Monday, August 31, 2009

Known. Loved. Adored. Imitated.

Cardinal Betone on Pope Benedict's focus, via Zenit:

As regards the "reform of the Church," the cardinal affirmed "that it is above all a question of interiority and holiness."

For this reason, he said, the Pontiff concentrates on recalling "the source of the Word of God, the evangelical law and the heart of the life of the Church: Jesus, the known, loved, adored and imitated Lord."

Prayer Request

I've just received this prayer request from a priest

Please ask the intercessors to pray for 2 priest that are dying:

(1) Fr. Neal Stull who has cancer all over his body.
(2) Fr. Feliciano, a young priest from Tampico, Mexico who is dying from the swine flu. He got pneumonia and is in a coma right now.

May the Father of all light bless you.

and for Fr. Eduardo, who also has caught the swine flu.

Whither RCIA? Part Four: Some Beginning Steps

A few, hastily sketched out, preliminary ideas for such a time as this . . .

Six years ago, we brought out a landscape designer to look at our tragedy of a back yard and get her suggestions for what we could do with it. She gave it a once over and said "there's nothing here to save". Oookay . . .

She wasn't saying "Abandon all hope, ye who live here". She was saying that the climate here is profoundly different than in Seattle and you can't go about creating a garden high in the Rocky Mountains the way you could in moist, misty, moderate Puget Sound. You have to amend the soil differently and put in irrigation systems and consider how you are going to deal with that dazzling sun, those hail storms (4 this month!), and those 0 temp days and blizzards in mid winter.

If you don't, your seeds and bulbs which do contain the power and grace of life will behave like the seeds in the parable of the sower. 1) They won't germinate at all; 2) they will come up and be scorched by the sun and die; 3) The birds will eat them; or 4) they will be choked by the dozens of noxious weeds who are just waiting below the surface for a little water in order to emerge and choke everything in sight.

Or you could give up your old assumptions and expectations and take the trouble to learn how to create a environment in this very different climate that will nourish and protect what you plant and enable them to flourish, blossom and give glory to God.

Thank God, we choose to jettison what we thought we knew and learn all over again how to garden. You can see the result here.

That is exactly what I am seriously proposing for our approach to RCIA. Revisiting our working assumptions and practices from the ground up because our spiritual climate has changed so profoundly since 1960. (I know this will sound incredible to some readers but the Second Vatican Council didn't cause that cultural change which has impacted nearly everyone on the planet - 83% of whom are not Catholic and two thirds of whom are not baptized.)

I'm not referring at all to changing the liturgical aspects of the process but am suggesting, in as strong terms as I can, that we completely rethink how we approach the initial inquiry process and the task of genuine evangelization and the proclamation of Christ that is the indispensible foundation for all that is to follow.

It is a time of evangelization: faithfully and constantly the living God is proclaimed and Jesus Christ whom he has sent for the salvation of all…

From evangelization, completed with the help of God, come the faith and initial conversion that cause a person to feel called away from sin and drawn into the mystery of God’s love. The whole period of the precatechumenate is set aside for this evangelization, so that the genuine will to follow Christ and seek baptism may mature.”

RCIA Study Edition, 36, 37

1) I'd begin with year round RCIA: potentially the most powerful evangelizing structure that is widespread throughout all dioceses and the vast majority of parishes.

2) And I'd begin the RCIA process with a true year-round Inquiry process
that moved parallel to the actual catechumenate.
Not a few weeks of "mini-catechesis" but a process without a specific timeline where spiritual seekers can ask any genuine spiritual questions they have and wrestle with them in all their complexity: emotional as well as intellectual, relational as well as doctrinal. A process whose end is first and supremely "personal adherence to Christ', which is the foundation upon which the temple of the Christian life can be built.

3) Build in regular one-on-one interviews with each candidate - a long one just before they enter - and short (30 min?) ones periodically through the entire experience. In these private talks, focus on the whole person and their lived relationship with God - whatever it has been to this point in their life. In the first session, In addition to the usual church and sacramental background, the bulk of the time would be given to exploring two questions: Can you describe to me your lived relationship with God to this point in your life? If you could ask God one thing that you were certain he would answer right away, what would it be? And listen intently. Ask clarifying questions - but don't catechize. In later interviews, you listen for "Are they receiving the help they need to move closer to Christ and his Church? Do they have important questions or issues that we haven't (or can't) address in the group sessions? What do they need prayer for?

4) Building trust, rousing curiosity about Jesus Christ and his basic gospel (not fine points of Church teaching) and increasing openness to him in all areas of our life would be the non-negotiable heart and soul of this inquiry process. This is the time to shatter the traditional Catholic reticence to speak of our relationship with God.

As one enormously successful and experienced RCIA Director told me: "My job during the inquiry process is to help people fall in love with Jesus. My job during the catechumenate is to help them fall in love with the Church."

But first, we have to help them fall in love with Jesus. First, we make disciples in the inquiry period Then we form and catechize those disciples in the catechumenate.

" . . . the aim of catechesis is to be the teaching and maturation stage...the period in which the Christian, having accepted by faith the person of Jesus Christ as the one Lord and having given Him complete adherence by sincere conversion of heart, endeavors to know better this Jesus to whom he has entrusted himself; "
Catechesis in Our Time, 19

5) Separate the issues of marriage and entering the Church entirely. They must be dealt with separately. Remove the "We have set a May date for our wedding" deadline and the "I'm just doing this to satisfy my future in-laws" dynamic at the very beginning. Both are issues of discernment and discernment doesn't work on a pre-determined timeline.

6) Resist the temptation to move people into the formal catechumenate prematurely. They need to have moved from an essentially passive place to active seeking before they are ready to move into the formal catechumenate. At that point, catechesis is not longer a set of abstractions but answers to questions they are really wrestling with as men and women who are seriously considering following Jesus Christ in the midst of his Church.

7) Make sure all the members of your RCIA team and all your sponsors are intentional disciples. If they aren't, recruit new team members and work at making personal discipleship the norm of your team. If your RCIA team is made up of disciples, they will model, talk about, and radiate the reality of discipleship to your inquirers and catechumens. Do not give into the "my fiancee will be my sponsor" idea. Train your team and sponsors to

a) Listen to and recognize pre-discipleship levels of spiritual development and how to respond helpfully

b) How to share their own witness of what Christ has done in their life

c) What is the "Great Story" and how to tell it. The "Great Story" (as Fr. Robert Barron calls it) is the kerygma, the core of the Gospel about Jesus' incarnation, life, teachings, miracles, relationships, death, resurrection, and ascension on our behalf - and how he is calling us to respond. To commit their whole lives to Christ, they have to come to know him and every team member has to be able to tell the Great story and then how his or her own personal story relates to the Great story.

d) Help them discern and exercise their charisms because they are channels through which Christ's love, mercy, truth, beauty, and provision is made present and they are enormously important in building an effective team of evangelizersl Specific charisms are particularly useful to people at certain places on their journey. Hospitality to build initial trust in the Christian community, evangelism to help people lower their defenses against the possibility of change, etc.

8) Train "Ananiases" - sponsors who can be true spiritual mentors in the those critical early days after baptism or reception. Who can share their own relationship with God, help and encourage the new Catholic in basic spiritual disciplines, help them root in the community, and have someone to talk to about their experiences and feelings as they begin their life as a Catholic.

9) Create a reinforcing "cycle" of evangelization in the parish by sponsoring one of the many effective parish-based evangelization processes which are aimed at the evangelization of those who are already Catholic. A well structured inquiry-RCIA process can work very synergistically with other evangelization activities in the parish. Some will come of those retreats ready for RCIA.

If we focus on evangelizing those who are in RCIA today, the graces unleashed will change the dynamics of the rest of the RCIA process - including Mystagogia - and begin to change the entire spiritual climate of the parish itself.

I have posted before the story of one RCIA Director (Corinne) who did go back home after Making Disciples and revamped the parish RCIA process. Corinne wrote:

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

Whither RCIA? Part Three:The Marriage Factor

When we left our heroine, Catholic marriage rates had plummeted 25% since 2001 and the number of adults entering the Church through RCIA had dropped 30.5% in the same time period. The obvious question is "Why?"

Both have become rites of passage in our culture. Increasingly, choosing one religious faith is much like choosing one's spouse - a normal part of young adulthood. (For more on this topic, see an earlier post, Looking for God.)

Of course, marriage is primarily for the young. 81% of Catholics were married for the first time by age 30. The median age is 24.

But it is concerning that only 41% of never-married Catholics who say that it is at least "a little likely: that they will be married in the future also say that it is either "somewhat or "very" important that their future spouse be Catholic. And especially that only 46% say it is either "somewhat" or "very" important that they be married in the Catholic Church.

This dynamic becomes a bit clearer when we look at figures for those who attend Mass regularly. While the numbers are higher for those who attend Mass weekly, I was still surprised at how low they were: 58% of those who attend Mass every week say it is "very important" to be married in the Catholic Church. But as I noted in an earlier post, 2007 CARA figures indicate that only 10% of Millennial adults attend Mass on a weekly basis. Now we are into single digit territory.

It shouldn't surprise us that believing in the importance of being married in the Church dips dramatically with attendance. Only 18% of those who attend a few times a year and only 3 % of those who rarely or never attend Mass think it very important to be married in the Church.
And if you aren't married in the Church, are you likely to care if your children baptized in the Church? At this point, the entire pastoral structure based upon sacramental motivation breaks down completely.

If Mass attendance affects one's view of marrying a Catholic and being married in the Church, the reverse also seems to hold true. While 88% of those who attend Mass on a weekly basis are married to a Catholic spouse, only 52% of those who rarely or never attend Mass have a Catholic spouse.

And the younger you are, the more likely it is that you will marry a non-Catholic. Although not statistically significant (according to CARA) the younger respondents are, the more likely they are to say that their spouse is not Catholic. 33% of Gen X and Millennial Catholics are married to a non-Catholics compared to 28% of Boomers and 21% of pre-Vatican Ii Catholics. 60 -75% of participants in RCIA (according to the 2000 US Bishop's Study on RCIA) were in an interfaith marriage or expected to be in the near future. Only 6% of the non-Catholic spouses of Catholics are interested in becoming Catholic themselves.

And here is a not altogether surprising side effect: Those married to non-Catholics are more likely (understandably) to attend non-Catholic religious services at least a few times a year (30%) as opposed to 22% of those with Catholic spouses.

Which bring us to this fascinating tidbit. 7% of self-identified Catholics are "practitioners" of non-Catholic religions as well. What do I mean?

If we use our own standard of attending services at least once a month as the standard for "practicing", these Catholics do so - but in a non-Catholic faith community while still regarding themselves as Catholic. 2% of Catholics attend non-Catholic religious services "at least once a month", another 2% attend "nearly every week", an additional 2% attend "every week", and another just under !% "attend more than once a week".

I have long estimated that 10 -20% of the most devout people in our pews were "double-dipping" and getting large parts of their formation in the evangelical world in some form: through attending services, Bible studies, watching evangelicals television, reading evangelical books, listening to evangelical radio and music, etc. Now I finally have some numbers to work with although these figures are for all non-Catholic religious groups.

So here's where we stand: 44% of US Catholics attend Mass "at least once a month" and about 7% attend non-Catholic services at least once a month and just under 5% do so with great regularity.. Double-dipping takes many forms. How many are attending both in the same week is unknown. But how many of the nearly 5% of Catholics who attend other religious services practically on a weekly basis or more are likely to also attend Mass on a weekly basis? I'm pretty sure that the majority do not.

Of those who leave the Church for another faith or for nothing, the vast majority do so before turning 24. 66% of Catholics who eventually become Protestant have left the Church by age 23. 79% of Catholics who leave the faith to become nothing ("unaffiliated") have also done so before their 24th birthday. Among those who left the Catholic faith as minors, most say it was their own decision rather than their parent's decision.

And this final, stomach-churning bit of data:

In the words of the Pew researchers "Among those raised Catholic, becoming Protestant is the best guarantee of stable church attendance as an adult."

Among Catholics turned Protestant (15%) weekly church attendance is stable at 63%. for practicing Catholics, 21%, and for Catholics who have dropped the identity altogether and become "unaffiliated", it is a mere 2%. All three groups report very similar levels of religious education as children and youth group activity as teens and neither seems to have a statistical impact on whether, in the end, young adult Catholics choose to stay or to go.

Oh, and just a word on the education factor. RCIA, as it exists today, was created by the educated for the educated and that reality has had the unintentional effect of ensuring that those with only a high school education seldom make it all the way. RCIA "alums" are 270% more likely to have BA's then the general population of Catholics and 3 times as likely to have a graduate degree as Catholics at large. The person least likely to finish RCIA is someone with a high school education or less.

Of course, the Church is full of intellectual, doctrinal, cultural and spiritual riches but entering the Church cannot be an option merely for the intellectual and culturally oriented or the privileged. RCIA must be adapted successfully for spiritual seekers with a lower educational profile - a profile much closer to the three quarters of our fellow Catholics and of our fellow citizens who do not have BA or graduate degrees. "Here comes everyone" has to be real.

One more post to come - with some suggestions as to how we can effectively respond in light of these 21st century realities.

Whither RCIA? Part Two: Millennials Rising

Continuing from the post below: Whither RCIA? Part One.

There are three big factors that are widely recognized to affect who does and does not enter and finish the RCIA process in the United States: age, marital status, and education - and each affects the other.

Age: First of all, the majority of those who enter the Church through RCIA are on the young side. 48% enter by age 29. 64% by age 39. > (And here our little Catholic Studies Group thought of ourselves as pioneers since we knew of so few who had done what we were contemplating doing and it turns out we were just walking statistics! It's harder than it seems to be really original. . . )

That means that the first half of the Millennial cohort is in prime RCIA age range (19 - 29). Millennials are a large group demographically: 60 million strong, born between 1980 and 2000 (the exact dates are debated but this is a common benchmark) and more than three times the size of Generation X. Second in size only to the Boomer generation.

What do we know about Millennial Catholics as a group? Well, at least half of adult Catholics today are either Gen X or Millennials and that percentage is getting higher every day. But only 40% of millennial Catholic adults are certain you can have a personal relationship with God - the lowest number of any Catholic generation.

So it is no surprise that the percentage of the Millennial generation who "practices" their faith by attending Mass at least once a month is also the lowest of any Catholic generation. Here, the numbers are a bit confused since CARA gives two somewhat different sets of figures on their website. One is bad and the other worse. After much reading of the fine print, I think I've figured it out.

In a graph featured on their website, CARA indicates that 36% of Gen Xers "practice" and 15% attend Mass weekly while 34% of Millennial adults "practice" and about 17% will be found at Mass on a weekly basis. And that overall, about 23% of Catholics attend Mass weekly. These figures seem to be from 2005 surveys.

In October, 2007, as part of their study of marriage, CARA published new and grimmer figures:

21% of all Catholics attend Mass at least once a week. (We have to remember that that is 21% of those who retain the identity, whether they were raised Catholic or converted to the faith. About 32% of those "raised" Catholic no longer consider themselves to be Catholic.)

45% of the Pre Vatican II generation (65+) attend Mass at least once a week. 20% of Boomers. 13% of Gen Xers. 10% of Millennials.

The margin of error could be a factor here since the number of Millennials surveyed was smaller (since only half are adults today) and that raises the 3.1 margin of error. But clearly, the movement is not in the direction we would like to see.

Let's take a moment to really consider the implications of this. 50% of Catholic adults are either Gen Xers or Millennials in 2009. Obviously that percentage will only grow. And both groups are teetering on the edge of weekly single digit Mass attendance. And all the studies indicate that weekly Mass attendance is linked to a host of other desirable outcomes.

The implications for Catholic marriage and the whole "the sacraments will bring 'em back" scenario are eye-opening. 40% of married Gen X and Millennial Catholics were not married in the Church. It is no surprise, therefore, that the number of Catholic marriages in the US has dropped 25% over the past 7 years. If the majority of those at prime marriageable age - their 20's and 30's - seldom or never darken the door, why should we expect them to come back just to get married?

Which has big implications for RCIA because marriage and family is the primary reason that the majority of adults enter the catechumenate. It begins to make perfect sense that RCIA numbers and marriage numbers are falling together.

Part Three: the Marriage Factor

Whither RCIA? Part One

Morning, Y'all.

I've been crunching RCIA related numbers this weekend (in the midst of a number of other things) and finally feel like I've got a handle on a question that hit me after to returned home from speaking to an RCIA team support network in Omaha a couple weeks ago.

The group in Omaha was great but I couldn't help but notice that the overwhelming majority of the people present seemed to be of or near retirement age. I already knew the majority of those who enter the Church through RCIA are young adults and that most Catholics who leave the Church do so very young - the majority before age 24. I started mulling it over and then got on line to peruse some resources that I've not had time to read thoroughly before.

After pouring through several major CARA reports (Sacraments Today, 2008; Marriage in the Catholic Church, 2007) and putting their findings together with what I've already gathered from the Pew US Religious Landscape Survey, 2008; the Pew Faith in Flux survey, 2009; and the results of the US Bishop's Study of RCIA in 2000 "Journey to the Fullness of Life", a picture began to emerge.

One that startled even me.

First of all, I hadn't realized that the numbers of adults entering the Church through RCIA has plummeted over the past few years. Partly this was because the US Bishops were not publishing the number of those entering as they once did a few years ago. I had wondered about this but it didn't seem urgent enough to make the effort necessary to find the statistics in other ways. This weekend, I was able to cobble together the whole picture from a variety of online sources.

The basics: According to CARA, 7% of US Catholics entered the faith as adults - aged 18 or older. According to the Pew studies, 2.6% of US adults are "converts" to the Catholic faith - about 6.5 million people which amounts to nearly 11% of those who consider themselves Catholic in this country - practicing or not. (Since the majority of those who enter the Church through RCIA leave the practice of the faith within a year, it is hard to know how many of them still hold to their Catholic identity and so told the Pew surveyors that they were Catholic. The total number of all who have at some point in their lives, entered the Catholic Church - whether as a child, teen, or adult - is almost certainly higher.)

3% of those raised Protestant in this country have become Catholic. 63% of RCIA "alums" were Protestant before becoming Catholic, 28% were not part of any faith, and 8% enter from an non-Protestant religious background.

This is the group for which RCIA is intended. (84% of Catholics enter the faith as infants, 8% as a child, up to 12 years old; 1% as a teen; and 7% as adults.) 75% of adults enter the Church through the RCIA process.

(Which raises the question: does being part of three RCIA processes but a graduate of none count? Or do Mark Shea and I fall into the 25% of adults who are not counted as having gone through RCIA because we were received before Christmas and never completed the RCIA process. Although our experience is clearly what the Church envisions happening for those who are already practicing Christians and who have a good grasp of the basics of the faith, I don't know where we fall on this spectrum.)

How many are entering the Church through RCIA?

In 1993, the US Bishops started to report not only adult baptisms but the number of already baptized adults being received into full communion. Between 1993 and 1998, between 154,000 and 162,000 entered every year.

Then came a surge. In 1999 and 2000, about 171,000 adults entered each year and the numbers grew again in 2001 when 178,000 adults became Catholic. (I wonder if the visibility of the Great Jubilee of 2000 and John Paul Il, failing but also in some ways, at the height of his fame and still capable of things like the iconic trip to the Holy Land was a factor)

2002: The Scandal broke in Lent of that year. 161,132 adults entered.

2005: Pope John Paul II died in April while 154,501 are received.

2006: The number received rises a bit to 157,500. (Perhaps related to the enormous global media coverage of the Pope's funeral and all the attendant talk of "John Paul the Great"?)

2007: The slide begins in earnest. 136,778 are received.

2008: Another drop to 124,000 adults received. A 54,000 person or 30.5% drop in new Catholics over a 7 year period. And with no ecumenical council to blame it on. What is going on?

2009: Figures will not be available until the Official Catholic Directory is published in June, 2010. The US Bishop's website had an article published just before Easter which speculated that perhaps as many as 150,000 adults would be received at Easter. If this did, in fact, happen, it would be a real bounce upward. (Would it be related to the success and media coverage of Pope Benedict's visit to the US in the spring of 2008?) But we'll have to wait another 10 months to know.

And I meditated on this, it occurred to me that one really significant factor might be something other than our usual debates about bad catechesis and culture war stuff or even highly positive media events involving the Popes. it might have to do with the turn of the generational tide and the coming into their own of the Millennial generation.

More on this topic in a second post.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ripples of Grace in My Town

How often the experience of a life transformed by Christ leads to the desire to share that new life with others. Here's a fascinating story from my town:

From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, 10 or so ministry volunteers work in shifts of three behind a stand to spread Christ’s message outside the courthouse. An office will open Tuesday at 102 S. Tejon St., Suite 1100, about two blocks north of the courthouse, where volunteers will witness to people in a more relaxed environment.

The mastermind behind Courtside Ministries is Colorado Springs attorney Tyler Makepeace.

A Springs attorney for 36 years, Makepeace has represented clients involved in domestic violence, rape, murder, shoplifting, DUI, burglary and a host of other crimes. He is known for witnessing to his clients, and he encourages other attorneys to do the same. Courtside Ministries is an outgrowth of his unrelenting desire to witness.

Makepeace became a born-again Christian in 1999. Till that point, he was sad and confused, he writes in a law magazine article published several years ago. His marriage was crumbling and he was a workaholic. “I was depressed all the time and could not understand or explain my predicament,” Makepeace writes.

One evening during this tumultuous time, I remember watching a Billy Graham Crusade and hearing him say, ‘God loves you,’” Makepeace writes. “I could not get my mind around such a thought. Then, several weeks later, I recall picking up a book about the life story of Mother Teresa and reading about her life ‘abandoned to God.’ Such a thought began to intrigue me. Unbeknownst to me, God was pursuing me, and I had begun a journey toward a more rewarding spirit-filled life.

I'm not surprised anymore when I read about people whose conversion was precipitated by both evangelical and Catholic influences. And what influence could be more quintessentially evangelical than that of Billy Graham and more truly Catholic than that of Mother Teresa? But both, in their own ways, radiated Christ.

How many lives have changed because people met Christ through the testimony of that man and that woman? In my town. In your town. And what unexpected ripples of grace reach many others because of those changed lives?

Friday, August 28, 2009


I've been mulling over a blog post on RCIA ever since I got back from Omaha and have been working on it today. Of course, stuff - good stuff mostly - kept happening so I haven't finished my mulling, but hopefully I'll get it up during the weekend.

Called & Gifted Facilitator Training - Coming to a Parish Near You!

Two more events confirmed for this fall in the past 24 hours. 14 events in October alone. We are going to be busy.

But the real heads up in this post is about the FIVE opportunities to be trained to facilitate the discernment of others' charisms in September and October. Coming to a parish near you - literally!

Kansas City, KS on September 18 - 19

Peachtree City, George (Atlanta) on September 27- 28

Houston, Texas, October 16 - 17

Linthicum, Maryland (Baltimore) October 18 - 20 in the evenings

Ann Arbor, Michigan, October 27 - 29 in the evenings (this just was confirmed so it isn't up on our website yet)

Learning to facilitate the discernment of others is one of the most valuable pastoral skill sets for pastors, pastoral staff and leaders and can have an enormous impact on life of individual Christians as well as in our parishes, our dioceses, and with regards to the Church's mission to and in the world. Have I also mentioned that listening to people's stories of being used by God is a incredible experience? How it opens our eyes to what God is doing in our midst and how it nourishes our own faith?

There are some important pre-requisites:

Step One: Begin Your Own Discernment

1) Experience the Called & Gifted introductory workshop (live or on CD).

(We have live workshops coming up this fall in Silverton, OR; Sugarland, TX; Peachtree City, GA (Atlanta area); Issaquah, WA (Seattle) Collierville, TN (Memphis area) Indianapolis, IN; Linthicum, MD (Baltimore area) Houston, TX; Seattle, WA; Petaluma, CA Corpus Christi, TX)

2) Take the Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory (which is distributed at a live workshop or can be purchased through our website)

3) Have a one hour, one-on-one personal interview with a trained interviewer.

a. If no trained interviewers are available in your area, you can arrange for a phone interview through the Institute office.

b. There is a nominal charge of $25 for a phone interview as we pay our interviewers an honorarium.

4) Pick a charism to explore and do some personal discernment. This experience will not only help you clarify
your own charisms but give you insight into the discernment process which will help you enormously when
listening to other people’s stories as an interviewer.

Step Two: Becoming an Interviewer and Small Gifts Group Facilitator

1) Prepares you to conduct a one hour, one-on-one session with someone who has been through a live
workshop or listened to the CDs and has taken the Inventory. During this interview:

a. We answer the participant’s personal questions,
b. Help participants recognize patterns in their life that may indicate the presence of a charism,
c. Help them pick one charism to discern and determine how they might do so.

2) Attend Gifts Interviewer Training:

a. Prerequisites for going through interviewer training:
i. Basic listening skills (we don’t have time to teach them during the training)
ii. Practicing Christian for a couple years, the basic spiritual and personal maturity to listen to
very different personal and spiritual experiences without interposing one’s own.

b. Interviewer training is short but intense. A typical weekend schedule would be Friday night from 7 – 9:30
and Saturday 9am – 8 pm. Some trainings are done in a series of three evenings in a row.

c. Cost: $100/person (includes the cost of extensive reference materials)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Prayer Request

Mea culpa for the lack of blogging since I've gotten back. Tuesday was intense catch up and meetings. Lot of new opportunities have flooded in over the past two weeks and we are still trying to sort them all out. (Why does everyone want everything in October? We have five Called & Gifted facilitator trainings scheduled in September and October! If you want to learn how to have "the most fun you can have legally", you should consider attending one. I'll put up another post just about those trainings in a bit.)

Right now, I'm waiting for a phone call about my LA area gig on Labor Day weekend.

But in the meantime, I've received this urgent e-mail. A much loved priest, Fr. Neil Stull, S.O.L.T., is gravely ill with cancer and needs our prayers.

Let's hold Fr. Neil up tonight.

Monday, August 24, 2009

High Country

The Leadville Trail 100 took place last weekend while we were in Memphis. Three weeks ago, I was high above Leadville, taking in the wildflowers at 12,000 feet. Here are some pictures (click to see the picture in full)

The trail up:

The flowers: Columbine, Indian paintbrush, larkspur, various kinds of asters and daisies.

The view over Turquoise Lake and Leadville (10,200 feet high and far below)

Happy Birthday William Wilberforce

Today is William Wilberforce's 250th birthday. Wilberfoce is a man that is worth of remembrance by all Christians, the leader of the British anti-slavery movement for many years as well as part of many other faith-based reform movements.

All but one of Wilberforce's sons became Catholic (due to the Oxford Movement) but may have influenced the development of Catholic Social Teaching.

One way to celebrate would be to run out and get the recent and glowingly reviewed biography of Wilberforce or rent the movie "Amazing Grace" this weekend.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Update on Ted Fones: Aug 23

My father has had a rough road since breaking his hip August 11. He developed pneumonia in the hospital, had a second surgery to implant a stent in his neck, received his first dialysis through the stent, and today was moved to a new hospital.

My sister, brother, and I decided to move him, with his and my mother's permission, because of the terrible care he received in the first hospital. There were daily incidents that led us to no longer trust he was getting good healthcare - or even truly safe. I have a four page-long file outlining the problems we encountered with his care, and I'm not even finished with it. It has been a sad learning experience about the state of healthcare in this country, and I would recommend that if you have a loved one in the hospital that you be prepared to act as their advocate if they are unable to do so for themselves.

Thank you for your prayers for his recovery. Please keep them up!

Reconsidering Education

I don't have much time to post - I have to walk back from Starbuck's, where I have access to the 'net, back to the rectory where I'm staying the night, and then get up early for a flight back to Colorado Springs, but I ran across a review of a book that sounds interesting - and very Catholic - coming from a Dutch Reformed philosopher from Calvin College.

In Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Baker Academic) philosopher James K. A. Smith calls for a "temporary moratorium" on the hallowed notion of the human person as primarily a rational being, which has led educators to focus on reason, logic, data, and "that which can be proved," rather than as beings created for love.

Here's a bit of the review, which outlines Smith's question:
For Smith, worldview-centered education reflects a continued understanding of human beings as primarily rational creatures, moved and animated mainly by ideas. From this assumption has come a particular form of education—very much in line with the secular academy—that elevates the classroom and privileges fact, argument, and belief. To those who espouse this view, Smith poses one fundamental question in the form of a thought experiment: "What if education wasn't first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?"

If educating is indeed about properly ordering our loves, as Smith (following Augustine) believes, then formation rather than information should become the primary end of our institutions. This presents a colossal problem for a professorate that's had its formation in the modern academy, and the modern world at large. Today's academic disciplines weren't exactly designed to get to the heart—quite the opposite, in fact. The very notion of "research," whether done by chemists or anthropologists, centers on cultivating detachment and "objectivity"; "thought," of course, requires freedom from emotion: this was the modern confidence, indeed, the modern creed.

But what has it turned out? Several generations of students-turned-professionals who have learned to love success and excellence, who climb corporate ladders with ease, and who are very good at shopping (in all forms). These are the kinds of loves that direct us away from our deepest ends; this is mis-education—missed education. And Christian institutions, Smith charges, have been complicit in this destructive, demonic project. "Could it be the case that learning a Christian perspective doesn't actually touch my desire, and that while I might be able to think about the world from a Christian perspective, at the end of the day I love not the kingdom of God but rather the kingdom of the market?"
This perspective is remarkably similar to a question Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, poses in his parish mission titled, "Friendship With God." In this wonderful mission, Fr. Michael examined the Fall from the perspective of humans seeking the wrong thing: knowledge, rather than experience, or being - particularly the experience of being loved and loving, or appreciating that which is. It's a brilliant, inspiring extended reflection on our choices and what it is that God is really offering us.

I think Professor Smith's question is timely and important, especially given that so many Catholics seem more comfortable in the realm of ideas, rather than relationship. I don't want to propose a false dichotomy, either. Both ideas and relationship are important; both the mind and the heart make up the human. The Holy Father said as much more than twenty-five years ago in a preface of a book by Cardinal Suenens: "What is the relation between personal experience and the common faith of the Church? Both factors are important: a dogmatic faith unsupported by personal experience remains empty; mere personal experience unrelated to the faith of the Church remains blind."
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, foreward for a book by Cardinal Suenens, Renewal & the Powers of Darkness, 1983.

Our ideas of formation in Catholic circles these days does seem to be heavily weighted toward an intellectual formation. While this is important (I am a Dominican, after all), it is not the only aspect of the human that must be formed. There were many, many highly intelligent people in the Nazi regime, for example, but obviously their moral, spiritual, affective formation was altogether lacking - at least in regard to Christian teaching (or even the natural law, for that matter).

Particularly in regard to Christian formation, I think we are seeing the ineffectiveness of formation that is almost solely focused on the intellect. We try to teach our children the Faith, and time and time again they reject it. It is perceived as boring, abstract, out-of-touch, and inconsequential. Compared to the "facts" provided by science, the "Truths of the Faith," which cannot be seen, but must be believed, pale in reality. The faith of the apostles is something that is experienced as well as taught; felt as well as known; life-changing as much or more than mind-changing.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Walking in Memphis . . .

Off to Memphis on the morrow - very, very early. To train 15 new Called & Gifted teachers with Fr. Mike. Back mid-day Monday.

We've had some very exciting opportunities pour in over the past couple of days.

A highly respected deacon in Canada wants to work with us bringing the Called & Gifted to the clergy and deacons of his region.

A sister from one of the new women's orders wanting to add the discernment of charisms to her sister's formation process.

The superior of a new men's community of priests has asked us to teach his men how to discern their own gifts, to help them understand how the charisms empower evangelization, and how to facilitate the discernment of the lay Catholics with whom they work.

A large archdiocese in the west wants to integrate Making Disciples into their evangelization plan.

A booming archdiocese in the south is recommending the Called & Gifted as part of their diocesan evangelization strategy.

The evangelization office of yet another mid-Atlantic Archdiocese has issued a brochure of evangelization resources and includes the Institute in a prominent way.

My brain is a little scrambled from dealing with them all but we are most grateful. What we are learning is that small and obscure as we think we are, lots and lots of people have heard of us and actually have some of our materials. Sitting in little ol' Colorado Springs, it is easy to underestimate the power of word of mouth.

And it has been 16 years after all, since that summer of 93 when I was putting the very first draft of what become the Called & Gifted discernment process together.

But right now, I have to focus on Memphis.

Generational Shift

As I have mentioned before on this blog, the post-World War II, pre-Vatican II world that conservative American Catholics tend to idealize was not experienced as a golden time by Catholics who lived through it and were old enough to understand the terrors that had taken place between 1914 and 1945.

The bloodbath of World War I had overlapped with the October revolution in Russia which was ferociously athiestic. In fact, Pope Pius XI spoke of the "Terrible Triangle" - referring to persecution of Christians in the new Soviet Union and the civil wars in Mexico and Spain in which Catholics and the Church suffered horribly. Simultaneously, Hitler rose to Power in Germany. It all ended in another global catastrophe - World War II, the Holocaust, the bombing of HIroshima, and the beginning of the long anxiety of the nuclear era and the cold war.

Their literature, which I read a great deal of while preparing to teach the graduate course in the Theology of the Laity at Sacred Heart Seminary in June, is filled with anxiety and cataclysmic language. They talked as though all of life hung by a thread while we look back and think of them as inhabiting a serene, sunlit pastoral valley flowing with ecclesial milk and honey. i think we have to let the pre-Vatican II generation speak for itself in these matters. By comparison, we are the ones living in the sunlit valley.

I mention this as backdrop to an excerpt from a very interesting Australian Radio Broadcasting 2001 interview about Thomas Merton.

The question: Why was Thomas Merton's Seven Story Mountain such a publishing phenomena, selling 600,000 copies?

Robert Elwood: Certainly that immense success of the book caught the publishers and everybody else by surprise, but perhaps it shouldn’t have, if one really looked at the undercurrents of life in those immediate post-war years.

A series of books on mysticism – Aldous Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy, Alan Watts’ Behold the Spirit and so on, were appearing around that time, and also doing quite well. What they suggest is that people were desperately looking for something different from the contemporary world, and understandably so, when you consider the terrible Great Depression, the horrors of World War II, the anxiety that people felt over the apparent triumph of Communism in much of Europe, the fact that although the war had ended, the world hardly seemed secure with the atomic bomb as a new player on the world scene, all of this created a kind of feeling that the modern world as we had understood it, had somehow really gotten out of control.

Opinion polls of young people around that time show that often the majority of young people did not expect to live a normal, full life, they were convinced that they would die in war, atomic holocaust or something like that.

So it was a time when the modern world seemed to have little appeal. In the midst of this I think the appeal was not so much to some future vision, because the future seemed pretty bleak indeed to those who thought about it, but rather looking back at the past. Was there a civilisation in the past that seemed to work better? And were there institutions in the world that preserved the values of that past, despite everything the world had been through. And in this context I think the Roman Catholic church and its vision, however idealised it may have been, of the Middle Ages, came out very well.

In this context somebody like Thomas Merton who is presented in the autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, had been to Columbia University in the late ‘30s, where it seemed like practically everybody was on a soapbox proclaiming some absolute dogma or other: communism, socialism, Catholicism, technocracy, all of the isms of the late ‘30s period, and in the midst of it all had finally decided on Catholicism, but not only that, but taking it to the point of becoming a monk in one of the most austere orders of the church, this caught people’s imagination. You know, this is a person who was willing to repudiate all of that modernity that it was giving us so much anxiety.

"young people around that time show that often the majority of young people did not expect to live a normal, full life, they were convinced that they would die in war, atomic holocaust or something like that."

In many ways, it is impossible to understand the enormous rise in religious and priestly vocations between 1945 and 1965 (20,000+, a 53% increase in 20 years!) without grasping what that generation of young adults had seen and lived through. In a sense, It was very like the reaction of the generation that lived through the wars of religion in France in late 16th century. They too entered (and founded) religious communities in large numbers and began the Catholic revival that transformed the nation.

But that sort of generational motivation is something that, by its very nature, is one generation deep and can not be sustained forever, especially if the times get better. In 17th century France, the war generation's intense focus on a heroic monastic asceticism and contemplation became, in their children, an intense focus on personal, pro-active charity in the world toward the poor, the illiterate, the sick, and the abandoned. Both were of God but there was a distinct generational shift.

Every generation has its own terrors and struggles of course. It is not Nazism or Communism but Islamic terrorism that tends to dominate our thoughts these days. But despite 9/11, most of us in the US do not expect to die in a terrorist attack and do expect to live a normal life span and to live a pretty comfortable life - which is why economic recession hits us so hard. It threatens our expectations of a middle class life. We don't live in fear of the annihilation of the humanity as Americans in the 50's and early 60's did. Our children don't routinely practice hiding under tables and in bomb shelters in case of a nuclear attack. Which gives us the leisure to spend our energies on other issues like "building a culture of life" and the liturgy.

And that distinguishes post-Vatican II Catholics from the pre-Vatican II generation as dramatically as the experience of celebrating the Mass in the vernacular.

Catholic Quote of the Day: Nothing is Lost

"We are divinized to the extent that nothing of our humanity is denied, despised, or ignored, when nothing of what makes us human is lost or left behind. Just as God’s Son lost nothing of his divinity during his sojourn on earth, so we will carry to eternal life everything in our lives that is genuinely human.

May the humanity of Jesus inspire us to accept our own humanity in all its present ambiguity, so that through him and with him and in him we may become, in a manner that is beyond our imagining, full sharers in his divinity."

Fully Human, Fully Divine, Michael Casey

H/T Robert Imbelli, Dot.commonweal

Happy Feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Prayer request: tornado destroys church

My brother-in-law, David Beals, is the pastor of Williamsville Christian Church in Williamsville, Illinois. The church, which was undergoing renovation, was just destroyed by a tornado.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

David and my nephew Tyler were in the church at the time; they got out OK. One of the construction workers in the sanctuary had his leg broken by a collapsing wall. David was slammed up against a wall by the storm; now he's helping with searches. About 25 homes in the town were destroyed.

My sister Melinda and other nephew were in another town for a doctor appointment, and are OK.

Their family lives in the parsonage, a couple of hundred yards down the street from the church. It seems to have been spared.

They all have a very strong faith, but this will be a big challenge. And I'm leaving for Poland in less than a week, so I can't be of much help right now. Please, please pray for them and for their community.


Here's some You tube footage of the damage:

And pictures of damage from the village website

And the Twitter feed on Williamsville.

The Food Timeline: Delight Yourself in Fatness

I just came across a website so cool that I had to share it: The Food Timeline

Foodies will laugh but I'd never come across this before. Want to know about the history of milk?

Of marshmallows? (there is a history of marshmallows???)


Worcestershire Sauce?

This site is a dream come true for foodies, historians, and lovers of the quirky.

My dad loved to quote Isaiah 55 about "delighting yourself in fatness". It is in that spirit that one should revel in this incredible labor of love.

So make yourself that non fat half-half, hazlenut latte and set down to delight yourself in fatness - and macadania nuts, manderin oranges, and the lore of chili peppers.

Julia would be proud.

From In the Field

An interesting e-mail that I received last week while still in Omaha from a parish associate, related to our recent discussion here on "the Gap".

I am an Intentional Disciples reader and appreciate your thoughtful posts so much. We are looking forward to our mission with Catherine of Siena next Feb/Mar.

Your reflections upon the Gap really hit home this morning. Wednesday, I was on boarding a plane in Dallas, headed to Columbia, SC where two of my children attend "the other" USC, as west coasters call it. As we were settling in our seats, the flight attendant announced that a Bible has been found in the concourse--did anyone lose it?

Half the plane went diving for their bags, checking for a lost Bible (I admit I checked to see if it was my Liturgy of the Hours that she found) did look like a vignette for You know you are in the Bible Belt first, it was funny. But held a deeper meaning for me.

As a former Evangelical and one whose ministry focuses on adults, it is more poignant than that. When I came to our parish five years ago, the emphasis was on cerebral, intellectual formation...absent of any spiritual dimension. They functioned as water-tight compartments--you were either in one or the other. And the standoff between the two groups was, well, interesting to say the least.

When I reflect back on my own years as an Evangelical (now 30 years ago), a personal relationship AND ongoing formation went hand-in-hand. As my personal relationship grew, I wanted to learn I learned more, it drew me into a deeper relationship with God. When I reflect upon the past years in the parish, I realize how big a part my personal experience has played, often without my knowing it, in the direction we have taken. It was not intentional on my part to begin with--purely providential. As were the persons in the parish God sent my way who shared a similar vision. How we have grown and changed as a parish is has been a challenge for all of us.

As an aside: In retrospect, it was this desire to integrate these two dimensions of my life, that led to the door of the Newman Center at Emory University in Atlanta--an awareness of how scriptural the Mass was, and yes, I also experienced a Real Presence that was undeniable, and drew me deeper into liturgy.

The plane episode was just one of those moments God uses so well to renew my commitment to service. Your post helped me see that.

Thanks again for the posts--they really speak to me out in the field.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Gap: An Agony in Four Fits

This was supposed to be a simple comment on The Gap: Third Verse, Same as the First but Blogger is refusing to post more and more. Last week, it was pictures and now it won't take my comments. Let's seen if I can still post!


Remember the woman I quoted was quoting another evangelical friend who thought her child, used to a much more expressive and exuberant form of worship, might find the typical Mass boring.

I doubt very much whether the comment was stereotyping at all. I can think of members of my own family, who literally haven't a clue about the Catholic Mass, who would spontaneously feel the same way if I shanghaied them into one.

They have acquired a profoundly different sense of what "real" worship and "real" reverence should look like. In fact, they would be likely to regard the typical parish Mass as not simply boring but literally "dead". Since I know my family and what some of them are used to thinking of as "worship", anticipating their response requires no stereotyping at all. Just a simple knowledge of the person involved.

It's much like observing that my daughter, raised on Indian cuisine might well find English food bland and boring. Or that my son, raised in Kansas, might find Indian food too hot. It was a statement about the likes and dislikes of a particular person in light of their tastes and what they have been raised to regard as normal.

Here the gap in lived experience is so great that I despair of ever being able to get evangelicals to stop projecting their expectations upon Catholics and vice-versa. Which is why I won't be shanghaiing members of my family to Mass any time soon.

You wrote:

Orthodox Christians, interestingly enough, were significantly less likely than Catholics to profess belief in a “personal God.” Does that mean that large numbers of Orthodox Christians are functionally Deist?

Actually, I've had long conversations with a couple of very theologically and psychologically sophisticated Orthodox clergy with a broad knowledge of the orthodox scene and the answer seems to be "yes". For one thing, their attendance is far, far below our own. (One told me that although there is supposed to be 1 million Greek Orthodox in the US, attendance at the Divine Liturgy on a given Sunday, was probably no more than 40,000 - in the entire country!)

And when i asked him about discipleship and like issues, he knew immediately what I meant but his own sense of the number of disciples among the Orthodox was exceedingly grim. They seem to suffer from exactly the same diseases we do - but even more so since culture plays a much larger role.

You noted:

As an aside, one finding I found very interesting is that 73 percent of evangelicals worship in congregations of 500 people or less compared to only 44 percent of Catholics. I wonder how much that particular fact affects the rest of people’s spiritual lives. It may be hard to image God as “personal” if your congregation feels very “impersonal.”

It's a interesting question that I haven't thought much about honestly. Partly because I suppose that I have experienced so many evangelical mega-churches who manage to maintain a strong emphasis on the personal in their services and cultural norms. (Of course, they put an enormous amount of time, energy, and resources into doing so in a way that I've hardly even seen a Catholic parish attempt. It has to be huge priority in a gigantic parish to succeed.) But I imagine there has to be some point beyond which the sheer numbers overwhelm you. So an interesting question.

You commented:

The question is whether the additional level of spiritual intensity in those congregations is the result of specific practices that can be identified and transferred effectively to Catholic parishes.

Another great question in which I have a considerable professional experience and background. The immediate answer is "You can't simply import something from the evangelical world because almost always there are serious theological ecclesiological, cultural, and linguistic differences that you have to address or it will fail to have the desired impact. What I have found best is to be "inspired" by evangelical experience and then turn with new eyes to the Catholic tradition and ask "where have Catholics addressed this issue before?"

They have, you know, but most of our evangelical and pastoral wisdom has been relegated to the province of historians. Very few are doing the research into say, the evangelistic strategies of St. Bernadine of Siena as it relates to the work of St. Francis Xavier and St. Vincent de Paul. Evangelicals are reading our history for that exact information (My knowledge about 16th Jesuit missions was acquired from a paper I did at Fuller) but we aren't.

If you have 500 - 600 disciples in a congregation of 3,000 families (let's say a Sunday attendance of 5,000?), you are actually doing quite well. 10% is actually double the average estimate so God bless you!

And honestly, it is our ignorance of our own Catholic history and pastoral practice that makes us think of Bible studies and small groups and mission trips as "evangelical strategies". All of these things have been done many times in purely Catholic settings in the distant and near past.

For instance, i'm just reading a book on the amazing Oasis movement in Poland that developed in the 50's under communism. When American evangelicals heard about it in the 70's, they were riveted because it all sounded so familiar but the practices weren't imported from the evangelical world, they were home-grown in one of the most intensely Catholic cultures on earth.

By a Polish priest who had grown up in a non-religious Catholic family, miraculously survived Auschwitz where he experienced a powerful conversion, went directly into the seminary from the concentration camp, and in his very first parish of 12,000, recognized a serious problem:

"He compared his work at this period to that of a farmer who kept going from field to field scattering seeds of grain with his bare hands but having no time to check what if anything, had grown. Crowds filled the church at each of the many Masses on Sunday.

However Fr. Franciszek saw that most people were coming to Church out of custom and habit more than anything else. To many of his parishioners, faith was not a source of happiness and strength. Nor had it any real relevance to their lives."

It makes sense that for a man jolted out of agnosticism by the horrors of Auschwitz, merely conventional, cultural Catholicism would not be enough. And out of his experience grew a very powerful renewal movement in Poland which emphasized personal relationship with Christ, discipleship, Bible study, Christian community, and Marian devotion, and which received the active support and involvement of the future John Paul II.

Lucy Shea is Born!

Mark and Janet Shea are first time grand-parents and I guess I'm a grand god-mother since Tasha Shea (wife of Luke, Mark's eldest, gave birth to the beautiful Lucy late last night. Both mom and babe are well.

I received a very large and fuzzy picture of the gorgeous girl early this am but it's not really bloggable so I'll have to let Marko beat me to it.

A joyous welcome to Lucy and congratulations to Chez Shea!

The Gap: Third Verse, Same as the First

This is a reply to some comments on the The Gap, Part Deux post below. Like Topsy, it just grewed till it was too big for the comment box.

Peter wrote:

"whether a "Catholic" to "Evangelicals" comparison is really statistically "apples to apples." Catholics tend to identify as Catholics long after they have left the Church. I don't think the same is true of evangelicals.

Actually, the Pew studies dealt with all religious groups (Catholics, main=line Protestants, Hindus, Jews, Mormons, etc.) in exactly the same way, distinguishing between those who still hold to the religious identity they were raised in and those who have abandoned it. It was the huge number of American adults from all backgrounds who have left the religion of childhood (53%! - only 9 % of which had eventually returned) that was the real discovery of the Pew study and which precipitated their 2009 follow-up Study, Faith in Flux in which they focused entirely on those who left the faith in which they were raised.

All religious groups in the US experience significant losses because it has essentially become normative for adults, raised in any religious tradition or none at all, to decide their religious affiliation for themselves upon reaching adulthood. Which is why the majority are left the religious tradition of their childhood at least once – even if they eventually return – and most don’t. This is one of the remarkable characteristics of our culture at present. What varies a great deal in this very fluid situation is how many “natives” leave a given faith vs. how many enter that faith from the outside.

Of course, for an evangelical, moving from Protestant denomination to denomination has little meaning because their focus is much more on the quality of the life of the local church (parish) rather than that church’s denominational ties. For an evangelical to leave Protestantism, however, is roughly equivalent to a Catholic leaving the Church.

32% of those raised Catholic no longer claim the identity while 29% of those raised non-denominational Protestant have either joined a non-Protestant faith or ceased to practice any faith at all. So slightly more Catholics raised in the faith abandon the identity than do non-denoms. (Which doesn’t begin to exhaust the number of evangelicals in this country but “non-denoms” nearly always fall into the evangelical camp and Pew looked at them as a unit.)

The big difference is in the numbers who enter. Nearly four times as many Catholics leave the Church as enter it while the numbers of non-denominational Protestants have tripled despite their considerable loses. Today there are three times as many non-denominational Protestant as were actually raised in that faith.

Summary: A higher percentage of our people leave the Catholic faith altogether and a vastly smaller number enter the faith than happens in the evangelical world.

What I think is really telling is the difference between self-identified Catholics and self-identified evangelicals in these three categories:

1) Those who are certain that God is a personal God and you can have a relationship with that God.
Catholics: 48% Evangelicals: 74%

2) Those who say religion is “very important”
Catholics: 56% Evangelicals: 79%

3) Weekly attendance
Catholics: 42% Evangelicals: 56%

We live in the same culture and are subject to the same pressures and realities. But there is clearly a significant difference across the board in evangelical responses to those pressures which cannot be simply dismissed with a “they are oranges and we are apples” wave of the hand.

Another commenter wrote:

“I grew up around Evangelicals, Baptists, et al, and they were great at motivation and desire, but I realized by the end of my teens that they had nothing more to offer than 'Jesus loves me this I know for the bible tells me so." It is ok, and it creates many spiritual babies, but there wasn't much more.”

I would agree – up to a point.

First, a little side meditation. The broadest and most misleading caricatures entertained by Catholics and evangelicals about one another that I have encountered amount to “Evangelicals are stupid, Catholics are dead”.

One thing that I find consistently bewildering is the number of Catholics (in general – this is not a reflection on those of you who have commented here) who seem to have very little sense of the enormous number of really mature, spiritually and intellectually impressive evangelicals about. There are easily as many mature evangelicals in this country as there are mature Catholics. I’ve had the privilege of living, studying, and working with many of them and they remain some of the most impressive Christians I have ever known – by any standards.

Over and over, Catholic bloggers who manifest very little in-depth knowledge of the evangelical world, describe evangelicals as emotion-driven spiritual bears-of-very-little-brain and no staying power. Which has about as much reality as the perspective of the young beauty school student who was working on the hair of a Catholic classmate and stopped in bewilderment. “Where are they?” she asked? “Where are what?” returned her puzzled Catholic friend. “Your horns”. Where are your horns?” Turns out she had always been told that Catholics had little horns hidden in their hair – a sign of their demonic allegiance. (True story – it happened to Mark Shea’s mother-in-law).

Do I have to point out the obvious? You don’t establish and support 270 graduate level academic institutions if you have no interest in or capacity for sustained thought. And you certainly don’t successfully buck the west’s intense cultural pressure to privatize faith and launch a globe circling missionary expansion if you have no staying power. If evangelicals were simply the pathetic, shallow, spiritual ditz’s that many Catholics loftily presume they are, they’d be no challenge to us at all.

The truth is, they bother us exceedingly because they are anything but stupid and they are strong in areas where we are weak – and that isn’t supposed to be the way this works.

Of course, the reverse is also true – we are strong in areas where they are weak. But increasingly, evangelicals are more than willing to acknowledge Catholic strengths and are more than a little dazzled by them. I attended a gathering of high powered evangelicals committed to spiritual formation in early July. They were talking and quoting Catholic authors almost exclusively: Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Green and referred a great deal to monastic practice. Their passion was a profound union with God and so naturally, they turned to the great mystics. I learned from them that many of the foremost evangelical universities in the country now have spiritual formation programs in place that are adopting the same approach.

But so many of their evangelical assumptions were still in place. One impressive missionary leader, who lives in St. Petersburg, was stunned when, in response to his questions, I had to explain to him that being a Christian and being a disciple weren’t the same thing in the Catholic tradition. One was sacramentally based and the other a personal response.

The bewildered look on his face said it all. There was no place in his spiritual worldview for such a distinction. After all, he was turning to historic Christianity for guidance in how to help immature disciples become mature disciples. It had not yet dawned upon him that a faith that produces such saints could simultaneously have large numbers of members who are not yet disciples at all. Who don’t even know that discipleship is possible. Many of whom don’t even have an imaginative category in their heads for discipleship. Because they have never heard anyone talk about it.

Yes, evangelicals produce lots of spiritual babies. They may only be one year old spiritually but at least they are crawling and/or beginning to take their first steps. While we are finding that our pews are filled with the spiritually pre-natal. Many still in the first trimester. And they've been in the first trimester for decades and are showing no signs of growth at all. (Which is scary since unborn babies that don't grow, eventually die.) There are days when I’d give anything for a room full of toddlers. For all of our pro-life rhetoric, our practice and our culture is seems to be firmly in favor of spiritual contraception.

Or to use another metaphor, Catholicism is the graduate school of the spiritual life. We have this enormous, gorgeous library, full of the riches of the ages and open 24/7 to anyone who wants to enter and peruse at their leisure.

But first you have to teach yourself to read and write. Cause we don’t have a public elementary school system and the majority of our people are illiterate. Now this works for some of our own who are especially gifted and persistent or have parents who tutored them privately or sent them to be educated by the emerging network of small, specialized private schools. But many, even the majority in our village don’t even know books exist. So our wonderful library is beginning to fill up with the graduates of hundreds of humble evangelical public elementary schools who know there is more and are hungry for it.

To continue with the metaphor: There is no reason at all that we could not establish our own public elementary "spiritual formation" system but when someone points out the need for such a system, the common responses seem to be:

1) We built the library and wrote most of the books in it!
(Hmmm? True indeed, but exactly how is that a meaningful response to a wide-spread lack of spiritual "literacy" (discipleship) which means few can read and understand those wonderful books?

2) Catholics don't do elementary schools. That's Protestant. The majority of our people have never been "spiritually literate".
Even if it is true - and it hasn't always been true everywhere - why does that make it ok? Especially since the founder of our library, gave us a very clear mandate: Go therefore and make disciples ("spiritual literates") of all nations . . .

3) We already have our own educational network and our people spend years in it!
Yes that is often the case, but we don't conduct tests to see what they have learned before they graduate. All the available evidence indicates that most of our pupils graduate still unable to read and write. (They never pick up a book and can't read our blogs for heaven's sake!) Shouldn't we ask ourselves: "is our existing educational system giving us the results that our founder clearly stated was the norm and our mission? If we keep doing what we are presently doing, we'll keep getting what we have gotten. Isn't it time to re-evaluate and revamp our "spiritual school" system?

Even if setting out to teach all our people to read and write smacks of Protestantism?

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Small Miracle in Omaha

I'm back.

Thanks so much for your prayers everyone! They were badly needed. There was a number of minor disasters prior to am on Saturday when the workshop began and I didn't get much sleep cause I didn't have access to the final version of the slides that Fr. Mike had prepared until I reached Omaha and I had some significant prep to do!

I was getting increasingly tense as I rushed around (trying to shovel down an omelet at ramming speed and standing up cause I has used breakfast time to prep but if I didn't get some protein in my system, my blood sugar would crash; struggling with my computer - no emergency calls to my MAC man, Fr. Mike, since he was holed up with his father in a hospital with no cell access and my own cell had died as soon as I reached Omaha - the booktable materials, etc.) I was on my own and shooting up little bleets of "You have to provide, Lord or this is not going to be pretty" as I worked furiously and finished with maybe 30 seconds to spare.

The day was put on by INET, a small group of lay people who have organized and put on formational events for RCIA leaders in the diocese for the past 15 years. My stress level raised a trifle when they told me at dinner the night before that they had had the very top presenters in the field in the past and I didn't recognize a single name! (That's when you know you are really out of the loop!) And I'm sure that the organizers, who were very gracious, were also wondering how this was going to go. After, they had a Dominican priest lined up and ended up at the last minute with this unknown woman. All they knew was that "I worked with Fr. Mike"

But the minute I started speaking, God's presence and provision was abundant. The day went beautifully. The organizers told me over and over "people came up to us all day and said 'this is the best event you have ever put on'. They really liked that fact that I was an RCIA alum myself and I told many stories of my own experiences and those of my friends and many acquaintances who have pass through the RCIA process.

I can't take credit for the content. Almost all was drawn from Fr. Mike's fertile brain and, of course, Making Disciples. But it was one of those days when you just find yourself saying and doing things that far beyond what your cold, calculating brain would come up with. Segments that we have sweated over before (like the kerygma) just flowed effortlessly. The Holy Spirit was doing something much larger and more beautiful than I had to give. God bless all of you who prayed! I often find myself thinking when these sorts of things happen: "Someone out there is praying! This is so beyond me."

And then on Sunday, I was struck down by a 24 hour bug, and slept all the way home on the plane, and then essentially all the rest of the day and all night and now I am up and feeling pretty normal again.

And Fr. Mike's dad is doing much better as well!

I realized afterwards that the fact that I had had one of those creative "brain storms" the week before and had spent several days re-working Making Disciples (which we'll be doing in Omaha in October) was all part of God's providential preparation for the seminar I did not yet know I was going to teach.

Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

High Tension Communities

I'm listening to my dad snore in his room in the cardiac unit of the hospital. He was moved from critical care up here to try to take care of some arrhythmia. They've given him his normal medication to combat this, which also tends to lower his blood pressure. Since low blood pressure was one of the huge problems post-surgery, it's not surprising the absence of that medication has led to this new problem. Hopefully, it will be resolved quickly and he can move to the orthopaedic unit and begin his physical therapy.

In the meanwhile, I've had time to catch up a bit on blogging. John Allen has a good, balanced response to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, carried out on behalf of the National Religious Vocations Conference. Titled “Study of Recent Vocations to Religious Life,” the research surveyed 4,000 new members of religious communities, and basically confirmed the anecdotal impressions of new religious. New members tend to come from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, especially Hispanics and Asian-Americans; and they tend to be more traditional in both theological outlook and spiritual style than older religious. There are various interpretations of this result that Allen examines.

"There’s what one might call the “ideological” interpretation in some conservative quarters, which amounts to a chest-thumping “we’re winning and you’re losing” response. (A brief and sarcastic statement released on Tuesday by the Catholic League, excoriating unnamed liberal “diversity dons” presumably flummoxed by the results, illustrates the psychology.) Some liberals will undoubtedly see the study in the same way, although they’re less likely to issue press releases or write blogs about it.

This ideological reading would see these results as a referendum on the progressive reform agenda of the Vatican II generation, concluding that young religious are voting with their feet against it."

Another possible interpretation goes like this: A “generational” interpretation, on the other hand, would see these results in terms of differences in historical milieu. The Vatican II generation grew up within a strong Catholic culture and to some extent reacted against it, seeing it as overly stifling and controlling. The defining cultural crucible for millennials, however, has been a rootless secular world. They’re eager to establish a strong sense of Catholic identity, not to reform or redefine it. In essence, they’re reacting against the world, not the church.

Seen in that light, the commitment to orthodoxy and to traditional modes of life one sees among young religious today is less about the ideological contest of left versus right, and more about differences in generational experience."

The final hypothesis is, in my mind, connected to Sherry's posts on "the Gap."
Here’s yet a third explanation, this one arising out of the sociology of religion: the competitive edge of “high-tension” groups.

Both in the United States and around the world, those religious movements which have grown most dramatically over the last half-century are those with the clearest boundaries between themselves and the prevailing culture. In their 1987 book A Theory of Religion, Rodney Stark and William Bainbridge called this “high-tension religion.” Low-tension groups, according to Stark and Bainbridge, are usually dissolved into the “cauldron of secularism.”

This might seem a counter-intuitive result, because in the short run stricter groups may alienate some members. But over time, this attrition works to resolve what sociologists and economists call the “free rider” problem. High-tension groups screen out members with low levels of commitment, enhancing the participation levels of those who remain. This, in turn, drives more effective recruiting and retention.

Economist Laurence Iannaccone made this argument back in 1994, in an influential essay titled “Why Strict Churches Are Strong.” According to Iannaccone, strict churches (or, by extension, strict religious orders) attract members because, in the mercenary language of economics, they offer a better product. Here’s how Icannaccone described that product: “A church full of passionate members; a community of people deeply involved in one another’s lives and more willing than most to come to one another’s aid; a peer group of knowledgeable souls who speak the same language (or languages), are moved by the same texts, and cherish the same dreams.”

Significantly, “high-tension” and “conservative” are not coterminous. It’s entirely possible to foster a high-tension ethic within a church, or a religious order, that’s not premised on ideological conservatism. Within Catholicism, new movements such as Sant’Egidio or L’Arche illustrate the point; they have many of the characteristics of “high-tension” groups without falling on the ideological right. It’s simply a fact of life that in post-Vatican II Catholicism, many progressive groups and religious orders also adopted a more “low-tension” way of relating to the outside world.

Of course, Iannaccone acknowledged a point of diminishing returns. Too much strictness becomes self-defeating, making it virtually impossible for anyone other than a zealot to hang on. Still, his point was that both economic theory and empirical research suggest that “high-tension” groups enjoy a structural advantage in a competitive religious marketplace.
The community that Icannaccone (who himself surely has some Catholic roots with a name like that!) describes, is what I would expect a community with a significant number of intentional disciples to look like. Part of the "same language" spoken is the language of a loving relationship with Jesus - and it is that relationship that the members, with all their variety in other aspects, have in common. The common texts are scripture and the Church's teaching, the same dreams have to do with living the faith in the world; calling others to relationship with Jesus; transforming secular society from within so that it is just, humane, and lovely; and, ultimately, becoming saints.

I would presume that all three of these interpretations of the data are correct. I'm sure there are some people entering conservative communities out of a reaction against a misapplied, liberal, agenda-driven interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. There are certainly those who are entering because of a reaction to the increasingly valueless and meaningless nature of secular life. And there are those who are attracted to a "high-tension" group and it's clear identity and camaraderie.

The problem is, of course, that men and women should be entering religious life for none of those reasons (presuming a "high tension" community that focused on say, their founder, rather than the following of Christ), but out of a desire to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and to follow him through the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience; to serve their neighbor in love in response to the love Jesus has shown them; and to speak to others of the great work of salvation the Father has done in His Son's death on the cross for our sake.

Update on Ted Fones

I appreciate everyone's prayers for my dad.

He was doing well Thursday morning when I chose to go to Omaha after all. When I left, but had a setback: terrible, uncontrolled palsy in his hands and arms that made it impossible to hold anything, plus slurred speech and stuttering. I returned at my sister's insistence because both she and my dad were very anxious that the nursing staff (a new one that day) were insistent that nothing was wrong, and he was just confused. It's a long, sad story, but he's much better today, thanks be to God. The palsy's almost all gone, and his speech seems to be fine. Your prayers are appreciated. He is 87 and has 20% kidney function (he'll be on dialysis soon), some heart disease, and diabetic neuropathy in his legs. Nevertheless, he's my mom's caregiver! His mind is as sharp as ever - he's a Life Master in duplicate bridge and regularly ends up in first or second place at local bridge gatherings with his various partners.

He's being transferred out of the critical care unit this afternoon. Hopefully he'll be starting physical therapy soon.

Engagement and Discernment

Our parish is going to ‘do’ the “Engaged Church” program together with a Gallup survey and the Living your Strengths. I’m guessing you two are aware of this program? I think it has a lot of merit but I have real concerns about the Living Your Strengths. I’ve taken it and it obviously is a very secular model. But the questions and content [even in the Catholic edition] feels like a ‘conflict’ with our charism process and understanding. What I’m told when I question this is more people will participate in the LYS than in the Ch because it’s less of a time commitment, more familiar language, etc. and that once we ‘get’ them in on this level we can invite them to the deeper level of charism. While I recognize the reasonableness of this thought process I worry that it will set-up a sense of either-or-equality between the two. I’m totally committed to the Charism process and content. I feel like we’re trading true gold for a cheap imitation bronze here.

Curious Georgette

Hi, Georgette;
Sherry and I have some real concerns about the Engaged Church model. Here are some of them - Sherry may have others to add.
1. Yes, Growing an Engaged Church is based on a program first developed for the business world. In and of itself, there's nothing wrong with that. However, because the strengths have nothing to do with the supernatural, the focus tends to be on the individual, whereas with the charisms (spiritual gifts), the focus is on what God is doing for others through my assent and cooperation. In my opinion, that's a huge difference.

2. There is no discernment involved in the StrengthsFinder's inventory. As we've learned from the Catholic Spiritual Gifts inventory, the results of any such inventory can be easily skewed by what people hope they could be, would like to be, feel a need to be, etc. With the StrengthsFinders inventory, people are told that the five areas of strengths that they score high on are, in fact, their areas of strength. There is no sense in which other people should be involved in helping the individual check to see if that, in fact, is the reality. Consequently, people, having taken the inventory, may insist on doing things or being engaged in the parish in ways that fit their self-image and ego, rather than the reality. If that's the case, how will anyone else on the staff or in the parish say nay?

3. On a similar note, the StrengthsFinder's inventory fits in nicely with the American desire for quick results and quick analyses of the individual. And, because all of the various strengths are positive in some way, can feed our collective and individual narcissism. At least with the Called & Gifted we are honest about the fact that we can and will attempt to use our charisms to meet our own needs. Thus, we offer some practical spiritual helps to overcome that tendency. You're right, Georgette, the StrengthsFinder's approach is much easier than the discipline and honesty required in discernment.

4. The thesis of Growing an Engaged church is that engagement leads inevitably to spiritual growth. Our experience, and Catholic spirituality, suggests that that is not the case. Spiritual growth happens because of grace and our conscious cooperation with it. Just as a human relationship doesn't grow when it's ignored, our relationship with God doesn't grow without our participation. Growing an Engaged Church doesn't seem to indicate how engagement will lead to spiritual growth. As the saying goes, spending time in Church doesn't make you a Christian any more than spending time in a garage makes you a car!

5. But do we want engagement in the parish? Is that the goal of ministry - to get more and more people involved in parish activities and events? That is much less threatening to the individual lay person than living their faith in their work environment, where people are much more likely to be supportive. Becoming "engaged" at Church buys into our tendency to believe that being a good Catholic means involvement at the parish, rather than applying our faith and being an agent of God in the marketplace. It tends to strengthen the dichotomy that many of us have between "what happens at Church" and what happens at work and home. Growing an Engaged Church, because it is based on a business model that attempts to deepen the connection between an employee and his or her place of work. This is quite different from the purpose of a parish, which is not meant to connect people to their parish, but to form them for their apostolate in the world. "Since the laity share in their own way in the mission of the Church, their apostolic formation is specially characterized by the distinctively secular and particular quality of the lay state and by its own form of the spiritual life." (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, 29)
". . .the Parish has the essential task of a more personal and immediate formation of the lay faithful." (The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful, 61).

6. In light of the spiritual growth indicated by the thresholds (trust, curiosity, openness, seeking, discipleship) we've been discussing with pastoral workers, and again, from asking people about their relationship with God in our many gifts interviews, the consensus is that not all Catholics -even "engaged" Catholics - seem to be intentional disciples. Many of our parishioners seem to be at the passive thresholds of trust, curiosity and openness. If I become engaged in a parish where the vast majority of people are at these thresholds, and there is no concerted effort to call people to a deeper relationship with the Trinity, then even if engagement leads to deeper spirituality, how will it lead beyond openness? Again, God can and will use whatever we offer, but engagement alone does not necessarily lead to discipleship.

7. That being said, let's look at the example of the early Church. St. Paul didn't preach the Christian community or engagement within it. He preached Christ - and him crucified, no less! "Engagement" in the Christian community was the result of conversion to Christ; "You are Christ's body, and individually members of it." In addition, St. Paul had to confront the human tendency to sin - even among disciples - over and over again (e.g., Gal 5:15-21). My concern is that any process introduced in a parish, whether it's Growing an Engaged Church or Gifts Discernment, will ultimately be undermined by the lack of conversion and discipleship within the parish. The difference between the two processes is that the process of discerning gifts acknowledges the need for conversion and discipleship, and recognizes the human tendency to pervert a good thing to our own needs and ends.

In the end, Georgette, I have to admit I'm saddened that so many parishes are substituting engagement for discernment, but I understand why it's enticing. It's easy, the bulk of the expense is borne by the individual, not the parish, and it helps pastors and parish staff be successful in getting people working in parish programs. Unfortunately, engagement's not the purpose of pastoral ministry - formation is - a formation that is personal, immediate, and focused on the secular nature of the apostolate of the laity.

Mary of Nazareth

For this Feast of the Assumption (and nameday of my eldest daughter), you might want to check out this lovely website of the Mary of Nazareth Project.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Prayer Please

Fr. Mike had to leave Omaha last night because his father, Ted, has unfortunately taken a turn for the worse.

So I'm off to Omaha in a few to do the day for RCIA leaders that he wrote. I can hardly wait to see the actual slides (waiting for me in Omaha) and figure out what I'm supposed to be saying!

Your prayers all round would be most gratefully received.

One mysterious bright note: When I called my faithful friends at Northwest to see if (per impossible) I could get a ticket to Omaha for the next day, the woman who helped me originally quoted me a price of over $1,000. After I gulped and said "yes" (because what were my options at that point?) she exclaimed:

"Wait. My computer is doing something really unusual. It has just dropped the price of that same ticket by $400! I've never seen anything like that before! Someone is looking out for you."

Thank God.

Please pray for God's mercy, comfort, peace, and healing to cover Ted Fones, his wife, Melba, his daughter, Barb, and his sons, Fr. Mike, and Dave.

The Gap, Part Deux

There has been some interesting comments below on the post "Negotiating the Gap" but one in particular cried out for a specific response. I had started this before I found out last night that Fr. Mike's dad has taken a turn for the worse and I had to fly to Omaha today. So this is less comprehensive that it should and could be but I thought I'd start with what I had.

Peter Nixon wrote: " there are a LOT of assumptions there that I have issues with (e.g. the idea that one is more likely to find disciples at evangelical churches".

My response:


After 21 years as a Catholic, having worked directly with 40,000 Catholics in nearly 100 dioceses on 5 continents, with hundreds of clergy and thousands of pastoral leaders of all kinds in hundreds of individual parishes and having personally listened to thousands of regular Joe and Jane Catholics talk about their actual lived relationship with God, I can tell you without a shred of hesitation that you are more likely to find disciples in the average evangelical church than in the average Catholic parish. Hands down. No comparison.

This is NOT because evangelicals are made of different stuff (hardly since large numbers of them were baptized Catholic as babies). It’s that they do behave, communally and institutionally, on all levels as though the intentional discipleship of all should and must be normative or there simply is no point in doing church.

Notice I’m NOT saying that all their members are, in fact, disciples! Evangelicals would be the first to tell you that’s not the case. But I’m saying that universal discipleship is the central, normative goal at the heart of practically all they do. It is the throbbing heart of their culture.

Therefore, they talk constantly about it, pray about it, wrestle with it, agonize over it, structure around it, and program around it. Millions of their best and brightest have spent lifetimes in the study and practice of evangelism and the basic formation of disciples. The completely predictable result is: they are much more likely to have developed local cultures of discipleship than we are.

Mission outward, and making disciples is their passion and genius. They approach the practical art of evangelism and the formation of disciples the way we approach theology and philosophy and liturgy. They give it the absolute best of their energies, resources, creativity, time, and personnel. We don’t. In many ways, we have a better, more nuanced, more sophisticated theology of evangelization than they do, but institutionally and practically, fostering the intentional discipleship of all the baptized is hardly on our mental map. It’s that simple.

For example, there are 283 Master’s level degrees in missions, evangelism, or cross-cultural studies in the US alone. (And many hundreds of similar programs all over the world.) 5 are Catholic, 2 are Orthodox, there is a sprinkling of main-line Protestants and the rest are evangelical. The same percentages are true of the 76 doctoral programs in missions or evangelism in the US. 2 are Catholic, 1 is Orthodox. Catholics have one pontifical degree program in evangelization in the world – at Sacred Heart in Detroit where I taught last month.

26% of American adults identify as evangelicals. 24% as Catholics. Our numbers are nearly identical but they have nearly 50 times as many graduate programs in mission and evangelization as we do. Think of the incredible amount of academic, institutional, cultural, and financial support that it takes for the evangelical community to support 270 graduate level academic programs with one basic focus. A community that does that sort of thing is a community who is very serious about that sort of thing. Why should we be surprised that they are manifestly better than we are at the thing they spend most of their time and energy doing - and we ignore?

Last year, when the Pew US Religious Landscape Survey came out, I did an comparison of the responses of Catholics and evangelicals across the board. I’ve never talked about it publically because simply the results were pretty stunning and I knew that few Catholics can bear to take in the whole picture. But this discussion seems like a good time to revisit the topic.

In practically every area related to personal faith and practice that Pew studied, evangelicals trounced us convincingly: including belief in God, the involvement of men in congregations (and women and in every age bracket as well), the religious practice of young adults, looking to religious teaching for guidance when making a moral decision, and opposition to abortion. They even came out ahead in areas that we are famous for. Here are a few selected results (to keep this post within reason)

Q: Does God exist?

Absolutely certain 72%
Fairly certain 21%

Absolutely certain 90%
Fairly certain 8%

Q: Religion important in life?

Very 56%
Some 34%
Not 9%

Men 48%
Women 63%
18-29 45%
30-49 54%
50-64 57%
65+ 72%

Very 79%
Some 17%
Not 3%

Men 74%
Women 83%

18-29 71%
30-49 77%
50-64 81%
65+ 86%

Q: View God as personal God with whom you can have a relationship?



Q: View God as impersonal force?



Q: Attend services at least once a week?

All 42%

Men 36%
Women 45%

18-29 34%
30-49 36%
50-64 42%
65+ 62%

All 58%

Men 54%
Women 62%

18-29 54%
30-49 57%
50-64 59%
65 + 65%

Note: The biggest attendance generation gap for all US religious groups is among Catholics: 62% of those 65 and older attend Mass at least once a week, only 34% of Catholics under 30 do so.

Q: Formal Membership in Religious Congregation? (registered)

Yes 67%
No 32%

Yes 74%
No 26%

Q: Pray and Meditate Each Week?

Pray 79%
Meditate 36%

Pray 92%
Meditate 46%

Q: Scripture Reading Outside Services?

Weekly 21%
Monthly 21%
Seldom/Never 57%

Weekly 60%
Monthly 18%
Seldom/Never 21%

Q: Share Faith or View of God?

Weekly 14%
Monthly 9%
Yearly 13%
Seldom/never 62%

Weekly 34%
Monthly 18%
Yearly 16%
Seldom/never 29%

Q: Receive Answers to Prayer?

1x/more/week 15%
1,2x/month 11%
Several times/yr 20%
Seldom/never 31%

1x/more/week 29%
1,2x/month 17%
Several times/year 22%
Seldom/never 16%

Q: Source of guidance regarding moral decisions/right and wrong

Religious teaching 22%
Philosophy/Reason 10%
Practical Experience/
Common Sense 57%

Scientific Knowledge 7%
Don’t Know 5%

Religious teaching 52%
Philosophy/Reason 4%
Practical Experience/
Common Sense 39%

Scientific Knowledge 2%
Don’t Know 3%

My comments to myself at the time:

For a Christian body that prides itself on a rich and sophisticated teaching Tradition, 22% (for religious teaching) seems really low for Catholics and 30 points below that of evangelicals. Again, the approach of Catholics seems remarkably similar to that of “religious” unaffiliated. Here we see clearly the difference that an emphasis on intentional discipleship and formation makes.

“Practical experience and common sense” of course, is the category most likely to be heavily colored by the popular culture and wisdom of our day which is 35 points higher than religious teaching for Catholics, while for evangelicals, religious teaching is 13 points higher than “practical experience”. The result: Catholics, as whole, are much less likely to have a basis to question and judge the norms of our popular culture and so be counter-cultural while evangelicals are more likely to approach the culture from a independent, even critical stance.

Q: Abortion Wrong?

Abortion 45%

Abortion 61%

Note: These results seem to be directly related to the realities above. Especially noteworthy is the difference on abortion because Catholicism is completely, adamantly, and famously pro-life and the subject has been so highlighted in the past two elections while evangelical teaching and leadership is not unified on the topic.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Negotiating the Gap

I get some very interesting questions, such as this one last night from parish staff member and alum of our Making Disciples seminar:

A little history: A woman who is our women's bible study leader, who is very dynamic and is an intentional disciple with a charism of pastoring or teaching, came and had a discussion with me. She was Catholic left the Church went to several evangelical churches had a profound experience of Christ there. She came back to the Catholic Church only because her daughter was reaching first communion age. Got involved with our parish. Felt called by the Holy Spirit to start a woman's bible study so she met with me, I introduced her to the Called &Gifted, and several converts' materials and work, people who made the journey from the evangelical church to the Catholic Church. She got very enthralled with the Early Church Fathers, etc.

Her questions to me today: "What can I tell my evangelical friends as to why they should be Catholic?

I am not talking about theologically but practically. They have a strong sense of community rooted in discipleship. I can tell them to come to this parish, but what can I tell them about the parishes they are close by, or in other states? One of my friends who is an evangelical said she believes everything that the Church teaches about the Eucharist, etc. but she can't see sending her children to Mass or religious education where they will be bored out of their minds, not experience real community, and not ever encounter another disciple? What can I tell them?"

I have to admit that I was at a loss for words...I did speak to her about why I am Catholic and how being Catholic is the fullest way for me to follow Jesus and be in greatest intimacy with Him...etc.

She asked me about how the church got into this state that it is in, in the first place. So I begun explaining the raise of Christendom and how the use of charisms, proclamation, and conversion tied with initiation became less and less in the forefront of the Church's pastoral practice, the rise of monasticism and its impact on charisms, proclamation, and catechetics and the laity. She was very intrigued but had to run to pick up her daughter. She left with, "I would love to continue this conversation..."

The question she is really asking is: How does one deal with the journey of discipleship when theologically one can accept the teachings of the Church, but can't embrace the pastoral practices of a Church that lacks discipleship?

I'm hearing variations on this question all over the country. Another diocesan staff person told me a story of recently getting to know a very savvy evangelical church planter who is immersing himself in the Fathers and magisterial teaching But as he told his new Catholic friend "you are the first Catholic I've ever met that actually believes all that the Church teaches. "

So I'll turn to our readers:

How would you advise disciples from other Christian traditions who considering entering the Church to negotiate the vast gap between the teaching of the Church and the great saints and mystics and the actual lived practice of the faith at the local parish level? How can they survive and even thrive in a parish culture where discipleship is not the norm?

What have you found helpful?


Bit of the flutter here this morning.

Fr. Mike's dad, Ted, wasn't doing that well last night and for a moment, it looked like I was going to flying out to Omaha today to take Fr. Mike's place at the INET RCIA conference there. I was fertilizing flowers in the backyard early this morning when I got Fr. Mike's call.

He talked me through the basics of his presentation and was e-mailing me his slides. And there was the truly last minute hunt for a plane ticket (or was I going to get to drive to Omaha? I've done it several times before but normally I'd leave at 5 am for such a trip. It was beginning to look like a very long day.) and conversations with the Archdiocese, etc.

This was the ultimate version of the traditional Thursday-before-a-trip conversation with our staff: "Ok, Where am I going, when do I leave, and what are the names of the local leaders? (Rule #1: Always remember where you are this weekend and who you are with! Name of the city, the parish, the pastor, and the major lay leaders and the person who is picking you up at the airport.)

I had just pulled out my suitcase when Fr. Mike called again.

The good news is that Ted Fones is stabilizing nicely (and joking around - a good sign) and so Fr. Mike feels free to go to Omaha as planned. Hurrah! Praise God!

But your continued prayer for Ted Fone's recovery would be most appreciated and helpful! Total hip replacement is no joke at 87!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Adoration is Back in Boston

24/7 Eucharistic Adoration is returning to Boston on April 15 after a 40 year absence.

According to the Boston Pilot, St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine on Boylston Street will mark the start of adoration with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley on Aug. 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption.

"The effort to bring perpetual adoration back to Boston is a direct response to the call of Pope Benedict XVI to have spaces dedicated to prayers for vocations and the sanctity of priests during the Year for Priests which began in June and runs to June 2010. St. Clement’s will be the designated site in the Central Region of the archdiocese.

Van Damm said the inspiration for his involvement came from his own need to adore the Lord in the Eucharist. Van Damm said adoration has “re-ignited” his faith and given him much peace.

Marie Baranko, another member of the St. Clement’s community, agreed. Before she came to the shrine, Baranko said she did not believe in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Raised Catholic, she had never before seen adoration. After being invited to the shrine by a roommate, she attended adoration and recognized Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

“When you seek the truth, God honors that,” she said. “He reveals Himself to you.”

Her experience has also resulted in the discernment of her vocation. She will be entering the Sisters of Life order in September. She will be praying for the success of perpetual adoration at St. Clement’s from New York, she said.

“The shrine has played a major role in my vocation,” she said. “It’s centered around the Eucharist.”

Christ's Presence changes people.

We heard another amazing Real Presence story at Making Disciples two weeks ago. One of our participants is Catholic today because her local voting place was in the Catholic parish and she passed by the sanctuary and felt the Real Presence.

Just as I did as a completely clueless Protestant undergraduate when I stepped across the threshold of Blessed Sacrament Church in Seattle.

As did another Protestant women in Boise who attended an evangelization retreat at which the Eucharist was exposed and felt a force emanate from the host and hit her in the chest. I heard her story two weeks after she had been received into the Church.

Which is why we strongly suggest that Adoration is not a devotion just for the already devout. It can and should be made reverently accessible to all: non-Catholics, and non-anythings, the skeptical, doubting, the lapsed, the collapsed, and the seeking.

Because if He is lifted up, he will draw all men and women to Him.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Prayer Request

Please pray for God's comfort and healing for Fr. Mike's father, Ted Fones, who fell and broke his hip this morning in Arizona. Fortunately, Fr. Mike and his sister Barbara are both there for a little family reunion. Please pray for Fr. Mike, his mom, and his siblings, Dave and Barbara.

Thanks, you prayer warriors!


Fr. Mike just wrote to say that his father's surgery is scheduled for 5:30pm today. Thanks for your prayers!

Further Update:

Fr. MIke wrote to say that his father's surgery took place early, that his dad had a complete hip replacement, and that the surgeon said that it went very well. It will take Ted about a year to fully recover. Thanks very much for your prayers and add one for post-surgical pain, complications, and a swift and uneventful recovery!

Colorado Morning

This has been a essentially Colorado morning - the sort of morning I would never expect to have in Seattle.

First off, we had one of those killer hail storms last night - the worst we've seen in the 8 years we have been here. It was the prospect of such storms in years past that would send me out frantically throughout June and July to cover newly planted perennials nearly every afternoon. Fr. Mike used to find my anxiety funny.

HA! He should have witnessed those 15 minutes last night as the backyard turned white with bean sized hail. Dominicans who laugh at me now will get what they deserve.

Since it happened just before sunset and the hail covered everything, there was no point in going out in inspecting the damage right away. Much better after a good night's sleep and a strong latte. And consulting the Hail chapter of one of my mainstays, The Undaunted Garden, which is all about gardening in the challenging climate of the Rocky Mountains and the High Plains. Gardening books written for the Pacific Northwest have chapters on rain and slugs, not hail.

I was out at first light - and happy to discover that the damage was not nearly as bad as it looked. Most of the perennials were chosen specifically with this climate and the possibility of hail in mind - tough, xeric, cold hardy, and narrow leafed. The black eyed Susans and penstemons laughed at the storm the way St. Teresa of Avila laughed when she was told that she had been reported to the Spanish Inquisition. Resilient and undaunted. A sense of humor goes a long way at this altitude.

The California poppies had already been decimated by the hail storm two weeks ago, so this one made no difference. Even my my newly planted roses which had struggled constantly with poor drainage and hail, seemed unfazed. That which does not kill them apparently makes them stronger. Thank God.

I had just reached this cheering conclusion when a group of older women who walk the park every morning, called to me: "You have deer in your yard!" Amazingly, in the spot by the back fence where I had just stood 3 minutes earlier, were two does. They looked a bit trapped between the fence, the women, and me now contemplating them with wide eyes. But that didn't last long, As soon as the women moved a few yards down the trail, they lightly leapt over the fence from a standing start and were trotting off. I had wondered when a deer would come and pay a visit and if they could jump the fence and now I had my answer. Fortunately, I haven't planted a vegetable garden which is better known locally as a "deer salad bar".

Just at that moment, the waterfall started up. Nature's loveliest on a timer. 7 am to 9:30pm. With a newly created 30 foot stream that snakes along the shade line of the silver maple tree, passes through a small pool and a couple little falls on the way down and then pours over the wall into a small pool and bed of stones. It is not finished but already the sound of the falls and the light shimmering on the moving water has transfigured the whole backyard.

And my sense of relief, joy, and gratitude was complete. Blessed be God in all his gifts.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Prime Minister says Britain still a "Christian Nation"

From the Telegraph. In a comment that is sure to get a lot of play, Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of Britain, told Premier Christian Radio, that Britain is still a "Christian nation" and that

"I think the role of religion and faith in what people sometimes call the public square is incredibly important.

"In Britain we are not a secular state as France is, or some other countries. It's true that the role of official institutions changes from time to time, but I would submit that the values that all of us think important – if you held a survey around the country of what people thought was important, what it is they really believed in, these would come back to Judeo-Christian values, and the values that underpin all the faiths that diverse groups in our society feel part of."

Asked if he thought it would be better if Christianity were "privatised", he replied: "I think it's impossible because when we talk about faith, we are talking about what people believe in, we are talking about the values that underpin what they do, we are talking about the convictions that they have about how you can make for a better society.

"So I don't accept this idea of privatisation – I think what people want to do is to make their views current.
"There is a moral sense that people have, perhaps 50 years ago the rules were more detailed and intrusive, perhaps now what we're talking about is boundaries, beyond which people should not go.
"And I think that's where it's important that we have the views of all religions and all faiths, and it's important particularly that we're clear about what kind of society we want to be.


"So I think the idea that you can say: 'What I do in my own life is privatised and I'm not going to try to suggest that these are values that can bind your society together', would be wrong."

For readers, who might not be familiar with French ecclesiastical history:

In France, the final, absolute break between the Church and the State happened in 1905 and was precipitated in part by Pius X's demand that the French President not visit the reigning King of Italy. The President refused and France recalled its ambassador to the Vatican. The Pope disciplined two French bishops who had republican sympathies. This was seen by France as a violation of the Concordat of 1801 which had recognized 4 "official religions" of which Catholicism was one. France broke diplomatic relations with Vatican.

(The Vatican had not recognized the Italian state since it was set up in 1870 and took the papal states away upon which the Pope declared himself the "prisoner of the Vatican". Italian Catholics were told they could not vote or participate in the Italian government although that began to change after 1905)

The 1905 Law of Separation instituted complete separation of religion and state in France The Church was no longer funded by the state. One immediate impact: the number of seminarians dropped 50% until after World War I, largely because they lost some of their privileges such as immunity from the draft.

Laicite is a core concept in the French constitution, which defines France as a secular republic. Laicite relies on the division between private life - where religion belongs - and the public sphere, in which each individual is a simple citizen equal to all other citizens, devoid of ethnic, religious or other particularities. As a result, many see being discreet with one's religion as a necessary part of being French.

The de facto spread of similar ideas in Britain is what prompted the Prime Minister, who was raised in a Presbyterian manse, to make his comments.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Catechesis in China

There are many Catholic worlds within the great Catholic world. For instance, this word of a ground-breaking initiative in China via NZ Catholic.

The Diocese of Beijing offered the first formal catechist's training to 120 participants last month. The course was taught by a German sister, Helene Reichl, who has worked in Taiwan for nearly 40 years.

The trainees were introduced to the universal catechism and to parts of the RCIA process for reasons that may startle us.

Reichl observed "Participating catechists had no idea about the stage of inquiry" prior to the catechumenate process, she said. "They used to admit someone as a catechumen merely by asking a question -- if he or she is interested in knowing Jesus and the Catholic faith."

Catechism classes in Beijing parishes usually last for three months, and catechumens need not undergo a series of preparatory rites before baptism, she said. Baptisms are often administered once the three-month cycle of catechism classes ends, and the catechists had no idea of the significance of matching the catechumenate process with the seasons in the church's liturgical year, she said.


Bishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing told participants at the start of the course that the diocese normally baptizes about 2,000 people annually and has plans to build six churches in 2010 to meet increasing pastoral needs.

"The duty of evangelization is upon each of us, especially parish priests and catechists," he stressed.

A priest who serves at a parish in downtown Beijing said parishes generally do not set any requirements for parishioners willing to teach catechism, although they will provide some formation. This training course was a new undertaking at the diocesan level, he said.

Since the 1980s, when China's Catholic Church began emerging from decades of communist suppression, its leaders have worked to facilitate education and spiritual formation for its young priests and nuns, many of whom have gone abroad to study. At least one former seminary official has said that an increased role for the laity could help Chinese priests, who often are isolated socially and spiritually and face a variety of pressures.

So a western woman who has spent 40 years in a state that Beijing refuses to recognize has gone to Beijing to publicly train Catholic catechists. As difficult as times still are in China, how far things have come . . .

I loved this description of Sr. Helen in a related article in the China Post in 2007 about 80 Catholic leaders in Taiwan who were honored for their long service.

"German-born Helene Reichl was one of the honored nuns. She came to Taiwan in 1970. Reichl works at “Bible camps” for children and teenagers, visits prisons and hospitals to help people and teach them about religion.

“The world is so big that I didn’t know what Taiwan was like before I came here. Now I am a part of Taiwan, I dedicate myself to Jesus and to the Taiwanese people,” said Reichl.

“I’ll stay in Taiwan for the rest of my life. I came here with a Catholic mission. It’s a lifetime contribution. I wish I could help more people and let them know Jesus,” she added."

Coming Home to Mary

My friend Mark Shea is going to be on Marcus Grodi's Journey Home Monday evening at 8pm eastern, 6 pm Mountain (and not for the first time!) I'm sure his new triology on Mary, Mother of the Son will be the primary topic.

Mark is always fun, witty, and articulate - and this is his magnum opus to date. You'll enjoy it! Be sure and tune in.

Friday, August 7, 2009

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Long time readers of this blog may have wondered how the garden is doing this year.

One word: rain.

For the first time in 8 years, we are experiencing a "normal" amount of rainfall and cooler than normal temperatures. (Our MD participants who went to the top of Pike's Peak last Thursday had to borrow some jackets from the staff since it was 31 degrees on top and snowing! Our low of 48 degrees down in the lowlands of 7,000 feet set a new record.)

So lush and Ireland-like is the word for our landscape. And wild. The wildflower garden is exactly that this year.

Here's the ultimate before and after:

Summer, 2002 - at the beginning:

Excavation begins - summer, 2004:

Today - summer, 2009:

And the really cool addition is 2/3 of the way done. I don't want to spoil the surprise but I'll post pictures when the time is ripe. It was always part of the plan but has evolved a bit in execution and is going to be really, really cool.

Gloria Strauss: The Rest of the Story

Two years ago, I wrote 7 posts chronicling the illness and death of Gloria Strauss, a radiant 11 year old Catholic in the Seattle area and her family. Gloria's life was covered intensively by the Seattle Times and transfixed the city and many thousands of people around the world. But her death was not the end of the story.

Last week, Catholic Online did a wonderful follow-up piece on what has happened in the time since Gloria's death in September of 2007.

"Immediately following Gloria’s death, the family realized the large impact that Gloria had on the community.

Doug explained that people came all over to view her body before and after the Rosary. He added that he received a letter from a Lutheran man who attends Eucharistic adoration at a Catholic church who said that he had to go so that he could “see a saint in person.”

Then at the funeral, over 3,200 showed up and the family began to hear stories of how’ Gloria’s life and struggle had transformed lives.

One man from Virginia had read about Gloria and explained that he felt like he was “hit over the head by a 2 x 4.” The man had been on a four-day drinking binge and he completely gave up alcohol after reading the story on her illness and strength of faith.

Not only do the Strausses have a list of others who have quit different drug addictions because of Gloria, but they are aware of at least ten people who have become Catholic directly due to Gloria’s story – and more are continuing to convert. One in particular was a nurse at the Children’s hospital who didn’t grow up going to church. After seeing little Gloria’s faith, she knew she had to do something about it.

According to the Catholic Northwest Progress, one Presbyterian family became Catholic after Gloria attended a camp for ill children and their families. One of the volunteers, Brinn Funai continued to keep in touch with Kristen Strauss, Gloria’s mother, after the week’s activities.

Brinn explained that she had been checking into Catholicism, but meeting Kristen and the Strausses “was a big turning point for me.” They “really helped kin of soften that road so to speak, to coming into the church.”
“I told her right before she died, ‘Gloria, we’re going to become Catholic,’” said Brinn. “And she said, ‘Wow!’” The Funais were received into Catholic Church at Easter 2008.

Not only did the girl’s life, touch individuals, but she also inspired the organization, “Gloria’s Angels.”

Gloria's Angels walks with families from end to end when families are faced with a life-threatening illness. Our organization maintains a network of community-based volunteers, in-kind service providers and relationships with other service agencies (e.g., hospitals, DSHS, etc.). We do not intend to replace services already provided by other agencies. However, we do intend to serve as the "Guardian Angel" that can help families navigate the confusing maze of services available. Where gaps exist, we will provide offerings to fill those gaps.

"It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life."
The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

From Tucson . . . to the Entire Christian World

From the Knight's of Columbus Convention and Jack Smith's Catholic Key blog comes this funny bit from Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted:

"In AD 1880, Arizona got connected to the rest of the world. The first telephones were installed that year, and on March 20, 1880, the Southern Pacific Railroad reached Tucson. It was a momentous occasion. The Mayor of the town, the Honorable R.N. Leatherwood, was so thrilled that he sent telegrams to the President of the United States and other dignitaries. He even sent a telegram to the Holy Father in Rome. The text of the telegram read as follows:

“The mayor of Tucson begs your honor of reminding your Holiness that this ancient and honorable pueblo was founded by the Spaniards under the sanctions of the Church more than three centuries ago, and to inform Your Holiness that a railroad from San Francisco, California, now connects us with the entire Christian world.
R.N. Leatherwood, Mayor”

We don’t know if the pope ever got the Mayor’s message. However, some pranksters of the town, learning of the telegram to the pope, crafted a reply of their own, forged the signature of His Holiness, and sent it to the Mayor. It read as follows: “His Holiness the Pope acknowledges with appreciation receipt of your telegram informing him that the ancient City of Tucson at last has been connected by rail with the outside world, and sends his benediction, but for his own satisfaction would ask—where in hell is Tucson?”

Fr. Mike?

Jesus Christ: "a Russian God"?

I have been lazy about blogging. Not for lack of material but because there was so much and I had many others thing to think about.

First of all, check out this very nifty website, sponsored by the Forum of Bible Agencies, where you can find the source for Bibles in any language into which it has been translated. For grins and giggles, pick a letter like "A" and then pick a continent and contemplate the incredible number of languages there are in the world about which most of us know nothing!

"A" brings me to a tongue, San Pedro Amuzgos, in which the Old Testament only became available in 1993. Or Northern Azerbijani in which the New Testament was finally made available just last year (and which you can download from the internet!)

The website also lays out the realities: the 6.5 billion people in our world speak 6,909 different languages.

As of 2007, 438 language groups (6.3% ) have an adequate Bible; 1,168 (another 16.9%) have an adequate New Testament; and 848 (12.3%) have only Scripture portions. 35.5% of all the language groups in the world have a portion of Scripture in their own language.

Strange, isn't it? How easy it is for us in the west who speak a major European language and are the heirs of Christendom to assume that everyone has access to Scripture in their own language? I have several versions on my bookshelf along with concordances and a fat volume that contains the text of all the Scriptural and magisterial references in the universal catechism. And I can always whip over to the US Bishop's website to see how the New American words a particular passage. In this, as in so much else, we are spoiled the heirs of centuries of Christian civilization. But the Scriptures and the Lord they speak of belongs just as much to those who have never heard as much as it does to us.

The good news is that the situation is changing rapidly. There are currently translation projects underway in nearly 2,000 additional languages. The vast majority done by evangelical Protestant, of course.

But 2,251 languages spoken by 193 million people are still awaiting translation of any portion of the Bible at all.

For someone who grows up in a culture where Christianity is not known, encountering Scripture in your own tongue can be absolutely life-changing.

Here's one story from the Kalmyk people, who number about 200 000. They live in the Republic of Kalmykia in southern Russia. The Kalmyk language belongs to the Mongolian language family. The Kalmyks are Buddhists.

"Nina gathers elderly Kalmyk women and reads to them from the Kalmyk NT. “Often they say ‘You speak about a Russian God – we are Buddhists, we have our own belief.’ But when I speak to them in Kalmyk and read from the New Testament, they listen with interest. A woman, 99 years old, said ‘If Jesus Christ is a God who forgives sins, then I want to become a Christian!’ The Kalmyks need to hear God’s Word in their mother tongue in order to understand that God is also their God and not only the God of the Russians.”

“When we distribute the Kalymk New Testament in villages we read out the most important passages about the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and also from Revelation where it states that peoples of every country and language shall one day pray to the Lord,” Nina says. “Most of the Kalymyk people know Russian, but they say: ‘When we read in our language we receive God as our own, but when we read in Russian then Jesus Christ is a Russian God.’”

“Twice a month we travel to a man and read the New Testament with him. Once when we arrived he was waiting impatiently for us. He pointed to the Gospel of Luke that lay open on the table. ‘Look, here it says that a man should not hate his enemy but should love him.’ He told us that it had been a shock to discover this. He had thought about it for several days and then finally decided that if it was in the Holy Scriptures then it had to be right. He was to go to a wedding where he knew that he would meet a bitter enemy with whom he had intended to settle an account. He went to the wedding and after some inner struggles he approached his enemy and offered him his hand. It felt as if a great weight had been lifted from the old man’s heart.

"The Word of God is alive and powerful, sharper than a two edged sword, piercing even unto the dividing asunder of the soul and the spirit and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" - or so Hebrews 4:12 went in the version that I memorized as a child and heard quoted literally thousands of times by the time I was a young adult.

Let us handle our Bibles with reverence and awe. For knowledge of Scripture is knowledge of Christ.

It is Good to Be With Jesus - and to Remain Here For Ever

August 6, was the day that St. Dominic died in 1221. The Feast of the Transfiguration.

The Office of Readings asks us to meditate on this sermon by St. Anastasius of Sinai (in this Rembrandt portrait).

"Upon Mount Tabor, Jesus revealed to his disciples a heavenly mystery. While living among them he had spoken of the kingdom and of his second coming in glory, but to banish from their hearts any possible doubt concerning the kingdom and to confirm their faith in what lay in the future by its prefiguration in the present, he gave them on Mount Tabor a wonderful vision of his glory, a foreshadowing of the kingdom of heaven.

These are the divine wonders we celebrate today; this is the saving revelation given us upon the mountain; this is the festival of Christ that has drawn us here. Let us listen, then, to the sacred voice of God so compellingly calling us from on high, from the summit of the mountain, so that with the Lord’s chosen disciples we may penetrate the deep meaning of these holy mysteries, so far beyond our capacity to express. Jesus goes before us to show us the way, both up the mountain and into heaven, and–I speak boldly–it is for us now to follow him with all speed, yearning for the heavenly vision that will give us a share in his radiance, renew our spiritual nature and transform us into his own likeness, making us for ever sharers in his Godhead and raising us to heights as yet undreamed of.

Let us run with confidence and joy to enter into the cloud like Moses and Elijah, or like James and John. Let us be caught up like Peter to behold the divine vision and to be transfigured by that glorious transfiguration. Let us retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the Creator, to whom Peter in ecstasy exclaimed: Lord, it is good for us to be here.

It is indeed good to be here, as you have said Peter. It is good to be with Jesus and to remain here for ever. What greater happiness or higher honor could we have than to be with God, to be made like him and to live in his light?"

h/t: Joe Waters and the wonderful blog of the Dominican Church of St. Vincent de Ferrer

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Catholic Quote of the Day

O, Sweet Jesus, may every good feeling that is fitted for Your praise, love You, delight in You, adore You! God of my heart, and my Portion, Christ Jesus, may my heart faint away in spirit, and may You be my Life within me! May the live coal of Your Love grow hot within my spirit and break forth into a perfect fire; may it burn incessantly on the altar of my heart; may it glow in my innermost being; may it blaze in hidden recesses of my soul; and in the days of my consummation may I be found consummated with You! Amen.

St. Augustine of Hippo

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Cardinal Turkson: The Rising African Tide

ID reader (and C & G alum) Eric Rogers of Anchorage made sure that I saw this Whispers piece on Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana.

I've heard simply glowing things about Cardinal Turkson from Ralph Martin and Peter Herbeck of Renewal Ministries who have collaborated with him on numerous evangelistic initiatives in Africa so the quotes from a 2007 London Times interview delight but don't surprise me.

But how wonderful to have a prelate at the highest levels of the Church who really gets it - and is willing to actually say it on record for attribution! Per the Times:

"It is easy to see his appeal. He has an international outlook, having studied in Rome and New York; he is a biblical scholar and is fluent in eight languages. In Ghana he has good relations with the Pentecostal and Evangelical churches, and is regarded as a forward thinker. What is more, at 59, age is on his side.

There are about 3 million Catholics in Ghana. All of its 18 bishops are indigenous, as are 95 per cent of its 1,200 priests. However, there is alarm in the Vatican over the exodus of Catholics in developing countries to Pentecostal and evangelical churches. During a visit to London in October, the Cardinal Turkson suggested that the Catholic Church has much to learn from these churches, not least their emphasis on the Bible and personal conversion.

“I think that our traditional way of making people Catholic needs to be reconsidered. The declaration that Jesus is Lord is meant to be an expression of a person's commitment. It's like somebody being offered knowledge of a person and consciously accepting to enter into a relationship with that person and establish personal ties. This is what holds people in these evangelical churches,” he says.

He added that some priests and bishops were products of “notional Christianity” — they had been brought up in a Catholic home, had a Catholic education, and learnt their theology in seminary, but they had never experienced a personal conversion.

“The danger facing the Catholic Church in Africa is that we just feed people with a few notions. Who is God? What is the Trinity? What is a sacrament? These definitions can be learnt by heart and just repeated to anybody who asks questions.

“At the last meeting I attended of the Council for Christian Unity we discussed the threat of Pentecostals in Latin America. I said that we need to celebrate the gifts of the Holy Spirit more: prophecy, healing, intercessionary prayer and all of that. This is one of the things the Pentecostals do.”

I have been told that Cardinal Turkson goes to great lengths to evangelize his seminarians and priests because he knows that some of them got on board the clerical train without being disciples. Notice that he named the Name. He even used the phrase "Jesus is Lord".

His comments on our western practice is particularly striking in light of the responses of participants in last week's Making Disciples to the question we have asked so many pastors and pastoral leaders over the years.

What percentage of your parishioners would you estimate to be Intentional disciples?

Two bits of background to help understand their responses:

1) Obviously, this kind of estimate must be based upon the people pastoral leaders actually know - the people who actually show up at the parish on a regular basis and are visible enough to engage. That eliminates the 70% of Americans who were raised Catholic and either have dropped the identity altogether or still call themselves Catholic even though they seldom or never attend Mass. So the following estimates are based upon pastoral experience of the active minority (approximately 30% nationally of those raised Catholic).

2) We asked this question after we had been together for 3 days and had spent two days wrestling at great length with recognizing pre-discipleship levels of spiritual development. So people had a pretty clear idea of what was meant by the term "intentional disciple".

The responses? One leader guessed 2%. Two additional participants, presenting two other parishes, said "1%". The parish that took the prize for the most encouraging estimate said "10%".

Which was interesting because the pastor came up to me later and told me privately that he would have answered "5%" and that the 10% was the guess of one of his staff.

Over the years, the average estimate has been consistently "5%". Lets take that figure as a loose, educated guesstimate - which is all we have, of course.

Do the math. 5% out of the 30% of those raised Catholic and who actually attend Mass at least once a month.

An average 1.5% of those Americans raised Catholic are probably intentional disciples. Of course, your local results may vary dramatically. But the basic trajectory is clear.

We could learn alot from the good Cardinal from Ghana.

Reflections on the 18th Sunday's readings

Last week I received a phone message from a Dominican in Eugene, who asked me to call, and told me it was an emergency.
As his phone rang I wondered; what is the nature of the emergency? Who’s involved? How will it affect me?
He told me my friend Sue, the campus minister at Oregon State, and my unofficial adopted sister, had died suddenly of unknown causes.

Sue had Cushing’s disease, and at 49 years old, had already lived nearly a decade longer than her doctors predicted, yet in one of our last conversations, she had fretted about how she was going to save up for retirement!
And I had worried about that for her, too.
We so easily deny that our life is short and its end unpredictable.
So I think those deceitful desires that the author to the letter of the Ephesians refers to are not those that stem from greed, gluttony and sex.
Rather, any desire that is not corralled by the knowledge that death takes every possession away from us is deceitful!
The adage, “You can’t take it with you,” was meant to teach us to hold on to our possessions loosely, but today it seems to imply, “therefore go for the gusto in the here and now!”

The death of a loved one, serious personal sickness, and economic struggles have always been a kind of “wake up call” for those who have the luxury of comfortable complacency.
The futility of our minds that Ephesians attributes to pagans, is the mindset of those who are spiritually asleep, who have not yet experienced conversion.
“Wake up” is the basic message of the OT prophets through John the Baptist.
Jesus himself, begins his ministry with the call to ‘repent, for the kingdom of God is upon you.’
St. Paul urges the Romans, “Now is the time to awake from sleep, for the night is far spent and the day draws near.”
Ephesians takes up this language of repentance and change, this time with baptismal overtones.
We are to “put away” the old person, and “put on” the new, just as the newly baptized put on white baptismal robes to signify the conversion that led them to the baptismal waters in the first place.

But neophytes did not just “put on” robes; they were to “put on” Christ.
The turning away from an old life means turning to a new one found only in Jesus.
If we look at today’s Gospel, we’ll see this pattern in what Jesus says to the crowds.

The first part of any conversion is being confronted with the truth about ourselves.
The desperately sick or those who undergo significant economic loss can no longer easily deny the fact that life ends and possessions are fleeting.
That stripping away can unmask our “deceitful desires,” and begin the conversion process.
Jesus confronts the crowds with the truth about their deceitful desires: “you are looking for me not because you saw signs
but because you ate the loaves and were filled.”
They are not seeking Jesus, but security, at least in the area of food.
How true is that for us?
How many of us participate in a “transactional faith,” where “being good,” or “practicing the faith,” is offered to God in exchange for material well-being?
The prosperity Gospel is mercenary, seduces us with the promise of security and control, and successfully preached by more than just television evangelists.

Jesus unmasks this pseudo-Gospel in his next sentence, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
There it is; Jesus invites us to change the object of our desires from that which dies, to that which never dies – and this new object of desire is not something that is earned, but received!
We are to desire Jesus himself.
And Jesus says the one work we are to do is to believe in him.
You and I hear, “believe,” and think he means a mental assent to what’s revealed by an authority .
But in Jesus’ culture it meant something more personal.
“Belief” was a relational word describing values like loyalty, commitment, and solidarity that led to social, externally manifested, emotionally rooted behaviors.
That’s why Jesus can link believing in him with doing the things he does in John 14:12.

That’s the invitation he gives you and me today: to seek the life that is found only in him.
Jesus doesn’t offer us any economic incentives to linking our life to his – he had ‘no place to lay his head!’
Jesus doesn’t rely on peer pressure as a positive incentive either. Quite the opposite: he tells us the world will hate his disciple as much as it hated him.
And even moral incentives are not going to be very strong in our post-modern culture, which denies absolute right and wrong.
Instead, Jesus simply offers us himself as a gift, as if that should be enough incentive.
He gives no promises about how this relationship will change me; just that I will be changed - more fully alive with his life.

How do we answer this emergency call?
First of all, by realizing our need to change, and our helplessness to change on our own.
So rather than try to change particular behaviors that might lead us to individual sins, we need to pursue our relationship with Jesus; to seek Him first.
I’d suggest we pray to love and desire him more than anything else.
Let’s pray to that God points out what we seek in a relationship with him besides Him – so we can recognize when we desire security, or happiness, or peace instead of God for God’s sake.

In addition to prayer, we can pursue a relationship with God by immersing ourselves in Scripture, the word of life.
Human relationships grow through time together and conversation.
God’s side of the conversation is the Bible, and I have to listen knowing it has the power to challenge, heal, and transform.

But of course, prayer and reading the Bible takes time – and we’re all short on that commodity.
So I’d suggest we look at our lives and identify some things that we desire more than Jesus, and repent – turn away – from them: perhaps TV, or video games, a fanaticism for a sports team, or relationships that lead us to sin, or the pursuit of social acceptance.
Turning away from what occupies our time and energy is already a demonstration of belief as Jesus and his listener’s understood it.
It is an initial way we demonstrate loyalty, love, and personal adherence to Jesus; and it is only possible if we cooperate with God’s grace.

Finally, Jesus himself tells us, “Whoever loves me will keep my word.”
It is not enough to simply pray and read the Scriptures.
As we get to know Jesus, we must grow in our trust in Him, and put his words into practice.
Only by living in his word will our trust in Him grow; and putting his word into practice gives life for the world.
I promise you, if we begin to live in his word, we will come to see the world differently and undergo transformation.
And the world will see us differently, and not always with pleasure.
But don’t be misled into thinking putting Jesus’ words into practice is simply an act of willpower.
It is not. It is a supernatural act.
Any good you or I do is a cooperation with the Holy Spirit and God’s grace.
Even the desire to love Jesus more, to do good, to change, is a response to grace.
So, in reality, there are opportunities to recognize God’s saving activity in our lives each day.

And that ability to see God at work daily is the mindset of someone who is becoming a saint.
The saints are great non-conformists and often quite original and creative.
They don’t gloss over problems they see in the world, or wring their hands in helplessness.
They know God is already at work in their lives, and trust him to act in them and through them – even when it’s hard or impossible to see how.
They are really alive and living in the One who calls himself the resurrection and the life.

These readings have the potential to be a wake-up call from God for each one of us.
He says it is an emergency – a matter of life and death.
A matter of new life that is a sampling of the life to come, or our comfortable old life, which ends in death.
May we have the courage to answer the call.