Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Muslim Background Believers Conference

Working steadily through five days of e-mail and came across this:

The Muslim Background Believers Conference is taking place in Dallas this coming weekend.

This is a gathering of Christian converts from Islam and a fascinating phenomena. It says a great deal about the evolving religious scene that Muslim Background Believers are meeting publicly and advertising their gathering (although I am sure that security is still an issue.)

Two Days at Home

Back. For two days. I jet off to Minneapolis on Friday to do a Morning of Reflection on Evangelizing Post-Moderns at the Cathedral of St. Paul. If any ID readers are in the Min-SP area and attend, please come up and say "Hi".

Back blogging in a bit.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Parental Care

Thank you to everyone who has been praying for my father. He returned home last Friday after just over five weeks in two hospitals and a hospital rehabilitation unit. He is recovering from his broken hip, but also tore some muscle fibers - or strained - his right thigh adductor, so that has caused him significant pain and made rehabilitation more difficult. He started receiving dialysis three times each week while in the hospital, and is continuing that now that he's home.

I've been taking care of mom while dad was in the hospital, and now they're both home. I am grateful to have had this time with them. At 87 years of age, I may not have many more such opportunities. They're fun to be around - and, since both of them walk with walkers, it's a real insight into the lives of the elderly.

Getting dressed is a chore. Mom's back hurts most of the time, except when she's in her recliner, so simple tasks, even, are literally a major pain. Both are quite unsteady on their feet, so I try to hover when they're on the move. Taking a shower takes a long time, and is a major fall hazard, so next time you're around an elderly person you think could stand a bath, know that it might not be because they don't care about hygiene, but because they're terrified of slipping and having a devastating fall that would make them have to depend upon someone else - or end up in a nursing facility that they may not be able to afford.

Getting a meal prepared is pretty much beyond them. Just standing at the sink is a challenge, although the edge of the sink is something you can lean against. Of course, your forearms aren't long enough to reach the faucet then. And if you should sit down again and then remember you'd like a glass of milk with that sandwich it took you ten minutes to make and left you breathless... well, you might just stay thirsty and hope you don't get dehydrated.

Of course, milk's not something dad can drink anymore. At least not more than 1/2 cup a day or so. It has too much potassium, which is bad for the kidneys. Nuts are a no-no, which is a shame, since peanut butter has been one of his favorite foods. A few months ago - before his fall - dad told me over the phone, "I could commit suicide," which left me stunned for a moment. He intentionally included a pregnant pause before finishing his sentence, "by eating a banana." Bananas are off the list, too. And then some foods that are on the low potassium list aren't on the list of foods that are good for diabetics, so dad has very methodically gone over his "kidney approved" list and checked it against his "diabetes approved" list and checked the foods that are best for him.

It's a limited selection.

And then there's medication. Prior to his fall, dad was on some thirty-plus meds, which included medications to help overcome some of the symptoms of medications. Hypertension was an issue that has been overcome by dialysis, so now he's down to about 20 meds or so, if you include the 81 mg aspirin he takes daily for his heart. One of the blood pressure meds made him so drowsy, he'd have to nap for up to three hours after taking it, and he had to plan his day around it.

He's off it now, but spends three and a half hours getting dialysis - but at least that's not every day. I wonder, If I weren't here to drive to the pharmacy, how would they get their medications? Or their groceries? Or to dialysis?

While standing in line to pick up a prescription or two the other day, I overheard a pharmacist tell a patient at the drive-through window, "You realize that medication costs $257? Your insurance will only pay for $20 of that. Do you still want it?" The man replied, "I want to live."

And he didn't even get fries with that.

My dad has great medical coverage, which includes mom. They never have to choose between medication and heating, or medication and air conditioning, or medication and car payments, or clothing, or another trip to the doctor to have her tell me something else is wrong.

Or medication and food.

When I was a child my grandmothers took turns living with my parents and I. My brother was in the military and my sister at college, so there was room for them. They'd stay with us for three or four months at a time or more, and it was great for me. They were younger than my parents are now, and didn't require as much care, but I loved having them with us. It was only when they needed nursing care that they stopped living with us, and both died fairly shortly thereafter.

I am blessed to have the opportunity to be a temporary caregiver to my folks, and I know my sister is glad that she could take care of mom while he was in the hospital and I was on the road.

But next week I have to leave for work, as Sherry indicated. And yesterday dad had a tearful conversation with me in which he went through the list of his maladies, his inability to drive, or even walk to the dining area in the independent living section of the retirement complex where they live.

"I can't take care of mom anymore. I'm ashamed that I can't even take care of myself. We have to move to assisted living." It will be a gut-wrenching change for them. They have to admit that independence is no longer an option. They have to say good-bye to their beloved cat, which has given them lots of affection and entertainment over the last four years. And, most difficult of all, they have to become dependent upon strangers, because I'm a priest, my sister's alone and works as a teacher, and my brother and sister-in-law are both teachers. None of us are home during the day.

With all the wonderful drugs and procedures we have to keep people alive - we no longer die from things that killed off our ancestors in their forties and fifties - we don't have something they often did: extended families living as a unit, or in the same town.

So it's off to assisted living for my parents.

I'm grateful they have that option. My dad was an engineer, worked for the same Fortune 500 company all his career, lived well below his means and saved money. He and mom can afford to grow old.

Many of us can't. I don't know that my brother and his wife can. I know my sister's very carefully calculating when she can retire, and what she can afford to do in retirement. I've got the brothers to fall back on (note to self: be kind to the young ones, since they'll be pushing your wheelchair someday).

I'm glad President Obama is getting us to think about healthcare reform. It's a messy topic, but has to be addressed.

I think we should also examine "honor thy father and mother" a bit, too. The two issues are not unrelated.

On the Road Again

5:24 AM. In the Colorado Springs airport headed to Atlanta. Back Tuesday. It's 39 here and 85 in Atlanta. My suitcase is bulging with the wardrobe for two climates.

Fr. Mike is in Tucson caring for his parents but he may find time to drop by. Keith Strohm and Gashwin will be teaching with me in Atlanta so we'll have a little bit of time to catch up, I hope.

More blogging from me on Tuesday evening, maybe.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Screwtape Steals the Show

The brilliant Fellowship of the Performing Arts production of The Screwtape Letters has been playing about the country to rave reviews for 3 years now. In D.C., it played to standing room only audiences. The Chicago Tribune called Screwtape "the most popular show in the history of the Mercury Theater."

The fall, 2009 tour includes Chatanooga, Fort Lauderdale, Louisville, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. It looks marvelous.

There is one review that I found especially interesting in light of our recent discussions on reaching young adults.

It is from a Millennial heavily involved in the New York comedy sketch scene. Daniel Kelley, writing for, begins with lavish praise:

"The Screwtape Letters is just about everything you want in a night at the theatre. Thought-provoking, engaging, entertaining, well produced, performed and directed, and all based around the wonderful words of C.S. Lewis."

But ends with these thought-provoking observations.

"With all this marvelous stagecraft going on—from directors and actors, to writers and designers—my one question upon leaving the theatre was this: Why were my companion and I the youngest people in the theatre by at least 10 to 15 years?

There are obvious answers to this question, of course, foremost among them being the ticket price, and the fact that the generation that grew up reading The Screwtape Letters is a generation far more than 10 or 15 years older than I.

The fact remains, however, that The Screwtape Letters is a play that should and, for my companion and myself, did resonate with my life and the lives of my peers. For instance, when Screwtape talks about the pompous heady-pseudo intellectuals that Wormwood's mortal is associating with, they might very well be the posturing, ripped-jeans-wearing hipsters often seen around Williamsburg these days. Or when Screwtape tells Wormwood, after his mortal has come through a great ordeal and become humble, that the surefire way to turn that humility into pride is to have him write a book about it, the whole audience laughed appreciatively, no doubt thinking of entire genres of self-help books of the "I've done this, and you can too!" variety.

Perhaps the most overwhelmingly alienating part of The Screwtape Letters for people in the age group of my companion and myself—ironic post-college twentysomethings—is the play's strong identification with Christianity. C.S. Lewis is one of the giants of Christian writing in the 20th century. Among many of my peers, Christianity is something for bible-thumpers and right-wing conservatives—something that we are predisposed to mock rather than venerate. In the sketch comedy world, where I work frequently, sketches featuring Jesus Christ are so common they are cliché.

It is therefore doubly important that ironic post-college twentysomethings like myself go and see The Screwtape Letters. What is presented is an intelligent, accessible, bitingly satirical and funny exploration of profound issues of right and wrong. This is not bible-thumping, this is serious meditation on issues having to do with the human experience—and it is important reminder of what Christianity can be. Whether you're Christian, Muslim, Jew or any other religion under the sun, The Screwtape Letters explores fundamental questions about how we live our lives, and make the decisions that we make.

In addressing the audience, Screwtape is addressing Wormwood, his youthful, inexperienced nephew on the nature of the world. It might be beneficial for those who are young like Wormwood to go and see this play."

This is not bible-thumping, this is serious meditation on issues having to do with the human experience—and it is important reminder of what Christianity can be.

Kudos to the men and women of the Fellowship of the Performing Arts. They have produced a work of art that does cross the divide. *If* we can get young adults, who may only associate Lewis with children's stories or may never have heard of him at all, to see it.

Consider inviting some young adults of your acquaintance along to Screwtape. And be prepared to have an interesting post-play conversation over a glass of wine or a few beers.

Help An Atlanta Family Who Lost Everything in the Floods

I leave for Atlanta tomorrow for 5 days and the floods there have been very much on my mind.

If there are any ID readers who haven't seen this yet, Mark Shea writes on his blog.

And, on a more personal note, my friend Rod Bennett (author of the terrific book Four Witnesses) writes:
Just a note to any of our friends who haven't got the word: we Bennetts lost our home and practically all of its contents in Monday's flash flooding here in Georgia. Please be in prayer as we look for guidance on where to go from here and as our kids (who've never really known any other home than this one) try to pick up the pieces emotionally.

We'll be staying with my parents in Marietta for the next week or so.

I spoke to Rod this morning. He was standing in eight inches of mud on the *third* floor of his house. He is the soul of Christian courage and fidelity in all this, though his voice cracked a couple of times and nearly broke my heart. They have lost *everything*. And they had *just* sunk $30,000 dollars into a renovation ("The roof didn't leak" he said.) Thanks be to God, they have flood insurance and so should be able to find a new home. But everything they own is gone and they are, like us, basically lower middle class folk. His library he built his whole life is goo. All their kids' things. All his wife treasured. Everything. Look around your home at all the dear familiar things you take for granted. Now imagine it all taken away. Every stick of it. He is meditating on Job and saying to God, "I'm not going anywhere." But it's bitterly hard.

They will stay in their folks' summer home for the time being. But that's 150 miles away, which means his wife will have to radically scale back her work hours as a nurse--and that means way less income. Plus, the kids are traumatized and are now suddenly thrust into a strange place far from friends and familiar things.

All of which is to say "They could really use, not just your prayers, but your help."

I know exactly what the Bennett family is going through since my family lost everything in a hurricane when I was a child. (I know that it is not a southern thing but it feels like it.)

Mark is unleashing the power of the blog and taking up a collection for the Bennetts. Your prayers and financial help will make a huge difference to this Catholic family.

The Name That is Above All Names . . .and Doors, Gates, etc.

This is one of the Holy Name of Jesus mongrams that devout Sienese put above the gates of their cities, their businesses and homes in response to the preaching of St. Bernadine of Siena. St. Bernadine urged devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus as part of a peace-making response to the many family feuds that plagued the city.

It was St. Bernadine whose devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus led to the addition of Jesus' name to the Ave Maria. As the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it:

Because the manner in which St. Bernardine preached this devotion was new, he was accused by his enemies, and brought before the tribunal of Pope Martin V. But St. John Capistran defended his master so successfully that the pope not only permitted the worship of the Holy Name, but also assisted at a procession in which the holy monogram was carried. The tablet used by St. Bernardine is venerated at Santa Maria in Ara Coeli at Rome.

The Jesuits made this emblem the sign of their Society and added a cross and three nails. It was Pope Sixtus V who granted an indulgence for saying the ejaculation: "Praise be to Jesus Christ!" with the answer: "For evermore", or "Amen"

Which was the way the Pope John Paul II began most of his homilies and speeches.

I love the sturdy monogram above and wish there was some way to obtain one today for my own home. I would imagine a lot of Catholics would like one - if they were familiar with the meaning of the custom.

Any ID readers come across a source today?:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

O Name of Jesus!

A prayer of St. Bernardine of Siena

"Jesus, Name full of glory, grace, love and strength! You are the refuge of those who repent, our banner of warfare in this life, the medicine of souls, the comfort of those who morn, the delight of those who believe, the light of those who preach the true faith, the wages of those who toil, the healing of the sick. To You our devotion aspires; by You our prayers are received; we delight in contemplating You. O Name of Jesus, You are the glory of all the saints for eternity. Amen."

Living in a Land of "Nones": The Edge of a Demographic Precipice?

A brief word on the "None" Study that is all the news today. (And here I speak as a native daughter of "Noneland").

I'm under the gun prepping future events today and have only been able to scan a few news stories and have not been able to look at the results in detail and see how they mesh with the Pew US Religious Landscape Survey (2008) and Faith in Flux (2009) and recent CARA studies. My first impression is that they all seem to telling us the same story.

As I wrote in a brief note to a national radio show that I don't have time to appear on tomorrow: We are standing on the edge of a demographic precipice.

1) "None" doesn't necessarily mean atheist or non-believer in the dictionary sense. A large number of "Nones" (millions) are religious, pray on a regular basis, move in and out of our congregations, even formally belong to congregations. So many don't even fall into the category of "unchurched" exactly. They just don't claim a particular "religious identity".

Religious "nones" or "religious unaffiliated" as Pew puts it are the closest group to Catholics in terms of their beliefs and practices. That's because so many are Catholics. But 1/3 say they are open to having a faith is they found "the right one".

2) The 15% of US cradle Catholics who leave and eventually become Protestants are motivated differently from those Catholics who simply become "unaffiliated" or none". Catholics-on-their-way-to-becoming Protestants tend to spend some years in "none" land before joining a Protestant congregation. They tend to be more religious altogether and are spiritually seeking. They become Protestant overwhelmingly because they have found a faith they like better. If we reached out to them creatively while they were in "none" land, many would return but the quality of life in our parishes has to improve for them to stay.

3) Religious change is overwhelmingly a young adult thing. The majority of Americans leave the faith of their childhood (any faith) by age 23. 70% of Catholics who got directly to "unaffiliated" do so by age 23

But the majority of Catholics who become Protestant leave a bit later, and after a few years of wandering in "none" land, enter Protestantism in their mid 20's to mid 30's). Because Protestants reach out and evangelize, they are picking off large numbers of searching, formerly "none", Catholics.

4) We are standing on the edge of a demographic precipice.

I just checked these figures with CARA last week: An average of their findings shows that only 13% of 18 - 29 year old Millennials attend Mass on a weekly basis while only 15% of Gen Xers attend weekly. That covers all adults 18 - 45 or so right now. Gen Xers and Millennials already make up 50% of the Catholic adult population.

That means that if this does not change, In 10 years it will cease to matter that we have a priest shortage because the Builders will be largely gone, the Boomers retiring, and our institutions - parishes, schools, etc. will be emptying at an incredible rate. Sacramental practice will plummet at a speed that the will make the post Vatican II era look good and the financial support for all of this will be vanishing like Bernie Madoff's investment portfolio. The American Church will be de facto majority Hispanic because their young adults aren't leaving as fast (although as this new study and the Pew foundation both found, as Hispanics assimilate, they begin to behave more like Anglos. "Latinos have tripled their proportion among Nones from 1990-2008 from 4% to 12%". says this new study.

Hopefully not even Catholics will be able to retain their dread of evangelization in such a situation.

As one exceedingly bright and theologically literate Millennial Catholic with a love for the Traditional liturgy *and* a passion for evangelization asked me last year, "My generation of Catholics isn't prepared to evangelize my generation, are they?"

Bingo. Because the vast majority of the small percentage of millennial Catholics who practice are so caught up in intra-ecclesial struggles and a profoundly different world view than most of their contemporaries that they just find them annoying. As the article on evangelizing "I-Gens" or millennials that I blogged about last week pointed out:

"One important caveat: not every American twenty-something is like this. In fact, many emerging adults have been reared into a world vastly different than the self-esteem culture. Some gravitate, instead, toward an Augustinian perception of the self and find their own contemporaries annoying." Which sounds like a pretty accurate description of the majority of the small minority (10 - 15%) of millennials who actually attend Mass on a weekly basis."

One brave, honest, and funny commenter on our blog put it this way:

"Because I am a complete cow, all I can think is how horrified I am by these people. Not that it's their fault - it's obviously about the way they were raised. But still, this is a generation I have (with a few exceptions) little empathy for."

And another on Mark Shea's link to my piece put it:

"I'm 23 and I'd hardly call myself immune from the rampant idiocies of my generation, but this may actually explain why I find so many of my peers illogical and infuriating when it comes to moral issues. It's like we are speaking entirely different languages."

The problem is, as Cardinal George pointed out a few years ago. "We will never evangelize what we do not love."

Distain is not discernment. And evangelism and mission outward is not Protestant. Protestant evangelization and missions that we are familiar with did not exist for the first three centuries of Protestant history. They are 19th century innovations. Before that, evangelism and missionary endeavors were all Catholic all the time.

Will we wake up in time? Will we recover our Catholic heritage of evangelization? Will we be willing and able to cross the immense cultural divide between the majority of our adult population and the current "Catholic identity insider culture" in order to reach them with the Good News?

Cause right now four times as many American adults leave the Church as enter it.

Or will we simply acquiesce in the loss of 80% of two generations of Catholics? And their children. And grand-children.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Evangelization on the Run

The Archdiocese of Washington D.C. has a great blog subtitled: Longing for Something? Maybe It's God.

In a post titled "Evangelization on the Run", Laura Fersti, Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry for the Archdiocese, writes:

"Last week a friend and I were on a run, and at one point we decided to take a break and walk for a block, continuing the conversation we were having about Satan’s lies and Christ’s redeeming grace. Hearing a conversation like this at a faith sharing meeting would be fairly normal, but for the woman walking just a few feet ahead of us I’m sure our conversation was a bit out of the ordinary.

We were saying that when we sin Satan makes us think that we are completely unworthy, unforgivable, and unlovable. He tells us that we cannot change and that, since we are sinners, we are not welcome in the Church community either to serve or be served. In contrast we affirmed that in Christ we can repent, leave our sin and shame behind us, and fully participate in the life of the Church.

I have no idea if that woman knew Christ or not or whether she was part of the Church community or not, but I have a feeling that God put her within earshot for a reason! And I pray that Christ touched her heart that day with His words of forgiveness and hope."

What a great conversation to have! But I have to say that it is not been my experience that it is "fairly normal" for Catholics to talk about "Satan's lies and Christ's redeeming grace" at parish faith sharing meetings. Would that it were. In my experience, that would be the mark of an exceptional group. A group of disciples.

But then I don't hang out in DC so maybe things are different there. In any case, remember to watch the Archdiocese's blog. Good stuff!

Monday, September 21, 2009

We "Know So Much As Ain't So"

I think our readers will enjoy this. From the April, 1997 First Things (if like me you are not a subscriber, much less a very long term subscriber) comes this cheerfully enlightening essay, The Myth of Soulless Women by Michael Nolan. It begins:

"Josh Billings remarked profoundly that “the trouble with people is not that they don't know but that they know so much as ain't so.” There are those who know John Chrysostom said that “the image of God is not found in Woman.” (Actually, he said that “the image of God is not found in Man or Woman.”) There are those who know that Thomas Aquinas said that a woman is a defective male. (Actually, he explicitly denies this no fewer than five times.) There are those who know that Aristotle said that a woman is a deficient male—a description based on an appalling mistranslation.

And there are those who know that an early council of bishops, held at Macon in Burgundy, France in a.d. 585 decreed that women do not have a soul. The bishops of course decreed no such thing, for if women do not have a soul how could they be baptized, how receive the Eucharist, how be venerated as martyrs in heaven? Yet it may be worthwhile to look at the story of this alleged decree, for one can see a myth in the making."

H/T Dot.commonweal

Korean Catholicism: Martyrs and Drop-Outs

September is the month of the Korean Martyrs. How fitting that the Korean Martyrs Museum-Shrine opened again last week. September 20 was the feast day of Andrew Kim Taegon, (the first Korean priest) Paul Chong Hasang and Companions.

The Catholic faith first reached Korea in the last 16th century when Japan invaded Korea. It appears that a group of Koreans were catechized and baptized, presumably by some Japanese Christian soldiers. This small beginning yielded little growth.

Around 1777, Christian literature obtained from Jesuits in China led educated Korean Christians to study. A home Church began. When a Chinese priest managed to enter secretly a dozen years later, he found 4,000 Catholics, none of whom had ever seen a priest. Seven years later there were 10,000 Catholics. Since then, there have been at least 10,000 Korean Catholic martyrs.

Fr. Mike wrote last year (during his trip to Korea) about the fascinating story of how the faith reached Korea and the plans to erect an enormous church in honor of those lay men who founded the Church in Korea at Chonjinam.

The Korean Church is unique because it was founded entirely by lay people. This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution. Thus, in less than a century, it could boast of 10,000 martyrs. The death of these martyrs became the leaven of the Church and led to today's splendid flowering of the Church in Korea. Even today their undying spirit sustains the Christians in the Church of silence in the north of this tragically divided land" (Pope John Paul II, speaking at the canonization of St. Andrew Kim Taegon).

For those who would like to get a different perspective on Korean Catholicism, there is a really interesting blog by a group of American Maryknoll priests: American Catholic Eyes in Korea. The bloggers remain nameless but clearly at least one has spent many years in Korea. (Just FYI, I read quite a number of the posts and this group of this group of Maryknollers does not seem to be either particularly left wing or prone to group think.)

And they talk about realities I have never heard anywhere else - such as this story about Catholic involvement in the resettlement of North Koreans in the south. Somehow, I thought that escaping North Korea was almost impossible but 20,000 are expected to arrive from the north this year. And the difficulty that northerners experience in trying to adapt to their new home. They may speak the same language but how 50 years of separation has changed things.

"One refugee sighing : "I will have to get used to being a foreigner. The culture, economy, the value system is just too difficult to adapt to." This will be a large problem when unification does come."

Or like the fact that contemporary Korean Catholics are prone to skip Mass and leave the Church just like American Catholics. From an August 19 post:

Nahnews visited again the issue of Korean Catholics increasing as are the numbers leaving the church. This is similar to what is happening in the States. Masan Diocese has the lowest percentage of Catholics going to Sunday Mass with 19.1% and Chun Chon Diocese with highest attending Mass at 29.9% .

In Korea we have the system started by the French Missioners of giving Catholics a card with their name and address which they are to place in a prepared basket during Lent and the Advent; this will be recorded in the parish books. If this card is missing for three years then the person is considered tepid ( to have left the church). A person may be going to Sunday Mass and receiving the sacraments but not having submitted the card for three years, these will be considered tepid. Those who have left the Church are not necessarily the same as those who are registered as tepid.

A Gallup poll taken in 2004 mentioned that 42.8% who consider themselves without a religion did have a religion at one time. 13.3% of these at one time were Catholic. Of those with a religion 14.9% were at one time Catholic.

The reason for leaving is not easy to determine. However, those who were not faithful in their Sunday observance, those from 30 to 4o years of age, a high educational background and with a pay scale that is lower or higher than average, have a higher rate of dropout.

The report ended with the mention that those who are now presently going to Sunday Mass 16.8% consider themselves tepid. 15.4% have considered changing their religion, and many who continue to go to Mass consider leaving. 30% of those that are baptized leave within 3 years.

In conclusion the report stated that it is important that those who enter the Church remember that the important part of the preparation is not the teaching, the preparation for the sacrament and what has to be done but the internal change of the person attained before being baptized.

The Catholic paper had an article on a parish in the Suwon diocese that has over 61 percent of those on the registers going to Sunday Mass. It is an example of what can happen when the community and the pastor take an interest. Originally the parish had a percentage that was higher than other parishes in the diocese but this was increased sizably by the work of the community.

In every culture, time, and place, intentional discipleship is the non-negotiable foundation of the Catholic life.

Chinese Students Interested in Christianity

From Asia News comes this startling statistic (written in 2003 when John Paul II was still Pope):

Nowadays, curiosity about Christianity, the Church and pope John Paul II is widespread among the Chinese populace –above all in university environments. A sociological study conducted by China's Open University (Renmin Daxue) demonstrates that 61.5% of Peking's students are interested in Christianity and want to be believers. The majority of them search for information on the Christian faith by way of literature.

Wow. I wonder how true this is six years later.

Do You Believe in God?

From the Florida Catholic, an encouraging story of how tomato pickers on the east coast won a major battle because a farmworker organizer asked a simple question:

"Do you believe in God?"

And a businessman, who clearly did believe in God, stopped and contemplated the implications.

“I was in a meeting with Lucas Benitez, the co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (a farmworker organization that has been fighting for reform and justice since 1993),” explained Batista Madonia Jr., vice president and sales manager of East Coast Growers and Packers, and he asked, ‘Do you believe in God?’”

Even when you’re in a business meeting and a comment like that comes to you, you have to put your business thoughts aside for a minute and look at the situation you’re in. That was the turning point in our discussion. What we do in business is a very small part of what we do in life, and we felt that although it wasn’t a decision that went with the industry, it was a decision right for our company, our workers and ourselves.”

It has been a long and convoluted struggle. Beginning with Taco Bell in 2005, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers made great strides to get the fast-food industry to agree to a penny-per-pound increase paid to workers for a 32-pound bucket of tomatoes – from 50 cents to 82 cents – a 64 percent increase.

Problems arose two years ago, however. The strong Florida Tomato Growers Exchange threatened a $100,000 fine to any grower who attempted to pay the workers the increase. The money has been sitting in escrow accounts rather than being passed on to the laborers. East Coast Growers and Packers objected to this and eventually resigned from the exchange and partnered with the workers’ coalition."

Incredible. The money was being paid by business but was sitting in escrow and not reaching the workers?

God bless East Coast Growers and Packers.

Institute Phone/Internet Down

The Institute's phone and internet connections are down along with some of the neighboring businesses because some lovely person cut the phone lines last weekend.

You can still reach the Institute at by calling (719) 219 -0078. E-mails unfortunately, don't work at present, so if you e-mailed us over the weekend or earlier today, try calling the line above or forward a copy to me at

1:50pm Mountain Time:

Regular phone and internet service has been restored. So we'll get back to y'all, y'hear?

Thank God It's Friday . . . at the Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums are going through a glorious change according to Zenit. (And I might add, their revised website is visually beautiful and full of virtual tours.

The Sistine Chapel has been restored, a new entrance has been built, the Raphael rooms in the apartments of Juilus II have been restored, and new works are being displayed regularly and new rooms are being opened.

"And a new initiative, opening the museums after hours to the general public on Fridays nights, signals the Vatican Museums desire to become part of the cultural life of the Romans, instead of just a stomping ground for tourists and pilgrims. What better Friday night date than exploring the history of the Eternal City through its greatest artistic treasures?"

And what an evangelizing opportunity as well. The ultimate art walk. Hey - anybody up for a long weekend in Rome? I'm signing up for that Vatican Garden as well.

Some Roman sisters have seized this opportunity to mix evangelization and art appreciation:

"Among these new guides are a small group of religious sisters, the Missionaries of the Divine Revelation, founded by Mother Prisca Mormina with the apostolate of catechesis. Wearing distinctive green habits, they have become a common sight in the Vatican Museums.

Several of these sisters took up the call to catechize with art, offering tours of St. Peter's Basilica and St. John Lateran. In 2008, they were invited to the Vatican Museums to develop museum itineraries reflecting art and faith. These tours, led by the sisters and their staff, look at the collections through the eyes of the faith the works express and the Christian beliefs that inspired the artists who made them.

Mother Rebecca Nazzaro, the superior of this little group, described their choice of a mission to the museums: "The Church needs art because through art man can leave his 'finite' self to enter into the infinite of God. The Church believes that the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the intimate and invisible life of God became visible to man, and the language of art therefore becomes a bridge between heaven and earth and visible and invisible."

These itineraries, available through the Vatican Web site, are offered in English and Italian. Through them, Mother Rebecca hopes to "offer pilgrims who are 'lost' amid the vast collection or visitors who find themselves distracted by the myriad of works, a journey through the history of man through the language of art." She considers art "a privileged instrument of evangelization for its comprehensible idiom and capacity to open dialogue between people of diverse social or religious extraction."

Catechesis in Our Time

Over the weekend, i'd accumulated a number of things to blog about. Let's see how fast I can do this cause I've got to put the final touches on the Morning of Reflection I'm offering at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, MN on the first Saturday of October. The Cathedral looks glorious (from the pictures on their website) so I'm looking forward to this one.

But between then and now, I also have a Called & Gifted workshop and C & G interviewer training in the Atlanta area. So I have to focus.

First of all, I'd like to point you to the Sower Review published by the excellent Maryvale Institute of Birmingham, England. Maryvale is the premier catechetical institution in the UK and is linked to the Association for Catechetical Ministry in the US. (ACM's website has a beautiful new introduction that is worth taking the time to watch.)

What I like about the Sower is the way that it combines initial proclamation, an emphasis on personal discipleship and spiritual formation with top notch catechesis. This is definitely not just catechesis as "rite of passage". If you are not familiar with the Sower, be sure and check it out.

In a related story but a world away, Jen Ambrose ("The only Catholic Expat Steelersfan Mommyblogger in China" = lol!) writes to let us know that the first three-year pastoral and catechetical master's program that will start in mainland China on Oct. 5.

The pre-reqs are dauntingly high for locals: Applicants should have a bachelor's degree and a standard of English comparable to that required by local universities for postgraduate students. Applicants also require approval from a bishop, and a letter of recommendation from their parish priest or Religious superior. The National Seminary intends to have a class of 10-15 students.

Since the Catholic Church has been in China for a long time, it should develop its own research work in theology, said Father Chen, who has a doctorate in education. After running a bachelor's program in theology for six years, he said, "God has given us the opportunity to train highly qualified personnel by launching the master's course."

He said the program aims to help Church workers keep pace with theological developments in the universal Church, develop evangelistic work in mainland China and contribute to the inculturation of the local Church.

Along with local Chinese priests and lecturers, there will also be foreign teachers arranged by Leuven university and the Lumen Vitae Institute in Brussels. Lectures will also be simultaneously translated into Mandarin-Chinese but some course materials will be in English. Father Chen observed that so far, applicants appear relatively competent in English.

According to the July newsletter of the Verbiest Institute, the Chinese civil authorities have approved the program. "This is considered to be a breakthrough," it reported. The newsletter hopes that after their studies, graduates will start pastoral centers in their own dioceses. (via Indian Catholic).

The Last of Summer

11:30 am update: It's actually snowing. Have I mentioned that we have WEATHER here? How much more literally can you take "the first day of autumn?"

Fall is coming in like a lion in a very un-Colorado like manner. (Usually September is the best month of all here with golden skies, no thunderstorms, highs in the 70's, lows in the 40's, and in late September, the aspens are at their dazzling height.)

The first cold spell of the season is whipping through as I type and the temperature has dropped 10 degrees since dawn to a rainy 37 degrees. Meanwhile, the Institute's phone and internet connections are down along with some of the neighboring businesses because some lovely person cut the phone lines last weekend. (You can still reach the Institute at (719) 219 -0078.)

But yesterday, it was still summer and I spent the last weekend of summer in the garden, which has suddenly reaches its full glory at the very end.

We held a little open-garden for the neighbors to celebrate the finishing of the waterfall and the landscape designer who laid out the plan in the spring of 2004 for us, came by to take a look. She was much more enthusiastic that we had anticipated - even though it is obviously unfinished and her experienced eye no doubt took in all the usual bobbles. She told us that sections of it reminded her of the Denver Botanic Garden - which serves as a kind of national display garden for mountain and high plains gardeners. She was being kind but to be mentioned in the same breadth with the Olympus of high country horticulture was something we never expected.

She also said that she had never seen a display of Tansy Asters like the one that fills the wild flower bed today.

That would be the Asters we considered pulling out half way through the summer because they formed a mysterious 5 foot flowerless wall that covered 2/3 of the bed and I couldn't figure out if they were friend or foe. I trimmed six inches off the top of these mysterious plants in July to at least make the shape a bit more regular and keep it from setting seed. God has mercy on clueless gardeners. The asters just came back with hundreds of new buds.

A pound of wildflower seeds, a spur of the moment trimming, a rainy summer, and the last Sunday of summer looked like this. (These pictures were taken at first light. Click to see the larger view.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

It is Jesus You Seek

This refreshing video is the work of Fr. STEPHEN A. CUYOS, MSC whose blog Happy Faith is worth a visit. Fr. Stephen is currently studying Social Communications in Rome and is fascinated by the possibilities of using technology to evangelize.

I'm looking forward to seeing more from Fr. Stephen.

Glen Beck, Dan Brown, the Legionaries of Christ, and Traditionalist Catholics: Oh My!

An ancient puzzle at the heart of Washington.
A shadowy cult determined to protect it.
A white-knuckled race to uncover the Mormon Church's darkest secret.

The Serpentine Glyph

When world-famous Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to the Capitol to analyze a mysterious ancient script—imprinted on a gold ring lying next to the mangled body of the traditionalist head docent —he discovers evidence of the unthinkable: the resurgence of the ancient cult of the Lucifori, a secret branch of the Mormon Church that has surfaced from the shadows to carry out its legendary vendetta against its mortal enemy, the Congregation for Divine Worship in the Vatican.

Langdon's worst fears are confirmed when a messenger from the Lucifori, Glen Beck, appears at the Lincoln Memorial to deliver a fateful ultimatum: Turn over Fr. Augustine Di Noia, OP, or one cherub will disappear from the Sistine Chapel every day. With the deadline fast approaching, Langdon joins forces with the freckled, home-schooled daughter of the murdered docent in a desperate bid to crack the code that will reveal the cult's secret plan.

Embarking on a frantic hunt, Langdon and his companion follow a 65,000 day old trail through Washington's most venerable churches and exalted buildings, pursued by a one-handed albino assassin the cult has sent to thwart them. What they discover threatens to expose a conspiracy that goes all the way back to Joseph Smith and the role of the Legionaries of Christ in the founding of the Mormon Church.

- With apologies to everyone and Slate's Dan Brown plot generator.

I just had to see if Mark Shea was right and that nothing beat using the name of Glen Beck to generate traffic!

Saints Are Us

Here's a online resource you are going to want to bookmark: Hagiography Circle

OK, the name doesn't leap trippingly off the tongue but the url says it all: newsaints.

"The Hagiography Circle is a body of young scholars bound by a common interest in “re-telling” the lives of contemporary models of holiness who, within the past seven years, have dedicated some of their time to reading, translating, and reflecting on biographies sent to us by promoters of beatification and canonization causes.

This generosity has enabled us to establish a collection of hundreds of biographies in English, Italian, Spanish, French, German, Polish, Latin, Chinese, Hungarian, and other languages, as well as thousands of photographs of these models of holiness."

This site is a treasure trove. You can search by name or year of beatification or canonization from 1800 to the present. You can also find causes begun before 1800 - as early as the 11th century and those who were part of groups of martyrs. There are links to those causes that have their own websites. Google translator is built in as part of the site. The latest causes are listed separately. The whole canonization process and the technical language associated with it is explained.

There is a bit of a learning curve at first (I find the fluorescent color scheme wearing) but this site should be one of your first stops when you are looking for information about saints, potential saints, and the state of their causes. What the site doesn't provide is a detailed biography for each saint or blessed. But it is a great way to locate little known saints, find out how a cause is progressing, and keep abreast of new causes.

HT to Bobby Vidal, who is, a true connoisseur of sanctity.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

No Discouraging Words Around Here. No Sir-ee.

The great minds on our Institute staff want to share this comforting word with you as we contemplate a fall and winter full of swine flu anxiety:

What is the difference between Bird Flu and Swine Flu?

For bird flu you need tweetment and for swine flu you need oinkment.

Hey! Don't shoot the messenger.

Become What You Are

Via Susan Stabile's wonderful blog, Creo et Dios!, comes this wonderful exhortation for today from St. Gregory of Sinai:

“Become what you are.

Find Him who is already yours.

Listen to Him who never ceases speaking to you.

Own Him who already owns you.”

I Will Run the Way of the Your Commandments Because You, O Lord, Will Enlarge My Heart.

I stumbled across a lovely blog by Anthony Lilles of Denver. Lilles is a layman and academic dean of the St. John Vianney theological seminary for the Archdiocese of Denver. And as he is also, as he puts it, "a student of spiritual theology".

His blog is called Beginning to Pray. Here is a taste of his most recent post on the Sign of the Cross:

"The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal or indifferent guest within our hearts. He never runs out of room because He constantly enlarges our hearts: purifying them, ordering them, and expanding them. His fire and light makes us burn to love God and our brothers and sisters with a love greater than any limited natural love. He deifies us, makes us partakers of the divine nature, so that we love with the love of God. He also respects us - and will only do what we permit Him to.

But He is never passive. He is ever alive, ever ready to increase whenever we say yes to Him in faith. The more we say yes, the more He is there to help us - even when all seems dark and lost this Divine Presence is with us in our hearts. If we are not to drown in our own weakness, the constant attacks of the Evil One, and in the anxieties and fears of the world, we must cling to the Spirit's presence like the shipwrecked cling to life-preservers. We must cleave to His Presence, hold firm to it, believe in it, stand fast in it. Yet, our own frail humanity is always forgetting, always letting go to cling to things we think more firm. But they are an illusion. We can only cleave to the Presence of God in our hearts through the strength and the certitude that He alone provides.

This is where the Sign of the Cross comes in. When we make the Sign of the Cross, it is a sign that we are choosing to cling to the Living God who dwells in us through the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Making this sign can actually be a moment of actual grace in which the promises of faith made at our baptism are renewed and the Gift of God remembered. And with the renewal of our faith, the Lord grants us a new strength to hold fast, a certitude and confidence that ever comes from Him.

How refreshing and encouraging!

Lilles is a busy man, dean, father of three. So his posts are occasional (several times a month, sometime more) but his blog is definitely worth adding to your blogroll and checking periodically.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Catholics Love, Hate, Want, Don't Want Health Care Reform: Pick One

The US Today blog is hosting an interesting online discussion of the Catholic view of health care reform: Catholics Love, Hate, Want, Don't Want Health Care Reform. That pretty much covers the water front.

Important factoid:

"Their Church has a big stake in this: The nations' 624 Catholic hospitals and 499 long term care nursing facilities comprise about 17% of the nation's hospital beds. And the Church has an unbroken record of centuries of health service to the poor."

The relatively short post manages to encompass responses from The American Life League, Cardinal Martino Renato, Kathy Saile of the US Bishop's Conference, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., and Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, and St. Blog's own Peter Nixon.

So you might as well add your voice to the mix. Tell 'em what you think.

Is the Millennial Generation "Pre-Moral?"

A couple of worthwhile pieces regarding evangelism this morning:

Busted Halo (the Paulist site for young adults) is running a intriguing piece on every Catholic's nightmare: doing street evangelism in downtown New York city. It runs the gamut from Youth With a MIssion "prayer stations" (what an interesting idea!) to a liver transplant survivor who works the subway every day from 7 am to 10pm and wears a sign that says "Jesus saves from Hell".

The interviews with these committed evangelists are fascinating and Busted Halo treats them all with respect.
Your comments?

And there is a really thought provoking article over at Christianity Today on preaching to the Gospel to "I-Gens". (I-Gen is a new term to me, but it means "emerging adults" and refers to the older half of the Millennial generation, 18 - 30). The subtitle says it all: "Reared on self-esteem and impervious to guilt, the next generation needs good news that can break through their defenses."

Simply fascinating and very important for us to hear in light of the plummeting marriage, attendance, and RCIA rates among young adult Catholics. (For more on that, read my recent blog series on Whither RCIA?)

The article acknowledges exceptions to the overall generational trends: "One important caveat: not every American twenty-something is like this. In fact, many emerging adults have been reared into a world vastly different than the self-esteem culture. Some gravitate, instead, toward an Augustinian perception of the self and find their own contemporaries annoying." Which sounds like a pretty accurate description of the majority of the small minority (10 - 15%) of millennials who actually attend Mass on a weekly basis.

But the overall description of twenty something emerging adults (including the 80% of I-Gen Catholics who seldom or never darken the door and the 75% of Americans who are non-Catholic) is just plain jaw-dropping.

"One of the most insightful elements of Mann's book is whether iGens feel guilt. For a person to feel guilty, that person must have a sense of morality. But morality requires a potent sense of what is right and wrong, and it needs a powerful sense of what is true and false. Contemporary culture does not provide the average iGen with a profound grasp of what is right and wrong apart from the conviction that assaulting the self is clearly wrong.

Yet deciding to stake one's life on Jesus and the cross requires a sense that we are wrong, that we need Jesus, and that his saving death and resurrection can become effective. Mann claims that iGens are neither moral nor amoral. Instead, because of trends like the self-esteem movement and the impact of relativism, he concludes that iGens are pre-moral. Mann suggests that they do not feel guilt as much as they feel shame for not achieving what they are designed to accomplish.

This realization has helped me see that Jesus is the place to begin with iGens. In fact, we can make this more precise: Jesus as lived out by a credible witness or through a community that makes Jesus real. This is not Jesus as revealed by institutional religion or churches, but Jesus seen in the lives of genuine compassion and commitment to something that transcends the superficiality of modern and postmodern culture.

Dan Kimball wrote in his book They Like Jesus But Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations that what turns off iGens about the church is that it's too organized, political, judgmental, chauvinistic, homophobic, arrogant, and fundamentalist. But Kimball's research uncovered that iGens like Jesus. This is solid footing for gospeling iGens.

More evidence for starting with Jesus comes from the "Images of Jesus" personality profile designed by the North England Institute for Christian Education, and is republished in my book, The Blue Parakeet. In the assessment, a person records answers to personality questions about himself or herself ("Do you suffer from the nerves?") and then answers the same questions about Jesus ("Does he suffer from the nerves?"). There are no right answers. The intent is to determine how high a correlation exists between self-image and Jesus-image. Among iGens the answer is a loud Yes! This test shows that nearly everyone conforms Jesus to their self-image. A startling affirmation of what Jean Twenge discovered: iGens—surprise, surprise—have a robust enough self-image to think Jesus is just like them.

If this generation likes Jesus, and if iGens have the chutzpah to think they are like Jesus, then let's start with Jesus.

(I guess I have to say this or the conversation is going to bog down in the most predictable of manners:

Remember - this is not just a description of post-Vatican II Catholics. It is a description of an entire generation of Americans- the overwhelming majority of whom are not and have never been Catholic. They have never attended Mass - in any rite, in any language. Most of them have never heard of Vatican II.

This is so much bigger than us and our completely predictable insider baseball. Can we shake ourselves out of our well worn mental ruts and, for once, consider the culture at large - outside the Catholic Church?)

If this is an apt description of millennials as a whole, what does this mean for the Church's fundamental mission of evangelization? How do we reach out to this generation?


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

LOL! Dan Brown Has Done It Again!

Toooo Funny!

The Dan Brown Sequel Generator is now available on Slate for all your conspiracy needs. Just choose a city and a particular organization and see what darkness lies in the heart of men - and women - and Dan Brown.

I chose Jerusalem and the Boy Scouts of America. The eye lash curling result was:

"When world-famous Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to analyze a mysterious ancient script—drawn on a calling card next to the mangled body of the head docent—he discovers evidence of the unthinkable: the resurgence of the ancient cult of the Baalinati, a secret branch of the Boy Scouts of America that has surfaced from the shadows to carry out its legendary vendetta against its mortal enemy, the Vatican.

Langdon's worst fears are confirmed when a messenger from the Baalinati appears at the Shrine of the Book to deliver a sinister ultimatum: Deposit $1 billion in the Boy Scouts of America's off-shore bank accounts or the exclusive clothier of the Swiss Guards will be bankrupted. With the countdown under way, Langdon joins forces with the statuesque and quick-witted daughter of the murdered docent in a desperate bid to crack the code that will reveal the cult's secret plan.

Embarking on a frantic hunt, Langdon and his companion follow a 1000-year-old trail through Jerusalem's most venerable monuments and sacred libraries, pursued by a mustachioed assassin the cult has sent to thwart them. What they discover threatens to expose a conspiracy that goes all the way back to Davy Crockett and the very founding of the Boy Scouts of America."

I think its time I gave up my day-n-night-n-weekend job. . . and became Queen of the Baalinati.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Called & Gifted Facilitator Training is Coming to Southern Michigan - and Kansas City

Such a deal. An great opportunity to learn how to facilitate the discernment of others' charisms is coming to southern Michigan in late October!

This is the first time that the Catherine of Siena Institute has held Called & Gifted interviewer and facilitator training in Michigan. The training will take place Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings, October 27 - 29 and will be conducted by me (Sherry Weddell). Join thousands of other pastoral leaders who have been trained to facilitate the Called & Gifted discernment process in parishes all over the world.

Learning to facilitate the discernment of others is one of the most valuable and rewarding pastoral skill sets for pastors, staff, and pastoral leaders of all kinds and can have an enormous impact on calling forth new leadership and vocations of all kinds in our parishes and our dioceses. Listening to people's stories of being used by God is a incredible experience and opens our eyes to what God is doing in our midst and nourishes our own faith.

There is room for an additional 20 trainees in Michigan. First come, first serve. The training costs $100/person which includes extensive reference materials. Simple on-site housing is also available for 20 for a modest donation to cover breakfast food - for those who live too far away to commute. You would be responsible for your own food.)

There are critical pre-requisites:

* Basic spiritual maturity (practicing Christian for 2 years prior)
* Already possess listening skills
* Have attended a live Called & Gifted workshop or listened to workshop on CD, taken Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory, started personal discernment and had a personal Gifts Interview.

If you are interested in attending, but haven't been through a Called & Gifted workshop yet, call our office to order the workshop on CD and the inventory and to arrange for a Gifts interviews over the phone. The interview costs $25. )

Location: Most Holy Trinity Church
545 North Maple Street
Fowler, MI 48835

Contact: Craig Pohl or 989-640-5312

Schedule: Tuesday, October 27; 6:00 - 10:00pm
Wednesday, October 28: 6:00 - 9:00 pm
Thursday, October 29: 6:00 - 9:30 pm

There will also be an interviewer training in Kansas City, KS this weekend

(If the training in Michigan or Kansas City doesn't work for you, the Institute is offering the same training in 3 other cities in September and October, 2009. Go to the Institute calendar,, for more information.)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

God's Humility

I was in Colorado Springs for a wedding this weekend, and am now stuck in the Denver airport because of a missed connection. I haven't posted anything for awhile, so I thought I'd share some of my reflections from the homily I gave at the wedding of two dear friends. They had a lovely, simple nuptial Mass - not a lot of frou frou, but a real focus on the sacraments of matrimony and eucharist. The bride was sponsored by her husband through RCIA two years ago (they weren't dating at the time, but were friends), and she comes from a large evangelical family (although her folks were Catholic once upon a time) There were many Protestants and unchurched people at the wedding, including some folks I know from the local gym, so that had an influence on my preaching.

Here are the readings they chose:
Tobit 8:5-7
Ps 85
Rom 8:31-39
John 6:44-59

Here's the homily, with a few personal bits of information excised...
A few days ago Christianne (not her real name), a friend from Tucson, sent a message to me via my hated Facebook page.
She suffers from a sometimes crushing depression, but I wouldn’t have known that if she hadn’t told me.
She has raised a wonderful family, is happily married, and is a journalist dedicated to getting at the truth of things.
But because of the depression and her desire for truth, she struggles with God.
She and her husband were talking about God, and questions they had about him, including what kind of God would need eternal praise – & wouldn’t an eternity of praising God be a bit boring?

Usually our questions reveal our presumptions, more than ignorance, and I had to respond to Christianne.
The God Eve and Adam (not their real names) have come to know doesn’t have self-esteem issues; God isn’t needy.
In fact, the Christian scriptures, which are God’s patient self-revelation, unveil a God who is loving and inexplicably humble.
It begins with creation, with all it’s beauty, diversity and mystery - which is absolutely unnecessary.
Christians understand God as both unity and community: a mutually shared love of Father for Son and Son for Father, with that reciprocal, total gift of self being the Holy Spirit.
God is perfection, lacking nothing, and absolutely complete in His self-effacing love.

And yet, anyone who has ever known the freedom of mutual love knows that it finds deeper fulfillment and joy in being shared with others.
A love that must remain simply “me and thee,” is infected already with selfishness, and so God freely chooses to create - simply to have a creation to love.
This is the heart of humility, which is self-forgetfulness.
True humility does not consist in putting down one’s self, or downplaying what one has done.
True humility isn’t preoccupied with the self at all, but seeks to increase the dignity of others.
And God creates us, we are told, in his image and likeness.
We are meant to be a reflection of God Himself.
There is no greater dignity we could receive.

And yet, from the beginning, Genesis tells us, we creatures, with the freedom God gave us, chose -and continue to choose - our will over God’s.
We say, “I don’t want to be just a reflection of you. I gotta be me!”
But of course, we who were created out of nothing have nothing of our own, and so we literally choose non-existence: a.k.a. death.

And then the Scriptures reveal God humbling himself yet again, establishing a covenant with His fallen humanity, through individuals like Noah and Abraham, and then a whole people – albeit a stubbornly disobedient people.
And this is humility – God once again increasing our dignity, making us partners in a relationship God promises to never break off, no matter how often we are unfaithful to our end of the deal.

St. Paul rejoices in this covenant love and faithfulness in his letter to the Romans you chose.
Even in the midst of his own misfortunes Paul could claim, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It is in Jesus that we find God’s humility expressed once again.
In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul urges us to imitate that humility.
“Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but (also) everyone for those of others.
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness…”
The eternally beloved Son – God Himself – takes on our humanity and is born in time, and in the Gospel of Luke angels tell poor shepherds they will find him lying in a manger – as though he were food for animals.
But again, because humility is all about looking out for the interest of others, this incarnation is for our best interests – and in so many ways.

One of them we hear in the Gospel you chose.
Jesus reminds his Jewish listeners of how God gave his chosen people, whom he redeemed, - i.e., set free from their slavery in Egypt, - manna, a bread-like substance while they traveled through the desert.
But as miraculous as manna was, those people still died. They were still disobedient.
Jesus promises to give them a new bread from heaven, a bread which, incredibly, is his own body, and a drink that is his own blood and thus, in the Jewish mind, the very essence of his life.
John, the evangelist, is always very careful about his language, and in this passage, the Greek verb for eating that he uses is odd – not the typical word for humans eating something, but the word for animals munching or gnawing.
Jesus, laid in a manger at birth, offers to give his body as real food; food which will lead to eternal life: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”
And his listeners rightly take him literally, and find this teaching difficult to hear.
Jesus tells us his body overcomes the death that is ours because of our disobedience.

How? Once again, it is because of God’s humility.
St. Paul revels in it in his letter to the Philippians, “found human in appearance, Jesus humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”
God our Father, knowing that we, his fallen, yet beloved creation, will never be able to be obedient, sends his beloved Son to be obedient – as a human – for us.
And we brutally rejected him, nailing him to a cross because his obedience only highlighted our disobedience.
In God-made-flesh hanging on a cross we finally reach the deepest expression of God’s humility and love for us.
God did not spare his own son, but handed him over for all of us.
God keeps the covenant for us; and in Jesus, God-made-man, man is finally obedient.
So death has no power over Jesus, who is raised from the dead by His Father.

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, on the night before he dies, Jesus takes bread and wine, blesses them, and gives them to his disciples, saying, “Take, and eat, this is my body; this is my blood.”
His body, which will be the final sacrifice on the altar of the cross for them; his blood poured out upon the thirsty ground as obedience in place of their disobedience.
Adam and Eve, in a few moments we will remember what Jesus has done for us.
As Catholics, you believe that his one perfect sacrifice is made present, and his body and blood given to you as true food and drink.
God loves you so much, He wants you to be like him.
Jesus loves you so much, He wants to be a part of you – and you a part of Him – in the most profound intimacy.
Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
You cannot become like Jesus unless He remains in you and becomes the beating heart of your marriage.

Now there’s a reason I went through all this explanation.
Because just as Tobiah and Sarah married for the noble purpose of bringing life into the world, so too, you, Adam and Eve, may be raised by God to the dignity of being co-creators of new life with Him.
St. Paul says that anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword will not separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Just so, God is raising your dignity by allowing you to promise in a few moments to love each other in good times and bad, in sickness and in health – with his help.
And only if you remain in Jesus, you will be able to keep that promise and imitate the faithfulness and love and humility of God.

Humble yourselves each day. Do not look after your own interests, but each other’s.
And not only for the interests of your spouse, but the interests and well-being of any children God may give you.
And not only their interests, but the interests of the people with Alzheimer’s that you serve, Eve; or the homeowners who employ your carpentry skills, Adam.
And then, in your humility, you will be imitating the God who is humble, self-forgetful love.
You will truly be a living image and likeness of God; an icon of God, a light in darkness.

Can there be anything more pleasing to God than seeing his children learning to be like Him?
This is the greatest praise we can give Him, who is love, both in this life, and eternally, in the next.
Be humble enough to love. That's one experience I've never heard described as boring.

Catholic Quote of the Day

"The first characteristic that the Lord requires from his servant is fidelity. He was given a great good, which does not belong to him. The Church is not our Church, but His Church, the Church of God. The servant must account for his management of the good that has been entrusted to him. We must not bind men to us, we must not seek power, prestige, esteem for ourselves. We must lead people to Jesus Christ and thus towards the living God."

Pope Benedict, homily for episcopal ordination, St Peter's Basilica

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Freed by Jesus Christ

"The Christian vocation consists in letting oneself be freed by Jesus Christ,"

Pope Benedict XVI, in Cameroon, March, 2009

Flirty Fishing?

Here's a novel approach to evangelization, Korean style (H/T Peter Kim at Totus Tuus)

<머니 투데이> reported that a book of Catholic Catechism has been so popular among Korean soldiers for years. <가까이 더 가까이>, the Catholic Catechism for Korean military services was published by the military ordinariate of Korea. The book got so much attention from Korean soldiers because of the picture on the cover. The prayerful person wearing the veil in the picture is Tae-Hee Kim, one of the top actresses in Korea. The news reported that even Protestants and Buddhists go to Catholic Church on the day when the books are distributed.

Korean soldiers live in a very much restricted environment and religious services are usually allowed only in the Sunday morning. During 26 months of military services, religious services on Sundays are the almost only chance to get out of military camps other than official vacation. Their motive was silly but the military ordiniariate has succeeded in fishing a lot of soldiers into Catholicism.

"A Church That's Alive"

Fascinating. John Allen's very personal reaction to the Mass he attended Thursday night in Brazil.

Padre Marcelo Rossi's Mass for tens of thousands of Catholics in a glass factory. Allen writes:

"I realize this is a bold claim, but I'm going to make it anyway: If you haven't been to Mass with Padre Marcelo Rossi, you haven't really been to Mass.

Theologically, of course, that's ridiculous, because every validly celebrated Mass has the same spiritual value. Sociologically, however, I guarantee that a Mass with Padre Marcelo is an experience you won't soon forget."


In some ways the Mass was like an emotional roller coaster ride, repeatedly building to a fevered crescendo, only to come back down for moments of deep reverence. People were respectful of the key moments, such as the proclamation of the gospel and the eucharistic prayers, but they also seemed to know when it felt right to send up a chant of "Hey, Hey, Hey, Jesus is King!" (which sounds much more lyrical in Portuguese) and when to offer raucous applause.


The Mass proceeded, punctuated by the same alternating cycle of pop-music exuberance and deep reverence. At the end, Rossi and the priest with whom he concelebrated placed a large host into a gleaming monstrance.

All the lights were turned off as people lit small candles, producing a shimmering sea of light. As a haunting ballad played in the background, Rossi slowly came down from the stage and made the rounds of the hall, holding the monstrance aloft. It was the most spiritually evocative moment of the evening, with the vast crowd silently riveted on the monstrance as it followed its course back to the altar.

As Allen sums it up:

Hearing about all this second-hand, I suppose it's possible to look askance, regarding what I'm describing as more Lollapalooza than liturgy. In the moment, however, one can't help but sense a spirit that's incredibly powerful. In the first blush afterwards, my unreflective reaction, voiced to no one in particular, was: "There's a church that's alive!"

I've heard very similar stories from those who were there about Masses in Africa where thousands of worshippers sing and sway and pray with great intensity for hours.

Allen has gone out on a limb on this one. "A church that's alive!" What an evocative way for a man who has experienced the Church's life in such breadth and who has lived and worshipped for years in Rome itself, to respond.

Why is it that so many American Anglo Catholics, especially bloggers, seem incapable of listening thoughtfully to a positive description of such a Mass, of regarding Fr. Rossi as anything more than the worst kind of manipulative showman, or of believing that it is possible for "exuberance" and "deep reverence" to co-exist in the same liturgy?

So cut off are we from the reality of Catholic life in Latin American or Africa where half the Catholics in the world now live. So absorbed are we in re-fighting the battles of the 60's while the global Catholic south, whose struggles are much more fundamental - hunger, poverty, basic human rights - dances and sings during the liturgy with exuberance.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Practicing the Presence

Sometimes put yourself very simply before God, certain of his presence everywhere, and without any effort, whisper very softly to his sacred heart whatever your own heart prompts you to say.”

St. Jeanne de Chantal

H/T Susan Stabile


Yesterday was given over to planning full scale implementation of Making Disciples for a large archdiocese in anticipation of a committee phone call last night. The plan was approved all round and everyone (all 8 of us) seem happy.

Now all Fr. Mike has to do is produce an incredibly moving, witty, and compelling two minute video for pastors that will bring them to their feet with tears to their eyes, asking "What must I do to be saved?"

Okay. Maybe not exactly like that.

But the next little bit is up to the committee and Fr. Mike and I can turn my attention to other things.

Like taking pictures of the newly finished waterfall which has truly transformed the whole garden Here's the upper stream running beside the path:

The lower stream, waterfall, and little pool:

The little "mini-falls" on the way down:

and the unexpected visitor taking it all in . . .

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Lost in the Temple Again

One of the most interesting aspects of this past weekend in LA was that I got to eat with and listen to the stories of leaders (priests, abbots, sisters, lay leaders) whose names I'd heard for years. They were very unpretentious and down-to-earth and remarkably candid.

One leader shared one Bishop's memorable quip on how the Gospel of Jesus Christ so often gets lost in the midst of our ecclesial insider baseball.

"Jesus has gotten lost in the Temple again."

I've got to remember that one . . .

Summer's Reprise

This morning in the garden (to see a larger version of the picture, simply click on it).

A lone Mexican hat lords it over a sea of tansy asters

Local Hummingbird's delight: Agastache and Russian Sage in the early morning light - almost too bright to look at - and photograph!

A glimpse of the still-not-completely-finished stream and waterfall with a red penstemon blown over it by last night's torrential downpour.

The wildflower bed in its September glory with masses of tansy asters in full bloom against the Black Eyed Susans, California poppies, and other daisies.

Stream of Something . . .

Fr. Mike is in Tucson caring for his parents this week while I am busily trying to get prepped for a number of upcoming commitments.

Getting more of our wonderful teachers trained to train others. Planning a large scale implementation of Making Disciples for a large archdiocese. Trying to figure out to squeeze an introduction to spiritual thresholds into two half hour segments for a cathedral. Revising our two weekend version of Making Disciples yet again. Talking through an invitation to establish CSI teams in Hong Kong and Macau. Revising our elegant but old website in the midst of it all.

All good problems to have. The bright side is that I'm home this weekend! Even though I love teaching and really enjoy the chance to meet so many great people and see new places, my heart sinks at the prospect of packing for yet another trip. For some reason, packing is the part of traveling that I dislike the most. With the exception of having my six foot frame wedged into a little bulkhead seat in the little regional jet where the curved walls left little space for my legs like last weekend. Cause the airline had booked me and a mother with her child in the same seat.

More coherent blogging in a bit . . .

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Good Cause

I just read an article on non-profits in the U.S. Could hardly believe there are 2 million of 'em out there. The Catherine of Siena Institute is but one of them. We're a bit different in that we make about 85% of our income through goods and services: workshops, seminars, parish missions, talks, and the like. Our website, which is being redesigned, includes a bookstore, through which we sell a variety of discernment resources and books having to do with the lay spiritual life, charisms, and other topics related to our mission.

The article highlighted an excellent non-profit that I've supported for fifteen years, the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging. Here's a tidbit that warmed my heart
This organization, begun by lay Catholics, matches sponsors with children, youth, aging and their families of all religious and nonreligious backgrounds so they may live with dignity and achieve their desired potential.
“CFCA is a movement of people as much as it is an organization,” said Paco Wertin, CEO of the foundation. “Our relationships are based on integrity and accountability, which permeates all of our behavior.” As a result, “the accountability ratings are very important to us, to our sponsors and our sponsored,” Wertin said.
The foundation offers donors comfort by being rated by the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator (four stars) and the American Institute of Philanthropy (“A+”) -- top of the class in terms of governance, management, and financial accountability.
I have been very impressed with this organization from the beginning. I have sponsored two little girls (now young adults!) from the Philippines, and encourage you to consider sponsorship. Your donation of $30.00/month helps provide young people around the globe with education, food, medical care. CFCA also connects people with elderly folks, too. They have serious medical needs as well.

CFCA is an excellent example of lay Catholics seeing a need, and asking themselves, "what can I/we do about this?" Armed with a love and knowledge of Catholic social teaching, three brothers, their sister, and a friend decided to do something about the effects of poverty on the most vulnerable: the very young and the very old. Here's a bit of their history:
CFCA began in 1981 through the visionary leadership of the Hentzen brothers Jim, Bud and Bob, their sister Nadine Pearce and their good friend Jerry Tolle. Both Bob Hentzen and Jerry Tolle had been missionaries in Central and South America for many years. When they returned to the U.S., they had a desire to continue helping the people they once served.

Early on they decided upon sponsorship as the perfect opportunity not only to provide ongoing help for the poor, but also to allow the poor to share their gifts with people in the United States. Both Bob and Jerry emphasized sponsorship as a "two-way street" that preserves the dignity of the sponsored person and depends on personal outreach from sponsors. The mission statement CFCA follows today conveys the same ideas and principles.

CFCA's first office was in the basement of Bob Hentzen's home. Within a few years, the small staff moved to an abandoned farmhouse in Kansas City, Mo. Finally, in 1991, CFCA purchased an old warehouse in an industrial district close to downtown Kansas City where CFCA could also be a visible presence in the local community.
It's now a $100 million/year non-profit, and nearly 99% of their income goes to meet the needs of the needy. Here's how CFCA describes themselves: "We don't see poverty. We see potential. CFCA believes in the potential of the poor to effect change in their own lives and in our world. We help families in developing countries put food on the table, send their children to school, access health care and have a decent place to live so that together, we can end the cycle of poverty."

What's also great about CFCA, is that it's not just about handouts. They are doing some really innovative things to help people become self-sufficient in the production of their own food. Here's an example:

In addition, education is key in helping the next generation have more opportunities than the previous one. I am happy that my sponsor child, Jeny, who is 19, has finished school and has been given job training as well. She writes to me excitedly about the responsibilities of her job, and how proud her family is of her. I'm proud of her, too.

What might God do with you, if you're willing to listen to Him, look around you, examine your gifts and passions, and take a step in faith?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day Sunrise

I got home just in time to catch the Colorado Balloon Classic, this morning. It is a staple of Labor Day weekend here but today the weather was simply spectacular. The smoke of LA has blown away, it is cool, sunny, and clear as a bell. A perfect Labor Day.

Even after 8 years here, i still find the open display of faith here a bit startling. To wit, one balloon crew's truck:

And the event Lost and Found (Don't try this in Seattle!)

There was one handicapped pilot in a wheelchair who had a custom made basket.

And the large economy size basket when you want to throw a party in the air.

One the special qualities of our balloon festival is that fact that ordinary by-standers are allowed up close and personal exposure to the whole process of getting the balloons airborn. There are helpers of all ages.

The balloons go up in waves and the goal is for each balloon to successfully "dip" the bottom of their basket into nearby Prospect Lake and then go up again. The water of the lake was so clear and still that I got some great double images:

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Just for fun - for cat lovers

While Sherry W and Fr. Mike are otherwise occupied, I thought I would share this bit of silliness for all those who love (or perhaps even despise) cats:

Rossini's Cat Duet

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Season Begins

Yesterday, i could smell smoke around here - LA smoke! On Monday and Tuesday, the haze of the huge fires in the LA almost obscured the mountains which is bizarre for us. But then this has been an usual weather year. Normally the thunderstorms are gone by the time of year and our autumn skies become incredibly luminous and clear with gorgeous sunsets.

tomorrow, I'm plunging into the heart of haze, as I'll be speaking Saturday at the young adult track for the Southern California Renewal Conference in Anaheim.

I am so grateful that the triple digit temps in LA have ended and it will have dropped into the 80's while I am there.

Fr. Mike was in town very briefly and then flew off this morning for Seattle where he will be doing another day of consultation with the staff of Blessed Sacrament Church as they wrestle with becoming a truly evangelizing parish.

We have so many events scheduled for the next two months and they keep rolling in. We can hardly keep track, much less get them all up on the website:

11 Called & Gifted workshops
5 C & G interviewer/facilitator trainings
1 Making Disciples
1 parish mission
and numerous one-of-a-kind special presentations that keep multiplying like rabbits.

Two months ago, we thought we were going to have a quiet fall. Ha! We not complaining, believe me, but thank God for our traveling teachers around the country!