Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Glimpse of American Catholic Life in the 1940's

Cottage cheese breakfast at 4 am in Colorado Springs, a skinny caramel latte while blogging in Salt Lake City at 8, lunch in Los Angeles. I'm trying to take in the astonishing way of life that technology makes possible this morning.

While I share this revealing passage in a National Catholic Reporter article this morning that shows another facet of real life in 1940's American Catholicism (see my recent post "A People Without A History")

"In 1945, when Mary Paul heard God’s call to religious life, she could not enter any community of women religious in her hometown of Philadelphia, including the Sisters of Mercy. Not because her vocation was untrue, but because she was a person of color. At the time, women of color in the city were referred to three orders: the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore, the Franciscan Handmaids of Mary in Harlem, N.Y., or the Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans -- communities comprised mostly of women of color. Paul entered the Baltimore order. Her story is the story of many other women of color who were refused entrance to so-called “white” communities."

Just a year later, however, Mother Mary Bernard became the superior of the Merion Regional Community of the Sisters of Mercy in Philadelphia. Bernard asked her novices to pray for the entrance of a “colored sister” into the community. And in 1956, after being educated by the Mercy sisters in high school, Sr. Cora Marie Billings, Paul’s niece, entered the community and Bernard’s prayers were answered."


Fr. Mike and I are off this morning to St. John Fisher Parish in Rancho Palos Verdes for a Lenten mission on discerning personal vocation (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 9 am and 7 pm)

Right into the teeth of the latest storm to cross the California coast and head east to get the rest of us! If you are in the LA area, we'd love to see you there!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Muslim Followers of Jesus: Baptized & Unbaptized

A reader sends word of this remarkable interview with a Muslim missionary ("Daniel") who has recently been baptized as an Orthodox Christian in London. This strangely is a translation of a translation of a translation and comes via the blog Notes on Arab Orthodoxy. The blogger believes the interview to be authentic.

"The first time that I had the desire to study the New Testament in detail was when I was in front of the Kaaba in Mecca—I lived for a time in Mecca. Christian literature is strictly prohibited in Saudi Arabia and many websites are even blocked, but with the development of modern communications, it is not difficult for those who are looking to find the Word of God. After a time, I tried to convince and American who was working in the Saudi capital to convert to Islam. When I spoke to him, he responded with much courage and conviction. I was surprised by his courage, because in Saudi Arabia a man who preaches Christianity can easily be killed. Conversations with Christians in Saudi Arabia were very important for me. As someone associated with the Islamic mission in Arabia, I encountered many foreigners."


"I agree that there are many secret Christians in Saudi Arabia. Several times I myself have encountered people who were probably secret Christians. We need to understand that in Saudi Arabia and other countries, maybe the majority of Muslims go to the mosque not because their faith encourages them to, but because they are obliged to do so under the pressure of laws and customs. Visiting the mosque becomes a burden. Muslims of today are rather less religious than people in the Christian world believe."


"In Muslim countries, many people search for truth and it’s because of this that the Christian mission will grow. Most promote Christianity among friends, and recently there have been television networks and many more internet sites dedicated to mission among Muslims. In general, many Muslims distance themselves from Islam and this is especially visible in Western countries. In Great Britain, many Muslims have converted to Christianity. In the Anglican Church, Muslims who have adopted Christianity are estimated at a hundred thousand people. Many of them are Pakistanis. They have their own Christian churches and are forced to hide because of the danger of reprisals from the Muslims. There are also Arab and Bengali converts to Christianity. Very many convert because of mixed marriages."

"Sherry's note: I've never heard this statistic before that that doesn't mean it is impossible. There are some creative missionary endeavors within evangelical Anglicanism, especially in the global south.

On Muslim practice in the UK

The presence of mosques in the UK is very weak. Most Muslims won’t ever go to a mosque. The young people have effectively left Islam, even if they say that they’re still Muslims. In the mosques they don’t find a common language with the Imams from Pakistan or Bangladesh. Young people can barely speak Urdu or Bengali but only English. Many are ashamed of Islam because of terrorism. Our inter-religious council investigated mosque attendance and we know what the real picture is and it is especially alarming for Islam, but it is to the advantage of certain people to present Islam as an immense force.

Are there many Muslims who convert to Christianity in Great Britain?

"On the one hand, there are very many. This happens without any publicity. In effect, according to most schools of Islam an apostate from Islam should be executed, even though the imams of the chief mosques of London say that they cannot be executed for apostasy from Islam.

However, on the other hand, we can say that there are very few, since many Muslims simply abandon their faith and become unbelievers. Unbelief is an illness common to all. Certain Muslims try to present atheism and the absence of religion as characteristics of Christian civilization, but Muslims themselves, even more than Christians, lose their faith in the Western world."

Sherry's note: the issue of "secret believers" in both Islam and Hinduism is getting a lot of attention in the evangelical missions world. Some of these undercover believers in Jesus are baptized and would call themselves Christians. Others are not baptized and consider themselves to be both culturally Muslim and spiritually followers of Jesus. Some missionaries are intentionally fostering "NBB" (Non Baptized Believers) with the idea that someone who is not forced out of their family and cultural setting - as so many Muslim Background Believers are - is much better placed to be an evangelizing influence

The only category in Catholic or Orthodox ecclesiology for a "non baptized believer" would be a sort of life-long catechumen. But a catechumen that has no intention of being baptized eventually or of calling him or herself a "Christian" which is - or at least, has been - unthinkable. Welcome to post-modernity. This movement is highly controversial in evangelical circles as well. There are very rough estimates that there night be as many as 15 million "Non-baptized believers" in the Muslim and Hindu worlds.

I'm planning a series of posts on the huge Lausanne missions conference to be held in Cape Town in October to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the landmark Edinburgh Missions Conference of 1910. Over 4,000 invited missions leaders from all over the world will attend. It is an ecumenical conference of evangelical missions.

If there is any Catholic representation at this conference, it is low key and informal. But the many of the leaders are former Catholics. And the fruits of the conference will ultimately affect Catholics all over the world. A number of these leaders are working in Europe, working to stem the tide of secular disbelief there.

As part of the preparation for this conference, Christianity Today is sponsoring a web based "Global Conversation" on 12 topics of major interest to evangelical missionaries. The topic for December, 2009 was Muslim Followers of Jesus.
It was a spirited conversation with lots of comments and the website is worth perusing for those who want to get a better sense of this wholly new development in the history of the Christian-Muslim relationship.

Prayer Request

Your prayers, please, for a friend, Jimmy, who is in the hospital in Denver. Jimmie struggles with diabetes and I've just learned there is some possibility that he might lose his leg.

Which is particularly poignant because Jimmie's wife, Bev, is also in the throes of dealing with her mother who has Alzheimer's but is fighting the fact that she can not longer live safely on her own.

Jimmie and Bev both really need help and grace!

Update; Thank you for your prayers. Jimmy is out of the hospital, his infection is responding to meds, and it looks like his leg is safe for the time being.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The "19 Million" Thought Experiment

Thought experiment courtesy of the 2010 Vatican Yearbook. :

19 million additional Catholics entered the Church in 2008:
Most are baptized infants. But perhaps a million could be older children or adult converts.

If brought together they would produce a Catholic Mexico City, the second largest city on earth:

That means 52,055 additional Catholics or a new Durango, Colorado every day

That means 2,169 additional Catholics every hour

36 additional Catholics every second

In the 22 seconds that it took me to read the lines above out loud, an additional 795 Catholics joined us on this earth in 2008.

19 million immortals
19 million people created by God
19 million people redeemed by Jesus Christ
19 million members of the Body of Christ
19 million people who need to encounter Christ personally and respond to his call to follow him
19 million people anointed by Christ himself for a vocation, to play a unique part in his redemption of the world
19 million people given charisms for the sake of others (and most people are given more than one!)

19 million people who need to be loved, prayed for, fed, housed, clothed, educated, evangelized, catechized, to receive the sacraments, have a place to attend Mass regularly, receive help in discerning and answering God's call, and to be encouraged along the journey.

At the current 0.03508% ratio of priests (3.5/100ths of 1%) in the Catholic Church
those 19 million would include 6,650 priestly vocations.

Can we take this in? What is God doing? What are we called to do? What implications do you see?

It's worth thinking about. Cause we are going to find that another 16 - 20 million entered in 2009. A conservative estimate would put our numbers at 1.2 billion by the end of 2010.

Nineteen Million More Catholics in 2008

More news of Catholic growth around the world. Via Zenit. (A reader pointed out that I'd gotten the original number wrong. It is 19 million, not 17 million. We are growing faster than I knew!)

A net gain (after deaths) of 19 million new Catholics in 2008 bringing the global total to 1,166,000. That is a growth of 1.7% which is slightly ahead of the world's population growth rate.

Catholics make up 17.4% of the human race. The number of Catholics grew fastest in Africa (up 1.83%) and the Americas ( 1.57%) with Europe in last place (0.7%)

The overall number of priests continues to grow slowly. There were 409,166 Catholic priests in 2008. There was also a 1% growth in seminarians in 2008. Africa seminarian numbers were up 3.6%, Asia up 4.4% and Oceania up 6.5% (which is particularly good news).

In Europe, however, there was a 4.3% drop and the numbers in America have remained more or less stable.

The number of religious women continues to grow dramatically in Africa (up 21.2% since 2000) and Asia (up 16.4%) but the hemorrhage in Europe and North America continues so there was a significant overall loss in numbers.

19 million additional Catholics in 2008. To give some perspective, that's considerably larger than the number of Southern Baptists in the US (16 million) - the second largest communion in the country.

So every year, Catholics are adding an entire Southern Baptist Convention and then some to our numbers. Never, in 2,000 years, has a Christian group dealt with such numbers.

Instead of getting stuck on what happened in the west two generations ago, we need to be figuring out how to evangelize, form, and care for the staggering numbers coming our way today.

The duty of the present moment is the call of God.

Wanda Poltawska: An Amazing Life

I have a scholar-friend doing research in Poland right now who is fascinated by the story of this woman, Wanda Poltawska who is known to have been one of Pope John Paul's closest friends (and he had a great capacity for friendship).

What a life. Victim of Nazi medical experiments, beneficiary of a miraculous healing through Padre Pio, intimate friend to one of the great international figures of her day. Poltowska could serve as a poster child for the tragedies and glories of 20th century Poland. I've read that when Padre Pio received the letter from then Bishop Karol Wojtyla asking him to pray for the healing of this wife, mother, and physician, Pio said "This one, one cannot refuse".

My friend's Fulbright research is on the Catholic laity so he doesn't want to focus primarily on her relationship with Pope John Paul II but on her own experience as a serious lay Catholic. Wanda Poltawska was an expert in human sexuality and one of John Paul's advisors for his work in the Theology of the Body.

There has been considerable consternation in some ecclesial circles about the publication of her correspondence with the Pope and accusations that she is attempting to "profit" from her friendship with JPII.

I, for one, would very much like to hear from his friends while they are living. And it seems most appropriate as his cause for canonization is underway.

Mapping the Religious Blogosphere

Immanent Frame has a fascinating map of the religious blogosphere and only a few of the best known St. Blog's names are upon it:

Get Religion, Whispers in the Loggia, Commonweal, First Things.

Catholic blogs are a small subset of religious blogdom and religion is a small subset of the blogosphere as a whole. Talking to ourselves a good deal, it seems.

They have done a major breakdown via Technorati, Alexa. Read it and weep.

A Different History: Through Korean Eyes

Here's another moving glimpse of Catholic life and faith outside the west via the blog: Catholic American Eyes in Korea. The magnificent bronze doors of the Cathedral in Seoul depict the sufferings of early Catholics:

Cathedral doors were to express in bronze relief the beginning history of the Catholic Church of Korea. For one year Prof. Choi traveled around Korea to the different pilgrimage sites, and spent time reading Catholicism's history in Korea so the representation would be true to history.

Depictions on the doors are the first Chinese priest saying Mass, the representation of his first catechist receiving communion, a Paris foreign missioner taking care of orphans, persecution of the Catholics, and the clay pots that the Catholics sold to make a living during the years of persecution. It does give one a feel for the years of persecution and what it must have meant to the first Christians.

The artist is a convert to Catholicism himself who took the name John Vianney. The 1950's in Korea was a time of war (think MASH) and the experience fueled Choi's conversion.

In 1953 Prof. Choi entered Seoul School of art and sculpture after experiencing the cruelty and shock of war. His dean said he would make a good religious and recommended he enter the Catholic Church. He started to receive instructions was baptized and continued to relate his art to his religion. He hopes all those who come to the Cathedral and see the doors will want to imitate the faith of these early Catholics.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Full Body Scanning at Airports: What Do You Think?

Here's an issue that I'll be living with. What do you think of the proposed "full body scanning" at major airports?

Sister Anne Flanagan of Chicago has a thought-provoking perspective in her essay: Full-body scanning: a religious question?.

"I'm beginning to realize that it's (to use language from Pope John Paul II) a “theology of the body” thing.

I object to full body scanning because I believe that, with the level of detail it offers (even if in silhouette), it violates what Pope John Paul called the spousal meaning of the body.

The body's design itself makes it clear that we are meant for an "other", and we generally choose that "other" with care, because we are vulnerable in revealing ourselves.

Even at the doctor's office, we don't go full frontal unless that is precisely where our health is in question. (That's why they give you that crazy paper outfit.) Self-revelation in the body is a lovely (in the full sense of the word), intimate gift. Because the body is meant for communion. Always.

It is not true that our body is just a sort of envelope for a sexlessly generic soul, or that it is a strange animal-like appendage to the "important," spiritual part, but that really doesn't matter in itself (although plenty of people in our culture seem to think this). We ought to be alert to the tremendous significance of being "bodied persons": God became incarnate so he could relate to us in this very human way!

So there's something really not right, in my book, with a "revelation" of the body that takes place anonymously, apart from personal communion, in which I am being revealed to someone I cannot see or know; whose reaction I cannot gauge; whose trustworthiness with the sacredness of my body's image I am asked to take on the good faith of the United States' Transportation Security Administration."

How would you respond to Sr. Anne's question. What do you want to say to the TSA?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A People Without a History

John Allen quotes an interesting observation from Archbishop Timothy Dolan while interviewing Mother Mary Clare Millea of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the sister in charge of a Vatican-sponsored apostolic visitation of women religious in America.

Allen: I was talking yesterday with Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, and he made the argument that it’s a mistake for American Catholics to compare today’s numbers on anything, including religious life, with the peak period of the 1950s, because historically that peak was an aberration. Do you agree?

Mother Millea: Yes, definitely. That was a very unusual and unique peak in the number of vocations in the 1950’s. After the pioneering and the struggling times, part of it is that we built so many institutions. Those institutions met so many young people and influenced their lives, causing them to join and to become a part of that. That was a passing phenomenon, and many of the institutions have been taken over by other people so capably.

I'm so grateful when people with the status of Archbishop Dolan and Mother Millea spread the word. The American vocation spike that some want to insist represented the reality of the entire pre-Vatican II Catholic Church, was a one country, one generation aberration.

In addition to the institutional factor that Mother Millea mentions, there is some evidence that the horrific events of the 30's and 40's resulting in a world living under a nuclear Sword of Damacles, made many young men and women think again about secular life (understandably!). There were probably a number of other factors that led to the "one brief shining moment" but if we keep regarding the 50's as the American Catholic Camelot, we will profoundly misunderstand the significance of what has happened since and the times in which we live.

As I wrote last summer, in a post called "Generational Shift".

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

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

I recently came across a blogger who wrote that any "faithful" Catholic, would, if they had the choice, choose to live in the American Catholic Church of 1940 rather than the present. I was stupefied. Especially by the fact that no participant in the conversation raised the obvious problems with that assertion.

Would I rather live in 1940? Because the Catholic Church was so much healthier and strong in 1940 than it is today?

1940: the year that the Nazis marched into Catholic France and Belgium? The year when the whole world hovered on the edge of a cataclysm that was going to take 60 million lives and throw Christian Europe into an abyss from which it has never really recovered? The year that Maximilian Kolbe was hiding 2,000 Jews in his Franciscan community? 1940: The year of despair for millions and millions of Catholics in France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, and Italy. That 1940? Innumerable promising Catholic leaders and movements were crushed when the Nazis, and later, the Communists marched in. How many Catholics lost their faith in the midst of that unimaginable horror?

Two days ago, the baptized daughter of a holocaust survivor told me a story her Jewish mother had just revealed before her recent death. From about 1940.

As a very young woman, her mother, who was raised in Germany, had been raped by German soldiers. Somehow she and her family escaped to France where she discovered she was pregnant while in hiding. To save the lives of the rest of the family, the baby's grandmother, a physician, aborted her own grandchild. The woman telling me her mother's story ended by saying "I never understood why my mother refused to believe in God again because I thought her whole family had survived. Now I understand."

Nearly everyone would concede that 1940 was a very bad year for Catholics in Europe. But do we really think of 1940 in the US as a sealed off sunlit island in a world in anguish? Where Catholic institutions were booming and all was right with the world?

Or are we talking about the real American 1940 when Catherine Doherty was battling for the most minimal baptismal rights for black Catholics - like being allowed to attend local parishes, go to Catholic schools and universities, etc? Most Catholic parishes and Institutions reflected the deep, unreflective racism of the surrounding culture - even toward fellow Catholics. (One vivid anecdote: In the late 40's, Catherine Doherty was attacked and had her clothes torn off her by a group of white Catholic women in Georgia when she challenged them on this issue. She was rescued by the black janitor.) The Church teaches that racism is an "intrinsic evil" and in 1940, it was just as wide-spread among Catholics as anyone else.

In 1940, the famous ethnic Catholic enclaves in the US that protected us from the surrounding Protestant culture were European ethnic enclaves. How many times have I been told of the old pattern where there was an Irish Catholic Church and a German Catholic Church and an Italian Catholic Church all within a mile? I was just walking around historic Boston a couple weeks ago where there was three ethnic Catholic churches within a few blocks of one another. Are we to believe that these Catholics weren't in anguish about their families and friends in Europe in 1940?

1940 - when the young men filling those packed Catholic schools were about to march off to war by the hundreds of thousands? From 1940 - 1945, 300,000 young American men died on the battlefields of Europe, North Africa, and Asia. Another 300,000 were wounded, many maimed and traumatized for life. Many of them and their mothers, fathers, siblings, wives, and children were Catholic. Sounds like bliss to me.

My father was living in 1940 and part of his reward was getting to liberate a death camp in May, 1945, as a teenager. (As a small child, I wondered about my dad's collection of World War II books complete with extremely graphic and horrifying paintings and photographs of death camp survivors. It was only much later that he told me about his concentration camp experience and I understood.)

And then after the war, huge parts of Europe were taken over by Communist regimes who were virulently anti-Christian and anti-Catholic and Catholics and Catholic institutions in eastern Europe lived through another two generations of suppression and suffering. While Catholics in the US and the rest of the world lived under the shadow and constant anxiety of cold war and possible nuclear holocaust.

No wonder, opinion polls of young people in the 40's and 50's show that often the majority of young people did not expect to live a normal, full life, they were convinced that they would die in war, atomic holocaust or something like that. The times were really, really bad in 1940 and all adult Catholics living then knew the times were bad. No one living then thought of it as a kind of golden age for the faith. "Happy Days" was a 70 - 80's sitcom, not a 1940's reality.

Which was one reason so many entered religious life and the priesthood between 1945 and 1965.

And why the US Catholic Church has more priests today, in 2010, than she did in 1945. The post-war/cold war "bump" had not yet happened.

As one Dutch priest survivor of the war told Fr. Mike recently, many of his contemporaries entered priesthood because they had promised God they would become a priest if they survived. Of his minor seminary class of 78, only 18 were ultimately ordained - and of that 18 - he was the only one who had not left the priesthood.

We all know this history. And yet, when discussing the fortunes of the Catholic Church before and after Vatican II around the blogosphere, we suddenly became a Church without a real history. As though we had blotted out everything that happened between 1914 and 1962. Everything that the generation that held the Second Vatican Council had lived and suffered through and knew all too well.

I know that no one in the blogosphere is thinking or saying "It was ultimately a good thing that a global cataclysm annihilated the lives and hopes of so many millions because it made tens of thousands of American guys think again about becoming priests. Let's do that again."

But when, in the name of our current culture war battles, we accept selective amnesia and mythology as a substitute for history, we are deceiving ourselves. Self-deception makes for very bad theology and very poor discernment of our past, our present, and our future.

Being a faithful Catholic in the early 21st century is very difficult and complex. Being a faith-filled Catholic in the mid 21st century is going to be very difficult and complex.

But if we think it was less difficult and less complex in the early and mid 20th century because they had the Baltimore Catechism and the Latin Mass, we have utterly, utterly left reality behind.

The Barber's Miracle

Here's a charming, oh-so-Roman story that will start your day off right: The card-carrying Communist barber who cut "Fr. Karol's" hair and was repaid by a miracle. From the Times.

"I am not a saint, I am a sinner" says Giovanni Vecchio as he snips at a customer's hair in his barber's shop in a side street of a workaday Rome suburb. "But I have known a saint." He pauses, scissors in mid-air. "In fact, I have cut his hair".

If - or when - the late Pope John Paul II is canonised, it will be in part thanks to Mr Vecchio. Over 30 years ago, when the barber's shop he worked in was near the Vatican, a Polish prelate called Karol Wojtyla wandered in, sat down, and had his hair cut. He became a regular customer."

Vecchio didn't know who Fr Karol was. To him, a bishop was a just another priest. The barber was standing in St. Peter's Square in 1978 when he heard the new Pope's voice and recognized it. "I know him! I cut his hair!"


"But the encounter changed his life: last year, when he was entering hospital in great pain for a hernia operation, he saw a black and white photograph of John Paul II as a young man hanging at the entrance, and "our eyes met". Shortly afterwards, he was discharged. The hernia - and the pain - had miraculously disappeared.

What makes the "miracle" all the more remarkable is that Mr Vecchio, although baptised a Catholic, is a lifelong Communist, who still keeps his membership card in his wallet. His old-fashioned mirror-lined barber's shop however is now filled not only with mementoes of John Paul, including photographs and a pile of biographies, but also other signs of devotion such as images of Mother Teresa of Calcutta amid the family snaps and collections of razors, hairdryers and shaving brushes.

Mr Vecchio, an animated and - ironically - bald man of 61 who keeps fit by jogging, sees no contradiction, even though John Paul was instrumental in bringing down Communism in the Eastern bloc. "When I first saw him I immediately recognised the goodness in his eyes. At their best, I don't really think there's much difference between the Catholic Church and the ideals of Communism."

Monday, February 22, 2010

What's Happening

Fr. Mike is on the road, giving a parish mission at St Patrick Catholic Church in Oak Grove, MN. He'll be back in CS on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, I'm in snowy Colorado, working on a mission for St. John Fisher parish in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA which Fr. Mike and I will give together.

Lots of intriguing opportunities coming our way and getting finalized. We'll let you know when we know for sure.

I've got lots of material for blogging and will do so as I can.

Disciples' University, Taiwan

Via Cath News Asia:

Taiwan’s Tai Chung diocese has inaugurated a “Disciples University,” creating a new channel for the evangelization formation and charitable services on the Internet.

These initiatives represent the fulfillment of several main points mentioned by a diocesan Congress on Evangelization and Pastoral Ministry, Fides reports.

Among the subjects to be pursued are the following: vocational and priestly formation, economic development, parochial events, social care, the pastoral care of new immigrants and foreign faithful, family and marriage, culture, and education.

Local Bishop Martin Su Yao Wen said that “the university seeks to take advantage of new technologies to the maximum, i.e. the web, to launch the faith formation, helping even non-Christians to find the treasure of faith on the web”.

According to Disciples University coordinator, Fr Joseph Huang, “the choice of the name of the University was motivated by a desire to encourage every believer to be a disciple of the Lord, to always ‘recharge’ our spiritual life so as to be able to assume the mission that Jesus has entrusted to us: the evangelization of all peoples.”

Friday, February 19, 2010

Prayers, Please

For my nephew, Ryan. He has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome as a consequence of his time in Iraq. He was assaulted with a rock by a youth who tricked him into thinking he was friendly and suffered a broken nose. He escorted the teen-ager back to his parents. He also driving an armored vehicle that was destroyed by a remote-controlled bomb. Once stateside, he was in a single-car crash a few weeks ago and has some memory loss, a torn rotator cuff, some compressed discs in his back to go along with several pre-existing stress-fractures in his foot (a result of jumping repeatedly from the armored vehicle he was driving.

He's in a hospital in Colorado Springs, and I hope to visit him when I return for a couple of days next week.

Keep my parents in your prayers, too. They need to move to assisted living, which is a huge transition for them - especially my mother, as it means she will have to say good-bye to her beloved cat, Abby.

I'll take a prayer or two, also, for the parish mission I'll be giving in Oak Grove, MN this week.

Thank you.

Australia Fair: "Mary's a Saint"

This is how the Australian put it this morning: "Mary's a Saint!"

Mary MacKillop will be canonized October 17. Wonderful.

I was just re-reading her biography a week ago. Being ex-communicated early on by her ordinary was just the beginning of her troubles! Amazing what a mentally ill co-founder, sisters with bizarre spiritual manifestations, severe poverty and begging to sustain her community's many schools and Providences for the poor, the open hostility of several bishops, the rumor mill, a series of mysterious illnesses, and constant travel can do to a girl.

Thank God she didn't live in the age of the internet. In her day, the rumors could only fly as fast as the 19th century Australian postal system.

I kept wanting to hear more about the fruit of the her schools and other works for the poor for those they served but I've noticed that biographies of saints seldom address the fruit of their work. Biographies written to support a canonization process naturally focus on Mary's life, not her mission. And Mary's letters are naturally, largely concerned with administration and the need to responding to the sea of troubles that she and her sisters faced. But since Mary became a saint in the course of founding a religious congregation to answer a particular call, it would seem most appropriate to ask what God seems to have done through that call as well as within Mary herself.

(I know that the recognizable "impact" of a saint's ministry is not a part of the criteria for canonization but it is, nevertheless, part of the saint's story. Because part of the story is what God was doing in and through them for others. There is a vast storehouse of apostolic wisdom hidden in what saints did in response to the needs of their time and that we could learn from today. But the biographers of saints spent little or no time on such things.)

Like Mary Ward, Mary MacKillop's unfailing faith, graciousness, and serenity under a cascade of troubles was one of the primary signs of her sanctity. Both Mary's and the women who joined their communities suffered greatly from the public hostility of bishops, doubts about their fidelity, the rumor mill, and a struggle with constant poverty. And yet, they remained heroically constant and forgiving.

MacKillop was very compassionate toward others who suffered or struggled. She understood with all her being what it was like.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Jesus "The Living and Personal Gospel"

'With conversion, instead, we aim for the high standard of Christian life, we entrust ourselves to the living and personal Gospel, which is Jesus. He is the path we all are called to follow in life, allowing ourselves to be enlightened by His light and supported by His strength that moves our feet. Conversion is not simply a moral decision that corrects the way we live, but it is a choice of faith that draws us fully into intimate communion with the living and concrete person of Jesus.

"His person is the final goal, He is the deepest meaning of conversion.'

Pope Benedict, General Audience, Ash Wednesday, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

John Paul II: Running to Win

What better day than Ash Wednesday to listen to Fr. Robert Barron on the revelations last week that Pope John Paul II used a "discipline".

(My first reaction was "so?" So did St. Dominic and St. Teresa of Avila and Ignatius of Loyola, etc.

Yes, there has been a debate among orthodox Catholics about the relative place of physical penances for the past 400 years. St. Francis de Sales urged inner detachment and obedience rather than physical penances which he felt often didn't go to the heart of the matter. We have to understand St. Francis in context because the first generation of the 17th century French revival focused an enormous amount of energy on fasting and a wide variety of physical austerities, some of which were quite extreme. But the idea that people would regard this revelation about the late Pope's life as a manifestation of some kind of sickness never occurred to me.)

Barron addresses the issue in his usual clear and helpful way, drawing upon Charles Williams, Thomas Merton, and the so common and honored experience of working out in the gym, enduring pain and discomfort for better health and our dream of . . . a great body, a new personal best in that next 10k, or just a way to work off stress.

One of our local mountain running guru's has a slogan for his running club. "When it hurts, speed up!" While even other runners regard Matt Carpenter's saying as a bit out there, I've never heard anyone accuse him of masochism or mental illness.

But compared to what Carpenter's Incline Club members go through during the winter around here - slogging up thousands of feet, in near zero temps, through snow and ice, day after day around Pike's Peak as part of their training - what is reported about the Pope seems pretty mild.

So if you or someone you know was take aback by the story about Pope John Paul, have them watch this little video.

And then be prepared to have a really interesting conversation.

Wise Men and Women Still Seek Him: Converts as "Magi"

Here's a lovely true story for an Ash Wednesday and one related to my recent posts on the global growth of Catholics. But this story brings all those statistics alive.

"This month marks a huge anniversary in the life of the Garo people of India and Bangladesh. 100 years ago, this month, 5 Garo elders "traveled to Dhaka to ask Holy Cross Bishop Francis Frederick Linneborn to evangelize their people."

The bishop sent two Holy Cross priests and one brother the following year to Thaushalpara village near Ranikhong to prepare a base for evangelization in the region. In 1911, Father Francis A. Gomes, who was the first Bishop of Mymensingh, became its resident pastor, building the first church out of bamboo and bushes.

By 1913 the number of Garo Catholics rose to 400.

Last week, about 15,000 Christians, including those from other faiths, attended the celebrations at the “Mother Church” for all parishes in Mymensingh diocese. Also present were apostolic nuncio to Bangladesh Archbishop Joseph Marino and 14 bishops (including three from India), 55 priests and about 100 nuns. Today, the diocese has 80,000 mostly tribal Garo Catholics.

Holy Cross Bishop Ponen Paul Kubi of Mymensingh described the “Garo forefathers” as the “Magi of the Bible”.

“Like the gentile wise men they embraced suffering to get the light of a true religion through an unknown and impassable road. Today we bear witness that their toil has not gone in vain but has bore fruit” he said.

I love these stories. The earliest Catholic community in Korea was founded by lay man who had encountered the faith and been baptized in China. When after baptizing several thousand people, these new Korean Catholics realized that an ordained priest was necessary, they made the long trip to China to ask for one. The Catholic community in Korea survived for 50 years before they received their first resident priest.


By the way, the Catholic Church in Korea has grown 70% in the past 10 years and enjoys the 4th largest number of saints in the whole Church. Pretty good for a community founded by (gasp!) lay converts.

Closer to home: In 1831, some Rocky Mountain Indians, influenced by Iroquois descendants of converts of one hundred and fifty years before, had made a trip to St. Louis begging for a "black-robe". Four Indian delegations in succession were dispatched from the Rocky Mountains to St. Louis to beg for "black-robes" and the last one, in 1839, composed of some Iroquois who dwelt among the Flatheads and Nez Percês, was successful.

Iroquois laity had passed on the faith, without a priest, for 150 years and made 4 four thousand mile round trips journeys over a period of 8 years, to obtain a priest.


(This wonderful Persian portrait of the Magi bringing their gifts to the infant Jesus is by Hossein Behzad and comes via Farsinet.)

How different would our conversations be, how much closer to the truth of the matter, how much more joy we would bring to the heart of Christ - if every time we met or heard of a spiritual seeker or convert, we thought:

MAGI! Wise men and women coming from a far country, searching for God.

It doesn't matter where you start or how far you have to travel. You have to be a determined seeker after wisdom and must be willing to embrace suffering for the sake of truth to search out and find the faith via an unknown - and to you - a seemingly impassable road. Magi indeed.

If you have a free six minutes today, watch and listen to this simply gorgeous Byzantine Hymn of the Nativity - in Arabic. The Magi are everywhere! This Lent, you and I can be Magi too!

I love this atypical footnote to the story of the Garo of India:

"Niren Chisim, head of Birishiri Garo Baptist Convention told UCA News that Australian Baptist missioners started evangelizing among Garo tribals 20 years before the Catholics “but Garo people are mostly Catholic”. He added, “I think it was possible because Catholic evangelization was more organized and systemic than that ours.

Evangelization really isn't a Protestant word. Really. And where Catholics know it, even Baptists take note.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Robust" US Catholic Growth in 2008

The 2010 Yearbook from the National Council of Church USA is out and the news continues to be good for Catholics.

The Catholic Church, the nation's largest at more than 68 million members, reported a slight membership loss in 2009 (for the year 2007) but rebounded . . . with a robust growth of 1.49 percent in 2008.

Other groups that posted significant gains were the Mormon Church (Latter Day Saints) which grew 1.71 percent to 5,873,408 members and the Assemblies of God grew 1.27 percent to 2,863,265 members.

The big losers: mainline Protestants continue their slide

Presbyterian Church (USA), down 3.28 percent to 2,941,412; American Baptist Churches in the USA, down 2 percent to 1,358,351; and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, down 1.92 percent to 4,709,956 members.

The 10 largest churches were

1. The Catholic Church, 68,115,001 members, up 1.49 percent.

2. Southern Baptist Convention,16,228,438 members, down 0.24percent.

3. The United Methodist Church, 7,853,987 members, down 0.98 percent.

4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5,974,041 members, up 1.71 percent.

5. The Church of God in Christ, 5,499,875 members, no membership updates reported.

6. National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc, 5,000,000 members, no membership updates reported.

7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 4,633,887 members, down1.62 percent.

8. National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., 3,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

9. Assemblies of God (ranked 10 last year), 2,899,702 members, up 1.27 percent.

10. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 1(ranked 9 last year), 2,844,952 members, down 3.28 percent.

(Note that the LDS Church is #4 and growing.)

FYI: The Episcopalian Church is #15 and the Greek Orthodox Church is #17 with 1,500,000 members on the books (although I've been told by insiders that actual attendance at Divine Liturgy is a small fraction of the official number)

Not surprisingly, congregational giving was down:

"The financial reporting in the 2010 Yearbook is based on the financial income reports of the 64 churches reporting. The almost 45 million members of these churches contributed almost $36 billion, showing a decrease in the total income to the churches of $26 million."

40 Days for Life Goes Lenten

The annual 40 Days for Life campaign begins tomorrow, Ash Wednesday. Prayer, fasting, and peaceful demonstration are the heart of 40 Days activities.

There will be 30 Days for Life activities in 165 US cities as well as Canada, Australia, and Northern Ireland.

Find out what is happening in your town here.

The Spiritual Exercises Blog

Happy Mardi Gras!

As we stand on the edge of the plunge into Lent, consider making your journey with the help of a wonderful new blog that will lead you through a daily experience of Ignatius of Loyola's Thirty Day Exercises.

The Spiritual Exercises Blog is a collaborative effort of 4 Jesuits from around the US.

As they put it:

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola is a great treasure for the Church and its riches have been drawn upon for five centuries now. Through the course of St. Ignatius’ conversion, he kept notes about how it was that the Lord was leading him closer to Himself. Over the years, he steadily gave shape to these note and created a kind of program of prayer for others to follow which would open themselves up to the grace of conversion and greater ability to discern the will of God for their lives as well as the interior freedom required to then respond to that Divine Will in great generosity.

And they ask good questions:

What is currently blocking me from greater love for God? What blocks me from receiving God’s love for me? What do I most deeply desire in my life at this point? What does the Lord desire to give me at this time?

The definition of Grace in today's mediataion? "A deep desire to know the will of God for my life and the freedom to be able to do it"

Good stuff! Check it out.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Making Disciples Coming This May

I just finished an online advertisement for our upcoming Making Disciples Seminar in Boise, ID, May 17-20. It's also available on our website. I'm open to comments and suggestions, and hope to use this technology in the future for other events, as well as for teaching.

PS. On a Mac, if you hit the "command" key and the plus key simultaneously, the video will enlarge and you will be able to read it more easily.

Please let folks who are interested in evangelization know about our workshop!


Sunday, February 14, 2010

1970 - 2007: Boom time for the Catholic Church?

Bet you hadn't thought of our era as a boom time for priestly vocations. . .

Neither did I till I came across these exciting figures yesterday. (Via Providence College, CARA, Fides, and the Vatican's 2007 statistical report.)

Seminarian and priest numbers are booming in the global south. Which is very good news since Latin Americans, Africans, and Asians now make up 60% of the Catholics in the world.

Seminarian numbers have mushroomed in every single South and Central American and Caribbean county since 1972. The average growth is 371% between 1972 and 2008. But five countries have seen growth rates in that 36 year period that stagger the imagination.

El Salvador: 1,406%
Bolivia: 1,353%
Dominican Republic: 1,339%
Venzuela: 1,064%
Peru: 1,004%

Overall, Latin seminarians have grown from 5,334 to 25,108 since 1972.

(If the US had enjoyed a comparable rate of growth, the 5,279 seminarians we had in 1975 would have grown to nearly 25,000 today and there would be no talk about a "vocations crisis".)

Which explains why the Vatican figures show that the numbers of priestly vocations for "America" (The Vatican regards North, Central, and South America as a single unit) are essentially "stable" even though we know that the numbers have dropped significantly in the US and Canada.

The growth in Latin and Central America has offset the decline in the North.

PS: Another stunning note for those of us immersed in the North American scene: In South & Central America, even the numbers of women religious have grown a bit since 1972 (just over 3%)! Women religious in Africa and Asia have also grown steadily year after year. The "collapse" in women religious is apparently a western phenomenon.

Here's more encouraging news:

Priestly vocations have risen 27.6% in Africa between 2000 and 2007.
2000: 27,165 priests
2007: 34,663 priests

And the number of priests has grown 21.2% in Asia between 2000 and 2007
2000: 43,566
2007: 52,802

It is this really significant growth in the global south that is outpacing the losses in Europe (a decline of 6.8% in the same 7 year period or 14,189) and the decline in North America. It is because of the uptick in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia, that the global total of Catholic priests has risen from 405,178 in 2000 to 408,024 in 2007.

When you look at the fine print, it is a boom of diocesan priests. Globally, diocesan ordinations have grown 44% between 1970 and 2007 while graduate level seminarians have grown 35.6% since 1985 (I couldn't find figures for 1970 or 1975).

The biggest leap for both diocesan ordinations and graduate seminarians occurred between 1985 and 1995.

It is religious priests whose numbers have declined 9.7% since 1985 (their high point) which has significantly reduced the overall global gain.

Which raises some questions, I think:

If growth is in the global south and decline in the global north, does this mean that diocesan priesthood is more attractive to candidates from the global south? Is religious priesthood less available there? Less visible? Less supported? Local bishops pushing for and financing diocesan priests (naturally) while religious communities have fewer resources to do so? Or ??????

By the way, Catholic schools are enjoying their share of the boom as well.

Between 1970 and 2007, the number of Catholic elementary schools has grown slightly (3%) but the number of students in those schools has grown 46%. Meanwhile, the number of Catholic secondary schools has grown 61.3% and students in those schools have grown 119% in 37 years.

The bottom line globally: diocesan priests, seminarians, lay Catholics, the number of parishes, students in Catholic elementary schools, secondary schools and students in Catholic secondary schools have all grown significantly and sometimes spectacularly since 1970.

Gains in the global south are exceeding the losses in Europe and North America.

As John Allen responded to the assertion: "The Catholic Church is Shrinking"" in this 2008 piece for Foreign Policy Magazine:

"In fact, the church is in the midst of the greatest period of growth in its 2,000-year history. The world's Catholic population grew from 266 million in 1900 to 1.1 billion in 2000, an increase of 314 percent. By comparison, the world population last century grew by 263 percent. The church didn't just hitch a ride on the baby boom; it successfully attracted new converts.

Yes, Catholicism is getting smaller in Europe, and it would be losing ground in the United States, too, were it not for immigration, especially among Hispanics. A recent Pew Forum study found that fully 10 percent of Americans are ex-Catholics. These declines, however, have been more than offset by growth in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, the number of Catholics grew a staggering 6,700 percent in the past century, from 1.9 million to 130 million. The Democratic Republic of the Congo today has the same number of Catholics as Austria and Germany put together. India has more Catholics than Canada and Ireland combined.

What's happening is not that Catholicism is shrinking, but rather, its demographic center of gravity is shifting. What was once a largely homogenous religion, concentrated in Europe and North America, is now a truly universal faith. In 1900, just 25 percent of Catholics lived in the developing world; today that figure is 66 percent and climbing. In a few decades, the new centers of theological thought will no longer be Paris and Milan, but Nairobi and Manila."

The late 20th and early 21st century - the time after the Second Vatican Council - has turned out to be a time of tremendous growth for the faith as well as a time of decline in the west.

We need to remember that as we seek to discern what God is doing in our generation.

Buying Sex is Not a Sport: Human Trafficking & the Olympic Games

Speaking of the Olympics, the Archdiocese of Vancouver is deeply involved in a creative, ecumenical outreach to Olympic visitors from all over the world: More Than Gold.

The archdiocese has contributed a storefront space on the ground floor of its curia offices to the ecumenical “More than Gold” program of radical hospitality.

“We’re in the heart of everything, pretty much,” said Patrick Gillespie of the archdiocese’s office of evangelization. “We can step out of our door and we’re pretty much at the door of BC Place, where the opening ceremonies are going to be.

Incredibly, The Archdiocese of Vancouver, which represents more than 400,000 people, is closing its elementary and secondary schools for two weeks so students will be able to watch TV and volunteer during the Games!

More Than Gold is an ecumenical collaboration of churches in the Vancouver/lower mainland area, the two most prominent of which are the Archdiocese of Vancouver and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada and many other evangelical groups in a fruitful, if unlikely partnership.

(I say unlikely because, historically, Vancouver has been the most conservative diocese in Canada. I once spent three days as the only woman and lay person with the Fr. Michael Sweeney, the Archbishop, and 83 of his clergy at Whistler, where the Olympic skiing events are being held. 83 celebrants and one member of the congregation. Let's just say that it was clear that some of the guys hadn't spent much time around women. I occasionally felt like an exotic animal on display in a zoo.)

More than Gold will offer "radical hospitality", free homestays, arts and cultural events, prayer, and social justice initiatives. the Vancouver Sun notes: "Some of those same denominations will be holding demonstrations and workshops to raise the profile of the city's homeless during the multi-billion dollar Olympics, as well as draw attention to sex-trade workers whom they are calling victims of "human trafficking."

If some Christian activists have their way, the most popular T-shirt to emerge out of the Olympic Games, which they argue typically places prostitutes in high demand, will be the one reading, "Buying sex is not a sport."

In fact, Canada’s Catholic bishops have issued a pastoral letter denouncing a dehumanizing crime that, says the United Nations, affects 2.5 million people worldwide.

The Jan. 26 letter, signed by members of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CCCB) Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, said major sporting events often see “systems put in place to satisfy the demand for paid sex” and “this is likely to be the case during the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.”

The letter cites a Senate report that calls the Vancouver Games “a potential flashpoint for human trafficking” and found that the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens saw a 95-per-cent increase in human trafficking victims.
(via the Catholic Register)

(A family member, who served as a team doctor at one of these international sports galas told me stories about how some of the athletes expected him to help them procure sex as part of his "duties" (he declined). Since he was working with an African team comprised of a single athlete, they asked him, a 6'8" former basketball player, to march in the parade of athletes with the team. I've seen the picture: an Anglo giant holding the national flag and towering over his diminutive "teammate".)

From Olympic Athlete to Sister Catherine

Here's a timely story for this Olympic weekend: An Olympic speed-skater, from a family of Olympians, is now a Sister of the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal and working among the poor in England.

"Twelve years ago at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, a 17-year-old speedskating prodigy named Kirstin Holum was tapped for future greatness.

When Holum placed sixth in the 3,000 meters – one of the most grueling disciplines in the women’s program, a lung-scraping four-minute bust of lactic acid torture – speedskating insiders predicted a golden future and speculated she may not even reach her peak for another decade."


Holum was born into speedskating royalty. Her mother Dianne was a world-class speedskater who won Olympic gold in 1972 and reached even greater heights as a coach, mentoring the legendary Eric Heiden to his clean sweep at Lake Placid in 1980.

After completing an art degree, including a thesis on the Olympics at the Art Institute of Chicago, Holum joined the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, a faith with a mission “to work with the poor and homeless and evangelization.”

Based first in New York, Sister Catherine and her fellow nuns stepped on to the mean streets of the Bronx to work with some of the Big Apple’s most underprivileged children in areas steeped in gang culture. Such work and sacrifice in homeless shelters and soup kitchens gave her a deep-rooted sense of satisfaction that skating had never been able to provide.


Last year, missionary work took Sister Catherine to England, where she has found her previous life as an athlete a useful tool in providing some “street cred” when dealing with skeptical youngsters.

“When I give my religious testimonies, it is fun to watch the reaction of the kids when I tell them I was in the Olympics,” she laughed. “Their eyes get really big and they start paying a lot more attention. It is a great thing to share with them and it gives me a lot of pleasure to think back and talk about it.

Rare Video of Dorothy Day

A reader sent this rare, 3 part video of an extended interview with Dorothy Day in old age. I'm guessing from the hairstyle of the interviewer and the cringe-worthy music that the interview took place during the early 70's. (Day died in 1980.)

Dorothy is utterly herself, clear-headed, matter of fact, simple and literate; moving readily from a discussion of the anarchist and pacifist principles behind the Catholic Worker to quoting St. Paul and the Imitation of Christ and then to describing birth control as "genocide". She utterly transcends the categories of our current debates, thank God. Dorothy was so deeply the product of pre Vatican II Catholicism and completely orthodox in her theology and devotion.

But she took the Scriptures and the commands of Christ literally (the interviewer asks her if she is really a "fundamentalist") and insisted on direct, personal, costly obedience. And that led her to political stands that we think of as belonging to far left hand side of the spectrum. Listen to her talking about God "delivering me from the fear of our enemies" and being a "fool for Christ."

I talk about Dorothy at every Called & Gifted workshop I teach. As I point out, we don't have to agree with Dorothy's politics but none of us gets out of her dilemma of how to live the life of Christ in our generation. Dorothy's long obedience in the same direction is a challenge to us all - where ever we fall on the spectrum.

If you can, take the time to watch all three videos. If not, I'd recommend starting with part 2. I can't embed this so you'll have to go to the site.

Here's an interesting trailer of a documentary on Day "Don't Call Me A Saint".

Part 1.
Part 2.
Part 3

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Life After Sunday

Life After Sunday is a creative, beautifully written, very attractive, multi-media formation process and resource for individuals or small groups from 20-something to 80-something.

For John M. Capobianco and Mary Beth Newkumet of Lumen Catechetical Consultants, LIfe After Sunday is a work of love. They have just updated their website and it looks great.

Catchesis in hard copy and online formats, reflection, group discussion, Scripture and catechism references, great video clips, links to amazing stories and initiatives are all there in a really thoughtful and integrated package. All about - yes, a deep and passionate relationship with Christ in the midst of his Church - and it's free!

If you are in or facilitating a small faith sharing group, involved in adult formation, catechesis, RCIA, or looking for some very creative evangelization tools, spend some time at Life at Sunday's website. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Canadian Anglicanism: One Generation Away From Extinction?

I've been reading e-mail, which has piled up at a fearful rate, and cruising favorite blogs and interesting links, trying to catch up on all that has happened in the larger world during the past 6 weeks while I have been rushing about.

And came across this, which may have been discussed elsewhere about St. Blog's but I still find stunning:

From the yesterday's Globe and Mail:

"The Anglican Church in Canada – once as powerful in the nation's secular life as it was in its soul – may be only a generation away from extinction, says a just-published assessment of the church's future.

The report, prepared for the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia, calls Canada a post-Christian society in which Anglicanism is declining faster than any other denomination. It says the church has been “moved to the far margins of public life.”

According to the report, the diocese – “like most across Canada” – is in crisis. The report repeats, without qualification or question, the results of a controversial study presented to Anglican bishops five years ago that said that at the present rate of decline – a loss of 13,000 members per year – only one Anglican would be left in Canada by 2061.

It points out that just half a century ago, 40 per cent of Vancouver Island's population was Anglican; now the figure is 1.2 per cent. Nationally, between 1961 and 2001, the church lost 53 per cent of its membership, declining to 642,000 from 1.36 million. Between 1991 and 2001 alone, it declined by 20 per cent."

Since Fr. Michael Sweeney, co-founder of the Institute, is a native of Vancouver, BC, we spent a lot of time in Vancouver and the lower mainland of British Columbia in the early years. His mother was an Anglican until Fr. Michael received her into the Catholic Church himself at his first Mass after being ordained..

Fr. Michael always made sure that I knew that everything Canadian was better than in the US. According to him, my native Seattle was Vancouver's ugly step sister. Canadian drivers were better, Canadian laws, government, even Canadian hamburgers (White Spot!) were superior to those south of the border. I know that Fr. Michael lathered it on to bait me (what else do you have to do when driving hundreds of miles from workshop to workshop than harass your Yankee partner-in-crime?) but the emotional energy behind it was real.

But the collapse of Christianity in Canada is no laughing matter. And I don't think that even Fr. Michael could turn into into another proof of northern superiority.

As the Globe and Mail article continues:

"Regular attendance is declining at all Canadian Christian churches, except for the Roman Catholic Church, whose small increase is attributed to immigration. But Anglicanism's problem is aggravated because it is primarily a tribal church, the offspring of the Church of England. It has traditionally been home to Canadians of Anglo-Saxon descent who increasingly have no ethnic identification with the church, said religious studies professor David Seljak of St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, Ont."

Or as an Episcopalian rector put it to me when i asked what the Anglican communion was for (other than Henry and his wives), he responded: "It's a cultural coalition". A "tribe" on the verge of extinction, it seems.

As I reported to the Companions of the Cross last month in Houston, the Canadian and US Catholic Churches have more in common than I had realized:

United States

Catholics are 24% of the population
(65.2 million and growing mostly due to immigration)
40,666 priests with a 1,603 Catholics/priest ratio
36% attend Mass weekly (averaged across the nation and across generations)

Unaffiliated” (claim no religious affiliation): 16.1%
Atheist: 1.6%
Unaffiliated/atheist together: 17.7%

Evangelicals are 26.3% of the population.


Catholics: 46% of the population
13 million (growing due to immigration)
8,000 priests or 1,625 Catholics/priest
27% attend Mass (national average - varies significantly from area to area)

“Unaffiliated”(claim no religious affiliation): 19%
Atheist: 7% (438% higher than in the US)
Unaffiliated/atheist together: 26%

Evangelicals: 12% (half the size of the US but the number of Canadian evangelicals has grown nearly 50% since 1981)

What Do You Love?

While in Westford, MA, I was in the beautiful parish church of St. Catherine of Alexandria and I ran across this quote from Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the former head of the Jesuits, on a slip of paper near the confessional.
“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
We fall in love in a contigent way any time we love something or someone else to the exclusion of loving God. That thing or person we love in such a way will always disappoint us. We will experience betrayals large and small. Mainly we'll be disappointed because they can't fill that desire for infinite love that our Creator has placed within us.

Fortunately, God realizes this, and so allows us samples of His love; His presence in those fleeting moments when we give or receive genuinely selfless love, when we allow ourselves time to reflect upon the words of Scripture, and when we fruitfully participate in the sacraments, among others. But Fr. Arrupe's quote raises the questions that we all must address honestly:
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
What do you do when your time is your own? Or what do you fantasize doing if you ever had "free time."
What do you read, and why?
What are the criteria you use in choosing and keeping friends?
When was the last time you were present enough to your own being-in-the-world that you succumbed to the world's beauty and goodness?

Finally, and most importantly, have we forgotten we can ask God to help us love Him? Do we ask for His Spirit to dwell in us, expanding our hearts, directing us away from transient things to that which really lasts: God himself, primarily, but also the immortals we encounter in what we mistake as mundane moments at the grocery store, the office water cooler, the airport gate area?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Pause Amid Powder Snow

We jetted back from Boston Sunday evening and have been in strategic planning sessions ever since. Done.

For the first time since December 26, I have a bit of down-time ahead. And no traveling for 2 1/2 weeks. It snowed the last 24 hours and this morning was classic Colorado:

Fluffy piles of powder heaped on evergreens below a stunning blue sky.

Blogging will commence soon. First a home made skinny Irish creme latte is in order, I think.

Friday, February 5, 2010

St. Dominic and Evangelization

This was in the Vatican News Service a couple of days ago.

In the general audience of February 3, held in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the life and work of St. Dominic de Guzman, founder of the Order of Preachers, or Dominican Order.

St. Dominic was born in Caleruega, near the Spanish city of Burgos, in the year 1170. While still a student he "distinguished himself for his interest in the study of Sacred Scriptures and his love for the poor". Having been ordained a priest he was elected as canon of the cathedral of Osma, however "he did not consider this as a personal privilege, nor as the first step in a brilliant ecclesiastical career; rather, as a service to be rendered with dedication and humility. Do not career and power represent a temptation to which even those who have roles of leadership and government in the Church are not immune?" the Pope asked.

He then explained how the bishop of Osma "soon noted Dominic's spiritual qualities and sought his collaboration. Together they travelled to northern Europe on diplomatic missions. ... On his journeys Dominic became aware of ... the existence of peoples still un-evangelised, ... and of the religious divides that weakened Christian life in the south of France, where the activity of certain heretical groups created disturbance and distanced people from the truth of the faith".

Pope Honorius III asked Dominic "to dedicate himself to preaching to the Albigensians" and he "enthusiastically accepted this mission, which he undertook through the example of his own life of poverty and austerity, through preaching the Gospel and through public discussions".

"Christ", the Pope went on, "is the most precious treasure that men and women of all times and places have the right to know and love! It is consoling to see how also in today's Church there are many people (pastors and lay faithful, members of ancient religious orders and of new ecclesial movements) who joyfully give their lives for the supreme ideal of announcing and bearing witness to the Gospel".

As more and more companions joined him, Dominic established his first house in the French city of Toulouse, from which the Order of Preachers came into being. "He adopted the ancient Rule of St. Augustine, adapting it to the requirements of an itinerant apostolic life in which he and his confreres would move from one place to another preaching, but always returning to their convents, places of study, prayer and community life".

St. Dominic, the Holy Father continued, "was keen that his followers should have a solid theological formation, and did not hesitate to send them to the universities of the time". There they dedicated themselves to the study of theology, "founded on Holy Scripture but respectful of the questions raised by reason".

The Pope encouraged everyone, "pastors and lay people, to cultivate this 'cultural dimension' of the faith, that the beauty of Christian truth may be better understood and the faith truly nourished, strengthened and defended. In this Year for Priests, I invite seminarians and priests to respect the spiritual value of study. The quality of priestly ministry also depends on the generosity with which we apply ourselves to studying revealed truths".

Dominic died in Bologna in 1221 and was canonised in 1234. "With his sanctity, he shows us two indispensable means for making apostolic activity more incisive", the Pope concluded; "firstly, Marian devotion", especially the praying of the Rosary "which his spiritual children had the great merit of popularising", and secondly, "the value of prayers of intercession for the success of apostolic work".

Let me add a couple of quick observations before I get back to work.

1. The Holy Father asks, "Do not career and power represent a temptation to which even those who have roles of leadership and government in the Church are not immune?" This is most certainly true. One can claim power, especially a kind of spiritual power, over others that allows one to bend the will of another to my own. The power of Jesus, however, is found in service that puts the genuine needs of others first, openness to God and creation, humility that recognizes one's limitations, and magnanimity - a desire to do great things for and with God. It is a power "not of this world." St. Dominic had a spiritual power, as do all the saints. They evoke a response on the part of others, just as their Lord did. Some will oppose them, others draw inspiration from them and want to follow in their steps. But they cannot be ignored.

2. Pope Benedict, following Pope John Paul II, sees evangelization as an act of love and justice. Love, in that if my life has been transformed by the Gospel and the "surprising" encounter with Jesus, I should want others to experience that transformation, too. It flows from my love for Jesus and what He has done for me, to the love I bear for the good of my neighbor. Evangelization is also an act of justice because every human being has a right to know the truth: that they are loved by God, have dignity because they were created by Him, and have been redeemed through an act of love for them by Jesus' death on the cross.

3. Returning to the theme of the famous lecture in Regensburg, the Holy Father reminds us that faith and reason must go hand in hand, since God is the source of both. There is no room in the Christian faith for anti-intellectualism or the fear of the human mind's questions. Faith without reason leads to fundamentalism. Reason without faith leads to materialism and selfishness. Study and prayer must be a part of the life of the priest, if he is to be an effective minister.

4. St. Dominic was a great intercessor, as well as one who was devoted to another great intercessor, the Virgin Mary. It is a tremendous temptation to Christians, but especially Christian ministers, to forget the power of intercessory prayer. In our age of crowded schedules and a "do it yourself" approach to life, it's too easy to neglect the reality that all really significant positive change in the world happens only when we choose to be God's collaborators!

What's That You Said?

At the Saturday night tent revival the preacher announces,
"Anyone with ‘needs’ to be prayed over, come forward, to the front at the altar.”

LeRoy gets in line, and when it’s his turn, the preacher asks:
"LeRoy, what do you want me to pray about for you?”

LeRoy replies, “Preacher, I need you to pray for help with my hearing.”

The preacher puts one finger in LeRoy’s ear, and he places the other hand on top of LeRoy’s head and prays and prays and prays, he prays a blue streak for LeRoy.

After a few minutes, the Preacher removes his hands, stands back and asks, “LeRoy, how is your hearing now?” LeRoy says, “I don’t know, Reverend, it ain’t ‘till next Wednesday."


hat tip: Ralph Silva

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cheers from (and in) Boston

Cheers from Boston.

It's bright, sunny, and cold today. Fr. Mike and I marched a large part of the Freedom Trial yesterday: Bunker (Brede's hill), the Old North Church (very evocative - my favorite), Paul Revere's house (from 1680, oldest surviving urban house in the US), Quincy Market, real Italian cannollis, (yum!) and real New England clam chowdah.

Not to mention real New Englanders . . . and the intrepid Christine from Raleigh, North Carolina, who wins the distance prize. It is amazing how many parishioners were not only born nearby but have spent their entire lives in this parish. So different from the hundreds of other parishes we've worked in.

This is an enthusiastic, vibrant parish that is doing some very creative things with Generations of Faith as you can see here. We gather at 6pm (along with a simple dinner provided by the parish) and spend the evening together wrestling with charisms. A fun, enthusiastic group.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What is the object of human life?

What is the object of human life? The enlightened conservative does not believe that the end or aim of life is competition; or success; or enjoyment; or longevity; or power; or possessions. He believes instead, that the object of life is Love. He knows that the just and ordered society is that in which Love governs us, so far as Love ever can reign in this world of sorrows; and he knows that the anarchical or the tyrannical society is that in which Love lies corrupt. He has learnt that Love is the source of all being, and that Hell itself is ordained by Love. He understands that Death, when we have finished the part that was assigned to us, is the reward of Love. And he apprehends the truth that the greatest happiness ever granted to a man is the privilege of being happy in the hour of his death.

He has no intention of converting this human society of ours into an efficient machine for efficient machine-operators, dominated by master mechanics. Men are put into this world, he realizes, to struggle, to suffer, to contend against the evil that is in their neighbors and in themselves, and to aspire toward the triumph of Love. They are put into this world to live like men, and to die like men. He seeks to preserve a society which allows men to attain manhood, rather than keeping them within bonds of perpetual childhood. With Dante, he looks upward from this place of slime, this world of gorgons and chimeras, toward the light which gives Love to this poor earth and all the stars. And, with Burke, he knows that "they will never love where they ought to love, who do not hate where they ought to hate."--Russell Kirk

In the paragraphs above, from A Program for Conservatives, Dr. Kirk addresses conservatives. However, I believe he also describes the calling of the Christocentric Life. His words remind us of our pilgrim status in this world of tears. We are not called to material success. We are called to obedience. We are called to love. We are called to love He who is Love Himself. A society where a large number of Christians know and live this calling will be transformed. The True, the Good, and the Beautiful will find their true place in our culture only when many more of us are obedient to Love.

O my God, I love Thee above all things, with my whole heart and soul, because Thou art infinitely worthy of love; I love also my neighbor as myself for the love of Thee. Amen

(cross posted to The Christocentric Life)


Conversation with a Survivor

This morning I concelebrated the 6:30 a.m. Mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Malden, MA with Fr. Richard Bakker, SMA, a Dutch priest who prepared to be a missionary in Africa, but was conscripted by the Dutch Air Force as a chaplain three weeks before his intended departure, and who then spent his life teaching French and Greek in seminary.

He grew up in Amsterdam, and was eight years old when WWII began. He lived just a five minute walk from the house where Anne Frank and her family hid. He told me how of the 253 Jews in his neighborhood, only three survived the war. "I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood. All the children I played with were killed." His father was a Dutch diplomat in England who brought his family to the Netherlands for a vacation during the summer of 1939, and wasn't able to return to England because the war began. At the age of eight, he was told by his father to never speak English again. "I thought it was stupid! I didn't know Dutch. My father said, 'Don't even say stupid. It's English!'"

He recalled with great fondness how the Dominican sister who taught him in kindergarten (he repeated that grade because his language skills were so poor) told him, "Here, I'll help you learn Dutch." At the time he probably thought she was just being kind. She may well have been trying to save his life, and the life of his family.

He told me a story of Edith Stein. In 1939, the Carmelites moved Edith and her sister, Rose, from a convent in Germany to one just across the border in the Netherlands, which was a neutral country. When she arrived, it was cold, and the Carmelites didn't have the heat on. "Begging your pardon, sisters" Edith asked, "Why have you not turned on the heat?"

"We don't have heat. Holy poverty, you know."

Edith discovered the abbot of a local monastery was German, and she spoke to him of the Carmelites' situation. Soon they had a heating system. It worked for over sixty years, until a couple of years ago. The Carmelites still were very poor, and couldn't fix or replace it. "Let's ask for Sr. Edith's intercession," the Carmelites said. Sure enough, the heat came on again, and has worked for the last two years.

"I didn't talk about the war for decades," Fr. Bakker told me. "Then one day I was asked by a rabbi I know to speak at his synagogue about the war. A woman sat crying in the back throughout my talk. Afterward, she came up and said to me, 'It's all true. I lived in Amsterdam during the war, too.'"

Many, many Catholic Dutch men entered the seminary after the war. "There were 72 in my minor seminary class alone! But of the 18 men I was ordained with, all the others left and got married." As in this country, many Catholic soldiers during the horrors of the war made promises to God. My mother once told me a long time ago, when my father was still working as an engineer and had to fly occasionally to Europe or Japan, how guilty he felt about flying at all. "Why?" I asked. "Because during the war, when he was navigating B-25s over Japan, and so many of his friends were being killed, he promised God that if he was spared, he'd never fly in a plane again." How many other Catholic men made promises along the lines of, "Get me out of this hell, and I'll become a priest." Who knows how many of them who survived kept their promises? I've heard enough stories to believe their numbers were not insignificant.

People often look at the exodus of priests that occurred after the Second Vatican Council and blame it on the Council itself, or in the way it was interpreted. But men who entered the seminary after the war and were ordained in the early to mid-50s would have had been priests for 10-15 years by the time of the Council. They might have been in their early to mid-40s; still young enough to be husbands and fathers, and mature enough to realize the choice to become a priest may not have been entirely free.

Some people will think I'm just making excuses for men who should have persevered, or who gave in to human weakness, or who just decided that being a priest was too hard, or no longer fulfilling.

Rather, I think it's sad that we - or at least I - haven't heard their stories. Why did they become priests in the first place? What happened that made them choose to leave? These and other questions, as well as the answers we could glean, could go far in helping us help young men today discern their vocation. Such a discussion could also help us improve our seminary formation process, too, so that we don't experience another exodus in the future.

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Bunkie to Boston

Sherry and I had a wonderful time in Bunkie, LA. Fr. Jack, the pastor at St. Anthony of Padua, and Bonnie and Karen, two of his staff, were great hosts. About 100 people attended the workshop, and it's great to know the staff is 100% behind it. I hope to keep in touch with them to help them as they attempt to follow-up on some of the ideas we presented.

It was also great to sample some wonderful Cajun food: boiled crawfish, fried catfish, hush puppies, crab cakes, stuffed shrimp, crawfish etouffe. It was all delicious. My cholesterol's through the roof, I'm sure.

Tonight I got picked up at the airport by Margo Morin, a staff member at Immaculate Conception in Malden, MA. The parish is focusing on evangelization this year, and it sounds like some great things are happening. During our dinner conversation she mentioned that although they're a large parish, they only had twenty weddings last year! "Funerals definitely outnumber baptisms" she said. I think this will be a good workshop.

Oh, when you're in Boston, try the Harpoon 100 Barrel Ginger Wheat beer. It goes well with baked schrod (the fish of the day) and sweet potato fries. The locals pronounce it "Hah-poon."

Home for a Day

Back in CS - for one day. In Bunkie, Lousiana, the camellias are blooming, we ate crawfish and etouffee and about 100 attended the Called & Gifted from as far away as Baton Rouge. Tomorrow Boston. Hopefully, more later.

Gotta take Fr. Mike to the airport now. He's flying to Boston early to pack in a little sight-seeing.