Monday, November 30, 2009

Violence Against Christians in Iraq

One of the aspects of life in Iraq that we easily forget about is the near-constant threat of violence that Christians live with. I received a reminder of this in an e-mail from the Promoter for Social Justice of our Dominican Province, and I share it with you. Please pray not only for the Dominican sisters, but for all of the innocents who are suffering because of those who have embraced a life of violence.
Our Sisters in Iraq have experienced a great tragedy in Mosul the day before Thanksgiving. Their motherhouse was invaded by three men who climbed over a wall and into their compound and set off three bombs that did severe damage to the Motherhouse along one side where ten rooms were hit. The sisters are okay, but Sr. Maria and her community have serious decisions to make this weekend. Please keep them in your prayers.
The e-mail from Iraq follows:
My friend, I need your prayers for Sr. Maria and the councilors because our Motherhouse in Mosul was bombed yesterday Nov 26, 09. It destroyed the convent very much, thanks be to God none of the six sisters were injured or killed neither the men who guard the convent. Also, they bombed another Catholic Church near by the motherhouse which was in very bad shape and again nobody died

Please remember the Christian people in your prayers and especially Sr. Maria for the decisions that she needs to make.

Thank you again for you prayers
Aman Miriam Mansoor

Charisms on the Silver Screen

I took Fr. Bede, an elderly friar in our community, to see The Blind Side. It was recommended by Fr. Bart, our superior, and I had heard good things about it from a few other folks. The movie’s title refers to the part of the field the quarterback tends to not see – the part of the field off his throwing arm. That's the side that needs to be protected from onrushing defensive ends.

The Blind Side is based on the story of Michael Oher, an offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, who was taken from his drug addict mother at the age of seven, never knew his father, and bounced from foster home to foster home until a friend begged a Christian high school coach to see his athletic potential and give him a chance at the high-end private school.

While there, he was given a place to stay by Mr. and Mrs. Sean Tuohy, a well-to-do couple with a daughter and son who attended the same school. Leigh Anne Tuohy, wonderfully portrayed by Sandra Bullock, is a Christian woman who may well have the charisms of mercy and hospitality. She sees “Big Mike” walking in the rain while driving home from school with her husband and son, and asks him where he’s going. Michael, wearing the same shorts and shirt he always wears responds, “To the gym.” Mrs. Tuohy knows the gym is closed and gets Michael to get in their car. When her husband asks, “Where to?” she responds with a look that says, “Duh!” and says, “Home, of course.”

Mrs. Tuohy sees to Michael’s needs: new clothes, a driver’s license, and, eventually, a tutor; all practical things that restore his dignity. The movie demonstrates that as the incredibly quiet Michael becomes more and more “at home” in his own skin as the movie progresses. One of the signs of any of the charisms is that they energize us, and while the Sandra Bullock character is something of a southern force of nature, there’s an intriguing bit of dialogue between Sean and Leigh Anne. At one point when they are alone and are asking why they are opening their home to this enormous stranger from the wrong side of the tracks, Sean observes that Leigh Anne “gets some strange pleasure from this,” (or something along those lines).

Another sign of the charism of mercy is that Leigh Anne takes several trips into the projects where Michael grew up; something her society friends wouldn’t dream of doing. And while she may not be entirely comfortable there, she is profoundly moved by the plight of the poor. Shortly thereafter, while eating an $18 salad with her friends, she remarks that they (herself included) really have no idea how some people live just a few short miles from their own multi-million dollar homes. Immediately, the other three women assume that Leigh Anne is going to start some kind of fund-raiser to help the poor, as though this is the sort of thing she always does.

Opening one’s home to a stranger is exactly the sort of thing that someone with the charism of hospitality would do. Mrs. Tuohy – as well as the rest of the family – make Michael at home, and eventually Sean and Leigh Anne become Michael’s legal guardians.

The story is based on real events, and I found myself smiling throughout the entire movie. It shows the wonders God can do in the life of an individual through the help of others. In the case of Michael Oher, it wasn’t just the Tuohys, but the friend who took him to the Christian school and went to bat for him, the football coach who gave him a chance, and the teacher who cared enough to see his potential. It also shows that God’s grace can overcome even a horrific childhood, as Michael, in spite of the difficulties he faced, was able to avoid participating in the violence and drugs that seemed to surround him.

Fr. Bede enjoyed “The Blind Side,” too, so it gets two thumbs up from these Dominicans. So, too, do Mr. and Mrs. Tuohy, Michael Oher, and our common Father in heaven.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Iditarod: The Last Great Race

Very cool!

Until now, my most memorable Thanksgiving was in Ramallah (the West Bank) where I cooked an American Thanksgiving dinner for the Episcopalian bishop of Jerusalem. But now I have a close contender.

Eight inches of fresh Alaskan snow and an afternoon spent with 15 sled dogs. That's a day after Thanksgiving to remember.

Called & Gifted alumni Eric Rogers and his wife Marti generously invited my sister (Becky), brother-in-law (Rod) and myself over to their house to meet their sled dogs, experience a sled dog ride (on a ATV as there wasn't quite enough snow for the sled), and hear all about the famous Iditarod: the Last Great Race. It is the ultimate dog sled race: 1,150 miles from Anchorage to Nome in March, when the snow pack is the heaviest. Temperatures of
-60 F are not uncommon. The winner will do it in about 10 days. The last finisher may take two weeks.

Eric is a member of a very select group. As he pointed out, more people have climbed Mt. Everest than have finished an Iditarod. About 670 so far. Eric has finished three times and hopes to go for number 4.

Among this rare breed of men and women, Eric is one of a kind. The only physicist-musher in the race. Eric's passion for the race is compelling, he obviously loves his dogs who are very loving and playful, he and Marti are great fun, and the ride and getting to help with the dogs was a blast.

Watch this very brief video of Eric at the 2009 Iditarod and check out his website for more information about what it takes to successfully finish such a epic journey...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving: How Far We've Come

Yesterday at the Thanksgiving Mass, Fr. Bart, the director of the Newman Center at the University of Arizona, quoted the following declaration made by the Continental Congress in 1777. It got our community talking, and I thought I'd share the proclamation of the first official Thanksgiving celebration with you. Note the date; this act of congress came in the middle of the war for Independence!
FOR AS MUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth "in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost."
And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.
Jefferson's famous expression, "the separation of Church and State," used to describe the intent of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is nowhere evident in that clearly Christian statement.

The clearly religious origins behind the establishment of a Thanksgiving holiday seem lost on most Americans, who, I suspect, don't ask, "to Whom are we giving thanks?" Just as telling, perhaps, is the Congressional members' assumption that schools are places in which virtue and piety are cultivated!

On this Black Friday, we might ask ourselves what we might consider our greatest blessings. Are they independence, peace, solidarity, virtue, and the forgiveness of sin - or the opportunity to purchase a large, high-end electronic device at 40% off? Hurry to the store if you want to get a Zhu Zhu hampster. I hear they're going fast.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Finals are Approaching

At the University of Arizona campus, students are preparing to leave for Thanksgiving, but thoughts are also turning towards finals week. I found this story apropos.

At LSU, there were four sophomores taking chemistry and all of them had an "A" so far. These four friends were so confident, that the weekend before finals they decided to visit some friends and have a big party.

They had a great time, but after all the hearty partying, they slept all day Sunday and didn't make it back to LSU until early Monday morning. Rather than taking the final then, they decided that after the final they would explain to their professor why they missed it. They said that they visited friends but on the way back they had a flat tire.

As a result, they missed the final.

The professor agreed they could make up the final the next day.

The guys were excited and relieved. They studied that night for the exam.

The Professor placed them in separate rooms and gave them a test booklet.

They quickly answered the first problem, worth 5 points. Cool, they thought!

Each of them in a separate room, thinking this was going to be easy.... then they turned the page.

On the second page was written....

For 95 points: Which tire?________________

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bloggers in the Sky

I had to take advantage of a free offer to try in-air wifi, so I thought I'd post a little something as we sail along to Anchorage.

It is so rare that I make a trip that isn't work-related, that I'm feeling a little giddy and wickedly luxurious.

This isn't work although it isn't exactly play either since my sister has a serious form of cancer. But my brain
doesn't seem to be registering that right now. And I"m grateful.

I remember a You Tube clip that was making the rounds last year of some comedian doing a hysterical riff on spoiled airline passengers who get miffed when they try airborne internet for the first time and it doesn't work.

He said something like "so now the universe owes you something you didn't know existed ten minutes ago?

You are sitting . . . in a chair . . . IN THE SKY! You are participating in the miracle of flight. YOU"RE FLYING!!!!

And blogging!

Think I'll have another glass of wine.

Where Does Your Treasure Lie?

"Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." Luke 12:33-34

Jesus' listeners were often the poorest of the poor, eking out a living in an occupied land, saddled with oppressive taxes, with little hope for the future. So it was natural that Jesus would address their focus on material things. It is not only the rich who can obsess about money and property, after all.

But a perennial questions for each of us are, "Where does my treasure lie? Where is my heart's focus?" Money isn't the problem (the love of money is another question, however). My heart can focus on all kinds of things besides what truly matters. Maybe I'm a huge sports fan, and die a thousand deaths as my team falls behind in the game. Maybe I'm obsessed with my health - or lack of it; or my weight - too much of it.

In the Church, we can focus on the wrong things, too. John Allen has a good article that touches upon this called, "Rethinking the Catholic 'box score'", which draws upon his analogy of Catholicism to baseball: "Both venerate the past, both spawn vast bodies of rules and lore, and both put a premium on patience." And as some baseball categories, like a batter's hitting percentage is helpful, it may not be as helpful as another statistic: how often he gets on base when one or more of his team mates is already on base. Allen argues, "the analogy applies here too: In the church as on the diamond, flawed categories skew perceptions of the game."

What flawed categories is he talking about? These -
1) Thinking not just in local or national terms, but globally.
2) Focusing not just on controversy, scandal, and newspaper headlines, but where ordinary Catholics actually invest their time and treasure.

Allen gives an example of the first.
"In Mexico, the country's bishops issued a cri de Coeur Nov. 12, in the wake of 14,000 violent deaths since a crackdown on drug cartels began in 2006: 'To the producers, dealers, pushers and consumers, we say, "Enough!" Stop hurting yourself, and stop causing so much damage and pain to our young people, to our families and to our country.' The bishops also apologized for 'superficial evangelization,' and what they euphemistically described as an 'anti-witness from many of the baptized.' That's an indirect way of admitting that in a country where 90 percent of the population is nominally Catholic, such carnage would be impossible if Catholics weren't complicit."
At first, this may not seem like a global issue, but remember, drugs may be entering from more southern Latin American countries, or even overseas, and moving through Mexico into the U.S. Tucson, my home, is the terminus of I-19, a major drug highway.

I began thinking about "the meaning of life," as a graduate student in geophysics, when, while walking along a nicely kept area of Palo Alto, CA, I encountered within a few feet of each other, a homeless man taking a spongebath on the curb, and a neatly coiffed woman dressed to the nines. "How can this happen in the U.S., the richest country the world has ever known, and a supposedly Christian nation, as well?" I thought. Sure, I was idealistic, but perhaps no more so than the Mexican bishops.

We are not as Catholic - or generically Christian - as Mexico, but even so, there are many things that happen with little or no comment that makes you wonder how superficial our Christianity is. While there is a vocal struggle over abortion, and, to a lesser degree, capital punishment, most Americans seemed fine with the idea of the appropriateness of torture to "protect" ourselves. We accept ever-increasingly lewd behavior on prime-time TV, horrifically violent video games for our teens, obscene disparities in wages between laborers and the highest levels of management, and act as though conspicuous consumption is a virtue, if not a right.

The response to this is not to become an outsider who condemns what is happening and try to move into a Catholic ghetto. Nor is it to simply shrug and say, "that's the way it is." The answer is conversion to Christ and accept a commission from him to go to the front lines - that is, the heart of the marketplace - and slowly begin to change things from within. That takes the patience that Allen mentions is a part of the Catholic life.

The second issue, of focusing on controversy, scandal, and newspaper headlines, instead of where ordinary Catholics actually invest their time and treasure, is something Sherry's addressed in previous posts, but is worth repeating. Sherry tells the story of going into one of her RCIA sessions when she was trying to enter the Church with a book in her hand. I don't remember what she was reading, but one of the people leading the RCIA class took one look at it and said to her, "Well, we certainly know now where you're coming from!" The irony is, of course, that Sherry didn't even know where she was coming from. This happens today, still - perhaps even more regularly. I sometimes wonder how people will react if I show up to teach in my habit. Or how they'll react if I don't. How will I be judged if I say I enjoy reading Fr. X? It's amazing how quick we are to slap labels on one another. And there are basically only two labels, "one of us," and "not to be trusted."

I have been very blessed to travel across the country - and beyond, at times - and to meet lay Catholics in big cities, small towns, from wealthy parishes and very poor parishes. I can promise you, poor, simple Catholics I've met here in Corpus Christi are not interested in culture wars. They - at least the ones at the evangelization retreats I've helped out with - are interested in making ends meet, overcoming illness, addiction, and sin. They're not interested in the culture wars, or liturgical reform. They are seeking healing, and want to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They want to know God is real, and want to be changed by His grace.

It's a breath of fresh air for me, and forces me to focus on Jesus, because that's who they want.

That's Who they need. And for more and more of them, it seems that their treasure lies in Jesus.


God of the City

What a great idea! Boston's God of the City tour.

Coming to you the first week of Advent courtesy of the Archdiocese of Boston.

Five nights. Five Regions. All for the Glory of God. Praise & Worship. Adoration, Confession. Great speakers.

One of the speaker is Assyrian Catholic sister, Olga Yaqob, "the Mother Teresa of Baghdad".

Looks interesting, Hey, Boston area readers. Help the Archdiocese get the world out.

Orthodox Ecumenism: The Manhattan Declaration

I was just reading last night in The Future Church about Allen's theory of "two ecumenisms" in the near future: "orthodox" and "reform".

The orthodox ecumenism would take place between "evangelical Catholics" (Allen's term: it doesn't mean Protestantized Catholics), most Orthodox, most evangelicals and renewalists (Christians influenced by charismatic spirituality.)

And this morning, here it is:

"An unprecedented coalition of prominent Christian clergy, ministry leaders, and scholars has crafted a 4,700-word declaration addressing the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty. The declaration issues “a clarion call” to Christians to adhere to their convictions and informs civil authorities that the signers will not “under any circumstance” abandon their Christian consciences.

The statement, called “the Manhattan Declaration,” has been signed by more than 125 Catholic, Evangelical Christian, and Orthodox leaders, and will be made fully public at a noon press conference in the National Press Club in Washington DC on Friday.

“We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence,” the statement says."

15 Catholic bishops and Archbishops (including Archbishop Chaput of Denver and my own bishop, Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs), Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church of America, Charles Colson and James Dobson, etc.

Hark, Hark, the Dogs Do Bark: The Catholic Philosophical Tradition and the Future of the West

My brilliant former partner in crime, Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, was waxing eloquent in Anchorage last month and as always, has lots of intriguing and important things to say.

He does so in the most traditional of Dominican roles: as a begger. Fr. Michael always insisted that the old nursery rhyme "Hark, Hark, the dogs do bark. The beggers are coming to town" really meant "hang on to your wallets, here come the Dom -i -canes" (dogs of the Lord).

It certainly mean that when he was working with the Institute and he is still begging today for the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology which he now serves as President.

Fr. Michael's address is long but worth the read. He is speaking directly to our situation as western Christians facing a western culture that is deeply hostile to our faith and understanding of reality.

"The last great cultural upheaval of the West began, arguably, about five centuries ago. Consider what is afoot in Europe in the year 1500: a new “humanism” focuses upon the individual; the first stirrings of the Protestant reformation are already being felt; the nation states are beginning to take shape, first in France and then elsewhere in Europe; the discovery of the new world and its colonization begin, raising questions of international law and also of human rights (are the North American natives to be regarded as human?); the new-found wealth pouring into Europe causes an inflation of the currency not ever experienced before, and raises commercial and ethical questions concerning inflation, currency and interest.

In the midst of all this Francisco de Vitoria, O.P. assumed the chair of theology at the University of Salamanca where, with the assistance of his Dominican confreres, he began to apply the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas to the challenges of the day. Together they founded what history now knows as the “school of Salamanca”. This was not a school in the sense of a separate institution –they were professors at the University of Salamanca. Rather, it was a school of thought: a common intellectual and scholarly enterprise to address the questions of their day, an initiative that lasted for at least a century, and whose impact is still felt. They articulated the humanism that is integral to the tradition of St. Thomas; in economic theory they introduced the ideas of just price, supply and demand and the scarcity theory of value; they argued, successfully, for the rights of native peoples applying St. Thomas' discussion of the ius gentium and offered the world the first systematic articulation of human rights; they advanced the just war theory, and were the first in history to propound the idea of international law."


"Let us dwell for a moment on this point. In the Summa Theologiae St. Thomas asks whether prudence or holiness is to be sought on the part of someone who governs. He answers that prudence, the virtue by which one acts decisively and well in practical matters is the virtue that is proper to the one who governs; holiness adds nothing to right action. I might add, parenthetically, that everyone's experience bears him out: we have all encountered people of great holiness who have not fully mastered a practical approach to life! This has many ramifications today. So, for example, Catholic politicians who recuse themselves in moral questions on the grounds that they cannot represent the tradition in a pluralist society should be held to account, not on the grounds that they are disobedient to the magisterium, but on the grounds that they are negligent of the common good.

The hallmark of the Dominican tradition is to integrate philosophical and theological study both for the sake of advancing the tradition itself and for the sake of applying it, with authority, to contemporary questions. In the Dominican tradition, this is what it means to preach: not merely to exhort the faithful to a holy life, but to put the tradition at their disposal so that they may apply it with authority to contemporary life and therefore to undertake the work of Christ, which is to redeem the world."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Liberal Catholics: The Wilderness Years?

A look at a couple more topics from John Allen's new book, The Future Church, before I leave. For those who haven't read it, you need to know that Allen is looking very specifically at what the 21st century may be like for the Catholic Church. Since we have almost finished the first decade of that century, he is really looking most specifically at the 40 years between now and 2050.

After reading the chapter on "Evangelical Catholicism" two times, I see why the reviewer at Commonweal was less than enthusiastic about the book. Listen to the words Allen uses to describe the future of "liberal" Catholicism:

"years in the wilderness"
"likely to decline"
"worst of times" for reformers
"find themselves out of a job"
"harbors in the storm"
"feel increasingly uncomfortable in other Catholic venues"

It says a great deal about Allen's status that he was able to write in as straight forward a fashion as he has while, famously, still working for the National Catholic Reporter, a major center of influence for progressive Catholicism.

In Allen's judgement, a 21st century Church focusing on Catholic identity is not going to be hospitable to "liberal" Catholics.

Their options as Allen sees them:

Near Certain
1) Abandon the intra-ecclesial debates and attempts to set policy which they can not win and focus their efforts on mission outside the Church, engaging social and political questions. LIberal Catholic reform movements will decline inside but there may be a burgeoning audience for their message outside the Church.

2) Work within the Church but focus on areas of Church teaching and activity where the bishops will support them: poverty, war and peace, ending the death penalty, protecting the environment.

Allen holds up the community of Sant'Egidio as a model. He writes that Sant'Egidio was founded at the height of the 60's by "progressive Catholics who didn't want to leave the Church." The community has focused on the Church's mission to the poor,anti-death penalty campaigning, peace-making and conflict resolution, ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. And they have prospered. "In the twenty first century, movements such as Sant'Egidio are the future of liberal Catholic activism."

3) Migrate. Many liberal Catholics will leave (or be forced out of) the parochial system: parishes and dioceses, schools and hospitals, and Pontifical Universities and take refuge in institutions run by older, progressive religious orders.

4) Advocates for new approaches will have to phrase their proposals in the language of the Church in order to be heard.

5) Informal "schisms" grow in the global North. Liberal Catholics regard themselves as in a form of "internal exile"

Long Shot:
6) Schism in the North: In Europe and North America. Unlikely because there is no Bishop with a strong following who seems to be willing to lead such a formal break.

As I read, I couldn't help it but think of how Europeans regarded their future in 1910 before the horrors of World War I turned the world upside down. Before Communism rose. Before the Nazis and the Holocaust and World War II and the long years of the Cold War. Could they have even imagined 21st century Islamic terrorism and 9/11? In 1910, the Ottoman Empire was regarded as the "Sick Man of Europe" and the larger Muslim world seemed prone before the western colonial powers. But that was before oceans of oil was discovered under those desert sands.

It is very difficult to project the present into the future. And yet, it isn't completely useless as long as we remind ourselves of how extremely contingent such speculation is.

I was struck by what Allen did not talk about in his book as a whole (not just with reference to the future of liberal Catholicism) : the action of God.

Please hear me: I am NOT saying and I do NOT believe that Allen does not believe that God is at work. He just does not address that here in his role as a journalist and focuses instead on observable sociological trends. That's a legitimate approach and perfectly understandable approach (he is not a theologian or spiritual director and the subject he has tackled is already extremely complicated).

But I believe that we cannot talk about the future without taking God's redeeming action into account. I believe that history is changed by the action of God through his people just as it is changed by evil and folly. So I hope to blog on that aspect of the situation later.

I also could not help but hear echoes of the language that traditional Catholics use of their experiences in the 60's and 70's during the heyday of Catholics liberalism. They too felt themselves to be in internal exile, in the wilderness, etc. How long will the pendulum continue to swing wildly?

Allen sums it up his findings in a way that is sure to tick off both liberal and traditional Catholics:

"the recent past of Catholicism belonged to the liberals, its present belongs to the evangelicals, and the future belongs to the Pentecostals.”

Next up: The American exception.

Northern LIghts

Heading north tomorrow. 10 days in Anchorage with my sister. It's 10 below there tonight and the amount of daylight drops by nearly 5 minutes every day at this time of year. This will be an experience.

We will have the chance to go dog sledding as a wonderful local Iditarod racer and Called & Gifted alum, Eric Rogers, has offered to let us meet his dogs and take us for ride.

And I hope to see the Northern LIghts!

I will have internet access and probably the time to blog so you'll be hearing from me.

Conversion in Corpus Christi

I've been hanging out in Corpus Christi for about ten days now; giving talks on the Holy Spirit in Scripture in some parishes, giving four talks on a weekend retreat called, Catholic Journey of Faith, doing some gifts interviews, a Q&A at Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, and doing some administrative work for the Institute.

Catholic Journey of Faith is one of about a dozen different parish evangelization processes found in the diocese of Corpus Christi. This is an eight-week course offered in a parish, with a 45 minute talk each week followed by Q&A and a small group discussion. The seventh week includes a Saturday retreat with more presentations, singing, adoration, and prayers for healing. I gave a three-hour session on Sunday on applying what people had learned and experienced on the retreat, and gave a plug for the Called & Gifted workshop that will be held at the Cathedral this coming weekend.

The goals of the CJOF are "to provide a group study environment for Catholics, Christians, Protestants, and non- Christians, to all come together to either deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ or to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ.
We come together to promote fellowship to strengthen our parish community and to lift up the Body of Christ. We conduct ourselves in accordance with church teachings, sacred scripture of the Catholic Bible and the Catechism.
To develop all human talents given to us to glorify God through Song & Praise (Music) worship, Bible study and group discussion, a better understanding of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. To promote stewardship and to be docile to the Holy Spirit as John Paul II called us to do. To foster a conversion of hearts and a commitment to Jesus Christ."

At the evening session that followed the retreat Tuesday night, a 16 year-old girl who is unmarried and six months pregnant stood up and gave this testimony, which I share with you.
Growing up as a child I wasn’t really into my faith. My parents would literally have to drag me and my sister to church. I guess when your struggles get even worse at such a young age you really have no one to turn to but God. Our family wasn’t perfect and where we lived wasn’t perfect, but like my mama put it, “at least the roof didn’t leak”.

Last May, we were the chosen family for a new house. It was for the Habitat for Humanity. It took about 19 months to build and we finally have a house that we can say “won’t fall apart”. I know our family, especially my mother, wanted this house. I say, “my mother especially” because without her and her trust and faith in God, we would have never got to where we are now. And if it wasn’t for my mom, I would’ve never started coming to the Journey of Faith and I’m so glad I did. It’s really nice to wake up in the morning on a Tuesday and say “Today’s another day I can get closer to the Lord”. When they mentioned the retreat, I thought maybe this will be good for me and it was. It turned out to be one of the wonderful things I’ve done on my own.

The day of the retreat when I entered the kitchen to eat my breakfast, I noticed the upper part of my back started hurting and earlier in the days, it hurt, so I wasn’t concerned, it usually went away. When I sat with my team (on the retreat), it got worse, then I felt nauseated. Either I was going to cry or release the stomach pain. So I did what I had to do, I went to the restroom and threw up. My grandma came in with my mother and I told them I had to change clothes. My grandma asked my mom if she wanted her to take me home. And I really couldn’t think of why it was hurting so bad. Then I snapped and told my mom “I’m coming back!” So we left, I changed and came back. The pain went away when we left the retreat and as I walked back in the doors, the pain got even worse. But I stuck it out just a bit longer, then the pain got unbearable to the point where I felt I couldn’t stand. I wanted to go home, but then all I could think of was what made me snap earlier in the day and I told God “I’m not giving up, I’m staying.” I tried everything to relieve the pain. I even thought maybe going to confession would help. Talking to Susan (one of the speakers and a member of the Intercessors of the Lamb) about how much I’ve been hurt and still nothing relieved the pain. Susan really wanted me to stay for the Mass and the Healing Service, so I sucked it up and stayed.

I’m so happy that I did, because a lot things came out of this day that were good. I learned to forgive the people that I expected I would never forgive. I prayed more than I have prayed in my life. And out of my whole pregnancy, now 6 months, my little girl received the Holy Eucharist for the first time. So I got a lot out of those two days.

Now for my ending, I want to explain to you what made me snap… it was Satan. He knew my being there would change me for the better and bring me closer to God. Walking out of the retreat the second day, I was so angry but yet so happy and it was because Satan put me through so much pain, but he did not win. The saddest part of all of this is that it took me 16 years to realize that the Lord will never give up on me and He loves me more than I will ever know. He’s real in every way and for the time that’s left, I need to keep my faith in Him. Without Him, there is no possible way of living our lives easily.
On October 22, at a papal audience, Pope Benedict said, "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."

Looks like it happened for this young girl.

Called & Gifted for the Stock Market?

The exuberant Rae Stabosz had a funny conversion on her way out of that Called & Gifted workshop in Chicago last summer.

"I started investing in the stock market this summer. So far, it's a fascinating adventure. In the past, the market bored me but I am willing to admit now that it was not so much boredom as prejudice and spiritual snobbery. I viewed it as "unworthy" a subject for study, for an aspiring saint.

That all changed when I took a Called and Gifted workshop this summer in Chicago, from the Catherine of Siena Institute. There I learned to get off my high horse and disabuse myself of the idea that money itself is the root of all evil. NO, NO, NO - it's the LOVE OF MONEY that is the root of all evil, or so the saying goes. I don't even know where the saying comes from.

Just goes to show that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.

It turns out that I score very high in the charism of Giving, one of whose manifestations is the ability to create wealth in order to give it generously where it is needed. I've always enjoyed being generous, and I've always enjoyed hustling for money, but I never put the two together before that workshop as two sides of the same charismatic coin.

So I'm having a blast in the market."

Rae is scheduled to reveal her secret recipe for making a quick and honorable fortune on Oprah next week. (Ok, that's a lie but she will tell you all about it on her blog.)

Buy low, sell high. Ditch those Starbucks stocks.

I have been regularly stunned and amazed at what God does through the Called & Gifted discernment process. I think of it as a divine "shock and awe" campaign. Rae's story just makes me grin.

Of course, the ultimate test of a charism is effectiveness. We'll know when she gives some of the those freshly minted dollars to the Institute! :-}

Those Surprising, Complicated Anglo-Catholics

If you are like me and get lost in the complex world of Anglo-Catholicism and the whole "will they or won't they enter the Catholic Church?" debate, you need to read this wonderful post from
the Churchmouse Campanologist. (What a great name for a blog!)

It is a summary of an interview with the witty and ever enlightening master of the Sub Tuum blog, Brother Stephen. Once Anglican, now a Catholic and a Cistercian monk.

Some highlights to give you the flavour:

Are there any (Anglo-Catholics)who swam the Thames, so to speak?

"In fact, many Anglo-Catholics are ex-Roman Catholics who crossed the Channel because they disagreed with Roman Catholic doctrine or wanted to escape the post-Vatican II Church for both liberal and conservative reasons."

How Catholic are Anglo-Catholics?

"Among traditional Anglo-Catholics, you will find those who believe in 3, 4, 7, 19, 20, and 21 councils as well as those who believe that no council taught infallibly. It is safe to say that traditional Anglo-Catholics generally believe in via media, 3 to 7 ecumenical councils, and lay government. Most traditional A-Cs get from a little to very queasy at the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, and any form of devotion that is too ’sentimental’. Many hold an idea of the real presence that owes as much to Luther as to Trent. A confessional in the back of the church is often considered to be an important symbol, but few consider it necessary to be a regular penitent."

Sherry: It is funny in a stomach churning sort of way. I'd laugh but my mouth is too busy dropping. Back to the interview.

Tell me more.

"Essayist Florence King spoke well to another aspect of the Anglican mindset when she wrote, ‘I don’t care about church and state so long as the church and stateliness go hand in hand.’ Traditional Roman Catholics hoping for reinforcements need to understand that traditional Anglo-Catholics are conservative compared to other Anglicans, but that is a very different proposition than the ideological and social agenda held by many traditionalist Roman Catholics. Many, probably most, traditional Anglo-Catholics have no objection to things like women in the diaconate, contraception, remarriage, or suitably discreet same-sex relationships. There are certainly Anglo-Catholics who support the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life and who are vexed by the Robinson consecration, but these are generally not the parishes whose photos make their way around the Catholic blog circuit … The folks who agree with Catholic social teaching are more likely to be liturgically low-key modern rite people."

Whoa. As someone who spent two years in a standard issue Episcopalian parish on my way in, this is illuminating and disconcerting all at the same time. Obviously, the whole picture is way more complicated than I thought.

Read the whole thing.

Interested in Graduate Study in the New Evangelization? Check This Out.

Take a look at this introduction to the STL/graduate program in the New Evangelization.

Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit is a truly exceptional spiritual and intellectual community. And this program is the only one of its kind in the world. Check it out.

(It's especially fun to recognize practically everyone in video. They were either students of ours, attended an Institute event, or shared meals with us in the faculty lounge. What a great group.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Discerning the Good in Congress

This interview with Anh "Joseph" Cao is really remarkable (courtesy of National Jesuit News).

Not because he was born in Vietnam. Not because he was a Jesuit scholastic before he discerned that his call was to the secular apostolate and politics. And certainly not because he was the only Republican to vote for the health care reform package. (Catholics are free to honestly disagree about the practical application of the Church's teaching in a given situation.)

What I find so remarkable is how Cao describes the prayer and discernment that went into his decision:

"Cao: I still use the Ignatian methods almost every day, from examination of conscience back to the methods of the 30 day retreat. I do that very often. Using the whole process of discernment to see where the Sprit is moving me has been extremely important, especially in my recent decision to support the health care reform plan. The Jesuit emphasis on social justice, the fact that we have to advocate for the poor, for the widow, for those who cannot help themselves, plays a very significant part. But at the end of the day, I believe that it’s up to, at least from my perspective, understanding what does my conscience say, how is the Spirit moving me. I use that almost every day in my decision making process. The issues that we contend with in Congress affect every single person here in the United States, so I want to make sure that my decisions are based on good principals and good morals.

For example, right before the [health care] vote, I actually went to Mass and I prayed. And the theme of the day was one of the readings from Isaiah. The priest gave the homily about be not afraid, so I really felt a personal touch during this homily, that this homily was meant for me. I was going through a lot of turmoil, debating on what was the right decision, knowing the fact that if I were to vote ‘yes’, I would be the most hated Republican in the country. [laughs]. So, it was a tough discernment process but I felt during the Mass that it was speaking directly to me. It gave me the strength to say ‘yes, you have to make the right decision’ and ‘be not afraid’ to do it because ‘I will go before you’ so that is why I supported the bill knowing the fact that I would be the only one."

(Ca made it clear months before the vote that "I would not support a bill that would support federal funding of abortion.")

I'm just struck by his prayerfulness, his sense of the presence of God, and constant desire to seek to will of God as a politician. This is a true Catholic seeking to live his office for God and the common good. And his detachment:

Cao: "The question, ultimately, is ‘what is God’s will for me in my life?’ I see everything in life as a gift. I’m not too attached to my position. I’m not too attached to being a U.S. congressman. I see myself as being there to serve God, to do what is God’s will in my life, and if things happen to change, the next year or two, then I’m pretty happy and pretty satisfied. That’s how I approach my life, one day at a time and make sure that each and every day, what I do is according to how God’s will is for me on that day."

Wow. A man whose spiritual courage, intention, and integrity you can count on and respect even if you disagree with his conclusions. A politician disciple-discerner.

Marvelous and inspiring. What a model for lay apostles in the public square. May his tribe ever increase!

P.S. Let's keep our comments to the topic at hand which is Representative Cao's spiritual and discernment practices in the midst of his high visibility, high pressure, political life. This is of universal importance to all lay apostles seeking to do God's will in whatever position God has called us to.

What spiritual practices and disciplines have you found enable you to stay centered in God and discern the good in the midst of your work?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Will Displays of Christianity Be Removed From All Public Buildings In Europe?

Incredible. As melodramatic as it sounds, listen to this.

From Anna Arco's Diary at the Catholic Herald (UK)

Barrister Neil Addison has written extensively about the European Court of Human Rights ruling on the crucifix over on his blog. He believes that the ruling may have implications for Britain.

He writes:

“As several press articles on the case have pointed out the court did not expressly order the school to remove its crucifix but this is because the court does not have the power to make such orders what it does do is find a violation of the convention and then the Italian government has to report back to the Council of Europe exactly what it proposes to do in order to impliment the ruling which in this case will mean removing crucifixes from the classrooms, courts public buildings etc. In the UK because of s2 of the Human Rights Act the ruling has effect as a binding precedent in UK law and I suspect we will shortly be hearing about public displays of Christmas decorations being removed, School nativity plays being banned etc by local authorities who will say they are acting in accordance with this court ruling.

On his Religion Law blog, Neil expands on the implications:

"Unless the Grand Chamber of the ECHR overrules this Judgment on appeal Italy, and indeed the rest of Europe, has a serious problem; for example in Greek and Cypriot Schools it is common to see Icons displayed, but under this judgment those Icons will have to be removed and, arguably so will displays of Christianity from all Public buildings throughout Europe."

However I do wonder if perhaps this Judgment may, in time, come to be seen as European "Dredd Scott" case ie a moment when the implications of a Court ruling are so significant and so contrary to public opinion that they lead to a public backlash. Americans will, be familiar with the 1857 Dredd Scott case when the US Supreme Court defended slavery to such an extent that, in effect, it extended slavery to the free as well as the slave states and that ultimately strengthened the abolitionist movement and is often quoted as a leading cause of the American Civil War. I often refer to the Dredd Scott case when arguing with my more "liberal" legal colleagues who simplistically believe that Supreme Courts are always filled with nice liberal types who will uniformly do the right thing. They are not, Judges are as prone to personal prejudices as anyone else which is the danger of trying to use the Courts to force change in society rather than relying on the slower processes of democracy, voting and debate.

If I can misquote Abraham Lincoln

"We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Europe are on the verge of becoming a multi-faith society, and we shall awake to the reality instead, that the European Court has made Europe a non-faith society"

Anna is tracking this story as it unfolds, so watch her blog for UK developments.

"Venerable" John Paul II

We will could be calling him "Venerable" John Paul II by Christmas - or so this story from Inside Catholic implies.

The Congregation for Saints Causes has voted unanimously that John Paul II be recognized as having "heroically lived the Christian virtues" and be declared "venerable". All that is necessary is for Pope Benedict to sign the decree and December is usually one time of the year when the Pope does so.

I'm re-reading George Weigel's biography right now and feel that I am reading it for the first time. I have felt a great deal of regret that I missed so much of his early years: the significance of his election, the drama of his first trip to Poland, etc. I didn't come to until he had been Pope for nearly 8 years and so I didn't witness the early impact of his relative youth and incredible energy, warmth, and joy.

And I only saw him at the end of his life - far away on the rolling platform that enabled him to navigate the center aisle of St. Peter's in his old age.

But I miss him. And I am truly delighted to see his cause moving so quickly.

What If "To Be Deep in History" is to Cease to Be Catholic?

A note from the author:


So there is not need to keep saying "You've got Newman all wrong." Cause this post is not about that. Which is why you'll notice that I didn't write about Newman's understanding of the development of Doctrine at all. Really. Capiche?

This post is about how people actually experience and understand the meaning of their conversion at the personal level. The current popular understanding of Newman’s famous phrase is that Christian history is European history and that an essential and nearly universal motivation for becoming Catholic is (and should be) seeking to connect with one's historic roots in western Christendom, and that anyone who is "deep in history" will become Catholic.

Which is not true for the hundreds of millions of new Catholics in Africa and Asia whose familial, historical, and cultural roots are in one of the ancient non-Christian faiths. How instead of the common experience in the west of coming home to one's historical and cultural roots in Catholicism, many African and Asian converts experience becoming Catholic as a new thing, that requires a significant break from their own historical and cultural roots.

My point is how real people understand what becoming Catholic means in light of their own lived cultural and historical context. And how different that looks in the west with our historical experience and in the new Catholic communities of the global south. Not that the western pattern is bad or invalid. Just that it isn't the only pattern.

And now back to the original post.

One corollary of becoming a "World Church" as John Allen terms it.

How often have I heard Catholic apologists and writers quote John Henry Newman: "To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant"?

Fr. Dwight Longenecker over at Standing on My Head has another thoughtful post this morning on the proposed Anglican Ordinariate and after reading Allen this weekend, I was struck afresh by the language he uses:

"I believe that the new Anglican Ordinariate will eventually become a bridge into full communion with the historic Church for Protestants of many different backgrounds. Many Catholics do not realize that there are large numbers of Evangelical Christians who look very longingly at the historic liturgical churches. They hold to the historic faith, but they want to belong to a historic church."

And all this is very true - for western European culture Christians. Catholicism is the historic church for western Christians and Protestantism is the Johnny-come-lately. It was most certainly true for Newman, steeped in the writing of the early Fathers, and writing as the most English of men.

A love of and longing for historical depth and continuity is one of the most common themes in the sort of English language conversion stories that conservative Catholics love to read. It is a very common theme on Catholic blogs. To the point that those of us where aren't primarily drawn to the Church by a longing for historicity, authority, and a bulwark against western secularism, can feel very much out of place in the contemporary Catholic scene.

As though those were the only possible reasons for a 21st century man or woman to choose to follow Jesus Christ in the heart of his Body on earth.

But what about those Catholics who live in a world where Catholicism, indeed Christianity of any kind, is brand new? John Allen points out that most Catholic growth in sub-saharan Africa has happened in the late 20th century. And the same is true in large parts of Asia and in those parts of the Muslim world which are starting to see significant conversions to Christianity. One, or at most, two generations deep.

A large part of Catholicism where to be "deep in history" is to be Buddhist or Hindu, or Muslim or animist. Or perhaps another kind of Christian: Nestorian or Orthodox or Coptic or Melkite?

Where being a Catholic is profoundly new and literally "ahistorical" as far as your own family or culture or national history is concerned.

Where being a Catholic looks historically a lot more like being an evangelical in the west. Like a break with history in order to follow Christ, not a return to historical cultural roots.

Where a "thick" Catholic culture won't exist for generations, if not centuries, because it has to be created from scratch.

History is critical for European culture peoples who lived through the historical break of the Reformation. Particularly in the western English speaking world where the trauma and historical amnesia was great.

But we are not the whole world. We are, in fact, a fairly small minority within the larger Church. For large parts of the southern majority, in Africa and Asia, Catholicism is mostly new and the spiritual hunger it answers is usually not historical.

Fr. Benedict Groeschel pointed out years ago in his wonderful book "Spiritual Passages" that Catholic spiritual theology has long recognized that people seek God under many guises. The Good. The Beautiful. The True. The One. Not The Historical. (And I write this as someone who has been passionately interested in history since I was a small child and for the historical dimensions of Catholicism are very important - but not the reason I became Catholic.)

If it is legitimate and fitting for southern Christians to seek Christ without reference to history, as a wholly new revelation of God, it is surely appropriate for western Christians to do the same. Every historic Christian culture began that way. Even the Irish and the Poles had a first generation of Christians. Throughout history and around the world, people have sought and encountered Christ and Christianity as something fresh and revolutionary that called them beyond their individual and collective history.

Which is important to remember because so many millions of young adults in the west now no long have any living connection to Christianity as a culture or a historical past. For them, the fall of the Berlin wall is ancient history and there are no memories of Christendom at all. And a genuine living Christian faith is something absolutely new in their experience.

In every generation, the first mission of ecclesial insiders is not to create a dream church for ourselves, but to proclaim Christ to our own generation. For so many of whom, today - in Europe or Asia or Africa - the Catholic faith is truly something new.

And for whom, to be deep in history is to to be anything but Catholic.

Global, Uncompromising, Pentecostal, and Extroverted

Global, Uncompromising, Pentecostal, and Extroverted"

That's how John Allen sums up what the observable Catholic Church of the 21st century is going to look like in his new book, The Future Church. But that summary is 432 pages in. Before you get there, Allen takes his readers on quite a ride.

Allen's book is 480 pages long, his thesis is as broad as the future of Catholicism, and it is just hard to wrap your mind around it all. Allen covers an enormous number of topics under the heading of his ten chosen trends, all fueled by a thousand statistics and anecdotes. The book reads like a patchwork made up of a series of short articles or blog posts (if you have been reading Allen’s blog over the last few years, you will recognize material.)

I'm not complaining exactly. Allen's view of the Catholic global scene from 30,000 feet is extraordinarily valuable, especially for western Christians caught up in our insider struggles. It is a salutary reminder that our world is not the Catholic world.

Allen is a journalist, not a theologian or historian or scholar. But I found myself wishing over and over that he would (or could) go into greater depth on a given topic, that he would stop and really dig in rather than hurtle breathlessly along. His reader will have to work to stitch it all together meaningfully for themselves. And humble bloggers will have to work even harder!

Where to begin? It is appropriate that right after a post on a new Orthodox/Catholic ecumenical effort to join forces in the face of secularism, I should write about how very different the world looks for the majority of Catholics who live in the global South.

The first trend is The World Church. As John Allen puts it: "outside of Europe and some elite pockets in the United States, secularism is not really a grassroots phenomenon." For Christians in the South, the issue is “a highly competitive religious marketplace.”

Southern Catholics are wrestling with pluralism, not secularism. In the southern context, Catholicism doesn't strike people as hidebound and conservative but rather as moderate and sophisticated. And in many places, the struggle is how to manage staggering growth, not steady decline.

In Nigeria, for instance, the Church's structures are stretched to the breaking point trying to catechize new converts and form new priests. The country has the largest seminary in the world - 1,100 men strong. In the South, Catholicism is often very young, historically and biologically. The huge growth in numbers has taken place over the past 50 years. “In sub-Saharan Africa, Catholicism is almost entirely the product of the late twentieth century.” And the majority are still children. Young and on the rise.

In light of my work on the 17th century French revival, I found this prediction fascinating: "Places such as Nairobi, Manila, and Sao Paulo are . . . likely to be to the twenty first century what Paris, Milan, and Leuven were to the Counter-Reformation, meaning the laboratories in which creative new theological and pastoral approaches of the era take shape."

And this will really help us grasp the gap in experience between northern and southern Christians. What are two of the biggest pastoral issues in the Global South? Polygamy and witchcraft. Seriously.

In February 2007, The Catholic University of East Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, held a three day symposium on the pastoral challenge of witchcraft. Experts warned that witchcraft was “destroying” the Catholic Church in Africa, in part because skeptical, Western-educated clergy are not responding adequately to people’s spiritual needs.”

“Witchcraft is a reality; it is not a superstition. Many communities in Kenya know these powers exist.” Said Michael Katola, a lecturer in pastoral theology. Katola warned that inadequate pastoral responses are driving some African into Pentecostalism.

Many of our Christians seek deliverance, healing, and exorcism from other denominations because priests do not realize they have redemptive powers”, he said. “If we don’t believe in the existence of witchcraft as Satanism, then we cannot deal with it.

I was steeped in such a perspective in my early evangelical missionary days. As I tried to sum it up as a newly Confirmed baby Catholic:

This is the recognition of what is called “The Excluded Middle”. The theory goes as follows: Western missionaries carried their rationalist and anti-supernaturalist cultural assumptions with them and went to people saturated with a spiritual worldview that incorporated minor deities, demons, curses, charms, and spells into daily life.

Western rationalist dismissed these beliefs as mere superstition and converted people to a worldview of a “high” Trinitarian God and a “low” moral code of behavior. The “middle” realm of demons and spells was never addressed, but it would not go away. These people have lived for many generations with the spiritual realities of the demonic, had seen people die of curses, and know, whatever the missionary said, that these things are real. To deal with them, they turned once again to their traditional spiritual practices and the result was the various forms of Christo-paganism.

To fill this gap, evangelical missionaries looked once again to the early Church and found in the experience of Pentecost and the healings, prophecies, and miracles of the Book of Acts, a Christian answer for the “excluded middle.” This approach has come to be called “power evangelism.

Allen’s comment? "It does not tax the imagination to picture a future pope from the global South issuing an encyclical presenting Jesus Christ as the definitive answer to the “spirits of this world . . . The implicit Christology of many Africans is that of “Christus Victor” whose resurrection invested him with definitive power to vanquish the dark forces in the spiritual world, to break spells, and to reverse curses."

See what I mean? You follow a single strand of Allen’s and you end up in a whole new world. And there are 100 such strands in The Future Church, all fascinating and with big implications. More in another post.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Standing Against the Tide - Together

Word is circulating of a fascinating ecumenical initiative between Russian Orthodox and Catholic Christians:

(H/T Fr. Gregory over at Koinonia and the American Orthodox Institute:)

Robert Moynihan of Inside the Vatican reports:

Archbishop Hilarion, working with a team of young Orthodox clergy and laymen, decided to found the St. Gregory Nazianzus Foundation in order to work together with Catholics and others in the West, to support traditional spiritual values in Russia, but also throughout the world.

St. Gregory was a theologian in the 300s, well before the division of the Church into East and West, and so is venerated both by the Catholics and by the Orthodox. He is a Father of the Church for all Christians.
The co-founders of this new foundation are Archbishop Hilarion and Vadim Yakunin, one of the wealthiest businessmen in Russia. Yakunin has made a personal commitment to support the spiritual and social vision articulated by Patriarch Kirill.


We want to try to attract the attention of religious believers, in Russia and abroad, who believe in traditional Christian values, and who want to contribute to making society more just and more moral,” Sevastianov told me.

We want to promote the idea of the unity between the West and Russia on the basis of common Christian roots. We believe in this alliance among traditional Christian countries, and we believe we need to talk with one voice in the face of secularism and a false ‘liberalism,’ and we believe that, with a united voice, we can be a strong force against the radical secular world which has become dominant in our societies.

What I have seen so far is short on details but the idea is wonderful. Just the fact that it is being publicly proposed is significant.

800,000 Muslims . . . Er, I Mean, 2,000 Muslims Become Christian

This story was making the rounds over at First Things (The Anchoress and Gateway Pundit) this weekend so I thought I'd post my response here as well.

The headline? 800,000 Sudanese Muslims Have Become Christians. The source? A Dutch article, somewhat mangled by internet translation.

The reality?

Grossly exaggerated - on the scale of the 6 million Muslims become Christians every year story that was circulating last year. There have indeed been many conversions in southern Sudan but they are almost all from non-Muslim backgrounds. As I commented on both blogs:

"I hate to be the one to burst people’s bubble but I’m in touch with the major networks of missionary news and statistics and nothing on this scale is being reported for Muslims in Sudan. Evangelicals follow this sort of thing assiduously and they love to crunch numbers.

Arab World Ministries puts it this way:

“Estimates of Sudanese Muslims who have become Christians range from 200 to 2000. With decades of prayer and nearly fruitless ministry behind, a harvest among Northern Sudanese Muslims seems to be beginning.”

Operation World sums it up this way:

“The population in the north is largely Sunni Muslim, though among them are 300,000 or more Coptic Christians and maybe 2 million southern Christians displaced by war. Sufi religious orders are strong – especially Ansar, followers of the famous Mahdi. A small but increasing number have become Christians – disillusioned by Islam and attracted to Jesus. There are probably some thousands of these. There are reports of whole villages turning to Christ. Pray that their numbers may increase. There is a remarkable openness among many.”

So there have been some conversions but maybe 2,000 – which is really significant - but not 800,000.

I think the source of these numbers is Joel Rosenberg who is an evangelical who writes popular thriller novels. His numbers are greatly exaggerated. (I don’t know where he got them.)

There are really significant numbers of Muslims becoming Christians in the past 20 -30 years – but not numbers like this. The largest numbers that I have ever seen reported are 10,000 (Algeria) or 20,000 (Turkey) – which are staggering – if you know the history of Muslim missions.

When you hear suspiciously large, rounded numbers like this – millions or hundreds of thousands of Muslims becoming Christians – always check out the numerous evangelical missionary resources online – Joshua report, Operation World, or some of the agencies focusing on the Muslim world.

Cause chances are, those numbers, as in this case, are wildly inflated.

Allen on The Future Church - Coming Up

The morning was spent trouble-shooting our many web related struggles of late. We have been told that all should be well from here on out. Of course, we've heard that before!

Anyway, I used part of my weekend to read large parts of John Allen's new book: The Future Church.

Full of interesting stuff which I hope to blog about today.

Back on the Air

Back on the air after being down all weekend. We hope to fix that distressing pattern today! More in a bit.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Reading Allen's "The Future Church"

I have and am reading the new John Allen book, The Future Church, which came out on Tuesday.

There has been some harruphing going on around the Catholic blogosphere about this book. From the left and the right. Some by those who have actually read it. And some by those who haven't. Basically, they didn't see their favorite thing(s) listed as one of the Ten "Trends" that are "revolutionizing" the Catholic Church.

Allen has a whole chapter on how he ultimately picked the trends to focus upon. He received input from all over the world and some of it is very amusing. There was the "persistent reader" who insisted that Allen include the work of Rene Girard on "mimetic desire." Another who said that the heart of the matter was "String Theory".

As Allen sums it up:

"One rule of thumb I developed in light of such proposal: If I have to google a proposed trend to figure out what it means, it's probably not setting the Catholic world on fire."

Allen's criteria for choosing a trend: (I've tried to simplify his categories for a blog post. When I quote Allen directly, I do so in quotes.)

1) It had to be "global as opposed to something associated primarily with a given country or region."

2) It has to have "a significant impact on the Catholic grassroots." (beyond theologians, activists, clergy and - gasp! - journalists and bloggers)

3) The leadership of the Church has to be engaged with the trend and it must have the potential to influence Catholics institutional structures.

4) The trend has to have "explanatory power." It must help us understand a wide variety of events, issues and developments.

5) The trend needs to have "predictive power". It must help us understand where the Church will likely go in the 21st century.

6) "It cannot be ideologically driven" and must be a current that Catholics across the spectrum can acknowledge is real. (Regardless of whether individuals think the trend in question is a helpful or damaging trend.)

I know a fair amount about (and have blogged) about six of the trends Allen writes about: a world church, evangelical Catholicism, the new demography, lay roles, multipolarism, and pentecostalism. I have a pre-Catholic personal and academic background in the 7th trend: Islam.

And am fairly clueless about three of the trends: globalization, ecology, and the biotech revolution. It should be interesting.

Since the breadth of the topics covered is so enormous, I'll probably be blogging on one topic at a time.

For sure,my next book is going to be on The Influence of Mimetic Desire and The Da Vinci Code on String Theory. It'll be a page turner. Stay tuned!

Help the Persecuted Christians of Pakistan

Check out this eye catching prayer map for persecuted Christians in the world.

i found it on this blog of the British Pakistani Christian Association, a new group headed up by what looks like two brothers: Alex & Wilson Choudrey. Their goal: bettering the lives of persecuted Christians in Pakistan.

Check them out!

Thank you for praying

Thank you for all your prayers!

Mary Baughman, my husband's mother, is scheduled to come home from the hospital today. The cardiologist thinks that her heart muscle emerged pretty much undamaged from the heart attack. She is sore from the surgery to repair the artery that was torn, but that is improving too. (The hospital's top surgeon "just happened" to be at hand at that critical moment and did the repair; otherwise we would have lost her.)

She'll not be ready to return to work for a while, but she is looking forward to sleeping in her own bed again. Hospitals are never good places for getting a good night's sleep.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Catholic (& Orthodox) Quote of the Day

“The most basic task of the Church leader is to discern the spiritual gifts of all those under his authority, and to encourage those gifts to be used to the full for the benefit of all. Only a person who can discern the gifts of others and can humbly rejoice at the flowering of those gifts is fit to lead the Church.”

St John Chrysostom, Six Books on the Priesthood

H/T Fr. Gregory Jensen, Koinonia and Eric Rogers.


November 12: Barefoot and breakfasted on the patio this morning. To the sound of the waterfall.

November 13. 14. 15. It is supposed to snow.

November in the Rockies.

"Despite Being a Christian", Pakistani Catholic is "National Hero"

Here in Colorado Springs, the tragedy at Ft. Hood last week seems all too close and real. That's because Ft. Carson here sends the second largest number of soldiers in the country to Iraq and Afghanistan. Second only to Ft. Hood.

In sharp contrast to the events of Ft. Hood is the story of an illiterate Catholic janitor in Pakistan who saved the lives of hundreds of Muslim young women when he stopped a terrorist bomber at the door of the women's cafeteria at the International Islamic University in Islamabad. There were over 400 women students inside the cafeteria when the bomber approached. Pervaiz Masih saved their lives by giving his own.

It happened on October 20 but the story just made the international news yesterday. CNN is carrying a moving video here.

Although the news accounts all call Masih a "Christian", notice that his widow is making the sign of the cross. His last name, common among Pakistani Christians, means "Messiah". Pervaiz Masih was 40 years old and had only been on the job for a week. He earned $60 month and lived with 7 other family members in a single room apartment in Rawalpindi. He is now being described as a "national hero".

"The sweeper who was cleaning up here saw someone outside and went towards him," said Nasreen Siddique, a cafeteria worker who was wounded in the head, leg and arm by the blast. "[Masih] told him that he could not come inside because there were girls inside. And then they started arguing. And then we heard a loud blast and all the glass broke."

"Between 300 to 400 girls were sitting in there," said Professor Fateh Muhammad Malik, the rector of the university. "[Pervez Masih] rose above the barriers of caste, creed and sectarian terrorism. Despite being a Christian, he sacrificed his life to save the Muslim girls."

Despite being a Christian? Or because he was a Christian? I don't think Professor Malik meant to demean Masih's faith. As rector of an Islamic university in an intensely Islamic country, his words are high praise.

But in an intensely anti-Christian climate like that of contemporary Pakistan, it is unexpected. Christians do not die for Muslims. Muslims do not die for Christians. A decent, just man whose faith called him to stand up for the innocent, regardless of their faith, stands out. A Christian protecting Muslims from Muslims.

By the standards of the Pakistani janitor, the wealthy, highly educated American Muslim doctor at Fr. Hood was unimaginably privileged. The doctor was trained to save life and yet felt that his faith permitted him - urged him even- to take life.

No one expected anything from the poor janitor and yet he proved himself to be the stuff of martyrs. His life and death glorified God. May the same be said of us.

The good news is that Islamic University has offered to give Masih's 3 year old daughter a free education (I presume that would be an Islamic education?) and has offered his widow a job. The Pakistani government has also promised to award his family 1 million rupees (about $12,000). Which, if delivered, will be a tremendous help because they are reported to be behind in their rent.

To get a sense of the lives of Christians in Islamabad, take a look at this harrowing video by France 24's English language news service.

Let's pray for Masih's and his grief-striken family and the three young women whom he could not save. May God use this obscure Christian's heroic death to give the Christians of Pakistan new honor in the eyes of their Muslim neighbors and a new breath of freedom from persecution.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Muslim? Catholic? There's An App for That

Welcome to the world of digital faith per UPI.


Want to read the Koran? Be reminded of the right timing of the five daily prayers as you travel from time zone to time zone? Need to know what direction to face when it is time to pray?

No worries. Just turn to the ubiquitous companions of 21st century spiritual seekers. Your cell phone, I-Pod, or Blackberry can take the place of the muzzein.


Fr. Mark Inglot of East Lansing, Michigan has a Catholic prayer application on his BlackBerry to help guide his recitation of the Divine Office, daily prayers that are obligatory for priests.

“My first thought was, 'Does this take away from the sanctity?'” Inglot said. “Instead of holding this prayer, you’re holding your BlackBerry, but we just have to get used to it. And as we use technology for this purpose, we’re sanctifying that medium. It is another way that God can work in our lives.”

Any ID readers use these apps? What do you think? Is it less prayerful to be holding your Blackberry than your office?

Protestants are "Stupid": A Reprise

In relationship to my earlier blog post this week on "Catholics are Dead. Protestants are Stupid.", I wanted to point you to a comment on the Archdiocese of Washington's blog. Susan Timoney writes a very thoughtful commentary on the appropriate response of Catholics to the sneering comments by Richard Dawkins on the Vatican's overture to traditional Anglicans.

"A friend asked me if I had seen a comment in the Washington Post’s On Faith section about the recent announcement by the Vatican of its Anglican Provision. The comment is by Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion. The title of the commentary is “Give us your misogynists and bigots”. I’m sorry to say it only gets worse. It can be found here."

A Lutheran reader writes in:

"As a faithful Lutheran, married to a faithful Catholic, I’ve developed a respect for the Catholic church. I find anti-Catholic sentiment appalling.

That said, I have to point out that Catholics aren’t guiltless in terms of religious bigotry. On this site, and in my own parish, I’ve seen and heard snarky comments whose theme is Poor Stupid Ignorant Protest-ants. I think many priests and deacons forget – or don’t care that – not all of those sitting in front of them are cradle Catholics. I don’t think telling someone that s/he is stupid and ignorant serves one’s pastoral role well."

Non-Catholics, non-Christians, pagans, agnostics, and atheists and every sort of wandering soul move and in out of our large, relatively anonymous parishes all the time. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, despite everything we know, we still tend to presume that in our parishes, we are dealing only with life-time practicing cradle Catholics.

And that Protestants are "stupid".

When we do that, we can come across to non-Catholics the way Dawkins comes across to us. As sneering bigots. Even when we don't intend to. Even when we ourselves do not consciously hold those opinions and would be horrified if someone else pointed out that was what we were communicating.

So strong and subtle is the power of culture. Especially a culture that assumes that "Protestants are stupid."

Under Construction

I'm working on the content for the Institute's new website this week. We've gotten lots of compliments on it - but it is very much unfinished.

Learning the use the new software is very much a try and try again sort of process and takes a lot of time. Especially all those links!

It reminds me of learning how to blog.

Catholic Cliques?

This morning, I stumbled across this blog Very Sleepy People written by Lindsay, a young woman who is apparently a convert to Catholicism from a secular background.

She has written a thoughtful meditation on the two attitudes that Catholics typically have toward evangelization which is dead on, I think. And fits exactly what we are discovering as we work with leaders around the country in the Making Disciples process.

I found it especially interesting because Lindsay is talking from the perspective of a practicing millennial Catholic. Part of that small 13% minority of American Catholic 20-somethings who practice their faith. Tellingly, she titles the post "Catholic Cliques"

The options she sees in Catholic practice? (And I would guess Lindsay is reflecting largely on the practice of young adult Catholics like herself.) To use Lindsay's words: "actively hiding from the world because the pugnacious non-Christians annoy the hell out of them" or "jumping into the middle of things, guns' blazing."

Which reminds me of the article "Is the Millennial Generation Pre-Moral" that I wrote about in September which used similar language:

"One important caveat: not every American twenty-something is like this. In fact, many emerging adults have been reared into a world vastly different than the self-esteem culture. Some gravitate, instead, toward an Augustinian perception of the self and find their own contemporaries annoying."

Love that word "annoy". With the overtones of irritation, dislike, frustration, and avoidance that go with it. We avoid people and things that annoy us. Especially those that "annoy the hell out of us".

So how are traditional-leaning millennial Catholics to evangelize their own generation if they find their own generation so annoying? Because we will never evangelize what we do not love.

Lindsay's summation of what is missing is very insightful:

"Neither approach really seems to work, at least in my personal experience, because neither really seeks dialogue and conversation, and both seem to contribute to heightened tension and misunderstanding."

I guess this all stems from my personal belief that evangelization begins with conversation and understanding. You can’t effectively evangelize without understanding where someone is coming from, because people are different, and it’s not an instance of one argument fits all. You need to know where someone’s coming from, you need to know what they believe and why, and you need to meet them where they are, not where you’d like them to be. You need to listen to them, not just talk to them, because people believe in their convictions, and they have reasons for them. It’s a delicate path to travel because people’s hearts are invested in such things, and people who actively evangelize can unintentionally
offend others because of it.

We need to meet them where they are, not where we'd like them to be. That isn't kumbaya Catholicism, folks. It is the first movement of evangelization. Which, like all missionary work, involves leaving the comforts of home to go to a people who live in another world. Whether it is a spiritual world or a physical world.

Read Lindsay's entire post. And the comments which are very interesting as well. And spend a few minutes meditating on it. It will be time well spent.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Be Unforgettable This Christmas: Shop at Duty Free

I subscribe to the London Telegraph's expat edition. I read it to stay in touch a bit with British sensibilities and because it routinely has laugh-out loud (in a subtle English kind of way) funny articles in it.

Today's is classic: I Got You This At the Airport. An introduction to some of the more bizarre alcoholic beverages available at duty-free. I clearly am going to have to spend more time in that part of airports. Heavens knows I have the time . . .

Bottle the First:

"Brennivin is an Icelandic schnapps, known as 'Black Death', made from fermented potato pulp and flavoured with caraway seeds. Literally translated as "burning wine", it is sometimes used to wash down 'hakari', also known as putrified shark meat."

See. Once you've mopped up the coffee you just snorted, how can you resist running right down to your nearest international airport?

And that's just the beginning. Learn all about 15 other one-of-a-kind beverages that will put your Christmas on the map. And make you absolutely unforgettable.

The Gifts of the Jews

I'm perusing an interesting, quick read by Thomas Cahill, author of "How the Irish Saved Civilization," called, "The Gifts of the Jews." In it, the author describes how our very notion of human individuality and even history itself, is a consequence of God reaching out to Abraham and initiating a relationship. Remnants of the pre-Abraham understanding of life as a series of repeating, unending cycles still exist - the traditional Buddhist and Hindu worldviews, for example - and we westerners really don't appreciate how novel and contrary to the evidence of nature, with its cycle of seasons, stars, menstruation, birth and death - is the idea of individuality, life as a journey, and history.

As I'm reading it, I'm conscious of the ongoing temptation to repeat the Fall in my own life; to try to "become like a god," and manage the events of life. I'm also aware of how easily our approach to faith and God can become transactional: if I do this, then You will, necessarily, do that. Whether it's becoming obsessed with liturgy done "just so", prayers said a certain way, or simply becoming immersed in doing things my way and trying to ignore the fact that my existence is utterly unnecessary and laughably insignificant on its own, we tend to try to avoid the wildness and incomprehensibility of God. Even when we can see the "reasonableness" of God's actions, it's invariably in hindsight.

Two hugely important lessons of God's self-revelation to us - ones we have to learn over and over again - is that with God anything and everything is possible, and that we cannot ever presume to know His mind unless it is revealed to us - and even then, it's tough to understand (as the number of Christian denominations indicate), much less believe.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Exuberantly in Love with Jesus

If we don't usually think of Poor Clares as exuberant that's because we haven't met these Poor Clares. 140 strong with a median age of 35. And with 100 young women waiting to enter.

At the heart of this stunning transformation of a 400 year old Spanish Poor Clare community which hadn't had a new vocation in 23 years when she entered, is the 43 year old prioress, Sister Veronica.

"According to the newspaper, she “has become the biggest phenomenon in the Church since Teresa of Calcutta,” as “she has made the old convent of Lerma into an attractive recruiting banner for female vocations, with 135 professional women with a median age of 35 and 100 more on a waiting list.” The paper adds that Sr. Vernoica has also “opened a house in the town of La Aguilera, 24 miles from Lerma, at a huge monastery donated by her Franciscan brothers."

"It is an unexpected boom in vocations when the Jesuits have just 20 novices in all of Spain, the Franciscans, five, and the Vincentians, two. And it’s happening at a time when nuns are being imported from India, Kenya or Paraguay to prevent the closure of convents inhabited by elderly nuns, and when most of our priests are above the age of 60," the report indicated.

On weekends the convent welcomes hundreds of pilgrims: families, young members of ecclesial movements and church groups arrive in buses to attend the prayers, theatrical plays and talks on fully living the Christian life."

Notice the incredible, creative, focus on hospitality and evangelization in a community that is enclosed. And the exuberant singing, hand motions, and even dancing. And the constant focus: a direct love relationship with Jesus! They name the Name and talk constantly about personal relationship! A whole convent of in-your-face intentional disciples.

Do they not know that "real" Catholics don't talk about "personal relationship with Jesus"? But of course, they are Spanish and so happily don't possess the American Catholic paranoia about not being Protestant. And they also know that they stand firmly in the tradition of St. Theresa of Avila, whose early Carmelites sang and danced and used castanets to praise God. And very much in the tradition of Sts. Francis and Clare whose love of Jesus was expressed in poetry and embodied in the Christmas creche.

Read the whole CNA story. And then you have got to watch this video featuring Fr. Cantalemessa and the whole Poor Clare community. The memory of it will make you smile all day long.

What is "Dishonest Wealth"?

The Gospel for Friday's daily Mass (Luke 16:1-8) has often confused me, so I spent some time reflecting on it the other day. It's a parable that, as I looked at various commentaries, seems to generate a good deal of confusion and (sometimes silly) speculation.

The passage goes like this:
Jesus said to his disciples, "A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said, 'What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.' The steward said to himself, 'What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.' He called in his master's debtors one by one. To the first he said, 'How much do you owe my master?' He replied, 'One hundred measures of olive oil.' He said to him, 'Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.' Then to another he said, 'And you, how much do you owe?' He replied, 'One hundred kors of wheat.' He said to him, 'Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.' And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. "For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, 6 so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
As this Gospel passage stands, it’s quite confusing.
Why in this parable would Jesus seem to speak approvingly about a dishonest steward who cheats his master after already mismanaging his property?
Why should we imitate this shifty money-grubber?
The moral of the parable Jesus gives is:
For the children of this world
are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than the children of light.

One commentator suggested that Jesus was speaking "tongue in cheek." Another proposed the story as a balance to the dim view Jesus takes of wealth elsewhere in the Gospel of Luke. He saw it as a suggestion that disciples be more realistic about the use of money in the world.
So the children of light – the disciples of Jesus - aren’t crafty enough when it comes to finances?
If this is the meaning of the parable, then we Dominicans must be children of light. We can’t even raise a few million to pay for renovations to our seminary.

But I don’t believe that’s what Jesus means.
The verses following this Gospel (Luke 16:9-13) are full of parallels and these parallels are the interpretive clues to his story.
9 Jesus says, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
This sounds more like the Jesus we’re used to – but it may still not be clear as to what he’s getting at.
The dishonest steward is making friends for himself by means of dishonest wealth so his master’s debtors will let him into their homes.
The parallels in Jesus’s comments are
Dishonest wealth / eternal homes
Dishonest wealth / true riches
What belongs to another / Your own (which is received as gift)
Dishonest / faithful

Logic indicates that dishonest wealth, mentioned twice, is parallel to – the same as – "what belongs to another." The dishonest steward was writing off his commission from the debts he had imposed on the tenants on his master’s land. And it was a hefty commission: 50 measures of olive oil = 400 gal. (225 trees); 20 measures of wheat = 200 bushels, or the yield of 20 acres. That would have belonged to the debtors, if he weren’t so greedy.

If we have money or resources that rightfully belong to another – and face it, you and I consume way more of the worlds' resources than is our due – then we should be generous in sharing. It’s not ours to begin with, but God’s.

No, Jesus isn’t telling us to be deceitful, or more crafty when it comes to dealing with the worldly. Rather, we are to live with foresight – to keep our eyes on the goal of our life: our eternal home, true riches, that which is given to us as a gift, i.e., GOD Himself. We are to be as shrewd and calculating about pursuing what’s really important – a relationship with God – as the dishonest servant was shrewd and calculating about pursuing what was important to him – a warm home and freedom from hard labor and begging.

But as Christians we cannot be satisfied with merely our own relationship, our own salvation. We have to imitate St. Paul, who saw himself as a high priest offering to the Father the souls of those who had come to know Jesus through his preaching and the power of the Holy Spirit demonstrated in charismatic signs and wonders that were part of his ministry. In the New Evangelization, we cannot be content with merely preaching to those who come to our churches – but, like Paul, preach Christ where he has not already been named – to those who do not know Jesus. For we who are receiving from God the gift of faith in a lived relationship with Him are also stewards of that faith and relationship.

And truly, we are unfaithful and dishonest stewards of that gift unless we constantly and lovingly share it. And we are unfaithful and dishonest stewards of our worldly resources if we do not constantly and lovingly share them. The sign and wonder of being unconcerned with the things of this world will make it easier to share our faith – the key to the next world.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Please pray

Please pray for Mary Baughman, my husband Dave's mother. After ignoring/denying chest pains for the better part of a week, she had a heart attack this afternoon while doing some chores. She drove herself to the hospital (she is in rural Ohio). They put in two stents, but while withdrawing a catheter her femoral artery was torn and we nearly lost her. She is now in stable condition in the ICU.

Please pray for our family, especially our girls who are quite distressed at this news. We are in Warsaw, Poland, with no family or even friends nearby. Pray for wisdom and God's leading as we seek to discern how to best respond to this situation.

Update 11/9: Mary is still in ICU, but her blood pressure has stabilized and she is feeling much better. We were able to speak with her briefly via Skype, which was wonderful for morale both here and there. She's not entirely out of the woods yet, but she is much improved. Your continued prayers are much appreciated.

Catholics are "Dead". Protestants are "Stupid".

First Things is hosting a terrific article by Gerardine Luongo, a Catholic - the sole Catholic - working in an evangelical missionary organization, CURE, in Africa.

Luongo has written an all too familiar description of the historic, hard-wired assumptions that Catholics and Evangelicals have about each other’s spiritual state. Assumptions that I long ago summed up for myself (painting with the broadest possible brush) as "Catholics are dead. Protestants are stupid."

Luongo uses the word "stunned" three times in her article. Her colleagues are stunned to learn that she, who seems to be a real Christian, is a Catholic. She is stunned to hear what they believe Catholics believe.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry while reading so I settled for a strangled chuckle. Reading her recent experience brought back so many memories of my early days as a Catholic.

There was the young Dominican to whom I tried to explain why evangelical Protestants are so uneasy about Catholic devotion to Mary. He cut me off. "That's ridiculous." Everyone knows that we don't worship Mary." he insisted. "They are just stupid."

I can laugh now but at the time, I was certain that what was going on was simple confusion. No cultural insider had ever explained to the young priest what evangelicals really thought. A little catechesis would just clear everything right up. So I tried again.

"Well, you see, most evangelicals are afraid of undermining the glory and sovereignty of God . . .", I began. But this newly minted product of Dominican formation cut me off again. "They are just stupid!" And I was the one left open-mouthed and mystified. Stunned. With the first faint question rising in my mind: perhaps the "stupidity" involved wasn't all on one side?

Gerardine Luongo has had the same experience in reverse while trying to explain Catholic devotion to Mary to her colleagues. Her evangelical colleagues' concern? That Catholics are essentially spiritually "dead".

"I was told that Catholics worship idols. Another stunned look (mine) and more questions followed. What idols? (Visions of golden calves popped into my head.) Wait, were they talking about Mary and the saints?"

Yep. Because - ran the script that was hammered into me as a blue eyed baby fundie - Catholics are dead. People who are spiritually "dead" do things that horrify and enrage God like worship idols instead of the living God. 'Cause spiritually “dead” people don’t know the difference.

To this knee-jerk assumption, Luongo has a beautiful response:

"Every day, women in the developing world defy their communities and bring their children to CURE for help. These are mothers who have been told by village leaders that their disabled children are cursed and therefore to be feared. The mothers of such children are encouraged to kill their cursed infants. If they do not, they may be shunned by their villages and divorced by their husbands. These women travel long distances in search of help. These are radical women—women whose lives would be easier if they listened to their communities and abandoned or killed their disabled children. Because of their mothers’ hope, these children are offered hope through healing at CURE.

Is Mary not a role model—maybe even the role model—for these women? Mary and the saints offer us a wide range of examples of how to live a life of faith. To seek the intercession of the saints is not to place faith in them. It is to place faith in the power of prayer to the Father through the Son while recognizing the power of the communion of saints—a communion that includes all Christians, living and dead—to offer prayers to God on our behalf."

From the Catholic side, how many times have I heard intelligent Catholics casually dismiss evangelical worship as merely "entertainment"? It happened again last month when I was working with a group of pastors and pastoral leaders at a seminar on evangelization. I asked them "What have the lapsed Catholics that you know personally told you about why they left"?

The obvious goal of that particular discussion was to hear what people who have left the Church have to tell us. There was a broad spectrum of familiar answers: people didn't agree with certain teachings, didn't believe anymore, looking for community, the desire to be "fed", etc.

Then one woman said "mega church services are entertainment". "They just want entertainment", and a number of heads nodded in agreement.

I had to ask. " Is that the language that your friends actually used? Did they say that wanted to be "entertained"? Did they actually use the word "entertainment"? Since our goal is to understand what motivates lapsed Catholics, we need to actually listen to the language they actually use."

The women looked puzzled by my question. I had to repeat the question to the whole group. "Have you actually heard former Catholics tell you that they have started attending evangelical churches in order to be "entertained"?

Slowly it dawned upon us all. The "entertainment" thesis reflected our Catholic insider judgements about what must have motivated them. But none of us had ever heard an actual, living former Catholic use that language.

Certainly I never have. No former Catholic that I have met in the evangelical world ever talks about a desire for "entertainment" as a motivation for ceasing to attend Mass. In fact, the gap between the dominant "storyline" that you hear from former Catholics whom you meet in the evangelical world (which is usually some variation on “I never met Jesus in a living way as a Catholic”) and the judgment that so many Catholic pastoral leaders blithely make about why they left in the first place is staggering.

When we casually dismiss mega-church worship in general as "entertainment", we mean that we regard it as shallow, emotionally-driven, ephemeral, and without spiritual or theological substance or seriousness. The spiritual equivalent of a crude, popular sit-com. That it is, essentially, spiritually "stupid".

But that is a unjust caricature of the incredible breadth and often remarkable depth of worship that I knew in the evangelical world. Since the externals are often so different, it can be hard for Catholics who only have a superficial exposure to the evangelical world (often in the form of TV preachers) and who are steeped in certain liturgical assumptions to recognize that depth. But truly, it is there.

In some circles, thank God, the "Catholics are dead, Protestants are stupid" assumptions have disintegrated over the past 20 years. But even so, you can hardly describe the current relationship between evangelicals and Catholics as bland.

These days, I am less likely to be regarded as "dead" than as the object of fascination among a certain kind of sophisticated evangelical. Sometimes it is because they are hovering on the brink of entering the Church. For others, it is because they are discovering the spiritual riches of historical Christianity.

There is a whole movement called "spiritual formation" in the evangelical world whose content and inspiration is almost entirely Catholic. I have spent some time lately with a local evangelical group committed to spiritual formation. A group in which I am the only Catholic. An essentially evangelical group using only Catholic resources, including the writings of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. And they have told me that evangelical seminaries and colleges around the country are developing new courses of study in spiritual formation that are simply saturated with the writings of the great Catholic saints and mystics.

However, the old shibboleths can die hard outside specialized movements. I have found this especially true in evangelical missionary circles like the one that Geraldine Luongo is now moving in. In that community, everyone cheerfully accepts me as a "real believer" until they ask what church I attend. Then they look stunned and the conversation immediately changes in subtle ways. Usually no one says anything out loud because they want to be polite.

They don't have to. I know where the hesitancy comes from. They find it hard to believe that I am a true disciple and therefore, "spiritually alive". Because if I were “alive”, I wouldn't have intentionally entered the Catholic Church where, by definition, almost everyone is "dead".

Cause many evangelicals still presume that Catholics are spiritually “dead”. And many Catholics still assume that Protestants are spiritually “stupid”.

Which means that those of us who are truly “bi-cultural” and know that neither is true, have some important and practical ecumenical work to do.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

November 5. Mike Fones. Guy Fawks. Catholic conspiracies. Funny clothes. The goatee and mustache thing.

I have been blind. So blind.

Protest and Dialogue: Orthodox and Catholics

In Cyprus, important meetings are occurring between Catholic and Orthodox theologians (via the UK's Catholic Herald):

"The meeting of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church focused on a key factor in the ongoing division between Catholic and Orthodox: the role of the pope as Bishop of Rome.

The protesters - who were arrested on the third day of their demonstration - claimed that the ongoing dialogue between the two churches was aimed at getting the Orthodox to submit to papal authority.

According to a statement released by the dialogue commission, Orthodox officials discussed "the negative reactions to the dialogue by certain Orthodox circles and unanimously considered them as totally unfounded and unacceptable, providing false and misleading information". The Orthodox delegates "reaffirmed that the dialogue continues with the decision of all the Orthodox churches and is pursued with faithfulness to the truth and the tradition of the Church", according to a statement released in Cyprus and at the Vatican."


"The Russian Orthodox delegation had walked out of the commission's 2007 dialogue during an inter-Orthodox dispute over which Orthodox communities were qualified to send representatives to the meeting.

The Orthodox protesters in Cyprus last week forced a Catholic priest to cancel a wedding planned in an Orthodox church opposite where the talks were being held.

Archbishop Chrysostomos II strongly condemned the protests, saying that for people to put their own opinion above that of the synods of the entire Orthodox faith "amounts to vanity, indeed satanic vanity".

It is hard to imagine a Catholic Archbishop or Pope Benedict using such language, whatever they might think of such protests but the popular Orthodox resistance and fears to possible Orthodox-Catholic reproachment remind me of conservative Catholic fears about Protestantism.

American Catholics afraid of being "Protestantized". (This isn't a universal Catholic fear. It is just that in the US, evangelical Protestantism has been the dominant religious force and we still feel the effects of two centuries of struggling to maintain the Catholic faith in a deeply Protestant context.)

Orthodox afraid of being "Latinized" or "Catholicized". (Swallowed up by a 1.2 billion spiritual neighbor who is 4 times your size and claims the same historical primacy that you do. 1204 and all that. Remember Constantinople!)

As Pope Innocent III, the man who had unintentionally launched the ill-fated expedition, thundered against the crusaders who had pillaged Constantinople:

"How, indeed, will the church of the Greeks, no matter how severely she is beset with afflictions and persecutions, return into ecclesiastical union and to a devotion for the Apostolic See, when she has seen in the Latins only an example of perdition and the works of darkness, so that she now, and with reason, detests the Latins more than dogs? As for those who were supposed to be seeking the ends of Jesus Christ, not their own ends, who made their swords, which they were supposed to use against the pagans, drip with Christian blood, they have spared neither religion, nor age, nor sex. They have committed incest, adultery, and fornication before the eyes of men. They have exposed both matrons and virgins, even those dedicated to God, to the sordid lusts of boys. Not satisfied with breaking open the imperial treasury and plundering the goods of princes and lesser men, they also laid their hands on the treasures of the churches and, what is more serious, on their very possessions. They have even ripped silver plates from the altars and have hacked them to pieces among themselves. They violated the holy places and have carried off crosses and relics."[23]

It is beyond poignant how the sense of threat changes depending upon where you begin. And where you have been.

Fifty is Nifty

People are sending me lots of notes about being old. The great thing is, I don't feel old. I come from pretty robust stock, with 87 year-old parents and a 92 year-old aunt and an 85 year-old uncle.
People ask how many years younger my sister is.

She's eight years older.

My 61 year-old brother has all of his hair. Sure, it's grey, but on a man we call it distinguished.
He sent me these thoughts ABOUT GROWING OLDER...

First ~ Eventually you will reach a point when you stop lying about your age and start bragging about it.

Second ~ The older we get, the fewer things seem worth waiting in line for.

Third ~ Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me, I want people to know "why" I look this way. I've traveled a long way and some of the roads weren't paved.

Fourth ~ When you are dissatisfied and would like to go back to youth, think of Algebra.

Fifth ~ You know you are getting old when everything either dries up or leaks.

Sixth ~ I don't know how I got over the hill without getting to the top.

Seventh ~ One of the many things no one tells you about aging is that it is such a nice change from being young.

Eighth ~ One must wait until evening to see how splendid the day has been.

Ninth ~ Being young is beautiful, but being old is comfortable.

Tenth ~ Long ago when men cursed and beat the ground with sticks, it was called witchcraft. Today it's called golf

And finally ~ If you don't learn to laugh at trouble, you won't have anything to laugh at when you are old.

I thank God for my life. He has been so good to me - always - and in all ways. Thank you to all who have been instruments of His loving kindness.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Praise Report

On October 22, I posted this prayer request about a young woman in my parish:

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.

This past Sunday, we were told at Mass that a miracle had occurred:

Marysa, mysteriously near death from some kind of viral infection (H1N1 was never confirmed) was healed this past weekend. Her father writes: "From what I've been told, this type of rapid recovery, with little or no external stimuli, is virtually unheard of." Hundreds were praying for her. Marysa was released from the hospital on Tuesday.

Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever.

For He's a Jolly Old Fellow . . .

Tis the Vigil of the Feast of the Nativity of a certain Dominican named Michael.

When he joined us 5 years and a million air miles ago, he was just a sprout of oh, 25. Or 30. Tops. With hair.

You know the type - or maybe you don't. But I do. I've spent the last 14 years trying to hold my own with charming, wickedly brilliant OP's named Michael. You have no idea.

See that wicked, jesuitical gleam in his eye? Desperate times required desperate measures.

My only equalizers were height and treachery. (Must all Dominicans be so short?) I promised him Hawaii. I gave him North Dakota in February. Over and over again. With the occasional day off in Bunkie. Lousiana.

Five years later, I have succeeded in reducing him to a frazzled shadow of his former macho weight-lifting self. My sources tell me that Fr. Mike could hardly blow out the six dozen birthday candles on his cake tonight.

I fear that I have gone too far 'cause my plan was for Fr. MIke to slog through the November rain and snow and bring home the old Institute bacon while I lounge by the fire, sipping Irish creme lattes and thinking great thoughts.

But if our ID readers join in with a rousing chorus, I'm sure that he'll be rejuvenated.

Just follow the bouncing alien:

Unexpected Journey: From Sikh to Catholic Priest

Asia News carried this story about another long spiritual journey; the story of a young Indian Sikh, named Jaideep Singh, who has just been ordained as a Maryknoll priest and is now called Fr. Stephen James Taluja.

Jaideep was raised in a devout Sikh family. Like many Indians from the upper classes, he was sent to a Christian school where he was first exposed to the Mass as a choir boy. He was 13 years old and his questioning began.

The sudden death of his mother made Jaideep's questions more acute. The school's dean walked with him through days of genuine anguish, patiently answering his questions. "My family had planted in my soul the seed of religion, dean Carver the seed of Catholicism and of a life spent in witness of the Gospel."

Jaideep's father was angry when his son spoke to him of becoming a Christian. In 1999, Jaideep was secretly baptized at the age of 18 and took as his Christian name, the name of school: St. Stephen's. He didn't tell his family for 3-4 years.

But 10 years later, at Fr. Stephen's ordination (by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York), his sisters were present, and his father. who could not get a visa to come to the US, was openly supportive.

May God continue to guide and bless Fr. Stephen and use him in wonderful ways as a priest.

And continuing with the international focus, check out this wonderful source:

You can have the readings of the day, the month, commentary of the day (St. Bonaventure for today), and a saint of the day sent to you each day by e-mail. I know this is available through other sources online but Daily Gospel provides them in a particularly wide number of languages: English, French, Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Polish, and Armenian.

It seems to be a work of a community of lay Dominicans in New Hope, Kentucky. (I've heard of them for years but have never been to New Hope or met them.)

It's free although the community would appreciate a donation to help defray their expenses.

Dreaming Your Way to Faith

Loads of great bloggable stuff stored up.

First up, this fascinating story from the Arlington, Virginia Catholic Herald: (H/T to Gashwin)

Uma and Kumar Krishnan were devout Hindus living in Singapore when something remarkable happened.

Uma had a dream in January of 2006: "she saw a 'very humble lady' surrounded by candles.

She and Kumar were devout Hindus and they knew the lady in Uma’s dreams was not a Hindu god. They knew little of Christianity, but they thought this lady might be the Blessed Mother. Still, because they came from a long tradition of Hinduism in India, they didn’t give the dream much thought.

The next year the Krishnans moved to the US and in April of 2009 Uma began to have other dreams:

'One night she dreamed she was walking into a church she’d never seen before. Once inside, she turned right and found a little room where there were red candles and a statue of Mary.

The second night, she was in the same room, but this time she saw a big cross made of palm leaves.

Another night, she dreamed she was in a boat. On her right was a black woman with dark hair and on her left, a lady wearing a blue scarf and holding a Bible. The woman in blue showed Uma some verses to read to make her worries disappear. In her dream, Uma read the Bible verses and both women disappeared.

Uma and Kumar talked about the dreams and, by the fourth night, they decided to visit a church to see what was happening.

Kumar typed “St. Mary Church Fairfax” into Google and entered the address from the first result into his GPS device. The address was for St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax.

When they got to the church, Uma was shocked. On the outside, it looked just like the church she had dreamed about the first night. When they went inside and turned right, there was a small chapel with red votive candles, a statue of Mary and a cross. It was just like her dreams. Uma started to cry.

“The moment was so touching,” Kumar said. “We were not even Christians and we were not even worshipping when we got such a thing. We were Hindus and we didn’t exactly know how to pray, but we just sat there and said, ‘Thank you. Thank you for all these visions and thank you for bringing us here. We don’t know what to do, you tell us, you guide us, show us what has to be done.’”

Eventually, the Krishnans began to attend Mass and the local charismatic prayer group every week. St. Mary's pastor formed a special RCIA team for the couple and they were baptized on September 12.

Their pastor, "Father Starzynski said Uma and Kumar’s conversion story shows that God works in mysterious ways. He felt honored that he could be there to help the family.

“I think it speaks to how beautifully God can work and does work,” he said. “It makes you think, are we flexible enough to understand the ways God may work that are outside the box that we have constructed?”

As I have mentioned before on ID, experiencing dreams and visions that lead to the non-Christian recipient becoming a Christian is a remarkably common phenomena in the Muslim world. Back in March of 2008, I posted about the research that Dr. Dudley Woodbury had done with 750 "Muslim Background Believers" from all over the world.

"As with Paul and Cornelius in Acts, visions and dreams played a role in the conversion of many. More than one in four respondents, 27 percent, noted dreams and visions before their decision for Christ, 40 percent at the time of conversion, and 45 percent afterward. Many Muslims view dreams as links between the seen and unseen worlds, and pre-conversion visions and dreams often lead Muslims to consult a Christian or the Bible.

Frequently a person in the vision, understood to be Jesus, radiates light or wears white (one respondent, though, said Jesus appeared in green, a color sometimes associated with Islamic holy persons). An Algerian woman had a vision that her Muslim grandmother came into her room and said, "Jesus is not dead; he is here." In Israel, an Arab dreamed that his deceased father said, "Follow the pastor. He will show you the right way." Other dreams and visions occurred later and provided encouragement during persecution. A Turkish woman in jail because of her conversion had a vision that she would be released, and she was. A vision of thousands of believers in the streets proclaiming their faith encouraged a young man in North Africa to persevere."

The same phenomena have been reported in the Hindu world as well.

It is true. The Holy Spirit is in our midst, working in ways that transcend our assumptions of how God works in the world and how people come to Christian faith.

"Then afterward I will pour out my spirit upon all mankind. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions." Joel 3:1

(This passage is better known as Joel 2:28 in most Protestant Bibles. Catholic translations follow the order of the Hebrew text.)

We're Back.

This is a test - of the Intentional Disciple's broadcasting network. If this were a real spiritual emergency, you would be instructed to visit your local parish, pray, go to Mass or to confession.

This is just a announcement that after one week off the air, Intentional Disciples is up and running. Thanks to all of you ID readers who wrote me to ask what was happening and were concerned that we might have simply stopped blogging without notice.

Not at all. We are in the midst of putting up a new website ( to see it in its unfinished form) and switching servers and the blog got caught up in the whole transfer. Since I was traveling last week and without internet access, I didn't realize what had happened until Friday afternoon when it was too late to do anything that day. And of course, nothing could be done over the weekend. So triage and recovery has been the task of Monday and Tuesday.

Anyway, it is great to be back. More blogging in a few.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Alive & Kickin'

We're here. We're alive. We're kickin'.

Putting together a new website is quite something and one result was that our blog has been down since Friday. Thanks very much to all the readers who wrote me to let me know.

Meanwhile, our new website is also up - but much of the new content is unfinished as is our store and calendar.

So if you want to buy something from us or check dates for an event, give the office a call at (888) 878-6789 or drop Austin a line at

More blogging in a bit.