Sunday, May 31, 2009

We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties

Just FYI. One of the frustrating things here in Detroit is the fact that there is no WIFI. So my only e-mail contact is via a web-based program on a desktop in a computer room in a galaxy far, far away - from the rooms in which I am staying.

Adding to my frustration is the fact that I can't answer any e-mails because the very strict filter in this building regards my web-based mail service as a potential threat and won't let me send anything out.

That and the fact that I have very poor cell phone reception here has complicated matters a good deal.

Just to say, if you write me, don't expect a reply until next week. If it is urgent, contact Austin in our office ( or (719) 219-0056.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Discerning Priesthood Online (part 2)

On April 24 on this blog I wrote about an online discernment website designed to help young people begin to discern a call to priesthood or religious life. I found that the questions might help determine if someone was a disciple, but I didn't see that the questions addressed particular issues that might help a young man discern whether he might be called to be a priest. I concluded that post by writing, "if the ministry potential survey helps identify disciples, that would be a start in the right direction. My questions are, what kinds of qualities would help young men identify a possible call to priesthood?"

Our questions or statements will say a lot about the kind of priests we are looking for. What kinds of questions would be suitable to help those for whom religious life is a possible call? I think these would be different questions, and require a separate discernment tool, as they are different vocations (even though many male religious are also priests).

Just for fun, I thought I would review Pastores Dabo Vobis (I Will Give You Shepherds), Pope John Paul II’s post-synodal letter on the priesthood, to see if I could glean some statements that might be part of a discernment tool for those interested in exploring a call to priesthood. I gleaned a few quotes from the document, and below I propose a serious of statements for just such a discernment instrument. While there are many passages that could be used, I have chosen these as representative of attitudes that together might be at least somewhat distinctive from attitudes of a disciple of Jesus called to the lay state.

These statements would elicit a response on a scale from Strongly Disagree - Disagree - Weakly Disagree - Weakly Agree - Agree - Strongly Agree. On occasion I have worded the statement so that a “strongly disagree” response would be an indication of a possible priestly vocation. I trust those will be obvious! One thing that is clear from the quotes is this: the Church has very high expectations for those who seek ordination as priests. It was great for me to review this document, although it pointed out how far short I am from the idea. Pray that I might live up to them!

Here are the quotes from Pastores Dabo Vobis (in italics), followed by a dash and my statement for a discernment tool. The numbers in parentheses are the section from which the quotes were taken. I realize my quotes and statements will reflect my own understanding of priesthood. In addition, I remind you that there are many, many other quotes that I could have pulled concerning the priest's identity with Christ, his relationship to the Bishop, etc. These will have to do for now. In addition, there were some quotes I had selected, but when I went to design a statement based on them, I asked myself, "would this really help distinguish a person with a possible call to priesthood from someone who is a disciple?" In some cases, I chose not to use them.

These are not meant to be a complete survey - just a first quick swipe at a task that proved harder than I had initially imagined.

In a word, priests exist and act in order to proclaim the Gospel to the world and to build up the Church in the name and person of Christ the Head and Shepherd. This is the ordinary and proper way in which ordained ministers share in the one priesthood of Christ. (15) – I seldom or never talk about religion, because it is a private matter.

The ministry of the priest is entirely on behalf of the Church; it aims at promoting the exercise of the common priesthood of the entire people of God; (16) Because the ordained are holier than ordinary Christians, they should be held in high esteem, and it is an honor to serve them.

The ordained ministry has a radical "communitarian form" and can only be carried out as "a collective work". The Council dealt extensively with this communal aspect of the nature of the priesthood, examining in succession the relationship of the priest with his own Bishop, with other priests and with the lay faithful. (17) I enjoy working with others, and, often derive a greater satisfaction from a task accomplished as part of a group than one accomplished by myself.

Priests are there to serve the faith, hope and charity of the laity. They recognize and uphold, as brothers and friends, the dignity of the laity as children of God and help them to exercise fully their specific role in the overall context of the Church's mission. (17)I believe lay people have an essential and important role as the Church inserted into the world.

The priest is first of all a minister of the Word of God … For this reason, the priest himself ought first of all to develop a great personal familiarity with the word of God… He needs to approach the word with a docile and prayerful heart, so that it may deeply penetrate his thoughts and feelings and bring about a new outlook in him—"the mind of Christ" (26) ¬- I enjoy reading the Bible, and know that certain attitudes of mine have been challenged by what I encountered there.

The Synod would like to see celibacy presented and explained in the fullness of its biblical, theological and spiritual richness, as a precious gift given by God to his Church and as a sign of the Kingdom which is not of this world, a sign of God's love for this world and of the undivided love of the priest for God and for God's People, with the result that celibacy is seen as a positive enrichment of the priesthood (29)I love the freedom that being unmarried gives me to relate to, befriend, and help a wide variety of people.

Future priests should therefore cultivate a series of human qualities, not only out of proper and due growth and realization of self, but also with a view to the ministry. These qualities are needed for them to be balanced people, strong and free, capable of bearing the weight of pastoral responsibilities…Of special importance is the capacity to relate to others. (43) I believe – and have been told by others - that I am a fair, well-balanced person and am able to relate to a variety of people.

The present situation is heavily marked by religious indifference, by a widespread mistrust regarding the real capacity of reason to reach objective and universal truth, and by fresh problems and questions brought up by scientific and technological discoveries. It strongly demands a high level of intellectual formation, such as will enable priests to proclaim, in a context like this, the changeless Gospel of Christ and to make it credible to the legitimate demands of human reason. (51) – I believe if you keep on proclaiming the faith as it has always been taught, those few who are meant to be saved will “get it.”

It is particularly important to prepare future priests for cooperation with the laity. The Council says, "they should be willing to listen to lay people, give brotherly consideration to their wishes and recognize their experience and competence in the different fields of human activity. In this way they will be able to recognize with them the signs of the times.” (59) a priest is called “father” by his parishioners because he knows what is best for them and for the parish.

Above all it is necessary that he be able to teach and support the laity in their vocation to be present in and to transform the world with the light of the Gospel, by recognizing this task of theirs and showing respect for it. (59)If Catholics want to grow in holiness, they should spend more time at church and less in the corrupting influence of the world.

The intellectual dimension of formation likewise needs to be continually fostered through the priest's entire life, especially by a commitment to study and a serious and disciplined familiarity with modern culture. (72) Study is not something that interests me. I learn better watching good programs on T.V.

Jesus often went off alone to pray (cf. Mt 14:23). The ability to handle a healthy solitude is indispensable for caring for one's interior life. Here we are speaking of a solitude filled with the presence of the Lord who puts us in contact with the Father, in the light of the Spirit. (74)While I enjoy the company of people, there are times I crave quiet solitude to connect with God on my own.

By Baptism, which marks him with the dignity and freedom of the children of God in the only-begotten Son, the priest is a member of the one Body of Christ (cf. Eph 4:16). His consciousness of this communion leads to a need to awaken and deepen co-responsibility in the one common mission of salvation, with a prompt and heartfelt esteem for all the charisms and tasks which the Spirit gives believers for the building up of the Church (74) I enjoy seeing the gifts God has given other, and it would be great if I could help them figure out how God might be calling them.

Please let me know what you think... You might have a better way of wording the statements. I have to admit I had a bit of fun with some of the ones I came up with!

Just as an aside - I wrote to the website to let them know that although I had taken the instrument, I am already an ordained priest. I continue to get periodic invitations to have my score and responses interpreted for me, as well as invitations to visit other religious communities! But not the Dominicans...


Friday, May 29, 2009

Reporting from Detroit . . .

We've made it through the first week. Fr. Michael has swooped off back to California for the weekend to attend OP ordinations and I'm alone - in the world's largest brick building.

Honest. Think of the Pentagon with crucifixes and that would be about right. I can't begin to count the rooms, hallways, staircases or alcoves. Everytime I think about about going somewhere my head begins to hurt.

Cause the simpliest thing involves 4 sets of stairs and a half mile hike - which may well end up with me on the wrong side of the whole complex from my goal. Good thing the faculty dining hall is near my room. That I can find - so in pinch, I won't starve.

The class seems to be going well. Several are eager to attend this summer's Making Disciples seminar. It would be great to have a Detroit contingent. We have 15 from a parish in Ohio coming and two from Singapore! It's not too late for you to come too! Just check out the "new seminar" link on our website:

I've been working pretty relentlessly since I got here - just trying to keep one class ahead of the group. I'll spend Saturday trying to get ahead and Sunday out with some old friends like Tim Furgeson and Matthew Hill and new ones like Sue Cummins who is in the class. We'll be going to Greenfield Village after Mass and brunch - a museum where Henry Ford gathered historic bulidings from around the US.

See the world with CSI is my motto.

Now to make some overdue phone calls and scan once again the canons on the laity.


Seek the LORD while he may be found, call him while he is near. Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked man his thoughts; Let him turn to the LORD for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts. Isaiah 55:6-9

Reverence for the Weak in Faith?

Today at morning prayer I was struck by one of the petitions for this Friday in the seventh week of Easter. In it the Church asks God, "Help us to show reverence for those who are weak in faith - may we never be hard or impatient with them, but always treat them with love."

American culture these days is poisonous in so many ways. Sexuality is trivialized and human beings objectified. Violence has become entertainment ("World of Warcraft" is just one example of incredibly violent video 'games' being offered our children). We dehumanize our enemies (Arabs, felons, gays, immigrants - especially, but not limited to illegal ones, conservatives, liberals, the ultra-orthodox, the heterodox), making it easier to judge, dismiss, hate or even kill them.

On our airwaves, on the television, in casual conversations, in the blogosphere and in print we are actively twisting one another's words, taking them out of context, attributing motives to words and actions, and generally failing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt unless they seem to think and act just like us. I suppose this shouldn't come as a surprise given that we live in a fallen world, but I would hope that Christians would know better.

And who are these "weak in faith" for whom we are to show reverence, be patient, kind and loving?

They are those who have don't trust the teachings of the Church's Magisterium.
They are those who want the Magisterium to tell them exactly how to behave.
They are those who want everything regarding faith to be ambiguous.
They are those who want everything regarding faith to be absolutely unambiguous.
They are those who don't want to follow Jesus anywhere.
They are those who don't want to follow Jesus everywhere.
They are those who will follow Jesus as long as it's not too difficult.
They are those who believe they are following Jesus only if it's difficult.
They are those who act as though Jesus should follow them.

I hope you get the point. All of us are weak in faith, and Jesus himself treats us with reverence, kindness, patience and love. Who are we to behave differently?

Apparently, we are not the first Christians to struggle with reverential treatment of one another. St. Paul chided the believers in Galatia, and these words of his are perennially appropriate, but especially so as we approach Pentecost.

You were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. I say, then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want.

But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. [my emphasis - pick your poison, please]

In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. [my emphasis, again - does this describe your behavior with those with whom you disagree?] Against such there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ (Jesus) have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. Let us not be conceited, provoking one another, envious of one another. Gal 5:13-26
St. Paul himself even slips up a bit on this point, when, in a moment of frustration against those who were insisting that Christians follow the Mosaic Law - including circumcision - he wishes "that those who are upsetting you might also castrate themselves!" Gal 5:12

In a more dispassionate moment, when dealing with the struggles between Judeo-Christians who found it hard to give up the special holidays and dietary restrictions of their former faith and those for whom it was not a struggle, St. Paul could say, "Welcome anyone who is weak in faith [i.e., still observing some Jewish practices], but not for disputes over opinions. One person believes that one may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. The one who eats must not despise the one who abstains, and the one who abstains must not pass judgment on the one who eats; for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on someone else's servant?" Rom 14:1-4a

Every one of us is 'someone else's servant', since we are all servants of our Lord, Jesus. He will be our judge, none other. We must help one another in our weakness, speaking the truth in love and in humility, and being open to correction ourselves. Salvation is at stake, so we all need to love one another and help each other in our mutual weakness of faith.

May we devoutly pray with the Church today to the Lord, "Help us to show reverence for those who are weak in faith - may we never be hard or impatient with them, but always treat them with love."

"Lord, come to our aid and save us" (from ourselves).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Finding God in the Ordinary

After four or more days of cold, hard rain, occasional hail, and last night's fitful sleep in a too-cold room, Colorado Springs enjoyed a gorgeous spring day. Trees that had hardly begun to show signs of green seemed to have leafed out today. I have to admit, it is a drop-dead gorgeous place to call home (even if it's a "sometimes" home). As I was enjoying lunch out in the sunshine, I was reminded of a story told to me by Joan Carey, a parishioner at Christ King Catholic Church in Wauwatosa, WI. She has a website where you can listen to short parable podcasts taken from her own life experience. They're delightful, and might bring some sun to your day - whatever the weather's giving you. Here's what she says about them.
We know that most people don’t have time to attend a Bible study. Many find it challenging just to carve out a few minutes each day for prayer or to read the Bible on their own. So, for all of you “on the go,” we’ve packaged the truth of God’s Word for you to take with you as you go about your day.

The podcasts are short, modern-day parables that leave you pondering deeper truths of the faith.
By the way, her venture in podcast story-telling was encouraged through her discernment of her gifts after attending a Called & Gifted workshop. Way to go, Joan!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Barna's Religious Tribes in America

George Barna, the evangelical version of the Gallup organization, has an interesting sounding book out titled, The Seven Faith Tribes: Who They Are, What They Believe, and Why They Matter. In that book, Barna outlines seven diverse faith segments, profiling their lifestyles, religious beliefs and practices, values and life goals. The seven tribes include Casual Christians, Captive Christians, Mormons, Jews, Pantheists, Muslims and Skeptics.

I'm lifting some significant sections from a discussion of "casual Christianity" from this update from the Barna organization. I find it interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, the description of "casual Christianity" seems to fit large numbers of Christians I've met. There are many days I'd say the description fits me. After all, as a religious priest I have a secure life, a clearly defined role that means that most of my human interactions are with other Catholics. Secondly, we live in a country in which, so far, Christianity is tolerated so long as it remains "casually practiced." Conversely, very often Christians in the U.S. - particularly of the casual kind - are very supportive of American civil life, and tend to not be critical of government policies regarding, for example, immigration, foreign policy, economics, and health care (at least not those policies proposed by whichever political party to which the Christian might belong).

While I haven't read Barna's book, the descriptions below are intriguing, and more than a bit challenging. Especially since I have had Catholics who've been moved by God's grace from the casual to the "captive" brand of Christianity tell me things like, "my Catholic friends think I'm strange, extreme, or too serious about my faith." I might go so far as to propose that "captive" Christianity sounds quite a bit like (you guessed it) intentional discipleship!

Question: What have you found to be the appeal of Casual Christianity, as opposed to what draws people to the Captive Christian or even the Mormon tribes – that is, other tribes that are much more fervent about their faith?

Barna: Casual Christianity is faith in moderation. It allows them to feel religious without having to prioritize their faith. Christianity is a low-risk, predictable proposition for this tribe, providing a faith perspective that is not demanding. A Casual Christian can be all the things that they esteem: a nice human being, a family person, religious, an exemplary citizen, a reliable employee – and never have to publicly defend or represent difficult moral or social positions or even lose much sleep over their private choices as long as they mean well and generally do their best. From their perspective, their brand of faith practice is genuine, realistic and practical. To them, Casual Christianity is the best of all worlds; it encourages them to be a better person than if they had been irreligious, yet it is not a faith into which they feel compelled to heavily invest themselves.

Question: What are the critical elements that make the Casual Christians tick?

Barna: The comfort that this approach provides. It offers them life insights if they choose to accept them, gives them a community of relationships if they desire such, fulfills their inner need to have some type of connection with a deity, and provides the image of being a decent, faith-friendly person. Because Casuals do not view matters of faith as central to one’s purpose or success in life, this brand of Christianity supplies the multi-faceted levels of satisfaction and assurance that they desire.

Question: You list two tribes under the “Christian” umbrella. What are the primary differences between the Casual and Captive tribes?

Barna: The lives of Captive Christians are defined by their faith; their worldview is built around their core spiritual beliefs and resultant values. Casual Christians are defined by the desire to please God, family, and other people while extracting as much enjoyment and comfort from the world as possible. The big difference between these two tribes is how they define a successful life. For Captives, success is obedience to God, as demonstrated by consistently serving Christ and carrying out His commands and principles. For Casuals, success is balancing everything just right so that they are able to maximize their opportunities and joys in life without undermining their perceived relationship with God and others. Stated differently, Casuals are about moderation in all things while Captives are about extreme devotion to their God regardless of the worldly consequences.

So, what do you think? Do these descriptions sound reasonable? Oh, and before you wonder what the characteristics are he uses to describe the other tribes, and complain that these brush strokes are way, way, too broad, here's something else to consider:

Question: If you had to list the single, most defining characteristic of each of the seven tribes, what would each tribe’s defining faith attribute be?

Barna: Casual Christians are driven by a desire for a pleasant and peaceful existence. Captive Christians are focused on upholding the absolute moral and spiritual truths they glean from the Bible. Jews coalesce around their sense of community. Mormons are identifiable by their family centeredness. Pantheists are best understood by their resigned acceptance of their reality. Muslims are characterized by their commitment to faith-driven behavioral standards. Skeptics are highly independent. Every tribe will reject these singular descriptions, and rightfully so because each tribe is complex and robust. But these factors give a short-hand sense of the heartbeat of each tribe.


One last note this Memorial Day:

This holiday was originally called Decoration Day - the day for decorating the graves of the Civil War dead. After World War I, it was expanded to include all Americans lost in battle of any war.

And we keep adding, generation after generation, to the total of those who will be honored.

Here is the haunting letter of Sullivan Ballou to his wife Sarah on the eve of the First Battle of Manassas (Bull run) in 1861 as featured in the moving segment from Ken Burn's Civil War series. The letter was not mailed until the war was over - long after he had died. The Ballou's had not been married long really. Less than 6 years.

I've wandered the Manassas battlefield on a day well over 100 degrees, a day so hot that you were warned not to put gas in your car during the day and the National Park Service folks were told to stay inside the air conditioning. It was on that sort of July day that Sullivan Ballou died. Sarah Ballou never remarried.

This story is being repeated over and over today, of course.

Last month, I sat next to a very young man on his way to Afghanistan, who had just been married days before and wanted to talk. Gradually, as we talked, he told me what he did. He was a sniper - the first one in. He told me that he had been told, "never look the children in the eyes" and that they were right. He had already done one tour and was showing all the signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In fact, he had woken up a few nights previously with his hands around his new wife's throat.

But as he told me, if the Army knew, they would not let him continue. And at that moment, our plane landed. All I could do was promise to pray for him. And I have.

But it was like a terrible chasm opened before me as I saw, for the first time, what we were asking of these young men and women on our behalf. A tortured young man being put in a position where he may have to make the life and death decision to shoot children or lose his comrades - or his own life.

I've just finished wading through the oceans of blood shed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, so I'm not saying "just give peace a chance". It's never that simple.

Beccause the end result of war or peace is made up of a incredible chain of events and decisions large and small that pile up until one day a young man plucked from peaceful obscurity is staring into a child's eyes with an automatic rifle in his hands.

Today is a day for honoring and praying for the dead indeed. We would honor them more if we seriously attended to making peace in small ways today. And tomorrow.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Consecrated Virgin

And Bobby Vidal, our man in LA, wrote me about this fascinating website for consecrated virgins which is beginning to take on the quality of a movement!

there are more than 3000 formally consecrated virgins in 21 countries, including:

Argentina - ~250 consecrated
Belgium - 50+ consecrated
Czech Republic - 20 consecrated
Denmark - 2 consecrated
France - 600+ consecrated
Germany - ~100 consecrated
Italy - ~200 consecrated
Poland - ~20 consecrated
Spain - 170+ consecrated
Ireland - 30 consecrated
US - 150 consecrated.

Fascinating that there are so many CV's in France and so relatively few in places like Ireland and Poland.

I know that when I think of the term "consecrated virgin" I automatically think of women and the United States Association for Consecrated Virgins is explicitly for women and yet I'm sure there are men who have a similar call to live as a celibate, consecrated layman in the world, Men who are part of a standard religious community or secular Institute.

Is there an equivalent consecration for men? I met a man about to become a officially recognized hermit in Alaska recently - but these women are very much in the world.

In any case, the CV's of the US are having a conference this summer. Check out their website. It is full of fascinating information and vocational discernment resources for women considering the possibility of such a call.

And here is

an interesting video piece on a consecrated virgin in the Boston area. As she puts it, "I was hit with a truck of the Holy Spirit". O'Malley has received the promises of several women in the area and I saw an interview where he said that becoming a hermit is the male equivalent.

I have to admit that I'm not entirely comfortable with how the woman in the interview describes her relationship with Christ but i am envious of the fact that she can have the Blessed Sacrament in her home!

On Pilgrimage

Lydia, our Called & Gifted team leader in Singapore and a lay Dominican herself, wrote to make me aware that the Dominicans of Godzdogz are posting a preaching series on ministries and charisms. Looks very interesting.

But especially lovely was the photo series on the annual Dominican pilgrimage to the Our Lady of Walsingham Shrine. Nothing like walking barefoot down a green English lane in May on your way to pay homage to Our Lady. Loved this image:

As Geoffrey put it so memorably:

An Incarnation of Prayer

A few last minute posts before I leave very early tomorrow for Detroit.

Here's a wonderful anecdote from Cardinal Suenen's Memories & Hopes about Pope John Paul II on the day of his inaugural Mass as Pope:

""The day of the inauguration was a great day indeed. The Pope exudes an air of faith and of power. I feel that God himself has chosen him for us, for no one has more spirit than the Holy Spirit. He will be a man for new times; a man of bold decisions, not routine ones, one who will go beyond muffled diplomacy, facing into the wind and even into the storm.

'He will need to be strong at the helm and very weak in prayer before God. One of his fellow students in Rome, Paul de Haes, used to say that the intensity of his prayer "is enough to make you jealous". He prays with his whole body - he is an incarnation of prayer - and at those moments he looks years older. He bows deeply, bending close to the ground; in the Sistine Chapel, during his prayer of thanksgiving, he looked as though he had collapsed, and I feared that he had been taken ill. But as soon as he stands up straight and smiles, he looks amazingly young."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A-Maying in Colorado

I should be making that last big push to get the debates at Vatican II into Powerpoint but i stopped to take some pictures of the garden. It's a cool, rainy, green Memorial Day weekend here - unusual but i wanted to record the progress of the garden and it is in a very different place this Memorial Day than it was last year at this time.

Labor Day, 2006. The wall in the midst of well, not much.

The same wall today. Still early in the season but already looking lush.

The view of the whole from top: Ireland in the Rockies

Our resident rabbit who is completely non-plused by my presence. Fortunately, he decided that he didn't like the taste of those wild penstemons. The bare spot above Peter Rabbit's head is the large future wild grass bed which I will plant when I return from Detroit.

And the view of Pikes Peak this past week from the place where the steps meet the path above the wall:

Oh, and here are the new cats; Cosmos the Magnificent (extroverted, large, white, and regal) and Damien the Diffident (smaller orange tabby, introverted and independent, loves high places). Brothers, 3 years old.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Welcome to the World

What I love about the internet:

As I'm sitting here typing away and listening to early morning mountain bird song on a cloudy, wet. cool Seattle-like morning, 20 people are reading this blog and 7 are from other lands:

Kildare, Melbourne, London, Victoria, Singapore, Lincoln, Paris.

Welcome to Colorado. Could I interest you in like a little home=made espresso?

And Thailand just dropped by as I wrote this. Good morning, Bangkok!

Sometimes it is good to just savor the miracle of this kind of communication.

Six Dollars a Day

What it's like to live on six dollars a day? That's for food, gas, toothpaste, health care - everything! That's how much you'd have - as a single person - if you lived at the federal poverty level.

Dry cereal with no milk at every meal. Finding yourself tempting to steal your roommate's toilet paper because it frees up two precious dollars for food.

Listen to the experiences of a single woman and a family man who voluntarily live at the federal poverty level for 3 weeks. Very illuminating.

Via Utah Public Radio.

H/t to Susan Stabile

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Common Ground: What Catholics and Protestants Are Learning From One Another in Detroit

I know that I should be working but I just had to share this find:

It's an amazing initiative taking place between a Catholic parish and a large evangelical church north of Detroit, called "Common Ground". Here's some history:

"The leaders at Kensington (the evangelical church) had wanted Fr. Riccardo to come and be interviewed during their Sunday morning services. But because Fr. Riccardo was busy with Sunday Masses, they decided to videotape an interview and use that in their services.

The interview was conducted by Kensington's lead pastor, Steve Andrews, in the sanctuary at St. Anastasia, just in front of the Blessed Sacrament tabernacle. Pastor Andrews asked about, and Fr. Riccardo cleared up, many of the misunderstandings that Evangelicals and Protestants have toward Catholicism. Fr. John also suggested some important things that Catholics can learn from Protestants.

Large portions of the interview were played before the Kensington Congregation on two Sunday mornings, and over the next few weeks over 2,000 copies of the interview on DVD were sold through the Kensington Church's bookstore.


Then, last night (Dec 15, 2006), at St. Anastasia, the two churches gathered for an evening of prayer. The two pastors lit several candles placed on a small table before the altar before the service began, but Steve Andrews was having a very difficult time lighting his candle. Finally he gave up and commented over his open microphone, "I guess I wasn't suppose to be Catholic." (We laughed with him.) Fr. John helped Steve get the candle lit, but in the process knocked it to the floor, which Steve retrieved, and the process started all over. It was both funny and poignant illustration of these two ministers of the Gospel, neither perfect but both trying their best to honor God and lead their congregations to ask God that we might be one.

About 500 attended. There was music from both churches, both pastors gave short talks on prayer, Scripture was read (Luke 11:5-13), members of both congregations led us in a series of prayers for a variety of common concerns, and a basket filled with written petitions from the congregation was brought forward and placed before the altar. Then, the two men knelt before the altar and the Blessed Sacrament beyond, we all knelt with them for an extended time of silent prayer asking God to hear us, heal us, and unite us, so that the world would know that Jesus was sent by the God the Father. Both pastors made it very clear that as Jesus prayed in John 17, the lack of unity of Christians in the world, made Christians oftentimes the laughing stock of the world and hindered Christians' ability to proclaim the Gospel effectively.

Evangelicals kneeling for prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Amazing.

There is a wonderful 4 min clip of the filmed interview with Fr. Riccardo here. I've watched and it is great. This man knows his faith and has an incredible ability to articulate it clearly and winsomely. Watch and see what you think.

You can purchase the DVD here. it got two thumbs up from the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and Tom Allen of Catholic Exchange as well as from some evangelical heavy hitters like Timothy George.

Walking with Purpose

As a pleasant diversion from the troubles of the early 20th century, I'd like to recommend that you check out this very interesting women's apostolate: Walking With Purpose.

We found out about them yesterday when one of their leaders called to find out more about the Called & Gifted discernment process. And I looked up their website. Very impressive.

Evangelization, formation, and Christian community for Catholic women happening in parishes in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and northern Virginia. Definitely check it out!

I hope they hold a workshop in the Annapolis area and I get to teach it.

Cause Annapolis is so cool - full of colonial homes and sailing boats. And I'd love to visit old St. Mary's, the old capital of Catholic Maryland where they have just rebuilt the original colonial chapel and are doing all kinds of fascinating archeological stuff.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

France Pagan?

The online Time magazine archives is a real treasure and I'm coming across wonderful nuggets there as I do my research.

Here's one called Not Cassocks But Coveralls from November, 1965 on a revival of the Worker-priest experiment launched in the 40's, suppressed by Pope John XXIII and revived for a time by Pope Paul VI. (I believe it was stopped again but I don't know why.)

The worker-priest experiment began because of a 1940 book by an obscure French priest, Abbe Henri Grodin, called "France: A Mission Field?' and published in English by Maisie Ward, of Sheed and Ward, under the title "France Pagan? in 1943. (I own a copy of the Sheed book. It certainly gives one perspective on our situation 70 years later.)

Abbe Grodin wrote eloquently about the profound de-Christianization of the working class in France in the late 30's and the Time article indicates not much has changed. Cardinal Suhard of Paris sat up all night reading it and decided to take action. And the result was the worker priest movement which was consciously competing with communist cells in the slums of Paris.

"Among French workers nowadays, according to a recent government survey, the percentage of practicing Catholics runs from 2% to 10% ; many millions can quite reasonably be called pagan."

Those kind of figures sure sound familiar. It was already commonplace in the 1860's for the working class, especially men, to no longer practice the faith. The French had been already been wrestling with this for a hundred years before the Second Vatican Council.

In fact, Pope Pius XI said this to Fr. Joseph Cardijin (the founder of the Young Christian Workers or JOC) when they met in 1925:

“The greatest scandal of the nineteenth century was the loss of the workers to the Church.”

Morning, Noon, and Night

I'm here. I'm just working morning, noon, and night on this course which starts a week from today. So blogging will happen but irregularly.

Like my sleep at present.

Friday, May 15, 2009

And Now the Award for the Film that Generated the Most Inspired Bad Reviews. And the Winner is . . .

Infinitely more entertaining than the actual film are the reviews of Angels and Demons.

To wit.

"At least the movie's good for about 30 minutes of unintentional laughter, which doesn't say much for the other 90+ minutes." - Jeffrey M. Anderson

"THE Da Vinci Code" movie was a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside a mullet. "Angels & Demons" is "Roman Holiday" on crank." So begins the New York Times review.

"For Angels & Demons, Hanks's character, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, has returned, but without the mullet, which in the interim evidently detached itself from his scalp, crawled off to some dark corner, and grew up to be Danny McBride. The movie never quite recovers from its loss." - Christopher Orr, New Republic.

"Every revelation in "Angels & Demons" has a "Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick" vibe. Whenever something bad is about to happen, Hans Zimmer's score flares up like a bad case of stigmata."- Stephanie Zakarek, Salon

Is there an Oscar category for film that generates the most inspired bad reviews?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Vocations Crisis

For the past two days, there has been a lot of discussion here and over at Mark Shea's about my post "Time to Get a Grip"

The post ended this way:

The fascinating thing about all this research is coming across public laments by Pope Pius XII about the “crisis of priestly vocations” in the 1950’s. And to find that seminarian numbers in France dropped 50% between 1905 and 1919. When Church and State were rigorously separated in 1905, seminarians lost some of their distinctive perks. The result: Lots of men chose to do other things.

There apparently have been numerous “vocation crisis” throughout the Church’s history – and the causes are many and none of them that I’ve encountered so far have been liturgical. It varies tremendously from culture to culture and era to era

Just now as I've been working my way through the papacy of Pope Pius XI and his vigorous support of the lay apostolate and Catholic Action, I came across a reference to the "Terrible Triangle". This phrase of the Pope's referred to three areas of terrible persecution in the 20's and 30's: Mexico, Spain, and Eastern Catholics in the old Soviet Union.

One result of the persecution that broke out in Mexico in 1917 and lasted until 1934, resulted in the closure of all Catholic churches for nearly three years, and led to a wide-spread civil war, was a catastrophic vocations crisis".

(The famous picture of the execution of Fr. Miquel Pro, SJ who was declared Blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1988.)

"Neither suffering nor serious illness, neither the exhausting ministerial activity, frequently carried out in difficult and dangerous circumstances, could stifle the radiating and contagious joy which he brought to his life for Christ and which nothing could take away. Indeed, the deepest root of self-sacrificing surrender for the lowly was his passionate love for Jesus Christ and his ardent desire to be conformed to him, even unto death." [6

Before the war, there were about 4,500 priests in Mexico (as a comparison, the US, a heavily Protestant country, had 6,000 priests in 1880). By 1934, there were only 334 priests left for a Catholic population of 15 million. The rest had been executed, exiled or immigrated. And something like 5% of the Mexican population had emigrated to the US.

No public Masses in the nation for nearly 3 years and 1 priest for every 45,000 Catholics.

That's what you call a crisis. And right next store.

As I said above:

"There apparently have been numerous “vocation crisis” throughout the Church’s history – and the causes are many and none of them that I’ve encountered so far have been liturgical. It varies tremendously from culture to culture and era to era.

FYI, there is a fascinating set of Wiki articles on the persecution of Catholics in the 20th century including a detailed series on Mexico, Germany, Spain, Eastern Europe, China, El Salvador and persecution in general.

It is Jesus You Seek

Bobby Vidal, our team leader in the LA area, sends this wonderful quote from JPII:

"It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choice that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society."

- Pope John Paul II, World Youth Day 2000 Prayer Vigil

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Drop By Our New Branch: Siena Institute Luxembourg

Now they tell me . . ..

"Since one year, the beauty & perfume Siena Institute has opened its doors in Mondorf-les-bains, Luxembourg.

This place is dedicated to perfumes, body care, relaxation, well-being and beauty, and combines modernity and zen spirit. And ou’re given a warm welcome."

I'm clearly working for the wrong bunch.

Catholic Action

Bet you wish that you got to spend Wednesday the way I did: reading a series of famous and obscure late 19th/early 20th century papal encyclicals. All in very small print and written as though paragraph spacing had not yet been invented.

I was trying to trace the slow and somewhat tortured progression of Social Catholicism to Catholic Democracy to Catholic Action to Vatican II!






You can say that again.

Barn-burners all. If any ID readers suffer from insomnia, just drop me a line and I can recommend the perfect encyclical for you.

And with sentiments that range from "the introduction of that most pernicious doctrine which would make of the laity the factor of progress in the Church" (Pius X)


"The time has come when the laity must take their place by the side of their consecrated leaders in the urgent task of bringing the teachings of Christ to those who know Him not. This is the most urgent task facing our laity and the form of Catholic Action closest to the Heart of Christ.

Catholic Action must be more than the simple banding together of the Catholic faithful. Its final end is to win back what has been lost and to make new conquests … to win back men to Christ and to the Church … We want Jesus to reign over the whole world … In your thoughts, your aspirations, your works, place the apostolate – the spread of the Kingdom of Christ – above everything else …

Thus prepared, trained and united, the members of Catholic Action will press forward as apostles into every field of society in all directions, wherever there are souls to conquer for Christ, wherever there is a center or meeting ground of individual or collective life, over which Christ Our Lord must reign …

Catholic Action is the hope of the Church in restoring the Reign of Christ in the world."
(Pius XII)

And my favorite:

"The world will either be saved by Catholic Action, well directed and intensely applied, or it will be lost by an atheistic, tyrannical and false bolshevism." – Pope Pius XI

All before 1959.

It is really interesting to be reading all pre-Vatican II documents, to see afresh the breadth of the experience and debate that set the stage for the conciliar debates.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Time to Get a Grip

Just to get people's dander up a bit, I'm going to post a comment I made over at Catholic Sensibility this past weekend. Which has turned into a bit of a rant.

The topic of conversation was one that has made it's way about the Catholic blogosphere a number of times in recent years, the "feminization" of the Church.

It is surprising, amusing, and very illuminating in the course of my research to stumble across Popes and other Catholic leaders in the 17th, 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries complaining about the same things we complain about: "feminization" of the Church or the crisis of priestly vocations; the utter corruption of the culture and of morals, the collapse of the faith in historically Christian Europe, crisis here, crisis there. Crisis, crisis everywhere.

All real and all before the Second Vatican Council was a twinkle in Pope John XXIII's eye.

Is the Pope a prisoner of the French and in exile from Rome? Oh, that's right. Pope Benedict is currently on a highly publicized visit to the Middle East right now and is meeting with Jewish and Muslim religious leaders at the highest levels. He will fly freely to and from Rome on the Vatican's own private jet accompanied by media from all over the world.

Are thousands of priests being executed or exiled? Is the Goddess of Reason being worshipped at Notre Dame? Are vast numbers of hungry children working 12 hour days in inhuman conditions for pennies? Are millions of Europeans dying in the most vicious of religious civil wars? And the galley slaves - how are they faring? Are the vast majority of people illiterate? Is institutionalized racism still the law of the land? Is revolution after revolution convulsing the west?

Yes, abortion was illegal then but many millions of abortions were procured anyway. Because many of the poor didn't bother to get married and the consequences of unwed pregnancy for a woman was unimaginably more severe than today. Think of Fantine, the most tragic character in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. For her crime of being seduced as a young woman and getting pregnant, she loses her minimal factory job and is reduced to selling her hair, her front teeth and finally herself, to try and support her baby and eventually dies of starvation anyway. No Nurturing Network to ensure that she can finish her college education or continue her career while having the baby.

Wait. That's right. Women like Fantine used to receive no education at all.

Life in the good old post-Tridentine, pre-Vatican II days when all the Masses was in Latin and everything was just fine. Compared to the unspeakable horror this weekend of the President speaking to thousands of highly educated and well heeled Notre Dame Catholics who are perfectly free to organize and mount their own well publicized alternate gathering in protest. With no negative consequences at all.

I'm not saying that we don't face real crisis today. We do. I'm not saying that Catholics didn't face real crisis in the past. They did.

What is laughable is our assumption that things used to be so much better in some golden era in the past. That the crisis we face are unprecedented and con only be explained by a spiritual calamity the like of which no generation before us has endured.

We are so pampered. We have got to get a grip. And a brief dip into real history away from hyperbole of St. Blog's is a salutary slap in the face.

Anyway, here's what I wrote over at Catholic Sensibility:

There was tremendous lamenting about the “feminization” of the Church in 19th century France – when all priests and seminarians wore cassocks and Masses were all Latin and all Tridentine all the time.

Part of it was the consequences of the Revolution. 10,000 French and Belgium priests were killed or forced into exile. Liberty, equality, fraternity was inextricably bound up with anti-Catholicism and anti-clericalism in most people’s minds.

The French working class male left the Church after the first French Revolution and never really came back. There was a lot of Catholic renewal and missionary energy – but mostly among the middle classes. And of course, the 19th century was the century of repeated revolution and counter-revolution (France went through 4 such cycles in 80 years) and the constant change in how the Church and State related.

Another factor was that, simultaneously, after 450 years of insisting that true women religious must be enclosed, the Pope issued a ruling in response to a request from the Archbishop of Munich in 1749 which meant that women religious could engage in what we now call “active” work.

This absolutely transformed religious life as women, after the revolution, established dozens of new “active” orders and for the first time in the Church’s history, women religious made up the majority. Catholics tend to think of this state of things as immemorial but it is actually less than 200 years old.

So you have the simultaneous emergence of a whole new, widely accepted role for women in leadership and a large proportion of the male population who associated freedom and dignity with anti-Catholicism and have left the Church as a result.

The two dynamics together resulted in a Church that must indeed have seemed more “feminine” than it had been in the past.

The fascinating thing about all this research is coming across public laments by Pope Pius XII about the “crisis of priestly vocations” in the 1950’s. And to find that seminarian numbers in France dropped 50% between 1905 and 1919. When Church and State were rigorously separated in 1905, seminarians lost some of their distinctive perks. The result: Lots of men chose to do other things.

There apparently have been numerous “vocation crisis” throughout the Church’s history – and the causes are many and none of them that I’ve encountered so far have been liturgical. It varies tremendously from culture to culture and era to era.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction . . .

This wonderful reflection by Archbishop Oscar Romero comes via American Papist:

"It helps now and then to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a small fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about: We plant the seeds that will one day grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it well. It may be incomplete but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own."

- Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero of El Salvador (1917-1980)

How true. How restful to work today in "branch" mode.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Charismatic Dimension

We're still alive and kicking. Fr. Mike is on retreat this week.

I'm working madly and discovering the limits of internet research and my own meagre library when what I need is access to a really, really big theological library and oh, about 6 months. Instead of 12 days. I know that I get a bit obsessed (Ok, Fr. Mike - more than a bit) when working on projects like this. Too much is never enough, you know.

I've been meditating on the whole "charismatic dimension" of the Church this past weekend as I prepare the course in the theology of the laity that I'll be teaching in a couple weeks.

When I talk about "charismatic dimension" I don't mean the formal charismatic renewal but the whole aspect of the Church's life that flows out of what the Holy Spirit can and will do through one person's "yes", the actual graces and charisms that God pours out on his people so that they can be instruments of his love and provision for the whole world.

As Pope John Paul II said in his address to the 1998 gathering of lay movements:

"Whenever the Spirit intervenes, he leaves people astonished. He brings about events of amazing newness; he radically changes persons and history. This was the unforgettable experience of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council during which, under the guidance of the same Spirit, the Church rediscovered the charismatic dimension as one of her constitutive elements: "It is not only through the sacraments and the ministrations of the Church that the Holy Spirit makes holy the people, leads them and enriches them with his virtues. Allotting his gifts according as he wills (cf. 1 Cor 12:11), he also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank.... He makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church" (Lumen gentium, n. 12).

The institutional and charismatic aspects are co-essential as it were to the Church's constitution. They contribute, although differently, to the life, renewal and sanctification of God's People. It is from this providential rediscovery of the Church's charismatic dimension that, before and after the Council, a remarkable pattern of growth has been established for ecclesial movements and new communities.

5. Today the Church rejoices at the renewed confirmation of the prophet Joel's words which we have just heard: "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh" (Acts 2:17). You, present here, are the tangible proof of this "outpouring" of the Spirit. Each movement is different from the others, but they are all united in the same communion and for the same mission. Some charisms given by the Spirit burst in like an impetuous wind, which seizes people and carries them to new ways of missionary commitment to the radical service of the Gospel, by ceaselessly proclaiming the truths of faith, accepting the living stream of tradition as a gift and instilling in each person an ardent desire for holiness.

Today, I would like to cry out to all of you gathered here in St. Peter's Square and to all Christians: Open yourselves docilely to the gifts of the Spirit! Accept gracefully and obediently the charisms which the Spirit never ceases to bestow on us! Do not forget that every charism is given for the common good, that is, for the benefit of the whole Church."

In every era, where there has been renewal or new vigor in the Church, the charismatic dimension is abundantly present. This aspect of God's working in and through the non-ordained, through quite ordinary Christian men and women who were not religious, was so visible to many in the early 20th century, that there was no real debate about whether nor not one of the schemas discussed during the Second Vatican Council should be about the laity. Even though no other council in history had ever addressed the topic.

There was no debate because the power and fruitfulness of groups like The Legion of Mary, the Catholic Worker, and Friendship House (Catherine Doherty's apostolate at the time), had been so obvious in the midst of the challenges of the 20th century and so well-known that it was clear to practically everyone that an ecumenical council could not be held without dealing with this issue.

There was intense controversy about many things at V2: religious liberty, freedom of conscience, the liturgy, the exact relationship of Scripture and Tradition, the role of bishops.

But not about the need for a Decree on the Laity.

That was why in 1965, when an British bishop introduced Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion of Mary and one of the lay auditors, 2,500 bishops at the Council rose and gave Duff a spontaneous standing ovation.

It is fascinating to read the actual debates on the Decree on the Laity. And to hear one bishop after bishop remark on how difficult it was to give a clear, positive definition of the laity. What could be said about the laity, escept that they are baptized Christians who are not ordained?

So used were theologians to thinking of the laity purely in contrast to the clergy. Defining them primarily as "not ordained."

It was the work of the Holy Spirit through lay Catholics across many years and in many cultures that convinced the Council Fathers that much, much more could be said - and needed to be said.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Trends in Global Christianity: part 2

Yesterday, I began a post about likely demographic changes in Christianity, according to an historian and religious studies professor, Philip Jenkins. Pope Benedict, XVI, in speaking about the nature of the Second Vatican Council, brought up the idea of continuity and discontinuity. The faith of the Church is continuous, but the cultures in which it lives are discontinuous, so the faith has to be expressed differently to different cultures, and differently within the same culture as it undergoes various discontinuities, such as revolutions (political, artistic, scientific or philosophical, for example).

Jenkins' article speaks to this concept, without mentioning it. He writes of a conversation he had with Archbishop Bernard Malango, head of the Anglican Church in Central Africa. The Archbishop commented that he has never presided at a funeral where there were less than twelve bodies. Jenkins writes,
When you consider the overwhelming nature of such poverty and the universal presence of such death, you have a better idea of what this means for the growth of Christianity. You can better understand the attraction of John 10:10, a verse that has been described as the life-verse of the African continent: 'I come so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.' In such a context, life does not refer merely to spiritual life; it means material life and material well-being. Otherwise, faith is empty. Healing and the welfare of body and mind go together. Otherwise, religion is false.
Trends in Global Christianity, P. Jenkins, in The New Evangelization: Overcoming the Obstacles, Boguslawski and Martin, eds., Paulist Press, 2008, p. 147
He goes on to describe how healing holds a primary place in the faith that is spreading throughout Africa. During a healing service in Uganda, which will likely be one of the most Christian nations by the middle of this century, a woman reported that she had been healed of a spinal ailment. When she said this, others in the congregation started to give testimony of how they had been healed by various ailments. In an attempt to end the service, a deacon listed various illnesses and asked for a show of hands of how many had been healed from them, and dozens of people raised their hands. And this during a healing service in a Catholic church. The miracles occurred during exposition of the Blessed Sacrament!

On a continent in which Christianity rubs shoulders with Islam and pagan, animist religions, the differences among Christians are not so important. Jenkins suggests,
Our Western labels do not apply to Christians in the Global South. If you ask a Nigerian member of the Anglican Church - an outrageously successful Church that counted 5 million members back in 1978, 18 million members today, and a projected 36 million members by 2025 - whether they are evangelical, Catholic or Charismatic, they will answer each question with an absolute and sincere "yes." ... What we call the Charismatic or Pentecostal style prevails in Churches across the board in these countries, including Catholic and Anglican Churches. ibid, p. 148.
In the poor, global south, where life expectancies are almost half what they are in Europe and the U.S., the message of Jesus has a different accent. For example, in Luke 4 Jesus announces, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord." Lk 4:18-19 We in the west often associate liberation with the advocates of liberation theology, and deliverance (from evil spirits) as something associated with Pentecostals - two groups from different ends of the political spectrum. But for people who are desperately poor, deliverance and liberation are the same thing.

Jenkins shares an amusing story,
Not long ago, a white, middle-class, Adventist pastor from the United States was visiting an Adventist congregation in South Africa...The church was surprised by his visit, but welcomed him with open arms. When word of his presence reached the pastor in charge of the congregation, the pastor made an announcement that, he assumed, would be received as an honor: "My friends, I have wonderful news for you. Pastor Smith has come to visit us all the way rom the United States. I will ask him to conduct tonight's exorcism." Picture the consternation that this announcement caused for the visiting pastor! How many seminaries here in the United States - or in the entire Western world for that matter - prepare its graduates to deal with issues concerning healing and spiritual warfare? However, in the Global South, if you do not have a healing ministry that occupies a prominent place in your congregation, people will leave your church and go to others where they will find a healing ministry. ibid p. 149
In our society, we have other medical options, and Jenkins is not suggesting we abandon them. However, I wonder if part of the reason we do not see much in the way of extraordinary healings is because, like in Nazareth, Jesus finds little faith in us?

Furthermore, despite the imminent release of a movie titled, "Angels and Demons," we have trivialized the former and denied the existence of the latter, for the most part - even though the New Testament is filled with references to healing, exorcism, angels and demons! We may demonize our political opponents, but we wouldn't think that they were actually being influenced by a demon. And if we did, we almost certainly wouldn't know how to discern if that were the case.

In this context, the Called & Gifted workshop has been a tremendous boon in my spiritual life. It has helped me recognize how God is still active in this world through his servants, and how the stories of the New Testament, particularly the stories of healings, exorcisms, and mass conversions in the Acts of the Apostles are not hyperbole, myth or wishful thinking, but - dare I say it - normative Christianity! The fact that we might look at the expression of Christianity, including Catholic Christianity, in Africa and find it "foreign," says a lot about us. And the fact that Africans and Latin Americans experience the power of the Holy Spirit at work in their communities may well lead them to look at our expression of faith as bland and sterile.

Jenkins ends his article with a serious challenge.
We need to take seriously the approaches that we encounter among our brothers and sisters from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, especially in terms of healing, spiritual warfare, and a literal definition of evil. We Euro-American Christians have to take stock of what we believe and see where it comes from. What is Christian and what is cultural and intrinsic to our Western culture? If, for example, you ask some of the pastors of these African churches where they derive their "strange and bizarre" ideas, they will simply smile at you and patiently explain that they are found in the Book of Acts, where they are quite commonplace. It is good to recall that Christianity reached Europe through St. Paul, who had a vision in a dream and whose concept of the Church was akin to that of these African pastors. ibid, pp. 151-152.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Trends in Global Christianity

On the plane trips home from Orlando, I finished the book, "The New Evangelization: Overcoming the Obstacles," edited by Fr. Steven Boguslawski, OP and Ralph Martin. One of the last essays was written by Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Penn State University. In it, Dr. Jenkins wrote of the sea change taking place in Christianity - including Catholicism - that Sherry has written about in other posts. Basically, the white, Eurocentric church will soon be a thing of the past.

Jenkins points out In the world today, there are around about 2.1 billion Christians distributed as follows:
531 million live in Europe
511 million live in Latin America
389 million live in Africa
226 million live in North America
By 2050, Christianity will be the religion of Africa and the African diaspora. By then, there will be about 3 billion Christians in the world. Of those, the proportion of those who will be white and who will not be Latino will be only somewhere between one-fifth and one-sixth of the total. Looking at projections for the year 2050 regarding the Christian population of the world, the United States will be at the head of the list of individual countries, followed by such countries as Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Nigeria, the Congo, Ethiopia, and China. However, many of the Christians in the United States at that time will be of Hispanic, Asian, or African origin. In fact, by the year 2050, one-third of all Americans will have Latino or Asian roots - roots that will be overwhelmingly Christian. This does not include those Americans of African origin, people who are either African Americans or of more recent African stock. In a sense, the notion of 'Western Christianity' that we still speak of today will be a memory of the past.
In the U.S. we have no real notion of how much Christianity has grown in Africa, even though African priests in our parishes are becoming more and more common. In 1900 Africa had 1.9 million Catholics, but by 2000, the number had grown to 130 million, a gross increase of 6,708%, and part of the largest shift in religious affiliation that has ever occurred. That figure is projected to grow to 230 million by 2025 (only sixteen years away - less than a generation), at which time African Catholics will represent one-sixth of all members of the Catholic Church worldwide. The Church is shifting to the south, and becoming browner. In fact, the projected change in Catholic population between now and 2050 looks like this
Africa 146% increase
Asia 63% increase
Latin America and the Caribbean 42% increase
North America 38% increase
Europe 6% decrease!

Jenkins points out we have to remember that the history of the spread of Christianity is not the story we usually think of: origins in Palestine, spread across the Mediterranean into Europe, then crossing the Atlantic to America. "By the time Christianity reached Anglo-Saxon England in the seventh century, there were Christians in Ethiopia who were in their tenth generation. Around the year 1000, there were considerably more Christians in Asia than in Europe."

And the expression of faith in the global south looks very different from most Westerner's. It looks more like the Acts of the Apostles, in fact. But that's worth it's own post, and I've run out of time... More later, so stay tuned!

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Counterpoint: Spring in Mordor

Sherry has a lovely garden.

Here's mine. Low maintenance. Can be ignored months on end. Perfect for Tucson.

To Be in France Now That the Wild Boar are Growling . . .

An Edwardian cottage garden in Melbourne, Austalia in a southern hemisphere spring (October).

Spring seems to transcend actual place.

I'm an Anglo-phile (Mark Shea has often called me a butter-cup twirling English Romantic and the gardens of England are magnificent at this time of year) but I've found a new love through the internet: France.

Even though I've never been there.

A lyrical article in the Telegraph's online newspaper for British expat's describes the annual spring hunt dinner of boar and wine. And his resident peacocks, pigeon sqaubs, and rabbits. And goose egg breakfasts.

"The early blossom on the plum, apricot and peach trees is out. Our woods are carpeted with blue periwinkle, white anemones and deep red fritillaries; it's a magical time, with skeins of cranes migrating eastwards, wild orchids appearing and the first nightingale singing.
Our birds and livestock also recognise that spring has finally arrived. Figaro our male peacock is leading his three wifelets around the house, the first two white fantail pigeon squabs of the year are out of the dovecote, our two rabbit does have produced offspring and the pair of white Silkie Bantams (acquired in exchange for a duck and rabbit from our freezer) have begun to lay.

Even with a reduced pension due to the fall in sterling, the pleasures of rural France are infinite."

The pleasures of my spring are much more home-spun. First light on snow-covered Pike's Peak, daffodils, freshly opened tulips. The grass nearly fully green. The joy of planting long-blooming perennials: sweet pea, Shasta daisies, soapwort, Indian blanket flowers. Little work. Years of pleasure.

No boar. But a red fox ran through the back year this morning under the serene gaze of my two new cats safely perched on the window sill: Cosmos & Damien, twin three year old brothers. The spirit and memory of Pippin is still present. In fact, I keep referring to C & D as "she" and calling them "Pippin".

Add a bottle of French wine and on an early May morning, you can squint and just glimpse rural France. Alpine rural France.

Now to find that hunt club.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The New Forms Which Old Christian Truths Create

I'm going short on blogging because I'm in the last throes of preparing that graduate class in the theology of the laity that will be starting the day after Memorial Day. What is crystal clear is how profoundly joined the development of the Church's social teaching and her growing understanding of the role of the laity is.

But here's a great quote from Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler, theologian, politician, Bishop of Mainz and pioneer in the area of the Church's social teaching. (In the mid 19th century in Germany, it was not considered inappropriate for a bishop to also serve as a government official - the Church's restriction against that is very recent.)

Ketteler was a hugely influential figure in the development of what is called "social Catholicism" - the 19th century European movement that sought to reach out to the new poor created by the industrial revolution who were often also de-Christianized. (The steady de-Christianization of Europe has been a problem for over 200 years. It didn't start with Vatican II.) Social Catholicism eventually gave birth to the Church's formal social teaching and included such figures as Blessed Frederic Ozanam, founder of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Kettler basically dusted off St. Thomas Aquinas' sociology and first went public with his ideas in two homilies that he gave during Advent, 1848. Here's the quote I really appreciate:

"I am heart and soul attached to the new forms which in days to come the old Christian truths will create for all human relations."

Sounds a lot like Pope Benedict's hermeneutic of reform.

Called & Gifted workshops This Weekend

I'm falling down on the job of reminding readers about our upcoming events:

This weekend, we have four workshops going on:

Called & Gifteds in Corpus Christi, TX (English)
Dodge City, KS (English and Spanish)
Oakland, CA (English)

The Oakland event is a three morning version of the workshop. If interested, you need to register by May 7.

Both Kansas City workshop are one day events.

Join the 120 excited participants who wen through in Anchorage last weekend. Begin discerning your clues to God's call now.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The BIG picture

Dinesh D'Souza has an interesting article (to me, at least) in the e-mail newsletter of Christianity Today titled, "Why We Need Earthquakes." It might also be titled, "Why God allows natural evil." This is a question that has bedeviled many, many Christian minds, and contemporary science, especially geophysics, my old stomping ground, has something to contribute.

People over the centuries have struggled with why, if God is loving and omnipotent, does He allow evil. Moral evil is a bit easier to deal with, since human freedom is its source. Natural evil, like earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and the like, are a bit harder to explain, since they so often cause innocent human suffering on a large scale. While some Christian apologists propose that such disasters turn our eyes to God, or give us opportunities to show one another charity, such claims, while true, are not entirely satisfactory. Couldn't God give us less dramatic and devastating opportunities?

D'Souza mentions "Rare Earth," a book published in 2003 and authored by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee, a paleontologist and astronomer at the University of Washington, Seattle, who examine some of the many conditions required for life to exist on any planet. Earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, and a whole host of geologically-based catastrophes are all a consequence of plate tectonics, a well-established, though recent, scientific description of relative motion between huge jigsaw-like pieces of the earth's crust. The authors acknowledge W
hile natural disasters occasionally wreak havoc, our planet needs plate tectonics to produce the biodiversity that enables complex life to flourish on earth. Without plate tectonics, earth's land would be submerged to a depth of several thousand feet. Fish might survive in such an environment, but not humans.
Plate tectonics also help regulate the earth's climate, preventing the onset of scorching or freezing temperatures that would make mammalian life impossible. In sum, plate tectonics are a necessary prerequisite to human survival on the only planet known to sustain life.
Some might complain that a loving, omnipotent God could create a world that didn't require processes that cost so much human life. Ward and Brownlee's response to such an argument would be simple and direct:
Such a world could have produced life, but it surely could not have produced creatures like us. Science tells us that our world has all the necessary conditions for species like Homo sapiens to survive and endure.
Our planet requires oxygen and a warming sun and water in order for us to live here, and we appreciate this, even though we recognize that people can get sunstroke and drown in the ocean. So, too, it seems that plate tectonics are...a 'central requirement for life' as we know it.
This would be good to remember, the next time a natural disaster takes human life. It is a price we pay for the possibility of a planet that can sustain human life.

And a good opportunity to love our neighbor, as well.

Swine Flu & the Mass

Just back from Anchorage.

And thought I would ask:

Anyone here hear an announcement at Mass regarding swine flu?

In Anchorage, letter from the Archbishop was read, asking that we not shake hands at the Passing of the Peace or hold hands during the "Our Father". Offering communion only in the form of bread was made optional (the parish I was at did offer the cup).

I understand that something similar was announced in the diocese of Colorado Springs as well.

What is happening regarding swine flu in your diocese or parish?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Rare Sight

I am at a gathering of the Provincial Councils of the U.S. Dominican Provinces in Orlando, FL. The Master of the Order, Fr. Carlos Aspiroz Costa, OP, and his Socius to the American Provinces, Fr. Ed Ruane, OP were also here to respond to some questions regarding the whole Order and the place of the American Provinces in it, along with other topics.
I was out for a walk and snapped a picture of a rare sight, the Pasty-Faced Intellectual. Something rarely seen in the wild, given that their normal habitat is the dark enclosures of the library, the chapel. They nest in pulpits and cloisters, but with frequent forays into the arts, sciences, and philosophy. In fact, they can be found at home in virtually any habitat.