Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The 2009 Martyrs of England and Wales Calendar

I have just received a lovely one of-a-kind gift from Michael and Theresa Schweigert of New York: a home-produced color 2009 calendar dedicated to the Catholic Martyrs of England and Wales.

This is a true work of love with many pictures and a wealth of information about many martyrs, including those that are not well-known such as St. Nicholas Owen, the Jesuit lay brother who build many "priest holes" in houses throughout England and saved the lives of hundreds. The calendar also includes pictures of Baddesley Clinton, the 15th manor house where Owen created three of his most clever hiding places - including one in an old toilet (!) and of Coughton Court where the staunchly Catholic Throckmorton family has lived for nearly 6 centuries.

The many great women who were part of the Catholic resistance are honored, including Anne Vaux who helped Fr. Garnett, the Jesuit superior in England, establish hiding places, Margaret Clement Giggs, the adopted daughter of St. Thomas More who risked her life to feed the imprisoned monks of the London Charterhouse, and of course, Margaret Clitheroe, the "pearl of York".

Although I have always had a strong interest in the English recusants, there are many names and details in this calendar that I was not familiar with. It would be of great interest to historically minded Catholics (great for home-schooling parents) and the Schweigerts are praying that they might find an interested publisher.

If you are interested in learning more or helping them with this project, feel free to drop Michael Schweigert a line at

Called & Gifted Down Under

Oh - and our Aussie team will be busy in February.

Called and Gifted Teacher Training
Sunday 8 February 2009
Corpus Christi Parish Tuggeranong [Canberra]
Contact: Lorraine Barker 0437329371

Called and Gifted Workshop [abridged]
Foundations in Catholic Youth Leadership Conference Canberra
9-13 February 2009
An introduction to the Called and Gifted Workshop will be presented on Tuesday 10 February;
Contact: Jenny Drum 02 6163 4313

Called and Gifted II
12 hours over six sessions.
Commencing Tuesday 17 February 5-7pm
Thomas Carr Centre, 278 Victoria Pde East Melbourne

Prerequisite: Must have completed Called and Gifted I and Personal Interview
A practical program which guides participants in discerning their own gifts and understanding the gifts of others. It provides the tools for on-going discernment as a life-habit for nurturing spiritual development. It assists the development of skills for recognising and calling forth the gifts of others.

Coming to a Parish Near You

Stuff is happening again this weekend.

There will be a Called & Gifted workshop at Blessed Kateri Takakwitha parish in Santa Clarita, California and another Called & Gifted at St. Paul's parish in Pocatello, Idaho.

On Monday and Tuesday, Fr. Mike and I will be speaking at the clergy conference for the Archdiocese of Omaha. The topic is no surprise. Intentional discipleship and its fruits, including its impact on the priestly office, an introduction to pre-discipleship spiritual thresholds, and a chance to listen to and respond to what we call "a threshold conversation". It should be fun.

Meanwhile, the book beckons. . .

Campus Ministry: Colorado Style

A unprecedented crowd gathered for a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Dinesh D’Souza at the University of Colorado at Boulder on Monday night. A sold out crowd of 2,050 filled Macky auditorium and 300 had to watch on video beamed to another building on campus.

(For those of you not familiar with the Colorado scene, Boulder and Colorado Springs popularly represent the ying and yang of spirituality here. Boulder is a kind of Seattle-in-the-Rockies: hostile to historic forms of western faith and entranced by all and any alternate spiritualities as well as the rejection of faith altogether. Colorado Springs is - famously or notoriously, take your pick - home to over 100 evangelical Protestant organizations including Focus on the Family, Young Life, the Navigators, the International Bible Society, etc.

We all know the drill. The "Land of None" vs the Bible belt. )

The debate, moderated by Denver radio talk show host Dan Caplis, was sponsored by the St. Thomas Aquinas Center for Catholic Thought, an intellectual outreach program of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Boulder, Colorado. The event centered on the theme “What’s so Great about God? – Atheism vs. Religion.”

Father Kevin Augustyn, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, prefaced the debate, saying, “As Catholics, we are not afraid of intellectual debate. Faith and reason are not opposed to each other.”

And they are living this conviction in very interesting ways. Take a look at their spring, 2009 lecture series.

The two priests in residence are young, the staff high-powered, and the parish website features two blogs. This is *not* "don't ask, don't tell" Catholicism. Campus ministry confidently reaching out in a way intelligently geared to Boulder's unique situation and culture. Thank God!

Read about the details of the debate here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Slender Incursions of Splintered Light

From Steven Sparrow in New Zealand, a faithful ID reader:

My young facebook friend Kathryn McBeath (devout evangelical Christian) posted this on my page last night.

"Letter to Lew Smedes

By Rod Jellema

I have to look for cracks and crevices.
Don't tell me how God's mercy
Is as wide as the ocean, as deep as the sea.
I already believe it, but that infinite prospect
Gets further away the more we mouth it.
I thank you for lamenting his absences-
His absence from marriages going mad, our sons dying young, from the
Terrors of history: Treblinka, Vietnam,
September Eleven. His visible absence
Makes it hard for us in our time
To celebrate his invisible Presence.

This must be why mystics and poets record
The slender incursions of splintered light,
Echoes, fragments, odd words and phrases
Like flashes through darkened hallways.
These stabs remind me that the proud
Portly old church is really only
That cut green slip grafted into a tiny nick
That merciful God himself slit into the stem
Of his chosen Judah. The thin and tenuous
Thread we hang by, so astonishing,
Is the metaphor I need at the shoreline
Of all those immeasurable oceans of love."

Brideshead Eviscerated

Winter has returned. A week ago, it was pushing 70. Today, is it -5 degrees F.

Saw the 2008 version of Brideshead Revisited last night. For someone who has read the book a number of times and seen the wonderful 1981 BBC mini-series, this version is a paragon of awfulness and unwatchableness. i didn't bother finishing it. Not even Emma Thompson could save it.

Trying to reduce Brideshead to the most shallow and conventional of 21st century anti-Catholic tracts is embarrassing. I think Barbara Nicolosi summed it up best in her devastating evaluation (which is well worth reading): Brideshead Eviscerated.


Don't waste your dollars, Netflix choices, or precious time on this one. Plan ahead for your next long weekend and watch the eleven hour 1981 BBC version instead which some regard as the finest film ever made for television.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Vatican YouTube

The Vatican has launched a new YouTube site as a means to engage the world, especially youth, in a new way. It will present information in four languages, including English. Here's a brief description of the channel:
This channel offers news coverage of the main activities of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI and of relevant Vatican events.
It is updated daily.
Video images are produced by Centro Televisio Vaticano (CTV), texts by Vatican Radio (RV) and CTV.
This video-news presents the Catholic Churchs position regarding the principal issues of the world today.
Links give access to the full and official texts of cited documents.

You can still be among the first 10,000 to subscribe to the daily feed!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

How Time Flies When We are Separated . . .

Principium Unitatis, a thoughtful blog dedicated to the unification of Protestants and Catholics, has a truly unique widget that constantly tracks how long we have been separated from one another:

Right now, as I type these words:

Catholics and Protestants have presently been separated from each other for a total of 488 years, 21 days, 28 hours, 15 minutes and 48 seconds.

By the time you read this, who knows?

What Happened at Vatican II?

Airplanes are wonderful places to do serious reading and one of the few places in my life when I can do so without guilt.

Which is how I made it through my first, fascinated reading of "What Happened at Vatican II?" by John W. O'Malley.

One of the things I dislike most about the polarization of the US Church is how difficult it is to feel like one has access to really solid, trustworthy historical sources because no matter what you read, half the Catholics in America are going to insist that it is all spin. Most of the reviews of this book that I read were really devoted to reading back into the past how the reviewers feel about the state of the Church now - 50 years later. None of them addressed the issue of this book's historicity, which would seem to be critical because O'Malley is writing as a historian, not a theologian and they are radically different disciplines.

But the Council was a true historical event and to understand it, it is critical to first understand how those who were there and shaped events actually thought and acted. Before we start interpreting the Council in light of what has happened since, we first must know what actually happened then. Give me a well-documented, blow-by-blow historical account of what was done and said when and where by whom *before* you try to sell me on what it meant.

I have been trying to piece it together bit by bit on my own but as O'Malley points out, the office Acta of the Council, published by the Vatican Press in 1999 is 51 volumes long and many of those volumes run 800 pages. For all practical purposes, people like thee and me are dependent upon scholars who have the time and ability to master the primary documents. It is very helpful that O'Malley includes a chronology of the Council and brief descriptions of 65 of the major players and his footnotes are extremely interesting (although in five languages). It is especially intriguing that O'Malley has had a life=long scholarly interest in both the Council of Trent and Vatican II. By the way, O'Malley is a good writer and most of the book is a truly gripping read.

I experienced a number of ahas just from the depiction of the progression of events. For one thing, we now know that Pius XI in the 20's and Pius XII in the 50's both seriously considered calling a council essentially to resume and complete Vatican I which was interrupted by the occupation of Rome by Italian troops in 1870 and have never officially closed. But in 1959, it seems that not even Pope John XXIII knew that. He always maintained that the idea came to him as a spontaneous inspiration.

John never mentioned Vatican I and there is no reason to believe that he understood his council as a resumption of Vatican I. Calling it Vatican II meant that it was a completely separate Council.

One reading is not enough but I wanted to share O"Malley's passage on the significance of the January 25, 1959 date.

Pope John's diary gives some fascinating clues: On January 20, he wrote that he intended the council to be an invitation to spiritual renewal for the church and for the world.

As is also clear from the Pope's diary, he chose january 25 to make the announcement because on that date, he was scheduled to be at the basilica of St. Paul to close the Church Unity Octave, a week of prayer for Christian unity that originated in the United States in 1908 with an Anglican priest and had become widely popular even in Catholic circles. As Pope John put it in his speech of Jan 25, one aim of the Council was "a renewed cordial invitation to the faithful of the separated communities to participate with us in this quest for unity and grace, for which so many souls long in all parts of the world."

50 Years

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of Pope John XXIII's announcement that he intended to call an ecumenical Council.

It was fascinating and illuminating trying to find a decent video to post. The vast majority of English language videos on the topic of John XXIII and the Council are of the "Vatican II = Apostasy" school of thought.

But the Italian documentaries of the era are fascinating and give a vivid sense of Pope John's warm, down-to-earth manner and his trips around Rome which won't strike us as dramatic after John Paul II, but coming after Pius XII, it was a revolution in style. Fr. Michael Sweeney used to tell me that John XXIII was a theological conservative. It was his warmth, spontaneity, and openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit that made him seem like a liberal.

These two videos give a vivid sense of the man and his time, charmingly idiosyncratic English subtitles and all. Part two includes the Pope's moving visit to a Roman prison and some rare footage of the beginning of the council.

Friday, January 23, 2009

For God's Sake, Let's Talk

I stumbled across a short CNN article entitled "Why So Many Minds Think Alike", Jan 15, 2009 and was fascinated by the research that has been done into the biological basis for "group think".

"A new study in the journal Neuron shows when people hold an opinion differing from others in a group, their brains produce an error signal. A zone of the brain popularly called the "oops area" becomes extra active, while the "reward area" slows down, making us think we are too different.

"We show that a deviation from the group opinion is regarded by the brain as a punishment," said Vasily Klucharev, postdoctoral fellow at the F.C. Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging in the Netherlands and lead author of the study


The two leading theories of conformity are that people look to the group because they're unsure of what to do, and that people go along with the norm because they are afraid of being different, said Dr. Gregory Berns, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia.

Berns' research, which he describes in the book "Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently," found that brain mechanisms associated with fear and anxiety do play a part in situations where a person feels his or her opinion goes against the grain.

Participants looked at projections of three-dimensional objects, and had to identify which shapes were similar. As with the new study in Neuron, participants tended to shift their opinion to the majority view, although in this case the problems had objectively correct answers. The effect was also more potent in this experiment because actors were in the room to simulate a group with a shared opinion, he said.

But brain images revealed participants were not lying just to fit in. Changes in the activation of the visual part of the brain suggest the group opinion actually changed participants' perceptions of what they saw.

The implications of these studies are many and at so many levels. First and foremost that human beings literally find it difficult (not impossible) to think about things, to recognize realities, and to perceive things that they do not hear or see that others also thinking and perceiving. Even when there are objectively correct answers, individuals will tend to honestly "see" what the group tells them that they should see. Notice that this dynamic increased significantly when a group of actors verbalized a "common opinion" in the presence of those being tested.

This absolutely supports the Spiral of Silence" theory that we have written about before here and the de facto "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" cultural norms that permeates Catholic practice and community life (here.)

We are acutely aware of this dynamic when it comes to life issues. How long have we complained about media bias regarding the whole abortion debate? How many bloggers noted the way in which the MSM almost completely ignores the hundreds of thousands who turned out for the March for Life in Washington, D. C. yesterday? Mollie over at Get Religion found this stunning headline over an AP Video of the March for Life yesterday: Scores March Against Abortion.

Scores. As in groups of 20. You know, like 60 or 80. Maybe 100. A fitting headline for an event where the participation is estimated to have been between 200,000 and 300,000.

'Cause if the media put bald phrases like "hundreds of thousands" before the public, it would disturb the picture that they have been carefully painting - that opposition to abortion is "extremism" carried out by a few extremists who have no case to make to reasonable mainstream Americans. That the discussion is not over and that the pro-life movement is not going away,

Despite these de facto media black-outs, hundreds of thousands still made that trip to DC. Why? The research above would suggest that one factor is the intense conversation that Catholics and other Christians and people of conscience have had on the subject for the past 35 years. We refused to be cowed into silence, We talk about life. We write about life. We preach about life, And that intense intra-community support over the years has enabled millions of us to ignore our instinctual reluctance to not make waves or buck the group think on this issue. We know - and those who support abortion know - that the opinions we hear others express literally reveal or obscure the realities that we can and will see and either silences us or strengthens our voice on the great issues of our day.

What is true for life issues is true for the rest of the faith. We must create Catholic communities where it normal to talk to one another about Jesus Christ, about our lived relationship with God, about our struggles to live as disciples, about our attempts to discern and answer God's call, about the needs and opportunities we see for the Gospel in the world, about the real life applications of the Church's Social teaching. The parish is the only place where most Catholics can receive interpersonal support to think and live beyond and sometime in direct opposition to our culture.

If our Catholic culture insists that real Catholics don't ask and don't tell, our brain will keep insisting that speaking out is an "error" and our anxiety around violating the secular norm will ensure our continued silence. If we experience genuine inter-personal support in the parish for our "deviant" opinions, it will offset secular pressure to keep silent and we will be much more likely to talk about Christ and live as his disciples effectively in the secular marketplace.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Go With God

Fr. Tom Kraft, OP died peacefully this morning in the priory of Blessed Sacrament in Seattle. My friend Mark wrote a beautiful essay about Fr. Tom's last public celebration of Mass.

And now Mark sums up our hope with one of my favorite passages from the Lord of the Ring:

"'How do I feel?' Samwise cried. 'Well, I don't know how to say it. I feel, I feel' — he waved his arms in the air — 'I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!' "

"All the host laughed and wept, and in the midst of their merriment and tears the clear voice of the minstrel rose like silver and gold, and all men were hushed. And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Somebody's Got To Do It . . .

Spring in January.

It is pushing 70 here today, snow-capped mountains, blue skies, what we call "winter views" - January in the Rockies! Pippin, the cat, got to lolly-gag on the warm patio and roll in the dirt to her heart's content. It will take days to get her clean again.

This too will pass and more snow - probably much more snow - will come but it makes for a very pleasant time watering all the trees, shrubs, and perennials. You have to seize the unfrozen day around here!

When not watering, I am working away on our clergy days presentation on February 2/3 on Omaha. Then to return to the book . . .

Danville, VA opportunity

Any readers living in the Danville, Virginia/Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point, North Carolina area is invited to Theology on Tap at the Hams in Danville on Friday night at 8 p.m.. This is sponsored by the young adult ministry at Sacred Heart Church. I will be speaking on the "The Mission and Vocation of the Laity," so it should be a good time with lots of conversation that will interest readers of Intentional Disciples. If you come, come up afterwards and introduce yourselves.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jesus: the Center of RCIA

Our Siena E-Scribe, our cyber newsletter, went out yesterday. The Scribe is Fr. Mike's creation and I really like all the featured articles. Two pieces are written by a couple of our remarkable Called & Gifted teachers: Mary Sharon Moore and Mark Ceznik and are well worth your time. And there is a summary of all CSI's 2008 milestones and happenings for those who are interested.

In light of my experience at Corpus Christi this weekend, I am particularly encouraged by Fr. Mike's interview with Corinne Lopez, an RCIA director in Oregon who shares what happened when her RCIA team applied what they had learned at Making Disciples.

“When we got back from Making Disciples last year, Doug and I went through our old RCIA outlines and basically threw most everything out,” Corinne told me. “We began asking ourselves, ‘Where do we want people to be spiritually when they are baptized or making a profession of faith?’” They decided that they needed to change their inquiry process to focus more on building trust between the members of the RCIA team and the inquirers and to make it clear that the purpose of the RCIA process is to help people become conscious, intentional followers of Jesus. It also meant greater care would be taken in selecting sponsors for the catechumens and candidates – a process that they are still working on.


Whether she’s working with an individual, or part of a team working with a group of inquirers, Corinne says the initial focus is on “building a level of trust with them and then introducing Jesus and the possibility of having a relationship with him. We let them discover Him as a person and how he relates to each of us as individuals.”

Many of the people who enter inquiry have a Christian background. “Some of them who have had an evangelical background already have a relationship with Jesus and want to go deeper, but a lot of the people from mainline Protestant churches haven’t considered the relational aspects of their faith… What we’re going to share with them is the story of Jesus, who really lived. When we do this, so much more of the Catholic faith comes alive… We’ll talk about salvation history, the incarnation, the relationships Jesus had with the apostles and other people; how others sought him out… and how Jesus is the center of the life that comes from God the Father.”

Not only does the inquiry process focus on digging in to the stories in the Bible, people from the St. Thomas More community, including those who recently went through the RCIA process, are invited to come to the inquiry gatherings to share how their lives have been transformed by knowing Jesus.

“Charlotte [not her real name] came from a mainline Christian background. What got her interested in Catholicism was that her son ran with a kid who was Catholic. Her son stayed with them on over Saturday nights and went to Mass with them. That impressed her that their faith was important to them. She went through the RCIA process and when she started to have a relationship with Jesus, she decided to quit her job with Planned Parenthood.”


As the process continues, the questions of the catechumens and candidates become more and more a part of the weekly gathering. The team concentrates on keeping the focus of the responses on Jesus. “There’s a total openness to seeing how Jesus is the center of all we do as Catholics,” Corinne said. “Your Catholic faith will lead you to follow Christ and if you’re following Christ you’ll want to be Catholic.”


With a greater focus on Christ and the call to conversion, Corinne and her team have noticed the catechumens and candidates were noticeably hungry for solid catechesis. They continue to ask great questions as the team introduces the basics about sacraments, doctrine, and the Church’s social teaching after the Rite of Acceptance at the beginning of Lent.

Last Easter, four adults were baptized, confirmed and received first eucharist, while four others made a profession of faith. Doug and Corinne, through their conversations with them and observing their behavior, knew that all eight were either intentional disciples or seeking to become disciples. “I thought one of the guys was still seeking, but during his confirmation at the Vigil, he almost keeled over. His sponsor had to hold him. Since then, he’s cut a Christian rap CD. He’s on fire with faith and is just exciting to be around. He knows and loves Jesus and Mary!”

As Corinne puts it, “the proof is in the pudding.” All eight of the neophytes are active in the faith community. They’re helping with music at Mass, as lectors, and one fellow – sort of a blue-collar truck driver type - is leading a men’s Bible study. During mystagogia, a period of time after reception of the sacraments of initiation in which the neophytes discuss the effects of the sacraments in their lives, the eight of them were introduced to the charisms and instructed to be on the lookout for their appearance in their lives both inside the parish and in their secular pursuits.

So far this year 17 young adults and adults are journeying through the RCIA process at St. Thomas More, including two adults who “shopped around” various parish RCIA processes and settled in with Corinne, Doug, and their team. Corrine tells her pastor, Fr. Joseph Sergott, OP, that sending her and Doug to Making Disciples, “was the best money he’s spent!”

If you are not one of the lucky ones receiving the E-Scribe, just drop us a line at and include your e-mail address

Monday, January 19, 2009

Corpus Christi Indeed

Corpus Christi was . . . amazing. I had never been to CC before, knew absolutely nothing about it and had never heard anything about the diocese. One of the many smaller dioceses that we usually don't talk about around St. Blog's.

It was the 94th diocese we have worked in and unlike any other. And not just because the population is 70% Catholic and 55% Hispanic. What was different was what people talked about and didn't talk about.

They talked about Jesus.

Not culture wars, not doctrine, not ecclesial gossip, not politics, not the institutional Church. They were indeed orthodox in their doctrine but they didn't talk about doctrine, they talked about Jesus. Just that simply and baldly. Pastors, diocesan staff, parish staff, lay leaders. They all talked like that - as simply and unself-consciously as though it was normal for life-long Catholics to talk that way. As though they knew Jesus - personally - and he was the center of their lives.

They not only knew what the kerygma was, they preached it constantly, intentionally and without compromise, in the parishes with the active, on-going support of the diocese. The diocesan Director of Evangelization, Fr. Eduardo, gave me a very clever laminated "restaurant menu" listing all the options for adult faith formation. The "Appetizer" section listed no less than 13 parish and diocesan evangelization processes - all of which explicitly preach the kerygma and call parishioners to intentional discipleship.

Three day retreats, weekend retreats, 10 week courses, 8 week courses. Some are Cursillo off-shoots, some arose out of the charismatic renewal, some like Encounter, developed locally. One major retreat, Journey to Damascus, is ecumenical with two Catholics (priest/sister) and two Protestants serving as Directors of each retreat. Many of the people I spent time with had had their lives transformed by attending a Journey to Damascus.

In Making Disciples, we teach parish leaders to not put all their eggs in a single evangelizing basket but develop a synergizing evangelization cycle throughout the year with different kinds of events, processes, and opportunities that reinforce one another and give people with different needs different entry points. But here was a diocese - a diocese - with the direct support of its bishop - that had done exactly that.

I can't begin to tell you how stunning it is to write that last sentence. How completely out of the box amazing that is compared to the de facto situation in the other 93 dioceses I've worked in. Many dioceses have parishes that are doing amazing things - but those parishes almost always work in isolation from other parishes and from the diocese.

In Corpus Christi, pastoral leaders are actually working together at many levels, to preach the basic gospel to their people and call them to intentional discipleship. Not perfectly, not totally, of course. But in a real way that is changing lives by the thousands. In a way that I haver never witnessed in another diocese.

And that was the other stunner: They are very excited about the Called & Gifted process because they have thousands of disciples clamoring to know what God wants to them. They weren't just looking for a quick and clever way to recruit more volunteers to give one or two hours a week at the parish. They weren't focused upon filling a few obvious, pre-determined ecclesial holes They wanted all the baptized to discern and live their vocation(s) outside and inside the ecclesial structures. They had thousands of on-fire disciples now and they were actively searching for ways to help them discern.

In many ways, Corpus Christ embodies the turn of the generational tide and global Catholicism. Their bishop has just turned 75 and time has softened but not erased his undeniable Irish brogue. The city has gone from 30% Catholic to 70% Catholic since 1970 as the Hispanic tide has risen there. His people are overwhelmingly Spanish-speaking. But at the Cathedral, a priest from India gave the homily and spoke matter-of-factly of witnessing the complete healing of a Hindu boy with terminal cancer who had since become a devoted Christian in gratitude. Then a young woman, draped in a long sparkling violet veil and looking like a princess out of the Arabian nights, stepped forward to make promises to God and Our Lady in celebration of her 15th birthday, her quincenerra.

Just a couple more cool things:

The Cathedral's Eucharistic Chapel is stunning. One of the most beautiful I have ever seen, up there with Cincinatti cathedral and the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in D.C. How appropriate for a city named for the Body of Christ. (Of course, I let it be know that I live near the Sangre de Christo mountains.)

When in Corpus Christ, you need to visit Hester's Cafe. Hester was the dynamo behind my visit and her family's restaurant is a delight. Her husband, Jason, made dinner for us and produced the most fabulous fish dish (pecan-crusted trout) I have ever tasted. Although Hester's only serves breakfast and lunch, Jason makes the terrific trout during Lent. It would be worth it to mosy on down to CC for Lent - if only to savor the trout at Hester's. Really good espresso too.

We drank wine, ate fish, and talked a long time Saturday night about the joys and challenges of evangelization at Hester's.

And one last vignette:

I was walking by myself through the hall at the ministry day conference where I was speaking and noticed Bishop Carmody walking by himself. I smiled and said "good morning, Bishop" and prepared to walk by but he came right up to me and asked me about myself. He immediately recognized that I was new. I explained who I was briefly and then he did something that no other bishop has done in my 21 years as Catholic. He prayed for me and gave me his blessing.

It may not sound like much but in my experience of bishops, they are too busy or distracted to seek you out. We have sponsored major events with bishops and archbishops who just showed up, gave their talk, were swooped up by their entourage and vanished. I never even got to do the 60 second smile and shake. I've grown used to the idea that one doesn't have meaningful encounters with bishops and don't expect it.

So I was genuinely surprised and touched. No wonder his people love Bishop Carmody. No wonder the Holy Spirit is so active there. Truly, it is Corpus Christi.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

So This Bird Walks into a Convenience Store...

A seagull in Manistee, Mi has developed the habit of stealing Doritos from a neighborhood convenience store. The seagull waits until the Manager isn't looking and then walks into the store and grabs a snack-size bag of cheese Doritos. Once outside, the bag gets ripped open and shared by other birds. The seagull's shoplifting started early this month when he first swooped into the store in Manistee,Mi and helped himself to a bag of Doritos. Since then, he's become a regular. He always takes the same type of chips. The Manager thinks it's great because people are coming to watch the feathered thief make the daily grab and run and that's good for business and especially since customers have begun paying for the seagull's stolen bags of Doritos because they think it's so funny. However, the Manager did say, 'This is Michigan and if that seagull starts to grab a 6-pack o' 'Bud' to go along with the Doritos, I may have to put a stop to it.'

hat tip: Barb Fones

Discipleship and Evangelization: Source of Christian Unity

The following is my homily at Blessed Sacrament Parish, Seattle, for today's readings: 1 Sm 3:3b-10, 19

; Ps 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10

; 1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20; Jn 1:35-42

The NY Times yesterday had the landing of USAirways flight 1549 on their front page.
Most of the news consists of “eyewitness accounts.”
We want to know “what was it like? What happened to you? What did you experience?”
There are more technical details in other stories about the “Miracle on the Hudson,” but they are not as viscerally interesting, and can be found on pages 17-19.
We tend to put stock in people’s experiences, and I, a very frequent flyer on USAirways, am curious to know what it’s like in case I’m ever on a flight that becomes a cruise.

Experience is a great teacher – especially our own experiences.
So a part of getting a degree in education is student teaching.
Part of seminary training is regular involvement in pastoral work under a supervisor.
My class on confessional ministry included “practice confessions,” with our own Fr. Allen as full-time penitent; acting as a middle-aged woman, a young man, a fellow beset with scrupulosity.
By the way, he made a very convincing eight-year old at her first confession.

In the ancient near east, if you were going to learn from a rabbi, or a great philosopher, you wouldn’t study books, or even sit in lectures.
You’d be like Samuel, sent to live with a master, the priest Eli.
We’re told “Samuel was not familiar with the Lord,” so when the Lord speaks to him, he doesn’t recognize His voice.
Eli becomes a mentor to the young Samuel; to share with Samuel what he had learned from his own experience of hearing the Lord’s voice and responding in obedience.
Samuel is a disciple of Eli; he lives with the priest, learns from him, and becomes a great prophet.

We see a similar pattern in the Gospel of John.
Two disciples of John the Baptist follow Jesus, who notices them shadowing him, turns and asks the very direct question, “what are you looking for?”
There answer seems peculiar at first – a non-sequitur, really – “Rabbi, (teacher) where do you stay?”
They acknowledge him as a teacher, and by asking him “where do you stay?” they’re indirectly asking, “may we stay with you, teacher, and learn from you?”
In other words, “May we be your disciples?”
He says, “Come and see,” and in the Gospel of John, “seeing” is always more than just physical vision.
It always refers as well to faith in the Word made flesh.

Notice how Andrew and his brother become disciples.
It all begins with John the Baptist, who points out Jesus as “the lamb of God,” and urges his disciples to abandon him to follow the one whose sandal straps he is not worthy to tie.
Then, after spending just one day with Jesus, Andrew grabs his brother Simon, and tells him, “We have found the Messiah.”
Simon Peter or Andrew tells Philip about the Lord, and after meeting Jesus, Philip, in turn, tells his buddy Nathanael that Jesus is the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote.

In each case, a new disciple is made precisely because someone has told them about Jesus – not specific doctrines about Jesus (they didn’t exist as yet), but of their personal experience of him that was so powerful they abandoned their former lives to stay with him.
Discipleship is utterly dependent upon evangelization – by sharing the good news of the encounter with Jesus.
The ‘New Evangelization’ called for by Pope John Paul II, is, in his words, “not a matter of merely passing on doctrine but rather of a personal and profound meeting with the Savior."

This Wednesday evening at 7 p.m., I’ll be giving a presentation on “how to talk about your faith with others,” and I’ll give you my thesis now, so you can decide if you want to “come and hear.”
I don’t believe we can effectively evangelize until we have become disciples of Jesus ourselves.
In fact, until we have a personal and profound meeting with our Savior, I don’t think we’ll even be inclined to embrace the identity of a Christian – one who shares the good news of being saved.
Evangelization, Pope Paul VI said, is our deepest identity.
Being a Christian is about sharing good news we’ve experienced.
We want to share good news – in fact, it’s hard to keep our mouths shut when we’ve experienced something really great.
So people will talk about their experience of an improbably safe landing on the Hudson.
If the UW ever wins a football game again, trust me, people will talk about it!
When we fall head over heels in love, our friends won’t hear the end about our beloved.

This was the experience of St. Paul
His encounter with the Risen Jesus converted his prodigious energy; from persecuting the followers of Jesus, to proclaiming Jesus’ death as the price paid for his freedom from the obligations of the Law.
In their meeting on the Damascus road, Jesus revealed to Paul the depth of his sin: “you are persecuting me – the Risen and Ascended one.”
In that brief but powerful encounter, Paul received his Gospel: that “God made him who did not know sin to be sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” [2Cor 5:21]
God, in a wondrous exchange, attributed Paul’s sin to Jesus, who innocently suffered for him, and in turn, attributed Jesus’ obedience and righteousness to Paul.
This was Paul’s experience – that legal observance and sacrifice in the Temple, were rubbish compared to knowing Jesus; that whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him, and thus a Temple of God’s own Spirit.
So great, so profound was this experience of loving forgiveness and intimacy that he found in Jesus, that Paul could tell the Galatian Christians, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me!”

I have been blessed to have recently had this Gospel proclaimed to me by various people whose lives have been transformed by the experience of Jesus’ grace.
They know his love; they know he died in their place, nailing their many sins to the cross; they know in greater detail than ever before what those sins were and are; they know they’ve done nothing to receive this mercy – and their lives are marked by joy and gratitude.
They now imitate the Master they follow.

I have had glimpses of this mercy; moments, when I am touched by an awareness of my depravity and the unearned forgiveness I’m offered.
One time in particular was in the sacrament of reconciliation, when in a flood of grace I bawled like a baby – tears simultaneously of sorrow for what I’d done and joy that I had been forgiven.
This is the common experience of the Christian – and this experience of Jesus, and the Father’s grace and mercy in him, and the indwelling of the Spirit, is the source of genuine Christian unity.
If we, who are all given the mandate to “go and make disciples of all nations” by Jesus himself are to actually obey him – and this obedience is what God wants more than sacrifice or offering, we’re told in our psalm today – then first we must become disciples of Jesus ourselves.
Here are some suggestions I intend to follow myself.
1. We must realize that like the young Samuel, “we are not familiar with the Lord.” We must ask to be evangelized ourselves.
2. We don’t recognize his daily call to us. We must begin to say with all sincerity, “your servant [who has been purchased at the price of your son’s death] is listening. And then we must be attentive to the often subtle promptings of the Spirit we’ve been given. If we have an inclination, however weak, to call on a sick friend, or to pray, or to help out at the Sunday soup kitchen, or to confront a gossip at work – do it! That small voice inviting us to do good is almost certainly the Lord’s.
3. We must accept that being a disciple involves realizing “I am not my own” – my life is not about doing what I want, but doing what the Lord wants – which will be my deepest fulfillment. Jesus saw more potential in Andrew’s brother, Simon, than Simon could have possibly imagined; Simon never would have become “Peter” – the rocky foundation of the Church, without becoming Jesus’ disciple.
4. We may very well need to seek out one who knows the Lord, and hear of their experience of him and of discipleship. We need to be inspired, we need to be mentored, and eventually we need to be a mentor to others.
5. If we’ve not been overcome by a sense of our sin and the undeserved mercy of God in an encounter with the Risen Jesus, then pray for it. Beg the Lord for a double portion of the Spirit, like Elisha did Elijah.
6. And finally, if you have experienced an encounter with the Lord that has changed you in any way, speak to others about it. Experience is hard to refute, and fascinating to hear. You are most certainly not alone in that experience, and others are longing to hear that God is still at work – because that, too, is Good News.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Book Grows Apace

I am delighted (and relieved) to report progress on the book. As my starting nub, I am using the talk I gave at a theological symposium two years ago in Chicago, called "Can You Tell Me What a Parish Is?"

I took the nub, divvied it up into 6 "chapters", gave each "chapter" a topic, and am now bringing in things from all sorts of other documents - and yes, even blog posts from here on ID. Already it is 33 pages long.

As I started to review some of the relevant posts here, I was struck by the amount of really good stuff that is here. And by a whole host of people: Fr. Mike, Keith Strohm, Kathleen Lundquist, Jack, the Other Sherry, etc. I am privileged to be among their number.

Mark Shea always told me that he uses his blog as a way to work out ideas for articles and books. And he has 10 books under his own name and hundreds of articles to prove it. (Imagine - I knew him when he wouldn't let anyone else read his journal!) Now I see what he means.

Off to Corpus Christi in the morning. If any ID readers are going to be at the Ministry Day, drop by and say "hi!"

When I return, I must dive into the clergy days for the first weekend of February in Omaha. And then back to the book. I feel much more hopeful than I did. More hopeful that I am sure I should be. But I intend to enjoy my illusions of efficiency while they last!

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Holy Obedience

Thomas Kelly, the great 20th century Quaker mystic, wrote these words 70 years ago for a Quaker audience. But you will readily see the enormous Catholic influence upon him. In case some readers are puzzled, George Fox was the 17th century English founder of the Society of Friends (Quakers).

Kelly is not Catholic, so don't expect him to speak in Catholic categories or in terms of Catholics sensibilities, but what he is talking about here speaks, I think, to all true spiritual seekers and disciples of Jesus Christ across all divisions.

The Nature of Holy Obedience

"Meister Eckhart wrote: "There are plenty to follow our Lord half-way, but not the other half. They will give up possessions, friends and honors, but it touches them too closely to disown themselves." It is just this astonishing life which is willing to follow Him the other half, sincerely to disown itself, this life which intends complete obedience, without my reservations, that I would propose to you in all humility, in all boldness, in all seriousness. I mean this literally, utterly, completely, and I mean it for you and for me—commit your lives in unreserved obedience to Him.

If you don't realize the revolutionary explosiveness of this proposal you don't understand what I mean. Only now and then comes a man or a woman who, like John Woolman or Francis of Assisi, is willing to be utterly obedient, to go the other half, to follow God's faintest whisper. But when such a commitment comes in a human life, God breaks through, miracles are wrought, world-renewing divine forces are released, history changes. There is nothing more important now than to have the human race endowed with just such committed lives. Now is no time to say, "Lo, here. Lo, there." Now is the time to say, "Thou art the man." To this extraordinary life I call you—or He calls you through me—not as a lovely ideal, a charming pattern to aim at hopefully, but as a serious, concrete program of life, to be lived here and now, in industrial America, by you and by me.

This is something wholly different from mild, conventional religion which, with respectable skirts held back by dainty fingers, anxiously tries to fish the world out of the mudhole of its own selfishness. Our churches, our meeting houses are full of such respectable and amiable people. We have plenty of Quakers to follow God the first half of the way. Many of us have become as mildly and as conventionally religious as were the church folk of three centuries ago, against whose mildness and mediocrity and passionlessness George Fox and his followers flung themselves with all the passion of a glorious and a new discovery and with all the energy of dedicated lives. In some, says William James, religion exists as a dull habit, in others as an acute fever. Religion as a dull habit is not that for which Christ lived and died.

There is a degree of holy and complete obedience and of joyful self-renunciation and of sensitive listening that is breathtaking. Difference of degree passes over into utter difference of kind, when one tries to follow Him the second half. Jesus put this pointedly when he said, "Ye must be born again" (John 3:3), and Paul knew it: "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature" (2 Cor. 5:17).


The life that intends to be wholly obedient, wholly submissive, wholly listening, is astonishing in its completeness. Its joys are ravishing, its peace profound, its humility the deepest, its power world-shaking, its love enveloping, its simplicity that of a trusting child. It is the life and power in which the prophets and apostles lived. It is the life and power of Jesus of Nazareth, who knew that "when thine eye is single thy whole body is full of light" (Luke 11: 34). It is the life and power of the apostle Paul, who resolved not to know anything among men save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It is the life and power of Saint Francis, that little poor man of God who came nearer to reliving the life of Jesus than has any other man on earth. It is the life and power of George Fox and of Isaac and Mary Penington. It is the life and power and utter obedience of John Woolman who decided, he says, "to place my whole trust in God," to "act on an inner Principle of Virtue, and pursue worldly business no farther than as Truth opened my way therein." It is the life and power of myriads of unknown saints through the ages. It is the life and power of some people now in this room who smile knowingly as I speak. And it is a life and power that can break forth in this tottering Western culture and return the Church to its rightful life as a fellowship of creative, heaven-led souls."

Mission as organizing principle

Pete Ascosi of ChristLife, a lay Catholic ministry for evangelization out of Baltimore, sent me an email the other day with a great reflection by Alan Hirsch, based on some insights of Gordon Crosby, the pioneering leader of a remarkable ecumenical Christian community, Church of the Savior in Washington, DC. Hirsch wrote the following:
He [Crosby] noticed that in over 60 years of significant ministry, he had observed that no groups that came together around a non-missional purpose (i.e. prayer, worship, study, etc.) ever ended up becoming missional. That it was only those groups that set out to be missional in the first place (while embracing prayer, worship, study, etc. in the process) that actually got to doing it. This observation fits with all the research done by Carl George and others that indicate that the vast majority of church activities and groups, even in a healthy church, are aimed at the insiders and fail to address the missional issues facing the church in any situation.

If evangelizing and discipling the nations lie at the heart of the church’s purpose in the world, then it is mission, and not ministry, that is the true organizing principle of the church. Mission here, is being used in a narrow sense here to suggest the church’s orientation to the ‘outsiders’ and ministry as the orientation to the ‘insiders.’ Experience tells us that a church that aims at ministry seldom gets to mission even if it sincerely intends to do so. But the church that aims at mission will have to do ministry, because ministry is the means to do mission. Our services, our ministry, need a greater cause to keep it alive and give it is broader meaning. By planting the flag outside the walls and boundaries of the church, so to speak, the church discovers itself by rallying to it—this is mission. And in pursuing it we discover ourselves, and God, in a new way, and the nations both ‘see’ and hear the gospel and are saved.

... A country’s constitution is basically the organizing principle of the state and its associated public and political life. For instance, the constitution of the USA preserves the basic freedoms and democracy that have marked this nation as unique. Similarly, mission is our constitution, or at least a central part of it. To preserve the movement ethos of God’s people it is fundamental that the Church keeps mission at the centre of its self-understanding. Without mission there is no movement and the community dies a death of the spirit long before it dies a physical death of the body. To forget mission is to forget ourselves, to forget mission is to lose our raison d’ etre, and leads to our eventual demise. Our sense of mission not only flows from an understanding of the Mission of God and missional church, but it forms the orienting inspiration of the church of Jesus Christ and keeps it constantly moving forward and outward.
I suppose some people will presume that this is me leaning perilously close to evangelicalism. I'd point out that the situation is reversed. These good Christians are leaning closer and closer to the Catholic Church. As has been pointed out on this and other blogs, the Church, according to the Vicar of Christ, Pope Paul VI, "exists to evangelize." In other words, evangelization is the mission of the Church around which every ministry, and every pastoral effort must be organized. This is deeply Catholic, not Protestant! Or, perhaps more accurately, it is deeply Christian, and a point on which Catholics, Protestants and the Orthodox should be able to agree. And what is preached is not the Church (or an ecclesial body or a sect), but Christ!
"We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church."[Declaration of the Synod Fathers on the completion of the Synod on Evangelization, 1974] It is a task and mission which the vast and profound changes of present-day society make all the more urgent. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection. - Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14
As I was trying to do a little research about Mr. Crosby, I ran across this bit about him on the blog A Jewish God-fearer in a roomful of Christians that really makes me want to find out more about him.
Gordon Crosby was speaking on the subject of Christian vocation. He said in summarizing that the primary task and primary mission of the Christian is to call forth the gifts of others. "We are not sent into the world in order to make people good. We are not sent to encourage them to do their duty. The reason people have resisted the Gospel is that we have gone out to make people feel good, to help them do their duty, to impose new burdens on them, rather than calling forth the gift which is the essence of the person himself." He then said that we are to let others know that God is for them and that they can "be." "They can be what in their deepest hearts they know that they were intended to be, they can do what they were meant to do. As Christians, we are heralds of these good tidings."

How do we do this? "We begin," Gordon said, "by exercising our own gifts. The person who is having the time of his life doing what he is doing has a way of calling forth the deeps of another. Such a person is Good News. He is not saying the good news. He is the good news. He is the embodiment of the freedom of the new humanity. The person who exercises his own gift in freedom can allow the Holy Spirit to do in others what He wants to do."
Here, Mr. Crosby is recognizing the power of the charisms to inaugurate and/or further the process of evangelization. In our Catholic culture, where we tend to not explicitly proclaim Christ enough, we need to be more explicit about Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Still, Crosby's comments re-affirm my belief that the greatest ecumenical advances might be made as we recognize in one another, whatever our denomination, intentional discipleship and the power of the Holy Spirit at work through us in the charisms we have received from Christ.

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The Weight of Doing Everything Today

Alas, blogging has given way to the weight of outlining my book, reviewing the new covers (very cool!) of many of the formation items that we publish, conferring about future gigs, answering e-mails, gearing up for another trip this weekend, etc.

I'll be giving three talks at the Corpus Christi Ministries Day conference this Saturday. They misspelled my name, but oh well. Two talks will be on the basics of discerning charisms and a third on how to discern personal vocation. Both are designed to spread the word about the upcoming Corpus Christi Called & Gifted workshop in April.

And I am hardly the only one busy as a bee here:

Tomorrow evening, our Called & Gifted teaching team at St. Brendan's in Bothell, WA (just north of Seattle) will begin the small group version of the Called & Gifted process.

And this coming weekend, one of our Chicagoland teams will be offering the Called & Gifted at St. Joseph's, LIbertyville, IL.

Meanwhile, the unstoppable Fr. Mike in preparing to return to Blessed Sacrament in Seattle to preach this coming weekend as well as next weekend and to speak on How to Talk About Your Faith with Others" on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, January 20 & 21. In his spare time, Fr. Mike will also be training some new Called & Gifted teachers at the Newman Center at the University of Washington.

Oh, and our server died again this morning but, praise God, we were due to have a new server installed this afternoon! And our Discerning Charisms workbook has sold out again (they went like hotcakes in Kansas City last weekend) and we got another order for 100 this morning. So Istvan will be printing more. It take constant monitoring to keep up with the demand.

Our motto around here is "no rest for the wicked"

So just for fun and to remind myself what all this activity is really about, I thought I'd post this e-mail we received from one of last weekend's Kansas City workshop participants

"I was at The Called & Gifted Workshop presented this past weekend. I can honestly say that this workshop was profoundly life changing for me. I'm sure I am not the first one to say, it was as though you were speaking directly to me. I welled up many times with hope in my heart that God can use me. For many years now, and especially the past few years, I have been anxiously asking our Lord what His Will is for me, what is my purpose, why doesn't He use me, etc.... In seven hours the doors were open to exploration."

God is with us and at work among us in surprising ways today!

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Weight of Glory

My friend Mark has posted this most beautiful and moving story of the noon Mass at my old parish, Blessed Sacrament, in Seattle. Fr. Tom Kraft is one of Fr. Mike's Dominican brothers. I cannot do better than to let Mark tell the tale in his own words.:

"Yesterday, we went to Noon Mass at Blessed Sacrament. It was being celebrated by our visiting priest, but after he processed up to the altar, we were astonished to see that Fr. Tom Kraft had taken a seat beside him.

Fr. Tom is one of the sweetest and holiest men I have ever known. A thoroughly priestly man with a profound sense of his vocation, a deep love for the poor, a beautiful humility and just a sheer radiant goodness that shines out of him.

He is also dying. We've been praying for him for months, but God has made it clear that he picks the fruit when it is ripe. So Fr. Tom ended his chemo-therapy some weeks back, went to Spokane to say goodbye to his loved ones, and returned to us at Blessed Sacrament to spend his last days surrounded by brother priests in the rectory, cared for by Jesson Mata, our valiant liturgy guy--and to say goodbye to all of us.

Fr. Daniel had to give a brief report on finance junk, but then he gave (as he had done at all the previous Masses) a report on Fr. Tom. He was as astonished and moved as the rest of us to see Fr. Tom there, so much so that his normally dry and imperturbable Norwegian demeanor was shaken, as were we all. His voice trembled a couple of times and he said the beautiful truth about Fr. Tom: that he was one of the finest and most beloved priest Blessed Sacrament has ever had (which is saying a lot, because we've been blessed with extraordinary men, some of whom I believe will be canonized someday). Fr. Tom, with typical humility, cried as the people spontaneously applauded him. Well done, thou good and faithful!

But that was not all. This supremely loving man who could barely sit up through the Mass actually stood and assisted at the consecration. You could barely hear his voice, a thin, papery whisper that demanded everything of him (the cancer has metastasized to his lungs). But he did it, gripping a chair to keep his balance and then leaning on the altar itself. "Through him, with him, in him". I've never seen the meaning of the priesthood so clearly incarnated before my eyes before. Alter Christus. Priest. Victim. Sacrifice. This man and his Lord were standing so close together it was hard to tell them apart, especially from my seat up in the Nosebleed Section of the Human Race, so very far from that kind of sanctity.

They made it through the consecration and Jesson hurried to Fr. Tom's side to help him. I thought to myself, "For the love of God, go sit down, Fr. Tom. You've done enough."

But instead, this great man insisted on coming down with the Body of his Lord and distributing communion to us. He gave every last bit of himself out of love for God and for us. I was very tempted to change communion lines and receive from him (and I know others who actually did) because I knew I was looking at a saint. But instead, I just went up in my line, bawling, grieving, moved and grateful beyond words for what I was witnessing.

After it was all over, Fr. Tom processed out and even stood on the steps of the Church in the cold, greeting people, blessing them, giving (as much as any soldier at Gettyburg or Normandy) "the last full measure of devotion". I had the great honor shaking his hand, thanking him (and telling him he should really go lie down and rest). He said, "This give me energy." Later, I'm told, he asked the Dominicans to take him for a car ride around town. They marveled--and complied.

My eyes blur with tears as I write this. Jan said afterwards that she thought of Henry V's speech, "We few, we happy few." I felt so privileged and honored to be able to witness what I saw yesterday. A friend of mine said, "I have been to Mass at the Garden of Gethsemane. I have prayed at the tomb of Christ and seen Holy Week in Jerusalem. But I have never been as moved by a Mass as I was today."

Father, thanks be to God for your holy servant, Tom. We know he has to go soon, but we also know he will be happy with you.

God bless you, Fr. Tom, for your beautiful gift of your heart. We love you."

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Kansas City Called & Gifted

Last night in KC. 350 attended our two English/Spanish Called & Gifted workshops there.

This is the largest crowd we have ever had a single venue in the US (not the largest single US *workshop* though). Good people. It is an interesting challenge to manage numbers like that. Breaks become 25 minutes long in order to enable everyone to visit the restroom, sign up for interviews, buy books, etc. Fr. Mike and I had to streamline content and skip certain cherished stories and illustrations to meet very tight time lines. But people were enthused and moved and eager to discern and a stalwart army of 26 trained interviewers stood ready to help. And very interesting post-workshop conversation with the organizers.

Home tomorrow. More then.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Off to Barbequeville

Sherry and I are taking our separate ways to Kansas City, KS,

Yeah - I'm going the way that does *not* involve the Colorado Springs-Phoenix-Kansas City connection. It's reserved just for Dominicans. :-}

where we will be giving the beginning of an experimental three-part Making Disciples workshop to five parish teams from KC. We'll give them an introduction tomorrow morning for a few hours, then fly out to KC again in April and June for two days each time.

This weekend, Sherry and I will be giving an English Called & Gifted for the archdiocese of Kansas CIty, KS, and the Bishop Helmsing Institute of the diocese of Kansas City, MO. We're not sure how many people will be there, but estimates range up to 300 people. Gustavo Amezaga and Alma Rojas, two of our Spanish-speaking teachers, will be presenting a workshop in Spanish at the same time for up to 200 people. It should be a busy weekend! Hopefully we'll have an opportunity to sample a bit of the famous KC-style barbeque.

I asked Sherry if she'd finished her book, yet, this morning. I'm planning on asking her every morning from here on out until it's finished. She needs the encouragement, don't you think?

Two can play the "encouragement game, don't ya know. When I do the book tour of Tuscany, guess who will be doing the tundra tour?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Winter Morning

Winter morning round here (during the big freeze before Christmas)

Not my picture. Taken by a passing local who captured the essence.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Bless Those Who Persecute You

An extraordinary story from Gaza via CNS:

Earlier in the day at St. Catherine Church, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank, Christians attended a special Mass.

"This is genocide," said Bethlehem resident Adel Sahouri, 70, who attended the Mass. "Israel is so strong and has all the weapons the world can afford. What does Hamas have? Just rockets, nothing."

Israel launched a ground attack in Gaza Jan. 3 after several days of airstrikes to stop the Palestinian militant group Hamas from launching rockets into Israel. Since the start of the airstrikes Dec. 27, at least four Israelis and more than 500 Palestinians, including 100 civilians, have been killed.

Israel says that during the past year Iranian-backed terrorist groups in Gaza have fired more than 3,000 rockets, missiles and mortars at civilian targets in the southern Negev region of Israel.

In a center pew of St. Catherine's, Victor Zoughbi knelt in prayer.

He told Catholic News Service after Mass he was praying "not just for the people in Gaza but also for those in Tel Aviv. Every (Israeli) soldier going into Gaza now has a mother who is sitting glued to the television with her heart in her throat. He who truly has God in his heart loves everybody."

Zoughbi said he did not understand the purpose of Hamas' rockets, given their inaccuracy, and he emphasized the fact that there is only one Palestinian government headed by Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. In June 2007, Hamas split with Abbas' Fatah movement and took control of the Gaza Strip. Abbas' government still controls the West Bank.

"What are we fighting over -- for a piece of land? Take the land. In the end the land will swallow us all," he said, noting that, given the situation, he was not able to speak so freely with many of his friends and acquaintances lest his loyalty be called into question.

After the Mass in Bethlehem more than 50 worshippers -- carrying a flower wreath, placards calling for peace, a black mourning flag and a Palestinian flag -- processed around Manger Square reciting Psalm 50, traditionally said at funerals.

A buzz began in some of the small groups gathered outside the church as a rumor circulated that Hamas had taken some Israeli soldiers hostage. Israel denied the claim, and the rumor later proved to be false.

"What is going on is war and I am praying to stop it. I am not waiting for people to hear (my prayer); I am waiting for God and, whatever God's plan is, we will follow," said Rosemarie Nasser, 55. "No one understands that God has his own time. So many times in our lives God uses the bad for good."

In that land, praying for one's traditional enemies in the midst of a devastating attack, is most unusual. In our land, praying for one's enemies is most unusual. But what a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit - in Mr. Zoughbi's life, in our lives, when we obey in this way.

Romans 12: 15 - 21:

Bless those who persecute (you), bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.

Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." Rather, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head." Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.


It's stunning.

I am sitting at the table as the winter sun of Colorado pours in and my personal to-do list looks like this:

1) Write clergy thingy for February

2) Write book.

That's it. Apart from packing, my prep for this weekend's mega Called & Gifted in the Kansas Cities is done. (Both KCs, the Kansas and Missouri dioceses are sponsoring dueling English/Spanish Called & Gifteds). No one knows how exactly how many will show and the numbers keep climbing: 250. . .300 . . .etc. And that's just for the English workshop. So our staff are scrambling to ship the necessary supplies and hand-outs today.

And my prep for the Introduction to the Making Disciples process to the pastors and leaders of 5 parishes in KC, KS on Friday morning is also done.

And I'm ready for the Corpus Christi catechetical conference talks the weekend after next.

After four and half years, we have actually managed to clear the decks for me to attempt . . .THE BOOK.

You know, the book that will sum up, in a winsome, compelling and theologically profound way, everything we've learned working with 55,000 Catholics in 94 dioceses over the past 12 years and across a million air miles. In something like 125 pages 'cause most people don't have time to read long books.

I have two months to write a first draft.

I'm not complaining. There are tons of people who would kill for the chance to be paid to stay home and write that book that they have always wanted to write.

Breathe deep but don't hyper-ventilate is the ticket, I think.

And pray. Your prayers would be most appreciated!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Facing the New Year

I don't know about you, but as I face the New Year, I struggle with discouragement. When contemplating the future of the country and our world, whether in economic, social, or spiritual terms, it's hard for me to envision a positive future rather than more evidence of "a long defeat" (JRR Tolkien's phrase).  On a smaller, more immediate scale, I'm dismayed by the weight of all the burdens of prayer I seem to carry for friends and family - all the things that haven't changed in the last year, and in fact many of these situations have gotten worse.  Several of these situations involve people in serious trouble and/or who've fallen away from the faith.

I'm tempted to wonder whether my prayers do anything - whether begging God for mercy is meaningless in the face of the machinations of fate.  But then I stumbled across this great reminder from one of my favorite authors, Caryll Houselander:
I saw too the reverence that everyone must have for a sinner; instead of condoning his sin, which is in reality his utmost sorrow, one must comfort Christ who is suffering in him. And this reverence must be paid even to those sinners who souls seem to be dead, because it is Christ, who is the life of the soul, who is dead in them; they are His tombs, and Christ in the tomb is potentially the risen Christ. For the same reason, no one of us who has fallen into mortal sin himself must ever lose hope.
This is beautiful, and sobering.  I needed Caryll's help today in seeing Christ in these people.  My thanks to her for being a friend.

[Cross-posted at mystagogia]

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

It's Son Rise on EWTN Tomorrow

The Son Rise Morning Show broadcast from Cincinnati's Sacred Heart Radio is making its debut on EWTN tomorrow.

Brian Patrick does a great job and they are really enthusiastic and intentional disciples. Interestingly, Patrick told me that he was raised in a Catholic Worker community and knew Dorothy Day as a child (I think I remember that correctly). I've been on a couple of times but they have a very wide range of guests and topics.

Check em out!

The Epiphany Star

Here's an interesting website that uses computer models to examine what was happening in the night sky around the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Various night sky phenomena have been proposed over the years: comets, meteors, novae, for example. This site proposes some interesting conjunctions of planets happening in particular constellations. It's a pretty compelling read. The only problem is, the dates don't quite jibe with all of the details given in Luke and Matthew. Herod died in 4 BC, while the astronomical events detailed in this website occurred in 3 BC. Nevertheless, the website has some pretty interesting information. If you know any reasons why the information contained on the site is incorrect, please let me know. Here's just a sample:
In Chapter 12, John describes a life and death drama played out in the sky: the birth of a king.

1 A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. 4 His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre...

A woman in labor, a dragon bent on infanticide and a ruler of the nations. We have already seen this ruler in the Book of Genesis, above. This would be the Messiah, in his role as King of Kings. If that interpretation is correct, then according to the gospel story the woman would be Mary, the mother of Jesus. The dragon which waits to kill the child at birth would be Herod, who did that very thing. John says the woman he saw was clothed in the Sun. She had the moon at her feet. What can he be describing? When we continue our study of the sky of September of 3 BC, the mystery of John's vision is unlocked: he is describing more of the starry dance which began with the Jewish New Year.

As Jupiter was beginning the coronation of Regulus, another startling symbol rose in the sky. The constellation which rises in the east behind Leo is Virgo, The Virgin. When Jupiter and Regulus were first meeting, she rose clothed in the Sun. And as John said, the moon was at her feet. It was a new moon, symbolically birthed at the feet of The Virgin.
The website also looks at the astronomical events described in the synoptic gospels around the death of Jesus, as well.

Happy Epiphany!