Friday, February 29, 2008

Quote of the Day

[Transforming persons into little Christs] is the whole of Christianity. There is nothing else. It is so easy to get muddled about that. It is easy to think that the Church has a lot of different objectives -- education, building, missions, holding services. The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose. It says in the Bible that the whole universe was made for Christ and that everything is to be gathered together in Him.

C.S. Lewis

Hat tip: Retractiones

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Age of the Laity?

Tom Loarie has an interesting article in the Catholic Business Journal "Are We Living in the Age of the Laity?"

Tom knows Fr. Michael Sweeney, who started CSI with me and is now President of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology. I've not met Tom yet but have heard of him from Fr. Michael who taught the Called & Gifted workshop that Tom attended.

Tom quotes Russell Shaw's excellent The Christian Laity in the Mission of the Church at great length. (we carry Shaw in our online bookstore). He then makes this startling statement: It is estimated that 33% of all parishes in California will be administered by deacons in ten years.

Really? I'll have to check that figure out. I know that the average parish in California has 10,000 people in it (as opposed to the national average of 3,500). So far haven't found any corroborating info on the internet. Anyone have wisdom to share on this particular statistic?

In any case, Tom sums it up this way:

here are three requirements for the laity to be involved in a fruitful way. The laity must:

1. Be well formed.

2. Use the gifts God has given them (“The Called and Gifted”). And,

3. Understand their purpose and the role they fill within the Church.

Loathe as I am to disagree at all with anyone who has the good taste and smarts to mention the Called & Gifted, I'd have to add a 4th point in first place.

1. Be intentional disciples of Jesus Christ in the midst of the Church.

Everything else follows: formation, discernment, mission.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The 8:1 Ratio: Where to Begin?

JohnG asks a fabulous series of questions in the comments on my The 8:1 Ratio post.

a href="This article leads to three questions :
- What is evangelization? (what must every one find in the Kerygma)
- How do you evangelize?
- Once a people is interested in Christ (or better touched), how do you teach him to help him to be a "living" christian?

I mean all that in the harsh conditions of our parishes where priests haven't time to do anything, and where lay people just know few things about their faith, including sometimes reincarnation, etc...

How to begin with?

You have just asked the questions that our 4 day seminar Making Disciples was created to answer.

Disciples, leaders, and vocations flow out of a life-changing relationship with Christ in the midst of his Church.
When Jesus asked Simon to “come, follow me,” Simon did not drop his nets to follow Jesus across Palestine for the next three years accidentally.
He did not become St. Peter unconsciously.

In the same way, the next generation of practicing Catholics, priests, religious, and lay leaders will not emerge accidently or unconsciously.

The non-negotiable foundation for Christian maturity and vocation today, as it was for St. Peter, is intentional discipleship.

Two keys to intentional discipleship are often missing in Catholic catechesis: pre-evangelism and initiatory catechesis
that asks for a deliberate personal response.

Making Disciples will help you:

Understand intentional discipleship as the source of spiritual life, and thus the foundation of all pastoral ministry

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

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

Learn how to facilitate the spiritual growth of those, baptized or not, who are not yet disciples.

Discover ways of articulating the basic kerygma that awakens initial faith in a gentle and nonthreatening

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

Prayerfully reflect on your own journey of discipleship.

We are offering Making Disciples in three different locations this summer:

Benet Lake, Wisconsin - June 8 - 12

Colorado Springs, Colorado - July 27 - 31

Spokane, Washington - August 10 - 14

We have offered variations on this new seminar 5 times so far in very different setting and everytime the response has been electric. As far as we know, it is one of a kind and seems to name and clarify enormously the frustrations that almost all Catholic pastoral leaders have experienced in this area.

Making Disciples is ideal for anyone interested in evangelization: Pastors, Diocesan staff, DRE's, RCIA directors, spiritual directors, catechists, evangelists. All kinds of people will be there - including many who do not work for the Church but simply want to see the 8:1 ratio change.

Go here to read some of the reviews from last year.

We'd love to have you be part of the conversation.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Evangelization a Mandate, not a Choice

I came across an abbreviated report of a conference held in Rome at the end of January and beginning of February. Given the findings of the recent Pew Foundation report on the number of former Catholics in this country, it seems like a timely article. Here's the majority of the short article:
If a parish does not evangelize, it is nothing more than a building, said a Vatican official, who offered four practical steps for transforming a parish into a missionary center.

Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, affirmed this at the end of January at a conference in Rome on "The Parish and the New Evangelization."

"Why should a parish be missionary," Archbishop Ranjith asked.

He explained that God's call of love mandates a missionary character for Christians: "Jesus loved his brothers and sisters to the extent that he was dedicated totally to their salvation -- this is the basis of evangelization."

The archbishop, who led the Diocese of Ratnapura, Sri Lanka, before being named to the Roman Curia, called evangelization a "sign of the maturity of our faith."

"The Church exists only if it evangelizes, and the same is true for the parish. If a parish does not evangelize, it is only a building," he said. “Evangelization is not a matter of free choice. It is an obligation of our faith, the perfect expression of our charity."


Archbishop Ranjith highlighted the importance of the Eucharist for a parish focused on the mission.

"The Eucharist is at the center of evangelization," the archbishop affirmed. "The Eucharist must generate faith. In some parishes it is celebrated in such a manner that it does not generate faith."

The 60-year-old prelate also focused on the role of parish priests. He said that priests should understand their role by saying, "'I am useless by myself but useful in his hands.'"

Archbishop Ranjith also contended that parishes should not focus on their community alone, but "make a determined effort to reach the lost ones."


He offered some "practical steps" for giving parishes a missionary character.

"The parish community must move away from a maintenance model to a missionary model -- if the only thing we do is repair the buildings, this will kill us spiritually," the archbishop said.

Secondly, he continued, parishes need "to move away from a spirit of pessimism to a spirit of optimism." And he noted the danger of becoming the Gospel's example of a "lazy servant."

The third practical step dealt with the role of laypeople. Archbishop Ranjith encouraged priests who still think the “mission is the sole responsibility of clerics," and that "priests should decide everything by themselves" to "share with the laity."

“Each layperson is a potential missionary," he affirmed.

The fourth step was related to the third. The archbishop encouraged involving as many people as possible: "associations, groups, men, women, youth and even children -- and be courageous to go into uncharted areas, look for new methods and means."

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Praying for Our Enemies

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust." Mt 5:43-45

A friend of mine pointed out to me yesterday that often at Mass here in Colorado Springs (and I'm sure in many cities) we pray regularly for the men and women in our armed forces. This makes sense since there are so many military bases around the Springs, and about 40% of the population is former military members. He asked me, "how come we never pray for our enemies? I've never heard anyone pray for Osama bin Laden, or Kim Il-Sung, or FIdel Castro."

He caught me off guard. In the Masses in which I lead the prayers of the faithful, I try to include a wide variety of groups of people, and often look through the paper before Mass for ideas. I've prayed publicly for criminals, illegal immigrants to this country, and politicians, but somehow I had not thought to include terrorists, enemy combatants, members of the mafia, drug pushers, the fallen executives of Enron, or heads of state of the "axis of evil." It hadn't really crossed my mind.

Now that it has, I will try to include these folks in our public prayer. I'll probably preface such prayers with "Jesus taught us to pray for those who persecute us..." Why? Because I'm a coward. I suspect some people would take exception to prayers for terrorists and suicide bombers. Yes, the things they do are despicable (I was horrified at the recent report that two women with Down's syndrome were fitted with explosives that were detonated by remote control as they walked through outdoor markets).

Yet, do we believe in the power of prayer, or not? Do we believe that God's grace is effective and capable of transforming lives - even the lives of our enemies? What would happen if Christians who want a swift return of our troops from Iraq and Christians who want to keep our troops there until Iraq has a stable government all began praying for a change of heart for the terrorists? Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Is there any chance at all that He may know something that we do not? If we aren't willing to trust Him, is He really our Lord? I suppose this is nothing new. He said to his own followers, "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' but not do what I command?" Lk 6:46

Perhaps, however, it's time for us to change, and to take Him at His word.


Catholic Quote of the Day

For many of us in mid-life and mid-stream, who are caught up in a particular long obedience and yet (Lord willin' as they used to say in MIssissippi) have many miles to go before we sleep, this wonderfully apt quote from St. Teresa of Avila speaks to our condition. Or at least to mine. The famous bookmark.

"Be not perplexed, be not afraid, everything passes.
God does not change. Patience wins all things.
He who has God lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.

The 8:1 Ratio

The Washington Times is taking a particularly bleak view of the Pew study of American religious practice that came out yesterday.

The title: "Catholic Tradition fading in the US"

The first sentence:

:"Evangelical Christianity has become the largest religious tradition in this country, supplanting Roman Catholicism, which is slowly bleeding members, according to a survey released yesterday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life."

I think the story really should have been titled "Mainline Protestant tradition fading in the US" - but I guess that's not a surprise anymore.

But this figure did startle me: In 1957, 66% of Americans were members of mainline Protestant churches. 50 years later, only 18% are part of mainline Protestantism. Now that's what you call a major fade!

"There is no question that the demographic balance has shifted in past few decades toward evangelical churches," said Greg Smith, a research fellow at the Pew Forum. "They are now the mainline of American Protestantism."

The overall percentage of Catholics hasn't changed that much in recent years - but if we weren't losing so many members, we'd be growing dramatically and make up 33% of the country, not 23%!

So the real story is complicated:

In the US, religious affiliation is anything but steady state.

No single religious tradition enjoys the sort of hegemony that mainline Protestantism enjoyed 50 years ago.

Mainline Protestantism had collapsed into a death spiral.

Evangelical/Pentecostal Protestantism, which was practically a sect 50 years ago, has replaced it as the largest and most influential form of Christianity in the US.

Catholic numbers have remained relatively constant because their massive losses (1/3) have been offset by a significant number of converts and huge Hispanic immigration.

Catholic losses are supplying two groups: evangelicalism (almost 5% of US population are Catholics who have become evangelicals) and the non-practicing (5% of US population are Catholics are not affiliated with any religious tradition).

For every US evangelical/Pentecostal who becomes a Catholic (roughly 1.8 million), 8 American Catholics have gone in the other direction (roughly 14 -15 million). The 8:1 ratio.

The disproportion is even greater among Hispanics. 20% of Hispanic US Catholics become evangelicals or Pentecostals.

Those who consistently evangelize, "win" in a culture in which individuals tend to "re-choose" their religious affiliation as adults.

The Kingdom Without the King

Rich Leonardi, over at Ten Reasons, has an interesting post on "Regnocentrism" and Pope Benedict's response to in his book, Jesus of Nazareth.

"Renocentrism" is Leonardi's term for what I call "Reign of God theology". I've posted about it before on other blogs (before ID existed). As Pope Benedict puts it:

Since that time, a secularist reinterpretation of the idea of the Kingdom has gained considerable ground, particularly, though not exclusively, in Catholic theology. This reinterpretation propounds a new view of Christianity, religions, and history in general, and it claims that such a radical refashioning will enable people to reappropriate Jesus' supposed message. It is claimed that in the pre-Vatican II period, "ecclesiocentrism" was the dominant position: The Church was represented as the center of Christianity. Then there was a shift to Christocentrism, to the doctrine that Christ is the center of everything. But it is not only the Church that is divisive -- so the argument continues -- since Christ belongs exclusively to Christians. Hence the further step from Christocentrism to theocentrism. This has allegedly brought us closer to the community of religions, but our final goal continues to elude us, since even God can be a cause of division between religions and between people.

Therefore, it is claimed, we must now move toward "regnocentrism," that is, toward the centrality of the Kingdom. This at last, we are told, is the heart of Jesus' message, and it is also the right formula for finally harnessing mankind's positive energies and directing them toward the world's future. "Kingdom," on this interpretation, is simply the name for a world governed by peace, justice, and the conservation of creation. It also means no more than this. This "Kingdom" is said to be the goal of history that has to be attained. This is supposedly the real task of religions: to work together for the coming of the "Kingdom."

A quick and dirty take on some of the assumptions of this understanding of the mission of Christ and the purpose of the Church would be:

1) multiple economies of salvation (Jesus is salvific only for Christians at best);

2) repudiates the crucifixion as in any way redemptive because that would place an act of violence at the very center of God's purposes;

3) asserts that the Incarnation is an end in itself (God just wanted to share human life so much) and that objective redemption was not the purpose of Jesus' earthly life;

4) regards Jesus not primarily as Savior but as Announcer/Prophet of God's reign;

5) regards the Church strictly as a prophetic servant of the Reign of God which is independent of the Church and much more important; and

6) understands liturgy as a celebration of community which prepares us to go out and work for God's reign.

As Pope Benedict points out: "But the main thing that leaps out is that God has disappeared; man is the only actor left on the stage."

The Kingdom without the King. Instead of the Kingdom flowing out of relationship to the King.

Of course, much of the impetus behind the development of "reign of God" theology was an experience of an impotent/corrupt/self-satisfied local Catholic community who did little or nothing to aid the poor and aided and abetted their oppressors. The King was sacramentally present but the fruit of a transforming relationship was not.

According to Mission of the Redeemer, 16, the Kingdom ( Reign) of God is already present in the person of Jesus. It is slowly established in humanity and the world through “a mysterious connection with him.”

What is that mysterious connection? One of the main ways the kingdom is established is through the life-changing fruition of sacramental grace in the lives of individuals and then whole communities (often sparked by and fostered by those same individuals whose charisms and vocations emerge out of a living relationship with Christ).

Changing structures of injustice takes a long, anointed, patient, enduring, sacrificial obedience in the same direction. To change large scale, complicated structures of injustice takes many such people who engage it as a personal vocation and spend their lives doing so because Christ has called and is sustaining, inspiring, and guiding them.

The Kingdom emerges out of obedient relationship with the King.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Mom's William Tell Overture


(hat tip Clarity's Place)

When You've Lost 10% . . .

10% of all Americans are EX-Catholics.

Did that get your attention? Where did I get this? Is it true? What does it mean?

Via Time:

"The report, released today by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, is the first selection of data from a 35,000- person poll called the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. Says Pew Forum director Luis Lugo, Americans "not only change jobs, change where they live, and change spouses, but they change religions too. We totally knew it was happening, but this survey enabled us to document it clearly."

According to Pew, 28% of American adults have left the faith of their childhood for another one. And that does not even include those who switched from one Protestant denomination to another; if it did, the number would jump to 44%. Says Greg Smith, one of the main researchers for the "Landscape" data, churn applies across the board. "There's no group that is simply winning or simply losing," he says. "Nothing is static. Every group is simultaneously winning and losing."

The percentage of the American population that is Catholic has remained fairly constant but that stability hides a lot of change:

"The Pew report shows that of all those raised Catholic, a third have left the church. (That means that roughly one out of every 10 people in America is a former Catholic, and that ex-Catholics are almost as numerous as the America's second biggest religious group, Southern Baptists.) But Catholicism has made up for the losses by adding converts (2.6% of the population) and, more significantly, enjoying an influx of new immigrants, mostly Hispanic."

Of those Catholics who leave, almost half joined Protestant groups. About half of ex-Catholics have no affiliation with organized religion, the Pew survey found, while a small percentage chose other faiths.

No wonder practically every cradle Catholic in American has a long list of family and friends who no longer practice. (I've been keeping count of those cradle Catholics I met who have never left the Church and all of whose siblings never left. After asking thousands of people about this, I think I have found 20.)

For more on this see my post: The 8:1 ratio.

Other fascinating results:

1) There have been many complaints about the "feminization" of Catholicism in recent years about St. Blog's and often the Orthodox are held up as a more masculine alternative:

According the the Pew poll - ALL forms of Christianity in the US are majority female.

Both the Catholic, Orthodox, and mainline Protestant communities are 54% female, Evangelical Protestants are 53% female, and Mormons (stunningly) are 56% women. Traditional black churches top out at 60% female.

If you want a majority male religion in the US, you need to look at Judaism (48% women), Buddhism (47%) Islam (46%) and Hinduism - the ultimate testosterone zone at 39% female membership.

2) Catholicism is dramatically less "white" that any other form of US Christianity at 65% Anglo.
Evangelicalism is 81% white, mainline Protestantism is 91% white (!!!!), and the Orthodox are 87% white.

3) Overall percentages:

Evangelical Protestants are the largest single group in the country at 26.3%
Catholics are second at 23.9%
Mainline Protestants are third at 18%
Historically black churches at 6.9%

Nearly 50% of Americans have left the faith tradition of their childhood. No wonder stories of conversion from X to Y are so common in our culture.

Because in the US, the classic Catholic working assumption that "inculturating" a child into the faith of its parents will ensure that it will follow that faith in adulthood is clearly not taking into account an enormously powerful cultural tide.

Notice that 2.6% of US Catholics are converts - an amazing figure compared to the rest of the world. To hold our own, we must evangelize.

Because in the US, God has no grandchildren.

It's Mission Time . . .

Missioning tonight. And all week

In Colorado Springs at Holy Trinity Church. The first night of a 4 night Lenten mission with Fr. Mike Fones.

We'll also be doing a Lenten mission next week at Corpus Christi parish here in Colorado Springs.

Be sure and say "Hi" if you are an ID reader.

So I Will be at home for the next 10 days and you can expect more blogging - once I've reviewed and refreshed my grasp of the mission!

The Church: Lean and Mean, Big and Messy, or Huge and Holy?

The Gospel for today issues a challenge to us - as always. It's Luke's version of the rejection of Jesus as a prophet by the people of his own hometown, Nazareth. The crowd turns on him pretty dramatically after Luke mentions that "all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth" (Lk 4:22).

Several commentators I read this morning indicate that the turn of events hinges on the stories that Jesus tells in this pericope. In both cases, prophets of God are sent to minister to Gentiles, even though the need for the same ministry among the chosen people was great. Jesus identifies himself as a prophet who will reach beyond the religious boundaries of Judaism. This incensed a people who felt that they were the chosen of God, and who though of Gentiles, as one commentator quoted, as being "created as fuel for the fires of hell."

I mention this because I have read and heard of Catholics who long for a smaller, holier Church. They look at the exodus of Europeans from their parishes in the wake of growing secularism, and basically say, "good riddance." And while Jesus advises his disciples to shake the dust of towns that reject the the apostles and Gospel from their sandals (Lk 9:5), he also tells parables of God seeking out the lost (Lk 15).

The Church exists to evangelize, according to Pope Paul VI
Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection. (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14)

If people leave the Church in the wake of advancing secularism - or for whatever reason - we dare not simply accept that situation. I can not reconcile the command to love my neighbor and the willingness to let them leave the embrace of the Church. The temptation is to convince myself that they have knowingly rejected the Gospel, when, in fact, they may never have been fully evangelized in the first place.
For the Church, evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new: "Now I am making the whole of creation new." But there is no new humanity if there are not first of all new persons renewed by Baptism and by lives lived according to the Gospel. The purpose of evangelization is therefore precisely this interior change... (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 18)
The questions that each of us must ask ourselves is, "have I undergone such a conversion?" As parishes, we must ask ourselves, "do we reflect the kind of transformed life that is itself a sign of transformation and new life?" (E.V., 23) The proof of my having been evangelized is that I now desire to share the good news I have received with others. This makes perfect sense. I remember the summer day in 1977 when I learned I had been accepted as a member of the McDonald's All-American marching band. It meant I had free trips to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, along with opportunities to make great music, meet kids from all over the country, and get to do some great sightseeing in those three cities. I had opened the letter from the McDonald's corporation fully expecting a rejection. In fact, I had even forgotten auditioning by tape some eight months previously. I couldn't wait to tell someone - anyone - and I was home alone, and it seemed that all my friends were away from their homes. It was a good hour or more before I could share my "good news," and I thought I was going to explode!

Pope Paul VI put it this way,
Finally, the person who has been evangelized goes on to evangelize others. Here lies the test of truth, the touchstone of evangelization: it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn.
I believe we have to take evangelization and conversion much more seriously - beginning with our own deepening conversion to the Lord. As a friend of mine is fond of saying these days, "What - or who - is your God?" The more I focus my life on Jesus, God incarnate, and seek to worship Him alone, the more His grace will transform me and prepare me to evangelize with my life and my words. God's desire for His Church, I believe, is that it be both huge (even universal) and holy - a spotless bride.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Johnny and the Church Cats

A mother looked out a window and saw Johnny playing church with their three kittens.

He had them lined up and was preaching to them. The mother turned around to do some work. A while later she heard meowing and scratching on the door.

She went to the window and saw Johnny baptizing the kittens.

She opened the window and said, "Johnny, stop that! You'll drown those kittens."

Johnny looked at her and said with much conviction in his voice:

"They should have thought of that before they joined my church."

thanks, Pat!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Millennials and the Priesthood

Cheryl Hall, a business columnist for the Dallas News, wrote an article on Millennials that caught my attention. Millennials are the kids who were born after 1980. You may remember them as the generation whose parents (baby boomers) had the first "baby on board" signs hanging on the rear windows of their mini-vans. Their childhood was much more highly structured than mine, and featured "play dates," Mozart in the womb, more organized sports option, and much more affirmation than Gen-Xers, who could be stereotyped as the latchkey kids.

Problem is, all that affirmation and coddling is having a negative effect in their work performance.

Owen Hannay is the 45-year-old principal of Slingshot LLC, whose Dallas agency is known for its leading-edge marketing. He's put a moratorium on hiring Millennials, the newest cohort to enter the workplace.
It's not that millennials lack the creative genius or technological know-how that he's looking for. Far from it, he says. It's more that they lack the real-world grounding it takes to deal with responsibility, accountability and setbacks.

"They wipe out on life as often as they wipe out on work itself," says Mr. Hannay, who let go more than a dozen millennials from his 130-person staff over the course of 2006.

That's when he stopped hiring them. "They get an apartment and a kitty, and they can't cope. Work becomes an ancillary casualty. They're good kids with talent who want to succeed. That's what makes me nuts."

All true, says Ms. Looney, a certified reality therapist and retired director of children and family ministry at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church. And many employers are backing away from hiring them because they're so high maintenance.

"They've been overparented, overindulged and overprotected," she says. "They haven't experienced that much failure, frustration, pain. We were so obsessed with protecting and promoting their self-esteem that they crumble like cookies when they discover the world doesn't revolve around them. They get into the real world and they're shocked.

"You have to be very careful in how you talk to them because they take everything as criticism."..."If you want to get the best out of the millennials, you have to invest in them. You have to give them a mentor to teach them how to navigate the adult world," Ms. Looney says. "You have to tell them in black and white what your expectations are for them and what the consequences will be if they don't meet those expectations."

"These are kids who have a bunch of participation awards. They think they should be rewarded for showing up at work. You have to say, 'No, no darlin'. You're paid to show up. But you have to do a good job to get a raise.' "

Employers need to play to this group's significant strengths. Millennials are highly educated, well-traveled, goal-oriented, technologically superior and great team players.

While making generalizations about any group of people, especially when the group is simply formed by age, is a tricky proposition, it's still kind of interesting to muse on what Millennial seminarians and pastors might be like. Perhaps we can make sure their formation addresses some of these issues.

For example, if millennials work well with others, that may bode well for the next crop of priests. They may be more likely to work as a team with their staff and with the lay members of their parishes. Their technological savviness may be a boon in parishes that have been slow to consider the use of the internet, podcasts and blogs for connecting with parishioners and for the purpose of evangelization. Their creativity might translate into better preaching and teaching.

On the other hand, they are not likely to meet much criticism in seminary, nor are they likely to find failure. Seminaries may be a bit over-anxious to make sure that a fellow passes his courses and is ordained, since there's such a lack of priests in most dioceses. And what happens when Fr. X becomes a pastor, and various parishioners come to him with competing demands and expectations that conflict? Or what happens to Fr. Y when the full weight of his responsibility hits: daily preaching, counseling, teaching, sick calls, hospital anointings, parish and finance council meetings, chancery meetings, etc.? Every pastor I know has to face criticism and comparison with the previous pastor.

One possibility might be to make sure that Millennials have mentors. We might naturally expect the mentor to be a priest, and often that is the model - a newly ordained priest is placed with an older priest who can help show him the ropes. Unfortunately, those mentor priests are seldom if ever trained as a mentor, and may have precious time to devote to mentoring. It doesn't seem to be much of a priority. And mentoring goes way beyond spiritual direction. It would have to address the reality that a priest is to be a man of God for others. That may be hard for men whose self-esteem was nurtured in an artificial way as children, or who were given the impression that life really was about them and their needs.

Mentoring should include an understanding of the difference between collaboration and delegation, the mission of the Church and the role of the laity in it. The newly ordained will likely need to know how to work with pastoral councils, including the importance of having a pastoral plan.

And finally - but most importantly - the mentoring should help the young priest focus on the importance of his own discipleship, which may have been lost somewhat in the overly academic environment of the seminary.

It would be interesting to pursue the possibility of training mentors specifically to work with the newly ordained. Some would be priests, of course, but why not also deacons and theologically trained lay men and women? This might be one way a diocese invests wisely in her priests, and may avoid lots of heartache down the road for both the ordained and the laity.

Pundamentals of Life

Energizer Bunny arrested. Charged with battery.
A man's home is his castle, in a manor of speaking.
A pessimist's blood type is always B-negative.
My wife really likes to make pottery, but to me it's kiln time.
Dijon vu. The same mustard as before.
A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but you mean your mother.
Shotgun wedding: A case of wife or death.
I used to work in a blanket factory, but it folded.
Electricity comes from electrons. Does morality come from morons?
A hangover is the wrath of grapes.
Is a book on voyeurism a peeping tome?
Dancing cheek-to-cheek is really a form of floor play.
Sea captains don't like crew cuts.
Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?
A successful diet is the triumph of mind over platter.
A gossip is someone with a great sense of rumor.
Without geometry, life is pointless.
When you dream in color, it's a pigment of your imagination.
Reading whilst sunbathing makes you well-red.
When two egotists meet, it's an I for an I.

hat tip: Pat A.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Prayer request!

Brothers and sisters in Christ. I ask you to join the Western Dominican friars in a novena for one of our members, Fr. Thomas Kraft, OP. He is a few years older than me, and was recently diagnosed with stage four cancer. The cancer is not only
in his lower esophagus and upper stomach, but has also been found in his liver. Our Provincial, Fr. Emmerich Vogt, OP is asking all of the brethren to pray a Novena for Fr. Thomas to Mother Teresa. Tom has known with her priests and sisters for many years and has great devotion to her.

The novena will begin this Monday, February 25. I thank you for joining us in prayer for this wonderful priest. I have included a little biography of Fr. Tom below the prayer asking for Bl. Teresa's prayers.

Prayer for Canonization of Mother Teresa

Jesus, you made Blessed Teresa of Calcutta an inspiring example of firm faith and burning
charity, an extraordinary witness to the way of spiritual childhood, and a great and
esteemed teacher of the value and dignity of every human life. Grant that she may be
venerated and imitated as one of the Church's canonized saints.
Hear the requests of all those who seek her intercession, especially the petition I now
implore: the healing of Fr. Tom Kraft, O.P.

May we follow her example in heeding Your cry of thirst from the Cross and joyfully loving
You in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor, especially those most unloved
and unwanted.

We ask this in Your name and through the intercession of Mary, Your Mother and the
Mother of us all. Amen.

Fr. Tom Kraft, O.P. was born and raised in Spokane, WA. He is the second of four children born to Gene and Julia Kraft. As a grade school boy, he was blessed to live across the street from the Poor Clare monastery, where he served Mass for many years. The nuns were and still are a powerful spiritual influence in his life. Just two blocks down the street from the Kraft residence is the parish of St. Francis of Assisi. There, Fr. Tom enjoyed going to grade school and participating in all the activities of the parish and school. He delighted in serving mass and meeting many Franciscans, who were a positive influence in his vocation.

Fr. Tom attended a Jesuit preparatory school followed by two years at Gonzaga University and three at Eastern Washington University. Since grade school, he felt the call to be a priest and seriously considered entering the Franciscans while at the University. After graduating from college, he was blessed to work in a volunteer program in the archdiocese of Seattle. By the grace of God, he lived close to the Dominican parish, Blessed Sacrament, where he attended Eucharist. After Mass one day, a Dominican asked him if he had ever considered becoming a Dominican priest. He did not know what it meant to be a Dominican. Over the course of the year in Seattle, he was drawn to the Dominicans and the priesthood. After being accepted, he entered the novitiate in 1977, made vows in 1978, and was ordained a priest at the Oakland Cathedral in 1986.

His first assignment was at the Arizona State University Newman Center. There he found a wonderful ministry to the college students; he loved working with young Catholics. He continued his service to students by serving six years at the University of Utah Newman Center.

One of his interests was the Spanish language; he studied the language as a hobby. Soon he desired to study full time and was given permission to study Spanish in Bogotá for seven months. After completing his studies, he was blessed to be assigned to the new Dominican mission parish in Mexicali, Mexico where he worked for eight and half years. He treasured the years of serving the poor and needy of Mexico.

After such a unique assignment, he decided to get back into Newman ministry and was assigned to the University of Washington Newman Center for three superb years.

During this time his mother died of cancer and his father’s health began to fail. He decided to request a year to be close to his father so he is presently serving in University Ministry at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. There he is the coordinator of a retreat program and faith sharing groups among the students.

Fr. Tom loves the Dominican life and preaching. He lives the Dominican motto of contemplare et contemplada aliis tradere: to share with others the fruits of your contemplation.

The Holy Father and US Politics

John Allen has an interesting little reflection on what Pope Benedict may say in the U.S. that could have an effect on the elections coming up in November. Will he say anything to indicate he favors one candidate over another, or one party over another?

Allen points out that if Pope Benedict XVI talks about the right to life, that that would favor John McCain, should he receive the Republican nomination, whereas if he speaks about ending the U.S. involvement in Iraq, that would favor whatever Democratic candidate emerges. Most likely, he'll discuss both. It's no secret that the Vatican sees both parties as significantly flawed, Mr. Allen points out.

He concludes his comments with what I hope more Catholics take to heart. That if we want our society to change, that change will be much more likely to happen if we Catholics begin living our faith and become leaven in our places of work, our schools, our parishes, and in our political parties.

In light of these considerations, I suspect the political subtext of Benedict’s April trip is unlikely to have much to do with the dynamics of the ’08 elections, since the Holy See, in tandem with many American Catholics, regards both parties as flawed. Instead, I suspect Benedict is likely to try an “end-run” around partisan politics, and talk instead about the formation of a Catholic culture in the United States capable of acting as a “leaven” within the existing formations, trying to transform them from the inside out.

That’s a more ambitious, and long-term, aim than sending signals about McCain, Obama or Hillary, but it’s likely to be Benedict’s message. What the pundits and spin-doctors do with it, of course, is another question.


Charisms, Healing, & Discernment Resources

Off to the great Salt Lake for the weekend. Back Sunday.

Meanwhile, since there is a really good conversation doing on about healing and the charisms on the post on Raising the Dead and the Kingdom of God below, I thought I would point out the obvious.

Many of the questions about charisms and healing below are addressed in our Called & Gifted workshop. You can either attend a live workshop (check out our calendar here) if we are offering one near you or you can get it on CD (be sure and get a copy of the Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory which is an important part of the process and normally taken by everyone who attends a life event).

We also have lots of other discernment resources in English and Spanish in our webstore.

Discerning charisms is a great Lenten exercise!

The New Evangelization is Alive and Well in Soho

One remarkable initiative in England is happening at St. Patrick's Church in Soho, London: St. Patrick's Evangelization School. (SPES) At. SPES, young adults spend 9 months being formed spiritually and in terms of the New Evangelization. It is one of the very few programs of its kind in the UK and is parish-based.

Anyway, I came across the SPES student's blog (Hope in the Heart of Soho) and this description of an outreach in the north of England that took place last May:

Christ Alive in the North

We're just back from a weekend up north, staying with Fr. Richard Aladics in Huddersfield. He's on his own in an area that is largely lapsed (and also the product of a drug and binge drinking mentality) and he feels that if he is to do anything significant there then he needs the help of a community. 'It's not a parish, this - it's missionary territory.' On Friday he held a prayer and healing hour in his church, and we spent the morning handing out flyers as he processed through the streets blessing them with Holy Water and saying 'May the peace of Christ reign here!' We also handed out flyers at the local Catholic primary school. For the prayer and healing hour Fr. Richard heard confessions as we prayed before the Blessed Sacrament, and then he blessed individual people with the Blessed Sacrament as they came up. He said to us there were more parishioners there than at any other event he had held in the parish.

On Saturday we went to Bradford to help the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal with their event: Christ Alive in Bradford! A tent had been put up in the green, in which there was an afternoon of talks, testimonies, adoration, a May Crowning of Mary, and praise and worship. Fr. John Wilson from Leeds gave a particularly good talk on the Eucharist and the family, stressing the importance of families spending time together and praying together. The weather was not on our side for most of the day, but that did not stop the friars and the rest of us from going downtown to invite people to the event. A few people came to the tent from off the streets, merely because they were curious, but left noticeably changed. It was a wonderful event and hopefully the first of many like it.

There are a number of these wonderful schools of evangelization around the world where young adults can live in community and receive both personal formation and formation for evangelism. I've blogged on some of them before here.

But how important it is for those of us who haven't had that opportunity to also have some experience of true Christian community, apostolic formation, discernment, and mission. And the parish is the only place where 99% of us will ever experience anything like it.

At St. Patrick's, prayer and mission is at the heart of everything. Eucharistic Adoration takes place from 11 am to 6 pm everyday and Mass is celebrated in Portuguese and Chinese. And there is a school of evangelization right at the heart of things. This is a very tough neighborhood. At least 1000 addicts and 60 brothels are found within the parish. But the parish has responded in some very creative ways, including the SOS Prayerline, operating at the top of the church's Victorian tower, in which the School of Mission students take the time to pray with and for the callers. The telephone line is open from 7pm to 11pm seven days a week (0011-44-20- 7434 92111). It is not a counselling service but rather a service that helps callers offer their prayers and petitions of all kinds to God, who is exposed in the Blessed Sacrament in the room where the telephones are answered.

Another move that met an important need in London was the 2003 opening of St Patrick's London Fertility Care Centre, offering expert help to individuals and couples seeking alternatives to artificial contraception and artificial reproductive technologies.

For more on St. Patrick's and its remarkable pastor and community, check out this article in the May, 2005 edition of AD 2000.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Raising the Dead and the Kingdom of God

It has happened throughout Christian history. St. Dominic raised a Roman boy from the dead in front of a number of highly intelligent witnesses, for instance. We have their testimony which has been preserved as part of his canonization process. It is the experience of the resurrection power of Jesus Christ breaking through at its fullest.

But here's a medically documented story from February 1, 2008 news story on Palm Beach, Florida television station WSVN. (Hat tip: Mark Shea)

A well-known, local cardiologist tells the story:

Jeff Markin: "I drove to the Garden's Hospital, went in, took out my wallet and fell on the floor with a massive heart attack."

For 40 minutes doctors and nurses in the ER tried to revive him. When they couldn't get his heart started again they called for Dr. Crandall, who was doing rounds in the hospital at the time.

Dr. Chauncey Crandall: "As I entered the ER it was like a war zone. Here was this lifeless body on a stretcher."

The doctor couldn't do anything and could only confirm what everyone already knew, Jeff was dead. He had gone almost an hour without a heartbeat, and his body was starting to decompose.

Dr. Chauncey Crandall: "His face, his arms, his legs were pitch black with death. I said, 'Let's just call the code, let's end it because there's no life left.'"

As Dr. Crandall turned to leave, he says he got another call this time, a call from God to pray.

Dr. Chauncey Crandall: "A voice told me to turn around and pray for that man. I looked down at the body, and I said, 'Lord, what can I pray for this man? He's gone.' All of a sudden these words came out, 'Father, I cry out for this man's soul, if he does not know, you raise him from the dead.'"

Despite protests from doctors and nurses who were preparing Jeff's body for the morgue, doctor Crandall insisted they shock him one more time.

Dr. Chauncey Crandall: "So that doctor came over with those paddles and blasted that man and, all of a sudden, instantly a perfect heartbeat came up on the monitor. The stomach started moving, the chest started moving. This man started breathing on his own, and I said, 'This man has been prayed for, he has been brought back from the dead by prayer in the name of Jesus.'"


He woke up to a second chance, one that can't be explained by medicine or science. As Dr. Crandall puts it, the only answer is divine intervention.

Dr. Chauncey Crandall: "You are speaking to a scientist, a cardiologist, someone who loves medicine. I've never, ever seen this. There are always people that do not believe these events, and I will just tell them that it did happen. It was a real story, a real life that was restored."

What is interesting is that Dr. Crandall also mentions in the interview that he routinely prays for his patients.

Dr. Chauncey Crandall: "If you come in with a problem into our service, we are definitely going to treat you with conventional medicine, but we are going to believe it too. We are going to attack it with conventional medicine, and we are going to attack it with prayer."

He calls himself the Christian physician because he prays with each heart patient he sees at his Palm Beach practice. The difference, he says, is dramatic.

Dr. Chauncey Crandall: "The reason I pray for people is because I found, early in my trained practice, that there were miracles, unexplained healings."

The healer with a charism of healing. We've heard these kinds of stories from other medical professionals who exercise their professional skill and the charism of healing together and who see astonishing clinical results that definitely transcend the clinical norm. And I've met priests who are used in this way, through the sacramental ministry and outside of it.

My brother, who is a chiropractor who seems to also have a charism of healing, has a remarkable tale, which I've told before in my series on Independent Christianity.

Last summer he accompanied a team of volunteers from his evangelical church to build a house in an extremely poor Indian village in southern Baja. My brother is an experienced chiropractor who has pioneered new techniques and traveled around the world teaching them. Gary was treating local people when a frail woman was brought in who had suffered from a serious and very painful dislocation of the elbow for 3 years. Gary hesitated. There was no way to obtain an x-ray. Treating such a neglected injury in a woman who was already fragile without proper diagnostic tools is very tricky and he was afraid that he would hurt her. As he struggled to decide what to do, a local Protestant pastor suggested that he pray. Gary did so, asking that the bones align themselves properly.

My brother said that the woman’s arm started to quiver and then, with a loud pop that was heard all over the room, the elbow slipped into place by itself. The woman had full strength almost immediately. The visiting team asked the woman to share her healing with the teen-agers on the trip so that they would know that they could expect great things from God. My brother joyfully summed it up this way: “The whole experience was what church should be like.”

I once did a gifts interview with a woman who had had a international healing ministry for 30 years and described the experience of seeing the dead raised. I, of course, tried to affect a calm, matter of fact professional air about the whole thing and asked simply. "Hmmm. Raising the dead? Can you describe what you did and what happened step by step?"

Dang if she didn't want to talk about it but really wanted to talk about something else. Bummer.

There is such a need for the healing ministry out there. If you are interested in getting some top notch training in this area, I'd like to suggest the Institute for Christian Ministries in Seattle. Founded by a Dominican friar, Fr. Leo, who lived in the same priory with Fr. Michael Sweeney at Blessed Sacrament parish in Seattle, ICM combines the best of professional pastoral care with a confidence in the supernatural power and love of God to heal. The Formation in Healing Ministry Program is a portable two year training that produces teams of three who pray in a direct and sustained way for those sick in body, heart, or spirit.

During my Seattle days, I interviewed dozens of ICM alumni and so I have some sense of the remarkable things that happen when they pray. Fr. Mike brought the Formation in Healing Ministry Program into the Newman center in Eugene when he was pastor and had a wonderful experience with it.

As Fr. Leo used to say " wherever God's love is present, healing occurs." This is one big incentive for discerning the charisms you have been given and for facilitating the discernment of others. All the charisms are healing in the broader sense because all of them make God's love present. And then some in our midst are given the specific, narrow gift of healing and restore life and hope to so many.

Luke 10:9: "Cure it those who are sick and say, The Kingdom of God is very near to you."

Hungry for Spring?

This gorgeous photograph of a hummer enjoying a Lucifer Crocosmia (one of Fr. Mike's favorites from his gardening days in Eugene and one he has recommended to me) was the 2007 winner of the Dutch Gardens Best Flower Portrait.

I see Fr. Mike's point. Guess I'm going to have to plant me some Crocosmia this year. And consider my hummer-garden options.

This Weekend

Fr. Mike is due back in CS today from his missioning sojourn in Texas. Which allows him one blessed and badly needed day off before he has to begin missioning again - but this time closer to home at Holy Trinity Church in our fair city of Colorado Springs.

When I get back from this weekend's hop over the snowy Rockies to Salt Lake City to teach a Called & Gifted workshop at the Newman center, I will be joining Fr. MIke at the Holy Trinity Lenten mission.

Meanwhile, this coming weekend will also see our Boise teaching team putting on a Called & Gifted at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist (I goofed when I blogged earlier that the Boise workshop happened last weekend. Last weekend was a Spanish language C & G in Moses Lake, Washington.)

What is nice is to realize that when I return from SLC, I will actually have 11 consecutive days at home before blasting off for Portland, Oregon. Not vacation days, you understand. Two parish missions, a consultation, and lots of other stuff - including blogging. But 11 days where I sleep in my own bed rather than a plane. Only the hard core road warriors out there can fully appreciate what that means.

God bless our many wonderful traveling teachers! I can't tell you how exciting it is to regularly read glowing evaluations from events around the country that I had nothing to do with! Like the upcoming Called & Gifted workshop in Greenville, South Carolina (February 29/March 1) where Mary Kaufman of Cedar Rapids - who also teaches seminars on the Theology of the Body - and our 2008 summer intern, Joe Waters - a grad student at Duke and the Dominican House of Studies in DC - will hold forth.

We have such quality people giving up their weekends to jet around the country for us. And 9 more from around the country, waiting to be trained. And most excitingly, several of these new teachers are bi-lingual (Spanish-English)!

It is also great fun to have people come up at events and say "I read your blog." So, if you are an ID reader, be sure and introduce yourself. We'd love to meet you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Parish As a House of Formation for Lay Apostles

The whole concept of the parish as a house of formation for lay apostles. It's being discussed in interesting places and not just by us.

First of all Deacon James Kennedy's thoughtful essay in Envoy here. (Note: Envoy magazine is now part of the Envoy Institute at Belmont College in North Carolina).

Here's an excerpt:

Where real Eucharistic community exists, one sees fruit in bold public witness. If I think my Catholicism is private, I would be unwilling to risk my job, profession, or, in the case of politicians, an elected office, in order to stand up for what is true. Why should I risk all only to find that no one is there to help restore my life and pick up the pieces when my witness to Christ has been rejected and I am fired or lose an election. Barring negligence or fanaticism, it should be the rule of the Catholic community to support any layman spiritually, economically, and emotionally when authentic witness to the Gospel costs him or her dearly in the secular world. Without such a community rule, who would reasonably risk public sanction? The Pope informs us that "all the members of the People of God — clergy, men and women religious, the lay faithful — are laborers in the vineyard. At one and the same time they all are the goal and subjects of Church communion as well as of participation in the mission of salvation. Every one of us possessing charisms and ministries, diverse yet complementary, works in the one and the same vineyard of the Lord" (CL 55). So we need to first develop community through sacramental worship, charitable service, and formation in the Word of God and then send people forth to be leaven in the secular world.

Then over at Koinonia, there is this intriguing Orthodox version of the same conversation where Fr. Gregory Jensen writes:

What I am purposing is this: Taking seriously the concerned outlined by Nichols, Neuhaus, MacIntrye and others could we not as Orthodox Christians (and, Catholics, Protestants and Evangelical Christians could do this as well), establishes mission communities whose mission is not to grow, but to form missionaries, lay catechists, seminarians, monastics vocations and above all active lay Christians committed to the work of the Church in all areas of life?

and from the comments:

When I wrote “An Immodest Proposal” what I had in mind was not so much an academic community as it was a mission parish that would be established with the intention of focusing on the catechetical and spiritual formation of men and women as disciples of Christ. This formation would be guided by the tradition of the Orthodox Church certainly, but it would also be open to the insights of other Christian traditions as well as different secular arts and sciences.

What would I think make this mission unique would be the willingness of the community to focus not on its own numerical and material growth, but rather to have no more as a community than necessary to fulfill its fundamental mission: To create Orthodox Christians disciples for Jesus Christ.

We've been babbling about this everywhere we have gone for the past decade. (For more, check out our presentation in Rome on the subject The Parish: Mission or Maintenance?

Much as I resonant deeply with writers like Russell Shaw, James Kennedy, and Fr. Gregory, it seems from their writing that they are describing an ideal whose need they see very clearly - but which they either have not seen happen in real life or have seen only rarely (for instance, Kennedy's reference to the vibrant adult Sunday school in his parish).

The good news is that it is really happening out there. In real parishes. Not perfectly. Partially, Often stumbling and uncertain. But really. And lives are really being changed.

In places like San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, Boise, Ann Arbor, Manchester, New Hampshire, Greenville, Colorado Springs, and even merry old London.

Feel free to let the rest of us know about great lay formation going on in your parish!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Milestones in the Lay Apostolate

A couple of milestones of the lay apostolate:

1) Eduardo Bonnin, one of the lay founders of the Cursillo movement, died early this month. He was 90 years old and part of the movement since he was 26. In the 64 years since Eduardo attended the first Cursillo, this powerful evangelization tool has spread all over the world. It is estimated that 45 million people within and outside Catholicism, have attended a three day Cursillo.

2) The St. Vincent de Paul Society will be celebrating it's 175th anniversary in April. It was in 1833 that 7 college students at the University of Parish, decided to go personally to the poor and meet their needs. One of those students was 20 year old Frederic Ozanam. They were responding to this challenge: "One day, a student, praising the scepticism of Lord Byron, objected: "Christianity has done wonders in the past; but now it is dead! You, who boast of being Catholics, what do you do? What are your activities, activities which prove your faith and which might persuade us to adapt it?.”

This small group of students meet at 38 Rue de Saint Sulpice on 23 April 1833, the Feast of Saint George, at eight o'clock in the evening, (The parish of St. Sulpice in Paris has been a center of pastoral and apostolic innovation for centuries).

The movement spread like wildfire and had already reached the US by 1845. Today, there are nearly a million members of the Society of Saint-Vincent de Paul present and active in 132 countries in the 5 continents. Two thirds of the Conferences to be in developing countries. This month, the Saint Vincent de Paul Society was nominated for the Nobel Prize.

One point, at least, is obvious. Despise not the day of small things. All great things, almost all vocations start small - often because one man or woman senses "Jesus wants something done about this" takes the first, next, obvious, small, practical step. The step they can take right now.

And never underestimate what God will do through your small obedience or the cumulative power of a long obedience in the same direction.

Mini Peaceable Kingdom

Answered Prayer

Praise God. Carol McGee of Boise (who I had asked your prayers for last week) left the hospital yesterday. It is still unclear exactly what caused her very serious illness. Doctors told her that if she had waited 4 -6 more hours to see help, she probably would have died. But the wonderful out-pouring of prayer, love, and care on her behalf has really made the whole experience a mysterious blessing, As Carol wrote on her website:

Dear Friends and Family:

I've been thinking for days about when I could get on this web site - about what I could possibly say to you. I'm overwhelmed!! And words just don't come. The love and support and prayers for me and my family have forever changed me. I can only imagine that for most people, it's their funeral where they hear the stories, the caring, and what they really mean to the people in their lives. I got to hear it on this side. And I can say with every ounce of confidence and belief that I am loved. Thank you for loving me back to health. I have been literally covered in prayer, and this is going to take the rest of my life to grasp and understand.

So thanks to all of you who prayed for Carol!

The Strangers in Our Midst

Great post by Michael Scamperlanda over at Mirror of Justice on the immigration debate:

On Feb.1, 2008 in Napa, California, Archbishop Gomez of San Antonio addressed a special meeting of Latin American bishops on immigration.

He began by reminding his audience that the Holy Family and their flight into Egypt has provided a powerful symbol of migrants. "For many decades, the Popes have held up the Holy Family in exile as a sign of Christ’s solidarity with all refugees, displaced persons, and immigrants—in every time and in every place. In his exile in Egypt, the infant Jesus shares in the fears and worries of all who are forced by violence and need to rise and flee their homelands seeking a better life in a new land that is not their own.

"Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has said: “In this misfortune experienced by the family of Nazareth . . . we can catch a glimpse of the painful condition in which all migrants live . . . . the hardships and humiliations, the deprivation and fragility of millions and millions of migrants” (Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2007, para. 1)."

After assessing the current political situation, Archbishop Gomez offered his reflections on the root causes of immigration, the church's teaching on the contours of a just immigration law and policy, and practical concrete steps for resolving the current crisis. The full text of his insightful, prophetic, and nuanced remarks can be found here.

At the end of his remarks, Archbishop Gomez spoke to a critical issue that, IMHO, transcends the immigration debates.

"But before I leave you, I want to talk about one more area that deeply concerns me. In the bitter debates of recent years, I have been alarmed by the indifference of so many of our people to Catholic teaching and to the concrete demands of Christian charity.

It is not only the racism, xenophobia, and scapegoating. These are signs of a more troubling reality. Many of our Catholic people no longer see the foreigners sojourning among them as brothers and sisters.

In some ways we are back to the debates of the first evangelization. Then the Church, in the person of brave pastors like Bartolomé de las Casas, had to fight to establish that the indigenous peoples of the New Worldwere truly and fully human, worthy of rights.

To listen to the rhetoric in the U.S.and elsewhere it is as if the immigrant is not a person, but only a thief or a terrorist or a simple work-animal.

Throughout the lands of America, we need repentance and conversion to the Gospel. We need to restore the truth that the love of God and the love of neighbor have been forever joined in the teaching—and in the person—of Jesus Christ.

“As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40).

Pope Benedict said in Deus Caritas Est that with Christ: “Love of God and love of neighbor have become one. In the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God” (no. 16)."

Isn't this problem - a problem that has been evident in the immigration debates in Oklahoma and elsewhere - part of a larger problem in our society where we so often fail to see the other as another "I"?

Of Multiple Catholicisms and Evangelical Transfer

As you can tell - I'm back. For 4 days.

Fr. Mike is doing his mission thang in Texas, then he and I will be joining forces again for two back-to-back missions here in Colorado Springs. But first I have to do a Called & Gifted in Salt Lake City next weekend. At least, I'll be sleeping in my own bed for most of the next two weeks. Beats sleeping on an airplane - something at which I have become exceptionally accomplished.

Loved the John Allen piece on Catholicism, Texas style, which Fr, Mike blogged about below. Allen's comment on the multiple Catholicisms of Texas - or the country - and the phenomena of "evangelical transfer" is absolutely dead on.

We have worked with two of the groups he mentioned as examples of "evangelical transfer": the Catholic Charismatic Center and Our Lady of Walsingham Anglican Use Parish. In fact, our Houston teaching team includes a priest from the Companions of the Cross (the religious association of priests responsible for the Charismatic Center) and Barbara Elliott, who is a parishioner at Our Lady of Walsingham.

Two more disparate approaches to the liturgy would be hard to find: the rarified solemnity of the Anglican use (complete with a host of intellectually inclined Anglo converts and a life-size replica of the original Holy House of Walsingham as the "Lady chapel") and the big box sanctuary and praise band (not to mention heavily Hispanic) worship of the Charismatic Center.

I have long thought that the relative vibrancy of Anglo American Catholicism is because of the continuous challenge of evangelicalism. It is great to have someone with Allen's credibility and bully pulpit say the same thing.

And I loved this:

At our student group meetings, ask a Catholic kid to pray and rather than reciting the 'Hail Mary' they're probably going to say something like: 'Father, we really just thank you Lord, we just want to give praise to you,'" Konderla said. "It sounds very much like what they hear from their Protestant friends in the dorms and sororities."

LOL! It was true when I was an evangelical student and it's amazing to see that they are still just praying "we really just want to thank you Lord!"

So deeply ingrained is this style of prayer as evangelical that I had a woman in Oklahoma come up and ask me if my teaching partner, Mark, was a Protestant. She did so because when I asked Mark to pray at the beginning of our sessions, he did so spontaneously and fluently, in his own words. You know, like the Baptists who surround the little parish in Prague. The irony is that was Mark, not I, who was the cradle Catholic on our team.

Unless Catholics live in a total ghetto, there will always be transfer from and to the majority culture. Traditionally, Catholics have been more comfortable with this than have Protestants. The question is: is it faithful, smart, discerned transfer that truly reflects the embodiment of the Gospel in this time and place or is it a transfer that obscures or denies a significant part of the faith?

I've said this before in my essay "When Evangelical is Not Enough" but here's the formula that I have found to work exceedingly well.

We must not believe that by default, we must follow evangelical models in order to be effective as evangelizers and formators. As Catholics, we have evangelizing assets in the Tradition, the sacraments, the Eucharist, and the communion of saints that evangelicals have not dreamed of. In my judgment, the most fruitful response Catholics can make to the challenging success of the evangelical movement is to return to the fullness of the apostolic Tradition with renewed expectations, asking, "How does knowing Christ change lives?" and then let the Tradition speak. Trusting in the fullness of Church teaching and letting it address the challenges of their times and experience has always been a source of tremendous creativity for saints and apostles over the centuries.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Retail Catholicism

From the dining table of Fr. Shane Tharp in Prague, Oklahoma. (pronounced Prayge)

Last night, Fr. Shane (who is also a blogger), Mark Egbert and I went out to dinner at a quintessential local joint - a old filling station converted into a restaurant where I enjoyed local Okie fried catfish but turned down the okra. Fr. Michael Sweeney would have liked it - he always insisted on eating at "Joints" where the locals eat wherever we were and abhorred fast food. Taking that once in a life opportunity to eat fried Oklahoma catfish would have appealed to him.

Anyway, the food was good and the conversation sparkling as Fr. Shane is a very lively and sparkling kind of guy. He is pastor of a small town parish with an average Sunday attendance of 140 and the Shrine of the Infant of Prague - a devotion about which I had only the vaguest idea before. Fr. Shane explained that it is a devotion to Christ as King in his infancy. Since it developed out of a private late 16th century Spanish family's devotion, the Infant wears the elaborately ruffed and frilled royal clothing of the period and has spread throughout large parts of the world -especially those with Hispanic cultural backgrounds such as the Philippines where every province apparently has its own version of the Infant and the Madonna.

The many, many faces of American Catholicism are fascinating. Despite the homogenization of our culture through the mass media, St. Wenceslaus, Prague is still definitely not St. Dominic's, San Francisco. As our Australian co-Director put it when we took her on a little jaunt to Taos, New Mexico " I was told before I came that the US isn't one country, it is at least 6 countries in one."

The little parishes of the great plains, usually founded by central Europeans farmers and ranchers, Germans and Czechs, who have lived there for generations (almost everyone in the workshop was born in the area, which is extraordinary in my experience) are a whole 'nother world. People of the land, stoic, hard-working, enduring. (One woman rushed out as the workshop ended: "I have to feed the cows!" she gasped). The land is mostly flat and the wind blows hard. Breakfast was traditional Czech pastries. Small Catholic communities are immersed in a lake of (you guessed it) Baptists and Pentecostals.

This weekend, our teachers put on events in a wealthy, huge, suburban southern California parish like St. Kateri Tekakwitha, in the Cathedral in Boise, Idaho, in little St. Wenceslaus and way down in Palesteen, Texas. Last week was the"blue dot in a red state" university town of Bloomington, Indiana. Last week was also South Carolina and Bob Jones University territory. All of them different universes that you have to imaginatively enter because you have to try to understand and speak to their lived reality of Catholics in this place.

The faith is universal but the living of the faith, like politics, is local.

It is easy to forget that Retail Catholicism is where the action is, is where God is entering this world, where God is encountering and saving people. The faith as she is lived - catfish, Kalochees (sp?) and all - in Prague, Oklahoma.

Note: Fr. Mike rose from the proverbial dead on Thursday morning to our great delight and so was able to go on to Texas. Thanks a million for your prayers!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Effects of a Rising Religious Tide

John Allen has an interesting article on the effects of Evangelicalism on the Catholics of Texas, which you can read here. Since I'm in Texas this week doing a parish mission at the historic Sacred Heart Church in Palestine ("PAL - uh - steen", as the locals pronounce it) I found it particularly interesting.

I was told that Catholics make up about 4% of the population in east Texas, and the vast majority of folks here are Baptists. The parishioner who picked me up at the airport - 90 minutes away - told me the parish of 800 families was a mix of dwindling Anglos and a rapidly increasing number of Latinos, all led by a jovial Indian pastor, Msgr. Zacharias Kunnakkattuthara.

Allen looks at the wide variety of "Catholicisms" in Texas and makes one broad generalization that rings true in my ears:

The moral of the story is that competition (within the limits of civility and mutual respect) is as healthy in religion as it is in any other area of life.

Texas thus offers a classic American illustration of a basic principle of religious sociology -- where there is religious ferment of any sort, there is likely to be Catholic dynamism too. Far from being threatened by pluralism, for the most part Catholicism ought to welcome it. To invoke a classic Aggie formula, a vibrant religious marketplace is basically “Good Bull.”

I found this to be true in my two years in Salt Lake City, UT, the heart of Mormonism (the soul of Mormonism is further south, in Provo). The Catholic community was much more tight-knit (but not uptight), better catechized, and clearer about the essence of Catholicism than other places I have been, simply because the so-called "dominant culture" was, well, so dominant. Catholics in Utah, in general, had to know their faith because it was constantly being questioned. They were also less prone to attack one another over liturgical preferences and more likely to support Catholic education.

Often, being Catholic meant making sacrifices that normally aren't encountered in areas that are more heterogeneous. I was told by Catholics there that sometimes their children might be excluded from activities organized by their Mormon playmates' families, or that when seeking jobs they felt their chances weren't enhanced when they were casually asked outside the interview, "what ward to you attend?" But because so many Mormons took their faith seriously, Catholics responded, and took their faith more seriously, too.

Now, if we all could pursue our relationship with Jesus and His Church more intentionally in the face of a secular culture that is well, enthusiastically secular, we'd be in much better spiritual shape!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lenten Radio Series in Portland

Greetings and salutations from frozen Bloomington, Indiana where Fr. Mike and I are currently conducting a mission. Fr. Mike picked up the virus I had last week so he is resting a lot here while I am taking the opportunity to catch up on e-mail.

Update: Fr. Mike is too sick to speak tonight so he will stay in bed while I hold down the fort by myself. A doctor friend will be making a house call tonight which is great because Fr. Mike is scheduled to start another parish mission in Texas on Saturday. Your prayers for his recovery would be greatly appreciated!

Mary Sharon Moore, one of our traveling Called & Gifted teachers, writes to let us know about a radio Lenten series that she is producing for KBVM radio in Portland: Check it out!

My daily two-minute meditations, "Journey With the Word," is online at On the KBVM home page, click on "Listen Now," and follow the prompts.

The series airs in the mornings, Mondays through Saturdays, at 6:20 a.m. (Pacific Standard Time), and on Sunday mornings at 7:00 a.m. (Pacific Standard Time). The series repeats in the afternoons, Monday through Friday at 4:00 p.m. (Pacific Standard Time).

Each segment looks at the Lectionary readings of the day through the lens of vocation, asking: Vocationally, what do these words mean for my life?

The series runs through Pentecost, and will be aired on a few other Catholic radio stations throughout the United States, as well. If your local Catholic radio station would like to air the series, encourage them to contact me to request the audio files. They're free!

Friday, February 8, 2008

A Cabbie Goes to Heaven

Perhaps God is more interested in effectiveness than we are...

A cab driver reaches the Pearly Gates and announces his presence to St. Peter, wo looks him up in his Big Book. Upon reading the entry for the cabbie, St. Peter invites him to pick up a silk robe and a golden staff and to proceed into Heaven.

A preacher is next in line behind the cabbie and has been watching these proceedings with interest. He announces himself to
St. Peter. Upon scanning the preacher's entry in the Big Book, St. Peter furrows his brow and says, "Okay, we'll let you in, but take that cloth robe and wooden staff."

The preacher is astonished and replies, "But I am a man of the cloth. You gave that cab driver a gold staff and a silk robe. Surely I rate higher than a cabbie."

St. Peter responded matter-of-factly: "This is heaven and up here, we are interested in results. When you preached, people slept. When the cabbie drove his taxi, people prayed."

Headin' Out

Blogging will be sporadic, depending upon availability.

Your prayers would be most welcome:

for our travels (not just Fr. Mike and I but all our teachers) and the fruitfulness of our labors and many encounters and conversations.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

I'm His Favorite?

Received a tee shirt in the mail yesterday from a wonderful, long term fan of the Institute's work.

It reads: "Jesus loves you - but I'm his favorite."

Couldn't help but laugh. Especially in light of the discussion that Fr. Mike and I had yesterday about our upcoming parish missions. Our life and spiritual stories could not be more different.

He, the cradle Catholic never-left-the Church-makes Eagle-Scouts-look-dissipated-mid-western boy who has done everything right and whose life has been remarkably free of tragedy or great loss.

Or me - whose life has not been - well - like that. Even as a small child.

So who is Jesus's favorite?

In my lowest moments, there is sometimes no question in my mind about who got favorite child status.

But is that true?

Jesus had some pretty clear things to say about who was God's favorites. But it can be very hard to hold onto in real life.

Of course, at the end of all our journeys, none of that will matter. For obvious reasons, I have always been very fond of
C. S. Lewis's idea in his fantasy: The Great Divorce: that heaven once achieved, works backwards.

"Ye can get some likeness of it if you say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. . .all this earthly past will have been heaven to those who are saved. . .all their life on earth, too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell.

Both processes begin even before death. The good man's past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven. . . .Ah, the saved. What happens to them is best described as the opposite of a mirage. What seemed, when they entered it, to be the vale of misery turns out, when they look back, to have been a well and where present experience saw only salt deserts memory truthfully records that the wells were full of water."

Which means, providing we both end up in the same eternal home, it won't much matter how different our journeys were. Because both of us will discover that we were the cherished, if unlikely, apple of God's eye.

We Are All Sons of St. Dominic

Meanwhile, the "relics" keep 0n harboring the poor and reconciling enemies in places like Kenya.

From the National Catholic Register:

The post-election, intertribal turmoil in Kenya had not reached the Dominican compound, set on a hillside near Kisumu, when a man approached in early January posing an ominous question.

What tribes did the people inside belong to, he wanted to know?

The man left before police arrived, and without learning that the priests were harboring about 30 refugees from three tribes -- Meru, Luo and Kikuyu. Dominican Fr. Martin Martiny, head of the compound, instructed guards on how to respond if the question came again. Tell anyone who asks that “we are all sons of St. Dominic,” he said.


Read the whole piece and pray for the religious and other peace-makers of Kenya.

Reports of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Interesting how this works.

It is all over the news this morning - there was a world-wide drop in Catholic religious of nearly 10% in 2006 and the world-wide total had dropped below 1 million. This is based upon a back page article in L'Osservatore Romano on Monday which gave the annual report on Church statistics.

Per Catholic World News:

Between 2005 and 2006, L'Osservatore Romano reported, the number of male and female religious in the world dropped by nearly 95,000. The entire religious population now stands at just over 945,000.

On Tuesday, a Vatican spokesman issues a correction (via MSNBC)

The total of men and women in Catholic religious orders in 2006 stood at 945,210, which is 7,230 fewer than the previous year, said a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini. He said an article Monday in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, had overstated the decrease.

No one seems to know where either the figure of 95,000 or 7,230 came from. But the gap between a "nearly 10% drop" and a 7/10th of 1 % drop (not nearly as sexy) is dramatic, A drop of only 7,230 in 2006 would mean that the number in 2005 was already well below 1 million - at 952,440.

Oh, and by the way, there was a blip upward in diocesan priests The Vatican's statistics office said the total number of priests worldwide stood at 405,000, with an increase of 600 diocesan clerics.

None of this is a surprise to those of us who do the math every year. The roughly 405,000 figure for priests has held steady for nearly 10 years now. But the neatness of those images "nearly 10%" and "under 1 million" captured some headline writer's imagination.

Then Associated Press really outdid itself on Wednesday, adding to the figures a couple of quotes from a two year old speech by Pope Benedict.

As quoted by MSNBC:

'Churches appear to be dying'

The Vatican has long lamented a decrease in the number of priestly vocations in Europe and elsewhere in recent years, while the number of priests has increased in Africa and Asia.

The Osservatore Romano report did not give a reason for the recent figures.

Pope Benedict XVI said in a 2005 speech to Italian priests that the West was "a world that is tired of its own culture, a world that has arrived at a time in which there's no more evidence of the need for God, much less Christ, and in which it seems that man alone can make himself."

Mentioning Australia, Europe and the United States, the pontiff said in that speech that "one sees that the great churches appear to be dying."

There's the bottom line: "the great churches are dying".

One can only be surprised that the AP didn't also announce the time and place of the funeral.

Meanwhile, I suppose this means I ought to nice to Fr. Mike. Being a religious and rarer-than-hen's-teeth relic of a dying church and all.

I just may have to buy him that small Starbucks latte I owe him.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Prayer Request

An emergency prayer request for Carol McGee, whose has headed up our Called & Gifted team in Boise for the past 7 years. Carol was admitted to the ICU yesterday with stomach pains which have not yet been diagnosed and her condition is serious.
Carol has been a radiant disciple, evangelizer and formation leader in her parish and her diocese for 10 years and has had a huge impact upon many people - including us.

Your prayers for her healing, her family, friends, and her parish would be greatly appreciated.

Thursday Update:

Carol is doing better but still in the hospital. She seems to be responding to meds although they are also running
tests and won't let her out of the hospital until those tests come back. God is using your prayers on her behalf. Thanks to all of you who are praying for her!

Carol and her team are scheduled to put on a Called & Gifted workshop at the Cathedral in Boise in little over a week and another in Lewiston in March. Your prayers for her team and provision for those events would also be greatly appreciated!

What I'm Going to Do On My Lenten Vacation

I've been spending my 6 days at home in radio silence trying to recover from an aggravated chest cold in preparation for my upcoming 9 day marathon. Stay at home, rest, as little talking as possible, hot tea, tea, tea, etc. while working on the upcoming events. I'm a bit better every day. I even tried the Vicks on your feet remedy for coughing. My coughing did improve considerably but was that the result of the natural healing process or a product of the Vicks? Any one else have experience with this or is it an urban legend?

Here's the calendar for the next couple weeks:

Feb 8/9: Called & Gifted workshops at St. Patrick's in Ripon, CA
St. Michael's in Olympia, WA

Meanwhile, I"m off to spend Friday and Saturday in Greenville, South Carolina to train some folks to facilitate discernment

And Fr. Mike takes off for Bloomington, IN to begin his first Lenten mission at St. Paul's Newman Center at Indiana University where I will join him on Sunday. (We are doing this mission together - it runs Monday through Wednesday evenings, Feb 11, 12, 13.)

Then Thursday, I will be picked up by the illustrious Sandra Meisel and will spend the night at her house (and talk history/research stuff because she is the queen!). Sandra will drop me off at the Indianapolis airport Friday morning to catch
the plane to . . . you guessed it - Prague, Oklahoma!

Where I will met another denizen of St. Blog's - Fr. Shane Thorp - who is the pastor of St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church where I will be conducting a Called & Gifted workshop February 15/16 with Mark Egbert.

On Feb 15/16 there will also be Called & Gifted workshops in Moses Lake, WA (Spanish) and Santa Clarita, CA

Meanwhile, Fr. MIke will be toddling off to Palestine, Texas for his next Lenten mission (February 17 - 20) without me (We do occasionally let him go off on his own - a tricky thing when dealing with a Dominican)

And then I get 4 days off the road.

Which is why, you'll understand I've been sleeping alot in preparation. Mendicancy as a form of penance is part of the Dominican thang, so it's all Lenten in the very best sense.

Love to see any ID readers out there. Be sure and come up and say "hi!"

An Acceptable Time

We begin the "joyful season" of Lent today. That description usually sounds a little hollow in our ears, I suspect. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving usually don't make the top ten list of ways of expressing joy. Perhaps that in itself is evidence that our lives are a bit our of kilter.

When Jesus is asked by a scribe to name the greatest commandment (a serious question for the first century Jew who was encouraged to keep all the commandments with equal energy), Jesus replies,
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments." Mt 22:37-40.
Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are practices meant to help us fulfill these two commandments. Our natural tendency is to focus on ourselves - to love and care for ourselves first, then our neighbor, and to place God last. Of course, the neighbor we tend to care for is the one who is like us, or who has demonstrated some love for us first. And while God's expectations of us are clear in the Scriptures, He doesn't seem to force them - or Himself - upon us from day to day.

Even the "give ups" we embrace at the beginning of Lent can really be self-centered. Some people give up chocolate or dessert (perhaps in the hope of losing a few stubborn Christmas-New Years pounds). Lent can become a time of "self-improvement" based on superficialities (less caffeine in my system, less time wasted in front of the TV). But Lent is a time of turning away from myself and back to God and neighbor, so why would I ask God for the grace to do that during Lent, only to return to my "normal" ways Easter Sunday?

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are intimately linked. In fasting, whether from food, a vice, or time-consuming activity, God invites me to deny myself in order to break the illusion that I my life is about myself. In fasting, God teaches me that my needs - which often are really wants - do not have to be filled in order for me to be content. Fasting also prepares a space in my life in which more prayer can take place. So in choosing your fast this year, ask yourself, "what activity has taken hold over my life in such a way that it is interfering in my relationship with God and/or my neighbor?"

Prayer is our conscious, intentional turning towards our Creator. It acknowledges our Source and our End, and places Jesus and His Father and their mutual Love, the Holy Spirit, nearer the center of our life. Perhaps our best prayer might be to acknowledge our complete dependence upon God and to beg that knowing, loving and trusting Him might become our greatest desire. Perhaps in prayer, God may reveal to us the idols that we have worshipped instead of him; idols like wealth, security, power, our favorite sports team, beauty, etc.

The prophet Isaiah links fasting with our relationship to our neighbor:
Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Isaiah 58:5-7
Again, we see that almsgiving also focuses our attention away from ourselves. The "fast" Isaiah describes requires us to see the needs of the oppressed, the imprisoned, the hungry, naked, and homeless. It demands that we expand our understanding of "our own" beyond the narrow confines of family and friends.

How is Lent a "joyful season"? Perhaps that answer lies in actually praying, fasting, and giving alms. Maybe being less selfish and self-centered, maybe being more focused on a lived relationship with the God who loved us so much that He came to share our life, will be its own reward.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

New Blog on the Block

Renee Horton, a friend of mine from Tucson, has managed to get the Tucson Citizen, the paper for which she writes, to let her start a new blog titled, "God Blog." It will have "Posts related to religion, spirituality and ethics and the intersection of those things with everything else: presidential candidates, Hollywood celebrities, immigration, the environment. . ."

I admire Renee's constant search for God, her candor, and her willingness to look for God in unlikely places, including the atheist with whom she has lunch regularly.

Good luck with the new blog, Renee!

No Worries

Just wanted to let you know that Pagosa Springs is doing fine in the snow pack department.

In fact, the whole state is doing well. All areas of Colorado have topped 100% of their average snowpack which is great news since 80% of our water comes from snowpack and we've just recovered from 5 years of drought.

Cause I know you were worried . . .

Forty Days for Life

Fifty-nine cities in 31 states across the country are participating in the Forty Days for Life campaign February 6 - March 16. It is the fifth annual event of this kind.

The first 40 Days for Life campaign was conducted in Bryan/College Station, Texas. A local pro-life group prayed for an answer about how to reduce abortion in their area, and the answer God gave them was 40 Days for Life. The campaign was put together in a matter of weeks, yet it activated 1,000 people and led directly to a 28 percent decline in abortions in that community.

Utilizing prayer, fasting, and non-violent, non-confrontational prayerful vigil before abortion clinics, the participants ask God to transform hearts as well as help women considering abortions to be aware of other options and to offer support.

Why 40 days? See the video below!

For more information, or to find out if 40 days for life is active in your city, visit their website here.

Happy Anniversary

Today my parents, Melba and Ted, celebrate their 64th wedding anniversary! They've been through a lot together, including three children, all of whom are practicing Catholics, and four grandchildren. My parents have always been wonderful examples of faith for me, and I am grateful for that - eternally so, I hope!

My mom is currently in a nursing facility which is part of the senior living campus where they live in Green Valley, AZ. She had not been eating well for some weeks and had lost weight and strength. She's eating more (I'm told) and doing some physical therapy to regain some strength and balance. Please keep her and my dad in your prayers.

The picture above was taken about five years ago when I was living in a small apartment at the University of Arizona Catholic campus ministry.

Extraordinary Grace in Cairo: The Garbage Village of Muqattam

Simply extraordinary. A riveting story that gives some sense of what God can do when one person answers and is doggedly faithful to a challenging call over a lifetime, even in one of the most difficult places on earth.

I have heard tales of an amazing work taking place among the garbage workers of Cairo since I was an undergrad. So it was
very encouraging to read this article from the February Lausanne World Pulse: Transforming Lives in Cairo's Garbage Villages.

Villagers collect garbage from city apartments and recycle it. They are the most despised group of people in Egyptian society. They are not paid by the government; however, they receive small tips from the people whose garbage they collect. The rest of their income comes from recycling garbage. It is one of the most ecologically efficient operations in the world as 90%of the garbage is recycled. But the human cost is terrible. Muqattam, now a thriving town of 30,000 began in 1970, when a community of several thousand Coptic garbage workers were forcibly resettled in an abandoned quarry at the foot of a small mountain.

Thirty years ago, Fr. Samaan, a Coptic Orthodox priest "gave up his job in the city to become an ordained priest in the garbage village. When he began, the village had no churches, schools, electricity, water, medical care or markets. It was just garbage, people and pigs. When thousands were brought to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, the first thing they wanted to do was build a church—and Father Samaan became their priest. Today, the garbage collectors are filled with love and motivation from God. This is what changed their village. The village is a bustling, hopeful community of thirty thousand people. They still collect garbage; however, they now have three schools, a hospital and many churches.

Blessing in Caves

The churches are located in caves that were blocked by rubble. It was only when one small cave was discovered that residents realised they were surrounded by caves. While that first cave was being converted into a chapel, residents found another one that is now used for church services of up to four thousand people. They soon realised that another cave could be transformed into an enormous amphitheatre to seat fifteen thousand people. “Regular church services are held there and people come from all over Cairo—not just from the garbage village—to worship with other Christians,” Rebecca explains. “It is the only place, other than the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, where Christians can meet in large numbers in Egypt.”

Father Samaan now pastors the largest church in the Middle East and one of the best known in Egypt: St. Simon the Tanner Coptic Orthodox Church in the Mokattam garbage village.

The cave churches have become something of a tourist attraction as you can understand when you see this series of pictures of this extraordinary place and its extraordinary community.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Take A Virtual Medieval Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Via Boise State, a wonderful virtual medieval pilgrimage to the Holy Land, with lots of pictures, following the adventures of Count Fulk from start to finish.

It is intended to take hours to browse, so don't say I didn't warn you . . .

Good Friends are Like That

There is a field with two horses in it.

From a distance, each horse looks like any other horse. But if you stop your car, or are walking by, you will notice something quite amazing.

Looking into the eyes of one horse will disclose that he is blind. His owner has chosen not to have him put down, but has made a good home for him.

This alone is amazing. If you stand nearby and listen, you will hear the sound of a bell. Looking around for the source of the sound, you will see that it comes from the smaller horse in the field.

Attached to the horse's halter is a small bell. It lets the blind friend know where the other horse is, so he can follow.

As you stand and watch these two horses, you'll see that the horse with the bell is always checking on the blind horse, and that the blind horse will listen for the bell and then slowly walk to where the other horse is, trusting that he will not be led astray.

When the horse with the bell returns to the shelter of the barn each evening, it stops occasionally and looks back, making sure that the blind friend isn't too far behind to hear the bell.

Like the owners of these two horses, God does not throw us away just because we are not perfect or because we have problems or challenges.

He watches over us and even brings others into our lives to help us when we are in need.

Sometimes we are the blind horse being guided by the little ringing bell of those who God places in our lives.

Other times we are the guide horse, helping others to find their way....Good friends are like that... you may not always see them, but you know they are always there.

hat tip: Andy Lambros

Give thanks today for the people whose bell you've heard and followed. For whom might you be wearing a bell? Have you looked around to see how they're doing in their walk with Christ, lately?

An Unorthodox Joke

A man appeared before St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. "Have you
ever done anything of particular merit?" St.Peter asked.
"Well, I can think of one thing," the man offered.
"On a trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota, I
came upon a gang of bikers who were threatening a young woman.
I directed them to leave her alone, but they wouldn't listen.

So, I approached the largest and most heavily tattooed biker and smacked him in the face, kicked his bike over, ripped out his nose ring, and threw it on the ground.
I yelled, "Now, back off, or I'll make you all wish you'd never been born!"

St. Peter was impressed. "When did this happen?"
"Couple of minutes ago."

Note: Just don't go getting the idea that we earn our way to heaven...

hat tip: Patricia Mees Armstrong

An intra-Orthodox Debate: Christ at the Center and the Revolving Door

A important debate is going on in Orthodox blogdom (which I have become aware of through Fr. Gregory Jensen's fine Koinonia blog)

The topic sounds, oh, so familiar. it is clearly not an issue unique to Catholics.

As articulated by theologian Bradley Nassif in a hard hitting article: The Orthodox Christian Opportunity.

The most urgent need in world Orthodoxy at this time is the need to engage in an aggressive internal mission of spiritual renewal or outright conversion of our clergy and people to Jesus Christ. All of us—bishops, priests, and people—need to make the Gospel crystal clear and absolutely central in our lives and in our parishes. We must constantly recover the personal and relational aspects of God in every life-giving action of the Church.

Read the whole article. As Nassif puts it with considerable passion:

Still, an untold number of converts are coming through the Church like a revolving door: They enter with zeal, but quietly leave depressed and disappointed. Few take notice, and even fewer seek to retrieve them. In some cases, the converts are even blamed by Orthodox for not really knowing the Church or its ways. Good and godly Anglicans, evangelicals, charismatics, and mainline Protestants who could strengthen the Church end up being shunned by Orthodox fundamentalists within it. Legalism replaces love; mere church attendance gets counted as godliness; some priests control their parishioners through fear instead of leading them with a gentle spirit; and the pulpit disagrees with the altar by focusing on moral reform rather than spiritual healing. Now this is not true of all Orthodox parishes, to be sure. But it is true of too many of them not to say something about it.

Converts are leaving our Church in increasing numbers. Not because of a disagreement with Orthodox doctrine, but because of the distortions of Orthodox practice. They or their families are simply not being fed the Gospel, despite all the liturgical celebrations that go on. They are finding our Church to be more about Orthodoxy as a religion than about the life-changing power of Jesus Christ risen from the dead.

This past year I have received more letters acknowledging this problem than at any other time in my life—and I’ve been preaching about it for the past 35 years. Orthodox people throughout North America and abroad are asking me how they can help change the Church for the better. They ask, “What can we do to regain the central message of the Gospel in our churches? What needs to be done to make the faith relevant to our everyday lives?”

I don’t have easy answers, but I do know where the answers lie. The Scriptures give us the cure, and their message is not complicated. So I say this every chance I get:

The most urgent need in world Orthodoxy at this time is the need to engage in an aggressive internal mission of spiritual renewal or outright conversion of our clergy and people to Jesus Christ. All of us—bishops, priests, and people—need to make the Gospel crystal clear and absolutely central in our lives and in our parishes. We must constantly recover the personal and relational aspects of God in every life-giving action of the Church.

If that happens, watch out! It will lead to a revival within Orthodoxy itself, and the Church will grow in unprecedented ways. We will figure out how to evangelize the unchurched people of North America, and not just disillusioned Christians of other denominations. We will all recognize that true Orthodoxy is indeed about the Church, but at the center of it all is a life-giving relationship with Christ, who is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:17).

As Fr. Gregory observed:

Convincing someone of the truth of the Orthodox faith, in my experience at least, is relatively easy. it is much harder to take people through the often long and labor intensive process of being inquirers, catechumens and then provide them, as newly illumined members of the Church, with the spiritual formation that they need to grow into mature, committed Orthodox Christians who place Christ at the center of their lives.

In every generation, in every tradition, in every one of our lives and vocations, the fundamental question is still the same: is a "life-giving relationship with Christ" at the center?

The Parish as a School of Vocation Discernment

Hurrah for Russell Shaw and this great article in America (2004) on the "vocation crisis".

D espite all the talk about a vocation shortage, there is in fact no such thing in the Catholic Church. The real shortage is that of vocational discernment, and that is a very different problem. The shortfall in the number of candidates for the priesthood, the consecrated life and other forms of Christian witness and service would quickly disappear if many more Catholics, and ideally all, made it a practice to discern, accept and live out their unique, irreplaceable callings from God—their personal vocations.


Personal vocation puts this matter in a radically different light. Everyone has a personal vocation, an unrepeatable call from God to play a particular role in his redemptive plan and the mission of the church. The task of each is to discern God’s will, accept it and live it out. That is responding to the universal call to be holy.

Contrary to an elitist view of vocational discernment, which tends to treat it as an exercise for a select few, discernment is for everybody. “The fundamental objective of the formation of the lay faithful is an ever-clearer discovery of one’s vocation and the ever-greater willingness to live it out,” Pope John Paul II says in his post-synod document on the laity, Christifideles Laici (1989).

To carry out this mandate, parishes need to become schools of vocational discernment—places where liturgy, catechesis and spiritual direction encourage parishioners to engage in continuing, prayerful reflection on what God is asking of them. The effort should start with children (in an age-appropriate manner) and continue with adolescents, young adults and adults at every stage of their life journey. Special opportunities—retreats, days of recollection—should be provided for those who have major vocational choices to make. The aim is discernment, not recruitment.

But, someone might object, won’t emphasizing personal vocation distract people from heeding calls to the priesthood and consecrated life? Won’t it make the real-life vocation shortage worse?

The answer is no. If many more Catholics practiced ongoing discernment regarding their personal vocations, many more would discover that they are called to the priesthood or consecrated life. The best solution to the dearth of new candidates—and to many other problems in contemporary Catholic life as well—is personal vocation. Indeed, it may be the only one.

Yes, yes, yes! a thousand times yes!

As Shaw points out, one possible reason for Catholic distrust of the idea of personal vocation is that it became associated with Martin Luther. Although it is a thoroughly Catholic concept, it has been thought of as "Protestant" and therefore, "not Catholic".

Imagine what would happen if the 19,000 parishes in this country were 19,000 centers of vocational discernment for all the baptized throughout their lives? What if - as we tried to articulate to the seminarians in Houston - priests and pastors were formed to govern - a central part of which is to call forth the charisms and vocations of all the baptized?

The possibilities boggle the mind. And means that the Institute won't stop its traveling ways anytime soon.

Time, Space, and the Computer Age

And on a related note:

This editorial in today's New York Times about how German teenagers view the collapse of Communism. They don't.

“Communism? What’s that?” said Ricardo Westendorf, 17, a student at the Carl-von-Linné school in what was East Berlin. “I think we talked about it in a history lesson, but I was ill.”

Three other students, born in 1989 and 1990, emitted withering sighs, the kind reserved by kids for parents who can’t get computers to work. Their teacher, Heike Krupa, 45, who lived communism and its East German police enforcer, the Stasi, was taken aback: “I’m a bit surprised they seem to know nothing about it.”

Felix Blanke, 17, another student, said he spent up to 20 hours each weekend on his laptop, holding group conversations via TeamSpeak or using MySpace. These kids’ friends are scattered from the Philippines to Seattle.

“For our parents, it’s all East or West, but for us it’s Germany and the world,” said Pia Von Cossart, 17. “They don’t realize their stories about the old times are boring.”

Hopefully, they will learn, as they grow older, about those who sacrificed so much so that they might grow up ignorant of communism - but there will never have the existential resonance that it has for their parents. The computer age has changed their sense of time and space.

Another symptom of this reality: the last 100 visitors to Intentional Disciples included visitors from 20 countries beside the US.

The Russians and Nigerians and Vietnamese and Sengalese are Coming and Coming and Coming . . . .

Abolutely fascinating.

The New York Times highlights the small but mighty Migration Information Services, the foremost source of information about migration around the world.

The short version?

Migration is growing everywhere - due to cheap travel, the internet age, the growing wealth of those in the developing world - in short - globalization.

There are 200 million migrants in the world today - probably a historical record and 80% are outside the US. While US wages are about 4 times those available in Mexico, wages in Spain are 15 times those in Senegal - which is why Spanish immigrants have grown 600% over the past 10 years.

One fascinating article about refugee resettlement in the US:

Of the 10 countries that carry out resettlement programs, the United States accepts more than double the number of refugees accepted by the other nine countries combined, resettling approximately 2.5 million people since 1975.

Though comprising only 10 percent of annual immigration to the United States, refugees are a distinct component of the foreign-born population in many US metropolitan areas.

And there are so many implications of this global reality for the debates within the Catholic community in this election year. For instance:

"over 1.4 million Indochinese have been resettled, and together with those from the former Soviet Union, they make up nearly 77 percent of the 2.4 million refugees who have been resettled in the United States since 1975."

My first job out of college was in refugee resettlement. Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Miao, Mien, Black Thai, ethnic Chinese from all over. Now I'm running into the children of those immigrants in seminaries

A couple of reflections:

1) We cannot discern rightly the application of Church teaching in this area unless we have a better understanding of the global reality, of which our experience in the US is only a part and not necessarily the most dramatic example. If globalization means that world-wide migration continues to climb and is a universal reality, what implications does that have for how we understand and implement Catholic social teaching in this area?

2) Multi-culturalism is the future of our clergy - and our parishes - in the US, especially in certain areas of the country. And no group - except possibly Hispanics, is going to be the overwhelming majority. (One of our priest C & C teachers has just been made pastor of the largest parish in his diocese, which is 80% Spanish-speaking!)

That means that the debates that have riven the Anglo Catholic world over the past 40 years - especially those that rose from the implementation of Vatican II - will take their place as one concern among many. The debates and concerns of these new immigrant groups are different because their historical experience is different.

The New York Times article about Migration Information Service ends with this anecdote provided by MIS's one staff person:

As for the difficulties that migration can bring, Ms. Kalia encountered them early when her uncle, who is Dutch and a Catholic priest, flew to California to baptize her baby brother. Her Hindu grandmother lived with the family, and locked herself in her bedroom, beside a Lord Krishna poster, until the uncle promised to desist.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Tag. You're It!

I was tagged by Fr. Gregory Jensen while in Houston.

Here are the rules:

Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. (No cheating!)
Find Page 123.
Find the first 5 sentences.
Post the next 3 sentences.
Tag 5 people.

The nearest book was sitting on my deck next to my computer: The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin. Honest.

p. 123:

that you may stand before God with as much zest as reverence, not sluggish, not drowsy, not yawning, not sparing
your voices, not leaving words half-said or skipping them, not wheezing through the nose with an effeminate stammering, in a weak and broken tone, but pronouncing the words of the Holy Spirit with becoming manliness and resonance and affection,
and corrently; that while you chant you ponder on nothing but what you chant

Many spiritual directors, including some of the saints, offer suggestions concerning methods in prayer. Francis de Sales, very
much influenced by his own experience of St. Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises, offers some suggested structures and formats for the practice of meditation and prayer. He suggests six steps as a guide to moving through a time of prayer.

1. Play yourself in the presence of God. Remember that God is near, not far away. He is in the very depth of your heart, your spirit. Being all your prayers, whether mental or vocal, in the presence of God.

Now I'm supposed to tag 5 people:

I tag Mark Shea, Fr. Mike, Gashwin Gomes, Aimee Milburn, and Tom Kreitzberg.


Elder Brothers and Sisters

A Cuban-born Jewish banker calls John Paul II "his hero" . Interesting.

15 years ago, Bernardo Benes received a copy of Letter to a Jewish Friend. Letter to a Jewish Friend was
written by longtime Vatican observer Gian Franco Svidercoschi and tells the story of the friendship between the young Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, and his Jewish school buddy, Jerzy Kluger. But for Benes, it revealed much more: The story of a childhood that foreshadowed the pope's efforts to build bridges to the Jewish community.

'By the time I finished reading this little book, John Paul had become a hero of mine,'' Benes says. ``I saw how he had had a lifetime commitment to better relations with Jews, and as a pope he had changed 2000 years of injustice.''

When John Paul II died in 2004, Bene attended the Pope's funeral in Rome where he met Jerzy Kuger. When Bene returned home, he felt that he had to continue the work that John Paul II had begun. Bene founded Our Elder Brothers and Sisters to do so through education.

If you are interested in Catholic-Jewish relations, this is a great group to check out.


We had a great trip to St. Mary's. A very hospitable and even occasionally rowdy crowd. Good reception and lots of good conversations with the international student body. More Anglo students than some seminary groups I've encountered but still lots of students from Nigeria, South America, Ireland, all studying for various Texas and Arkansas dioceses. etc.

St. Mary's has a most interesting event scheduled next week: the Institute for Priestly Formationn out of Creighton is offering a symposium on the priest as spiritual healer at St. Mary's. How I would love to be a fly on the that wall and listen in!

Relentless schedule. Only problem was no sound system Thursday evening which mean I had to strain my voice shouting to 60+ guys (and one woman - a sister) in an acoustically dead classroom. This greatly exacerbated the remnants of the cold I picked up in Seattle and my voice and throat became very irritated.

Got back at 11 am yesterday and went to bed. Have slept 13 of the past 23 hours. Plan to do as little talking and high energy stuff as possible over next 5 days until I leave for my next trip: three events in three states over 9 days.

But I can still blog! More in a bit.