Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Just Being Plain (Catholic)

Posted for Sherry W:

It looks like Kathleen has a fan here at Just Being Plain. They very nicely linked to her post in light of the big discussion last week at Amy's. Why so many Catholics "read into" our conversation about evangelization ("only one way") is fascinating. It's probably the liturgical instinct (always what's the rubrics?) and the fact that most lay movements are quasi-religious in tone and tend toward "one way" rather than the expansive universal approach of the parish.

Kathleen adds: Thanks for the hat tip!

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Let me take a stab at this...

I’ve been following the dust-up regarding the word “evangelical” – the conflict between Protestant converts’ varied understandings and experiences of it and the negative images the word conjures in cradle Catholics’ minds, and the concerns about elitism and condescension on the part of those involved in such lay groups.

In my opinion, the best posts framing the issues and answering the questions are here (by Sherry W), here (also by Sherry), and here (Fr. Jim Tucker of Dappled Things), as well as Fr. Mike's post (below) from today.

From my perspective as a participant in the Institute's programs and an avid supporter for many years, I have to say this first regarding the charge of an elitist attitude: No one is trying to turn introverted, shy, prayerfully devoted contemplative cradle Catholics into happy-clappy extroverts who shout “Amen!” back at the priest during his homily and chatter incessantly about their “personal relationship with Jesus” to the person who sits next to them on the bus. No one is trying to turn faithful Catholics into something they’re not. The programs and resources of the Catherine of Siena Institute are not geared toward changing your personality; rather, they are designed to treat your personality, your personal conception and experience of God, and your specific charisms with the greatest of respect and care. Discerning one’s charisms in response to God’s call is a deeply and uniquely personal process, and the Institute’s goal is to equip you intellectually and emotionally to grow into the best you that God designed for you to be.

Though the standards of holiness are the same for us all, because of our unique personalities, holiness looks different on everyone – and this is what we recognize and encourage. Our vision is the diametric opposite of elitism – for how could we measure such a thing? Could we say that St. Thomas Aquinas was a more “intentional” disciple than St. Francis of Assisi, or vice versa? That Mother Theresa was more “evangelical” than St. Teresa of Avila? Taking the analogy of the human body for the Body of Christ, for a moment: Is the eye less important to the function of the body than the spleen? Is your right hand more important than the hormones secreted by your pancreas? Please – anyone who’s ever actually encountered the programs or materials of the Institute can vouch for the fact that charges of spiritual arrogance or elitism are unfounded (except for the unfortunate fact that we all sin personally now and again).

To me, “intentional discipleship” means “things I think about and plan on doing for/with Jesus, and then I do them”. There are no prescribed practices, no celices, no special society prayerbooks. Nothing but the “me” I’ve dedicated to the service of God and my fellow man on planet Earth; the equipment He’s given me in terms of my talents, experiences, and intellect; the resources of the Church and the power infused into my soul by the Sacraments; and my willingness to do the tasks and love the people He sets before me each day. That’s it.

I’ve been reading a book by Fr. Luigi Giussani, the founder of Communion & Liberation, entitled The Journey to Truth Is an Experience. Here’s a quote from his exegesis of Acts 1:12-14 that describes what happens when someone encounters Christ in a personal way, i.e. responds to the kerygma with faith, i.e. has an experience of Jesus Christ that radically alters their view of themselves and their place in the universe:

One who truly discovers and lives the experience of powerlessness and solitude does not remain alone. Only one who has experienced powerlessness to its depths, and hence personal solitude, feels close to others and is easily drawn to them. Like someone lost, without shelter in a storm, he or she feels his or her cry at one with the cries of others, her or her anxiety and expectation at one with the anxieties and expectations of all others.

Only one who truly experiences helplessness and solitude stays with other people without self-interest, calculation, or imposition, yet at the same time without “following the crowd” passively, submitting, or becoming a slave of society.

You can claim to be seriously committed to your own human experience only when you sense this community with others, with anyone and everyone, without frontiers or discrimination, for we live our commitment to what is most deeply within us and therefore common to all. You are truly committed to your own human experience when, saying “I”, you live this “I” so simply and profoundly that you feel fraternally bonded to any other person’s “I”. God’s answer will reach only the person committed in such a way.
(Giussani, Fr. L. The Journey to Truth Is an Experience. Quebec City: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006, p. 55-56)

Fr. Giussani’s words take some pondering and unpacking, but what I get from the above passage is this: It’s only through our experience of Jesus Christ, the One Reality, that we can have any sort of healthy bond to our fellow creatures at all. The recognition of our own powerlessness, sinfulness, emptiness, and aloneness without God is what we truly have in common with every other human being, and it’s on this basis that we bond, with the goal of helping one another succeed in apprehending the grace that God offers us and becoming what God intends for us to be. It’s only through the personal recognition of the truth of who God is, and therefore who we are and what our experience means, that we can be knit together in a diverse, complex, yet unified entity that can be a powerful force for good on our planet.

Every Protestant I know would agree with the following statement: The experience of Christ always leads a person to the Christian community. Though some Christians don’t make it into the Catholic Church, they still respond the best they can to Christ’s directives in the Scriptures, not the least of which is “We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25) Yes, Protestant ecclesiology is different; though they don’t believe in The Church, nearly all believe in a church. If they didn’t, there wouldn’t be anything we call a “Protestant denomination”; we would simply encounter individual Christian believers outside the Catholic Church, floating like tiny atoms of light in the midst of the darkness that surrounds us.

I hope this helps to allay the concerns of those who fear a “Protestantization” of the Church, but I don’t know if it will… Comments? Clarifications? Questions? (Coffee?)

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Monday, April 23, 2007

The Evangelical Nature of Catholicism

A post from Sherry via her trusty, smug, Mac-using minion:

There was a kerfuffle all weekend at Fr. Dwight Longenecker's blog over his post on his experience at the Evangelical Catholic Institute the weekend before. Fr. Mike and I also attended the Evangelical Catholic Institute (I spoke several times) - as did Cardinal Avery Dulles, who gave one of the keynotes.

There seems to be two issues: 1) simply the term "evangelical Catholic" which is perceived by some as off-putting in and of itself; and 2) the fear that focusing on calling Catholics to a personal relationship with Christ, to intentional discipleship, is somehow a rejection and/or minimization of the role of the Church and magisterium. If we lay down our catechism for a moment, we are repudiating doctrine and revelation and the authority of the Church's teaching altogether and becoming Protestant.

What is, alas, no longer surprising for me, is to see clergy and lay people that I know to be devoted to Church teaching and meticulous about teaching with the Church being dismissed as covert dissenters because they are talking about the same thing that Pope Benedict has spoken about so movingly: personally following and entrusting one's life to Christ.

At the Institute and ID, we don't ever use the term "evangelical Catholic" because of its potential in our situation in the Protestant hotbed of the US to be understood as saying that the evangelical is not an intrinsic part of the Catholic faith and has to be borrowed from elsewhere and "tacked on".

But if we are going to be fully Catholic, we have to wrestle with the irreducibly evangelical nature of the Catholic faith - the mission to proclaim Christ to every person, every culture, every society. Protestants didn't invent the evangel or evangelism. They got it from us and then majored in it.

One commenter in the debate mentioned above pointed out this reality: The term "evangelical" is used 482 times in the documents of Vatican II and in papal and material teaching since. No reality spoken of 482 times in authoritative magisterial teaching can be dismissed as marginal, sectarian, or non-Catholic.

For instance, as in the Decree on the Laity, 31, doctrine and the evangelical are not, in any way, seen as opposed.

a) In regard to the apostolate for evangelizing and sanctifying men, the laity must be specially formed to engage in conversation with others, believers or non-believers, in order to manifest Christ's message to all men.(5)
Since in our times different forms of materialism are spread far and wide even among Catholics, the laity should not only learn doctrine more diligently, especially those main points which are the subjects of controversy, but should also exhibit the witness of an evangelical life in contrast to all forms of materialism.

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 41

"married couples and Christian parents should . . . imbue their offspring, lovingly welcomed as God's gift, with Christian doctrine and the evangelical virtues."

The "evangelical" is also clearly declared to be part of the priestly office (Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests, 2,

"Their ministry, which begins with the evangelical proclamation, derives its power and force from the sacrifice of Christ."


And a critical part of the Church's mission to the world (from the Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church, 24,:

"By a truly evangelical life, in much patience, in long-suffering, in kindness, in unaffected love (cf. 2 Cor 6:4ff.), he bears witness to his Lord, if need be to the shedding of his blood."

The irony is that in defending ourselves against recent history (to a community that is 2000 years old, the 500 year span of Protestantism is a johnny-come-lately.) we can find ourselves rejecting as "foreign" something that is Catholic to the core, that is absolutely essential to the faith, and dates back to St. Peter's sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2).

"'Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.'

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, 'What are we to do, my brothers?'

Peter (said) to them, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.'"

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Evangelical Catholic Institute, part II

I had a great day today at the Evangelical Catholic Institute! The speakers I heard were insightful, and practical in their comments, and everyone here is talking about discipleship - even intentional discipleship! There are officially 215 folks here, including a dozen student leaders from Michigan Technological University in Houghton, MI, my alma mater! It was wonderful to hear them talk about what it's like on campus now, and sobering to realize that I graduated from Tech before any of them were born! Most amazing was the fact that I was an acquaintance of the mother of one of the students!

This day ended with a keynote address by Avery Cardinal Dulles, who spoke on six models of evangelization: personal witness, affirmation, worship, community, inculturation and works of charity. These models were drawn from the work of Fr. Timothy Bayerly (whose last name I may have butchered), a graduate student whom Cardinal Dulles advised. I'll share very briefly a few of the notes I took on Cardinal Dulles' keynote.

PERSONAL WITNESS - involves the witness of a life totally given to Christ; a communion with God that nothing can destroy. His Emminence quoted Evangelii Nuntiandi, 21.

AFFIRMATION - involves verbal testimony, which can include apologetics, catechesis and the "explanation for the hope we have in Christ." This testimony often follows upon the silent witness of one's life and is described as necessary to prevent even the best silent witness from being ineffective in the long run (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 22)

WORSHIP - worship is not normally conducted in order to make an impression on outsiders, but our sincerity of relationship with God, our sense of mystery and devotion, can and does have an effect on others; it can change hearts. Some people, in seeing the liturgy, are moved to study the doctrine behind the fervor and devotion of the Catholic faithful. Liturgy and the sacraments immerse us in the mystery of Christ, centers us on him, and makes us his heralds in the world.

COMMUNITY - combats the anonymity that so often marks modern secularism. The Protestant writer Rodney Stark wrote in "The Rise of Christianity" about the way in which the intentional community of the early Christians was such a witness to a pagan world that had no regard or mercy for children, women, the elderly, the sick or the poor. We need a similar communal witness today, and that is part of the power of the Neocatechumenal Way, Focolare, Communion and Liberation, the community of San Egidio, and communidades de base. As Cardinal Dulles spoke of this, I was reminded of a quote by Pope Benedict XVI, who encouraged every Catholic Christian to work to ensure that "new generations experience the Church as a company of friends who are truly dependable and close in all life's moments and circumstances, whether joyful and gratifying or arduous and obscure; as a company that will never fail us, not even in death, for it carries within it the promise of eternity."

INCULTURATION - the Cardinal called this the "incarnation of the Gospel in cultural forms recognizable to new cultures." He mentioned the long history of inculturation, beginning with the translation of Jewish categories of thought to Greek categories in the first century (especially the example of St. Paul in the areopagus [Acts 17:23-31], which is a model of incultured evangelization, since St. Paul quoted Greek authors and poets in that speech.) Sts. Cyril and Methodius inculturated the Gospel for the people of easter Europe, while St. Matteo Ricci was "successful in clothing Christianity in cultural forms of China and India." Yet the Cardinal also pointed out that culture, too, needs evangelizing, and John Paul II called us to transform the values we find already present in the world around us. This need for inculturation is especially profound when we talk about communications/mass media; human rights, international relations, bio-ethics. These are all new areopagii. These are areas that cannot be evangelized from without, but, rather, must be evangelized from within.

WORKS OF CHARITY - also known as the "social apostolate." St. Paul got us started by taking up a collection among the churchs in order to support the Jerusalem church during hard times. The Cardinal reminded the students of the history to which they are heirs; that we belong to a community that inspired people to begin hospitals, schools, the Catholic Worker, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Cardinal Dulles reminded us that, while works of charity are impressive, they can't take the place of the Gospel, nor can the Gospel be reduced to the pursuit of peace and justice in this world. He also pointed out that the social Gospel is lived out primarily by the laity.

Cardinal Dulles concluded by reminding us that evangelization is an act of love - that it begins and ends with the Holy Spirit. Finally, he said, "Faith is strengthened when it is given away, and, conversely, weakened when it is hoarded."

I'll try to write more tomorrow after the conclusion of the Institute! I'm falling asleep at my computer!

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Monday, March 5, 2007

Easter blitz

I've got just a few hours before I hit the road again, but I have a question for all of you who read Intentional Disciples. We know that many "Christmas and Easter" Catholics will be filling our churches in a few weeks. Rather than crack jokes about them, are your parishes doing anything to help not only welcome them, but reach out to them?

I can guarantee that your parish staff is probably not going to take the initiative on this one. Not because they don't care, but because they are immersed in liturgical preparations, working on Lenten projects to help you grow in your faith, and focusing a lot of attention on the people in the RCIA process.

If you or others in your parish are interested in the faith of the "C&E" Catholics, what might you do? Or, if your parish is doing something to intentionally reach out to these folks, what is it? Is it transferable to other parishes? Could people with the charisms of evangelism and hospitality work together to figure out some way of connecting with folks who are simply brushing the tassle of Jesus' cloak?

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Ponderings

Over at Amy Welborn's blog, an interesting conversation ensued after Amy posted a bleg of a reader for advice on how to help her young adult cousin who is politically conservative and has decided to leave the Catholic Church, noting certain stances of the bishops on immigration and war as his reasons. The blegger was seeking genuine help in what to do to try and help this young man choose to stay in the Catholic Church.

It's a problem that many of us face. Family members who no longer go to Church. Some don't seem to believe in Christ, if we are honest. Others believe in Christ but don't see the fundamental connection with the Catholic Church. (I still struggle with the fact that my parents don't darken the stoop of my home parish unless I am visiting. When I realized -- after they stopped going to Mass when my younger brother moved out -- that my parents had insisted on the family going to Mass every week all those years because they thought "it was the right thing to do when raising kids", not from a living love of Christ, I was devastated. Still am, even if more used to the reality now.)

And the usually recommendations ensued. Books to read. "Conservative" parishes to attend. Talks about the nature of prudential judgment and how the bishops in fact do err at times. It wasn't until Sherry added a comment that what only a few of us had hinted at was expressly said:
"At the risk of sounding radical, I would like to suggest that the bishop's stands on immigration may turn out to be the "presenting problem" as counselors call it but not the real issue. The chances are high that the real issue is existential, not theological. I say this based upon having done at a thousand one-on-one interviews with lay Catholics of all ages about their lived experiences of God. (which I wrote a piece about on Intentional Disciples (blog.siena.org) yesterday, scroll down to "Do Ask, Do Tell"). My suggestion: If you have a fairly good relationship with your cousin, get together one-on-one for a meal or coffee in some quiet place and ask him this question: "Can you describe your relationship with God to this point in your life?" And really listen. Ask a few clarifying questions but resist the temptation to leap in and correct his faulty theology or opinions. Listen for the experiences and feelings behind the opinions and that may reveal what the real issue is."


I think there is a lot to learn from this. First, what a dramatic example of the fact that all of us -- even us laity -- are called to evangelize. Here's a great example of how the only person that might be able to reach this young man is not some bishop or priest, but a relative. Second, I must ask (even myself) why our first instinct is often to recommend a book rather than a relationship. As the years go by, I more and more think that many of these situations exist because the individual doesn't have any lived experience of the Church being for them. No one has embodied for them everything that God promises us through the Church. Knowing more facts about what the Church claims or having a better systematic intellectual understanding of the Church isn't what is needed. What is needed is the verification through one's own experience of these facts. Many of the recommendations on that thread emphasized "conservative" authors or "conservative" parishes that might appeal to the young man. I don't wish to disparage any of the authors or parishes recommended. But if it only stops there, versus becoming a concrete way in which this young man experiences the truth of the Church (i.e., that she is the place of Christ's presence and the extension of His mission through time), I fear that it will have little effect or (even if he stays in the Church), will result in just as pressing of problems.

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