Monday, October 26, 2009

MIchigan Bound

Off to Michigan this morning.

Here it is 18 and snowing (!) For the moment. it will warm up today. And the snow again. And then warm up again.

All before I get home on Friday afternoon just in time for Halloween and All Saints Day.

Speaking to leaders of the Pontiac Vicariate tonight about gifts discernment.

Then training 15 Called & Gifted interviewers from Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Oregon - including our very first two Orthodox interviewers! The training will be in the evenings so if I have access, you may well be hearing from me.

Meanwhile, Fr. MIke is beginning a week long retreat for the priests of SOLT in Kansas City.

Your prayers appreciated.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Watching Anglican Sausage Being Made

Fr. Dwight over at Standing on My Head points out this excellent blog summary (at Sub Tuum) of this weekend's Anglo-Cathoilc (Forward in Faith) gathering in the UK which discussed Pope's Benedict's proposal in great detail.

I have to agree with Brother Stephen. (I listened to almost all of the speeches online yesterday while doing housework.)

"First, it has been reported in the Telegraph that John Hind, Bishop of Chichester, is practically at the doorstep of St. Peter's. This was not at all how I heard his speech yesterday, which I didn't report on individually. The money quote in his speech to my mind was, " Everything points to the wisdom of holding steady just at the moment." From there he went on to raise his concerns about whether the ordinariates would be a real ecclesial community or merely a place for nostalga. He described the prospect of being merely a "religious movement" within the Roman Catholic church as "bleak." From there, he went on to defend the ARCIC vision of the Church of England as arriving at full communion with Rome as a worthy ecumenical partner. In short, he has stated that he's willing to be reordained, but he did not seem eager to do it tomorrow."

When I first saw references online to the Bishop of Chichester being on the edge of entering the Church, I had to go back to the Forward in Faith website and make sure that they were referring to the man whose speech I thought I had heard. I thought perhaps he had made an additional statement. That's not what he said in his speech at the Forward in Faith gathering.

The rest was as Brother Stephen describes it: all over the map. Everyone praised Pope Benedict's generosity, flexibility, and creativity. Some are clearly hoping that this new development will give them new negotiating clout with Lambeth. One sister declared that if you cut her open, you would find nothing inside but "C Of E". One priest declared that he hoped to die an Anglican. Others said "This is what we've been praying for all these years. How can we reject this incredibly generous offer?"

Just what you would expect. As Brother Stephen sums up the conversation:

"TAC (Traditional Anglican Communion-mostly an Australian movement) has its bags packed and ready and that a good number of FIF members within the Church of England are coming on the fast track regardless of what the C of E offers them and that more are likely to follow. We know that FIF in the US and the Anglo-Catholics in the Anglican Church in North America are taking a pass as are most of the large evangelical Anglican provinces in the developing world. I'd say that, realistically this is about as good a start as was possible."

The spokesman of the Anglican Church in North America did mention the fact that some of his group were considering Orthodoxy as I noted in my earlier post: Whither Anglicanism: Catholics? Evangelical? Orthodox? And the keynote was given by a famous evangelical Anglican bishop who urged Anglo-Catholics to stay and form a united front with other orthodox Anglicans like the evangelicals and charismatics.

I think Brother Stephen's reminder below is critical for those of us watching from the outside:

"To Catholics and to especially my fellow converts, since we often carry the biggest chips on our shoulders, who want to rage about the evils of Anglicanism and want people to come crawling, chastened, and cowed, remember that it is the Holy Father himself who has chosen to kill the fatted calf. It seems that the least we can all do is make merry. Reviewing the parable of the wages of the laborers in the vineyard might do us all some good."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Listen to Anglican Debate About Pope Benedict's Proposal

The Internet to the rescue:

If you'd like to know how Anglo Catholics are responding to Pope Benedict's proposal, you can listen to the presentations and discussions at this weekends' Forward in Faith gathering in the UK.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Jesus: "Honey to the Mouth, Song to the Ear, Joy to the Heart"

From Wednesday's General Audience in which Pope Benedict talked about St. Bernard of Clairvaux:

"Only Jesus -- insists Bernard in face of the complex dialectical reasoning of his time -- only Jesus is "honey to the mouth, song to the ear, joy to the heart (mel in ore, in aure melos, in corde iubilum)." From here stems, in fact, the title attributed to him by tradition of Doctor Mellifluus: his praise of Jesus Christ, in fact, "runs like honey."

In the extenuating battles between nominalists and realists -- two philosophical currents of the age -- the abbot of Clairvaux does not tire of repeating that only one name counts, that of Jesus the Nazarene. "Arid is all food of the soul," he confesses, "if it is not sprinkled with this oil; insipid, if it is not seasoned with this salt. What is written has no flavor for me, if I have not read Jesus." And he concludes: "When you discuss or speak, nothing has flavor for me, if I have not heard resound the name of Jesus" (Sermones in Cantica Canticorum XV, 6: PL 183,847).

For Bernard, in fact, true knowledge of God consists in a personal, profound experience of Jesus Christ and of his love. And this, dear brothers and sisters, is true for every Christian: Faith is above all a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, and to experience his closeness, his friendship, his love; only in this way does one learn to know him ever more, and to love and follow him ever more. May this happen to each one of us."

Sure, and Have You Ever Thought About Being a Catholic?

My Google alerts brought this next post to my attention and then I discovered it belonged to a blogging bishop - Rene Henry Gracida - the bishop emeritus of Corpus Christi (that happenin', evangelizin' town where Fr. Mike is this weekend).

You will love this story of Frank Duff - the Irish founder of the Legion of Mary, a "genius of the apostolate" who received a standing ovation from the world's bishops at the Second Vatican Council. Bishop Gracida writes:

"Now to the point of this post. In Dublin I had the pleasure of meeting and talking at length with Frank Duff, who, please God, will someday be canonized and recognized for the saint that he was. I asked Frank Duff what was the secret of his great success in winning converts to the Church. He replied that every year he spent his summers bicycling through Europe and everywhere he went he engaged people in conversation. After a while he would ask each person if he or she was a Catholic. On being told that they were not, Frank Duff would ask: “Sure, and have you ever thought about being a Catholic?”

Simply asking the question, Frank Duff told me, planted the seed and the Holy Spirit did the rest. Sooner or later that person would ask himself or herself the question, “Why am I not a Catholic?” God’s grace would then do the rest, Frank Duff said."

Imagine - a real live dyed-in-the-wool-Irish!- cradle- Catholic (none of those slippery converts!), asking a relative stranger a question like that!

'Course it probably works best if you have a bit of a brogue.

African Anglican Bishops Respond

Several responses from Anglican Bishops in Africa to the Pope's proposal (Courtesy of Virtue Online)

AFRICAN Anglicans do not need the Pope's intervention over consecration of gay bishops, the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi, has said.


Orombi said such measures by the Vatican are not called for in the African Anglican Church, which he said had successfully resisted liberalism from Western countries.

"Anglo-Catholic Anglicans have been disillusioned by the liberal churches in the West that created a theological crisis with their liberal attitude to sexuality. Many of them would be happy with the Pope's initiative. But the African Church does not need that because it is strong on biblical theology," he argued.

Orombi said the African Anglican Church split after realising that the Western churches had yielded to liberal measures on sexuality, which are contrary to the biblical teachings.

In a historic move, African Anglican churches held a conference in Jerusalem last year during which they officially broke away from Canterbury. "The African Anglican Church has undertaken measures to deal with the excesses of liberalism that invaded the western church. We are a Bible-believing Church," Orombi said.

And similar reactions from Kenya:

The head of Kenya's Anglican Church, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, has rejected the Pope's offer to allow disaffected Anglicans to join the Catholic Church.


However, Archbishop Wabukala told the BBC's Network Africa programme there was "no possibility" of his becoming a Catholic.

"The Protestant family understands faith in different ways, for example, the idea of the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, the interpretation of ministry," he said.

He said his fellow African Anglican bishops were "deeply evangelical".

He told the BBC it would not be easy for African Anglicans to enter into full communion with Catholics.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Peter Akinola, head of the Church of Nigeria, and the spiritual leader of Africa's 40 million Anglicans, is "still weighing the implications of the Vatican's offer" and is consulting with colleagues, according to an aide reached by telephone Wednesday. Archbishop Akinola is famously "low church". One of his staff summed the situation up in a very evangelical manner:

"We don't compromise on scriptures, and that has been our fight with the West," says Rev. Syrenius Okoriko, the head of the Nigerian Anglican church's evangelical department, in a phone interview Wednesday from Abuja, the capital. "We have so many issues with the West: homosexuality, the interpretation of the scriptures. What the scriptures say is what we stand on."

The way in which these African bishops framed the issue as a "western" one about sexual issues is telling. Of course, the deepest issue is not the issue of ordaining homosexuals and that would certainly not be a good reason to be received into full communion.

There are essentially two different kinds of "western" Anglicanism at the heart of the matter: western liberalism and western traditionalism. And many African prelates don't seem interested in either.

Reading John Allen's coverage of the Synod on Africa and then reading these bishop's responses just reinforces how different the perspective of Catholics (and other Christians) in the global south can be. The debates that convulse us in the west are so often not compelling for them.

Those debates are fueled by traumas that western Christians experienced in the 60's and 70's that simply didn't touch large parts of Africa which were struggling with more basic issues - famine, disease, grinding poverty, systemic corruption, chaotic infrastructure - with life and death. The one exception may be in South Africa, which was ruled by the British during the 19th century when the Oxford movement swept across the Anglican world and where white rule wasn't dismantled until the early 90's.

It also gives me a sense of how different the priorities of an Africa or South American Pope might be. I'm currently re-reading Weigel's biography of Pope John Paul II and am struck by the intense experiences that shaped young "Lulek's" life and worldview. Six years of constant terror and hunger under Nazi rule, 4 years of hard labor, orphaned before he was 21. Decades under communist oppression. When a man who has lived through that says "Be Not Afraid", you believe him.

All bishops, all Popes are fully human. They have been formed by the time and culture in which they have lived. How the Holy Spirit works with, inspires, uses, (and sometimes over-rides) that humanity and that history to guide the Church in a particular generation is one of the great mysteries. They can surprise us and inspired by the Holy Spirit, do things that utterly transcend their background.

But grace does build upon nature. It does matter who they are - and where they have been - and what they have lived. Because that will, inevitably, shape, energize and limit the impact of their papacy.

Anglo-Catholicism is a deeply western movement, emerging in the early 19th century in the quintessential heart of intellectual England (Oxford) in response to developments in western thought and culture. Like traditionalist Catholicism, it is still overwhelmingly western and it seems that most of those Anglicans who will take advantage of the opportunity to enter the Catholic Church will also be western.

Which makes sense. Pope Benedict is European to his fingertips and his burning concern is the fate of an imploding Christianity in Europe. It is the task for which his whole life has prepared him. And healing some of the wounds of western Christianity will pave the way for other moments of grace that we cannot now imagine.

We just have to remember that slightly more than half of all Anglicans live in Africa. And that only 27% still live in the west. And that this is a western Anglican turning point, not a global Anglican moment.

Bulgarian Orthodox Bishop to Pope: "We Must Find Unity"

Another interesting development of an ecumenical nature:

Bishop Tichon, head of the diocese for Central and Western Europe of the Patriarchate of Bulgaria, stated to the Pope, "We must find unity as soon as possible and finally celebrate together," L'Osservatore Romano reported.

"People don't understand our divisions and our discussions," the bishop stated. He affirmed that he will "not spare any efforts" to work for the quick restoration of "communion between Catholics and Orthodox."

Bishop Tichon said that "the theological dialogue that is going forward in these days in Cyprus is certainly important, but we should not be afraid to say that we must find as soon as possible the way to celebrate together."

"A Catholic will not become an Orthodox and vice versa, but we must approach the altar together," he added.

The prelate told the Pontiff that "this aspiration is a feeling that arose from the works of the assembly" of his diocese, held in Rome, in which all the priests and two delegates from every Bulgarian Orthodox parish took part.

"We have come to the Pope to express our desire for unity and also because he is the Bishop of Rome, the city that hosted our assembly," he stated.

Interesting. "A Catholic will not become an Orthodox and vice versa, but we must approach the altar together."

I don't follow all the ins and out of ecumenical discussions but the air is clearly filled with the idea that there might be new paths beyond the old barriers.

Of course, he and his clergy live in the west and may feel the separation more acutely.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Divine Appointments and Amazing Conversations

I love these anecdotes from Paulist Fr. Tom Holahan, Vice Rector of the Church of St. Susanna in Rome.

He wrote today about Rome as an "evangelization machine."

"Rome, in its way, is a 500-year-old evangelization machine. The buildings and art created as a response to the Protestant critique still call to people who are searching and create a mood of reflection. Just before I arrived in Rome, I met an industrial psychologist who was a Christian but now follows a Native American practice. He told me that, when he went to the Vatican, sunbeams from the dome of the church hit Michelangelo’s Pieta and brought tears to his eyes.

A week ago I heard from two nuns, dressed in habits, who were stopped on the street by a Japanese tourist. She wanted to know, could they possibly spare a few moments to explain Christianity to her? Yesterday a Syrian found his way to our English-speaking church (he knew no Italian) asking the same question. He told me he had no particular faith, but he had been impressed with the Syrian Orthodox while in his own country and now, before he had to leave the country because of a document problem, he wanted to find out more. He asked his questions urgently, “And, so, Jesus was the Son of God?” “He promised eternal life?”

Searching Americans approach the faith issue differently. One recently told me he “gave up on God” when the Supreme Being did not cure his depression and taking a little pill did. I said there may come a time when something can’t be fixed, then what?"

Amazing conversations! Exactly the sort of thing we train those who go through Making Disciples to invite and respond to appropriately.

Rome. What a place to just be available to listen to and respond to people's spiritual questions and concerns.

But everywhere is Rome if we have the eyes to see it. The holidays are coming. Advent and Christmas and the whole Catholics Come Home TV campaign in places like Colorado Springs, Omaha, Chicago, and Seattle. Life is an "evangelizing machine." Especially during the holidays.

I'll be blogging more on that later but lets start praying right now to be available for those "divine appointment", to respond when the Holy Spirit whispers to us "Ask the question."

Where is God in your life? What has your relationship with God been like to this point?

And then listen to understand what their journey with God has been so far.

Not to catechize at first. Or correct. Or fix. Or judge. First, to understand.

We've had people make significant spiritual progress just through telling the story of their relationship with God - probably for the first time in their life - to someone who cared enough to ask and then really listen to them.

Catholic Quote of the Day

There is a gaze and a heart that penetrates to your very marrow and loves you all the way to your destiny.”
-- Fr. Luigi Giussani, founder of Communion & Liberation

H/T Kathleen Lundquist

Blame the Dominicans

Somehow you just knew that the Dominicans were behind it.

Jack Chick had it all wrong. What is a mere Jesuit conspiracy to take over the world compared to the awesome power of Dominicans at prayer?

This post from the Eastern Province's blog:

"On February 21, 2009, many Dominican priests, brothers, sisters and laity received an e-mail with an urgent prayer request requested by (then) Fr. Augustine DiNoia, O.P., Undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, asking all Dominicans to pray the Litany of Dominican Saints from February 22 (the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter) through March 25 (the Solemnity of the Annunciation) for an at-the-time undisclosed intention. Today, we received an e-mail from Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, O.P., the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, with the following announcement:

"Today there was announced -- at press conferences in Rome and London -- the forthcoming publication of an apostolic constitution in which the Holy Father allows for the creation of personal ordinariates for groups of Anglicans in different parts of the world who are seeking full communion with the Catholic Church. The canonical structure of the personal ordinariate will permit this corporate reunion while at the same time providing for retention of elements of Anglican liturgy and spirituality.

When I asked the Friars (and other OPs - Ed.) to pray the Dominican litany from 22 February to 25 March earlier this year, the intention was that this proposal would receive the approval of the cardinal members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which was necessary if the proposal of some structure allowing for corporate reunion was to go forward. Our prayers at that time were answered, and now that the proposal has become a reality we can tell everyone what we were praying for then.


+Abp. J Augustine DiNoia, O.P.

Of course, Fr. Mike didn't tell me.

Not that I feel left out at all.


Today is one of the glorious Colorado days that will make Fr. Mike might glad he forsook his life in sin (city). Pike's Peak's great shoulders are covered in snow and so is the ground but the sky is a brilliant blue, the gold leaves have not all fallen, and the air is crisp.

We are about to launch the Institute's new website so my focus for the remainder of the week must be revising or writing new content for the new website which is supposed to launch on Monday. With or without content.

This weekend, while Fr. Mike evangelizes in Corpus Christ, I should be planting bulbs by the hundreds. I've only planted 52 so far and my lower back has been screaming ever since. (That is unusual for me as I'm one of those weird people who can touch the palm of my hands to the floor without pain. Long torso and arms, relatively short legs - for a six footer. No back problems.)

Mulled red wine and Ibuprofen are a great cure. But time is a-wasting.

Meanwhile, Sybil in our office is deftly arranging last minute gift interviews for lots of those coming to training in southern Michigan. Somehow the normal pre-req for this training didn't get communicated. But our valiant phone interviewers (thanks Mary Sharon and Jen!) have risen to the occasion. We've got people coming from all over southern Michigan, Indiana, Oregon, and two Orthodox trainees from Ohio. Should be a good group.

Back to work. I have a major post pending on the whole Catholic Come Home campaign heating up this Advent but first I've got to pound the website into shape.

Leaving Sin (City) Behind

Boarding a flight back to Colorado Springs via Phoenix in a few minutes. Today I have a podcast interview with the good folks at ChristLife, and then it'll be an early night to catch a plane to Texas to attend and assist with an Encounter Retreat in the hopping diocese (evangelization wise, at least) of Corpus Christi.

We had a good meeting in Vegas. I was able to see my community for the first time in a long while, and we spoke of many issues facing our communities and our Province. It was sort of a microcosm of what's happening in the country - how to pay for healthcare with an aging Province, how to respond to the need of immigrant communities, especially Hispanics, Filipinos and Vietnamese, looking at other ministerial challenges and opportunities. The Catherine of Siena Institute and our work was strongly affirmed - but then, one of the co-directors was there! There are some other very interesting ministries in the region, including the St. Therese Center, the Las Vegas diocese's outreach to those affected and infected with HIV/AIDS. I'll be writing up an interview I did with Fr. Joseph O'Brien, OP for the e-Scribe.

Gotta fly!

Always Distinguish

Ok. Time for a mini rant.

One of the things that used to make me roll my eyes in my pre-Catholic days was the very common tendency among evangelicals to conflate the term "Protestant" with the word "Christian". It was just hard wired for many. The idea that the term "Christian" also encompassed Catholics and the Orthodox was almost unimaginable for some. (I'm fairly sure that most members of my own fundamentalist - tending family still don't know that Orthodox Christianity exists. Our imagination only extended as far as the Latin Rite.)

I always congratulated myself on the fact that Catholics weren't nearly so self-absorbed and parochial. Till now.

What is it with the all too common mistake of the Catholic media confusing the term "Catholic" with the term "Christian" these days? As I've noted before here, when discussing Christianity in Asia, we routinely reduce all of Christian experience to the experience of Catholics alone. Ignoring the fact that two thirds of the Christians of Asia are not Catholic. Out of mind, out of sight seems to be our motto there. We don't have to deal with realities we refuse to acknowledge.

The latest, stunning example is a bit different. The British Catholic Herald's recent story on Catholic resistance to the Nazis started off with this title: Germany’s Catholics: neither cowed nor craven. Francis Phillips hails a stunning study of Catholic resistance to National Socialism

That's pretty clear.

But immediately under the title is a picture of this man:

You see my problem. I hope you see my problem.

Because Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the embodiment of Christian resistance to Adolf Hitler, was Protestant. Lutheran, in fact. Bonhoeffer was the most famous leader and martyr of the "Confessing Church", the Protestant resistance to the Nazi regime. He headed up an underground seminary for "confessing" Protestants. Bonhoeffer's most luminous and famous work is a revered classic among evangelicals: The Cost of Discipleship.

Bonhoeffer's famous distinction between "cheap grace" and "costly grace" was aimed at corruptions within German Lutheranism. You know. At what can happen when a group of Christians insists, as Lutherans do, that we are saved by grace alone.

It was one of the five Solas of the Reformation: Sola Christus. Sola Deo Gloria. Sola Fide. Sola Gratia. Sola Scriptura. In response, Bonhoeffer wrote:

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing.... 45

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian 'conception' of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins.... In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God. 45-46

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. 'All for sin could not atone.' Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin....

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession.... Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. 47

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man’ will gladly go and self all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God."

Bonhoeffer was a exceptional ecumenical figure in his own day and is certainly revered by all Christians today.

But it doesn't mean that his face is the appropriate illustration for an article on Catholic resistance in Nazi Germany.

It evokes the same reaction in historically aware Protestants that say, using a photo of Pope Benedict directly under the title "Gospel Rap the Key to Evangelizing Post-Moderns, says Emergent Church Leader" would in the average Catholic blogger. Eye rolling would only be the beginning.

The article does contain a oddly placed paragraph about Protestant resistance to Hitler which mentions Bonhoeffer but that really doesn't eliminate the powerful initial impression of the combination of a title that screams "Catholic" and the image of that man's face below. Perhaps the paragraph was added to explain the photo? But why not just use a photo of a Catholic resister?

Apparently, the editor's grasp of pre-World War II history is a bit tenuous. I can live with that. But someone else should have caught it.

Even in an era where married Anglican priests can be received into and ordained as a married men in the Catholic Church, Protestants are not yet Catholics. Catholics are not Orthodox.

Together we are Christians but the word "Christian" is not co-terminus with the word "Catholic" or "Protestant" or "Evangelical".

"Always distinguish" is the Dominican motto. If we don't distinguish, we falsify our history and we can't begin to understand the world in which we find ourselves.

A Taste of the First Indian Mission Congress

Here's another sign of the vitality of Asian Christianity: a fascinating glimpse of the first missionary congress was held in Mumbai, India last week.

It was the fulfillment of the dream of Pope John Paul II to organize continental mission congresses. 1500 members of India's three Catholic Church rites -- the Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites - attended.

There are loads of Congress videos up at You Tube (what was I expecting from the land of Bollywood?) and I scanned several. This one will give you a taste of the Congress and of Catholic life in India.

Prayer Request

Urgent prayer request:

21-year old Marysa complained of not feeling well on 10.0.09, she saw her doctor on 10.9.09, was sent immediately to the emergency room at the hospital, and was placed on life support (feeding tubes and a ventilator) on 10.14.09. She was flown via helicopter to University Hospital on 10.15.09 where she remains in critical condition in the intensive care unit. Marysa is married to Ryan and has a 2 year old daughter Ainsley.

Ainsley has not seen her Mom since 10.9.09, and has seen her Dad only once since then.

Diagnosis: the flu - although not H1N1.

Whatever influenza it was, probably kicked the pneumonia in, and her immune system went into overdrive, since nothing else was working against the flu in her system. Since then, no one has been able to reduce her immune system's response.

Please pray for this young mother's healing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Latinos: the Future of US Catholicism?

In the midst of all the focus on Ango-Catholics and their future, CNN's "Latino in America" will broadcast tonight.

One of CNN's emphasis? That 1/3 of American Catholics are Latino right now and that Hispanics rather than Anglos are the wave of the American Catholic future>

CNN has done an intriguing side report on some of the Latino evangelists behind Hispanic evangelicalism in this country - who are also heavily involved in the immigration debate.

CNN's memorable description? Part Martin Luther King. Part Billy Graham. Pro-life, pro traditional marriage, pro-immigration.

Watch the video here.

Sin City

Yes, I'm in "fabulous Las Vegas." It may seem like an odd place for Dominicans to gather - then again, not, since St. Dominic had a famous all-nighter with an Albigensian tavern owner-innkeeper. A group of us from the southwest portion of the Province are meeting to talk about issues facing our Province and its ministries as we prepare for our assembly next summer.

As I walked through the airport last night past the posters advertising various cabarets with showgirls, the Chippendales and something called the "Thunder from Down Under" (and it wasn't about the Institute's office in Melbourne), I recalled the Las Vegas slogan,
"What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas."
I was reminded of it again this morning as I drank tea from a Las Vegas mug with its written reminder of its reputation as "Sin City."

That is moral (or, better immoral) wishful thinking. There is no sin that "doesn't hurt anyone." Even if no one else seems to be harmed, I am harmed. I am lessened by my own sin. I become less "Michael," and thus, since I am changed, it stands to follow that every relationship I am in is changed - perhaps imperceptibly, but changed, nonetheless.

"What happens in Vegas" doesn't stay in Vegas, except the cash I lose gambling, and a bit of my humanity. If I have come to Sin City to engage in sin, I will return home less authentic, less real; like the shadowy figures in C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce who cannot stand the sharp reality of the grassy plain that is the anteroom of heaven.

The Ghost of Episcopal Past.

A bit of doggeral, learned in my pre-Catholic days, and wedged into some odd corner of my brain has just re-surfaced. It was obviously written before the Episcopal Church in the US ceased to refer to itself as "Protestant Episcopal". On this blustery, snowy morning, I just needed to share it. No need to thank me.

(Sung to the tune of "God Bless America")

I am Episcopal
I am PE
Not a high church. Or a low church.
I am Catholic and Protestant and Free.

Not a Luther
Or a Presby
Or a Baptist, white with foooooam . . .

I am Episcopal.
Just one step from Rooooooome . . .

I am Episcopal.
Via Media. Boom. Boom.

Whither Anglicanism? Catholic? Evangelical? Orthodox?

Whither Anglicanism? Catholic? Evangelical? Orthodox? The answer seems to be "yes".

Yesterday's news was dominated by the remarkable announcement that the Vatican is creating new structures to welcome disaffected Anglicans from all over the world. These structures will allow Anglicans to hold onto some of their distinctive spiritual practices within the Catholic Church, including the ordination of married former Anglican clergy as Catholic priests.

Tremendous rejoicing has filled the Catholic blogosphere. Over at First Things, the Anchoress has pointed out (rightly) that the lion's share of the 84.7 million Anglicans live outside the west. (Anglicanism has mushroomed in Africa over the past 30 years. 37 million Anglicans now live in Africa as opposed to the 26 million who live in the UK.) The speculation "This is very big. If this reconnection is well-facilitated, we may see the entire African arm of the Church of England (which is currently its most vibrantly-growing branch) cross the Tiber."

I expect that we may see not just thousands but probably hundreds of thousands of Anglicans enter the Church over the next 5 - 10 years as a direct response to the Pope's initiative. (To put this in perspective, remember that even a half million entering the Catholic Church only represents a little over 1/2 of 1% of the entire body Anglican. it is more important psychologically than numerically.)

But what puzzles me is the tendency during this discussion around the Catholic blogosphere to ignore the existence of the 800 lb gorilla of the Anglican world: evangelicalism. Anglican evangelicals have very different concerns than do Anglo-Catholics and are much more likely to retain a basic suspicion or indifference to Rome.

Anglican evangelicalism comes in two basic flavors: classic reformed and contemporary charismatic. Evangelical Anglicanism is a huge factor in this country, in the UK, and certainly in African and Asian Anglicanism. This is because, unlike Anglo-Catholicism, evangelical Anglicanism is primarily mission-driven rather than liturgy-driven. Both streams of evangelicalism are intensely missional and are the engine behind Anglican growth outside the west.

Reformed evangelical Anglicanism would be represented by figures like Alistair McGrath and places like All Souls Church, London which also houses the Center for Contemporary Christianity and where John Stott was pastor for many years.

Charismatic Evangelical Anglicanism's global reach is embodied in figures like Nicky Gumbel, Holy Trinity Brompton, and the Alpha course which has had 13.5 million participants globally. 2.5 million have attended in the UK alone. The phenomenal spread and success of Alpha has had an enormous impact on British Anglicanism. For the spread of Alpha in the Catholic world, go here.

(As an interesting aside, take a look at this latest Alpha television ad featuring Bear Grylls of the Discovery Channel's Man vs. Wild.
Grylls is a former member of the British special forces and was the youngest Brit to ever climb Mt. Everest.
He doesn't strike me as the sort of guy who is into fiddleback chasables but he is obviously happy to help market the Alpha course.

FYI, 1,200 leaders attended a US national Alpha conference in Florida this week. It is telling that the opening prayers of the US conference were said by Pastor Jackson Senyonga, Senior Pastor of Christian Life Church in Kampala, Uganda, which has 22,000 people attending each week. He was joined in a live internet link-up via a big screen by a large congregation attending a prayer meeting in Kampala at the same time, who prayed for the Orlando event.)

I agree with Fr. Dwight Longenecker who really knows the Anglican scene: "Readers should understand that amidst all the rejoicing the Anglo Catholics are a minority in the Anglican Church. The Liberal establishment rules all (most of their minions being the vast indifferent) and the Evangelical Protestant Anglicans are in second place. The one and only thing that unites the Liberals and the Conservative Evangelicals is the fact that they're not having the Pope."

My best guess is that the Anglo-Catholic movement will divide. Some will enter the Catholic Church, some will seek to remain Anglican, and some will become Orthodox.

Most Catholic bloggers missed the very interesting conference between Anglo-Catholics and Orthodox leaders at Nashotah House last week but Fr. Gregory Jensen was there and so, tellingly, were both Archbishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Communion of North America and Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church of America. Fr. Gregory writes:

"Over the 3 or so days of the conference I was consistently impressed with the seriousness of all the speakers and the substance of their presentations. Archbishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Communion of North America I think spoke for many of his fellow Anglicans when he said that “we (the Anglican Communion) come to you (the Orthodox Church) in our brokenness and our need for what it is you have.” This is, in my opinion, an extraordinary statement from a Christian leader.

After the meeting, Archbishop Duncan was in fact on his way to speak with the Anglicans of the Southern Cone (primarily Africa) about recent developments between ACNA and the OCAArchbishop must have known about the Vatican's initiative but was busy pursuing possible relations with the Orthodox Church of America."

Clearly, Archbishop Duncan knew that the Vatican announcement was coming as he was meeting with the OCA at Nashotah House. It was Archbishop Duncan who pointed out in his response to Pope Benedict's initiative: "our historic differences over church governance, dogmas regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary" and the nature of the priesthood." It makes sense from an Orthodox perspective that one commentator on Fr. Gregory's blog speculated that the Pope had gotten wind of this possible reproachment between Anglo-Catholics and American Orthodox and made his announcement to head it off.

That seems highly unlikely since the RC -Anglican conversations have been going on for years. But what is clear is that Anglo Catholic leaders are hardly all of a single mind and many are looking at all their options and several of those options are not Catholic.

What does seem to be the case is that Anglo-Catholicism as a movement within the Anglican communion is dissolving. In the future, Anglicans will be largely split between the liberal and evangelical factions with the evangelicals being the power outside the west.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

For Some, an Unfamiliar Perspective on Laity-Clergy Relationship

I am finishing preparations for a retreat for priests I'll be giving in a week, and was re-reading a very well-written and inspiring article by Rev. Mr. James Keating, Ph.D. titled, Priestly Spirituality, Seminary Formation, and Lay Mission. It was published in Seminary Journal a couple of years ago, and I have not been able to find it online. The good deacon is director of theological formation at the Institute for Priestly Formation, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska. Here are a few snippets from his article:
The grace of ordination allows the charity that is in everyone’s heart (love of God, love of neighbor) to be specifically the grace of “being with Christ in His spousal love for the Church.” There is something about this new “ordering” in the sacrament that places the priest in relationship to the body of Christ AS A WHOLE. He relates to all the members of the Body, sharing in the prophetic, kingly, and priestly ministry of Christ. The laity relate to the priest out of their own distinctive participation in these same Christological realities. The mode of existing in and among the members of the church is always inter-relationship. The communion between this man, the God who calls him, and the laity constitutes a spirituality—the breath of life between them all—that binds the facets of priestly formation together. The goal of this communion is to form the contemplative heart of the husband-priest. It is this priest who gazes upon the body of Christ, the church, the bride, not with a sense of entitlement or “lust” but with an ever growing pastoral desire, a desire born of this spiritual communion and finding its purpose and rest only in charitable service.
As I was reflecting on the story of the Fall in Genesis 3, I realized that the man Adam and Eve, created to be able to say, "you are bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh," i.e., "so much a part of myself that to be separated from you would be to lose a part of myself," is applicable to the priest - lay person relationship. In fact, the mutual distrust, envy, and power struggles that we sadly see in many of our parishes is a sign of the "original sin" affecting these relationships as well.

Keating continues this imagery,
The seminary, then, must also be fascinated with lay holiness. The paradox of the priest is that the life he gave up physically—wife and children—must become the life that rivets his imagination and love. When Christ calls a man away from marriage he does so only so that such a man is free in Christ to serve all marriages and families. Christ never asks priests not to be husbands and fathers. Instead he asks them to be husband in the same embodied way he does: chastely and in a life of celibacy.
I find this refreshing. I am not some neutered asexual being. It is normal and healthy for a man to want to see some fruitfulness in his life, some generativity. My life as a priest must be about bringing about "new life," albeit new spiritual life, but it is new life - leading to eternal life - nonetheless.

Keating is not afraid to be blunt. He writes - and this is for seminary leaders, mind you - "Any man who loves the idea of priesthood (clericalism) more than his service to the laity ought not to be a priest."

Finally - since my flight's boarding, I'll leave you with this, which has been something Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, and Sherry Weddell have been saying for a dozen years.
These two vocations, priest and lay, are never to be separated or made rivals in any way. Like any husband and wife, having one without the other simply makes the vocation incomprehensible. The bridegroom brings out and supports what the bride is meant to become and the bride brings out and supports what the groom is meant to become. Though the lay vocation and the priestly vocation are held in equal esteem at the level of the human dignity of each individual who receives these callings (Canon 208), a difference that must be celebrated and maintained between both vocations remains. Vocations are incommutable. The laity have an independence from the clergy in many areas of church life by virtue of their baptism (see Canons 204-231), but it is clear that the laity receive their identity from the sacraments, whose ordinary ministers are priests.

30,000 Vietnamese Montagnards Baptized in 2008 and 20,000 More are Preparing for Baptism

Great news from Vietnam (and more proof that Asia is anything but a barren field for Christianity per my recent post on Christianity is Booming in Asia):

Courtesy of Asia News: Last year 30 thousand Vietnamese from the Central Highlands (Montagnards) were baptized and 20 thousand others are preparing to become Catholics. The data was emphasized by the Bishop of Kontum, Michael Hoang Duc Oanh, at the World Mission Day. “It is the work of the Holy Spirit – he tells AsiaNews - with the sincere participation and contribution of so many people".

In the world of evangelical missiology, an event like this would be known as a "people movement": the mass conversion to Christianity of a particular ethnic/cultural/linguistic group. There has been a large number of "people movements" all over the world over the past 40 years but Catholics hardly ever acknowledge them, much less grasp their significance.

I hope that both western pundits and Asian bishops and leaders are paying attention.

During my last graduate course in the only Catholic university in my home town, we were treated to the ramblings of a priest-guest lecturer, who solemnly told us that Francis Xavier had gone to India to get away from the Pope, that Christianity in Asia was the failed outcome of western imperialism, that only 2% of Asians were Christian anyway, and that there was no such thing as genuine Christian mysticism. Since I was the only member of the class with a graduate background in the history and contemporary practice of Christian missions and had actually written a graduate paper on the history of the Jesuit missions in India, I just had to correct the lecturer and did so - publicly and privately.

But that was in Seattle - the land of None. Locals expect to be handed wildly anti-Christian propaganda with their skinny triple grande mocha lattes. What continues to astonish me is the prevalence of very similar attitudes all over the west in more diplomatic forms.

The Vietnamese Catholic Church is celebrating its 350 year anniversary in 2009 and is hardly a tiny, limping, passive remnant of western imperialism. Over 130,000 Vietnamese Catholics have died for the faith over the centuries. And now 50,000 Vietnamese citizens are entering the Church in the course of a couple years. They have earned the right to speak for themselves.

Pope Benedict, in his message for World MIssion Day, reiterated that mission is the fundamental task of the Church.

"I remind all Churches, old and young, that God called them to be the 'salt of the earth' and 'light of the world'. I urge them to proclaim the Good News of Jesus to everyone everywhere in the world. You must consider the mission to non-Catholics as the primary pastoral commitment".

I have another encouraging story from Asia pending but am waiting for a bit of additional information before i post it.

Catholic Quote of the Day

During the Mass and our Friday night exercise in front of the Blessed Sacrament in Omaha, the phrase "exchange of love" came to mind in a particularly clear and meaningful way. Here's the way this reality is summed up in the Catechism:

"God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange." CCC 221.

Monday, October 19, 2009


And you can see, Fr. Mike made it back to Colorado Springs earlier than I did. I crawled in (I was weary) about midnight last night. Fr. Mike leaves us again on Tuesday but I get to stay home for a week. The aspens about the house turned gold while I was in Omaha.

Making Disciples went very well in Omaha and I had the privilege of hearing the testimony of the Omaha doctor healed from terminal esophageal cancer through the intercession of St. Jeanne Jugan. That was cool - and heartening.

More after I come to.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

None (regarding faith and apologies) in the U.S.

The Wall Street Journal was quoting Beliefnet founder Steven Waldman not too long ago.
Nones-Americans who profess no religious affiliation - now make up 15 percent of the population. Given their rapid growth, their numbers might soon surpass the nation's largest denominations. But get this: 24% [of Nones] say they believe in 'a higher power but no personal Go,' the belief system that used to be described as Deism. They don't believe in Scripture, or cotton to organized religion. But in the privacy of their home, they think that the distant, aloof God occasionally checks in to listen to their prayers
. I know, this doesn't sound at all consistent, but these days, as credal religions lose their members to the "Nones," all kinds of inconsistencies abound: like self-described atheists who believe God exists (18%; and 8% are absolutely certain God exists!)

As Sherry has pointed out before, many of those entering the category of "none" are young adults. There is much need for basic proclamation of the Gospel that focuses on who Jesus is and what he has done for us. That also requires that at some point each person has to recognize him- or herself as a sinner in need of forgiveness. That's a tough sell in today's market, you might say.

Speaking of "none," that well describes the existence of heartfelt public contrition. Think of it this way - when was the last time you heard someone publicly say they were sorry? I didn't follow the Letterman scandal, but it sounds as though he did make some kind of apology, although I doubt the word sin was used. (The Variety article noted that it was great for ratings!)

It may be my imagination, but public mea culpas sometimes seem to be along the lines of "mistakes were made." We have a hard time admitting failure and taking responsibility for it - Genesis 3 has it so right! Adam and Eve sin, and when confronted, Adam blames Eve (and God indirectly) and Eve blames the serpent and whines that it was a trick!

Let's take some responsibility for our sins so we can ask for - and receive - forgiveness. God offers that easily. What about us?

Let's also take responsibility for inviting others to experience the love and forgiveness of God that's found in the Gospel. Evangelization should be an act of love; an introduction of someone we care about to Someone who cares about us beyond measure.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Road Wearier

Yes, I'm off with Sherry to Omaha. I'd appreciate your prayers, as I'm desperately trying to fight off a cold. Yesterday, however, an interviewer training was cancelled in Maryland that I was to give, so after some creative ticketing by Sybil, our bookkeeper / travel agent extraordinaire, I'll have a full day and two half-days in Colorado Springs after Omaha to recuperate.

Thanks to everyone for your prayers for my father. He's home, receiving dialysis three days a week, and is getting more confident walking with a walker. He and mom have in-home help for about five hours, five days a week, which has been a great blessing.


Fr. Mike and I are Omaha-bound to put on the first half of Making Disciples. Gone till Sunday night.

Then home for a week. The focus (once I've put the finished touches on a few up-coming presentations:
Writing content for the Institute's new website which is scheduled to debut October 26.

Our old one is stunningly, 11 years old now. (Which is 246 years old in cyber-years.) It is elegantly designed but very, very difficult to change, and we needed something more flexible and interactive and something that reflects all that the Institute has been involved in and become over the last 11 years,.

The other focus will be planting bulbs: irises, daffs, tulips. 450 of em.

Daffs in the wildflower bed (which we mow every year after frost has laid the flowers low). They will bloom before the wildflowers wake up and the flowers will cover up their dying foliage.

I'm naturalizing irises in groups alone the fence line. Take 9 or 13 or 15 bulbs and just toss them in the general area you want to plant and plant em where they fall. Tulips around the waterfall area.

That's the plan. We'll see how it goes. It's hard work but once it is done, they'll multiply and grow and come back year after year with almost no maintenance. Like everything else in the garden. The vast majority of the work is up front.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Love is the Substance of the Gospel

Yesterday, I noticed that Mark Shea had a post up about an example of one Orthodox blogger and apologist who utterly rejected the value of anything Catholic and a number of outstanding saints such as St. Francis and Teresa of Avila. Mark went on to say that he had encountered a very similar "testosterone-driven" attitude among some Catholic apologists and didn't know how representative of Orthodox teaching and thought this particular blogger was.

I knew it was a case for my go-to guy for all things Orthodox: Fr. Gregory Jensen of Koinonia and so I asked Fr. Gregory to join in the conversation if he had time. Fr. Gregory responded with a beautiful note that I wanted to share with you in case you hadn't seen it over at Mark's.

Just a thought before you read Fr. Gregory's response.

As I have posted here before, many post-modern people have a hard time thinking of themselves as sinners in the sense that Christians have historically understood that term and many Catholics are concerned that people lack that sense of personal sin.

But I suspect that Fr. Gregory (who is a psychologist) is talking about a existential knowledge of our own brokenness that goes far, far deeper than a theological or catechetical concept. Post-moderns are not likely to use the term "sin" to name it until they have had a deep encounter with Christ but most of us know, feel the fear, anger, lack of peace and love, the ego-centrism, the lack of freedom within. The things we do that we do not want to do and how often we do not do what we know to be good. Which is why the Orthodox understand the ascetic struggle against sin to be at the heart of the spiritual life.

And of course, Fr. Gregory was writing for a reasonably well-catechized Catholic audience who do believe in sin not to a group of post-modern "nones".

"there is neither reconciliation or salvation where love is absent since love is the substance of the Gospel. And what is love except my ability to see in another what is unique and of lasting value; love allows me to see the beauty that is hidden to the eyes of the world but known to God.

I would suggest the problem isn't that Catholics and Orthodox Christians disagree but that we do not see the beauty in each other's tradition. More than that, however, is we too easily defer to the loud voices in our respective tradition. For all that these voices might have a grasp on the naked facts of history, they are loud because, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, they lack love and so are noisy gongs and clanging cymbals (see 1 Cor 13.1).

This is not to say that their lack of love is global, it isn't. But what is lacking is love of the other side of the conversation. Again, love is what makes it possible to see what is unique and beautiful in someone. And it is love, to paraphrase Chiara Lubich, that makes us bold and gives us the courage to draw close to each other in ways that acknowledge what we share, while remaining respectful of our differences as persons and traditions.

At the risk of being judgmental, I think too many apologists--Eastern and Western, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant--are simply spiritually (and I suspect, psychologically) immature. And yet, to the degree we are able, we should remain gentle with them both in our speech and, more importantly, in our hearts.

Such gentleness is a podvig (ascetical challenge) for me. I have to remind myself (sometimes more than once in a single conversation) that a heart in which love is absent is a heart ruled by fear (see 1 Jn 4). Yes, I must speak the truth in love (see, Eph 4.15) to all I met--especially to those whose hearts are gripped by fear. But to speak the truth in love requires from me that I first love the person with whom I am speaking, that I see in that person what is unique and beautiful and of lasting value in his or her life.

To speak the truth in love, means not only to love but also to be myself lovable. Alas, for too many of us, the Gospel is not the revelation that we are loved by God, that is that I am lovable, but the opposite, that I am unloved. The fundamental anthropological truth of the Gospel is not that we are sinners, but that we are loved.

Repentance is not grasping that I am a sinner, any fool with a modicum of self-knowledge and awareness knows that about himself. No, repentance is knowing in a deep and personal way that I am loved. Based on their words and actions, I wonder how many, if any, of our self-appointed apologists know that they are loved? Love makes me gentle, patient, forgiving, respectful and long suffering with others in their struggles (see Gal 5). Where these are absent in speech, the (we can be sure) that it is merely a word spoken from my ego and that the Gospel is not being proclaimed."

Your comments?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Following the Jesus Who Enchanted Me

"Men and women still are looking for the love of God and salvation in Jesus, but 'maybe not with an approach that starts with doctrine and morals.'

Once people meet Jesus, he said, 'then come doctrine and morality as a form of following that Jesus who attracted me, enchanted me, enlightened me. It is then that you begin talking about what it means to follow Jesus in practice; that's morality.'

Cardinal Claudio Hummes
Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy
as quoted by CNS in an interview about the Year for Priests.

Lay Apostolate: Risky Business?

An Australian pharmacist has really gone out on a limb: he is refusing to sell contraceptives and condoms in his pharmacy.

"Trevor Dal Broi, who runs East Griffith Pharmacy in New South Wales, is now handing out a leaflet to women with prescriptions for the contraceptive pill, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. The leaflets say he accepts the teachings of the Catholic Church on artificial contraception and that he has a moral objection to dispensing them."

Fortunately, there is no law in New South Wales that forces a pharmacist to sell any particular medicine.

But the level of incomprehension in Australia's very secularized society is high toward such a rare public stand. And the chances that someone will shortly propose a new law that requires all pharmacists to sell contraceptives in response to the publicity about this one man's decision is very high. I wonder what kind of support is available to him from the Catholic community as he takes this most unusual stand?

One of Fr. Mike's themes in his homily last weekend in Indianapolis was the issue of how the Christian community could really support lay apostles who undertake difficult or risky initiatives in the public square in order to follow Christ. It could be the whistle-blower in a big corporation (think Enron), the intern who refuses to be trained in or perform abortions, a conscientious objector in the military, the nurse who takes a leave of absence from her job to lead the local opposition to a euthanasia initiative, or the young community activist who is heading up a creative response to homelessness or the needs of immigrants.

One very gifted priest of my acquaintance found the idea that ordinary lay Catholics should take risks for the sake of their faith to be unthinkable. It wasn't part of a lay Christian's role. Religious could take risks because they had a community behind them supporting them. But lay Catholics were alone, completely self-supporting, and vulnerable and therefore, not called to economic or professional risk-taking for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Alas, my priest friend, was reflecting the deep assumptions of Catholic life. The combination of our American individualism, the lack of a culture of discipleship in our parishes which would help make this sort of situation seem appropriate and "normal", and our Catholic tendency to pass one another like ships in the night at Mass, makes it very rare to find genuine support for such risky obediences on the part of lay people in the Catholic community.

We usually lack the vision and structures in our parishes to even begin this conversation. To know how to listen to and lovingly discern an individual's sense of God's call and to have ways in place to appropriately make a genuine call known to the community and to provide support for that call.

As Fr. Mike found out during his years as a pastor, many lay men and women are incredibly reluctant to have what they are doing outside their parish involvements made visible to the community at all. He wanted to let the community know about the wonderful things he was hearing, to be challenged by the creative apostolates that some of his parishioners were engaged in, but every single person declined the opportunity to share their story with the rest of the parish.

It doesn't seem humble somehow and violates the widely existing working assumption that it isn't the province of lay people to talk about their faith (that's for priests and religious). Lay people just "do it". Good Catholics do what they do outside the community quietly and inconspicuously. If you do talk about it at all, it would be in confession or spiritual direction or to a priest who would keep it confidential and could give you any support or direction that was necessary. Or to your family or little circle of friends.

Of course, if no one else knows, they can't help us discern or support us or join us in the work. But who were you to think that what you were called to by God has any possible meaning or significance for the larger community? How arrogant can you get? So much of what God is doing in our midst goes unrecognized and unacknowledged and it never dawns upon the vast majority that they have anything to discern.

But what if it is not about us?

A few years ago, I heard this story from a wonderful, creative apostle in the upper Mid-west (Yes, all those Garrison Keillor jokes are true.) She told me that she knew what her charisms were but she had stopped using them because she had gotten so much positive feedback about them that she was afraid of becoming proud. But what if it wasn't about her?

What if discerning our charisms and our call is not primarily about you or me at all?

What if the main point is about what God intends to reach someone else through our consent and cooperation with his grace?

If all of us who are baptized have received the Holy Spirit and charisms and a mission (as the Church teaches), then being "proud" of our charisms or our mission makes about as much sense as being proud of having a library card. It is a good, useful thing but if everyone else has one, what's the big deal about acknowledging it publicly?

It makes about as much sense as being proud of having a driver's license. Which is a big deal at 16. But if you are still treating it as a big deal at 30, the rest of us will be thinking " Get a life."

One of the consequences of the fact that our parishes are not characterized by a culture of discipleship, is that it so often feels odd, off-putting, and self-agrandizing for lay Catholics to openly talk to one another and to the community about a sense of call -especially to non-ecclesial apostolates. Because we still regard such a sense of call to be "normal" only for priests and religious. And very, very rare for lay men and women.

But if we can't talk about it with one another, how can we support one another? How can we discern if we are also called to be part of the same work?

How many of us never recognize and answer God's call because we don't see others around us - who are like us - doing so? How many of us even dream that God might call us at all? If we don't see other ordinary Catholics around us wrestling with discernment, why would we ever dream that we would be that "rare" lay person called to something specific by God? Why would we take risks for the sake of the Gospel that we don't see anyone else around us even contemplating?

It is the Church's teaching that all the baptized are anointed for a mission. That the whole purpose of the formation of the laity is to enable each one to discern and live God's call. That is it is an integral part of the priestly office to call forth the charisms and vocations of the laity.

At best, we are calling forth only 1 - 2% of all the vocations God is sending us. As risky as it is for us to hear and answer God's call, it is immeasurably riskier for us to essentially refuse to accept 98% of the vocations that God is sending us by not doing whatever it takes to help every baptized person encounter Jesus Christ and embrace the vocation(s) that will emerge from that encounter.

Monday, October 12, 2009

St. Damien: Of Molokai, Waikiki, and Lahina

Damien, the apostle to the lepers of Molokai, has been declared a saint. He was the Mother Teresa of his generation and famous for the same reason.

The canonization took place on Sunday with celebrations in Belgium and Hawaii.

I find it odd that the Hawaii media said they had sent to Belgium (where most of St. Damien is buried) for a relic. The reality is that there is a wonderful storehouse of relics in the islands.

Specifically the tiny labor-of-love "Damien museum at St. Augustine's parish on Waikiki in Honolulu (right on the beach and with a great view of Diamondhead - what a location!). This museum was run by a husband and wife team and contained nearly every existing relic associated with Damien: his pipes, chasubles, the prie dieu he built with his own hands and used for his own prayer.

I am told that a ceiling leak several years ago forced the collection out of that location and that it is now scattered. This will make the local Church wake up to its treasures, I hope.

I remember kneeling beside the saint's prie dieu (covered in plexiglass). I sensed, I felt the presence of the numinous, the presence of God in that place. Not only had Fr. Damien built it with his own hands but no doubt poured his own fear and pain and loneliness to God after contracting leprosy himself.

I also experienced something very similar in the historic parish Church in Lahina on Maui. As I walked down the aisle I was suddenly overcome with a utterly unexpected joy. I sensed that there had been some kind of struggle or tragedy in that place which was now being redeemed and restored. "Weeping endures for a night but joy cometh in the morning." was the verse that flashed to mind.

As I have learned to do when I have these experiences, I asked a local: "Has something wonderful happened here lately?"

He thought for a moment and then said "Well, the pastor, who was greatly loved, was recently removed because of a sexual scandal" and that was very hard on the congregation. But we've just been assigned a new pastor: one of Mother Teresa's priests, of the Missionaries of Charity."

"Ah" I thought "I'm picking up the presence of a saint."

But our guide went on: "And of course, Fr. Damien used to serve here as well."

The presence of two saints, it seems.

God's Frozen Chosen

Dawn, September 20 - the last day of summer.

Dawn, October 12 - apparently the first day of winter with Pike's Peak glowing over the garden path.

This is why gardens and gardeners have to be undaunted around here.

The sun has come out, the temperature is rising, and ice and leaves are falling everywhere. There is a constant thump-thump on the roof as ice falls off the aspens and giant spruce. Cosmos and Damien are beside themselves running from window to window trying to figure out what is going on.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Alligator Ate My Homework or Why The Next Two Weeks Are Going to Be a Blur

You may be thinking to yourself: Where are these ID people? Why aren't they blogging?

It's like this. Here's our schedule for the next two weeks. (Thank God for our intrepid traveling teachers)

October 12 -14: Fr. Mike and I get to hang out in Colorado Springs, eating frozen bon-bons.

October 15 - 17: We fly to Omaha for the first weekend of a two part Making Disciples seminar. While we are in Omaha, Mark Ceznik (Tucson) will help a new group of discernment facilitators get ready to roll in Houston and Mary Sharon Moore (Eugene) and Keith Strohm (Chicago) will offering our first Called & Gifted in the Archdiocese of Baltimore in Linthicum.

October 18: I fly back to Colorado Springs while Fr. Mike proceeds on to Linthicum, Maryland to train yet more Called & Gifted interviewers and facilitators in the three evening format.

October 22: Fr. Mike flies to Corpus Christi to speak at that weekend's Encounter Retreat while Barbara Elliott (Houston) leads our team in offering a Called & Gifted workshop at St. Vincent de Paul parish in Houston and Fr. Bryan Dolejsi, (who was one of our traveling teachers before he was ordained) will offer a one day Called & Gifted in Seattle on October 24.

October 26: I fly to Detroit where I will offer a introductory presentation on gifts discernment to the leaders of Pontiac Vicariate while Fr. Mike flies to Kansas City where he will spend the week offering a retreat for the priests of the Society of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) on the topic of pastoral governance, charisms, and collaboration with the laity.

October 27: I pop up to Fowler, Michigan where I will spend the next three evenings training yet another set of Called & Gifted interviewers and facilitators.

October 30,31: Our San Francisco Bay area team, lead by Scott Moyer, will offer a Called & Gifted workshop in Petaluma.

November 1: Cause we are such a low energy, overly generous organization, we are going to allow Fr. Mike to go home to Tucson for his birthday and to see his parents.

Cause it's one of those BIG birthdays. He's going to have to rest up to blow out all those candles.

You can tell the real road warriors. We like to compare and contrast the fine points of Frequent Flier programs and make sure each other knows when we make it to a whole 'nother level. Fr. Mike is about to achieve Platinum bliss while this last trip nailed Gold Medallion status for next year for me. (We are on different airline plans)

I figure Fr. Mike has already gotten his prezzie and I'm off the hook!

Home Again

Both Fr. Mike and I are back in CS for a few days. The workshop in Indianapolis went very well.

My flight was nearly diverted to Denver due to freezing fog. Everything - turning aspen leaves, the wild flowers - are covered in half an inch of ice and we beat the old low for this date by 11 degrees.

More in a bit.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Easter in October

I'm off tomorrow for Indianapolis to join Fr. MIke and put on our 407th Called & Gifted workshop. (Every once in a while, I count so I don't lose track. Today was a counting day.)

They are predicting our first snow tonight so your prayers that I can get to the airport tomorrow without problems would be most gratefully appreciated.

One of our commenters, who used to attend Christ the King parish (featured in my recent post "Vocations are US" in Ann Arbor) urged ID readers to go to the CTK website and listen to one of the Easter Vigil homilies.

I did. And he was right.

I've been all over the Catholic world and attended Mass in many different languages and settings, from St. Peter's on down, but have never heard the challenge to discipleship put so simply, so clearly, and lovingly in a Catholic setting. (And I've heard some great homilies - trailing around after OP's and all that.)

Nor have I ever heard over a minute of thunderous applause after the triple "He is Risen". I have often longed for "something" - although I admit that applause would not have occurred to me as the way to do it. (Although I know of the tradition of corporate applause as a form of praise.)

Some way to truly express the joy and hope of the Resurrection that wasn't completely scripted and impersonal. Something that said that we, the Catholic community in this place, are really beside ourselves with joy because the one we loved, whom we believed was dead, is alive and in our midst once more.

So I'm going to link to the homily from this past Easter Vigil. It is 22 minutes long. But worth every minute. All who feel in need of a spiritual pick-me up will find it refreshing and challenging, I think.

May we all know the love and presence of the Risen Lord today - and tomorrow.

Personal Encounter With the Eucharistic Jesus

Here's a praise report from that RCIA director who had asked for our prayers two days ago.

Thanks for all of your help spreading the intercession request! Everyone had an amazing experience last night during adoration. So many men and women were moved to tears as the Lord revealed Himself to them in powerful ways. I still can't believe it, myself. God is just so generous!

From the feedback we have received, this was the first time that many of the RCIA participants ever had a personal encounter with God that they could point to in order to say with confidence that God loved them. Thresholds were definitely crossed last night, because of the power of the Holy Spirit and in the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus!

Thanks to all of you who prayed! Imagine if we had regular intercessory teams for all our inquirers, catechumens, and candidates. What a huge impact that could have.

Good Stuff In St. Paul

Despite the fact that I must have flown in and out of the Minneapolis airport at least 100 times, I had never set foot on Minnesota soil till last Friday. I've waxed eloquent about Atlanta, Corpus Christi, Denver, Boise, and southern Michigan. It's time for the Twin Cities to get its share.

The Cathedral of St. Paul is truly gorgeous in a vast, stone and marble, elaborate bronze grill sort of way. ( I couldn't help ask my host when we first walked in if we hadn't made a mistake and were in St. Peter's Basilica. I wasn't entirely surprised to meet tourists with cameras milling about when I was done. It is the national shrine to St. Paul, after all. ) But "intimate" would not be the word that comes to mind.

It could have been the 30 foot high Art Deco-ish looking figures of the four Evangelists. Or the massive marble figure of St. Patrick that made him look like he weighed 300 lbs and was preparing to hurl anathemas at you. Or the fact that 250 people scattered about that great space looks pretty lonely. Or that I was tethered to a podium a long way from those attending with a mic that was too short for my height and I had to talk hunched over the podium. (Are there no 6 foot plus priests in St. Paul?). And that I was speaking in front of the exposed Blessed Sacrament. I just couldn't help but be more subdued than usual. Which was appropriate but not exactly my normal style.

It seemed to go well all the same. And the cathedral staff are most impressive. The pastor is a very sharp, young and lively polyglot, who is working with a parish of Hmong refugees in his spare time. (When you already know 6 languages, how hard could it be to learn how to celebrate Mass in Hmong?) And Marc, who is in charge of faith formation and RCIA, is a joyful disciple and bringing in a wonderful collections of speakers for special events.

The people I met were also impressive: a number of cradle Catholics whose faith was awakened by spending time in the evangelical world and are now on fire and wrestling with the implications of that. One woman talked to me about the fact that she is the only serious Catholic in her circle of family and friends - most of whom were raised Catholic. How could she communicate to them the beauty she sees in the Church? I'm sure that her passion was already visible and even thought-provoking in ways that people around her aren't necessarily ready to acknowledge yet.

And a exuberant young woman who probably has a pastoring charism and feels called to form other lay apostles. Meeting new leaders of her quality emerging all over the country is one of the satisfying parts of this work.

Along with a cheerful young leader of the St. Paul based NET ministries. He wanted to invite me to attend a NET-sponsored monthly gathering that evening of 1,000 teens! I was bummed that I couldn't go because I had to catch my plane but excited about what he told me of the collaboration between NET and the Archdiocese. Nearly everyone involved in youth ministry in the Archdiocese has been involved with or directly influenced by NET.

The National Evangelization Teams form and then send out 18 - 28 year old Catholics around the country to evangelize. Their latest group of 100 + new missionaries have just begun their journeys. Their motto: Challenging young Catholics to love Christ and embrace the life of the ChurchI' They've been doing it for 27 years.

The fruit is obvious. Over 25,000 retreats have been conducted for 1.6 million youth. 1,822 young adults have been trained in youth evangelization. And the impact of the NET experience is often life-long. I have run into innumerable "alumni" of NET all over North America and in Australia who are still on fire and now exercising various kinds of leadership in the Church.

I"m adding the Archdiocese of St. Paul - Minneapolis to my informal list of dioceses where evangelization is taking hold. What I have come to look for is evidence of a genuine evangelizing synergy between the diocese, pastors, and creative lay apostles that is beginning to or has already taken root.

Good stuff is happening in the soon-to-be frozen north.

"Vocations are Us" in Ann Arbor

A little note about a couple of those thousand points of light out there that we've encountered out there. First of all, one of our seminarian readers brought the story of one amazing parish to my attention:

25 home-grown priests. 20 men currently in seminary. 15 - 20 women in religious formation. All from one parish?

Yes. If that parish is Christ the King of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

I've heard about Christ the King for years but have yet to have the chance to visit. It is unique: a "personal parish" for the charismatic renewal. Their history is fascinating (from their website)

"In 1981, a group of Catholics in the "Charismatic Renewal" met weekly for Mass and reception of the sacraments with the blessing of the Bishop of Lansing. In 1986, Bishop Povish established us as a Lay Association of the Faithful and we were given the name Christ the King Catholic Association. In 1991, we began the process of becoming a personal parish of the Diocese of Lansing, a process that was completed in 1997."

A charismatic style of prayer is common at Christ the King, including during certain parts of the Mass. Their website describes that as "external markers". Their internal markers?

Internal markers include a radical surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all parts of life, a strong adherance to the Gospel and the teachings of the Catholic Church, and the pursuit of strong friendships centered on Christ. As Catholics, this obviously includes abiding in the heart of the Church in union with our beloved Bishop and Pope Benedict XVI

In other words, this is a parish that treasures and intentionally nurtures a culture of discipleship. Discipleship and formation for all. It sounds like their RCIA program is booming as well with seekers from both Christian and unchurched backgrounds. It probably helps that their dynamic pastor, Fr. Ed Friede, is a convert himself. And priestly and religious vocations are the direct fruit of discipleship.

And their mission statement? I've read hundreds of parish mission statements (which usually amount essentially to "we want to be nice, helpful people doing nice Catholic things in a nice way") and I've never seen anything like this. It begins:

- To be a people committed to surrendering our lives completely to the Lord Jesus, knowing that "Christian living consists in following Christ," we choose in all things to "say yes to Jesus Christ."
(Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, #'s 5 & 20)

and then it goes on for another 12 paragraphs - all with magisterial references.

Ann Arbor (and southern Michigan in general) is a Catholic hotbed. I know from my brief time in the area that Christ the King isn't the only parish doing great things there. And alot of dynamic extra-parochial groups are headquartered there: the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, Renewal Ministries, Ave Maria Radio, and another women's community, The Servants of God's Love.

Not to mention Domino's Pizza (I've attended Mass in their quite sumptuous chapel).

And that many of the dynamic faculty at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit live in Ann Arbor.

I'm going to be in the area for 4 days at the end of October (I'm speaking at the Pontiac Vicariate Fall Assembly and then offering a Called & Gifted facilitator training)

Maybe I can finagle a visit to CTK!

More good news in a second post.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Discerning the Times in Which We Live

John Allen has been turning out a lot of fascinating articles this week and there are several that I find particularly noteworthy.

I'd like to start with the strong sense of gratitude that Allen brought the essay, "The Church and the New Reality of Africa, No Longer the Beggar of the World", by Andrea Riccardi, the founder of Sant’Egidio, to our attention. Sant'Egidio has been heavily and creatively involved in African in the areas of peace-making and the treatment of AIDS for many years. Based upon this experience and very much from a lay perspective, that is, as a serious Christian immersed in the realities of this world and acutely aware of extra-ecclesial currents and movements that impact the Church's life and mission, Riccardi wrote this:

"There’s a young generation emerging, ready to exploit the opportunities of globalization, with a different cultural horizon from the traditional one. When talking about African culture it’s important to be careful, because a discussion of ‘African authenticity’ risks revealing itself as ideological and outdated. African culture today is far more modern than ethnic and traditional images based on folklore, whether they come from Europeans or Africans.

Understanding of Africa must become more sophisticated than the painful and simplified image from the time of the dictatorships. Society, which has become complex, is no longer naturally religious as is so often said. If large masses of people are still caught between the past and the future, many Africans have nevertheless taken an enormous step forward. Given how fast things are changing, perhaps the Catholic bishops should re-read the reality, not trusting in stereotypes, in order to better understand the world in which their faithful live."

Thank God for Riccardi. It is true in Africa as in Asia and in this country: it is so easy for us to rely upon stereotypes that were true a decade or re-fight the battles of one or two generations ago rather than take in the actual-situation-on-the-ground before us now. Cultural change occurs with great speed today and what was true in the 70's or 90's may well no longer be the case in 2009.

Real life is a complicated mixture of continuity and change and we can't know which is which and what is actually happening about us unless we truly listen to and then discern the times in which we live. The apostolic faith of the Church does not change in its dogmatic essentials but it does develop in real ways. The Church's understanding of what God has revealed to her is shaped and does develop as she lives in time and discerns and appropriates the best of what each generation has learned from living the faith in a given historical and cultural context,

How the faith can and must speak to this generation and how it can and must be applied in this particular situation does depend to a great deal upon our ability to grasp the essential issues and needs of our time and place.

If only 35% of the world's Christians live in the industrialized west, if Asian Christians are no longer a static, passive minority, if Africa is about to become the largest Christian continent and young Africans are not necessarily traditionally minded, and if the vast majority of young American Catholics are not only NOT JP II Catholics but aren't even darkening our parish doors, what does it mean for us? What does it mean to respond in Christ's name to this generation?

We cannot fully discern God's call unless we have first discerned the times in which we live.

Join in Prayer for Christian Europe at Noon

europe4christ is a grassroots, ecumenical prayer and activism movement among European Christians to, in a poignant phrase: "in a step-by-step manner, to help Christians emerge from this part-voluntary, part-involuntary ghetto existence."

europe4christ is headquartered in Germany but its website is in 11 languages. E4C has a two part action plan:

1) Prayer: A "critical mass" can trigger a revolution - both spiritually and sociologically (breaking the "spiral of silence"). Moreover, Christians should expand their horizons and also include in their prayers issues from public life - the "globalisation of prayer".

An aid in this direction would be a short prayer, prayed at a specific time of day. Participants in “Europe for Christ” commit to pray an “Our Father for a Christian Europe” each day at noon.

2) Common action around seven themes:

- the culture of life /human dignity

- the family, husband and wife, sexuality

- Christian social teaching

- freedom, tolerance, living in harmony with other religions

- separation of Church and State (its authentic meaning)

- religion and education

- Christianity and history (the identity of Europe, the identity of Christianity, Christianity and the history of ideas (political ideas, human dignity...); the "darker chapters" in the history of the Church.

E4C publishes regular encouraging circular letters including this fiery one from a frustrated Nigerian seminarian:

"In Western Europe, there has been a storm of critique on Christianity for a long time, an Anti-Christian trend. To have faith is seen as a pitiful situation. To say it gently, the majority of Christians waits helplessly and inactively for the total destruction of already wounded Christianity. I am not worried that the Church would not survive difficult situations (Mt 16:18) or that Christ would abandon his Church (Mt 28:20). But I worry about the degree of carelessness and apathy that Christians in Europe show in this difficult situation.

Christians meet the increasing wave of Anti-Christianity with total passivity. Because of the media, daily newspapers, magazines, TV and radio, people are on a daily basis confronted with ideologies that only deep faith and clear discernment can withstand. The question is: How do Christians react to this? What did they do until now?

I read daily newspapers and I am bewildered because of the eagerness with which journalists and editors make arbitrary statements, leap to illogical conclusions and criticize the Church in a hostile way. The passivity with which Christians react on these assaults is alarming.

Why do you observe instead of argue, defend and proclaim the truth from a rational point of view? Why not react on negative developments, especially when they turn into a dangerous ideology?

Now it is time to wake up, everyone in their way and in their environment! Let’s write! Let’s speak loudly! We have to prepare ourselves, because as Christ has already warned us: “...for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light...” (Lk 16:8)

It is not enough to wait for a miracle! We could not impede this development by waiting for a wonder from God. Why should He perform a miracle, when he already gave us the ability to act through faith and common sense?

Prayer is undeniably the first step that we have to make, but it is not enough. We have to act. We owe that to our descendants. People leave the church because they receive wrong answers to their questions. And they get these wrong answers from the wrong people.

An average Europeans who read daily newspapers probably will tend to lose their faith than remain a believer. It is time to let Christ lead us. Let everyone around you notice that there is a Christian. Where are you? What do you see? What do you hear? What do you know? Speak aloud! Our silence is our pain."

Kizito Chinedu Nweke

and this earlier portion of a larger essay by Phillip Jenkins on Europe' Christian Come-back:

"For all we hear about Islam, Europe remains a stronger Christian fortress than people realize. What’s more, it is showing little sign of giving ground to Islam or any other faith for that matter.

To be fair, the trend is counterintuitive. Europe has long been a malarial swamp for any traditional or orthodox faith. Compared with the rest of the world, religious adherence in Europe is painfully weak. And it is easy to find evidence of the decay. Any traveler to the continent has seen Christianity’s abandoned and secularized churches, many now transformed into little more than museums. But this does not mean that European Christianity is nearing extinction. Rather, among the ruins of faith, European Christianity is adapting to a world in which its convinced adherents represent a small but vigorous minority.

In fact, the rapid decline in the continent’s church attendance over the past 40 years may have done Europe a favor. It has freed churches of trying to operate as national entities that attempt to serve all members of society. Today, no church stands a realistic chance of incorporating everyone. Smaller, more focused bodies, however, can be more passionate, enthusiastic, and rigorously committed to personal holiness. To use a scientific analogy, when a star collapses, it becomes a white dwarf—smaller in size than it once was, but burning much more intensely. Across Europe, white-dwarf faith communities are growing within the remnants of the old mass church. (…)

The result has been a rediscovery of the continent’s Christian roots, even among those who have long disregarded it, and a renewed sense of European cultural Christianity. Jürgen Habermas, a veteran leftist German philosopher stunned his admirers not long ago by proclaiming, “Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this day, we have no other options [than Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.” Europe may be confronting the dilemmas of a truly multifaith society, but with Christianity poised for a comeback, it is hardly on the verge of becoming an Islamic colony."

You can join europe4christ here. The primary commitment is daily prayer as outlined below. What a wonderful thing it would be if we non-European Christians joined our prayers to those of their European brothers and sisters?

The time: Noon
The place: Wherever we are
The prayer: the "Our Father"
The focus: Christian Europe

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I Want To Be There

And other ID reader reports a recent, encouraging, conversation with a colleague who is seeking - and simultaneously fighting the whole issue of following Christ tooth and nail:

He had some questions for me - my personal belief.

"Will there be a Second Coming?" "Yes.", says I.

"Will our bodies be physically raised"?

Me, gulping, "Well Jesus Christ was raised physically - he was recorded eating a piece of fish - he invited Thomas to put his hand in his side - Jesus resurrected is the model for what will happen to us on Judgement Day."

Seeking Friend: "Well I would want to be there."

So do we all.

Prayer for RCIA Inquirers

We have received a wonderful prayer request from an RCIA Director:

I have a number of men and women who are going through the RCIA process. We have focused (during the first 4 weeks of Inquiry) on evangelization. Tomorrow will be the culmination of our evangelistic efforts. I will be sharing my own experience of the love and providence of God (my testimony), along with a healthy dose of the basic gospel message. We will follow this immediately with Eucharistic Adoration. Our hope is that the Holy Spirit has been softening hearts during our journey with these individuals, and that tomorrow will be a turning point for them---that they will be overwhelmed with the love that God has for them, and that they will encounter Christ in a deeper, newer way while praising and worshipping Him in the Blessed Sacrament.

If you have the time, could I ask for your intercession for these folks? I have been fasting and offering rosaries on their behalf, as well. However, I'm hoping to get some real gifted intercessors involved in this process. In the short period of time that we have been together, I have developed quite an attachment to this group, and I so want them to experience and come to know Christ in a new way.

It would be wonderful if all ID readers could take the time to shoot up a prayer for this group of inquirers and tomorrow's gathering. Who knows what God desires and will do?

The Futures of Christianity

I am participating in the annual convocation at Duke Divinity School, which is focusing this year on "The Next Generation." Today's presentations were by Philip Jenkins about whom Sherry has blogged about in the past (including this week). I have blogged some of my observations from this morning over at my parish blog. They may be of interest to the readers of Intentional Disciples.

As St Vincent de Paul said 370 years ago: "Christ said the Church would last to the end of time. He said nothing about Europe." (as quoted by Jenkins)

Notably, Jenkins said that Christians who are unwilling to deal seriously with charismatic gifts, spiritual warfare, healings, exorcisms, etc. should stay out of the Global South. These are so important and so bound with the practice and politics of Southern Christianity that Christianity in the Global South is unimaginable without them.

Labels: , , ,


Just lovely.

This PBS recording of Emily Lowe, cantor at an Orthodox parish: Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Church in Linthicum, Maryland. (This is fun - we are scheduled to do our first Called & Gifted workshop in Linthicum later this month.)

For someone with a background like mine in Arabic music, the chant doesn't sound strange at all. The middle eastern quality is actually pretty minimal. Just enough to stand out to westerners.
And her description of learning to sing chant sounds so much like the classic description of the charisms that we have heard from so many others: it isn't me.

From a personal standpoint, I never had a very good voice before we became Orthodox. I believe that I found my voice in Orthodox music — that I didn’t have it in Protestant music or in secular music.

When people say, “Oh, you did such a wonderful job,” I feel like telling them it wasn’t me, because it really wasn’t. It doesn’t feel like me when I chant. I’m thinking about God and expressing the words the best that I can.

H/T: Get Religion

Checking In

Hello from Old Hickory, TN, where I am in the midst of a four-day parish mission at St. Stephen Catholic Church. It's a wonderful community, and I have felt very welcomed. Yesterday I was given a tour of Carnton Plantation, the site of a major battle in the Civil War.
Beginning at 4 p.m. on November 30, 1864, Carnton was witness to one of the bloodiest battles of the entire Civil War. The Confederate Army of Tennessee furiously assaulted the Federal army entrenched along the southern edge of Franklin, TN. The resulting battle, believed to be the bloodiest five hours of the Civil War, involved a massive frontal assault larger than Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. The majority of the combat occurred in the dark and at close quarters. The Battle of Franklin lasted barely five hours and led to some 9,500 soldiers being killed, wounded, captured, or counted as missing. Nearly 7,000 of that number were Confederate troops. Carnton served as the largest field hospital in the area for hundreds of wounded and dying Confederate soldiers.
The floors of the plantation house are still stained with their blood. Many of the wounded were left on the battlefield overnight, and when the temperatures dropped into the 20s, died of exposure. One Yankee soldier wrote later he had stuffed his ears with cotton to block out the heartbreaking cries of the wounded and dying.

I am catching up on e-mails and other things this morning, plus working on a retreat for priests I'll give later this month. Prayers would be appreciated!

An African Prelate of Interest

John Allen has a post on Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson titled, "Ghanaian Cardinal Destined to be an Ecclesiastical Star." Although I'm a bit uncomfortable with this kind of language ("star") with regard to anyone involved in Church ministry - since Jesus modeled the foot-washing service of a slave - the article is interesting.

One of the comments has to do with the Cardinal's ecumenical relations with two of the largest and fastest growing religious groups in the world. If he is a papabile, these encounters will be an important preparation for taking the see of Peter.

In recent years, Turkson has acquired a reputation as a leader in relations with two groups often seen as rivals to Catholicism on the African continent: Pentecostals and Muslims. In both cases, Turkson manages to blend a clear defense of the faith with an apparently sincere desire for dialogue, and a capacity to learn from what the others do well.
From the Pentecostals, Turkson has argued that Catholics can learn to put more emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit – healings, intercessory prayer, and so on, in addition to their strong emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus.
With Muslims, Turkson has encouraged Catholics to study the Qur’an as a bridge to understanding. He’s also taken up Pope Benedict’s call for inter-cultural, rather than precisely inter-religious, dialogue, pursuing areas of common effort on charitable and social justice projects.

As the Catholic Church grows in Africa, and as Africans are raised to leadership in the universal Church, I suspect we will hear more about charisms and the importance of faith as relationship with the Father through the Son in the Spirit.

Christianity is Booming in Asia

This is another one of those long, number-crunching posts.

Sandro Magister’s article: The Kerala Exception. A Trip to India's Most Christian and Peaceful State, is fascinating and a great read for those of us who are intrigued by news of the Church in the global south.

Magister’s primary focus in the article is the very important issue of peace vs. persecution in India. But I was non-plussed by the first few sentences:

“The Christian fertility of Africa contrasts with that of another continent, Asia, which instead shows itself to be much more impervious to the Gospel.

In Asia, the Philippines is the only nation with a Christian majority, and South Korea is the only nation in which Christianity is growing. Elsewhere, Christians are a more or less scant minority, in many cases busy resisting persecution, oppression, hostility of every kind.”

For reasons that are unclear to me, when discussing Asia, Catholic pundits (John Allen does the same thing) merge the categories “Catholic” and “Christian” in a way that they would never do when talking about Europe or the US or even Latin America. In those places, they are clear that a distinctly non-Catholic Christianity is a real force.

But they seem to be unaware that Asian Christianity, as whole, is growing like gang-busters in our own day and that two thirds of the new Christians of Asia are not Catholic. Which may explain the factual errors. The Philippines is no longer the only majority Christian nation in Asia (East Timor is overwhelmingly Catholic) and Kerala is not the most Christian state in India. Nagaland is over 90% Christian. 75% of it's population is Baptist.

We also have a tendency to assume that minority status and persecution means that the Christians of Asia are a fragile, cowed, static minority. The work of David Aikman (Jesus in Beijing) and Phillip Jenkins (The Next Christendom and other works) has received enormous publicity in recent years but it doesn’t seem to be enough to re-write our centuries' old script.

The stories of the persecution of Catholics from the 16th, 17th, and 19th centuries seems to trump any sense of what is happening in Asia in our own day. The problem is that in those centuries, the only Christians doing missionary work in Asia were Catholics (and the Orthodox to a much smaller extent) and they did heroically endure terrible persecution which ensured that Catholicism remained a tiny minority. But all that began to change about the year 1800 when the Protestant missionaries began to arrive.

If we are really concerned about and referring only to the fortunes of the Catholic Church in Asia, let’s say so. But if we are truly talking about Christianity, the far more accurate way to re-write that first sentence to describe our present situation would be “The Christian fertility of Asia contrasts with that of another continent, Europe, which instead shows itself to be much more impervious to the Gospel.

Here we need to turn to the resources of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon Conwell Seminary and their annual report: the Status of Global Mission (or SGM which is an annual summary of the changes in global Christianity as monitored by the staff of famous World Christian Encyclopedia, now available online.)

Let’s start with a look at the relative “Christian fertility” of Africa and Asia as opposed to the other continents of the world.

In mid 2009, African Christianity saw an annual growth rate of 2.59% which is far above the current global population growth rate of 1%. But Asian Christianity was a close second with an annual growth rate of 2.48%. These two continents are by far the fastest growing centers of the Christian faith in the world

The staff of the Status of Global Mission breaks down the figures in ways that really brings it home. They estimate that Africa sees 32,000 new Christians every 24 hours. And that by tomorrow morning, there will be 25,000 new Christians in Asia.

Compare that to the figures for Europe and North America and you really start to get the picture: Growth in European Christianity is almost non-existent (0.12%) and North America isn’t that much better (0.66%). There are more than twelve times as many new Christians in Asia as in Europe every single day.

The SGM contains figures by continent from 1800 on and a little analysis is mind-altering.

In 1800, nearly 84% of all the Christians in the world lived in Europe but the second most Christian continent was Asia with just over 4%. There were nearly twice as many Christians in Asia as in Latin America, (2.4%) and in Africa (2.1%) for instance.

The 19th century marked the beginning of the great Protestant missionary push and a century later, things had begun to change. By 1900, Europe held only 66% of all Christians and Latin America and North America held almost three times as many Christians as did Asia. Africa brought up the rear with a mere 1.7% of global Christianity. But 77.4% of all Christians still lived in what could now be called the “industrialized west” (Europe, North America, Oceania).

The 20th century was a century of staggering African growth. African Christianity grew from 8.7 million in 1900 to 355 million in 2000. But Asia was hardly standing still. Asian Christians grew from 20.7 million in 1900 to 293.8 million in the same century and by 2000, comprised nearly 15% of the Christians in the world. Only 38.5% of Christians lived in the industrialized west at the beginning of the new millennium.

By 2025, a mere 16 years from now, the SGM estimates that African and Latin American Christianity will have dramatically passed Europe, which will hold less than 20% of all the Christians in the world. There will be nearly as many Christians in Asia as in Europe and less than 30% of all Christians will live in the west. In the 125 years since 1900, Asian Christianity will have multiplied nearly 24 times.

The fastest growing Christian community in the world (China) and the largest churches in the world (South Korea) are in Asia. Even prestigious secular sources recognize this. For instance, the Economist published a thought-provoking article last October which began:

"ZHAO XIAO, a former Communist Party official and convert to Christianity, smiles over a cup of tea and says he thinks there are up to 130m Christians in China.


. . . according to China Aid Association (CAA), a Texas-based lobby group, the director of the government body which supervises all religions in China said privately that the figure was indeed as much as 130m in early 2008.

If so, it would mean China contains more Christians than Communists (party membership is 74m) and there may be more active Christians in China than in any other country."

Since 1960, dramatic Christian growth has occurred in China, Nepal, South Korea, and Indonesia. (For instance, there were about 50,000 Christians in Nepal in 1991. 18 years later, that number has mushroomed to 800,000.) Not to mention the fact that small, overwhelmingly Catholic East Timor broke away from Indonesia to become the second majority nation in Asia. And that in the last year or so, the number of Asian Christians has caught up with and probably passed the number of Asian Buddhists.

The fact that the vast majority of Asian growth is non-Catholic, is among Independent Christians, should not stop us from recognizing the vast change that has taken place in Asia any more than it has stopped us from recognizing the facts on the ground in Latin America.

If we don’t realize that “Christian fertility” is very much an Asian phenomena as well as an African one, we will be very seriously misreading the times in which we live. These days, we must distinguish between Christianity as a whole and Catholicism as its largest communion. We recognize the impact and dynamism of evangelical Protestantism in the west routinely. We must do the same in Asia as well.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Too Much Tolerance? St. Therese Pushes the Limits in the UK.

Check out this worthy blogging effort from across the pond:

Anna Arco is a writer for the British Catholic Herald and her blog is called Anna Arco's Diary. I first became aware of her yesterday because she linked to my recent post on the Alpha course and its impact in the Catholic world. (Since Alpha originated in London and 2.5 million Britons have gone through it - it is certainly newsworthy for British Catholics).

Today she has a fascinating piece on the 10,000 British pilgrims who stood in line in the middle of the night to venerate St. Therese' relics which laid in glorious, soaring York Minster for 18 hours this weekend.

Since the English Reformation, York Minster, the great jewel of the late medieval English church, has been Anglican. (What a truly fitting setting. The local Catholic cathedral in York, built in the 19th century, would be far too small.) I didn't realize that the St. Therese tour has an ecumenical side. How the times have changed since Margaret Clitheroe, who lived nearby in the Shambles, was pressed to death for harboring Mass in her home!.

But there was a small anti-idolatry demonstration yesterday outside the Minster. Half a dozen people with placards while 2,000 prayed inside. So all echoes of the past are not gone. Anna links to this essay in the Times where the author,Minette Marrin, (who calls herself a "peaceable agnostic") wonders if there is such a thing as "too much tolerance".

"To the agnostic all this seems pre-scientific mumbo jumbo, on a level with voodoo fetishes or the Buddha’s tooth in Sri Lanka. In primitive thought, objects do indeed have mana, as anthropologists call it — supernatural powers. One might say that it hardly matters; we all have our follies and if people here choose to believe that a statue in Southall of the Hindu elephant god really did suck up milk from votive saucers in 1995, they are and ought to be free to do so. It wasn’t so long ago that Europe was almost awash with gallons of the milk of the Virgin Mary, treasured by the faithful. And fellow citizens ought usually to be polite enough to keep their critical thoughts to themselves, in the name of courtesy and mutual tolerance.

However, there is a difference in this case. The Catholic Church is actively encouraging people to hope for miracles of healing. These reliquary jamborees can only inflame irrational expectations in people who are suffering and suggestible. Surely it cannot be right to do so. Any face cream promising much lesser miracles — merely the disappearance of wrinkles — would soon fall foul of trading standards officers and have to be withdrawn, to protect the innocent public from being deluded by the false claims of charlatans. Why, then, have the media been so uncritical about this mass deception?

Years ago I spent many months in the BBC trying to make television documentaries about supernatural healing, including Christian healing. After a great deal of research and countless visits, conversations and false trails, I had to accept that I could not find one single example of Christian healing (or any other supernatural healing). There were plenty of claims, but very little evidence, and certainly no evidence that would stand up in a documentary. What I did find was something that shocked me — the bamboozling of frightened, suffering, suggestible people by Christians who offered them the hope of a miraculous cure, if their faith were strong enough. Religious tolerance is difficult in such cases.

The intolerant, triumphalist atheists have never appealed to me. I cannot see why it is so important to them to denounce other people’s religious beliefs so aggressively. I don’t know why people who pride themselves on their rationality can be so irrationally sure that they are right; absolute certainty is not a rational position. Besides, Catholics and Christians generally are very often a force for good; most of what’s best in our society is built upon Christian foundations.

All the same, there comes a time when even a peaceable agnostic feels roused to indignation. For me it was last week, at the news that the Home Office has seen fit to let the bones of the Little Flower into Wormwood Scrubs prison. This almost defies belief. For, in allowing this, with all the due process and deliberation of bureaucracy, the government is conferring respectability on such relics. And in so doing, it opens wide the gates of reason to let into any public place any and every fetish or juju that any religious group claims is part of its spiritual life. The laws on equality and religious respect will require it."

I am honestly astonished that Minnette couldn't find any hard evidence of Christian healing in several months effort - especially considering John Henry Newman is about to be declared Blessed. I wonder where she was looking?

Anna Arco also has a very interesting post on Janne Haaland Matlary, professor of international politics at the department of political sciences of the University of Oslo.

"Matlary was the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs for Norway and a member of the Christian Democrat Party between 1997 and 2000. She is a convert to Catholicism and already serves on the Pontical Council for Justice and Peace and is a consultor on the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Readers will remember the fuss, last year, over Cherie Blair giving a talk at the Angelicum in December. The event was a conference on Women and Human Rights, in honour of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Mrs Blair’s high profile and controversial talk, garnered all the media/blogging attention. Dr Matlary’s talk was very good but went largely unnoticed."

For a smart and well-written glimpse of Catholic life from a British perspective, we would do well to bookmark Anna Arco's Diary and stay tuned.

Friday, October 2, 2009

All Y'all Come

This weekend, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Tennessee are the places to be.

There will be a Called & Gifted workshop at the Church of the Incarnation in Collierville, TN (Memphis area) this weekend while Fr. Mike will be preaching a parish mission at St. Stephen's in Old Hickory, TN Sunday through Wednesday.

And I'll be hanging round amid the glory of St. Paul's Cathedral in the aptly named St. Paul, MN on Saturday morning.

Those of you on the right and left coasts, dry those tears of despair. We're coming your way in the weeks ahead.

Alpha: A Force to Be Reckoned With in the Catholic World?

I can't believe that I'm blogging at 7:52 am on a day that I'm due to travel. Usually my wake-up call on a travel day is at 2:45 am, I leave the house at 4:30 and take off about 6:00 am. I should be over the Dakotas by now. But the miracle of a 1pm direct flight changes everything. So I'm sipping a home made a "slim" Hazelnut latte and nibbling a home made wholewheat scone while I type. Such luxury!

Every once in a while, I like to check on the status of the spread of the Alpha course. Alpha is the nearly ubiquitous "low cringe factor" 10 week evangelization course that emerged out of charismatically oriented (and Toronto Blessing linked) Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Brompton (London) in 1992 and rapidly became a phenomenon.

How much of a phenomenon?

As of June, 2009, 13 million people had attended 42,530 Alpha courses in 163 countries. 2.5 million in the Uk alone. (To compare, it is helpful to know that about 8 million people have attended some form of Cursillo in the past 60 years. The only similar event that I am aware of that has outpaced Alpha would be the Life in the Spirit seminar which has had 60 million participants since the late 60's.)

1500 delegates from 100 countries attended the Alpha International Gathering in London in June.

25 of those delegates were Catholic bishops and archbishops. Because there is a whole track called "Alpha in a Catholic context." And there are now national Alpha offices all over the Catholic world: Belgium, Austria, France, East Timor, the Philippines, Spain, Poland, and Latin America. The Ireland office just opened in March, 2009.

The Alpha movement, as a whole, is so big that it is developing into an international network that contains some of the characteristics that we traditionally associate with a denomination. In parts of the Catholic world, Alpha functions much like a movement.

The spread of the Alpha course among Catholics in France is especially impressive. Sponsored by the French bishops, there are about 450 courses running in the country. 6,000 priests and lay leaders have been trained to run the course. I've seen stats that say that 1/5 of the parishes in Paris are using the Alpha course to evangelize their own and their neighbors. In French Catholicism, Alpha is a true force to be reckoned with.

Are there problems with Alpha's theology and ecclesiology? Sure. I outlined a number of them in this Siena Scribe article "When Evangelical is Not Enough" some years ago.

Is Alpha effective as an evangelizing tool? The answer seems to be unequivocally yes" - with the accompanying caveat that it is simultaneously a formation in "basic" Christianity and therefore, the basic proclamation of Christ is "framed" in an understanding of salvation and the Church that is seriously defective from a Catholic point of view.

So why are Catholics embracing it? Because they know that the overwhelming majority of our people - active or not - have never been evangelized, that the initial proclamation of Christ and challenge to follow him has not taken place.

We don't seem to know how to do that ourselves and Alpha works. (And in my experience, overwhelmed pastors just love stuff that works.) And Alpha comes in an attractive, well tested plug and play package. And has a formidable global marketing arm behind it. (FYI, a very effective and truly Catholic equivalent of Alpha is in the final stages of development in the diocese of Corpus Christi.)

And my point is?

Simply that there are significant forces at work in the Church that we aren't discussing or even aware of around St. Blog's. Beyond our tight culture war categories of "traditionalist" "neo-con", "liberal" and whatever. Like the Alpha course. Which is being held right now in thousands of Catholic parishes around the world with the support of their local bishops.

Because they are offering something that we find so difficult to do for our own. Proclaim Christ and invite people to intentional discipleship.

If we don't evangelize our own, someone else will do it for us. Sometimes in our own parish halls.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

In Heaven It is Alwaies Autumne

I won't be making it to the high country this fall but this picture from nearby Mueller State Park captures the feel around here:

John Donne gave this sermon on Christmas Day, 1624 but it is also beautifully appropriate for autumn:

"God made Sun and Moon to distinguish seasons, and day, and night, and we cannot have the fruits of the earth but in their seasons: But God hath made no decree to distinguish the seasons of his mercies; In paradise, the fruits were ripe, the first minute, and in heaven it is alwaies Autumne, his mercies are ever in their maturity. We ask panem quotidianum, our daily bread, and God never sayes you should have come yesterday, he never sayes you must againe to morrow, but to day if you will heare his voice, to day he will heare you.

If some King of the earth have so large an extent of Dominion, in North and South, as that he hath Winter and Summer together in his Dominions, so large an extent East and West, as that he hath day and night together in his Dominions, much more hath God mercy and judgement together: He brought light out of darknesse, not out of a lesser light; he can bring thy Summer out of Winter, though thou have no Spring; though in the wayes of fortune, or understanding, or conscience, thou have been benighted till now, wintred and frozen, clouded and eclypsed, damped and benummed, smothered and stupified till now, now God comes to thee, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spiring, but as the Sun at noon to illustrate all shadowes, as the sheaves in harvest, to fill all penurees, all occasions invite his mercies, and all times are his seasons."

Marriage: A "Costly Luxury"?

There was this thought provoking article on the Forbes website last week on the fact that our tax laws make marriage a "costly luxury" for the working poor.

The piece is written by two Notre Dame Profs and clearly reflects a Catholic sensibility.

"As recently as 10 years ago, the "marriage penalty" was the exclusive province of the middle and upper classes: Two people with approximately the same incomes would pay more taxes if they married (and filed taxes jointly) than if they did not marry and filed as single taxpayers. The Bush tax cuts attempted to make tax rates "marriage-neutral"; for most middle-class taxpayers, there is now, in fact, little if any difference between filing as a married couple or as unmarried singles.

The working poor, by contrast, are in a highly undesirable position when it comes to marital status and taxes. It literally doesn't pay for working poor parents to marry. Instead, it costs them precious money in the form of lost tax credits.


Read the whole thing. The authors recognize the financial and political difficulties of coming up with a solution but point out.

"We applaud the recent efforts of Congress to eradicate or reduce the marriage penalty for those with higher levels of income, but these efforts have overlooked the most at-risk sector of our society: families headed by the working poor. Our current income tax laws create a hurdle to getting married or cause a devastating surprise when the newly married couple files their first tax return as husband and wife. In our opinion, this is unfair to the people involved and unhealthy for a society that already has many people cohabitating rather than living as husband and wife. Studies continue to indicate that one of the contributing causes of poverty, illegitimacy, crime, inadequate education and other socioeconomic problems is the absence of married, committed parents in a family."

A nice example of lay competence used to shape and "evangelize" our structures.

Catholic Discernment and Sensibility

This is fun. Todd over at Catholic Sensibility has been through the initial Called & Gifted workshop and is discerning a charism of writing - on his blog.

Which means, we readers, can, if we wish, be part of his discernment.

Roam on over to Todd's periodically during the next couple of weeks and witness a bit of discernment in action.