Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Rationalist and the Thresholds of Conversion

As Sherry has mentioned, we are gearing up for a special edition of the Making Disciples seminar for the archdiocese of Kansas City, KS and the diocese of Kansas City, MO - as well as our Colorado Springs Sunday evening - Thursday noon version July 26-30. As I was looking at e-mail in the library of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, where I'm giving a parish mission, I noticed a headline of the recent National Catholic Register titled, "From Atheist to Catholic: 'Unshakable' Rationalist Blogged Her Way into the Church." I thought it might be interesting to look it over to see if I might be able to identify any of the thresholds in her conversion story.

What an interesting experiment! While it's a short interview, there were some significant moments that bear mentioning. First of all, the interviewee, Jennifer Fulwiler, was a very intelligent young woman who grew up atheist and "was convinced that religion and reason were incompatible. Not surprisingly, she was also emphatically anti-Christian and, especially, anti-Catholic. 'Catholic beliefs seemed bizarre and weird.'"

The first threshold that someone like Jennifer has to cross is trust; normally, trust in a particular Christian. For her, that person was Joe Fulwiler (a non-practicing Baptist who later became her husband). She worked with him and got to know him and eventually began to date him. It wasn't until after she got to know him a bit that she found out he believed in God. Her description regarding how that effected her is important to note:
To me, belief in God was so unreasonable that, by definition, no reasonable person could believe in such a thing. I felt I could never be compatible with someone that unreasonable. Had I known that Joe believed in God, I would never have dated him.

interviewer: What was your reaction when you found out?

It gave me pause. Joe is too smart — brilliant, really, with degrees from Yale, Columbia and Stanford — to believe in something nonsensical. I also met many of his friends. They, too, are highly intelligent — some with M.D.s and Ph.D.s from schools like Harvard and Princeton — and believed.

None of this made me believe in God, of course, but I could no longer say that only unreasonable or unintelligent people believe.
I find it interesting that what she trusted was Joe's intelligence - not his faith; that would come much, much later. But this does point out that often effective evangelization is going to happen on the personal level and require a commitment to a real relationship over a long period of time (though not necessarily requiring marriage!)

I don't know how long she was at that threshold, but I suspect it was for awhile, because the next turning point in her conversion was triggered by a huge change in her life - the birth of her and Joe's first child.
I have always been a truth-seeker, which is why I was an atheist. But I had a prideful, arrogant way of approaching questions about life and meaning. I now realize that pride is the most effective way to block out God so that one doesn’t see him at all. Certainly, I didn’t.

The birth of our first child motivated me to seek the truth with humility. I can’t emphasize this point enough: Humility, true humility, is crucial to the conversion process.
Isn't it interesting that the story of the Fall involves the selection of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad (a semitic euphemism for "knowledge of everything") over obedience to God? Perhaps pride is, in a way, the first sin... But back to the story. Because Jennifer was intellectually oriented, the next threshold was particularly important. It is

And not just curiosity about the Church, or about the dogmas that Joe might have believed, but ultimately, curiosity about Jesus. Unfortunately, the interviewer didn't ask questions that could flesh out this threshold too much, but what Jennifer says is telling...
I had already begun thinking about the possibility of God’s existence.
I don't know if she was at the next threshold, OPENNESS, or not - there's not enough information in that statement. It may have been the beginnings of curiosity about Christianity.
After our son’s birth, I wanted to know the truth about life’s great questions — for his sake. For the first time, I was motivated to seek truth with true humility. For example, I began reading, studying, and thinking about the great minds. Most, if not the majority, believed in some other world, some higher power, a god or gods — something. Even the great pre-Christian thinkers like Plato, Aristotle and Socrates believed.

Another avenue of exploration: I always revered the great scientists, including the founders of the significant branches of science. Very few were atheists. Indeed, some of the greatest were profoundly believing Christians.

It could be argued this was because they were steeped in the Christian culture and beliefs of their times.

That ignores a larger question I began asking myself: Is it really likely that great minds like Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Descartes and others didn’t know how to ask tough questions? Do these people seem to be men who didn’t know how to question assumptions and fearlessly seek truth? Of course not.
It seems her intense curiosity and respect for the intelligence of the scientists she mentioned compounded to move her toward openness to the possibility of God's existence. But it sounds like she was at the threshold curiosity for awhile.
Was there ever an aha moment that finally made you abandon atheism?

Several, but one in particular actually shocked me.

I asked myself two questions: What is information? And: Can information ever come from a non-intelligent source?

It was a shocking moment for me because I had to confront the fact that DNA is information. If I remained an atheist, I would have to believe that all the intricate, detailed, complex information contained in DNA comes out of nowhere and nothing.

But I also knew that idea did not make sense. After all, I don’t look at billboards — which contain much simpler information than DNA — and think that wind and erosion created them. That wouldn’t be rational. Suddenly, I found that I was a very discomfited atheist.

Is that the point at which you began to believe in God?

No. But now I was a reluctant atheist.
I find the interviewer's comments and questions interesting. She seemed earlier to suggest that perhaps Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and other believers might have been "cultural" Christians - and Jennifer presumed that they were too intelligent to simply believe without questioning. Then, the interviewer seems to hope that the discomfort Jennifer experienced over the apparent design of creation would lead immediately to belief. The story demonstrates the incredible patience required in personal evangelization. A kind of commitment that perhaps only a disciple - and a genuine, loving, friend - will be able to make.

Her story illustrates very well, I think, the transition from curiosity to OPENNESS
I had lots of questions but knew no one who might have answers: I had always consciously, deliberately distanced myself from believers. So, coming from the high-tech world, where did I go for answers? I put up a blog, of course! I started posting tough questions on my blog.

One matter stood out from the beginning: The best, most thoughtful responses came from Catholics. Incidentally, their answers were consistently better than the ones from atheists. It intrigued me that Catholics could handle anything I threw at them. Also, their responses reflected such an eminently reasonable worldview that I kept asking myself: How is it that Catholics have so much of this all figured out?
It's important to note that what happened here was Catholics weren't catechizing in a vacuum, but responding to the real questions that she had. The answers impressed her so much that she shared them with her Baptist husband, who was, in some ways, even more anti-Catholic (but ignorant of Catholicism) than she was. Both of them became intrigued and began to explore even more.

Unfortunately, the interview skips to the present, in which Jennifer speaks of her appreciation for community life within the Church - something she didn't experience as an atheist. It would be interesting to know how she crossed the thresholds of SEEKING (i.e., seeking a relationship with Christ and the Church) and the conversion that led to DISCIPLESHIP, which is expressed beautifully in this quote, “Conversion is the acceptance of a personal relationship with Christ, a sincere adherence to him, and a willingness to conform one’s life to his. Conversion to Christ involves making a genuine commitment to him and a personal decision to follow him as his disciple.” National Directory for Catechesis, p. 47,48

If this idea of thresholds of pre-discipleship intrigues you, and you'd like to know more about them - and learning practical ways to help people like Jennifer respond to God's grace and move through them - consider attending Making Disciples in beautiful Colorado Springs!

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Condoms & the Church's Bold Vision

This is interesting and definitely not something that most Catholic bloggers would expect.

The Director of the African Jesuit AIDS Network, Michael Czerny, SJ, has written an essay on Pope Benedict's comments about condoms made while on his way to Africa. It is long but worth reading in its entirety. Here are some highlights.

Vatican officials estimate that around the world the Catholic Church now provides more than 25 percent of all care administered to those with HIV/AIDS. The proportion is naturally higher in Africa, nearly 100% in the remotest areas. Let an HIV-positive Burundian on antiretroviral drugs explain the service:

When we go to other places, they only see numbers in us. We become hospital cases to be dealt with. We are problems. We lose our sense of dignity and worth. Yet we never feel that when we come to our Church programme. This is because we get a complete approach to our problems, whether spiritual, medical, mental, social or economic. (Personal testimony)


Not to undervalue this contribution, let us recognise that public policy and programming function as a lowest common denominator, a minimum which every citizen has a right to. Public health policy deals with figures and trends – not with human faces and persons.

The Christian vision includes all that, but goes broader and deeper than policy. With a holistic vision, the Church sees each person as a child of God, as brother or sister, each one capable of both sin and holiness. Now, such unique, whole and holy persons are not readily detectable in tables of averages. But they are the real people of real life. As believers, they are the pillars of communities, the silent agents of deep transformation. So the Church’s work of addressing, forming, guiding and challenging persons is more ambitious than public health, deeply different in quality and spirit.

Facing not only AIDS but multiple crises in most corners of the continent, Africans have good reason, based on experience, to believe in the Church’s bold vision for them.


On the second issue of a strategy for whole populations, there is widespread belief that condom-use programmes are effective in reducing HIV infection rates. However, this proves true only outside Africa and amongst identifiable sub-groups (e.g. prostitutes, gay men), not in a general population. There is no evidence that condoms as a public health strategy have reduced HIV levels at the level of the whole population.[3] Indeed, greater availability and use of condoms is consistently associated with higher (not lower) HIV infection rates, perhaps because when one uses a risk reduction ‘technology’ such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) because people take greater chances than they would without the technology.

Therefore at the public level, an aggressive condoms policy ‘increases the problem’ as it deflects attention, credibility and resources from more effective strategies like abstinence and fidelity – or in secular language, the postponement of sexual debut and a reduction in the proportion of men and women reporting multiple sexual partners. Abstinence and fidelity win little public support in dominant Western discourse, but they are vindicated by solid scientific research and are increasingly included, even favoured, in national AIDS strategies in Africa.

The promotion of condoms as the strategy for reducing HIV infection in a general population is based on statistical probability and intuitive plausibility. It enjoys considerable credibility in the Western media and among Western opinion makers. What it lacks is scientific support.


Springing up out of Catholic faith and tradition, the Pope’s whole and indeed holistic message is for the people he is visiting. It connects thoroughly with the human reality on the ground. A Congolese Jesuit wrote to me, ‘Over here we are following the visit of the Pope with great interest, as well as the speculation in the press about the question of condoms arising from the Holy Father’s wise statement before touching down in Africa. What a shame that so far people don’t realise that the solution to AIDS won’t come with distribution of these things, but by handling the whole question as a whole.’

4. The Holy Father concludes by answering again the journalist’s allegation of ‘unrealistic and ineffective?’: ‘It seems to me that this is the proper response, and the Church does this, thereby offering an enormous and important contribution. We thank all who do so.’

According to my experience, most Africans, Catholic or not, agree. To them, what the Holy Father said is profound and true. He is reiterating what they have been experiencing for years and what they continue to expect. They too thank those who implement the Church’s strategy.

Theology & Making Disciples

My task for today is to work on finalizing the readings, texts, and class outlines for the 3 credit graduate course in The Theology of the Laity that Fr. Michael Sweeney and I will be teaching at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, May 26 - Jun5, 2009. It will be open to STL, MA and MAPS students.

I'm coming across some really interesting stuff which I will probably blog on today as well.

This weekend, Fr. Mike and I will be offering an experimental weekend version of Making Disciples for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas. The participants include pastors and leaders from 4 different parishes, staff from the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis and a couple of diocesan staff from the Archdiocese of Omaha.

Alas, this one is not open to the public but our Colorado Rocky Mountain High version of Making Disciples is another story. (Wait for 30 seconds for the brochure to come up after clicking. For some reason, it is taking its time)

Picture this: July 26 - 30, 2009: You are 7,000 feet high in the Colorado Rockies in a Francisco Retreat center a half mile from the Pike National Forest where humidity and mosquitoes don't exist but deer herds (and baby fawns) roam freely. And you get to spend four life-changing days with other enthusiastic Catholic leaders from around the country (and elsewhere) learning a set of gentle, non-weird, real-life evangelistic skills that you can use in any kind of ministry situation or with family, friends, co-workers and neighbors.

And early risers get to witness dawn at the most spectacular city park in the US: the Garden of the Gods.

You know you want to go . . . Go ahead and drop Austin an e-mail at austin@siena.org.

Monday, March 30, 2009

"Jesus, Jesus, Jesus"

'Tis the season . . .

From Rochester comes this encouraging RCIA story:

A couple of years back, John Jerabeck set out in earnest on a spiritual quest. Though intrigued by such non-Christian faith traditions as Buddhism, he knew deep down there was more distance to cover on his journey.
"All the time, in the back of my mind, I felt, 'Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.' I tried to do whatever I could to shut it out, and it just wasn't going away," he recalled.

The call to follow Christ eventually brought Jerabeck to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the process by which people join the Catholic faith. As he prepares to be received as a Catholic during the April 11 Easter Vigil liturgy at Rochester's St. Boniface Church, Jerabeck said that "I just know the Catholic Church is where I'm supposed to be."

Jerabeck, 23, acknowledged that he went through "a very kind of rough teenage years; I got involved in things that really weren't the best for me." However, he has experienced considerable growth since becoming involved in RCIA.

"Honestly, if I had to go through everything again I'd do it all over," Jerabeck said, noting that as the Easter Vigil draws near, "I have a peace in my heart."

Chaput on Vitriol, E-mail, and Being Lambs, Not Wolves

I found this very interesting in light of what I heard Archbishop Chaput say in Detroit about the e-mail he often gets and how strongly he urged his listeners to be charitable when they write:

From the Boston Globe's website about a meeting between Chaput and journalists on St. Patrick's Day in Washington, DC.

Another exchange that caught my attention came between Chaput and Patricia Zapor, of Catholic News Service, who asked the archbishop about the vitriolic nature of so much e-mail about Catholic issues -- something I experience in the comments on this blog.

This is what Chaput said:

"I used to get some hate mail before I was online, but not nearly as much as I did afterwards. I think the way that we have immediate access, which means we immediately speak out of our emotions rather than write a letter, send it the next day, you might change your mind. Instead you write it and you push the button to “show them,” you know, that kind of thing.

So I think our immediate ability to communicate has led to a coarsening discourse for one thing. I gave a talk recently – I think it may have been when I was in Toronto, where I said that the Lord reminds us that we are sheep among wolves, but it’s important for us not to become wolves ourselves because of our experience, and I think that often happens.

Some of the worst emails I get are from Catholic conservatives who think I should excommunicate and refuse communion to Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. of Colorado and to former-Sen. [and now Secretary of the Interior] Ken Salazar of Colorado, and why aren’t you doing this? I mean, just awful kind of stuff that they write. Sometimes, I must admit, that when I write back, I’m not as friendly as I should be. But I try not to be mean."

And then, reflecting on the difference between e-mail from liberals and conservatives, he said:

"The left mail I get will use terrible words but be less vitriolic. They use the F-word and things like that, call me names like that. But the right is meaner, but they’re not as foul."

Urbana 09 for Catholics

Urbana, a sort of World Youth Day of missions for college students, is taking place again the last week of December, 09, in St. Louis.

Urbana is staggering - 4 days of the the highest level missionary presenters on a wonderfully creative and wholistic set of tracks. International students, international poverty, domestic poverty, world religions in light of evangelization, the global church, evangelism, environmental stewardship, art & media, business as mission, healthcare as mission, spiritual disciplines & mission.

22,000 attended from 140 countries at the last Urbana in 2006. Even though Urbana is sponsored by the evangelical movement, Intervaristy, a lot of Catholic students attend. Not only is there no pressure on Catholics to cease to be Catholic, there seems to be a new and exciting openness among these mission-minded evangelicals to Catholicism as a true and beautiful form of the faith.

For instance, the Urbana website features Sarah Vanacore's story of becoming Catholic as a student from an evangelical background. And one of the 5 video's that highlight Urbana "grads" is the story of a young women working with a mission agency in Perugia, Italy. Note that her language is very appreciative of the very Catholic imagery and beauty in which she finds herself immersed. Notice that the soundtrack begins with the Salve Regina. But also listen to her observations on how divorced from the faith most young Italians are.

It is time that Catholics were part of this conversation as Catholics together. I'm seriously praying about attending Urbana myself this year (as part of the pastors/leaders track) and I would like to have other Catholics come with me so we can process the challenges and the divergences from a Catholic perspective together. This would be a great opportunity for Catholic students or seminarians or leaders really interested in evangelization and global mission.

Check out the website, pray about it, and if you are interested in going, drop me a line at sherry@siena.org.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Report from Corpus Christi

This is my first post from Corpus Christi. I'm taking advantage of the free wi-fi in their cozy little airport while I can. The craziness of Houston still lies before me. (Yikes, they just announced that the plane that was to take me to Houston won't arrive until after 6pm and that we won't make it to Houston till 7:30pm Fortunately, my connection to Colorado Springs isn't until 9pm. It's gonna be another long night.)

Due to the blizzard on Thursday and my futile attempts to avoid it, I didn't get to CC until 11pm Friday night so had to cram all of interviewer/faciliator training into one long 12 hour day. The hardy band of trainees did well. One woman admitted later that she had been dreading it but that the day had flown by.

This is the second group that we have trained in a month in anticipation of the large Called & Gifted to be held April 17/18 at the Cathedral in CC. There is a lot of excitement building up.

Mass this morning was like CC: a cheerful, Christ-centered mixture of what the Catholic blogosphere usually considers to be mutually exclusive; oil and water. A large new church with traditional statues, the tabernacle prominently displayed beyond the altar *and* state of the art lighting and giant drop down screens. No missals. Latin prayers projected on giant screens. The cantor was a woman with a wonderful voice. 8 Masses every weekend. Some are "traditional". One Mass is openly charismatic. One is boisterously Hispanic. The associate is Polish and introducing the Polish custom of the blessing of Easter food baskets.

A sea of dark heads. Many families of mixed cultural background. I sat next to a young family from India. Not the endless blondes one sometimes sees in California. The congregation was dressed a tad more formally than most congregations I encounter. Some jeans but they were all clean and worn with carefully ironed shirts, etc. The deacons do not wear collars but coat & tie at the bishop's request.

The consecration was done ad orientam facing the tabernacle (as a Lenten practice which will end at Easter) while the homily was preached while the pastor walked around the sanctuary, Bible in hand, and included copious amounts of the basic kerygma. The celebrant and altar servers held hands at the Our Father. They sang songs that many bloggers love to hate, e.g. "We create ourselves anew" alongside Latin chant. The Mass ended with the acknowledgement of birthdays and anniversaries. The strongly extroverted pastor never finished his recessional because he was busy shaking hands and chatting.

As I said, this is not a destination for liturgical purists. But if you are interested in evangelization, practically every parish in the US could learn from Most Precious Blood parish in Corpus Christi.

MPC runs the largest evangelization programs that I have ever encountered in a parish. Encounter, a home-grown ten week Catholic variation on the Alpha process. Something like 600 -800 people a year go through and the results are transforming This parish has the highest number of parishioners who have recently gone through a personal conversion of any parish I have ever worked in. The man who I interviewed in the "mock" interview turned out to have gone through a major spiritual awakening 1 1/2 years ago. But most of the people I met had had a similar experience within the past five years. When you are in a parish where something like 3,000 members have been through an experience like that, the topic of conversion comes up naturally.

It would be interesting to explore what percentage of their active parishioners are intentional disciples. Certainly it is far higher than the discouraging 5% that participants in our Making Disciples seminar have routinely estimated. In a few more years, this parish might just become the first parish I have visited where a majority of the active parishioners are in later, active thresholds of spiritual development. Active seekers or intentional disciples.


And they are engaged in the Catholics, Come Home media campaign this Lent. No word yet on the impact of that yet.

Just consider this another report from the new Catholic heartland. Corpus Christi is 70% Catholic and has the highest proportion of Catholics in the area's population of any diocese in the US. What is happening here is at least as important for the kingdom of God as the dramas that have occupied the attention of the blogosphere over the past month.

It won't be the first time in Christian history that the most significant events happened on the periphery, in Nazareth.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Called & Gifted in Singapore

Our first live Called & Gifted is happening in Singapore at Holy Spirit parish this weekend, courtesy of Lydia and Winifred and some other C & G "alumni" there.

Country number eight. Very cool.

Blessed be God in all his gifts.

New Mexico Outlaws Death Penalty

Whispers has blogged about another important US landmark in the matter of life that has gotten little national press: the Catholic governor of New Mexico has just signed a bill outlawing the death penalty. With a Basilian friar at his side.

AA the governor put it " you can get an innocent person out of jail but not out of the grave."

This is a good thing, not a "liberal" thing, folks. It is a victory for life.

If we are truly pro-life, truly Catholic in our heart and mind, we should be rejoicing and considering how to build upon this small victory to foster discussion and further conversion about the sacred nature of all human life.

Protest and Evangelization

Kevin Jones asks a profound question over at Amy's new blog, Via Media:

Isn’t protest in some ways the opposite of evangelization?

It is - unless we live lives of such integrated, sacrificial, compelling discipleship that we become simultaneously witnesses and calls to conversion. Then protest and evangelization become one.

The great lay disciples of the early 20th century: Dorothy Day, Catherine Doherty, Peter Maurin were such witnesses. But they were also extremely radical figures before the Vatican Council. So far to the left on the spectrum that you could hardly see them. As Catherine Doherty noted: In the 60's, her community woke up to find that they had suddenly become "conservative". Madonna House hadn't changed a hair but the entire Church had revolved around them - seemingly overnight.

Here Catholics are at something of a disadvantage. At the parochial level where 99% of all Catholics live, the current generation of American Catholics don't have a strong tradition of either protest or evangelization. Since talk of human rights, liberty, and protest were associated with revolution and anti-clericalism in the 18th and 19th centuries and because we felt vulnerable in a country with a tradition of popular anti-Catholicism, bishops, pastors, and faithful Catholics usually regarded the idea of protest with distrust and stressed obedience.

At the parochial level, neither do we have a strong tradition of anything as evangelization. (it is fascinating to be around fellow evangelizers as I was in Detroit last weekend and hear them confirm the same dynamics that we have encountered: de facto universalism and pelagianism everywhere, the conflation of catechesis and evangelization, no imaginative category for intentional discipleship etc.) Evangelization was the responsibility of religious orders specifically dedicated to that purpose: the Paulists or Mother Cabrini's sisters who worked to help Catholic immigrants return to Mass and the sacraments.

Certainly not protest as evangelization.

What would protest as evangelization look like? In the current situation where economic fears are driving women and even married couples to choose abortion in larger numbers than ever, how about this?

What if the USCCB in collaboration with all the major pro-life groups and support of parishes and million of Catholics were to announce a national initiative:

That we are committed to ensuring that no woman or couple feels compelled to choose abortion out of fear. If you need financial support, we stand ready to give it. If you need a home, a supportive community, medical assistance, whatever to bring this baby to birth, we will be there. We have hundreds of thousands of adoptive and foster parents ready to help. We will not let you drown. We will back this up with our lives: our parishes, our networks, our institutions, our money, our time and energy, our sacrifice. You don't have to be Catholic or Christian or religious. No bull. No judgement.

All you have to do is call or e-mail us today here (National website/toll free number)

A sort of national, high visibility, high priority, well financed, Nurturing Network supported by all dioceses, bishops, and parishes and millions of pro-lifers from all backgrounds. And then, of course, we actually did it.

Something like this has been done on a large scale around a different issue before in the US. But not by Catholics. By Quakers.

In 1688, a small Quaker meeting in Germantown, Pennsylvania became the first Christian body to, as a whole, repudiate slavery. Before the Revolutionary War, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, propelled by the life-long witness of people like the gentle prophet, John Woolman, had determined to utterly reject the owning of slaves. In 1780, the state of Pennsylvania, the heart of Quakerism in the US, passed an Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery. Quakers, as a body, not only freed their slaves, many left their homes in slave areas (like North Carolina) to new territories like Indiana in order to be free to free their slaves. And many paid their former slaves back wages.

Richmond, Indiana, where I studied before I became Catholic, was founded by such Quaker families and the region went on to become a center of the Underground Railroad before the civil war.

The larger American abolitionist movement, involving many other Christian groups - but very few Catholics for the reasons I mentioned above - had going full steam by the 1830's. Although it was war that ultimately changed the national laws, without decades of popular agitation on the topic, it would never happened, By 1830, Quakers, who pioneered religious opposition to slavery both in the US and in Britain, had been firmly abolitionist for three generations.

The out-spoken "abolitionist", draw a line in the sand, fervor of some American Catholic bishops and lay people is apparently, unique in the Catholic world at this time. (As many have pointed out, even out-spoken champions of life like Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI have given communion to and honored openly pro-abortion politicians. John Allen has observed the burning civil rights issue for Catholics in Italy is the death penalty, not abortion. In Australia, the most passionately orthodox pro-life leaders vote for candidates who are openly pro-abortion without a crisis of conscience. It's illegal to abstain from voting and there aren't any real pro-life candidates anyway. It is just not an issue in the same way. And in any case, Catholic doctrine is deeply under-developed in this area. Because the dynamics of democracy - which is the real issue here - are relatively new.)

What if American Catholics are called to play a role in the the development of an understanding of how respond to life issues in a democratic context within global Catholicism similar to the role that American Quakers played in the cause of the abolition of slavery? The prophetic catalyst.

But we won't do it by scolding or merely venting which seems to be our modus operandi at present. We seem to be re-fighting the battles of the 50's and 60's. The vast majority of US Catholics under the age of 65 are not disciples and are deeply post-modern in their worldview. The majority don't even darken the door anymore. But we keep trying to lecture them as though they were Polish parishioners listening to Father or Sister in a parish hall in 1950's Chicago. It didn't work all that well then. it really doesn't work now.

What does speak to people in every generation, what reaches past distrust and politics and culture, what changes the nature of the debate, is a persistent, costly, loving witness that the majority cannot dismiss as mere self-interest. A faithful public witness beyond considerations of political success, a witness that incarnates what we say we believe.

A witness of communal, rather than merely individual, life where protest really does become evangelization.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I'm back home after a four hour struggle to leave Colorado for Corpus Christi. Even though I tried to be very pro-active and switched my flight from Friday morning to Thursday at 4:30pm in order to escape the worst of the storm which wasn't supposed to hit until 3pm today and despite the fact that I left for the airport a hour early, it didn't make any difference.

It started snowing at noon and by 1:50pm, it was a total white-out. They say it is the biggest storm in 6 years and practically everything in the city is closed down. Schools, universities, churches

I have a seat on the 4:30pm Friday flight to Houston and please God, I'll be able to get out then, get into CC about 10pm and cram the training into one long Saturday.

It is only a 24 hour storm and will vanish quickly. It was just the wrong 24 hours.

Notre Dame: Making Like Elijah

Todd over at Catholic Sensibility has a mordantly funny post up on Protesting like Elijah. Todd is someone that conservative bloggers love to hate but he is making real sense here and I hope that his words inspire some creativity.

Those protesting President Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame graduation think six-figure signatories is good stuff. I think they’ve been smoking something liberal. Of course the Republican idea is to rent an office. Give me a candle and a lame slogan any day over that one. Rent an office? Isaiah got branded on the lips by angels singing “The Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” and this is the best Randall Terry can come up with? Sheesh.

I confess. I laughed out loud when I read that last line.


The very least they could do is attend and engineer some silent protest, like wearing no shoe on their right foot in honor of the naked foot of the unborn child, but remembering the motto of the liturgist: explain nothing; let the symbols speak. The only Old Testament prophet that allowed himself to be run out of town was Elijah, but before that retreat was his one-on-450 smackdown of the priests of Baal. And on his return, we had the devouring of Queen Jezebel in Stephen King fashion in the streets of Jerusalem.

That’s not to say that we need trash talk and dog food in South Bend, but surely some imaginative ND student could come up with something. Imagine if they could have scored Bishop D’Arcy as a co-conspirator.

My guess is that a whole gang of imaginative ND students are working on it right now. But thanks for the push, Todd.

To Leave or Stay? Decisions in Fargo

For nasty spring weather, Fargo is currently taking the prize.

Norm, a junior and RA at North Dakota State University in Fargo, writes at God is With Us:

The facts are that Fargo has 12 miles of sandbag dikes right now. If any part of the dike fails, that spells huge trouble as the record water levels will flow into virtually every part of the city. Even if the dike holds up to the Crest, the river could be at the level for between 3 and 7 days, which could take a toll on the structures. I am just not that optimistic right now that everything will be fine here on campus. We are only 12 blocks from the river, only about 8 blocks know that the flooding has started. If the dike fails, I am going to be under water because I am on first floor.

So my dilemma is this: do I leave or do I stay? On the one hand, it would be much safer for me to be miles away from here. On the other hand, if disaster strikes it would be important for me to be here to support my residents and those of the community who are in need. Who knows, maybe this is even the specific reason God put me back in RJ. Maybe he put me here for the sole purpose of being here when catastrophe rolls in because I know I would have left if I was still living at the house. But again, just thinking about the images of past disasters just makes me want to be nowhere near here.

Please pray for me as I contemplate this decision

Pray for Norm and all in the Fargo area who are contemplating such decisions: for guidance and protection.

It's Spring in the Rockies

Ah - Colorado in late March.

I've got a lunch meeting today and a trip to Corpus Christi tomorrow and wouldn't you know that a huge winter storm is bearing down on us after weeks of spring weather. 6 - 12 inches of blowing now today and then more tomorrow morning. If I wasn't traveling, this would be fun - and over very quickly.

Of course, in Corpus Christi, it will be in the 70's! I am training 30 people to help others in their parish discern charisms. Will I be able to get out?

Update: Our forecast has been upgraded to a blizzard warning with cheery phrases like "life threatening".

Your prayers would be most appreciated!

By the way, the Other Sherry called yesterday to say that "Mountain Star" daughter, 7 year old Elizabeth is doing much, much better and her kidney function is going back to normal very quickly. Thanks for your prayers!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


From the silly to the sublime. ID reader Alisa sent this to me and I thought I would share it with you. A 12 year old prodigy raised in an atheist home, who strives to paint what God reveals to her. Akiane.

Move Over Michelangelo . . .

Cause every one has a bit of artist in them . . . no matter how daft.

Hey, sheep herding trials used to be prime-time entertainment on BBC Wales . . . And my friends (Eryn!) won't let me forget.

You'd have to be there.

Prayer Request for a Mountain Star

I have an fairly urgent prayer request from The Other Sherry. Her 7 year old daughter Elizabeth had a urological operation on Tuesday and all seemed well until her kidney function dropped 50% in two days. Elizabeth is in the middle of another procedure which should put the problem right - but your prayers for Elizabeth's quick recovery, her mother Sherry (who is with her), and the rest of her family would be great appreciated!

Here is Elizabeth (with her Daddy, Dave, and sister Helen) being a mountain star in Colorado two summers ago.

Intriguing New Biblical Commentary Series

It is time to keep some of those promises I made in Detroit.

First of all, I wanted to let you know about a really interesting set of Biblical commentaries coming out: The Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture. The General Editors are two of the Scripture scholars that I met at Sacred Heart last weekend: Mary Healy and Peter Williamson.

This series will eventually cover the entire New Testament and is intended to foster both personal discipleship and pastoral leadership. It occupies the all important "middle" place between a technical commentary for academics and brief popular works. It is intended for intelligent, college-educated readers whose interest is pastoral and existential rather than academic: pastors, preachers, teachers, catechists, serious lay people. The motto of this series sums it up: "The Word of God for the Life and Mission of the Church" The series is relatively inexpensive and the website even includes questions for personal reflection or small group study.

The first two volumes are The Gospel of Mark (May Healy) and First and Second Timothy/Titus (George T. Montague). Future volumes will be produced by Edward Sri, Tim Grey, Francis Martin and Scott Hahn.

Check it out.

Blogging While Rome Burns

Hysterical hyperbole is the flavor of the moment around St. Blog's.

From the left: The Church is becoming a sect!

From the left and right: Schism? Bring it on! Its about time those goats - and we know who they are - got weeded out.

From the right: Place an interdict on the entire Notre Dame campus so that thousands of serious Catholics are deprived of Mass? You bet ya.

Did you know that your final exams at the judgement throne of God will include whether or not you signed a certain online petition in March of 2009? What did the author of the Gospel of Matthew know anyway?

Fr. Jenkins and all the priests at Notre Dame are in a state of mortal sin and are unworthy to celebrate Mass. See note on schism and interdict above.

Then this morning comes this exceedingly grim news via the Associated Press. Married couples are aborting even desired babies because of their fears about their inability to support more children.

Planned Parenthood of Illinois clinics performed an all-time-high number of abortions in January, many of them motivated by the women's economic worries, said CEO Steve Trombley, who declined to give exact numbers. Abortions at Planned Parenthood's St. Louis-area clinics were up nearly 7 percent in the second half of 2008 from a year earlier - ending a stretch in which the numbers were dwindling.

Planned Parenthood said it has no up-to-date national abortion figures, nor do other private or government agencies. But Stephanie Poggi of the National Network of Abortion Funds, which helps women in need pay for abortions, said calls to the network's national help line have nearly quadrupled from a year ago.

Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, said her organization's help line is receiving many calls from women who postponed an abortion while trying to raise money to pay for it. Such delays often mean riskier abortions at an even higher cost - the price can double in the second trimester.

Dr. J. Stephen Jones, a urologist at the Cleveland Clinic, said he has seen a surge of men seeking vasectomies, with his monthly caseload rising from about 45 to more than 70 since November. He said most of the men were married, had kids, decided they couldn't afford more and opted to get a vasectomy while they still had job-related health insurance.

"Several articulated very forcefully that the economy was the motive," Jones said. "I have a long discussion with them and ask if there's any chance they still might want kids. They say they know it's time."


Some experts believe such concerns about the recession may have an affect on the overall U.S. birthrate, possibly reversing the trends that resulted in last week's government report that a record number of babies were born in the United States in 2007.

What if there was a well publicized, national fund/help line, sponsored by the existing agencies like Birthright and the Nurturing Network that could help panicking parents choose to keep their babies in a time of economic crisis? It costs a lot more to keep and raise a baby than to kill it.

What if everyone who signed - and those who refused to sign - that famous online petition also gave $10 or more to that fund? (With over 118,000 signatures already, that would be 1.18 million dollars already.)

What if there was an aggressive campaign to recruit and support new adoptive parents? (Want to bet that the number of potential adoptive parents has dropped significantly due to fiscal anxiety? 40% of the births in this country are to single women. The need for adoption is steadily increasing. And Dr. Ray Guarendi, psychologist and father of ten adopted children, has a new book out: Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It designed to help other potential parents consider adoption.)

Now that's a work that could say the lives of many children right now and help unite all those who are truly pro-life.

Update: readers are asking (and I've been asking myself): could I actually set up such a fund?

But here's the deal: the level of my travel schedule at present - 3 days gone last weekend, three days gone this coming weekend, four days gone the week after with packed days and little or no e-mail contact, etc. - makes me a bad candidate. I am already working 7 days a week. This needs to be done right.

So, Anyone out there with good ties to the pro-life movement and the time and ability to oversee an online fund of this nature?

I bet it would take off like a shot in light of all the pent up frustration that pro-lifers feel.

Admittedly, It isn't as much fun as speculating on the prospects of schism. But it would have the advantage of being to the point.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Archbishop Chaput in Detroit

Much kuffufle and passion about the Catholic blogosphere today.

Over at Commonweal and at Catholic Sensibility, there has been criticism of Archbishop Chaput's talk at the Lessons from St. Paul Conference last weekend which was picked up by CNA and highlighted in light of the concurrent controversy over President Obama's invitation to Notre Dame.

Since I actually attended (and spoke) at the St. Paul conference, I felt I needed to offer what clarification I could in the discussion over at Catholic Sensibility. Here's my comment, to which Todd has responded very graciously. (To see my whole post on my experience at the conference, see Spiritual Life and Death in Detroit.)


I was at the conference (which by the way was not about abortion or politics as such but the New Evangelization which I noticed that the CNA article did not indicate. Chaput’s speech was unique in its focus.) at which the Archbishop spoke and in the front row (cause I was speaking next).

Mark - no text of his talk was handed out to the audience so either the CNA reporter was taking fast notes or managed to get a copy later.

One thing that did not get reported by CNA was the Q & A time, which I think was significant.

As I wrote yesterday on Intentional Disciples:

“Chaput also gave an interesting answer to questioners who asked that the US Bishops respond to the Notre Dame invitation with a single voice. First of all, he noted that he did not expect the US Bishops to do anything as a body. He then pointed out that taking prophetic political stands is not really the center of a bishop’s job. A bishop’s primary job is uniting the Catholic community.

Chaput then turned to the lay men and women in his audience (the vast majority) and issued a challenge. He said that it was the Church’s teaching that, ultimately, protecting human life at all levels really is a lay responsibility and he encouraged us to take up politics as a career.

But his response seemed to deflate his questioners a bit. It was as though they desperately wanted to believe that if all the US bishops spoke with a single voice, the 65 million Catholics of the US would just snap to and abandon their divisions on this topic and that ND and the new administration would crumble in the face of an irresistibly united Catholic community. There would be no need for the long, bloody slog and inevitable partial-victories of grass roots and national politics; for the long obedience of personal evangelization, formation, and social entrepreneurship around the life issues. ”

Nothing says that you have to like Chaput but the press coverage of Chaput’s talk and the resulting blogosphere debate is seriously distorting the atmosphere and entire conference at which he spoke.

I did not at all get the impression while he spoke that he was blaming the “poor, dumb, apathetic Catholic laity” as such. Quite the opposite. He was pointing out that the real power in this area is in lay hands - not in the hands of bishops – as indeed it is. It was bracing but hardly bashing.

As you may know, I have written several times in great detail at Intentional Disciples about my chance to talk on election day, 2004, to two Australian Catholic leaders known for their careful orthodoxy who are world class, Vatican-class, experts on the subject of the Church’s teaching on life issues. They were both very clear that there was no definitive Church teaching - at that point - on the issue of voting and formal cooperation with evil. When I asked one – a bishop – why increasing numbers of Americans had the impression that the Church’s teaching was clear on the topic, he replied that public pronouncements by a few bishops was not the development of doctrine, I’ve wished several times that I could talk to them both again this year as the all or nothing pitch of the Catholic pro-life movement in the US has risen higher and higher!

Archbishop Chaput has the right as a Catholic and as a citizen to make his best public case for the response that he believes the Church should take. But I have noticed that he is always very careful to distinguish between his personal prudential judgment and that which actually obligates a faithful Catholic.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Gabriel's Oboe and the Growth of "Sects" in Africa

John Allen's articles on the Pope's visit to Africa referred to concerns about the impact of "sects".

It is interesting in light of that concern, that the African Assemblies of God has announced that it has set a goal of baptizing 10 million "new believers" during the next decade.

"AG African leaders committed themselves to the “Decade of Pentecost” at an AAGA meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, earlier this month that occurs once every four years.

Spearheading initiatives for the Decade of Pentecost will be Acts in Africa, a ministry aimed at encouraging Pentecostal revival in the Assemblies of God in Africa.

During the Decade of Pentecost, which will begin in 2010 and continue through 2020, national Assemblies of God churches will mobilize for global missions with the vision of reaching “yet-to-be-reached” peoples in Africa and the world with the Gospel, according to AG News.

AAGA’s strategies for achieving its goal include an annual Pentecost Day when about 48,000 AG pastors will be challenged to preach on the “baptism in the Holy Spirit and the mission of God,” and pray with believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

There are about 16 million AG members meeting in more than 50,000 churches in 50 countries in sub-Sahara Africa and the Indian Ocean Basin, according to the denomination. In 1990, there were only 2.1 million constituents and 12,000 churches.

The Assemblies of God is the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination with somewhere between 57 to 60 million adherents.

Three decades ago, the combined total of Pentecostals and Charismatics was less than 5 percent, now they make up some 17 percent of Africa’s population, or about 147 million people, according to a 2006 Pew Forum study that highlighted the dramatic growth of the movement within half a century."

This highlights the significance of the fact that the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization will be taking place in Capetown in 2010. The first two Lausanne Congresses (1974, 1989) were huge catalysts for the global evangelical missionary movement.

These gatherings are the ecumenical councils of the evangelical world. 4000+ top evangelical leaders from 200 countries, representing thousands of different denominations, movements, networks, and organizations. Men, women, pastors, theologians, evangelists, missionaries, artists, businesspeople, all coming together to discuss, debate, share, pray, worship, network about the mission to bring Christ to the world.

Would that there were such gatherings on such a scale - devoted entirely and serious to practical evangelization - in the Catholic world. Would that there was some Catholic representation or witnesses at this upcoming Lausanne gathering. There has been an Orthodox presence before but no Catholics. We worry and write and discuss our concerns about evangelical/Pentecostal missionaries in Latin America, in Africa, in Asia. But we so seldom seriously engage them directly.

Evangelicals learn from us readily and without embarrassment. They read our history, study our saints and missionaries, and readily learn from and copy our successes. And no wonder, since there was almost no Protestant missionary efforts before 1800. The history of Christian missions for the first 1800 years of the Church's life was mostly Catholic history (the Orthodox were engaged in missions as well).

Evangelicals loved the movie "The MIssion" which portrays the efforts of 18th Jesuit missionaries in Latin America. They identified with the struggles of those priests, They found inexpressibly moving the scene where Fr. Gabriel first meets the Gaurani and wins their trust through the music of his oboe.

Benedict in Camaroun

And back to the topic of the Pope's trip to Africa, here is a video of the Yaounde Mass from Euronews that gives some sense of the whole event:

Millions of Iraqis Watch Christian TV

A story from Christianity Today Australia sheds light on something that the Iraqi driver described in my post below, told me:

"A new survey found that about 5.3 million Iraqis, or about 19 percent of the population, watch the Christian satellite programs on SAT-7, the ministry reported Friday.

As Iraq’s tiny Christian community numbers less than 600,000, it is safe to say that most of SAT-7’s viewers are Muslims. According to the CIA World Factbook, 97 percent of Iraq’s population is Muslim (Shia 60-65 percent, Sunni 32-37 percent).

Data collected in the recent nationwide study conducted by Intermedia, an independent audience research firm, found that 97 percent of Iraqis have access to satellite television, and 18.8 percent watch SAT-7. The study also found that 2.6 million are watching on a regular daily or weekly basis.

SAT-7 is a Christian television ministry created by and for the people of the Middle East and North Africa. Its mission is to make Christ’s message of hope available to every home in the Middle East.

Each week, between nine and ten million people tune into the network, whose programs are broadcasted in three languages – Arabic, Farsi and Turkish.

The study by Intermedia found that SAT-7 is only 1.7 percentage points behind BBC Arabic in the number of people aware of the channel.

“It’s quite amazing when you consider that BBC Arabic has an annual budget of 25 million British pounds,” says SAT-7 CEO Terence Ascott. “A year ago when the BBC channel launched, that amount was worth about 50 million dollars. SAT-7’s total budget, split among three channels in 2008, was only 13 million dollars. Talk about value for your money!”

In addition to effective use of funds, SAT-7 says it is also glad that it can provide desperately needed support to the struggling Christian community in Iraq.

“Iraqi Christians have really suffered in recent years and many have fled the country,” says David Harder, SAT-7’s communications manager. “Iraqis often call and text us asking for prayer. Fortunately, through our programs, SAT-7’s Arabic producers and hosts can show God’s love and offer encouragement.”

The Iraqi Christian who drove me to the airport yesterday told me that many Muslim Iraqis are becoming Christians in the north of Iraq, above Mosul.

Spiritual Life and Death in Detroit

The trip to Detroit for the Lessons from St. Paul Conference was another immersion into one corner of the Church's rich and extremely diverse life - the sort of corner that doesn't get talked about much on Catholic blogs.

First of all - the area of Detroit near Sacred Heart Major Seminary is a blast zone, one of the most desolate places I have ever been. Sacred Heart is a magnificent brick ecclesial fortress surrounded on one end by streets full of homes that are ruined or abandoned and the vacant lots where homes once stood. The irony is that Sacred Heart is the western terminus of one of Detroit's most famous neighborhoods: Boston-Edison, filled with magnificent homes build in the 1905 - 1925 period when the seminary was built and when Detroit grew from the 19th largest city in the US to the fourth largest. (Detroit's population has halved since 1950.)

The driver of my sedan from the airport warned me in graphic terms of the dangers of the neighborhood and emphasized that I could not walk outside the fenced and guarded seminary campus because prostitutes and drug deals filled the streets after nightfall. He was a cheerful, semi-literate man who struggled to find Chicago Blvd on his GPS because he thought it began with "C-H-A", and made it clear that he had spent a lot of time in the rough end of the city. Even Nora, the efficient secretary who was the organizing force behind the conference, was clearly worried when I was late arriving at the seminary because I had an airport meeting with an editor from Servant books.

The seminary itself is vast and echoing in the grand old Catholic style: A four story square that is 600 feet long on each side. There were 325 at the conference and the great hulk easily accommodated the crowd. I was told by one seminarian that archdiocese had considered moving the seminary at one point but was told that, even abandoned, the building would survive for 450 years, a half ruined castle.. So today, 90 college and graduate level seminarians live and study there.

About the topic de jure this weekend around St. Blog's. I found out that Notre Dame had invited President Obama to give this year's commencement address on Saturday when a conference attendee asked Archbishop Chaput about it. As Tom Peters over at American Papist noted, the Archbishop invited those present to make their feelings known - charitably - in a letter to ND's president. (Archbishop Chaput emphasized the importance of charity in doing so. He said that he gets lots of critical mail and a goodly amount of it is not charitable.)

Here is CNA's coverage of Chaput's speech. Since I had left home early Friday morning before I heard about the Notre Dame kuffufle, I didn't realize that Chaput's remarks would get the sort of coverage they have. I'm used to a much higher level of obscurity at the sort of events I frequent.

Chaput also gave an interesting and appropriate answer to questioners who asked that the US Bishops respond to the Notre Dame invitation with a single voice. First of all, he noted that he did not expect the US Bishops to do anything as a body. He then pointed out that taking prophetic political stands is not really the center of a bishop's job. A bishop's primary job is uniting the Catholic community. Chaput then turned to the lay men and women in his audience (the vast majority) and issued a challenge. He said that it was the Church's teaching that, ultimately, protecting human life at all levels really is a lay responsibility and he encouraged us to take up politics as a career.

But his response seemed to deflate his questioners a bit. It was as though they desperately wanted to believe that if all the US bishops spoke with a single voice, the 65 million Catholics of the US would just snap to and abandon their divisions on this topic and that ND and the new administration would crumble in the face of an irresistibly united Catholic community. There would be no need for the long, bloody slog and inevitable partial-victories of grass roots and national politics; for the long obedience of personal evangelization, formation, and social entrepreneurship around the life issues.

I spoke after the Archbishop and the talk on Evangelizing Post Moderns seemed to go reasonably well. I had people coming up all day to thank me for it in very strong terms. At least two dozen told me that they were very interested in possibly attending Making Disciples this summer in Colorado Springs. And I was showered with some great evangelization resources of interest that I will be blogging about as well. Two break-out sessions on discerning charisms followed in the afternoon and I was done.

I got to catch up with an old friend, Tim Ferguson, (who graciously ran my little book table for me), met Margo Brown again, a regular ID reader, and meet some new people including members of the wonderful, out-of-the-box, faculty at Sacred Heart.

As a seminary and Catholic intellectual institution, Sacred Heart is certainly atypical in my experience. In the evening, I listened to a panel of Roman (Gregorian) trained scholars of Scripture, preach on the message of St. Paul with passion, exuberance, and drama. It wasn't just an academic lecture. It wasn't a cool head trip. These men were disciple-scholars and their intellects were integrated with their hearts, their souls, and their lived experience of following Christ personally.

It was very refreshing for me personally. They looked like they were having way too much fun. I suspect that there is genuine Christian community among the faculty. No wonder Sacred Heart is offering the only pontifical degree program in the world on the New Evangelization. Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and making disciples is the underlying passion of so many of the faculty.

An unlikely spiritual beacon in inner city Detroit. Nazareth.

The drive back to the airport was another part of the adventure. My driver was a Chaldean Iraqi who had lived in the Detroit area for 30 years. (Detroit has the largest number of Arabic speakers in the US.) He was raised within the Chaldean Church, which is in communion with Rome but six years ago, his wife had started attending a local Arabic language evangelical community. In order to convince her that she was wrong, he attended a few meetings, ended up "accepting Christ" and now evangelizes his passengers in his sedan car. His Bible and some reference books at the ready in the front seat. I encouraged him to talk about his experience.

As he put it, when he attended the Chaldean church, he "went in dummer and came out dummiest". Going to church had no meaning, it was just something you did. "We had no Bible in our house at all." What struck him so forcibly about the evangelical preacher was that he quoted constantly from Scripture. My driver talked about hearing a Catholic priest on the radio say that we are saved by our works.

How badly I wanted him to meet those disciple-Scripture scholars that I had just left behind me at Sacred Heart! But I told him about the conference and explained that the Church does teach that we are saved by grace alone and by faith in Jesus Christ, not through our own goodness, even though many Catholics do believe that they will be saved because they are good. As he dropped me off at the airport, he walked around to shake my hand and said "The Lord be with you" and I responded "Arrabumaakum."

He started and his eyes widened at an obviously Anglo woman knowing the phrase and repeated the short form "Rabumaak?" (It is the greeting that evangelical Christians in the Arab world give one another, the Christian variation on the Muslim "Allahmaakum". The Lord, Christ, be with you.)

I pray that my short time with him helped build a bridge of trust that may one day, help him rediscover Jesus Christ and the Scriptures at the heart of the fullness of the faith in which he was raised. All I could do was chip away a bit at his distrust.

Just another instance of the old ID truism: "If we don't evangelize our own, some one else will do it for us. If we don't form our own, someone else will do it for us."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What's Happening

Tomorrow, I"m off to Detroit for the Lessons From St. Paul for the New Evangelization conference at Sacred Heart Seminary. I've got a general session talk on Evangelizing Post-Moderns (Archbishop Chaput is doing the key note) and break-out sessions in the afternoon on discerning charisms. If any ID readers are in attendance, be sure and come up and chat! Pray that my anti-charism doesn't triumph over my MAC so I don't have to resort to the finger puppet version!

Meanwhile, Fr. Mike continues his time-and-space-defying Lenten journey. Next Monday and Tuesday evenings, he'll be offering a Lenten mission at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Lake Forest, IL.

We are so there for you . . .

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fulbright Scholar

The Other Sherry just called to say that her husband, Dave, who is a historian of eastern Europe, was just notified that he has won a Fulbright fellowship to cover the costs of next year's sabbatical for the whole family in Poland.

Fulbright scholar.

It sounds so perfect - and well deserved. Congratulations, Dave!

Vatican video of JPII's visit to Cameroon, 1995

The Vatican you tube site released this video of Pope John Paul II's visit to Cameroon in 1995 in preparation for Pope Benedict's visit. It is worth watching both for the images and for the commentary on the Incarnation and human culture.

The Fruit of Past Papal Visits to Africa

I found this fascinating comment from Bonnie Ekwowusi about papal visits at allAfrica.com:

"Papal visits are important visits for several reasons. Aside from the spiritual benefits derived from such visits, they exert enormous influence on contemporary public life, dictate the right ordering of society, and, above all, leave a furrow of permanent positive change.

With 104 trips outside Italy (16 trips to the African continent) Pope John Paul 11 was outstanding for his tenacity in promoted peace, tolerance, commitment to social justice, respect for human dignity inter-religious dialogues. In fact Pope John Paul 11 acted directly as intermediary in the promotion of justice and peace in countries where peace was threatened. Recall that on 15th December 1982, Pope John Paul 11 had an audience with Yasser Arafat on the peaceful settlement of the Palestinian question. Not to talk of the famous meeting of the Pope to Morocco with King Hassan 11 on August 19th, 1995 which was attended by well over 80,000 youths. Or his visits to Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Cameroun and Nigeria.

In fact Pope John Paul 11's visit to Nigeria during the reign of Sani Abacha will remain indelibly engraved on the minds of many Nigerians. Life was very tough at that time. There were many human rights abuses. The Pope had a private audience with Sani Abacha and members of his family. After the Pope's visit some predicted that there would be change in Nigeria because no country the Pope had visited had remained same. True to their prediction, there was a resounding change in Nigeria; something happened which eventually paved the way for the enthronement of a civilian democracy."

Africa: "Warts and All"

For those interested in Catholicism's future in Africa or the global south as a whole, John Allen's essay: "Africa in Minature: "Warts and All" Awaits Benedict is a must read.

The man is a treasure.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Skin Deep Catholicism?

A long time ago in a universe far, far away . . .

I was a brand new Catholic and grad student in Seattle, Washington and in those far-off, ante-deluvial days before I had heard of the internet - got my Catholics news through dead tree sources. One day I was infuriated by an article i saw in a major Catholic magazine that dismissed evangelical missionary efforts as mere "sects". My own memories of the extraordinary people I had known in that world were very fresh and I sat down and ripped off a furious letter to the editor. The letter was published in the next issue but I heard no more and assumed that it had fallen into the great Catholic ocean and disappeared without a trace. Eventually I forgot I had even written it.

I finished graduate school and began offering the early version of the Called & Gifted process in Seattle. One day, I was browsing a new book on evangelization and thumbing through it until I found a particularly passionate passage that I really liked and started to read out loud. I read through a whole paragraph before it dawned upon me that the words sounded strangely familiar. In a truly jaw-dropping moment, I realized that my long forgotten letter was being quoted by a presenter at a major conference on evangelism held in 1994 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The conference featured a who's who of Catholic evangelization: the then Fr. Avery Dulles, Ralph Martin, Fr. Tom Forrest, Fr. Kenneth Boyack, etc. And the African Archbishop of Jos, Nigeria, who had quoted my letter at length in the course of his presentation.

One of John Allen's pieces about the Pope's visit to Africa - How Benedict Needs to Show that He Gets Africa - reminded me of that letter and how some issues have apparently not changed in Africa.

Allen writes:

"Yet local observers say formation in the faith can sometimes be skin-deep, since many African Catholics fall back on indigenous beliefs in moments of crisis. They may go to Mass on Sunday, but then also consult a tribal shaman when a child is sick or a job has been lost. During a February 2007 symposium at the Catholic University of East Africa in Kenya, experts warned that witchcraft is "destroying" the church in Africa, in part because skeptical, Western-educated clergy are not responding adequately to people's spiritual needs.

"We have to put that down to insufficient catechesis and insufficient inculturation," said Fr. Patrick Lafon, former secretary general of the bishops' conference in Cameroon and today a doctoral candidate at The Catholic University of America in Washington."

Hmmm. No doubt that it is part of the answer. Let me quote from my long-ago letter, published in "Evangelization in the Church of Jos, Nigeria", by Archbishop Gabriel Gonsum Ganaka, John Paul II and the New Evangelization, p. 106.

"Much of the signs and wonders approach associated with evangelical/pentecostal missions stems from the recognition of what, at the Fuller School of World MIssion (Now the School of Intercultural Studies), is called "The Excluded MIddle". The theory goes as follows: Western missionaries carried their rationalist and anti-supernaturalist cultural assumptions with them and went to peoples saturated with a worldview that incorporated minor deities, demons, curses, charisms and spells into daily life.

Western rationalism dismissed these beliefs as mere superstition and converted people to a worldview of a "high trinitarian God and a "low" strong personal code of behavior. The "middle" realm of demons and spells was never addressed, but it would not go away. These people had lived for many generations with the spiritual realities of the demonic, had seen people die of curses, and knew, whatever the missionary said, that these things were real. To deal with them, they turned once again to their traditional spiritual practices and the result was the various forms of Christ-paganism.

To fill this gap, some evangelical missionaries looked once again the early Church, and found in the experience of Pentecost and the healings, prophecies, and miracles of the Book of Acts, a Christian answer for the "excluded middle".
For more on this topic of the divide between classic western Christianity and the "new" charismatically influenced spirituality of the global south, go here.

In that same talk, Archbishop Ganaka tells the story of his archdiocese. How the first Catholic priests didn't reach Jos until 1907 and for several decades, missionary priests died without seeing any fruit.

" . . .in 1974, there were five indigenous priests, today (1994) there are 61; in 1974 there were six nuns, today there are 34; in 1974; there were seventeen parishes, today there are 46. Even though the Jos diocese continually opens new parishes, we are nevetheless overwhelmed by the number of new converts to Christianity. Today, the Catholic population in our diocese has risen to 515,000."

I am sure that today, 15 years later, the numbers have surged again.

But struggles remain. In late 2008, Jos experienced violent riots between Muslims and Christians in which over 400 died and thousands were made homeless.

Like us, many in Africa have had a real encounter with Christ, but it had not yet transformed us utterly yet. It has not begun to challenge our deepest fears, caused us to question deeply-rooted habits, or renounce cherished grievances. We need to experience "power evangelization" at the deepest roots of our being.

I am often reminded of C. S. Lewis' telling observation in the Screwtape Letters; "if I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention? You may ask whether it is possible to keep such an obvious thought from occurring even to a human mind. It is, Wormwoord, it is! Handle him properly and it simply won't come into his head. He has not been anything like long enough with the Enemy to have any real humility yet."

How it that that always feel so true, no matter how many years have passed?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Easter Joy in Malawi

I'd like to re-post this exuberant Easter Mass from Malawi as well. To help us all get into mood:

Malawi Poor Clares: A Window on African Catholicism

I just stumbled across a stunning video of Malawi Poor Clares singing and dancing in their chapel. Once you get used to the non-western musical scale, the grace of it is mesmerizing. There is translation of words into English with an Irish lilt. Perfect for the eve of St. Paddy's Day and the eve of Pope Benedict's trip.

A remarkable window into the world of African Catholicism. Unfortunately, the embedding is disabled, but please watch it here.

You don't get more Catholic than Poor Clares but this isn't what comes to mind when I think of Poor Clares.

It reminds of something I read last night about the cultural struggle between the French novices and their Spanish superiors in the first Discalced Carmelite monastery in Paris in 1604. The French found the habits of the Spanish nuns, some of whom had been mentored by Teresa of Avila herself, odd and excessive.

For instance, the Spanish nuns found nothing odd about bringing their spindles into the recitation of the office and into Mass because for them to have their hands busy while their minds were absorbed in prayer seemed normal. And the Spanish nuns liked to cry and sing aloud to express their love of Christ which irritated their French sisters who found it exaggerated.

Oh for the days when the biggest cultural gap in the Church was between the French and the Spanish . . .

The African Century?

In honor of the Holy Father's visit to Africa this week and in light of the many blog and MS articles on the topic of Christianity in Africa that are already being published, and the inevitable concerns about evangelical missionary expansion, I thought I'd put together a little back-grounder. My figures come largely from the Center for Global Christianity and also from the research I did three years ago for my article on Independent Christianity.

As John Allen and many others have pointed out, the growth of Christianity in Africa is staggering. There were only 4.3 million Christians in Africa in 1800. 209 years later, those 4 million have multiplied 103 times to 437.3 million out of a total population of nearly 1 billion. By 2025, it is estimated that Christians in Africa will number 663 million and that Africa will be on the verge of becoming a majority Christian continent.

The annual growth rate of African Christianity is the highest of any religious community on the planet: 2.59% per year. There are approximately 32,000 new African Christians every 24 hours.

What is interesting is that the growth of Asian Christianity is a close second at 2.48% per year. There are about 25,000 new Asian Christians every 24 hours. (To put this into perspective, the global growth of Islam is 1.75% per year.)

Europe, as we know, is another story.

In 1800, 84% of all Christians in the world were European. Then came the great missionary expansion of the 19th century when Christianity grew from 22.7% of the world's population to 34.5% in a single century. By 1900, the European share of Christendom has shrunk to 66%. And now 9 years into the 21st century, European Christians are 44.3% of the whole.

Christian growth there is on the verge of becoming negative (0.12% pa currently). It is estimated that, for the first time, there will be fewer Christians in Europe in 2025 than today. Fewer Christians in Europe in 2025 than in Africa or South America. In 2025, even Asian Christianity will be on the verge of overtaking Europe. Even as I write this, Latin Christians number only 2.5 million less than European Christians. They will overtake the old world in the next year or two.

In 16 years - by 2025 - it is estimated that European Christians will make up just under 20% of Christendom. A near total reversal in 225 years.

As I have been told by those who have worked extensively in Africa, Christianity there is a mile wide and a half inch deep. There is a tremendous need for formation in the faith and the fostering of genuine discipleship.

So it is most fitting and necessary that the Holy Father visit the continent that is going to lead the Christian world in the 21st century in some very important ways.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Number Crunching

Every once in a while, I go on a binge of number crunching - usually to try and shed some light on an issue that has been niggling at me for some time.

And I see new things: some of which are very cool and some of which are concerning.

First of all - the sheer growth of Catholicism since 1800 is mind-boggling.

Globally (from the Center for Global Christianity)

1800: 106.4 million
1900: 266.6 million
1970: 665.9 million
2000: 1,046.6 million
2009: 1,134.6 million
2025: 1,317 million (estimate)

Reminds me of St. Francis Xavier writing about how he was so tired from baptizing in India that he could no longer raise his hands. Talk about repetitive motion! 1.2 billion baptisms in 225 years.

And here's a stunner: The estimate for new Catholics every 24 hours? 28,000. Despite all this, Catholic growth (.9%) is currently slightly below that of the global population (1.0%).

There is a similar trajectory for the US Catholics: (Adherents.com)

1790: 30,000
1830: 600,000
1850: 1,750,000 (nearly 1 million of which were Irish immigrants who flooded what had been an essentially Francophone church)

Interesting note: 700,000 Americans converted to Catholicism during the 19th century. In 1852, for instance, 50 Episcopalian parishes and one rector entered, influenced by the Oxford Movement.

By 1965, there were 46.5 million Catholics in the US (CARA)

The number of priests had also grown accordingly

1820: 150 priests in the country
1850 1,081
1880 6,000
1900 11,987 (Then came the really big leap in the 20th century)
1945 38,451
1965 58,632 (Note the staggering 20+k increase in 20 years. There are some indicators that some of this rise was precipitated by the trauma of world war and all that followed - the revelations about the extent of the holocaust, the cold war, etc. The sort of stuff that makes you rethink what you want your life to be about)

1975 58,909 (the actual high water mark)

The number of priests didn't plummet immediately after the Council. Nearly 1,000 men were ordained in 1965 and 771 ten years later. So the overall numbers continued to creep upwards despite the men who were leaving. The number of ordinations actually slowed fairly gradually. The big drop in the first ten years after the Council was in seminarians (36.6% drop) and religious women (24.9% drop). What I'm not sure about is to what extent the drop in seminarian numbers represents the disappearance of minor seminaries.

In 1965, the priest/Catholic ratio in the US was about 1:777. (Here I'm using the figures from CARA)

To grasp the significance of our US experience, it helps to compare our situation to the situation in global Catholicism around the same time:

In 1970: The global priest/Catholic ratio was 1:1,557, 20.6% of the parishes in the world were without a priest-pastor, and priests made up 0.064% of the Catholic population.

Clearly, our situation was not the norm even then.

Today, as we all know, the number of priests in the US has dropped significantly:

2008: 40,580 priests for a population of 64.1 million Catholics (1: 1,580 priest/lay ratio)

But we should also notice that the global situation has shown a similar trend:

2005: 406,411 priests for a global population of 1,115 million. That's 2,744 Catholics/priest. 24.1% of all parishes in the world (52,509 parishes) are without a resident priest-pastor. If you divide the 2005 Catholic population by the total number of parishes (217,616 - aren't these numbers astounding?), you get a theoretical average of 5,124 Catholics per parish.

52,509 parishes with an average of 5,124 Catholics per parish don't have resident pastors. That's about 270 million Catholics. If they were a country, they would be the fourth largest in the world, right after the US.

The really surprising good news (that I've almost never heard talked about) is that the numbers of graduate level seminarians really grew during Pope John Paul Ii's pontificate: from a low of 33,731 in 1980 to 58,538 in 2005. A 73.6% increase! (Again, this is from CARA)

And the number of diocesan priests ordained between 1980 and 2005 grew almost as fast! (from 3,860 in 1980 to 6,614 in 2005 for a 71.3% rise)

And finally, the overall priestly numbers in the world have begun to budge: from a low in 1990 of 403,173 to 406,411 in 2005. The large increase in seminarians would seem to indicate that this rise will continue.

But we need to understand that what many American Catholics had taken as permanently normative - our situation in 1965 - was an exception both in our own history and in the history of the world. And one of the biggest factors is not the changes in the liturgy or discipline or catechesis or ecumenism or any of the things that we tend to spend our time on around St Blogs. One of the biggest factors is sheer demographics.

The Catholic Church - indeed, no Christian body on the planet or in history - has ever experienced the weight of these kinds of numbers before. No Catholic dioceses were responsible for millions of Catholics before the 20th century.

Which is why I am hearing diocesan leaders frankly admit that they hope that most lapsed Catholics don't return home. Because the parish and diocesan structures can barely deal with the numbers who are already practicing. If the 60% who aren't practicing were to return, we couldn't even provide the basic sacraments for that many, much less catechesis, sacramental prep, RCIA, and the other sorts of supports that we now consider normative. Not as we are structured now.

The culprit is not doctrine or catechesis or liturgy. "The culprit" is success: better health care, better food, better water, the elimination of certain epidemics, lower infant mortality, and longer life spans.

The basics of our current ecclesiology and pastoral strategy was worked out in a Europe that hadn't yet recovered its numbers from the eruption of the plague 250 years previously. Paris, the largest and most glamorous city in Europe in 1600 (and one of the most intensely Catholic on earth) only had 200,000 - 250,000 inhabitants. Tops. 20% of the population had died in the siege of Paris in 1590.

To have the same proportion of priests in the world today as Americans enjoyed in 1965, we would need 1.4 million priests. A 350% increase. And to get a 350% increase in ordained priests, we would probably need a global increase in seminarians that was double that: 700%. Not 70%. And we aren't even remotely set up to facilitate the 1000+% increase in dealing with inquiries that a 700% rise in seminarians would entail. We couldn't even begin to return the phone calls.

This is the point where, with wearying regularity, some readers will be sure that my "agenda" is about to be revealed. I must have one: ordaining married men or women or elevating lay people into pastors or whatever. Because otherwise, why would I be focusing on these depressing statistics?

I couldn't just want to have a clearer sense of the real life situation we are facing, I couldn't actually think that the first step in solving any problem is being clear about what the problem actually is. I couldn't actually think the situation is really complex and that real solutions would be multi-faceted. I couldn't really believe that there is no one silver bullet, I couldn't be genuinely open to the possibility that God might have solutions for us that transcend our current culture war sound bites, categories, and recent experience. I could not just be wondering, praying, pondering.

Well, of course, I could. But what fun would that be?

Friday, March 13, 2009

This is the "Bad Joke" part

Really, really bad Catholic humor - from a non-Catholic. My sister Becky in Anchorage:

I'm sure it qualifies as Lenten penance:

"Two priests died at the same time and met Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates.

St. Peter said, "I'd like to get you guys in now, but our computer's down. You'll have to go back to Earth for about a week, but you can't go back as priests. What'll it be?"

The first priest says, "I've always wanted to be an eagle, soaring above the Rocky mountains ."

"So be it," says St. Peter, and off flies the first priest.

The second priest mulls this over for a moment and asks, "Will any of this week 'count', St. Peter?"

"No, I told you the computer's down. There's no way we can keep track of what you're doing."

"In that case," says the second priest, "I've always wanted to be a stud."

"So be it" says St. Peter, and the second priest disappears.

A week goes by, the computer is fixed, and the Lord tells St. Peter to recall the two priests. "Will you have any trouble locating them?" He asks.

"The first one should be easy," says St. Peter. "He's somewhere over the Rockies , flying with the eagles. But the second one could prove to be more difficult."

"Why?" asketh the Lord.

"He's on a snow tire, somewhere in Alaska."

St. Patrick's Breastplate

With St. Paddy's Day approaching, I thought I would post one version of the traditional St. Patrick's Breastplate. This prayer is traditionally attributed to the saint himself but was probably written several hundred years later in the 8th century,

Here it is sung in Gaelic by Moya Brennan

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today through the strength of Heaven
the rays of the sun,
the radiance of the moon,
the splendor of fire,
the speed of lightening,
the swiftness of the wind,
the depth of the sea,
the stability of the earth
the firmness of rock.

I arise today through the power of God:
God's might to comfort me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to lead me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's Heavenly Host to save me
from the snares of the devil,
from temptations to sin,
from all who wish me ill,
from near and afar,
alone and with others.
May Christ shield me today
against poison and fire,
against drowning and wounding,
so that I may fulfill my mission
and bear fruit in abundance.

Christ behind and before me,
Christ behind and above me,
Christ with me and in me,
Christ around and about me,
Christ on my right and on my left,
Christ when I lie down at night,
Christ when I rise in the morning,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone that speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Evangelizing the campus

This looks like a wonderful creative initiative: Substantially Catholic

It is a summer program for faculty at Catholic or non-Catholic universities and colleges that exposes them to the Catholic intellectual tradition in their field. From their website:

SUBSTANTIALLY CATHOLIC seminars take a thematic approach in considering the Catholic intellectual contribution in particular academic disciplines.

English literature and philosophy/psychology are the featured disciplines for the 2009 SUBSTANTIALLY CATHOLIC seminar.

Participation is open to all faculty members seeking to enhance their knowledge of Catholic content and approaches in any of these fields. The numbers of participants in each of the disciplinary tracks will be limited in size to assure that presenters are accessible to the participants.

The SUBSTANTIALLY CATHOLIC seminar has a distinctive and decidedly practical goal – to help faculty members integrate the Catholic material presented at the seminar into their teaching repertoire in the immediately following academic year.


File this under evangelizing campus culture.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Awake O Sleeper!

Interviews done. The one this morning for WDEO (Ave Maria radio) in Ann Arbor with Teresa Tomeo was especially fun. But the early mornings began to accumulate (cause I get up at 5 am to prepare and make sure that I'm clear-headed). Awake O Sleeper! cries the ancient homily for Holy Saturday.

And, oh my - I would love to be able to attend this most wonderfully Lenten of events at the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology (Classroom 1) in Berkley on Thursday March 26 from 2 - 3:30 pm. (The site actually says 2 - 3:30 am but not even Fr. Michael Sweeney, the ultimate night owl, is usually up at that hour)

Why did it take the Resurrection to save us?

"Without the bodily Resurrection of Christ, Christianity would not exist, and where this article of faith is diminished – by condescendingly referring, for instance, to Resurrection “experiences” – faith itself slowly dissolves or degenerates into some form of Gnosticism. The antidote to this and the key to rediscovering the world-transforming meaning of the Resurrection is to recognize its Trinitarian backdrop, and for that we will turn to the Holy Saturday theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar."

The Emmaus Road Initiative presentations are made by Gil Bailie, an author, lecturer, and the founder and president of The Cornerstone Forum.

I have had a tremendous devotion to Holy Saturday and the wonderful eastern icons of the "Scouring of Hell" since before I was Catholic.

This image just bowled me over when I first saw it during a tour of a Greek Orthodox Church at a local Greek festival in Seattle.

But then redemption - that is, subjective redemption - the work of Christ's redemption through which the power of sin, death and Satan is really broken in our individual and communal lives, the work in which you and I are privileged to participate in time and space, the purposes for which we have been given charisms and vocations, has always been the spiritual center for me.

I identify with Jairus's daughter, raised from the dead. I identify with the woman who had had an unstoppable hemorrhage for 12 years until she pushed through the crowd, and, miracle of miracles, was able to touch Jesus' clothes. I identify with the sinful woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Her sins are forgiven her because she loved much.

"Who touched me?" I'd like to answer "Sherry of the Redemption."

Awake O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Radio Girl

That's me.

(Really. Cut my radio teeth as a junior in high school and then worked my way through my senior year as an undergrad doing news and the afternoon classical music show on the Seattle NPR affiliate. I didn't make much but it did beat waiting tables.)

'Cause Evangelizing Post-Modern Catholics is turning out to be a hot topic. Amy Welborn is having a related discussion on her new blog over at Beliefnet today.

Anyway, on Wednesday at 6:50 am Mountain Time/8:50 Eastern time, I'll be joining Brian Patrick on the Son Rise Morning Show on EWTN

On Thursday at 6:35 am Mountain Time/8:35 Eastern time, I'll be on WDEO (Ave Maria radio) in Ann Arbor, MI talking about the upcoming Lessons from St. Paul For the New Evangelization conference on March 21, where my major presentation will be "Do Ask, Do Tell: Evangelizing Post-Modern Catholics." (And I'm also doing break-outs on the discernment of charisms.)

(How come all the major Catholic stations are in the eastern time zone which means I have to be attempt coherent thought way too early in the morning? I remember how difficult it was in the old radio days to get my mouth to form words at 6 am.)

And all these talks are just tiny bits and pieces from our Making Disciples seminar running July 26-30 in beautiful Colorado Springs!

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Post-Modern God: "Personal Hobby", "Fashion Statement", or "None"?

The USA Today article on the decline in American faith is going to have a lot of people talking this week.

It is a long, rich article pulling from many sources and worth a careful read. Points that stood out when I read it:

The "Nones" are both growing and migrating. New England has actually overtaken the Pacific Northwest as the center of "None" land. 34% of Vermonters claim no religious affiliation when asked.

And this:

"Kosmin concluded from the 1990 data that many saw God as a "personal hobby," and that the USA is "a greenhouse for spiritual sprouts."

Today, he says, "religion has become more like a fashion statement, not a deep personal commitment for many."


And this telling vignette:

"Ex-Catholic Dylan Rossi, 21, a philosophy student in Boston and a Massachusetts native, is part of the sharp fall in the state's percentage of Catholics — from 54% to 39% in his lifetime.

Rossi says he's typical among his friends: "If religion comes up, everyone at the table will start mocking it. I don't know anyone religious and hardly anyone 'spiritual.'

We cannot simply try to resurrect old style early 20th century American cultural Catholicism in the 21st century. The cultural bridges to that world have been swept away by forces far beyond the Second Vatican Council. The vast majority of Catholics under the age of 65 are deeply post-modern in their understanding of life. We can't recreate the past. We can't get there from here.

We have to start again from the beginning, as the Church has done very effectively many times before, and ask "What does Gospel of Jesus Christ, how does the Catholic faith, speak to this generation, to this culture, to this person before me?

If this kind of thing peaks your interest, consider coming to Making Disciples in Colorado Springs this July 26 - 30 where we'll spend 4 days together wrestling with just one thing: How to proclaim Christ to 21st century post-modern Catholics.

The State of Catholicism in Vietnam

From Vietnam comes an article about the state of Catholicism that sounds so familiar. Such challenges and concerns aren't just for western Christians anymore. (Via VietCatholic News)

The Archdiocese of Saigon has concluded that the percentage of Vietnam's population that is Catholic has dipped slightly over the past 60 years: from 7.5% to 7.15%

Initially I found it surprising that the Vietnamese Church has responded with such alarm to a relatively small decline. This report is very much at odds with the tone of a much more positive 2006 Christian Science Monitor article:

"Today, his 19th-century cathedral is packed with worshippers on Sundays, and Catholic seminaries are expanding. New churches are mushrooming in this corner of northern Vietnam where Catholicism has sunk deep roots. Fr. Phuc is amazed at the rapid growth. "In the past 10 years, almost every year a new church is built. I can't keep track," he says."


"Of the six official religions recognized by Vietnam, Catholicism ranks second behind Buddhism. It has between 5 million and 7 million followers, concentrated mostly in the south, and is reportedly becoming more popular among young urban Vietnamese who are enjoying the fruits of the country's rapid economic growth."

The other shoe dropped when I read further in the VietCatholic piece:

"while the rate of Catholic population in Vietnam has decreased within the last 50 years, other Christian denominations have enjoyed a surge in people joining their churches. In 1999, these denominations had 400,000 members. This number has quadrupled to 1,500,000 in 2008 according the latest report."

“These figures are a clear indication of the ineffectiveness of the Church’s mission in Vietnam during the last 50 years,” Fr. Anthony Nguyen lamented.

There's the sting. Historically, Christianity in Vietnam has basically meant Catholicism. (The modern Vietnamese alphabet was created by a Jesuit missionary.) A 400% growth in non-Catholic Christianity over the past 10 years while Catholic numbers are very slowly declining is a bit of a shock. The non-Catholics seem to be the usual mixture of evangelical and independent congregations, many meeting in unofficial house churches.

The Archdiocese of Saigon also comments on:

"the alarming rate of adult converts who do not keep on practicing their faith after their baptism. Within the past 7 years, there have been approximately 35,000 adult conversions to Catholicism annually, 80-90% of these through marriage. Unfortunately, the number of converts through marriage who remain active in practicing their religion gone down dramatically due to complications many people have to face after converting to Catholicism such as losing privileges and promotions at certain jobs, or facing subtle discrimination from the atheist government."


"the indifferent attitude towards the missionary duty among the faithful has been noticeable. Many assume that the clergy is solely responsible for evangelization, not lay people. In addition, many Catholics have not been living their lives to bear witness to Christ and to make Him known to all those who have not yet received the Gospel message. Their personal and religious lives have not made any good impression on their non-Catholic neighbors and friends."


"the indifferent attitude towards the missionary duty among the faithful has been noticeable. Many assume that the clergy is solely responsible for evangelization, not lay people. In addition, many Catholics have not been living their lives to bear witness to Christ and to make Him known to all those who have not yet received the Gospel message. Their personal and religious lives have not made any good impression on their non-Catholic neighbors and friends."

And the article ends with this most prescient summary:

"Among all aspects, Christology is the one that has received most attention, since the decisive element of every Christian life lies in the response that must be given to the question Christ asked: "Who do you say that I am?" (Mt 16:15). Without a correct understanding of the person of Christ, of His nature, of His significance and of His message addressed to the human race, Christianity lacks authenticity."

In Your Neck of the Woods This Week . . .

If you are in the Corvallis, Oregon area this week, Fr. Mike is putting on a 3 evenings-in-a-row Called & Gifted workshop that begins tonight.

If you live in the Riverside, California area, you can take in the weekend version of the Called & Gifted this coming Friday and Saturday, March 13 & 14.

And if you live near Omaha, you can attend Fr. Mike's Lenten mission March 16 - 18 at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church.

This is the kind of post I like. All kinds of great stuff is happening without me lifting a finger.

How great is that?

Coming Up for Air

I remember in the early days of this blog, a reader described us as posting "eleventy-billion words" a day. Not lately, as you've noticed. Fr. Mike is on that relentless Lenten road and I'm creating.

Yesterday, I finished up the slides and hand-outs for the Lessons from St. Paul conference in Detroit on March 21. By the way, if any ID readers are going to be there, please come up and say "Hi".

The emphasis at this conference is on the word "practical" and they didn't want people droning on so they asked that speakers limit themselves to 30 minutes and leave the rest of the time for questions and answers. When I heard that, i despaired. Since I was supposed to cover St. Paul, post-modernism, and evangelization skills that usually take four days to wrestle with.

It was simply impossible. I wrote back saying i couldn't cover the assigned topic in 30 minutes and would be willing to do something else. The conference powers that be were clement and gave me 50 minutes.

So I spent a lot of the weekend paring relentlessly away (I eventually jettisoned more than half of our usual content for this section) and timing trial runs, and after much agony, finally coming up with version that clocked in at 53 minutes. Close enough.

I'm going to be doing something similar this fall at the Cathedral of St. Paul on October 3. I've flown in and out of Minneapolis hundreds of times but have never left the airport before. The Cathedral looks magnificent.

I'm a bit intimidated because it is for the First Saturday series which was created this year for the Pauline year and was such a hit that they are extending it. This year's line-up featured the like of Jeff Cavins, Dr. Janet Smith, and Dr. Peter Kreeft. We speak in front of the exposed Blessed Sacrament and I've never done that before and all my former Quaker anxieties about not knowing what to do in intricate liturgical settings come to the fore.

I'm sure it will be fine in the end. I've never actually fainted during a speaking gig. My knees have buckled a couple times but I've never gone down. My secret is promising myself that I can always faint afterwards! Always put off today what you can do tomorrow, I say!

Meanwhile, my days at home are rapidly drawing to an end.

Today, I must finish up the slides and then create the corresponding hand-outs for our April 2- 4 Making Disciples weekend in Kansas City. And as soon as I'm done with that, I must, must, must turn my attention to that little old graduate course in the Theology of the Laity that Fr. Michael Sweeney and I are teaching at Sacred Heart Seminary between May 26 and June 5.

I rejoice in road trips that don't involve doing anything new and original these days. Places where I can just show up and already know what to do and someone else handles the paperwork.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Those Radical Bishops and the Economy

Here's a tidbit from a document released awhile back by the U.S. Bishops that you may find interesting in light of the economic woes we are facing these days.

[regarding the evil of] excessive gains by a small minority of privileged capitalists, the main remedies are prevention of monopolistic control of commodities, adequate government regulation of such public service monopolies as will remain under private operation, and heavy taxation of incomes, excess profits, and inheritances....[T]he principle is clear that human beings cannot be trusted with the immense opportunities for oppression and extortion that go with the possession of monopoly power. That the owners of public service monopolies should be restricted by law to a fair or average return on their actual investment, has long been a recognized principle of the courts, the legislatures, and public opinion. It is a principle which should be applied to competitive enterprises likewise, with the qualification that something more than the average rate of return should be allowed to men who exhibit exceptional efficiency. However, good public policy, as well as equity, demands that these exceptional businessmen share the fruits of their efficiency with the consumer in the form of lower prices. The man who utilizes his ability to produce cheaper than his competitors for the purpose of exacting from the public as high a price for his product as is necessary for the least efficient businessman is a menace rather than a benefit to industry and society.

Our immense war debt constitutes a particular reason why incomes and excess profits should continue to be heavily taxed. In this way two important ends will be attained: the poor will be relieved of injurious tax burdens, and the small class of privileged capitalists will be compelled to return a part of their unearned gains to society.

Before you get in a lather and write your local bishop, I should note that these radical bishops are all dead. They lived in 1919, when the above was promulgated by the forerunner of the USCCB in a document titled, The U.S. Bishops' Program of Social Reconstruction.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Everything's Amazing, Nobody's Happy . . .

Laugh Out Loud Funny! And so true!

Watch this You Tube video of comedian Louis CK on Conan. The embedding is disabled so you'll have to click to get to it but it is all in the spirit of his rant:

We live in an amazing, amazing world and nobody's happy . . .

Fair warning: He uses some rowdy (not profane) language and got bleeped once . . .

All you fellow road warriors out there - this is one of our most important spiritual disciplines for Lent.

Hat tip: Keith Strohm

Celebrate "No Cussing" Week

You gotta love it.

It is official: This is "no cussing" week in LA. A creative campaign started by a 15 year old boy at his school has caught on. How will the city function?

I suppose the equivalent around St. Blog's would be a "no flaming" week.

What if we gave up flames for Lent?

Talk about fasting . . .

Sunday, March 1, 2009

St. David

A brief video biography of St. David who died 1,420 years ago today.

Got leeks?

In Honor of St. David's Day

In honor of St. David's day, the Welsh national day, I had to share this very funny BBC Report.

The English are Germans. The Welsh are the true Brits!