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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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Evangelization a Mandate, not a Choice

I came across an abbreviated report of a conference held in Rome at the end of January and beginning of February. Given the findings of the recent Pew Foundation report on the number of former Catholics in this country, it seems like a timely article. Here's the majority of the short article:
If a parish does not evangelize, it is nothing more than a building, said a Vatican official, who offered four practical steps for transforming a parish into a missionary center.

Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, affirmed this at the end of January at a conference in Rome on "The Parish and the New Evangelization."

"Why should a parish be missionary," Archbishop Ranjith asked.

He explained that God's call of love mandates a missionary character for Christians: "Jesus loved his brothers and sisters to the extent that he was dedicated totally to their salvation -- this is the basis of evangelization."

The archbishop, who led the Diocese of Ratnapura, Sri Lanka, before being named to the Roman Curia, called evangelization a "sign of the maturity of our faith."

"The Church exists only if it evangelizes, and the same is true for the parish. If a parish does not evangelize, it is only a building," he said. “Evangelization is not a matter of free choice. It is an obligation of our faith, the perfect expression of our charity."


Archbishop Ranjith highlighted the importance of the Eucharist for a parish focused on the mission.

"The Eucharist is at the center of evangelization," the archbishop affirmed. "The Eucharist must generate faith. In some parishes it is celebrated in such a manner that it does not generate faith."

The 60-year-old prelate also focused on the role of parish priests. He said that priests should understand their role by saying, "'I am useless by myself but useful in his hands.'"

Archbishop Ranjith also contended that parishes should not focus on their community alone, but "make a determined effort to reach the lost ones."


He offered some "practical steps" for giving parishes a missionary character.

"The parish community must move away from a maintenance model to a missionary model -- if the only thing we do is repair the buildings, this will kill us spiritually," the archbishop said.

Secondly, he continued, parishes need "to move away from a spirit of pessimism to a spirit of optimism." And he noted the danger of becoming the Gospel's example of a "lazy servant."

The third practical step dealt with the role of laypeople. Archbishop Ranjith encouraged priests who still think the “mission is the sole responsibility of clerics," and that "priests should decide everything by themselves" to "share with the laity."

“Each layperson is a potential missionary," he affirmed.

The fourth step was related to the third. The archbishop encouraged involving as many people as possible: "associations, groups, men, women, youth and even children -- and be courageous to go into uncharted areas, look for new methods and means."

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

"To hunt, to shoot, to entertain" - is that all there is to the lay vocation?

I just discovered Catholic author and blogger Mark Shea's latest article, which is up on the website of InsideCatholic (the successor to Crisis magazine).

It's on the subject of clericalism, which has been much discussed amongst those of us who have struggled with Protestant vs. Catholic concepts of Christian leadership. This is a very charitable and clear-headed consideration of the issue. Here's a taste:

"A few years back, Russell Shaw wrote a terrific book called To Hunt, To Shoot, To Entertain: Clericalism and the Catholic Laity. It took its title from an amazing remark by a 19th-century English monsignor who loftily declared, 'What is the province of the laity? To hunt, to shoot, to entertain. These matters they understand, but to meddle with ecclesiastical matters they have no right at all.'

"John Henry Cardinal Newman disagreed, pointing out that during the Arian crisis, it was the laity who kept the Faith while the majority of bishops vacillated, caved to heresy, or were silent during the 60 years of the crisis. That doesn't mean that the Church operates on the principle vox populi, vox Dei. But it does mean that clericalism ought to be avoided."

I encourage you to click on the link in the title of this post and read it all. Great food for thought.

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Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Church's mission is....what?

Yesterday I spent a few hours with the Kenedy directory of the Catholic Church in America, which lists the various departments, agencies, parishes, and basic administration of each diocese in the U.S. I was looking for the names and addresses of the directors of evangelization for the dioceses in and around Colorado and Maryland, the sites of Making Disciples this summer and autumn. I figured we should send a few brochures to these folks who might be very interested in what we're discussing in the workshop.

Imagine my surprise to find that most of the dioceses I looked at did not have a director of evangelization. In some cases I ended up putting down someone who's in charge of RCIA for the diocese, or adult faith formation, or the director of catechesis. Why was I surprised? Because Paul VI made it clear that our primary purpose as a Church is evangelization!

"We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church. …evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize…For the Christian community is never closed in upon itself…. Thus it is the whole Church that receives the mission to evangelize, and the work of each individual member is important for the whole." (Paul VI, “Evangelii Nuntiandi,” par. 14-15)

I was talking with Fr. Paul, the pastor of Holy Apostles Catholic Church in Colorado Springs, this morning about my surprise, and he had his own observations. He told me that at a clergy meeting not too long ago, he had reported a little about what his parish is doing to reach out to the local community. He said there are 40,000 people living within the parish boundaries, with 2500 families (about 7,000 people) registered. The parish has identified about 1800 inactive Catholics and discovered that 72% of the people living in one zipcode in their boundaries are unchurched. 5700 new residents moved into their parish in the last year.

He told the clergy that as a result of a series of parish meetings during Lent they had decided to hold an open house on the feast of Corpus Christi and had sent postcard invitations to the 5700 new residents. 1500 door hangers inviting people to the parish fall festival will be placed on the homes within the zip code in which 72% of the folks are unchurched.

The parish staff is committed to form the members of its 70+ ministries into intentional disciples (whom Fr. Paul calls "employees of Christ.") They are committed to mobilizing all the registered parishioners to "deploy" them into their neighborhoods, workplaces and families where they can give explicit witness to their faith - even to the point of using words!

Last year the parish welcomed 70+ new Catholics at the Easter Vigil.

The response of some of the clergy?

"Why do you want more parishioners? You already have the largest parish in the diocese?"

I can sympathize with the priest who asked that question. As long as you think of the parish as a place where spiritual needs are met, rather than as a place of formation for intentional disciples who live their faith in a conscious way throughout their week, and who put their discipleship into practice through works of service and evangelization within the secular community, "more parishioners" means just more work.

But more Catholics who have a living relationship of love and obedience to Christ means the Church's mission is more likely to be realized. We talk about those we love. We imitate those we admire. And the way we give glory to God is through our worship on Sunday at Mass - and through our worship as we follow his commandments and apply our faith 24/7 Monday through Saturday.

The Church's mission is to proclaim Christ to the world. But I bet your parish priest has not had a course on evangelization. I bet your local seminary doesn't offer a course on it, either. And if you asked about it, the rector would probably say something like, "well, it's woven into different classes we offer."

Perhaps if we took our mission seriously, we'd weave all of our seminary courses into the overall purpose of the Church!

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Pentecost Homily

This was preached by a priest ordained almost one year, Fr. Brian Dolejsi, who teaches with the Institute (as you might gather from the content of his homily). He serves a cluster of parishes in South Tacoma.

A few years ago, I went hiking with two friends. Towards the end of the second day, our trail disappeared. We are all experienced hikers but our trail simply had not been maintained and so we were a little anxious. At this point, we had hiked many hours and miles that day and planned to return to our car that afternoon. The sun was starting to set and we thought we were almost there…what to do? We knew it would be difficult to stay another night not to mention there were people waiting for us at home. We could go down a different valley, far from our car but not sure where that would lead. We could go up, which we tried but there was an impassible crevasse on the other side. Our only option was to patiently retrace our steps for a little while in search of our trail. After a few minutes, we could see the continuation of our trail up a steep incline. We had to work hard but after several minutes of effort we blazed a new trail which led us to where we needed to go. Eventually, we made it to our car some three hours later in pitch black, happy for soft seats and a warm place.

This evening, we gather as a community of faith in south Tacoma. Where are we on our journey of faith as followers of Christ? Fundamentally why are we here as parishes? Are we to thrive or to fade out? Some might say, like me and my friends we have lost the trail, the path God has called us to. My friends and I could have stayed in the same place in fear, or we could have gone another more dangerous direction of our choosing either up or down but none of these options would have helped us attain our goal. Instead, we retraced our steps a little bit to get back to common and familiar ground, then we scanned the horizon for our destination and blazed a trail to get there.

I propose this evening that we now have the opportunity to do the same. We have the opportunity to look back to remember our identity and then to scan the horizon of our faith again to see where God is leading us, to final glory and the fulfillment of the kingdom of God here and now. The only way to get there is to blaze a new trail, by having hope, working hard and together and taking courage we are moving in the right direction.

I propose nothing less than a re-evangelization of south Tacoma through our parishes. This is the new trail we must blaze through the work of the Holy Spirit. We can accomplish this by shifting our paradigm, doing what we already do in an excellent way, and in creative new ministries.

First, we need to shift our paradigm of how we see ourselves. The only reason the church exists is to evangelize. We begin with evangelizing our own and then proclaiming the good news to the local community. In turn, our parishes are not to be seen as a hospital where people only come if they have problems to be solved. We are this for many; however, we are to be centers of evangelization where we form competent lay apostles able to respond to the various needs of the local community. The model of the parish as a house of lay formation proactively meets the needs of the local community. Instead of waiting for people to come to us, we move out into the world preaching the good news that we are redeemed, that God’s grace is at work in everyone’s life and can lead us to new life. In this area, we need to start with inviting back, indeed calling back those who have fallen away from regular participation in their parishes. These may be your family, friends, or co-workers, and it will take time but unless we invite we cannot expect a return. After this, we move to the larger community of those who have no experience of the church and the presence of the Risen Christ in their lives.

Secondly, we need to renew excellence in all of our ministries to accomplish our mission of re-evangelization. Many positive ministries are already taking place with many faithful people engaged in helping proclaim the message of Christ. What I am proposing is a thorough and prayerful reflection about the quality of each ministry in our parishes. Can they be improved? Are we accomplishing what we have set out to do? Can we do a better job of showing God’s love? Are we doing our ministry not just in an adequate way but in an excellent way? In our communities, perhaps more than most places in the Puget Sound, there are people hurting, lonely, lost, fearful, and in need of a place to call home. These needs stem from lack of jobs, drugs, depression, abusive relationships, discrimination and other injustices which infect our world. Yet, it is us, the people of God, who have a message of healing and grace to offer to all. Why should we not be the ones to offer these people a message of healing and grace? Indeed, we exist to do just this, to evangelize, to propose the faith, to invite, to be the risen Christ in the lives of others.

Thirdly, we are called to create new ministries. If what we are currently doing is not helping our church grow, then things need to change. We need to start with an honest evaluation of the place when we encounter 90% of our people, the weekend masses. We need to re-evaluate and do a better job of celebrating our Sunday liturgies in an excellent way. We should have a greeter and commentator at the beginning of each mass welcoming and educating the entire community before mass even begins. Our music, preaching, and liturgical ministries should be performed in the most excellent manner possible. There should be effective advertising of our parish services and opportunities for people to easily become engaged with us. We need to invest more time, energy and resources into making our Sunday liturgies consistent moments of evangelization. I also propose we take a new parish census. This would involve a systematic assessment of the local community in south Tacoma. This takes place with a series of phone calls to those already on our parish directory, thanking those that have remained engaged and welcoming those back that have fallen away from active participation. Following this, we can move out into the local community and go door to door if necessary and welcome Catholics back or at least make personal contact with our neighbors to let them know we are here as a resource for them.

No doubt this is a great deal of work but it must be supported by my other proposed new ministry. In order to strengthen and engage all parishioners, I propose a renewal of small faith sharing communities. Many of the most active and happy Catholics I have met in these parishes are the ones who are actively engaged in a ministry which on many levels functions as a smaller community within the larger parish, enabling a sense of place, support, and ongoing spiritual growth. We need to invite all members of the parish into similar types of groups, meditating upon the Gospel and living it in our lives in a spirit of prayer. I believe that a renewal of our Sunday liturgies, a parish census, and an increase in small Christian communities as a way for us to blaze a new trail of evangelization. These ministries will help us welcome all, proclaim the risen Christ in a tangible way, and give us all a new sense of mission as the baptized…and just maybe renew our own faith experience.

Many of you might be thinking…the new priest is full of unrealistic ideas…it can't be done. My question to you would be, why can’t we do it? Are we happy with our parishes right now? Sure, there are some good people and some ministries are functioning well, but could we do more to proclaim Christ? These are things I have prayed over…if you have other ideas, let’s hear them and bring them all before the Lord in prayer and ask God to show us the way and we will gladly follow.

Actually, I beg the Holy Spirit to show us this night, do you want these parishes to survive and thrive or not? If you don’t, if this is not your will, then give us the courage and patience to accept this and to find ways in which to fulfill our vocations. However, if by chance you do…then all of us gathered here this evening shows not only who we are but what we can be. If you do want us to thrive, then Holy Spirit blow through us this evening. Renew us again just as you did for the disciples, revealing to them the presence of the Risen Christ in the Church and giving them courage and wisdom to carry out your mission in the world as apostles. Holy Spirit, enliven our minds and hearts to know and love your goodness so that renewed in our love of you we may invite others into the wonders of your mystery.

Can we respond to the needs of our local community? YES. Can we form members of the community who can live out their baptismal call for their own benefit and benefit of others? YES. Can we inspire another generation of Catholics to live and love the faith? YES. Can we re-evangelize our community? YES. We can accomplish this mission - with the help of God alone. But this has been the experience of the Church throughout generations. Trusting in God’s grace, the mission continues. Indeed this process of re-evangelization will lead to your own perfection and growth in holiness as you fulfill again the mission Christ has given you through the use of our individual and common gifts of the Holy Spirit. This will not take place over night as we know, but if we are not moving towards this, blazing a new trail, if we do not have a goal as a cluster of parishes, as individual parishes, then we are lost. We trust that nothing is impossible for God, even bringing life from death and filling the people of God with grace when we say Amen!

Many would say that these parishes are like a smoldering fire. They once were great but now they are ashes, with only a few coals burning at the bottom. But what is in the coals simmering down below but an intense heat: the faithful that have remained true, that have been consistent in their love of God and the Church. And what do we do this evening is invite the Holy Spirit to come and breathe new life into these ashes…and, just like a real fire, have those smoldering embers catch blaze again and produce light, heat and goodness…to catch fire again, to be filled with the Holy Spirit and generate a blaze that will be seen for miles, all the miles of south Tacoma. A blaze of a new trail leading to our final destination, the proclamation and the building of the kingdom of God in the world and our own perfection in love. Veni Sancte Spiritus! Come Holy Spirit!

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Sherry on the Evangelical Catholic

We're back . . . from Madison, Wisconsin.

I didn't realize that Fr. Mike was keeping you up late regalling you with his thoughts. Love the Hell: No, We Won't Go meditation and title.

I didn't get the chance to blog or attend most of the sessions because I was talking, talking, talking. It was my first chance to present the Pre-Discipleship Stages of Spiritual Development as well as do two introductory talks on discernment and charisms.

Sometimes it is like that at conferences. What you say hits a nerve and everybody wants to talk. A presenter is usually wondering how something brand new is going to hit people, especially if it is a group that you have never worked with before. The exciting thing is not only when people tell you how much they appreciate it but when they begin to quote you or ask really detailed questions. The thrill of "By Jove, they got it!" runs through you with the secondary peace of knowing that you aren't in for a massive re-write following close behind.

I got to meet a lot of interesting denizens of the Apostolic Underground* ( There was the gang from National Evangelization Team (NET -, a young man representing the Glenmary Missionaries ( who work in and support Catholic parishes in the rural south, and Emmaus Journey (, the ministry of Rich Cleveland, a Catholic Navigator (, who attends my parish. A number of campus ministers from around the eastern half of the country as well as a few long-time friends like Bernie Vogel and Sue Lahocky. And I was excited to meet some readers of ID there as well!

I had long wanted to meet Fr. Dwight Longenecker "Standing on My Head" ( and was delighted to find him at the EC Institute and we had a nice long chat. He and his wife are hoping to attend the Called & Gifted workshop ( at St. Mary's in Greenville, South Carolina next weekend.

And of course, I had many diverse and long conversations with the Evangelical Catholic ( team who are young, smart, creative, and vibrant apostles. I hadn't understood how ad hoc the whole EC thing was, arising out of a small circle of Catholic friends on the Madison campus seven years ago. They have just hired their first staff member, are bringing on a husband-wife leadership team (who both hold newly minted MAs from Notre Dame) this summer, and have been asked by their Bishop to spread the EC vision of making disciples to parishes in their diocese.

They fit the Apostolic Underground (AU) model: small, passionate, risk-taking, evangelistic, orthodox, entrepreneurial, creative, lay-lead, and hand-to-mouth. Somehow, God will provide.

The theme of the weekend: parishes and dioceses are turning to small AU groups for help. I heard this not only from the EC people but also from the NET leaders. A chronic shortage of priests, youth ministers, resources of all kinds means that small, under funded or missionary parishes and dioceses are drawing upon the resources and energy of small apostolic groups. For instance, NET has its first "long-term" parish team which will spend two years in a specific parish focusing on youth ministry and outreach rather than a single week.

And all these groups wanted to know how to successfully transfer their gifts and expertise to the parish scene. Hence, all the talk, talk, talk.

But the most moving personal moment for me was meeting and spending a little time with Cardinal Avery Dulles. He is elderly and very frail now and walks with a four pronged cane, but still very sharp and possessing a lovely sense of humor. Very unpretentious - he simply introduced himself at breakfast as "Hello, I'm Avery Dulles". I got to sit at his small table at dinner and again at breakfast but the most memorable moment did not involve any words.

I visited the large, beautiful chapel before breakfast to spend a few minutes in adoration and found three other people there. Two students and Avery Dulles. He was alone, without his young priest assistant, who had been constantly at his side, steadying him throughout Mass and helping him ascend the podium. No longer able to kneel, he sat praying in a corner, his cane beside him.

The hidden source of all that wisdom.

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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, April 2, 2007


I just returned from a Lent full of parish missions in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Washington. All four were wonderful experiences for me, partly because they all involved hearing many, many confessions. I easily heard well over one hundred-fifty confessions. That number, however, pales in comparison to what happened at St. Thomas More Newman Center in Tucson, AZ, home of the Dominican community to which I'm assigned.

Last Thursday night the Catholic community at the University of Arizona held what I would call "Confessapalooza." What else would you call fourteen confessors, 300+ penitents, a twelve-piece praise band and a Mexican dinner held in the parish hall? Taking the story of the prodigal son as a model, the Newman staff decided to emphasize the joyous response to the surprise of forgiveness, and the aspect of the celebratory feast that the Father holds for his reprobate child.

Now, perhaps having 300 penitents at a communal penance service is the norm at your parish, but in the past at Newman, they've typically had about 50 or so, including the children preparing for first (and sometimes, last) confession. What was different about this year's? First of all, the season of Lent was intentionally approached as a community-wide event, and commenced the season with a community-wide retreat. The Dominican friars who are the clerics at the Center carefully prepared their preaching throughout Lent to focus on various aspects of forgiveness, and the communal penance service was consistently mentioned in their preaching. By the time the day arrived, there was a real sense of anticipation in the community.

The community gathered at 5:30 p.m. for an authentic Mexican fiesta, followed by a communal penance service that began at 7 p.m. After a liturgy of the word, preaching, and examination of conscience, the priests stood in the sanctuary and other parts of the church while penitents came and confessed while the remainder of the congregation, led by a very talented group of college students sang. Three times the singing was interrupted by a testimony on the experience of going to confession prepared in advance by two undergraduates and a graduate student - who gave her testimony in Spanish.

Fr. Bartholomew Hutcherson, O.P., the pastor of St. Thomas More, said that priests who participated in the event walked away amazed - and at least one copied aspects of it for the communal penance service in his own parish, while other priests spoke of how powerful the service was.

Fr. Bartholomew told me that a number of parishioners who had not received the sacrament for extended periods spoke to him of their renewed appreciation for the sacrament, and it was such a powerful experience for the community that people are asking to have communal penance services more often than just Advent and Lent!

The penance service lasted less than 90 minutes, and almost all the people present took part in an individual confession!

One of the talks I gave for each mission focused on the sacrament of reconciliation, and I, too, heard confessions of people who had been away from the sacrament for decades. I think it just goes to show that if we speak of the importance of this sacrament, and make it readily available, we may very well be surprised at how many Catholics will take advantage of this experience of the Lord's love for us.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Unleashing the Laity (or, how to revive a Catholic parish)

In poking about the website of St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine in Boston (at I found this fascinating article on Godspy about how two parishes, one a fairly typical suburban parish, one in the heart of Boston's Back Bay on the verge of being closed, were revived and turned into what I think could be fairly described as houses of formation for lay apostles.

A snippet:

St. Andrew's and St. Clement were renewed by putting worship and catechesis first. Fr. Peter minimized the "happy get-togethers," parish dinners and the like, and took his parish leadership on retreats instead. By giving lay leaders opportunities to talk about their faith, he inspired them to claim that faith as their own and prepared them to lead others in doing the same.
St. Andrews and St. Clement were renewed by putting worship and catechesis first. I asked Fr. Peter how difficult this task was. I have been in so many Catholic groups where, when a theological question was raised, all eyes turned to the priest. The clericalism of the past has created an atmosphere in Catholic culture in which only the priest is expected to address such questions.

He said that asking lay Catholics to talk about their faith can be awkward at first. They don't always have the necessary theological vocabulary, so they found themselves stumbling to explain things, the way most of us do when we take our cars to a mechanic. "That thing there," he says, mimicking such an encounter, "you turn it on and it makes a funny noise." Once people become comfortable, though, "they find themselves speaking the language; they start to talk from the heart and it's a great thing to see."

We talked about why so many pastors seem afraid of entrusting teaching responsibilities—particularly adult catechesis and ongoing spiritual formation—to lay leadership. Fr. Peter didn't want to generalize, but he attributed the problem to a lingering clericalism—"Don't talk about the faith," he said, spoofing these attitudes, "just shut up and listen, and I'll tell you what the faith is."

Then he introduced a truly radical and hopeful notion: he thinks that the religious vocation crisis in the Western European Church today is being used by the Holy Spirit to correct the clericalism of the past. The clergy and the laity must now join in a true evangelistic partnership in which the clergy and religious focus on feeding the people and the people bring the world to Christ. "God's running the Church, hang in there," he told me, gently chiding my pessimism. "God's doing a good job, He's directing the Church to where it's going."

Read the whole thing here: