorts of magisterial commentary on it. I looked at the opening of the Gospel of John, and found references to 45 different sources, many of them with multiple citations.

Wow, indeed!

Hat tip:

Christmas Greetings from Rail Europe

This was sent to me by my dear friend, Pat, in Eugene. She's stuck in her apartment due to illness and is forced to look out her window at a travel agency. For a woman who's cajoled her doting husband into moving some 50 times in the 53 years of their marriage, this is truly torture. So she travels via the internet, and this is her gift to you. Enjoy!

Sherry comment: Do watch this - it is an absolute hoot!


It's snowing again - and they expect it to keep it up all day. We are having a white Advent here as I sit snugly in my Tuscan gold dining room/living area and look out at the snow-covered stone wall and observe the occasional brave (or desperate) dog walker in the park.

Had the fun of having dinner with Tom Kreitzberg last night and getting to know him a bit better, I shall hoist a glass of TK memorial Merlot (his parting gift) tonight.

Today it is work with Fr. Mike and tea. English tea, mind you. Yorkshire Gold, to be exact. And real work - on so many looming things.

Several of you have written wanting to hear my take on the USCCB's critique of Peter Phan's theology. I'll try to do something - when I have time to read it and compose something intelligent.

What if the Penalty Were Certain Anonymity?

I have a non-violent solution to the angry young man bursting into the mall/church/school with his assault rifle. Something in addition to the other obvious non-violent options of 1) refusing to give him access to assault rifles, 2) stop filling his head with images - through movies, videos, TV, computer games - which lionize solitary young men wielding assault rifles. It wouldn't stop all such events but it will stop inspiring copy-cat incidents by guys who are going to prove something to the world and become immortal by taking others with them.

All we have to do is make a pact - all of us - all media sources, all bloggers, friends, family, etc. All we have to do is say that the name of any such shooter will never be mentioned again. He will not go down in history like Jesse James or Jack the Ripper. He won't go down in history at all. He will vanish. His story will never be told. The penalty is not just almost certain death. The penalty is certain anonymity. The shooter won't vanish from the mind or eye of God or his family - but he will from history.

Some of this - a good deal of this - is publicity driven. Done by young men who have added dazzling media images to their personal stock of inner darkness and rage. Without those images: of Columbine and Omaha and now Colorado - how many miserable 17 year olds will take that route? They usually do it after months and years of brooding upon such images and stories, seeing themselves as the anti-hero and revenger, whose spectacular end is reported 24/7 all over the world, and endlessly speculated about. A small child's "I'll show them!" magnified a billion times by CNN and FOX and the internet. Now it is "I'll show the world!".

What if we cut the supply? What if he knew for sure that no one would see, that no one would ever know his name, if he took this path? That no media report would ever mention his name or his family or his home town or his childhood or the people who bullied him at school or read the letter or video that he leaves behind. That his fantasies of finally being seen and recognized, of being the all powerful center of attention, could not happen this way. That he could not send a defiant message to the universe this way.

We have to simply stop rewarding this sort of fantasy with 24/7 global notoriety and a place in the Bad Boys of the Universe Hall of Fame.

Publicity is the oxygen that feeds this particular kind of fire. And it is we who control the source of that particular narcotic.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Of Sacrifice, Mission, Ecumenism, and Christ

The descriptions of the two young adults who died in the shooting at the Youth With A Mission base near Denver are moving and pretty typical of what I have experienced of YWAMers. From the Denver Post:

One young man who died, Phil Kraus, was a former angry skinhead. He had been on medication and psychiatric care for depression but after his conversion, had discovered the "the power of a giving life". He was preparing to become a missionary to the Muslims of Kazakhstan.

"He said he was willing to give his life to do the work over there," Chandler said. "If that meant staying over there for the rest of his life, he would. If that meant dying over there, he would." Crouse taught himself Russian and German and would visit Russian cafes and German clubs in Anchorage to give his testimony, Chandler said. He also took rides on buses, just so he could share the Gospel with other riders, Chandler said.

Chandler said that if Crouse had been a survivor, he would have been the one leading prayers for the killer.
"If Phil had ever seen this guy, I'm sure he ministered to him at some point," Chandler said. "If Phil was one of the surviving ones, he would have visited this guy in jail. That's the kind of guy Phil was."

The young woman who died, Tiffany Johnson, was already an experienced missionary at 26. She had served with YWAM in the Middle East and Africa. "always smiling, always caring." It was Johnson, who because of her welcoming personality was in charge of hospitality at the base. It was she who was called in to gently tell the young man who had been hanging about and talking to the staff for 30 minutes that he couldn't spend the night. While I'm sure there were policies in place, did she sense that he was unsafe?

There has been regular conversations over the past year around St. Blog's about the phenomena of Muslims turning to Christ and inevitably some bristling about why it is evangelicals and not Catholics, who are the prime agents. To answer that question, you need to consider an organization like Youth With A Mission. When I run into a diocese that has a house of 45 Catholic young adults preparing to go spend their lives proclaiming Christ in places like Kazakhstan, I'll let you know. YWAM runs 1,100 such centers around the world.

The irony is that the man who led us on our "walk with the poor" Saturday is the son of long term YWAM staff. He is now a strongly left-leaning social-justice focused Catholic but I could still see the traces of the YWAM lifestyle in him. He still believes and seeks to serve Christ, has the same burning desire to serve others, the same willingness to simplify one's life and to sacrifice for the sake of others. He was obviously skeptical about the power of spiritual conversion to change the situation of the addicted and the mentally ill on the street and much more comfortable with the non-evangelizing focus of Catholics involved in serving the poor. One wonders what his experience of YWAM life had been.

What was interesting about that small group trudging through the snow was that all four of us had been heavily marked by evangelicalism although we were now all seriously practicing Catholics, Two were converts, one was a revert, and one a professional church musician (with a remarkable vocation story which I may blog about later) who had just finished a three year full time stint with an evangelical mega-church in the Northeast.

All of us wrestling with what it means to live "a giving life". What part of this rises out of our various evangelicals roots, what part out of our present Catholic faith? How can one parse one's life in that way? But all of us would say, it was because Christ had commanded us to do so and we were seeking to live as his disciples. As were those who died Sunday.

And there is a powerful sort of apostolic ecumenism in that. Those who sacrifice for the sake of Christ and his purposes in the world can't help but feel a kinship. A kinship beyond the categories of left and right, even of Protestant and Catholic. And this kinship, we know, has a sacramental reality - a real communion with Christ through faith and baptism and therefore, at least, a partial communion with one another. And a hope for this life and for eternity.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Shootings in Colorado

Your prayers please.

Just after midnight last night, 4 people were shot at a Youth With A Mission training facility in Denver (2 died as a result) - but the shooter wasn't caught. Twelve hours later, 9 people were shot (3 have died so far) in a parking lot of New Life Church here in Colorado Springs (the church that Ted Haggard founded and was pastor of until the scandal that destroyed his ministry a year ago)

It is unknown if the two incidents are related - they are 12 hours and 65 miles apart but clearly people here are making the connections. Early reports said that the shooter was a young white male, about 20.


The police are started to acknowledge that there is a connection between the two events. The man described at New Life Church in the Springs sounds a lot like the description of the shooter in Denver. The church security detail in Colorado Springs had been beefed up as a result of the reports of the shootings in Denver. Hard as it is for me to imagine a church with guards packing deadly force and ready to use it - apparently that was the case at New Life. Their security guard, a woman, killed the shooter.

One thing about CS: Fort Carson is one of the two largest sources of soldiers to the Iraq/Afghan war and many thousands here have already done two and three tours of duty. Our churches are filled with veterans. When you listen to some of the interviews being done with witnesses, you will see this reality reflected. They are less likely to freeze and more likely to be proactive when faced with something like this.

For up to the minute details, check out the Colorado Springs Gazette and the Denver Post.

A side note: All the reports are saying that New Life Church has 10,000 members. I don't know where they got that number but that would represent a 33% drop in membership since Ted Haggard's "fall" in November of 2006. That's huge. Previously, Haggard estimated that 1/3 of his 15,000 member congregation were Catholic - either having left the Church altogether or "double dipping" as I and every Catholic pastor in the city could testify. I wonder what proportion of those who ceased to attend New Life are Catholic, how many returned to the Church - and how many just spun off into space.

Stories of Hope

Back from Mass and It has begun to snow again. The mountains are obscured by dense clouds/fog although the sun is still shining here on the edge of oblivion. Children and dogs galumphing about in the snowy park behind the house.

It is extremely disorienting here when the mountains, which so dominate our landscape, vanish from sight. One's whole mind, soul, spirit, and body recoils at the sight of an apparently flat landscape. It is almost as though black were white and the law of gravity has been repealed.

We see as though through a glass darkly. This dark fog is so like the mystery, the pain, and the uncertainty that dogs much of our lives here in time and space - for some of us, all of life can seem like a endless, dark, frozen fog without relief and the prospect of a glorious clear winter day like a fairy tale - an impossible dream.

How do I find my way - the best way the way that will lead to the happiness for which I long ? How to know if we are already off the path and how to find it again? Is God still present and at work when nothing good at all seems to be happening? Was I born to be thwarted?

We need a glowing, fiery sign in the midst of winter. Has God sent you such a sign at some dark point in your life where you didn't know which way to turn? Would you be willing to share your story of hope with the rest of us?

Gloria in Profundis

There has fall on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is spilt on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all -
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
the hanging mountain of hell;
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate-
Where the thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightening fears to be late;
As men dive for a sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star that has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

G. K. Chesterton

One of my favorite Advent/Christmas poems. What are some of your favorite Advent/Christmas poems, stories, quotations, authors?

Friday, December 7, 2007

New Document on Evangelization and Catechesis

This sounds fabulous
Vatican City, Dec 6, 2007 / 05:17 pm (CNA).- The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), headed by Cardinal William Joseph Levada, is about to release an important document on evangelization and catechesis, Vatican sources told CNA this week.
According to the Vatican sources, the document, which could be made public this Advent, “can be regarded as an application of the principles of the document “Dominus Iesus” to the way evangelization is transmitted and catechesis is taught within the Catholic Church.”

According to sources consulted by CNA, the new document on evangelization will stress the need to make the person of Jesus Christ, in his role as God incarnated to bring the full revelation of God’s plans through the Catholic Church, the corner stone and center of every program of evangelization and catechesis.

The intention of the document, according to the source, is “to bring back the centrality of Jesus to the programs aimed at transmitting the faith to future generations, since several of these programs are centered on feelings or confused ideas about the teachings of the Church on the nature of Jesus.”

This will be one of my Christmas reads for sure.

Reclaiming Fatherhood

I had blogged about this several months ago but here is the report of what happened at the
the first international conference on men and abortion held in San Francisco Nov. 28-29. Nearly 200 people from at least seven nations and 28 states gathered at St. Mary's Cathedral (or St. Mary Maytag as some of the locals I knew called it) for "Reclaiming Fatherhood: A Multifaceted Examination of Men Dealing With Abortion"

The stories are gripping:

Chris Aubert, 50, an attorney, traced his life from days as a "very secular young guy" focused on "making money and in general becoming a yuppy" to his shocking realization during a 1994 ultrasound procedure for his pregnant wife "that that is a baby" in her womb.

It flooded over him, he said, that on two occasions prior to his marriage he had agreed with pregnant girlfriends to terminate their pregnancies. "I realized that I had killed two of my own kids," he said. "It was almost like the hand of God reached down and touched me."

He recalled how after the first abortion in 1985 he had left a rose and a $200 check for his then-girlfriend. "But I felt no sorrow, no pain, no nothing," he said. "I had happily agreed to the abortion."

Similarly, he described a second abortion in 1991 with a different woman. "I went to the clinic with her and sat in the waiting room reading a magazine for 20 or 30 minutes, then we went to lunch," he said.

It did not occur to him, Aubert said, "that in the next room my child was being dismembered and killed."

"Something in the depth of my belly," he said, "kept rising higher and higher" as the realization of the loss of two children sank in. By then a convert to Catholicism, Aubert said he told his wife, "There is something I have to tell you," and he revealed the past abortions.

He has since "jumped (with) both feet into the pro-life world." He has established a Web site on his experiences and abortion, (The site carries a warning to visitors that it includes links to graphic photos of abortions.) He also has spoken "to groups of 50 to 1,000" about his convictions.

Other speakers reported that "many men experience depression and guilt as well as grief, anxiety, powerlessness, anger, emotional turmoil, sexual dysfunction and other symptoms often associated with post-traumatic stress disorder."

One aspect of abortion in the United States mentioned frequently during the conference is that "men have no reproductive rights whatsoever," even if they are married to women considering an abortion, in the words of Rue.

Rue charged that most media as well as the preponderance of mental health organizations and professionals continue to promote abortion despite "the mental-health risks," such as "thoughts of suicide in post-abortion women being six times higher" than in the general population.

"There is zero awareness" of a connection between male suicide and abortion, he said. "It is not even a category."

The experts said substance abuse and risk-taking behaviors appear to be common among men associated with an abortion.

Barb Nicolosi Does June

Go see Juno.

Or so says Barbara Nicolosi:

This year's indie with all the buzz is Juno and it deserves every accolade. I felt fairly secure in the conviction that Once had the best female character of the year, but Juno has left me all in grinning uncertainty. Twenty year old Canadian actress Ellen Page better get an Oscar nom or the universe will tilt on its axis.

And I love Barb's observation:

Juno is first and foremost a humane film. It's wonderfully humane. Not sure how to expand on that. You have to see it to know what I mean. But without being a political message movie, Juno is also pro-life, in the way that just about every Gen-X movie about pregnancy is pro-life, and more so. (I would say Juno is a cultural message movie without being a political one. Certainly, that will be an inscrutable nuance in contemporary Christendom in which almost everything is politics. What I think is interesting is that Gen Xers and Millenials are pro-life without necessarily being Culture of Life. They don't put together all the pieces in the puzzle....not yet anyway.) The movie is also anti-divorce in the way that just about every Gen-X movie about family is anti-divorce. And people with faith are here too, in a decent and gritty way that shows mere secularism to be selfish and shallow. . . .

Inner dialogue as I left the theater: "Something wonderful is going on in the movies as the Baby Boomers cede the story-telling scepter to Gen X. Are you noting all this, you Christians who hate Hollywood and think it is all garbage? Something wonderful is happening right under your noses, but you're literally not seeing it because it doesn't fit your paradigm. Gotta ask, miss any renaissances lately?"

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Catholic-Orthodox Alliance?

via Fr. Gregory Jensen of Koinonia:
Pope Benedict XVI will meet on December 7 with the top ecumenical-affairs official of the Russian Orthodox Church, L'Osservatore Romano reports.

And via

The Moscow Patriarchate has noticed the intensification of its contacts with the Catholics during Pope Benedict XVI's pontificate and suggested that alliance between the two churches could theoretically be set up in the future.

“After Benedict XVI was elected pope and declared the development of dialogue with the Orthodox Church among the priorities of his pontificate, bilateral relations between our churches have noticeably enlivened,” Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, said in a report he presented at an inter-religious conference in Naples.

Both the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches “understand more clearly today than they have ever done before the importance of their joint testimony to the secular world about Christian values, which this world is trying to marginalize,” Metropolitan Kirill said.

He noted that the proposal to set up a Catholic-Orthodox alliance produced mixed reaction in the Protestant world. However, he said, this proposal is based on the objective tendency towards deeper cooperation between Catholics and Orthodox and does not presuppose an alliance “against someone.” “As regards the so-called alliance, I do not think that we should talk about some inter-Christian organization today, although it would be wrong to absolutely rule out the establishment of such an organization,” Metropolitan Kirill said.

Under the word “alliance”, he specified, one may understand “the possibility of a more coordinated and structured interaction between the Churches, primarily in their relations with the secular world and non-Christian religions. For a successful dialogue with the others there should be from the very outset a higher level of agreement among Churches and Christian communities than the one that exists today in the framework of the ecumenical dialogue.” For example, according to Metropolitan Kirill, it is unlikely that the full-scale dialogue between Christians and Muslims which is so necessary today will be successful “while deep contradictions remain among Christians in the sphere of anthropology and ethics.”

Benedict XVI on Ecumenism, Baptists, & Catholics

From the Catholic News Agency:

Baptists leaders from around the world met with Pope Benedict XVI this morning at the Vatican as the second round of Baptist-Catholic talks continued. Saying that the lack of unity among Christians contradicts Christ’s will, Benedict XVI told the Baptist delegation that the world needs “our common witness to Christ and to the hope brought by the Gospel.”

This meeting in Rome is the second round of ongoing discussions that Members of the Baptist World Alliance are holding with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The theme for this meeting is: "The Word of God in the Life of the Church: Scripture, Tradition and Koinonia."

That theme, the Pope told the delegates, "offers a promising context for the examination of such historically disputed issues as the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, the understanding of Baptism and the Sacraments, the place of Mary in the communion of the Church, and the nature of ... primacy in the Church's ministerial structure.”
In an approach that seems to be characteristic of all Benedict XVI’s efforts to promote dialogue, he said, "[i]f our hope for reconciliation and greater fellowship between Baptists and Catholics is to be realized," he added, "issues such as these need to be faced together, in a spirit of openness, mutual respect and fidelity to the liberating truth and saving power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

"Today, as ever, the world needs our common witness to Christ and to the hope brought by the Gospel," Pope Benedict concluded. "Obedience to the Lord's will should constantly spur us, then, to strive for that unity so movingly expressed in His priestly prayer: 'that they may all be one. so that the world may believe.' For the lack of unity between Christians 'openly contradicts the will of Christ, provides a stumbling block to the world, and harms the most holy cause of proclaiming the good news to every creature'."


I'm feeling ever so slightly out of control as requests for presentations and meetings keep coming in. Today: another
seminary Called & Gifted, yesterday a major stewardship conference talk on charisms. Two days ago, I did something I have never done before: turned down a major archdiocesan speaking gig nearly a year away and asked if they would like me in 2009. There is no room in the inn.

Somehow I have managed to become very busy while remaining remarkably obscure. Went to hear Christopher West the other night here in CS. He is very, very good and he also has a lot of name recognition. The church was nearly full.

With me, the word gets around after the event. 5 or 6 very, very excited people *after* the fact tell Fr. so-and-so in Peoria that he really must bring me in. It works fine as long as you are depending upon the intrinsic interest of the subject or the gathering itself, not upon the lure of my name (Sherry who?) for your draw.

That too is very Dominican, I think.

Anyway, must get a grip on my constantly evolving schedule. In January/February, we are putting on 18 Called & Gifteds, 3 parish missions, a modified version of Making Disciples, and one training in 14 different dioceses. It may not seem like all that much but a tiny outfit like us will be stretched to the max. Thank God for all our wonderful teachers around the country.

Be sure and check out our web calendar to see the CSI event coming to your neighborhood next year.

Now must go pick up Fr. Mike at the airport.

Cellular Saints

Well, I just finished a parish mission at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix, AZ. I stayed with the family of one of my godsons and had a great time catching up with them in between mission sessions, a presentation to the Mother's Guild, Masses, Confessions, and a staff retreat. Waiting in my in box this morning was a link to a little story from Italy that seems to be a tempest in a teapot to me.

A company in Italy started offering the service on Tuesday but ran into opposition from some Catholic Church leaders who think the idea is crass and commercial.

"We found a need and filled it," Barbara Labate, who came up with the idea with her business partner in a cell phone services company based in Milan, told Reuters by telephone.

Many taxis, private cars, and trucks in Italy have a small picture of a saint--known as a "santino" or little saint--taped to the dashboard. Millions of Italians also keep wrinkled and worn "santini" in their wallets or handbags.

"We are merely catching up with the times. I think this will appeal to young people as well as grandmothers," Labate said.

The company started the service with 15 saints on offer and Labate said the hallowed catalogue will grow. The downloading service, done by sending a text message to a phone number, costs three euros ($4.42). The Web site is

Nearly every shop near the Vatican sells paper "santini" but not everyone in the Church thinks cell phones and saints are a marriage made in heaven.

"This is in really bad taste," Bishop Lucio Soravito De Franceschi, a member of the Italian bishops conference committee for doctrinal matters, told the Turin newspaper La Stampa.

"It is a distortion of sacred things...selling 'santini' for cell phones is horrifying," he said.

But Labate, who is Sicilian and recalls how her mother gave her a "santino" to put in her luggage when she traveled, rejected the criticism.

"We are simply offering a service to the faithful. We are doing this with the maximum respect, dignity, and professionalism for believers," she said.

I dunno, it seems like a simple technological update on an old tradition. What's so bad about having a saint's image on one's cell phone? Maybe Gabriel the Archangel, patron saint of communications, or St. Bernardine of Siena would be good saints for a cell phone. Bernardine was sensitive to the demands of secular life, and tried to negotiate between Christian ethics and a conflicting code of honor that stressed retaining face in a public world. He argued that the catalyst of civil discord in the urban setting was malicious gossip, which led to insults, and, too often, vendetta by aggressive males. His surprising allies in his peacekeeping mission were the women who comprised the majority of his audience.

Perhaps Bishop De Franceschi might take a cue from St. Bernardine and be a bit more sensitive to the demands of current secular life.

I'm wondering if I can't get an image of St. Catherine of Siena, download it to my laptop, then transfer it to my cellphone and use it as my background image. I'll let you know if it works. And it won't cost me three euros.

hat tip: Sue Gifford

Catholic Quote of the Day

From Pope Benedict's new encyclical on hope: Spe Salvi

It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too[40]. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well. (48)

Very Dominican, that.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Do You Give Up So Easily on Jesus?

And this related story from Iraq - one of many such that I have heard, one of the few that has made it into the media(Catholic News Agency)

"As Fr. Bautista continued speaking with us, he described the fascinating story of a young Muslim woman who was entering the Church under his guidance through the RCIA process. Her story was moving. While working with Americans, this woman, who must remain anonymous, was touched deeply when she realized that the U.S. medical personnel not only treated wounded Americans and Iraqi civilians, but also treated wounded enemy combatants, including one who was known for having killed U.S. Marines. As she put it, “This cannot happen with us.”

This dramatic extension of mercy even to enemy soldiers caused her to take the next cautious step. She asked Father Bautista to “tell me more about Jesus.” As Father described Jesus and his life in the Gospels, one thing stood out among the rest for the Muslim woman he called “Fatima” (not her real name) and that was how kindly Jesus had related to, as she put it, “the two Mary’s.” Fatima was moved to see how Jesus deeply loved Mary, his mother, who was sinless, but also how Jesus deeply loved Mary Magdalene, who was “a great sinner.” As these discussions continued, Fatima reached a point where she said to Father Bautista, “I want to become a Christian.”

Since Father Bautista sees himself as a chaplain for all troops, not just Catholics, he decided to introduce Fatima to other chaplains from Protestant and Orthodox backgrounds. After some time had passed, Fatima returned to Father Bautista and said, “I want to become a Catholic like you.” When Father asked her the reason for her decision, she said, “You were the only one who told me about the other Christians, so you left me free to decide for myself. That’s how I knew this was the right decision.”

As their catechetical lessons developed over time, Fatima’s family discovered her plan and was warned sternly by her father that if she continued on this path, she would be disowned by the entire family and would never have contact with them again. At this point, Father Bautista became concerned for Fatima’s well-being and cautioned her to look carefully at the consequences of her decision and to think seriously before continuing her path into the Church.

Fatima paused for a moment and then looking intently at Father Bautista asked, “Do you give up so easily on Jesus?” The question took Father aback for a moment, but then he thought, “This is incredible; this Muslim woman is already bearing witness to me about how important my own faith is!”

As he related it, this woman’s question had caused him to give greater thanks for his faith and for the great privilege of sharing Christ with others. Fatima is currently continuing the RCIA process with great courage and joy."

It depends a good deal upon her family (although the fact that she could initiate the conversation at all and show up every week for RCIA says a great deal about her relative freedom of movement) but Fatima's life could easily be endangered because of her desire to be baptized.

Please pray for "Fatima" and all who journey toward Christ this Advent.

Snapshot From the Global Church: Sharjah

Occasionally, I come across interesting pieces that give a glimpse of what it means to be Catholic in a very different part of the world. I'm calling this irregular feature "Snapshot from the global church" and I'd like to begin with the story of St. Michael's parish ( from

Imagine a parish of 65,000 made up of 20 nationalities. Where "the day of obligation" runs Friday through Sunday - with 17 Masses in three rites, including Syro-Malabar and Malankara. Where 3,000 children attend catechism class in English in the morning and 1,500 in Arabic in the afternoon. Where the CCD classrooms are jammed with 100 children practically sitting on top of each other.

Welcome to St. Michael's parish in Sharjah, in the Vicariate of Arabia

"When I arrived here the first time, I was literally shocked to see the tremendous faith of the expatriate community. To a certain extent, it energizes one's own belief," recalls Father Kuruvilla who reached the United Arab Emirates some 15 years ago. "Many a time I have wondered what exactly is the reason for this external manifestation of deep hunger and thirst for anything spiritual." asks 50-year-old Kuruvilla who considers it a privilege to be part of a vibrant faith-filled community.

As I know from friends who have lived there, life can be very hard for Christian foreign guest workers, in parts of the Persian Gulf.

"We do take a lot of trouble to come to the church every week daring all types of obstacles. The traffic situation too is chaotic," says a parishioner, Lydiya Pinto.

"Lack of parking anywhere near the church adds to our misery. The over-crowded church atmosphere makes things even more difficult. With this, if we have to just rush in and out of the church every time we come for the service -- when we are seeking solace and relief for our overburdened hearts -- I just don't see the point of taking all this trouble. It is high time that we thought of dividing the crowd."

Welcome to Advent

This past Sunday, the Church celebrated the beginning of Advent, that period of expectant waiting for the birth of the Christ child. One of the things I love about being Catholic is the pulse of liturgical rhythms that beat throughout the year. All of time has been redeemed, and we acknowledge this by setting aside the recurring moments of the calendar year (this chronos time) and entering into what the Lord has prepared for us, what the ancients called kairos time--a period where the eternal enters into our finite experience. I would also call this Sacramental time.

In this season of waiting, we are called (as a People and as individual members of that People) to prepare our own hearts for the birth of Christ so that He might be born anew in us. It is a season of intentional reflection upon the great gift of our salvation and redemption, and a time when we can deepen our committment to follow Christ and become more like Him, so that, as Mary, the very model of all Discipleship, our whole being can become impregnated with the Word of God--this Jesus for whom all of Creation waited.

The word "advent" (which means "coming") is the latin version of the greek word "parousia," which many of us hear in relationship to the Second Coming of Christ. And so, in this Advent season, we are called not only to reflect on and celebrate the Mystery of the Incarnation and the coming of Christ that occurred in the past, as well as prepare ourselves for the birth of Christ in our hearts, but we must also be aware and celebrate the reality of His Second Coming, when the fullness of the Kingdom of God will be made manifest, realizing that ulimately our destinly lies with the eternal, living One.

May this sacred season bring you much grace and joy, and may we all celebrate it with integrity and intentionality.
You can find a great listing of various posts about advent over here at Mary's Aggies.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

"That Incomparable Woman": Mary Ward

The extraordinary Mary Ward is a great example of the prominent role that women played in the persecuted English Catholic community. Mary was related to most of the recusant families of England and all the women in her family - mother, grandmother, aunts - were very devout and had spent years in prison for their faith. Imagine the impact of that kind of modeling on a highly intelligent and devout young girl.

Mary was classically educated and spoke and read several languages, including Latin. Like many Englishwomen from the higher classes, Mary Ward enjoyed much greater freedom and independence than was available to women in most Catholic countries at that time - especially in Rome.

Mary established the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary to educate girls and it quickly spread all over the Europe. She was completely faithful to the Church and her ultimate vision was to re-establish Catholicism in England but her vision of educated, non-cloistered women apostles, operating under the Jesuit rule, and answering to the Pope rather than to local bishops, was extremely controversial. Her community was formally suppressed by the Pope in 1631 and Mary herself was imprisoned by the Church (although released by the Pope when he realized what had happened).

The 1631 Papal Bull of Suppression was never been rescinded. However, it was contradicted in 1703 by the approval of the Rules and the approbation of the Institute in 1877. It was only in 1909 that Mary Ward was publicly acknowledged as foundress of the Institute and her rehabilitation was complete when Pope Pius XII called Mary "that incomparable woman" in his speech to the the 1951 Congress on the Apostolate of the Laity.

There is a wonderful Life of Mary Ward told in 50 - 17th century paintings that hang in the IVBM convent in Augsburg, Germany.

Some of my favorites show Mary as a young woman evangelist in England.

At Coldham Hall in England, Mary obtained the conversion of a very wealthy but obstinately heretical lady, after many learned men had vainly employed all their zeal and eloquence in trying to convert her.

And here, Mary goes undercover by dressing as a servant to reach her aunt and bring her to the Catholic faith.

And here Mary quells a mutiny on board by invoking her patron St. James. Mary afterwards declared that she had never sought any favour from God through the intercession of this great prince of heaven without it being granted to her.

All in a day's work.

Relics From Recusant England: Light in the Darkness

Stoneyhurst College holds a fascinating collection of English Catholic relics from penal times.

There is this peddlar's trunk of wood in which St. Edmund Arrowsmith hide his vestments. It was found walled up in a Lancashire cottage in the 1880's:

Here is St. Edmund's rosary bracelet:

The elaborate embroidered pomegranate on this corporal made between 1590 and 1600 is a symbol of eternal life. In the absence of a priest to celebrate the Eucharist, the corporal that had touched the consecrated host was regarded as a relic.

This Agnus Dei of 1578 was carried by St. Edmund Campion.

An Agnus Dei is a disc of wax impressed with the figure of a lamb and blessed at stated seasons by the Pope. The lamb usually bears a cross or flag, while figures of saints or the name and arms of the Pope are also commonly impressed on the reverse. They are regarded as sacramentals like holy water. Agnes Dei were worn as protection from evil. In the prayers of blessing, special mention is made of the perils from storm and pestilence, from fire and flood, and also from the dangers of childbirth.

This Agnus Dei was wrapped in a list of indulgences and hidden in rafters of Lynford Grange, Berkshire when Campion was arrested July 17, 1581.

Shakespeare's Testament

Another glimpse of the world of Recusant Catholicism:


In 1757, a gang of workman working on the roof of the Shakespeare home, found "a small 'paper-book', or pamphlet, tucked between the old tiling and the rafters. Its six stitched leaves turned out to contain fourteen hand-written articles amounting to a profession of Roman Catholic faith by John Shakespeare, William's father in 1580.

It's full significance was not grasped until 1923 when a Jesuit scholar uncovered a remarkably similar document in Italian buried in the British Museum: "Borromeo's 'Last Will of the Soul, made in health for the Christian to secure himself from the temptations of the devil at the hour of death' was composed during a virulent bout of the plague in Milan in the 1570s, said to have claimed 17,000 Catholic lives. His Testament, which became a mantra of the Counter-Reformation, was clearly the original of the English translation found hidden in what had once been John Shakespeare's roof."

In 1580 Borromeo was visited in Milan by a group of Jesuit missionaries, led by Father Edmund Campion, an English recusant who two years later would be tried and gruesomely executed for treason. Campion and his colleagues brought back with them to England numerous copies of Borromeo's testament, which was now circulating around Catholic Europe in huge quantities. 'Three or four thousand or more of the Testaments' were ordered from Rome by Campion and his colleagues, 'for many persons desire to have them.'

Once back in England, Campion passed through the Midlands — specifically Lapworth, just twelve miles from Stratford — en route to Lancashire, where he was again to play a significant role in the life of young William Shakespeare.

Campion's host at Lapworth was Sir William Catesby. Shakespeare's father might well have been one of the furtive souls invited by Catesby, his Catholic wife's Catholic kinsman, to meet Campion at Lapworth, and to carry away one of the secretly made English translations imported by the thousand from Rome.

Three years later, a Catholic cousin of the Shakespeare's, devised a plan to assassinate Elizabeth I in a fit of insanity. . . . in his rented room, he must "...evidently have been talking aloud to himself in bed, and thus have attracted attention, for again his room became filled with startled auditors of his frenzied exclamations that he was going to London to shoot the Queen through with his dagg or pistol, that she was a serpent and a viper, and he hoped to see her head set upon a pole" (courtesy Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet):

Many Catholic homes in Warwickshire were searched and numerous Catholics arrested. And John Shakespeare seems to have thought it prudent to hide his testament in his roof.

This Crisis article from 2002 by Paul Voss outlines the case for Shakespeare's very Catholic background and imagination:

"The Catholic imagination-the imagination that allowed Shakespeare to sprinkle his plays with references to Catholic religious beliefs and practices in meaningful ways-also helped to create the fictive worlds of Denmark, Rome, Verona, Venice, and Illyria. The imagination that made him Catholic also helped make him the greatest writer in the English-speaking world.

. . . Not only does the Catholic imagination allow for great art, music, and literature to flourish, it allows Catholics today to use the transcendent truths of our faith in profound ways. We, as Catholics, need not observe the world with the blinders of fundamentalism, rejecting everything not found within a narrow worldview. Moreover, the Catholic imagination mitigates against an unfettered relativism that is skeptical of any truth, no matter how obvious. The Catholic imagination, anchored in the truth of beauty and the beauty of truth, seeks connections between God and His creation, between His truth and our understanding Shakespeare's plays grant us a glimpse of that imagination at work."

The Timeline of English Persecution

The Timeline of Persecution from this very useful website, The Recusant Historian's Handbook gives you a sense of the mounting oppression that Elizabethan Catholics faced.

1559, Act of Supremacy: Monarch supreme governor of Church of England, clergy to take oath of supremacy on pain of deprivation.

1559, Act of Uniformity: imposed Book of Common Prayer, one shilling fine for failure to attend church on Sunday.

1563, forbidden to defend papal supremacy on pain of Praemunire (forfeiture of property).

1571, treason to call monarch heretic or schismatic, treason to introduce papal bulls.

1581, treason to convert or to be converted to Catholicism, fine of £20 per month for recusancy.

1585, treason for Jesuits or seminary priests to enter the country.

1587, suspected recusant who failed to appear for trial incurred guilt.

1593, recusants restricted to within five miles of their homes.

1605, convicted recusants to receive Anglican communion once per annum on pain of fine and eventual forfeiture of property.

1605, recusants barred from office and professions.

1678, recusants barred from parliament.

1692, recusants incur double land tax.

1699, recusants barred from purchasing or inheriting land.

1778, Relief Act: Catholics permitted to own land.

1791, Relief Act: Catholic clergy permitted to exercise ministry.

1829, Emancipation Act: Catholics permitted to hold office and to sit in parliament.

Bizarre But True

Bizarre, grotesque, and heroic are the words that come to mind about this item. Via Catholic New Service:

A book bound in the skin of an executed Jesuit priest was sold at an auction in England to an unnamed private collector for 5,400 pounds (more than US$11,000).

The macabre, 17th-century book tells the story of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot and is covered in the hide of Father Henry Garnet.

Fr. Garnet served as superior of the hunted Jesuits in England for 20 years between 1586 and 1606. He was a remarkable leader in troubled times. During his time in office, the Jesuits in England grew from 1 to 40 and no one was captured in his London lodging (although there were many close calls)

The priest, at the time the head of the Jesuits in England, was executed May 3, 1606, outside St. Paul's Cathedral in London for his alleged role in a Catholic plot to detonate 36 barrels of gunpowder beneath the British Parliament, an act that would have killed the Protestant King James I and other government leaders.

The book, "A True and Perfect Relation of the Whole Proceedings Against the Late Most Barbarous Traitors, Garnet a Jesuit and His Confederates," contains accounts of speeches and evidence from the trials. It measures about 6 inches by 4 inches and comes in a wooden box.

Sid Wilkinson, the auctioneer, said: "The front cover is rather spooky because where the skin has mottled or crinkled there looks to be a bearded face.

"It is a curious thing, and we believe it to be taken from the skin of Henry Garnet," he told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview Nov. 28.

He added that it was common for the skins of executed criminals to be used to cover books about their lives, a process called anthropodermic binding.

Another glimpse of strange world of recusant England. Poor Fr. Garnet died at the hands of an executioner, protesting his innocence of any involvement in the Gunpowder Plot. It is because of uncertainty about this that he has never been declared a martyr for the faith.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Tough Times on the Road

It looks like Fr. Mike and I will be traveling to Ettal, Germany in October, 2008, to give a Called & Gifted workshop at the Benedictine monastery there.

Sometimes this is really tough gig. This is going to be the hardest trip since the trips to Oahu, Kauai, and Maui. As you can see, the St. Stephen Pastoral Center for the Diocese of Hawaii is also a tough gig.

I'm working away on that Michelin Guide to the convents and rectories of North America. And maybe Europe . . .

Snapshot From the Global Church: Sharjah

Snapshot from the global church via

Imagine a parish of 65,000 made up of 20 nationalities. Where "the day of obligation" runs Friday through Sunday - with 17 Masses in three rites, including Syro-Malabar and Malankara. Where 3,000 children attend catechism class in English in the morning and 1,500 in Arabic in the afternoon. Where the CCD classrooms are jammed with 100 children practically sitting on top of each other.

Welcome to St. Michael's parish in Sharjah, in the Vicariate of Arabia

"When I arrived here the first time, I was literally shocked to see the tremendous faith of the expatriate community. To a certain extent, it energizes one's own belief," recalls Father Kuruvilla who reached the United Arab Emirates some 15 years ago. "Many a time I have wondered what exactly is the reason for this external manifestation of deep hunger and thirst for anything spiritual." asks 50-year-old Kuruvilla who considers it a privilege to be part of a vibrant faith-filled community.

As I know from friends who have lived there, life can be very hard for Christian foreign guest workers, in parts of the Persian Gulf.

"We do take a lot of trouble to come to the church every week daring all types of obstacles. The traffic situation too is chaotic," says a parishioner, Lydiya Pinto.

"Lack of parking anywhere near the church adds to our misery. The over-crowded church atmosphere makes things even more difficult. With this, if we have to just rush in and out of the church every time we come for the service -- when we are seeking solace and relief for our overburdened hearts -- I just don't see the point of taking all this trouble. It is high time that we thought of dividing the crowd."