Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thomas Aquinas: Doctor and Saint


Happy belated feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. I received this short article from the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology. It was written by Fr. Michael Morris, OP, professor of Religion and the Arts, and frequent contributor to Magnificat, among other things. I had a fascinating Church history class with Fr. Michael, which he taught using religious and secular art to demonstrate different movements and issues as they were presented in their own age.

On St. Thomas Aquinas & "The Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas" by Benozzo Gozzoli, 1471 - Fr. Michael Morris, OP

Known through the ages as "The Angelic Doctor," Saint Thomas Aquinas and his teachings act as a beacon of orthodoxy in a world of diverse approaches in theological history. This painting by Gozzoli, an apprentice to the Dominican artist Fra Angelico, is a visual tribute to Thomism's supremacy by the end of the fifteenth century. Yet the road to that pinnacle of acceptance was not easy. Thomas Aquinas had personal and professional challenges to overcome before the splendor of his theology became established.

Thomas was born in 1215, the son of the Count of Aquino and a distant relative of the Holy Roman Emperor. Because of his aristocratic birth he was made Benedictine oblate as a child with the expectation that he would mature in that Order and someday become abbot of the great monastery of Monte Cassino. But during his religious formation Thomas was attracted instead to the new order of mobile mendicants, the Dominicans, who professed evangelical poverty, and engaged in study, preaching, and teaching. As he made his move to join the Dominicans his family went so far as to kidnap him, hoping that he would change his mind. A legend arose that during his year of incarceration they even tempted him with a prostitute in order to subvert his vocation. But Thomas remained resolute and returned to the Dominicans where he became the pupil of Saint Albert the Great, a wise and holy teacher who saw his student's intellectual talents surpass his own.

As a student Thomas thought much and spoke little. His bulky figure and apparent dullness earned him the nickname "The Dumb Ox." He was an exemplar of piety and humility, virtues that further concealed his hidden talents. But when his intellect was tested it became apparent that beneath that unprepossessing exterior an engine of brilliance was ready to engage the world of ideas and penetrate the mysteries of philosophy and theology. Albert was the first to see his potential and declared to the brethren, "We call Brother Thomas ‘the dumb ox'; but I tell you that he will make his lowing heard throughout the entire world."

Gozzoli portrays Thomas seated, wearing his Dominican habit and holding up a book with a passage that reads: "the truth my mouth recounts, but wickedness my lips abhor." Taken from the Book of Proverbs (8:7), this passage points to that quest for truth that Thomas undertook while not speaking ill of others. But this does not mean that Thomas was not eager and willing to patiently disagree with and correct those whom he felt were in error and straying from the truth. He refuted the Muslim philosopher Avveroës, shown lying prostrate at his feet, whose interpretation of ancient thought led Christians to heterodox ideas. As Thomas sits in honor at the center of the composition, an array of his writings are spread open over his lap radiating beams of light as does the sunburst over his breast (a symbol of Christian wisdom that connects Truth and Love). His Summa contra gentiles is a brilliant apologetics of the Catholic faith and his Summa theologiaeprovides a likewise excellent synopsis and ordering of theological questions and ideas. Thomas's great contribution to scholastic thought was the careful integration of Aristotelianism into speculative theology. That plus the synthesis of Plato and St. Augustine in the quest for natural and supernatural knowledge became the hallmark of his work. Gozzoli has included the figure of Aristotle standing on Thomas's right holding open his work on Ethics. On Thomas's left stands Plato holding his work, the Timeus.

At the pinnacle of the painting Christ appears in an aureole and imparts a blessing. He is flanked by Moses with the Tablets of the Law, representing the Old Testament, and by Saint Paul and the four Evangelists representing the New Testament. For Thomas there was no conflict between revealed truth and reason. He raised questions in order to confirm belief. "You have written well of me, Thomas," reads the Latin inscription above. It refers to an appearance Christ made to the friar. When asked what he wanted as a reward, Thomas replied: "Only you, Lord." Indeed, the very presence of Christ in the Eucharist inspired the saint to compose an office of the Blessed Sacrament and the classic hymn Pange Lingua.

When Thomas began to teach at the University of Paris a conflict over jurisdiction between the secular clergy and the mendicants reached its apex. That plus a residual doubt over the appropriateness of integrating the teachings of the pagan Aristotle while penetrating the mysteries of the faith triggered not just controversy, but outright violence.

Aquinas had to lecture at times behind an armed guard sent into the classroom by the French king. Yet as Gozzoli's painting attests in the bottom register, the teachings of Thomas were skillfully defended and embraced by the popes in succeeding generations.

Clement IV wanted to make Thomas a bishop but he shrank from such ecclesiastical honors. Nevertheless, the role of the pope's theologian with the title Master of the Sacred Palace, an honor traditionally given to a Dominican, can trace its roots to the importance to the Magisterium of Thomas's teachings. From the Council of Trent to the modern era when Pope Leo XIII decreed that all seminarians base their education on the work of the Angelic Doctor, the light of wisdom that radiated from the heart of Saint Thomas continues to influence our quest for knowledge and truth.

Intercessory Prayer & Spiritual Combat

Much talk about the blogosphere today about Archbishop Chaput's address in Rome about which I posted below. The two points that are grabbing everyone's attention is Chaput's assertion that we are in a spiritual war with Satan and his confession that he thought that after 20 years as a bishop "things would change and things would be a lot better but I don't think they are.

"I think we live in disappointing times, in times of confusion, and in some ways that is the result of our failure to understand that we have an enemy in the Devil, but also we have enemies in the world around us."

He pointed to a "great talk" from an American Protestant pastor he once heard which was titled "We preach as though we don't have enemies," and reflected that this sentiment "is true in the United States... .”

"I think it's important to understand the we are in a battle, we really do live in a time of spiritual combat and I think we've lost that sense of the Church," Archbishop Chaput stated.


Even though we both hail from Colorado these days, I don't know the good Archbishop, but I am bemused by how much we seem to have in common.

For one thing, I'm marking a 20 year anniversary this month myself. 20 years ago, I was a young, over-educated secretary, on one of the those bleak, cold, rainy, grey days that you get in Seattle in January. The chrism was still wet behind my ears. I was all alone, in a strange parish, kneeling during the consecration when, as Florence Nightingale put it long ago "God spoke to me and called me to his service."

No, I hadn't an inkling about charisms or the Called & Gifted or the Dominicans or the Catherine of Siena Institute. That would all come later. But it was the call I had been praying for, longing for, waiting for. Within a month, I had signed up for graduate school and each small step of obedience led to another. (I was once asked by a take charge kind of woman what my five year plan was for the Institute. I couldn't help but laugh. All I've ever had is a two year guess.)

And now, 20 years later, I've been looking over the events and fruits of those years in preparation for some strategic planning meetings taking place when we get back from Boston. 73 US dioceses so far. And that doesn't include the Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Italian, Indonesian, Kenyan, and Singaporean dioceses. Called & Gifted workshop numbers 418, 419, 420, and 421 are coming up in the next week. No wonder I've spent a good deal of the last two days sleeping! Just contemplating all this makes me feel tired.

But what, you wonder, after all that work, is the real fruit? You remember the parishes and dioceses where things seemed to be taking off and then a pastor is transferred or a lay leader is side-lined. Or the vision never takes hold for reasons you can't identify. Scandal, illness, death, finances, personality conflicts and so many other things can stop things in their tracks.

The single biggest obstacle to renewal in our experience is the fact that the majority of Catholics are not disciples. That many Catholics, in fact, don't even possess an imaginative category for disciple. That the part of our parochial and diocesan culture which makes it so difficult to grasp the first, essential movement of faith is, as Archbishop Chaput noted, demonically empowered. In a very real way, we have been blinded by the enemy.

Our human weaknesses and sins are very real. The devil isn't making us "do it". But when individual and communal sin and brokenness is exaggerated and empowered by the enemy, we face a situation that can seem absolutely impervious to change.

The single biggest positive factor has been the gifted local disciple: priest, deacon, religious, or layperson, who is ablaze with the vision, dogged enough to persist in the bad times and creative enough to find ways past obstacles. Who possesses both the virtues of magnanimity and fortitude. And is willing to follow Christ in a thousand small obediences and sacrifices without seeing immediate fruit. And who knows that they are in a spiritual battle, that "this kind only come out through prayer and fasting".

But even the most radiant apostle or saint is not enough by his or herself.

At every Called & Gifted workshop I teach, I talk about the critical importance of organized, strategically focused, communal intercession for the spiritual renewal of your parish. Led, ideally, by the pastor. How that can transform the spiritual "climate" of your parish. How, where it is being done around the world, violence and conflict goes down and spiritual openness goes up.

In places where serious, sustained, intercessory prayer for the renewal of our communities takes place, miracles of healing, forgiveness, repentance, and faith occur when people just walk into the sanctuary.

Because the enemy's power has been broken and the presence of the Holy Spirit is palpable.

Over the years, I've given that talk at least 200 times. But very few pastoral leaders have taken me up on that challenge. Usually because we literally don't know that more than 24/7 "activity" in our institutions is possible or even desirable.

There is so much more that God intends to give the world through his Body, the Church, but we are not big enough channels as individuals. Only when we offer ourselves, our charisms, our vocations, our prayer together will God be able to do through his Church all that He desires.

Not faith without works. Or works without faith. But the faith and works of many, offered together.

Called & Gifted Around the Country

Fr. Mike and I travel to the heart of Dixie, to Bunkie, Louisiana (near Alexandria) for a Called & Gifted

while Barbara Elliott and Keith Strohm high tail it out to Santa Clarita, California (LA) for another C & G.

See you at 7pm, Friday night. Be there. Aloha.

Then, next week, its the heart of Yankeedom for Fr. Mike and I: The Archdiocese of Boston.

First, a Called & Gifted conducted entirely on week nights, Tuesday through Thursday, in Malden, Massachusetts followed by our standard weekend format in Westford, MA.

It's a great way to spend a February evening or weekend up north!

Catholic = Here Comes Everybody

I have noticed over the years that Intentional Disciples draws a large international readership. I suppose because we blog more on international themes than do most US bloggers. Sometimes even a majority of our overnight readers come from outside the US. But today, I think we are setting a record.

Only 39 of our last 100 readers were from the US
11 were from the UK
7 from India
5 from the Philippines
5 from Australia
3 from the Vatican City
3 from Canada
2 from Germany
2 from Italy

and Algeria, Thailand, Norway, Equador, Ireland, Poland, New Zealand, South Africa, Belgium, France, and Singapore.

True Catholicity!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Team Rubicon: To Give and Not Count the Cost

Team Rubicon was born out of the Haitian earthquake. Within 24 hours of the quake, it had already begun to take shape. Because this group couldn't just stand by and do nothing.

Team Rubicon is a self-financed, all-volunteer, rapid response, vanguard style medical rescue team that operates in the supposed 'denied' areas of post earthquake Port au Prince. The former Marines, soldiers, firefighters/EMTs, medics, RNs, and PAs of Team Rubicon are unpaid.

Their blog is chock a block with unedited pictures and stories and gives a vivid account of the realities of the last two weeks and what they have learned and is worth visiting. They've gotten a fair bit of MSM coverage but I hadn't seen anything around St. Blog's hence this post.

Jesuit Brother Jim Boynton is part of Team Rubicon. On January 23, he wrote this harrowing description of a single hour in Haiti:

"One woman of about 60 years old had infected wounds in her legs that allowed me to see the bones. Our doctors dressed the wounds and she bravely endured and hour long ordeal of scraping and removing flesh. I held her, we prayed, and I listened to her scream. To keep her mind off the pain I started singing the few songs in Creole that I know. A crowd formed and joined in with me. We all sang at the top of our lungs to keep the poor women distracted from the tremendous pain. She cried, held on tight, and sang. When it was over she said she will never forget us. When it was over she went back to living under the stars in a crowded park with open sewage."

On january 24, this news reached the team:

Two nights ago Brother Jim advised us that he learned through Jesuit channels that the man himself, el Popa, was aware of our team and verbally passed on his blessing.

Brother Jim leads team members in this version of St. Ignatius' famous prayer morning and evening:

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.

Chaput: Works Without Faith Are Dead

Archbishop Chaput of Denver gave a speech earlier today at a conference in Rome: Priests and Laity on Mission. The Archbishop has hit the nail on the head again.

"But when we talk about a theme like today's topic – “Priests and laity together, changing and challenging the culture” – we need to remember that what we do, proceeds from who we are. Nothing is more dead than faith without works (Jas 2:17); except maybe one thing: works without faith. I do not think Paul had management issues in his head when he preached at the Areopagus. Management and resources are important – but the really essential questions, the questions that determine everything else in our life as Christians, are these: Do I really know God? Do I really love him? Do I seek him out? Do I study his word? Do I listen for his voice? Do I give my heart to him? Do I really believe he's there?"

Snip.

We have an obligation as Catholics to study and understand the world around us. We have a duty not just to penetrate and engage it, but to convert it to Jesus Christ. That work belongs to all of us equally: clergy, laity and religious. We are missionaries. That is our primary vocation; it is hardwired into our identity as Christians. God calls each of us to different forms of service in his Church. But we are all equal in baptism. And we all share the same mission of bringing the Gospel to the world, and bringing the world to the Gospel.

And yet, Kolakowski's devil was right. The fundamental crisis of our time, and the special crisis of today’s Christians, has nothing to do with technology, or numbers, or organization, or resources. It is a crisis of faith. Do we believe in God or not? Are we on fire with a love for Jesus Christ, or not? Because if we are not, nothing else matters. If we are, then everything we need in order to do God's work will follow, because he never abandons his people.


Fr. Mike and I have had so many conversations lately with priests, pastors, diocesan staff, lay Catholics in different dioceses - all on the same topic: how is it possible that a Church that possesses the "fullness of the means of salvation" (CCC, 292) does not also possess a culture of discipleship? How is it that so many active Catholics regard talk of discipleship as foreign, judgmental, exaggerated, bizarre, not-Catholic?

Think I'm exaggerating? I wish.

A while back, one sharp eye witness at a major gathering of diocesan leaders to discuss evangelization described watching one major diocesan player rise and object to the whole conversation: "I mean who do you know actually who wants to surrender their whole life to Christ?" No one actually is at a place to want to make a decision to give their life to Christ."

As Archbishop Chaput put it so tellingly today: Nothing is more dead than faith without works except maybe one thing: works without faith.

Your thoughts?

Is Talk of Discipleship Elitist?

From time to time the accusation is made by other Catholics, including – actually especially - those involved in ministry, that to speak of intentional discipleship is “elitist.” They have perceived that the phrase implies that some Christians are not just different, but somehow further along or more spiritually mature or more committed than others. These same people would likely agree that “faith is a journey,” and that how I live in relation to God (whether I think of myself as being in relation with God or not) varies from season to season in my life. However, to make the claim that some are different from others, especially if that can be construed as “better,” is one of the worst crimes in our egalitarian society.

This is a real misunderstanding of the nature of discipleship. You see, the invitation to be united to Jesus in a daily walk, to accept him as Lord of every aspect of one’s life, to “decrease so he may increase,” is offered to every person. You will not find a hint of elitism behind the offer whatsoever. The grace of God to enter into this relationship is offered to everyone through the proclamation of the Gospel, whether rich or poor, educated or not, healthy or ill, a notorious sinner or a more subtle sinner. I suppose where that proclamation is honest, complete, and supported by the power of the Holy Spirit that offer is clearer and more compelling, but not necessarily easier to accept.

In fact, the message and invitation seem to be more easily accepted by the more desperate and the simple. Jesus faced this issue during his ministry.

While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" He heard this and said, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I did not come to call the righteous but sinners." (Mt 9:10-13)

I have met people who have been profoundly changed through God’s grace, and who are striving to allow Jesus to be the foundation of their lives. Often they are ordinary people: not too well-to-do, not necessarily highly educated. Sometimes they impressed me with how gracefully they dealt with what others would see as many obstacles to happiness. Jesus apparently experienced this, too.

[Jesus] rejoiced (in) the holy Spirit and said, "I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him." (Luke 10:21-22)

The “things” that remain hidden to the wise and learned, apparently, are what the 72 disciples reported happening during their mission. They were told to offer peace to the homes they visited, to eat and drink what was offered, to accept no payment, to cure the sick in the household, and to proclaim, “the kingdom of God is at hand for you.” …The seventy (-two) returned rejoicing, and said, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name." (Lk 10:5-9, 17)

“These things” – inexplicable cures, the casting out of demons, and even the idea of a kingdom of God somehow different from, yet growing within secular society are all attributes of Christianity that are hard for the sophisticated and intellectually gifted to accept. They are realities that are beyond the notice of the powerful and content – those who seem to have life “under control”. Yet for the disciple, they are not only possibilities, but in some cases, part of the experience of being delivered by God’s grace from a life focused on one’s self.

The claim that discipleship is “elitist” seems to come from those who are, in some ways, part of our cultural elite; at least they have the benefit of lots of education. Sort of like the Pharisees, who were the top of the religious heap in their day, complaining about the ease with which Jesus made sinners and tax collectors his disciples. Only in their case, they thought he wasn’t elite enough.

Monday, January 25, 2010

An Entire Nation's Catholic Clergy on Retreat Together

Fascinating.

In this year of the priest - over 5,000 Filipino priests - more than 70% of the country's 7,000 Catholic clergy - are going to be on retreat this week together with Fr. Ranierio Cantalamessa as their main preacher. It is the Second National Congress of the Clergy.

I've heard absolutely glowing, rave reviews from seminarians who made a retreat with Fr. Cantalamessa. But with 5,000 fellow priests for 5 days! May the Holy Spirit descend upon and bless this gathering.

The goal:

“The basic objective of the Congress is to provide priests with a deep and religious experience that will hopefully lead to a spiritual conversion and greater commitment. In other words, NCC II is the retreat of priests, for priests and by priests. The aim of the retreat is to achieve the interior renewal of the clergy.”

I wish it was possible for American clergy to do something similar. But our numbers are so much larger that it would be impossible. Let's pray for those Filipino priests this week as they seek God together.

Of course, the impact on parish life for the laity is enormous.

" . . . services in many parishes—Masses, weddings and baptisms—are being suspended for a week or until after the NCC II closes on Jan. 29.

Rosales said an agreement had been reached for parishes in Metro Manila and nearby provinces to have their priests say Mass first in the early morning before going to the congress later in the day.

In other provinces, especially in the Visayas and Mindanao, lay ministers have been designated to attend to urgent cases, like the need to give communion or bless the dead, the cardinal added."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Stanford Homily

Thought I'd share my reflections on this weekend's readings. I'm at Stanford University, where the Dominicans are chaplains, for a Called & Gifted workshop and a couple of days of interviews.

Two days ago I read “Pieces of Someday,” a memoir by Jan Vallone, a woman I met at our Dominican parish in Seattle, WA.
Like St. Luke, she “decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence.”
In it I learned that as a college student she dropped her Literature major, which her attorney father thought was worthless, to graduate summa cum laude in biology.
She lasted 8 weeks in Medical school, found she couldn’t dissect the pickled corpse of a woman that undoubtedly was filled with stories.
She married a law student, became a lawyer herself for about 20 years. Hated it.

There’s something compelling about her memoirs; probably because they bring back memories of my own college career.
While in a PhD program in geophysics here, I remember listening to colleagues at Tresidder talking about the magnetic properties of some archaean rocks from South Africa.
It was a late Friday afternoon, and I was done thinking about geophysics, but clearly they weren’t.
With utter clarity - and some shock - came the realization, “I don’t belong here.”
That led to the question, “Why was I here?”
What maze of decisions that had led me to this trim, tidy maze of buildings called, “The Farm”?
More importantly, what were the motives that led me here?

Certainly making my parents proud was a part of it.
In preparing this homily, I realized that in my 50 years of life, mom and dad have only put one bumper sticker on their cars (why decrease the resale value unnecessarily?)
Apparently a sticker with simply the name, “Stanford” was value-added.
But a more basic – and base – motive that led me to a sub-basement lab in Mitchell was being able to use the words, “geophysics”, the abbreviation, “Ph.D.”, and the name, “Stanford” all in a sentence to describe myself.

All of us, whether we’re students in college, or attorneys in the midst of lucrative careers, need to ask if we’re doing what we were created to do – which is to ask whether we’re fully alive.
In that dusty synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus stood before his fellow villagers to declare that, after having worked as a carpenter all his life, he had discovered his true vocation.
This was made possible because his humanity had received an outpouring of the Spirit at his recent baptism by John followed by a 40 day retreat in the desert.
It was in his humanity, through the Spirit, that he would bring glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives
 and recovery of sight to the blind, 
let the oppressed go free, proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord - and be crucified for his trouble.
And all the things that Jesus will do in the rest of the Gospel: his healings, exorcisms, teaching, encouraging of others, and even raising folks from the dead - he will do through his humanity, empowered by the Spirit.
The prophet Joel foresaw a time when that same Spirit of God would be poured out upon all people.
That promise was fulfilled at Pentecost, and renewed at your baptism, when you received that Spirit.

That Spirit is manifested, among other ways, in spiritual gifts - “charisms” in St. Paul’s Greek.
These gifts are different ways in which each one of us is empowered by the Spirit to participate in the ongoing redemption of the world, and are clues to our true calling.
St. Paul mentions some charisms in our excerpt from I Cor12 – healing, helps, administration, and tongues – but it’s not an exhaustive list.
The early Church identified over two dozen gifts, all of which are given so that people in every age might experience, through individual Christians, the same love, power, provision and healing that Jesus offered in his own life.
Jesus foretold this in John 14:12 when he told his disciples, “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”

You have different spiritual gifts, and thus a different call, from the people sitting around you.
Why try to be a hand, when you’re an elbow?
These gifts are given to you for the sake and benefit of others.
God has invested these in you so that the world will be changed for the better by Him with your assent and cooperation.
What a shame to make decisions about majors or careers based on ego, or the ego of your parents or the lure of wealth, prestige, or power.
Charisms whither in a selfish environment.
Why try to be a geophysicist when your gifts, personality and deepest interests point you in a very different direction?
Why pursue a career in law when your heart’s desire – and your gifts – point in the direction of awakening young minds through the beauty and power of literature?

There are characteristics that all charisms have in common.
First of all, because God’s involved, the results you’ll see are supernatural.
That doesn’t necessarily mean miraculous, like passing an organic chem. exam you didn’t study for – but results that seem beyond the effort you invested.
Secondly, people will give you feedback – often positive beyond what you might expect.
Best of all, we’re energized when the charisms we have are being called forth from us by people who need them.
People have for years, even before I was a Dominican, talked to me about deeply personal issues in their life, and I desired to help them see their own potential for dealing with them.
Hours helping people learn skills or information aren’t long at all for me.
I am juiced working behind the scenes with people who have a vision, just to help them succeed.

We have received the same Spirit as Jesus did in his humanity, but we each have our own call – and your call, as lay people, is in the world.
You’re given charisms to help change the structures and institutions of the world from the inside, and to do it in different, unique ways: as lawyers, physicians, PTA members, writers, musicians, artists, engineers, business people, mothers, fathers, husbands and wives.
But there’s a catch.
Charisms show up under two conditions:
1) when the person, group or situation for which you were gifted intersects with your life;
2) when your faith becomes personal – meaning, when you realize that faith is not about keeping rules, being nice, or simply showing up to Mass when it’s not too inconvenient, but a personal adherence to God, particularly as revealed in Jesus.
Becoming a disciple of Jesus is to accept an Anti-Faustian bargain; rather than “selling your soul” to the pursuit of wealth, prestige, self-importance, God has sold himself for you.
You were purchased, and at a price.
The cross is the cost Jesus paid because he “only did what His father commanded” – he served, loved, forgave, healed and thus unsettled the powers of the world.
Jesus invited the fisherman, Simon, “Come follow me, and I will make you a fisher of people.”
Jesus saw a potential in Simon that Simon couldn’t imagine in his wildest dreams.
Jesus invites you to “Come, follow me” - to lose your idea of what your life should be, in order to find the life for which God has made you!
He knows a potential in you beyond your imagining.

Only by first being a disciple can any of us possibly become who we were meant to be.
Your personal vocation may be the same as your career, like Art Nutter, an engineer with a charism of wisdom, which helps him find practical solutions to problems.
He started Taeus, Int’l. (i.e., “Tear Apart Everything Under the Sun”) – and that’s what he and about 30 other engineers do in a high-tech version of the lab on CSI.
Nutter and his crew wreck PCs, burrow through software code and tear layers off microchips, rooting through the rubble for evidence of stolen designs that might strengthen a plaintiff's case or help a defendant force an acquittal in a patent infringement lawsuit.

Your vocation might be a part of your career, like John – a physical therapist using a charism of teaching to improve the healing skills of other therapists.
Your vocation might have nothing to do with your career, like Jan, the lawyer, who, in looking through the pieces of her life, discovered “someday” showed up when she walked into a classroom to teach.

You’ve got your own pieces of someday in your hands right now, if you’ve decided to follow Jesus.
What energizes you, where are you fruitful without undue struggle, what do you to help others that elicits surprisingly good feedback?
Those are all signs that maybe the Holy Spirit is involved, working through you, with you, in you.
Your call unfolds over time – all God asks of you is to take the next obvious step.
Jan twice decided to leave her law career, and twice got cold feet.
The charmed third time she listened to her heart and exchanged cherrywood conference rooms for a dumpy English classroom at an orthodox Jewish high school.
That led to the next step, a long-postponed MFA, and that led to her memoirs.
Who but God knows where that will lead?
But if she continues to follow Jesus, she can trust it will be good.
This is an article of our faith, a consequence of the fact that God loves each one of us.
John Henry Cardinal Newman put it this way, “God has determined that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, he calls me by my name, he knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and He means to give it to me.”
I’d say that calls for a celebration – like Nehemiah said in the first reading, “rich foods and sweet drinks”…and much rejoicing in the Lord.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Deep Roots of Abortion


Today is the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and the Bishops of the Catholic Church in America have called us to a day of penance. I think I shocked the 6:30 a.m. Mass crowd a bit this morning when I started my homily by saying, "I know whom we are to blame for abortion."

Pause.

"Mr. Rogers."

Pause.

"And Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, Elmo and the Count."

Pause.

"And those parents in their Suburbans with the little yellow signs that said, 'Baby on Board,' and who told their precious cargo, 'Honey, you can become anything you want: an astronaut, a doctor, a geologist, why, even President of the United States.'"

You see, Mr. Rogers (and the folks who placed him on TV all those years) told our children that they were good - even special. Big Bird and his pals told kids that we are all good, and special. And those parents - along with the teachers of their children - made sure that "never was heard a discouraging word" by those kids.

Of course, all of this runs contrary to what God has revealed in the Scriptures - that uncomfortable mirror that God holds up to us that says, "no, you're really screwed up - a sinner, even - just like Sarah and Jacob, David, Simon/Peter, and Saul/Paul." Those crazy scriptures in which Jesus doesn't say, "you can be anything you want," but instead, "apart from me you can do nothing," and "the greatest among you will be the servant of all." In other words, "YOUR LIFE IS NOT ABOUT YOU."

Downward mobility is hardly sought after in our narcissistic culture. And that's what we have, according to Jean Twenge, Ph.D., author of Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before. She has surveyed the results of standard personality tests over the last 50 years and discovered that we have built the self-esteem of our children to the extent that now two-thirds of college students score above average for narcissism. Self-esteem is everywhere. Twenge writes,
"The choices of the individual are now held so paramount that the most common advice given to teenagers is "Just be yourself." (That that long ago, it was more likely to be "Be polite.") Filmmaker Kevin Smith (Clerks) says, "My generation believes we can do almost anything. My characters are free: no social mores keep them in check." Or take Melissa, 20, who says, "I couldn't care less how I am viewed by society. I live my life according to the morals, views, and standards that I create." This is the social trend-so strong it's really a revolution - that ties all of the generational changes together in a neat, tight bundle: do what makes you happy, and don't worry about what other people think. It is enormously different from the cultural ethos of previous decades, and it is a philosophy that GenMe takes entirely for granted. "As long as I believe in myself, I really do not care what others think," says Rachel, 21.
I presume that these young people didn't come up with this philosophy on their own. It's how we raised them, so it's also what we, the older generation, believe.

You can see how "pro-choice" becomes such an attractive option - it's practically the dogma of at least two generations. It makes no different what the choice is about, I should be entirely free to make whatever choice seems best to me.

On a different tack, I have heard many pro-choice people argue that if abortion were made illegal, women would be "forced" to obtain abortions illegally, in back alleys, like the bad old days.

I think there is some real wisdom in what they are saying. In fact, they're right. That's why I believe simply working to make abortion illegal is problematic. Yes, lives would be saved, so by all means, we have to work to make abortion illegal. But more importantly, we have to work to change the way we think, the way we view one another, and the way we treat one another. Otherwise, a ban on abortion would be similar to Prohibition. A law that makes some of us feel good and righteous, but ultimately fails miserably because it doesn't address the reason why people want to drink, or the reason why people (not just women) want abortions.

It's a very complex, multi-faceted issue, that lay apostles need to address. Jean Twenge has hit upon something important. We need to address our hyper-sexualization of the human person. Something's desperately wrong if my precious child in school cannot be hugged and comforted by a teacher (especially a male one) when he or she falls and skins a knee. Something's wrong if co-habitation is an everyday event on prime-time TV (and we think homosexuals asking for "equal marital rights" are destroying marriage!?) Something's wrong if a teacher cannot discipline a child without wondering if her helicopter parents will call in the evening to complain about how unfair and cruel the teacher is. I just read in the article associated with my post on the Houston Planned Parenthood clinic that the majority of abortions in this country are performed on blacks and Hispanics. Why? Because they care less about life? No, because a poor, single mother sees it as her only choice. Abortion is linked to poverty, to our lack of sexual morality produced by our need to be titillated almost constantly (sex sells, after all - and lowers morals while raising libido), to our ethos of I > U.

If we want to look at the villains behind abortion, we might as well start by looking in the mirror. Society won't change until we change first, and demonstrate that a life in Christ is worth living. It is a life in which we admit our need for conversion, dependence upon Jesus and the guidance of His Church, and that the path to real joy and peace in this life as well as the next is found in serving others, and loving them as ourselves.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pope Benedict Raises the Issue of Lay Jurisdiction Within the Church Again

John Allen's article this morning on the Italian lay woman Flaminia Giovanelli, 61, a longtime official of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who was named the new under-secretary of that council on Thursday is another indication that Pope Benedict is deliberately raising the issue of jurisdiction within ecclesial structures for the non-ordained.

There are many Vatican organizations and positions that simply cry out for substantial secular (that is, lay) expertise and leadership including the Pontifical Councils for the Laity; the Family, Health Care, Migrants and Immigrants, Justice and Peace, and Social Communications. But all are headed (and seconded) by Cardinals and Bishops. Although 38% of Vatican staff are not clerics, lay people seldom serve in positions of real decision-making authority.

If Sr. Enrica, who has held the number 3 post at the Congregation for Apostolic Life since 2004, is permitted to exercise her office alone, an office which has always been understood to include ecclesial jurisdiction, it forces the theological issue. And Flaminia Giovanelli's elevation makes it clear that Sr. Enrica's position is closer to a trend than a fluke.

Both Pope John Paul II, who first hired Sr. Enrica, and Pope Benedict are challenging the assumption that jurisdiction within the Church can only flow from Holy Orders, and are jump starting the necessary theological and practical conversation.

As I have noted before on ID, the issue at stake is governance and the laity, not just women. This has big implications for all the baptized who are not ordained; religious and lay, male and female.

Since I can never think in tidy politically correct categories, I have often been struck by the fact that the acrimonious debate over the ordination of women and feminism in general in the west has obscured and distorted several other critical discussions.

Like the fact that the debate over governance is not first and foremost a male-female issue. It is an ordained/non-ordained issue. And male cleric and non-ordained woman are not the only two categories at issue here. What about lay men?

Of the approximately 550 million Catholic men in the world, only 449,092 were ordained bishop, priest, or deacon as of 2007. That's .000816 %, folks. Only 8/100ths of 1 % of all Catholic men are ordained.

Yes, we ordain men but it clearly doesn’t therefore follow that the charisms, leadership and creativity of Catholic men, as a whole, have been honored and welcomed. (Of course, that also imply that simply changing the gender make-up of this tiny ordained minority would not mean that the charisms, leadership and creativity of women, as a whole, would have been honored and welcomed either.)

It has been my experience that the role of lay men is the least honored and appreciated one in the western Church today. The debate over feminism have made most western Catholics eager not to seem to be sexist. (This is clearly less true in cultures where women are regarded as inferior). In the west, because the image of the male cleric looms so large, there isn't a lot of room for another kind of strongly Catholic male image.

The debate over governance and leadership in the Church is not just, as it is so often portrayed, a battle of the sexes. It is most profoundly, a opportunity to consider the implications of the Church's teaching on the apostolic anointing of all the baptized (female and male), the insistence that the Church's primary identity is that of mission outward, and the integration of the “co-essential” (as Pope John Paul II put it) charismatic and institutional dimensions of the Church.

As we become clearer about the mission and role of the laity, it sheds new light on the ordained priesthood, whose entire purpose for existence is the fruition of the baptismal priesthood, and the larger issue of leadership as well. If Church’s primary mission is truly outward, not inward, that has huge implications for all forms of leadership, ordained or lay.

A CNS story from March, 2007 (which no longer has a working link) acknowledged the larger issue of the role of the laity with these final paragraphs:

"Some sources noted that while attention is often given to the men-women ratio at the Vatican another slow but significant shift has occurred in the number of lay employees in the Curia.

Laypeople now represent about 38 percent of employees in major curial agencies, numbering close to 300 people. Fifty years ago, half of the 12 Vatican congregations had no laypeople on their staffs; among the handful of laity who did work there at the time, none were women."

Noah & Joan: Living in a Media Cocoon

Have you met Noah and Joan?

On the Archdiocese of Washington blog, Msgr. Charles Pope meditates on the fact that in 2010 we can cocoon ourselves from any ideas or influences that we don't want to be exposed to.

The bottom line is that increasingly I can very carefully control the content of my life, what will influence me and what will be my daily fare."

Msgr. Pope points out that this is increasingly complicating the task of evangelization:

I also find that many people don’t have a clue as to what I am talking about either. Often they have not heard of basic biblical figures and stories. Increasingly they are unfamiliar with Church teachings, feast days and basic theological terms. The clear challenge is that we have to get our message “out there.” But lately there are a lot of “theres” out there! The opportunities to communicate are enormous but so are the challenges as many people (me included) continue to live in a world that is more and more a self-selected universe which shuts out all unwanted influence and only admits what is pleasing and affirming but far less challenging and expansive.

In the Making Disciples weekend that we just offered for the Archdiocese of Omaha a couple weeks ago, I shared some of these admittedly funny, if alarming, factoids: about the level of ignorance of fundamental Christian beliefs in the American and European populations at large:

A Gallup survey shows that fewer than half of Americans can name the first book of the Bible.

Only one-third know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount (many thought it was a sermon by Billy Graham, not Jesus)

One-quarter of US adults do not know what is celebrated on Easter.
In the Netherlands, a brand new study reported that 58% of adults don’t know what Easter is about.

St. John's University, U.K: 60 percent of British adults surveyed had no idea what the parable of the Good Samaritan is about.

The most widely known Bible verse among church-going adult and teen believers is “God helps those who help themselves."

And my personal favorite for sheer charming cluelessness:

A 1997 Barna survey:12 percent of adults think that Noah's wife was Joan of Arc. As In Noah & Joan Arc.



As Tim Keller, the pioneering pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan - which is successfully evangelizing and forming thousands of young adult Christian professionals in the very belly of the post-modern beast - has pointed out (I'm paraphrasing):

We used to think that Americans had essentially Christian "heads", that they had been exposed to the basic concepts of a Christian worldview, and our job was to give them Christian hearts, so that they would personally claim and live the faith they'd already been exposed to. This simply isn't true anymore. Post-modern Americans have deeply non-Christian heads. Often they have deeply anti-Christian heads. They already believe things that make the truths we are proposing impossible to grasp or believe.

The point being: this isn't true just of Catholics who haven't been catechized since the Council. It is true across the culture altogether, no matter what what background you hail from. This is a much bigger, global trend.

The result:

Many don’t know the basic facts of The Great Story (the essential Gospel of Jesus Christ).

A good deal of what they think they “know” is wrong.

The bits they "know" don't make sense or are impossible to take seriously.

Even if they know bits of The Great Story, they don’t know how those bits fit together to make a whole. (As one young unbaptized and uncatechized "Catholic" friend of ours described his understanding as a teen-ager: " Jesus is God - sorta - or something like that.")

They don’t know what The Great Story means.

personally
for their family
for their friends, neighbors, co-workers
for their world


And that is one of our first and most basic challenges.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Salesians in Haiti: Update



This came to me through the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the leadership conference of male religious in the U.S. This gives a graphic sense of the total devastation in parts of Haiti, especially Port-au-Prince. Please continue to pray for the dead, the grieving survivors, and for those desperate enough to loot damaged and destroyed buildings. And pray - and financially support - the relief efforts.

At the time of the earthquake, there were 66 Salesians in the Vice Province of Haiti. The Salesians worked in six houses that served the poor in a variety of ways: technical education, job training, primary education, food distribution, care of street kids, outreach to the unemployed.

The Salesians in Haiti have reported the death of three of their confreres: Bro. Hubert Sanon, aged 85 and the two young Salesians in formation Atsime Wilfrid, aged 28 and Vibrun Valsaint, 26.

The most tragic news is the death of the Salesian pupils. After a first estimate which was of over 200 youngsters buried under the ruins with some of their teachers, the latest figure has now been out at about 500. The Crisis Committee of the UNO has confirmed a report from the National Police in Port-au-Prince and from the Central Headquarters of "OCHA" who in spite of everything are continuing the search to try to find some survivors still alive.


(At least 500 students are believed to be buried in the rubble of the compound that houses the renowned "National School of Arts and Trades" and other schools operated by Salesian Missions. Salesian Missions not only operated schools for thousands of students in Port-au-Prince, but services of all kinds for 25,000 of Haiti's poorest children.)

The other Salesians in Port-au-Prince are safe and well, although some were injured; some of them have lost family and friends.

The Enam centre has been razed to the ground; the Provincial House at Drouillard is damaged; the work of the small schools of Father Bonhem (OPEPB) is completely flattened; the dormitory at Gressier has collapsed; at Thorland the Salesian community house has been damaged, the chapel split in two and the retreat house totally out of commission; the house at Fleuriot has also been damaged with people sleeping outside in the courtyard.

To most readers, these names mean little. The CNN site has a helpful collection of short clips about the activities undertaken by the Salesians in these sites before the earthquake. [along the right side of the page]

A crisis team at the New Rochelle Mission Office is working on the logistics to send material and to coordinate the work of volunteers. They are also collaborating with the "Federal Emergency Management Agency".

In the past few days, an overall plan has emerged for the Salesian response to this tragedy. The relief efforts of the Salesians will include:
Saving Lives: Salesian Emergency Relief
Rebuilding Lives: Salesian Empowerment and Education
Rebuilding Salesian Educational Infrastructure
The first of these phases (i.e., Saving Lives) has already begun. Fr Victor Pichardo, Provincial of the Salesians in the Antilles, has succeeded in reaching Port-au-Prince with a military helicopter and spent a night there. While there he was also to gather practical information for the next stage of the relief work. The Salesian houses in Santo Domingo and Barahona will have a strategic role to organise this. Already a convoy of ten trucks loaded with food and medicine has left La Vega.

The first stop was at the "Saint John Bosco" community of the Enam, the most seriously affected of the Salesian works in Haiti. Here they met Fr Wim Boksebeld and Fr Olibrice Zucchi Ange. "Silence, suffering and sadness reigned," the four visitors said. Most of the pupils and their teachers are still buried under the ruins. At 16.53, local time, when the earth began to shake the pupils of the primary school were on the first floor of the three storey building which is now a heap of ruins. Unfortunately here too, as in other places in the city, there have been cases of looting, as persons unknown have carried away what remained, desks, chairs, and school computers used for teaching.

The Hobbit


While doing a little research on JRR Tolkien for a recent post - even though I didn't notice I was off by more than two weeks regarding his birthday - I came across a note that The Hobbit is going to be coming to theatres in Christmas season of 2011 and 2012! The movie will be in two parts, which means I will have two Christmas gifts to look forward to.

Cate Blanchett, who was luminous as Galadriel in Peter Jackson's trilogy, the Lord of the Rings, will be back to reprise her role, as will Hugo Weaving as Arwen's father, Elrond, and Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey. Filming is scheduled to start in March/April of this year. Who will star as Bilbo Baggins is yet to be seen, but Tobey Maquire is one of the names being mentioned. He'll have to add some girth to his Spider-Man physique to pass for a meal-loving (second breakfast, anyone), homebody Hobbit.

Guillermo del Toro, director of Pan's Labyrinth, which received glowing reviews from Catholic film critics for its religious themes, will be directing the film. Peter Jackson, of course, will be involved, too. He is executive producer and a co-writer. Hopefully, he'll be smart and use much of the dialogue that Tolkien wrote, and not stray too far from the wonderful story.

My sister and I had talked about using frequent flier miles to go to New Zealand, but that won't be for quite some time, so there's no chance of me being an extra elf - or orc.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Religious Ramblings

This is an article by Lydia Lim that ran in the Stanford Catholic Newman Center bulletin last week.

Back home in Singapore, the biggest celebration each year for my family is Chinese New Year, which usually rolls round at the end of January or early February.

I am terrified of Chinese New Year. I do not exaggerate when I say that well over 100 people trek through my family’s home on the first day of the New Year celebrations. They start arriving as early as 9am and keep on coming until 9pm. Some stay well past midnight. For an introvert like me, it is exhausting to be serving food and drinks, and making conversation with that many people for a whole day, even if most of them are relatives, or perhaps because most of them are relatives!

For many years, I resented what I considered to be my mother’s excessive hospitality. Did she really have to invite so many people over, and so often? For it was not just Chinese New Year when the hoards descended; they did so at Christmas and on many a weekend as well.

It was only after I learned about the special spiritual gifts called charisms that I realised my mother has the charism of hospitality, and that she is doing God’s work when she opens her home to family, friends and neighbours. Charisms are special gifts that God gives each of us through the Holy Spirit. God means for us to use our charisms to serve others; so that they can experience His love and provision for them. When people visit the homes of those who, like my mother, have the charism of hospitality, they experience a welcome so warm, they want to return. The experience can even bring healing to those who are lonely or feel at the margins of society.

The thing is God gives us each of us different charisms. I obviously do not have the charism of hospitality, but I believe I have the charism of teaching. Standing up in front of a group of strangers to teach them a particular subject probably isn’t my mother’s idea of fun, but it is mine – even when I am sick as a dog. I remember once teaching when I was ill. The amazing thing was that the moment I got up to teach, I felt energy coursing through me and my fatigue just melted away. That energy was the Holy Spirit, for when we use our charisms, we serve as channels for the Holy Spirit to enter the world. That also explains why we can be remarkably effective, and enjoy results that we might not have thought humanly possible.

Our charisms provide clues to our personal vocation – a unique work of love that God calls each of us to do. As Scripture tells us, He calls each of us by name. He has a special role for every one of us to play in his plan of salvation and He distributes his gifts accordingly. When God gives us a job to do, he also gives us the gifts we need to get that job done. God not only called Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta to minister to the poorest of the poor, He also gave her the charism of Mercy. That charism empowers a Christian to be a channel of God’s love through practical deeds of compassion that relieve the distress of those who suffer.

That is why discerning your charisms can help you figure out God’s call for you. The Called & Gifted workshop that will take place at Stanford this coming Friday Jan 22 and Saturday Jan 23, is specially designed to help Catholics discern their charisms. The workshop includes Church teaching on the laity and lay apostleship. Participants will have a chance to do a Spiritual Gifts inventory – 120 questions to help you sort through your experiences and see what charisms you might have. You will learn more about the signs and characteristics of 24 common charisms.

The workshop is a special programme of the Catherine of Siena Institute, based in Colorado Springs. The institute and its team of trained teachers have over the past 12 years run Called & Gifted workshops for thousands of Catholics across the US, Europe, Australia and Indonesia. Fr Michael Fones OP, co-director of the institute and a Stanford alumnus, will be flying in to lead the workshop at Stanford.

After attending one workshop, a woman who was a nurse by training, discerned that she had the charism of Missionary, which empowers a Christian to be effective in a culture other than her own. That process of discernment led her to Tanzania, where she launched a programme to distribute drugs to those stricken with HIV, saving many lives in the process. The workshop has helped many other Catholics clarify their personal vocation and inspired them to change their lives accordingly, perhaps in less dramatic but in no less important ways.

The Called & Gifted workshop will take place on the 3rd floor of Old Union on Friday Jan 22, from 730-10pm, and Saturday Jan 23, from 930am-4:30pm. The workshop is one-and-a-half days long, and free of charge for all members of the Catholic Community at Stanford. Please email Lydia at lydialim@stanford.edu to register.

Lydia Lim is a Lay Dominican from Singapore and a journalist by profession. She is at Stanford for a year on a Knight Fellowship.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Frodo Lives!


January 3rd is the birth date of J.R.R. Tolkien, Oxford don, English scholar, devout Catholic, and beloved creator of a Middle-earth populated with men and women, orcs, elves, dwarves, trolls, wizards, and - of course - hobbits like Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, Peregrin Took, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and Samwise Gamgee. [I had to change my personal calendar. I had January 19th as his birthdate]

In the Called and Gifted workshop we often use Tolkien as an example of someone with a charism of writing. Not only was Tolkien a profuse writer, his literary works disclose a profound love for the power of the written word. That's part of what the charism of writing is about; producing works of great beauty that reveal profound spiritual truths.

For those with the charism of writing, the act of writing itself is a connection to God, who creates with a word, and whose Word Himself becomes flesh. We see a glimpse of this connection in Tolkien in this passage from his work, Fairy-Stories.

The incarnate mind, the tongue, and the tale are in our world coeval. . . . [H]ow powerful, how stimulating to the very faculty that produced it, was the invention of the adjective: no spell or incantation in Faërie is more potent. . . . The mind that thought of light, heavy, grey, yellow, still, swift, also conceived of magic that would make heavy things light and able to fly, turn grey lead into yellow gold, and the still rock into swift water. . . . [I]n such “fantasy,” as it is called, new form is made; Faërie begins; Man becomes a sub-creator. (Fairy-Stories 10)
Tolkien is expressing the belief that language is a kind of "magic" because it describes things that exist only in the imagination of the author, and takes root in the imagination of the reader. This he calls fantasy, or sub-creation. Sub-creation is (normally) a text describing an imaginary world. Tolkien created two other words to describe the settling of a "fantasy" in the mind of a reader. The sub-creation of the author is a Secondary World that the reader can enter through his or her imagination, and, if so well constructed that it "holds together," may produce a sense of acceptance or "rightness" in the reader. This feeling that if the story were real, things would be just as they were described, Tolkien called Secondary Belief. Tolkien said "anyone can write a book about a world with a green sun, but it takes skill to make it seem credible." (Fairy-Stories 48-49) For this reason, Tolkien considered fantasy to be “a higher form of art, indeed the most nearly pure form, and so (when achieved) the most potent.” (Fairy-Stories 47)

Tolkien did produce a Secondary World. Middle Earth has a very detailed history, its own mythology and geography. He created at least one Dwarvish and two Elvish languages with their own alphabets. He created a world in which we explore not only that history and enthralling story, but also the depth of truly human experience: love, friendship, loyalty, betrayal, pity, trust, fortitude, fear, bravery, and hope.

Here's an example of Tolkien's verse from the chapter, "The White Rider" from The Two Towers, the second of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In it Gandalf the wizard describes to Aragorn (a man), Legolas (an elf) and Gimli (a dwarf) what happened to him after he fell from their sight while saving them from a Balrog, an ancient evil creature of great and terrible power. They had presumed him dead, and, indeed, Gandalf the Grey did pass through a kind of death, to return as Gandalf the White, an even more powerful - and humble - wizard. (Celebdil is a mountain peak, by the way).


There upon Celebdil was a lonely window in the snow, and before it lay a narrow space, a dizzy eyrie above the mists of the world. The sun shone fiercely there, but all below was wrapped in cloud. Out he sprang, and even as I came behind, he burst into new flame. There was none to see, or perhaps in after ages songs would still be sung of the Battle of the Peak.’ Suddenly Gandalf laughed. ‘But what would they say in song? Those that looked up from afar thought that the mountain was crowned with storm. Thunder they heard, and lightning, they said, smote upon Celebdil, and leaped back broken into tongues of fire. Is not that enough? A great smoke rose about us, vapour and steam. Ice fell like rain. I threw down my eneymy, and he fell from the high place and broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin. Then darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell.

‘Naked I was sent back – for a brief time, until my task is done. And naked I lay upon the mountain-top. The tower behind was crumbled into dust, the window gone; the ruined stair was choked with burned and broken stone. I was alone, forgotten, without escape upon the hard horn of the world. There I lay staring upward, while the stars wheeled over, and each day was as long as a life-age of the earth. Faint to my ears came the gathered ruomour of all lands: the springing and the dying, the song and the weeping, and the slow everlasting groan of overburdened stone…’
One of the things I love about The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, is that not only is the narrative written in a lovely and lovingly way, the speakers in it, except for the Orcs and other minions of the evil Sauron, speak with an attentiveness to words and sentence construction that makes you certain that they truly care about what they're saying! And in that, they reveal the care with which Tolkien composed their speech. So skillfully did Tolkien create Middle Earth that back in 1976, when I entered his sub-creation, his Secondary World produced such a powerful Secondary Belief in me that I still remember the effect of reading the last words of the trilogy. They are simply "'Well, I'm back.' he said."

And at that moment I wept, for I would never be able to enter that world for the first time again.

A Different Kind of MLK Celebration

Readers may remember that Sherry and I were in Houston last week for a series of talks for the Companions of the Cross. On my way from the airport, Fr. Francis took me to the Catholic Charismatic Center that the Companions direct. Within a mile or so of the place we passed the University of Houston, and, right next to the freeway, a large office building that he said was being converted to the largest abortion clinic in the country.

The building will house Houston Planned Parenthood, and among the services offered in the 78,000 square-foot building will be about 4,000 abortions annually.

Fr. Francis mentioned that there was going to be a large protest held outside the building on Martin Luther King, Jr. day. Here's an article about the protest, with a few highlights.

Organized by prayer leader Lou Engle, The Call to Conscience will begin at 9:30 a.m. Monday with a prayer rally near the site of a planned six-story, 78,000 square-foot headquarters for Planned Parenthood Houston, which will sit in the center of four minority neighborhoods. The facility is scheduled to open in the spring, and will include 15 exam rooms, almost twice as many as are in the current clinic, and an ambulatory surgical center that pro-life activists say will be used for late-term abortions.

The prayer rally will be followed by a silent march through the neighborhoods surrounding the clinic site. Engle, founder of The Call and The Call to Action, which is coordinating the protest, said three of the four communities are predominantly Hispanic, and the other is largely African-American. The Guttmacher Institute, which keeps abortion statistics, estimates that more than half of all abortions are performed on black and Hispanic women.

"We felt like the Lord was saying to us: ‘This is not right. You need to raise up a prophetic witness against it,'" Engle said. "We need to mobilize prayer, and we need to use it as an occasion to subpoena the conscience of the nation because it is really targeting minorities."

Engle said his group hopes to see construction halted on the abortion clinic, which activists say will be the second-largest in the world after China. But he also hopes the rally will expose what he sees as a racist attempt to target black and Hispanic women to have abortions. Engle said one of the objectives of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was to "exterminate the Negro population," as she wrote in a 1939 letter.

In a statement released Wednesday, Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas said the new, larger facility was needed to assist the growing number of uninsured residents in the area.

snip

This part of the article really caught my attention. I have read similar accounts of people involved in the abortion process suddenly coming to terms with what is actually happening - the ending of a human life - and quitting their jobs and becoming part of the pro-life movement.
Also attending the rally will be Abby Johnson, former director of a Planned Parenthood facility in Houston. She quit her job and joined the pro-life movement last fall after witnessing for the first time an ultrasound during an abortion procedure.

"I could see the whole profile of the baby 13 weeks head to foot," she said, according to ABC News. "I could see the whole side profile. I could see the probe. I could see the baby try to move away from the probe."

Johnson said the experience changed her forever, and she quit two weeks later.

"That's the result of prayer," Engle said. "It's a radical paradigm shift. I'm calling it a ‘prayerdigm' shift."

Lack of Community in Catholic Communities

A couple of comments on my post about the Grayby boom led to a long reply comment from me, which I thought I might as well post for the rest of you to see.

Here's the first comment:
I believe that the Catholic Church today suffers from a lack of community, and I believe that telling the stories of God's grace and miracles in today's world could help build that community. Don't tell me that Jesus loves me, show me.

And a comment to that comment:
You said it! My elderly parents faithfully attended Mass and financially supported their church for many, many years. When they became infirm and unable to attend church, no one noticed. Not a single priest or parishioner called or visited. Being the good Catholics that they are, they haven't complained. ( they've never really known what they were missing in terms of community).
If the Catholic Church isn't careful, they will not only lose the young people, but the elderly as well.


And here's my quick and dirty reflection on these comments!

Some of the Catholic churches I visit in my work with the Institute pride themselves on being a "welcoming community." Usually, however, the people who are saying that are "insiders," that is, people who are very involved and feel welcome.

They may be people like my friends who moved from Tucson to Colorado Springs recently, and began attending the parish near their home. It's a young parish, with lots of young families, like them. They have four darling children under the age of 8, including a 2 year old. It's hard NOT to notice them. Our parishes are often family oriented. But if you're a single person, or just attending Mass by yourself for whatever reason, you may well feel anonymous - and be anonymous.

Also, with regard to your parents - I'm sorry, first of all. Secondly, on a couple of occasions when I was a pastor someone came up to me and complained that I hadn't visited them in the hospital. I hadn't noticed their absence, to be honest, but then the parish had over 1000 people attending each weekend (not a huge parish, mind you). I wonder if they felt miffed if others that they knew (and perhaps under more intimate circumstanced) hadn't visited them. It was frustrating for them that I hadn't noticed, and it was frustrating for me that they, or someone in their family, hadn't told me. I really treasured visiting parishioners in the hospital or their homes, especially if they asked to receive the anointing of the sick, and was sorry when opportunities were missed.

As a pastor, I got to know some of the people in the parish well - usually people who were already "insiders" when I arrived. They would often stop to talk after Mass, while everyone else passed by. That was often frustrating for me - that the people I already knew were the people who engaged me after Mass. But even if I thought I hadn't seen them on a weekend, I wouldn't know if they had just slipped past me while I was talking with someone else. My own experience of the post-Mass handshakes was that with some regularity someone would ask if I had a minute and then ask for advice on how to patch together their marriage (or something that would take much more than a minute to respond to).

But how should a pastor respond to someone's absence from Mass? If someone is gone from Mass for a few weeks, and IF I noticed, I would not know if they were on vacation, going to Mass someplace else, skipping Mass, or in the hospital unless they contacted me. Now, in a good Christian community, I would hope that someone would tell me that another parishioner was in the hospital (especially if it was due to accident or sudden illness, rather than a planned visit). The fact that that rarely happens is a testimony to the lack of community in our parishes.

So, in summary, if you know you're going into the hospital and would like a visit from the pastor, make sure you let him know. And to be safe, let your family know that if you're ever the victim of an accident or sudden illness, and are taken to the hospital, that you'd like a visit from your local priest - particularly if you'd like to receive the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. And if you know a parishioner is sick, don't presume the pastor knows. And if you know a parishioner is skipping Mass, in charity, you should invite them back, and let them know they're missed - by YOU!

It's a Called & Gifted Weekend

Made a New Year's resolution to get serious about discerning God's call for you? This coming weekend you have five opportunities to attend the Called & Gifted workshop in cities all over the country.

St. Joseph's Church in Libertyville, Illinois (Chicagoland) with Keith Strohm.

Sacred Heart parish in Boise, Idaho with Carol McGee and our wonderful team that has taken the C & G to the small mountain and desert parishes across Idaho.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Houston, Texas with Barbara Elliott and Fr. Sean Wenger.

Stanford University with Fr. Mike, Lydia Lim, (who leads our Singapore C & G team) and Stefani Catone

and

Kansas City, Kansas where I will be heading up our team featuring Amy & Charlie Hoover of Des Moines and Jacqueline & David Elbert of Kansas City.

Brief bios of our remarkable gang of Called & Gifted teachers can be found here if you are curious.

United, We Show the World the Face of Christ.

Today is also the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which marks the conversion of St. Paul the Apostle and is 100 years old today.

As Pope Benedict put it in his address yesterday:

Thanks to this spiritual ecumenism -- sanctity of life, conversion of heart, private and public prayer -- the joint pursuit of unity has made great strides forward in the last decade and has diversified in many initiatives; from getting acquainted with and meeting members of various churches and church communities; to conversations and collaboration among various branches that become increasingly friendly; to theological discussions on concrete ways in which we can join together and collaborate with each other.

That which has given, and continues to give, life to this journey toward full unification for all Christians first and foremost -- is prayer. "Pray without ceasing" (I Thessalonians 5:17 ) is the theme of this year's Week of Prayer. It is at the same time an invitation that never stops resonating in our communities, because prayer is the light, the strength, the guide for our footsteps as we listen humbly to our God, the God of us all.

Secondly, the Council emphasizes common prayer, joint prayer between Catholics and other Christians directed toward the only celestial Father. To this end the Decree on Ecumenism affirms: "These prayers offered in common are doubtless a very effective means to beseech for Christian unity" (UR, 8). In common prayer Christian communities unite before the Lord, they become aware of the contradictions generated by division, and they show the will to obey the Lord's will, faithfully turning to him for his omnipotent help. Furthermore, the decree adds that such prayers are "a genuine manifestation of the links with which Catholics continue to be joined to their separated brothers" (ibid.).

Common prayer is therefore not a voluntarist or a purely sociological action, but an expression of faith that unites all disciples of Christ.


Snip.

Today the truth of these words really hits home. The world suffers from the absence of God, from God's inaccessibility; it strives to know the face of God. But how could the men of today meet the face of God in the face of Jesus Christ if we, Christians, are divided, if one set of teachings is against the other?

Only united are we really able to show to the world -- that needs it -- the face of God, the face of Christ.


Vatican resources for the week are here.

How are you involved in the Church's "pursuit of unity" with our Christian brothers and sisters?

Maddy Curtis: The Antidote for Blue Monday

This is Martin Luther King Day in the US and for some, a holiday from work

But this Monday in January has also recently been christened "Blue Monday" - the most depressing day of the year - because Christmas is past, most people in the northern hemisphere are suffering from winter blahs, and it is also the day that the biggest credit card bills of the year arrive (courtesy of the holidays).

And the news from Haiti hasn't helped at all.

So I offer you this wonderful video as an antidote to the blues.

16 year old Maddy Curtis, from a family of 12 children, won her Boston area regional American Idol competition. Maddy is a glowing young woman from a remarkable family whose children include 4 Downs Syndrome boys, three of whom are adopted. And she has a lovely voice to boot.

Watch this for a quick pick me up - and you'll be rooting for Maddy.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Coming Up Next: The Grayby Boom


John Allen made some remarks about a report from the UN Population Division which indicates a growth in the ratio of elderly to young in the future.
Rapid aging of the human population, the report asserts, is a demographic trend of mammoth consequence, and one “without parallel in the history of humanity.”
That’s a bold claim, especially since the modern science of demography really didn’t take shape until the 18th century. But without doubt, today’s demographic landscape – dominated by declining birth rates and rapid aging across the planet – represents a startling inversion of the assumptions that have long dominated the field, the sound-bite version of which was the “population bomb.”
If the old demographic worry was relentless population increase, today’s anxieties cut in exactly the opposite direction.
According to the “World Population Ageing 2009” report from the United Nations Population Division, by 2045 the number of older persons in the world (defined as those 60 and above) will exceed the number of children (15 and under) for the first time. Both in the United States and around the world, the elderly are by far the fastest-growing segment of the population, a result of both declining fertility and increased life spans.
In addition to the stress on healthcare and pensions that we might expect, this trend has very dire consequences with regard to the entire world economy. Demographic winter is the name given to the situation in which those involved in producing goods in an economy decrease compared to the overall population. The decline in birth rates in developed nations - comprising 80% of the world's economy may result in a plummeting of the numbers of workers, consumers and innovators - leading to falling consumer spending, and too few workers to support the elderly.

But with regard to the Church, Allen sees a possibly rosy picture.
Given that elderly people are, statistically speaking, far more likely to invest time and treasure in their faith than any other demographic cohort, today’s rapid increase in people 65+ represents a potential “boom market” for religion.
Whether the Catholic church benefits from this boom will depend, to a great extent, on how imaginative the church becomes in making these swelling numbers of older folks feel welcome and appreciated.
It certainly has been true that the elderly are more involved in Church than the young. The Pew Foundation study on Religion in America found that, at least as of last year, only 30% of those who had been raised Catholic in the U.S. were "practicing" (defined as showing up at least once a month for Mass).
38% seldom or never attended Mass
15% were Protestant
14% were not affiliated with any religion
3% were practicing a non-Christian faith.

Furthermore, the Pew study indicated that those who left the Church and became unaffiliated did so in their youth: 79% by age 23 and 97% by age 35. Of those who became Protestant, 66% left by age 23, and 91% by age 35 - although in general there was a gap between leaving the Catholic faith and embracing Protestantism.

Even those who still hold on to the label "Catholic" are not necessarily being married in the Church or baptizing their children. According to a 2007 CARA study, 40% of Gen X/Millennial Catholics were not married in the Church.

Mr. Allen is presuming that the ranks of those sitting in pews will increase as the population ages. I don't necessarily see it. Our society is becoming less religious, and while some folks will come back to the Church as they age - perhaps seeking "fire insurance," many won't. This is especially true if the postmodernism continues to influence our secular culture. Postmoderns don't believe in absolute truth so claiming certain behaviors are sinful, and that other behaviors are not just desirable but necessary for a Christian - doesn't make sense, and may even lead to an angry rejection of religious statements because the make judgments about behavior. Distrust of institutions is a major characteristic of postmodern society, so that's a second strike against the Church. If all we can do is make the elderly feel welcomed and appreciated (which I'm all for, mind you), but leave it at that, we'll lose many who find all the welcome and appreciation they seek their neighborhood recreation association, bridge group, or gardening club.

If we don't know how to call people to discipleship, or believe that "giving one's life to Jesus and trusting in what He has revealed" is setting the bar too high, then we've basically said that God isn't our greatest good, the one and only satisfaction of our heart's desire. If that's the case, then we have, indeed, fallen prey to the consumerist myth that promises satisfaction in material things.

If the "Grayby Boom" brings about an economic bust, on the other hand, then maybe there's hope that our churches will be full. But in that scenario, I am sure they won't be looking for just a friendly community. The elderly will be seeking after real meaning and purpose. They'll be seeking after Jesus. Will we be preaching Him?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Back in the Springs


Sherry and I returned from Houston this afternoon, after a very successful three days with the Companions of the Cross. Some 35 priests and three (of their 15) seminarians had all gone through the Called & Gifted workshop, and most had had a personal gifts interview afterward (thanks to Mary Sharon Moore, our intrepid phone interviewer). We led them through some of the material from Making Disciples, especially the information on pre-discipleship spiritual thresholds and the threshold conversation. We also gave them a shortened interviewer training, and talked about the implications of discipleship and discernment in the parish environment.

It was a marvelous three days. The community is orthodox, charismatic, relaxed, and fun to be around. The fellows genuinely enjoy one another's company, laugh easily, and tease one another, well, like brothers. They sing together beautifully, often spontaneously breaking into harmony. Sherry and I were both at ease, and it was great to receive so much affirmation from them. We both agreed that there doesn't seem to be an undercurrent of anger that we so often find in different corners of the Church.

I suppose I should briefly explain. Depending upon the group, there might be anger directed towards society in general (or aspects of our society), or the hierarchy, or charismatics, or traditionalists, or progressives, or the laity - it all depends upon who you're dealing with. It can be disheartening. Not that there aren't aspects of our culture that should make us angry, like the tragedy of abortion, or consumerism, or militarism. It's just that generally the anger isn't directed towards ideas or statements or events, but at people; and the fact that they are still beloved children of God is easily forgotten.

At any rate, there didn't seem to be any of that. They're a young society - only 25 years old - and are dedicated to evangelization and parish renewal, as well as working among the poor and marginalized. All that we're trying to do at the Institute seems to fit what they are attempting in the parishes and oratories that they staff in Canada and the U.S. I suspect - and pray - that our paths will be crossing more in the future, God willing.

And yes, they are the only religious community I know of with their own hockey team. In this case, called, appropriately enough, "Men in Black."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Don't Just Pray for Haiti


Sherry and I are in Houston, TX, giving a workshop on spiritual thresholds, and teaching interviewer training to the Companions of the Cross (more on that later). Consequently, I haven't seen a paper or watched TV, but have heard about the terrible earthquake in Haiti. I received an e-mail request for donations from Catholic Relief Services and have responded with a modest donation. CRS has people on the ground in Haiti, and has already made a $5 million dollar commitment to immediate relief supplies. I urge you to do the same: pray and donate.

If you wish to donate to CRS, you can do so at the secure CRS site here.

Father Jean Jadotte, associate pastor of Miami's Notre Dame D'Haiti parish, sends these prayer intentions for Haiti. Please join him and other Haitian ex-patriots in these and other prayers.

-We are praying for hope despite this situation, that even as we face darkness, people may see a pinpoint of light.

-Praying for families.

-Pray for a greater conscience among everyone not just in Haiti but all over that we must do something [to help].

-Pray for a spirit of thanksgiving for international agencies for their good heart and good faith.

-Pray for relief workers to have a spirit of patience and perseverance.

-For those who at this time are in search of meaning in their lives and peace.

I would add that you pray that those who survived might receive safe drinking water - that is an immediate need and can mean the difference between life and death.

I lived in Oakland, CA when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck, and our house of studies was just a few miles from the Cypress structure, the double-decker highway built on landfill that collapsed and killed scores of commuters. That earthquake, while slightly more intense than the one in Haiti, lasted only a third as long as the shaking in Haiti due to the unusual way in which the fault zone broke. Had the tremors lasted longer, many more buildings would have collapsed, as they begin to move sympathetically with the shaking of the ground. I presume that many of the buildings in Haiti were not constructed as solidly as those in the Bay area. We cannot imagine the devastation, particularly in such a poor country that does not have the resources that we do.

Even with all the resources available in our country, and in the Bay area particularly, it took months for life to return to normal. I grieve for the people of Haiti. May some good come from this devastation. Perhaps poor Haiti, poorest of all the nations in our hemisphere, will not remain forgotten.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Christian is My Name and Catholic My Surname

"There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim "Christian is my name and Catholic my surname," only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself." - Pope Benedict XV: Encyclical Letter Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 24, 1 November, 1914.

Love it.

Christian is my name and Catholic my surname - and all I have to do is be in reality what I call myself.

That should keep me busy for the foreseeable future.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Opportunities for Evangelizing

I think it's safe to say that most Catholics can't imagine attempting to share their faith with another person - even people they might know from Church, must less someone with whom they might have an acquaintance from a "non-church" environment, like the gym. But there are opportunities, if a) we realize that faith is first of all a relationship (and we can talk about relationships pretty easily, can't we?) and b) we believe every person is hungering for a relationship with the Father, through Jesus, and in the Spirit, and c) we begin to recognize opportune moments to bring up the subject of a relationship with God.

Here's an example of someone who attended a retreat I gave in Eugene, OR, earlier this month. Jean (not her real name) a lively, devout life-long Catholic who both knows the essence of her faith and has a living relationship with Jesus. Her e-mail to me yesterday demonstrates the power of simple witness from a man she hardly knew on both her and another woman who is unchurched.
Friday, I went to the funeral for a man I barely knew from the gym ("John Doe" [not his real name, either], early 50s) who always read the bible while he was working out. What I found out at the funeral was that he had a conversion three years ago and went to the 7:00 am Mass daily at St. Mary’s. He is the person I talked about who died on his knees (and I learned with a rosary in him hands). It was very sweet that another women from the gym came, too. (I don’t think she is a connected to any church organization—but she really liked the funeral service. Maybe I can draw her away from her focus on the “stars”).
There are a couple of points of contact that she can make with this relative stranger:
1) they work out together, so there's something in common
2) the woman went to the funeral of John Doe and talked to Jean about the funeral - so they have that experience in common, too
3) the woman has some kind of relationship with Jean, and trusts her enough that she's talked about her interest in the stars (astrology, perhaps?)

So how could a conversation about God begin?

Jean could initiate such a conversation at different places, just based on what she told me in her e-mail:

"What made you decide to go to John's funeral?"

"You said you really enjoyed John's funeral. What did you like about it? Why?"

"You are interested in the stars. The kings in the song, "We Three Kings," were actually wise men who were interested in the stars. There's an interesting website called Bethlehemstar.com you might check out that describes what they saw in the night skies that led them to travel over such a long distance with those gifts. Let me know what you think about it."

The last starting point might be appropriate only if Jean had a pretty established level of trust with the woman, but you get the idea. If we're interested in telling people about a relationship that has changed our own lives for the better, and if we really care about the lives of others (not just their earthly life, but their eternal life), won't we look for opportunities to tell them about Jesus?

What Traveling Women Don't Want

Home for 22 hours between engagements. I cleaned up the ravages of cat abandonment, unpacked, did laundry, watched Victoria & Albert, and slept for 9 hours. The luxury is having 22 hours of being "off" cause Fr. Mike is doing the last minute things for our three days with the Companions of the Cross in Houston this week.

For which I am so grateful cause I was so tired in Omaha (which went well) from 10 days of intense work and several nights of bad sleep, I had one of the those very rare teaching experiences of hitting the wall on Friday afternoon.

The last time that happened was years ago in Hawaii when I could have sworn that I had heard my brain go "crack" in the middle of one of our most demanding events. The "crack" seemed so loud that I looked around the room, certain that other people had heard it. Apparently not. Another reason to give thanks that I don't live in the universe of "What Women Want".

But I've gotten some decent sleep and our presentations run only from 9 - 12 and 1 - 4 so this should take a lot less energy. Time to re-pack. Home again on Friday when I'm gonna take some time off!

Australian Miracle

An Austrailian woman, who was miraculously healed of brain and lung cancer by praying to soon-to-be first Australian saint Mary MacKillop, has gone public.

Kathleen Evans, from Lake Macquarie south of Newcastle, has given her account of how she was cured of inoperable cancers in her lungs and brain.

Snip.

She says she was told her lung and secondary brain cancer were inoperable and she was given only a few months to live.

Ms Evans says after being diagnosed she wore a picture of Mary MacKillop, with a piece of the nun's clothing attached, and prayed to her constantly, as did her family.

She says she was shocked when scans done 10 months later found the cancer was gone.

"That particular doctor said, 'what treatment did you have?'. I said none.

"He said, 'did you have alternate medicine?'. I said no.

"He said, 'well what did you do?'. I said, 'you probably wouldn't believe me' and I told him.

"His reaction was wonderful. He was blown apart."

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Coldest Place on Earth

Thinking that you live there right now?

Heh.

Take a look at what real cold looks like and then cosy up to your sweetie, cat. or fireplace. You'll feel so much better!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Saved in Hope


I finished reading a Christmas gift, Benedict XVI's "Saved in Hope." I had skimmed it when it first came out, but this time gave it more time, and took notes as I read it on various flights over the last week. It brought me to tears. Here's a couple of choice quotes to consider in this Christmas season in which we celebrate God-with-us:
"...to accept the "other" who suffers means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering, though, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love. The Latin word con-solatio, "consolation", expresses this beautifully. It suggests being with the other in his solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude ... Man is worth so much to God that he himself became man in order to suffer with man in an utterly real way - in flesh and blood - as is revealed to us in the account of Jesus' passion. Hence in all human suffering we are joined by one who experiences and carries that suffering with us; hence con-solatio is present in all suffering, the consolation of God's compassionate love - and so the star of hope rises." Spe Salvi, pp. 80-81, 82-83
Who in your life is suffering? Are you willing to "suffer with" them, out of love?

Winter Mendicancy


Fr. Mike is already enjoying the warmth of Omaha and I'm on my way very early tomorrow morning.

I was once in Winnipeg on a -30 F day. But this will be close. The High on Friday in Omaha will be -4F. The low will be around -19 F with 12 mile an hour winds.

Give me the mountains any day. Colorado is much warmer - and full of that famous Rocky Mountain sunshine.

My hosts (the Archdiocese) told me that it will be very cold but not dangerous. Hmmm. How cold does it have to be to be dangerous?

Back Sunday for a little less than 24 hours. Just enough time to do my laundry, sleep, and repack. Than off to Houston till the following Friday.

Winter mendicancy. Your prayers would be most welcome - and warming!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Immortal

Incredible.

Watch this gorgeous visual of the universe as we know it at present.



And then contemplate this: God knows and loves each individual person, no matter how hidden and obscure, on our tiny, insignificant planet.

The God who created the universe you have seen above, loves each of us so much that he would have become incarnate as a human being and died and risen again for each of us.

As C. S. Lewis put it in The Weight of Glory:

You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations-these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.

We scrubby, broken, frazzled men and women are immortals. The unfathomably immense and beautiful universe in this video is not. Lewis could have as truly said:

The life of the universe is to ours as the life of a gnat..

We are immortals with a profound responsibility for the care and nurture of a glorious work of divine art called earth. But it is not because the earth is immensely old and we come and go like the grass.

It is because we are immortals who have been given the unspeakable and completely undeserved privilege of participating in the eternal life and loves of God himself. And God created, loves, cherishes, and holds in being our terrestrial home at every moment.

How can we take such a reality in?

Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, ' joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. ' Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; ' world’s wildfire, leave but ash: 20
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, ' since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, ' patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Christocentric Life--Let this be the year

"...whoever desires greater action needs better contemplation; whoever wants to play a more formative role must pray and obey more profoundly; whoever wants to achieve additional goals must grasp the uselessness and futility, the uncalculating and incalculable (hence "unprofitable") nature of the eternal love in Christ, as well as of every love along the path of Christian discipleship. --Hans urs von Balthasar

It is the start of a new year, a new decade. Many of us have set goals, made resolutions and prepared action plans. We may want to write a book, read more, earn more, be on time.
Perhaps with all of our self improvements and increased efficiency we can be more productive at work and at home.

Do we also have the desire to be disciples of Jesus? Von Balthasar urges us to live lives of greater contemplation so that our actions may further the Kingdom of God. As intentional disciples we know that living the life of eternal love may appear as foolishness to the world. However, our love is not calculated to please the world but is offered in gratitude to our Lord and for all of his children.
Whoever wants to command must have learned to follow in a Christ-like manner; whoever wants to administer the goods of the world must first have freed himself from all desire for possession; whoever wants to show the world Christian love must have practiced the love of Christ (even in marriage) to the point of pure selflessness.--von Balthasar
Here von Balthasar offers us a great challenge for to follow in a Christ-like (love immersed) manner may be to follow on to death. Do we trust the Lord (or anyone) enough to obey when everything we have may be demanded? Are we capable of freeing ourselves of all desire for possession? Only with the grace of God can we even conceive of why this may be desirable. Many of us may ask ourselves if we have ever felt a love so great that we would even consider this level of selflessness.

One might think that what our Lord asks is too much. Maybe to live the beatitudes is beyond human capability. Let's not be radical. After all, moderation in pursuit of supernatural virtue is no vice, is it?

Or perhaps for you this is not just the start of a new year or decade. Maybe now is the beginning of a new life in Christ. A life of radical love and radical commitment. Maybe this is the year when I love more than I have ever loved before. This could be the year when I live a life of gratitude and gift. Gratitude for the love of the Father and the sacrifice of his Son. Gratitude for the Holy Spirit who opens my eyes to the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

And this may be the beginning of my new life of sharing the love of the Lord with everyone I touch. Loving in a new way, with boldness and beauty. Maybe this is the beginning of loving without fear of rejection. Fear rejected and love embraced so that I am in communion with God and all his creation.

Yes Lord, please immerse me in your grace. Thank you Lord for your love. Thank you for your peace. Please Jesus help me to be more like you so that your light shines through me. I love You. Help me to love You more. Amen.

cross posted at The Christocentric Life

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

God Has Carved a Place for You

Read the whole of this wonderful (and funny!) story of a completely unchurched woman's (who calls herself Robin of Berkley) first experience of a Catholic church on Christmas Eve. Even though I grew up on the far side of the religious universe, her description of the first time rings so many bells. Courtesy of the American Thinker\.

"In the bathroom, a woman smiled and introduced herself as Cathy (everyone was so nice and friendly, a radical departure from typical Berkeley life). She asked me whether the other priest was feeling better. The following conversation ensued:

Me: I don't know. I've never been to this church before.

Cathy: Oh, really? Where do you usually worship?

Me (stammering) Well. Actually. I've never been to a church before.

Cathy: (puzzled) Oh. Are you here to see one of the children perform?

Me: No. (I want to give her a clear explanation, but given that I don't know why I'm here, my mind goes blank.)

Cathy: (thinking deeply) So, you've never been in a church but decided to come here on Christmas Eve.

Me: Yes. (Her explanation was simpler than the one I would have given: "I'm a cultural Jew who's never been to a temple and then I practiced Buddhism for twenty years, but that left out the God part. And then I became a conservative and now I have all these beautiful Christians in my life, so I decided to attend a mass, and the Berkeley Episcopalians didn't want me, so here I am.")

Cathy looked at me strangely, but finally uttered an enthusiastic "Good!"


LOL! Oh those tortuous explanations to kindly Catholics who look at you with stunned incomprehension. You mean, you haven't been doing this all your life?

Now think of those thousands of Catholics and spiritual wanderers responding to the Catholics Come Home ad that are filling the airwaves. We can do better than stunned incomprehension. We don't live in a ghetto anymore and millions of people all over the world are making this journey. How about we start thinking of ourselves as friendly tour guides for inquirers?

Robin ends her tale this way:

"Beyond the music and pageantry, what moved me the most was being with hundreds of people who loved God. Maybe some were questioning his presence or feeling abandoned. But they showed up, and that's half of life.

It was a stirring night for this wandering Jew who has traveled from east to west, from Left to Right. As the Sufi poet Hafiz wrote, "This moment in time God has carved a place for you," and sitting in the sanctuary, I felt that place.

Even though I didn't know the right words, or the hymns, or how to pray, it didn't matter. All the differences among people -- race, class, politics, even religion -- vanished. Faith, I realized, is the ultimate uniter.

And in a heartbeat, I understood why leaders from Marx to Mao try to keep people away from God, and why they will always fail. I flashed to an image of those mothers who somehow find the superhuman strength to lift up a car and free their children.

On Christmas Eve, I learned that this same unstoppable power exists inside all of us, especially when we stand together. As Jesus himself taught, faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain."


Welcome Robin. God has carved a place for you - and me - and many, many other seekers.

What's Up in the New Year

We will be going back to our traveling ways in January. Since the calendar on our new website is still wonky (although we hope to have that fixed soon!), I thought I'd post the information here for interested readers. We are really covering the country this month!

Today, Fr. Mike is at the Newman center in Eugene, offering a retreat on charisms while I'm working furiously away on upcoming events.

Jan 7-9, Fr. Mike and I will be in Omaha, offering the second seminar in the Making Disciples process as part of local Catholic Come Home training.

Then we turn right around and go to Houston where we'll be training 35 priest members of the Companions of the Cross in facilitating discernment and evangelization skills.

Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Atlanta will be sponsoring a one day Called & Gifted workshop on January 9.

On the weekend of January 22-23, Called & Gifted workshops will be held in Kansas City, KS; Libertyville, IL (Chicagoland) and at the Stanford Newman center.

January 29/30 will see us hanging and offering Called & Gifted workshops in Bunkie, LA and Santa Clarita, CA.

while Massachusetts will be our pop stand during the first weekend of February: Malden, MA Tuesday through Thursday for a weeknight Called & Gifted process and Westford, MA for another C & G on the weekend of February 5/6.

The beginning of a new year and a new decade is such a good time to begin discerning God's call in your life. Please join us and begin the adventure of a life-time - and all time!

Friday, January 1, 2010

ID's Third Anniversary

Happy New Year.

Today is the 3rd anniversary of this blog and the first day of year four. Many thanks to our 383,000 readers and our many posters and commenters. We are looking forward to what God will do in 2010!

Why Muslims Become Christians



Here is a collection of my major posts on the phenomena of Muslims becoming Christian in one place for future reference.

Why Muslims Become Christian:
Why Do Muslims Convert to Christianity?
Muslim Conversions to Christianity
Do You Give Up So Easily on Jesus?
Huge Numbers & Urban Legends
Real Conversions in the Muslim World
Son of Prominent Hamas Leader Becomes a Christian
Testimonies of Muslims Who Have Become Christian
800,000 Muslims . . .er, I mean 2,000 Muslims

Muslims converting because of dreams and visions:
I am the Lord Whom You are Looking For
Dreaming Your Way to Faith

Magdi Allam (Prominent Italian Muslim Who Was Baptized by Pope Benedict in St. Peter's, Easter Vigil, 2008)
Video of Allam's baptism
An Individual Act of Conscience or a Global Phenomenon?

Persecution of Muslim Background Christians:
The Price Muslims Who Become Christian Often Pay
Because Jesus Taught Me To Love
Iranian Parliament Approves Automatic Death Penalty for Conversion
Surviving the Time of Great Distress
"Despite Being a Christian", Pakistani Christian is a National Hero

Bits & Pieces:
The Number of Christians living in the Muslim World
Islam in the US
Millions of Iraqi Muslims are Watching Christian Television

Mary, Human Mother of God


On this solemnity, I find myself considering less the regal images of Mary and her infant King-God-Son, and the more human images of her.
Mary, the young girl-become-mother;

Mary, whose unexpected and untimely pregnancy could have led to her being stoned to death;

Mary, who had to face Joseph's questions and doubts prior to his revelatory dream;

Mary, whose own saintly parents must have initially been horribly disappointed in her - and who never received any signs from God to change their minds, as far as we know;

Mary, who, with Joseph, probably had to endure gossip, jokes, and judgmental stares from the people of her village who knew everybody else's business;

Mary, who made a dangerous journey to help her older, pregnant cousin, Elizabeth - and then made the return journey while very pregnant;

Mary, who, with Joseph, had to make a five- to seven- day trip from Galilee to Bethlehem just prior to giving birth;

Mary and Joseph, unable to find shelter, welcoming the King of Kings into the world as a homeless, cold, babe - far from extended family and friends;

Mary, who soon after giving birth found herself a political refugee, along with her husband and newborn.

It's too easy to forget the dangers that surrounded Mary, the virgin Mother of God, when she was simply Mary, the unwed mother - the butt of jokes, perhaps despised and condemned by some who had been friends. The honor we give her now was unknown to her then, and we might well have looked askance at her as her contemporaries probably did.

We must never forget that God may well ask us to do things that go against the grain of the world, since his ways are not our ways. The more our local parish and our families are "of this world," the more difficult it is to hear God's voice, the more difficult it is to answer His invitation to do His will with an affirmative, and the more difficult it is to do it.

Mary had tremendous faith: faith in God's ability to act in the world - and especially in her, someone who would have counted for nothing in her day. She had tremendous trust in God's love for her, or else how could she take such a huge, life-threatening risk? She had to believe that God's ways are not our ways, and that although she couldn't see where God was leading her, it would be for good. You have to admit, the promise given her by Gabriel, "you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, 11 and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" is pretty short on details in the timeframe that most of us would be interested in - like, say, tomorrow, the next week, and the next month or so.

Mary is not only Mother of God, she is our mother, too. Part of the reason we are adopted sons and daughters of God. Let's pray as we begin this new year that we might take after her, who is the image of the Church as well as the mother given us by her son, Jesus.

It'll Never Happen Here

This news story caught my attention over my bowl of mini-wheats this morning. The headline in the "Dispatches from all over" section of December 20th's Christian Science Monitor read, "Shopping-free Sundays." That sounded like required reading to me. Here are a few snippets:
Germany's highest court this month took a stand against consumerism, ruling that, as of next year, stores will have to remain closed on the four Sundays preceding Christmas. Attacked as a "slap in the face for Christmas shopping," as Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit put it, the ruling was also hailed as an important step toward safeguarding one of the most sacrosanct principles of German society. For many Germans, Sunday is when family and friends go on walks and sit together for coffee and cake. Shopping on Sunday would only erode those traditions, some feel. "The message of this ruling is that tradition can't be the victim of business principles," says Karheinz Geissler, a professor of time culture and management at the Armed Forces University in Munich..."Going shopping doesn't foster togetherness - the focus is on money and competition; that has priority, and money isolates people," says Mr. Geissler. "Without Sunday, there is no society."
The Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches challenged a Berlin government's exception to a federal ban on Sunday store openings in constitutional court, and the judges agreed, "ruling that Sunday shopping goes against Sunday as a day of rest."

It's interesting that in increasingly secular Germany, the consequence of a Christian past (Sunday as a day of rest, family and friends) has been divorced from its root. Without Christianity, and the effects of Christian principles on labor and how we look at work, there would probably not be such a "day of rest." How long will this vestige of cultural Christianity stand against the encroachments of consumption, I wonder?

Why will it never happen here (although I wish it would)? We don't have a tradition of resting on Sunday anymore, for one - other than to gather around the TV and watch NFL. Our cities aren't designed for walking around, people watching, and enjoying one another's company; at least not since the downtowns were abandoned for the suburbs. There are movements, however, that want to re-invigorate urban centers. But I suspect, rather cynically, that there's a commercial reason behind that, as much as a "livability" reason.