I've just started a book that looks very interesting. "The New Evangelization: Overcoming the Obstacles," is edited by Fr. Steven Boguslawski, OP, and Ralph Martin, and published by Paulist Press. I've had the pleasure of meeting both of these gentlemen: Fr. Stephen is president of the Pontifical Faculty at the Dominican House of Studies, where I will be speaking tomorrow night. He's also the executive director of the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, DC. He made a presentation at our Provincial Council in Oakland last year, telling us about the work of the JPII Center and the Dominican Friars' involvement in it.
Ralph Martin is president of Renewal Ministries, as well as a faculty member and director of Graduate Theology Programs in the New Evangelization at Sacred Heart Seminary, Detroit, where Sherry has spoken and where she and Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, the other co-founder of the Catherine of Siena Institute, will be teaching a graduate course on the theology of the laity at the end of May and beginning of June. He has come out to Colorado Springs to talk to Sherry and me about the work he's involved in, as well as to find out about us.
As I mentioned, I just started reading the book, which is a series of brief articles, some of which have responses from "practitioners," i.e., people involved in full-time ministry in Catholic parishes. I began in the middle, with an article by Fr. Robert Rivers, CSP, a Paulist who has published a book, "From Maintenance to Mission." His article, with the same title, speaks of three strategies for transforming parishes into centers of the New Evangelization: promoting discipleship, becoming more welcoming and inviting, and fostering a more collaborative style of ministry.
I'd like to share a few short quotes from Fr. Rivers. "
A disciple is someone who, first of all, is in relationship with the person of Christ. A personal relationship with Christ is the good soil upon growth in knowledge of the content of the faith can take place... We are following Christ through the various stages of our life experience. This way of thinking of ourselves as baptized Christians can help us overcome a major obstacle to Catholic evangelization: inactive Catholics and people with no church family have the perception that Catholics have a religion but not a spirituality. They see that Catholics have priests, laws, structures, institutions, sacraments, and rituals, but where is the spirituality? Where is the personal relationship?" (p. 92)
My only quibble with Fr. Rivers on this point is that he refers to discipleship as a metaphor, rather than what it is, a lived reality, a call - a requirement for being called a Christian.
When Fr. Rivers speaks about our parishes being more welcoming, he doesn't just mean that we have ushers and welcoming committees or hospitality greeters. "Welcoming is about becoming, first all (sic), more inclusive, more accepting of people, no matter their color, race, ethnic origin, language, social status, or sexual orientation." In other words, we need to live up to our name and truly be universal. It is too easy for our parishes to be segregated according to race, economic status, language, and, in some cases, even sexual orientation. In my travels around the country I have had the opportunity to walk into a variety of parishes. I have heard parishioners confide in me that they're worried about "their parish" being overrun by "them." Fr. Rivers points out that so often our parishes organize themselves along these inclusion/exclusion categories, and then work to meet the needs of the "membership."
The goal of becoming more welcoming/inclusive is dependent upon us becoming disciples. The relationship and union with Jesus overcomes all of the other barriers we so often set up. This is why Paul could claim that in Christ, there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.
Finally, the last strategy Fr. Rivers mentions is a collaborative style of ministry. Again, this goal is dependent upon developing a culture of discipleship. "When a parish knows itself as a community of disciples and all its members have gifts to share, then those members are willing to take responsibility for the identity, character, and direction of parish life. And this includes evangelization." p. 95 In fact, I would suggest that it not only includes evangelization, it would be centered on evangelization. Fr. Rivers would agree, I believe, because he calls evangelization the "one thing" that matters most to the Lord, because everything else depends upon it. In fact, I would emphasize evangelization in this strategy, because otherwise, our tendency is to focus on ourselves - and worry about collaboration in regard to liturgy, parish education and social programs, and the like. Evangelization is not just one menu option among many; it's the appetizer (as we proclaim the basic message of the Gospel), the main course (as we catechize those who have "repented and believed in the Gospel," and it's the hunger that brings us to the Eucharistic table.
The weather gremlins knew that I was going on a trip cause it snowed - again - last night. And I found myself sweeping great gobs of wet snow off the car at 4:30 am.
So I could go to Alaska.
I dream of April in Paris. And I get Winnipeg in January.
Now that I have gotten that Dominican grumble out of my system, I should note that it is supposed to be sunny and beautiful the rest of the week in Colorado.
Not in Anchorage however. They call this time of year "break-up". The time when all the garbage buried under the snow comes to the surface. Much of it animal produced, carbon-based, and fragrant..
And I have discovered that in this new era of flight, no food is served on the 6 hour flight to Anchorage. Unless you are in first class and I'm not. My, oh my, am I gritchy this morning.
I guess I'm not feeling the glamour of the mendicant life this morning.
I would like to ask you kind people for prayers for my sister Becky, with whom I will be staying. Beck has been diagnosed with a serious form of cancer and she, her husband, and all of us need all the grace we can get!
But it does remind me of a story that I heard Fr. Benedict Groeschel tell, of his quest to find a stupid Jesuit. And how delighted he was when he actually encountered one: a humble, holy, but undeniably dim member of the Society of Jesus. "He was a real find."
Dominicans are not noted for their whimsical, bear-of-little-brain cuddliness - but some (not all!) occasionally show their teddy bear side. It is usually found pinned under the weight of the gigantic OP brain.
Which is why I've noticed that Dominicans tend to get shorter as they get older. The burden of hauling around a brain full of St, Thomas.
You start out at 5'10" 3/4" and before you know it, you are 5'9" if you are lucky . . .
Awhile back I came across VocationsPlacement.org , self-described as "a Religious Careers Placement Service" with one mission: "to assist those who are investigating a call to religious life in the Roman Catholic Church." They schedule and facilitate "retreats for those in the discernment process, with diocesan and monastic" (perhaps they mean religious, I don't know) "vocational directors in the area of their choice."
Part of their service includes a free online Ministry Potential Discerner, consisting of a 39-question survey meant to help a man or woman get an idea of their potential as a priest (for men) or religious (for men and women). The results are scored and you receive an e-mail with your score and an indication of whether you are a likely candidate for priesthood or religious life, or not.
According to their website, the Self-Assessment Survey "is designed to 'sow the seeds' of spiritual enlightenment for the future harvest of potential priestly and religious vocations as well as lay leadership within the Church. It can be used by dioceses, religious communities and other vocational organizations to help identify candidates who have an expressed interest in and aptitude for the priesthood, sisterhood or brotherhood....The MPD Self-Assessment Survey has been tested for its efficiency and reliability and is recognized as a powerful instrument of discernment among Church leaders throughout the United States. This discernment tool is not a psychological test. Rather it is a testing instrument based on the foundational principles of spiritual theology. The survey is primarily designed to be used as a mass testing instrument in schools, CCD programs and youth groups."
The survey was developed in the mid-1980's at Cardinal Muench Seminary in Fargo, N.D., and has been used by many vocation directors and religious communities (including the Western Dominican Province) since. It has been used in elementary and high schools, as well as at National Youth Conventions, where it was given to literally thousands of young people.
The Church in the U.S. has embraced this survey, including the vocation committee of the USCCB in its document Future Full of Hope. It is a simple tool to use by anyone with access to a computer.
The survey is administered online and is appropriate for students in junior high or high school, as well as those of college age or beyond, and can be completed in less than 20 minutes... individual and group results are tabulated and can be sent to vocational contacts. This allows vocation directors, youth ministers, pastors, pastoral associates or others to personally contact the students to extend an explicit invitation for the young person to seriously consider a vocation. Once identified as potential candidates for ministry, young men and women must be explicitly encouraged, invited and asked to consider a life dedicated to God.
This is a laudable attempt to help individuals self-identify a potential cal to a lifestyle vocation, and, like the Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory, is not discernment itself, but intended as a first-step, perhaps a tool to raise an awareness of a potential suitability to a vowed life of ministry within the Church.
I gave the website to a young single man who went through a conversion about four years ago. Many people have asked him, "are you going to become a priest?" because he goes to daily Mass, prays daily, talks about God readily, reads the Scriptures and the catechism, doesn't swear, drink or smoke, and lives chastely. Before I give you his reaction to the survey, I'll admit I went and took it, to see what kinds of questions they were asking. I'll also admit I scored high enough that I received information and phone calls from a variety of vocations directors (but no Dominican Provinces!). I do not want to encourage anyone to take the survey just to see the questions, and possibly lead vocations directors astray. Nor do I want to give away the survey, so I'll give you a sample of the statements. Respondents are asked to respond to each one Strongly Agree, Agree, Weakly Agree, Weakly Disagree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree.
I feel small coins, like pennies, nickels and dimes, are not worth much and sometime just throw them away.
I believe its ok to take drugs or alcohol to get high.
I have a special concern for people with sickness, handicaps, or problems.
I am happy about coming from a family that cares about our Catholic faith and beliefs.
I feel strongly that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, and makes a big difference in the way I live.
I do want to find out if God has given me special talents and gifts to be of service to others.
My friends feel that I am generally a happy, positive person.
When the 37-year old fellow I mentioned above took the survey, he score quite high. He's definitely an intentional disciple whose life has been changed by God's love and grace in a very powerful way, and against all odds. He has a high school diploma, and told me he read the first book in his life after his conversion. While with God, all things are possible, priesthood, with its academic demands, seems out of the question. He could possibly have a call to a religious community that could use his charisms and skills. However, what I found stunning was his response to the survey. After taking it, he asked me, "Fr. Mike, how is this going to help me discern a call to priesthood or religious life. Shouldn't every disciple of Jesus score high on this survey?"
He may not have much education, but he has a Godly wisdom. I couldn't agree with him more.
It seems that we have a hard time distinguishing between ordinary discipleship and a call to a particular lifestyle vocation. It's as though we say, "Hmmm. You talk about God, go to church regularly, read the Bible, have high moral standards.... You're not like the rest of us. YOU must have a vocation to priesthood or religious life." Part of the problem with that is it maintains the sense that nominal, cultural Catholicism is normative, rather than intentional discipleship.
That being said, if the ministry potential survey helps identify disciples, that would be a start in the right direction. My question is, what kinds of questions should be asked to help young men identify a possible call to priesthood? What kinds of questions would be suitable for those called to religious life? I think these would be different questions. And our questions will also say a lot about the kind of priests we are looking for.
I would like to think of this some more, and possibly develop some statements that I would like to see on such a survey. I'd be interested in your suggestions as well.
Fr. Mike and I are in Colorado Springs and both of us are working like little (or not so little) beavers. Me on this fascinating but simultaneously overwhelming course in the Theology of the Laity for Sacred Heart Seminary and Fr. Mike on many things, including his presentation: Lay Apostles: A Fulfillment of the Priestly Office which he will give next week at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC on the feast of our patroness, St. Catherine of Siena.
And I leave early on Monday for a week in Anchorage: to spend time with my sister and to offer a Called & Gifted there.
I have to say: the history of work and spirituality of the laity is simply fascinating and surprising and very critical to understand because the theology of the laity and the Church's social teaching emerged together directly out of that history. I'll be covering the period from 1497 when the Oratory of Divine Love emerged out of the work of St. Catherine of Genoa. The Oratory was the practical beginning of the Catholic Reformation. Through the Second Vatican Council.
There is a terrific need for a scholarly, accessible, one volume history of the laity. We do not understand what God has done and is doing through the 98.7% of us who are not priests or religious, And to the extent we don't understand that, we don't understand the Church herself and part of the priestly office remain hidden and unfocused.
The men's group I'm a part of in Tucson met last night to begin discussion of a book we're reading by South African Dominican Albert Nolan, OP. I had the good fortune to meet Fr. Albert back in 1991 when I spent a summer with the Dominicans in South Africa. He had been an outspoken critic of apartheid, and I was deeply impressed by both his humility and his passion for people. His book, "Jesus Today: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom" begins by looking at some of the signs of our times, one of which is the culture of individualism that has grown in the West since the Enlightenment. Here are a few choice quotes, along with a reflection on the reading from the Acts of the Apostles from today's Mass.
In this individualistic culture, therapists and counselors have sen their task as that of helping the individual to develop his or her ego in order to reach the great Western ideal of self-fulfillment. Today psychologists are beginning to realize that this leads only to self-centeredness and narcissism. ... More and more people who have been reflecting on their own experience of spirituality are discovering what the mystics have always said, that we must undertake the painful and difficult task of moving beyond our self-centeredness, our individualism, and our egos. Programs that ignore this truth and offer a self-fulfillment or follow-your-bliss kind of spirituality are totally misleading.
While "ego" is used in a variety of ways by different schools of psychology, in general, we can define the ego in a way that makes sense in terms of faith. Nolan says the ego refers to "the self-centered self, the 'I' that imagines itself to be the center of the world, judging everything in terms of how it affects 'me' and only 'me.' The ego is the selfish self." This sounds very much to me like a description of the essence of fallen humanity.
This ego is possessive...The unbridled ego wants to conrol its world: people, events, and nature. Hence the obsession with power and authority. The ego compares itself with others and competes for praise and privilege, for love, for power and money. This is what makes us envious, jealous, and resentful of others. It is also what makes us hypocrites, two-faced, and dishonest.
This description of individualism and the unrepentant ego sounds so different from the experience of the early Church in today's readings from the Acts of the Apostles!
The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need. Thus Joseph, also named by the apostles Barnabas (which is translated "son of encouragement"), a Levite, a Cypriot by birth, sold a piece of property that he owned, then brought the money and put it at the feet of the apostles.
It is tempting to read this as an idealized report or simply wishful thinking of how things should be in the Christian community, but when we encounter groups of intentional disciples, we see glimpses of this passage being lived today.
Discipleship, as St. Paul observed, overcomes barriers that our ego normally maintains. Paul saw that "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Gal. 3:28. When our lives are given over to Christ in love, in response to his great work of redemption on the cross and because of the Spirit dwelling within us, we find that the barriers we normally establish between us based on differences in ethnicity, intelligence, skills, personality, experience, gender, and economic status become less and less significant. What truly matters is our mutual love for Christ and the experience of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Evidently, Jesus had to really struggle with the egos of his apostles, who so often wanted to be like the leaders of their age who "lorded it over" their fellow men and women.
Perhaps as we go about our day, we might watch for the clues that reveal our unbridled ego: the moments in which we get angry at someone else, or feel jealousy, or resent the success of another, or get frustrated when our expectations aren't met. It might be dismaying to begin to realize how highly we regard ourselves, but that's also the first step in humility, too.
It was announced this morning that Bishop Robert Carlson of Saginaw, MI, will be the new archbishop of St. Louis. As I looked at his C.V., I was really excited to see that he is a Board Member of The International Dominican Foundation. I suppose he has a soft spot in his heart for the OPs, which may bode well for my brothers in St. Louis. Also, and this really excited me, he is a Board Member of Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, where Sherry has given several presentations and where she and Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, will be teaching a graduate course on the theology of the laity this summer. Sherry's blogged on the amazing program in the New Evangelization that they have there.
Finally, Archbishop-elect Carlson is the Co-Chair of the Mission Advisory Committee, Institute for Priestly Formation, Omaha, NE, which is doing some great work with seminarians and priests, and is interested in some of the work that we are doing at the Institute. We have already had some interest in the Institute's work from folks in the archdiocese. Perhaps that may even increase under the new archbishop. He certainly has an interest in clerical vocations. Joe Waters, one of our teachers currently finishing an M.Div. in Washington, DC, told me this morning that when bishop Carlson first went to Saginaw, they had not had a new seminarian in four years, so bishop Carlson became his own vocation director. They now have twenty young men in the seminary.
Just looking at his activity as part of the USCCB for the last quarter century, you can see a pattern of interest in youth and young adults, evangelization, the laity, and vocations:
Past Chair, National Foundation for Catholic Youth Ministry Past Chair, USCCB Committee on Vocations Past Chair, USCCB Committee on Priestly Life and Ministry Past Chair, USCCB Ad Hoc Committee on Youth Past Chair, USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Former Member, USCCB Committee on Laity Former Member, USCCB Committee on Pastoral Practice Former Episcopal Moderator, USCCB Committee on Scouting Former Episcopal Moderator, Serra International - USA/Canada Council Past President, National Evangelization Team (NET)
May God bless him, his ministry, and the people of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Fr. Mike surprised me during a break at last weekend's Called & Gifted in Corpus Christ when he showed a slide show of some pictures he had taken of my garden at its height of color last summer. They looked better than the pictures I was able to take myself - especially by the time they were projected on the large screen where the garden just seemed to glow! I can see that very early in the morning may be the best time.
Anyway, as I returned to a lawn that is suddenly greening and bulbs (and weeds!) bursting forth, it reminds me of what I have to look forward to . . .
Please join us for Lay Apostles: A Fulfillment of the Priestly Office, a talk by Father Michael Fones, OP on April 29, 2009, the feast of St Catherine of Siena, at 7 PM in Aquin Hall at the Dominican House of Studies, 487 Michigan Avenue, N.E., Washington, DC 20017 (Red Line: Brookland/CUA).
A description of the talk:
The Church exists to evangelize; yet few Catholics are prepared to share in that mission. Not only do Catholics themselves need to be evangelized, few have access to that formation that Pope John Paul called, not a privilege of a few, "but a right and duty of all.” (The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful, 63) While each individual has the responsibility for their own formation, "priests and candidates for Orders [are] to be prepared carefully so that they are ready to foster the vocation and mission of the lay faithful." (The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful, 61) This is a vital aspect of the priestly office – an exercise of the kingly power of Christ and pastoral governance – that is often ignored. In this presentation, Fr. Michael Fones, OP, of the Western Province will examine the complementary roles of the clergy and laity in the Church’s mission, the spiritual gifts (charisms) that empower those roles, and the possibility of re-imagining the parish as a house of formation for the laity.
Please contact me at
for more information.
Sherry and I are leaving Corpus Christi, TX, after a wonderful Called & Gifted workshop, which included another great dinner at Hester's Cafe. About 200 people attended the workshop at the cathedral, and were very enthusiastic. Last night, over a wonderful meal that included a blackened amberjack salad, delicious lump meat crabcakes, and the best latte I've ever had (courtesy of Hester herself), I had a long conversation with Gerardo Hernandez, the energy behind The Encounter, a ten-week kerygmatic workshop that includes a mid-course weekend retreat that focuses on the Holy Spirit. Gerardo is an incredibly energetic, scripture-quoting lay evangelist who has seen the power of God at work through the over 9,000 folks (mostly, though not exclusively Catholic) who have gone through the process in the last eight years.
If you'd like to learn more about The Encounter and Body of Christ Ministry, which Gerardo leads, you can locate it here. And you should check out Hester's site, just to get your mouth watering...
Oh, and about the title of this blog... This morning I had the opportunity to gambol in the waves of the Gulf of Mexico. Tonight I'll be in the remnants of a snowstorm in Colorado Springs. What a life!
What is it about attempting to fly to Corpus Christi that produces snowstorms in Colorado Springs? And i just love packing for snow and 80 degrees in the same small bag!
Three weeks ago, I went to CC and a blizzard descended here. This weekend, they are predicting another gob of heavy, spring snow to hit us tonight. The storm is supposed to last all day Friday and Fr. Mike and I were due to fly out early Friday morning.
So we've had to move our flight up to later this afternoon which means we'll be fighting the mobs in the Houston airport tonight - if we aren't grounded by thunderstorms. But at least we'll be in Texas and we'll know that we will make it in time for the workshop which begins at 7 pm Friday night
If you are in the CC area, come and join the fun!
Update from Houston:
We were held on the tarmac in Colorado Springs for about a hour due to wind sheer conditions and missed our connecting flight to Corpus Christ by 2 minutes. So we're spending tonight in Houston and will brave the hour flight to Corpus in the morning, At least we are in Texas!
There was so much interest in the blogosphere in Archbishop Chaput's speech at Sacred Heart Seminary at the Conference on St. Paul and the New Evangelization on March 21 (and because I also spoke on Evangelizing Post-Modern Catholics), I thought I'd let our readers know that both talks were recorded and will be aired on Ave Maria Radio this weekend.
Sacred Heart sent out this notice:
You are invited to listen to a broadcast of the keynote speaker and main speaker from Sacred Heart Major Seminary's conference, Lessons From St. Paul for the New Evangelization, that was conducted on Saturday, March 21, 2009. Please tune in on Sunday, April 19 at 2:00 p.m. to Ave Maria Radio, 990AM in Metro Detroit area, 1440AM in the Saginaw area, 98.5FM in Naples, FL area, and of course on avemariaradio.netTheir day by day broadcasting schedule is here.
You will have an encore opportunity to hear Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., Archbishop of Denver, present Evangelizing Our Culture: Lessons From St. Paul. Also, Sherry Weddell, Co-founder and Director of Siena Institute in Colarado, will present Do Ask, Do Tell: Evangelizing Postmodern Catholics.
Please tune in.
I'm sure that Archbishop Chaput's talk (which was shorter) will be broadcast first.
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