Sunday, August 31, 2008

Former DNC Chairman: Hurricane Proves God is on Democrats' Side

When I heard that Michael More had said it, I was startled but not overly surprised. More habitually gives the word "ideologue" a bad name.

When I discovered that the former National Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Don Fowler was filmed making the same comment in a joking manner while flying from Denver, the site of the DNC to Charlotte, I was appalled.

You see, apparently, the fact that Hurricane Gustav is going to hit the Gulf Coast on Labor Day shows that God is on the Democrat's side and is funny.

God arranged for a million panicked people to flee the Gulf Coast yesterday so that the Democratic Party could get a break. Who knew? And with any luck, things will go really badly and the death and grief and loss and homelessness of many thousands of people will open up the barely healed wounds inflicted by Katrina. And make the Republicans look bad.

And to top it off, this looming natural disaster is going to interfere with President Bush's speech to the Republican Convention. In fact, it is obviously going to significantly change the schedule and demeanor of the whole RNC.

Instead of giving a speech, the President will be doing the sort of things presidents do in times of natural disaster. And that interferes with prime time convention coverage which, apparently, in Don Fowler's estimate, is more important.

A word of advice, Mr. Fowler. From someone who grew among those people and on that coast that you find so laughable, was a hurricane refugee three times as a child, and whose family lost everything in a storm much bigger than Gustav.

I'd apologize now. Over and over. Loudly. Every chance you get.

Before Gustav makes landfall. And the rest of the nation is once more riveted to their televisions by endless scenes of destruction and tales from hundreds of thousands of refugees. You know, the scenes you found so giggle-inducing.

Because I can't imagine that your party's candidate for President will want to be associated with you or your sense of humor once this video gets around.



Update:

The Washington Post says that Fowler has "apologized."

On Sunday, Fowler told The Associated Press that he was making fun of comments made by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said the attacks were God's punishment for abortion, homosexuality and other sins.

"This is a point of national concern. I think everybody of good will has great empathy and sympathy for people in New Orleans," Fowler said. "Most religious people are praying for people in New Orleans. There is no political connotation to this whatsoever. This was just poking fun at Jerry Falwell and the nonsensical thing he had said several years ago."

Fowler said if anyone was offended, he apologized.


"I don't believe in a God that's vengeful. I believe in a God that's compassionate," he said.

Hmmm. That's what I call a lame apology. With overtones of "if you were dim enough to take what I said on this video literally and be offended, I apologize."

Was the video edited to hide the fact that the comment was in the context of poking fun at Falwell? It's possible, I suppose, but there certainly isn't a hint of such a reference in the video available to us. A stronger apology - some note of disbelief and horror at being so intentionally misquoted would have rung truer to me if the video had been so edited.

Timely Reconnections


I received an e-mail from an old friend of mine, Amanda Clark, who, with her husband, Tony, is spending four months in Beijing while Tony leads the University of Alabama Chinese Language and Culture Program. I met Tony and Amanda while he was finishing his doctorate in Chinese history, literature and religion at the University of Oregon. Tony may look like a mild-mannered professor, but he has black belts in multiple martial arts. Anyway, Tony co-authored a brief article on the differences between Buddhism and Catholicism here that is a timely follow-up to my post on Buddhist-Christian tensions in Korea.

He has also posted a recent article on Catholicism in China that you can read here. It's a great account of the state of the Church in the most numerous country on earth. Here's a snippet from his first report:
Despite the advances and relative freedom that Chinese Catholics enjoy today, as China basks in world attention during the Olympics, there remain uncomfortable signs of New China's rejection of religion under its official Communist structure. As I attempted to hail a cab to go to Mass at 5:30 a.m., drivers repeatedly told me that they did not know the address or place of the church, despite the fact that it is located in one of Beijing's most famous districts (Xuanwu), and just down the street from Tiananmen.

At last a rather eccentric taxi driver drove me to the church, being sure to tell me along the way, "Chinese people no longer believe in spirits." Most of the other drivers simply refuse to drive to a Christian church. In addition, when I sat down to write this report, all links from the Vatican's web page were blocked.

On one hand, I am quite free go to Mass along with the large crowds of other believers—that is, if I can find a cab. And I am free to mention and discuss the Pope with my fellow Catholics here in China—but I cannot access the Vatican website and Benedict XVI's official webpage. So there are still serious problems, yes, but during Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, those problems disappear for a while as the timeless mysteries of the faith are celebrated in the capital of China.
He'll have a few other articles written up at Ignatius Insight over the next few months. I'll try to keep an eye out for them and share them with you.

India and Evangelization

In my post titled, "Buddhist-Christian Conflict ", I mentioned briefly that the announcement of Korea's president Lee that "Buddhists should be converted to Christianity" (that's how my Korean friend described it), along with actions that have seemed to slight Buddhists at the expense of Christians, has made evangelization in this country a bit more difficult. In a thoughtful e-mail article from John Allen at National Catholic Reporter on the situation in India, a similar point is made:
It's also important that Catholic leaders avoid adding fuel to the fire, however inadvertently. When Pope John Paul II visited India in November 1999, the headline was his call for a "great harvest of faith" in Asia in the third millennium. While Catholicism obviously cannot renounce its missionary dimension, there's probably no place on earth where a respectful witness to Christ is more easily confused with aggressive proselytism. Bold references to evangelization, especially from a foreign leader, can come across as fighting words. After John Paul's statement, the World Hindu Council called upon Hindus to "unite to face the assault," and the pope's words are still cited as a pretext for anti-Christian activity. This doesn't mean Catholicism in India should "go soft" on the commandment to make disciples of all the nations -- recent growth of the church suggests it clearly hasn't -- but local realities imply discretion about how that commandment is articulated in public, especially by outsiders.
This is a reminder that evangelization is most likely to be successful when it is carried out by dedicated lay Catholics in the marketplace in the context of genuine friendships with non-Catholics. Evangelization must be founded in genuine love for another, rooted in constant prayer, and flow from the power of the Holy Spirit active in a Catholic in a living relationship with his or her Lord, Jesus.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Hello from Jeju Island

I haven't had an opportunity to blog. I've been visiting Jeju Island, the "Hawai'i of Korea". Yunkyung and I are staying in a traditional Korean pension (motel), which features a Korean sauna. Very relaxing! I slept 9.5 hours after spending an evening in what amounts to a large oven for people. I was only medium rare. Here's a picture of one of the little rooms. Very quaint and reminiscent of Hobbiton.

Jeju is a self-governing island, meaning it has more autonomy from the central government than other provinces. This volcanic island is a definite tourist destination, with lots of beautiful natural scenery along with man-made attractions, like the museum we visited two days ago. I call it the "What do you do on an island with lots of rocks and interesting roots" museum. Lots of stacks of volcanic rocks, "grandfather" rock carvings known as dolharubang that would stand at the entrance to villages, and the remains of the roots of a particular kind of tree that were displayed with titles like "erupting rage" and "Swan Lake."


While visiting a small island south of Jeju, I also had an opportunity to sample the freshest sushi ever. I saw the fisherman catch the fish, and Yunkyung prepared it with a knife he borrowed from the fellow. Mashisayo (delicious!).

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Buddhist-Christian Conflict in Korea


There has been nothing in the Korean media about the violence in India, at least not that I’ve seen. It truly is awful and tragic what is happening there. But a kind of parallel situation is happening in Korea, although nonviolently. Two days ago, as I boarded a plane with my friend for Jeju Island, the largest of the Korean islands and a vacation destination for Japanese, Chinese and Korean tourists, I picked up a copy of the Korea Times, a national newspaper printed in English. The headline read, “Buddhists Urge Lee to Apologize,” and the article covered a protest march of 200,000 Buddhists led by thousands of Buddhist monks. They came to Seoul, the capital, to protest what they call president Lee Myung-bak’s administration’s discrimination against one of the country’s largest religions. The Buddhists represented the four branches of Buddhism that are popular in Korea, and demanded an official apology from the president to Buddhists, reprimands for public officials involved in religious discrimination, including National Police Agency Commissioner General Eo Cheon-soo; and legislation to ward of discrimination because of religion.

The Korean constitution protects the freedom of religion, but Lee, a Christian and an elder at a Seoul Protestant church, has been suspected of discriminating against non-Christians even when he was mayor of Seoul. His cabinet is filled with Christians, and he has called for the conversion of Buddhist adherents.

According to the Korea Times,
“The dispute erupted after police officers searched the car of Ven. Jigwan, the chief executive of the country’s largest Buddhist order, Jogye, in their search for anti-U.S. beef protest organizers taking shelter at a downtown temple. Following the incident, Buddhists cited dozens of examples of anti-Buddhist discrimination. For instance, a transportation data system provided by the government inJune omitted locations of Buddhist temples [M.F., but not Christian churches]. Maps of Cheonggye Stream, a body of water reopened while President Lee was mayor of Seoul, also excluded temples. Meanwhile, the Seoul City government decided to impose a fine on rally organizers as they staged the protest rally without permission.

A Jogye Temple Buddhist refuted the allegation, saying, ‘We sent an official note to the office on Aug. 17 to request approval.’ He added the city government has never restricted the holding of a religious event.”
Part of what caught my attention was the accusation that Lee’s actions were seen as impeding social unity. Korean culture is very homogenous, and it is a secular society, even though about 40% of Koreans are Buddhist and 26% Christian. The remainder are non-committed, like my friend, Cha. Ancient Buddhist temples are common tourist destinations, and their foundations date often to more than 1,000 years ago, when the Goryeo dynasty promoted it over Confucianism.

More protests are planned around the country if the President doesn’t apologize. It is very unlikely, however, to lead to violence. My friend’s response, I imagine, is similar to what many Buddhists and non-religious Koreans would make. “Why can’t President Lee allow Christians to exist in harmony with non-Christians?” Evangelization is a grassroots endeavor, as one’s personal faith, expressed in action and words, generates curiosity in people who trust us. The spreading of belief in Jesus is impeded by proclamations from on high – whether by Christian public officials or Church leaders – because they tend to make trusting an ordinary Christian more difficult.

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Catholic Schools of India Close in Protest

Per the BBC:

All Catholic schools and colleges in India - nearly 25,000 of them - will be closed today in protest of the continued violence against Christians in Orissa.

Hundreds of Christians have fled their homes.

"Nowhere in Israel Have I Found Faith Like This"

How far some people go to seek Christ. VIa CNA

"The Little Sisters of the Abandoned Elderly in Chissano (Mozambique) took into their home this week a 25 year-old African young girl named Olivia, who despite not being baptized at the time and not having any legs, crawled 2.5 miles every Sunday to attend Mass.

According to the AVAN news agency, the nuns said that one day, they saw “something moving on the ground far away,” and when they drew near they saw, “to our surprise, that it was a young woman.”

“We were able to talk to her through a lady who was walking by and who translated into Portuguese what she was saying to us” in her dialect, they said.

The sisters said that although “the sand from the road burned the palms of her hands during the hottest times of the year,” the young woman crawled to Mass, “giving witness of perseverance and heroic faith.”

The young woman received baptismal preparation from a catechist, who periodically visited her at home. After she was recently baptized, one of the benefactors of the sisters donated a wheel chair for Olivia.
"

Orissa Burning

For up-to-the-minute and detailed information and prayer requests regarding the violence against Christians in Orissa state, India, visit Orissa Burning

H/T: GG

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"It's Hard Work.": Applying Catholic Social Teaching

Susan Stabile writes to let our readers know about a forming-your-conscience-in-the-midst-of-an-election-year-goldmine.

The hot-off-the-press-and-now-online edition of the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies which includes the complete proceedings of the symposium: Catholic Teaching, Catholic Values, And Catholic Voters: Reflections On Forming Consciences For Faithful Citizenship.

I liked very much the title of one article that began "It's Hard Work."

Applying the Church's Social Teaching in real rIfe is just that: hard work!
The Church's Social Teaching is rich, complex, and nuanced and judging how to applying it in complex situations is hard work. Prudential judgement is hard work.


"Both steps—formation in the principles and discernment of the application of the principles in a given circumstance—are hard work. Both steps are made even harder when the media and Internet culture elevates sound bites over extended analysis and dramatic clashes over nuanced distinctions.

What might inspire Catholics to roll up their sleeves for the hard work of formation and discernment? Perhaps the conviction that this work of formation and discernment will help to sustain a vision in which they can, in the words of the bishops, “support one another as our community of faith defends human life and dignity wherever it is threatened.”104 For ultimately, through the hard work on a variety of issues, searching for political and social
remedies to the problems of abortion, war, poverty, and a host of other threats to human life and dignity, “[w]e are not factions, but one family of faith fulfilling the mission of Jesus Christ.”105

Amazing Breakthrough in Regenerative Medicine

Great news via the Washington Post

"Scientists have transformed one type of fully developed adult cell directly into another inside a living animal, a startling advance that could lead to cures for a variety of illnesses and sidestep the political and ethical quagmires associated with embryonic stem cell research.

Through a series of painstaking experiments involving mice, the Harvard biologists pinpointed three crucial molecular switches that, when flipped, completely convert a common cell in the pancreas into the more precious insulin-producing ones that diabetics need to survive.

The experiments, detailed online yesterday in the journal Nature, raise the prospect that patients suffering from not only diabetes but also heart disease, strokes and many other ailments could eventually have some of their cells reprogrammed to cure their afflictions without the need for drugs, transplants or other therapies."

Snip.

"I see no moral problem in this basic technique," said Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a leading opponent of embryonic stems cell research. "This is a 'win-win' situation for medicine and ethics."

Thank God. This is the sort of huge step forward that expert lay apostles can produce, providing ways forward to heal in amazing way without destroying innocent lives to do so. And providing ways out of one of our political quagmires as well.

Here's what Yuval Levin, Hertog Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has to say:

"It is really an immensely significant step in regenerative medicine, not only because it doesn’t involve ethical concerns or embryos (or indeed stem cells at all) but because if it translates to humans it is work that can be done directly in the body of a living patient. It has created enormous excitement among cell scientists. And, as Mona points out, it also shows what some of us have long argued: that science guided by some basic ethical boundaries can find ways forward without violating human dignity or human life. This work certainly relies on past embryonic stem cell work, but it makes that work into a path for an ethical (and in this case even scientifically preferable) alternative—which was exactly the logic of President Bush’s stem cell funding policy, much as his critics hate to admit it.

In the long run, when the heat of the argument has subsided a bit, that should be the real lasting lesson of the stem cell debate: that science policy ought not be made in crisis mode where no limits can be contemplated, but rather with a sense that we are engaged in a human endeavor with important moral ends, which must take heed of some important moral bounds."


We need to be spreading the word to those who still think that embryonic stem cells are the future.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

On The Third Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina: Who Made My Bootstraps?

For those of us who once lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and who lived through one or more hurricanes, the image of Gustav bearing down upon the same small bit of land that Katrina devestated three years ago this week is a bit much to bear.

I spent a good deal of my fundamentalist childhood living on Waveland's Beach Road two doors from St. Clare's Catholic Church.



Practically nothing remains of the world I knew. 95% of Waveland's buildings were leveled by Katrina. But St. Clare's is still there. The community that is. The sanctuary is gone.

Somehow, growing up in this small town in completely non-artsy, fundamentalist family, I had glimpsed John Constable's famous painting of Salisbury Cathedral through the trees and to my child's eyes, it seemed identical to the view of St. Clare's much humbler steeple through the oak trees in our back yard.

(What can I say? I'm been a historical romantic since birth. At age 5, I decided that the big stone steps on the Queen Ann HIll lookout in Seattle near my home was built by ancient Egyptians cause I'd seen pictures of the pyramids.)

So I very much enjoyed this photo from the St Clare's Recovery website. (I remember running barefoot past that little brick shrine to Our Lady as a kid.)



Three years ago as we watched - with growing dread - the news coming out of New Orleans, I wrote this post about the experience of being wiped out in a major hurricane. I was responding to staggering numbers of people who were commenting that those trapped in the city more or less got what they deserved. Amy Welborn kindly culled it from a 100+ comment discussion and posted it under the title "But Who Made My Bootstraps?"

I've never posted it here but thought I would do so for this third anniversary of Katrina.


Since I seem to be the only commenter here who has experienced losing everything in a major hurricane, let me explain the realities to the radical individualists in our midst.

First of all – my family had resources. My father was a rocket scientist (worked at NASA in NO) and we lived in a millionaire’s summer home on the beach in Waveland, complete with 6 bedroom main house, separate kennel and servant’s quarters, paved badminton court, a three bedroom cottage in back, our own pier and 90 feet of our own beach. My siblings and I attended a private school.

Now, admittedly, this kind of lifestyle was only possible because we were living in small town Mississippi but by Waveland standards, we were upper class. And my father worked for a large, wealthy company (Boeing) and had other local friends with resources. Remember, this is what its like for the relatively wealthy to lose everything . . .

When you’re a family of six in a single car, you can’t bring much with you but the basics. Our dog and cat were left behind to fend for themselves because there were no resources to care for them as refugees. (We never saw them again). You don’t know how bad it will be or how long you’ll be gone, so its very hard to determine what is essential and what isn’t.

Within the first 24 hours of refugeehood, we were already beholden to the State of Mississippi who had graciously opened the dorm rooms of Southern Mississippi State College in Hattisburgh to refugees. It was there that we actually experienced the hurricane passing over head, forcing several inches of rain into our dorm room through closed windows and doors. I watched tornadoes being spawned through the window while 125 mile an hour winds howled about us. Thank you, State of Mississippi!

When, a couple days later, we returned to survey the wreckage, Our house was standing to a certain extent (the shell of the back was still standing) although it was unsalvageable, but we were able to get into the back door and rip the upper kitchen cabinets off the wall. (I used them all the way through school as dressers) and salvage some things from my bedroom upstairs which was the only room that survived intact. (so I have my great grand-father’s railroad watch). While walking over the debris, a rusty nail pierced my shoe and my foot. Fortunately, a temporary government –sponsored emergency clinic had been set up nearby and had a triple threat tetnus – thyphoid shot available, so that I didn’t get lockjaw. Thank you, Hancock County!)

Since there was no point in staying in Waveland (we never lived there again), we crammed whatever we could salvage in the over-stuffed car and drove to New Orleans where a kind co-worker of my father’s put us up for 4 days while we tried to figure out our alternatives. (Thanks, kind lady whose name I never knew, for your gracious hospitality!). The Boeing employees had put together a wonderful help center for refugees where we could try and supplement our miniscule wardrobes. My brother, who was 14 and nearly full-grown found a pair of size 14 sneakers to supplement the only other pair of shoes he owned. (Thanks generous Boeing people!)

Within a week, my father had been able to rent a house in Slidell, LA (which has been mostly destroyed by Katrina) where we sent up house with, well, nothing. We all slept on army cots for at least 6 months until my grand-parents bought us beds. I did my homework on a card table. We had no living room furniture at all so we watched TV sitting on the floor which was just fine with us. We knew we were the lucky ones. Thanks, grandma and grandpa!

The Red Cross (God bless em) provided my parents with a trailer on our property in Waveland and so, when our house was bull-dozed, my grandparents moved down from Oregon and spent 6 months in the trailer, working on repairing the three bedroom cottage which had survived after a fashion. Every weekend for 6 months, we kids were driven out to Waveland to help with the work. I remember the thrill of finding a pile of 1920’s cotton gin receipts in a mudpile beside a neighbor’s home. (Her house was full of historical treasures from before the Civil War). Thanks Red Cross!

Our big break came when the insurance company decided that our home had been blown down before it was washed away (because we were right on the beach and there had been 212 mph winds) so my parents could pay off the old mortgage and the US government made my parents a interest-free loan that enabled us to eventually buy a house in the Seattle area upon which I became a damn Yankee again. It had taken one whole year to start over and at each critical turning point, we had been helped by someone else - three times in a critical way by some government agency. (Thanks US government!)

We seem to owe our new life to the good graces of 1) The State of Mississippi; 2) Hancock county; 3) the Boeing company and its employees; The Red Cross; 4) my grand-parents; 5) my parent’s insurance company; 6) the US government.

And we were well-heeled, well-educated, healthy, thrifty, work ethic Puritan types with an intact and moneyed family network who scorned welfare and wanted to stand on our own. Imagine if my mother had been single parent or my father on disability? What if our parents had died in the storm or of shock and stress after the storm as a number of adults did and we were left orphans? What if my grandparents had not been so generous and hard-working and had the resources to move across country? What if my father’s job had been wiped out by the disaster? What if no vaccination had been available and I’d contracted lock-jaw? What if millions of people hadn’t given to the Red Cross on our behalf? On and one it goes.

No one keeps their own boat afloat in life, folks – especially when faced with a tragedy like this. And the fewer personal resources you had at that moment of tragedy (which no one of us had instigated) the more we need one another.

Persecution in India

From Asia News and via Gashwin Gomes, who as a newly minted seminarian can not longer blog, comes this horrific story of atrocities against Christians in Orissa, India this past week.

AsiaNews is attempting an initial tally of the wave of violence that has shaken Orissa since the evening of August 23, between 9 and 10 o'clock, with the killing of Hindu fundamentalist leader Swami Laxanananda Saraswati and five of his followers. The information has been obtained from: the justice and peace commission of the diocese of Kuttack-Bhubaneswar, the All India Christian Council, and the Global Council of Indian Christians (Protestant).

On the evening of Saturday, August 23, shortly after news came of the Hindu leader's death, the first attack took place: two sisters of the congregation of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ in Kothaguda were stopped by a group of assailants, who made them get out of their vehicle and then set fire to it. The driver was savagely beaten: almost at the same time, another vehicle in which religious sisters were traveling, near Ainthapally in Sambalpur, was stopped and set on fire.

On the morning of Sunday, August 24, attacks began on various churches, which were sparsely attended because of the fear of attacks. This was the prelude to the escalation of violence that took place throughout the entire day: at around 5:30 in the afternoon, the Jan Vikas social center of the archdiocese of Cuttack Bhubaneswar was attacked; the crowd burned cars, motorbikes, and all of the documents.

At 6 in the evening, the crowd burned the pastoral center in Divya, and then attacked the priests' residence in Baliguda, in the heart of the district of Kandhamal, previously the theater of violence from December 24-26 in 2007. The assailants damaged both the convent and the adjacent welcome center. Similar attacks took place at about 6:30 that same evening, at the Catholic church in Kanjamedi, after which three other churches in the area were attacked. That night, 12 shops belonging to Christian Dalits were burned. A young sister from the diocese of Cuttack Bhubaneswar, doing social work in Nuagaon, in Kandhamal, was sexually assaulted: the Hindu fundamentalists then completely burned down the building.

Monday, August 25: at 7 in the morning, some of the followers of the radical Hindu leader Laxanananda Saraswati caused serious damage to the Catholic church in Phulbani. Also on the morning of August 25, the bishop's residence and curia in Bhubaneswar were attacked. Only the presence of police was able to drive away the attackers, but not before they threw stones and other objects at the building, breaking many of the windows.

At about 1 p.m., Jamai Pariccha, the director of the Catholic social assistance agency Gramya Pragati, was attacked. His wife, who is Hindu, asked for mercy for her husband, but the crowd would not listen: the fundamentalists continued to beat him, shouting "He is a Christian, and we will kill him!' The man was taken to a hospital, which has not been named for security reasons. His property, including his car, was destroyed. A similar episode took place one hour later, at about 2 in the afternoon, at the home of Puren Nayak, a Catholic teacher in Bhudansahi. The home was set on fire. It is said that Hindu women told the men which were the homes of the Christians, and offered them kerosene for burning them.

In the afternoon, 21-year-old lay missionary Rafani Majhi was killed, burned alive while she was trying to save the orphans at a mission in Bargarh. Another man was burned alive in Kandhamal. A priest was also seriously wounded in the attack on the orphanage, and has been hospitalized with wounds all over his body.

Fr Thomas Challan, director of the diocesan pastoral center in Kanjimendi - less than a kilometer from the place where the sister who was raped worked - and a religious, Sister Meena, were seriously injured during an attack on the pastoral center, which was destroyed by fire. Both of the injured were taken to the police station, while officers tried to stop their heavy bleeding.

On the evening of the 25th, the parish of Sankrakhol was also attacked and burned. The pastor, Fr Alexandar Chandi, was able to escape to the nearby forest before the fundamentalists captured him. Fr Bernard Digal, who was visiting his friend Fr Chandi, fled from the enraged crowd. His jeep was destroyed. Today, Fr Bernard Digal was brutually assaulted, he is in a critical condition in hospital.

At around 11:30 p.m., 17 Christian homes were sacked in Raikia, and all of their meager furnishings were destroyed. The convent of Saint Joseph was also attacked, and the sisters were able to save themselves only by hiding in the forest. Throughout the day on August 25, a number of attacks took place on churches in various areas of the district, including: the Pentecostal church in Budamaha, the church in Masadkia, the church in Pisermaha, the Baptist church and Redemptorist church in Mondakia, and the church in Mdahupanga.

A handful of police officers were sent to guard the church in Jeypore, under threat of imminent attack: according to sources in the security forces, more than 200 fundamentalists were ready to attack it, while the pastor and one of his fellow priests abandoned the building, finding refuge at the home of some friends.

In the district of Bargarh, a crowd made up of 2,000 fanatics attacked and destroyed many churches, targeting priests and sisters. In Padampur, Fr Edward Sequira was brutally beaten: he is alive at the moment, but in critical condition because of his many injuries, and he has not yet regained consciousness.


And there is much more. Read it all.

We must urgently pray for these brothers and sisters undergoing such violence and brutality.

Reducing Abortion in America

The Catholic Alliance for the Common Good released this study today on Reducing Abortion in America:
The Effect of Economic and Social Supports


Alas, I don't have time to crunch the numbers right now but here are a couple of pertinent quotes.

Economic support for working families and pregnant women does not increase fertility.

Our analysis indicates that public policies that increase economic support for families and pregnant women do not increase the fertility rate. This suggests that pro-family policies reduce abortions, but do not increase the pregnancy rate. There is little evidence, therefore, to suggest that these policies provide a reward incentive for additional children. More generous economic benefits that support families, while reducing abortions, have no effect on the fertility rate. However, the family cap on government assistance, which was intended to reduce “welfare dependency,” increases both abortion and fertility rates. Rather than reducing pregnancy rates, the family cap may have had the opposite effect.


And this:

"The starting point for this study is the observation that the number of abortions in the United States decreased dramatically during the 1990s, as shown in Figure 1.2 According to data from the Allan Guttmacher Institute, abortions fell by 18% from 1990-2000, while the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates show a 21% reduction. In either case, this represents over 300,000 fewer abortions in 2000 compared with 1990."

Think. 300,000 American 8 year olds alive today because they were not aborted in 2000.

Clearly a report worth reading in depth in this election year.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

DNC Through the Eyes of Christianity Today

Christianity Today has a really interesting politics blog through where they are doing gavel to gavel coverage of the
Democratic Convention.

Their reporters did an interview with Bob Casey, Jr. before he spoke tonight. In that interview, the memory of 1992 when his father was denied the floor because of his pro-life views, was central. But when Casey, Jr. spoke, he simply mentioned the he and Obama disagreed on the topic of abortion.

"Traveling around Pennsylvania, and looking around this room, I have no doubt that is exactly what we're going to do. So now let us work together, with a leader who, as Lincoln said, appeals to the better angels of our nature. Barack Obama and I have an honest disagreement on the issue of abortion. But the fact that I'm speaking here tonight is testament to Barack's ability to show respect for the views of people who may disagree with him."

They also interviewed Chaput last night:

“I think [the Democrats] committed themselves without any doubt to choice on the matter of abortion, and I don’t think that’s a start.

I think caring for women who want to have their children is essential. That’s a given. That isn’t a step in the right direction, that’s where we should all be standing from the beginning.

I stand with that with great enthusiasm, but it doesn’t distract me from the fact that platform still allows for abortion and the destruction of unborn human life.

“Bishop Charles Blake did a marvelous service for all of us, and especially to the Democratic Party. He reminded us in the midst in social justice, one of the most important social issues is the protection of human life.”


And they covered the pro-life rally that Martin Luther King's niece and Chaput both spoke at Monday evening.

"More than 2,000 people marched around a new Planned Parenthood Clinic in Denver tonight instead of following the Democratic National Convention.

Alveda King, a niece of the late Martin Luther King Jr., and Archbishop of Denver Charles Chaput spoke to the crowd before they lit candles and circled the gated clinic.

Alveda King’s mother conceived her daughter when she was a freshman in college. She had wanted to get an abortion, but Martin Luther King Sr. told her mother she could not abort her baby.

“This little baby human girl was allowed to live,” she said to the cheering crowd.
King later aborted two of her children.

“People say, ‘Aren’t you embarrassed and ashamed to stand up and say you had abortions?” King said. “I’d be more embarrassed if I didn’t tell you, because it is wrong, and without the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, I would not have been forgiven. Jesus Christ said, ‘Go and sin no more.’”

She then praised Bishop Charles Blake’s pro-life message at the interfaith gathering yesterday.

“He delivered some very startling and surprising words. They expected the rhetoric that always proceeds. But he began to tell the audience, ‘I am a pro-life Democrat.’ We want to commend those men and women and say that life is a civil right, life is precious, and that it transcends politics.”

King wrote a guest column last week for the Denver Post, calling abortion an "industry of racism. She does not plan to vote for Sen. Barack Obama unless he changes his stance on abortion.

"People in every party should say, ‘We’re for life,’" she told Christianity Today. "They should not be held captive by politics in the battle and the struggle."


And there was also this description of the Interfaith Caucus gathering on the common good chaired by Jim Wallis of Sojourners.

It began:

"Jim Wallis launched the Democratic National Convention faith caucuses this afternoon by listing the issues he believes is on the agenda of people of faith: poverty, climate change, immigration, the sanctity of life, Darfur, human rights, and Iraq."

but ended:

"Tim Roemer, former congressman from Indiana who sits Sen. Barack Obama’s Catholic advisory council praised the Democratic platform on abortion and John Hunter spoke on prisoner re-entry into the population."


Prominent youngish, emergent evangelicals have been invited to give various benedictions at the DNC and are clearly ambivalent. Cameron Strang pulled out at the last moment. Don Miller did give a benediction but posted this explanation on his website beforehand:

"I’m honored to deliver the closing prayer at the DNC. Evangelical voices have been scarce within this party, perhaps since the Carter administration. But as strides are being made on key issues of sanctity of life and social justice, as well as peaceful solutions to world conflicts, more and more evangelicals are taking a closer look at options the Democratic Party are beginning to deliver. There is a long way to go, but sending a message to Washington that no single party has the Christian community in their pocket, thus causing each party to carefully consider the issues most important to us, is, in my opinion, a positive evolution. I am glad that, for the most part, the dialogue has been constructive and positive. Will you join me in keeping the conversation thoughtful and not reactionary?"

And this interview with Obama's "Evangelical Outreach Coordinator', Shaun Casey:

What do you think about the Democratic platform on abortion?

"It’s something that evangelicals ought to take quite seriously that the Democratic Party has made a commitment to reducing the number of abortions without reverting to criminalization. Based on my conversations with evangelicals, I think that resonates, I think a lot of evangelicals find that attractive, they find that helpful and hopeful, and it’s a reflection of who Sen. Obama is.It's a good source for another kind of Christian take on the convention.

Is the Point Human Rights or World's Biggest Protest? You Decide.

Finally, the Rocky Mountain News is covering the huge prolife protest sign unveiled on a nearby mountainside.

"The American Right To Life Action unveiled a sign on North Table Mountain with dimensions the groups says set a new record for protest signs as measured by the Guinness Book of World Records. The group hopes delegates, journalists and convention-goers will be able to see the sign which reads, "Destroys uNborn Children."

The sign measures 530 feet tall by 666 feet wide, according to the press release. It has the letters D-N-C in huge yellow capitals arranged vertically.

Former Colorado Republican Party chairman and ARTL Action president Steve Curtis said the group began to hike up the mountain at 1 a.m. and finished erecting the sign at 8:30 a.m."


And it is 1:50 pm MT as I type.

"The protest sign weighs more than 2,700 pounds and was sewed together with more than four miles of seams connecting 2,400 sheets and backpacked onto location and is being unfurled by 44 letter carriers with spotters a mile away to ensure proper letter placement,"

What is interesting is that the topic of the protest did not make it into the running headline that provides the link.

What is emphasized in the brief article is the Guinness Book of World Records aspect of this effort and it is the picture that reveals the point of the whole thing.

"Destoys uNborn Children"

Here is the Fox video of the sign:



Whatever breaks through the media blockade, I guess.

Still no reference to Chaput's statement yesterday or his speech last night at the prayer vigil outside a Planned Parenthood center in Denver.

See No Story. Hear No Story

Fascinating.

Since last I posted last night, Archbishop Wuerl of Washington, DC, 10 Catholic members of the House of Representatives, and Cardinal Egan of New York have all responded to Nancy Pelosi's Meet the Press comments about the Church's teaching about abortion.

But aside from the Associated Press, none of the mainstream media has covered the story.

Not the Denver Post. Not the Rocky Mountain News. Not the new York Times. Mark Shea posted a note from a reader to the LA Times editorial staff asking them to please cover the story.

Fox News carries the AP story here.

On a bright note, CNN posted this positive man-on-the-street encounter with pro-life demonstrators and intercessors. .

I'm not a conservative conspiracy theory afficianado at all. I worked my way through my last undergraduate year as a (quelle horror!!!) National Public Radio announcer (news and classical music). It was loads better than waiting tables. I like NPR. I like PBS. I'm not a neo-con, paleo-con, or theo-con. So far as I know. Cause I'm not entirely sure what those terms mean but they do get thrown around St. Blog's like they were categories out of revelation.

But this does raise the troubling question of how much of our political life is affected by the willingness or ability of journalists to cover the whole story. If you were a journalist who was a hard core Obama supporter, would you hesitate to cover a story that distracted negatively from your candidate's moment at the Democratic National Convention? Especially if your peers weren't covering it - and it isn't wasn't your editor's priority? A story that reminded Catholic swing voters in no uncertain terms of the Church's clear and historic opposition to one of your candidate's major policy positions?

A word on homilies

ROME, AUG. 25, 2008 (Zenit.org).- A good homily cannot be prepared as if it were any type of communication; it requires the foundation of the priest's personal Christian witness and a clear and concrete message, affirmed a specialist in communications.

Father Dario Viganò, director of "Cinema" and president of Ente dello Spettacolo, an Italian foundation dedicated to the cinema, as well as president of the Redemptor Hominis Pontifical Institute at the Pontifical Lateran University, spoke with L'Osservatore Romano about the recipe for a good homily.

Homilies are a complex communication genre, the author maintains, affirming that a good homily is not a copy or adaptation of discourses found in the media.

And to look at communication effectiveness in a homily, he said, it is not a question of classifying them into categories: divisions ranging from "'spot' homilies, to 'blog'-newspaper type homilies, to 'hypertext' homilies that make daring connections between distant arguments, to 'chakra' homilies -- New Age narrations with strong suggestions and vague meanings."

Instead, Father Viganò affirmed, homilies have the "profile of a communication that is sacramental," and that should enable the listener "to hear God, who speaks."

"To talk about homilies, therefore, means to be aware that they are made up of complexity and beauty," the communications scholar added. "Even if they have been marginalized, poorly treated, at times complicated and clericalized […] homilies are in any case a truly essential and indispensable center of the liturgy."

"There is no lack of studies aimed at developing a systematic, even a virtual methodology of the homily," he continued. "From of old, dictionaries of homiletics exist, texts that suggest methods of preparation using different models of homilies, including already prepared outlines."

Yet, despite this, there is no "model" homily, the priest contended. "A homily must be conceived as the common and shared hearing of Revelation that comes through the Word and history."

Suggestions

Despite its complexity, Father Viganò pointed out two important aspects to ensure that a homily achieves its communicative objective: the consistency of the preacher's life and the brevity and concreteness of the message.

Quoting a phrase of St. Bernardine of Siena, patron of advertisers, the priest emphasized that the key lies in the clarity of the homily. "The preacher must speak very, very clearly, so that the listener will leave satisfied and illumined, and not dazzled."

In regard to consistency, the author recalled a phrase from philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who said that "the difference between a pastor and an actor is precisely the existential moment: The pastor must be poor when he preaches about poverty; he must be slandered when he exhorts to endurance in slander. While the actor has the task of deceiving by eliminating the existential moment, the preacher in fact has the duty, in the most profound sense, to preach with his own life."

In regard to brevity, the priest explained that it is a question of avoiding both "non-existent homilies" as well as "endless homilies."

"St. Francis," Father Viganò recalled "exhorted his friars to use pondered and chaste words in their preaching, for the usefulness and edification of the people, proclaiming to the faithful the vices and virtues, the punishment and glory, with a brief speech, because on earth the Lord spoke brief words."

Reflections from a Farmhouse


Yesterday, Yunkyung and I went to his farmhouse in the country. He has a small home – almost a retreat, really, on a plot of land overlooking a narrow mountain valley filled with rice paddies and a small country village. During the day, the air is filled with the sounds of nature: cicadas thrumming, birdsongs, the faint gurgling of a brook that runs through his property. Yunkyung comes here most weekends, as a place to write and reflect with little or no interruption.

Over the last fifteen years, he’s planted ginkgo, apricot, chestnut trees, and a number of pines. Yunkyung has also planted a variety of other herbs and plants. Virtually everything has some use, usually medicinal. He treated me to a glass of what he called apricot tea. It was almost a syrup, made from apricots he had dried, then put in a large jar with water and sugar last year. He poured a few teaspoons into a glass, added some pomegranate vinegar, and cold water from the spring on his property. It was absolutely delicious; very refreshing. Without the vinegar it is almost too sweet.

Last night we cleared an area of weeds and vines and planted napa cabbage and small daikon radishes that will be used to make homemade kimchee in the autumn. We had dinner in the village in his favorite restaurant. There were four low tables only – and no chairs; a very traditional way of eating in Korea. The food was wonderful and plentiful: a variety of kimchee, small raw squid in a spicy sauce, a fluffy egg soufflé-like dish, delicious salted fish, and a stew made of kimchee and tofu, rice and what the Japanese call nori (thin rectangles of salted dried seaweed which I love with rice). It only cost 10,000 won – about 11 dollars.

Before arriving at his farm, we stopped on the way at a nearby Buddhist monastery and temple that boasts an 1100 year-old ginkgo tree. While we sat in the shade of one of the buildings, Yunkyung mentioned that Buddhist religious life is more similar to Catholic religious life than the life of Protestant ministers. He was thinking about the role of celibacy in both Catholicism and Buddhism, but we spoke a little about other aspects as well.

I mentioned the Benedictine motto of “ora et labora” (prayer and work), and he said Buddhist monastic communities had a similar custom. Many such communities would farm the land around the monastery to provide their own food. Those that did not have arable land, like the monastery we visited high up a mountain valley, would send monks into the neighboring villages in the valleys below the monastery to beg for grain and other foodstuffs, while preaching Buddhist tenets to the farmers. Sounds similar to the early days of the mendicant communities like the Dominicans and Franciscans.

“Nowadays,” Cha said, “many Buddhist communities are rich. Individual monks even have their own passenger cars.”

Ouch.

That, too, sounds like religious communities in the west. How easy it is for us religious to forget the witness of a life of simplicity, even some austerity, in a consumption-driven world.

“Still,” he added, “there are some monks who are deeply devoted to prayer and meditation. One monk who recently died, went seven years without lying down. When he wasn’t eating or working, he was sitting in the lotus position in prayer and meditation. He became the head of his order of monks, and when he died, there were so many people at his funeral...”


My friend, Yunkyung, who is not religious, nevertheless meditates regularly. He said he began in 1999, and even went to a meditation house for awhile. The vibrant, radical practice of a faith tradition will almost inevitably engender some level of curiosity in others.

Catholic religious life has ideally been a way to practice the faith in a radical way. Not only has it been meant as a way of identifying more deeply with the humanity of Christ, it has also meant to remind those living “in the world” that there is more to life than power, autonomy, wealth, and family; that there’s more to life than this life. The danger is religious life can become merely an “alternative lifestyle,” not calling lay people to incorporate prayer, reliance upon God’s providence, and service of others into their own lives, but becoming a remarkably different way of being a Christian. Then the impact of religious life on the lives of lay people is profoundly diminished. We become the ones who have been called by God, while everyone else can feel free to live according to their own desires. In a culture that has become increasingly filled with specialists, religious become the religious professionals – the only ones competent to evangelize or catechize. In a situation such as this, one might well ask, “what can the religious learn from the lay person?” and come up with the answer, “nothing.”

Perhaps it was this question, or the sense that religious life was having little or no impact on the lives of lay people, that led religious to abandon traditional habits and communal life after the Council. Returning to the fundamental charism of their founders would not have required – or even called for – the changes in externals, but something had been lost in their meaning along the way.

One of the questions I must struggle to answer for myself is, “how does one live a distinctive religious life today that points to a life beyond this one, while at the same time respecting the profound value of the lay vocation to transform society through a radical following of Christ in this life?”

My friend, Cha Yunkyung, while not overtly religious, has cultivated a life that would be suitable for Catholic lay people. He is deeply devoted to his family as well as the university students he teaches (the children of his former students call him ‘grandpa’). He is involved in research investigating the ways in which people are educated around the world and is a founding member of the recently established Korean Association for Multicultural Education. He is at home in nature and utilizes its bounty for himself and others, and he meditates to help develop self-control. From what little I understand about the life of a Confucian scholar, he seems to fit the model. From what I know about how Catholic lay people are to live, he has a lot of those characteristics, too – and I find a lot to respect and value in his life.

We're talking more and more about religion and about God. He certainly respects my faith.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Report on pre DNC Interfaith Gathering

This interesting audio/slide show report on the Interfaith meeting that preceded the DNC comes courtesy of Christianity Today and focuses on the abortion issue.

MSM Silent About Chaput's Response

I've yet to find any coverage of Archbishop Chaput's response to Nancy Pelosi anywhere in the MSM. Certainly neither the Denver Post nor the Rocky Mountain News have mentioned it, nor has our local Gazette.

It seems to be strictly Catholic bloggers and media who even acknowledge that it happened.

If the Archbishop of Minneapolis-St. Paul issued a rebuke like that to a major GOP player during the Republican convention next week, sometime tells me we would be hearing about it.

Anyone else come across a report in the MSM?

US Bishops Statement on Pelosi

The US Bishops have also come out with a statement in response to Pelosi's Meet the Press interview Sunday:

Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, have issued the following statement:

"In the course of a “Meet the Press” interview on abortion and other public issues on August 24, 2008, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against abortion.

The Church has always taught that human life deserves respect from its very beginning and that procured abortion is a grave moral evil. In the Middle Ages, uninformed and inadequate theories about embryology led some theologians to speculate that specifically human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy. While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development.

These mistaken biological theories became obsolete over 150 years ago when scientists discovered that a new human individual comes into being from the union of sperm and egg at fertilization. In keeping with this modern understanding, the Church has long taught that from the time of conception (fertilization), each member of the human species must be given the full respect due to a human person, beginning with respect for the fundamental right to life. "


This will not stand. She has forced the US Bishops to publicly repudiate her statement.

More From Chaput

Archbishop Chaput of Denver is smart, savvy, and extremely articulate. I am sure that the image of Nancy Pelosi trying to portray herself as ardent Catholic who was reluctantly convinced by long study of the unsettled state of the Church's teaching on the subject of abortion lifted him to new heights of eloquence.

When I say Chaput is smart, i mean that he carefully retains the distinctions that Catholic teaching on the subject demands even while making as strong a case as he can against abortion.

From the Townhall blog comes these illuminating words from Chaput in an interview about his recent book, Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life.

"But it’s on Page 229. “My friends often ask me if Catholics in genuinely good conscience can vote for a pro-choice candidate. The answer is I couldn’t. Supporting a right to choose abortion simply masks and evades what abortion really is, the deliberate killing of innocent life. I know of nothing that can morally offset that kind of evil.

"I couldn't" The Archbishop carefully retains the distinction between his personal prudential judgement of the situation and his teaching office as Bishop.

And then goes to outline a different scenario in response to another question:

"Archbishop, I want to go back to the abortion discussion. Quoting again from one of the later chapters in your book, “One of the pillars of Catholic thought is this – don’t deliberately kill the innocent, and don’t collude in allowing it. We sin if we support candidates because they support a false right to abortion. We sin if we support pro-choice candidates without a truly proportionate reason for doing so, that is a reason grave enough to outweigh our obligation to end the killing of the unborn. And what would a proportionate reason look like? It would be a reason we could, with an honest heart, expect the unborn victims of abortion to accept when we meet them and need to explain our actions as we someday will.” Are you aware of any such proportionate actions out there, proportionate reasons right now, Archbishop?

CC: Well, let me give you two answers to that. You know, as I say, it’s hard for me to come to the conclusion there are proportionate reasons.

But here’s a case where I’m certain there would be. If you have two candidates running for the same office, they’re the only choices, both of them are pro-choice, but one is much better on the other issues than the other. I think that you can choose the lesser of two evils with a clear conscience.

You don’t have to. You can decide not to vote, or you can vote for a third person who couldn’t be elected. But in those circumstances, you would be voting for a pro-choice candidate, but not because the person is pro-choice, but because the alternative is a worse situation.

I also know that, and this is the second point, I know many good Catholics who have given a lot of serious thought to the abortion issue, and will still vote for a candidate who is pro-choice. They’ll try to discourage that person from holding that position, they’ll work really hard within their party to get the party to change its platform if it’s pro-abortion. But they’ve kind of examined all the issues, and weighed them together, and still feel that in a particular situation, that the candidate that they are going to vote for who is pro-choice is a better of the two. And the Church, you know, says you can do that if you have a truly proportionate reason.

And I hope they work hard at it, and I don’t always understand how they arrive at their conclusion. It’s hard to imagine in my mind anything worse than the destruction of more than a million unborn children in our country every year through abortion. But I think that sincere people really do arrive at those conclusions sometimes."

Chaput Responds to Pelosi

Archbishop Chaput's response to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi about the Church's historic stand on abortion:

Pelosi: "I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that def-inition . . . St. Augustine said at three months. We don't know. The point is, is that it shouldn't have an impact on the woman's right to choose."

Chaput's response:

"Since Speaker Pelosi has, in her words, studied the issue "for a long time," she must know very well one of the premier works on the subject, Jesuit John Connery's Abortion: The Development of the Roman Catholic Perspective (Loyola, 1977). Here's how Connery concludes his study:

"The Christian tradition from the earliest days reveals a firm antiabortion attitude . . . The condemnation of abortion did not depend on and was not limited in any way by theories regarding the time of fetal animation. Even during the many centuries when Church penal and penitential practice was based on the theory of delayed animation, the condemnation of abortion was never affected by it. Whatever one would want to hold about the time of animation, or when the fetus became a human being in the strict sense of the term, abortion from the time of conception was considered wrong, and the time of animation was never looked on as a moral dividing line between permissible and impermissible abortion."

Or to put it in the blunter words of the great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

"Destruction of the embryo in the mother's womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed on this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder."

Ardent, practicing Catholics will quickly learn from the historical record that from apostolic times, the Christian tradition overwhelmingly held that abortion was grievously evil. In the absence of modern medical knowledge, some of the Early Fathers held that abortion was homicide; others that it was tantamount to homicide; and various scholars theorized about when and how the unborn child might be animated or "ensouled." But nonediminished the unique evil of abortion as an attack on life itself, and the early Church closely associated abortion with infanticide. In short, from the beginning, the believing Christian
community held that abortion was always, gravely wrong.

Of course, we now know with biological certainty exactly when human life begins. Thus, today's religious alibis for abortion and a so-called "right to choose" are nothing more than that - alibis that break radically with historic Christian and Catholic belief.

Abortion kills an unborn, developing human life. It is always gravely evil, and so are the evasions employed to justify it. Catholics who make excuses for it - whether they're famous or not - fool only themselves and abuse the fidelity of those Catholics who do sincerely seek to follow the Gospel and live their Catholic faith.

The duty of the Church and other religious communities is moral witness. The duty of the state and its officials is to serve the common good, which is always rooted in moral truth. A proper understanding of the "separation of Church and state" does not imply a separation of faith from political life. But of course, it's always important to know what our faith actually teaches."


Wow. Praise God and pass the ammunition . . . There will no lack of clarity in Chaput's town this week - at least about what the Church Church teaches on the subject of abortion. Pelosi walked right into that one.

'Tis Summer & Reeves & Booster Are Here. . .

It is the dog days of summer and time for another (annual?) installment of the fabulous Reeves & Booster series.

From the alternate universe of Tom K. over at Disputations where P. G. Wodehouse is a Dominican . . .

DNC & Denver Churches

From the Rocky Mountain News:

How Denver congregations are responding to the DNC. Some are feeling crowded out, others are welcoming delegates with open arms.

"While the city finally released the list of street closures last week, churches still feel left out of the process and without answers to key questions.

For example, will regular worshippers be able to reach them? What about parking? And what about access for the poor and homeless who depend on the churches' outreach services and daily sandwich lines?

"That's been an ongoing hassle with the city," said the Rev. Kevin Maly, pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, 16th and Grant, which feeds up to 1,000 poor people every day. "We're getting nothing from them. They don't ever talk to us. It's an ongoing thing."

The city didn't respond to three requests from the Rocky for comment.

Burned by the city's silence during past events, Maly is in a fighting mood: "I am personally committed to challenging any attempts to limit access to St. Paul," he said, in a subsequent e-mail.

"It's pretty unclear at the local level," agreed the Rev. Chrysostom Frank, pastor of St. Elizabeth's Catholic Church, which is adjacent to the designated protest route along Speer Boulevard.

St. Elizabeth's plans to continue its daily noon Masses, even though they fall at the height of the protest hours. That is, as long as worshippers can get there - "and as long as I can get there," Frank said.


I can't get onto the Cathedral's website. Overwhelmed, I'm sure.

Prayer Request

Please pray for The Other Sherry's brother-in-law, Jonathan. He has a 2 cm mass in the sinus cavity behind his left eye; it is pressing on his optic nerve, has eaten into the bone, and may be getting into his brain. He went in for an emergency CT scan this weekend, and sees an advanced ENT/surgeon today. He’ll be having surgery soon.

Please pray for God’s healing and peace for him and his family.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Democrats & Tornados

Add to everything else going on in Denver today, this very impressive tornado that set down in south Denver. Reporters are already complaining about the daily afternoon thunderstorms.

(Denver, contrary to popular reputation, actually lies on the plains, (A "mile high" is the lowlands around here) not in the mountains, and does experience tornados. They are extremely rare in Colorado Springs because we are situated in the foothills of the mountains.)

Abortion Has Already Taken Center Stage in Denver

Very interesting.

Abortion has already taken center stage at the Democratic National Convention.

At the Interfaith Gathering today, Bishop Charles E. Blake, presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ, called on presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama to "follow through on his promise ... to reduce the number of abortions" while stopping just short of criticizing the Democratic Party for its support of the practice.

"Surely we cannot be pleased with ... millions of terminated pregnancies," Blake said to applause from the nearly full Wells Fargo Theater. "Something within us must be calling for a better way. If we do not resist at this point, at what point will we resist?"

Democrats must know about the "moral and spirtual pain so many of us feel because of this disregard for the lives of the unborn," Blake said.

In a speech focusing on society's responsibility to its children, Blake first focused on the plight of the inner-city poor as a human rights responsibility before calling abortion a practice "that conflicts with our position and our responsibility ... to human rights itself."

Blake also reserved some fire for pro-life Republicans -- comments that, either inadvertently or not, served as a response to three anti-abortion protesters who were evicted early in the event after disrupting the gathering with shouts that Obama is "a baby killer."

Although Blake intimated he was frustrated with his party's support of abortion, he praised its positions for the helpless in other ways.

"Others loudly proclaim their advocacy for the unborn," he said, receiving a standing ovation, "but they refuse to recognize their responsibility and the responsibility of our nation to those who have been born.


Two dozen major religious leaders have been invited to address the DNC but Denver's Archbishop Chaput is not among them as the Washington Times noted last week. Can you spell not-a-surprise?

Chaput will spend Monday evening with Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King, in a prayer vigil against abortion near a Planned Parenthood clinic in Stapleton, a Denver suburb.

The Rocky Mountain News is pulling out all the stops to provide you with up to the minute DNC news.

The "E" Word

Br. Robert King, OP has a good post on "The E word" on his blog. It is interesting the questions a day spent welcoming new university students to campus ministry can raise. Check it out.

Traffic

What do you get on a Sunday evening on the last weekend before school starts and every family in Seoul is out for a last fling with the kids?

A traffic jam that begins 100 km outside the city, and rest areas that are mobbed with travelers hoping to get a respite from the crowded highway encountering an even more congested parking lot.

There even was a line for the men's room!

Oh, the humanity...

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More Culinary Adventures

Seokgulam is an 8th c. Buddhist temple carved into a rock grotto up the mountain from Bulguksa, a famous Buddhist monastery and temple. Inside the grotto is a large, seated Buddha in a pose of deep meditation. During part of the year, the light from the sunrise strikes a golden jewel in his forehead, which must be an impressive sight.

On our way down the hill from Bulguksa, we walked by some street vendors selling faux traditional Korean masks, parasols, keychains and food. Korean snacks are much more nutritious than western ones. Some were selling a kind of fish jerky, others had fresh roasted chestnuts, and several vendors had what looked like pots of cooked insect larvae. But they couldn’t be, I thought. I asked Young-kyeung, my Cha’s wife, what they were. She said they were delicious – one of her favorite childhood snacks, called bundaegi: silk worm larvae. I commented that I couldn’t imagine having such a snack as a child, or as an adult. Of course, the next thing I knew, she had purchased a paper cup filled with the plump little 1/2 inch long buggers. And two toothpicks. Intrigued, I asked her if they were “gushy”. I didn’t think I could keep it in my mouth if I could differntiate its insides from its outsides. She said, “no, just a little crunchy. It tastes kind of like sesame seeds.” Yeah, right.


I have to admit, part of my incentive were those three words of Sherry’s: “boiled jellyfish tentacles.” She got my competitive blood boiling, so now I have three words of my own, Sherry: “sautéed silkworm larvae”!

I speared one with my toothpick, and held it up foor closer observation. They look a little like the Michelin tire man, but without arms or legs. Just segments, and what looked like a mouth. I chose to look at the other side instead.

You know, when you pop one in your mouth and don’t think about what you’re eating, it does taste a little like sesame seeds, only with a hint of salt from the water they’re cooked in.
And like Lay’s potato chips, no one can eat just one.

They’re amazingly filling, so I stopped at two. At which point my friend, professor Cha - Mr. “I grew up a poor farmboy and walked 6 km to school and back each day” - told me he’d never eaten one before. Still hasn’t, I can tell you. And then Yong-kyeung remembered she’s allergic to bundaegi, so we had to find a pharmacy and get some antihistamines for her – but not until her arms and legs had broken out with a pretty bad rash. I’m thinking I won’t have another opportunity to try silkworm larvae again this trip.

Confucian influences in Korea


The other day I was commenting on the apparent freedom that Koreans enjoy because of their sense of community. My friend, Cha Yun-kyung, a professor in the area of sociology of education at Hanyang University, Seoul, said that the tenets of Confucianism also play into the sense of propriety and responsibility that helps maintain order in this densely populated country.

This past weekend the Chas and I drove to Gyeungjong, the ancient capital of the Silla dynasty. We traveled along part of the north-south spine of the country, a series of low, but quite steep granite mountains that rise about 2000 feet from the road. The small valleys we passed occasionally were intensely farmed, creating a patchwork of rice, corn, sesame, garlic, eggplant, ginseng, and a variety of fruit trees.

The city is dotted with ancient tombs of the Silla kings and queens. They date from the mid 8th century A.D. and are rounded hills ranging in height from about 15 feet to over 100 feet. The royal corpse was laid to rest in a wooden chanber that was covered with as much as 15-20 feet of rocks, a relatively thin layer of clay a a foot or so thick, and then that was buried under soil.

On the trip back we stopped at a Confucian school outside Andong, a city about three to four hours northwest of Pusan. Dosanseodang would have housed about thirty students at a time. Founded in 1561 by Yi Hwang, a well-known neo-Confucian scholar who also went by the name of Toegye, it has a variety of interesting structures, like a double library raised above the damp ground to protect the delicate handwritten parchments, a printing room, several classrooms, as well as small cells for Confucian scholars and students. In a small museum adjacent to the school, some of Yi Hwang’s basic principles for living are described. They sound very much like some things St. Paul says: be patient, observe your surroundings carefully; don’t be deceitful, love others, do not kill, don’t even entertain vicious thoughts. I wonder how the Gospel was preached by the early Korean missionaries, and how much resonance their listeners would have heard in St. Paul’s admonitions to the Corinthians or Philippians?

I know next to nothing about Confucianism, although it seems that Yi Hwang at least thought that knowledge should lead to right actions in order to truly be called knowledge. It also sought order in one’s personal life and in society. Neo-Confucian scholars were important figures in the Joseon dynasty in Korea, and the good Korean king would have been expected to govern according to neo-Confucian principles. In fact, Yi Hwang served in nearly 30 different administrative posts under for Joseon dynasty kings, and was known for his impeccable character and dedication to truth. Whether he and other scholars were more successful in influencing the behavior of Korean politicians than Catholic religious leaders were regarding the behavior of European kings, I do not know.

Calling All the Catholic Truckers of California . . . And All the Ships at Sea.

I was interviewed last month for a Catholic Digest article which is coming out in the September issue and is apparently titled "How to Live a More Meaningful Life". (I haven't seen the article yet and had nothing to do with the title.). I am told that Catholic Digest has 2.5 million readers and even circulates in the Philippines and Trinidad & Tobago. If all 2.5 million want their own inventory, you'll have to give us a few days to print some more.

We weren't expecting it out so early but are starting to get phone calls about it and bloggers are starting to quote some of my comments in the article.

“Many people struggle with discernment because they don’t yet have a living relationship with Christ, and charisms don’t manifest and start operating in your life until your faith becomes personal. We have to help people address those fundamental issues of discipleship. Once you have a loving relationship with Christ, people are hungry and eager to discern.”

I have no idea what the rest of it says. I haven't done much of this and It feels odd when I read quotes like the one above. My first response is "did I say that?" My second thought was "Even if I didn't, it sounds like something I would like to have said." Which you gotta admit beats a gasp of horror at the statement being attributed to you.

(Not that I'm impugning the honor of the Catholic Digest interviewer at all. It's just who knows what comes out of your mouth when you are babbling as I am prone to do?")

Some of the fall-out is already clear: I received a call on Thursday from the Catholic Channel on Sirius Radio and they'll be interviewing me about the Called & Gifted process on the Morning Show next Friday, August 29 at 6:40 am EASTERN time. (And I live in mountain time!). Which is why home espresso makers were invented.

The Catholic truckers and insomniacs of the Pacific coast are going to get an earful at 3:40 am Friday. So I called Catholic Digest and said "could you possibly send me a copy of the article so we have some sense of what people are reading before they call?" So the nice lady at CG is sending it right out. Hopefully, I will see it before Friday.

If you, gentle reader, have found this blog because of that article or the radio show and want to know more about the Called & Gifted process, check out our FAQ.

If you would like to attend a live Called & Gifted workshop, check out our event calendar here.

And for all you right coast listeners: It is true that we don't have many east coast events. (Although we do have one scheduled in Greenville, South Carolina on September 26/27. Do check it out and call Kate to let her know if you decide to attend. We need to make sure we ship enough materials.

We have done a number of east coast C & G's in the past, but we haven't been asked lately and we go where we are asked. (We started out in Seattle and have slowly moving south and east ever since). If you'd like to have a live Called & Gifted workshop in your parish or diocese, just call our office or drop an e-mail to info@siena.org.

If you want to begin your own discernment now as an individual, you can. You need a copy of the workshop on cd and a copy of the Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory. Start with the cd and listen until the point when we ask you to take the inventory, Then take it and return to the cd for information about what your inventory scores do and do not mean.

If you would like your small group to go through it together, you can. Check out the C & G Small Group set. which contains one of everything!

And If any CSI readers stray across the article or the interview, it would be fun to hear from you.

How Does Your Garden Grow?



Very nicely, thank you.

The cool weather and heavy rains of last week seem to have generated a second spring. My California poppies that looked spent when I got home from Spokane are now blooming again by the hundreds, some of my spring bulbs seems to be mysteriously emerging again (I don't think I planted any autumn bulbs) and most mysterious of all: my bloom-in-May Columbine are starting to bloom again.

Is this good or bad? I can't seem to find out. Any ID readers know?.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Agia Sophia: Fresh Coffee & Ancient Wisdom

There a new espresso shop in town - or more accurately - in the town next store: Old Colorado City on the west side and the first territorial capital of Colorado.

Agia Sophia is located in the old Victorian town hall and combines really good espresso, great atmosphere, comfy leather couches, tables, free wi-fi, and a very nice collection of books from the deep end of the pan-Christian spectrum.

Agia Sophia is run by our local Orthodox Church in America congregation but the books, while understandably heavy on Orthodox titles, run the spectrum. I also saw Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a bookshelf dedicated to C.S. Lewis and the Inkings, Richard Foster, who introduced the classic spiritual disciplines of historic Christianity to evangelicalism 30 years ago, Leanne Payne, an Episcopalian deacon with an incredible healing ministry, history, poetry, etc. The staff told me that they were advised in their choice of books by the famous Eight Day bookstore in Kansas. It is no surprise that they carry Touchstone magazine which pretty much sums up the spirit of the place.

Agia Sophia is the closest thing this evangelical city has to the Logos Bookstore that I once worked for in Seattle (and through which I met Mark Shea who volunteered there). That particular Logos was dominated by evangelical titles but intelligent evangelicals titles: Lewis, Inklings as well as Catholic and Orthodox titles. It was no accident that a number of us associated with the store used our reading privileges there as one of our major sources for our journey into the Church.

It is a refreshing initiative and worthy of your support. I"m sorry that we didn't find out about this bookstore in time for Joe to visit it as he would have enjoyed it.

When next in town, why not spend a beautiful sunny Saturday morning in Old Colorado city? Catch 8 am Lauds, Mass, and Benediction at Spanish style Sacred Heart Church, then stroll a few blocks west along Colorado Avenue to the park and lively farmer's market filled with Palisades peaches, chilies, fresh basil and huge buckets of glads. Then continue west through the charming historic shopping area to Agia Sophia on the corner of 29th for a latte and leisurely browse.

I"m glad I did. I'll be back.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Great Stuff

One of the great privileges of this work are the amazing people, communities, and initiatives that we get to spend time with!

Last week at Making Disciples, we were joined by Fr. Chas Canoy of St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Ann Arbor, Michigan. One look at St. Thomas's website lets you know that this is not a run of the mill parish! Fr. Chas works with the young adult group there which has its own website: Generation Christ.

Both websites are worth a visit. I'm going to add St. Thomas to our website list of "intriguing parishes.

Meanwhile, I am preparing for an inservice with the country coordinators of Renewal MInistries next month and in reading about their current work, I am pretty seriously intimidated. Wow! At those moments, you just abandon yourself to God and offer your little bit even when you know it is wholly inadequate.

You'll understand why I feel that way if you take a look at this article by Peter Herbeck about an evangelization consultation in Ghana that took place in 2007.

Amazing. This consultation was held by Cardinal Peter Turkson. What prompted it was the recognition that Christianity in Africa is a mile wide and only an inch deep. And that catechesis without intentional discipleship is not nearly enough.

One local bishop requires that every priest in his diocese goes through a month of evangelization training. I'd post some quotes but can't seem to figure out how to do so from the original pdf document. But read the whole thing!

It is powerful.

Testimonies of Muslims Who Have Discovered Jesus

Fascinating.

A reader sent me this very interesting website, The Sun Rises, which features a well done introduction to the life of Christ and 6 testimonies of Muslims who have become Christians. In Arabic with English subtitles. Take the time to listen to as much as possible. It is a remarkable window on another world.

If you listen to all of the stories, you'll hear several people talk about receiving a vision of Christ which was the turning point for them. These sorts of experiences have become very common in the Muslim world over the past two decades. For more, see my post Why Muslims Convert to Christianity.

The Bible also looms large in these stories (which makes perfect sense to people raised in a religion where the Quran is the functional equivalent of Christ for us - they are the quintessential people of the book.) But Scripture also looms large for the producers who are obviously evangelical Protestants. You'll notice there is no mention of the sacraments in these stories.

This reader commented that he is interested in but knows only a few Catholic MBB's (Muslim Background Believers). He said that a Christian TV station that broadcasts widely in the Near East and North Africa would broadcast similar testimonies of Muslims who become Catholic - if someone would produce such a film.

Hint. Hint.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Price of Freedom


Seoul is an enormous city, with high rise apartments everywhere. I was really surprised to find that my friends let their sons, ages 16 and 14, to go alone on the metro system - at night, no less. One of the first nights I was here, Junseo, the 14-year old, was out until 10 p.m. on the metro. He was attending an English practice class for a few hours (during his summer vacation, no less), and had an hour-long trip to return to the apartment.

I also noticed two nights ago that for all the people living around me, it's amazingly quiet at night. No stereos blaring, no loud TVs - nothing. That night Yun-kyung and I were out for a walk along the Han river. It was about 10 p.m., and there were literally hundreds of people out walking, including women walking alone. I asked him why this was possible. In the U.S., parents who let their kids out at night in a large city would be considered negligent or idiotic. Here, it's common - and safe. The crime rate is very low. One reason, my friend said, is that there are strict gun control laws, so if someone wants to rob someone, they might use a knife, at best. But then, in a land that invented taekwondo, you never know if your intended victim has a black belt or not!

But more importantly, he said, people have a sense of respect for others, and a sense of community uncommon in a more culturally and ethnically diverse like the U.S. Here in Korea, the culture has been profoundly shaped by Confucianism, which continues to effect how people behave. In the university where he teaches, he said, within a few weeks freshmen are including the suffix indicating "elder brother/sister" when they address seniors. Individualism has not taken hold the way it has in the U.S.

In the U.S., we constantly are out to protect our individual freedom, whether it is to carry heat, play our music at our desired volume, or whatever. We seem to interpret "freedom" to be able to do whatever we want, but when separated from a sense of community, responsibility, and the needs of others, it leads to a lack of freedom in some respects. I can't really do some things I'd like - take a walk at night, for example.

More on this later - I have to leave with my friends for a trip to Kyungjoo, the ancient capital of the Shilla dynasty, which ended in 918.

Saints, Holiness, and Charisms

Pope Benedict's catechesis yesterday focused upon the saints in the life of the Church and as models of holiness in daily life. He also spoke clearly of the charisms and the quoted Hans urs von Balthasar as saying that the lives of the saints are "the most important commentary of the Gospel." Pretty cool stuff!

Dear brothers and sisters, day after day the Church offers us the possibility to walk in company of the saints. Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote that the saints constitute the most important commentary of the Gospel, their actualization in the day-to-day routine and, therefore, they represent for us a real path of access to Jesus. The writer Jean Guitton described them as "the colors of the spectrum in relation with the light," because with their own hues and accents each one of them reflects the light of God's holiness. How important and advantageous, therefore, is the determination to cultivate the knowledge and devotion of the saints, together with the daily meditation of the word of God and filial love for the Virgin!


The period of vacation is certainly a useful time to review the biography and writings of some men or women saints in particular, but each day of the year offers us the opportunity to become familiar with our heavenly patrons. Their human and spiritual experience shows that holiness is not a luxury, it is not the privilege of a few, an impossible goal for a normal man. In reality, it is the common destiny of all men called to be children of God, the universal vocation of all those who are baptized. Holiness is offered to all.

Naturally, not all the saints are the same. They are, in fact, as I have said, the spectrum of divine light. And one who possesses extraordinary charisms is not necessarily a great saint. The name of many of them is known only by God, because on earth they seemed to have lived a very normal life. And it is precisely these "normal" saints that God usually wants. Their example testifies that, only when one is in contact with the Lord, is one full of peace and joy and in this way it is possible to spread everywhere serenity, hope and optimism. Considering precisely the variety of their charisms, Bernanos, great French writer who was always fascinated by the idea of the saints -- he quotes many of them in his novels -- points out that every saint's life is like "a new flowering of spring." May this also happen to us! Let us allow ourselves to be attracted by the supernatural fascination of holiness! May Mary, Queen of all Saints, Mother and refuge of sinners obtain this grace for us!

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Equal to the Apostles

Catholicism around the world - and the critical role of lay Catholics in sustaining the Church - is the theme of the day around here at ID.

I can't compete with Fr. Mike's fabulous tour of the sights and tastes of Korea, but the the fact that lay people brought the faith to Korea in the first place and have been the catalyst of evangelization there is no anomaly.

In fact, Eastern Orthodoxy has a special term for Christians who have played a critical role in the spread of the faith: isapostolos or "equal to the apostles". Many of those officially recognized as "equal to the apostles" in this sense are lay Christians, including a number of lay women such as Sts Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman at the well; Thekla, Helena of Constantinople, Olga of Kiev, and St. Nino of Georgia.


(Giotto's magnificent Magdalene)

One of Gashwin Gomes' last posts was on this story of the remarkable growth of Catholicism in certain part of India. (Gomes has had to close down his blog because he has entered the archdiocesan seminary in Atlanta. We're losing a great blogger but gaining a great priest, so I guess that is a fair exchange.)

From Aid to the Church in Need:

"A CORNER of India lays claim to be the place where the Catholic Church has grown the most over the past 30 years – with more than 10,000 adult baptisms every year.

Since the 1970s, Catholics in Arunachal Pradesh state have grown from a few scattered communities to almost 200,000 in number.

And all this in a region of north east India where Catholic missionaries were forbidden for generations.

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity for suffering Christians, Bishop John Thomas Kattrukudiyil of Itanagar, the capital of Arunachal Pradesh, said: “The fastest growth of the Church over the past few decades has been in this region.

“When the people hear that the bishop is coming to see them, people walk three or four days just to be there.


Snip.

He explained how the Church in Arunachal Pradesh was unique, in that it spread thanks largely to lay faithful because of the ban on missionaries from outside the region.

He said it was only thanks to contact with a dynamic parish on the border with neighbouring Assam that Catholicism was able to enter the region.

The parish in Hamutty attracted visitors from Arunachal Pradesh who returned home as catechists and soon the Church spread to the point where in the early 1990s converts became government ministers and insisted that priests finally be allowed to work in the region.

The rapid growth of the Church in Arunachal Pradesh led Pope Benedict XVI to set up the two dioceses in the region, Itanagar and neighbouring Miao – both of which only formally created less than three years ago.

News of the Church’s growth in Arunachal Pradesh comes barely a year after ACN News reported on Catholicism’s boom in Assam where Bishop Thomas Pulloppillil of Bongaigaon has had up to 20,000 conversions since 2000.

Snip.

The bishop said the Church now faces the rise of the Jehovah Witnesses and other evangelical Church groups, requiring a greater emphasis on catechesis to keep people committed to Catholicism.

According to the bishop, conversions to Catholicism were significantly down from the 1980s and 1990s when they were at their peak but people retained their enthusiasm for the Church.
"

As reported by Christianity Today a year ago:

"Catholicism in North East India – which began barely 100 years ago – is now booming with more than 50 men ordained to the priesthood every year.

Barely a century after the first Catholic missionaries arrived in the region centring on Assam, there are now 1.5 million Catholics.

Christians in general are now considered the majority in three of the eight political states that make up North East India.

The Church’s expediential growth was spelled out by Bishop Thomas Pulloppillil, whose new diocese of Bongaigaon has swelled by nearly 20,000 people since his episcopal ordination in 2000.

In an interview this week with Aid to the Church in Need, the charity for suffering Christians, the bishop said that in the neighbouring state of Arunachal Pradesh on the border with China, thousands of people had defied draconian anti-conversion laws and become Christians.

In this part of India there are 180,000 Catholics out of a total population of nearly 800,000 – a vast difference from 25 years ago when there were no Catholics at all throughout Arunachal Pradesh.



I hate to contradict the good Bishop but the situation in Arunachal Pradesh is not unique, even by Catholic standards, and is positively run of the mill practice among evangelical/Independent Christians throughout Asia.

Christianity entered Nepal in the 1960's in exactly the same way and the staggering lay-driven growth of Christanity in China has become proverbial.

Since Georgia has been tragically highlighted in the news this past week, it brought to mind one of my favorite stories of lay apostleship: St. Nino.



There are some considerable differences in the traditions about St. Nino. The Orthodox believe that she was well-born and educated and begin her missionary work in response to a vision of our Lady.

"Nino received a vision where the Virgin Mary gave her a grapevine cross and said:

"Go to Iberia and tell there the Good Tidings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and you will find favour before the Lord; and I will be for you a shield against all visible and invisible enemies. By the strength of this cross, you will erect in that land the saving banner of faith in My beloved Son and Lord."


The Roman Catholic traditions hold that she was brought to Georgia against her will, as a slave.

"Nino reached the borders of ancient Georgian Kingdom of Iberia in about 320 A.D. There, she placed a Christian cross in the small town of Akhalkalaki and started preaching the Christian faith in Urbnis and finally reaching Mtskheta (the capital of Iberia). Iberian Kingdom has been influenced by the neighbouring Persian Empire which played an important role as the regional power in the Caucasus. The Iberian King Mirian III and his nation worshiped the syncretic gods of Armazi and Zaden. Soon after the arrival of Nino in Mstkheta, the Queen of Iberia Nana (daughter of King Asphagor) requested the audience with the Cappadician.

Queen Nana, who suffered from a severe illness, had some knowledge of Christianity but had not yet converted to it. Nino, restoring the Queen's health, won to herself disciples from the Queen's attendants, including a Jewish priest and his daughter, Abiathar and Sidonia. Queen Nana also officially converted to Christianity and was baptized by Nino herself. King Mirian, aware of his wife’s religious conversion, was tolerant of her new faith. He secluded himself, however, from Nino and the growing Christian community in his kingdom. His isolation to Christianity did not last long because, according to the legend, while on a hunting trip, he was suddenly struck blind as total darkness emerged in the woods. In a desperate state, King Mirian uttered a prayer to the God of St Nino:

"If indeed that Christ whom the Captive had preached to his Wife was God, then let Him now deliver him from this darkness, that he too might forsake all other gods to worship Him." [2]

As soon as he finished his prayer, the light appeared and the King hastily returned to his palace in Mtskheta. As a result of this miracle, the King of Iberia renounced idolatry under the teaching of St Nino and was baptized as the first Christian King of Iberia. Soon, the whole of his household and the inhabitants of Mtskheta adopted Christianity. In A.D. 327 King Mirian made Christianity the state religion of his kingdom, making Iberia the second Christian state after Armenia.

After adopting Christianity, Mirian sent an ambassador to Byzantium, asking Emperor Constantine I to have a bishop and priests sent to Iberia. Constantine, having learned of Iberia’s conversion to Christianity, granted Mirian the church lands in Jerusalem [3] and sent the delegation of Bishops to the court of the Georgian King. Roman historian Tyrannius Rufinus in Historia Ecclesiastica writes about Mirians request to Constantine:

After the church had been built with due magnificence, the people were zealously yearning for God's faith. So an embassy is sent on behalf of the entire nation to the Emperor Constantine, in accordance with the captive woman's advice. The foregoing events are related to him, and a petition submitted, requesting that priests be sent to complete the work which God had begun. Sending them on their way amidst rejoicing and ceremony, the Emperor was far more glad at this news than if he had annexed to the Roman Empire peoples and realms unknown. [4]
In 334 A.D, Mirian commissioned the building of the first Christian church in Iberia which was finally completed in 379 A.D. on the spot where now stands the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mstkheta.

Nino, having witnessed the conversion of Iberia to Christianity, withdrew to the mountain pass in Bodbe, Kakheti. St Nino died soon after; immediately after her death, King Mirian commenced with the building of monastery in Bodbe, where her tomb can still be seen in the churchyard."


Understandably, "Nino and its variants remains the most popular name for women and girls in the Republic of Georgia. There are currently 88,441 women over age 16 by that name residing in the country, according to the Georgia Ministry of Justice."

St. Nino, pray for the suffering people of Georgia!

I am morally certain that there are now living innumerable lay Christians whose names are unknown to us but who have been the instruments through which the love of Christ has entered a family, a community, a city, a profession, a business, a region or a nation in a transforming way. In their own way, they deserve the title of "equal to the apostles" .

I'm also sure that I've met some of these apostles on the road but from now on, I'm going to stay alert to the possibility that I might be in the presence of one of these blessed heralds of the gospel.

The Soul of Asia

On numerous billboards around Seoul the claim is made that it is "the soul of Asia". This morning, Yun-kyung and his wife Yong-Kyeung took me to the Korean martyr's memorial, commemorating the some 10,000 Korean Catholics who were executed in four persecutions in 1801, 1839, 1846 and 1866. What's remarkable is that the faith took root before French missionary priests arrived in 1836! Kim Taegon, the first Korean priest, was ordained at age 25 and martyred the next year, 1846, near the site of the memorial I visited. Yun-kyung took this picture of his wife and me standing underneath this statue of St. Andrew Kin Taegon.












While at the museum section of the memorial, a group of Korean sisters arrived and I snapped this picture while they were listening to a brief introduction given by one of their members. I didn't see one that looked older than me!






I also took a picture of this painting by a Korean artist who captured both the agony and the glory of these men and women.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What Makes a Meal?

On my first morning in Seoul, my old friend, Yun-kyung, offered me a typical breakfast in Korea: concord grapes, Korean peach, tomatoes, squash from his farm, and breakfast cereal. I suppose the last wasn't typical a generation or more ago, but the box touted (in pictures, at least) one of it's special features: squash seeds.

It's funny how two cultures can look at the same food item and think of it differently. Yun-kyung's sons made a little puddle of honey on their plates to dip their tomato wedges in. I asked for some salt. I never would have thought to put something sweet on a tomato. Even the salt was a little unusual - more like dust than crystals. This morning I found out it's sea salt that has been purified by being packed in bamboo with the ends plugged with a very fine, special clay, then heated to 1000 degrees until it melts, poured out of the bamboo and hardened, then crushed and put back into more bamboo and heated until liquid, etc. This is done NINE times until all the impurities have been removed. It sells for over $50 for a small jar. Next time I'll ask for soy sauce.

Yesterday Yun-kyung and I went to one of the many ancient palaces that dots the northern bank of the Han River that bisects Seoul. This is the two of us in the "secret garden" of the Changdeokgukgung (Changdeokguk palace). It's a UNESCO world heritage site, and was first built in the early 1300's and rebuilt in the late 16th, early 17th centuries after it was destroyed in a Japanese invasion.

After visiting the palace, we went to the Insadong shopping area a few blocks away where we had a typical Korean lunch. It was a feast! We had bulgogi, a national dish of thin strips of cooked beef and marinated onions, a seafood/tofu stew, and a
lot of marinated foods: raw crab (their cut in half, you pick them up by the legs and suck out the innards from the body), burdock root, codonopsis lanceolata root, squid, sesame leaves (pungent and really, really good), kimchi, bean sprouts, garlic greens, black beans, a dish whose main ingredient was tofu made from acorns, and some really delicious "pancakes" made with green onions and squid. It really was delicious!

I know Sherry's wondering if I have a charism of missionary. I think I just like to eat.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hello from Seoul

One of the benefits of traveling with the Catherine of Siena Institute is the ability to accumulate frequent flier miles. I used them to get me to Seoul, Korea two days ago, where I'm visiting my graduate school room mate from Stanford, Professor Yun-kyung Cha of Hanyang University, and his family.

Korea, as you may know, is the most Christian of the countries of Asia. Yesterday, Cha took me via the incredibly extensive subway system of Seoul (at least 200 stations, as far as I can tell) to downtown Seoul, where I hopped on a city-wide tour bus and took in some of the sights. After walking around a series of traditional Korean-style homes and gardens near downtown, I walked off the beaten path and found Myeongdong Cathedral, the one-hundred year old Catholic center of Seoul and a focal point for the democratic movement in Korea in the '70s and '80s. The Catholic community of the cathedral has also played an important role in the expansion of human rights in Korea.

Even though the facade of the gothic Cathedral is undergoing restoration and reverberates with the sound of jackhammers, there were at least 20 Koreans praying in the nave. Most of them were young adult to middle-aged. There were also a number of young sisters in habits in the neighborhood, including three staffing a small religious goods store a few blocks from the cathedral. Unfortunately, none of them spoke English, so I was not able to find out what community they belonged to.

Seoul is a huge city, well over 10 million inhabitants. It seems like most of them live in high-rise apartments that are like small forests of steel and concrete. Cha's apartment complex has about ten high-rises around a small park with a half-court basketball area and exercise machines that utilize the user's weight as resistance.

There are little reminders that I'm not in Kansas anymore. I realized that after walking around Seoul and being driven through miles of it that I never saw a bit of graffiti. My first night in Cha's apartment, after not sleeping for 36 hours, I put what looked like toothpaste on my toothbrush. Fortunately, it was toothpaste, but I discovered that Koreans prefer "fresh pine-scented breath" to "fresh minty breath"!
I'm looking forward to my stay here. I'll do some more exploring of Seoul, and Thursday I'll head out to the DMZ for a half-day tour. Korea is the last divided country in the world, according to Koreans.

Perhaps what's most amazing is the incredible transformation that has occurred here since the end of Japanese occupation, which over three and a half decades (1910-1945) crippled the Korean economy and impoverished the people. Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the country has been virtually entirely rebuilt, and the standard of living has increased tremendously. Koreans are very, very hard-working, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the future.

I'll try to send a few pictures of my travels from time-to-time.

All Singing; all Dancing; All Missionary

From an Italian tourist website comes this fascinating story of a missionary initiative that took place last week in Italy.

"An all-singing, all-dancing army of Christian volunteers are gearing up for a mass evangelization of Riccione, one of the most popular - and wildest - tourist resorts on the Adriatic riviera.

Between Wednesday and Sunday, 120 young people from all over Italy plan to collar sunbathers on the beaches and recount how Christ changed their lives for the better.

The missionary army, who will wear green t-shirts bearing the legend ''if you are thirsty, come to me'', is also set to invade the town's bars and discos, notorious for their raucous night-life, to persuade party-goers to mend their ways.

''So many young people go out every evening excited and ready to conquer the night, and the next morning they find themselves robbed of a dream,'' Riccione parish priest Franco Mastrolonardo, one of the organisers of the event, told local press.

''I see them walking along the street from the window of the parish church in the early hours of the morning and they look dizzy, tired and above all sad,'' he said.

''The aim of this event will not be to demonize worldly life but to propose an alternative lifestyle to find happiness''.

The missionary army has spent the last two days praying on a retreat in preparation for the mass evangelization, which will also see them singing, dancing and praying on the streets in a bid to persuade passers-by to enter the churches.

Volunteers have pledged to refrain from taking a dip in the sea or eating ice-cream until their mission is over on Sunday.

The programme is one of a number of initiatives by the Catholic Church to target holiday-makers under way this year.

Catholic clergy in Molise have inflated a blow-up church on the shores of the Campomarino Lido to target young people who spend their evenings partying on the sands, while in the beach town of Mondragone in Campania nuns from the nearby convent have set up an altar where sunbathers can go to pray."


Let's remember these creative evangelistic outreaches in Italy in our prayers.

Intriguing Conference: Reclaiming Fatherhood

The first "Reclaiming Fatherhood" conference was held in San Francisco last year and a second conference will be held September 8,9 in Chicagoland.

"The Milwaukee-based National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation, headed by Vicki Thorn, is organizing the conference, which seeks to bring to light what Thorn describes as the “invisible” issue in our society and even in the Church: the profound effect that abortion has on fathers whose children are aborted.

“As an organization of lay men that has a strong history and commitment to life, we think it is very important to highlight the issues faced by those fathers whose children are aborted,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “There are three victims of every abortion, the child and both of his or her parents, and it is our hope that this conference will be the beginning of a ministry within the Church to these fathers, who grieve the death of their unborn child in isolation and silence.”

Thorn has been working nationally and internationally – primarily with women – who have had abortions since 1984 through the Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Project Rachel, the Catholic Church’s post abortion healing ministry.

Experts including several therapists – as well as several fathers who have lost children to abortion – will cover topics including men’s healing process after abortion; abortion’s effects on men’s spirituality; fatherhood and abortion; and why men who have been involved in abortion come for help.

Anderson and Thorn believe the “Reclaiming Fatherhood” conference could help men deal with the psychological trauma of post-abortion reality the way Project Rachel – the Catholic post-abortion healing ministry Thorn founded – has helped women who have undergone abortions deal with their emotional and spiritual scars."

Interesting Blog: From the Abbey

Jeff Arrowhead has a very creative catechetical blog, From the Abbey, here.

As Brother Martin, he focuses especially on resources regarding moral theology. Looking good, Jeff!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Son of Prominent Hamas Leader Becomes a Christian

Here's an amazing story via CNS:

Masab-Joseph Yousef, a son of prominent West Bank MP Sheikh Hassan Yousef, has discussed his conversion to Christianity in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Praying that his family will “open their eyes to Jesus,” he expressed love for his enemies and claimed Muslims’ conversion to Christianity is the only way to have a chance for peace in the Holy Land.

Yousef, 30, said his first exposure to Christianity came in Jerusalem about eight years ago, when he was invited to learn about the faith. He converted four years ago, but did not tell his father.
“For years I helped my father, the Hamas leader, and he didn't know that I had converted, only that I had Christian friends,” he said to Haaretz.

His father, Sheikh Yousef, was a founder of the extremist group Hamas in the West Bank and was imprisoned for several years for his membership in the organization.


Snip.

Yousef, who now lives in California, described how an invitation to learn more about Christianity led him to convert.

“I was very enthusiastic about what I heard. I began to read the Bible every day and I continued with religion lessons. I did it in secret, of course. I used to travel to the Ramallah hills, to places like the Al Tira neighborhood, and to sit there quietly with the amazing landscape and read the Bible.”

“A verse like ‘Love thine enemy’ had a great influence on me,” he continued. “At this stage I was still a Muslim and I thought that I would remain one. But every day I saw the terrible things done in the name of religion by those who considered themselves 'great believers.'”

He explained that further study of Islam did not satisfy him.


This fascinating story is especially interesting in light of the pre-discipleship thresholds we studied during Making Disciples. There was a 4 year journey from the time this unlikely young man first heard a Christian presentation in Jerusalem at 22 and his baptism at 26. But the initial trigger seems to have been his exposure to the less savory elements of Hamas leadership in prison when he was 18.

Something happened during the four years after that experience that made him trust Christian friends and curious enough to actually attend a presentation on Christianity. And the image of Yousef escaping to the hills around Ramallah to read the Bible brings back memories for me of walking in those same hills among the olive trees and watching the setting sun glint off the Mediterranean far away. Ramallah was a historic majority Christian town before 1967 although that is no longer the case.

I must say that telling his story to an Israeli newspaper seems an extraordinary move and unnecessarily provocative, if he hope was to influence his family and friends I wonder why he choose to make his conversation known in this way and at this time? It seems most unlikely that he will be allowed home anytime soon and he will be extraordinarily fortunate of his family doesn't not simply cut him off - as Yousef expects with good reason.

Catholic Quote of the Day

A great magisterial quote that we used in Making Disciples this week.

Faith is born of preaching, and every ecclesial community draws its origin and life from the personal response of each believer to that preaching.


- Redemptoris Missio, 44

Addendum:

In light of Ann's observation below, I thought I would post the entire context of the quote above because the "preaching" referred to above is specifically the fundamental proclamation of Christ that awakens faith. It is narrower and more specific than liturgical preaching which encompasses many other aspects of the ministry of the Word.

The Initial Proclamation of Christ the Savior

44. Proclamation is the permanent priority of mission. The Church cannot elude Christ's explicit mandate, nor deprive men and women of the "Good News" about their being loved and saved by God. "Evangelization will always contain - as the foundation, center and at the same time the summit of its dynamism - a clear proclamation that, in Jesus Christ...salvation is offered to all people, as a gift of God's grace and mercy."72 All forms of missionary activity are directed to this proclamation, which reveals and gives access to the mystery hidden for ages and made known in Christ (cf. Eph 3:3-9; Col 1:25-29), the mystery which lies at the heart of the Church's mission and life, as the hinge on which all evangelization turns.

In the complex reality of mission, initial proclamation has a central and irreplaceable role, since it introduces man "into the mystery of the love of God, who invites him to enter into a personal relationship with himself in Christ"73 and opens the way to conversion. Faith is born of preaching, and every ecclesial community draws its origin and life from the personal response of each believer to that preaching.74 Just as the whole economy of salvation has its center in Christ, so too all missionary activity is directed to the proclamation of his mystery.

The subject of proclamation is Christ who was crucified, died and is risen: through him is accomplished our full and authentic liberation from evil, sin and death; through him God bestows "new life" that is divine and eternal. This is the "Good News" which changes man and his history, and which all peoples have a right to hear. This proclamation is to be made within the context of the lives of the individuals and peoples who receive it. It is to be made with an attitude of love and esteem toward those who hear it, in language which is practical and adapted to the situation. In this proclamation the Spirit is at work and establishes a communion between the missionary and his hearers, a communion which is possible inasmuch as both enter into communion with God the Father through Christ.75

Mary & Me

Ginny Moyer, author of Mary and Me, has a new blog and a lovely meditation on the Feast of the Assumption.

Click and read.

Ireland By and By and Evangelical Resourcement

Still coming down really hard. Nearly 2 inches of rain in the past 24 hours and that figure is clearly only going up. The dog walkers skulk by in the park, scrunched into their jackets as though that is going to keep the rain out.

To what grey, wet, foggy planet have they been suddenly been deported? Because this is certainly not Colorado in mid-August. In fact, it's not Colorado period. In Seattle, locals spend 9 months out of the year huddled with stoic indifference in one of the innumerable large economy size coffee shops or bookstores or foreign film emporiums. Armed with a triple grande latte, or Oolong tea and organic muffins, you read and surf and talk. Rain on the windows, dully gleaming grey sidewalks, and dripping black fir trees are all part of the natural scheme of things.

But here all the coffee shops and bookstores are small because no one expects to have to take shelter from the storm at any time of year. At least not for more than an hour when the sun will surely come out and the rain vanish or the snow begin to evaporate. I can only imagine the struggles going on in Leadville and on the slopes of Pike's Peak.

I just made the circuit of the basement to make sure there were no leaks. All dry so far. Thanks to new gutters (newly cleaned out!) and the french drain we carefully installed under all the new landscaping.

It's a good time to catch up on e-mail and blogging with a big, steaming mug of tea in hand. I'll pretend that I'm in Ireland and do as the Irish do!

Here's an interesting e-mail I received yesterday from an attendee at Making Disciples. (I have altered some of the details to protect my correspondent's privacy.) The morning after returning home, she had this interesting conversation with her pastor.

"He asked me about the conference. So, I filled him in on the thresholds, intentional discipleship & the sacraments, parishes as centers of formation and the lay apostolate, as well as what I'd gathered from the Doug & Don book (which I read on the plane yesterday). He seemed genuinely interested.

Pastor; "So, how do you see this being implemented here in our diocese?"

Me: "Umm. Well, let's start at the parish level?"

Pastor: "Ok, so what would you do if you could do anything?

I start speaking a bit ... start with the staff, prayer, slow steps, talk about discipleship, apostolate, and so on. And also the fact that not all Catholics are necessarily disciples.

Other staff member sitting quietly (the one who, at retreat, had said this evangelical stuff was a bit too much. "It's all mysterious how people respond. We can't program it." We can't, but that's not what this is about): "Well, I don't know if coming in and making changes is the best approach you know."

Me: "I agree totally. But Fr. asked me a hypothetical question ... :)" Fr smiled as he left.

And her e-mail ended with "I had a blast at MD! :)"


I wrote back:

Of course, the assumption among so many Catholics is that evangelism is an "invention" of Protestants. But the fact is that historically, Protestants didn't evangelize hardly at all for the first 300 years of their existence.

For the first 18 centuries of Christianity, it was Catholics who did almost all the proclamation and frontier evangelization - including during the 17th century Catholic revival. Which is why it did not occur to people like Frances de Sales and Vincent de Paul to worry about whether or not they were being sufficiently "Catholic" when they set out on their evangelizing preaching tours of rural areas, little villages, etc. In those days, they knew that they were simply following in a long and venerable Catholic tradition, in the footsteps of innumerable Catholic missionaries and saints. We have almost completely lost touch with our own tradition in this area.

The Protestant missionary/revival movement as we know it didn't take off until the early 19th century - when the fore-fathers of evangelicalism began their fledging efforts and it was only in the last half of the 20th century that Catholic evangelism efforts, traditionally led by religious orders, collapsed - while evangelicalism revved up into a truly global movement.

Our current situation is a complete aberration historically. Talk about returning to the sources and a hermeneutic of continuity! It's time our discussion of continuity encompassed more than the early 20th century and dealt with critical areas of the Church's life and mission beside the liturgy!

I think I'm going to have to add a few slides and a little riff on this to MD - early on - to help answer the inevitable reaction: "this is evangelical" cause the evangelicals really did get it from us.

There is a reason why in my history of evangelization course at Fuller, we studied Catholic missions and read Catholic authors. We read about the missionary monks of the dark ages, about Raymond Lull, the early Franciscan scholar of missions to Muslims, the Jesuits in India, etc. That's where I got my first knowledge of Ignatius and the early Jesuits - from the paper I did in that course on Jesuit missions long before I ever considered becoming Catholic myself.

Because there is almost no Protestant missionary history (except for the Moravians) before 1800. We have a vast treasury of evangelical, missionary, and pastoral wisdom hiding in our history but it is untapped for all practical purposes. This is part of the research I hope to begin while spending a week with my friends the Curps in Athens, Ohio this fall.

I keep forgetting that our participants - and our readers at ID - have no reason to know any of this.

Weather

Unbelievable.

It is raining. And raining. And raining.

In fact, it is had done the unthinkable around here. It has been raining nearly non-stop since my plane touched down and was stuck on the tarmac Thursday night in the middle of a colorful downpour-cum-hail-cum lightening episode. I could be in Seattle in November. Or January. Or March. Or June for that matter.

And this weekend in August is the tradtional time of two huge events here: The Leadville 100 Trail race and the Pike's Peak Ascent and Marathon. Not to mention our annual parish festival.

In Leadville, at 10,200 feet, it is 39 degrees right now and they are expecting some snow tonight. And the race began at 4 am. And will go on all day. And all night. At elevations of over 12,000 feet across Hope Pass.

And here in the Springs, the PP marathon - 13 miles up, 13 miles down - has never been cancelled and the show will go on apparently.

As the red bannered breaking news headline on our local paper's website put it:

The Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon will go on as planned this weekend despite forecasts of winter-like summit temperatures, snow, high winds and lightning.

"We know it's going to be cold soggy, slippery," said race director Ron Ilgen, "But these are experienced mountain runners. They'll be prepared."

The races are one of the flagship running events in Colorado. In the Saturday Ascent, 1,600 runners climb 13.2 miles from Manitou Springs to the Summit of Pikes Peak. In the Sunday Marathon, 800 do the round trip.

Weather on the 14,115-foot summit has often been a factor, but it could be especially daunting this year.

With a cold front pushing through, the Saturday forecast for the upper portion of the mountain from the National Weather Service says 1 to 3 inches of snow are likely, with wind between 15 and 25 mph and a high of 36 degrees.

A brief parting of the clouds Friday morning showed a summit dusted with white.

Thunderstorms are also possible.

"That's the worst thing, lightning," said Ilgen. "If it's rain, if it's snow, we can still have a race. Lightning is too dangerous."

The races have never been canceled, but some runners have been turned back due to weather.

In 2005, race directors turned back hundreds of racers at the halfway point when a powerful thunderstorm enveloped the summit.

Another 600 racers were stranded by 6 inches of hail, which closed the road to the top.

There wasn't enough room to house them and some cowered outside in the storm.

After that storm, Ilgen said race organizers changed their plans. This year they will have two full-length school buses parked at the summit to act as emergency shelters if the weather takes a turn for the worst.

"We can't set up tents, they would blow away," said Ilgen. "But the buses work well."

He said runners need to do their part by packing plenty of winter clothing for the top.

"That's just part of this race," Ilgen said

Postponing isn't an option, because so many runners travel from other states to try the peak, he said.

"I think we'll be able to deal with it, but we'll see," Ilgen said. "Spirits are good."


In Seattle, you have rain. In Colorado, you have weather.

Go See Henry Poole

Yesterday afternoon, while visiting with my godson's family, we decided to take in a newly released film, "Henry Poole is Here." I had received an e-mail announcement from the Catholic Campus Ministry Association, watched the trailer, and showed it to my friends. They decided to go see it, and took me, my 13-year old godson, Jake, his 10-year old sister, Grace, and Anthony, Jake's gradeschool buddy.

The film is about a "sad and angry" middle-aged man, played by Luke Wilson, who buys a slightly run-down house in his childhood neighborhood. The perky real estate agent has the home re-stuccoed before he moves in, and when Esperanza, the next door neighbor brings fresh tamales over to welcome him to the neighborhood, she spies a water stain in the new stucco that looks just like "el rostro de Dios" - the face of God. Pious mayhem ensues, and the cynical Henry Poole is caught up in a web of relationships that pull him out of himself.

Henry Poole is Here


It's a great story that examines the nature of faith - and the lack of it - as well as the nature of miracles. No sex, one "holy s***" and a PG rating. The SF Examiner review summarizes it well, "Although the ending is unsurprising, Henry Poole remains an interesting character. He behaves reprehensibly at times, yet his difficulty with faith resonates. Perhaps salvation can be found on a cracked stucco wall in the middle of Southern California, perhaps not. But the film's point - that we will all keep looking - is well taken."

I'm off for a couple of weeks while traveling. Back in September.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Back Home Again

Back. Blogging will begin again today- especially as I work my way through my e-mail. But probably not until this afternoon.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Polyphony at Blessed Sacrament

Gashwin Gomes made this shaky video and heavenly recording or my beloved Blessed Sacrament parish in Seattle. Mark Shea was squiring him about Seattle.



This will give you a better sense of what the sanctuary looks like.



Stepping cluelessly across the threshold of that (then, not now) crumbling sanctuary as an undergrad at the University of Washington changed my life. I felt the Real Presence although I had no language or mental concept for such a thing - and the rest is history. Blessed Sacrament is a place with a special anointing of God upon it and stepping across its threshold has changed many lives.

Yesterday they celebrated the 100th anniversary of the parish's founding and St. Dominic's Feastday by holding a ancient Dominican rite Mass - and the choir was practicing while Gashwin filmed.

He'll be joinng us at Making Disciples, so I'll have a chance to hear first hand how it went.

On the Road Again

We're off. Until Thursday. Making Disciples. Spokane.

I won't have my computer with me (to make room in limited luggage space for critical seminar supplies), we'll be using Fr. Mike's to project the Poweroint slides and the other Sherry and Joe will also be there, so
little or no blogging will occur between now and Friday.

Then Fr. Mike takes off for 2 weeks of vacation (such an exciting life he leads) - who knows when we'll hear from him again - but I'll be back till September and busy preparing for our many fall commitments. So blogging will re=commence.

Your prayers for the fruit of this Making Disciples would be most appreciated.

We received an e-mail last night from a MD alum which said

"I can’t tell you how much I’ve been affected by the Making Disciples workshop. It’s really helped clarify the direction for our parish."


God is good.



.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Paul VI, Superhuman (and Closet Dominican)

John Allen has an interesting little article on Paul VI, whose 30th anniversary of his death passed with little notice (except at Pope Benedict's angelus message) on the Feast of the Transfiguration. In it, Allen quotes the pontiff's Ecclesiam Suam, in which he wrote on the importance of dialogue with the secular world."Theoretically speaking, the church could set its mind on reducing its relationships to a minimum, endeavoring to isolate itself from dealings with secular society; just as it could set itself the task of pointing out the evils that can be found in secular society, condemning them and declaring crusades against them," Paul wrote. "So also it could approach so close to secular society as to strive to exert a preponderant influence on it, or even to exercise a theocratic power over it, and so on."

"But it seems to us," Paul said, using the customary royal plural of the era, "that the relationship of the church to the world, without precluding other legitimate forms of expression, can be represented better in a dialogue."

Pope Paul described this dialogue in terms of four qualities:

Clarity: "Every angle" of one's language should be reviewed to ensure that it's "understandable, acceptable, and well-chosen";
Meekness: "Dialogue is not proud, it is not bitter, it is not offensive. Its authority is intrinsic to the truth it explains, to the charity it communicates, to the example it proposes; it is not a command, it is not an imposition. It is peaceful; it avoids violent methods; it is patient; it is generous."
Trust: One should have confidence "not only in the power of one's words, but also in an attitude of welcoming the trust of the interlocutor. Trust promotes confidence and friendship. It binds hearts in mutual adherence to the good which excludes all self-seeking."
Pedagogical prudence: "Prudence strives to learn the sensitivities of the hearer and requires that we adapt ourselves and the manner of our presentation in a reasonable way, lest we be displeasing and incomprehensible."

"The spirit of dialogue," Paul wrote, "is friendship and service."

"Before speaking, it is necessary to listen, not only to a man's voice, but to his heart," the pope said. "A man must first be understood; and, where he merits it, agreed with. In the very act of trying to make ourselves pastors, fathers and teachers of men, we must make ourselves their brothers."

In these musings we see a Pope who is very Dominican! Or perhaps it's just that Dominicans are very Catholic... Either way, St. Dominic spoke to his brothers about the importance of preaching with humility, while trusting in the Holy Spirit to move the hearts of others. He took on the austere poverty of the Albigensian heretics, who denied the goodness of matter, in order to gain a hearing from them. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, "Whatever is received is received in the manner of the one receiving it."

In other words, it doesn't matter how true what you say is, if you say it with disdain for your listener, or in a language incomprehensible to him. All you're doing is flattering yourself.

Finally, perhaps both Dominicans and Pope are imitating God, who humbles Himself to share our humanity and who speaks to us in gestures and language we can understand; who communicates himself to us in order to transform us. May our words - especially our preaching - take into consideration the heart and mind of the other, and may the Spirit give to our words and actions the power to transform.

More Dominicans Just Hanging Around

Alas, I'm running out to time as this is our (Fr. Mike and I) last day in CS before taking off for Spokane and Making Disciples where we will be joined by Joe Water, Barbara Elliott, The Other Sherry, Gashwin Gomes, and a cast of dozens.

But before I go, I just had to share these finds:

In the 800 years since St. Dominic founded his order, his sons and daughters have managed to leave their mark in an astonishing number of places. For instance, who can resist this charming self-portrait by the 13th century Brother Dietmar, builder of St. Blasius at Regensburg, a former Dominican priory?



Some Dominicans are everlastingly hanging around with the BVM on the magnificent Charles Bridge of Prague:





(St. Dominican and St. Thomas Aquinas receiving the Rosary from Mary, natch.)

Do I Hear a Million . . . ?

True afficianados of Dominican history will simply drool over this next item. You could own this.



See what I mean?


Oh, having a problem making out the signature? I'll give you a hint.



If you are still stumped, you need to raise your Dominican IQ. Here's another hint.

Give Me Those Old Time Dominicans

I confess: on the Eve of the Feast of St. Dominic, I was reading about the life of St. Vincent de Paul.

But atone for my faithlessness, I thought it would be fun to contemplate some of the ways that St. Dominic and his Order have been depicted. Here's one I like:

Allegory of the Active and Triumphant Church and of the Dominican order" by Andrea Bonaiuti.



Hey, Fr. Mike! I've been hanging with Dominicans for most of my Catholic life. I think I've got the hang of the "active" part. So when does the "triumphant" bit start to kick in???????

Hello? Fr. Mike? Fr. Mike?

Hmmm.

OP's. Have you ever noticed that they are never around when you really need them?

St. Dominic's Bequest

St. Dominic did not leave much in the way of written prayers, treatises, or even homilies. His active life was brief, roughly from 1206-1221, during which time he established his Order and gave us the general structure of governance which survives to this day. That structure includes the democratic election of leaders, so much did he trust Jesus' promise to send the Holy Spirit to guide those who invoke Him.

He was the first official theologian of the Pontifical Household, a role still held by a Dominican to this day.


One of the statements attributed to Dominic is particularly important to me. On his deathbed, the saintly poor man promised his brothers that he would be of more help to them than he had been in life. He had nothing to give away to his friars but this advice, ""Have charity one for another; guard humility; make your treasure out of voluntary poverty." St. Dominic knew that members of an Order with a strong intellectual bent would need to remember to be charitable with one another as they disagreed; that humility would be necessary no matter how brilliant they might be. Even St. Thomas Aquinas, the most brilliant of our friars, was able to note that all he had written "was as so much straw" compared to the reality of God he had witnessed in a vision. St. Dominic was convinced that brilliant arguments against heresy would not be effective unless they were presented in true humility. Voluntary poverty can easily be rationalized away and comfort justified by a sharp mind and a weak will.

Holy Father Dominic, pray for your sons and daughter so that other men and women join with them to praise, to bless, and to preach that Jesus Christ is Lord! Pray that we might all be brothers and sisters in your beloved Jesus, united in charity, clothed in humility, and in solidarity with the poor in fact as well as in spirit.

Why Not Be a Dominican?

Happy Feast of St. Dominic, everyone! I had never seen this image of St. Dominic before. It's from a stole buried with one of the great early Dominicans, St. Albert the Great, the teacher and mentor of St. Thomas Aquinas. The stole depicts the "joyful friar" with a walking staff in one hand and the scriptures (possibly the Gospel of Matthew, Dominic's favorite) in the other.

The Dominican family is composed of nuns, who were first founded by St. Dominic from among women who had been convinced to leave the heresy of the Cathars in the south of France, dualists who denied the goodness of God's material creation. There are also friars, mostly ordained, but some lay, and active sisters. The largest group of Dominicans are the laity, who live as married or single men and women in the world and who are attracted to the Dominican life, which attempts to balance prayer, study, community life and active apostolate.

The Dominican website says this about the lay Dominicans: "From the beginning of the Order, men and women felt moved to help Dominic’s mission of preaching and join in as they could while still living with their families or continuing in their way of life. Already by the end of the thirteenth century, these friends of the Order and groups of lay people who resonated with Dominican spirituality were invited to become officially aggregated to the Order by adopting a Rule of Life approved by the Master of the Order and suited to their circumstances.

By adopting the Rule, lay Dominicans committed not only to living holy lives and doing works of charity, but also to being a part of the preaching mission of the Order:
They have as their vocation to radiate the presence of Christ in the midst of the peoples so that the divine message of salvation be known and accepted everywhere by the whole of humankind. (from the Rule of the Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic)
Today’s Lay Dominican Fraternities around the world are direct descendents of these early groups. In addition there are many other types of groups of lay people associated with the Order, including the International Dominican Youth Movement, with groups around the world who belong to the movement in different ways; Dominican Volunteers International, where faithful lay people join in the preaching mission of a particular Dominican community full time for a year or more, working with those who are poor or excluded; and associate programs of friends of many individual congregations of sisters, nuns and priories."

Lay Dominicans attempt to live in a very conscious way the call to all Catholics to evangelize the world in their places of work, within their families, and in their towns and cities. They receive a formation in their local chapters for this apostolate, and support one another and often work together in this mission. Why not investigate if there's a chapter in your area? If there are friars, sisters, or nuns, there may very well be lay chapters, too.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Lost No More

From our own local Colorado Springs Gazette:

Lopez Lomong was one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan. He was born in Sudan, separated from his parents at the point of a gun at age 6, and with the help of friends, he escaped confinement and made it to a refugee camp in Kenya.

In 2001, he was brought to America as part of a program to relocate lost children from war-torn Sudan. Lomong, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, who has been working out at Colorado Springs' Olympic Training Center and the Air Force Academy, won a vote of team captains Wednesday to earn the honor of leading America's contingent into the 90,000-seat Bird's Nest Stadium.

The 1,500-meter track runner will be the flagbearer only 13 months after becoming a U.S. citizen.

"It's more than a dream," Lomong said in an interview with The Associated Press moments after he got the news. "I keep saying, I'm not sure if this is true or not true. I'm making the team and now I'm the first guy coming to the stadium and the whole world will be watching me carry the flag. There are no words to describe it."

Cheer Lemong on tomorrow night as he marches into the Olympic Stadium. Be sure to watch this interview with his American foster parents.

Compared to Lopez' story, winning the Superbowl is banal.

When you wish upon a star . . .

Ingrid Betancourt: Jesus Kept His Word

This moving story was brought to my attention by Clara, CSI's Australian co-director.

Former French-Colombian hostage and former candidate for President of Colombia, Ingrid Betancourt, was rescued from 6 years of captivity among Colombian guerrillas recently. In this CathNews story, she talks of the spiritual source that kept her going through it all:

"Reflecting on her release from captivity former French-Colombian hostage, Ingrid Betancourt, says that Jesus kept his promise to her when she was released in June after she consecrated herself to the Sacred Heart.

The Catholic Herald reports after she was rescued by Colombian special forces Mrs Betancourt's first action was to arrange to go to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris.

In an interview earlier with the French Pèlerin magazine about her faith and how it saw her through her ordeal, Mrs Betancourt said her first gesture on being rescued was the sign of the cross.

"Why? Because without Him at my side I would never have managed to survive the pain," she said.

She went on to say that "being a hostage places you in a situation of constant humiliation ... faced with this you can take one of two possible paths. Either you allow yourself to become ugly and bitter, filled with hate and vindictiveness, or you follow the other path, that is shown by Jesus." She said this insight was what preserved her from being consumed by hate for her captors and anger at her predicament.

"He [Jesus] said 'bless your enemies'. Each time I read the Bible I felt those words were directed at me as though Jesus were standing in front of me, He knew what to say to me," she said.

"Of course I realised that when your enemy is awful it is hard to live out those words faithfully and therefore I felt like saying the exact opposite. When I said these words, however, it was like magic. I felt a kind of relief.

"The hatred simply vanished... I feel that a transformation took place within me and I owe that change to being able to listen to what God wanted for me."

Mrs Bentancourt said that the Bible had been her constant companion. "At the start of my captivity I said to myself 'you are going to be here for months and months so you might as well read the Bible' which I had not done previously.

"Opening it, it fell open on the epistles of St Paul on the passage which I can recite more or less from memory: 'You may ask for what you will but the Holy Spirit will ask better as He knows what you truly need.'

"When I read that I exclaimed: 'My God, I know what I want, to be free!' Re-reading the epistle six years later I understood at last what it meant and thought 'lucky the Holy Spirit has interceded for me, because I do not know what I need!' "

She said that after being angry with God for allowing the death of her father, Gabriel Betancourt Mejia, "later I understood that I had to thank God for taking him, because my father would never have been able to endure those six years of suffering."

Finally Mrs Bentancourt said why she had been so keen to visit the shrine of the Sacred Heart. "I was listening to Radio Maria [the international Catholic radio station] and I discovered that June is the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart... so I said this prayer: 'My Jesus, I have never asked anything of you, because I am so ashamed of your greatness, I am simply too ashamed to ask but now I am going to ask you for something very specific.

"I do not know exactly what it means to consecrate oneself to the Sacred Heart but if you tell me, during the month of June, I will be all yours."

On June 27 Mrs Bentancourt's rescuers arrived and the ordeal was over. "I thought 'there we go, he's on time'... the fact of the matter is that Jesus kept his word. I experienced a miracle."


They Only Want to Matter to Someone

This lovely meditation comes from His Church at Work:

A driving rain pelted me as I ran to the front of the building, only to hear that maddening clatter you get when you pull on locked glass doors. Mercifully, an elderly woman moved towards the doors from inside, and in short order had me comfortably settled in the lobby. Like an elegant hostess, she sat with me there---dust rag in hand---and chatted as I waited for a senior manager in the firm to show up for our meeting.

"I clean this office," she said in what I later learned was an East European accent, moving her arm in a sweeping motion to show me the lobby. "What do you do?" I told her a little about my work as a Christian writer (which puzzled and bored her, I think), but when I mentioned I was also a chaplain, she perked right up. "I, too, am a Christian." She said it with a certainty and a satisfaction that must surely have pleased God. I waited for her to tell me more, but only silence followed.

"Am I keeping you from your work?" I asked, not wanting to get her in trouble. She shook her head to indicate I wasn't, and then explained that she always finished early, and added, "I like to come down here and watch the people come to work." There was a hint of loneliness to this last statement, an almost wistful whisper of sadness. So I asked her more questions about her story.

At first her answers were brief. It was obvious she was used to short attention spans, people asking questions to be polite but with little interest in the answers. When she realized I was interested, though, she settled into the role of storyteller with alacrity. I was treated to delicious tidbits of her personal history that had us both smiling.

All the people who were important to her were no longer around. I wasn't made privy to the details of their absence, and my hostess-turned-storyteller had too much dignity to complain. Whether they died or moved away or simply neglected her wasn't part of the tale I had permission to know. Only once, when she was telling me a part of someone else's woes, did I get a glimpse of her own thoughts. Describing that person's loneliness, she said quietly that "...they only want to matter to someone."

It's a phrase I hear repeated about as often in my work as any other, though people seldom say it directly. In a work world that values efficiency and action, that places great emphasis on busyness and productivity, that wrestles to squeeze the most out of every action, one of the byproducts is often loneliness. It's a disease as prevalent in the senior reaches of a firm as it is in the bowels of the operation. It stretches outside the workplace to our families, leaving children feeling this same gnawing emptiness that haunts adults. Always, the sentiment emerges: "I only want to matter to someone."

For most people I meet, telling them they matter to God is not enough. God seems distant and surreal to people who have little or no tangible connections to other human beings. But the reality of a loving God literally leaps out to those whose loneliness and isolation is ended by mattering to someone here on earth.

It struck me as I listened to my hostess on that early gray morning that one of the most important ways workplace Christians can serve God is by caring about the people they work with every day, especially those who usually fall below our radar screens.

Among the many majestic things about Jesus during His time on earth was His wonderful ability to notice the lonely, and to reach out to them in warm and intimate ways. "Zaccheus," Jesus said, "I must stay at your house today." How important that must have made Zaccheus feel! How easy it is for us to love others simply by taking note of them. If we truly wish to honor God at work today, then we do that best by honoring those He created who work in the next cubicle or the next office, whether they're wielding dust rags or the power to hire and fire us.

When my friend the senior manager arrived for our appointment, he greeted my hostess by name and thanked her for taking care of me while I waited. She nodded shyly and smiled, then looked at me and answered, "I didn't want him to be lonely in this big place."

I wasn't.

Today

Much going on yesterday. Fortunately, it rained heavily in the last two days so I don't have to spend an hour lugging hoses around the weird contours of the back yard.

Anyway, I hope to do the blogging I've been meaning to do since the weekend.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

More on our situation: postmodernism

We have thought, written, and talked quite a bit on these pages about postmodernism, but since it is the biggest challenge to evangelization and formation that we face we must continue to clarify our thoughts on the matter. Here is a bit from the British theologian Graham Ward's introduction to The Postmodern God: A Theological Reader:

Surfing the net is the ultimate postmodern experience ... Cyberspace is a cultural metaphor for postmodernism."

and

The postmodern culture is "a culture of seduction and flagrant, self-consuming sexuality; a culture of increasing sophisticated drugs and drug use; a culture of virtual, videotaped realities." 

I am most intrigued by his assertion that postmodernity is "a culture of virtual, videotaped realities" in which "surfing the net" is the ultimate experience. I believe this is certainly true and we can see it in a variety of ways, most especially in a culture for which moral considerations are absent, because they seem not to pertain to a virtual world. There are no moral considerations to take into account when something is not really real. That's not so dangerous if virtual reality is mainly peripheral and truly only "virtual", but what happens when the virtual world becomes the real world for so many people? When a whole culture becomes one of "virtual, videotaped realities?" Are not Facebook, MySpace, and the multitude of other social networking sites an example of how a whole culture (seemingly parallel to the "real" world's culture, but with highly permeable boundaries) can arise from virtual reality? 

How then is the Gospel presented and received in such a situation? What space can be created in these virtual realities, cultures, and habitats for Christian witness, particularly as mediated through Christian community? Is it even possible for Christian communities to make an authentic witness to the Gospel in virtual space? 

I am eager not only to hear reflections on this subject, but also for you to draw our attention to Christian witness in virtual space.

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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!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Jeremiah's Problem

In yesterday's lectionary for Mass, both Jeremiah the prophet and Jesus, the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, receive a less than enthusiastic response from their listeners. Jeremiah, preaching conversion of heart to the self-satisfied and complacent at the entrance to the temple in Jerusalem, is manhandled and threatened with death (Jer 26:1-9). Jesus, who ultimately will be put to death for his preaching and seemingly outrageous claims of union with His Father, is a source of offense to the folks in his hometown (Mt 13:54-58).

Jeremiah's problem is ours today, as it has been for Christians in every age. We were anointed priest, prophet, and king at our baptism, and that anointing is meant to be lived out in large and small ways each day. In his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Christifideles Laici, Pope John Paul II wrote, "through their participation in the prophetic mission of Christ... the lay faithful are given the ability and responsibility to accept the gospel in faith and to proclaim it in word and deed, without hesitating to courageously identify and denounce evil." (CF, 14) Won't we be fun at cocktail parties!

Some Catholics take on this role more naturally than others. I have met many people who have adopted a prophetic stance towards all kinds of evils and perceived evils: abortion, economic injustice, war, environmental issues, music by the St. Louis Jesuits. It's one thing to rage against "the system", but quite another to make it personal as Jeremiah and our Lord do. Yet that, too, is part of being a prophet - calling people to conversion. And because it is so difficult, so personal, it doesn't happen very often. If someone I know is doing something wrong, or has done some injury to me or another, it's pretty darn tough to point it out. In fact, it takes real love to do so - a genuine desire for the good of the other.

As I reflected upon the response of the crowds to Jesus and Jeremiah, I thought of three typical responses they received, and how they are the same responses we tend to get when we try to offer someone "fraternal correction."

The first one is the hoped-for response; the very one God mentions to Jeremiah: "Perhaps they will listen and turn back, each from his evil way, so that I may repent of the evil I have planned to inflict upon them for their evil deeds." If I care about someone who is in need of conversion, calling them to conversion is an act of love precisely because I trust that living apart from God - even in a small way - will be a source of unhappiness and sorrow for them.

The second is similar to the one Jesus is given "in his native place". It's the "I know who you are, and you're nothing special - how dare you tell me what to do" response. The intensity of this response can vary from polite silence to the "whatever" of a teen-ager, to a full-out ad hominem attack. "Why, you're nothing but a glutton and a drunkard, and you hang out with sinners and prostitutes!" Often, I believe we fear the worst will happen, so we keep our mouths shut. Or, worse yet, we fear the other person might suddenly have their tongue loosened and we get a dose of a genuinely prophetic response which points out our own failings. Chances are, if we're close enough to someone to see their failings, they're close enough to see ours.

Finally, there's the third response - the doing away with the prophet altogether. This is the fate Jeremiah suffered when he was stoned to death by his exasperated countrymen in Egypt. Jesus, too, offered the priestly sacrifice of himself as the ultimate price for his prophetic and kingly work. While we may not have to worry too much about a death sentence from a former friend, we do risk losing the friendship. Someone may simply walk away, or at least emotionally walk away. This so often happens in marriages when one party chooses to do or say something with the explicit intent of hurting the other.

As challenging as it may be to live as a prophet for our friends, family members, co-workers, society, it's probably as challenging to receive correction when someone cares about us enough to offer it in a loving way. And perhaps that's the key. How can we make our prophetic living an act of love? Pope John Paul II mentioned the courage necessary to denounce evil. Denouncing evil as a sign and act of love takes more than mere courage, it takes grace. But if done lovingly, perhaps there's a better chance it is from God, and a better chance our genuinely prophetic words will be accepted.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Hunger for Discernment

Blogging will re-commence later today.

It is fascinating to see who watches EWTN: disillusioned Episcopal priests on the west coast. Independent evangelical pastors on the verge of entering the Church on the east coast. And innumerable others. We've heard from a lay woman who wants to start a L'Arche community, from frustrated converts who are passionate about evangelism, from lay people who feel they have received a particular vision or message from the Church, from pastors who want Called & Gifted workshops, etc. People who want desperately to talk to someone in detail about their dilemmas and the choices they face.

And the theme is always discernment. How do I know what God wants? What God is doing in and through this experience? What should I do? How do I help my parishioners or friends or family discern?

Discernment: the single most critical life skill for lay apostles in a secular and often hostile culture. Discernment - a critical part of governance for the ordained.

And the resources to facilitate discernment are relatively few, hard to find, and harder to evaluate.

More on this later.