Monday, June 30, 2008

The US Court of Appeals: Just the Place for a Snark!

Now here's a important cultural landmark:

A Federal Appeals Court has quoted Lewis Caroll in an important decision. 

CNN puts it this way:

"A federal appeals court has slammed the reliability of U.S. government intelligence documents, saying just because officials keep repeating their assertions does not make them true. 

A three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington likened the Bush administration's case to a line in an 1876 nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll: "I have said it thrice: What I tell you three times is true."

To follow the Court's reasoning, I think we need to understand the quotation in its context:  The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits"

Fit the First

Just the place for a Snark!" the Bellman cried,
As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
By a finger entwined in his hair.

"Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What i tell you three times is true."

See?  Isn't everything clearer now?

Sherry's Radio Interview on the Pew Survey & "Personal Relationship with God"

Amazing thing about technology.  Sacred Heart Radio Station e-mailed us the MP3 file for the interview on "personal relationship with God" that I did this morning and we've got it up  on our website here.

It runs about 20 minutes.  I felt like I was babbling at the time but critical listerners tell me its "lively".  Listening to it again, there are some theological nuances I would add (if this were in print and I had more time to work with) but hey, that's live radio.  Warts and all.'

Just click on the icon button to the right of "interview on relationship with God" and the radio interview will pop up. Click on that and it begins

Beatitudes and Baptism - part 1

I performed a baptism this past weekend for a former parishioner from Tucson. She chose the Beatitudes from Matthew's Sermon on the Mount for the Gospel text to be proclaimed, and I sat down and wrote a brief reflection on each of the beatitudes - more for myself, really, as I thought about the connection between them and baptism. I thought I'd share them with you over the next week, since I've not blogged about anything for ages.

Realize, these are just random thoughts - nothing systematic.

Baptism begins a new relationship between Aspen and God. She cannot offer any obstacles to the grace, the new life in the Holy Spirit, that God, Father, Son and Spirit offer her today. When the blessed water is poured over her head, original sin is forgiven, she becomes a daughter of God, her soul is marked with a character making her eligible to participate in the sacramental life of the Church, and she becomes a member of Jesus' body living today.

You make promises today to not only raise her in the Catholic faith, but to introduce her to God who has created her. All of us in the Church are to model for her what it is to be a disciple, and help her live in such a way that she can experience the blessings Jesus describes in the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount.

But these are peculiar blessings, and they have to be modeled and taught. We don't come by them naturally. Jesus and His mother are the best models of actually living the beatitudes he preaches, and I can't help but believe that he was preaching from experience. If that's the case, then we might presume that the blessings Jesus promises begin in this life, and find their fulfillment in heaven in the next. Thus, one of the greatest gifts you can give your daughter is to model for her "beatitude living" and teach her to live this way, too.

Let's look briefly at each of them.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
As you may know, in Luke's Sermon on the plain, Jesus says simply, "Blessed are the poor," and I believe that helps us understand what Matthew may be getting at with "poor in spirit." When the rich young man who has followed the commandments from his youth asks Jesus, "What must I do to inherit everlasting life?" Jesus responds by saying, "follow the commandments," but he's already done that and senses something's missing. So Jesus tells him to sell all he has – becoming physically poor, reliant on others – and then to come, follow him...become a disciple if he wishes to enter the kingdom. To be a disciple is to follow, and that means allowing another to lead, to make the decisions of which way to go, to trust when you can only see a few steps ahead. To be poor in spirit is to choose dependence over independence, guidance over self-determination, and trust over self-reliance.

Often we refer to headstrong, willful children as "spirited." You must teach Aspen to become poor in spirit. Rather than pursuing her own will, her own designs, you must teach her - and show her - how to make Jesus' will her own – to give up living for herself, relying on herself and her own goodness, and trusting the grace and providence of God to be enough. Teach your daughter to accept the kingdom as a gift, rather than a reward earned. And, help her learn to trust that following Jesus is to begin entering the kingdom now.

St. Paul (and Ambrose) in China

Here's a fascinating glimpse of Catholic life in China.  (HT to Gashwin)

A parish dedicated to St. Paul celebrates the year of St. Paul with confetti, prayer, and a real Chinese feast.

The blogger is an American woman blogging under the pseudonym of Ambrose who comes across as thoughtful and observant.  Check back regularly to get a window on Catholic life in her part of China.  

WYD Latin Style?

On the home page of the World Youth Day site is a fun map.  Roll over the various continents and the registered number of pilgrims from that continent/area pops up.

What immediately struck me was how few representatives there will be from the two centers of the new global Church: Only 4,000 pilgrims each from South America and Africa.

27,000 from North America
54,000 from Europe
100,000 from Australia

Understandable with rising air fares.

But its time for WYD to be held in South America, I think.  The enormous cost involved is one huge factor, I'm sure.  And the political and economic stability and infrastructure necessary to make it work.  And the strong interest of the local bishops.

If they did it in the Philippines, surely they can do it in Rio.

WYD would be a powerful response to the rapid "de-Catholicizing" of Latin America and might well drawn many back to the faith.

The Church on the Flip Side of the World

This weekend, the Pauline year was formally inaugurated by Pope Benedict.  Amy has all the news and a plethera of links.

World Youth Day is heating up as well.  I'm being inundated with World Youth Day news from down under - like the fact that 712 pilgrims will be coming from Tonga.  Tonga has never sent pilgrims to World Youth Day before but now it is happening in their backyard, so to speak.  It is easy for us northern hemisphere types to forget how far away Rome can feel in Oceania.  This World Youth Day will be one of the smallest - but what it could mean to the Church on the flip side of the planet is beyond price.

Meanwhile, our own Aussie team is preparing to do their Called & Gifted thing in Melbourne before the major festivities begin.  Dioceses around the country are hosting pilgrims as they arrive and offering local events called Day in the Diocese.  20,000 pilgrims are expected in Melbourne - which is a truly beautiful and very cosmopolitan city.  The CSI gang will be presenting on Thursday, July 10. 

And then onto the really big show in Sydney and multiple presentations on Discernment and MIssion at the Youth Festival.  You can also meet members of the CSI team (OP and lay) at the big Dominican booth at the Vocations Expo, so be sure and stop by.  

Clara has had some very cool bookmarks made up as give-aways for pilgrims featuring Pier Giorgia Frassati and Caroline Chishom.  The theme:  mission, vocation, and discernment as lay apostles.  Unfortunately, I'm not techie enough to post the PDF files here.  But here's a sample of the text:

Pier Giorgio Frassati 

had a vocation 

...he was not a priest, 

   ...he was not a religious,  

      ...he was not married. 

When he was Baptised he  

was called and gifted.


He responded to that call  

and used those gifts to love  

and serve God by loving and 

serving those around him. 

He died at age 24. The poor of 

Turin flocked to his funeral. 

He lived life to the full sharing  

his material and spiritual wealth 

with others. 

The Siena Institute can help  

you discern your Gifts and  

your vocation. 

Good stuff.  By the way, if you want to reach our Australian team, you can reach Clara by dropping her an e-line at

Personal Relationship With God and Making Disciples

Radio interview done.  Liked Brian, the interviewer - he was very prepared and professional.

What was fascinating was to hear a bit of the station's promo - all about relationship with Christ!

This whole blog discussion of  "is personal relationship" with Christ Catholic?" has been revealing and fascinating and is going to go into our next Making Disciples seminar in Spokane which is coming up August 10 - 14.  

If this topic has caught your attention and you would like to be trained to help others grow in their lived relationship with God, join us there.  There are significant discounts available for groups of 2 or more.

Clearing Head

Radio interview this morning - Sacred Heart radio in Cincinnati  - 6:40 am my time!

Must make some tea and clear my head after the commotion last night.  Pippin the cat, strictly a house feline - 16 years old and still jumping - vanished last night.  

I got up from a phone call with my sister to find out that the back door was mysteriously open and Pippin, apparently, out in the night with our local foxes and coyotes.  Much hue and cry for 45 minutes, looking everywhere.  And then she walked out from her hiding place as though nothing had happen.

Not enough sleep.  Must clear head.

interview topic:  the blog conversation last week on the Pew Religious Landscape survey and the whole idea of  "personal relationship" with God.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Pope Praises Work of Lay Evangelizers

Zenit has an account of the Pope's comments when receiving the bishops of Honduras on their ad limina visit here

The presence of lay evangelists and "delegates of the Word" is apparently very important in the life of the Church in many places in Latin America. However, with the influx of immigrants from Central and Latin America in this country we would do well to increasingly rely on their training and formation when they become members of our communities in the United States. 

I have firsthand experience of the great value of the formation that many Latin Americans receive to proclaim the Word especially in catechetical settings from my time working at a small, rural parish in eastern North Carolina where we were very reliant upon their efforts within the Hispanic community. I worked with an 18 year old who had received some training and formation from his pastor in North Carolina and provided the Spanish language components of our multi-parish Confirmation retreat. He was by far one of the most effective preachers I have ever encountered. He held 90 other Confirmation candidates spellbound for over an hour as he preached on the power of Confirmation as a personal Pentecost. You could have heard a pin drop. 


Prayer Request

Last month, we asked you to pray for Bob and Linda Walker's son Robert who was in a terrible accident.  We just learned yesterday that he has died.  Your prayers for Robert and his family would again be greatly appreciated.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Catholicism: A "Relationship-Free" Faith?

It is always startling for me to listen to serious Catholics respond to the idea of "personal relationship with God" as has happened over at Mark's place today during a discussion of the Pew Forum study:

“I’d also note that having a “personal relationship with Jesus” is such a staple of evangelical rhetoric that many Catholics may be saying “no” as a way of saying that they don’t experience God in the same way that evangelicals say that they experience God. That is, Catholics meet the Lord in the Sacraments, in the liturgy of the community, etc., not just in private unstructured prayers.”

“Some Catholics might hear a reference to “personal God” and think it refers to an Evangelical understanding of Christian faith.   But overall it leaves me scratching my head. What the heck is meant by “personal,” anyway?”

“If I pray to God, isn’t that a sign of something personal? I am not praying to someone or something abstract. But I agree with sd that catholics are not taught culturally to think of that as a “personal relationship.” At least I know that I did not look on it that way. Much of the poll results could be attributed to linguistic tone deafness of a sort.”

To which I responded:


Re: “Personal” and “relationship”. As in relationships we have with others in our lives - family, friends, co-workers, etc. 

What I found mystifying is how seemingly normal adult Catholics, all of whom have some experience of personal relationship or they would never have lived to grow up, suddenly freeze when the idea of relationship with God is proposed. 

We all have some experience of relationship and we routinely talk about our relationships - with our parents, children, siblings, spouses, friends, etc. 

Relationship is a extremely common topic here at CAEI. And I have yet to hear anyone here say: 

 “Just what do you mean by “personal relationship” with your spouse or your child or your friend?  Relationship is something that Protestants talk about. That’s not something Catholics do.”

As though a Protestant is another species or order of being and their relationships are so totally different from our own.

We are all human beings here with the same basic frailties and capacities for grace and response to God and there is only one God. It is absurd to talk as though Protestants and Catholics are from different planets in this matter or seeking to relate to a different God.

I’ve never read a saint who reacted that way when asked about their relationship with God. Most of them couldn’t shut up on the subject.

Marriage -one of the most intimate human relationships possible - is used as the great metaphor for every Christian’s relationship with God in the Scriptures and therefore, is part of the Catholic Tradition. And the foundation of the whole Theology of the Body.

Relationship is the crux of our whole understanding of heaven which is eternal life in the presence of and participating in the life of the Blessed Trinity. Even the Trinity as understood by historic Christianity is profoundly personal and relational. Relationship and self-giving are intrinsic to the very heart and nature of God.

God is profoundly personal and relational.  And so are human beings. When we were baptized, we were baptized into Jesus’ relationship with his Father. We became adopted sons and daughters of God and therefore, Jesus is now our brother as well as our Lord - an extremely intimate relationship.

Relationship - whether mediated and nourished by the liturgy and sacraments or not - is the heart of this whole drama we are all engaged in. 

And I add here:

Pope Benedict began Deus Caritas Est with these words:

 “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16). These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny. In the same verse, Saint John also offers a kind of summary of the Christian life: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us”. We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life.

and further:

A personal relationship with God and an abandonment to his will can prevent man from being demeaned and save him from falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism...Even in their bewilderment and failure to understand the world around them, Christians continue to believe in the “goodness and loving kindness of God” (Tit 3:4). Immersed like everyone else in the dramatic complexity of historical events, they remain unshakably certain that God is our Father and loves us, even when his silence remains incomprehensible.”

As the Pope said to the young people of America:

 What matters most is that you develop your personal relationship with God. That relationship is expressed in prayer. God by his very nature speaks, hears, and replies. Indeed, Saint Paul reminds us: we can and should “pray constantly” (1 Thess 5:17). Far from turning in on ourselves or withdrawing from the ups and downs of life, by praying we turn towards God and through him to each other, including the marginalized and those following ways other than God’s path (cf. Spe Salvi, 33)….”

Catholicism is not a “relationship-free” faith.  

If the idea of a “personal relationship with God” gives us pause or strikes us as foreign, we need to re-evaluate our own understanding of the faith, and more to the point, our own lived relationship with God.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Catholic Evangelization in the South

On the whole, one of the great missed opportunties for Catholic evangelization, education, and charity in this country is the rural South. My parents just drew my attention to a recent article in USA Today that highlighted the continuing problems and shrinking populations in the 623 rural counties that make up the South's "Black Belt" ("named for the rich, dark topsoil that drew plantation owners to the region"). While there are some places in the South such as New Orleans, St Augustine, Mobile, and Charleston that have very historic Catholic populations dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries or earlier and others have heavy "immigrant" (read "Yankee") Catholic populations (i.e. the Triangle in North Carolina, most of Florida, and the exemplary "new South" cities such Atlanta, Charlotte, and Nashville), a great swath of the South has been recently left behind or ignored by the Catholic Church in the United States both in terms of evangelical initiatives and social apostolates.

Several months ago a good priest friend of mine in the diocese of Raleigh who is also an American church historian showed me a copy of the main Florida Catholic newspaper from 1943 or so that had an account of the annual meeting of the "Catholic Committee of the South" at which Mother Katharine Drexel spoke, no doubt about the need for evangelization and dynamic social apostolates in the states of the former Confederacy. It was very touching to read and a stark reminder of how much St Katharine and others were able to accomplish for the Catholic Church in the rural South and how little has been done since the 1960's.

The article in USA Today should remind us of the great economic and social needs that persist in the South, as well as the fact that most of the counties of the rural South still have dreadfully low Catholic populations and are not only underserved by the ordained, but have little in the way of lay apostolates, especially in the field of education. It is my conviction that the Catholic Church should be most actively present in those places where human need is greatest. Many look abroad to find those places, but few dedicate themselves to work in the home missions. The rural South has for the most part been left behind the rest of the country when it comes to education, however, even in light of this fact few Catholic schools can be found in those areas to provide a Catholic remedy the problem. When Catholics find human need they should not simply rely on the state to address the root problems of the needs, but should propose solutions themselves that are derived from the genius of Catholic pastoral wisdom and social doctrine. This article should remind us that we have plenty to do here in the rural parts of our own country, especially in the South, in Appalachia, and on the Great Plains, and it is the particular gift of the layman to make the sorts of contributions in secular fields that could turn those depressed regions of our country around for the better and bring to them the light of the Gospel and authentic human progress.

I would be very interested in hearing from anyone who has ideas or pastoral experience that may help those of us who are Southerners faithfully exercise our lay apostolate more effectively in our home region. In doing so, I hope we are able to give new, spiritual meaning to the phrase "the South will rise again!"

You may also wish to check out the book Saving the Heartland: Catholic Missionaries in Rural America, 1920-1960, by Jeffrey D. Marlett. (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2002.) which highlights the many evangelical and social efforts, including some funded or executed by St Katharine Drexel and her sisters, that Catholics undertook to bring Christ, his Gospel, and the genius of Catholic social doctrine to America's rural places.


Pew: Only 60% of Catholics Believe in a Personal God

I spent yesterday and today crunching the numbers from Part II of the Pew Forum US Religious Landscape Survey and the results have been illuminating, especially in light of our work on our new seminar Making Disciples.

There is a lot that could be said but for right now, I'll begin by commenting on the most obvious and surprising results for Catholics.

I'll start with a real stunner.

Only 60% of self-described US adult Catholics can clearly affirm that they believe in a personal God with whom it is possible to have a relationship

Nearly 30% of Catholics believe in an “impersonal force” rather than a personal God.

(The obvious follow-up question: "what percentage of this 40% who don't believe in a personal God are practicing Catholics?" doesn’t seem to have been asked.)

Sherry's response:

If a large minority of Catholics don’t believe in the possibility of a relationship with a personal God, I suspect that it is largely because they are not seeing this sort of relationship regularly modeled, talked about, and valued by their families, friends, and parishes.

This is one of the consequences of our “don’t ask, don’t tell” Catholic culture meshing with our “don’t’ ask, don’t tell” secular culture, creating a perfect “spiral of silence” not just about intentional discipleship but even about the mere possibility of relationship with a personal God.

No wonder talk of intentional discipleship seems so foreign and excessive to many Catholics across the spectrum.

In light of this it is fascinating to note that, according to the Pew study, 82% of Catholic believe in heaven. But obviously, many can not be thinking of heaven as a fruit of and the enjoyment of a relationship of union with God. Is it more like the Simpson's version of Catholic heaven complete with red wine and a cast of millions making like Riverdance?  You know, Irish Catholic heaven as envisioned by Hollywood.

This begins to make sense of what we've noticed doing thousands of personal interviews: that nearly all Catholics believe everyone will go to heaven but many are extremely unclear as to what Jesus has to do with it. As Peter Kreeft has noted numerous times, he asked the students in every class he taught at Boston College (most were cradle Catholics) why they should go to heaven if they died tonight, and nearly every one over the years said "because I'm a good person." Hardly any student mentioned Jesus Christ.

But if your basic assumption is that you can't have a relationship with God, it makes perfect sense to envision enjoying heaven independent of relationship with God. - and equally perfect sense that the criteria for doing so becomes my essential goodness. If you don’t think of God as personal, what does relationship with God have to do with heaven or anything else? So much for the beatific vision.

Related to and flowing from this: only 22% of US Catholics turn to Church teaching to inform their moral decision-making, relying much more heavily (57%) upon “practical experience/common sense” which, of course, largely means relying upon what they see others do and say and value around them, i.e, our popular culture.

I'm sure that this isn't a surprise. But for a Church that rejoices in and identifies so strongly with a rich and sophisticated teaching Tradition, 22% seems really low. It is 30 points below the 52% of evangelicals who consult religious teaching when making their own moral decisions although they do not possess such a body of wisdom.

The result: culture trumps the Tradition for the vast majority of US Catholics. 

Not a surprise either, but related. 57% of Catholics never read the Scriptures outside the liturgy – and only 42% attend the liturgy every week.  As opposed to the 60% of evangelicals who read Scripture every week).

The overall result: Catholics, as whole, are much less likely to have a solid basis for questioning and judging the norms of our popular culture and going against them when necessary. But the Apostolic Tradition will only becoming really compelling when one has a living relationship with the Source of the Tradition. And a large percentage of Catholics don’t even know that relationship is possible.

Of course, none of these numbers account for the huge number of baptized Catholics who now regard themselves as evangelical and would have answered the survey accordingly.

Here's something I didn't expect:

The biggest attendance generation gap for all US religious groups studied is among Catholics.  62% of those 65 and older attend Mass at least once a week while only 34% of Catholics under 30 do so, a 28 point difference. Only 36% of  Catholics in their 30’s and 40’s attend Mass each week, a 26 point difference.

The Pew study makes it clear: 

This is a situation unique to Catholics and which we cannot project as a whole on the millennial/Gen X generations. (For instance, 54% of under 30 evangelicals and 57% of 30 and 40 something evangelicals attend church every week as opposed to 65% of those 65 and above. 11 and 8 point differences.)

And the final irony which makes perfect sense in light of all the above: 

In the US, Catholics are actually less likely to talk about their faith or view of God with someone else than is an atheist. (62% of Catholics say they never share their faith or talk about God with others, while only 61% of atheists say that.)

You have heard it here before.

God has no grandchildren.  It's time to ask what men and women's journey with God has actually been like.  It's time to really listen.  And it's time to tell the Story.   

Because huge numbers of Catholics have never, never heard it.

There are some really striking and hopeful stats regarding atheists, agnostics and those who claim no religious affiliation of any kind.  But that is for another post.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pope's Homily at Eucharistic Congress

The Pope's homily from the International Eucharistic Congress has been translated by Zenit and full-text is now available here. He touched on a number of interesting topics, several of which have been discussed on this blog in the past. I have also linked to information about the Canadian saints and beati that he mentioned in the homily. 

It is, therefore, particularly important that pastors and faithful dedicate themselves permanently to furthering their knowledge of this great sacrament. Each one will thus be able to affirm his faith and fulfill ever better his mission in the Church and in the world, recalling that there is a fruitfulness of the Eucharist in his personal life, in the life of the Church and of the world. The Spirit of truth gives witness in your hearts; you also must give witness to Christ before men, as the antiphon states in the alleluia of this Mass. Participation in the Eucharist, then, does not distance us from our contemporaries; on the contrary, because it is the expression par excellence of the love of God, it calls us to be involved with all our brothers to address the present challenges and to make the planet a place where it is good to live.

To accomplish this, it is necessary to struggle ceaselessly so that every person will be respected from his conception until his natural death; that our rich societies welcome the poorest and allow them their dignity; that all persons be able to find nourishment and enable their families to live; that peace and justice may shine in all continents. These are some of the challenges that must mobilize all our contemporaries and for which Christians must draw their strength in the Eucharistic mystery.


Reception of the Eucharist, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament -- by this we mean deepening our communion, preparing for it and prolonging it -- is also about allowing ourselves to enter into communion with Christ, and through him with the whole of the Trinity, so as to become what we receive and to live in communion with the Church. It is by receiving the Body of Christ that we receive the strength "of unity with God and with one another" (Saint Cyril of Alexandria, In Ioannis Evangelium, 11:11; cf. Saint Augustine, Sermo 577).

We must never forget that the Church is built around Christ and that, as Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Albert the Great have all said, following Saint Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:17), the Eucharist is the sacrament of the Church's unity, because we all form one single body of which the Lord is the head. We must go back again and again to the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, where we were given a pledge of the mystery of our redemption on the Cross. The Last Supper is the locus of the nascent Church, the womb containing the Church of every age. In the Eucharist, Christ's sacrifice is constantly renewed, Pentecost is constantly renewed. May all of you become ever more deeply aware of the importance of the Sunday Eucharist, because Sunday, the first day of the week, is the day when we honor Christ, the day when we receive the strength to live each day the gift of God.

I would also like to invite the pastors and faithful to a renewed care in their preparation for reception of the Eucharist. Despite our weakness and our sin, Christ wills to make his dwelling in us, asking him for healing. To bring this about, we must do everything that is in our power to receive him with a pure heart, ceaselessly rediscovering, through the sacrament of penance, the purity that sin has stained, "putting our soul and our voice in accord," according to the invitation of the Council (cf. "Sacrosanctum Concilium," No.11). In fact, sin, especially grave sin, is opposed to the action of Eucharistic grace in us. However, those who cannot go to communion because of their situation, will find nevertheless in a communion of desire and in participation in the Mass saving strength and efficacy.

The Eucharist had an altogether special place in the lives of saints. Let us thank God for the history of holiness of Quebec and Canada, which contributed to the missionary life of the Church. Your country honors especially its Canadian martyrs, Jean de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and their companions, who were able to give up their lives for Christ, thus uniting themselves to his sacrifice on the Cross. They belong to the generation of men and women who founded and developed the Church of Canada, with Marguerite Bourgeoys, Marguerite d'Youville, Marie of the Incarnation, Marie-Catherine of Saint Augustine, Mgr Francis of Laval, founder of the first diocese in North America, Dina Belanger and Kateri Tekakwitha. Put yourselves in their school; like them, be without fear; God accompanies you and protects you; make of each day an offering to the glory of God the Father and take your part in the building of the world, remembering with pride your religious heritage and its social and cultural brilliance, and taking care to spread around you the moral and spiritual values that come to us from the Lord.

The Eucharist is not a meal among friends. It is a mystery of covenant. "The prayers and the rites of the Eucharistic sacrifice make the whole history of salvation revive ceaselessly before the eyes of our soul, in the course of the liturgical cycle, and make us penetrate ever more its significance" (Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, [Edith Stein], Wege zur inneren Stille Aschaffenburg, 1987, p. 67). We are called to enter into this mystery of covenant by conforming our life increasingly every day to the gift received in the Eucharist. It has a sacred character, as Vatican Council II reminds: "Every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree " ("Sacrosanctum Concilium," No. 7). In a certain way, it is a "heavenly liturgy," anticipation of the banquet in the eternal Kingdom, proclaiming the death and resurrection of Christ, until he comes (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26)...

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The Shack: A "Christian" Novel? Or God as a Jolly African American Woman Named "Papa"

The new stealth religious best-seller, "the Shack" has made it to the pages of the New York Times.

Stealth no more.

The Shack is the sort of book that makes conservative Catholics and evangelicals crazy. An enormously popular blockbuster that is regarded as "Christian" but plays around with many of the basics of the faith. The plot? A grieving father who meets God in the form of a jolly African-American woman.

"Early in the novel the young daughter of the protagonist, Mack, is abducted. Four years later he visits the shack where evidence of the girl’s murder was discovered. He spends a weekend there in a kind of spiritual therapy session with God, who calls herself “Papa”; Jesus, who appears as a Jewish workman; and Sarayu, an indeterminately Asian woman who incarnates the Holy Spirit.

The Times refers to "The Shack" as a 'Christian' novel.


Sales have been fueled partly by a whiff of controversy. Some conservative Christian leaders and bloggers have attacked “The Shack” as heresy. The Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, devoted most of a radio show to the book, calling it “deeply troubling” and asserting that it undermined orthodox Christianity. Others have said the book’s approach to theology is too breezy to be taken seriously.

But it has obviously hit a chord:

Brad Cummings, a former pastor and the president of Windblown, said the company, which first shipped books out of his garage, spent about $300 in marketing. Word of the book ripped through the Christian blogosphere, talk radio and pulpits across the country.

Love the $300 marketing effort. .

“Everybody that I know has bought at least 10 copies,” Mr. Nowak said. “There’s definitely something about the book that makes people want to share it.”

Thousands of readers like Mr. Nowak, a regular churchgoer, have helped propel “The Shack,” written by William P. Young, a former office manager and hotel night clerk in Gresham, Ore., and privately published by a pair of former pastors near Los Angeles, into a surprise best seller. It is the most compelling recent example of how a word-of-mouth phenomenon can explode into a blockbuster when the momentum hits chain bookstores, and the marketing and distribution power of a major commercial publisher is thrown behind it.

Just over a year after it was originally published as a paperback, “The Shack” had its debut at No. 1 on the New York Times trade paperback fiction best-seller list on June 8 and has stayed there ever since. It is No. 1 on Borders Group’s trade paperback fiction list, and at Barnes & Noble it has been No. 1 on the trade paperback list since the end of May, outselling even Mr. Tolle’s spiritual guide “A New Earth,” selected by Ms. Winfrey’s book club in January.

Have you read the book? What did you think? What is so compelling about "The Shack" that Christians are buying in in huge quantities despite its obvious flaws?

Ghanaian Catholics: Sunday Born

A glimpse of the Catholic faith as practiced in Ghana via an immigrant group in Virginia. From the Accra Daily Mail.

Nana Dominic Adu Gyamfi dances to the collection basket at the front of St. Paul's Episcopal Church and drops in a few dollars. Following him are the rest of the Sunday born, followed by the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday-born dancing to Twi hymns sung by the choir.

“It reinforces in ourselves and in our children our traditional values that we grew up with,” said Gyamfi. Gyamfi, dressed in a traditional Ghanaian tunic shirt and black dress pants, is the president of the Washington D.C. area Ghanaian Catholic Community.

Child naming ceremonies accompany weddings and funerals here, said Gyamfi, an Akan chief and African cloth dealer. The preaching also draws on examples from Ghanaian values, he said.“Respect for elders is so strongly enforced in our system,” said Gyamfi.


The pastor of the Ghanaian Catholic Community, Father Henry Kwaku Dua, knows how easy it can be to lose part of his culture. After returning to Ghana after being in Chile for nine years he could not speak his language very well or find his old friends, who had moved to different parts of the country.

Father Henry, Order of the Divine Word, has been the pastor of the community for the last four years. He said he has seen the community grow from less than 30 people to over 200.

Back in the Episcopal Church, many women and men sway to the sounds of the choir.

Most women and men wear traditional Ghanaian clothing to Mass. On a recent Sunday, multiple women were swathed in bright patterned dresses and head wraps, while men sported tunics. The men and women also stick to different sides of the church, an African tradition and not uncommon in other societies.

The community takes the Vatican II edict to participate more fully in the Mass very seriously.
The Mass takes at least two hours to complete, a recent Sunday threatened three hours, a stark contrast to a typical American Mass that races to finish in an hour.

“When you have twenty-four hours of sunshine, you don't have to be in rush for anything” said Gyamfi, stating the pace of life in the United States is one of the most difficult adjustments for Ghanaians.

The liturgy alternates between Twi and English.

Here's a glimpse of a Sunday liturgy from Holy Family Catholic Church in Accra, Ghana via You tube. You can glimpse a deacon on the right side preparing the altar but there is no explanation for the dancing of the women in front of the altar - whether this was for a special occasion or is a standard part of the Mass in Ghana.

Prayer Request

Stephen Sparrow of New Zealand, who is a regular ID reader and commenter underwent surgery on Monday and is currently in the "High Dependency" Unit (intensive care? Recovery?) and would appreciate our prayers for him and his family.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Evangelization and the Eucharistic Congress

More from the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec... 

This is a good account from the Archdiocese of Toronto blog of the testimony of Jose H. Prado Flores who founded the San Andres School of Evangelization. 

This morning’s witness talk was given by Mr. Jose H. Prado Flores, Director/Founder of the San Andres School of Evangelization. He spoke in spanish of his own faith journey, comparing it to a can of Diet Coke – light, with zero calories. While he studied theology and was a student of the church, everything was in his head but hadn’t been transferred to his heart.

Filled with great energy and a knack for humour, Mr. Flores used several props throughout his presentation to illustrate his points. A frozen steak was presented to illustrate that his faith was frozen, a remote control touched on our desire to change the channel when life is not going as we would like. A road map was produced to speak of the fact that while God has ultimate control we still want to control the direction of our life and where we are headed.

Finally a balloon was inflated to show that we can all be filled with the word of God – our tendency is to tie up the balloon as opposed to letting the Holy Spirit move where it needs to be. The visual of bishops and the congregation joyfully blowing up their balloons and just “letting go” was a powerful message that led to a standing ovation and plenty of food for thought.

Mr. Flores has helped found over 2,000 schools in 61 countries, providing evangelization to communities around the world. Today, another 11,000 were schooled in what it means to live one’s faith, to let go and let God be God…

Sounds amazing. 

I hope to blog on the Pope's homily from yesterday's Statio Orbis Mass when the full English text becomes available on the Vatican website.

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Mere Christianity Forum Vista House

When I was an undergraduate at Furman University I had the opportunity to help establish an intentional and ecumenical Christian community and house of hospitality as part of the Mere Christianity Forum. We called the house and community "Vista House." This mission statement is on the Vista House website:  

Vista House attempts to accomplish the overall mission of Mere Christianity Forum by creating a location where authentic, intentional Christian community is fostered, the good, true and beautiful is pursued, and the growth of the entire person is encouraged.

Our off-campus facility, Vista House, is a living, relational community of Christians who model and share the vision and love of Christ. By serving both the Furman University and greater Greenville community with the preparing and serving of meals, the creation of a warm and inviting atmosphere suitable for discussion and retreat, and the forging of genuine relationships with others through community, Vista House fellows and regular attendees of the Mere Christianity Forum attempt to model the holistic Christian life. The goal of Vista House is to paint a vista, a landscape, of the beauty and truth of the Christian life in a comfortable environment by persons living in an intentional Christian community.

Sherry and I were speaking earlier today about how to evangelize post-moderns and one thing we considered essential was the witness of intentional communities willing to witness faithfully to Christ and the Gospel through their community life, hospitality, right Christian practice (as a necessary complement to right Christian belief or orthodoxy), and the encounter with beauty. Monastic life did much of what we seek to do at Vista House (indeed monastic authors played a huge role forming us in preparation for establishing Vista House) in the evangelization of Europe and a renewal along those lines was called for by Alasdair MacIntyre at the end of After Virtue. We must remember that in a post-modern and post-Christian age propositional apologetics will not be effectively used in the same ways they used to be. However, as the emergent church is teaching us, the witness of truth, goodness, and beauty lived, particularly in communities and transcendent worship rooted in Christian tradition, will be a more effective means of evangelization than the apologetics of the past. We recognized this five years ago in the establishment of Vista House and I offer it as a witness to the possibilities for effectively evangelizing post-moderns. 

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Catholic Underground

Today I came across a unique project out of Louisiana called Catholic Underground (not the NYC Franciscan Friars of the Renewal initiative), which is a regular podcast hosted by two priests, a layman, and some other regular guest panelists.  It seems that they are really serious about proclaiming the Gospel using new media. 

Check them out here


Sunday, June 22, 2008

World Youth Day Goes Seven UP!


According to the Melbourne Age

"While it may be difficult to imagine mass conversions in the Emerald City of sun and surf, Fisher says there's no reason why the spirit can't come on Sydney as it has on its predecessors. So confident is the Sydney archdiocese in the power of World Youth Day that it has commissioned, for the first time, research that will chart the progress of pilgrims who attend this year's celebrations — a sort of spiritual Seven Up! The first batch of research, which looks at who is coming to World Youth Day and why, will be released soon."

The UK's Granada Television Seven Up! series followed 14 British children (starting in 1963) for the next 36 years, interviewing them every 7 years and broadcasting the results.

It would be incredible to have something more than anecdotes to grasp the impact of an event like World Youth Day, While the work of grace never reveals itself fully to such measurements, some sense of some of the impact could be measured.

The New Evangelization is Alive and Well in Atlanta

Gashwin has a exuberant post about Atlanta's dynamic Eucharistic Congress:

"This was my first time. 25,000 Catholics. Perhaps 30,000. On fire! Man! Apart from the amazing shot in the arm such gatherings provide, it was just fantastic to adore the Lord with tens of thousands of others. I cannot emphasize just how powerful Adoration is, and how every time it hits me in the heart. (Sherry W has a great post up at the Siena Blog on the evangelical power of Adoration.)

And the phenomenal diversity of this Particular Church! I heard so many tongues! The roar when the Hispanics were first acknowledged! And even the Vietnamese!

And the entire place was steeped in personal, intentional, awakened faith as well, as well as the apostolate of the laity."


"The first main talk was by Fr. Tim Hepburn, a priest of the Archdiocese, who's recently finished a degree in the New Evangelization at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit. What an Spirit-filled priest! He said that one cannot assume that just by being Catholic one has faith. Faith is an intentional response. It doesn't just happened. So many Catholics have an unawakened faith. "You shouldn't even presume that just because I am a priest, I have faith!" "If a mouse were to jump up on the altar during Mass and eat the consecrated Species, would it receive the Real Body and Blood of Christ?" (Yes) "But would it receive the Eucharistic Lord?" (No!) "The Sacraments are Sacraments of faith. The power of the Eucharist only works if we are properly disposed. "So many Catholics have the faith of mice!"

Hurray for Fr. Tim. He (along with Tim Ferguson of St. Blog's) was the reason I got invited to speak at Sacred Heart Seminary last October. The two Tims (one whom we knew from working in Atlanta, one who we knew from our many trips to San Francisco) spend a long time after class one day talking to Ralph Martin about CSI's work with the charisms (the subject had come up in class that day).

Atlanta is still at the top of my list for healthiest diocese I've ever worked in. Filled with lots of creative, confident intentional disciples at the diocesan level and the parish level. The renewal of the Atlanta archdiocese started with a lay woman who asked the previous Archbishop to sponsor Eucharist Adoration at the cathedral and then, throughout the diocese. It was the collaboration of that woman with her bishop that jump-started much of the good stuff going on there today and Adoration was the spiritual catalyst.

Someday, I hope to get to the Eucharistic Congress there myself.

Is Anti-Catholicism Dead?

Hey, New Yorkers and New Yorkers in spirit!

Interesting event coming up in July at the Museum of the City of New York.

A discussion on the topic: Is Anti-Catholicism Dead?

Paul Baumann, editor of Commonweal, will moderate a discussion about the history of anti-Catholicism and its resonance today. From the virulent nativist movements of the 19th century to contemporary examples of anti-Catholic rhetoric, a distinguished panel will discuss how the Catholic community has confronted discrimination and whether criticism of Catholicism can exist without fueling prejudice. Mr. Baumann will be joined by George Marlin, author, activist, and former Executive Director and CEO of Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; James McCartin, Professor of History, Seton Hall University; and Reverend Richard John Neuhaus, founder and editor of First Things.

Presented in with this fascinating exhibit: Catholics in New York, 1808-1946.

As the promotional video puts it: Their story is the story of every New Yorker.

The exhibition is organized around three central themes:

How Catholic community life revolved around New York's parishes, starting with the earliest, such as St. Peter's, old St. Patrick's, and St. Brigid's in Manhattan, and the distinctive subculture that arose in their heavily Catholic neighborhoods;

The creation of a vast system of health, education, and social welfare institutions, including parochial schools, the New York Foundling Hospital, and healthcare centers such as St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan and St. Mary’s Hospital in Brooklyn, originally founded by Catholics to provide services that embraced their religion and that would be insulated from anti-Catholic prejudice; and

The rise of Catholics as a force in New York politics, framed by such New York figures as William R. Grace (1832-1904), the Irish-born businessman who in 1880 was elected the first Catholic mayor of New York City; Alfred E. Smith (1873-1944), the governor from the Lower East Side who became the first Catholic to be nominated by a major political party for President of the United States, in 1928; Vito Marcantonio (1902-1954), the Congressman and American Labor Party leader from East Harlem; and many others.

And check out this interactive map of the 310 parish grade schools that criss-crossed New York in 1945.

Fascinating - even if you are not now and never have been a New Yorker.

What do you think? Is anti-Catholicism dead? If your answer is "yes", why do you think so? If your answer is "no", why not?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Conversion & the Individual

Thanks Joe for finding and posting the piece below.

What a compelling witness but what it costs to say "yes" to God in such a place. It reminds me very much of the stories that come out of the recusant Catholics of 16th century England when prisons became houses of formation and experiences of intense Christian community. (Margaret Clitheroe learned to read in prison and was given her most precious possession there: the new English Catholic translation of the Bible. Her Bible survived and is in the possession of the Bar Convernt in York)

And Joe's post raises another fascinating topic which is difficult to talk about clearly.

At Making Disciples last week, we talked of the power of Adoration - of exposing the unbaptized, the uncatechized, the lapsed to Christ's presence in the Blessed Sacrament - to reach post modern people who are drawn to encounter and mystery. We received a few comments in the evaluations from people who seemed to think that we were thereby minimizing the liturgy and the communal prayer of the baptized.

But they didn't get it. The presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament can be accessible and even experiential to people who have no liturgical background of any kind or even a conscious aversion to liturgy. I know of several people who are Catholic today, including myself, because we wandered across the threshold of a Catholic Church and felt a Presence that transcended al our conscious beliefs and expectations.

And they, oddly, seemed to not grasp that someone returning to the Church or approaching her for the first time, often - even usually - does so by him or herself or perhaps with one or two friends. It *feels* like a very personal, individual journey for most people regardless of whether or not they live in an "individualistic" culture like ours or not. It was a highly personal and individual journey for Margaret Clitheroe, who was raised Anglican in the 16th century, as it was, famously, for St. Augustine.

So often we project our intro-ecclesial debates onto those outside. I always find it odd when I run across Catholics who regard the theological idea of the "the People of God" or the communal worshiping community, understood at its most abstract and apart from any question of living Christian community, as in tacit opposition to the individual spiritual journeys of real people. (Now that I think about it - these concerns have always come from life-long Catholics who are deep ecclesial insiders. I have never heard a convert talk so.)

Most people are moved by individual experience and by the experience of relationship with other individuals or a living community. Only a few will be moved to open their lives to Christ by the idea of the People of God. Even when that happens, as in the case of the Jacques & Raisa Maritain, the resulting journey to faith, discipleship, and communion, is still experienced as very personal. I am responding to an initiative from a personal God, I am saying yes to the claims of the Church.

But many - of any background, intellectual or peasant - like Cardinal Nguyen van Thun's fellow prisoners, will respond to an experience of God: through the witness of disciples, through an experienced of real community, through an encounter, even one without words, with the Blessed Sacrament.

Would an intentional disciple ever talk or think about their journey to Christ in so bloodless and abstract a fashion? I have never met one who did. It always sounds like Cardinal Thun's story. A lived, costly, and highly personal "yes" to a living God.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuân

Yesterday, those tuning into the proceedings of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec heard the testimony of Elizabeth Nguyen Thi Thu Hong, the sister of the late Archbishop of Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City and President of the Pontifical Council Iustitia et Pax Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuân. Those of you familiar with his writings and the story of his life are well aware of his great witness to Jesus Christ. His sufferings were tremendous: 13 years in a Vietnamese prison, 9 years in solitary confinement, the inability to freely shepherd his flock, and finally the incurable stomach cancer that killed him in 2002. However, throughout it all he had his gaze totally fixed on Jesus, particularly in His Eucharistic Presence. Elizabeth had much to say about her brother and his relationship with our Lord, but for our purposes her meditation on the Eucharist and missionary activity was particularly striking: 

The Eucharist is the heart and soul of missionary activity. Indeed it was during those years of silence and solitude, cut off from all pastoral duties, but intimately united to the Eucharist that Francis understood with his whole being that it is only God, and not God's work, that should be the centre of our lives. That understanding opened the door to the Holy Spirit to transform those years of severe restrictions into the most active and fruitful evangelization periods of his life.

ln his book Five Loaves and Two Fish, Francis recounted the special period of his life which he considered as his period of major spiritual growth. Many times I was tempted, tormented by the fact that I was only 48 years old, in the prime of my life. I had acquired a great deal of pastoral experience, and there I was, isolated, inactive, separated from my people. One night I heard a voice encouraging me from the depth of my heart: ‘Why do you torment yourself so? You must distinguish between God and the work of God. You must choose God alone, and not his works.

When the communists threw him into the old of a cargo ship headed to Haiphong, 1700 m north, he suddenly found himself among some 1500 desperate, starving prisoners. He sensed their anger, their despair and desire for revenge, and he started to share in their human suffering; but with the inner voice immediately urging him to choose God, and not the works of God, he quickly realized that, in that captive company, he had just been handed a cathedral full of faithful to minister to. He decided to be an affirmation of God's presence in the midst of that cargo of human misery. He sustained his fellow prisoners during the 10-day trip, and managed to provide comfort for them.

By the time the cargo ship of prisoners reached Haiphong, Thuan realized he was already following Jesus to the roots of evangelization. It was like going with Him to die "extra muros", i.e., outside the walls, outside the sacred walls (Five Loaves and Two Fish).

Van Thuan described how he practised his ministry in the Vinh Quang Prison Camp: At night, the prisoners would take turns for adoration. With His silent presence, the Eucharistic Jesus helped us in unimaginable ways. Many Christians returned to a fervent faith ife, and their quiet display of service and love had an even greater impact on other prisoners. Even Buddhists and other non-Christians joined in the faith. The strength of Jesus' loving presence was irresistible. The darkness of prison became a paschal light, and the seed germinated in the ground during the storm. The prison was transformed into a school of catechesis. Catholics baptised fellow prisoners and became godparents to their companions.

Zenit has the whole text of her testimony here

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Stay Tuned

Sorry about the lack of posting.

This weekend is build-a-split-rail-fence-and-plant-2-dozen-shrubs-and-vines weekend. I should have done it earlier but
8 days on the road crimped my gardening style.

The wildflowers planted 4 weeks ago are rapidly covering the bed and I look forward to actually seeing some flowers someday. My catmint is an intense haze of purple.

This getting back into the swing thing is taking longer than I thought. This morning, I removed Office for Mac and reinstalled it - with many grumbles since the program is always asking me to do things that I haven't the faintest idea how to do- and we'll see if that cures it of its ailments. Oh, and I have to get that external hard drive that I picked up in Chicago going and set up my Time Machine for continuous back-ups. (There is nothing like contemplating losing 10 year's work to a failing hard drive to get your attention.)

And had to look seriously at my to do list in light of our heavy fall travel. Got to finish booklet on Stewardship as Stewardship of Mission and Vocation. Two other brochures to write. 4 grants to write, 9 one of kind events to write and plan for. And that's just what I know about at the moment.

But I'm home till August 10, so hope to get back into a pattern of regular blogging soon. Fr. Mike is basking in the brisk 106 degree temps of Tucson until June 30 (and his air conditioner is on the fritz!) but I hope that we will hear from him and Joe Waters as well.

So stay tuned.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Take Your Dog to Work Day

Tomorrow is Take Your Dog to Work Day. Again.

I know, I know. Every year It feels like we just we just finished the annual TYDTWD binge and here it is again.

Pippin, the cat, has decidedly mixed feelings about this one and usually spends the day under the bed.

So, are you bringing your pooch to work Friday?

Jesus in China

PBS's Frontline is going to be showing a fascinating glimpse of "Jesus in China" next week. Most PBS stations will carry it Tuesday, June 24 at 9 pm and it certainly looks worth watching.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Word from Down Under

And here's an enthusiastic Aussie fan of WYD: Fr. John Speekman

During WYD week I'll be putting up 8 priests from different parts of the world. They are mainly MC priests (Missisionaries of Charity - Mother Teresa's priests) but there are others too. It will be good to meet new friends. Also some Australian priests and a deacon will bring their blowup mattresses and sleeping bags and spread themselves around the available floor space in the presbytery. And then there's even a few laymen, musicians no less.

Can't wait for it to start and I bet I'll be glad it's over. But that's the way things go.

The Holy Father is coming - Peter himself; the one who keeps us together, the earthly centre of our unity - a man, representing the Man - God.

What a blessing to welcome him to our poor, sad, scattered, watered-down, split-down-the-middle Catholic Church in Australia! May his presence make us all think again.

We have 150 young people allocated to St Jospeh's Church here on three of the WYD catechesis days. They will come from overseas to sit in our church, before the Lord in our Tabernacle, to hear a bishop from 'somewhere' teach them the life-giving truths of the Catholic Faith. I'll be there too, eagerly listening.

Then we take them upstairs to the hall and feed them, and get to talk to some of them. Exciting!!!

Well, may the Holy Spirit of God come to us here in Australia, and to all who have made the pilgrimage. May he flood (baptise) us with Himself and bring new energy to the Faith, new life, new hope, new members.


Twenty Four young adults will be confirmed by Pope Benedict at World Youth Day next month. Very cool

Pope Benedict XVI will confirm 24 young people at the World Youth Day Final Mass near Sydney on Sunday July 20, it has been announced.

Twenty-four candidates for confirmation, 14 Australians and ten people from other countries, will receive the sacrament that marks the completion of baptismal grace through Pope Benedict.

“It’s not every day that one is confirmed by the global leader of the Catholic Church before hundreds of thousands of people,” said World Youth Day 2008 Coordinator, Bishop Anthony Fisher OP.

“The sacrament is life changing and to receive the sacrament in this way will prove an unforgettable experience, one that they will each carry with them for the rest of their lives,” he said.

Bishop Fisher said the Australian candidates were selected as representatives of their regions by bishops across the country. The Australian candidates range in age from 16 to 43 and are from every state and territory.

I haven't seen any new information about the numbers of WYD pilgrim registrations in a while. Anyone know?

Mary and Me

Speaking of Called & Gifted alumni, I'd like to bring a new book and author to your attention:

Ginny Moyer, who is married to Scott, our Bay area Called & Gifted team leader and Director of Adult Faith Formation at wonderful St. Dominic's Church in San Francisco, has her first book in print and it looks wonderful.

It is titled "Mary and Me: Catholic Women Reflect on the Mother of God." It is a well-written, inspiring read that draws upon the experiences of many contemporary women, Catholic or not, who have developed a devotion to Mary.

As Ginny points out in her forward, it was going through the Called & Gifted process that clarified her call to write. (And I should add, she also met Scott, her future husband through the C & G. We are a full service discernment process!)

(As I like to playfully point out to trainee teachers, teaching the C & G has unexpected side benefits. Many of our single teachers soon meet their future spouses, seminarians become pastors, and priests become bishops after teaching with us. Actually, only one priest teacher has been made a Bishop so far and all the seminarians and priest in training groan at the very thought of a bishopric, so guess it isn't much of an incentive - but the marriage possibility is very popular.)

Be sure and check out Ginny's book.

The Word from the Street

Called & Gifted news from all over:

This saga from Sandy, one of our trainee Called & Gifted teachers from Orange, CA this weekend: She said that the taxi driver who picked her up at O'Hare was from the Dominican Republic. In a way that I forget, the subject of faith came up. He starting grinning from ear to ear, telling her in animated terms about his conversion from a life of drugs and how he wanted to serve and please Jesus. Sandy asked him if there was a special woman in his life and he seemed a bit flustered but tried to explain" "No mam, I was impure before and I want to keep myself pure for Jesus. My mother doesn't understand."

At which point Sandy made an inspired guess "you may have a charism of celibacy". She said he was so startled, he nearly drove off the road. "That's it, mam, that's it!" And so they talked about the charism of celibacy until he dropped her off. "Can I take you back to the airport, mam, so we can talk some more about this?" he asked.

And this tale from Barbara, one of our local champions in chicago-land. She was doing a one-on-one session (which we call interviews) with a woman who attended their recent Called & Gifted workshop and the woman told her:

"I was on the verge of leaving the Church for a Protestant group. I was so discouraged. I just couldn't seem to find the help that I needed to grow in my faith in the Catholic Church. But after the Called & Gifted, it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I was supposed to offer my gifts to the Catholic community rather than primarily focus upon being fed."

And this from Mary Sharon, one of our teachers in Eugene who has spent a lot of time in western Kansas teaching C & G's::

"Our ministries received favorable mention recently in an article concerning the June 1st "DRE Day," in the Southwest Kansas Register (bimonthly newspaper for the Diocese of Dodge City):

Called and Gifted

Designed to help people recognize gifts of the Holy Spirit (charisms) that are at work in their life. Nearly 800 people from across the diocese have participated in the 17 Called and Gifted workshops that have been held in southwest Kansas.

"Why is it important to know your charisms?" asked Becky Hessman, coordinator of the Called and Gifted process. "Charisms are a major clue in discovering God’s plan for your life. By Baptism and Confirmation, we are called and gifted by God to fulfill a unique vocation."

For more information, call Becky at (620) 227-1530."


Vocations coordinator Becky Hessman is passionate about helping men and women of all ages discover their vocation in life.

Imagine the parish, the diocese, in which everyone actively expects God’s calling and has the competence to discern God’s desire for their life. A DVD, which was shown during the day, features Mary Sharon Moore, founder of Awakening Vocations. Moore says, "Stop believing that vocation discernment is for someone else. Vocation discernment is for you." ###

(Sherry's note: To give you some perspective, Dodge City is one of the smallest dioceses in the US with about 42,000 Catholics. The Chicagoland parish I was in last weekend had 22,000 members and was 1/2 the size of the entire Diocese of Dodge City. In Dodge, practically every leader in the diocese from Bishop Gilmore on down, has been through the Called & Gifted. 800 attendees would be almost 2% of the total Catholic population. I've probably spent a month of my life driving across western Kansas!)

And then there is this from Cathy, one of our new teachers from the Diocese of Orange: Bishop Tod Brown, in a recent pastoral letter on Adult Faith Formation, wrote this:

“Recently I have been reflecting on what has happened since the release of my Pastoral Letter Learning, Loving and Living Our Faith. It is hard to believe it has been just over a year since the challenge went out for adults in the Diocese of Orange to re-focus their priorities to include a deepening of their knowledge about what it means to be Catholic. I have encouraged the Office of Faith Formation to make this adult focus their priority also. I am pleased to report that they have taken steps to help parishes identify ways to move in this direction and provided them with the support it takes to do so.

A second area offering great promise, Called and Gifted, is a collaborative effort between stewardship and faith
formation. The initial training attracted 68 people from 22 parishes. The training introduced people to the signs and
characteristics of the 24 most common spiritual gifts and helped participants begin the discernment process of discovering
their charisms—“special gifts of the Holy Spirit bestowed on individuals for the good of others, the needs of the world, and
in particular for the building up of the Church” (Compendium CCC, 160). Just think what ministry in the diocese might be
like if everyone had a chance to discern their individual charisms and be matched with a ministry where that gift could be
used to its fullest!

There seems to be an ever-present desire in people to learn more about themselves. In the coming months, consider
participating in the additional workshops in this area, along with the necessary training to build parish teams. It will be most
effective when parishes can provide training for parishioners on site. "

It's been what you could call a long obedience. 15 years this summer, I was sketching out the first workshop for 20 as a volunteer in Seattle. A million air miles, 360 live workshops, 40,000 + inventories circulating, thousands of Catholics trained to facilitate the discernment of others, tens of thousands of personal conversations.

Now when diocesan staff call and I ask "how did you hear about us?", they say, as did the young man I talked to yesterday: "I have been hearing good things about your Institute for years. Several of our leaders have been through your Called & Gifted workshop and I've read some of your material on the internet."

Nibbled to death by a persistent minnow. Never underestimate what God will do through a long series of small obediences.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Back. From Wisconsin and Illinois.

8 days, several tornado watches, severe thunderstorms, cancelled plane flights, floods, dams breaking, one lake emptying out, social time filled with panicked cell phone messages from family members because the monastery where we are has no internet access or TV. Instructions on where to go if a tornado is sighted. Dead hard drive and unplanned visit to Genius Bar in Chicago mall.

The usual.

And the chance to talk to and pray with 40 fascinating people from all over the country and all over the spectrum. The gamut. East coast, west coast, deep south, and of course, the upper mid west. Battle of the councils. Liberals certain we are trying to turn the clock back to 1950 because we are focusing on the proclamation of Christ and initial faith despite reams of quotes from conciliar and post-conciliar sources. Cause we quote from the Council of Trent, ya know.

The traditionally minded who have "heard" that we are trying to raise up a lay cadre to undermine priests. Despite the fact that we quote from the council of Trent. Cause we're talking about the the gifts, mission, and formation of the laity and trying to actually do what the Second Vatican council asked us to do. Parishes from different parts of the spectrum looking at one another and saying "what are you doing here?" The usual in a highly polarized church.

Over the days, the tension and suspicion begins to dissipate and understanding and interest grows. God is at work.

Amazing stories of God at work in the lives of people who are open. Lots of energy as the implications of intentional discipleship dawns. Lots of invitations to come to various parishes and dioceses. 6 new Called & Gifted teachers trained including fellow blogger Gashwin Gomes who writes about his experience here. God is at work.

Oh - and the phrase of the week. Stunning. Told by ecclesially savvy participant that he had heard two different seminarians from two different seminaries refer to lay Catholics as "lay trash". It was supposed to be a joke but clearly wasn't. When men preparing for spiritual fatherhood talk about their prospective sons and daughters in that way, something is seriously, seriously wrong.

And now I'm home. Got a conference call with a diocesan director of evangelization at 8 am. 600 e-mails to work through. Visit office. Figure out which files and applications might have been corrupted by dying hard drive. Wrap my head around the very different sort of work that awaits me here.

More topical blogging later.

Friday, June 13, 2008

St Columbanus, on the front lines of mission, Synod of Bishops, and WYD social networking

I am back in Colorado Springs after a successful Making Disciples in Benet Lake, Wisconsin, but Fr Mike and Sherry are still on the road doing Called and Gifted teacher training at St. Isidore’s parish in Bloomingdale, Illinois.

There were a number of things worth looking at that came through this week: 

First, the Pope touched on evangelization during his weekly audience in which he discussed the Irish monk St Columbanus. The Pope summarized his address saying: 
"St. Columbanus' message focuses on a powerful call to conversion and detachment from worldly goods, with a view to the eternal reward. With his ascetic life and his uncompromising attitude to the corruption of the powerful, he evokes the severe figure of John the Baptist. Yet his austerity ... was only a means to open himself freely to the love of God and to respond with his entire being to the gifts received from Him, reconstructing the image of God in himself, and at the same time ploughing the earth and renewing human society".

"A man of great culture and rich in gifts of grace, both as a tireless builder of monasteries and as an uncompromising penitential preacher", the Pope concluded, Columbanus "spent all his energies to nourish the Christian roots of the nascent Europe. With his spiritual strength, with his faith, with his love of God and neighbour, he became one of the Fathers of Europe, showing us today the way to those roots from which our continent may be reborn".
The complete text is here

Also, Zenit had an interesting piece up about the Order of the Sisters of Adoration, Slaves of the Blessed Sacrament and of Charity and their work with women trapped in prostitution or who are victims of other forms of trafficking and exploitation. They are not only doing some very interesting outreach and mission work on the front lines of one of our greatest social evils, but they are finding their energy for this work in the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In fact, they say that "they find the same God in the Blessed Sacrament that they see in the girls with whom they work -- young women rescued from the prostitution trade." 

The full article is here

In preparation for the 12th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops this fall, a working document entitled "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church" has been prepared and presented by the synod secretary. The secretary said that they synod 

"should foster knowledge and love of the word of God which is living, effective and penetrating, in order to rediscover the infinite goodness of God who reveals himself to man as friend, encounters him and invites him to communion."
"Moreover," he added, "through the word of God, there is the hope of reinforcing the ecclesial community, fomenting the universal vocation to salvation, reinforcing the mission to those who are close and those far away, renewing imaginative charity, and attempting to contribute to the search for solutions to the many problems of contemporary man, who is hungry both for bread as well as for every word that comes from the mouth of God."
It will be great to see what comes out of the synod. The complete story and link to the document is at Zenit.

Finally, the folks preparing for World Youth Day in Sydney have started a social networking site along the lines of Facebook so that the energy and friendships coming out of World Youth Day can be continued in cyberspace once the festivities down under are over. I imagine this will lead to some remarkable connectivity and friendship between young Catholics from all over the world well after the lights have gone out on WYD 2008. The site is By the way, there are just 32 days to go before the festivities begin. 

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Saturday, June 7, 2008

"Generations" of Catholic theologians

Fr Mike and Sherry are on their way to Wisconsin this afternoon to gear up for Making Disciples, which starts tomorrow evening. Barbara Elliot and I will follow them to the Badger State tomorrow morning. I, for one, am looking forward to a lower elevation and temperatures more in my summer comfort zone (Colorado is a little cool for a South Carolinian!). 

John Allen has a fascinating piece this week on the opening session of the Catholic Theological Society of America annual convention going on this weekend in Miami. This year's convention theme is "Generations" and in her opening address Prof. Maureen O'Connell (Ph.D., Boston College) of Fordham University reflected on the gaps between four generations of Catholic theologians (and American Catholics generally). The sociological data she worked with was provided by a study done by James Davidson of Purdue University. 


“O’Connell had been asked to reflect theologically on a presentation from Catholic sociologist James Davidson of Purdue University, reviewed data from surveys of what he identified as four distinct generations of American Catholics, grouped with respect to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65):

• Pre-Vatican Catholics, meaning those born before 1941, representing 17 percent of American Catholics;

• Vatican II Catholics, born between 1941 and 1960, at 35 percent;

• Post-Vatican II Catholics, born between 1961 and 1982, at 40 percent;

• Millennial Catholics, born since 1983, at 8 percent.”


“Davidson argued that the results of surveys from 1987, 1993, 1999 and 2005 show a clear trend, amplified in each succeeding generation, away from what Catholic writer Eugene Kennedy calls “Culture One Catholicism,” with a high emphasis on religious practice, clerical authority and doctrinal conformity, towards “Culture Two Catholicism,” emphasizing lay autonomy and the individual conscience.

Asserting that church leaders are today attempting to return the church to a “culture one” model, Davidson said that because the socio-economic status of American Catholics is not in decline and because “laity are not willing to grant control” to the hierarchy, “the percentage of Catholics who are culture one will continue to decline.”

If older liberal Catholics are over-represented in reform groups such as Call to Action and Voice of the Faithful, Davidson said, younger conservative Catholics are equally over-represented among new priests, seminarians, and even theologians.

Speaking specifically about theologians, Davidson said that a growing tendency for younger theologians to reflect a “culture one” mentality reflects “a larger pattern of separation between the laity and the leaders of the institutional church.”

O’Connell largely agreed, saying that one distinguishing feature of her generation of theologians is that it came of age in an era of a “near-total disconnect between a culture one hierarchy and a culture two laity.”

Facing that situation, O’Connell said, many younger theologians today feel a need to try to be of pastoral service to the church – working with disparate movements such as Voice of the Faithful, the Focolare and Sant’Egidio, for example, or writing for non-specialized audiences outside the academy. Those activities, she said, represent an attempt to “fill in the pastoral gaps.””


“In that light, O’Connell proposed that amid today’s tensions over Catholic identity, perhaps a defining characteristic of what constitutes a “good Catholic theologian” ought to be what she called “pedagogical excellence” – meaning a commitment to teaching and formation.”
Complete story here

This is interesting stuff and not all that surprising given the broad landscape of American Catholicism today. I am truly grateful for her insight about the excellence of a theologian being constituted by a commitment to "teaching and formation." Theological work is not worth much if it does nothing to serve the Church, help bring people to Jesus Christ, and form disciples. However, I am disappointed to see this data strictly interpreted through lens of the culture one v. culture two Catholicism. I really do think the positions of theologians young and old are far more nuanced than such a hard and fast distinction allows. 

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Friday, June 6, 2008

The Stag of Christ

There is a herd of deer that live on the trail above my house but we never see them in the park behind the house. Until this morning, when I was walking around the park just after dawn and a doe suddenly leaped out of the wild area of the park and ran eagerly across the lawn toward me. She ran the way a dog would run to a beloved owner. I couldn't believe it. "Is she tame?" I thought?

Then the deer suddenly stopped 30 feet from me and hesitated - as though she suddenly realized that I was not the person she expected. After a few moments of sizing each other up, she circled round me and ran off down the street. She did not seem to be car savvy so I was worried about her but couldn't possibly catch up and successfully herd her toward the trailhead a quarter mile up the hill by myself.

I've had a number of magical early morning encounters with our local herd, including having a buck with a rull rack of antlers pass me on the trail with the casual aplomb of a fellow jogger.

But the most magical was the morning when the same stag seemed to be leading me along the trail for a mile at least, waiting for me patiently around every new bend or viewpoint and then moving on ahead as my guide.

I was irresistibly reminded of the story of Placidus, a noble pagan who is hunting in the forest. He was" following an extraordinarily large stag, when the beast stood still, and Eustace (Placidus) saw between his horns a tall and glorious figure of the Lord Christ hanging upon the Cross, whence came a voice bidding him to follow after life eternal. Thereupon Eustace and his wife Theopista, and their two little sons Agapitus and Theopistus, enlisted themselves as soldiers under the Great Captain, Christ. " (from the Golden Legend)

This magnificent 15th century painting captures the original legend. Why not on a suburban greenway in the Rockies?

The Week Ahead

Fr. Mike, Joe and I will be blasting off this weekend to Benet Lake, Wisconsin where we will join Barbara Elliott to put on Making Disciples.

Fr. Mike and I will then go on to Chicago to train new Called & Gifted teachers in English and Spanish. We leave Saturday and I won't return home for 8 days. Fr. Mike will be going on to Tucson for a couple weeks before returning to CS.

So blogging will be limited next week. I won't know how limited until I see how much internet access there is in Benet Lake.

Meanwhile for those of you in the San Francisco area, our team at stunningly beautiful St. Dominic's will be offering a Called & Gifted workshop on the weekend of June 13/14.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Doctrine Aimed at the Gut

Warning long, juicy post ahead!

Thought provoking article over at First Things this morning:

Tim Kelleher is both a seminarian and "an actor, writer, and director, with nearly one hundred film and TV credits. He recently completed his own television pilot and can be seen this fall in films starring Will Smith and Greg Kinnear." (He must be a hoot in the seminary! I'll bet Barb Nicolosi knows him.) Tim begins with the Fr. Pfleger incident but quickly segues into his real topic:

The human maturity of priests and its effect on preaching:

. . . in my experience many Catholic priests seem daunted by the commission to speak in the emotional idiom of their own backgrounds, let alone someone else’s. Let’s be honest—it’s just rare to hear a good homily in a typical Catholic church unless you’ve done some advance scouting. I make this observation with regret and hope.

The situation affects everyone, not least of all the one struggling in the pulpit. But, in an era of widespread illiteracy among Catholics when it comes to the Tradition generally, and the central Mystery of the Eucharist specifically, the homily is a critical key to an infinite treasure.

It used to be thought that better education was the remedy, and a case can be made that in recent decades big strides have been made in this area. For the last few years I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by intellectually gifted young men receiving a world-class education in philosophy and theology as they prepare for Holy Orders. It’s unquestionably important, but it’s not enough. The difficulty in communicating in an emotionally resonant idiom—the language of the heart, if you will—persists. If this is true, we need to ask, Why? At this point, two things come immediately to mind.

First, as Heraclitus pointed out a long while back, “the learning of many things does not teach understanding.” I think this speaks to some strong tendencies in Catholicism toward dogmatic fundamentalism. By this I mean a disposition you could sum up to the tune of “I don’t have to understand all this—the Church has already done it for me.” Von Balthasar once said that “there’s no getting around Being”—in academic terms, metaphysics. How practical Aristotle therefore seems when he opines that no one under the age of fifty is ready to monkey around with matters metaphysical. That’s not a view Thomas Aquinas shared, but I think we can see the Greek philosopher’s point. It’s possible that the unfortunately dubbed trend of “second-career vocations” could exert some positive influence here.

Second, I think it may be useful to recall the 1971 Kennedy-Heckler study of priests in the United States, which concluded that an overwhelming percentage of those exercising sacerdotal office were in some state of emotional underdevelopment. Lest we pogo-stick to conclusions, we should remind ourselves that this study was commissioned by no less a Catholic-baiting group than the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.


I recently had a conversation with a seminarian who has the potential of becoming a very bright light. His intellectual gifts have been apparent to every superior and professor he’s encountered. What’s more, his heterosexuality is as certain as his comportment is awkward. This fellow told me something that seems beyond the grasp of those pushing him to ordination: “I’m not ready to be a priest—I mean, to be responsible for the people of a parish. I hardly know how to be responsible for myself. I’m a kid. I like going to my room and playing Nintendo.”

Now, some might say a good swift kick is in order. But, in such a situation, who’s to administer it? The Monsignor D’Arcys (of Bernanos’ Diary of a Country Priest) are in short supply, and those pushing him are, statistically at least, likely to rank among the emotionally underdeveloped. For that matter, so am I.

The vocabulary necessary to point compellingly to the rich inner dynamisms of any given doctrine needs to be developed in the years of seminary formation. These doctrines are not dots on a map which once connected lead to the Promised Land. They are the fruits of serious human grappling with the deep mysteries of grace. They may be intellectually elegant but they are also aimed at the gut. (sherry's emphasis)

The Tradition into which many of us were born seems to more than a few outside it an opaque system of rituals intended to conjure rather alchemical results. But rituals are indeed central to the Catholic sacramental view of reality. It’s troubling, then, that the language they form is spoken fluently by so few.

Be sure and read the whole First Things thing.

As I (Sherry) have written before relative to the formation of the laity:

Unfortunately, we have tended in recent years to look upon wrestling with the content of the faith as an optional form of self-enrichment for the few lay people who are so inclined. The intuitive, heartfelt, and experiential have been regarded as sufficient foundation for the majority of lay people while ideas, doctrine, and thought are assumed to be the province of bishops and theologians. We have confused being an intellectual with understanding and discerning the real life implications of fundamental truths.

Few Catholics are gifted intellectuals but all of us need to be familiar with the essential of the Church teaching because through her we have access to revelation. Revelation contains truths that God must reveal to us because we human beings could not discover them on our own. These truths are beyond the grasp of our reason, intuition, and experience and yet they are critical to our happiness and destiny as human beings. Most of us will never read St. Thomas Aquinas for fun, but we can still ponder the significance of St. Thomas’ insistence that the ultimate destiny of human beings is perfect, eternal happiness. You don’t need an Ivy League education to ask “Is this true and if so, what does that mean for me and those I love?”

To make the essentials of the Church’s teaching available to lay men and women at the parish level will require a great effort but it is worth it. We need a remedy that will clear our minds and open our hearts to realities that we could not have guessed. The ability to critically evaluate the truth and implications of a proposed idea or action is particularly important for American Catholics because of the power that each of us has to influence the world around us. We elect our own leaders, form our government, determine our social policy and shape the future of our nation and the world. We are the apostles to this world, and we stand in Christ’s place. We must see our world as he does. As C. S. Lewis observed: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” (The Weight of Glory, “Is Theology Poetry?” 1944, p. 92)

The nagging fear that lay Catholics will be bored to tears by doctrine has never been borne out in our experience. Over the past 11 years, we have taught over 29,000 adult Catholics how to discern the gifts and call of the Holy Spirit in live workshops across North America, Australia, and Indonesia. When we first offered the Called & Gifted workshop, we too were afraid that participants would be bored by the theology of the lay office and mission in the Church. Priests were puzzled as to why we would teach lay people concepts that they had wrestled with in seminary. Parish leaders would tell us that six hours of solid content was asking too much of those who attended. To our constant delight and astonishment, many attendees have told us that the theological portion of the workshop is the best part and a number have even informed us that the weekend is too short!

Our teachers have consistently found that if we present the essential truths of the faith with clarity and conviction, people do not find the Church’s teaching mystifying but compelling. The central doctrines of the faith are not abstractions for would-be scholastics longing for a return to the middle ages. The truths of revelation are alive and they speak profoundly to the hunger of 21st century hearts.

Your thoughts?

By the way:

The reality that Tim describes is one reason that I'm so pumped about the work of the Institute for Priestly Formation located at Creighton in Omaha. Founded by a team (2 priests, 1 deacon, and a lay women) IPF focused on spiritual and human formation for seminarians and priests - the stuff most seminary education doesn't deal with in depth. Living relationship with God. Experiencing God's love. Yes, Intentional discipleship as the heart of priesthood. Emotional, human, and relationship healing and formation. The relationship of the priesthood with the laity. The 30 day Ignatian exercises. All integrated with absolutely rock solid theology but not a head trip.

Fr. Mike and I will be meeting with the IPF team in November between offering Making Disciples for the Archdiocese of Omaha and an ecumenical Orthodox-Catholic Called & Gifted in Ohio. I'm so looking forward to hearing more about their work from the horse's mouth. So it will be an intense week but a privileged and fruitful one.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Year of St. Paul is About to Begin

Catholic Online has a great video piece about the Year of St. Paul which begins June 28, 2008 and runs through June 29, 2009. Unfortunately, there's no embed code but you can watch it here.

The report notes:

The most important aspect of the year will be its emphasis on Christian unity. Cardinal Lanza di Montezemolo, rector of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls (site of St. Paul's tomb) says "The year will allow everyone to pray for the unity of Christians. This aspect is very important for the Holy Father and he has recommended that we have this always in mind in everything we do."

As Pope Benedict said in his Homily for the Vespers on the Eve of Saints Peter & Paul, 2007:

"This Basilica, which has seen events of profound ecumenical significance, reminds us how important it is to pray together for the gift of unity, that unity for which St. Peter and St. Paul offered their existence up to the supreme sacrifice of their own blood.

In an unprecedented move, an ecumenical chapel will be set up next to St. Paul's Basilica in Rome for non-Catholics to pray. A two euro coin is going to issued in honor of St. Paul. For the year 2009, the Vatican has authorized the celebration of the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on the usual day, January 25, although the date falls on the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Benedict XVI has granted a Plenary Indulgence for the occasion of the two-thousandth anniversary of the birth of the Apostle Paul. The Plenary Indulgence will be valid throughout the Pauline Year which is due to run from 28 June 2008 to 29 June 2009.

There is a website dedicted to the year:

The MIssionary Society of St. Paul has this website for the Pauline year which features a somewhat shaky video tour of the Basilica and a very interesting 30 Day Walk with St. Paul. The MSP were founded in Nigeria in 1977 and have 200 priests who work all over Africa and parts of Europe. Apostles from the global south walking in the footsteps of their spiritual father, St. Paul.

In any case, we are starting to get requests related to the Pauline year: for Called & Gifted workshops, including our first for a mixed Orthodox-Catholic group (I'll let you know more when it is finalized). I've been asked to speak at a convocation for the Pauline year with Archbishop Chaput - I hope I finally get the chance to meet him.

I do wish I could visit the Basilica in Rome - but probably only in my dreams! Don't you feel a call to visit Rome this year? Come on. You know you do!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

"The Great Divorce" and the Challenge of Faith

Just a note to let you all know about a new essay of mine that's up today on Catholic Exchange entitled The Great Divorce and the Challenge of Faith (click on the title to go there).  It's a meditation on faith and our heavenly destiny, based on C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce with insights from Fr. Luigi Giussani's new book Is It Possible to Live This Way?

This sometimes happens when you read two books at the same time - ideas can collide in an amazing way!

Here's a taste: 
Fr. Giussani thus radically reorganizes the categories of the faith vs. reason debate. Since faith is the foundation of our knowledge about the world, faith is the most reasonable choice to make when evaluating the testimony of someone you know and trust — especially if the encounter is exceptional in some way. He continues: “From a rational point of view, it’s clear that if you become certain that another person knows what he or she is saying and doesn’t want to deceive, then logically you should trust, because if you don’t trust you go against yourself, against the judgment you formulated that that person knows what he or she says and doesn’t want to deceive you.”[v] For Lewis’ fellow bus travelers to the heavenly valley, faith is actually the most reasonable response to the extraordinary encounters they are having, but in denying and rejecting the new vision, the visitors are acting in a most tragically irrational, unreasonable way. The human bond of trust they had with their now Bright friend or loved one should have enabled them to trust the information they were receiving and to allow themselves to be led by that love and trust into the mountains. But alas — they could not overcome their pride, their bitterness, their greed — that is, their insistence that Heaven’s infinite glory conform to their finite conceptions. And they go against themselves.

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"Whatever is truly Christian" Part II

Sherry asked me to comment on her post "Whatever is truly Christian” in light of my own experiences studying in a Protestant, though thoroughly ecumenical (at least five faculty members are Catholic), Divinity School. I think it would be easiest simply to offer my insights into what I have learned from Protestants at Duke that I probably would not have learned or been exposed to in a Catholic setting. 

As I was reflecting on what those lessons were, I was reminded that none of them are alien to the Catholic tradition or stand in opposition to it. In fact, they are all very “Catholic” and deserve our recognition and affirmation as such. Of course, Protestantism is a protest and my time at Duke has also reminded me of why I am Catholic and strengthened my Catholic identity. From its nativity, Protestantism has rejected the authority of the bishop of Rome to govern and guide the Universal Church and in so doing has lost a great deal of what is essential to Christian faith and the life of grace. But, with that caveat in mind, let me tell you a bit more about what I think is worth learning from our Protestant brothers and sisters. 

My experience at Duke Divinity School, which was founded as and continues to be a Methodist institution, has been primarily with Methodists, conservative Episcopalians (mostly of the conservative Anglo-Catholic variety), and assorted others including AME, AME Zion, Nazarene, Lutherans, and Baptists (mostly Cooperative Baptists). 

Methodists at Duke have a strong sense of their own distinctive heritage as spiritual children of John and Charles Wesley. And, believe it or not, John and Charles Wesley have much to teach all Christians, including Catholics and Orthodox, about what it means to live life in the Holy Spirit. These were two men who really knew Jesus and knew him well. Their “Holy Clubs” and group meetings provide a tremendous pattern for the formation of disciples committed to personal sanctification. 

The Methodists I have encountered at Duke truly have a living, personal knowledge of Jesus that, unlike some other Protestants, spills over into a radical commitment to the care of the poor and marginalized (understood as an implication of Eucharistic communion) and to evangelization and discipleship formation. They talk openly about their relationship with Jesus and the relationship of their communities with Christ. The result of this is a lived, experiential understanding of the Church’s communio that is often lacking in the lived experience of most of American Catholics. 

The Methodists that I know also have a praiseworthy commitment to racial reconciliation and are always willing to stretch out the hand of friendship and include those who are often marginalized in the mainline Protestant churches. Especially laudable is their ongoing deep commitment to rural communities and congregations. 

Methodist commitment to discipleship formation is evidenced by their press (Abingdon, and its retail arm, Cokesbury), which provides some tremendous resources for parishes, including the wildly popular and effective Disciple bible study. 

Methodists are often delightfully humorous people who don’t take themselves seriously or their denomination too seriously and are always open to good-natured, ecumenical ribbing. They live comfortably and cheerfully with one another even through significant theological disagreements (which admittedly, as a Catholic, I sometimes find a frustrating trait) and have an ironic sense of humor about Methodist culture, polity, politics, and idiosyncrasies. 

On a final note, many Catholics may be surprised to find out that many of the best hymns that we sing at Mass are from the Methodist hymn tradition, many written by Charles Wesley himself. This demonstrates the great Methodist commitment to the formation of disciples by reaching the heart through stirring music and theologically rich texts. Some of the more famous ones are: “Come, thou long expected Jesus,” “Christ the Lord is risen today,” “Love Divine, all love’s excelling,” “Rejoice, the Lord is King,” “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” and, my personal favorite, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” which is always the first hymn in every Methodist hymnal. 

Perhaps, in a future post I will consider some of the other Protestant groups I know well and what lessons they bring for Catholics. 

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Monday, June 2, 2008

Can Business Be Catholic?

Very interesting Zenit article today: an interview with Michael Naughton, who holds the Moss Endowed Chair in Catholic Social Thought and is director of the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

The topic: Can Business Be Catholic?

It's a long piece and worth reading in its entirely but here are some particularly intriguing quotes:

"Q: Many critics believe a business school has no place in a Catholic university because business promotes selfish ends. How would you respond? Can business really be a professional calling?

Naughton: There is, as you say, a bias against business, particularly among some of the faculty in the liberal arts. They often operate with a Platonic/Aristotelian bias against commerce, since they understand business only in terms of its economic and instrumental dimensions.

Once I had a theologian say to me that success for him was persuading students away from majoring in business, since he saw little redeemable value in pursuing such a line of work.

However, if we look at some of the great Catholic thinkers on education -- Cardinal John Henry Newman, Jacques Maritain, Poe John Paul II, etc. -- what we find is that they all see a role for professional education within the university, precisely because they hold to the importance of the dignity of work.

Today, business is one of the major forms of work for our students; a Catholic university, as a cultural institution, plays an important role in the formation of students as to what this work should be.

Q: How should the principles and pillars of Catholic social teaching -- subsidiarity, solidarity, respect for human dignity and the common good, and a preferential option for the poor -- shape the curriculum and culture of a Catholic business school? Do Catholic business schools currently live up to this standard?

Naughton: It is important to remember that all business education involves an education in principles. The question is in what principles are we forming our students -- Machiavellian principles, economic principles, Catholic social principles, etc."


As to the culture part of your question, I see four important areas to engage these principles that can shape the identity of a Catholic business school.

The first is hiring. When Catholic business schools hire faculty, they should have candidates read an essay on Catholic social principles and ask them how they would engage such principles in their discipline. This would give a good sense of mission fit of potential new faculty.

Faculty development is a second area. If a Catholic business school is going to take its mission seriously, it has to devote time to engage faculty on the Catholic social tradition.

The third is research. Father Ted Hesburgh, former president of Notre Dame, once said that the Catholic university is where the Church does its thinking.

In a Catholic business school some of that thinking as it relates to the Church’s social principles should be engaging questions within finance, marketing, human resources, entrepreneurship, etc.


Q: Benedict XVI stated in his recent address to American college and university presidents that a Catholic institution of higher education should assist students in deepening their relationship with Jesus Christ. Can this really be accomplished in a business education program?

Naughton: John Henry Newman wrote that “every profession has its dangers,” and business is no exception.

The excessive pursuit and desire for money and power, the cold pragmatic instrumental reasoning of treating employees as means only, rather than ends, the prideful conceit of understanding business as only a career, etc. are all indicators to a destiny that excludes God.

The Second Vatican Council document “Gaudium et Spes” warns us that the split between one’s professional life and one’s religious commitments is a dangerous error of our age. This divided life, particularly for Christian businesspersons, seriously impairs their relationship with Christ.

A Catholic university, if it takes its mission seriously, needs to engage its business students in ideas of vocation, faith and reason, spirituality of work, principles of the Catholic social tradition, the cardinal and theological virtues, responsibilities to poor and marginalized, all of which can move the student to a richer understanding and relationship with God.
The last area is curriculum. There should be specific courses on Catholic social thought and business in which Catholic social principles and business theory and practice are specifically engaged.


Needed: New Approaches for Britain

Godspy has an interesting opinion piece by Austen Ivereigh up now about the “Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill” that recently passed the House of Commons.

Though the passage of this bill is certainly a setback for the pro-life movement in Britain, it should also serve as a call to a greater practical commitment to life in British society, particularly through the dedicated involvement of lay people willing to respect and affirm life through their own actions and initiatives. The policy statements of the bishops and the minority of committed pro-lifers in the Commons failed to stop the progress of this bill. Perhaps, now it is time for Christians in Britain (and indeed throughout Europe and America) to step back and return to basics, and seek to change the laws and culture “from the bottom up” like William Wilberforce did in the 18th and 19th centuries when he embarked upon another sort of campaign in defense of human life. There are some excellent opportunities here for lay people to work effectively in the public square on these issues, but we must first recognize that our commitment to life extends beyond the voting booth, policy statements, and Marches for Life.

More initiatives from the grassroots that seek to promote respect for life, especially through crisis pregnancy centers, care for babies with disabilities or terminal illnesses, the care of the poor and sick whose lives are considered “worthless” by the culture, and other efforts to dissuade women from abortion and convince the public of the immorality of abortion by boundlessly loving mothers and children will go a long way in turning the tide of popular opinion just as the human faces of slaves and the exemplary witness of committed Christians did nearly 200 years ago. Without a doubt, this bill is a huge defeat for the pro-life movement on the public policy front, but it opens up tremendous opportunities for new, innovative initiatives in Britain and should encourage those of us who live elsewhere to a renewed commitment to work on behalf of life.

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Whatever is Truly Christian

As those of you who have read ID for a while know, we periodically get mystery visits from commenters who drop in to accuse me of importing categories, ideas, or practices from my Protestant past and in so doing, distorting the faith. Some of these commenters have made it clear that they don’t consider Protestants to be real Christians and that we have nothing at all to learn from them.

There was a similar conversation over at Dr. Philip Blosser’s blog last fall in which a commenter was asserting that Peter Kreeft, Cardinal Avery Dulles, and Louis Boyer were all converts whose ecclesiology showed the contaminating influence of their Protestant pasts.

At which point Dr. Blosser, a champion of the Traditional Mass, asked a most pertinent question:

Let’s get to the point: Here’s a Catholic teaching and tradition. I would like you to comment on it. It says:

“… Catholics must gladly acknowledge and esteem the truly Christian endowments from our common heritage which are to be found among our separated brethren. It is right and salutary to recognize the riches of Christ and virtuous works in the lives of others who are bearing witness to Christ, sometimes even to the shedding of their blood. For God is always wonderful in His works and worthy of all praise.”

But wait. That’s not all:

“Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can be a help to our own edification. Whatever is truly Christian is never contrary to what genuinely belongs to the faith; indeed, it can always bring a deeper realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church.”
Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) (1964), I, 4.

Dr. Blosser's question:

What do you think Mother Church is teaching us here? Which “truly Christian endowments” and “riches of Christ and virtuous works” among our separated brethren do you think could be described as “genuinely [belonging] to the faith,” “wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren” and, moreover, could be considered as “a help to our own edification” as Catholics, bringing us to “a deeper realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church?”

Dr. Blosser notes: “first, that the Decree is not even discussing Catholic converts here, but non-Catholic Christians; and, second, that the Decree is not stating merely that certain endowments and works of non-Catholic Christians are compatible with Catholic teaching or belong to “our common heritage, but that they may serve to edify Catholics.

As Dr. Blosser added: “Your comments, please.”

And I will add: lets keep to the topic. What about your experience of non-Catholic Christians has inspired you, challenged you, edified you, or has brought you to a deeper realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church?

If you believe, contrary to the Church's teaching that the term “non-Catholic Christian” is an oxymoron, and that they have nothing that we could benefit from, this is not the conversation for you. The usual rules around here apply.

Benedict's New Encyclical

What is particularly interesting in this brief news piece from the Cutting Edge News about the new Encyclical ( tentatively entitled Caritas in Veritate (Charity/Love in the Truth) is the public acknowledgement of the team helping the Pope write it:

In his encyclical, the cardinal said, “[Pope Benedict] does not want to repeat obvious truths of Catholic social teaching," but will apply Church teachings to contemporary problems. “I am thinking of globalization and other problems, like the food crisis and climate change," Cardinal Bertone said.

Il Giornale's Andrea Tornielli reported last week that the committee working with the Pope on the encyclical includes the Pope's recently-named successor as archbishop of Munich and Freising, Reinhard Marx, a specialist in Catholic social teaching; the top two officials of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Renato Martino and Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi; and Stefano Zamagni, a lay Italian economist.

It makes perfect sense and is very much in keeping with the Church's understanding of the laity that the Pope should call upon the competence of lay experts when considering the application of Catholic social teaching in such areas. We know that there were significant lay contributions to the drafts of some Second Vatican Council documents, for instance. But I've not seen this sort of collaboration acknowledged in advance so clearly before.

"No Go" Areas in Britain for Christian Evangelists?

And yet another sign of our times. From the Telegraph again.

A police community support officer ordered two Christian preachers to stop handing out gospel leaflets in a predominantly Muslim area of Birmingham.

The evangelists say they were threatened with arrest for committing a "hate crime" and were told they risked being beaten up if they returned. The incident will fuel fears that "no-go areas" for Christians are emerging in British towns and cities, as the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, claimed in The Sunday Telegraph this year.

Arthur Cunningham, 48, and Joseph Abraham, 65, both full-time evangelical ministers, have launched legal action against West Midlands Police, claiming the officer infringed their right to profess their religion.

Mr Abraham said: "I couldn't believe this was happening in Britain. The Bishop of Rochester was criticised by the Church of England recently when he said there were no-go areas in Britain but he was right; there are certainly no-go areas for Christians who want to share the gospel."

Last night, Christian campaigners described the officer's behaviour as "deeply alarming".

The preachers, both ministers in Birmingham, were handing out leaflets on Alum Rock Road in February when they started talking to four Asian youths.

A police community support officer (PCSO) interrupted the conversation and began questioning the ministers about their beliefs. They said when the officer realised they were American, although both have lived in Britain for many years, he launched a tirade against President Bush and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr Cunningham said: "I told him that this had nothing to do with the gospel we were preaching but he became very aggressive. "He said we were in a Muslim area and were not allowed to spread our Christian message. He said we were committing a hate crime by telling the youths to leave Islam and said that he was going to take us to the police station." The preacher refused to give the PCSO his address because he felt the officer's manner was "threatening and intimidating".

The ministers claim he also advised them not to return to the area.

As he walked away, the PCSO said: "You have been warned. If you come back here and get beaten up, well you have been warned".

West Midlands Police, who refused to apologise, said the incident had been "fully investigated" and the officer would be given training in understanding hate crime and communication.

The One Ring?

I am being besieged with quirky but noteworthy bits of information. Via the Telegraph.

The National Trust of Britain is urging people to visit 50 hidden gems among the thousands of wonderful houses, gardens, and historic and cultural sites administered by the Trust. For the literati among us. Some descriptions are particularly intriguing. Be sure to read to the end.

Writers' homes

Coleridge Cottage Somerset
Here Samuel Taylor Coleridge roamed the countryside with Wordsworth, and wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan and This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison among others. The house survived years of use as 'Moore's Coleridge Cottage Inn', but still boasts several personal mementos, and the adjacent garden, with its Lime Tree Bower. 01278 732662

Coleridge Cottage Somerset
Here Samuel Taylor Coleridge roamed the countryside with Wordsworth, and wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan and This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison among others. The house survived years of use as 'Moore's Coleridge Cottage Inn', but still boasts several personal mementos, and the adjacent garden, with its Lime Tree Bower. 01278 732662

Bateman's East Sussex
Rudyard Kipling's attractive Jacobean home is preserved as he left it in 1936, crammed with oriental paraphernalia. Highlights include the original illustrations for The Jungle Book, and Kipling's Phantom I Rolls-Royce. 01435 882302

Hardy's Cottage Dorset
Thomas Hardy lived here until he was 34, writing Far from the Madding Crowd and Under the Greenwood Tree under its thatched roof. 01305 262366

Max Gate Dorset
Hardy designed this house in 1885. His father and brother built it while he wrote The Mayor of Casterbridge, and he lived here until his death, enjoying the success of Jude the Obscure and Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and entertaining Kipling, Woolf and Shaw among others. 01305 262538

Greenway Devon
Home to Agatha Christie and her husband. Mr and Mrs Max Mallowan, as they were known locally, fell in love with the sea views and exquisite gardens, buying Greenway in 1938. They kept diaries on the variety of flora and foliage at their cherished holiday home. Christie's family remained there until 2000, when it was given to the Trust. 01803 842382

Hill Top Cumbria
Beatrix Potter gave this 17th-century cottage to the National Trust, providing that everything was preserved just as she had left it. She created some of her best-loved characters here, such as Tom Kitten and Jemima Puddle-Duck. 015394 36269

The Vyne Hampshire
The 16th-century house's treasures include a 5th-century gold ring. Decades after the ring was found, a Roman tablet was uncovered referring to this distinctive ring, cursing the person who had stolen it. J.R.R. Tolkien was advising on excavations at the temple; this ring is said to have inspired his Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Death Threats Received by California Based Iranian Mission

A California-based evangelical outreach to Iranians is receiving death threats.

"According to International Antioch Ministries (IAM), callers from Iran are threatening their workers with disfigurement, injury and death.

Farzaneh, an IAM telephone counselor taking phone calls from Iran during IAM’s daily broadcasts into Iran, was threatened by someone who identified himself as Heydar Amiri:

“One day you will see that the building of this church will collapse on all of you, we know your address very well and know where you are located. We do not let you continue your programs like this anymore. Shedding your blood in Islam has a reward for me.”

Bahnoosh, another telephone counselor, relayed this threat:

“One day a bomb will go off in your church and will make you all vanish, because you are all blasphemers.”

IAM believes that these terrorist threats are being fueled by the success of IAM’s satellite broadcasts into Iran. As a result of these broadcasts, according to IAM, the number of Muslims embracing Christianity in Iran is growing dramatically.

The You tube video below includes recording of one such call with translation, the text of other death threats, and then the story of an Iranian woman's freedom from drugs (with English translation)

IAM is part of 24-hour satellite TV broadcasts into Iran that have been a catalyst for bringing many Iranian Muslims to Christ. IAM plants churches, trains Iranian-speaking Christian leaders for ministry and provides humanitarian support to Iranians worldwide. IAM's California-based church plant, The Iranian Christian Church, is the largest MBB (Muslim Background Believer) church in the USA.

Dr. Hormoz Shariat, president of IAM and senior pastor of The Iranian Christian Church said, “Our broadcasts are a benefit to the people of Iran. During our daily two-hour, live, call-in TV broadcasts, we often receive callers from Iran who have severe personal problems and we offer them comfort, healing and hope. Some are suffering from drug addiction, depression, contemplating suicide or are trapped in a life of prostitution all of which are epidemic in Iran. Every day, we get calls from Iran from people who report that their lives have been changed, they have been set free from addictions, and their families have been restored. We are making a positive difference in Iran and are saving lives.

“We are very careful to show respect to Islam and to Mohammad. So we are doubly concerned about these threats since we have done nothing to merit these terror tactics in all our broadcasts except to hold up Jesus, which all Muslims honor. These terror threats will only increase our resolve to continue and expand our good work in our beloved Iran.”

Papal Prayer Intentions for June

Pope Benedict's prayer intentions for June:

His general prayer intention for June is "That all Christians may cultivate a deep and personal friendship with Christ, in order to be able to communicate the strength of His love to every person they meet."

And his mission intention is "That the International Eucharistic Congress of Quebec in Canada may lead to an ever greater understanding that the Eucharist is the heart of the Church and the source of evangelization."

Endless Supplies of Hot Air Around Here

On the signs of summer here is the sight of multiple hot air balloons rising in the early morning light, catching the air currents off the Rockies.

This morning, much excitement as a balloon cruised right over the house, not more than 30 feet above us and looked like it was going to land in the park behind. At the last moment, the pilot managed to rise again and when last seen, looked like he was about to land in even more inhospitable territory a bit east of us.

Got some pictures but don't know how good they were since camera was facing into the sun.

If they were any good, I'll post them later.

World Youth Day According to Starbucks

Interesting little World Youth Day vignette from an Aussie applying for work at Starbucks in Sydney:

***Coming up soon in Sydney is World Youth Day, which is supposed to bring more people to Sydney than the Olympics. At the two Starbucks I spoke with, they were discussing how the stores were going into 9 man deployment and how someone with US experience would be perfect.

Hords of Seattle seduced, latte swilling Yankee Catholics descending . . . giving rise to scenarios like this:

I'll have a triple grande sugar free cinnamon dulce latte half-half with whip - and 30,000 Americanos to go, please. Yes. This will be on my credit card.

Blogger is Up!

Hurrah! I can finally get on. Blogger was down and just when I had a number of tasty bits to blog. More in a bit.