Thursday, January 31, 2008

The 21 Year Journey of the World Youth Day Cross

Follow the journey of the World Youth Day Cross and Icon Across Australia.

The World Youth Day Cross has been traveling the world with young Catholics for the past 21 years.

The Shanghai Connection: Dangerous Drugs From Chinese Manufacturer of US Supply of RU 486

I'm feeling secure. Sure 'nuf. Per the New York Times

The manufacturer of bad leukemia drugs that have paralyzed over 200 patients is also the sole manufacturer of the US supply of RU 486 - the abortion drug. The plants are only a hour apart.

The investigation of the contaminated cancer drugs comes as China is trying to restore confidence in its tattered regulatory system. In the last two years, scores of people around the world have died after ingesting contaminated drugs and drug ingredients produced in China. Last year, China executed its top drug safety official for accepting bribes to approve drugs.


On at least two occasions in 2002, Shanghai Hualian had shipments of drugs stopped at the United States border, F.D.A. records show. One shipment was an unapproved antibiotic and the other a diuretic that had “false or misleading labeling.” Records also show that another unit of Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group has filed papers declaring its intention to sell at least five active pharmaceutical ingredients to manufacturers for sale in the United States.


Because of opposition from the anti-abortion movement, the F.D.A. has never publicly identified the maker of the abortion pill for the American market. The pill was first manufactured in France, and since its approval by the F.D.A. in 2000 it has been distributed in the United States by Danco Laboratories. Danco, which does not list a street address on its Web site, did not return two telephone calls seeking comment.

In Mission Together

There is an interesting conference underway in Rome on "The Parish and the New Evangelization". It is sponsored in part by the Emmanuel Community which sponsors some wonderful evangelization events - such as the open house/Adoration/welcome initiative that my pastor stumbled across at the Parthenon in Rome a few years ago.

Although the Emmanuel Community was founded by a layman, it now has priestly vocations that have sprung up from within.
Father Yves le Saux, general delegate for ordained ministry of the Emmanuel Community was interviewed by Zenit:

" . . . the model of the parish in which the pastor is there, in the midst of its community, available for all the people to go to, is no longer sufficient today. If a pastor wishes to still have sheep, he should go to find them. Today, the parish should be understood as “mission territory.” It seems to me that perhaps the term “mission territory” has to be added to the term parish so that the priest and Christians who live in a determined place can enter into a dynamic of announcing the Gospel. From an interview with the head of the Emm

Said in another way, does the parish have a future? Yes, on the condition that it is missionary.

Q: What advice could you give to a pastor who has a deep consciousness of the evangelizing role of his parish but who feels alone facing this challenge?

Father Le Saux: It is clear that the responsibility for the mission should not fall on only one man. I think that today the parochial function should not be entrusted to only one man, but to a team of priests who have a demanding community life and who are prepared for working together in the mission.

But this is insufficient. Today a parish priest has to be surrounded by the baptized who share with him the same missionary drive. The priest who feels alone should, in principle, have the objective of surrounding himself with people who not only evangelize with him, but who also pray with him, reflect with him, have a Christian life with him.

That being said, I think that there is also a responsibility of the bishops themselves, who should be on guard to not leave a priest alone. A man alone, even with a lot of help and talents, remains limited in his fruitfulness."

Few diocesan priests that I've met have the alternative of working with a team of priests - certainly in large parts of the US and elsewhere. But they certainly can seek to be surrounded by the baptized who "share the same missionary drive." who evangelize with him, pray with him, have a Christian life with him.

Of course, that would require that both pastor and people were intentional disciples who were convinced that the Church's primary mission is outward, not inward and busy engaged in that mission.

Excellent grist for the conversational mill in Houston!

As Paul Tournier put it:

"There are two things a person can not do alone. One is to be married and the other is to be a Christian."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

They've Got Gospel in the Air

Houston here we come.

More specifically, St. Mary's Seminary, here we come.

Fly down Thursday. teach a modified C & G Thursday night and Friday morning for the student body and some faculty, optional interviews for those interested on Friday afternoon and evening, then back to CS on Saturday morning.

Marc Cohn (who is Jewish) captured the feeling I get returning to the south so well in his classic, Walking in Memphis

They've got catfish on the table
They've got gospel in the air
And Reverend Green be glad to see you
When you haven't got a prayer
But boy you've got a prayer in Memphis

Now Muriel plays piano
Every Friday at the Hollywood
And they brought me down to see her
And they asked me if I would --
Do a little number
And I sang with all my might
And she said --
"Tell me are you a Christian child?"
And I said "Ma'am I am tonight"

Then to re-focus on those missions looming so large on the horizon.

Blogging will probably recommence on Saturday - or possibly Sunday. Home for 5 days so I'll be able to get up
some blogging steam.

Herding Cats: Someone's Gotta Do It

LOL! Too true.

Especially when you work with Dominicans.

hat tip: Mark Shea and Cow Shea

ASSET: Creative Solution to a Tragic Problem

More than ever, Information technology has become an important economic engine for urban communities in India. Private and public enterprises, large and small are experiencing its benefits, and large investments are being made in the development and implementation of IT. However, the specific community that ASSET is focusing on, namely the Children of sex workers and the sex workers themselves have been left out.

Even where computer access is available, children of sex workers (Csw) are denied access because of who they are and also it is costly, and the children lack the basic skills to make it a useful resource. Computer literacy among Csw is envisioned as a means of improving employment prospects than a tool for improving community life. ASSET aims to demystify technology by helping Csw to seek it out and embrace all its potential.

Available and accessible information technology can play an important role in promoting social change. ASSET hopes to empower local communities to collect their own data on unemployment, health, or other issues and use the data make their voices heard. Computers are an important means of accessing information to connect small communities with the larger society and economy. IT efforts in many communities are adopted as a top-down, private enterprise approach that treats local communities as consumers of a service. They do not integrate small communities by giving them a stake in technology development, and these initiatives tend to deepen the divide. And since social issues are not the priority of the large multinationals and private companies that so far dominate IT development, there has been little effort to promote the use of IT tools for social good and poverty alleviation.

ASSET offers locally-driven computer literacy training, and plans to work with parents to set up community-owned IT cooperatives to ensure democratic access.

Working with the parents, ASSET provides the community members with training in simple IT processes like the use of the computer in collecting and storing data followed by methods of analyzing the information.

Participants will their new skills to collect and sort data on the frequency and prevalence of diseases in their area, and then present the information to the authorities in support of their demand for better health services. After the successful completion of the pilot project in Chennai, ASSET plans to implement similar programs in Bangalore and Hyderabad.

ASSET is very focused on finding and developing special software to meet specific local needs. Access to hardware is just as crucial as skills and software in these communities where computers are expensive and scarce. ASSET has found generous partners who have donated desktop PCs and laptops. Volunteer organizations have been tapped to assist with outreach to support training and education programs. ASSET is also working with local colleges and institutes to invite socially oriented youth with special skills in software and web development, media, fundraising and other relevant areas to get involved as volunteers. To ensure the democratic dissemination of information technology, ASSET plans computer service centers that are run on a cooperative model training community members in hardware, hardware repair, and organizing social networks around computers to further integrate IT into community life.

The belief of the founders of ASSET, Inc. is that every child, irrespective of parentage counts. Their mission is to give children access to education which is not available to them through traditional means and to emphasize on structural intervention aspects of using technology to enable sex workers to dream of a better future for their children. This gives them something to live for and so adopt healthy behaviors.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Australian OPs Have a WYD blogspot

The Dominicans of Australia and New Zealand have a blog dedicated to the preparations for World Youth Day. You might check it out from time to time at this address.

Are Pentecostals the Ecumenical Future?

John Allen posted an intriguing and important piece yesterday:

If Demography is Destiny, Pentecostals are the Ecumenical Future.

It is encouraging to see that the Church is starting to recognize this newly emerging reality and take some action.

According to Allen:

Fr. Juan Usma Gomez of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Vatican official responsible for Catholic/Pentecostal relations, published a piece in the January 27 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, reporting two new developments that have not as yet garnered wide attention:

• The Joint International Commission for Catholic–Pentecostal Dialogue will shortly publish a new document: On Becoming A Christian: Insights from Scripture and the Patristic Writings. With Some Contemporary Reflections. Usma Gomez called the document a “true novelty,” because it’s the first time Catholics and Pentecostals have jointly studied the Fathers of the Church.

Fantastic. The Fathers are filled with references to charisms, the miraculous, and the work of the Holy Spirit. If any readers would like to learn more on the subject, be sure and check out this excellent, scholarly but accessible work: Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit.


After several years of preparation, for the first time the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity will hold “preliminary conversations” this April with leaders of various non-denominational Pentecostal movements, which could lead to the creation of a formal dialogue. Given that the majority of Pentecostals are now thought to belong to independent and unaffiliated grassroots movements, this means that for the first time the Vatican is opening a channel of communication with that sector of the Christian world where, in many respects, “the action is.”

Again, an extremely timely move. The dilemma is how to do ecumenical dialogue with Christians who are not centrally organized and many of whom consciously reject the classic denominational structures? This will not be dialogue as we have been used to it: scholarly and focused around historic creeds and theological debates.

For those of you who would like to know more about post-denominational pentecostalized Christianity, check out my 11 part post: The Challenge of Independent Christianity. As I noted then:

Dr. David Barrett is the foremost expert in the world on the status of global Christianity and editor of the massive 2001 edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia published by Oxford University Press. He divides the contemporary Christian world into six ecclesial traditions or what he calls “Christian megablocs”. Five of these blocs are familiar historic groups: Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and what Barrett calls “Marginal Christians”; a bloc that would include groups like the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The sixth bloc is a 20th century phenomena that goes by the name of “post-denominationalist Independent”. This new kid on the block is already a major player. As of mid-2007, Barrett estimates that Independent Christians number 437.7 million, or roughly 20% of all the Christians in the world. (The updated mid-2007 figures that I will be quoting are available online at Status of Global Mission, 2007 in the Context of the 20th and 21st Centuries (hereafter SGM), If Barrett’s figures are close enough for government work, Independent Christianity is second in size only to Roman Catholicism. It is larger than all historic Protestant groups (excluding Anglicanism) combined, twice the size of Orthodoxy, and over five times larger than the entire Anglican communion.

Independent Christianity is growing faster than Islam. Independents constituted only 1.4% of world Christianity in 1900. By 2050, Barrett estimates they will make up nearly 25% of all Christians and 8.5% of the world’s population. In 2007, the Catholic Church showed a minimal growth rate of 1.14%, while Islam’s annual growth was 1.81%. Independent Christianity led the way with an annual growth rate of 2.12 % - nearly double that of Catholicism. (SGM)

None of this is surprising in light of Independent Christians’ passionate commitment to proclaiming Christ – to the baptized and non-baptized alike. As a group, Independents are what Barrett calls “Great Commission” Christians. That is, they hold that mandate of Christ to evangelize, baptize, and disciple all nations is still valid and is the central mission of the Church. (According to the SGM, 703 million or 32% of all Christians in 2007 were “Great Commission Christians”.). The five nations with the largest numbers of Independents in 2005 are China, the United States, India, Nigeria, and Brazil. According to Barrett, 52% of Asian Christians, 30% of North American Christians, 22% of African Christians, and 7.3% of Latin Christians are part of the Independent movement.

In light of its global size and dynamism, you would think that “Independent” Christianity would register on the Catholic ecclesial radar. One reason it does not is that this post-denominational Christianity has only been recognized as a unique movement in the past 20 years. It is so new that it can be easily dismissed by the historically-minded as yet another fly-by-night “sect”. Granted that the word “church” has a very specific meaning in Catholic thought, this does not mean that “sect” is an adequate label for Christian communities who do not qualify as churches. This word tells the listener nothing and gives the strong impression that the group in question is too marginal to be taken seriously. In any case, the term “sect” is manifestly inadequate to describe a movement that is 437 million strong.

A second reason we may overlook Independent Christianity is that it is a development from within evangelicalism that intentionally leaves historic Protestant practice far behind. They are therefore not an obvious partner for the sort of ecumenical dialogue we are familiar with that engages traditional Protestant denominations.

A third reason is that the Independent movement is not structured in standard ways. Most Independent Christians are part of loosely affiliated “apostolic networks” held together by personal relationships, a common charismatic spirituality, and a joint commitment to proclaiming Christ. Barrett estimates that there were about 22,000 such networks or para-denominations in existence in 2000 involving 1.7 million congregations.

The fourth and most critical reason is that Independent Christianity is nearly devoid of and completely uninterested in the marks of the Church that are so central to Catholic ecclesiology: historic, apostolic, creedal, and sacramental. The movement is almost a perfect antitype; it is a-historical, anti-hierarchical, anti-intellectual, and non-sacramental. It is also massively “pentecostalized” in spirituality and ecclesiology.

The Vatican is focusing on the positive per John Allen:

"Usma Gomez also lists several contributions which he believes the rise of Pentecostalism has bestowed upon contemporary Christianity:
• Rediscovery of the central role of the Holy Spirit;
• The fact that personal conversion to Jesus Christ is requested in an explicit and continuing manner throughout the life of every single Christian;
• The emphasis placed upon prayer, and the power of prayer;
• Rediscovery of charisms and spiritual gifts as realities, effective and necessary, in the life of every believer.

At the same time, Usma Gomez also cites some negatives associated with Pentecostalism, above all that some Pentecostals “underline their experience and their spirituality as the only one directly produced by God himself,” and thus “they’re not disposed to recognize the same importance or the same role to other Christian experiences.”

Of course, intentional discipleship, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the importance of charisms in the life of every believer is not new to Catholicism at all. Just read St. Paul or St. Cyril of Jerusalem's last two Catechetical Lectures or search for the word "charism" in the Vatican II documents and recent magisterial teaching. Even more intriguing is the insistence in papal teaching that recognizing, calling forth, honoring, discerning, and and coordinating the charisms of the baptized is an essential part of the priestly office, of governance.

Yet, almost no clergy are formed to do so. Indeed, practically none of the clergy that I have worked with so far have even heard that they are supposed to although the documents lay it out very clearly:

As both Fr. Mike and I have pointed out before on this blog:

Priests are also called to “recognize”, uncover with faith, acknowledge with joy, foster with diligence, know, appreciate, judge and discern, coordinate, put to good use, and have heartfelt esteem for the charisms of the laity (Lumen Gentium, 30; Presbyterorum Ordinis, 9; Pastores Dabo Vobis 40, 74, Christifideles Laici, 32)

Which makes our jaunt to St. Mary's seminary in Houston this week all the more timely and significant.

Monday, January 28, 2008

What I Did on My Weekend.

Fun workshop in Riverside and some very fun and interesting interviews. Ate fresh oranges off the tree, reveled in hummingbirds, and the rare clear vista of snow capped mountains in southern Cal.

Home, finally - for two days.

Fr. Mike and I lost our Monday. But today, we managed to slip out of Salt Lake City nearly 24 hours late and reach Colorado Springs. The storm that covered Salt Lake this morning is supposed to cruise over us tonight.

Must work on upcoming parish missions (3 for me, eight for Fr. Mike!)

Then off to St. Mary's seminary in Houston on Thursday. Back Saturday. The luxury of 5 days at home.

Then a long, multi-stage trip.

I will try to get some blogging in. Fr. Mike is too buried to blog right now.

But first some sleep.

See you all tomorrow!

Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas

I don't have time to write much about St. Thomas, the great Dominican scholar, saint, and doctor of the Church. Others will do a much better job today than I could. He is a phenomenal example of a Catholic with the charism of knowledge, which empowered him to diligently study scripture, philosophy, theology, and natural science. He once gave thanks to God that he never read a page he did not understand! His far-reaching thought searched out priniciples and was able to synthesize the thoughts of the ancient Greeks, Muslim and Jewish scholars, and the Fathers of the Church, and rejoice in the truths that they had discovered. And then he generously shared what he had discovered in his teaching and writing.

He is a model for Catholics today, especially in that "universal" approach to the search for truth. He was not afraid to study the thought of non-Christians and was confident that God would reveal truths to those that earnestly sought them, whether they were Christian or not. Too often today I run across Catholics who have a "ghetto mentality." They are unwilling to admit that anything useful can be learned from non-Catholics. That certainly was not Thomas's understanding. Not surprisingly, some Catholics in his own day, including a few bishops, condemned him for searching for truth amid the works of Plato, Aristotle, Averroes (Ibn Rushd), Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Moses Maimonedes. I suggest that Aquinas was able to discern the truth in aspects of their writings because of his own intense life of prayer in addition to his brilliance.

The following is taken from a short biography of St. Thomas found on the EWTN website. It underscores Thomas's own focus on Jesus as the source and summit of his life and study.
One night, in the chapel of the Dominican priory in Naples where St.
Thomas was then living, the sacristan concealed himself to watch the
saint at prayer. He saw him lifted into the air, and heard Christ speaking
to him from the crucifix on the chapel wall:

"Thomas, you have written well of me. What reward will you have?"

"Lord, nothing but yourself."

His request was soon answered. On December 6, 1273, St. Thomas
Aquinas was saying Mass for the feast of St. Nicholas in the chapel where
the crucifix had spoken to him. Some profound experience - spiritual,
mental, and physical suddenly overwhelmed him. He showed few
external signs of the change at first; but he declared to his long- time
secretary that he could write no more. "All that I have written," he said,
"seems like straw to me."

This quote is a reminder to all of us who are concerned with good catechesis in the Church. While such catechesis is important, it stands on the foundation of the relationship with Christ, in Whom we live, and move and have our being. And just as reading about someone may give us an idea of who that person is, meeting them, getting to know them, and loving them is such a deeper experience of them that all we could write about them will inevitably seem - and be - inadequate.

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Sleepless in Salt Lake

Sherry and I missed our connection from Salt Lake City to Colorado Springs last night, and may spend most of the day here until we're able to catch a flight back to Colorado.

It's a significant time to be in Salt Lake City. Last night Gordon Hinckley, the president of the LDS church died. I imagine the airport will become more crowded as Mormons come to Salt Lake to pay their respects and perhaps attend his funeral.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) claims a worldwide membership of 13 million people, but fewer than half of them actually live in the United States.
Thirty-six percent of church members reside in Latin America and 17 percent outside of the Western Hemisphere. A significant LDS community exists in Canada.
Mormons recognize Jesus Christ as the head of their church, but they accuse the leading Christian denominations of a Great Apostasy, or loss of the original authority to lead the Christian movement.
In its formative years, the church and its members were subjected to intense religious persecution, which caused many members to flee to the interior West and settle in what is now the US state of Utah.
The church encourages its young members to serve for up to two years on full-time proselytizing missions around the world.
As a result, nearly 53,000 Mormon missionaries are working currently in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and other parts of the planet.
In addition, more than 3,500 special church envoys work worldwide as health care specialists, teachers, construction supervisors, agricultural experts and leadership trainers.

The LDS president is considered a prophet through whom God gives ongoing revelation. Last week I had a long conversation with a Mormon young man on a flight from a workshop. He explained that the Mormons believe the early Church erred in not choosing more apostles to replace the twelve as they died or were martyred. He wasn't convinced that the Catholic bishops continue the ministry of the apostles.

You may know that many fervent young Mormon men (and now some women) leave their homes at the age of 19 for a two year mission assignment (made by the president/apostle) somewhere in the world. This is a tremendous commitment to evangelization, for sure!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Saul's Conversion

Tom Shanahan, SJ, comments on the readings for today at Creighton University's Daily Reflection. Among other things he notes,
The drama of the entrance to Damascus is all about conversion. In Saul/Paul’s case the conversion was immediate and historically decisive. He was baptized; he preached in the Synagogue at Damascus; he recognized and proclaimed vigorously that Jesus was the Son of God. What an incredible turnabout!

For most of us the conversion, the turnabout, is more gradual and much less dramatic. Conversion is a process and a process takes time and effort to be properly effected; it is not a once and for all situation.

Actually conversion is a lifetime project. A dramatic conversion story like Paul’s invites each of us to reflect on where we are along the line of that process, and how we might enhance or open ourselves to enhancement of that most important project of our lives. Ultimately our conversion has to do with relationship: the relationship with Jesus the Christ, the object of our Christian faith.

Absolutely, correct, Fr. Shanahan!

However, I would like to point out something; a basic presumption that I have heard many Catholics say over and over again - myself included. "Conversion is a lifetime project." So true. But what is the length of my lifetime - ahh, that's the rub! My parents are 85, and up until a few years ago were in remarkable health. My aunt is 90, and as spry as can be. But am I guaranteed so much time to ripen?

Saying "conversion is a lifetime project" has been for me an excuse to not take conversion very seriously; to presume that it'll just happen so long as I don't do anything extremely bad, or stop going to Mass, or quit being nice. Slowly and gradually I'll become like St. Paul - willing to travel the world and speak fearlessly of my relationship of love with Jesus of whom I will be able to say, "I no longer live; Christ is living within me." Unfortunately, I might be 80 by that time, and somewhat limited in my mobility. Unlike my parents, I might have some dementia. "I no longer live; someone else is living in me... oh, what's his name again?"

Saul's conversion was so dramatic, I believe, because he was so zealous for God and his Jewish faith. There were plenty of Pharisees in his day, but not all of them were willing to take their life in their hands and travel cross country to apprehend heretics (i.e., Jewish converts to Christianity). No, perhaps Saul's conversion was so profound and so rapid, and perhaps the Lord Jesus spoke to him in a blinding light because He knew He could put that zeal to good use. He could "convert it" to His own plans.

Am I really undergoing conversion day-by-day if I'm not passionate about a relationship with God? Fr. Shanahan correctly points out that conversion has to do with my relationship with Jesus, but as I look back on my life, my closest friendships and deepest loves have been - and are - with people with whom I have consciously pursued a relationship. They didn't "just happen." I wasn't content to let them grow untended, haphazardly, or without conscious effort on my part. I had to spend time with them, learn about them, grow in trust, take occasional risks and be vulnerable. Isn't it much the same with our relationship with Jesus?

Conversion means a turning away from direction we were heading. It means turning from ourself towards Jesus and our neighbor. Considered that way, no wonder we're content to let conversion be a life-long project. But is that what God wants for us? If my behavior is selfish, self-destructive, detrimental to loving human relationships, and contributes to the injustice found in the world, should I be content with a slow, inexorable turn like that of the Titanic from the iceberg? (I find it kind of ironic that the pain and suffering so many people endure is considered an argument against the existence of God. Often, pain is one of the clearest signs of God trying to wake us up and turn toward him.)

Yeah, perhaps dramatic conversions like Saul's are rare in our day. Maybe that's a problem.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Unit of Measure

Weight an evangelist carries with God = 1 billigram

(Shortest distance between two jokes = A straight line)

Francis de Sales - and Friends

In honor of the Feast of St. Francis de Sales today, I thought I'd repost something I wrote last summer about the network of friends that gathered around Francis and, together, changed an entire nation. This is also related to Fr. Mike's intriguing post below on Vocations Work in which he describes the remarkable initiative of John Jacques Olier, who was a spiritual heir of Francis in many ways.

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

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

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

They were remarkable for their diversity:

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

Among the many fruits of their collaboration:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Richard Lamb

On the Road Again

Me and Willy are about to hit that open highway (well, open skyway) again. . .

The CSI gang has been very busy this month. So far, 1,000 Catholics have gone through the Called & Gifted workshop this month alone and we have 11 more workshops scheduled before the end of February. No wonder I needed that 4 hour nap yesterday!

Here's what is happening over the next two weeks.

Fr. Mike and I are in Riverside, CA at the Newman Center this weekend. So blogging will be slim Friday - Sunday.

Next week, we'll be doing a specially modified seminarian's version of the Called & Gifted workshop for the student body and some of the faculty at St. Mary's seminary, Houston. Sorry, but this one isn't open to the public.

Feb 1/2 Called & Gifted in Lewiston, ID

Feb 8/9
Called & Gifted in Ripon, CA
Called & Gifted in Olympia, Washington
Called & Gifted interviewer/facilitator training in
Greenville, SC
(note: there are pre-reqs for this, read the link,
call our office if you have more questions or to arrange for a phone interview.)

Also, on the weekend of February 9/10, Fr. Mike will be preaching all the Masses at the Newman Center at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. He and I (after I jet in from South Carolina) will be offering a Lenten parish mission there. But I'll post more details on that next week.

If you read ID, be sure and come up and chat with our teachers. We'd love to meet you!

The Stealth Catholic Charism

Take a look at this thoughtful post over at Gashwin Gome's place on the reluctance of most Catholic mission groups to proclaim Christ. As a native Indian and Hindu turned Catholic as a young adult, Gomes's comments are particularly interesting.

Gashwin and I had dinner and a chance to talk at the Paulist house in DC in November and it was pretty clear, even after a short conversation, that here was a man with a charism of evangelism. Gashwin burns with the desire to proclaim Christ and yet is not fundamentalist at all in either theology or approach. My experience in the past is that Catholics with a charism of evangelism feel extremely isolated. Because Gashwin, (like myself) was not born and raised Catholic, he hasn't absorbed the wide-spread Catholic cultural norm that evangelism is not Catholic and simply isn't done. So he talks about it openly. Quell horror!

Among most Anglo cradle Catholics, it is culturally so unacceptable that we gradually noticed that the charism of evangelism literally goes underground and is most commonly exercised under other, more acceptable labels like education or catechesis or administration. I"ve taken to calling evangelism the "stealth Catholic charism" because Catholics almost always want to call it something else and pretend that they aren't doing the "E" thing.

A couple of examples:

I was interviewing a Catholic school principal who scored high in administration on her Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory (the inventory that we give everyone who goes through the Called & Gifted process as a quick and dirty way to sort through their life experience and indentify areas that show evidence of a charism at work). So I asked her to talk about her experience with administration. Three times I asked her to talk about administration and three times she told me stories of bringing parents of her students into the Church.

Finally I had to point out to her that she consistently talked about evangelism every time I asked her about administration. The principal gasped in horror. "I couldn't be evangelizing! I'm an administrator!" Yes, she was. An administrator who spent a good deal of her office time evangelizing and whose charism of evangelism is coloring and shaping her administration as all charisms do.

I had another memorable experience in a different southern diocese. I was training a group to do "gifts interviews" - the one-on-one sessions in which we help individuals do another level of discernment by listening to their stories of using their charisms and pointing out patterns that they may not yet recognize. In the course of the training, one brave soul gets up and tells their stories in front of the rest so they can practice listening for patterns. On that day, the hardy volunteer was a young black woman who was an unapologetic disciple. (I'll call her Carol)

Again Carol's high score was in administration so I asked her about her experience in that area. She crossed her arms, crouched down in her chair, and a scowl on her face, talked about administration like it was a battlefield. Although I approached it from several different perspectives, Carol's experience of administration was clearly negative. But when I asked her about evangelism, her face lit up, her whole body relaxed, and she became absolutely lyrical. The other trainees were beside themselves with delight as they pointed out to her the dramatic difference in her body language. I finally had to point out that the evidence strongly suggested that the gift in question was not administration but evangelism.

Carol was thunderstruck. The next day, Carol told me (and I quote)

"I couldn't sleep. I've been up all night thinking about this. Damn, that's powerful!

There is no single gift I've ever helped someone discern that causes as much astonishment or initial discomfort, that turns a cozy little interview into a life-defining moment as the recognition that a Catholic was evangelizing all along under another, more respectable label.

The primary mission of the Church is the very activity many of us can't bear to think about or name as Catholic. No one seems to know exactly how this cultural norm became so firmly rooted among Catholics. But young Catholics like Gashwin (who feels strongly called to the priesthood) are a wonderful sign that the norm may be changing.

Can We Re-Imagine Vocation Work?

The following quote comes from an interview by the diocesan newspaper with the vocation director of a the diocese. It is interesting and somewhat worrisome in the assumptions that are proposed. It's also a bit different from the approach taken by my own Dominican Province.

While striving for quality candidates, the vocations office still has "wide open arms" to young men on fire for Christ who believe they may have a vocation to the priesthood, but given their age, may not be as certain as older candidates often are. "The place to test a vocation is in the seminary, not in a culture where you're not supported. If there are seeds of a vocation, it's going to be stifled in the world."

As a young man discerning whether I was called to priesthood and religious life, my intuition was a little different. Having grown up seeing posters encouraging priestly vocations, and as an active member in a local parish, I was concerned that if I let it be known that I was considering priesthood, I would be subtly - and not so subtly - pressured into entering the seminary. My intuition may have been all wrong, I suppose, but when I did enter the Dominican seminary, my former university advisors - both geophysicists and non-Catholics - told me that if anyone had suggested to them that one of their students would enter ministry, they would have assumed it would be me.

I would presume that a young man entering seminary is going to be doing so from a parish, and that he would be engaged in the life of that parish. I would hope that that environment wouldn't stifle a vocation. In fact, one of the great religious reformers of seventeenth-century France, Jean-Jacque Olier, established a seminary that was attached to his parish of St. Sulpice in Paris. At the time, it served the roughest, most irreligious sections of Paris. His seminarians, who came from all over France, were engaged in parochial work, and the priests who served in the parish were meant to become models for diocesan clergy throughout France.

The parish was divided into eight districts, each under the charge of a head priest and associates, whose duty it was to know individually all the souls under their care, with their spiritual and corporal needs, especially the poor, the uninstructed, the vicious, and those bound in irregular unions. Thirteen catechetical centres were established, for the instruction not only of children but of many adults who were almost equally ignorant of religion. Special instructions were provided for every class of persons, for the beggars, the poor, domestic servants, lackeys, midwives, workingmen, the aged etc. Instructions and debates on Catholic doctrine were organized for the benefit of Calvinists, hundreds of whom were converted...The poor were cared for according to methods of relief inspired by the practical genius of St. Vincent de Paul. During the five or six years of the Fronde, the terrible civil war that reduced Paris to widespread misery, and often to the verge of famine, M. Olier supported hundreds of families and provided many with clothing and shelter. None were refused. His rules of relief, adapted in other parishes, became the accepted methods... [Catholic Encyclopedia]

Part of the genius of Olier's seminary was the insertion of those preparing for ministry into the life of the parish. I was walking the halls of an archdiocesan seminary last year and noticed that nearly all the pictures on the walls were of cathedrals and historic churches, mostly from Europe. The only pictures of people were those of the graduates from past classes of seminarians. It could be easy to forget that seminary is the place for cultivating a life of service to God's people, since there were no reminders of them on the walls!

The Western Dominican Province encountered the phenomenon back in the 50's, 60's and early 70's that recently ordained friars, who had spent seven years in formation within the safe confines of our house of studies, were leaving the Order and priesthood. These men complained that the life they had lived and enjoyed in seminary was not what they experienced when thrust into ministry.

In response, my Province established what is called a "residency" year, in which a friar in formation works in one of our parishes or campus ministries after their first year of theology (which is their fifth year of formation, since that year of theology is preceded by a year of novitiate and two years of philosophy, typically). It's an important part of the discernment process, as it gives the seminarian a better sense of religious life in the context of full-time ministry and its demands. It also serves to remind the friar that all of his academic work is directed towards a purpose - the salvation of souls.

The interview with the vocation director continued,
Planting seeds must start young and involve the whole community, including the bishop, priests, parents, schools and other church ministries. In dioceses where there is a strong culture of vocations, "it's a totally normal part of the culture that if you're a Catholic man you should seriously consider priesthood at some point."

Other ministries involved in building up that culture include ministry to young adults. "The diocese has invested heavily in young adult ministry. We wanted to build up a lot of places where we could go fishing for these guys."

Having young priests and seminarians involved in activities like the Young Adult Mass, Catholic Challenge Sport and Theology on Tap. Young men can see that "they talk, they breathe, just like me. But they're in the seminary. Success builds on success," he said, "The more seminarians we have and the more visible they are, the more other young men can see themselves doing it.

I agree that the planting of the seeds of priestly and religious vocations is the work of the whole Christian community. But so is the work of planting the seeds of all vocations. Until we fully accept the truth that God is calling each and every one of us to some work of love and service of others that is unique to us, we will not be doing our best to foster priestly and religious vocations. The way the vocation director describes a culture of vocation is precisely the way we should be thinking about a culture of discipleship. We need to talk about discipleship as normative. Too often disciples are seen as unusual - on fire in a way other Catholics aren't - and thus automatically candidates for priesthood or religious life. We need to be able to witness discipleship in our parishes, celebrate it, preach about it, and make it the goal of all of our ministerial efforts.

Currently, with our vocational language centered almost entirely around priesthood and religious life, we give the impression that those are the only vocations. We seldom even speak of marriage as a vocation, much less dedicated single life. We don't speak of vocations beyond state-of-life, so the implication is once you've settled on that, you're finished. You can go ahead and live your life as our non-Christian culture proposes, and pursue a lifestyle of individually oriented personal consumption.

The well-intentioned vocation director I'm quoting sees young adult activities as a potential source for priestly vocations (and, I presume, religious vocations for young women). I would rather see them as schools of discipleship, just as our Catholic schools and parishes should be. The call to any vocation, state-of-life or otherwise, comes from Jesus. How can I expect to hear that call if I am not consciously following him? Discipleship - the intentional, conscious, daily following of Jesus - is the ultimate root of every vocation. Our approach to vocations seems to be one of short-cuts.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Merriment: The Cure for Politically Correct Outrage

A great little essay by my friend Mark Shea in today's Inside Catholic.

The topic: Divine hatred, Divine Love

The reality is not that we are more forgiving: It's that we are more excusing. We have created, for better or worse, a culture that excuses acts that our ancestors would have seen as appalling sin. We have figured out stratagems for avoiding feeling the sinfulness of sin. But when something does break through our comfortable numbness and cosmopolitan relativism, we are as ready to shout curses to the heavens as they were.

As Christians, of course, we cannot give our voice to such cursing. Jesus has very clearly told us that we must love our enemies and bless, not curse, those who despitefully use us. But that does not mean the Old Testament curses are bad or without value. In them, if we know what we are looking for, we see outrage at evil in chemical purity and know it as a gift of God. For righteous anger is not sin if we use it as God intended: as fuel for the engine of moral action. Anger only becomes a sin when we do not put it in the gas tank of action, but instead pour it on ourselves and others and set it on fire. Then it consumes us. The use of anger, like the use of gasoline, is not to bathe in it and drink it, but to turn it toward pursuing the redemptive, active love of God.

The one caveat I would have is that for many of us, our outrage is carefully political. We do get outraged but only at the things our people get outraged about. So many liberals are "outraged" at environment issues and simultaneously "outraged" at the sort of pro-life essay that Dr. Blazek wrote.

And many conservatives get "outraged" over life issues like abortion but sing a very different tune about torture which is also an intrinsic evil and can never be otherwise, no matter what the circumstances. How many of us find ourselves pulling back when "tempted" to be outraged over something that doesn't toe our particular party line? How many of us realize that our outrage is fueled not by genuine moral judgement but by the group energy of our crowd and our desire not to be isolated from them? Political correct outrage is just as operative on the right as on the left.

And that it is fear of loss of our crowd's esteem that makes it so difficult to think of truly loving the politically correct enemy and forgiving the politically correct evil.

Thank God that being open to revelation and attempting to think with the Church can help liberate us from fear of the crowd and enable us to think seriously about moral issues.

Can, I say, because it is obvious as I travel around the Church that Catholic versions of liberal and conservative political correctness have mighty strongholds in parishes and dioceses everywhere. I remember acutely one instance when I was asked to be part of a Catholic university consultation on the formation of disciples. I quickly sensed as soon as I walked into the room that political correctness of a very particular stripe was the order of the day and I was an outsider.

I struggled to grasp the exact nature of the powerful unspoken consensus about me as the day wore on and to determine how I might actually contribute something meaningful to the conversation despite my "deviancy". The most revealing moment occurred in the afternoon when, in some desperation, I finally said:

"But what unites us beyond our differences is the following of Christ."

Complete, horrified silence. I actually heard a stifled gasp from a corner of the room.

Guess not.

If we are women and men of Christ, intentional disciples, we will seek to love what and who he loves - all of it - regardless of where it falls on our political spectrum and our outrage will be the result of seeing those whom he loves being violated. And because we love what he loves, we will also seek to return good for evil, to forgive those who outrage us and others while simultaneously doing all we can to ensure that the justice and love of Christ pervades our particular bit of time and space.

There is a saying that I have heard attributed to St. Francis (that wonderfully iconic character to whom we like to attribute many things, with or without historical foundation). Whether it is genuinely Franciscan or not, it certainly is of his spirit.

"I want what God wants. That's why I am so merry."

Merriment, not politically correct outrage, is the sign of God's saving presence in our lives.

Feelin' Puny

The cat has thrown up three times this morning and I'm feeling what my grandmother used to call "puny". (She also used to look at my brother and I and say we looked "peaked". Just how she arrived at this conclusion looking up at our respective 6'0" and 6'8" heights always eluded me, but it doesn't do to argue with your grandmother.)

So I'm going to bed with Raymond de Capua. (To which Fr. Mike responds:"You do know that he's dead?") Dominican humor. Sigh.

More explicitly, I'm going to rest my puny frame while trying to plow through Raymond de Capua's life of St. Catherine of Siena in preparation for planning our April, 2009 tour of Rome, Siena, Florence, and Tuscany: In the Footsteps of Catherine of Siena. More about that adventure later.

This way I can still be working on some higher, spiritual plane while my body gets a break before we blast off to Riverside this weekend.

All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well - if only the cat doesn't puke on the bedspread again.

I watched Shakespeare in Love again recently and was struck by the similarity of the Elizabethan theatre business and the
small time 21st Century Catholic non-profit ministry business;

Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Hugh Fennyman: How?
Philip Henslowe: I don't know. It's a mystery.

Bill Endangers Catholic Charities of Denver

Archbishop Chaput is not pulling his punches: (via Catholic News Service)

If proposed Colorado House Bill 1080(HB 1080) passes: lt “limits the applicability of the exception from compliance with employment nondiscrimination laws for religious corporations, associations, educational institutions, or societies when employing persons to provide services that are funded with government funds.”

The bill itself is short, taking up only twenty three lines. It amends the present blanket religious exemption by requiring every religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society that “accepts government funds to provide services” to comply with anti-discrimination laws. As listed in the Colorado Revised Statutes, characteristics protected by the anti-discrimination regulations include “disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, national origin, or ancestry.”

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, criticized HB 1080 in a January 23rd column titled “How to write a really bad bill.” He said the proposed law would attack the religious identity of non-profits and compromise Catholic organizations that co-operate with government agencies in providing necessary social services.


Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver, the archbishop notes, is the largest non-governmental human services provider in the Rocky Mountain West.

HB 1080, the archbishop believes, would hinder Catholic non-profits from hiring or firing employees based on the religious beliefs of the Catholic Church. Though recognizing that many non-Catholics work at Catholic Charities, Archbishop Chaput said the bill would remove the ability of the non-profit to maintain a Catholic leadership.

“…the key leadership positions in Catholic Charities obviously do require a practicing and faithful Catholic, and for very good reasons. Catholic Charities is exactly what the name implies: a service to the public offered by the Catholic community as part of the religious mission of the Catholic Church,” the archbishop wrote.

The need to preserve Catholic Charities’ Christian identity was so important that the archbishop warned that the non-profit’s cooperation with the government would cease if regulations impeded its Catholic mission. Speaking of Catholic Charities, he wrote, “When it can no longer have the freedom it needs to be ‘Catholic,’ it will end its services. This is not idle talk. I am very serious.”

Denying the Possibility of Conversion is Denying the Possibility of Grace

And from the Washington Post, this brave essay by physician and Jesuit scholastic, Dr. William Blazek:

His topic? "the mechanisms whereby we kill ourselves, other people, and the Church. We kill ourselves in turning away from the God-given purpose of our existence. We kill others in our destructive ruminations, violent words and physical attacks. We kill the Church in dismissing her officials and publicly dissenting from her teachings without carefully examining her arguments."


Note well: when discussing abortion, one sometimes hears, “You will never change anyone’s mind about this. People think what they think.” If the abolitionists and suffragettes had denied the possibility of change in their fellow citizens’ opinions, this country would still have slavery and women without the vote. Denying the possibility of conversion is to deny the possibility of grace: it plays into the hands of the enemy of our human nature.


Last Spring, I asked several medical students in a seminar whether they rejected Catholic teachings regarding reproduction and artificial contraception. Several raised their hands. I prompted them to articulate the position and to give their critique of it. Conversation languished for some while. None in that group of graduating physicians had an answer, yet these well-educated role models were willing to publicly disagree with an argument they could not explain.

Note: Dr. Blazek teaches at the Georgetown School of Medicine.

The hat tip goes to Gashwin Gomes As Gashwin points out, most of the comment responses to his essay so far have been overwhelmingly negative. Why not go over and add your voice to the discussion?

The Lamb's War: Fighting for Peace

I came across a really interesting conference and resource a few days ago but haven't had the time to blog about it until now:

This April, the Catholic Peacemaking Network (headquartered at Notre Dame) will be holding an international conference:
Conference on the Future of Catholic Peacebuilding. (April 13- 15) at, naturally, Notre Dame.

Peace and conflict on an incredibly complex variety of levels is a distinctly lay responsibility - our "turf" -if you will. Bishops and clergy can give homilies and write papers on the Church's teaching on peace but they don't have the primary responsibility for it that we do.

So often, we associate peace-making with marches and protests but just as the thousands who marched for life yesterday in Washington DC were only the tip of a vast iceberg of organizations, clinics, religious communities, legal and political efforts, and small local initiatives around the country working all year round to save lives, so "peace" marches are only the surface.

In the long run, it is lay apostles who are competent insiders and have earned respect, have credibility, and decision-making power, who will shape our nation's decisions and institutions that foster peace or make war. There is so much more to actually changing the course of conflict and fostering peace than "hell, no, we won't go" as one Vietnam era anti-war slogan put it.

The CPN seems to be one intelligent effort to build upon the wisdom and synergy of many. From their website:

Why a Catholic Peacebuilding Network?

The Catholic Church is blessed with many "artisans of peace", or peacebuilders, working at all levels to prevent conflicts from breaking out, resolve conflicts once started, and reconcile and rebuild divided societies after conflicts have ended. The CPN aims to serve and complement, not supplant or duplicate, these peacebuilding efforts by responding to four needs:

Deepening Solidarity. Too often, the Church's artisans of peace feel alone. The CPN convenes and connects peacebuilders from around the world in order to build and deepen relationships of solidarity with and among peacebuilders.

Sharing Best Practices. Much of the Church's work for peace, especially at the local level, is not well known or well understood. The CPN stimulates a more systematic sharing, mapping and analysis of the "best practices" of Catholic peacebuilding around the world.

Building Capacity. Catholic peacebuilders in conflict areas too often lack skills and resources. The CPN links peacebuilders to those who can provide the training, strategic planning, or other resources that might be necessary for the Catholic community to be a more effective force for peace in conflicted areas.

Developing a Theology of a Just Peace. Church leaders and others have called for further development of a theology of a just peace that is comparable in scope and sophistication to the Church's long tradition of moral reflection on the use of military force. Building upon this rich tradition, the CPN stimulates further development of peacebuilding as a conceptually coherent, theologically accurate, spiritually enlivening and practically effective contribution to the Church's broader reflection on and action for justice and peace.

While the CPN addresses the public policy dimensions of Catholic peacebuilding, this is not its principal focus, nor does it engage in advocacy on policy issues.

Notre Dame is a big player in this network through the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies which is going to be offering a first in 2008: a PhD in Peacestudies.

Actually, Notre Dame is running a series of clever marketing videos for the University building upon her traditional nickname: "the Fighting Irish" But now her students are portrayed as fighting against the odds, for security, human dignity, and the environment. One such video features the work of a Professor of Peacebuilding, John Paul Lederach in Columbia and ends like this:

The University of Notre Dame asks "What would you fight for?"

Fighting for Peace. We are the fighting Irish.

Fighting for peace is an old image. One of the terms used by 17th century Quaker to describe both their evangelistic efforts and their commitment to non-violence was "the Lamb's War". There are many Lamb's Wars in our world. The fight for life and the fight to stop violence and resolve conflicts are too sides of the same Catholic coin although it can be hard to recognize in the midst of the polarization of our culture.

Because the Lamb Who was slain is also the Prince of Peace.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Why is Kenya Bleeding?

The following reflection is from Bert Ebben, OP (Southern U.S. Dominican Province) who is the coordinator of community development projects for the Order in Africa. He wrote from Ongata-Rongai, Kenya, five days ago.

His observation is important for us in America, too. What is happening in Kenya could conceivably happen one day in our own country, if we do not reverse the widening gap between rich and poor, including the disappearance of the middle class.

After months of drought the parched land of Kenya thirsts for life-giving water. After years of oppression and exploitation the weary people of Kenya long for justice and peace. After four decades of independence the nation bleeds from a nearly mortal wound, while it reverberates with threatening accusations of tribalism, ethnic cleansing and genocide. This very morning yet another school and orphanage were torched in Mathare, Africa’s largest slum just a few kilometers from the Kware slums of Ongata-Rongai where I continue to facilitate various programs at VICODEC, a center dedicated to the promotion of human development.

Prompted by my Dominican Brothers in Raleigh I am writing this reflection, an attempt to respond to repeated questions from around the world. Why have 600+ Kenyans been so brutally massacred? Why have 250,000 people been driven from their homes and villages? Why are thousands more fleeing across the borders into Uganda and Tanzania? Why, this very day, are masses of Kenyans threatening to demonstrate in thirty cities and towns across the country? Because of an election, alleged by the opposition (Raila Odinga and his ODM Party) to have been fraudulent yet subsequently declared to have been free and fair by the Kenyan Electoral Commission, thus giving the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki of the PNU Party another five years in office? I don’t think so!

However controversial this decision is itself, it does not radically explain how the normally tolerant, long-suffering and peace-loving citizens of Kenya were driven to perpetrate such horrific death and destruction upon their beautiful country, once thought to be the most united and democratic nation in sub-Saharan Africa. While the failed electoral process is, without doubt, the catalyst that continues to spark such devastating reactions, fear and violence, it cannot account for the ensuing explosive situation. The root cause can be found only in the poverty, inequality and injustice that have plagued this country since independence and that have been systematically incorporated into the structures of its society, ever widening the great divide separating the powerfully rich minority from the masses who languish in poverty and hopelessness. Bridging that divide seems to be so far beyond the reach of ordinary poor Kenyans that they regrettably resort to anger, bitterness, acrimony and despair.

In such an anti-gospel milieu, it appears almost impossible for the everyday Kenyan to accept that God’s reign does not reach down from the presidential State House, nor from the Parliament, nor from the heights of power and wealth, but that the God of peace only breaks through in real acts of compassion, healing and justice, only in the nonviolent liberation of the poor and oppressed.

Sharing the pain and anguish of my Kenyan brothers and sisters, I am pushed and pulled into the confrontation and indignation of their experience. But even more I am emboldened to pursue God’s promise of peace on earth. I am compelled to continue to confront my own country’s “wars on earth”. I am driven to resist the present U.S. administration’s militaristic and arrogant imperialistic ambitions around the world. I am persuaded to oppose handguns, the death penalty, abortion, racism, sexism, poverty, corporate greed and the environmental devastation of our spectacular planet Earth.

Even as I conclude this reflection, the skies suddenly break open to release a soft, gentle rain. I am reminded of Isaiah’s “Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum”(45:8) in which the prophet expresses the world’s longing for the coming of the just one. I pray that the refreshing rain, now at last gently falling on the parched earth of Kenya, is a prophetic sign of the coming of God’s “Just One”, showing all of us the way to that New World without war, without poverty, without injustice – peace in Kenya, peace in the world, peace at last!

Please say a prayer for Kenya, and for Br. Daniel Thomas, OP, a member of the Western Dominican Province who works there.

A Day of Penance

People at the 6:30 a.m. Mass were a bit surprised when I appeared wearing violet vestments today. I quickly explained that the U.S. Bishops have declared today to be a day of penance in commemoration of Roe v. Wade and the millions of children killed by abortion since. The following paragraph is from the Ordo for today's Mass.

In all the dioceses of the United States of America, January 22 (or January 23, when January 22 falls on a Sunday) shall be observed as a particular day of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion, and of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life. The Mass “For Peace and Justice” (no. 22 of the “Masses for Various Needs”) should be celebrated with violet vestments as an appropriate liturgical observance for this day.
General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 373

Our penance might be fasting and/or abstinence, and certainly additional prayer on behalf of those who have died, those women who have had abortions and the fathers of their children, and those who perform or assist in the performance of abortions. But it might also be an opportune moment to take time from our busy schedules and discover what are the local resources for pregnant women. What do they do? What assistance might they need, financial or otherwise.

Another possibility might be to locate your nearest branch of Project Rachel, the Catholic Church's outreach to women who have had abortions, or find out when and where the next Rachel's Vineyard retreat for women suffering from post-abortion grief might be held and offering support. There may be opportunities to help them out in their ministries.

I mentioned in my homily that abortion is a sin that is also a symptom. While it is important to work to overturn Roe v. Wade, simply making abortion illegal does not deal with the complex issues and environments that make abortion desirable. This means understanding and acknowledging the effects of the sexual revolution (including our complicity as we and our children absorb the values found on Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, and the innumerable spinoffs of The Bachelor), dealing with the poverty that so many women face, and, in general, our refusal to evangelize our neighbor and to shape the institutions of our culture. All of this requires the cooperation of the clergy in teaching with the Church and really understanding Her position, and the laity bringing their expertise and understanding of the complex issues that underlie and promote abortion. This is a necessary and potentially fruitful area of collaboration between the laity and their priests and bishops.

While today is rightfully a day of penance and lamentation, for all those 35 and younger, it might also be a day of thanksgiving. Your mothers and fathers chose to give you birth.

Sherry's Addendum:

In light of Fr. Mike's post above, you might want to check out this post about the marvelous Nurturing Network which offers women a choice that is good for both mother and baby. NN has saved 28,000 lives. Check em out.

When Children Become People

Amy Welborn recommends this remarkable book:

When Children Became People: The Birth Of Childhood In Early Christianity

It looks great and would be especially appropriate reading for this 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Written by a Norwegian scholar of early Christianity, this is a fascinating look at how antiquity regarded children and how the rise of Christanity changed that forever.

Here's what one Amazon reader had to say:

Bakke's "When Children Became People" points our that the ancients viewed children from a much different perspective than we do. There was "a negative assessment of children and childhood found in antiquity" (p 19) to the point that "Pliny...does not attmpt to conceal his contempt and lack of esteem for this phase in human life" (p 19). Abortion and exposure of infants was common.

Violence against children was tolerated, expecially for the vast numbers of slave children. And slave children were frequently abused sexually as well. Indeed, as "The Economics of Prostitution in Rome" pointed out, many Romans with young slaves hired them out to brothels. Boys were kept at the brothels until their beards sprouted. Girls until their looks faded.

So, when did the current western prespective on children begin? Bakke argues, and argues very persuasively, than it began with Christianity.

Christians thought all people had souls. This had enormous impact upon the way children were treated. The Didache (written between 50-120 AD)says, "Do not murder a child by abortion, nor kill it at birth". Bakke notes how "the author speaks of the fetus as a 'child'" at a time when the other ancients were referring to children as that 'thing'.

It was a revolution, with consequences to our day. Christians viewed children as complete and valuable human beings from the time of their conception. In the wake of Christianity was "a great reduction in the number of children (especially boys) who were involved in sexual acts with adult men (p 284). Because Christians felt that the way their brought up their child could affect nothing less than that child's eternal salvation Christians had a "greater involvement in upbringing than was generally the case in pagan families" (p 285).

"If Necessary, Use Words?"

There's a lovely post at Streams of Mercy by evangelical-become-Catholic, Heidi Hess Saxon, on the importance of gentleness and service in the mission of evangelization.

I resonate with her description of her experiences among evangelicals interested in evangelism, Her experience is by no means universal or even the norm anymore among evangelical practitioners (many of whom are evangelizing in ways that are much more wholistic, subtle, and geared to post-moderns these days) - but if you were raised on the fundy side of the spectrum, you will recognize it.

As Heidi sums it up:

" It has been a little disorienting, at times, to encounter Catholics who -- with all the best intentions -- "defend" Christ and His Church with the same zeal I used to encounter in the Evangelical camp. I have to remind myself that zeal has its place, that truth sometimes does cut like a sword, that the "faith warrior" has an important place in the Kingdom of God.

And yet, there is room for the more cautious among us as well. There is a need for medics as well as soldiers; mothers who nurture as well as fathers who lead. In His Mercy, God has given me a glimpse of certain dangers so I can avoid them. To do that, He led me from church to church -- and at times, even from country to country.

As a "Cross-Cultural Catholic," I depend on God's grace to carry on the work He gives me to do with a measure of humility and prudence, knowing how easy it can be to fall."

One of the refreshing things about understanding the charisms is knowing that all the charisms (whether evangelism or service, hospitality or music) reveal Christ, all the charisms help others by removing impediments to recognizing and responding to grace - but they do so in a remarkably wide variety of ways. Some of our current conflicts are charism-based but all charisms are useful and essential in the great mission of evangelization.

For instance, where the charism of evangelism is present, it doesn't look like the scenario that gives Catholics hives. In the presence of the someone with this gift, people want to talk about God, about faith - even those who ordinarily would shy away from the topic. Because they sense that it is somehow both safe and compelling to do so with this man or woman - it seems natural, not forced.

But someone like Mother Teresa with a charism of mercy or another person exercising a charism of teaching or encouragement can also be used at a critical point in our spiritual journey to bring us closer to Christ through different means. Preaching the gospel is never a battle between words and deeds. My individual part in the mission is narrow and focused, as it should be, about the charisms and vocation(s) that God has given me. But I must not project my own limited experience upon the whole Church as though it were the only way that Christ is revealed in this world.

The charisms are not in opposition to one another and there is no such thing as a "one size fits all" journey toward Christ. We need all the vocations and charisms that God has bestowed upon his Church if our mission is to be accomplished.

More on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Many interesting comments below which I've spent time responding to rather than posting.

But I did want to make visible Lawrence King's comment on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism below. Larry is trenchant as always (we were fellow parishioners at Blessed Sacrament in Seattle together and Larry is now a student at the Dominican School of Philosophy Theology) and quotes the ever quotable Tom of Disputations in the bargain.

As Larry puts it:

"Sherry, this exactly matches my experience as well.

I have found that those Catholics who are reasonably well educated about their faith know that "Vatican II said that non-Christians can be saved". (They often are unaware that this wasn't a novel teaching, of course.) And they won't say that all people are saved, or that all people must be saved.

But as you suggest, they almost always assume that all people are saved. Or at least, all the "basically decent people" that they know must be saved. Or at the very least, there is nothing that they as a Christian can do to help other people be saved.

The author of the Disputations blog phrased this in a wonderfully concise way:

It seems to me that there are three possibilities:

1. My neighbors can go to hell for all I care.
2. I don't think believing in Jesus makes much of a difference in terms of salvation.
3. I've got to preach Christ to my neighbors.

None of these is especially appealing, but the first is unneighborly and the third means taking on work with a high risk of humiliation. So it's in my own interest to massage the second possibility into a form that's more or less consistent with my understanding of the Catholic Faith.

His "option # 2" is a perfect description of what most of the educated and active Catholics I know tend to assume most of the time. In fact, even though I am very active in evangelization, I tend to assume this much of the time as well -- which is a bit worrisome. "

Monday, January 21, 2008

World Youth Day 2008 video

After spending a good part of yesterday and today trying to get a handle on exactly what we'll be doing at World Youth Day in Sydney, figuring out the budget, and considering how I am going to raise the monday necessary to pay for it all, it's refreshing
to watch this WYD video which reminds me of what it is all about . . . and what God has done and will do through this gathering.

March for Life, Paris

Very extensive coverage of the March for Life, Paris can be found at Blog by the Sea.

10,000 to 20,000 took to the streets in Paris. I find it simply fascinating to watch Catholics from all over Europe marching on a day that really only has meaning in US history but also exciting to see a nascent world-wide movement inspired by 35 years of
faithfulness here.

Like here, the march has been heavily politicized and so there is much less public support from the hierarchy.

The annual pro-life march has been associated with France's right wing politics. That association with right-wing politicians undoubtedly has been a problem for the Paris march, and is probably a reason why the walk did not draw more support than it did from the French bishops and laity.

But as we can see from the phalanx of bishops marching in SF on Saturday, that can change as well.

Pictures from Walk for Life, San Francisco

The Cafeteria Is Closed has lots of good pictures of the San Francisco Walk for LIfe which took place last Saturday.

You will notice significant representation from the Western Dominican Province (OPs in full habit are very photogenic and both the novices and students are educated in the Bay area). The sisters with them are Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist who have started a new mission in Loomis, CA

Avery Cardinal Dulles: Who Can Be Saved?

Pippin (the cat) is insisting on helping me blog this morning by walking over my MAC as I type.

So with Pippin's assist, I'd like to point you to Avery Dulles' new piece in this month's First Thing. It is most relevant to my post below on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

Entitled "Who Can Be Saved?", it is a fascinating walk through the history of Christian and Catholic thought on this very question. The answer to that question has changed and developed over the centuries - but none of the answers ever proposed = all of us are saved and all of us have earned it. Be sure and read the whole thing.

Dulles' conclusion is hopeful, not sloppy.

"Who, then, can be saved? Catholics can be saved if they believe the Word of God as taught by the Church and if they obey the commandments. Other Christians can be saved if they submit their lives to Christ and join the community where they think he wills to be found. Jews can be saved if they look forward in hope to the Messiah and try to ascertain whether God’s promise has been fulfilled. Adherents of other religions can be saved if, with the help of grace, they sincerely seek God and strive to do his will. Even atheists can be saved if they worship God under some other name and place their lives at the service of truth and justice. God’s saving grace, channeled through Christ the one Mediator, leaves no one unassisted. But that same grace brings obligations to all who receive it. They must not receive the grace of God in vain. Much will be demanded of those to whom much is given."

Or as C. S. Lewis put it so winningly in The Great Divorce (with my emphasis)

No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Up working early to plow through an enormous amount of stuff

But wanted to share this challenging article from my alma mater, Fuller, on youth ministry about a phenomena that I somehow missed:

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Christian Smith, Associate Chair of the Department of Sociology at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says that the average youth worker across the country should recognize these statements almost immediately. According to the research he and his colleagues have been doing in partnership with the National Study of Youth and Religion , these are the core religious beliefs of youth aged 13-17 today.

God exists and has created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.

• God wants people to be good and nice to each other and to be moral, as taught in the Bible and most world religions.

• The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

• God does not need to be particularly involved in life except when needed for a problem.

• Good people will go to heaven when they die.

Smith coined the phrase: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism to describe this set of beliefs

Moralistic: This means that youth generally think it is important to be a good person (and that this a major goal of being “religious”).

Therapeutic: Religious experience, indeed religion itself, exists to help us through life’s problems and makes us nicer people. In this approach, religious participation will often be defined around how religious experience has helped someone overcome personal difficulties.

Deism: God exists, had something to do with the creation of the world, but generally isn’t terribly active or demanding of God’s creation, especially in terms of the actual, spiritual experience of youth. It’s an explicit rejection of Christian orthodoxy.

If you can’t tell, this religion (and we should call it a religion) is not particularly grounded in a set of thoughtful traditions. It’s not even particularly theological as much as it is theopersonal , i.e., how God, the Heavenly Divine Butler, benefits the person, the individual.

And our kids are riddled with it. But where do they get it? Where could such a self-centered, consumerist, egocentric remaking of Christianity have come from? Smith says kids learn this behavior from the adults around them, strongly suggesting that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) is the pop religion of American families.

While Smith is reflecting upon his experience of American Christian kids as a whole, I must say that this fits what we are encountering as we talk to Catholics adults around the country.

95% of all Catholics I've talked about issues of salvation to are de facto Pelagians, 99% are de facto universalists, and huge numbers are working deists. Even those who are most enthusiastic about evangelization often freeze when asked to contemplate the mere possibility that not everyone is automatically "saved".

You know, given eternal life completely independent of some conscious response to the grace of God in whatever form it has reached us.

Last year I tried to sum up for myself the heart-level assumptions of regular life-long Catholics in ordinary parishes that I've encountered. it went like this:

All of us are saved
And all of us have earned it
but none of us are saints
because that wouldn't be humble.

'Cause most older cradle Catholics still know that they are supposed to be humble.

The upshot: Most of us are humble where what is called for is magnanimity (the aspiration to accomplish great things for God and others) and we are presumptious where we desparately need a dose of humility. (Just how good am I, really, and what does Jesus Christ have to do with any of this?)

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. It isn't just for teens anymore.

If we don't get it, how do we expect our children and grandchildren to get it?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Angelus: Evangelization Moves Along the Path of Ecumenism

The Pope's talk at today's heavily attended Angelus is about the Octave of Christian Unity:

"Christ had a specific evangelizing goal in mind when he prayed at the Last Supper that all his disciples "be one," says Benedict XVI.

Christ desired "that the world believe," the Pope said today to the crowd of 200,000 who had gathered in St. Peter's Square to pray the midday Angelus during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which will end Jan. 25.

The Church's evangelizing mission," the Holy Father added, "therefore, moves along the path of ecumenism, the path of unity of faith, of evangelical witness and authentic fraternity."

Commenting on the biblical theme for the 100th Week of Prayer for Christian Unity -- "Pray Without Ceasing" -- the Pontiff explained that the invitation of St. Paul to the community of Thessalonica was to communicate "that from the new life in Christ and in the Holy Spirit there flows forth the capacity to overcome all egoism, to live together in peace and fraternal union, to bear in large measure the burdens and sufferings of others."

"We must never tire of praying for the unity of Christians," said Benedict XVI. "We all have the duty to pray and work for the overcoming of every division between Christians, responding to Christ's desire 'ut unum sint.'"

"Prayer, conversion of heart, the reinforcement of the bonds of communion, form the essence of this spiritual movement that we hope will soon lead the disciples of Christ to celebrate the Eucharist together, the manifestation of their full unity," he added."

Via Zenit.

Let it be so.

200,000 Turn Out for Today's Angelus

Here are pictures and details from the Associated Press of the huge (200,000) turn-out for today's Angelus led by Pope Benedict in St. Peter's Square. The huge turn out is a show of support for the Pope after his appearance at a local Roman university was cancelled due to protests by a small group of faculty and staff. This is a much larger attendance than normal.

In reaction, Invitations are reportedly flooding in for the Pope to speak at various Italian universities including Galileo's own university.

"Benedict referred to the issue on Sunday, saying he had put off the visit "against my will" but that the climate surrounding his appearance had made his presence at the school "inopportune."

He noted that he had a long history in academia - he taught theology in Germany for many years - and that he was greatly attached to the "love for the search for truth, for confrontation, for frank and respectful dialogue for reciprocal positions" found in university life.

"As a professor - shall we say, emeritus - who has met with so many students in my life, I encourage all of you, dear university students and professors, to always be respectful of other people's opinions and to search for truth and goodness with a free and responsible spirit."

In recent years, however, there has been a debate in the United States about whether Catholic universities should invite speakers, such as politicians, whose positions differ with Catholic Church teaching.

The pope was interrupted several times by applause from the crowd, which included students carrying banners that read "University Students," "Sapienza" and "At University for Truth" as well as Italian politicians. Students were also out in force because Sunday marked the Diocese of Rome's celebration of the Day for Catholic schools.

The pontiff thanked them all for turning out in such large numbers."

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Cardinal O' Connor and the Impulse of the Holy Spirit

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus has a wonderful post about the late Cardinal O'Connor of New York in the First Things blog. He ends with this anecdote:

Let me stop with a story. One ordinarily does not repeat in public what the pope says in private conversation, but I asked and John Paul gave me permission to tell this one. When during the O’Connor years I had occasion to meet with the pope, he would always ask, “How is Cardinal O’Connor?” And I would always say that Cardinal O’Connor is flourishing and is an inestimable gift to the Church. One time I went on to say, “You know what Cardinal O’Connor said the other day, Holy Father?” “No,” he answered. “What did Cardinal O’Connor say?” “Cardinal O’Connor said that he gets up every morning and prays that he will go to bed that night without having discouraged any impulse of the Holy Spirit. Now isn’t that a beautiful thing for a bishop to say?” A pause of several seconds. “Yes,” said the pope, “that is a beautiful thing for a bishop to say. I told him that.”

John Cardinal O’Connor. John Paul the Great. I think about them, I thank God for them, I talk with them, every day.

What a great story. What a wonderful thing to pray for and work toward: to finish a day without having discouraged any impulse of the Holy Spirit.

Kenya: Hotel Kisumu

The news of massacres in Kenya has died away a bit but I just came across this gripping description of the situation in Kenya provided by the Dominican friars who run the OP Novitiate there. Their compound has become a haven for frightened families from various tribes. It sounds an awful lot like the movie "Hotel Rwanda". Read it. Pray for the people of Kenya.

The house in Kisumu and the Hawthorne Sisters are a distance from downtown Kisumu. They are also protected by a stone wall built after fr. Tom Heath, OP was killed in robbery in 2005. An electric fence tops the stone wall. In addition, they have a security team living on the compound from the Tugen tribe, (frankly, they are Tugen warriors) who are known for their toughness. Fr. Martin Martiny and the community have taken in a number of refugees. We can be pretty sure that they will safe on that compound.

On the compound we have some 32 "guests" in addition to the 60 or so kids who have asked for safe haven for fear of getting killed or burnt out of their houses. Some are family members of our excellent accountant, Gatwiri, a Kikuyu, who rented a room or house just 1/3 mile away - she came with all her stuff, sisters and brothers-in-law and kids. John Linus, an OP laity and his entire family asked to come (nine well behaved children) because in his neighborhood life was becoming untenable due to police shooting, mob burning and looting. The day we picked him up he told us the locals had just finished emptying out totally the home of a Kikuyu just a few doors away. Yet he's a Luo, as are some of the young men who were also afraid and asked for temporary lodging here: they're in the warehouse.

Then yesterday came Dr. Demwanza, accused of being a Kikuyu (he's Congolese!), whose house a mob tried three times to burn down; he came also with his entire family for their security. Fortunately we have space for them on the compound, between the sisters' guest house & rooms, and our postulancy + St. Martin de Porres house (the Peace Corps couple occupying this latter were "consolidated" in a safe spot in Milimani, so they could be evacuated together if their administration decides to do so!). All these folks are being fed up on the upper compound with Fr. Tom's kids. The only real fear we have at this point is that apparently some people came by today asking what tribe the people on our compound were!!! So we've put the guards on special alert (well, they've been on it for a week now, but to be aware that there may be some special risk here). It's good we have the wall and electric fence!

Evangelizing Youth & Young Adults in Boston

The Archdiocese of Boston is also reorganizing their Youth and Young Adult ministry. Here's the entry from Cardinal Sean's blog (roll down):

We are bringing together the Offices for Youth and Young Adults with Campus Ministry and the Vocations Office. With this new office, the people who work with adolescents and young adults in the archdiocese will have contact with each other. They will be able to support each other, coordinate their efforts to evangelize, form young people in the faith and prepare them for their vocations in life, especially the call to holiness: the call to priesthood, religious life and the call to marriage.

Collaboration. Diocesan offices and initiatives working with each other like we were on the same team. Imagine.

And this note from Fr. Matt Williams, the new Directory of Youth and Young Adult Ministry which raises some challenging points:

"So what’s up with the name:

Office for the New Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults?

Well, we wanted a name that would energize and excite, as well as capture the vision of what this office will be about. The words “New Evangelization” are proclaimed by our late and great Holy Father, John Paul II, who was drawing from the wisdom of Pope Paul VI as he addressed the challenges facing the mission of the Church. The term “New Evangelization” is meant to be prophetic and revolutionary. Acknowledging that there are so many Catholics and Christians who are Christian in name only, there is a dire need for evangelization to be new in its “ardor, methods and expression” (JPII). It is “not a merely matter of passing on doctrine but rather of a personal and profound meeting with the Savior” (JPII). Now that is exciting!!!

So why youth AND young adults in the same office???

Well, Cardinal Seán says it best: “business as usual isn’t working.” Something new is needed! A recent study out of the University of North Carolina researched how effective different denominations have been in passing on the faith to their young. Catholics came in last. If you think of it, most of our efforts to reach out to young people revolve around sacraments: baptism, first reconciliation, first communion, confirmation and marriage. What we fail to do is walk with our young people from one sacrament to the next. Inevitably young people fall through the cracks. Just ask any pastor what percentage of the couples who come to him for marriage in the Church he knows personally. NOT MANY! What is needed is a new vision in which we intentionally organize ministries that accompany our young people through all stages, from early adolescence through adulthood. In this way the Church is actively meeting her young people at these crucial moments in their lives."

As we are seeing in our conversations with leaders around the country and elsewhere, they know that "business as usual isn't working" and this new generation of leaders is very aware that personal, intentional discipleship is the foundation of everything else the Church does.

What was that Bob Dylan classic from the 60's? Oh yeah. "The times, they are a-changing . . .

Beantown in the Rockies

Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston is spending a snowy week here in the mountains of Colorado leading a retreat for the seminarians of the diocese at St. Malo's Retreat Center. He has posted a lot of photographs of St. Malo on his blog, including pictures of Pope John Paul's visit there in 1993 (when he was in town for World Youth Day) .

St. Malo's has a spectacular setting as you can see but the retreatants won't be going for many strolls since the temps will be well below freezing all week and the wind chills will be truly chillin'. (it's spectacularly beautiful, frosted, sunny and very cold here this morning so I can only imagine what is is like 1700 feet higher with 45 miles a hour wind gusts!)

Cardinal Sean (as he referrs to himself on his blog) writes about the Archdiocese of Denver's practice of having their candidates for the priesthood spend an extra "spirituality" year before beginning their philosophy studies.

"It is yearlong program for spiritual formation with emphasis on prayer and apostolic service to the poor. Being here gives me an opportunity to hear from the seminarians themselves about how they have experienced that year. At St. John’s in Boston, we have been sending seminarians out to Creighton University, a Jesuit school in Nebraska, for a similar program, but it lasts only a summer rather than a full year."

The idea of both the additional "spirituality" year in Denver and the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton (about which I had heard fabulous things) is the personal spirituality - the intentional discipleship - of seminarians. As I have heard from both Michaels and from other priests, the intellectual focus of seminary is considerable and constant -but the integration of the spiritual and human aspect of their lives has often received less attention, especially in the recent past. That is changing dramatically now - and in some very creative and powerful ways.

I've been in touch with some of the faculty and students of IPF who see a significant correlation between our work at the Institute and theirs. Take a moment to browse their website - its very impressive.

I've had a long post brewing for a while on this whole subject - but it is one of those posts that requires real thought, work, and time - and I'm going to be working at full speed all weekend trying to get caught up before the next round of trips and workshops so this isn't the day. Visiting the IPF website is a good way to stimulate your own thinking on the topic.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Pastor of Third Largest Methodist Church in World Becoming Catholic

I suppose this also made the rounds a few days ago but Allen Hunt, who, a year ago, was senior pastor of the third largest Methodist church in the world (Mt Pisgah in Georgia) announced that he will be received into the Catholic church. He had apparently transitioned out of the senior pastorate during the last year in preparation for this announcement not. and has focused upon his daily radio show. His wife will remain active in the Methodist church.

The responses on his personal blog run the gamut but are mostly positive.

Drop in and write him a note of welcome if you can. (Update: I see that comments have been closed at his blog site)

The Archdiocese of Atlanta is one of the healthiest in the nation so he's in a very good place to make the transition but he still needs our prayers. This is a very difficult transition to make - especially if you were pastor of a booming evangelical mega-church.

Abu Daoud asks one obvious question in the comments below:

Can Allen Hunt be a candidate for priesthood even though he is married? We all know that there have been a number of married Anglican/Episcopalian men ordained as Catholic priests. But a Methodist?

As of 2005:There are at least seventy-seven married men who have been ordained as Catholic priests in the United States. Sixty-six of these married priests were former Episcopalians, seven were former Lutherans, three were former Methodists, and one was a former Presbyterian.

So it is not unheard of - but I'm sure would be determined very individually - if Allen Hunt feels called to explore such a possibility. (how his wife remaining Methodist would affect this, I don't know).

You might it interesting to check out Allen Hunt's "All Catholic" show from December, 2006 featuring his good friend, Steven Boguslawski, O.P,

Octave of Christian Unity

Today is the beginning of the Octave of Christian Unity. Ancient-Future Catholic has some good resources for the Octave which makes sense since their very interesting apostolate is focused upon articulating the Catholic faith to post-moderns, especially in light of reconciliation between eastern and western Christianity.

Go here for a history of this observance and here for some very nice prayer resources for the Octave.

George Washington, Catholic?

A fun bit of geekiness:

Did George Washington become a Catholic on his deathbed? Make the sign of the cross during meals? Have a picture of
the Virgin Mary in his possession? Mason & Catholic? Urban legend or reality? And just how did it affect the whole cherry-tree chopping episode?

Inquiring minds who gotta know should visit Per Christem: the "ancient and future Catholics" blog for more.

Pastoral Practice and Imagination: Wholesale or Retail?

I was quite taken by this snippet from John Allen's column today: his topic the necessity of being imaginative about communicating the drama and power of what goes on inside our Catholic communities (especially our cathedrals) to the rest of the world.

Here's his very apt summary:

To repeat, the problem is not a lack of material to communicate. Every RCIA director in this country has stories to tell of that remarkable convert whose life is the stuff of a Hollywood screenplay; our social action directors know families whose lives were rescued by a timely intervention of the church; our principals and teachers can point to kids whose lives were headed in the wrong direction, but who were instead given the chance to flourish in our schools; our confessors and counselors understand more deeply than most what’s churning today in human hearts. Incredible drama unfolds in cathedrals every day; indeed, it would be stunning if this were not the case. Religion is where people bring their deepest fears, their highest hopes, their most intense passions -- it’s the Coliseum of the conscience, the arena in which the universal human struggle between sin and redemption, between disgrace and new grace, plays itself out.

You don’t have to manufacture news, in other words, you simply have to be imaginative about communicating the stories we already have before our eyes.

We have experienced ourselves over and over during gifts interviews when men and women share - often for the first time - some amazing experience of God's grace. And we are seeing it again during Making Disciples training when participants have the chance to really listen to another's lived relationship with God. So far, all the feedback we have received is that it is an moving, healing, even life-changing experience before which one's "don't ask, don't tell" assumptions and fears simply dissolve.

The most startling thing for me is to see the impact of this experience on priests. I suspect that most lay Catholics assume (I certainly did) that priests hear these kinds of stories on a regular basis but the rapt attention and misty eyes of clergy listening to a story of transformation like that of our friend Daniel indicates otherwise.

As Fr. Xavier put it with his usual directness during the OP pastoral conference last week: Pastors and parish leaders tend to do religion "wholesale, not retail". We move huge numbers through the sacraments and various programs while telling ourselves that we don't have the luxury of attending to God's grace at work in individuals.

But "retail" - the work of God in a individual human heart - is the end for which the parish and the Church and the pastoral office exists. it is what gives "wholesale" its purpose and meaning.

The great stories of faith, stories that fire the imagination, even a thoroughly secularized imagination, and galvinize the heart and will, are always "retail". There is always the story of an Augustine or Francis or Dominic or Catherine or Teresa at the epicenter. Movements and wide-spread renewal and true cultural or structural change is always the fruit of hundreds of thousands of individual choices to respond to God's grace in a particular manner.

Extraordinary stories are being lived in our midst right now. Stories that can heal our own broken, tired hearts and renew our hope. Stories that illumine and confirm both doctrine and experience, that "name" us and enable us to hear God's call, that help us grasp something of what God is doing in our generation. Hundreds of thousands of stories that proclaim the reality of Christ's loving, powerful, redemptive, transforming presence in the world and capture the imagination and can open doors to the Gospel for many.

If we bother to ask.

If we can set aside our anxiety and busyness long enough to listen.

If we dare to tell.

A Culture of Life Taking Hold?

The March for Life, San Francisco will once again be taking place tomorrow and it has become quite a eclectic gathering. Via Catholic online:

Pastor Clenard Childress, a Baptist minister in Montclair, N.J., and Northeast regional director of the Life Education and Resource Network, is scheduled to speak at the 4th annual Walk for Life West Coast on Saturday, Jan. 19.

“In an area that is more or less perceived as the bastion of all liberal thought, we find here a movement growing that one would deem to be conservative,” Childress told Catholic San Francisco. “I would just call it righteous.”

‘It’s good for the country’

Childress, who is active in the pro-life movement nationally, said the San Francisco march is his favorite pro-life action. He said it is diverse, touches many denominations and is nonpartisan.

“It’s good for the country,” he said. “I think it’s good for the people to see what the pro-life movement is. It’s the most maligned movement in America. The perception it has among Americans isn’t what it truly is. These are some of the dearest people who are very humble, who truly want to reach out to all mothers in order to save their children.”

Childress said the pro-life movement is “often viewed as a tool of the Republican Party.” He added: “When you go to San Francisco, you don’t get that.”

And there is some evidence that a culture of life might be influencing the choices of Americans. As the major news outlets reported this week (the quotes below are from Fox) we are in the middle of a "boomlet" of births in the US - a 45 year high - and in this we are quite distinct from other highly developed countries. 25% of US births are among Hispanic immigrants:

Fertility rates often rise among immigrants who leave their homelands for a better life. For example, the rate among Mexican-born women in the U.S. is 3.2, but the overall rate for Mexico is just 2.4, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington-based research organization.

"They're more optimistic about their future here," said Jeff Passel, a Pew Center demographer.

But all American groups have experienced a rise in birth rates - including white Americans.

Fertility rates were also relatively high for other racial and ethnic groups. The rate rose to 2.1 for blacks and nearly 1.9 for non-Hispanic whites in 2006, according to the CDC.

Fertility levels tend to decline as women become better educated and gain career opportunities, and as they postpone childbirth until they are older. Experts say those factors, along with the legalization of abortion and the expansion of contraception options, explain why the U.S. fertility rate dropped to its lowest point — about 1.7 — in 1976.

But while fertility declines persisted in many other developed nations, the United States saw the reverse: The fertility rate climbed to 2 in 1989 and has hovered around that mark since then, according to federal birth data.

Kohler and others say the difference has more to do with culture than race. For example, white American women have more children than white European — even though many nations in Europe have more family-friendly government policies on parental leave and child care.

But such policies are just one factor in creating a society that produces lots of babies, said Duke University's S. Philip Morgan, a leading fertility researcher.

Other factors include recent declines in contraceptive use here; limited access to abortion in some states; and a 24/7 economy that provides opportunities for mothers to return to work, he said.

(this is fascinating - is a culture of life taking hold?)

Also, it is more common for American women to have babies out of wedlock and more common for couples here to go forward with unwanted pregnancies. And, compared with nations like Italy and Japan, it's more common for American husbands to help out with chores and child care.

There are regional variations in the United States. New England's fertility rates are more like Northern Europe's. American women in the Midwest, South and certain mountain states tend to have more children.

And here's the kicker:

The influence of certain religions in those latter regions is an important factor, said Ron Lesthaeghe, a Belgian demographer who is a visiting professor at the University of Michigan. "Evangelical Protestantism and Mormons," he said.

Vibrant faith communities that have strong convictions about the important of family and the value of children. The same groups who will be out in droves tomorrow.

Why didn't he mention Catholics? Anyone know?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A New Year Is A Great Time to Discern God's Call

Over 500 attended Called & Gifted events during the first two weeks of January and there are more on the way: Maybe this is the weekend for you to begin your discernment journey:

This weekend:

Moses Lake, WA Called & Gifted

Spokane, WA Called & Gifted

And Fr. Mike will be teaching a one day C & G (Saturday) in Spring, Texas

Next weekend (Jan 25/26)

You can join Fr. Mike and me at the Newman center in Riverside, CA

If you read ID, be sure to let a member of the teaching team know. We'd love to meet our readers.

Ecumenism in the Trenches & Hot Events in "None" land

I'm back. At last. For a week, anyway.

Had a very interesting encounter with a Christian, woman OBGYN physician Sue(who was my seat mate on the flight from Seattle) who has taken early semi-retirement to fight against the new euthanasia initiative being headed up by one of our former governors. Please visit her organization's website: Washington Coalition Against Assisted Suicide. She said that every visitor, even those from outside Washington state, helps make their campaign more credible. And that they could also use financial assistance - that even $5 would help.

It was great to hear from her that even in "None" land, the medical association is strongly against the initiative.

Washingtonians have already lived through one epic battle around this topic in 1991. I was working my way through grad school on a oncology unit at that point and I can still remember one nurse who turned to me and explained her opposition: "I know who is going to be asked to actually do the deed and it isn't going to be doctors. It is going to be nurses." That time around, we won. But this is a new battle and a new era.

Sue was delighted to hear about our work and said "God must have arranged for us to sit together". She was very positive about the developing ecumenism between Protestants and Catholics especially around life issues. She also had fond memories of Fr. Joseph Fulton, who was the resident saint at Blessed Sacrament in Seattle for decades.

Fr. Fulton was a Protestant student from Brooklyn when he first crossed the threshold of Blessed Sacrament church in the 30's. He fell in love with the beauty he encountered there and become Catholic, a Dominican, provincial, and eventually pastor of the very church that triggered his interest in the faith. (And which would be the threshold of the faith for me as a student at the UW a half century later.)

Fr. Fulton transcended every category. He celebrated the ancient Dominican rite (in Latin of course) early on Sunday morning and attended services at University Presbyterian on Sunday evening. Lover of the traditional Mass, champion of the charismatic renewal, he was often called "Father Love" but would refer to himself as a "Methodist Free Catholic".

Ecumenism in "None" land is real at the grassroots level.

Which reminds me:

Blessed Sacrament Church in Seattle is celebrating her centennial this year and what a spectacular line-up of events they have planned. In true Fr. Fulton style, the line-up utterly confounds our current culture war categories:

This weekend, the topic is ecumenism - so if you are going to be in the area, make a point of attending!

Lecture I: The Future of Evangelical-Roman Catholic Ecumenism with Fr. Morerod, OP, and Profs. Yeago & Koskela
January 18th – 7:30PM – Blessed Sacrament Church - Parish Hall
Lecture II: The Future of Lutheran-Roman Catholic Ecumenism with Fr. Morerod, OP, and Prof. Yeago
January 19th – 6:30PM – Blessed Sacrament Church - Parish Hall

And among the other events coming up at Blessed Sacrament in 2008:

Lectures by Timothy Radcliffe, former Master of the Dominican Order and
Sr. Suzanne Noffke, OP - the world's foremost expert on Catherine of Siena
The Tudor Choir in concert
A lecture on Gregorian and Dominican chants through the centuries
A Dominican Rite Mass with solemn vespers for St. Dominic's feastday
Fr. Paul Murray who has written a simply wonderful book on the intoxicating joy of early OP spirituality
And there's more. . .

I am intensely frustrated that my travel schedule means that I will miss most of these events - but you don't have to!

Check it out.

Mona's Identity Revealed

Here's a little snippet from my friend Pat Armstrong about the Mona Lisa from an article by David Rising, Associated Press

A researcher has uncovered evidence that apparently confirms the identity
of the woman behind the Mona Lisa's iconic smile, Germany's University of
Heidelberg says.

She is Lisa del Giocondo, wife of Florentine businessman Francesco del
Giocondo, according to notes written in the margins of a book by a friend
of Leonardo da Vinci as the artist worked on the masterpiece, the school
said in a statement Monday.

The discovery by a Heidelberg University library manuscript expert appears
to confirm what has long been suspected. It is also an answer that has
been in plain view for centuries: the Mona Lisa is known as La Gioconda in

Del Giocondo was first named as the likeness in the painting by Italian
writer Giorgio Vasari in 1550, who also dated the work at between 1503 and
1506, the university said. But because Vasari relied on anecdotal evidence, there were always doubts
about the identification, and Leonardo is not known to have made any notes
about the model's identity himself.

Compounding the mystery, vague references in 1517, 1525 and 1540 point to
other identifications. "One possibility discussed is the presentation of a fictitious likeness of
a woman; Leonardo's female ideal," the school said. But the find by Heidelberg library expert Armin Schlechter settles the
matter, according to the university.

In a copy of the works of Roman philosopher Cicero, a Florentine official
and friend of Leonardo's wrote in the margins that da Vinci was working on
a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo. The friend, Agostino Vespucci, dated his
notes October 1503, also helping to pin down the exact time Leonardo was
working on the painting.

"All doubts as to the identity of the Mona Lisa are eliminated (by) one
source," the university said.

The discovery was actually made in 2005, but was not widely known until a
German radio station last week aired it in a report.

Hat tip: Patricia Armstrong, aka, "Patsie Lisa" or "La U-gotta-be-Giocanda"

My Faith (such as it is)

Back in mid-December I posted the following under the title, "The Gift of Faith," and promised to respond "in a few days." Hah! I suppose a month might count as a few days, if you'll be generous with me. Here's the post, and my promised response.

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

I freely admit that my understanding and lived experience of faith has undergone a change in the past few years. The catechism describes faith as follows:

Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 150

My faith was more of a personal checklist:
did I say my office?
did I participate in Mass? (even when I was ordained this stayed on the list!)
what sins did I commit? (do I need to go to confession?)
was I giving assent to the teachings of the Church?

The problem was, the focus often was on me. What was I doing? And even if I "did well" on a given day, I felt as though I was deserving of God's love, felt good about myself, and was "in control."

Then I began working with Sherry, and heard of a different kind of faith - a "series of difficult obediences in the same direction." This sounds a bit like the faith of Abraham celebrated in the letter to the Hebrews: "By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go." Heb 11:8 Sherry has lived that out in a variety of spectacular ways; entering the Catholic Church after a long search, developing the gifts inventory for Catholics and then starting the Institute with Fr. Michael Sweeney, moving to Colorado Springs after being directed in prayer.

Then, while working with the Institute, I met my friend, Daniel, of whom I've written about before. The power of grace at work in his life was (and is) so extraordinary that I came to realize that for years I had underestimated God. In his simplicity and goodness, Daniel clings to Jesus and His Father and desires a living relationship that shapes each moment of his life.

I realize I'm describing the faith of others now, but they have become models for me; building upon and going beyond the wonderful models my parents gave me. Because Sherry and Daniel talk openly about their relationship with God. In their own ways they are studying the Scriptures and Church teaching, seeking guidance. In doing so, they are helping me realize how much I had gradually returned to the "way of the world" over the past twenty years or so, as opposed to the way of the Gospel.

So what is my faith like today? I would say I am seeking to know and trust Jesus, and to truly entrust my life to Him. And it is difficult. It means I have to stop asking, "what am I going to do?" and ask, "what would Jesus have me do - what will it take to get out of the way and let him act through me?" Daniel has told me, "Fr. Mike, if you want to know someone you spend time with them. You talk to them. So spend time with Jesus. Talk to him throughout the day. Get to know Him the way He knows you." Sounds simple, yet so often I sit at my computer and begin to work on something and forget to pray. I prepare to meet someone and forget to pray for them, and for God's outcome for the meeting. I am still trying to be in control.

The "obedience of faith" is discussed in the catechism, and it notes that "obey" comes from the Latin, "to hear," "to listen." So I'm trying to listen to Jesus more, especially with regard to what He says in the Scriptures. "Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no," (Mt 5:27) so I am trying to respond to God's grace to be truthful and transparent. I am slowly realizing just how contrary Jesus' teachings are to our culture, to our natural tendencies, to my tendencies. Can I "offer no resistance to one who is evil." (Mt 5:29) I am more likely to avoid them - and thus not evangelize by grace-enabled actions or words. I know I love those who love me (Mt 5:46), but I hardly ever think to pray for my enemies (or, more likely, those I don't naturally like).

I am commanded by Jesus to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48), but that would mean to accept being misunderstood, considered weak or ideological or misguided or naive. The perfection I am to seek is to be more and more like Jesus, which I cannot do on my own, but only by His grace. But that grace doesn't make following him as a disciple easy - only possible.

And I know I cannot comfort myself by saying, "Well, this kind of conversion is a lifelong process, so don't get all impatient about it." I've heard that before. I've said it myself. But God in His mercy has given me forty-eight years so far, and there's no promise He's offering me forty-nine. Shoot, I remember when 48 sounded ancient!

So that's my faith in a nutshell. Actually, it's more about where I seem to be led these days. I don't know where it's leading, really, but my Hope (the theological virtue, that is) tells me it's a place I am to "receive as an inheritance." Not something I've earned, but something I'm given because I am a son.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Worthy to Stand in Your Presence

This morning at Mass I used the second Eucharistic prayer. After the Memorial Acclamation, there's a line that has bothered many a presider, I know: "We thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you." I know it has bothered some presiders, because I occasionally hear it changed to "worthy to be in your presence." A friend recently asked about the discontinuity of what the presider is saying in the first person plural, and what the congregation is doing.

I pointed out that in much of the Catholic world, I believe, the congregation stands again after the Memorial Acclamation, and that the posture of continuing to kneel at that point is the result of a request from the US bishops after the council. The passage is pretty much a quote from the Canon of St. Hippolytus, written in the third century.

Remembering therefore His death and resurrection, we offer to Thee the Bread and the Chalice, giving Thee thanks because Thou hast held us worthy to stand before Thee and minister to Thee.

I'm not a historical liturgist, or much of any kind of liturgist, so I don't know what the posture was of the early Christians who were praying this with St. Hippolytus.

What caught my attention this morning was the connection between the liturgy and our life as Christians. Yes, we are standing (and kneeling, and sitting) in the presence of God at Mass, listening, responding, singing, and hopefully participating "fully and consciously."

But the liturgy, if we are fully present to it, invites us to link our worship with the whole of our lives. Perhaps it was because I was standing for three hours helping out at the Marian House soup kitchen the day before and my back is still complaining, but I realized that I am "made worthy" by receiving Jesus in the Eucharist to stand in his presence and give glory to Him throughout my day. When I am standing before my brother or sister, whom, Scripture says, is made in God's image and likeness, I am given another opportunity to serve Him in them. One of my favorite quotes from CS Lewis reminds us of this:

“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest thing you will ever encounter with your senses. . . if he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also, Christ . . . Glory himself, is truly hidden.”

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Then, when I return to Mass, I again stand (or kneel) in the presence of God the Father and offer to Him, with Jesus, all the various ways I have attempted to serve Him and give glory to Him through actions of service, kindness, reconciliation, patience, gentleness, etc. In this way, my entire life - not just the time I spend at Mass - can become an act of worship and an act of service.

Visiting the Heartland

This past weekend I joined Jen Piccotti, a Called & Gifted teacher from Aliso Viejo, CA, in the Denver airport for a short prop plane ride to Dodge City, KS, where we were met by Becky Hessman, the director of vocations for the tiny diocese of Dodge City. Becky is also one of our local champions on the ground in that diocese, and she drove us the final 25 miles or so to Jetmore (population 800). There, Jen and I gave a one-day workshop for 21 adults on Saturday, and then another workshop for 66 high school confirmandi and some of their youth leaders.

It was a great weekend, and in some ways so different from the typical big-city workshop. We were housed in the rectory, which is a part-time residence for Deacon Dwaine Lampe, the pastoral administrator for St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Jetmore (as well as another small-town parish some miles away), and his wife, Louise. We had no fancy dinners out. Instead, it was a wonderful homemade casserole one night, and salisbury steak and mashed potatoes covered in cheese the next. Homemade cinnamon rolls or waffles at breakfast. Chocolate cream pie. Lemon meringue pie.

In fact, I'm amazed that Kansans don't weigh 300 lbs. - at least at St. Lawrence Church. Mary Jane and Mary Anne, two pillars of the parish and intimately involved in preparing for the workshops, coordinated a veritable banquet of desserts that kept me on a sugar high throughout the weekend!

But aside from the food, the greeting that Jen and I were given was spectacular. Sometimes when I help give a workshop at a large parish, you often realize that you're just one of several events going on that weekend. At Jetmore, we knew that it had been the focus of energy for some time (nice for the ego...) People were incredibly friendly, and the community is tight-knit and welcoming at the same time. For good reason. It seemed that many, many people in western Kansas are cousins or in-laws. "Six degrees of separation" is more like two degrees. If you're not related, you at least have a common acquaintance with the person you're speaking with.

Saturday evening, after the workshop was over and before dinner, I went for a short run. My route took me through downtown Jetmore and out into the country, past the "Packrats 'r' Us" storage units and out into the prairie. It was incredibly quiet; just the occasional passing car (I counted four in both directions during my 40 minute run), the percussive rhythm of my shoes on the highway, and a little syncopation provided by my breathing.

I was a little sad to get back on the small plane with Jen and two other travelers to head back to the bright lights of Denver and Colorado Springs. Mary Ann had pressed a plastic bag in my hand as we prepared to leave the church. It had a left-over wrap from Saturday's lunch, a bag of Cheetos and pretzels, and a sample of the chocolate sheetcake with the boiled icing that had been spread over it while the cake was still warm, allowing the icing to seep into the sheet, making it extremely moist and sweet. I had grown rather fond of them, and Mary Ann had given me four, maybe five, generous slices.

I ate them all in the dark privacy of the flight back to the fast-paced anonymous life city folk call "civilization."

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Believing in "None" Land

It's the quintessential January early Sunday morning in Seattle. Mostly dark still (at 7:30 am), fairly cold but not raining (and as any true Seattlite will tell you, a day or hour in January without rain is like a day with sunshine!) . I'm staying in a funky 1930's nursing home turned inn at the foot of Queen Ann hill, the highest hill in Seattle, and also at the foot of the Space Needle which, graceful and glowing, is the first thing that strikes your eye as you leave the place. The Seattle Center, the site of the 1962 World's Fair, is across the street and the theatre district is here as well.

My sisters are still sleeping and I'm in a local coffee shop which attempts to look vaguely 30's-40's and might succeed except for the soft folk rock playing, the dozen varieties of coffee drinks, computers, wi-fi, and the piles of neighborhood and alternate newspapers. A soft granola exterior with a super-charged, hard-edged 21st century underbelly. That too is very Seattle.

As is the fact that the "what to do in Seattle" magazine that came with our room ends with an essay about how Seattle is the heart of "None Land." Meaning that 60% of Seattle denizens, when asked what religious tradition they identify with, reply "None". You know that such practical agnosticism is far gone when it is acknowledged in a publication for tourists. (I think I saw the author, who sports long, wildly curling grey hair, and looks like a survivor of the 60's playing live music down at the Pike Place Market yesterday)

The author of the article raised the obvious questions: how do we, as a community, then wrestle with issues of morality and values - (much less "good" and "evil" but those terms are largely regarded as dangerous nonsense categories here in the heart of post-modernism. The spectre of someone asserting universal moral truths can rouse Seattlites faster than a triple grande carmel macchiato.)

So how do we, as Catholic disciples of Jesus Christ live among, love, serve, evangelize in one of the toughest spiritual environments? I don't pretend to have the answers. But I do know that the inviting others to speak of their "lived" experience or relationship with God (as opposed to their theological, ideological, or political views about God and religion) is an important beginning place in our cultural situation.

We saw it again while giving a heavily abridged version of Making Disciples at the OP conference last week. People - including priests - were so moved, blessed, healed, challenged, and evangelized by the simple experience of telling or listening to the story of another person's lived relationship with God. That's why we are still reading Augustine's Confessions so many centuries later. That's why Therese's Story of a Soul" still nourishes us. They were saints and spiritual geniuses, yes - but it is their story of living with and for God in the midst of their specific time and place that arrests our attention and speaks to our hearts.

And because we are all in a relationship with God even when we refuse to acknowledge it (since He, the great Lover, holds us in being every second) and we were created for that relationship, this resolutely "None" religious agnosticism is contrary to who we are. And not just in grand, philosophical categories, but in the mundane details of our lives. We can't actually live our lives consistently as post-moderns. We can't live as though good and evil are meaningless, as though we don't long for more.

And when we tell the story of our personal, lived journey, that tension between our heart and soul and what our culture tells us we should desire and feel wells to the surface. Even in our pain, despair, bitterness, or atheism. Which is the first step. Not the final step. Not the end. Just the beginning. But a critical beginning for post-moderns who live in a mental, imaginative, and experiential universe so far from that of seriously practicing Catholics.

We can't build a culture of discipleship on a "don't ask, don't tell" basis. We can't evangelize our own generation without relating to them as valued persons, building relationships of trust, and inviting them to look again at and share their spiritual journey to this point in their life.

One response to citizens of the Land of "None" - wherever they happen to hang their hats?

How about asking "What has been your experience of God to this point in your life?"

And then really listening. And praying.

Must stop here. I'm being blinded by an unfamiliar light that has momentarily broken through the clouds and found me at my battered little wooden table tucked far inside the coffee shop. So does the Holy Spirit seek us all out and find us and woo us- even in "None" land.

I know that I must change many of my own habits of inattention, obliviousness, self-protection, and spiritual self-absorption to recognize, much less actively accompany others whom God is seeking out. But I'm praying that God will change me and somehow, use me in this delicate and subtle ministry.

Friday, January 11, 2008

On the Road

After ten hours in Colorado Springs, I loaded Sherry in the used car my friend Liz has purchased in place of Lazarus, the old Ford Bronco she used to lend me that was condemned as "unsafe to drive." After driving to the Denver airport, we went our separate ways, Sherry to a family visit to Seattle, me to Jetmore, KS, for two one-day workshops with Jen Picotti, one of our wonderful Called & Gifted teachers.
We'll do one workshop for some of the local adults, then one for about 65 high school confirmation candidates.
Dinner's cooking on the stove at the rectory, and so I'd better sign off. It'll be early to bed tonight.

I'll try to post something after the weekend.

Bomb hits Dominican convent

From Fr. Chuck Dahm, O.P.: “A bomb hit the Dominican Motherhouse Convent in Mosul. Most of the front of the building was destroyed and all the windows and major doors were damaged. The electricity cut off. No sisters were hurt but they are saddened and shaken. It was such a special place for the sisters and it is terribly destroyed. In all, three churches, two in Baghdad and one in Mosul were damaged as well as one Chaldean convent in Baghdad.
Please continue your prayers for the sisters and for peace.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Off to the Bay

Fr. Mike and I are on our way to the Bay area to put on an abridged version of Making Disciples for the Dominican pastors and parish leaders of the western Province. I have posts brewing in my head, we'll se if there is any time or opportunity to write them down.

Meanwhile Pippin is settling in very well but shows every sign of being a cat nip addict. Rub a little dry catnip between your fingers and then rub your fingers into her hair and she (16 years old!) gets very frisky and even feisty and rolls about in ecstasy. I'm her private drug pusher.

And here I thought that the proverbial love of catnip was a sort of urban legend!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Compassion from Prison

Often I hear people complaining about the prison system in the U.S. Prisons are generally overcrowded, the recidivism rate indicates that little rehabilitation is happening, the majority of inmates are members of racial minorities, and too often they become "classrooms" for learning new criminal skills.

But today I came across a remarkable outreach from death row inmates that is facilitated by members of St. Rose Parish, in Perrysburg, OH, where I helped give a Called & Gifted workshop last year. It's a newsletter called, "Compassion," and the first of the bi-monthly publications was produced in 2001.

The main page of the website states the objectives of the project:

Compassion newsletter is written by death row prisoners in the United States and distributed without charge to all 3400+ inmates in this country currently under the sentence of death. Subscriptions are also available to those on the outside.

Compassion focuses its efforts on publishing compassionate and introspective articles written by death-row prisoners. Within its pages it also works to develop healing communication between capital punishment offenders and murdered victims’ families.

Under its self imposed guidelines Compassion directs that half of all its subscription and donation funds be awarded as college scholarships to family members of murdered victims. To date $21,000 in scholarships have been awarded to seven individuals from around the country.

Compassion urges prisoners to set a new moral decency for themselves. Through its pages, death row prisoners take an active role in restorative justice and reconciliation. Prisoners are encouraged to genuinely foster reconciliation between themselves and immediate family members of murdered victims.

The current editor of Compassion, Dennis Skillicorn, is on Missouri’s death row. He views Compassion as “an opportunity for us to have a voice and express our overwhelming desire to give back to society. In the process death row prisoners are able to work toward restoring some of what we’ve torn down.”

The project began in response to a suggestion by Siddique Abdullah Hasan, who is on death row in the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown. Through a mutual contact, Hasan connected with Fred Moor of St. Rose Parish, who agreed to oversee publication. According to the website, "the glossy, eight-page newsletter focuses on positive contributions by death row inmates and their desire to help others. It does not print accounts of individual cases, complaints about prison or the judicial system, or opinions on the death penalty."

Skillicorn has recently collected contributions from prisoners throughout the country and produced a book of essays, poems and artwork chronicling the choices that brought prisoners to where they are today. With the help of volunteers at St. Rose, "Today's Choices Affect Tomorrow's Dreams" is being distributed in juvenile detention facilities around the country to remind young people about the importance of their decisions. The book, written by death-row inmates and prisoners serving life-without-parole sentences, is distributed through Compassion, and can be ordered using this form.

Kudos to the parishioners at St. Rose, who are supporting this attempt to bring some healing to families devastated by violent crime. Compassion demonstrates that God's grace is at work even in the lives of those we might like to think are beyond hope - and that we can not simply turn our backs on them, as tempting as that might be.

The Endless Glamour of Mendicant Life

Back from Houston for two days. Then off the San Francisco Bay area where a tremendous storm is brewing and there are all kinds of power outages. Hey, its all part of the relentless glamour of mendicant life.

The Catholic school teachers in Houston were a warm, great group and the workshop was very successful in the end but it didn't start out that way. Just about everything logistical that could go wrong did go wrong. This was Called & Gifted #331. Over time, you develop a personal hall of fame for workshop disasters. And they are pretty funny - in retrospect. You know that you are a pro when they strike you as funny at the time!

1) There was the one in California where we showed up to find a square 6 foot screen on a bent stand where a third of the screen had literally be torn off.

2) There was the time in Oregon when Fr. Michael Sweeney (my co-teacher for that event) was stranded by snow) and I had to teach a bunch of brand new material on 5 minutes notice.

3) There was the time (also in Houston!) where no one could find the projector and I had a first time teacher trainee with me.

4) There was the time I contracted e-coli in Jakarta and was bed-ridden on the eve of a huge bi-lingual workshop for 450. We scooted by on Friday night but I had to get up on Saturday and teach, my clothes clinging with sweat, and lay down exhausted during all breaks. I was too busy trying to endure to find that funny.

5) Of course, there was that notable moment in Detroit last October, when a total power failure occurred ten minutes before I was to begin a presentation to a widely advertised group of STL students at Sacred Heart seminary. No projector, no computer, and mostly in the dark with an audience of African priests and people like Ralph Martin and Dr. Janet Smith in attendance! The finger puppet version of the theology and practice of the New Evangelization that followed will go down in history as one of those Balaam's ass moments - when God uses the weaknesses of his people in amazing ways.

But yesterday was probably the most outrageous series of failures I've ever experienced.

It started off when I showed up 45 minutes before the event was due to begin and discovered that our carefully shipped boxes had not arrived. So I had to call one of our staff (nabbing him as he stepped out of the shower since it was only 6:40 am here) and send him racing to the office to wrestle with UPS. Fortunately, the principle had her copy of the Inventory in her office, so I sent her off to copy the questions and answer sheets since taking the inventory was the first thing we would do.

Then my co-teacher (Miriam) for the day called to say that she was struggling with back pain and would be late and that I should start without here (and the underlying message seemed to be - would Miriam make it at all?) No worries. I could manage a day's workshop on my own if necessary.

Then it turned out that no one had used the remote for the provided projector before and there was no connecting cord provided. I was not yet familiar enough with my new MAC to figure it out. Also my MAC was doing odd things like having the projected slide disappear from the screen.

No problems. I had anticipated problems on my first trip with the MAC so I had set up my own personal MAC support system before-hand: Fr. Mike. Fr. Mike was to have his cell phone on from the minute he finished celebrating early Mass so he could help me with any problems. I called. No answer. I left a message. A cascading series of computer weirdnesses required that I call him again and again. No answer. Left increasingly urgent messages. No call back.

By now, it was 15 minutes before I was due to begin and I am without inventories, co-teacher, or book table, my brand new computer was acting wonky and my tech help is unreachable. Time to breathe deep. If necessary, I told myself, I can teach the day by myself from the hand-outs and just add more stories and dramatize things more. When in doubt, use finger puppets.

At this point, my co-teacher shows! Hurrah! She's a tough and wonderful teacher so she's going to gut it out. Yeah Miriam! Thank you Lord!

Then it dawns upon me, that without the inventories, I have to provide another list of the 24 charisms that corresponds to their answer sheet so the 53 participants can figure out what their scores mean. Try to open another file that has such a slide. Computer freezes. Try to recreate alphabetized list of 24 charisms from my head. My brain fuses. Can only come up with 21. Miriam is able to come up with the list and tried to write it on the white board - but, of course, there is no marker and no one knows where one is.

At this point, Miriam and I just started to giggle. The day was already into the Disaster Hall of Fame and was quickly heading to the top of the pile.

It all worked out in the end. The inventories arrived in time for lunch, Fr. Mike finally got through to tell me that, bizarrely, his cell had not rung or vibrated so he didn't know I had called until he checked his messages. Miriam got through the day with great style and the principal seemed very pleased. I had a lovely dinner out with Miriam and her husband and made it to the airport with plenty of time.

But last night when my flight home started to buck as we neared Colorado Springs and I could feel the all too familiar pangs of motion sickness, I closed my eyes, bent over, and willed the plane to land, now, before I puked my lovely dinner. So, of course, the pilot circled the city again.

I'm gonna enshrine yesterday in memory - in the hopes that it remains forever at the top of my list of disasters. And provides an endless supply of funny stories. Which will seem much funnier when my stomach stops churning

Friday, January 4, 2008

Making Time for the Poor

The Catholic News Service highlighted a brief visit by Pope Benedict XVI to a homeless shelter near the Vatican established 20 years ago by Pope John Paul II. it's staffed by the Missionaries of Charity and is the result of Mother Theresa's suggestion to the late Pope.

The visit was only 45 minutes long, and the Pope brought blankets and food for the homeless people there. It was not a media event, but to me it was a beautiful event. We are all children of God, whether homeless, or uneducated, or addicted to drugs or alcohol or sex; whether we are seemingly powerful by the world's standards, or not worth
"Migrant Mother" by Dorothea Lange

thinking about by the world's standards. As the pope himself would say, the homeless he visited have just as much human dignity and just as much value in the eyes of God as he has.

According to the article,
The visit highlighted one of Pope Benedict's favorite themes: personal charity as the ultimate expression of faith in Jesus Christ.

In Austria last fall, he told Catholic volunteers that love of neighbor is not something that can be delegated to the state or to institutions -- it always demands a personal commitment.

In his 2006 encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" ("God Is Love"), the pope brought it down to the basics: "Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison."

As pope, however, personal contact with the needy is not always easy. Every public papal event involves planning, security and protocol, and usually takes place under the glare of the mass media.

On his trips to Africa, Pope John Paul sometimes would make unscheduled stops to visit poor families in their huts. These off-screen events were fleeting, however; the papal motorcade was always waiting outside.

The event got me thinking again about why I entered religious life and sought ordination. When I was in graduate school studying geophysics, I became aware of the vast disparity in the lifestyles of the tremendously wealthy in Palo Alto, CA, and the desperately poor of East Palo Alto. I saw homeless people for perhaps the first time in my life (or at least it was the first time I noticed them), and wondered, "How can this happen in a supposedly Christian nation that is also the wealthiest nation on earth?"

It got me thinking about my life, and what I was doing, and what God might want me to do. Strangely enough (at least it seemed strange to me at the time), I ended up entering the Dominican novitiate to discover if God was calling me there. I thought perhaps I could make the most difference in the world by preaching the Gospel.

During my seminary days I volunteered at a homeless shelter, where I stayed overnight and listened to homeless people share their worries and tell their stories. I helped out at a local Catholic Worker house by helping find employment possibilities for the people living there. I taught religion and P.E. at a local inner city Catholic grade school.

The Pope's words in Deus Caritas Est, "Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison," echo, of course, Jesus' admonition and praise of those who stand before him in judgment in Matthew 25. They are words that I need to take more seriously. It's not enough to simply rely on the government or non-profits to care for the needy.

I need to be personally involved.

But that's difficult, for a number of reasons - or, to be more honest - excuses.

Take, for example, the beggar on the street.
First of all, when I'm out on the street I'm always going someplace. I have something to do. I'm busy (sometimes literally for God's sake!) I never go out just for a walk, although I'm trying to change that. I find walking nowhere in particular is a good way for me to talk things over with God.

Secondly, I've heard people discourage giving to panhandlers. "They're just going to buy booze or drugs." Well, perhaps I could ask the person if they're hungry and would like something to eat. When I was in seminary, I walked to school often - about a 50 minute walk - and had to run a gauntlet of homeless folks along one section of my hike. I started to carry some food with me that I could offer to someone if they were asking for money to buy food. That sometimes worked, but usually only after they had come to recognize me. But of course, doing this involves stopping and actually talking to a beggar; possibly getting involved, and that's frightening.

Thirdly, I can tell myself, "I don't know what to say, or what to do." But that just reveals an underlying attitude that denies the poor person's common humanity with me. What do I like? I enjoy it when people talk with me, listen to me, look me in the eye and smile, offer me help - any kind of help - when I am in need. Why wouldn't a homeless person desire the same?

Fourthly, I can tell myself that a short encounter's not going to make a difference. It's not dealing with the root of the problem, which might be systemic or due to the choices the individual keeps making. What can I do about that? Or, I might worry that if I get involved more will be asked of me by the person standing in front of me than I want to give. I already have a full-time vocation as a priest and a Dominican. I have more than enough work to do with the Institute (including blogging!)

But then I am confronted with the thought of standing before Jesus and giving these reasons/excuses, and I realize that the same reasons are reflections of my relationship with Him.

1) I am too busy to pray.
2) I am afraid that if I "get involved" with Him, he'll demand things of me that I do not want to do. I forget that in His love, he'll only ask me to do that which will be for my greatest good; that which will draw me closer to Him and closer to the creatures He loves.
3) I can implicitly deny Jesus' humanity if I think my temptations to sin (to which I so easily give in) are stronger than any he faced (now who do you think Satan would try more vigorously?) In so doing, I deny the power of His grace, and give up on self-discipline (which is hardly only of my "self", but rather evidence of cooperating with grace!)
4) I underestimate what Jesus might do through me. I underestimate the power and efficacy of heartfelt, consistent intercessory prayer.

If the Holy Father's not too busy to stop by a homeless shelter, shouldn't you and I be able to make time for the poor? Or are we like the busy people Jesus encountered, who, when invited to follow him, had to bury their dead parents, or tend to their business ventures, or...

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Making Disciples Information

Sherry was mentioning an abridged version of our four-day seminar, "Making Disciples," that we will be presenting at the Western Dominican Province Pastoral Minister's Conference next week. If you are interested in knowing more about the full-length workshop, which focuses on identifying spiritual thresholds that people typically cross on the way to becoming intentional disciples - and ties that in with the Church's teaching on grace, justification, and proclamation of the Gospel - you can click here to go to our website where you can download a brochure with more information about the seminar, as well as a registration form.

The seminar will be held in Benet Lake, WI (June); Colorado Springs, CO (July) and Spokane, WA (August) this summer. Part of what I enjoy about this workshop is the blend of Catholic theology, practical application, and personal reflection and prayer. Participants find it very challenging, yet accessible, and many have said that is has changed the way they think about ministry. It's very easy for us - and I'm definitely including pastoral ministers here - to forget that the whole point of ministry is to help people encounter the risen Lord Jesus; to help people know his love, hear his call to conversion, and find hope for eternal life.

I hope you consider attending Making Disciples!

Have You Heard the One About Herding Cats?

Having Pippin around has revived the old dog vs. cat debate around here.

Fr. Mike is a cat man whose beloved "Mama Kitty" was his faithful companion for many years. He, like nearly all Dominicans of my acquaintance, is an introvert and not shy about proclaiming the obvious: cats and introverts are smarter, discriminating, fastidious, cool, independent, and just plain superior.

It's no surprise who gets to be the dog (slobbering, overly anxious to please, dumb, and shallow) in this scenario. As an extrovert, I've been dissed by Catholic introverts for years. One of Fr. Michael Sweeney's standard quips during the section of the Called & Gifted workshop where we deal with the impact of personality on discernment went as follows:

"An introvert looks at an extrovert and wonders if there is any intelligent life present". (Add laugh track here - always gracefully acknowledged by yours truly)

As the other Sherry (another introvert) once summed it up "your people have been oppressing my people for generations." Who am I to object to lifetime of personal taunts when I am heir to the collective guilt of the ages?

No wonder organizing Dominicans is so impossible. It is herding cats!

Enjoy this you tube video about dogs and cats which pretty much sums up my experience of 12 years of "collaboration" with OP's. Love the tail action.

And I just have to point out: Pippin likes me best.

A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Everything was down yesterday: internet, phone, TV for over 5 hours! Thanks goodness for cell phones!
It has been interesting prepping for the Dominican Pastoral gathering next week in California. We are starting off with a 30 minute "here's where we've been and here's where we are going" talk and I begin with a quote from the 1995 Dominican Chapter at Caleruega:

"In many places our commitment to parishes is the main obstacle to our itinerancy and our preaching. Chapter 2, II, 20.9.
In parishes we must not be satisfied with preaching to those who come to Mass. We require every province to consider its present commitment to parishes and ask if each one represents the best basis for itinerancy in preaching to the unchurched. Is a particular parish a basis of new evangelization? Can it become so? If not we should probably hand it over to the diocese."

I also began with that quote the very first time I ever spoke to Dominican pastors. It was in November of 1995, before the Institute was a gleam in anyone's eye.

Fr. Michael Sweeney asked me to speak for 30 minutes to the first gathering of western OP's engaged in pastoral work - all priests (the next year, they started the tradition of inviting lay leaders). Me, the blue-eyed baby Baptist and still a quite new Catholic, facing an audience of 35 guys in white. Nothing in my life to that point had prepared me for this.

it was both the fulfillment of that fantasy that many of us have had: "Boy, if I just had a chance to tell priests what I think!" and absolutely terrifying. As I walked up to the little podium, my knees literally buckled. I remember grimly forcing myself upright and fiercely promising myself: "You can't faint now! You can faint later after you are done!" I also remember trying to console myself at the time with the idea that no one knew who I was, so I could say my piece and disappear and they'd never be able to find me!

In fact, the Dominicans stunned me with their enthusiastic reception. I heard about that talk for years afterwards. My trembling presentation and its aftermath set the stage for my developing collaboration with Fr. Michael and birth of the Institute. The topic: the strategic role of lay Catholics in the Dominican mission of evangelization. It's fairly long so I've skipped a lot of the magisterial quotes, so if you want to see the context. read the whole thing.

It is amazing how the basic ideas still fuel the Institute's work: Here's a few snippets:

. . . I'd like to ask a question about what might seem to be obvious: What does it mean to evangelize the unchurched? What is evangelism? I think that we need to ask this question because the issue is often framed in terms of assisting "inactive" Catholics to become "active" again, of somehow getting them to come back to the Mass and to take up again their identity as Catholics. I believe that when we focus on the "inactive" Catholic becoming "active" again, we may inadvertently be skipping over a essential intermediary step: that of discipleship. Are "returning" Catholics returning to our parishes and to the Mass in order to follow Jesus? Are they becoming "active" because they have first become disciples? I ask this because discipleship, not just activity, is the true goal of evangelization.

When I use the word "disciple", Catholics sometimes tell me that I am showing my Protestant roots, that "disciple" is a Protestant term, not a Catholic one. But the U.S. Bishops don't seem to think so. When they issued their recent pastoral letter on evangelization, they entitled it "Go and Make Disciples," taking the term from Jesus' commission to his apostles at the end of the gospel of Matthew. Fr. Robert River, the director of Diocesan and Parish Services for the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association, put it this way:

Discipleship is 'what faith is for. . .it makes people into disciples of Jesus'. . . What is the purpose of our Catholic schools? To create active disciples of Jesus. Our religious education programs? Our sacramental catechesis? To create active disciples of Jesus. Moreover, discipleship involves a personal decision and a commitment - a free response to Jesus' call. . .Our whole way of being church must stem from knowing that the purpose of our faith is to be lifelong disciples. This is what makes us an evangelizing church." (Evangelization Update, vol. 2, no. 1)

To succeed at evangelization, we must be clear about what it entails. When we talk about preaching to the unchurched, we are talking about reaching out to those who have either ceased to be practicing Christians or who have had no meaningful contact with Christianity. But when we speak of evangelization, we are talking about reaching out to these people and calling them to become lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ and responsible members of his Church. Anything less than a proclamation and evangelization centered around life-long discipleship is less than Catholic.


My oldest female friend is currently living in one of the most religious repressive of the Islamic countries. I cannot reveal either her name or her location because it would be dangerous to both her and her family. She is a quite ordinary, middle-aged, five-foot -nothing housewife and mother. She and her husband spent years equipping themselves to be "tent-making" missionaries, that is, Christians who work at a secular profession that enables them to live in a country where no overt missionary work is possible in order that some living witness to the love of Jesus Christ might be found there. She now speaks the language fluently and frequently dons her national dress and goes out to the desert tribes and the outlying villages where she has developed many friendships. There she shares not only goat and spiced coffee, she shares the gospel.

What she does is possible only because she is a lay woman - no "official" missionary, no pastor, priest or nun would be allowed into the country. My friend is supported in her efforts not just by her husband but by her local Protestant congregation back home in the States. But when I tried to tell her story in a magazine article on lay vocation, the editor of a national magazine for committed lay Catholics told me to take it out. "None of our readers could hope to aspire to such a ministry," he said.

The odd thing is that lay evangelicals aspire to it all the time. I myself come from a quite ordinary family of Southern Baptists. We do not have any missionaries or pastors or evangelists in our background. Yet my youngest sister turned 20 in Nigeria while serving as part of a evangelistic team sent out by a Protestant congregation just a couple blocks away from Blessed Sacrament. One of my cousins is currently in Moscow where he is busy planting Protestant churches. My roommate in seminary spent five years as a lay "tent-making" missionary in Turkey. And I could tell many more such stories.

As a fellow evangelical-turned-Catholic observed to me, it is ironic that while Catholicism has a much stronger and richer theological basis for evangelization than evangelical Protestantism, the Protestants are the ones who are actually doing the lion's share of the evangelizing. The fact is that the global evangelical missionary movement has grown explosively over the past decade. In just the past ten years, the number of evangelical Protestants in the Third World has doubled from around 150 million to about 300 million. Why is this important to our discussion? Because this missionary explosion has been carried on by an evangelistic workforce that is 99% lay. And even more meaningful is the fact that a large percentage of these lay Protestant evangelists are former Catholics.

Everywhere I go in the world of evangelical missions, I run into leaders and activists who were baptized and raised as Catholics. That is because approximately 30% of today's 35 million evangelicals in the US are first or second generation former Catholics. That means that something like 11 million former Catholics identify themselves as Protestant evangelicals (Ralph Martin, The Catholic Church at the End of an Age, p. 39).

Among Hispanic Catholics in the United States, who now constitute nearly a third of American Catholics, five million have left the Catholic Church in the last ten years to join evangelical or Pentecostal churches or other religious movements. In 1970, 90% of American Hispanics identified themselves as Catholic. In the early 1990s, only 70% so identified themselves. (ibid., p. 38)


To return to the recommendation of Caleruega: ". . .we can learn from aspects of their efforts, biblically-based preaching centered on Jesus in the language of the people, giving immediate access to lay ministry in the context of basic communities". (Chapter 2, no. 38) There is a particular quality of warmth, relationship, and intimate sharing centered around the discipleship of the people in the pews that characterize an evangelizing parish. As a Swiss Catholic missionary to Bolivia, Robert Aubrey, has observed, "The atmosphere of a community of converted people which praise the Lord and find religious and human warmth in the midst of a faceless society and of almost anonymous parishes, is something essential for human life. Only within a community can the new convert persevere, and experience the riches of faith and its implications for life" (Samuel Escobar, "A New Reformation," Christianity Today, April 6, 1992, p. 33-34). Ninety-nine percent of all Catholics have only one place where they could hope to find such support for their Christian life and vocation - their local parish.

When you entered the Order, you spent years being educated and formed for your vocation. But I, too, am a preacher of the gospel in my own right - and where is my house of formation? Your parish is my St. Albert's, the only house of formation I may ever have to prepare me for my vocation as an evangelizing change agent in the world.

I can still remember how still the room became as I spoke that last paragraph. And how nervous I was. I knew it was the teaching of the Church, the OPs knew it was the teaching of the Church but neither of us was used to stating it so baldly.

And it is still very good if challenging news.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Take Risks, Not Care: Christian Life in Iraq

The January Lausanne World Pulse is out this morning and could not be more timely considering the news coming out of Kenya about the massacre of dozens of Kikuyu who had taken refuge in a church.

The topic: Proclaiming Christ in an Era of War, Trauma and Genocide..

Worldpulse is usually packed by missions related news from all over the world but this lead article is very fine and challenging:

The Church as an Instrument of Redemption, not Administration by the Rev. Canon Andrew White (Anglican), President of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the MIddle East.

Please read the whole thing but here are some especially good snippets that gives a very vivid picture of life for Christians in Iraq at present.

We had lunch with one of the Archbishops in Baghdad last week to talk about the struggle Christians in Iraq have and the way the Church is just trying to survive. During the conversation (which was accompanied by terrible food!), the Archbishop made this extraordinary remark: “The Church is an instrument for redemption, not administration.”


The meeting commenced; each participant gave an account of what was happening in his congregation. Then, without any preparation, the main item of the agenda became clear: How do we prevent our leaders in St. George's Memorial Church in Baghdad from being kidnapped and killed? Our people are increasingly going hungry and relying on the church for everything—food, water, medicine and rent money. Our relief work through the church has radically increased; however, supplying the needs of the people involves huge risks. All of us stopped discussion for a moment, realizing that most of our church leaders have been killed or kidnapped. Oh, how difficult it is for those of us from the West to accept the risk of death for the ministry of redemption! Although all of us are aware of danger and risk (you cannot be ignorant of this if you live in Iraq), I wonder if we are really prepared to take real risks for the sake of redemption.


My mind went back to the previous weekend at church. Many of our children had their first communion that day. They processed into church in their wonderful white robes, singing the simple word, “Hallelujah!” Some of the children were in tears. As they came to the front of the church, I asked one of the girls why she was crying. She told me it was because it was the most important day of her life and she knew that Jesus was walking with her. Their song was a song of redemption and their tears were tears of redemption. My mind returned again to the words of the Archbishop. These words challenge us here and they should challenge the Church around the world.


I think back to the words of my mentor, Donald Coggan. Every time we parted, he would say, “Take risks, not care.” I hope I have done this and I pray we all will do this more and more when it comes to sharing the good news of Jesus with the world.

Life and All That

Inherited a black kitty named Pippin yesterday. Austin, one of our staff, raised Pippin from a kitten but now that she is 16, has developed terrible allergies and sadly, had to find a new home for her. Pippin is remarkably healthy and limber for her age. She found a hole in the wall behind the dryer last night and spent the night there but decided to come out and meet and greet this morning. She is now wandering about the Tuscan villa, bewailing her fate and throwing up occasionally. She is very friendly between spasms of angst so there is hope.

The New Year's Race has begun. I'll be home 13 days in January - and 13 days in February. Fr. Mike will be on the road even more than I. That's what happens when you have 24 events to put on around the country. I have some juicy stuff to blog - but must get laundry underway first.

I'm off tomorrow afternoon for a one day Called & Gifted for Catholic School Teachers in Houston with my friend Barbara Elliott. Then home for the weekend and off at the crack of dawn on Monday with Fr. Mike and another friend to offer an abridged version of the Making Disciples seminar for the Dominican pastors and parish leaders of the Western Province. Back Thursday evening, Jan 10.

Then off Friday morning, Jan 11 to catch a flight from Denver to Seattle to a kind of family reunion and to celebrate my sister's birthday. Back on January 16.

So blogging will be catch as catch can on my part till January 17. Airport lounges, hotel rooms with wi-fi, cafes, etc. Fr. Mike will be around more in early January so you will be hearing from him, I'm sure.

Just a reminder re: Called & Gifted offerings in the near future:

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 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

More blogging later today.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Global Church Online: the Dictionary of African Christian Biography

I came across a marvelous new resource yesterday:

The Dictionary of African Christian Biography. Amazing stuff. It is the on-going work of 105 seminaries, universities, and research centers in 20 African nations and is available online. Most of the entries are in English, some in French. This is the only resource of its kind online.

You can search among 3,100 alphabetical biographies by time period, communion/denomination, (Catholic, Orthodox, various Protestant missionary groups) and country. (You can also search via a linked map of the continent.)

The Dictionary also has a wonderful map of ancient Africa divided up by dioceses/area which are linked to 378 biographies of men and women and a list of non-Africans who contributed to the growth of African Christianity.

There is also a fabulous online bibliography.

The project director is realistic and good humored about what has been achieved so far.

"Among the several ongoing challenges facing the dictionary, an obvious one is the unevenness of country, language, and denominational content. It is readily evident that while the numbers of stories in English are relatively plentiful, with French-language entries lagging far behind, the languages representing the other three lingua franca of Africa are not represented at all. This is due to neither oversight nor neglect, but to the linguistic limitations of the principals involved and to the fact that the dictionary reflects only those stories that have been submitted. . . We are currently seeking funding in order to begin the translation of the database into Swahili, Portuguese, and Arabic.

Added to this is the somewhat patchy quality of the stories. Anyone browsing the DACB will at once be struck by the unevenness of both the quality and consistency of the nearly one thousand biographies that currently make up the database. Some of the stories are a mere one or two sentences in length, while others run to several thousand words. While scholarly exactitude mark some of the entries, a large number have been contributed by persons who are neither scholars nor historians. The stories are non-proprietary, belonging to the people of Africa as a whole. Since this is a first generation tool, and on the assumption that some memory is better than total amnesia, the checkered quality of the entries has been tolerated and even welcomed. This being a first-generation attempt to ensure that there is some kind of memory to which scholars and leaders of subsequent generations will have access, it will be left for another generation to redress the weaknesses and deficiencies inherent in the present dictionary."

And this charming note, which made me laugh because I knew his situation oh so well:

Despite the DACB's laughably meager financial resources and minimalist administrative infrastructure, those of us most immediately involved are encouraged and delighted by its growing recognition as a unique and impressively useful source of information on the church in Africa.

Hurrah for faithful persistence in the midst of the laughably meager and minimalist! It ain't great but it's better than nothing and, under the Mercy, the beginning of something larger and far better.

What is even more exciting is that this effort is spawning similar efforts in other parts of the world.

Such as the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity. which is in English and Chinese.

In a world where 70% of Christians and the majority of Catholics live outside the industrialized west, it is time that we become more familiar with the remarkable men and women - our brothers and sisters in Christ - whom God used to make that a reality.