Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Martin Sheen Against Euthanasia Initiative

Martin Sheen has made a radio and television ad against Initiative 1000, the euthanasia initiative in Washington State.that is being sponsored by a former governor. Good for Sheen.

Eileen Geller, RN, who is the campaign coordinator for the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide, points out a number of stunning flaws in the proposed bill:

Spouses and family members do not need to be told before — or after — a loved one is given lethal drugs.

Persons suffering from depression can be given a lethal overdose without any psychological counseling or treatment — nothing in the Initiative requires an assessment of potential depression by a qualified professional.

Health care insurers and HMO's could exploit I-1000 to save costs, since a bottle of lethal drugs costs far less than other end-of-life care.

Heirs to a patient’s estate are allowed to participate in the assisted suicide and to witness the request for lethal drugs. This would contravene existing practice governing wills and estates, a scenario that worries law enforcement because of the real potential for abuse.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Times Are Never So Bad . . .

At this moment, Fr. Mike is the stable one and I'm "the other foot who must obliquely run" as John Donne put it (See the imagery of Validictions Forbidding Mourning). He's spending a cozy week in CS while I'm off to Athens, Ohio tomorrow to spend a week in guided historical research under the hawk like eye of Dave Curp, historian.

Dave, Mark Shea, and I all got to know each other at Blessed Sacrament in Seattle where we were first exposed to the Church's teaching on the mission and theology of the laity at the hands of our then pastor, Michael Sweeney, OP.

Dave is brilliant, a historian's historian and while also a very serious Catholic (yet another convert) is meticulous about not confusing apologetics with history. His area is WWII and post-WWII eastern Europe (Poland) and he has a strong interest in the history of lay Catholicism in mid 20th century Poland.

Here's a illuminating article out on Christianity and slavery (originally written for the old Crisis magazine) that is very much worth reading. As Dave writes:

"Far from being an innocent bystander, or merely silently complicit, the papacy fully participated in the expansion of the European slave trade. This was not a product of greed, but of a thoroughly rational and tangible fear of the consequences of not using every available means to defend a rapidly contracting 16th-century Christendom.

Divorced from the context of a Europe under a tightening Ottoman siege, papal engagement with the slave trade would appear to confirm the worst prejudices of secular critics. Placed within its historical environment, however, what we confront is the lay faithful and their shepherds accepting a real evil — slavery — to avoid their own subjugation to militant Islam."

As I embark on study of the 17th century revival in France, I can't help but rejoice that the Church has been freed from the burden of the Papal states and leadership of Christendom as a political entity. She is - amazingly - more influential today and her teaching and practice much less driven by the exigencies of political alliances and conflict than in the past.

The course of the revival in France was energized, funded, hindered, and sometimes seriously distorted by the enormous role that royal and noble patronage played and the endless conflicts between the Papacy and different Catholic powers and the new Protestant powers. That was the world the great saints and apostles of the 17th century lived and wrestled with.

St. Thomas More noted" The times are never so bad but that a good man can make shift to live in them." Our challenges, the powers of our day, are just as real though very different. I'm looking forward to contemplating what we can learn from another, remarkably creative, post-conciliar generation.

I will be blogging from Athens so you'll be hearing more on that topic.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


If there's one buzzword that has captured the hearts and imaginations of Americans it's CHANGE! So much so that both political parties have claimed it for themselves. Of course, the change's they're promoting all have to do with changes in institutions like banks, the military, and the Congress (good luck!). But even when our society invites us to personal change, it's superficial - a call to change my weight, haircolor, tone my blotchy, wrinkled skin, and build my muscles. But Jesus is calling us to something much more profound. The Gospel this weekend got me thinking about conversion and all that's involved in it. I'll share some of my reflections, in the hope that it may generate some reflection on your part. Feel free to share in the comments box.

Jesus is clearly challenging the religious elites of his faith community to mend their ways. They hadn't after John's preaching, and their question, "By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?" makes it clear they haven't given him permission, either - and they don't approve. Seems like they're still unwilling to move towards repentance. This raises the question in my own mind - why didn't they change - and, more importantly, WHY DON’T I CHANGE?

Well, I can think of a few reasons for myself - I can't speak for the chief priests and the elders. Now before you think I'm being overly hard on myself, I decided to use the first person in writing this as a more direct challenge to myself. Perhaps it will challenge you, as well.

I. I don’t believe I need to. Not really.

Now, why might I believe this?
1) My understanding of God is wrong. I act as though God’s love song to me is (with apologies to Billy Joel):

Don't go changing, to try and please me
You never let me down before
Don't imagine you're too familiar
And I don't see you anymore
I wouldn't leave you in times of trouble
We never could have come this far
I took the good times, I'll take the bad times
I'll take you just the way you are.

As an old saying goes, God loves us just the way we are, but loves us too much to leave us this way.

2) I can always find someone worse than me, and I can approach my relationship to him as though judgment is based on a curve. As long as I can find people who are more evil than me, and believe that there aren't that many better than me, I must be doing o.k. Of course, there's a bit of Pelagianism hiding in these beliefs.

3) I must not be reading the scriptures very attentively, or taking them seriously, because they are chock full of various and sundry calls to repentance, stories of repentance (and the lack of it), and warnings of what happens to those who don't repent.

4) I don’t see anyone else changing, and I don’t hear anyone talking about their conversion. I'm not terribly original, and I need inspiration from the lived experiences of people around me. The lives of the saints are too easy to dismiss as hagiography or somehow too ideal.

II. I don’t know what conversion looks like.
This follows from number 4 above. In the Bible, conversion always leads to an experience of newness. Even in cases of the rediscovery of a lost faith or the revitalization of a dead faith, conversion leads to some form of rebirth. Paul’s language of “new creation” and John’s language of “born again (from above)” sum up this image best.

In some cases it’s a dramatic change, like St. Paul, other times conversion is gradual – but in either case, it’s sought (even if indirectly, as in Paul's case - he was zealous for God as he understood Him) and is intentional.

Conversion/Change affects the whole person in the scriptures. It involves the mind, the body, the heart, and the spirit. People's priorities change, their desires change, the people they associate with change. Again, St. Paul's a great example of this.

III. I'm afraid of what I'll become.
Our images of holiness are often not very attractive: the pale, rather effeminate Jesus; Saturday Night Live’s "church lady"; the passive church mouse; the cleancut televangelist with a permasmile or crocodile tears; or knocking on doors, “Have you accepted Jesus…”

But I admit that one prominenet effect of conversion must be the urge to give testimony to others and consequently to evangelize. It only makes sense. Because conversion is a profound change in life for the good, it is natural for someone who has undergone a conversion to have the urge to spread the “good news” of that change.

This is my fear – will conversion make me someone I don’t recognize or like? Yet I know that conversion, in reality, means turning from my ego-driven false self with it's drive to be successful, attractive, in control, and impressive – to my true self in Christ. Other ways of putting that would be to say to turn from myself to God; to die to myself so as to live in Christ; to become a new creation.

I know my fear is misplaced and irrational. Conversion doesn’t mean imitating anyone else, except Christ, and then, only by grace and in my own unique way. Conversion requires that we become humble, like Christ, who emptied himself and took on our form, the form of a slave who does only the will of his master (in this case his Father in heaven). Conversion would mean pursuing the Father’s will for me (and thus it will be not quite like anyone else's path to holiness), and trusting Him wherever that Will takes me; believing that God’s desires for me will always be for the best, even if it means being given my own cross by those who haven’t experienced conversion themselves.

I believe that the change that accompanies conversion will strengthen my good qualities, and, under the influence of grace, bear greater fruit. I believe the change that accompanies conversion will allow me to recognize and be repulsed by evil - first and foremost in myself; I will see through my ugliness and pettiness, even when it looks impressive and powerful. Conversion and holiness won’t make me less myself, but more myself – as God has made me to be.

IV. I don’t know how to prepare for conversion.
Conversion is an act of God, and occurs in God's time. As an activity of God it is a mystery. It is an experience of His grace. I interact with this grace and am called to respond to it, but I do not initiate it. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit who facilitates a change in my life. I trust that conversion happens at God’s instigation, but I also know it requires preparation. Just as the farmer prepares the soil for the seed with fertilizer and water in order for plants to be fruitful, so, too, with me. If I am going to seriously seek conversion in life, I need to be prepared for God’s grace.

The Bible singles out two main aspects of preparation.
The first is the recognition and explicit acknowledgment of sinfulness. I can only turn to God when I turn away from sin.

Recognizing sin in myself is hard. It's amazing how easy it is to spot in others, though! Here's a brief and incomplete little examination of conscience that is helping me recognize some of my less obvious sins.
What relationships are broken in my life? Whom can I not forgive?
When was the last time I went out of my way for a stranger?
When was the last time I went out of my way for a friend, without resentment?
How often do I pray for my enemies, or the declared enemies of my Church or nation?
What groups of people do I feel free to hate, mistrust, condemn, or write off?
What are my goals? Are those God’s goals?
Have I helped feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visited the sick or the prisoner, talked to someone about God?
What do I believe I can't live without - at least according to how I act?
Sins of the flesh are pretty easy to spot, but some more reclusive sins can be teased out with the questions above - including sins of omission - the good I've failed to do.

The second aspect to conversion in the Scriptures is the necessity of hearing the word of God.
Hearing is also an act of obedience (in Hebrew the word is the same! “Let him who has ears, hear” could also be understood as “Let him who has ears, obey!”) God knows me, and wants me to know Him, so he has revealed himself as completely as possible in Jesus. So much so, that Jesus can gently chide Philip, saying, "The Father and I are one.”
If I want to prepare for conversion, I must read the Bible more and believe it - and that means I must take Jesus at his word.
He wants to be in relationship with me; and the eternal life I hope for is a relationship with him that must begin here and now.

And so one way to prepare myself for conversion is to also pray for it, sincerely, fearlessly – not for any possible improvement to me life – that would be to use God; to say, “I want you in my life for the benefits you bring.”

No, I have to seek God simply because it means being closer to the One who loves me with a passion that "eye has not seen, or ear heard."

So, for example, as I immerse myself in the Word of God, I can begin asking throughout our day, “What would You have me do here, now? How would you have me treat this person who is bugging me? What would you have me say?" Sometimes I can seem to forget that I may ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit – and expect guidance. Not necessarily in signs from heaven, but in internal promptings to do what is good for others, not just myself. I need to be attentive to those promptings and believe they are the Holy Spirit by faith.


V. I can believe it’s too late.
I can despair thinking, "I'm too set in my ways, God's forgotten me, I've been so evil that no amount of good living can outweigh it (Pelagian thinking again - as if I "earn" my salvation by being good!) Ezekiel promises that God’s fairness dictates that a person is free at any time to turn from self-centered wickedness to righteousness and vice versa. In each case, that person will be judged by the new life to which she has turned, not by her previous life.

I can find hope in that promise.
And hope is a catalyst that can lead to conversion.
And conversion is the change I can believe in.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Scene in Ann Arbor

Back in town briefly.

Ann Arbor was tres interesting. In the small but mighty band I worked with were two eager young men (one a priest) from Slovakia and a young deacon from Hungary who organized the recent City Mission in Budapest. This mission is one in the series begin several years ago by Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna and the late Cardinal Lustiger of Paris. He was a trifle frustrated that there hadn't been more explicit proclamation of the kergyma but he said that it was such a new idea for the Church that had survived so many decades of Communist oppression that it was still very fruitful. What primarily changed was the Church's understanding of herself.

And there was the husband/wife team who have lead huge meetings in stadiums that hold 50,000 - 60,000 in Africa. So many fascinating experiences of mission in so many countries. Aside from the one priest and several deacons, the rest were lay men and woman - talk about lay apostles! Wow! This Renewal ministries group is really unlike any other group I've ever worked with. So it was a privilege to spend time with them.

And yet it was amazing to see that what we have been wrestling with here - mostly in a western context - seemed to be really useful to them. Also visited the Domino's Pizza HQ, attended Mass in their chapel, and saw all the Catholic apostolates (including the studio where Al Kresta records his shows) that are housed there. The Ann Arbor area is a Catholic hotbed situated in a Berkley like University town.

Off in about 30 minutes to Pueblo where Fr. Mike, Gustavo, Alma, Janet, and I will be putting on Called & Gifted workshops in English and Espanol this weekend.

Back Saturday evening. They'll have to hold the debate without me.

Then to prep for my week long trip to Athens, Ohio to do research in one of my guilty pleasures: the remarkable Catholic Revival of the 17th century.

To contemplate how another post-conciliar generation of Catholics responded to the enormous challenges of their day and powerfully shaped the world around them.

More blogging on Sunday.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Evangelization in a Multicultural Global Community

In my last few posts, I've drawn from a contemporary work on globalization to outline its effects. Now comes the hard part. How do we as Catholic Christians take advantage of what globalization offers us in order to share the Gospel with people worldwide? The Gospel, after all, is for all people, and we have easier access to people all over the world than any other generation has enjoyed. Globalization is, in effect, helping slowly to unite people in some ways - at least economically. And I would postulate that globalization can help enhance a desire for unity, or in some circumstances, highlight our differences and lead some to reject that which seems "other." We've seen that occur in some predominantly Muslim countries, as well as in our own in the debates over immigration and assimilation of people into the American melting pot.

The Gospel, when proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit, has the power to unite disparate people; so much so that Paul could proclaim that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, woman nor man. (cf. Gal 3:28) The Gospel transcends cultures and at the same time contradicts elements of every culture. It is a direct challenge to consumerism, individualism, relativism, the culture of death which seeks violence of all sorts as a solution to problems, prejudices of every kind, and the human tendency to seek retribution rather than forgiveness.

So let me take a look at some of the hallmarks of globalization, and offer some suggestions for how they might allow for effective evangelization. I welcome your comments and other suggestions you might have. I am certainly no expert!

1. More inter-state connections and the decreasing effect of state policy
One of the ways Pope Benedict XVI has taken advantage of this reality is through his intent on encouraging Muslim nations to allow the free expression of religious belief in their countries, in a similar manner in which that freedom is given in most Western nations. While this hasn't been taken up by secular leaders, as far as I know, one could imagine such concessions could be tied to economic relations (if the west were not so dependent upon oil from the Middle East and Indonesia, perhaps).

2. The development of increased transnational communication and activities
What comes to mind right away is the internet, primarily. For those who have grown up with the internet, it is the first source they go to for information. That means our parishes, lay groups, dioceses, the Vatican and individuals who hope to evangelize through the internet need to be aware that their websites may occasionally be viewed by the unchurched, the agnostic and atheist, non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians. Too often, some of our most "Catholic" websites aren't very catholic. What I mean by that is, many proudly Catholic websites are attractive to "insiders" - those who are already proudly Catholic. They may be more or less incomprehensible to others. In addition, if we intend our websites to have any power to evangelize, Jesus must be a prominent - the prominent feature. People have all kinds of issues with the Church, and although we are the body of Christ, we cannot afford to not feature our head. All that we have and are flows from Jesus, and many non-Christians (and, sadly, many Christians, including Catholics, for that matter) are ignorant of Jesus' life and teachings. He is immensely attractive and challenging; impossible to put into a neat, pre-existing category. Any Catholic website that would want to have an evangelizing effect would have to be "catholic" - universal - appealing, as St. Paul attempted to be, to all people. That requires us to try to better understand our potential audiences, and have features on our websites that are consciously made to address the questions of the groups I mentioned above.

I realize not every Catholic website intends to evangelize. Our own Catherine of Siena Institute website is an example. We are directing our attention to Catholics and Catholic parishes and diocesan staff, primarily - even though we get queries from non-Catholic Christians from time to time. But it is time for all parishes and diocesan websites coordinators and staff to ask, "in what way could our website help spread the Gospel of Jesus and attract people to become members of His Church?"

I haven't even touched the issue of a Catholic presence in radio and television, or the possibilities our diocesan papers could take advantage of with regard to helping Catholics be more confident at sharing their faith. They would have to - and many are beginning -to attempt to evangelize Catholics!

3. The emergence of global political, economic and cultural organizations and bureaucracies
The Catholic Church is one of the oldest cultural organization and bureaucracy there is! I'm pretty ignorant of other world religions, so I can't compare our bureaucracy with that of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism or any other religion that might be older. But I would argue that the organizational bureaucracy of these religions have the same global impact as the Roman Catholic Church. Yet the effectiveness of the Church's impact on the international scene is weakened when individual Catholics within nation states are unwilling to follow the lead of the Pope when he speaks out against wars, economic injustice, environmental degradation, the assault on human life in the womb, as well as when he advocates greater cooperation among the people of different nations. If we lived the Gospel as a body, focusing on what it means to allow the truth that Jesus taught to impact our local and national governmental policies, I think we'd find more and more people drawn to our faith.

4. The world-wide spread of Western-style consumerism
For me, one of the most chilling scenes in the Paulist production, "Romero," was of a gathering of well-to-do Salvadoreans at which one of them exclaimed something like, "We just want to live as well as the Americans do." Yesterday at the gym, I spoke with an acquaintance - a self-proclaimed Christian - who said that no matter how much money he made (and he lives comfortably), he always desires to make more. Consumerism is a dead-end. Our desires are never going to be extinguished by things. Jesus himself observed how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. The economic disparity between nations is exacerbated by rampant consumerism, especially among the developed nations, and this disparity has far-reaching consequences. A South African webpage on sustainable development makes these observations (my access to this webpage is, by the way, an example of the effects of globalization!).
While some enjoy unprecedented wealth and luxury, 2.8 billion people are living in extreme poverty, earning less than US$2 a day (World Bank Annual Report 2000). One in seven people suffers chronic hunger and 45,000 die of starvation every day. This inequity is felt at both a global level, between developed and developing countries, and at a national level where there is great disparities of wealth within countries.

This is not making for a peaceful society. Since the Second World War over 20 million people have died in armed conflict and 31 million people are annually affected by it. These figures do not include crime-related deaths. Of the 2.3 million people reported as killed by conflict from 1991-2000, over three quarters were from countries with a low Human Development Indexiii. At the heart of most of these conflicts lies the issue of who gets to control and benefit from resources, whether agricultural land, minerals, fossil fuels or water. Many countries are already experiencing problems with illegal immigration and an influx of both political and environmental refugees. If the imbalance of wealth and power is not dealt with, this problem will only become worse in the future.
As Catholics living in a country with 5% of the world's population, yet consuming 25% of the world's energy, our concerted effort to eschew consumerism for the sake of the Gospel can be a powerful tool for evangelization. In his encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World, 21), Pope Paul VI asked us to imagine
a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization.
5. Reflexivity - people are orienting themselves to the world as a whole, regarding themselves as both 'locals' and 'cosmopolitans'.
Again, this is already true for the Catholic Christian. We are members of our local parish and diocese, but also supernaturally linked to other people - Catholic or not - throughout the world and throughout time. If we take this seriously, we will consider those 45,000 people starving each day not as Bangladeshis, Indians, Zimbabweans, Haitians, and Sudanese, for example, but as "my brother, my sister, in Christ." Christ is the only means by which people of different races, ages, levels of education, and economic status can be truly united, and the Church should be the shining example of that unity. Currently, we are a poor example, especially when we witness factions within our parishes between people of different ethnic groups or nationalities - and in my travels around this country I've heard many stories and witnessed the effects of such factionalism. Yet, if we can be converted to Christ and truly see one another as brother and sister in Him, then, I believe the "reflexivity" that is an effect of globalization will help make the Church all that more intriguing.

6. Risk and Trust. Globalization increasingly involves everyone everywhere in a web of trust and risk, in that all of us have to place our trust in 'experts' and other unknown persons.

Trust is established through honesty in relationships. Part of our effort to evangelize will have to be founded on the painstaking task of establishing honest, trusting relations - true friendships - with those who are not Christian. In the past, the task of evangelization was often seen as the purview of missionaries - usually priests and religious - rather than ordinary layfolk. Yet time and again, as I listen to people's stories of conversion, there was at least one Christian (not always Catholic) with whom they had a true friendship that eventually led to discussions of "the meaning of life," faith, and the possibility of a lived relationship with God. While globalization involves placing our trust in more and more strangers, a more fundamental desire is to be able to place trust in a friend or friends. Whether we try to evangelize by telling the story of how God has changed our life, or through apologetics, or through the radical application of the faith to our daily life, all of these are tremendously more effective when we have first earned the trust of another through a real relationship that will not end should the other not become Catholic. In fact, the relationship of friendship, genuine concern for the good of the other, and self-sacrificing service itself becomes a model for the relationship that Jesus is offering our non-Christian friends.

This "relational evangelization" also involves risk on our part, because at the heart of the Gospel, and of Jesus' message, is a fundamental call to conversion. We have to be vulnerable enough to share our own struggles to respond to that call. We have to care enough about our friend who trusts us and has demonstrated a curiosity and openness towards Jesus, to be able to help them examine their own life and need for conversion - and walk with them on that journey.

The impact of globalization on our world is enormous and will undoubtedly continue to grow. It offers challenges to us - rampant consumerism encouraged through ubiquitous advertising, relativism as we become aware of different worldviews and morals, individualism that can ride on the back of laissez-faire capitalism and postmodern attitudes which encourage a "me first" perspective.

On the other hand, I believe there are some aspects of the growing globalization that offer opportunities for effective evangelization - especially if we recognize that the most effective evangelization is modeled on the example of Jesus, who befriended the sinner, healed the wounded, and shared with his disciples his own Spirit so that they could effectively do the same: person to person, one soul at a time.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Historical Growth of Globalization

Globalization, according to Beynon and Dunkerley's A General Introduction in Globalization: The Reader, NY Routledge Press, 2000, is not only a contemporary phenomenon. They point out that between 1430-1530, the globe was explored by the Spanish, British, French and Portuguese. These nations had developed an 'outward looking-ness', while other powerful nations remained inward-looking, regarding the outside world as a hostile threat. In Asia, the Chinese explorer Cheng Juo, preceded the Europeans' exploration by a century, but such travels of discovery were stopped by the Chinese emperor as undesirable. The Koreans also did not explore much beyond their peninsula, and their resistance to western ideas and culture was expressed in the persecution of Catholics in the late 18th and early- to mid-nineteenth centuries.

There were some remarkable consequences of European exploration:
-expansion of geographical knowledge, with Europe at the center

-expansion of technical information. Europeans learned about different types of sails from the people of India, gunpowder and the compass from China, and the astrolabe from the Muslim world, to name a few sources of advancement in European technology.

-emergence of a 'global consciousness' as"'the capcity to conceive of the world as an accessible and attainable whole that could be explored and was, indeed available for exploitation by those who could achieve this." (Spybey, Globalization and World Society, 1996)

-the growing sense of destiny and a mission to spread European culture. European systems of trade, politics, administration, justice, government, military and worship were reproduced under colonization. Many colonized nations willingly adopted European ways, seeing the benefits of being part of an embryonic network of international relations. The Koreans began westernizing to counter Japanese dominance in the region - as well as an attempt to match the modern weapons used by the Japanese.

- the international acceptance of European standards, like the Gregorian calendar, and the Greenwich meridian. The European concept of the nation state was also widely adopted - an important aspect of globalization.

-the appearance in Europe in the 16th century of produce never seen before: spices, herbs, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, peppers and chocolate, which had a dramatic local impact among those who could afford them.

In some ways, globalization has been a long-term process. The current globalization we are experiencing is simply the latest manifestation of a set of historical processes (Held et al., Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture, 1999)
Examples of these are the pre-historic and historic migration of people; the global spread of the major world religions; the impact of the great Empiresp the influence of powerful Western nation states and modern nationalism, including the outward expansion of Europe from the 16th c; the transnational flows of capitalism and of 'big' ideas (pertinent to science, liberalism, socialism, feminism, etc.); and, of course the hegemony of Ennglish as a truly 'global language'. There are technological antecedents, too: for example the development of the trans-Atlantic telegraph in the 1860's and cable communication across the British Empire by the 1880s.
Of course, even before then, there were ideas being transmitted through manuscripts: Benedictine monks in Europe translating and copying the works of Greek, Jewish and Muslim philosophers and early Church fathers.

David Held et al., in Global Transformations, look at four periods of globalization.

Pre-modern (before 1500) 'globalization' was interregional within Eurasia and the Americas, based on political and military empires and the movements of peoples into uncultivated areas.

The early modern (1500-1850). This was marked by the rise of the West and the movement of Europeans into the Americas and then Oceania. It was in the early modern period that world religions spread and exerted their most significant cultural influence, especially Christianity and Judaism, both of which attained a global distribution.

Modern globalization (1850-1945) This period witnessed an accelaration of global networks and cultural flows, dominated by the European powers, especially the British; and the great migration of European peoples to the new world. By the mid-nineteenth century European peoples, ideas and religions had transformed the Americas, with rapid developments in transport and communication technologies in the second half of the 19th century (for example telegraphy, telephones, radio, railways, shipping, canals, etc.) making connections over a large area possible.
Contemporary globalization is marked by an environment that is degraded in every region of the world, and new patterns of global migration have replaced the old. A worldwide system of nation states, overlaid by a combination of regional and global forms of regulation and governance, has emerged. Although still highly asymmetrical, contemporary globalization is less dominated by America and Europe: "distributional patterns of power and wealth no longer accord with a simple core and periphery division ... (and) ... reflect a new geography of power and privilege which transcends political borders and regions, reconfiguring established international and trans-national hierarchies of social power and wealth." (Held, et al.)

From roughly 1500 through the last century, one of the effects of colonization and the subsequent migration of people and ideas was the spread of Christianity. Sometimes that spread was forced or coerced, and accompanied by violence, and we look upon it today with different eyes. But the current globalization offers new opportunities for presenting the Christian faith to others, and I will look at that briefly tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Familiarity in a Different Culture

While I was in Korea (yeah, I'm still coming out of the vacation mode... slowly... sloooowly) I couldn't help but notice the ubiquity of recognizable consumer products. One tourist map I carried everywhere in Seoul had symbols for cultural centers, historic sites, museums - as well as about one hundred curious little green symbols. They showed the location of all the Starbuck's coffee joints. Dunkin' Donuts shops could be found not only in Seoul, but on Jeju Island. I also saw McDonald's (no surprise), Baskin-Robbins (usually in conjunction with a Dunkin' Donuts), Pizzeria Uno, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Old Chicago and Cold Stone Creamery. While looking for gifts for the folks back home in Seoul's high-rise "Techno Mall" I walked into a store and nearly burst out laughing. Over the loudspeaker came a kind of hip-hop version of John Denver's Country Roads.

The one personal souvenir I was looking to take home was impossible to find. I wanted a t-shirt with something written in Korean. I pointed out to my friend Yunkyung one day while we were taking in the sights with his family that every t-shirt worn by a Korean had English words on it. Not that the words necessarily made a lot of sense. The words might have been something like, "Kiss the world green," or "Making curious, living huge". Junha, Yunkyung's fourteen year-old son commented, "They don't have to make sense; just wearing something with English on it is cool."

While driving from Seoul to Andong on a marvelous highway (no billboards or potholes), we went through several dozen tunnels and crossed innumerable bridges. Since I was trying to learn the Korean alphabet and a few words, I'd sound out the names of the tunnels. I could check out my pronunciation against the transliterated English word. I presumed the last two syllables, which were always the same, were the Korean word for tunnel. Eventually, I tried to sound it out.

Tun- Nul


"Sure," Yun-kyung said, "We never had a word for tunnel, only a word for an animal's burrow. Rather than create a new word, we just borrowed the English word."

So this blog isn't about how I spent my summer vacation, but about globalization. In fact, it's the first in a series of posts on the topic. Because it's happening, and it is having profound effects in the way we live, and will open up opportunities for evangelization - or secularization- like never before. Yunkyung Cha, my Korean friend, is a professor at Hanyang University in Seoul, and studies the sociology of education. Recently, he helped found the Korean Association of Multicultural Educators to study the benefits, possibilities, and problems associated with multicultural education. While sitting in his office one day, I took some notes from a book on his shelf (in English, of course) titled, A General Introduction in Globalization: The Reader, by John Beynon and David Dunkerley, eds., NY Routledge Press, 2000.

In the introduction, the authors mentioned the hallmarks of globalization:
- more inter-state connections and the decreasing effect of state policy;
- the development of increased transnational communication and activities;
- a decline in the importance of the nation state;
- the emergence of global political, economic and cultural organizations and bureaucracies;
- the emergence of what Anthony King aptly terms 'global cities' (like London, NY, Paris, and Tokyo) as local sites of global interaction;
- a huge increase in the flows of comodities and cultural products;
- and the world-wide spread of Western-style consumerism.

Certainly I noticed the last feature in Korea. Apart from the language and the occasional old royal palace or Buddhist temple, it could have been any western city - at least one that emphasized high-rise apartment living. That shouldn't be too surprising, given the impact of the American presence since the Korean war, and the fact that much of Seoul has been built in the last generation.

What are some of the features of contemporary globalization, and do any of them help in the task of evangelization?
Well for one, there's an ever-increasing speed and volume of movement, goods, messages and symbols. My travel to Seoul took 11 hours from LA. Many of the planes in the skies are not carrying people, but mail and consumer products (FedEx and UPS have huge fleets themselves). And TV and movies communicate messages, ideas and symbols in increasingly powerful and subtly effective ways. Certain images, like the solitary man standing in front of a column of Chinese tanks in Tiananmen Square, become instant icons.

Another feature of globalization is the shrinking of space (expressed in time of travel or communication). With the internet, my ideas, however wise or perverse become instantly accessible to billions of people. Yes, billions, when you consider that 70% of the world's countries include English in their primary and secondary school education, according to my friend, Professor Cha, who studies these kinds of things. Cell phones, video conferencing, and Skype bring much of the world face to face - or at least ear to ear.

The highly militarized border between North and South Korea is becoming more of an anomaly in a world with increasingly permeable borders between nation states. Trade, tourism, radio and television, environmental pollution, global warming, and the golden arches are hardly impeded by the dotted lines on maps.

Globalization also leads to changes in how we perceived ourselves, in a phenomenon known as reflexivity. According to Beynon and Dunkerly,
people are orienting themselves to the world as a whole, regarding themselves as both 'locals' and 'cosmopolitans'. Local sites everywhere have an increased opportunity to interact with the global; local businesses increasingly participate in global markets; and governments cannot risk becoming isolated.
North Korea's political and economic isolation, with its concomitant dependence upon China, may have startling effects on its future. Already the People's Republic of Korea has sold mining rights and other economic advantages to the People's Republic of China that could jeopardize a future reunification with the south. In fact, China has already begun insinuating that some of North Korea was traditionally a part of China. In a perfect display of the power of television, South Korea produced and aired a somewhat sappy - and immensely popular - historical drama to refute the claim!

Globalization also means an increase in both risk and trust.
Globalization increasingly involves everyone everywhere in a web of trust and risk, in that all of us have to place our trust in 'experts' and other unknown persons.
(like this blog)
Also, we place our faith in science and medicine, yet no one could foresee the advent of AIDS or CJD (the human equivalent of 'mad cow disease'). Similarly, each of us can be affected, either directly or indirectly by something as apparently remote (and totally beyond our control) as the rise and fall in share prices in the NY, Tokyo or London stock exchange.
In many Korean restaurants, the menu will note where their beef originates; it's part of a five-year long import ban on U.S. beef imports because of the outbreak of mad cow disease. When the ban was lifted just one month before I arrived in Korea, protesters stormed the president's home in Seoul. Prior to the ban, South Korea was the third largest importer of U.S. beef, so this was a big deal - and one of the reasons why I didn't eat much beef in Korea. It was just too expensive.

The authors also seem positively prescient in saying "each of us can be affected, either directly or indirectly by something as apparently remote (and totally beyond our control) as the rise and fall in share prices in the NY, Tokyo or London stock exchange." The near meltdown of our economy in the last few weeks has had even more serious consequences in foreign economies.

In my next post, I'll look at some of the historical examples of increasing globalization before moving on to a reflection on what this might all mean for evangelization in the future.


Playtime for the Mice

Sherry's away for a couple of days. I can't remember exactly where, but hey, I'm not my sister's keeper - it's above my pay scale. In the meanwhile, I thought I'd take a moment away from watching Sports Center and eating Power Bars to post a thought or two.

Well, that's enough hard work for now. Oooh, Animal Planet's about to begin.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Who Am I to Refuse This Gift?

Fr. Gregory Jensen has a wonderful response to the occasionally heated discussion that took place on his blog, Koinonia, about the Called & Gifted and the whole idea of having a Catholic team teach in an Orthodox church.

"The "Called & Gifted" workshop is certainly not without its own challenges. But it is worth noting, I think, that this kind of practical exchange between Catholic and Orthodox Christians—especially on the grassroots level—has a long history. This is especially so in Russia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. To take but one example, no less venerable an Orthodox saints than Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and Theophan the Recluse offered their own version of the Roman Catholic text Unseen Warfare: The Spiritual Combat and Path to Paradise of Lorenzo Scupoli.

St Theophan's work, to take another quick example, is noteworthy for his incorporation into an Orthodox spiritual context of the decidedly Counter-Reformation theme from Catholic spirituality of the dark night of the soul/spirit (San Juan de la Cruz).

And of course there is the defense of St Augustine by Blessed Seraphim Rose of Platina.

It seems to me that in any conversation between Catholics and Orthodox, both sides must exercise great care that we hold ourselves above the polemics of the Reformation/Counter-Reformation era. This something, I must point out in the strongest possible terms, that historically voices on both sides have failed to do. It is somewhat ironic, to me at least, that in the contemporary Orthodox theology, some of the most strongly polemic voiced sentiments, at least in the Russian tradition, are found in the anti-scholastic passages of the works of J. Meyendoroff, A. Schmemann and V. Lossky. What makes this ironic is that these men are often characterized by self-professed Traditionalists in the Orthodox Church as liberals (or if you rather, modernists).

Orthodox theology—including the theological scholarship of the men I just referenced—would be much the poorer it seems to me without the work of such Catholic scholars as H. von Balthasar, H. de Lubuc, and L. Bouyer who in leading the return of Catholic theology to the Fathers also made possible a like return among the Orthodox.

Finally, and unless I miss my guess all, or at least most, of those who have commented on the "Called & Gifted" workshop are ourselves converts to either Catholicism or Orthodoxy. One great temptation, especially I must say frankly and directly for those who were not well ground in the Great Tradition prior to their becoming Orthodox or Catholic, is to assume wrongly that the Catholic or Orthodox incarnation that, by God's grace they have found, exhausts that the Great Tradition. If, as a matter of faith, we hold that one expression (East or West, Greek or Latin) is theologically normative, we may not reasonably assume as a consequence that normative equals exhaustive. It does not. Let me go further and say that neither tradition is exhaustive in its articulation of the Gospel. And, likewise, we cannot understand either the Western or Eastern expression of the Great Tradition separate from, much less in opposition to, the other.

If East and West have grown apart in recent years, this separation does not undo our shared historical foundation. Much less does schism undo over 1,000 years of communion anymore than my sin undoes the grace given me in Baptism.

Acknowledging as we do baptism in each other's community, reminds us that there exists between us a real, if imperfect, communion. And, even if we argue that baptism is absent in other tradition, we would do well—or so it seems to me—to remember that we have put on Christ in Whom God has joined Himself to all humanity. Vested now in the grace of Holy Baptism, having been incorporated into the Body of Christ, I have then also, and with my Lord, been joined in Him to those He has already united Himself to in the Incarnation. If I really believe that I am in Christ, then, in Christ, I am also already joined, as is He, personally to the whole human family.

Who then am I to say by my words or deeds that I would refuse this gift from the hands of my Lord and the Master of my life?"

Amen, Father.

September Travels

Ann Arbor tomorrow.

My first chance in 20 years as a Catholic to actually present in a missions context since I'll be working with the country coordinators who are in charge of the many international mission trips that Renewal Ministries makes every year. This should be different - and fun.

Back Thursday. Then off on Friday to Pueblo (40 miles south and the historic border between Spanish and English America) where we will be doing the Called & Gifted in English and Spanish for the diocesan catechetical conference.

On the other side of the country, our teaching team of Barbara Elliott, Joe Waters - and making his Called & Gifted debut - Gashwin Gomes, will be offering another chance to discern your charisms in Greenville, SC.

Back Saturday night. Home two days and then off to Athens, Ohio for the privilege of a week's guided reading in the history of the 17th French Catholic revival courtesy of my dear friends, Dr. David Curp and his wife, the famously Other Sherry who occasionally posts on ID.

Who knows? I may actually have more time on the road to blog than I seem to have had here lately.

Meanwhile, Fr. Mike is back in the Springs and so I turn control of this blog over to him. Who knows what might emerge from the mind of a Dominican?

Catholics for the Common Good

It's a 21st century thing: the 5:30 am airport blog. I started this post yesterday . . .

Catholics for the Common Good is a new west coast (California) initiative that looks very interesting in this election year.

They call themselves a "New Catholic Action". In 1927, Pope Pius XI defined Catholic Action as "the participation of the laity in the apostolate of the hierarchy". This understanding of Catholic Action broadened considerably as a result of the debates at the Second Vatican Council where it was debated whether the laity were apostles in their own right, by virtue of their baptism, rather than through the delegation of the hierarchy.

Today the term is seldom used in the US so it is interesting that Catholics for a Common Good have reclaimed it.

As their website puts it:

"We often hear Catholics criticize bishops and priests for not taking more active leadership roles on cultural and public policy issues that conflict with the most fundamental doctrines of the Church. Many are surprised to learn that it is an error to demand political leadership from bishops. That is not their job.

As the late Cardinal Jan Schotte, former Secretary-General of the Synod of Bishops, put it, a bishop is "neither a politician, a businessman nor an administrator, but rather has Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd as his model." As Jesus did, the bishops teach. And they have done that well, providing the Church with a body of social teachings faithfully based on Sacred Scripture and reason. These provide moral guidance for our time and culture, but they have not always been readily accessible and many Catholics are unaware of them.

While it is the role of the bishops to teach, the Church teaches it is the vocation of the laity to sanctify the world by their social and political participation. Therefore, it is actually our job or duty to provide leadership and engage our culture with faith and charity. In reality, a "cultural" effect can be accomplished through work done not so much by an individual alone but by an individual as "a social being," that is, as a member of a group, of a community, of an association or of a movement.

Such work is, then, the source and stimulus leading to the transformation of the surroundings and society as well as the fruit and sign of every other transformation in this regard.

As Catholic Christians, we are called to inform our consciences by our faith and to give witness to what is true for the benefit of society as a whole - the common good. This is a direct response to our baptismal promises, for which the sacrament of Confirmation has also prepared us. We must pray that the power of the Holy Spirit prepares our hearts to enable us to advocate with faith, reason, and charity."

CCG has an interesting board of ecclesial advisors, including Archbishop Niederauer of San Francisco, Bishop Vigeron of Oakland, Mark Brumley of Ignatius Press, Gil Bailie, William E. May, and my former Michael-in-crime, Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, who is now President of the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology in Berkley.

Anyway, they have a lot of good resources on Catholic social teaching and are information about some current California events.

Check thou it out.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Formational Ecumenism

This fall we are going to offer our first Orthodox Called & Gifted workshop at Fr. Gregory Jensen's church (Greek Orthodox) in Canton, Ohio. Fr. Michael Butler and a few leaders from his OCA parish will also attend. Fr. Gregory has also invited local Byzantine rite Catholics and with his usual generosity of spirit, make it available to interested Latin rite Catholics as well.

This should be fun! Fr. Gregory, Fr. Michael, Fr. Mike, and I have talked before of the possibility of a true, grass roots ecumenism centered around evangelization and formation. Fr. Gregory has issued an open invitation on his blog Koinonia and he makes some interesting observations as he does so.

"To be very direct about it, often in the Orthodox Church we see the Christian life in terms of monasticism rather than baptism. We too easily forget that monastic life is the fruit of a baptism and, as such, does not, and cannot, exhaust what God does in baptism. Compare this monasticization of the Christian life to the baptismal vision of the Christian life that inspires the "Called & Gifted" workshop: "The Church calls these gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christians are given for the sake of others 'charisms.'" They continue by asserting that "Discerning our charisms is an important first step to discerning God's call. These gifts of the Holy Spirit are both clues as to the nature of the mission for which God is preparing us and tools with which to successfully carry out our mission."

The teaching of the Catholic Church "that all of the baptized are called by Christ to proclaim his Gospel in the world" is certainly one that any Orthodox Christian could affirm. But, as in the Catholic Church, the pastoral implications of our baptismal call are often neglected. Rarely "do parishes provide a formation that prepares Catholics for so great a mission." Beside my personal respect for both Fr Mike and Sherry, I hoping that they will be able to do for Orthodox Christians, what they have done so successfully for Catholics. What is this you ask? Very simply that help people "bridge the gap between the Church's vision for the laity and their participation in the Church's essential mission of evangelization," on the one hand "and the typical reality within the parish where there is little awareness of the mission of the Church, lay responsibility for the proclamation of the Gospel, and the necessity of lay formation for effective participation in evangelization" on the other.

It is ironic that while the Orthodox Church has received from other Christian traditions, tens of thousands of adults into her midst, we seem (as I have pointed out in other posts) to have failed to provide these new Orthodox Christians with sound a spiritual formation that seeks to help them discern what is their own unique vocation. And, I hasten to add, we have failed to do this for new Orthodox Christians because we fail to do this for those baptized into the Church as infants.

The question that might be asked at this point why am I seeking assistance from Roman Catholics? Why not invite Orthodox Christian speakers? Let me answer the last question first.

While there are many Orthodox Christians who could be invited to speak, I am not aware of any who are skilled in lay spiritual formation. As I said, often if we speak of the spirituality of the laity at all, we do so from an at least implicit monastic model. This is not to reject monasticism far from it. But (as I said above) monasticism is a mode, or way, of living out our baptism, but it does not exhaust the gift of baptism.

More than that though (and this gets at to why I am asking a Roman Catholic team to speak), pastorally the Orthodox Church has largely neglected the formation of the laity. More often than not, we imagine that coming to Liturgy, going to confession, keeping the fasts and a rule of prayer is sufficient. But as the results of Pew Charitable Trust survey suggest, this is simply not working. One third of those baptized as infants simply leave the Church; two thirds of those who identify themselves as Orthodox Christians are not in Church on any given Sunday; over half of those who join the Church as adults, will eventually leave. Given the statistics it is hard for me to avoid saying flatly that we have simply failed.

My hope is that Fr Mike and Sherry, speaking from their own experience as Catholics, will offer to us as Orthodox Christians a deeper insight into what it is we have all received in baptism."

By the way, I recommend that ID readers regularly stop by Koinonia. Fr. Gregory has been doing a really thoughful series of posts on stewardship, work, mission, and formation. Austin in our office, tells me that he is very funny as well!

Fr. Gregory, let us see what God will do. We are delighted and honored to spend time with you and your congregation and to experience something of the spiritual riches that the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon his Church - east and west.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Guardian Angels: Close Encounters of a Supernatural Kind

Via Time:

"More than half of all Americans believe they have been helped by a guardian angel in the course of their lives, according to a new poll by the Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion. In a poll of 1700 respondents, 55% answered affirmatively to the statement, "I was protected from harm by a guardian angel." The responses defied standard class and denominational assumptions about religious belief; the majority held up regardless of denomination, region or education — though the figure was a little lower (37%) among respondents earning more than $150,000 a year

The guardian angel encounter figures were "the big shocker" in the report, says Christopher Bader, director of the Baylor survey that covered a range of religious issues, parts of which are being released Thursday in a book titled What Americans Really Believe. In the case of angels, however, the question is a little stronger than just belief. Says Bader, "If you ask whether people believe in guardian angels, a lot of people will say, 'sure.' But this is different. It's experiential. It means that lots of Americans are having these lived supernatural experiences."

Sociologists may need further research to determine how broadly the data should be interpreted. The Baylor study tested other statements that might indicate a similar belief in the supernatural intruding into everyday personal experience — "I heard the voice of God speaking to me"; and "I received a miraculous physical healing." But far fewer people claimed to have had those experiences."


"Randall Balmer, chairman of the religion department at New York's Barnard College, says that the Baylor angel figures are one in a periodic series of indications that "Americans live in an enchanted world," and engage in a kind of casual mysticism independent of established religious ritual, doctrine or theology. "There is," he says, a "much broader uncharted range of religious experience among the populace than we expect." Just possibly, Baylor has begun to chart it."

So many things to say about this. The article's attempts to describe Catholic beliefs in this area were strangely off as they seemed startled that we believed in the possibility of the supernatural outside a pure sacramental context.

I would heartily agree with the last paragraph. Having done thousands of gifts interviews with ordinary Catholics and other Christians, we know that lots of people have experienced the numinous and astonishing.

This also fits well with one startling result from the Pew US Religious Landscape Survey that we point out in our Making Disciples seminars.

The number of Americans who believe miracles happen today is higher across the board in all categories than the number who believe in the possibility of a personal relationship with God. (Remember this survey taps into how American regard themselves and the religious labels they may use for themselves often don't correspond with dictionary definitions.)

Self-proclaimed "athiests": 6% actually believe in the possibility of a personal relationship with God but 21% believe miracles happen today.

"Agnostics": 14% believe in the possibility of a personal relationship with God but 37% believe miracles happen today.

"Secular Unaffiliated": those who respond that religion is not important and don't consider themselves to be part of any formal religious community. 20% believe in the possibility of a personal relationship with God but 48% believe miracles happen today.

"Religious unaffiliated": those who respond that religious is important or very important but don't consider themselves to be part of any formal religious tradition. 49% believe in the possibility of a personal relationship with God but 78% believe miracles happen today.

For many Americans, the numinous and the super-natural exist independently of a personal God. Think of all the films (martial arts, anyone?) we see in which characters experience and do all sorts of "miraculous" things that are portrayed simply as little manifested human abilities; the result of long discipline, secret knowledge, and training.

But a personal God that might demand something of us? Undermine our sense of autonomy or personal power? We're not as eager to embrace that. We want miracles that we control and are the ultimate source of. Miracles without the Lord of the gifts.

So ID readers? We openly believe in guardian angels around here.(Catholics having celebrated the liturgical Feast of the Guardian Angels - October 2 - since 1615.)

Had an encounter with your guardian angel that you'd like to share?

If you share yours, I'll share mine :-}

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

That's Us All Over . . .

Word about the Called & Gifted workshop is online all over the place this week:

This week's issue of the National Catholic Reporter is their special "ministry" issue and includes an article called
Ministries: Gifts and the Gospel Call which does contain a few paragraphs about the Called & Gifted.

At the end, there's a bit about the lay group that I was part of in Seattle: the famously Nameless Lay Group. True to form, the NCR doesn't mention its name. For more on that effort, check out "It is Normal . . ."

Over at "E-Priest" there's a extensive description (under "best practices") of the Called & Gifted courtesy of the wonderful folks at St. Dominic's San Francisco. It is called "Transforming Parishioners into Lay Apostles"
This was cross-referenced over at the National Catholic Register as well.

And then here's an encouraging word from a C & G alum down under who was simply commenting as part of a larger discussion:

"A recent post at the Intentional Disciples blog "Bone Deep" suggests that many Catholics are simply unaware of the notion of personal discipleship. In my experience that has certainly been the case.

No one denies that Jesus had disciples, but the truth that - as a Christian - I am also called to be one of them is something I only encountered in recent years. And only due to the work of the Siena Institute (credit, where credit is due.)

I suspect that if someone had pointed that dynamic out to me earlier, then the blunt zeal of my post-reversion years would have been mollified and perhaps, just perhaps, I would've avoided the "ortho/heterodox" culture war that I fell into.

From conversations with younger Catholics I have become persuaded that one of the most significant problems that we have in the Church in Australia is also quite solvable. Many young Catholics who have become quite "activated" after their reversion/conversion/whatever, struggle to find mentors who can guide them in the faith. Lacking these role models, they become attracted to the loudest voices they can find. Popularly this tends to be in lobby groups (e.g. Right to Life) or movements with secular appeal (e.g. Make Poverty History.)

Please note, I'm not disparaging either of these groups. In fact, it is because both of these are founded in good convictions that makes them quite attractive. However the danger is that a Catholic becomes "for Apollo" or "for Paul" instead of for Jesus.

Imagine the difference if newly energised Catholics were reminded - or informed for the first time - that they are to be disciples of Christ, and if older Catholics were willing to support these younger Catholics through mentoring and modeling the faith to them. Imagine that.

Yes, I suppose some might regard that as a subservient view of the Christian life, but it needs to be remembered that the chief mark of a Christian is that he follows Christ."

Sorry to be slow about the blogging. Much going on. I will try to do better!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A remarkable life

Many of you have probably already come across the story of Thomas Vander Woude who drowned last week in a septic tank while saving his son from the same fate. I first heard about this on Sunday evening (the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross) at the 5 p.m. Mass at Church of Our Savior in New York City, where Fr George Rutler preached on his life as an example of the sacrificial love that sought always to emulate the love of Christ on the Cross even until his dying moments. The Washington Post ran a profile that only confirmed for me the truth of Fr Rutler's words. 
May the Angels lead him into paradise. 

By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 10, 2008; A01

If you ever ran into Nokesville dad Thomas S. Vander Woude, chances are you would also see his son Joseph. Whether Vander Woude was volunteering at church, coaching basketball or working on his farm, Joseph was often right there with him, pitching in with a smile, friends and neighbors said yesterday.

When Joseph, 20, who has Down syndrome, fell into a septic tank Monday in his back yard, Vander Woude jumped in after him. He saved him. And he died where he spent so much time living: at his son's side.

"That's how he lived," Vander Woude's daughter-in-law and neighbor, Maryan Vander Woude, said yesterday. "He lived sacrificing his life, everything, for his family." 
Read the rest of the story here. 


Iran's Parliament Approves Death Sentence For Muslims Who Convert to Another Religion

Last week, Iran's Majlis ratified a bill under which any Muslim who converts to another religion would be put to death, with no possibility of pardon.

The bill was approved by a majority of 196 to 7, with two abstentions.

The few Iranian media outlets that covered the issue played down their reports, while on others, such as the Majlis website and the website of the conservative daily Resalat, the reports were removed after a few hours.

Under the bill, anyone declaring publicly that he was knowingly abandoning Islam of his own free will face the death penalty.

The bill is now in permanent force, after being extended every five years since its temporary ratification in 1991.

It should be noted that a ruling by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, states that any Muslim who converts to another religion is subject to the death penalty, but until now this ruling has not been anchored in civil law.

Source: Iran, Iran, September 10, 2008; Radio Farda, Europe, September 9, 2008

This will simply heighten the intensity of the discussions at the upcoming Muslim Background Believers Conference to be held in Texas in September 26-27.

This article from World magazine lays out the realities for Muslim background believers in Iran:

The government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has introduced legislation before the Iranian Majlis that would mandate the death penalty for apostates from Islam, a sign that it will brook no proselytizing in the country. "Life for so-called apostates in Iran has never been easy, but it could become literally impossible if Iran passes this new draft penal code," says Joseph Grieboski, the president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy in Washington. "For anyone who dares question the regime's religious ideology, there could soon be no room to argue—only death.''

Minorities. Grieboski points out that the text of the draft penal code uses the word hadd (prescribed punishment), which explicitly sets death as a fixed, irrevocable punishment. He worries that it could be applied to religious and ethnic minorities like Christians, Bahais, Jews, and Azeris by treating them as apostates.

Articles 225 to 227 of the draft penal code define two kinds of apostates: fetri, or an innate apostate—who has at least one Muslim parent, identifies as a Muslim after puberty, and later renounces Islam; and melli, or parental apostate—who is a non-Muslim at birth but later embraces Islam, only to renounce it again. The draft code says outright that punishment for an innate apostate is death. However, parental apostates have three days after their sentencing to recant their beliefs. If they don't, they will be executed according to their sentence. It isn't clear when this bill will be passed, though Grieboski says, "International pressure and attention—in large part due to our work—has significantly slowed the parliament's progress.''

In the past, apostasy could draw a range of punishments, from imprisonment to death, under legal practices that were more ambiguous than the draft statutes. In one instance that drew international attention, Mehdi Dibaj, an Iranian convert, was held in prison for his Christian beliefs for 10 years starting in 1984. He received the death sentence at the end of 1993. But he was released from prison in January 1994 after an international publicity campaign by Haik Hovsepian Mehr, a prominent Christian pastor in Iran. A few days after Dibaj's release, Hovsepian Mehr was abducted in Tehran, and his body, with 26 stab wounds, was found secretly buried in a Muslim graveyard. Six months later, Dibaj, freed but still under a pending death sentence, was abducted and murdered.

To give you some idea, 80% of the membership of Jama'at-e Rabbani, one of the largest churches in Tehran (Assemblies of God) are converts from Islam.

Monday, September 15, 2008

God in the Hospital Room

A friend of mine who has been living with cancer for much of the last fifteen years sent me an online article published by CNN article recently titled, "How to Talk to Your Doctor About God". A new study in Archives in Surgery finds that many Americans have a faith that leads them to pray for a sick person, and believe that God can heal, even when physicians involved in the patient's care believe there is no hope.
In the study, 57 percent of randomly surveyed adults said God's intervention could save a deathly ill family member even if physicians said treatment would be futile.

However, just under 20 percent of doctors and other medical workers said God could reverse a helpless outcome.

The study was published last month ... is one of many to show a "faith gap" between doctors and patients. "Patients are scared to death to talk to their doctors about this issue," said Dr. Harold Koenig, co-director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University.

Given this gap, how can you discuss God with your physician? We asked advice from Koenig and two other physicians who study faith and medicine.

1. It's OK to ask for a doctor who also has strong religious convictions

Koenig suggests this approach when talking to a physician: "I would say: 'My religious beliefs are very important to me and influence my medical decisions and the way I cope with illness, and I want a doctor who has those same convictions. If you don't come from that perspective, do you know a doctor you can refer me to?' "

If you're a Christian, you might find a like-minded doctor through the ZIP code search at the Christian Medical and Dental Associations.

2. Don't be surprised if you find No. 1 difficult to do

"Religion is the last taboo in medicine," said Dr. Daniel Sulmasy, an internist, a Franciscan friar and director of ethics at St. Vincent's Hospital and New York Medical College in New York. "Doctors and patients talk about intimate details like sexual practices and drug use but still have this great reluctance to talk about religion."

Sulmasy suggests not asking directly about the doctor's own religious beliefs but instead focusing on your own religious needs.

3. It's OK to ask your doctor to pray with you

According to a 2006 study by the University of Chicago, 53 percent of doctors surveyed said it was appropriate to pray with patients when asked.This can work even when doctor and patient don't share the same faith. For example, Koenig, who's Christian, has prayed with Jewish patients. "In most cases, a general prayer asking for God's comfort, support and healing will be sufficient," he said.

4. Be specific about your religious needs

"If I'm a Muslim and I come to the point of dying, the hospital might need to relax the visiting rules, because it's important to have as many people as possible with me as I recite the Quran," Sulmasy said.

"If I'm a Buddhist, it may be important to me to hear chant as I'm dying," he added. "If I'm a Catholic, I may want to receive the Sacrament of the Sick."

5. If you believe in miracles, say so

"Get that out in the open," advised Dr. Robert Fine, an internist and head of clinical ethics and palliative care at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.

Confusion may ensue if you don't, he explains. For example, sometimes doctors think families are against removing life support at the end of life because they don't understand the medical facts, when they do understand but are waiting for a miracle.

"Once we know that, we can have a discussion about faith," Fine said.
Of course, Catholic Christians, among others, believe in miracles, and the charisms of Intercessory Prayer and Healing do bring about healing in the lives of the sick that have no natural explanation. Unfortunately, we sometimes don't pray with the expectation that God might actually do something, even if we might have an "intuition" that the person is not meant to die.

I would suspect that Catholics, with our "don't ask, don't tell" approach to issues regarding faith, including prayer, would be among the least likely to ask for a physician to pray with them. I would include myself in that category up to a few years ago.

In fact, I had a situation back in 1991 related to this issue. I was in three hospitals in South Africa with an undiagnosed malady that caused intense abdominal pain for many hours a day. In the third hospital - a Catholic one - I was told by my nurse that I was being treated by a physician who prayed an hour a day before the Blessed Sacrament for his patients. He was Anglican. I was not healed spontaneously, but he did figure out what was wrong, and treated me accordingly.

My friend (I'll call her Ethel, just to peeve her) has had a lot of experience talking to doctors, and recently has had some interesting experiences. She has, in the last few weeks or months, had 45 radiation treatments, and her radiology oncologist has asked her to come by his office regularly even if she doesn't continue the therapy. "I need you," he's said to her.

Which raises an interesting question. Are physicians less likely to "give up" on patients they bond with than those with whom they don't bond, or whose personality they dislike? Physicians are only human, after all. Perhaps in addition to being able to talk to our physician about God, it might also help to find a physician with whom we can bond in some way - we might get more dogged healthcare!

Kids Helping Kids Fix Broken Hearts

We all know, I hope, that the family is the domestic church. That means that most everything that happens in the local parish should also be happening in the homes of parishioners. That includes the proclamation of the Gospel, ongoing catechesis and formation, outreach to the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, discernment of vocation, prayer, scripture study, healing of the sick, table fellowship, the offering of our work/relaxation/self to God, etc.

I'm afraid not many families take this very seriously, nor ask themselves how they might become cells within the larger body of the Church. One family I know takes this seriously, and one of the ways they do it comes in the way they teach their five children, ages 9 months-10 years, to appreciate the blessed life they have (their father is a surgeon, so they have a comfortable life). As they become old enough to understand, they are taught to select a charity to support as part of the way they can help those who are less fortunate. Sometimes they help support an existing charity through organizations set up to do that. Other times, they are encouraged to start up something themselves.

One example of the latter is a project begun by the children this year called, "Kids Helping Kids Fix Broken Hearts". Emily, the second child, who's nearly ten, made a design which was used to decorate dishtowels that they children are selling to raise funds for Angel Notion Medical Clinic in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Angel Notion is a non-profit that helps poor children of Playa del Carmen in need of heart surgery. Angel Notion has teamed up with Rosa Christus Children's Hospital in San Antonio, TX, to provide these surgeries at low cost. Even so, it is more than the families of Playa del Carmen can afford, and they must also provide their own travel expense. So these kids decided to do what they can to help.

This is a great example of putting our faith into practice within the home, especially by expanding the awareness of young children of the existence of other kids, just like them, who struggle with health problems and poverty.

It should come as no surprise that these kids are a delight to be around, too!


Bone Deep

Back from San Francisco.

The workshop (which was a greatly shortened version of Making Disciples and is somewhat experimental) went very well and the hand-picked participants seemed to grasp the significance and power of attending to lived relationship with God and how understanding pre-discipleship thresholds could help.

Fascinatingly, several participants came up to Fr. Mike and I and said the same thing: " I don't think I'm an intentional disciple yet.". I didn't pick up any sense that they felt judged (for which I was glad) - it was just an spontaneous and honest recognition. As one woman said to me: "No one's ever talked to me about this before".

I know. Don't ask, don't tell" is alive and well even in our most vibrant parishes.

I'm talking about culture, of course, not the Church's formal teaching. That bone-deep sense of what it means to be Catholic that we have picked up from our family and friends and our experience in our local congregations. That culture says you don't ask where someone is in their lived relationship with God and you don't talk about your own lived relationship with God.

It's alive and well in our vocational discernment programs. Let me share a single conversation that I had last spring, while at breakfast with a diocesan vocation director (not here – from another diocese in the east)

This vocation director is one of the “new” priests. Only ordained a few years, in his clerics, orthodox in his theology and traditional-leaning in his liturgical convictions. A classic new-orthodox-JPII-generation-Benedict-is my-German-Shepherd priest.

In the course of our conversation, I asked him this question:

Would you say that your candidates for priesthood are disciples?

His instant response: “No!”

My obvious next question: “Why not?”

His response (and I quote) “They don’t know how. No one has ever talked to them about it. They have knowledge about Christ. They don’t have a personal relationship with Christ.”

He was talking about men considering priesthood – discerning a call to become a *alter Christus* – but they don’t yet have a relationship with the great High Priest himself.

It's alive and well even in our evangelization efforts.

Last week, before I left for San Francisco, I listened to a webinar on evangelization recommended by a reader. It was well done, full of interesting stats and insights but by the time it was half way done, I realized that the presenter never talked about Christ. Or Jesus. Or God. Or the Church in relationship to God. The Body in relation to her Head, The Bride in relationship to her Groom.

The presenter could have been talking about any number of large institutions or organizations to a group of heavily invested and concerned shareholders. How to reinvigorate the base, get them to commit once again, to be involved once again.

Business leaders are now using the term "evangelization" to mean aggressively promoting their products. There wasn't much distance between the way "evangelization" is used in business settings and how it was used in this seminar.

I realized after this weekend that we will almost certainly never give a version of Making Disciples during which at least one participant will not come to the conclusion that he or she is not an intentional disciple. (Which is a good thing) And will also say with an air of new discovery, "no one has ever talked to me about this before" - which is not.

"Don't ask, don't tell so permeates the air we breathe that the majority of Catholic actually believe that not asking where we are in our lived relationship with God and never talking about it is one of the essences of true Catholicism, one of those most profoundly Catholic things that sets us apart from Protestants.

As one Catholic theologian at a major Catholic university wrote me earlier this year:

"I particularly liked your observation in another post that evangelization--the church's deepest identity--is also entirely foreign to its sensibility or culture. That is very true, and we both know how such talk repeatedly gets classed as "not Catholic." I grew up in the remnants of a Catholic ghetto in NYC and such talk would have been inconceivable even a decade ago; in many ways, it still is. But, something is afoot, and we have to move forward as a church. Your labors are one such effort . .

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Korean Super-Parish

Here is an example of a truly 'missional' Catholic parish located in an urban slum in Seoul, South Korea. 
SEOUL (UCAN) -- A special parish located in the midst of urban poor communities in northeastern Seoul garnered praise for its service to them during its 10th-anniversary celebration.

Samyang-dong Mission Parish "has given much love to the poor for 10 years," Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Yeom Soo-jung of Seoul said on Sept. 4. I hope it continues to grow into a community of love, sharing and service."

The prelate delivered the homily at the anniversary Mass held in the chapel inside the parish building, a three-story house on a mountain slope surrounded by tenement houses.

Addressing about 80 priests, nuns and laypeople, he noted how the mission parish is "different from a 'regular' parish" in that it "is located in the very middle of the urban poor in the Samyang-dong" area.

"Serving and living with them is its purpose," said the prelate. Ten priests, five of whom work in mission parishes, concelebrated the Mass with him.

According to Bishop Yeom, five of Seoul archdiocese's 12 quasi-parishes are mission parishes located at markets, an expressway bus terminal and a hospital.

Samyang-dong was the first of these five and has about 80 parishioners, according to Father Elias Lim Yong-hwan, the parish priest.

The parish building includes his residence and a meeting room.

Clara Lee Seung-ok, head of the parish pastoral council, told UCA News after the Mass that the parish's networking with various small communities, not only its location and unusual physical aspects, make it special.

"Many parishioners including children are involved in a day-care center, a scouts group, a sewing factory, a secondhand home appliances shop and a welfare center located around the parish, all of which belong to the archdiocese," she explained.

Lee added that many parishioners come from low-income families and live in rented apartments.

According to a leaflet distributed to Mass participants, the factory was established in 1995 as a cooperative, the scouts group in 1998, the House of Peace welfare center in 1999 and the shop in 2000.

The welfare center offers education programs and activities for children, and organizes free food donations to elderly people who live alone as well as visits to sick people in the area.

Rufina Shin Deok-rye said that while the relationship between parishioners and the parish priest in a "regular" parish is superficial because of the large number of Catholics, her parish is like a family.

Othilia Kim Deok-sim agrees. "I once lost my faith but regained it after I attended a Mass here five years ago," she said. "The parishioners are close enough to one another to know each other's economic situation. So I feel like coming here to meet them all the time."

Both Shin and Kim work in the factory producing religious garb for Religious and priests. Like them, most of the factory workers are parishioners.

Father Peter Lee Kang-suh, president of Seoul archdiocese's Catholic Urban Poor Pastoral Committee, which set up the five mission parishes, says they are needed because the poor have become more isolated and anonymous in large cities like Seoul.

"In this situation," he told UCA News, "mission parishes support the poor well, because parish priests are always available to them and care for their welfare especially through the House of Peace," he explained.

The Catholic Urban Poor Pastoral Committee has set up eight House of Peace centers in the Seoul mission parishes.

"We plan to set up another House of Peace for North Korean refugees," Father Lee added.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Destruction All Around Them, Just Out of Reach

This poignant depiction from the Houston Chronicle's blog - where they have been live-blogging all night:

Galveston Co. emergency officials wait it out in League City

Locked in a reinforced-concrete bunker overnight, Galveston County's emergency management officials could only reach the outside world by phone and radio.

It was a frustrating night for dispatchers unable to send help to desperate callers.
The county's emergency operations center in League City, fortified to stay standing in a Category 5 hurricane, shook as sheets of wind sliced against it through the night.

The power went out shortly after midnight, and the center seamlessly switched to generators. Inside, emergency workers walked the fluorescent-lit halls in jittery exhaustion, rubbing their eyes and chugging coffee.

``I'm done answering phones,'' said one dispatcher, retiring to the bunk room after her shift ended at 4 a.m. ``So many people are stranded. It's heartbreaking.'' Rescue crews were under orders to stay inside through the night, until the worst of the winds subsided. But the panicked, angry voices on the other end of the phones begged for exceptions.

``I told them, we'll put you on a list. We'll get to you,'' the dispatcher said. ``One woman was mad because I told her she couldn't take her dog. I said, `Ma'am, we have human lives to save all over Galveston County. You're not the only one.' But she was upset. She was yelling and cursing.''

The dispatcher plans to retire before the next hurricane season. In the central command room, a projection screen scrolled with the latest emergency calls, documenting the restlessness of bunkered emergency crews.

``Fire crew coming out of shelter to respond to fire visible from shelter,'' read one update.

They could see destruction all around them, just out of reach.

Hurricane Ike "Underperforms"

This in fron the Weather Nerd blog on Hurricane Ike: (By the way the Weather Nerd is the blogger who predicted the devastating impact of Katrina.)

7:46 AM EDT: As I explain below, it appears Ike’s storm surge was far less severe than all the models and experts predicted. This was not a Category 2 hurricane with a Category 4 surge, as we featured it would be. Surge heights generally peaked around 10-12 feet, not the 15-25 feet projected.

Obviously, this is very good news. Hopefully the media will report it, rather than ignoring it. When a hurricane underperforms expectations, people need to be told this — and, if possible, be told why it happened — rather than being subjected to ongoing, unrelenting hype that pretends a lucky non-calamity was the calamity we feared. When the hype continues as if nothing has changed, the public is less likely to recognize that things could easily have been far worse, and that the doom-and-gloom predictions actually appeared fully justified at the time they were made, based on then-available data. This leads to ever more cynicism and complacency about future predictions. This is actually where the media screws up most severely in my view: in failing to ramp down the hype, once it becomes clearly unjustified.

Thanks be to God! I know that many millions were praying.

Obviously, no one is saying there won't be extensive damage or even deaths - as an unbelievable 40 percent of the Galveston population refused to evacuate!!!!!!

I know, I know, Mississippians did the same thing and so some tragic stories are bound to emerge.

But it won't be Katrina level horror stories.

Thank God. Thank God. Let's keep praying for all who are still hunkered down in the midst of the storm.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hurricane Ike

Dr. Jeff Master's, the founder of Weather Underground, is hurricane blogging and he says that Ike is a very nasty piece of work:

"Ike is now larger than Katrina was, both in its radius of tropical storm force winds--275 miles--and in it radius of hurricane force winds--115 miles. For comparison, Katrina's tropical storm and hurricane force winds extended out 230 and 105 miles, respectively. Ike's huge wind field has put an extraordinarily large volume of ocean water in motion. When this swirling column of water hits the shallow waters of the Continental Shelf, it will be be forced up into a large storm surge which will probably rival the massive storm surge of Hurricane Carla of 1961."

Masters is predicting that 180 miles patch of the Texas Gulf Coast (including Galveston) is going to get hit with a 10 - 15 foot storm surge.

The obvious: Please pray, give, and if you know anyone in the area, strongly urge them to leave now!

They really don't want their children to be able to tell these kinds of stories someday:

About our renter who was forced out of his car by water, took refuge on a rooftop until it crumbled under him and then (miraculously!) rode out a more powerful hurricane than Ike in a tree.

About my classmate whose father tied his family to a tree when their house washed away. Her mom died tied to the tree, her father died two days later of shock, and she lived despite being impaled by a tree branch driven through her lung.

About my parent's best friends who lived a half mile inland but were driven up into their attic crawl space by rising water. They found an ax there, chopped a hole in the ceiling, climbed onto the roof, and amazingly, (thank God!) their boat had survived and was floating beside the house. And so they sailed away, escaping certain death.

We lived on the beach and we almost didn't leave. One room - my bedroom upstairs - survived but the rest of the second floor collapsed upon the first floor. I have sometimes thought about what might have happened if my father hadn't changed his mind. Tried to imagine what it would have been like to live through that night, hearing the house crumble around us, the howl of the wind, certain that we were going to die.

It's not worth it. Go Now. Live to never regret it.


From the National Weather Service for Galveston and other coastal communities. . I have never seen a severe weather warning like this:

Life threatening inundation likely!

All neighborhoods... and possibly entire coastal communities...
will be inundated during high tide. Persons not heeding
evacuation orders in single family one or two story homes will
face certain death. Many residences of average construction
directly on the coast will be destroyed. Widespread and
devastating personal property damage is likely elsewhere. Vehicles
left behind will likely be swept away. Numerous roads will be
swamped... some may be washed away by the water. Entire flood prone
coastal communities will be cutoff. Water levels may exceed 9 feet
for more than a mile inland. Coastal residents in multi-story
facilities risk being cutoff. Conditions will be worsened by
battering waves. Such waves will exacerbate property damage... with
massive destruction of homes... including those of block
construction. Damage from beach erosion could take years to

Missing In Action

Sorry to be missing in action. There have been a number of things I'd like to have blogged on but I've been busy trying to get a number of proposals off and workshop schedules for this fall worked. And now I'm working on my presentation at the International Catholic Stewardship Council's conference in Chicago next month.

Our fall travel schedule has begun. Tomorrow, I will join Fr. Mike in San Francisco where we will be offering an experimental greatly shorted introduction to some of the evangelization basics that we cover in Making Disciples.

But I'll be back and hopefully blogging on Monday. Meanwhile, Joe has agreed to pick up some of the slack from the far off reaches of the Dominican House of Studies in D.C.

Impregnate the world with the Christian Spirit

The Pope met today with the Bishops of Paraguay on their ad limina visit. He spoke specifically about the vocation of the lay faithful and the formation required for the laity to fulfill their mission.
Yet in order for the Christian message to reach "the furthest corners of the world", said the Holy Father, "the collaboration of the lay faithful is indispensable. Their specific vocation consists in impregnating the temporal world with the Christian spirit, and transforming it in accordance with the divine plan. For their part, pastors have the duty to offer them all the spiritual and formative means they need".

"One significant aspect of the mission of the laity is the service of society through political activity". For this reason, "they must be encouraged ... to practice responsibility and dedication in this important dimension of social charity, so that the human community of which they are part ... may progress in justice, in honour and in the defence of true and authentic values such as the protection of human life, of marriage and of the family, thus contributing to the real human and spiritual benefit of all society".
from the Vatican Information Service

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

St Paul the Apostle

The Pope had some interesting things to say today in his catechesis on St Paul regarding evangelization and catechesis:

Last Wednesday I spoke about the great turning point in St. Paul's life after his encounter with the Risen Christ. Jesus entered his life and transformed him from persecutor into apostle. That meeting marked the start of his mission. Paul could not continue to live as he did before. Now he felt invested by the Lord with the charge to proclaim his Gospel as an apostle.
It is precisely about this new condition of life, namely of his being an apostle of Christ, that I would like to speak today. In keeping with the Gospel, we normally identify the Twelve with the title of apostles, thus intending to indicate those who were life companions and hearers of Jesus' teaching. But Paul also feels himself a true apostle and it seems clear, therefore, that the Pauline concept of apostolate is not restricted to the group of Twelve.
The second characteristic is to "have been sent." The Greek term "apostolos" itself means, in fact, "sent, ordered," that is, ambassador and bearer of a message; therefore he must act as charged with and representative of a mandate. It is because of this that Paul describes himself as "Apostle of Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1), namely, his delegate, placed totally at his service, so much so as to call himself "a slave of Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:1). Once again the idea appears in the first place of another initiative, that of God in Jesus Christ, to whom one is fully obliged, but above all the fact is underlined that a mission was received from him to fulfill in his name, putting absolutely in second place all personal interests.
A typical element of the true apostle, brought well into the light by St. Paul, is a sort of identification between the Gospel and the evangelizer, both destined to the same end. No one like Paul, in fact, has evidenced how the proclamation of the cross of Christ appears as "a stumbling block" and "foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:23), to which many react with incomprehension and rejection. This occurred at that time, and it should not be surprising that the same happens also today. The apostle also shares in the destiny of appearing as "a stumbling block" and "foolishness," and Paul knows it; this is the experience of his life.
Zenit.org has the full text.


Monday, September 8, 2008

Catholic Quote of the Day

I had to share this bon mot from johnmcg in the Vatican Has Many Voices comments below:

"Most people use Church documents the way baseball managers use statistics and drunks use streetlights -- for support, not illumination."

The Vatican Speaks with Many Voices

A important and thoughtful article by John Thavis for Catholic News Service from last week and one particularly relevant to those of us who seek to think with the Church but aren't professional Vaticanistas or moral theologians. The article begins:

"A provocative article on whether brain death is true death has illustrated once again that the Vatican speaks with many voices, not all of them equal.

The article appeared in early September at the top of the front page of L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper. That's a prime location in the complex geography of Vatican media.

The author, Lucetta Scaraffia, argued that the generally accepted practice of using brain death as the criterion for declaring a person dead was open to new challenges and debate, both in the church and in the scientific community.

Such a debate could have deep repercussions in health care ethics, particularly on the question of organs harvested from brain-dead patients whose bodies continue to function.

Within a couple of hours, the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, put some distance between the Vatican and the article's line of reasoning, saying that the content reflected merely the author's views and not the church's teaching.

In fact, previous statements by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and leading church officials have made it clear that the church recognizes brain death as "the true criterion for death."

So how is a regular Catholic-in-the-pews, glancing at some headline before racing off to work or to tend to some family chore, supposed to sort this out? Especially when you add the competing voices of the Catholic blogosphere, adding another level of "interpretation" - which many readers treat as authoritative - to the equation.

Thavis' article continues:

"The Vatican holds to a fairly detailed hierarchy of information that ranges from papal proclamations on the high end to offhand comments from curial officials on the low end. When translated into news stories, however, such distinctions generally fall by the wayside.

One perennial area of confusion has been the church's position on the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS. Although there has never been an explicit Vatican pronouncement on this specific issue -- it is, in fact, under study -- various cardinals and lesser-ranking prelates have weighed in, generating headlines as disparate as "Vatican condemns condoms" and "Vatican rethinks condom ban."

On another hot topic, some media recently reported that Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, head of the Vatican's Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature, said that Catholic politicians who support legal abortion should not be given Communion.

Archbishop Burke made his views on this issue well-known when he headed the Archdiocese of St. Louis, but voicing them as head of the Vatican's highest tribunal seemed to elevate them to a "Vatican says" level. The problem was, he gave the interview last spring, before he was named to his Vatican post; an Italian magazine got around to publishing the interview in August."

How many times have I read a blogger who treats a reference from the Catechism as an equal or greater authority than a document from an ecumenical council? Or doesn't distinguish between the writings of Cardinal Ratzinger - as a private theologian before he become Pope - and an authoritative encyclical issued by the same man as Pope Benedict?

Many Catholics are prone to the same mistake that journalists make: collapsing all pronouncements that can be somehow traced to some part of the Vatican into a single level of authority, How often i have longed for a really thorough, clear, and trustworthy summary of the subtleties in interpreting such things that Vaticanistas take for granted!

The absence of such an aid just makes forming our conscience and making prudential judgements even harder than it is already is. The depth, richness, and subtlety of Catholic moral teaching has its down side. It was formulated by professional theologians primarily for clergy and presumes a "ecclesial insider's" formation and a scholastic's joy in fine distinctions.

But the reality is that Catholic social teaching must be applied in the real world by very busy lay people who have real power to shape their society but seldom have the formation or the leisure to think through the necessary distinctions as they apply to a given situation carefully and evaluate the relative weight of various statements.

Sigh. We were having this same discussion 4 years ago. I must make an effort to find the good stuff that is already out there. If any of y'all know where good resources are to be found, shout out.

Catholic Charities Assists Hurricane Refugees

It's good to hear via CNS about a creative new partnership addressing the struggles of returning hurricane refugees in this hurricane season that seems to have no end.

"Catholic Charities USA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are joining in a new pilot program that aims to help hurricane victims receive federal and state assistance they need with less hassle and red tape.

If people cannot return to their homes after a disaster they need to find a place to live, a job and medical care, the same things a person arriving in the United States from another country faces, said Kim Burgo, senior director of Catholic Charities' disaster response office. She also noted that the maze of paperwork an individual must fill out to get assistance can be daunting.

With the new pilot program, one caseworker will be assigned to each family unit or person displaced by Hurricane Gustav, which hit Louisiana Sept. 1."

Sherry's note: I especially like the comment that a hurricane "refugee" who has lost their home is a real refugee who needs much the same things immigrants and refugees from other countries need. That is exactly what it feels like. The level of uncertainty and disruption is very similar even though you may not have to learn a new language - depending upon what part of the south you hail from :-). It is not dramatic exaggeration to use the term "refugee".


"As displaced hurricane evacuees were returning to their homes, staff members and priests representing the Archdiocese of New Orleans and Catholic Charities were on hand, starting Sept. 5, at the Union Passenger Terminal in New Orleans and the Jefferson Parish evacuee return site. An estimated 2 million people evacuated the city and were returning to the area by bus and train. From the city's main terminal they would be transported by bus to one of 17 drop-off points.

Catholic Charities staff members were on hand to provide information about available services in the community and counseling when needed and appropriate. Priests and deacons were available to provide pastoral care.'

Sunday, September 7, 2008

This Weekend

Where I spent my weekend: Westcliffe, a Victorian mining town in the Wet Mountain Valley (just under 8,000 ft high) at the foot of the magnificent Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

n 1719, Spanish explorer and governor of New Mexico (which was then part of New Spain - the border between Spanish and Anglo America runs along the Arkansas river) saw the mountains at dawn and named them "Blood of Christ" mountains.

The Sangres from Westciffe (left over morning mist and moisture in the air made them look fuzzy)

I'm waving at you from just above treeline, third peak over! I don't usually notice the attitude but I quickly become breathless while climbing 4+ miles up to 11,500 ft. Sitting down seemed like a really good idea.

Saturday morning, I thought I heard the clop-clop of a horse's hooves on the street and dashed outside to see an Amish woman driving her buggy to the grocery store. I got this picture just as a gigantic motorhome drove by.

Westcliffe is the county and seat and only town in one of the last unspoiled areas in Colorado. Unspoiled because there is no skiiing nearby. People still ranch and farm as they have for generations. A few more glimpses.

Look carefully at the faded printing:

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Nineveh Journey

Tthe Colorado Catholic Conference would like y'all to know about the Nineveh Journey - a 50 day nation-wide prayer and fasting effort for the election of pro-life legislators that begins today, September 6 and runs through election day. Each state in the union has a designated day on which that state is the focus of prayer. Consider taking part.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Called & Gifted: Texas Style

Speaking of upcoming events, vacation is over and our fall travel schedule is about to begin.

Fr. Mike will be at Church of the Resurrection of the Lord at Emmaus (wow, that must be the longest parish name I have ever encountered) in Lakeway TX with Mary Sharon Moore offering the Called & Gifted in a unique format: 3 evenings in a row on September 7,8,9.

The beginning of the fall is a great time to begin your discernment!

Ten Coolest Small Towns

Manitou Springs, our mountain town next door has made CNN's "10 coolest small towns" piece.

When my sister saw Manitou in the dead of February - sunny, icy, with great snowy peaks looming above - she fell in instant love. She loved the funky Victorian town huddled at the base of the mountain with its mountain creek rushing through - its Victorian houses clinging to steep slopes, its galleries, and restaurants, and the place where the hundreds of deranged people sing "America the Beautiful" before running the annual marathon up and down Pike's Peak.

So do I.

Manitou runs into Old Colorado City which runs into downtown Colorado Springs and the Garden of the Gods.

All wonderful places to explore.

Stuff Going On This Week

Reclaiming Fatherhood conference this weekend in Chicago for men affected by abortion.

The horrors against Christians in Orissa, India are still going on and the violence is spreading. It is stomach-churning stuff:

"As The Catholic Herald went to press some human rights groups reported as many as 40 people murdered. Conservative estimates suggested that some 6,000 people had fled to government-run refugee camps, with an estimated 5,000 more hiding in forests around Kandhamal. But Church groups said tens of thousands had fled the violence.

In one of the worst reported incidents, a lay Catholic in Tiangia was literally ripped apart by a frenzied mob while two others were left so badly injured they later died from their wounds.

Religious and priests have also been targeted and at least six have been seriously injured. One 21-year-old lay missionary was burned alive in the orphanage where she was working and several nuns have been raped, according to reports. Members of the Missionary Sisters of Charity - the order founded by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta - were pelted with stones leaving one sister seriously injured, said Asia News, a Vatican-based news agency.

In another incident rioters tried to set a priest on fire, but then stripped and beat him instead while a nun who was with him was raped repeatedly by the assailants. The mob tried to force the priest to also rape the nun as the police stood by, according to Catholic News Service, a US-based press agency. When the priest refused they attacked him with iron bars.

The rioting escalated, spreading across the region, and police and paramilitaries extended the curfew from nine districts to three more on Monday. Although officials said that the violence would be over by the weekend the clashes continued. On Sunday night four more churches and dozens of houses were burned down.

Tension began spreading to other Indian provinces including Karnataka and Madya Pradesh in central India where Bajrang Dal groups, the VHP's youth wing, burnt effigies of missionaries.Scuffles between Hindus and Christian students also broke out."

Indian Christians have declared this Sunday to be a day of prayer and fasting in solidarity for the victims.

Dr. Mark Miravalle has a interesting "Marycast" about a Lourdes Marian Congress taking place September 4 - 8.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

It's Hard Work II

Some comments below remind me that in our current political and cultural climate, Catholics tend to collapse two profoundly related but nevertheless distinct aspects of the Church's teaching that must both be attended to with equal seriousness.

1. The basic principles of Church teaching which all Bishops, pastors, and all teachers within the Church are required to pass on as faithfully as we can.

2. the actual application of these principles on the ground in a specific, historical situation.

To paint with a very broad brush, there tends to be two approaches:

Some Catholics tend to assume that the clear and faithful articulation of category 1 (Church teaching) makes application in a given historical setting (category 2) crystal clear and any Catholic who says it isn't crystal clear is really covertly attempting to reject 1. So they are prone to collapse 2 into 1.

One of the odd realities of our situation is that the sort of Catholic who is most prone to collapse category 2 into category 1 differs depending upon the issue at stake. It is often a different crowd who does so around abortion than the group who does so around other clearly named forms of intrinsic evil such as torture or unjust war.

This first group seldom distinguishes the articulation of the Church's formal teaching which obliges all the faithful from an individual's (even an individual bishop's) prudential judgement regarding the application of Church teaching in a given historical setting although they are NOT the same.

A second group of Catholics is more likely to dispute the clarity of category 1 (Church teaching) in the first place. Sometime it is because they truly do not accept the Church's teaching in a given area and sometimes they do so because it seems to be their only defense against Catholics who are determined to collapse 2 (application) into 1 (teaching). This does not make it right but I can understand the temptation to do so when you feel surrounded by fellow Catholics insisting that a given teaching can led to only one possible practical conclusion.

Often this second group of Catholics assumes that any clear articulation of Church teaching is really just an attempt to force Catholics to vote for a certain candidate or party.

Here at ID, we are attempting to hold both categories 1 and 2 together so that the fullness and integrity of the Church's teaching in both areas is accurately reflected.

So let's look at my postings of the last week in light of the above:

The numerous posts last weekend about the response of Catholic Bishops (notably Archbishop Chaput) to Nancy Pelosi's comments about Augustine and abortion fall primarily into category one - the accurate and clear articulation of Church teaching on abortion.

However, I intentionally quoted Chaput at length regarding category 2 (application) because he does carefully distinguish his personal prudential judgement about the real life implications from the Church's teaching and he acknowledges that other Catholics can come to different conclusions in good faith. Chaput is free to make his best argument for his understanding of the situation but he cannot insist, even as a bishop, that his prudential conclusion obliges other Catholics.

That is why I also posted last week about the Catholic Alliance for the Common Good's report Reducing Abortion in America: the Effect of Economic and Social Supports and another post regarding the current on-line edition of the Catholic Journal of Legal Studies which includes the complete proceedings of the symposium: Catholic Teaching, Catholic Values, And Catholic Voters: Reflections On Forming Consciences For Faithful Citizenship. This was to help provide data for further discernment.

The title of that second post was "It's Hard Work": Applying Catholic Social Teaching . The title says it all. Real-life application of even crystal clear definitive teaching is often anything but obvious and simple and equally faithful Catholics can and do come to different conclusions and may, therefore, end up voting (or not voting) for different candidates. Recognizing this is not dissent but true faithfulness to the fullness of the Church's teaching in this area.

Nothing could be more relevant to the formation and mission of lay Catholics.

The complexity of the application of the Church teaching on Voting and Intrinsic Evil is laid out in great detail in this post I did in May regarding my conversations on election night, 2004 with two of the foremost Catholic experts in the world on the subject. Read the whole post and the extensive comments below. i still agree with every word I wrote.

So, no, I am not attempting to tell you - covertly or overtly - how to vote. I am not collapsing the Church's teaching and the responsibility that each of us has to make a strenuous effort to come to a prayerful, prudential judgement about the application of that teaching in context of our own lives, vocations, and responsibilities.

And the last post about Sarah Palin wasn't political in nature or intent at all.

I posted about her spiritual journey because it struck me as a real life illustration of something that I have already written about many times at great length here: the huge number of US Catholics have left the Church and that fact that 4/5ths of Catholics who leave become Protestants and a simple majority become evangelicals. And because the fact that Palin was baptized Catholic as a very young child but is now a practicing evangelical was being discussed widely and vociferously around St. Blog's in the absence of any real information. It was not a not-so-subtle way to push her candidacy.

In any case I am not a member of either party and I don't know who I'm going to vote for yet so I really am not about to try and tell you how to vote. Really.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sarah Palin's Spiritual Journey

It's an all too common story. As many have noted, Sarah Palin, the Republican candidate for Vice-President, is a Catholic turned evangelical. She is one of the 1 in ten American adults who have left the Catholic Church and also one of the slightly more than 1 in 20 American adults - about 11.5 million - who have left the Catholic Church to become evangelicals. In this, as in so many other ways, Sarah Palin is very American.

Christianity Today's political blog has the story:

"Sarah Palin was baptized as a Catholic but became active in the Pentecostal Assemblies of God church while still young. How did she go from one tradition to the other?

It was through her mother, Sally. Sarah was baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church. And her mom discovered a more meaningful experience at an Assemblies of God Church in Wasilla, where Pastor Paul Riley had really formed a community. And Sally enrolled her kids in church camps and Bible school. This was when Sarah was about 12. She asked to be re-baptized. The whole family was baptized at the same time, at a lake right here in Wasilla called Beaver Lake. I don't know that her father was baptized--it was a mom and the kids. It was a milestone that Sarah never really forgot. She knew she claimed a moral compass that would stay with her.

(Sherry's note: Of course, Catholic sacramental theology rejects the whole idea of "re-baptism" since baptism bestows a character (a spiritual "mark" which cannot be erased and includes a sort of "right" to a particular relationship with Christ, and a spiritual power) which cannot be repeated. But nevertheless we must note that this act of conscious faith was obviously a spiritual turning point for 12 year old Sarah.)

"Was that pastor--Pastor Riley--a major influence in her life? Can you talk about him?

Pastor Riley and his wife became lifelong family friends to Sarah because she grew up in that church. Now he is retired and serves as a chaplain in jails. They are known for taking people in, including--sometimes--prisoners that Pastor Riley ministers to. He was at Wasilla Assemblies of God for 44 years.

How active did Palin become in the Assemblies of God once she was re-baptized?

She was active in high school. She used to sign her yearbook with Bible verses. She was the leader of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at her high school. She was a basketball star, and as a junior her team went to a state tournament in Juneau and they lost a really close game. The coaches told me a story about the game, where the following morning the coaches met for breakfast and they didn't see the girls. They waited for the girls to come down from their hotel rooms and wondered if they had stayed up all night and partied. And the coaches got up to walk out and saw the girls walking back from somewhere. They had Bibles in their hands. They'd gotten up early to go the church. And Sarah Palin was kind of the ringleader. It was pretty telling.

Today she attends an Assemblies of God Church in Anchorage and a nondenominational church back home in Wasilla, right?

It's a Bible church that she attends in Wasilla, a nondenominational church. So her faith tradition is eccentric in the sense that she's a Christian but doesn't hold one tradition in higher esteem than the other.

(Sherry's note: "eccentric"???? I can't think of a practice more typically American evangelical!)

How does her faith influence her worldview and politics?

It's really central to who she is and how she views the world and her job. One of the things I felt with talking with her is that, unlike with a lot of politicians who are running for office, there's not a sense of political ambition as much as there is a sense of service. I think that' s unique. She comes at her job as a servant.

But how do her religious beliefs shape her policy views?

I can't talk about how her faith influences policy because I haven't spoken with her about that specifically.
Adding Palin to the ticket has helped McCain excite religious conservatives a couple months before Election Day.

Did she make her faith and values an issue in her campaign for governor?

Her faith didn't play a big role. It's a very big part of who she is but she's also very private. It's not something she uses as a campaign tool. I don't think she would hold it secret at all if asked about it directly. She would freely speak her mind about it. It would be interesting to see how she responds to that question because it's such an important part of her life.

Palin has become a darling of the nation's conservative evangelical leadership. Was she close to that community in Alaska? Did they play a big part in her election as governor?

No, not really. I would not say that I was sort of amused [by Palin's rollout as a family values candidate] because she is a family person and is not shy about saying so. But it's not something used in her campaign. Her campaign was really about her call for ethics in government. That's what clinched the deal.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Weather Nerd

To follow future hurricanes and other weather, check out the Weather Nerd blog.

Great, detailed, and intelligent hurricane coverage from an usual perspective.

"Not Having an Abortion the Most Important Thing I Ever Did in My Life"

The power of a single act can resonate through our lives is so many ways.

The current discussion of Bristol Palin's pregnancy is surfacing a obvious but fascinating phenomena: what a woman chose when faced with a crisis pregnancy in the past has a big impact on how she understands the whole abortion debate now. Women who did not abort their babies are talking about how that experience propelled them into the pro-life movement. And 40 years after the sexual revolution, there are a lot of women who have lived that experience.

As one friend told Jay Nordlinger “ . . . not having an abortion was the most important thing I ever did in my life.”

Of course, we have all heard of or know women who had abortions and were brought into the pro-life movement by their experience of the consequences of that choice. You might be such a woman.

Any readers want to share their own stories or the story of a mother, father, sister, brother, friend whose real life brush with a crisis pregnancy (whether or not it ended in abortion) moved them in a pro-life direction?

Thank God

Thank God,

Gustav seems to have not had the destructive impact that was feared. In fact, as anyone who has lived in that part of the world could tell you, storms like Gustav are pretty much run-of-the mill down there. Property damage and evacuating from or riding out tropical storms and hurricanes have always been an accepted part of life along the Gulf Coast. It is the number of people living on and the kind of structures being built along the coast that is changing the equation. The storms are not stronger. The "Labor Day" hurricane of 1935 is still the most powerful storm to ever make landfall in the US (Florida) with estimated sustained winds of 200 mph.

What was really different was the extraordinary speed and efficiency of this evacuation. Two million people successfully evaluated in a couple days. The lessons of Katrina has been thoroughly learned. The question is, can we continue to pull such feat off every few years? But unless we intend to abandon the Gulf Coast, we don't have a choice. Now to pray for Hurricane Hannah.

And I was very pleased when Senator Obama made it very clear that Sarah Palin's daughter - and the families of politicians were off-limits. It shouldn't even be a question - on any side. Good for him.

Although I have just seen a Democratic strategist spin the whole situation to support abortion. (The Palins have a right to decide what is best for their family but the Republicans want to control the "choices" of other families.) That's inevitable in an election year but I'm still glad it was clearly said.

More - on more typical topics for this blog - to come.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Papal Mission Intention for September

As he did last month, Pope Benedict has offered a real gem for his September mission intention: 
"That, faithful to the sacrament of matrimony, every Christian family may cultivate the values of love and communion in order to be a small evangelising community, sensitive and open to the material and spiritual needs of its brothers."
I believe that these intentions, as simple and as short as they may be, are offering us some real clues about Pope Benedict's thinking and approach to mission. Let us ponder them carefully and pray them deeply. 


Do Not Conform Yourself to This Age

Over at the Corner, Shannen W. Coffin, shares a fantastic homily that she heard at her parish on Sunday. Unfortunately, the link to the whole homily does not seem to work.

The coverage of Gustav has brought back many memories of my own southern childhood - including witnessing the death throes of institutionalized public racism - so this is resounding with me in a fresh way this morning. I didn't know that a "devout Catholic" had written the Dred Scott decision.

This weekend, Fr. John De Celles, an associate pastor at Old St. Mary’s Church in Alexandria, Va., delivered a homily squarely confronting Pelosi and her thinking, but put the debate an interesting historical context. Fr. De Celles reminded his parishioners first of the papal response to slavery:

“In the year 1839 in a document called In Supremo, Pope Gregory XVI reiterated the Church’s ancient teaching against slavery, specifically reproaching those who: ‘dare to …reduce to slavery Indians, Blacks or other such peoples…. as if they were not humans but rather mere animals.’” Unfortunately, continued Fr. De Celles, “some Catholics, in particular, some American bishops — especially Southern bishops — tried to argue that the doctrine didn’t apply to American slavery, because somehow it was ‘different.’ It seems, caught up in the prevailing attitude of the world around them, these bishops twisted the clear teaching of the popes into something that makes us sick to think of today. They fell into the trap that St. Paul warns against . . . : ’Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God.’”

The confusion generated by the American bishops contributed, De Celles suggests, to the Dred Scott decision, written as it was by “devout Catholic Roger Taney.” This is what happens when “bishops — and priests — fail to clearly teach, or purposefully dissent from the well defined doctrine of the Church, handed on and protected by the office of Peter. The gates of hell prevail in society: slavery, the Civil War, and a 100 more years of racial oppression.”

But Fr. De Celles also explained what could happen when bishops courageously follow unpopular Church teaching, citing the example of New Orleans Archbishop Francis Rummel, who, in 1956, ordered the desegregation of Catholic schools in his diocese over the very strong objection of many Catholic civic leaders (several of whom he excommunicated).

With that background, he turned to Pelosi’s comments. In response to the notion that there is confusion about the issue of abortion in Catholic theology, Fr. De Celles explains:

From the first century teaching in the book called the Didache: “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.” To the 20th century teaching of Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae: “by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his successors…. I declare that direct abortion … always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.”

Fr. De Celles also answered Pelosi’s distortion of Saint Augustine, who “like all the Fathers, condemned abortion from the first moment of conception.” Augustine’s musings on when the soul entered the unborn child had little to do with the abortion question, for he agreed that abortion was always morally wrong. And in speculating that it occurred at the “quickening,” Augustine was limited to Fourth Century science. Fr. De Celles has little doubt that Saint Augustine would accept today’s science that human life begins at conception.

Fr. De Celles, drawn into the theological debate by a self-professed Catholic politician, reminded Pelosi, and those Catholic politicians that agree with her, that “it is always a grave or mortal sin for a politician to support abortion.” To those that argue that a priest shouldn’t enter the political fray, he responded that “it was the Speaker of the House who started this; she, and other pro-abortion Catholic politicians, regularly cross over into teaching theology and doctrine. And it’s our job to try clean up their mess.”

Is Nancy Pelosi, modern day theologian and Speaker of the House of Representatives, the “ardent, practicing Catholic” that she claimed to be on Meet the Press? Well, Fr. De Celles asks:

Imagine if someone came in here and said “I’m a mafia hit man and I’m proud of it.” Or “I deal drugs to little children.” Or “I think black people are animals and it’s okay to make them slaves, or at least keep them out of my children’s school.”

Are these “ardent practicing Catholics”?

No, they are not.

And neither, he concludes, “is a person who ardently supports and votes to fund killing 1 to 1.5 million unborn babies every single year. Especially if that person is in a position of great power trying to get others to follow her.” Like the unrepentant drug dealer or bigot, “they are not ardent Catholics. They are, in very plain terms, very bad Catholics.”

Now you could argue that it is this sort of judgmental preaching that gets priests or pastors in trouble, and there is little doubt that there were some in the pews that found Fr. De Celles’ blunt assessment troubling. But it also takes a great deal of courage to speak the truth so candidly. Fr. De Celles had to know that he would get grief from a handful of those who disagreed with him. He probably didn’t know that he would receive a round of applause at one mass, however. But he did so not to embarrass Catholic politicians that he didn’t know. He did so only to reach those of the flock that he could reach. He would not, he claimed, be responsible for misguiding those to whom he preached. His sermon was “about learning from the terrible mistakes of the past in order not to repeat those mistakes today. It’s about warning you against following those who would lead you to believe that you don’t have to love your neighbor because she’s still in her mother’s womb.”

Fr. De Celles words left the church in a pensive silence. No one got up to leave, but everyone seemed to listen and to hear. He concluded with a prayer that surely has resonance for all Catholics. And in this election season, I don’t think you have to be Catholic to appreciate his supplication:

As we enter more deeply into the mystery of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection in this Holy Mass, let us pray for ourselves, and for one another, and for our leaders in the Church and in public life. That each one of us may never conform ourselves to this age, but may be transformed by the renewal of our minds, always discerning the will of God. That we may be true followers of Christ, and in the most honest sense of the words, “ardent practicing Catholics.”


A link to the whole homily. Take up and read!

Last Night in Korea

Yunkyung and Yongkyeung Cha took me, along with their youngest son, Junseo (Michael), to a wonderful Korean restaurant near Junseo's "academy school." Their elder son, Junha, is a tenth grader, and was accepted to a prestigious boarding school about four hours from Seoul. Junseo goes to the academy every day but Tuesday - including Saturday and Sunday - for about three extra hours of organized study and tutoring in English, math and science. This continues throughout the summer, except for longer hours - nine or ten a day! This costs quite a bit of money, as you might imagine, not to mention a lot of work on Junseo's part! This is pretty remarkable, considering his father, Yunkyung, grew up in the country on a farm with no electricity. While we walked through a Korean folk village, Yunkyung told me of studying by lamplight after planting rice by hand, or threshing black beans with a rope attached to a stick.
Back then he decided that the easiest work he had was studying, and devoted himself to studying in order to leave farm life! His sons might complain about the hard work they have to do, but Yunkyung just smiles and nods and reminds them of the alternatives.

The restaurant was chosen for its food and location - Junseo had to leave by 6:45 p.m., so we began eating around 5:30: course, after course, after course. I can now add jellyfish and sea cucumber to my list of exotic foods! It was a feast fit for a Joseon king, and now, nearly four hours later, I'm still stuffed.

I'll be leaving for Tucson tomorrow, so no blogging for a few days, at least. I'll have lots of work to do when I hit the ground, and then it'll be off to Lakeway, TX for preaching and a modified Called & Gifted workshop at a large parish there.
I'm grateful for my friends' generosity and hospitality, and ask you offer a prayer for the Cha family.

Dreaming Big

This morning my friend, Yunkyung, took me to Chonjinam, the birthplace of the Catholic Church in Korea, about 90 minutes southeast of Seoul. Korea is rather unique in the Catholic world in that the faith was brought to the people by bibles and religious books (from China), and then spread through the evangelizing work of lay men who studied Catholic doctrine and believed it.

One of those men was Yi Byeok, who, in 1773, at the age of 19, read some of those books and believed. He acquired more books and began studying Catholic doctrine in earnest, eventually debating its merits with Confucian scholars, some of whom also came to the Faith. Since they had no priests, they observed the Lord's Day with prayer, reading, meditation, fasting and abstinence. After failing to contact the Church in Beijing, he sent a friend of his, Yi Seung-hun, to China in order to contact the western missionaries in Beijing and be baptized. Upon his return to Korea, Yi Seung-hun baptized Yi Byeok, who took the Christian name John the Baptist, since he felt called to prepare the way of Christianity in Korea. Yi Byeok became an active and effective evangelist, and it was this activity that earned the reprimands of his parents. In Korean culture, which was heavily influenced by Confucianism, filial piety was the most important virtue a man could have. His parents threatened to hang themselves if he continued to spread what were considered foreign ideas.

I find it interesting that these ideas were not the core of Christian doctrine, necessarily, but some of the consequences of that doctrine: the prohibition of worshipping ancestors; allowing men and women to sit in the same room together; and disregarding the distinction between nobles and commoners.

In his 31st year, after encountering his parents' self-destructive threats every time he prepared to share his faith, Yi Byeok entered a period of intense prayer and fasting. During this time, it is thought that he composed The Secret Adventure to God. He died of exhaustion in 1785, at the age of 31.

Yi Byeok's life is described in a short book by Msgr. Byun Ki-yung, the executive secretary of the Committee for Beatification and Canonization of the Founding Fathers of the Catholic Church in Korea. Msgr. Byun is also responsible for the plans to erect an enormous church in honor of those lay men who founded the Church in Korea at Chonjinam. It is estimated that it will take one hundred years to build an immense structure nearly two football fields long and capable of seating 33,000, with room for 15,000 more to stand outside. The site of the church is a beautiful valley tightly surrounded by tree-and-cloud-shrouded mountains. On the leveled site are 1 meter square granite blocks marking the pillars of the future church. It will truly be a mammoth structure, and a physical focal point for the Korean Catholic Church.

Located just 150 meters up one of the low hills are the graves of the five lay men who are credited with founding the Catholic Church in Korea. Along with Yi Byeok are four other men, including Peter Yi-Seung Hun, the first baptized Korean, two men noted for their scholarly knowledge of the faith, and the first native Korean catechist - all martyred in the persecutions of Catholics in 1792 or 1801.

While Yunkyung and I were walking around the site of the church, one of the workers who had let us drive up to the plateau drove up and informed us that Mass was about to begin, and would we like to attend? Naturally, we did, and I was able to concelebrate with none other than Msgr. Byun himself. He then invited us to a quick lunch with him before he had to drive to Seoul for a meeting concerning a high-power electric tower being proposed by the Provincial government to be placed upon one of the hills overlooking the church site. It was a delight to hear about some of the plans, and I regret that I wasn't able to understand a word of his homily at Mass. Yunkyung said it was about the early martyrs and the foundation of the Church in Korea.

The elegy written by Jeong Yak-Yong for Yi Byeok powerfully expresses the beauty of the faith for those early Korean Catholics.

A crane from fairland,
Came down to us common men.
Its feathers and wings were white as snow.
Cocks and ducks were jealous of its graceful features.
The crane's cry was strong enough to make the Nine Heavens tremble.
Its clear song stood out among the troubles of life,
In autumn, when the time to return came, suddenly it flew away.
What use is it to moan its leaving?