Monday, February 15, 2010

Making Disciples Coming This May

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

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



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

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Futures of Christianity


I am participating in the annual convocation at Duke Divinity School, which is focusing this year on "The Next Generation." Today's presentations were by Philip Jenkins about whom Sherry has blogged about in the past (including this week). I have blogged some of my observations from this morning over at my parish blog. They may be of interest to the readers of Intentional Disciples.

As St Vincent de Paul said 370 years ago: "Christ said the Church would last to the end of time. He said nothing about Europe." (as quoted by Jenkins)

Notably, Jenkins said that Christians who are unwilling to deal seriously with charismatic gifts, spiritual warfare, healings, exorcisms, etc. should stay out of the Global South. These are so important and so bound with the practice and politics of Southern Christianity that Christianity in the Global South is unimaginable without them.


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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pope Benedict on Lay Responsibility

Zenit ran an article on Pope Benedict's address given at the beginning of a four-day ecclesial conference for the Diocese of Rome on "Church Membership and Pastoral Co-responsibility." The article says that the Holy Father indicated that "laypeople are not merely the clergy's collaborators, but rather share in the responsibility of the Church's ministry."

"There should be a renewed becoming aware of our being Church and of the pastoral co-responsibility that, in the name of Christ, all of us are called to carry out," the Holy Father said. This co-responsibility should advance "respect for vocations and for the functions of consecrated persons and laypeople," he added.

The Pontiff acknowledged that this requires a "change of mentality," especially regarding laypeople, shifting from "considering themselves collaborators of the clergy to recognizing themselves truly as 'co-responsible' for the being and action of the Church, favoring the consolidation of a mature and committed laity."

The Bishop of Rome suggested that "there is still a tendency to unilaterally identify the Church with the hierarchy, forgetting the common responsibility, the common mission" of all the baptized ... "the command to evangelize is not just for a few, but for all the baptized."...

The Pontiff looked at the distinction between "People of God" and "Body of Christ," affirming that both concepts "are complementary and together form the New Testament concept of the Church." He explained: "While 'People of God' expresses the continuity of the history of the Church, 'Body of Christ' expresses the universality inaugurated on the cross and with the resurrection of the Lord." "In Christ, we become really the People of God," which, he affirmed, means everyone, "from the Pope to the last child." "The Church, therefore, is not the result of a sum of individuals, but a unity among those who are nourished by the Word of God and the Bread of Life," the Pontiff noted.


It's telling that for many Catholics, the idea of evangelization, or sharing their faith with someone else brings to mind the need to study, read some books on apologetics, dive into the Bible more, all of which are great. But isn't that a bit strange, too. I mean, if someone were to ask me about a friend - someone I love - I wouldn't do a Google search for information, or pull out my copy of their C.V., or ask other people what they knew about my friend. My first response would be to share what I know from my own experience. Granted, it's a limited knowledge, and I certainly wouldn't be able to tell someone else all there is to know about my friend, but I could tell some engaging stories, I'd imagine. Perhaps enough to help them want to get to know my friend themselves.

So it's for good reason that Pope Benedict recognizes the necessity of a mature and committed laity if they are to take co-responsibility for the being and action of the Church. That being and action is sharing the Gospel to every creature. The Second Vatican Council Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity states, "the whole Church is missionary, and the work of evangelization is a basic duty of the People of God." (Ad Gentes, 35) .

If the laity are to be mature, committed and effective at evangelization, the Holy Father is absolutely right that laypeople must draw close to sacred Scripture (and thus to Jesus), through means such as lectio divina. That means that we not only study Scripture from the aspect of reason and intellect, but also engage it in the presence of the Holy Spirit and encounter the Lord speaking directly to our hearts.

Evangelization begins through "living out charity," which is a great enough challenge, but we must also use words. "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence..." (1Peter 3:15b-16a) And, of course, the reason for our hope is found in the kerygma - the basic gospel message which we declare as the "mystery of faith" at every Mass: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. That is the reason for our hope - and that is why any basic proclamatino of the Gospel must include the cross - and an explanation of what it means.

The question is, naturally, how do we proclaim that basic message in a way that is accessible to post-moderns. That's one of the questions that Making Disciples tries to answer.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

post-modern Britain

Rob Gifford of NPR is retracing the Canterbury pilgrimage route and looking at modern day Britain on All Things Considered all week. Of particular interest is today's story on Christianity in contemporary Britain. This is "must hear" for anyone interested evangelization in a post-modern context, world Christianity, and the decline of Christianity in Europe. Listen here. 

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Evangelizing the campus

This looks like a wonderful creative initiative: Substantially Catholic

It is a summer program for faculty at Catholic or non-Catholic universities and colleges that exposes them to the Catholic intellectual tradition in their field. From their website:

SUBSTANTIALLY CATHOLIC seminars take a thematic approach in considering the Catholic intellectual contribution in particular academic disciplines.

English literature and philosophy/psychology are the featured disciplines for the 2009 SUBSTANTIALLY CATHOLIC seminar.

Participation is open to all faculty members seeking to enhance their knowledge of Catholic content and approaches in any of these fields. The numbers of participants in each of the disciplinary tracks will be limited in size to assure that presenters are accessible to the participants.

The SUBSTANTIALLY CATHOLIC seminar has a distinctive and decidedly practical goal – to help faculty members integrate the Catholic material presented at the seminar into their teaching repertoire in the immediately following academic year.


Brilliant!

File this under evangelizing campus culture.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Discipleship and Evangelization: Source of Christian Unity

The following is my homily at Blessed Sacrament Parish, Seattle, for today's readings: 1 Sm 3:3b-10, 19

; Ps 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10

; 1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20; Jn 1:35-42



The NY Times yesterday had the landing of USAirways flight 1549 on their front page.
Most of the news consists of “eyewitness accounts.”
We want to know “what was it like? What happened to you? What did you experience?”
There are more technical details in other stories about the “Miracle on the Hudson,” but they are not as viscerally interesting, and can be found on pages 17-19.
We tend to put stock in people’s experiences, and I, a very frequent flyer on USAirways, am curious to know what it’s like in case I’m ever on a flight that becomes a cruise.

Experience is a great teacher – especially our own experiences.
So a part of getting a degree in education is student teaching.
Part of seminary training is regular involvement in pastoral work under a supervisor.
My class on confessional ministry included “practice confessions,” with our own Fr. Allen as full-time penitent; acting as a middle-aged woman, a young man, a fellow beset with scrupulosity.
By the way, he made a very convincing eight-year old at her first confession.

In the ancient near east, if you were going to learn from a rabbi, or a great philosopher, you wouldn’t study books, or even sit in lectures.
You’d be like Samuel, sent to live with a master, the priest Eli.
We’re told “Samuel was not familiar with the Lord,” so when the Lord speaks to him, he doesn’t recognize His voice.
Eli becomes a mentor to the young Samuel; to share with Samuel what he had learned from his own experience of hearing the Lord’s voice and responding in obedience.
Samuel is a disciple of Eli; he lives with the priest, learns from him, and becomes a great prophet.

We see a similar pattern in the Gospel of John.
Two disciples of John the Baptist follow Jesus, who notices them shadowing him, turns and asks the very direct question, “what are you looking for?”
There answer seems peculiar at first – a non-sequitur, really – “Rabbi, (teacher) where do you stay?”
They acknowledge him as a teacher, and by asking him “where do you stay?” they’re indirectly asking, “may we stay with you, teacher, and learn from you?”
In other words, “May we be your disciples?”
He says, “Come and see,” and in the Gospel of John, “seeing” is always more than just physical vision.
It always refers as well to faith in the Word made flesh.

Notice how Andrew and his brother become disciples.
It all begins with John the Baptist, who points out Jesus as “the lamb of God,” and urges his disciples to abandon him to follow the one whose sandal straps he is not worthy to tie.
Then, after spending just one day with Jesus, Andrew grabs his brother Simon, and tells him, “We have found the Messiah.”
Simon Peter or Andrew tells Philip about the Lord, and after meeting Jesus, Philip, in turn, tells his buddy Nathanael that Jesus is the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote.

In each case, a new disciple is made precisely because someone has told them about Jesus – not specific doctrines about Jesus (they didn’t exist as yet), but of their personal experience of him that was so powerful they abandoned their former lives to stay with him.
Discipleship is utterly dependent upon evangelization – by sharing the good news of the encounter with Jesus.
The ‘New Evangelization’ called for by Pope John Paul II, is, in his words, “not a matter of merely passing on doctrine but rather of a personal and profound meeting with the Savior."

This Wednesday evening at 7 p.m., I’ll be giving a presentation on “how to talk about your faith with others,” and I’ll give you my thesis now, so you can decide if you want to “come and hear.”
I don’t believe we can effectively evangelize until we have become disciples of Jesus ourselves.
In fact, until we have a personal and profound meeting with our Savior, I don’t think we’ll even be inclined to embrace the identity of a Christian – one who shares the good news of being saved.
Evangelization, Pope Paul VI said, is our deepest identity.
Being a Christian is about sharing good news we’ve experienced.
We want to share good news – in fact, it’s hard to keep our mouths shut when we’ve experienced something really great.
So people will talk about their experience of an improbably safe landing on the Hudson.
If the UW ever wins a football game again, trust me, people will talk about it!
When we fall head over heels in love, our friends won’t hear the end about our beloved.

This was the experience of St. Paul
His encounter with the Risen Jesus converted his prodigious energy; from persecuting the followers of Jesus, to proclaiming Jesus’ death as the price paid for his freedom from the obligations of the Law.
In their meeting on the Damascus road, Jesus revealed to Paul the depth of his sin: “you are persecuting me – the Risen and Ascended one.”
In that brief but powerful encounter, Paul received his Gospel: that “God made him who did not know sin to be sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” [2Cor 5:21]
God, in a wondrous exchange, attributed Paul’s sin to Jesus, who innocently suffered for him, and in turn, attributed Jesus’ obedience and righteousness to Paul.
This was Paul’s experience – that legal observance and sacrifice in the Temple, were rubbish compared to knowing Jesus; that whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him, and thus a Temple of God’s own Spirit.
So great, so profound was this experience of loving forgiveness and intimacy that he found in Jesus, that Paul could tell the Galatian Christians, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me!”

I have been blessed to have recently had this Gospel proclaimed to me by various people whose lives have been transformed by the experience of Jesus’ grace.
They know his love; they know he died in their place, nailing their many sins to the cross; they know in greater detail than ever before what those sins were and are; they know they’ve done nothing to receive this mercy – and their lives are marked by joy and gratitude.
They now imitate the Master they follow.

I have had glimpses of this mercy; moments, when I am touched by an awareness of my depravity and the unearned forgiveness I’m offered.
One time in particular was in the sacrament of reconciliation, when in a flood of grace I bawled like a baby – tears simultaneously of sorrow for what I’d done and joy that I had been forgiven.
This is the common experience of the Christian – and this experience of Jesus, and the Father’s grace and mercy in him, and the indwelling of the Spirit, is the source of genuine Christian unity.
If we, who are all given the mandate to “go and make disciples of all nations” by Jesus himself are to actually obey him – and this obedience is what God wants more than sacrifice or offering, we’re told in our psalm today – then first we must become disciples of Jesus ourselves.
Here are some suggestions I intend to follow myself.
1. We must realize that like the young Samuel, “we are not familiar with the Lord.” We must ask to be evangelized ourselves.
2. We don’t recognize his daily call to us. We must begin to say with all sincerity, “your servant [who has been purchased at the price of your son’s death] is listening. And then we must be attentive to the often subtle promptings of the Spirit we’ve been given. If we have an inclination, however weak, to call on a sick friend, or to pray, or to help out at the Sunday soup kitchen, or to confront a gossip at work – do it! That small voice inviting us to do good is almost certainly the Lord’s.
3. We must accept that being a disciple involves realizing “I am not my own” – my life is not about doing what I want, but doing what the Lord wants – which will be my deepest fulfillment. Jesus saw more potential in Andrew’s brother, Simon, than Simon could have possibly imagined; Simon never would have become “Peter” – the rocky foundation of the Church, without becoming Jesus’ disciple.
4. We may very well need to seek out one who knows the Lord, and hear of their experience of him and of discipleship. We need to be inspired, we need to be mentored, and eventually we need to be a mentor to others.
5. If we’ve not been overcome by a sense of our sin and the undeserved mercy of God in an encounter with the Risen Jesus, then pray for it. Beg the Lord for a double portion of the Spirit, like Elisha did Elijah.
6. And finally, if you have experienced an encounter with the Lord that has changed you in any way, speak to others about it. Experience is hard to refute, and fascinating to hear. You are most certainly not alone in that experience, and others are longing to hear that God is still at work – because that, too, is Good News.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mission as organizing principle

Pete Ascosi of ChristLife, a lay Catholic ministry for evangelization out of Baltimore, sent me an email the other day with a great reflection by Alan Hirsch, based on some insights of Gordon Crosby, the pioneering leader of a remarkable ecumenical Christian community, Church of the Savior in Washington, DC. Hirsch wrote the following:
He [Crosby] noticed that in over 60 years of significant ministry, he had observed that no groups that came together around a non-missional purpose (i.e. prayer, worship, study, etc.) ever ended up becoming missional. That it was only those groups that set out to be missional in the first place (while embracing prayer, worship, study, etc. in the process) that actually got to doing it. This observation fits with all the research done by Carl George and others that indicate that the vast majority of church activities and groups, even in a healthy church, are aimed at the insiders and fail to address the missional issues facing the church in any situation.

If evangelizing and discipling the nations lie at the heart of the church’s purpose in the world, then it is mission, and not ministry, that is the true organizing principle of the church. Mission here, is being used in a narrow sense here to suggest the church’s orientation to the ‘outsiders’ and ministry as the orientation to the ‘insiders.’ Experience tells us that a church that aims at ministry seldom gets to mission even if it sincerely intends to do so. But the church that aims at mission will have to do ministry, because ministry is the means to do mission. Our services, our ministry, need a greater cause to keep it alive and give it is broader meaning. By planting the flag outside the walls and boundaries of the church, so to speak, the church discovers itself by rallying to it—this is mission. And in pursuing it we discover ourselves, and God, in a new way, and the nations both ‘see’ and hear the gospel and are saved.

... A country’s constitution is basically the organizing principle of the state and its associated public and political life. For instance, the constitution of the USA preserves the basic freedoms and democracy that have marked this nation as unique. Similarly, mission is our constitution, or at least a central part of it. To preserve the movement ethos of God’s people it is fundamental that the Church keeps mission at the centre of its self-understanding. Without mission there is no movement and the community dies a death of the spirit long before it dies a physical death of the body. To forget mission is to forget ourselves, to forget mission is to lose our raison d’ etre, and leads to our eventual demise. Our sense of mission not only flows from an understanding of the Mission of God and missional church, but it forms the orienting inspiration of the church of Jesus Christ and keeps it constantly moving forward and outward.
I suppose some people will presume that this is me leaning perilously close to evangelicalism. I'd point out that the situation is reversed. These good Christians are leaning closer and closer to the Catholic Church. As has been pointed out on this and other blogs, the Church, according to the Vicar of Christ, Pope Paul VI, "exists to evangelize." In other words, evangelization is the mission of the Church around which every ministry, and every pastoral effort must be organized. This is deeply Catholic, not Protestant! Or, perhaps more accurately, it is deeply Christian, and a point on which Catholics, Protestants and the Orthodox should be able to agree. And what is preached is not the Church (or an ecclesial body or a sect), but Christ!
"We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church."[Declaration of the Synod Fathers on the completion of the Synod on Evangelization, 1974] It is a task and mission which the vast and profound changes of present-day society make all the more urgent. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection. - Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14
As I was trying to do a little research about Mr. Crosby, I ran across this bit about him on the blog A Jewish God-fearer in a roomful of Christians that really makes me want to find out more about him.
Gordon Crosby was speaking on the subject of Christian vocation. He said in summarizing that the primary task and primary mission of the Christian is to call forth the gifts of others. "We are not sent into the world in order to make people good. We are not sent to encourage them to do their duty. The reason people have resisted the Gospel is that we have gone out to make people feel good, to help them do their duty, to impose new burdens on them, rather than calling forth the gift which is the essence of the person himself." He then said that we are to let others know that God is for them and that they can "be." "They can be what in their deepest hearts they know that they were intended to be, they can do what they were meant to do. As Christians, we are heralds of these good tidings."

How do we do this? "We begin," Gordon said, "by exercising our own gifts. The person who is having the time of his life doing what he is doing has a way of calling forth the deeps of another. Such a person is Good News. He is not saying the good news. He is the good news. He is the embodiment of the freedom of the new humanity. The person who exercises his own gift in freedom can allow the Holy Spirit to do in others what He wants to do."
Here, Mr. Crosby is recognizing the power of the charisms to inaugurate and/or further the process of evangelization. In our Catholic culture, where we tend to not explicitly proclaim Christ enough, we need to be more explicit about Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Still, Crosby's comments re-affirm my belief that the greatest ecumenical advances might be made as we recognize in one another, whatever our denomination, intentional discipleship and the power of the Holy Spirit at work through us in the charisms we have received from Christ.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Preaching to Young People

Fr J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P., a friar of the Province of St Joseph (Eastern U.S.A.) and undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, recently gave the Father Carl J. Peter Lecture at the Pontifical North American College. His lecture, Clearing Away the Barriers: Preaching to Young People Today, will no doubt be of interest to the readers of Intentional Disciples. 

The full-text is available at the Eastern Province vocations blog here.

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Check out the new "faith-centered cable TV network" in New York City called NET (New Evangelization Television): http://www.youtube.com/netnewyork

Looks very promising. 

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Christ in the City

I went last night to St Patrick's Church in downtown Washington for the monthly "Christ in the City" Holy Hour for young adults. I was very much impressed by the way it was organized, the beauty of the church, the lovely music that was a mix of contemporary Christian favorites and chant, by the generous silence, and by the preaching, which invited us to a deeper personal relationship with Jesus Christ and called those who do not know Christ to "open the doors of their hearts" to him. The church was darkened and I sat in the back, but it appeared that there were at least 125 folks there who looked mainly to be young professionals or students. After the homily the lines were quite long for all three priests who were hearing confessions. More information on this monthly event is here.
While it was all very beautiful and the folks there seemed to be deeply devoted to our Lord, I was struck by the ways in which this gesture is perfect for those who are not intentional disciples, who may be curious, open, or seeking and may benefit from a rather unstructured, no frills, no obligation encounter with the Eucharistic-Emmanuel. The setting was typical of what postmoderns say they like in church (an experience of the transcendent, otherwordly, etc) and which the emergent church movement has capitalized on. I am sure this can be fruitfully replicated in other cities with high concentrations of young adults as a tool for evangelization, as well as an occasion for committed young adults to deepen their relationship with the Lord.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Evangelization in a Multicultural Global Community


In my last few posts, I've drawn from a contemporary work on globalization to outline its effects. Now comes the hard part. How do we as Catholic Christians take advantage of what globalization offers us in order to share the Gospel with people worldwide? The Gospel, after all, is for all people, and we have easier access to people all over the world than any other generation has enjoyed. Globalization is, in effect, helping slowly to unite people in some ways - at least economically. And I would postulate that globalization can help enhance a desire for unity, or in some circumstances, highlight our differences and lead some to reject that which seems "other." We've seen that occur in some predominantly Muslim countries, as well as in our own in the debates over immigration and assimilation of people into the American melting pot.

The Gospel, when proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit, has the power to unite disparate people; so much so that Paul could proclaim that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, woman nor man. (cf. Gal 3:28) The Gospel transcends cultures and at the same time contradicts elements of every culture. It is a direct challenge to consumerism, individualism, relativism, the culture of death which seeks violence of all sorts as a solution to problems, prejudices of every kind, and the human tendency to seek retribution rather than forgiveness.

So let me take a look at some of the hallmarks of globalization, and offer some suggestions for how they might allow for effective evangelization. I welcome your comments and other suggestions you might have. I am certainly no expert!

1. More inter-state connections and the decreasing effect of state policy
One of the ways Pope Benedict XVI has taken advantage of this reality is through his intent on encouraging Muslim nations to allow the free expression of religious belief in their countries, in a similar manner in which that freedom is given in most Western nations. While this hasn't been taken up by secular leaders, as far as I know, one could imagine such concessions could be tied to economic relations (if the west were not so dependent upon oil from the Middle East and Indonesia, perhaps).

2. The development of increased transnational communication and activities
What comes to mind right away is the internet, primarily. For those who have grown up with the internet, it is the first source they go to for information. That means our parishes, lay groups, dioceses, the Vatican and individuals who hope to evangelize through the internet need to be aware that their websites may occasionally be viewed by the unchurched, the agnostic and atheist, non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians. Too often, some of our most "Catholic" websites aren't very catholic. What I mean by that is, many proudly Catholic websites are attractive to "insiders" - those who are already proudly Catholic. They may be more or less incomprehensible to others. In addition, if we intend our websites to have any power to evangelize, Jesus must be a prominent - the prominent feature. People have all kinds of issues with the Church, and although we are the body of Christ, we cannot afford to not feature our head. All that we have and are flows from Jesus, and many non-Christians (and, sadly, many Christians, including Catholics, for that matter) are ignorant of Jesus' life and teachings. He is immensely attractive and challenging; impossible to put into a neat, pre-existing category. Any Catholic website that would want to have an evangelizing effect would have to be "catholic" - universal - appealing, as St. Paul attempted to be, to all people. That requires us to try to better understand our potential audiences, and have features on our websites that are consciously made to address the questions of the groups I mentioned above.

I realize not every Catholic website intends to evangelize. Our own Catherine of Siena Institute website is an example. We are directing our attention to Catholics and Catholic parishes and diocesan staff, primarily - even though we get queries from non-Catholic Christians from time to time. But it is time for all parishes and diocesan websites coordinators and staff to ask, "in what way could our website help spread the Gospel of Jesus and attract people to become members of His Church?"

I haven't even touched the issue of a Catholic presence in radio and television, or the possibilities our diocesan papers could take advantage of with regard to helping Catholics be more confident at sharing their faith. They would have to - and many are beginning -to attempt to evangelize Catholics!

3. The emergence of global political, economic and cultural organizations and bureaucracies
The Catholic Church is one of the oldest cultural organization and bureaucracy there is! I'm pretty ignorant of other world religions, so I can't compare our bureaucracy with that of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism or any other religion that might be older. But I would argue that the organizational bureaucracy of these religions have the same global impact as the Roman Catholic Church. Yet the effectiveness of the Church's impact on the international scene is weakened when individual Catholics within nation states are unwilling to follow the lead of the Pope when he speaks out against wars, economic injustice, environmental degradation, the assault on human life in the womb, as well as when he advocates greater cooperation among the people of different nations. If we lived the Gospel as a body, focusing on what it means to allow the truth that Jesus taught to impact our local and national governmental policies, I think we'd find more and more people drawn to our faith.

4. The world-wide spread of Western-style consumerism
For me, one of the most chilling scenes in the Paulist production, "Romero," was of a gathering of well-to-do Salvadoreans at which one of them exclaimed something like, "We just want to live as well as the Americans do." Yesterday at the gym, I spoke with an acquaintance - a self-proclaimed Christian - who said that no matter how much money he made (and he lives comfortably), he always desires to make more. Consumerism is a dead-end. Our desires are never going to be extinguished by things. Jesus himself observed how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. The economic disparity between nations is exacerbated by rampant consumerism, especially among the developed nations, and this disparity has far-reaching consequences. A South African webpage on sustainable development makes these observations (my access to this webpage is, by the way, an example of the effects of globalization!).
While some enjoy unprecedented wealth and luxury, 2.8 billion people are living in extreme poverty, earning less than US$2 a day (World Bank Annual Report 2000). One in seven people suffers chronic hunger and 45,000 die of starvation every day. This inequity is felt at both a global level, between developed and developing countries, and at a national level where there is great disparities of wealth within countries.

This is not making for a peaceful society. Since the Second World War over 20 million people have died in armed conflict and 31 million people are annually affected by it. These figures do not include crime-related deaths. Of the 2.3 million people reported as killed by conflict from 1991-2000, over three quarters were from countries with a low Human Development Indexiii. At the heart of most of these conflicts lies the issue of who gets to control and benefit from resources, whether agricultural land, minerals, fossil fuels or water. Many countries are already experiencing problems with illegal immigration and an influx of both political and environmental refugees. If the imbalance of wealth and power is not dealt with, this problem will only become worse in the future.
As Catholics living in a country with 5% of the world's population, yet consuming 25% of the world's energy, our concerted effort to eschew consumerism for the sake of the Gospel can be a powerful tool for evangelization. In his encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World, 21), Pope Paul VI asked us to imagine
a Christian or a handful of Christians who, in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something that is not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization.
5. Reflexivity - people are orienting themselves to the world as a whole, regarding themselves as both 'locals' and 'cosmopolitans'.
Again, this is already true for the Catholic Christian. We are members of our local parish and diocese, but also supernaturally linked to other people - Catholic or not - throughout the world and throughout time. If we take this seriously, we will consider those 45,000 people starving each day not as Bangladeshis, Indians, Zimbabweans, Haitians, and Sudanese, for example, but as "my brother, my sister, in Christ." Christ is the only means by which people of different races, ages, levels of education, and economic status can be truly united, and the Church should be the shining example of that unity. Currently, we are a poor example, especially when we witness factions within our parishes between people of different ethnic groups or nationalities - and in my travels around this country I've heard many stories and witnessed the effects of such factionalism. Yet, if we can be converted to Christ and truly see one another as brother and sister in Him, then, I believe the "reflexivity" that is an effect of globalization will help make the Church all that more intriguing.

6. Risk and Trust. Globalization increasingly involves everyone everywhere in a web of trust and risk, in that all of us have to place our trust in 'experts' and other unknown persons.

Trust is established through honesty in relationships. Part of our effort to evangelize will have to be founded on the painstaking task of establishing honest, trusting relations - true friendships - with those who are not Christian. In the past, the task of evangelization was often seen as the purview of missionaries - usually priests and religious - rather than ordinary layfolk. Yet time and again, as I listen to people's stories of conversion, there was at least one Christian (not always Catholic) with whom they had a true friendship that eventually led to discussions of "the meaning of life," faith, and the possibility of a lived relationship with God. While globalization involves placing our trust in more and more strangers, a more fundamental desire is to be able to place trust in a friend or friends. Whether we try to evangelize by telling the story of how God has changed our life, or through apologetics, or through the radical application of the faith to our daily life, all of these are tremendously more effective when we have first earned the trust of another through a real relationship that will not end should the other not become Catholic. In fact, the relationship of friendship, genuine concern for the good of the other, and self-sacrificing service itself becomes a model for the relationship that Jesus is offering our non-Christian friends.

This "relational evangelization" also involves risk on our part, because at the heart of the Gospel, and of Jesus' message, is a fundamental call to conversion. We have to be vulnerable enough to share our own struggles to respond to that call. We have to care enough about our friend who trusts us and has demonstrated a curiosity and openness towards Jesus, to be able to help them examine their own life and need for conversion - and walk with them on that journey.

The impact of globalization on our world is enormous and will undoubtedly continue to grow. It offers challenges to us - rampant consumerism encouraged through ubiquitous advertising, relativism as we become aware of different worldviews and morals, individualism that can ride on the back of laissez-faire capitalism and postmodern attitudes which encourage a "me first" perspective.

On the other hand, I believe there are some aspects of the growing globalization that offer opportunities for effective evangelization - especially if we recognize that the most effective evangelization is modeled on the example of Jesus, who befriended the sinner, healed the wounded, and shared with his disciples his own Spirit so that they could effectively do the same: person to person, one soul at a time.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Korean Super-Parish

Here is an example of a truly 'missional' Catholic parish located in an urban slum in Seoul, South Korea. 

SEOUL (UCAN) -- A special parish located in the midst of urban poor communities in northeastern Seoul garnered praise for its service to them during its 10th-anniversary celebration.

Samyang-dong Mission Parish "has given much love to the poor for 10 years," Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Yeom Soo-jung of Seoul said on Sept. 4. I hope it continues to grow into a community of love, sharing and service."

The prelate delivered the homily at the anniversary Mass held in the chapel inside the parish building, a three-story house on a mountain slope surrounded by tenement houses.

Addressing about 80 priests, nuns and laypeople, he noted how the mission parish is "different from a 'regular' parish" in that it "is located in the very middle of the urban poor in the Samyang-dong" area.

"Serving and living with them is its purpose," said the prelate. Ten priests, five of whom work in mission parishes, concelebrated the Mass with him.

According to Bishop Yeom, five of Seoul archdiocese's 12 quasi-parishes are mission parishes located at markets, an expressway bus terminal and a hospital.

Samyang-dong was the first of these five and has about 80 parishioners, according to Father Elias Lim Yong-hwan, the parish priest.

The parish building includes his residence and a meeting room.

Clara Lee Seung-ok, head of the parish pastoral council, told UCA News after the Mass that the parish's networking with various small communities, not only its location and unusual physical aspects, make it special.

"Many parishioners including children are involved in a day-care center, a scouts group, a sewing factory, a secondhand home appliances shop and a welfare center located around the parish, all of which belong to the archdiocese," she explained.

Lee added that many parishioners come from low-income families and live in rented apartments.

According to a leaflet distributed to Mass participants, the factory was established in 1995 as a cooperative, the scouts group in 1998, the House of Peace welfare center in 1999 and the shop in 2000.

The welfare center offers education programs and activities for children, and organizes free food donations to elderly people who live alone as well as visits to sick people in the area.

Rufina Shin Deok-rye said that while the relationship between parishioners and the parish priest in a "regular" parish is superficial because of the large number of Catholics, her parish is like a family.

Othilia Kim Deok-sim agrees. "I once lost my faith but regained it after I attended a Mass here five years ago," she said. "The parishioners are close enough to one another to know each other's economic situation. So I feel like coming here to meet them all the time."

Both Shin and Kim work in the factory producing religious garb for Religious and priests. Like them, most of the factory workers are parishioners.

Father Peter Lee Kang-suh, president of Seoul archdiocese's Catholic Urban Poor Pastoral Committee, which set up the five mission parishes, says they are needed because the poor have become more isolated and anonymous in large cities like Seoul.

"In this situation," he told UCA News, "mission parishes support the poor well, because parish priests are always available to them and care for their welfare especially through the House of Peace," he explained.

The Catholic Urban Poor Pastoral Committee has set up eight House of Peace centers in the Seoul mission parishes.

"We plan to set up another House of Peace for North Korean refugees," Father Lee added.

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

India and Evangelization

In my post titled, "Buddhist-Christian Conflict ", I mentioned briefly that the announcement of Korea's president Lee that "Buddhists should be converted to Christianity" (that's how my Korean friend described it), along with actions that have seemed to slight Buddhists at the expense of Christians, has made evangelization in this country a bit more difficult. In a thoughtful e-mail article from John Allen at National Catholic Reporter on the situation in India, a similar point is made:
It's also important that Catholic leaders avoid adding fuel to the fire, however inadvertently. When Pope John Paul II visited India in November 1999, the headline was his call for a "great harvest of faith" in Asia in the third millennium. While Catholicism obviously cannot renounce its missionary dimension, there's probably no place on earth where a respectful witness to Christ is more easily confused with aggressive proselytism. Bold references to evangelization, especially from a foreign leader, can come across as fighting words. After John Paul's statement, the World Hindu Council called upon Hindus to "unite to face the assault," and the pope's words are still cited as a pretext for anti-Christian activity. This doesn't mean Catholicism in India should "go soft" on the commandment to make disciples of all the nations -- recent growth of the church suggests it clearly hasn't -- but local realities imply discretion about how that commandment is articulated in public, especially by outsiders.
This is a reminder that evangelization is most likely to be successful when it is carried out by dedicated lay Catholics in the marketplace in the context of genuine friendships with non-Catholics. Evangelization must be founded in genuine love for another, rooted in constant prayer, and flow from the power of the Holy Spirit active in a Catholic in a living relationship with his or her Lord, Jesus.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

One Minute Monk

The Abbey of Mary, Help of Christians (Belmont Abbey) is a small Benedictine community and college, with a very noble history of evangelization and missionary zeal, in the verdant foothills near Charlotte in Western North Carolina. Belmont is a daughter of St Vincent's in Latrobe, Pennsylvania and was founded by a group of monks led by the indomitable Abbot Leo Haid in 1876. Before a diocese was established in North Carolina in 1924 (the Diocese of Raleigh) the Abbot of Belmont had succeeded Cardinal James Gibbons as the Vicar-Apostolic and the monks had responsibility for many of the parishes, missions, and stations in North and South Carolina. The Abbey remained a territorial abbey with territory comprising some of the surrounding counties with the Abbot exercising episcopal authority until the Holy See suppressed the territory shortly after the erection of the Diocese of Charlotte in the mid-1970's. 

I have the privilege of being a Benedictine Oblate of Belmont and since all of my family is from the Western Carolinas we well know the influence of the monks and their college (the current governor of North Carolina is an alumnus). Furthermore, their history is an excellent study in evangelization and home mission, since it was primarily their witness that drew many in those early days of the North Carolina mission to Catholicism, because they, as all Benedictines do, presented the Christian society in microcosm and offered a taste of it to Protestant North Carolina. In so doing, they drew many to the Faith and some even to the monastic life. 

The spirit of mission and evangelization continues... 

The Abbot of Belmont has recently begun a one-minute a day radio spot dedicated to exploring "the timeless wisdom of the Rule of St Benedict." It does not appear that you can listen to any of these spots on their website, but you can order a free copy of the Rule from the site and find out more about bringing "One Minute Monk" to a Catholic radio station in your area. 

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"Colonies of Heaven"

I have been doing some reading today on the "Missional Church" movement and have discovered some things I like about the movement that could easily stimulate our (Catholics) thinking on parish life. While there are problems with this movement, it can be helpful to see how other Christians are responding to contemporary culture, so that we can learn new, innovative ways- and appropriately adapt them- to more faithfully fulfill the Lord's mandate to "make disciples" in every time and culture.

1. The Missional Church is a pan-Protestant movement that locates the church's reason for existing in the "mission of God." Thus the heart of the local congregation's activity is rooted in incarnating God's life in the world. The local congregation is a "colony of heaven" on earth and that we are "resident aliens," with an equal emphasis on "resident" and "alien."

2.  The Missional Church takes "covenant" and "context" very seriously as a way of understanding the life of the local congregation. I am inextricably caught up in the mission of the Church by virtue of my baptismal covenant. The context or place in which I participate in the mission of the Church is to be valued and relied upon as a clue to the means and the method I employ to participate more fully in the mission of Christ in the Spirit (i.e. my work, my home, my social location, etc. are all contexts for mission). 

3. The local parish must be aware of its own context and value that context as the location in which they are called to incarnate Christ's life through the witness of their own regeneration and forgiveness through "water and the Spirit." While the world must not set the agenda for the Church, the Church must recognize that the world exists to be brought back in communion with God through the Church. Therefore, the world is not simply theological "other" as far as the Church is concerned, but the very object of mission and "arena of God's action in history." (George Weigel, see below)

4.  The Missional Church is rooted in the mission of the Trinity. The Trinity seeks to bring all things into communion with Them. Therefore, mission and communion are intrinsically related. 

As Catholics we have the fullest understanding of both mission and communion, but our grounded-ness in the Trinity and the relationship of Trinitarian life to mission are undervalued as a source for the life and work of our local parishes. We must relearn (in practical ways, because we well know it theologically) that to make disciples is to begin the process of incorporation into the life of the Church, which is "a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Lumen Gentium 4, St Cyprian).

Sources: Missional, Emerging, Monastic: A Traveler's Guide by Len Hjalmarson, On Making Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, William Abraham in Marks of the Body of Christ, ed. by Carl Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Eerdmans, 1999),  Robert W. Jenson, The Church's Responsibility for the World, in The Two Cities of God, ed. by Carl Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Eerdmans, 1997), and George Weigel, The Church's Political Hopes for the World in The Two Cities of God. 

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Homilies

One of the chief opportunities for evangelization and formation is the homily during the Mass. It is in the homily that most Catholics will receive their formation and those who may not be intentional disciples have an opportunity to hear the "ardent proclamation" that Jesus is Lord and that a personal relationship with him is possible. However, it is my experience that many homilists fall into a standard homiletic pattern in which the Word-upon which the homilist is charged with commenting-is not given priority, but only becomes a tool for illuminating or commenting upon experience. 

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says that "It (the homily) should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners." 

Richard Lischer, a well-known Lutheran preacher and professor of Homiletics at Duke Divinity School says that many prefer 

to build the sermon on the authority of the needs, capacities, and experiences of the listener.... The common solution appears to be: Scratch deeply enough into the postmodern psyche and you will hit a vein of genuine spirituality. One way to tap into it is to tell stories whose religious dimension is recognizable and acceptable to all, and then to correlate the experience generated by these stories with the Christian message, e.g., "grace." When done successfully, the presence of Christ radiates as a spiritual dimension of everyday life. When the reliance on experience dominates the sermon, the gospel becomes an illustration of a greater truth. 
Richard Lischer, "Resurrection and Rhetoric." In Marks of the Body of Christ, ed. by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, 13-24. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999. 
Of course, the problem is clear: the gospel is neither a mere "illustration" nor an indicator of some deeper, more transcendent truth that is really the heart of what we preach, rather it is itself the very content of our preaching and the "power of God for salvation." (Romans 1.16) 

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Friday, July 18, 2008

A proposal

I have been pondering a question for the past several days: what is the "engine" of evangelization? I suppose the root of this question is some recent reading I have done about the Benedictine evangelization of Europe and reform of the Church in the early Middle Ages. Why was it that the monastic movement was so successful in evangelizing Europe? First, I think it is because Benedictines propose the whole pattern of Christian life in microcosm through their prayer, work, and community life. Secondly, at the heart of monastic life was (and is) prayer and contemplation. What efforts do we make in our parishes and dioceses, even when we have the best intentions for evangelization, at prayer, which is the engine of evangelization? This brings me to my proposal: what if every parish and diocese that wanted to take evangelization seriously started with two basic, but essential steps.

1) Establish Eucharistic adoration at the heart of the parish or diocese and formed adorers to intercede not simply for personal needs, but for "kingdom" needs. What if they prayed before Jesus-Host for the pope, bishop, priests, deacons, religious, and laity and their role in the mission of the Church? What if they interceded for Catholic newspapers, radio, television,  for other organizations committed to the "New Evangelization," for seminarians, seminaries, seminary professors, and religious formators? But most importantly, what if they prayed for all of those who don't know Jesus? What if they interceded, when possible by name, for those who don't practice the faith or for those who have become lukewarm? What if we took before the Eucharistic Emmanuel those in the public eye who don't know Jesus, the imprisoned of our communities, the addicted, the abused and their abusers, the unloved, those involved in grave sin, and those whom we hurt by our sin? Finally, what if we prayed for God to prepare the hearts of the ignorant and soften the hearts of the obstinate to receive an encounter with our Lord? Establishing disciples in this sort of prayer life before the Eucharistic Lord not only forms them into apostles of prayer, but makes fertile the soil for the preaching of the Gospel in the diocese or parish. This would be a great first step in implementing any comprehensive program of evangelization at any level of the Church's life. 

2) We must engage all consecrated men and women, but especially contemplatives, in the task of evangelization according to their charism and state of life. What if we began our efforts in evangelization by first going to those who have been consecrated in a unique and intense way to the love of God and invited their unique contributions and participation in evangelizing the diocese or parish? What if we were intentional in calling upon them as partners in our apostolate? And can we not also call upon God to raise up new forms of life and more men and women to join us in this task according to the various charisms and states of life God has given the Church? Would we pray for God to raise up consecrated hermits and virgins from within our parish? 

As I have thought about these things I have come to renewed conviction that prayer and contemplation is the "engine" of evangelization. The most successful evangelical movements within the life of the Universal Church testify to this. The Benedictines are one ancient example, the contemplative branch of the Missionaries of Charity a more recent example, and let us not forget that St Dominic established a monastery of contemplative nuns at Prouille some years before the first Friars gathered in Toulouse. The chronological priority of the contemplative nuns underlines the spiritual priority of contemplation and prayer in the mission of the Order. However, the same truth applies to the preaching of the Universal Church: our preaching is made fruitful by prayer and contemplation. I propose that we rediscover the heart of the contemplative life as a gift to Mother Church for the sake of her mission.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Art and Evangelization

As a follow-up to my last post... 

Here is a quote of Cardinal Ratzinger's that I first saw in Fr John Saward's book The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty (Ignatius, 1997), but which I think is from The Spirit of the Liturgy: 

the only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb. Better witness is borne to the Lord by the splendor of holiness and art which have arisen in the community of believers than by the clever excuses which apologetics has come up with to justify the dark sides which, sadly, are so frequent in the Church's human history. 

For some time now there seems to have been a proliferation of lay Catholic apologists on the national speaking circuit and while they do great work, the sort of propositional apologetics they practice cannot become a substitute for true evangelization that is an encounter with the Person, Jesus Christ. I think the Holy Father's invitation here is to recognize that a far better approach to evangelization and apologetics is found in the saints, art, and the community of disciples that gives rise to these under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I am afraid that we often substitute propositional apologetics for the hard work of genuine holiness, creativity born of prayer, and fostering the types of Christian communities that bear witness to Christ in the world. 

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The Organ: Tool for Evangelization

Taking Sherry's less-than-subtle hint... 

On Sunday, Pope Benedict met with a group of singers from his home diocese of Regensburg, Germany and made some interesting comments about music and evangelization. 

Here is the account from Zenit:

Benedict XVI told his visitors he was pleased with their visit. "It revives in me the memory of that wonderful day, in which I was able to bless the new organ, the 'Benedikt-Orgel,' in the 'Old Chapel,'" reported the Vatican press office.

He said: "I have an indelible memory of how -- in the harmony of that wonderful organ, of the choir conducted by Kohlhaufel, and the luminous beauty of the church -- we experienced the joy that comes from God. Not just the 'spark of the gods' of which Schiller speaks, but truly the flame of the Holy Spirit that brought us to feel in our innermost being what we also know from the Gospel of St. John: That he himself is joy. And this joy was communicated to us."

The Pope added how pleased he was that this organ "continues to play and to help people perceive something of the splendor of our faith -- a splendor kindled by the Holy Spirit himself. With it, the organ carries out an evangelizing function, proclaims the Gospel in its own way."

Pope Benedict has been very keen, even from before his election to the See of Peter, to emphasize the evangelizing power of beauty as expressed particularly in the arts and the lives of the saints. If the pope is to be believed on this point- and I think he is- more effort should be made to emphasize the tradition of beauty in Christian art and music, particularly in the presence of non-Christians. A concert of Christian music or a presentation on Christian art, especially if it takes place outside of the church building, would be an excellent pre-evangelization activity, a means to establish trust or encourage curiosity, and a great way to involve a church choir, musicians, or parish artists in the work of evangelization. It would also encourage them to see their own personal apostolate in the arts in unity with the mission of the Church.

The Crossroads Cultural Center in Washington and New York is related to the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation and often sponsors events that emphasize the importance of beauty in light of a dialogue with the world. Their website features a video retrospective of their 2007-2008 season and presents the full range of their activities. Their work is one possible expression of the types of activities the Holy Father seems to be encouraging. 



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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"Can the West be converted?"

Sherry drew our attention yesterday to an interesting article from the most recent issue of Lausanne World Pulse, an evangelical journal dedicated to the study and discussion of world missions. As I was perusing this issue I came across a very interesting question that the great missionary and theologian Leslie Newbigin posed upon his return from the mission fields of India: "Can the West be converted?" Embedded in that question, of course, is not only the can, but also the how. 

The whole bit: 

Over two decades ago Lesslie Newbigin asked a question that has yet to be sufficiently grappled with. Returning from India (where he had served as a missionary) to his home in the United Kingdom, he discovered that the Western world was just as much a valid mission field as the India he had departed from, and that Christians needed to be thinking missionally in the Western context just as much as outside of it. This prompted him to ask the question, “Can the West be converted?” a query that has consumed the thinking of increasing numbers of church workers in the Western world. Sadly, as Newbigin surveyed missiological literature for application to the West he concluded: 

The weakness, however, of this whole mass of missiological writing is that while it has sought to explore the problems of contextualization in all the cultures of humankind from China to Peru, it has largely ignored the culture that is the most widespread, powerful, and persuasive among all contemporary cultures—namely, what I have called modern Western culture.

With the global shift of Christianity’s growth from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere, and the increasingly pluralistic and post-Christian nature of the West, the presence of the new religions and subjective life spiritualities may provide us with a context by which we can work through answers to Newbigin’s question and experiment with the development of new approaches at contextualization and new theologies for the rapidly changing Western world. 

The whole article is here.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Pope Praises Work of Lay Evangelizers

Zenit has an account of the Pope's comments when receiving the bishops of Honduras on their ad limina visit here

The presence of lay evangelists and "delegates of the Word" is apparently very important in the life of the Church in many places in Latin America. However, with the influx of immigrants from Central and Latin America in this country we would do well to increasingly rely on their training and formation when they become members of our communities in the United States. 

I have firsthand experience of the great value of the formation that many Latin Americans receive to proclaim the Word especially in catechetical settings from my time working at a small, rural parish in eastern North Carolina where we were very reliant upon their efforts within the Hispanic community. I worked with an 18 year old who had received some training and formation from his pastor in North Carolina and provided the Spanish language components of our multi-parish Confirmation retreat. He was by far one of the most effective preachers I have ever encountered. He held 90 other Confirmation candidates spellbound for over an hour as he preached on the power of Confirmation as a personal Pentecost. You could have heard a pin drop. 

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Catholic Evangelization in the South

On the whole, one of the great missed opportunties for Catholic evangelization, education, and charity in this country is the rural South. My parents just drew my attention to a recent article in USA Today that highlighted the continuing problems and shrinking populations in the 623 rural counties that make up the South's "Black Belt" ("named for the rich, dark topsoil that drew plantation owners to the region"). While there are some places in the South such as New Orleans, St Augustine, Mobile, and Charleston that have very historic Catholic populations dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries or earlier and others have heavy "immigrant" (read "Yankee") Catholic populations (i.e. the Triangle in North Carolina, most of Florida, and the exemplary "new South" cities such Atlanta, Charlotte, and Nashville), a great swath of the South has been recently left behind or ignored by the Catholic Church in the United States both in terms of evangelical initiatives and social apostolates.

Several months ago a good priest friend of mine in the diocese of Raleigh who is also an American church historian showed me a copy of the main Florida Catholic newspaper from 1943 or so that had an account of the annual meeting of the "Catholic Committee of the South" at which Mother Katharine Drexel spoke, no doubt about the need for evangelization and dynamic social apostolates in the states of the former Confederacy. It was very touching to read and a stark reminder of how much St Katharine and others were able to accomplish for the Catholic Church in the rural South and how little has been done since the 1960's.

The article in USA Today should remind us of the great economic and social needs that persist in the South, as well as the fact that most of the counties of the rural South still have dreadfully low Catholic populations and are not only underserved by the ordained, but have little in the way of lay apostolates, especially in the field of education. It is my conviction that the Catholic Church should be most actively present in those places where human need is greatest. Many look abroad to find those places, but few dedicate themselves to work in the home missions. The rural South has for the most part been left behind the rest of the country when it comes to education, however, even in light of this fact few Catholic schools can be found in those areas to provide a Catholic remedy the problem. When Catholics find human need they should not simply rely on the state to address the root problems of the needs, but should propose solutions themselves that are derived from the genius of Catholic pastoral wisdom and social doctrine. This article should remind us that we have plenty to do here in the rural parts of our own country, especially in the South, in Appalachia, and on the Great Plains, and it is the particular gift of the layman to make the sorts of contributions in secular fields that could turn those depressed regions of our country around for the better and bring to them the light of the Gospel and authentic human progress.

I would be very interested in hearing from anyone who has ideas or pastoral experience that may help those of us who are Southerners faithfully exercise our lay apostolate more effectively in our home region. In doing so, I hope we are able to give new, spiritual meaning to the phrase "the South will rise again!"

You may also wish to check out the book Saving the Heartland: Catholic Missionaries in Rural America, 1920-1960, by Jeffrey D. Marlett. (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2002.) which highlights the many evangelical and social efforts, including some funded or executed by St Katharine Drexel and her sisters, that Catholics undertook to bring Christ, his Gospel, and the genius of Catholic social doctrine to America's rural places.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pope's Homily at Eucharistic Congress

The Pope's homily from the International Eucharistic Congress has been translated by Zenit and full-text is now available here. He touched on a number of interesting topics, several of which have been discussed on this blog in the past. I have also linked to information about the Canadian saints and beati that he mentioned in the homily. 

It is, therefore, particularly important that pastors and faithful dedicate themselves permanently to furthering their knowledge of this great sacrament. Each one will thus be able to affirm his faith and fulfill ever better his mission in the Church and in the world, recalling that there is a fruitfulness of the Eucharist in his personal life, in the life of the Church and of the world. The Spirit of truth gives witness in your hearts; you also must give witness to Christ before men, as the antiphon states in the alleluia of this Mass. Participation in the Eucharist, then, does not distance us from our contemporaries; on the contrary, because it is the expression par excellence of the love of God, it calls us to be involved with all our brothers to address the present challenges and to make the planet a place where it is good to live.

To accomplish this, it is necessary to struggle ceaselessly so that every person will be respected from his conception until his natural death; that our rich societies welcome the poorest and allow them their dignity; that all persons be able to find nourishment and enable their families to live; that peace and justice may shine in all continents. These are some of the challenges that must mobilize all our contemporaries and for which Christians must draw their strength in the Eucharistic mystery.

snip.

Reception of the Eucharist, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament -- by this we mean deepening our communion, preparing for it and prolonging it -- is also about allowing ourselves to enter into communion with Christ, and through him with the whole of the Trinity, so as to become what we receive and to live in communion with the Church. It is by receiving the Body of Christ that we receive the strength "of unity with God and with one another" (Saint Cyril of Alexandria, In Ioannis Evangelium, 11:11; cf. Saint Augustine, Sermo 577).

We must never forget that the Church is built around Christ and that, as Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Albert the Great have all said, following Saint Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:17), the Eucharist is the sacrament of the Church's unity, because we all form one single body of which the Lord is the head. We must go back again and again to the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, where we were given a pledge of the mystery of our redemption on the Cross. The Last Supper is the locus of the nascent Church, the womb containing the Church of every age. In the Eucharist, Christ's sacrifice is constantly renewed, Pentecost is constantly renewed. May all of you become ever more deeply aware of the importance of the Sunday Eucharist, because Sunday, the first day of the week, is the day when we honor Christ, the day when we receive the strength to live each day the gift of God.

I would also like to invite the pastors and faithful to a renewed care in their preparation for reception of the Eucharist. Despite our weakness and our sin, Christ wills to make his dwelling in us, asking him for healing. To bring this about, we must do everything that is in our power to receive him with a pure heart, ceaselessly rediscovering, through the sacrament of penance, the purity that sin has stained, "putting our soul and our voice in accord," according to the invitation of the Council (cf. "Sacrosanctum Concilium," No.11). In fact, sin, especially grave sin, is opposed to the action of Eucharistic grace in us. However, those who cannot go to communion because of their situation, will find nevertheless in a communion of desire and in participation in the Mass saving strength and efficacy.

The Eucharist had an altogether special place in the lives of saints. Let us thank God for the history of holiness of Quebec and Canada, which contributed to the missionary life of the Church. Your country honors especially its Canadian martyrs, Jean de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and their companions, who were able to give up their lives for Christ, thus uniting themselves to his sacrifice on the Cross. They belong to the generation of men and women who founded and developed the Church of Canada, with Marguerite Bourgeoys, Marguerite d'Youville, Marie of the Incarnation, Marie-Catherine of Saint Augustine, Mgr Francis of Laval, founder of the first diocese in North America, Dina Belanger and Kateri Tekakwitha. Put yourselves in their school; like them, be without fear; God accompanies you and protects you; make of each day an offering to the glory of God the Father and take your part in the building of the world, remembering with pride your religious heritage and its social and cultural brilliance, and taking care to spread around you the moral and spiritual values that come to us from the Lord.

The Eucharist is not a meal among friends. It is a mystery of covenant. "The prayers and the rites of the Eucharistic sacrifice make the whole history of salvation revive ceaselessly before the eyes of our soul, in the course of the liturgical cycle, and make us penetrate ever more its significance" (Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, [Edith Stein], Wege zur inneren Stille Aschaffenburg, 1987, p. 67). We are called to enter into this mystery of covenant by conforming our life increasingly every day to the gift received in the Eucharist. It has a sacred character, as Vatican Council II reminds: "Every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree " ("Sacrosanctum Concilium," No. 7). In a certain way, it is a "heavenly liturgy," anticipation of the banquet in the eternal Kingdom, proclaiming the death and resurrection of Christ, until he comes (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26)...


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Monday, June 23, 2008

Evangelization and the Eucharistic Congress

More from the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec... 

This is a good account from the Archdiocese of Toronto blog of the testimony of Jose H. Prado Flores who founded the San Andres School of Evangelization. 

This morning’s witness talk was given by Mr. Jose H. Prado Flores, Director/Founder of the San Andres School of Evangelization. He spoke in spanish of his own faith journey, comparing it to a can of Diet Coke – light, with zero calories. While he studied theology and was a student of the church, everything was in his head but hadn’t been transferred to his heart.

Filled with great energy and a knack for humour, Mr. Flores used several props throughout his presentation to illustrate his points. A frozen steak was presented to illustrate that his faith was frozen, a remote control touched on our desire to change the channel when life is not going as we would like. A road map was produced to speak of the fact that while God has ultimate control we still want to control the direction of our life and where we are headed.

Finally a balloon was inflated to show that we can all be filled with the word of God – our tendency is to tie up the balloon as opposed to letting the Holy Spirit move where it needs to be. The visual of bishops and the congregation joyfully blowing up their balloons and just “letting go” was a powerful message that led to a standing ovation and plenty of food for thought.

Mr. Flores has helped found over 2,000 schools in 61 countries, providing evangelization to communities around the world. Today, another 11,000 were schooled in what it means to live one’s faith, to let go and let God be God…

Sounds amazing. 

I hope to blog on the Pope's homily from yesterday's Statio Orbis Mass when the full English text becomes available on the Vatican website.

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Mere Christianity Forum Vista House

When I was an undergraduate at Furman University I had the opportunity to help establish an intentional and ecumenical Christian community and house of hospitality as part of the Mere Christianity Forum. We called the house and community "Vista House." This mission statement is on the Vista House website:  

Vista House attempts to accomplish the overall mission of Mere Christianity Forum by creating a location where authentic, intentional Christian community is fostered, the good, true and beautiful is pursued, and the growth of the entire person is encouraged.

Our off-campus facility, Vista House, is a living, relational community of Christians who model and share the vision and love of Christ. By serving both the Furman University and greater Greenville community with the preparing and serving of meals, the creation of a warm and inviting atmosphere suitable for discussion and retreat, and the forging of genuine relationships with others through community, Vista House fellows and regular attendees of the Mere Christianity Forum attempt to model the holistic Christian life. The goal of Vista House is to paint a vista, a landscape, of the beauty and truth of the Christian life in a comfortable environment by persons living in an intentional Christian community.

Sherry and I were speaking earlier today about how to evangelize post-moderns and one thing we considered essential was the witness of intentional communities willing to witness faithfully to Christ and the Gospel through their community life, hospitality, right Christian practice (as a necessary complement to right Christian belief or orthodoxy), and the encounter with beauty. Monastic life did much of what we seek to do at Vista House (indeed monastic authors played a huge role forming us in preparation for establishing Vista House) in the evangelization of Europe and a renewal along those lines was called for by Alasdair MacIntyre at the end of After Virtue. We must remember that in a post-modern and post-Christian age propositional apologetics will not be effectively used in the same ways they used to be. However, as the emergent church is teaching us, the witness of truth, goodness, and beauty lived, particularly in communities and transcendent worship rooted in Christian tradition, will be a more effective means of evangelization than the apologetics of the past. We recognized this five years ago in the establishment of Vista House and I offer it as a witness to the possibilities for effectively evangelizing post-moderns. 

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Catholic Underground

Today I came across a unique project out of Louisiana called Catholic Underground (not the NYC Franciscan Friars of the Renewal initiative), which is a regular podcast hosted by two priests, a layman, and some other regular guest panelists.  It seems that they are really serious about proclaiming the Gospel using new media. 

Check them out here

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuân

Yesterday, those tuning into the proceedings of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec heard the testimony of Elizabeth Nguyen Thi Thu Hong, the sister of the late Archbishop of Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City and President of the Pontifical Council Iustitia et Pax Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuân. Those of you familiar with his writings and the story of his life are well aware of his great witness to Jesus Christ. His sufferings were tremendous: 13 years in a Vietnamese prison, 9 years in solitary confinement, the inability to freely shepherd his flock, and finally the incurable stomach cancer that killed him in 2002. However, throughout it all he had his gaze totally fixed on Jesus, particularly in His Eucharistic Presence. Elizabeth had much to say about her brother and his relationship with our Lord, but for our purposes her meditation on the Eucharist and missionary activity was particularly striking: 

The Eucharist is the heart and soul of missionary activity. Indeed it was during those years of silence and solitude, cut off from all pastoral duties, but intimately united to the Eucharist that Francis understood with his whole being that it is only God, and not God's work, that should be the centre of our lives. That understanding opened the door to the Holy Spirit to transform those years of severe restrictions into the most active and fruitful evangelization periods of his life.

ln his book Five Loaves and Two Fish, Francis recounted the special period of his life which he considered as his period of major spiritual growth. Many times I was tempted, tormented by the fact that I was only 48 years old, in the prime of my life. I had acquired a great deal of pastoral experience, and there I was, isolated, inactive, separated from my people. One night I heard a voice encouraging me from the depth of my heart: ‘Why do you torment yourself so? You must distinguish between God and the work of God. You must choose God alone, and not his works.

When the communists threw him into the old of a cargo ship headed to Haiphong, 1700 m north, he suddenly found himself among some 1500 desperate, starving prisoners. He sensed their anger, their despair and desire for revenge, and he started to share in their human suffering; but with the inner voice immediately urging him to choose God, and not the works of God, he quickly realized that, in that captive company, he had just been handed a cathedral full of faithful to minister to. He decided to be an affirmation of God's presence in the midst of that cargo of human misery. He sustained his fellow prisoners during the 10-day trip, and managed to provide comfort for them.

By the time the cargo ship of prisoners reached Haiphong, Thuan realized he was already following Jesus to the roots of evangelization. It was like going with Him to die "extra muros", i.e., outside the walls, outside the sacred walls (Five Loaves and Two Fish).

Van Thuan described how he practised his ministry in the Vinh Quang Prison Camp: At night, the prisoners would take turns for adoration. With His silent presence, the Eucharistic Jesus helped us in unimaginable ways. Many Christians returned to a fervent faith ife, and their quiet display of service and love had an even greater impact on other prisoners. Even Buddhists and other non-Christians joined in the faith. The strength of Jesus' loving presence was irresistible. The darkness of prison became a paschal light, and the seed germinated in the ground during the storm. The prison was transformed into a school of catechesis. Catholics baptised fellow prisoners and became godparents to their companions.

Zenit has the whole text of her testimony here


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