Friday, February 27, 2009

Ash Wednesday "Sexy"?

Ever thought of Ash Wednesday as sexy?

For younger evangelicals it is seems to be: new, moving, and slightly daring. Even more so when the ashes are given by a Catholic bishop . . .

Via CNA:

Nashville, Tenn., Feb 26, 2009 / 09:27 pm (CNA).- Ash Wednesday services at Belmont University have become an annual tradition, with Bishop of Nashville David Choby joining Todd Lake, the school’s vice president of spiritual development, for the Wednesday service at the former Baptist school.

Bishop Choby said in his sermon that people need physical reminders of spiritual truths, making the customs of Ash Wednesday so powerful, The Tennessean reports. He also told the mostly Protestant audience of hundreds about the custom of making the sign of the cross on his forehead, lips and heart before reading from the Bible.

"I do that as a sign the love of Christ will be in my mind, that the love of Christ will be on my lips, and that the love of Christ will transform my heart," he said.

Attendance at the services may reflect a trend towards liturgical interests among younger evangelicals.

Todd Johnson, professor of worship at the evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California told The Tennessean that such interest is common.

"We have a whole generation of people who are familiar with using symbols," he told The Tennessean. "Kids have grown up using icons on their computers. Symbols mean more to them than words."

A professor at my evangelical alma mater and a Catholic bishop.

Lent. It is a'changin' . . . .

The Rocky Mountain News: 149 years, 310 days

A sign of the times in so many ways.

The Denver-based Rocky Mountain News is publishing its last edition today, just 55 days short of its 150th birthday. A victim of the change in technology and the economy. In a week when it is reported that the San Francisco Chronicle may go under as well and San Francisco left without any newspaper at all.

It is telling that I learned about it from an e-mail news alert sent out by my own local newspaper, the Gazette.

As part of their final edition, the Rocky has included online microfilms of front pages from that history: the day South Carolina seceded from the Union, reports from the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln's Assassination, Custer's last stand at LIttle Big Horn, the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the sinking of the Titanic, etc.

The Rocky's wonderfully gripping illustration of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake evokes the images of 9/11. Which the newspaper covered as well.

How does it change things, change us that we receive our news through video images and online rather than through print?

Your thoughts?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Trend?

Don't shoot the messenger, folks.

But I see that word is spreading around the internet that the Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, "long a highly regarded chronicler of growth and financial trends of religious institutions, records a slight but startling decline in membership of the nation's largest Christian communions. Membership in the Roman Catholic Church declined 0.59 percent and the Southern Baptist Convention declined 0.24 percent, according to the 2009 edition of the Yearbook, edited by the National Council of Churches and published by Abingdon. The figures indicate that the Catholic church lost 398,000 members since the appearance of the 2008 Yearbook."

This would fit CARA's figures which indicate a 700,000 drop in US Catholics between 2005 and 2008.

The Pew study last year underlined that it was large scale Catholic immigration that kept the Catholic population growing in this country. It would be interesting to know if one factor may be the significant drop in illegal immigrants entering the country since 2005 since the majority come from overwhelming Catholic countries.

According to the Pew Center (as reported by CNN) from 2000 to early 2005, the unauthorized immigrant population grew by an annual net average of about 525,000. The growth pattern started changing substantially in 2005. From 2005 to 2008, annual growth has averaged 275,000 undocumented immigrants."

Another factor might be the change of generations as the pre-Vatican II generation (who were much more religiously committed) die off and the millennials (the majority of whom are unchurched) rise up.

And how is this related to the fact that in 2006, the number of adults entering or being baptized into the Church dropped significantly for the first time in years to 136,778? (To compare: in 2005 154,501 adults entered the Church. A drop of 17,723 or 11.5% An aberration or something more?)

What is really startling is to see the difference in adult baptisms between 2005 and 2006. 80,817 were baptized in 2005 but only 49,415 in 2006 - a 31,402 drop or 39% drop in catechumens. (I can't find the 2007 figures. Can anyone else provide them or have they not been released?)

And then there is the Pew findings that 14-15 million Catholics have left for Protestantism or nothing much. And their children. And their children's children.

Fewer adults entering or being baptized. (And therefore, fewer children being raised Catholic) Fewer Catholic immigrants. Fewer cradle Catholics as the generations turn. The long term consequences of the fact that 1 in 10 Americans are former Catholics.

It begins to add up.

If we don't evangelize our own . . .

On a bright note, several of the dioceses we are working with are going to partner with the Catholics Come Home initiative: Corpus Christi this Lent. Omaha this coming fall.

But notice: we are having to make a real effort to go out to those who have left and articulate the basics of the faith, answer their questions, and address their concerns. Not just expect them to show up.

Your thoughts?

Unless You Become Like Little Children...

Lent is a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. But, who says almsgiving should have a season? A couple I know on the cusp of 40 have five children ranging in age from 12 to 2. Every year for each of their birthdays the kids participate in some kind of fundraiser to support a charity, like breast cancer research. Their dad's a surgeon, and their mom is a nurse, so they're pretty smart kids and have lots of access to health issues. And they are teaching their children that need knows no season.

For over a year, they have been raising money to support AngelNotion, a charity in Mexico dedicated to providing needed medical services for the economically underprivileged, especially children with cardiac problems. The kids began raising money to pay for transportation for children from Mexico to a hospital in Texas that has agreed to provide free heart surgeries for poor children from Mexico. The only stipulation is the cost of transportation to Texas has to be provided for the child/patient and a parent/guardian.

The kids decided to sell dishtowels emblazoned with a logo created by Emily, the creative second child. While I haven't purchased a towel, I did make a contribution last time I saw the family. I just received this update from their mother in an e-mail.
We are back from our trip to Mexico to deliver the money that the kids raised selling dishtowels to help some kids needing life saving heart surgery. In 6 months, the kids sold 2,400 dishtowels and raised $17,000.00!!! The mayor of Playa del Carmen was at the presentation and said "if those kids can raise that much money for our local kids, I'll throw in $25,000.00 of my own money". As a result, we were able to save the lives of 13 kids!!!!!!!!!
...Thanks to all of you who bought towels and gave donations for their cause. After visiting the clinic and meeting these kids and their families, we've decided that our work has only just begun!! We are in the process of becoming our own non-profit 501(c)3 and setting up our own webpage. A short 5 min. documentary has already been made and is being used in churches,etc. and a 20-30 min. documentary is in the process of being made. We'll let you know when it will be available to be viewed by all of you. Thank you again and again to all of you who contributed to our cause! The kids are still busy selling towels for the next kids on the list who need help.

It is from little projects like these that vocations are born. One small step leads to a bigger step, which leads to more steps that become a way of life - a calling.

Please watch this 2.5 minute interview with a remarkably poised Sarah, the oldest of the kids.

Breakthrough or Insignificant?

Breakthrough or insignificant?  That's the issue raised for Catholics by this bit of missions news comes via S. D. Ponraj, General Secretary of Bihar Out-reach Network (BORN)

Bihar, India was the birthplace of both Buddhism and Janism (although few adherents remain in Bihar today, which is majority Hindu with a significant Muslim minority).  It has the nickname of the "graveyard of missionaries" because generations of Christian missionaries bore witness and died in Bihar with little visible impact.  

But that has begun to change just in the past 10 years.  During the past decade, 50,000 Biharis have been baptized.  Today, on average, 400 new Christians are baptized every month.  70% of Biharis are illiterate (back to the Orality issue mentioned in my post on audio Bibles below) so 2500 local evangelists have been trained in communicating with non-literate people.

Is this significant - 50,000 new Christians - in an ancient land of 76 million that has already birthed two major world religions?   Although Christians "officially" only make up about 1% of Biharis - the unofficial total is higher: 1.5 - 2%: 1 million to 1.5 million Christians.  

(In India, all citizens register their religion with the government and there are many profound social and economic implications when one changes one's religious affiliation which go beyond the distress or opposition of one's family and friends. There are many millions of practicing but non registered Christians in India and as many of 15 million non-baptized "followers of Jesus Christ" from Hindu and Muslim backgrounds.)

As I wrote in my series on Independent Christianity (see blog side bar for the link if you haven't read it already)

"It is sometimes said that Catholics have a “big battalion” mentality. Is being a small but growing minority evidence of a failed mission? This would seem to imply that “success” involves the rapid conversion of the majority and the establishment of some kind of “Christendom”. In contrast, Independent Christians expect to be a minority and have no use for Christendom. They accept “outsider” status as the normal situation in which Christians live in this world and in which evangelization and mission occurs. For them, minority status is not evidence of mission failure. What matters is, “Are people becoming intentional disciples of Jesus Christ?”

The conversion of 1% of the population of a hitherto completely non-Christian people would be regarded by Independents as a giant breakthrough. But viewed through the lens of the “Christendom norm,” it could be used to “prove” the futility of missionary activity.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Coming Up

If you are in the Lake Tahoe area this weekend, you are welcome to attend our Called & Gifted workshop there in Incline Village.  

Prayer Requests

Lots of prayer requests on this Ash Wednesday.

My sister Becky's biopsy came back positive yesterday.  She has flown back home for the moment but may well be returning to the hospital in less than a month.  She is experiencing tremendous ups and downs but is a very serious Christian and strong in her faith.  Beck's cancer is slow-progressing (and very exceptional is being so) but it is serious and we would especially appreciate your prayers for her and her husband, Rod.  

Eryn, one of our long time champions in the Seattle area (and who co-write the Discerning Charisms Workbook with me), is dealing with overlapping stresses.  Her husband, Mike, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer just before Christmas and is beginning his serious treatment today.  (Mike's prognosis is good.) Meanwhile her mother is recovering from early stage breast cancer surgery and Mike's mother has just been diagnosed with cancer.  Please pray for Eryn's peace and strength, her two girls, and all her family.

Ash Wednesday on Cable News

While working out on the treadmill at the gym, I like to watch cable news.  I like to position myself between two TV's: one carrying CNN and one showing Fox and eyeball the different spins and flip the sound back and forth.

 It is fascinating to see how the same raw material gets delivered so differently.   This morning, CNN was all Obama and his speech last night all the time (it is day 37 of his Presidency they solemnly tell you).   Fox, predictably was focusing on other news - which was genuinely valuable and interesting - but they weren't going to give Obama more air time than necessary.

But it was the Catholic angle that struck me this morning.

CNN's moving headlines made sure that I knew that "holocaust-denying bishop returns to UK".  Check.

Then Fox went out of it sway to display its sympathy for religious practice.  I almost fell off the treadmill when I saw a male reporter in sober black and with a very large and obvious ash mark on his forehead begin his story.  The Fox anchor explained in advance that the reporter was Catholic and had just returned from an Ash Wednesday service.    

Initially, it was both stunning and cheering - like witnessing a public display of religion in Seattle or something.  Talking about coming out.  

I tuned into what the reporter was covering:  the fact that the new Secretary of Homeland Security hadn't used the words "terrorism" and "9/11" in her first hearing before the House of Representatives.  The anchor and reporter asked "Was the Obama administration back-tracking on the whole "war on terror"?  

Then the reporter bearing the ashes did something that took my breathe away.  He listed the evidence, including the fact that new administration was pulling back on the practice of torture and other "necessities" in a time of war.

Penance and intrinsic evil.   How timely on Ash Wednesday.

I also watched MSNBC briefly.  The never-ending story of the single mother of octuplets was featured.  And I heard the voice-over asking in urgent tones "What do we do with these people who insist on having huge families?  Even if they are married, it doesn't make having 12 children ok." 

The public square isn't empty of religion.  But it does take such challenging and bizarre forms.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

You've Got the Time (To Listen to the New Testament During Lent)

On this beautiful Mardi Gras Day (brilliant sun and 60's here), comes word of a most encouraging ecumenical Lenten initiative in Houston.

Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of Houston is encouraging parishes to participate in You've Got the Time, a city wide, inter-denominational campaign to listen to audio recordings of the New Testament during Lent.

The program is simple . . .Faith Comes By Hearing provides free Audio Bibles for every man, woman and child in their church or parish. Church leaders then challenge their congregations to listen through the entire New Testament – 28 minutes a day over a period of 40 days. After listening, churches receive offerings to support recording the New Testament in the heart languages of poor and illiterate people around the world.

This is part of the Archdiocese' year long campaign, The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.
So far more than 50 parishes have signed up to listen to the whole New Testament in the New American version.

You've Got the Time is a project of Faith Comes by Hearing, a evangelical group that is committed to offering the Bible in a format that will connect with the world's 50% illiterate population.   Looking for an audio New Testament in Tiv or Kinyakyusa? (And I knew you were!)  This is the place

What is called "Orality" is a big issue in missions circles these days as the heirs of the Word-driven Reformation wrestle with the reality that 18% (over 1 billion) of the world's population cannot read and write.  

But it is estimated that 65% of the American public have never read the new Testament.  60% don't know Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.  So what better time than Lent to remedy that situation?


This is so cool and somehow I didn't notice it yesterday.  Go here to download your free audio Bible! 
Choose from 368 recordings in 300 languages.  Want to brush up on your French or Arabic?  Listen to the New Testament in that language!   The New American Bible is available in English as is the New Revised Standard.

Dolan and Spiritual Fatherhood

Warning:  Mini-rant ahead.  (I incorporated some of my comments below and did some editing to more exactly communicate what I intended to say.)

"Ebulliant optomist"

That's how the New York Times described the new Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan.   Warm.  Joyful.  Dare I say it?   Extroverted.   Take at look at the lead photograph.  When was the last time you saw a bishop in mid-belly laugh?  In front of the media of the world?  (Actually I saw Cardinal George do something very like that after he knew but just before it was announced that he had cancer.  But it was in private.  ) 

The fascinating thing is that all over St. Blog's - across the spectrum, on the right and the left, people seemed shaken into something like hopefullness by the match of this man and this position.  

I know I am.  

I've never met Archbishop Dolan but I've met enough of a very different kind of bishop.  And watched their excruciatingly painful interactions with their clergy and staff over the years.    I'm not saying that these struggling bishops make up the majority by any means, but neither are they unique or extraordinarily rare tragic figures.  

Some had destroyed their relationship with their priests within weeks of taking up residence by doing things so interpersonally stupid that it beggars the imagination.  Doing stuff that would almost certainly sever the relationship with one of us if he were merely an ordinary man.   Stuff that destroys trust.  Stuff that is completely pointless and unnecessary.  Like humiliating pastors in front of their congregations, for instance.  A textbook way to set the right tone for the future. 

The irony is that some of these men are the bishops that Catholics around St. Blog's tend to lionize for drawing lines in the sand.  If they had witnessed what I have witnessed, they would realize that some of their heros are impotent shells because they have thrown away the trust and affection of their people.   Even that of the most theologically orthodox, the ones most willing to cut the Bishop slack out of respect for his office.

It is most painful to watch when you sense that the Bishop is a decent man and a true disciple but also an emotionally under-developed man who literally doesn't know how to relate to others.  A basically good man who should never, ever, have been put in such a relentlessly public position, no matter what his theological or administrative qualifications.  

 Grace does build upon nature. Even the grace of office. Spiritual fatherhood is a real relationship.  Not a concept.  Not a diagram.  Not a strategic position in a cold culture war.   

I don't think Archbishop Dolan is unique. But he is hardly a dime-a-dozen and I do think his interpersonal style makes a wonderfully refreshing norm. And I can think of several dioceses off hand whose leaders and people would get down on their knees and thank God if they thought that a few Dolan clones were in the pipeline.

I know that in a communion of 1.2 billion people, we have men who have both the theological and relational moxie to be good bishops. 

That is why I am so thrilled by the wonderful work done the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha (and have blogged about it here). IPF focuses entirely as aspects of seminarian formation that is sometimes get less attention: a lived love relationship with God, human formation, the integration of spiritual and emotional health, and understanding the priesthood as a true, highly relational fatherhood. I’m delighted that 1/3 of the seminarians in the US are participating in IPF programs.

 And because it is my hope that in the next generation of bishops, what I described above *will* be extraordinarily rare.

Thank God for Archbishop Dolan.    May he be the first of many more warm, holy, and appropriately gifted bishops in our midst.  St. Frances de Sales, pray for Archbishop Dolan.  And for us.

Local Hero

The New York Times (to my surprise) did a very nice article and video this morning on a local running hero:  Matt Carpenter.  Be sure and watch the video.  

Practically the first thing I heard about Matt was that he always won the Pikes Peak Marathon: 13 miles up, 13 miles down.  

Local runners regard him as a freak of nature, which science has shown him to be:

"In part, Carpenter has owed his prowess to his physiology. His resting heart rate has been measured at 33 beats a minute, lower than those of Michael Phelps and many astronauts. In a test at the United States Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Carpenter’s VO2 max, a gauge of the body’s ability to process oxygen, registered at 90.2, perhaps a record high for a runner. (Only Bjorn Daehlie, a Norwegian cross-country skier, has scored higher. Lance Armstrong recorded an 81.)"

Matt won the Leadville 100, the "Race Across the Sky" and beat the course record by 93 minutes.  He ran 100 miles between 9,600 and 12, 200 feet high in less than 14 hours.

We know members of Matt's infamous Incline Club (the name is taken from a nearly vertical slash above Manitou Springs where a cog rail line used to run).  Including a woman who placed second in the Pike's Peak Marathon and goes to my parish.  The club motto:  Go out hard; when it hurts, speed up.”  Nothing like running up Pike's Peak in January to get the  ol' blood flowing.

For most bloggers, especially Catholic bloggers, from the low-lands, this sort of stuff usually sounds like pure masochistic voo-doo.  If not bordering on mortal sin.  If we were athletes, we'd wouldn't be spending our time in front of a computer screen.  Or buried in books or in movies.  When was the last time you read something about ultra-marathons around St. Blogs?    Food?  Yes.  Drink?  Yep.  All too often cigars.  But hardly ever physical activity - unless it is someone else's activity - like watching professional football.

I'm still no athlete, but after 7 years in Colorado, I now serenely regard the sort of high level amateur sport that I once regarded as impossible or absurd as normal.    Men and women in their 70's routinely ski, run marathons, climb mountains, snow-shoe around here.   You watch that and find yourself thinking:  "Maybe I, fourth generation couch potato that I am, could do that too." 

Time to get going.   Need to clean off my snow-shoes before I head to the gym . . . 

Monday, February 23, 2009

Preparation to Receive Ashes

In Tucson, the temperatures will top 90 degrees before the week's out. I'm preparing to preach and give a parish mission in Ham Lake, Minnesota, so I'm enjoying the sunshine and shorts weather. But it's also time to prepare for Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.

The ashes traced on our forehead in the sign of the cross are a double reminder: first of all, of the cross traced on our forehead just before we were baptized. It is the sign that we have been claimed for Christ, the seal of the servants of God (Rev. 7:3). It reminds us that our life is not our own; that we have been purchased and at a price (1Cor 6:20). The ashes are also a jarring reminder of our mortality and the swift passing of our days: an annual "memento mori."

I came across another memento mori: an ethical will written by my friend Pat Armstrong a couple of years before her death. The idea behind an ethical will is to pass on to children and friends more than resources you've accumulated during your life. An ethical will is an attempt to share with loved ones what you've learned in your journey through life. Perhaps as we prepare for Lent, we might ask ourselves the following or similar questions. They may help us consider what we might do (or stop doing) this Lent in order to draw closer to Jesus.

a. What have you learned so far in life that you consider to be really important?

b. What regrets do you have?

c. If you were to die today, what would you miss most from this life?

d. Who are the most important people in your life?

e. With whom do you spend the most time? (and are the answers to questions "d" and "e" the same?)

f. What have you spent a lot of time doing that you with you hadn't done?

g. What is your relationship with God like right now?

h. Did Jesus make either list "d" or "e"?

These are questions I'll be thinking about for the next two days. I hope they help you as you consider your spiritual exercises for Lent.


Life in Christ: A Very Good Place to Begin Lent

I know that we've been absent alot lately from the blog.  Fr. Mike is doing the pre, mid, and post-Lenten mission tour and I'm slogging  through the grindingly slow business of trying to write a book while while still dealing with tons of smaller scale but urgent stuff.

Small stuff.  Like you decide to save time by finding a neat little winsome Catholic summary of the kerygma  to mail out to a diocesan group to prep for an upcoming training and spend the better part of three weeks and uncounted hours looking for it, talking to people about it, reading other people's unpublished summaries, having people offer their stuff only to discover that it is really isn't finished and/or really isn't available.  And all the time, the clock is ticking and the final product has to be in their hands for the first week of Lent.

It is enough to drive you back to the Four Spiritual Laws. 

Which is why I spent almost all of last weekend working my way through and summarizing Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa's wonderful Life in Christ:  A Spiritual Commentary on the Letter to the Romans.  

There are much less fruitful things a woman can do the weekend before Ash Wednesday than meditate on God's love, sin, the true nature of faith, and Christ's passion and resurrection. 

And I have gathered some wonderful quotes.

(FWIF, Cantalamessa wrote originally in Italian and uses the older inclusive masculine to denote all human beings which we haven't heard much in standard American English for about 20 years.  I know this is a neuralgic point for some but I also know that in charity I need to acknowledge it because it will put the people - especially women  - at ease who are put off their stride by the absence of the sort of pronoun usage that they have become used to.   In the quotes, the obviously universal "he" and "him" does include all of us including estrogen-based life forms.  Like me.  My point in this post is not the same old culture wars debate so don't bother commenting on the language. ) 

Listen to what Cantalamessa is saying about Christ . . .

"the most important thing is not that man should love God but that God loves man and that he loved him first.  “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us.” (I John 4:10)

" . . .In loving, God does not even seek his glory or rather, he does seek his glory but this glory is nothing other than that of loving man gratuitously.   St. Irenaeus said that “God’s glory is man full alive”.  “God didn’t procure Abraham’s friendship because he needed it but because, being good, he wanted to grant Abraham eternal life . . .because God’s friendship procures incorruptibility and eternal life.   . "

“Only divine revelation really knows what sin is and neither human ethics nor philosophy can tell us anything about it.  No man can say by himself what sin is, for the simple reason that he himself is in sin.  . . .“To have a weak understanding of sin is part of our being sinners."

 A Father of the 4th century wrote these extraordinarily up-to-date “existential” words: 

“For every man the beginning of life is the moment when Christ was immolated for him.  But Christ is immolated for him at the moment he acknowledges grace and become conscious of the life obtained for him by means of that immolation." (St. Cyril of Jerusalem)  Therefore, the death of Christ becomes real and true for us the moment we become conscious of it, confirm it, and rejoice and give thanks for it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mass for St. Thomas Aquinas' Feast Day

The great medieval Dominican church of Toulouse, where the order was founded and St. Thomas Aquinas' relics rest, is now a government run museum.  Every year on St. Thomas's feast day (January 28) , the Dominicans are permitted to celebrate a solemn Mass on the altar over his relicts.

Enjoy, you Francophones and Dominophiles.

Icons in Catholic Alaska

Catholic News Service has a lovely article about the growing use of icons among Catholic in Alaska.

"An internationally respected Catholic iconographer who now lives in the Diocese of Juneau, Deacon Rohrbacher has observed a growing fascination with icons in Western Christianity over the past quarter century.

“I often ask theologians and church leaders why there has been a resurgence in icons,” he said in a telephone interview with the Anchor. “They most commonly tell me that it is due to a deep hunger for transcendence.”

It is a hunger that Deacon Rohrbacher has seen cut across denominational lines as modern Christians seek deeper spiritual realities in an increasingly secular world.  “The icon is a healing image,” he said. “So many modern images we see do not heal — they wound us. They are of terror and abuse. In the icon, Christ, Mary and the saints look on us in love and invite us to contemplation.”


Two of the largest Roman Catholic parishes in the Anchorage Archdiocese also have made recent moves to expand the place of icons within their communities. Most notably, a large four-by-six-foot icon of the Holy Family is under construction for prominent display in the sanctuary at Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage.

Dominican Father Francis Hung Le, pastor of the cathedral, said he hopes the icon will bridge the wide cultural and linguistic diversity within the church and point the faithful to the transcendent truth reflected in the sacred image.

“We have so many languages at the cathedral but icons can speak a universal language,” he told the Anchor.

The Cathedral in Anchorage is run by Western Province Dominicans and I hope to visit it in early May when I go to Anchorage to help teach a Called & Gifted workshop there.  

Within the province, we have our own bi-ritual (Latin/Melkite) iconographer:  Fr. Brendan McAnerney, OP whose ministry DominIcon is a busy one.  Fr. Brendan is a gifted teacher and preacher and if he is offering something near you, I'd jump at the chance.

Here is Fr. Brendan's calendar for 2009:

February 15-21 "Art & Spirituality of the Icon" Presentation - St. Justin Martyr Parish, Anaheim, CA  -  contact person: Fr. John Monestero  714-774-2595

June 15-June 19 "Icon - Sacred Image" - Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology, Berkeley, CA - 510-849-2030

June 22-26 "Introduction to Icon Painting" - Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology, Berkeley, CA - 510-849-2030

August 8-13 "Art & Spirituality of the Icon" Presentation - St. Gertrude Benedictine Monastery, Cottonwood, ID - 208-962-3224

October 1 "Sacred Image" - A Presentation to the St. Anselm Institute, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA

October 5-9 "Level II Icon Workshop" Church of the Ascension Episcopal, Knoxville, TN - contact person: Jim Phillips  865-577-2509

We Have Each Other's Backs

CNN's hero of the day is a man for whom we can thank God.

Roy Foster seeks out and gives a second chance to homeless vets whose lives have been destroyed by alcohol, drugs, and trauma.   More than 150,000 vets are homeless on any given night.

Foster's motivation:  his past as a recovering addict himself and his faith embodied in his non-profit called "Faith*Hope*Love*Charity which created Stand Down House.

"Named for the military command that gives troops time to rest after arduous duty, the program provides homeless male vets food, shelter and a safe place to recover, as well as the tools to conquer their personal problems.

"The idea is that they can relax now; we'll take care of them," Foster said.


Now five buildings in total, Stand Down House provides transitional housing and support services to 45 veterans in different stages of recovery.

When vets arrive -- through referral by the Veterans Administration, which largely funds the program -- they receive meals, housing, clothing, counseling and transportation to the VA hospital for additional medical and mental health care.

After 30 to 60 days, eligible veterans must begin to look for work or attend school, but they can continue receiving housing, case management, addiction counseling and life skills classes for as long as two years. Successful veterans are eligible for the program's final component: permanent, sober-living housing. 

With their past as a common bond, vets often become informal counselors to each other, helping one another stay on track.

"We have each others' backs," said Joey Elluzzi, a Vietnam veteran.

Many graduates find the companionship so valuable that they return as volunteers.

As of 2008, Stand Down House reported that 93 percent of its eligible residents found work and 84 percent of graduates went on to live independently. Foster and his staff are now working with other programs around the country, sharing what they've learned.

Despite his program's success, Foster said, there's more work to do. A new wave of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan is appearing at Stand Down House, and Foster said he's determined to serve -- and save -- this next generation.

I found this last word most moving. 

"When asked why he does this, he simply answers, "It's my calling."

And I must add a personal note:

I really appreciate CNN's series on heroes.  Almost always, these are people of great faith, generosity, and love taking risks and making sacrifices for the sake of others and they - and their work - deserve a bully pulpit.  Three cheers to CNN for uncovering and covering these remarkable men and women.  

Brother Andrew Discovers the Answer

I'm declaring it Good News Friday and gonna put up several interesting stories I've been hoarding.

 First of all, I want to talk about Brother Andrew and Open Doors Ministry.  Those of our readers who have spent time in the evangelical world will probably recognize the name (a pseudonym to preserve his anonymity).  I was raised on stories of this Dutch man's exploits:  first as "God's Smuggler", smuggling Bibles into and supporting underground Christians in the then Soviet Union and communist countries of eastern Europe.  Then it was China.  Then Cuba and Africa.  And now underground Christians in the Muslim world.

A personal Biblical mandate has guided his actions for over 50 years: "Wake up, strengthen what remains and is about to die" (Revelation 3:2). 

But today, I want to share what this remarkable man said was his turning point so many years ago. 

 As a young man Brother Andrew joined the Dutch Army looking for adventure, and was severely wounded in Indonesia. . . . 

"The hospital to which I had been assigned was run by Franciscan sisters. I soon fell in love with every one of them.  From dawn until midnight they were busy in the wards, cleaning bedpans, swabbing wounds, writing letters for us, laughing, singing.  I never once heard them complain. 

"One day I asked the nun who came to bathe me how it was that she and the other sisters were always so cheerful. 

"Why Andrew, you ought to know the answer to that--a good Dutch boy like you.  It's the love of Christ."  When she said it, her eyes sparkled, and I knew without question that for her this was the whole answer: she could have talked all afternoon and said no more. "But you're teasing me, aren't you?" she said, tapping the well-worn little Bible where it still lay on the bedside table.  "You've got the answer right here."

"So now, when my restless hand struck it again, I picked it up.  In the two and a half years since my mother had given it to me, I had never opened it. But I thought about the sisters, their joy, their tranquility: "You've got the answer right here..." 

I have never realized the turning point for this world famous evangelical Protestant hero was his encounter with the love of Christ manifested by Franciscan sisters.   Wonderful.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Prayers Requested

I'd appreciate your prayers for my sister Becky, who is undergoing a biopsy today.

Thank you all and God bless you!


Becky  is out of surgery and back in her room.  So far, so good.  No complications but a post-biopsy headache. 
Thanks very much for your prayers!  It will take some days to get a result.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How's Your Tan Coming?

Gotta love this. . . 

From Pope Benedict's reflection on the teachings of St. Bede the Venerable yesterday as reported by CNA:

Additionally, Bede the Venerable instructs the laity that "Christ wants an industrious Church, tanned from the efforts of evangelization," "which must be supplemented by being "assiduous in their religious education."

Course the only time my Irish/German fairness ever looks tan is when I have so many freckles that they begin to merge but perhaps I can acquire a spiritual tan . . . 

Apparently, when it comes to evangelization and formation, sun block is just not the thing. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Coming Up For Air

No, I didn't get lost in the snow of high country - although it was certainly gorgeous.  

I've gotten lost in work.  Who knew that coming up with a decent Catholic version of the kergyma was going to be such a struggle?  Option after option has not come through or not worked for different reasons.  

And there's that book I'm theoretically writing - and many, many other things.

Including my sister, Becky, who lives in Alaska but is down in Houston currently being treated for cancer.  (Both of us would greatly appreciate your  prayers for her).

Coming up for air just briefly.

We received this encouraging note from a woman who was buying our popular Lenten retreat on CD, The Call to Christian Happiness:

"Years ago my daughter took the Institute's Called & Gifted class and it was the best thing she could have done.  Not happy with her career, she returned to college, obtained a nursing degree and does volunteer work once a year in Haiti because she realized one of her gifts is Mercy."

How many lives are changed when we discern and take up God's call?

And just a note for those who would like to support Catholic apostolates like the Catherine of Siena Institute and shop online.

Consider shopping through The Giving Cart.

The Giving Cart's entire purpose is to generate income for worthy Catholic groups and institutions without costing you an extra cent.  They are linked to many of the major vendors:   Apple,, Staples, Orbitz, Travelocity, Gap, Hotels.Com, etc. and will give a certain percentage of any purchase  from the listed vendors to the Catholic group of your choice. 

Just start your shopping on their website, fill in the form with the words "Catherine of Siena Institute" (or whatever group) and then go to the store of your choice and do your shopping.  (Each store gives a different percentage of the purchase which is indicated under their name.) 

It all adds up and would certainly make a big difference to us and to many other worthy groups at no cost to you!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Healing for Spiritual Lepers

The Jews of Jesus’ day were mindful of the divine command to “be holy as the Lord your God is holy.” (Lev 19:2)
Holiness encompassed many qualities, including bodily wholeness and integrity.
Anyone with physical imperfections was clearly not holy as the Lord is holy.
For them, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” was a lot more than a catchy slogan.
This was an issue for the poor leper: whatever the skin disease, he was “dirty,” “impure,” not whole, and could not approach God – and worse yet, anyone else who touched him would also be “impure.”
His leprosy wasn’t “catchy,” medically, and people knew it – but in their mind, it was “dirty,” and that was contagious.

Many, many things could cause ritual impurity, which meant that you could not participate in the communal worship, or the communal life of your people.
You would become impure by touching a corpse, a leper, a woman during her period – or even touching something the above named people touched.
Pigs and certain other animals and fish were also out of bounds; Dogs were off limits, too, I believe.

Jesus’ culture was incredibly communally focused; people were very gregarious and social, and everyone knew everyone else’s business.
To be ordered to live outside the camp was a serious situation for any member; so even lepers would congregate together – like the ten who petition Jesus for healing in the Gospel of Luke.
Any company was better than no company at all.

Fortunately, we Christians have moved beyond such concern about ritual impurity.
So if you have psoriasis, or excema; if you went to a party at your unchurched Greek neighbor’s house, if a plump juicy pork chop touched your lips – you don’t have to show yourself to me or any other priest to be declared “clean.”

However, just this week during daily Mass we heard Jesus say to his disciples, ‘it’s not what goes inside you that makes you impure, it’s what comes from inside that makes you impure.’

Uh oh. It seems we may not get worked up about things that make you unclean, but we are still concerned with purity.

Jesus is not concerned about outer cleanliness / impurity; he’s more interested in our inner cleanliness / impurity, and this is what his preaching addresses.
So if Jesus is still concerned with purity – even if it’s an inner purity – is there a Christian equivalent to the ritual described in the first reading from Leviticus for us?

Is there some ritual for removing the spiritual equivalent of leprosy that requires you to show yourself to a priest?
There’s a hint in today’s responsorial psalm:
I acknowledged my sin to you,
my guilt I covered not.
I said, "I confess my faults to the LORD,"
and you took away the guilt of my sin.

Yup, confession is the equivalent of a leper showing him or herself to a priest.
And just as Jesus looked with pity on the poor leper, and said, “I do will it, be made clean,” the priest today says to the sinner who asks for forgiveness, “be absolved.”
And two interesting parallels exist between what Jesus said and did, and what the priest says and does.
Jesus said, “Be made clean.” That’s an indirect way of speaking called the “divine passive.”
God’s name was considered so holy, so powerful, that the pious Jew didn’t even say it.
So Jesus doesn’t say, “I make you clean,” or even “God makes you clean.”
He acknowledges God as the one who makes clean without having to use God’s name.
Jesus willed it, but His Father cleanses the leper.
In the same way, in confession, the priest uses the formula for absolution, “I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
The priest wills your forgiveness, but the Blessed Trinity is the one that forgives.

The other parallel between Jesus’ healing of the leper and confession is significant, too.
Jesus touches the leper – something he was forbidden to do – and ritually brings the now-cleansed leper back into the embrace of the community.
Sin, especially serious sin, breaks our relationship with God and with his people.
Some sins literally ex-communicate us.
Jesus touches the sinner today, offering reconciliation and re-instatement into his fold through the ministry of the priest.

In Jesus’ day, you couldn’t deny you were a leper.
The condition of your skin gave you away, and your torn clothing, bared head and shouts of “unclean, unclean,” were meant to tell people, “stay away, lest you be made impure, too.”
Imagine if our interior impurity were as easily identified, say, by shaved heads and odd clothing.
Imagine if people could tell just by looking at us what our unforgiven sins were.
Imagine if our friends shied away from us because we might be a bad influence on them.
We’d be filling the confessionals every day of the week.

Instead, we’re into denial.
We’re like former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich; thinking that if we brazenly act as if we’ve done nothing wrong, maybe at least some people will believe us.
Or we’re like the fellow who came to me in confession, gave me a list of sins, then declared, “you know, Father, I’m really not that bad a fellow. I mean, I’m no Adolf Hitler.”
That’s called, “setting the bar low.” Unfortunately, Hitler’s not the one Jesus will be comparing us to at our judgment.
He says, “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Jesus knew that real leprosy isn’t all that contagious, but spiritual leprosy – our sin, and the selfishness and lack of trust of God from which it springs - is contagious.

Those Wall Street Bankers who took fat million dollar bonuses on top of their six-figure incomes justified it because that’s what Wall St. bankers have done in the past. Greed is contagious.
You overhear your cute-as-a-bug five-year old spout a few choice lines from “Sex in the City,” and you discover vulgarity is contagious.
“What happens in Vegas” doesn’t stay in Vegas – it clings to us; and I’ll bet you $5 at 2-to-1 odds that it changes the way you look at life.

Jesus did not come just to shift the search for purity from outer purity to inner purity.
He didn’t come to make us scrupulous about sin.
Rather, he came to do what we, the children of Adam, cannot do. He came to be obedient to the Father.
Jesus, the new sinless Adam, became sin for us, St. Paul says – meaning Jesus took on our sins and nailed them to the cross.
My sin, your sin, pierced his hands, feet, side, and head, and tore the flesh from his back.
He took the weight of the world’s sin on his shoulders, and swallowed up sin and its consequence, death, in his own death.
And the new life that the Father gave Jesus in return is ours, if we place our trust in him.

That new life of trust and gratitude for forgiveness is what Jesus, St. Paul, and the Church to this day preaches.
It’s a new life that springs from conversion, from the encounter with the risen Jesus like the one St. Paul had on the road to Damascus.
Faith is first and foremost a relationship with Jesus; a relationship in which I don’t want to sin because I don’t want to turn my back on the one who loves me enough to die for me.
This kind of joyful faith leads me to desire to give glory to God in everything I do – even while eating and drinking!
And when I encounter the risen Lord, and honestly acknowledge my many sins which his death has erased, I will become a former leper who can’t keep his mouth shut.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Blogging High

I'm spending a couple days on the spine of North America and am writing from a local coffee shop armed with a pot of hot chai.   It is cold but sunny and clear and looks like this.

Winter in Colorado.    Pretty cool.

I do have internet access (I still have work to do!) so some blogging is possible if I come across interesting stuff.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Preview of Coming Attractions

Institute events coming up in the near future:

1)  Fr. Mike will be preaching a mission in Riverside, California beginning on Sunday evening that has a strong Pauline theme:

"Christ lives in me" is the audacious claim of St. Paul, whose experience of conversion on the road to Damascus changed the direction of his life. That intimate union Paul experienced is what Jesus desires for each of us; a union as close as that of a vine to its branches. In our parish mission, Fr. Michael Fones, OP, co-director of the Catherine of Siena Institute, will reflect with us on the radical nature of Christian discipleship using scripture and stories that may help you accept the invitation to radical discipleship.  

Don't tell him that I said so but Fr. Mike is a great preacher and this is a theme very close to his heart.  If you are in the area, you won't want to miss it.

2)  Meanwhile we are putting on a one day Catholic School teacher version of the Called & Gifted workshop on Monday in Sugarland, Texas.  The fabulous Barbara Elliott will be presiding.

3)  Our Australian team is facilitating Discernment in Depth - part two of the Called & Gifted process which includes the personal interview, personal exploration, and small group work in east Melbourne at the Thomas Carr Centre in six evening sessions.

4) And those of you would like to be trained to facilitate the discernment of others can attend our interviewer and facilitator training February 21 and 22 in Corpus Christi, Texas.

That's us all over.

Grief & Hope

Amy Welborn has a truly wonderful post up about preparing for her husband Michael's funeral and the strange contrast between the Presence and supernatural consolation that she has felt  - at times -  in the past week and what other people expect her to feel.

This is not BS. It is not just what people who work for the Church are supposed to say. It was truly the focus of Michael’s life and as I pondered this, it occurred to me that during all the years that we knew each other and all the conversations and arguments we would have about these kinds of things, I was being prepared for this moment. There is a lot more to this than I’ll say here, but just understand that in letting all of this surge through me as I listened to the Gospel, tears surged up from deep within and I was startled to consider those tears and realize that for the first time in five days, there was no sadness or grief in them. It was not joy - it was gratitude.  the grief would return soon afterward, but at that moment, I felt nothing but gratitude. And a firm belief of the reality of the Way, the Truth and the Life. Now, with Christ, as we hope and pray, Michael is embraced, fully known, and fully loved. What we all seek in our wanderings.

Read the whole thing.  It is what lived Christian hope in the face of death looks like.

It is not that we are not supposed to grieve.  We are not supposed to grieve as one who has no hope.
The completely mysterious and unlooked for kind of hope that is the fruit of years of walking with Christ.

Paul Tournier, a well known Christian physician, said something similar when his beloved wife of many years died.

    " I can honestly say that I have a great grief and that I am a happy man."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Job Security

It is estimated that:

- 122,000 new Christians are baptized every 24 hours.

- 37,000 new Catholics are added to the Church every 24 hours.

           That's 13.32 million new Catholics on the planet every year!

                                            -  The World Christian Encyclopedia

All have been baptized into Christ's death and resurrection and need 
the sacraments 
initial proclamation 
the liturgy and prayer
Initial catechesis 
apostolic formation 
support in continued spiritual growth  and in their struggles
support in discernment of their charisms and vocation(s).

Just in case you were thinking of taking that vacation . . .

Culture and Conversion

The relationship between culture and conversion is fascinating. Culture can powerfully transmit the kerygma but it can also obscure it.

An established Christian culture can foster conversion but it cannot replace conversion. Christian culture is not ultimately self-sustaining. Christian culture is the fruit of personal faith.

Without the preaching of the kerygma and personal conversion which is a source of renewal in every generation, Christian culture ultimately withers away and dies.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Young and Finding Jesus in London

The Holy Spirit is moving in London.

The national news continues to be grim: The British National Health Service estimated in 2006 that self-identified Christians have dropped from being a simply majority to being a minority in the UK since 1995. As of 2005, Christians make up 47.51% of the population and Brits who self-identify as having no religion are almost as large at 45.8%. Muslims make up 3.3 %, Hindus 1.4% and non-Christian believers altogether form 6% of the UK population.

Anglicans continue their nose-dive: from 29% to 22% in only 10 years. Catholics, interestingly, have held steady at 8% of the population with the influx of Catholic immigrants from eastern Europe. The only religious groups who are growing as a whole are non-denominational Christians (who, at 9.6% have more than doubled since 1995), Muslims (from 1.8% to 3.3% in 10 years) Hindus (from .6 to 1.4% in 10 years) and interestingly, Jews (from .3 to .5% in 10 year.

But the situation is quietly changing in London. And it is young adults who are responding.

While reviewing some materials for my book, I came across a blog post I had written a year ago about the impact of the Alpha course.

I've been tracking the spread of Alpha, which began in London, for years now. Approximately 13 million people around the world have attended Alpha courses over the past 15 years. 2.3 million of these participants are Brits.

Alpha is having a significant impact on European Catholics with the public support of many bishops. There is a specialized version of Alpha called "Alpha in a Catholic context" which has been offered in 58 countries. For example, the first French national Alpha initiative this last September saw 10,000 people attend introductory events in 400 congregations around the country. 2/3 of French parishes are said to be holding Alpha courses.

The usual caveat: There are significant theological problems with Alpha from a Catholic perspective, which I have written about at some length here, but they are preaching the basic kerygma to this generation. And the result is a revival of Christian practice and belief in one of the greatest cities in the world.

A bit of searching brought me to this Time article (December 21, 2008) about the role of Alpha in transforming London from the least observant part of the country twenty years ago into the second most church-going city in the UK. Time acknowledges that part of the change in the London scene has been caused by many devout immigrants from other countries. But the revival is also drawing in highly educated, well-heeled, successful English young adults. And the epicenter for these new Christians is Holy Trinity Brompton, the evangelical-charismatic mother ship of the Alpha course and now the largest Anglican congregation in the UK.

"The church's 4000-strong congregation has almost tripled in the past 15 years, and its average age is 27 years. While HTB does not keep records of these young converts' wealth, a look at its bulging collection hat offers some clue: the church raised over $7 million from donations last year alone (An average London parish, by contrast, can expect to raise around $150,000, according to data provided by the Anglican church). The church has become so popular that it recently began encouraging hundreds of its congregation to attend dying churches around London — as much to ease its own congestion than anything else."


And this is amusing and telling:

"Concerned about the influence of Holy Trinity Brompton on Britain's future ruling class, the British Humanist Association recently partnered with Richard Dawkins, secularist Oxford professor and author of The God Delusion, to raise funds for advertisements to counter the Alpha course's own advertising campaign, with posters on buses carrying an inscription with a similar font to the Alpha's posters: "There is probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life," they state. Within a few weeks, the fund raised $180,000 after setting a target of just $7000."

But Time sums up the situation this way:

"Judging by the success of the HTB, however, the humanists may be fighting a losing battle. Once considered a stalwart of rural England, the Anglican church has found new life in the largest of Britain's supposedly godless cities."

Of course, it isn't just the Anglicans who are doing some creative evangelization in London. There is the wonderfully creative, if threadbare, Catholic parish of St. Patrick's, Soho with its resident School of Evangelization for young adults, SOS prayer line and perpetual adoration, Masses in four languages, a Cenacolo community to support those caught up in the drug culture, a professional in-house fertility clinic, and a theological lecture series which draws crowds of young adults.

All the evidence indicates that the millennial generation - largely unchurched and uncatechized and post-modern to the bone - is more open to the gospel of Jesus Christ than their parents or grand-parents but only if we make a serious attempt to reach out to them and preach the good news.

Enough insider baseball already. Evangelism is our first and primary identity and mission. We need to discern the signs of our times which are no longer the 60's or 70's but 2009. The early 21st century. Where God is doing something new and wonderful that we will miss if we don't pay attention.

Your 15 Seconds of Fame Awaits!

This is your chance to have share your favorite short thought or quote on evangelization, discernment, charisms, the mission and formation of the laity, and mission to the world with thousands of Catholics and CSI fans all over the world.

We want to gather a collection of your great thoughts (with attribution, of course!). That will enable us to send your thoughts or quotes out via e-mail once a week to foster on-going interest in the mission of the Church and the work of the Institute.

The thoughts or quotes you send in need to be short: one to two sentences at most!

Just send 'em to me at And help us foster a Catholic culture of discipleship and discernment with a little help from our many brilliant friends.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mom and Pop Missionaries

Here's a truly unusual group: the Family MIssions Company. A small group of lay missionaries (with their Bishop's blessing) founded 3o years ago by a married couple with 7 children. FMC works in Mexico, Spain, the Phillipines, and other places and provides missionary training for young adults at their home base in Louisiana.

This sort of (literally) mom-and-pop apostolic initiative is rare among Catholics in my experience. What is more impressive is that they have persevered for over 30 years, raising their own support, and still passionate about their mission. Take a look at their latest newsletter which has some very moving reflections by their young missionaries and check out some of their blogs. 20 year old disciples living among the poor to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Faithful little groups like FMC are worthy of our attention, our gratitude, our prayers, and our support. This kind of apostolic initiative by the laity is really, genuinely Catholic. After all, one of our rights as lay men and women guaranteed in canon law is "the right to evangelize the nations".

As I have written here before:

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

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

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

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

As FMC notes on their homepage:

“God is opening before the Church the horizons of a humanity more fully prepared for the sowing of the Gospel. I sense the moment has come to commit all the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and mission to the nations. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church, can avoid this supreme duty; to proclaim Christ to all peoples.” - Pope John Paul II

Christian History is Hardly Ever a Straight Line

David Curp, historian extraordinaire of eastern Europe - and of 20th century Poland in particular - is a dear friend and husband of occasional ID blogger and long time CSI collaborator Sherry Curp (AKA "the other Sherry"). A couple years ago, Dave wrote an illuminating article about the Church's involvement in slavery for the old Crisis magazine which is being featured as Inside Catholic's lead post today.

Dave is really good example of a lay Catholic who understands excellence in his secular vocation to be a call from God and an outgrowth of his faith. Dave has spent many an evening explaining the fine points of post World War II ethnic cleansing, the struggle of the Catholic laity of Poland to deal effectively with their communist rulers, or the relationship of the future John Paul II to other Polish prelates. Dave generously gave me a week of his time last fall to facilitate my research into the French Catholic revival of the 17th century.

As you can see from his article, Dave is very clear that real Catholic history is not apologetics. He is convinced that by helping his students develop the intellectual disciplines and mojo necessary to wrestle with issues of historical truth, he is fostering habits of mind that will also help prepare them to pursue larger Truths as well.

As Dave sums up his brief summary of Catholic involvement with slavery:

. . . tragically, slavery was part of the dirty war that Islam and Christianity waged against one another for centuries throughout the Mediterranean. In the 15th century it appeared that Islam, led by the Ottomans, was on the verge of final victory.

But even if the circumstances mitigate some of the guilt of Rome's involvement in slavery, it's a scandal nonetheless. And while the fear -- perhaps even the necessity -- for Christians to fight this war was real, its sad legacy remains with us.

History demonstrates that our earthly pilgrimage is rarely a straight line to a happier, progressive future; moral advancement is hard-won and easily lost. That the world finds it difficult to see Christ in the Church isn't simply a result of sin's blinders. Too often our own grievous faults and failures have become obstacles themselves. We do no service to Christ or His Church by refusing to acknowledge it

Friday, February 6, 2009

Frank Schaeffer & an Orthodox Discussion About Abortion

Father Gregory over at Koinonia has an interesting public letter to Frank Schaeffer.

Evangelicals will recognize the name "Schaeffer" since Frank is the very controversial son of the late Francis Schaeffer, the founder of L'Abri, the famous Christian community in the Swiss Alps, who had a huge impact on the evangelical world in the 60's and 70's.

Here's a clip from the file series that Frank made with his father in the 70's. It's a section on Thomas Aquinas which is painfully shallow and misconceived but had a big influence on an evangelical world which had barely heard of St. Thomas. Francis Schaeffer was a remarkable evangelist and catalytic figure but lacked the sort of education that would have enable him to better understand Thomas and his thought.

Frank, who is Francis Schaeffer's youngest child, has always been an very angry figure.

He was the his father's closet collaborator in the late 70's when the his parents led the charge to make evangelicals aware of the issues involved in the fight against abortion. Then Frank became Orthodox - very pugnaciously so - and wrote a series of funny, thinly veiled novels about his experience of growing up in an evangelical mecca. His most recent tell-all book about his family - Crazy for God - is not veiled at all and has been publicly rebutted by close friends of his family.

I had hopes that leaving the evangelical world where his family were royalty for the large and ancient world of Orthodoxy where he wasn't known would mellow Frank and enable him to achieve some peace and serenity but it hasn't happened. Schaeffer quickly became a trophy convert and a very public apologist and popular speaker about Orthodoxy while repudiating his family's evangelical roots in a particularly ungracious way. Schaeffer's recent language about Orthodoxy and Christianity as a whole, has grown increasingly vague and it is hard to tell where he is in his journey with God right now.

On November 12 2008, Frank published a Public Letter to President-Elect Obama on Abortion: From a Pro-Obama and Pro-Life Leader, in which he argues for the reduction of abortion while keeping it legal.

Fr. Gregory responds. Here's a snippet:

"What I find more is disturbing than intellectual poverty of your moral analysis is your cynical willingness call yourself pro-life while expressing a willingness to sacrifice the lives of the unborn for the sake of national harmony and an end to the culture wars. You contend that, if your advice is followed, the President "will have taken a giant step towards bringing this country together." Whether this is true or not, I cannot say. What I can say is that the willingness to sacrifice innocent lives for the sake of national unity is not the words of someone I can reasonably call pro-life. Your position is morally unacceptable both in light of natural law and the biblical tradition that informs the pro-life opposition to legal abortion."

It is encouraging to witness this discussion within the Orthodox world.

A Day in A Life of E-mail

Going through my e-mail after returning from this last trip is a story in itself. Here are a few of the highlights from the last 24 hours:

1) E-mail from one of our Called & Gifted teachers currently stationed in Baghdad who has been talking up the workshop and now want to see if he can offer one to Americans stationed there.

2) E-mails from two members of our emerging Singapore Called & Gifted team who are all going to be in the US this summer at various points and want to be trained as teachers.

3) E-mail from Clara, our Australian director with links to various on-line articles about how expression of the Christian faith is steadily becoming more difficult in the west. Note: Must blog about that.

4) Two exchanges with CSI fans looking for ministry jobs in parishes or Newman centers who are dedicated to evangelization and forming lay apostles.

5) Several e-mails regarding getting legal help to respond to an individual who is blatantly copying the Called & Gifted and trying to pass it off as his/her own original work.

6) E-mail from national organization because individual in #5 above has proposed to put the plagiarized material available online for a price. 4 phone calls and several e-mail responses later, national organization recognizes the material is a rip-off and tells me they will turn down individual's proposal. Hallelujah!

7) Two e-mail from long time friend in middle east. She enclosing a really moving e-mail from her daughter who is in Africa ransoming child soldiers. Wow! Heart-breaking but God is truly at work.

8) E-mail from more or less lapsed Catholic who was involved with the C & G in her old Catholic parish but is now attending an Episcopalian church and wants to bring the process there. Worried that it is too Catholic. (This, alas, is not the first such request I have received from "roamin' Catholics". Hhmmm. Episcopalian parishes have been using our stuff for years cause they like the sacramental context. No, we don't have a less Catholic version.)

9) E-mail from a long time Called & Gifted team leader who want to bring Making Disciples to her diocese. She doesn't know why but has a sense of urgency about it so we'll try to see what we can do in May.

10) Flight and media arrangements for my upcoming presentations at the Pauline Convocation in Detroit in March.

11) Fr. Anthony, co-Director of our Australian team writes, offering to send me a prayer for the gifts of the Holy Spirit that he has found in the Armenian rite. Sounds great.

12) E-mail from a local champion in large archdiocese who tells us that a group who attended the last Called & Gifted workshop there wants one of their own and that his local auxiliary bishop wants to talk about C & G implementation. He wants to talk before he meets with the bishop.

13) E-mail exchange about possible opportunity for Fr. Mike to talk about our work at a major seminary on St. Catherine's feast day.

14) Photos of my father's funeral from my sister.

15) E-mails with 40 mysterious Chinese language links (porn??) placed on old ID posts. Must search out and destroy one by one.

16) Request for radio interview about my post of today about Sacraments and Sacramental Grace. (I tell the inquirer that I think it is too complicated to do the topic justice in a 10 minute radio interview. Fortunately, Inquirer is theologically literate and readily agrees.)

There's a central theme there somewhere . . .

Nothing More Beautiful

The Archdiocese of Edmonton is sponsoring an interesting series of talks called "Nothing More Beautiful". It is the beginning of a 5 year process of reflection and renewal in the Archdiocese lead by Archbishop Richard Smith.

These once a month sessions combine a catechetical talk and a witness talk in a single evening, are available in video and print format online, include reflection questions and prayer.

This coming Thursday evening, the topic is The Human Body in God's Design.

I love the prayer (available in English and French)

Heavenly Father,
we come before you in praise and thanksgiving
for you have called us to be your own.

You sent your Word
to bring us truth
and your Spirit to make us holy.
Through them we come to know
the Beauty that is You.

Draw us to a new encounter with Jesus, your Son.
Deepen our love for His Church.
Help us to embrace anew
the beauty of our faith in all of its richness.

Empower us to see there is nothing more beautiful
than our relationship with You,
so that we may reflect to others your image,
in which we have been created.

We pray that, rooted and grounded in your love,
and through the healing power of the Cross of your Son,
we may be strengthened for mission
by your Holy Spirit.

We make this prayer through Christ our Lord.


Attack of the Taiwanese Spiders

Another bleg.

Twice lately. I have gotten up in the morning and found dozens of odd Chinese languages messages distributed randomly in the comment boxes of old posts. The message seems to be the same and is (I think - I don't read Chinese) a invitation and link to porn sites. The source is in Taiwan and seems to be some kind of automated spider.

Some of the messages are actually not visible when you first view the post itself (the comment box may seem empty) and aren't seen until you actually go into the comment box itself.

I know because any comments of any kind posted to ID generate an e-mail notification to me with a link. The spider dropped by twice yesterday and I had to delete at least 40 such message by hand - one by one.

Has anyone else had this problem? Is there a way to block this stuff?

Embracing Both Sacrament and Sacramental Effect

From the Commonweal blog comes this beautiful and challenging prayer from St. Thomas Aquinas which poster Robert Imbelli prays before Mass:

O almighty, everlasting God, behold, I draw near to the Sacrament of your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

I draw near, as a sick man to the Physician of life, as one defiled to the Fountain of mercy, as one blind to the Light of Eternal Splendor, as one poor and needy to the Lord of Heaven and Earth.

Therefore I implore you, in your infinite goodness, that you would graciously cure my sickness, wash away my defilement, give light to my blindness, enrich my poverty, and clothe my nakedness, so that I may receive the Bread of Angels, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, with such contrition and devotion, such purity and faith, such purpose and intention, as to attain the welfare and salvation of my soul.

Grant me, I beseech you, to receive not only the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of my Lord, but also the very Reality and Strength of the Sacrament.

O most gracious God, grant me so to receive the Body of your only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ that very body which he took of the Virgin Mary, that I may be truly incorporated into his mystical body, and so numbered among its members.

O most loving Father, grant me at last to behold unveiled and forevermore your beloved Son, whom, in my pilgrimage, I receive now beneath the veil of this blessed Sacrament.

Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. Amen.

I gotta point out the obvious here because we sometimes get such stunned reactions from pastoral leaders when we mention this during Making Disciples.

This is intentional reception of the Eucharist. Note that St. Thomas distinguishes between the physical reception of the sacrament and the reception of the "reality and strength" of the Sacrament. There is nothing magical or unconscious going on here. When faith and positive disposition (actively disposing oneself toward change in anticipation of receiving the grace to actually change) meets the grace of the sacrament, we begin to experience actual transformation.

St. Thomas understood this principal very well: Here is his classically "Thomistic" evaluation of the question,

Article 9. Whether insincerity hinders the effect of Baptism?

Those of you who have read the Summa know how the drill goes:

A summation of the question, 3 objections to possible responses to the question, then the tell-tale "on the contrary, I answer that . . ." statement of Thomas's own take on the question, then three replies to the preceding three objections. (No gentle Thomistic readers, I don't know the official terms.)

For the sake of brevity, I'll just quote Thomas's "on the contrary" and his reply to the first objection:

Article 9. Whether insincerity hinders the effect of Baptism?

"I answer that, As Damascene says (De Fide Orth. ii), "God does not compel man to be righteous." Consequently in order that a man be justified by Baptism, his will must needs embrace both Baptism and the baptismal effect. Now, a man is said to be insincere by reason of his will being in contradiction with either Baptism or its effect. For, according to Augustine (De Bapt. cont. Donat. vii), a man is said to be insincere, in four ways: first, because he does not believe, whereas Baptism is the sacrament of Faith; secondly, through scorning the sacrament itself; thirdly, through observing a rite which differs from that prescribed by the Church in conferring the sacrament; fourthly, through approaching the sacrament without devotion. Wherefore it is manifest that insincerity hinders the effect of Baptism.

Reply to Objection 1. "To be baptized in Christ," may be taken in two ways. First, "in Christ," i.e. "in conformity with Christ." And thus whoever is baptized in Christ so as to be conformed to Him by Faith and Charity, puts on Christ by grace. Secondly, a man is said to be baptized in Christ, in so far as he receives Christ's sacrament. And thus all put on Christ, through being configured to Him by the character, but not through being conformed to Him by grace."

The quick and dirty summary: if we receive a sacrament without personal faith as adults, it is possible that we *might* receive the character of a sacrament like baptism or confirmation without receiving the grace.

The implications for our personal spiritual lives (and mine in particular) and for our current pastoral practice in RCIA, confirmation prep, etc. is stunning. And unnerving.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Michael Dubruiel

I'm back.

First of all, I have to say that I was stunned and greatly saddened to hear - while on the road - that Amy Welborn's husband Michael died suddenly yesterday. I spent my flight home praying for her and their children and for Michael. It is really good to see the way that the Catholic blogging community has rallied round them.

Amy's note and information about the funeral arrangements are here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Escape from Death Row

I just came across this, and it reminded me of the discussion of/search for kerygma we've been having here.

It's well worth reading the whole thing, but here is a good taste:

I first realized the gravity of my sentence when I was around 11 years old. One night the thought of death randomly popped to mind, and for the first time I fully internalized the reality that I would one day die. Though of course I already knew that nobody lives forever, this was the first time that that veil that blocks unpleasant truths from our conciousness was pierced and I understood down to my bones that it was only a matter of time before a coffin lid closed on top of my body. The weight of that reality was too much for my intellect to bear; it's like I thought about it more in my racing heart than in my head. My whole being was aware that everything I thought of as "me" -- my body, my feelings, my loves, my thoughts, all my hopes and dreams -- were nothing more than the products of random chemical reactions that would one day cease, and "I" would disappear.

The human psyche is surprisingly good at blocking out these sorts of unbearably heavy realizations, so I managed to get out of the tailspin of despair within a couple of days and not put any more serious thought into death for a few years. But then high school and college rolled around, I became more curious about life and the world, and the reality of death began to swirl around the periphery of my thoughts once again. Most of the time I could keep my mind occupied with school and friends and parties, but every now and then that veil would fall down again and the reality of death would go seeping down into my bones, leaving me too depressed to cry.


The date of our extinction was coming up soon, getting closer by the second. The only difference between a death row inmate and anyone else, in my eyes, was that the prisoner knew the date. I had those same questions that inmate expressed: Why play cards? Why watch TV? Why read a book? Sure, you might have momentary pleasure or gain some knowledge, but it was all fleeting, and it would all disappear -- along with you -- upon your impending extermination. And the clock was ticking. We were all dead men walking.

It felt wrong -- deeply, uncomfortably wrong -- to think about all of this. And upon my conversion to Christianity I realized why:

That crushing despair I experienced when I would absorb the implications of my worldview was the feeling of a precious, eternal soul railing against the injustice of being denied. Somewhere in that part of my mind where primal truths too important for words reside was the knowledge that "I" was something more than just randomly evolved chemical reactions, that "I" was both body and eternal soul, that "I" had the opportunity to spend eternity in a place of perfect peace, and that to believe otherwise was the biggest mistake a person could ever make.

When I first came to believe the truth of Christian doctrine, I didn't think much about the eternal implications. I'd gotten good at distracting myself from thoughts of death and I didn't want to bias my research into Christianity with a desire to believe in eternal life. So it was only slowly, over time, that I became aware that I was freer than I used to be, that life seemed more complete in a certain way than it had been before. But I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was.

Then one day I was driving through an intersection where the stoplights had just lost power, and I barely missed getting into a serious, possibly deadly, accident. It was then that I realized what that new "something" was: fear of death no longer haunted me. I no longer saw the end of my life on earth as an abyss of nothingness; rather, I understood it as an opportunity to finally go home. The sleepless nights, the frantic search for distractions, the restlessness that comes with seeking a constant state of denial were all gone. Though it had happened gradually, when I compared my new state of mind with my old one I felt lighter than air; the foundation of my subconscious was now paved with joy instead of despair.

In that moment I realized that I'd spent my whole life falsely condemned to death row. And now I was finally free.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Avoid Work - Use Your Charisms

"Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life."
As I write this I am on a US Airways flight from Burbank to Omaha, via Phoenix. The US Airways in-flight magazine has a regular feature called, Save My Career, and features Donald Asher, a career guidance guru, offering advice to people with job problems. In these harsh economic times, people are worried about job layoffs and downsizing, but one young college senior is fretting about his father’s approach to a job (“it’s simply a way to support a family”). He wants life to be more than work, work, work. To this young man, Mr. Asher offers this advice, “The greatest success, in career terms, is in finding your calling. Among people who work, some have jobs, some have careers, and some have a calling. A calling is something you’d do even if you weren’t paid to do it. A calling is intrinsically satisfying, regardless of compensation. And it turns out that finding your calling leads to more success.”

But how to discover a calling? Is it just a mystery that some lucky people happen upon? Do only a few actually have a calling? Is there some method for figuring it out? For the Catholic, everyone has a calling – a vocation; a unique work of love that is given us by God. The Called & Gifted workshop offers a way to discover some of the clues placed within us by God as to His calling for us. These are our charisms, and discerning them leads to the opportunity to actually search out a job or career that will be our calling – even if we have to invent it! The great thing, too, is not only are the charisms (spiritual gifts) given to us by God at our baptism great clues to our calling, they are also the means that will help to ensure our success and satisfaction.

That’s because when we actually use our charisms, we are energized, satisfied, and feel like we “fit” as we use them. The experience of using them is similar to what some folks call, “flow,” in which time seems to pass quickly and effortlessly. In addition, because the charisms are means by which God works through us, we actually will see supernatural results to our efforts! That means we will see results that might sometimes surprise us, and we’ll receive positive feedback, either directly in the form of praise, or indirectly in the form of people beating the proverbial path to our door.

If you haven’t taken the Called & Gifted workshop yet, do so! You can also get the CD version of the workshop from the Catherine of Siena Institute. In the meanwhile, pay attention to the things you do for others that you really enjoy, especially if you get feedback or results that seem to go beyond the effort you put into the activity. The key to a calling/vocation, though, is that it must always be for others in some way. God has made us in His image, which means that we are made to live for others. That’s the common characteristic of every calling – and that’s where we’ll find our deepest satisfaction.

A Request for My Evangelistically Savvy Readers

Off this morning to Omaha to present at their clergy conference with Fr. Mike. I had a whole blog post about Pope Benedict's "hermeneutic of reform" worked out in my head but never managed to write it.

I had a bleg for our readers. I need to find a solid, winsome, relatively short (less than 50 pages) inexpensive summation of the basic kergyma in written form in the next couple of weeks and I am having a hard time doing so.

I need to make it clear - I don't mean apologetics. I have already asked a number of friends and they have sent me books of apologetics. By apologetics I mean closely reasoned arguments for the resurrection or accepting the authority of Church teaching. No more "liar-lunatic- messiah" knock-offs of C. S. Lewis or evangelical stuff or Chesterton or Ronald Knox. That is not what I need. The culture around us has changed profoundly and we are still acting as though classic Catholic apologetics of the 20's and 30's, written for people who lived within a modern mindset which was still familiar with some of the language and concepts of classic Christianity works for average 21st century post-moderns.

I need a solid, winsome, non-evangelical Protestant, proclamation of the basic gospel of Jesus Christ that would be suitable for people of average intelligence and intellectual background who are not yet intentional disciples and who have been steeped in post-modernism since birth (which includes 98% of Catholics under the age of 65 in this country who weren't homeschooled in a traditional Catholic enclave or are already part of one of the movements.) Something for the 98% of Catholics who at least drop into a parish occasionally or at least still self-identify as Catholic,

In some ways, I realize that we need a couple different versions for our work: one version for those with a Catholic background and another for those with no religious background or a non-Christian background, Something written with post-modern rather than modern sensibilities in mind.

But right now, my need is for the Catholic version.

I've asked some very sharp Catholic leaders who are passionate about evangelization and the fact that none of us can come up with something says volumes about our situation.

I'm reading some of Fr. Cantalamessa's books (Life in Christ at present -very, very good - but presumes a good deal of religious background. Would work for pastoral leaders but not the poorly catechized.)

Any suggestions?

I'll try to blog from the road but don't know if I will have internet access.

Back Wednesday.