Sunday, November 30, 2008

Exchange

"Sanctity, then, is not giving up the world. It is exchanging the world. It is a continuation of that sublime transaction of the Incarnation in which Christ said to Man: "You give Me your humanity, I will give you My Divinity. You give Me your time, I will give you My eternity. You give Me your bonds, I will give you My Omnipotence. You give Me your slavery, I will give you My freedom. You give Me your death, I will give you My Life. You give Me your nothingness, I will give you My All." And the consoling thought throughout this whole transforming process is that it does not require much time to make us saints; it requires only much love."

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

HT: Pertinacious Papist

Keep Wales Tidy. Throw Your LItter in England.

Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed. But here a small boy says: "It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea."

"But that was not the same snow," I say. "Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely -ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards."


If you heard a lyrical Welsh lilt as you read the above, then you read it properly. Dylan Thomas's famous depiction of his childhood town, Swansea, at Christmastime. Flavored with a soupcon of mild, whimsical anglophobia.

Actually since Swansea is a sea-side town on the Welsh Riviera (and sports a few struggling palm trees) real snow there is like a major snow in Seattle - hard to come by. But reality never stopped a good Welsh story-teller.

But the snow is shawling out of the ground here in Colorado. It revved up a couple hours ago and we've probably gotten 8 inches by now.

Emmanuel Shall Come

On this first Sunday of Advent, we have gotten our first real snow of the year. A solid 5 inches so far in the backyard. And blowing. A little blizzard wanna-be. Apparently, we are covered by a little winter cell all by our lonesome since Denver just got a dusting.

Locals are dusting off their snowshoes and sleds and cross-country skies and trying them out in the parks. Ski season is getting off to a slow start here and ski- fever is beginning to build.

Not exactly the sort of weather one associates with key lime pie but I had 11 good size fresh limes staring at me this morning after Mass. ( I over-estimated how many limes it takes to produce 3 tablespoons of grated peel for the scrumptious citrus-chipotle turkey I made for Thanksgiving and under-estimated the labor involved. After nearly two hours of grating, my arm was about to come off. The results were fabulous but there has to be an easier way!)

Anyway, two key lime pies are now cooling in the kitchen. Your classic Colorado apres-ski carb load. I live a low sugar, low-carb life so I haven't made a pie in 5 years. But this week, I broke down under the pressure of Thanksgiving and a sort of post-two-months-of-continuous-travel holiday euphoria. Now I just have to find enough people to eat it all. If I could e-mail y'all a piece, I would!

The unaccustomed leisure also seems to have given me new eyes. I had several illuminating experiences during my last trip and it seemed that I sat through Mass this morning with wholly new eyes and was flooded with ideas and connections. Need to write them all down before I forget.

When I've got a better handle on it all, I'll share some here as well.

As we sang this morning:

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Under the Mercy

Pat Armstrong, beloved wife of Rich, poet and world traveler, dear friend of many including Fr. MIke, died this afternoon. I'm so glad that Fr. MIke was able to spend time with her last week and that her children were also able to be there.

I've heard so many stories about Pat and Rich from Fr. Mike over the past 4 years that I feel like I actually knew her although we never met.

Someday - under the Mercy - we will.

As always, your prayers for Pat and Rich and all who love them would be most appreciated.

Join the Advent Conspiracy

I entered the Church 21 years ago this coming December 20. It was what I think of as The Advent of the Three MIracles, that magical Advent when I entered the Church with my friend, Mark Shea. We had not finished RCIA, it was nearly Christmas, a horribly abused baby was dying, and the Holy Spirit was on the move.

Experiencing such an Advent leaves a permanent mark. That's one reason why I love this idea: the Advent Conspiracy.

Worship fully. Spend Less. Give more. Love all.

Exactly what I was feeling led to in this Advent of financial insecurity and trouble around the world.

Enjoy the video. Visit the blog. Talk to your friends, family, and fellow parishioners. Join the conspiracy. Give with trust in God. To hell with our anxieties. Literally.

Christmas can still change the world cause Jesus really is the reason for the season.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Numbers Game

I pity those standing in line at 4 am this morning to catch those post-Thanksgiving bargains. Cause it's white Friday around here (snowing) and I'm a bit dazed after two months of obligatory 4 am rides to airports all over the country. It really feels like a change to be sitting snugly at my dining room table looking out at the snow and feeling sorry for someone else. CSI: We put the "M" in Mendicant.

I wanted to share some of the other insights I gained last week on the differences between the Orthodox and Catholic experiences.

The first and most obvious is numbers. Fr. Gregory told me that the average Orthodox Church in America parish has 106 members and that the average Greek Orthodox church has slightly over 200. Holy Assumption parish which sponsored the workshop only had 43 adult members. The OCA is smaller than the Greek Orthodox Church but together they represent 60% of all Orthodox in the US. Orthodoxy includes 0.6% of all Americans and is smaller than Buddhism or Jehovah's Witnesses and about the same size as the American Muslim community.

After 11 plus years of teaching in Catholic parishes who describe their membership vaguely in terms of "thousands of families", I was taken aback. Only two weeks before, we (Fr. Mike and I) had been in LA where a recent synod estimated that the average parish boundaries in LA contains 19,000 Catholics, where they worried that only 40% of the 5 million Catholics in the archdiocese ever darkened the door, and where they had baptized 100,000 new Catholics in 2007. It was like being among Quakers again where little meetings of 35 or 50 supported a full-time pastor and his or her family.

While, as Fr. Gregory emphasized to me, there are very few significant theological differences between us (He quoted an Orthodox luminary who asserted that, apart from those places where we specifically disagree, St. Thomas Aquinas is a sure guide to the Orthodox faith - which made this Dominican-without-portfolio happy!) the numerical difference alone means that the life of the average parish and pastoral practice can't help but be profoundly different.

I asked Mary Jensen (Fr. Gregory's wife) what they would do when faced with a parish of 1,000 people. Break it into 5 parishes of 200 each - each with their own pastor - was her reply. Of course, that answer implied a couple things: that parishes of 1,000 are an anomaly and you only have to deal with one at a time and that you have 4 trained pastors at leisure, kicking their heels and ready to move. It means you live in a world where 3,000 potential parishioners don't just show up on your doorstep the moment you open a new parish as so often happens among Catholics.

In any case, the seminary training of Orthodox priests is much shorter than that of Catholic priests (3 years as opposed to 6 years (diocesan) or more for religious priests (OPs receive 8 years of training, Jesuits, 12 years). In fact, seminary isn't absolutely required among the Orthodox as Fr. Gregory told me about a very theologically sophisticated priest who never attended seminary and was more or less ordained on the spot. It sounded a great deal more like Catholic pre-Reformation practice than what we are used to today. To begin with, Orthodox seminarians do not have to spend two years studying philosophy.

Addendum: I should mention that 56 - 59% (I've seen slightly different figures) of Orthodox Church in America clergy are converts from other traditions: mostly evangelical or Catholic. This is very different from the situation within the Greek Orthodox Church where only 13% of priests are converts.

So I begin to understand the comments I had read from Orthodox bloggers that Catholics are good at creating structures and systems and i began to understand the comment one Orthodox woman made that the C & G was "business-like" - a response that is completely unique in my experience. Huge numbers require organization and a certain level of standardization. To enable 30,000 people to attend 380+ live workshops taught by 100 different trained teachers in 6 countries requires organization. If you are really small and local, you never have to wrestle with the same kind of issues.

In many ways, Orthodoxy in the US seems closer in culture to medieval Catholicism in Europe before the challenge of the Reformation, religious war, and modernity forced us to change our ways dramatically.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Together For the Life of the World

Fr. Gregory Jensen of Holy Assumption Orthodox (OCA) parish in Canton, Ohio (and the Koinonia blog) writes thoughtfully about last weekend's Called & Gifted:

Sherry asked me to fill in for the absent Fr Mike and so I found myself in the interesting position of explaining to Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians the renewal in Roman Catholic thinking that came about as a result of the Second Vatican Council. In addition to a more Eucharistic view of ecclesiology, the Vatican II also presented a renewed understood the vocation of Catholic laity in the modern world.

Snip.

Thinking of Sherry's presentation, I am reminded of the words of Metropolitan Jonah at the All-American Council. To the degree that the Church becomes is an end in itself, to the degree that it becomes "just for us' and not "for the life of the world," to that degree we lose a part of the joy that should be ours. Or, as His Beatitude put the matter,

"Being Orthodox is not about what we do in church, that's maybe 5%. Being an Orthodox Christian is how we live. It's how we treat one another. It's our self-denial and our self-giving. It's our self-transcendence. And, ultimately, what does that lead to, but the complete fulfillment of our personhood in Christ, so that we become who God made us to be in a communion of love with one another. One of the most important things, so far as tasks go that I think it's a vision that we can embrace as a community."

That 5% is important, critical, essential, but it is only the starting point. We need that 5%, but, we also need to keep our priorities in order. As Jesus says in the Gospel:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (Mt 23.23)

Metropolitan Jonah and Sherry were both touching on a theme near and dear to Schmemann's heart: the temptation to "secularism." When the Church becomes an end in itself, it becomes merely a part of life and not life itself and as a result, we live lives that seek always to Christ and the Gospel neatly in their places so that we are not disturbed and we can go about our lives.

Secularism, our neglect of our baptismal call and the gifts we have received in Holy Baptism is antithesis of what we mean when as Orthodox Christians we speak about theosis, of our coming to participate in divine life. As iron in the fire takes on all the qualities of fire and yet remains iron, so we take on all the qualities of God and remain human. This is what we mean when we say, as Catholic or Orthodox Christians, that Christ has redeemed us. He has redeemed all of human life or none of it. Again, as Schmemann says, "the term 'sacramental' means that for the world to be a means of worship and a means of grace is not accidental, but the revelation of its meaning, the restoration of its essence, the fulfillment of its destiny." (For the Life of the World, p. 121)

There are many blessings that came out of this past weekend. One of the chief though is that it demonstrated, to me at least, that Catholic and Orthodox Christians can assist and sustain each other as we strive to be faithful to Christ and His call to us. Yes, certainly we disagree on some points. But there is much we share and that we can do together that does not betray our respective traditions.

Several of the Orthodox participants were so impressed that they asked if we might tailor the "Called & Gifted" Workshop for use in an Orthodox context. I spoke with Sherry about this and she is certainly open and supportive of such a project. My own view is that there is relatively little that would need to be done.

Snip.

Grounding our vocation not in our conformity to an external standard but to the prompting of grace in our hearts and confirmed by the Church is something both perfectly compatible with Holy Tradition and often sadly lacking in our work with people in the parish and the seminaries. St Anthony the Great says somewhere that if I would know God I must first know myself. The "Called & Gifted" Workshop is I think a valuable aid in helping Orthodox Christians fulfill the saint's advice to us.

Fr. Gregory was amazingly unflappable upon finding out that he was going to get to substitute for Fr. Mike with only 24 hours to prepare! He did a remarkable job considering the circumstances and I often caught myself thinking "I must remember that." as he talked. Like him, it gave me a strong sense of the possibilities of an ecumenism focused primarily around our common mission to be Christ to this generation. I felt privileged to be there and warmly welcomes by Fr. Gregory, his wife, Mary, and many parishioners and visitors.

In Heaven it is Alwaies Autumne

Happy Thanksgiving.

It's is coldish (28 F) and grey this morning in Colorado Springs. There is a chance of snow.

I turned on the radio a few minutes ago to provide a background for the chore of grating 12 limes and a couple oranges for the turkey glaze. They were playing the Hallelujah Chorus.

I was instantly transported back in time. At home, my father always cooked the Thanksgiving turkey himself and played the whole Messiah over and over as he did so. It was due to my dad's efforts in cooking, music, and decorating that we always had a festive Christmas. He was a perfectionist about the Christmas tree, seeking out beautifully shaped Noble firs even when we lived in Mississippi; trees that took full advantage of our 9 foot ceilings.

Dada died two years ago suddenly while I was teaching a Making Disciples seminar and I couldn't get home in time to see him again. So this morning I am thinking of Dad, giving thanks for my father and praying for him. At his funeral, one of his old working buddies told how my father's life of discipleship had drawn him to Christ and changed the course of his life. May the same be said of all of us.

On this day of feasting and gathering and poignant memories for many of us, it is so comforting to be able to entrust our present and our futures and those of those we love to a God whose love cannot be defeated by death. We live in a world where Resurrection and Mercy is the deepest truth, deeper than any loss or separation we can experience in this life.

As John Donne observed in his magnificent sermon for Christmas Day in the Evening:

In paradise, the fruits were ripe, the first minute, and in heaven it is alwaies Autumne, his mercies are ever in their maturity. We ask panem quotidianum, our daily bread, and God never sayes you should have come yesterday, he never sayes you must againe to morrow, but to day if you will heare his voice, to day he will heare you.

If some King of the earth have so large an extent of Dominion, in North, and South, as that he hath Winter and Summer together in his Dominions, so large an extent East and West, as that he hath day and night together in his Dominions, much more hath God mercy and judgement together.

He brought light out of darknesse, not out of a lesser light; he can bring thy Summer out of Winter, though thou have no Spring.

Though in the wayes of fortune, or understanding, or conscience, thou have been benighted till now, wintred and frozen, clouded and eclypsed, damped and benummed, smothered and stupefied till now;

NOW God comes to thee, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the Sun at noon to illustrate all shadowes, as the sheaves in harvest, to fill all penuries.

All occasions invite his mercies, and all times are his seasons.

Happy Thanksgiving


I am preaching this morning at Mass, so I thought I'd share my reflections with you. Have a blessed and thanks-filled Thanksgiving!

Satan in Scripture is often presented like a prosecuting attorney. That’s the role he has in the book of Job within the heavenly court – he proposes that Job is righteous solely out of self interest. God points out how righteous and God-fearing Job is, and Satan responds,
“Is it for nothing that Job is God-fearing?... you have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock are spread over the land.”
Satan bets that if these blessings are gone, Job will blaspheme God. The name Satan is really a title - ha satan - the accuser. That role is found in the book of Revelation explicitly:
“Now have salvation and power come and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed. For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night.”

But there’s another image that fits the Evil One, and it’s found in the first book in the bible: the Tempter. He approaches Eve and asks if it’s true that she and the man cannot eat from any of the trees in the forest. No, she replies, only one, but if they eat of it they will die. No, no, no, says the serpent, you will not die (not immediately); rather, you will be like gods, knowing good from evil – or, in our terms – you’ll know everything.

But see what the Tempter has done – he has both implied that God cannot be trusted and pointed out the ONE thing that’s beyond their reach.

I like to think of the serpent as the first successful marketer. Because that’s what marketing does – it focuses our attention upon what we lack. Marketing is intended to turn our attention from what we have. Marketing is about creating desire, even in the midst of plenty. Marketing can suck the joy and gratitude from our hearts. It’s ironic that the day after Thanksgiving is a national day of shopping. If we are truly grateful for all we have, how can we possibly indulge in an orgy of shopping for more?

What we need to heal our fallen hearts is God’s grace to first of all recognize the bounty in our lives, and then trust that God will continue to provide – not all that we want, but all that we truly need.
And sometimes what we need is need.
When we don’t have all that we want to live, our minds and hearts turn to God. Sometimes in anger, sometimes to ask, “why me?” sometimes to ask for help, sometimes to surrender ourselves to his will.

But always we should turn to God in trust. Isaiah the prophet gives us the reason for this trust. When we were in dire need, mired in the futile effects of the fall, “It was not a messenger or an angel, but God himself who saved us. Because of his love and pity he redeemed us himself” That redemption came through Jesus – God become human – suffering and dying for his obedience to the Father. That obedience which we could never muster is attributed to us by the Father because of Jesus’ humanity.

God has saved us – that is the first and foremost reason to be grateful.
It is also the first and foremost reason to trust Him.

You provide for your children, right? Jesus points out that if we can do that – in all our imperfections - “How much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?” We can trust God to provide. Jesus told his untrusting disciples, still worried about food, shelter and clothing, “Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?” MT 6:28b-30

If we trust God’s provision, we don’t have to worry so much, and can focus on thanksgiving. I was told a little story about Rich Armstrong, who's holding vigil while his wife completes her slow exit from this life. They asked him, "what was the happiest day of your life?" He responded, "this morning I woke up around 3 a.m. and looked over at my wife, Pat. I saw that she was still breathing. This is the happiest day of my life."

It is fitting that Thanksgiving falls in the month in which we remember our dead and turn our thoughts to the life beyond this life. Those, like Pat and Rich, who are confronted with their mortality often are quite grateful for the simple, daily blessings that surround us. For them, this life is no longer about what has been collected – except for the collected memories, and the people who are a part of them.

Marketing gets us consuming, first of all a forbidden fruit, and since then fruits of our labor which are often unnecessary – something new and improved, or the latest “must have.” All this consumption requires us to work hard, usually away from our families and friends, in order to purchase the goods which we then give (in the Christmas season, at least) as a sign that we love and care for them. Why not just love and care for one another and spend time with each other instead? Why not make yourself a gift by putting on Christ’s heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience? Perhaps that kind of change, only possible with grace, is harder than working overtime or a second job.

Today when you’re being thankful, think first of the people in your life for whom you’re thankful. Because when our life ends, the new car stays behind, the house will be sold to someone else, your clothes will go to St. Vincent de Paul, and your money will be scattered to family, charity and the IRS. The only thing that endures from this life to the next is our relationships – and then, only what is good and whole and holy in those relationships.

If you have had a spat with a member of your family or a friend, celebrate Thanksgiving by reconciling, before it’s too late.
Build your relationships, don’t let them wither.

Make memories you can be grateful for on this day of gratitude. Consider your many, many blessings, and trust that like the slice of pumpkin pie at the end of your feast today, God’s got more where those blessings came from.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Raising Catholic Kids

As Sherry mentioned, I skipped out on work to go to Oregon to be with my dear friends Pat and Rich Armstrong. Pat made it out of the hospital into a nursing facility, but she's not able to leave her bed and is alternately talkative and seemingly doing well and quite uncomfortable and very subdued. Please keep her, her beloved husband, Rich, and their three sons Mark, Scott and Tod in your prayers.

One of the blessings of being with the Armstrong clan was getting to know the boys better, and hearing some of the hilarious stories that are part of the family lore. The tales of around the world trips (including emergency plane landings in Africa), Rich's often destructive attempts to be "handy" around the house, and the incongruities of Guamanian culture kept me in stitches. Think "A Confederacy of Dunces," only non-fiction.

Mark and Scott and I talked about end-of-life issues surrounding Pat, and I hope to blog on that before too long. In the meanwhile, here's a link to Mark and Patti Armstrong's website, Raising Catholic Kids. They know a few things about it, since they are raising ten of their own - two of whom are AIDS orphans from Kenya. They take their role as Catholic parents very seriously, and are evangelizing their children as well as catechizing them. Patti is an accomplished writer, with over 400 secular and religious publications, while Mark was involved in broadcast journalism for 30 years. Sound like great communicators to me!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cantonese

Greetings from Canton, Ohio.

It's been a very busy, challenging, illuminating, thought-provoking, fruitful 8 days. Some of which I will be sharing here.

Fr. Mike had to fly to Eugene unexpectedly early Wednesday morning to be with his dear friend Pat Armstrong who is gravely ill. So your prayers for Pat, her loving husband Rich, and their family (which includes Fr. Mike) would be greatly appreciated. This has been a tough week for him with the unexpected death of a much loved community member as well (Sr. Renilde)

I carried on with the very capable assistance of Barbara Elliott and Fr. Gregory Jensen and everyone seems very pleased all the way round. The first Orthodox-Catholic Called & Gifted was a big hit.

It's 4:25 am and I'm packing -finally - to return home to Colorado where I will actually be staying put for a while.

Home soon. Blogging will follow.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What does a distinctively lay spirituality look like?

This is a question that I have been interested in for a while. Of course, there can be just about as many spiritualities as there are people, but the idea of distinctive spirituality for the lay state and mission is something that the Church needs and, as with all schools of spirituality, it is the Church's saints that articulate it. 

I have been reading The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day edited by Robert Ellsberg and have discovered in them a spirituality that bears reflection and possibly imitation for those of us who seek to live faithfully in the world. In late 1935 Dorothy wrote out a "rule" for 1936, which offers some fascinating insights. She pledged to go to Mass daily, make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, pray a portion of the Divine Office (the old morning office of Prime and Compline, which are most suitable for lay persons and families because of their brevity), pray the Rosary each day, to recollect midday for just few minutes, to do plenty of spiritual reading, "to practice the presence of God", make a daily examination of conscience, and "to be gentle and charitable in thought, word, and deed" (and that she certainly was!). This is a very simple rule and is accessible to people in all walks of life. It doesn't seek to imitate the life of a religious or remove her from the world, but takes the prayer and devotion of the Church right into the world in order to sanctify it. When we read what exercises she took on we must bear in mind her context: she was constantly surrounded and visited by the poor and destitute of New York who were often very far from the world of the institutional church. 

Perhaps this post will generate some discussion. What elements do lay spiritualities contain? What lay saints are you most drawn to? What is distinctively lay about their spirituality? How does our spirituality and spiritual practice as lay persons interact with the world we encounter when we leave the house in the morning? 

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Christifideles laici after 20 years

Last week the Pontifical Council for the Laity hosted a conference in Rome on the theme "Twenty years after 'Christifideles laici': memory, development, new challenges and tasks." Pope Benedict met with the participants in the conference and had a bit to say. Here is the story from Zenit: 

The Pope began by explaining how the Apostolic Exhortation "Christifideles laici" represents "an organic reassessment of Vatican Council II's teaching on the laity: their dignity as baptised persons, their vocation to sanctity, their membership of the ecclesial communion, their involvement in building Christian communities and in the mission of the Church, their witness in all areas of social life and their commitment to serve the integral growth of the individual and the common good of society".

The Exhortation serves as a guide "for discernment and for the intensification of the Church's lay commitment in the face of the social changes of recent years", said Benedict XVI. It also "indicates the 'criteria of ecclesiality' which are necessary, on the one hand, for pastors' own discernment and, on the other, for the development of associations of faithful, ecclesial movements and new communities".

"The current cultural and social situation makes this kind of apostolic activity even more urgently necessary, so as fully to share the treasure of grace and sanctity, of charity, doctrine, culture and works of which ... Catholic tradition is composed. The new generations are not only the chief recipients of such transmission, ... but also those whose hearts await proposals of truth and happiness to which to render Christian witness, as already happens in such a marvellous way. I myself was able to observe as much during the recent World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia".

Benedict XVI then went on to praise the Pontifical Council for the Laity for the importance it gives to "the dignity and participation of women in the life of the Church and of society" because "men and women, equal in their dignity, are called to enrich one another in communion and collaboration, not only in marriage and the family, but in all dimensions of society".

Finally, the Pope exhorted the pontifical council "to continue to show diligent pastoral care for the formation, witness and collaboration of the lay faithful in all those situations in which the authentic quality of human life in society is implicated".

He concluded: "I particularly reiterate the urgent need for evangelical formation and pastoral accompaniment of the new generation of Catholics involved in political life, that they may remain coherent to the faith they profess, uphold their moral rigour, capacity for cultural judgement, professional competency and passion for service of the common good".

I am moved to see that he is still talking about the experience of World Youth Day, which seems to have had a powerful effect on him. 

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Financial Crisis not only Financial

I have an hour to cool my heels in the Phoenix airport - seemingly one of the busiest I've encountered in my years of hopping around the country. I slipped outside the crowded concourse and found a relatively quiet hall with an electrical outlet to re-power my Mac and go online. I found this interesting comment on the current global financial crisis from Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

"The crisis that the world is currently living is not just financial, and therefore the solution cannot be purely financial," he said. Instead, the economic crisis "verifies what the Church's social doctrine has said for a long time: When an economic-financial system goes into crisis, it is never due to economic or financial motives, but because in its origin, there has been a wound in the global moral system."

Part of the origin of the problem is a "crisis of trust."

"Everyone is speaking of it, of again establishing mutual trust so as to resolve the crisis," he said. But trust "is not an economic or financial element, but rather an ethical attitude.

"When the market erodes this ethical attitude, all of us know that it is no longer in a state of being reconstructed by itself."

Crepaldi contended that three elements are key for bettering the situation: "the market, on one side, the state on the other, and also civil society." According to the social doctrine of the Church, Bishop Crepaldi continued, "it is necessary to look with more wisdom at the market and the role that it can have."

"We would not have gotten to where we are now if we would have treated the market as a means and not an end."

In a fallen world in which human beings are prone to greed, self-absorption, and the tendency to treat other human beings as means to ends, rather than ends in themselves, any socio-economic system is going to be imperfect, and each will have its own aspects that can be turned to evil. All the more reason for Catholic lay people to choose to be out of step with the tired old "way we do things," to escape the tendency to groupthink, and to take the risk of putting their faith into practice in the marketplace in innovative ways that promote the common good.

News from Around the World

On the road again.


Taking off for Omaha and Making Disciples and then Canton, Ohio. My last extended trip of 2008. Fr. Mike graciously did the 4:30 am airport run and then follows in a couple hours. Barbara Elliott will be joining us in Omaha.

I'm going to be perusing 63 pages of the lives of Orthodox saints, provided so helpfully by Fr. Gregory Jensen of St. Blog's at whose parish we'll be doing a Called & Gifted workshop next weekend. I am already somewhat familiar with some of them but have ever heard of others. So It will be a pleasant education.

I had meant to blog this weekend about the Called & Gifted news we are hearing from around the world.
From Lydia Lim in Singapore:

" It's Sunday November 9th and the eight brave souls in my Called and Gifted small group and I have just had our fourth meeting. They never fail to surprise me. Today, after we listened to the first CD track, one of them said: I think of all the tracks we've listened to, that was the best. And when someone else in the group asked her: Why do you say that was the best? She replied: Because I'm awake.

Yes a few have found it tough to stay awake during the sessions. Despite that, all of them have come back faithfully week after week, except when work or travel kept them away. Each week, our discussions get more interesting.

Today, two of them related a moving conversion story of someone who is very close to them. They shared that what they had learned about the charism of Evangelisation helped them understand how the Holy Spirit continues to use this convert, who loves Christ but has some major issues with the Catholic Church as an institution and refuses to step into a church for mass.
I have also heard wonderful stories of how God has used each of them in turn to touch the lives of other people.

We are learning lots from the CDs, the small group study material and from each other. There's also a lot of interest in sharing the Called & Gifted programme with members of the other Catholic communities and ministries they belong to."



That's ok. I've spent most of the past 15 years curing insomnia with the sound of my voice . . .

Another of our prospective Asian teacher, Fr. David writes that he expects to be assigned to Hong Kong soon. He will likely serve as chaplain to the charismatic renewal in that city (60 prayer groups in Hong Kong).

Meanwhile, we received a proposal from some of our new friends in Slovakia (who I met at the Renewal Ministries training that I did back in September) to translate the Called & Gifted into Slovakian and establish a fully trained team in that country.

Meanwhile, Clara, who heads up our Australian C & G team, has lots going on. A teaching team for Brisbane will go through training later this month and a diocesan team will be established in Canberra early next year. Meanwhile, workshops are planned in Melbourne in 2009 and several other interesting developments are afoot.

They are calling my plane so must go. Will pop in as I have access. Home again next Monday.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Making Disciples in LA

The Los Angeles Archdiocesan paper, the Tidings, featured some familiar themes in the November 7 issue. All courtesy of Bobby Vidal, who is a praying and evangelizing movement all by himself but has the wonderful ability to draw others in.

"Intentional discipleship

Focusing on evangelization and discipleship is the key to transforming people's lives, according to Bobby Vidal, director of evangelization and lay formation at Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Church in Santa Clarita.

Two years ago, Vidal, then working as Blessed Kateri's religious education director, attended a workshop called, "Making Disciples," held at the Catherine of Siena Institute in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Based on the premise that awakening faith and "intentional discipleship" is a crucial step before catechesis, the workshop taught participants skills for building a culture of discipleship, including carrying on an "evangelical conversation."

"The primary thing to foster in conversation [with the pre-evangelized] is a foundation of trust," said Vidal. In a world where people are all over the spiritual map as far as belief and practice --- some "believe" but don't "practice"; some "practice" but don't "believe"; some "practice and believe" but aren't intentional disciples --- it's important to convey the understanding that "wherever you are, you are," explained Vidal.

"We tend to want to catechize people before they have encountered Christ as a real person," he emphasized. Intentional discipleship, wherein a person is inspired and mentored by members of a faith community to make a deliberate decision to follow Jesus Christ as Lord, "is the golden thread that flows through all ministry," said Vidal.

Results from employing a "discipleship" approach at Blessed Kateri have included more catechumens entering the church, a greater awareness among parishioners of God's presence in church activities, and a more welcoming atmosphere overall, said Vidal.

"It's mission rather than maintenance driven," explains Vidal, who adds that taking a discipleship approach "will definitely make a tremendous change in how we catechize --- not so focused primarily on content, but on introducing the person of Christ rather than the idea of Christ."

Members of the Catherine of Siena Institute presented their intentional discipleship vision at a three-day Mission at Blessed Kateri earlier this week as well as at a Nov. 6 focus group hosted by the San Fernando Region's evangelization committee."


P.S. If you are interested in learning more about what Bobby is talking about, there's still room in the Omaha Making Disciples seminar that begins Monday and runs through Thursday at noon.

Requiescat in Pace


Sr. Renilde Cade, OP, former Prioress General of the Mission San Jose Dominican sisters and more recently a member of the Tucson Dominican community, passed away a few minutes ago. A week ago today she fell in a hall at the Newman Center at the University of Arizona where she was on the staff, and suffered a fractured skull with internal bleeding in her brain. Although the bleeding had stopped and the swelling had been reduced significantly, her brain function steadily decreased and she entered the arms of her Lord peacefully, surrounded by members of the Dominican community and friends from the Newman community.

Renilde was a lovely person. She was always kind, patient, gentle, loving and hard-working. She was incredibly charitable towards people who didn't seem to deserve such charity - and who didn't necessarily reciprocate.

She loved Jesus.

I loved teasing her, because she would smile and say things like, "Michael, you're terrible!" When she was Prioress General - for ten years, no less - she said that whenever things were tough she'd clean the bathrooms of the motherhouse. Then Sr. Diane, the other MSJ sister in our community, and Renilde's dear friend, would say, "and boy, were they spotless!"

Some people age gracefully; and by that, I mean God's grace becomes all the more obvious in their lives. That was Renilde. Her sudden death is a shock to her many, many friends, and especially to her Mission San Jose sisters who love her dearly.

Our lives are so short, really, and so incredibly fragile - much more so than we suspect. We almost never know when the dawn brings our final day on earth. The last time I saw Renilde, we hugged and wished each other well and said, "See you at Thanksgiving."

Little did I know that the thanksgiving we'd be joining with each other would be the Eucharist. Tomorrow when I preside at Mass, I'll remember dear, dear Renilde, and trust that she will be among the cloud of witnesses surrounding the altar who have gone before us in faith and through the door of death into the fullness of life.

Therefore, "let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us
while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God." Heb 12:1b-2

Please pray for Sr. Renilde.

Tales of the Orthodox World and St. Thomas

Stories from the Orthodox world (much on my mind since we will be doing our first Orthodox/Byzantine Catholic Called & Gifted weekend after next):

First of all, this stunning tale from the Catholic News Agency which just tickles my OP bones:

"Stojan Adasevic, who performed 48,000 abortions, sometimes up to 35 per day, is now the most important pro-life leader in Serbia, after 26 years as the most renowned abortion doctor in the country.

“The medical textbooks of the Communist regime said abortion was simply the removal of a blob of tissue,” the newspaper reported. “Ultrasounds allowing the fetus to be seen did not arrive until the 80s, but they did not change his opinion. Nevertheless, he began to have nightmares.”

In describing his conversion, Adasevic “dreamed about a beautiful field full of children and young people who were playing and laughing, from 4 to 24 years of age, but who ran away from him in fear. A man dressed in a black and white habit stared at him in silence. The dream was repeated each night and he would wake up in a cold sweat. One night he asked the man in black and white who he was. ‘My name is Thomas Aquinas,’ the man in his dream responded. Adasevic, educated in communist schools, had never heard of the Dominican genius saint. He didn’t recognize the name”

“Why don’t you ask me who these children are?” St. Thomas asked Adasevic in his dream.

“They are the ones you killed with your abortions,’ St. Thomas told him.

“Adasevic awoke in amazement and decided not to perform any more abortions,” the article stated.

“That same day a cousin came to the hospital with his four months-pregnant girlfriend, who wanted to get her ninth abortion—something quite frequent in the countries of the Soviet bloc. The doctor agreed. Instead of removing the fetus piece by piece, he decided to chop it up and remove it as a mass. However, the baby’s heart came out still beating. Adasevic realized then that he had killed a human being,”

After this experience, Adasevic “told the hospital he would no longer perform abortions. Never before had a doctor in Communist Yugoslavia refused to do so. They cut his salary in half, fired his daughter from her job, and did not allow his son to enter the university.”

After years of pressure and on the verge of giving up, he had another dream about St. Thomas.

“You are my good friend, keep going,’ the man in black and white told him. Adasevic became involved in the pro-life movement and was able to get Yugoslav television to air the film ‘The Silent Scream,’ by Doctor Bernard Nathanson, two times.”

Adasevic has told his story in magazines and newspapers throughout Eastern Europe. He has returned to the Orthodox faith of his childhood and has studied the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas."


I'll bet.

And this news from the Orthodox Church in America's All American Council:

"On Wednesday, November 12, 2008, His Grace, Bishop JONAH of Fort Worth was elected Archbishop of Washington and New York and Metropolitan of All America and Canada."

His Beatitude is young and, a convert from Episcopalianism and his election is being hailed with considerable joy about the blogosphere. Congratulations to our Orthodox brothers and sisters. Follow the story over at Fr. Gregory Jensen's Koinonia blog. Fr. Gregory served with the now Archbishop JONAH as missionary priests in California for several years.

(Apologies to my Orthodox readers if I've gotten the title or style of address wrong).

Thunderbolt

Came across this blog accidently but Michelle describes well the impact that discerning charisms can have for one who is ready (and any major transition in life - such as facing retirement - tends to make you ready).

"Driving home from Petoskey, we were listening to a Catholic radio station when I heard a program that hit me like a thunderbolt. Sherry Weddell of the Catherine of Sienna Institute was talking about spiritual gifts, also known as charisms. She spoke of the joy and fulfillment that Christians experience when they use these gifts to carry out God’s will. I don’t remember her exact words, but I’m sure they echoed the essentials I found at the organization’s website, www.siena.org, which I quote here: "Every lay man and woman has been called by Christ (in his or her baptism) to a unique mission, and every lay man and woman has been gifted by the Holy Spirit in order to be able to answer that 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."

There was that word ‘mission’ again! I hadn't stopped pondering whether there was still something more the Lord wanted me to do throughout my busy spring and summer. Perhaps hearing this radio program was not just a coincidence! I was excited to learn that the Sienna Institute sponsors a ‘Called and Gifted’ workshop, which helps participants to discern their charisms. I couldn’t wait to get home to see if there was a Called and Gifted program in our area.

I devoured every word on the Siena website, feeling even more certain that the Lord did have a mission for me, and that once I discerned my charisms, I would be able use them in support of that mission. Unfortunately, I saw that that there were no Called and Gifted workshops being offered nearby. I decided that I would follow the program on my own by using the discernment materials suggested on the website. I put in my order, and was thrilled when my package arrived a few days later.

My first step in the discernment process was to complete the Spiritual Gifts Inventory. This involved ranking 120 statements on a scale from 0 – 3, where 0 indicates that the statement never applies to me, and 3 means that it often applies. The instructions stated that one should not rank the statements based on what we want to be true or think should be true, but by what has actually happened in our lives thus far. High scores on a particular charism don’t necessarily mean that the gift is present, but that it is a possibility for further exploration.

After completing the inventory, I identified the charisms that had the highest ratings for me. They were: Writing, Service, Music, Encouragement, Faith, and Administration. I was not at all surprised that Writing scored so high, since it has long been one of my favorite pastimes. I have kept a journal for years, and even consider it a form of prayer. It also fit perfectly with my latest idea for volunteer work, helping the unemployed create resumes and cover letters at a local non-profit organization. I had already contacted the agency about doing this, and I was set to attend training in September. Things were definitely falling into place!

The next step was to conduct some experiments to test whether my love of writing was simply a talent and interest of mine, or if it was a spiritual gift. The Discerning Charisms workbook makes a big distinction between the two. Natural talents can be inherited and are independent of God’s grace; they can be used for our own personal good, or even for evil. On the other hand, charisms are supernaturally endowed; they are directly connected to our relationship with God, are dependent upon His grace, and can only be used to serve God’s purpose; they are meant to be ‘given away’ for the benefit of others, not to meet our own needs.

Now I set about listing the steps I would take to discern whether or not I had the Writing charism. I needed to look for the following signs to confirm that this was the case: 1) I would experience an unmistakable sense of joy, peace and energy when using my gift of writing; 2) The results of my writing would be unusually effective and successful in what I was trying to accomplish; 3) I would receive direct or indirect recognition of the gift’s presence from others.

But what experiment would I use to test this out? I wasn’t going to start helping others with their resumes for another month, and I was eager to confirm that the Lord was calling me to use my writing skills to touch the lives of others. I needed something immediate to assess whether the charism of Writing had been bestowed upon me. After much thought, I came up with an idea. And that is how this blog began."


You can help Michelle with her discernment by dropping by her blog and encouraging her to write (and discern) more!

St. Frances Cabrini and the Charism of Faith

I just finished a brief interview with Brian Patrick on Cincinnati's Son Rise Morning Show about Stewardship in a time of economic hardship and the whole talk of faith reminded me irresistibly of the saint of the day.

St. Francis Xavier Cabrini.

Many Catholic Seattlites have a sense of connection with her since she was very active in the Puget Sound area in the early 20th century. (A popular parking place prayer in Seattle went "St. Francis Cabrini, please park my machini.") As do Coloradans who cherish her shrine in Golden.

In fact, one of her canonization miracles occurred in imposing house on a hill in Seattle overlooking Magnuson Park where I used to take my early morning prayer-walks. (Here's a great picture of the view of Mt Rainier from the park that I cherished.)



St. Frances had a wonderful charism of Faith - that extraordinary confidence in the love, power, and provision of God and the remarkable freedom to act on this confidence. She purchased the mansion that now houses the Villa Academy in exchange for a "cup of cold water".

The story is that she and her sisters were tramping about Seattle looking for a location for a new house and saw this house on a hill overlooking Lake Washington and Frances felt strongly that this was the house that God intended them to have. They walked down the hill and were waiting for the streetcar when up drove the limousine of a wealthy woman. She offered a ride to the sisters who accepted. During the ride to their convent, Frances talked about the house they had just seen and discovered that the woman was the owner. This woman made it very clear that she was not interested in selling the house to the sisters. When the car reached the convent, the woman asked for a drink of water which Mother Cabrini readily provided. A few days later, Mother Cabrini received word that the owner had changed mind and would give the house to the sisters.

Years later, one of her sisters living in the house was spontaneously healed from a terminal illness through Cabrini's intercession and that miracle opened the door for her canonization. Villa Academy contains a glorious chapel dating from the 1920's.

These sorts of thing happened to Frances Cabrini often. In Golden, Colorado, I have drunk from the spring that she found (on land long thought to be waterless) by knocking her cane against a stone and asking that workers dig at that spot. I have also spent the night in the Stone House that she built on that property.

Cabrini founded 67 institutions during her lifetime without knowing where the necessary financial resources would come from.

"Mother simply went forward with the means at hand confident that God would supply what was lacking. “Don’t worry,” she would say with a smile, “if I were to think too much about procuring the means, the Lord would withhold his graces. We have nothing, yet we spend millions.” No obstacle could stop her. She wrote, “Difficulties! What are they, Daughters? They are the mere playthings of children enlarged by our imagination, not yet accustomed to focus itself on the Omnipotent. Who is not weak? But with God’s help you can do everything. He never fails the humble and faithful.” (Catholic Exchange, Dan Lynch, November 13, 2008)

As i have noted here before: In my small way, I try to emulate the practice of St. Frances Cabrini when in a jam.

St. Frances crossed the Atlantic 30 times on her missionary travels although she had a life-long fear of the sea. She had developed a wonderful perspective on the inevitable snafus involved. She always said that when things got really difficult, God was about to do something especially wonderful.

There is one hair-raising story about Cabrini that I have little hope of emulating. She was riding on a train in the wild west when her train was held up by robbers. One robber fired a pistol at her pointblank through the window but the bullet dropped harmlessly to the floor beside her. Frances was unfazed and unsurprised.

After all, St. Frances noted calmly, hadn't she commended herself to the protection of the Sacred Heart?

Update on Pat


I learned via e-mail from one of her sons that Pat is in a coma and is not responding to medication. Please keep, her husband, and their three sons and their families in your prayers. Thanks, again.

Here's a sample of her poetry. Proceeds from her book, "Daring to Dance, Refusing to Die," as well as other publications of hers - and entrepreneurial ventures of her husband, Rich - go to support breast cancer research.




Pact
©1997 Patricia Mees Armstrong
(from DARING TO DANCE, REFUSING TO DIE, Small Poetry Press)

Sleeping and waking ... we talk in the night
he moves at my stirring as if I am
the spoon in his bowl of pudding ... he is
hungry ... I pad to the kitchen under
his remote control from our bed ... he wants
2 a.m. cocoa and graham crackers
the sandy crumbs outlast his hunger (we
learn that in the morning) ... as he slurps
and chews, I touch his chest and follow the pink
surgical maps zig-zagging directions
We have defined our closeness for forty
years ... he says we should prepare for what-the-
survivor-will-do-when-one-of-us-is
gone...he will be the first to go, he says,
and cites the mounting evidence in fat
medical records (hand-carried when we
travel or move or both ... those chest maps come
in handy) SO, he asks again, what will
I do when he's gone ... he expects me to
joke ... it's my way of handling pain at first
(it's all I really have in common with
Reagan, I tell him) ... to humor us
both, I say, oh, I'll go back to Crete and
walk my numbed feet on the beach stones and eat
souflaki at Anna's and pretend not
to be a tourist, euxapisto, and
wave at the goatboys who stole our apples
before they ripened.....I'll fend off Stavros'
(the landlord) ... passes when I pay my rent
My master listens with low-lidded eyes
I say, dear, I have great ailments myself
remember, Milord, you play doctor with me
every day it's needles and swabs
and the King with the axe and a neat pair
of dead feet takes it all ... SO it's MY turn
if I should die before you wake, what will
YOU do ... he smiles ... he would desert the cold
winter of his loss ... fly to Oahu
on wings and play golf until he dropped dead
aloha ... seriously, I ask him
really, what would you do if I go first
He turns his head on the propped pillows and
says ... I don't know ... I don't know ... we are too
close ... I move to taste the salt on his face
strange ... he's on a low-sodium diet
We hold each other and wait for someone
to speak first ... he does ... he could swear we're near
the ocean...there is sand in this bed and
he smells salt ... crumbs and tears make me think hard
I say, do you know what? ... I've decided
not to die for now ... yeah, me, too, he says

Prayers Requested

Please pray for two wonderful women in my life: Sr. Renilde Cade, OP, and Mrs. Patricia Mees Armstrong. Sr. Renilde is a member of the Tucson Dominican community of which I am a member. A week ago she fell and fractured her skull. Her brain is badly bruised and she has been in what's called a "stuporous state" for the past week. She floats in and out of consciousness, and initially when she was conscious, she would speak, although incoherently. She has stopped speaking when she's conscious, and the doctors are concerned that she is not improving.

Pat is a dear friend and parishioner at St. Thomas More University Parish in Eugene, OR, where I served as pastor for six years. She has had cancer for as long as I've known her, and has fought incredibly hard to stay alive - I think mainly to help her husband, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. She fell yesterday and is suffering from a brain hemorrhage. If she recovers, she will be placed in assisted living.

Thank you very much. We must not underestimate the power of prayer - even for strangers.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dorothy Day: What Can One Person Do?

November 8 was Dorothy Day's one hundred and eleventieth birthday.

And she, a woman of many wise words, has something to say that we need to hear:

"People say, What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time. We can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes.”

Home Again

I'm back home. Got in at midnight last night on the last milk run from Minneapolis. Much good and encouraging stuff happened last week. Fr. Mike is flying back to CS as I write and we'll both be here the rest of the week.

Then off for our last trip before Thanksgiving:

Making Disciples in Omaha and our first Orthodox/Byzantine/Catholic Called &
Gifted workshop in Ohio. And my last work related trip of 2008.

So blogging will re-commence soon.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

See How They Love One Another


This article on CNN.com relates a brawl that broke out between Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks in Jerusalem. The reason has to do with tension over a site that is maintained by several different Christian denominations, including Roman Catholicism."We were keeping resistance so that the procession could not pass through ... and establish a right that they don't have," a young Greek Orthodox monk with a cut next to his left eye told the AP.

I am sure many Orthodox and Armenian Christians are saddened over Christians fighting one another. Others may feel the resistance was justifiable. The site in question is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the location of Jesus' tomb.

When we Christians behave this way, it is as though Jesus was never raised. He might as well have died and remained in the tomb. How on earth will others be brought to Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the Savior of all humanity, if His followers can't see Him in each other? How can I claim to be a disciple having the mind of Christ if a place, no matter how holy, is more important than another Christian who is a living temple of the Holy Spirit? I do not intend to embarrass my Orthodox brothers and sisters; God knows Roman Catholics do more than our share of harm as we vilify one another over liturgical preferences, architecture, prudential judgments carefully weighed, etc.

On this day when we Roman Catholics remember a building, the Lateran Basilica in Rome - the Pope's Cathedral - let us not fail to remember St. Paul's words:
Do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
If anyone destroys God’s temple,
God will destroy that person;
for the temple of God, which you are, is holy
What will God do to the person who punches out a temple of the Holy Spirit - and gives the body of Christ a black eye?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Some good news

The case of Owen is being investigated as a possible miracle toward the canonization of Blessed Giacomo Alberione, founder of the Society of Saint Paul.

There may be two miracles here: Owen's, and that of a well-done, thoughtful news story about him.

Here's a taste, but read the whole thing:

Owen was born with brain injuries so severe that the family was advised to take him to The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, one of the nation's top neonatal hospitals.
After an MRI showed significant damage to several portions of the brain, doctors there felt they could do little for Owen. They released him on hospice status -- which means he was expected to die within days or weeks -- to his parents on March 13.
"We were very sad and uncertain but ready to accept whatever came," Danyo says.
Owen's grandmother, Rae Stabosz of Newark, is a believer in Alberione. She asked people to pray to Alberione to ask God to heal Owen.
Within two weeks, Owen was nursing vigorously, crying when hungry and breathing well. Today, his parents say, he is a normal boy with only a tiny delay in his speech development.
"He's doing so well, it's easy to forget how bad off he was," Danyo says.


More about Owen at his grandmother's blog, here.

Oxford: Always Winter and Never Christmas

C. S. Lewis would be rolling in his grave if he hadn't foreseen this sort of thing.

Oxford - dreaming spires and all - has banned Christmas. Even the local Muslims are furious.

"Oxford city council confirmed the events in the city would be renamed 'Winter Light Festival' to make them more inclusive, provoking outrage among shoppers in the city who called for a return to tradition.

The idea has come from the charity Oxford Inspires, the cultural development agency for the county, which runs the celebrations.

Sabir Hussain Mirza, chairman of the Muslim Council of Oxford, said: "I am really upset about this. Christians, Muslims and other religions all look forward to Christmas."

Fr Brian Van-Dungey, a priest in Garsington, Oxon, said: "I am a Christian and pleased to see my Muslim brothers joining in the condemnation of this stupid and dangerous idea; this sort of thinking creates racial problems and should be stopped in its tracks."

Rabbi Eli Bracknell, who teaches at the Jewish Educational Centre in the city, said: "It is important to maintain a traditional British Christmas. Anything that waters down traditional culture and Christianity in the UK is not positive for the British identity."

Oxford Inspires spokesman Tei Williams said: "In Oxfordshire we have Winter Light which is a whole festival spanning two months. Within that festival will be Christmas Carol services."

Liz Gresham of Oxford Inspires added: "We changed the name to be more inclusive." Ed Turner, deputy leader of the council, said the renaming of the festival was "unfortunate and sends out a problematic message."

He added: "It is the charity's festival. Among councillors there is certainly no desire to downgrade the importance or the prominence given to Christmas.

"There is going to be a Christmas tree and even if the lights are called something else to me they will be Christmas lights."

Want a Culture of Life? Make Disciples.

For all the sound and fury about abortion in the Catholic media, it is sobering to realize that Catholics aren't the real champions of life in the US.

The real champions are the evangelicals that many Catholic bloggers disparage so readily. To be specific, younger evangelicals. Especially those under 25. From an article by Ed Gilgore entitled "Evangelicals and Abortion"

. . . white evangelical Protestants (particularly younger ones) are consistently, and by sizable margins, more likely to favor abortion restrictions than Catholics.

There are variable measurements of this phenomenon, but no real doubt about the basics. A September 2007 Pew survey showed white evangelical Protestants agreeing that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases by a 65-31 magin; Catholics favored keeping abortion legal in all or most cases by a 51-44 margin (with no appreciable difference between Hispanic and non-Hispanic Catholics). On a related issue that helps measure the intensity of anti-abortion views, the same poll showed white evangelicals opposing embryonic stem cell research by 57-31, while white non-Hispanic Catholics favored it by 59-32.

Moreover, the evangelical-Catholic gap on abortion looks likely to increase in the future. An April 2004 Pew survey providing generational breakdowns showed that white evangelicals under 35 favored abortion restrictions by more than a two-to-one margin (71% among those under 25), while those over 65 actually (if narrowly) opposed more restrictions. The generational trend lines among white Catholics moved in exactly the opposite direction."

Gilgore points out the obvious ironies:

"therein lies a great mystery.

Catholic anti-abortion views, after all, are undergirded by a long series of increasingly emphatic papal encyclicals; a natural law and bioethics tradition stretching back all the way to Aristotle; an overall theological position making church teachings on matters of faith and morals binding on believers; a relatively low level of tolerance for individual dissent; and a teaching and disciplinary system that can be (and in some parts of the country, is being) deployed to influence the views and behavior--personal and political--of the laity.

Not one of these is a significant factor for Sola Scriptura Protestants. And unlike other moral issues ranging from gay and lesbian rights to divorce to adultery, the belief in scriptural inerrancy common among evangelicals doesn't really explain the vast gap between evangelicals and their mainline brethren on abortion. I've yet to read or hear a purely scriptural justification for banning abortions that doesn't ultimately come down to circular reasoning based on the condemnations of homicide from the Decalogue onward.

Evangelical hard-line views on abortion are not a matter of an unbroken tradition. In 1971, before Roe v. Wade, when nearly all states maintained abortion bans, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution calling for abortion laws that would recognize exceptions not only in cases of rape and incest, but where the "emotional, mental and physical health of the mother" might be endangered. Needless to say, that would be considered a radically liberal position among evangelicals today.

So whence cometh today's white evangelical anti-abortion ferver? One theory is that these folk are radically alienated from contemporary American culture, and view legalized abortion (along with premarital sex, open gay/lesbian lifestyles, and TV/Hollywood "trash culture") as a symbol of a depraved society. This is undoubtedly the view of some well-known evangelical leaders like James Dobson, who often indulges himself in Nazi analogies for the "Holocaust" of abortion. But objective measurements of evangelical cultural alienation are generally ambivalent, and they are famously enthusiastic about adopting contemporary culture in their own liturgical and missionary practices.

Another theory, for which I can offer little other than plausible conjecture, is that the "framing" of the abortion issue--particular its treament as fundamentally a matter of the reproductive rights of women, or of personal privacy--that underlies the pro-choice argument is simply uncompelling to many white evangelicals. Aside from the strongly anti-feminist bias of much of contemporary evangelical teaching, American evangelicals have become strongly averse to the libertarian traditions of church-state separation and protection of individual conscience that once was a central feature of their own belief system. And perhaps an inability to even hear the pro-choice case has reinforced the impact of such secular phenomena as widely available sonogram images of fetal development."


We are the ones with the rock solid case for the life and dignity of every person but we are the ones who are failing to "get" it.. Because the majority of our people don't care what the Church teaches. The majority of our people rarely or never cross the threshold of our parishes in any case. When that is the case, it is no surprise that only 22% of Catholics look to the Church's teaching when making moral decisions.

Want to build a culture of life? Evangelize. Intentional disciples care very much what the Church thinks because they seek to follow Jesus, Lord and Head of the Church. First of all, they will be there. Secondly, they will be eagerly paying attention.

If we don't evangelize our own, other people - non-Catholic people, people all around the world - pay in innumerable ways. Not just the unborn but the poor and the marginalized of all kinds.

Catholic Social Teaching isn't our best kept secret because we aren't teaching it. It is our best kept secret because a majority of the baptized are not yet intentional disciples.

Seek Peace? Work for Justice. Want Justice? Make Disciples.

More Election Freebies

Via Christanity Today

Krispy Kreme is joining Starbucks to reward voters on Tuesday with freebies. So keep those "I voted" stickers. They are valuable!

Don't know where your polling place is? Google can tell you if you just type in your address.

Christianity Today will be covering the election here. I find their perspective interesting as a supplement to
secular and Catholic sources.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Running Out of Excuses

Once again Tom at Disputations has nailed it:

"Next Wednesday, we run out of excuses.

We won't have an excuse to ignore everything in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship on abortion. We won't have an excuse to ignore everything in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship except abortion.

And if in four years we find ourselves mumbling the same lame excuses as this year -- if we again decide we don't care who does the nominating as long as we do the electing -- there'll be no excuse for us."

Amen.

Java Lovers: Starbucks has a Freebie for You

Starbucks, in an inspired moment, has taken up an idea suggested by a blogger and will be giving out a free 10 oz coffee on November 4 to everyone who has voted and can produce one of those "I voted" stickers. If your local polling place doesn't give out the stickers, they will operate on the honor system.

Early birds like me who have already lost their "I voted" sticker are out of luck, I guess.

Considering the number of expected voters, I'd avoid my local Starbucks on November 4. I don't know how they will facilitate it, but I would imagine its' going to be a mob scene.

Of course, it is very clever marketing but I do like the spirit of their You tube video:

Two Days to Go: What's Happening Out There?

On this last Sunday before the election, the stories are flying.

So I thought I'd ask, what are you hearing in your parish?

1) A homily about the election and/or voting?
2) A homily that focused around the Bishop's document Faithful Citizenship?
3) A homily that urged you to regard life issues as most important or not to vote for a pro-choice candidate?
4) Any political flyers distributed in your parking lot during Mass?
5) Has your parish taken steps to make sure no flyers are distributed?

And any other local election-related news that you think would be of interest.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Battleground Blues

My first experience of living in a battle ground state.

In Seattle, it really didn't matter how I voted because the tide was so strong. You knew how it was going to end before it began.

Not so here. Obama is speaking in Pueblo, 40 miles south, as I type. Sarah Palin is due back for her third visit on Monday. We are popular.

I've read that the GOP has targeted certain individuals in critical states like Colorado and is sending each one 7 different mailers and making 7 different automated phone calls.

I'm sure that I have passed the magic number "7" by now - and the weekend is young. I don't know why I have been added to this privileged group since I am not registered with either party. I assume that as co-Director of a Catholic organization, they had me pegged as a possible.

I experimented yesterday and tried to tell the determined person on the other end that I had already voted. The voice yammering at me didn't miss a beat.

But the stunner was the e-mail I received this afternoon. The one telling me where my polling place was, complete with address, map, and driving directions from my house. I actually didn't know that it was only .6 miles away and would only take 3 minutes to drive.

Sing along with me:

"They know if you've been sleeping. They know if you're awake. They know if you've been bad or good . . ."

Surviving the Time of Great Distress

On this All Saints Day - much to blog but also much work to do yet.

So I'll be brief.

Item 1:

Check out this Christianity Today article about Muslim background believers in the US. Amazing. Read the whole thing. Here's a taste:

Although Iranian churches have sprung from the same rocky soil, they are more established in the U.S. When the U.S.-backed Shah fell in 1979, pastor Hormoz Shariat was a Muslim student revolutionary chanting "Death to America!" in Tehran's streets alongside his young American bride, Donnell, a Muslim convert. Today, the couple's church of 300 in Silicon Valley is believed to be the world's largest gathering of Muslim-background believers. Arab Muslims generally do not reflect this Iranian receptivity to the gospel, where often the domino effect of one new believer turns an entire family to the Christian faith.

"In Arab countries, people see Islam as the answer," Shariat says. "But in Iran, they now see Islam as the problem."


Snip.

Besides leadership training, the network's biggest need is social support for immigrants stranded between Muslim and mainstream society. Last September, JFM opened a transitional safe-house to shepherd persecuted Muslim-background believers through Bible studies and employment counseling. "We had some [who had been] sleeping in their cars and on people's couches," said executive director Fred Farrokh. "Christians talk of finding identity in Christ. But for Muslims, finding Jesus requires a loss of identity. Leaving Islam is [viewed as] an act of treason."

Most new converts have no access to fellowships. Like Samir in Kansas City, they are loners. Their sanctuary is cyberspace. Their stories, usually told anonymously, reverberate on websites like MuslimJourneyToHope.com and Answering-Islam.org. Samir helps manage the latter from his basement, tap-tapping words of counsel to Muslim seekers in closed countries. As an apostate, he's a target of fanatics—"I'd have beheaded you. Wait for your death; it will come from a source you don't know"—and a lifeline for isolated believers in America: "An ex-Muslim is always an ex-Muslim! I'll never get the new identity in Christ the Bible speaks of."


Snip.

It's a bit sunnier in California, the adopted home of Iran's diaspora and about 15 Iranian churches. They represent about 9,000 Iranian Muslim-background believers in America, the only nationality cohesive enough to track, says Abe Ghaffari of Iranian Christians International in Colorado.

Missiologists say Persians have never identified as strongly with Islam as their Arab Muslim conquerors. While some studies estimate 500,000 to 1 million Iranian Muslim-background believers worldwide, Ghaffari counts fewer than 300,000—most of them isolated "secret believers." But even Ghaffari is stunned by how Iran's house-church movement of 50,000 has doubled in the last five years. "This is historic," he says.



Item 2:

The reading today at Mass are some of my favorites (Revelation 7!) "These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."

So it is most fitting that November Lausanne World Pulse is dedicated to the persecuted church.

The lead article is entitled Persecution: Normal and Expected. A few snippets:

First, persecution is normal for those who follow Jesus. Scripture makes this point from beginning to end. It is, quite simply, like the sun coming up in the east. Persecution is neither good nor bad—it just is. Certainly, Christians are not to seek persecution. But, at the same time, Christians need not give in to a crippling fear.

Snip.

Second, conversion is the primary cause of persecution. That may sound strange, but consider this simple truth: When people come to Jesus, persecution results. And the only way to stop persecution is to keep people from coming to Jesus. Conversion and suffering for the faith are simply two sides of the same coin. Many Christians in the West hold to a missiology of suffering that is, at the very least, biblically inconsistent. They see persecution as “bad,” as “a punishment,” and as “something to be avoided at all cost.” Western Christians facing persecution would typically ask, “What did we do to deserve this?” And that question really means, “What did we do wrong?” But believers who are more at home in the world of persecution would see things differently. They might say, “We are being persecuted because we did what was right!” What a different perspective!

Third, even when missionaries do everything right, the result of a bold and culturally-astute witness will be the persecution, suffering, and martyrdom of others.

The one who has shared the good news feels responsible. And Satan can use that good feeling of responsibility for his purposes. The words Satan whispers are devastating: “You were faithful in your witness. Now look: someone is being hurt because of what you did! Your beloved disciple is now being persecuted! And it’s all because of what you did. Maybe it would have been better if this one had never come to Christ.


Sherry's note: I have certainly heard Catholics talk in this manner.

Another article makes some excellent points about the different kinds of persecution that one can face for the sake of Christ: hot, warm or "temperate". Temperate is what we in the west experience and the author makes an interesting point:

"This oppressive atmosphere shuts most Christian’s mouths when it comes to sharing faith as a way of life. We in the West try to adapt. We become educated and rich to gain approval. Or, we focus on deeds of compassion without accompanying verbal proclamation to be affirmed by the secular majority. Either approach makes Christian faith rather toothless and tasteless. I believe we in the West are perhaps most crippled when it comes to religious persecution, even though it is of only the temperate, but oh so sly, variety."


Item 3:

The international Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is November 9.

Over 100,000 U.S. churches, representing nearly every U.S. denomination, are estimated to have taken part in the IDOP. Christians in over 130 countries remembered the persecuted on the IDOP.

In light of the horrors we have been hearing about in India and Iraq, this is definitely something that Catholics should be part of.