Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Catholic Holy Land Communication Centre

Here's a interesting new apostlate: The Catholic Holy Land Communication Centre in Jerusalem

Per Spero News:

The new Holy Land Catholic Communications Centre based in Jerusalem hopes to provide information in five languages - English, Italian, French, Arabic, and Hebrew, according to FIDES.

The agency will provide news and information on the initiatives, life, and activity of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land. It will also serve as a centre for information, coordination and networking among the churches, parishes, and pastoral centers of the various Catholic rites that exist there.

The agency aims to contribute to the spread of reliable reports on the situations in the Holy Land, in response to the Church’s essential mission of announcing the truth.

For instance, I did not know that most Catholic churches in Palestine and Jordan are keeping the same liturgical calendar as the eastern Churches and celebrated Easter last Sunday! From the website, dated April 25:

Most Catholic parishes in Palestine and Jordan are celebrating the Holy Week. The date coincides with that of the Oriental Churches that follow the Julian calendar. The choice to celebrate together with the Oriental Churches has been made to underline the importance of the journey towards full communion.

The website has a brief introduction to each the various Churches that are in communion with Rome: Armenian, Greek Catholic, Maronite, Syrian Catholic, Caldean, and has a fascinating page on Arabic-speaking saints of the Holy Land.

One - ABUNA YAAQUB EL-HADDAD - will be beatified June 22.

The site has pictures, videos, and some valuable links to various Catholic churches and institutions in the Holy Land. It is worth adding to your blogroll.

Check it out

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

St. Catherine on Dominican Spirituality

St. Catherine on Dominican spirituality and preaching:

From a lecture on Dominican spirituality by Fr. Romanus Cessario, O.P. given at the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C (and a touch of Op humor!)

More Catherine Goodies

Susan over at Creo et Dios posts a lovely bit from St. Catherine's Dialogue here.

By the way, if you are looking for Catherine goodies, you've come to the right spot:

We've got her Dialogue, her Letters (Vol 1 and Vol 2), her Prayers, as well as copies of the wonderful icon of St. Catherine written for the Institute, and a lovely holy card.

Happy St. Catherine's Feast Day!

Happy St. Catherine's feast day!

Alas, I am celebrating by one last big push to get a big project out. There is no rest for the wicked!

But for those of you who have been good - there is a treat over at the invaluable Disputations where Tom has been carefully, and in the best Dominican manner, discussing the challenging content of one of St. Catherine's letters to a seeking layman.

Of course, when was Catherine not challenging in her letters?

When reading Raymond de Capua's biography of Catherine, I found myself overwhelmed, thinking " Did that woman ever spend 10 minutes in a normal, boring manner?"

You gotta allow for the hagiographic instinct - especially since Raymond was writing with an eye toward Catherine's eventual canonization.

There may possibly be time for more later. But in the meantime as Tom puts it:

In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary, happy Feast of St. Catherine of Siena!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Cultural Catholicism, RIP

From a excellent post this morning by Amy Welborn that is music to our ears (thanks to Keith Strohm for bringing to my attention):

Amy writes:

Here is the Catholic problem that I see when Benedict’s words bounce around my head. Let me see if I can say this concisely:

For hundreds and hundreds of years, the Catholic “way” of being in this world has been rooted in some assumptions. For my purposes, I’ll highlight this one: The Catholic Church is the Church founded by Christ. This is obvious to anyone with eyes to see and the relationship between one’s individual faith, Christ, and the Church is clear and intuitive.

Sherry's note: Of course, it isn't obvious anymore - not to the majority of those born and raised within the Church apparently (or the majority of our baptized members would not be awol) and certainly not for those outside and soaked in our post-modern culture. (who are nevertheless culturally disposed to seek a personal faith for themselves if we can be bothered to propose the Gospel to them explicitly and meaningfully).

"You take that, and mix it with 1500 years of being able to maintain this assumption without any competing viewpoints, and you have a formula for being ill-equipped to make those connections in the contemporary world."

Absolutely. The nice thing is that Amy can say this sort of thing without be accused of being a covert Protestant. :-}

And as I see it, this is the core of what Benedict is trying to help us all do. Focus on Christ, take an honest look at the world around us, the questions people ask and the reasons people don’t believe and then be in this world, as the Body of Christ, in a way that makes it clear that Jesus Christ came to answers those questions, quench that thirst, give eternal life, and that the Church is where he is found.

Yes! Yes! Yes! Which is exactly what our seminar Making Disciples is all about.

"In other words…the “new evangelization” called for by these last two Popes is not about reaffirming Catholic identity in some abstract or institutional sense. It’s about confidently believing that Jesus Christ is the answer and then just as confidently helping people see and experience Christ in the Church: in its spiritual tradition, sacramental life, teachings, artistic heritage and sacrificial service to the poor, sick and dying.

In other words: Cultural Catholicism, RIP.

What will rise in its stead?"

Exactly. If we are to avoid "reaffirming Catholic identity in some abstract or institutional sense" everything we do, all our institutions and traditions and the Church herself must be seen and proposed in light of their beginning and ending in Christ.

Help - My Anti-Charism is Showing!

I'm having problems with blogger. I want to post some You tube videos for St. Catherine's feast day tomorrow but
I no longer can simply copy the embed HTML and paste it. Anybody know how to do with the new blogger tools?

Whose (State of) Life Is It?

I wanted to make more public some reflections on state of life callings that would have been hidden in a thread on Sherry's post last Thursday on priestless parishes. One poster quoted Pope Benedict's comment on the importance of prayer and vocations:
"Prayer is the first means by which we come to know the Lord's will for our lives. To the extent that we teach young people to pray, and to pray well, we will be cooperating with God's call. So I think learning prayer, being prayerful people, is an essential point for the living church. Programs, plans, projects are necessary and have their place; but the discernment of a vocation is above all the fruit of an intimate dialogue between the Lord and his disciples."
Another poster responded by saying,
"In the 1996 apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata, John Paul revived the language of higher and lower vocations....Thus the consecrated life is objectively a higher expression of a universal vocation."
Marriage, celibacy and virginity all point to self-giving in Catholic theology, as every Christian, in imitation of Jesus, is meant to give themselves first completely to God, and then to other people. In his book, "The Holy Longing," Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, describes marriage as an exploration of the depths of human love, and celibacy/virginity as an exploration of the breadth of human love. But the common thread of the Christian life is self-giving love.

The idea of celibacy being a preferable condition to marriage is found in St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, and reflects his perspective that the present age is quickly passing away and that Christ's return in glory and judgment is imminent. He also refers to celibacy as a gift (in Greek, charisma) from God not given to all.

Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. Now to the unmarried and to widows, I say: it is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do, but if they cannot exercise self-control they should marry, for it is better to marry than to be on fire. 1Cor 7:7-9
If you marry, however, you do not sin, nor does an unmarried woman sin if she marries; but such people will experience affliction in their earthly life, and I would like to spare you that. I tell you, brothers, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away. I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction. 1 Cor 7:28-35

In Paul's mind, marriage could interfere with the relationship with Christ, even though he also sees marriage as a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the Church (Eph 5:21-28)

What can be forgotten in the discussion of these states of life is the fundamental call to discipleship and the nature of Christian life as one of continual self-gift. From the moment of our baptism we are directed towards others by virtue of the charisms we are given by God in that sacrament. They are for others, rather than ourselves. They indicate that whatever calling we pursue and whatever state of life, our life is not our own; we are Christ's.
“None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.” Rom. 14:7-8
My discomfort with the idea of celibacy being a 'higher' vocation than marriage isn't with the teaching, but with the practice. Certainly married people can be selfish - and the unhappiness of many marriages may well reflect that. But a celibate life is not automatically a sign of greater selflessness. It can be just the opposite. The freedom that I enjoy as a celibate can easily be turned to selfishness, particularly if I begin to take advantage of people who apparently feel sorry for me because, in their words, "I've given so much up." In the past week alone I have been offered several boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts, cash, a loaner bike to ride along with a helmet, bottles of Powerade and cash; a cake, a soda, and several free lunches.

Now, I suppose it's possible that some of this generosity is due to the fact that I'm such a lovable guy. Or, perhaps, I'm much more pathetic than I thought, and naturally elicit waves of pity from others.

But I think it's more likely that we've lost sight of the fundamental and universal call to holiness and discipleship. If we consider marriage - or just good 'ole sex - to be the greatest good, then, yes, I have "given up so much." But the religious life I've embraced is meant to point to the Kingdom of God and heaven, where Mt 22:30 says we live like angels, not given in marriage. My life is meant to point to a greater good even than sex and marriage - discipleship and the eternal union with Jesus that it leads to! In this sense my celibate life can said to be "higher" in that it points to a higher, eternal reality that we can easily forget: married, single, virgin, divorced, widowed, cleric, lay, religious, regardless of sexual orientation, we are the Lord's! If the primary relationship of the Christian is with Christ, then it is the married person who has "given so much up," not the other way around!

Let me buy a round of Krispy Kremes!

Called & Gifted: Minnesota Style

Thomas Hall, founder of, a sort of Catholic You Tube, writes about his experience of the small group version of the Called & Gifted process in Minnesota last weekend.

Tom had been invited to tell his story and received a warm welcome. He writes:

"The Called and Gifted seminar in a great idea. We all have received gifts, through Baptism and Confirmation, for the ways God intends his love to reach others through us. This seminar helps people discover these gifts! I hope these types of programs become widespread. I believe that many lay men and women want do more, but do not quite known how to discern God's call. This weekend, a group of wonderful and dedicated Catholics in Faribault, Minnesota are sacrificing their time with family to figure it out. God bless them."

Groups like the one Tom describes are meeting all over the country and other parts of the world from Cairns, Australia to Singapore. As the sister facilitating a discernment group in her mid-western parish wrote us last week. "The process is amazing."

What do we expect? When we start seriously attending to the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of real men and women, how could it help but be amazing?

Rome - Before It Was Catholic

Blogging has gotten short shrift lately - between work and spring time clean -up in the garden and expanding the irrigation system (this time for a 800 sf wildflower bed, one of many I have to fill)

Oh - and there's one more thing: I've been watching Rome: the HBO series recommended by a historian friend of mine, who raves about how that the series gets so many Roman attitudes right.

Especially religion.

Set in the Rome of Julius Ceasar and Cicero, and Cato, and Brutus and Pompey, the series doesn't attempt to portray the political and military history of the period with meticulous accuracy - but it does go to great length to portray characters operating from within a truly Roman worldview and the result is both amazing and disturbing.

Imagine a world without a concept of "morality" as we understand it - because there is no idea of universal right and wrong. (There was duty - to the state, to one's family, according to one's status is life.) "Universal human rights?" Unknown. Your "rights" were linked inextricably to your status, not intrinsic to your humanity. A single all powerful, God of self=giving love who is utterly committed to your good, to your ultimate, eternal, happiness, to your salvation, and desires an intimate relationship with you? A God whose character and purposes are pure, incorrupt, and utterly trustworthy? Unimaginable.

Because "God" as we understand him does not exist. Life is saturated with religion but it has nothing to do with right or wrong. It is a religion of fear - because the gods are to out to get you. There are gods for everything - from war to door hinges - and human beings spend their lives constantly sacrificing to (and you have to do the ritual exactly right or its no good) and placating these gods cause if you don't, these powerful, self-absorbed, divine and semi=divine bastards are going to make you pay.

So you invoke the gods to protect your child (as one character does by having a bull slaughtered above and being drenched in the bull's blood) and to destroy your enemy (in one of the most chilling scenes, an elegant matron curses her enemies and promises the gods she will rejoice and sacrifice to them if her enemies are destroyed).

As the historical consultant to Rome points out over and over here, our contemporary western ideas of right and wrong and assumptions about the universe are the outgrowth of Judeo-Christian values which are profoundly different from those that Romans knew before Christ. He also pointed out that many viewers liked the idea of having the "burden" of Judeo-Christian morality lifted from them.

Which is titillating, I suppose, if you are sitting in your clean, bright, safe 21st century living room watching your 50 inch plasma TV.

But what if you were one of the millions of slaves that were the source of Roman wealth. One of the startling things about the series is watching the casual way in which patrician Romans strike and whip their slaves on a whim. Slaves were regarded as being without a soul and kindness to a slave was considered weakness. Slaves who were to testify in court were required by law to be tortured first. Read St. Paul's Letter to Philemon in light of that reality.

Or if you were happily married and your father or mother simply informed you that you would be divorced and married to someone else. Marriage was not a sacrament and the pater familia retained total power over children through out their lives.

Husbands could beat their wives and children whenever they felt like it - to death even - if they were sufficiently displeased. (One main character, Niobe, lives in terror that her soldier husband will find out that she had an affair after being told that her husband had died in battle. Because as she tells her daughter, if he finds out, he will kill us all.) Now re-read Ephesians 4 and see how it sounds.

They tell of a actual letter written by a Roman man to his wife in which he ends matter of factly with this words: "About the child you are about to bear. If it is a boy, keep it. If it is a girl, expose it."

The cumulative force of watching human beings wrestling with the burden of life in a world devoid of the gospel and all it has generated over 2,000 years is stunning.

One of the two main characters (both Roman soldiers mentioned by name by Julius Caesar) is Lucius Vorenus. His is a poignant character. Although Vorenus is a dour, hard man, he is also naturally deeply religious and seems to be longing for a God really worth worshiping and a universe larger than the one he knows. I was irresistibly reminded of the Advent passages: "a people walking in darkness have seen a great light." How i longed to tell Vorenus that there was so much more.

Rome helps you sense in a new way the beauty, the power, the impact, the compelling quality of the gospel when first heard by men and women living in such a world.

It also illuminates anew the extraordinary willingness of the Father to give his son to and the Son to agree to be born into such a world.

The darkness of post-modern post-Christendom is not the darkness of the pre-Christian world. Many Catholic commentators have noted this but we tend to assume that the darkness we deal with is far worse.

Watch Rome and then we'll talk.

(Note: This is not a show for children. There is lots of sex, nudity, and violence and it can be hard even on adult stomachs and spirits. It is beautifully photographed and acted, compelling but dark as was the world it depicts.)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nearly Half US Parishes Share Pastor

Per the Emerging Models of Pastoral Ministry Conference that was held last weekend (and which we were strongly urged to attend but just couldn't manage). From Catholic New Service:

Reported the results of a four-year study conducted in response to ongoing shifts in the Catholic Church. The study, commissioned in 2002 by a coalition of six Catholic national organizations, received a $2 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to conduct the study and to assess its findings.

One finding:

With about 28,000 diocesan priests, 70 percent of whom are older than 55, the United States is moving toward clusters of parishes under the care of a single pastor, she said. Indeed, nearly half of all U.S. parishes already share their pastor with another parish or mission.

I've never seen a national figure like this but I'm not surprised.

A number of the dioceses we've worked with are busy cutting the number of parishes in half and twinning or merging communities.

What was announced in the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey three weeks ago (38 merged parishes, three parish clusters (involving six parishes) and 22 stand-alone parishes. The reconfiguration, when fully implemented, will bring about an overall reduction in the number of parishes from the current 124 parishes to 66 parishes.) is already present reality or the immediate future for many other dioceses.

The number of priests in the US will continue to decline until about 2015 when we should bottom out and stabilize.

But bringing the proportion of priest to lay Catholic back up to the pre-Vatican II level seems most unlikely. Yes, a higher proportion of Gen X/Millenial generation are becoming priests and religious - but since only 17 - 19% of those generations attend Mass every week (from which the majority of ecclesial vocations come), our overall numbers are not going to go up much.

This is a totally different model of priestly ministry than our practice and theology has assumed and one of the unintended effects of the fact that our Catholic population continues to grow.

What on earth would we do if the 75% of US Catholics who don't attend Mass every Sunday actually showed up? What if all the adults received at Easter were still there a year later?

Here's the deal. Our individual vocations are a mystery hidden in Christ and revealed through an extended relationship with Christ. Intentional discipleship is the source of all vocations.

If we create a culture of discipleship in our parishes today, we will change our tomorrow.

Padre Pio on Display

Padre Pio's body will be on display, starting today, according to CNN, the BBC, the Telegraph, and this interesting MSNBC piece, etc.

A million pilgrims are expected to see the saint between now and mid-September

Per Catholic Online:

SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, Italy (CNS) - The body of St. Padre Pio will be exhumed, studied and displayed for public veneration from mid-April to late September, said the archbishop who oversees the shrine where the saint is buried.

Archbishop Domenico D'Ambrosio, papal delegate for the shrine in San Giovanni Rotondo, announced Jan. 6 that he and the Capuchin friars of Padre Pio's community had decided it was important to verify the condition of the saint's body and find a way to ensure its preservation.

"A further motive for rejoicing," he said, stems from the fact that the Capuchins, with Vatican approval, "have authorized the exposition and public veneration of the saint's body for several months beginning in mid-April."

In addition to marking the 40th anniversary of Padre Pio's death Sept. 23, 1968, the public veneration of his remains also will coincide with the 90th anniversary of the day on which he was believed to have received the stigmata, bloody wounds recalling the crucifixion wounds of Jesus.

According to the Capuchins, Padre Pio received the stigmata Sept. 20, 1918.

Per the New York Times:

Capuchin friars at the sanctuary at San Giovanni Rotondo in southern Italy, where Padre Pio's tomb is visited by seven million pilgrims annually, said that "parts of the body" had been found to be "intact". Archbishop D'Ambrosio said the body was in "surprisingly good condition. As soon as we got inside the tomb we could clearly make out the beard. The top part of the skull is partly skeletal but the chin is perfect and the rest of the body is well preserved. The knees, hands, mittens and nails are clearly visible.........If Padre Pio allows me, I might say he looks as though he just had a manicure''. The body would be placed in a glass covered coffin for veneration on 24 April for a period of "several months".

The exhumation of the saint, who was credited with over a thousand miraculous cures, had been approved by the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The Congregation's Prefect, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, noted that the body of Pope John XXIII, who died in 1963, had also been exhumed when he was beatified, the step before sainthood. The body was found to be unusually well preserved.

Vatican officials said Padre Pio's body had been injected with formalin for burial but "no special measures" were otherwise taken to preserve his body.

Here are pictures of the thousands at San Giovanni Rotundo today. (Via AOL news)

One surprise: It is said that when Pio's body was exhumed, there was no sign of stigmata.


One of our C & G teachers had been healed from terminal cancer via St. Pio's intercession.

Anyone else have a Padre Pio story?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

First Native Priest To Be Ordained in Kazakhstan

Good news from Khazakhstan via Aid to the Church

CATHOLICS in Kazakhstan are preparing for the ordination of what Church leaders believe is the first priest to come from the country’s native population in modern times.

Up to 80 percent of Catholic priests and most of the faithful in the central Asian republic are foreigners with the rest made up of descendants of immigrants.

As a result, their outreach to the country’s native people is severely hampered but if all goes to plan the situation could change dramatically when on 29th June 25-year-old Ruslan Rakhimberlinov, a teenage convert to Catholicism, is ordained.

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, Ruslan’s bishop, Athanasius Schneider of Karaganda, central Kazakhstan explained: “This is a very historic event – the first ever.”

With his Mongolian physical features as is typical among natives in Kazakhstan, Ruslan is expected to make a big impression in a country where often the Catholic Church is often seen as very foreign.

Bishop Schneider, who will preside at the ordination ceremony, said: “I do not expect there will be an immediate reaction but when the people see him, they will I am sure become accustomed to him.”

For Bishop Schneider, the ordination is hugely important: “The Church has yet to be properly implanted and this is only possible with clergy native to Kazakhstan.”

Today’s Catholic community is made up of descendants of people from Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, who were deported to Kazakhstan during the Soviet era. Bishop Schneider said that around Karaganda there was a concentration camp and a series of control centres about the size of France.

Hence the wide gulf in society in Kazakhstan.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Message from a Dominican in Mosul

This brief note was forwarded to the members of my Province by our Provincial. It's from an unnamed friar in Iraq. I am sure that the anxiety and fear that marks the lives of Christians in Iraq is shared by many of their Muslim neighbors.
“As I am writing this message for you two explosions took place close to Mosul University which is nearby the Spiritual centre. Thank God nothing happened to the convent. All the sisters are safe. Thank God the student sisters were not at the university. They were at the convent. They are safe as well. We are fed up as the situation is getting worse day after day. We can no longer bear the uncertainty of the coming moments or persevere the great amount of the suppressed pressure, panic and fear. On Wednesday at a quarter to eight pm two cars exploded near Alsaa church. Fr. Phillip was with a couple of young men in the priory. Thank God for their safety. They were not even injured. I rang him, but he could hardly give me any news because he was in panic and fear. I phoned him the next morning inquiring if I could go to see him. He said that reaching the place was impossible, but he provided me with these details: great damage was done to the flats that belong to Dominican friars where many Christian families live. Most of the people in these flats were wounded, among them were many children and elderly. Many soldiers who lost their lives were the victim of these explosions. Almost all the fantastic windows of Alsaa church were smashed, the doors were broken and the marvelous clocks fell down. The friars are tired of repairing the church for the third time.”
Let's pray for peace in Iraq for all people.

Made It

Just finished a delightful lunch of rabbit stew.
Had a lovely bouquet of wildflowers to grace my table.
Sat with my back to the window.

Make My Day

Just back from seeing the sun rise on snowy peaks, wild rabbits playing, the first wildflowers.

I know. I sound like Madeline Basset* on a particularly bad day but spring in God's country can do that to you.

That's why I'm so glad that I have the suffering of Mark and other blog slaves to keep me grounded.

It just makes your day to know that you aren't one of them.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Curt Jester Triumphs Again


"Distraction is prayer is known in the spiritual director field as Prayer Attention Deficit Disorder (PADD) or Supplication Attention Deficit (SAD) and is a birth defect caused by original sin. Since Adam and Eve only Jesus and Mary have not had to deal with Prayer Attention Deficit Disorder.

But you ask "Now that I know what the problem is how do I deal with it?"

That is where St. Johnson and St. Johnson's steps in with the latest pharmaceutical wonder. Our patented ingredients help to put your daily life behind you and to help you to concentrate while praying.

You can find information on our new product Ridalin on television or the sample ad below in your favorite magazine."

And as Fr. Philip, OP comments:

Sign me up for one of those once a month renewal prescriptions...I'll need the extra strength, extended release, please.

Visit the divinely inspired Jester to savor the whole thing.

Blogger's Delight

SPQN, Father Roderick's group, is sponsoring the first Catholic New Media Celebration in Atlanta on June 22 right after their Eucharistic Conference.

Blogs, podcasts, websites, software, games, and just about anything interactive are considered New Media and both creators and consumers are invited to this one day event. From their website:

CNMC is a day of sharing the latest technologies and techniques used by both religious and laypeople to creatively and effectively invite others to grow in the Catholic faith through new and modern ways, not only in parishes and dioceses, but throughout the whole world. New media includes podcasts and online video, games and software, websites and blogs, mobile technology and all things interactive.

From the description of the schedule, it looks like pod-casting will rule the day. Fr. Roderick will be there as well as the writer of That Catholic Show. Registration is free. Check it out.

Blessed John Henry Newman

John Henry Newman, the great English convert and theologian of the 19th century, is going to be beatified this year according to Sunday's London Times. While I have learned to be cautious about Church news that comes from the Times, this looks pretty solid.

The Vatican will announce the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman after accepting that he was responsible for a miracle in which an American clergyman was “cured” of a crippling spinal disorder.

Newman will be given the title “Blessed” after a ceremony later this year, leaving him one step away from full sainthood.

If the Catholic church attributes a further miracle to him, Newman could be canonised as early as 2009.

Praise God!

And after canonization, doctor of the Church? What less for the "Father" of the Second Vatican Council?

For the definitive collection of Newman links for your every Newman need, where else would one go but to Dave Armstrong?

We quote Newman at every Called & Gifted workshop. Partly because Newman laid the groundwork for the discussions on the dignity, mission, spirituality, and formation of the laity that occurred at the Second Vatican Council.

Take a look at this excellent article by Paul Chavasse on Newman and the Laity:

On the contribution of the laity to the development of doctrine:

Some one hundred years after Newman’s death, what can we say about his thoughts on the laity and their vital role in the life of the Church? Seen positively, many of Newman’s deepest insights have been taken up and have become an accepted part of modem ecclesiological thinking. This is undoubtedly because Newman’s research and thought were so soundly based on Scripture and the Fathers; his own “methodology” sprang from a true understanding of the Church’s Tradition. Any true renewal has to begin in this manner: a true growth based on what has gone before, seen in the needs that the present and future make apparent. The breadth of vision and understanding that Newman presents in his writings was such as to make him the “unseen guide” in so many of the deliberations of the Second Vatican Council and in its teachings on the laity in the Church. It will be profitable to see this in practice, by quoting one or two passages from the conciliar documents. For instance, the constitution Lumen Gentium contains the following reflection on how the faithful share in Christ’s prophetic message:

The holy People of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office: it spreads abroad a living witness to him, especially by a life of faith and love and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips praising his name (cf. Heb 13:15). The whole body of the faithful who have an anointing that comes from the holy one (cf. 1 Jn 2:20 and 27) cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei) of the whole people, when, “from the bishops to the last of the faithful” they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals. By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority (magisterium) and obeying it, receives not the mere word of men, but truly the word of God (cf.1Th 2:13),the faith once for all delivered to the saints (cf. Jude 3). The People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life. [44]

This paragraph had originally been intended to form part of Chapter IV, on the laity, but was brought forward into the chapter on the People of God in order to mark the unity that exists between the laity and the hierarchy, which together form the People of God, who cannot err in matters of belief when they show that “universalis consensus” in matters of faith and morals. Objections and amendments to the text, which had wanted to highlight the role of the hierarchy more prominently, were not admitted, because the Council Fathers wanted to show that the sensus fidei was not to be considered as a particular prerogative of the hierarchy but as a power of the whole Church. There is a unity in bearing witness to the Faith that belongs to the totality of the Body of Christ. This concern of the Council Fathers is a most eloquent echo of the “pastorum et fidelium conspiratio” that Newman believed in and advocated so strongly.

Newman’s explanation of the importance of the consensus of the faithful and how that assists the Church is also to be found in the Council documents. Some of the bishops wished to say that the faithful are infallible because they reflect the teaching of the infallible Magisterium, but this was objected to as being an inadequate notion. Investigating Tradition, as Newman had done, it was obvious that the process of doctrinal development sometimes begins with the people: their consensus activates the infallible teaching authority of the Magisterium, which must discern and judge what has happened. The laity do not just reflect the teaching of the Magisterium, but they possess an active exercise of their prerogative that comes from their being constituted as the people of God. This is so made up of all the baptized because, irrespective of their hierarchical status or lack of it, they are the recipients of those motions or inspirations of the Holy Spirit that form the “dynamic element” in the Church, over against the “static element”, which is the hierarchy as such.

On the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to the laity:

It is not only through the sacraments and the ministrations of the Church that the Holy Spirit makes holy the People, leads them and enriches them with his virtues. Allotting his gifts according as he wills (cf. 1 Cor 12:11), he also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church, as it is written, “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit” (1 Cor 12:7). Whether these charisms be very remarkable or more simple and widely diffused, they are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation since they are fitting and useful for the needs of the Church. [45]

This teaching on the gifts of the Holy Spirit being given to and for the good of the whole Church is also identical to that which Newman believed and proclaimed to be the case. His own criterion, which established the fact that the laity ought to be consulted, is precisely that they are open to and led by the workings of the Holy Spirit — the Divine Indwelling. This enables them, as devout believers, to appreciate ever more readily the Church’s Traditions and beliefs and, as we have already noted, guided by the same Holy Spirit, the laity has the gift of knowing the meaning of the Creed and the Deposit of Faith and in such a way that they can resist heresy and cling unswervingly to the truth.

Especially important in view of what Newman taught is the following passage:

For the exercise of the apostolate [the Holy Spirit] gives the faithful special gifts . . . so that each and all, putting at the service of others the grace received, may be “as good stewards of God’s varied gifts” (1 Pet 4:10) . . . . From the reception of these charisms, even the most ordinary ones, there arise for each of the faithful the right and duty of exercising them in the Church and in the world for the good of men and the development of the Church. [49]

That “right and duty” Newman had perceived at work when the laity helped save the Church from the Arian heresy. In a later age, he hoped it would be developed and used again to defend the Church from outside attacks, and, within, to prevent the Church from becoming too clericalized and turned in upon itself, and he hoped that a well-deployed, educated, and faithful laity would be able to do more good in those many areas of secular life where even an army of priests could not penetrate so effectively.


Coming Home Forum

Missed most of the Yankee Stadium papal Mass and the farewell ceremony.

Cause I was part of a panel of converts telling their story to a nearly 100 person crowd in Colorado Springs. Not all present were Catholic, I was told. I liked and admired all the other panelists.

Did get to meet Paul McCusker, the creator of the Odyssey children's radio drama, who had never told his story before. He was poised and impressive. Paul mentioned that he was startled to receive an e-mail from a total stranger simply stated "I understand that you have become Catholic".

That's when I realized with a start that I was probably the culprit. Not knowing that he had only been Catholic 6 months and had never talked about it publicly, I had blithely blogged about this little upcoming gig and mentioned his name and some evangelical blogs had picked it up and voila! its suddenly public. Paul seemed to be dealing with it fine but was obviously a little disoriented by internet fame. I'll think twice in future when tempted to blog about a new convert whose background is especially noteworthy.

A couple themes:

How differently God works with all of us. There is no paradigm for this journey. One had wrestled with issues of authority. I read all the books but was really propelled into the Church by a series of mystical experiences. There was a couple: he had read his way into the Church while she came from a very tortured background. Both had been involved with New Age and occult movement and so still approach Marian devotion with alot of caution although they accept everything the Church teaches.

But all on a journey of mercy into the heart of God's body on earth. And there is room for all of us, thank God.

A number of the "new Catholics" present were former Episcopalians/Anglicans. One panelist and his wife were displaced by the dramatic divisions with the largest Episcopalian Church in our area which had, until last year, been a booming center of orthodox Anglicanism. He became Catholic, his wife attends with him but doesn't know where her place is anymore. Several people came up and mentioned to me that they had once been Episcopalian themselves.

As am I, although there wasn't enough time for me to mention that little detail of my journey, I have often thought how glad I am to have become Catholic 20 years ago rather than stay and attempt to fight a tortured rear guard action in the TEC.

But I grasped something of their pain.

And it was reminder once again that I am not called to apologetics. When one young man in the room asked the panel an unbelievably detailed question about Aramaic and Greek grammer and its significance for the Biblical foundation of papal primacy, we were all stumped. I was beyond stumped since I haven't even thought about such issues in years.

I think I'll stick to theology.

Much simpler.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Christian Life That is Convincing

And this from Angelo Matara over at the marvelous Godspy:

He (Pope Benedict) ended by providing the answer to the problem he diagnosed decades ago, in 1968, in his book, Introduction to Christianity. The radical argument made by that book was brought to the public’s attention by Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete in his interview with Charley Rose shortly after the Pope’s election.

According to Albacete, then Josef Ratzinger saw that: “the number one problem with Christianity today is that the Christian life is no longer convincing. It doesn’t convince anyone. So his program is the formation of he says creative minorities, throughout the world, that will offer not words but the witness of a life full of humanity, of peace, of joy, so that people from what is a cruel world will find a home in these communities.”

Reading the Pope’s speech to the bishops, what’s evident is that the Pope is proposing the method of the “creative minorities” to all the faithful. While the Pope will accept a Church that is smaller and more convincing, if that is God’s will, he won’t accept it without a fight: it’s the task of the Bishops to promote the “call to holiness” to all Catholics:

“In a society that rightly values personal liberty, the Church needs to promote at every level of her teaching — in catechesis, preaching, seminary and university instruction — an apologetics aimed at affirming the truth of Christian revelation, the harmony of faith and reason, and a sound understanding of freedom, seen in positive terms as a liberation both from the limitations of sin and for an authentic and fulfilling life. In a word, the Gospel has to be preached and taught as an integral way of life, offering an attractive and true answer, intellectually and practically, to real human problems… I believe that the Church in America, at this point in her history, is faced with the challenge of recapturing the Catholic vision of reality and presenting it, in an engaging and imaginative way, to a society which markets any number of recipes for human fulfillment.

No more Christendom, big battalions assumptions. No illusions about where we stand vis a vis the culture.

But not a barricade/ghetto mentality either. Not small circles, filled with rage and fear, talking to ourselves in language only we understand about subjects that only the initiate understand and care about. Because the ghetto is not the only alternative to Christendom.

Convincing is the word. And who are we seeking to convince? Not just those already in the pews.

I'm reading a couple of really intriguing books on evangelizing post-moderns right now in preparation for our Making Disciples seminars this summer. One book spends a lot of time on the necessity of arousing curiosity about Jesus and the faith through exposure to your own life and the lives of other Christians.

Of course, the obvious, painful, question, the question that must be asked, is "What about my life would arouse curiosity about Christ in a non-believer?"

And a variant question that all of us who blog should ask: What about this blog would arouse curiosity about Christ in a non-believer? Because in a 24/7 internet world, our discussions are not private.

Our discussions - all of them - are a witness.

Fall in Love . . .And It Will Decide Everything

Susan over at Creo En Dios! posted this beautiful meditation attributed to Pedro Arrupe, SJ, former General of the Jesuit Order, in light of the Pope's focus on relationship with Christ as the foundation of all other things:

Nothing is more practical than finding God,
that is, than falling in love
in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you
out of bed in the morning,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love; stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Benedict & Avery Dulles

How absolutely wonderful.

The Pope is going to make a personal visit to Cardinal Avery Dulles in his bedroom while in Dunwoody seminary. It was not on his schedule. Cardinal Dulles is too ill to attend any of the events but no one deserves a private visit more.

Dulles, who is 89, is one of the great converts and theologians of the 20th century and gave his final annual McGinley lecture at Fordham on April 1. When I met him last April, he was still able to walk with a cane. Now he is wheelchair bound.

Here is the full text of his lecture from America magazine.

Here is the moving end of his lecture:

As I approach the termination of my active life, I gratefully acknowledge that a benign providence has governed my days. The persons I have met, the places I have been, the things I have been asked to do, have all coalesced into a pattern, so that each stage of my life has prepared me for the next. My 20 years on the McGinley Chair have been a kind of climax, at least from my personal point of view. I often feel that there is no one on earth with whom I would want to exchange places. It has been a special privilege to serve in the Society of Jesus, a religious community specially dedicated to the Savior of the world.

The good life does not have to be an easy one, as our blessed Lord and the saints have taught us. Pope John Paul II in his later years used to say, “The Pope must suffer.” Suffering and diminishment are not the greatest of evils, but are normal ingredients in life, especially in old age. They are to be accepted as elements of a full human existence. Well into my 90th year I have been able to work productively. As I become increasingly paralyzed and unable to speak, I can identify with the many paralytics and mute persons in the Gospels, grateful for the loving and skillful care I receive and for the hope of everlasting life in Christ. If the Lord now calls me to a period of weakness, I know well that his power can be made perfect in infirmity. “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

But it is this picture of Dulles that will stay with me (as I wrote last April)

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

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

The hidden source of all that wisdom.

Where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church

This comment from Just Another Begger in the discussion on Benedict's "Post-Constantinian" Strategy below deserves to be highlighted.

"We need to be continuously reminded that to be Catholic is to be Christ; our life as a Catholic is a PARTICIPATION with Christ in HIS life, passion, death and resurrection, both individually and corporately. Thus, the Eucharist and the Liturgy become central to our lives again. Did not our fourth Pope, St. Clement say that where Christ is, there is His Church?"

Actually, it was Ignatius of Antioch who said it but you are certainly right about his meaning:

"Where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.

Joyfully Glorious

The Mass at St. Patrick's just finished. No deep observations. We don't discuss liturgy here anyway and I'd prefer to look at the text of the Pope's homily before commenting on it. As George Weigel noted yesterday, Benedict speaks in paragraphs, You have to read him to do him justice.

Just a few tidbits that I particularly enjoyed.

1) St. Patricks is truly beautiful. Someday I'll have to visit.

2) The EWTN team let the event speak for itself this time. Thank God.

3) Loved the obvious joy and energy from all the priests and religious present - especially the sisters.

4) Great cantor. With a voice and looks like that, that man is going to be a star.

5) Dare I say it? I liked everything: the music, the applause and the spontaneous standing ovation at the beginning, the Pope's homily, the prayers of the people in all the different languages of the archdiocese, the Holy Father's apparently spontaneous words of gratitude at the end. He struggled a bit with his English and that just made it more real and intimate - a glimpse of the private man. It was joyfully glorious and yet the television coverage makes it seem somehow intimate. (Although it was interesting to have an obviously Anglo nun praying in very carefully enunciated Chinese. A returned missionary, perhaps?)

Even the glimpse of the tall black man in what looked like a chasuble lifting his hands high in some kind of touchdown dance as the Pope passed down the center aisle. Had he managed to touch the Pope? I'm sure that he thought the pillar hid him from the cameras -but it didn't! :-} I love the little unplanned human eccentricities that say so much about what God is doing in people's hearts and minds through the Pope's visit.

So excommunicate me.

6) From now on, I'm gonna treat Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity with more respect. You just don't want to get between those sisters and the Pope. The same steely quality that makes them so effective with the poorest of the poor makes them a security detail's nightmare.

7) It was good to see so many Sisters of Life evident in their snazzy habits. I empathized with the young sister who sang the Psalm and who looked pretty anxious just before she opened her mouth. She did just fine.

Why the Pope Speaks for Evangelicals, Too

Richard Mouw, President of my alma mater, Fuller Theological Seminary has a nice essay in the New York Times this morning:

"Why the Pope Speaks for Evangelicals, Too." It begins:

I admire Pope Benedict, just as I admired his recent predecessors. As an evangelical Protestant, I don’t believe in “papal authority.” But I do see him as having an important pastoral role in the broader Christian community. In many ways and on many subjects, he speaks for me.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Benedict's "post-Constantinian" Strategy?

David Gibson's piece in the New York Time on Pope's Benedict's efforts to restore Catholic culture ended with these thought-provoking paragraphs:

"In the Christian ideal, God has no grandchildren; faith must be ever new. But then how does the church encourage Catholicism as a culture while keeping the faith fresh and alive? It is an age-old question, the search for a link between the collective sense of a people and the requirement of individual sanctification. Answers have ranged from Kierkegaard's attack on Christendom to H. Richard Niebuhr's seminal work, "Christ and Culture."

For his part, Benedict seems to embrace a kind of "post-Constantinian" strategy that attempts the tricky two-step of, as the pope said, "cultivating a Catholic identity which is based not so much on externals as on a way of thinking and acting grounded in the Gospel and enriched by the Church's living tradition." Benedict's approach is so novel -- as is the ever-changing world that the age-old church now inhabits -- that it's hard to know what to call it. Vatican expert John Allen has tried out labels like "evangelical Catholicism" or "affirmative orthodoxy." Yet neither seems to encompass Benedict's goal of making an Old World religion pulse with the vitality of a New World spirituality.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Kateri's Cause


The canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha was submitted to the Vatican today - on her feast day.

Monsignor Paul Lenz has informed CNA that on Thursday, he will submit the Cause for the Canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha to the Vatican. Tomorrow, April 17, is the feast day of the Native American blessed.

Bl. Kateri has been accorded the title of the patroness of the environment and ecology and is dear to the hearts of many Native Americans. She was born in upstate New York, near Auriesville. Both of her parents were Native Americans. Her father was a Mohawk chief and her mother an Algonquin, who was raised Catholic.

In her lifetime Kateri was frequently afflicted with illness and became partially blind. In order for her to walk, she groped her way around as she walked. She was then named, Tekakwitha which literally means, “One who walks groping for her way.”

Bl. Kateri was baptized when she was 20 years old after being catechized by Father de Lambertville S.J. After her baptism, Kateri was considered an outcast by her tribal community. Living on her own, she professed a vow of perpetual virginity. Poor health and the effects of small pox led to her death in 1680 at the age of 24.

In 1943 Kateri was declared venerable and then in 1980 she was declared blessed by Pope John Paul II. She is the first Native American to be declared blessed and was the patroness of the 2002 World Youth Day.

Go to for more on her life, her travels, her cause, and her tomb.

Kateri's story is remarkable and one we try to tell at every Called & Gifted workshop. But the whole tale of the zealous Catholic Native Americans of the 17th century, especially the Hurons, many of whom paid with their lives for their faith, is not known to most of us - but deserves to be.

It is encouraging that we are starting to sing the "Huron Carol" - the first Christmas Carol written in this country.


Watching the Pope's meeting with inter-religious leaders on EWTN. At one point, leaders of the 5 different religious communities Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain were introduced one at a time as they came up to meet the Pope.

My eyes really got big when I thought I heard this:

"Bishop Jongmae K. Park of the Korean Baptist Taego Order"

The ultimate post-modern: A Baptist Buddhist Bishop!

But it was too good to be entirely true.

Apparently he is called a Bishop (Do Buddhists have "Bishops" or is this simply an westernized equivalent?) but he is not a Baptist.

He is the
Reverend Bishop Jongmae K. Park, Ph.D. from the Korean Buddhist Taego Order of
Los Angeles, California


Wolf Blitzer of CNN is positively glowing himself this afternoon. He had a chance for a brief private meeting (with 10 others) with the Pope and confessed to being so awed, he didn't say anything!

Blitzer's CNN colleagues were clearly struck by Wolf's intense reaction to meeting the Pope and questioned him on air about this most uncharacteristic behavior. All he could say was that he felt "blessed" and was in such awe, he couldn't speak. Pope Benedict gave him a gold medal and Wolf obviously cherished it.

Thank You, God!

I loved watching Pope Benedict's glowing face as he reached out to the eager crowds as he made his way to his car after the Mass this afternoon. He seemed to be experiencing the energy and joy that Pope John Paul II so commonly received from crowds. Is the reception that he is receiving here different than he receives elsewhere?

Enjoy there was this lovely anecdote this afternoon from the blog Pope 2008:

"Benedict was late, and the media coordinator said there was no way he would spend any time here. But he made a beeline around the back of the limo, straight to the waiting pilgrims.

There, he shook hands and was generally mobbed.

"He was trying to give me peace," said Marilyn Villacort from St. Catherine Laboure Parish. "He was bringing me and my family a message of peace from God. Only God knows what I've been going through. He just stared at me and wouldn't let go of me, saying 'Everything's gonna be okay. Just trust in God and everything will be okay."

Then the Secret Servicemen came and began peeling arms off of him and urging him back to the car. In the car he was so energized by the crowd that he turned bodily in his seat, leaning over the cardinal next to him to keep his face in the window closest the crowd.

Even the Washington Post photographer, as we walked away from the event, was moved. He threw his arms in the air and said, "This time I can say: 'Thank you God!'"

The Holy Spirit Works Retail

Students at Catholic University spend all night in prayer and adoration for the Pope's visit to campus today. Lots more pictures and video here.

Much of what the Holy Spirit is doing through Benedict's visit is happening in small, hidden venues like this and in the hearts of ordinary people - Catholic and non-Catholic - for whom the larger event is an external actual grace - a event that is the occasion of or disposes them to respond to interior prompting and graces of the Holy Spirit.

Pajamadeen No More

How far the blogging world has come.

Tim Drake and company over at the National Catholic Reporter scooped the MSM with a rough text of the Pope's airborne comments. The Vatican, the New York Time, etc. Glance at this Detroit Free Press article on the "Pope of the Internet"

The Internet is all over this visit. All the big TV networks have special multimedia coverage areas on their news sites, of course.

But Internet-only outlets are where you will really find the Pope's first pastoral visit to the United States being debated, dissected and debriefed.
Start with one of the most ambitious Web projects of all, a site called, created by the Prayer Channel, a New York City cable channel devoted to religious coverage.

Besides extensive commentary, live video coverage of the visit, papal wallpaper that can be downloaded for the iPhone and a do-it-yourself instruction sheet to make your own pope hat, the site has an "Eyewitness Blog" for people who get a glimpse of the pope to record their experiences.

There is an official site for the visit, run by the Vatican., besides offering constantly updated multimedia coverage, has links for teaching resources to learn more about the pope, the church and the issues he raises while here. There also are links and background reports on each venue Benedict will visit during his six days in Washington, D.C., and New York City.

The Vatican's official site, meanwhile, is less flashy but equally comprehensive, with English and Italian versions of most speeches and events.

The Archdiocese of Detroit is devoting most of its Web site to the visit, with an official video welcome by Cardinal Adam Maida and links to blogs and other online video coverage.

Catholic News Service is posting photo galleries updated through the days of Benedict's public appearance.

The Altar and the World

Pope Benedict quote of the day. Just something that struck me since Fr. Michael Sweeney and I used to spend a lot of time talking about participating in the liturgy as adults and secular apostles who bring their secular responsibilities and vocations and relationships to the altar and take away from the altar strength and love and vision for their apostolate in the world.

When asked about the quiet "attrition" of many Catholics who simply drift away:

First, as you know, it is becoming more and more difficult, in our Western societies, to speak in a meaningful way of “salvation”. Yet salvation - deliverance from the reality of evil, and the gift of new life and freedom in Christ - is at the heart of the Gospel. We need to discover, as I have suggested, new and engaging ways of proclaiming this message and awakening a thirst for the fulfillment which only Christ can bring. It is in the Church’s liturgy, and above all in the sacrament of the Eucharist, that these realities are most powerfully expressed and lived in the life of believers; perhaps we still have much to do in realizing the Council’s vision of the liturgy as the exercise of the common priesthood and the impetus for a fruitful apostolate in the world.

John Paul II: In His Own Words

Here's a YouTube video of excerpts from a 52 minute long DVD containing some of the late Pope John Paul II's prayers. It is quite inspiring - especially one of the last prayers, which is on discipleship and vocation!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wild Fires in Colorado

Pray for the three local fire-fighters killed last night in our county, fighting two large 9,000 acres fires that sprang up yesterday south of town:

Pilot Gert Marais, 42

Volunteer fire-fighters:

Olney Springs Fire Chief Terry DeVore, 30
John Schwartz, 38

And their families (more on the three men and their families)

And for the 1,200 residents who have been evacuated.

Here are some moving pictures taken yesterday.

We are all relieved that it is supposed to rain and snow tonight. In fact, we are expecting blowing snow and 3 - 6 inches overnight. I've already covered my vulnerable bulbs but some of the pots are being blown off already. I'll have to see what I can do about that.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pope Benedict and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Mary Ann Glendon, the new US Ambassador to the Vatican was on hand to greet the Pope when he arrived this afternoon at Andrew's Air Force Base.

But her presence was significant in more than one way. In her former life, Glendon was not only Professor of Law at Harvard University, she is also an expert in the history of international human rights law and wrote A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This is significant because the Universal Declaration of Human Rights emerged out of and was heavily influenced by Catholic Social Teaching, Catholic intellectuals like Jacques Maritain helped draft it, and 2008 marks its 60th anniversary. It's worth reading the UDH's 30 articles to see how the Catholic understanding of the human person permeates it all. It is supposedly the most translated document in human history.

Russell Shaw has a nice introductory piece on the UDHR and its importance for the Pope and his upcoming address to the UN.

Adoration and Evangelization in New York This Week!

You've probably seen this elsewhere but some Catholic New Yorkers are taking creative advantage of the Pope's visit to do some evangelization: From Pope2008.

Excitement is building in New York City, which will receive Pope Benedict this Friday. A number of Catholic lay people have joined with some local religious communities to plan a welcome that evening. The event will combine prayer, evangelization and singing, which organizers hope Pope Benedict will hear.

The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, the Knights of Columbus, the Sisters of Life, Communion and Liberation, the Blessed Sacrament Fathers, the Daughters of St. Paul and other Catholic groups are organizing what they are calling a “massive street evangelization event” at three locations in Manhattan. Their idea is to stand outside churches and invite people on the street to “encounter the Lord in Eucharistic Adoration and Mass.”

After Mass, those at each church will process to the 72nd Street residence of Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations, where Pope Benedict will be staying, and join together for a candlelight vigil and singing.

The event begins at 4:30 Friday afternoon at three locations:

· St. Malachy’s: 239 West 49th St. between Broadway and 8th Ave.

· St. Jean Baptiste: Lexington Ave. between E. 75th and E. 76th Streets

· Our Lady of Good Counsel: 230 East 90th St. between 2nd and 3rd Aves.

Evangelization is scheduled for two and a half hours, culminating with Eucharistic adoration at 7:00. Priests will be available for confessions. Mass begins at 8:30.

Excellent! This sounds so like similar initiatives that the Emmanuel Community undertake in Rome at the Parthenon. I know so many people - non-Catholics, non-baptized, who feel the presence of Christ in such a powerful way when allowed to encounter the Blessed Sacrament!

As I've written before, there are a number of stories I could tell:

There is my own story since it was the recognition of a presence of God that I had not experienced elsewhere that originally lured me into praying in Catholic churches as an undergraduate.

And the story of a friend of mine, who was a unbelieving, practicing homosexual and yet was also seeking and would spend hours at a time simply sitting in my parish, soaking up the Real Presence.

I could tell you of an unbaptized college student who went to a friend of mine, a Catholic chaplain and said she wanted to become Catholic. The priest asked "Why? Do you have Catholic family members or friends, do you attend Mass, have you been reading books? What has made you want to become Catholic? "No", she replied and then dragged him with trembling hands into the sanctuary and pointed to the tabernacle. "I want that", she said. She didn't know what That was but she could feel the goodness eminating from the tabernacle.

A newly confirmed Catholic woman told me this story on the steps of a church in Twin Falls, Idaho.

She was from a Protestant background. Her turning point was attending an evangelization retreat put on by a local Catholic parish. She told me that when the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, she felt a powerful spiritual energy issuing from the Host. "What is that?" she gasped to her friend. Before that moment, she had never imagined what the Church teaches about the Eucharist could be true, that Jesus is really and fully present. But by the time the retreat ended, she had come to believe her Catholic friends were right. A year later, she was received into full communion.

I could tell you of a large, urban diocese rejuvenated by a lay person who championed Eucharistic Adoration and collaborated with her bishop to establish it in the cathedral and then throughout the diocese.

Here is a story from Myanmar (Burma) about how years of Adoration has changed an entire parish.

What God can do if we will only invite people to come and see!

Because Jesus Taught Me to Love

Abu Daoud links to a telling article in Christianity Today about how things are - and are not - changing for MBB's (Muslim Background Believers - that is, Muslims who convert to Christianity) in Egypt.

The piece begins:

Nine years ago, Mohammed Hegazy, then 16, dropped out of an Islamic school after deciding he didn't want to be a Muslim preacher. He transferred to another school, unknowingly joining a class that included seven Christians.

That fateful transfer in 1999, and Hegazy's later conversion to Christianity due to the witness of those seven students, set in motion events that led to Cairo's highest civil court. In late January, Judge Muhammad Husseini refused to issue Hegazy a new identity card registering him as a Christian. "He can believe whatever he wants in his heart," the judge said, "but on paper he can't convert."

Hegazy wasn't the only Egyptian convert taking his cards to court. In a second case, a judge has allowed Christians who had converted to Islam for divorce or employment to "re-convert" to Christianity. But the ID cards of these 12 re-converts will include the potentially stigmatizing words, "Christian, previously proclaimed Islam as his/her religion." In a third case, an administrative court ruled that the government must issue ID cards omitting any religious designation to followers of Baha'i, a marginalized religious minority.

In Egypt, a person's identity card is destiny. It is required, for example, to rent an apartment, hold a job, enroll in school, vote, travel overseas, and receive government services. The cards establish citizenship, legal residence, and religious affiliation. But the only religious options are Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

All three cases gained enormous attention in the Arabic media, in part because Egypt is creating a new national ID-card database. They also sparked fresh public arguments over punishment for apostasy and Egypt's poor human-rights record.

I blogged about Hegazy's situation a few weeks ago.

The pastor of Kasr El Dobara Evangelical Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in the near east , Samah Maurice, "believes a religious earthquake is shaking the Middle East, leading to many new conversions from Islam. "For years, there were only hundreds converting from Islam to Christianity. Very confidential, very low key," he said. "Now [converts] are writing their stories. They are in chatrooms. The voice of converts for the first time is being heard. The numbers are beyond estimation. It's an iceberg. If you hear a thousand, then there are 100,000 beneath the surface."

Check out Kasr El Dobara's English website to get a better feel. Among other things, they run the largest drug rehab program in the Arab world and a remarkable program called "Smart Heart" a life skills training program aimed at empowering young women through raising their emotional intelligence, self image and capacity for assertiveness and resistance of abuse."

Consider this very telling and funny story from Maurice:

"He reports that many inquiring Muslims say they've been visited by Jesus. "The most effective thing happening to convert Muslims to Christianity is visions and dreams," Sameh said. "It's the work of the Holy Spirit. It's not the work of a man, a church, or an organization."

This approach also provides the Kasr El Dobara pastors their first line of defense against accusations of proselytism. Once, Egyptian authorities questioned Menes about baptizing a woman who came to him after seeing a vision of Jesus coming through her door and window in Kuwait. "It's the problem of the police there," he replied to them. "They didn't guard the door or the window.

Read the whole article-especially about the burgeoning evangelical outreach within Coptic Christianity and the last part about the whole new phenomena of followers of Christ who remain Muslims.

I'd like to end by returning to the case of Mr. Hegazy, whose legal appeal has cause such a stir. The current Wicki article about him ends with this poignant and moving anecdote about the cost of discipleship and power of God to give us strength and love beyond our human capacity.

"Hegazy raised a storm of controversy when pictures of him posing for journalists with a poster of the Virgin Mary were published in the newspapers. [3][1][2]

Fatwas have been issued by muslim clerics calling for Hegazy's death. Under the same fatwa, Hegazy's daughter Miriam will be killed at the age of 10 if she does not choose Islam.[3][1][2]

He has received death threats by telephone. He and his wife have been ostracized by their families and are currently in hiding. Katarina's family have sworn to kill her because she married a non muslim against the family's wishes.

Hegazy's family is just as angry with him. In a 2008 interview to a local Egyptian newspaper, Hegazy's father said, "I am going to try to talk to my son and convince him to return to Islam. If he refuses, I am going to kill him with my own hands."

Shortly after, Hegazy released this statement in response to his father:

"I would like to send a message to my dad. I saw what you said in the newspapers. You say you want to kill me; to shed my blood in public. But I love you so much because you are my dad and because Jesus taught me to love. I accepted Jesus Christ willingly and nobody forced me. I forgive you. No matter what decision you make. No matter what you do. To my dad and mom, I say Jesus Christ died to save me."


I've been home a week and relative leisure is beginning to creep in.

Nothing huge and looming is pending. Spring is here. Taxes are filed. My first batch of crocuses are blooming. I spent 3/4 of a day doing things that had nothing to do with the Institute. I have time - a little - to actually think, to contemplate. Pope Benedict is coming and I might have enough leisure to actually pay prayerful attention.

I could spend a few minutes marveling at the tiny static sparks that rubbing Pippin's hair set off in the dark.

I know it won't last forever, but I'm grateful..

The only fly in the ointment being that Blogger refuses to post my little note of gratitude for leisure.

. . . Cause, it wouldn't be good to get used to leisure and all.

One more try to post this. And then I"m going to go out into the pre-dawn morning, listen to birds sing, watch the first rays of the sun turn the snow on Pike's Peak to rose, and talk to God.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Joys of E-Mail

Have spent all day working my way through a week's worth of e-mails. Crossed eyes. Will try to blog more seriously tomorrow.

Real Conversions in the Muslim world

John Stringer over at the excellent St. Francis Magazine, posted this comment at the equally excellent
Islam and Christianity blog:

"Through my work we see about 20-30 Arab Muslims come to Christ each month. These are hard figures, of people we are in direct relationship with. Yes, this is media.

Many media - especially those in satellite TV broadcasting - are seeing numbers of converts that we could all only dream of 10 years ago."

Those are what real figures look like, folks, not the wild 6-million-converts-from-Islam-a-year figure that has been sweeping the blogosphere.

Tens of thousands a years across the Muslim world - probably. Is that figure unprecedented? Absolutely. Is it an amazing work of God? Absolutely.

Millions of converts from Islam to Christianity every year? No.

Believe me, if and when that happens, you'll hear about it.

This Week and Weekend

Hello Houston - and PBS watchers everywhere.

One of our favorite people, teachers and collaborators - Barbara Elliott - is being featured on Houston's locally produced PBS show "LIving Smart". Barbara is a renaissance woman - Author, international journalist, speaker, social entrepreneur, philanthropic adviser, former White House staff - she's done it all with elegance and style.

I never cease to marvel that she travels around the world for our obscure little outfit. Convert from evangelicalism and passionate Catholic, Barbara is one of our anchor teachers - both for the Called & Gifted workshop and Making Disciples.

Her appearance on LIving Smart will let you see another side of her: mentor of children at risk and social entrepreneur. Living Smart will be broadcast Thursday at 1pm on Houston's PBS station but will also be made available on dozens of other PBS stations.

This weekend, April 18/9 you can catch also Barbara in action in Seattle - where she will be helping teach a Called & Gifted workshop at Blessed Sacrament.

Meanwhile, I will have the fun of speaking at the Road Home Forum on Sunday, April 20 - with some other local converts including the creator of the famous Adventures in Odyssey children's radio program sponsored by Focus on the Family. News about that has been making its way around the blogosphere so if you are in the Colorado Springs area this weekend, check it out.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Do You Know Where You Were Last Sunday?

The low-down on Mass Attendance

23% of American Catholic adults say they attend Mass every week.

(We should remember that a 90's hand-count of actual attendance at American churches on a given Sunday showed that the numbers present were much lower than the number of Americans who told surveyors they attended Church every Sunday. 48% said they attended every Sunday but only 25% were actually in the pews when the count took place. There is a natural, built-in inflation factor here since people are often answering based upon the fact that they mean to be there every Sunday or think of themselves as a regular church-goer. The actual numbers in the pew on a given Sunday are almost certainly considerably lower than self-reporting would indicated.)

Twice as many Catholics - 56% - report that they are never or rarely attend or only attend a few times a year.

21% attend at least once a month (which in some US dioceses and in Australia is the standard to be considered a "practicing" Catholic.)

So using this as a standard, that would mean about 44% of US Catholics would be considered "practicing" and 56% "non-practicing."

Which looks fairly dismal until you compare it to other western countries like Australia where only 15% of Catholics attend Mass once a month. In France, weekly attendance is usually put at less than 5%, under 10% in deeply Catholic Austria, etc. so you can see why the Pope might look with respect and interest on a western country that is still overtly religious in its public life and possesses a huge and relatively vibrant Catholic population.

And now off to Mass.

Just in case anyone was curious :-}

RCIA as Young Adult Movement?

According to the CARA survey:

16% of US Catholics entered the Church after infancy. 8% as children (presumably some of these are being raised Catholic and are simply "late" baptisms but the majority would be entering from another background with their parent(s); 1% as teens, 7% as adults - 75% of whom entered through an RCIA process.

Very interesting: 48% of those who entered as adults did so as young adults between the ages of 18 and 29. Connect that with the Pew Survey findings that probably a majority of US adults reevaluate the faith in which they were raised as children and choose another one as adults. Pew did not, to my knowledge, ask at what age that re-evaluation took place but young adulthood would be an obvious place for it to happen.

So roughly 2/3 of those who enter the Church after infancy do so before age 30.

Looking at RCIA as a young adult movement that is especially meaningful in light of the apparent American norm of reevaluating spirituality and religious beliefs in adulthood. Lots of intriguing implications.

It certainly was true for me and my circle of friends.

CARA Survey on Belief & Practice Among US Catholics

The brand new CARA survey results have been posted in anticipation of the Pope's visit

The theme: Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice Among US Catholics.

Good stuff. More on this later.

Called & Gifted at World Youth Day

Our Australian team has just sent me a link to the Dominican blog post about our presentation at World Youth Day this summer.

It is interesting to hear our vision being spoken with a slightly different accent:

During WYD 2008 the Catherine of Siena Institute will be participating in the Youth Festival with a short presentation equipping young people for the discernment task to which they are called by the Holy Spirit.

Most baptized Catholics are aware that God has a plan for their lives, but need assistance in identifying how to read the signs the Holy Spirit is working in their lives. The Institute’s programs offer real and concrete assistance in this work of discernment and in understanding each person’s unique role in the mission of the Church. In the usual work of the Institute this is done through the Called and Gifted Workshops but at WYD 2008 the Institute will provide an introduction to this work of discernment aimed specifically at young people.

“Our focus will be discernment as a right and duty for all the baptized. Ours is another truly radical and authentic approach to vocational discernment,” says Clara Geoghegan, co-director of the Catherine of Siena Institute, Australia. The Institute is sponsored by the Dominican friars' Province of the Assumption in Australia and New Zealand with the involvement of co-director Fr Anthony Walsh, O.P.

The essence of this vocation is mission - to witness to Christ and the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Each member of the Church has a unique and irreplaceable vocation which will take into account their individuality and unique place in the world. They have also been individually and uniquely ‘gifted’ by the Holy Spirit to fulfill that vocation.

“The presentation will look at examples of how discerning and using our charisms can change lives and bring God’s love and healing to those around us. We will show how these gifts have been used in the Church by the saints – particularly WYD 2008 patrons such as Mother Teresa and Pier Giorgio Frassati – but also in the lives of ordinary Christians,” she said.

The Youth Festival presentation will look at the real clues in our lives: the Church, our uniqueness and giftedness, the context in which we live our lives. These are all important clues discerning our vocation and our mission.

“A final message we want to give the WYD pilgrims, is that God acts when we act. Too often discernment is perceived as something which requires withdrawal from the world,” says Clara. “In reality we only learn through doing and reflecting on the ways in which the Holy Spirit works through our actions. Lay people are called to live our their spirituality in and through the world” she said.

I've met a number of American Catholics who are going to be at World Youth Day. Any ID readers planning to go?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Snapshot of Life in the Evangelical Vatican

You know that you are really living in the evangelical Vatican when:

You run out on your first Saturday morning at home to check out local low cost organic grocery store run by a local Catholic family and discover that next door is a shop calling itself a Christian discount warehouse whose windows are plastered with "going out of business" signs.

So you step in to see if there is anything of interest and on sale and you hear three guys at the counter talking about:

The huge numbers of Muslims becoming Christians in the middle east. About a local congregation of Iranian Christians whose services they had attended. About a guy they'd met last week who told them that Christians were openly holding large scale evangelistic campaigns in Pakistan. And no one mentions Magdi Allam.

And you know that 1) that you are not only living in an evangelical community, you are living in an evangelical community that contains the headquarters of over a hundred missionary-minded Christian organizations.

And then you ask the store owner if he is going out of business and he explains:

"Well I was. You see, I have a church that grew out of the store. People were getting saved and it just kinda became a church and now we have three services and 120 people and I can't do both so I thought I'd get out when my lease was up. . ."

Some day I will count but I have never seen so many little strip malls filled with budding congregations and evangelical organizations as I've seen here in Colorado Springs. Except maybe in Jakarta. It's my theory that you aren't allowed to operate a strip mall in Colorado Springs that doesn't contain at least one Christian group . I know that the Institute's presence keep our little mall legal.

And that's how you really, really, really know that you aren't in Seattle anymore. Mission-minded evangelicalism permeates the atmosphere here the way Catholicism permeates Rome.

George Bush: "Closet Catholic?"

This will get 'em talking.

In anticipation of the Pope's visit next week, the Washington Post ran a piece this morning on President George Bush as a "closet Catholic" ala Tony Blair while still in office. The title? A Catholic Wind in the White House.

As the White House prepares to welcome Benedict on Tuesday, many in Bush's inner circle expect the pontiff to find a kindred spirit in the president. Because if Bill Clinton can be called America's first black president, some say, then George W. Bush could well be the nation's first Catholic president.

"I don't think there's any question about it," says Rick Santorum, former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and a devout Catholic, who was the first to give Bush the "Catholic president" label. "He's certainly much more Catholic than Kennedy."

Bush attends an Episcopal church in Washington and belongs to a Methodist church in Texas, and his political base is solidly evangelical. Yet this Protestant president has surrounded himself with Roman Catholic intellectuals, speechwriters, professors, priests, bishops and politicians. These Catholics -- and thus Catholic social teaching -- have for the past eight years been shaping Bush's speeches, policies and legacy to a degree perhaps unprecedented in U.S. history.

"I used to say that there are more Catholics on President Bush's speechwriting team than on any Notre Dame starting lineup in the past half-century," said former Bush scribe -- and Catholic -- William McGurn.

Bush has also placed Catholics in prominent roles in the federal government and relied on Catholic tradition to make a public case for everything from his faith-based initiative to antiabortion legislation. He has wedded Catholic intellectualism with evangelical political savvy to forge a powerful electoral coalition.

"There is an awareness in the White House that the rich Catholic intellectual tradition is a resource for making the links between Christian faith, religiously grounded moral judgments and public policy," says Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest and editor of the journal First Things who has tutored Bush in the church's social doctrines for nearly a decade.

If George Bush is a "closet Catholic", then he is a "closet particular-shade-of-American-Catholic" that has is blown along by a very particularly American kind of Catholic wind. A wind that fosters a potent cafeteria Catholicism of both the right and the left.

If you want to argue that Bush has been influenced by and adapted a certain part of Catholic teaching that fits rather easily into his existing worldview - ok. I have no problems buying that. In that, he is very much like average American Catholics all along the political spectrum.

But the Church's teaching calls all of us to account regardless of whether we are "natural" liberals or conservatives. red or blue staters. It is supposed to call us to account. The Tradition judges our natural assumptions and inclinations because the Tradition is derived from realities that God has revealed to us, realities that utterly transcend our fallen human responses or knowledge. The fullness of the Church's Tradition challenges those of us on the right just as much as it does those on the left.

The easy solution, the road that most Americans have taken, is to acknowledge those aspects of the Church's social teaching which reinforce what we already held to be true and important and ignore the rest. But that doesn't make us good Catholics.

Until the President shows signs of grasping that most basic of Catholic moral teachings: - you cannot do evil in order to achieve the good - until we see him coming to terms with implications of the Church's teaching on the life and dignity of every person that call into question his hotly defended stands on issues like torture or the death penalty, I can't take him seriously as a "closet Catholic".

And if I am supposed to draw the conclusion from the WaPo atrticle that Bush's policies ,as a whole, are the fruit of his instruction by a bevy of seriously believing, theologically astute, non-cafeteria Catholics, then all I can say is that his advisors have failed in a dramatic fashion.

A "closet Catholic" President would be someone who trusts the Church's role as teacher and is truly seeking to think with the Church about his responsibilities across the board.

Not just using Catholic intellectual sophistication in this area to make more effective arguments for policies that he already supported while turning a deaf ear to things he doesn't want to hear.

Friday, April 11, 2008

13,000 New Catholics Baptized in China This Easter

From CNA:

Rome, Apr 11, 2008 / 09:07 pm (CNA).- The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples reports that during the Easter Vigil over 13,000 people were baptized in China.

The Fides news agency reports that in the 80 dioceses of continental China, “13,608 people were baptized in the Easter Vigil 2008. In addition to the Sacrament of Baptism, the catechumens also received the other two sacraments of initiation: Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist.”

“The number of baptized in 2008 is much higher than that of 8,000 baptized on Easter in 2007. As well, many parishes and dioceses in China not only celebrate Baptisms on Easter, but throughout the entire liturgical year, according to the local needs,” Fides revealed.

The report also indicated that “the number 13,608 is the result of a provisory study done by the Chinese Catholic website ‘Faith’” and that “in the Archdiocese of Beijing, there were about 500 baptized on Easter, 100 more than in 2007,” while “among the newly baptized in the Diocese of Shang Hai, where baptisms have had to be celebrated all year long, there were 54 university students.”

Praise God.

To put those numbers in perspective, 60,000 + adults were baptized as Catholics in the US this Easter.

Bits of Anglican News and a Bad Sheavian Joke

This was going the rounds of Episcopalian/Anglican circles last week and generating lots of discussion. This ad ran in the April edition of "Episcopal Life"

THE ANGLICAN USE SOCIETY in America in communion with the Holy See of Rome offers to Clergy, Religious and Laity of the Anglican Tradition an information booklet explaining THE PASTORAL PROVISION, the canonical instrument that has made possible their reconciliation with the Holy See as units of common identity which preserve their Anglican heritage of liturgy, hymnody and spirituality.

In other words, an official publication of the Episcopal Church includes an advertisement from an official Roman Catholic organization that invites Episcopal congregations to leave the Episcopal Church and become Roman Catholic.

Speaking of which, the 2008 Anglican Use Conference will take place July 10 - 12 in San Antonio, Texas.

I need to stop for a moment and contemplate speaking several days in mid July in San Antonio. Hmmm. 110 in the shade, Spanish-speaking, and Catholic to its historic core. OK. The new Anglicanism, I guess.

Reminds me irresistably of a conversation I witnessed between Mark Shea (who was then a mere nobody Catholic neophyte) and Peter Kreet (who was presenting at a conference Mark and I were attending.

Mark to Dr. Kreeft: "I have a question, Dr. Kreeft."

Dr. Kreeft: (taking off his glasses and preparing to give Mark his full attention).

Mark, earnestly: "Is it as hot in hell as it is in this room?"

Kreeft (without missing a beat): "Yes, and in hell, the air conditioners are always broken."

Eastern Catholic Blog Awards

Lots of interesting ecumenical news about.

First off, the Eastern Christian Blog Awards.

The awards are open to all Eastern Christian blogs regardless of affiliation. Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, Assyrian Church of the East et al. are welcome and encouraged to be submitted for voting.


Best Blog on the Domestic Church

Blogging about everyday life informed by faith - family, home, work-life, and everything in between.

Best Individual Blog

Preeminent blog written by an individual.

Best Group Blog

Premier blog worked on by a group of people.

Best Church News Blog

Best blog at keeping up with current events and providing insightful commentary.

Best Theology Blog

Most well regarded blog on matters theological. This doesn't require lofty examinations of arcane topics, but perspicacity that enlightens and provokes thoughtful discussion.

Funniest Blog

A blog that is simply, unequivocally funny.

Most Visually Attractive Blog

A blog that either presents beautiful images on a regular basis, has a well designed blog format, or in some other way is pleasing to the eye.

hat tip: Koinonia

Where to, Mortal?

Here's a lovely, anonymous reflection on our experience of the death of a loved one. Of course, depending upon the nature of those standing on the other shore, it could be a horrifying image. Let's cultivate our relationship with God so that the joyful shout is raised by the saints and faithful angels.

I am standing on the seashore.
A ship spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the ocean.
I stand watching her until she fades on the horizon and someone at my side says, She is gone."

Gone where?

The loss of sight is in me, not in her.
Just at the moment when someone says, "She is gone," there are others who are watching her coming.
Other voices take up the glad shout,
"Here she comes!"

And that is dying.

The Shepherd of Disciples

Here's a brief reflection on the Scriptures for this Sunday...

Being known as a sheep is generally not considered a good career move. How many job descriptions do you read in the paper that begin, "Wanted: good follower, not too intelligent, relatively helpless prey for predatory competitors"? But we are, in fact, not too impressive on our own - or even in a group - without the Good Shepherd. Jesus knows where fallen human nature, left to itself, leads – and it isn't pretty!

It is precisely the intentional disciple of Jesus, the Christian who has placed his or her life in the hands of the Good Shepherd, who is able to accomplish good, even great, things. Not because they have greater natural talents, skills, money, or opportunities, but because they become daily collaborators with Jesus, and his power and grace begin to work through them.

This is because at our baptism God gave us spiritual gifts, called charisms in Greek, that are given to us for the benefit of other people. They become 'activated', if you will, when our relationship with Jesus becomes personal; when we begin to realize he is someone Who loves us and who desires to be involved in our every decision, every conversation, every good activity.

Ironically, when we begin to enter into this deeply personal relationship with our Good Shepherd, we begin to stand out from the herd! He calls us by name. In Jesus' day to know someone's name, or to name someone or something meant that you knew something essential to that person or thing, and even had some authority over it. This is why it's very significant when Jesus renames Simon "the Rock", or why Jesus asks the name of the spirit afflicting the Gerasene demoniac (Lk 8:30). It also indicates how God humbles Himself by responding to Moses' request to know His name (Ex 3:14).

So when Jesus says the Good Shepherd calls his sheep by name (Jn 10:3), it means that he knows who I am in my deepest core. He knows what I can do, and what I can best be. When I choose to follow him as his disciple, it means that I give him authority over me. And it is then that he begins to work through me to change the lives of the people and institutions around me in a way that is unique to me.

Jesus calls all of his sheep. That means we all have a vocation (from the Latin vocare "to call"). And responding to that call will guarantee we find the deepest meaning and purpose of our life in some unique work of his love in the world. And that work will be to us a rich, verdant pasture.

The LA Cathedral's Saints

I had a chance Wednesday, while in Claremont, CA, for a parish mission at Our Lady of the Assumption parish, to go to the LA Cathedral. It's an impressive structure in the heart of the city built to last five hundred years. While I know traditionalists love to hate its modern design, I found much of the artwork inside extremely powerful and uplifting.

One thing that touched me were the angels that adorn the dedication candles that ring the nave. They were designed based on a dozen or so different people's experience or perception of angels, and each one is different. Some seem to be offering protection, others seem to demonstrate God's beauty or power, others seem to offer challenge to our half-hearted following of their Creator.

I was also stunned to find the sanctuary crucifix is only about ten feet high, with the feet of Jesus at about waist level. In such a large cathedral in which the ceiling is at least 100 feet overhead, that kind of intimacy was unexpected. Such proximity allows worshippers to gather close to the bronze corpus of the crucified Lord. The artist studied the physical effects of the torture of crucifixion on the human body and incorporated his findings into his bronze. So Jesus' legs are swelled with bodily fluid, his hands are frozen in spasm, and his flayed body a rough mass of welts.

But by far the most powerful art in the cathedral are the tapestries that line the four walls of the worship space. According to the LA cathedral website
Twenty-five fresco-like tapestries depict 135 saints and blesseds from around the world, including holy men and women of North America canonized by the Church. Twelve untitled figures, including children of all ages, represent the many anonymous holy people in our midst. All the figures direct our eyes to the light of the great Cross-window above the Altar where the Eucharist is celebrated.
The saints were selected to represent all the ethnic groups in the LA Archdiocese, and when photographs or portraits were unavailable, the artist, John Nava, used some of his friends and people from Ojai, CA, who fit the physical description of particular saints, as his models. Because they face the cross and altar, rather than the congregation, I would have thought the lack of direct eye contact from them would have made them seem somehow detached from us. But these saints, blesseds, and anonymous holy people are so beautiful, I cried, and at first I couldn't imagine why.

Behind the baptismal font (the only place where one can bless oneself with holy water in the cathedral) is an enormous tapestry of Jesus being baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist. Our Lord kneels humbly before his cousin, and we see his strong back that will carry our sins and the soles of his feet which blessed our earth with each step. His head is bowed as John pours water from a bowl.
The great circular pattern above the Baptism scene is based on "Cosmati" stone floor decorations from the 11th century found in St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice, Italy. The stylized "wavy" water patterns in the lower portion are derived from Byzantine mosaic patterns found at Ravenna and that were used throughout the early Christian period.
The seven tapestries behind the altar depict the New Jerusalem converging with an overall circular "Cosmati" pattern traditionally associated with the divine. It provides symmetry with the baptismal tapestry on the opposite wall. A quote from the Book of Revelation is sewn into the tapestries that reminds us of God's presence with us here and now, especially when we gather at Eucharist. They are inscribed with the words, "See, God's dwelling is among mortals. God will dwell with them. They will be God's people and God will be with them." The surprising - and shockingly hopeful - thing is that at the center of the circle is the grid of downtown LA!

The next morning - just yesterday! - I reflected on that experience, and I think I have some ideas as to why I was so deeply moved by these tapestries. In addition to being artistically breathtaking, they speak to me of God's humility, intimate love, and absolute power to transform us. God's humility is demonstrated in sharing our humanity in Jesus and in his two-fold baptism by water and by crucifixion, the two poles of the long axis of the cathedral. Both are demonstrations of his desire to do His Father's will. His intimate love and power to transform us are shown in the saints who stand so closely to one another and to us. Their tremendous diversity is overcome and made completely insignificant in their common discipleship. Their eyes are fixed on Jesus, as should ours, but they crowd so close to one another that I can't imagine them being unaware of each other. Their stance is a constant call to discipleship, which allows us to one day take our place alongside them in the New Jerusalem, with Christ as the light of that holy city. My tears expressed my desire to be one with them and the Lord.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Fatuous History & Real World Policy

More evidence, here in Colorado Springs, of our complex times. From our local Gazette:

The Air Force Academy's decision yesterday to not show clips from a film deemed "anti-Catholic" in the midst of a presentation designed to argue that the US military is not an agent of a Christian crusade against Islam.

The film was Constantine's Sword, which I will get to in a moment.

"The seminar, titled "USA's War on Terror: Not a Battle Between Christianity and Islam," was delayed 25 minutes while academy representatives debated whether to show the controversial footage, which reportedly included scenes involving alleged religious discrimination at the academy between 2003 and 2005.

The speakers were former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson, a critic of the Iraq war; Islamic scholar Reza Aslan; and academy graduate Mikey Weinstein, who sued the Air Force in 2005 for allegedly encouraging Christian evangelicals to proselytize to cadets. The case was dismissed before going to trial.

Wednesday's event, which was not open to the public, was organized to counter charges of bias from the Muslim community and others after a February seminar at the academy in which cadets heard speakers claiming to be former Islamic terrorists who characterized Islam as a dangerous religion.

Wednesday's speakers, by contrast, argued that the U.S. military's embracing of Christianity sends the message to Arabs that the Iraq war is not about freeing Iraqi people but about converting the Muslim world to Christianity."

The film wasn't shown because the Academy received several phone calls warning about the film's "anti-Catholic" nature. Cause it wouldn't do to seem to be anti-Catholic while attempting to prove that you aren't anti-Muslim. One can sympathize with the organizers trying to negotiate respect toward all possible religious constituencies involved.

And now about Constantine's Sword, due out April 19. I haven't noticed a lot of Catholic bloggers picking up on this film coming out unlike the incessant talk and books about the Da Vinci Code. Naturally, the Pope's visit is looming on everyone's horizon. Was the debut during the Pope's visit intentional? Hmmmm. Is it too small a media blip to take seriously? Is the book too fatuous to take seriously? (Post-Da Vinci code, we know the answer to that one.) Do we think that major media types won't notice?

Constantine's Sword is being presented as a "documentary" . The synopsis from the film's website:

"Constantine’s Sword is the story of James Carroll; a former Catholic priest on a journey to confront his past and uncover the roots of religiously inspired violence and war. His search also reveals a growing scandal involving religious infiltration of the U.S. military and the terrible consequences of religion’s influence on America’s foreign policy.

Carroll focuses on Christian antisemitism as the model for all religious hatred, exposing the cross as a symbol of a long history of violence against Jews (and, most recently, Muslims). The film brings the history of religious intolerance to life, tracing it as a source of the fanaticism that threatens the world today. At its core, Constantine’s Sword is a compelling personal narrative — a kind of detective story — as one man uncovers the dark areas of his own past, searching for a better future.

The number of screenings scheduled is incredibly small at present - mostly in the LA area, including the LA film festival. It also seems to be making the rounds in liberal main-line non-Catholic circles:

On Monday, March 10th, a giant screen was set up in the nave of the National Cathedral in Washington where over 500 people watched the film, then rose for a standing ovation. The previous day, James Carroll was the featured speaker at the Cathedral’s Sunday Forum with Dean Samuel Lloyd. The film received a similar reception at Trinity Wall Street in New York City, The University of California Santa Barbara, All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., Suffolk University in Boston and Westminister College in Salt Lake City.

Discussions of the book, which came out in 2001, had already made the rounds of places like Harvard's Divinity School. (Note, not Harvard's history department!)

Like Dan Brown, the author is a novelist, not a historian. Thomas Noble, Professor of History at Notre Dame, has a thorough, damning review of the book in the May, 2001, issue of First Things:

"Carroll’s central thesis is that a generation or two after the life of Christ, a series of authors, the men we know as the evangelists, decided that it was better to get along with the powerful Romans than the despicable Jews and scripted the first version of the blood libel. That is, they made the Jews the murderers of Christ. They pulled off this clever feat by historicizing the prophecies of the Old Testament in such a way as to make Jesus Christ appear to be the Messiah. Moreover, they recorded the “intuition” of the apostles and disciples that Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus’ contemporaries actually only believed that Jesus’ love survived him, but as they gradually shifted from praying for him to praying to him they invented the story of his resurrection. So, in Carroll’s telling, the evangelists not only blamed the Jews for killing the man Jesus but for killing the Messiah. Carroll assures us that this account must be true because Crossan and the Jesus Seminar say so. Along the way Carroll cavalierly dismisses Raymond Brown, mentions a few other scholars with whom he has had conversations, and cites as his authority on Christology Rosemary Radford Ruether, with nods in the direction of Edward Schillebeeckx and Hans Küng."

We've heard this one before. As Noble observes: " One hardly knows where to begin in responding to all this."

But wait, there's more! Noble notes that Carroll asserts that

The New Testament was a "tragic historical mistake"

"because of Constantine and Helena, the Council of Constantinople inserted “He was crucified” into the primitive text of the Creed, and thereafter Christ’s death, already attributed to the Jews by those inventive evangelists, now replaced his life as the central fact of Christianity."

(To which Noble responds, 'The so-called Nicene Creed was in a state of evolution for more than a century, but it never at any stage omitted reference to or a grounding in the Crucifixion.'

As Noble sums up Carroll's thesis: " Put in simplest terms, it is Carroll’s argument that Western Civilization has been propelled primarily by Catholicism’s hatred for the Jews."

Noble's verdict on Carroll as historian?

"The historian, unlike the novelist, cannot artfully assign motives. Carroll says that it takes “moral maturity” to recognize the connections between events that others have overlooked or denied. This is fatuous. Page after page of this book would serve admirably in a college history class as an object lesson in false inferences and mistaken links of causation.".

The irony is that a book written by a Catholic passionately concerned about the Catholic church's history of anti-semitism, has been turned, in our post 9-11 world, into a film that accuses the non-Catholic US military of conducting a Christian anti-Muslim crusade. So clips of the film end up slotted for a seminar for cadets at the Air Force Academy.

Bad history fueling a movie that influences current discussions of real world policy. Imagine.

But remember this sentence from the Gazette article above:

"Wednesday's event, which was not open to the public, was organized to counter charges of bias from the Muslim community and others after a February seminar at the academy in which cadets heard speakers claiming to be former Islamic terrorists who characterized Islam as a dangerous religion.

Wednesday's speakers, by contrast, argued that the U.S. military's embracing of Christianity sends the message to Arabs that the Iraq war is not about freeing Iraqi people but about converting the Muslim world to Christianity."

In a 24/7 media world, it isn't about reality, it is about perception. You and I know that the US military didn't go into Iraq to convert Muslims and that nearly everyone there would leave today with great rejoicing if the consequences for destabilization and civil war weren't so obvious and terrible. You and I know that there is true freedom of religion in the US Armed Forces and that Muslim Americans are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. We know that the military is bending over backwards to avoid any appearance of being missionary.

But why should I expect an average Abdullah standing on a street corner in Islamabad to know that? Everything he hears from those his trusts - family, friends, religious leaders may say the opposite.

Imagine dvd's of this film making the rounds of the Muslim world - as they probably already are. Addullah's got access to a TV and dvd player and probably the internet. Put that together with those images on Al Jazeera and the endless discussion of Magdi Allam's baptism on Easter at St. Peter's. And Allam's extremely strong statements that essentially described Islam as intrinsically evil just after he had so publicly taken the name "Christian".

Thank God that tens of thousands of evangelically minded Christians are right now living among and loving Muslims through the Muslim world. Demonstrating with their lives, friendship, service, and compassion that Christianity and Christ are about love.

A comment below reminds me that I will have to make the should-be-obvious distinction. By "evangelically-minded" , I didn't mean "evangelical Christians". I meant all Christians - Catholic, Orthodox, Assyrian, Copt, Protestant, evangelical, whatever, who are committed to the mission of spreading the good news of Christ (the evangel).

There are "evangelically minded" Christians in all communions throughout the Muslim world - although the lion's share of the outreach is being done by evangelicals at present.

If you'd like to know why Muslims are risking so much to become Christians around the world, read my post from last week:
Why do Muslims Convert to Christianity? and for an informed reality check about the numbers doing so, read Urban Legends and the Great Commission.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Life With Edmund Blackadder

One of the great luxuries of life at home - actually watching a TV series. In this case, Blackadder the Third. (set in late 18th century London)

Filled with immortal lines such as

"I've got a plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel."

Rowan Atkinson. Hugh Laurie as the Prince Regent, George IV who is described thusly:

"I care not a jot that you are the son of a certified sauerkraut-snacking loon. It minds not me that you dress like a mad parrot and talk like a plate of beans negotiating its way out of a cow's digestive system. It is no skin off my rosy nose that there are bits of lemon peel floating down the Thames that would make a better Regent than you."

I may have a brain the size of a sultana, but I call that brilliant!

Speaking of fabulous content, great teaching, and gorgeous location . . . How could I forget Making Disciples?

Especially since we are offering discounts for multiple attendees so you don't have to go alone?

Let's see. Fabulous content?

Do you wonder how to get Catholics in your parish or diocese excited about their faith? Are you concerned about family, friends, and parishioners who seem to have lost their faith or left the Church but don’t know how to help? you involved in pastoral ministry or evangelization? Do you work in adult faith formation, sacramental prep, stewardship or RCIA? Are you a pastor, diocesan or parish staff?

Spend 5 days at at the Institute's Making Disciples Seminar this summer learning how to really help Catholics – active or lapsed - or any adult, make the journey to intentional discipleship. And you don’t have to go it alone. Come with a friend or colleague and enjoy a discounted rate, Save even more if you bring a whole group!

The heart of Making Disciples is learning the art of pre-evangelization and an initial proclamation of Christ that calls for a deliberate personal response. Making Disciples will help you

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

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

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

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

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

Great teaching?

Fr. Mike and I and the fabulous Barbara Elliott will be there along with Joe Waters of Duke who will be interning with us this summer. Pastoral leaders from 30 dioceses in the US and Australia have attended Making Disciples (and this summer we've got an attendee from Singapore!) and come away very excited:

The concept of intentional discipleship is absolutely exciting!! The team did a great job presenting, explaining, equipping, motivating, modeling it. THANK YOU VERY VERY MUCH!

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

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


Maximize the impact in your parish or ministry. Bring a team - and save!

Discounts for groups:
$50 off the second attendee if you have separate rooms
$80 off the second attendee if you share a room
$100 off per person for 3rd, 4th, 5th or more attendees!!!

Gorgeous locations?

June 8 - 12 Benet Lake, Wisconsin at a lovely lake-side Benedictine monastery

July 27 - 31 Colorado Springs, Colorado 7,000 feet high at Mt. St. Francis retreat center, complete with deer herd and spotted fawns

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

Consider spending a bit of your summer with us preparing to take your place in the new evangelization. For more info, send an e-mail to

Immerse Yourself in Theology of the Body

Here's another upcoming Colorado event that you should check out:

A "Head & Heart" Theology of the Body Immersion Class to be held in Colorado, May 11th - 16th, 2008

This session will take place May 11th - 16th, 2008 at the beautiful Camp St. Malo Retreat Center in Allenspark, Colorado and
It will be taught by Christopher West himself.

Here is St. Malo's in winter - March perhaps. Much of the snow will have melted by mid May. But not all.

Fabulous content, great teaching, gorgeous location. How can you say no?

Everyday Joe's

Colorado is quite a hotbed of Christian initiatives and organizations. But this story tickles me.

It's Everyday Joe's Coffee House.

Everyday Joe's is in Fort Collins up north near the Wyoming border. This is how they describe themselves:

..Everyday Joe’s desires to express the presence of the Living Christ in our community. Our means of doing this is a non-profit coffee house, where fantastic coffee and great live music are simply excuses to connect with people. We strive to be a sustainable, fully disclosed, environmentally & socially responsible business model that is an example to churches & secular organizations alike. We hope to be a picture of good stewardship, generousity, & community involvement. We dream of being a source of inspiration & hope to our community through the development of the arts. We strive to be a place where the disconnected can become connected. A place where community is fostered, personal relationships are created, & Love is shown... beginning with the best coffee east of Portland.

Everyday Joe's is run almost entirely by volunteers which enables them to give their profits away to local groups like Habitat for Humanity. They regularly have live music. A local congregation meets there on Sunday morning.

I've visited another Christian coffee shop in Portland, Oregon before - but it was less "emergent church" style, more standard evangelical. But it is a great idea.

Anyone know of similar Catholic endeavors?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Good Stuff in San Francisco

If you live in the Bay area, check this out:

The Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology in Berkeley is proud to present Sister Nancy Murray in Catherine of Siena, a Woman of our Times.

Dominican Sister Nancy Murray, sister of actor Bill Murray brings Saint Catherine of Siena to life in this wonderful one-woman production.

Sister Murray will perform at Saint Dominic’s Catholic Church in San Francisco on
Friday, May 9 & Saturday May 10, a week after Saint Catherine of Siena’s feast day.

Tickets are at $15. To order tickets or for more information, please contact Dominican School Advancement
at 510-883-2085 or e-mail

And note:

This really interesting formation offering happening at St. Dominic's during the month of April:

Eucharist for a Hungry World

Description We attend Mass, but it is easy for us to just go through the motions, never really experiencing it fully. The Church calls our Eucharistic Celebration the source and summit of our faith. This means that the Mass is intimately connected to who we are as the People of God. Yet, we must break open that connection if we are to truly live out its reality. Join us as we explore ways of experiencing the Mass more profoundly and praying it more authentically. We will discover how we bring our lives to the Mass, and how we carry Christ back out into the world. As we connect the Mass to our lives, we break open our identity as Christians. Join us as we seek a deeper understanding of our God, our lives, and our world.

Scott Moyer, the Director of Adult Faith Formation at St. Dominic's is a very gifted teacher and a long time collaborator of ours. Scott also heads up our Bay area Called & Gifted team.

For more info on Eucharist for a Hungry World, e-mail Scott at

Evangelization Precedes Catechesis

Ok, so "shortly" was rather longish.

But I have been slowly doing the preliminary work that precedes blogging - reading my e-mail.

Just came across a couple of great quotes that make a critical point that we discuss at length in every Making Disciples seminar and which I made in a spur-of-the-moment consultation last week with a couple seeking help for their parish's evangelization efforts.

They come from a post entitled Evangelization Precedes Catechesis (Yes!) from a blog simply titled "Evangelization"sponsored by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon said, “Without an evangelized heart, without falling in love with Christ -- which is really what it means to be evangelized -- the practice of the faith redounds to duty and obligation. There is only a slim possibility of persevering in the practice of a faith that is viewed primarily or exclusively this way. Perhaps those properly evangelized would not so readily leave the One they love.”

and in another post:

Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. recently spoke at the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) Convention hosted by our Archdiocese and the Office of Catholic Education in which over 8,000 Catholic educators attended from across the nation and other parts of the world. Archbishop Wuerl asked us to contextualize our entire catechetical effort in the wider initiative of evangelization. He encouraged us to “envision evangelization as an indispensable point of reference for catechesis whose aim must always be to arouse faith as well as to mature and inform faith.

Preach it, brothers!

Monday, April 7, 2008


I'm back. As of midnight last night.

Many things to see to. Will begin blogging again shortly.

Easter Joy

Here's a modified version of my homily for this past weekend.

I love college sports, and this weekend's one of the biggest such events in the year. But I'm really an Oregon Duck fan. I was hoping that UCLA would win because they're Pac-10, but their loss doesn't crush me any more than their victory would have given me joy. It doesn't impact me.

It's possible to feel somewhat the same way about the Easter Season. For 50 days we hear the recurring theme of great joy, ecstatic exultation, alleluias, and the scriptural equivalent of "Jesus is #1" and it can feel a bit forced. I think the Gospel today helps me understand why this is so.

What's the culminating moment of today's Gospel? Jesus, while he was with the two disciples at table, took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him. This really begs the question of why "they were prevented from recognizing him" in the first place.

Just as Jesus helped the two disciples understand what had happened to him by revealing how the OT spoke consistently of him in images like Abraham's attempted sacrifice of his son, or the Passover lamb, Isaiah's suffering servant, or of Wisdom 2's description of how the wicked want to destroy the righteous one, we have to see this moment of the Gospel in terms of the OT.

There's another significant moment in the Bible in which a sharing of food opens two people's eyes. It's the first meal we encounter in the Scriptures, in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve share a meal of fruit from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil and what happens? "The eyes of both of them were opened and they recognized they were naked, so they sewed fig leaves together to make loincloths for themselves."

The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil did its job. Immediately upon eating it, Adam and Eve know that what they have done is evil. They had disrupted their relationship with God. They knew they had sinned – and the first thing they do is try to hide it with a few fig leaves. This doesn't mean that our sinfulness is primarily sexual. Adam and Eve, in disobeying God, experience death, as God had promised. Not a physical death, immediately, but a theological one. They experience a separation from God, the creator of life, and they specifically hide that part of them that God gave to make them co-creators with Him, capable of bringing new life into the world.

They also hide from one another the means through which we physically express our deepest intimacy and vulnerability with each other. The next thing they do is hide themselves from God, who had created them in love and had given them everything.

And then when confronted with their sin, they attempt to hide it by blaming someone else: Eve blames the serpent because Adam beat her to the punch; but Adam doesn't just blame Eve. He says to God, "the woman, whom You put here, gave me the fruit, and I ate."

This is still a favorite ruse of ours. We hide and deny our sinfulness in a multitude of ways, behind a whole wardrobe of fig leaves that help us maintain a veneer of respectability.

The power of God's revelation to us in all of scriptures isn't that we are helped to distinguish who are sinners and who aren't. The fundamental truth that the Scriptures tell us over and over is that we are all sinners (Mary and Our Lord – the new Eve and Adam – excepted). The distinction is between those who acknowledge they are sinners and those who don't. The great saints invariably lament their sinfulness (which sounds like false modesty to us), while Jesus has a word for those who deny their sin: hypocrites. They are the Pharisees of every age who take comfort in finding a worse sinner than them; who are most concerned with enforcing law of any kind.

This is our problem – this is why our Easter joy can seem rather forced. We have lost a sense of sin and its seriousness. We are blinded to it – and that has consequences. The death of Jesus is the definitive way in which God shows us the effects of sin – and all of scripture presumes sin’s existence. If you listen carefully to the words of Mass you'll hear our sin referred to again and again. This is not because God and the Church want to make us feel bad about ourselves or give us low self-esteem, but because this is reality. Meanwhile, we postmoderns are uncomfortable talking about it, admitting it. We'll talk instead about dysfunctional families, personality flaws, addiction, even social sin – but have a hard time looking in the mirror and saying, "I sin." And if we can say, "I sin," we often don't look very hard to find the specifics! When I prepare for confession, I often find it difficult to identify more than just a few obvious sins – and it's not because I'm so holy. I could ask the people I live and work with for help filling in the gaps, but I don’t. It would be like asking people to rip away my fig leaf.

Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have spoken out so consistently against moral relativism because they have seen that it leads directly and inevitably to a denial of sin's existence.

And what, fundamentally, is sin? It's not just doing what is against God's will. 1 Pt. 18 tells us we have been ransomed from our "futile conduct handed on by our ancestors." Sin is acting in a futile way. We were created for truth, goodness, and beauty. We were made for relationship with God and one another ("It is not good that the man should be alone"). Yet we frustrate these desires by lying, by thinking violence solves problems, whether that violence is abortion, war, or simply the refusal to forgive. We frustrate our need for relationship by valuing things over people, and, in general, desiring that the world revolve around us. And the deeper futility of sin is found in our denial that we do it!

1 Pt. says that we have been ransomed from this futile way through the New Passover of Jesus' death and resurrection. And this ransoming happens in two ways, I believe, and both of them are discovered in Luke’s account of how Cleopas and his companion’s eyes are opened by the breaking and sharing of bread with Jesus (Lk 24:30-32).

Genesis 2 names two trees in the Garden of Eden: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the fruit of which opened the eyes of Adam and Eve to the fact that they had sinned. We often forget the second tree.

There is a symmetry between the snack Adam and Eve have beneath the first tree, and the meal Jesus has with Cleopas and his companion – whom, for the sake of that symmetry, I'd like to think was Cleopas' wife. When Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, their eyes were opened because they were offered the fruit of the second tree, the other tree named in the garden of Eden – the tree of Life.

St. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, told the crowds that it was impossible for physical death to hold Jesus in its throes (Acts 2:24). Why not? Simply because Jesus, the new Adam, had never sinned. There was no break in his relationship with his Father, the Author of Life. No “theological death” had ever occurred, so no mortal death could hold him.
But it was this very lack of sin that led him to his death. His holiness was so intolerable because it continually confronted the so-called holy people of his days – the Pharisees, scribes, and priests - with the sinfulness they denied. In their rage – which is our rage whenever we our shown our own sin - they hung him on a tree.

But the resurrection of Jesus reveals the cross as that Tree of Life, and when the two disciples ate that bread become his body, they ate the fruit that hangs from that tree of life, and their eyes were opened – like Adam and Eve's, and they recognized HIM – they saw the marks of his wounds. They were confronted with the effects of their sin – of our sin. But the crucified one had walked with them and not condemned them. He had opened the scriptures to them, and their hearts burned within them because they learned that the scriptures do not just tell us that we are sinners. They reveal that in spite of our sin, God continually pursues us, relentlessly woos us as our Lover, even to the point of living among us and dying for us.

The fruit of the first tree showed us we sin. The fruit of the second tree shows us we are loved anyway – and forgiven. This is the first ransoming from our futile way of life. We can stop the charade of thinking we've got things under control.

But the second effect of Jesus' ransoming is even greater! When we know we are loved by someone – when they've seen us at our worst and still pursue us - we are changed. We respond with a love of our own, in some way. Being loved helps us change our behavior willingly, joyfully – sometimes in ways we would have previously thought impossible. This is why the hearts of the two disciples burned within them; why immediately after Jesus reveals their sin and his love – which is the Father's love – they change their behavior and race back to Jerusalem.

It seems ironic that in order to really be joyful in this Easter season, I have to confront my sinfulness. But then, that is what Lent is all about. If we spend our Lent reflecting upon our lives and how we muck them up with our selfishness and pride, then we’ll be able to take more responsibility for Jesus’ death on the cross – and experience the true joy of forgiveness as we encounter the Risen Lord in the breaking of the bread.

Friday, April 4, 2008

That 3 AM Wake Up Call and a Plane

Ah, to be blogging in a airport now that April is here . . .

Nothing like that 3 am wake up call and a plane to say that spring has sprung.

I hope to do a little more this morning before they call my flight.

A Communion of Charisms

from Zenit:


Congress Studying History of Holy Spirit

ROME, APRIL 3, 2008 ( Leaders of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal have gathered experts in Rome to discuss charisms and their role in the Church.

A congress that began today and ends Sunday brought together bishops, theologians and lay leaders to reflect on the doctrine and practice of charisms in the Church today.

The International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services, based in the Vatican, and the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships, based in Bari, Italy, collaborated with the Pontifical Council for Laity in organizing the event.

According to a communiqué from the Vatican-based organization, the congress aims to go in-depth into the teaching of the Church on charisms and how they have been exercised throughout history, from the apostolic times to the present, and especially in the charismatic renewal movement.

Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for Laity, introduced the event. Other bishops and leaders of the charismatic organizations will also offer contributions. Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, will offer a reflection on the Fathers of the Church.

Oreste Pesare, executive director of the offices of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services, said, "To speak of charisms does not mean to speak only of miraculous works. […] The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly reminds us,

'Whether extraordinary or simple and humble, charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of men, and to the needs of the world.' [CCC 799]"

In this sense, he added, the Catholic charismatic renewal desires "that all of the realities of the Catholic Church return to a full awareness of the essential role of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers, and the beauty of the rediscovery of the gifts of the Spirit -- the charisms -- that permit us to live as sons of God in an extraordinary way for the good of the whole Church."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Busy Like Bee

Fr. Mike swoops in about noon and then have two talks to finalize and give, then pack again and then off to our various weekend gigs.

Fr. Mike to a Easter mission in Claremont, CA
and I to the Evangelical Catholic Institute in Madison, Wisconsin.

Serious blogging will begin again next week. Casual blogging may occur this week.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Embassy of God: Coming to a Security Line Near You

Home. For 60 hours or so.

Snowed every night in Seattle, Bumper to bumper out of the airport. Bumper to bumper into the airport. 300 of your closest friends to party with in the security line: at noon on a Tuesday.

Had lots of good conversations and a good training, though.

And stumbled into this interesting conversation in the security line today. Ran into a couple with a small boy who were headed to the Ukraine. Why? To attend the 14th anniversary of the "largest church in Europe" - a congregation with 25,000 members in Kiev alone, founded and pastored by a 40 year old Nigerian, Sunday Adelaja.

The name of the congregation? "The Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for All Nations". Embassy of God for short. Apparently this is a new name. It used to known as Word of Faith Church.

Anyway, it started 14 years ago with 7 alcoholics and drug addicts in a little apartment in Kiev. It's a classic independent congregation. Pentecostal in worship and theology. Dynamic founder who is regarded as an "apostle". The mother church has "planted" 600 churches in 45 countries (most in Ukraine and other parts of Europe) according to their website. Feeds 1-2,000 daily. Outreaches to addicts and the poor. Television programs, tons of books, etc. The mayor of Kiev attends regularly.

And it was this church's anniversary that the smiling Seattle couple were flying off to attend. She was white, he was black. They indicated that they were part of an Embassy church plant in the Puget Sound area and that after the anniversary, they hoped to go as Embassy missionaries to the Caribbean. They were obviously excited.

I had heard of this church from a traveling missionary when I was staying in a Christian hostel in London two years ago. He clearly regarded western American Christianity as dead compared to the vibrancy he had encountered in the Ukraine,.

So I looked them up on You tube and sure enough, there were a number of Embassy videos up. I have to admit I cringed while watching it. What's with the pom-pom thing? Am I to believe that this is some kind of traditional Ukrainian religious symbol? I've never been crazy about pom poms when cheerleaders wield them. I really can't handle them at worship.

Here's a BBC report on the Embassy:

Here's a church produced video of their worship, pom-poms and all.

Remember, independents like Embassy of God now make up 20% of all Christians in the world. They are larger than historic Protestantism, larger than Orthodoxy. Second only to Roman Catholics.

They aren't going away. How can and should we respond to them?