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A group blog devoted to the baptismal call, spirituality, gifts, vocations, ministry, work, history, theology, evangelization, formation, bad jokes, and pastoral support of lay Christians seeking to live their faith in the 21st century.

Sponsored by the Catherine of Siena Institute --- www.siena.org.



Totalitarian Faith Enfleshed PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Saturday, 03 February 2007 16:10
Br. Matthew's post made me think of an example of "totalitarian faith" as expressed in a particular person's life. Would that it were my own... Nevertheless, here's an example.

About two years ago, I met a young adult male, then 33 years old, who I'll call Adam. Just six months previous to my meeting him, he had undergone a huge conversion that had radically changed his life. He had quit drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, swearing, and was attending daily Mass, praying throughout the day, reading scripture and studying the catechism. All of this was due to an encounter with the love of Christ, which itself was an answer to five years of graced prayer in which he asked to know that love. I don't know that I've ever seen someone so beautifully changed by Christ.

But I was a little unsettled in some of our early conversations. I had learned to be wary of the enthusiasm of new converts. They want to do all kinds of crazy things, like enter religious life or the seminary – so we require them to live their faith for a few years before doing something precipitous. His enthusiasm was wonderful, but I wanted Adam to be prepared for the fact that this fervor wasn’t going to last. One evening while we were sitting at the kitchen table, I gently tried to warn him to be prepared for his spiritual intensity to wane. I likened it to the infatuation we have when we first start dating someone. Adam responded indignantly: “Why should my love for Jesus simmer down? I don't want it to. I don't ever want to forget what God has done for me. I don't want to go back. I don't want to lose God."

I was struck silent. I didn't have an answer. What I had just witnessed was the virtue known as "the fear of the Lord." Not a fear that God would punish, but a fear of losing a relationship with Him.

So I began to re-read some of St. Paul's letters. I figured Adam's experience was like Saul's encounter on the road to Damascus. I read St. Paul saying to the Ephesians, "you must lay aside your former way of life and the old self which deteriorates through illusion and desire, and acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking." (Eph 4:22-23a)

And "May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith, and may charity be the root and foundation of your life. Thus you will be able to grasp fully, with all the holy ones, the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ's love, and experience this love which surpasses all knowledge, so that you may attain to the fullness of God himself." (Eph. 3:17-19) Both of those quotes sounded like Adam's experience.

I asked myself, "Had Paul's love for Christ, initiated on that lonely stretch of road, 'simmered down?'" He boasted that, "five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes less one; three times I was beaten with rods; I was stoned once, shipwrecked three times; I passed a day and a night on the sea. I traveled continually, endangered by floods, robbers, my own people, the Gentiles; imperiled in the city, in the desert, at sea, by false brothers; enduring labor hardship, many sleepless nights; in hunger and thirst and frequent fastings, in cold and nakedness. Leaving other sufferings unmentioned, there is that daily tension pressing on me, my anxiety for all the churches." (2 Cor. 11:24-28)

Of course, we know Paul eventually could add imprisonment and beheading for his faith in Jesus to his list of trials. No, rather than "simmering down," that relationship with Christ only grew stronger through the years, as any good relationship does.

Then I read Galatians, and came across these words, "I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal 2:19b-20)

What had always sounded like an exaggeration was what I was witnessing in Adam. He'd practically said as much. I was ashamed to realize that my own love for Jesus – a love that had led me to give my life as a religious - had waned. I had lost what passion I had had for Christ. I had taken back the life I'd once offered. And I had taken that loss of zeal as normative.

Now when I think of intentional discipleship, I often think of Adam, and how Christ has changed (and continues to change) his life. Is it too much for us to hope to know something of the love of Christ in this lifetime? Are we willing to take the Gospel seriously enough to allow it to challenge our "common sense" and even change us? Are we willing to cooperate with God's grace to love each person we meet as though Christ were standing before us? Are we afraid of no longer "fitting in" with our families and friends if we our faith, expressed as a relationship with Christ and His Body, becomes the center of our life?

I find myself shaking my head as I read the Scriptures these days, because it seems clear to me that Adam's behavior is much closer to what Christ asks of us than my behavior. Jesus teaches a crowd and his disciples, "Whoever would preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will preserve it." (Mk 8:35) It would seem that only one who is prepared and willing to risk all for Jesus and for the gospel will truly become himself or herself. It would seem that if we are to know Jesus intimately, we have to answer his call. Certainly my friend Adam has learned a lot about Christ in a short time because he tries to take Jesus at His word, and tries to cooperate with God's grace in order to live according to that word.

Adam's not afraid to speak of what Christ has done for him, and his words are supported by his actions. Both have evangelized me, so that I am seeking a renewed relationship with my Lord.

Is it possible that our expectations of what it means to live as a Catholic Christian are set too low – especially for ourselves?
 
Our totalitarian faith PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 02 February 2007 19:36

Written by  Br. Matthew Augustine, OP

A couple weeks back I spent six days on retreat in the Mojave Desert at Holy Resurrection Monastery, a wonderful Byzantine Rite community in Newberry Springs. This was during the great cold front that swept through California and ruined much of the state’s citrus crop. During most of my stay the daytime temperature rarely rose above freezing. As a result, I spent a more than usual amount of time reading in my room. Of the books cluttering my desk, one was on the thought of Fr. M.D. Chenu OP called Contemplation and Incarnation: The Theology of Marie-Dominique Chenu. One of the great projects of Fr. Chenu, and his younger confrere Fr. Yves Congar OP, was to give an account of the origin and nature of Modern secularism. One of the distinguishing marks of secularism is its attitude toward faith. While some very strident secularists see no place at all for religion and faith in contemporary society, most would tolerate it so long as it stays within certain well-established bounds. For instance, they would see religious faith as acceptable and benign so long as it concerned assent to certain religious articles that are privately held. They would see religious observance as safe and acceptable so long as it involved private religious ceremonies that intruded as little as possible into the public sphere. What these two thinkers, and particularly Fr. Congar, note is that Christianity cannot possibly exist within such bounds. Such restrictions go against the reality of the Christian faith- they go against what Congar calls faith’s totalitarian nature.

The word ‘totalitarian’ doesn’t have nice connotations, and speaking of Christianity as totalitarian may seem to justify secularist fears. When we think of totalitarianism, we think of a totalitarian state; that is, we think of a nation in which the State no longer serves human persons but visa versa; a nation in which the State manipulates and assumes all that is integral to human personhood. The point which Congar makes in calling Christianity totalitarian is that authentic Christian faith is a reality which touches upon the entire human person- but in doing so it completes and perfects, rather than destroys, the human person. Authentic faith does not merely end in assent to certain doctrines, but has, as its end, God himself. Obviously, such an encounter with the living God is going to effect a personal transformation, and not a transformation that limits its consequences to the private sphere. Among other things, some of the effects of an encounter with God through faith and the sacramental life of the Church are the infused virtues (CCC 1265), the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (CCC 1831), the fruits of the Holy Spirit (CCC 1832), and the charisms (CCC 799-801, 2003).

According to Congar, given that we are persons enmeshed in society and bound up with the lives of others, our personal transformation through grace should naturally further the building of a Catholic culture. Not a ghettoized culture which gazes with suspicion on the world outside its shell, but a culture naturally formed by Christians just being who they are wherever they happen to be. There has been a lot of discussion at this blog and elsewhere about the number of Catholics who are devoted Christian disciples. Perhaps one way of gauging this is to look at our culture. Does are culture reflect the presence of 69 million people with have been re-created and transformed by faith and the sacraments? Does it reflect the presence of people who have been given virtues from on high and supernatural gifts bestowed on them for the sake of others? If not, why? Would most Catholics even agree they possessed such gifts?


 
The Way We Were PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 02 February 2007 10:31

Greetings from Latte land! (from your friendly University District Tully’s!)

Over at Catholic Sensibilities, the questions about who we are and what known movement we are related to or derivative of, keep coming in:

“How are your consults and programs at parishes different/same than the good ol’ Life in the Spirit seminars from the 70’s and 80’s? Renew from the 80’s and 90’s? Neocatechumenate Way from 2000? I’m just trying to understand where CSI and your term “intentional disciple” fit it to what has been done in US parishes since VII. Just trying to put you into a context.”

The short answer: we're not related to or derived from any of the above or the emerging Church movement or any other movement, for that matter. I'm a convert and so had no knowledge or experience of the Church until the late 80's and have never attended or been part of a Renew process in any way or the Neocatechumate in any way. Nor have I ever attended a Life in the Spirit seminar although I think I was asked to give a talk once at a seminar session but it never happened. Fr. Michael Sweeney, with whom I founded the Institute had no background in any of the above either.

The Institute arose out of a personal collaboration that began at Blessed Sacrament parish in Seattle between Fr. Michael (who was pastor) and myself (parishioner and grad student) in the mid 90's. Our primary Catholic influences were intellectual with a strong Dominican slant: Vatican II, John Paul II, St. Thomas Aquinas, Yves Congar, Josef Pieper, etc.

In my case, I brought my background at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA and in the global evangelical missionary movement and the knowledge of the cutting edge stuff that passionately apostolic Christians are doing all over the world. Also, I'd created the gifts discernment process 3 1/2 years previously and had been offering it in the Seattle area and re-working and re-writing it as I went. While Fr. Michael, who is a cradle Catholic’s cradle Catholic, had been studying the theology of the laity and wrestling with the role of the parish in the mission of the Dominican order.

I can't explain it and it certainly wasn't part of anyone's plan or derived from another movement. It was just one of those spontaneous combustion God things. When Fr. Michael and I got together, intellectual and creative sparks flew. I suppose you could think of us as the theological and pastoral equivalent of Micky Rooney and Judy Garland saying "hey, gang, I know what we can do. Let's put on a show!" Or John Steed and Mrs. Peel (alas, I will never look like Diana Rigg in black leather :-\) - well, you get the idea . . .

Our purpose: To actually implement what the Second Vatican Council and the Church since has asked for in the area of the theology, evangelization, formation, and apostolic support of the laity. And to do it in the only place that 98% of lay Catholics have access to: the local parish. We weren't following any existing model because we didn't know of any that was parish-based.

The Called & Gifted process already existed and proved to be a wonderful popular vehicle to help spread the Church’s vision of the apostolic mission and authority of the laity. It also enabled us to generate the income necessary to support the hand-to-mouth lifestyle to which we had become accustomed.

Our work is a lot closer to the explorations of Lewis and Clark than to that of Mapquest. People sometimes ask me what our 5 year plan is. I laugh and say that I have a two year guess. Because educated guesses are what you work from when you are exploring something new.


If you'd like to read the story of our beginnings, go here. It was written in the summer of 1997 just as the Institute began and so you can see what we were thinking at the very beginning.


 
Sharing is Caring! PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 02 February 2007 09:26

Written by Keith Strohm

Apologies for being scarce yesterday. In addition to job searching, I'm working on a number of short stories and novel proposals that require a certain committment to making a daily word count--something that I've been shirking as I let loose my words here at ID :)

Anyway, I've mentioned that over at Catholic Sensibility the conversation has also turned to discernment. In response to a question about who gives someone the authority to help someone else discern their gifts and vocation, Neil wrote a rather profound post. I'd like to quote some of it here and direct you over to the Discerning the Discerners thread for more:

The “authority” of someone who assists in discernment comes from their ability to see things for what they are - to identify a right course of action that “follows from” Scripture and tradition. Such a person is able to show me that a particular action or way of life would reflect the character of the God who called me and the character of the Body of Christ to which I belong (Rowan Williams’ words), and, if I were to carry out that action or proceed on that way of life, I would be more faithful to my real identity as a Christian.

This person isn’t just telling me about my own future. She is saying that I might manifest Christ if I follow a certain path, and this is a gift to the entire community. She is implicitly agreeing to look for Christ in my life and to receive the gift that I might eventually give. Thus, she is, in a way, telling me about her own future. Discernment, then, is about a shared future in which we might both participate.

In short, perhaps we should look at discernment as a process of sharing …

Discernment as a process of sharing does, I believe, get to the heart of that discipline. It is a means by which we can help others become more truly who God made them to be. It can't be something that we do from our pedestal of perfection. Rather, we need to walk together, to be in "com-union" with those whom God has ordained we will journey.

The expectation is not just that I will help you, but that you will be an indispensable part of my own discernment process. I can't tell you how relieved I was when the pastoral staff at my last parish helped me realize that my gifts weren't directed toward administration (which had become the single biggest drain upon me as Confirmation Coordinator). They helped others who could handle the administrative load with supernatural efficiency connect with me.

The result was confirmandi who were well formed and prepared for the sacrament, and a rather well-balanced, not frazzled me. I could have been upset when they (gently) removed the administrative piece of Confirmation away from me, but they did so as they affirmed my other gifts. It was an eye-opening experience for me and has colored how I approach discernment as a discipline.

What I often see in conversations regarding discernment is people highlighting how that discipline can be abused and then using that as the reason why it shouldn't be undertaken at all. But abuse certainly doesn't invalidate the principle.

If we act like it does, we'll be missing an integral piece to living out our communal and individual mission as Christ (through the Church) asks us to.
 
Baby, it's Cold Outside PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Friday, 02 February 2007 09:16
At least today, in Colorado Springs, where at 9 a.m. it's a brisk 2 degrees below zero. Ironically, the headline in the Colorado Springs Gazette was, "Warming 'very likely' man-made." That's right, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of hundreds of climatologists and other scientists representing 113 governments, issued a twenty-page report today representing the most authoritative science on global warming and based on years of peer-reviewed research. The "very likely" wording "translates to a more than 90 percent certainty that global warming is caused by man's burning of fossil fuels." (AP release)
The panel also said its best estimate was for temperature rises of 3.2 to 7.1 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century, accompanied by sea level increases of 7 to 23 inches over the same time period. Some scientists felt this estimate was too cautious, and that due to polar ice melt, the sea levels could increase four to eight inches more.

In addition, the scientists predict that the temperatures and sea levels would increase for centuries, no matter how much we try to control pollution. Nevertheless, scientists urge we do what we can to reduce emissions, as well as adapt to a warmer world with wilder weather. This poses all kinds of challenges to Christians, who should have an understanding of themselves as stewards of God's creation. Here are a few I can think of. Perhaps you can think of others you might like to add.

1. How can we (as a nation, as a species) begin to develop a longer perspective with regard to economic development and our use of natural resources, so that we begin to factor in the consequences of our actions on the lives of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren?
2. How might I personally respond to this issue in terms of my lifestyle? Is this a call to a simpler lifestyle? Do my actions matter, even?
3. Will American culture, which emphasizes consumption, convenience and comfort, need to change? How? What changes in mindset might be required?
4. How might we as people of faith respond from that faith to this issue?

Feel free to add your own questions or make suggestions, please.
 
Feast of The Presentation of the Lord PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 02 February 2007 00:35

Written by JACK

A little while back, on Fr. Mike's post on memorization of Scripture, I mentioned some reflections that I drew for my own life and preparation for receiving the Eucharist from St. Luke's account of God's promise to Simeon and its fulfillment when St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother, carrying the Christ child, entered the temple for the purification ritual and the child's presentation.

Well, today, February 2nd, is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, which celebrates this event. (Besides the Mass readings for the Feast, you can find also the Office of Readings for today over here.)

I was reminded of this fact when I decided to look at the entry for today in our now-Pontiff's book, "Co-Workers of the Truth". Clearly, a rich passage -- it's the fourth mystery of the rosary, after all -- I was intrigued by then-Cardinal Ratzinger's focus on how this event in the East is known as Hypapanti, or meeting. The encounter of Simeon and Christ. And Saint Sophronius, in the office of Readings, universalizes this, saying, "In honour of the divine mystery that we celebrate today, let us all hasten to meet Christ. Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light."

I'd be interested in other people's reflections on this Feast. And if you are looking for a way to enter into Scripture, besides Fr. Mike's original recommendation, consider spending some time each day with the readings that are part of the day's liturgy. It's not a bad way to start.

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Catholics in Political Life PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Thursday, 01 February 2007 09:43
With the death of Fr. Robert Drinan, SJ, the Jesuit who served as a representative for the state of Massachusetts in the House from 1971-1981, the issue of Catholics, Catholic teaching, bishops and politics is surfacing. An article on the Church's influence on the state in Latin America (linked here) talks about the various relationships between secular leaders, bishops and lay Catholics throughout that region (including the fact that a minority of Catholics throughout the region identify themselves as "practicing!")

Recently there was a heated discussion on Amy Wellborn's blog about the U.S. bishops' statements on the war in Iraq and immigration, and with the 2008 race for the White House beginning already, it's only a matter of time before the Vatican's "Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life" becomes an issue. Here's a few choice quotes from that document, along with a couple of brief observations.

'The commitment of Christians in the world has found a variety of expressions in the course of the past 2000 years. One such expression has been Christian involvement in political life: Christians, as one Early Church writer stated, "play their full role as citizens"....

By fulfilling their civic duties, "guided by a Christian conscience", in conformity with its values, the lay faithful exercise their proper task of infusing the temporal order with Christian values, all the while respecting the nature and rightful autonomy of that order, and cooperating with other citizens according to their particular competence and responsibility.... The right and duty of Catholics and all citizens to seek the truth with sincerity and to promote and defend, by legitimate means, moral truths concerning society, justice, freedom, respect for human life and the other rights of the person, is something quite different....

By its interventions in this area, the Church’s Magisterium does not wish to exercise political power or eliminate the freedom of opinion of Catholics regarding contingent questions. Instead, it intends – as is its proper function – to instruct and illuminate the consciences of the faithful, particularly those involved in political life, so that their actions may always serve the integral promotion of the human person and the common good. The social doctrine of the Church is not an intrusion into the government of individual countries. It is a question of the lay Catholic’s duty to be morally coherent, found within one’s conscience, which is one and indivisible. "There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life’, with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture."'

When I arrived in Eugene, OR, as pastor of the Newman Center there, the state was in the middle of a contentious ballot measure that eventually opened the door to state-sanctioned euthanasia, or "death with dignity," depending upon your point of view. The local dioceses spent, I believe, about $2 million to defeat the measure, publishing various pamphlets that carefully outlined an opposition to the measure which did not mention suicide, but, instead, focused on the dignity of life and the effects of state-sponsored euthanasia in Europe, as well as possible unintended side effects that might pressure terminally ill patients to choose "death with dignity." Among these were fears that the elderly, especially, wouldn't want to be a "burden," or "eat up my children's inheritance," as well as the fear of experiencing physical pain.

The ballot measure passed, perhaps because in a largely unchurched state, the proponents of the measure claimed the Catholic Church was trying to force its doctrine upon everyone. In fact, what the bishops were attempting was to "instruct and illuminate the consciences of the faithful, particularly those involved in political life, so that their actions may always serve the integral promotion of the human person and the common good." All of us who are able to vote are "involved in political life," and have an obligation to study and understand as best as we are able, the Church's teaching. The presumption behind this isn't to re-establish Christendom, where there is no distinction between Church and State, but rather the idea that supporting the common good and promoting the legitimate rights of the individual (sometimes a difficult balancing act) will lead to peace, justice and equity that benefits us all.

I vaguely recall when Fr. Drinan was asked to not run for re-election after five terms in office. I remember Catholics being upset because they thought, "who wouldn't be a better, more honest, more Christian politician than a priest?" Others saw it as a slap against the political process as being "beneath" a cleric, or a meddling in our political system, or a reaction to some of his politics. I recall not understanding the decision myself.

I see it differently now, however. As a priest, my job is to serve the Church by helping the laity under my jurisdiction understand their gifts and calls, and to help them understand the Scriptures and Magisterial teachings so that they can apply these to the difficult situations we have to address in the secular realm. A priest running for office (including a retired bishop in Paraguay who is running for president there) is proposing to lead in the arena the bishops at the Second Vatican Council said is the proper jurisdiction of the laity. My apostolate as a priest (sanctifying, teaching and governing) is focused primarily within the Church – particularly with regard to helping the laity be better equipped to succeed at their apostolate, which is directed towards the world. This can include helping the laity organize and coordinate their gifts, talents and skills in order to better address needs in the secular realm. In that sense I am involved indirectly in shaping secular society. Unfortunately, when we forget that the Church's primary mission is to the world, we get caught up in who is able to do what in the sanctuary and in the sacristy. If what happens there is seen as having primary importance, I have to take some responsibility for that as a priest. It means I have forgotten the primary call of the Church to "infuse the temporal order with Christian values," i.e., to evangelize individuals and transform the institutions and structures of society so that they reflect what is truly human.
 
Simon Peter: Fisherman or Bait? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Wednesday, 31 January 2007 21:17
This Sunday's Gospel contains the call of the first disciples, so I thought I might offer a reflection on it in light of the theme of this blog.

Luke 5:1-11

While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening
to the word of God,
he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.
He saw two boats there alongside the lake;
the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.
Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon,
he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.
Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply,
“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat
to come to help them.
They came and filled both boats
so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him
and all those with him,
and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
who were partners of Simon.
Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men.”
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.

Why would Jesus choose Simon as his first disciple? Why choose a man who, a few years down the road, will deny him? In the Gospels – at least prior to the resurrection, Simon lives up to the name, "Rock" once – when he sinks like one while trying to join Jesus in a stroll on the sea.

Perhaps Simon is called by Jesus because Simon is just like us. Or we are just like him. He's a working-class stiff, not so sophisticated or insightful or successful or holy that we can't identify with him – not if we get to know him in the scriptures instead of through our heroic stained glass depictions of him.

Moreover, he's inept enough that it's clear that the foundation of the Church is held in place by the power and grace of Jesus. When we get to know this fisherman with empty nets, we find a critique of our success-oriented culture. Simon needs Jesus to do what Simon himself couldn't. Simon couldn't hold the group of disciples together on his own! His own lack of credentials shows us what great things Jesus can do with a not-too-promising individual.

I've always heard Jesus' prediction, "From now on you will be catching men" to indicate that Simon was still going to be doing the fishing. But perhaps Simon's just the lure Jesus the real fisherman is using to catch us! What if Simon's just a bit of bait Jesus dangles before us, inviting us to let go of the empty nets we carefully clean each day, so that we can become his disciples, too? We see Simon's fumbling attempts to follow Jesus and can feel less self-conscious about our own failings. If we take the call of Simon seriously, we might begin to realize that discipleship isn't about being perfect, having all the answers, or even knowing all the doctrines. It's about grasping the knees of the one we're not worthy of, and rejoicing that he's chosen us anyway, and thus living in daily gratitude. It's about knowing that we can't do anything without Him, but with Him, we can do anything! We look at the Church, with its 1 billion plus members, and draw comfort that if God could make Simon a foundation for that, He might do something worthwhile with us if we surrender to Him.
 
Discernment Discussions PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 31 January 2007 11:25

Written by Keith Strohm

Discussions on discernment have been happening throughout the blogosphere--particular over at Catholic Sensibility. If you are interested in furthering that discussion, or checking it out, look for the following posts:


Discerning Gifts

Discernment in Parish Music Ministry

What is Discernment?

Discernment: Balancing the Virtues

Discernment & Trust

Discerning the Discerners

Just a friendly public service announcement from the folks at Intentional Disciples!


 
A Palanca PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Wednesday, 31 January 2007 10:07
I was asked to write a palanca, or love letter, to a young girl, a junior in high school, who will be on a retreat in a few weekends. Her last note to me included her reflections on her experience of spending a couple of weeks working in a rural hospital filled with children who had AIDS and other diseases. Her father, a physician, and older brother, a senior in college, had also gone, while their mother stayed home and prayed for their safety. Her father told me that one of the most difficult things he had ever done was to let his two children go off alone to this hospital, while he stayed and worked in a different one. He knew they would be around many victims of AIDS and in an environment that was not all together in terms of clinical practices to prevent the spread of the virus. Still, he let them go, entrusting them to God's care, and with the sense that they needed to be off on their own, to help in their own way, and to grow in their own way. They both came back safe, and forever changed by the experience.

A palanca, (the Spanish word for "plank", apparently) is meant to be like a wooden plank that becomes a fulcrum to hurl one towards the love of God. I reproduce it here, because I think it is something that many of us, including me, need to hear more often.

January 31, 2007
Dear Caroline;

I am delighted to write this palanca to you, because you are such a wonderful young woman. I really was moved by your Christmas letter describing your experience in Nigeria. You seemed to have begun some kind of transformation from that rich, yet troubling encounter with children – many who are orphans – who live with poverty, AIDS, and little hope. I believe your heart is responding to the gentle call of Jesus to "come out into the deep."

It seems hard to believe that you are a junior in high school! I'm sure you're receiving lots of letters that say the same. Soon, you'll be off to college, then a career. I pray you seek your vocation, not just a career. By that I don't just mean your "state of life calling," like marriage, religious life or single life. Jesus has some unique work of love for you to do, and the keys to what that is are – or will be – found in your heart! You don't have to look far, do you!? You just have to be honest with yourself, attentive to your talents, spiritual gifts, and your personality. You'll know your spiritual gifts by those activities that help others that also make your heart sing, "This is where I belong! This is what I was created to do! These are the people I was made to serve." Perhaps you've had that experience already. You'll know your spiritual gifts when you have the experience of doing something that people respond much more positively to your efforts than you would expect. Pay attention to the feedback you get from people. They're offering you clues as to your calling, even though they often won't know it!

And then, don't forget to look around you. What are the problems you see in the world that make you say, "something should be done about that"? Perhaps Jesus has given you eyes to see what many others are missing. Frederick Buechner defined vocation as "the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need." Caroline, if you discover that place, you will have discovered your mission, and have heard the call Jesus has prepared for you from before the creation of the universe! And it will be good! Just as you, created by the unique love God has for you, are good! Oh, Pookie, so many people are afraid to trust their call because they're afraid to trust God. They have a hard time trusting His love. But just consider all these cards and letters you're receiving! You are loved, and our love for you, expressed so poorly in these frail sheets of paper, is just a shadow of the love Jesus has for you. He said, "there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends." Then he did that for you, so that you, and all those you love and who love you, might be with him in heaven.

But not only will you be with Jesus in heaven if you do His will, you can be with Him here, too. Jesus is with you in the sacraments! He feeds you and unites himself to you - and you to everyone else who receives Him, including some of the children you met in Nigeria - in the Eucharist. He tenderly embraces you when you fall in sin and turn to him in sorrow in the sacrament of reconciliation. In that beautiful moment you can recommit yourself to your baptism into Him! He has shared with you the mutual selfless love of Father for Son and Son for Father we call the Holy Spirit in your Confirmation. He gently will offer you healing in mind, body and spirit through the anointing of the sick. Perhaps one day He will join with you and your spouse in the lifelong self-emptying that is Marriage. What wondrous love He has for you, as the old song says! Trust that love, Caroline, and follow Him fearlessly.

Caroline, your mom said that your experiences with the poor and sick in Nigeria, and probably lots of other experiences, have turned your mind towards medicine. It would be wonderful if you pursue that vocation. I know you have a heart for those who suffer, and in medicine you would cooperate with Jesus' ongoing desire to heal our wounds. If you do become a physician, don't forget to pray for your patients. You will never be a source of healing, only an instrument in the hand of our Divine Healer. If you don't become a physician, you can still be an instrument of healing through your willingness to forgive, your desire to love and serve others, and your thoughtful, generous presence with those who are lonely, anxious or sad.

Whatever you do, whatever life choices you make in the pursuit of your call, remember that Jesus has given you the authority and power to stand in his place! You should never ask, "What would Jesus do?" – as if he weren't truly present. Instead, remember what He told his disciples, "the one who has faith in me will do the works I do, and greater far than these." (John 14:12) So every day when you awake, I hope you ask the question, "What will Jesus do today through me?" Because of his love for you, He says, "I am with you always, until the end of the world." (Matthew 28:20). Expect to see the signs of His power at work in you – even in your young age. Cling to Him now! Speak to Him with confidence and honesty as you would to your closest friend. Make His will your own, and you will discover a peace this world can neither give (John 14:27) nor take away.

I write these things to you, Caroline, for two reasons. First of all, because I love you and desire what's best for you, and there's no greater gift than knowing Jesus' saving love for each of us. Secondly, because I need to be reminded of them myself. You see, there's so much in our society that tells us we're not good enough, not worthy of love until we've changed. Constantly we hear of people who commit sins and whom we are told we should not forgive. All of that is a clever, consistent lie that makes us disbelieve the truth: so long as you or I exist, so long as one breath follows another – and even beyond life – you and I are treasured by our heavenly Father who knows all that we need (Matthew 6:32).

Finally, I conclude this too-long letter with a prayer from John Henry Cardinal Newman (after whom Catholic campus ministries are named). He wrote it during one of his darkest hours. I hope it gives you light and comfort throughout your life, because it, too, expresses the truth of who you are.

“God has determined . . .that I should reach that which is my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, He calls me by my name, He knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and He means to give it to me.”

God bless you, dear one!
Love,
Fr. Mike, OP
 
Baptismal Schizophrenia? PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 31 January 2007 08:32

Written by Keith Strohm

I used to think that I had dual identities.

I heard a great deal about the importance of being a disciple from a lot of different sources. Through the grace of baptism, I was united with Christ and the Church--supernaturally empowered to learn from God, to grow in sanctifying grace and become more like Him.

And so, I heard about being a disciple, about living as a disciple, about having a "disciple's response." I grew up being comfortable with that reality. I am a follower of Christ. I "follow;" that's what I am and that's what I do.

But there was another side to my identity that I never really understood before--a side that was actually edgy and a little dangerous. Through baptism, I am not only called and empowered to follow and learn from Christ, but I have also been sent by God to do a particular work of love in the world.

I am, in other words, an apostle. One with a different office and focus than the Apostles, to be sure--but I am no less "official," no less called & gifted for my mission. I am called, not just to follow Christ, but to do what He did in the world.

I don't know about you, but when I first understood that my apostolic identity was a reality taught by the Church, I was a little uncomfortable--excited, but uncomfortable. I couldn't understand how one was supposed to act as a disciple and an apostle. I had never even heard (before encountering the Called & Gifted Workshop) the fact that I was an apostle in any parish, school, or group that I had been a part of, so how was I supposed to figure this out?

I had dual (and seemingly dueling) identities.

Until I had a conversation with a friend. I was sharing some of what I had learned through the Catherine of Siena Institute, and my friend said to me, "But isn't the most important thing in the New Testament the Great Commandment?"

And then it hit me--the lynchpin to my understanding and integrating my apostolic identity was love. I was right in the middle of reading John Paul II's Theology of the Body, and it struck me clear as day: Love always seeks the beloved. If I am called to love my God with all my heart and my neighbor as myself, then I was, by the very nature of love, called to reach out and share the gift of God with them.

The Great Commandment leads, by its essence, to the Great Commission. They were inseparable and compenetrating--like the relationship between the Old and New Testament. Disciples are, in the language of post-modern literary theory, "always already" apostles. Our identity stems not from what we do, but in who we are.

Take, for example, a newly baptized baby. Through the waters of Baptism they are grafted to the Body of Christ and empowered to become disciples. And yet, their very presence in the midst of the community serves as a call to that community, a reminder not only of their own baptismal vows, but also a sign of their own dependance upon the mercy and grace of God. These little, tiny disciples are apostles from Christ to the community--evangelizing with each breath.

Baptismal schizophrenia does not exist. We have one identity in Christ--an identity so rich that it contains multiple facets integrated within the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Whoa! God really is amazing!


 
Adult Sunday School Ethos among Catholics? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 31 January 2007 05:50
Amy Welborn asks in a discussion on Catholics schools and how they now bear the weight of catechesis:

Can you even imagine the ethos of Protestant Sunday School for adults had even the slightest foothold in Catholic churches?


Yes, I can because it has here, at Blessed Sacrament Church in Seattle where we started the Institute and where I will be teaching the Called & Gifted this weekend.

http://www.blessed-sacrament.org/

They routinely have large adult Sunday School classes (60 or more depending upon the subject and speaker) in addition to evening classes on St. Thomas, the Bible, Exploring Catholic beliefs, etc.

The only parish I've ever been to where you can overhear two adults in the back of the Sunday School class debating variant readings of Ireneaus.

It can happen. In Blessed Sacrament's case, it's a combination of a historic (and beautiful) Dominican church, a nearby major university, and a very large population of intentional disciples in the parish who come from around the area to attend. Some are professors at local universities, some are underemployed average joe and janes who just are intellectually curious.

It's not just Blessed Sacrament. We've seen it happen over and over: adults become passionate about learning about the faith when they become intentional disciples. How many conversations have I had in interviews trying to help people discern between the natural desire to learn about their faith that follows conversion and the charism of knowledge? Dozens? Hundreds?

In Boise, people who have been through evangelization retreats fill every class in the diocese. The Director of the School of Pastoral Leadership in San Francisco flew up to see us in Seattle because he went to the pastor of St. Dominic's in the city and asked "why are my classes filled with your people?" Fr. Xavier simply said: "Have you heard of the Catherine of Siena Institute?"

We keep putting all our eggs in the institutional/program basket, but institutions and programs are designed to meet needs. When we call people to intentional discipleship, a whole new raft of needs emerge from within people: needs for prayer, for formation, for study, for fellowship, for discernment. Wouldn't it be great to have to deal with people clamoring for faith formation?

If you want peace, work for justice. If you want students of the faith, make disciples.
 
How Many People Have Your Name? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 30 January 2007 19:10
According to this, I am a unique and unreatable manifestation of the human mystery - at least in the US. I am the only woman in America who has my name.

America is blessed.

How many people have your name?
 
Meet Me in Latte Land, Louie . . . PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 30 January 2007 16:32
I'm taking off tomorrow for Seattle where I will be teaching a Called & Gifted workshop at Blessed Sacrament Church in the University District this coming weekend, February 2/3.

Blessed Sacrament is a beautiful and remarkable community and the place where we began the Institute nearly 10 years ago. It is also a parish committed to evangelization and becoming a house of formation for lay apostles and is filled with a large number of smart, sassy, and creative intentional disciples. It's too bad that it is only early February, because spring in Seattle can be intoxicating.

But the weather is supposed to be in the mid 40's and *CLEAR* which for a Seattle February is stunning! I'll be able to see the mountains!

This will be our 300th live Called & Gifted workshop. It is a lovely thing to do so where we started. If any ID readers are in the area, feel free to check it out and come up and say hello!
 
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