Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pope's Mission Intention

The Pope's mission intention for August is particularly beautiful: 
"That the answer of the entire people of God to the common vocation to sanctity and mission may be promoted and fostered, with careful discernment of the charisms and a constant commitment to spiritual and cultural formation"

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

One Minute Monk

The Abbey of Mary, Help of Christians (Belmont Abbey) is a small Benedictine community and college, with a very noble history of evangelization and missionary zeal, in the verdant foothills near Charlotte in Western North Carolina. Belmont is a daughter of St Vincent's in Latrobe, Pennsylvania and was founded by a group of monks led by the indomitable Abbot Leo Haid in 1876. Before a diocese was established in North Carolina in 1924 (the Diocese of Raleigh) the Abbot of Belmont had succeeded Cardinal James Gibbons as the Vicar-Apostolic and the monks had responsibility for many of the parishes, missions, and stations in North and South Carolina. The Abbey remained a territorial abbey with territory comprising some of the surrounding counties with the Abbot exercising episcopal authority until the Holy See suppressed the territory shortly after the erection of the Diocese of Charlotte in the mid-1970's. 
I have the privilege of being a Benedictine Oblate of Belmont and since all of my family is from the Western Carolinas we well know the influence of the monks and their college (the current governor of North Carolina is an alumnus). Furthermore, their history is an excellent study in evangelization and home mission, since it was primarily their witness that drew many in those early days of the North Carolina mission to Catholicism, because they, as all Benedictines do, presented the Christian society in microcosm and offered a taste of it to Protestant North Carolina. In so doing, they drew many to the Faith and some even to the monastic life. 
The spirit of mission and evangelization continues... 
The Abbot of Belmont has recently begun a one-minute a day radio spot dedicated to exploring "the timeless wisdom of the Rule of St Benedict." It does not appear that you can listen to any of these spots on their website, but you can order a free copy of the Rule from the site and find out more about bringing "One Minute Monk" to a Catholic radio station in your area. 

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American Catholic Polarization

h/t: the ever thoughtful Clarity Daily:

George Wesolek, Director of the Archdiocese of San Francisco's Office of Public Policy and Social Concerns, has a thought-provoking guest editorial in Catholic San Francisco about the upcoming election, the bitter polarization between US Catholics that our elections inflame, and how politicians have taken advantage of this polarization.

"Structural decisions made 34 years ago by American Catholic Church leaders - bishops, clergy, religious and laity - are a primary cause of these circumstances today. The fruit of these decisions continues to be an obstacle to American Catholic unity of thought and purpose and the cause of bitter division and partisan infighting.

When the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops set up a separate Pro - life ministry with its own staff and network right across the hall from its office for Social Development and World Peace ( Justice and Peace ) , it set in motion a chain of developments that has compartmentalized Catholic social teaching and helped to create two Catholic constituencies. Instead of establishing one office of Catholic social teaching which would expound one message - clearly and consistently about the human person from the unborn through the life cycle right until death - the decision makers set up parallel structures, each with its own message. These structures resulted in dysfunction and confusion that continues to this day.

Each message has created a constituency around it. These two constituencies often have little in common; have opposite world - views regarding culture and politics and, frankly, dislike each other.

More problematically, by dichotomizing the essence of the message of Catholic social teaching, it has allowed Catholic constituencies to pick and choose their favorite Catholic social teaching concept and discard or trivialize other important elements. In the present political climate, it has allowed "cover" for Catholics, especially Catholic politicians. With faith and values all the rage now in both political parties, it is clear Catholic politicians will continue to claim the mantle of faith by using terminology, sometimes taken directly from the "Compendium on Catholic Social Teaching," to describe their beliefs about the poor, the unborn and the like. Unfortunately, all too often, they will proclaim only part of the teaching, not all of it.

I cannot help but wonder what the present American political theater would look like if the Catholic Church had been teaching a unified, clear and consistent message for more than 30 years. Could it be that legalized abortion would be a thing of the past? Could it be that healthcare and housing would be available to all? If a core group of 65 million Catholics understood the Church's full message and acted on it, would there be the a Democratic Party today which still considers pro - life Democrats as somehow unfaithful? Would Planned Parenthood still have a stranglehold on the party? Would the Republican Party have a different slant on those who live on the margins of society as more than just collateral damage of Adam Smith's "invisible hand"? Could it be that with a unified and consistent message taught more than three decades, there would actually be a true "Catholic vote" in the U.S.?

The structural dysfunction caused by separate structures negates and distorts the fact that Catholic social teaching is seamless. The teaching of the Church does not have different principles for different social issues. There is no set of Catholic teaching that applies only to life issues or only to issues of economic or social justice. Each of the basic principles of Catholic Social Teaching is immediately applicable to all situations that involve the human situation, both personal and social. At the core of the teaching is the anthropological assertion that every human being has a dignity that is sacred - that every person is made in the imago Dei regardless of race or creed, whether rich or poor, smart or not, athletic or disabled. That principle extends from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death and includes everybody in between. It is the basis for our concern and legislative advocacy about the African who lives on less than 65 cents a day, for the millions of children with no medicine who die before the age of five, for those with no food or shelter both abroad and in our own country, for the unborn and the vulnerable elderly.

The precipitating event that instigated this structural course of action was the advent of Roe vs. Wade. What had been presumed as unthinkable became a legal reality - abortion on demand, for any reason to anyone, more available even than some common medical interventions. After some 48 million abortions to this day, the attacks on this fundamental human freedom, the right to life, become more widespread with the possibility of assisted suicide becoming legal in more states than Oregon.

The structural response by the Church after Roe was to institutionalize the educational and advocacy efforts to overturn the decision and to stop the tide of other dehumanizing legislation akin to it. At the time, it perhaps seemed logical to set up a separate office to meet this threat. Many dioceses followed the model.

The two separate constituencies created and galvanized by this structural framework began fighting early and still wage war in a cultural and political context. "Justice and Peace" constituents quickly grabbed onto Cardinal Joseph Bernadin's "consistent ethic of life" metaphor implying if not asserting outright that certain Catholic politicians who were pro - abortion made up for it by being good ( and therefore acceptable under the Catholic mantle ) on a host of other issues on the spectrum: poverty, health care, etc. Many in the pro - life community, on the other hand, developed a tunnel vision approach, which would not even mention any other issue regarding the poor other than abortion. Their passion for this issue drove them completely into the embrace of the Republican Party. This embrace brought with it support for no tax - and - spend policies and a philosophy of government that does not align with classical Catholic social teaching and Vatican encyclicals of the last 100 years. The other side, the classic "economic justice" Catholic ( most of whom are now in their waning years ) will overlook a Catholic politician's perfect 100 percent rating by NARAL ( National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws ) and do anything to elect them with an equal amount of passion. Although it is now difficult ( one hopes ) to maintain Catholic identity and be "pro choice," they survive by winking and nodding at the abortion issue, basically trivializing it.

A unified structural model of social action works. Both the life constituency and the peace and justice constituency get the same message. The action on behalf of justice at the "Walk for Life" and at the Conference on Global Poverty model to them the completeness of the Catholic social teaching message. Pro - life people are becoming aware and supporting action for the poor, supporting the end to the death penalty, while "justice" people are marching at the West Coast Walk For Life.

Over the course of these 30 - plus years, there has been a gradual evolution of the bishops' clarity on Catholic social teaching. The confusion about abortion and euthanasia being "one of many issues on the spectrum of life" has been rejected. The bishops now state: "The direct and intentional destruction of human life is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed." ( Faithful Citizenship 2007 )

The bishops are also clear that: "Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Any politics of human life must work to resist the violence of war and the scandal of capital punishment. Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing and health care." ( Living the Gospel of Life )

So now the catechesis is whole and integral again. The structures and educational strategies to communicate them are not."

I would certainly agree that separate structures has perpetuated separate factions. But I think the author doesn't go back far enough in history. The separate factions already existed and were driving the whole debate about abortion in the early 70's.

The one factor that Wesolak has not mentioned iis the huge cultural upheaval of the 60's. Timing is everything. By the time the Roe V. Wade decision was made in the early 70's, political discourse in this country had already radically changed. Peace and justice issues, including racial justice and opposition to the Vietnam war, had already become inexorably tied to the sexual revolution and so had the right to abortion through the early feminist movement. If Roe V Wade had been handed down in 1963, before things became so polarized, the Catholic response might have progressed very differently.

Conservatives who opposed abortion were simultaneously resisting the sexual revolution (and remember, often opposing racial justice and supporting the Vietnam war) and in midst of an even more charged climate than we have today, naturally came to associate the advocates of social justice with the opposition. It was a kind of political and pastoral civil war. The structures of the US Bishop's Office reflected a divide that had already torn apart the entire country.

As Wesolak notes, it has taken 45 years for the US Bishops to reintegrate the disparate strands of Catholic social teaching into a coherent whole. But the echoes of our social civil war still drive so much of our political realities and it is those realities, not Church teaching, that drives most of our Catholic discourse on the subject.

Catholic Writing in Singapore

Daniel Tay of Singapore, writes of his experience at World Youth Day and specifically about what he learned at our Australian team's presentation at the Days in the Diocese in Melbourne. A view of the Called & Gifted process from the flip side of the world.

"During World Youth Day in Sydney, and the Days in the Dioceses leading up to it which I experienced in Melbourne, I gained three important insights. The first one was to start loving myself more.

The second spiritual insight I gained was an affirmation of what I had been working on while I was still in Singapore. It was during the FireBrandz Conference that I first had an inkling on what it was about. It concerns using our God-given gifts. When I later heard it again during a workshop “Called To Witness” conducted by members from the Catherine of Siena Institute, I couldn’t believe my ears.

One of the speakers spoke about how we could use our God-given charisms to achieve supernatural effects, and how using these charisms were our path to holiness. The speaker also explained the difference between charisms and gifts, which is something I had been grappling with for some time.

A gift is a natural talent that we have. A charism, on the other hand, combines our gifts together with the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives to achieve supernatural effects. The key word here is “supernatural”, because most of us know that we can only achieve so much on our own, or even when we work as a team. But when we work together with God, we can effects that are naturally impossible, hence the word “supernatural”.

Another insight that I gained from the talk is that while we are born with gifts, charisms are given to us only at baptism and at confirmation. This teaching irons out another issue I had been grappling with, and I am pleased to learn that the insights I had late last year on gifts and using them to change the world were not just something I came up with, but are really part of the richness of our Catholic faith.

For example, one of my charisms lies in writing, and when I started, I knew only this much. Later on, as I started to explore different ways to use my writing, I came to see that I was called to Catholic writing, hence the title of this blog, and journalism."

Another journalist from Singapore is attending MD in Spokane in 10 days and then Called & interviewer/facilitator training in Greenville, SC where she will meet up with Fr. David Seid, OP of Hong Kong for the first time. So we are excited about what might emerge in Singapore.

Reclaiming Who I Am

Susan over at Creos & Dios has a new and very interesting podcast for us to enjoy.

This podcast is the first in a series entitled, Reclaiming Who I Am, drawn from a three-day retreat I gave in February 2008. The title refers to the fact that over the course of our lives things happen that cause us to lose sight of who we really our. Our expierences creat certain baggage in us; we develop certain myths. In this first podcast, I identify some of the myths we live with that block us from seeing ourselves as God sees us, and that therefore block our ability to receive God’s love fully.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Welcome to EWTN Viewers

Welcome to all who found our blog by listening to Ralph Martin's interview with me on EWTN this evening. (Somehow we didn't expect it to run at 6pm in prime time!)

We are delighted that you are seriously seeking to know what God desires of you and might be calling you to.

Our offices are located in Colorado (Mountain time). Our office will already be closed for the day by the time most of you see the show. Feel free to leave a phone message or e-mail us at and our small but very responsive staff will get back to you as soon as possible.

You can also take immediate action through our website.

If you would like to attend a live Called & Gifted workshop, visit our website calendar and find out when one is scheduled near you.

If you are interested in bringing the Called * Gifted workshop to your parish or area, send an inquiry to

If there isn't a live "Called & Gifted workshop scheduled near you, the entire workshop (recorded live) is available on CD via our web store. As is the Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory that all workshop participants take. You will need both to duplicate the experience of a live initial workshop in the comfort of your home.

We also have a small group version of initial Called & Gifted workshop which is great if you and several friends would like do discernment together.

To lead more about how discernment changed one woman's life, read our July E-Scribe newsletter.

Joe reminds me that the video of the interview is up on the Renewal Ministries website.

God bless you as you join the 45,000 Catholics all over the world who are discerning God's call by discerning the charisms they received at baptism and confirmation.

"Colonies of Heaven"

I have been doing some reading today on the "Missional Church" movement and have discovered some things I like about the movement that could easily stimulate our (Catholics) thinking on parish life. While there are problems with this movement, it can be helpful to see how other Christians are responding to contemporary culture, so that we can learn new, innovative ways- and appropriately adapt them- to more faithfully fulfill the Lord's mandate to "make disciples" in every time and culture.
1. The Missional Church is a pan-Protestant movement that locates the church's reason for existing in the "mission of God." Thus the heart of the local congregation's activity is rooted in incarnating God's life in the world. The local congregation is a "colony of heaven" on earth and that we are "resident aliens," with an equal emphasis on "resident" and "alien."
2.  The Missional Church takes "covenant" and "context" very seriously as a way of understanding the life of the local congregation. I am inextricably caught up in the mission of the Church by virtue of my baptismal covenant. The context or place in which I participate in the mission of the Church is to be valued and relied upon as a clue to the means and the method I employ to participate more fully in the mission of Christ in the Spirit (i.e. my work, my home, my social location, etc. are all contexts for mission). 
3. The local parish must be aware of its own context and value that context as the location in which they are called to incarnate Christ's life through the witness of their own regeneration and forgiveness through "water and the Spirit." While the world must not set the agenda for the Church, the Church must recognize that the world exists to be brought back in communion with God through the Church. Therefore, the world is not simply theological "other" as far as the Church is concerned, but the very object of mission and "arena of God's action in history." (George Weigel, see below)
4.  The Missional Church is rooted in the mission of the Trinity. The Trinity seeks to bring all things into communion with Them. Therefore, mission and communion are intrinsically related. 
As Catholics we have the fullest understanding of both mission and communion, but our grounded-ness in the Trinity and the relationship of Trinitarian life to mission are undervalued as a source for the life and work of our local parishes. We must relearn (in practical ways, because we well know it theologically) that to make disciples is to begin the process of incorporation into the life of the Church, which is "a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Lumen Gentium 4, St Cyprian).
Sources: Missional, Emerging, Monastic: A Traveler's Guide by Len Hjalmarson, On Making Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, William Abraham in Marks of the Body of Christ, ed. by Carl Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Eerdmans, 1999),  Robert W. Jenson, The Church's Responsibility for the World, in The Two Cities of God, ed. by Carl Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Eerdmans, 1997), and George Weigel, The Church's Political Hopes for the World in The Two Cities of God. 


Monday, July 28, 2008

God is Back in the Game

Love this summation of the impact of World Youth Day via Mercatornet.

Catholic and Cool in Sydney

World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney was a triumph for the Catholic Church and its 81-year-old head, Pope Benedict XVI. About 400,000 people attended a final Mass on Sunday (July 20), briefly making the pilgrims’ destination bigger than the nation’s capital, Canberra. Some baffled journalists described it as a Catholic Woodstock – the 1969 orgy of, drugs and sex and rock ‘n roll which became an iconic moment for baby-boomers. But 40 years later, the world has moved in an unexpected direction. WYD, the biggest youth event in history, is an anti-Woodstock, a repudiation of the materialism and secularism of the baby-boomers.

After years of being booed offstage, the curtains have again opened and God is being greeted with tumultuous applause. As a young woman commenting the event on Australian TV said, with unabashed confidence, it used not to be “trendy” to be a Catholic in Sydney, but now “it’s become cool again”. No wonder the news that Madrid will host WYD 2011 was greeted with such jubilation.

And ends:

Despite the shadows, Benedict’s rapturous reception in Sydney shows that Christianity is far from dead, or even dormant. Flags from dozens of countries were waving in the stiff breeze which blew up as World Youth Day drew to a close. Amongst them was the red star of the People’s Republic of China. Even there, in an officially Communist regime, the Pope has enthusiasts. Over the past five years a bitter secularism has sought to push religion into a closet. Books by proselytising atheists have captured the imagination of the media. Now, after a week of joyful, unashamed religious sentiment Down Under, everyone knows that there is a viable alternative. God is back in the game.

h/t Gashwin Gomes

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Savoring Home

In the rush of work and gardening, it is possible to forget (and be intensely grateful) that I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

But today, I was reminded again as we drove around the mountain backroads of the Pike National Forest near home. 1.2 million acres. A few glimpses of what we encountered. Almost anywhere else, such beauty would be a community's greatest treasure and attraction. As Theodore Roosevelt summed it up when he visited a century ago: "Scenery that bankrupts the English language." But in Colorado, they are considered rather ho-hum and treasured mostly by locals.

My most memorable present was the time to savor being home.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Happy Birthday, Sherry!

Yes, it is the blessed day in which we remember the birth of the Queen of Charisms, the Diva of Discernment, the one, the only


I know many of you are wondering, "Just how old is Sherry today?" Well, your wondering days are over. In just a few moments, I will be revealing the year when the stars aligned just so when the angels got together, and decided to create a dream come true, etc., etc.

Oh, wait, there's someone at the door...pounding rather insistently.

I'd better get it.

Oh, no, they've broken down the door and are running up the stairs.

IT'S HER!!!!!

The year waspiohqpoewia4 aa was 19 aspdotipoin/bp[ohpoi 99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999

Friday, July 25, 2008

Randy Pausch on Life & Death

Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor who delivered the world famous "last lecture" after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, died this morning.

I've been tracking his treatment on his personal website from time to time. Like so many of us, I was taken by his courage, grateful spirit, joi de vive, and love for his family. I prayed that he would also somehow encounter God on this journey since religious faith was a subject that he didn't talk about.

Pray for Randy, his wife Jai, and his three small children.

And listen to Dr. Pausch's "surprise" talk to Carnegie Mellon grads in May.

Pope Benedict on Personal Vocation

I was searching for an unrelated quote today and came upon this wonderful bit by Pope Benedict on personal vocation and the priest's role in reawakening the awareness of personal vocation, mission, and the call to act in the history of the Church. Enjoy!
Every person carries within himself a project of God, a personal vocation, a personal idea of God on what he is required to do in history to build his Church, a living Temple of his presence. And the priest's role is above all to reawaken this awareness, to help the individual discover his personal vocation, God's task for each one of us. I see that many here have discovered the project that concerns them, both with regard to professional life in the formation of today's society - where the presence of Christian consciences is fundamental - and also with regard to the call to contribute to the Church's growth and life. Both these things are equally important.


What I'll Be Doing During My Fall, Winter, and Spring Unvacation

Sorry about the slow blogging.

Today we film an important segment for Making Disciples. We are still in the throes of final editing for our Spokane seminar.

I also have to finish writing up my tentative proposal to the archdiocese wanting a plan to make their parishes "Missional". Oh, and get back to that Director of Diaconate formation. And prep for all my upcoming commitments in the fall.

My schedule: Detroit, Pueblo, Athens, OH, Chicago, Munich, (maybe Warsaw, we'll see!), Chicago, LA, Iowa, Omaha, Canton, Seattle, maybe Oakland. Fr. Mike's travel schedule is even more complicated. We'll see each other mostly on the road.

The topics? Missionary formation, historical research into the 17th century Catholic revival in France, the Stewardship of mission and vocation,, military wives, discerning charisms, parish mission, training teachers, Making Disciples, our first C & G for an Orthodox community, writing a book. Hence the need for so much preparation.

Variety being the spice 'o life

And then in the next year I must plunge whole-heartedly into preparation for two big events, both at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit:

The first is a Pauline Year Convocation with Archbishop Chaput on March 21

The second is a two week intensive graduate course on The Theology of the Laity taught by me and my old partner in crime and co-founder, Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP (May 27 - June 5). Mark your calendars now.

Oh, and then there is that little spring Tour of Tuscany and Rome "In the Footsteps of St. Catherine of Siena" April 27 - May 7. We are just finalizing the details and will let you know asap how you can join us. Spring in a fabulous Tuscan villa ending with a pilgrimage to Rome? How can you resist?

All of which is to say: that's why you aren't hearing much from us. But I hope to do better this weekend.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Restoring Creation

More from Inheriting Paradise by Vigen Guroian, Armenian Orthodox theologian and gardener:

"Man is a microcosm in whose flesh resonates and reverberates the pulse of the whole creation, in whose mind creation comes to consciousness, and through whose imagination and will God wants to heal and reconcile everything that sin has wounded and put in disharmony."

"the lay faithful are called to restore to creation all its original value. In ordering creation to the authentic well-being of humanity . . . they share in the exercise of the power with which the Risen Christ draws all things to himself . . .” - The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People, (Christifideles Laici)14

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dancing Around the World

Here's a video sent to me by my dear friend/physical therapist, John W. It is a phenomenally hopeful video of one man dancing across 42 countries.

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

Makes me want to bust a move myself.

I'm getting out of my seat right now, in fact.
Back in a sec....

Oooh, ooooh, oooh, I hurt my shoulder.


Last winter, I happened to be seatmates on a flight to Colorado with a woman physician who was going skiiing. She mentioned that she had retired early to work on a campaign against a new attempt to legalize euthanasia in Washington State. I was very interested. being a native Washingtonian, and having worked on an oncology unit during the last such campaign in Washington State.

My unit was filled with former Catholics (i used to think that 12 years of Catholic school ending in total abandonment of the faith was a pre-requisite for getting hired there) but there was one remnant of their Catholic upbringing. Surrounded by patients who were likely going to die soon, these nurses were against euthanasia.

I remember a nurse telling me at that time: "I'm against it because I know who is going to have to actually do the deed - and it won't be doctors. It will be nurses."

So check out and send them some support. My friend Mark has posted this urgent appeal on his blog.
They have only been able to raise $ 100,000 so far to fight this initiative.

As Susan Harmon, director of No Assisted Suicide writes:

We know this because the supporters of the measure have labeled the campaign “Oregon Plus One.” Despite losing in 25 other states (including here in Washington in 1991), the proponents believe that if only one state besides Oregon would legalize Physician-Assisted Suicide (PAS), the rest of the states will fall like dominoes.

Washington is a very liberal state. It is the only state in the union to have legalized abortion by a vote of the people prior to Roe v Wade. And the same arguments are being used to support I-1000. They claim that it is a matter of “choice”. And for the predominantly wealthy white men who advocate this, it may well be.

Yet there is word from Oregon that some of those who asked for the lethal dose of pills were being manipulated by adult children wanting their inheritance sooner. Not one of those requesting PAS was evaluated for depression in the latest 2007 statistics. And as to the rest, who knows--the Oregon law does not allow investigation of assisted suicide cases and requires the destruction of all records within a year, so it is nearly impossible to track who is requesting PAS and how people actually died.

I-1000 goes even farther. It actually re-writes the definition of suicide. It will require physicians to lie about the cause of death--they must ascribe it to the terminal illness that the patients did not have the chance to die from. Tracking use of PAS will be impossible. Neither will surviving families be able to sue unscrupulous doctors for malpractice;

I-1000 gives doctors prescribing PAS immunity from law suit. How is this good for consumers?

Even worse, families will not be notified if a loved one requests PAS. And as in Oregon, those who suffer from depression may not be evaluated first and treated. Anyone over 18 who is diagnosed as being 6 months from dying can request this--no questions asked.

Nor are there any safeguards to protect the poor from exploitation by heartless insurers. In Oregon, coverage of end of life treatment has been slashed while lethal prescriptions are covered as “pain management.”

What happens in places which have legalized PAS? Recently the London Telegraph reported on new legislation introduced in Belgium where PAS was legalized several years ago. The proposed legislation would allow teenagers to request PAS for themselves and for parents of handicapped children to ask for PAS for their minor dependents.

In Holland, which is the pioneer of the pro-euthanasia movement, doctors euthanize patients without permission. One physician told how he had killed an elderly nun because he knew that her religious scruples would never have allowed her to request this herself--so he did it for her.

In Oregon, people who voted for PAS are now getting nervous, contacting the pro-life physicians group to find out if their doctor is one of those who prescribes death pills. Pro-life doctors now hang signs in their waiting rooms which are meant to reassure patients that they will only pursue life-affirming therapies.

What happens in Washington state this year will affect all of us and our children and grandchildren.

Check it out.

This Land Which Was Waste

The story of my life - and my garden's life:

"The Prophet Ezekiel says" " The land now desolate will be tilled instead of lying waste for every passerby to see. Everyone will say that this land which was waste has become a Garden of Eden." (Ezekiel 36: 34-35)

From Inheriting Paradise.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Good Soil

The Western Dominican website is featuring a homily that Fr. Mike preached Sunday before last on the parable of the sower. It is simply marvelous and so I wanted to share it with you.

Here's a taste:

The miraculous yield that the good soil produces flows not from simple
intellectual assent to what Jesus reveals, but from remaining in him – relating to and with him throughout the day; asking for guidance, putting his word into action, doing his will, praying to him, expecting him to respond, thanking him when he does. The miraculous yield is part of the life of a disciple. This is the life each of us is invited to live, with the help of God's grace and the Holy Spirit.

Do read the whole thing!

A Garden is a Lovesome Thing

Busy. Beside all the stuff we already had going, we got two interesting requests this week. One archdiocese wants us to help them make their parishes "missional" (very much an emergent Protestant term - this is the first that a diocese has adopted it as a goal that I'm aware of.) And another archdiocese in another country wants to incorporate Called & Gifted into their diaconate candidate discernment process.

Most of our "crisis" these days are prompted by the need to respond meaningful to the requests we are getting.

Whatever time and energy I have left goes into the garden. Finished mulching the yard and cleaning up the path after our large scale planting of bushes. So even though there is more to do, it looks increasingly garden-like.

4 large shrubs and 9 vines yet to be planted. Irrigation system to finish. Fence posts to erect somehow in hardpan that makes diamonds look soft. And the large project: planting another 400 sf bed - this time with wild grasses which is relatively easy. A truck full of topsoil sits on top of that bed at the moment. So the worst is over - for this summer.

My scarlet penstemons are just beginning to bloom and I had my first visit from a humming bird this morning as a result. The California poppies (pictured above) in their hundreds have been my glory and joy for weeks now.

Mark & Jan Shea sent me a lovely gift for my birthday: Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening by Vigen Guroian, an Armenian Orthodox theologian who teaches at Loyola College in Baltimore. The book is a series of four essays that Guroian wrote in the mid 90's for The Christian Century.

I'll share good bits as I read. But I must begin with this:

A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Ferned grot -
The veriest school
of peace: and yet the fool
Contends that God is not -
Not God! In garden! When eve is cool?
Nay. But I have a sign.
'Tis very sure God walks in mine.

Thomas Edward Brown, "My Garden"

Brown was one of the great, brilliant, loveably eccentric English school masters - and a gardener.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Charisms and Priesthood

I get nauseous on swings and merry-go-rounds. There's something about the repetitive motion, or perhaps the sensation of motion without really going anywhere that makes my body revolt. Truth be told, parish life can be similar: lots of activity, but little progress regarding the mission of the Church. And that mission is twofold: to help every person in the parish (Catholic or not) have a living encounter with the risen Jesus, and to help change the structures and institutions in the parish boundaries so they reflect what's truly human and promote the common good.

Each of us who have been baptized share in Jesus' three-fold office of priest, prophet and king. When I was ordained, my sharing in priesthood was directed towards the Church itself as a minister of the sacraments; my prophetic ministry fulfilled as I proclaim the Gospel and teach. Most priests (myself included before I began working with the Institute) do not know that our royal office focuses on calling forth and celebrating the spiritual gifts (charisms) of the laity and coordinating them so that our mission described above can be fulfilled. Administration of the parish is actually a small – and much less interesting – part of my royal office.

Having a knowledge of and an ability to help others discern their charisms, having a vision of how they might work together or be useful in pastoral initiatives is a crucial skill set for a priest, and is actually imperative if any aspect of my ministry is to be effective, because, in the words of Pope John Paul II, "the three [powers] of teaching, sanctifying and ruling are clearly inseparable and interpenetrating." and "directed both to gathering the flock in the visible unity of a single profession of faith lived in the sacramental communion of the Church and to guiding that flock, in the diversity of its gifts and callings, towards a common goal: the proclamation of the Gospel to the ends of the earth." ad limina address of Pope John Paul II to the bishops of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, September 11, 2004.

Gloria a Te, Cristo Gesu

I enjoyed hearing the "Great Hymn of the Jubilee" sung as Pope Benedict processed in for the final Mass of WYD and so went hunting on line for it and found this:

Andrea Bocelli singing "Gloria a Te Cristo Gesu" with moving video of John Paul II at the great Jubilee and WYD 2000 in Rome interspersed with pictures of him laying in state nearly 5 years later.

Tears came to my eyes as I watched. Especially the overhead shots of the 2 million pilgrims at World Youth Day and most poignant of all: A frail John Paul closing the great bronze doors to mark the end of the Jubilee.

It was his inspiration that birthed WYD: a stunningly powerful evangelizing moment that has an Olympic-sized impact on its host nation, on the Church, and innumerable others who witness it via the internet or television.

Anyway - the video brought back a lot of memories. Take a look.


One of the chief opportunities for evangelization and formation is the homily during the Mass. It is in the homily that most Catholics will receive their formation and those who may not be intentional disciples have an opportunity to hear the "ardent proclamation" that Jesus is Lord and that a personal relationship with him is possible. However, it is my experience that many homilists fall into a standard homiletic pattern in which the Word-upon which the homilist is charged with commenting-is not given priority, but only becomes a tool for illuminating or commenting upon experience. 
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says that "It (the homily) should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners." 
Richard Lischer, a well-known Lutheran preacher and professor of Homiletics at Duke Divinity School says that many prefer 
to build the sermon on the authority of the needs, capacities, and experiences of the listener.... The common solution appears to be: Scratch deeply enough into the postmodern psyche and you will hit a vein of genuine spirituality. One way to tap into it is to tell stories whose religious dimension is recognizable and acceptable to all, and then to correlate the experience generated by these stories with the Christian message, e.g., "grace." When done successfully, the presence of Christ radiates as a spiritual dimension of everyday life. When the reliance on experience dominates the sermon, the gospel becomes an illustration of a greater truth. 
Richard Lischer, "Resurrection and Rhetoric." In Marks of the Body of Christ, ed. by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, 13-24. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999. 
Of course, the problem is clear: the gospel is neither a mere "illustration" nor an indicator of some deeper, more transcendent truth that is really the heart of what we preach, rather it is itself the very content of our preaching and the "power of God for salvation." (Romans 1.16) 


World Youth Day 2011: Madrid, Spain

By now most of you have heard that Pope Benedict has designated Madrid, Spain as the host city for World Youth Day 2011. Early reports from the Spanish Episcopal Conference are that the event is slated for August 15-21, 2011. If that report is true, those dates could pose some problems for Americans wishing to go, since many schools and universities in this country now start around that time. Also, I am sure that many are disappointed to hear that WYD '11 will be hosted yet again by a European city (the second time in Spain) even though WYD has never been held in Africa and it has been some time since it was held in Asia or South America. However, if we look closely at the situation of the Catholic Church in Spain and the increased antagonism towards the Church by the Zapatero government, not to mention the increasing secularism and embattled position of the Catholic Church and traditional Christian morality, WYD '11 has great potential to effect real progress in efforts to re-evangelize Spain. 
In an interview with Zenit Nineteen year-old Paola Callas said:
"It's so necessary that Madrid may be able to experience a living Church as we have done here in Sydney over this week," said Callas.
"People don't associate the Church with relevance, joy or even fun over in Spain," added Ramírez. "We have a lot of political upheavals and secularism taking over the contemporary climate so it would be relevant for youth to experience the truths of the Church in a package like that of World Youth Day."
This announcement must mean a lot and be very encouraging for Spanish Catholics who have surely been discouraged by what has transpired in their country over the past several years. 


Sunday, July 20, 2008

"One of the Most Exuberant Weeks in Sydney's History"

The Australian's final word on WYD:

"It will be remembered as one of the most exuberant weeks in Sydney's history: a celebration of faith and youth that breathed life into the city and charmed even the most cynical and secular residents."

And we have caught a tiny glimpse of all that God has and will do through this gathering in the days and years ahead.

Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!

Rosemarie Goldie: Human Microchip on the Development of the Lay Apostolate

The Pope paid a visit to Australian Rosemarie Goldie, now 92, the first woman to hold a major position in the Vatican. (first undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.)

Rosemarie was the witness to remarkable changes at the time of Council:

Via Catholic Online:

"Goldie is the Roman Curia's human microchip memory on the development of the lay apostolate. One of her tasks (which include translating documents into English from Italian, French, Spanish and even Portuguese) is ordering the Laity Council's archives to make them accessible.

She is also completing a book on the development of the lay apostolate in the past 40 years. Presumably, it will recount how she was caught up in this work when it seemed she was destined to be an academic, and how, because she was the first woman to be an Under-Secretary of a Vatican office, she also became the first full-time woman teacher in a pontifical university in Rome, although without any formal qualifications in theology."

Goldie's memoir "From a Roman Window" was published in 1998. It seems to be out of print but I for one, would love to hunt around and find a copy.

WYD: Evangelical Witness

John Allen is utterly right on here, I think:

"Traditionally, a pilgrimage has been understood as a journey that takes one progressively away from “the world,” towards a famed spiritual center – Lourdes, for example, or the Holy Land, or, as in Chaucer's case, Canterbury. That’s the sense in which people today still refer to a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, or to San Giovanni Rotondo, the principal shrine of Padre Pio in southern Italy.

In the beginning, World Youth Days were conceived as pilgrimages in this classic sense. The 1989 edition, for example, was held in Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and in 1991 Catholic youth converged upon the famed Polish shrine of the Black Madonna in Częstochowa. Both have been traditional pilgrimage destinations for centuries.

Along the way, however, something unexpected happened. Turnout exceeded even high-end estimates, and the youthful passion of the pilgrims elicited strong media interest. As a result, World Youth Day went from being largely an inner-Catholic affair to a "happening" that captured the imagination of the broader culture.

In the wake of those experiences, church officials began to grasp that the value of World Youth Day lies not only in the spiritual formation it offers to young people, but also the evangelical witness those young people offer to the world.

One could date the emergence of World Youth Day as a model of "Evangelical Pilgrimage" to 1993. In that year, the event was held in Denver, Colorado, hardly anyone’s idea of a traditional pilgrimage center. In the years since, World Youth Days have been held in such disparate locales as Paris, Toronto, Cologne, and now Sydney. Some might be considered traditional pilgrimage destinations and some not, but that’s no longer the common term.

Rather, sites now seem to be chosen for World Youth Days not because they’re seen as reservoirs of spiritual energy, but rather because they’re suffering from spiritual drought. In other words, the aim is not to escape secularism, but rather to challenge it on its home turf.

By all accounts, Denver was the key to this paradigm shift. Prior to the event, staging World Youth Day in a city without a strong Catholic culture, and with a strongly secular ethos, was considered an enormous gamble. Behind the scenes, organizers and Vatican officials worried about low turnout and public indifference.

In the end, the event was perceived as a huge success that energized the local church.

“Looking back, the church in northern Colorado is dramatically different” because of what happened at World Youth Day, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver said in 2002. Among other things, Chaput said that Denver’s two seminaries were “literally running out of room for candidates,” one expression of a renewal that he traced to 1993."

It is hard to imagine a more powerful evangelical tool than WYD in the day of the internet and 24/7 streaming video.

It is interesting that Allen has just moved his family to Denver this summer, to escape the impossible cost of housing in New York. One of the most vibrant centers of "new Catholicism" in the country.

Sunday morning in Australia

He is everywhere this Sunday morning. The Pope, that is.

Here's the lead from the Sydney Morning News:

Pope Benedict XVI has used his keynote address at the closing Mass of World Youth Day to issue a plea to young Catholics to join the priesthood and consider life as a nun or brother in a Catholic religious order.

In his homily, the Pope asked the tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered:
"'What will you leave to the next generation? What difference will you make?"

In Australia, as in the rest of the developed world, the Catholic Church is facing a severe shortage of priests, necessitating the twinning of parishes and forcing priests to travel vast distances to administer the Scaraments.
The church needed the gifts of young people.

''I address this plea in a special way to those of you whom the Lord is calling to the priesthood and the consecrated life,'' the Pope said.

''Do not be afraid to say 'yes' to Jesus to find your joy in doing his will, giving yourself completely to the pursuit of holiness, and using all your talents in the service of others.''

Both the Morning News and the Australian (the national newspaper) play up the "spiritual desert" theme - and how many hearts will that resonate with?

"POPE Benedict XVI urged 350,000 young pilgrims today to become prophets of a new age bringing renewed faith to a spiritually barren world.

The Pope's ringing challenge echoed over a vast sea of Catholics packing Sydney's Royal Randwick Racecourse at the concluding mass of week-long World Youth Day (WYD) celebrations, which at times attracted up to half a million pilgrims and well-wishers.

His message capped a triumphant first trip to Australia for the 81-year-old pontiff, who flies back to Rome tomorrow after a landmark visit that included a papal apology to victims of church sexual abuse.

Declaring the spirit of the church alive and well, the Pope told pilgrims from more than 170 countries he had shared an "unforgettable experience" in the great south land.

"Our eyes have been opened to see the world around us as it truly is, 'charged' as the poet says, 'with the grandeur of God', filled with the glory of His creative love," he said.

Pope Benedict said a new generation of Christians was being called to help build a world in which God's gift of life was welcomed and love was not greedy or self-seeking but pure, faithful and genuinely free.

He spoke of a "new age in which hope liberates us from the shallowness, apathy and self-absorption which deaden our souls and poison our relationships".

"The world needs this renewal,'' he said in a homily beamed to hundreds of millions of television viewers worldwide.

"In so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair.

"How many of our contemporaries have built broken cisterns in desperate search for meaning - the ultimate meaning that only love can give?"

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC television), which has been notorious for its negative coverage, didn't cover the content of the Pope's homily at all. They focused on stirring up a controversy over the numbers that showed up for the final Papal Mass. The organizers had predicted 500,000 and most people don't think that many were present. Being the biggest gathering in the history of Australia wasn't enough for them.

But even ABC had to call it "unforgettable".

Mebourne's The Age highlighted the Church's role in Australian history:

"Here in Australia, let us thank the Lord for the gift of faith which has come down to us like a treasure passed on from generation to generation in the communion of the church," Pope Benedict said today.

"Here in Oceania, let us give thanks in a special way for all those heroic missionaries, dedicated priests and religious, Christian parents and grandparents, teachers and catechists who built up the church in these lands - witnesses like Blessed Mary MacKillop, Saint Peter Chanel, Blessed Peter To Rot, and so many others.

"The power of the spirit revealed in their lives, is still at work in the good they left behind, in the society which they shaped and which is being handed on to you."

He asked the pilgrims what their legacy would be to future generations, posing the question: "Are you building your lives on firm foundations, building something that will endure?"

Clara will be disappointed that the name of the remarkable lay apostle, Carolyn Chisholm, was not mentioned (but then Carolyn's cause is not formally underway yet.)

Who knows what future saints and apostles are beginning the long journey home today; their bodies exhausted and their spirits enflamed?

Note from WYD

This little note just arrived from Fr. Anthony, our OP co-director dow under:

Just a quick note - just walked back from Randwick. I can't express the
experience, especially Benedict's homily and his small reflection on Mary
and the Holy Spirit for the Angelus. The graces from this are just mind

I have to tell you about 3 chinese (mainland) priests whom I talked with
as well as a young Texan who was their mentor (he lives in China - he
really must have missionary charism in a big way.

Sherry's note: This is the same Chinese group of pilgrims that I blogged about here>

Have to go, about to collapse.

Sleep with the angels, Father! And Clara and all your family. And our whole CSI team. Strong work!

The whole of what God is doing in the lives of so many - not just those who were pilgrims - but millions of ordinary Australians and others around the world who witnessed it - will not be revealed until eternity.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Local Town Makes Good - and Clean and Skinny and Smart - and Goes to the Dogs

And the good news is, you can't die until you've been here.

In 2006, Colorado Springs was Money's Magazine's "Most Liveable Big City." (MSNBC named us 3rd best metro area to live in, and Kiplinger gave us #5 in 2008.)

It helps that we are in Colorado which is not only one of the most beautiful places God ever created but apparently also the slimmest state in the union for the past 18 years.

Year after year, Colorado Springs makes the American Lung Association's list of top "clean air" cities.

Apparently, we are the 9th best place to raise a family.

We have the honor of being the country's best city for dogs according to Mens' Health Magazine: (Hmmm, Pippin, what do you think of that?)

"Colorado Springs is a real playground for pooches, with about 250 days of sunshine a year and an abundance of outdoor activities. It earned top marks for the number of boarding and daycare facilities, and it had the highest maximum fine for animal cruelty--half a million bucks."

Forbes awarded us the title of "Most Pet-Friendly City" a title which explicitly includes cats. (Pippin is greatly relieved.)

We are also one of the top 10 "smartest cities" :

'This mountain city is a small-scale Seattle, a burgeoning high-technology center that is attracting highly educated workers. Seventy-one percent of Colorado Springs' adults have gone to college. That's the second-best rate in the nation, topped only by Madison's 75 percent.'

I must forward this to my friend, Mark, who refuses to see reason about all this.

Apparently, CS is also listed in the Book "1000 Places to See Before You Die." Who knew?

And now, Men's Fitness Magazine has just named us the fittest city in America. This whole post is just a chance to quote the first paragraph of the story - which I found funny - run on sentences and all.

(Warning, this is a secular men's magazine so that language is a bit less refined than one would normally expect to find here. But most of you are Catholics, not Baptists, and Catholics are usually an earthier lot where language is concerned.)

"There are 300-plus sunny days a year in Colorado Springs, but this is not one of them. While the peaks of the Front Range to our west are slathered in deliciously skiable snow, those of us in the Garden of the Gods, a century old city park with the grandeur of a national reserve, are being bitch-slapped by the kind of moist, icy winter blast that leaves the sky the color of a forehead knot three days after hitting a steering wheel in a head-on fender bender. But man, is it gorgeous. You know those bumper stickers that claim the worst day fishing is better than the best day working? That's how it is in "the Springs"-the ugliest day here is prettier than the prettiest day in a whole helluva lot of places. That's why tall, trim orthodontist/marathoner Ed Poremba and his pink-cheeked teenage daughter/future marathoner, Becky, are still getting in their six-mile Saturday morning run amid the jagged red rocks, clingy junipers, and placid deer, despite the fact that the Garden of the Gods has been coated in a vast, flavorless Slurpee.

"It's the best!" Poremba proclaims of his town, without knowing that the Men's Fitness 10th annual survey of the Fittest & Fattest Cities in America had reached the same conclusion. "Of all the places I've lived in, you can't beat it."

(The Garden of the Gods - in non Slurpee mode)

Colorado Springs: where all the women are smart, all the men are skinny, and the cost of living is below average.

WYD: " Basques, Britons, Albanians, and Californians "

Apparently, they'll let just anybody into WYD. :-}

This just in from Clara at WYD, who is settling down for the very short sleep of the just before her 5 am Sunday morning wake up call:

"We completed the 10km walk with reasonable ease. The spectacle of people and flags of every nation while crossing the Harbour Bridge was breathtaking and made the whole walk feel much shorter. It is interesting to note that it is not so much nationalism that is being celebrated as regional culture - there are flags from the Basque region, from Brittany, even a flag from the "Californian Republic" carried by a group of Hispanic youths who do some great chants. I spoke to some Albanians who were surprised I recognised their flag - their national group consists of four persons!

Yesterday I blogged about the luxurious surroundings in which we watched the Stations of the Cross courtesy of VIP passes from Bishop Anthony Fisher OP. (Clara and Bishop Fisher have been friends since they were undergraduate classmates together.) This evening we, and some of our friends turned down the VIP tickets for the Vigil so we could have what my son Dominic described as a 'genuine' pilgrim experience. It was great fun as we huddled under space blankets and participated in the liturgy with half a million pilgrims. The weather has been perfect at around 20 degrees C each day. This evening is forecast to be around 10C. During the evening there was hardly a breath of wind which facilitated the candlelit vigil. The Holy Father focused on the gifts of the Holy Spirit and all the bishops were invited to call down the Spirit on the assembled gathering. Awesome.

Caroline is with a youth group, and Michael and the boys are camped next to five French-speaking priests from Congo. As I tucked the boys into their sleeping bags, Dominic asked me to pass him his rosary beads which were tied to his backpack. He informed me he was going to say the Rosary before sleep, because that is what you do on pilgrimages.

It is now six minutes past midnight. My alarm is set for 5am so I can get to Randwick by 6.30am where they will serve breakfast. Morning Prayer is at 8.00 and Mass at 10.00. I haven't passed up the VIP passes for the Final Mass. They are good seats with a reasonably close to the sanctuary and hopefully a good view of the Holy Father.

One more day and then I think my children are planning to attend the next one!"

Friday, July 18, 2008

A proposal

I have been pondering a question for the past several days: what is the "engine" of evangelization? I suppose the root of this question is some recent reading I have done about the Benedictine evangelization of Europe and reform of the Church in the early Middle Ages. Why was it that the monastic movement was so successful in evangelizing Europe? First, I think it is because Benedictines propose the whole pattern of Christian life in microcosm through their prayer, work, and community life. Secondly, at the heart of monastic life was (and is) prayer and contemplation. What efforts do we make in our parishes and dioceses, even when we have the best intentions for evangelization, at prayer, which is the engine of evangelization? This brings me to my proposal: what if every parish and diocese that wanted to take evangelization seriously started with two basic, but essential steps.
1) Establish Eucharistic adoration at the heart of the parish or diocese and formed adorers to intercede not simply for personal needs, but for "kingdom" needs. What if they prayed before Jesus-Host for the pope, bishop, priests, deacons, religious, and laity and their role in the mission of the Church? What if they interceded for Catholic newspapers, radio, television,  for other organizations committed to the "New Evangelization," for seminarians, seminaries, seminary professors, and religious formators? But most importantly, what if they prayed for all of those who don't know Jesus? What if they interceded, when possible by name, for those who don't practice the faith or for those who have become lukewarm? What if we took before the Eucharistic Emmanuel those in the public eye who don't know Jesus, the imprisoned of our communities, the addicted, the abused and their abusers, the unloved, those involved in grave sin, and those whom we hurt by our sin? Finally, what if we prayed for God to prepare the hearts of the ignorant and soften the hearts of the obstinate to receive an encounter with our Lord? Establishing disciples in this sort of prayer life before the Eucharistic Lord not only forms them into apostles of prayer, but makes fertile the soil for the preaching of the Gospel in the diocese or parish. This would be a great first step in implementing any comprehensive program of evangelization at any level of the Church's life. 
2) We must engage all consecrated men and women, but especially contemplatives, in the task of evangelization according to their charism and state of life. What if we began our efforts in evangelization by first going to those who have been consecrated in a unique and intense way to the love of God and invited their unique contributions and participation in evangelizing the diocese or parish? What if we were intentional in calling upon them as partners in our apostolate? And can we not also call upon God to raise up new forms of life and more men and women to join us in this task according to the various charisms and states of life God has given the Church? Would we pray for God to raise up consecrated hermits and virgins from within our parish? 
As I have thought about these things I have come to renewed conviction that prayer and contemplation is the "engine" of evangelization. The most successful evangelical movements within the life of the Universal Church testify to this. The Benedictines are one ancient example, the contemplative branch of the Missionaries of Charity a more recent example, and let us not forget that St Dominic established a monastery of contemplative nuns at Prouille some years before the first Friars gathered in Toulouse. The chronological priority of the contemplative nuns underlines the spiritual priority of contemplation and prayer in the mission of the Order. However, the same truth applies to the preaching of the Universal Church: our preaching is made fruitful by prayer and contemplation. I propose that we rediscover the heart of the contemplative life as a gift to Mother Church for the sake of her mission.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Word From Down Under

Clara writes from Sydney yesterday:

Last evening we attended the Dominican Gathering at the Great Hall at Sydney University. The Speakers were Fr Paul Murray OP, lecturer in spirituality at the Angelicum and Cardinal Schonborn. Schonborn's address on the debate over creation and evolution attracted great interest. It was so crowded that Cardinal Schonborn barely had standing room. The entire stage, aisles, were covered in bodies eager to hear him speak. Hopefully we will be able to send you a few photos of that event which is less likely to attract media attention.

The Papal arrival was spectacular. Today had been dubbed "Super Thursday' by the commercial media and we were astounded at just how many Sydney siders lined the streets for the motorcade. Our boys were reasonably close to the boat when it docked and could see the Holy Father at close quarters. His homily, it was agreed by a number of us, will need to be unpacked over the next few months. We did love his observations about the long haul flight being evocative of the creation story of Genesis.

And this just in:

In a state of sensory overload. Stations of the Cross were marvelous - our vantage point was excellent although a somewhat unusual way to watch the stations - we were in the Exhibition and Convention centre watching the television coverage on big screens
with refreshments served between stations. We were able to watch one of the stations from the window.

An interesting interview with the director, Fr Franco Cavarra was aired during the telecast. Fr Franco was a late vocation, entering the seminary at age 45. By profession he was previously a director of Opera and Theatre. At age 35 he had a deep personal conversion and it took him another 10 years to take the decision to enter the seminary. He said that in the last six months all his life experience came together in working with the cast of the Stations. He said that he is absolutely happy in his vocation as a priest, but marveled at how all his experience has been used in the production of this event. A good Called and Gifted story.

Off to walk the 10 km to the pilgrimage site.

Chinese Pilgrims in Sydney

Finally, some word about WYD pilgrims from China. There is a group of about 60 Chinese in Sydney - and their story is gripping.

"About 60 pilgrims from mainland China attended World Youth Day in Sydney. Among them were priests not registered with the Chinese government who, for the first time in their lives, wore the black and white collar that identifies them as a Catholic priest.

The Chinese pilgrims said they were ecstatic to be in Sydney.

"We can feel the Holy Spirit working upon us," said one young woman. "All our young people feel the hand of God moving on them, healing them and making them stronger."

The pilgrims agreed to talk to Catholic News Service July 15, as World Youth Day opened, only if their real names were not used.

Father Li Jinxing said that for the first 20 years of his life, he had never met a priest.

"Priests were heroic figures, heard about but never seen," said Father Li, who said the Catholic faith was practiced secretly in his home under threat of government persecution. "Parents and grandparents kept the faith strong."

He said in China today "things are improving a little" but much still depends on the tolerance of local and provincial authorities as to whether the church has a legitimate profile. He spoke of China's two Catholic communities -- those that register with the government and those that refuse to register and continue to operate in a semiclandestine manner.

"The government allows too few seminaries to train the numbers of priests in the official church, so the underground church is by far the bigger one," the priest claimed.

As a 20-year-old in Hebei province Father Li attended a hurriedly convened secret Mass. Like all such gatherings, the liturgy was celebrated at lightning speed for fear of discovery. It was at the Mass that Father Li met his first priest and there, as he received Communion, that he realized his vocation."

And this footnote is very interesting:

Accompanying the Chinese pilgrims was a 22-year-old Texan who has been studying Chinese while working as a lay missionary; he did not want to be identified for fear of endangering his ability to work in China. His connections to the Arizona-based U.S. Catholic group Youth Arise North America ensured that the pilgrims' fares and registrations for World Youth Day were paid through a donation of $20,000 (U.S.).

"It is a small miracle in their lives," he said of the journey.

The Texan said that in his ministry he meets "people who are desperate to meet the one true God."

"Their grandparents were told that communism was the savior of the world. Their parents were told it (savior) was capitalism. They have been let down on both accounts," he said.

"When they learn that God is a father who loves and treasures them individually, they weep with the realization," he said. "It is a very emotional church; they feel the faith deeply in their hearts."

He said the Chinese pilgrims' experience in Sydney would be incalculable.

"These are young people who are leaders in their communities. My work is not about converting people, it is about raising up leaders in the indigenous church,"

A young American Catholic raising up leaders in the Chinese Church. This was so common in the evangelical world but it is so rare among Catholics. God bless him!

I'm going to be giving some presentations to a group of Renewal Ministries' "country coordinators" in September and I am awestruck at what they are privileged to witness and be part of around the world. The Catholics of Africa and Asia and Eastern Europe live in such a different world than we do. Even the issues of priestly formation are remarkably different.

I look forward to being able to soak in some of the Church's life around the globe through my time with these remarkable and faithful leaders.

Great Highlights of Pope's Arrival in Sydney

The best coverage (edited highlights) of the Pope's arrival at Sydney that I have found is here via the World Youth Day 2008 site.

Spectacular views of Sydney Harbor and the great procession of boats that accompanied him. Reminds me very much of Seattle although when I was in Sydney, it felt more like San Francisco.

Love the pictures of a painted aborigine pointing out the sights to the Pope.

Pope Benedict seems to be truly enjoying himself despite the wind which is blowing his garments around. Remarkably intimate real time coverage.

This Isn't Generation RSVP

I'll try to remember that.

By Anthony Barich and Catherine Smibert from the Melbourne Archdiocesan World Youth Day webpage. H/T: Clara, our tzarina down under, who experienced the long lines produced by all the last minute, unregistered arrivals.

"Generation Y is demonstrating to World Youth Day organizers in Sydney why they weren't called Generation RSVP, says the coordinator of the event.

Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney told ZENIT today that thousands of unregistered pilgrims arrived to the host city on the opening day of World Youth Day, providing an extra challenge for the organizers to accommodate the unexpected overflow.

Thousands stood in line Tuesday at registration stands in Hyde Park, Circular Quay and Broadway. World Youth Day began today in Sydney, and will culminate on Sunday with an open-air Mass presided over by Benedict XVI at Randwick Racecourse. Some 500,000 are expected to attend the closing liturgy.

"This is not Generation RSVP," said the bishop, "this is Generation Y, and they just arrive and decide to register on the spot, and we're getting them in the thousands."

He said that over 100,000 international pilgrims have already arrived, and that organizers are confident of achieving their goal of having 100,000 Australian pilgrims, including 40,000 Sydney residents.

"Some of them we didn't know about; they've been arriving unregistered and we're past maximum capacity, but we're doing everything we can to make sure they get into all the events, get transport passes and accommodation and food," said Bishop Fisher, the youngest bishop in Australia.

24-year-old Sabrina Dias from Mexico was one among those registering late. She said she is in Australia visiting her family, and she "happened to be here at the same time."

"It's an opportunity not to be missed," she added.

"Look at the streets of Sydney," Bishop Fisher said. "We've never had this before. […] We've never had this many young people full of the faith, of idealism, of enthusiasm for Jesus Christ, his Church and the future of our world."

He added that Sydney is the first World Youth Day where that has been a large participation from the Pacific.

In Cologne 2005 there were 100 pilgrims from New Zealand, 10 from Papua New Guinea and less than 100 from the rest of the Pacific.

This year there are 4,500 from New Zealand, 2,000 from Papua New Guinea and up to 1,000 from each of Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and other small island nations, the bishop reported.

The youth day organizer explained that this was due to the contribution of local parishes and schools to the fairs of the poor Pacific Islands. A contingent from East Timor was also made possible through local fundraising efforts.

Dressed in traditional tapa wraps in colors designed specifically for his parish group, Tonga Rui of Tonga told ZENIT he is excited "at how World Youth Day has been able to unite so many of the Oceanic region."

Bishop Fisher added that the indigenous participation attending the youth event will also be "way out of proportion to their population numbers" due to the support from local communities.

Aboriginal performers are headlining key events throughout the week, as are those from the oceanic islands."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Australia's First Saint: Mary MacKillop

Blessed Mary MacKillop will be a saint.

"POPE Benedict XVI has thrilled the Australian Sisters of Saint Joseph by telling them that Mother Mary MacKillop will be canonised to become Australia's first saint.

At the Mary MacKillop Chapel in North Sydney this morning, the Pope prayed before the tomb of the Blessed Mary MacKillop, who was beatified in 1995 after Pope John Paul II accepted a claim that she had performed a miracle by curing a woman of cancer.

The congregational leader of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, Sister Anne Derwin, said the Pope referred to Mary's eventual canonisation.

“He said: `She will be canonised, we're waiting for the miracle',” Sister Anne explained.

For sainthood, two miracles are required to be accepted, and the final stage of her sainthood now rests on Rome accepting a second claim - this one also a woman who was cured of cancer.

Both women are alive and both have asked for their identities to be kept private."

We regularly tell Mary's story in the Called & Gifted workshop. She was actually excommunicated by her Bishop (who later repented on his deathbed). She, like the amazing Mary Ward, another foundress who endured terrific persecution and was actually imprisoned by the Church, have been totally vindicated. Their primary fault was in the breadth of their apostolic vision which was considered unthinkable in a woman at that time.

Stories from Behind the Scenes of WYD


Here is a powerful testimony from the former gangster who will be sharing his story at WYD.

It is part of the highlights of today's catechetical sessions. Many good stories from those involved
at many levels.

The (Unsolicited) Word From Texas

It is fascinating what you can stumble across:

TXMomTB writes at some length about her experience of the Called & Gifted small group process and the impact that discernment is already having on her life and marriage.

"This information has been so empowering for me. For one thing, now that I know my charisms, I know which kinds of ministries and which kinds of positions in a ministry to focus on. Before, anytime someone told me about a ministry, I thought I should check it out. I'd feel some vague guilt that I wasn't doing enough, or that maybe they needed me, like any warm body could fill that role and it might as well be me. I would try and then leave different ministries, or keep doing it despite not being interested. Volunteering would drain me and I would continue out of wanting to be virtuous more than being called. I thought service needed to be difficult to be really useful. Now, though, I know that not only does God want to work in me in a particular way, but that other people have the gifts that I don't have. It doesn't mean I won't struggle, of course, just that the right ministry or position will enable the Holy Spirit to bear more fruit through me than the wrong ministry will. That all seems so obvious but apparently I needed to learn that lesson!

Learning about these charisms also explains some of the more unusual spiritual experiences in my life. Like the time a total stranger came up to me in chapel to pray over me. Or the time, during a healing Mass, that a stranger prayed for healing and that sickness they prayed about went away. Those things brought me peace at the time but weirded me out. Now, though, I can look back on it and understand that the Holy Spirit didn't just work that way in Biblical times. Some rare, special gifts are still here today.

It also helps me to understand my husband and family better. My husband J., for example, has the charism of hospitality. He is just so warm and welcoming to people. We can't leave Mass without him talking to someone, and half of the time it's a stranger that he's welcoming to our parish or inviting to a ministry or event. I used to try to drag him out because I just didn't appreciate that--I would be hungry or shy and wanted to go home. I thought he was just being his typical extrovert self. Now, though, I see that people appreciate that about him, and they approach him as often as he approaches them. So I need to put my discomfort aside and let the Spirit work through him in that way.

While I hate to sound like a commercial, I can't help sharing this information because this workshop has been so interesting and helpful. You can learn more about this workshop at"

Hi Texas Mom To Be! I'm sorry that I've not gotten to meet you personally but am delighted that you have found the C & G process so helpful! God is going to give others (including your adopted child) so much of his love and provision through your availability and obedience.

The specific small group version that Texas Mom is referring can be found here: To see when a live event is coming to your part of the country, check out our calendar.

Catholic "Text" of the day

Today's text message from Pope Benedict XVI to participants at World Youth Day.

"The Holy Spirit gave the Apostles & gives u the power boldly 2 proclaim that Christ is risen! - BXVI"

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

WYD Photos

Go here for a exhilarating series of pictures taken from yesterday's WYD Mass. (via the Australian)

They capture the exuberant joy as nothing else does.

And gives someone like me who has never been a sense of the impact such a gathering can have.

To know that you are not alone!
To experience the global breadth of Catholic community, life, vitality.
To sense (perhaps for the first time) that power and relevance of the faith.
To have your vision for what your life could be and mean raised and raised again.
The daring to hold such a huge event in such a secular age and time - and its impact on the city that holds it.

God bless John Paul II! If he had done nothing else but institute World Youth Day, he would have left a huge mark.

Catholic Quote of the Day

The Pope's text message to WYD pilgrims:

"Young friend, God and his people expect much from u because u have within you the Fathers supreme gift: the Spirit of Jesus - BXVI."

WYD: "Roman Catholics, Not Lager Louts!"

Simply marvelous!

Inhale the exuberant joy of this description of the impact of WYD pilgrims and you can see God is already mightily at work softening the hearts of Sydneysiders.

"THE sun was just rising. It was around 6am and bloody cold on Sunday morning at the top of a hill in a suburban street in Sydney's Berowra Heights. That's when I first saw it.

As I started off for a run, the chatter of two young women could be heard.

Then, from the fog, they emerged. Bleary-eyed, no doubt from a rough night on the floor, and under-dressed for the biting wind in their lightweight t-shirts, the women were jumping up and down in an attempt to keep warm. As they blew hot air into each other's hands, they giggled like young children.

As I passed them one of the ladies with the broadest of smiles said an overly cheery "good morning" in a thick Italian or maybe French accent. The other said something to the effect of: "Peace to you."

It was pure goodwill from two strangers with no apparent reason to be laughing at that time of the morning as they waited for their lift in the freezing cold.

That was the first time I noticed the unprovoked, unrehearsed and utterly infectious happiness the World Youth Day pilgrims have brought to Sydney.

And not a friendliness of the variety I usually stumble across on an early morning run - the happy drunk or the buzzing clubber spilling out of a nightclub and smelling seedy.

This is a natural high we haven't seen in this city since the 2000 Olympics, only, dare I say, even better. No young punk throwing up his JD and coke on the Homebush train, no rednecks in their Aussie flags and off their chops on ecstasy, no bomb threats or sniffer dogs at this event.

It is unadulterated joy and it was noticeable yesterday at every turn.

It was there on most train services, where an unprecedented number of seats were actually facing each other for a change.

Cheerful flag-waving Brazilians whistling and singing at Town Hall station, the soulful Maori pilgrims singing hymns on the East Hills line and Africans in traditional costume drumming at Circular Quay station.

It was there outside St Dominic's church at Homebush where even those who couldn't sing were singing - an entirely silent group of deaf pilgrims dancing and singing hymns in sign language.

It was there in Chinatown yesterday as I walked with 100-odd Tahitian pilgrims who were handing out koala clips-ons as gifts to strangers while singing As The Saints Go Marching In.

"Woo hoo pilgrims," a Muslim woman dining next to a table of nuns at The Golden Harbour restaurant yelled as the Tahitians passed.

You could feel it in the spontaneous soccer match which broke out next to the Entertainment Centre, when a group of Croatian pilgrims took on the Japanese.

It was on the face of Californian Alex Henriquez as he made his way to the opening Mass at Barangaroo. He proudly told me he'd sold 50,000 tacos and tamales at $1 each every second Sunday for parishioners at Mary Immaculate church in order to get to Sydney.

And it is in their humble offerings, not what the pilgrims are taking from the city but what they are giving in song, in prayer and in the random blessings that they offer to strangers.

As I was speaking to a cool young group of Sisters of Nazareth nuns in their funky sneakers and oversized sunglasses at Darling Harbour yesterday, Sr Marianna asked me to join their picnic.

"Please. It's like the loaves and the fishes. Have a bread roll. There's ham there, give her a ham one Patricia," Sr Marianna insisted in her Californian drawl.

And I was holding my handbag tight in this crowd?

There's nothing malicious about these gorgeous young people. Their aim is friendship, nothing more.

Like the girl from Indianapolis walking around Sydney with rosary beads she made out of yarn with a label hanging from each decade with her email address to give to her new friends.

It's the same surge of energy with that exciting international taste we experienced with the Olympics.

The nerdy volunteers are back in their daggy tracksuits, anyone who's anyone has a lanyard swinging from their neck and temporary tattoos of Aussie flags and Akubra hats have re-emerged.

But it's the generosity of the pilgrims and a humility you wouldn't have seen in the US basketball team back in 2000 that makes this so much more enjoyable.

So they're not spending up big at the Casino or Scruffy Murphy's. They're not staying in 5-star hotels. They're not even taking taxis.

But mention that to Sydney cabbie of 25 years Peter Steiner and he's all right with that.

"I haven't had one pilgrim in my cab but I've been enjoying watching them. It's such a happy atmosphere," he said.

"They are Roman Catholics, they're not lager louts. This is the good thing."

As one local girl described it in a whisper yesterday over her Hungry Jack's burger as a group of nuns walked in: "They're so cute. They're not in your face, like Bible bashing or anything."

Indeed, you don't have to be Catholic for this one, Sydney. Just a walk through the wash of colourful flags and bright smiles and you will feel this city breathing again.

It's not their religion but something about the innocence of their youthfulness and the rich culture they offer that makes this a good news story for us.

Not to mention that, for a city that loves people who love our city, we couldn't ask for more - the place is swarming with people saying how great the place is.

And with temperatures of 23C in mid-July, it has to be a sign of God for which we should be all be thankful.

WYD's First Event: Mass for 150,000 in Sydney

Clara reports from the first major event of WYD - the Mass for 150,00 on Sydney's waterfront:

After noting that registration was very slow and frustrating (although our team had already registered online months ago) due to the fact that 50,000 unregistered people have just "shown up" and swamped the organizers, Clara writes:

All this frustration evaporated at the extraordinary Opening Mass - stunning location, beautiful liturgy. Attendance is estimated at 150,000 with many being turned away. Cardinal Pell's homily was his best ever. I was almost in tears by the end. Hopefully, the full text will soon be available on the Sydney diocesan website.

Here's a excerpt:

Our first reading today was from Ezekiel, with Isaiah and Jeremiah, one of the three greatest Jewish prophets,” he said.

“Many parts of Australia are still in drought, so all Australians understand a valley of dry bones and fleshless skeletons.”

Dr Pell also called out to those who may find themselves “lost” or in deep distress.

“Earlier in this mass I welcomed you all to this World Youth Day week ... but I do not begin with the 99 healthy sheep, those of you already open to the Spirit, perhaps already steady witnesses to faith and love,” he said.

“I begin by welcoming and encouraging anyone, anywhere, who regards himself or herself as lost, in deep distress, with hope diminished or even exhausted.

“Young or old, woman or man, Christ is still calling those who are suffering to come for healing, as he has for 2,000 years.”

The new Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, is openly Christian and also spoke at the Mass.

Clara continues:

In the context of the debate in this country which is trying to divorce religion and politics the following comments from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd are hugely significant:

"Some say there is no place for faith in the 21st century. I say they are wrong. Some say that faith is the enemy of reason, I say, also they are wrong. Because faith and reason are great partners in our human history and in our human future. Rich in humanity, rich in scientific progress. Some say only that which they see wrong in Christianity and in the church, I say let us speak also about what is right in Christianity and the church."

I was assured after the Mass by Tony Burke MP, a member or the Rudd cabinet, that the Prime Minister writes his own material.

Clara promises some photos a bit later.

Delayed coverage of the Mass will begin on EWTN about 10 am Mountain Time. Unless you were one of the really committed who stayed up all night watching it live. I went to bed!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Can Good Catholics Disagree in the Polling Booth?

Fr. Mike is presently lolling in Latte Land aka Seattle, Washington. (Sure he preached all the Sunday Masses but how hard can that be? she says as she ducks missles from 1400 miles away) But Wednesday, July 16, he will earn his keep.

Join him at 7pm at Blessed Sacrament Church for a very timely talk:

Applying Prudential Judgement: Can Good Catholics Disagree in the Polling Booth?

Fr. Michael "will examine the interplay of moral principles, the fully formed Catholic conscience, and the critical role of prudential judgement with regard to voting and other moral choices. He will also propose an ideal model of collaboration between laity and clergy for Catholic parishes to adopt that respects the teaching office of the pastor while taking advantage of the wide variety of competences, information and experiences that the laity offer with regard to issues our society faces."

It's Dominican, so you know it is gonna be good. If you are in the Seattle area, you don't want to miss it.

Catholic Quote of the Day

"If [Catholics] are convinced that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God and Savior of the world, they will want everyone to share the Faith and draw near to Jesus in study, prayer, and worship. ...

"I have heard some Catholics speak as though ours were a shrinking Church. It could shrink and lose its vitality if it relied simply on transmission of the Faith in traditional ways through families, neighborhoods and schools. But Christ urgently summons the Church to engage in apostolic outreach. Protestant Evangelicals and Pentecostals have mounted highly successful programs of evangelization. They have a lot to teach us, though we should not imitate all of their tactics.

"Increasing numbers of Jews and non-Catholic Christians, including rabbis and ministers, are finding the fullness of truth in the Catholic Faith. Too often they have cause to complain that Catholics rarely help them join the Church or make them feel welcome when they come in."

[Excerpt from: Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ, "True Mission Priorities," Extension (November 2005), 20.]

h/t: Aufer a Nobis

China Soul

Related to the interesting discussion here about "conscious" and "unconscious" faith in different cultures of the world, do take a look at some of these videos produced by China Soul.

They are long but intensely moving as you hear the stories of Chinese Christians and what they have suffered for the faith over the years. I listened to Seeds of Blood last night. The hymns that punctuate the stories are 20th century Protestant hymns (not contemporary praise & worship) that I remember vaguely from my childhood. Occasionally the swelling music get a bit much for me but the power is in the authenticity of the stories from these elderly Chinese who have spend decades in labor camps and sacrificed so much for Christ.

"Unconscious" religiosity was not an option for these people and their perseverance in the face of terrible suffering has changed the course of the most populous nation on earth.

The Safest Place in Town

Meanwhile, back home in mid America . . .

On May 12, in Postville, Iowa

"Federal immigration agents raided the Agriprocessors factory, arresting nearly 400 workers, most of them men, for being in the United States illegally. Within minutes of the raid, with surveillance helicopters buzzing above the leafy streets, the wives and children of Mexican and Guatemalan families began trickling into St. Bridget’s Church, the safest place they knew.

It was about that time, with several dozen cowering people inside the church, when Sister Mary McCauley, the pastor administrator at St. Bridget’s, found out that Father Ouderkirk was attending a ceremony for diocesan priests nearly two hours away in Dubuque. Unable to reach him directly, she left a simple, urgent message: “We need to see a collar here.”

By the time Father Ouderkirk extricated himself and reached Postville in the evening, nearly 400 families, some of them not even Catholic, filled the rotunda and social hall of St. Bridget’s. They occupied every pew, every aisle, every folding chair, every inch of floor. Children clutched mothers. One girl shook uncontrollably.

A few volunteers from the old Postville, descendants of the Irish and Norwegian immigrants who settled here more than a century ago, set out food. Others took turns standing watch at the church door, as if the sight of an Anglo might somehow dissuade the feared Migra, as the immigrants call Immigration and Customs Enforcement, from invading their sanctuary.

Already, members of the church staff and a Spanish teacher from a nearby college were tallying the names of the detained workers. Father Ouderkirk conducted his own version of a census in this predominantly Hispanic parish. Gone were all but two members of the choir he had assembled over the years. Gone were all but one of the eight altar servers. Gone were the husbands from the weddings he had performed, and gone were the fathers of the children he had baptized.

As for the mothers, many of them also worked at Agriprocessors and had been arrested. In a putative show of compassion, federal authorities released them after putting an electronic homing device on each woman’s ankle to monitor her whereabouts. These mothers were, in the new lexicon of Postville, “las personas con brazalete,” the people with a bracelet.


The only redemptive thing that can be said, perhaps, is that in the crisis at Postville — with nearly 400 immigrants imprisoned and facing deportation, with 40 mothers under house arrest awaiting their own court dates, with families that had two working parents now forced to survive on handouts from a food pantry — the beacon of the Roman Catholic Church to immigrants has rarely shone more brilliantly.

Read it all.

Pilgrims from Asia

Another snapshot of the widespread Asian contingent at WYD - and what it means for young people from countries where Catholics are a distinct minority:

For Wiyond, a young Catholic living in Muslim-dominated Indonesia, the World Youth Day festival in Sydney led by Pope Benedict XVI provides a rare chance to celebrate his religion with others.

The 34-year-old is one of more than 100,000 foreign pilgrims who have come to Australia for World Youth Day, many of them from countries in Asia without a strong Catholic tradition.

As he stood on the sidelines of a noisy procession of thousands of pilgrims carrying a cross through Sydney's central business district on Monday, Wiyond said he was grateful for the chance to mix with other young Catholics.

"We really want to meet with all the other youth from around the world and share our faith and to know that we are not alone," he said.

"Sometimes we feel that we are alone to become a Catholic in Indonesia. We are the minority."

Like many pilgrims from Asia, Wiyond is excited about seeing the leader of the Roman Catholic church in the flesh during the six-day event, which culminates in an open-air mass by Benedict on July 20.

"We really hope to see the Pope, and shake hands with the Pope, and kiss the ring," he told AFP.

Thousands of pilgrims from the United States, Italy and Germany have poured into Sydney over recent days, with their numbers strengthened by thousands from New Zealand and Pacific islands such as Papua New Guinea.

The Philippines has provided the largest number of pilgrims from Asia, with 2,500, while 700 have come from Indonesia and 260 from Japan.

World Youth Day organisers refused to comment on the number of pilgrims from China, where the Vatican has long been at odds with Beijing over who controls the booming Catholic church.

But 23-year-old Taiwanese university student Karen Lin said there were many Asian faces among the thousands of pilgrims around Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral and surrounding Hyde Park.

"We've seen the Koreans, and some Japanese and some from China," she said.

The question of young people from mainland China is a very interesting one. Anyone have information about Chinese pilgrims?

The International Religion Monitor: Religious Belief Around the World

Warning: long post ahead.

Over the weekend, i stumbled across the International Religion Monitor: This is an effort by the Bertelsmann Foundation of Germany to survey religious attitudes across a wide variety of countries, cultures, and religious traditions. They have surveyed 21,000 people in 21 countries so far and are now publishing their results.

And naturally, they are highlighting their Australian findings because WYD is in the news.

The IRM has three basic categories that seem minimalist to me but one gets the feeling that some kind of vague belief in a supreme being seems like a major achievement to this group.

The three categories are:

"highly-religious", religious matters play a central role in their personality,

"religious" are at least "open" to religious matters and patterns of interpretation,

religious matters, practices and experiences hardly feature in the lives of the "non-religious" at all.

To give you an base point, the US is in the upper end of religiosity according to this study.

54% highly religious, 35% religious, 9% "non-religious"

(Which does correlate with Pew findings that even self-described "atheists" and "agnostics" have a surprising amount of religious belief in the US. (more on that in another post)

The most religious country they have studied? Nigeria where 91% of people are "highly religious" and no one qualified as "non religious"

The most non-religious nations? From the bottom up

Russia 3% "highly religious" 53% "non religious"
France 8% "highly religious" 49% "non religious"
Austria 5% "highly religious" 39% "non religious"
Great Britain 16% "highly religious" 37% "non religious"
South Korea 22% "highly religious" 50% "non religious"
Germany 14% "highly religious" 31% "non religious"
Switzerland 14% "highly religious" 18% "non religious"
Australia 19% "highly religious" 31% "non religious"

Their basic conclusion: Europe's religious situation is unique and cannot be assumed to be representative of the rest of the world.

For instance, the perception that young people are less religious than their parents and grandparents is typically Western European and does not correspond to the reality worldwide.

80 percent of all young Protestants outside of Europe are deeply religious and 18 percent are religious, compared to just seven percent of young Protestants in Europe who are deeply religious, and 25 percent can only be classified as nominal members of their church.

Sherry's note: Europe is the part of the world least influenced by the whole Independent/Pentecostal movement which is huge elsewhere.

Catholics: Although the proportion of deeply religious Catholics in Europe is 25 percent, outside Europe this figure is 68 percent.

Fascinating: - more young Protestants are deeply religious (80%) than are young Catholics outside Europe. (68%) while a considerably larger number of young European Catholics are more deeply religious (25%) than young Euro Protestants (7%).

Sherry's question: Is the somewhat brighter picture for European Catholics a reflection of the influence of the Catholic lay movements in Europe?

The figures for France and Austria can only be described as bleak. Daily prayer is no longer common practice among young Europeans. In France, just nine percent of young adults pray daily, in Russia the figure is eight percent and in Austria only around seven percent. (To compare, the Pew study showed that 58% of US Catholics and 78% of US evangelicals pray daily outside of services.) Church attendance in France for the 20 something crowd is about 1%. (CARA says that the weekly attendance of Gen X US Catholics is 15% while 17% of Catholic Millennials attend Mass every week)

The former Communist bloc's situation is also grim: Only a third of young people in Eastern Europe and Russia have been christened, (baptized) and most young people have no connection at all to faith and the Church. Only 13 percent are deeply religious.


According to these findings, the US is more religious than India. (41% "highly religious") (Although since HInduism is such a different animal, the questions might not have captured reality. Should we change the expression to "the US is a country of NIgerians run by Russians?"

Poland is not that high on the "highly religious" scale. (only 29%) While only 6% are considered "non religious", the vast majority of Poles fell into the "religious" category: At least "open" to religious matters and patterns of interpretation"

I e-mailed a close friend who is a Poland scholar and serious Catholic (and currently in Poland) and got his take:

My own sense is that Poles probably in general wouldn't do well on a test that asked them to articulate/or measured their beliefs in ways that would distinguish sharply between secular and sacred. There is a very real way in which this is almost still like Christendom - many people still seem to take for granted that religion/"the Church" and their faith just are. The sense of a distinct option to chose non-belief or other faiths does not seem as highly developed here - hence I think an effort to measure faith via some kind of "objective" multiple choice/fill in the blank test is likely to not get the full reality of religious experience in a place where even the atheists are pretty Catholic (in a very "traditional" sense).

There are modern Catholics here, and I think one of the reasons that both Catholicism and the Church are doing relatively well in influencing Polish society is that a good number of clergy really do get what it means to be a disciple - the homilies I've heard from Dominicans really do try to push people to think about what it means to be a Christian, and there is a lack of concern for liturgical correctness - I went to a mass for families with children where a kid with a microphone went around during the prayers of the people and encouraged other children to offer their own petitions - tis the kind of thing that would drive some Catholics bezerk if it was done in a US parish - but in Poland it fits.

But also I wonder if there is not a sense of expectations at work here too - in a country with some very powerful religious mojo, for someone to self-designate as "highly religious" or identify religion as playing such a major role in their own life might be because the benchmarks for comparison and expectations for what constitutes a high level of religiosity might be higher. Again, it could be that I'm seeing what I'm wanting to see - but it is hard to see so many people popping in spontaneously to pay visits to the Blessed Sacrament (and not just old ladies either - a good smattering of young moms, single women and young men too) or the gazzilion masses that every tiny parish has, or whole phalanxes of very young priests, nuns, etc. and not think that this isn't a religiously dynamic country.

My question: Of course, if we presume that people who live in an all-embracing religion-saturated culture would be a disadvantage when asked questions about self-conscious religious choice, how is it that people in Nigeria, Guatemala, Indonesia, Morocco, and Brazil (all countries at the top of the "highly religious" heap) were able to answer them? NIgeria, Guatemala, and Brazil are hotbeds of evangelical/Independent/Pentecostal Christianity but Morocco and Indonesia are not.

Here's another revealing tidbit:

"Most young religious Europeans view sex as a private matter and only a minority believe that their religious beliefs influence their sexual relationships.

Religious considerations have an impact on the love lives of just seven percent of young Protestants in Europe, 12 percent of Orthodox believers and 14 percent of Catholics.

However, the picture outside of Europe is quite different: here, no less than 67 percent of Protestants and 68 percent of free-church Protestants (i.e, evangelicals) see a connection between their religious beliefs and sexuality. Catholics outside of Europe are more emancipated in this respect. Only around half (52 percent) say that their personal faith affects their own sexuality."

Sherry's comments: Hence the inability to take Church teaching on the topic seriously. One's relationship with God is just not connected to one's sexual life.

Love how Catholics are more "emancipated"! That phrase says everything about the assumptions of the people behind the survey.

WYD: Catholic, Samoan, and Kiwi

More WYD news:

Here's an article about a "Wellington Lass" who is going to serve as MC for the Papal Mass.

"Josie was originally asked to give a testimony in Samoan at one of the major World Youth Day World Youth Day events and had no idea that this would lead to an invitation to share the role of MC.

“When they said they didn’t want to use my testimony in Samoan, I thought ‘Oh well, that’s fine.’ I certainly wasn’t expecting them to then ask me to MC! What an unbelievable privilege!” said Leota. “I will do my very best to represent the young people of Oceania, to share their faith, joy and vitality through my role.”

Indeed, through her testimony, the selection committee felt “her joy over her background – Catholic, Samoan, and Kiwi – was contagious,” said Sr Anna Wray OP. “The depth of Josie’s conviction and dedication to the Christ was evident to us from the beginning of our correspondence with her."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Urgent Prayer Request

We've received an urgent prayer request:

A reader writes that a good friend and his wife were in the process of adopting a third child and have had her for more than two months. Suddenly, two days ago, the birth parents demanded the baby back. The couple have little hope of legal redress. Prayer is the only thing that can help.

Bad as the situation is, it's the second time this has happened to this couple.

Your prayers for this situation would be most appreciated!

40 Hours in Perth

Franciscan Friars of the Renewal holding 40 hour Adoration in Perth.

PERTH, Australia, JULY 13, 2008 ( Christ is key for the success of World Youth Day, according to the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.

The friars from New York organized a 40-hour Eucharistic adoration marathon at All Saints Chapel in Perth's central business district this week.

Brother Columba Jordan, 30, who had at least 1,000 youth participating in activities, said adoration is a powerful way of helping youth realize Christ's presence in the Eucharist.

"Benedict XVI asked young people in his World Youth Day message to pray for a new Pentecost for Australia, and young people can't do that without spending time with Christ," said Brother Columba, who found the courage and clarity to follow his calling at the international youth day held in Rome in 2000.

"The whole point of World Youth Day is helping young people to have an encounter with Christ," he added. "If not, it's pointless."

The 40 Day Adoration has a fascinating history (the material below is from the Archdiocese of Boston website). I know that Frances de Sales celebrated the 40 hours as part of receiving the professions of faith of many prominent Protestants in his diocese.:

The exact origin of the Forty Hours Devotion is not known. The first clear attestation for its celebration comes from Milan in 1527. In its inception it was celebrated as reparation for the sins of the community and was motivated to offer prayers to God for protection during the crisis of war. The practice of celebrating Forty Hours Devotion spread rapidly from this point. This may be attributed to various reasons such as the quick approval granted to it by Pope Paul III in 1539. Furthermore, the support of St. Anthony Maria Zaccaria and Saint Philip Neri, who introduced its celebration into Rome in 1550, helped to extend its celebration beyond Milan. Finally, as it was introduced to more places this practice rapidly became popular with the lay faithful.

In time the purpose for celebrating Forty Hours Devotion started to be transformed. This change is witnessed in 1560 by the bull promulgated by Pope Paul IV. He states that the devotion is an imitation of the forty days of fasting of the Lord in the desert, and the time of unceasing prayer called for in scripture and by the early church. This transformation continued such that by the time of the eighteenth century this devotion became primarily eucharistic in nature and centered on thanksgiving for the mystery and gift of the eucharist.

From the eighteenth century onward the rules for celebrating the Forty Hours Devotion were heavily influenced by Pope Clement XII who published in 1731 the Instructio Clementina. This document gave detailed instructions for how this devotion was to be celebrated in the city of Rome. The Instructio became the basis for the further development of Forty Hours throughout the Church. It was very detailed in how the celebration was to occur and what the expectations around its celebration would entail. Other dioceses used this as the foundation for their celebration of the devotion such was the case in the United States.

These rules for celebration did not change until the Second Vatican Council. The present rules for celebrating Forty Hours Devotion can be found in the Order for the Solemn Exposition of the Holy Eucharist published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1992. This document is an adaptation of the Roman Ritual: Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist outside Mass

Voting & the Eucharist Down Under

The communion issue will be played out during WYD. There are several high profile Catholic politicians who plan to attend the Papal Mass - including the Premier of New South Wales who greeted the Pope as he arrived in Sydney yesterday. Per the Catholic News Agency:

Morris Iemma, the Premier of New South Wales who voted for embryonic stem cell research, has said he wants to receive Holy Communion from Pope Benedict XVI at the closing Mass for World Youth Day but also said he did not expect to do so, the Sydney Morning Herald says.

Iemma, a practicing Catholic, said having the Pope in Sydney would be a “deeply rewarding experience for all Catholics, my family included.”

New South Wales Deputy Premier John Watkins, who is also a Catholic, said he would probably attend the closing Mass “in an operational capacity rather than as a guest.” Watkins cast a vote that helped overturn the state parliament’s ban on so-called therapeutic cloning.

Watkins and Iemma voted in favor of the stem cell bill despite a warning from the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, who said that their vote would have consequences concerning their place in the life of the Church.

And this is lovely: One Minister met her husband at a previous World Youth Day:

Other Australian officials will attend the closing Mass, including Kristina Keneally, the New South Wales Minister for Ageing, who met her husband at a previous World Youth Day and voted against the embryonic stem cell bill. The Minister for Ports and Waterways, Joe Tripodi, will also be present. He has described Catholicism as “one of the most significant factors in my upbringing.”

The Pope and the Environment

Again per John Allen. Pope Benedict had hardly stepped foot in Australia before he brought up the topic of environmentalism.

"Environmentalsm has shaped up as a key social theme under Benedict XVI. Aside from numerous public comments, the pope has also approved plans to install solar panels atop the Paul VI Audience Hall, in addition to signing an agreement to reforest a stretch of central Hungary sufficient to offset the Vatican’s annual carbon output.

Among other things, Benedict XVI sees the environmental movement as a promising route for the recovery of a strong sense of "natural law," meaning the idea that moral limits to human conduct are inherent in nature. If people are willing to accept that idea about the environment, Benedict seems to hope, perhaps they will be more open to the claims of natural law in other areas of life as well."

No Justice Without Him Who is Just

Per John Allen, this welcome message from Pope Benedict:

The Vatican today released the pope’s message for the annual World Day for Missions, to be celebrated on October 19. In it, Benedict returns to a recurrent motif in his approach to evangelization, by now familiar from his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, as well as his book Jesus of Nazareth: Preaching the gospel is not a distraction from working for justice, it is working for justice, because ultimately the world cannot be just without Him who is Just.


The heart of Benedict’s argument is that these seemingly secular concerns cannot be adequately addressed without laying the proper spiritual foundations in the heart of the human person. Building a better world, in other words, means bringing people to Christ.

Preaching the gospel, the pope argues, is what creates “the spiritual energy capable of nourishing within the human family the harmony, justice, and communion among persons, races and peoples for which everyone longs.”

“Only from this source,” the pope writes, referring to Christ, “can the necessary attention, tenderness, compassion, welcome, openness, and commitment to solving people’s problems be generated, as well as those other virtues needed by messengers of the gospel in order to let everything else go and to dedicate themselves completely and unconditionally to spreading the sweet perfume of the love of Christ throughout the world.”

For that reason, Benedict insists, “no reason can justify a slow-down or stagnation” in missionary efforts, including concerns such as “the scarcity of clergy or the absence of vocations.” Quoting Pope Paul VI in his 1975 encyclical Evangelii nuntiandi, Benedict calls evangelization “the life and essential mission of the church.”

Benedict closes the message by calling upon various groups in the church to redouble their missionary efforts, including bishops, priests, and women and men religious.

The pope also has a message for laity: “A complex and multiform areopagus of evangelization is open before you – the world. Testify with your lives that Christians belong to a new society, towards which they’re on the way, and which is already anticipated in their pilgrimage,” the pope writes, quoting his own encyclical Spe Salvi.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Weak Church & An Ignorant Secularism?

Fr. Anthony alerted me to this long and challenging editorial in today's The Australian (the national newspaper).

Test of Spirit by Paul Kelly shed a light on the debates within Australia over religion in the public square for this American. Kelly begins:

"Beyond the squabbles over security, transport inconvenience and taxpayer-funded support, the Australian traditions of utility and pragmatism have been on display. World Youth Day next week will be a grand event, to many an inspiring event where religion will briefly dominate the public square. Yet its preparations have been marked by a community irritation that signifies a rising hostility and fatalistic indifference in Australian attitudes towards organised religion."

On Benedict's press in Australia:

"The truth of his Australian reception is that his speeches are unread; his messages are unreported by the media; the meaning of his trip beyond rail union and traffic woes is seemingly lost. This is a commentary upon both the church and our society. It may reveal the deadly embrace of a weak church and an ignorant secularism that reinforce each other."

Benedict comes to speak to the modern Australia and youth of the world. The questions are how he speaks, what he says and how the Australian mind, Catholic, Christian and non-believer, comprehends and responds. The Pope will arrive for this joyous occasion with a sense of suffering. He said in his July 2005 meeting with local priests at Aosta, Italy, that "the so-called 'great' churches seem to be dying" and that "this is true particularly in Australia, also in Europe but not so much in the US". He will be assessed by his capacity to address the manifest problems of the Catholic Church in Australia dominated by lack of vocations and disillusion of the young.


Australia is about 65 per cent Christian. But it is a long time since Australian society saw Christianity celebrated in so spectacular a moment, with the city's landmarks for recreation and commerce given over to worship of God.

This is an affirmation of the true and mature secular state. Yet it is resisted by many who seek a radical change in the status quo. They represent an aggressive "new secularism", a philosophy much discussed by Benedict, that aspires to deny religion by shrinking it to a strictly private affair. In terms of governance, such advocates want not a traditional secular state to enshrine religious freedom, but the creation of atheism as the de facto established religion to drive real religion from the public domain.

This constitutes one of the most radical and intolerant projects in Australian political history.

"Its essence was captured by Australian Anglican bishop Tom Frame in last year's Acton Lecture: "There is no doubt that there is an increase in number and prominence of those who want religion banished from the public square on the grounds that theistic beliefs are intellectually vacuous, morally bankrupt, politically dangerous and socially divisive." Influenced by writers such as Richard Dawkins, highly popular in this country, "they do not support religious toleration because they believe that religious convictions are the cause of much serious and enduring harm in the world, not unlike racism and sexism, both of which have been the focus of legislative prohibition in many jurisdictions.

Kelly sums it up:

"This is not a serious movement offering intellectual argument but old-fashioned prejudice disguised because it comes from the educated."

Do read the whole essay. Kelly discusses Pope Benedict's concern about the crisis of western culture at great length.

In the US, as the Pew Survey showed, even atheists and agnostics can be remarkably religious. The category of Americans that seems to come closest to the Australian spirit is that of "secular unaffiliated". These were the US adults who told Pew surveyers that religion was not important. They are 6.3% of our population: about 14.2 million adults.

In the US as a whole, they are swamped in a sea of believers although you can easily find secular unaffiliated pockets in the urban areas of the coasts, universities, etc. But the Christians of Australia are not nearly as numerous and vocal.

As Kelly put it:

The Australian situation " may reveal the deadly embrace of a weak church and an ignorant secularism that reinforce each other."

Fresh Word from OZ

Fresh word from OZ:

Fr. Anthony (our Dominican co-Director in Austrailia) writes:

Our presentation went well and the response was great. I had a chance to talk to with Fr. Alexander Sheerbrooke from St. Patrick's in Soho, London.You may be familiar with Spes, St. Patrick's Evanglisation School. It is really inspiring to hear about such wonderful work that they do in the heart of London.

Indeed, we are familiar with Fr. Sheerbrooke's remarkable evangelization efforts and have blogged about St. Patrick's here and here. I'm delighted that Fr. Anthony, Clara, and the CSI team had a chance to met him! Great stuff!

The commissioning mass at Telstra Dome last night went very well. I was somewhat worried before the Mass that the pilgrims would be a little out of control for Mass, but as soon as Mass began it was wonderful, and by the end of Mass singing the WYD hymn the presence of the Holy Spirit was so very palpable.

You should see the faces of ordinary Melbournians as they are confronted by youth from all around the world. I can't imagine
the effect that this is having on the city.

The numbers for the Mass vary depending on which newspaper you read. It certainly wasn't full, but if you split the difference then 35,000 would be the number. Which isn't too bad for a cold winter evening in Melbourne. The important thing is the fact that it was about commissioning pilgrims to go to Sydney and I think that it worked very well at that level, helping those
who might have been doubtful.

More updates from the CSI team as I get them. Today Clara and her family and Fr. Anthony and the OP students are all on the road - to Sydney. As is Pope Benedict!

Pray for protection for all who travel today to this remarkable gathering!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Abstractions Have No Need of Mothers

In the midst of everything else, I am very slowly working my way through Leon Joseph Caridinal Suenens' memoirs: "Memories and Hopes.

Suenens was one of the 4 moderators of the Second Vatican Council and played a pivotal role in the drafting of Lumen Gentium, in the debate on the apostolate of the laity and the charisms, and later was given the role (by Pope Paul Vi) of championing (and reigning in where necessary) the spontaneous grass fire of the charismatic renewal.

It is fascinating to read of a world before the divisions we now take as normative existed. When "it was possible to see Fr. Dhanis of the Holy Office (now the Congregation for Defense of the Faith) sitting at a small restaurant table, engaged in private conversation with Hans Kung."

Perhaps it is because he was formed in the era before the Council that Suenens does not fit our current polarizations very well. He was a leader of the "progressive" side during the Council but also had a deep, life-long Marian devotion which he saw as an expression of the charismatic dimension of the Church and was the great champion of the Legion of Mary.

I loved this:

"I mentioned that I had once asked (Karl) Rahner why trendy Christians are so indifferent to Mary, and I quoted his reply: 'For too many people, Christianity has become another "ism", an ideology, an abstraction - and abstractions have no need of mothers.'

Responding to Post Christian Spiritualities

Here is something that I find so thought-provoking in light of our continued work with Making Disciples.

It is an article in the July edition of Lausanne World Pulse on New Religions, Subjective Life Spiritualities, and the Challenge to Missions in the Post-Christian West

And author John Moorehead is not just talking about the old Institutionalized "new religions" with which we are all familiar: Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses. But the much more esoteric world of do-it-yourself spirituality associated with the new group that the Pew Survey identified" the "religious unaffiliated"

"The Western Subjective Turn

One of the greatest challenges the Church faces in the modern Western context is the general turn away from interest in and involvement with institutionalized forms of religion, such as Christianity, and the corresponding move toward an inward and subjective expression of spirituality. Robert Wuthnow has referred to this as a shift from a “spirituality of dwelling” in institutions such as churches to a “spirituality of seeking,”1 involving an individualized spiritual quest.

This spiritual seeking takes place in consumerist fashion wherein the seeker selects from an expanding “spiritual marketplace,”2 looking for resources that facilitate an inward development of the self with its desires for wholeness, personal development, and meaning. Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead have described the inward turn in Western spirituality as “subjective life spirituality.” They note that those forms of spirituality which emphasize a holistic personal life are far more able to thrive in the present environment than those which do not.3

Increasing Spiritual Options
These developments in the ways in which people pursue their religious and spiritual practices mean that the spiritual marketplace is made up of not only institutionalized forms of alternative spiritualities expressed in more familiar groups such as Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, but also more fluid and individualized forms of spirituality such as Neo-Paganism and Western esotericism.

In addition, large numbers of people pursue their own unique forms of Do-It-Yourself Spirituality constructed in eclectic fashion and drawn from elements of popular culture and diverse religious traditions.

Although the total number of adherents of new religions is small in light of the overall religious population in the West, as Christopher Partridge has noted, “New religions and alternative spiritualities should not be dismissed as superficial froth or the dying embers of religion in the West, but are rather the sparks of a new and increasingly influential way of being religious.”4

The question remains, however, as to what might be considered the best ways for the Church to engage the new religions, as well as the broader Western turn to self and holistic spirituality."

Those interested might consider attending the Consultation on Post Christian Spiritualitiess this October 16 -19 in Illinois. It is important that serious, well formed Catholics be part of these discussions - for our own sake and the sake of the Church's mission in the west and for the sake of the discussion itself , which deeply needs the perspective that comes with the full 2,000 years of Christian tradition and missionary experience.

The Thirty Mile Zone: Hollywood as Nineveh

You have GOT to watch this terrific video from the new web page of Intermission Hollywood. (H/t to Barbara Nicolosi,)

Listen to the local denizens try to explain their spiritual beliefs. "I'm more about super brain yoga and not taking on other people's energies."

It is all so left coast and so familiar to those of us who have done singificant time in places like Seattle and LA. A real life illustration of the starting results from the Pew Religious Landscape Survey.

These vaguely-spiritual-but-not-religious men and women are our tribe, our generation. Most of them will never come to us on our terms. We are the apostles in this time and place. We need to go to them. We are the ones called to cross innumerable cultural divides to bring Christ to them and live Christ among them.

God bless initiatives like Act One and Intermission Hollywood (See Barb Nicolosi for more on how Christians in Hollywood came out of the catacombs)

A Glimpse of Melbourne

Enjoy this video prepared for Melbourne's Day in the Diocese.

It gives you a sense of the flavor of Melbourne which is a truly beautiful and cosmopolitan place. (Fantastic gardens, aboriginal art, turkish food, betting on - and winning - the Melbourne Cup, and spending US election day at the Dominican priory are some of my most vivid memories of Melbourne during our 2004 trip to establish the CSI team.)

Zulu Hymns and Nose Bleeds

And here's another snapshot of the Melbourne Days in the Diocese - and what they mean to different pilgrims: Via The Age:

WHEN 25-year-old Hungarian Andras Balazs announced his intention to become a Catholic priest, his Protestant mother and friends were shocked.

His mother's eyes still light up with hope when she sees him talking to a woman but she has accepted his chosen path with the church that is still recovering from years of persecution in Hungary.

"There was communism in our country that killed a lot of priests and the congregation," he said in Melbourne yesterday.

The young seminarian and his contingent of 23 Hungarians were clearly excited to mingle among the faithful from all over the world at St Patrick's Cathedral.


After yesterday's welcome, a group from Johannesburg joyously burst into Zulu hymns as they stepped out of the cathedral.

Simangele Katane, 21, said it had taken two hard years of fund-raising to make the journey from South Africa.

She said that while Melbourne's "really steep roads" were of tremendous fascination, attending Mass with the Pope in Sydney was still the highlight of their trip. "It's not every day you get to meet the Pope as he doesn't come to South Africa," she said between bursts of song.

Nearby, 21-year-old aspiring priest Nino De Aro, from the Philippines, was struggling with the coldest temperatures he had experienced in his life, which he blamed for a nose bleed.

Blessed Eight Times - and World Youth Day Hasn't Even Begun Yet

30,000 young Catholics filled Melbourne's Telstra Dome last night for a Commissioning Mass that would send them off to Sydney and World Youth Day. It is the culmination of the "Days in the Diocese" that we've been blogging about below.

I have been stunned at the relentlessly negative press that WYD has been getting in OZ, but this article was almost entirely positive:

I did enjoy this anectdote:

"Even the protests were more muted than organisers had suggested. Secular Party president John Perkins had a sandwich board proclaiming: "You think your religion is true. Prove it. $100,000 reward."

He had a couple of supporters on one side, and two young men, Jeshua and Joel, with a texta-inscribed cardboard placard, who came on the spur of the moment. "We've had photos and smiles from most people, and been blessed eight times," Joel said. "

Good on you. Blessing your enemies makes 'em crazy!

Of course, the next line was:

Another group of four found takers for all 500 of their souvenir condoms.

This description of the Commissioning Mass just in from Clara:

The Mass was an extraordinary display of energy and colour. We were sitting in front of the Lithuanians who have with them the largest flag made of parachute fabric which they unrolled overhead (including the heads of our group) and it covered an entire stand at the sports stadium! The Mexican wave during the pre-Mass entertainment was very effective especially when it went through the two stands of priests whose robes contributed to the flowing effects. There were a number of cardinals from overseers - the most prominent being Rodriques from Hondouras and Rapier from South Africa. Cardinal Rodriques has had some excellent press coverage as the "Cardinal with sax appeal" building on his reputation as an excellent saxophonist. On the more serious side, he spoke of the hope which WYD gives him and the important role it has in bringing together first world and third world youth.

Back to the focus on Asia and Oceania - we have noted large numbers from Papua New Guinea and East Timor, many of whom have been sponsored by Australian parishes. There are record numbers from Fiji. The Vietnamese have their largest contingent ever at any WYD - their proximity to Australia and the fact than many have family here has boosted their numbers. We were fascinated that they are flying the old South Vietnamese flag. They also LOVE Dominicans. The Basques are also flying their own flag and sporting smart black berets and orange scarves.

We had at least a dozen from Trinidad and Tobago attend our Siena Institute presentation. I commented to them that their WYD delegation must be larger than their Olympic team. I recall they only sent three or four to the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006. Look out for Called and Gifted stuff happening in Trinidad and Tobago as I have sold complete sets of materials to them.

Prayer request:

Please pray for Clara, Fr. Anthony and our whole CSI team during the next week. They are already feeling the effort, were up to midnight last night for the Mass and have only one day to pack before leaving for Sydney. They need a shot of supernatural energy and clarity of mind over the next week - and a chance to collapse afterwards!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Blessed Peter To Rot

More stories of the Church universal:

Monday was the feast to Peter to Rot, martyr catechist of Papua New Gunea nad one of the patrons of WYD.

I had the privilege of telling Peter's story in at our Called & Gifted workshops in Indonesia. He was the son of the first generation of Catholics in his area and began his work as a catechists at 21, after three years of study.

These were years of intense work to organize catechesis in the village, to gather large and small groups for instruction and prayer and to become acquainted with people's real life situations. All those who had him as their catechist recall his straightforward, immediate and effective teaching. He referred constantly to the Bible and always carried it with him (rare for Catholics of the time!), quoting it directly as the occasion required. He was particularly sensitive in discovering the inner problems in others' lives and shared them intimately.

In a scenario that has been repeated throughout the Church's history,

The decisive turning point in Peter To Rot's life and mission occurred in 1942. After the Japanese occupation, all the missionaries and mission staff were imprisoned in a concentration camp. The Servant of God remained alone. During the war he was the only spiritual guide for Catholics in the Rakunai district. With his constant presence, he provided prayer services, catechetical instruction, the administration of Baptism, the preservation and distribution of the Eucharist to the sick and the dying, and assistance to the poor. On the outskirts of Rakunai, he built a church for the Catholic community from branches, the only material available. The main church had been destroyed by the Japanese.

The Japanese decided to forbid Christian worship and all types of religious gatherings, public and private. Subsequently, the repression became more violent. The Japanese, seeking to force the local chieftains into collaborating with them, decided that the Tolais should return to their previous practice of polygamy. This was a severe blow after almost half a century of missionary work. Peter firmly opposed this and was not afraid to disagree publicly with his brother Joseph.

The Servant of God was arrested in April or May 1945. According to accounts, his questioning by the official Meshida was a farce as well as an expression of the crudest violence. He was sentenced to two months' imprisonment. Later, referring to his imprisonment, Peter said: "I am here because of those who broke their marriage vows and because of those who do not want the growth of God's kingdom".

Peter To Rot died a martyr at the hands of the Japanese army by lethal injection and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1995 - the same year he beatified Australia's Blessed Mary of the Cross MacKillop

The first twenty WYD pilgrims - ever - from Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands are being sponsored by the Australian Dominican Province. The heirs of Peter To Rot.

WYD: From Cambodia to Zambia

A glimpse of the excitement at the Days in the Diocese that are preceding World Youth Day all over Australia:

From Clara, our tzarina down under:

Melbourne is a very exciting place during Days in the Diocese.

I too am astonished at the way in which the Singapore contacts came together. You are right to highlight the possibilities for the Church in SE Asia.

Yesterday I met a subsistance farmer from Cambodia who had never before left his home town - he has no English so we just smiled and bowed a lot. He is in Melbourne for WYD, but more significantly for the final profession of his son as an Oblate of Mary Immaculate. Who knows what impact this visit will have on him, his family, his son, and the faith in Cambodia? The OMIs are doing great work in SE Asia with two recent Laotian ordinations - I think these two young men who studied in Melbourne constitute 50% of the entire Laotian clergy.

As we were walking through the Pilgrim Welcoming centre at the Australian Catholic University after our presentation, Fr Anthony's swishing Dominican robes caught the attention of a group of Thai pilgrims. They stopped us and wanted to talk and then insisted we have our photo taken with them.

I am also impressed by the numbers of African nations represented - at least 50 from Zambia.

WYD Gone Asian?

Thank goodness for e-mail and the internet during an event like World Youth Day! I've gotten a small flurry of e-mails already about the impact of our team's first presentation at the Days in the Diocese in Melbourne.

One aspect of World Youth Day that I think that most of us around St. Blog's (including myself) hadn't grasped is the possible impact on the Church in south and southeast Asia. I've heard of first ever or larger than ever groups coming from places like Tonga and India - partly due to location, partly to improved economic conditions in parts of Asia, partly to political changes that allow more freedom.

We are acutely aware of the impact on the North American and European Churches (and now Australian and New Zealand) but think of what could happen if a couple hundred fired up young disciples return to much smaller and resource poor Catholic communities around Asia!

We are already seeing it happen on a small scale. A large group of Singaporeans attending the CSI presentation in Melbourne yesterday and their leaders have already been introduced (via e-mail) to the young Singaporean journalist who is flying out to attend Making Disciples and Called & Gifted interviewer/facilitator training next month. And I sit at my dining room table in Colorado overlooking the garden and watch these e-mails flying between Melbourne and Singapore with a nod in my land-locked direction 10,000 miles away.

It seems that there is a small group of young Catholic Singaporeans who were separately feeling their way toward helping others discern their charisms and wondering if any group or organization was already doing it. And now they have found each other.

Interviewer training in Greenville, South Carolina,in August is going to be such a cosmopolitan affair. A black former FBI agent from Nagadoches, Texas ; a newly ordained Dominican priest from Hong Kong, St. Blog's resident Indian Hindu turned Catholic seminarian Gashwin, and a journalist from Singapore.

The Church universal in collaboration. Very exciting.

Beatitudes and Baptism - part 9

This is the final brief reflection in a series on the beatitudes that I wrote while preparing a homily for a child's baptism.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
To be a Christian is to share in the Paschal Mystery – to experience misunderstanding, calumny, taunts, distrust, and worse. Show her the narrow path, the narrow gate. Help her learn to not follow the crowd, but to follow Jesus. There's no greater gift you can give her.

The beatitudes are Jesus' imitation to become like him, to live in him, to abide in him like a branch is part of a vine. The beatitudes are a command - not to imitate Jesus (no one does this very well) - but to invite him to live in us.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Tuscan Garden in July

Had 4 trees planted today. There is nothing like getting to watch someone else work for a change!

And I took some pictures to give you an idea of how the Tuscan garden is coming along. Since the trees planted today were 3 pinion pines (the state tree of New Mexico) and a Ponderosa pine, what we have going here is a sort of wild-west, high-altitude, low-oxygen Tuscan garden. But it is beautiful all the same. And I can dream of pinon nuts someday.

People walking their dogs or children in the park behind regularly stop and look (and comment). It is a very pleasant neighborhood with gorgeous mountain views (which are ubiquitous in the Springs) but one where most back yards are comprised of dying Kentucky blue grass and/or scrub not quite hidden behind a decaying wood fence. Yesterday, i watched a man earnestly point to various elements in the yard and talk in animated tones to a woman companion for several minutes before moving on. Could we support the Institute through garden tours?

The wild green area punctuated by orange poppies is the wild flower berm that looked like this on Memorial Day.

Click on the picture to get the full effect.

Project Eye: Aussie Window on WYD

Clara, our CSI co-Director down under and czarina of our WYD team, sends word of an excellent group effort that will be covering World Youth Day from a multi-faceted Aussie perspective. Project Eye.

The contributors are all exceedingly sharp young women. Mary is one enthusiastic parish World Youth Day volunteer and will be giving the on-the-ground perspective. Trisha lost her husband in the 2004 tsunami and responded to that tragedy with a courage and creativity that resulted in being named Young Australian of the Year in 2006.

Mikayla Mernone is a member of our CSI teaching team at WYD and has a dramatic story of her own: surviving Guillain Barre Syndrome, which left her completely paralysed and in Intensive Care, unable to breathe. She recovered only to encounter a brilliant and wily Dominican priest (is there any other kind?) who changed the course of her life - personal and spiritual. (It is so cheering to know that we are linked in a common apostolate with someone of Mikayla's quality even though we have never met!)

Their coverage of WYD is going to be multi-media - blogging, video, photos, a compilation of MSM coverage as well - and all from a really knowledgeable and intelligent Australian perspective.

I know that I'm going to be tuning in to Project Eye on a regular basis. Check it out.

Gashwin Gomes & the "Secular Conversation"

Gashwin posted this classic "secular conversation" with "the new boyfriend of the best friend of a good friend's girlfriend" (It's too early for me to follow that particular relationship trail!).

A few of the highlights:

"On abortion, "Well I can't tell a woman what to do or not to do. That's judgmental." (So, if the woman in front of us turned around with a gun and wanted to kill you, I should not interfere?)

Oh but a fetus isn't a human being. On humanity, "We're no different from other animals really ... " (So, you're ok with the fact that eating a burger makes you complicit in murder? Would you eat a human being in the same way? How many cows do you know who've come and shared their deep angst with you?)

This repartee continued on and off through the day, at a fun, friendly level. At dinner, some other friends of friends of friends joined us for a bit. One of them was wearing a tee-shirt that read, "Make love, not babies."

"There you go dude, that's how one takes care of abortion."

I just shook my head.

The kicker was, "But you'd be ok with murder, right, if it meant killing the followers of those who pray to a different invisible man in the sky?"

An invisible man in the sky. That's who God is for this chap.

The thing is, he was raised Catholic. Baptized. First Communion. Confirmation. Yet, God is nothing but some invisible man in the sky, with no impact whatsoever on his life.

Later on in the evening, we were sitting up on a parking lot waiting for the fireworks to start, and sipping more, um, beverages.

"So, why seminary, man? I've gotta ask." So I talked a little bit, very briefly, about how I fell in love with Jesus Christ. "That's cool man." "

Sherry's comment: I found these new figures in the Pew Study over the July 4th weekend and don't know how I missed it before. And it has really shaken me up.

Based upon data from the Pew Survey, Gashwin, there's no guarantee that your friend of a friend of a friend actually believes in the possibility of relationship with God, much anything more. His talk of the "invisible man in the sky" sounds like he might not. But there's no way to know until you establish trust and invite him to tell you what he really thinks.

Because only 48% of adult Catholics are certain there is a God with whom one can have a personal relationship. And you can't really entrust yourself to Christ until you know that God is a God to whom you can entrust yourself.

Huge numbers of Americans are - of all religious background - are even further from a Christian world view. They believe God is an "impersonal force"

13% of "evangelicals"
29% of Catholics
34% of Orthodox
50% of Jews
42% of Muslims
54% of Hindus

You get the picture. There a huge number of Americans upon whom the basic gospel is probably just going to bounce off because they don't have the most fundamental mental categories necessary for it to make sense.

As Gashwin puts it:

It's been ages really since I've been around really secular people. Even as a campus minister, most of my interactions were with Catholic students. Sure I have secular friends, but they live far away and most of the time we don't talk about religion. And in seminary and formation, one is among insiders, so to speak, most of the time.

So ... who is going to be the one who might be able to share the Good News with young people such as this man? Our priests? Hardly -- they're busy feeding the sheep who do show up. In fact, the underlying assumption about ministry is that we'll serve those who show up. Very little time or energy is spent trying to reach those who are not there. We are mostly focused inwards. Our focus outwards tends to be related to outreach to the poor or charity -- no mean thing at all, and a constitutive element of living a Christian life. But what about evangelization as in inviting others to befriend Jesus Christ?

Would a young person such as this one, for all practical purposes a non-believer, open up in the same way to a priest? Perhaps, though when would he have an opportunity? In this case, I was friends with his girlfriend, not quite yet a priest, enough intrigue there to get a conversation going.

Who interacts regularly with the secular world? Not our priests. This is the job -- no, this is the vocation of lay Catholics. To take Our Lord with them into the world, into the work places and yes, even to ballgames, as appropriate.

G - you are going to so love Making Disciples cause we are dealing exactly with the questions you are asking!

Not that we have all the answers but we are seeing some very exciting things. Awarenesses and skills you can take with you into seminary and, God willing, into the priesthood. And that lay apostles can take to ballgames and into their families and into the marketplace.

If you would like to spread the love of Christ with others, consider joining Gashwin and Fr. Mike and me and a whole group of really interesting fellow Catholics at Making Disciples, August 8 - 12 in Spokane, Washington.

Beatitudes and Baptism - part 8

Reflections made in preparation for a child's baptism

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus is a realist. The truly Righteous One – Jesus himself – is persecuted. When we encounter someone who is truly holy, our own sinfulness is cast in stark relief. We have three responses, generally. We can walk away, quickly, in order to forget what we've glimpsed in ourselves. We can look at ourselves in a new light and realize the need for conversion. Or we can attempt to destroy the one who has revealed this unpleasant side of ourselves that we'd rather deny. You have to make sure Aspen knows what goodness looks like and what true holiness is – because if she is holy, some people will be uncomfortable, angry, even violent – and that will confuse her as well as tempt her to abandon goodness and follow the will of the crowd, rather than the will of Jesus, who is the king and the kingdom in our midst.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

God's Judgment Upon the Church

While preparing for a talk I gave at Blessed Sacrament Church in Seattle, I came across an article on Divine Judgment that included a concept that I had not heard about before: God's continuous judgment, which can be applied to the Church, a nation, or an individual. I found the section on God's continuous judgment of the Church particularly telling.
The continuous judgment of God upon the Church does not directly affect its external success or temporal well-being; for these are not matters that are directly involved in its mission. But the Church as such will live a fervent life of faith, worship, unity, love, and apostolic concern as a consequence of God's judgment upon a submissive response of the Church's members to the guidance of His Spirit within the Church. Or else, the Church can experience division, formalism, defections, apostolic ineffectiveness, and scandal as God's judgment on those who seek the things that are their own and not the things of Jesus Christ. No one in the Church can excuse himself of responsibility before God as judge because of his position; nor can the Church as a whole expect that, no matter what its response to God may be, its mission will be as abundantly fruitful and its witness to the world as unambiguously clear just because God is at work within it. New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967: Divine Judgment.

According to this understanding of God's judgment applied to the Church today - and by Church, I mean all of us, together - the fiscal health of our parishes and dioceses (or lack of it) is not a measure of God's judgment. The amount of money in our banks or the beauty of our buildings is not directly involved in our mission to evangelize the world.

But insofar as we experience division (33830 Christian denominations and counting, liberal/conservative/traditionalist labels within the Church), formalism (an emphasis on ritual and observance, over their meanings), defections (10% of Americans are former Catholics), apostolic ineffectiveness (how many adult baptisms or professions of faith in your parish last Easter Vigil?) and scandal (clergy sexual abuse, fiscal irresponsibility, N. Ireland's "troubles") we should see these problems as a judgment upon all of us. It is a sign that we are not submissive to the Holy Spirit, and that we are seeking our own will, rather than the will of God.

God's continuous judgment can sometimes be seen in disasters, like the flood recounted in Genesis, or the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. In both of those cases, the judgment was based on the behavior of many, many individuals - of a people. We, as a Catholic people, need to see the problems facing the Church not as the problems of the hierarchy, or because of a sinful world, but as a supernatural consequence of the behavior and attitude of millions of individuals. God's judgment will change with the change of each individual heart!

Beatitudes and Baptism - part 7

Reflections made in preparation for a homily at the baptism of a child...

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
How blessed are those who are able to give love where it has not been earned. And how hard to do. Yet time and again, Jesus tells his disciples to learn from him, to do what he does. He forgives his opponents, even from the cross. He loves them, even as they hate him. Perhaps at no other moment in the scriptures do we come face to face so completely, so incarnately, with the assertion that, "God is love and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" 1Jn 4:16. And we have the temerity to pray, perhaps many times a day, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us"?

The child I am baptizing was not among the 1.5 million aborted each year in this country, thank God. She was, and is, loved by her parents, although she's done nothing to earn it. She has already known mercy.

In my reading of pro-life literature, and in my listening to pro-life proponents, I hear a great mercy for children aborted and, often, for their mothers, especially in movements like Project Rachel. But often, in that same literature or conversations, I read or hear of our brothers and sisters involved in the abortion industry regarded as though they were no longer human. We rightly repudiate them for dehumanizing the children they destroy. We must not be guilty of the same offense. Rather, we must show even abortionists mercy. What might that look like?

What if, in our desire for the end of abortion, we considered not only the ending of the murder of children, but the rescue of those in the abortion industry from grave sin? If we are to be motivated by charity, and if we truly desire to be agents of God's mercy, then we will consider not only those who lose their temporal lives, but those whose immortal souls are in danger of being eternally lost.

St. Dominic was often overheard by his brothers during late night vigils crying out, "Lord, what will become of sinners?" It was as much a sign of Christ's mercy flowing through Dominic as it was of his sanctity. Do I desire to be as holy, and as merciful?

Art and Evangelization

As a follow-up to my last post... 
Here is a quote of Cardinal Ratzinger's that I first saw in Fr John Saward's book The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty (Ignatius, 1997), but which I think is from The Spirit of the Liturgy: 
the only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb. Better witness is borne to the Lord by the splendor of holiness and art which have arisen in the community of believers than by the clever excuses which apologetics has come up with to justify the dark sides which, sadly, are so frequent in the Church's human history. 

For some time now there seems to have been a proliferation of lay Catholic apologists on the national speaking circuit and while they do great work, the sort of propositional apologetics they practice cannot become a substitute for true evangelization that is an encounter with the Person, Jesus Christ. I think the Holy Father's invitation here is to recognize that a far better approach to evangelization and apologetics is found in the saints, art, and the community of disciples that gives rise to these under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I am afraid that we often substitute propositional apologetics for the hard work of genuine holiness, creativity born of prayer, and fostering the types of Christian communities that bear witness to Christ in the world. 


The Organ: Tool for Evangelization

Taking Sherry's less-than-subtle hint... 
On Sunday, Pope Benedict met with a group of singers from his home diocese of Regensburg, Germany and made some interesting comments about music and evangelization. 

Here is the account from Zenit:

Benedict XVI told his visitors he was pleased with their visit. "It revives in me the memory of that wonderful day, in which I was able to bless the new organ, the 'Benedikt-Orgel,' in the 'Old Chapel,'" reported the Vatican press office.

He said: "I have an indelible memory of how -- in the harmony of that wonderful organ, of the choir conducted by Kohlhaufel, and the luminous beauty of the church -- we experienced the joy that comes from God. Not just the 'spark of the gods' of which Schiller speaks, but truly the flame of the Holy Spirit that brought us to feel in our innermost being what we also know from the Gospel of St. John: That he himself is joy. And this joy was communicated to us."

The Pope added how pleased he was that this organ "continues to play and to help people perceive something of the splendor of our faith -- a splendor kindled by the Holy Spirit himself. With it, the organ carries out an evangelizing function, proclaims the Gospel in its own way."
Pope Benedict has been very keen, even from before his election to the See of Peter, to emphasize the evangelizing power of beauty as expressed particularly in the arts and the lives of the saints. If the pope is to be believed on this point- and I think he is- more effort should be made to emphasize the tradition of beauty in Christian art and music, particularly in the presence of non-Christians. A concert of Christian music or a presentation on Christian art, especially if it takes place outside of the church building, would be an excellent pre-evangelization activity, a means to establish trust or encourage curiosity, and a great way to involve a church choir, musicians, or parish artists in the work of evangelization. It would also encourage them to see their own personal apostolate in the arts in unity with the mission of the Church.
The Crossroads Cultural Center in Washington and New York is related to the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation and often sponsors events that emphasize the importance of beauty in light of a dialogue with the world. Their website features a video retrospective of their 2007-2008 season and presents the full range of their activities. Their work is one possible expression of the types of activities the Holy Father seems to be encouraging. 


Summer Varia

Susan Stabile over at Creos en Dios has a podcast series draw from her retreat: Embracing Mary. Looks very good.
Have a listen.

I apologize for my blogging absence. We are all working furiously here trying to prepare now all our special talks and presentations for a fall full of travel. Fr. Mike is working on a presentation on Catholic moral teaching and voting, which he will be offering at Blessed Sacrament Church in Seattle next week.

I'm slugging away on incorporating the Pew Landscape Survey findings, part II, into Making Disciples, which we will be offering in Spokane in August. Putting all together is simply stunning but it does require sustained thought! For both of us, what we working on now is simply the first in a long line of fall presentations that we need to prepare NOW!

Meanwhile, the interesting e-mails inquiries don't stop! I still haven't responded to the ones I got over the weekend! I will, I will. But I have to finish MD first!

Our Australian team is in the last throes of gearing up for Days in the Dioceses (Melbourne) where they will be giving their presentation on discernment (Thursday, July 10) prior to giving it at World Youth Day. So I don't expect to hear from Clara.

So Joe, Intentional Disciples needs you and your brilliant thoughts today.

Help me, Ob Wan!

Oh, and I do glance at my e-mail as it comes it. So if other readers wants me to link to good stuff, just let me know and I'll try to do so.

Now must go out and water the garden, which is flourishing. The wildflower berm that I blogged about back on Memorial Day weekend is transformed - a 400 sf unruly green sea of lupine and California poppies and innumerable other leggy mysteries that are big and bold but haven't flowered yet. I'l try to post more pictures later.

The neighbors are constantly commenting as they walk by in the part behind. As one man put it yesterday, "It is a totally different place than it was two years ago." It better be. The amount of labor involved so far, by many hands, is incalculable. And then there is the money part. You can file this one under "a woman's reach should always exceed her grasp . .

Speaking of a woman's reach, Bev, a friend and sometime CSI staffer, is planning to run the Pike's Peak Marathon which is coming up soon (August 16,17). Third oldest marathon in the country. Run 13 miles up and then 13 miles down. 7,815 feet up, 7,815 feet down. But you do get to sing America the Beautiful before the gun goes off.

Here is a fun video of the Ascent half of the marathon to give you a taste.

To the oxygen deprived mind, it all makes sense.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Wife in the North

It's cool and cloudy here this morning (a Seattle day!) and the dozens of California poppies that popped up in the wildfower bed this past weekend are staying closed.

I don't have time to do deep, meaningful blogging but I did have to share this wonderful bit I just came across:

I receive the expat e-mail version of the London Telegraph which today features stories like that of Brits who survived the ordeal of renovating a ruined house outside Rome,etc.

But this edition of the Telegraph also tells of the saga of a British blogger who has created a sensation (and been given a book deal) by simply venting on line.

Judith O'Reilley was desperate when she, a Londoner to the bone, and her husband moved to the wilds of Northumbria 2 1/2 years ago . Trapped in cottage with two small children, an absentee husband who was still working in London, blizzards, and the complete absence of good coffee, O'Reilley turned to blogging for solace - and became a celebrity overnight.

I just found her blog and I can see why: Wife in the North is very well written: funny, sharp, and yet endearing. It reads like an updated, spicy, woman's version of "All Creatures Great and Small" .

Here's a taste. her March 17 entry: Ewe Don't Say:

Popped round to see a friend for coffee.

This being the country, this being spring, she was not in the kitchen, she was in the lambing shed. The sheep which had not yet given birth were milling around in an open area penned in by bales of straw; sheep which had given birth were in their own small enclosures with their lambs.

I said to my friend: "How can you tell when they're ready to give birth?" She said: "Well look at that one." I said: "Which one?" She said: "That one." I looked at the sheep she was pointing at. She said: "You see. She looks "starey"." I said: "She looks like a sheep." It is not like there are any give away clues - no one was straddling a beanbag, sucking on ice chips or screaming for an epidural. They all seem to take it all quite calmly.

In fact it was almost biblical. Sunshine fell through the open side of the barn where there was tranquility, warmth, new life and just a little bit of blood being spilled. Every now and then my friend who has a bad back would drop to her knees and I would think: "Is she going to say a prayer of thanksgiving?" Instead she would do something to the backside of an animal that made me think: "I am so not having another baby."

At one point she tried to "put a lamb on" that is to say persuade a ewe to adopt an orphan, she eased aside the ewe's own lamb, wrangled the mother to the ground then knelt on her. She took hold of the orphan lamb, handed him up to me and said as if it was nothing very much: "Put him in the water trough up to his head would you?" I carried the long legged lamb across the straw carpetting the barn and over to the trough and ducked him under. I said: "Sorry mate."

I just about resisted saying: "Do you renounce Satan and all his works?" I carried the dazed, wet bundle back and she smeared him with goo from the ewe and his "brother" lamb. I suppose that is what you call being born again.

See what I mean?

I can't help but smile and remember the Gower peninsula in March with the hundreds of daffodils blowing in the wind and hundreds of lambs leaping about on stiff, springy legs. (Like these lambs looking over magnificent Rhossili Bay)

I know that coffee is all the rage in London these days but it is good to know that tea still reigns in places like Northumbria - and I hope, in south Wales. Bow to the inevitable, I say. The tea is good. Stock up on Yorkshire Gold and enjoy the views. Remember, civilization is only a few hours away by train.

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Moonlight on Three Cliffs Bay, Gower.

The picture above has a copyright. Where I found it online, I can't remember but the artist is worthy of his due and hire. Go here for more information about the photograph and the photographer who specializes in pictures of the beautiful Gower peninsula.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Beatitudes and Baptism - part 6

Reflections made in preparation for a baptism of a small child...

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
I have a friend who wants to know Jesus and His will more than anything else in the world. He sees God already: in me, of all places, in the construction work he is given to do and the people who contract his labor. He sees God responding to his requests for guidance. Like Curly says in the movie, "City Slickers," the secret of life is "one thing." And that one thing, for the Christian, is to desire a living relationship with Jesus that permeates one's life to such an extent that signs, reminders, and intimations of God are seen on a daily basis.

Come to the Water - In Sydney

This looks like a great World Youth Day event.

Come to the Water - on one of the world's most beautiful beaches: Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia. July 16. Be there. Aloha.

Friday, July 4, 2008

America the Beautiful

It occurred to me as we labored this morning to plant more shrubs, that I must remember that we did so in the shadow of Pike's Peak, the inspiration for one of the July 4th's most iconic songs: America the Beautiful.

Our local paper did a wonderful photographic montage: a year of all season photographs of Pike's Peak with the background of Ray Charles singing his unforgettable version. But I haven't been able to find it so I could link to it here.

But I did find this wonderful media tribute to the 200th anniversary of the "discovery" of Pike's Peak in 1806 by Zebulon Pike.

If you click on part 5, you will hear the story of Katherine Lee Bates who wrote America the Beautiful after ascending Pike's Peak. The song was published for the first time on July 4.

Bates wrote: " One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse."

Beatitudes and Baptism - part 5

These are reflections of mine made in preparation for a baptism

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
How blessed are those who are able to give love where it has not been earned. And how hard to do. Yet time and again, Jesus tells his disciples to learn from him, to do what he does. He forgives, even from the cross, and I can think of no greater example of loving mercy than being forgiven prior to asking for forgiveness. The commensurate nature of mercy reminds me of the penultimate petition in the Lord's prayer: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

My Kind of Hero

This was on CNN. It's a great story and an indication of at least a couple of things:
1) Sometimes a traumatic experience shakes us up to such an extent that we say, "someone's got to do something about this."
2) One person, with a vision of helping people, can make a difference.

If Russell Jackson has his way, any child who needs medical care but lacks the transportation to get there will have a safe and reliable alternative.

Russell Jackson started Kid One, which has ferried thousands of children to medical appointments.

"We found that there were 80,000-plus children in Alabama living in a home with no car," Jackson says.

"And in the rural areas, there are no cabs, there are no buses, there are no trains. ... Millions of children in our country every day have no access to medical care when they need to reach it."

Jackson is so determined that in 1997 he gave up his career as an Alabama firefighter, moved in with friends and dug into his retirement account to start Kid One Transport, a nonprofit organization that provides rides for needy children in his home state.

In 11 years, Kid One's fleet of vans has ferried more than 16,000 kids to and from scheduled medical-related appointments all over Alabama. Watch Jackson describe the need for medical transportation in rural Alabama »

Jackson never anticipated he would leave the fire department to head up a nonprofit organization. After all, firefighting was the culmination of a lifelong dream.

"What little boy doesn't want to be a firefighter?" Jackson says, laughing.

But an emergency call to his department in March 1992 changed everything. Jackson was dispatched to help an unresponsive 2-year-old who had accidentally hanged himself in the family car while trying to retrieve a toy.

"We did everything that we could to try to revive that young child," he says. The 2-year-old died despite their efforts.

"I took it pretty tough," Jackson remembers. "It's not that I had not been exposed to tragedies before, but this one hit me differently."

At the advice of a counselor, Jackson started volunteer work to help him process his grief. A friend suggested Jackson volunteer in the small rural town of Sayre, Alabama. Jackson was stunned by what he saw just 25 minutes from his home.

"When I drove into the community, it was a world of its own. It was a lot of homes that were deplorable. And that's really the only way I can explain them," he says.

Jackson says he was instantly ashamed by his own comfortable lifestyle. Watch Jackson describe the "turning point" that led to Kids One Transport »

"All it took was the one visit," he recalls, "and I knew I really wanted to come out and work with these folks, hand in hand, and do whatever I could to help make life a little bit easier for them."

When social workers told him about the neighborhood children who had no way to travel to and from appointments for chemotherapy, physical therapy and even for regular checkups, Jackson started driving them there himself.

Before long this one-man operation grew into a 13-van team covering 30 counties. Though Jackson recently stepped down from a daily role in the organization he founded, he says the best part of his work has been meeting the families and witnessing firsthand so many medical transformations.

There were some who learned to speak, another who learned to walk, and others who recovered from life-threatening illnesses -- even when doctors were less than hopeful. Watch a child who relies on Kid One to get to medical appointments »

"I saw so many lives changed, so many determined children and parents who wanted to beat the odds that were against them," Jackson says.

He says he believes that getting them to the care they needed made the difference.

"We're that missing part of the puzzle that is preventing so many people from reaching what we'd consider as world-class medicine. ... To know that they beat it all because of a simple ride," he adds. "That has definitely been worth every bit of founding Kid One Transport."

Thanks, Pat, for pointing this out!

Beatitudes and Baptism - part 4

These are brief reflections on the beatitudes I made while preparing a homily for a little girl's baptism.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Notice this is not self-righteousness, but the righteousness of God. Jesus simply says that if you want to do God's will as much as you want your daily bread, God will satisfy that desire. God will give us the grace we need to do what is right and just. That grace will make it possible to be righteous – but there's no promise it will be easy. Those who do become righteous, and live a virtuous life, discover that virtue is itself pleasurable. The best way to teach our children virtue is to model it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What It Means to Be a Change Agent

This was passed on to me by Fr. Paul W., with whom I live when I'm in Colorado Springs. It's written from a secular context by Dave Jamieson, a professor at Pepperdine, but fits well the religious one with some modifications which I've added after the ones Jamieson coined. After all, the heart of ministry is calling people to commit to the following of Christ as a member of His Church! That requires change in us all.

You will always be in the process of development.
You will find yourself often being alone and feeling marginal.
You will find yourself experiencing higher and higher levels of resistance.
You will get more and more in touch with what it means to move in and move out.
You will need to be caring and confrontive; guiding and directive.
You will keep trying to see situations with different eyes.
Edges of your patience will be pushed (nothing moves fast enough).
You will know rejection intimately.
You will constantly be revisiting your own values.
You will live with the tension between blending and differentiating with the client.
You will struggle between doing what the client needs and what you need.
Your honesty with yourself will enable you to relate to others.
You will truly be yourself only when you know yourself.
Your greatest joy will be what you can do for others, so they can do for themselves.
You will come to understand that we must care for ourselves, because no one else really can.

My version:
You will always be in the process of conversion.

You will find yourself often being alone and feeling marginal - but you're not alone, since Jesus promised to be with us always. On the other hand, you don't just feel marginal, you are marginal, like Him.

You will find yourself experiencing higher and higher levels of resistance from the Evil One, if the change you're encouraging points people towards Jesus.

You will get more and more in touch with what it means to move in when people need help and move out of the way when they don't.

You will need to be caring and confrontive; guiding and directive - and if you really love the other with Christ's love, it will be obvious which is needed.

You will keep trying to see situations with different eyes because you know your limited vision.

Edges of your patience will be pushed (nothing moves fast enough). But of course, you're not the Savior, are you?

You will know rejection intimately, just like the prophets of old.

You will constantly be revisiting your own values to make sure you've not abandoned Jesus' values for cheap and convenient imitations.

You will live with the tension between the desire to fit in comfortably with the world and the call to live as a sign to a fallen world.

You will struggle between doing what your brother or sister needs and what you need. But there are alternatives to selfishness and co-dependence, and you are your brother or sister's keeper.

Your honesty with yourself will enable you to relate to others. Humility is the foundation of lasting relationships.

You will truly be yourself only when you know yourself in Christ.

Your greatest joy will be what you can do for others to help them encounter Christ, so they can know and follow Him themselves.

You will come to understand that we must care for ourselves as good stewards of the life God has given us, and that in itself gives honor to God.

"Can the West be converted?"

Sherry drew our attention yesterday to an interesting article from the most recent issue of Lausanne World Pulse, an evangelical journal dedicated to the study and discussion of world missions. As I was perusing this issue I came across a very interesting question that the great missionary and theologian Leslie Newbigin posed upon his return from the mission fields of India: "Can the West be converted?" Embedded in that question, of course, is not only the can, but also the how. 
The whole bit: 
Over two decades ago Lesslie Newbigin asked a question that has yet to be sufficiently grappled with. Returning from India (where he had served as a missionary) to his home in the United Kingdom, he discovered that the Western world was just as much a valid mission field as the India he had departed from, and that Christians needed to be thinking missionally in the Western context just as much as outside of it. This prompted him to ask the question, “Can the West be converted?” a query that has consumed the thinking of increasing numbers of church workers in the Western world. Sadly, as Newbigin surveyed missiological literature for application to the West he concluded: 
The weakness, however, of this whole mass of missiological writing is that while it has sought to explore the problems of contextualization in all the cultures of humankind from China to Peru, it has largely ignored the culture that is the most widespread, powerful, and persuasive among all contemporary cultures—namely, what I have called modern Western culture.
With the global shift of Christianity’s growth from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere, and the increasingly pluralistic and post-Christian nature of the West, the presence of the new religions and subjective life spiritualities may provide us with a context by which we can work through answers to Newbigin’s question and experiment with the development of new approaches at contextualization and new theologies for the rapidly changing Western world. 
The whole article is here.


The Saint of Hawaii

Blessed Damien, the apostle to the lepers of Molokai, is going to be declared a saint. He was the Mother Teresa of his generation and famoux for the same reason.

The canonization will take place in Rome, possibly at the end of next year, with celebrations in Belgium and Hawaii.

I find it odd that the Hawaii media story says that they are sending to Belgium (where most of Blessed Damien is buried) for a relic. The reality is that there is a wonderful storehouse of relics in the islands.

Specifically the tiny labor-of-love "Damien museum at St. Augustine's parish on Waikiki in Honolulu (right on the beach and with a great view of Diamondhead - what a location!). This museum was run by a husband and wife team and contained nearly every existing relic associated with Damien: his pipes, chasubles, the prie dieu he built with his own hands and used for his own prayer.

I am told that a ceiling leak several years ago forced the collection out of that location and that it is now scattered. This will make the local Church wake up to its treasures, I hope.

I remember kneeling beside the saint's prie dieu (covered in plexiglass). I sensed, I felt the presence of the numinous, the presence of God in that place. Not only had Fr. Damien built it with his own hands but no doubt poured his own fear and pain and loneliness to God after contracting leprosy himself.

I also experienced something very similar in the historic parish Church in Lahina on Maui. As I walked down the aisle I was suddenly overcome with a utterly unexpected joy. I sensed that there had been some kind of struggle or tragedy in that place which was now being redeemed and restored. "Weeping endures for a night but joy cometh in the morning." was the verse that flashed to mind.

As I have learned to do when I have these experiences, I asked a local: "Has something wonderful happened here lately?"

He thought for a moment and then said "Well, the pastor, who was greatly loved, was recently removed because of a sexual scandal" and that was very hard on the congregation. But we've just been assigned a new pastor: one of Mother Teresa's priests, of the Missionaries of Charity."

"Ah" I thought "I'm picking up the presence of a saint."

But our guide went on: "And of course, Fr. Damien used to serve here as well."

The presence of two saints, it seems.

Walking Through the Fire

Oh my.

You must read/listen to this NPR piece on the power of God to heal a broken heart and a broken life.

Kim Phuc is best known as the little girl in the famous photo of a Vietnam War napalm-bombing attack near Saigon. She now lives in Toronto with her husband and two children. Her organization, Kim Foundation International, aids children who are war victims.

She was 9 on the day in 1972 that the now iconic picture was taken. She spent 14 months in a hospital and had 17 operations.

"I spent my daytime in the library to read a lot of religious books to find a purpose for my life. One of the books that I read was the Holy Bible.

In Christmas 1982, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. It was an amazing turning point in my life. God helped me to learn to forgive — the most difficult of all lessons. It didn't happen in a day and it wasn't easy. But I finally got it.

Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed.

Napalm is very powerful but faith, forgiveness and love are much more powerful."

All I can say is "Blessed be the name of the Lord" and "God bless and keep you Kim Phuc for responding to the mercy and grace of God so generously."

As Corrie Ten Boom observed of her experiences in a Nazi concentration camp a generation before:

"This is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still."

African Led Christianity in Europe

The July Lausanne World Pulse is out again and, as usual, is very stimulating. The topic this month is the new missionary movement from the Global south, especially Africa.

From an article by Dr. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu of Ghana.

Here are some snippets:

Today, some of the largest congregations in Europe—Western and Eastern—are either founded by Africans or are led by people of African descent. Discussions on African immigrant Christianity usually focus on churches whose memberships tend to be constituted by Africans or people of that descent. A good example is the Kingsway International Christian Center (KICC) in London, led by the charismatic Nigerian pastor, Matthew Ashimolowo.

My research has taken me to the doors of another type of African-led church whose membership is entirely European. This means the designation of these churches in the diaspora as “African churches” is no longer tenable. For example, Sunday Adelaja’s Church of the Blessed Embassy of the Kingdom of God for all Nations is based in Kiev, Ukraine. Founded some fourteen years ago, it has a membership of approximately twenty-five thousand adults.

African members of mainline denominations in their home countries initially joined similar denominations in Europe, particularly in the UK and Germany. With time, many have pulled out of these communions and throughout Europe today, one encounters Ghana Methodist, Nigeria Anglican, or Ghana Roman Catholic churches operating under the pastoral leadership of their own kind often posted from the home countries. The meaning of this development is that Methodism, Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, and Presbyterianism have all, in African hands, acquired new ecclesial identities, liturgical structures and styles of worship that differ markedly from those inherited from nineteenth-century missionary endeavors.

To quote Jehu Hanciles:

In Western Europe, the rise of African immigrant churches and other non-Western Christian congregations has been dramatically visible because of the stark contrast between the dynamism of new immigrant Christian groups and the often moribund tone of the traditional churches.5

Painful experiences notwithstanding therefore, African Christians and African-led churches in Europe interpret their presence in terms of a call to mission and evangelism. In his book, The Go-Between God: The Holy Spirit and Christian Mission, John V. Taylor defines mission as “recognizing what the Creator-Redeemer is doing in his world and doing it with him."10 I have often revised this definition to read, “knowing what the Creator-Redeemer is doing in the world and allowing him to engage you in the enterprise.”

And there is much more. Read the whole article. The subject of African led Catholic parishes in Europe is fascinating.

Any readers have knowledge or experience of an African led parish in Europe?

Beatitudes and Baptism - part 3

These are brief reflections on the beatitudes I made while preparing a homily for a little girl's baptism.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Meekness is not a characteristic we think of in a positive way, but Jesus does. In our age of self-promotion, won't a meek child, especially a girl, get lost in the crowd? Not get asked to the dance? Not pursue the Stanford scholarship? But if we think of meekness as a type of humility, we can discover its blessing. A meek and humble person can get out of the way in a conversation, for example, and really listen. Everything doesn't have to be about them. In fact, nothing has to be about them, nor do they get all tied up comparing themselves to others. They don't have to be number one, they don't have to win the argument – they can actually engage the other as "other," – "not like me" – and delight in the difference. They can experience life, people, creation itself, all the graces God offers us daily, as an unearned gift – which is the nature of an inheritance.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"Personal Relationship" and Real Presence

There have been some discussions about the possibility of a personal relationship with God on this blog and others recently. Part of it was re-ignited by the recent Pew Forum Report on Religion in America that indicated that 29% of Catholics believe God is simply an "impersonal force," while 60% of self-described adult Catholics can clearly affirm that they believe in a personal God with whom they can have a relationship. Unfortunately, as has been pointed out in comments made on this blog, we have no idea what other factors led to their responding as they did.
Nor do we know how many of those who don't believe in a personal God actually attend Mass regularly, what education level they have, or how their response to that question correlates with other questions on the survey.

Various commenters on this blog have proposed that Catholics responded negatively to the question of a personal relationship with God because:
1) Catholics hear "personal relationship" as Protestant, especially Evangelical, language, and thus choose another response;
2) "personal relationship" implies a "me-and-Jesus" approach to faith which denies the need for community, sacraments, priests, the Church in general, and so some Catholics would not respond positively to a question about personal relationship;
3) a Catholic might read a question about the possibility of having a personal relationship with God and want to know, "just what do you mean by the phrase 'personal relationship'?"
4) Catholics hear in the words, "personal relationship" that Jesus is just another person, like Bob or Mary, yet a good Catholic realizes that He is so much more (fully Divine, too, I presume the commenter meant).

These are nice, optimistic speculations, and I hope they are true for some of the respondents on the Pew survey. But there are other statistics available that lead me to suspect that the respondents were actually telling the truth. 40% of the Catholic respondents were unable to affirm that they believe in a personal God with whom they can have a relationship. Interestingly enough, in February, 2008, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) out of Georgetown University published a survey on the belief and practices of Catholics regarding the sacraments. In it, 43% of the respondents claimed that at Mass, bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present. The responses varied according to how often the respondent attended Mass. Among those who attend Mass weekly or more frequently, 91% believed in the Real Presence, while 65% of those who attend less than weekly but at least once a month believed in the Real Presence. Only 40% of those who attend a few times a year or less believed in the Real Presence.

What about other indications that might point to a personal relationship, like prayer, or reading Scripture? In the same Pew Forum survey, 42% of the Catholic respondents reported that they pray a few times a week or less. Only 58% claimed they prayed daily. 57% reported that they seldom or never read Scripture outside of religious services.

So let's look at a few numbers...
40% of adult Catholics do not believe a personal relationship with God is possible
43% of Catholics polled do not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist
42% of adult Catholics pray a few times a week or less
57% of adult Catholics seldom or never read Scripture outside of religious services

I'm more and more inclined to take the Pew Forum numbers at face value. One commenter noted,
How can a Catholic NOT think they have a personal relationship with Christ when one considers the incredible intimacy in receiving the Holy Eucharist inside oneself? What could possibly be more intimate than that?
She's right, of course, but perhaps it's possible that the same 42% who seldom pray and the same 43% who believe the consecrated host and wine are just symbols are the same folks who don't believe a personal relationship with God is possible. I don't know that for sure, of course, because I'm looking at two surveys, and there wasn't a correlation made in the Pew Forum between prayer and the relationship issue. But at least one could argue that at least 40% of Catholics are behaving as though they believe a personal relationship with God is impossible.

Beatitudes and Baptism - part 2

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Mourning hardly seems like a blessing, but any parent has an insight into how mourning can be a sign of blessing. When a child asks for something that you know isn't in her best interest and you deny it to her, she cries. We live in what's been called a therapeutic society, where the goal is to never mourn: to have all that one needs, to be independent. But there is a terrible cost to self-sufficiency and complacency, even constant pleasure. We forget God, and we forget our neighbor. We are already living in hell, a small little world, though we don't know it. We will mourn then, because our hearts long for so much more than things, but there'll be no one to comfort us in our solitude. So blessed are those who give themselves to others in love. They are guaranteed to mourn whenever someone they love is hurt or suffering. But there will be those who love them, who will act as God's agents and offer comfort. And the Comforter Himself will be there in their deepest need, if they invoke Him.