Friday, April 13, 2007

Evangelical Catholic Institute



Sherry and I managed to avoid snow-related snafus in air traffic and arrived in Madison, WI on our separate flights from Colorado Springs and Tucson. We are attending the 2007 Evangelical Catholic Institute at the Bishop O'Connor Center here in Madison. This event is sponsored by Evangelical Catholic, a ministry begun at St. Paul's Catholic Campus ministry here at the University of Wisconsin.

What is The Evangelical Catholic? According to their website, "The EC's vision is that the Catholic Church be experienced as a vibrant, evangelical movement. We work towards the renewal of individuals, campus ministries, and parishes through an emphasis on interior conversion, devotion to the Scriptures, formation in the habits of discipleship, intense Christian community, and a commitment to evangelization.

How many of us, lay and ordained, charged with providing pastoral care have ever received the practical training needed to effectively recognize, reach, inspire, encourage and help the spiritually hungry? Our hearts are filled with love for God and for those we serve, but we are unsure how to implement ministries that help people enter into a meaningful and life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. Our best attempts at offering interesting talks, community gatherings, and other events often leave us disappointed at how few they have attracted and how little they have impacted the lives of our students, parishioners and the life of the parish as a whole.

The EC seeks to provide solutions to these problems so that our vision, and the Church's mission, can become reality."

"Evangelical Catholic Ministry is a concrete method for bringing about the Evangelical Catholic Vision. Its goal is relational, not ideological, nurturing individuals and ecclesial communities in their relationship with Jesus and His body, the Church, through a focus on the priorities of the Evangelical Catholic Vision. It has three stages and four settings."

The Institute is hosting what looks to be about 200+ people from around the midwest and east, primarily. The vast majority of them are college students involved in campus ministry, along with their campus ministers. Sherry will be giving a couple of workshops over the next two days, as will several other presenters. Keynote speakers include Avery Cardinal Dulles and Msgr. Stuart Swetland, a professor at Mt. St. Mary's Seminary and the former Director of the Newman Foundation and chaplain to the Catholic students at the University of Illinois.

This evening Msgr. Swetland gave a spirited plea for the importance of personal conversion to Christ. He used John the Evangelist and St. Paul as examples of people whose lives were turned around by their encounter with Christ, and emphasized the warning from Scripture that "without Christ, we can do nothing." Sherry commented that his use of Scripture (including carrying the Bible around the stage and reading from it), his expansive gestures, the fervor in his voice reminded her of some of the preachers she knew from her Evangelical days. Both Msgr. Swetland and Mr. Michael Haverkamp, executive director of Evangelical Catholic, quoted Popes Benedict and John Paul II and their insistence that evangelization is not primarily about doctrine or programs, but the sharing of an experience of a person - Jesus Christ.

This promises to be an interesting couple of days. I'll do my best to keep you posted.

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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Do Tell!

Sherry and I are having some fun grappling with various ideas for our new workshop, Making Disciples. One of the sections we will have in that workshop will be about RCIA. How can we make it a more effective evangelizing process that introduces people to the basic kerygma, or proclamation of the gospel? How can we provide an environment that fosters and supports conversion to Christ and His Church?

One critical question involves the problem of trying to understand where people are on their journey of faith, and recognizing the different needs people will have because of their diverse backgrounds. For example, should the Buddhist who's becoming Catholic be in the same enquiry group as the practicing, life-long evangelical? While most parishes generally have separate RCIA "tracks" for the unbaptized and baptized, few, if any, recognize distinctions within those groups. Yet young adults who've grown up in a post-modern, post-Christian world have different questions and attitudes from the baby-boomer, for example. The former atheist may have a radically different set of questions than the former Lutheran or baptized but uncatechized Catholic. You see the challenge!

One approach we've begun to experiment with is the possibility of asking different questions of different groups of people. For example, for an unbaptized person we might ask, "If you could describe your relationship with God based on a relationship you already know, which relationship would be the best analogy?"

For the baptized but non-catechized Catholic or the candidate, we might preface that question with,
"In your relationship with God, do you tend to relate more to one Person of the Trinity more than the others? If so, with which one, and with what human relationship you're familiar with would you compare it?"

So how about you? Would you care to answer whichever question is appropriate to your situation? Here are a few possible relationships to get you thinking…

Father, Mother, Spouse, Professor, Friend, Mentor, Lord, King, Shepherd, Colleague, Collaborator, Enemy, Judge, Critic, Brother, Sister, Servant, Rescuer, Doctor, Healer, Companion, Guide, Counselor, etc.

Please feel free to use a relationship that is not listed above, or a combination thereof.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Personal, Passionate Relationships

Bless me sisters and brothers for I have procrastinated. When Sherry asked me to participate in this blog I was excited. Then I realized that I don't have a writing charism so the task of putting words to the page would not be easy. Yet, here I am, giving it a shot. I am doing so now because of an article I read while waiting to get my hair done yesterday.

The article was in a Christian magazine. The editor was eulogizing a friend of his. The friend was obviously a man of God who had had a troubled past, battling alcoholism. The editor wrote, "my friend was raised Catholic, but he came to Christ, went to AA and became a minister and started a church. He ministered to people in need. He and his wife went to nursing homes each Sunday. He preached, she sang and their children played with the residents. They brought much joy into their lives."

I have to admit that I threw the magazine away angrily after reading that "he came to Christ." Catholics are Christians too I thought.

I am a cradle Catholic, the child of parents who converted to Catholicism in their 20's. I say that I have a mutt faith background. My mother's father was a Baptist minister, my father comes from a long line of Pentecostal ministers as well. I have every denomination in my family that there is. Although I was baptized at 1 month old, attended Catholic schools and went to Mass every Sunday, I found my faith in Christ in the Pentecostal Church.

It's kind of difficult to remain angry at a statement when it's been your experience too.

After reading the magazine article, the NYT articles on the Ark of Salvation church and Pentecostalism and the various posts here, it seems to me that the critical issues in determining whether one responds to Jesus and the Holy Spirit in a Catholic context or in a Evangelical or Pentecostal setting are (1) does the person have an encounter with the person of Jesus, as both human (someone who cares about what's happening to them) and divine (someone who can do something about what is happening to them), and (2) do they encounter and develop a relationship with someone who they know is 100% human but operating with divine power, in the Spirit, with a charism operative.

I have had the pleasure of serving on my parish's RCIA team for the last 8 years. The key to people becoming intentional disciples in my experience has been the development of a personal relationship with Christ and with others who can bring Christ to them as well. Those who "stick with the Church" do so because there is at least one person who makes Christ present to them. I've seen so many people come to the Church looking for a personal encounter with Christ, only receive a referral to social services. Their need for food or shelter brings them, but what they seek is greater than what they are asking for on the surface.

Attending a Called and Gifted Workshop, a coworker of mine asked me how was it. My response was, "it changed my life." Becoming aware of the charisms and the role I can in bringing the kingdom into reality was life changing. I realized that I am equipped to make Christ's love present to another.

As I read more and more stories of people who have left the Church but not abandoned lives of faith, I see also the people around them who have a passion for souls, who are willing to develop the messy, personal relationships just like Jesus does. I know it happens in the Catholic Church. I've seen it done and have done so myself. The key for me was identifying my charisms and operating within them so that I can form relationships with the people I am called to make Christ present to.

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