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.