Friday, March 26, 2010

Moving Day

Dear ID readers and lurkers:

You may be wondering about the strange little header that says this blog has moved and the link that sends you to a new blog on our Catherine of Siena website.

It's a bit early for April Fools.

We are in the process of moving Intentional Disciples to a new location on our Catherine of Siena website and a band of crazed techies are working all sorts of magic behind the scenes.

Blogger forced our hand by announcing that they will no longer be supported FTP publishing after May 1. So we had to move and I think you'll be very happy with our new location and the much greater flexibility that we will have there.

Fear not. We are still very much alive. All the content that you love on Intentional Disciples will be available on the new blog - searchable for the first time!

Alas, the weekend caught us in the middle of making the transition and I can't seem to post today on the "new" blog in a way that anyone but me can read it. So I'll be keeping y'all posted here.

Hopefully, by early next week we'll be posting at the new blogsite.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Veterinarians Making a Difference

When you think of evangelization and opportunities for evangelizing, veterinary medicine is not the first avenue that leaps to the mind. But a few weeks ago, while I was in Tucson and had the opportunity to attend a gathering of lay Dominicans there, one of them, a young, single, recent graduate of veterinary school named Margaret, announced that she would be traveling for three months to Mongolia - Mongolia! - as part of the Christian Veterinary Mission this summer.

Here's a brief summary of their mission:
Christian Veterinary Mission seeks to help veterinarians serve others and live out their Christian faith through their profession. We seek to change lives and communities by improving the care of livestock and other animals.

Every year, thousands of people around the world struggle to survive because they don't have the right knowledge, skills and resources to care for their animals. CVM veterinarians live and work alongside these people to encourage them and provide them with not only much needed veterinary expertise, but also the hope that is only found in Christ. As friends and encouragers, CVM veterinarians build lasting relationships with individuals and communities, helping them be transformed through Christ's love. Christian veterinarians also serve through the profession here at home, demonstrating Christ's love in word and deed.
This is the kind of "out of the box" thinking with respect to evangelization that is so cool. Obviously, trust is built between the veterinarian and those who do not yet know Christ. The very fact that someone has traveled halfway around the world to help has to raise curiosity about the motives of such an individual, so there are plenty of opportunities to talk about Jesus, his love for the poor, and the way he used agricultural and pastoral images in his teaching.

What's also interesting about this ministry is that it was born out of the gradual unfolding of the vocation of a particular individual, Dr. Leroy Dorminy, the founder and now director emeritus of CVM. Here's his story in his own words:
My family and I attended the Baptist World Alliance in Stockholm, Sweden in July 1975. There were 84 countries represented including some underdeveloped countries. This was my first encounter with people from the Third World. The glaring inequalities between the two worlds were visible to me for the first time in a personal way. During a small group Bible study one day, someone asked a lady from Africa, "how can we of the developed world be of help to you in the underdeveloped countries?" Quickly she responded, "what we need is for you to come and teach us your skills that we might do for ourselves."

Pondering her remarks and what implications it had for me, I volunteered my services to the foreign mission board but nothing was available. This pointed out to me the need for the profession's own organization that could serve as a vehicle for sending veterinarians. This would facilitate those with a desire to be involved in that process to do so.

After discussing this with some Christian veterinarians in Georgia a charter was obtained for Christian Veterinary Mission (CVM) in September 1976. Immediately afterwards I was able to go to the Dominican Republic for a pilot project to work with an agricultural missionary. His focus of work was with the poor peasant farmers of the area. He recognized the need for someone with veterinary expertise to help with their animal husbandry problems. The response to my efforts was overwhelming. Thus CVM was born.

In 1977, CVM was adopted as the mission arm of the Christian Veterinary Fellowship (CVF). Great interest and rapid growth suggested the need for professional help in facilitating the administration of overseas placements. Thus in February of 1978 we became a part of CRISTA Ministries.
Notice that his call developed from a new awareness of a real need in the world - a need that he already had some skills as a veterinarian to address. Furthermore, as he began taking some steps in response to that need, doors began to open, opportunities became available, and alliances made. This is so often the way God works in the world through individuals who aren't afraid to take a first step - or to dream big.

The Cost of Discipleship, Part 1

On this snowbound morning, I thought it would be good to meditate on the lives of some Christian martyrs, who are unknown to many of us, but well known enough in the Anglican world to be honored on the Great West Door of Westminister Abbey.

Manche Masemola (1913-1928) was a Christian martyr, of the Pedi tribe, lived in Marishane, a small village near Pietersburg, in South Africa. German and then English missionaries had worked in the Transvaal for several decades and by the early twentieth century there was a Pedi Christian minority which was widely viewed with distrust by the remainder of the tribe who still practiced the traditional tribal religion.

She attended classes in preparation for baptism with her cousin Lucia, against the wishes of her parents. When she came home she would be beaten by her parents. Manche found herself saying that she would be baptized in her own blood. Her parents took her to a spirit priest, claiming that she had been bewitched. She was prescribed a traditional remedy, which her parents made her consume by beating her. She died shortly after without having been baptized.[1] Manche's mother denied this and 40 years later was herself baptized.

Janani Jakaliya Luwum (1922 – 17 February 1977), was the Anglican Archbishop of the Church of Uganda from 1974 to 1977. He was murdered in 1977 by either Idi Amin personally or by Amin's henchmen.

Archbishop Luwum was a leading voice in criticizing the excesses of the Idi Amin regime in Uganda that assumed power in 1971. In 1977, Archbishop Luwum delivered a note of protest to dictator Idi Amin against the policies of arbitrary killings and unexplained disappearances. Shortly afterwards the archbishop and other leading churchmen were accused of treason.

Henry Kyemba, Amin's former Minister of Health, sought political asylum in the UK and wrote a tell all book about the life of the former dictator. At the time, Amin claimed that the three had been killed in a traffic accident shortly after he had denounced them as traitors at a mass meeting. In reality, Kyemba writes, the three were killed by Amin's dread secret police. Kyemba, as Health Minister, was asked to arrange for the arrival of the bodies at a local mortuary. "As I expected," he writes, "they were bullet-riddled. The archbishop had been shot through the mouth and had three or four bullets in his chest." Doctors obliged Amin by writing in their post-mortem report, however, that the three had died of internal injuries.

More martyrs in a bit.

Oscar Romero and The Company of the Martyrs

Today is the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Servant of God Oscar Romero while celebrating Mass.

On March 24, 1980, a gunman shot and killed Romero as he said Mass in a small chapel at a hospital called La Divina Providencia, in the Salvadoran capital. Days later, massive crowds attended Romero's funeral, which also resulted in tragedy as snipers shot at the gathered mourners, killing at least 20 people. El Salvador then plunged into a civil war that did not end until 1992, after tens of thousands of deaths.

Still a controversial figures in death as in life, he is widely regarded as a saint in El Salvador and the largest Salvadorian community in the US, Los Angeles, will be honoring him today. For the first time, the government of El Salvador will be honoring him as well. (A change in government made that possible.)

On March 4, the Salvadoran National Assembly passed a decree declaring March 24 each year to be Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero Day. On March 24, president Mauricio Funes, who commited himself to Romero's option for the poor when he was elected the country's first leftist president, will apologize on behalf of the Salvadoran state for Romero's murder at the hands of a right wing death squad.

Romero has been honored as one of the 20th century's Christian martyrs with a statue on the Great West Wing of Westminster Abbey. Romero is honored with St. Maximilian Kolbe, Manche Masemola, Janani Luwum, Grand Duchess St. Elizabeth of Russia, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Easter John, Lucian Tapiedi, and Wang Zhiming.

Since most of these figures were unknown to me - and I suspect - most American Catholics, I'll do brief posts about those least familiar. (I've been busily reviewing a number of relevant Church documents relevant to lay ecclesial ministry and the relationship between the ordained and the laity and it is taking longer than I hoped so blogging will be intermittent today.)

Many of these largely non-Catholic figures would not make it through the Church's strenuous canonization process but they each strove to follow Christ in very difficult times and their lives and stories can challenge and inspire Christians of all traditions today.

Saint Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna and a disciple of the apostles, was burned at the stake about the year 155. His feast day is February 23. This is what he is said to have prayed before he died:

"Lord, almighty God, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have come to the knowledge of yourself, God of angels, of powers, of all creation, of all the race of saints who live in your sight, I bless you for judging me worthy of this day, this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ, your anointed one, and so rise again to eternal life in soul and body, immortal through the power of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among the martyrs in your presence today as a rich and pleasing sacrifice. God of truth, stranger to falsehood, you have prepared this and revealed it to me and now you have fulfilled your promise.

I praise you for all things, I bless you, I glorify you through the eternal priest of heaven, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. Through him be glory to you, together with him and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring in the Rockies

We are hunkered down in one of the class Rocky Mountain spring blizzards. It must be coming down at a 4 inch an hour rate!

The good news is that I'm not trying to get out of town tomorrow morning! Nor is Fr. Mike. Or anyone. Which is good cause I'm sure the airport is shut down for lack of visibility.

April showers in powder form.

Justice and Mercy

I learned in seminary that in God, justice and mercy meet; that is, God's justice is merciful and His mercy is just. The readings from yesterday's Mass got me thinking about this a bit. The first reading was the story of the untrue accusation of adultery of the young, beautiful Susannah by a couple of elderly lechers when she refuses to submit to their sexual advances. She is unjustly sentenced to death according to the Mosaic law, but is rescued by the insightful cross-examination of the accusers by the young Daniel. In the end, Susannah is acquitted and the two elders given the same sentence that they had conspired for her to receive. On a human level, we are very satisfied with this situation. It's replayed in a multitude of ways in our popular stories and films. We wait for the evil adversary to be conquered by the hero and leave the story feeling that all's right in the world.

But in yesterday's Gospel, Jesus is put on trial by the scribes and Pharisees who ask him what should be done with a woman who is caught "in the very act" of adultery. Apparently, they suspected or hoped that he might somehow forgive her, and thus break the command of Moses in Deuteronomy 22:22, "If a man is discovered having relations with a woman who is married to another, both the man and the woman with whom he has had relations shall die. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst." One wonders how the man escaped, or why the accusers didn't bring him, as well, but that's another post.

Jesus' famous response, "Let him without sin cast the first stone," is quite different from the "happy endings" we crave. His mercy not only let's her off the hook completely, but causes the accusers to reflect upon their own behavior and recognize their own need for God's mercy. If the incident doesn't bother us too much, then try substituting "a woman caught in adultery" with "a murderer." or "child molester," or "general guilty of war crimes," or whatever type of person you wouldn't want to receive mercy.

Of course, Jesus tells her to go and not sin again. This demonstrates that God is not so concerned with our past as He is our present and our future. This is why after confession and penance we should forget that which God has forgiven, learn from our experience, and ask for His help in avoiding the sin in the future.

As disciples of Jesus, we should learn from His example, as difficult and unsatisfying as it may be to our sense of justice. But who among us wouldn't want to receive that same mercy as the woman caught in adultery?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Reel Religion

Fr. Michael Morris, OP, taught one of the most memorable classes I've ever taken. It was a course on Church history through art, in which Fr. Michael helped us see various interpretations of events in the Church through the eyes of artists throughout the ages. Another popular course that Fr. Michael has taught (but I wasn't able to squeeze into my course load) was called "Reel Religion," which looked at how biblical themes were addressed by film makers throughout the years.

What I had forgotten was that Fr. Michael has an extensive collection of movie posters from these films with biblical topics. But the LA Times reminded me of this extraordinary collection in an article you can read here. Great publicity for Fr. Michael and the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology!

Hat tip: Donald Main

A Novelty of God

Many will be joinng us this coming Easter all over the world including 100 new Catholics in Thailand and their tale embodies a new global reality.

Among the hundred people who will receive the baptism April 3 there is also Lailuck Hasep, in charge of sales at a Thai company. Her conversion to Christianity, said the woman, which came about by following the example of her Catholic husband, has helped her live with greater confidence and trust even the workplace. . . Having attended the Mass with my husband - emphasizes the manager - and the homily of the priest, helped me find an answer to my questions."

The woman also invited colleagues to follow the catechism classes and 20 of them (out of 30) have accepted the proposal. During Lent, she continues, we encourage each other to pray, fast, to live a better relationship with others. "At the Easter Vigil two of us will be baptized - she concludes - but we all have benefited from prayer" to improve their work and family life."

I love it. Lailuck brought 20 of her co-workers to RCIA with her! In every part of the world, the laity are becoming the key to evangelization and catechesis.

One factor is dramatic change. Our biggest problem is not decline but success: the staggering growth in the number of Catholics. (Here I'm using figures from 1978 and 2005 - the beginning and end of Pope John Paul's pontificate some of which I got from John Allen's The Future Church some from the US Bishop's summary and some from CARA.)

What the Vatican calls the "Workforce for the Church's Apostolate" grew tremendously between 1978 and 2005. The "force" grew from 1.6 million to 4.3 million (169%) while the Catholic population grew 128% in the same time period from 752.5 million to 1,115 million.

Ten years ago, I would tell groups that bishops and priests made up .04% or 4/100th of 1% of the entire Catholic population. In 2010, I have to say that bishops and priests only comprise .035%. In 20 years, that figure will probably to fall under .03%

It isn't because the number of priests and seminarians aren't growing. Although the number of the ordained (bishops, priests, deacons) grew from 413,169 to 444.402 during these 27 years, this increase was dwarfed by the demand created by relentless growth of the Catholic population. The immense number of the baptized has called forth a major new "workforce" for the apostolate: the laity.

In 1978, the ordained made up 26% of the 1.6 million member "force". The largest group was religious women (nearly 60%) and lay people only constituted 10.8%.

But by 2005, everything had changed. In this greatly expanded workforce of 4.3 million, the ordained now made up only 10.33%, religious women 17.8% and lay men and women were the overwhelming majority at 71.2%.

Which is what the small Catholic community of Thailand has found true. "The sacrament is preformed during the Easter Vigil and in preparing converts the role of the laity is proving increasingly important, given that they "share the task of mission and evangelization."

"Mgr. Francis Xavier Vera Arpondratana, president of the Episcopal Commission for Catechesis, confirms a "lack of catechists in parishes." This is why the Archdiocese of Bangkok has sought to strengthen "the presence of the laity in the work of evangelization", by enhancing their formation so that they become full-time catechists.

This is, I think, an example of what Pope Benedict called in his audience of March 10 a "novelty of God". The Pope talked about a series of new movements in Christian history. In the 19th century, God called forth a new missionary wave of active women religious who transformed the landscape of Catholicism. The small armies of habited sisters in every parish that we think of as exceedingly traditional (ala The Bells of St. Mary's) are only about 130 years old.

The determination to create a new kind of Catholic by catechizing all children, which was produced by the crisis of the Reformation, demanded a whole new labor force. It came in the form of the new religious congregations of women and non-ordained men like the Christian Brothers. When, in 1749, the Vatican changed its 500 year old insistence that women religious had to be enclosed, the stage was set for a transformation of the Church's life. By the late 19th century, the number of women religious outnumbered priests and male religious for the first time in history and utterly transformed the Catholic landscape.

In Ireland, for instance, there were only 120 women religious in 1800. If you think of the total number of priests and sisters together as the Catholic "workforce", sisters only made up 6% of the total at the beginning of the 19th century. By 1851, women religious made up 38% of the combined body of priests/nuns. By 1901, women religious were 70%. In the US, there were 4 sisters for every priest by 1900.

In the early 21st century, God seems to be doing something new again to meet the needs of new generation. Millions of lay men and women are answering God's call to evangelize, form, and nurture the tens of millions of new Catholics that God is sending us every year.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sin's Evolution

Actually, it isn't that sin has evolved. I tend to think of Satan as a "one trick pony," with just a really good trick: lies. But, according to a very interesting sounding book simply called Sin: A History, the metaphors and imagery humans who have entered into a relationship with God use to describe our experience of having sinned against him has changed over the millenia, and this change is captured in the language of the Old and New Testaments.

The author is Gary Anderson, a professor of Old Testament and Hebrew Bible in the department of theology at the University of Notre Dame. He gave an interview with Christianity Today that can be found in its entirety here. I suppose like a lot of new ideas about the scripture, Anderson's discovery had the feel of an epiphany (a manifestation, or, perhaps, a revelation).
I was reading a Qumran text called the Damascus Covenant, and I noticed several instances in which the scroll described forgiveness of sins using a Hebrew verb that in the Hebrew Bible never has that meaning. The scroll used the verb 'azab, which generally means "to forsake." It struck me as quite odd.

As I pondered it, I realized that the Aramaic verb for "forgiven" means exactly that. It means "forsake" in the literal sense, because in Aramaic to forgive a sin is to remit what you have coming to you in the sense of a debt. You're forsaking an obligation. Someone who holds a debt over someone else technically can collect that debt whenever he wishes. And if by dint of merciful circumstance he decides not to collect, he forsakes or abandons that right.

For me this was an epiphany. What we're witnessing in that little Qumran text is a new way of thinking about sin and forgiveness. It's not found anywhere in the Old Testament, but, strikingly enough, it becomes quite common in the New.
While there are a variety of metaphors used for sin in the Scriptures, in the Old Testament the most common metaphor is "burden," or "weight." For example, in Psalm 65, we read, "To you all flesh will come with its burden of sin. Too heavy for us, our offenses, but you wipe them away." Isaiah foretells the Suffering Servant of God as one "pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins." (Is 53:5)

Interestingly, if you Google "sin," "forgiveness," "burden," "weight" you won't get many helpful hits. That is because ordinarily that common metaphor of forgiveness as a release from a burden is translated simply as "forgiveness of sin." That's the difficulty of translating a metaphor or image into a concept that we think everyone understands. It can lose a bit of it's visceral power. In addition, it can mask the development of a different way of seeing something or expressing an experience.

Anderson describes a surprising discovery he made about how Jews came to think of sin. Jesus doesn't use the image of sin as a weight or burden, he claims.
...the complete absence of this metaphor is particularly striking in the teaching and parables of Jesus. He never talks about sinful individuals bearing enormous weights on their shoulders, as you might have expected from the Old Testament. Instead, he talks about debtors and creditors and building up treasures in heaven. None of those images can be found in the Old Testament proper, especially for the First Temple period. But they're common in Second Temple Hebrew and Aramaic, and it's no surprise that this becomes the predominant way for Jesus to speak about sin.
I am not a scripture scholar, but it seems to me that Jesus might, at one point, use the "old" image of sin as weight. In Matthew 23:2-4, Jesus tells the crowd and his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them." The burden here seems to be the law as expounded by the scribes and Pharisees, which St. Paul observed could only help us recognize our sin, but not overcome it: "no human being will be justified in his sight by observing the law; for through the law comes consciousness of sin." (Rom 3:20)

If this burden were an awareness of sin, then the scribes' and Pharisees' unwillingness to "lift a finger" to remove the burden may very well point to their unwillingness to forgive, or even admit God's willingness to forgive. Such a situation would make sin indeed to seem like a crushing load.

But as sin begins to be seen as a debt, a surprising correlative emerges.
...once the Second Temple period Jewish writers and Christian writers began to think of sin as a debt, this led immediately to the correlative idea that meritorious actions, virtuous actions, create a credit.

Here the work of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson on the logic of conceptual metaphors is very important. If sin is a debt, that means we owe money. And if virtuous activity is going to be a credit, well, the most obvious way to accumulate credits is by giving away money—hence almsgiving. Within synagogue and church, it's true that one can gather merits by any act of charity. Matthew 25 is a classic instance of that, of clothing the naked, feeding the poor, visiting the sick, and so on. But pride of place in this period is reserved for actually giving away your coins and funding what Jesus calls a treasury in heaven.
I would suggest that the greatest credit we can "earn" from God is that same credit which the patriarch Abram was given by God. "Abram put his faith in the LORD, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness." (Gen 15:6) This leads to the interesting situation in which we are given credit by God for something which we have already received from Him!

St. Ephrem, a fourth century poet and theologian observed this in a poem when he wrote, "The enricher of all borrows from all." Anderson comments on this image,
Almsgiving was construed in the divine economy as an act of making a loan to God. It was very early on tied to Proverbs 19:17: "He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done."
And then, Ephrem says, in the New Testament, God ... presents himself as a poor person desiring your money, but he himself, we know, is not poor at all. He's the enricher of all. He, in fact, provides us with the very gifts that we are going to return to him. Giving money to the poor is part of what God has ontologically made the very structure of the universe. That is, the universe operates by a principle of charity. That God loves the world. That God loves the poor. We're to love the world and love the poor, and if we do such we will benefit from acting in a way in which God himself acts.
Jesus tells us quite clearly that not all almsgiving leads to an addition in a heavenly account with our name on it. On Ash Wednesday we were told,
take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (Mt 6:1-4)
The almsgiving of a hypocrite is null because they seek the attention and admiration of others, and that is their reward. The problem apparently is they are, as the name suggests, "stage actors," "pretenders." Almsgiving is meant to be an act of love (charity); of genuine concern for the well-being of another. In such a case it is an act in imitation of God. The hypocrite is playing the part of someone who desires the good of another, but in reality they simply want human praise. And, Jesus, says, that is the only reward they will receive.

Both images for sin are powerful and help us understand the importance of forgiveness. Many times in confession I have had people tell me they feel as though a weight has been removed. Colloquially we'll even say, "I had to get that off my chest," after we've made a confession of some kind, or "shared a burden." We have the power to free others from heavy loads of guilt. Often, it may require us to say, "I'm sorry," first. Because, let's face it, often the pain inflicted by sin goes both ways. We have to be willing to live without our own burdens, along with the sad pleasure of feeling wronged. Moreover, to be unwilling to forgive may very well put us in the same camp as the Pharisees who wouldn't lift a finger to relieve the burden - i.e., forgive - those who were unable to keep the Law.

When it comes to thinking of sin as a debt, Jesus makes it clear that our Father is willing to write off the huge, unpayable debt we owe Him because of our choices to do our own will, rather than His which is born of his infinite love for us. Whether it's the story of the Prodigal Son, or the parable of the servant whose huge debt is written off by his master, forgiveness is freely given those who ask for it. And, in the story of the servant, the implication is that we, too, should forgive the debts of others in imitation of God in Whose image and likeness we were made. So to "write off debts" or "relieve heavy burdens" is to really become more fully human and more like God.

80 Years of Converts: the Ups and Downs

Holy Week and Easter are nearly upon us and there has been considerable talk about the large numbers of adults entering the Church this year through the RCIA process.

I'm going through my files and it is amazing the stuff I have collected over the years and forgotten about. Like a wonderful little statistical report that the US Catholic Bishops put out in 2000: Stats for all sorts of aspects of the American Church's life from 1789 - 1998.

Including the number of conversions to Catholicism in the US beginning in 1930.

So I made up this handy chart (Tom over at Disputations is going to be pea-green with envy!)

The sign posts:

The starting point in 1930: 38,232 become Catholic

A big leap in "converts" between 1930 and 1940 (a 93% increase!)

The pre-Vatican II high point: 146,212 who entered in 1960.

The post-Vatican II low point was the 75,123 who become Catholic in 1975

Then John Paul II becomes Pope and a huge recovery begins. By 1995, an average of 160,000 adults are being received each year. The overall high point comes in 2001 when 178,000 enter, nearly 5 times as many as in 1930.

In 2006, 157,000 become Catholic.

The last year for which we have figures is 2008 during which 124,000 entered, a drop of 54,000 or a 30% drop in 7 years.

In 2009, no definitive count was issued but round estimates of 150,000 floating about. And in 2010, some dioceses are reporting record numbers but we won't know the final total for a couple years.

In response to popular demand, here is graph of the Catholic population during the same years - with the exception of 2006 and 2008, which my graph refuses to include for some reason. But since the Catholic population of the US just continued its slow climb in 2006 and 2008, the resulting graph shows the basic trajectory. As of 2009, the US Bishops state that there are 68.1 million Catholics in the US which is a bit higher than the CARA figure.

Catholic population growth really took off during the baby boom and has never stopped since. 20 million in 1930. Nearly 70 million today. We are the only western country that is expected to continue to grow through 2050. It is estimated that the US will have nearly 100 million Catholics by 2050 and will be the second largest English speaking Catholic country after the Philippines.

Summary: The reality is considerably more complicated than the paradigm that is accepted as fact so readily about the net: of steady growth followed by a single big drop after Vatican II.

The truth is we don't really know exactly why these swings in conversions occured. Why the big surge between 1930 and 1940,for instance? The Nazis had marched into Poland and begun World War II in September of 1939 but was war and rumors of war the only factor driving conversion?

Why the big drop from 157,000 in 2006 to 124,000 in 2008? The scandal was 4 years old in 2006 but the numbers were still high. Just a fluk? Bad counts? Generational Shift?

where is God in all this?

What do you think?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Blessed John Paul II by April 2?

I just got a Blackberry text message from a friend who says it was just announced at the LA Religious Congress that Pope John Paul II will be beatified on April 2! This would be the 5th anniversary of his death.

I've checked around on the net and the story is being carried by Catholic Online:

"It began with a Polish News Report in the Polish daily “Dziennik” and spread throughout the blogosphere within hours, the late beloved Servant of God John Paul II will be beatified on April 2, 2010. He died on April 2, 2005 at 9:37 p.m. in his private apartment shortly after asking “Let me go to my Father’s House”.


"The Polish newspaper was not the only print source to make this claim of a pending beatification. The Italian Daily “La Stampa”, another reliable source, in an article written by Giacomo Galeazzi, carried a similar report. It indicated that the position paper has already been forwarded by the theologians who carefully examined the life, message and alleged miracles.Msgr. Tadeusz Pieronek is the polish priest who served as the postulator for the cause of the late pope at the Diocesan level. He commented to La Stampa, “This is very good news”."

I have to admit that I'm surprised because I saw other stories today that said that JPII's beatification was being put off until 2011.

It seems incredibly short notice - only two weeks - but I'm not an expert.

What's the word on the street?

St. Teresa of Avila & St. Joseph

The great Teresa of Avila was devoted to St. Joseph. In her autobiography, she challenges the reader to put devotion to St. Joseph to the test.

I took for my advocate and lord the glorious Saint Joseph and commended myself earnestly to him; and I found that this my father and lord delivered me both from this trouble [a temporary paralysis] and also from other and greater troubles concerning my honor and the loss of my soul, and that he gave me greater blessings than I could ask of him. I do not remember even now that I have ever asked anything of him which he has failed to grant.

I am astonished at the great favors which God has bestowed on me through this blessed saint, and at the perils from which He has freed me, both in body and in soul. To other saints the Lord seems to have given grace to succor us in some of our necessities but of this glorious saint my experience is that he succors us in them all and that the Lord wishes to teach us that as He was Himself subject to him on earth (for, being His guardian and being called His father, he could command Him) just so in Heaven He still does all that he asks. This has also been the experience of other persons whom I have advised to commend themselves to him; and even to-day there are many who have great devotion to him through having newly experienced this truth."

"I wish I could persuade everyone to be devoted to this glorious saint, for I have great experience of the blessings which he can obtain from God. I have never known anyone to be truly devoted to him and render him particular services who did not notably advance in virtue, for he gives very real help to souls who commend themselves to him. For some years now, I think, I have made some request of him every year on his festival and I have always had it granted. If my petition is in any way ill directed, he directs it aright for my greater good."

I only beg, for the love of God, that anyone who does not believe me will put what I say to the test, and he will see by experience what great advantages come from his commending himself to this glorious patriarch and having devotion to him. Those who practice prayer should have a special affection for him always. I do not know how anyone can think of the Queen of the Angels, during the time that she suffered so much with the Child Jesus, without giving thanks to Saint Joseph for the way he helped them. If anyone cannot find a master to teach him how to pray, let him take this glorious saint as his master and he will not go astray."

What's your experience of devotion to St. Joseph?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Representative Joseph Cao Says "No"

Update: The intriguing Louisiana 2nd District Rep. Joseph Cao, a very serious Catholic, and the lone Republican to cross the aisle to support the earlier House version of the health reform bill, has announced that he will vote against the Senate bill in its current form.

"Noting that the Senate bill is "much weaker than the version we passed through the House" in regard to abortion, Cao said he intended to vote against it. Cao, appearing on "WDSU News at 4," said he could still vote "yes" on a health care reform package that was more restrictive on abortions.

He said his office has been flooded with calls and visits from those on both sides of the health care issue.

"We have people knocking at our doors, we have groups coming in, lobbying," he said. "It comes down to me and my own conscience and that's what I have to deal with."

Cao said that while most Louisianians oppose the measure, he recognizes that many in his mostly urban district want health care reform.

"We do need some kind of health care reform to assist many people in the district," he said. "But again, my decision to support the health care bill cannot contradict my conscience."

The Delightful and Comforting Joy of Evangelizing

A wonderful quote that I'v read before but just came across again in my research.

"Let us preserve the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, event when it is in tears that we must sow.....May it be for us the great joy of our lives. May the world of our time, which is searching - sometimes in anguish, sometimes with hope - be enabled to receive the Good News not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ, and who are willing to risk their lives so that the kingdom may be proclaimed and the Church established in the midst of the world".

(Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 80).

Prayer Requests

As we pass into the final days of Lent, please pray for

1) a young wife and mother, Sara, who is scheduled to be received into the Church at Easter and has just been diagnosed with three tumors and two different kinds of breast cancer. She is scheduled for a double mastectomy and then a hysterectomy because her cancer is estrogen-driven.

Her surgery is scheduled for a week before Easter Sunday so she and her husband may put off their reception until she has recovered her strength.

2) a 5 year old girl who has had a very bad virus with a high fever for over a week and got a very bad rash
and had to be in the ER overnight. Doctors thought it was the swine flu but it turned out not to be.

Now she has developed a head and neck tremor that doctors can't seem to find the source.

A Rocky Mountain March

Right now it is 67 degrees.

The high predicted for tomorrow is 29 with a 90% chance of snow.

Happy St. Joseph's Feastday!

The Devil in the Details: Health Care Reform and Prudential Judgement

Trying to keep up with the debate over health reform and what position is truly in keeping with the Church's teaching is overwhelming for someone like me who has little time and is finding it difficult to evaluate the claims and counter claims.

At the moment, the US Bishops have posted resources to explain and support their current stand that they would "regretfully, have to oppose the final bill if these changes were not made" (I say "current" because the ball is still in play and changes could conceivably be made that would make it acceptable to the US Bishops)

Meanwhile one group of Catholic sisters has come out in support of the health reform bill

And the other major group of Catholic sisters, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, in the US has come out against it

Archbishop Chaput of Denver has come out against it as has Archbishop Neumann of Kansas City, KS and Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, MO

but Bishop Lynch of St. Petersburg, FL is blogging and has modified his support for the USCCB position against the health reform bill as it exists at present. Bishop Lynch quotes a letter from Sr. Carol Keehan which says that Cardinal George's statement mischaracterized the position of the Catholic Health Organization.

Pro-life congressmen and Senators are taking public positions on both sides of the issue.

Update: The intriguing Louisiana 2nd District Rep. Joseph Cao, a very serious Catholic, and the lone Republican to cross the aisle to support the earlier House version, has announced that he will vote against the Senate bill in its current form.

"Noting that the Senate bill is "much weaker than the version we passed through the House" in regard to abortion, Cao said he intended to vote against it. Cao, appearing on "WDSU News at 4," said he could still vote "yes" on a health care reform package that was more restrictive on abortions.

He said his office has been flooded with calls and visits from those on both sides of the health care issue.

"We have people knocking at our doors, we have groups coming in, lobbying," he said. "It comes down to me and my own conscience and that's what I have to deal with."

Cao said that while most Louisianians oppose the measure, he recognizes that many in his mostly urban district want health care reform.

"We do need some kind of health care reform to assist many people in the district," he said. "But again, my decision to support the health care bill cannot contradict my conscience."

Meanwhile, Catholic bloggers are doing their best to fuel the debate, dividing down perfectly predictable lines: the folks over at Dot.commonweal and the National Catholic Reporter being for the bill as it stands and Father Z and the National Catholic Register are sure it would fund abortion.

And I know serious, thoughtful, orthodox Catholics on both sides and I can feel a headache coming on because I feel so incompetent to make the necessary judgements.

Fr. Robert Imbelli, whose spiritual and theological depth I have come to admire, described his own position in a post aptly titled: The Devil in the Details

But I think it important to underline that this is a prudential judgment, based in part upon a personal, non-expert, reading of the material, but also on personal trust placed in those who seem to be both extremely knowledgeable and deeply committed to moral principles in keeping with the Catholic tradition. I certainly do not escape responsibility for that prudential judgment. May I also, respectfully, suggest that those who advocate for such a decision, in favor of the Senate bill, also bear an added responsibility for their advocacy.

It might be of help, then, if all sides were to acknowledge the fallibility of their prudential judgment, and that it is entered upon with a certain salutary “fear and trembling,” since so much is at stake."

The Catechism describes prudence as follows:

547. The lay faithful should act according to the dictates of prudence, the virtue that makes it possible to discern the true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means for achieving it. Thanks to this virtue, moral principles are applied correctly to particular cases. We can identify three distinct moments as prudence is exercised to clarify and evaluate situations, to inspire decisions and to prompt action. The first moment is seen in the reflection and consultation by which the question is studied and the necessary opinions sought. The second moment is that of evaluation, as the reality is analyzed and judged in the light of God's plan. The third moment, that of decision, is based on the preceding steps and makes it possible to choose between the different actions that may be taken.

548. Prudence makes it possible to make decisions that are consistent, and to make them with realism and a sense of responsibility for the consequences of one's action. The rather widespread opinion that equates prudence with shrewdness, with utilitarian calculations, with diffidence or with timidity or indecision, is far from the correct understanding of this virtue. It is a characteristic of practical reason and offers assistance in deciding with wisdom and courage the course of action that should be followed, becoming the measure of the other virtues. Prudence affirms the good as a duty and shows in what manner the person should accomplish it[1146]. In the final analysis, it is a virtue that requires the mature exercise of thought and responsibility in an objective understanding of a specific situation and in making decisions according to a correct will[1147].

The truth is that at this very moment, there are serious Catholics, truly desiring to think with the Church, and to protect the unborn, and who have studied and consulted with others who have a much larger experience in this area, and they are coming to divergent opinions in good faith.

That doesn't mean of course that they are objectively right in their conclusions.. In fact, it is possible - even probable - that both sides are wrong is some respect because the issues at hand are so complicated and some of the consequences are, as always, unforeseeable. But that doesn't let us off the hook. We have to make a choice. Because very important things are at stake.

But it does means that we have to retain a firm grip on the fact that equally faithful Catholics can come to different conclusions in good faith on this very, very complicated topic of health care reform because it falls into the arena of prudential judgement.

It will take as much courage and obedience to remember that in the midst of the hyper accelerating emotions and "he said-she said" that is flooding the media as it will to make our best discernment and act accordingly.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Shortage or Abundance?

I've been prepping for a day of training for lay ecclesial ministers and experienced one of those major "convergence" things when 10 or 12 separate realizations: theological, historical, and demographic - suddenly come together in my head and form a whole that sheds a new light on everything.

I'm still working through it but while doing so, I came across this and I just had to publish a brief compare and contrast. To begin: Two archdioceses, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona where we lay our scene . . .

OK. Maybe not. - but we will start with two archdioceses with populations of 500,000 Catholic apiece.

That's where the similarities end and where a window on the realities of this new world of southern Catholics opens up.

Archdiocese of Cincinnati
500,000 Catholics
221 parishes
493 priests
122 brothers
468 lay ministers

Archdiocese of Lahore, Pakistan
500,000 Catholics
29 parishes. A rural parish includes 90 - 130 villages
22 priests
12 brothers
190 cyclist catechists:Each is responsible for evangelizing and catechizing and staying in touch with 250 - 500 families.

And this glimpse of one catechist:

Arif Noor gets up just before dawn six days a week to rouse children for catechism classes.

“Wake up kids, time to go to church!” shouts Noor as he passes through the streets of Salamat Pura, a small village in a northern suburb of Lahore. About 10 years ago, the 58-year-old Catholic layman became the driving force behind a subsidized Christian educational center at St. Paul’s Church in Lahore archdiocese. Since 2007, the number of centers has risen to 10.

They open at dawn and enable children aged five to 15 to get a religious education. After class, the children go to school, if they attend school, or return home.

The centers are helping to fill the gap left by a shortage of Sunday school teachers in the 29 parishes of Lahore archdiocese.

“There aren’t any Sunday school services specifically for children in our community,” Javaid Joseph, catechist of St. Paul’s Church, told UCA News. “Noor’s program is actually helping our mission.”

Noor, an electrician, is also vice president of St. Paul’s Church.

He said his catechism mission is an act of gratitude for the help his daughter received from a Christian charity after she was badly injured while playing with fireworks in 1986.

I'm sure that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is worried about its priest shortage. There are 42 parishes without resident pastors. But we live in a world where one diocese's shortage would be another's unimaginable abundance.

A Little Miracle

Many of you read the story of the miraculous recovery of a young married mom named Maryssa, who was on death's doorstep with H1N1 while pregnant. She gave birth last week, and here's a picture of her healthy daughter, whose middle name, Gianna, is in honor of St. Gianna Molla, whose intercession was sought by Maryssa's parents. The next day, Maryssa began to recover, and left the hospital six days later!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Over Ireland

An exhilarating ride over the magnificent land and the people that St. Patrick gave his life to:

The Power of Silence

On Friday evening, after the first session of the retreat I gave outside Halifax, NS, as I was walking back to my cabin, I had to pause. The retreat center is about 45 minutes outside Halifax on a large plot of heavily forested land on one of the many small lakes that are the result of the heavy scouring of the land during the last ice age some ten millennia ago. Because of its isolation, light pollution is hardly an issue. Even Halifax, where half the population of the Province lives, is not much more than a small city.

Like the day that had preceded it, the night sky was absolutely clear, and the stars overhead sparkled and glimmered with a ferocity that I’m not accustomed to, having lived in more densely populated areas all my life. The woods around me were only discernible as a ochre shadow, a jagged tear marking the edge of a star-strewn fabric.

And then I noticed something that absolutely startled me. It wasn’t quiet.

It was silent.

I threw all my attention at that absence, waiting to pick up something – some sigh of the wind in the pines, or the call of a night bird or insect.

But there was nothing. It was thrilling; like a void that had swallowed my young companions, the memory of sound, even time itself. I had to shift my weight and hear the report of pebble on pebble to reassure myself that I had not gone inexplicably deaf.

Of course, the awareness of that kind of silence changes your definition of “quiet.” This morning at the Dominican house in Tempe, AZ, as I sat before the Lord in the chapel, I was mildly annoyed at just how loud the quiet was.

The chapel clock tick-tocked loudly, then the furnace rumbled to life, it’s motor a triplet cadence thrumming in perfect synchronicity with the clock’s duplet. The forced air moving through the vent in the small room was a noisy, ten-minute long exhalation that died long after the thermostat hit a chilly (for Phoenix) 69 degrees. Occasionally the window would add it’s own shiver of sound as it vibrated in sympathy with the furnace. So loud was the quiet that I hardly heard the occasional snippet of song from the morning’s early birds.

At the end of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, the author of those letters proposes a toast to the minions of hell, looking forward to the day when all of earth is bathed in noise. I sometimes feel as though they’ve succeeded, particularly when I am in airport terminals. There, CNN’s talking heads, mood music meant to calm, and the chatter of innumerable monologues from cell-phone users form a background punctuated by announcements for flight arrivals, departures, gate changes and recorded voices reminding me that we are (still) at a level orange terrorist threat alert. But it’s not that different everywhere I go: the grocery store, downtown, a restaurant.

An empty church can be a refuge, but even there it is not silent, unless it’s located in the country, with thick insulating walls and a distance from the road that took you to it.

Just as we grow hungry every few hours for food, our souls and minds hunger for quiet, and, I now believe, true silence. Just as the grandeur of a vast landscape reminds us of our smallness and the insignificance of our problems, so, too, the vast sonic landscape painted by silence. In that silence, God speaks to our hearts. The saints and mystics of every religious tradition have all discovered that.

But such silence is a scalpel. Using it God would excise the trivialities that occupy us and feed our never-sated anxieties. Silence, when sought and endured, lances the ego grown festering from a glut of information and opinions carried like concealed weapons. Silence – especially our own – is a garden that must be carefully tended if we should ever hope for wisdom to grow.

Catholic Outreach on Canadian Campuses

I had a wonderful experience in Halifax this weekend. The retreat for college students and members of the Catholic Christian Outreach went well, and I have to give a shout out to the CCO. Their website gives a brief description.
Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) is a university student movement dedicated to evangelization. We challenge students to live in the fullness of the Catholic faith, with a strong emphasis on becoming leaders in the renewal of the world.

CCO was founded at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1988 after receiving the approval of the local bishop. From a humble beginning of four students, the movement now serves hundreds of students on several campuses through a wide array of programs and outreaches.
The young people I met involved with CCO included a young couple with a six-month old girl and several single women from different provinces - all working in Halifax at Dalhousie University and St. Mary's University. St. Mary's used to be affiliated with the Catholic Church, but it seems that the administration of most of the Catholic Universities in the country have been taken over by government agencies. I didn't find out why, though, and those I spoke with about this seemed to take it as a matter of course.

The young adults who work for CCO are involved in evangelization through one to one ministry and small group work. This often takes the form of short small group bible studies that have a focus on the proclamation of the kerygma, the basic kernel of the Gospel that must be proclaimed to call people to conversion to Christ.
CCO's work is seen as:
A response to Christ's command that his disciples "Proclaim the Good News to all creation" (Matthew 28:18-19, Mark 16:15-16).
A concrete way to foster the Church's primary and universal mission of evangelization (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #14).
A positive answer to the call of the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, for a "new evangelization" in our times.
An active outreach to the distressingly small numbers of believing and practicing youth.
A positive and successful influence in the promotion of religious vocations.
A practical way to respond to cults and fundamentalist sects aimed at undermining the faith of Catholics.
CCO employs a multiplication model of ministry. Like Jesus did, we can invest spiritually in the lives of a few to the point where they in turn can invest in the lives of others. We proclaim Christ to the students, equip them to be mature Christians, then commission them to proclaim to and equip others.

Our programs are aimed primarily but not exclusively at university students:
generally between 18 and 30 years of age
both women and men
who are churched, nominally churched, or unchurched
who have been leaders and show further leadership potential.
Our programs equip students with the necessary attitudes, skills, and knowledge to become mission-ready, multiplying disciples.

CCO's programs include:
Weekly on-campus faith study groups
One-on-one ministry and leadership training
On-campus large group meetings, teachings, and training
Retreats and conferences
Practical leadership and ministry opportunities
Youth outreaches
Overseas and domestic mission projects
Summer faith sharing groups
Sports, recreation and socials.

The most needed help in sharing their faith for many Catholics is the simple courage to actually begin to evangelize, coupled with a conviction that such efforts can prove excitingly fruitful. We give not only doctrinal principles but also clear and practical teachings on how to evangelize. Such teachings are most effective when there is an opportunity to put them into practice in the company of experienced evangelizers.

The young evangelists involved in CCO are very, very committed. They have to fund their salaries each year, which means "support raising" $30,000 Canadian annually. They are sent by the CCO administration to eight university campuses, and their goal is to increase that by twenty over the next twenty years.

This may sound familiar to those of you acquainted with FOCUS, which seems to be an American counterpart to CCO.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pray for the Christians of Karnataka, India

One consequence of the global shift (via Fides)

Over 1,000 incidents of anti-Christian violence in the past two years in the Indian state of Karnataka, in southwest India.

"Today, March 15, the police went to the Cathedral of Karwar (coastal town in Karnataka) and warned the Vicar General to stop spreading Christian literature and Christian religious pictures because "it offends Hindus." This is just one of the latest examples of the incidents that have been reported to Fides, that show the considerable deterioration of respect for human rights and religious freedom in the Indian state of Karnataka, in southwest India.

Other recent episodes have reached Fides from the local Christian communities: March 8, a Protestant pastor was beaten and injured in Mysore by Hindu activists who brutally interrupted a prayer meeting he was leading. Also in Karvar, in late February, some Hindu radicals blamed local Christians of “forced conversions,” striking them in public and leaving them unconscious in the street.

"Anti-Christian attacks, incidents of persecution, and obvious discrimination take place on a daily basis, amidst the silence of the authorities and the general public," Fides is told by Joe Dias, a lay Catholic and leader of the Catholic Secular Forum, the Indian non-governmental organization that works to defend and promote the rights of Christians, publicly supported by Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai.

"The attacks are carried out by Hindu militant organizations in the area, with political cover for such attacks being guaranteed by the government of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), the Hindu nationalist party which has been in power in Karnataka for two years," said Joe Dias.

The assessment for this two-year period has been bleak for Christians. "We have documented more than 1,000 anti-Christian incidents in this period. It is unacceptable. The picture that emerges is worse than what happened in Orissa, because there there's been an uprising of public opinion, the outrage of the international community, and the intervention of the federal government. In Karnataka, however, thanks to the underground coverage of the BJP and the state police, there is no cultural or emotional impact on the population. Often there are no official complaints (which the police refuse to record), and there are no articles or reports from the mass media. Everything happens in silence, indifference, and impunity, but the Christian community is obviously suffering," Joe Dias tells Fides."

Global Shift: How Did We Get Here and What Does It Mean?

Our world is shifting under our feet.

A couple years ago, I posted an 11 part series on the growth of Independent Christianity which began with Catholic missiologist Peter C. Phan's evaluation of the famous 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Congress:

Peter C. Phan’s article “Proclamation of the Reign of God as Mission of the Church: What for, to Whom, by Whom, with Whom, and How?” ( Phan’s title intrigued me and I started to read eagerly, only to be stunned by the first few paragraphs:

"But now things have changed, and changed utterly. The change from the enthusiasm and optimism of the World Missionary Conference that met in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1910—whose catchy slogan was "The evangelization of the world in this generation"—to the discouragement and even pessimism in today’s missionary circles, Catholic and Protestant alike, is visible and palpable. . . .To the consternation of Western missionaries, the shout "Missionary, go home" was raised in the 1960s, to be followed a decade later by the demand for a moratorium on Christian missions from the West.

In addition to the political factors, the collapse of mission as we knew it was also caused by the unexpected resurgence of the so-called non-Christian religions, in particular Hinduism and Islam. The missionaries’ rosy predictions of their early demise were vastly premature. Concomitant with this phenomenon is an intense awareness of religious pluralism which advocates several distinct, independent, and equally valid ways to reach the Divine and therefore makes conversion from one religion to another, which was considered as the goal of mission, unnecessary." [emphasis mine]

As I wrote then "I was incredulous. I knew that the last word one could use of the Christian missionary enterprise at the beginning of the 21st century was “collapse”. Once more, I was standing on the edge of an unbridgeable chasm of experience that yawned between this prominent American theologian and the world I had known. I couldn’t help but wonder if Peter Phan inhabited the same planet as the evangelicals with whom I had lived and studied. Discouragement? Pessimism? Evangelical missionaries have faced the same historical and cultural realities as Catholics since 1960. But they believe that they have been privileged to be part of the greatest expansion of Christianity in history and are absolutely exuberant about the future of missions."

And that exuberance is on display in a global manner in this 100th anniversary of the Edinburgh Conference. There are no less than 4 global congresses being held in honor of the anniversary: in Tokyo, Edinburgh itself, South Africa, and Boston.

By far the largest gathering, Cape Town 2010, will function like an ecumenical council of missions (although it won't last nearly as long as Vatican II!), gathering together over 4,000 hand selected missionary leaders from all over the world to celebrate what God has done in the last 100 years and to take council together about where to go from here. In this age of the internet, the gathering will be beamed to sites all over the world so that additional thousands can take part.

As a preparation for Cape Town 2010, an internet based "Global Conversation" is taking place with a different topic every month. This month's topic is Responding to Religious Pluralism. The lead article has an intriguing title: Sowing Subversion in the Field of Relativism

In December, the topic was "Muslim Background Believers". This topic reflects the tremendous change that has occurred over the past 30 years in the world. Yes, the largest Mosque in the world outside the Middle East now towers over London's Regent's Park. I snapped two women in the most conservative Muslim dress, feeding the pigeons in the shadow of the mosque the last time I was in London. But this is a spiritual shift that cuts both ways.

Consider this summary of what is happening in the Muslim world from the Caleb Resources February, 2010 news letter.

( A bit of background: The term "Muslim background believers" refers to individuals born Muslim who are now following Jesus. Note the term "Christ - followers" below. They may or may not be part of local Christian congregations, who are usually reluctant to trust or accept Muslim background believers. They may not even be baptized. This does not compute in Catholic sacramental theology but there are millions of unbaptized "Christ followers" in the Muslim and Hindu worlds now. A new sort of life long catechumen.)

Since the beginning of the Iraqi war, more than 5,000 Muslims have turned to Christ in Iraq, with dozens of growing churches being birthed across the region. Similarly, pre-9/11 Afghanistan knew 17 Muslim background believers, while today there are more than 10,000. In neighboring Iran, where there were as few as 500 Christ-followers 30 years ago, national pastors suggest this number could now be one million. Perhaps this is due in part to satellite television making gospel broadcasts available at all times in that country; living under a repressive fundamentalist regime may also have some influence.

In Egypt, it’s the JESUS Film that’s increasing in circulation. Whereas in the 90s, sales averaged 3,000 per year, in 2006, the Egyptian Bible Society sold 600,000 copies, as well as 750,000 audio Arabic Bible and 500,000 Arabic New Testaments. Other programs reach a more global audience, such as broadcasts from Norway that can be found on the radio, TV, and the internet. A surprising population where these are received well is among Arabs in the US and Canada, where in the span of a few months, as many as 30,000 have responded with interest in coming to Christ.

Several countries are also seeing a drastic shift in the percentage of the population that is Muslim. Some countries, like Indonesia, don’t even want to know what those numbers are anymore. The last religious census there revealed that 20% of the population chose to be registered as Christians. That was over 30 years ago. In Ghana, the number of those who claim Islam as their religion dropped by 25% in the past ten years. Also in Uganda, the percentage is down from 22% Muslim 25 years ago to around 6% today. The Ugandan church now sends missionaries to places like South America, Japan, and the United States. Meanwhile, a growing missionary force is coming from Latin America, the majority of which goes to serve in the Muslim world.

What this should tell you is that God is continually building his kingdom. As many as 160,000 people a day hear about Christ for the first time, and roughly 3,000 put their faith in him per hour. Two hundred years ago, only 25% of the world’s people had the chance to receive the gospel. Today that number is flipped, with those who haven’t heard about Christ being only 28%.

In this anniversary year, I'm going to be posting more on Cape Town 2010, as well as blogging on the remarkable history of Catholic and Orthodox missions (with the help of my friend, Fr. Gregory Jensen, an Orthodox blogger)

In 1800, there were about 106.8 million Catholics in the world.

In 1900, there were roughly 266.5 million Catholics in the world, 75% of whom lived in Europe and North America.

By the end of 2010, there will be about 1.2 billion Catholics, 65% of whom live outside Europe and North America.

10,278% growth in 210 years.

How did we get here and what does it mean?

We didn't get here by accident. The almost complete identification of Christianity with Europe for over a thousand years was a historical and ecclesial aberration. It was the result of historical trauma, not intrinsic to the faith itself.

The foundations of the global shift that we are living through was laid centuries ago by the great figures of the medieval and Tridentine Church, by the likes of Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Francis Xavier and Matteo Ricci. In the end, a truly global Christianity was created through the obedience of innumerable great and humble men and women who sought to respond to the command of our Lord himself to make disciples of all nations.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Henriette de Lille, Servant of the Slaves

I am so excited.

I have told the story of Henriette De Lille at every Called & Gifted workshop I have taught for the past 10 years and now comes this wonderful news via the Archdiocese of New Orleans's own Catholic Herald:

"The Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, composed of 15 cardinals and arch- bishops from around the world, voted unani- mously March 2 to ap- prove a declaration that Servant of God Henriette Delille practiced “heroic virtue” during her ministry to slaves and African Americans as foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Family in pre-Civil War New Orleans.

The congregation’s declaration has been sent to Pope Benedict XVI, and if he approves, Mother Henriette would be declared “venerable,

Henriette was a member of a community that very few white Catholics outside New Orleans are familiar with: the Gens de couleur or free people of color. To tell her story, I have to describe placage, a firmly entrenched, deeply racist system in which Catholic women of mixed race became the mistresses of married white Catholic men and a palpable tension always descends over the room. I've even had participants tell me to stop telling Henriette's story because it made them so uncomfortable. I was loath to stop but began to grow anxious until an elegant older black woman in San Francisco put my mind at rest. "I lived it. You preach it!" were her marching orders and I have done so ever since.

Remember that everyone in Henriette's story is a cradle Catholic. The next time you encounter nostalgia for the prefections of pre-Vatican II American Catholicism or the spiritual power of pure Catholic culture, meditate for a few minutes about Henriette and the world she lived in. The whole placage system was created by French speaking Catholics in Saint-Domingue (Santo Domingo) and spread from there to Louisiana where non Catholics were not allowed to lived until the Americans purchased the area in 1803. The Church has found Henriette's remarkable resistance to the "Catholic" culture in which she was raised to be a sign of "heroic virtue".

In Henriette's day, the gens de couleur were free, educated, French speaking, practicing Catholics who sometimes owned their own plantations and their own slaves (some of whom were relatives) and for whom, the placage system was a way of life.

Under the placage system, it was acceptable for a white man to take a colored mistress - who was known as a placee - when she was as young as 12. (Native born persons of mixed race did not think of themselves as either black or white but as "Creoles of color" and many of their descendants today still think of themselves that way. They form a nation within a nation.)

When the white Creole man reached marriageable age, he could choose to retain his placee and so have two or more families: his legal white family and his informal family with a light-skinned Creole woman. His white family usually lived on a plantation outside town and his gens de couleur family lived in a house he provided for them in one of the Creole areas of New Orleans like the Faubourg Marigny. By 1788, 1,500 Creole women of color and black women were being maintained by white men (although not all gen de couleur women became placees). Their children, both boys and girls, were educated in France, as there were no schools available to educate mixed-race children, and it was illegal to teach blacks to read and write.

Henriette was being raised to be a placee as her mother, grandmother, and sister had done before her. Traditionally, these young women would attend the infamous "Quadroon" balls - lavish "debutante" balls to which, beautifully dressed and carefully chaperoned, they would go to meet their future protector. The wealthiest and most illustrious of the Creole families of color formed themselves into the Société de Cordon Bleu around 1780 or 1790 to present their daughters--the best women of color--to the white Creole male elite to form long-term relationships. Men of color were only present at these balls as servants or musicians.

It is a divine irony that it was at one of these balls that 11 year old Henriette met Sr. St. Marthe Fontier, the first religious sister she had ever known. (In 1824, for a variety of historical reasons, there were few priests or religious in heavily Catholic New Orleans and only two places where Mass was celebrated: St. Louis Cathedral and the chapel of the Ursuline convent. The old Ursuline convent is the only French colonial era building still standing in the US.)

Sr. St. Marthe has opened a Catholic school for young girls of color and it had become the nucleus for missionary activities. During the night Sr. St. Marthe taught classes in morals and faith to adults and during the day, the young girls were given religious instruction. In order to secure more teachers to help her, Sister St. Marthe trained young colored girls to become teachers. As a result, Henriette began to teach at the Catholic school when she was fourteen years old.

Henriette's family were not happy with her new life (her mother had a nervous breakdown) and especially because she acknowledged her racial background and mixed with the black population. Henriette's parents and siblings listed themselves as "white" for the 1830 census but Henriette referred to herself as a "free person of color". Henriette would pay for that choice and turning her back on a life of privilege.

As a result of declaring herself nonwhite, Henriette was refused as a postulant by the Ursuline and Carmelite nuns, which were open only to white women. Nonetheless, Delille and her friend Juliette Gaudin, a fellow free person of color, continued to pray together and teach nonwhites. In 1836, they privately pledged themselves to God's service. They shared their pledge with two white French immigrants, Père Rousselon and Marie Jeanne Alíquot.

In 1842, Rousselon helped the two women establish a home for elderly nonwhites. With loans and part of her inheritance, Delille bought a house where she could teach religion to nonwhites, despite the fact that educating nonwhites was illegal at the time. A year later, Delille and Gaudin were joined by another free person of color, Josephine Charles. They formed the Sisters of the Holy Family but were not allowed to take formal vows for another 10 years. Henriette's sister, who was the mistress of a wealthy Austrian businessman, introduced Henriette to many wealthy people, who gave generously to support her work. But sometimes, the sisters were so poor in the early days, that all they had for dinner was sweetened water. They had given everything else away.

"There is documentation showing these women did not gloss over the prejudice, the difficulties, the hardships," Archdiocese of New Orleans archivist Charles E. Nolan was quoted as saying on "Still, there's not a note of bitterness--and that's one of the gifts she had, the ability to step beyond all of the hurt and prejudice and take the next step, to do what God called them to do." Sister Sylvia Thibodeaux told the Los Angeles Times, "She was the servant of slaves. You can't get more committed than that."

De Lille died in 1862, the year that the Union Army took New Orleans. She never saw the end of slavery.

And here's a reminder that racism hadn't been purged from Catholic attitudes by 1960.

"In the late sixties, the Sisters of the Holy Family approached the archbishop of New Orleans about embarking on the canonization process. When they asked for his support, he replied, "Why did you all wait so long?" according to the Los Angeles Times. "Clearly this is a life that needs to be elevated to sainthood." The sisters had waited because, before 1960, they doubted the Church would elevate a black woman to sainthood."

Venerable Henriette de Lille sounds very good. Servant of God Henriette de Lille, pray for us.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Living La Dolce Vita as a Lay Student in Rome

If you have ever considered studying in Rome or just living or spending time in Rome, check out this wonderful resource, Lay Students in Rome.

It is a wonderful collection of the best resources to help you negotiate the sweet, sour, and peculiar realities of life in Rome: transportation, the incredible Italian bureaucracy, funding la dolce vita, finding the last Mass on any given day in the Urbe, etc. The website is the work of Maria Colonna, an American who has studied in Rome since 2004 and really knows the ropes!

If you are still at the dreaming stage or seriously planning, start here.

The other hub for lay students in Rome is the Lay Centre, founded by American Donna Orsuto, in 1984. Here lay students can live and experience Christian community - a surprising but real issue in a heavily clerical and religious town. Lay students, without the backing of a diocese or religious community, have to make their own way there.

We got to visit the Lay Centre briefly back in 2000 and meet Donna Orsuto. She introduced me to the wonders of lemoncello.

If you'd just like to dip your toe into The City, the Lay Centre is offering some really interesting week long seminars this summer (2010) which are inexpensive and can be taken for graduate credit:

Praying With the Saints in Rome
Towards Co-Responsibility of Priests and Laity: Wisdom from the Past, Hope for the Future

The last seminar is particularly interesting to me. As the blurb reads:

“To what extent is the pastoral co-responsibility of all, and particularly of the laity, recognized and encouraged? In past centuries, thanks to the generous witness of all the baptized who spent their life educating the new generations in the faith, healing the sick and going to the aid of the poor, the Christian community proclaimed the Gospel to the inhabitants of Rome. The self-same mission is entrusted to us today, in different situations, in a city in which many of the baptized have strayed from the path of the Church and those who are Christian are unacquainted with beauty of our faith. . . .”

In this year dedicated to the priesthood, it seems appropriate to reflect on the treasures of our tradition which speak to the ways that co-responsibility has been promoted in the past while recognizing, in the words of Benedict XVI, that “[t]here is still a long way to go. Too many of the baptized do not feel part of the ecclesial community and live on its margins, only coming to parishes in certain circumstances to receive religious services. Compared to the number of inhabitants in each parish, the lay people who are ready to work in the various apostolic fields, although they profess to be Catholic, are still few and far between.”

Using Rome as a classroom, this program will offer an historical and theological survey of how laity and ordained have promoted the communion and mission of the Church.

Some key historical figures to be included in the program are St. Paul and his co-workers, St. Justin Martyr, St. Lawrence, St. Gregory the Great, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Bridget of Sweden, St. Frances of Rome, St. Vincent Pallotti and John Henry Newman.

Special attention will be given to the ways co-responsibility is lived today by focusing on some specific examples: the Sant’Egidio Community and other new lay ecclesial movements.

Ah, Rome as a classroom! What a incredible place - in purely human as well as spiritual terms. I can't make it this year but if you do, be sure and let me know what it was like.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Red Eyes at Morning...

I took a redeye flight from Phoenix to Newark, NJ, where I connected to a flight to Halifax, Nova Scotia, arriving at noon Atlantic time. I am staying tonight with the Companions of the Cross community in Herring Bay, just outside the city. It's a quaint little town that clings to the sides of a small inlet that opens into the Atlantic just a couple hundred yards (I mean, meters) from the glebe (rectory). Rather than take a nap, I decided to explore because it was a wonderfully sunny day, and there were signs that spring's on its way to Nova Scotia, so here are a few pictures.

I walked for about an ninety minutes, but took a number of pictures of the countryside, including an old graveyard with a headstone dating to 1866 - about the time a Catholic church was built in the town. The Companions - Frs. Randy, Rob, Allen and Jamey, staff three small parishes outside Halifax, along with the campus ministries at St. Mary's college and Dalhousie University. I'll be giving a retreat to college students and young adults this weekend.

Tomorrow's supposed to be sunny and warm, so I'll walk a bit downtown, maybe sample a little Tim Horton's coffee, and try to blend in before heading up to the retreat center. Right now, I'm going to bed, and look forward to being dead to the world.

Finding Peter

Fr. Mike is a gifted writer and I really like this blurb he wrote for our parish mission in LA last week.

"In the very marrow of our bones and beyond lies a hunger, an emptiness, a searching for something that is impossible to name until it is found. Jesus likened it to a buried treasure discovered, or a merchant seeking fine pearls. Usually we seek it in things we can buy, honors we can win, or various kinds of success, but those never fully satisfy us. But the individuals in these two parables have discovered a purpose that guides how they act in the world.

That can describe your life, too. Traditionally, the Church has called it a vocation, a call from God that brings meaning and satisfaction to our lives through a work that we are given to do."

I liked it beause it sums up a longing that we have discovered that many lay Catholics, disciples or not, have - a longing for a really significant life. This longing can be the door through which those who are not yet disciples encounter the Christ who calls them to follow him and who is the source of all vocations. As Hans Urs von Balthazar pointed out:

“Simon, the fisherman, before his meeting with Christ, however thoroughly he might have searched within himself, could not possibly have found a trace of Peter.
-Prayer, p. 49.

Our vocation is a mystery that is revealed through a lived encounter with Christ. Jesus knows who we were created to ultimately become. We don't. He has to reveal it to us as we walk through this life with him.

One of the most devastating consequences of our failure to evangelize large numbers of our own, is the fact that we are only calling forth a tiny percentage of the vocations that God has given us.

As soon to be Blessed John Henry Newman noted, we can never be thrown away. Not as long as we walk with him. But the terrible irony is that, my vocation can be unintentionally obscured by another's failure to share the basic kerygma and call to discipleship with me. As a failure to water newly sown seeds in the spring can mean that they never germinate and bloom.

If i never follow Jesus as a disciple, I can never be sent by him as an apostle.

Talkin' About Jesus

Another e-mail gem from a collaborator:

This weekend I did a presentation for the Archdiocese as part of their Catechist Certification process on the Origin and Mission of the Church. After the presentation another Catechist who has a charism of evangelism was very excited.

Her response to me was,

“You know, I just realized from your teaching that I don’t talk about Jesus.

It’s like when I tell people about my mother, I don’t tell them facts as she relates to me, she gave birth to me, etc, rather I tell others about my mother - her spirit, her soul. She is one of the most wises persons I have ever met. She has the most joyful spirit and a passion for life that is caughty. That is the way I need to talk about Jesus. He is not an idea, but a living person. And when we proclaim the gospel message to others, it can’t merely be about what Jesus has done for me as in faith sharing. It needs to be about what type of person He is, His likes and dislikes, what he enjoys, everything that makes Him who He is - anything to attract people to Him.”

This is an excellent reminder for me this Lent as well.

Thanks for the Mystery!

I just came across this line in one of my overdue e-mails and had to LOL!

"a knowledgeable investment banker to say of it (a non-profit) recently “Logos is not a business, it's a mystery.”

Heh. This is the kind of observation that makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time.

It could truly be said of the Catherine of Siena Institute (and many other Catholic non-profits, I'm sure,
"it is not a business, it's a mystery." A mystery held together by duct tape, paper clips, and the Providence of God.

Lord, thanks for the mystery! :-}

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New Catholics: Easter, 2010

There has been much talk of larger than usual numbers of adults entering the Church this Easter. And not just the usual 150,000 or so in the US:

3,000 will be received in Hong Kong

650 will be received in Vietnam

There's been considerable talk about the 2,062 in the Archdiocese of Atlanta

But the 3,000 new Catholics in Dallas easily beats that and Houston's nearly 2000 catechumens and candidates practically matches Atlanta's numbers.

1,100 in the Archdiocese of Denver

675 adults and their sponsors filled our little Cathedral here in Colorado Springs for two Rite of Election Masses.

1,600 in the Archdiocese of New York

Over 1,000 in St. Petersburg, Florida

774 are joining us Diocese of Arlington, Virginia

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati will see 1049 catechumens and candidates- which is typical of the numbers they have seen over the past several years.

895 in Philly

1,400 in San Diego

and many, many more in the nearly 3,000 Catholic dioceses throughout the world. Only God knows how many are on that journey this year.

Are you one of them? Do you know someone who will be entering the Church at Easter? What's happening in your diocese or parish?

Glimpsing the River of Grace

Traveling and e-mail don't go together. Yesterday, I deleted 1700 less important e-mails that I received last month and now am actually reading and responding to what is left. I found this wonderful story from one of our collaborators that I thought I would share:

"I wanted to share this story I heard in the discernment interview I did of a woman with the Charism of Evangelism and Intercessory Prayer who goes to a certain block in her neighborhood run by pimps and knocks on the motel doors where the prostitutes are and ministers to them and asks them if she could pray with them. Many of them have returned to the faith."

One of the great privileges of facilitating the discernment of others is being given these tiny glimpses of the power of the Holy Spirit at work through laypeople. Multiply this anecdote by millions and it gives some sense of the hidden work of redemption being accomplished through the "yes" of ordinary men and women at this very moment as I type this sentence.

I often wish I could have a much better sense of the river of grace that is flowing through our world, a river that is hidden or obscured most of the time. A river that is known in its fullness only by God.

Part of the joy of heaven will be to finally be able to see and rejoice in the many miracles and transformations that were hidden from us during our earthly lives.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Adoring in Rome

I will be blogging again soon. Ten days away with little or no internet access means I've got a lot of catching up to do. Meanwhile enjoy this Rome Reports story about the student led Eucharistic Adoration at the Angelicum in Rome.

Evangelization: Speaking Truth to Bad News

A window into the complexity of our world, via Cathnews India

Recently, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, gave a one-hour speech in Dhaka, Bangladesh, based on Pope Benedict XVI’s message for World Communications Day next May 10.

In that message, the Pope invites priests “to make astute use of the unique possibilities offered by modern communications.


In Dhaka, the archbishop said, “The Catholic Church must be present in this digital world because the Holy Father inspires us to use modern media and communications tools to fulfill the Church’s mission of proclamation.

At this point, your average blogger is practically yawning: Well, that's obvious. What's the problem?

It seems that the young people in the audience didn't know what he was talking about.

Impossible! Unless you live in Bangledesh, apparently.

"Poverty, an irregular electricity supply and limited access to cyberspace in Bangladesh hamper involvement with the computer-based world of digital media. The presentation reportedly did not take these facts about the audience into account. So, a talk that might have been a successful presentation in Europe, and perhaps even has been, was a failure."

Then author Fr. William Grimm makes a very astute point:

"The problem lies in our failure to present the Good News as a real answer to bad news. We often present the Church and its Gospel as a “package deal.” “This is how it is, it is good for you, take it.”

But something that is perceived as an institution unrelated to the concerns and problems of real people in a real place is not going to be good news to them. If we do not present the Gospel in such a way that people see that it answers the bad news in their lives, they will ignore us.

Therefore, in addition to being shaped by the message of the Church, we must become expert in bad news. We must know what shape the bad news takes in various times, places and lives. Then, we must tailor our communication to answer that bad news. Only then does evangelization become the communication of the Good News as a hope-instilling, joy-producing answer to the “joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties” of the world’s people.

If we fail to preach the Good News as an answer to the world’s bad news, we fail as communicators, we fail as evangelizers, we fail as a Church."

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Evangelizing the Samaritan Woman

Why does the Church exist? What is it’s purpose?
It’s an important because you are the Church, and share in her purpose in your own life.
The purpose of the Church is to evangelize, according to Pope Paul VI.
If that comes as a surprise, then I’d have to assume we’re not doing a very good job of it.
The truth is, even if we want to evangelize, we really don’t know how to do it well.
John’s Gospel account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman is a great example of an individual evangelized by Jesus who moves from unbelief to belief – and a new life as a disciple.
Jesus leads the woman across five spiritual thresholds, each of which require grace to cross.

I. It’s noon, and Jesus meets a woman of Samaria at a well.
She’s there at the wrong time of day – should be there at morning or evening.
She shouldn’t be talking to a man unaccompanied by her husband, and she especially should not be kibitzing with a Jew.
She has every reason to be suspicious of him, and perhaps a bit ashamed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He must know there’s something wrong with her, that she avoids the women of the village.
Yet something must have told her he was worthy of at least a little trust, this solitary Jew. Maybe it was simply the fact that he, in asking for a drink, indicated that he would touch something she had touched first, or that she had something good that she could give him.

This is the first step in being evangelized – we have to trust: either God, or the Church, or (normally) an individual Christian.
In the first reading we have an example of God once again inviting the trust of the Israelites – they need a reminder of the concern he showed for them when he answered their prayers and brought them out of Egypt.
They have a short memory, and a real need. God provides, again.

Evangelization doesn’t happen without trust, without a relationship of some kind – and it has to be a real relationship, whose purpose is friendship, and not simply seeing the other as an evangelization “project.”
Perhaps it is this basic trust in at least some Catholics that keeps those of us at this threshold in the Church, even when the decisions of the hierarchy disappoint us or scandals erupt.
I presume we are all at least at this threshold, or why would we be here?

II. Jesus accepts her courage to trust and piques her curiosity in himself, speaking of a mysterious living, or free-flowing, water that he can give in place of the stagnant water from the well.
She demonstrates her trust by now referring him as, “sir,” but throws down a feisty, implied insult, “who do you think you are, anyway, someone greater than the great patriarch, Jacob?”
Jesus is a master at generating curiosity. He’s asked 183 questions in the Gospels.
He answers three of them directly.
The others usually are “answered” with another question.
And his answer to where he will get this living water, while not another question, is cryptic and enticing, “the water I shall give will become‚Ä®a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Curiosity is an important threshold in the journey to becoming a disciple – and the curiosity must be about Jesus: not simply the Church, or Church practices or teaching (ashes…on your forehead??), or even a follower of Jesus – but curiosity about Him, the most unique, curiosity-rousing person who ever lived.

III. Now the woman is open to something new. She sees a better way of living.
This openness is another threshold – one that is hard for us to cross.
We are afraid of change, and will often resist it until we are utterly miserable. “Give me this water,” she asks, “so I don’t have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Give me water so I don’t have this daily reminder that I am an outsider in my own village.
Give me water so I don’t suffer from thirst.
Our willingness to change is normally founded on some selfish hope – something better for me.
On the way of conversion, there reaches a point in which we realize there may be a different way of looking at life, a different perspective that we never knew existed.
To the atheist it might well be the possibility that God exists – and this has to be seen as better than the alternative.
For the Catholic, it might be the realization that faith is a journey, not a guilt trip; not a series of rules to be followed, but a lived relationship with God in Jesus that is more wilderness adventure than clearly marked, crowded, highway.
Initially, this new reality may seem ludicrous, horribly foreign, and thus many never become open to change – especially those whose lives are comfortable.
How hard it is for the comfortable to enter the kingdom of God!

IV. In every process of evangelization and conversion comes a fateful moment.
In the Gospel it comes as a kind of shocking non-sequitur. Her openness to Jesus and the eternal-life-giving water he offers is met with a request: “Go, call your husband and come back.”
Perhaps this touches upon the reason for her visit to the well at mid-day. Five husbands!
How many of them were previously husbands of other women in the village?
And now living with a man who perhaps someone else’s husband?
Such women are not welcome at cocktail parties, the beauty shop, the office water cooler – or the village well.

In every conversion process, as we draw closer to Jesus, the light that has come into the world, we have to become aware of our shadow.
After the miraculous catch of fish, Simon begs, “depart from me, Lord, I am a sinful man.”
When the Pharisees and scribes stand in the light, they cannot accept they have a shadow at all, and therefore must declare Jesus to be evil – a glutton, drunkard, and one who himself is possessed by the Prince of Demons.
This threshold is a delicate point in our conversion.
St. Paul tells the Romans, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
There is no escaping it.
The five and a half husbands are a sign of the woman’s shadow, and she must see it – see the failed relationships and the pain associated with each one.
If nothing else, she must see the fact that at least maybe she’s hard to live with.
It is this recognition of our fallen condition, of the hash we are making of our life, that leads us from mere openness to change to seeking a change – and seeking that change in relationship with Christ. People at this threshold want to know what to do – especially how to pray, and so the woman turns the conversation to prayer; specifically where to pray: Samaria or Jerusalem.
Jesus leads her deeper.

The issue is not where to pray, but how – “in Spirit and in truth” and God seeks such worshippers.
In the process of conversion and evangelizing or being evangelized we have to remember that it is not just we who are active participants – but every step of the way is made possible by the God who is first seeking us.
In fact, St. Paul tells us, God proves his love for us, in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Finally, Jesus brings the woman to the final threshold.
God desires the whole of who we are: body, spirit, soul.
Are you willing to lay aside everything – all your self-made plans and dreams – to acknowledge him as Messiah – the one who saves you from alienation from God the Father?
The woman says the Messiah “will tell us everything when he comes”, and Jesus speaks plainly to her like to no one else in the Gospels. “I am he, the one speaking with you.”
To believe that – to cross the final threshold and become a disciple of Jesus and to make His will my own - is to be justified by God.
Justification and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are the same thing for St. Paul, and both are the outcome of God’s love demonstrated on the cross.
Through the cross God accepts us sinners, and his acceptance of us is manifested by sending his Spirit to dwell in us and gradually transform us.
Eventually – if we desire it with our whole heart - we will become in reality what we are in theory, namely, holy.

So at that critical moment, as we wait for her response, up come the bumbling disciples, interrupting the story.
We might be wondering as to her response – did she cross that threshold or not? – but for one clue.
Left behind, just as Simon left his fishing nets to follow Jesus, is the woman’s empty water jar.
You might wonder, “How can we be sure she became a disciple, that somehow she underwent a conversion?
Because immediately she goes to her fellow villagers and invites them to “come see a man who told me everything I have done.” That is her definition of the Messiah.
What’s more, she acts as a disciple.
When someone experiences Jesus showing them their sin, and at the same time helping them realize that they are loved and forgiven, everything changes.
What once was hidden from others – or what we attempted to hide – we proclaim from the rooftops because it no longer matters – it’s been forgiven.
When we experience faith as a relationship in which we are loved more than we could ever deserve, we want to tell others of the good news we have experienced.
It’s news that seems too good to be true and must be shared.
Disciples evangelize.
The Samaritan woman’s testimony leads her fellow villagers to Jesus, who discover for themselves that he is their savior and “the Savior of the world.”
And as they approach, Jesus turns to the disciples and says, “someone else has done the sowing an you will be reaping the benefits” – the Samaritan woman disciple and evangelist.

So as we enter more deeply into this season of Lent, the question every one of us must ask ourselves is, “at what spiritual threshold am I?”
And if the signs are not there that I am a disciple, then let’s pray that we get real thirsty, really soon.

Couldn't Have Said it Better Myself

Here's an excellent article on the problem of lay ministry and lay apostolate over at Pertinacious Papist.
Here are a few choice quotes, and quotes within quotes of an article by Robert Shaw:

Clearing up our understanding of vocational discernment is the key, says Shaw, to resolving much of the confusion over lay ministry. It involves, first, setting aside the false idea that vocational discernment is done only by those considering the priesthood or religious life; and second, the idea that vocational discernment is a one time thing. The question one seeks to answer is not "What do I want from life?" but "What does God want from me?" It isn't subjective, but guided by Christian morality. "Conscience formation comes first. A person with a well formed conscience is equipped to engage in fruitful discernment. But when someone whose conscience is not well formed tries it, the result is likely to be self-serving and not God's will."

Shaw continues:
Lay ministries, as they are called -- service roles and functions performed by lay people in church settings, especially parishes -- undoubtedly do have their place, and an important one. But their place is subordinate to the priority of apostolate carried on in and to the secular order....

I'm sorry to say that in recent years we seem to have gotten it just the other way around, assigning de facto primacy to lay ministries and downgrading lay apostolate. And although the intentions have been good, that is a bad mistake which has contributed a lot to the current problems in the Church....

I repeat: lay ecclesial ministry can reasonably be seen as one part of [the] larger picture. but to speak of lay ministry as if it were the very apex of it, the peak of the pyramid, so to speak, is an instance of the tail wagging the dog -- that is to say, it's a painfully narrow-minded view of a much larger development in Catholic life extending over the last century and a half and still taking place.
Shaw goes on to relate a hunch he has about how this is related to the sacrament of confirmation -- "a sacrament in crisis if there ever was one." The problem with confirmation, he says, is that basically "nobody really knows what it is." His idea, which he believes is both theologically and pastorally valid, is to present confirmation as a sacrament of vocational discernment
Confirmation is a sacrament of vocational discernment, in that it is meant to prepare the youth for full participation in secular society as a disciple of Jesus. It is not simply a matter of defending the faith, but living it in such a way that society (at least the corner in which I live an participate) is transformed from within. Often, that will lead those who prefer the status quo to push back. So the "defense of the faith" in this situation is giving the rationale for what I'm doing, and will likely include reference to Scripture and Church teaching.Part of our problem is that in our panic over priestly vocations, we are unintentionally giving the impression that there's only one vocation, or only one vocation we think is important. And that means that the only environment that is important in the life of faith is the parish - and particularly the liturgy.

Let me give a couple of examples of our unintentional myopia.

When you hear prayers at Mass for "vocations to the Church," which vocations come to mind? Sometimes the prayers are explicit, i.e., for priestly and religious vocations. But we've trained ourselves to hear "vocation = priesthood/religious life."

I was preparing to give a presentation to the Serra club of a diocese at the local cathedral. I went to the early morning gathering of about thirty lay people in the cathedral basement, and as I approached the podium, I noticed the vocations poster directly behind it. In large letters it asked the question, "Are you called?" When I turned to face the people, I pointed to the poster and asked, "What's the answer to the question?" After a few moments of silence, one fellow responded, "Well... yeah."

"Right," I said, "but what's the unintended message given by the poster?"

After a little bit of murmuring, someone piped up, "that the only call is to the seminary."

Exactly. The poster had the photos of all the seminarians studying for the diocese, along with the picture of the vocations director.

Such posters are fine, especially when they invite us to pray for seminarians, and to get us thinking about priestly vocations. The problem is, it is a vocations poster that features only one of five types of vocations, and we seldom, if ever, see posters promoting the other ones explicitly - and as vocations.

I'd love to see a vocations poster that focuses on the vocation we all have - a vocation to holiness and discipleship. I'd love to hear more language about marriage as a vocation that must first be discerned (as in, "am I called to it,") which would be an important distal preparation for the sacrament before discerning if I'm called to marry this particular person. Can I discern marriage apart from the person I might be called to marry? I think so, in that I can ask myself if I am prepared to give myself to another person in freedom and with a desire to serve them, help them become holy, share a common faith with them, and raise a family with them. Even dedicated single life is a call, and not just for those with a homosexual orientation. There are those who are given a charism of celibacy who are not called to priesthood or religious life, who are being called to live as a single person, available to serve God and others with a freedom that a married person (or a priest or religious) can't.

Finally, it would be great to see a vocations poster that highlighted the fact that each person has a "personal vocation," that will name them and allow them to best use the gifts, natural abilities, skills, personality and experiences that God has given them.

When we pray for vocations - even when it's not explicitly said - people automatically think "to priesthood and religious life." And a consequent of this is many people presume that they have nothing to discern. We presume, usually unconsciously, "I've dodged the vocation bullet, and so am free to live my life as I please," when in fact, prior to baptism, I was claimed for Christ by the sign of His cross on my forehead (and on various parts of my body if I was baptized as an adult). Your life is not your own. St. Paul tells us, "you have been purchased, and at a price." 1 Cor 6:20.

As Sherry likes to say, the problem is not a lack of vocations (every baptized person has at least three!), but a lack of discernment of vocations.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Denver's Archbishop

John Allen has a nice piece on Archbishop Chaput of Denver here. I'd like to quote a few of Chaput's lines from his address at Houston Baptist University and comment (the full text can be found here). The first is from
One of the ironies in my talk tonight is this. I’m a Catholic bishop, speaking at a Baptist university in America’s Protestant heartland. But I’ve been welcomed with more warmth and friendship than I might find at a number of Catholic venues. This is a fact worth discussing. I'll come back to it at the end ...

I’m here as a Catholic Christian and an American citizen -- in that order. Both of these identities are important. They don’t need to conflict. They are not, however, the same thing. ... No nation, not even the one I love, has a right to my allegiance, or my silence, in matters that belong to God or that undermine the dignity of the human persons He created.
Fifty years ago this fall, in September 1960, Sen. John F. Kennedy, the Democratic candidate for president, spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. ... His speech left a lasting mark on American politics. It was sincere, compelling, articulate -- and wrong. Not wrong about the patriotism of Catholics, but wrong about American history and very wrong about the role of religious faith in our nation’s life. And he wasn’t merely “wrong.” His Houston remarks profoundly undermined the place not just of Catholics, but of all religious believers, in America’s public life and political conversation. Today, half a century later, we’re paying for the damage.

[Kennedy’s speech] has at least two big flaws. The first is political and historical, the second is religious.
Early in his remarks, Kennedy said: “I believe in an America where the separation of Church and state is absolute.” The trouble is, the Constitution doesn’t say that. The Founders and Framers didn’t believe that. And the history of the United States contradicts that. ... America’s Founders encouraged mutual support between religion and government.

The Houston remarks also created a religious problem. ... Fifty years after Kennedy’s speech, we have more Catholics in national public office than ever before. But I wonder if we’ve ever had fewer of them who can coherently explain how their faith informs their work, or who even feel obligated to try. The life of our country is no more “Catholic” or “Christian” than it was 100 years ago. In fact it’s arguably less so. And at least one of the reasons for it is this: Too many Catholics confuse their personal opinions with a real Christian conscience. Too many live their faith as if it were a private idiosyncrasy -- the kind that they’ll never allow to become a public nuisance. And too many just don’t really believe. Maybe it’s different in Protestant circles. But I hope you’ll forgive me if I say, “I doubt it.”

Archbishop Chaput touches upon a huge misconception about the separation of Church and State. It often is misunderstood to mean that religion has no place in the public sector. Many Catholics have internalized that misunderstanding and very conveniently leave their faith in the vestibule at church. The two mistakes Kennedy made are really one mistake with two aspects. The mistake is to think that one's faith does not extend into one's public life; that faith can be "private."

We are not to try to establish a theocracy in the U.S., but Catholics are to integrate their faith into their secular decisions. If we did this, health care, politics, the arts, the internet (including blogs), and all manners of public institutions would look different. Moral decisions do not exist solely in the realm of one's private life. In fact, no human decision of any import is strictly private - we are public, communal beings. My imagined private decisions shape me, and I then interact with other people. Take internet pornography, for example - an obsession for millions of American men and women. What happens in the privacy of one's home even at that moment is not strictly private. The people involved in producing the pornography were effectively objectified in its making. The pornography shapes its viewer to see other human beings as objects for one's sexual gratification. I once spoke with a man at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, who was debating leaving his job with a phone company. His job involved making sure that people had access to the internet, but then told me that some absurdly high percentage of internet usage (I want to say over 75%) was for the viewing of pornography. He was having moral qualms about the job that helped him provide food and shelter for his family.

More on this later - I have an appointment to get to! Sorry!

An Answer to Prayers

You may recall a request for prayers October 22 for Marysa Likness, daughter of friends of mine in Colorado Springs. She was near death with what later was diagnosed as H1N1 - and pregnant. Her mom and dad, Art and Kathy Nutter, while watching a movie titled, "Love is a Choice" (the story of St. Gianna Molla), began asking for St. Gianna's intercession on behalf of their daughter. That very night, Marysa started to improve, and was home within a week!

Well, she gave birth today to BRAELYN GIANNA LIKNESS! This tiny little girl entered this world at 12:42PM MST, weighing in at 5 lbs, 8 oz and measuring 19 inches long.

Another miracle, and another answer to prayers. Thank you, St. Gianna, and thank you, God!

Congratulations, Marysa and Ryan, and the grateful grandparents, Art and Kathy!

The Spice of LIfe

Yesterday, I was standing in the sun on the edge of a green, 1,000 foot high hill overlooking the Pacific ocean and Catalina Island. Birds of Paradise. Wild Peacocks.

Today, I'm heading up to the spine of North America where it is the height of the snowpack and time for ski-joring. 12 foot walls of snow. 14,000 foot mountain peaks.

This is the ski-joring competition held last weekend in Leadville, Colorado, highest incorporated town in North America at 10,200 feet elevation.

Whimpy easterners do it with dogs. Westerners do with horses. Los Angeleans don't do it at all.

If you find yourself asking "why", you obviously lack the oxygen starved brain and quixotic spirit necessarily to make it through a winter at 10,000 feet.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Beauty of a Personal Call Being Lived

Hello from the Phoenix International Airport. I'm on my way to Oakland for a meeting of our Provincial Council. The parish mission Sherry and I gave in Rancho Palos Verdes at St. John Fisher Catholic Church went very well. Its focus was on the reality that every baptized Christian personally participates in the mission of Christ and His Church through the unique work of love that they are invited to participate in by Jesus. That work is a personal vocation that can be discerned. It's also the shortest route to happiness, satisfaction and meaning in this life, as well as a profound way in which we grow in intimacy with Jesus.

What was interesting about this mission is that we incorporated some brief "testimonies" from lay Catholics who are consciously discerning and living their call. One was a former attorney become teacher and writer, another was an engineer with his own multi-million dollar/year company, a third is a physical therapist with several different companies who wants to change the way health care is approached in this country, and the final example was our own Called & Gifted teacher, Barbara Elliott. We used excerpts from a PBS broadcast that looked at her life, her own spiritual awakening, and the vocation she's pursuing now as the founder and director of a non-profit that helps people transition from jail to jobs.

What was incredible as I listened to these interviews were patterns that I heard. These were
1) that the call was linked to a growing relationship with God
2) that as they looked back over their lives, they see that God has "written straight with crooked lines." That is, their previous experiences helped prepare them for what they're doing now
3) they are currently consciously asking God for guidance and are willing to follow it
4) they are pretty peaceful about the future, even though they are not at all sure where God will take them
5) their vocations are BIG! Much bigger than they are. They speak of helping disseminate God's "inventions" in the world, or changing the world through educated, literate young people, changing health care, giving people a second chance. (Two stories we weren't able to use because of time or poor technology had to do with changing the legal profession and addressing the problem of hunger!)
6) all of the vocations focus on changing lives for the better
7) all of the people I spoke to really enjoy themselves when they are doing what they know they were created to do!

I would love to produce a small library on our website of interviews like this of people who have discovered and are living their call. I found them very inspiring - and as a priest, I recognize that such stories, and the changed lives behind them, are meant to be indications that my vocation is bearing fruit (insofar as my ministry intersects their lives). Not that I'm responsible for their fruitfulness (far from it, except as a secondary cause!). Rather, I see the beauty of the connectedness between the sacraments, preaching and teaching, and pastoral governance (the calling forth, discernment and encouragement of charisms) that are part of my life as a priest, and the lives of these individuals whom I am privileged to know and, I must admit, love.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Post World Youth Day: The Tide is Rising Down Under

First solid indicators of the impact of the Sydney World Youth Day in 2008. Only two years later, the number of priestly ordinations and new seminarians is rising. From the Catholic News Agency.

A record number of men are entering seminary for the Archdiocese of Sydney and up to six men will be ordained to the priesthood this coming June, a rise that observers partly attribute to the influence of World Youth Day 2008.

On June 11, between four and six men will be ordained priests by the Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell. This is the largest number of men ordained into the Archdiocese of Sydney since 1988, the archdiocese reports.

Two Uganda-born men who studied at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Homebush, Australia will be ordained in their home country and will return to serve in Australian parishes.

“While Australia has been battling against a shortage of priests since the late 1980s, it now looks as if interest in the priesthood and men seeking priestly vocations is once more on the rise,” the archdiocese said on Friday.

In February, 10 men were accepted as candidates for the priesthood by the Seminary of the Good Shepherd, and they have since begun their first year of study.

"There is no doubt there has been an upsurge in interest in a priestly vocation," said seminary rector Fr. Anthony Percy.

Fr. Percy attributed the trend to World Youth Day 2008 but also to past World Youth Day Events and to the Year for Priests, proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI in June 2009.

Another sign of vigor in Catholic Australia is Sydney’s Theology on Tap program, which attracts between seven and eight hundred people to P.J. Gallagher’s Irish Pub in Parramatta on the first Monday of each month. They drink, socialize and hear speakers on theology, faith, the Church and life in general.

The numbers above look small to me but when you understand how tiny the number of Latin American seminarians was in 1970 and the average 371% growth in the 40 years since, you know that starting small doesn't mean you have to end small. Mark Shea spoke at that Theology on Tap program last month to 700 enthusiastic people and told me it was a blast.

Good fruits down under.

St. Augustine's Prayer

Here is a brief excerpt from St. Augustine's Soliloquies. Are they prayer, petition, a monologue, or part of an ongoing dialogue? I would imagine the saint himself would reply, "Dialogue, of course." God seems to speak to Augustine through the ubiquitous and easily overlooked simpleness of natural events, as well as the events that unfold from his free choices. Everything speaks to Augustine of God.

I love this glimpse into the passion of the saint for God. May we desire such passion ourselves this Lent!

Whatever has been said by me, Thou the only God, do Thou come to my help, the one true and eternal substance, where is no discord, no confusion, no shifting, no indigence, no death. Where is supreme concord, supreme evidence, supreme steadfastness, supreme fullness, and life supreme. Where nothing is lacking, nothing redundant. Where Begetter and Begotten are one. God, whom all things serve, that serve, to whom is compliant every virtuous soul. By whose laws the poles revolve, the stars fulfill their courses, the sun vivifies the day, the moon tempers the night: and all the framework of things, day after day by vicissitude of light and gloom, month after month by waxings and wanings of the moon, year after year by orderly successions of spring and summer and fall and winter, cycle after cycle by accomplished concurrences of the solar course, and through the mighty orbs of time, folding and refolding upon themselves, as the stars still recur to their first conjunctions, maintains, so far as this merely visible matter allows, the mighty constancy of things. God, by whose ever-during laws the stable motion of shifting things is suffered to feel no perturbation, the thronging course of circling ages is ever recalled anew to the image of immovable quiet: by whose laws the choice of the soul is free, and to the good rewards and to the evil pains are distributed by necessities settled throughout the nature of everything. God, from whom distil even to us all benefits, by whom all evils are withheld from us. God, above whom is nothing, beyond whom is nothing, without whom is nothing. God, under whom is the whole, in whom is the whole, with whom is the whole. Who hast made man after Your image and likeness, which he discovers, who has come to know himself. Hear me, hear me, graciously hear me, my God, my Lord, my King, my Father, my Cause, my Hope, my Wealth, my Honor, my House, my Country, my Health, my Light, my Life. Hear, hear, hear me graciously, in that way, all Your own, which though known to few is to those few known so well.

Henceforth You alone do I love, You alone I follow, You alone I seek, You alone am I prepared to serve, for You alone are Lord by a just title, of Your dominion do I desire to be. Direct, I pray, and command whatever You will, but heal and open my ears, that I may hear Your utterances. Heal and open my eyes, that I may behold Your significations of command. Drive delusion from me, that I may recognize You. Tell me whither I must tend, to behold You, and I hope that I shall do all things You may enjoin. O Lord, most merciful Father receive, I pray, Your fugitive; enough already, surely, have I been punished, long enough have I served Your enemies, whom You have under Your feet, long enough have I been a sport of fallacies. Receive me fleeing from these, Your house-born servant, for did not these receive me, though another Master's, when I was fleeing from You? To You I feel I must return: I knock; may Your door be opened to me; teach me the way to You. Nothing else have I than the will: nothing else do I know than that fleeting and falling things are to be spurned, fixed and everlasting things to be sought. This I do, Father, because this alone I know, but from what quarter to approach You I do not know. Do Thou instruct me, show me, give me my provision for the way. If it is by faith that those find You, who take refuge with You then grant faith: if by virtue, virtue: if by knowledge, knowledge. Augment in me, faith, hope, and charity. O goodness of Yours, singular and most to be admired!

Homily Follow-up

I mentioned Steve Bigari and America's Family in my homily this weekend in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. Here's a new (to me) video explaining how a simple, unexpected encounter became a moment of actual grace for Steve. It opened his eyes to a reality to which he had been blind, and became the genesis of his unique, personal mission from God.

Homily for the Second Week of Lent: Faith as Exchange

I used to shave my head with a single-blade razor, until my dad gave me a high-tech razor with five blades…that vibrate.
I work on a 2008 MacBook that I really enjoy. I wouldn’t trade it for anything – except a newer, faster Apple product.
When I’m in Colorado Springs, the home office of the CSI, I drive a borrowed 1998 red Mustang ragtop convertible.
I wouldn’t trade it for anything, except a 1998 red Mustang ragtop convertible with manual transmission…and snow tires.

Even when we’re happy with the way things are, we’re willing to exchange for something that promises to be better.
That reality is the foundation of marketing, as well as the appeal in the TV show “Let’s Make a Deal,” that asked contestants “do you want to keep what you have, or exchange it for what’s behind door #1?”

I think exchanges are the foundation of faith.
The three figures highlighted in the readings today are good examples.
Abram, a wealthy, but old and childless man from the ancient city of Ur exchanges it all for a long journey to an unknown, yet promised, land and the hope for descendants as numerous as the stars in the heavens.
Not a bad deal – since it all worked out.
His faith in this exchanged is credited to him as righteousness, and God seals the deal by covenant.
The split animals were a graphic way of both parties in the agreement saying “may this happen to me if I should break the covenant.”

St. Paul exchanged the life of a respectable Jewish Pharisee to be a disciple of Jesus, and more than a disciple – the missionary to the Gentiles.
But in 2 Corinthians he lists the hardships he’s endured: shipwrecks, beatings, robbers, and anxiety for the converts to Christianity.
He writes the Philippians from prison, knowing he’s to be a martyr, yet encourages them by saying, “imitate me.”
And just before this passage, he told them, I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Philippians 3:8
So he considered that he made a good deal, too, and wants the Philippians to exchange the things of this earth for a relationship with the risen Jesus.

And what of Jesus – what exchange did he make?
St. Paul told the Philippians, “though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, and took the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” Phil 2:6-7
In the transfiguration event, Peter, James and John are given a glimpse of what Jesus exchanged for their sake, and the Father asks them to make an exchange.
Rather than listen to Moses and Elijah, they are now to listen to Jesus, the new Moses and final prophet.
But that’s not the only exchange Jesus made. He exchanged his own human will for His Father’s will. He tells his disciples, “I only do what I have heard from my Father.”
This obedience will lead him to trouble with the religious authorities in Jerusalem.
So much trouble, that, as St. Paul reminds the Philippians, “he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross.” Phil 2:8
And are these good exchanges – or should Jesus have chosen what was behind door #2?

Again, St. Paul says, “Because of this God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name above every other name.”
But more than honor, Jesus’ obedience is accepted by the Father who makes a wonderful exchange – His Son’s obedience for our disobedience.
Jesus exchanges his life for the redemption of every human who has ever lived and will ever live.
All three figures make these exchanges for the benefit of others: Abram for his descendants; Paul for the Gentiles who don’t know Jesus; Jesus for you and me.
All three are sent from comfort into the unknown – a frightening exchange.
They are given a mission, which comes from the Latin word, “to be sent.”

Everyone baptized into Jesus has a mission – a share in his mission, actually.
And every mission, every “sending” is to someone; it’s always for the benefit of others.
You and I, as members of Christ’s body, share in the ongoing redemption of the world.
The exchange that you and I are invited to make is our will, our plans, for God’s will and God’s plans.
The purpose of the parish mission will be to convince you that this is not just a good exchange, but the best exchange we can make – and show you how to discover your call today.

Now, a basic Catholic fear is that if I say, “Here I am, Lord, send me,” we’ll end up in Tanzania; or perhaps end up with a very limited wardrobe consisting of the cutting edge of 13th c. fashion.
But actually, our shortcut to happiness and fulfillment in this life is found in responding to God’s call.
Your mission will fit you: your education, talents, experience, even your personality.
St. Paul, with his excellent background in the Jewish scriptures, his zeal for God, and his willingness to live with his heart on his sleeve was a perfect instrument for spreading the Gospel.

As laity, your mission is going to be in the world – transforming its institutions from the inside.
Take Jack Russo, for example. He’s an attorney who started a Foundation to teach lawyers how to exchange aggressive advocacy that creates winners and losers for creative dispute resolution that benefits society.
Or consider Nancy Owen Myers; an entymologist by training, she exchanged the comfortable life of wife and mother for business entrepreneur.
When her kids wouldn’t eat the lunches she packed because they got crushed, she created a foldable, washable, lunchbox and a company she calls Lunchsense, with plants in the US and Viet Nam.
But her mission is still unfolding – all she knows is it has to do with combating hunger.

Steve Bigari, a West Point grad, business innovator and owner of 12 McDonald’s franchises, exchanged them all to start a non-profit called America’s Family.
He shows service industry companies that providing health care, short-term loans and other benefits to employees actually increases productivity and income, while helping the working poor break the cycle of poverty.
In doing so, he’s helped 10,000 families buy their own homes.

How did these people discover their call?
Often, it begins with a feeling of unease or discontent about what we are doing.
I was a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford in geophysics when I admitted to myself I wasn’t passionate about the magnetic field of the ancient earth – not the way my colleagues were.
I didn’t imagine I’d end up here, I promise you – but it’s an exchange I’d make again in a heartbeat.

Life is all about exchanges and priorities.
When you think about it, the story of the Fall is about one terrible exchange: knowledge about things, including God, in exchange for the experience of intimacy with Him and His creation.
And that’s what the Tempter, or Marketer, as I like to think of him, is always about: getting us to exchange our genuine good for a cheap imitation.
When we do that, we become a cheap imitation of ourselves.
Jesus came to re-establish that intimacy of relationship through his death and resurrection, and through the invitation to each of us to “come and follow him” as a disciple.
Pope John Paul II said a disciple "must…enter into [Jesus] with all his own self, one must 'appropriate' and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself." Redemptor Hominis, 10

In other words, by committing ourselves to a relationship with Jesus and allowing his will to become our own, we allow him to take flesh in us – we appropriate the Incarnation to ourselves.
St. Paul could say, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” Gal 2:20
By discerning what it is he would have us do and doing it, we participate in the ongoing work of his redemption of the world today: healing the part of the world to which he sends us.
Our mission forms us into the person we were created to be, and so is a part of our own redemption, as well.
Of course, there’s fear involved: fear of the unknown, of failure, of looking the fool.
That’s why today’s psalm reminds us, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?
We certainly shouldn’t fear God!
The covenant established with Abram through the sacrifice of animals was reaffirmed and deepened through the sacrifice of God’s own Son.
We celebrate that “new and everlasting” covenant at Mass, and we have nothing to fear – and everything to gain - in this holy exchange of bread and wine become Jesus’ body and blood.
The “chosen Son” is with you always, calling to you now, in your longing for significance and purpose, in your gifts, and even in your discontent. “Listen to him” and dare to follow him.