Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Looking for God II: Catholics Who Leave and Why

Here's a really interesting side aspect to the newest Pew findings that I didn't blog in the last post for lack of time:

Catholics who become Protestant and those who become "unaffiliated" do so for very different reasons. Which means we can't deal with them as though they were a single group with a single motivation. And they leave Catholicism for one set of reasons and chose to enter their new "religious affiliation" for a related but different set of reasons. (Pew asked both why they left and why they eventually chose the religion they chose.)

To repeat a couple of relevant points from the earlier post, two thirds of American Catholics who do become Protestant, become evangelicals. The majority of those who do become Protestant don't simply leap directly and firmly from the Catholic Church into their local mega non-denom or Presbyterian church. There tends to be a time lag between leaving Catholicism and entering Protestantism and the majority make the journey in a series of two or more steps.

And, of course, some former Catholics will come back. But we don't know how many or why. (The 9% figure for reversion in the post below was for all Americans who have left all religious affiliations and then returned, including the "affiliation" of having been raised "nothing". Some people leave "nothing", choose a faith, and then return to "nothing" at some point.) There is no way to know if 9% of Catholics who leave will come back, if the percentage of Catholic returnees is larger or smaller than the national average, nor do we know the primary reasons why former Catholics choose to return.)

What motivates Catholics who leave and eventually enter a Protestant body?

(For the figures below, Pew asked "yes-no" questions and individuals could choose multiple reasons - as many as had been true for him or her). Here were the most important reasons

raised RC, become Protestant

71%: Spiritual needs weren't met
70%: Found a religion they liked more
43% Unhappy with Church teaching regarding Bible
32$ Dissatisfied with worship experience
29% Married someone of different faith
27% Unhappy w clergy sex scandal

The positive reasons why these former Catholics chose to affiliate with a particular Protestant group or congregation?

81% Enjoyed religious services/style of worship
62% Felt called by God
30% Attracted by specific minister or pastor
28% Married someone of new religion
19% Moved to a new place

It is putting the two together that suggests a pattern.

1) for those who become Protestant, there seems to be some sense of personal spiritual investment and search ("spiritual needs weren't met") and of a personal connection with God ( 61% "felt called by God") . People who don't experience some kind of personal connection to God are unlikely to say that they "felt called by God" to do something.

This is especially striking when we remember that the Pew Religious Landscape Survey of 2008 found that huge numbers of Americans believe in an impersonal God. 29% of self-identified, affiliated Catholics told the Pew researchers that they believed in an "impersonal" God. Only 48% of US Catholics are certain that one can have a personal relationship with God

It is possible, of course, that for some, the language of "God called me" is a reinterpretation of their Catholic past in light of their largely evangelical present. But nevertheless, it is very different language from that used by Catholics who became "unaffiliated" (as we'll see in a moment).

2) Catholics who become Protestant do so because they found a religious alternative that they "liked more" or so 70% of those surveyed told the Pew people. This is a staggeringly different response from that Catholics who become "unaffiliated". Only 10% of Catholics who abandon all religious affiliation said they "found a religion they liked more". For Catholic who become unaffiliated, it is much more about rejection of Catholic beliefs than an inherent attraction to being unconnected to a religious community.

The strongest positive number is the 81% of former Catholics who said they joined their present Protestant church because they enjoyed "the religious services/style of worship". 32% told the Pew researchers that among the reasons they left was the fact that they were "dissatisfied with atmosphere of worship services." (We don't know exactly what they did not like about their experience of Mass and what they like about the services they now attend. It doesn't not help understand their motivations - which is the point of this exercise - to simply project our current concerns and disputes about the liturgy on them.)

Catholics who become Protestant seem to be motivated by a combination of personal spiritual dissatisfaction and having found a religious alternate that they like better. Especially having found a kind of religious service they really like.

Catholics who abandon religious affiliation altogether are another kettle of fish. Here are their numbers:

Why did you leave?

71% Just gradually drifted away
65% Do not believe teachings
56% Unhappy with teachings on Abortion/homosexuality
48% Unhappy with teachings on Birth control
33% Unhappy with teachings on Divorce/Remarriage
27% Clergy sexual abuse scandal
24% Unhappy priests cannot marry

Why did you choose to be "unaffiliated"?

42% Do not believe in God/most religious teachings
33% Not found the right religion

As the Pew people noted, Catholics who leave for "nothing" are much more motivated by a long list of Church teachings which they do not believe. But the most important reason is "drift". They just don't seem to care as much or be as invested in faith issues altogether as their fellow Catholics who left to become Protestant.

Notice however, that 33% are still open to the possibility of finding "the right religion".

There's a lot more on this critical topic in the Pew survey but I must push off and do some errands. In the meantime, check out Pew's nifty summary of their findings here.

Your thoughts?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Looking for God

Welcome Whispers readers. I'm delighted that the good news about Atlanta is getting out!

As I've been doing last minute preparation for our upcoming Making Disciples seminar here in beautiful Colorado Springs, I've been crunching the numbers of the new Pew study: Faith in Flux which came out in May.
The results have been fascinating and encouraging. If we have a mission rather than maintenance mindset.

The long and short of it is that huge numbers of Americans, perhaps 20 - 25% of the adult population, are in a state of conscious or unconscious spiritual transition and openness. They are spiritual seekers now or will be in the near future.

The downside: relying almost entirely upon the religious identity established by childhood catechesis doesn't work when the prevailing cultural winds are driving those raised in any kind of faith at all - or no faith - to re-evaluate their religious commitments during young adulthood. We live in a spiritual culture that rewards those who actively evangelize and penalizes those who assume that religious identity is steady state and that childhood enculturation is enough.

I need to make it clear that the criteria for the Pew study is not practice or sacramental status or whether or not one is formally listed as a member of the religious congregation - but how those answering regard themselves. When a person is considered "unaffiliated" in the Pew studies, it means that they no longer regard themselves as part of any organized religious body.

The basics:

1) 10.1% of American adults are former Catholics. 2.6% of Americans are "converts" to Catholicism. Nearly four times as many leave the Church as enter it.

2) 32% of those raised Catholic no longer regard themselves as Catholic. (Remember this is not about how many are baptized or attend Mass but how many regard themselves as Catholic).

3) The vast majority of Catholics who leave the faith do one of two things: become Protestant or "unaffiliated."
15% of cradle Catholics have become Protestant. Two thirds of those who become Protestant become evangelicals. 3% of cradle Catholics join a non- Christian faith. 14% of cradle Catholics become "unaffiliated".

4) The 2008 US Religious Landscape Survey probably under-estimated the amount and frequency of religious change among American adults. They had given a figure of 44% of US adults who were no longer part of the faith in which they were raised. For Faith in Flux, the Pew researchers recontacted many of the people they had interviewed originally to find out more about this remarkable pattern of religious change.

As a result, they realized that about 9% of American adults have left the faith of their childhood and then returned to it at some point. That means that approximately 53% of American adults have changed their religious affiliation at least once. Even when taking the margin of error into account, "as few as 47% and as many as 59% of U.S. adults have changed religious affiliation at least once." (Faith in Flux)

5) Many Americans change faith more than once. In fact, the majority of people who change their faith do so in a series of steps, not through a single decision. They are on a journey.

For instance, 62% of cradle Catholics wno now consider themselves "unaffiliated" have made two or more religious changes. 26% have changed religions three or more times.

54% of former Catholics who are now Protestants have changed religion two or more times. 21% have changed faiths three or more times.

And 53% of those who were raised in no faith at all but have chosen one as an adult have also changed religious affiliation two or more times. 21% of what might be called cradle "unaffiliated" have also changed religions three or more times.

6) Religious change begins early. 79% of those cradle Catholics who now consider themselves "unaffiliated" left the Church by age 23. 97% have done so by age 35. However, things are a bit different for Catholics who become Protestant. The majority also leave early although not in the same numbers (66% of Catholics who will eventually become Protestant leave by age 23).

But there is a fascinating gap between the time many Catholics leave the Church and the time they actually become Protestant. While 66% have left the Church by age 23, only 39% have become Protestant by age 23. 41% have converted to Protestantism by age 35. Another 20% do so after age 35.

7) There is a very large population of what can be called "hidden seekers", people on a spiritual journey who make life-changing transitions that fly under our normal ecclesial radar. This would include:

a. The majority of Americans raised without any faith at all will choose a faith as an adult. Cradle "unaffiliated" Americans who choose a religion as an adult make up 4% of our total population.

b. One third of those who have left a childhood faith are, in fact, open to joining another faith. They told Pew researchers that “they have not found the right religion yet.” This group would include 17.66% of American adults.

c) 71% of Catholics who leave and eventually become Protestant said they left because their spiritual needs weren't being met. During the gap between the time they leave and the time they commit to a Protestant faith, many are searching and spiritually open.

d) The Pew Faith in Flux study found that most people who are about to leave their childhood faith do not have a strong faith for one or two years before they actually leave. As Fr. Mike pointed out to me, that means that there is a host of vaguely dissatisfied Catholics and other religiously affiliated people who have not yet left the faith of their childhood but are ripe for evangelization. If we evangelize those still in the pews how, many of them will not became a statistic.

The upshot? Millions and millions of Americans are open to spiritual change right now. And million more will become so during the next year. Consciously or unconsciously, they are looking for good news. They are looking for God.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Comrades Stumbling Along

Bobby Vidal, our team leader in LA, sent me a notice about a new book coming out about the friendship between Dorothy Day and Catherine Doherty: Comrades Stumbling Along: The Friendship of Catherine de Hueck Doherty and Dorothy Day as Revealed Through Their Letters

What a perfect title. Comrades Stumbling Along. Bobby knows that I'm a huge fan of both women, pioneers and giants of the lay apostolate in the 20th century. I tell Dorothy & Catherine stories at every Called & Gifted I teach.

Americans tend to be much more familiar with Dorothy Day. Catherine and her husband Eddie, founded Madonna House as part of what was then known as "Catholic Action" in 1947. Here's a brief history of Catherine's ministry and Madonna House.

Although Catherine Doherty was very active in New York in the 40's, she was a Russian émigré and Canadian citizen, and is much better known up north. In the US, I have resorted to calling her "the Dorothy Day of Canada" to get the point across quickly. (Please gentle Canadian readers, it was a strategy of last resort. Her story is so rich and fascinating, you can't do it justice in a few minutes and that's all I have to work with most of the time. If you feel like throwing things at me, please throw money. The Institute could always use the help.)

Catherine had more lives than a cat. She nearly died in the Russian revolution before escaping to a new life of grueling poverty in Canada, survived a horrific and abusive first marriage, was a witness to the horrors of the Spanish civil war and was in Warsaw when the Nazis marched in. She was raised Russian Orthodox, became Catholic as a young woman, and spent much of her life fostering relationships between western and eastern Christianity.

Catherine was a fearless pioneer of racial justice in Harlem in the 1940's. (A telling story: in the 40's a white Catholic group in Georgia rose up, beat Catherine, and tore her clothing to shreds after one of her presentations on racial justice. She was rescued by the black janitor.) She was a mystic, a big woman with a big personality and evoked very strong reactions - positive and negative in other people. Both she and Dorothy, although completely orthodox and faithful, were so far out on the left hand edge of the Catholic world before the Second Vatican Council, that you could barely see them.

Although they were profoundly different in personality, Catherine and Dorothy Day were friends and comrades and especially close during the 1940's when their respective apostolates were only 5 miles apart in New York City. As Catherine put it later:

"When I moved to Harlem, Dorothy Day and I became even closer. There were only about five miles between her house and my Harlem house. So occasionally when we both had enough money, let’s say about a dollar, we would go to Child’s where you could get three coffee refills (for the price of one cup), and we used to enjoy each cup and just talk.

Talk about God. Talk about the apostolate. Talk about all the things that were dear to our hearts.

"But we were both very lonely because, believe it or not, there were just the two of us in all of Canada and America, and we did feel lonely and no question about it.

"Periodically we would have a good cry in our coffee cups. We really cried, I mean honest, big tears. We would sit there, and the waitress would look at us. Dorothy and I would hold hands, and we would cry. We had had it! But we would always rally. And I think rallying is a sign of perseverance."
- (Restoration, February 1981)

Last weekend in Kansas City, Matt Karr, who is responsible for evangelization and catechesis in the Archdiocese, made an important observation. He said that our failure to evangelize our own and to foster true Christian community - a community centered around the following of Christ - are Catholicism's two biggest pastoral gaps. I think Matt hit the nail on the head and the story of Day and Doherty illustrates the power of discipleship to transcend the natural basis for friendship.

As Fr. Bob Wild of Madonna House (author and editor of Comrades Stumbling Along) described the relationship of Dorothy Day and Catherine Doherty:

Dorothy Day titled her autobiography The Long Loneliness, and at the heart of Catherine’s spirituality was her desire to assuage the loneliness of Christ. I think one of their strong bonds was their loneliness, caused by their being pioneers in an area of Catholic life that was little understood or appreciated, even in the Church.

They met in the loneliness of Christ.


As I (Fr. Wild) delve more deeply into their relationship, it strikes me that if Catherine and Dorothy hadn’t been so united in Christ in the lay apostolate and in zeal for the kingdom of God, most probably their differences of character and approach to life would not have drawn them together in any kind of friendship.

Their friendship is a profound example of how Christ can draw and bind together people of very diverse temperaments and backgrounds, and unite them by the power of his Holy Spirit.

In one undated letter Dorothy wrote to Catherine, "It is good to urge each other on to virtue, but remember, we are comrades stumbling along, not saints drifting along in ecstasies."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hot Spots

Enough butter cup twirling already . . . (Mark Shea has accused me on more than one occasion of being a classic English romantic.)

I was meditating during my most recent trip on the various Catholic "hot spots" that I have become aware of around the country over the years. We have worked in 40% of US dioceses now and there are great things happening all over the country. But some areas seemed to have developed a cluster of initiatives that are working synergistically together to transform the general spiritual atmosphere of the place.

One of the healthiest dioceses I've ever worked in where the diocesan staff are openly disciples (yes, I am implying that this is not always the case.). Orthodox, wonderfully creative and not driven by fear. This may be one consequence of living in the Bible belt where it is normal for Christian faith to manifest in public and where Catholics don't feel as besieged by the culture. The renewal in Atlanta started about 15 years ago and one of the major catalysts seems to have been Eucharistic Adoration.

Update: Here's something I wrote in 2003 on Mark's blog when I was fresh from working in Atlanta:

"I just returned from 10 days in Atlanta and want to spread the good news. Of the 51 dioceses that I have worked in so far, Atlanta has to be the healthiest. A spiritual renewal has transformed the dioceses over the past 10 years but it has yet to attract national attention. Archbishop Donoghue, who is, I was told, very low key, has been effectively re-shaping the diocese with the collaboration of some high-powered clergy and laity without any of the public outcry and fireworks that we have to come to expect. Episcopal leadership, it seems, doesn't have to be in your face like Bruskewitz or as high profile as Chaput to be effective.

The Archbishop's first move was to establish Perpetual Adoration in the cathedral which has spread to 8 or 9 other parishes while Adoration on a more limited scale is now held in over 40 other parishes. An annual Eucharistic congress was begun on the Feast of Corpus Christi which attracted 20,000 Catholics last year and filled the Convention Center. I understand that they have invited Cardinal Ratzinger to speak at the next Congress. Religious orders who refused to teach with the Church have been removed from the diocese without any fanfare. Pastors who resisted were quietly exiled to small rural parishes or sent away to study for a very long time.

Atlanta has 48 major and minor seminarians and a large and very active Serra Club. The pastors I met are both orthodox and pastorally effective. (Archbishop Timothy Dolan was leading a priests retreat for the diocese while I was there, so priests were scarce.) The lay movements such as Regnum Christi and the charismatic renewal are very active. Parishes are huge and full of life. Local Catholics would enthusiastically recommend 3 or 4 dynamic local parishes in the same breath - something that I have never encountered before in any diocese. They aren't traditionalists - I didn't encounter any complaints about the liturgy or significant hankering for the Latin liturgy although some Latin was incorporated into the liturgy in simple, unostentatious ways. They are just reverent, whole-hearted, Novus Ordo-JPII Catholics.

The lay staff that I got to know at both the parish and diocesan level were most impressive. They are orthodox, smart, high-powered, and well-formed. They love their archbishop, were thrilled about the renewal of the diocese, and have played a major role in fostering that renewal with the support of the archbishop. For instance, there are three full-time lay staff at the cathedral dedicated entirely to adult evangelization and formation - a first in my experience! This team knows their stuff and is both pro-active and creative. One example: They refused to do Renew or Alpha because of legitimate concerns over content but have created and are currently piloting an alternate, fully Catholic Alpha-style outreach to the unchurched. For all the leaders I met, Jesus Christ is the center.

If you visit Atlanta with visions of Scarlett O'Hara and the ante-bellum South in your head, forget it. Atlanta is swarming with transplants from the northeast (I only met one native-born Georgian while I was there)who talk like they are from New Jersey and drive like bats out of hell and Sherman eliminated most of the plantations. But if you'd like to see what authentic Catholic renewal looks like at the parish and diocesan level, make a pilgrimage to northern Georgia. The South is rising again!"

Detroit/Ann Arbor area:
While the city of Detroit is practically a third world city, southern Michigan is humming with serious, creative Catholics. The starting point here seems to have been the enormous charismatic covenant communities that began in the late 60's. Despite a well publicized break-up in the 80's, many former members of the communities still live in the area. Ave Maria radio, Renewal Ministries, Domino's Pizza, and Sacred Heart seminary are among the premier Catholic Institutions in the area. To give you an idea, one local Ann Arbor parish I visited has two houses of vocational discernment (one for men, one for women) - and it isn't the Newman center.)

Corpus Christi, Texas:
I've written about CC at glowing length here. Here the renewal began about 8 - 9 years ago with the emergence of a series of gifted evangelizers who have been given support and the freedom to be creative by their bishop. Several of the approaches that have had a huge impact are home-grown. This is a heavily Hispanic city but in a very bi-cultural way since many citizens are 3rd and 4th generation Latin immigrants so the divide between Anglos and Spanish speakers is greatly softened. Charismatically flavored evangelizing processes from Puerto Rico and Mexico are part of the mix.

Boise, Idaho:
Renewal began in Boise about 14 years ago when a particular evangelization process (called "the Evangelization Retreat") reached a couple major parishes in the city from a parish in California. Two years later, one of the parishes, Sacred Heart, came looking for help with discernment as the first question that newly awakened Catholics started to ask was "What does God want of me?" So the Called & Gifted process has played a significant role in Boise.

Denver area:
Here the catalyst was the 1993 World Youth Day. In the years since, Archbishop Chaput has invited a number of lay movements and other leaders to the city which has built upon the foundation laid 16 years previously.

(One of the things that I am just beginning to grasp is just how much of a Christian hot spot the Colorado Front Range area is. It isn't just Colorado Springs but the Denver area and the foothills and eastern side of the mountains are also brimming with fascinating Christian initiatives.

For those interested in some serious number crunching on why Catholics leave in the first place and some fascinating insights into the millions of "hidden" spiritual seekers in America, read Looking for God.

Any other areas in the US or elsewhere that you would consider to be a Catholic "hotspot"?

Morning in the Garden

Catmint overhanging the wall

The fruit of last year's mega-planting: California Poppies on the left won't open up till the sun hits them.

Blue Columbine - the state flower

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What does it take....

...to apply for a passport for a 2-week-old baby? After you have the birth certificate and social security number in hand, that is?

First, you need two 2x2 regulation passport pictures of baby. This takes:

Three trips to the local big-box store:

  1. One to try (and fail) to get a passport photo taken there; sorry, with babies you're better off with a white sheet and a digital camera at home....

  2. [Go home, take at least 50 different pictures, trying to get baby to open eyes, look straight ahead, and keep hands down. Eventually swaddle baby in blanket to keep hands out of picture. THINK you've finally got one that will work....]

  3. One to try getting a regulation 2"x2", white background, eyes open, looking into camera, both ears showing, one inch from chin to top of head, centered print from one of the several candidates you THOUGHT would work but turn out to be too large for the ID-picture-printing software at the photo kiosk to handle....

  4. [Go home again, feed everybody lunch, get the camera out again, take yet more pictures, this time from a few inches farther away. One hand holds camera, other hand tries to hold baby's head straight from behind. Who knew photography and contortionism had so much in common? Take many more pictures. Review them; AHA! This one ought to work!]

  5. One more to print out the one that finally worked - even though a bit of Mom's hand is visible, it passes muster:

Now, fill out the required forms, bring along baby's birth certificate, Mom, Dad, both their drivers' licenses, and baby to the local title office (which doubles as a passport office), sign the form in the presence of the requisite official, write sufficiently large check for expedited processing, get everything sealed into an overnight mail envelope....

Drive to post office, get requisite postage on overnight mail envelope, and entrust it to the postal service, which promises it will be delivered by noon tomorrow....

Now, wait to find out what "expedited processing" really means.

Didn't get much else done today, but at least I finished the one thing I really needed to get done. Thanks be to God for that, and for Grandma and Grandpa who made it possible to make trips 1, 2, and 3!

Monday, June 22, 2009


A telling anecdote from last weekend:

One of the attendees - a serious Catholic with a sophisticated knowledge of and devotion to the Church's social teaching - told me of having a passionate young evangelical over to dinner a couple weeks earlier.

This evangelical was leading an intentional Christian community in the city and was intensely interested in Catholic teaching and spiritual practices. He was reading Thomas Aquinas, very knowledgeable about the Church's social teaching, etc.

As the evangelical man told his new-found Catholic friend: "You are the first Catholic I've ever met who actually believes what the Church teaches."


Jury Duty

I've got jury duty today. Hopefully it will be one day only and I'll be blogging tomorrow.

Was excused and home again. So blogging will begin shortly - after I get the groceries put away.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sumer is Incumen In

Home again. On the first day of summer after weeks of rain. Which means the wildflowers are everywhere. Even the wild area of the little park behind our house is full of finds. (click on the pictures to enlarge)

Hiding in a sea of grass whose wonderful tassels blow perpetually

brilliant blue spiderwort is everywhere - one of my favorites

One of the joys of spring round here (and here in the Rockies, June is still spring as far as wildflowers are concerned) - Indian paintbrush

I have never seen so many prickly pear cactus in bloom. Does this mean we will also get real prickly pears?

The beautiful if very poisonous Colorado locoweed

Sunny wild daisies

And when you raise your head, this view of the Garden of the Gods (the red stone ridges) below Pike's Peak. The view of the Peak changes constantly as you move about town but this view from our park gives a very clear sense of how far Pike's Peak towers above our most famous city park.

By the way, the Garden of the Gods is enormous. 15 miles of trails. Those ridges are at least 100 feet high - very impressive when you are standing beside them looming up against the brilliant blue Colorado sky. Climbers repel up and down them. Best climbing rocks in the city.

A reader asked "how high are those mountains? Hmmm - let me do the math. The Garden of the Gods is higher than the city and lower than our house. So that might put it about 6,300 feet high.

While Pike's Peak tops out at 14,110 feet so that would mean that the mountain is 7,800 feet higher than the park below.

Just for fun: a conversation I overheard two weeks ago early Sunday morning in the Garden of the Gods:

Visiting friend" "When you said 'we're to going to a park" I was expecting a swing set, a couple of slides" . . .

Puzzled local: "But this is Colorado . . ."

So how can you help but sing?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Sketch of the Basic Gospel

A few weeks ago, I asked readers to give some ideas as to what they thought the fundamental Gospel message was. I received some very thoughtful - and helpful - answers. Here's the outline I've come up with, after reading a variety of sources, most especially the scriptures. One of the surprising things I discovered is that God's love isn't mentioned. Of course, the whole life, death and resurrection of Jesus reveals God's love, but it isn't specifically mentioned in the preaching of the apostles to non-Christians (i.e., Jews and pagans). This surprised me, because while Jews might have presumed God's love for them, the Chosen People, pagans would not have expected God (or the gods) to love them. Far from it! Their sacrifices were often meant to appease gods who were as volatile and unpredictable as their worshippers.

So, without further ado, here's the summary

1. All have sinned →
2. God sent his Son who assumed our humanity/remains God →
3. Jesus reveals the Father →
4. We rejected Him →
5. Jesus embraced cross in obedience for our salvation →
6. Jesus’ death = redemption (payment of debt) →
7. Jesus reconciles us to the Father →
8. Jesus is raised from the dead by the Father →
9. Jesus restored to us what was lost / merited a new life for us →
10. Jesus ascended to the Father and together they sent their Holy Spirit →
11. Jesus will return again in judgment →
12. new life may be accessed through faith in Jesus Christ, repentance of sin and Baptism into Christ’s life.

I have to board a plane. I'll try to give some of the scripture references later, as I have opportunities.

Of course, the question remains for us: how do we proclaim this in a way that will be compelling for our wealthy, postmodern American society. It was hard for St. Paul, too. "Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation (kerygma), to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…" 1 Cor 1:21-23

Not to mention the fact that St. Paul claimed that his preaching was accompanied by obvious manifestations of God's power that probably got the attention of his listeners... "My speech and my proclamation (kerygma) were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God." 1 Cor 2:in 4-5

Where is the power of God displayed in our lives? Certainly through the charisms, but many of these have subtle, not miraculous, compared to the pretty amazing cures that seemed to accompany - or precede the preaching of the apostles.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

This Weekend

Fr. Mike and I are off to Kansas City, KS early tomorrow morning - to offer part two of an experimental version of Making Disciples. Then i get to return home while he journeys on to North Dakota to offer a mission to some of the Sisters of Mary of the Presentation who had him as a student in elementary school.

Local boy makes very good.

(It can be humiliating to work so closely with someone who has always done the right thing. Can the man be human? Someone who is always tidy and presentable, who is genuinely good and funny and bright and athletic and kind and infinitely likable. The kind of child whom teachers remember and think of warmly for decades. The sort that we lesser mortals gaze upon with awe but can't resent because he is just so gosh-darn likable.

As Fr. Benedict Groeschel once observed when Mother Teresa fell asleep during one of his homilies, "it was humiliating alright, but probably not humbling." Alas. So true.)

This weekend, Mark Cesnik of Tucson (Thanks Anna!) who is one of our many great teachers, will be training a group of parishioners in the Memphis area to facilitate the discernment of others.

I'll be back late Saturday night and look forward to more consistent blogging as my schedule is due to slow down!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Sydney SCENE

Sydney is preparing to celebrate the one year anniversary of World Youth Day by holding SCENE (Sydney Congress Embracing the New Evangelization) July 19 - 26, 2009.

SCENE is modeled on the International Congresses of the New Evangelisation which have been held in European cities in recent years, Vienna (2003), Paris (2004), Lisbon (2005), Brussels (2006) and Budapest (2007). These were organised by the local Church in collaboration with international communities and speakers.

The international speakers have a definitely American flavor: For instance, The Fransican Friars of the Renewal are bringing the Catholic Underground to Sydney.

It looks like an exciting effort and definitely worth attending if you are going to be in Sydney that week.

Fugitive Safe Surrender

Last week, 1,281 Fugitives turned themselves into to local law enforcement at a local black church in Harrisburg. And then almost all of them went home. Safe. It was the 14th city since 2005 for a very innovative program: Fugitive Safe Surrender.

Fugitive Safe Surrender is the brainchild of a Christian US Marshal in northern Ohio.

Marshall Peter J. Elliott was brooding over the death of a Cleveland police officer who was killed by a fugitive. He realized that desperate people do desperate things. How could he take the desperation out of facing an outstanding warrant? Then in 2005, an idea occurred to Elliott during a work-out. He'd always felt safe at church (which he attends every week). What if non-violent offenders could surrender in a safe environment - in a church? And Fugitive Safe Surrender was born.

For four days, a local church is turned into a full-fledged court, complete with judges, public defenders, prosecutors and identification equipment such as fingerprinting.

"Most say they turn themselves in because they are tired of running," said Dan Flannery, a criminal justice professor and director of the Institute for the Study and Prevention of Violence at Kent State University. "They're tired of being worried every time a police car pulls up behind them."

Mr. Flannery has been studying Fugitive Safe Surrender and keeping the statistics on the program. Of the people who show up, two-thirds are accompanied by family or a friend, and 85 percent say it's important or very important that they could turn themselves into a church. Mr. Flannery said they are afraid of what would happen if they surrendered at a police station.

When the fugitives reach the door of the church, about 20 percent of them say "I think I'm going to be arrested and go to jail."

In reality, he said, about 6 percent of the fugitives are jailed. The rest are processed, meet with a defense attorney and are seen by a judge. Many receive a new court date.

Many people are in for probation violations, some want to get jobs or go back to school, but they can't because of an outstanding warrant. People who have surrendered ranged in age from 18 to 78, with warrants that are up to a dozen years old. One fascinating stat: 25 % of those who surrender are found to have no current warrants out for their arrest.

When Fugitive Safe Surrender was held in Detroit in July, 2008, 6,500 people surrendered in a city with over 30,000 outstanding warrants.

What a wonderful, creative, compassionate response: As Fr. Michael Sweeney and i emphasized in class, secular competence is essential for the lay Christian who is called to transform the structures of the world. Peter J. Elliott had earned the right, he had the knowledge base, the influence and power to propose something like this and make it fly.

Compassion and Justice. New Lives. No Violence. And the mediating role of the Christian community is not only recognized but central.

Praise God. Thank God for secular apostles like Peter J. Elliott.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Called & Gifted and "The Gap"

Sherry Curp made me aware of something that Rae Stabosz wrote for the Christifedeles listserve after attending the May 29/30 Called & Gifted workshop in Bloomingdale, IL taught by the inspired team of Keith Strohm (newly returned to Chicago and an ID contributor) and Amy & Charlie Hoover of Des Moines, Iowa.

I got Rae's permission to share her impressions and then added a few comments of my own.


I also wanted to tell you about my experience with the Called and Gifted Workshop I took in Bloomingdale, Illinois last month. The workshop is one given by the St. Catherine of Siena Institute, a program out of the Western Dominican Province with headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The institute is "dedicated to equipping parishes for the formation of lay Catholics for their mission in the world." They run the blog, Intentional Disciples, which I have subtitled "The Two Sherries" on my blogroll because Sherry Weddell is a co-founder of the Institute and Sherry Curp is a member and instructor.

I've been watching their calendar in hopes of catching a workshop given further East, and jumped on the chance to attend one that was on the outskirts of Chicago, where Bill's siblings live. We combined a family visit with me attending the workshop, last month. It was, quite simply, wonderful, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

You know how kids can go to Mass and say, "I don't get anything out of it?", and complain that the liturgy isn't exciting enough? But we know that the value is in the depths, not the externals, even though bad externals can distract us from what's really going on.

The Called and Gifted Workshop wasn't "exciting". The externals were ordinary - a parish hall, a laptop projected to show PowerPoint slides at appropriate times, handouts, prayer and song to begin each day. The three instructors were skilled and at ease, but were not putting on a show.

It was the content that I found enlightening. This FAQ about the Spiritual Gifts Discernment Program, of which the Called and Gifted Workshop is a component, may give you a better idea that I could give.

Snip. (i'll get back to this later)

Catholics are used to their most vigorous and committed members being drawn to the priesthood and the religious life. But the teachings of the Church about the laity in the last 150 years have made it clear that the lay vocation has a call to discipleship different from, but every bit as vital as, those who are professed and ordained. The ordained serve primarily the People of God. The People of God serve the world in which they live and work.

The Called and Gifted Workshop has given me keys to understanding, and tools to explore, how God is calling me specifically to carry out my own mission as a lay disciple.. I heartily recommend it to one and all.

They are doing a terrific work. A very Dominican work!

Thanks to Rae for her very kind words!

The paragraph that I snipped is below because I wanted to comment on it:

"How much was lost in the Protestant Revolt/Reformation? My encounters with Catholics who "swam the Tiber" from various Protestant faith communities has made me mourn for what the Church lost when it fragmented, and what it is gaining as some of the fragmented pieces come back together. The Catherine of Siena Institute is heavy with folks who learned discipleship in non-Catholic Christian communities. Coming into the fullness of truth, they have brought both insight and vigor into the meaning and practice of parish life and lay discipleship."

I would certainly agree that "much was lost in the Protestant Revolt/Reformation but Rae isn't accurate when she says "The Catherine of Siena Institute is heavy with folks who learned discipleship in non-Catholic Christian communities."

Since the two members of the CSI team that Rae knows (Sherry C and moi) are converts from evangelicalism, she naturally thinks of the Institute as a initiative mostly carried on by converts. But in fact, the opposite is true.

As I tried to count our teachers scattered about, I realized that they were overwhelmingly cradle Catholics: 3 to 1. And the converts who have taught with us over the years come from many backgrounds, not just evangelicalism but Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism, mainline Protestantism, nothing, etc.

At present, only six of our C & G teachers are from an evangelical background or about 1/7 of our current teaching team.

There is a gap between what participants experience in a Called & Gifted workshop and what they think of as "normal" Catholicism alright. But it is not the gap between Protestantism and Catholicism.

It is the gap between what the Church teaches is the faith and what the average Catholic has experienced of the faith as commonly practiced.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Married" Priests

At the 7:30 a.m. Mass at Holy Apostles Catholic Church in Colorado Springs, I had the privilege of concelebrating with the pastor, Fr. Paul Wicker. Fr. Paul's been a great supporter of the work of the Institute and has been a wonderful and inspiring mentor to me.

As we began the liturgy, I was suddenly struck by the fact that Fr. Paul has been pastor of this parish for something like 26 years or so. That's very unusual these days, when in most dioceses priests are moved every six to twelve years. With religious communities that staff parishes, the transitions can be even more frequent. One university parish which I served for six years has had four or five pastors in the six years since I left.

In the case of Fr. Paul, his longevity with the community means that he knows the parish pretty well. His homily reflected that intimate knowledge, too. He knows his parishioners and can speak to them from that comfortable intimacy: lovingly challenging them, affirming their genuine goodness and selfless acts. He is patient with them, even when individual members are not altogether reasonable (after his homily, in which in a variety of ways he emphasized Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist, one parishioner chided him for "not talking about metaphysics!")

Not only that, he knows the city well, and has been able to help connect the parish and parishioners to various agencies within the city, both Catholic and secular. He has also led the parish community to examine to what role they may be called as individuals and a faith community to work to change the structures and institutions within the city. This would be much less likely to happen if he had been a pastor in several different cities in those 26 years.

I have been told (and this could have been idle speculation, perhaps based on personal experience) that priests are moved regularly "so that they don't become 'little kings' in their parish," or "so that a parish doesn't get stuck with a bad priest for a long time." While that may reflect reality, it certainly doesn't reflect the ideal. That ideal is described beautifully in an article in Seminary Journal titled, "Priestly Spirituality, Seminary Formation, and Lay Mission" by Deacon James Keating, Ph.D., director of theological formation at the Institute for Priestly Formation, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska. In it, Keating writes of the relationship between pastor and parishioners
Charity takes up residence in a priest’s soul as a gift. This charity is God revealing, sharing, and communicating himself in a continuing and eternal act of spousal care toward humanity. This care reaches its ultimate self-gift in the nakedness of Christ upon the cross—the marriage of the Lamb and the Bride. This charity, living in the soul, is no different then the supernatural gift, the very indwelling of God, that inhabited this man’s soul at baptism (CCC 1266), confirmation, and Eucharist. It is the same charity, now bearing the grace of a call summoning him to come out from among the members of the church and “be Christ” by serving "His bride" as priest. The grace of ordination allows the charity that is in everyone’s heart (love of God, love of neighbor) to be specifically the grace of ‘being with Christ in His spousal love for the Church.’” There is something about this new “ordering” in the sacrament that places the priest in relationship to the body of Christ AS A WHOLE. He relates to all the members of the Body, sharing in the prophetic, kingly, and priestly ministry of Christ. The laity relate to the priest out of their own distinctive participation in these same Christological realities. The mode of existing in and among the members of the church is always inter-relationship. The communion between this man, the God who calls him, and the laity constitutes a spirituality—the breath of life between them all—that binds the facets of priestly formation together. The goal of this communion is to form the contemplative heart of the husband-priest. It is this priest who gazes upon the body of Christ, the church, the bride, not with a sense of entitlement or “lust” but with an ever growing pastoral desire, a desire born of this spiritual communion and finding its purpose and rest only in charitable service.
If the reasons given for moving pastors regularly are anywhere near the truth, then the problem is in our formation of priests - or our mutual discernment of those possibly called to priesthood. The ordination rite clearly indicates that the community has been involved in the discernment process, as they are invited to show their acceptance of the candidate by acclamation. What we seem to have accepted as the norm is the equivalent of "serial monogamy" in the realm of marriage between an individual woman and man.

Unfortunately, this serial monogamy also happens at the episcopal level. When I first went to the archdiocese of Portland, OR, the see was empty. Archbishop George had only been installed for ten months before he was moved to Chicago. In my first year as pastor in Tucson, AZ, the secular newspaper openly speculated how long bishop Kicanas, who had been there only a year or so, would remain before "moving up." I do not mean to suggest that either Cardinal George or bishop Kicanas were or are seeking "greener pastures." I just know that whenever a large see becomes vacant in this country, many of the clergy and laity in Tucson hold their collective breaths because they might lose a bishop who is articulate, pastorally sensitive, and genuinely fatherly.

I think Deacon Keating has named a vice of clergy. We can easily "lust" over the bride of Christ - succumbing to clericalism, seeking privileges like pharisees, or desiring luxurious digs, fine foods, alcohol, cable TV and more to make up for "all we've given up." Just as in a beautiful sacramental marriage the spouses call one another to holiness (and give each other daily opportunities to be patient, kind, patient, not jealous, pompous, inflated, rude, self-seeking, quick-tempered or brooding over injuries - cf. 1 Cor 13:4 ff), so, too, in a healthy pastor/parish relationship all involved invite one another to love in these ways.

St. Paul called spouses to be "subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ," and for husbands to "love their wives even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." (Eph 5:25-27) That would be a wonderful goal for pastors and the parishioners to whom their lives are ordered by virtue of their ordination.

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

This article in the NY Times was sent to me by a friend in Tucson, who wrote this interesting commentary on it. The article is about a 13-year old boy who startled his 50-something year old father (a former seminarian and former Catholic) by saying one day, "I want to go to church this Sunday." The article quotes figures from the Pew Foundation Survey of Religion in America that you've seen highlighted previously on this blog. You know, the ones that say 54% of those Americans raised without any religion choose one later in life - with 75% doing so before they turn 24!

I think my friend, Renee's, comments are worth reading, as well.

Ah, yes, the fields are ripe for the harvesting. How dare we suppose that people don't want to hear about our faith? And if we're afraid we don't know enough about it - and truly, since God is a mystery, we can't possibly know everything about Him - what does that say about what kind of faith we have? But if our faith is based on a relationship with God, we can at least share what that is like and how it is shaping our life. Particularly if we're looking to the Scriptures and Tradition to help us hear God's voice - and help us discover the Holy Spirit's guidance day to day.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


There is something rare and endearing about graduate papers in theology that end with Amen! as several of the papers I have graded so far have done,

It says a GREAT deal about the general atmosphere of Sacred Heart where everything I have seen indicates that intentional discipleship is the norm there. Amen!

Tadpoles in the Sky

The Colorado Springs tourist board has asked local bloggers to get the word out.

There is no truth to the rumors that it is raining tadpoles here in Colorado Springs. That is an urban legend.

It is, in fact, raining tadpoles in Japan

Just so those of you considering attending Making Disciples on July 26 - 30 here in our fair city are re-assured.

You could met a mountain lion if you get up early enough.

But we are an official tadpole-from-the-sky free zone.

The Heart of the City of God

Grading papers is a new experience - and a bit of a stretch for me. Cause my natural inclination is to say "all our students were bright and very interested in the topic - of course, they should all get "A's". I always want everyone to succeed - ultimately. But the system requires more nuance than that.

So how does the otherwise superb paper that, alas, fails to mention one important element stack up against the rambling effort that you get the feeling was written originally for another class? Hmmm.

But enough excuses for not blogging.

My ever vigilant Google alerts have brought me this find of particular interest to Bostonians:


You'll never look at cooking the same way again!

Enjoy a Cooking Class "Cooking in Monastic Traditions" with The Civic Friars, a lay monastic order dedicated to deepening spiritual and religious devotion in everyday life ... in order to "reclaim the city for Christ" (they are also skilled cooks)! You will learn methods dating back to Old Catholic Europe, and even as far back as the early Church, you will gain a fresh outlook on the spiritual elements of culinary art, as it relates to the Benedictine Monastic principle "Ora et Labora": "Work and Pray".

You will learn to see food and it's preparation in a more complete and healthy way, "from farm to table"
Seeing the meditative, contemplative and practical aspects of preparing and cooking food (that have been lost in a "fast food culture") can be both refreshing and exciting. Learn how simple communal and generous acts like cooking can be raised to a high art form by faith, even to a form of "prayer of the heart and hands" where every meal you prepare becomes a feast instead of a chore! YOU WILL NOT WANT TO MISS THIS!!!

NOTE: this will be on Sunday, June 14, 2009 in Brighton at 1 PM, but will start on Saturday evening with the buying of the meat at the Festival and marinating it in the Portuguese "Vinoh Tinto" from the Touriga Nacional grapes (that they also sell at the Festival).

I am so bummed!!!!! I want to go but it's 2000 miles away.

And in light of all the discussion of the secular nature of the lay mission and the cost of secular apostleship in our Sacred Heart course last week, I couldn't help but be fascinated by the idea of the Civic Friars. (I tried Googling them but couldn't find anything.

Have any ID readers heard of the Civic Friars?

Trying to find the elusive Civic Friars brought me to the website of another fascinating and related initiative:

The Monastic Communities of Jerusalem: "the particular vocation of the brothers and sisters of Jerusalem is to live in the heart of the cities, in the heart of God." This community of monks, nuns, and associated lay communities originated in France 25 years ago and established its first North American community in Montreal in 2004.

Ecumenism between eastern and western Christianity is one of their concerns. In their worship, they "revive the sources of the Church of the first centuries' liturgy by integrating in their services some elements of the Eastern Tradition such as: gestures, songs, icons, incense, etc"

Some other distinctives:

1) The brothers and sisters are city-dwellers, working in the city and praying in a church open to the city. Their daily schedule and times of prayer are adapted to the city's rhythms. Their presence reminds the inhabitants of the big modern cities, the megalopolises, that it is possible to be contemplative at the heart of the more significant reality today, the urban phenomenom.

2) They work part-time as wage-earners both challenging and embracing the modern working world.

3) They live in rented dwellings, owning neither their houses nor the church which is entrusted to their care.

4) They do not live within strict enclosure. The city is their monastery. But they keep an "enclosure of the heart" by reserving times and places for silence, "desert" and solitude.

And this luminous vision from their "rule":

You have not embraced urban monasticism for reasons of solidarity, apostolate or even witness, but first to contemplate God gratuitously and incessantly in the most beautiful of all his images. That is, more than in solitude, on the mountains, or in the wilderness or the temple, you gaze on him in the city, filled with faces of the face of God and mirrors of the icon of Christ. Monk and nun of Jerusalem, you are in the heart of the City of God.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Got Charisms?

Hey Bay area!

There is a Called & Gifted workshop coming your way this weekend at gorgeous St. Dominic's Church in the city itself.

It would be worth going just to visit St. Dominic's whose Gothic beauty is truly remarkable but add to that the chance to experience the mighty St. Dom's team and begin discerning your charisms and call - well that's an offer you can't refuse.

I mean, what are you going to do in June in San Francisco anyway besides take refuge in the nearest coffee shop?

Cause the longest winter you've ever spent is a summer in San Francisco. Really.

Deborah Rose Curp Makes Her Entrance

I am happy to report that Deborah Rose Curp was born at about 1:30 am this morning after a long but mostly gentle labor.

Approximately 11 1/2 pounds.(She takes after Dave!) Both Mother Sherry C (who just called me) and baby are doing well. Thanks for your prayers!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009



Mary Beth Newkumet of Life After Sunday sent me a draft of the online version of LAS small group process that they are planning to make available - for free! - online soon.

And one of the links for the first topic, Wonder, was this magnificent video. The music is Gregorio Allegri's Miserere sung by the King's College Choir of Oxford. Ten minutes of pure praise.

And there is a wonderful story behind the music:

The "Miserere" by Italian composer Gregorio Allegri is a setting of Psalm 51 (50) composed during the reign of Pope Urban VIII, probably during the 1630s, for use in the Sistine Chapel during the Tenebrae service on Wednesday and Friday of Holy Week. At some point, it became forbidden to transcribe the music and it was only allowed to be performed at those particular services, adding to the mystery surrounding it. Writing it down or performing it elsewhere was punishable by excommunication.

The Miserere is written for two choirs, one of five and one of four voices. One of the choirs sings a simple version of the original Miserere chant; the other, spatially separated, sings an ornamented "commentary" on this.

Although there were a handful of supposed transcriptions in various royal courts in Europe, none of them succeeded in capturing the beauty of the Miserere as performed annually in the Sistine Chapel. According to the popular story (backed up by family letters), the fourteen-year-old Mozart was visiting Rome, when he first heard the piece during the Wednesday service. Later that day, he wrote it down entirely from memory, returning to the Chapel that Friday to make minor corrections. Some time during his travels, he met the British historian Dr Charles Burney, who obtained the piece from him and took it to London, where it was published in 1771. Once published, the ban was lifted and Allegri's Miserere has since become one of the most popular a cappella choral works now performed.

Mozart was summoned to Rome by the Pope, only instead of excommunicating the boy, the Pope showered praises on him for his feat of musical genius.

The God Mother

It's an intensely god-mother kind of morning.

Another birth related prayer request has come in: Tasha, wife of Mark Shea's eldest son, Luke (my god-son) is 7 months pregnant with their first baby and has started having contractions. Your prayers for the well-being and safety of Lucy (the baby) and Tasha would be most appreciated.

Meanwhile, my other god child is being born in Ohio this morning (See the prayer request for the Other Sherry below).

Hitherto, I'd never felt the full weight of god-parentness even though I know that it is recognized as a formal office in the Church. Since I was clearly incapable of meeting the "god parents are responsible to finance their god-children through Harvard" standard, I had pretty much gotten off light with prezzies and prayer at the all the right times.

Not today.

Update: Thanks be to God. Tasha is home again and all is well. Her contractions were caused by dehydration which is easily dealt with. No more word from Sherry C yet.

Prayer Request for the Other Sherry

The "Other Sherry" of this blog went into labor last night. I have not yet heard anything although i am on the notification list but your prayers for her, the baby, and her husband Dave, who is under incredible end of the quarter pressure, would be greatly appreciated. I'll update this when i hear anything.

Update: Just after I hit "publish", Sherry's mom called to say that Sherry's contractions stopped in the middle of the night but have started up regularly this morning - but nothing is imminent.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Love this: Pope Benedict's address to the Bishops of Venezuela;

The Holy Father reminded the bishops that they are facing an "exhilarating task of evangelisation", recalling in this context how they have begun the Mission for Venezuela in keeping with the Continental Mission promoted by the Fifth General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean, held in the Brazilian city of Aparecida. "I therefore encourage you", he said, "to increase initiatives that aim to make the figure and message of Jesus Christ known in all their fullness and beauty. To this end, apart from sound doctrinal formation of the People of God, it is important to encourage lives of profound faith and prayer".

Blogging Will Commence Shortly

It is good to be home and take a nap with a very large, soft, white cat on your chest. And wake to cool breezes swirling the aspen leaves.

I'm plowing through stuff - finances, e-mail, grading papers, doing laundry, gardening, cleaning. Planted the large wild grass bed yesterday, The cat mint is a sea of soft purple. Everything is very green as we had a good deal of rain while I was gone.

Fr. Mike is on retreat this week - nearer to God in the high country. And I am not going anywhere. Hoorah!

Blogging will commence shortly.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

It is Only Morning, Bright and Fair

Home. And still on eastern time. The cats seem to remember me. Two weeks worth of laundry and 600 e-mails.

Some of the students in the class are already organizing to be trained as C & G interviewers. And the RCIA talk went very well - over 100 present and very enthusiastic. A nice way to end my two weeks.

More in the morning.

Oh wait - it is morning . . .

Bright and fair.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Update from Detroit

I'll be seeing you in the old familiar places as of Sunday. Our last class begins in 1 hour 10 minutes. The Academic Dean told us that he has gotten lots of enthusiastic feed-back about our Theology of the Laity course. It has been good to spend time with Fr. Michael again - and to hear his growing take on the topic - and the whole experience has sparked a new clarity about my next project.

Saturday morning, I'm giving a morning on Evangelizing Post-moderns to 100 or so RCIA corrdinators and RCIA team members for the Archdiocese. Several students from the class are planning to be there as well.

Then it is off to Solanus Casey's shrine for a spot of prayer and on to the airport courtesy of the ever gracious Tim Furgeson. Home by 11 pm Saturday.

Fr. Michael and I had dinner at Ralph & Ann Martin a few days ago and heard some grerat stories. Ralph has been present at some of the most important moments of Catholic life over the past 40 years and has been used by God in ways that are truly exceptional but he is so matter of fact and self-effacing, it is hard to get the stories out of him.

I got to walk about lovely Ann Arbor yesterday and try one of their many fine restaturants. Although it is hard to absorb the desperate state of Detroit as a city (at least the Red Wings are doing great!) there certainly are a lot of wonderful, creative Catholics here in southern Michigan. Our students have been great and full of faith and joy.

It has been a privilege to be here. But I will be glad to be at home again in my own little Tuscan garden.

Gotta get ready for class.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pope Benedict on Lay Responsibility

Zenit ran an article on Pope Benedict's address given at the beginning of a four-day ecclesial conference for the Diocese of Rome on "Church Membership and Pastoral Co-responsibility." The article says that the Holy Father indicated that "laypeople are not merely the clergy's collaborators, but rather share in the responsibility of the Church's ministry."

"There should be a renewed becoming aware of our being Church and of the pastoral co-responsibility that, in the name of Christ, all of us are called to carry out," the Holy Father said. This co-responsibility should advance "respect for vocations and for the functions of consecrated persons and laypeople," he added.

The Pontiff acknowledged that this requires a "change of mentality," especially regarding laypeople, shifting from "considering themselves collaborators of the clergy to recognizing themselves truly as 'co-responsible' for the being and action of the Church, favoring the consolidation of a mature and committed laity."

The Bishop of Rome suggested that "there is still a tendency to unilaterally identify the Church with the hierarchy, forgetting the common responsibility, the common mission" of all the baptized ... "the command to evangelize is not just for a few, but for all the baptized."...

The Pontiff looked at the distinction between "People of God" and "Body of Christ," affirming that both concepts "are complementary and together form the New Testament concept of the Church." He explained: "While 'People of God' expresses the continuity of the history of the Church, 'Body of Christ' expresses the universality inaugurated on the cross and with the resurrection of the Lord." "In Christ, we become really the People of God," which, he affirmed, means everyone, "from the Pope to the last child." "The Church, therefore, is not the result of a sum of individuals, but a unity among those who are nourished by the Word of God and the Bread of Life," the Pontiff noted.

It's telling that for many Catholics, the idea of evangelization, or sharing their faith with someone else brings to mind the need to study, read some books on apologetics, dive into the Bible more, all of which are great. But isn't that a bit strange, too. I mean, if someone were to ask me about a friend - someone I love - I wouldn't do a Google search for information, or pull out my copy of their C.V., or ask other people what they knew about my friend. My first response would be to share what I know from my own experience. Granted, it's a limited knowledge, and I certainly wouldn't be able to tell someone else all there is to know about my friend, but I could tell some engaging stories, I'd imagine. Perhaps enough to help them want to get to know my friend themselves.

So it's for good reason that Pope Benedict recognizes the necessity of a mature and committed laity if they are to take co-responsibility for the being and action of the Church. That being and action is sharing the Gospel to every creature. The Second Vatican Council Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity states, "the whole Church is missionary, and the work of evangelization is a basic duty of the People of God." (Ad Gentes, 35) .

If the laity are to be mature, committed and effective at evangelization, the Holy Father is absolutely right that laypeople must draw close to sacred Scripture (and thus to Jesus), through means such as lectio divina. That means that we not only study Scripture from the aspect of reason and intellect, but also engage it in the presence of the Holy Spirit and encounter the Lord speaking directly to our hearts.

Evangelization begins through "living out charity," which is a great enough challenge, but we must also use words. "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence..." (1Peter 3:15b-16a) And, of course, the reason for our hope is found in the kerygma - the basic gospel message which we declare as the "mystery of faith" at every Mass: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. That is the reason for our hope - and that is why any basic proclamatino of the Gospel must include the cross - and an explanation of what it means.

The question is, naturally, how do we proclaim that basic message in a way that is accessible to post-moderns. That's one of the questions that Making Disciples tries to answer.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A PRACTICAL Degree in Theology...from Dominicans!

Here's some information about a new degree program being developed at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology - the Western Dominican graduate school and seminary.

The Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology (Berkeley, CA) is a ministry of the Western Dominican Province. All of our Dominican priests and brothers receive their formal education there. The School is also open to lay women and men who wish to study in the Dominican tradition. The School is looking for people to participate in a survey intended to evaluate the current demand for a possible new graduate program – a Master of Theological Studies (MTS) - and to gather input to fully define the specifics of the program.

The Master of Theological Studies (MTS) is a Master of Arts degree designed for women and men who have professional experience and seek to enhance their contribution to Church and society. It is intended to provide students with a foundation in interpretive skills so that they can integrate their professional experience with the mission and tradition of the Church. The MTS will, like all programs offered by DSPT, be grounded in official Church doctrine and based on traditional Dominican heritage. The program will not require a thesis, but rather a pre-approved, alternative project will be accepted for evaluation.

If you are interested in participating in the survey, please contact the Academic Dean, Fr. Chris Renz by June 21, 2009 at crenz@dspt.edu. The survey will be launched on Monday June 22nd, at which time all those who have contacted Fr. Chris will receive an e-mail with a link to the survey.

In the meanwhile, go to www.dspt.edu and look around the school a bit!

Off for a good latte

I'm going to be heading off for Seattle, WA, to the Dominican parish of the Blessed Sacrament, where the Catherine of Siena Institute and some fly-by-night coffee dive were born. I'll be facilitating a day-long discussion by the parish staff, including those who work at the Newman Center at the nearby University of Washington, regarding how the parish can better live out its mandate to be a center of the New Evangelization. The staff has worked hard to prepare, and I'm looking forward to listening in to their discussions.

Consequently, my blogging may be a bit more spotty than it has been this last week.

In other words, back to my regular irregularity.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Proclaiming the Gospel

I have been toying with the idea of asking this question, and a comment on another post from a fellow whose "faith disappeared long ago," has become the catalyst for posing this question.

If someone who didn't really know Christianity - say your unchurched neighbor or your Buddhist colleague at work - asked you, "what is it, basically, that you Christians believe about Jesus?" What would you say? We just finished Easter season, with it's daily readings from the Acts of the Apostles, and so we've heard snippets of what the early Christian preachers said to their audiences. For example, we have this from the story of the conversion of the centurion, Cornelius, and his family (Acts 10:34-48):

34 Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, "In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
35 Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.
36 You know the word (that) he sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all,
37 what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached,
38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
39 We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and (in) Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.
40 This man God raised (on) the third day and granted that he be visible,
41 not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
42 He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.
43 To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name."

And this gem from St. Paul, who obviously thought that the cross, which normally brought tremendous shame upon the crucified and his or her family, was the heart of the Christian message.

Galatians 6:14-15
14 But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
15 For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation.

What do you think are some of the essential points of the Christian faith having to do with the suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, as well as his sending of the Holy Spirit? And not just the main points, but their significance. What does it mean when St. Paul tells the Romans, "For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us." Rom 5:6-8

In other words, what do you think are elements of the basic Gospel message (kerygma) that Christians need to know and proclaim in order to invite people to conversion to Jesus and membership in His body, the Church?

I'll keep track of what you come up with and show you your progress from day to day. Here are some groundrules:
1. be serious, please
2. you can quote passages from the scriptures, but give a brief explanation of what you believe it means.
3. If the point's been made by someone else, don't make it again. However, if you think the explanation is deficient, please supply another explanation.
4. You can make as many points as you like; only one, or your description of the whole kerygma that must be proclaimed.

Thanks for your help.

By the way, thanks, Mike10613!